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Seven Years Before Dorian Knocks
Plant your foot to the right.
She stared at the ground, which was ever so slightly out of focus, and moved the foot to please the voice in her head. It kept her standing. And standing was good. Whatever this was, being flat on her face wasn’t going to improve the situation.
There was, after all, drunk in public; and lying in the gutter drunk in public. She was happy with the former and hoped to avoid the latter.
Not that this was reeeeally being drunk. At least, that was the logic that she-
She turned, stumbled forward, and threw up into the bushes.
Adrian Randolph, her headmaster’s dogsbody and aide-du-camp made a tutting noise, but no further comment. After he had fetched her from her room, he had said nothing. Whatever was going to happen to her, apparently she didn’t deserve courtesy from any of the school’s staff.
She looked out over the lawn, at the pristine statues, kept in perfect condition by the school’s silent army of custodial staff. Beyond that, the boom near the security hut raised.
Stef took a step to the left, and tried to see-
Her stomach twisted as a familiar Jaguar slowly drove up towards the school and parked. Understated. Everything about it was understated, at least where he was concerned. Racing green. He wasn’t in the passenger seat, which wasn’t unusual for this car. This one, he liked to drive himself, pompous little driving gloves and all.
And it meant he was there alone. Timothy, his valet, his gentleman’s gentleman, wasn’t much of a buffer, but his presence did tend to make James just that little more civil in public.
His absence meant – as if there had been any doubt – that civility was so far out the window that it could be seen from Cork.
‘Miss Mimosa,’ Mister Randolph said and left, the heavy door to the school booming as he left her alone with her father.
She looked down, staring at her shoes and the little bit of puke splatter as the driver’s door the Jaguar slammed, and he approached.
Crying had never been a wise move growing up. James didn’t care for her emotions, and Mother was confused by them. Perfect little dolls and perfect little girls shouldn’t cry, not when they had every reason in the world to be happy.
Crying had never been wise, so she’d had to find ways to control it.
She imagined a dam of ice behind her eyes, freezing the tears in place, the mental energy of building the structure, imagining the engineering that went into it, of how thick the ice needed to be-
A hand came down on her shoulder, and she tried not to react. It didn’t hurt. But- But it was control. He’d always been able to control her with a word or a look. A quiet, measured tone that told her he controlled her world. Blue eyes staring at her like she was worthless. That she was nothing, he could ever love. That she wasn’t worth the scant seconds he spent interacting with her.
And worse was his usual calm was made more terrifying by the fact that was capable of violence. The few and far times he’d hit her served as a constant background threat. Behave or suffer. Behave or else.
At least he couldn’t take away her books anymore. Bar her from reading. Restrict her toys to whatever her mother felt was appropriate. Reduce her down to the silent, pretty doll that her mother had wanted.
Except he could. He could do whatever he wanted.
He had enough power to have her hung in public and get away with it. Quietly disappearing a body was probably easy when you-
He removed his hand, bent slightly and pressed a handkerchief into her hand. ‘You’re going to clean the sick off your shoes because god help you if you mess up my carpeting.’
Her father turned on his heel, and walked back to the car, pulling on his driving gloves as he did so.
‘I wish I could just run away.’
Inside voice. You have to keep your inside voice.
‘I can’t-’ Her voice cracked. ‘I just-’
Bend down. Clean your shoes. Cooperate. Just…cooperate.
Her mouth slammed shut, and she wasn’t entirely sure which side of her had done it. She knelt and quickly cleaned her shoes, spit-polishing until they were as good as they could be.
She heard the passenger window wind down. ‘Put that in your pocket. Do not hand it back to me. And get in the back. I don’t want to be any closer to you than I have to be.’
The window closed and all sound disappeared from the world. Everything- Everything disappeared. She placed her hands on the ground and stood, feeling everything shift and sway. Nothing was real. Nothing could be real. Her shoe scraped on the stone step, the sound unreal and nothing against the void of sound that was everything else in the universe.
She quickly wiped at her eyes, placed the dirty handkerchief into her uniform skirt pocket, and moved towards the car like it was her personal hearse.
Stef opened the door with two fingers, touching it as little as possible. He hated when she touched his things like she was going to infect it with Stef-ness. Like whatever she interacted with would always remind him of her.
She sat, taking up as little space on the seat as possible. Old coping mechanisms started to flow back into her soul, retrieved from the mental equivalent of cloud storage, dusty and rusty with disuse.
One more encounter with her father. She could handle it. She’d always survived. One more round of admonishments. One more round of being told she was less than dirt. It didn’t matter. She didn’t matter. He didn’t matter.
It took twenty minutes of silent driving for him to finally deign to speak to her.
‘You aren’t my problem anymore.’
That much was true. Aside from glimpses at some family functions, he’d been entirely absent since the car accident. With her mother gone, he’d had no need to keep up the pretence that he had even the slightest love for her.
And that had been fine, even freeing.
