A/N: The song for this chapter is Who You Are by Jessie J.
Also, I’m really sorry for the delay—I had bad writer’s block for a while which led me to rewriting this 582 times and then a friend came in from out of town, so that all put this blog on hold for much longer than I’d have liked :/. It is a long chapter though and I’m pretty happy with how it finally came out so…hopefully you feel like this was well worth the wait!
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh….
Before the sun had even risen, I woke up screaming.
At first, I thought the screaming had only been in my nightmare—the result of me trying desperately to get away from the masked man in my dream who had grabbed me. I’d tried to kick and punch any inch of the man I could, but no matter where I’d aimed, the blows never landed. I’d tried screaming too, but every attempt had been hopelessly muffled as the shadowy figure had his hand pressed firmly against my mouth.
It wasn’t until the figure let go of me briefly to pin me to the wall that I did successfully scream, but instead of in my nightmare, it was into the solitary, suffocating darkness of my bedroom. My blankets were wrapped tightly around me and my body was covered in a cold sweat as I struggled to disentangle myself from my fabric prison.
I let out a frenzied shriek and then finally freed myself, toppling right out of my bed and onto the hardwood floor. My breaths came out in shallow gasps and my limbs ached now from their abrupt contact with the floor. My hair was plastered to my face, damp from sweat and, as I realized now, tears. My sobs came out strangled and quiet, as if I were trying to hide them from someone even though I knew I was entirely alone.
Alone. Panic began to rush through my body, pumped out through my arteries and returning through my veins in order to continue its insidious cycle through my body. I scrambled to stand, shakily using the side of my bed to pull myself up. My stomach churned.
I stare at my reflection in the mirror
I hurried into my bathroom, afraid that I was going to be sick and nearly jumped when I caught sight of myself in the mirror above the sink. I looked like a complete mess, as if I’d been awake for days instead of having been fast asleep only moments ago. My eyes were bloodshot and my skin was unusually pale, colored only by deep red blotches from having cried so hard.
My condition only worsened by the painful return of that ever debilitating feeling of endless loneliness. There was no one in this house I could go to right now—I was alone in my terror and despair.
Why am I doing this to myself?
Losing my mind on a tiny error
I forced my gaze away from my reflection, wrenching open the mirror to access the cabinet behind it. I rummaged through various perfumes and hair supplies, finding the small bottle of ‘Tylenol’ stowed in the corner. It felt oddly light and my heart pounded harder as I struggled to open it. It took four attempts, but only a second to confirm what my racing heart already knew: it was empty.
I dropped the bottle in a panic and then opened every other bottle and container I could find, discovering more empty bottles and never the colorful assortment of pills I was desperate to find.
I backed away from the cabinet in a panic, stumbling as I hit the wall and fell heavily against it. My body was shaking, my breaths coming out in strangled gasps.
I clutched at my heart, willing it to stop racing. He’d probably found it all. Of course he would find it all, of course.
After all…it takes an addict to know an addict.
I let out a pathetic whimper and slid down onto the floor, covering my face with my trembling hands. My heart was still pounding and I kept letting out short, hysterical cries no matter how hard I tried to keep my mind completely devoid of the dark thoughts that had regained it.
I pulled at my hair in frustration, willing myself to chase them away, but continuously failing as they turned their fanged heads to snap at me.
I nearly left the real me on the shelf
I honestly had no idea how long it took me to calm down, but when I finally did I could tell by the tiny window in my bathroom that the sun had fully risen.
I lay down on my back, attempting to stretch the soreness from my tightly wound limbs. Above me, the ceiling was an endless expanse of white, almost blinding now that the sun had gained strength.
That’d all been so awful.
Shame and disbelief flooded my system. If I had found any pills, would I have taken them? Would I have messed everything up not 12 hours after my hope-filled father had left?
For the sake of my sanity and any hope of feeling anything remotely like positivity again, I had to convince myself that I wouldn’t have taken them. In the end, seeing them would have jarred me out of my hysteria and I would have dropped them all down the sink. Of course that’s what would have happened. Of course….
As my mind struggled over whether or not it was lying to itself I got up off the floor, peeling off my damp pajamas and stumbling into the shower. I let cold water run over me and I gasped in both shock and relief as the first icy droplets hit my back and rid my mind of any lingering darkness.
After my frigid shower I padded over to my dresser, shivering as I rummaged through its contents and looked for an oversized sweater and a pair of sweatpants. I fully planned to curl up in my bed today and hide. I was already probably in loads of trouble for having skirted all of my responsibilities yesterday, so what was one more day, really? Or two…or three….
