Every step that I take
Is another mistake
I march further and further away
In my worried shoes
My Worried Shoes – Karen O
It was a bright Friday afternoon when Clay came home to a full apartment. In the middle of the living room, Jet was laying on the sofa watching television with the sound all the way down. Smiling, Clay walked in and patted Jet's foot that rested precariously on the armrest of the couch. Turning his head, Clay saw that Dillon was sitting at the table doing some homework. It seemed like a regular, normal day, except for one thing: beside Dillon, Clay was surprised to see an old face he hadn't seen in a while.
"What are you doing here?" Clay muttered as he walked directly to the kitchen, not even waiting for a response. It had been a long day and he was completely dehydrated from running from class to class. He had many makeup assignments to take care of and many pissed off teachers to appease.
"What? I haven't seen my BFF for a while and it made me feel completely empty on the inside," replied Paul as he flipped through a random textbook, his eyes skimming the pages nonchalantly.
"Odd," Dillon interjected as he ripped the textbook from Paul's grip and set it by his own pile of books. "I felt the exact same way." Reaching over, he started caressing Paul's hand.
From the sofa, Jet shifted his position so that he could peek at them from over his shoulder. Making a disgusted face, he muttered, "So gay. You put my kind to shame." Slowly, he turned back and stared at the television, watching the images before him without paying much attention.
The atmosphere was tense. It had been that way for awhile and Clay could pinpoint the exact moment when it started. A frown marred his face.
Shutting the text book in front of Dillon, Paul tipped his chair back and stared directly at Jet. "There's nothing wrong with our bromance," Paul pouted. "If anything, I'd say it's quite beautiful."
The kitchen door swung open revealing Clay carrying a carton of juice. "Besides," Clay interrupted, "the fact that you're cheating on me with Dillon?"
Paul snorted. "It's not cheating. I'm just sharing my love."
Taking a swig of orange juice straight from the bottle, then wiping his lips with the back of his arm, Clay asked, "Is Jo back?" He was completely ignoring Paul's answer which was quite habitual for him.
Dillon replied in the negative as he threw his highlighter onto the dining table. Rubbing his eyes with the back of his knuckles, he said, "Haven't seen her since she ran out this morning. She was muttering something about a project that she had to finish."
That new piece of information slightly annoyed Clay as he had promised himself that he was going to take care of one particular task that should have been taken care of a while back. However, since the one person he needed wasn't there, it would be awfully hard to accomplish this particular thing.
"What's up with her," Jet asked offhandedly, breaking into Clay's thoughts and asking the one question that each guy was thinking.
Clay nodded and took another sip of juice. "You noticed it, too."
Turning off the television, Jet turned his attention onto his roommate and gave him a semi sad smile. "It wasn't too hard to ascertain."
Clay arched an eyebrow the second he heard the word. "Ascertain?"
"I've been studying."
"It's showing. I'm impressed."
"Oh, it doesn't take too much to impress you," Dillon remarked as he stood up. Glancing down at Clay's hand, he saw the juice carton and grimaced. "We have glasses, you Neanderthal." Swiftly, he snatched the carton away and took a swig himself.
"It's like an indirect kiss," Paul cooed.
"You can't hide a bromance like ours," Clay replied offhandedly as he headed to his room. "Has she told you anything?" He asked, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, but he knew that he already failed miserably. It was getting more and more difficult to hide his feelings from his roommates. Silently, they had all acknowledged the fact that Clay was harboring strong feelings for Jordan, but they had decided not to say anything, not wanting to get in their way.
At that point, Clay tried to steady his nerves as worry was spreading over him. Jordan, for some reason, had seemed distant since coming back from the work site and he wasn't too happy by it. Taking off his jacket, he flung it on the bed and went back into the living room.
"Nothing," Jet said and seemed a little put off by that question. "Then again, she hasn't really been home except to go to sleep."
"Right," Clay said quietly. "So do any of you have any suspicion on what it could be?"
After a moment of silence, Dillon supplied, "Hormones? I mean, we don't really know her cycles, do we? It could probably be happening right now."
