Ana's POV / Jared's POV / Ana's POV
The thought struck me the second I believed I was finally falling asleep. A passing car lit up the darkened bedroom and it looked an eerie lot like lightning – the flash that illuminated my dark surroundings. It was gone before I knew it and black crawled its way back toward me, a pounding darkness, full of sound and malice and cold hands eagerly reaching for uncovered skin. I let it touch me for it was already inside me, taking my breath away.
How could I have forgotten? How was it possible that it had sweetly slipped my mind – the reason I had wisely chosen to pick today as my day-off from work, of all days? Dread. Endless, grieving dread. There was no other way to describe the hours that were to come.
I was sitting bolt upright in bed, all sleepiness gone for good. Going to work in a couple of hours was a thought I could hardly entertain anymore but I had been empty-minded enough to tell Mr. Jones I was coming anyway.
The bed creaked noisily as my body fell limply back onto it – I found the sound penetrating the vibrant silence to be very disturbing.
Hours passed by like seconds and when the day broke in, oblivious to my state of mind, I decided to get up as well. My eyes were aching, I had scarcely closed them tonight, and so was every other part of my body. I had finally realized why my body was behaving this way: it was the annual foreshadow of today, and it had been present in my subconscious all along, announcing itself through pains and quivers. I did not know why this year it was especially bad.
In the living room I lit a candle and put it on the small dining table. It pierced the fading darkness and threw warm shadows against the walls, it warmed my face. The clock said it was seven a.m.
I couldn’t cry.
But didn’t she deserve my tears?
She did, she deserved every one of them, even after all these years. But none would come.
So I sat there, watching the candle burn down and the next time I checked the time it was afternoon.
‘This is useless,’ I told myself. Sitting on my ass staring at a candle was utterly, absolutely pointless and it wasn’t going to bring her back to life, nothing was. Yet the sadness since that day many years ago had only slightly faded, and today it was all coming back at me, more intensively than I was accustomed to. It was a trauma I had never been able to fully overcome. And the worst thing, the most crippling of all, was that to this day I could not recall how it had happened and what I had seen. I knew why – and I had never forgiven – but the simple absence of memory of the event kept peace and acceptance from settling into my heart.
Was I somehow guilty of the way things had ended?
What if I was?
A bitter taste in my mouth sent me running for the bathroom.
Her fault, it was my mother’s fault, not mine – I repeated it in my head like a mantra, pressing a hand to my mouth. The clock next to the sink was an electric one, and the display all but spat today’s date into my face.
I hated this day, I wanted to spend it in front of the television with a giant bucket of ice-cream in my arms, but my punishment for forgetting was having to go to work. And regrettably, that was where I was headed now.
Greeted with “You should go back to bed” and “Holy moley what happened to you?” in various individual versions, I arrived at the venue some time later. Jeff, luckily, was nowhere to be seen and thus unable to mother me. The sounds of a soundcheck were filling the not-so busy hallways as I moved away from Mr. Jones’ office after having announced my arrival. I was seeing everything through a curtain of disinterested, self-focused sadness, it was like my mind existed in a different world than my body.
This was why I didn’t notice someone talking to me until they began waving their hand in front of my face in order to get my attention. Surprised, I blinked at the woman that had materialized in front of me. I recognized her from the night before, it was Vicki.
I didn’t feel like talking.
“Are you daydreaming?” she asked and scratched her brown head. She had a relaxed air to herself, very different from last night, and her mouth wasn’t caught in a frown anymore. It was a ridiculous thing to think but today I felt like no one should be allowed to be happy. I felt awful for even thinking that way but my sorrowful mood prevailed.
“I’m not, not really,” I answered flatly.
“Well, I just wanted to tell you ‘Thank you, it worked!’” she said and threw her hands in the air in a jolly display.
“What worked?” I asked her, pulling my brows together in question.
“He let me apologize,” she clarified, a touch incredulously, “and I did it exactly the way you suggested. So thank you, for helping. Really.”
“Who – oh.”
All the events of the previous day came back to me with an excruciating force, for they had been overshadowed by today’s daze and the faded image of a coffin. “You’re welcome,” I gulped.
I had actually managed to forget about his existence because of today, just like I had forgotten about today because of his existence. My head was decidedly starting to spin with all these jumbled events and names and forgotten memories.
“I’m glad it worked,” I added, a little more earnestly, and yawned.
“I don’t mean to pry but are you alright?” asked Vicki concernedly.
