Alone | Chapter 26 of 36

Author: E.J. Noyes | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1397 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter Sixteen

I smell her beside me and know it’s not a false thing. Her scent clings to the linens and permeates my soul, and I want to bury my face in her pillow and do nothing but breathe the scent in. Instead, I roll onto my back, stare up at the ceiling and listen to people talking at me.

“People lie, Celeste,” Heather says. “I mean, yeah it’s still a fucking shitty thing to do but you should know by now that people are assholes.”

“This is more than lying, Heather! This is…” Alli sighs and smacks her lips together. “I don’t even think there’s a way to describe what this is.”

Riley laughs like a hyena. “Being a cu—”

“Riley!” Joanne admonishes my sister. “Do not use that word! It’s disgusting.”

On the other side of my closed door, Olivia walks around the habitat. I know the sound of her footsteps like I know my own face. The measured cadence broken by that tiny, even pause in her gait. I did that, I gave her that limp. She’s pacing. Can’t sleep either. I have to stop thinking. If I could just put a label on how I feel, then I might be able to make sense of it. But there’s no combination of words that will ever describe this maelstrom inside me.

“I know you’re sad, my little moonbeam,” Joanne soothes. “But there will be other girls, sweetie. Come on, close your eyes. If you don’t sleep, you’re not going to be able to concentrate at school, and you have that important exam today.”

“Cel?” Tentative, tiny Riley steps make their way across threadbare carpet. “Are you awake? Can I sleep with you? I’m so cold and I can’t find any socks.”

A door slams. Mother snarls, “Shut the hell up, you two, or he’s gonna kick us out. Ungrateful little bitches, I told you he hates kids, so keep your mouths shut or you can get the fuck out and sleep in the yard.”

“I’m sorry, Cel,” Riley whimpers. “I didn’t mean to wet the bed again. Please don’t tell her. We can just change the sheets, right?”

I can’t stand this any longer. It takes only a few minutes to strip my bed of sheets, pillowcases, and the duvet cover, taking Olivia’s scent with them. I carry the bundle down the stairs and stuff it into the washer. Then I remake the bed with fresh linens, ignoring Olivia’s call from the couch to ask what I’m doing. Burying my face in my pillow to smell clean laundry detergent doesn’t help. She’s still here.

I try begging myself to fall sleep. I try meditation. Yoga. Masturbation, no climax. Counting sheep and horses and goats. Reverse psychology. Nothing helps. Toward six a.m. after exactly no sleep, I’m about ready to scream.

When I emerge from the bathroom, Liv—Olivia—is already at the table with her coffee. It’s the first time she’s ever been awake before me. Unless she was just faking with her eyes closed this whole time when I woke before her. She regards me warily. “Good morning.”

“Hello.” I walk past her and to the front door where I slip my boots on and shrug into my jacket.

Her voice follows me to the door. “Where are you going?”

I don’t answer.

“Celeste? What are you doing? Please answer me.”

“You’re not the boss of me,” I tell her childishly and pull the door closed on her response. Brilliant work. Very mature. Very respectful. It takes me twice as long as usual to clear last night’s snow from the solar panels. I’m wading through emotional sludge, dulled by the weight of no sleep sitting on top of what happened last night. I love her and I’m in love with her but I think I might hate her too. Above everything is the overwhelming confusion of not even knowing if any of those emotions are real.

“You’re conflicted, Cel. I get it. You felt the same way about Ma,” Riley reminds me. “Despite all the shit she did, you loved her and wanted her to love you but hated her just the same.”

“Go away, Riles.”

“Can’t,” she says, and I imagine her shrug—the one that had shoulders, eyebrows, and hands reaching skyward.

“Why not? Why don’t you ever give me any useful advice?”

“Can’t go ’cause you won’t let me. Don’t have anything useful to say because you don’t want to hear it. You want to suffer through it on your own.” The unspoken duh is clear.

