Chapter One – The Beginning of the End
This was the end. It had to be. The end of everything she thought she'd ever known. At this point, how could it get any worse? Everything had been a lie. Every detail of every second of every hour of the last seventeen years had been nothing more than a game to these people. She was nothing more than their over-sized, living, breathing doll in their giant game of house.
How could this have happened? Amabel asked herself as she flipped back through every birthday, holiday, and family vacation she had stored in her mental scrapbook. All those smiles and laughs – how could it have all been so fake? How could they do that to her?
What hurt the most was that Damon, her own brother – or, not-brother – had never said anything. She knew he knew and he'd never even let on! It was like growing up with a family you'd come to love so much only to find out you were adopted. Except, of course, the fact that being adopted implies that you were taken in because your "parents" wanted to love you like their own. And as she'd recently found out, that wasn't the case here. They hadn't really ever loved her genuinely at all. It was their job to raise her. Literally. Their job. She'd hear them say so herself! Every good night kiss, and 'I love you, sweetie' – it was all fake! But why?
Amabel's stomach lurched with the thought. It had been almost a week since she'd found out, yet every time she thought of it, she wanted to puke. She couldn't eat or sleep and she'd hardly gone to school since. Her not-parents had pretty much just chalked it up to some hormonal, teenage drama and had let her behavior slide thus far; something for which she was glad. But she wasn't sure how long it would last. What would they do if they found out she knew? Would they ever know?
Her stomach gave another lurch and for a minute she really thought she was going to vomit. Across the room someone knocked on the door. Not waiting for an answer – not that she had planned on giving one – her younger not-brother, Ralf, poked his head in, his shaggy dark brown hair hanging in his eyes.
He studied her a moment before asking, "You going to puke?" in that grossed-out, whiney twelve-year-old voice; wrinkling his nose at her expression. Not trusting her stomach, Amabel just glared at him silently. Looking her over again, Ralf wrinkled his nose a little more before stating quickly, "Dinner's on, Sicky. Mom's calling for you."
With that said, he slammed the door before running down the hall, making quite a racket as he went.
Internally, Amabel groaned. Dinner. Now she would have to face all of them. She'd been dreading this all day. What was she going to do? Go down there and eat and laugh and talk about pointless things like the weather as if everything was just fine and dandy? The idea itself seemed preposterous. How could she? The last few days, her not-mother had let her eat in her room without asking too many questions; bringing up a plate every time a meal came around. For a while Amabel thought she might be able to get away with it for a few more weeks; or at least she'd hoped, anyhow. But apparently not.
Her heart dropped along with her stomach this time. She didn't want to eat and she certainly didn't want to eat with them. She couldn't do it; sit there, pretending to be as naïve and ignorant as before, all while looking at their happy faces, knowing what they really were. Liars. She couldn't. She wouldn't.
But she had to.
A strange fear overtook her as willed herself to remain where she was. Five minutes, then ten stretched on for what seemed like an eternity, but she stayed there on the bed of her room for as long as she could, still and silent. As every second passed, she was convinced that in the next one, her not-mother or not-father would come bursting through her door and drag her down to their evening meal. She could hear them downstairs, all around the table, laughing and joking about something as though her absence meant nothing to them. Part of her wanted to run down there right then and yell at them; scream at them for what they'd been doing to her for her entire life. But a stronger part of her kept her seated. Instead of running or hiding (something else she wanted to do very badly) she just stared out her window, watching the sun sink back into the earth, painting the sky with the most beautiful, deep colors and wishing she could disappear in the same way.
"You're missing you favorite, I hope you know," a voice said suddenly from behind her, though Amabel didn't have to look to know who it was. She hadn't heard him come in, something that at that moment unnerved her greatly, but she didn't flinch either. The mattress of her bed dipped as Damon came to sit beside her, his hand coming up to rest on her shoulder in what was meant as a comforting gesture, but instead it just felt wrong.
"What's wrong Amae?" he asked, concern touching his voice. Amabel wanted to shy away from him at the use of her nickname. How dare he poke at her already shattered heart that way? He was a liar. What gave him the right to think he could be so friendly to her after all he'd done?
But no sooner had she thought this when she felt guilt sink into her belly. Yes, he was a liar. He wasn't her real brother or actually related to her in any way. But he was still Damon and still her best friend. Amabel frowned as she finally looked up at him. His black mop of hair fell into his face as it always had, his ear poking out at the side, the silver rings and bars in them shining in the fading light. Lair or not, he was still Damon.
