Chapter 1. «
All of a sudden, I could feel something. It twitched, then fell motionless. I was abruptly aware of a brightness, just beyond a thin screen that shielded me.
Another twitch, and another; a crescendo of murmurs surrounded me as I realized that I was feeling nothing but my very own fingers. My eyelids flew open like a window-shade snapping back into place after a ruthless tug.
“Oh!” I heard as I tilted my head to the right.
“A-ah?” I murmured, the odor my breath suddenly striking me. Instinctively, I crinkled my nose.
A pair of warm arms gathered me up, along with my blankets, into a tight embrace.
“Oh, Lina,” the voice cooed as the person’s nose nuzzled my hair. “Oh Lina Lina my Daarrrrling!”
I gave a blank, emotionless expression in return. Who was this woman who was clutching me so tightly?
“W-where am I?” I asked finally.
The woman looked at me with loving eyes and announced, “You’re at the hospital, Darling.”
“I … I …,” I began, not sure how to put it.
“Yes, Lina? Is something the matter?” asked the woman.
“I can’t remember anything,” I admitted finally.
Her eyes widened in shock, but in a very odd fashion that made it seem like she was almost overacting her part – a mannerism she probably picked up when she was a child, I concluded.
“Y-you can’t?! You at least remember who I am, right, right?” she asked desperately.
I examined her face carefully, trying to pick out distinctive features that might jog my memory, but the effort was in vain.
“I-I’m afraid I don’t,” I said.
The woman’s eyes glistened with some tears that made me feel uncomfortable, and I tried to reach out to her. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sounds came out.
I asked, “Are you my mother?” It was the only logical conclusion.
She nodded slowly while her head shook slightly from the tears.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I just can’t remember anything.”
“Don’t worry, Lina-honey, we’ll help you remember, we will,” she reassured. “Whenever you would like to start, if you would let us.”
“Yes,” I said. “I would very much like to, Mother.”
“Then tonight is okay?”
Chapter 2. «
I sat on the couch, wearing loose pajamas that felt like they were draped over me. My legs were still weak, and I had only made it to the couch with the assistance of my older brother, who lent me his shoulder. Mother sat on a single-seater armchair that was at right angles to my sofa, which I had all to myself, excepting the large, voluminous comforter that she had provided for me.
“Are you ready to begin?” Mother asked.
“Your name is Lina Katherine Rosetta, and you were born on the sixteenth of February, 1987.”
“How old does that make me?” I asked.
“Eighteen,” Mother answered. “Ah yes, Darling, you may ask whatever you wish, if you are more comfortable with that than me making a humongous monologue for you.”
“What was I like? Who were my friends?”
“You were an extremely sweet, gentle girl, who had an excellent sense of humor and a very, very angelic heart. Everyone remembers you for helping people who never expected help, and staying behind to clean up, and keeping watch whenever there were younger kids present. So naturally, you were friends with almost everyone.”
Mother positively beamed. Was I really that kindhearted a person, or was she just exaggerating because of a mother’s view through rose-tinted glass? But my skepticism was abated when both my brother and father chimed in.
“Haha, you had guys following you everywhere, because they were so drawn to you! I was so jealous that girls never did that for me,” said my older brother.
“We could not have been more proud than to have a daughter like you,” agreed Father.
I nodded, smiling as radiantly as I could – I wanted them to feel like the old Lina was still there, that even without my memories, I would be the same person they apparently loved so much. I certainly felt a warm glow after they complimented me, and even if they were making a few white lies, I really appreciated what they were doing for me to make me feel comfortable, when the whole world was a mystery to me.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“So!” cried Mother excitedly. “I guess it’s most important to fill you in on the things that happened most recently, so that you can get back into the flow of things, right, Dear?” She turned to face Father to see if her plan met with approval; it did. “Lina, today is June first, 2005. You’ve been in a coma since a week after your eighteenth birthday.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. “What … got me into it in the first place?”
“Well, so let’s begin in January, when you found out that you were accepted into Stanford University. You always wanted to go there. I think, when you were younger, you had a bit of an innocent crush on one of our friends’ sons who was attending – his name was Jake, and he was tall and handsome, so I must commend you on your taste.”
My mother and I shared a giggle.
“But anyway,” continued my mom, “your boyfriend, er, ex-boyfriend, was very happy for y-”
I raised my hand to interrupt: “Did we break up?”
“W-well, you have to try to understand …,” she said, trailing off, maybe hinting that she herself didn’t quite understand. But I caught her drift – or at least I assumed I did, and to be honest, it felt okay with me. I didn’t know if it was simply because I couldn’t remember him, or because I truly did not mind, but I said what came first to my mind.
“He m-moved on when I was .. out, I guess? I do understand ….”
“It wasn’t because he wanted someone to kiss, you have to see,” Mother argued in his defense. “He cared about you so much that he needed someone to help abate his stress when things were publicly declared to be hopeless.”
“Yes, of course,” I said quickly. “I told you I understood it! But did he stay by me?”
“Every day,” she said. “He never went out on dates; he came straight to the hospital after school each day. Both he and Robin – that’s his girlfriend, who was a classmate of yours – took care of you every day, maybe even better care than the nurses offered.”
“I’ll have to thank them for that,” I said, smiling. I vaguely remembered seeing a pair of faces somewhere next to my parents when I first opened my eyes. The memory of their beaming visages brought me a bit more energy. “Mother, I’m glad that you are telling me about him, instead of hiding it from me.”
“Well, I knew you would prefer it this way,” she said confidently.
I smirked, trusting her a bit more.
“But alright, Lina, let me finish this story, and I will satisfy your curiosity. Deal, Darling?”
“Yes!” I chirped. I felt considerably more lighthearted than earlier.
“So, back to the past, he invited you to go on a trip with him to the beach, because you’d soon be so far apart. Oh! I forgot to tell you that we live in Dover, Delaware at the moment, and he was going to be staying on the East Coast. And so the beach trip would be a sort of celebration, except that you were busy with club activities until the week after your birthday. The plans changed from day to day, but it was finally settled that you two would spend a weekend together at his uncle’s beach house when you were finally free.”
“Like all alone?!” I cried, shocked that a person characterized as “sweet” would propose such a sketchy maneuver.
“Oh no no, his uncle’s family was staying there at the time, with the kids all grown up and such.”
“Ah,” I said, “Go on, then.”
“Please,” I added after a pause, in order to be polite.
“Well, on the way there – we’re not a hundred percent sure on these details, but it’s to the best of our knowledge – Darling, on the way there, oh God!”
Mother looked like she was on the verge of tears, so I tried to stand up in order to walk over and give her a hug, but I faltered and collapsed, my face falling near her feet.
“Lina!” she cried, lifting me up and bring me back over to the couch, where she sat down beside me. I was grateful that she was no longer so distant, even though I knew that it was such a silly sentiment.
“Please, continue,” I urged her.
She nodded, wrapping her right arm around my shoulder. At first, the grip felt awkward and rigid, but it slowly relaxed into something much more pleasant, and I responded by snuggling in more closely.
“Yes, Darling. So, you two stopped to eat, parking at a plaza lot, but you realized that none of the restaurants there suited your tastes – you two were rather picky eaters, and the only food you liked in common besides each others’ was Italian. So there was an Italian eatery across the road, and as you were crossing with the light, a drunken driver ran the red, and you saw the car heading straight for Scott, and then, and then you pushed him out of the way with an enormous shove, but … you were hit on the right side instead, and when we saw you in the emergency room … we all thought you were gone, you were in such bad shape.”
Mother looked exhausted and troubled, her expression reflective and her hands clasped, almost nervously, but moreover uncomfortably. I hugged her and told her that it was enough for tonight.
