Everything that was my "father" was something that felt fundamentally wrong. Every memory was like a shard of broken glass; it would cut you if you touched it, the images were fractured and distorted. All those pieces of my past… broken… worthless… they were all just wrong.
For years I refused to cut myself further craning over those broken pieces. I refused to think about him, our life together, our anything. But now I found myself grasping shard after shard, desperately fighting to put the mirror back together again- desperately trying to remember and see the truth of what my past was.
Had I always been sick like him? Had I always shown signs of his mental illness? I was always wondering what it was that made him do what he did; how he could hate mother and I so desperately instead of forgiving her. Would I be like that one day? Was I capable of the same thing?
I knew this was something I should ask Doctor Hathaway, but with that confession would have to be the confession of it all. I'd have to confess why I was really breaking, about the mural, about everything. And I couldn't.
The art beneath my fingers seemed to glow. The setting sun glimmered through the glass ceiling and down the stone's face. A week had gone by since Hayden had confessed his fear of my ambidexterity. His own emotions seemed to have gotten the better of him; he had pulled me in with such force I hadn't had time to react.
After our kiss had ended, those fevered eyes burning into mine, he backed away from my form; like I was too much to bear suddenly. "Please finish the mural." that mouth seemed to rasp the words out. His deadly attractive face watched me intently; it made me wonder if I was to move quickly, instinct would force him to reach after me. I was almost tempted to do it.
But again those words drummed in my head. It was the heavy beat of a headache that wouldn't go away. You're like dad… you're capable of hurting those around you… of those you love.
I broke my gaze away from him. "Thank you," I whispered to his retreat. I knew why he had given it to me.
I finished the last part of Jackson's mural, trying to ignore the gaze on my back. When it came time to clean up, Hayden helped me silently. But every time he stepped too close beside me, brushed his hand against mine, had his lips too close to my ear as he leaned down from behind me…. made me feel like I was still at his mercy. He had stopped kissing me, but despite his promise he couldn't keep himself away from me.
His warm breath fanned across my ear and neck while his hands helped unknot another string grid before us. I swallowed tightly, trying to keep myself from leaning back. But the knowledge was there; if I did, he was only an inch behind me; an unmovable wall of heat that would engulf me if given the chance. I fumbled with the knot, guiltily tempted. But those fantasies never got their light of day.
Hayden finished his knot first and stepped away to let me finish mine. I held onto the string for a moment, like it was the only thing keeping me up, before finally finding the mental clarity to continue. But reality was something I wished I could avoid forever.
Beneath the string in my hands was the image of a teacher. Those brown eyes were clear and defined. Jackson's eyes. Though the rest of the mural had been repainted with a second cloak; concealing his identity into that of anonymity… those eyes were the same. They belonged to that of a man who had sinned. Of a man who had hurt me.
I backed away from the stone and gazed up high. My memory was precise; I could see them all so clearly. The numerus murals above me all held secrets under their skin and despite the lies I repainted over them… I could feel their presence overwhelmingly.
I wanted to hurt them, make them pay for what they had done to Karri… for what they had done to me. I wanted them to be shown for what they truly were, every last despicable person who ruined my life in some way or another. I wanted them to bear this as the mark of their sin. So many truths. So many veracities.
So much revenge.
Something wet fell from my eye.
"You're nothing like your father, do you hear me?"
Somehow the last fragment fell in line with the rest; somehow that mirror of my past became whole again. The tears wouldn't stop falling.
I could see it, taste it, feels it's ever lasting imprint bruising my skin, the water of reality long past filling my lungs.
All my father did… was for revenge.
"Alys," Hayden's voice broke through my thoughts. I glanced down from the ladder I sat perched on. I found his eyes, those steady silver orbs holing my gaze. Come down here, he mouthed at me. I nodded and adjusted my body easily, stepping lightly down the metal rungs on the ladder.
When I got to the bottom, I turned to face him, "You're leaving, aren't you?"
Hayden nodded, "My uncle insisted we meet again now that my birthday is getting close."
I frowned nervously, my eyes casting downwards to my toes. "Can't you please cancel?"
Why did it have to be the same day… why did it have to be when my father was released from prison?
Hayden didn't say anything for a long while so I finally glanced back up to him. He was watching me silently, evaluating my face. "Just trust me, okay?" his low voice murmured, almost strained. His light brown hair fell across his fevered eyes. The straight line of his nose met those shadowed brows, giving his silver gaze a darkened intensity. "I won't let anything happen to you," he whispered finally, the roughness of his voice rasping against my ears.
