20 juin 2015

Chapter 11

Tuesday was a dark, dark day. Not only did it rain like hell, which is always a good way to worsen an already bleak mood, but I was also in a lot of pain. My entire body felt as sore as that atrocious moment when one’s leg recovers from being asleep. Is this even normal? After about two weeks here, I’d expected to feel a lot better than this! Does pain come in cycles?

Erik’s face darkens more and more as he sees me wince every once in a while; good thing he doesn’t know that what I really feel like doing is groaning my way through it. And Ginny’s finally gone back to university, so I’m relieved she’s not here to see this and feel guiltier than she already does. It took a lot of work getting that creepy hollow look out of her eyes. As for Oda, she tries to distract me with artsy jabber, while Erik walks in circles like a lion in a cage.

It takes him one more wince from me to storm out of the room, and come back with a troubled-looking nurse Joséphine. She checks my vitals, and asks me to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, which I think is ridiculous. “Nine and three quarters,” I jab, but nurse J. just stares at me. Ginny would have got it.

A few hours later, Dr. Culbard arrives and asks to speak with me, alone. Erik glares at her while Oda scurries out without protest. He seems suspicious of her, which doesn’t surprise me. The man has the instincts of a predator when he puts his mind to it.

Once everyone’s out, Dr Culbard still doesn’t find it in herself to do more than whisper:

“Miss Brandt, your biopsy results were inconclusive. Or rather, there was nothing in them that explains the disappearance of your freckles. Now, you were very clear on not wanting any more tests, but I really urge you to reconsider, since it might also help us determine why you’re in such pain now…” she begs.

“You know what the perks of having a computer here are, Dr C.? I get to browse through a few pages about biopsies, and contact some friends in public health… And you know what’s strange? They all seem to agree that ‘lack of freckles’ is not a known symptom of cancer. Isn’t that the main reason for a biopsy?” I don’t know if it’s me, or if it’s the pain talking, but it was surprisingly easy cornering her.

She remains quiet for a few seconds, then decides not to insist. She just nods once and says, “I wouldn’t do anything without your consent. Either way, if I did, I would never be able to use illegally-obtained results for ‘personal glory’, if that’s what you think… I’m just…fascinated by your case.” She looks at me for a few more seconds then exits the room, and nurse J. comes back with painkillers.

I suddenly feel bad about all this. What if I was too harsh with Dr Culbard? What if, in the midst of all this medical weirdness, she ended up being my only reference?

I try to block such thoughts, but the ones that replace them are far worse… He has someone.

Everything else he said, about being invested, and about how “angry” he was with what’s happened to me… it all felt exceedingly intense for someone regarding me as ‘kin’. I don’t see my own cousins feel so strongly about me. What I really want from him, what every fiber of my body has wanted from day one, is much more than that.

The soreness gets worse as the day goes by, and come nightfall, it becomes almost unbearable. I’m given sleeping pills to get through the night, but they don’t stop me from waking up a couple of times in a haze, and writhing in pain, even in places that weren’t wounded at all. Frankly, it felt like the assault wasn’t enough, and that I was now being punished for wrongdoings I couldn’t even remember… This must be Hell. 


             But if I had to choose one date when it all started getting “weird”, I would definitely go for Wednesday...

             I hope you’re ready, because this will go rather fast.

             Waking up to pain was not pleasant in the least, but what I noticed a few seconds into the morning was nothing short of horrific: As I reach out for my laptop on the night-table, I suddenly gasp loudly as my eyes zoom in on my forearm. It wakes Oda up, and she asks me if I’m alright. I quickly pretend that stretching my arm made the pain worse, while very discreetly slipping it back under the cover…

             THEY’RE ALL GONE!!! 

             I’m officially freckle-free, and it happened overnight!!! I can’t help but associate it with the pain, although no logic would back this up… would it?

What is happening to me?! If anyone sees this, curiosity would be their main emotion, while mine is pure FEAR. What if I’m never… me again?

And when I was a mere ‘patchwork’, the bandages and redness managed to conceal the weird disappearances, whereas now it’s all out in the open!... You’re in real trouble, Brandt!

