Arc 2 · Between Two Worlds

11.1 Waking Dreams and Nightmares

#flashbacks

Athena became a brand new person after she calmed down. She’s bubbly, cheerful and outgoing. She wanted to treat my wounds; she wanted to clean the place; she wanted me to relax and do nothing. That ain’t possible since she’s here, and watching her is far more interesting.

I think she’s trying to make up for what happened in the afternoon. She doesn’t need to. I’m aware of my image and reputation; what I do and how it affects others. If she hates me, it’s justified. She doesn’t need to push herself to be nice to me.

Still, I appreciate it. It’s also nice to be able to sit back and do nothing for once – to believe that someone cares for me. It’s a good dream, though it ain’t true and I won’t see her again after tonight.

She’s attempting to make pancakes. She doesn’t cook that often; her face looks unsure at times. Not surprising – she probably has a butler to do such chores in her huge family mansion.

I can’t remember the last time someone did anything for me that didn’t require some form of exchange. I’ve been on my own since I was a teen – patched my own wounds after each fight and got my own meals. I don’t bother with cooking, since I can get food from the market stalls.

So when she offered, I couldn’t say no. This feels nice – this feeling of being cared for.

She keeps glancing over her shoulder, moving her workspace from one side of the kitchen to the other until she settled with her back at me. She’s self-conscious of my presence, like I shouldn’t be watching. I try not to be obvious, but my gaze naturally falls on her.

Here she comes. With how frequently she glances at me, bet she’s gonna ask me to busy myself.

“You… you need to do something,” she said. Bingo.

“I am. I’m watching you.”

“That’s the problem! I can’t cook if you keep watching me.”

“I ain’t judging you. Just lemme watch.”

“Watch TV or something.”

“Don’t wanna.”

Uh… Cute

“Well, if you’re watching then my cooking will turn out bad. It’ll be your fault,” she huffs.

I chuckled. “Just ‘cuz I’m watching? I’m sure it’ll taste fine.”

Dissatisfied, she walks back to the counters, then stopped and turned to me.

“Curtis… can you turn the stove on?” It’s not just her cheeks that are red now.

“You don’t know how to operate a stove?” I approached her.

“I… do! I just don’t know how to operate your stove!” My stove’s a standard gas stove. What kinda other-worldly contraption she got for a stove at home? Unless she actually can’t cook…

“Now I’m worried.” I gave her a side smile as I reached for the knobs. “I hope you’re not making my last meal.”

“Oh! You–!”

She takes a handful of dough and smacks it into my face. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. She laughed. Okay, I deserve it, but that don’t mean I ain’t returnin’ the favor.

We had our second food fight. This time, no one was there to scowl at us. The pancake batter got overturned. My band-aid got ripped off in the process but we were too busy smudging the batter all over each other to notice.

I chanced at touching the tip of her nose. She laughed again, reminding me of soft bells, only each ring was mesmerising to hear. I wouldn’t mind listenin it all day. And even with this ridiculous gunk on her face, she still manages to look stunning. Kinda wish time stopped for a bit, and that we have double the amount of batter.

I think she slipped on the overturned mixing bowl, or the box of flour, or any of the other stuff we felled from the counter. Because the next moment we were close – way too close.

These few days with her have been such a damn torture – she’s close enough for me to whiff her natural scent again. It’s… intoxicating. Underneath the hints of lavender soap, dirt, grass and vanilla, she smells sweet and warm, and something else undefinable… Plum. Get it together, man! How’s it possible for her to do this to you? I find myself scanning for other details: the soft curl in her fringe accentuated her apple cheekbones but did a poor job of shielding the blush now spread all over her cheeks. Her eyes are wide and dewy like how they were during our definitely-a-date at the waterfront.

First time we met, we weren’t this close. My thoughts still wandered then. What started as an observation became me plainly checking her out. I decided she’s bad news: she had me indulging in my basal instincts like the creeps in my circle. I can’t have her around, least not until her spell on me wears off.

