The room was quiet. A clock was ticking quietly from one of the shelves, echoing through the silence slightly awkwardly. The ghost of my nod shook through my brain; I’d agreed to see the bathroom, even after what had happened all those years ago. I was kicking myself, but knew that I couldn’t take it back. I couldn’t be a coward. For all I knew, Alfie hadn’t seen my nod and I wouldn’t have to take it back. We could just carry on as normal. But he had seen me nod. He fidgeted slightly and exhaled loudly, as if he was mentally preparing himself.
I felt my heart start to pound in my chest as Alfie stood up and looked at me. His hand came out, offering to help me up. I sat there for a moment just staring at him as though he were a dream, as though if I touched him my hand would go straight through him like a ghost. He was a vision, a kind hearted idea projected from my brain into the real world to give me false hope and sanctuary from everything going through my mind. Then I reached for his hand. We touched, and vibrant colours shot out into the world. Everything became real again, he was a solid being and he was there and grasping my hand and everything was real. He wasn’t a vision, he was just there. My stomach fluttered with what I first thought of as anxiousness, but then I looked at him and my heart leapt.
Alfie’s eyes were soft like the waves and gentle like the rustling of leaves in a breeze. As I looked into his eyes I could hear the distant chirping of birds and the roaring of the waves, getting louder and louder as we continued to look at each other. The moment was perfect. We were there, and even though he only knew me as Olivia, we knew each other from the inside and out. I couldn’t describe it. Slowly the colours became softer again, less vibrant, and I looked away. The moment was over, replaced by the fear of going to the bathroom. He looked at me, concerned.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, his grip on my hand sending sparks shooting up my arm.
“Arianne would have wanted me to,” I was shaking. I could feel Arianne in my stomach again, pushing against the walls, begging to get out and be free and run away from the situation. “I want to. I do.”
“Olivia, you’re shaking. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, I’m not going to make you,” his left hand came up and rubbed my arm, and I swear to God I almost swooned. He was so wonderful and considerate.
“I want to.”
Arianne shook her head. I nodded mine. Alfie still looked uncertain, staring at my face as though he was thinking about something. I started to worry whether he could hear Arianne, which was silly, and then I wondered whether he recognised me. That thought scared me even more.
“Come on,” I tugged on his hand. “Before I chicken out of it.”
It took him a moment to respond, but then he started walking towards the back of the house, towards the bedrooms. The bedrooms and the bathroom. I tried to ignore my heart beating in my ears and the bile rising up my throat. Gritting my teeth, I tried my best to focus on Alfie, who was walking slightly ahead of me with a grim expression on his face. His jaw was clenched and I could tell that he was dreading going in there almost as much as I was, and that was saying something. The black spots started to appear again, but I swallowed and breathed deeply.
Suddenly, with each step, a memory started to play over in my head.
“Julia?” I cried. “Richard? Julia?”
The scream. Curling up and around the house with no one but me around to hear it.
The bathroom door. The knife in Julia’s hand. The blood on her fingertips.
And then we were at the door. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but the door was firmly shut. There was no police tape, no ghost waiting to jump out at me, no Julia hiding behind me with a knife in her hand. It was just a door. A harmless bathroom door. At least, it was harmless when it was shut. I didn’t want it to open; being near it when it was closed was enough for me at that point. I could feel Arianne relax inside me as I thought about turning around and running away. All I wanted to do was hurt her, even if it meant hurting myself in the process. I needed to get inside that bathroom and make her relive the pain. Alfie’s hand tightened around mine. I squeezed his hand, trying to reassure him. He was shaking almost as much as me.
I stepped towards the door, my right hand reaching for the handle, which was cold. I held my breath and counted to ten. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Alfie was tense. 7. My hand shook in his. 8. The handle was warming beneath my hand. 9. I twisted the handle, hearing it click quietly. 10. I pushed the door open with more force than I’d anticipated. It swung forwards and hit the wall behind it, but I almost didn’t hear the bang that it made. I was too occupied with what was in front of me.
The metallic smell of blood rushed towards me and was in my head in an instant, swirling around me and trying to pull me into unconsciousness. I didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t what I saw. Blood was splattered on the walls, peeling and rubbed off slightly from the previous ten years of stagnant air stuck in the bathroom. The white tiles were coated in a reddish brown that made me feel faint and sick and confused. Arianne retched in my stomach. I wanted to throw up. The shower was covered in limescale and the bathtub had a bloody handprint on the edge. I hated seeing it all in so much detail, but I couldn’t stop myself from staring. It was like driving past a car accident, slowing down almost to a stop just to see what damage had been done. But then I was the wreck of a car, crumpled and broken by everything, and everyone who’d ever known me had just slowed down to see what the damage was before continuing on their way. I swayed back slightly, leaning against Alfie, who hesitantly let go of my hand and put his arm around my shoulders. I knew he was nervous and apprehensive because he’d only known me as Olivia for two days, but it felt right. I fit perfectly under his arm. I tried to focus on him, because I couldn’t focus on what I was seeing. Richard’s body was gone, obviously, buried six feet below the ground in the cemetery miles away from the house. But his presence was still there. I could feel him haunting the bathroom with such hatred and anger that I wanted to shut the door straight away.
Arianne was on her knees, sobbing. Her cries echoed around my body over and over and over, sounding similar to a laugh but more like a hysterical scream. I was torturing her. I could sense her reliving every single moment of it, from start to finish, constantly. It wouldn’t stop playing in her head. She pulled at her hair and yelled for the memories to stop. In that moment, she wanted to die. Good, I thought. She deserves it. I deserve it. She rolled onto her side, tears and spit falling onto the floor with each shaky breath. I loved watching Arianne hurt and cry, it gave me a sick sense of satisfaction that made me feel giddy and lightheaded. She looked up at the sky before curling up into ball, shuddering and sobbing. I could feel her heart breaking into two, and it almost made me smile. Until I realised that it was my heart breaking, too.