Unintentionally, my eyes fell to his lips. He hadn't tried anything since our last kiss. He kept himself near me, but no longer corralled me into anything. I was surprised to find how much I hated it. For a girl who screamed at him that he wasn't my boyfriend, I was stupidly acting upset he wasn't just that.
Hayden had easily sensed my discomfort. I'd come to realize that small brushes of skin contact or low whispers in my ear were not by impulse. He did them for my reaction; cohering my emotions, seeing the intensity and frustration in my eyes. He was clearly prodding me, proving to me I did in fact want his touch despite what I said to him that day in my room.
I glanced away from his lips almost angrily. Whether he noticed or not, he didn't say anything.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked, beginning to zip up his jacket. I watched him from the corner of my eyes as I too put on a jacket to protect myself from the never ending spring rains.
"Just give me a second more."
He nodded to my words as I put away some of the pencils that had fallen from my bag earlier. Above me, a large center piece was being constructed. Hayden and Randal went over some paperwork with me. All those numbers that had been dropped in my locker were actually email dates and bank statements found in Mrs. Campbell's computer. They were in no way the whole picture; there was a whole world of computer codes and fraudulent documents we'd never even dream of having access to, but it wouldn't matter. All we needed was enough emails, enough numbers, enough proof to be taken seriously and the rest of the city would finish the investigation.
I finally stood and stared at the images above the central piece. Atop the entire mural, above those documents I was slowly constructing as the mural's center, stood the school's faculty in what was a border, almost a crown to the entire stone wall. The numerous portraits down the width to each side were drawn relatively uneventful to the human eye; they were all painted under basic tones and neutral shadowing. But the center portraits were different; my epicenter of three figures was precisely- vibrantly drawn.
Mrs. Campbell's face and torso were painted like an antique presidential portrait, along with Mr. Rodriguez to her right and some old School Chairmen I hardly knew about to the left.
They were painted high above, standing as the central forefront of other school and state faculty members; a separate commemorate piece that crowned the entire stone wall.
Hayden approached behind me, gazing with clear eyes to the mural as well.
He knew what was beneath them.
"It's perfect." he breathed.
Hayden drove me home, as he had done every day since Jackson's mural was painted. My hand no longer ached and the bruising was mostly yellowed and browned. Still, even with its nearly complete mend, I kept it hidden as much as I could from Hayden.
Every time he looked at it… something dark turned in the back of his mind. He no longer pressured me about who had hurt me, but for some reason there was little comfort in that. I didn't trust his shadowed gaze. So I hid my hand in hopes he'd somehow let it go as well.
He finally pulled into my driveway to drop me off.
"Call me when you're done?" I asked unsure. I still hated this, today of all days I wanted him to stay by my side. It was selfish of me to even ask, I knew that. But I still couldn't stop myself.
He caught my eye before smirking amused at me, "You sure seem hell bent on getting me back into your room."
I slammed the door easily, but still heard his chuckling on the other side. I walked away but not before sticking my tongue out at him with a sharp glare. Both hands rested easily on the top of the steering wheel as he watched me intently, a small smile still catching the corner of his lips.
It dropped slowly, his mind deep in thought as he watched my face, before he tightened his grip- nodded his head- somehow I knew it meant I'll be back- and backed out of the driveway.
I watched him leave, the cold spring rains spattering quietly on my cheeks. Finally I turned and walked up the porch to the house. The living room was warm, instantly seeming to caress my cheek with heated fingertips.
I stripped out of my coat and shoes, noting suddenly I was making a mess on the hardwood floors. I froze, my mind quietly turning in anticipation. It felt like a life time ago the last time I trudged mud on these floors. But it wasn't, it was just two and a half months ago. Yet since then… Since Karri's absence, my mother's break, my break…. everything that had happened… it felt like it was a different life entirely.
"Mom?" I called out. I realized the crucial difference between this time and the last time. She was always here, always waiting on rainy days to ensure I didn't ruin these floors. But she was nowhere to be seen. For some horrible reason, every fear and horror I had been suppressing until then came crashing back to me; fear of her lapsing, fear of my father finding us. Fear of losing everything again.
"Mom!" I yelled. I dropped the bag from my fingers to the floor and began dashing through the lower rooms. There were no wine bottles, no forgotten glasses or pill bottles. The house was pristine… empty. I felt a tugging in my stomach, unfounded fear that my father was involved. I called out again, practically screaming her name, but this time my ears caught the end of her voice from somewhere updates. My room?
I darted up the steps and threw open the door, ready to face the horrors of my past.
My mother looked up from where she sat on my desk. She was alone. She was safe.
I let go of the knob, my heart racing through my chest as I caught my breath.
