Just One Love
I don't know what irritated me more; the fact that my mother thinks that I actually like therapy (probably a delusion due to her pregnancy), or the fact that she thinks changing shrinks would change my decision to remain silent.
So she went to work, looking through phonebooks and asking friends for reference. That was about the point where Mrs. Greene recommended to her an old friend from her high schools days (why, Leta's mother, why?) and that was that.
My very first impression of him is that for a man in his thirties, spiked hair is not really something…fitting. Everything else just screamed "Shrink", from the horn-rimmed eyeglasses down to the blue-striped tie.
The second I entered the room, he said, "So. Hayden. What's on your mind?"
My own eyes narrowed. My Mom probably mentioned specifically about the fire, so what was he going to try this time? Would he use the direct approach like Mr. Younge (young was right. He was…how old was he again?) by asking right off the bat, or the indirect approach, like his wife by dropping subtle hints ("So. I heard cigarettes disturb you deeply. Is there any reason for that?")?
"Well Mr…" I looked for a nametag, or something written in the room, but I couldn't find any.
"Dean. It's just Dean."
I looked at him quizzically. Just-Dean stared back good-naturedly, and I decided to just move on. "I'm wondering about this…stranger sitting in front of me. So. Tell me about yourself."
Apparently Dean (not fooling me one bit. It's not going to help him get behind my defenses) decided to play along. "Well, what do you want to know?"
I shrugged nonchalantly. "Anything basic. I'm bored; so humor me."
"Well, I've been here…just about my entire life. Grew up in Oceanside; going to stay in Oceanside. I even attended Oceanside Academy. Boy; wasn't that a fun experience."
My ears perked mid-way through his rant. "Oceanside Academy…then do you know anyone named Moore?"
"Damian Moore, Ryan Greene, Airi Winters. I remember those three. No one could hear one of them without hearing the other two. If I'm not mistaken, Ryan and Airi got married? I can still remember. The class was in an uproar about that. As for Damian…I believe he had a girl with Alexia Cadence?"
"You knew Leta's parents?"
"Leta? You know their daughter?" He asked sharply.
I froze, realizing my slip. "Maybe. I asked first."
Dean decided to skip that, apparently. "I grew up with Damian; briefly knew Alexia. So far you remind me slightly of him."
I raised an eyebrow. "So? What about that?"
"You and Amulet are friends, judging from the familiar way you spoke of her. Girls tend to gravitate towards boys that resemble their father." He nodded; his eyes sleepy. "So. Your mother told me that you moved to Oceanside two years ago. How are you liking it so far?"
I didn't answer; bored with the session already. Maybe it was time to dangle the bait. "You know what…Dean? I'm feeling generous. I'll answer any question that you ask; starting now. What would you like to know about me?" I smiled amiably, but my eyes were steely. Just to amplify the effect, I leaned forward.
He blinked. "Now?"
I nodded. "Of course."
"…so have you met the Greenes?"
I choked, thrown off-balance. "I give you a window of opportunity and you choose to ask about your old high school friends?!"
Dean looked clueless and confused, and I had to use all my will not to hit my head on the table in frustration. "Of course. What did you think I was going to ask about?"
Possibly the incident?! I had to admit; he was good. "Fine. As a matter of fact, I have seen the Greenes. And before you ask, they're fine."
He smiled warmly. "That's good to know."
I sighed. "Any other questions?"
He nodded gravely. "So. Other than Miss Moore, are there any other friends you'd like to talk about?"
"I never said Leta and I were friends!"
He just looked at me. I shut my eyes. "…Okay. Maybe we are. She's just the only person I'm sometimes technically nice to."
"And by that you mean…" He trailed off, and I instantly felt defensive, as if he was implying a hidden meaning.
"I do not like her!" I lashed out. He smiled, amused.
"I never said that."
I paused (Another slip-up. That's not good). I sank back in my seat, embarrassed. "Oh. Never mind then."
