In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

In the Stillness by Andrea Randall

 

 

 

 

For Charles-

 

 

Without you as my mentor and good friend, this book would still be writhing in the dark recesses of my brain. Having you standing behind me saying, “No, you’re going to write this book,” is the only reason it’s here.

 

Thank you. For everything.

 

 

 

 

For Maggi-

 

My soul sister.

 

Late nights, early mornings, and every time in between—you are there for me.

 

You get it.

 

I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

 

 

 

I exist. Right?

 

The blood rolling haphazardly down my left forearm says I do. The blade in my right hand agrees. Sheryl Crow is so full of shit. The first cut most certainly is not the deepest. If you started with the deepest, where would you go from there?

 

I never thought I’d cut again, until I found myself thinking about it. I mean, I’ve thought about it a lot in the time that’s gone by since the last time I did it—the time I thought, damn this is dumb. Yeah, I often thought a lot about how crazy that all was. Until I no longer had a choice. Until I found myself rifling through my bathroom cabinets trying to find a clean, sharp blade.

 

Eric’s been in the lab so much these days that I feel trapped in a hell decorated with playdates and PBS. The release is euphoric. It’s just like the first time, only a little scarier since I know where this road can lead. I don’t think too far down that road as I deliberately carve three lines into my soft, shiny skin. It hurts at first. Like hell. But a second later it’s gone—just gone—and I’m left with a visual reminder for the rest of the day that I’m in control of my pain, anxiety, and fear.

 

Do I even fucking exist?

 

Ryker doesn’t exist anymore. I mean, he didn’t come home in a body bag like Lucas did, but he may as well have. They took his soul over there, fuckers, and left me with the breathing carcass. Then I left him. He’s married now, supposedly happy.

 

So am I. Married, that is.

 

I don’t think about him much anymore—that’s not what this is about. He’s just the first person I ever saw not exist while they were still walking the earth.

 

Bang! Bang! Bang! The bathroom door rattles under the force of four-year-old fists.

 

“Mommy! Ollie pulled my hair!”

 

They’re. Always. Around.

 

I sigh, turn on the sink, and address the situation from behind the closed door. “Max, don’t tattle. Oliver, leave your brother alone!”

 

God, is it too much to ask for it to be kindergarten already?

 

My blood forms a candy cane pattern in the white porcelain sink. I stare at the cat as I wash my arm.

 

I never wanted to be a mother. My twenty-three-year-old graduate student self happily reminds me of that whenever I’m cleaning yogurt from the boys’ backs. Seriously, their backs. She had enough of my shit and left. Just packed right up and vacated the part of my spirit that mattered—that made me ... me. That’s when my twenty-year-old self started whispering that I could buy ten razors for something like three dollars at Walmart. She’s a crazy bitch, but she’s right. You buy them, bring them home, and break off the little line of safety plastic that prevents you from cutting the hell out of your legs. It really was no different than the last time I bought a bag of generic razors—except this time I had four-year-old twins in the cart.

 

I still can’t decide if that made the purchase easier or harder, seeing their faces, but here we are anyway, washing blood down the sink.

 

A few hours later I’m washing dinner dishes in our dishwasher-less kitchen, when Eric comes home.

 

“Hey Baby, where are the boys?” His eyes scan our Amity Street apartment as he tosses his messenger bag carelessly on the couch.

 

I sigh. “Sleeping, Eric. It’s after seven. How was your day?”

 

“It was great, actually . . .” Eric launches into a series of events I should care about.

 

I don’t.

 

He’s a doctoral student in chemical engineering at UMass Amherst. His research is in biofuels and sustainable energy. I know that sounds all “hip” and “responsible” of him, but all that means is he’s nearing thirty with no job and hours upon hours in a lab. Sure, we get a decent stipend to live on, and full financial aid, but it still leaves me with a twenty-nine-year-old husband who has no job. I slap my former grad student self for bragging his major up to my parents. They loved it. So did I. Then, everything changed.

 

“Nat, you okay? Natalie?” Eric walks over and shuts off the faucet I left running while I stare out the window. I hate when he calls me Nat; something about the way it sounds sliding off his tongue makes me feel like a bug.

 

“Huh? Shit, sorry, I spaced.”

 

I reach for a towel to dry my hands when Eric’s tanned hand wraps around my much paler arm.

 

“What happened to your arm? That’s a huge scratch.” Those honey-brown eyes, one thing left that I don’t resent, tell me they can’t handle the truth. He’d never get it.