Chapter 1: There She Goes
I set this story in 2004 for two reasons: I wanted Laura to still be a teenager, and I didn't want James to be in his 40's. So Laura is 18 and James is 39.
The Silent Hill Wiki holds that Silent Hill 2 takes place 10 years after the events of the first Silent Hill. A calendar in Maria's Born From A Wish scenario potentially puts the year at 1994. If you read the diary on the hospital roof, which may be Mary's diary, James went to Silent Hill around the end of May in 1994. Therefore, Silent Hill might have taken place in 1984. Seventeen years later the events of SIlent Hill 3 would be in motion, potentially putting the game in 2001.
If 9 years in prison had taught him anything, it's that the world loves to beat a man when he's down. Prison was no walk in the park, even though he was careful not to offend anyone and minded his own business. Even his lawyer said he'd be preyed upon. The most sinister of them whispered behind his back about how pretty he was, and someone even jokingly warned him not to drop the soap. But it wasn't that simple anymore. If they wanted you, they would have you.
He didn't fight them. He was sure he deserved it. In fact, he was ready to accept whatever they threw at him. He ended the life of the most precious person he ever knew. And it wasn't even a merciful death. A slow asphyxiation was no happy way to go. Nine years seemed a small price to pay compared to all the years he might have took off Mary's life.
He'd read in the books about cancer patients whose bodies miraculously eradicated the tumors that were killing them. That God would smile on Mary, he hadn't been too hopeful about, but at least the fact that it had happened to someone somewhere would calm a few overwrought nerves from time to time.
As if it mattered now.
Now, in a dilapidated apartment, with only expired junk food in the cabinets, a closet with three outfits, and no desire to see the following morning, James laid his head on the armrest of the couch and stared at the cracks in the ceiling. Mary's letters echoed in his mind still, especially all the years he slept in a cold cell. If Mary could see him now, she would have forgiven him a long time ago.
His lawyer liked to remind him that he was very, very lucky. He was originally sentenced to 12 years for the deaths of Mary and Eddie, and they almost pinned Angela on him too because he had her knife in his pocket. Hell, they wanted to argue that he might even have assisted Angela when she killed her father! Mary's remaining family were really pushing for life, and James didn't mind, but his lawyer cared far too much to let that happen.
They let him out a year ago on good behavior. His father picked him up. The car ride was silent and damaging, and James almost cried. His father always knew when someone didn't want to talk about it, and he respected that. He just wished he could have taken away the look of shame from his father's old, tired face.
He closed his eyes and his frown deepened. What did Joseph see in him? Why did he try so hard? Just so his client could lay on an old, dirty couch and contemplate the meaningless of his life?
And Laura. Why had she just sat there and said nothing when she was called to the stand? It only got him and Joseph in trouble, because the other lawyer accused Joseph of telling her not to testify. As the only remaining witness, the lack of her testimony would make the case fall apart.
But that sleazy lawyer, Stan, must have threatened her. The next day in court, she burst into tears and spilled everything. She told the court that, yes, James had confessed to her that he killed Mary.
“But he's not a bad person! Mary was sick! She was suffering! Honest!” she cried.
It boggled his mind.
Maybe she just didn't want to go back to the orphanage. Maybe she had thought they could still be together, and he could be the daddy she never knew. Some part of James wanted to tell her that could never be. Even if it were an another world where Mary died naturally, they would never grant him legal custody of her in court. He would still be a disturbed widower prone to alcoholism and perverted, unrealized sexual fantasies. He would still be a man that regularly visited the strip clubs and stalked the women who reminded him of Mary. He would still be a chain-smoker. And besides, he hated kids. Mary never knew this, and perhaps some part of him was actually happy that she died before they could start a family.
He was a sad old beast. He didn't deserve a lawyer like Joseph, and he didn't deserve Laura's sympathy.
James was too much of a coward to actually kill himself—but he did fantasize about it a lot. Sometimes he wondered if he could will his heart to stop in his sleep and go that way. He'd tried but it ended up being too painful. A sorry old man who witnessed the horror of Silent Hill and the horror of prison was still afraid of pain. It was a sad diagnosis.
Aside from his fear of pain, he couldn't oust Victoria. She checked up on him too often for him to be able to pull it off. She was like Joseph, except he suspected that Victoria was a feminist who was deeply offended by his crime against a woman, and wanted him to suffer as long as he lived. She said she didn't believe in hell, so people might as well get punished as much as they could for their sins while they were alive.
Knocks resounded from the door. Sounded like Victoria. She usually came around 6 or 7 every week or so to check up on him. He forced himself from the couch, walking to the door while his fingers wrestled with his groggy eyes. He was only seeing painful spheres of red, orange and yellow exploding in his vision from having his eyes closed too long. James fumbled with the doorknob and somehow got it open.
Victoria was an unusually involved probation officer. When she began visiting him in his apartment once a week to every other day, constantly reminding him to shave and tidy up the apartment after work, he began thinking she had too much time on her hands and needed to get a boyfriend. Either that, or she was just a sadist.
Victoria hadn't taken offense to such a remark; sarcasm had become a staple of his character. “You're getting better with the cleaning, I guess.”
“Yeah..” James finally got his sight back and sighed disinterestedly. “So what's the problem now?”
She turned from inspecting the kitchen, slanting her bright eyes. “I don't only come here when you're in trouble, you know. I just wanted to check up on you and make sure you're okay. It's not good for you to be alone all the time. It's not good for anybody.”
“Not good for anybody? Well, it's good for me.” James sat down on the couch and decided to rest his eyes more.
“I actually wanted to tell you something, though. You may or may not be interested.”
Another sigh. “What?”
“An officer in California arrested a middle-aged woman for threatening a bar owner, and when they bring her to the station it turns out her ID's a fake. So for a while they were having trouble finding out exactly who this woman is, until someone decided to take her prints, and they turned out to be those of a Cybil Bennett..”
James' eyes popped open. “Cybil Bennett? You mean the cop who disappeared in Silent Hill in the early 80's?”
“Yeah, boggles your mind, doesn't it?”
“Sure does.” James turned to her. “You never believed me, though. What I said about what happened there.”
Victoria sighed. “I just don't believe the part about the monsters. I know that place is a spook town and everyone thinks it's haunted, but I don't believe anything unless I see it. And you weren't in the sanest of states when you went there anyway.”
James tried to keep his mind on ordering the files, but they didn't require much thought. It was like sorting apples and oranges most of the time, and it had a bad habit of getting really monotonous. But sorting and thinking was what he did best. His father also said he had a gift of patience. The patience to sit and think about a problem before solving it, coming up with new strategies. Lord knows it saved him in Silent Hill. It took him hours on some of them. At several points, he had to walk around the desolate and depleted surroundings until the answer came to him. Walking usually helped him think.
His experiences there were like a mental trap even now. Thinking about one thing led to another. Monsters chasing him from corner to corner, Maria appearing and disappearing, dead one moment and alive the next—he still hadn't figured it all out. He had gone to a psychology professor at Ashfield University and handed him rough sketches of what he had seen. James thought it would be easier to make up a lie, and so he told him that these creatures had suddenly begun to appear in his dreams every night. And so, through the knowledge of James' painful past, the man offered his theories.
The Straight Jacket thing... it must have been a symbol of Mary. She was always tossing and turning like that thing did, and yelled at him like that thing spewed poison at him... It made sense.
The man was baffled at first with Red Pyramid. What could he mean? Then the man called him one evening after a lecture. He said the only possible explanation, given James' dreams of being pursued and tormented by this creature, was that he was an executioner whose role was to punish him for a terrible misdeed. The man kindly asked if James' had perhaps treated his wife harshly sometimes, but he ended up getting defensive. No, he could never do that! He loved Mary! He did!
“You alright, sugar?” A firm, manicured hand touched his shoulder.
James took his fingers off the bridge of his nose and opened his eyes. “Oh, yes. Sorry, Bettie. I think I'm getting a bit of a headache.”
Bettie shrugged her plump shoulders. “Don't worry. This job gives errybody a headache.”
It was a tad sad to admit, but Bettie was the only person he genuinely respected at work. Or even talked to, for that matter. She had a fiery temper and snapped at the customers sometimes, but underneath her tough exterior, she was a fiercely committed African American woman. She had the strange tendency to “adopt” those she approved of, and so James became to her a son of sorts. Funnily enough, in Bettie's mind, his name wasn't James but “sugar”. He supposed at the end of the day he appreciated her babyish doting, as no one ever paid too much mind to him after he was released. Despite disliking most forms of social contact, he could make do with a friend or two.
They brought him back into reality.
Sometimes he had dreams he was running through Silent Hill, just running and running. Dozens of monsters at every corner, tearing at his sleeves, the lapels of his green jacket. Spraying that hot, black, sulfurous gas at him, and him falling to the ground and choking helplessly as 3 or 4 of them slowly closed in.
A young woman and her little girl were standing at the counter, wanting some information on the due dates for a certain package. He was at the coffee machine, and his cup was a second from overfilling.
“Does this have free economy shipping? It said on the website that if I sent it in, it'd be free..”
James would have loved to say something like 'Look, lady, if the damn website says it, then take their word for it!' Of course, he was far too reserved for such a remark. “..Yes, it's free.”
Technically, he wasn't even supposed to be talking to her; he just went out to the coffee machine to get a quick drink and the lady immediately addressed him. Where was Marjorie?
The woman handed the package to him as if she was expecting this answer, and he placed it in the back room so he could label it properly. Marjorie was really the person who was supposed to be doing this for him. Victoria herself laid down the law: “Your job is in the back, so stay in the back.”