I smiled sadly down at her, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Suddenly everything about Vicki: her fawn eyes, her small height, her hair and even the way she was looking… awfully reminded me of…
“I’m alright,” I choked out as I felt the pressure of formerly dried-up tears gathering in my eyes and my sight drowned in water. And it hurt, it hurt a lot. And the longer she was looking at me, the more my stomach twisted and my throat closed up.
“I’ll have a look around town,” I said to Tomo, who was happily chewing away on his piece of pizza. He nodded and wiggled the fingers of his free hand at me in goodbye. Before I was even out the door his full attention was directed back at the unhealthy fast food he was stuffing into his mouth at a rate that could even put my brother in a state of awe. My shoes squeaked terribly on the linoleum floors as I headed through the seemingly endless labyrinth of hallways. There was loads of time to spare today: it was an almost bewildering situation to actually have time on one’s hands in the breathless and erratic everyday of life on the road. While San Francisco was certainly a worthwhile visit, I had to admit I had scarcely set a foot in town before. New York was where my heart lived – alongside the city of Paris, admittedly – and my interest in America’s west coast cities didn’t go very far, albeit I had a house in Los Angeles. Los Angeles was the city of dreams, very unlike everything else, but my biggest reason for ‘residing’ there was my career, and maybe a temperature constant of over 50°F.
I supposed I would have a stroll around downtown and poke my head in some delightful whole foods stores that hopefully lay on my way. I was running out of food to fill the tour bus fridge with and more often than not a hungry Jared meant a grumpy Jared, or so my mother keeps saying.
As I was squeaking my way onward over the linoleum I came across Vicki, who was leaning next to the women’s restroom’s door in a distinctly distressed manner.
I studied her. “You can use the one in the dressing room if this one’s occupied, you know.”
“That’s not it,” she sighed.
“Then what is it?” I tugged at the brim of my hat to pull it deeper into my face.
“She just started crying and locked herself in there and she won’t come out. I don’t know what upset her so much,” Vicki frowned. “I upset a lot of people lately.”
Pretending to have missed the last part, I stared curiously at the door and listened, but there was nothing but silence.
“For how long has she been in there, Vicki?” I demanded.
She sneaked a look at her watch. “Twenty minutes to half an hour,” she replied unhappily.
“We’ve got to check if she’s alright,” I muttered. “What’s her name?”
“Her name is Ana. But Jay, it’s locked. We should look for the janitor…”
Thoughtfully I chewed on ms bottom lip, sucking it in. Well, there went my trip to downtown San Francisco. By quick decision I retrieved my wallet and took out one of my credit cards I didn’t use very often. Vicki’s incredulous gaze followed my every move as I casually stepped closer to the door and slid it into the little gap between door and door frame. I wriggled it back and forth for a while until I felt, and heard, the telltale click of the lock. I stepped back.
“That was impressive, man,” Vicki said.
“I’ve done it often enough,” I said matter-of-factly and pushed down the handle to open the door. It gave way as expected and we entered the little bathroom that consisted of a shower, a sink and a toilet. The filtered light that flooded the room gave everything a rather bright glow that reflected off the white tiles, making it hard to make out everything in the chamber. Anxiety chilled my skin when I couldn’t immediately spot the girl. Humans sometimes did unexpected, thoughtless things that they wouldn’t have done in normal circumstances and with a clear mind but their consequences were often irreversible – that was why my heart was beating rapidly and leapt up to my throat when I saw the pale bundle, all knees and arms and a chocolate mop of hair, sitting in a corner in complete stillness. Stillness was a bad thing, decidedly. Forcing my anxiousness to the back of my mind, I strode over to where she was covering and knelt down in front of her feet.
“Ana?” I said softly, intent on not letting even the tiniest reaction pass my notice. Her face was hidden in the mess of arms and knees and tendrils of hair. Reluctantly I struck out a hand and laid it on her shoulder. There were no words to express the relief I felt when she flinched back from the touch.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her quietly and retrieved my hand.
There was no reply.
“Ana – can I call you that? Please talk to me so I can know if you’re alright,” I urged her but kept my voice as low as possible. Again she did not reply but I watched her chocolate brown locks dance over the bare skin of her arms as she lifted her head from its resting place. I was mildly surprised to see she was the girl who had been in charge of ‘taking care of us’ yesterday – I thought I might have even exchanged a couple of words with her. She hadn’t acted very comfortable then but I would have never expected to find her on the floor of a cold restroom in a semi-unconscious state the next day. Her eyes looked at me, wide green-tinted hazelnut orbs, and their gaze was wet and fearful. When she met my eyes she started shivering almost right away and pushed herself backwards, away from me, in a fast hectic movement. I was startled to say the least, unsure of how to proceed with her. I bit my lip in concentration – and maybe frustration – as I pondered what to do.
