Someone is outside my house.
Her hazel eyes snapped open as she heard the doorbell being pressed repeatedly, panic filling her being. Why would anyone come to her house at four a.m?
There was something mildly comical about her thoughts surrounding her unexpected guest.
Killers don’t knock on doors, Celia. Her subconscious snapped at her, not even Richard Chase did that, much less the Manson Family. You’re safe.
She knew she was being unreasonably paranoid but she couldn’t help herself. Her hands wrapped themselves instinctively around her stomach. The doorbell continued taking her ears off and she knew she couldn’t ignore it any longer.
But what if it was Brian? No, Ax had taken care of him, he wasn’t going to bother anyone again.
She sat up from the bed, leaving her room without looking back. Her bare feet ran down the old wooden stairs, which creaked as they felt her weight. For a human who didn’t enjoy jump scares or any other type of fright she had made the rather idiotic choice to buy one of the oldest houses in town. In movies, old houses meant ghosts and other creatures of the night but she had fallen in love with the Victorian design.
After all, she was a creature of night herself.
Insomnia had made sure she was.
Her feet dragged her to the front door. She took in a breath and unlocked it, the doorknob burning her hand as she twisted it. What she found on the other side left her completely speechless.
Ax looked like death himself. There was so much blood, everywhere she looked she noticed the crimson liquid sticking to his clothes and skin. His eyes were bloodshot and she wasn’t sure if they were a product of intense usage of his tear ducts or a product of drinking.
Celia was beyond afraid. Her blood ran cold inside her veins and she was afraid it would freeze and let her body slowly shut down from the lack of oxygen. Ax fell with a groan, the doorstep scraping his knees. She didn’t have to think twice before sitting down on the ground next to him. She kept her hands to her sides, afraid that he would flee if she made a wrong move.
She loved him, she couldn’t deny the fact any longer.
And she was so afraid for him.
“Ax?” She called his name, her voice unsteady.
He didn’t even look at her.
“Ax, talk to me. What’s wrong?” Desperation had filled her senses, it dominated her brain not allowing her to think properly. Suddenly, his rich dark blue eyes fell to her hazel ones. He stared at her deeply yet, at the same time, he was looking through her as if she was nothing but a figment of his imagination, nothing but fog that would eventually abandon his vision.
He said nothing.
Celia had grown impatient.
She felt the cold creep through the thin material of her clothing, stabbing her skin like small needles. Her body shivered and wanted to shrink away from the source of so many unwelcoming reactions but she had to speak to Ax first. Make him talk to her.
But first of all, she had to know if he had been hurt. Her hands explored every inch of skin they could find, searching for wounds but not finding any. If he hadn’t been hurt then what happened?
The nerves wouldn’t let her rest. Even if he didn’t carry any visible injuries it was clear that something had happened.
Something very bad had happened.
There was so much blood.
Bile rose as the metallic taste of blood attacked her senses but she managed to keep it down.
There was so much fucking blood.
She slid her hands to the sides of his face, his stubble scratching her palms lightly.
To Celia that was the most comforting feeling in the world.
“Are you hurt? Ax, please, I’m going insane. Talk to me.” She begged, her voice nothing but a whisper.
His eyes found her again but they were wrong. They were dull and full of misery. The sight of him was enough to make her fucking heart break in a few trillion pieces.
“Mick is dead.” He said, his voice even, his eyes numb.
Numbness was the name of the purgatory between happiness and misery.
It was all he had to hold on to, not feeling.
Celia covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes growing wide.
Shock wasn’t enough of a word to explain how she felt at that wretched moment.
Don’t cry, not now. Her mind begged her. Later. Cry later, he needs you now.
It wasn’t logical. How could he have died? It felt like yesterday when she had seen him, all charming smiles and twinkling eyes, telling her that forgetting was a worse curse than remembering. “No.” The sound was muffled. She sounded like a wounded lioness with only seconds to spare before the grim reaper came to skin her while her soul hadn’t crossed the threshold yet.
