Her name was Scarlett, like the main character from Gone With The Wind.
I'm not sure why our mother named her that; I think it had something to do with Vivian Leigh's beauty, her delicate features and porcelain skin. I think our mother hoped that Scarlett would grow up to be just like her, minus the tragic ending of both actress and character.
Lately, I can't help but wonder if my little sister had been fated to die; maybe the name was cursed, a poison apple delivered to my sister's feet by not a cruel and wicked witch, but by her own mother. Maybe the name was wrapped in ribbons of razor wire, each barbed soaked in arsenic, waiting patiently for the perfect moment to tear my little sister to bloody shreds.
And maybe it was simply my own crude opinion, but my little sister never suited it. It was too harsh a name: too sultry, to brash and angry. It was the kind of name that raised expectations, that screamed itself hoarse with a brash anger and ruby fury. It was easily associated with the blood that coats my nightmares in a deathly film of phantoms and revenge. It's a name that flashes through my thoughts whenever I think of Ryan, his fingers and hair soaked in blood, his throat lined with it, impossible to remove, like the charcoal that insisted on staining his skin.
I stagger into the bathroom: I'm sweating, my skin clammy and cold, my hands shaking, my thin t-shirt clinging to my skin. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.
The sink is icy cold, the porcelain leeching any remaining heat from my hands as I retch into the empty basin. I know that I'm not going to throw up, not properly, but I can't but desperately need to empty my throat of whatever it is that is trapped in there. I shudder, my muscles trembling. I need to lean against the sink, otherwise I'm sure that I will collapse.
I can't breathe. I still can't breathe. Even now, years on, I still can't breathe.
I retch again before rinsing out the sink, drag in another breath before spitting it back out into the cool air again. The hallway light clicks on outside the bathroom and I shiver. It's likely my father, my late-night wanderings dragging him from his well-needed sleep and his concern turning his bed into a bed of nails and refusing to let him return to sleep.
He worries too much, does my father. So does my mother, although her work as a nurse means that she's never home at night anyway.
But my father, he's never returned to full-time work. He spends his days working at home- he quit his job a month after Scarlett died and is rebuilding the entire house one room at a time. The kitchen's already been replaced, the stables have been razed to the ground. He's working on our dining room at the moment- it's all bare floorboards and loose nails- it has been for months- but my mother doesn't say a thing.
I'm sure that she thinks the change is good... for all of us; I changed my clothes and had my tattoos, my mother changed hospitals, my father changed our house. It barely resembles the way it used to look back when Scarlett was actually alive. I can often convince myself that were living in a completely different house, but I still can't go down to the bottom field. I'll never be able to go down to that field ever again.
There's a tentative knock at the door, just one, as if my father is almost hesitant to ask if I'm alright, as if he doesn't know what to do if I said 'no'. I inhale, but the oxygen rushing through my body almost seems to make no effect, as if I may as well still be drowning.
"I'm fine," I gasp, uncertain as to whether my father wil even be able to hear my voice. "It's fine, it's fine, don't worry."
There's a silence- a crushing, cautious silence that drags itself out into eternity- before I hear the light switch turn off and the bedroom door close. I lift my head and peer into the mirror, analysing the face I present to the world and the cracks in the mask I wear. The tousled mousey brown hair, greasy and knotted from days of laying in bed. The narrow face and pasty skin, the dark shadows that lurk beneath my eyes from the sleepless nights and vacant days. The tattoos that wind their ways up my arms like pythons, disappearing beneath the shoulders of the loose t-shirt I'm draped in.
"It's okay," I whisper to myself, "it's okay it's okay it's okay."
And it is, almost. I'm still alive, I'm still here. Ryan's alive, my parents are alive.
I need to keep breathing.
I push a strand of hair from my face, as if I could brush away the memories with it, wash them all away and leave myself with a blank slate. A painless oblivion I could smother myself in forever, like warm blankets on a winter's night.
It was just another nightmare, that was all. Just another dream that left me trembling, drowning in blankets and sweat and my own silent screams as I was jerked back from the broken neck and fractured skull and the scream- oh God, that scream- at a speed that could quite easily have given me whiplash.
Just another nightmare. But I'm fine. It's all completely fine.
I run a hand through my hair, tugging the greasy mass from my face. I breathe, fumble back to the bathroom door, flick the light switch and make my way back to bed. I don't expect to sleep anymore tonight, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't try.
Always keep trying, that was what the therapist said. Always keep fighting.
Her name was... Dr Alcott, wasn't it? Or at least, I think so. I haven't seen her for months, back when I finally left the hospital for good with no intention of returning. Well, not so much hospital. They'd called it a clinic, but you can dress a lion in sheep wool and it's still a lion, no matter what they say. Dr Alcott was a tiny, unimposing figure who possessed a terrifyingly authoritative voice, one that you couldn't help but obey. Dark hair tucked beneath her hijab, a full bowl of M&Ms on her desk. A kind face that made you want to trust her.
I slide back into my bed, pulling up the covers to wrap around my neck. Close my eyes.
I've been fine for so long, actually properly fine. I've been catching up with school work, I work as a waitress in the evenings. I haven't had a nightmare for months.
Until Ryan slid back into my life, as pale and skinny as he always was, with the same shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes. Hood up, cheekbones sharp, cheeks hollow, jeans scuffed. Notebook nothing more than thin sheets of scratty paper, the pencil blunt, worn down to barely nothing.
He came back, just like a memory, submerged and supressed until one perfect instant it returns, crashing into my body with the force of an ocean wave, the world smacking me around the face with the silent laughs and hurried tears, secret notes and scribbled drawings. Too many events returning all at once, unable to comprehend at the speed in which they rush by, as if I was stranded at a station whilst my world flashed by on a high-speed bullet train.
If I'm honest, I don't deserve this. I don't deserve any of this. I'm not a bad person: I'm not the best person either- I'm not the kind that spends every day of my year at charity events and the like- but I don't intentionally hurt people, I don't break any laws anymore.
I've thrown my old life away. Completely. Utterly. It's gone, and I've finally began to move on.
But now Ryan's back. He's brought the nightmare back and the fear back and the memories back, and I'm not sure how long I can withstand it this time.
But the worst of all is that I can't make him leave.
Like I said, I'm not really a bad person. And there's no way, no way in Heaven or Hell, that I could send my friend away after the things he's been put through. After the things I put him through.
Especially not when his family are dead, and from the sounds of things, he could be too.