‹ Prequel: Who Are You Now

The Wall

Everyone should have a special mug.

I could feel their gazes drilling holes into me, like four lasers burning into the sides of my skull.

“Kellin, what’s going on?” Words spoken calmly, quietly, like I was a wild animal tensed and ready to flee.

I twitched slightly at the words but kept my eyes trained on my lap dully. I could feel the remnants of my earlier episode drying on my cheeks in dual vertical stripes; the flesh around my eyes was sore and puffy like a swelling bruise.

Like those bruises he’d given me.

I sagged as though my bones had turned to lead, resting my elbows on my knees and continuing my study of the fibers of my sweatpants. I was just so tired.

“Hey.” Jaime snapped his fingers in front of my face, startling me and causing me to stiffen upright. “Snap out of it, Kels.”

Trying to steady my respiration, trying not to snap at him for making me jump, I let the warmth of his brown eyes wash over me, melting away my icy outer shell in that magical way that only he could. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding and rubbed my arms shakily.

He can only hurt you if you let him.

Somehow from the depths of my unsteady preconscious I unearthed a nugget of wisdom my therapist had sagely bestowed upon me.

Think of your fear like an almighty military force, he’d advised me, reclining on his chair in the soft glow of the orange lamp.

As always, I’d sat stiffly on the edge of my seat on the couch, messenger bag clutched tightly to my chest, my brain associating the very atmosphere of the room, calming as it may be, with thoughts of my traumatic experience. As many relaxation exercises as I’d been through, somehow when the discussion turned to the attack I always wound up edgy and anxious.

He’d continued, There is a great outer wall that your fear is trying to break down in order to reach you. If this wall is weak, then fear can overcome you quickly and without a fight. But if you strengthen this wall, then fear will be unable to break through and consume you.

I took this to mean that fear would always be there, hindered at the wall but never extinguished. I think the doctor underestimated my pessimism.

“Um . . .” I muttered now, suddenly uncomfortable as the situation at hand dawned on me.

“Was it another nightmare?” It was Chris’s turn for interrogation now, and from this blunt question it was safe to assume who fell into the the roles of good cop and bad cop in this scenario.

I could only nod, my eyes glazing over as thoughts of the nightmare (memories) threatened to overwhelm me. It felt like I was trying to fight my way through crashing ocean waves, struggling to recall more doctor-recommended survival techniques while the haunting echoes of the nightmare (“I’ll kill you!”) bubbled to the surface like stomach acid. I was feeling rather ill.

Chris sank back into his characteristic reverie while Jaime gave a small, knowing sigh and dragged the blanket off the back of the couch to drape over my shoulders.

I still had the brown bag clutched in my hands, long, sweaty fingers curled around the rough paper.

After a few seconds of silence apart from the buzz of the space heater in the corner, Jaime spoke up softly. “Can you talk about it?”

“No,” Chris answered for me. An annoying habit, but not completely unexpected from one so insightful. Sometimes I thought he knew his way around my mind better than my therapist. His eyes vast and calculating, he went on, “Just let it be. It’ll be better soon.”

Accepting this cryptic statement as if it were an everyday remark—which, coming from Christofer Ingle, was true enough—Jaime turned back to me. “Do you want anything?”


“I find chamomile and catnip tea to have a very calming effect when I’m stressed.”

“Chris, shut up for like three seconds,” snapped Jaime.

I cringed, disliking conflict at the best of times and rendered downright distraught at my best friends’ quibbles in my already-fragile state. “Tea is fine.”

Giving my back a last, comforting pat, Jaime stood up and made his way into the kitchen. I soon heard the soft sounds of the kettle being put on, while cupboard doors opened and closed as he fetched the tea infuser and my special mug. Chris believed that everyone should have a special mug, that it added something special and soothing to your beverage experience—if you were drinking from your mug, you could have a taste of home even if you were across the globe from your place of residence.

I kept mine here, at Jaime and Chris’s place; it seemed fitting, since I spent more time with them at their house than at my own cold apartment. From the kitchen, I heard the sound of the chipped blue mug being set on the counter as water boiled on the stove.

Meanwhile, Christofer shifted and stretched in his favorite leather armchair that didn’t match any of the other furniture in the house, before standing up and moving to sit by me on the sofa.

Placing one slender, tattooed hand on my knee, he said, “Do you want to sleep here tonight?”

I nodded. “I don’t think I’ll be doing a whole lot of sleeping, though, to be honest.” I smiled wryly. I felt better, now that I’d let my thoughts wander away from that awful, sickening nightmare to happier notions of special mugs and home. Not a lot better. But improvement is improvement, as my therapist would say.

Chris said, “We’ll stay up with you.”

I felt myself tense up automatically at the thought of someone sacrificing something for me, even if that something was simply half a night of sleep. The year’s events had given me more of a complex than ever about being a burden. It seemed all I could do anymore was take. Space, time, money, effort, and never give anything in return.