He always felt a little guilty when he inadvertently disobeyed her, but most of the time it was just an honest mistake. Every now and then someone mistook him for a front desk person and asked him questions.
He wished that people would stop treating him like he was too dangerous to be around others. He wasn't that crazy—who did they think they were dealing with? A reformed serial killer? A former Mafia hitman?
James closed the door behind him and sighed. Just 1 more hour and his shift would be over. Despite the occasional anxiety this job would bring, he did have to admit that he lucked out. Victoria was meticulous enough to get him an interview with USPS, despite everyone telling him he'd never be able to get a government job with his felony. And she miraculously landed him with 1st shift. James used to loathe jobs that didn't let you loose until it was late, but back then he actually had something to go home to.
The subway car ricketed from side to side every now and then, pushing people forward and back again. A few people bumped into him without an apology. He didn't mind as much anymore—it used to be that he would bump into someone in the lunch line in jail and get pummeled for it, even if he apologized. Any accidental act was seen as a blatant challenge to their manhood or something—it was insane. It was dangerous even to brush up against someone, because depending on who you crossed, they could either take it as a hostile gesture or a sexual invitation. James shivered. He was one of the lucky ones. He was only taken advantage of twice, with both times being practically unconscious so he didn't have to actually feel a foreign man's hands dragging over his skin.
The car stopped. He turned and waited for the pregnant woman in front of him to pass, and out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a girl who had been staring at him. Her blond hair stopped midway down her back. Two side sections of her hair were tied back with a girly butterfly clip. In the daze of the moment, people scoffed and jostled past him. One particularly rude old lady expressed the disapproval of the passengers when she cried “Move it!”
James unwillingly turned away from the girl as she exited the car. Alas, when he reached the platform and looked around, she was nowhere to be found.
His thoughts were suddenly whirring like a blender. That couldn't really be her, could it? He hadn't seen her since the day he was arrested. The last he heard about her was from Joseph, and he said she was living in Brahms—a day and a half away from Ashfield. He furrowed his brows and walked up the stairs. There's no way she could have found him again. Why would she want to walk around in a ditch like this?
Finally at home, James switched on the TV. He was hoping they would mention Cybil Bennett in the news—after all, Ashfield is close to Silent Hill, and quite a few people from this town vanished there, so she would be more than relevant for a news story. After a long 15 minutes, in which various reporters went on about upcoming events in the town and the new YMCA Center that would be here in the summer, they aired a short segment on the until-now missing police officer.
Cybil Bennett, a cop that went missing in Silent Hill in 1984, has reemerged into the public eye after nearly 20 years of absence that caused her case to run cold. Following an arrest at the Dalewood Bar for threatening the owner, authorities say she carried more than 5 fake ID's with her, along with various items...
She looked like a hag now. She had to be pushing 50, because her photos on the internet before the time she disappeared would put her at her late 20's, early 30's, tops. She had to have been at least as old as he was when he went to Silent Hill.
...Had ventured to Silent Hill all those years ago with a young writer named Harry Mason, who died in 2001, brutally murdered by an unknown assailant...
Harry Mason? He had a daughter who also went missing in Silent Hill, but she turned up a few days later...
Authorities have not yet confirmed if she will be investigated for his death, but our sources have confirmed she is currently in custody and is being questioned about the events that led to her disappearance...
...We will update you with any further information...
They'll all laugh at her, James thought sadly. No one would ever believe her, just like Joseph and Victoria never believed him. He turned off the TV and stretched out his body on the couch. His eyes closed again. He began and ended his days this way, couch-ridden and drowned in his thoughts.
If Laura really was on the subway car, then wouldn't she have said something? Or maybe she was just a figment of his imagination, like Maria..
Maybe this whole thing was just a dream, and he would wake back up in his cold cell, wondering how long he had been out.
“James?” The graveyard was shrouded in fog and the headstones were indiscernible. He almost expected Angela to emerge from the mist, with that lost, watery look in her eyes. But no ghosts appeared. Only her distant voice, calling him every now and then to make sure he was following behind.
A while passed without a word, and then the fragrant pine trees and thick fog gave way to the road. He still couldn't see her from here. Had he lost her somewhere?
“What are you going to do now?” she wrapped her small fingers around the back of his hand. He turned to her and smiled sadly.
“I...don't know, Laura.” He turned his attention back to the road again. “..What are you going to do?”
She squeezed his hand. “I dunno. I'll stay with you if that's ok. I don't want to go back to that smelly orphanage.” She looked at him. “You'll keep me, won't you?”
Chapter 2: Eleanor Rigby
I'll wait at BAR Neely's...
James sat on the bed in the trailer and opened up his map. Where would that be?
Indeed, there was a place called Neely's Bar on this map, wedged into a corner. It was several blocks away, and what scared him the most was that he would have to go back out with those things skulking the streets...
He took a deep breath and stood, spending a few more minutes of mental preparation in the trailer before he headed out. With only a wooden plank to defend himself. One could argue it was better than nothing, but after a few confrontations with those creatures, the wood had begun to splinter and break. He wondered how long it would last. He could use his fists, sure, but they were really fast when they were knocked down, and they were smart enough to anticipate kicks and punches. Before he could hit them, they would gargle and spit at him. He was lucky he managed not to breathe in the mist, but their breath burned right through skin..
His upturned hands embellished not only his splinters from gripping the wood so tightly, but the abrasions and open sores from coming in contact with the poisonous gas.
They were scattered throughout the streets, but he could at least run past most of them until he reached a more secure area, and better yet, a more effective weapon.
He needed to find Mary. How could he just stand here with his tail between his legs, when she could be at the mercy of those things? She was all alone..
James snapped awake, only now beginning to recover from the tremor that had his hands in fits. He used to think only people in horror movies woke up from dreams like this, shaking ridiculously. How overcome by mortal terror could one person be before their heart gave out?
He felt his sweating forehead. He should really be on medication for these dreams, but with his past suicide attempts, he doubted they would give him any pills. He couldn't even drink anymore—he was being given routine drug and alcohol tests, courtesy of Victoria, so his only option was to stay awake longer.
He opened the little fridge near his TV. A small bottle of Starbucks Mocha was pushed to the back, and a half finished red Gatorade from a few days ago was beginning to freeze. Why had he put an empty half-gallon of ice tea back in the fridge?
He vaguely wondered if caffeine could contribute to nightmares, but he quickly abandoned the thought. He didn't have time to get lost in his meanderings. He'd be late for work.
Just then, his phone burst out “Hello Moto,” and the loud, enthusiastic ringtone began.
It was 4:30 in the morning! Who would be calling him at this hour? He quickly scrambled around and found it stuffed between the sofa cushions.
“It's Vicky. Calm down.”
“What's the problem?”
“No problem. I want you to call off work, though.”
“Why? And why did you call me so early?”
“I know you wake up around 4 in the morning because of your insomnia. And besides, you're going to enjoy yourself. All you do is work and come home.”
“Not insomnia. Nightmares. And shouldn't you be asleep?”
Victoria yawned. What was she doing awake anyway?
“I can't call off work, Vicky. I need all the money I can—”
“Oh, please. As if you spend any of your money! You barely have anything in your fridge, and your closet is practically empty.”
James grunted. He hated when Victoria brushed his excuses aside.
“We better not be going bowling,” he growled.
Victoria burst out laughing. “You're so funny sometimes. No, no..how about some ice cream?”
The sky was paint brushed a somber, ascending shade of purple and pink. He remembered the sky looking like that as he woke up that day, putting on his green jacket and brushing his hair. How he suppressed the memory of putting her body in the trunk, he still didn't know.
Victoria was hardly ever this nice, and it was only when she suspected something was wrong. Of course, she should have known by now that everything was wrong in James' life, and it was just the way things were.
He wasn't much of an ice cream person, but just to please her, he got himself a cone of butter pecan. It used to be Mary's favorite flavor. He told her it was a bit too buttery for his taste, but now that she was dead, he chose this flavor almost involuntarily. It tasted better to him now, strangely.
“I wanted to ask you something.”
“Are you okay talking about your wife now?”
James focused on his ice cream. “I don't talk to anyone about Mary.”
“Is it because you're still uncomfortable with her?”
“No, it's just...few people really even know I was ever married in the first place. It's better that way.”
James licked around the rim to keep it from dripping, holding the cone to his lips as a contemplative gesture. “Well, because, if they find out I was married, they'll want to know why I'm not married anymore.”
“You could just say you're divorced.”
“But that's not fair to her, Vicky,” James was grave, “It's like telling them a bad joke. If I can't tell people the truth, then I don't want to talk about her at all. Okay?”
They both elapsed into silence for a while.
“Alright.” she stirred her ice cream thoughtfully. “If you don't want to talk about her, that's ok. But it's been 10 years since then. Most people would have moved on.”
“I have moved on. I served my time, I have a new job, I have a new place, and—”
“You're living a hollow existence in a dirty apartment complex filled with newly released criminals just like you, and you don't like your job or socialize with anyone, and you don't even talk to your father anymore—”
“Listen! If I hadn't moved on I would be a skeleton at the bottom of Toluca Lake with the body of my dead wife in the backseat! Alright?” James nearly shouted.
A woman turned around in mild disbelief, wondering if what she heard was right. Victoria pinched the bridge of her nose. She lifted her face to him in silent, pleading desperation. What more could she say to that?
“..Good God, James.”