At one point nurse J. comes over to check my drip, and I go through an entire maneuver of turning the inside of my forearm up, and laying the outer part down against the mattress, pretending I’m too weak to lift it. Then as soon as she’s done, I slip it back sideways underneath the cover. But I know I can’t keep this up for long, and panic really starts taking over. The only less stressful time is after curfew, when I can finally take advantage of the darkness to stretch and breathe. But then I spend a white night thinking of more sneaky maneuvers, and despairing over the fact that, surely, none of them would work on Peter! He sees everything... and a spotless-skinned redhead is conspicuous, to say the least. 

On Thursday morning, I quickly check my forearm. Please, God, let it all be a dream! But cream, spotless, immaculate skin stares back at me. Oh shit…

The climax of anxiety comes in the form of Ginny, passing by to check on me, and at one point staring fixedly at my arm, which I had accidentally moved an inch outside the cover. But luckily it was just a blank, distracted look that I managed to break by engaging conversation.

At one point I even hope that Peter has some sort of important police business that would prevent him from coming… although the idea itself is intolerable.  

And in the evening, I’ve already crossed every threshold of stress imaginable. I’m startled by every opening of the door, and every time, it turns out to be one of my parents, coming to check on me. 


Finally, at the zillionth opening, Erik and two French detectives march in. Oda quickly leaves the room, and Erik pulls up my bed table. What is this? A group intervention?

One detective seems to notice my strain, and gives me a kind, reassuring smile.

In the meantime, I notice the second detective is holding a square, grayish tray that he lays down on the bed table. 

“Lil’, please have a look, are these yours?” Erik asks anxiously.

I focus closely and see bundles of sleek nylon sachets with elaborate tags, each containing a small, carefully packed object. Chapstick, earphones, tissues… It takes me one second to realize that these are the things I had in my bag on the night of the attack!

The look on my face confirms it to the cavalry. 

           "DID YOU CATCH HIM?!" I shriek.

           "No honey," Erik says, looking guilty as hell, "just these."

“Miss Brandt, is anything missing?” one of the detectives asks. I’m taken aback by the importance of the question, and by how arbitrary my reply might be. Does he really expect me to remember everything I had in my bag? I mentally go over all the possibilities, but I’m already such a nervous wreck that I keep going back to the beginning. Focus!

We’re suddenly interrupted by a knock at the door, and in comes Peter, finally.

 I nervously check if all un-bandaged parts of me are well under the cover, and wonder desperately how long I could keep this up… But then I’m distracted by the peculiar interaction between Peter and the rest of the group, whom he’s supposed to know well. They all shake hands with him and mumble some sort of hello, while he remains perfectly silent, and fidgets restlessly. Erik throws me a fleeting glance, in a do-you-see-it-now sort of way. 

Huh! He’s right!... Is this the same laid-back, professional, intimidating Peter I know?!

His eyes end up finding mine, and he visibly relaxes, taking a few steps closer. And there I am, surrounded by four very intelligent men waiting for me to complete my inspection of what might be missing, while Peter’s stare makes me exceptionally nervous.

“Dad, I’m… kinda cold,” I lie. Both Erik and Peter frown in concern, but I reassure them, “Must be the meds. I’m okay though, as long I stay covered. Could you tell me what all the items are? And just out of curiosity, where is the bag?”

“We couldn’t find it. These were thrown on the side of the road, not too far from the scene of the assault,” one detective says.

“So, he… was more interested in the bag than what was in it?” I ask with a raised eyebrow, feeling stupid.
          “Was he wearing gloves?” Peter asks patiently. No, he wasn't... My mind goes from gloves to hands to fingerprints. Then I’m finally on the same wavelength as everyone in the room: he didn’t want to risk just cleaning his prints off the bag, so he emptied it and kept the potentially incriminating bit.

“He’s arrogant. Someone scared would have kept the whole thing, just to be safe. But he’s taunting us… And we couldn’t find a wallet either,” Erik says carefully, rubbing his chin.

I throw a quick glance at Peter, and notice his stare hasn’t left my face. He looks every shade of worried, echoing my inner panic. The Face knows who I am. He knows where I live. He has my credit card, my ID, and even my childhood passport picture!!!

