Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Devoted Daughter

Waiting was a strategy he utilized frequently. It was a simple enough tactic when he had all of eternity in front of him.
The lavish room was  an opulent visual prop. Chandeliers, priceless artwork and rare books were all details in the picture he wished to paint; that he could own anything he chose to posses.
Including her.
Even after all the years since she had slipped into flesh and bones, she had never grown used to a frantic heartbeat thrumming in her chest. Fear was a learned response that grew like a tumor. The more experience life showed her, the more room it acquired inside of her.
There were no clocks in the room. She could have been waiting hours, or even days. The room lacked windows leaving her no indication of time.
Despite the unfortunate side effects of being human, her sense of entitlement had never dissipated. Regardless of how important her father was, she refused to be diminished to a common minion.
Cerene stomped across a million dollar hand knotted rug and reached the door just in time for it to open.
Her father stood in the doorway and forced her back with only his aura of superiority. His frame was imposing and the gleam in his eyes suggested Cerene was going to do whatever he planned to ask of her.
"You kept me waiting."
He brushed off her tone and consumed the room with his presence. After seating himself in a buttery leather chair, he gestured to the plush seat across from his own. "Please, Cerene. Come sit with me a while and speak with me."
It wasn't a request.
Cerene settled into the chair across from him, straight backed and ankles crossed. Fury licked at the back of her throat, tempting her tongue to spit out unwise words. She held the inside of her lip between her teeth and braced herself.
He cocked his head and grinned at her posture. "You have always amused me, Cerene."
She only narrowed her eyes in response.
"I think we both know that is why I am generous when it comes to your wishes."
Cerene scoffed at the exaggeration. "My wishes?"
"Are you not sitting in front of me made of flesh, possessing a soul and so utterly human as you requested?" He laced his fingers together and rested his elbows on the arms of the chair. "Have you failed to realize the magnanimity of such an offer?"
He was circling like a shark. Cerene had to be careful not to bleed. "I am and I have not."
He sighed and Cerene shivered. "Then if you understand, sweet child why would you fail to uphold your end of the bargain?"
The rapid thrumming in her chest increased to a thumping bass. She knew he could hear it, but he maintained a cool stare.
"Did you forget what was expected of you?"
Cerene shook her head.
"Did you hope I would forget? Or perhaps I wouldn't notice?"
"No, of course not."
He shifted in his seat and studied her face. "I have always been fond of your ability to surprise me. Only this time," he paused and considered his words. "This time I think it is more a feeling of disappointment."
Cerene deflated at the word. Most children disappointed their parents at some point, but few had to fear repercussions that were potentially permanent.
"I'm so sorry," Cerene whispered.
"You know how I feel about apologies, Cerene. As useless to me as tits on a nun. Have you decided to give up this crusade and return to me? You only had to ask."
Cerene shook her head.
"Then why didn't you do as you were expected?"
She inhaled and tried to understand for herself what went wrong. She had seen the girl leave out the backdoor of the strip club. Cerene thought maybe she was doing her a favor. Her emaciated frame was encased in a jaundiced sack of skin. She had braced herself against the back wall while tears streamed down her face and dripped onto the concrete.
Cerese remembered the slippery twist in her chest when she looked at the defeated woman. She wasn't some crooked Wall Street broker or back alley rapist like the previous names.
She was wounded and shattered in every ugly way. It didn't seem right. Cerese had slipped her knife back into its sheath and retreated to the shadows, even though she knew the consequences.
"Answer my question."
"I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I didn't think she deserved it."
He huffed in disgust. "It isn't up to you. It isn't even up to me. You knew the expectations of you when you accepted the gift. I don't negotiate contracts after they have been signed.
"I know."
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You say you aren't done yet, but you refuse to do as you are told. I want to know how you plan to make amends." He steepled his fingers under his chin and waited for her response.
Cerene knew how thin the ice was and she needed to tread carefully.  "Did you have something in mind?"
The corner of his mouth lifted with amusement. "You know I always do, but that wasn't the question. "
She considered her options and found none. "Could I be granted another name?"
"You are asking for the previous to be pardoned?"
