9. Present Day
It took a lot longer than anticipated to make it to the front door. I kept pacing back and forwards - both figuratively and literally. The sky had slowly darkened from the blended orange and pink streaks to an overall deep blue, and the sun completely disappeared from the horizon. Dim light from the house cast my shadow onto the road behind me. A part of me wished I could just fall back into the tarmac and become one with my shadow. If I were a shadow, I could have made it to the front door in a heartbeat.
When I finally did pluck up the courage to open the front gate and tiptoe down the driveway, I felt so anxious that my head was practically swimming in the stars, my mind so far away from reality I couldn’t even feel my body as it moved. The door was wooden, painted red but fading, with no window. I wouldn’t be able to see whoever was approaching. My heart thumped hard beneath my skin, working hard to supply my body with the oxygen it needed to survive this encounter. I raised my hand, but I couldn’t bring myself to knock. It just hovered there, with me staring at it like it didn’t belong to me. They’re your family, I told myself again as I took a deep breath, just knock on the fucking door. So I did - three timid knocks.
Nathan opened the door. It barely took him a second to get there, and it startled me. Of course it had to be him. He didn’t recognise me - I could see it in his eyes as they quickly darted back and forth across my face. Then it clicked, and his expression changed from confusion to shock.
“Castle?” He asked, as if he couldn’t believe I was there and so had to double check. I nodded, wishing that dad had come to the door instead. “What are you do- er, wait, come in! Come in, it’s been such a long time!”
His enthusiasm was exhaustingly fake, and he’d only said a few words. I could hear my dad upstairs, his heavy footsteps easily recognisable.
“John, Castle’s here!” Nathan called up to him. “It’s so good to see you, I - how’ve you been?”
I didn’t answer him, the words trapped in the top of my throat. Dad appeared at the top of the stairs and I looked up at him, smiling weakly. The look on his face was also one of shock, but only for a few moments. His mouth stretched into a wide smile and he practically bound down the steps and embraced me in a hug. It was a little too sudden for me to process. I didn’t raise my arms to hug him back.
“It’s so good to see you!” He exclaimed as he stepped back, looking me up and down. “You look absolutely awful, Cas.”
“I was wondering if I could use your shower.” It was all that came out of my mouth, I didn’t know what else to say. Being in this house was way too overwhelming. There were dozens of framed pictures hanging on the walls, including ones of mum, Journey, Dexter and Julius. All newly printed. Their memories lived on through flimsy pieces of paper trapped behind glass. I hadn’t seen pictures of them in so long, and despite how much I hated myself for it, their faces had begun to fade and melt together.
“Oh, uh, yeah - of course you can, it’s just upstairs to the right. Be quiet though, I’ve just got Addy and Aris to sleep.”
Addy and Aris. I hated it - those weren’t their names. Mum called them Adeleine and Aristotle, dad and I had nicknamed Aristotle AJ. Adeleine was Adeleine. Addy and Aris were imposters, posing as my young siblings. Nathan had done this to them, stolen them away from me and mum, dressed them up as someone else.
I left my bag at the bottom of the stairs and made my way to the bathroom. It felt so wrong to be undressing in someone else’s house, to be standing naked in their shower. The water was freezing against my skin, but I didn’t dare to mess with the temperature settings. If it was cold, it was cold. Although I tried not to look in the mirror as I climbed into the shower, I couldn’t help it. My body looked so wrong - ribs were practically protruding from my chest, the skin pulled so tight over them it seemed as though it were about to rip. The bottom of my foot stung as it hit the water, and I didn’t dare look at the damage the glass had done to it.
It was only a quick shower; I couldn’t bear to stay under the stream of water for any longer. My hair would usually have taken at least thirty minutes to shampoo and condition, but I didn’t have the energy to do so. The men’s 2-in-1 bottle I found in the bathroom cabinet would have to do for now.
I carefully slipped out of the shower and wrapped myself in a towel that had been hanging over the door. It was soft and new, perhaps only having been used once or twice. Like everything else in this house, it felt wrong. I felt wrong. Anything I touched would surely crumble to dust there and then. It was why I hadn’t bought anything new for the flat, or tidied up the mess that had been laying around for months now. As soon as I touched any of Starry’s things, the memory attached to it melted away.
