This I am taken aback by.
“What are you trying to say??” I spit out just as Emma shouts, “Really?? After all those rehearsals, THAT’S how you say it?? Just spring it out onto her like that?!”
“What rehearsals?? Em, what’s happening??” I feel the panic rising in my throat and clutch the side of the table.
“Juno, sweetie,” Emma turns to face me with an expression of sympathy painted onto her features. “Ashton and you… You weren’t engaged. You didn’t date. You didn’t even meet once.” She says and chugs on before I can slip a word in.
“He was a character in your book, love. A figment of your imagination. A- A coping mechanism,” She adds, stretching to place a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“A coping mechanism?? What the bloody hell are you trying to tell me??” I can’t help the venom that seeps into every syllable I address to my sibling, just as much as I can’t help the nausea that is threatening to overtake me.
“June, I know it’s a lot to take in, but you have to listen, okay??” Emma tells me.
“It was the day of your all-important Penn State admission interview when Mom and Dad died in a fire,” –I utter a horrified gasp but she ignores me and keeps on- “and so you started writing a book as a method to handle the grief. You wrote about the life you could’ve had, about all the things you dreamed of. Ivy League universities and dreamy blokes beg for your company, a mansion for a house and, of course, two very much alive parents. For so long, June, you were holed up in here, living a fantasy. I tried so hard to get you back in touch with what’s real, but you were so determined and there was only so much I could do.” She hangs her head for a split second, a flash of guilt passing through her face.
“So I gave up. I plugged your entire house with cameras and monitors so I could constantly make sure you were okay and I dropped by every so often with groceries and sometimes Dr Ramore came alone, but we left you alone for the most part.”
“The truth is, June,” Dr Ramore butts in, “Clinically, you were in perfect health. Your brain was functioning normally and you ate regularly and you were fit as a fiddle,” He justifies. “You just seemed to be living another reality.”
“However, Juno,” Emma continues, “When I dropped by last week, you weren’t furiously clanking at the keyboard anymore. You were sprawled on the mat with your typewriter right next to you, papers covering every square inch of space. I contacted Dr Ramore and after a quick check-up we realised that you were alive, but in a deep slumber. We admitted you in the Tamara Hospital and after a few more tests it was clear that you’d passed out because of severe emotional trauma. We were baffled as nothing potentially scarring had happened in a while. So we decided to read through what you’d written in the past couple of days and realised that you’d killed Ashton, in your book,” She halts and eyes me quizzically.
“I-I murdered my own fictional fiancé??” I stammer. “You did, Juno,” Emma confirms. “But why??” I press on, only to be met by shrugs from either side. “We’re still not clear about that, but one possibility is that because you’ve already dealt with a lot of loss, you’ve programmed yourself to think that all happiness must come to a brutal and abrupt end. So it was only a matter of time before you decided that Ashton was too good to be true and killed him,” Dr Ramore suggests.
Loss. That reminds me of something.
“Mom and Dad are… they’re really dead??” I sputter and Emma gives my arm a squeeze. “I’m sorry, Juno,” She says and kisses my forehead.
“I didn’t go to Harvard?? And this is my actual house??” I go on, a sense of desperation starting to submerge my senses. For the first time that day, I take a good look around and it sinks in how different everything is. Sure, the basic structure is about the same but just about everything else isn’t.
“We got you out of the hospital yesterday evening and laid you over here. The doctors recommended taking you back to the bed you’re most comfortable in as they believed you might recover faster. And,” Emma gazes at me with a dash of relief, “They were right.”
“Twelve hours later and you’re back to your old self,” Dr Ramore pipes up.
Not sure how to respond, I spin around and survey my house. Fragments of what I’d imagined it to be keep popping up in my field of vision.
What I’d thought of as impressive national awards on the mantelpiece were replaced by a couple of high school diplomas, the plush couch set in front of the smart TV turned out to be a set of cane chairs set facing a rusty old television…
“How long??” I tremble. “How long have I been like this??”
“Remember that ornamental, faux-diamond case Mom had, June?? The one she gave you for your eighteenth birthday??” Emma enquires. I mumble in the affirmative, not sure where this is going.
“It had exactly one hundred and twenty clear jewels, each the size of a pebble, remember?? Well, every week that you were… Away, I injected a blue serum into one gem. And this week, I would’ve dyed the last one.”
Wordlessly, she walks over to her handbag and pulls out a jet black box. Handing it over, she half-heartedly jokes, “They look more like sapphires than diamonds, now.”
I silently open it up and the sea of azure that stares back at me is nearly blinding. I almost have to look away.
I’ve been living a lie for more than two years. Two entire years of fairytales and a perfect life that never existed…
All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am…..