All three men remained silent while they tried to figure out if Jordan had a cycle. She was a girl, after all, and there were things that girls went through every month, but as long as all of them could remember, Jordan never really changed moods. Also, Clay had never really seen evidence of a girl's cycle in their shared bathroom. Sure she had the...feminine products shoved underneath the sink, but...well, nothing. She also had that not-so-secret stash of chocolate that she kept behind one of the potted plants in the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Paul was smirking at them, trying his best not to laugh. "I know," Paul said slowly, wondering why they were so dense. All of the boys seemed to relax as a voice of reason began to speak up. After all, Paul was the person who had known Jordan the longest and probably had insight that the rest of them didn't. "She's a robot and is in the midst of malfunctioning," supplied Paul with a wink. "Maybe she needs a new circuit board."
A collective moan escaped everyone.
Jet scratched his belly as he tried to think of something to say in order to avoid the silence. Finally, he said, "Maybe we need to arrange some sort of intervention."
"Yes, that'll go over well," Dillon shot back. In a mocking voice, he continued, "'Hey, Jo, we think that there's something wrong with you. It's either your menstrual cycle or you've short circuited.'"
"No, like, ask her what's up and just...you know, confront her."
"Confront her about what?" Jordan asked as she shut the door behind her. Her long dark hair hung over her face, hiding her eyes at that moment. She seemed haggard as she managed to shove the door shut behind her and stand straight in front of them.
All four boys stared at her, mouths agape. For a moment no one moved as Jordan's eyebrows scrunched together in concentration. Realization dawned within her and she yelled, "Oh, God, you're all talking about me!"
There was an expression on her face—a cross between horrified and annoyed. Jordan quickly bolted to her room only to have Paul slip out of his chair and stand in her way. Angered, she turned about and searched for another exit, but Dillon had already stood with Clay at his side. "Why don't you take a seat?" Clay whispered, trying to paste a smile on his face. It looked so unnatural that he could tell that it scared the shit out of her. This wasn't going as he planned at all.
"Absolutely not!" Jordan said, jutting out her chin in mulish defiance. Despite her rather cold reply, her eyes were darting back and forth in search of an escape.
"Jo," Clay began, taking a step forward, but stopped as soon as she flinched. It was almost like they were her captures and she was some sort of prey and all at once an image of Sven flashed before his eyes. It was like he was acting just like his half brother.
Anger filled Clay's veins and he erupted. "Fine," he muttered scathingly, "stay this way, but the Jo that I know would never run and hide like this." Deftly, Clay stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. For a moment, he let out a small breath then marched toward the elevator.
Paul stared at the scene before him and sighed. The tension was just too strong. Beside him, he could see Jordan balling and un-balling her fists. Her lips were strained and her jaw was clenched. Any second, he believed that she would burst into a complete and utter mess.
"Well, I've got to help ye olde girlfriend with the wedding preparations. What are you going to do today, Jo?" he interjected before she could do anything. Scanning her, he noticed those tell tale signs that she always did when she was stressed. The dark circles beneath her gaze, the disarray of her hair and the way she fidgeted under everyone's gaze. She was still the same girl that he knew so long ago.
She remained quiet for a few seconds and then seemed to shake herself out of it. "Work," she whispered. "I've got a load of work to do today."
"Excellent," Paul said happily. Clapping Dillon on his shoulder. "So, you've got to finish studying and if I recall correctly, don't you have class in a few minutes, Jet?"
Startled, Jet glanced at his watch and cursed. "I almost forgot!" Quickly, he dashed into his room. "Can you give me a ride, Paul?"
"Sure—Dillon, you want a ride to the library?"
There was a moment where it seemed Dillon was about to argue, but then he shrugged. "If you're offering. I'll just get my coat." With that, Dillon also disappeared into his room.
A moment of silence settled around him and he felt the tension slowly dissipate. Instead, it was replaced by something akin to calm.
"Thanks," Jordan muttered after a moment of silence. "I--"
"I know," Paul replied. "You just need a bit of time." Shuffling toward her, he mussed up her hair and grinned. "
With his body strained and his mind completely numb, Clay continued to go swim another lap. He had been in the pool for hours and found the exercise something he had sorely needed in order to calm his nerves.
He was nearing his starting point once again when a pair of feet appeared before him. With a powerful stroke in the opposite direction, he managed to stop and surface. Breaking above the water, he filled his lungs with much needed air then rubbed his eyes.
"What?" he asked in annoyed tone.
Betty sat at the edge of the pool, swinging her slender legs in the cool water. "I was wondering who was using our pool house so late in the evening."
