Prompt(s) Used: “It’s okay, you don’t have to love me.”
“Nayeli, what are you doing up there?”
The voice came from below, but it sounded like its owner was so far away. I couldn’t say that I recognised the voice. I tightened my grasp on a seemingly sturdy branch and looked down to see who it was. I tried leaning over more, but I almost lost my balance. I gasped, then quickly returned to my neutral position.
“It’s Dmitri. Are you okay?”
“Dmitri,” I called back, “Dmitri…”
I leaned over again so that he could see me crying. He flashed me a worried look.
“Are you stuck?”
“Do you want to come down and talk to me?”
I mulled over the question. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do either. Up here, I felt safe. Up here, I didn’t need to think about terminally ill brothers and absent parents. Up here, I could hide from the truth.
“I don’t want to come down,” I finally replied.
I waited for his response. I anticipated him yelling at me for being a stubborn ungrateful brat, but it never happened. He stayed silent for a while.
“Okay, stay there.”
I leaned against another branch and watched intently as he wiped the sweat on his palms off on his trousers. He examined the tree, planning his ascend. His eyes lit up when he finally figured out a route. Cautiously, he placed his foot in a hole in the tree and pulled himself upwards by hugging the trunk. He pushed himself up by straightening his leg and reached out to me. I offered him a hand and he took it. I pulled him onto the branch I was sitting on. He quickly moved to the next branch above mine.
“Is Cali’s condition getting worse?”
I nodded. Dmitri offered me his hand and I took it.
“So, are you up here because you’re upset that your brother is getting sicker or because you’re trying to get your parents’ attention?”
My eyes widened in horror. I couldn’t believe that he would suggest that I was more occupied with how my parents viewed me than how sick Cali was. Cali was someone I cared for deeply. He was my brother. How could Dmitri even dare to suggest that I wasn’t concerned about Cali’s health?
“Maybe, because it’s true.”
I clapped my hand over my mouth. I was sure that I didn’t say my thoughts out loud. He couldn’t have known what I was thinking.
“Nayeli, you can lie to your brother, your parents, and even yourself, but you can’t lie to me.”
I turned away from him. My cheeks were flushed red and I was starting to tear up.
“How did you know?” I proceeded with caution.
“Simple,” he lifted my chin so that I was looking directly at him, “I am a part of you.”
My chin felt hot. I tried to pull away his hand, but it was stuck. It was melting and adhering to my face. He inched closer to me, allowing his arm to gradually disappear into my neck. It hurt. The heat turned into burning pain. I felt like my skin was being melted and sliced open where his arm was forcing its way into me. I stared at him. He was smiling.
“You look like you’re in pain. Stop resisting.”
“Dmitri, what are you doing?”
“What should be done.”
“Stop it, Nayeli. You’ll scare Cali. He’d get sicker and die. Then it’ll all be your fault.”
I screamed again.
“If that happens, your parents will never be able to love you like you so badly want them too.”
I screamed so loud that I thought my skull was going to shatter from the pressure.
I jumped awake. A second too late and my head would have hit the wall. I exhaled forcefully as my hands frantically searched my neck for any signs of forced entry. Apart from the irregular acne bumps, my neck was smooth and pristine. I closed my eyes. My breathing slowed down to a regular pace.
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but were you in my room the entire time I was asleep?”
“No,” Jude rolled his eyes, “I could hear you screaming while I was asleep in my room.”
“But your room is at the other corner of the hideout. That’s at least five metres away from here.”
“… Exactly,” he massaged his forehead.
Jude was looking straight at me, but his eyes seemed to be elsewhere. His eyebrows were twitching. I knew that tell. He was considering whether or not he should speak up about something. He usually decided to talk, so I waited.
“Listen, if you need to talk to someone, I can try to arrange something,” he touched the back of his neck.
“I don’t need a psychiatrist. None of this is new.”
“It’s happening more frequently now,” he sounded nervous, “I can ask the dealer if she’s willing to cover the cost first… Or I could do it. I don’t really need the money anyway.”
“It’s okay, you don’t have to love me,” I said bitterly.
“I know you’re enjoying yourself watching me suffer. You helped me with my leg so let me help you out here,” I spat out at him, “Go on. Get out of my room. I know you don’t really care.”
His mouth fell open and he inhaled. I anticipated him yelling at me for being a stubborn ungrateful brat, but it never happened. He clenched his teeth and his eyes narrowed. I was probably imagining it, but I thought I saw his eyes flash. He took a step back, away from me.
Then, he threw his head back and started to laugh.
“Was it that obvious?”
I stopped myself from replying.
“Well then, keep up the good work, my dear Rain.”
I wasn’t looking at him when he slammed my door shut. I didn’t want to look at someone who didn’t love me. Especially when he almost fooled me into thinking he did.