I fill the kettle and plug it in. Afí* never had a formal tea service, so I dust off the nicest of his mugs, and put them on the wooden tray. Does Louise take sugar? Cream? My hands feel clumsy as I wash a small pitcher. Darn it! There’s a chip on one side, but it’s all I have. I dry it off, and fill it with cream. I place the pitcher on the tray next to a small bowl of sugar cubes.
The wooden tray looks plain. Should I cover it with a towel? I grab one from the cupboard, but I can’t bring myself to cover the wood. Hiding the tray would be like hiding Afí. His calloused hands sanded and carved a slab of wood, transforming it into something both useful and beautiful. It was a present for my twelfth birthday.
I sweep the kitchen again, and check to make sure the rubbish bin is empty one more time. My muscles are knotted with nerves. No one has crossed the threshold of this house in eight months. I’ve not let anyone in, and I’ve not gone out. I’m still deciding if the solitude has made me stronger or driven me mad.
It’s almost half past two. Louise is usually on time. I go to the bathroom, and check myself in the mirror for the fourth time in an hour. I smooth my hair and reposition the headband holding all the choppy pieces in place. I shouldn’t have cut my own hair, but I don’t really remember doing it. One night last week, I’m made more fresh, red slices in my arm than ever before. I was terrified to make any more marks in my skin, but I needed to keep cutting. So, I guess I attacked my hair instead. Most of the haircut is a blur.
I do remember applying the dye the next day and watching my blonde hair bleed purple. It took me two hours to clean up the mess. There’s still a violet spot on the rug I can’t get out. I try not to let it bother me, but sometimes it’s all I can think about. I should just order a new one online. If only it were that easy to let things go, instead of fussing over them until perfection is achieved. If perfection were possible.
For this meeting, I chose my white, cable-knit sweater, with sleeves I can stretch over my knuckles. Louise doesn’t know my secret, and I plan to keep it that way during today’s visit. I get light-headed thinking of her stepping inside my home, and grip the sides of the sink for support.
“This was your idea.” I tell my reflection.
Louise has never asked to come inside the house. She’s always satisfied to complete her well-check through the kitchen window. She leaves groceries, and other necessities on the doorstep. After her car leaves the driveway, I crack open the door and collect them. I don’t know if her supervisor knows she’s allowing a fifteen-year-old, who experienced a major trauma, to live by herself. I don’t ask Louise if she is breaking the rules, I’m just grateful to be left alone.
When I return to the kitchen, the orange “ready light” tells me the water in the electric kettle is hot. I pack tea leaves into the infuser, and drop it into the teapot. I fill the pot with hot water, place it on the wooden tray, and bring it to the table. I rearrange things twice, and then move all the parts and pieces back where I had them to begin with. My fingers won’t stop twitching.
Knock, knock. I jerk, and blood speeds through my veins. Two-thirty. Perfectly on time, just as I anticipated.
“You invited her,” I whisper.
I’m stuck to the floor for several more pounds of my pulse. It’s been a long time since she knocked, but she doesn’t knock again. I’m sure she’s still on my front porch though. Waiting with a heart full of compassion and an armload of patience.
Somewhere, I find the courage to make the long walk to the front door. Just as I expected, Louise has waited for me. Her high Nordic cheekbones, pushed up even higher by a wide smile, make me glad to see her.
“Hi,” I say.
“Good afternoon, Linnea.” She doesn’t move any closer, sending the message she won’t force her way inside.
“How are you?” I ask, standing in the center of the frame. I’m not ready yet.
“I’m well. It’s good to see you.” She doesn’t ask how I am because I’ve told her not to. I don’t want to be asked how I’m doing because the answer is always the same. I’m a disaster. I feel horrible, every minute of every day.
Sweat pools in the small of my back, despite the cool breeze wafting through the doorway. The pressure I’m under comes only from myself. With her hands loose at her sides, Louise is calm as like a sleeping kid. If she expects anything from me, she doesn’t show it.
“I need a minute,” I squeak, and close the door in her face. I lean against the wall. My breath is fast, and gets faster. There’s not enough air in my house. The living room closes in, and feels no bigger than my hall closet.
“Do you need a paper bag?” Louise calls. Her voice smooth and gentle.
This makes me smile. She always brings a paper bag to pass through the kitchen window when I hyperventilate. What am I so afraid of? Louise has proven I’m safe with her, many times.
I pry the door open a few centimeters, and her smile gives me the strength to open it all the way.