Cerene pictured the lost soul she had been ordered to deliver. She knew with absolute certainty she could not follow through. "I am asking for her to be spared in the place of another, yes."
"This decision will have consequences."
"I understand."
He rose and headed for his grand desk. A leather bound book rested in the center and flipped open at his request. He eyed her carefully across the room and withdrew a pen from his jacket. "One Harley Marie Campbell has been pardoned. The next name has been delivered."
Cerene felt in her pocket for the wisp of paper that would always appear. She unrolled it and felt her blood rush and her heart sink. "No. Please, no. Any other name, but not this."
His back straightened and face lost any semblance of humor. "Careful, Cerene. My patience with you is stretched as thin as it will go. If anyone else had asked for a pardon on the first name I would have revoked their contract and sentenced them on the spot. Do not mistake my fondness for you as weakness to be manipulated."
Fear nailed her to the floor. There was simply no choice now that wouldn't leave her altered.
"You can of course, choose to reject the name and forfeit you gift." He raised an eyebrow at the small gasp she emitted. "You may want to carefully consider that option. I think the humanity has leaked from your soul and bled into your mind."
She glanced at the name on the paper and fought back tears.
"Twenty four hours, Cerene. Your first deadline has already passed." He crossed the room in a few brisk strides. Before opening the door to leave he glanced over his shoulder. "We will not have this meeting again. Understood?"
Cerene nodded at his blurred form and he left.
When the door latched shut, the ostentatious room shuddered and returned to her small apartment she shared with Michael.
She spread her delicate hands out in front of her and admired the beautiful complexity of her human form. She had grown so attached to the physical and spiritual pieces of her human self. Cerene was even willing to bare the brutality of sorrow, jealousy, and helplessness she had never encountered in her previous form if it meant she could indulge in all that was beautiful.
Especially love.
She crumpled the name in her hand and knew she only had one choice. She sat at the small kitchen table with a piece of paper and pen and drafted a letter.
My Dearest Michael,
I met with my father today. I can't say it went especially well. His house was filled with art deco paintings and smelled faintly of tobacco. It made me wish I were anywhere else, not sitting in that exquisite chair, searching for something to say that would change his mind...

Fade to Black

She was always the invisible one in the family. Nobody noticed her until the day she died.
Ironic? Not really. It is ordinarily how these things go. Life taken for granted. You just expect people to be around because they always were, and then one day they aren’t and your entire world caves in.
Actually, it was more subtle than that. I would have embraced the chaos and shock waves that should have followed in the aftermath. Instead, I got artificial silence carefully constructed whenever I entered a room. It was as fragile as a soap bubble, popping with the slightest whisper or pitiful sigh.
I hated her for what she did.
And then I would hate myself for hating my dead sister for being dead.
I had never treated Amelia as different or a lesser because she shrunk away from people and hid from the world while I danced in the sun and bathed in attention. As twins we were like magnets; opposite charges inevitably drawn together. I let her be who she needed to be and kept eyes away from her and deflected questions that no one had any business asking.
I started to dread all that attention I had once craved. I was suffocated by the inquiries about my welfare in hushed tones like I might shatter like she did. Then they stopped whispering to me and began whispering about me.
My own parents didn’t know what to do with either of us. Amelia was resurrected in our home like a patron saint. Portraits of her hung everywhere and my mother prayed to them like a devout worshiper. I was a puzzle they were missing pieces to. They couldn’t understand how I could continue on when half of me had died.
So I became what they wanted. I de-evolved into the vacant eyed, sorrow laden girl they expected me to be. I turned into Amelia. In return, they treated me like her, giving me a wide berth because they couldn’t handle seeing her ghost.
I grieved for her then I grieved for the pieces of myself that I had to bury with my sister.
And I hated her a little more each day.
She made a choice for both of us that night. A choice I never wanted, but soaked in consequences that only one of us had to endure.
She killed the pain that was inside her, but she also killed the joyful, life filled girl I had been. She was a murderer twice over and I would not pity her when I was the only one that understood how cruel she was.
Another gray Tuesday. Another day of mope, sigh, eye roll, repeat. I passed Mom on the stairs on my way to school. She barely glanced my way. Didn’t bother to ask if I needed money for lunch or why I didn’t carry a backpack full of advanced course books like I did before. It’s amazing the passes you get for having a dead sibling.
