Authors: Vivian Lux
Watching, always watching. Watching myself, what I said, what I did. Always mindful of how I was coming across, ever vigilant. The more I observed, the more I understood, the more I could prevent myself from making the mistakes that caused hellfire to rain down on me. If I could just be careful enough, I could keep from getting in trouble.
And so I watched.
I watched my mother, gauging her moods. Would today be a good day, where she was the proud homemaker, mother of four—three strapping boys and one baby girl princess—wonderful children who she was raising right? Or would today be one of the black days, the evil ones, where we were all ungrateful? Would today be a day she snapped, screaming at the top of her lungs about how we were all out to get her, conspiring against her?
I never knew what mother I'd wake up to, so I learned to watch.
I watched my father as he watched my mother, bowing and scraping. Lighting her cigarettes and indulging her moods. The two of them seemed locked in a private dance that sometimes resembled a death match. It was the shifting sand that was my mother who came up with the arbitrary rules of our household: today we would be chastised into saying grace before meals, only to have it forgotten tomorrow; today we were donating all of our possessions to the church, but tomorrow we'd go to the mall and spend a fortune. But it was my immovable rock of a father—with his belt and fists for my brothers, and his locked rooms for me—that enforced them. I always left the room whenever he entered. It was a trick I used with Kevin when the rot in our relationship started to fester. I stayed out of sight, and I watched.
I watched the popular girls at Star of the Sea Academy, the way they swung their hair over their shoulders and rolled their eyes. I watched the way they touched each other, light finger brushes, almost casual. Nothing ever desperate. Nothing ever clinging. These girls didn't need, not like I did. My need for love was a bottomless pit that swallowed everything. It frightened me.
I spent my whole life watching, like my life was a movie. I took careful notes, cataloging them in my brain. How to be a woman. How to be a young person. How to be "normal." I watched, and I wrote down what I saw so I could remember it. Then I wrote down the scenarios where I might need the knowledge I gained by writing it down so I could rehearse and be ready to not make the same mistakes again.
And that's how I became a writer.
Today, I watched Zoe pack her belongings.
A Cheshire cat smile plays at the edges of the young woman's face like she knows a secret we're not privy to. She knows she will be okay with the certainty of youth and privilege.
"Scar, stop staring at me," she sighed.
I sat up at my desk. "Sorry."
She shook her head. "What were you thinking about this time?"
I swallowed. "Can I lie?"
"You can try. But you know it's useless with me."
"I know," I conceded. I didn't know how I found a friend like Zoe, and I no longer believed in a God to give thanks to. But I said a thank you to the universe for her anyway, then smiled at her. "Fine, you tell me what I was thinking if you know me so well."
"You're freaking out in some sort of guilt-ridden martyr complex over the fact that you finally put your own self-interest first." Zoe picked at her manicure and stared me down.
"You're freaky," I told her.
"You know I'm right." She tossed her hair, thick and unstraightened today, behind her head and dumped a canister of pens directly into her cardboard box where they rolled around loose. "That's exactly what you're doing."
"I'm more worried that he won't call me back," I fretted. "I left the message so late last night. It took me that long to work up the nerve."
"If half of the stories you've told me are true, he will."
"They're all true. But it was a long time ago. Five years now. Fuck, my life has changed so much since then, but his? He has the world at his feet now."
Zoe smiled and chucked me under the chin. "You were the literal girl next door, Scarlett. Guys don't get over them very easily."
I shook my head. "You don't get it. I don't
him to still want me. That would be a terrible thing to hope for."
Zoe plopped a ream of printer paper in her box. I raised my eyebrows at her. "What? I'm going out in a blaze of glory here," she protested. "Go grab me a box of the good pens."
I stood up and went to the filing cabinet. "Looks like they were cleaned out."
"Fuck. Now I wish I had flipped off Thad like I had planned. I lost my nerve and fucking
them for firing me."
I swallowed. Zoe had bombed her pitch. So had Jason and, if the rumor mill was right, so had Kevin. Of all the people I had started at
with, I was the only one who was still employed.
And all because I had sold out.
I took a huge, frantic gulp of air. "Zoe. I can't believe I have to do this."
