Just As You Are

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Chapter Twenty Nine

ZEL

Then came the horrid and sickening mess.

Warm blood gushed out of my right eye, and my hands became scarlet and sticky, trembling with fear. I was scared. Mama was heaving by my side, her will to get rid of me multiplying with every passing moment.

I didn’t do anything. I didn’t move. I didn’t know what to do. And Mama just sat there, her head in her hands, muttering ‘It’s entirely your fault’ over and over again until a splitting pain rushed in my head. Minutes of hatred and greed and loathing had passed, through which my body went limp and my mind drifted away. My one good eye closed, and I thought I was doomed until I started hearing voices around me.

“That’s the boy, right?”

“Take the woman to the car and call an ambulance! Quick!”

“Little boy . . . little boy? Can you hear me? Can he open his eyes?” A warm hand touched mine. “Little boy, if you can hear me, can you move your fingers for me?”

“He’s alive, don’t worry. But we have to hurry because his blood pressure is dropping.”

My mind was in a haze, running with thoughts of different colors and voices. Where were they taking Mama? Where were they taking me? Was I gonna die like Mama said? What about Lilium and Ian? What if they came home and didn’t find me? What were they gonna do with me? I didn’t know anyone! I didn’t have a home but here! That was my home! Leave me to die here! Leave me . . .

A hazel eye opened. It was a world of darkness. There were distant voices around me. Was this the real world or not? I picked a pungent smell, and the ceiling and the walls around me were pure white.

It confirmed my situation; I was lying on a bed in a place that wasn’t home. My memory gradually returned. I was supposed to be dead after what Mama did to me; however, perhaps because I was praying to die so miserably, God had granted my wish and gave me a chance to live. Or a challenge.

Only one of my eyes had opened, and no matter how hard I tried, the eye from the side that was wrapped in bandages did not budge. I wanted to move my arm to touch it, to check whatever happened to it, but I panicked.

A door opened.

“Ah, you’re up!” A woman who was not my mother; who had gigantic black curls and big blue eyes; entered the room I was in and beamed at me. “Are you okay? How do you feel?”

I kept my eyes on her and pulled the duvet up to my chin. I remember thinking how beautiful her eyes were. “Who . . . are you? What is . . . this place? Where is Mama? Am I dead?” My voice came out small and cracked, barely forming the words with the right pronunciation.

The woman noticed my fear but didn’t come any closer. “My name is Jocelyn Blue,” she said slowly, the smile never leaving her lips, “and this is a hospital.”

“Hos . . . pital?”

“Yes, that’s right. The place where they treat injured and sick people.”

I put a trembling hand to my injured eye, as tears flowed from the other. “Mama . . . is she gonna come . . . kill me . . .?”

At that, the woman’s eyes teared up and she stepped closer, instantly wrapping me in her arms.

It was the first time in my life that I felt a different kind of warmth. The first person who taught me what warmth feels like was Lilium. This was different; there was this sweet rosy scent, and the gentle hands that patted my back as I screamed and cried. There was that gentle voice that soothed and assured me that things will be fine. There was a mommy’s heart beating with a feeling that I felt before. A feeling that Lilium made me feel but never told me about.

At that time, it never crossed my mind that I’ve been already in love with her, from the moment she smiled at me.

This bricked roof is really digging into my ass, but I guess this is the only place where Lilium won’t think of looking for me.

I’ve been here since afternoon, watched the sunset; which was captivating, with all the oranges and reds and purples spread over the horizon; and now I’m basking in the light of a full moon, my body shivering and my teeth chattering. I’m cold. And stupid. I didn’t think this through; I should’ve brought a blanket and some snacks too. All what I was thinking off when I came up here was the opportunity to clear my mind and steer away from all the thoughts crowding in my head.

Ugh . . .

After hearing that from her, I learned that Lilium absolutely knows something about this scar. I spent a couple scary hours with her, watching her mutter in her sleep, and when she started wailing and crying, I couldn’t do anything but hold her tightly until she stopped flailing her arms and kicking her feet. It was as if she was reaching out for something, and it hit me then how hard it was for Ian to deal with such a situation all these years.