I grew increasingly frustrated as I searched. There was just so much pink. I didn’t even like pink, nor had I ever, really. I liked cream colors and blues. I liked polka dots and Peter Pan collars. I did not like pink or plunging necklines or whatever the hell that crazy, itchy mesh was that they put underneath dresses to make them puff out like pastries.
All of this crap, I thought as I angrily emptied my dresser of its ridiculous contents, was Jade.
No, no, no, no, no
I took a step back, staring at the mess I’d made as a jumble of images began making their way to the forefront of my mind. Humungous ice cream cones and fake smiles, stupidly exaggerative giggling and sugary lyrics laced with innuendos concerning frosting and whipped cream.
I gagged. I couldn’t do that anymore. I couldn’t do any of that anymore.
Don’t lose who you are in the blur of the stars
Like my father had said…I couldn’t keep lying to myself.
I dug out nice clothes that I actually liked from the bottom of my drawers.
Like some eerie déjà vu—I had somewhere to be.
“You are worthy, and you are smart enough, and you are good enough, and you are strong enough,” I whispered to myself over and over as I paced in the lobby, my heart nearly leaping out of my chest. “It is never too late to start making the right decisions.”
From somewhere out of the corner of my eye I could make out the head secretary, Penelope, peering around her desk as if looking for some kind of gas leak, but I continued my frenzied whispering anyway. I felt like if I stopped, every ounce of confidence I’d managed to build up would collapse, leaving me a dusty heap of false hopes.
“Mr. Valencia will see you now,” she announced after a while in her usual, clipped tones.
I felt my stomach plummet. “Thank you,” I said faintly, and then strode toward the door.
SMART enough and GOOD enough and STRONG enough!
Seeing is deceiving
“Miss Winters, what in god’s name did you do to yourself?”
“I—” I started to say, and then winced when Mr. Valencia held up his hand to silence me, his face stony. Renewed fear coursed through my veins; any semblance of confidence I’d worked up puffed out as easily as a candle.
“Stop,” he interjected firmly, “before you say anything, I must remind you that you are legally bound to follow the terms of your contract, and under the terms of that contract you are obligated to present the image of Jade, as we have created her, at all times until the termination of said contract. This,” he said, gesturing at me in distaste, “violates those terms.”
Dreaming is believing
I closed my eyes and tried not to let his words get to me…tried to ignore his look of disgust at seeing me for who I really was.
Refocus, Jo! His opinion doesn’t matter…not anymore.
Opening my eyes, I drew myself up to my full height and said, with much more confidence than I actually felt, “I know that, but I hardly think it matters now because I’ve actually come here to terminate said contract.”
Even as I said the words I could not believe that I was saying them. This was all that I had ever wanted in life. I had cast aside everything in order to obtain it and now here I was ridding myself of it. Saying the words left me feeling emptier, as if there was nothing anymore to Joanne Madeline Winters. After all, when the thing upon which you have defined yourself is gone, who are you, anyway?
“Ah,” Mr. Valencia uttered softly, leaning back in his chair. “Given your appearance, I had the distinct feeling that you were going to say that, but I’m afraid that you cannot break your contract prematurely without incurring a world of fines and misery. You know what that means, right?” he asked mildly.
“It means we’ll sue, Miss Winters.”
I looked away, my breath catching in my throat. I felt as if I’d been slapped, even if the words had not been spoken in the least bit harshly, but rather in the cool, detached manner of one simply discussing business. It made it all worse. I was choking now, strangled amongst the very strings that held up my powerless, plastic, puppet self.
But you’re not a puppet, remember? You’re human and you can still break the strings.
It’s okay not to be okay
I clenched my hands into fists at my sides and stood up straight once again.
“Then, Mr. Valencia, once the terms of my contract have been fulfilled, I’m leaving Valencia Records.”
There it was again—pushing it all away, but somehow I knew, amongst everything that I had cast aside so far in my life, this was the one thing that I knew was right to cast aside. This was one of the poisons laced within my skin and this was what I needed to do to leech it.
Mr. Valencia looked up at me, his lined face revealing a touch of surprise. I clenched my fists harder; my chipped and loosening acrylic nails dug into my palms. When you have nothing left to lose, all you can do is gain.
