A @LovelyComplex & @metanoia CollabFeaturing: Penelope James & Jade Taylor▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃▃
The only thing Victoria tasked her daughter to do today was grocery shopping, and for the most part, Penelope made it out alive. With Charlie’s hoodie on, her hair unbrushed and falling in front of her face, and a mask covering everything below her green eyes, the youngest James daughter robotically moved through the public. Fading in the background of the busy and impersonal market, she chose to detach herself from the surrounding chaos, tunneling her vision toward the items and not the people. Separating her brain from herself, momentarily, to achieve one task.
A month ago, she wouldn’t be able to successfully walk into a place like this. Her mouth and tongue still dries up, but at least she can fool herself to not panic. She wasn’t ready to say she was strong, that she was okay, everything was fine — why would she lie to herself like that? Instead, she thought of the delightful imagery in times past in order to make it through mundane chores in a public place.
Was this sad?
Yeah, it was.
Even worse that she couldn’t remember what day or year it was.
As she walked down the aisles, she could see him. She saw him grab his favorite things, as she read a list of necessities and he would sneak in even more bagels than they already had. It was funny, really. Funny how much they looked like a married couple even when they weren’t. They had never kissed or even said...
Thinking back, after Maxine died, Charlie was really all she had. Yes, her parents were still living, but her father was constantly trying to protect and save the children he saw himself in and her mom? She had hidden demons that no one else knew about.
People were innately selfish and really, if she could have things her way, it would be just Charlie and her against the world. That would be the reality she’d have over everything else. Maybe that was extreme of her. Still, when she thought of the idea of not being able to feel him anymore, hold his hands, touch his face, mend his wounds, smell his scent, she knew there was no control left in her.
Lost, powerless, and empty.
Charlie was her compass and she didn’t know how to get home. Instead of moving forward, she was getting pulled deeper and deeper in a vast ocean, reaching the Mariana Trench, unable to swim back up. No compass. No home. No purpose. Just her and this heavy sensation.
Her body and soul might’ve been empty, but at least she saw joy where she went. At least she remembered. Memories made her feel safe and gave her the strength to find a harbour away from the strong waves and the storm. She liked this feeling. She liked feeling removed from the world. She liked seeing things, good things, to mask all the bad. She liked to pretend.
This way of living became second nature to her. For about a year now? Give or take. However, she knew… Poppy knew this all needed to stop. She had to stop locking the truth in a cage and warping her love and her memories of him. How can she learn to let go if she kept playing pretend?
Easier said than done.
Penelope found herself home, putting away her groceries, continuing to move on auto-pilot. When she finished her task, hopefully not forgetting anything, she decided to take a shower. Wow, shocker. There was a place she needed to go, and she had to go right and clean. It was time for her to remember the good, the bad, and the ugly, and let that become her strength to reconnect with the world and weave herself into her new normal.
Shuffling her way upstairs, not surprised her parents weren’t home yet, Poppy headed straight to her bathroom through her bedroom. She didn’t think about checking her phone to see if she had any missed messages and calls. She was too busy replaying things in her head to think about that. So instead, she got ready for her walk down memory lane aiming to look semi-presentable to impress a ghost.
The ghost forever in her dreams.
And then when a familiar blonde made her way through the front door, she sighed out as it closed behind her. Her long fingers, which were detailed with black nail polish and red specks on them, still remained on the doorknob as it clicked shut. The sound of it making her smile for some reason and she looked around. There was something in the air and she couldn’t say what it was for certain. Maybe it was just today and how she knew the task waiting for her upstairs wasn’t going to be an easy one to accomplish.
“No time like the present,” she’d mutter quietly.
Jade threw her legs into a brisk walk, the creaking sound of her step repeating until she reached the top. With every step, Jade grunted but she also thought about what she was going to say and just exactly what she might have to say to get a certain ghost to come with her. Knowing how stubborn they were, Jade found herself sighing once more.
And now at her bedroom door, she hesitated before knocking. The apprehension was clear in how her hand trembled slightly.
And then Jade twisted the knob.
And then she knocked as the door opened.
And she saw her friend, that dear friend who probably was the only other person in the entire town dreading this day.
