Melee Taria doesn't know why she dreams of death or why she can make her hands glow.
A warm golden light brought me out of my sleep. My eyes shot open and I jumped out of bed thinking the sun was already high and I'm late, but the windows glistened black. The house sat quiet. I rubbed the back of my neck and wrote it off as dreaming.
I massaged my wrists absent-mindedly as though they itched. To shake off the strange feeling, I scooted out of bed, crossed the room to the desk and dug out my writing journal. I use what my stepfather refers to as 'gibberish' writing. It makes perfect sense to me. It flows out of my hand naturally and I read it as easily as English. I don't understand how it doesn't make sense to anyone.
I use this writing to dodge my therapists. At first they encouraged me to use journals as a way of expressing my thoughts and feelings. When I discovered they were reading them, I began hiding them. Unfortunately, my sister’s room lacks good hiding places. My Mother has become very proficient at finding my journal. So I write in my secret language.
Pre-dawn is my favorite time to write--when the house is hushed and I can hear every creaking beam of wood and every hoot of the owls outside. I reached over and cracked a window to let in a warm, late summer breeze. It brushed the white curtains back and forth like ghosts across the carpet.
I call my room my sister’s room because, in all essence, it is. When I first arrived, the room screamed “Elizabeth!” The dressers were divided in half with her socks and underwear, her clothes hung sorted by color in the closet, and her medical encyclopedias filled the bookshelves. She painted the room baby blue, Elizabeth’s favorite color, and dressed the windows with her lacy white curtains. And still, two years since I’d moved in, her clothes still hang in the right side of the closet. The whole room lingers as a twisted memorial to my sister and a reminder of how I am her defective replacement.
My oldest sister was a younger version of my Mother. She shared her black ringlet hair and button-up nose, but had Sha'Kai's sea gray eyes. They were both petite and fair-skinned.
I have few personal memories of Elizabeth. She ran away at eighteen; I was almost seven. I remember her looking out for us, but she and I were never close. I can see it in the home videos. My mother plays them frequently. On the anniversaries of Elizabeth’s disappearance and birthday she makes us watch them all--from birth to high school prom. Downstairs they have blown up her senior portrait and framed it with vanilla candles, apparently her favorite type of candle.
On the other hand, I look like my Dad. I have his stormy hazel grey eyes and wheat-colored hair woven with sun-bleached strands. I think that might be part of the reason my stepfather despised me from day one. He wants no reminders of my real Dad in the house. All our pictures of him are packed away.
I poured these thoughts about my family into my journal until the first actual rays of sunlight peeked through the oak tree outside the window. My parent’s alarm bleeped downstairs and the coffee pot clicked on. Shortly after, my Mother shuffled to the kitchen and the radio blasted to life in Jeremiah’s room.
I took a quick shower, threw on a t-shirt, khakis, and my sneakers. Downstairs Mom already had tossed sausage onto a plate and started toasting English muffins. My stepfather huffed down some coffee as I strolled in. He buried his face deeper in the paper. As Jeremiah shuffled in, hair sticking out like a porcupine, he decided to look up.
“Ready for the game Friday?”
Jeremiah grunted and scratched his belly. Mom set down a full plate in front of him and he began stuffing his face. I rolled my eyes.
“Any new plays? The Villages seem like they’re a good team this year.”
My brother emitted another low grunt, which my stepfather seemed to take as a yes. Jeremiah plays on the high school’s football team--a game where 24 people run and smash into each other repeatedly for over an hour. I’ve been dragged along to every game, including pre-season and spring training since moving in.
I wrapped up a breakfast sandwich to go. As I grabbed my backpack off the table, my Stepfather grunted, “Amanda, remember your Mother’s picking you up early to visit Dr. Brass. I don’t want any funny business from you today, understand?” I rolled my eyes again to which he managed to lower his coffee cup. “Amanda Grace, don’t roll your eyes--”
But by then, I scooted out the door and started running. I raced down the pavement with the backpack tight against my back and my braid bouncing in rhythm to my feet. I always run to and from school.
I'm the only person running down the sidewalk and shoulders of the road. Today I tasted something cool and crisp in the air. Autumn is on the way. I doubt anyone else notices. I listen to the morning calls of birds waking up, the first stirrings of the wind, and watch the sunlight warm the pavement. Here, people move from one enclosed box to the next, shutting their doors and windows to all the sounds of the world. That is the strange thing.
At school I found a quiet bench by the basketball courts to sit and eat the breakfast sandwich. I finished writing in my journal as the yellow buses rumbled into their little circle, bicycles rattled into their slots, and the first bell finally rung. I spent the day dreaming of being everywhere else with only one ear on the daily humdrum of lessons and trying to avoid as many people as possible.
Mom picked me up in her gold car just before the last bell. She called Ms. Wilson who paged me out of seventh period in order to walk me to the car so I didn’t try and slip out early. No one wants me running off on a day as important as this one.