Then again, I didn’t have a lot to give anymore. It seemed that most of the things that had made me who I was, all of the characteristics that held value to society, had been unknowingly robbed from me.

“You don’t have to do that.” My voice was hardly more than a whisper as dark tendrils of fear began to wind their way back in, choking the life out of whatever uplifting thoughts had just started to root themselves in my brain.

“But you know we’re going to anyway.”

I turned my face away from him as a new demon—shame—crept onto my features in the form of reddening cheeks and fresh tears pricking at my eyes. I knew that Chris, in his infinite perception, could probably see through my façade easily enough, but he let my hide myself away for the moment. Whatever I needed to do to retain what little dignity I was able to at this point.

It was an alien concept to me, and a rather disheartening one, that I had been a stable, self-respecting, fully-functioning human being at one point in my life. It was terribly difficult to remember what it felt like to be me, Kellin Quinn, in the time before he came along; what was it like, to have a mindset without fear? What did it feel like to look to the future with hope and even enthusiasm? How had I managed to go through life so naïvely, so ignorant to the power that one person has over another?

What was almost worse was knowing that the people that I spent so much time with had witnessed my fall. Jaime and Chris, and Jesse, Gabe, and Jack—every one of them could recall me in my prime, when I had a good job, a good boyfriend, the possibility to join a band like I’d always wanted. And they were now forced to watch my struggle just to survive.

It was humiliating, really.

I brought a shaky hand up to my eyes, covering and rubbing them while the tears rolled silently down my cheeks, all the while hating myself for doing this. Why did I break down like this so easily? Why was my wall so weak? Why did the fear always win, time and time again? And the more times it happened, the more doubt I had that I would be able to come back. I was broken, after all; whatever I’d had going for me had been killed, snuffed out like a flame, reducing me to what I was now. Useless, pitiful, unwanted, helpless—

(—stupid whore! You son of a fucking bitch, I’ll kill you—)

“Here’s your tea. Hope you don’t mind, I went a little easy on the catnip— Oh.”

I heard the careful clunk of Jaime setting down my special mug on the glass coffee table, and then he was on my other side, one strong arm around my shoulders. I found myself leaning into him, shaking, hoping that he could somehow be there if and when I was ever put in serious danger again. Chris rubbed my knee continuously, and then my back.

The tears kept falling, and I felt sweaty and cold at the same time.

I hated this. I really did.

“You know you have a restraining order,” said Jaime after a few minutes. “He can’t come within a hundred yards of—”

“I know, I know!” I interrupted, not wanting to hear it. I didn’t want to talk about him at all; part of me wanted to deny that he’d ever existed, like a child repressing traumatic memories. I’d hardly heard his name three times since the last time in court, and it still seemed like he was all anyone could think of when I was around. His name always seemed to be on the tip of people’s tongues; I could see thoughts of him flashing through Jaime’s eyes when I came around.

This was one of the many ways that the restraining order, and jail time, and however many weeks he’s spent in the mental ward would never stop him from haunting my life.

I’d been fed the same lines over and over again ever since I’d woken up in the hospital, my last dizzying memory—watching the flashing red and blue lights before the concrete rushed up to meet me and blackness closed in—still fresh in my mind. It was all the same, just meaningless phrases of false comfort like black and white paragraphs printed on a page.

I was sick of the legal action. I was sick of being reasoned with.

Jaime pressed on softly, “I just . . . I just want you to realize that he’s never going to hurt you again.”

I felt the ridiculous urge to laugh at that statement, well-meant as I knew it was. I shook my head and drew my knees up to my chest like a protective barrier against evil. “You don’t know that.”

“Yes I do.” His response was so automatic and confident.

“You don’t get it.” My voice was nothing more than a croak, hardly louder than a whisper. “You don’t know him as well as you think you do; you don’t know the person that lay dormant in your friend for three years—” I paused to chuckle humorlessly. “—three fucking years while he waited for me.”

Jaime heaved a sigh and gave my shoulders a squeeze. I wondered if he would ever realize just how little he knew about his best friend, how much he’d been lied to and fooled into thinking that Vic Fuentes was anything other than a fucking monster. Maybe it was best that he didn’t know.

A tremor rolled through my body as that name resounded through my mind. I normally tried my absolute best to avoid saying or thinking it at all costs; sometimes I went so far as to make a humming sound like censorship whenever I sensed that it was about to come up, because I knew myself well enough to know that the very name would trigger memories like wildfire spreading across my train of thought, and the more memories were triggered the more pain and fear would seep up into my throat like gasoline feeding the flames—

“I can’t—” I moaned, pressing my palms into my eyes and wondering if fear, being the emotional equivalent of cancer, had the power to take a man’s life. Chris leaned his head on my shoulder and snaked his arm around my back, and I’d long ago lost track of how many times I’d crumpled into myself and bawled my eyes out but that certainly didn’t stop me from doing it again, and all the while the moon crawled sluggishly across the sky outside.

