After the whole thing in Cameron’s office it seemed like time sped up for me. Days morphed into weeks without much notice from me leaving me to wish they would just slow down some. The dreams continued almost every night which negated my hope that they were just brought on by the stress of what happened with Rue. They got worse with every night that passed, so bad in fact that I couldn’t even feel Corrin in the same room as me or my cheeks would flush a bright crimson colour and I would feel the most recent dream begin to flood my mind which in turn made me feel nauseous just for having those thoughts in the first place. The whole situation with my dreams getting more detailed and in depth was bad enough but it was made so much worse by the fact that I had to keep it all bottled up inside of myself because Cameron and I still weren’t speaking after his drunken outburst in the office. Sure, he’d tried to text me to apologize multiple times the next day after, I assumed, he’d sobered up but he never turned up to work. I overheard Ronald telling Corrin later that week that Mr Connors senior had taken time off work to spend with his wife and so Cameron was working upstairs in his place. I had no definite proof to back this theory up but I kind of had a feeling that maybe we weren’t getting told the entire story though. It seemed an awful big coincidence that the day after Cameron had his meltdown that he was suddenly needed upstairs. Even though I felt horrible for thinking it, I think that maybe Cameron was hiding out upstairs because he was embarrassed about how he had acted. I also think that maybe he was a little scared to face us now because I know that is how I would be feeling if anything like that ever happened to me.
I felt like I just might explode if I kept this all locked up inside of myself but with no one that I could possibly tell I had no other choice. Repeating them over and over in my head really wasn’t helping anything either so instead I did my best to lock all the horrid thoughts and feelings I was beginning to have tightly inside a locked box inside of my head. It didn’t completely remove them, I don’t think anything ever would, but I was able to live my life a little easier than I had before. My cheeks still flushed with embarrassment and shame whenever I looked at Corrin but it wasn’t the bright scarlet colour it had once been but instead a pinkish shade that was easily hidden by some make-up I’d ‘borrowed’ from my mother. Okay, so I said I borrowed it from my mother but I didn’t really; I went into her make-up bag one night when she was out and took it without asking. It wasn’t as if she’d even notice though because she almost never wore make-up (apart from her usual lip-gloss), I think the only time I actually caught her wearing any was for church every week.
Everything else felt a little better in my life but I still couldn’t stop the guilt from eating me up every time I was with my parents, which was a lot recently because I’d actually gone through with my promise to myself to be a better daughter to them. I’d been spending as much of my free time with them as I could to try and make up for the sins I was committing in my mind every single night but, I don’t know if they could tell or not, I couldn’t meet their eyes whenever I was talking to them; I was far too afraid that if I did they would see just how wrong and disgusting I was inside. I was also ashamed of myself that I couldn’t be the perfect daughter that they had always wanted. This whole thing with Corrin and Rue had really shed some light on my past relationship with my parents and how terrible a daughter I’d been to them. I was starting to think that maybe my parents had only been as negligent as they had because I had been such a terrible daughter. Maybe if I’d been better they would have loved me more?
“Raven-Jay, are you ready to go? They won’t keep our reservations forever” my mother yelled at me from the foot of the stairs. Her voice was much sweeter than it usually was with me but it still managed to hold onto some of that bite that she was famous for.