Yet something in her gut pulled and nudged. There was something not right about him. Something in his stance, his face, and eyes that set her off. As long as she could remember, Damon had always been the nicest person she knew. Sure, his darker fashion did unnerve most people, but that was just how he was on the outside. Once you got past that, he was really a great person. His green eyes were always bright and alert behind his long hair and there was hardly a time when she'd seen him without a smile on his face or at least some variation of a happy-to-see-you expression. But this Damon in front of her didn't ooze the same vibe; he was tenser, his smile seeming more forced – which, in her mind, could only mean one thing.
He knew. He knew that she knew.
* * * * *
Amabel's heart had felt like a stone in her stomach since her last conversation with Damon the evening before. Somehow she'd managed to get him to leave her alone, saying that she was just under a lot of stress about a school project, though she knew he wasn't convinced. He knew her too well.
Signing, she tried to push Damon's suspicious face from my mind and focus on the task at hand. After nearly a week of absences, she'd come back home with more than enough to catch up on. And now, sitting the dim light her desk lamp provided, she couldn't get herself to focus. In the next room over she could hear Ralf arguing with one of his horrific, first-person shooter games while Damon's surround sound speaker system blasted Bullet of My Valentine's, Tears Don't Fall, from across the hall.
This is useless, she though, staring down at what was supposed to be the beginnings of her English essay. She hadn't been able to spare a single shred of concentration all day. Whether it be in history class, listening Aggie's worried blabbering, or even in biology – her favorite class! She just couldn't do it. All she could think about were questions she would likely never know the answers to; who were her real parents? Why had they given her up? Had they really given her up at all? From what she had hear, this fake family of hers had been given the task of "raising and protecting" her. Maybe she's been forced from her real parents. For all she knew, they could have been some sort of death-row criminals that the government saw as unfit to raise a child and thus gave her to these people! Yeah, it was a stretch, but it could be true!
Signing yet again, Amabel pushed her school work away from her and put her head down on the desk. She was going to get an ulcer if she kept this up. Somewhere in the pit of her stomach she could already feel one forming. Next to her, her phone buzzed and Agatha's name and number flashed on the screen. But she didn't want to talk to Aggie – she didn't really want to talk to anyone.
Downstairs she could hear her not-parents watching some cops-and-robbers program and part of her desperately wanted to go down to them and watch the good guys catch the bad guys like they sometimes used to do together. Maybe Damon and Ralf would come out of their rooms too and join them too. They could eat popcorn and chips and laugh at all the stupid joke and puns like the idyllic picture of the perfect American family. As though none of the last week had ever happened.
But when she finally got the courage to get up and do just that, her feet took her in a different direction instead. Before she realized it, she was standing in front of Damon's door, looking at all the Rebellious Teenager's Room signs and drawings he'd done, plastered to the wood, all covered by the bright yellow DO NOT CROSS tape. The floor under her feet vibrated with the noise of his music and with a deep breath, she knocked on the door.
Amabel knocked again, which also went unanswered. Deciding he couldn't hear her, she opened the door, peeking her head in for any sign of her older not-brother. He was there, lounging in the big black bean bag chair in the far corner of his room. The television was playing some reality drama on mute and Damon kept bobbing his head to the beat, seeming absorbed in laptop.
For a moment Amabel considered leaving, sneaking away before he could notice. But as soon as she took her first step to move, Damon's head snapped up, his green eyes staring at her, seemingly startled, though there was an almost forced look to them. Like he was only pretending to be surprised.
"Hi," she said shyly, an awkward smile on her face.
"Amae," Damon said, "What are you up to?" Amabel tried to shrug, but all her nervous energy was causing her to fidget and instead it turned out more like a severe twitch. Damon watched her with an odd expression, not quite sure what to make of the behavior. Not that she could blame him; she wasn't generally like this.
Taking another deep breath, she forced a casual smile to her face.
"Not much," she said. "Just a little bored." Again, Damon gave her the same suspicious glance he'd been giving her all week. Though thankfully he decided not to question her. Amabel moved to sit down on his bed – the black and red blankets perfectly made as always – and looked around the room as Damon turned down his stereo before returning to his work. She watched him for a while, the both of them sitting in silence except for the ever present clacking of Damon's fingers flying over the keys.