She rushed over to me and clutched my hands in hers. "Scar, you only called him. You haven't even heard back yet. This may not happen, but if it does?
not the other way around. You don't have to say anything about yourself."
I shook my head. "He'll want to know. He'll want an explanation."
She stood up. "So rehearse it. What's your story?"
I closed my eyes.
She's a teenager, has barely seen the world. She knows there's a world outside of her street in suburban Buffalo, but it may as well be a dream. She walks on eggshells in a fragile, unhappy home, a bird fluttering in a cage.
Then a boy comes and bursts that cage wide open, and she falls for him. She loves him with every part of her, but that love is sick and desperate and clinging. She knows she loves not only him but the relief he gives her from the stranglehold of her cage. Loving him gives her the courage to fly free...
But that freedom comes with a terrible price, and in her grief, she flees, both from her cage...and from him...
I opened my eyes and shook my head. "There's no way I'm not the bad guy here."
"So, um, maybe say you're sorry? Are you sorry?"
I bit my lip. There was a part of the story I never told Zoe. She only knew the first part, how my mother had seen the ring on my finger because I was too stupidly blinded by happiness to realize the danger. How she lunged for the phone, ready to call the police on Keir for "corrupting her underage daughter." How my father talked her out of it, only to promise to "take care of it himself." How my mother smiled so adoringly at him when he went to the safe for his gun.
That's where I stopped. With me trying to give the ring back out of fear they'd kill him. I never told her the next part of the story.
That was the part I didn't even tell myself.
If I didn't acknowledge it, I could pretend it never happened.
I bit my lip. "Am I sorry for how things ended between us? Yes. No. I don't know."
Zoe shook her head. "Maybe he won't call back."
"Then I'm out of a job."
"Which is the worse option? Losing your job or talking to Keir Wilder after you walked out on him five years ago?"
I looked at her sharply. "Don't hold back now."
She shrugged. "Well? Which is worse?"
"I thought it was losing my job. But now I'm not so sure."
"Well, maybe he won't call you back and your decision can be made for you. And you can move in with me and we'll send out our resumes together. That doesn't sound so bad, does it?"
I shook my head. It really didn't. Not the way she meant it, anyway.
But she wasn't thinking.
Kevin knew where she lived. He'd find me. He'd find her.
Zoe didn't know that he would hurt me. And when I finally left him, I didn't tell her about the shove, how he'd thrown me to the floor. Only about the argument. I told her I was done with him, and she rolled her eyes and said, "Thank God," and we left it at that. She thought Kevin was loser, far too controlling for sure, but nothing dangerous.
No one knew he was dangerous, not even me. Not until I finally opened my eyes and saw him for what he was. But by then three years had gone by.
I never seemed to be able to get out of harm's way until it was too late.
When I fled my parents' house that horrible, blurry day, it felt like I’d left my identity behind. I was a scared, sheltered good girl, broken-hearted and broken spirited. Leaving Kevin, as much strength as it took, left me feeling much the same way.
But calling Keir? That made me feel...oddly hopeful.
"No, it doesn't sound bad," I said slowly. "But I don't think it'll come to that." I looked up at Zoe as she unwound her lumbar support and dropped it in her box of stolen office supplies. "Because I'm pretty sure he'll call."
"You are? Why?"
I swallowed. "This is going to make me sound so full of myself."
"Honey, I wish you were full of yourself. Your self could use some filling. Spill it."
"Because...because I asked him to." And out of nowhere, I felt myself smiling.
My brother set my phone down. I waited for him to curse, cuff me on the back of the head, knock some sense into me.
"She sounds the same," he finally said.
"She does." I wasn't sure why this made me so damn happy. Scarlett would be almost twenty-four now; there was no reason she should still sound like an eighteen-year-old.
But she didn't sound eighteen at eighteen years old, either. She was two years younger than me, but I was the one who acted like a kid. Especially when I was around her. She had this effect on me where I would eagerly show her all the cards I normally kept close to my chest. Scarlett opened me up, to the point where I would happily babble on for hours at a time, telling her all of my rock 'n' roll dreams and exactly how I was going to make them come true.
Scarlett Sawyer never babbled about stupid shit. She always chose her words carefully, watching the reaction of those around her as she spoke them in her sexy, throaty growl. I used to love listening to her talk.
