a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
The library was an ordinary one—complete with the scent of musty books and the even mustier scent of the wizened librarian muttering to himself behind the counter.
In front of the librarian, however, a twenty-something assistant was shelving books. This assistant had attracted somewhat of a crowd of other twenty-somethings, only this crowd was primarily male. 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. That is, until the 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. Surely, there
were no other words except beautiful that could be used to describe his deep russet hair, his olive skin, no hint 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,” the pretty assistant said, gesturing to the cart. “Well, except to the books.”
She smiled at the man, and he 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…” He 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 listening to me?” Elizabeth sighed. Adam shook his head, smiling wider, and Elizabeth let out a resigned laugh as he beckoned her closer.
“What are you doing then?” She asked, nestling her head in the crook of Adam’s arm. “Admiring you,” Adam replied, kissing her. Elizabeth blushed and pulled away.
“The children,” she reminded him, tracking her eyes to Peony and Bridget who were babbling to each other on the floor. Adam’s lips curved into a devilish grin as he kissed Elizabeth again.
“What about them? They’re two, Bethy.”
Elizabeth hesitated for a moment, then shifted closer to Adam, consenting. He held her close as they gazed at their daughters.
“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 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 glasses 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. “Not here. Not now.”
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 clutched at her cheek with her trembling fingers. A spiritless wraith.
Seconds later, Adam stumbled into the hallway, his suit crumpled and dirty. He bellowed something insensible and staggered towards Elizabeth. The glass in his hand crashed to the floor, the dregs likely to stain the tiles.
Elizabeth paled as Adam neared her, the scent of rum and unwashed clothes enveloping 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. She dared a glance at his beautiful face, beholding his gaze that had only taken an instant to turn repentant. Adam looked horrified at himself, and shame washed down Elizabeth’s spine for tempting him, for making him into this.
Adam’s lip quivered, which Elizabeth could see plainly in the moonlight, and he pressed a penitent kiss to her temple. She raised her gaunt eyes, dilated pupils wary like a cat’s. How different she’d become, how doubtful. Adam shielded her face with his hands, tenderly holding her in place.
“I’m sorry, my love,” he said, desperation making his voice crack. Silent tears streamed down Elizabeth’s face, guttural noises coming out from her throat as she sobbed.
“It’s every night,” she finally whispered, her voice quivering.
“Leave me, Elizabeth,” Adam pleaded. “You deserve better. I can’t change who I am.” But Elizabeth shook her head. “You can change, Adam. You will.”
And at that moment, Adam knew Elizabeth—his glorious angel, his graceful dove, his delicate porcelain doll—would never extract her soul from his.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.