“Hey..” Jade spoke in a low tone, almost inaudible. It would have been if she was any further away. “Hope you don’t mind, I let myself in.” Jade laughed as she walked further into Poppy’s room. “You guys seriously need to think about locking your front door, never know who might walk right in.” Ah yes, there was Jade’s trademark humor that had just enough guilt-tripping in it that made her almost endearing.
“If we locked our door, you would fall on your ass through my window. And we all know how well that goes for Charlie.” Out of habit, Poppy talked about the lost man that weighed heavily on her and her best friend’s heart in present tense. Even after such a long time, she acted like it was only today he said ‘see you later, Pops’. In false hope, she expected him to come crawling in her window for her to comfort him.
Unbeknownst to the blonde bombshell, Poppy had no idea of the importance of this day and that there was something happening later on. Believe it or not, the lost soul that was Penelope James had not opened a single letter directed to her. Since she barely went out in public and when she did she was not listening to the people around her, she had no idea what was inside the envelopes. Her father, her mother, and her friends might’ve known but none of them thought to bring it up to Poppy… or none of them wanted to.
In addition to that, Jade was walking into a surprise. For once, Poppy was dressed in fresh clothes — another Charlie hoodie, a different pair of jeans, and a tank underneath — and she was rubbing her wet hair with her towel on her vanity chair. Do note, her vanity no longer had a mirror since glass was a danger to the James girl. Regardless, not only did Poppy seem like she was getting ready to go somewhere, she was clean. Usually, her parents had to remind her to take a bath or she’d go days without leaving the floor of her bedroom. Her only motivator being her back end job at Cafe Rochambeau. Or maybe that wasn’t the case anymore?
As she massaged her head with the towel, Poppy assured her best friend, “You’re always welcomed here.” Pulling her head up, she delicately brought her attention to Jade and smiled, “You know that.” After her melancholy green eyes met Jade’s bluish-green gaze, she carelessly threw her wet towel in the mess that was her room and reached for her brush. Ready to take out these awful knots.
“Yeah, I know..” Jade said, albeit in a dragged out tone, as she let her gaze circle around the room. Maybe it was out of habit or just taking in familiar sights, she smiled. Roughly everything looked the same as she was in here last, but the energy was somehow different. It was messier than usual. Maybe she should ask? Nah, that wouldn’t be wise. Even Jade knew not to go there.
A series of long moments passed, mostly with Jade being silent other than the occasional semi-inaudible grunts as she took a spot on Poppy’s bed. Today her legs felt weirdly achy and she just had to take a seat. Doing so allowed her time -- time to think, that was. Poppy knew it wasn’t unlike Jade to not say anything, though this long had to be a new record. “So,” she began, turning her gaze onto her friend, “how are you?” The blonde asked, giving Pops a smile.
Subconsciously, Poppy twitched when Jade sat on her bed that she barely went on herself. It was subtle and barely noticeable, but it was still there. Usually this only happened when someone went on her bed… which was the one place she spent the most time with Charlie. While that sounds inappropriate, that was her favorite part of the day. When he came home, snuck in, and she’d read to him or they’d just talk all night until she fell asleep in his arms. It was simple. It was her’s. She could call those memories her own.
Going back to brushing her hair, looking away from Jade, Poppy went in and out of a daze. Brushing, just brushing. Repetitive but soothing. Sadly, she didn’t notice how long it was taking her friend to speak up. If she wasn’t caught up in her own headspace, she certainly would’ve but that Poppy went missing a long time ago. The one that noticed when her friends were feeling off. When her friends clearly needed her. When Jade finally spoke up, snapping Poppy back to the present, the brunette lethargically shrugged in response, “I’m here, just thinking.”
Once she placed her brush on her vanity, she stood up and did the big stretch. Charlie’s hoodie was huge on her so it didn’t really show her thin stomach, which clearly displayed her lack of nourishment. “How are you?”
Jade let out a slow breath as she leaned back, putting most of her weight on her wrists. “I’m fine,” she said lowly. “I mean, I got to see my uncle today,” she’d admit as an afterthought. Something in her wanted to ask how she really was doing, but that part of her seemed to be sighed away. The only thing that remained was how she needed to work up the courage to bring up tonight and why she’d really come. Right about now, Jade wish she’d saved some of her coke. She could really use some of it right about now.