Swimming up to the edge, Clay pulled himself up and let the water trickle down his body. For a second, he debated whether or not to just shake the water off of his body and let the droplets hit Betty in the face, but then decided against it. Just because he was frustrated didn't mean he had to take it out on his step mother. Instead, he reached for a towel and decided to dry himself off. "Sorry for not letting you or my father know, but you all seemed busy what with Paul and Gabby's wedding coming up in a few weeks.
"Oh, we are," Betty replied with a smile. "In fact, we were so busy, that I just needed a break from life." She reached up her hand and he pulled her to her feet with ease. "It looks like you were doing the same."
Clay had to grin. It was still strange how this woman, who always seemed to spacey, was spot on with his feelings. She had once told him that it was the mother instinct and every good mother tends to have it.
"Yeah," he replied. "It...I'm just confused about something."
"Is it about a girl?" Betty asked innocently while walking back with Clay to the house. When he didn't reply, she then continued to speak. "Is it about Jordan?"
"Am I that transparent?"
"No," Betty said. "No. You're actually quite hard to read, but there's just seemed extra...angry and there was always one girl that made you feel that way."
Laughing, Clay had to agree. "Yeah, she was always that way."
"And she was the only one ever to make you react so strongly," Betty went on as if he hadn't spoken. In fact, she kept on prattling as if he hadn't existed. "Even when she left, you seemed extra pissed off...You know, Clay, I've always wondered why you were so obsessed with her."
"I wasn't obsessed. I was just disappointed in her."
Clay sighed. "She wasn't OK with the way things turned out, but instead of admitting it, she just became extremely quiet and didn't let it show—but I could see it eating her up inside and I...I wanted to help her."
Cocking her head to the side, Betty stopped in her tracks and looked up at her step son. He stopped as well and stared down at her. Her lips were curved slightly upward and there was a sparkle in her eye. "Why did you feel like you needed to help her?"
Clay thought about that question for a second, rolling it around in his head and searching for the answer. "Well, it is the same reason that I made her move in with me and paid for her schooling. I didn't want her to struggle because of my mo-other..." And it was there that Clay stumbled on a word. His mother. Slowly the connections were starting to take place in his head and he almost cried out. "My mother had damaged her," he said slowly, almost quietly. "The same way she damaged me."
Betty reached up and caressed Clay's face. Then, she gave it a soft and gentle slap. "So, son, what will you do now?"
Jordan continued to clean the tables while her boss left for the night. There was one particular spot that she couldn't stand because it was so completely sticky. Running her washcloth over it a few times, a frown completely marring her face, she decided to use her nails in order to scratch it out. It wasn't working at all.
Anger filled her. Throwing down the washcloth, she turned on her heel and went into the back in order to search for some cleaning solution. Throwing open a few cupboards, she found nothing. Briefly, she blew her hair out of her face and glanced at the clock. It was already late, but she had not wanted to return home for a long while. Leaning against the wall, she crossed her arms.
This is stupid, she thought to herself. You've got to face him at some point.
But the horrible feeling she had since she returned wasn't letting up. Why is it that she was so tied to this woman—Clay's mother. Was it merely coincidence or was it something else?
Sighing, Jordan stood up straight and took off the apron she normally wore. Tossing it on the counter, she decided that she should probably get home before it got even later at night.
Pushing open the door, she was momentarily shocked to see someone sitting in a booth. Squinting her eyes, Jordan couldn't really make out who it was. All she knew was that he was leaning on the table she had been aggressively cleaning moments before.
"Sorry, we're closed." The sound of her stern voice seemed to cut through the deadly silence that had surrounded her. It almost sounded too loud in her own ears.
The person turned around and smiled. "That's OK," he muttered. "I was just about to leave."
Jordan felt the wind knocked right out of her which was followed up by a soft smile. For some reason, she hadn't been expecting to see him. "You," she muttered, trying her best to look annoyed. "I thought you were in the midst of planning some soon to be wedding."
Paul shrugged. "My lovely fiancé has decided to take care of the preparations." He was lying and she could tell.
Rather than call him out on his falsehood, she decided to go with the flow. Feeling herself fall into something along the lines of ease, Jordan said bitingly, "She kicked you out, didn't she?" It was good to feel comfortable after having felt way too much pressure on her shoulders.
"Always the tactician with your words, Jo. That's what I like about you—completely blunt. Anyway, who knew that Gabby would be such a...girl regarding this wedding." The banter was back in his voice and there was a sharp twinkle in his eye. It was as if she were looking right at her friend from several years ago.
"Well, she has been dreaming about this day since she was little. Coffee?" she asked as she walked toward the table and sat across from. "Tea?"