“That’s quite a serious proclamation, Miss Winters, and if I may say it, a most unwise one,” he said softly. “You have been one of our biggest successes. You are worth millions and if it is money that’s the problem, given your worth, I’m sure that we can write up an improved contract for you to sign once this deal is up. I can promise you more. I can promise another world tour…bigger and more dazzling than the last. You are a star…one that we can guarantee will shine brightly for a very long time.”
Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart
For a moment, it sounded good. The high life: photo shoots, amazing costumes, interviews and sparkles and singing on stage and oh god the world…and through it all thousands of admiring fans all screaming…but it wasn’t my name that they were screaming.
“Could you also promise that it would all be as me and not as Jade?” I asked absently, tempted for a second by the brilliance of his offerings.
Mr. Valencia looked startled. “Well, no, obviously. You are Jade and Jade is you, sweetheart. Your worth is only as Jade and will only ever be as Jade.”
Suddenly, his offerings did not gleam so brightly. I winced at both his harsh words and the endearing term he used, a nauseating feeling sinking into my stomach that had nothing to do with anything in this office. I took in another breath to steady myself, willing myself not to think about that. One poison at a time, Jo. One poison at a time.
“That’s not true!” I bit back. “That’s not who I am and…and I am worthy as myself!”
I paused, realizing that I was beginning to sound like some defiant child instead of the reasoned adult I was trying to be.
“It is a very generous offer,” I started over calmly, “but I’m afraid that I can’t accept it. I will leave Valencia Records at the culmination of my contract and I won’t be returning.”
For a moment, Mr. Valencia’s face looked deeply unimpressed with my proclamation, but all at once the look left and he simply smirked instead. “We’ll see about that,” he replied with dark amusement. “For now though, you still owe me four months, and in those four months you are contractually required to depict the image that we have set forth for you and carry out every obligation that comes with that image. Is that understood, Miss Winters?”
Tears don’t mean you’re losing
Clouds of despair swirled above my head, forming a deadly funnel that threatened to yank me up into its depths. I could feel my eyes burning. Four months. Four months of saccharine songs and candied costumes. Four months of forced smiles, of bubbly cheerfulness, and this nauseating hell. Four months in which to lose it all again and drown at the bottom of the noxious pit I’d found myself in.
Stop it, Jo! Those are the dark thoughts, remember? You can’t let them gain strength! It’s not four months in which to lose it all again—it’s four months in which to do things right for a change!
Just be true to who you are
I lifted my head again to meet this man’s cool, muddy-colored eyes, hugging myself in the process. “Yes, Mr. Valencia,” I said quietly, “but trust me when I say that before the four months are up, you’ll not only be loath to ever draw me up another contract, but also regretful that you made me keep to this one at all!”
Who you are, who you are, who you are
There was the defiant child emerging again, but I didn’t even care, turning around after my last word had been spoken and walking straight out of his office with my head held high.
I had no idea what I was going to do to follow through with my so-called threat though. What could I do? They had already made it quite clear that they’d sue if I didn’t follow the terms of the contract, so again really, what could I do?
What a stupid, weak threat…what a stupid, weak girl…
With those thoughts my unstable pillar of confidence collapsed once again, replaced by that horrible hysteria—the one that enjoyed swallowing me whole and watching me scream.
Who you are, who you are, who you are
It was exactly what I did too. As soon as I was down a floor and out of sight—I screamed. It was a frustrated scream that was followed by uncontrolled sobs of unending despair. I was trapped, trapped! I’d tried to fight it and failed—tried to make things right and then failed!
I knew vaguely that these sorts of thoughts were not allowed in my mind anymore, but I could not stop them. I couldn’t stop them because I didn’t see the hope anymore. I had tried to be good enough and I just wasn’t. I had tried to be strong enough, but again, I just wasn’t.
No, no, no, no, no, no
“I’m not strong enough,” I cried through my sobs. “I’m not, I’m not.”
Dad was wrong. He was so, so wrong.
I heard footsteps coming up the stairs then and I gasped, hastily wiping away my tears and scrambling to get away, but I’d barely taken a step when I heard a sharp intake of breath.
I couldn’t help but turn toward the sound, my curiosity getting in the way of self-preservation. My initial reaction at seeing who it was though was to curse the heaven’s above because this man always seemed to turn up when I was at my lowest, but my second reaction was a rush of concern as I noticed the fact that he looked horribly pale.
“Are you okay?” I asked in spite of myself, any thoughts of running off dashed straight from my mind. “You…you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Gabriel gave me a strangely pained look and then looked away, closing his eyes for a moment and shaking his head. I stared at him in confusion and was just about to approach him when he muttered, “I’m fine.” He seemed almost annoyed with himself, giving his head another shake before he finally looked at me again. His dark, russet eyes went immediately to my hair, causing me to reach up self-consciously and run my hand through the shorter, black locks.
