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Up until now, I hadn't seen that boy Ryan. It had been close to two weeks without seeing him again, and truthfully I was glad. I wanted nothing to do with him. But as I left the college building and began to slow walk home, earphones lodged in my ears and my head blasting with lyrics, someone came running up behind me and grabbed my arm.
It was his fault. I swivelled, arching my elbow in a state of defence. Solid bone met a jaw line and towards the ridge of a nose, and the next thing I knew I was standing over the boy Ryan from the Coffee Shop. He held one hand up in surrender, the other covering his nose that was now gushing blood. Yanking my earphones out and stuffing them down my shirt, I put my foot down on his chest, keeping him from getting to his feet.
"Jesus Christ, what the hell?" I shrieked down at him, trembling with rage.
"I'm sorry! I tried calling out to you but you didn't hear me!" he yelled desperately, his eye on my hand that was evidently in a fist.
"Do that again next time I'll do more than give you a nose bleed." I snarled, lifting my foot and releasing him.
"God, I wasn't going to jump you or anything, if that's what you thought. I wouldn't flatter yourself that much." he moaned, struggling to his feet. At the insult, I took a fist full of his hair, making him wince. If looks could kill, he would have disintegrated there and then at my feet. He swallowed heavily, his eyes drilling holes into my face.
"Stay away from me." I spat, harshly releasing him.
"I said I was sorry." he said, scratching his scalp.
"Then take a bloody hint!"
I stormed away, and almost instantly my anger shrivelled into fright. I hugged myself in an attempt to calm myself, taking long, deep breaths and flicking away the memories mum had scarred me with. One, two, three...
"I just want to talk." he called, his footsteps hesitant behind me as he attempted to follow me.
"Go away!" I shouted, but all malice had left my voice. Oh God, oh God, oh God...
"Wait a sec-"
"Hey! Get lost!" Leah, she was here! Oh, thank God! I turned just in time to see Ryan right behind me, trying to reach for me again, when Leah pummelled straight into his side. The collision ran straight through me as the boy staggered slightly, his eyes glittering with confusion, and quickly Leah wrapped her arm around my shoulders and towed me away. I shrank into her side, blinking repeatedly in an attempt to clear my head. He shouted another apology behind us, but we quickly turned a corner and left him there on the pavement.
Leah, remaining silent, walked me home with obvious determination. She sat me down on the wall outside my home and took a seat beside me, keeping her arm firmly around me. She pressed her head against mine and waited for my breathing to slow.
"Thank you." I whispered after a few minutes.
"It's okay. Who was that guy?" she asked softly, rubbing my back.
"Someone from the Coffee Shop, said his name was Ryan something or other." I told her. She acknowledged this with a nod.
"Did he grab you?" she said, gently peeling my hand away from my arm, which was gripping it so tightly I knew it would leave a bruise later. I nodded. "Hey. No one is going to hurt you, okay? Shit happened when you were a kid, but soon enough you'll be able to have driving lessons, buy a car and go where ever you want to go. Things will only get better the older you get."
"I know. I just... can't stop remembering." I croaked.
"You need to talk to someone about it, other than me. Get help. There are people at college who help people like you for a living-"
"I've told you once and I'll tell you again; they've heard it all before and they don't care." I said firmly, meeting her blue gaze. Youth workers, therapists, anyone like that were all the same. They listened, they said things they had been trained to say, but they never really understood. I used to see one as a kid, just after Connor left when the violence began. I tried telling this woman, whose name I've forgotten, that things were really bad at home. But I couldn't get my words out and she brushed me away, thinking I was trying to skive lessons. She didn't see the pain I was in, or notice the bruising on my arms, or even pick up on the agony eliminating in my eyes. I tried, and she failed me.
"I don't know what to suggest." Leah whispered sadly.
"You being here is enough." I murmured, but my mind drifted. There was only one other person who would understand me, and I didn't even trust him anymore. But a part of me wanted nothing more than to tell him the pain I was in, just like I used to. A memory flashed to life, and in my mind I was suddenly in Connor's room, messing with a stuffed teddy (a green snake) in my hands.
"I'm scared." I murmured. Connor looked at me with those ocean blue eyes of his, cutting straight through me. He was sitting on his desk opposite me, watching me with a cool gaze. He shook his head slightly, knocking the hair out of his eyes.
"You don't have to be scared." he told me, shifting from the desk and sitting beside me.
"She won't stop shouting at me, though." I whispered. He took my hand in his, locking us together by our fingers.
"Then fight back." was all he said, and the memory faded like the end of a Super 8 film.