I closed my eyes and turned my head away from the hideous scene. I didn’t want to see it. It wasn’t right. Alfie understood, and after a moment I heard the door shut. I hated myself for disturbing the memory, for encouraging myself to be so fucking destructive that I wanted to die or puke or cry. I prayed to Richard asking for him to forgive me for breaking the silence in the bathroom. I could still hear the slam echoing in my head as the door slammed open, and then shut again. My eyes stayed shut as tears started to pour. However much I didn’t want to cry, I couldn’t hold it in anymore, and they tumbled down my cheeks and wouldn’t stop coming. I’d held the tears for so long and I just couldn’t stop them. They poured and poured just like they had all those years ago. My breath was shaky. It took a moment for Alfie to notice what was happening, but once he understood, he pulled on my hand. In an instant, we were back in the living room and I was sat on the sofa with my head in my hands. He was beside me, his hand on my back, thrusting a tissue into my fist. I mopped at my eyes and my nose and sniffled quietly. The tears kept pouring.
I shouldn’t be here. It’s not right. I don’t have a part in this, Arianne does. I shouldn’t be here. No.
I had thoughts running circles into my head. They were treading deeper and deeper tracks into the ground, chasing one another and laughing at the ball on the floor that was Arianne. The laughter rang high and loud in my ears. It wasn’t fair. I didn’t deserve the torture that she needed, I didn’t need to be punished or teased or broken. She did.
“It-- It just wasn’t fair,” I cried. My body heaved. “Not fair. Not fair. They deserved more than that.”
I felt Alfie nod next to me, shaking and breathing in heavily. I just wanted to hold him and tell him that everything would be okay, that Arianne wasn’t far away from him, but I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. He knew that they had deserved more, but he knew them as Arianne, Richard and Julia. He didn’t feel the loss that I’d felt for Richard, or the blinding hatred that smoldered in my heart for Julia, or the complete indifference towards Arianne. But he was understanding. He was grieving just as much as I was, if not more, because he was grieving the people that I’d made a sort of peace with a long time ago. I felt sorry for him. I hadn’t felt so sympathetic towards another person since I’d gone back into the care system. It was a strange feeling.
The feeling in my stomach was something along the lines of fear mixed with despair and sadness, something that I hadn’t felt for a long time. I wanted to puke, I wanted to cry more, and I wanted to sleep. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that bathroom or the house, even though I thought that I needed to be, because of Alfie.
“I didn’t think it’d be that bad,” I heard him whisper, mostly to himself. His voice was raspy and quiet.
“Had you not been in there since it happened?”
He sat there in silence for a moment and ran his hands up his legs. I felt as though I should have held my breath to create tension, but Alfie took in a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“No,” his voice broke slightly. He wouldn’t look at me. I stared down at the damp tissue in my hands, tearing it up into smaller and smaller pieces. My tears had slowed slightly; most of my attention was on him. “I haven’t wanted to. There wasn’t any sort of appeal. But I thought that going in there with someone else - with you - would have helped me cope... Obviously it didn’t help much.”
“Oh Alfie...,” I whispered, secretly enjoying the way his name felt on my tongue. It was like everything stopped. I wanted to hold him.
In that moment I wanted to pour my heart out to him. I wanted to tell him about me and Arianne, about my notebook, and about everything else. I wanted to tell him that the first time I went there was because I just wanted to see if I was strong enough to confront everything that had happened, but then I had changed. I was there because I wanted to help him instead of helping myself, but I didn’t know what to say or what to do. And the timing wasn’t right. I wasn’t going to tell the boy I’d lost for ten years that I was - at one point - the best friend that he was grieving over, just after we’d been in the room where her foster father had been brutally murdered by her foster mother. It wasn’t appropriate. And the timing wasn’t right, if it would ever be right. So instead of telling him the truth and opening up, I thought back to the bathroom again. The horrors flashed in my eyes and made me want to cry more.
“There was so much blood...,” I trailed off and shuddered. When blinked I could see it flash across the blackness of my eyelids, the image engraved in my irises.
“They deserved more,” Alfie repeated. “They deserved more. She deserved more than anyone, after what she’d been through. She still deserves more. Wherever she is, Arianne deserves more than me and you and everyone in the town combined.”
And with that, we were both crying. I lifted my arms up and wrapped them around his neck. After a moment of hesitation his arms came up and his hands rubbed at my back soothingly, with his head leaning on my shoulder. both of us sobbing into each other. I didn’t care. I was in his arms. He was in mine. It felt right, even if we were both crying about something we’d lost. I focused on how his body felt against mine as he breathed deeply. Every so often it felt as though one of us would have calmed down, and then we just burst into tears again. It got to a point where I wasn’t even sure what I was crying about, but I still kept crying. I felt each of his sobs against my chest and my shoulder, and with each sob came a new wave of pain and upset.
I didn’t keep a track of how long we stayed like that for, but I felt comfortable and safe. He made me feel safe. Nothing could have harmed me other than what I had just relived. After a while, we both stopped crying. I left the tears to dry on my face in tracks. We just stayed there, holding one another, until I was sure that I was going to fall asleep. My head was leaning on his shoulder with his hands stroking my back, and all I could hear was the sound of his breathing. If I listened closely enough, I could hear the faint thumping of his heartbeat, a slow and steady rhythm that I could have happily dozed off to.
And then I did.