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” I asked despairingly, remembering Mr. Valencia’s look of disgust. “I probably shouldn’t have done it myself.”
Who you are…
“No.…” he said quietly. “It’s perfect.” He let out another sharp exhale of air and averted his eyes. It gave me the distinct feeling that, for whatever reason, he hadn’t meant to say that, but I couldn’t help but blush now that he had.
“Thank you,” I said timidly, trying to ignore how warm he’d just made me feel.
He glanced at me, a soft sort of look crossing his face. “Are you okay?” he asked, and I realized he must have heard at least some of my freak out as he was coming up the stairs.
Who you are…
I hesitated to answer, debating the possibility of just lying, but bottling up my feelings had never helped me in the past, so finally I answered, “No, not really.”
I glanced at him uneasily, unused to such direct questions, but again I opted for the truth with my response. “I…I tried to…quit just now. Well, break my contract, I mean, and I…I failed miserably,” I admitted.
“I wish I’d seen the look on ol’ Valencia’s face when you did that,” he said, the slightest of smirks crossing his lips. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the balcony railing. “I’m sure you’ll find a way,” he added quietly.
I stared at him for a moment too long, deciding that it was pretty much criminal for anyone to look like that while doing something as mundane as leaning. “I um…I hope so,” I said, my voice a little higher than usual. I cleared my throat, hoping that he didn’t notice anything out of the unusual.
“So…is that why you were saying you weren’t strong enough?” he asked, looking concerned now. “Because you couldn’t break that contract?”
I nodded slowly, feeling all at once overly exposed. My eyes burned, so I averted my gaze, unwilling to lose myself now. I just needed to go home. I was in no condition to be here. I shouldn’t have even come in the first place.
“I really don’t think the legal crap behind contracts can be the rightful judge of anyone’s strength,” he said seriously.
My heart beat faster, but I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just stayed silent. How was it anyhow that a person’s presence could be so comforting, and yet so…so frightening at the same time?
Gabriel cleared his throat and I couldn’t help but look back at him, albeit uneasily.
“Here,” he said, and I realized that he was holding my phone out to me. “You dropped this the other night.”
“Thanks,” I murmured embarrassedly, my heart twisting in my chest as I remembered all at once what this man had done for me.
I reached out to take it, my fingers just barely grazing his in the process, but it was enough to send a jolt of heat up my spine that I’d never quite felt before. I let out a sharp breath, holding the phone to my chest and finding myself unable to ignore how warm it felt against my skin. Jeez, Jo, don’t do this.
“I’m sorry for interfering, by the way,” Gabriel said quickly then, looking somewhat embarrassed himself.
“Interfering?” I asked, puzzled.
“By calling your dad,” he explained sheepishly. “I know that was a…a lame thing to do.”
“Oh, no! No, it really wasn’t,” I hastened to say. “You’d been right. I…I shouldn’t have been alone that night.”
Who you are…
Gabriel gave me a questioning look, but I pretended not to notice—even if it was the most adorable thing I think I’d ever seen in my life. Instead, I moved my phone away from my chest and peered down at it, hitting the home button and then wincing at the tons of missed calls and texts—mostly from my suffocating manager.
“I see….Well, glad you’re not…mad then, I guess….” he said awkwardly. He looked like he wanted to ask me more, especially because of my disconcerting comment, but he seemed to have noticed my reluctance to speak more on the matter because he didn’t. Instead, he followed my gaze to my phone and then made a slight face. “Yeah….I silenced that shit. Melanie’s fucking insane.”
I looked up at him in surprise and he quickly gave me an apologetic look. “I mean, she’s pretty…determined?”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little, despite how low I felt. “No, you…you had it right the first time.”
Gabriel smiled, and the sight immediately knocked the air right out of me and jolted me once more from my dark clouds. I briefly wondered why such a simple action would have such an incredible impact on me until I realized—it was the first time that I’d actually seen him do that. I tilted my head, finding myself just staring for a moment. Had I really never seen him smile before? That seemed so very strange.
Then again, every time we ran into each other I happened to be bawling like a baby, which typically didn’t give people much cause to smile.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” he suddenly asked, and I jumped, blushing hard and feeling absolutely mortified.