In just another year, James would have to undergo another psychiatric evaluation. And if he failed, not only would he be taken from his apartment, he would lose his job and his car and be transferred to a mental hospital for as long as two years for intensive treatment. The electroshock therapy never worked, and only made him piss himself and forget more about his childhood, his parents and his school, and even his life with Mary—the good times and the bad.
Please, please, James shook his head, No more rehabilitation.
This morning with Victoria wasn't exactly a good start. He apologized for it, but that didn't take away the fact that he said it. It only went to show him he still wasn't ready to move on, even after all these years. Victoria could have worded it differently, but she was still right. Ten years is a long time—surely some of the pain must have gone by now?
Would he ever really get over it at all? Or would it keep him chained forever?
It depressed him that what should have been a fun day had to end like this. He could have had a good time. She was reaching out to him! She wanted to help..
James retreated into a corner of the station and bit back his quivering lip. Not now. Not now—why did people have to be around whenever he was hit with a wave of emotion? It needed closure. He flipped open his phone and dialed her.
It was nearly on its fifth ring when she answered. Her voice was quiet and restrained. “James—”
“I'm sorry,” his voice quietly broke. “I didn't mean it.. I just..”
“James,” he could sense a sad smile in her tone, “It's alright. I shouldn't have brought it up in the first place. Especially when we were eating ice cream. Ice cream is supposed to be a force of good.”
James made a short laugh. “Yeah.” He blinked hard and tried to reset his blurry vision.
“Don't worry about it anymore, ok? I'll come by again in a few days.”
The static began to grow. “Hey, I'm driving. I'm going to lose the signal soon. I'll see you later. Don't worry about it anymore.”
James closed his phone and breathed. He was suddenly afraid to see her in the coming days. He could always count on himself to say more stupid things to overcompensate for being a jerk.
No longer caring if anyone could tell he was recovering from certain emotions, he turned around and walked up the platform, waiting for the next car to come by. Just to give himself something to do, he started playing Extreme Tetris on his phone.
Soft footsteps approached from the opposite direction. “Hey..” a gentle voice called.
James looked up, and in that moment, he wanted it to be her.
It was just a young girl with shoulder-length brown hair, donning a rather conservative private school uniform. “Are you ok?”
He nodded. He hadn't meant to appear so disappointed, but the girl got the message and moved away.
James took a seat and put his phone in his pocket. He searched around for anyone who resembled the potentially imaginary Laura, but so far he wasn't having much luck. There was a girl across from him talking very loudly on her phone, but her blond hair had black streaks and was crunched up into waves with styling gel. Besides that, she was heavy set and dressed in tight-fitting jeans and a red v-neck t-shirt that did little to conceal her several rolls of fat. She wasn't really ugly, but she did need to lose a few pounds.
And that's about as close as he got to Laura's evasive apparition.
The same pregnant woman from yesterday entered the car before it took off and grabbed a handle. James stood and tapped her shoulder. “You can have my seat.”
She smiled appreciatively, “Oh, thank you! Which one?”
James turned around and was about to point, but to his ire, someone had already taken his seat. He was about to tell him off but the woman patted him on the back. “It's ok. I'm fine, really.”
He grabbed a handle and sighed. “Well, looks like we're both standing.”
The woman laughed. “Yeah.”
The doors from the end of the car slid open, letting through a few more people. Those who caught the fullness quickly retreated to their seats on the previous car, and others, perceiving it too late to reclaim their seats, just grabbed a handle.
She shouldered her way through the crowd but she wasn't able to get too close to him. She wasn't sure that he would be able to see her. She looked at herself through the window and fixed her hair. As he would remember it.
The car came to a stop. The crowd slowly began to disperse. James made sure the woman got out alright; in this crappy town, people didn't have a lot of respect for the elderly and the infirm either. He wondered why she just didn't have her boyfriend or husband run her around instead of taking public transportation. One of these days someone could nudge into her too hard and hurt her or the baby. He had seen people fall down while no one helped them up or picked up anything they had dropped. It was disgusting, but it was the reality of the poorer parts of Ashfield. She wasn't safe walking by herself at night. Maybe he should..
“Hey, do you mind if I walk you home?” James asked nervously.
The woman seemed taken aback, and opened her mouth to say something, but he quickly interrupted: “Please believe me, I won't do anything funny. I just want you to be safe. It's dangerous around here. I've been mugged once or twice on the streets myself.”
Again, she smiled warmly. “Actually, I don't live here in Ashfield. I only come here for work. I'm being picked up by a cab, so you don't have to look out for me.”
“Oh. Ok. Well...if you need any help with anything, I..”
“I get it.” She rubbed her belly. “Thanks. I'll keep that in mind. See you around.” She turned and left.
James left the encounter slightly flushed. It was the most he had ever talked to a stranger in years. He sincerely hoped he didn't appear creepy to her. He only wanted to help..
For a split second, he caught a glimpse of the jean skirt and flip-flops of a petite girl whose blond hair was tied back the same way as last time. She shuffled past the others at a rapid rate, seemingly in a hurry. Her hair blew in the breeze like an assortment of bright ribbons.
James knew this was his chance. If he didn't follow her, he could lose her forever.
It was the only way he would know if she was real.
“Hey!” he quickly caught up to her and stopped her in her tracks. The startled girl jumped and whirled around.
James blushed. “I-I'm sorry... I didn't mean to.. I..”
Now he suddenly didn't know why he had done something so rash, especially in light of her beautiful, bewildered face. What if she hadn't looked at him yesterday, but some handsome teenager behind him?
He'd made a terrible mistake. He should go.
“I-I'm sorry. I mistook you for someone.”
Just as he turned to leave, she cried, “Wait! I saw you yesterday, but I wasn't sure if it really was you..”
His breath caught and his heart skipped a beat.
“James..? James Sunderland, right?”
“..Yes.” he exhaled. “Laura?”
“I was afraid you wouldn't remember me. We haven't seen each other in so long.”
“Is that why you ran away?”
For a moment, Laura didn't know what to say. She interlaced her fingers, “Well, I wasn't sure if you were the right person. I was thinking.. I could have come by and saw you again tomorrow, get a better look at your face..to make sure.”
She smiled and wrapped her hands around herself, looking down. “So, um.. are you still mad at me for stepping on your hand?”
James palmed the back of his head, overcome with shame. Of course he forgave her, but more importantly—had she forgiven him? How should he even ask such a question?
“I'm not the same bratty little girl you met in Silent Hill, I promise. I've changed a lot since then. People actually say I'm too quiet now.”
“Heh.. Yeah, same for me.”
James followed Laura to a bench. They both sat down and resumed their conversation.
“So how are you?” he asked.
She crossed her legs and pulled down her skirt a bit. He hadn't realized until now how leggy she was. Though he suspected she was a legal adult, she still appeared as if she were 16 or 17 because of her demure, feminine frame. She had the height of a full grown woman, but she only came up to his collar bone. Her breasts were small and humble, though from the looks of it she tried to make herself appear a tad bustier with her low cut, striped shirt. The way she layered her hair over her chest, now that she was in the presence of another male, made him consider that she may have been teased for her small breast size. Or maybe she just didn't trust him to restrain himself.
He hated it when women grew tense around him. The last thing he wanted to do was scare someone away. Despite this, he tended to do that a lot.
“Good. I'm going to school right now, and I'm living with my best friend.”
“That's great. So do you go to Springfield Community College?”
“Good, good..” James tried to suppress the strange elation he felt building up within him. Having someone from his past who wasn't here to reprimand him or drudge up old memories, who was just normal and happy, approaching him for the first time..it filled him with a happy anxiety he hadn't felt before. “What are you taking?”
James felt a pang of embarrassment. He wondered just who inspired that major.
So the small talk went on, both of them actively dodging anything having to do with Silent Hill, his arrest, or Mary. In fact, they appeared as two strangers who had nothing in common, but were mutually interested in the other's life. James didn't have much to say about his life that was looking up, or getting better, and Laura didn't have much to say about her life getting any worse—rather, she must have been spoiled by her foster family, if she had one.
After a while they stopped talking. At this point, James could have went home, and Laura could have gone her own way, as she almost always did, but something kept them both there. Wordless, they stared at the people whizzing by like busy flies, the colors of their clothes meshing together in a messy rainbow. The car came and went, people went in and out. That was the story of James' life after Mary—just watching life go by. Wondering what other people did, what they loved, what they hated, what they had to live for these days. If life was just an endless cycle of people who had it good, those who were in the middle, and those like James: on the brink of nothingness and not particularly caring.
“So..what are you going to do?” Laura asked quietly. He almost hadn't heard her. It sounded like the child's voice from his dream, a ghost behind him staring at the road, pensively squeezing the palm of his hand. The child seemed to want to say, Take me anywhere.
And to this day, he didn't know where he was, or where to go, for that matter. So he only had the same thing to say to her, even after all these years.
“..I don't know.”
“We'll both see where we want to go, then.”
They stood and walked up the stairs and out into the street. The town was lit up like Christmas. Thousands of orange, lazy lights blinked overhead. Laura was content to just let the breeze blow through her hair and clothes.
“Where do you want to go?” she asked again.
For now, they had to ignore the urge to ask everything they really wanted to know. Someday, they would have to talk about those things. It wouldn't be pretty, James knew. Laura must still resent him. But what exactly did this mean, now that they were together?
Had he been forgiven?
Chapter 3: 4 In The Morning
James sat across from Laura in a small Szechuan restaurant. The red leather cushion of his seat was pocketed with holes and the absence of a knob on one of legs made the chair rickety. The walls were mottled and peeling, and they hadn't been painted over in years. Intricate, cut-out dragons decked the walls, but even those were falling off at some places. Bulbous, tasseled lanterns blew around on the ceiling whenever the door opened. Most of them just came in to pick up their food and ate outside, but force of habit had James eating in like the misanthrope he was.
