Always & Forever

By: Lauren Crossley

Chapter One

This is exactly what I needed. The water is so hot, it burns my skin as it gently laps against my body. The music coming from my earphones is helping me to relax and I close my eyes and enjoy the beautiful melody of Yiruma’s ‘River Flows in You.’ I don’t normally listen to music whilst I’m in the bath but earlier tonight I was craving peace and solitude like never before.

Whenever I listen to this piece of music I somehow manage to find the freedom I so ardently desire. My imagination allows me to leave this house; it transports me to another time and place, an unidentifiable location where I don’t have to think about him, a place where he doesn’t exist.

I shake my head forcefully; I don't want to think about him right now, all I want is to forget him. I shut my eyes and try to rid myself of the tension that I feel, once again I attempt to immerse myself in the music that’s playing through my earphones. Unfortunately, it proves to be harder than I thought. I’m unable to rid my mind of the unwanted anxiety I feel creeping up inside of me and I’m acutely aware of the reason for my struggle. Knowing that he’ll soon be home is enough to unsettle me for the rest of the night.

I’ve been begging my mum to get a lock for the bathroom door since I was thirteen, at least then I’d have some privacy. Unfortunately, that decision has never been hers.

I’m suddenly startled by the sound of the front door slamming downstairs. I groan inwardly, knowing the meaning of that noise. It means he’s home.

I decide to give myself a few more minutes before I get out and go downstairs. I know I’m just delaying the inevitable but I need to mentally prepare myself for another evening with him. I’ve just stepped out of the bath and wrapping a towel around myself when I hear his big, booming voice yell at me from downstairs.

“Bethany, I’m home! Come on down when you’re ready.”

I sigh irritably; the sound of his voice actually makes my skin crawl.

“I’m in the bathroom, Dad. I’ll be out in a second.” I reply quickly, knowing that it’s best to not keep him waiting.

It’s as though I’m two different people. There’s the real me, the one I keep hidden and then there’s the other version of myself, the one my father believes to be real. Over the years I’ve become an expert at playing the role of my fraudulent self, sometimes I lose track of who I’m supposed to be.

“Hurry up, Bethany! I have some good news to tell you.”

I jump when I hear his voice from the other side of the bathroom door. I didn’t even hear him make his way upstairs. If he opens that door I really will scream. He gives me no space or privacy whatsoever and it’s enough to drive a sane person crazy. Not that I’m an expert on sanity.

“I’m coming, Dad. I’ll be two minutes, why don’t you go downstairs and see mum?”

“Ok, sweetheart, don’t be long.”

I breathe a sigh of relief when I hear his footsteps descend down the stairs. I still can’t believe how gullible he is when it comes to my lying. Does he really believe that I have any interest in anything he has to say? I’ve hated him for years and for some reason he’s too stupid to realise it.

I hastily pull on a T-shirt and some jogging bottoms before making my own way downstairs, raking my fingers through my hair and willing myself to play along with this façade until I can make my excuses and go to bed.

I need to lock the real me away now. I have to become everything that he wants me to be and embody everything that he expects of me.

I try to avoid any time alone with him as much as I can. I frequently go to bed at ten o’clock and lie awake for hours, tossing and turning because I’m nowhere near tired. Going to bed so early is a small luxury for me because it means that I can escape from his watchful eyes and his constant presence. I savour the time that I spend awake in my room because as much as I hate insomnia, I hate my father more.

I make my way into the living room; the television is switched on but silent, the light from the screen flickers in the darkness and there’s no sign of my parents which means they’re in the dining room. We’re in the middle of autumn and the low temperature not only exists outside, the frosty atmosphere in this house has always been enough to leave me with a permanent chill.

“There’s my girl! What have you been doing with yourself this evening?” He asks me as I open the door to the dining room. I’m not surprised to see that he’s already sat at the head of the table, awaiting his meal.

“Just the usual, I watched a little bit of TV and I was in the bath when you arrived home. I’m thinking about having an early night, I’m really tired.” I fake a yawn, hoping to convince him of my fatigue. It’s only nine o’clock and I’m far from tired but I really can’t stand to spend the rest of the night with him.

“But it’s still early. I thought we could stay up a bit later tonight, seeing as its Friday and you’re not working in the bookstore tomorrow. You’re forgetting the exciting news I have to tell you.”

I force a smile on my face and remain silent; I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s better to just say nothing.

“Bethany, could you please set the table for me?” My mum calls through from the kitchen. I know that she’ll be in there struggling to get everything ready by herself. I go to help her but I’m stopped by the firm grip of my father’s hand around my wrist.

“Stay where you are.” He instructs me.

I sit back down and wait for him to release his hold on me.

“I should probably help mum.” I whisper quietly.

“Don’t worry about it, she can manage by herself.” He says spitefully.

I inwardly cringe at his blatant disrespect and intolerance of my mum. I’ve never understood his hatred for her and I’ve equally never understood her endurance for him. She worships the ground he walks on and I have no idea why. He’s always been her main priority, regardless of how badly he treats her.

“I’m really not that hungry.” I say, knowing it won’t make any difference. If he wants me to eat then that’s what I’ll be forced to do.

“If you don’t want what your mum’s prepared for me then she can easily fix you something else.” He replies.

Just at that moment mum walks in with his food on a tray. She looks exhausted. Her hair’s a mess from the heat in the kitchen the bags under her eyes are worse than ever. Everyday she’s forced to get up at six o’clock. She usually spends her mornings tidying the house and preparing his breakfast. She’s more like a slave then a wife.

“Dad, I’m fine. I already ate and mum’s already spent so long making your meal, it really looks delicious. I’ll sit with you whilst you eat and then you can tell me your good news.” I smile at him, feeling sick to my stomach. I saw my mum’s face when he disregarded what she’d made for him and all of the effort she must have gone to. It’s safe to say that her hard work has always gone unnoticed and unappreciated by him.

“Ellen, why don’t you go and make a start on the washing up?”

Mum pauses, now incredibly embarrassed. She was in the middle of pulling out a chair, obviously intending on joining us at the table. My father doesn’t even look at her but I force myself to witness her hurt expression. I hate to see her treated like this but I know that things would be much harder for her if I were to jump to her defence. I stopped trying to protect her a long time ago; in the end it only made things worse. He’d resent the fact that I’d try to protect her.

“That’s a good idea; it will save me a task in the morning. I’ve got the dessert prepared if either of you want any.” She gives me a weak smile before walking away. The look of rejection on her face physically causes me to hurt.

“Well, seeing as I haven’t even taken my first bite of the main course yet, I can’t say that a dessert has even crossed my mind.” He says sarcastically.

I inhale slowly, reminding myself to keep on taking deep and calming breaths. I ball my hands into fists underneath the table, digging my fingernails into my palms, hoping that the pain will distract me from the need to punch him in the face. The overwhelming desire to make him suffer is becoming stronger and stronger each day. I despise him for the way he treats her, for the way he’s always treated her.

“I’m sorry; just give me a call if you need anything.” She mumbles and continues on into the kitchen, closing the door behind her. I start to wonder whether my mum wishes she could have a lock on the kitchen door like I do for the bathroom, anything to keep him out.

“So, how have you spent your day, Angel? Done anything productive with yourself?”

I swallow the bile that rises in my throat when I hear him refer to me as ‘Angel.’ It’s always been his term of endearment for him but because it comes from him I absolutely hate it.

“Well, this morning I helped mum with some of the housework and this afternoon I spent a couple of hours reading.”

“What are you reading?” He asks whilst shovelling a forkful of food into his mouth.

“Wuthering Heights.”

“That’s excellent, are you enjoying it?”