“Oh, Lina,” she said softly.
“C-can I see Scott tomorrow?” I asked. “I know he’s just a friend now, but I really want to talk to him, just … just to know … just to see …,” I trailed off.
Mother understood, and with a smile, she said, “I’m sure he has some juicier details about your past that only he would know.” She winked slyly, and I blushed.
Chapter 3. «
The next morning, I woke up early because Scott would be coming over. Cautiously, I followed the wall over to my wardrobe, which I opened. I had been wearing my PJs since I took off my hospital gown, but it had to at least be presentable to someone who was hoping to see my recover somewhat to my normal self.
I opened the door, revealing my clothes, presumably untouched for months. I blinked my eyes, seeing how neatly I had hung up my shirts, pants, and skirts. Most of the tops were casual but semi-dressy, and I selected a blouse that was made of a light, soft fabric that would lift in a breeze to keep me cool. Some of the pants were rather tomboyish and would hardly match a blouse, but I eventually found a pair of straight-legged jeans that seemed somewhat cute.
I smiled, closing the wardrobe. The clothes seemed just a bit dorky, not revealing very much skin at all, but I could certainly get used to it, since they were comfortable. I looked at myself in the mirror, brushing my erratic strands of hair into place.
Satisfied, I hobbled into the living room, sitting down onto a cushion on the sofa. After staring at the opposite wall for a few minutes, I picked up a copy of Newsweek that we had laying around, hoping that I could catch up a bit with recent events.
Then, a thought flitted into my mind: I seemed to remember languages and geography, so perhaps I remembered recent world history as well. If that were true, then the recent events of my life might be somewhere nearby, at hand.
I flipped open the magazine excitedly, trying to look for dates that I could match up to events that I knew had happened. The war with Iraq – I remembered it beginning, but what was I doing when it happened? I pondered this for awhile, but came out empty-handed and frustrated. I put back on a smile, however, since the door rang suddenly.
“Coming!” came Mother’s voice from the kitchen. She walked over to the front door and opened it, revealing a boy of about my height, with short, neat hair. He was somewhat cute, but certainly not a heartthrob.
“Hello!” I said cheerfully, motioning for him to sit down next to me.
“Hi, Lina,” he greeted.
“You’re Scott?” I asked. He cringed slightly, but recovered his composure rapidly.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” I cried, realizing how hurt he might’ve been.
“No no,” he insisted, “I’m fine. I’ve been preparing for this for so long, yet-” he broke his speech to give a pitiful laugh, “- yet I wasn’t ready at all.”
I shook my head. “No one can be ready for anything like this. I’m just so glad that you came.”
“And I’m just so glad to see your face full of color again,” Scott said sweetly. “Your smile could make even Uncle Scrooge dote on his children.”
I blushed at the compliment. “Um,” I said as an introductory grunt.
“I know you have a new girlfriend now and all of that, and I’m happy for that, but if you wouldn’t mind, could you tell me … what we were like together?”
He bit his lip. Did he not want me to know that he was going out with someone else now?
“Y-yes,” he said. He seemed unsure, maybe because my reëntrance into his life could complicate his feelings. “So I guess you heard about Robin …,” he said.
I nodded but made sure not to betray anything that vaguely resembled jealousy. “I don’t mind, really,” I said.
“I just said that, didn’t I?!” I squealed, laughing.
“Really?” he asked innocently.
I rolled my eyes, leaning onto another cushion. We seemed to get along so easily, and I wondered if he felt the same way. Had it always been like this? I felt like I could trust him wholly, and to feel confident that he would always be loyal to me.
“So, we were going out for a year. At first, we were reaaaalllly awkward.”
“Really?” I asked, teasing him.
“Oh quit it!” he cried, seeming to finally have calmed down his nerves from earlier. “But around the beginning of senior year, we finally got the hang of each other. We had tons of mutual friends, since we all used to hang out starting Sophomore year. It was really so much fun. You always liked going to play mini-golf with me and Yosef, maybe because you could always beat us at it.”
I smiled, trying to imagine the events and placing myself in as a character in this fantasy that once was my life. We talked all through the morning, and I learned about all the bizarre and novel things we did together, and I could tell from his character just how much of a steadfast guy he was.
That’s why, when he finally said goodbye and I shut the door, I couldn’t help but wonder how it was that such a loyal boy, who had been in such a perfect relationship with me for an entire year, who had all but promised that we would elope someday, somewhere, could have left me in the matter of a few months, especially if he had been there all the way up to the day I woke up. There was no way he could have anticipated that day in order to simply give the illusion of having been attentive the entire period.
It just didn’t add up. Unless … unless perhaps he was hiding something, some fight we had? Was it a fight at all? Or could he maybe have been less loyal all along, and he just was good at acting? But that simply did not make sense, either! If he were that sort of person, why would he have stuck with me at all, if Robin had pleased him more?
It had to be a fight, an honest fight between a loving couple. I had only spoken to him this one day, so perhaps we had some differences I didn’t know about that perhaps had us on the verge of splitting when all of the mishap occurred. Something within me told me I had to find out what these differences were to truly understand my past and my present. I had to find out … before I fell in love with him all over again.
Chapter 4. «
That evening, my mother insisted on bathing me again.
“Mother, I’m okay now – I can take a shower myself. I’ve been walking around just fine since dinnertime.” I knew it was a bit of a stretch, but I could definitely handle washing myself, especially if it meant taking a bath rather than showering.
“But Darling, I don’t want you to slip and fall. I … don’t think I could handle going through all this all over again ….”
I sighed, deciding to humor her this one time. And it wasn’t all that bad having someone else scrub you while you simply laid back and relaxed. I undressed quickly, eager to wash out my sweat – the day had been unusually warm, even for the summertime.
Soaking in the water, I felt my Mother’s delicate hands washing my arms, then my legs, then each toe with a tiny toothbrush. She scrubbed with fervor, but she always followed it up with a massage that seemed to enliven that part of the body so that it positively shone afterwards. Although she was insistent in her washing, she was careful to dodge the tender spots that corresponded to my accident. They seemed all but completely healed by this point, leaving strange but hardy scars.
I noticed that she started to slow down at this point, perhaps having overdone it a bit with the limbs, and moved more patiently through my back. I reserved the washing of what remained for myself, for the sake of both of our comforts, while she lathered up my hair.
The loving touch she added seemed to soften my skin and straighten my hair – it was as if I could feel a physical manifestation of the tenderness of her heart, as if I reflected that back, no matter how coarse and atrophied I had been beforehand.
I was reluctant to leave the bathtub, but I knew it was about time; Mother helped me out, and I wrapped a towel around myself, sitting down on a stool where she blow-dried my long brown hair.
“Lina-honey, what would you like to do with your hair?”
“Did I use to care very much?” I asked.
“Actually, quite the opposite,” she said. “You did whatever was most convenient for you at the moment.”
I laughed. “Well, if it isn’t too much trouble, do you think you could cut it just the way it was before I had the accident? And did I put anything in it?”
Mother laid down the blow-dryer for a moment, reaching into one of the faux-wood drawers, pulling out a hairclip that had five simple white-satin ribbon tails.
“You would clip the hair down here, at the top of your neck,” she explained, “and then it sort of flared out from there to shoulder-length.”
I nodded. It would look cute once the hair had been cut back to length.
“I like it,” I announced.
Mother smiled and finished drying my hair. “I’ll do it tomorrow, then, Darling. If you need anything, I’ll be working in the dining room.”
“Thank you, Mother,” I said.
