A Stranger to Myself

"I feel like I don't even know myself. And if I don't know myself, how can anyone else ever know me?" Autumn has always felt alone, like an outcast. But when a girl comes into her life and reveals things about Autumn she never would have known otherwise, can Autumn learn to accept her differences she's so used to hating?


19. "That Hasn't Changed."

It was just another day at the start. I had no idea Carmen would show up.


I woke up at ten, which was earlier than I normally did. The more sleep I got the longer I was away from my life. It was like a break from the real world and it was probably the only thing keeping me sane. 


Mom had already left the house like she normally did, not sure what she was doing really, but she normally wasn't there from like nine in the morning to one in the afternoon. Marbara had left too, having a job or something, so I was alone. In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea to leave an unstable, suicidal teenage girl alone, but I guess my mom either didn't think of it or trusted me a lot already. Whatever the case had been, it was just me. 


When someone knocked on the door I thought it might be my mom or Marbara. So when I opened it up and Carmen stood there, my heart skipped a beat and then climbed its way up my throat. Before I could say a word she barged inside, literally pushing past me and walking a good distance into Marbara's entryway, most likely so it would be harder for me to get her to leave. 


I turned around, looking at her, my eyes wide and my jaw having dropped when I first laid eyes on her. I wasn't stupid, I could tell from the look on her face that she wasn't going to willingly go any time soon. To show her my slight acceptance of the situation, I closed the front door, not moving my gaze from her the entire time. 


She still looked beautiful. If anything she was just a bit disheveled. It had been... probably a week since I had last seen her, exhausted in the hospital waiting room. Now she was, well, awake, obviously, but also very... overwhelmed? I'm not sure how to word the emotions that radiated off of her, but it was evident she was incredibly upset. My body had tensed up so much I could've made a living as one of those human statue street performers. 


Her eyes brimmed with tears. Her shoulders were hunched slightly. She was glaring at me but I really couldn't tell if she was angry or not. Her hands were clenched in white-knuckled fists. 


She took a deep, quaking breath and suddenly screamed out, "You can't just do this to me!!" 


The intense emotion behind her voice was jarring and her loud volume made me jump slightly where I stood. I didn't know how to react to this so I sort of just didn't. I didn't respond verbally. My words got caught in my tightening throat. 


She kept going, "I brought you to the hospital and I waited for you for hours and hours and they wouldn't let me see you but I wanted to so badly and eventually I passed out and when I woke up you were gone!!" She spoke so quickly and in such a jumble it was almost impossible to make out what she was saying. She didn't take a single breath between her words and I was worried she might suffocate. 


The guilt was coming on strong now. 


She was on a tangent and she wasn't stopping, "I was terrified Autumn! So fucking terrified for you, but you didn't care! You just left! You could've woken me up, you could've let me know you were okay, you could've said something to me, anything! Instead you just left me there, alone, confused, and worried sick!" 




"--No!! D-don't try to justify this, don't even start trying to give me fucking excuses!" 


"I'm not trying to--"


"What did I do wrong, Autumn?! I know that I left you that one time, but I was confused and scared of my feelings, and I thought I made up for it! I tried to help you, I tried so hard! All I ever thought about was you, 24-fucking-7, you were my entire life then you just tried to kill yourself again and I--" 


"--Carmen." I had to stop her. She wouldn't let me get a word in so I had to make my voice more firm than it wanted to be. I had never seen her so unstable. Her body was shaking, her breathing was erratic, her words were jumbly and she was practically crying. 


I felt terrible. 


She stopped rambling. Now she just stood still, looking so incredibly desperate and devastated. There was so much behind her eyes. It was astonishing. 


I had to calm her down, "I'm sorry. I'm not going to make excuses. This wasn't fair to you. I didn't know what to do and I handled the situation badly." I took a few steps closer, surprised at how steady my voice actually was. 