“Just a second” I yelled back as I heaved myself up and off of my bed. Ever since I’d started spending time with my parents and acting as the doting daughter they had been trying to get me to go back to church with them but I couldn’t because of what was going on in my head. I hadn’t told them the exact truth, only that I couldn’t go back to church right now, so they had settled for taking me out to fancy restaurants once a week instead. I know they were only doing it so they could show off how good they were as parents to the other churchgoers who frequented the restaurant they took me too but I went along with it all the same, playing the doting daughter until it no longer felt like an act. I really did want to be the kind of daughter they would be proud to have so it wasn’t that hard to play the part. They would sit and chat about random things, mostly to do with the church or their friends, and I would stay as quiet as a mouse only speaking up when one of them asked for my opinion on something, which wasn’t very often, and even then I tried to keep my answers as short as possible without being rude. If Cameron had seen me then I don’t think he would have recognised me. I really missed him which was yet another reason why I was spending so much time with my parents, apart from the obvious. When I was with my parents I could pretend like I’d never met him, pretend like I was never friends with him, pretend like I didn’t miss him terribly but when I was on my own that all flooded back to me and, combined with all the other stuff, overwhelmed me. It was so bad that I cried myself to sleep most nights. The dreams combined with the loss of my one and only friend had me feeling like a complete and utter wreck on the inside. Of course, I did my best to hide everything I was feeling. To the outside world I was just a normal, albeit shy, almost 19 year old. I still couldn’t believe that in just under a week I would be celebrating my 19th birthday. It seemed kind of surreal just thinking of it but at the same time… it didn’t really. I think in some ways I was more prepared to be a proper adult now than when I’d turned 18 but in some other small ways I was still so underprepared for the whole thing that it scared me a little. I’m not entirely sure what it was but I had this feeling that this year was going to be different. I couldn’t tell if it was a good different or not but I’d had this feeling since I graduated from high school. I really wish that I could just blame everything that was going on in my life right now for how I’d been feeling but I really couldn’t; this feeling of difference I’d been getting was entirely on me. It was me that was different this year.
“You scrub up well Raven-Jay” my mother’s voice broke through my muddled thoughts and dragged me back to the present where she, my dad and I were standing in the living room, my father with his car keys in hand. I absentmindedly looked down to see what I was wearing and found a pair of black dressed trousers, a mint green button up sweater that my mother had bought me for my last birthday and a pair of dark grey, almost black, canvas shoes.
“Um…thank you” I mumbled softly in reply. I wasn’t very good at receiving compliments, especially from my uptight mother, so for a moment I was sort of stumped as to what I should say to her. I’d never really felt comfortable in these sorts of clothes either, they were too stuffy and formal for my liking; I’d much rather be in my jeans and one of my many sweatshirts, but this made my parents happy and who was I to spoil their happiness. I absentmindedly reached up to fiddle with a stand of my hair, which was a nervous habit of mine, but pulled back at the last second when I remembered that it was all currently crammed under a kind of old fashioned hat so that my parents friends wouldn’t see that it was blue. My mother wasn’t very happy when I first tied my hair up under the hat when we’d first started going out on these weekly trips to these fancy restaurants because having my hair up showed the blue heart tattoo that was on my neck but I think she’d rather them see that than my blue hair, especially as the tattoo could just be covered up with make-up.
“Are we ready to go?” my dad asked a little impatiently as my mother’s eyes continued to appraise my outfit. I shrunk back slightly under my mother’s gaze but somehow managed to nod my head in answer to my dad’s question.
The drive to the restaurant was mostly quiet, despite my mother’s constant tuts and hmms, and somehow peaceful. I should have known it was just the calm before the storm with my mother.
The parking lot was mostly empty when we pulled in little over 15 minutes later. My mother got out of the car first, as was usual for her, followed by my dad and then finally followed by me a couple of minutes later. My dad smiled encouragingly down at me whilst I tried to brace myself for another week of being scrutinised by my mother and her friends. My mother meanwhile had very little patience and had begun to walk back over towards us when she seen we weren’t immediately following her lead and walking towards the restaurant.
“Hurry up, we are going to be late” my mother sighed dramatically once she’d reached us. She didn’t look pleased one bit with me but she didn’t have her usual scowl on her face so that was an improvement.
“It’ll be okay. It’s just like every other week” my dad finally spoke softly, offering his hand for me to take to make it easier for me to get out of the car. I reluctantly took a hold of his outstretched hand and pulled myself out of the car and up onto my feet only to wish I hadn’t even bothered getting out of bed this morning when my eyes landed on, the impossible to mistake, Cameron Connors. He hadn’t seen me yet because he was facing the opposite direction but there was no doubt that he would eventually have to see me because he was standing right in front of the restaurants entrance.
