Unraveling You, Page 2Jessica Sorensen
Finally, we all file inside the house and I breathe freely again as he stops focusing on me and instead zeros in on his new home.
Lila starts giving him a tour of the house while Ethan leads the other three rugrats into the kitchen with my dad.
I start to go with my dad, but my mom captures me by the back of my shirt and tows me back to her. “Let’s go with them.” She nods at Lila and Ayden as they ascend the stairway.
I scrunch up my nose as I recollect Ayden’s intense, depressing stare. “Do I have to? He looks so sad, and his staring is making me uncomfortable.”
“All the more reason to spend time with him.” She signals for me to get a move on. I reluctantly obey, but stand as far behind as I can without looking too antisocial.
Luckily, Ayden seems more engrossed with the home and his room than me. He doesn’t even glance my way as he takes in each wall, piece of furniture, and framed pictures. But when we all gather around the table for dinner, he ends up sitting across from me, and the stare down begins again.
I attempt to avoid his gaze as he watches me pick at my salad. As I chow down on my burger. As I chat with Fiona about her art obsession. The longer the staring goes on, the squirrelier I become, until I can’t take it anymore.
Throwing my napkin onto the table, I slump back in the chair, cross my arms, and stare at him in the same manner.
At first, he appears unfazed, but as the minutes tick by, he starts to look almost amused.
Without removing his eyes from me, he picks up his drink and guzzles a long swallow. I do the same. We simultaneously place our glasses down. He pauses then drums his fingers on the table, either testing me or playing with me … I’m still not sure yet.
Intrigued, I thrum my fingers, too.
He fiddles with the small black and red gauge in his left ear. I only have one piercing in each of mine and no earrings in right now, but I still pretend to mess around with an invisible gauge.
He rolls his tongue across his teeth, the smallest trace of a ghost smile emerging. I feel like I’ve won a game and delve forward, determined to make that sadness crack.
“Oh, Lyric, let me play, too!” Fiona clasps her hands together as she kneels up on her chair. “Pretty please. I’ve never had a brother to play copycat with before. Kale and Everson always get so angry.”
I smirk at Ayden then turn to her. “I think Ayden would love to play with you.” I rise from the table, take my dirty dishes to the sink, and sneak outside to get some fresh air.
As I’m sitting on the curb in front of the house with my legs stretched out, I catch Ayden gawking at me through his upstairs bedroom window. I tip my head to the side, wondering just how long this whole staring thing is going to last. He hasn’t even spoken a word yet.
Maybe he doesn’t speak.
“Lyric!” my mother suddenly shouts, and I tear my attention away from the window. She’s exiting the house with Lila, both of them elated about something. “Ready to go out on a drive with us?”
“Surely durely.” I stand up and brush the dirt off the backs of my legs then start to follow them to my house when Lila glances back at me.
“Lyric, would you mind running up and telling Ayden to come with us?” she asks, hopeful. “He seems a little nervous except when he’s around you.”
My brows furrow. “He hasn’t even said a word to me, so how do you arrive at that conclusion?”
“Well, you two were playing that little staring contest game at the table.” She adjusts the pale pink strap of her purse higher on her shoulder. “I would really appreciate it, sweetie.”
My Aunt Lila is way too nice to argue with, so I reel around to go get Ayden, but then halt before I reach the front steps.
“Aunt Lila, does Ayden … talk?” I dare ask, facing her again.
“Of course, sweetie. He’s just a little nervous. Things have been hard for him, and I think he’s feeling a little overwhelmed.”
She turns to my mom and starts telling her about the countless foster families he grew up in and that he has some problems.
“He’s been through so much,” she says with a disheartened sigh, pressing her hand to her chest. “And still has so much to face in the future.”
I stop to listen, but when my mom shoots me a death glare, I hurry into the house and up the stairs to Ayden’s bedroom.
His door is wide open and he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at a duffel bag on the floor. He looks so morose that I feel kind of sorry for him. What has this boy been through?
“You’re supposed to come downstairs and go on a drive,” I announce as I waltz into the room.
He jumps, startled as his attention darts up to me. He doesn’t reply. Simply just stares again.
“I know it sounds really lame.” I wander around, observing all the knickknacks Lila put up—sports and band posters, little painted blocks with quotes on them, books on the shelf. It’s like she didn’t know what he was into, so she just decorated the room with a bit of everything. “It’s pretty fun, though. They drive fast and stuff.”
He still doesn’t utter a word. Just looks at me.
I face the bed and assess him while he studies me back. His head is tilted just enough that his black hair dangles in his grey eyes, so I don’t have a clear view of how he’s looking at me. He appears uneasy, though, fidgeting with a bracelet on his wrist.
