Two years ago.
Every member of the family was talking – talking about school, work, hobby's, the weather, new purchased items – and all she did was push her food around on her plate. Some would call it OCD or a weird habit, she would contradict and tell them it was her way of having control of something in her life. The beans had to be aligned next to each other, the meat was supposed to be in the corner of the square plate, the sauce in the center couldn't touch the rest of the food, and the rice was pushed around until it was no more sticking to the beans.
"Stop playing with your food, Liberty."
Lifting up her blue eyes from her meal, she met a pair of striking green eyes belonging to her mother. With only one look, the woman could freeze into an ice queen and it seemed like nobody could melt her except for anyone but Liberty. She tried not taking it personal, not every mother loves her daughter to the moon and back ... Right?
"Liberty I didn't cook this meal for you to stare at. Now, eat."
It seemed like Liberty was the only one picking up on her mother's hostile tone because no one at the table was fazed as they continued their conversations. Except for one person – the one sitting right across from her at the table, smirking like the devil, enjoying every hateful comment or stare she got from their mother. That person was Satan in Liberty's eyes but to others he was just her brother, Alec.
"Yeah, Libby," he commented with smugness oozing from his tone. "Don't like what mom cooked today? You're saying it tastes like crap?"
Liberty was sure she hadn't said anything. In fact, she hadn't uttered a word since she took a seat at the table. It was so typical Alec to put words in her mouth, words she didn't even dare to think.
"No, I was just," Liberty cleared her throat, trying to steady her voice, "I was distracted. It really tastes great mom."
The woman stared her down with no emotion, eyes as empty as a promise. But Liberty noticed the signs – the ticked jaw, the stiffened shoulders, the white knuckles around a glass of wine. Her mother was looking for an excuse to say or even do something spiteful. Luckily her father took over before things got out of hand again.
"Honey," his voice was deep and soothing. His large hand grabbed his wife's free hand, an action that was enough to take her attention away from their daughter. And then, out of nowhere the tension vanished and before you know it everyone was conversing and enjoying their meal as if nothing just had happened.
Liberty swallowed hard before dropping her gaze back to her plate. She used her fork and knife to cut a piece of the meat before putting it in her mouth. The texture was dry and too overcooked. She had a hard time swallowing it down no matter how much she chewed, wanting nothing more than to spit it out.
A hand slowly shoved a glass of water towards her.
She flickered her eyes up to meet two hazel ones looking back at her. He wasn't smiling, but his eyes were. The corner of Liberty's lips twitched in her own version of a smile, a thank you. Till this day on, she still couldn't for the life of her understand how Aaron was related to Alec. They shared a womb for nine months and yet they looked like they came from different worlds, no different universes. It seemed like Alec had sucked up all the cruel and bad genes, leaving the kind and thoughtful ones for Aaron.
Liberty grabbed the glass of water, bringing it up to her lips. Over the brim of the glass, she could see Alec watching her. He looked displeased, as if he was angry she got off too lightly. From the day she was born, Liberty was sure that he made it his mission to make her life as miserable as possible. Aaron told her once that he was just jealous because he used to be the youngest, the favorite, of the family until she came along. Liberty would scoff every time she thought about it, she was far from the favorite. The way her mother treated her only showed that Alec wasn't the only one discontented with her arrival.
Alec was shooting daggers so hard that Liberty could feel the stabs on her body. She decided not to give him the satisfaction and did something Alec absolutely loathed – she ignored him. It seemed like the best thing she could do at the time, but she should've known that ignoring Satan was the worst thing she could do.
Liberty was just about to set her glass on the table when she felt someone's foot trailing up her leg. She flinched and shot her eyes up at Alec who was smirking madly. He tried to wedge his foot between her knees and Liberty fidgeted. She felt extremely uncomfortable and uneasy. Her brother sometimes forgot who she was, he did stuff that siblings weren't supposed to do and that only showed how sick and twisted his mind really was. The length he'd go just to make her wretched was unbelievable.
The cling of silver utensils clashing against a plate was enough to turn Liberty immobile. She met her mother's eyes and instantly looked down.
"What is wrong with you? Can't you behave like everyone else and just sit still!"
"Ellen," her father intervened.
"No, Anthony! This is our last dinner together with the family before we leave for five months. And she can't even show enough respect to just enjoy this meal like a real family."
"Mom, I'm sorry," Liberty starting saying when her mother held up a hand.
"Just be quiet. I don't wanna hear another word from you or you'll be eating alone in your room."
Liberty just nodded, knowing that arguing only made things worse. She tried to focus back on her food which was hard when you had your own brother's foot still trying to pry your legs open.
"Alec," Aaron said once their parents were continuing their conversation. "Stop it."
Alec snorted, amused. "I'm not doing anything, you dipshit."
Aaron gritted his teeth as he reached under the table to grab his brother's ankle, stopping him from doing whatever he was trying to do. Alec cocked a single eyebrow, almost challenging his brother to let go.
"Get off," he warned him. "Or you'll be sorry."
