The sheer relief of being remembered...
The blessed pain that flooded through my chest...
It made my feet move before I'd even thought of it. Rushing me towards the
sprinting boy - leaving the Divide behind - and bending me down low at the
last instant. Knees settling onto chilled grass as Leo's arm snapped
closed around my neck with a strength far beyond his years. Locking me
in as my own arms came around him. Wrapping tightly around the small
body. Enveloping him. Rubbing his back and stroking his hair at a
pointless attempt at comfort as strained words of disbelief and relief,
pain and joy, flowed out of the boy. His entire frame - fit and a good
size for his age - trembling as he tried so hard to keep the sobs back.
To be strong.
Just hearing him speak tore at me right down to my core.
I'd left him... sentences were only just beginning to make sense. Then,
to be holding him so close and hear the solid proof of his maturing
mind... the solid proof of all I'd missed... all that someone else - a
stranger - had helped him improve and grow...
It was a hard hit to take.
found myself praying to those those years. Even as an outsider. Even as
just a shadow in the night... I just wanted to KNOW what he'd gone
through. I wanted to know about the people who were raising my little
man. I wanted to know every highlight of every day. Every drop of rain
on every bad one. I wanted to know it all. All the things he'd learned
about... while I'd walked through fresh blood pooling on the sidewalk
under a dim moon with my ravens flying overhead.
Then, such a silly thought...
(The training wheels on your bike must have come off a while ago now...)
doesn't take much effort to remember what his first bike had been. It
was a Birthday Present. Blue with little... cartoon characters along the
bars. Previously used ("Previously Loved" as my mother would have
said.). Once belonging to the son of the daughter of one of my parents'
best friends. Alex and I were... a young couple at the time. Just
starting out. Money was tight. Better than it had been when Leo was
first born, but we were still having to pinch every penny. That year had
been particularly bad because the car had broken down a month or so
beforehand and had cost nearly a thousand to put back on the road.
Buying a new bike for our son just... wasn't in the cards.
been worried at the time... that the touch-up job we did on the chips
on the paint weren't good enough. That it didn't look new enough. That
Leo would be disappointed...
If he'd been disappointed, that toothy grin of his hadn't let it on. He barely got off it the first day...
remember how Alex had nudged me at the time. Wearing that "Told You
So!" smile. Teasing me about how I always think too much...
thinking of Alex.... made me hold Leo just a bit tighter. Still gentle,
but tighter. Protective. Whispering little assurances to him as he
tried to hold back sobs. Telling me how much he'd missed me. How he
couldn't believe I was really there. That he thought I was never coming
back. His grip on my neck only getting tighter as if he was honestly
afraid... that I'd drift away if he didn't hold me down. Anchoring me...
even as my mind drifted back to the mental hospital without my
permission. Going back to that split second in time... when I'd been
bringing my blade down. A split second... that my mind insists it saw
Alex's head move on the pillow. Turning. Staring up at me. Dull eyes
dark and accusing...
I had tried to tell myself it had
just been my imagination. Reasoning that Alex hadn't answered the door
for three long years and it was a bad gamble... to think that "choice"
would change in that very last instant. That it would having that
perfect of timing... to haunt me like it wanted to...
I think too much.
I always think too much.
It's part of the reason why my bloody post become novels...
if I had continued on the thought I was on... the Snake was waiting
just around the corner. Amber Eyes just a flicker away from jarring my
mind. It would have thrown me back into logic. It would have slapped me
into remembering which side of the boundary I belonged... but, at that
instant... Leo asked a question. His voice hitching and hesitating as
though afraid of the answer, but needing one. Just one question... and
there wasn't a train of thought in the world that it wouldn't have
demolished on the spot.
He asked... if it had been something he had done...
Something... he'd done wrong...
That made us leave him.
He asked if it was his fault... that we didn't want to be his Mum and Dad anymore.
even as he asked.... his grip on me tightened. The fear and pain and
doubt and guilt in his voice matching with the desperation of small
hands gripping the material of my hoodie as tightly as he could. Afraid
to let go even a little. The silent plea screaming loud and painfully
(Please don't leave me alone again!)
gripped me. I took his shoulders and eased him out of the death grip he
had on me. He still wasn't willing to let go completely, but he allowed
enough give to let me look into those eyes. Shimmering with unshed
tears... but still trying so hard not to break as he waited for his
answer. Shame twisted into his expression as a sob escaped the hold he
had on himself...
He blamed himself.
I had left - Alex and I had both left him - and, for three years, he'd been blaming himself.
It killed me.
gently put my hand to his face. My thumb brushing across a dry cheek...
even as I felt a tear trace down my own. Forcing enough strength into
my voice so it didn't shake when I told him that there was nothing -
NOTHING - he could have ever done that would have made us leave. Telling
him that it wasn't his fault. Not even a little bit. That Alex and I
loved him more than anything in this world... but that... I'd done
something bad. Very bad. And I couldn't be around him anymore. That he'd
get hurt... and I'd never be able to forgive myself. I told him how
sorry I was. For everything. For not being there. For letting him blame
himself for so long...
I told him it was my fault.
That it had always been my fault.
That, if he wanted someone to blame, he should blame me.
That it was okay to be angry. Okay to be sad or upset. That I'd let him down and I deserved it.
I told him... that he could hate me if he wanted to.
But that, even if he did, I'd always love him. Always. No matter what.
had been crying freely by then - as if seeing mine gave him permission
to let the tears come. Spilling over his cheeks in small rivers even as he told me
not to cry. That everything was okay and that he'd just... missed me.
Missed me so much. Just like I'd missed him. Feeling it more freely and
honestly than I'd ever allowed myself to feel over the past years. Not
having Leo... had been a deep, empty pit in my life... that I'd thrown
some branches and leaves over top of in attempt to hide it from prying
eyes... but still tunneled down deeper than anything else, regardless.
