A wild winter gale rattled my windowpane, and the darkness of the night touched every corner of my room. I couldn’t remember Sam leaving, and though I heard Dad and Vicki go to bed, I couldn’t remember if they came in to say goodnight—like they always did.
The music vibrating through my earphones helped filter out some of the clatter from the wind, but I should’ve been more careful about the playlist I chose because, tonight, in the darkness, these songs flooded my heart with the agony of missing David.
I made myself small against the wall and hugged my pillow to my chest. The skin along my cheeks hurt from the constant wiping of tears, but as the cold turned them icy against my lips, I forced myself to blot them away. Then, as I sniffled, the memory of David’s scent replayed in the darkness, an apparition of him appearing before me, making me lose the fight to subdue my sobs. I could hardly breathe, hardly stop my shoulders ferociously shaking as I bawled, muffling my cries against my hands. “You’re not really here, are you?”
He stared down at me, his liquid-green eyes intense with sorrow, as if our separation hurt him just as much as me. “If I were, my love, I shouldn’t be.” Then, as swiftly as he appeared, he was gone again, the tone of his smooth voice ringing in my ears as if he’d really spoken.
I remained breathless, watching the breeze blow in through my window, a second passing before my heart beat again.
“That’s it.” I tore my earphones out and ditched my iPod across the room, tossing my pillows and blanket on top so I wouldn’t have to think about it, then rolled over, shivering in the nakedness of my bed, wishing I’d at least kept my blanket. But regret only lasted another few sobs as the exhaustion of healing swept me under the grasp of sleep.
Morning has a funny way of turning up when it’s not wanted. The unruly wind from last night receded with the moon, and the sun cast a scarlet ribbon across the horizon. Through the reflection of my antique mirror on the other side of my room, I watched a murder of crows flock in the open sky. It was early, but there was still so much beauty in the morning, despite the world’s ignorance to its existence.
I snuggled up under my blanket, tucking my hand under my pillow, but held my breath, feeling something small and solid slip between my fingertips. I sat up and unfolded my hand, my skin going tight with bumps as a silver chain dangled down, swinging from my heart-shaped locket, the French inscription face up, bringing tears to my eyes.
He left this. He was here. I grabbed my blanket in a fist and tucked it to my chin. Why would he do this to me? Why would he leave this when I gave it back to him so I could move on?
I sobered myself with a shaky gulp of air and wiped my cheeks with my sleeve.
Because that was just it, wasn’t it? Forever. I promised him my forever, and he promised me eternity. But I had to move on. He made me move on, though he would never let me go. And it occurred to me then, that I’d never let him go either, and needed to stop trying—needed to wear this, keep David close to my heart, alive in my thoughts, because he was a part of me, and I felt nothing if I didn’t love him.
Mike would know; he’d know I missed David, but he’d accept it, because he loved me, too. I could never move on, not really. I could live for the rest of my life with Mike, and I could be his wife, but, as the fine inscription on the back of the locket read, I belonged to him—to David. I always would.
“Forever,” I told myself as I linked the chain around my neck and let it fall against my collarbones—back where it belonged.
Day turned into night again, and I listened to the familiar sound of dinner conversation going on in the dining room, without me. Mike’s booming laughter flowed up the stairs and poked me in the heart. I wished I could laugh. I wished I could laugh with Mike. But he seemed to be avoiding me. I think. Or maybe he was just trying to give me some space, I wasn’t sure, but he hovered by my door a lot—hardly ever knocked or came in…just hovered. Unless I needed something. Care and help, but no companionship. It just wasn’t like him to be so distant. Before the attack, there were never closed doors between us, but now it seemed like even the windows were shut—and I was all alone on the other side.
A screech of disapproval rose above the loud chatter of my family and Vicki said, “Greg, you can’t say that. It’s politically incorrect.”
Dad didn’t respond, but I pictured him laughing into his fist, his face red, his shoulders shaking.
“But it’s true, Vicki,” Mike said, “It’s rude, yes, but...” I stopped listening. I didn’t want to hear what they were saying. I didn’t want to be a part of their conversation—nor did I want to sit here wishing I was.
I clutched my secret locket and waited for the arrival of another tear-provoked sleep.
When the faucet stopped running and the lights and doors were positioned in their nightly rest stop, I snuggled down in my bed, closed my eyes, and imagined David beside me.
“How are you feeling?” the apparition asked, smiling at me; I could almost feel the solidity of his fingers as he trailed them along my hairline.
He went to smile, then looked up to my opening door; I quickly tucked the locket away and closed my eyes.
Mike stood in the doorway, waiting to see if I’d wake, as usual, then wandered over to lock the window I’d already double-checked—twice, drawing my curtains closed again after. I wanted to look up and see what he was doing then, since his gaze seemed to have a physical effect on me, as if my body knew he was staring, but if I let him know I was awake, he’d stay with me for the night and I’d never get back to my dreams of David.
“Oh, Mike—I didn’t realise you were in here,” my dad whispered into the darkness.
“Yeah, I like to check on her before I go to bed,” Mike said in a deep, husky whisper.
“Yeah.” His solemn, almost broken tone obviously set my dad’s mind wandering as it did mine.
“You okay, son?” Dad said, and the light filtering in from the hall disappeared.
I opened one eye to see my dad lean against my dresser. “Me too,” he said. “I don’t think she’s okay, you know. She plays it tough—” Dad looked right at me; I closed my eye again. “But I never even see her cry. Not once. Surely something like this has got to leave a girl feeling something?”