With school, she could be herself. Even if she still didn’t know who that was. And wasn’t sure how much of her was worth being, with how much of a head case she was. It always seemed like she was either half a person or two people. Either one wasn’t enough. Both were too much.
She had to pretend to be sane. To be sober. To not care that she was alone except for herself.
She didn’t have to pretend to be a perfect little doll. She didn’t have to pretend she didn’t care about learning. About devouring knowledge. Even if…even if now it was hard to see a point in learning anything.
‘Your grandparents have been able to manage you,’ her father continued. ‘A good school. A comprehensive education. They even keep you for most holidays. You’re not in anyone’s way.’
“But” there was a “but” coming, and she knew what it was.
‘But,’ he said, as he turned and headed down a long, winding road. ‘But you aren’t being managed lately. Ernest will only do so much, will only tolerate so much for Charlotte’s only child. And now, you worthless piece of shit, I have to be involved in your life.’
More silent driving.
‘I assume,’ she said, her voice even more gravelly than usual, ‘that you don’t actually want me to say anything. Or apologise. Or give an excuse. So I won’t bother you with platitudes.’
He gave a single nod.
‘If it were just one thing, it would be different. Your school is used to lazy scions, drunk heirs, and those who intend on just living off the family purse whilst providing a few stories for the papers. If you were quiet, it wouldn’t be a problem. But you’re so very good at being a problem, aren’t you, Stephanie?’
She focused on her reflection in the window. ‘Tell me when you want me to say something.’
There was a bump as the car turned off the main road, and started up a picturesque, winding path. ‘I want you to understand,’ he said, his voice level, ‘that people like us don’t threaten. People without power threaten. People with no intention of following through threaten. I don’t need to posture, I just explain the consequences of actions.’
He stopped the car at the top of the lane – a small lookout and a picnic area. James pulled off his driving gloves, checked the time on his phone, then stepped out of the car. He stood with the door open for a moment, seeming to admire the view, then slammed the door so hard that the car shook.
I want to die.
Don’t make wishes like that. Not right now.
James knocked against her window, and she looked up, hating that she could see herself in the shape of her face, hating that people could tell that they were father and daughter. ‘Out.’
There would be consequences if she didn’t obey.
She released her seatbelt and again used two fingers to open the door. She stepped out, hoping that she was planting her feet on real ground, hoping that there was no more puke rumbling around her system, hoping that everything would just end.
James had moved to stand near the front of the car. It was dangerous to assume that he wanted her any closer than she needed to be, it was dangerous to assume that she shouldn’t follow the implied instruction.
She took a few steps towards him when he turned back to look at her, she wished he hadn’t.
There was nothing human in his face. No emotion. None of the veneer of being a gentleman that he always wore when other people were around.
He really could kill her and get away with it, and-
James straightened, walked towards her, and grabbed her arm, and swung her against the front panel of the car. She stumbled, her feet scraping her purchase as his hand sank into her hair and he slammed her head down on the bonnet.
Her chin took the brunt of the first impact, and with the second, she was sure that the skin was split.
She couldn’t scream. She had no breath. And no one would hear her.
He yanked on her head and slammed her down again, the side of her face copping the impact this time, and he held her there, her face searing against the engine-heated metal.
She squirmed, but he held her, his other hand pressing down on her back, keeping her in place.
The dam crashed down, and she cried.
James gave no reaction as she cried, as she struggled to lift her face away from the hot car, as she tried to go limp and slip out of his grip.
She was in pain, and he didn’t care. He’d never cared, but he’d-
‘When your mother died, if I could have done anything to trade your death for hers, I would have, a thousand times over. But even to Death, you are worthless.’
James adjusted his grip, fingers digging tighter into her hair, pulling some of the less-resilient strands from her scalp, then lifted her, and slammed her cheek into the car.
‘Now. All this time. You’re worth nothing to me. But you’re my daughter, and someday, that might mean something.’ He slammed her head one final time, then let her go, leaving her to fall boneless to the ground.
Everything hurt. Her face was wet. Her neck was wet. Tears, spit, blood. Any of it. All of it.
The accident had been- Horrifying. Something she couldn’t go a day without thinking about. The memories were, unfortunately, clear. There’d been the sound of…the truck never sounded like a truck in her memory; it was always some huge, otherworldly noise. There was the noise, and then there was pain – not the kind of pain that reflected how mangled her body was, how desperately she’d been injured – a body that rescue workers had initially assumed was a corpse.
The most pain anyone could bear, and it had been so distant. Pooling blood had felt like a warm blanket. Twisted metal embedded in her flesh had been the faint pokes of leaning against a tree with rough bark.
She’d been scared, but she hadn’t cried.
And now, she was crying in the dirt.
Her father towered over her, Yggdrasil with a slight frown.
If she moved, she’d anger him. If she stayed still, she’d anger him. If she continued to breathe-
‘When you’re tired of making an embarrassment of yourself, join me.’
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