"No thanks," Paul murmured. He reached out a hand and held Jordan's in a loose grip. There was a small shift in his face, something that made him seem more serious. "I thought you seemed rather strange this morning."
"What with those boys talking about me like that—do you blame me? You all looked like you were about to throw some sort of intervention."
"Granted, we may not have handled it in the best way possible, but we all agreed that we were worried about you. Something is wrong, isn't it?"
Jordan tugged her hand back and stared up at the ceiling. The thoughts and memories were struggling against one another in her mind, threatening to drive her completely mad. "Where to begin--?" she asked almost desperately.
"At the beginning is always good," Paul said with ease. "I've got all the time in the world."
After stretching, Cassidy slumped back in her chair then stared back at her laptop screen. For hours, she had been playing minesweeper while completely ignoring the blank email screen that sat just behind it. She had been sitting in the library, deciding to stay there to avoid any distraction that she knew television would bring.
"What are you doing?" Dillon asked. He sat across from her, and had been sitting across from her since earlier. The entire time that he had been there, she had been ignoring him as she got through a particular tough mine field within minesweeper. He peered at her from the top of his text book with an eyebrow arched.
"Working," she replied flatly.
Shutting his book, he laid it on the table and smirked. "Minesweeper?"
"Minesweeper," she confirmed.
"Maybe you should call her instead of writing this letter," he suggested. The letter he was speaking of was something she had been meaning to send her mother. Since arranging it with the school and making all the travel plans necessary, Cassidy had still yet to tell her mother about what she was going to do. "You'll get it over with so quickly."
"It's not that I'm afraid of telling her...I'm just afraid of her reaction." Glancing away, Cassidy recalled her mother and her mother's need to force her thoughts and opinions on herself. If she had ever told her mother that she was leaving, she knew that her mother would find some way to destroy her life somehow...which was the reason she hadn't told her mother yet.
"There's nothing she can do," Dillon said. "Here--" he said and pulled her laptop over to him. She heard his furious typing and then he flipped it back to her.
I'mma get outta your crib, mmkay?
She snorted. "You can't be serious."
"Of course I'm not. All I'm saying is that you're over thinking things--" Cassidy rolled her eyes. "Wait, wait, wait, I know that it isn't as easy as saying 'Peace out,' but it doesn't have to be as hard as you're making it to be."
She chewed her lower lip for a second, contemplating. Finally, she asked, "What would you do if you were me?"
"Me?" Dillon smiled. "I'd already be in the other country before I tried contacting them."
Laughing, Cassidy thought about that for a long time. "You know, Dill," she whispered with a catty smile, "I don't think that is a bad idea at all."
Jordan sighed. It had been quite a long story and as she peeked at her wristwatch, she noticed that it was almost 2 in the morning as she shut the door to her apartment. For the first time, it seemed that Jet wasn't home, perched on the couch and watching some sort of trash television and she let out a sigh of relief. It wasn't that she was annoyed with that, it was just that she didn't want to deal with anyone at the moment.
She had spent a long time talking to Paul, telling him many things, and felt a bit of the burden lifting from her shoulders, but no matter how much she talked, she still couldn't shake the strange feeling that surrounded her. Leaning against the wall, she remembered the last part of their conversation.
There was an unsettling feeling that she could read in his eyes—it was the same feeling she had had the entire time since finding out about the connection between Clay, Sven and her life. She had found it absolutely strange that the one woman who had completely destroyed her life by ending the life of her family, was somehow connected with the other major events of her life.
"You're freaked out aren't you," she finally said.
"Just a little," Paul admitted as he ran a hand through his hair, slightly mussing it up. "It's like she's destroying you from the beyond...or haunting you or something. I mean, first she gives birth to Sven and is the daughter of your treasured professor...then she gives birth to Clay who later gives you a job and you live with later on...she takes your family away from you..." the last part, he said quickly, "I wonder what she'll do next."
"And this is the reason I've been a little strange around Clay and everyone in the apartment. I can't shake this creepy feeling."
He nodded full of understanding. "Yeah...but...you do know that you have to talk to Clay about this, right? I mean, he is being affected by this and whether you like it or not, he is very much involved in all of this."
"I...I know," she replied and sighed. "I just don't think I'm ready to talk yet, though."
