“What do you mean ‘have a word’?” Josh questioned with lack of credence. “She can’t speak.”
“She doesn’t, not can’t,” Tyler said, then induced him inside a room. I was still quite baffled he is alive, and I was yearning to ask if he could evoke memories of me even after all these years. I still could elicit the recollections of conversations with him. He knew me. I caused the fire which supposedly killed him.
I mustered my courage and moved to a separate room with hefty anticipation. My heart clenched in my chest. A part of me allayed worry because I had never committed a barbaric crime. Suddenly, I felt like I was capable of handling serenity and happiness again, without the burden I carried for all these years. Another part of me was blaming myself for all the years I squandered brooding over the fact.
I didn’t kill anyone.
I felt numb everywhere, and the overwhelming urge to cry out in delight and surprise ate every bit of conscious I had. Black spots started appearing in my vision, and the world in front of me began to spin, so rapid I felt it take me along.
I closed my eyes for a quick moment, shutting out the images of my life playing in front of me. My father was dying all over again while my mother gripped the tip of the garish red knife with dots of crimson smearing her face. All the times I fought to get my revenge, running but found, took in but displeased. My contentment was taken away so many times I lost count.
The years I spent dwelling and accepting I ended an innocent boy’s life, I added into the list. Nothing came to mind when I thought of my future, except for a baby brother. Was it too much to ask for death to be a stranger?
“I’ll give you some privacy,” I heard Tyler state from the door before it slammed shut. I tried to smother a smile, blinking with force until the black spots slowly vanished before facing Josh.
“Hi,” I started, exposing my voice and watching as the one word caused his face to form an expression of utter incredulity. I could almost see his eyes reflecting the questions he was craving to ask. One of them being why did you hide your voice for all this time?
“I have a lot to ask you too,” I said, desperately trying to find his eyes.
“You remember, don’t you?”
“Remember?” I asked, somewhat dumbstruck. Did he know who I was all along?
“After that story I shared, I figured something would click,” he said, his breathing was shallow as he stuffed his hands into his pocket hastily. “Honestly, I have been trying for months now to pick up that courage to thank you.”
The statement and his sincerity fazed me. “Don’t blame yourself for anything that happened. You didn’t kill anyone. You saved me from my father.” He offered a smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes. I stared back at him in disbelief. I could have ended his life. What would Ian think if he saw his son alive and well? Would he stop tormenting me?
“Won’t your father know that you’re alive when he couldn’t find your corpse in the burning house?” I asked out of curiosity.
“You know him. Maybe even better than I do, he probably thought I burned in ashes,” he explained.
“Your father had been after me for years, he made it his goal to have me tortured,” I told him, injecting bitterness into my words.
“I’ll confront him about the matter soon but first…” He took me by surprise and engulfed me in a warm, solacing hug. One which gave me a wave of tranquillity. “I missed you.”
I bit back from telling him the truth. I had never trusted him, not even for a second, but I figured it would just ruin the moment. In the short week in his home, I aided him in overcoming a rough patch when he was feeling dejected, but he had never returned the favour. Sure, he was someone I had conversations with, but I never once felt like we shared a connection.
I stayed still with my hands hanging ungainly by my side and fluttered my eyes close. It reminded me of how much I meant to Josh in the past before the accident happened. At times, I could still feel the heat of the fire, how I turned to watch it swallow the house as I darted out the front door. How my body was imploring me to stop, telling me I was a decent distance away. Then I was found by my stepfather’s men and brought back to the place I never wanted to visit again.
“You don’t understand how long I’ve waited for this moment,” he said, resting his chin on my head. “I see you’ve learned to fight.”
“Yeah,” as I responded, the door was gently opened. Perturbation flashed in Tyler’s eyes as he beheld the sight in front of him. I pushed myself away from Josh’s hospitable grasp, sending a small smile before exiting the room, sparing Tyler an appreciative glance. Without him, the meeting with Josh and our conversation would have never transpired.
“Where did everyone go?” Grayson asked, taking a swig from a bottle of alcohol. I responded with an incognizant shrug, taking a seat on a separate couch.
I could hear the indistinct conversation in the room I was previously in before the two friends left and made an appearance in the living room. It felt as if nothing had occurred as I had yet to find out about Ian Carson’s son.
We then finished the ordered food, leaving us undisputedly satisfied. Grayson and Josh left after a small conversation. It made me wonder how having a group of friends felt like. I have never once had it. It must be gruelling having to spend uniform time with each of them individually and satisfy all of them.
“Josh told me that he knew you at a younger age, I never got to know about you despite knowing him before you,” Tyler told me after his friends left. “Were you close to him?”
I was quite unfathomable as to why he cared so much. “No, I knew him for just a week before I set his house on fire,” I replied.
My eyes land on the compact disc and a strained sigh escaped my lips. It was excruciating to think back to my father’s death after I blocked it out for the longest time. I said, “I think I’ll return home now. I’ll leave the disc at yours since I don’t have a disc player back at my place.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll just grab my keys and send you home,” he said.
