Chapter 1: Change
The gravel cracked gently under my shoes as the deserted building loomed up in front of me. Three months had passed since I let Heather go. Three very long months since I said goodbye to her right in front of the deserted factory.
And here I was again, just like every week. To think, to meditate, to breathe, to grieve. And slowly, to heal.
A lot changed.
My heart slowly mended itself, the wound knitting closed. But the scar wouldn’t ever disappear. I lost a part of my heart, a part of myself.
It gave me a lot to think about, a lot to process. Not something I was very used to, but it was definitely a nice change of pace.
Week one was filled with a lot of crying and pain. Week two was all about the anger. I screamed till my lungs burned, till my voice broke, till I had no more screams left. Until I could take no more. The weeks after were different… Empty. They passed me by as clouds during a moonless night.
If I thought back, it felt a lot like wallowing. But I needed those weeks to process, to feel the pain, and to let the sadness leave my body. To refill myself with warm thoughts, with positive energy, with a new will. I learned to be at peace, with myself, with the world, with her. To stop blaming her for leaving, to stop blaming myself for letting her leave. To silence the anger in myself and let go of the guilt.
Hearing the exact plans the council had for her definitely made that easier as I knew for sure I did the right thing. No chance in hell would I let them clone her so they could breed an inferior race of slaves. That was just a terrifying idea. Almost as horrifying as admitting that if I hadn’t fallen for her, I might’ve agreed with the council. Maybe even proposed the experiment.
A shiver ran down my spine as I shrugged that thought away. No, letting Heather go had been the right thing. It still was. Even if it sent the council into a blind rage as they demanded to know what happened to the human. They insisted on questioning me for days on end, appalled by my insubordination. Under the watchful eye of Father, they tried everything. Begging, bribing, blackmail, threats, nothing worked. They tried to track my movements from the electronic chip in my arm, but a simple favour from a friend in the sixth continent killed the tracing part of their system. And of course, they couldn’t admit that to the public, so they followed me around in person. They weren’t very inconspicuous. I ran circles around them until they grew utterly annoyed with me. Only when they resorted to torture, Father stepped in.
In hindsight, I got off pretty easy. Not that I really cared. I would’ve protected Heather at any cost, even if it meant taking her secret to my grave. And Father must’ve realised how deep my feelings ran and even somewhat accepted them. Begrudgingly, of course.
Our relationship was on the mend, but most of our interactions were still strained. It hadn’t been easy. He apologised multiple times but I couldn’t look at him like I used to. Then again, I didn’t look at myself the same way either. I never considered myself someone to look up to, not like I regarded Father. For as long as I could remember, he was my idol and now… Now he wasn’t. No matter how many times he apologised, I just couldn’t reconcile the two different images I had of him. My dad, the superhero and Father, the ice-cold scientist.
But as I worked through my own issues and lost myself in meditation, I managed to forgive him. More or less. Enough to start anew and force myself to at least try and rebuild our relationship. I accepted his apology and we started again. It wasn’t what it used to be, but we were civil and we reconnected. We got to talking about Heather and I told him about how things had been between us. How we had found each other and how we had clicked. And slowly but steadily, dad started to understand. I think it was because he recognised what I was talking about. Love.
The council formally apologised, but only because Father announced he’d leave and take his funds and possessions with him. Being from an old lineage finally had some advantages. The letter they sent was horribly distant, but at least they weren’t threatening me anymore. Or following me around. The stalking was really annoying.
At least all the soulsearching helped me face some of my other demons. One particular demon was quite happy to see me when I visited her in the hospital. My former best friend. The one I practically never visited because of my guilt. She was surprised to see me, I read it in her eyes. But I also found relief, happiness, contentment. She was genuinely glad to see me. And after those long years, we finally talked it over. I told her about my fears, about my feelings, how the guilt had been eating away at me. I apologised, asked for her forgiveness, for not preventing her from taking that trip, and for not being there after her accident. And she forgave me. In fact, she had forgiven me a long time ago, I just never knew. And just like that, another weight lifted off my shoulders, another string that constricted my lungs snapped and I could breathe again. It ended in tears, a familiar hug, and a promise that I would visit her again soon.
I smiled as the wind played with my hair. So many things changed, yet my love for Heather hadn’t. It hadn’t withered nor shrunk nor disappeared. I loved her as much as when she had been with me, and I had come to accept I would for the rest of my life.
The prominent ache in my heart had made place for a soft, almost gentle burning at the back of my skull. At times, it would burn brighter and force out tears and close my throat. And I would just ride it out, letting the melancholy take me over until the wave passed, embracing the loss and pain. Yes, I had learned a lot in the past months. A lot about me, a lot about inner peace, a lot about life.
I let out a deep breath and uncrossed my legs, stretching out the stiffness from sitting down in one position too long . Meditation was great for the mind, but I still hadn’t managed to relax enough physically to reap the benefits from it. Maybe I was doing it wrong.
I’d sit immovably still, focusing on emptiness, on feeling nothing. And slowly, I would lose all sensation in my limbs. My feet and hands would go numb, then my legs, my arms, my stomach. And lastly, the burning in my chest would leave and the storm in my head grew quiet. My eyes would fall close, too heavy to lift. Not asleep, but away, a couple of inches above myself, weightless and untouchable.
And afterwards, my body would feel like my head. Empty. Luckily, the stretching really helped.
I shook the dirt off my clothes and turned my neck, the familiar popping sound of the cracking air pockets filling the cold night.
And that was when I heard it. Another kind of crack. A snapping branch. A change in the wind.