In this chapter, we follow Leslie’s mother, Sophie, as she returns to her hotel room with Nicolas on that very same Saturday night.
Sophie dropped her phone on the bed and stared at it. She was thinking about the words her brain had just absorbed from its bright screen; digesting them. She bent down and reached for the red laces wrapped around her toned calves to undo the knots. Doing this always left her feeling dirty; the kind of shame that you have to scrub off for hours in the shower. Digging through her daughter’s blog and social medias weren’t her proudest moments, but that was just the way things were ever since Leslie’s…
She couldn’t bring herself to speak the word, let alone think it. A tragedy, was the word she’d rather use. They used to be so close, so bright together. But ever since the tragedy struck their family, she looked at her daughter differently. Leslie felt different, she was different. She had always been different but Sophie could now see all that was wrong about her. She used to only see her as her baby girl but the tragedy had opened her eyes and she could barely cover it up anymore.
Leslie’s stay at the rehab center had cleansed her and Sophie thought she could have had her baby girl back. But it was only temporary. A year for a year; now she was falling apart again. Something in her was broken and it would always keep breaking as long as she lived and no amount of cleansing would suffice. Leslie was broken and nothing was the same. They weren’t friends anymore, they weren’t the same as they used to be, much as they tried to pretend. Something had died in Leslie and with it went their bond.
Sophie still had hope, hope that somehow everything would fall back into place. And that was truly why she dug through her daughter’s online bubbles, not only to see if she was breaking down again but seeking signs of her getting better. She had hope that Leslie could go back to being who she was, her friend. She kept looking for progress, for sparks in all the darkness that oozed from her daughter’s mind. She desperately sought proof, clues, hints, that Leslie could be normal again, in one piece inside, and that they could be friends again. Sophie still had faith that things could be okay, even when all she could find was darkness and helplessly witness what was left of her daughter fading away.
They used to be so close, now all that remained was the ghost of a sunken friendship. She more than often rummaged through her daughter’s blog, looking at old photos, listening to old songs with that aching in her heart. She missed her. She missed that special “us” that they used to be. She missed seeing Leslie happy and lively.
It pained her to see her daughter like this. It’s all your fault. She knew that Leslie was trying hard to keep her head above water and swim back to the shore. And it was comforting to know that she still could fight for herself. All Sophie wanted was for her to talk again so she could try to do something, anything, about it. But there wasn’t any communication anymore. Just stalking. And fake happy interactions. Leslie had become victim of her own game of faking happiness till it would somehow fix her; she couldn’t stop anymore and it didn’t seem she wanted to anyway.
Sophie hated it. A part of her was scared that this comedy would turn her husband and herself as numb as their daughter and break them also. She hated it, yet she played along for it seemed to be the only way to keep it together — whatever it had become. And so did Nicolas. For the sake of their family.
They lived in a warm little world of pretense where happiness was past tense. She had to pretend she didn’t see her daughter’s smile fade out when she looked away. And pretend she didn’t hear Leslie cry in her sleep. And pretend she didn’t notice the life slowly leaving her each day. She had to pretend that there were no cracks on the home she made, no blood on the bed she made and no stains on the souls she birthed. Every morning she’d rise and put on a face for the sake of all she loved. And then, she’d spend the day raising them up when they were all truly falling apart inside with her smile and the love she believed she owed them. And when the light would leave her daughter’s eyes, she had to pretend she hadn’t stopped caring inside and fill the silence with kindnesses. Her smiles were the weakest disguise but all she had to mask the fear and pain — and guilt — eating away at her insides.
Sophie let her legs fall back down and sighed. Her hands mechanically moved to her earrings, taking them off carefully and then to her neck, stripping her down of all the jewelry she wore that day. And with every item she’d take off, she felt lighter and lighter. But her thoughts made sure her feet never left the ground, anchoring her sore body to the hotel bed.
She was on the outside looking in, incapable of stopping her daughter from breaking nor able to bandage the cracks that she could clearly see on the surface. The ugly cracks were all she could see sometimes, no matter how much Leslie tried to cover them up. And she could do nothing about them. She felt useless and like a terrible mother. She had failed at protecting her baby girl and she couldn’t even help her getting better — Leslie wouldn’t let her anyway.