I put on my pajamas and sat down in front of my computer. It had only been two days, but I felt like I already had a decent foundation on which to restart my life, which I was very grateful for, since I only had a few months before I had to be completely back into the loop, studying and taking care of myself and dating and all that.
Lina Katherine Rosetta. The name certainly had a billowy, blossomy feel to it.
On a whim, I wondered if I could read about myself online, if any articles about me – or perhaps by me – had shown up there. The search engine returned random findings, but I could not locate anything personally identifiable. I sighed and flopped down onto my bed, staring at the ceiling before allowing myself to wallow deeper into the mist until I finally vanished completely in the midst of the slow, deep breaths of the winds and cars outside.
Chapter 5. «
Early the next morning, I decided to take a short walk to bring my legs back into working condition. I threw on a T-shirt that read “Dover High School,” which had a picture of what seemed to be a colonial man in profile on the front. It was more difficult to find athletic shorts, but there was one pair stuffed into a bag of undergarments.
The weather outside was a good deal cooler than the previous day, which was a relief to me. In our yard, there were two large trees, one sycamore and one maple. They both stood to the right-hand side, leaving a relatively large front yard that begged to have children play. I wished I had a camera on me – I knew that it would be stupid to take a photo of the lawn I had presumably walked upon every single day for at least several years, but it had a certain rustic allure that, for some reason, I felt could only touch me so closely on this one particular day.
I walked down the road until I reached a small pond, where a few mallards were picking at breadcrumbs left by two young boys who appeared to be twins. They sported platinum blond hair and dainty freckles on their cheeks.
“Hello!” I greeted.
One boy looked up to me while the other one ran after a duck.
“Can you play catch? Dad doesn’t wanna,” said the boy who was facing me. I looked over and saw a older middle-aged man, probably in his late fifties, reading a newspaper, with his eyes periodically peering over the top of the page.
“Only if you’re gentle,” I warned. “I’m a bit out of shape, you see.”
“Then exercise will be good for ya!” the boy squeaked, running over to a weeping willow to pick up a moderately-sized semi-squishy balls that, when you bounced them off the pavement, made a strange chuffing-echo sort of sound. It was colored blue and white blended in a marbled pattern.
He tossed the ball over to me, and fortunately had decent aim, so I caught it without having to move but one step.
“Coming atcha!” I shouted, tossing it slowly with a tall arc. He anticipated its landing point and caught it in his hands as if catching an apple in a basket.
His brother joined in, and we had a three-way passing game that grew more and more intense; before I knew it, I was strafing and backpedaling with considerable ease.
Without paying attention, we ended up closer and closer to the pond, and a pass to one of the boys resulted in the ball ricocheting off his fingers, landing in the pond. I heard a shout, and then sobs. I ran over to the boy, examining his fingers – as I suspected, he had jammed his index finger.
“Oh shit,” I whispered under my breath. What would I have done in this situation? Did I know a treatment, or would I have left it to the father? But there was no time: Lina would have taken the matters into her own hands, I decided.
“What did you say?” asked the boy.
“Oh, nothing,” I said with embarrassment, examining his hand. “It hurts a lot, right?”
He nodded, wiping tears from his eyes.
“Okay, we need to get ice on this right away,” I said. “Wait right here and I’ll go get some, okay?”
“You’ll be okay?”
He nodded again.
“Please take care of your brother for a few minutes,” I entreated the other twin.
I jogged home, not fully capable of running, and I grabbed a few ice cubes from the freezer, wrapping them in a cloth. When I returned to the scene, the two boys were sitting down, watching the pond.
I knelt down and laid the ice onto the injury.
“Yeow!” the boy cried.
“It’ll be okay. Just keep it in the ice for awhile, okay? It should get better after a day or two, if you protect it and keep it cold. When you get home, you can try to move it, but it might hurt.”
“It hurts anyway,” he said, pouting.
I laughed, hugging him. For good measure, I kissed the wound.
“You know, I’m actually a fairy princess, and I can kiss any booboo away!” I said.
The boy cracked up, temporarily forgetting his pain.
“Yeow,” he announced after a minute. “I think you were fibbing.”
I looked over at the clouds innocently, whistling a bit, causing the boy to tap me on the head as discipline.
“Watchyor name?” he asked.
The other twin interjected, “Mine’s Gerry!”
“With an a or an e?” I asked, turning to face him.
“E. And two r’s. G-E-R-Y.”
The other brother giggled. “You forgot the other R!”
“Did not!” protested Gerry.
“Did too, beeeeh,” said the other brother, sticking out his tongue.
“So, who are you?” I inquired.
The boy stopped teasing his twin and looked up at me. “Your mom.”
“Oh, so you guys are at that stage of development,” I deadpanned.
“Just kidding! I’m Nathaniel. N-A-T-H-A-N-E-wait no-I-L-nono-E-L.”
“Nathaneilel,” I said with smirk.
Gerry burst out laughing. “Nathaneilel!! Nathaneilel!!”
Nathaniel turned a little red. “Be quiiiet!”
I laughed and told him it was nothing – I was just teasing him. He bopped me on the head again for that one.
“The ball!” Nathaniel suddenly cried. I realized that that had been what the kids were looking at. It had since floated near the center of the pond, certainly out of reach of any pole.
“It’s far far far away,” observed Gerry. “How can we get it?”
“Idono,” said Nathaniel.
“It’s your fault! You should go get it!” said Gerry to his brother.
“Now now, it’s no one’s fault,” I declared.
Nathaniel ignored me and retorted, “No, it’s your fault. If you didn’t throw it so wildly!”
I felt a bit of my temper flaring up, but I suppressed it.
“It’s no one’s fault!” I shouted over them. “If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s the pond’s.”
“The pond?” asked Nathaniel.
“Yes,” I stated matter-of-factly. “It took the ball and won’t return it.”
“Oh yeah!” cried Gerry. “You’re right!”
“Okay, guys, I think I can go retrieve it for you, but you have to teach me how to swim.”
“Oh, it’s easy!” said Gerry. “Your hands go like this, and your feet go like this.” He was sprawled on the grass, doing what I thought was a breaststroke. He looked more like a flailing ant than a swimmer, but the demonstration was sufficient to jog my body’s memory. “Okay, I’ll go get a bathing suit on.”
Once again, I returned home and opened my wardrobe. I found bathing suits, but I was shocked that I could not find a single two-piece suit. Taking the whole wardrobe into account, it seemed almost contrived, at a very extreme of modesty, at least in modern terms. Maybe I would ask my parents to go shopping for some clothes later on. I didn’t want to be sexy, but I could at least have a few sleeveless shirts and a tankini or something.
I returned to the scene and waded in, adjusting to the water and feeling the silt shifting below my feet. I commenced the stroke as best as I could; I could tell I was moving slowly, but it only enhanced my determination, and I made my way across to the ball, where I gasped for breath, clutching it as a life-buoy.
The return trip was boring, since I simply did a kick while grasping the ball so that I could breathe comfortably. The boys thanked me for returning the ball from the enormous bully, and they bid me farewell as their father told them to return to their truck.
“Byebye!” I shouted.
I sat down at the edge of the lake, watching the ripples. I certainly smelled rather fishy in a literal sense, but I didn’t yet want to go home. Something was amiss, and I could tell. I tried to think of the observations I had made, and wondered if maybe I could piece something together.
A girl could be very modest for several reasons. She could have been raised very traditionally, of course. But there had to be another possible cause. Maybe she didn’t want people seeing something, something that she was born with or perhaps had acquired in an embarrassing manner.
