It was hours before I made it to bed. After the stilted conversation with Owen and thirty pages of a dull school book, I'd been ready to pass out but apparently, my body had other plans.
Even once I'd made it in between the sheets, I couldn't clear my head enough to slip into sleep. All my lights were on, Sarah and Lulu were sleepily trying to keep a midnight vigil for me, and the temperature in the room felt like it had been raised ten degrees.
I was distraught.
Some nights were good. Some nights were ones when I could slip into bed and be out before my head hit the pillow. Other nights weren't really nights. They were extra hours of the day when my brain remembered what my step-mother had been like. The way her sweaty palms would clench around my arms and force me to the floor, knees hitting rice that dug into my skin like blades of glass that couldn't quite break the skin.
Some nights were like that.
Tonight was one of them.
Eventually, I would get up and sit on the trampoline that was half falling apart in the backyard. It had been gifted after she had left. She hadn't hurt me there.
But until then I was here. Stuck in limbo between these sheets with sweat dripping down my forehead as I relived several painful years of my life.
I could feel something pulsing behind my eyes and making my toes curl with discomfort. There was little else I could do but wait it out.
I sat another ten minutes. Waiting for the panic to dispel and the flashbacks to fade before I stretched my legs towards the floor and grabbed my phone from the side table.
Sarah and Lulu were quick to jump up and follow me but as I pounded down the stairs I didn't let them out. I shut the door before they could follow and turned my phone flashlight on, creating a bright glow that filled the whole yard.
The trampoline was old, rusted springs holding up the flexible material that made for a comfortable place to revisit bad memories.
I just lay there, back sinking into the bouncy (and slightly dirty) fabric as I stared into the sky waiting for something to change. Something to click in place inside me and make it feel just a little less horrifying.
Nothing changed as I closed my eyes.
Or as I found constellations in the foggy night.
Nothing changed as I took steady breths to try and even my heartbeat.
It wasn't until my phone vibrated, flashlight still on and shining around the yard that I was pulled ever so slightly from my waking nightmare.
It was Kota.
Kota: Are you in your backyard with a flashlight on?
Kota: Are you okay? Do you need anything?
Sang: I'll be okay. I'm not sure anything can be done, but thanks for offering. Just get some sleep.
Kota: I'll be fine with whatever amount of sleep I get tonight.
Sang: Seriously, I'll be okay in a bit.
He was over in five minutes, his footsteps just as light as the footsteps of his dog as they crunched through the dry ground on their way to where I was sitting.
Kota was quiet for a minute, looping Max's leash around one of the poles of the trampoline before easing himself next to me, his position mirroring my supine one.
He didn't say anything for a while.
"You know my step-mom died?"
He nodded and I could see his silhouette moving in the night.
"She was sick for a long time before she passed. And my sister died in a car crash about a year before my step-mom finally knocked off..." I paused for a dry laugh, "I think that's what really did her in. She wasn't too loving before but after Marie..."
I swallowed hard and reached my hands out, spreading my fingers to feel every inch of the woven nylon to take my focus off of this topic.
I could hear Max snuffling around under the trampoline, his nose exploring in place of the hands he didn't have.
Kota took a breath, "It's just been my mom, Jessica, and myself for a long time. And I know it's been hard but I don't think I've ever been sorry about it. You don't get to pick who you're related to, but you do get to pick your family."
I could feel my eyes watering up as I stared up at the sky to avoid making this moment any more personal.
Kota's pinky finger grazed mine as we sat together in silence and it wasn't long before I wove my long fingers between his. I could feel his shoulders tense for a moment before he let out a long breath and we relaxed back into the forgiving surface that supported us without question.
I didn't know if I should continue.
I busied my free hand with my phone, pushing buttons until the light turned off and all we had left was the dim glow of a few streetlights and the soft light of the moon above us.
"I think I found out my mom wasn't my mom when I was fifteen. Right when she started getting really sick." I swallowed loudly and Kota squeezed my hand with his own, "She started getting meaner, concocting more punishments involving kowtowing on rice for hours and drinking lemon juice and vinegar when I said something she didn't like."
"Then Marie died and..." I reached up frantically to wipe stray tears out from under my eyes. I hoped Kota wouldn't notice that I had trailed off in my haste to cover the signs of distress.
Kota didn't say anything else. I don't know if he could have said anything else. We were just existing in the moment.
Kota's phone buzzed before too long, breaking us both out of our peaceful reverie and back into reality. He picked up and started talking to his mom, "I don't think I'll be back tonight, Mom... Mmhmm, and if I am it won't be until late. Nate wanted me to stay over with Max since his dad has been gone for so long... Yeah, I'll be by in the morning for clothes and stuff... I love you too, Mom."
He dropped his phone as he dropped back to his back, Max now up with his front paws propped on the edge of the trampoline as we sat together. Kota waved him down.
"Are you really staying at Nate's tonight?" I asked quietly.
"No." He whispered back. "I can if I have to."
I sat up, leaning on my elbows to look into his eyes, taking notice of the high cheekbones and darkly framed glasses. "Will you stay here tonight?"
I was nervous, I tapped my fingers together in rhythm with a count that I couldn't quite keep up as our eye contact failed to waver for what felt like hours.
It couldn't have been more than twenty seconds later when he nodded and pushed one stray hand up to press his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "Is it okay if Max stays too?"
I laughed a little, a relieved sound that left me a bit slumped in contentment as I recognized that I wouldn't have to be alone tonight.
Max whined again and Kota started to get up, offering me a hand that felt a lot more symbolic than what it looked like at a glance. Maybe he understood this. Maybe they all did.
Maybe I didn't have a choice about letting them in anymore.
YOU ARE READING
Sang isn't a fifteen-year-old cowering at the hands of her stepmother. She's on her own. Eighteen and living in a house her father bribed her with alongside two faithful dogs, she's been paving her own way since the payout a year ago. When Marie di...