Rays of sun stream in through the windows and delicately brush against your face. You flip the pillow over to the cold side, desperate for a few more minutes of sleep. The honking of horns and squealing of tires ring through your ears and you finally push away the duvet covers to place your feet on the floor. The sharp iciness of the wood springs your eyes open and you tiptoe over to the mirror. Every morning, when you first glance at it, you see a little piece of advice for the day. Yesterday it was ‘take the train home’, which saved you from waiting two hours down the M4.
You splash your face with cold water from the sink and prepare yourself to take in the advice. Your face drops; your eyes cloud over. Three little letters have the ability to leave your throat fighting for air and to send tremors through your fingers. You place your hands on the sink, taking deep breaths in: you still have to go to work. Mum needs the money for her treatment. As you wrack your brain about what to do, the thick, black letters glare at you from the mirror –
As your day at the office draws to a close, you steal away into the ladies’ bathroom. You try to ignore the sickly stench of Chanel wafting around. Instead, you draw your eyes to the cigarette near the hand dryer, and watch the smoke softly curl into a spiral, then disappear completely. You wish you could disappear right now.
You slip off the skirt and blouse clinging on to your frame and pull on your running leggings. As you tie the laces on your trainers, you do not realise that you are not alone.
You do not hear the soft thud of a boot against the toilet seat. You do not quite catch the creak of a knee as it squats into place. You know you have to run, but you do not think of who to run from instead. You pack your things into the rucksack and leave it behind the bins, to come find tomorrow morning.
If you do come back.
The sun doesn’t shine anymore. You look up at the angry, clouds as you leave the office building, and hope that the stars come out.
You always loved stars. It was Mum’s birthday 24 years ago, when Dad told you to look up at the stars and wait for him. He told you that he would be back when the last star stopped shining. What you did not know, was that he meant when the last star finally stopped shining: big difference. You waited up that night, propping your elbows up against the windowsill and resting your head in them. The sun fell like a sinking stone beneath the trees, but you did not fall asleep. The first night stars peeped out from the velvety, night sky, but you did not fall asleep. Mum begged and begged for you to go to bed, but still you did not fall asleep. You watched as the last star disappeared and streaks of pink painted the sky. You rushed to the front door and screamed, “Daddy!”, but he did not reply.
You thought he was playing hide and seek, so you ran around the front porch to the shed, but found no one. You shouted and shouted, until your throat felt as if it were being punctured by dozens of metal nails. You realised he was not coming, when Mum told you that he was not your real dad. Mum cried when you asked why both of your dads did not want you.
She told you that your real dad was a bad man; she left him when she was pregnant, to protect you from him. You asked her why he was a bad man, but she told you not to ask any more questions. All she said was that if you ever came across him – run.
You went to bed around midday, but instead of falling asleep, watched the angry grey clouds from the tiny window of your bedroom.
Now, those same clouds scream your name as you pace down the street, begging you not to walk anymore; but you do not hear them. You hurry into a café nearby and hastily order a latte. You apologise when your hands fumble and you drop your credit, your cheeks reddening ever so slightly. You observe the rest of the café: the old woman biting into a scone and flicking through the newspaper, the two small children ripping open sugar packets, the teenage furiously tapping away at her keyboard. How peaceful they all seem. You watch tentatively as the barista shapes the foam into a heart, but all you can see are the ominous, black letters in your mirror.
For a second, you feel angry, hot breath against the nape of your neck – the next second it is gone. You tell yourself that it is nothing and slowly sip, cherishing the rich, warm liquid running down your throat. As you drink, you do not see the black figure four tables away, stirring his cup of tea and scanning you thoroughly. You do not see him pull out a photograph from his jacket pocket, and look at you, then back at the photo. You do not see him nod, nor do you watch the corners of his mouth pulling slightly upwards.
Your cup is empty. As you tuck in your chair, you do not feel his steely glare piercing into you. The cold, winter air slaps you in the face as you hobble out into the street; pulling your coat tighter around yourself, you make the decision to take the shortcut back home.
The park is completely empty, apart from a few joggers here and there: it is dark after all. Only the sound of your footsteps cut through the silence. But this time you hear it too – you hear the unmistakable sound of two pairs of footsteps. You hear everything now. The swish of a leather jacket and an inhale of breath that does not belong to you.
Now you have no choice.