This really is Hell…

There’s no way I could go back to the apartment tomorrow, and if he knows who I am, he probably also knows who my parents are, and perhaps where they live…. And Ginny!! She should get out of there asap!!! 

“Dad, Ginny!!!” I choke.

          "Don't worry, there's a police car doing rounds in your neighborhood since the day of the incident. But I'll check on her if that would make you feel better..." 

          I nod and he promptly grabs his phone, asking me for her number. As he steps out into the hall, I turn back to Peter, with an alarmed, pleading look. His face tenses up, as if he’s just decided on a course of action.

“Suchet, any chance there could be constant surveillance on her apartment?”

 Suchet looks surprised, as if this isn't Peter's prerogative. 

“We could, but she would have to….” He goes silent, and all three turn to look at me.

 I quickly understand what he means. I would have to be there. As bait.

 Tears of terror start pooling in my eyes. No, please, please, NO!

“Hey, don’t worry,” Peter croons, “you won’t go there before you’re fully recovered, and they wouldn’t take any risks with you. You’d have a full SWAT team watching over you,” he winks.

I could just kiss and melt into him right now …if he didn’t have someone

“So, let’s just go over everything here, shall we?” The second detective starts picking up the sachets one by one, and piling them on the bed table, while Suchet takes note of my answers.

Then, everything happens extremely fast.

The detective holds up the only item that shouldn’t be seen by everyone in this room. The only item I should have thought about when they first brought in the tray. The only item that might have irreversible consequences.


My heart drops, and my gasp is muffled by the sound of breaking glass.

Oda’s flower vase on the night table smashes to the ground, in a shockingly loud clatter.

The detectives look towards the noise, towards Peter. But he’s already turned around and knelt down to pick up the pieces. He’s obviously trying to hide his reaction! Yet, they look away, as if not surprised by ‘Aspy’ the klutz.


I feel my stitches almost breaking as I twist as far as I can to keep sight of Peter. Oh please, please, look at me, tell me what you’re thinking!

He stays on the ground, although it barely seems like he’s picking any glass. And, for one fraction of a second, I could swear his shoulders look… different… leaner, more chiseled. But it’s only for a swift, disturbing second, enough to make me doubt my own perception.

Then he swivels his head towards me, and shoots me with the most hurtful glare I’ve ever seen. It’s a mix of extreme shock, outright terror, and…blame?

 He slowly composes himself, putting on a neutral mask again, a mask I’ve come to know well. He stands up and addresses the detectives, with icy poise, and eyes never leaving mine, “I’ll be right back.” There’s an unmistakable sneer in the way he says it that makes me want to cry.

 I can see he blames me for not telling him, but I’ve only avoided it because… the reason evades me now. Because I’m no longer the same person he drew then? Because I felt the portrait was insignificant enough to be left behind?... I no longer know, but that’s not the issue. The real question is: why is this such bad news to him?! It’s about time he included me in the loop!

Instead, he turns and walks out the door, not looking back. Tears trickle silently down my cheeks, making both detectives look very uncomfortable.

“Ginny will come here directly after school,” Erik announces, tramping back into the room, and stopping in his tracks when he sees my face. His eyes slide to the tray, and he seems to deduce that seeing these objects must have upset me. He tilts his head towards the door, and the detectives follow him out to the hall.

I can see them through the tears, right outside the open door, deep in whispered conversation. Then they lift their heads up, as if someone’s called them, and… 

           IT ALL GOES STILL.

Everything goes strangely quiet, even the clock on the wall. The only sound I can hear is my own shocked breathing and pounding heartbeat, as I watch my father and his colleagues frozen, mid-movement, like surreal window mannequins. I want to scream, but I choke on panic. “Erik!” I squeal, pathetically, “Erik!!!”

And then they appear, at the end of the hall. The most beautiful, stupefying sight I’ve ever seen. Three mythical-looking figures: two eerily tall, emaciated, yet muscular males, with faces out of a dark fairytale, and eyes whose hugeness seems to gleam in the white hospital light… and Peter.

They all walk towards me, but I hear no footsteps.

Once they’re at my room door, the two strange individuals stop, and only Peter comes closer. One of them suddenly murmurs, in a voice that sounds more like a chime, “You only have a few minutes, Peter,” but it sounds more like it’s directed at me. I gasp at the unnatural beauty of his timbre.

