This Wretched Heart

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Skin And Bones

'Your skin and bones turn into something beautiful’

Yellow by Coldplay.

Peter

Sam had seemed delighted to take the trip over to collect David. Sitting outside his Georgian house, Peter imagined the kind of money his family must have. The description ‘ biggest house on the block’ would have sufficed. He had driven up the winding driveway, where hundreds of daffodils and Magnolia trees were in full bloom. The cherry blossoms were shedding their blush colored petals and it looked like a pink snow in a Japanese painting. He had given Sam a missed call a few minutes before and was reluctantly about to get out and ring the doorbell when he saw him in his rear view mirror running up the drive, a worried look on his face.

‘ Sorry, sorry I ran down to the baker’s to get these.’ He was carrying a tray of coffee and a bag that Peter hoped held something tasty. He had skipped breakfast that morning as he had been busy checking the car for Lara. He knew from experience that it was better sometimes not to fight the irrational fears she had or they would just spiral out of control. He didn’t mind anyway because he hadn’t checked the oil in ages.

‘ Ah great stuff, hop in.’ He jumped out to hold the door for him and was sure that this wasn’t the first time Sam had been chauffeured around.

‘ Great house.’ He felt he had to comment.

‘ Thanks man, yeah it’s not the worst.’ He smiled sheepishly. Peter couldn’t get over how modest this guy seemed. He was wearing one of those cream jumpers farmers wore and his jeans were unbranded. His converse were worn looking and instead of an expensive watch on his wrist he had a thin black leather band. The only showy thing about him was his smile which was so perfectly white and even, it made Peter want to go and buy one of those home whitening kits. Maybe Sam’s family had inherited the house and weren’t as well off as it seemed. He was reminded of a recent incident at work

‘ These fecking la di da women.’ Joe had complained to Peter loudly at the bar

‘ They come in and stay for hours over one coffee then go home to their mansions.’

A nurse and frequent patron of theirs who had been within earshot ,explained to him that this was probably their only social outing of the day and that their mansions were often too cold to heat and agonizingly lonely to sit in. Joe had sheepishly apologized and retreated to the kitchen.To think of the loneliness these people must feel made Peter’s stomach churn. It was worse he thought for those who had fallen from great heights. He and Lara would get by if they had to lose the house. He could remember living off very little in college and it wasn’t as if they had an opulent lifestyle now by any means.

'So what do your parents do ?’Peter blurted it out without thinking. Lara would have glared at him for this, she found those kind of questions ‘callous’. Probably the fact that she wasn’t happy in her job that made her feel insecure when people asked her. It was if by uttering what she did out loud, she drifted further and further away from her dreams of opening a bakery.

‘ Well my Dad is retired now but he was a surgeon and my mum owns her own jewellery boutique... although she spends more of her time now with Dad and less time running the store.’ He grinned ‘ I always get asked that question when people see the house’.

Peter chuckled ‘ So I’m not original in my ‘ how the hell can they afford this’ thought ?’

They both laughed out loud and Peter again felt the wonderful warmth of having a male friend with the same sense of humour to just hang out with or take mundane drives. He wished Lara had more girlfriends. Kate was her best friend but she was a mother now and as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t be there for Lara the way she was before. Her children were her priority and although they met for the occasional coffee, he could tell Lara missed her. Maybe when she was ready to have children they could re-establish their closeness.

That said, he had been very apprehensive when Jane strutted back into the picture. For one thing he remembered how Lara had reacted to harmless banter between them and how jealous she had gotten. For another, he knew (through Lara), that Jane had a dark side to her and was afraid she would drag his wife back down into the depths however she had reassured him that she was in no rush to dive back into their friendship. He felt a little bad that he had taken over Sam but they still went for their jogs and coffees and she really didn’t seem to mind . He appreciated the fact that Sam never pretended to know more about Lara than he did so there were no awkward revelations. This, he surmised, would be more likely occur with female friends with whom Lara would probably be more open to sharing personal matters with. Sam was just a really nice chap and he understood now why Lara enjoyed his company so much.

‘ You really don’t mind that they run around in the dark together?’ Joe tactful as always, had asked.

The honest truth was that he didn’t mind in the least. He hadn’t picked up on anything untoward. Surely Lara wouldn’t have invited him over for dinner if there was anything going on and Sam wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with him. He hoped he wasn’t that kind of crazy weirdo.

‘ So what’s Lara’s Dad like?’ Sam’s question surprised him. It was a tricky one to answer. On the one hand he was really kind to Peter and welcoming and had never stood in the way of their relationship. On the other hand Peter blamed him for the darkness Lara carried with her. Her knew that her mother’s suicide had greatly affected her but her father’s words of ‘It’s not your fault’ hadn’t done anything to assuage her guilt.