The reaper might not have been real but at that moment, Celia was certain he was smiling at her.
Ax sniffed and dropped his gaze once more, not bearing the idea of seeing her in pain while his goddamn soul, or whatever had been left of it, was being ripped from his chest.
“Bruce killed him.” He told her, wiping away a traitorous tear. “Shot him a few inches away from the heart to prolong his suffering.” That was the pretty version. The version he would tell anyone who asked. The ugly truth would keep only him company. There was no other way.
Ax was numb.
He spoke the words but it was like he was telling her a story, something he had read himself, not something he had experienced only hours ago.
Except from the feeling of his soul leaving him he felt nothing.
The brain was truly a magnificent tool. If it knew that you couldn’t handle the truth it would mask it and make it seem foreign. You wouldn’t feel anything because it made you believe that nothing had happened. How long could he avoid the truth, that was the only thing Ax wanted to ask.
Even though he sounded detached, Celia knew how lost he felt. Hell, he looked almost uncomfortably unaware of how he had managed to come to her. Another breath of cold air hit her and she came to the realisation that she had to take him upstairs. Which would be impossible if he chose not to cooperate.
Celia stood up, the pain crippling her. Ax followed her movements with his eyes, afraid she too would abandon him. But the thought had not even crossed her mind, nor would it ever. She offered her hands to him, giving him something to hold onto to. “Let’s go inside.” She whispered but the silence of the night was so violent she might as well have been shouting.
He let her help him upstairs. He let her drag him to her bedroom, the one he had run away from only hours before. He let her take all of his clothes off, let her put them in a basket meant for laundry. Was it unreasonable that he didn’t want to take those clothes off? That he didn’t want her to clean them? They had his best friend’s blood on them, the last thing he had acquired from him and he would be damned if he ever washed it away.
He let her wash the blood that stained his skin with a cloth she had found in the bathroom before letting her tuck him in her bed. What he didn’t let her do was walk away. He grabbed her wrist as she was on her way to the closet, no doubt searching for something for him to wear. Did she really think he cared about clothing?
He was pleading with his eyes, telling her words his mouth was too frightened to utter. “Don’t think about taking another step away from me. I need to hold you.” He closed his lids, taking a deep breath. Goddamn him, he was holding back tears. “I need you.”
Celia was at a loss for Ax had never, not once shown vulnerability of that kind to her or to anyone else, even though she was ignorant of the fact. She lead him to her Queen sized bed, noting that under normal circumstances he would never have fitted comfortably. She took off her clothes and for one crazy second she wondered if he could tell she was carrying his baby. Of course he couldn’t but the hormones were not known for using logic before acting.
She slipped under the covers next to him, her soft body melting into his hard one. She had been made for him, they both knew it. His arms wrapped around her with no intention of ever letting her go. As if keeping her there would mean he could escape from real life.
She managed to free one side of her body. She twisted and turned until she was able to reach the pack of cigarettes that he had forgotten on her nightstand. She lit it swiftly, the damned white lighter he had been carrying burning her finger, before handing it to him.
“Talk.” He commanded roughly, before taking a drag and filling his lungs with cancer.
I’m not the one that died young, doctor.
“I don’t know what to say, Ax.”
“Say the first thing that comes to your mind. I need to be distracted right now, please, Celia.”
“Alright.” She agreed, humming softly as she tried to think about something that would help ease his mind but her brain was a blur of thoughts and suppressed emotions. Yet, she knew what she had to do.
As Gabriel would always tell her, when in doubt, improvise.
She did just that.
“We are all parts of the universe, right? But we cannot possibly assume we are the only ones, that would be too egotistical. There could be millions of parallel universes out there and we wouldn’t have a clue. Perhaps, in one of those universes there’s a student that tries to act as an author in her spare time and is writing down this whole thing.” Her heart begged her to ease his pain, to give him something to hold on to. “Are you familiar with the Last Thursday theory?” Ax shook his head, hiding his face from her view.
