The Lonely Stranger: Part Four
I slammed the door behind me, breathing heavily.
The door was my relief. The door was my shield. If you heard the rumours, it's all true. You really can't enter a Jones's room under any circumstance, even if the owner of the room invites you. It's practically crime here. Personally, I think that Asheton just wanted a reason to have spare time in his room to write and sleep without being bothered, not that I'm complaining.
I slid down against the wood, crumpling pitifully into the shag carpet. My hands were shaking, my chest was hyperactively filling and emptying, and my earstalks were hanging low in my eyes, shading my face from the light peeking through the one window in the room, which I had attempted to cover with dark black curtains.
'They found me. They found me.' My heart beat those words over and over. 'How on Neopia did they find me?!'
Fyora knows what would happen now. If that Grundo went back to Virtupets and told them he had successfully delivered the message, they'd know exactly where I am. They'd come for me! It would start all over again! And this time, Ifflarb wasn't around to protect me, to explain to the Grundos why I ran. And if I knew the current leader of Freedom, she'd start a war to 'fulfill Ifflarb's wishes' as it would be justified. She was insane. She was a nightmare.
"I won't..." my voice came out as a wretched whimper, something so very un-C.K. "I won't go back..."
This was exactly what she wanted. She wanted me to come back to the Station, to finish what I started. I wouldn't have it.
Gun shots. Grundos. Smoke. Leaving him behind. I remembered every moment of that day I agreed to help them. It was the very day I agreed to never help them again.
"I need to..." I looked around frantically. "To... to take a walk."
Yes, a walk. A walk would clear my head. And I could go now. Asheton wouldn't question where I was going, or when I would be back. In fact, he wouldn't question me if I were to up and leave one day.
I grabbed my favourite hoodie and slipped it on, opening the door. As I came to the door, Gray came up to me, her notebook in hand.
'Where are you going, sister?'
"Out," I grunted, yanking the door open.
And as she was taught by the imbecile we all adored so much, she did not stop me.
Sitting on top of Sunset Hill wasn't too awful, despite all the sunshine that gave me quite a headache. It was the highest hill in Brightvale, and in the center of the beautiful Sunset Park. There was a lone, tall, wise tree on the very top of the hill, one that I enjoyed sitting under occasionally. Around me, colourful poppies peeked from the grass, swaying gently in the breeze. It was... nice? Yeah, I guess so.
Sitting there helped me get away from it all. Brightvale was supposed to be a place where I could forever forget who I was and what I had done before, wasn't it? Asheton had promised that much.
So why did I find myself constantly reminded of that place?
I heard a leaf crunch. To my left was that Plushie Kacheek, short and slightly stout, smiling sadly. "Gray told me you left," Lashikee said. I looked away. She forced herself back into my line of sight. "I figured you'd be here. It's where I always used to come my first few years with Ash. I used to think about things a lot. Like, 'why'd he pick me?' and 'can I really trust him?' I used to wonder what would happen next. But then... I stopped wondering. Ash's been the one consistent thing in my life in a long time."
I said nothing. The Kacheek took the absence of insults as an invitation to sit.
We were quiet for a while. I sat glaring at the view of Brightvale, and Lashikee sat watching me with worry, her tail flicking back and forth occasionally. Finally, the midget found her voice again.
"Will you tell me?" she whispered, not daring to move a muscle.
I sighed in agitation, turning my head to look at her. "Tell you what?" It came with an edge that I hadn't spoken with in a long time. I was never really angry normally, just a tad annoyed. I almost felt the need to take it back, but I've never taken anything back in my life. Why start now?
Lashikee winced at my response, but didn't drop the subject like I wished she would. "Everything."
I turned away, searching the horizon for the large house on another, smaller hill, the house that was known as the Jones Family Manor.
"It can be our secret," Lashikee assured, as if it made a difference. And then, she added one more word, if only for good measure, "Forever."
That was the thing I had been promised.
Asheton, two years ago, had given that gift to me, promised me that as long as I wanted it, 'forever' would be mine. He had promised that as long as I wanted to be one of the Jones family, I would be allowed that 'grand honour.' It was how everything worked in this family. You wanted something, you had it. You made your own choices. Here, there was no 'owner,' there was just friends and family. But now, today, having that promise thrown at me like it was so easily kept; it made me hate Lashikee. She wasn't Asheton. She couldn't try and imitate him to gain my trust.
"Forever means nothing," I hissed.
Lashikee gaped. "But Ash said..."
I stood up, angrily, my fists balling at my sides. "Just because someone tells you something doesn't mean it's true! You of all people so know that a promise like 'forever' is just a sugar-coated lie!" I thought Ifflarb and I would be friends forever, and that had proved a lie as well. "You think just because some empty-headed, over-cheerful philosopher can spout a few fancy words that you'll never be abandoned again? Grow up, Lashikee! You and I both know the truth about forever!"
She stood up as well, deadly silent. She stepped closer to me, and her defiant silver eyes met mine. Lashikee had always been defiant; she had always been too headstrong for her own good. Then, quite suddenly, her hand came across my face. I held my cheek where she slapped me in shock. "You idiot, C.K.! You jerk! How dare you say those things about Ash! After all he's done for you-for all of us! And he may be empty-headed like you say, but he's all we've got left! What am I supposed to believe in?! What about Luc and Draggy, who have no parents?! What about Gray, replaced?! What about Duno?! What are they supposed to keep living for?!" She glared through her freshly shed tears.
"Think about that." With that, my sister turned on her heel and stomped down the hill.
Standing there on that hill I felt very unsettled. Lashikee had just 'pwned' me, as Asheton would say. The note from Freedom felt very heavy in my pocket, so I fished it out. I glanced over the words, not really reading them at all.
'Could this be...?'
It began to dawn on me.
'Could this be an invitation?'
Yes. An invitation to redeem myself of that time. Yes. It was all so clear now. This was, in a cosmic way, all Ifflarb's doing. Wherever he was he was watching, inviting me to be forgiven for abandoning him, for abandoning the Station. My fingers twitched. The note crumpled in my hand easily.
I turned back to the horizon, slowly melting into an afternoon's gold.
"Alright then, friend," I muttered, heading down the path towards the esteemed Jones Manor.
'Be ready. I'm coming for you.'
As I stuffed my backpack with food and other supplies, Lashikee hovered over me, her eyes full of regret and worry. I could tell she was worried that her explosion from before had me leaving for good.
"Where are you going?" she whispered.
Asheton chuckled. "Now don't ask a question like that Lashikee. Isn't it entirely obvious?"
I stood up. I slung the backpack around my shoulder and took a moment to stare at my family. I remembered when I looked in a mirror years ago, I saw a dirty, scarred Aisha girl. I saw trash. But these people didn't see me as that. These people thought I had worth. Couldn't I at least bother to prove my worth?
Asheton smiled from his seat in the kitchen, not nearly as concerned as the rest of the family. "Goodbye, Chibi Kitty Jones."
I smiled, just a small one, and then left.
I didn't look back at the Manor. I'd see it again, soon enough. Of that I was entirely sure.
To be continued...