’ I’m sure he just meant ‘don’t blame yourself’ you know the way children always blame themselves for things.’ He had meant this and tried to convince Lara of the same. Although she often blamed her mother’s death for her depression when talking to others she had confessed to him that the darkness had been there ever before her suicide. She had felt that this must have taken its toll on her mother’s happiness.

‘ I mean she was a stay at home mum so I was her job as she saw it’. She had been in the middle of a particularly bad patch and Peter thought it was just the usual self blame ‘ She must have felt like a failure to have such a miserable daughter , she blamed herself and that’s why she killed herself’.

‘ Don’t be silly, all twelve year olds are moody, besides suicide is never just about one thing Lara’.

‘ Maybe not but I wasn’t just moody, you don’t understand!’ That’s when she had told him how she used to pretend to be sick nearly every week so as not to have to get up out of bed and face the day. She told him how she avoided leaving the house even as young as nine.

‘ You see Peter ? I was never normal and what’s worse is that I now hide behind my mother’s death and blame her when really all along it was my fault’.

She had tried to talk to her father about all of this but he had been too caught up in his own grief to see that his only daughter was being eaten inside out with self loathing.She had stopped eating and had been starving herself into nothing until the day that they had met, when he had caught this tiny, bony creature who had stared up at as if he was the only person in the world. She had been standing at the school bus stop when some Jackass had pulled up her skirt as she ran by. The sniggers and wolf-whistles had been too much for her to bear and she had flat out fainted. Luckily he had been there to catch her. He would never forget those beautiful green eyes staring up at him nor the disturbing realisation that she felt eerily light in his arms. There was no going back after that and as their relationship burgeoned so did Lara’s beautiful frame as she gained a lovely comforting plumpness to her body and her hips jutted less into his.

‘ I forgot not to eat, you took me out of myself.’ She told him.

Unfortunately the untreated disorder manifested itself in other ways later through her anger and jealousy. But at least she had started to fill up the world again. Her somewhat absent father must have seen the transformation because he never forbade them from doing anything together.So when Sam asked what David Bell was like, Peter was torn between anger at the years of apathy and goodwill for the years of letting Lara be part of his life.

‘ He’s a lovely man.’ He responded,then.. ‘He and Lara have had a hard time but things are much better now.’

Sam smiled and nodded making him wonder how much Lara had confided in him about her past.

‘ Here we are now, home I guess.’ The ‘Welcome to Ripplewater’ sign a fading familiarity.

‘ Oh yeah I keep forgetting you’re both from the same place!’ Sam was looking about curiously.

‘Do your family live nearby?’

‘ Not anymore.’ Peter didn’t know how to keep his voice neutral. ‘ My dad passed away a few years ago and mum went to live with my sister up North’.

‘ Oh God I’m sorry to hear that, wow this must be hard for you’. Sam’s face was so full of heartfelt sympathy that Peter felt a lump in his throat.

‘ Ah yeah, it’s not great to be honest. We had to sell the house and well it just feels strange not to have it to drop into.’ Strange wasn’t the right word. Harrowing was more like it and at first Peter hadn’t been able to visit the town for years. His mother hated the thought of rattling about the big empty house with so many memories so she had chosen to move in with his younger sister. The arrangement worked for them because his mother paid a little towards the mortgage which somewhat made up for the lack of two solid incomes and she was able to mind his nieces during the day while Karen was at work and Jack worked temporarily as a barman. He had felt extremely guilty at not being able to take his own mother in at first as he was the eldest but when he saw that it suited everyone better this way he had felt a lot better.

‘ Look Peter we don’t have the room .’ He knew Lara would have hated to have his mother move in but he agreed that she was right about the lack of space. They only had two bedrooms and a small study. If they eventually decided to have kids this would leave them in an awkward position.

Karen and Jack had built their home in the middle of the country in better times. Jack had been a builder so their house was immense.

‘ Over the top’ Lara had pointed out. She was right and when Jack’s work had dried up they had a very difficult time heating the place. His mother insisted on contributing to bills and this kept them all as one happy family. Jack was easy-going and didn’t mind his mother in law being around. Lara would have hated having someone else around the house all the time. Their home was her solace and she hated the thoughts of sharing that with anyone else. Perhaps it was an only child thing or maybe just a woman thing, either way they had been lucky not to be burdened with that decision.But when he drove into the quiet town where he had spent so many days just milling about hanging out with friends by the river and then later with Lara, he felt a sharp stab right in his gut. He had drifted from all his school friends and it had only been him and Karen. He had no ties anymore to this huge part of his life, only an ageing man with sad eyes, sitting outside the front door on a little wooden bench who waved as they pulled up outside the modest townhouse.