Leslie only wanted to hide, swallow it all down, cover it up, pretend it wasn’t real, probably thinking that it would eventually disappear if she ignored it hard enough. She didn’t dare share anything with them anymore and her virtual voices were all that was left for Sophie and Nicolas to have an idea of how she truly felt. They were the only lines left to read between and over-analyze. It was sad and it felt weird but it was all they had, the only real connection they could afford. All they could do was hope for brighter days and stand by her through the storm that was engulfing them all.
She reached for the zipper hanging between her shoulder blades and pulled it down. Her mind was still full of that poem.
“Honey, are you coming?”, Nicolas called from the bathroom. Suddenly, Sophie’s face lit up again and she stepped away from the downward spiral her thoughts had her sliding on. She rubbed her hands on her face, only to find out that she had been crying. She took a quick look at her palms and felt her heart sinking in her chest. She closed her eyes. With the tip of her fingers, she gently patted the fallen tears on her cheeks, massaging it into her skin like some miracle oil. And with these tiny circular motions, she felt the tension leave her jaws and her throat. She took deep breaths and her heart fell back into place.
This was something she learnt as a kid. And, just like the way she laced up her shoes, how she brushed her hair, where she would place her fingers on a cup when she drank… And, just like all the little things that she did, this was part of who she was. Her mother once explained to her that crying wasn’t something to be ashamed of, it didn’t make her weak nor a fool. It was very natural and nothing to be afraid of. It cleansed the heart, the mind but also the skin. “The pain makes you stronger, sweetheart, and the tears make you prettier. So cry on.” And so she decided to never let one drop go to waste.
She grew up and none of these little things ever changed because they were engraved in her very core, she wasn’t even aware of most of them. These little things couldn’t be helped and they needn’t be changed. They were her; vital and inherent lines on her soul, like Braille for God to recognize her in this sea of sins.
“Yeah, sure!” She got up and let the blood-red piece of satin cascade down her curves and onto the floor. She went on, undoing her hair on her way to the bathroom. What did Nicolas think of it all? Of her? She joined her husband in the shower. Nicolas smiled at her. She turned her back to him and faced the wall. How could he still love her? She had broken their daughter…
The shower was long and silent.
Sophie was being devoured from within by her thoughts and she couldn’t hide it. She had never been good at hiding anything. And, Nicolas, he read her like an open book anyway. Sometimes he could see what even she couldn’t, those unconscious aches, those invisible pains, those merciless ghosts… She needed him to talk to her so she could get away from these thoughts, and she knew he wanted to. But they remained silent for a while.
Her skin was a trampoline. The drops of water bounced by threes and fours and thousands at once… She never wanted to be a mom. The drops knew exactly where to hit. Some cold, some warm, some soft, some cruel; but always in the right spots.
She felt her husband’s fingers as they made their way from her neck to her scalp. She wanted him. Torture and pleasure at the right temperature. Nothing like a scalp massage to get rid of those grimy thoughts. It was all up to him now to save her from them. She always wanted him; just him.
It was all in his hands, she thought. His beautiful hands with these long talented fingers. She let out a sigh, and he just kept playing in her hair. Nicolas used to play the piano. And he played beautifully too. His notes could make her smile or cry, they could make her feel so lightweight or so dark… He was so powerful sitting on that old piano bench.
The house used to be filled with his joyful yet haunting melodies. Leslie used to sing with him. And Sophie used to watch them, film them; she used to smile when she’d look at them. Used to. Then, from the up above sky fell this tragedy, and it struck their daughter, broke her and shattered their home in the meantime. What a merciless, dark storm. And it never ends.
Since then, the piano just sat there and gathered dust, just like their relationship. But she never bothered to dust it off at all, they had accepted it, like a second layer of skin.
Just as everything was getting blurry and her thoughts were ready to cut the last tie she had with reality, Nicolas spoke. “So…” His voice could bring her back from the dead, she thought. “Did you enjoy the salad?” Sophie frowned at the unexpected question. She smiled. “It… It was okay. But you know I live for the ice cream, right?” Just him.
“Yeah, I know…”, he said. His raspy voice was the one thing she truly adored about long, weary days. She turned around and looked up into his eyes. And she smiled. She loved him. Intensely. So much. Too much? It was at this moment that she realized, or maybe, simply remembered, why she had dared leaving her fragile daughter behind so easily. She loved him and she missed him. They needed a break from the constant misery and darkness ruling over their house. They needed to stop pretending to be fine and lively for a moment, and actually be it. They needed each other. Not Leslie. But how could she stop thinking about her daughter? It was truly all she needed but how could she forget about the broken soul that she had made?
