Chapter Two: Hysterical
Mom is gone by the time I go back home, the only sign of her a note saying there's pizza in the freezer for supper, and we are going to talk when I get home, young lady written between the lines, but of course we won't.
It's dark out; streetlight flicker on. I forgo the pizza and instead choose some leftover chicken and rice, since the pizza's all-dressed, and I don't feel like picking off the mushrooms.
While my food's in the microwave, I decide to eat in my room, even if Mom will get mad at me for almost getting food on my bed.
Mom must've not gone in here, since it's still on the messy side of things; Mom would've straightened everything out, because she's that much of a nit-picky, clean-freak person, and I clearly didn't inherit that gene.
Like I thought, Mom comes home, drops her things, and comes directly upstairs, still wearing her spring jacket. She doesn't say anything, just watches me as I read, and she must notice the fork and plate resting next my bed on the floor, but remains silent. After a few moments, she leaves me alone. I'm left with thoughts I promised Gray I wouldn't allow run rampant in my mind anymore.
Does it hurt? Dying, I mean. I wonder. Well, it might, depending on how you go, right? Drowning, or even blunt force trauma—is that what I''s called?
They were bad before, these thoughts—though they're bad now, they were worse.
The phone rings at about midnight, but I'm already awake. I hear Mom wake up, see the light flood from her open door and hear her irritated voice, too low to distinguish individual words. Then silence.
Footsteps echo from the hallway and stop outside my door. No one comes in.
I call out, "Mom?" My voice, quiet, but why should it be?
I hear a faint intake of breath, like you do when bracing yourself for an impact. "Honey?"
The last time she's used this tone of voice was when she told me about Dad cheating on her, on us, when she revealed the extent of the cracks within our broken three-part family. "I got a call from the Forresters."
I stare at the door, where I can make out her shadow. "Yeah, about what?" Do I really want to know?
Another before-impact-breath. "Do you remember Eugene? Gray's father?"
I don't answer. Of course I remember him, why wouldn't I?
"He passed away in the hospital today."
A shock of pain, while not as bad as what I felt for Gray, runs through me, leaving me senseless and tingling from head to toe, like an electrocution. "How?" I ask dumbly, numbly.
Now, Mom leans into the doorway, eyebrows knitted together in concern. "Liver cancer, apparently. Are you okay?"
I begin to shake my head, think better of it, and close my eyes and take a deep, shaky breath. "I'm fine, I'm fine. Don't worry."
It's always been this way—I'd be bleeding, hurting, grieving, Mom would ask about my welfare, when all I want her to do is not ask, please never ask. I'm not sure I'd be able to bleed all that out, get rid of all that poison.
Sometimes she'll look at me so intently, so concerned, that I'm just about to break open and cut my heart open for her to see, but then she doesn't push hard enough, and the moment's over. Like now.
"Okay, if you're sure. Are you sure?"
No, not exactly, is it normal to feel like you're bleeding? "Positive. Absolutely fine."
I've learned to keep my pain to myself, to hoard it like a poisonous stock, to protect others from it. Mom has enough of it that she doesn't need teenage angst, and besides, she wouldn't understand.
Mom watches me again, as if gauging my blistering pain, purses her lips and says, "You know you can to me when you need to talk, right?"
I want to say that, no, I can't. But instead, I lie as I think those thoughts again. "Of course I know."
The Cliff is still as beautiful as it is every single day, wild beauty meant to take your breath away. It's very windy today, enough to toss up spray from up here, fifteen feet up. The water looks black under the rain-heavy clouds, and the sand seems gray under swirling skies.
I've never been so completely sure of anything else in my entire life.
While I stand on The Cliff, breathing in ocean mist and rain, I hear footsteps behind me. Random thoughts as to who it might be fly through my mind.
Maybe it's Mom, chastising me that I didn't eat my breakfast again, even though I just wasn't hungry, so it's nothing to worry about, and what difference would it make for me? Or maybe it's some stranger, some stranger that might be, could be, the abductor.
But it's neither. From the corner of my eye, I see black hair, in that mop-hair-style some girls deem attractive. I can tell it's a boy from the breadth of his shoulders, though I don't know why he isn't wearing a jacket in this weather. Even I'm wearing a heavy-wool sweater, though that might not be for warmth.
I think I see him glance at me. "You're still too skinny."
I blink and look at him, one eye scrunched up because of the wind. "Excuse me?"
The boy smiles drily, but doesn't turn away from the gray horizon. I can't see his eyes from this angle. "You're still as skinny as you were before, Cassie."
"How do you know my name?" I can hear my voice crack; I tuck my arms around my body and completely turn to face him. "Do I know you?"
"Yes, you do, actually." The boy finally looks at me, smirking ironically.
His eyes are the palest gray. Storm-gray.
I laugh in panic and violently shake my head, back-pedalling. "Ha, you must me screwing with me. You can't be...be..." I blink and narrow my eyes. "...Gray?"
I glance at his right arm, where Gray broke his arm so badly that the bone poked through the skin, leaving a scar. A thin, light line runs, jagged, where Gray had his cast.
I look back up to the boy's face, shake my head again, and yell over the wind, "You're crazy. Insane. He's been gone for four years! He's never coming back!"
The boy smiles again, a dry humor twisting his admittedly decent features. He opens his arms grandly, as if to embrace me or the world. "Are you sure about that?"
I grip my forehead, trying to resist the urge to scream and cry, but a few tears come out. "You can't just mess with my emotions. If this is some sick joke—" My voice cracks and I swallow a sob.
The boy—he can't be, can't be, Gray—softens his features just the slightest, arms still open and welcoming. "You know I wouldn't do that to you, Cassie."
I'm laughing, crying so hard I can't tell I'm hurting, and say, "Do you know how much I want to punch you right now?"