Finally, I can’t take the silence anymore. Even though I know I might get in trouble for doing it, if he chooses to tell on me, I march to the bed and stand right in front of him.
When he angles his head back to look at me, his eyes are filled with confusion. I poke him in the side of the ribs, hard enough that he flinches and his body jolts.
“What the hell?” He gapes at me as he cradles his side.
“Ha!” I cry, pointing a finger at him. “You do know how to speak.”
His lips part in astonishment. “Of course I know how to speak.”
“No, of course you know how to stare. Speaking was getting a little questionable. Either you couldn’t speak or you were just shy, but I needed to find out.”
He has no clue how to respond to my colorful personality—most people don’t in the beginning.
Feeling a little on the adventurous side, I snatch ahold of Ayden’s hand and drag him to his feet. “Come on, shy boy.” I pull him with me as I march out of the room and downstairs. “The longer we stay up here, the longer this night is going to drag on.”
He follows me a lot easier than I expected him to, holding onto my hand, maybe too tightly, as if he’s terrified out of his wits.
“I thought you said driving with them was fun?” he questions. “So why would you want the night to end so soon?”
“The driving part is fun,” I assure him as I throw open the front door. The cool breeze kisses my skin and it smells like leaves and grass. “But the movie thing at the end is painful to endure. We always have to watch a kid appropriate movie. Either a cartoon or something rated PG.” I glance back at him. “Although, maybe because you’re older, they’ll let us watch something cooler.”
“Maybe I like cartoons and PG movies,” he counters, holding my gaze as he slides his hand from mine and folds his arms across his chest.
“Not really. I just wanted to make a point. You shouldn’t make assumptions. Maybe I’m a kid at heart who likes kid movies.”
“You know what, Ayden? I think you and I might be good friends, if you’re lucky.” I snatch his hand again and tug him around the fence and up the driveway toward the open garage of my house. “Although, you still have to pass the music quiz.”
“Music quiz?” he asks, distracted by my mother’s black and red 1969 GTO parked in the garage next to my dad’s 1969 Chevelle SS, staring at both of them in awe, like most guys do.
“Yeah. Music. As in instruments and lyrics and stuff. I might not be able to be friends with you if you like some of that cliché pop music t
hey always play on the radio.”
He cocks a brow at me. “Do I look like someone who’s into that kind of music?”
I release his hand as we near the car then smirk at him. “Well, my initial assumption would be a no, but you told me not to make assumptions.”
“But I didn’t expect you to listen.”
I wink at him. “I’m an excellent listener, along with many other awesome things.” I skip around to the driver’s side and dive into the backseat, giving the horn a couple of honks on my way.
“Get in!” I call out to Ayden as I push the passenger door open for him.
A second later, he slides onto the leather seat beside me.
“Where are they?” he asks as he settles in the seat, fidgeting with the leather band on his wrist.
“Who knows?” I lean over the console and pound on the horn until the door to the house swings open.
My mom and Lila come wandering out, scolding me for the horn honks. Their scolding is nothing new. I easily shrug it off and sit back in the seat as the drive begins.
My mother does her best not to peel the tires until we’re on the freeway, since the last time she did it out of the driveway the neighbors made a complaint. Once we’re on the long, curvy stretch of road, though, all bets are off.
“Just take it a bit easy, Ella,” Lila begs as she clutches the seat, something she always does when we go driving. “We have a newbie to your … um, interesting driving skills.”
“Awesome driving skills.” My mother smiles at me from the rearview mirror and I grin back, knowing what’s coming.
An instant later, she punches the gas and we’re off, flying down the road and weaving in and out of cars.
I relax and breathe in the air blowing through the window. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Ayden picking at his black fingernail polish.
I stick out my hand and wiggle my fingers. “Look. We match.”
Again, he nearly smiles, but I’ve still yet to witness any sort of happiness from him. It’s got me curious, way more curious than the other kids Aunt Lila and Uncle Ethan have brought home. They all have their sad moments, but not like this, so sullen all the time. It makes me want to get him to smile really, really badly.
“Hey, Mom,” I say, without taking my eyes off Ayden. “Can we turn on some music?”
“Sure. What do you want to listen to?”
“Can I just see your iPod?”
She hands it to me, and I give it to Ayden. “Here you go.” I slip off my sandals and kick my feet up on the console. “Impress me.”
I wait patiently as his eyes dance between me and the iPod in his hand. He starts sorting through the songs. I swear he just about grins again when he makes his selection and returns the device back to me. I pause as I take it from him, catching a glimpse of a row of thin scars that look like cat scratches on the top of his hand. Noticing the direction of my gaze, he quickly jerks his sleeve over his hand then rotates toward the window again.
