Her knuckles gleamed white in stark contrast to the rest of her sun kissed fingers and the back of her hand. Focus, focus, focus, she chanted internally. Her head was bowed so that tresses of ebony curls blinded her vision to the left and right of her. The rapid breaths and chants were interrupted by the sound of the cheap hotel room door opening, and the unforgiving strip light from the corridor spilled in displaying threadbare, tired furnishings inside the room.
“Everything is in the car, we’re ready to go.”
Zephira ignored the monotone voice travelling from the doorway and snapped her head back to glare at her mother. The betrayer. The abandoner. The utter—, her thoughts ceased as Zephira rushed to speak, attempting to maintain an ounce of humility. “So, you’re really making me leave?”
Zephira watched her mother flinch at the sound of her voice. Her words didn’t appear to have made a blind bit of difference because she continued to glare out the darkened hotel window.
“It’s really not my choi––”
Sheer anger propelled her toward her mother. She shrank further into the corner before finally turning to face a fast approaching Zephira. The guy from the doorway stepped forward as though he feared Zephira may actually strike her mother. A damaged pretty little face didn’t equal sell out tours, well that’s what Ted kept saying every time he looked at her like he wanted to slam his fist into her face.
“Don’t give me that bullshit,” she seethed, her fists balled at the end of her rod straight arms. She backed off, aware the guy was looming ever closer. The last thing she needed right now was to be held in restraint by an idiot like him.
“It’s all your choice.”
Zephira’s shoulders slumped as she took in her mother’s bottom lip, gathered between her teeth and tears glossing her fearful blue eyes. Her mother shook her head slowly.
“The money has all gone, Zephira,” her voice but a whisper. “If I don’t do this tour, we’re both finished.”
“But why there, Mom?” Her eyes widened and she craned her neck toward her mothers face as though studying her features may help her understand better. “It’s like I’m being committed to an asylum or something. After everything that’s happened I could do without being around the loonies and the freaks.” She swallowed hard and managed to regain her composure as she hopelessly tried to reason. That’s all she seemed to do for the last week since they’d arrived back in her mother’s birth country, England. This is where she’d made it as a punk rock singer in her own right before taking a back seat to her father’s singing career. The mere question escaping her lips for what must have been the hundredth time seemed to veil her mother’s eyes, her head turned back to face the murky grey September day and she was lost to her once more. There was no answer. Zephira knew she was condemned to whatever that place was going to bring her.
For the first few days of their visit they’d stayed at her grandmother’s house. That’s when the letter had arrived. None of this school business had been personally explained to her. She’d seen the whole thing unfold in her grandmother’s kitchen from whatever those dreams, visions, nightmares, hellish inflictions were to be classed as.
Her mother had peered down at a courier delivered, thick creamy envelope embellished with a grand coat of arms of purple and gold with angels wings flowing from each side in the top left hand corner. The coat of arms was a thing of beauty, but what it meant was nothing short of grotesque to her.
Zephira’s grandmother had accepted delivery of the wretched envelope and slid it across the kitchen table as soon as her mother had sat down that morning. She’d watched the both of them as though she was occupying the seat between them, unable to input or respond to the conversation they were having about her, ghostlike, unseen and unheard. Her mother had carefully peeled the envelope open avoiding Zephira’s grandmother’s prying gaze as she scanned the page, her frown deepening as her eyes flew from left to right.
“What is it?”
“What does it look like, Virginia?” Her mother bit. Her mom never called her mother, “mom.” She’d always referred to her by her Christian name. Zephira expected that it was because Virginia had never been much of a mother, always choosing a man that flashed her a second glance rather than raising her daughter properly.
Virginia raised an over-plucked brow. “There’s no need to talk to me that. I’m only asking and I do have a right to know seen as it was delivered to my bloody front door.”
“Keep your voice down.” She warned in hushed tones that seemed to escape from between her teeth as she rolled her eyes toward the bedroom upstairs where Zephira’s body lay struggling to escape the kitchen downstairs. “If you must know it’s a letter from a college inviting Zephira to attend. A college for those with challenging behaviour.”
Virginia heavily crossed her arms across her chest and huffed loudly. “Well, you can bloody well forget that. You’ve already asked me if she can stay here.”
Zephira’s eyes widened and her breath caught in her throat as her eyes shot between her mother and Virginia.