Realizing that I was onto something, I ran back home, stripped, and climbed into the shower, rinsing off the pond scum that I had accumulated on me. I washed thoroughly, checking each part of my body for signs of something. There wasn’t anything on my arms or legs or neck that was inconsistent with the car accident, but then I came to my back. In the middle, in a hard to reach spot, there was something. I couldn’t tell if it was a bump, a lump, or a scar, but there was something there. Something about which I was embarrassed.
And something that Mother had carefully avoided when bathing me the past two days. She knew … and she didn’t want me to remember.
Chapter 6. «
I kept my lips sealed about my discovery to my family so that they would not worry. Maybe they didn’t want to remember it, either. I decided, though, to call up Scott, to see if I could talk about it with him.
“Hello?” came his voice across the phone.
“Hi, this is Lina.”
“Oh, hey, Lina!” he greeted. “What’s new?”
“Listen, Scott, do you think I could drop by for an hour or so tomorrow, just to ask a few questions about myself?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said. “Is one o’clock okay with you?”
“Of course,” I agreed. “That’ll be just peachy! I’ll see you later, okay?”
We hung up and I started looking through my room. There were a few toys scattered here and there, and a few childhood photos. Books were lined neatly on the shelves, magazines stacked in the corner, board games perched under my desk. Did I have a yearbook or some memoir like that? I searched through all my belongings, but only came up with a peculiar ornamented box.
I opened it up, and instead were some articles of jewelry, a few oddball trinkets, a Gameboy Advance with a few cartridges, a mirror, and several cards. I carefully removed the cards and stared at them. Seventeenth birthday, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Eighteenth Birthday, all signed “Scottie-pie.”
I picked up the most recent one, hoping it would have the most accurate portrayal of our relationship. Maybe this would indicate what was going wrong, if anything.
This birthday card is a sort of I.O.U. Please just show me this card when you really need a wish to come true, and I will do my best to fulfill it.
I love you very much, and this past year has been the greatest ever. Really the greatest. Really.
I laughed when I read the “really”s, remembering our previous day’s conversation.
Your brilliant smile is my world to me, although I must admit, it’s your brilliant brain that got me into all my dream universities. I can’t thank you enough for that. I will love you always, care for you forever, just please never leave my side.
For a girl who’s had an amazing year, and who will surely outdo herself again this coming year, I wish you very happy birthday, my beloved Lina.
I felt a burning in my eyes as I finished the card, and I clutched it to my chest with savage grace. How could I face him tomorrow, how could I face him when he had moved on and I was just falling in love with him again? Maybe I should have told him to have Robin there. At least then I could be sure to suppress the temptation to make a move on him, to try to win him back.
A voice in the back of my head shot back: and why shouldn’t you take him back? He was yours to begin with, and you deserve to have him. You don’t even know Robin, so why should you be considerate of her?
But I could not understand those thoughts, or where they came from. Resigned, I laid down on my bed and just stared at the ceiling, the cards splayed across my desk. Only one thought hung in my mind: Why couldn’t you have waited, just a little longer … why couldn’t you have waited for me when I was coming back to you …?
Chapter 7. «
The doorbell rang so loudly that I could hear it crisply from the front porch, rising above the creaks of the weathered wooden floor panels. I felt slightly off-center as I waited for a response; as if time had slowed down, my mind ran through scenario after scenario, possibility after possibility, trying to sort out the future that seemed to arrive far behind schedule.
The door jolted open, and there he was, his face trimmed neatly by the doorframe and the slightly ajar door.
“Oh, Lina, it’s you!” he greeted, opening the door fully and looking at me from head to toe.
“Yes, it’s the same old Lina,” I confirmed.
He welcomed me in, extending his right arm to its full length in a sweeping gesture that revealed a full, confident build. I stepped over the threshold and wandered down the hallway until I came to his lounge room. It housed two brown leather sofas and several bookcases filled with volume after volume.
“Is Robin here, by any chance?” I asked. “I wanted to thank her personally for all her help.”
Scott flushed slightly, shaking his head. “No, she’s been working on a lot of catch-up work these past few days. I can pass along the message if you’d like.”
“Oh no no, it’ll be fine. I’ll just get back to her later,” I said with a smile. “Actually, um, can I ask you something?”
“Oh, go right ahead,” he said, trying to keep as even as a voice as he could, but betraying a certain undercurrent of fear. He sat down on one of the leather loveseats next to a towering black bookshelf, folding his hands in his lap.
I wanted to ask about the scar, but a sense of dread that washed over me forced my tongue to choose the other topic that had been bugging me, which seemed less risky. “We … we had a big fight, didn’t we,” I said, staring at the carpeted floor. It was extremely clean except for a single black-tinted patch a few inches from my shoes, so clean that I felt ashamed that I had trodden inside with whatever muck had accumulated on the bottom of my sneakers. “I mean, we were already having issues before this all happened.”
He seemed lost for a few moments, perhaps because I had not left any room in my statements for corrections. I did not fully understand what had motivated me to speak in such uncertain terms, but perhaps I had too intense a fear that we had not had such problems that I wanted to establish my own version of history right then and there.
“Yes,” he said at long last, and even then with great difficulty. “We had … fights.”
Part of me was relieved at the resolution of one of the great mysteries, but another part wanted to pry further.
“About what?” I asked insistently.
He sat there, brows furrowed, face contorted in a sort of agony that I knew I had the power to end.
“Uh, I’m sorry for asking,” I said tentatively. “This isn’t why I came here, so sorry for having to conjure up bad memories.”
“N-n … n-no, it’s fine,” he stammered. “I’ll … tell you later, okay? Tonight, I’ll write you a letter about it. I … just can’t bring myself to talk about those things out loud. Not now at least, not yet.”
I nodded. “Then, please let me ask my very important question.”
“Yeah, go ahead,” Scott said.
“Why do I have a scar in the middle of my back? Did I always have it? It just seems inconsistent with my other injuries, and it didn’t heal in the same way, either.”
I uttered it all in a hurried frenzy.
“Oh, the butterfly scar,” he said softly. “You’ve always been really touchy about it, and I keep telling you not to be!”
“Butterfly scar?” I asked, surprised.
“Yeah, the butterfly scar. That’s what we called it, when it was just us two, anyway. Not that it really looked like a butterfly.” He laughed gently in a manner that made me feel comforted. “You had it ever since you were really little, so I don’t really know why it’s there, and you didn’t, either.”
“And that’s why I dressed so conservatively?” I asked.
“I guess you could put it that way. I mean, you had no problem showing off your legs, but you just never let anyone see your back.”
His solution seemed satisfactory to me.
“Well, if it really is a butterfly scar, I shouldn’t be so ashamed of it, then, right?” I said cheerfully.
He smiled, nodding. “Certainly.”
His phone rang from the kitchen, and he excused himself for a few minutes. I finally took a seat, lost in thought. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted an interesting volume on an unpainted wooden bookshelf to my left. It was the 2005 yearbook for my school – our school. Exactly what I had been looking for in my room just yesterday!
I felt no harm in peeking at the photos within the book – I was certain Scott wouldn’t mind. I pulled out the book carefully, letting the nearby books lean over to bridge the gap. A tiny puff of dust escaped from the shelf, spreading like pixie dust spores from a puffball.
The book itself still seemed hot off the press, for obvious reasons. The cover was burgundy, with subtle pseudo-leather textures; the title, “Bold Horizons,” stood embossed in gold color, so perfectly situated that I could not help but run my fingers endlessly over the twelve letters.
I flipped it open to the senior photo section, drooling over the luscious poses that the photographers had proposed. Although I could tell that the poses had been recycled over and over again, I felt that each student had added a certain irrevocable quality that profoundly changed the appearance of each pose, so that what was seductively elegant for one student could be innocently carefree in another. As I scanned the pages, a certain suspense built up – I wondered what quality I would add to my pose, if any.
