Yay, I am so glad this is back. Thank you Sleep Is For The Weak!
So, my mywn words have suffered somewhat this week because of this, but it was good – and surprisingly easy – to slip back into Ava’s world. If you aren’t familiar with Ava’s ongoing story, the rest of the instalments can be found under the writing tab above, but I hope you don’t need to read them to enjoy the story. Let me know what you think
by Liberty Gilmore, 23/06/11
Ava contemplates the power of appearance, and what skin she is most comfortable in.
Ava looked at the girl in the mirror and didn’t recognise her. The pale skin, the soft radiance was familiar, the eyes still dark blue. But in the dress, with its soft red pleats of material, understated decoration on the straps, the shimmering gossamer texture of it, Ava looked in the mirror and saw her mother.
She was surprised when Natalia decided to support the school fundraiser ‘Fashion Show’ with a considerable donation and the loan of some clothes. But that shock was nothing compared to how Ava felt when Natalia announced that she would be attending.
‘And miss this opportunity to see how your powers of physical manipulation are developing?’ Natalia had said, leaving Ava feeling angry at herself for not anticipating it.
She meant: see how you can use your physical appearance to command attention and desire. The thing she used her own beauty for – weaponising it, turning it into a lethal force rather than a fortunate roll of the genetic dice.
She was in a small classroom next to the hall, closed off from the audience where her mother was sitting, but Ava could feel Natalia’s presence like a shard of ice in her second sight. These tests were getting more frequent. Either Natalia thought she was nearly ready to start her mission, or she knew Ava was close to wandering from the path. Ava didn’t know which would be worse. There was no way Natalia would take Ava’s apathy towards her mission kindly.
She was picture perfect in the dress, her hair done by Holly, a delicate bracelet about her wrist, her new ring on her finger. The ring her mother had given her.
Try as she might, she couldn’t complete the image with a smile.
‘You look miserable,’ Holly said.
‘I would say my outer appearance is a pretty accurate reflection of my inner feelings,’ Ava said.
‘What?’ Holly said absentmindedly, not really listening as she fluffed Ava’s hair and straightened her straps.
‘Don’t feel well,’ Ava said, trying for a smile and landing somewhere near a grimace.
‘I’ll get you a glass of water,’ Holly said, teetering off in her heels.
Ava turned back to the mirror, trying her smile a second time. It flickered for a moment, but the mere thought of using it to seduce and control made it vanish and a sick feeling start in Ava’s stomach.
This wasn’t her, this wasn’t who she was.
Her mother’s presence pressed on her, making her flinch. No doubt Natalia had picked up on her unease – the pressure came with the suggestion of a question. Ava drew the curtains on her second sight and cut her mother out.
A soft knock sounded on the door, and Ava realised she was alone in the room. All the other girls had left to find their place in the parade. Rain poured against the windows behind the heavy blinds drawn shut against prying eyes. The classroom clock read five to seven. Any moment now the music and the night would begin.
The minute hand clunked one notch closer to seven, and Ava knew she couldn’t do it. Like the walls were closing in around her, she suddenly felt suffocated. The dress itched and she wanted to peel it from her skin, to strip away the uncomfortable reminder of everything she was being raised to be. Everything she hated the thought of being.
Ava went to the window, pulling back the blinds. The classroom looked out on the back gates, and no late parents were out there to witness her escape – they were all in the front car park. The window had a safety latch, but it wasn’t locked. The classroom was ground floor so it had no need to be. It would be tight, but Ava knew she could slot through the gap.
‘Ava?’ Adam called softly through the door. ‘Holly sent me with water.’
Ava froze and turned round. Adam pushed the door open, cautiously poking his head round. He looked relieved to see she was fully dressed and alone.
‘Hey, Holly said you weren’t feeling great. She got waylaid by Mrs Hunter – needed for the opening parade apparently. Here.’
He held out the glass of water towards her. Ava didn’t take it.
‘Why’s the window open? Need some fresh air? You’re not going to faint are you, I mean, you’ve not exactly got anything to worry about.’ He nodded at her his eyes running up and down her body, pushing to the edge of polite appraisal, but not going beyond into ‘checking out’.
Natalia would want her to use her looks to seduce Adam, to control him. The thought made Ava want to throw up.
‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ she said.
‘Through the window?’ Adam raised an amused eyebrow.
‘Yes, through the window.’
‘Woah, okay, I didn’t realise you were being serious. What’s the matter.’
‘I’ve just got to get out.’
She used a table to climb up to the level of the windowsill and swung her legs out. The cold rain permeated the thin material instantly. There would be consequences for this later, but later wasn’t now.
‘Ava, seriously? What are you doing?’
She jumped down, sliding herself sideways past the open window and was free. The rain beat down on her skin, her hair, turning the dress into drowned rags and destroying her careful hairstyle. A hand on her shoulder pulled her round.
‘Ava, what the hell? It’s pouring with rain out here, come back inside.’