Sophie laid a hand on Nicolas’ chest, to feel the warm beats of the heart contained in it. They locked eyes. I’m all yours. She wanted to give him all she had, every part of her, like she used to, but Leslie had stolen some of these parts. She wanted them back. She wished to be all his again and have the walls of her mind painted with only his name, his face, his voice. No more broken children. These thoughts, filthy thoughts; she knew that she would be punished for them one day or the other. How could she think of her children in that way? She felt dirty and guilty. Oh, Lord, what have I become?
She let herself sink deep in his green eyes. And then she didn’t care anymore. She loved him. And that was bigger than everything else. Her children were bound to leave her one day and their love for her would fade; not his. He’d be with her forever and their love would always burn. And deeper she sunk into his beautiful emerald eyes. All she could see, all she could feel was him and that was how she wanted life to be. Him. Us. She thought that maybe, if she went deep enough into his eyes, if she lost herself in them, she could remain there and their souls could become one again. And further in them she sunk… And then she wouldn’t have to worry about… And deeper she went…
“I’m gonna order pizza.” Nicolas burst her twisted bubble and back to reality she was. With his right hand, he softly lifted her chin and looked her in the eyes. She felt her cheeks turning red; all that staring…
“You’re weird.”, he said.
“Oh, shut up you.”, she said and poked his arm.
“Extra cheese?” Sophie nodded. “Alrighty! See you on the other side woman!” And out he went.
Sophie collapsed onto the bed with a grunt. She stared at the ceiling. It was pretty clear that her mind wouldn’t rest tonight. She was still think–
“Still thinking about the blog post?” The mattress bounced as Nicolas dropped his tired ass next to her limp body. Damn. What a bad habit he had to always cut her off! And now even her thoughts! “Huh?”, he asked again.
She sighed. “Aren’t you, Nicolas? Even a little? She’s on her own and you know she isn’t as fine as she says she is… I’m sorry if I’m a little too obsessed with this post but she’s just…” The rest of her words retreated to the back of her throat and she swallowed them. Sick and broken; and we made her that way. She took a deep breath and heard Nicolas do the same. She sat up.
“She doesn’t talk to us anymore Nicolas… I have to go and look for hints, lies, anything I can find on her blog so I can figure out what she’s thinking, what is happening. That’s the only voice she seems to have left. I’m worried. What if something’s wrong and she’s not telling? She’s so fragile… I’m afraid she’d–” Her throat crushed her words and she gasped for air as the sobs took over.
Nicolas scooted over to her and wrapped one arm around her waist. Did he feel this guilt also? He planted a kiss on her forehead. “Shh”, he whispered and rested his chin on the top of her head. “Of course I am worried, honey. But you can’t let it eat you up like that, not today. I don’t want you losing your mind. I can’t lose you like that, okay?” She closed her eyes. I’m afraid she’d hurt Mitch.
Suddenly, a bell sound followed by three vibrations shattered the heavy silence. It was Sophie’s phone. She crawled to the other side of the bed to grab her phone on the nightstand. As soon as she had it in hands, she felt Nicolas’ breath on her back and in no time, he had taken the phone from her. They both silently sat on the bed. Sophie, paralyzed, waited for his reaction. She watched his fingers swipe up and down and when his eyes met hers, she buried her face in her hands. But he didn’t say anything.
She bit her lip and looked at him but before she could even begin to form an apology, he spoke. “I can’t –” He took a deep breath. “I can’t believe you have the notifications turned on for everything she does… I mean, you follow her on all her social medias, Sophie? All of them… This isn’t good, I hope you realize it.” Sophie was now sobbing as silently as she could. She thought he’d be angry at her but his voice proved her wrong. He took her in his arms once more and rubbed her back. “Shh, darling. It’s okay.”
Sophie felt him wrap his arms and legs around her, just like she would Leslie when she was still five and warm inside. She felt protected and at home in his embrace, hearing this familiar heartbeat and his warm breath caressing the top of her head. “I’m sorry…”, she whispered. “She’s just so…” Sick and broken. And we made her that way.
