As luck would have it, my mother got home just ten minutes after Griffin had left.
“Arielle, I hope you weren’t sleeping around all day,” my mom snapped as she slammed the door shut. I tried not to roll my eyes- she was always in a mood after a long day at the law firm. “Here, take this.”
I hurried forward and took her briefcase from her and set it back down beside the island.
“Put some water in the microwave for me,” my mom commanded. “I desperately need some tea.”
I did as I was told, selecting the largest coffee cup we had and filling it almost to the brim with hot water. I waited to make any more conversation until my mom had popped two aspirins, dry-swallowing them both.
“Where’s Mark?” I questioned casually, tearing open the tiny tea bag.
My mom was quick to answer. “He’s working late,” she almost snapped. Then, as though she regretted her harsh tone, she wrapped her arms around me motherly and said, “I love you, Sweetie. Did you have a nice day?”
I nodded tensely, ignoring my mother’s instant mood swing and wondering when the spotlight had turned on me.
“What did you do?” She continued. She didn’t sound suspicious, merely curious- which was almost stranger since my parents never took an interest in my life.
“Mainly just hung out on the couch.” It wasn’t a lie, just twisting the words.
My mom nodded, clearly growing bored of this conversation, although I wasn’t entirely sure what she’d expected. She could be so self-centered sometimes. Why ask if you didn’t care to hear the answer?
I figured that the exchange was over, so I turned to leave the kitchen and head beck to my own room. I had just put one foot through the doorframe, however, when my mom called me back.
“I forgot to tell you,” she said slowly, massaging her temples, “your father called.”
A sharp breath hissed in through my lips as I turned back to face her.
“My… my father?” I stuttered. I hadn’t seen or heard from Joshua Kemp in over three years- not since the last time he’d called. I virtually had no relationship with him since after the brutal divorce trial, my mom had gotten full custody. “What did he want?”
My mom let out a slightly icy laugh. “That’s exactly what I asked him,” she muttered. Then, louder so that I could hear, she continued, “He wouldn’t say. Just said he wanted to speak with you.”
I nodded, exiting the room at last, my head spinning. Why would my father call? The man hadn’t spoken to me in years, and the last time, he’d called just to pry about my mom’s relationship with Mark. And prior to that… I’d spoken to him maybe four times a year- and he had lived in the same town.
The fact of the matter was, he’d really done nothing in the fathering department of life, and I wasn’t about to welcome him with open arms. I was not quick to forgive and forget. I guess in some ways I was my mother’s daughter after all.
And yet, I found myself pulling my phone- my mom’s old blackberry, which, in all honesty, was way too complex for me. All I needed was a cell phone, not a life organizer!- and scrolled slowly through the address book until I found his name, Joshua Kemp, glowing out at me from the screen. I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t want to-
I pressed the call button.
I spent the entire length of the three rings planning what I would say to him, and when he answered, I realized that I hadn’t the slightest idea.
“Hello?” His deep baritone voice boomed over the receiver. Long pause on my part. “Hello?” slightly more annoyed now.
“Hey, dad,” I mumbled into the phone.
I hadn’t expected him to be excited in the least to hear my voice- if he really wanted to that badly, then maybe he could have called more than once a millennia- and yet the way he said my name afterward was pure compassion.
“I miss you, baby girl,” he told me for the third time. “How’s the big apple?”
I shrugged, and then remembered he couldn’t see me. “Fine,” I said instead.
“Any boys caught your eye yet?” He joked, and yet he’d hit the mark. Luckily, he continued before I could answer. “You’re too good for all them city boys anyways.”
I made no comment to this statement, mainly because I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t really good enough for Griffin. He was, after all, practically flawless. And I was far from perfect.
My dad let out a loud, theatrical sigh; I rolled my eyes. He always was the drama king. That was the one thing I recalled from the years we’d been part of the same family. To him, everything was a big deal.
“Well, Ari-” I cringed at my childhood nickname, which was just about as bad as my actual name-“the real reason I called is… well… I met someone.”
I tried to sound genuine as I said, “that’s great!” but really I couldn’t have cared less about my dad’s romantic life.
“I’m telling you, Arielle, she’s great.” And then, as was expected, he went into a vivid description of Julia Myles, a massage therapist he’d met while getting a massage one day- the very thought made me want to gag. She was fun and flirty and about ten years younger than him. She basically had gold-digger written all over her, not that my dad had much gold to dig.
“And we’re getting married!” He concluded. “I was going to send you an invite, but I didn’t have your address, and I didn’t really want your mother to know that I was getting remarried, not that I really care what she thinks, but…”
My dad realized that he was rambling, and stopped short. “I want you to be here, Arielle. I’ll send you plane fare. You can bring a friend too.”
He was bribing me, I realized. My own father had to bribe me to come and see him. But I wouldn’t let it get to me. I was not caving. Why should I be there to support him when he was never there for me?
“It’s on November 7th.” I was thankful that this conversation was coming to a close. “Call me later; I have to go.”