“You alright, James?” Laura asked in mid-chew, her cheeks puffed up with noodles.
“I'm fine,” he smiled. “Just thinking.”
She turned her attention back to her food. Laura was semi-skilled with chopsticks, as she grabbed most of the food she attempted. James was too much of a westerner to ever learn to do that—forks and spoons were sufficient for him.
His eye caught the pink cat in the doorway, ushering in potential customers with its Cheshire smile and endlessly waving paw. It made him think of the window in Lakeview Hotel, the cute but poorly drawn kitten smiling back at him after Laura left in a hurry to find Mary's missing letter. He had found evidence of Laura's presence all around Silent Hill before that point; kittens and teddy bears stared at him from the ruined walls of Brookhaven Hospital and the Blue Creek Apartments. Her adorable vandalism strangely led him in the right directions oftentimes and unknown to her, ended up saving his life once or twice.
“Hey, Laura… Do you still draw?”
“Uhm…” She tilted her head, “Draw? Like when I was little?” She laughed. “No. I can't believe you still remember that.”
“It's funny what your mind chooses to remember sometimes.” he cupped his chin and continued looking outside.
“You look like you stay up late. You have circles under your eyes.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.. I don't sleep much, really.”
Laura wanted to ask if he had nightmares, but thought that would be too probing, especially during their first encounter. “Oh. That sucks.”
“In a major way,” he laughed. “You don't stay up late, do you?”
“I know I shouldn't because I have classes, but I do anyway. I can't help it.”
“Sometimes to 2 in the morning on school nights. In the summer, I stay up later, usually all night.”
“Hmm.. I usually wake up around 4. I have to be at work by 6 anyway, so it's not like it matters.”
James boxed the remainder of his meal while Laura bought one last coke, and then they both headed out. James snuck another look at her. Seeing her face was like remembering something completely forgotten, like the memories of being a baby. It was such an out-of-place feeling. To this day, he wondered what exactly made people happy around old acquaintances, no matter what their past relationship was.
This wasn't the first time this happened.
A few weeks ago, James was perusing through Walmart, throwing the worst kind of junk food into the cart for wont of real nutrition, and a woman passed him and called, “James!”
The woman's name was Chloe Abernathy, his sworn enemy in the 7th grade. She relentlessly ridiculed him for being one of the chubbier kids, and even managed to make others join in the taunting. She was the beautiful, spoiled, popular girl in school who had all the cool and interesting friends. And he? Well, he was one of the undesirables—shy, wore clothes from the last decade, totally hopeless around any girl that wasn't his Mom—the works.
She might as well have said, “Hey, James, how are you? You remember me from 7th grade, right? Remember how I used to call you names like 'fat cow' and 'beached whale' so much it made you hate yourself? Ahh.. Good times.”
That woman actually had the nerve to say he was handsome now, and she guessed that good-looking guys must go through a weird phase growing up.
And exactly what kind of phase was she referring to? The “frump” phase?
The memory almost had him roll his eyes.
Laura lived on a corner of the street in what looked like yet another crappy apartment complex. But because of this, it was cheaper and closer to the school in order to attract students. She was probably living in a one bedroom with not only her best friend, but her best friend's boyfriend, and anyone else who got unreasonably drunk and decided to crash there for the night. James thought it might be a little off-putting to ask her if she had a boyfriend herself, but he speculated that if she did, she probably wouldn't have spent all this time with a guy like him.
She stood on the top step. “Hey.. Lemme give you my number. You have a cell phone?”
“Oh, yeah,” James took out his phone, “Go ahead.”
Laura told him her number and vice versa. “What do you have?”
“Do you have unlimited everything?”
“I..I never checked. I just got a standard plan.”
“Well, do you want to meet again tomorrow? If you're busy I can just call you later. Or you could call me.”
“I get out of work at 2 in the afternoon, so I should be available for the rest of the day. It's kinda sad how much time I have on my hands.”
“Oh, don't feel bad. I'm the same way. If I don't have homework, I'm at home watching TV or eating junk food.”
“So you don't work?”
“Only like two days a week. We're slowing down right now.”
James nodded. “Well, it was good catching up and all..” and began to descend the steps.
“..Does it matter to you if I don't want to go home right now?” Laura fiddled with her fingers. “I mean, I don't want to go home and be bored.”
He smiled. “Don't you have school tomorrow?”
“My classes don't start until 12. I'll be fine.”
“All of the places are staring to close now..”
She ground one of her pink sandals into the pavement pensively, “Then, why don't we go to your place?” she smirked.
“So they have a place where people who were just released are supposed to live?” Laura dragged her polished fingers on the counter top of the kitchenette. It only composed of five cabinets above her head, a small microwave, and an island in the middle that reminded her more of a cutting board than a kitchen table. There wasn't even any room for chairs.
“Yeah, I guess. This complex is near the outskirts, and is kind of out of the way, so we won't be able to bother “normal” people. This neighborhood is filled with old geezers, and we're far away from the schools and playgrounds and stuff..”
James did some last-minute tidying up, snatching his blanket and pillow off the couch and throwing them in his unused bedroom. He quickly chucked every can of Red Bull, bottle of Gatorade and Diet Coke he could find on the living room table and threw them into the trash can. He pushed in the cushions and dusted the furniture off the best he could. Thankfully, Laura wasn't paying attention, and was instead horrified at the total lack of food in the cabinets and silverware in the shelves.
“You've been living in here for a year now and you haven't gotten any food in the cabinets?”
“Uhh.. Well you know I just eat out a lot. I know that's not too healthy but I can't cook to save my life.”
“Yeah, I could tell from the pizza boxes scattered everywhere,” she laughed, “You need a woman's touch so badly in here.”
“Yeah. It isn't much, is it?”
Laura sat on the couch. “So how long are you supposed to live here?”
“Another year. If I pass my evaluation.”
“They have to test me to see if I'm improving.”
“So will you be sent back to jail if you fail?” Laura frowned.
“No, they'll..” James was growing uncomfortable, “They'll want to put me in a hospital. They basically decided that I can be around people and live on my own, but they just want to make sure once and for all that I'm okay up here.” He pointed to his head.
“But I think you were under...special circumstances. Your case was special, I mean.”
James laughed. “They think I'm special, all right.”
Laura cupped her mouth and laughed too. “I didn't mean that!”
Was it alright to laugh at this now? Were they mocking Mary's memory or were they both acknowledging that James was just a little...absent-minded?
“Do you hang out with people?”
He sat back. “No one except my probation officer. As weird as that sounds.”
“What's his name?”
“She's a woman. Her name's Victoria, and she's always checking up on me.”
“I thought they only gave guys male probation officers.”
“Not always. If they think you're going to be a problem, they'll probably give you a guy. And besides, I could never get over on Victoria if I tried. She's...very trained.”
“Ha ha ha!”
Much to James' bewilderment, he managed to keep this girl entertained for hours. She thought James was so funny and interesting. This phenomenon hadn't occurred in years; in fact, the last woman who was this interested in him was Mary herself, back when they met at that party in '86. He had told her a forest joke involving a rabbit and a bear and she laughed so hard she nearly spilled her drink. It was a silly way to start a friendship, they both knew, but they were inseparable since. By midnight, they were already making out at the back of the house. Mary kept laughing and interrupting; she kept bringing up the joke. Looking back on it, it was pretty funny—Mary could be so adorable when she was drunk.
James furrowed his brows. Why did he feel he was talking to Mary again?
“Whew!” she cried. “It's so late!”
Her cell phone read 11:17 pm.
“Time flies when you're having fun, I guess,” he remarked shyly.
“Yeah. I didn't expect you to be this funny, James. But I guess it would make sense that I would think that—the last time I met you, you weren't happy.” she frowned.
“Mm,” James took a swig of ice-tea, desperately hoping she wouldn't further this.
“So, um, it's pretty late out.. I guess it's time for me to go.” she stood, dusting off her jean skirt and straightening out her hair.
“I'll drive you.” James led her to the door, but as he opened it, she turned around very suddenly and held it open.
“Wait..” she said, almost breathlessly.
It left him stunned. Was it him, or did she seriously not want to leave?
“My friend is probably sleeping, and I don't have my key, so.. I don't think she would hear me.”
James didn't show it, but he strongly suspected she was lying. Why would she walk around without her key, especially when her friend wouldn't be there all the time to answer the door? They were both college students and they were both working. Their schedules wouldn't permit them to simply forget their keys.
So what now?
“Um..” James started.
“Do you mind if I spend the night here?”
James withdrew from the door and turned away, examining the state of his home. He didn't like where this was going. No one had stayed over before, and he was beginning to question Laura's intentions. She was, after all, a teenage girl, and girls had all sorts of schemes up their sleeves.
Laura laughed. “You don't really think I'll try anything, do you? I barely know you, and besides, you're too old for me!”
James quickly straightened. “Of course not!” he tried to make it seem he found the whole idea very silly, “It's just it's very sudden. We've only hung out for a few hours, and now you're sleeping over.”
Laura edged her way in with a big smile. “So it's okay?”
“So it's okay?” she asked.
James walked off. “Yeah, it's fine,” he gruffly confirmed.
He pulled out his map once more and sat down on the bench, deciding to sift through all the papers he collected before they headed off. The size of this town, coupled with the dense fog and the hidden monsters, made this town that much more of a threat.