Peter nods slowly, and turns to scowl at me. He still looks furious, but that’s my last concern right now.

“What's happening?! What have you done to my father?!” I shriek accusingly, unable to hide the fear in my voice.

His face slightly softens, and he tries to reassure me, “He’s okay, he’ll be himself in a few minutes, with no memory of this…”


“Did you do that?!”

“No… Vlad did,” he says nonchalantly, pointing at one of the two beautiful males.

“…How?!” I splutter.

“Look, Lily, there’ll be time for an explanation later. There’s something more urgent at hand.”

The bluish night glow from the window is reflected on his face, and I’m inconveniently reminded of that amazing night Cutter and Leetah spend on the hill… He interrupts my reverie with a weird question. “How did you do it? How did you find me?...”

“Find you? What do you mean? Erik called you after the assault!” I answer, puzzled. He pauses, as if incredulous, and decides not to let it go.

“Are you really telling me you had nothing to do with this?”

“With what?!” I start to get impatient, and frankly worried about my father. “All I did was notice the letters in the drawn necklace, and read the comics! And then, two days later, this happens!” I choke, pointing at my face from under the cover. “So here’s a good one for you: Why did you draw it?... And why leave it behind, for me to find?” I venture. It’s all or nothing now.

He seems uncomfortable, but doesn’t push his glasses up. It makes me wonder: Does he even need those glasses, or does he just wear them Clark-Kent style? And if so, is all that clumsy, asocial, stuttering act, just a created persona to hide who he really is?... Erik never saw through it, but I did… Oh! Is that what he meant by all his “barriers not holding”?... Huh…

“When I saw you on the train, it took me so much as a second to know…” he says, but seems unable to continue.

“To know what?”

“You know... That I would bind myself to you…” he says shyly.

My heartbeats literally shake my ribcage and boom through my temples.

“You mean, like, ‘Recognition’?” I say innocently, still thinking of Leetah. His eyes light up and a shadow of a shy smile etches itself on the corner of his mouth.

“Exactly like that, yes,” he states matter-of-factly. My heart suddenly explodes, and goes on overdrive. “But we… evolve in different circles. And mine is not the kind I would want you to be involved in. I left the drawing to convince myself to leave you alone! Not to have you find it and go treasure-hunting, by the way,” he scolds softly. “I tried to protect you…”

Wait a minute… ‘I’ve had to sacrifice everything to keep my family and loved one safe’… Oh my good God! I AM HIS ‘SOMEONE’!!!

“But, as I said,” he continues, “I never forget a face… I really never do, even if it’s swollen and seemingly unrecognizable to everyone else…”

“Gee, thanks!” I roll my eyes, hurt.

“You know what I mean! The girl I drew… She was different. You’re different! You had an entirely dissimilar glow in your eyes, and…”

“No shit, Sherlock! You can’t just go through this and come out unchanged,” I huff.

“It’s not just that… You’re different, underneath all this. Your features… I didn’t recognize you, and that’s saying something! Yet, for a reason I now finally understand, I felt tied to you the minute I saw you in this bed, as if you were ‘kin’, if you will. That’s the only explanation I could find, since you looked so different from the girl on the train… I knew I had to help you, but I couldn’t figure out why… ” He grasps at straws to make it clearer.

And then it hits me. I slowly slip my arm out from under the cover and hold it up. It takes a few seconds for it to click in his head. “Your skin is… oddly clear,” he whispers, confused in the extreme.

I don’t know if it’s the deep silence, or the unnatural phenomena I’m currently bathing in, but I suddenly experience an epiphany… I know for a fact that my altered skin had nothing to do with the assault. Somehow, I’ve always known that.

“This is because of you!... Peter… What have you done to me?” I ask, with the peace of someone who’s finally starting to see clearly. 

Peter’s frown deepens by the second, and he’s completely speechless. Then I see the ghost of resolve brusquely replace his confusion. He turns around and throws one glance at the two figures, who suddenly glide in, and stand right next to the bed, looking down at me from their unnatural height. Peter stands at the bottom, and, in one perfectly synchronized movement, the trio lay their palms down on my arm and leg.

And just like that, I am gone. 


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