“Sorry,” I said quickly. “It’s just—well, I just noticed that…that when you smile these…these little crinkles appear at the corners of your eyes.”
“Wait, what?” he asked, and I felt like smacking myself right across the face. What the fuck, Jo!?
“I mean you have a nice smile!” I blurted out in a cheap attempt to make myself sound sane. I covered my face with my hands then, realizing that I’d probably failed at that spectacularly. I was so screwed up, wasn’t I?
He must have thought I was so ridiculous. After all, every time he ran into me I was just completely out of my mind hysterical—either throwing myself on him like a maniac, throwing up in front of him, or like now, just completely making a total fool of myself. Our relationship, or whatever word you would use to define this mess, was so incredibly fucked up, just like everything else in my life right now.
The realization made me feel sad all over again. If I weren’t so incredibly screwed up, could something have come of this? Could I have had a friend in all this? Could I even have had…something more? My throat tightened. Would I ever pull myself out of the dark depths of the dismal life I’d created for myself?
Who you are, who you are, who you are
I allowed my hands to fall a couple inches, peering at Gabriel over the tops of my fingers. “Yes?” I asked reluctantly, dreading his response to my madness.
He took in a breath and then said, very quickly, “When you smile your nose scrunches up and…and your eyes get all…sparkly. And what I mean by that is…you also have a nice smile.”
I took my hands away from my face, my mouth slightly open in surprise. I didn’t think it was possible for my heart to beat any faster.
“Thanks,” I whispered faintly.
“Mmmhmm,” he said with a bit of a half-smile, glancing down at the ground. “Anyway, I uh…actually have to go. I’m…supposed to be fixing a blown out speaker in one of the recording studios.”
“Okay,” he repeated, and then gave me one last glance before venturing down the hall. I turned to watch him go, and even though he got a bit of a frustrated look on his face as he turned the corner that kind of told me he again hadn’t meant to say something like that, once again, because he had, I couldn’t help but feel at least a little bit happier.
After all, despite everything messed up and abnormal about our “relationship”…Gabriel Peters thought I had a nice smile.
Brushing my hair, do I look perfect?
Obligated to present the image of Jade, as we have created her, at all times.
I tried, at first, to stay happy.
I tried, at first, to stay true to myself.
As such, I’d insisted on a wig instead of re-dying my hair, refused to participate in publicity stunts that I did not approve of, and even stormed out of one of my photo shoots when they’d attempted to wheedle me into posing topless for a magazine, but every time I stood up for myself, there was someone to punish me for it and smack me back down afterward. Usually, it was Melanie, but I’d been dragged a couple times since our meeting back to Mr. Valencia too and gradually it became harder and harder to stand back up.
I called my dad all the time, trying to stay strong and trying to reach out for help when I knew I needed it, but with time I called less and less. He’d call me instead, and sometimes Mom would too as we tried to reconcile our own, estranged relationship with one another, but I’d make up excuses to get off the phone faster and I began to do what I’d promised I wouldn’t do anymore—I began to lie to them…and to myself.
“I’m fine” became my most ubiquitous lie, but for once I wasn’t lying because I didn’t want other people to worry about me. Sure, that was always in the back of my mind, but the primary reason for my increasingly more common lies was actually to protect myself.
I forgot what to do to fit the mold
For you see, the more I thought about how not fine I was, and the more I thought about how fucked up everything was, the more not fine and fucked up I felt, and that was when my situation grew the most dangerous. That was when I wanted to reach for a drink or beg Melanie for some pills; that was when I grew angry with my father for preventing me from tumbling off that balcony; and that was when I hated myself, which only made the compulsive desire to hurt myself that much more appealing.
So, instead, I chose not to feel anything at all. If I could just stay blank and ignore everything, if I could just pretend that everything was fine, then I could get through all of this. I could ignore the tempting pull of prescription drugs or alcohol. I could continue feeling fine toward my intervening parents and I could feel neutral toward myself, which, at least, prevented me from wanting to cause harm to myself.
As for Gabriel, after he’d returned my phone, we didn’t really talk much apart from him randomly bringing me coffee sometimes. This was primarily because we weren’t usually in one another’s vicinity unless there was a show, but also partly because neither of us knew what to say and my zombie-like state did nothing to alleviate this.
Sometimes though, when he was near, perhaps messing with the soundboard before a show or packing up cords and the like afterward, I thought I could feel him glancing at me, but whenever I looked up, he was never actually looking my way.
