Warning: Foul language. Pictures may take a while to load.
The front door is unlocked and I let myself in, tossing my school bag by the shoes. There’s the delicious smell of Dad’s mac and cheese cooking on the stove. “Dinner’s up in twenty.” Dad smiles at me as he chops up tomatoes and bell peppers for a salad. It’s for Cara. She’s a diet fanatic. As you would expect.
The kitchen is empty except for Dad, who is now whistling merrily. I don’t know where the rest of my family is. Mom’s probably working in her room, and Cinna is most likely at the graveyard. She’s weird that way. I can hear Cara clattering around in her bedroom. Getting ready for yet another party, I think. The thought of Cara reminds me of Teddy’s sneer in the woods, and bile rises up in my throat, but I push it down.
I have a few words to say to my dear sister.
“You told him.”
The door slamming open hardly makes Cara jump, who is dabbing at her sparkling rose lip gloss. She must be used to it, with Cinna barging into her room all the time. There’s a pause as she looks at my reflection, which is fuming and messy-haired, in her cosmetic mirror.
“What are you talking about?” Cara says delicately. Her voice is bored. But my sister has never been good at hiding her secrets like Cinna and I. Her thoughts are easy to read, written in her body language, in the way she’s biting her lip, the way her eyes are darting to everywhere but me.
“Don’t lie. You know exactly what I am talking about,” I say coldly. The bald accusation is enough to throw Cara off her metaphorical feet. She says nothing. And that’s as real as any confession is going to get. “You bitch.”
Cara draws herself up to her full height. “What did you just call me?” She says shrilly.
“I called you a bitch. I think that setting your own sister up to get assaulted by your boyfriend qualifies you as one. Well, guess what. You may have not bothered to listen to Mom when she was teaching us self-defence years ago, but I did. ”
I don’t know why I didn’t mention the boy. But I must admit that it’s kinda satisfying to see Cara’s outraged expression as I slam the door in her face.
She deserves it. No one else but my family knows the secret path I take through the woods. Cinna doesn’t care about such information, but it’s exactly the sort of thing Cara would reveal to Teddy in order to humiliate me, to serve revenge. Maybe she wasn’t expecting her boyfriend to lapse in his sanity and become so violent. But he did.
“Cherry.” Mom pokes her head out of her bedroom, and I give the tiniest of sighs. I don’t feel like talking right now, not least with my mother. But then I remember what the boy told me twenty minutes ago. “Hi, Mama,” I say in my brightest voice, trying to butter her up with my old name for her. The set line of Mom’s mouth does not melt, but is that a trace of a smile I see behind her glasses?
I know that with all the business and stress in her life right now, she might not want to do what I ask next. “I was wondering if-”
“I want to talk to you.” Mom interrupts. She pushes her door open a little wider, which I interpret as come inside. A tiny bit reluctantly, I oblige. I can’t remember the last time I came into Mom and Dad’s room, but I do remember the sense of happiness and safety that it always had. And it’s still here, but false.
The inspirational words — lifestyle, happiness quotes or whatever — that are framed or knitted across pillows are lies. I don’t know why Mom keeps them here. Love. Written big and bold on the bed. I wonder how much that word means to her.
I think it’s for Dad. Hope.
Mom sits down on the leather couch and sighs. Her eyes are tired. The lines around her lips are more prominent than ever. “Sit down.” She pats the couch and I flop down. As I wait for her to begin talking, I run my hand over the black leather. It is smooth and soft underneath my fingers.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Mom says curtly. “And I think it will be good for you. I want you to join Law Enforcement.”
I’m quiet for a moment as I think about this. I can’t say it is too surprising, but my heart still sinks a little. “Like when I turn eighteen?”
My mother pushes her glasses up her nose. “Yes,” She says. “But I want to begin training you now. Five days a week after school, at the police station.” I bite my lip. “Mom, that’s fine and all… but I want to travel, play music, after high school.” She frowns at this. “You know that’s impractical, Cherry.” It’s an awkward moment before I realise that this is my perfect chance to learn some more self defence from Mom and keep her happy. Maybe I can negotiate with her later.
“Okay, sounds good. When do we start?” I can tell that Mom is a bit shocked by how readily I agreed to her announcement, but she nods, like the matter is settled. “Tomorrow,” She says, glancing at the clock. “Go to the police station straight after school ends. We can have an hour or two to orient you to the environment. You will still have plenty of time to do all your homework. And we can stop by at Hogan’s after, if you want.”
Mom and greasy food? This must be very important to her. I smile at her and I swear she almost smiles back. “Sold.”
“I don’t think I have told you this,” Mom says briskly as she passes into the cold foyer of the police station. “When I became the chief of Sunset Valley Law Enforcement, I began a program to train officers from all over the country. Our town is fairly peaceful. It gives us the space and time for many policemen and women to learn how to fight.” She halts in front of a set of elevator doors and steps neatly in as it chings.
Easy listening music plays as the elevator shudders and begins descending. The tense lines of my mother are a sharp contrast to this. I realise I’ve never seen her relax, shed her rigidity and take a moment to rest. Well, never as in since the fire. How I miss the old Mom.
The elevator doors slide open with a hiss. Beyond it is a long corridor, weakly lit by halogen lights overhead. It’s silent and empty, which unnerves me a little, but Mom strides along it without a pause, so I follow close behind.