“She cries,” Mike stated, his tone empty. “I know you don’t see it, but that’s because she wants everyone to think she’s okay.”
I opened my eyes a little; Mike shook his head. “But I hear her. At night, when she thinks everyone’s asleep.” Mike looked at Dad. “A few times I’ve come to her door, trying to decide if I should come in, but she smiles and plays it cool when I catch her.” There was a pause. “She won’t talk to me, Greg, but she needs to talk to someone before she buries this grief too deep and we lose her.”
“I doubt it,” Mike said, then sighed heavily, rubbing his face with both hands. “I don’t know. I guess we just need to give her more time.”
“I don’t know. I think we’re past that point, Mike. Vicki’s worried.” Dad combed the front of his hair with arched fingers. “She thinks we might need to get her some professional help.”
“Don’t do that,” Mike warned. “She’ll shut down if you do that. I’ll try talking to her tomorrow.”
I rolled onto my back and groaned, deliberately, to get them and their gossip out of my room.
“But, don’t worry,” Mike said, looking at me again. “She is still capable of feeling.”
I tensed, Dad’s pause lasting a little too long. Otherwise what?
“I’m starting to wonder if that’s all that counts.”
It’s not, Dad, I thought. I wished I had died. There was a point in the darkness when I wanted to come back, but not to this. Not to the nightmares I had for the way Jason touched me, the emptiness I felt for the way David left me, and the grief that hit me when I’d stand naked in the shower—feeling the exposure of my skin to the air—knowing I was safe, but feeling so scared and so bare. No one warned me that being awake again would be worse. No one told me I’d have bad dreams—falling, over and over again, from that tree, waking up just before I hit the ground.
Life wasn’t all that mattered, and I learned that, unfortunately, a little too late.
The light from their world intruded on my David fantasy time for a while longer. Dad had left the door open when he walked away, but I could feel Mike lingering at my bedside; he leaned down and stroked my hair, his worries expelling with his breath, and ran his thumb down my neck—the one place he wasn’t supposed to touch me anymore.
I curled my fingers into a tight fist, on the cusp of losing my battle for alone time by shoving his hand away, when everything around us seemed to stop.
“Where did this come from?” he whispered to himself, lifting the silver chain from under my shirt. “Oh, Ara—” he sighed my name out, his warm, heavy breath brushing across my nose and lips. But, he placed the locket gently back down on my chest, instead of ripping it away, like he probably should have, and kissed my head, closing the bedroom door behind him.
The sunlight outside reflected off the icy roads and shone through the window with its early morning glow. It felt like years since I’d seen the sun, since I’d looked up at the blue sky and found the summer.
I wondered now if I’d ever love the summer again.
“Hi, gorgeous.” Mike glided into my room with breakfast. “You hungry?”
“Okay.” He lowered the plate of toast, his smile dropping with it. “I’ll take it back down.”
“Thanks, Mike. But…” I sat up a little. “Don’t tell Vicki. She’s worried I’m not getting enough nutrients.”
“Right.” He paused, chewing the inside of his lip as he studied my half-dried tears. “Ara?”
“No more, baby.” He squatted beside me, placing the plate on the ground. “You gotta talk to me.”
“I do talk to you.” I folded my arms.
“No, you don't. You haven’t even been able to look at me. You flinch when—” he dropped his hand away from my face as I recoiled, “—when I touch you.”
“Well, what do you expect, Mike?”
“I get it. I do. But I don’t understand why you’re pushing me away. I’d never hurt you, Ara.”
“That’s not what I’m afraid of,” I said with a hint of detest.
“Well—” He dropped back on his heels a little. “What is it then?”
I stared at him through a film of tears, and as the words of truth rose to the surface, at the same time the tears spilled onto my cheeks, I spat them out, “I’m just so ashamed. I never wanted you to find me that way.”
“What way? Ara, how do you think I found you?
“He—he,” I stammered. “He said he was going to make sure that when you found me, you wouldn’t sleep for fifty years.”
Mike’s eyes widened; his hands shot out so fast that I squealed and ducked my head, but he sat on my bed and held me to his chest anyway, stroking my hair. “You never told me that. Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“I didn’t want anyone to know.”
“Well, did you tell the cops that?”
I shook my head. “I haven’t told anyone—anything. I only told them the basics.”
“Then, you remember more than you say?” His tone was soft, not angry like I expected.
“Oh, baby. Why? Why would you do that? How can they catch this guy if they don’t know the full story?”
“They’ll never catch him.” That much I was sure of.
Mike ignored that comment and took a deep breath. “Do you want to know what I saw when I found you—can you cope with this yet?”
“I need to know, Mike. It’s been eating me up.”
“Oh, Ara. You should’ve talked to me about this before now. I could’ve helped you.”
“That’s just silly, baby.” Mike laid me back down on the pillow and his hand fell gently into the curve of my neck as he studied me, swiping his thumb over my cheekbone.
“Mike?” I grabbed his wrist and pushed it down. “Please don't touch my neck.”
“Right, sorry, I forgot.” But his eyes stayed there for a moment, not on the jagged, silvery bite shape, but on the place the attacker’s grip left a mental scar. “You were covered when I found you.”
I looked up quickly into his soulful, caramel gaze. “I was?”
He nodded, half smiling. “Your hair was laying over your…over your chest, like it’d been positioned that way. No one saw anything, and I had you covered with my jacket before anyone else came.”
Tears of relief overflowed and swerved down my cheeks. Mike started to wipe them away, but gave up in vain when they kept flowing.
“You’re so silly, Ara. All this time, you thought I found you—exposed.”