I wanted to turn back and just go home and pretend this day had never happened at all but at the same time I also wanted to go up to Cameron and speak to him which was an impossibility in front of my very observant parents. If they found out that Cameron had spoken to me the way he had they would almost certainly stop me from working at his father’s company and the attacks on his father may even get worse if my mother had anything to do with it. I walked slightly behind my parents, trying desperately to hide myself from view as we neared the entrance of the restaurant where Cameron was standing. I’d hoped, somewhat naïvely I’ll admit, that Cameron’s eyes would just move over me without any recognition because of how I was dressed and because my hair was hidden from view but that didn’t work.
As soon as his eyes landed on me I could see the recognition light up his face before he lowered his head in shame. He looked so sad and lonely standing there by himself. I stopped dead in my tracks and waited for my parents to walk inside the restaurant without me before I walked over to where Cameron stood. I couldn’t bear to see him so sad.
“Hey” I muttered softly, my eyes trained to his face for any indication of how he was feeling about me being here. He was silent for a brief moment when it looked like he was thinking about something real hard before he finally spoke to me.
“I…I’m sorry; I didn’t…I didn’t mean to say those things. I was drunk, I know that’s not an excuse, but it’s the truth and I’m sorry” he seemed so lost and sounded like he was going to start crying at any moment as he spoke. I just wanted to give him a big hug and tell him that everything would be okay but I felt kind of awkward about doing that now after his avoiding me.
“I understand…” I started to say to try and offer him some comfort but I got cut off my dad’s voice calling my name.
“Raven-Jay!” my dad yelled as he exited the restaurant, almost bumping into Cameron as he did so. He seemed shocked to see me with Cameron but he didn’t say a word about it unlike my mother who would have undoubtedly given me a full on lecture about it.
“Your mother is looking for you Raven-Jay” my dad spoke after a moment to right himself. I got the hint he was trying to give me right away; my mother was looking for me and if she didn’t find me inside she would come outside to find me which wouldn’t be good because she’d find me with Cameron.
“Mr Marone” Cameron said as he stuck his hand out for my dad to shake. After a brief, awkward, pause on my dad’s part he too extended his hand to shake Cameron’s. My dad kept his face completely blank the whole time he was shaking Cameron’s hand which was a good indication to me how much my dad actually didn’t like Cameron. I was just glad that my dad was the type of person who never voiced his opinions. I can’t say my mother would have been as considerate.
“I have nothing against you son but take some friendly advice, if I was you I wouldn’t let my wife catch you around our daughter. She won’t be as nice about it as I have been” my dad spoke in a low, even tone as he pulled his hand away from Cameron’s and turned with me to begin walking back into the restaurant. Cameron looked disheartened about the whole encounter which made me want to rush back to him and cheer him up but my dad’s threat about my mother held me in place beside him.
We found my mother at our reserved table with a very annoyed look on her face. Of course she sat at the head of the table with chairs for my dad and me on either side of her.
“There you are Sheldon, I wondered where you had gotten to” my mother mentioned casually, for her at least, as soon as my dad and I had sat down in our seats. I was sort of glad she was basically ignoring me because if she’d asked me where I had been I don’t know what I could have told her.
Without missing a beat my dad answered her right away “Raven ran into an old friend of hers outside” my dad put extra emphasis on the old part which I knew was more of a warning for me to stay away from Cameron than anything else. I was a little worried that my mother would question my dad and me further about this ‘old friend’ my dad had spoken of but surprisingly she seemed to grow disinterested in the whole subject after that, instead finding another subject to pick at.
“Sheldon why do you insist on calling her that, her name is Raven-Jay and that is what she should be called!” my mother lectured, the usual bite returning to her tone instantly. My dad didn’t say anything in response to her; he just lowered his head slightly. We’d both been through this lecture from my mother countless times before about people having to call me by my full name and, I don’t know about my dad, but I was in no hurry to hear it again.
“Oh, and talking about old friends Raven-Jay, I ran into Mrs Cummings yesterday. Weren’t you once close friends with her son Mark?” my mother asked, seeming genuinely interested. There was something about her voice that I just didn’t trust though; I just couldn’t put my finger on it. She also had that look on her face, like she was up to something. I had to hide a small smile as she finished speaking; if only she’d known just how close Mark and I had been. I instantly felt terrible for thinking that after everything else I’d done.