I did look his way though. Not all the time, because the feelings he elicited within me were far from the numbness I needed to survive, but occasionally, I’d risk it. I’d glance at him especially when he was working with the soundboard because I couldn’t help but notice the look of deep concentration that would cross his features whenever he was. I didn’t know much about all the knobs and dials and switches myself, but Gabriel seemed intimately knowledgeable about them and with each additional glance I’d allow myself to risk, it began to slowly dawn on me that he must really know music…that he must really love music.
It made me wonder why he bothered with this when I knew Jade’s music was neither artistically interesting nor emotionally compelling. It made me wonder if he played any instruments, or if he’d ever created music of his own, like I’d tried to do so many times before simply giving up because I was always told it wasn’t good enough.
Most of the time, however, I had to force myself not to wonder because wondering about Gabriel also elicited feelings within me that were far from numbness, and my numbness had become an essential part of my being over the past month.
Still…whenever I performed, I could not completely rid myself of the knowledge that the clear, crisp sound that emanated from the speakers was not just the product of my own abilities, but his skillful hands as well.
The more I try the less it’s working
My plan for how to get through the final months of my accursed contract might have worked if hadn’t been for the nightmares.
While during the day my conscious could push down my feelings and sweep away any evocative thoughts that might try to make their way into my mind, in sleep my defenses were down, and that’s when my subconscious would take over.
Instead of nice dreams of flowers and music and maybe even a certain young man though, it was always a twisted amalgamation of frightening images that would sink their teeth into my flesh, tearing away large chunks of me until I’d finally awaken, screaming and shaking.
It got to the point where I didn’t want to sleep. I’d try everything to keep myself awake. Coffee, never daring to lie in my bed, going for freezing late night swims, and even pacing half the night, but eventually sleep would always claim me and then I’d be awoken again by my own, panicked screams.
‘Cause everything inside me screams
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!
Although there were variations of the nightmare, its basic premise was always the same: a shadowy man would seize me, I would be powerless to get away from him, and then he would try to hurt me. I usually woke up before he could, but sometimes I wouldn’t wake up when he pinned me against the wall—sometimes, he would hurt me, and those were the nights when I’d wake up and race to the bathroom, retching violently into the toilet.
Those were the nights when I also wondered if, despite my father’s assurances that it was never too late to start making the right decisions, I might have been the unfortunate exception to that assertion and as such, I would never find true happiness. As such, I would only ever have days of numbness and nights of terror, and that would be about as good as it would ever get.
Don’t lose who you are in the blur of the stars
It was so very cold. The bitter air burned my exposed face and I shivered as a particularly strong gust of wind swept aside the fake tendrils of hair I was forced to don over my own dark locks. I dropped my face into my hands, feeling hopeless. I was so incredibly tired that even the frigid air and the thick snow couldn’t chase the exhaustion from my eyes.
I felt like I could fall asleep right now, sitting upright on hard concrete with icy snow falling all around me. I pulled my hands away from my face, resting my chin on my knees. My limbs felt so heavy. I closed my eyes. Maybe if I just dozed for a moment the nightmares wouldn’t have time to take hold of me.
“It is 20 fucking degrees out here,” a soft, familiar voice suddenly stated from above me.
I didn’t say anything, but Gabriel sat down beside me anyway, blowing into his gloved hands.
I barely took notice. I was so tired. I didn’t know how much longer I could continue like this.
Melanie had already offered me her stupid pills earlier today and for the first time since I’d given them up a month ago, I’d accepted them. Luckily, as I was filling up a glass of water to wash them down, I’d come to my senses and dropped them all down the sink, but would I come to my senses next time too? I was beginning to doubt it. I was beginning to doubt everything.
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing
“Joanne?” Gabriel inquired from beside me, and then nudged my arm with his. I opened my eyes for only a brief second before closing them again. “Are you okay?”
“Just tired,” I mumbled, leaning against him simply because he was so incredibly warm.
Gabriel sighed, but he didn’t move away. “You know there are couches inside…really comfortable couches in a place that isn’t 20 degrees…and snowing.”
I didn’t respond—too exhausted to speak, and besides, Gabriel’s voice sounded like a lullaby, even when he was annoyed. I didn’t want him to be annoyed with me, but I couldn’t allow myself to care. Caring was dangerous—apathy kept me safe.
“God!” Gabriel suddenly exclaimed, standing up so suddenly that I fell right over into the snow. “I can’t take seeing you like anymore!” he shouted. “You…you’re not even you!”