"Y-you..." Her voice broke and she stopped for a minute or so. I didn't say anything else, patiently letting her put herself back together. I could see it was hard. She wasn't looking at me anymore, it seemed too difficult for her to. 


I got closer to her but stopped when her eyes moved back to mine. 


A tear rolled down her cheek and dripped off her quivering jaw, "...I thought I lost you." 


The tone to her voice, the way it was hollow but also so full of meaning, it hit me in just the right way. My chest ached painfully and my own eyes started to sting. I had hurt her so much and I so genuinely hadn't meant to. 


"I'm sorry." I didn't know what else to say. 


She kept looking at the space between us. I knew what she wanted. I wanted the same thing. In a sort of cautious way, I extended my arms slightly. As soon as she figured out what I was meaning, she threw herself into the embrace with such force I almost lost my footing. We hugged each other so tightly it hurt but neither of us cared, or even registered the pain. 


She started crying and I did too. We were both just so flooded with emotions and they had nowhere to go. 


"I-I'd be such a liar if I said I could handle losing you..." She mumbled to me between her tears. She was shaking so violently I was worried she may fall over. I would catch her if she did. 


"I'm here now." 


"Please, Autumn..." Her fingernails dug into my shoulders desperately, "...please don't leave me like that again, I can't--" Her words just collapsed into more sobbing. 


"I won't." My thoughts drifted to the fact I was going to be moving soon. That hadn't once crossed my mind during this entire confrontation and it was definitely big news. I had to tell her. I couldn't wait again - couldn't torture her with confusion and uncertainty. Like I said before, I didn't want to hurt her. I would never want to hurt her. 


"Carmen?" I spoke up hesitantly. My tears were steadily stopping but hers weren't going to. That was okay though. 


"...yeah?" I heard the fear behind her voice. 


"I um..." I was scared of her reaction. Terrified. I had a brief internal debate on whether or not telling her was a good idea and the good part of me overpowered the other, "..my mom and I are moving away. She wants me to get out of this town and have a fresh start somewhere new. I-I'll be getting away from Jessica and all them and I might really be able to figure out the person I want to be..."


A silence. A dragging, tense silence. Gradually I felt her grip on me weakening until she let me go and backed away. I let her. Her eyes weren't on me. It was almost like she wasn't looking at anything, even though I knew that wasn't true. She wasn't breathing. Clearly she wasn't taking this news well. Had I expected her to?


"Carmen I--" 


"--You're moving away?" She interrupted me. I wasn't sure what I had planned on saying. 


"...Yes." She still wouldn't look at me. Maybe she felt like she couldn't? Guilt was setting in all over again, this time it was almost stronger than before. 


"...When?" She asked slowly, cautiously. Her hands were starting to become fists, which then started to adopt white knuckles. Her crying had stopped from her shock at my confession but her eyes remained so glossy I could see my reflection in them, and her eyelashes sparkled with lingering tears. 


She had asked me the one question I didn't really know the answer to, "Um, I'm not sure. My mom has to finish some things up around town before we can go..." 


I had a feeling none of this was processing in her head and soon the realization was going to slam into her all at once. I dreaded that moment, when she would have that terrible epiphany, when she would understand that I was going somewhere very far away where we wouldn't see each other. I hated seeing her cry, and I knew that crying was inevitable when that situation unfolded. 


"So... you're leaving." Her voice shook considerably. I nodded in response. She took a quaking, much needed breath, "Forever." 


"No, no Carmen, probably not forever." I wasn't sure if that was a lie or not. I knew just as much about this as she did, which was barely anything. The last thing in the world she needed right then was me lying to her but I wasn't sure how to tell the truth and keep her composed at the same time. A got a pressure on my chest that made it sort of hard to inhale. 


"Probably? Yes or no, Autumn?" Her voice adopted a new tone. I had a growing suspicion of what was going to happen. All of her confusion and other negative emotions would want to become one instead of a messed up jumble of a bunch of different things, and they would naturally combine and morph into anger. It had happened to me before.