Aaron contemplated his next move but gave in after several seconds. He dropped his brother's foot and Liberty tried to get back to eating her dinner. So far, this evening wasn't going as she had planned. She knew her parents were leaving for a business trip and she had tried her best to make it the best dinner ever so they wouldn't leave on bad terms. But of course, with Alec around, her plans were just dreams that never will come true.
Liberty sighed and forced the food down her throat. All the stress and uneasiness made her appetite vanish. But not wanting to add more problems, she stayed quiet and swallowed her food down with sips of water. The mood shifted and her parents were back conversing with their children. Her father asked how school was going and Liberty answered, not failing to notice the disinterested expression on her mother's face. At least her father was trying, he didn't love her as much as he loved his sons, but it was still more than her mother ever did.
Everything was going well, it even surprised Liberty, but every good thing comes to an end, she should've know. Alec caught her eyes and grinned and it was all Liberty needed for the alarm bells to go off.
Out of nowhere, Alec's foot was back on her lap and out of reflex she pushed his limb away but of course, he wouldn't let her get off so easily. Alec lifted his foot up against the table with a hard kick. The table jerked, causing everything on it to tumble. Water and wine spilled all over the tablecloth, the plates jostled and the food ended up in the wrong places, even the candles fell over and a small fire ignited when it caught one of the napkins.
Alec jumped out of his chair when the content of his glass spilled over his shirt. "Oh, look what you did, Libby!"
Liberty's lips were parted, eyes wide and shocked. The little shit!
"Liberty, your room, now."
Liberty dared to throw her mother a pleading glance. She looked furious, the kind where she was calm, too calm. "But mom, I swear – "
Her mother's sharp voice caused her to wince a little. Liberty's eyes flickered to her father's and he nodded imperceptibly, silently telling her to just go. Trying to keep the tears at bay, she stood up and started to leave.
Alec's hand tugged at her skirt when she passed by him and Liberty lashed out. "Get off of me!"
"Liberty!" their mother barked. "Not another word, now go!"
Alec ducked his head, hiding his shit-eating grin as he scratched the back of his head. Liberty shook her head at him in disbelief. This was all his fault, he ruined this evening and yet she was the one receiving all the blame.
"I hate you," she whispered as she left.
"Right back at ya, sis," he chuckled.
Liberty had just showered when she stood in front of her mirror. She was brushing her long strawberry blonde hair, trying out a new type of braid but failed miserably before deciding to go with a simple French braid. She was just about finished when someone knocked on her door.
"Go away," she said.
"It's me, Aaron."
"Go away," she repeated, not in the mood to be around anyone.
"Libby," he sighed from behind the door, his head bumping against the wooden surface.
Letting out an aggravated sigh, she walked over to her door, intending to lock it when the doorknob suddenly turned. Aaron pushed her bedroom door open, ignoring her protests as he entered without her consent.
"Oh please, enter. Make yourself at home," she smiled sarcastically.
Aaron paid no mind to her comment and threw himself on her bed. Liberty rolled her eyes and decided two could play that game. She now decided to ignore him and continued her routine, getting ready for bed. She opened her dresser and took out her outfit for the next day, a pair of jean shorts and a simple t-shirt. She didn't really have plans since it wasn't a school day but Adam, their oldest brother who didn't live at home anymore, promised her to take her to the hairdressers and buy her a new bike since her old one got stolen. Liberty was pretty sure that Alec had something to do with it.
When she was done, she walked over to her bed where Aaron was still lying with his forearm over his eyes, his legged crossed at the ankles. Liberty nudged him but he didn't move an inch.
"Aaron," she started, "I'm trynna go to sleep here. Go away."
Instead, her brother rolled over to the other side of her bed, leaving enough space for her to get in. Liberty let out a breath before crawling in bed, she pulled at the duvet in an attempt to annoy him enough to leave but Aaron didn't budge.
Giving up, she patted her pillow and rested her head, forcing herself to sleep. But tonight's events were still too fresh in her mind, playing over and over. What has she ever done to deserve such an unloving mother? It wasn't like she chose to be born, it wasn't like she wanted to live with this family. Liberty couldn't remember ever hearing her mother say I love you, not to her at least. But then again, neither has she ever told her mother those three words.
Liberty wasn't the only one who 'disliked' her own mother, she could tell that Alec and Adam also felt the same. They never told her but they never proved otherwise either. No, the boys were all daddy's boys, their father was their hero. Liberty never understood, although if she had to be honest, Anthony could be the best father ever if he didn't let himself get influenced by his wife too much. Liberty loved the times she was alone with her father, he would smile at her, kiss the top of her head, tell her he loved her and pretty much do what every father does. But whenever their mother was present, he seemed to use his other face.
But that's how he was with her, his boys however, they worshipped the ground he walked on. Especially, the oldest, Adam. Adam couldn't wait to graduate and leave home. He was the only one their mother never could control. He never listened to her, never gave her any attention, never even talked to her deliberately. And lately, Alec was following in his big brother's footsteps.
Liberty couldn't understand where the hatred came from. Their mother treated her the worst and yet she still didn't hate her as much as her brothers did. There was something she was missing, something they weren't telling her because everyone could see that there was more to the story. Aaron wasn't a big fan of their mother either but at least he tried to tolerate her. No wonder their mother was the way she was, it was literally her against the rest of the family. Yet Liberty still didn't understand why she was baring most of the brunt when she never did or say anything to make her mother hate her.