But its been so long since and I still feel the same way, if not stronger. Whatever this feeling is, its deeper than lust or a fleeting attraction. She draws me like a moth to a flame… Plum. It’s so hard to focus with her body pressed on me. Even with all these layers, I can- …… I need to get her some damn clothes! Her lips are so close – maybe I shouldn’t hold back. I mean, she’s got at least a crush on me, the way I catch her lookin’ sometimes. Maybe she’s waitin’ on me to make the first move. All I need to do now is put my hands around her and…

I pulled away and fumbled with the stove, unable to meet her eye. “Stove’s lit.” I said.

“Th- thanks.”

“Don’t bother about the mess. Do what you gotta do. I’ll do the cleaning after.”

“No, I… I can clean it up.”

There’s no chance she likes someone like me. She’s in a vulnerable state is all. And what kinda plum are you to think about her like that after what happened? And then you almost kissed her?? You’re supposed to end things, not start things! This is a dream – a dream that needs to come to an end.

“Imma take a shower. Don’t burn all your hair off while I’m gone.” I attempted to seem natural, but it came out all wrong. I better just go.

*********************

We almost kissed.

I’m sure of it…! He leaned in; he was so close. But he stopped himself at the last minute.

Strange. I’m feeling a mix of emotions. I feel happy yet disappointed, excited and… scared?

Why am I feeling afraid? Is it because that image flashed in my mind?

What’s wrong with me? Why would I think of something like that during a kiss? Curtis is NOT them. And after our not-date at Little Venice, I was so certain he might actually like me too. Now that I’ve given it more thought, I wish it was a date… If we had kissed then…

No no no no- Don’t daydream just yet! Now’s your chance to use magic while he’s preoccupied! First, I need to Scruberoo everything and myself, cast Delicioso before he comes back, and get rid of the leftovers. I mean, my real cooking isn’t bad. But it pales in comparison to my magic!

I must have been lost in my thoughts and daydreams for awhile because the next thing I know, music started playing from the stereos.

“I hope you don’t mind some tunes, it’s pretty quiet– Woah!”

He stared at the clean kitchen and my dish on the counter. Instead of pancakes, I conjured a family serving of Egg Benedict. I gave him a confident smile.

“You cleaned everything and made that?” he asked in bewilderment.

“Yep! I figured we should have a heartier meal.”

“That ain’t possible. I only took a 10-minute shower!” Yikes! He’s right.

“I… am a fast worker.” I said lamely.

I can’t come up with a better explanation. I don’t think he can either. He’s scanning the stove now. Oh no. It’s squeaky clean! If I ever do this again, I need to make sure I cover my tracks.

He’s so happy and thankful as he eats my dish, as if he hasn’t eaten good food in years. We had an endless stream of dinner topics. Our banter is always tantalising. It must be our chemistry. He must notice it too.

Once the dishes were done, he grabbed a jacket. “Let’s get you home,” he said. I find myself feeling disappointed at his words. Am I expecting more?

I’m suddenly feeling nauseous. My body tensed, my heart raced and my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. At first I was confused, then I realised it was the night sky – its darkness reminds me of the incident. This is stupid! It’s just nighttime. Why is it affecting me?

“Athena?”

I didn’t realise I had re-entered his home, but I feel much safer here. He’s calling me. I want to respond but I can’t. Dread rises in me, rising to a peak. Why am I becoming fearful – of Curtis? He’s not a threat, he’s the exact opposite. Why am I reacting this way?

“Don’t come any nearer!” I said to him for the second time today. He must think I’m crazy. I think I’m crazy – I can’t control my feelings nor thoughts. My body starts shaking. Thankfully, Curtis listens. My mind says to hurt him if he comes closer.

My breath quickens. I’m starting to see… things. From that night. But they’re not real. I know they’re not! Curtis is real, but my mind insists repeatedly that he’s dangerous…

“Stop it. He’s not dangerous!” I cried. I’m talking to myself — I’ve officially gone insane. I can’t think — my brain feels heavy, as if an unseen weight is pressuring it down — I feel pressed down. Curtis extends a hand to me but his image flips back and forth with another — him! I must attack Curtis. Wh.. What’s happening to me?