I pushed myself out of the snow, wiping the melted snowflakes from my face and looking up at Gabriel through bleary eyes. I felt vaguely taken aback by his outburst, unused to him being so…animated. He was usually so quiet. “What are you talking about?” I asked absently.
“This!” he hissed, gesturing at me angrily and then clenching his fists by his sides. “Did you think no one would notice or something? Did you think you could just—just hide away and no one would care?”
“No one does care.”
“What the actual fuck?” Gabriel snapped. “Isn’t a bit fucking obvious that maybe I do? And I’m pretty fucking certain that your family cares too, considering how frequently they call you despite the fact that you’re always looking for excuses to hang up with them!”
It’s okay not to be okay
My mouth fell open some in surprise, my eyes beginning to burn as the first tendrils of anything other than endless numbness or just plain terror started their way through my veins. The feelings frustrated me to no end because I was supposed to be feeling nothing. I was supposed to be moving blankly through life until I could just get through this living hell.
I stood up, brushing the snow off of myself as if every delicate crystal had done me a great personal disservice. “Why do you care?” I asked despairingly. It wasn’t like I’d ever done anything to be deserving of that. It wasn’t like he even had to care, unlike my family. They were supposed to care—he didn’t have that obligation.
Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart
“Christ,” Gabriel mumbled, covering his face with one hand and then slowly shaking his head. “Are you…are you fucking serious?” he asked with a scoff, taking his hand away from his face to give me a look of complete incredulity. “Is it THAT difficult for you to accept that someone out there might care about you that you’d question their motives instead of just trusting it and taking it for what it is?”
But tears don’t mean you’re losing
Any last numbness within me shattered, leaving me gasping in the now obviously 20 degree weather. Hot tears filled my eyes and for a moment all I could do was shake my head even though I knew, somewhere within the remnants of my sanity, that he had a point.
No wonder I was always so alone. Not only did I always seem to push away the people who cared for me most, but I also felt distrustful of their care in the first place, figuring that they didn’t really care or that they only cared because they had to.
I didn’t know how to change that though. To be honest, I’d just begun to accept that maybe it was one of those things that I never would be able to change. After all, I’d been given a free pass to come home whenever I wanted to and I still hadn’t even been able to do that. I hadn’t been able to get rid of the paralyzing terror that prevented me from being with the people who loved me and finally I’d just stopped trying, for trying and failing felt so much more disappointing than not trying at all and feeling nothing. Feeling nothing…being nothing was the only strategy that worked for me, even it wasn’t ideal.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered when I realized Gabriel was staring at me and looking rather upset. “I’m just so…so fucking messed up and I…I have no idea how else to deal.”
There’s nothing wrong with who you are
“You’re not messed up,” he said quietly, his tone back to its usual, subdued notes. “And you don’t know how to deal with what exactly?”
“Everything!” I shouted completely unnecessarily. My hysteria was returning for the first time in a month and it seemed determined this time to wrench me from the last vestiges of my sanity and never let me return.
Yes, no, egos, fake shows like whoa
“Just. Everything!” I repeated tearfully. “This awful contract and all this…this pretending to be someone I’m not and trying to keep Melanie happy so she doesn’t drug me all over again and all the fucking sick messages that that bastard keeps sending me when I want nothing to do with him, and all the nightmares that just won’t stop because of it, and fucking being just too afraid to do anything about any of it!”
Just go and leave me alone
I fell into the snow sobbing and mentally cursing this man for bringing all of this back to the forefront of my mind. Why was any of this better? Why was feeling all…all this pain better than just being numb!? How could the acknowledgment of any of that fucked up shit ever be better?!
Real talk, real life, good love, good night
I cried harder; my hands covering my face as I sensed Gabriel get down on his knees in front of me. He didn’t say anything, and I wondered vaguely if this was because he was just letting me release all this pent up pain, or if it was because he’d just…given up on me, deciding that perhaps this too much baggage for him to deal with.
I found myself hoping for the former. I didn’t actually want to keep pushing people away. I really didn’t—I just apparently had no idea how to stop doing so.
I continued to cry for quite some time, but eventually I did calm some, and that’s when I felt Gabriel’s hand gingerly touch my arm. It was enough to send that startling warmth rushing back down my spine, even if the touch was barely there and even though it was through many layers of clothing.
“Joanne?” he asked quietly.
“What?” I whispered, unable to face him.
