10 Months Before Impact Day
My heart was pounding as we stood on the front porch of Rachel’s house, her hand wrapped firmly in mine. It was obvious she was just as nervous as I was, probably a whole lot more. I gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, and kissed her gently on the cheek. She took a deep breath, let go of my hand, and pushed open the front door.
Rachel’s mother was waiting for us, sitting facing the front door like a predator in wait. Rachel stiffened when she saw her, but pushed through it, stepping aside to let me inside beside her. I felt her mother’s glare shift over to me, her eyes running up and down my body, judging me.
She was a surprisingly thin woman, given how much she drank and how little else she did. She looked almost frail, with sunken eyes and slightly gaunt skin. Her hair was thin and messy, the same dark colour as Rachel’s but with none of the same lustre or shape. Her face was a perpetual sneer, and I was having a hard time picturing any other emotion on it.
As soon as Rachel shut the door, the woman almost shouted her questions.
“Where have you been? And who’s this?” she demanded, turning her nose up at me.
“Sorry, Mum,” Rachel said meekly. “This is Charlie. We were hanging out.”
“You know you’re to come straight home after school. And you can’t just bring a friend home with you, especially not at this time of night,” she scolded. It wasn’t even that late, I thought, but didn’t say anything.
“She’s… She’s not a friend, Mum,” Rachel said, wavering for only a second.
“What? Who is she, then?”
“She’s my girlfriend,” Rachel said with equal parts fear and pride. Her mother looked stunned, then furious.
“No, she isn’t,” she said defiantly, shaking her head.
“Mum, you can’t—” Rachel began, but her mother cut her off.
“Don’t you talk back to me. And don’t you dare lie to me, either.”
“Mum, I’m not lying,” Rachel tried again. “Charlie and I—”
“Are too young to know what you’re doing,” she said. I felt Rachel’s hand in mine, and I squeezed it. It was all I could think to do. “And you, get your filthy hands off my daughter!”
“Mum!” Rachel shouted.
“I’m not letting go,” I said, trying to keep my voice even. “You can’t intimidate me.”
“How dare you,” she spat. “In my house, in front of my daughter.”
“Mum, please,” Rachel pleaded.
“No. This is not okay,” her mother said viciously. “I raised you better than this, you ungrateful—”
“Shut up!” I yelled. Rachel pulled on my arm, shaking her head.
“You’re just going to let her talk to you like that?” I asked, stupefied.
“Yes, I am. She needs to say how she feels. Shutting her up won’t change anything,” Rachel said evenly.
“You, you nasty little dyke. Get the hell out of my house, and don’t you ever come here again,” her mother said, practically hissing. “And stay away from my daughter.”
“No, Mum. You can’t do this,” Rachel said, on the verge of tears. Not stepping in was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I knew Rachel would never forgive me. She had to deal with this in her own way, and I knew it.
“So long as you’re living under my roof, you’ll do what I tell you,” her mother barked.
“I do nothing but what you tell me!” Rachel cried. “I have lived by your bullshit rules without ever once complaining, and I do everything for you!”
“Don’t you use that language with me,” her mother said, shrinking back a little.
“Fuck you,” Rachel said meekly. Then, with more confidence, “Fuck you. I’ve put up with your drunken tirades, your shitty boyfriends and your fucked up rules for long enough.”
That time, the woman actually did hiss. Then she bristled, spreading herself out like a frightened animal.
“How dare you. I have raised you on my own for fifteen years. I have sacrificed everything for you.”
“You didn’t raise me, you tolerated me,” Rachel shot back, her confidence growing. “We tolerated each other. We are not a family.”
I knew how much it hurt her to say that. I knew that she didn’t even believe it, not really, but she wanted more than anything to hurt her mother.
“I am the only family you have,” her mother said.
“I wish I didn’t even have you,” Rachel snapped.
“No, fuck you,” she said again. I’d never heard her swear so much in one conversation. If you could call this a conversation. “I wish you were dead, you spiteful old hag!”