“That’s great, J. He’s doing good? Holding up?” Dropping to the floor, Poppy searched through the pockets of her clothes to find her cigarettes and lighter. With the acknowledgement of Jade’s Uncle Charlie, who she knew was behind bars, it showed that Poppy wasn’t completely in the grief stage of denial. An improvement from a month ago. She was talking about things that her friend was currently living through and not the past. Whether either girl was aware of it or not, Poppy seemed to be moving a small step closer toward the right direction.
“Ah-ha.” Finding her Marlboro Red cigarettes and Charlie’s zippo lighter, Poppy graciously pulled them close to her and checked to see how many she had left. “Fuck.” Just two. Still enough for her and Jade but she should’ve gotten this on errands today. From the floor, she recklessly tossed the box to her friend with no warning or hesitation.
And when it was tossed, an absentminded Jade was slow to react. And then it made contact with the right side of Jade’s face, literally forcing her to become alert. And then it fell into her lap. Jade looked at it, smiling into a laugh and glancing over at Poppy. “Jesus Pops. If this thing was actually full, it might’ve actually hurt.” Jade laughed at that and took a peek into the cigarette box, seeing two inside. “Care to throw me a light, too?”
When she did, unlike with the box, Jade caught it in her hand and flicked it on to light up the cig that was pressed between her lips. She took in a quick puff before walking over to Poppy, jerking out the last one. “Might as well take the last one.” Jade looked at her friend as though it wasn’t a request. That light bump she took woke up more than her immediate attention.
Staring up at her friend, from the floor, Poppy rolled her big puppy eyes, before pushing herself up and grabbing the ‘offered’ cigarette and placing it in her mouth. Leaning into the light, she let the butt of the cigarette touch it, letting it burn. Pulling away, she inhaled the grey stench, forcing the chemicals to invade her system almost fervently. Truth be told, Poppy didn’t always smoke. She started in junior year, when Charlie was pulling away from her.
Opening her mouth slightly ajar, she let the smoke steadily flow out. This was refreshing, honestly. The Poppy in highschool would hate the smell of smoke in her bedroom, but this Poppy? This Poppy could care less. Give it all to her from the tar-infested lungs to the future death-bed, she wanted, no, she needed nicotine. Relaxing her shoulders, she looked at her friend and cut to the chase, showing a glimpse of some of the old Poppy that everyone knew and loved, “Okay, hoe, why are you really here?” The Southside’s Symbol of Peace, the daughter of a reformed Serpent turned cop, and the one who saw the best in all of them, teasingly chuckled while nudging her girl.
With how she was leaning, Jade felt the nudge more than she thought she might. “What? Do I need a reason to visit?” Even as she asked her question, with how Pops was looking at her, it became clear to Jade that she could avoid it any longer. But that still begged the question how would she bring it up? Just saying it made her feel dirty. At the same time, when was Jade Taylor this hesitant?
“It’s about tonight. Are you going?” She asked Poppy.
Huh? Taking another drag, Poppy blinked at her friend with pure confusion. “Tonight? I mean I was going to do something but like, what’s happening?” Did she miss the memo? Jade knew she didn’t like social gatherings, so if Palmero or any other place was throwing some kind of mixer or fun night, she was NOT going.
Jade had to take a moment to just...stare at Poppy. She needed to make sure her friend wasn’t pranking her and making her work for it. And then she realized it was genuine confusion in her eyes. And that brought Jade to a thought. How could she not know? The letters were pretty clear. As painful as it was for Jade when she first read them, the most recent one was direct and to the point.
“How could you not know about tonight? It was clear in the letter…”
“...what are you talking about? You mean these letters?” Poppy went to her desk, opening her file drawer but not going in to pull any of them out. There was a stack of unopened letters that buried a manuscript. “There wasn’t a return address… I didn’t care enough to read any of them.”
“You mean you didn’t-”
“Hear anything? Come on, Jade. I barely can remember to bathe, let alone feed myself. What makes you think I’m paying attention to anything that’s happening in this town?” Poppy cut her friend off, knowing exactly what she was going to say because of her soul-sister sense.