I can’t tell you how many nights were spent like this, each one an almost exact replication of the one before. I don’t know why or how I began to seek out Jaime and Chris’s company on nights like these, nights in which the nightmares never stop and the fear is suffocating and I can barely find the capacity or willpower to live, but I was glad I did. It’s surprisingly comfortable to be squished in the middle of their perfect ying and yang, though I doubt I would have been able to stomach being around them if they hadn’t sold Jaime’s old house and bought a newer, bigger one together. I could barely drive past the neighborhood where Jaime used to live without getting nauseating flashbacks.

I often wondered if I would still have Jesse or Jack or Gabe as friends if I’d chosen to dial one of their numbers in the middle of the night instead of Jaime’s. None of them knew the full extent of my situation. None of them knew how slow and excruciating the recovery process was turning out to be.

Now as I grappled with the ever-present fear and attempted valiantly to keep my head above the water, and my body shuddered in its fight to keep up with the racing of my thoughts, and each sob that wracked my shoulders punctuated another white-hot flashback, Jaime’s arms encircled me steadily and Chris’s hands combed through my hair. Somehow I could feel both of their heartbeats.

Perhaps this was the only thing that was keeping me going. Perhaps it was the thought that some people, miserable as they might be, didn’t have this, so who was I to give up on everything when there were still two people who refused to let that happen?

When enough hours had passed that the sun thought it was high time to break over the horizon and spread its orange watercolor over the peaks of the hills in the distance, I broke the silence. “The worst part is that I never got to tell him the truth.”

Jaime turned to look at me from his place by the fireplace, where he’d been reclining on the rug.
“What do you mean, Kels?”

I was pretty sure I’d told them this before, probably countless times, and just like always, as soon as I thought of it a whole new set of emotions flared up inside my chest. I gulped, trying to swallow down the confusion, the anger, the sheer indignity of it all.

(“I’ll cut you to pieces starting with your wrists!”)

“I mean,” I continued carefully, running the tips of my fingers delicately over the thin scars. “that Vic thought I’d given myself these cuts.”

The words seemed to hang in the air between us.

“But you didn’t,” observed Chris, watching me from his position back in his usual armchair. It wasn’t a question.

(“I’ll finish the job you started, you pathetic piece of shit!”)

It was true; I didn’t. I had suffered a horrible amount of abuse at the hands of my former babysitter when I was very young, no more than seven years old; the scars had been with me from almost my earlier memories, as much a part of me as my more recently-acquired emotional scars.

As I continued to reminiscently rub the vertical ribbons streaming up my arms, the wail of a siren rose up above whatever chorus of noise the world was making at this hour. I closed my eyes, flinching ever-so-slightly around my eyes as the sound threatened flashbacks. “No,” I answered Chris. “I didn’t.”

“And whatever made him think that you did states more about his character than yours,” said Chris, going back to the bracelet he’d been beading before I’d struck up the conversation.

“I think I’m gonna make some coffee,” Jaime stated a few moments later, grunting as he heaved himself to his feet. “Does anyone else want any?”

“I do.”

“Me too.”

Before long the three of us all had our special mugs in our hands, feeling warmed by much more than the steaming liquid within; Jaime’s mug was adorned with the classic Rolling Stones logo; Chris’s was actually a teacup, patterned in recurring loops with dainty flowers and leaves. The smell of coffee, bitter yet oddly comforting and cozy, permeated the room. I still had the blanket wrapped around my shoulders.

Although it had been a bad night for all —sleepless, exhausting, and leaving us with an aftertaste of disturbing dreams—somehow we managed to shift into “just another morning”. Before long we had turned on the TV for the morning news, and Jaime had hopped into the shower in preparation for his shift, and Chris was whipping up a vegan breakfast to the tune of an old Bob Dylan record.

And as I watched all of this unfold from my spot on the couch from which I had hardly moved in several hours, I supposed Chris was right. It would be better soon, even if “soon” was a few years away.

Improvement was improvement, after all.

And as I stood up and made my slow way into the kitchen to watch Chris cook, wincing all the while at my stiff limbs, I realized something. Even if there was no improvement—that is, even if I took a tumble from where I was now and sank back down deeper than ever before into the depths of fear and depression—I had people that would be there to catch me.

And that in itself was improvement.

“Here you are,” said Chris, setting a plate on the counter in front of me.

I accepted it with a smile, thinking that maybe my wall could hold its own after all.
♠ ♠ ♠
I love these three :)

A couple of people wanted to know what happened after Who Are You Now, so I wrote this little epilogue. I really could have posted it as another chapter, but I'm too stubborn to do that after I already declared that story complete :P

However, my main reason for writing this is that I felt like I needed to get the true story of Kellin's scars out there. I didn't want him (my version of him, obviously) to be misrepresented.

Thank you for reading, comments are appreciated as always, and I love you :)