“Well, according to this theory everything could have been created last Thursday and we would never even realize it. Can you prove that the world wasn’t created a few days ago? That your memories weren’t implanted? No, you can’t. That’s exactly how novels work. The characters live like they have existed long before the writer has even grabbed a pen but it isn’t true. Their thoughts, their emotions, their memories are a product of the writer’s fantasy. Their lives progress as the writer wants them to, they have no say in that matter.”
“So you’re telling me that we might not be real?” He questioned, his arms tightening their hold on her frail body as if she could disappear at any second.
“Who knows, Ax?” She gave him a pained sigh and tried to forget about the dark-haired man with the scotch coloured eyes. “If someone is writing this down right now, then we are just characters. For the author wannabe we are nothing but words and sleepless nights. We are thoughts that couldn’t let her rest, that took over her being and didn’t let her be until she created us.”
“Does it matter if we only exist in her brain? I am real and that’s how I know that my universe is real but it appears that other universes are also real so, perhaps, I am a just a character in a book that may not even exist. It is the worst feeling in the world, not knowing if you truly exist, if your actions mean anything.” Celia paused, inhaling sharply, not quite understanding where she had found those words. Perhaps, she hadn’t. Perhaps, there was truly someone writing everything down, someone creating her thoughts. Ax handed the cigarette back to her and she let her fingers caressed it before bringing it to her mouth. The cancer stick was only inches away from her lips but she remembered and shoved it away, handing it back to her injured monster.
She placed a hand on his chest, directly over his erratic heart. Her eyes closed and she wanted to cry but didn’t want him to have to hear her sounds of suffering. “You feel real. You smell like cigarettes combined with worn leather and that intoxicating smell of the earth after it has rained. You wrists have scars that feel real, my fingers tremble every time they graze them. I lose myself because this feels too real and I’m so terribly afraid that it’s not. You taste real too, in case you were wondering. In fact, you are the only thing that feels steady and when you touch me I become real too. Maybe in a different universe we are more complete, not just words.” She grew silent then, not knowing what else to say. Her thoughts dominated her, they kept her on a leash and made her use her mouth and let me out in the world but for now they remained silent.
“Do you think she has a good ending stored for us? If we’re not real, I mean.” Ax whispered, returning back to the real world and needing to hear her voice so he could drown in it and forget.
“Don’t all writers?” She countered.
“I have a question. If she created us, as you claim, isn’t she like a form of God? Isn’t that exactly what Religions are about? Some higher being creating everything we can see and everything we can’t?”
“I suppose she is.” Celia forced a laugh to tumble down her lips but it tasted bitter.
“Don’t stop talking, little dove. You’re all I have right now.” He commanded, his voice hoarse. Le genie du Mal, indeed. The angel that had the whole world in his fingers but lost it before he could even learn how much it was truly worth.
The angel who was tortured, banished, left all alone to fend for himself in a fiery inferno he had to get used to calling his home.
“Do you think that if we are nothing but characters in a book, all the other books you’ve read exist in other universes? For example, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, do you think they could be in their own universe?”
“What are you getting at, little dove?” His arm drew her even closer, not that there had been any space between them left. He was extremely warm, borderline feverish one would say.
“Think about it. Who is the real Villain of that story? Is it Hook? Or is it the kid that keeps on stealing children away from their parents, away from everything thing they have loved turning them into his soldiers. Hook is just trying to stop Pan from causing even more pain and misery to so many families.” His left hand was resting on her bare waist while the other one was grubbing the cigarette tightly.
That cigarette was the only thing beside the moon that provided some light in the dark room.
Celia sighed against him, feeling pain radiate off of him in waves. “In this story you are Hook, trying to stop the bad guy from causing any more harm, and so was Mick.” He wanted to reason with her, tell her something so that he could convince her that he wasn’t as noble as she believed but he didn’t have it in him. He couldn’t handle responding to any thing. He simply placed his full lips on her forehead.
That was the only response she was going to receive where it concerned that particular matter.