“Shh.” Nicolas planted a kiss on her forehead. “I didn’t mean to make you cry, darling. I’m worried too.” Sophie broke out of his embrace. Did he feel this guilt also? She examined his eyes. A vulnerability that she hated filled her voice as she asked, “Are you?”
“Of course I am, Sophie! She’s my daughter too, you know. And I care about her, I do. But I don’t think that this is a good idea… She needs her space.” He kept looking straight into her eyes as he spoke; it was captivating and she could fill chills run down her spine when he insisted on certain words. “And this… All the stalking and the games–” He paused, put her phone in her hands and looked at her one more time. “This is going to drive you crazy. I love you. Turn them off.” He got up and walked to the window.
Sophie’s hands remained open as the phone laid in her palms. She looked at it. “But, Leslie, Nicolas. She’s so fragile! She doesn’t talk to us anymore…” She looked at him but all she got was his back. She heard the despair in her own voice and a sour river came up her throat. “I need to know when she posts something, anything, so I can figure out what’s she thinking, what’s happening. She’s so…” Unstable. She couldn’t hold back the grimace; it disfigured her mouth and she was thankful Nicolas could not see her. “I’m afraid she’d–” Hurt Mitch!
“Leslie will be fine.” He slammed his fist against the wall. “Maybe she just had a nightmare. She likes to exaggerate. You know how it is, drama runs in the family.”
“I guess so.” Sophie did not know what to do; she had made him cold. Good job, nut-job She turned away and once again, massaged the tears into her skin. He was probably right. It was driving her crazy. Always expecting, always checking just in case she hadn’t heard it ring, always wondering how she was; those new phones were evil machines. It took away all her attention, energy and common sense. She unlocked her phone and, not without a pinch in her heart, she turned off every notification she had on. All except one; the e-mail alerts for Leslie’s blog, she couldn’t afford to miss one of these.
There was a knock on the door. And then, the smell of melted cheese and tomato sauce getting closer and closer and… Sophie breathed it in.
“Pizza!” Nicolas laid the box on the bed and slid one arm around her waist. “You’re beautiful, Sophie. Now, let’s eat our worries away.” He kissed her forehead and smiled. She looked at the pizza, then back at him and nodded.
“This pizza is going down tonight!”
“That’s the spirit, hun!”
They cuddled up against the pillows. She dragged the pizza box between her legs, when it occurred to her. “Are we going to watch something?” She looked at his face only to find no reaction at all. “We can’t have pizza and not watch anything, Nick! That’s just nonsense. Give me your tablet.”
Nicolas obeyed without a word and in no time, Sophie found a gem. It was a folder with Leslie’s name and a ❤. “Is that a heart?”, she chuckled. She pushed him playfully. “You, dork!” And down memory lane they went.
The first clip they watched was of Leslie and her band rehearsing, which he had obviously downloaded from her blog. It made Sophie smile to think of him stealing his daughter’s videos. That was a year before she took a break from the world in the rehabilitation home. Simpler times. In spite of all the darkness held in her words and bleeding through her pores in the video, it felt really good to hear her voice again. Sophie always wandered if the rehab had actually been of any help. We broke her.
By the time they reached the second clip, the pizza was already gone. And so they watched in silence. Leslie stood in the garden and her dress danced with the wind. She held in her right hand a long fluffy brush, its hairs covered in yellow paint. Her painting was barely started, therefore Sophie could not make out what it was just yet. But when Leslie turned around, both Nicolas and Sophie exploded in laughter at the sight of her. She had a big red stain of paint on her nose. Sophie could hear their laugh in the video as well and she felt a thousand stabs in her chest.
Sophie’s head started falling off to the left as she slowly drifted into sleep. She knew Nicolas was also. But they had both secretly agreed, it seemed, to keep the videos rolling no matter what happened. And so they kept on watching, and drifting into sleep, only capturing segments of the videos each time their heavy lids would open up again.
Sophie looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. It showed 9:48PM.
She felt sick all of the sudden and ran to the bathroom where she began emptying her bowels in the toilets. She was in pain; much more pain than she had ever experienced. The kind of physical pain that is so strong it renders the mind weak and leaves you helpless. It went on for a good minute. It stopped. Sophie dropped to her knees and couldn’t help but to peer into the bowl, curiosity dictating her every move. It was too dark to see anything. Thank God, she thought.
