The water isn’t hot enough. I need it to scorch my skin clean. To take my mind away from the predicament that I find myself in. The mess that I’ve pulled Lucas into. Of course, I feel guilty. I’ve walked around carrying guilt on my back for years. You could say I’m a pro at it, but I don’t feel like a champion. I was stupid to think that Sacramento would fix things. Just thinking about my dad makes me want to rip the flesh from my bones. And Lucas knew.
When I saw the note, it was the first time that I’d seen his delicate, cursive handwriting. Really seen it I mean. The words, his words, were trying to protect me. I wish that he’d come to me first.
What a stupid, brilliant boy. To imagine him now, watching me, without me knowing, pulls my heart in two. On the one hand, he is just another person using me for his own pleasure. On the other hand, the very idea of it exhilarates my senses. Does that make me as twisted as him? In reality, I’m much, much worse. Lucas risked his own life to save my own, yet I may as well have thrown him to the lions.
Lucas thinks that I am soft and gentle and sincere. That is how I want him to think of me. If he knew what I really am, he’d never look at me the same way again.
A knock vibrates through the house, stalling my thoughts. I launch out of the bath, water spraying everywhere, and wrap a towel around me. The bangs become more urgent as I make my way to my room. Peering out of my bedroom window, I see who is at the door. It is Lucas’s dad, Mr Stevenson. He sees me with desperate eyes. I shake my head, knowing what is about to come. My mum barges out of the house and practically lunges at him. As I crack my window open further, I hear her telling him to leave our family alone. The wetness pooling in my eyes finally tips over. So much injustice. The door slams on her way back into the house. A force so large it jolts my tears away. She stampedes up the stairs to find me propped up against the wall.
“Sophia, get away from the window. You are not to speak with that man, do you hear me?” she yells.
I nod silently. I am tired of talking to her, of lying to her. She swoops in and closes my curtains.
“Try and get some sleep.”
It is 7 pm. I do not want to sleep. Instead, I twitch open the curtains and stare towards Lucas’s house. Gazing back at me stands Mr Stevenson, yet to renter his property. He is mouthing something that I can’t make out. Gently, I ease the window open fully to get a better listen.
“Tonight,” he says while pointing to his front door. “Tonight.”
It takes me a few moments before the penny drops. To let him know that I understand, I smile and tap on my wrist. He lifts both hands and shows me ten fingers and then he flashes two more – midnight. I show him a thumbs up, signalling that I know exactly what he wants me to do.
I don’t know how Lucas does this. I’m struggling to steady my breathing. Even though I know that Mr Stevenson awaits my arrival across the road, my body won’t cooperate. I need to control myself. I close my eyes and recite words of comfort; my dad is not here. I am safe. I will not get caught. I will not screw this up like I have screwed up so many other things in my life. My fingernails dig into the palms of my clenched fists, frustration building.
All I need to do is get out of the front door. Simple. My key feels heavy in my pocket. It has somehow doubled in weight due to the focus it holds over my mind. I glance at my mum’s bedroom. Her door is shut. She sleeps soundly. My pupils dilate, allowing me to see my environment better. As softly as I can, I tip-toe across the landing and begin my descent downstairs. Every movement plays out as if in slow motion. I don’t want to make a single mistake, yet as soon as I press my heel against the step halfway down, a creak escapes from the wooden slats. Flinching, I cease motion and listen intently. Only when I am content that my mum remains aloof do I continue my journey. My reverse Mount Everest. The front door is so close yet so far. It practically beams in front of me, calling me closer. With my feet finally on solid ground, I survey my surroundings. This is where it happened. Where my dad and Lucas confronted one another. Where everything unravelled.
My mouth feels parched. I can’t waste any more time. My hand twists the key in the lock. I take my time, ensuring the click is as quiet as possible. My sweaty palm rests against the back of the door as I start to ease it open. Cold air hisses inside, nipping at my fingers like invisible claws. I step out, joining the night, and close the door behind me. Everything is so still and silent. Nothing but the moon and the stars look overhead as I creep across the street towards Lucas’s house.
Mr Stevenson smiles at me from the dining room window as I approach. I try the handle of the door and smile when it gives way, allowing me to enter inside.
“We have to whisper,” he announces, pointing to the ceiling above. “How have you been?”
I can’t sustain eye contact with this question hanging between us. Such a simple question with so many possible answers.
“How is Lucas?” I deflect.
This time, it is Mr Stevenson that turns away. He begins to rock back and forth on the balls of his feet, hands stuffed into pockets.
“He’s in big trouble, Sophia, big trouble no thanks to you.”
Even though I expected as much, the reality is hard to swallow.
“I’m so sorry,” is all I can manage to say.
“Why lie? Why are you protecting your father?”
I shake my head furiously, “You’ve got it all wrong. I’m not protecting him, I’m protecting myself.”
A car drives past outside, illuminating the street. I automatically jump in response, my body on edge to the possibility of anyone else listening in.
“Lucas told me to ask you, what happened in Richmond?”
My heart practically skips a beat in my chest. A torrent of images flashes before me; a drunken haze, a dark road, and a bump in the night no one saw coming. Least of all me.