Sophia was sitting on her bed, skimming through a magazine and trying to make it seem like her life hadn’t just been altered irrevocably. She stared down at the ads for jeans and nail polish and couldn’t find a single thing she liked about it. Angrily, she pushed the magazine off her bed, writing off her past self as self-centered and vain. Why did she ever care about any of that stuff? Nothing like that mattered. Who cared what color her nails were painted, why did it matter?
She flopped back on her bed and turned on the television. Her dads had put one in her room, so that she had something to do if she didn’t want to go downstairs. For privacy, they told her. If she wanted to be alone. Even then, she couldn’t find a point in watching those trashy reality shows, those sitcoms. It all seemed so ridiculous and petty. But it was background noise. Any sort of noise would’ve been comforting in that quiet room of hers.
Sighing, she stared down at her hands. They looked weird to her. Like they belonged to someone else. Her nails were bitten to the quick and her cuticles were cracked and bleeding in some places. Defeated, she curled her fingers to her palms so she couldn’t see her nails anymore and turned her attention back to the television numbly.
That was the only way to sum up how she felt lately anyway. Numb. She felt like she should feel something. About the accident. About her diagnosis. About her boyfriend’s death. But nothing registered in her mind except for a whole lot of blankness. Maybe there was something wrong with her, something else the doctors didn’t catch. Maybe something in her brain had messed up during the accident. She was contemplating telling her father about it, contemplating going back to the hospital when there was a soft knock on her open door.
Jace stood, shifting his weight from foot to foot, looking at her uncertainly. In his hands was a bouquet of daisies. She tried not to stare at the black eye that looked like it was once a lot worse than it was now, not to mention the giant gash on his lip. “Hey” he said as though nothing had happened within that past week.
“Hey,” Sophia replied the same way.
He looked tentative, shifting his gaze all over and biting his lip softly. “I was going to come by earlier but I wasn’t sure if you were…back yet.” He relented.
She clicked the volume button on the remote, turning it down. “I just got back a few days ago.” Sophia explained to which Jace nodded. “So what’s up?”
“I, uh…” then he glanced down to his hands where he clasped the daisies, as if seeing them for the first time. “My mom wanted to give you these.” He explained. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” she told him as he stepped forward. He placed the flowers on her dresser, stared at the pictures she kept taped to the walls. There were some with the two of them in it. Some of her family. Some of her and Ethan. When his eyes brushed over those, he quickly looked away.
Unsure, he sat at the foot of her bed, not looking at her.
“My dad told me that it was you.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, brows furrowed.
She inhaled slowly. “He said you came to the house. You know. After.”
He nodded again, eyes falling back down to his hands. “Yeah. I did.” She watched and pretended she didn’t when he wiped a tear away. “I was really freaked out. You know?”
“Yeah, I know.” Sophia said quietly. There was a long stretch of silence that slid between the pair. Neither knew what to say to make things okay again. Neither knew how to make the other’s pain go away. So they just let the studio audience on TV laugh to fill up the spaces around them.
“How are you doing? With everything that was going on.” He asked her finally.
She bit her lip and shook her head. He probably knew about everything. It was probably going around the grapevine at school. And if it wasn’t, which she doubted, their parents were friends and of course they talked. So they must’ve talked about Sophia and her many, many problems.
But she didn’t want to talk about any of that. All of those things just reminded her of how abnormal she was. About how much of a freak she was. When she thought of those things, the resentment and the hate and the pain flooded her. She felt lonely and rejected and as though she was about to burst at the seams. As if feeling all of that without a reminder wasn’t enough.
Maybe she’d just prefer to keep herself numb.
“Let’s…let’s not talk about it, okay? I mean. I spend every therapy session talking about it. I just want to…talk about something normal for once.” She said with a small smile she was sure didn’t reach her eyes. Sophia tucked her hair behind her ear, watching Jace nod.
“My brother got into VCU,” he told her.
She tried to grin again. “That’s great.”
“Yeah, I’m excited for him.” Jace said.
“He’s going to like it.”
He smiled. But it looked pained. Sophia felt a sudden rush of empathy for him. She had never meant for him to get hurt during all of that. But he had. She knew what it felt like to get in the way of Ethan’s fury, first hand, unfortunately.
“Do you…do you maybe just want to watch a couple of movies with me or something?” she asked. He nodded, a real grin spreading across both of their faces.
They laid there in her bed, with Netflix on the TV. Like old times, she thought as she pressed the side of her legs against his.
* * *
Sophia had tears streaming down her face and blood pouring from her cheek and lip. She was screaming, but the words got stuck somewhere, unable to be formed coherently. Ethan had his hand tangled in her hair, pulling her upright. Her shirt, he noticed, was torn.
Chris felt unexplainable anger. He shook with everything he could not say, everything he could not do. But underneath all the fury was pain and shock. Helplessly, he watched his little girl be thrown around by the boy who claimed he loved her.
She begged him to stop but he didn’t listen to her. The horrendous words that tumbled from his mouth was enough to make Chris sick. Words that that awful man labeled his daughter. Words that weren’t true.
“Daddy!” she cried as Ethan’s hands closed around her throat. “Daddy!”
He raced to her, but found himself stuck, as though his legs forgot how to work. The closer he tried to get to her, the tighter Ethan squeezed. She gasped for breath, struggling against him. Her hands grasped Ethan’s wrists, trying to pry them off, but it was no use. Chris watched her legs kick, watched her struggle for purchase.
“Daddy!” she choked again. Chris reached his arms out to her, but found his wrists weighed down as if cement trapped them. Again, he tried to push forward, tried to call her name, but his voice would not form the syllables. All he could do was watch her thrash.
Finally, she fell lifeless.
Chris awoke with a start. He was panting as though he had run a mile, upright on the couch and doused in a cold sweat. Without thinking, he bolted up off the couch and up the stairs, his heart beating one tone against his ribs. Sophia in the front of his mind, he pushed open the door to her room, swallowing fear.
She was there, asleep in her room, safe. Chris looked on, though, feeling his heart return to normal and his breath fall back into his body. The cold sweat had gone, thankfully. It seemed as though everything was back to normal.
Except it wasn’t. Nothing was normal. Not anymore.
Sophia looked like a child, like an angel, as she slept. Her bruises had almost healed, and in the light, they weren’t visible at all. Chris sighed slowly. Her hand was fisted next to her face, chest rising and falling softly, brown waves spread back on her pillow.
She was okay.
Chris silently shut her door again but didn’t return back to the couch. He thought about it, but now he was too awake to sleep, too shaken up still. It was the third night that week that he had dreamed about Sophia like that. Chris rubbed his wrists as though there had been ropes restraining them. So instead of walking back downstairs, he opened the door to the bedroom he used to share with Seth.
He was able to make out Seth’s clothes on the floor. Suddenly, Chris was slammed with a feeling that was an odd mix of nostalgia and loneliness. He wished, with every fiber of his being, that things were the way they used to be. But he knew they could never go back to that time. Chris will never get back those happier times. When he and Seth shared a cramped apartment. When Sophia was born and they took turns walking up and down a hallway, jiggling their baby on their chest to coax her to sleep. When Seth would hold his hand as he drove.
Seth’s back moved with his breathing, softly. His lips were parted slightly which did nothing but made Chris want to kiss him again. He thought about how strange it was that, even though Chris was not in bed with him and even though Chris was not going to be in bed with him, Seth still stayed on his side. It was as though he couldn’t be anywhere else but there. It was as though that’s just how they meant to be.
As Chris shut the door, he had a second thought; maybe Seth keeping on his side wasn’t strange at all.