a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
The sound of a squeaky pushcart echoed through the hallways, accompanied by the efficient click of heels striding across the tiles. The twenty-something woman glanced around the library as she pushed the cart, finally coming to a stop at the biography section. She began shelving books, pausing occasionally to read a few chapters of the more interesting ones.
Within a short while, this assistant had attracted somewhat of a crowd of other twenty-somethings in the nonfiction area, only this crowd was primarily male. They lounged around on nearby chairs, the braver ones approaching the assistant to ask for book recommendations, dropping hints as to their interest in her all the while. It likely had to do with the assistant’s curled tawny hair and doe eyes, her fair skin and slim frame.
To her credit, the assistant didn’t become distracted by the attention—she kept her eyes on the books on the cart and the shelves on the wall, only speaking to answer questions. That is, until her cart tumbled to the floor, and the books with it.
“My apologies,” a deep voice said from behind her. The assistant turned, catching a glimpse of a man kneeling on the floor to pick up the fallen books. She was about to dismiss his apology, but that was before he stood up—before his beautiful face was mere inches from hers, trapping her words in her throat. Surely, there were no other words except beautiful that could be used to describe his deep russet hair, his olive skin, no trace of a blemish dusting his long nose…
The assistant stared at him for a second too long, chastising herself for doing so. Manners, manners, she fretted internally, racking her brain for something to say.
“No harm done,” she said, gesturing to herself. She hesitated, then smiled at the man. “Well, except to the books.”
The man beamed back for no reason other than to show her how attractive he was. He knew his left dimple only surfaced when he smiled, he knew the reaction he would get from it, and he knew that he wanted the reaction from this woman.
Sure enough, the assistant blushed, and this gave the man enough confidence to ask her name.
“It’s Elizabeth,” she replied shyly. “Elizabeth Herren.”
“Adam Carlson,” the man grinned, extending his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Elizabeth.”
One Year Later
“There’s something I want to ask you.”
“What is it?”
“Will you…” Adam swallowed, the noise audible in the sweet dark.
“Elizabeth, will you marry me?”
Three Years Later
Elizabeth bounced brown-eyed, chubby-faced Peony on her hip as she talked, stroking Bridget’s hair with her free hand. Adam lounged on the settee, an easy grin spreading across his face as he admired his beautiful wife, his darling twin daughters.
“Adam, are you even listening to me?” Elizabeth sighed, recognizing her husband’s distracted expression. Adam shook his head, smiling wider, and Elizabeth let out a resigned laugh as he beckoned her closer.
She laid her head on Adam’s shoulder, the place she felt safest in the world. The familiar scent of sandalwood and soap enveloped her as she relaxed against him.
They stayed that way for a while, holding each other and gazing at Peony and Bridget, who were babbling to each other on the floor.
“Thank you, Adam,” Elizabeth whispered, overcome by the moment. “For you, and for them.”
Five Years Later
That night was the start of what would be many like it in the coming months.
The evening began with an office party to celebrate both Christmas and Adam’s new promotion to the department head. Elizabeth bought a pale gold dress for the occasion, the thin fabric clinging to her slight frame like liquid. She loved it—felt years younger wearing it. She noticed that Adam couldn’t help staring. She felt beautiful.
At the party, bubbly laughs and conversation radiated throughout the rented ballroom. Elizabeth found herself among a group of friends she hadn’t seen since the twins were born, and time flew by as they traded news and gossip.
She didn’t notice that Adam had downed more flutes of champagne than one could count on one hand. Not at first.
Hours later, Adam staggered towards Elizabeth and grinned lazily, running his hands down her waist and over her hips.
“Adam,” Elizabeth hissed, pulling his hands away from her. “Stop it!”
Adam’s face contorted in rage, and he said all too loudly, “Since when am I not allowed to touch my wife?”
Elizabeth decided then that it was time to leave the party.
The ride home was intolerably silent, interrupted only by Elizabeth’s incensed outbursts. Anger rolled off her body in waves.
“What you did was disgusting, Adam!” Elizabeth scorched. She stared resolutely out the window, muttering loud enough for even the driver to hear. “You made a fool of yourself tonight. I hope you—”
A resounding crack echoed through the cramped backseat of the cab, and Elizabeth fell silent. Adam had struck her for the first time in their marriage.
It wouldn’t be the last.
Seven Years Later
“It’s not his fault, it’s not his fault,” Elizabeth murmured, hastening down the hallway in her ivory nightgown. She traced her bloodied cheek with trembling fingers. A spiritless wraith.
Seconds later, Adam stumbled into the hallway, bellowing something insensible. The glass in his hand crashed to the floor, the dregs likely to stain the tiles.
Elizabeth paled as Adam neared her, fear washing down her spine. As Adam approached, the scent of rum and unwashed clothes enveloped her, overwhelming her senses to the point where she just had to close her eyes and breathe, breathe, breathe, and she was in the library again, young and trusting and hopeful, back when Adam was everything to her…
“Where are you right now?” Adam’s harsh voice that wasn’t really Adam’s made Elizabeth’s eyes jolt open.
“Where are you, Elizabeth?”
He grabbed her shoulders and shook her—his little rag doll—and she desperately pulled away, only for Adam to reach for her again.
Silent tears streamed down Elizabeth’s moonstone face, and she must have made a panicked sound because Adam’s hold on her suddenly loosened.
Slowly, Elizabeth raised her gaunt eyes, dilated pupils wary like a cat’s. In the moonlight, she could see that Adam had only taken an instant to turn repentant. He shielded her face with his hands as he pressed three penitent kisses to her temple. One each for his gentle angel, his graceful dove, and his delicate porcelain doll.
All for Elizabeth.
“Please leave me,” he said, anguish making his voice crack. “You deserve better. I can’t change who I am.”
But Elizabeth shook her head, unrelenting on this. She leaned Adam’s head on her shoulder as he shook, supporting him. She would be the strong one now. Strong enough for the both of them.
“You can change, Adam,” she whispered. “You will. I know you will, for me and our daughters.”
And at that moment, Adam knew Elizabeth would never extract her soul from his.
* = Editors' Choice work
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