Dean tapped the desk, and his eyes strayed to the clock. "Well, would you look at that. Session's over. You may go now."
(What?! That's impossible!) I wasn't going to refuse a chance to escape. I nodded quickly, dashing out the door. As I left, I faintly heard him muttering, "Ryan was right. These sessions are definitely going to be…memorable."
"Okay. So cups are all there?"
"The display in order?"
Jake stood back, watching the two of us curiously. "How odd," he remarked. "You two have known each other for, what, a month? And you're actually doing pretty well."
I had to laugh at that. "So you're saying that this thing,' I gestured between me and Leta, "that we both have counts as an actual functional relationship."
"Well, call that thing whatever you want." Jake drawled. "But strangely, Hayden, unlike other times, this has actually worked."
My eyes slid to the girl in question; she was organizing things in the back, so she couldn't hear anything that was being said between us. "You want to know what I think, Jake? There's no shame in therapy."
Leta came out then; looking perky and content. "Okay, so everything's in order," she reported. "We're ready to open!"
Jake shrugged, moving to change the Closed sign to Open. I watched her eyes dart between the two of us, and she asked curiously, "What were you two talking about?"
"It's nothing. Don't worry about it."
Leta's lavender eyes strayed; they roamed the shop. "Is it always this empty this early in the morning?"
"Let it last. In an hour this place is going to be packed."
The corners of her mouth slid up in a mischievous grin. "Then do you want to play a game?" She nodded at the corner, where there were several old, basic video games, such as pinball, racing, and pacman.
My mouth slyly slid up in return. "Are you sure you're up for it? I thought you sucked at video games."
"Correction: I suck at everything besides those racing games. There's a difference between the two, you know!"
I smirked, ruffling her hair. "Right."
She pouted, trying in vain to fix her tangled locks. "You're just scared I'll beat you."
"Right, like you could beat me." I pulled change out of my pocket and sat in one of the fake chairs. Leta stared intently at the screen, moving the wheel and pressing on the fake gas pedal.
"You two look cozy," Jake commented as he passed by, doing a few last-minute fix-ups. "Now if only you could do the same while you're working!"
The two of us exchanged a look; we ignored him and turned our attention back to our game. "Shut up; it's not like anyone's even here," I sniped absentmindedly, laughing as Leta drove her car into the river. The words Game over filled the screen. She bit her bottom lip, taking out a few quarters and depositing it in the slot. The game started again.
"Ignore him." She rolled her eyes. "It's Hayden's messed-up way of showing affection."
I spluttered. "Wh – wh – what?!" The red car veered out of control for a few minutes before it got back on the track.
Leta laughed, turning the wheel slightly. The green car pulled up ahead a bit more and then letters First Place filled the screen. "Admit it, Hayden. If you didn't care about us then you wouldn't even be speaking in the first place, unless you were forced to, like in your therapy sessions."
"Not fair!" I cried, pointing at the screen as she laughed wildly. "You distracted me with all your touchy-feely talk!"
"A win's still a win, buddy," she shot back playfully, petting my head patronizingly. I grabbed her hand, using it to smooth my hair out.
"Aww, isn't this sight sweet," Jake remarked, faking a baby voice. "If only I had a camera, it'd be a real Kodak moment. But since I don't have a camera…" He took out two red hats and tossed them in our faces. "GET BACK TO WORK!"
The girl I saw in the mirror repulsed me.
Wet, loose hair the color of light burgundy stuck to her neck and too-pale-to-ever-been-in-the-sun face. Violet eyes were big and haunted, frightened. They were too puffy and bright to not have shed a tear, yet none had come out. Her nose was red; both from the cold and her emotional breakdown.
I looked like Rudolph.
Humorlessly, I choked out a dry laugh, turning the other cheek so as not to see my reflection. Yes; turn away from that weak, spineless girl full of self-loathing.