“Um…yes mother, I knew Mark” I answered quietly, keeping my head down and my eyes glued to the table as I did so.
“Hmm, Mark’s a good catholic boy” she mused, her eyes never leaving me. Where exactly was she going with this? Yes, Mark was technically catholic but he didn’t give a damn about his religion. To be honest I don’t think he ever once went to church or even mentioned religion in the entire time that we were dating. Without waiting for a reply from anyone my mother went on “You pair would make a lovely couple. Don’t you agree Raven-Jay?” she continued in a sickly sweet voice, turning to face me as she spoke. I almost very nearly choked on my mouthful of water from the utter shock of what my mother had just said. Was she seriously trying to set me up with my ex-boyfriend? Had I woken up in a parallel universe this morning or something because, this just felt weird. I looked over at my dad and found him looking between my mother and me with confusion written all over his face. There was also a little pity there when he looked over at me.
“Susanne and I have arranged for you and Mark to go on a date this Saturday” my mother announced after I’d gotten my breath back from my near choking incident. Her announcement set me off again. I began to feel that sort of panicky feeling that I got whenever my anxieties kicked in but all my usual tactics for stopping it weren’t working this time. I had trouble breathing properly.
“Stella!” I distantly heard my dad’s voice snap at my mother.
“You do not need to go on this date if you don’t want to” my mother seemed to give in after my dad shouted at her. She still sounded in a good mood and she was still acting nicer than normal, a lot nicer than normal in fact, so I could only take that as a good sign. After the pressure of having to go on a date with my ex and having to please my mother at the same time faded away so did the panic inside of me which made it easier for me to breathe.
“I just don’t get why you won’t give him a chance Raven-Jay. You are such a good match and would make a lovely couple” my mother commented once she’d seen that I had calmed down enough to converse with her again. I closed my eyes and took a really deep breath before even thinking about answering her because I had no clue what to say to her. I couldn’t very well tell her that I’d already dated Mark and that it had ended badly between us because that would raise a whole load of questions that I just didn’t want to answer to my parents.
“I just…I just don’t love him” I found myself saying in reply to my mother’s words. It was the simplest thing in the world for me to say but deep down inside of me I knew that it was true. I didn’t love Mark Cummings and I really didn’t think that I ever had. I’d been young and stupid but I had never loved him. He meant nothing to me now; he was just the immature boy who had humiliated me in front of the entire school before we graduated and nothing more.
“You could grow to love him” my dad surprised me saying. He exchanged a knowing look with my mother that made me question everything I’d ever thought I knew about my parents.
“But I don’t love him! I never have and I never will!” I answered them as honestly as I dared without being disrespectful to my parents. My dad dropped the subject immediately like I’d known he would but to my utter surprise so did my mother. I felt a little bad for straight out turning them down for something they obviously wanted for me but I really couldn’t see myself ever being in the same room as Mark again, let alone a romantic relationship with him.
We were able to have the rest of the meal without my parents bringing the Cummings family up even once which was just fine by me. In fact my parents seemed to be going out of their way to be extra nice to me. They were being so nice to me that it was starting to become a little unbearable. All because they thought I was the perfect daughter they’d always wanted now. My mother had even said to me earlier that she didn’t know what had changed in me in the past couple of weeks but she much preferred this version of me which just made me feel so much worse about myself. The guilt was literally starting to eat me up inside. I wanted to tell them what was wrong with me. I wanted to tell them everything; about what happened at the bar with Rue, about the thoughts, dreams and feelings I’d been having ever since but…I couldn’t. How could I tell my parents that I was beginning to think that I was the one thing that they absolutely abhorred more than anything? How could I tell them that I was beginning to have a suspicion that I was beginning to develop feelings for another girl? What would they think? Cross that. I know what they would think; they would refuse to ever speak to me ever again. They would call me immoral! They would call me a sinner and cast me out into the cold. Well, if it was the last thing I did, I would make sure that never happened. I was straight and I was going to prove it to myself.