Josephine Richards … Leyla Rodes … Carl Rollsdale … Bobby Rousseau.
I looked up to see a blanched Scott staring at me. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. I stared back down at the page with the intensity as if it were an original copy of Diderot’s Encyclopédie or a Gutenberg Bible. But it was neither.
What I held in my hands was a Book of Death.
“Lina,” said Scott finally. “Lina.”
I shot him a look of defiance. Then, clutching the yearbook to my chest, I ran out the front door, leaving it swinging wide open. It could’ve been the wrong year or the wrong high school or various other mishaps, but some gear within me started to turn at that instant, and my heightened self-consciousness screeched my nonexistence into my ears until I was deaf from the relentless blows to my newfound sanctum.
I crumpled onto my bed, not bothering to change out of my clothes. One hand rested on the yearbook, as if swearing an oath upon it, while the other encircled my pillow and pressed it sharply against my face with so much force that it seemed to transform into a sheet of stone.
I awoke to shouts from the kitchen calling me out for dinner. I debated my course of action, deciding at long last to conduct my investigation in private after the lights were out, hoping that there would be a trail of clues which I might follow. Until I could be sure that I would be safe even if I discovered the entire truth, I could not risk exposing my knowledge.
Menacing thoughts began a merciless campaign through my mind, capturing bastion after bastion until I could comprehend nothing more than a thirst for revenge against the boy who faked passion for me, against the couple that fed me only lies and shielded me from even my own body.
Erasing my true expressions from my face and wearing the innocent smile that my “parents” seemed to adore, I climbed out of bed, smoothing out my crumpled shirt and bunched up pantlegs.
“Coming!” I shouted, opening my door.
The aroma of basil reached my nose long before I caught sight of the scrumptious dinner that lay spread out on the table. I sat down and murmured grace with everyone else before digging in.
“Thank you,” I said, taking a bite of the pasta dish. “It’s delicious!”
Mother smiled. Father smiled. Brother smiled. Just who were they, though? Now that I thought about it, our resemblance was meager at most. I might have demanded to see my birth certificate, but perhaps that would be too obvious at this point, and besides, if just about every record so far had been altered to confirm my existence, there was no reason why my birth certificate would not have been as well.
Somehow, I had a gut instinct that the clues to reality would be scattered within the house – sloppy housekeeping, if you’d call it that.
“How was your day, Lina Darling?” asked Mother.
“Well, it was okay. Nothing much,” I lied. “I think I might try going shopping or something tomorrow, if I could.”
“Oh yes, that sounds splendid, Darling! Do you want me to give you the contacts for old girlfriends?”
“Oh, that would be wonderful,” I said, “But I was actually thinking of going with Robin, if she’s in town. I unfortunately missed her this morning at Scott’s.”
Mother seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then said, “I’ll see if I can reach her.”
“I really appreciate that,” I thanked. “I just … wanted to thank her for all she’s done.”
Mother nodded, and I put up my plates before retiring to my room. Sinking down into my mattress, I opened the yearbook once again, this time to the opening pages where friends would sign their names. Something within me screamed that it was wrong to do this, that this travesty would be punished by knowledge I didn’t wish to know.
Yet I couldn’t help myself – the helplessness of the unknown was far too great a burden for me to handle, and I began reading the comments, one by one, page by page, until I found a page completely written in a single script – Robin’s.
It’s funny how I’ve been dying to write in your yearbook for so many months, yet when it’s finally in my hands, I can’t find the right words to put down to describe what I imagine myself saying in my dreams. I want to send you every best wish. College is going to be such a different world, but at least we’re going forward together.
Can you believe that it’s been three years already?
Three … years? I already knew this was coming – it was why I started reading in the first place, right? The clinching evidence that knocked everything else in place – why Robin was avoiding me, why Scott hesitated before saying anything, why Scott mysteriously left what seemed to be the perfect relationship. He did have a perfect relationship, and he was a loyal guy. Just not with me.
So, why all of this in the first place? Why bother having this ex-boyfriend figure?
I pulled my legs in tightly, clasping my hands around them, then letting my body rock backwards until I was staring at the ceiling, balanced on my upper back. I flopped over to my right, letting out the tension, letting out my breath. They were doing anything they could to replace my old past, I realized. They had substituted parents. They had even substituted an ex-boyfriend. If fabricating a story about a great boy leaving me for another girl like this were the preferable option, did I really want to know any more about my past relationships?
With everyone potentially false, or at least supplied with false information, there was hardly anyone I could trust. But maybe if I worked my way to the outside – that is, away from the nucleus of my family, beyond Scott, beyond Robin, maybe I could find a weak link somewhere. From there, I would decide whether I really wanted to delve any further. After all, if everyone thought it was in my best interests to live in this artificial world, then maybe I would reach the same conclusion at long last. I didn’t want that decision to come too late, because perhaps this would be my one and only chance in life for a fresh start, and more importantly, for redemption.
Chapter 8. «
I waited outside the mall’s entrance. The day was blustery, with scattered leaves rushing past my feet, scampering like frightened mice, with jerky movements here and there. I looked down at my feet, which poked out of the sand-colored sandals. The air wrapped me like ribbons, swirling my sundress around in a tight, rippling circle.
Suddenly, my nose caught a scent in the breeze. I quickly realized that it was the smoke from numerous nicotine addicts lined up like convicts around the trash cans. I tried to sidestep out of the way, but the wind was scattering the odor everywhere. Yet, even when I was away from the smell, I felt something stirring within me, and I probed myself to find out what it was.
Although the smell was predominantly nauseating, it also triggered a sort of rekindled desire. Trying to experiment on my hunch, I turned to face the wall so that people would not observe me. Then, I pulled out a lip-balm stick and imagined it to be an obese cigarette. I closed my eyes and felt it instinctively slip between my fingers, then lightly tip my lips just as I inhaled. I frowned, opening my eyes and putting the stick away.
“Lina, is that you?” came a voice.
“Yes yes!” I shouted back, a bit startled. I inwardly hoped that Robin had not seen my bizarre experiment. They say that alcoholics can stop drinking, but their bodies never forget how to binge.
“This is just great,” I thought to myself, tallying all the oh-so-pleasant details I was finding out about my past self.
“Oh wow, you look really beautiful!” exclaimed Robin, who was wearing an aquamarine tanktop decorated with ribbons and beige capris. “I’m kind of jealous,” she said with a laugh.
“Oh, come on now,” I said. “You’re the one who everyone is staring at!”
She looked around and scrunched her nose cutely. “From the looks of these guys,” she whispered, leaning her head in towards mine, “I don’t think it’s much of an achievement to have them staring at you.”
I laughed, thinking about how I did not detect a single hint of true envy within her. That confirmed that I was indeed no ex, but that in fact, she and Scott had, for whatever reason, volunteered to take on these roles. Even though I resented their falsehood,I was finding room in my heart to forgive them.
“Haha, let’s just go inside,” I said, opening the door and nearly letting it shut on Robin’s face when I realized how terrible that would be.
“Oops,” I giggled, holding the door with my left arm.
She strolled inside, absorbing the glamour of the newly remodeled mall.
“So, what do you want to browse?” Robin asked, whirling around to face me, her purse swinging around from one side to the other.
“Let’s see …,” I began, thinking about which parts of my wardrobe needed improvement. “I don’t need all that much at the moment, but a new bathing suit, a few summer tops, and a new pair of jeans might do the trick.”
“Oho!” she cried. “An ambitious one, are you?”