I grabbed a towel and tried to dry my hair off, turning the doorknob and stepping back into my room. At that moment, Mother poked her head into my room, grinning, but then she paused as she took in my appearance.
She placed her hands on her hips, taking on a stance I suppose came naturally to her. "Alright, what happened?"
I shrugged innocently. "What do you mean?"
"Don't 'what do you mean' me! Why are you all wet? Geez, Leta, you're going to catch a cold!" She walked over to take the towel from me, rubbing it all over my head. She only succeeded in making my hair messy, but oh well.
"I was out…with some friends."
I chose not to think about it.
Mother didn't seem to buy that excuse, but she shrugged it off, apparently deciding to continue the interrogation later. "Anyways, the rain's cleared up! It's the perfect time to go outside." Her blue eyes sparkled when she said this, as if the prospect of going outside in the wet stickiness was exciting. "So Ryan, Kyle, and I are going to visit your parent's grave …do you want to come, Leta?"
I don't even know why Mother still asks that question. She already knows the answer.
I smiled weakly at her. "Not right now. Maybe some other time."
She stared at me for a moment, her eyes changing color to a stormy gray, and then she sat down next to me, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder. I stiffened.
"You know, if you keep avoiding visiting them, you'll only be running away forever. Don't you think your mom and dad will be sad?"
"Mommy, why did you name me Amulet?"
I didn't want to hear this. Fifteen years of guilt wasn't enough to make me visit them, so it wasn't going to work this time, either. Even so, I swallowed thickly. "I have to go," I choked out, and ran out the door.
"You know, in medieval times, they were thought to be the source of magical power. When you were born, it was just like magic. Sudden and completely painless."
The way my parents died was just like magic. Sudden and painless.
The path I always ended up taking was paved with old, chipped red brick. Aged and timeless. It weaved and swerved and circled around until you could no longer tell where you where going. I, on the other hand, never had a single destination in mind, but I ended up in the same place; time after time.
A single sign stood out among the other advertisements and billboards that passed me: "Welcome to Oceanside Ridge."
And I just stood there, staring up at the letters that was always there, relentlessly. Before I knew it, my hands had slid up to my throat, to instinctively feel the choker around my neck. The thing is, living in Oceanside Ridge wasn't necessarily a good thing.
(Maybe I was stretching it a bit)
Fine. The truth, point-blank, is that you wouldn't want to live here at all. No one would, if they saw what was going in people's lives here.
I can see it. I can see the pain, the angst, the emotion flickering across people's eyes before they disappear, the blanket descending to create the vanishing act. I can see that, despite how everyone acts, they're all hiding something painful from everyone. And I understand it. It's my problem; no one should get involved. What would they think of us once they find out?
Perhaps it is unintentional, but something about this place draws certain people near, whilst others are driven away. Maybe it is the suffering we share, the lives that we hide from the world. I don't understand why; but it is so.
The picture shown to the world: A quiet, satisfied family who smile and manage their affairs with minimal meddling. The truth: A dysfunctional group of people, connected only by blood, who share strained smiles for the public who couldn't care less about their siblings, their sons and daughters, their parents. I can see it all; what happens behind closed doors.
In the summer after my eighth grade year, my parents decided that it was time for a change, a difference in environment. They thought it would be healthy for my psychological well-being, after the incident. And so then, with an exchange of papers and luggage, we all relocated here, to where my biological and my adopted parents grew up: Oceanside Ridge.
And, as long as there is suffering well hidden from the world, Oceanside Ridge will always be well-populated.
"This is your first time at my house, right?" I asked Hayden cheerfully.
"You know, if Kyle starts interrogating you, don't mind him. He's a little…overprotective." I winced.
Hayden smiled dryly. "Don't worry Leta, I'm perfectly aware that your family hates me."
"Not my entire family! Just Kyle. Mother and Father don't really care if you're my friend or not."
"I'm just going to assume that that's meant to be reassuring."
