Depending on how it was dealt with, it could drive a person insane. Amanda didn't like being lonely. She hated being around people sometimes - some types of people, especially - but she found that being alone just as bad. And, as she stepped into her flat after a long day at school: chasing this student for their homework and scolding that student for being too chatty and trying to completely ignore the abhorrent behaviour of the other student, she sighed and prepared herself for another lonely night. She tossed her keys on top of the cabinet next to the door and stripped off her jacket. She kicked off her shoes, slung off her bag - dumping it on the floor and letting it lie there - and shut the door.
Amanda considered going to the local pub, but threw the thought aside as soon as it had entered her mind. It would only cause her to do something she would regret. And, at present, Amanda didn't need another strange man or mind-splitting hangover to wake up to. The kids at school were already gossiping about “Miss May's drinking problem”, and, honestly, she didn't want everyone to find out that it was a lot worse than they thought.
Better to wake up in your own vomit at home, than in the middle of the street where everyone can see just how pathetic you are.
Amanda stepped into the living room and switched on the telly, the theme-song to a mindless sitcom piping up as she turned to the kitchen and looked through her cupboards. She couldn't be all that bothered to make a proper meal, so she took out some bread, buttered it and put it on a plate before sitting on the floor, leaning back against the foot of the sofa and watching the bright screen.
“So,” said a voice, “He's really gone, huh?”
Amanda winced, “Oh, shut up, Jack,” she muttered, biting into her bread.
“R-ea-lly gone. Like the not-coming-back type.”
Amanda rolled her eyes, and looked at the figment of her imagination sitting comfortably on her sofa, “I'm glad this amuses you. It would, I guess. When Daniel was around, I didn't have to contend so much with you.”
“I told you that guy was trouble.”
“He wasn't at all. I thought he was quite genuine.”
“Ooh, look at you going all lovey-dovey!” Jack snorted, “And he's causing you a great deal of trouble now, ain't he?”
“Don't know what you're talking about.”
“She says while sitting on the floor and eating two pieces of untoasted bread and watching five idiots run around on screen. By herself.”
“Is that why we're talking?”
Amanda looked at him with disdain, “If you're going to be a pain in the arse, leave me alone,” she turned back to her programme. There came no response. Amanda sighed, finished her bread and - becoming sick of the ridiculously unrealistic plot-line of her show - switched the telly off.
She got up and looked in the mirror.
She looked at the tired, disproportionately big brown eyes, the small thin lips that scowled at her, and the dark, wind-blown hair that spiked outwards. Her hair used to be so much nicer before. Why had she ever cut it? Daniel would hate it like this. Amanda scoffed at her reflection, “You are not fine,” she said, “You're never going to be fine,” she looked away and moved towards her bedroom.
She changed into an oversized T-shirt and shorts before her gaze fell on Daniel's Hidden Blade sitting on the top shelf in her wardrobe. Biting the inner of her cheek, she took it down and looked at it.
Before, Amanda had thought to herself that she was keeping Daniel's brace for him, keeping it safe for when he got back. Now, she realised, that perhaps it was her inheritance from him. A memento to remember him by. She felt dejected and angry at having realised it now. She wished she had never bought Rebecca that coffee.
“I told you not to go,” Amanda said monotonously, “I told you not to leave me,” she collapsed on the floor with the Hidden Blade in her hands. Her shoulders shook and she bowed her head as tears formed in her eyes, “But you left and now you're never coming back!” she shouted, “I'm never going to get you back... I loved you, God damn it!”
Amanda sobbed, her voice becoming thick and heavy, “You just walked into my life and, ten seconds at a time, stood by me before disappearing. And I wouldn't know if you were really there or if you were just another Jack!” she pulled on the Hidden Blade and tightened the straps so that it fit snuggly around her arm, “Why did you do that to me, Daniel? Why are you doing this to me!” she pulled the trigger-loop with her little finger. The blade slid out and shone in the dim light.
“I want you back... Why didn't you listen to me!” she snivelled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand and then teased the tip of the blade over her marked wrist, “I! Told! You! Not! To! Go!” Amanda screamed.
Her breathing became erratic and Amanda just sighed in her sorrow for a few minutes. “Don't be sad...” Amanda mimicked bitterly, “Don't hurt yourself... How? How, Daniel! It's like me telling you not to die!” she passed the edge of the blade over her wrist and watched as blood emerged through the sliced skin. The pain made her sigh and rest her head against a wall, “The things I would say and the things I would do to get you back...” Amanda wept, “You were right... this was such a big mistake... How am I ever going to stop missing you, Daniel?” she clenched her fist and the blood trickled - dripping onto the hard, wooden floor. Amanda sobbed for a while until a knock pounded on her front door.
