20 juin 2015

Chapter 10

“But what does it mean?” Ginny asks, frustrated.

She’s just spent the last few minutes illustrating how wide her eyes can open with every revelation about who Peter is, and that theoretically, he doesn’t recognize me. I make her swear never to tell my parents about this, and to really play dumb around Peter. The minutest slip of the tongue could tip him off, and the entire house of cards I’ve been building would tumble down.

“The ‘Yes’ is his answer to all the questions in Sia’s song, the one I told him to check out! ‘I’m in here, can anybody see me? Can anybody help?... Can you hear my call? Are you coming to get me now?’ …”

“Oh!” and her lips stay shaped into an ‘o’, “…Wow!”

“Y-yeah!” I say in a very Californian-cheerleader sort of way.

“And he’ll be here four days earlier?... Huh!... There’s a good moth,” she winks.

            “Meaning the right thing would have been to keep you waiting, but he obviously couldn’t stay away now, could he?” she concludes, smugly.
            “Oh yeah, I bet he wants more of my bandaged water-balloon goodness,” I snort in my best impression of hospital-sexy.

She should really stop giving me false hopes though… Last time he was here, he looked anything but eager to be back. I still can’t figure out what happened! One minute we’re talking music and of “a place for people like us”, and the next, his face falls and his shell is once again hermetically sealed around him. Did I do anything wrong? All it took is for him to look me straight in the eye… Supposing he really did recognize me, then why the violently negative reaction? Was I right not to tell him who I was after all? And now he seems eager to be back?... This is so confusing!

“Don’t worry Lil’, you’re already starting to look like yourself again, I can see it… almost,” she reassures me. But her words cause nothing but panic: it suddenly feels like my defenses are falling; if knowing who I am makes him run, then what will I do when I can no longer hide it?!

This limbo state between eagerness and panic festers inside me till Monday morning, then manages to double when the needle hits five and he’s still nowhere to be seen. Good thing my parents aren’t here! Erik would have definitely noticed the anxiety… I convinced him to take the keys from Ginny and go get some sleep at the apartment; and Odelia has a gallery opening night, so I know she won’t be back for hours. Only Ginny knows Peter’s coming, so she’s loyally patrolling the hallways for a sign of him.

            Six. I check the post-it again. It really does say Monday. Where is he?!

            Seven… I hate him. Seriously.

            Eight. Visiting hours are probably over.


I toy with the idea of telling Ginny never to let him into my room again, but I know I would kill her if she actually followed that to the letter…

“Heads up,” she suddenly whispers through the chink of the door, “Legolas is in the premises! Time for me to… ‘bow’out,” she teases.
And that does it for me. The Molotov mix of anxiety, relief, and Ginny’s geeky humor, pushes me over the edge… and the nurses at the end of the hall hear my laughing hysterics.

A minute later, he appears at the door, and just stands there, with a comically raised eyebrow. “Glad to see you’re in good spirits!” he blurts out, faking offense at being laughed at. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I say, wiping the last few tears, “come in, please!” I offer, pointing to the chair. You’re late, Legolas!

“Sorry I’m late…” Ah, that’s better. “Or actually, I’m not. I was hoping to catch you alone.”

My smile disappears. Huh?
I notice he doesn’t even have his laptop…
The tribal drums start a fanfare in my chest. Is this a social visit?!

He suddenly seems at a loss for words, which reminds me of Erik’s jokes about him. I decide to step in.
“I did my homework.” It makes him smile. Do you even realize how huggable you are right now?! “… ‘People like us’?” I venture.

“Yes, the… Please don’t take it wrong, but I meant… the ‘socially inapt’,” he says apologetically.
Oh, that!

“Ah… And there I was, thinking you had been assaulted too…” I try again hesitantly, hoping not to rile him up like last time.

“No, I haven’t. But my mother has, and I was there,” he says with disturbing neutrality.

My heart falls. Oh God, no! That’s why this upset him when he was last here! He thought I didn’t find him capable of understanding, since he hadn’t been through it himself. Survivor’s guilt?

I tactfully decide not to question him about this, just like I wish others would do for me.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean…!” I say nervously, but he brushes it off with a don’t-worry-about-it kind of gesture. I quickly change the subject. “Well then, I get why you would think me ill-fitted socially, but why is it that you seem perfectly… apt to me?”

“That’s what I came here to ask you actually, thanks for the great opening! Tell me… do I look familiar to you?”

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! What do I do?!

“…Why?” This seems to be Erik’s favorite way of avoiding questions, so it must work.

“Have our paths possibly crossed before? Where are you from, originally?”

“My father’s from Ludwigsburg, my mother’s from Luton, and I was born and raised in Paris, but have been to the other two cities pretty often. Why?” I insist, shamelessly.

“I don’t know… I never, ever forget a face. I mean that literally. And yet there’s something in yours that I… know. It’s… disarming. None of my barriers seems to hold.”

Come again?!... My breath hitches, and my lips gets stuck halfway between a ‘what?!’ and a ‘woah’…. He might as well have held my heart in his palm, and squeezed it to bits.

“… Why would you need… barriers?” I ask, pushing my luck.