I sighed. Normally I wouldn't even bother to bring any friends over to my house, but apparently I had left Hayden's homework at my house that day when he wasn't there for school. To say the least, I was a tiny bit apprehensive.
I opened the doors; so far no one was around. So maybe it was safe to go inside. "Follow," I ordered, gesturing hurriedly. I heard Hayden's quick paced, uneven footsteps behind me as we ran up the stairs.
Once we reached my room, I rummaged through my things, making my already-disorderly room messier. I lifted a stack of papers, drawing out a thick folder. "Here," I handed him his homework, "Happy studying."
Hayden took the papers, staring distastefully at it. "Thanks."
I heard a noise downstairs, jumping. "Okay, time to go home now!" I exclaimed, pushing a confused Hayden downstairs and towards the door.
I froze, shutting my eyes tightly before slowly turning around. Mother, Father, and Kyle were already gathered around the table. "Hi…uh, Hayden was just leaving, so I'll just escort him out and then I'll sit down."
Mother looked slightly surprised. "But you rarely bring home friends anymore, and he must be hungry. Come, Hayden, join us for dinner."
I was sensing an ominous presence from Kyle. "Yes, Hayden," he stressed, vaguely resembling a lion descending on his prey, "Join us."
No, Hayden, don't! He shrugged. "Okay." Why?!
Father was pretty much my last hope. I shot a few pleading looks at him, but he remained blissfully ignorant, instead immersing himself in his dinner. Well. I guess I'm not receiving any help here.
We sat down; the family eating in silence for the first five minutes. And then my parents started interrogating Hayden. Please, Hayden, don't make a bad impression!
"So," Father began. "You look familiar, Hayden. When have I last seen you?"
Hayden paused, shifting his blue and green eyes to me. "Well, you've met with my Mom. She was the one who asked you for a good therapist."
Recognition dawned on Father's face. "Oh, yes, you're the one. The one who scared off all the other psychiatrists."
Hayden smiled tightly. "Yes." He stabbed his food with a fork, perhaps a little too forcefully.
"How is Dean, by the way?" Mother asked. "He makes all his clients call him informally, right? Is he still good?"
Hayden shrugged, pausing with his fork in midair. "I've only had one session, but he's okay, I guess."
Mother smiled, evidently reminiscing again. "Dean used to hold practice sessions in school, even though he was just doing it for fun. He'd make Ryan and I come to him all the time. Apparently we were an interesting case."
Kyle and I just looked back and forth between our parents and Hayden, left out of the conversation. "How so?" I joined in, curious.
Father shut his eyes for a second. "You remember that time we told you how we got married?" He asked.
Kyle and I nodded. "Yeah."
"Our entire class was invited to the wedding. It was strange for two sixteen or seventeen year olds to get married at that time, unless the girl was pregnant. But since Airi wasn't, well, you can see how different it looked."
By now we had finished eating, we were just sitting around the dinner table and chatting. I was still apprehensive, though, so I stood up. "Well, Hayden's parents must be worried about him," I said, pulling Hayden out of his chair and towards the door. "It's about time he got home, anyway."
"Wait, no they won't be – Leta!" Hayden protested as I pushed him outside. Once the door was safely closed, I wiped my forehead.
"What was that about?" He asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Sorry," I said, wincing. "It's just…I haven't brought home friends in a long time and it just feels…weird."
"I see…" His eyes wandered, and at last he announced, "Well, since you want me gone so badly I might as well go. See ya, Leta."
I blushed. "I don't want you gone, Hayden. It's just – I just – bye."
"And stay weird." He grinned, reaching over to ruffle my hair and drove away. I pouted, moving my hand to attempt to fix the mess.
"I am not weird!"
A/N: I originally wrote two drafts of the prologue, and I'm beginning to think that the second one suits the story better. So I'll be changing the prologue soon. I know, I know, I've done this with my other stories. For some reason I have a problem with prologues. Maybe I should just stop using them.
Soundtrack: Dark Road by Annie Lennox