They both got out of the car and he unlatched the small front garden gate as Sam stretched his legs nervously and David picked up a small cloth bag and umbrella and walked slowly towards them. He looked frail and more delicate than usual but he smiled widely at Peter and shook his hand as always.

‘ Ah Peter, you’re very good to collect me’. He patted him on the back ‘ And who have we here?’ Peter chuckled at his teacher like way of greeting people.

Sam had sidled up the path and was smiling shyly at him.

‘ Hi Mr Bell, my name is Sam, I’m a friend of Peter and Lara’s.’ He stuck out his hand and was met with a friendly if slightly taken aback smile.

‘ Erm, Sam’s joining us for dinner and he said he’d keep me company on the trip up.’ Peter felt he had to explain himself for some reason.

‘ Ah very good, let’s get going then or Lara will be anxious’. David smiled and winked at Peter. Sam made his way back to the car and politely got into the back seat.

‘ How is she these days?’. Peter was taken aback. It had been ages since David had asked about his daughter in that way and he wondered had Lara said something to him on the phone .

‘ She’s great actually’. He felt defensive but tried not to let it show in his voice. ‘ But you’re right we better head or she’ll worry’.

As they exited the town in silence, Peter wondered had he missed something about his own wife that her father had picked up on ? She seemed in better form than ever but was she putting it on? Had she been acting overly happy to cover the black mood. No. He wasn’t going to let a small question from her father eat away at him. Lara and he were fine there was nothing to worry to about.

‘ So how did you two become friends?’ David had turned slightly in the seat to look at Sam. Peter wondered what had happened his weak neck which prevented him from driving.

‘ I met Lara first actually.’ Sam leaned forward and smiled at Peter in the rearview mirror. ‘She and I used to work in the same company then we happened to bump into each other in the park.’

‘ Oh really?’ David gave Peter a sideways glance who pretended not to notice.

‘ Um well we both jog in the same place’. Poor Sam was uncomfortable and who could blame him? This was unusual behaviour from David and again Peter wondered had he somehow missed something. Maybe Lara was right and his people perceptions could be very off. He was often guilty at taking everything at face value and Lara would laugh at the many nuances of people’s behaviour that would drift over his head. Then again David had probably hoped to have a heart to heart with his future son in law and was just slightly put out that they had company.

‘ Yeah so I met Sam through Lara and we hit it off.’ He winked at him in the rearview mirror.

‘ That’s nice.’ David smiled more warmly now ‘ It’s good to have friends in common.’

They spent the rest of the journey filled with chit-chat and the occasional inevitable, uncomfortable lull. Sam, he could tell, was at ease speaking to David’s generation and asked him all kinds of questions about teaching. Best of all he sympathised with him about all the recent government cuts to Education and the lack of recognition that his profession received. By the end of the trip, David was smiling widely and his earlier caution had transformed into near giddiness. They stood on the doorstep laughing at some silly joke when Lara opened the door.


Sam


It had been a strange morning. He had been surprised when Peter asked him along to collect Lara’s Dad. It was foolish of him he realised to be nervous. It wasn’t his father in law for God’s sake but he couldn’t help but want to make a good impression. He knew he was often guilty of the age old cliche of wanting everyone to like him. He didn’t know why but it really irked him when he thought someone had less than a positive impression of him.

‘ You can’t please everyone’. His own Dad was fond of saying.

Of course this was true but a part of his identity was his ability to get along with most people. He was completely thrown then at Mr. Bell’s frosty reception. He was racking his mind to think of what he had done or said to warrant this. Maybe he had been too slow getting out of the car and introducing himself. Or maybe (and this one was common enough) he had appeared like somewhat of a toff. He was sure it wasn’t his clothes which he went out of his way to tone down. He couldn’t stand the way some of his school friends turned up their Lacoste T-shirts or the girls made sure their Chanel purses were on display at every opportunity. It was hard enough before the recession to get people not to judge this display of wealth but now it was practically dangerous.He cursed then his private school. His accent was one thing that he couldn’t quite play down. Perhaps Lara’s dad hated private school kids because he taught at a public school. He was feeling more and more uncomfortable but then he overheard Mr. Bell asking Peter how his daughter was, as he got into the car. Squirming with embarrassment at his self centeredness, he realised the man was merely worried about his daughter and his presence was probably hindering a planned chat about Lara. He was relieved but worried. What was going on with Lara he wondered? She had seemed fine. Maybe her history of depression meant that she was always going to be fretted over by those close to her.

He knew Lara of the light and had never experienced or seen the dark days she spoke of. She had told him that her Mother had passed away but had never divulged the details. He was intuitive enough to see that she didn’t want to go back there. He hated to think of her in the shadows, she was so full of sparkle when they went running together that he just couldn’t quite picture her lying in bed, hiding under a duvet.

