Chapter 11- Isaac
“I’m not in the mood for it, Isaac,” Isolde says tiredly, shrugging on her rucksack, and walks quickly away.
She’s never in the mood for anything anymore.
“I’ve been thinking,” Mum says quietly, the second I enter the house.
I cast a look around the main room. No-one but her, sitting with her feet tucked underneath her on the sofa.
“About?” I ask, hanging my coat up before coming to sit next to her.
“About your Dad.”
“What did you –?”
I hear the sound of the key in the lock of the door, and the man in question walks in. Mum tenses beside me, and I press my lips together in distaste.
“Ann, Isaac,” he says cheerily.
I don’t reply, but glance at Mum, and make my eyes dart upwards. She shakes her head so slightly that I barely note the movement.
Dad is a volatile man. Sometimes he is incredibly unkind, and sometimes he’s overly cheerful. Mum plays along. I do not. I am determined to hold onto the small amount of dignity I still have.
I stand up, and quickly make my way upstairs. Mum wants to stay down; I will respect that.
Once in my bedroom, I flick through my homework, only half-concentrating, because the other half of my mind is on Isolde.
All the bad moods, the never wanting to do anything . . . she still won’t tell me what’s up with her. It’s been over two weeks. It’s about time I put my foot down, though I doubt that will get me anywhere but in the middle of an angry argument.
I finish the last of my homework and stuff my books back in my bag. I have a few examinations to revise for, but I’ve got time – hopefully. Thoughts of an a row do not prohibit me from escaping out the front door and seeking out Isolde, who, like the whole of the previous fortnight except for school, is at home.
Amanda lets me in, albeit reluctantly. We exchange a few, half-hearted pleasantries in which the uncomfortable look on her face does not change. Vowing that I’ll get to the bottom of this mystery, I pass her and jump up the red-carpeted stairs, walking across the hallway until I get to Isolde’s room. Usually I just go straight in, but after hesitation, I knock on her sea-blue door.
“Mum?” Her voice reaches me.
“It’s Isaac.” I open the door, stepping inside.
Isolde’s sitting on her bed, back to me. As I enter, she turns to glare at me. “What?” she hisses.
Even from a few metres away, I can see the circles around her eyes. I note the way her pupils don’t focus directly on me, but swivel all around her large room.
“Why the hostility?” I ask.
“I thought you would get the message.”
I stare at her, and she exhales heavily and quickly, clearly annoyed. Her fingers twist together – a dead giveaway. She always does that when trying to force away negative feelings.
“You should start talking,” I say with a hard stare, “because you’re clearly hiding something.”
“I don’t want to tell you.” She suddenly becomes fascinated with her bedroom window, and stares out of it while digging her fingers into her yellow blanket – the one’s she’s had ever since I can remember. Whenever something got her down, she always stuck her head in it and smelt. She said that the scent of home was of comfort. I wish that was the same for me.
“Yeah, I got that,” I say drily. Talking about things I already know – she’s trying to wear me out. But I’ve got my foot in the door and it’s not moving.
“Then why are you still asking?” she snaps at me, nearly jumping round on her bed in indignation. If looks could kill, she’d face eternity in Confinement and then some.
“Because I want to know,” I reply. As much as I don’t want to admit it, her misery is not leaving my mind. Try as I might to push it aside, I am bothered too much. “Now we’ve got that established –”
“Isaac. Can you just –” She flaps her hands in a ‘get out’ gesture.
“No,” I say, obstinate. I set my jaw and change my position to a more comfortable one. “I’m prepared to wait.”
Isolde glares at me with a tight expression. “You do not want to know.” She speaks the words slowly and deliberately. They send chills through my body, and I’m getting the feeling that this is more serious than I thought.
Her voice catches, and she turns away from me again, muttering something under her breath.
“Would you at least tell me why?” I press.
Her mouth moves, but she doesn’t say anything. “Because, it’s private,” Isolde eventually answers. “I don’t have to tell you everything, Isaac.” She stabs a finger at me. “You rarely tell me what’s wrong with you, and if you do, it takes me about an hour to get a halfway decent reply from you. So don’t you start complaining, and stop being so hypocritical and immature.”
I appraise her, my lips a tight line. I can’t escape from the truth. “You’re not me, though,” I point out. “You usually talk. I usually don’t. It’s not normal for you.”
“Well,” she says tersely, “I’m not normal anymore.”
I frown. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Isolde lifts a shoulder, averting her eyes. “Bye, Isaac,” she hints heavily.
My eyes narrow. “You going anywhere?”
She glowers at me. Her eyes aren’t twinkling emerald anymore, but that cold green glass I hate to see.
I close my eyes briefly, then reopen them, letting go of my irritation. Isolde’s unhappy. I should not be so selfish. “I didn’t come here to start arguing with –”
“Certainly seems like it,” she interrupts.
“I know,” I sigh, leaning against the doorframe as I try to fix what I messed up. “I just –”
Isolde shakes her head. “Isaac. Please.” Her voice has lost the sharp, angry tone, and is now vulnerable and deflated.
