20 juin 2015

Chapter 7

In a manner my parents believe to be inconspicuous, they scurry out of the room, mumbling welcomes to him. It’s almost as if they are in awe of him, like one would be of a village Shaman who’s just cured it from the plague. Ginny, however, takes her time, scowling at him as she territorially prances by. Her jealousy is so obvious it’s comical.

And what’s more laughable is the absolute mess I become around this person. All it takes is the surprise of seeing him there to turn me into a giant drumming heart.

He stares uncomfortably at everyone leaving the room then turns his attention back to me. He looks so gawky that I wonder who the more intimidated person here really is.

“Hello,” he says simply, and automatically raises those crooked fingers to his glasses. I thoroughly note and appreciate the fact that he hasn’t asked me “how I was doing today”. Most absurd and unnerving question ever, under the circumstances.  I wave towards the chair, and he pulls out his notebook as he makes his way to it. I suddenly hope it won’t take another round of waterworks to get him to slide that chair closer.

“So… Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?” he asks.
Who still says ‘shall’?
“That being?...” I wonder, puzzled. I hope he doesn’t take it as a lack of focus the day before, although that’s exactly what it was. What, not my fault he’s so distracting!

 “I asked you what ethnic group you believe your attacker is from. Your friend said she saw a man fleeing the scene with your handbag, so we know he’s male, and he acted alone…” What?! Ginny actually saw Him?! Why didn’t she tell me? Then again, I didn’t exactly give her the chance… “But all she could see was his back… so not much for a facial composite there.” 

My brain is reeling… Male… Handbag… Ethnic group… Oh my God, why is it so hard just thinking about this? My heart thuds violently against my ribs, doubling in speed, and I feel as if my mind is pulling me hard in the opposite direction, away from all thoughts related to that night. I find it almost impossible to focus, and it feels exactly like drawing a mind-boggling blank on something painfully obvious.

“Caucasian, I think…” I croak, extremely confused by my own uncertainty.
If there’s anything causing the inner scream to invade my conscious mind every minute of every day, it’s the fact that all the horrific memories from that night are right at the door, banging, pushing, ramming it to open, as my mind constantly fights back. And when I’m supposed to actually let them in, just enough to answer Peter’s questions, I’m left with the blank my psyche has created, as a coping mechanism. Arrgggh!!! You’ve got to be kidding me! Do I really not remember anything more substantial?!

“You know…” he pauses, weighing his words, “your mind will try to fight this.” What?! How did he…?! I gape at him, wide-eyed, and all I can think is that he must probably have seen this a gazillion times. “But don’t over-think it. Just tell me the first answer that pops into your head. There’s no time to analyze, to think things through…”

My heart stops. Did he just quote Thom Yorke?!... Of course he didn’t, stupid. Or did he?... Is my brain programmed to hear unintentional song lyrics in normal speech, or is this man just as geeky as I am?

“… To make sense?” I venture, completing the quote.

He gasps lightly, and his eyes almost pop out through his glasses.

“Radiohead fan?” he asks, with a wary, incredulous smile. Yes!!! I was right! Major plus points for Mr. Alberic. He looks almost guilty to be straying from the professional line of questioning.

“Technically, that’s from Yorke’s solo album. But hell yes,” I say matter-of-factly. He chortles in amazement, very slightly shaking his head.

“I just thought it was appropriate,” he tries to justify, “and that it would only sound like a quote in my own head.”

“… And it doesn’t help that there’s a Radiohead quote for basically every important thing out there,” I show off, trying to win points in return, for being as hardcore a fan as he seems to be.

“Really?” he raises an eyebrow. “What would be your pick of the day then?” he challenges.
What quote would I choose, if I were to describe exactly what is going through my mind? The answer hits me hard like a boulder, but I hesitate to give it. I might be a wreck at the moment, but I also feel this childish need to come out as “normal” to Peter. Hmmm… talk about a conflict of interest. I really need the Sketch Artist to find the fucker who did this to me, but I also want the Man to see me as more than a mere victim… Then again, no other quote comes to mind, so I decide to go for honesty.

Mephistopheles is just beneath,
And he's reaching up to grab me.
This is one for the good days,
And I have it all here in red, blue, green…”

I unconsciously point at my facial bruises when I say that last line. So much for sounding “normal”, when I’ve just compared my attacker to Satan, who’s still out there to get me. And I suddenly feel out of breath when I realize that it is the case.