I want to ask him about the scars. I want to ask him a lot of things. But I force my curious side to shut up and focus on the music. The song he chose causes me to laugh, because of all things it’s by Nirvana. I start singing along under my breath, quiet enough that no one can actually hear me, while Ayden thrums his fingers to the beat, gazing out the window at the houses and stores in the distance.
“Are you sure you’re not too hot?” Lila asks Ayden for the millionth time, making her seem way more doting toward him than she was with the other three.
“I’m good,” he responds, scratching at the scars on the back of his hand as he turns inward.
“You know what would be cool,” I say when the silence gets to me. “If Ayden could come to the concert with Dad and me.”
“Oh, he can’t.” Lila fretfully glances over her shoulder at Ayden, who doesn’t say a thing. “Ayden has to take it easy for the first few weeks while he’s here, getting adjusted to everything. I don’t want to over-excite him.”
I sit back in the seat as we continue to drive through the city for the next hour before returning home. As we hop out of the car to go inside the house and watch a movie, I snag Ayden’s sleeve and draw him back to me. When Lila and my mom step inside, I release his shirt and face him.
“Okay, you passed the music test. Now we can be friends.” I would have been friends with him anyway, but it’s more entertaining this way.
He stares me down. “What if I don’t want to be friends with you?”
I’m unsure if he’s being serious or not, but I shrug him off, seeing this as more of a fun challenge than anything else.
“You do. I promise. Not only am I the most awesome person ever, but I can show you the ropes of your new life.” I stick out my hand. “So what do you say? Friends?”
He eyeballs my hand then his gaze glides up my body and lands on my face. “All right, we can be friends, Lyric.” He places his scarred hand in mine and we shake on it.
His fingers tremor as we pull away, and his smile never fully reaches his eyes.
I know the story. All of the children Lila and Ethan have adopted have been through something terrible. Usually, I leave it alone since it’s none of my business, but with Ayden, I’m curious. I have questions. Lots and lots of questions.
I make a vow to myself right then and there that one day, as his friend, I will get to know him and find out his story.
Then, I’ll make him smile for real.
Just breathe. Just breathe. Just Breathe.
The pressure will crack and shatter
if you just keep breathing.
Life will eventually get easier
if you keep your heart beating.
Just breathe. Just breathe. Just breathe.
I repeat the mantra of words over in my mind the entire drive to my new house, all during the tour, and during the ride with the woman who drives crazier than most teenagers. I chant it under my breath all night long when I don’t get an ounce of sleep.
The process is nothing new. This is the sixth time I’ve lay awake in a new room within the last year. Stability is what’s uncertain to me, even before I entered the system. And now, suddenly, they’re telling me I have it. That this home is the home. That I’m being adopted and will no longer be passed around from family to family.
I don’t understand it. Teenagers aren’t supposed to be adopted. No one wants them, especially ones that are as ruined as I am, that have been through the things I have. We’re stray dogs, scraggily, ratty, bad habits, untrainable. People want puppies. Cute, fixable puppies. Yet here I am, supposedly wanted by the Gregorys, despite my scars and issues.
The house is strangely quiet at night, and even during the brink of morning. Maybe I’m just too used to a lot of noise, but the soundlessness makes sleep impossible. I end up staring at the ceiling until the sun peeks over the city and heats up the room. Then I climb out of bed and start to get ready for school.
After I pull on a pair of faded black jeans and a matching shirt, I sit on the bed and stare at the few contents inside my bag. A single photo of me with my older brother and younger sister, a rusty pocketknife, and a watch are all that’s left of my original life—the one that I was born into. I don’t miss that life at all, but I miss my brother and sister, who I haven't seen since social services barged in on that God awful day and yanked us out of that shithole house.
I look down at the scars on the backs of my hands. Marks of my past, branded forever into my body and soul. I can remember clearly how some of them were put onto my body. Others I can’t. The freshest ones are the worst. They happened the day I was taken away, a day my mind has somehow blocked.
They’ll never go away.
Always own a fragment of my soul.
Own a part of me.
Never let me go.
Yet they won’t own the pieces
that live in the darkest parts.
There, but not
Please, please don’t let them break me apart.
I put the photo down and pick up the other object hidden beneath the small pile of clothes—a bottle of pills I stole from the last home. I don’t even know why I took it. Not to get high. I’m not into drugs. I just wanted to have them, just in case I can’t take this anymore, the pain and darkness and ugliness residing inside me. The loneliness. The unknown.