"Alys?" she asked alarmed, noting my panic, "What's the matter? Why are you yelling my name?"
"It's… it's nothing." I said quietly. I approached her slowly. "Are you…. okay?" I titled my head hesitantly. Though I never locked my door, my mother never came into my room. She refused to acknowledge my drawings any more than she had to. She watched me draw with distant distained eyes, but had learned long ago she could never stop me. And so with that… she stopped approaching me.
She sat now, opened hands, gazing incessantly into a journal within her grasp.
Quietly she turned the page and looked at the next one. "I didn't realize how extraordinary your art had become. I haven't seen it in so long…"
I didn't say anything, uncomfortable now that she was finally looking. I glanced down towards the images, seeing those depraved revelations I had created of the persons around me. Surely she had seen the ones of her as well. My mother knew of this side of me, of how I drew the world ripped free from their lies, so that's why I never hid it. She was with me since the beginning, she saw how I coped. She just could never stop me. Only with time had I been able to control them, but I purposely never stopped or gave them up.
I watched my mother's eyes scan the length of each charcoal line. It was funny, these emotions racing through me. Years and years of wicked reflections bled from my hand, I would have laughed with glee to have forced my mother to look at them and confront them. But I was just a stupid child.
Who was I to judge her coping mechanism from our past… when mine was just as bad. I held it against her; this porcelain persona- the way she held mine against me; a child who existed only within her books.
The graphite eyes of those on the paper watched me… their costumes drawn against their length. I drew them in my hatred. I drew them in revenge.
I drew them long before what happened with Karri.
Something deep inside of me watched my mother, scared, wishing to cry out. Am I like dad?
"You've stopped drawing," she finally whispered.
"What?" I struggled.
"You've stopped drawing." she whispered again, her gaze holding that of one of my charcoal creations, "Since you met him. You don't come home desperately and dive into these journals."
I was frozen unsure. "You're wrong…" I whispered guiltily and confused. "It's because Hayden convinced me to draw the mural. Though what I'm painting might only pretty artistic images… it still helps. It's still a release."
My eyes fell to the journal. In the back of my mind I unwillingly counted the times I had needed to draw since meeting Hayden. They were a few times… but only a few.
But it's because of the mural, I whispered forcefully to myself.
"When you were little, you went to a therapy retreat. They had all the kids swim in the lake. You did fine, they told me you acted like a fish and dove in instantly. But when one of the councilors patted your head, slid his fingers along your scalp while you stood just inches above the water- you snapped. He knew why. I knew why. Everyone knew why and we all braced for the backlash."
"I remember." I whispered. My hands clenched slightly.
"How many?" she asked.
"How many drawings? I stopped counting. I never even wanted to know. But I guess I do now. How much did you draw those weeks afterwards?"
Quietly I counted the numbers; I counted the moments of crystal clear recollections where I tore through the house looking for a new book, stack of papers, anything, to let me pour my demon into. To keep the blackouts from taking control.
"I don't remember." I lied.
"I do." she looked at me. "It was a lot. It was more than I could cope with. You used the back of the pages on all my cook books, and most the ones from the office. Anything that had a blank area became your canvas. I threw them all out once we were done."
She watched me steadily, "But even when Doctor Augustine tried to drug you… I couldn't let her. I hated you; why couldn't you just stop? Why couldn't you move on!? Why couldn't you just pretend it never happened?!" Her voice was raw, broken, "But if there was one thing I promised myself I would never do again… I would never quiet your voice…. I would never muffle your screams. Not again. Never again."
My mouth hung open as tears slid by my face. She never let the doctors drug me… because she promised, after what happened with dad, she would never deny me my voice?
I closed my mouth, as liquid slid by. She watched me quietly, softly… gently.
"You've changed." she whispered.
"So have you." I said back finally,
"Your father is being released today," she said, "Your best friend is gone…" She stood up quietly… slowly... approaching me. Gentle hands opened mine, sliding a piece of paper within their grasp.
I looked down, stared in confusion, before my guilty embarrassed eyes found hers again.
"And yet… you've stopped diving into your journals…"
She kissed my cheek softly, before leaving the room.
I stood there for moments on end… gazing at the drawing…
A sleeping form… his hand intertwined with mine.
The walk to the bureau building took me forty five minutes, a lot longer than normal because I lost my way several times. My mother's words echoed through my head; a ricochet of torment and guilt.
I stopped walking, looking down at my side bag, looking down and knowing I carried this blasted journal everywhere. I carried this demon…. I carried my father's shadow.
All I drew, all I did… all of these depraved reflections weren't just my way of coping with the world; they were my way of getting back at the world.