Her mother flattened her forearms and palms out on the cheap vinyl topped table, lowered her head and glared at Virginia with the most evil stare she’d ever seen her produce. “Yeah, for a price that is. You want my American daughter who’s never stepped foot in this bloody country to get a job and pay her way to stay in this mouse ridden hellhole while you sit on your backside and drink her wages.”
Zephira trembled, all of this was news to her. Why the hell hadn’t her mom explained the conditions of her stay there?
“I still hadn’t decided whether going on the road was better for her, or staying here with you.” It looked like she was thinking out loud rather than continuing the conversation.
Virginia’s fist thudded on the table. “Listen here, you gobby little cow. I ain’t no free ride. It’s still better than her going to some loony bin ain’t it?”
“I’m really not sure, because if she stayed here with you it might very well be where she ends up anyway.” Her mother stated flippantly, not looking back at Virginia’s anger etched features.
The thick misty whoosh of icy air flooded her lungs causing her to attempt to sit up too quickly in bed and clutch at her throat, the way it always did when she returned to her body. Loony bin? She can’t send me to a loony bin. It must have been a dream, surely? She spent a solid two seconds trying to convince herself of just that before the echoing of raised voices from downstairs seemed to pour into her stomach causing a violent churn. There was one thing for sure judging from Virginia’s raised dulcet tones; it had been no dream. The crushing pain in her chest, the ache of her throat accompanied by the sickening hollowness forced her running from between the stained Pepto-Bismol coloured sheets of Virginia’s spare room to the equally badly decorated bathroom. By the time she’d relieved herself from the contents of her stomach all had gone quiet in the room below. Gingerly, she stepped downstairs and headed to the eerily silent kitchen. Virginia and her mother were looking away from each other wearing matching scowls, the only proof of the genetics between them. Her mother’s head snapped back at the sight of her lingering in the doorway.
“Get your stuff together. We’re leaving.” She leapt off the chair like a gazelle about to come under attack by a lion.
“Yes, now.” She huffed as she barged past.
Zephira remained in the doorway staring at the back of her grandmother’s head wishing that she’d been gifted with mind reading. Were you really planning on sending me out to work? Is that even legal? Was my mother really going to allow that? What the hell is even going on here. Her fingers massaged her temples as if doing so would quiet her screaming mind. Virginia didn’t even grace her with a backward glance, so she traipsed up the stairs to find her mother slinging their belongings back into the suitcase they had come out of the day before.
It was the following day at the hotel before her mother had informed her that she’d be attending, as she put it, a special school for people like her. Under usual circumstances she would have asked what that even meant, but after three years she had a whole host of ideas as to what was being insinuated.
Her mother’s clammy fingers brushing against her forearm pulled her from her reverie and back to the hotel room with the large henchman lingering nearby.
“Look, it’s for one year, that’s all. I promise. Then we can go back to America and forget any of this ever happened.”
“A year?” Her squeal hurt as it escaped her throat. “A year is forever. How do you even know if I’ll be able to escape that place?”
“Irene went there, she said it’s the best thing she ever did. Places like that never change, and I trust her judgement.”
“Irene?” Zephira’s head jerked back as she recalled the soft, floaty, image of her mother’s best friend who’d also originated from England.
Her mother nodded wildly. “Yes, she told me to apply for you when we started arranging to come here.”
“The absolute bit––”
Her mother’s hand squeezed tighter on her arm. “Stop, and stop now. I’m doing the absolute best I can. Everyone is waiting and it’s time for you to go.” Her mother’s hand left her arm and both arms were around her neck to pull her in for a hug. Zephira stiffened and left her arms to dangle by her sides rather than return the gesture.
She’d failed in getting her mother to see sense, that was the thought on repeat in her mind as the henchman led her out to the sleek black Mercedes hired by the tour organisers for her mother.
Once she was on the backseat with her seatbelt on she ignored her mother tapping on the window.
“Just go,” she whispered to the henchman.
“Your mother wants to say goodbye to you.”
“I couldn’t give a damn.”
He muttered something she didn’t care to catch before pulling away. Tears stung her eyes as she looked back at the woman who’d given up her career, been to every ballet recital and every school concert as she’d grown up. Her mother had nurtured her through everything despite her self-confessed lack of maternal instinct. Her mother’s head was bowed, her arms wrapped around her own waist by the curb side as the car sped away.
