A/N: This chapter was kind of intense, and I think it showed a part of James that the game only hinted at. It might be the darkest chapter thus far.
Chapter Four: Tender Sugar
James lit a cigarette to quell his nervousness. He would have to face Victoria today.
Not only that, but he would also have to tell Laura that she couldn't come around anymore.
Really, she was kind and made him laugh. Things like the lilt in her voice, her skinny, fragile limbs, the pink lip gloss that she wore, and her tousled blond hair had already grown on him. But he couldn't have this go on any longer than it already had.
Especially after last night. It was as if he was temporarily out of his mind. He felt like he was walking into that room to kill her like he killed Mary. He never wanted to relive that feeling ever again.
And, God, he never wanted to end up hurting Laura. He just...couldn't trust it.
James rested against the wall, throwing his head back and blowing out the smoke. He tapped the cigarette and the ashes wafted somberly to the ground. The pack of Marlboro Reds he had in his pocket, bought in the rush of the moment in a corner store just this morning, did little to put him at ease. He felt the needle-like pricks of a headache coming on.
Sooner or later it would have ended, anyway. She didn't want him for a friend. Not him or his baggage. It was best if she didn't have to deal with it. He could barely deal with it himself, so how could he thrust it upon another person?
Laura should be out hanging with her best friends, out there in the real world, having fun and just being happy. He had to stop her before she made a big mistake.
He brought the cigarette to his face, twirling it around in his pondering fingers, until, seconds later, he crushed it and smothered the burn he felt in his palm. He opened his hand. It reminded him of a butterfly's death at the hands of a child. His palm was sooty and a circular increment of skin was red and throbbing painfully now that it was exposed to the air.
There was some evidence to surmise that Laura had touched up the place. The space was a little cleaner, and the tables and floor weren't littered with plastic bottles and cans and empty bags of chips. No pizza boxes shoved into the corner of the kitchenette. More light in the house on account of the curtains being pulled back.
Laura must have felt the need to clean up for him before she left. How embarrassing. A girl he hadn't seen in more than a decade, spending the night and then cleaning up his apartment in the morning before she went off to classes.
He still remembered her sly smile, her arms akimbo. “You need a woman's touch so badly in here..”
Maybe he did. But he wasn't about to let Laura do it anymore.
And then the dreaded knock came.
James abruptly dusted off his hand and whisked it from side to side, as if that would get it to stop stinging. He made his way to the door and hid the offending hand behind his back.
Victoria smiled. All of the strain had gone from her face. She had done her hair for him, apparently. Her normally short, wavy black hair was now curled at the ends and she went into lighter, peach tones for her make-up. To top that off she wore a sleeveless, black, v-neck shirt that tied at the back and a pair of blue skinny jeans. She even had on black high heels.
James hoped he was looking at her with a normal expression. Victoria always looked beautiful, but this must be her alluring way of making an apology.
“You look very nice.” James said quietly.
“Thanks. You look like you just came home from work. Don't you want to change out of that?”
He shrugged. “Um.. Doesn't matter.”
“Why are you being so quiet?” she paused. “Look, I told you not to worry about it.”
“It's..not that.” Well, part of it was that, but also.. “I'm just a little tired.”
“Another nightmare?” Victoria took herself to the couch and leaned on the armrest, placing her hands casually on her lap.
“No. I didn't tell you.. I met someone I hadn't seen in a very long time.”
Victoria's brow rose. “And?”
“Her name is Laura. We met in Silent Hill. I just don't... I don't think she should come around anymore.”
Victoria's expression grew serious. She stood and put her hand to James' cheek. “Why? Was she a friend of Mary's? Is that it?”
“...Yes. But that's not the problem. At least, I don't think so..”
“Okay..” she rubbed his temple with her thumb. James normally would have pulled away from her and insisted that he didn't need any help. He might even have yelled at her to leave. But now, he was too weak to swat her hand away.
“It's just.. I don't think I can be around another woman like that. I don't trust myself anymore.”
“James?” she stepped back. “What are you saying? That you think you might hurt her or something?”
“I don't want to burden her, Vicky. She's too young to be worrying about someone like me. I shouldn't even have talked to her. I should have just walked away.”
“This isn't good, James. You should be able to meet people from your past and talk to them without being bombarded by these feelings. This is what I tried to get across the other day. The fact that you don't talk to your father, that you're still uncomfortable with..”
He was already turning away from her touch, which told her that he was putting his wall up and was about to get surly and defensive.
“What I mean to say is, you don't need to feel this way anymore. Laura hasn't seen you in years, I'm sure, so this is practically a fresh start. Did you meet her just yesterday?”
“Well, that's a good thing, isn't it? The fact that she wants to be friends with you is good. This is a healthy way to acknowledge your past and finally begin to accept it. You need this.”
“No, she doesn't need this. She doesn't need me.”
“You can't keep pushing people away like this. You'll only end up hurting yourself more. If you can't confront these things, it won't look good for your evaluation..”