It was still such an overwhelming feeling for her, but the long day was taking it's toll and she was really tired despite having three cups of coffee and having more caffeine in her veins than blood. Quickly, she headed straight to her room. Out of habit, she glanced at Clay's side of the room. He sat at his desk, his arms and head resting on the table and she could see that his eyes were shut. He wasn't dressed in much—just sweat pants—that covered the entire expanse of his long muscular legs.
Walking up to the side of his desk, she bent over and stared at his face. He looked so calm and peaceful in his sleeping state. The corner of her lip twitched upward and, before she could realize it, she caressed his cheek.
He stirred and opened his eyes. Quickly, he sat up, shocked and swiveled his chair around so that he could face her. "You're home," he murmured in a scratchy voice.
"Yeah, I am—I've got to change, but I'll--" as she was talking, she had straightened and turned on her heel. Suddenly, his hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. Slowly, languidly, he slid his hand passed her arm and rested it on her hip. He pulled her closer to his body so that she stood between his legs.
"Don't go," he muttered, sleep still marring his voice. "Stay."
Tugging softly, she felt herself getting closer to him. He engulfed her in a hug, resting his head against her abdomen. He held her in silence for a long time, not looking at her face at all. Smiling, Jordan rested a hand on his head and the other on his shoulder. "Clay—" she whispered, then slid her arms around him.
"I promise that no matter what, I'll be here for you."
"Idiot! What is this stupid cheesy crap that you're spouting right now?" she laughed.
"I blame sleep deprivation," he said. Gingerly, almost regretfully, he pulled away and stared up into her eyes. Without breaking contact, he stood up. Carefully, he took a step closer to her and bent his head lower. "Jo," he whispered in her ear. She could feel his warm breath against her flesh and she shivered slightly.
Turning her face upward, she moistened her lips. "What?"
His hand slid up her neck then cupped her chin. "I've got something to show you."
She could barely breathe. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," he replied and stepped away. That was the last thing she thought he would do. She opened eyes that she hadn't known she had shut and stared at him. His eyes were staring hard at his computer screen. "Look," he whispered and stepped away.
Jordan sat down and stared at the screen. On there was a picture of a woman with long dark hair and bright blue eyes—she looked to be the epitome of beauty and for a moment, Jordan felt as if her breath was taken away. The woman was smiling up at a camera, showing off white, perfect teeth. Underneath the picture, Jordan stared at the big bold words:
MADAM AKUJI DUI
Darting her eyes toward Clay, she found him watching her intently.
"I did some investigating," Clay said slowly. "I think it's time I told you about my mother."
A/N: Normally I'd stop here, but since I've been MIA, I'll give you this next part =]
When Paul entered their apartment, Gabby was sitting on the couch looking through different catalogs revealing several different kinds of fabrics. Looking up, she smiled at her fiancé and patted the seat next to her. Paul fell in beside her and rested his head against her shoulder.
"How was it?" she asked.
"Scary," he admitted. "Just scary. I don't know how Jordan can deal with the stress."
Laughing, Gabby said, "That's because she knows the secret." Standing, she pulled her soon to be husband up and led him to their bedroom.
"And what would this secret be?"
"Simple: She isn't alone. Together, we build the foundations that make us stronger."
"I never loved her," Clay said slowly. There was a note of anger in his voice with a bit of sadness weaved in. He had taken a seat on his bed and was staring at nothing in particular. Jordan still sat at his desk, unable to trust her legs for support. She should have known that Clay would be able to guess just exactly what she had been hiding from him. "I know that I was required by some sort of universal law that I'm supposed to love her, but I never did. In fact, I hated her."
There was hurt in his eyes and almost immediately, Jordan was on her feet and by his side. Her hand was grasping onto his, offering support.
"I didn't have a good childhood," he muttered. I was actually quite lonely. My father was constantly at work and my mother was...she was always stuck up in the attic, working on her masterpieces—as you know, she came from a family of artists and loved her craft and—um she would spend all day up there and would only appear right when my father got home.
"That was the reason I took up swimming—it gave me something to do when I was stuck at home. But, that's besides the point and I'm getting off topic."
He shook his head as if to rattle his brain and refocus on what he was there to say. Jordan stood silently by him, waiting patiently.
"She—she hated me. That was the main reason that she spent most of her time in the attic—she hated me."
"Clay—" she began, but he shook his head.
"I know what you're about to say, but you're wrong. I know for a fact she hated me."
Neil stood at the door to Clay's room, watching his precious son run haphazardly from one part of the room toward the other. Wherever Clay's head tended to tilt, that was where his chubby little body would take him. Laughing, he looked over his shoulder at his wife and pointed at their son. "Look at him," Neil said. "He's like a Martian."
