All about you (love hat.., p.20
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       All About You (Love & Hate series #1), p.20

         Part #1 of Love & Hate series by Joanna Mazurkiewicz

  It takes me a few days to realise that events from the past few days weren’t just a bad dream. I can’t seem to shake off that horrible feeling in my gut that I might be slowly losing my sanity.

  I know I should be strong, but I can’t stop wondering how everything has fallen apart so quickly. The race was supposed to redeem me from that terrible reputation that I took on since my arrival.

  One person can only take so much, and now I think I might as well start over somewhere else, far away from Braxton.

  Oliver wasn’t involved this time, but the past keeps stepping on my toes, closing up on me. It will suffocate me if I don’t let go of the grief.

  While I start thinking straight, I make a decision and go back to Gargle, this time without Dora.

  She has her own plans and in the end she doesn’t mind if I go back home earlier than planned. Her mother is expecting her and Jacob. There is no point in me ruining their plans for a Christmas break just because I had a bad couple of days.

  I arrive home on Monday. One look at me and my mum already knows I am an emotional wreck. She knows I lost, but she doesn’t know the impact I caused on campus. As usual, she tries to act reasonable, telling me these things happen and I’m going to fight harder in my next race. She doesn’t know I might not have another chance to compete, unless I learn how to swim.

  My unfortunate fall into the river will not be easily forgotten. If I decide to go back to Braxton in January, I will have to buy a mask. People will be talking about me for a while.

  It was Oliver who topped off everything that happened that day. He has decided I have humiliated myself enough already, so now he can step down.

  Oliver has moved past his desire for revenge—he got what he wanted—and now he is moving on. His words still buzz in my mind, and I start to wonder if there was ever anything between us.

  It takes me a few days to gain the confidence to get out of the house. It’s only a week before Christmas, and this glorious Sunday morning seems like a perfect time for a quick walk.

  My birthday is coming up soon, but I don’t think I can celebrate my new age this year. Being twenty doesn’t change the fact that my life is falling apart.

  Gargle is a small town where everyone knows each other. A few neighbours smile as I pass by, greeting me with a friendly wave or nod. It’s been so long since I walked through these alleys—how eager I was to move far away from here.

  My stomach is in knots when I think what I’m about to do. I’ve been thinking about this since the fall. There is no point in dragging out this decision.

  It’s time to see Mrs. Morgan. She has to know that the son she idolised so much in the past was a psychopath. She has to understand that she created a monster and Oliver was just a victim.

  Mrs. Morgan and I had an understanding on a much deeper level. She told me once that she would do anything to crush the wall that had been building up between Oliver and her. All I want is for him to forgive me, and if I can help him connect with his mother again, then he might change his mind about us. I already know our feelings are long forgotten, but he still holds a grudge against me, and this time it’s all about him forgiving what I’ve done.

  This is my new therapy. If I get this terrible secret off my chest and bring mother and son closer, then I can close that part of my life forever. My redemption will be complete, and in the end, we can both go our separate ways.

  Twenty minutes later, I stand in front of a white door and hesitate. Black thoughts start piling up in my mind, but after a long moment of silence, I take a deep breath and knock.

  Last time, it took me a year to face this house again, but in the end I did it. Now I have to take one more step and just get this off my chest. Mrs. Morgan is going to be the first person for now. She can control her illness, but will she understand that her son was cruel and manipulative?

  Soon, the door opens and Mrs. Morgan stands in the doorway, looking astonished at seeing me.

  “Oh my God, India. What are you doing here?”

  “Christmas break,” I explain, smiling.

  “Of course, I should have thought so,” she mutters, hugging me tightly. “But this is not like you. I normally get the phone call at least a day in advance.”

  Mrs. Morgan is right. It’s always been like that. I make the phone call and then later I show up at her door. Then we talk. I keep telling myself I’m here because of me, not Oliver, but the fear of falling creeps under my skin, corrupting my calm thoughts. It’s never easy to share the secret.

  “I arrived a few days ago, earlier than I originally planned. I really wanted to talk to you, and I forgot to call,” I explain as we walk inside. The house hasn’t changed and it’s been a while since I’ve been here. Bad, gloomy memories squirm back to me like sticky, slimy worms. It seems as if Christian’s soul never left this house.