Looked like their next stop was the Historical Society. He just hoped there weren't too many of them on Nathan Avenue; they were both exceptionally vulnerable now considering that Maria didn't have a weapon. Apparently, she had a revolver earlier, but threw it away somewhere. What the hell would make her wanna do that?
Suddenly, Angela's voice rang in his mind: “If I kept it, I don't know what I might do..”
James pulled up his pants leg and took the knife from his boot. He held it up to her. “Maria.. I think you should have this. You'll have to be within close range to attack the monsters, but hell, it's better than nothing. That way, you'll be able to defend yourself if we get separated somehow, okay?”
“Oh..” she grabbed the knife and examined it, “Eww. I can see it's been used.”
“Not by me,” he murmured, as he carefully folded his maps and memos and tucked them back inside his pockets. He stood, finding his eyes traveling all over her. She looked like Mary's missing twin, yet she was so much more beautiful, so much more..desirable. She repulsed him at first with her shameless sexual advances, but disgustingly enough, they were beginning to light a fire in him. How could he still be such a pig in the worst of times? To think that even in a place like this, he could catch himself wanting another woman..
Of course, he wanted all sorts of women after Mary got sick, but he never acted on any of those urges. He couldn't live with himself if he had spent even a minute in another woman's bed while Mary was slowly dying in her own.
“Maria.. Let's go.”
Shrouded in his own covers, shaking, James tried to regain his composure. The apartment was completely dark, and the fan in front of him whirred calmly. Not surprisingly, he was sweating again, and his hands were trembling on occasion. He had relived this experience so many times in his dreams that by now he should be numb. So why wasn't he? Why did these dreams continue to torment him?
He learned what he had to; he saw what he needed to see. Why couldn't he just let it go!
The light of the refrigerator made him squint his eyes. He searched around for the ice-tea he had earlier, and gulped it all down. He could watch some TV for an hour or two, and try to go back to sleep. He could only hope he wouldn't have to fight anything in his next, inevitable dream.
He slowly walked down the hall to his bedroom door. Laura lay peacefully in his bed, turned away from him. Luckily, he had another fan on in the room to muffle the sounds of his footsteps.
There, in the doorway, he stared at her back, wondering just why he was doing this. Why he was suddenly wishing for something he could never have again.
He wished he was in that bed with his wife, holding her again. He wished that she wasn't sick or angry with him—he just wanted to hold her and have her be okay. But this warmth..he would never have that ever again. Nor did he deserve it.
He was the one who took it right away from himself. He was a victim of himself. It was his fault.
She never deserved that. And neither did Laura. She shouldn't be here..
James palmed his face. He kept hearing Mary calling his name repeatedly, to hold her in the abyss of his mind. She wanted him with her, in the same dark place she was. She was all alone.
He slowly turned away, unsure just what he would end up doing if he stayed there. He didn't trust himself. Painfully numb, he crawled back onto the couch and threw the covers over his face. He checked his cell phone.
Another day had already snuck up on him again.
Laura eased her eyes open and looked around groggily. James had all the blinds shut in the house, including the ones in his bedroom, and for an hour or two it had her believing it was still nighttime. But now she really couldn't argue with her biological clock, as it kept saying that the sun should have been up a long time ago. She sat up and scratched her back lazily, wondering if James was awake too. She was kind of disappointed that she couldn't spend much time with James before classes. As it was, she still had homework to do that she totally neglected because of him.
She didn't remember the door being open. And why was her entire body covered in a blanket? It was too hot last night for blankets..
She shrugged it off and her feet plopped on the floor. The blinds opened to let in calm, bright orange rays of sun. She was thinking she should open up all the blinds, but the presence of too much light might end up annoying James. And he just might be one of those paranoid types who thought that people were watching them when they had the blinds up.
Laura walked down the hallway cautiously. The fan was still running the pillow was still on the couch. Alas, when she went into the living room, the couch was unoccupied. Moments later, her phone vibrated.
Sent Thurs. @ 9:21 am. Frm : James S. (mobile)
Had to go to work din want 2 wake u up. Srry. Please lock door b4 yu go to school
She briefly wondered if she could sleep over again. Or perhaps...that was too much to hope for. The fact that he didn't wake her up and say goodbye before he left..
She doubted the excuse would work again tonight.
Chapter 4: Tender Sugar
James lit a cigarette to quell his nervousness. He would have to face Victoria today.
Not only that, but he would also have to tell Laura that she couldn't come around anymore.
Really, she was kind and made him laugh. Things like the lilt in her voice, her skinny, fragile limbs, the pink lip gloss that she wore, and her tousled blond hair had already grown on him. But he couldn't have this go on any longer than it already had.
Especially after last night. It was as if he was temporarily out of his mind. He felt like he was walking into that room to kill her like he killed Mary. He never wanted to relive that feeling ever again.
And, God, he never wanted to end up hurting Laura. He just...couldn't trust it.
James rested against the wall, throwing his head back and blowing out the smoke. He tapped the cigarette and the ashes wafted somberly to the ground. The pack of Marlboro Reds he had in his pocket, bought in the rush of the moment in a corner store just this morning, did little to put him at ease. He felt the needle-like pricks of a headache coming on.
Sooner or later it would have ended, anyway. She didn't want him for a friend. Not him or his baggage. It was best if she didn't have to deal with it. He could barely deal with it himself, so how could he thrust it upon another person?
Laura should be out hanging with her best friends, out there in the real world, having fun and just being happy. He had to stop her before she made a big mistake.
He brought the cigarette to his face, twirling it around in his pondering fingers, until, seconds later, he crushed it and smothered the burn he felt in his palm. He opened his hand. It reminded him of a butterfly's death at the hands of a child. His palm was sooty and a circular increment of skin was red and throbbing painfully now that it was exposed to the air.
There was some evidence to surmise that Laura had touched up the place. The space was a little cleaner, and the tables and floor weren't littered with plastic bottles and cans and empty bags of chips. No pizza boxes shoved into the corner of the kitchenette. More light in the house on account of the curtains being pulled back.
Laura must have felt the need to clean up for him before she left. How embarrassing. A girl he hadn't seen in more than a decade, spending the night and then cleaning up his apartment in the morning before she went off to classes.
He still remembered her sly smile, her arms akimbo. “You need a woman's touch so badly in here..”
Maybe he did. But he wasn't about to let Laura do it anymore.
And then the dreaded knock came.
James abruptly dusted off his hand and whisked it from side to side, as if that would get it to stop stinging. He made his way to the door and hid the offending hand behind his back.
Victoria smiled. All of the strain had gone from her face. She had done her hair for him, apparently. Her normally short, wavy black hair was now curled at the ends and she went into lighter, peach tones for her make-up. To top that off she wore a sleeveless, black, v-neck shirt that tied at the back and a pair of blue skinny jeans. She even had on black high heels.
James hoped he was looking at her with a normal expression. Victoria always looked beautiful, but this must be her alluring way of making an apology.
“You look very nice.” James said quietly.
“Thanks. You look like you just came home from work. Don't you want to change out of that?”
He shrugged. “Um.. Doesn't matter.”
“Why are you being so quiet?” she paused. “Look, I told you not to worry about it.”
“It's..not that.” Well, part of it was that, but also.. “I'm just a little tired.”
“Another nightmare?” Victoria took herself to the couch and leaned on the armrest, placing her hands casually on her lap.
“No. I didn't tell you.. I met someone I hadn't seen in a very long time.”
Victoria's brow rose. “And?”
“Her name is Laura. We met in Silent Hill. I just don't... I don't think she should come around anymore.”
Victoria's expression grew serious. She stood and put her hand to James' cheek. “Why? Was she a friend of Mary's? Is that it?”
“...Yes. But that's not the problem. At least, I don't think so..”
“Okay..” she rubbed his temple with her thumb. James normally would have pulled away from her and insisted that he didn't need any help. He might even have yelled at her to leave. But now, he was too weak to swat her hand away.
“It's just.. I don't think I can be around another woman like that. I don't trust myself anymore.”
“James?” she stepped back. “What are you saying? That you think you might hurt her or something?”
“I don't want to burden her, Vicky. She's too young to be worrying about someone like me. I shouldn't even have talked to her. I should have just walked away.”
“This isn't good, James. You should be able to meet people from your past and talk to them without being bombarded by these feelings. This is what I tried to get across the other day. The fact that you don't talk to your father, that you're still uncomfortable with..”
He was already turning away from her touch, which told her that he was putting his wall up and was about to get surly and defensive.
“What I mean to say is, you don't need to feel this way anymore. Laura hasn't seen you in years, I'm sure, so this is practically a fresh start. Did you meet her just yesterday?”
“Well, that's a good thing, isn't it? The fact that she wants to be friends with you is good. This is a healthy way to acknowledge your past and finally begin to accept it. You need this.”
“No, she doesn't need this. She doesn't need me.”
“You can't keep pushing people away like this. You'll only end up hurting yourself more. If you can't confront these things, it won't look good for your evaluation..”
“Screw the evaluation!” James burst. “This isn't about me, alright? This is about her! I don't want to cause her any more pain than I already have!”
Victoria was rigid. She had dealt with his outbursts many times before, and this definitely wasn't the worst of them. But what turned these conflicts into sheer stalemates was his persecution complex, his harsh guilt that had him hurt those around him time and time again. These were the words that James fed her when she confronted him about intentionally avoiding Frank. He broke down and told her that his father's face had said it all. Said that he couldn't possibly take away the pain from all he'd done. That he was irredeemable.