On all fours, she went to the door and, using the sink as a crutch, she managed to get herself up on her shaky legs. She reached for the light switch, but gravity wasn’t on her side. Her arm, like a dead tree branch, slid on the switch and onto to the floor, dragging her body in the fall. Dead weight. She stared at the toilets with a pounding in her head.
She crawled back to it. And, with a lot of apprehension, she looked inside the bowl. The sight of it made her sick; again. It was filled with black goo, heaving like a mass of beetles and worms. A lively, sickening mass of dark goo. Where did this come from? Did it really come out of her? What the hell… The pounding in her head was stronger.
Sophie tried calling out her husband’s name but nothing happened. She tried to scream, speak and even force a whisper. Nothing. It was as if her vocal folds had been removed. She had no strength left. And in a desperate surrender to gravity, she let her body hit the floor once more.
A sudden ache dragged her out of her dizziness. Her stomach was burning, like she hadn’t eaten in days. She felt it shrink and twist itself inside, tying knots then stretching like a marathon runner. And oh God, did it hurt.
Panic seized her mind and body when Sophie saw the skin of her belly moving as if it was home to a thousands bugs. Sophie was paralyzed; she was the perfect prey. She was choking on tears but fear was holding her hands, rubbing her back. Pain gleefully tightened its grip on her neck, squeezing the despair out of her until it would fill the room.
Nicolas didn’t seem to hear her. He didn’t seem to care. He wasn’t there. She needed him; he wasn’t there. He didn’t love her anymore. She was a bad wife. He had abandoned her. He hated her. She was a bad mom.
The negative thoughts sunk in by the dozen and surrender took over. Sophie leaned her head against the wall and stared . Her stomach kept moving. She gasped when she saw what appeared to be a baby’s hand pushing through her skin. She wasn’t even terrified; she couldn’t be. All she could do was pray to God for an ending, no matter what that meant. But God had forsaken her; as she had Him. No one cares about you, Sophie, not anymore.
You brought this on yourself. They all left without you. Nobody loves you. Your life deserved a better actor. You are no better than your mom. You are the spitting image of your father. A piece of shit. Every time you had the chance to end it all, you didn’t. Every chance you had to free your husband and daughter from the prison of your worthless love… Remember that racing truck? Remember that bridge? Remember that knife? Those pills? You didn’t. You rather held on to that pathetic excuse of a life that you’ve created, this make-believe happy family. None of it is real. It’s fake, Sophie. All of it is fucking fake. Do you hear that? It’s just a dull piece of cardboard that you carry around to pretend you’re not alone. But you are alone, Sophie. You are. And you’ll always be. And you’ll die alone. And nobody will care. Because you are just a pathetic, useless, worthless, disgusting piece of sh–
The venom emanating from her own mouth stopped leaking as a loud “Pop!” resonated in the bathroom.
She looked around to find the source of the explosion but all she could see were brownish red stains splashed on the walls and furniture. All she could see were small pieces of flesh scattered on the floor, surrounding her like an evil jigsaw. Except that no one would wake up early in the morning yearning to assemble them. These puzzle pieces would go to waste. No one would ever pick them up and they would rot in here. Just like her… Wait– It was her. She was the flesh jigsaw and the stains on the wall and the sickening smell of rotting meat. She looked down at her stomach only to find a gaping hole where once coexisted silky smooth skin and stretch marks.
Sophie was so consumed by the grief of her beautiful skin that she almost didn’t notice the crowd of creatures creeping out of her open wound. Thousands of beetles and worms were coming out of her at once. The same gooey thing that she saw in the toilet, cascading down her crater of a belly. An army of disgusting endlessly crawling out of her.
She sat there and watched all sorts of tiny beasts leaving her, like every other thing she ever knew or loved. And Sophie found herself wishing for the creatures to come back to her, come back inside. But you are dead inside, Sophie. There’s no use for going back in. Those little bugs know better. You made them miserable. Like you did everyone, including yourself.
They seemed to all be gone. Roaming around the bathroom, climbing the sink, the walls, wandering about this newfound land. And as for Sophie, she remained on the floor; motionless inside with stained-glass eyes. The emptiness was realer than ever.