“I have no idea what you’re going through right now and I admit I can’t even make sense of half the things that you just said. I do know though that…that I want it to make sense. That I want to know whatever you’re going through because…because I hate seeing you like this and I want to help.” He sighed then, taking his hands away from me and leaning back. “I don’t know. Just…answer me one question,” he said, and then hesitated, as if fighting his very self. “Would…would having a…a friend…make all of this better, or worse?”
With a smile, that’s my home; that’s my home
I looked up at Gabriel in surprise, my heart beating hard as a thousand emotions flooded my system. On the one hand, I felt like the best thing in the world to be offered was friendship, but on the other, I feared destroying it, just as I’d destroyed pretty much all of my relationships so far.
Plus, there was that little part of me that couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed because I was fairly certain that friends shouldn’t elicit the feelings and thoughts that Gabriel tended to evoke from me even when doing nothing at all. That was also the part that I couldn’t allow myself to accept just yet though, so perhaps a friend really was the best thing right now.
“Better,” I said softly, and then just prayed that I wouldn’t fuck it up this time.
Gabriel let out a sigh of relief and then scooted back some, stretching his legs out and keeping himself upright with one hand.
“Okay, then…we should…arrange to hang out,” he said with a nod. “We could…meet up for lunch or something tomorrow? Somewhere far away from here and somewhere not in a pile of wet, freezing snow.”
I let out a soft laugh in spite of myself, the sound alarming me briefly since I felt like I hadn’t laughed in so long. “But the snow’s so nice,” I said quietly, and Gabriel snorted, causing me to smile once again.
“Dinner would be better….like around 7?” I said, reaching up to wipe my eyes. “I’m usually all booked up during the day. Is that still okay?”
Gabriel hesitated, but then nodded slowly. “Sure….How about at…at Atlantis then?” he suggested, referring to a nice, but fairly casual restaurant on the coast. “I hear its snow free and actually has something called central heating.”
I laughed again, stretching out one of my legs and resting my chin on my knee. “You really don’t like the cold, do you?”
“Not particularly,” he admitted.
“Well, that sounds fine.”
“Okay, but just promise me one thing.”
“Show up as you for god’s sake. I don’t care about anything anyone here at VR might have said to you—it’s stupid to be miserable pretending to be someone you’re not.”
No, no, no…..
I hugged my legs to my chest again, ducking my head. “I don’t know if I can,” I mumbled, already feeling my fears begin to rise up within me again.
Gabriel let out an angry hiss of air, startling me. “What’s more important: fitting the image of who they want you to be, or fitting the image of who you really are?”
Don’t lose it all in the blur of the stars
I hesitated and Gabriel shifted his position, giving me a rather unimpressed look.
“Well?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
“Who I really am,” I whispered.
“Thank fuck! You do care about yourself then, so stop worrying about them!”
“It’s just…they said they’d sue,” I said worriedly, holding my knees even more tightly to my chest.
“For what?” he asked incredulously, his russet eyes wide. “Do you know how bad that would make VR look? Suing their biggest star just because she wanted to what, have black hair?”
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing
“I…I never thought of it that way,” I admitted, lifting my head up and loosening my grip on my legs.
“Well start to because there’s so much more that you could be doing to make the final months of your contract bearable.”
Gabriel stood up then, wincing a bit and then brushing off the snow sticking to his coat and pants. He shivered.
“Let’s go inside…before we die of hypothermia or something,” he said, and then held out his hands to me.
It’s okay not to be okay
Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart
I hesitated to take them, my heart beating hard. All of this suddenly felt so much scarier than the cloud of numbness I’d resided within over the past month, even if it had been plagued by those terror-inducing nightmares.
Tears don’t mean you’re losing
After all, I had tried…I’d tried so hard, and all I’d managed in the end was more failure. I felt my eyes begin to burn once again. I could feel my body trembling.
What if I allowed myself to try and failed again? I didn’t think that I would ever be able to recover—not this time, so was it even worth the risk?
“I’m not going to let you fall, you know,” Gabriel said quietly, still holding out his hands for me to grab.
My heart skipped a bit and my head shot up to look at him, frightened for a moment that he’d somehow read my thoughts, but I realized then that he was just referring to helping me up off the ground. Still though…maybe the words were not a coincidence. Maybe it was worth trying one more time. I owed that to myself, didn’t I? I owed that to my true self, who I’d been treating so terribly.
I grit my teeth and placed my hands in his, determined to give this at least one more shot.
“There’s the you I’m used to,” he said with a smile, and then gripped my hands tightly and pulled me up with ease. I flushed and stumbled a bit in the snow, but Gabriel was there to steady me.
Just be true to who you are