It was this attitude that had lost him so many friends over this past year, the reason he simply drifted from everyone he knew. It was a vicious cycle. Laura probably had done nothing to make him believe that he would end up hurting her, but in his mind, there existed a reality where he was some kind of negative force that contaminated things it made contact with.
She didn't want to believe it at first, but if he kept thinking this way, he would end up at the hospital whether they both liked it or not.
And this was exactly what he didn't want to hear. Perhaps what he didn't care to hear.
But she had to keep trying. So many others had simply given up on him, but the fact that she was his probation officer put his self-condemning habits at a disadvantage. He had to deal with her regardless. Victoria only hoped that, through their experiences together, both good and bad, he would somehow learn to be a real person again. To heal.
Still, the problem remained. Maybe James knew he didn't want Laura around anymore, but did Laura?
“Hey, do you have the homework from yesterday?” Katelyn asked.
“Oh, yeah, I do. I don't think it's all correct, though.”
“It doesn't matter. I just need a numbers 7 and 9.”
“Ok. So is Brian coming over again today?”
“Yeah. Where were you last night?”
She smiled warily. “Um.. That's an interesting story. I was at the station yesterday, and I didn't tell you this, but for the past couple of days I was looking for this person that I met years ago..”
“Oh no. You weren't stalking them were you?”
“No.” she giggled. “I just saw him by chance the one day, and I wasn't sure if it was him, so I never went up to him and said 'hi' until last night. It's just it's been ten years—”
“Yeah, but did you sleep with him?”
“Augh! That's gross, Katelyn. He's a full grown man!”
“Then what were you doing with him, then? How did you get to sleep over his house? It was just the way you were putting it—”
“I didn't put it any way! It was just like a friendly thing. It was too late to go back out.”
“But you had your key with you.”
“I know, but..!” she sighed. “I didn't wanna go home.” Laura playfully crossed her arms and looked away, amused that the situation sounded so dirty. “It's really not like that, trust me.”
“I know, I'm just playing with you.”
“Things were a little weird this morning, though. I just wish he would have woken me up before he left..”
They first met all those years ago, in a foggy, abandoned ghost town.
She wasn't too keen on Eddie. One could tell how aimless and simple-minded he was. She lost him quite a lot. And when they crossed paths he only went on about some guy and his dog, the football team, the players, their cruel jokes..
Occasionally, she saw an older girl walking around the town, appearing just as aimless as Eddie was, although significantly more scared and troubled by unknown things.
And then there was James. James, that dirty, clumsy, fumbling fool. He was like Eddie and the other girl, running around and searching for elusive answers. She thought he was so pitiful. Now he wanted to make up to Mary? After all he had done?
She originally wanted to find Mary and have them both go away together, leaving stupid James to scratch his head like a confused monkey while she finally got to have the kind, beautiful, perfect mother she had been declined since birth.
She already resented James from the beginning. Countless times, Mary told her, “James is coming today. You'll finally get to meet him,” but he never came. It was from the broken, sadly reproached look on Mary's face that she began to hate him—the cold, absent, faceless husband.
But through their encounters, she came to realize that he wasn't the callous person she imagined him to be. He was probably in about as much anguish mentally that Mary had been in physically. It showed painfully in his solemn, detached demeanor, his stained clothes, his breathless determination.
Only when she got older did she realize that he had been worried sick about her and practically chased her all around town to protect her from getting hurt. Even after she stepped on his hand and locked him in that room for a transgression so small.. His fatherly concern and his forgiving nature ended up having quite an impression on her.
When she saw him in the hotel room, he was bleeding pretty badly from his shoulder and he was wounded somewhere on his right arm. He didn't seem to care about it at all. He had his head down, turned away from the static blaring from the TV.
Even after he told her what he had done to Mary, her hatred of him was only disguised hurt.
At that age, she didn't have a clear concept of the act of murder; it was just something that greedy, horrible people did to unsuspecting innocents.
Mary's last letter cleared the air, and was ultimately cathartic. It helped her come to terms with James' actions. Yes, he had his selfish reasons, but in doing so, he released her from her pain. She was free.
Now it was James who needed to be released from his own pain.
She just didn't know when it was going to happen—if it ever did.
“I haven't seen her in the news since,” James commented. “Cybil isn't an interesting topic anymore, I suppose.”
“Well, they probably just..”
“Committed her.” James finished, nodding bitterly.
“They did not.”
“How do you know?” he countered. “They probably put her there because she told them the truth.”
Victoria held her tongue. This was just the other side of James' coin. He was a person, and he had his moods. Hopefully, this would pass. Right now, she was trying to focus on not encouraging his notions. Likely, in a few days, he would stop his dark talk and be his usual quiet, sarcastic, and stand-offish self.
“You could look online and see if they have anything more on her.”
James only huffed.
Victoria drew another sip of her coffee, pensive.
“James. I want you to talk to Laura today. And I want you to tell her that you're gonna be busy for a while, but you'll see her again soon.”
“Did you listen to anything I said before? I told you she's not coming around anymore.”
“You're feeling this way now, but in a few days, you won't be. And then you'll regret pushing her away. That's why I'm telling you to say that—because I know if you completely cut the cord, you're the one who'll be hurting more in the long run.”
James opened his mouth, but Victoria only held a finger to his lips.
“Just please..trust me.”
Back at the subway platform, James sat down on the very bench they had talked on last night, and waited. Laura would be here soon after classes. He knew, like the rest of them, she couldn't take a hint and still wanted to hang out. He had to just tell her. Maybe it wouldn't make sense to her, but she'd forget him soon enough anyway.
Hopefully, he'd forget himself eventually and could, at some point, pass through this life like water, and never have to feel again.
The cars whizzed by like lizards, and people went about their business as per usual. No one paid mind to him.
Sometimes he felt as if he were just a hollow shell, a doll of a person, looking through the mirror and seeing nothing. The people he saw on the streets everyday had something that he suspected he hadn't been born with. He was never very normal anyway. He was always the quiet, awkward one—yet, so was Mary. She was also pristine and lovable, and absolutely his.
But never. Never again.
“James?” Laura nudged his arm. She hadn't sat down, and only just approached him. “Are..you ok?”
“Laura..” he trailed off. His heart began beating in his ears.
“Were you waiting here for me? How come you just didn't call?”
“I..” Now he was tongue tied. Great. Why had he come here anyway? He didn't have to listen to Victoria. He could have just never come here again.. Take the long way to work every day. Whatever it took to—
“James, you're scaring me.” Laura still had her hand on his shoulder. “You look kinda spaced-out.”
“I'm fine. Listen, Laura. I wanted to tell you this last night, but I didn't know how to put it..”
Laura waited for a moment, almost appearing tense, and then a flash of recognition graced her face. “Oh! Listen, I know, it was kind of out-of-nowhere to just suddenly ask to sleep over, but the truth is, I just had a lot of fun and didn't want to leave. It's like when my girlfriends—”
“That's what I was getting at,” he started. His breath hitched, his stomach was turning sour, and he began feeling sick with himself.
“I would prefer it if you...didn't talk to me anymore.”
She shrunk back, confused. “What? Why?” It almost came out as a whisper.
“I don't want to be reminded anymore, Laura.” His eyes trailed to the ground. “I can't have you in my house.”
“What are you talking about?” she cried. “I thought you liked me—I mean, we were laughing and carrying on last night and I just thought you—”
“Well I don't feel that way anymore, alright?” James stood, masking his agony behind angry eyes. “You just want to pretend to be friends with me so you can go back to your real friends and laugh with them about how neurotic I am. This is all just a joke to you.”
Lies, all of it, but he needed her to leave forever. This was the way it had to be.
“What are you saying!” Laura trembled, her small, blue eyes red-rimmed and just beginning to tear. “I can't.. I don't understand, James..” she sobbed.
James let out an involuntary gasp, about to break himself, and walked away as fast as he could to deter him from looking back or trying to repair what he had done.
“James! Where are you going?”
No answer. He just increased his pace.
Laura knew it was futile to call after him anymore. He resolutely ignored her, the distance between them growing greater and greater with every passing second. Mute, she threw one of her shaking arms around her waist and wiped at her tears with the other. The sobs kept coming, kept wracking her like a cage. What had she done wrong! Why did he have to leave!
She didn't understand..
Gradually, his black leather jacket receded from her vision, and he disappeared completely into the crowd like a ghost. She sat on the bench for long, painful minutes, staring at that crowd in disbelief, desperately trying to wish him back, to push it into his head that she needed him to come back. They couldn't leave each other like this. They just couldn't.
But he never reemerged.
Through her confusion, her helpless frustration, she couldn't believe what had just elapsed. Moreover, what had just been destroyed for not the first, but the second time. Years ago at that road, and now again in this damaged, overwrought platform, he showed her promise and then took it back with no hope of recovery.
Her blue eyes blurred, her hands thoughtlessly squeezed, her temples throbbing, she tried to assess the situation calmly, but to no avail. Her stomach wouldn't ease, her throat wouldn't unclench and let her breathe normally, and her sudden, terrible embarrassment just wouldn't let go.
The subway car stopped again at the same spot it did everyday, sliding the doors open and letting the careless throng through.
No one paid her any mind.
She couldn't think of one single place to go.
Chapter 5: Afraid
The next morning, he had that all too familiar feeling in his gut. He felt the endless need to throw up, but there was nothing to purge. Throughout all his insane thinking, he feared that he would have to suffer the memory of it for as long as he lived.
In the long run... Did it even make sense?
“So what did you tell her, James?”
His fringe obscured his eyes. “I told her I didn't want to see her anymore.”
Suddenly, he felt the powerful force of her hand across his face. “Dammit, James!”