“Screw the evaluation!” James burst. “This isn't about me, alright? This is about her! I don't want to cause her any more pain than I already have!”
Victoria was rigid. She had dealt with his outbursts many times before, and this definitely wasn't the worst of them. But what turned these conflicts into sheer stalemates was his persecution complex, his harsh guilt that had him hurt those around him time and time again. These were the words that James fed her when she confronted him about intentionally avoiding Frank. He broke down and told her that his father's face had said it all. Said that he couldn't possibly take away the pain from all he'd done. That he was irredeemable.
It was this attitude that had lost him so many friends over this past year, the reason he simply drifted from everyone he knew. It was a vicious cycle. Laura probably had done nothing to make him believe that he would end up hurting her, but in his mind, there existed a reality where he was some kind of negative force that contaminated things it made contact with.
She didn't want to believe it at first, but if he kept thinking this way, he would end up at the hospital whether they both liked it or not.
And this was exactly what he didn't want to hear. Perhaps what he didn't care to hear.
But she had to keep trying. So many others had simply given up on him, but the fact that she was his probation officer put his self-condemning habits at a disadvantage. He had to deal with her regardless. Victoria only hoped that, through their experiences together, both good and bad, he would somehow learn to be a real person again. To heal.
Still, the problem remained. Maybe James knew he didn't want Laura around anymore, but did Laura?
“Hey, do you have the homework from yesterday?” Katelyn asked.
“Oh, yeah, I do. I don't think it's all correct, though.”
“It doesn't matter. I just need a numbers 7 and 9.”
“Ok. So is Brian coming over again today?”
“Yeah. Where were you last night?”
She smiled warily. “Um.. That's an interesting story. I was at the station yesterday, and I didn't tell you this, but for the past couple of days I was looking for this person that I met years ago..”
“Oh no. You weren't stalking them were you?”
“No.” she giggled. “I just saw him by chance the one day, and I wasn't sure if it was him, so I never went up to him and said 'hi' until last night. It's just it's been ten years—”
“Yeah, but did you sleep with him?”
“Augh! That's gross, Katelyn. He's a full grown man!”
“Then what were you doing with him, then? How did you get to sleep over his house? It was just the way you were putting it—”
“I didn't put it any way! It was just like a friendly thing. It was too late to go back out.”
“But you had your key with you.”
"I know, but..!” she sighed. “I didn't wanna go home.” Laura playfully crossed her arms and looked away, amused that the situation sounded so dirty. “It's really not like that, trust me.”
“I know, I'm just playing with you.”
“Things were a little weird this morning, though. I just wish he would have woken me up before he left..”
They first met all those years ago, in a foggy, abandoned ghost town.
She wasn't too keen on Eddie. One could tell how aimless and simple-minded he was. She lost him quite a lot. And when they crossed paths he only went on about some guy and his dog, the football team, the players, their cruel jokes..
Occasionally, she saw an older girl walking around the town, appearing just as aimless as Eddie was, although significantly more scared and troubled by unknown things.
And then there was James. James, that dirty, clumsy, fumbling fool. He was like Eddie and the other girl, running around and searching for elusive answers. She thought he was so pitiful. Now he wanted to make up to Mary? After all he had done?
She originally wanted to find Mary and have them both go away together, leaving stupid James to scratch his head like a confused monkey while she finally got to have the kind, beautiful, perfect mother she had been declined since birth.
She already resented James from the beginning. Countless times, Mary told her, “James is coming today. You'll finally get to meet him,” but he never came. It was from the broken, sadly reproached look on Mary's face that she began to hate him—the cold, absent, faceless husband.
But through their encounters, she came to realize that he wasn't the callous person she imagined him to be. He was probably in about as much anguish mentally that Mary had been in physically. It showed painfully in his solemn, detached demeanor, his stained clothes, his breathless determination.
Only when she got older did she realize that he had been worried sick about her and practically chased her all around town to protect her from getting hurt. Even after she stepped on his hand and locked him in that room for a transgression so small.. His fatherly concern and his forgiving nature ended up having quite an impression on her.
When she saw him in the hotel room, he was bleeding pretty badly from his shoulder and he was wounded somewhere on his right arm. He didn't seem to care about it at all. He had his head down, turned away from the static blaring from the TV.
Even after he told her what he had done to Mary, her hatred of him was only disguised hurt.
At that age, she didn't have a clear concept of the act of murder; it was just something that greedy, horrible people did to unsuspecting innocents.
Mary's last letter cleared the air, and was ultimately cathartic. It helped her come to terms with James' actions. Yes, he had his selfish reasons, but in doing so, he released her from her pain. She was free.
Now it was James who needed to be released from his own pain.
She just didn't know when it was going to happen—if it ever did.
“I haven't seen her in the news since,” James commented. “Cybil isn't a interesting topic anymore, I suppose.”
“Well, they probably just..”
“Committed her.” James finished, nodding bitterly.
“They did not.”