…at getting back at my mother.
I had drawn her so grotesquely, so vividly. I did it to hurt her…to show her I would never turn away from how this world really looked. I hated her. Despised her…
She knew it. And still she never once took that voice from me again. She never let those Doctors drug me. Hathaway had helped me speak again after a year of silence… and my mother had protected that.
"Why?" I hissed to the air, my fists tight, my eyes straining to see the ground as a swarm of tears that threatened to fall. "You turned away from me, you let me think the worse of you! You refused to deal with me, be near me… how the hell was I supposed to realize it!"
That though you hated my screams… my words…my voice… you wouldn't stop them ever again.
I threw my bag off my shoulder and chucked it as far as I could towards the dirt and mud on my right.
"I hate you." I cried, sinking to my knees, "I hate you! You are so stupid…"
The rains flooded down from the skies, drenching my shirt as I pressed my palms tightly into my eyes; teeth ground tight.
"I'm so stupid…" I whispered weakly.
I glanced up from where I sat on the ground, staring defeated at the journal spread wide before me; flung out from the side bag. The water from the rain washed over the graphite lines, ruining those images on the page. I crawled forward until I was over it, watching that scene blankly.
Shannon and Michelle on the page.
Shannon and Michelle chanting 'the swine's a'whinen'
Shannon and Michelle with pig's blood painted on their hands.
I glanced down to my dirt stained hands, the blackened soil caking my fingers as I dug them into the ground. I lifted my fingers into the air and watched the dark mud that seemed to stain my hands. These filthy, cursed fingers that shook underneath it.
This was all on my hands.
I watched the rain run between my joints. The water hammered harder against my journal, dissolving those images away.
They deserved this retribution… I whispered to myself. But I didn't deserve to give it to them. Though they had hurt Karri and myself…. I was just as guilty.
Hayden was wrong.
He didn't belong up there, as if to be shown as his true self; a monster going down with the rest.
I closed my eyes, before finally finding my footing. I grabbed my soaked notebook and slid it back into the mud stained bag. I turned my red rimmed gaze to the empty street I was beside. I began walking, my fingers wringing themselves against each other to rid the dirt and guilt that covered them.
Hayden was wrong. Despite his hatred of the State and his attempts to reveal them for all that they were, his retribution was to reveal their faults and to hold them accountable for Tucker's death.
Where Hayden wanted vengeance … I wanted punishment.
I wanted to hurt them.
Hayden wasn't the monster. I was.
I stood beneath the golden elevator doors, peering up their height to the many offices they connected to on their way up these numerous stories. The large entrance I was in was well lit, the bureau building's design allowing ample natural light despite the gray clouds outside.
"Sorry about that." the receptionist smiled as she finally hung up the phone. "Busy day here. What can I do for you."
I turned to her face, "I'm here to wait for Hayden Donovan. He's in a meeting with his uncle right now but I was hoping you could let him know to come find me when he gets out."
I held my phone awkwardly in one hand as I showed it feebly to her, "I texted him, but he hasn't read it yet. I think he has his phone off."
Her pretty brows were furrowed in thought as she watched me.
"I'm sorry sweetie but Hayden hasn't stopped by. There was no meeting that I was aware of today with his Uncle. Would you like me to page Mr. Donavan to confirm?"
I froze instantly, my mouth partially opened unsure of what to say… "Umm… uh no, that's fine, maybe I heard him wrong."
But I hadn't… why had he lied to me?
"Let me just check to be sure," she smiled easily at me and before I could protest further she picked up the phone. I gritted my teeth and anxiously waiting for her to be done, feeling awkward that I had even come here.
"Oh… sure I can let her know." the she nodded, her waved curls bouncing behind her hair band. Her eyes danced to mine, "Mark said he wasn't supposed to meet Hayden today. But he wouldn't mind speaking with you if you have a moment."
I hesitated, shaking my head slightly… but then stopped myself.
"I'd love to." I quietly found the words.
She escorted me to the elevators and pushed the right floor for me.
"If Hayden stops by, I'll let him know where you're at." she smiled before letting the doors close. The sensation of being swept upwards instantly overwhelmed my senses.
"Please don't," I whispered, never having the chance to say it to her.
Mark was awaiting me when the elevators opened. Again I was left disoriented at how much he looked like Hayden. The steel cold eyes, sharp line of this nose, the similar hair color... the overall striking way he held himself.
It made me angry. Hayden told me how much he looked like his father. And yet this man before me tried to convince that man Hayden couldn't possibly be his son. I narrowed my gaze.