He takes a deep breath and smiles again, that bitter, morbidly-humorous smirk. "I want to punch me, too, Acacia."
I laugh and cry harder. "I told you to never call me that!" But instead of punching him, I throw myself into Gray's arms and cry more.
I'm insane, just like everyone thought I was when the story of my almost-suicide attempt got out, ran around from ear to ear, never reaching any adults that could've stopped it. I'm insane because I listen to Gray when he says not to call Mom or the police or—or even his parents.
"But, why?" I croak. By now, the wind's still strong but inconsistent. The clouds were a facade, because no rain falls. "Look, they need to know—"
Again, Gray shakes his head vehemently. 'No, not now. Later, maybe."
Gray's eyes seems distant, but then he gives me that look meant to say I'm sorry, one he gave to me every time the rumor would pass by, or fingers would be pointed in my direction, because he was—or rather is (do you understand the joy of that word, is?)—that type of person. Felt so sorry for everything bad that happened to everyone, like somehow he was responsible.
His hair has gone from short, dirty blond, to longer pitch black. His skin, once so pale his freckles stood out like paint splatter on a t-shirt, is tanner, enough to hide the lighter freckles. He's still skinny, though, and tall, lanky from head to toe, like he was before.
And his eyes are the exact same miniature storm systems that sucked in riveted attention.
I watch his face for a few moments and sniffle. "Where were you all these years?" He doesn't answer, just stares at me helplessly, storm-eyes wide open. "Do you know how much you made us cry? Made me cry? Well, do you?"
He swallows, but then his nervousness is gone, replaced by a calmness that is unusual for Gray—before. He's changed more than his hair color. "I'll tell you when I do. It's not the best subject."
"Fine," I say, though it really isn't fine to drop something like this. I let it go, let it sink to my supposed grave at the bottom of the ocean, and instead ask, "Why the sudden appearance?"
Gray sighs again, but unlike I expect him to, he doesn't turn away. "Not that, either."
Gray doesn't answer for a few seconds. "Any news? About your family...or...?"
...'Mine'? "Well, they, uh, moved out after you...left." I sniff and scratch awkwardly at the back of my hand.
Gray smiles sarcastically. "Tell me something I don't know."
"You know, you're very different," I mutter, blinking up at him. "Utterly different."
Gray laughs. "Oh, really? You like my new hair color?"
I bite my lip and sigh brokenly, because this is a drastically different meeting than I'd imagined. "Never mind."
Though he looks at me quizzically, Gray doesn't ask. "Anything else about my parents?"
"Your father's dead."
The wind is the only sound, but then, "When?"
"We got the call yesterday."
Gray's eyes have lost a certain quality and gained another—they seem shinier, as if wet with unshed tears. "How?" His voice does not crack or waver, just steady, monotone, as he stares at his hands.
I watch him, taken aback by his lack of emotion. Old Gray would break down, crying, even in front of a girl—me. "Liver cancer. Are you okay?"
At my voice, he laughs harshly and looks up at me with a blank stare. Then he smirks in that dry, bitter way again. "Yeah, I'm fine. Good riddance."
"Excuse me?" I ask, dumbfounded. "Did you actually just say that about your father?"
He laughs again, a vague edge of hysteria creeping in. "You sound like my mother."
I repeat, "Gray, are you okay?"
"Not at all," he says, still not crying but now seemingly in a state of shock, laughing and, well, giggling hysterically. "Not in the least bit."
That's when I decide it's a good idea to call Mom.
"Why were you there again?" Mom asks.
"I told you. I just was." I glance to the room where the officer and Gray disappeared into. I can hear his monotone voice as he speaks into the phone.
"What frame of mind was he in? When you found him?"
"I did not find him. He found me." Saved me, again.
"Either way," my mom prompts.
"Either way," I imitate, "He was...bitter, about what, I don't know. Then he asked about his family..."
"...You told him about his father, didn't you?"
Mom purses her lips, but doesn't comment on my lack of judgement. "How did he react?"
"How is one to react to a parent's death, Mom? He was hysterical. I think he went a bit crazy."
Just a bit.
They allow us to see him, after an interview-interrogation and a phone call. His mother lives hours away.
Mom refuses to see him, leaving me alone despite her disapproving glare. "Gray," I say, but nothing else comes out.
Gray has gone quiet, eyes locked on his feet, a far cry from his perky self, four-years-minus-four-days-ago. This Gray seems like an imposter, an alien host, but of course that isn't true.
"What?" he snaps, not looking up. He shifts his boots on the floor; they make a grating sound too loud to be real. "What do you want?"
I feel illogically angry, then. "Don't get mad at me. You're the one that wanted to contact me."
I wait for half a minute, a minute, two. Then I say, "Why did you?"
I don't get an answer for that, either.
Four-years-minus-four-days. That's how long it took to get him back, whole. Why does it feel like something important, life-giving, has been ripped from my already bleeding chest?
I can hear the whispers already. They chatter, they create noise, havoc, ear-splitting almost-not-there sounds that tear me inside-out.
Didyouheardidyouheardidyouhear...He's back...he's insane...birds of a feather flock together…I knew she tainted him…She ruined him…
Guess who 'she' is.
"Hey, don't be so bummed out. Aren't you happy?" Mom asks as we're driving home. "You know, best friend returning home after being missing for four years?"
Youwouldn'tunderstand. "Of course I am. When's his mother coming in, again?"
Mom seems to know that I'm lying, but simply sighs and stares at the road. "Tomorrow morning. Oh, I forgot to tell you."
"Hope," Gray's mother, "is staying with us for a night."
I look at her for a moment. "Only one night?"
"Yes," my mother says, glancing at me quickly. "So she can take Gray home."