“A-ambitious?!” I asked.
“Most certainly so,” she replied. “You’re quite the picky shopper, you know, so ‘just a few’ of this or that could take forever.”
“We’ll have to see about that!” I said.
She raised her eyebrow at me and deadpanned, “I think I’ve already seen about that, Missy.”
After several hours of deliberation and more passes through the fitting room doors than all my times in and out of the school’s front entrance, I exited triumphantly with one light bag in my left hand.
“Th-that’s all you ended up getting?!” Robin sputtered in disbelief.
I blushed slightly, arguing, “I don’t like wasting money!”
“Haven’t you ever heard the phrase ‘time is money?!’” she exclaimed, but then she dropped the subject. “Anyway, I didn’t know you were into those kinds of clothes.”
“Well, neither did I,” I admitted truthfully. I was just trying to follow my heart whenever I could in order glimpse the cogs below my skin. Nature versus Nurture, they always debate: are we slaves to our internal Constitution, immutable to amendments, or are our souls injected by those around us?
My voice dropped a register or two as I confided to Robin, “I’m … finding out things about myself that I never knew before. It’s scary. I mean, I’m scared.”
She looked at me with a face of pity, extending her arm over my shoulder, pulling my stiff, reluctant body close to hers. I swung to my right, losing balance and inadvertently stepping on her toes.
“Ah shiznit!” she squealed. “My foot! My foot! My foot!”
“Oh goodness, sorry!” I said frantically, leaping off her toes and out of her grasp. Suddenly let loose with no support, my feelings flung me about, and I banged against the wall, slumping down.
“Robin, will you be truthful with me?”
She looked like a deer caught in headlights, but paler and with a painful conflict of interests coursing through her veins. It was almost reminiscent of Scott on the previous day.
“I will tell you no lies,” she said. “That’s all I can give you. Silence will have to answer the rest.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
“You know, you are a nice person,” Robin said simply. “That’s really the truth. Even Scott said so. You couldn’t have suddenly become considerate and helpful just because of anything we said or showed you, do you believe that? It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s something that had to be there all along.”
“But I wasn’t. That’s what I’ve been tearing up about. If I acted just like this before, I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t have a fake name, for Pete’s sake! A fake name.”
“Do you want to grab some food?” interjected Robin, who, despite her good intentions, seemed unable to cope with the pressure I was indirectly applying.
“Yes, we should eat lunch, shouldn’t we. I’m sorry that my weird shopping habits took up so much time.”
“Oh, I was just kidding about that,” she said, but her voice seemed to have lost its original cheeriness that had kept our relationship afloat. “It was actually a lot of fun, and I think you have good taste in clothes. Sure, they’re not your usual conservative fare, but I think they’re cute, not slutty. Just have confidence in yourself. Never lose that. I have a feeling that Scott’s going to cave soon.”
“Cave?” I inquired.
“As in, spill the beans,” she said resignedly. “He’s just that kind of person. He was really hurt when you ran off with his yearbook, you know.”
“Afraid that I was regressing back to what I was before?”
“No!” she yelled. “Not at all, not at all. He told me that it was something that should have been in your possession in the first place.”
I interrupted before she could start another sentence, promising, “I’ll return it, really.”
“I know that. And you seem to be picking up the ‘really’s from Scottie. Watch out or you might be really in trouble!” She smirked, regaining a quarter of her previous composure. “I don’t think that Mister and Misses Rosetta suspect that you know anything yet, since Scott and I have been keeping mum about your conversations with us and the whole yearbook incident. Just watch your own hide, okay? Like don’t go leaving the yearbook out in the open.”
My eyes widened as I realized that I had done just that.
Robin, in turn, recognized my expression and groaned. “Way to go,” she congratulated sarcastically.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Let them find it if they want to. I want to look at a few more stores after we eat, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.”
Lunch was an uneventful repast, since we simply bought two combos from the Chinese place that offered those free samples of chicken that turned out to be just what we were craving at the moment. After we replaced our emptied trays over the trash bins, we rode side-by-side on the escalator, watching from our respective sides as the crowds fell out of earshot. From above, the crowns of everyone’s heads looked so much alike, so much in place that no one would suspect that maybe one or two of them felt completely otherwise.
I sighed, turning to look at Robin. From her ear that faced me hung a thin, unobtrusive earring that had a faint pearly luster. It was vaguely shaped like an angel, though it could equally have been an eagle or pterodactyl – the vague geometries only afforded that much specificity. Still, if it were an eagle, it had to be a particularly angelic eagle.
“I love your earrings,” I said, trying to sound cheerful.
“Wha-?” asked Robin, turning her head around. Apparently, she had been lost in thought as well.
“Oh haha,” I said, “I was just commenting that I really liked your earrings.”
“Oh,” she said, her face suddenly turning a shade downcast.
“Ah, is something up?” I asked, hoping that I had not brought up a bad memory or anything like that.
She shook her head, answering, “Oh, no no. I’m fine. It’s just that my parents got them for me.”
“That’s great then!” I said.
“Well …,” she said, her voice diminishing into the murmur of the crowds.
“Well what? Do you only wear them because your parents got them for you and expect you to?” I asked.
“No, it’s not like that. It’s … you’ve sort of, you must’ve figured out by now, right? That your real parents are who-knows-where.”
“Oh, that,” I said, shrugging. “I mean, I know. I guess from your reaction, they must’ve abandoned me or something?” I tried to detach everything I said from what I was feeling so that I would not come across as being helpless. But helpless, pathetic, isolated – that’s all I felt groping my heart at that moment.
“No,” said Robin firmly. “Not abandoned. They were told you were being rehabilitated. But we haven’t heard word from them since the Rosettas took you in, and I frankly don’t think that the Rosettas want to return you anymore -”
“Or that they should,” I finished for her.
“Yeah,” confirmed Robin. “Sorry to put things so bluntly all of a sudden.”
“No, it’s fine,” I said. We stood in front of the gift shop I had wanted to visit.
“Is this where you wanted to go?” Robin asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “It looked like they had gifts that were not generic or sappy, but also not completely out of left field.”
“Alright. Well, I don’t really have any gifts to buy, and I was thinking of getting something from Waldenbooks, so do you think we could meet up in an hour or so at the bottom of the escalator?” Robin asked.
“Yeah, that sounds fine,” I said. “See ya, then.”
I wondered why I had come to this shop, when I had certainly not originally intended to buy anything more than clothes, and on a tight budget as well. I had brought sixty dollars, a great deal of which was spent by now. As I browsed the aisles, though, I realized why I had come here: I wanted to buy a little something for Scott, to make up for my odd behavior the previous day, and to maybe get him to gain genuine trust in me.
I knew only a little about him, despite the depth that I sensed in his character and the natural attraction I felt when he fell into his relaxed mode. Thus, it was difficult to pinpoint something he would like right off the bat, although I knew for sure that he had the astute taste to tell a good gift from a poor one. There were some trinkets that really seemed far too trivial, or that appeared to be worth a good deal less than they cost.
Nearly giving up after finding cheap plastic toy after corny ring after mini-rainstick, I spotted a section with ornaments that recalled my memories of Robin’s earrings. I approached the rack and found various glass and pearl ornaments that were simple and free of clichéd phrases or words. Instead, they shared the same semi-abstract quality that made Robin’s jewelry so endearing.
I lifted each one I examined with my hand, feeling its temperament and shape. Upon seeing one of them in particular, I halted my search and lifted it off the rack, admiring its splendid simplicity. It was a glass butterfly, adorned with thin gold rims. The wings were colored symmetrically with very subtle blue-green coloration. The colors were faint enough that, from a distance, the butterfly seemed to be a bubble-film hanging in the air, with only its solid outline defining its boundaries.