A latecomer clumsily climbed out of the blackened crater that was once home to Leslie. And Mitch. Sophie raised her eyebrows as she looked at it and, unlike its thousands of comrades, it came to her. She felt a faint happiness fill up her eyes. It climbed up her arm and into her ear. What the hell! She got on her knees and shook her head. She tried to reach it with her fingers somehow; get it out! But she couldn’t. She could feel it roaming inside her head and…
She dropped to her hands and her tears went splashing onto the floor like a big floppy waterfall. With her hair like a pendulum sweeping off the floor, she stared at the dangling bits of flesh still attached to her body. There was still something inside. She could feel it moving. Uncomfortable. What a weak word, but it described it best. It was like having a piece of food stuck in your back teeth. Painful and uncomfortable. And no matter how hard you tried, it was impossible to get it out with your tongue. And so she reached into the warmth depths of her body.
Her hand touched something. She grabbed it tight and pulled. The pain caught her off-guard; she took a deep breath then pulled again. Harder. Harder! The little fucker was really stuck in there, wasn’t it. She couldn’t care less about the pain. She was a woman after all and she had seen days of blood and pain, and Sophie wasn’t a stranger to pushing through hell just to get to the end of it.
She kept pulling until she finally saw it. She could see her wrist again, covered in goo. Slowly, she pulled out her hand. It was a leg. A baby leg; black and scaly. With that sick feeling dripping down her throat, she kept pulling until a whole baby came out. It hit the floor and instinctively curled up in a fetal position, almost like a millipede would wind its body as soon as you even as much as blow on it.
She couldn’t think anymore. The thing was breathing. She could see its tiny abdomen being lifted by the air it fed on; the same as hers. A morbid curiosity was devouring her, only encouraged, emphasized by her motherly heart. She gave birth to it; it was calling her. She simply gave into it. At this point, nothing seemed crazy anymore. And so she moved in closer to take a good look at it. She had just pulled a sooty dragon out of a crater in her belly from which a thousand beetles had escaped and she was still breathing and feeling pain. How much worse could it get?
She allowed her hand to get close to the thing, close enough to touch it; feel it. But she didn’t. It opened its eyes. White eyes, contrasting with its sooty body. They were blank. She froze. And the thing stood up, its body unwinding as it rose and growing much taller than the doll-sized creature she pulled out of her only seconds ago. It opened its mouth and let out a deep growl. It ran to–
“Sophie!” She heard Nicolas call. “Sophie?! Look at me, come on!”
She opened her eyes and met his, reddened by panic. “Oh, good God! You scared me so bad! Come here, love.” He took her in his arms and she hugged him back. She could hear his heart beating fast, oh so fast, in his chest. She pressed her ear harder so she could enjoy the sound of sheer panic punching through his ribcage. His warmth, his love… “Quite a nightmare you had, huh!”
“Yeah, I…” Sophie wiped her eyes and looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. It showed 9:48PM. She almost choked on her own tongue. She nervously stared at the wide open bathroom door. “It was… It was so bad, Nicolas. It was so bad. I–” Her phone meowed and for a brief moment, her heart stopped. Nicolas had a face painted in concern and confusion. Sophie’s fears were leaking and flooding the room. She tried to collect herself and took three quick breaths.
“It’s a notification…”, she looked down as she spoke, ashamed of her own stubborn heart. “For Leslie’s blog.”
“Sophie, you were supposed to turn them off.” His voice so calm.
“I know, I’m sorry. But I had to keep that one on. Just that one, you know…” She looked at him, in search of a something that could mean anything.
“Why did it meow this time though?” He smiled. He didn’t hate her.
“I… I didn’t want to leave my phone on silent in case she’d call when we were sleeping. And I like the meow, don’t you?” He winked at her.
That didn’t feel alright, but sharing her concern about the strange notification seemed useless. The nightmare had drained her. And this… It felt so weird, so… wrong? A bad feeling that something was going to happen– no; that something was happening. Or…
Nicolas was staring at her. She shook the thoughts away and just looked at him and smiled. She didn’t know what to say anymore. Talking about the nightmare was impossible. She just hoped that he would break the silence and save her because she couldn’t stand it. And so he did. “Hey, hun, how about a shower? You’re covered in sweat and you seem a little off. I know what nightmares do to you. We could relax together.” She shrugged. Going inside that bathroom right now didn’t sound like a good idea. But Nicolas would be with her this time. Always.
She took his hand in hers. She wanted to make sure he was here and that he would stay… She needed him and even more so right now. Deep into his eyes she stared and said, “Can we go out?”. She couldn’t help a smile when she saw the sparks light up in his beautiful green eyes.