There was a familiar sharp pain rising from her gut all the way up to her heart. Between the unopened letters and how slowly, yet surely, Poppy was confirming she really didn’t have any idea, Jade just knew what she had to do. She was certain that she had to be the one to drop the bomb on Poppy’s ignorance is bliss world. But between that and the other little bits she revealed, Jade really didn’t want to be her right now.
She took in another breath and then one final drag of her cig before she spoke. “It’s Charlie, Pops. The letters are from Charlie. Or they’re from his journal. At least, that’s how they read.” Even as Jade spoke, saying it out loud, saying his name out loud, it made everything in her ache.
Tilting her head, Penelope took in this information. She was silent for a second or two. Slowly shaking her head, she whispered, “What? No.” That can’t be true. How could Charlie… did someone… “No. NO!” She yelled at Jade, in both anger and disbelief. What was this bullshit? Those were his private thoughts!
Suddenly, Penelope became frantic. Absentmindedly, her cigarette slipped out of her fingers. Dropping to her knees, she pulled out each letter and ripped them open seeing his handwriting and skimming the quotes; his words. She threw them from left to right, her eyes resting momentarily on his novel. Then she crawled to her closet forcefully throwing it open and pulling out the box that was left for her. “No… what do you mean?”
She started throwing Charlie’s things out of the box, searching for his journal. Why wasn’t his journal here? It should be here. Why wouldn’t she be the one that has it? Like this morning, she found the last thing that she grabbed which was his leather jacket. Bringing it close, her eyes watered and her head felt… light. No crying. Don’t cry.
She needed to… she needed to… standing up, leaving his coat behind, she ran to the bathroom and threw herself over the toilet and upchuck the small food she ate for the day. When she had nothing more that could leave her body, she rested there, as if she had a little too much to drink. Exhausted, tired, and shocked.
“Fuck,” she muttered to herself.
As Jade stood in the aftermath of what she had caused, she couldn’t bring herself to move -- at least not yet. The aching feeling from before evolved into that kind of numb feeling you got when something terrible happened and you knew it was your fault. Hearing her sister wail frantically was the final nail.
But really what was she expecting? For Pops to not to react? No, that wasn’t what made her feel this way. Sure, it didn’t soften the blow. What Jade seemed to have trouble processing was Charlie’s things scattered about and just how much of it there was.
Internal guilt for Charlie brought an external frustration and from that frustration came a few tears that clashed with Jade’s heavy eyeliner.
As she allowed herself a few moments to just… take it all in, letting herself feel whatever she needed to feel in that moment. And when she was finished, she picked up Poppy’s dropped cig and flicked it out the window, then she’d find herself in the bathroom and by her sister’s side. She was on a knee, both hands on Poppy’s shoulders. She didn’t know what she could say, so she just let her actions speak for her.
Breathlessly, Poppy weakly demanded, “We’re going.” She didn’t know if she was strong enough, emotionally and physically, and she knew for damn sure she hadn’t eaten enough, but she was already going to the school. She decided that this morning. Might as well kill two birds with one stone.
There was this different sensation building up in Poppy. She wasn’t sure as of yet what it was, seeing how she just got done puking her guts out, but she knew she couldn’t ignore this. Whatever it was, it was motivating her. Driving her. Pushing her towards the truth.
Using Jade as support to get up, Penelope went to her sink and quietly cleaned her mouth and face. There was no mirror in front of her, once again. Since her father removed them all. Holding herself up on the sink, she loudly cursed, “FUCK!”
Punching the wall in front of her, with her bandage hand, it was clear that Poppy wasn’t only shaky, she was furious. After stretching her right hand fingers and knuckles, likely opening wounds, she turned to Jade, wiping her wet lips off with Charlie’s sleeves, “They want to talk about him like they know him? Let’s go fuck that up.”
Seeing the way Poppy pulled herself out of that place made Jade crack a smile, though it was short-lived when she realized something. The way Poppy was shaking and how it was clear she was running on fumes alone, she stared at her sister. Jade’s familiar stern gaze was piercing Poppy down. “Yes, we will. But we’re getting you something to eat first.” Again, like with the cig, Jade wasn’t asking.