Around ten metres ahead is a set of steel doors. The glass panes are glowing with harsh white light, and I see shadows moving in them. The doors open with a touch of Mom’s hand, moving surprisingly smoothly for such heavy objects. My breath catches at the vast space that opens up in front of me.
“Welcome to the Sunset Valley Training Department.”
One year. That’s how long Mom says she is going work me to death in the gym before she even lets me begin learning self defense. “Cherry, we have to add muscle to those spindly little stick arms of yours first. You look like a Barbie doll,” She says briskly, watching me vainly attempt to push weights, her arms folded sternly.
No crap, Mom.
Life begins to evolve into an endless cycle of school and training. In the morning, I sleep in late because of how tired I am from last night’s training; so late Dad has to drive me to school with a piece of toast still wedged in my mouth. The lessons float by in a sleepy blur. I even ignore Ted’s attempts to rile me up. As soon as the last bell rings, I run to the police station for two hours of sweating like crazy. And after that, there’s barely time for dinner, a good hot shower, homework and half an hour to practise on my piano before I conk out.
And then again.
There’s barely any time to think. I suppose that’s a good thing, in a way. I haven’t seen the mysterious boy from the woods, from three months ago, and every time I happen to think of him I get a little more annoyed. Apparently again isn’t the same as soon. But more than anything, I’m annoyed at myself for hoping to see him.
“Cherry, you can go faster.“
Mom stands next to me the entire time with her arms crossed and looking as serious as ever. She barely moves, unless she has to go deal with something and one of her colleagues has to come in and watch me. It’s frustrating how she presses me even harder when my lungs are gasping and my legs are on fire, and when I’m wishing I could be anywhere but on this goddamn treadmill.
But all this, all of Mom’s endless pushing, pays off in the end. So, true to her words, one year passes and she begins teaching me self-defence. It’s even more tiring than the workouts, but honestly… it will be worth it. If Teddy Schanuzer even tries to touch me again… well, I’ll be able to kick his sorry ass.
The day before my seventeenth birthday awakes in a wash of golden summer sunlight. Nothing special, really, but for my dear sisters, today is their prom night. I can imagine them right now — Cara must be jabbering on her iPhone to her friends, discussing makeup while smoothing out her sparkling pink gown over and over again; Cinna is probably out with her boyfriend… again. As for me, I’m enjoying a late morning picnic on the beach, with my mother.
I think Mom took pity on me. So an hour ago, she packed a brunch of fresh coffee, cranberry tea, a bottle of orange juice, cheese, grapes, cherries and papaya into a basket. She then told me to get dressed and gather some cushions, and now here we are on the beach, sitting under the shade of a palm tree.
It’s nice to see Mom so relaxed; she’s even swapped her no-nonsense trousers for a pair of cool ombré jeans, and untucked her blouse. I haven’t seen her so casually dressed as long as maybe the last time we hung out like this. It reminds me of the old days and I think it does for Mom too, for she seems softer than usual, despite the frown still being on her face.
I sigh quietly and pop a cherry in my mouth, sending a sweet, tart explosion across my tongue. The beach is empty apart from us, and Mom’s not very talkative, letting thoughts dance freely around my head. Which of course let’s me think about that… boy.
“Mom, can I ask you something?” I say softly, propping a hand under my chin.
“Go ahead.” She looks at me questioningly.
“Uh… so, hypothetically, if you met a boy and you thought you could be friends and he said he would like to see you again, but it’s been a year and he hasn’t, hypothetically, what would you do? How would you feel?”
Mom’s frown deepens. She tucks her knee closer to her chest, and stares off somewhere over the sea. “That… that sounds like my brother and I,” She says haltingly. I lift my head slightly. I haven’t heard her talk about my deceased uncle, ever. “We were very close as kids.” She exhales. “Best friends, best as any twins could get. I was bullied at school, shunned for my differences, like you, Cherry. Ash always protected me no matter how annoying I found it. But when we grew into adults, he became very distant and pushed me away. We were supposed to be best friends, but he left me behind and disappeared from my life. I didn’t get it. I hated him so much for that.”
That’s kinda like how I feel, I think in surprise. Mom pauses for a little, so I reach out for a spoonful of juicy papaya, pretending not to notice the way her eyes are glistening.
“But in the end, he hadn’t really ditched our friendship at all. It was to protect me, trying to keep me away from the bad things happening in his life. I’m not going to say much, but they were very dangerous and young detective me got caught up in it anyway. I only realised all my brother had done for me right before he died.” Mom looks down at her shoes. “So, answering your question Cherry… you should be patient with this boy, whoever he is. Perhaps he’s keeping away right now for your own good. Don’t hate him until you know every single fact.”
I glance away, blushing. “Oh, I didn’t mean-“
A trace of a smirk appears on my mother’s face. “No one says hypothetically like that two times without the intentions not being actually hypothetical.”
I smile begrudgingly and sigh. Mom is right. I shouldn’t waiting for the mystery boy. I don’t even know his name. It doesn’t even make sense for me to be annoyed if I’m just looking for friendship… right? I’m still confused at how I feel about him. I wouldn’t date anyone to save my life, even if he helped me… and was sweet… and cute… shut up, Cherry!
What in the actual hell is wrong with me?
Filler chapter. Sorry about the lack of happenings. I hope you still enjoyed it!