Once she was out of sight, Zephira pushed her hips up and fished her phone from her jeans pocket. She only had to type the first three letter of Winterbury College before it flashed up as an option. She selected it and scrolled through the page, she’d spent the last four days torturing herself with the words at the top of their webpage, Winterbury College, for those with challenging behaviour, taunted her from beneath a fancy coat of arms with a centre shield emblazoned with weird symbols, and a scroll with Latin words she couldn’t hope to understand. She huffed and closed the page down, shoving her earbuds in and opting to listen to music instead. Closing her eyes she felt the melody rush over her, calming and soothing her. Music was all she had that could still provide her with comfort.
“You’re such an ungrateful bitch.” Ted’s teeth were pulled back and his eyes were narrowed. He stood in the hotel room she’d not long left behind clutching a bottle of champagne. Her mother was perched on the edge of the bed looking tense. This was something Zephira knew she did not want to see. Ted was her mother’s tour manager, and first boyfriend from years back. He’d been trying to get into her mother’s panties since the day her father died three years ago, even Zephira could see that much, but every time she’d brought it up she’d been chastised.
“Screw you, Ted. What the hell do you think I have to celebrate here?”
“This is your chance at getting your career back now you’ve gotten rid of your brat.”
Zephira held her breath as she watched her mother’s angry stare morph to one of unadulterated rage. Her mother leapt off the bed, flinging herself toward Ted with balled fists. A crisp slap rung out. But, it wasn’t by the hand of her mother, it was Ted that had slapped her mother’s face. Zephira screamed, but no sound escaped into the silent room. She grabbed and clawed at the back of Ted’s shirt, but her hands passed straight through his body. Her mother’s palm pressed firmly over the afflicted cheek as Ted shoved her backward onto the bed, dropped the bottle onto the comforter and flung himself on top of her. “Listen, I made you the first time, and now I’m making you a second time.”
“No, no, no!” Zephira screeched to no avail, her body was in the back of the car headed for Winterbury, but her ripped soul was in the room with her mother.
“You’d better start showing me some respect.” He puffed, resting his forearm over her mother’s throat.
Zephira could do nothing other than watch her mother’s nails attempt to claw at his arm, her eyes bulging, and her throat gurgling as she gasped for breath.
Zephira’s eyes flicked out, her body still jerked as her hands searched her lap and then the leather backseat of the Mercedes. Yellow light flooded the seat and icy wind cooled her burning face. The henchman was beside the open door of the car.
“Listen love, just send the bloody ambulance.”
Zephira glared up at him. “I don’t need an ambulance,” she managed to choke out. “I need to get back to my mother.”
He stepped back and eyed her warily. “It’s okay, she stopped fitting now.” He spoke into his phone, not tearing his gaze away from her.
“No. I don’t.” He said as some sort of gruff confirmation.
“Take me back. Now!” Zephira demanded, having a sudden surge of strength. She’d located her phone as was listening to her mother’s phone ringing out, unanswered.
“That’s not the brief I’ve been given.” He slammed the car door shut and climbed back into the driver’s seat.
“You don’t understand. You don’t know what I saw.”
“You didn’t see anything,” he rasped. “You were having a fit.”
“Listen to me, I wasn’t having a seizure. It’s important I go back right now.” Her voice sounded whiney with desperation.
“No chance, we’re only twenty minutes from Winterbury. You’re going there and that’s the end of that.” With his last word he forced the blinker on and screeched the car back onto the highway headed north.
She slammed her back into the seat, the visions of what Ted was doing ate her up inside, her stomach swirled and her throat burned against the nausea that was rested there. By the fifth time her mother’s phone rang out, she finally answered. Her voice was quiet, preoccupied.
“Mom, are you okay? I need to come back. I need to come back now, hang on, I’ll put you on loudspeaker so you can tell this idiot to bring me back.” She glanced down at the screen and hit the button.
“No, Zephira.” Her mother’s voice echoed through the cab. “You have to go. Call me when you get there, or tomorrow. I love you.” Two beeps followed before a devastating silence and an unbearable ache in the centre of her chest.
© L.T. Kelly 2017
I really hope you enjoyed the first of twenty chapters? I'm looking forward to hearing what you think!
Did you notice I didn't name Zephira's mother? I want YOU to name her. Remember she's an 80's rock chick. I want you guys to name her for me. Leave a comment with the name you'd choose for this lady, please. I pick the name from your suggestions next week.
Have a great week, hoping to see you all for the next chapter. Thanks for looking :)