I turn around, foolishly expecting to see my sister behind me. Of course, there’s nothing there. Except Olivia in the doorway of the habitat. We stare at one another, not moving, for the longest time. Then I turn away and make my way down the hill. I can hear Olivia loudly saying something but I ignore her and start jogging.

“Like gum on her shoe.” Mother is matter-of-fact, but for once, not mocking. “Chewed up and spat out once she didn’t want you no more. Don’t take it personally, kid.”

“Leave me alone,” I growl, picking up my pace.

Distantly, I hear Olivia calling my name as I rush toward the edge of the compound. Before I can talk myself out of it, I cross from white into green. Instantly, I’m dropped to my knees by the jolt and I roll hard onto my left shoulder. But I force myself to get up and to run. My legs are trembling from the shock but I keep pumping them as hard as I can, racing toward yellow.

Olivia’s yelling now, voice raw and panicked. “Celeste! Stop! Don’t be so—”

The shock in the yellow is far worse than the green. I bite my tongue and cry out as I fall, unable to help myself. My whole body twitches on the ground, jerking against my will. I’m not sure I can make it to red, but I have to. I just need to get away from her. I just need to sleep. There’s wetness between my thighs but it’s not arousal. I peed. The smell is at once familiar and terrifying.

“Get up,” Mother seethes. “You want them to catch you with my stuff in your pocket? They’ll send you to jail and where will your sister be then? Fucking dead with nobody to take care of her. Get up, you useless piece of shit!”

I’m wobbling but I’m upright. Just. Staggering and stumbling. Groaning and flailing.

“Celeste! Jesus, please stop!” Olivia’s close, but not close enough to do anything. She can’t stop me. She can’t catch me this time.

I see the red signs a few feet away and throw myself forward. I’m a fast runner, I can make it before yellow gets me again. I cross the line and then it’s all at once. A shock, worse than any I’ve had and a burning in my arm where the implant is buried. Floating. Reprieve. Bliss.

* * *

I come to in the shower as I’m being washed, and outrage simmers at her seeing me naked without my permission. But underneath my outrage there’s an interest in how tender she is. There’s nothing sexual about it. No lingering brushes over my breasts or thighs. She’s soft, caring and dare I say it…loving.

Clumsily, I brush her hand away from where it’s gently rubbing a washcloth over my thigh. “Stop.” My tongue is swollen from where I bit it. I run it along my teeth a few times, feeling the sting when they touch the raw part.

Olivia smoothes wet hair from my face. “How are you feeling?”

Again, I swat her, rolling to face the tiled wall. “Go away.”

“Celeste, I need to ensure you’re okay.”

“You’ve got no right.” Vulnerable. Naked.

She stands and takes a step away. Now her hands are no longer on me, I’m acutely aware of the absence of touch as my skin chills. Olivia sighs. “Actually, I have every right. You’re a test subject and therefore I’m responsible for your welfare. I could cite a number of contract clauses and remind you that you’re to follow all directives given to you by employees of The Organization.” The unspoken but I won’t hangs between us.

Her words sting as much as the cut on my tongue. “Protecting the assets?” I have a lisp, hopefully just temporary and related to said lingual impediment.

“No,” she says hoarsely. “Worrying about the woman I’m in love with.”

I turn my head toward her but I can’t look her in the eyes. I settle on her mouth. Her beautiful mouth that I’ve kissed so many times. I want to kiss it now and I’m disgusted with myself. I look down, staring at my thighs, at the bruise and graze on my left one. “Please. Just leave me alone. Let me get dressed. I can’t do this…not naked. Please.”

There’s a long pause, and I ready myself to push back at her, but all Olivia does is nod. She leaves me, closing the bathroom door most of the way. I rinse myself, shut off the water and sit on the floor of the shower until I’m shivering.

There’s a knock on the door. “Celeste? You’ve been in there for twenty minutes. Is everything all right?”

“I’m fine.” It’s the polite response, not the honest one.

“Do you need help?”

“No!” The thought of her coming in and touching me again turns my stomach. I force myself to my feet, dry and dress. Strangely, I feel like the cold she gave me the first week she was here has come back, bringing a cloudy head and weak limbs.

