20 juin 2015

Chapter 6

   With one terse look, Erik intimidates Ginny into leaving the room, then he ushers his friend in, and closes the door behind him.



            Suddenly I realize that my inner scream has been muted, or rather muffled by the loud tribal-drum-like sound of my heart beating through my temples and ears. The only person who has truly seen me, who truly knows me, is here at last. 



Now I can breathe…



I barely have the courage to look up into his huge, clear, painfully beautiful eyes, and my breath hitches in my throat. Was he this… this… heartbreaking when I first saw him? His ash-brown hair seems to strangely give more light to the green in his eyes; those eyes he underlines with big black-framed glasses. And his lips… I realize I hadn’t noticed them before. How could I not? Even from a distance, they look too full, too soft, too young. His entire posture seems somehow adolescent, untamed, untarnished. It’s like magic balm to my wounds. I just know, then and there, that when it comes to this person, I’m in deep trouble. He could ask me anything, and I would do it in a heartbeat.  But first, I just need to wrap my head around the idea that he’s here!!! Right in front of me, looking straight at me once more…



            But then I wonder: what does he see, if not bandages, casts, disgusting swelling, and pain? I haven’t exactly looked at myself in the mirror, but the gauze covers most of my skull – with my hair shaved at the back and right side – and goes diagonally over my nose and right cheek. My lower lip is sore and heavy on one end, and as for my eyes… well, I’m still looking through slits. I tried touching them once, and it felt like brushing against water balloons. And by the way he’s staring at me right now, with that slight, puzzled frown, I’m sure his assessment of me is in a whole other register than mine of him. 



            He slowly walks towards me carrying what looks like a laptop computer pouch, and sits where Ginny was a few minutes before.



            “Hello, I… I’m Peter,” he says, looking every shade of guarded.



            Two realizations hit me at once: First, he most probably does not know me from Eve. So I’ll have to rein in my obsession, because I’m two breaths away from behaving like I’ve known him all my life. And second, I should probably go even further in the reining-in process, and not tell him who I am at all! I suspect, with a deep pang, that even if I do tell him we’ve already almost-met, he might not remember me one bit! He draws portraits for a living, and mine was so… insignificant that he just left it behind, on the train… Oh fuck… Why didn’t I think of this before?!



            I plummet from instant euphoria to mind-boggling despair… Stupid, stupid, stupid… There is a reason why girls stop being so desperate after fifteen; but it seems I needed one more embarrassing disappointment to learn that lesson.



It’s decided then, I won’t tell him anything.



“Peter Alberic,” he continues. “I’m sorry, I heard your father speak English to you... Would you prefer French?” 



By his accent, I’d say he’s a Londoner, born and bred, and by his question, I know he’s been told things about me. I slowly shake my head. 



“Okay then… um… I make facial composites for the police. I can help you find the person who did this, if you’ll let me.” He pulls out his notebook, and pushes the On button, letting it whirr on his knees. “Could you tell me anything about what he looks like?... Let’s start with the obvious: what ethnic group do you believe he is from?”



His voice and tone are so intimidating, so much older than one would expect. I idly wonder what he’s been through to sound so… aged. But I’m quickly distracted by the bluish hue the computer screen is casting on his delicate features, and how it’s mirrored in his glasses, adding even more light to his eyes …



“Or… I could come back if you wish?” he asks, still oh so formal.



NO! Please, stay, I’d do anything! Though what excuse would I have to keep him? The inner scream threatens to resurface, but there’s something different this time. I’m not alone in my hell. Green-Eyes, my Cutter, my Tam…Peter, is here with me. I turn my head and look him straight in the eye, just before the dam finally bursts open, and tears the size of heavy rain start rolling down sideways, over my nose, temple, and onto my bandages and pillow.



He’s startled by my outburst, and quickly closes his laptop and puts it on the night table. He then hesitates for a second, pushing his glasses up with those shy fingers, before suddenly sliding the chair closer to the bed, and crooking his head to be parallel to mine, taking me by surprise. Our irises align again, reminding me of the first time I saw him. 



He stares straight into my eyes, as if sounding me. My heart threatens to burst, as I realize that maybe, just maybe, he might see something in my mutilated face that he might remember. But he just lets me cry, never losing eye contact. Does he know I haven’t cried until now? A few moments later, he whispers, gently, “I’m not here to hurt you. I wish you would trust me… We don’t need to do this today though. If you tell me to come back, I will. Just say when…”



I don’t know what comes over me, but in the midst of my outburst, and maybe in a subconscious desire to please, I find myself resorting to lame humor. 



“When,” I croak, but try not to smile so as not to break any stitches.



            He’s genuinely surprised to hear my voice, but even more so by my joking through the tears. Slowly, an incredulous smile etches itself on his face and he teehees, while still maintaining eye contact. Okay, note to self: his smile pretty much kills. I muster up some more strength for a serious, pleading answer. “Tomorrow?”



            He smiles again, and I could just leap up and hug the life out of him. “Tomorrow,” he nods. We look at each other for a few more seconds, then he slowly straightens up, as if pulling himself together, and says, “Well… in that case, I’ll leave you be now.” Oh, Mr. Alberic, if you only knew how un-bothered I am by your presence.







            I watch him pick up his notebook and pouch, then give me a polite half-smile and nod, before turning and heading to the door. I notice he’s wearing a loose lumberjack shirt, jeans, and Chucks. For someone who works with the police, and who’s “the best in his field, the best in Europe,” he sure doesn’t seem to be dressed for the part. He just looks like a normal, sort of geeky around the edges, beautiful young man; mid-twenties, but with the voice and demeanor of a frankly intimidating CEO. What a riddle this person is!