She wasn’t sure what possessed her to open her mouth. The only thing she was certain of was that she couldn’t hide anymore, the truth needed to be out.
“When I was three years old my family had to deal with a crisis which ultimately lead to my parents taking me and my cousin, Gabriel, to live in the US. Adjustment had been rough for all of them but I seemed to be doing alright. I was a social butterfly if you can believe it.
A year later I went to kindergarten and during my first day there I made a friend, Jay. He was sitting alone. His eyes were closed and he was drawing on the air with his fingers. He intrigued me and so I walked over to him and asked him what he was doing, he just told me he was dreaming. We became best friends instantly.
We grew up inseparable.
But one night that changed. We had a fight and out of pure spite I went to a frat party. I don’t know what the Hell had gotten into me, it was like I wanted to create a disaster. I stuck out like a sore thumb, to be honest. The guys there were friendly but I was too uncomfortable and I was drunk. Alcohol had never really agreed with me.
One minute I was talking to a friend of a friend and the next I was being dragged upstairs, to one of the bedrooms. Everything was hazy and for a single moment I embraced the fact that I would be losing my virginity to that faceless guy. I let him touch me, squeeze my breasts. I let him do anything he wanted to but the moment his hand slipped under my dress I felt bile rise from deep inside me. I felt so dirty. I started kicking and screaming obscenities. I panicked.” Celia felt her mouth dry up as memories resurfaced. What a goddamn little fool she had been. Ax might have been too lost, the pain hitting his heart like a goddamn bullet but he still felt anger rise at the mention of someone trying to violate his little dove in that way. As if she deserved to be touched by a drunk boy who didn’t even know how his dick worked.
“I ran outside. I called Jay but he was giving me the silent treatment. I didn’t stop calling him. At one point he picked it up and I told him everything but I’m sure most of it was incoherent. He commanded me to keep talking to him until he came to take me home.
God, Ax you don’t know how relieved I was when I saw his car.
Even if I was angry at him, he was my best friend, he would never abandon me. I practically ran towards him, only relaxing when I was inside. He wasn’t talking to me, at least, not like he normally did. At one point he commented on the dress I was wearing and I couldn’t help myself, I began crying and screaming at him. He had thought that I looked easy and told me he wasn’t surprised the guy did what he did.
I slapped him. He grabbed my wrist and started screaming at me. We didn’t even see the Jeep before it hit us.” She stopped. The words felt like they had been glued to her throat and she couldn’t swallow them down. It just wasn’t possible.
He was the only one who could help her, she realized as much and perhaps, he felt the same about her.
Perhaps, that’s why he chose to come to her.
His fingers came to rest on her cheeks, sweeping away tears she wasn’t aware she had shed. It was his supportive reaction that drove her to continue. “I hit my head the window and lost consciousness. When I woke up again I was at a hospital with my cousin holding my hand and praying in Italian, then threatening me about what he would do if I didn’t wake up.
I came out of the car crash with a concussion, a broken arm and some minor injuries from where the glass had cut me. Jay wasn’t as lucky. The Jeep had hit his side of the car, he was the one who suffered the most. He became paralysed from the waist down and was stuck in a wheelchair.
I tried to help him, my guilt wouldn’t let me rest. All his dreams of going to Law school had turned to smoke because of me. Jay left me all alone, he didn’t reply to my calls, he didn’t let me come to his house.
One fateful day, I didn’t let his mother stop me from going to see him. I ran to the room with her hot on my heels. God, I wish I had never opened that goddamn door. Inside the room I had spent half my childhood in, sat my best friend in his wheelchair with a lazy smile on his face and slit wrists. I stood by the door frozen from the shock, I couldn’t think, I was just staring at the blood wondering if it would soak the wooden floor and start dripping on the dining table.”
“His mom walked only moments after I had. I don’t remember a lot, she was screaming, crying, craddling her son’s dead body like he was an infant. Everything after that is a blur. The funeral, for example, is something I don’t remember, even though I had gotten up to that little wooden podium and told everyone about what an amazing man he would have become. I left soon after that.”