  My stomach heaves and I think I might start screaming, so I close my eyes for a few seconds.

  He isn’t here. It’s just your imagination.

  “You must be starving. Come on to the kitchen. I made a stew, your favourite.” She beams. Mrs. Morgan looks incredibly well for a person that went through a major nervous breakdown a year ago. Her black, shiny hair is cut by her shoulders; her skin looks healthy. She wears full makeup, and her clothes are more defined. The new medication and therapy are obviously working.

  “Thank you, Mrs. Morgan, but I have to say no. I came here for a reason. I need to talk to you,” I say, standing by the table and ignoring that sorrowful feeling in my stomach. She narrows her eyes, studying my face, always trying to guess what I might come up with next. Mrs. Morgan has no idea that Oliver isn’t living in Scotland anymore. She has no idea he has been studying in Braxton all this time.

  “India, come on. Don’t be so serious. I don’t think I like you like that,” she says.

  “It’s about Oliver,” I say.

  Her eyes darken with a shadow of regret, but I have her full attention now.

  “What about Oliver? You know, I don’t think we should talk about him since he made it clear he doesn’t want to know me,” she explains, looking away.

  “He’s in Braxton.”

  Mrs. Morgan shakes her head, smoothing the edges of her skirt nervously.

  “No, India. Why would Oliver be in Braxton? He’s in Edinburgh… I tried to call him, but his number is no longer active.”

  “You don’t get it. Oliver isn’t in Scotland. He’s studying with me in Braxton,” I insist, but Mrs. Morgan looks angry.

  “I don’t appreciate you making this sort of cruel joke.”

  “Mrs. Morgan, please. Oliver is on his second year in Braxton, studying Sports and Management. Please, I’m not lying. I think he was in Scotland at first, but then he must have changed his mind.”

  Her eyes dart away like she’s trying to push past memories from when she wasn’t in control.

  “But… I don’t understand—”

  “That’s why I’m here, so I can help you understand. It’s a long story and I’m the centre of all of that. He moved to Braxton because he knew I would eventually show up there.”

  Mrs. Morgan still doesn’t get what I’m trying to tell her and she won’t for some time. It’s time to reveal the secret that I’ve been hiding for over two years. The secret that destroyed not only my life, but also Oliver’s. I start from the beginning and tell her that I was never in love with her dead son. I run through that first day at school when I first saw Christian and Oliver together.

  My voice trembles, and she keeps interrupting, but I’m determined to continue.

  Mrs. Morgan is here to listen. I know she might be suffering hearing the truth about her beloved son, but his behaviour cannot be forgotten. It’s part of the healing process, and she has to know what was happening inside her home.

  It takes me more than an hour and a river of tears to go through the events of that night. My whole body is shaking while I describe bit by bit what wa
s happening in the attic.

  She sits here staring at me, her eyes getting wider and wider. I pour out everything that’s there. Mrs. Morgan has deluded herself for too long that Christian was perfect. He had a great future in front of him, but the darkness within him was making other people miserable.

  I never had a therapist, but even if I had, I don’t know if that would’ve changed anything. People would have called me a liar. No one would believe that the most promising high school student had a black mark on his soul.

  “Do you want me to continue?” I ask, my voice cracking. Mrs. Morgan’s eyes move from me to the floor like she can’t believe I’m nowhere near the end. It takes her a moment to answer, but when she does, it’s just a nod.

  I feel nauseous going back to that night, remembering his touch, but I know I must carry on. When I get to the part where I’m destroying her already dead son, utterly taking away her memories of him, for a moment I think I might not get to the end. She stares at me and keeps staring without saying a word for a long while. Taking a deep breath, I continue.

  Tears are streaming down Mrs. Morgan’s face, but she tells me to keep talking. It’s wrong. I should have talked to Oliver first so he can understand why I changed and treated him without respect.

  My new me is part of my redemption. Oliver doesn’t love me anymore, but I need to gain his forgiveness. If I help him rebuild what they lost together, then it will be much easier for him to understand why I did what I had to.

  It’s late when I complete my story. Even the air in Mrs. Morgan’s house is filled with pain and there are so many tears, for both of us.

  “India, I had no idea. This is beyond me,” she says after a long moment of silence.