“Screw sleep.”, whispered Nicolas.
They sat on a bench near the brightly lit fountain on the town’s square. Sophie needed all this light. It was peaceful. The fresh breeze of the night, the stars, the sound of the water falling and the few cars still driving around. And Nicolas, so silent and comforting. She laid her head on his shoulders and he tightened his grip around her.
He took his phone out of his pocket and snapped a picture of the two of them. And then another one. And another one. And a whole other bunch. Until Sophie pushed his phone away. “Stop making these silly faces, you dork!”
“Okay mom.”, he said with a disappointed voice before snapping one last one. Sophie sighed and he chuckled.
“You…”, she muttered under her breath. He laid a kiss on the top of her head and they went back to their peacefulness. She closed her eyes. This is paradise.
“We can go back tomorrow morning if you want to. I don’t like seeing you sick like that. We’ve had a good time, we can go back if you need it. Hell, I’d drive you now if you’d ask it!” With her eyes kept closed, she tried to reach his mouth with her hand to shush him. “Nah”, she moaned. “I wanna stay with you. We’ll go in the afternoon. Now shut up and chill.” She sloppily patted him on the cheek, then returned to her comfortable position which would eventually cause the numbing of his arm. She didn’t want to leave anymore. Not ever.
Nicolas was the love of her life. Was she supposed to love her husband more than her children? She didn’t think so. The movies had shown her differently. But this natural unconditional motherly love and those instincts, she didn’t seem to have it. She loved her babies. She loved Leslie. And she loved Mitch also. But Nicolas was the one and she would give anything to keep him alive, keep him warm and silly. They could always have another baby. However, where on Earth could she possibly find another soul like his to walk through this life with. She would follow him into the Reaper’s arms if he were to die before her.
God forgive me. These thoughts only emphasized how bad a mother she thought she was. But she simply could not love anyone more. Besides, her children would leave eventually and go build their own lives but Nicolas, he would stay with her. Forever. And they had sworn before God to do so. They were bound, forever. She loved him. And her unhealthy love had birthed a curse that was dipping their precious light in darkness.
She knew how she was supposed to feel. She was supposed to love her kids, love them to death and back. No one ever taught her how to be a parent — her mom surely did not — all she knew, she had learned on her own, by watching others or just from some form of stupid deduction. She’d had seen it on tv, read it in books; just as if it was a fairytale. But the rules were simple, a mother loves her kids and puts them first. Maybe she was romanticizing it, but it just seemed so real to her, so close to the truth. A mom was supposed to love and care, be tough but remain soft and selfless.
She knew how she was supposed to feel but how could she? This love seemed like such an obligation, a duty… A chore? When she’d stop and look around sometimes, it’d seem forced. Almost as if everyone was pretending to love each other simply because it was the right thing to do, it was their role to play; the rules to follow. Perhaps it wasn’t even love at all to begin with, but a simpler feeling and we called it that to reassure ourselves. Maybe all parents cared because they had brought those smaller humans to life and it would be a great shame to throw all of their hard work away. Or maybe they cared just because they saw themselves in these tiny creatures and, it was a purely selfish love motivated by the fear of mortality. Nobody wants to die and parenthood looked like the perfect plan to live on after your body withers and dissolves into the earth.
She cared for her kids; she took care of them and tried to carry them through life when she could. She thought that, maybe she didn’t love her children. Maybe it was just a feeling of pride for having created life and that was it. Or maybe it was just her and her twisted mind. And maybe she didn’t give a shit. At least she wasn’t a monster to them like her own parents were, and that seemed like enough. She gave love to her family. She probably wouldn’t have thrown herself under a train for her kids but hey, who asked? Unconditional love sounded self-destructive and she loved her life; for the most part. She surely wasn’t the best mother but she did a good job. She loved them. She loved Leslie.
Too often she let herself succumb to the bitter-sweetness of the truth from within. Acid truth; it bit through her mind and opened her eyes. It said things that sounded like “maybe”s but often looked like “actually”s. Things that made her question herself, her human integrity, her own sanity… It left her so fucked up but she couldn’t get enough of it. It pointed at her flaws and she tried to cover it up. Like maybe her love was trying to cover up the fact that she did not love her children at all. Maybe she hated them…
She sat up straight and massaged her cheeks. She looked at Nicolas. He was already staring at her. She frowned. “Quit being so creepy, dammit!” And she pinched his cheek. Then her smile died in a blink of an eye. “Entertain me.”