Just then, my phone buzzed from inside my pocket. I fished it out to read a text from my mother’s phone, which my stepfather must have sent: she’s in the hospital right now, she might give birth any time, make a trip here tomorrow.
Another text followed, stating the location of the hospital and her room number. I looked up from my phone, slipping it back into my pocket without expression while following close behind Tyler, who retrieved his key. As the door was unlocked, we stood looking into the eyes of Ashley Hill. She had a look of discomfiture and pique written on her face.
“Oh, Hope. What are you doing here?” she asked with a spurious smile.
“What are you doing here?” Tyler asked, instead.
“To meet you,” she replied as if it was conspicuous. She ambled between the gap between Tyler and me inside the house.
“Ash, I’m giving Hope a lift home,” he briefly explained. “I’ll not be here for the next half an hour.”
Ashley rolled her eyes, looking at me with abhorrence. “Why do you need to care for her as if she is such a precious diamond?” Ashley boomed, her smile was replaced with a scowl as she stared back at me with eyes of antagonism. One which I had only ever received from Ian. “Does she have no one else to care for her?”
She glared at me, harshly. “Oh right, I learned that your father killed himself. How depressing,” she said bitterly. That statement was a step beyond the fictitious line I drew. It caused my hand to clench as I send her my noxious glare. “Did I hit too close to home? It’s true, isn’t it? You have no one. Everyone probably loathes you. No one loves you, and no one would care if you ever died. It must have been embarrassing to have you as his daughter. Maybe that’s why your father killed himself, to avoid having to raise you.”
It took everything inside me to not launch towards her and make her regret everything which came out of her mouth.
“Ash, that’s enough,” Tyler said with a note of finality.
“Did I say something wrong, Tyler? Her dad must have abandoned her eagerly. Who would be proud to have a silent daughter?”
That made me lose it.
I had always been egregious at control, to go berserk with fury and blinded with animus and vexation. I calm myself by fighting, to punch it out. So, all I aimed to do was to inflict as much physical pain to Ashley
I started by delivering a rough punch on her stomach, receiving a grunt. She bent over, appalled as she held her hands over her stomach. I took this as an advantage to knee her square in the face, hearing a satisfying crack.
She stumbled back, still clutching onto her stomach with one hand while the other rose to her nose. She was no challenge; she was piteous. She did not attempt attacking or defending, so it was almost dull to go against her. I reached out to grab her neck, pushing her more towards the living room.
Tyler, who had been seeing the scene unfold from the start, frantically rushed to grab my arm to stop me. But I didn’t budge. To me, a determined person never will lose.
“Hope, please. You don’t want this,” Tyler pleaded. He was right; I didn’t. But Ashley forced this on herself. She could have shut up and realized she was messing with the wrong person.
With my hand snaked around her neck, I kneel her again, causing her to jerk forward. The trepidation evident in her eyes made me feel so powerful. I elbowed her back and shifted, so I was behind her. I was about to hug her from behind to push her towards the cold hard floor when I felt something in her right pocket.
Knowing what it was, I fished it out and pushed her towards the living room and without a second of hesitation. I extended my arm to grab the alcohol bottle, which Grayson drank from previously.
I disregarded Tyler, who sped to Ashley to help get her back on both feet.
I approached them calmly, lowering myself to whisper in a low and dangerous tone, “You can excuse us for a moment, Tyler. This might get messy if she doesn’t cooperate.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Hope. Ignore the nonsense she uttered. You’ll regret this after,” Tyler told me. I looked at the vulnerable young woman beside my feet.
My hands tightened its grip on the bottle and lighter before I realized how alike Ian and I were. How easily I had lost control.
My grasp weakened, and I let the items carelessly slip out of my hand. The agonizing sound of the alcohol bottle shattering into pieces and Ashley’s weeping rang in my ears. “I’m going to tell the police about this,” Ashley said between sobs.
I felt culpability crashing down, spiralling from within me. But it only lasted seconds until I felt nothing but hollowness, as always. Like there was a void in my chest.
“Hey, I apologize for what Hope did, she would never hurt anyone. She just wanted to terrorize you.” The uncertainty which flashed through Tyler’s eyes was not missed. He knew I was capable of hurting her.
“She injured me,” Ashley retorted.
“I’ll bring you to the doctor and pay for you tomorrow,” Tyler promised. Ashley’s eyes lit up in pleasant surprise and nodded.
“Fine,” she said, having a seat on the couch.
“I’ll bring Hope home now,” Tyler said, realizing Ashley made no move to exit the house. He shrugged, opening the door for us to leave. The ride home was silent. I turned and swiftly unlocked the suitcase and fished out a thousand dollars from inside and offered it.
“For the doctor’s fee tomorrow. I’m sorry for the mess, you can keep the change,” I said. He was disinclined to take it, but after a few words of coaxing, he finally accepted it.
As we reached our destination, I climbed out of the car and retrieved the suitcase of money from the backseat.
Before I left, I turned around to face Tyler.
“I’m visiting my mother in the hospital tomorrow. Perhaps you should come along.”