I didn't want to get into a fight with her, but if she got as mad as I anticipated, it might be unavoidable. 


"I..." She looked at me. She finally looked at me, and our eyes met. Never in our entire time knowing one another had I seen her look so pained, not even when she thought I was going to die. One emotion I picked out of the large number I could detect was betrayal. Did she feel like I was betraying her? My head started to throb. 


"What? Tell me the truth." She spoke the last part through clenched teeth. It was becoming increasingly difficult to tell if she was going to start screaming at me in rage or not. 


"The truth is that I genuinely don't know what's going to happen, okay?" I kept going before she had a chance to interject or even properly react, "This isn't even really my choice, my mom is taking me away, and hell, maybe it's a good thing. Think about it: for the first time I'll be away from Aubrey and all of them. I'll be away from my dad and my sister and I'll be in the supportive environment I've needed for the past sixteen years. I can figure out who I am, Carmen, I can finally get to know myself.


She shook her head back and forth more to herself than to me, "I just... Autumn my life, whether you're aware of it or not, revolves entirely around you. If you moved away I'd... I don't know. I don't know what I'd do." 


I decided to take a more risky route in this conversation, but I felt like it needed to be brought up at some point before I left. I couldn't leave this big of a question unanswered. It had remained that way long enough. I felt unable to just ask straight out though so I tried to do it subtly. 


"You... care about me, right?" Caution was extremely evident in my tone.


It looked kind of like she jumped where she stood at that question. She took a very small step back from me. She knew what I was referencing and she hadn't at all anticipated me bringing that up. Maybe she had assumed we had a mutual, unspoken agreement that what she had said that rainy night on the curb would never be discussed again. I had even assumed that for a while. 


"I-I uh..." Her eyes finally left mine. I had expected them to earlier than they had, "...yeah... yeah I... care... about you." 


"Then just think. I'll be in a totally new place. Fresh start, clean slate, new beginning, second chance. I can reshape myself to however I want to be, to however I actually am inside, and I can be happy for the first time in my entire life. Don't you want that for me, Carmen?" 


I was getting to her. I could tell. Good. Right?


"Of course I do..." She sounded so upset. I understood that, and it hurt to hear, but deep down part of me knew that this had to happen at some point. I had to tell her. It would've been so much worse if I just left without a single word to her. I couldn't even imagine being that cruel. I cared about her too.


She sighed, "...You deserve to be happy more than anyone else I know, Autumn. But... I need you. I seriously need you here." 


"I know." Was all that I could think to say. 


"I still..." She hesitated. I think she blushed very slightly too, but it was hard to see, "...care about you. That hasn't changed." I knew what she actually meant by that. She, like me, felt unable to repeat the actual words that she had spoken that night and I understood that too. 


That hit me hard. She had finally answered my question. What she had said was still valid. Apparently she still loved me. It was impossible to keep my reaction dormant and I audibly gasped, eyes widening. Her blush intensified and she stared at the floor. I felt something in the pit of my stomach, a fuzzy sort of feeling that's impossible to describe correctly. It made me feel weird. But also sort of warm. 


"...Carmen... look, I'm in no control over when I move okay? So... why don't we just... make the most of the time I'm still here?" I sort of felt like what I was saying was stupid. 


She laughed bitterly to herself as a few more tears came from her eyes and I took a step closer to her, gently grasping both of her arms, "Come on. Don't you have a school vacation coming up or something?" It was spring. She nodded, still not making eye contact, "Lets just hangout then. Together. Without any of this looming over us. I can try my hardest to be happy and we can have a good time, just the two of us, no crying, no yelling, and no cutting, I promise." 


What I said fazed her. She finally looked at me and she stopped crying. 


"...Are you being serious?" She sounded scared. 


"Yes." My answer was immediate. 


A very faint, weak smile came to her face, but it was beautiful. I returned it, "Okay. Yeah. Lets do that." 

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