I closed my notebook with deliberated movements, putting it back in my bag as I slowly raised from the bench.
"It's a nice day, isn't it, Clyde? The lake looks so blue today," I turned facing the middle-aged man.
"Of course, miss. It's a sunny summer day, but we have to leave," he looked down as he waited for me to pass by him, away from my little happy place.
"How is the drinking going, Clyde?" I asked him after a few minutes of riding in the back of the car.
He glanced at me in the rear mirror. "A glass of wine, only one time a day."
"As sober as it gets for her, I guess," I mumbled staring out the window as we made our way outside the city. "Can you tell me again why she wants to see me?"
"You didn't visit in almost half a year, she worries."
"Does she take her medications?"
"She's better than last year. Or the previous years," he said instead of answering my question, but I still nodded.
"What about dad? Still always...?" I trailed off.
"Less, but yeah, all day," he scrunched his nose as even he disliked it.
"We are here," he said a few minutes later as he pulled the car to a stop in front of the mansion.
I took a deep breath, feeling the pressure in my chest and the lump in my throat, heavy like a rock.
"Thank you," I told Clyde as he opened the door for me and he looked worried for a second.
With small steps, I walked the stairs to the front door. It swung open as soon as I got in front of the dark wood, the housekeeper gesturing for me to enter with a big, polite smile on her porcelain face.
"Mrs. Smith waits for you in the living," she announced before disappearing.
I glanced around me, the same old art on the walls, the same ugly wallpaper. It looked familiar and horrifying at the same time. I shivered as I moved my legs, my heels hitting the hardwood floor. I passed the stairs and my eyes closed on instinct, my breath quickening, and my heart pumping. I walked faster until I was in front of the living room.
The furniture was new. She redecorated again. Everything was yellow and orange, it looked like a cheap sunset, but there she was, in her old brown chair with a glass of wine glued to her hand.
"Hello, mother," I said as I leaned down to press a kiss on her cheek.
"Oh, hello darling," she smiled straightening her back even more, probably hoping to look just like an iron pole.
I sat down on the couch in front of her, taking extra care to cross my legs right and keep my chin a little forward.
"I heard you wanted to see me."
"Of course, Aby. I haven't seen you in months, you just disappeared. I had to find out you came back from someone else," she raised the corner of her mouth as if I failed her.
"Clyde mentioned you're doing much better," I whispered looking carefully at her.
"Oh, I feel better," she smiled more cheerfully. "I mean, I needed some time to be by myself. The new maid you found is a sweetheart by the way. Takes so good care of me and really understands what I need."
I bit my lip guilty. "That's great," I murmured.
"But you know who really helped me?" she looked hopeful at me as if I made her happy.
"Who?" I felt suddenly nervous, afraid of her unknown answer.
"Ryan, sweetie," she left the glass down on the coffee table as she grabbed my hands in hers.
I stopped breathing, feeling the sudden sting in the back of my eyes, my heartbeat like a drum, making my ears ring. I grabbed mom's hands tightener, hoping they would keep me anchored.
"How?" was the only thing escaping my lips and it sounded more like a painful growl than a lady's voice.
"Oh, let me tell you," she moved closer to the edge of her seat oblivious to my rapid breath and pulse.
"I met with him one day a few months back. It was such a weird coincidence. I was leaving the salon with the club girls when I just bumped into him on the street. He asked me about you, he wanted to talk with you, but unfortunately, you disappeared," she made another disappointed face for a second before smiling again. "He got so handsome since I haven't seen him. He invited me for lunch and since then we've been hanging around. He suggested a AA meeting with a group he heard so many good things about and since then... Well, look at me, I'm always sober."
I glanced at the glass. "I mean, the most of the days. Today I just felt like I needed one, but I haven't drink for almost a week," she sounded proud and it made me so angry that that fucking asshole did this.
"Mom," I whispered and she raised her eyebrows at me. "How much do you see him?"
"Oh, he was busy lately, but usually at least twice a week. Why? Would you like to join us?" her eyes widened shining. "Yes, oh God yes, Aby. You could join us, I mean maybe you'll fix things between you too."
"What?" I chocked on my own saliva opening my mouth like a fish. What was I supposed to say to that?
"Yeah, why not?"
"Who told you about me and him?" I slowly took my hands out of hers. I grabbed my knees so hard as I tried to stay still waiting for her response.
"He did. I mean, I'm a bit hurt it wasn't you, but I know now. That's all that matters," she picked the glass back up.
"What did he exactly tell you?" I felt my lungs constrict, my head hurting, my whole body aching in pain, and anxiousness.