He was in his actual bedroom, a place that had not been crossed until only two days ago. Laura was once sound asleep here, her beautiful frame shrouded in darkness and her slow, soundless breathing tantalizing James' tortured imagination.
Mary had looked just like that after she had died. Her eyes were closed peacefully, now settled on death like a lily pad floating on the water. There was even a despairing and beautiful mysticism about it; she had passed on into wherever people went at the moment of death, leaving their unfit shell behind. Maybe she finally found out just exactly what this life is—if it's really the end, or just one stage of being in a convoluted cycle.
Beds now carried a painfully heavy connotation. In truth, he didn't even like the word. He supposed it might not make sense to someone that he had a psychological aversion to beds, even if they knew how he killed Mary. But anything close to the memory, which even now could turn him from a calm demeanor to a bereaved, uncontrollably sobbing sap, was enough to make him do strange things..
He would never turn on the light in this room. The door was always locked up, like the memory, and layers upon layers of dust from a year before were still there. Laura didn't say anything about it, perhaps knowing that he wouldn't be able to explain it in any way that would make sense, and furthermore, it would end up upsetting him.
Did she really pity this old man, a sorry hermit who shut himself up in this hole and forced himself to care about nothing?
Maybe she was just chasing after a dream that had died long ago, and one day, she would finally realize his worth and clear him from her mind. She would bury him in the ground like a time capsule and never revisit any memory of him ever again, leaving him in the darkness, where he most clearly belonged.
Idle chatter resounded from every isle. It was Walmart, so of course everyone and their mother were here, but it must have been quite a special day, because he managed to catch the back of a man who was built similar to him, whose gray hairs were slicked back like James always had his. He was walking in a unguided direction, taking his time, picking up this, looking at that.
James knew he should take the opportunity and disappear.
He redirected his cart the way he came, only to find that three others were slowly converging on his location to get in the isle. James muttered, “Good God,” and turned around with a compliant look on his face. As a quiet, out-of-the-way person, he was very careful to watch his physical expressions in public, lest he draw attention to himself with just a roll of the eyes or an exasperated sigh of displeasure.
He was swiftly passing down the isle and was nearly on the home stretch when the man, disturbed from his musings by the sound of the approaching cart, gasped and gestured him to stop by waving his hands out in front of him.
He turned around, hoping that he could fool him into believing that he hadn't seen him. “Dad..?”
“James. I can't believe it's you. I haven't seen you in so long..” Frank approached him a little unsteadily, reaching his hands out in front of him, almost like a zombie. He was like James (or James was like him) in that, when they finally caught sight of something they had been yearning for, and it was finally within reach, they slowly closed in on it, like the first taste of an unfamiliar food. They wanted to know if it was real or not.
James, more than his father probably knew, chased mirages more than was healthy.
“Yeah, I'm here, Dad.” From force of habit, he looked away. Why was it that he could never really look someone in the face? Would he always be this perpetually ashamed?
Frank's rough, veined hand settled on his shoulder. “Son. God. I haven't seen you in so long.”
“I know. It's been a while..”
“It's been more than a year and a half!” he suddenly burst. “Why don't you ever call me, James? Are you mad at me or something? If you are, just tell me.”
“No, no, Dad.” He suddenly had a horrible crick in his neck. Frank's eyes were on him like a gold trophy, and he didn't know what to say. “I think.. I mean, I..”
“Spit it out.” Frank laughed, just glad to hear his voice.
“Uh.. I just.. We just kinda lost touch.”
Frank went sly-eyed. “No, more like, you didn't feel like talking to me anymore. Aunt Hild said you don't talk to anyone in the family anymore, and you used to be really close to your Aunt Hild.”
“Oh, uh..” Vague memories of their closeness flashed in his mind. They were such under-visited, Charlie-Chaplin images, and by now so faded and useless he couldn't remember exactly why he even liked her so much. “So how is Aunt Hilda?”
“Dead.” Frank candidly remarked. He was never really one to beat around the bush. “But otherwise good.”
James fought a smile and a laugh, despite the joke.
“Oh, about a few months ago. She asked about you a few days before she kicked it. She actually thought you went back to jail or something.”
“Hah,” James half-smiled, “No.”
I think 9 years is enough, is what he really wanted to say.
James knew he was capable of avoiding more social interactions, friendly gatherings, parties and get-togethers than most people, while paving a new record for antisocial behavior by way of acting like he wouldn't see or hear a person who had called out his name or waved to him, but this was different. Perhaps it was because Frank had been a parent, and therefore, was used to being ignored. Or maybe it was just that he was trying to get away from the wrong person. They were alike in quite a lot of ways, and quite possibly, his father knew the game James was playing. Whatever the reason, Frank wouldn't be shrugged off.
James casually said that he would meet him in the electronics section after he got his milk and eggs, but Frank just said that he needed the same things and would follow him there. After following him all around the store, creating a plethora of small talk to keep them entertained along the way, he asked a hated question.
“What are you doing after this?”
James wanted, more than anything, to somehow squirm past this inquiry. But he was stuck with it, and Frank was waiting for an answer. As usual, James uttered the most overused sentence in the English language without thinking.
“I don't know.”
Frank paused. “Well, I'd really like it if you swung by the apartments for a little bit. Not long. Just for a little chat. I think I might have some things for you, too.”
James wasn't interested in finding out what these things were—knowing Frank, it was probably some useless trinket that he wanted to get rid of or some kind of passed-down heirloom from an obscure ancestor.
“You still live in that complex, right? You're only a few blocks away from here. That's good when you need to go shopping, ain't it?”
“Well, I'm not too far out of the way either, so you can just get in the car with me and I'll take you back..” Frank trailed off as he absently observed a row of dish detergent, then added, “When you're ready.”
Before James even really knew what he walked into, they were in the parking lot, searching for Frank's now forgotten parking spot. James suspected, as did many, many others before him, that more than 90 percent of people who walked in a store forgot where they parked their car by the time they walked out. Mary even pointed that out once—playfully scolding him for forgetting their spot when it was his turn to remember.
“You always were so forgetful..”
It was alien, being back inside of this car again. The old felt seats were hard now, having been sat on for more than 30 years. This car, a blue 1965 Plymouth Barracuda, was Frank's pride and joy, and he never even let anyone touch the steering wheel. Both the car and James also shared the same birth year, adding to his father's sentimentality.
All the while the sour anxiety from this morning had not gone away, and only intensified as they drove on, because if this meant anything, it meant that they had to discuss something.
James turned to his father in fearful anticipation, studying his features, the movements of his eyes, the grip of his hands on the steering wheel. How did he feel right now?
Just as he was about to force the painful question from his throat, they came to an easy stop at the front of South Ashfield Heights apartment complex. The depressing, bricked palace was somehow smaller than he remembered it.
Frank turned off the ignition and shoved the keys into his pocket. “James.. It's alright if you don't wanna come in, but.. Will you wait out here? I have to show you something.”
James paused, thinking it over. “I can come in,” he said carefully.
Frank had opened the car door and was going to step out, but at that statement, he made a double take. “Really? Are you really alright with it, James?”
They both made their way up the steps. Of course, Frank was a little slower, given his advanced age of 74. Strangely, only now was James starting to realize that his father was breaking down. He had a slow, cautious gait, and at one point, he needed James' hand to help him up the stairs because of a sudden cramp.
“Oh, would you look at me, son? I'm falling apart here.”
“Come on, don't say that, Dad. You're more active than I am.” He smiled, but Frank didn't appear to be all that pleased to hear that.
After fumbling with a fat ring of keys, Frank opened the door to his own room and James stepped in.
It was pretty much what the apartment of an old man ought to look like, except he actually had a X-Box set up under his long outdated VCR player, probably a gift from one of their crazier relatives like Aunt Verna, who always got anyone an expensive, age-inappropriate gift. James laughed.
“What's that under there? You play video games, Dad?”
Frank took a moment to analyze the question, and his eyes slowly trailed to the neglected toy under his TV. “What? Oh, that? Goodness, I don't know what the hell that thing is. I guess you play games on it, only I don't know how the damn thing works. I think I should just give it to my neighbor Eileen. She's pregnant.”
At the expense of slighting the intelligence of his father, whom he hadn't said a proper word to in years, he stayed quiet. He supposed it at least deserved a chuckle.
It would be quite a while before the kid would be old enough to play it, but it wasn't all that pressing to point out.
Frank disappeared into his bedroom for a minute and came back with two envelopes, one a little yellower and more dog-eared at the edges than the other, and placed them both in James' petrified hand.
“Do you remember Rachel?”
Nothing in his memory stirred, and James shook his head.
“Mary's nurse. She wrote me after.. Well, a little after Mary came home with you, and she wanted to know how I was doing. We wrote back and forth for a while. I lost most of them, but I did manage to save these two.”
“Are they both from her?”
“No. One of them is from Mary.”
The frozen look on James' face, coupled with his tense stature, tipped Frank of his indiscretion.
“If you don't want to read—”
“No, it's fine. I'll read them when I get home, though. Is that ok?”
“Yes, yes.” Frank replied hurriedly. “You want something to drink?”
James sat down on the plastic covered couch. He always felt like he was going to slip off of it, which was faintly funny.
There was an age-old picture of one of Frank's classic cars on the wall, along with a gloriously young version of his mother, Thelma, resting seductively on the hood, the wind blowing her dark, curled hair about and her polka dot top doing little to leave the thought of her nakedness to one's imagination.
“Thelm, you really should watch that kid,” Frank would say in the days of James' troublesome teenage years, “He'll get in trouble with the law if you let him stay out late!”