My phone pings; it’s a number I don’t recognize. I accept the call, placing the phone on my ear warily.

“YOU #*$&%* ASS! Why aren’t you picking up your #+$*%& phone! What is it made for? HUH?”

I cringe and put the phone at a distance of my ear. “Who . . . is . . . it?”

“YOU SH*THEAD! And you’re asking who is it? IS YOUR BRAIN FOR DECORATION?”

“Huh?” It’s a simple question.

“Just stop already!” The line crackles, then finally comes a voice I recognize. “Zel, it’s Annabelle, your sister, remember?”

“Anna!” The sound of her voice brightens me up, and suddenly I miss home and the garden and everyone. I miss Mom and Dad, the kids, and Windy and—

“Ah! That was Windy, wasn’t it?” I ask.

“Yeah, finally you got it. Your brain is quite numb.”

“And you’re as sharp as usual,” I mumble, a smile stretching on my face. “So, what’s it like at home these days?” I ask.

“Ugh . . . everything is so chaotic.” Anna whines. “The kids had already taken their winter holiday and they’re spending it by running around the house because they can’t go outside in this biting cold. Windy is preparing for her final exams and she’s so stressed out that it’s freaking me out! Oh, and I’m reading about celestial bodies.”

I laugh. “Oh wow, it is chaotic.”

“I know, right? Oh and guess what? There’s a new baby!” she sings.

My stomach drops. Why is she so excited about it? “Another broken kid, huh?” I mumble.

“What? No, that’s not it! I mean, Mom is pregnant!”

Wha—? “WHAT!” I almost fall off the roof from the shock. “PREGNANT!”

“You’re yelling.”

“Zel? Did you get someone pregnant?” Lucifer calls from below.

I slide down and glare at him; he’s carrying a box of drinks for tonight’s campfire. I see everyone is quite enjoying their time, unlike a certain someone. “No, you freaking bastard! Mom is pregnant.”

Lucifer’s blue eyes widen and he drops the box with a loud clatter. “You’re kidding,” he says after a pause.

“Nah-huh!” I wave my phone. “Anna just told me.”

“The hell.” He rakes a hand through his hair. “That’s great.” A small smile creeps on his face as he runs inside.

“Anna? Yeah, where were we?”

“We were saying, I’m having a sibling! And, how is it going with your discover-love mission?”

My heart plummets—Anna’s so good at jumping from a subject to another—and Lilium’s face flashes in my mind. My body goes hot, then cold, then hot again. Regardless of what Lilium knows about me, I can’t disguise or ignore the fact that she’s taken a huge part of me now. I can’t ignore the fact that yes, I like her. I like her so much.

“Dunno,” I mumble into the phone.

“You realize all your replies start with dunno?” Anna mutters.

I stare at the starry sky. “According to you Anna, what is Love?”

“Huh? Why are you asking me?”

Ignoring her, I let the jumble of thoughts untangle. “Is it when you don’t wanna let go of the other’s hand? Or when you don’t want people to look at said person? Is it when you wanna go and find them, is it when you wanna bother them, or could it be when you suddenly can’t hold the urge to kiss them?” Heat floods my neck and face with each word, and I close my eyes, the image of Lilium’s face flashing again.

Her wine-colored hair tumbling down her shoulders. Her eyebrows arching at me. Her eyes twinkling behind her glasses. Her beautiful lemon-pink lips curving into a smile. Her being. Her kind soul. Her words. Show me what you have in that heart of yours!

“That’s cheesy,” Anna says softly.

I let my arm fall against my eyes.

“But yes, if that’s what it felt like to you, then yes. That’s it. You found your answer.”

“What is yours, Anna?”

“My answer . . .?” She stalls for a few seconds, and I could picture her curling a black lock around her finger. “I think when you love someone, they could make you sad. They could even make you feel lonely sometimes, but that someone can also make you happier than you’ll ever be. That’s my answer.”

I know. I know, I wanna say, but my heart is beating so loud and I’m so happy I’m almost lightheaded. It makes me think that it’s only when someone says they love you that you’re able to start loving yourself. I think when someone accepts you, that’s when you start feeling that you can forgive yourself a little and start to love yourself. That’s how it felt like to me.