I pressed the play button again.
Rane snatched the phone out of my hand. "Stop."
"Hey, fuck you."
"You're not seriously considering meeting her, are you?"
"And if I am?"
"You were literally just needling me about chicks."
"Scarlett's not a chick, asshole."
"Really? That's news to me. Might be news to her, too."
Rane rolled his eyes. "No, she's a cold-hearted bitch who took your heart and stomped on it. Or did you forget?"
I didn't forget. I hadn't forgotten a thing. I could still remember that day, three weeks before we were supposed to run away together. She had come up to me with the ring in her hand and shoved it into my palm. She looked wild and desperate and kept glancing behind her like she was being chased, like someone was prodding her.
Knowing Scarlett's parents, she probably was.
"You don't have to do this," I told her back then, reaching for her hand, trying to manhandle the ring back where it belonged.
But she had snatched her hand away. "I have to," she repeated, over and over again, her deep, rich voice catching in her throat, garbled with tears. "My father said he'd..." She swallowed, caught herself. "I have to."
I didn't believe her. I made her take the ring back, murmured soothing nonsense and dismissed it all as cold feet. We were leaving together as far as I was concerned. I was taking her on our first tour, down to New York City on the trip that would make our name.
I never once believed she wouldn't be waiting for me when I came for her. I never once considered she would leave me.
"I didn't forget. You know that better than anyone. But, Christ, it was so long ago. We were kids," I reminded Rane.
He glared at me. Anyone else might have been fooled by my light tone. But not my brother.
"Bullshit," he snarled.
bullshit. Kids or no, I loved Scarlett Sawyer. Had loved her. Did love her.
"Fuck off, Rane," I snarled, shoulder checking him as I stalked past. "I don't need a mom."
"What you need to do is fucking let go!" he shouted after me. But I was already heading out into the lot, bypassing the little knots of fans who were hanging by the stage door.
Of course that was Rane's solution. It had been since we were kids. He was nine when our mom left. I was eight. And though we both lost the same person, our ways of dealing were very different.
Ramona Halligan Wilder was a hippie born too late to really matter. So instead of peace, love and understanding, she embraced pot, laziness, and dissatisfaction with what she called "society."
The way she said "society," you could almost hear the air quotes.
What Mom liked about our dad was that he was outside of
society. Her parents, our grandparents, were old money rich. Big echoey houses filled with the yaps of small, nervous dogs rich.
I only went to my grandparents' house a few times as a child, and each time, I felt distinctly unwelcome.
When my mother split, she left behind a lot of the shit my grandparents gave her. Fancy plates and things with ornate handles. One morning, as I pulled the wreckage of one of those fancy handled spoons from the garbage disposal, I held it up for my dad to see. "Hey, isn't this shit valuable?" I asked him.
My father had his feet up in a rare moment of repose, and when he looked over his paper at me, I felt bad for disturbing his one moment of peace with this memory. "Yeah, probably," he grunted. "But not to me, it's not."
I didn't know if our mom ever granted my dad the divorce. That would be just like her, of course. Forgetting about something and moving on like it had never happened. She left like it was the easiest thing in the world—one day she was there, the next day she was gone. And my dad was too damn tired to try to look for her. Maybe she thought he would chase her, maybe she thought he would fight to keep her at his side, but whatever love my father had for Ramona Wilder was crushed by the exhaustion of being with her.
Part of me hated him for that. It was a part of myself that I hated, because hating my father, even just a little bit, was a huge betrayal I could barely abide. But I hated him just the same for not going after her. For not at least trying to salvage their marriage and bring my mom back home again.
For not fixing it.
If there was one thing my mother leaving taught me, it was that you needed to fight for what mattered. If there was one thing my mother taught Rane, it was to let go of what didn't matter. It seemed odd to me that my brother and I could grow up side-by-side but end up with two completely different worldviews.
, I thought. Maybe I c
let go of Scarlett.
But first, I needed to see her again. Ask her why she wasn't there, why she never fucking called until just now, when she needed something. Demand the closure she fucking owed me for the past five years.
Maybe this was just what I needed to finally let go. Maybe it was a terrible idea.
I couldn't tell the difference.
I pulled out my phone.