He remembered his mother sitting in that car. Her poise straight, her beauty humble and contained. Her auburn hair was always up, like Mary's, and she was never like the cooler Moms who wore slacks and let their shirts a tad undone to show their cleavage and flaunt their horrible, pointed bras. She was submissive in word and deed, a true old-world, anti-American woman. She left every decision and punishment to Frank. She never drove this car or any one before it.
James shook his head. Those days were gone now. The days where the neighborhood was decent and the economy was good. The American dream was in full swing for everyone, and they all celebrated by getting drunk and high and protesting and practicing free love. Those were the crazy, whacked out days.
Thelm, watch out for that kid..
Frank came back with some ice tea in another aged glass cup with a minimum of two ice cubes, and a bit of sugar. Inwardly, James shook his head. His father added extra sugar to every drink that clearly didn't need it—soda, lemonade, ginger ale, and whatever else. Force of habit.
“Were you looking at that?” he pointed to Thelma and the car. “Thelm loved that car. You wouldn't remember, you were too little.”
“Hell, I'm surprised you remember, Dad.”
“How could I ever forget? I have so many photos of your Ma, you haven't even seen them all. I guess I'm one of the lucky old men. I have more pieces of my past than a lot of people my age.”
“You know, you could have gone to us if you needed anything.” Frank said quietly.
James turned to him, unable to voice his desire to fix things that couldn't be undone. “I'm sorry.”
He thought maybe it was because of her realizing that she lacked any real personality, any real worth or consequence in this life, that she finally decided to die.
There wasn't much else to be said. Anything thereafter dissolved into nothing.
Thelma looked on at both of them from her car, endlessly smiling. Her happiness, and theirs, similarly, all lost in time.
People shoved past everyone else. The cries of children and babies, the groans of old men, and the laughter of young girls erupted from the crowd of rushing bodies. The screeching of the rails abetted after a time, allowing her thoughts some coherency.
She walked around with a watchful air, trying not to appear like she was intentionally following anyone, but at the same time, she wondered why she cared what a bunch of strangers thought of her. It wasn't them she needed to see, anyway.
If he continued on like this, trapped in his fear, who knew what he might end up doing.
Which lent her some disturbing thoughts. What exactly did she interrupt that fateful day, when she found James walking toward his car, the door carelessly left open and the vehicle itself parked with silly haste?
“James, are you leaving?” she ran up to him, soon out of breath and grasping her bent knees with her small hands.
As an eight year old, she probably couldn't identify a kind of desperate intent on a person's face, but at the very least, James looked terribly worried. He looked like he wanted her gone. He looked like he might even have been asking himself what she was doing here in the first place, and why she just couldn't be somewhere else at this moment.
Always a pitiful liar, James said, “Oh, it's you, Laura.. I thought you left.”
“Can I come with you? I don't have a ride home.”
She didn't have a home either, but he didn't need to know that.
James massaged his hands in uneasy thought, looking here and there, biting his lip, heaving a sigh, wanting to say something but keeping it in. Foiled in whatever he wanted to do in her absence, he said, “I think I am.. All out of gas.”
Laura stretched. “K. So we walk.”
James looked down. “Yeah, I guess we do.”
She tried not to give away her anguish by sighing and hopelessly looking around the platform, but she was failing miserably. The wretched man wasn't here.
She walked back the way she came, walked up the steps, and stopped on the sidewalk. What direction was it?
Laura kicked her memory into gear. The porch, cell-phone number exchange, didn't want to go home..
She decided to follow her hunch and start from her own house, turning left. It would be a long walk even if she were going the right direction, as he lived near the outskirts.
As she walked on, the neighborhood became progressively poorer. Cats skittered across the street like foxes on the prowl, dogs sat on the porches of their owners and panted from the late night heat. The homeless perched on benches, wearing tattered shorts and sandals that were too small for them. A fat woman walked her plump hotdog down the block while a cute pudgy kid wearing a soiled striped shirt followed close behind.
Ashfield had many different faces depending on who you asked, and most people broke it into two parts—the “high” and the “low” quarters. James definitely resided in the low or poor quarter, deep in the ghetto. Most of the people in this area were minorities: African American or Hispanic, and Asian at some parts, as people tended to segregate into their own ethnic groups for a tighter sense of community and culture. He had said he was pretty much out of the way of everything, but he must have meant that he was situated far from better living.
She passed myriads of little shops and corner-stores, often referred to as tiendas by the Latinos.
Lala's Nails, El Supermercado..
Where was she?
Faintly, she remembered the small, gray streaked building behind a row of bushes, near the train tracks. James said the train often startled him awake in the middle of the night.
This was the place.
Laura hesitantly approached the steps, desperately wishing for anything that could absolve the tension in her stomach. The doors didn't give way without a fight, and the creak resounded throughout the lobby. She looked from the left to the right and back again, as if she were about to cross the street or make a turn at a busy intersection. It was dark, like that place from her childhood, and it would have almost appeared abandoned if it weren't for the fidgety, dirty, middle-aged man depositing his trash in a nearby chute. He turned around to stare at her shamelessly as she quickly walked past. All kinds of unsettling notions crossed her mind.
What would anyone think when they caught her here? Would they break into depraved smiles and think, What's this pretty girl doing here?
A burly African-American man shuffled past her and gruffly stated, “Girl, you must be lost,” as he hurried off.
She let out a little gasp and looked back, now wrapping her arms around her waist. Creeps everywhere.
She definitely remembered climbing some stairs to get to his place, but the fact that all the doors looked the same no matter where she went only impeded her progress.
“Are you lost?” a skinny limbed, younger woman approached her warily. She scratched at her neck every now and then, peering at her with buggy, tired eyes.
“Um.. A little. I can't remember where my friend lives. His name is James.”
“Mm..” she looked back, “I don't know any James. He must not talk to anyone then. Just go back downstairs and look at the list on the wall.. The one that says the names and room numbers.”
“Oh.. I didn't see it the first time around.”
“Well, it's there.” she responded rather impatiently, turning around to walk back.
Laura fought a roll of the eyes at her rudeness and went back down the stairs.
After a little bit of searching, she did find the elusive list, tacked haphazardly to the outdated bulletin board with other meaningless papers announcing apartment rules concerning pets, the consequences of disruptive behavior, and what to do in case of the occasional noncompliance of the overused phone booth just outside.
She skimmed over to “J”.
Jacklyn Ackerman – rm 206
Jack Norringway – rm 210
Jake Townsend – rm 402
Jamal Williams – rm 401
James Holstead – rm 106
James Sunderland – rm 308
She swallowed and took a few breaths before she headed up.
There his door stood, cold and uninviting. She approached it and put her ear to the door. She heard faint footsteps inside, along with the rustle of a bag and the low drone of the TV. He was there. But how would he react? Would he just not answer the door? Would he scream at her to go away?
Laura put a hand to her chest to still her beating heart and knocked with as much composure as she could muster.
“Who is it?” his muffled voice asked, at a safe distance from the door.
Laura stifled the impulse to answer and turned to the hallway to see if anyone happened to be watching her. Her growing paranoia about this place was beginning to fray her nerves and she wasn't all that sure she was safe from being taken advantage of or being mugged. It just didn't seem scary the first time because she had been with James.
“Please let me in.” she let her forehead press against the door and held her eyes closed, her hand over her heart closing into a fist. “Please, James.”
No reply. She managed to make out a few sounds, but the noise was very minimal. Some minor shuffling here, a box fell, a voice raised a few octaves from the TV, and then a little explosion.
The latch slid out and the door opened just a crack. “Who are you?”
“James. You don't recognize my voice anymore?”
It took a few seconds, but after that, she finally caught his eyes peeping at her through the small space he allowed his door to open. “Laura.. Listen, I—”
“Let me in, James.” her throat was dry. “I'm not leaving until you let me in.”
With trembling fingers, he assented, finally revealing to her his whole body. He couldn't face her.
James didn't have the chance to say another word before Laura flung herself into his arms and held him tight.
He stumbled back a little and caught her, with a cross of confusion and tenderness coloring his face. “Laura? Are you ok?”
“No I'm not!” she cried, pulling away. “What's the matter with you!”
James fixed his bangs as a pitiful way of distracting himself from his own embarrassment. If anything, it made him look even more embarrassed.
“Laura.. You don't get it.” he brought her into his embrace again, settling his head gently on her shoulder. “You don't understand.”
“You hate me, don't you?” she whispered.
Her skin was so soft and warm, probably flushed from her emotions. Her hair had begun to fall over his face, and he breathed in her faint, sweet strawberry scent.
And in that moment he no longer understood why he would ever, ever give this up.
“I'm so sorry, Laura.”
Her grip around him tightened. “I never meant to hurt you. I don't understand what I did—”
“You didn't do anything wrong.. It was my fault. I was just...afraid.”
Laura's hand traveled up his back to slowly sift through his hair.
“I promise I won't be afraid anymore. I'm sorry I left you behind. If things were different.. I would have taken you with me. I would have given you everything. I know I never got to take care of you.. But I want you here.”
She closed her eyes and smiled.
“I promise I won't ever leave you behind either.”
“Why?” he ran his fingers down her hair, his eyes on her now.
“Because you're a part of me I can't let go. Even while I was growing up, I couldn't stop thinking about you. I wanted to see you again. But this time, I wanted to see you finally happy.”
James didn't force it; right now, he honestly couldn't help it. He smiled, brushing her bangs back and planting a small kiss on her forehead.
“You are a part of me, too,” he murmured into her warmth.