“I won’t hurt you darling,” I muttered and slowly rose from my crouch. She was shivering violently now, pressing her body against the wall, chest heaving, with her unnerving and shocked gaze glued to me. I fidgeted a bit, completely not used to people being afraid of me, and cast an unsure glance at Vicki who was standing by the door.
“I think she needs a doctor,” Vicki suggested quietly with another look at Ana and I couldn’t help but agree.
“We have to move her, though,” I said. “She can’t stay on the cold floor.”
Taking a few deep breaths I locked gazes again with the girl on the floor that was still in shock for reasons unknown to everyone but her.
“Darling I’m going to lift you up now so we can get you out of here. I am not going to hurt you, it’s all right. There’s no reason to be scared.” Softly humming I bent down to her and sneaked one arm under her knees and the other around her shoulders. She reacted by stiffening up and pressing her eyes shut.
‘Heavier than she looks,’ I couldn’t help but notice as I lifted her up. It was a very uncomfortable sensation to be of such close body proximity to someone I didn’t know but there was no way around it. I wasn’t going to let her undercool just because I didn’t like touching people.
“Dressing room?” Vicki asked, staring uncomfortably at me carrying Ana. I nodded and moved forward, taking heavy steps toward the door which Vicki held open for me. I felt the girl’s heartbeat against my chest as we headed back to the room I had only just left in hopes of finally seeing the city.
I simply could not handle it. My body was stiff as a board and it felt like I was freezing. My mind was in a state of fire, of burning, up and down and back and forth and again. Distress had me caught up in a whirlwind and he had made it worse. I hadn’t heard a single word that his mouth had formed but his touch and the cold flames that had shot up my spine upon it. I didn’t know what to do for I was unable to escape from my mind.
I was afraid.
I was afraid of the past, of him, of my feelings, of the memories that were rising to the surface now and of what they meant. I was afraid of what I didn’t know. He was carrying me and I was defenseless. His arms had me in a firm grasp and I wanted to feel safe but couldn’t. I was drowning in a lake of dark stale water that was the past. Voices began reaching me but it took time and concentration for me to decipher the words.
“What happened to her?” was the first thing I understood clearly.
“I don’t know.”
“She had a breakdown…”
“I suppose we should consult a doctor?”
“Jared, lay her down on the couch. Shan will you move?”
“Yes yes! God I know her!”
“You’d have amnesia if you didn’t, man.”
My body was laid down on soft cushions and strangely, I began to miss the firmness of his arms around my body.
“Can you hear me?” a voice said, closer than the others. I was too frightened to open my eyes and see all the commotion around me. I was always trying not to make a display out of myself, I was uncomfortable with too much attention and it was doubtless that I had now gotten myself into a very embarrassing situation.
“Guys what’s her name again?”
“Ana,” said Jared and I had to gasp for air.
“Wait I think she’s awake.”
“Of course she is,” said Jared.
“Then what is she –”
“I’m calling a doctor.”
I felt heat rise up to my face, clenching my eyes shut. I didn’t know what was worse: facing them all or having a doctor tell them I was virtually fine. It was the choice between a rock and a hard place. The cushions I was lying on shifted as someone sat down next to me and I started stiffening again, my hand clutching the fabric of my shirt. I was positive that all their eyes were fixed on me and I wanted to disappear into thin air right on the spot.
“Jared, Vicki? I mean she looks… I don’t know. What’s with her now?”
“Maybe the doctor can tell us,” Jared replied, suddenly very close, close enough to make my heart leap to my throat. What was he doing, sitting next to me, when all I wanted was for him to leave? I attempted to control my breathing but I wasn’t being very successful in doing that, not at all. Alright, I wasn’t fine. I was faced with the person that could give me all the answers, as I now knew. All the answers I ever wanted. All the answers to the questions that had kept me up for countless nights on end. I didn’t want them anymore. I was scared. I was scared to a point that it controlled every movement I made.
I had remembered. I hadn’t remembered enough, but I had remembered him. It was like a goddamn déjà-vu, seeing him crouched before me, soft-spoken and blue-eyed as ever, the gentle pressure and warmth of his hand on my shoulder.
No one was going to believe me if I told them that I had met this exact man before, on the day my sister had died.
No one was going to understand how I could be completely sure it was him.
But I was. I was sure.