  I feel like I’m burning out my old self, like I can finally look at myself in the mirror and not see the darkness that creeps over my back.

  I wipe the tears from my face and dart my eyes to look at her. She is suffering more than me because her memory of Christian has been shattered.

  “No one knew,” I whisper. “And then he died and I didn’t have the courage to say anything.”

  Maybe I’m lying to myself. I could have gone to my mum. She would have understood everything.

  Before I can even take a deep breath and thank her for her kind words, she gets up and hugs me.

  “I should have known something was wrong,” she keeps saying, not letting me out of her arms. “I should have guessed.”

  I look at her sad, dark eyes, but she keeps her emotions shielded, not letting me through.

  She looks away and puts on the kettle. Heavy tension cracks the air, and I’m waiting for her to tell me more.

  “It was in the beginning of our marriage, before we had Oliver and Christian. My husband was cruel and he hit me countless times. He wasn’t the person that everyone thought he was,” she says, her voice breaking in tears again. “Listen, I don’t even want to talk about it, not now when you are hurting like that. I just want you to understand this is all my fault. I should have seen this coming.”

  I bring my hands to my lips. The air ceases in my chest.

  Mrs. Morgan might understand how I’m feeling right now because this all started with her husband. I know this isn’t a real explanation, but now we both share a similar story.

  “Mr. Morgan was the cause of your illness. He didn’t want you to get better, did he?” I choke, trying to get back to my steady, confident voice.

  She exhales and then inhales like she’s trying to brace her tears.

  “He knew I wasn’t in great shape when he married me, but I wanted to please my parents, so I did what I thought was best,” she explains and then smiles. “Please don’t think I’m trying to explain my dead son. What he did to you is beyond comprehension, and I don’t know if I’ll ever know why I didn’t notice his behaviour earlier.”

  “It’s over. He is dead. And I finally shared this with someone important to me. I’ll be fine. I coped and I’m still coping now. You don’t have to worry about me.”

  It’s the truth. I hurt Oliver just to carry on living, but now it’s time to move on. I’m a new me and I no longer want to keep secrets. Once I know that Oliver has forgiven me, then I’ll tell him the whole truth. I don’t want his forgiveness out of pity. This wouldn’t feel right.

  “Does Oliver know?” she asks.

  Her sudden question throws me off guard. I look away.

  “No, he doesn’t.”

  “That’s why you guys drifted apart after Christian’s death?”

  Another question so close to the truth.

  “Yes,” I whisper. “I wasn’t coping well so I started hating him.”

  “Of course you didn’t tell anyone.”

  “Didn’t you try to talk to him after… after he left?”

  The tears swell in her eyes when I mention Oliver. She’s hurting because she pushed him away. “He left as soon as he graduated. He never came back to visit me. It was like I’d lost another son. I was never a good mother, not for Oliver.”

  “Maybe you should try talking to him. Now you know where he is staying.”

  “I try. I’ll do anything to get him back. Frank can’t hurt me anymore. We’re divorced. I have to fix this,” she says. Her face lights up.

  We talk a bit more, and then I leave.

  Oliver will talk to her again—I’ll make sure of that—but we both need time. Mrs. Morgan abused Oliver’s trust and destroyed everything that is supposed to be between mother and son.

  One part of me got rid of that terrible secret; the other is still fighting. I stand in the middle of the street, scrolling through my phone, searching for the number for a taxi.

  Then I lift my head, feeling like someone is watching me. Something inside me turns and the dread slowly moves over my chest. On the other side of the street, I see a man who moves away from the shadow.

  The colour drains from my face when I finally recognise the person. It’s Oliver and he’s staring right at me. Countless thoughts rush through my mind.

  What is he doing here? Has he come back to talk to his mother?

  I should just walk up to him and ask him, but I’m chained by the feeling in my gut that he isn’t here because of his mother. Somehow he knew I would be here tonight.

  Within the blink of an eye, he turns around and vanishes behind his neighbour’s house. I stand still for another several minutes, thinking about my conversation with his mother. I know for sure he couldn’t hear me. He just showed up, but maybe he followed me. I have no idea why he’s here. Maybe Dora was wrong. Maybe he still cares about me.

  I will probably have to ask him to find out.

  Chapter sixteen

  New Year’s Eve

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