The moment Lilium said she loves me, the moment I learned her feelings through her actions, through her words, through her lips, I knew that I was doomed. Positively. My heart was ultimately swept by a strong force that I kept moving against, even though I knew I will be drifting with it whatever I would do. From the first time I met her, she gave me what I wanted. What I yearned for. Without questioning anything.

The line crackles as Anna waits for me to say something. “You still there?” she mumbles cautiously.

“Yeah, yeah.” I rub my face and sit up.

“So, is that your final answer?”

“The answer can change with the person and the time. You know, love is unreasonable.” A smile seeps into my voice.

“You’re right,” she says, “but still, good for you. For now, you found your person, and your heart can finally settle.” I know she’s happy for me because of the smile in her voice, but I can’t let myself bask in this happiness yet. There’s still a lid I’ve gotta open.

“Gotta go,” I mumble into the phone then hang up without waiting for her answer.

“Finally!”

“AAA!” Flinching, I drop the phone that slides down the bricks, and scramble forward, watching it as it falls from the roof and lands in a pot with a plop and splash.

Bardwin wipes his face and glares at us from below.

“Whoops,” Lilium mumbles beside me.

“Um . . . Gilda?” Bardwin mumbles.

“Yes, bro?” Gilda calls from the kitchen.

“There’s a phone in the soup.”

“What?”

I sigh loudly and glare back at Lilium. “Seriously?”

“The waves tonight give the brain a good tingle. Don’t you think?” she says nonchalantly, resting her arms over the stone railing.

“What the hell was that?” I snap.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” Her voice ripples in a stream of giggles, and my face blushes.

I brush tendrils of her hair away, put my hands on either sides of her face, and will her to look at me. Lilium’s eyes are a cornflower blue, the hue of the most magical things in life. The sea, the sky, the pure color of her merry soul. They crinkle at the edges as she laughs and tugs at my arms. Eyes like hers can burn a heart to ashes and turn a universe upside down. Eyes like hers can make a soul fall in love with no going back.

“Don’t laugh!” I say, my face burning. But that doesn’t work, because she laughs harder and now, I’m laughing too.

“I’m sorry, really.” Lilium dabs at her eyes. “I’m sorry about your phone. That was a very tragic death!” She starts laughing again, and I think, is this the same girl who was screaming a few hours ago?

“Yeah, laugh as much as you like. You’re not the one who’s phoneless now,” I say with a frown.

“Sorry,” she mumbles with a red face, “but now you can get a new phone as a birthday present!” she adds, instantly brightening up.

“Good excuse.”

“You will laugh about it later. Here, I got you a blanket.”

I take it from her and drape it over my shoulders. “Hold it a second.” I narrow my eyes at her and Lilium averts her eyes. “How did you know I’m here?”

Lilium sits by my side, pulling her knees to her chest. “It’s a hunch,” she mumbles into her sweater.

This feels odd. Then it hits me. “S-Since when were you here?”

Moonlight reflects on her face as she blushes and hides behind her hands. Reaching out, I tuck a loose lock behind her ear; today she has no piercings, I took them off when we reached the infirmary; then I pull her closer and wrap the blanket around us both. “You heard me?” I ask. She nods. Ugh . . . “What am I gonna do with ya?”

“You heard me too, right?” Her body tenses, and she takes a deep breath. “Call it even?”

My heart plummets; it must’ve been so hard on her too. “I can’t, I need to face this. You need to face this. I think we need a closure.”

“You opened . . . the lid?” Lilium’s eyes are silver moons upon which my heart somersaults, and I hold every nerve so tight so as not to take all of her right away.

I smile; it’s time to do this. “I can’t believe I’m doing this . . .”

Lilium takes my hand and squeezes reassuringly.

“Thanks to Mama,” I whisper, “I probably knew in the back of my mind what might happen if I opened the lid. What I must do. It’s simple, but it’s hard because it’s so simple.”

“Zel . . .”

“Thank you for hearing me out. Thank you for accepting my weaknesses. Thank you.”

Thank you.

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