           

            A few seconds after he’s stepped out the door, I hear his balmy voice mumbling something I can’t make out. But Erik’s decibels booming in the hallway are enough to fill in the blanks. “What do you mean she ‘told’ you to come back tomorrow?! Did she actually speak to you?” More mumbling. “If you’re not here tomorrow, so help me…,” Erik threatens. Jeez, dad, don’t scare him off!



            He then marches in, as expected, with both mom and Ginny following closely, and finally decides to look me in the eye; something he hasn’t done since I got here. A few seconds tick by before I manage to take a deep breath, swallowing both pain and screaming, and simply say, “Hi…”

            And for the first time in my life, I see my father cry.

           







            One of the surgeons on my case, Dr. Culbard, checks up on me and seems pleased with my advancement. But with one raised eyebrow, she terrorizes my parents into sparing me all potential pressure. She’s no circus clown, she says in her northern French accent. Oh thank you thank you thank you! So don’t go asking her to say stuff then reward her with peanuts! She needs rest, so you folks give her some space, alright? That woman is my new hero.

Her orders buy me a few more hours of peace, despite Erik’s frustrated hopes for asking me all the questions he’s had in mind since day one, and my mother’s need for reassurance that she wasn’t a bad parent for not having been there to protect me. Odelia throwing Tae Kwon Do moves, that must be quite a sight.

And speaking of sights, the most painful one in the room, after me I guess, is Ginny.  

Her eyes seem less vacant, and she’s regained some color, but she still looks like a shadow of herself. Deep inside, I pity her, and know that I could make her feel better in an instant. But am I even ready to offer her any kind of consolation? Maybe it wasn’t her fault. Maybe it was mine; or maybe it was a fucked up twist of fate. But I’m light years away from transcending such thoughts as “if she hadn’t told me to go over there, nothing would have happened.” I wonder if I would ever be able to overcome them. To overcome this. It goes without saying that I will not be the same person again. A few days ago, all that mattered was school, making rent, and booking tickets for Germany. And my sole criterion for making friends was simply getting along. Now, all I care about is never feeling this kind of fear and pain again, no matter the cost. And real friends would never be so careless as to expose me to them. Ever.

            That night, as the usual terror of closing my eyes and seeing The Face again looms in my conscience, I turn to the right, and vividly remember Peter’s breathtaking face perfectly aligned with mine, just a few inches away, asking me to trust him. My heart skips a beat, and suddenly I can’t wait for it to be tomorrow.


                                                    ____________________________



            Nothing’s different today. The pain is the same, if not worse. Erik is as restless as ever. Ginny is as zombie-like as ever. And Oda is as demonstrative and guest-oriented as ever – she even brushed the few locks of hair that peeked from the head bandages, to make me more “presentable”.  Before all this, I would have bitten her head off, but now I just let her. I’m too tired and cynical to bother.  Besides, if Peter really does come back today, it wouldn’t hurt to look less… victim-like.

            Nothing is different today... Except that I didn’t have nightmares, and the inner scream is broadcasting on a constant yet low frequency. It might even disappear for a few minutes if he comes back.

            If he comes back… The possibility that Mr. Best-In-Europe be too busy to visit is not unlikely, but oh so unnerving. Did he actually promise?... It’s all blurry now.

            Hours tick by painfully slow, and I keep throwing glances at the door every time I hear footsteps. Why is there so much circulation in these hallways?!
            You’ve got it bad this time Lily, you bloody idiot.

            One set of those footsteps belongs to Dr. Culbard, who comes to announce the terrific news that she has no idea why my skin has reacted so badly to pepper spray. Erik guiltily admits that it’s a “special” kind of spray that specializes more in grizzly bears and the like – true story. I bet it’s even illegal to carry without a hunting license. Lucky for me my dad’s a corrupt policeman who wouldn’t turn himself in, and drag me down with him. Oda also explains the whole hyper reactive skin thing in such a pity-invoking voice that my peripheral vision registers Dr. Culbard discreetly rolling her eyes at her.

            “Mrs. Brandt, you know –”

            Ms., it’s Ms. Konnor now,” Oda corrects her. This time both Erik and I roll our eyes. Dr. Culbard stares at her for a second, and I could swear I see two red laser beams darting out.  

            Ms. Konnor, hyper reactive skin is not really a condition per se. It’s just the nature of your daughter’s skin. We can only measure the extent of it on a case-by-case basis. What I find peculiar in Lily’s case though, is both the aspect and gravity of the reaction. In other words, I have never seen such symptoms, and I’m sure not many physicians have!”

            “What are you saying, Doctor?” Erik interferes, in his usual eagerness to synthesize. Dr. Culbard seems to hesitate for a few seconds, fumbling for words, then says the only thing she can:

 “I’m not sure, Mr. Brandt. I’ll need to look into it, but we can’t treat what we don’t fully understand. We can alleviate the symptoms, but unless we know the cause…”


She rambles on, but she knows she’s lost her crowd. A nurse knocks and asks for her, so she exits the room, slightly embarrassed by her vague diagnosis. We’re all a little puzzled, except that I’m used to all this. Every time my skin has acted up, there was a surprised doctor there to note it. I’m about to say it to Erik, but he looks like he’s still staring after the doctor. 


I follow his gaze and there, in the door left ajar by Dr. Culbard, stands a very discreet Peter, waiting to be invited in.




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