Please note I have reduced down the following scene from the way it actually appears in the book. Again, it is still subject to change.
I stand in the doorway of my former bedroom. Charlie is at my old dresser, looking at the few photos I keep on there. One is of me and Sam when we were just kids. Kids who didn’t know anything about pain. We were completely innocent and carefree.
We would eventually learn the hard way.
With a little smile, she then picks up the next picture. It was taken when I had been admitted to hospital. Sam had her arm slung around me. The picture doesn’t carry particularly good memories at all – it was a reminder of how harsh my life had once been.
Charlie’s thumb grazes over the picture, her face seeing something ghostly and familiar. She turns and looks at me, something piecing together inside her mind. She scans me up and down apprehensively, before a look of understanding ripples across her eyes. A chill runs the length of my spine under the scrutiny.
“What?” I enquire, desperate to know what she is thinking. She shakes her head, seemingly to clear her thoughts, before picking up the frames and carefully stacking them in her hands.
“Nothing, nothing at all!” she says, plastering on a fake smile. She then walks towards my wardrobe, reaching to the top to pull down one of the bags I store up there, still avoiding my gaze. “I’ll take the drawers, if that’s okay?”
“I guess I’ll take the wardrobe then.” I grab the handle and open the doors. I gather up an arm full of clothes, still on their hangers, and throw them onto the bed. I quickly pull them off and fold them up.
Thirty minutes later, the wardrobe is empty, apart from the sweater that I’d kept for all these years. My fingers stroke over the worn fabric and my vision is assaulted with images and feelings, remembering things I’d kept securely locked away. Things I made myself not remember. I fist the hoody in my hand and sink onto my old bed.
“Where did you get this?” Charlie asks. Her tone is neutral, but her eyes are anything but.
“It was given to me years ago,” I reply, hoping she won’t push for more, because I know I won’t be able to expound the truth.
Charlie’s hand reaches for the sweater and she starts to examine it. Twisting and turning it around, looking at the label, the neck ties, and finally the cuffs. I watch her with curious, narrow eyes. My mind turns over with a question that I don’t know if I am strong enough to ask.
And if I do, will I be able to deal with the subsequent answer?
“Why did you keep it?” Her eyes narrow.
“It helps me to remember.” I take it back, unzip it and drag it over my body. Needing some space from her, I walk out of the room.
Looking around the flat, the life I had worked so hard to build for myself now resides in a few black bags and recycled supermarket boxes. Every room I pass is now empty and all my remaining personal things have been packed away. Entering the living room; that too is now bare, as are the kitchen and bathroom.
“Sloan just called,” Charlie shouts to me. “He’s going to be here shortly to pick you up. Rem will stay with you. I’m going to get a ride home with Tommy and Dev.” She puts her jacket on. Her narrow eyes work over my upper body again. I’m still wearing the sweater, but the urgent need to ask her what is so interesting about it is deepening.
“Did someone clear out Sam’s old room?” I ask, she nods. “Did they find anything?” I pray to God they didn’t unearth any drug paraphernalia she might have hidden well – too well that even she forgot it.
“No, nothing. Looks like she left when she said she would. Are you going to be alright here waiting for him?”
“I’ll be fine. I have something that I need to do anyway.” She pulls me into her arms and cuddles me tight. Even though I don’t feel the prickle, I remain stiff until she eventually pulls back, pats my arm and starts to walk away.
“Hey, Charlie?” She turns around and I hold my arm out a little. “What’s so interesting about this? You’ve been acting weird ever since you saw it in the photo.” She drops her head to the floor. “Seriously, what is it?”
“It’s nothing, just that Sloan had a sweater like that once, when he was at uni.” Her voice is uncertain, nervous, as though she is debating whether or not she is doing the right thing by telling me this.
“Once?” I ask inquisitively, my mind slotting together a puzzle that I am positive will destroy me if it turns out to be true.
“Yeah, he said he lost it. It was his favourite.” She shrugs as though it doesn’t mean anything. To me, it means everything.
And, in my mind, it has just shunted my world further into the darkened abyss.
Feeling like I have just swallowed shards of glass, I have no idea how I manage to ask the next question. “When did he lose it?”
“Years ago, I don’t know, maybe six or seven. I’ll see you later, Kara.”
Copyright Tormented (Fractured #2) by Elle Charles 2014
Tormented available for pre-order from Amazon.