The soft trill of his mother followed the comment and little Clay looked up. A smile lit his face as he hobbled toward his father and raised his chubby arms. Complying, Neil stooped over and picked up his baby boy. "You're getting a tad bit heavy, aren't you? But you're still quite the looker."
Suddenly, a phone pierced through the merriment and Neil sighed. "Ugh, work," he murmured and handed the boy over to his mother. "Here. I'll be right back." Sprinting off, Neil turned down a corner into his study.
Looking up into his mother's brilliant blue eyes and grinned. Reaching out, he grabbed a chunk of her silken hair and started to shake his fist.
"Quit it, you little bastard," she hissed and dropped him on the ground. Carefully, she smoothed her hair back into place.
Little Clay was completely shocked and had no idea what to do. Suddenly, tears sprang into his eyes and he let out a loud wail that made her wince. "You better shut your mouth if you know what's good for you," she hissed. Bending down quickly, she raised her hand into the air.
"What was that?" Neil asked as he ran back into the room, breathing heavily.
Looking over her shoulder, his mother whispered, "While running, our little boy fell. He's such a klutz." Suddenly, her merry laughter filled Clay's ears and he stopped crying. He briefly wondered why he always inspired such spite in his mother, but now that his father was with her, she seemed so happy.
As Clay grew older, and was able to form words, he tried to tell his father about his mother's wild behavior but it would fall on deaf ears. His father would always smile sadly at him and ruffle his hair, not truly understanding the words that Clay would say as they seemed jumbled and filled with fantasy. "She's not capable of hurting anyone," Neil whispered. "She's too focused on hurting herself."
Those words confused him, but it was too heavy for such a young minded person such as Clay. In fact, he wouldn't understand those words until a few years later, when he was in middle school.
But Clay knew—his father was blind to the wretched violence that his mother harbored. She was good at disguising it, he realized as she talked to Neil animatedly over breakfast while ignoring Clay. She played quick little tricks such as putting on more make up or flashy dresses to hide the anger. Her tittering laughter would rush forward, masking the diabolical words that were always at the edge of her lips, ready to spill out the second that Neil wasn't home.
It was then that Clay knew that he could not even tell his own father what was going on. No one would ever believe him due to his mother's vile tricks.
One night, he witnessed his mother crying violently in the attic—crying so much that he decided to rush to her side. For a second, as she looked into his eyes, there was such a warm smile on her face. Her arms wrapped around his body and all she kept whispering was the word sorry over and over while her body wracked violently against him. His small chubby arms encircled her neck and he shut his eyes feeling something akin to happiness fill his small little body. For as long as he could remember, up to that point, she had never given him such a warm hug. But it was only momentarily. As if she realized where she was, his mother turned away and hissed at him to get away from her.
Another night, she called him over for a hug. Weary, but recalling fond memories of the last hug, Clay rushed to her arms happily, only to be accosted with the smell of cigarettes and something stronger—something more foul, but he couldn't name it even if he wanted to. When she had him in her embrace she whispered, "I wish I had never had you. I would have been so much happier."
The weight of her words brought him down and he grew rather violent at school. Often, he would start fights with the other children, running amok and ignoring all the teachers. He didn't care what anyone said—he was too angry to care... and no one seemed to care either.
"It happened a few years after that episode," Clay continued, avoiding Jordan's steady gaze. He was staring into a past that she knew she could never reach. "She was in the attic once more and the phone had rung. There was a man on it and he asked for my mother. I had no choice but to go in there and give it to her.
"She didn't look well—her noise was bleeding and she had let the blood dry on her skin. The skin on her body itself was ashen, and she looked so sickly that I felt that she was about to die. I have to admit, that a small part of me was just a little happy by that thought, but then guilt quickly filled my entire being and I regretted it. I handed her the phone..."
Clay's young eyes were already piercing at his age—cloudy blue that seemed to almost be able to peer into any person's soul. Most people commented on it, often glancing into them for a few seconds before turning away. His mother, especially, couldn't look him in the eyes for longer than a minute before turning away with mild disgust in her eyes.
From her work, she glanced up at him, narrowing her own eyes before ripping the phone out of his grasp. "What!" she barked into the receiver while turning her back toward him. Suddenly, her body went rigid. "Anthony?" She sounded so completely bewildered. He had no idea why she spoke his uncle's name...nor why she spoke it with such a whimsical sounding voice. Everything in her body had softened as she fell into a seat and smiled reluctantly. Almost as if it were an afterthought, her fingers began playing with her hair.