I brought it to the counter and had it wrapped, but the job was messy as an understatement, and I realized as I was exiting the store, completely broke, that the cashier had also forgotten to take off its price tag.
“Geh,” I groaned as I traveled down the escalator to the designated meeting place. I had a few spare minutes during which I could unwrap the gift, peel off the price, and re-wrap it. The process took the projected amount of time, but the resulting blob of wrapping was even more amorphous than ever.
“Double geh,” I muttered.
“Oh, what’s that … blob?” came a voice from a few feet away.
“Oh, Robin, hey!” I said. “Wait, blob?!”
I blushed in mock fury.
“Just kidding,” said Robin, slapping her arm around my shoulders. “Not everyone has the Midas touch when it comes to wrapping.”
“Well gee thanks,” I replied. “You know, I realized something.”
“Oh?” asked Robin.
so the guy forgot to take off the sticker from this, and I had to just take it
off now. But that means I could’ve just
taken it out in some other bag and no one would have noticed at all, and no
alarm would’ve gone off.”
“Er, like shoplifting?” asked Robin uneasily.
“Well yeah,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Y-you didn’t just take it again, did you?” she asked with a tone of worry.
I froze in place. “I paid a good fifteen dollars for this!” I retorted, but even Robin must have realized that the confidence in that voice was not mirrored in my figure. Again, she had said.
I wordlessly handed her the receipt as proof, stuffed the mass into its bag, and started towards the exit without her.
“Wait!” I heard her call behind me. “I didn’t mean it that way! Geez, can’t you take a joke?!”
But her attempts to lighten the situation were to no avail, and I sauntered until I found an empty bench outside on which to collapse. I soon heard her rapid breaths very close to me, and I knew she was standing over my deflated body.
“Hey, hey, I really didn’t mean it that way. I was just joking.”
“Joking,” I said flatly.
“You know, like saying something intended for humorous effect.”
“That also wasn’t funny,” I stated in a low voice.
She placed her hand on my head, but I swiped it away viciously.
“Ow,” she cried. The pain in her voice awakened me, and I quickly stood up to see what had happened. My rash action had apparently caused a long, shallow scratch down the top of her arm.
“Oh, no!” I shouted when I saw that one spot had drawn blood. “I’m so sorry!”
I desperately dumped the contents of my purse onto the ground, searching for a Band-Aid.
“It’s okay!” I heard Robin say from above, but I was not listening. I sifted through all the objects that were now scattered all over the place.
“Li – I mean, just cut it out. I’ve broken my arm before; I think I can handle this little poke just fine on my own.”
I calmed down and we stuffed the objects back into the purse.
“Woah, don’t go bonkers on me, okay?” she said.
“You sure you’re okay?”
I nodded again.
“Okay, let’s get going, then. Where do you want to go?”
“If you don’t mind,” I said, “could you drop me off at Scott’s house?”
“Oh, sure thing. Just hop right in.”
“Thanks. I know it’s hard sticking by a violent criminal …,” I added.
“What can I say – they don’t usually come as friendly and sincere as you. Or cute for that matter.”
“Cute,” I repeated incredulously.
She pulled my cheeks til I was silly, then turned on the car engine.
“Yeah, cute,” she said.
Chapter 9. «
I waved to Robin as she bid me good luck from the driver’s seat of her car. As I approached Scott’s front porch, I heard her car speed off into the distance. A wave of soporific cold grazed my skin and hairs, washing out the neighborhood until it was simply a blur of violet-white with the consistency of smeared toothpaste.
I sneezed into my shoulder on the way up the front steps, and I was still trying to clear my nose as I struck Scott’s doorbell twice. Why two times, I have no idea to this day, but my finger just tapped it that many times; it could have been a twitch or spasm for all I knew.
I unconsciously wrung the sides of my dress with my hands, only realizing what I was doing when Scott opened the door and my eyes awakened from their surreal fantasies. I quickly let go of my dress and snatched up the gift bag that I had left beside my feet. My hands locked behind my back to conceal my delivery.
“Lina, I wrote you a letter,” Scott said plainly.
“I haven’t been able to check my mail yet today,” I replied with equal evenness. “Thank you for writing it, though. But yes, I know nothing of what you wrote.”
“So, what brings you here?”
“Epiphanies. One after another. And decisions, always decisions,” I said. “I … well, not to put this in a bad way, but I think that maybe it doesn’t matter to me anymore, whatever truths or lies you wrote in your letter. I could guess enough on my own, anyway.”
“I don’t doubt that,” said Scott. “Here, you can have a seat,” he said, beckoning me to enter the kitchen and sit down at a petite plastic table that barely could fit two dinner plates on its surface. “Do you need anything to drink?”
“Water sounds good,” I said.
“That’s always a good choice,” he answered. When he returned with a glass full of water, he took a seat across from me, and his originally neutral face seemed to soften. He placed one hand over mine, and pressed down ever so slightly so that I could feel the texture of his skin against mine.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked gently.
I shook my head, looking at him with a mysterious smile that even I could not quite figure out. It felt bizarre, almost comedic to wear it upon my face, yet, as if I were a still figure within a painting, the mood called for me to disply just that one, singular expression.
“Then,” he said, without continuing his sentence. He simply sat there, waiting for me patiently.
I relaxed, letting my arms fall out of Scott’s grasp and slide off the table onto my lap.
“I know that that Scott isn’t real. The one whose every letter to me I read on my third night here. The Scott that brought me to tears, I must reject as a twisted form of your love for Robin ….”
Scott winced but said naught.
“But it isn’t that Scott that has been on my mind,” I continued. “There’s another Scott, the Scott of the real world, the mysterious boy who volunteered to resurrect me with a fresh start. The boy who, on a whim, came up with the ‘butterfly scar.’” I laughed. “Even when you are pulling things out of your ass like that, you are so lovable. So I got you this. It’s just a little trinket I picked up today.”
I pulled the bag onto the table, lifting out a mass of crumpled protective paper.
Scott unfolded the paper carefully, making sure not to rip any of the points that were taped. At long last, he beheld the glass butterfly and stared at it.
“It’s … something I wanted you to be able to remember me by,” I said.
“But …,” Scott said. “It’s not even really called the butterfly scar!”
“Why isn’t it?” I questioned. “I chose to call it that, and you call it that, and that’s half the population that even knows about it. It’s my scar, anyway – my butterfly scar.”
Scott looked into my eyes like a psychic reader trying to discern a bit of otherworldly evidence.
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Scott said finally.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
Scott nodded. “It’s really wonderful. Really.”
“I knew there was something real below all those letters. Really,” I said with a laugh. “There was a boy writing it, thinking it up, someone inventive but at the same time all too honest. Even when you lie, you are being honest.
“I’m sure you didn’t intend for this to happen, and I’m sorry to be in this pitiful position, but I love you. I love the real Scott. I know that only the fake Scott loved me, I know that, but I couldn’t help it. And because of this love, and because I like Robin so much as well, because of these feelings for the one who gave everything for me ….
“Thank you,” I finished disjunctly, pulling out a folded piece of paper, hoping that Scott would not forget where I had left my monologue hanging.
“This is … an I.O.U. card that you ‘gave’ me,” I explained.
“I plan on honoring it,” Scott declared sincerely.
I smiled, raising my head, feeling tears sliding down my cheek with the help of the extra impetus from my jerky movements. I brushed a few stray strands of hair out of my face and instinctively fixed the ribbon on my hair.