I remembered the events following that conversation. I'd gone home, mum ready to blow up yet again at me for returning late. I'd brushed past her, and she turned and snatched my arm in an iron grip. She began to scream abuse at me, tears in her eyes. I also began to cry, trying to get away from her, and when she wouldn't let go, I swiped my hand across her face. I'd ran then, sprinting for my room and slamming the door shut. She didn't speak to me for two weeks after that, and when I came home late again from Leah's house, she didn't say a word as I went to my room. For a while, I had won. But then Connor left, and I had no one to fall back on. Leah was simply there to pick up the pieces.
I held the phone to my ear, letting it ring once, twice, three times, four...
"Hey." he said, the smile evident in his voice. I took a deep breath, letting his voice drift through my ear, trying to welcome it. I needed to welcome it. I needed to know that this was Connor, I had to believe it was. I wanted to fight, but I wanted to cave in just as much. Whether I liked it or not, I would always need him, no matter how far away he was or how much he had changed.
I swallowed. "Hi."
"You okay, Kit-Kat?" he asked, sounding slightly concerned. Damn, was my voice that much of a giveaway. Well, I had been crying to be fair.
"No." I whispered. A heartbeat past.
"What's wrong?" he asked softly.
"I can't forgive you, you know, for leaving me the way you did." I told him, blinking several times. He sighed heavily.
"I won't forgive myself, either. I didn't have a choice, though, Ash. If I had the choice I would have stayed with you." he told me, his tone a little defensive. "But you listen to me. I have never forgotten you. I've thought about you every day since I left."
"You didn't even say goodbye." I croaked. He hadn't. I'd woken up in the morning, and to my horror I saw the moving van, the family climbing in. I knew they were moving, but not that soon. I hadn't seen him the previous two days; mum had grounded me. But I went out on this particular morning, hoping to express my freedom by going to see him. Instead, I took my seat on the wall and watched the truck driving away, silent tears falling down my cheeks.
"I couldn't." Connor said, his voice weak now.
"Two reasons: your mum wouldn't let me near the house, and it was too much to take. It was easier having the last memory of us together happy, rather than having the two of us crying." he explained sadly. "I wanted my last memory of you to be when you were smiling."
More minutes passed as I absorbed this. "I waited for you to come back. I wanted for you for so long after, thinking you'd appear in that 4x4 you had, and I was ready to shove aside that you hadn't said goodbye and was prepared to just be with you. But you never came back. I needed you to come back but you never did."
"You think I didn't try?" he demanded. "There were days I practically begged my parents to go back there. But I live in Chester now, Ash, that's three hours away."
I opened my mouth to answer, but then my mum's voice carried up the stairs outside my door.
"Ash! Who the hell are you talking to?" she shrieked. I leapt from the bed and dashed to the door, locking it. Connor demanded what was going on but I remained silent, not answering him or my mother. She shrieked again, and with my heart drumming in my ears, I waited. Her feet stomped up the stairs, and her shadow blocked the light under my door. Seconds ticked by, and then she moved on.
"Ash?" he sounded scared. I slid down the wood of the door, falling to a heap on the floor. I took a deep intake of breath.
"I need you, Connor." I whispered, barely audible.
"Ash, I know-"
"I'm scared." I croaked. His breath seemed to stop for a moment down the phone, and I chewed my nails.
"Then fight back."
"It's not so much her, but it's the scars she's inflicted. How do I fight that?" I asked him.
He chuckled, but it was a terribly harsh sound, no doubt directed at my mother.
"You run away."
We spoke for a while after that. my spoke as quietly as possible, and in order to distract me he told me about his doings over the years. He was in an acoustic group with two other boys, he worked at a clothing store, and he had a new found passion for football. He didn't ask me anything about my life, and he told me specifically why.
"Why haven't you asked me about my life?" I asked him, smiling into the phone.
"Because when I hear what you have to tell me, I want it to be face to face." he answered smoothly. He paused, and then added, "Do you think that will happen?"
I thought it over, and I answered with as much truth as I could muster. "Maybe, someday."
"Better than the answer I was half expecting." he chuckled, then sighed. "It's one in the morning."
"I guess we should go to sleep." I said, surprised by the disappoint in my chest. My heart sank at the idea of being alone, not even having a voice on a phone line to keep me company.
"We'll talk soon, okay?" he said, the hope evident in his voice.
"Night, Kit-Kat." he murmured softly.
"Night." I said, and we hung up the phone at the same time. I stared at it, and then sighed heavily. "I miss you."