I spotted my journal in her purse, but that doesn't bother me anymore. None of the psychologists or therapists they’ve taken me haven deciphered it and I expect this new one, Dr. Brass, will be just the same.
Dr. Brass is the latest in a long string of therapists that have attempted to diagnose and "treat" me. She called my parents personally and claimed she was "intrigued" by my case. She mailed a booklet full of her qualifications and recommendations. However, the real reason my stepfather likes Dr. Brass is because she's not charging him anything. Her office is an hour into the city and every Thursday for the past three weeks they have been going to visit her in preparation for today, my first visit. I expect they’ve filled her in on all the juicy details about how much of a nightmare I am.
Our hour-long drive of silence ended at a tree-lined office complex off the interstate. The building gleams with windows all the way up its six-odd stories. Mom led the way past the receptionist to the elevators and up to the top floor. “Dr. Amelia Brass” is etched on the last door on the right. Her waiting room is dull gray carpet and blue chairs. A receptionist answers telephones behind a counter and stacks of crinkled magazines decorate the table. In other words, it looks like every other therapist’s office I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
When the door opens, a petite woman with silver-rimmed glasses strides out. Her long, flat nose that reminded me of a monkey's squished face.
''Melee,” She trilled and smiled, although the joy lacks in her eyes. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
She jabbed her hand out to me. Mom nodded at me to take it. I don’t. Eventually, she dropped her arm.
“Well, then, right this way,” Dr. Brass ushered me forward.
Her office features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the shady parking lot. A cushy red sofa faces a wall of children‘s books and colorful storage boxes with toys poking out the top. A puzzle mat covers the floor, a thick desk guarding an overstuffed red office chair sits in the corner, and a flat screen television is recessed into the wall.
“Please, have a seat, “Dr. Brass gestured towards the sofa. She sat across from me in a single chair and tucked a stray strand of auburn hair behind her ear. “Would you like something to drink? I have water, orange juice, apple juice…no soda or anything like that.”
I preferred not to look at her. To start passing time, I began to study the titles on the skinny children’s books on the wall. My record for most words spoken in an hour-long therapy session is roughly sixty.
“Now, Melee Taria, yes? That’s what you like to go by?” Dr. Brass paused for me to answer, and continued on when my silence persisted. “Normally I take the first few sessions to get to know my patients. Anything you tell me will be in confidence. I’m not going to run out there and tell your Mom what we say. It’s my job to get to know you and give you the advice you need to be successful. Don’t you want to be successful?”
I avoided rolling my eyes and focused more stonily on the books. I’m on Oh, the Places You’ll Go! when she tried again.
“Your Mom told me last week you recently started public school for the first time. How is that going?” I kept my lips sealed.
“Have you ever heard of chess?” Dr. Brass suddenly asked. She popped up and walked up to one of her shelves. “I have to keep it on high, away from the little ones, but I have a set here--” She used a step stool to pull a box off the shelves. She set it on the coffee table between us and began pulling out the pieces. “Are you familiar with any of this?” She peeked up over the top of her glasses. “You don’t need to talk to answer me, you know. A simple nod will suffice.”
I bit back a retort. Apparently she could tell I had something to say because I see a glint of triumph in her dark eyes. She finished setting up pieces on a board.
“Chess is an ancient game of strategy. It’s been quite a while since I’ve played, so we should be on equal footing, I think,” Dr. Brass rambled on. She explained the meaning of each piece and its role in the game, pausing to try and get me to nod that I understood. She assigned me the white pieces and the first turn.
As we played, she talked and talked. Unlike every other therapist I’ve ever been forced to go to, Dr. Brass appeared content to fill the room with the sound of her own voice. In the hour we hovered over the red-and-black board flicking little pawns forward, she shared all her middle school horror stories, which quite frankly aren’t that horrible. She lost her lunch money once and passed out in gym from hunger. She failed biology for not dissecting a frog. Her parents grounded her for sneaking out. A dance date threw up on her shoes.
I smirked as Dr. Brass carried on about gum getting stuck in her hair. Her life was night and day compared to mine. Why she believed she could crack my nut, I’m not sure. As she photographed our game with her phone to pick up where we left off, a cold chill trickled down my back. I glanced up to see if there was a vent overhead, but nothing but light fixtures and ceiling tiles sat overhead. I caught her looking oddly at me as I stood up to leave. Despite her perky voice, her seemingly good intentions, something behind those silver-rimmed glasses rubbed me the wrong way.
Mom jumped out of her seat as I exited the office. She glanced at Dr. Brass to make certain she was in one piece. Satisfied, she tried to give me an encouraging smile.
“How did it go?”
I didn’t answer, and Mom persisted in pestering me for an answer all the way down in the elevator.
“Do you like her?”
I sighed and crossed my arms. After that, my Mother stayed quiet.