“How do you know?” he countered. “They probably put her there because she told them the truth.”
Victoria held her tongue. This was just the other side of James' coin. He was a person, and he had his moods. Hopefully, this would pass. Right now, she was trying to focus on not encouraging his notions. Likely, in a few days, he would stop his dark talk and be his usual quiet, sarcastic, and stand-offish self.
“You could look online and see if they have anything more on her.”
James only huffed.
Victoria drew another sip of her coffee, pensive.
“James. I want you to talk to Laura today. And I want you to tell her that you're gonna be busy for a while, but you'll see her again soon.”
“Did you listen to anything I said before? I told you she's not coming around anymore.”
“You're feeling this way now, but in a few days, you won't be. And then you'll regret pushing her away. That's why I'm telling you to say that—because I know if you completely cut the cord, you're the one who'll be hurting more in the long run.”
James opened his mouth, but Victoria only held a finger to his lips.
“Just please..trust me.”
Back at the subway platform, James sat down on the very bench they had talked on last night, and waited. Laura would be here soon after classes. He knew, like the rest of them, she couldn't take a hint and still wanted to hang out. He had to just tell her. Maybe it wouldn't make sense to her, but she'd forget him soon enough anyway.
Hopefully, he'd forget himself eventually and could, at some point, pass through this life like water, and never have to feel again.
The cars whizzed by like lizards, and people went about their business as per usual. No one paid mind to him.
Sometimes he felt as if he were just a hollow shell, a doll of a person, looking through the mirror and seeing nothing. The people he saw on the streets everyday had something that he suspected he hadn't been born with. He was never very normal anyway. He was always the quiet, awkward one—yet, so was Mary. She was also pristine and lovable, and absolutely his.
But never. Never again.
“James?” Laura nudged his arm. She hadn't sat down, and only just approached him. “Are..you ok?”
“Laura..” he trailed off. His heart began beating in his ears.
“Were you waiting here for me? How come you just didn't call?”
“I..” Now he was tongue tied. Great. Why had he come here anyway? He didn't have to listen to Victoria. He could have just never come here again.. Take the long way to work every day. Whatever it took to—
“James, you're scaring me.” Laura still had her hand on his shoulder. “You look kinda spaced-out.”
“I'm fine. Listen, Laura. I wanted to tell you this last night, but I didn't know how to put it..”
Laura waited for a moment, almost appearing tense, and then a flash of recognition graced her face. “Oh! Listen, I know, it was kind of out-of-nowhere to just suddenly ask to sleep over, but the truth is, I just had a lot of fun and didn't want to leave. It's like when my girlfriends—”
“That's what I was getting at,” he started. His breath hitched, his stomach was turning sour, and he began feeling sick with himself.
“I would prefer it if you...didn't talk to me anymore.”
She shrunk back, confused. “What? Why?” It almost came out as a whisper.
“I don't want to be reminded anymore, Laura.” His eyes trailed to the ground. “I can't have you in my house.”
“What are you talking about?” she cried. “I thought you liked me—I mean, we were laughing and carrying on last night and I just thought you—”
“Well I don't feel that way anymore, alright?” James stood, masking his agony behind angry eyes. “You just want to pretend to be friends with me so you can go back to your real friends and laugh with them about how neurotic I am. This is all just a joke to you.”
Lies, all of it, but he needed her to leave forever. This was the way it had to be.
“What are you saying!” Laura trembled, her small, blue eyes red-rimmed and just beginning to tear. “I can't.. I don't understand, James..” she sobbed.
James let out an involuntary gasp, about to break himself, and walked away as fast as he could to deter him from looking back or trying to repair what he had done.
“James! Where are you going?”
No answer. He just increased his pace.
Laura knew it was futile to call after him anymore. He resolutely ignored her, the distance between them growing greater and greater with every passing second. Mute, she threw one of her shaking arms around her waist and wiped at her tears with the other. The sobs kept coming, kept wracking her like a cage. What had she done wrong! Why did he have to leave!
She didn't understand..
Gradually, his black leather jacket receded from her vision, and he disappeared completely into the crowd like a ghost. She sat on the bench for long, painful minutes, staring at that crowd in disbelief, desperately trying to wish him back, to push it into his head that she needed him to come back. They couldn't leave each other like this. They just couldn't.
But he never reemerged.
Through her confusion, her helpless frustration, she couldn't believe what had just elapsed. Moreover, what had just been destroyed for not the first, but the second time. Years ago at that road, and now again in this damaged, overwrought platform, he showed her promise and then took it back with no hope of recovery.
Her blue eyes blurred, her hands thoughtlessly squeezed, her temples throbbing, she tried to assess the situation calmly, but to no avail. Her stomach wouldn't ease, her throat wouldn't unclench and let her breathe normally, and her sudden, terrible embarrassment just wouldn't let go.
The subway car stopped again at the same spot it did everyday, sliding the doors open and letting the careless throng through.
No one paid her any mind.
She couldn't think of one single place to go.