She’s right outside the bathroom and pounces the moment I exit. “How are you feeling?”

“Fuzzy,” I admit grudgingly.

Her expression softens. “After a red zone, uh…knockout it’s not unusual to feel unsteady.”

“How’d it do that? Knock me out with a shock?” I walk past her, scooting around so we don’t touch, and continue toward the lounge room.

She follows. “It’s not just a shock in the red zone. After the initial trigger the implant releases a dose of strong, instantaneous anesthetic.”

“Let me guess, a prototype being tested?”

“Of sorts.”

“Well it works. Will it malfunction and leak more of that stuff into my arm?” I sniff.

“No. The design prohibits that.”

“How’d you get me back inside?” There’s no way she would have been able to lift me into the cart.

“I rolled you onto one of the cardboard boxes from the shed and dragged you.”

Clever. “I peed myself, you know,” I say accusingly. “In the yellow zone.”

“Yes, I noticed.” She doesn’t seem bothered by it.

“Maybe you could talk to someone about that. Tone down the zap a little.” I flop onto the couch, tuck my legs up underneath me.

She smiles. The expression is strange and out of place, like there’s nothing horrible between us and everything is fine. “The whole point is to discourage people from going there, Celeste.”

Good point. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes, of course.” Olivia sits on the couch with me, mercifully at the other end where there’s no chance of her touching me.

“It was you who sent Lou’s pizza, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, that was my idea. I organized it and went online to choose the variety of pizzas myself.”

Manners dictate that I should thank her, here and now, but I already thanked Controller A when it happened. I don’t want to be soft, to let her think I might forgive her. I clear my throat. “Why didn’t you ever send me fresh milk? There’s plenty of room in the cold boxes.” It’s been bothering me for some time and while I’m asking pointless questions, I may as well ask that one.

“The team felt it unnecessary given the comparable nutritional value of fresh versus powdered.”

“Let me guess. You tried to get them to send some of that too?”

She seems surprised. “As a matter of fact, no. I agreed with them.”

I pull the edges of my unzipped hoodie tightly around my midsection and cross my arms on top of the overlap. “So you’re not the saint you’re trying to make yourself out to be.”

“I never said I was a saint, Celeste,” she says evenly.

No, she didn’t. That was all me, thinking she was perfect. “What if they hadn’t let you come here? You would have had to put your feelings aside and watch me with whoever they did send.”

“Yes.” She looks down, her jaw working back and forth. “It’s likely we wouldn’t have met in person, unless I found the courage to find you on the outside. I planned for that eventuality because I wanted you so much.”

It sounds like such a line that I can’t help but scoff. At the sound, Liv looks up, eyes blazing. “You just don’t get it, do you? How hard it’s been all this time for me to see you and interact with you so impersonally. To do that while I had these feelings that I couldn’t do anything about.”

“No, I don’t know, Olivia. Clearly there’s a lot I don’t know,” I reply bitterly. “What about if you’d been allowed to come here but we never fucked? Or if I’d never found out the truth?”

She massages the bridge of her nose. “Then I would have been extracted, resumed my life and spent it missing you, still wanting you and hoping to get over you.” She says it as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “And maybe I would have figured out some way for us to meet up again, the way we talked about.”

“And now?”

“I’ll resume my life, spend that lifetime missing you, wanting you, and regretting you being hurt.” She hasn’t said regretting what she did, and I don’t know that she does. “Celeste, I wish you could believe me when I say I love you and I’m sorry my actions hurt you. I never meant to get involved the way I did and I’m sorry. I’m weak, and it’s as simple as that.”

“I want to hurt you,” I whisper. “And I hate myself for that.”

“I know.”

“But I want to touch you. I want to hold you and be inside you the way we were. And I hate myself for that too.” Finally I look up and meet her eyes. “What’s real? Which one of those is the right feeling?”