He slides the chair closer – finally – and his intense frown seems to be filled with some unnamed emotion. Pity? Understanding?  “Hey, hey,” he says softly, “please look at me. Help us find him for you. Just tell me what you remember, and your father will take it from there. Help us help you.”

“But… it’s like my brain is unable to fish out any specific memories of Him!”

“It’s all there, you know it. All it takes is to get it one detail at a time. Trust me.” Here it is again. You’re my Tam, of course I trust you. “Was he wearing anything distinctive that you might remember?”

“A black leather jacket, and jeans. Blue, I think…”

“Good! Anything else? Shoes? Hat? Jewelry?...”

“A wool hat, black…”

“Excellent,” he encourages. “Did you see any hair coming out of it? Or maybe facial hair? A beard, a goatee?...”

A flash suddenly hits me at the speed of light, and my stomach heaves. I see the hat, I see the jeans, I feel the horror… Another flash, this time of a metallic sound ripping across my skull. My eyelids start a hysterical flutter, and my breathing grows shallower still.

“Miss Brandt! Miss Brandt… Lily!” His voice pulls me back to reality. Did he just say my name? “Breathe,” he urges gently, “I’m sorry. Did I push you too hard?”

“I… It’s the flashes… They’re like electric shocks…” I splutter, and wonder if I’m making any sense to him. Deep in thought, he runs his knuckles across his lower lip, and my mouth goes dry. What would it feel like to kiss this man?

“Would you like to stop?” he offers.
“No, I’m okay. I can do this…” As long as you’re here, I can. “No facial hair.” I try to control my breathing.

“What about locks sticking out of the hat? At the front or back…”

“…No, I don’t think so. I didn’t really… look at him. I saw him very briefly when I fell, and when I sprayed him. But I wasn’t… okay.”

“I know, believe me,” he reassures me. “Only say what first comes to mind.”

Yes, but how does he know though? From other victims, or first hand? He sure seems to master the psychology of it a bit too much for a sketch artist… My mind registers the words right after I’ve spoken them,
“Have you ever been attacked?”
What?! What is wrong with me? Think before you speak, you stupid tactless cow!

Suddenly, his expression is just as undecipherable as the first time I saw him. He shifts in his chair and says, listlessly, “Are you implying that no one has a hope of getting you unless they’ve been through the same thing?” He sounds cold for some reason, although he’s spot on; yes, maybe I am implying it, but not to him! He’s the first one who did understand, hence my question.

“You get me,” I smile inwardly at the double meaning, and he seems to relax, “you get me better than anyone else. Before you got here, I could only quote ‘I’m In Here’…” Jeez, take it down a notch Lily, you’re too obvious! He silently stares at me, not recognizing the title. 

“By Sia. You know her?”
“I know the singer, not the song,” he says, ashamed.
“She asks many questions in that one…”
“...Such as?”
“What, you won’t check it out?” 
I’m fully aware I’m teasing him, but I really want him to listen to it. It’s the only way of knowing if he has the answers. He raises an eyebrow and scoffs, 
“Are you really giving me homework?!”
“Depends,” I mutter bravely, “will you be back?”

Did I really just say that?! The conversation has now gone on to the next level, and the atmosphere has totally shifted, adding a touch of tension to the room. I see a very slight smile at the corner of his mouth, so at least I know that my bandaged-and-swollen-girl flirting hasn’t sent him running to the hills. 

“Well, I promised your father I would make the best composite of my career, so I won’t leave before that’s done. Honestly though, you agree when I say that your father can be… pretty scary, right?”
I laugh out loud, and he follows. It feels so weird to be giggling while carefully making sure none of the stitches break. Note to self: tell Erik to keep him terrified.

 “But you know, it’s only fair if I gave you homework too. Do you have access to the internet here?”
 “I could borrow Ginny’s phone. Why?...”
 “Do you know ‘U-Turn’, by Aaron?” He really seems to be enjoying this!
 “Of course I do,” I say warmly, “they’re French. And there’s my name in that song!”
 “I’m well aware of that,” he winks playfully, but then tries to sound more serious. “Do you know all the lyrics?”

I suddenly blush from head to toe; no, I don’t know all the lyrics, but one particular line comes to mind: Lili, easy as a kiss we’ll find an answer… But I’m sure he’s not referring to that one. Cause that would definitely be flirting.