Rachel was shaking, tears running down her face. I squeezed her hand again, and with my other hand, rubbed her back, instinctively wanting to calm her down.
“Okay Rachel, just remember to breathe, okay?” I whispered, and she nodded, taking a deep breath.
“Get your hands off my daughter!” Rachel’s mum shrieked.
“Don’t talk to my girlfriend like that!” Rachel shouted back.
“She is not your girlfriend, you’re just confused, and that’s why you’re saying these things—”
“I am not confused!” Rachel bellowed, loud enough for the neighbours to hear. “I love her.”
Her declaration surprised me, though not as much as the voracity with which she said it. Her hand was still in mine, and she squeezed me tightly even as the rest of her body trembled.
“I don’t believe you,” her mother said, shaking her head.
“I don’t care. I don’t care about anything you say,” Rachel told her, still shaking.
“And what about you, girl?” her mother asked, addressing me. “Do you love her, too?”
I felt like a deer in the headlights. Why was she trying to drag me back into things? How was I supposed to stay quiet when she did?
“You’re talking to me now?” I asked, avoiding the question.
“Leave her out of this,” Rachel said coldly.
“Answer the question,” her mum said, ignoring her.
“Yes, I love her,” I said, feeling it more strongly than ever before. I did love Rachel, and I would do anything to protect her.
Her mother shook her head, a look of defeat on her face. She looked like she was on the verge of tears too, though I didn’t exactly have a lot of sympathy for her.
“Then there is nothing more I can do for either of you,” she said wearily. “Charlie, go home. Rachel, go to bed. I will decide how best to deal with this in the morning.”
With that, she walked out of the room. Rachel looked like she was going to say something, but held her tongue. Once we were alone, she fell into me, burrowing into my chest and sobbing. I held her against me, wrapping my arms around her, trying to shield her from anything else that might hurt her, and just let her cry.
After a while, the crying began to calm down, and we just stood there, holding each other. When she stopped trembling, I rubbed her back.
“Hey, it’s okay. You did your best.”
“Why does she have to be like that?” Rachel asked, her voice hoarse.
“I don’t know. People aren’t usually that simple. There are probably a lot of complicated reasons why she is the way she is,” I told her. Personally, I would have preferred to just call the woman a horrid bitch and be done with it, but I knew that wasn’t what Rachel needed.
“Why do you have to be so rational about it?” she asked, sniffing.
“Because otherwise I would just want to punch her in the face,” I answered, semi-seriously. Rachel laughed softly.
“Heh. Thank you for being there for me,” she said, hugging me tightly.
“Sorry I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.”
“I’m impressed you lasted as long as you did,” she said, laughing again.
“I shouldn’t have said anything at all,” I groaned, remembering telling her mother to shut up. Not a great first impression.
“I’m glad you did,” Rachel said warmly.
“It was nice to hear, whether or not it was true,” she said softly. I was confused. What was she talking about?
“What are you talking about?”
“You… You said you loved me,” she said timidly, blushing and burying her face again.
“I do love you,” I said, still surprised.
“You said it first,” I countered, holding her against me.
“Not exactly how I thought it would come out,” she said a little morose.
“Kind of suits us, though,” I said.
“You know, you don’t have to stay here,” I said, hopefully. “You can stay with me, I’m sure Mark wouldn’t mind.”
“No, it’s okay. This is my battle to fight, and I’m going to fight it. I’ll make her understand eventually. I can’t just leave things like this.”
I nodded, disappointed. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I understood why she did. All I could do was support her.
“Well, I am always here if you need me, okay?”
“Thank you, Charlie,” she said, hugging me again. “Now, go home before she comes back to yell at us again, okay?”
“You sure you’re gonna be okay?” I asked.
“No, but I’ll survive,” she said, brutally honest. It hurt to hear, but I was still glad for it. “Just like you.”
“I love you, Rachel,” I told her, squeezing her into me.
“I love you too, Charlie,” she whispered back.
Next Week: I’ll Try Not To Give You A Reason To Scream