‘I don’t want people to think of me that way.’ Her fingers had been playing with a blade of grass as they sat in one of the more isolated parts of the park. ‘ I don’t want you to think of me that way’.

‘ Do you ever get days like that ?’ He had wanted to lie to her and say yes that sometimes he couldn’t get out of bed and that he found it hard to keep going but he knew he was a bad liar.

‘ No Lara, I don’t.’ Looking away from her because what should normally have sounded like something to be grateful for, was at this moment making him feel silly and ironically less of a man.

‘ Don’t feel bad Sam, please don’t’. Her hand had reached over and lightly touched his. So lightly and so quickly that he wasn’t even sure she had made contact with his skin except for the goosebumps all over his neck and arms. He was grateful that he was wearing baggy trousers.

‘ It doesn’t mean I don’t understand or don’t sympathise.’ God that sounded patronising..

‘ Does Peter ever suffer from depression?’ He didn’t know why he asked it just came out. Was he trying to compete with him or trying to find another reason to envy him.

‘ Sorry sorry that’s Peter’s business’, He was glad he said this because Lara smiled and changed the subject.

He of course had wondered later about her reluctance to speak about Peter in that context. Surely if he didn’t suffer from depression she would have just told him so. Was it a complete coincidence that two people who got together , happen to suffer from the same disease or was it more common than he thought? None of his friends had ever spoken to him about being depressed. He cast his mind over all the different people he knew and he never remembered any of them appearing to have ‘dark’ days. Now he had met two people within a few months who did. Maybe alike attracted alike in this case.

Then all of a sudden a face appeared in his mind, a handsome blue eyed face. God how could he have forgotten the guy ? Rob White had been a big strapping rugby playing guy whose laugh and practical jokes were notorious around the school. He seemed to be on a first name basis with everyone. The cleaners loved him because he would hold doors for them after school and lift tables out of the way so they could mop classrooms. The teachers adored him even though his grades were average. Although he messed about a little during class he managed to bring out a laugh in even the most stern of faces and was never cheeky. He seemed to have a way about him that brought out the best in everyone. The girls of course adored him but he was devoted to one girl only. He couldn’t remember her name but he recalled her presence at Rob’s side at different times. Sam didn’t know the guy personally but he could evoke that laugh in his mind as if it were yesterday. He would have thought he would never have forgotten this but the mind he realised had a strange way of compartmentalising events. These compartments weren’t always correctly labelled and maybe this was why Rob hadn’t first sprung to mind when he thought of depression. Never in a million years would anyone have ever described the guy as depressed.

They had found his body in the garage one Monday morning before school. Sam would never forget the wailing sound that had come through the walls from Rob’s home classroom when the principal and local policeman had told them the news. Girls had been hysterical and gathered around in groups cries bouncing off cries echoing through the school. Even the jockiest of the guys had been rubbing their eyes with their sleeves. They had been let home early that day and Sam had felt an unfamiliar heaviness in his heart as he made his way up to his front door. His mum had met him with a big hug and made him his favourite brunch, eggs Benedict with potato wedges.

‘ The poor dear, his poor parents.’ she had wiped her eyes and hugged him for the hundredth time that day. ‘ If you ever feel down Sam please talk to us , never let it build up’.

He had assumed she had been referring to his feelings about Rob’s death. The word suicide had not yet been used at that point. It turned out that Rob had suffered from severe depression. He had refused to go to counselling and his mother and girlfriend had been trying to convince him to get help. When Sam thought back on it. Rob had been absent quite a lot recently but he had assumed he was either sick or at a match. Rob had also told him he worked with his Dad sometimes during school time. They had taken all of this at face value.

‘ Lilly said he used to just sit in his room crying’. His mother had said passively over dinner. The impact of those words had been huge. He couldn’t get his head around this at all and looking back now he had shut the images of Rob crying right out of his mind. Again he realised that he had never really allowed himself to dwell on the fact that this apparently happy guy had been suffering in silence. Even now he couldn’t imagine Lara crying all day. Worse he couldn’t imagine her .. He shook his head to clear the image. No wonder Mr. Bell was weird he was probably annoyed that Peter had brought him along.

The tension had eventually dissipated as they got closer to home and he found that he was enjoying his company and he could see relief spreading across Peter’s face. Lara had answered the door to them as they stood chuckling on the doorstep. The smell of roasting chicken had wafted outwards and Peter and Mr. Bell had hugged her and made their way through to the dining room. They hadn’t noticed that she had been crying. Her eyes were red and there was the faintest smudge of eyeliner on her cheek. She knew he knew , because her smile faded and she hugged him quickly. She was a master of disguise he saw because, in a flash, her smile returned as she chatted to them all about their journey.


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