“Why the fuck won't the world just leave me alone...?” she muttered, letting go of the trigger and allowing the Hidden Blade to slide back in.
Amanda got up, “Just a second!” she called, as the knocking continued, hurriedly wrapping a scarf around her wound and wiping her face with a tissue. She opened the door.
“Hey, uh, neighbour,” said a worried face, “Everything alright? I heard shouting.”
Amanda bit her lip, “I'm sorry. I'll... I'll keep it down.”
Just as she was about to shut the door, Amanda's neighbour stuck his foot in. He looked at her with concern, his eyes darting to the fast-soaking scarf around her arm, “What's the matter?”
“Just...” Amanda shook her head and took a deep breath. To Hell with it all, “Everything.”
He didn't say anything for a moment, before he put out a hand and touched her shoulder, “Come on,” he said, gesturing to his flat with a jerk of his head, “let's get you fixed up.”
“That's... that's not necessary, Mr Berg...”
“I'm not taking no for an answer,” Berg put an arm around Amanda's shoulder and walked her across the passage, shutting her door behind her.
Amanda looked at the silver ring on his finger, “Hey... that's...” her eyes widened and she didn't say more, the ring on her own finger grew cold. It was the same ring.
“Should I call somebody?” Berg asked, spreading an arm, indicating for her to sit, “Family? A friend?”
As Amanda looked around Berg's flat, she allowed herself to vaguely wonder whether he was a married man or whether he lived with his mother. The place was so... pretty. And neat. In the living room, there was a deep-brown, leather sofa facing a large, flat-screen TV that was mounted on the wall. The space in between was complemented by a red Persian rug and a glass-top coffee-table on which a ceramic vase filled with pink wildflowers sat. It was all very homely.
Amanda sat on the sofa as Berg retrieved a first-aid kit, “I think I'll be fine, sir, but thank you,” she looked around her surroundings warily.
Berg sat down next to her and took her bleeding arm, “Quite a cut you gave yourself,” he commented, “Who's this Daniel fellow I heard you pining over?”
“Oh, you heard that?”
Berg wiped the wound down with an antiseptic wipe before taking out a clean piece of cotton and holding it to the cut. He took out a fresh bandage and wrapped the wound up, securing the cloth with a safety-pin, “I'm sorry, whatever your loss.”
“Thank you,” Amanda said, “I should get going.”
“Oh no, no, no, no, no, no! There isn't a hope in Hell that I'm just letting you walk across the hall to sit around alone. I'll make you a drink and order some food up,” he was already picking up the phone to dial a number, “You like pizza, don't you?”
“Well... I, uh... If you insist, I guess,” Amanda said, wondering what the Hell she'd gotten herself into. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Berg wore the same ring? Maybe she was just being paranoid?
But as she watched him dial the number, doubts crept into her mind.
Why would a sophisticated, neat-and-tidy man like Berg know the pizza number by heart?
“Hi, we'll get a Code 04,” he muttered, before stating the address and saying, “Thirty minutes? Okay.”
Amanda's suspicions grew.
He didn't even ask her which pizza she wanted.
“Let me get you a drink,” Berg said, putting down the phone and standing up, “Make yourself at home, Miss May. Tell me what's the trouble, if you wish.”
“Just... a bad day, I guess,” Amanda said, uncertainly. She really did want to just let it all out, “You know one of those days where you do everything you should be doing, but it still feels like you haven't done enough and at the end of it all you don't know who you are or what you're doing or why? Do you ever have one of those days?”
Berg tinkered with some things in his kitchen before stepping out and bringing Amanda's drink with him. One glass of red liquid.
Wasn't he going to drink with her?
“Sounds rough,” he said, sitting down next to her, “But we'll figure it all out, yes? Talk and talk until it makes sense. How does that sound?” Berg passed Amanda the drink.
She took the drink and looked into it. Amanda remained calm as, undoubtedly, there was some powdery residue floating at the bottom of the glass. She forced a smile at Berg.
Men: their niceties almost always too good to be true.
Amanda put down the glass and pulled him forward by the collar, “Or...” she whispered suggestively.
Berg flushed and hesitated. But he played along, holding Amanda's face and sitting more comfortably.
It was all Amanda needed.
She crunched her forehead into his nose and he leapt back with a howl. Before he could recover, Amanda snatched up the glass vase from the table and smashed it into the side of his head - knocking him out cold as water and flowers showered over him.
She took a few moments to take in the gravity of what she had done, before stepping out of Berg's flat and entering her own. She had less than thirty minutes to gather herself and go somewhere else, somewhere safe.
And where would 'safe' be?
Amanda picked up her bag and took out the slip of paper Rebecca had given her. She read it, memorizing the address, before sighing and holding the slip to her chest...