“Stay back!” I tell him as I fall onto the couch. I press a hand to my head, trying to expel the thoughts from my head. I have to fight this – these – urges. “Curtis, leave me be! I… I can’t control- I don’t know what- I might hurt you…!”

The world ceased to exist. My mind spins as I grab my head, my hair, my face. I can’t think. I can only feel — fear. Curtis’s living room disappears and I find myself back in the isolated clearing — on the ground. My clothes are gone, the cold bites against my skin, twigs dug into my back… Him. On me.

No…. I push against him.
He leers. I feel his hands. Stop-
… no, no, no, NO!!!

An hour or more passed, I’m not sure. I’m fatigued — mentally and emotionally drained. My gaze darts frantically around but I recognise his living room. I’m safe! I fell back against the couch panting, face in my hands as I choked back tears. I thought I was alone until Curtis came and sat beside me.

… I don’t know what to say to him. I don’t know if what we have between us is salvageable at this point. He saw me being insane. But I’m too exhausted to feel ashamed. I’m sure it will come tomorrow.

“I need to stay another night…” I say, my voice barely audible. He doesn’t reply, merely rests my head on his lap as I fall asleep.


21 thoughts on “11.1 Waking Dreams and Nightmares

  1. I love Curtis as a character, he’s so sweet and gentle with Athena, but he’s also confused about his feelings for her. I’m hoping Athena talks to someone that can help her with her recent trauma. These two are really sweet together. ❤️

  2. these kids surely love to throw food around 😂
    I feel so sorry for Athena. She’ll probably have to battle with the memory for the rest of her life.

  3. Okay. Here’s the thing. I can understand why Athena didn’t go to the Police. Most raped women still don’t out of shame or fear nobody will believe them or other similar reason. But am I the only person bothered by the fact that she is playing in Curtis’ kitchen instead of being concerned that she might be pregnant? That she should go see a doctor maybe? And if she can’t think straight, shouldn’t Curtis think of it as her ‘friend’?

    1. This moment here is Athena (and Curtis) escaping reality. If she busies herself by taking care of Curtis, she don’t need to think about anything else. It’s a numbing technique people use to avoid issues in their lives (help others instead of focusing on oneself), excessive tv, playing too much video games or alcohol addiction. 😥 As they leave, she is brought back to reality through environmental trigger and that she has no other distractions.

  4. Aahhhh. shit. There it is. No human being is okay enough to act so bubbly. Especially not a fragile teenager. I bet that her trying to do house chores and be merry is Athena running away from reality. And I think she’s scared of losing Curtis, too – that’s why she’s waiting on him hand and foot.

    Edit: yup, reading the end of the chapter confirmed it. Poor girl… I love how you wrote this, but damnit, my heartstrings xD

    1. Aw yes! I love how you can see the dependency forming. and me typing this makes me sound like an ass 😭I do not enjoy her pain at all. I’m just calling it out as it is.

    1. This last screenshot here is imo a very beautiful picture. But it can only be appreciated once the later chapters are read. Im so pleasantly surprised your intuition has picked up on it. Even if consciously you haven’t, or hmm.. I think you have. 🙂

  5. She may think she’s insane, but her mind has to deal with it somehow. The longer you hold it in, the more powerful it could be and the harder to deal with it.

    I wish she would just call her mom though, but Curtis doesn’t have a phone, does he?

    1. Oh man you’re so right. It’ll consume her if she doesn’t seek help. Curtis doesn’t trust phones. He has one but I completely forgot about his phone haha! 🤣

  6. D’aww. Nothing like a pancake-batter-fight scene as a breather just before the PTSD comes back. That’s how it is!

    Putting the I-know-you-know-how-this-is-but-I-see-people-in-the-comments-who-don’t disclaimer again, this is a lot more realistic than stories about sexual abuse written by authors who have zero experience with sexual abuse. After something traumatic happens to you, you don’t turn into an introspective angstfest 24/7. There are still times when you momentarily forget what happened and your personality comes out. Then you get excited because you’ve missed feeling that way. Then it creeps up on you.