"You know, that you had something going on, but then you disappeared after a fight. Which it's really immature, Abigail Smith. I definitely taught you better than running from problems."
Another disappointed look. I swallowed the nausea back.
"What about his girlfriend?"
"Oh, that. I know you think that, but he told me it was nothing, just him trying to get over you. I mean, I can understand that. He is a man with needs and you just left. The poor guy probably had no idea if you were actually coming back. He was so worried and scared."
Okay, maybe I would throw up after all.
"Mom, he had that girlfriend while he was with me," I talked slowly hoping she would understand.
The corners of her mouth lifted up and she smiled. What the hell?
"What's so funny?"
"That's exactly what he said you'll say. God, he knows you so well. He said you understood wrong and that's exactly why he is looking for you."
Are you fucking stupid, woman?
"Mom, listen to me," I grabbed her hand. "I found him with her, while we were seeing each other."
I saw the smile fell from her face and the way her eyes saddened as she shook her head. "Aby, I wanted to be close to you. But you have to stop lying," she pulled her hand away standing up.
"Excuse me?" I looked up as she towered over me. She made me feel weak, powerless, inferior. It reminded me of my childhood, so small, so easy to be forgotten.
"Aren't you tired of all these lies? All of this hate you feel for me and people in general? You started hating me for years now."
"What are you talking about?" I stood up, afraid that one more second would bring all my progress down.
"I see it in your eyes every time you come here, Aby. The hatred, the pity, the pain you feel just by being around me, the way you tense, and struggle not to pull away every time I touch you. Why do you do it? Why? What did I do to you?" she shouted, tears starting to fall down her cheeks.
I looked shocked at her, closing my palms, nails digging into my skin painfully as I struggled not to spit the words on the ti of my tongue right in her face.
"Why do you punish me like this? You know how much I suffered after losing your brother, why would you try to make my life worst?" she sobbed in pain and I feel tears welling up in my eyes threatening to fall any second know.
"I didn't... you-"
"I what, Aby?" dramatic whimpers escaped her.
"Calm down, please," I reached my hand to grab her but she slapped them away making me stumble back.
"Just leave," she whispered as she turned to the window. Her back towards me, dismissively.
I shouldn't have come here, I should have stayed away, I should've have died that night, maybe it would have been better, for her, for me, for everyone.
Picking up my purse, I left the room on shaky legs. The moment I got in front of the stairs I started running, feeling the walls of the house, trapping me inside with every breath. I had to leave. I grabbed the doorknob, pulling the door open, and almost crashing into my dad.
"Aby!" he said excitedly, but his face fell as soon as he saw mine. "What's wrong, sweetie?" his hand reached to touch my cheek as he used to when I was a little girl.
"Nothing," I moved away walking past him.
"Sweetie, what happened?" he followed me to the car, where Clyde was holding the door open for me.
"You should check on your wife," I looked over my shoulder at him as I slowly lowered my head climbing inside the car.
As Clyde drove off, I found myself staring back at dad as he walked quickly inside the house I left behind. He ran back to her, as soon as she was in pain, even though she didn't deserve it, he didn't deserve it. I pitied them for what their relationship became, but I envied them more for how easily they could get it back, only if they fought harder.
Maybe if they did, I would have been whole. I would have not found the meaning of rejection from the two people who were supposed to want you since the moment you were born to the moment they died.
"Can you drive me to the office? I have some work to do," I felt the need to explain as if he actually cared.
He nodded and turned right on the busy street of Seattle.
It was 5:55 in the afternoon. I've been in the office for the past hours. I've barely done any real work, my mother's words echoing in my head, but I pushed them away every time as if they were a dangerous disease threatening to make me lose my mind.
The building was quiet and dark, silence intimidating the concrete walls. The only sound, the ticking of Sandra's fingers on the keyboard outside my door. She was surprised to see me already here when she came in, half an hour ago. And when I asked her why she was here, she just shrugged saying she forgot some important papers that she needed. That was an obvious lie, but I didn't question her more. I knew she was worried I wouldn't show up. Everyone was still a bit on edge since I came back, wondering if I would leave again without a warning. I couldn't blame them really, I left for months without giving a shit about them or this place.
I sighed checking the watch on my wrist. He had one more minute and I hated people who were late.
I heard the door open as soon as I finished that thought.
"Mr. Scott is here," she announced and I nodded as I got up from my desk slowly going to check outside the window. A weird habit I did before every appointment.
"Hello, Ms. Smith," I heard a darker voice than expected and my skin tingled as if in recognition.
I turned around with a smile on my face ready to meet my new patient, but I froze the moment those icy blue eyes stared back at me.