Their family wasn't just dysfunctional, they were fucked up. Her father was almost never home, as if he led another life with another family. Her mother was hated by her own kids, but only expressed her anger to her daughter. The oldest son, Adam, was like a stranger, living his own life. Alec was sick in every sense of the word, the boy had some serious issues. Aaron didn't belong in this family with his big heart and dimples. And Liberty, she was the scapegoat, the unlucky one, the unwanted one, the unloved one.
She didn't realize tears were rolling down her cheeks, until a small sob rattled her body. Liberty quickly wiped at her wet cheeks, sniffing. In all her fourteen years, she always thought her life was just a nightmare and one day, one day she'll wake up and realize that everything was just a horrible dream. But every morning she'd wake up in the same bed she fell asleep in and she'd realize that she was still stuck in the nightmare.
The bed jostled a little when Aaron rolled closer to her, his body warm and firm against hers. He wrapped a strong arm around her middle, pulling her closer until he could tuck her head under his chin. His other hand stroked her head causing wet strands of hair to escape from her braid.
Liberty bit her lips when another sob left her throat. She fisted her top in her hand when she felt her heart ache. She couldn't keep bottling this up, after fourteen years, her heart might give away one day and just break.
"Shhh, it's okay, Libby," Aaron whispered against her hair. "It's okay."
Next morning, Liberty woke up with a sick stomach. Something felt wrong, incredibly wrong. The space next to her was empty and cold which meant that Aaron must've left to his own room once she fell asleep. Reaching for her phone on her nightstand, she found out that it was only five in the morning, way too early to wake up on a Saturday. This alone was another sign that something was terribly wrong.
Shoving the covers away with her feet, the air cold against her bare skin, Liberty decided to get up. She opened her door and walked down the hallway but stopped in front of her parent's bedroom door. She slowly opened it and found it empty like she had expected. As she watched the made up bed, a feeling of guilt washed over her. She hadn't gotten the chance to say goodbye to them last night. Liberty wished they wouldn't have left on bad terms, making her feel more guilty.
With a heavy heart, she closed the door and descended the stairs. The tiles felt cold against her bare feet, causing goosebumps all over her exposed skin. Entering the kitchen, she halted when she noticed someone sitting at the kitchen island.
Her oldest brother didn't bother to turn around and kept still.
Liberty walked around the kitchen to face him. "What are you doing here at five o'clock in the morning?"
Adam put his cigarette to his lips, taking a long drag before blowing the smoke in her face. "What does it look like I'm doing."
Liberty waved away the smoke. "Mom doesn't like you smoking in the house."
"Ellen isn't here now, is she?"
"What are you doing here?" she asked, moving to get herself a glass of water.
"I came to take you," he said as he took another drag from his cancer stick.
Liberty frowned. "Take me?"
"And Alec and Aaron."
"Where are you taking us?" she wondered out loud, her stomach churning again as she physically felt something was wrong.
Liberty sat down next to him, studying his face. His eyes were red. "Are you high? Drunk?"
Adam met her eyes dead on, his stare burning a hole into her face. "Go wake up the twins and pack your bags. We're leaving in an hour."
"And go where?" she asked again, her voice a little firmer.
"Home," he said again with no emotion.
"Adam, we are home." Liberty felt like talking to a two year old.
"Not anymore," he whispered.
"What the hell are you talking about?" she almost shouted, sick of his stupid games. "Aunt Lisa is going to stay with us for the next five months until mom and dad are back from their trip and –"
Adam cut her off when he grabbed her chin in his hand, his fingers squeezing painfully. "They're not coming back, Libby."
She jerked her face out of his hold, wincing when she could practically still feel his fingers on her jaw. "Of course they're coming back, I just told you – "
Adam shoved his ashtray to the flour, causing a dent on one of the kitchen cupboards and ash floating in the air. Liberty stared at her brother wide-eyed, he hadn't been drinking or taking drugs, he had been crying. Adam's eyes were red rimmed because he was crying. Liberty had never seen any of her brothers cry and she couldn't even think of a reason why Adam suddenly would.
"They're gone, Libby," he said in a strained voice. "Gone."
The sick feeling in her stomach suddenly made sense, she was going to throw up. Was this one of those nightmares again? When she was ten, Liberty once made a wish, wishing her parents would die. Is this her wish coming true? But that was years ago, and she had made millions of other wishes since then. She wished for a dog, a happy family, a nicer brother, a smile from her mother, a new laptop – why didn't one of those wishes come true?
"The plane crashed two hours ago," Adam said, already smoking another cigarette. "They never made it to New York."
Liberty couldn't say anything, couldn't think anything. Hell, she couldn't even feel anything. Where were the emotions? Where was the sadness, the grief and pain? Why did she feel so numb and apathetic, as if she's the one who had died.
She looked up at her brother, searching his eyes for answers. He picked up his hand and cupped her cheek, his thumb brushing the spot he almost bruised not too long ago.
"Things are gonna get better now, baby."