"Welcome, Ms. Westbrook." He murmured politely. It rank of staleness and discontent.
"Mr. Donovan," I nodded my head.
He raised his hand as if to prompt me into the right location, "Shall we?"
I nodded again, and so quietly he led the way. A secretary stood up to his presence and dashed to hold open his office door. It closed quietly behind me, only a small whoosh a telltale that it had moved.
I knew why he had brought me up here. Hayden hadn't heeded his warning about me, about how Augustine- once realizing Hayden had a fabricated background- would make sure to reopen the case. Mark wasn't sure if he could cover for Hayden a third time. And if there was one thing he was hell bent on, it was making sure his nephew made it peacefully to 18 before Mark could garner that signature. The signature would make all of Mark's documents legal again, all those investments he did wrongly under the title of inheritor.
I knew why Mark had brought me up here. He was going to see how much I knew. He was going to threaten me. Blackmail me.
My fists were fighting, my jaw straining as I watched him move before me.
"He was innocent" I whispered. Mark stopped walking, his back shadowing me from where I approached opposite of the large office windows.
"He was innocent and you didn't even care. Instead of representing him, fighting the State to hold them accountable, instead of helping him understand he didn't murder someone… you took an abused child and told him he was guilty." my voice was becoming louder and louder. Mark's face finally became visible as he stared at me in anger and outrage, yet I continued, "He came to you for help! He came to you when you had already fucked him over! And instead of helping him the way he asked, you made him feel he truly deserved to be locked away! You made a child cover up for the lies and deceits all those around him!"
"Isn't that what you did." that voice whispered softly, yet the depth behind them was like a slap across my face. My own past threatened to swallow me whole… all because of a Child's lie.
"You're right. I would know, wouldn't I?" I whispered softly. But despite the softness of my voice, I knew Mark could see my tightened grip and fevered eyes. Water dripped from my hair to my shirt and onto his floor. "And I know more, don't I? I know despite your deal with Hayden, the fact of the matter is he is not 18 yet. I know that if I was to bring about your forged documents, nothing you could do- no amount of back peddling- could stop your paper empire from crashing."
"You made a devil's pack with Hayden, not me. So before you start this game of black mail, let me remind you my life has been fucked over many times, I doubt you could make it any worse. But I, on the other hand," my pale fingers lifted out to him, the water droplets have traced along each knuckle, "Hold your family name and wealth in my hands. How very interesting."
"What do you want" he yelled lividly, his fists strained so tight I wondered if he was about to wring my neck right then and there. "Do you want your father locked back up? I can do it. I can make him rot in prison for the rest of his life. Just say the word."
He moved quietly, walking towards his desk. A pen and paper were pulled atop his table and he looked up at me cold arrogant eyes waiting for my acceptance.
I walked towards him, my mind racing a hundred miles per hour. He really could lock my father up… he really could keep him out of my life forever?
"My father…." I repeated.
"Your father." he said again, his stale eyes burning into mine. "I read your file. I know what he did to you. I know how even till the end, everyone around you was lenient on him; using his excuse for mental illness as a reason for only a few years behind bars. But I will change all that, I'll make sure he gets what he deserves- the sentence he should have been given from the beginning. I'll make sure he stays in prison and rots away the rest of his life."
I held Mark's gaze for seconds on end. The water still dripping from my hair, clinging to my skin.
"I want his file."
"What?" Marks eyebrows closed together and he stared at me dumbfounded. "Hayden's File?"
"Yes." I whispered. "I want it all. The lies, the truths, everything you found and filed away. If he honors his contract with you, gives you every dime of his inheritance, that's his decision. He's a grown ass man; he can do what he wants. But he isn't guilty. He isn't a monster."
"You're going to find a new lawyer to prove his innocence?" Mark demanded incredulously.
I watched him silently; I had no intentions of contacting any lawyers.
"No," I whispered finally. "I am not brining this to the courts. I want it for me, and to be away from you. I want you to never have control, black mail, or any other hold on him anymore. I know what's in it, I know a kid died. And I know Hayden isn't a murderer. These are my conditions. I won't tell Hayden I have his file either. He will honor your contract, and I will honor mine and not reveal all you have forged as "inheritor"."
Of course what I didn't tell Mark… what I never would, was that Hayden was going to do what Mark feared the most, reveal what happened that day at the Russells to the world. He wanted to be drawn upon that mural for who he truly was.
And so I was going to do just that.
I was going to show the world who Hayden really was…
I was going to show Hayden… who he really was.
"I don't care about my father. Give me his file… that's the deal."
Sorry if this chapter seems rushed, I was trying my best to write what I could.
Hope you guys like it,