“Went to that place again?”, he asked, being way too used to her dozing off. Sophie nodded. Why did you let me? She felt like shit now. She remembered her nightmare. “I’m sorry I didn’t stop you. I thought you could use some deep-thought time… Guess I was wrong?” She glared at him. He cupped her head in his hands. “You’re a good mom. And Leslie loves you. And Mitch… He probably does too. Let’s get moving!” He stood up, stretched his arms and let out a big yawn.
Sophie got up too, a little less enthusiastic. “Where to?” She looked at the fountain with a frown. The sound of the water was just like noise to her ears now. She couldn’t enjoy it anymore, it was irritating. She wished it’d dried up and stopped trying to force energy and life onto the passersby. Let us be dead inside, water fountain. Your lights are dull.
“Sophie?” She looked at Nicolas. “Stop pouting at the fountain, would you?” She let it go and chuckled. She was exhausted.
“Where to?”, she asked again.
“Hop on my back. Piggyback in whichever direction you’ll point me to, my queen.”
“Aren’t we too old for this, Nicolas?” She turned around and started walking away. But her husband liked to have the last word. He grabbed her and stood her on the bench. He pointed a finger at her and said “You’re old.” Sophie tried giving him the look but she couldn’t fake it. She just laughed and got on his back.
She could feel herself slowly drifting away to sleep as Nicolas carried her through the silent streets. Her finger was barely pointing anywhere anymore; her arm just lazily hung on his shoulder.
She knew she’d fall asleep before they’d reach the hotel and she smiled to the thought of him laying her in bed and tucking her in. He made her whole. He made the world go round and the darkness seem so unimportant. She whispered the quietest I love you in his ear before completely surrendering to her heavy lids. She tightened her grip around his neck. “Goodnight Sophie.”
When I look at Leslie, I don’t see my little girl anymore. Maybe I don’t love her, maybe I’m just scared of her. She’s a curse and I hate —
Eight months later, I finally found the courage and time to finish this silly chapter. 7112 words! Which is like twice as much as the last chapter…
I mean, I think that by this point we should all just accept that this story is a messy stew. And honestly, I didn’t expect anything else with an eight-month-long break between two chapters. I was in a different head space, different everything and as I was finishing last night, it was with a completely different energy running through my fingers.
I am very proud of it though.
This chapter was a bit of a challenge because it was from Sophie’s point of view and I had to put myself in her shoes the whole time. I know Leslie. She’s the main character and I’ve been in her head and I know exactly what is going on in there. But Sophie… Until then, I had only seen her through Leslie’s eyes. Stepping into her shoes was both scary and eye-opening.
I remember when I started writing, I was going for something completely different. This was supposed to be a calm chapter as opposed to the previous one and was supposed to show the deep connection between the mother and the daughter. However, as I kept writing, Sophie appeared before my eyes. I thought I was making up the character but she was already made. And as I wrote, I dug deeper and I discovered layers and layers of her personality. She was not at all who I thought she was and I remember the exact feeling I had each time I would write something new and be like “Oh my G*d, this is terrible. I love it.” She is not just a secondary character, a dull and empty one, only designed to fill the background. She is her own person and she has secrets and darkness too.
That’s one of my favorite part about writing. Not feeling like a puppet to my own words, but the magic of my own characters coming to life before me. They all come to life in the Universe contained between my words. And none of them are insignificant, no detail is just a detail. It’s exactly like life. Everything and everyone matters and make the story. And the little details are actually just cement keeping the frail walls of reality together. I really enjoy writing!
Now, about the next chapter… I have no idea how long it’ll take me. There’s only a couple more to go, four or five and then it’ll be over with. I promise I’m making a point to get down to it quickly! I know I can do so much better and I can’t wait to explore a new world and meet new characters! Surely it won’t take me eight months to get a new chapter out again. I’m actually really excited about the ending, so we’ll see…
Until next post, remember self-discipline is the key to productivity. Nobody’s gonna make you fight for anything so get on your feet and build yourself that world you’re dreaming of. ❤
P.S.: for some reason I’m unable to connect to my Booksie account (once again!) and it’s been bothering me all afternoon. But whatever, I think I’ll just let it go this time. Ugh!