My face winces as his hand rises above his head. “Now will you shut up?” he bellows as he smashes his fist into the table in front of me. I nod my head rapidly with my mouth glued shut. My foster Dad walks over to the kitchen to break open another beer, making me flinch at the crack against the marble counter.
I watch his gorilla like knuckles wrap around the bottle and his bristly beard catch the fallen droplets of liquor, and a spark emerges from within me. It’s not born of fear or despair. Those feeling have long since become factory settings for my life at home. What flickers inside me is a spark of creativity.
The sight for sour eyes lain before me, is instead replaced by a vision of Barrack. Every melding colour and fantastical beast that dances around me is only in existence here - they only become real when my eyes are shut, and everything in the real world turns into fiction.
I travel through the mythical world that I created for my story, passing the battles of the Yer and the Dragons’ work union in the throes of another tireless debate. But I don’t stop until the flashes of Sir Montgomery’s office come into sight. I see the brown curls hair-gelled to his scalp and his perfect all-powerful posture that dominates every room he enters.
His voice doesn’t flitter from its gravelly monotone while he mercilessly berates another one of his lackeys. Unaccompanied by a single blink, he then struts over to his desk and pops out the stopper in his decanter to pour the whiskey down his throat. He swallows it in one silent gulp and moves to his chair and onto the next heartless chore; without a care in the world for the grown man balled up in a snivelling mess 3 feet away from him.
A serene euphoria whirls in my head and my muscles let go of every emotion they were attached to, the fantasy re-routing them out of reality.
I tumble out of my imagination at the ring of the doorbell. I leap from my seat and hurry to the door to avoid my step father’s bark of command. I’m almost more terrified of his wrath than that of the hooded man.
I swing the door open; the word “hi” doesn’t manage to leave my lips before I’m interrupted.
“Let’s make this quick Stan; I have other things that I actually wanna do,” Evan grunts as he pushes past me and strides up the stairs. I catch the alluring scent on his olive field jacket when he brushes past me and my heart quickens as if his aftershave was laced with ecstasy. I draw my desire deep into my lungs with a breath before I follow him into my room.
“I don’t stutter that much anymore,” I defend against the nickname Stan as I move towards my desk and flick my slick violet hair over my shoulder.
“Just because Mr Harris stuck us together on this project, doesn’t mean you can talk to me like we’re friends. “ His puckered nose twitches, his arms rested on his knees.
“I-I just- I,”I shut my mouth as his obnoxious guffaw cuts off my response.
“Don’t stutter anymore, huh? Look dork, just pick up the book and start doing your nerd thing,” he chuckles, lifting his head back and slides one hand onto his knee and the other into his already ruffled hair.
My fingernails dig into my thigh as I try and keep my face neutral. I grab the first book on my desk, plop it on top of my flared indigo skirt, and start to flick through it with a focused stare. I could cope with anyone else treating me this way, but Evan was the person I wanted approval from the most.
After the long silence my muscles ease and I steal a glance at him. I scrunch my nose slightly at his relaxed posture. He sits with his legs crossed, being absorbed by the thickness of my lilac duvet, and he’s facing the wall, eyes studying my drawings sporadically tapped to it with a strange fixation. I stare at him for a moment, slightly in awe at his softened demeanour. As his enthralled gaze moves from one drawing to another, a warmth bubbles over in my stomach with the touch of something I hadn’t felt in his presence for years.
His eyes flicker over to mine from the side and he quickly returns them to his lap. He shakes his head in a way to dismiss that he’d been caught and stretches to lie back on the bed, pulling his arms up to rest his head on.
“You gonna stare at me all night, or get it done?”
A sigh escapes me as the warm sensation in my stomach curdles over. I give one last glance at his eyes, now travelling over the ceiling, to check for the glaze that always covered them like contacts. I didn’t need a second to see it, the coldness was back.
My eyes switch back to the book with disappointment tugging at my eyebrows, and my head wanders to the day we first met.
“You gonna eat that?” a 7 year old Evan queried after he had ventured away from the crowd of children and tripped over the wood chips at the sight of my 8 inch smarty cookie.
“We can half it,” I chirped in reply as my hand shot out at him. He took it from me with a goofy grin and twisted his foot over the gravel. “I didn’t really want the cookie…” He mumbled, head glued to his still shuffling foot. “Billy told me that’s how you talk to girls”.
“Billy sounds like an idiot to me,” I giggled at him playfully. I wasn’t used to talking to people my own age, they never really bothered to try.
He plopped onto the swing next to me and his fingers scratched at the rust on the chains. For a second we just stared into each other. And then, almost like something linked up in his head, he burst into a wind breaking snigger. Through the breath breaks in his laughter he said “your nose goes red like Rudolph when you laugh.”
“Hey Rudolph, why are you laughing?” Evan’s curiosity rips me from my memories and I freeze with my bottom lip hanging. “Stan?” he questions again, his body held upright by his elbows.
“Why don’t you just go home? I’ll put your name on it,” I suggest to him and slam the book shut, returning it to the side. His dark eyebrows furrow, a moment of concern grapples at the fractured innocence on his boyish face. A brief veil of the person he used to be masks his sourness, before he abruptly rips it away, only to be left with a stoic stare.
“Great. One more minute in your weird room and I was gonna lose my shit,” he remarks, pulling himself from my bed. Without a reply he exits my room and a second later I hear the front door slam shut.
Before my heart can sink from his absence, I pull my hip-length hair into a loose bun, hop into bed and lift my computer to its usual spot on my lap - with a twinkle lightening my chocolaty eyes. Maybe Evan and I can’t have a nice night together, but Yannie and Elon sure can. All I have to do is write their next adventure. My fingers dart over the keyboard as a whirlwind of ideas erupts in my head – the sea of Barrack washes over me and the waves of creativity hurtle me out of my tired reality. In this moment, I am no longer Elena the doormat; I am phoenix the survivor. And no one can take that away from me.
Thank you for reading!