He takes a few long seconds to reply, and his expression seems to change, infinitesimally. My instincts tell me I’m not getting a straight answer to that.

“I did my homework too, and your barriers seem more important to break than mine.”

…So he’s really here to “see me”, “help me”, “hear my call”, and “get me now”? The last one makes me blush, and nervously check my arm for blotches. His eyes zero in on my arm too, and for a reason my brain can’t process straight away, I anxiously slip it under the cover.

“But we tried so hard last time,” I say as a diversion, “and I can remember no more today than I did back then… What happens if I never do? Your efforts will have been in vain…”

 “Let me worry about my efforts. Besides, I’m already very much invested in this, so don’t think that we’ve reached the bottom of our options list; not yet.”

He’s invested in this!... I wonder how it’s even possible for him not to hear my frantic heartbeat when it’s almost driving me deaf.

“Yeah, my dad still harassing you?” I joke.

“Haha, yes! But it’s noticeably more than that… You might find this rather strange, but I’m… I believe the right word is angry. I’m angry that this has happened to you. As angry as I would be if you were kin… Last time you joked graphically about your injuries, and bile rose in my throat... Since then, I couldn’t stop thinking about it…  Interrupt me if I’m being too intense,” he smiles ruefully.

Only he could trouble me and break my heart in the same sentence. He shares my anger, which is basically the only strong emotion I can relate to right now, and then he confesses that he considers me “family”. I’m surprised by the tinge of sarcasm in my voice when I say, “So… I’m like a sister you’d like to help out?”

What more did you expect? That dark voice inside whispers, you’re a Patchwork of redness and swelling, so isn’t this much more than you could have hoped for?
He brushes his knuckles against those lips, and I realize it’s what he does when he’s concentrating on something crucial.

“Let’s just say that my instincts have never failed me, and they’re telling me that this is …personal.”

“They’ve never failed?” I ask with barely concealed irony. If that were true, he would have recognized me by now.

My question seems to destabilize him, and he pauses, as if reconsidering. I quickly regret asking when I realize this could also be about his mother. But he replies before I’ve had the chance to apologize.

“Listen, Lily, my instincts will be reliable enough to identify the man,” he promises, sliding forward in the chair, “I can understand your lack of faith in them, but you should at least know how determined I am. In my line of work, I’ve had to sacrifice everything to keep my family and loved one safe, and I’m willing to apply the same unwavering constancy with you, if you’ll allow me to…”

'Loved one' or 'ones'? He did say loved 'ones', didn’t he?! I feel like I’ve just been slapped, hard.

My confused silence seems to upset him, and he suddenly sits back with a gradually hardening expression. Here goes the shell again! He then stands up, as if eager to leave. Quick, say something!

“Hey, you’re not going anywhere without today’s homework!”

His smile makes a lazy comeback, and he looks at me, patiently, waiting for his instructions. 

“You know the chorus to ‘Summer Moved On’?” I say clumsily, then worry about seeming too obvious. That chorus is built around one main word, sung in the most heartbreaking intensity: STAY!

“No,” Damn it… “But I’ll look it up,” he volunteers gently.

“… What about mine?” I ask like a disappointed child at the toy store.

“You know what? I’ll give you an entire song to consider this time, since my own words don’t seem to get through to you. Try ‘Good Times Gonna Come’ by Aqualung.”

I roll my eyes at him, which makes him laugh. He knows pseudo-Hallmark positivity wouldn’t work on me, so there’s got to be more to that song. 

“Noted. Oh, and just fyi, change of plan: I’ll be leaving this place on Friday!” I hurry to tell him, just in case he’s set on making me wait another week for his next visit. His lips tighten in a straight line, and he seems to genuinely dislike the idea. “What?” I urge him.

“Well that seriously limits our interaction time. I’m not sure that’ll be enough to get to the bottom of this…” he says distractedly.

“Who says we can’t continue with this outside the hospital?!” I ask, a little too loud, putting that “I’m invested” claim to the test.

He seems to consider the idea for a few seconds, with a furrowed brow. Jeez, what’s so complicated? Is he scared of giving me his phone number or what? The pernicious devil in my head whispers, He doesn’t want his ‘loved one’ to suspect anything. That slap in the face still stings, but I’m keeping it dormant with all the self-control I could possibly invoke.

“We could… But I’ll definitely come again before then, say, on Thursday?”

“Cool,” I say in what comes out as fake adolescent indifference. Self-control is faltering.

“Cool,” he parrots. “…Although I find it strange that you’re allowed to leave the hospital when you still seem so… fragile,” he protests with an undercurrent of… what exactly? Tenderness?... Seems he was serious about considering me “kin”… Huh… I have no idea what to make of that! But it reduces my insides to mush and my throat to cardboard. 

Then he seems to pull himself together, before giving me one last friendly smile and a brief “Bye then”, and heads for the exit.

I could spend eons remembering and figuring out everything he said today, but for the moment, I need to wipe the fake smile off my face and let go of all the self-control that’s helped me last through the conversation, after the infamous “My loved one”… 

No matter how I look at it, I should eventually call a spade a spade:
…He’s got someone.

He’s got someone. He’s got someone. He’s got someone.

…And there are no fucking painkillers for that.


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