More minutes passed in silence, something that wouldn't have affected her so much under more normal circumstances, but now she itched for some sort of interaction, some company; a fact that, in all reality, surprised her, seeing how hardly five minutes ago she'd wanted to be as far away from everybody as she could.
"What're you working on?" she asked, trying to fill the emptiness. Damon only glanced up at her, not stopping his flying fingers.
"Analyzing Jane Austen's satire of the social classes of the early nineteenth century in her novel, Pride and Prejudice," he said with a very professor-like tone. "Classical Literature class assignment."
Instead of making one of her usual, witty responses, Amabel just nodded dumbly and continued to study his room. She'd been in it hundreds of times over the years, but now, with the knowledge that he wasn't really her family, it seemed oddly foreign. Something in the dark blue walls felt colder, his various band posters and cork boards thrown about them like a hap-hazard art gallery.
When her eyes drifted back to Damon, she realized he was watching her. His face softened with concern and a little confusion, though his eyes were still a bit more guarded than usual.
For a long time they held each other's gaze. He seemed to be searching her face for something and for a fleeting second she wished he wouldn't just sit there, but get up and come sit next to her to rub her back and tell her everything would be okay just as he always did when something was wrong.
But when he did finally move to her, she had the urge to shy away from him again. He watched her with furrowed brows, but then, as though reading her mind, sat far enough away from her on the bed so that they weren't touching.
"I wish you'd tell me what's bothering you," he said. Amabel opened her mouth to give him the same school-project excuse as before, but he cut her off. "And I mean the real thing. Not that bullshit about school. Projects have never bothered you before Amae; you're a great student. What's really going on?"
He knew her too well.
Suddenly Amabel wanted to cry. Generally she wasn't a crier. She hadn't even shed a tear when she'd broken her leg snowboarding when she was eight. Yet here she was, nose already beginning to run and tears threatening to spill over for no definite reason.
This time Damon's expression of surprise was real. Ignoring her previous behavior towards him, he scooted over and wrapped his arms around her, gently stroking her back as her tears began to fall.
"My god, Amae. I don't know what's going on in your head but it can't be that bad," he whispered to her.
And maybe it wasn't. Maybe she really was being ridiculous. Yes, they weren't her real family, but they had raised her. And she had no real proof that they didn't really love her. They'd taken care of her; bought her anything she'd ever needed and always looked out for her happiness and best interest. Isn't that what love is? Just because they were told by only God-knows-who to raise her didn't mean they didn't care.
Now Amabel felt more foolish than she ever had and cried harder as guilt sank into her heart. She'd been so unfair this past week and they hadn't deserved any of it.
She cried for a long time, regretting all of her thoughts of the past few days. But thankfully, Damon didn't ask any more questions, he just let her cry, all the while rubbing her back and telling her things would get better. And when she'd finally decided to go to sleep, he'd made sure she was alright, tucking her in and giving her a quick kiss on the forehead before turning off the lights when he left.
Amabel didn't stay asleep though. At some point around two-thirty she woke up to the sounds of shuffling from across the hall. Someone was talking and she assumed it was Damon. Straining her ears, she tried to better hear what he was mumbling. The movement became more erratic and then suddenly there was a crash.
"Don't underestimate me!" she heard him hiss in a low voice. After a moment, another voice hissed something back.
Who the hell is he talking to at almost three in the morning? Amabel though. There was more shuffling, and then Damon's companion whisper again.
"You've gotten sloppy Kirian. You've let one of them see her! They know, they're already talking," he said. More shuffling.
"I've got it under control, Cormack, I've –"
"You do not! Your arrogant behavior has lost us time! Or perhaps it's passed your notice. The earth has already begun to shift, brother. And don't think the Good Grey Lords have been idly twiddling their thumbs. They know where she is now and they won't waste time in preparing their best to come and retrieve her. Face it, you've screwed this up!"
Both voices got quite, muttering in harsh, hushed tones. Amabel tried as hard as she could to hear where their conversation had led, but to no avail. Five minutes – which felt more like ten – stretched on without anything.
What the hell is going on?
But then the shuffling resumed and she was able to hear one thing before everything went completely silent.
"You need to hurry. She can't be here when they come."
And then nothing.
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