And just like that, he hung up.
“Ugh!” I screamed, throwing the Blackberry into the tangled mess of sheets that was my bed. This was exactly the reason I didn’t go out of my way to see him. He was just so… inconsiderate of anyone’s feelings but his own. Just like my mother. No wonder their relationship had been shot to hell.
I wiped my mind completely of any thoughts of Joshua Kemp, transferring my thoughts to the one male being that had never once done anything to harm me: Griffin.
Despite the fact that I had seen him less than an hour before, I found myself longing to be near him. I also found that I hated to associate the word ‘dating’ with him- it seemed that whatever it was that we had ran much deeper than that.
I considered calling him, but I was worried that perhaps he would find me terribly annoying and somewhat stalker-ish. So I refrained from doing so, grabbing my iPod off the nightstand and putting it into the pocket of the over-sized hoodie, unzipped and draped oh-so carelessly around my shoulders. Then, I crossed the room to my window and pulled it open.
I tried to remember the last time I’d climbed out onto my balcony- yes, I had begun to think of it as my balcony- and realized that it had been only a few times since the early morning of the day that I’d met Griffin. That day seemed ages ago, although it had really only been about a month. It was hard to believe that I’d known Griffin for that long already.
That I’d been in love for that long.
I wasn’t entirely sure when I had come to the conclusion that I was in love with him, but I was sure that it was true. What other explanation was there for the way I needed him, the way I wanted him? I’d felt a connection with him the moment his green eyes had locked with my gray-blue ones.
I swung my legs over the windowsill and climbed out onto the metal grate. The balcony was actually a fire escape, which explained the steep metal staircase leading safely to the ground below. After a moment of thought, it dawned on me that I could run away using this method at any minute.
And with my mom sound asleep with her killer headache, convinced that her trustworthy daughter was wallowing alone in the confines of her room, I could easily slip away unnoticed. Then, using the twenty dollar bill folded in my back pocket, I could hail a cab over to Manhattan. Where I could see Griffin.
I began to descend the stairs.
“Griffin, dear, come and sit with me.”
I jumped in place where I sat upon my bed, gazing blankly at the wall, thinking about everything and nothing all at once. My bright green eyes shot over to my grandmother, standing in the doorway with all her dignity about her. She really was beautiful, despite her age. If anything, it only intensified her in all her wisdom and such. I felt so inferior in her presence. Even if I did share her last name, I would never be as glorious as her. I may have been a Barrett, but I hadn’t been raised to be of her world. I was meant for much simpler things.
I stood up, smoothing out my black shirt and followed Cordelia as she led me into her sitting room. Wordlessly she dropped into her signature burgundy chair. I followed suit in an identical chair a few feet away.
For many long, silent minutes, I stared at her, waiting for her to speak, and still she said nothing. Still she sat in all her grace, her own green eyes trained on the cross hanging above the mantle of the fireplace. Praying, I assumed. Praying to her God.
“You shouldn’t be so stubborn,” Cordelia murmured, almost as if she could read my thoughts. “You shouldn’t shut yourself off like that.”
“And why is that?” I muttered bitterly, trying to keep my temper in check. After all, I did still have to show her respect. “How can you tell me that there is a God of mercy and compassion when my parents are dead?”
“God has a plan,” she said in that cryptic way of hers. “You may not understand it, but He does. I trust his plan because of my faith.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but Cordelia brought her gaze to meet mine, her acid eyes burning holes straight through me.
“Have you ever paused to think that if your parents had not died, you’d have never met Arielle?”
I stood abruptly, very nearly sending the chair toppling over. “I have to go,” I said suddenly, starting towards the door.
Cordelia gave me a knowing look. “You cannot run forever, Griffin, and you most certainly cannot hide.”
I didn’t glance back as her as I pulled open the door; I wasn’t even sure she heard me as I muttered under my breath, “watch me.”
I left the manor in a frenzy, desperate to get away. Maybe Cordelia was right. Maybe I couldn’t run or hide from anything. Not her, not Arielle, and definitely not the demons from my past.
But maybe I could change things. Maybe I didn’t have to live in this constant fear of being found. Maybe I could make things better.
I walked slowly down Fifth Avenue, feeling slightly chilled as the cool autumn breeze penetrated my thin shirt. All around me were dozens upon dozens of people, perfectly oblivious to everything but themselves and their own problems. For a moment I wished to be like them. I longed for that sort of carefree innocence. Instead I was destined to spend the rest of my life with haunting memories and a tangled mess of self inflicted scars.
Inattentively I ran my index finger gently over the lines on my left wrist, slicing through the cross tattooed there. Ah, the irony of life.
I should have died. Not my parents. It was supposed to be me.
Damn Cordelia. I would have been dead if her goddamn timing wasn’t so impeccable.
I shook my head a little to shake away the thoughts. My mind was wandering in directions it didn’t need to go.
Before I got too far – fit of rage or not, I still didn’t know where the hell I was- I turned back and started home.
Home. What a thought.