“Then, because of all you’ve done for me, I wish to use this treasure to finish what you began. Please, let my knowledge, all that I know and all that passed here – all these conversations, all my declarations, like this confession I am making now – please, share this only with Robin. Let it be your intimate secret. And then … please do not seek me out. I’ve found my place in this world, and it’s probably time that you returned to your normal life, too. Somewhere where you can be as honest as your heart. We may chance to see each other again someday in the streets, and I will look forward to that.
“But now it’s time.”
I stood up, handing the paper to him. He beheld it for a few moments before grasping it tightly, the crinkle of the page blatantly audible throughout the otherwise silent room.
I suddenly reached out and encircled him, drawing him in as Robin did for me, and embracing him tightly even though he did not respond. I rubbed my hair slowly against his right cheek before kissing it gently. The kiss tasted of my own salty tears, and I drew back, looking at him and sobbing softly.
I turned around and ran out of the house, my tears mixing with the violet-white blurs around me and dissolving them away like detergent on a dish. When I opened my eyes and stopped running, panting heavily, I saw around me sparkles on a clear day. There were hardly any clouds to speak of, and the sun shone down on me, on my body that I realized was mine, and forever mine until I chose to leave it.
Chapter 10. «
I held the letter in my hands, running my fingers over it again and again but never opening it. I imagined its contents – I doubted it would differ much from the common news stories. A decent schoolgirl with a somewhat rough home life started dating a seductive guy; they partied and soon she was supporting their drug habits by trading in stolen goods. One night, when negotiating with a dealer, a fight broke out and the girl was hit so hard that she forgot who she was. Realizing that everything would soon be found out if she became the subject of investigation, the boy teamed up with the dealers to take her life, but the knife in the back only succeeded in causing blood loss that threw her into a traumatic coma.
Was that my story? Probably not. It still didn’t explain why I was with stand-in parents. But for the first time since I had woken up, I had absolutely no desire to find out any more. I stood up beside my bed, realizing that I had forgotten to shower the previous day. Sighing, I grabbed a few fresh clothes indiscriminately from my closet – I wasn’t meeting anyone today, so it wasn’t worth the time to pick out a particular outfit. I had no image of myself to convey, no expectations on my behavior, and it felt remarkably good.
I left my clothes on the ground beside the shower stall, letting them scatter into a heap. Absentmindedly, I turned on the showerhead and washed off, feeling the sprinkling of water splatter off my face and body. As I washed my back, I made sure to outline my butterfly scar, smiling when I realized that its true shape was nearly a question mark, minus the bottom dot. It didn’t hurt at all. I idly wondered if the fake Scott was right, and it had always been there since birth.
I shut off the showerhead, toweling myself off, but I was suddenly shaken back to my senses when I reached down for my clothes and discovered that I was standing in a substantial flood of water, my clothes far from suitable for wearing.
“Did I forget to shut the shower curtain all the way?!” I screamed internally.
I gathered all the towels I could in order to soak in the water, reserving one to wrap one around myself as I stepped out to get dressed and locate as many floor towels as I could find. Luckily, the flood was very shallow, and any evidence of it would soon be evaporated history.
I shrugged as I picked up my wet clothes to move them to the sink to dry. However, something among them felt strange, much more fibrous than its surroundings. I turned the heap over and found that I had never put away the envelope, instead carrying it with me all the way to the shower, and it now sat, adhered to my shirt, with its ink bleeding all over the place in a tie-dye pattern that extended to my fingers.
“Ah …,” I said softly, peeling it off gingerly. I laid the still-sealed envelope down onto my desk, pondering what to do with it.
Finally deciding on a proper funerary rite, I placed the packet beside my alarm clock. Sighing again, I plopped back down onto my bed, my legs rejoicing that I had finally changed out of my sundress. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the yearbook, still open on the far end of the bed, untouched. I squirmed my way over to where it sat, dragging the comforters along with me until they grew far too cumbersome. Just in reach of the yearbook, I picked it up and placed it on my lap.
“I guess I should return this to Scott,” I said to myself under my breath. I leapt out of bed and found Father sitting in front of the TV, watching some cop flick.
“Dad,” I said.
“Oh hi, Lina!” he said. “Wanna watch?”
“Later!” I chirped. “I’m kind of busy. I was wondering if you have any of my old school photos. From high school – you know, those wallet-sized ones.”
Father nodded. “I actually have one set that’s pretty decent. Hold on a moment, okay, Lina?”
“Thanks,” I said, sitting down where Father had been sprawled. The couch was warm, but it wasn’t the gross, sickening warm that I had been expected. Instead, it was a civilized, paternal warmth that seemed to enwrap me in a protective shell. I crossed my legs on the leg-rest, leaning back to watch the television.
The cop on-screen motioned to his buddy to move in, and the two cornered the criminal at the back of the alley. The scene cut to the police office, where one of the cops was talking to his boss, when all of a sudden, a beautiful woman – presumably his girlfriend – stepped inside.
“Lina, here,” said Dad, returning from his home office. “This was actually just this year. Come over here and you can see.”
I stood up and walked over, but Father all of a sudden dropped the packet on the ground and ran for it.
“Eh?!” I shouted, watching him pounce onto the couch.
“Ha! Thought you could steal my seat, did you?” he shouted triumphantly. I laughed, picking up the photos from the spot on the carpet where they had touched down after a moderately long drifting descent.
The photos were indeed of me – probably my real senior pictures. I looked cute and somewhat devious; my white-and-red strapless dress was so low-cut that at first, I had thought that it had been a nude shot. This would have to do for now, I decided.
I returned to my room, letting Dad enjoy the closing scene of the cop and the girlfriend having some embarrassing encounter during their obligatory make-out scene. I pulled out a pair of scissors and cut out one of the photos that was just the right size for the yearbook. On a small post-it, I scrawled a short message intended to accompany the photo.
I smiled, paper-clipping the photo to the page where my name would have been, and sticking the post-it at an angle beside the photo so as not to cover up any of the other entries. After shutting the yearbook, I ran my fingers once along its spine. Then, I heaved it upwards as I stood up.
“I’ll be right back,” I told my dad. He nodded mindlessly as he switched about twenty channels at once. The cop show had apparently ended, but there would undoubtedly be something new and exciting to watch just around the corner.
A girl approached a house amongst the many elements of the fresh summer ambiance. A bird swooped down in front of her, but she kept a steady step, unfazed. Vibrant colors washed in and out, swaying with the wind, and the girl’s bright yellow shorts and ash-grey shirt stood out in the greens and salmons and lavenders and crimsons.
She knelt down on one knee when she reached the porch, setting down, with more gentleness than the landing of the bird nearby, a large burgundy volume with a paper-clip jutting out of one of its pages. For a split second, she seemed to regret leaving it there, but she stood up more resolutely than before, about-faced, and walked away from the house at a patient pace, never breaking into a jog, but never dragging as well.
She seemed to have the unbreakable composure of a person reborn into this world. Although her unwavering gait was strong and willful, nevertheless you could see in her face a soft, aged wisdom that invited you to walk up to her and say hello, with a guarantee that she would shower you with her gentle smile and leave you with an enigmatic wink. And you would wonder where she hailed from, but she would never speak a word of it.
If you happened to meet her on this particular day, as she moved away from the house, you would have seen the wind lift the cover of the volume and, one by one, sweep through the pages until, for a few brief minutes, it sat on the paper-clipped page with a photo of a newly transferred student. Beside that photo, you would see a name: Lina Katherine Rosetta. And below that, in a rapid but legible script, four brief lines,
“To exist is to change;
to change is to mature;
to mature is to create oneself endlessly.
– Henri Bergson.”