I'd been able to live with that hole.
became good at picking and choosing my words. Playing on them... until I
could say things in a way that everyone would assume my family was
dead. My spouse. My son. It meant I could talk about them. Keep them
close in that way... and, because I was willing to talk, it confirmed
even further that they couldn't be alive. It was a form of reverse
psychology. For, surely, if they were anything but dead... I would avoid
the topic like the plague.
It worked for three years.
I'd lived with it for three years.
But then, with my son in my arms, I couldn't say for the life of me how I'd been able to.
It scared me. It still does.
The strength of the bond that came back.
was too much to bear at first. I'd felt it in my chest like an old,
partly-seized motor was being pulled to life in the dead of winter. The
engine stuttering and stalling. Stuttering and stalling. Forced to work
against the climate and condition it was in until it finally caught.
Holding only for two beats... then stalling again. Another try.
Catching, stuttering, then stalling once more. Repeating the process...
only, this time, the engine caught and held. Struggling to stay alive,
but managing now. Painfully warming parts that had almost frozen solid
completely. Every second that it turned another rotation being another
reminder for old, weather-beaten metal of what it once felt like to be
warm... to be used and maintained...
It hurt so much.
Like heat working into blackened, frost-bitten fingers.
it... was a good pain. One I didn't mind feeling. One that felt good to
feel after so long... so long of only seeing people as pawns and
knights and bishops. All part of one Big Game where the Pieces delude
themselves into thinking they're Players. It isn't our Game. It never
has been. Yet we try to manoeuvre things in our favor anyway. We try to
make it all Lead to something... anything... because a life without a
goal is a rather pointless thing indeed, isn't it?
I suppose that was part of why I could be content in my roles... while so many others were restless. Stressed. Panicked.
Secretly, I knew Alex was in a mental hospital. Receiving care. Not ideal, but a gift horse.
And I knew Leo had a new family to call his own. That he could be happy in his second chance...
with those two points checked off.... I could let them fade to the
background. I could let them rest where they lay... and let myself find
my pace on my side of the Boundary. Let myself relax into who I was. Who
I was becoming. To find amusement. Beauty. Satisfaction. Even a new
sense of Happiness. Starting out by finding one little thing that I
could enjoy about the Job... and letting it grow from there until it
became a performance. Until the Hunt was the Grandest Show on Earth...
just waiting for the final conclusion.
Play End Credits.
Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-That's all, folks!
And that had been enough. That was okay.
Because, behind the scenes, my son was safe... and Alex was alive...
holding Leo close, I knew it had never really been okay... and
definitely wasn't going to come within a shade close of that anytime
Leo asked me to come home.
Pleading with me not to leave again. That he... loved me.
had to force a small smile out. My hands falling to his shoulders and
giving them a light squeeze as a second tear rolled over my opposite
cheek. Giving me a pair. So much inside wanted to say yes... but I still
shook my head. Telling him that I loved him more than anything -
ANYTHING - in the world. That I'd do whatever I had to in order to keep
him safe... and that was why I couldn't stay. I told him how I wished
things were different. How I wished... I hadn't screwed up... but that
was on me. That was my fault and mine alone...
had to watch... my son break. His voice gaining that young, squeaky tone
that he'd been fighting to hold back as a dam of emotions collapsed
within him. Screaming "NO!" over and over again as he latched back
around my neck. Begging me to stay. Begging me not to... not to leave
him alone again. Screaming "please". Telling me I couldn't. That I
couldn't do this again. Sobbing through his pleas. Tears streaming down.
He was too young.
I knew that.
hugged him close one final time. Reminding him that he wasn't alone.
Reminding him... that he had a new family. I asked if he liked them. My
own words catching as I asked if they... treated him right.
(Or, so help me, God...)
spoke through his sobs. Nodding. Saying they were nice and that he
loved them too... but they weren't me. They weren't Alex. They weren't
his Mum and Dad. Not really. He cried into my shoulder. Sobbing that
they could never be his Mum and Dad and that... that was why we had to
Then his sobbing consumed him completely.
Clinging tightly to me as each one shook through him.
felt suddenly conscious of eyes on me... and, in my mind's eye, I knew
they were Amber. I remembered. I remembered the Boundary. I remembered
turning my back on The Snake...
He'd been watching the whole time.
felt myself stiffening, but I knew the damage was already done. Forcing
myself to keep my focus on my boy instead. My voice sounding stronger
to my ears as I told Leo... that he was better off without me. That I
knew he was too young to understand that, but, one day, he would. It was
then that a thought occurred to me... and I reached to feel for
something around my neck. Finding the slim chain that I'd put there the
previous evening. A chain that Alex had worn for the past three years
while lying in that hospital. A chain I had thought to wear myself, but
now had another idea. I pulled it over my head... and showed the three
rings that were threaded onto it to my boy.
An engagement ring.
And two wedding rings. His and Hers.
told Leo what they were. How Alex and I had loved each other very much.
Just like we both loved him. And I told him... that wanted him to take
them and remember that. If it was the only thing he remembered, he needed to remember that...
nodded. Choking out an "okay" as he took the rings with a
purposefulness that seemed out of place for such a young boy. I knew he
wouldn't lose them. That much was made perfectly clear to even the
I shifted. Placing a kiss to my son's forehead.
I told him to be happy.
It's all I ever wanted from him.
I stood - pulling from the hold he still had on me - and turned.
Walking away. Not trusting myself to pause... and yet the tears still
came even as my strides tore us apart.
after me. Voice ragged and piercing. Panicked. Desperate. I knew he'd be
rushing after me... but he wouldn't get far. Someone would intervene. I
Just like I knew... Valtiel was waiting for me at the corner of the school.