Trying not to disturb this new aspect of his other that he was witnessing, Clay tried to leave the room. However, he hadn't been coordinated enough and his foot had caught on something hard, breaking the tender moment that his mother had. Her eyes quickly hardened and she peered at him, her lip flinching as his eyes caught her own. Quickly, she turned her eyes down, grinding her teeth together.
"Sorry," he murmured, trying to appease the anger he already knew he wrought. His little fingers began twisting into the hem of his shirt.
Stalking over to him and raised her fist—but Clay was too quick. He ducked, feeling the rush of wind above his head. Quickly, he took off, sliding and slipping down the staircase, hearing the heavy pounding of his mother's feet right behind him. Fear took over and his little body kept trembling. As he reached the bottom step, he looked over his shoulder.
"You little prick!" she screamed and she hurled the phone at him. Clay shut his eyes, waiting for the impact.
It was brutal—the feeling of wind being knocked out of him. He coughed a few times, trying feverishly to gain some sort of breath, struggling against the weight that he still felt against his stomach. Opening his eyes, Clay's mouth quivered. "Dad?" he managed to squeak out.
Neil had arrived at that moment, diving for his son and grabbing his small little body and pulling it out of danger.
But Neil wasn't looking at Clay. No, he was looking up the staircase staring at the heavily breathing woman that stood on top of it. There was a hint of anxiety in his eyes but Neil couldn't break the eye contact that he held with her. Suddenly, her bottom lip began to tremble and she brought her hands up to her eyes.
There were no tears, but Clay felt like he was the only person who could see that. Like clockwork, Neil had let go of his son and ran up the stairs to his wife, enfolding her in his long arms and whispering that everything would be alright.
Anger welled up inside Clay's body and he turned away from the despicable mess behind him.
Hours later, as Clay lay in bed staring at the ceiling, there was a knock on his door. Without answering, the person walked in and sat on Clay's bed. Turning his head, he saw his father, completely disheveled and tired. The silence that stretched over them was completely overwhelming and for a moment, Clay wanted nothing more than to run away.
"Your mother...she's sick."
"Am I supposed to feel some sort of sympathy for that?"
"No, no. I didn't realize that it was this bad and it's all my fault that you've been stuck with that woman for all these years—I should have realized what was going on—I should have been there for you."
Clay knew that his father was trying his best, but years of pent up rage was burning through his young body. Rather than retort, he fell into a deep silence and managed only to glare at his dad, his gray blue eyes more piercing than before...almost accusing. For the first and only time in his life, Clay watched Neil Akuji turn away from him. Deep within him, Clay knew that his father felt shame for not being able to protect him; but at that moment, after feeling nothing but pain and loneliness, that action only served to hurt Clay even more.
"I'm taking her to a place where she can get help—she's leaving in the evening tomorrow...I wondered if you wanted to say goodbye to her?"
Still, Clay didn't respond. Instead, he turned on his side, his back facing his father and pretended to go to sleep.
As the minutes ticked by, Clay heard his father's departure. A few more minutes that quickly became hours flew by. He watched, from his bed, as the moon crept slowly across the night sky and then he could see the brightness of day peeking over the trees and illuminating the sky. It was already morning.
Like a machine, he got dressed, went to school then came back. If asked what had gone on at school that day, he wouldn't be able to recall it. It was just another day to him—another agonizingly long day filled with nothing of importance.
It was while he was walking toward his room that he heard a noise. He froze, all his senses heightened. Nudging the door to his room open, he could see his mother, in there, wrecking everything that he owned. She was tearing down posters, ripping up clothes, and smashing toys against the cold hard ground.
"It's your fault!" she kept screaming over and over. "Your fault that I'm in this mess—if you weren't born I would have...I would have--" and before she could finish the thought, she slid to the ground and sobbed.
He didn't know what to do as he stared at the mess on the ground. He wanted to say something, but he couldn't manage to speak. Something, he realized, must have alerted her to his presence because she suddenly stopped and glared at him.
"You," she hissed and ran up toward him, her hands encircling his neck. "You are the cause of all this—you constant reminder! You bastard!!!"
Already in middle school and having a few fights beneath his belt, Clay felt his survival instincts take over. A swift kick startled her and she dropped him quickly, a renewed hate in her eyes. Clay staggered backward, away from her.
