The gloom of the deserted Manos Mansion pressed in around me, suffocating me. I sat on Christos’ bed in his empty bedroom, clutching his sketchbook to my chest in my quivering hands. His haunted words echoed in my mind.
I must brave this day
I have sealed my fate
I will touch the sky
I must die”
No! I must have read them wrong! Christos would never…
I couldn’t even think it.
My heart rabbited in my chest and threatened to seize as I re-read his lonely poem under the dim light of his bedside lamp. Christos was in dire torment. His heart was breaking. I could feel his pain as if it were my own. He was in trouble, and he needed help.
Panic and a sense of helplessness spun through me. How could I help Christos if I didn’t know where he was? He hadn’t answered any of my calls or texts for over an hour. I desperately wanted to do something otherwise I was going to splinter into a million pieces.
The heavy silence pressing in around me was broken by the clatter of the front door opening downstairs.
“Christos!” I yelped as I shot up from the bed. I sprinted out of his bedroom and down the darkened hallway. Relief washed over me as I pounded downstairs. I was going to throw my arms around my man and hold onto him and tell him everything was going to be okay. I knew my love would heal the pain and self hatred that had been eating him up from the inside out for way too long.
At the bottom of the stairs, I turned and skidded into the entry hall. “Christos!”
“Samoula?” Spiridon smiled, his keys jingling in his hands. “What are you doing here?”
“Where’s Christos?” I blurted anxiously.
“Isn’t he with you?”
“No,” I muttered, disappointment darkening my voice.
“He’s not in the studio working?” Spiridon asked.
“No, I checked. He’s not in the house anywhere.” For a moment I felt nervous, worried I would have to explain to Spiridon why I was wandering through his house uninvited. Which was weird, because Spiridon had already invited me to move in with him and Christos. He’d even given me a house key. So why did I feel like a snooping criminal? Oh yeah. My parents. The Source of All that is Evil.
Telling my parents over the phone that I was moving in with Christos had freaked them out. Which led to me hanging up on them and Christos freaking out because my parents were freaked out.
And the worst news of all: Christos’ pending Valentine’s Day trial, only two days away.
Why hadn’t Christos told me until now? Was the trust we’d built together a lie? What else was he hiding? A shudder shook me to my bones. My heart accelerated into overdrive as the stressful events of the last few hours reignited in my mind. My life was unraveling by the second. I felt light headed as my chest tightened, making it nearly impossible to breathe. Was I having a heart attack? Was that possible for a nineteen year old? At that moment, it definitely felt like it. Every cell in my body screamed that Christos was in immediate danger, wherever he was. My eyes flashed panic. I needed to protect him any way I could. “I need to go find Christos!”
“Calm down, koritsáki mou,” Spiridon reassured. “Come into the kitchen, Samoula. Maybe you should sit down. You don’t look well.”
My hands shook uncontrollably as he led me into the kitchen, pulled a chair out from the table for me, and opened the refrigerator. He grabbed a pitcher of water and poured a glass for me as I dropped into the chair.
“Tell me everything,” he said as he set the glass on the table and sat down. He took my hands in his and rubbed the backs of them affectionately. “Whatever it is,” he smiled, “everything is going to be fine.”
My throat closed to a pinhole as I realized the bitter truth. Even if I could somehow find Christos and rescue him from whatever fate awaited him tonight, he faced the likely possibility of going to jail for who knew how long after his upcoming trial.
I rambled, “Christos, he’s…I don’t know…I think he’s…” I was torn between my worry for Christos and the warm, loving way Spiridon was comforting me. His compassionate gaze made me oddly nervous. I wasn’t used to any kind of tenderness from other people, or the way it lowered the walls around my emotions.
Other than the intimacy I’d shared with Christos over the last five months, I’d never opened up like this in front of anyone. Especially not an adult. And never in front of my parents.
I had never let my my guard down around them.
The night Damian Wolfram had run over Taylor Lamberth, I’d freaked out big time. There was no way I would have shared my feelings about it with my parents. I’d made sure to avoid them until I’d had a chance to collect myself and stuff my feelings back inside the box I’d built around my heart when I was little.
I don’t know when I’d started building that box. It was never a conscious thing. It was a defense mechanism. Probably one that everyone had. The idea of sharing my naked feelings with my parents had always felt like an invasion of my privacy. They didn’t understand feelings. When I was little and showed my feelings to my mom, she frowned and scowled at me and told me to get a hold of myself like a big girl, or else. When my dad saw my feelings, he pulled out a calculator and tried to solve them like a math problem. If that didn’t work, he tried to sterilize them with logic. That was why I never shared anything with my parents. Not anything that mattered.
But looking into Spiridon’s deeply compassionate eyes, I felt safe. He wasn’t freaked out. He was calm, confident, and loving. I wish he could give my parents lessons. In that moment, I felt like I could tell him everything, and he would understand. He wouldn’t lecture or reprimand, and he wouldn’t measure, calculate or solve. He would simply listen. And in that listening, healing occurred. Christos had taught me that. Had he learned it from Spiridon? It seemed likely, looking at him now.
Sitting in the Manos’ kitchen, I felt comforted, swaddled in the warm embrace of the tangible love emanating from Spiridon, a love that circulated throughout his house, as if it had gently flowed out of his being for decades and soaked into the wood. This home, this kitchen, was a sacred space.
My tears welled. I was about to spill everything, tell Spiridon about the nasty things my parents had said, and the threats they had made on the phone. I knew in my heart that Spiridon wouldn’t judge. He would listen with understanding and love. I longed for that sort of comfort, the kind of comfort Christos had shown me many times already.
But more than anything, I wanted it from Christos.
Coiled resolve unwound inside me. My feelings about my parents could wait. Christos was in mortal danger right now. I needed to do something to save him. Could I tell Spiridon that deep in my bones I felt certain his grandson’s life dangled on the precipice of disaster? I would sound like a lunatic. To my parents, anyway.
“What is it, Samoula?” Spiridon asked softly. “You can tell me anything.”
I believed him and trusted him completely. I lifted my heavy head and met his eyes with mine. “Christos is in terrible trouble.” It frightened me to say it, as if voicing my fears might magically make things worse.
“I know, koritsáki mou. I know,” he said heavily as his head bowed solemnly and his eyes darkened.
His words carried such sadness, such poignancy, I felt my heart beginning to shrivel and sink into blackness…
PAINLESS will be released in late January, 2014.
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