My head was pounding when I woke up. I wished I didn’t wake up at all, the numbness wore away, leaving fear and humiliation. The moment I did, everything smashed into me like a ton of bricks, threatening to suffocate me, restricting my ability to breathe.
I was never going to escape him. Even now, when he couldn’t get to me, he still haunted me, still lingered at the edge of my mind. Opening my eyes, I found myself lying beside my mother, who was asleep beside me on a bed that resembled my old one.
It even had the same matching comforter I had before my room was destroyed. I sat up on one elbow, looked around, and realized I was in my old room. Everything was back to the way it was before I left for school in Avalon City.
It was like I’d stepped back in time before everything went to sh!t, a glimpse into my old life, to the person I once was. Now, though, I saw my old life differently. I found the darkest parts of it looming over me, and I realized how naive and young I truly was nearly a year ago.
Pictures of me having fun with Mitchell when we went to the beach and bowling hung on the walls. Mom had blown those up and framed them. Photos of Rayan and me. Some of Ace and Tyson, it all seemed like a lifetime ago as I spotted each one on the walls.
It’s funny how it only takes one thing to ruin your essence. One thing to burn the light out of your soul and dim the spark of life within you. Spending my early childhood in the facility was tough, horrific, and a brutal place to grow up in. But once I was freed, I thought that would be the end of my suffering. I had hopes and plans and was excited about my future and getting to experience the world to its fullest. The pictures held hope while I now felt nothing but hopeless and exposed.
Growing up in that place meant solitude, loneliness, and hopelessness. Stepping out was experiencing everything for the first time. The way fresh air smelled, how the breeze felt on my skin, and the feel of the earth under my bare feet was all new to me. And I was ecstatic at my newfound freedom. Sure that place sometimes haunted me still, the memories forever ingrained in my head. Yet I could disassociate them from the life I had now, separate them from me, and allow myself to feel safe for once.
But Mr. Tanner ruined that sense of safety. It took years of counseling and occupational therapy during the first few years of my freedom. Even just learning to adjust. That place made me institutionalized, and I struggled without the constant routine. Always looking over my shoulder and on edge, waiting for the doctors to come in and poke and prod us. Then everything went down the drain again, all that time gone, and I was finally free and happy within myself, and I felt safe.
Only to have the blindfold ripped off and be shown that even out here, monsters still existed. Showed me that they were lurking in the shadows, only now I was older and the horrors more real because I knew how dangerous they were. I was at the age when I should have been able to understand and pick up the signs of what a monster looked like. How could I be wrong and blind to it when I was raised in a facility full of them torturing us?
You would think I would be able to recognize them instantly. Yet no one tells you the biggest monsters are those we put our trust in. Those we blindly trust because they have sworn to protect and teach us. Now looking back, the signs were there. I just missed them. But now, they were startlingly clear. And I feared I would never be able to go back to the comfortable bliss I lived in before he tried to destroy me.
The way he used to hang around us students, us girls in particular. The way he would help us get away with things and bail us out. I thought he was just one of the good teachers, a friend even. An adult that saw us for who we were, instead of just pitying the mutated freaks. But I learned everything comes with a price, I just didn’t see it then.
So, does it make it my fault because I missed the warning signs? Even when he asked me to pull the blind down, something was screaming at me that something was off. Yet I shoved it aside, stupidly trusting the devil in disguise. So, now I find myself questioning everyone’s intentions, looking for anything to warn me away. I missed how I was carefree, invincible, and free of my own tormented mind before it all.
I missed my innocence when the world looked colorful and beautiful. Now, I only saw the darkness in everything, the things that could go wrong. Now I worried about how I dressed, how I talked, and how much of myself I put on display.
That worried me. Besides, couldn’t they all tell? Could they not see how disgusting I was? Couldn’t they see how much I hated what he tried to do? How much I hated myself for almost letting him succeed? But the biggest burning question was, do they blame me the same way I blamed myself for not seeing the warning signs? Did I ask for it? And was it my fault?
Looking at my mother, I truly saw her for the first time. Saw why Amanda snapped. I was the nightmare Amanda kept living.
The memory ingrained in her mind like he was in mine. Tragically broken and left with only the broken pieces. No matter how much glue, how much force and strength you used to hold those pieces together, it only took one trigger to shatter them all over again and dissolve the little safety you’d once felt.
Hearing movement, I looked down between us and found Ryden stirring before feeling movement behind me, making me look over my shoulder to see Rayan curled up and jammed in my back as he snuggled against me. Turning to face my mother, I found her eyes open, staring back at me.