“All of them, Celeste. Everything is real. Everything is right. You seem to think that everything should have a hard delineating edge, but the reality is it’s all fluid. Emotions, feelings, behaviors. They all bleed into one another.” Her eyes seem darker. Less caramel and more weak coffee. She sighs. “I understand how you must feel.”

“Do you? Do you really? I don’t think you do because if you did, then you wouldn’t have done it.” A tear slides down my cheek, surprising me. I wipe angrily at it. “Why did you do it?”

“Because I had to, Celeste. The circumstances don’t make how I feel less valid. I don’t know how else I can make you see that this is real for me.” She slides along the couch toward me. Her hands close around my biceps. “Will you let me show you?”

My muscles flex under her grip. “Don’t touch me. Please don’t. I can’t stand it.”

But she does and I have nowhere to go. Her grip is loose, her thumbs stroking my biceps. I’m not afraid. I can move if I want to but I don’t know if that’s what I really want. She’s letting me choose if I should squirm out of her grasp or stay. Before I can make a decision, her lips are on mine. They still feel like my safe place. She’s warm and soft and tastes the same as she always does but still, everything is different.

I can’t help myself, I kiss her back. She groans softly and holds me tighter, and I’m excited and sick all at once. I’m kissing her and then the sickness is more than the excitement and I don’t want this anymore. But I can’t stop myself and the only way I can get her to stop is to bite her lip. Not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough that she recoils. Eyes wide. Hand on her mouth. She pulls it away and stares at her fingers. Her tongue sweeps over her lower lip and she never stops looking into my eyes. I’m drowning in hers, trying desperately to breathe.

Hastily, I stand up and leave her in the lounge room while I hide in the cellar with the door closed. Sitting on the stairs, I stare at the washer cleaning my soiled clothes, and the dryer, and the stacks of boxes, and the racks of wine she was supposed to drink. Above me, she walks around the dwelling—to the bedroom, the computer room, then back to the kitchen. She’s cooking something. She’s in the lounge. She’s making coffee.

I’m alone. Nobody wants to talk to me.

When I finally emerge from the cellar, my body is stiff and cold and doesn’t want to cooperate. We move around each other in an uneasy sort of dance that neither of us know the steps to. And the worst thing is how everything contradicts everything else. I can’t make sense of my feelings, can’t make sense of hers because everything is tied up in this fucking experiment. I think I hate myself too, just a little, for being so naïve.

I’ve always prided myself on my honesty, especially to myself, and if I’d just stopped to really think about it instead of reacting, I would have realized. If I’d wanted to, I would have seen how wrong it all was. How her being here made no sense, was so convenient. How The Organization seemed so accepting of it all. But I didn’t want to. I believed The Lie because it suited me to believe it.

After dinner, Liv goes into the computer room and closes the door. I brush my teeth, go to the bedroom and close that door. We’re closing doors to keep each other out when the reality is we’re already inside each other, in all those unreachable places that keep things safe. A soft knock startles me and I sit up, pulling the covers tight around myself. “Come in.”

The moment she’s in the room, she speaks. “I’m leaving in the morning. Early.”

This thing I fought so hard against, and then fought so hard for, is here. All I can say is, “Oh.” There’s so much more I want to say to her, so much I want her to explain to me but now all of it seems pointless. In the dim light with her so far away, I can’t quite make out her expression but she seems upset. Her voice is tight, her posture stiff.

Olivia approaches the bed and I tense, but all she does is set a pill and a glass of water on the bedside table. “Please take this sleeping tablet. They can’t deploy the sleeping gas they usually use to make sure you don’t see the delivery method, because it will affect me too.”

“Gas…how ingenious. I always wondered why I never heard anything on supply drop nights.” It triggers a thought. “Why did I have to take a sleeping pill then when I got that filling done? Why not use the gas?”

“Because then we would have had to tell you about the gas,” she says, as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Oh.”

She stares at me and her expression is so blank, it’s unnatural. “I’m so sorry, Celeste.” It’s the only thing she says before she walks out of the bedroom and pulls the door shut.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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