    Athena not going to the doctors or police makes perfect sense because her character is a bit naïve and sheltered. She may not have ever been told what to do in a crisis like this, or she may have been told but felt so confident that this wouldn’t happen to her that she didn’t internalize the information. Suggesting that there’s a correct thing to do or a correct way to feel pushes the responsibility onto the woman who’s been assaulted. This is the opposite of what should actually be happening. The current narrative centers the victim’s actions and the assaulter’s feelings, when it should really be centering the assaulter’s actions and the victim’s feelings. Instead of scrutinizing and analyzing her reaction to pick out every perceived “mistake” she’s made, we should instead acknowledge that victims aren’t a monolith, that nothing’s stopping a woman from responding in any which number of ways, and there are logical reasons for or against doing any specific action you can think of. (That’s why S&L is constructed the way it is, too: the people who are saying “why didn’t Claudia do X” should realize they fell into the exact same trap of laughing until it was too late. Or for getting sucked into the abuser’s narrative manipulation, which gets torn apart in RWE4.)

    And again, don’t worry about me reading heavier chapters, dawg. I’m an old hand at this. Have been since high school. I get that you’re going against the grain to deliver an important message, and what the community reaction clearly demonstrates is that even people who think they’re helping can make a sexual assault victim frightened to speak out for fear of her own response being criticized. I’m itching to see what happens when Athena runs into a “but why didn’t you get a rape kit done (and thrown to rot with the millions of other untested rape kits) or call your mom (who may not even believe you and may lecture you for being out too late and alone)” type in the story world.

  7. Her trauma is so real and raw. She needs time to heal, and professional help to talk through things. I understand why she needs Curtis right now, and why she’s attracted to him. I understand the shame, guilt, and confusion she’s feeling. Flashbacks are very common for survivors and they can be paralyzing. Busying oneself is a coping mechanism, albeit not a great one. Also hiding at Curtis’ place is a coping mechanism. Again, not great. I can understand the shame in reporting this kind of thing. Athena should get checked out to make sure she’s healthy and okay and that she is okay mentally too. What if she contracted a STD or she’s pregnant? I have a feeling she might not and it makes me sad and really worried. So many things don’t get reported, and she may not be okay. I get why she probably won’t especially because of how traumatic the situation is and how uncomfortable and how it can turn into a “he said, she said” and even the wild card of Curtis, and wanting to protect her protector. But for the love of God, please make sure Athena isn’t going to die of some horrible disease and confirm she isn’t carrying a baby! So many real and raw feelings here. I can’t even enjoy the food fight or Curtis’ feelings here all that much because I’m so worried. 😧

    1. I do want to say this is very realistic. As a survivor myself, I’ve done the exact same things as Athena here, and I was even a bit older, I think. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, and no one really prepares you for something like this. How could they? So I’m not judging Athena (or you the writer) for acting this way (or you writing this way). Now that I’m older, I want to counsel Athena, hug her if she’s okay with being touched (some aren’t after this kind of trauma), and tell her this doesn’t define you, and you are more than this. But it will affect you and what you are feeling is realistic, and okay. You can be whole and heal. It takes time and help. I really understand and that’s what is gutting me. So I wanted to add this and apologize for saying Athena “should” do something because I hated when people second guessed what I did and didn’t do. Everyone reacts differently and processes in their own way and there’s no right or wrong way to grieve after a trauma. Should was too strong of a word.

      1. One last thing and I promise I’ll move on. I do respect Curtis for giving her space and not pushing Athena to talk, get help, or leave. It’s what she needs right now that matters and even if he didn’t realize that, I appreciate it.

  8. I didn’t think it would be so easy for her to just pretend nothing happened because Curtis told her she was no different. It’s true, she isn’t, but then again she is, just not in the way she thinks. PTSD is real and she needs help, but in her own time. I’m glad he gave her the space she needed. I’m sure he realized what happened. He’s so sweet with her.

    1. I agree, in the way that Athena was sweet with Curtis when he was feeling terrible about himself, he is doing the same for her. If the threat of violence and pain isn’t looming over their heads (and even if it is), I actually think they’re very sweet and ‘healing’ for each other.

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