I spent my free periods, or even most classes, hiding behind the auditorium.  No one looked for me. They didn’t bother to stop me when I resigned from my throne as Student Body President. Not a single “are you sure?” only lots of “understanding” and “respect” for my decision.
I don’t know how anyone could respect or understand my decisions when I couldn’t begin to rationalize what was happening to me.
“So this is where the mighty go when they have fallen.”
My head snapped to the direction of the voice.  Rick Chaconne stood over me with a smug grin and a pack of cigarettes.  He popped up one of the cancer sticks with a flick of the wrist and held the pack out as an offering.
I could only glare at him for being arrogant enough to disregard my super power of invisibility. He retracted his arm and helped himself to the smoke. “Aren’t you supposed to be prepping for an AP exam, or feeding orphans or some shit?”
I decided ignoring him was my only weapon. I returned to counting squares of concrete that composed the sidewalk around the building.
“Ah, so it’s like that? Still too good to socialize with the low life population of the school? Then tell me princess, what are you doing everyday hiding out in my ditch spot? ” He laughed to himself and took a long drag off his cigarette. “I mean, you aren’t even bothering to do anything worthy of my hiding place. You could sit and mope anywhere.”
“I’m not moping.” The words spat from my mouth before I considered them.
Rick grinned at his small victory. “Do you prefer sulking? Throwing a pity party? Another term, perhaps?”
An indignant huff compressed my chest and escaped my lips. “My sister killed herself.”
He only raised an eyebrow. “So?”
So? Didn’t he realize that was everything? “My sister. Killed herself. Dead.”
“What does that have to do with your foray into the darkside?”
“What the hell are you talking about? I tell you my sister commits suicide and you act like she borrowed a shirt and forgot to return it.”
Rick sighed and stubbed out the cigarette. “I’m not saying it doesn’t suck. I just don’t understand what that has to do with you now.”
An horrible familiar sensation of tears filled my eyes. “It has everything to do with me. Nothing is the same.”
“Didn’t you decide to change most of it yourself?”
“You don’t know anything.” I was terrified he actually might. Why was he still talking? He wasn’t supposed to even see me, but he kept pressing on bruised memories and tender subjects like a sadist.
“No one made you turn in your title of Campus Princess. Nobody chased you out of all your clubs and roles. Rumor has it you broke up with Trevor Wilson not the other way around, so from where I sit, you have decided to be exactly where you are. Sitting behind a building, hiding from school authority and smoking with a known degenerate.”
He lit another cigarette and I couldn’t resist inhaling the acrid smoke. He noticed and offered it to me. This time I took it, but only so he would stop calling me princess.
“So, what’s the real deal, Princess?”
“Smart, pretty, popular girls don’t just wake up one day and decide to tell the world to go to hell. Amelia would be pissed at you.”
“Don’t say her name.”
He shrugged, not intimidated or sorry. “It doesn’t make her any less dead, and it doesn’t bring her back. Neither does dressing like her,” he added as he flipped the hood of my sweatshirt.
My jaw had clenched tight enough to crack molars. “I’m not dressing like her and don’t say her name.”
“Alright, Princess. Have it your way.” He rested back against the wall, but he was still too close.
I didn’t want to move away and let him know he bothered me. He didn’t seem to care that he was breaking all the rules. He was looking at me, talking to me and even saying her name.
“Just one question. How much longer until you decide to take after her completely and I have to go to a second funeral?”
The delicate stick in my hand snapped at the filter and sent flakes of tobacco and sparks in a flurry down the sidewalk. “Stop it. Stop it! STOP! I’m not like her!”
My own words punched me in the face. I wasn’t like her and yet I was exactly like her in every way that mattered. I had let the world get inside me and hurt me enough that all I wanted to do was keep it out.
I had only wanted to be invisible until everyone stopped looking at me like the girl with the dead sister, but there was no other option.
“I’m not like her,” I whispered to confirm the concept.
He smiled without the nasty sneer to his lip and lit a new cigarette to replace the one I broke. “No, Princess. You’re not, and that’s not such a bad thing.”