Inescapable

"Words are my life. Not just spoken, not just heard, but scarred on my skin."

Liana's been suffering from a skin condition ever since she turned thirteen. It wasn't diagnosed by doctors; no one around her even knows it exists. Words spoken aloud to her define her, each one scratched out on her skin for her to see. In Liana's world, she's scarred into being weak. In Liana's world, no words can ever be forgotten.

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10. Chapter 9

 

I came home as usual that day; no one found me at school. Even if they had done, it was only a moment, and I was already past it, trying to move on.

Mum was surprisingly not there when I dropped the keys on the kitchen worktop, sliding my bag to the floor. I scanned the room for any differences - the pot was on the stove, reserved for dinner and the newspaper lying on the chair. Everything was how it always was. Except this time there was no note.

I reached for my phone and dialled Mum's mobile. I was sure something was up. It took a few minutes but I eventually got through.

"Hello?" I could hear my voice echoing down the receiver. I barely recognised it anymore, but I hardly recognised the response either. 

"Liana? Is that you?"

I hitched a breath. "Joe...?"

"Yes, Liana is that really you? Oh it's so good to see you!" I could hear his smile. I could hear this new person grinning wildly down the phone.

At first, I was so taken aback I didn't even know where to begin, but then the questions rolled out as I got increasingly worried. "Why are you answering Mum's phone? Where even are you?"

The voices circling in waves on the other end terrified me. I knew I was getting nervous for no reason but I hardly knew Joe, not anymore. Who was this person? 

"No need to worry, I'm at a restaurant with Mum. She went to the toilet so I answered her phone." There was a brief, awkward silence. "Well, here she is now, anyway."

I heard a few muffled words before Mum was on the receiving end. "Sorry about that Liana! Is everything okay? Isn't it just wonderful that Joe is back?"

"Ye-

"He's brought all these gifts back for everyone as well, which is really so kind of him, and it sounds like university has been going so well. Oh, it's going to be so nice to have a full house again, isn't it?" She went on like this for a while.

I was happy that Joe was back. I was. I just didn't like this aura that surrounded him now - I didn't even recognise who he was before. And I guess I should have been glad that he had overcome everything he'd been through and that he'd survived at the very least, but all I could think about was whether it was real or if it was all just an act. I was such a bad person.

We sat around the kitchen table that night, talking over drinks and listening to all of Joe's stories. Mum's eyes were lit up like I'd never seen them before and even Dad was sitting at the end of the table, watching Joe with pride. But it was only me that seemed taken aback by all this, the only one connecting this Joe with the Joe before. I saw this confident being with a huge grin and I wanted to believe it - if I was anyone else I would have believed it - but when I caught his eye every so often I saw it in him - the darkness; he hadn't completely escaped. Because the thing is, you can't ever completely escape. I knew that much. 

After dinner, I was in my room. I guess I was hiding, I don't know, but I just needed to get away from this new household for a while. I was rubbing my arms, eyes almost dropping to the floor, when the door creaked open. 

"Liana?"

His voice was soft and for a moment it was like he never left. I heard that desperate cry of his in the back of my mind - leave me! just leave me alone! And I saw it in his face too, in his raised eyebrows and his confused, emotionless face. I shook the memory from my mind. 

"Can I come in?"

I nodded and he shut the door behind him. I was staring at the covers as he slipped onto the bed beside me, but he was cautious, wary, as if he knew I might break.

"It's so good to see you again, Liana," he said. "I've missed you."

And I knew he meant it because he'd never said those words to me before. He never said those words to anyone. I looked into his eyes and I felt like I was invading his mind, because his eyes were this window of light and shade that only he knew existed. I knew some of it. 

"Are you okay?" I asked. I felt him take a breath in, but he stopped himself. He knew I wouldn't accept the lies that were about to escape his poisoned lips. 

"I'm okay as I can be." He smiled eventually, staring into the distance. "It's all someone can hope to be when you're like us."

I never knew what to say to that, but I thought about it for a long time, hours after he'd left the room and days after he'd left town. I can't say I ever understood it, but I remembered it. I held it tight in my arms, entwined in my fingers, perhaps because it was the only part of the old Joe I had left. And even though he wasn't okay then, I still wanted to treasure all that he was. I could still miss him, right? I did miss him.  And I would always miss him, in a way he would never understand.

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