"Why did you get conceived? Why?! It was just one time—a stupid affair with Anthony and I got you as a reminder...you—God—why couldn't you be Neil's? And your eyes—they're exactly like my mother's—those damned gray eyes!!!"
She darted toward him again, murder intent in her eyes, but Clay wasn't about to die because of her. He threw a punch, feeling the contact of his fist against her face. Before he could see her reaction, he turned on his heel and ran down the stairs as fast as possible and heard her barreling toward him.
As he turned the corner, he swung the door open and took off, running as fast as he could go. Sweat streamed down his face as his entire body screamed for him to stop. Vaguely, he heard the sounds of an engine roar to life and realized that she was going to come after him using the car. Searching around him, he found an alley and ran down toward it. Cowering behind a trashcan, he waited.
Leaning against the wall, he waited until it became dark. Finally, knowing that his father would be there, he went home with the intention of telling the man everything that he had kept secret.
The lights were on in the living room as Clay marched toward it. "Dad--"he began, but his voice hitched as he saw the pallor in his father's face. Neil was sitting on a chair, his eyes absolutely red while a phone rested in his hand. "Dad?"
Clay waited with bated breath. It seemed like the phone call was taking forever. When Neil finally placed it down, he glanced up at his son and said, "Your mom's in the hospital. We'd better go."
"That was the night...the same night your parents died because of my mom."
As Jordan watched him, she could see the bottom of Clay's lip begin to tremble and the worry in his cool metallic colored eyes. Impulsively, she stepped closer toward him, winding her arms around his head and pulling him against her. She wanted to surround him warmth, letting him know that it was OK and that he didn't have to continue.
"It's my fault, Jo...all of this...your unhappiness is my fault. If I hadn't been born..."
Pulling away from him, Jordan knelt on the cold ground and stared up into his face. There were tears in her eyes, threatening to spill over after hearing his story—after feeling the pain that he had been living with all his life...after having to endure all of it in silence. Suddenly, everything about him made sense: his womanizing and distrust of all woman when they had first met...his need to be in control...his regret...and most of all, why he had paid for her room and board at the school. Her hand reached up and cupped his cheek, feeling the prickly beginnings of a beard scratch against her skin.
"Clay," she whispered. Carefully, she raised up until she was mere centimeters from his lips, "Clay," she cooed.
Suddenly, his cheek stung and he stared wide eyed at Jordan, completely in shock as he realized that she had just slapped him. "Idiot!" she murmured as she stood up. Pulling him to his feet, she engulfed him in a hug, resting her face against his chest. "What ridiculous words are you spouting now? My unhappiness, you mutter—don't you realize that you're also the person who has given me the greatest happiness that I could have ever asked for?"
His arms, which had been hanging limply up to that point, twitched. Slowly, as if it were an afterthought, he lifted his own arms and encircled her in a hug. "Because of all of that happened—when I realized who you were, I wanted to protect you from all the sadness in the world—I wanted to save you from everything."
He felt her shoulders rise and fall quickly and looked down at her. She was trying her best not to laugh, but was failing miserably. Suddenly, a guffaw left her lips and she said, "That is the biggest load of crap I've ever heard! You can't protect me from everything, Clayton Akuji—bad things will happen no matter what you try to do to prevent it."
Despite the earlier feeling of being miserable, Clay suddenly felt an urge to laugh along with her. What he had said had sounded so...cheesy that it made him feel a bit embarrassed.
When Jordan finally regained her self control, she said, "You can't prevent things from happening...All you can do is be there to help support the person when they need you...and you've always been there for me, every single time..." she had said the last part slowly.
Jordan pulled back, suddenly, her black eyes clashing with his as she cocked her head to the side. It was as if something had hit her—as if she had just solved the biggest riddle of all time. Suddenly, a brilliant smile appeared on her face. Bringing her face as close to his as possible, she looked like she was about to say something, but found that she couldn't. Instead, she gave him a bigger smile and kissed him throughly.
Author's Note: Hello everyone! I've been writing and re-writing this chapter over and over and hope that it perfectly conveyed everything that I wanted it too...but, of course, it didn't. I know for a fact that there are grammar and spelling errors throughout the thing, but I was tired of withholding this and wanted to publish it already. Again, there are only a few chapters left and I'm trying to wrap any loose ends that are here.
I hope you enjoyed it! Please review :)