‘I have to get away from here. I can’t be in that building. I need…’
Her feet started moving without any conscious input from her mind. She allowed them to walk, picking up speed as she passed the back gate and ran into town. It wasn’t late enough to be properly dark, but the rain clouds blocked the fading light, casting shadows where a clear day would have illuminated. She didn’t know where her feet were taking her, but she followed.
‘Ava, where are you going?’
Adam was behind her, following her. She wanted to tell him to go back, but her body called to move forwards, and as she turned a street she knew where she was headed.
Barton Park – less of a park, more of a patch of grass with a swing, but it backed onto a privately owned woods. There was a fence to keep the kids out, but everyone over the age of eight knew the way under it. Ava needed the trees, needed the rough touch of bark beneath her fingers.
She kicked off her shoes as she entered the park – heels slicing into damp turf a hindrance. Adam stooped to pick them up, still following, a bemused and frightened look on his face. Ava hitched the fence up and he held it for her as she climbed underneath, mud trailing along the knees and skirt of her beautiful dress.
A short way into the woods she stopped, touched her forehead against a tree and let its energy fill her, sooth her, exhaling her worries like air.
‘Ava?’ Adam said, his voice small and quivery.
She turned to him. His dark hair was plastered to his face by rain, his jeans muddied and soaked through. He, at least, was wearing a jumper and appeared to be warm despite the wet. Ava didn’t feel the cold, but Fey skin was thicker than Humans’.
‘Have you ever had to do something you really didn’t want to do?’ she said.
‘I think there are more effective ways of getting out a fashion show than freaking out and running away into the rainy night,’ Adam said, his humour barely covering the concern in his voice.
‘I’m not talking about the fashion show.’
‘I know,’ he said, taking a cautious step towards her. He raised a hand, but paused short of touching her, like he feared she would run away again, or maybe bite his head off. Ava was glad he didn’t, because she wasn’t entirely sure what she would do. ‘Ava, I’m not going to pretend to understand exactly what you’re talking about, but, if there’s something you don’t want to do, just don’t do it. There are no rules that say you have to do things. Except, you know, driving on the right side of the road and stuff like that, but I would hope you wouldn’t be this upset about something that is effectively there to save you from death or horrible disfigurement.’
Ava felt a smile twitch in the corner of her mouth and Adam continued, encouraged.
‘Just… talk it through with your parents. I’m sure they’ll understand. They’re your parents, I mean, they want you to be happy right? No matter how much it feels otherwise sometimes.’
He knew she didn’t always agree with her family’s opinions about what she should and shouldn’t do, but he didn’t know, couldn’t know, that they would never understand. Because Adam came from a happy world of parents that put you first and loved you and wanted the best for you. The warm Human world. Not the icy Fey world of honour and duty to your Lord and kindred above all else.
Ava didn’t want to cry, but as the first tears squeezed from her eyes, the others followed in torrents. Her small frame shook with sobs and heart break and rage and grief and sorrow as she mourned for a life that could never be hers, a freedom, a family she could never have.
She pinched her eyes shut, closing out the world for a moment. The trees thrummed with energy, bending to her sadness, reaching out to take it with their branches. Then a warm pink light surrounded her yellow, and the hard edge of sadness and anger started to soften. As she came back to the world, she realised Adam’s arms had found their way around her, were holding her, soothing her as he murmured into her hair that he was there, that things would be okay. For a moment, head tucked against his neck, she could almost believe it.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, stepping back from him. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be,’ Adam said. ‘Just be okay.’
‘I don’t know how to be,’ Ava admitted.
‘I find coffee usually helps,’ he said with a shrug.
The coffee shop worker gave them an odd look as the walked in, bedraggled, Ava shoeless and wearing Adam’s jumper – which he’d insisted on giving to her, no matter how much she protested that her shivering was from emotion not the cold.
They sat in a booth near the back, sinking into the cushioned chair accompanied by the drip of rain water ringing from their clothes. By the time a pair of coffees appeared in front of them, they were both steaming as much as the hot drinks.
Ava took a scalding sip of coffee. She didn’t normally go for caffeine – her usual source of pick-me-up energy came from the trees, nature – but the hot liquid cut a burning path down her gullet and made her feel sharply Human.
‘Reckon we can still make it back for the end of the show,’ Adam said after a moment.
‘Don’t think they’d let me anywhere near the stage in this.’
‘Hey, don’t insult the jumper!’
Ava smiled. ‘I like the jumper. Better than the dress.’
‘Well, you do manage to make it look hot,’ Adam said.
Ava’s smile faded. ‘Don’t. I don’t want to be beautiful.’
‘Beauty’s just another layer of clothes we wear,’ Adam said, placing his hand over her arm, near her hand but not quite touching it. ‘And just like clothes, it’s what’s underneath that really counts. Wait…’ He paused as Ava laughed. ‘That didn’t sound quite as good out loud as it did in my head.’
Ava took Adam’s hand and slotted herself back into the crook of his arm, head resting on his shoulder. ‘Thanks for being such a good friend,’ she said.
And in that moment, wearing a ragged wet dress and Adam’s oversized jumper, she felt comfortable in her skin.