“Don’t leave me up all night, worrying,” I tell her, but my voice is angry rather than pleading.
Her face twists into a grimace and she buries her head in her hands, mumbling something. I catch the word ‘cowardice’.
I step forward, but her head snaps up. “Don’t,” Isolde whispers.
My face morphs into an expression of confusion.
She shakes her head almost frantically, and I go cold again. What on earth’s wrong with her?
“Isolde?” I mutter uncertainly. She looks like she’s going to start crying, but she never cries in front of anyone.
But, to my incredulity, tears start dripping down her cheeks. I stand there awkwardly, helpless and impotent.
Do something, I scream at myself.
I rub a hand across my face and go over to Isolde, sitting next to her shaking form. My arm slips under hers as I hug her to me. As cliché as it is, we do everything together. Whenever there’s a secret, we always tell each other first. I may not be such a sentimental person, but she has to know that I’m there for her. And she knows that my words aren’t expressive. So I just hold her tightly, loath to let her go.
Her hands feebly push against me, but I don’t release her. She stops resisting in about four seconds anyway, and buries her head in my chest as she continues to sob. I don’t know how to describe how stupid and worthless and horrible I feel right now. There’s a sort of bubble in my lower throat – the type I get when I’ve been swimming for too long. That’s it. Too long without Isolde’s happy laugh. Too long without hearing her questioning everything and anything. Too long.
I’m conscious of it growing darker outside, and my shirt getting wetter, and my own eyes stinging. Isolde continues her weeping, and I remain with my arms around her shaking body for a while, silent. Words need not be said – for now, at least.
She eventually stops, with a series of shudders. I don’t move until she does.
Isolde brushes her hair away from her face, and props herself up, starting to wipe away her tears. I remove her hand, and do it for her, feeling my shirt sticking to my skin with all the salty water.
I hate seeing her in pain, as much as I hate seeing Mum in pain. It brings more hurt than any injury can inflict upon me. My weak spot: the loved ones.
“No talking?” I ask her quietly, knowing the answer. Now’s not the time, but there’s that sliver of hope that she will tell me, and this horrible situation can be resolved.
Her face crumples, like she’s about to dissolve again, but then it smoothes. “No talking,” she replies, her voice unsteady. “I promised myself I wouldn’t break down again,” she murmurs.
“Again?” I say sharply.
“No talking,” she reminds me.
I mash my lips together, displeased. “Let me take that back,” I say vehemently.
“No,” Isolde murmurs, and sighs, rubbing at her red-rimmed eyes.
I bite my tongue. Isolde can be a stubborn person when she wants to; there’s no point trying to persuade her.
“Then you go home. Mathematics tomorrow.”
“Do you really believe I’ll just up and leave you?” I ask. Has the twelve years since nursery not taught her anything? I don’t take things halfway.
She meets my steady gaze, but averts her eyes soon. “Worth a try.”
“No. It’s not,” I disagree.
“You don’t understand,” Isolde says, frustrated. Her hands fidget.
A whine creeps into my voice. “I don’t. Because you’re not telling me.”
“I can’t, Isaac.” Her pleading look bores into me, willing me to accept and move on. “Please just drop it.”
“I’m not that type of person who can shove things out of my mind. Things stick.” She must not know how the bad thoughts constantly sneak into my minds, plaguing me all day, every day. Driving me to distraction with worry.
“I would tell you, it’s just –”
“Ignore whatever this ‘just’ is,” I say, my fingers tightening around her wrist. She twists slightly to look at me, confliction clear in her eyes. “Tell me.”
She hesitates again. “I don’t know –”
“Tell me,” I repeat. I tense as I wait for her to speak.
But before she has time to even open her mouth, there is a quiet knock on her bedroom door. I suck my cheeks in, staring daggers at the door. Just when she was about to tell me, the interruption comes.
Isolde clears her voice and brushes her face, trying to erase the effects of the time she spent crying. I very much doubt Amanda will be fooled. I’m not – that awful experience will be etched in my mind forever. “Yes?” Isolde calls, her tone falsely light.
Amanda steps in, but I don’t look at her, because I very much doubt she’d appreciate a resentful glare. Instead, I look out the window at the forest, willing Amanda to get out. I mean, I’m worried about her too, but she has really irked me.
“It’s getting quite late,” she says.
“What time?” Isolde’s voice is not smooth, but even enough. Her eyes are still rimmed with bright red, though.
I suppress a groan. It is too late. By the time I get home, I’ll have to hit the sack – no time for revision. No time for sleep, either, really. I’m facing a night of incessant fretting.
“I have to go now, I guess,” I say reluctantly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Bye, Isaac,” murmurs Isolde, and Amanda wishes me farewell too.
I make my way outside the cottage and begin the long trek home, deeply annoyed that Amanda interrupted before I coaxed an answer out of Isolde. I’ll get one soon. If I don’t, I’ll die of anxiety.