“I take it that’s a no. Well then, you should check out the second verse of that song,” he orders.
“Sir, yes, Sir!” I joke, in an attempt to hide my frustration. What I would do to have Ginny’s phone right now!
“Okay then… Now the ball’s in your court, Miss Brandt. Do we stop for the day?”
“What happened to just ‘Lily’?” I tease, and as expected, he quickly pushes his glasses up his nose, embarrassed. “No, I’m ready for another round,” I say mercifully, before frowning at how sexual that sounded. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to take notice.
“Good… Let’s go for facial features then. Generally, one always notes a distinctive trait, like a pointy nose, or thick eyebrows…etc. Does anything come to mind, before we get to the specifics?”

“Yes,” I say slowly, surprised that his fishing-for-details method is actually working, “his eyes were… how can I put it… too far apart. They looked hollow that way. You know what I mean?”

“M-hm,” he says while typing and clicking, and I notice that screen light reflected in his glasses again. I take advantage of his concentration to stare, shamelessly. I imagine running my hand slowly from his temple, down to his cheek, with the tips of my fingers trespassing onto his neck, and tingles spread through my entire body.

Oh why don’t I tell him about the train, the drawing, and be done with it? At least it would give him an idea of what I look like beneath all this; if he remembers me that is… But what good would that do if I’m not even sure I’ll ever go back to looking like that?... Also, the thought that the portrait was so insignificant as to be left behind, still stings…
And to top it all, he doesn’t seem to deal well with embarrassment. He closes up like a shell, and it’s difficult to watch.
Then just keep your mouth shut, Lily. When all this is over, maybe, just maybe, you could gather enough strength to tell him. But not now, not like this.

Half an hour later, we both start giving up. All his questions about face shape, nose size, and eye color have amounted to nothing. Zilch. It’s like a flesh-colored blur has been drawn in my mind, to replace the Face. It’s become more of a concept, a feeling of deathly horror, than a person, and Peter knows this all too well. He tries to reassure me by saying things like, “Your mind is just saturated with all the information right now. It just needs a break.”  Whereas all I could think of is how genuinely nice he seems, and how after two hours he’s spent here, talking to him has become one of my all-time favorite things.

But there’s a part of restraint in it. At this point, I’m constantly at risk of acting like I’ve known him longer than he thinks he’s known me. Also, the fact that I’ve gone so far as to consider him my “Recognized” equivalent of Tam, definitely increases that risk.
And to make matters much, much worse, I just can’t stop yearning to touch him! The thought mesmerizes me to the point of pain. 

            “So… Lily,” he says with a shy smile, and my heart does a full flip.
He bends down to pick up the pouch for his notebook, but politely maintains eye contact. His face has never been so close to mine, and I notice an adorable dimple on his right cheek.

But I’m suddenly puzzled by an extremely fleeting frown that crosses his face. He stops dead in his tracks, and looks me straight in the eye. Intently, intensely.

Oh no, oh no, he knows who I am!!!

Then, his face abruptly veers into its undecipherable mask, and he stiffly straightens up.
“I won’t be in town before next week,” he utters very coolly. What?! Fuck! “Any idea how long you will be here?”
What’s happening?!
“Not really. Three weeks, as a minimum, at least till my hipbone and ribs heal, …and then there’s the cracked skull and, erm, the face...” I say casually, trying to lighten the mood.
He glares then swallows hard, as if I’ve said something difficult to bear. I grasp at straws, wondering whether I should be apologizing for something. But he swiftly composes himself again, and I’m bewildered by how quickly his expression changes.

“Well then,” he says detachedly, or so it seems, “until next week?”
“Sure!” I feign the same indifference. “What day?” An answer to that would save me a lot of unnecessary obsessing.
“Thursday I think.”
Why has the atmosphere grown cold all of a sudden?
“Okay, cool.” No, it’s NOT cool. Nine days?!
“Yes, um, hope you feel better in the meantime. Thanks for everything Miss Brandt,” he says with a polite smile. ‘Miss Brandt’ again?
“Thank you, Mr. Alberic,” I say vindictively.

He hesitates for a minute, as if regretful of something, then smiles again, nods, and clumsily heads for the door.

What the hell just happened? And could he be any more strained?! Argh!!! 


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