I draw a breath up from my toes, and step to the side. “Please, come in.”
“Thank you.” She steps over the threshold and breaks the invisible wall I’ve built. And the world doesn’t come to an end.
I take her coat, and show her to the table in the corner of the kitchen where Afí and I took all of our meals. He built it, of course, and made the chairs too. Louise places a gift on the table. A bar of chocolate. She shouldn’t have spent so much money on me! I smile, and tell her thank you.
After removing her gloves, she lays her hands in her lap, and sits with the same peace on her shoulders she wore standing on my doorstep. She doesn’t look around and judge my home. Instead, she aims her pretty green eyes down, glancing at me twice as I pour the tea and open a tin of biscuits. I unwrap the chocolate and put it on a plate.
Louise adds two lumps of sugar to her tea. I mirror her, also taking two even though I normally like five cubes. Too much sugar in my tea is my one vice. Well, that and carving up my body.
“Delicious,” she says, when it’s cool enough to sip.
“Thank you. Biscuit?” I offer her the tin.
“Yes, please. You’re a gracious host.”
“Thanks. You are a pleasant guest.”
Ten minutes pass before another word is said. We drink our tea, and chew our biscuits and chocolate. The clock ticks louder with the passing of time. The wind kicks up and rattles the window panes. My shoulders wrench up to my ears, and I can’t keep my hands or feet still. I’m ready for this visit to be over.
Louise seems to sense I’m reaching my limit. She stands, and retrieves her coat from the peg by the door.
“I am proud of this step you’ve taken today, Linnea. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon. I’ll be back on Friday. All right?”
I nod my head. My eyes are so wide it’s hard to blink. I’m holding my breath.
She slips out the door and I flop in half, exhaling all my anxiety in one blow. I pace back and forth on the old woven rug in the living room, flicking my hands as if I’m shaking water off them.
I did it! I let someone inside my house and the ceiling didn’t fall down. But she’ll be back in two days. Oh no! Will she expect me to let her in again? I don’t think I’ll be ready to do it again by Friday. It took me four sleepless nights to prepare for today’s tea.
I scramble to the kitchen, and retrieve a wrinkled paper bag from one of the drawers. I sink down and lean against a cabinet door. While breathing into the bag, I picture a sunset over the ocean.
I wake up on the floor with the paper bag still clutched in my hand. It’s dark, must be night time. Did I pass out from hyperventilating? No. That wouldn’t have put me out for hours. I must have fallen asleep, which is understandable considering how little sleep I’ve had this week.
I don’t have the energy to wash the mugs or put the biscuits and chocolate away. I drag up the stairs to my loft, and collapse into bed. Tears flood my eyes and run down my temples into my ridiculous purple hair. The stench of loneliness fills the room. My heart aches. My stomach growls. I close my eyes, but sleep doesn’t come.
Rain taps on the window and gutters, hurting my ears. No position is comfortable. Why can’t I sleep? I should be able to sleep until Christmas. Maybe I am going mad.
Giving up on rest, I clomp down the stairs and light a fire in the stove. I pack Afí’s pipe and light that too. I never smoke it; I like the smell, it usually makes me calm. Not tonight. The living room feels like it’s shrinking. I pick up my phone to call Louise, she said I could call any time, day or night. But she might insist on coming over, and if she does come back now I’ll have to let her inside again because of the rain.
Is this how the rest of my life is going to be? Will I forever be terrified to let another human being into my home? I don’t need scores of friends and family, but I do want a couple of them. One or two people I can share a meal with, and maybe one I could give my heart to? But the fear inside me locks my doors.
I want to change back to the girl I was before Afí was killed. I want to trust, to laugh, and to love again. I want to stop slicing my skin to leak the pain out.
How is this done? What do I have to do to escape my own mind? I’ll do anything, anything it takes, to have a friend and find some peace.
Thanks for stopping by and reading "Linnea's Last Day". The events in this chapter take place before the first chapter in my novel "Tenderfoot", coming Spring 2016. Linnea is one of four teenagers who wake up in another world, called Enova, with no knowledge of how they arrived or why they are there. This chapter tells the story of Linnea's last day in Earth World, before she's transported to Enova.
I hope you enjoyed this "behind the scenes" look at one of the main characters for "Tenderfoot". There are two more "prequel" chapters to come before the launch of the book! Please tweet, tumbl, Instagram, FB post, or share this blog post with the world! And make sure to let them know it belongs to me, Abby Drinen!