“You never looked back?” Speaking hurt. His goddamn soul was on fire and there was nothing he could do about it. Not a single damn thing. Celia shook her head absentmindedly.
“Why?” He questioned. “There has to be more to this story than what you’re telling me. Why haven’t you gone back?”
“Why would I ever return to Ithaka if I have finally found Calypso?”
“Answer my question.” He replied stiffly.
“I could never return. Everyone blamed me for his death, especially my father. He had such high hopes.” She commented, the words tasting bitter in her mouth. “He believed that Jay and I would eventually get married and have kids, it wasn’t that he desired grandchildren so much he just believed that Jay was a catch and I should do everything in my power to tie him to me. When Jay died, he believed I had destroyed his perfect image of the future.”
He didn’t care that I had lost one of the two most important people in my life. After a few months of daily verbal abuse, he finally kicked me out of the house. He said he couldn’t stand to look at my face anymore, that I was nothing but a mistake. To be honest, I was relieved. I took the first plane to Italy and went to live with Gabriel for a while. I changed my name and decided I had to reinvent myself. I traveled, looking for a home, before landing here.”
“I’m sorry.” Was he though? He hated her father and would most definitely skin him alive if he ever happened to stumble upon him but how could he be sorry for the actions that led her to him?
He was selfish but sometimes, that couldn’t be helped.
He was sorry that she had been hurt so much and that some of her years had been spent in pure anguish. He knew guilt had been eating her apart, the same way it did to him. Her nightmares finally made sense.
The blood, there had been too much blood.
“It’s okay.” She brushed his sympathy off. “But you are not.” She whispered to him. The creases of the sheets beneath her bothered her, made her want to sit up, tidy everything up and then lie down again. Maybe what bothered her was that they weren’t made from Egyptian cotton and they weren’t ebony in colour.
“I didn’t know Mick well but I know he was a great guy.”
Life would still go on but that didn’t mean death would leave without the pain he had earned.
He was too much of a sadist.
It’s killing me to see you this way.
Ax closed his eyes and saw his best friend. Correction, he saw his friend as he had been when they had first met. He saw that scrawny brown haired boy with the big shit-eating grin and forced his self to remain impassive. He begged the tears not to pour out of his eyes as that kid gave him his nickname.
“You know, for a few moments I thought I was the one he was going to kill.” He muttered. “I heard the gunshot and thought about how merciful it was that I didn’t feel the bullet. But that’s not what fucked me up. No, my sole regret was leaving you in that way. I thought that you would hate me and fucking Hell, that scared me more than death itself.” Ax forced his hand to reach her cheek and felt his whole being turn ice cold as he felt the wetness beneath the pads of his fingers.
“Don’t cry for me.” He commanded. “I’m not worthy of your tears.” Celia saw past the facade. He was blaming himself for everything and didn’t give himself the right to grieve for the loss he had suffered.
He was just like her but the fact offered little comfort.
“It’s not your fault.” She argued with his thoughts, knowing that the war he had been fighting could not be won if he had no allies.
“It is. I am the one who gave him the need. It consumed him and because of that he lost the piece of happiness the world owed him. I’m afraid, Celia. Goddamit, I’m so fucking afraid. I don’t know what I’ll do without him.” Ax confessed and heard Mick’s laughter echoing inside his head. “I’ll break.”
Always knew you loved me, asshole. The ghost of the brown haired man chuckled inside his brain.
His confession had made her feel impossibly powerless but she wasn’t going to give up on him. She couldn’t let him tear himself to pieces. “No.” Her voice was steady, calm and she wondered where the Hell she had conjured up so much courage.
“No, I won’t let you break.” She tilted her head and kissed him softly, offering all the comfort she could find inside of her body. Her hands found his hair and grabbed it tightly. “I won’t let you.” She repeated.
God, I won’t let you.
But her words didn’t register in his brain.
His mind had been captivated by a single image.
Mick was laying on the floor, blood staining his clothing.
And he was smiling.