After towelling myself dry, I pulled my dirty and stained clothes back on. I attempted to straighten out the creases in my shirt but who was I trying to impress? My dad? Nathan? They wouldn’t care about my clothes, they’d care about my wellbeing, my health. Or at least they’d pretend to, putting on concerned masks that they’d discard as soon as I left again. They had an eight-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter to care for, they didn’t need an almost 20-year-old too.
Back in the kitchen, dad made me a cup of tea in a pristine white mug - no chips, cracks or stains in the ceramic like all the ones at the flat. I took a sip to be polite, knowing he’d made it to try and be kind. He didn’t know that I’d given up eating dairy when I moved in with Starry, or that I couldn’t stand to have sugar anymore.
“Would you like something to eat?” Nathan offered as I sat down at the kitchen table. “Toast? Or a sandwich or I could cook you something?”
I refused. “I’m fine thank you. I just wanted to come round and see how you were.” It was a lie, and I almost felt guilty for saying it. I’d come round to try and make myself feel better, and because I couldn’t go back to the flat. It was here or the club, and there was no doubt William would force me to leave as soon as I entered through the doors.
Dad sat down opposite me, laying his hands palms down on the table. “You need to eat something, you’re disappearing, Cas.”
Maybe that was what I wanted, what I needed. To disappear for a while, or maybe even forever. “Fine, I’ll have a slice of toast, if that’s okay?”
“It’s no trouble, really.” Nathan popped two pieced of white bread in the toaster. I couldn’t stand white bread now either. “We were talking about you earlier, because Addy pointed at a picture of you and asked who you were, and we-”
“Adeleine.” I cut him off.
“Her name is not Addy. It’s Adeleine.”
Dad chewed on his lip as he stared at me. “Look, Cas, I - I know this might be a stupid question, but how have you been? I haven’t seen you since the - well, you know.” The words tumbled off of his tongue awkwardly, as though he weren’t sure of how he should talk to me. One half of me wanted to scream at him that I was still the same child he had raised, that he didn’t need to tread on eggshells around me, but the other half of me knew how hypocritical that would be. I was the one that had run away from him.
“Barely coping,” I took another sip of the disgustingly sweet tea. “I haven’t been going to work, or uni, because they were places I shared with Starry.”
Nathan handed me a piece of marmite toast and I took a bite out of the crust to please them. The dry crumbs scratched at the back of my throat, making my eyes water, so I washed them down with another sip of tea and just ended up choking.
“Oh - do you need a glass of water?” Nathan sprang to the cupboards but I violently shook my head.
Through a cough, I managed to say that I was fine. They exchanged a glance.
“If you haven’t been going to work or uni, when what have you been doing? How have you been paying the bills?” Dad asked. Of course, he was worrying about the material things rather than whether I’m happy or not. I simply shrugged and took another small bite of the toast, which had started to go cold.
“I’ve been mourning, it’s what you’re meant to do when someone you love dies, dad.” It was a dig, and though he seemed visibly taken aback by it, he said nothing. “What did you think I’d be doing? Writing poems on an old typewriter? Writing songs on my bloody guitar? Eating ice cream out of the tub? We didn’t break up, dad. She died.”
“No, that’s not what I meant - I’m sorry Cas. I really am. I know I haven’t exactly been there for you, but I did try. I spoke to Starry’s mum a few weeks ago- I bumped into her whilst shopping. She said she’d love to talk to you, to talk about Starry. I’d love to talk to you about her. And about your mum, and Dexter, Journey and Julius if you want to. It’ll be good for you, to get it off of your chest. None of them would want you to put your life on hold forever to grieve, they’d want you to go out and do all the amazing things you were put on this earth to do.”
It was almost laughable, this pathetic little attempt to stop me from mourning my family. Rage was slowly bubbling up inside me, anger mixed with the taste of sugary tea I’d let go cold on the table. “And they told you that, did they? Before they died? Mum said to you ‘Oh, by the way John, when I die, don’t let Castle get over it in her own time, make sure she doesn’t feel sad at all and gets a job’ did she? I suppose Starry told you to make sure I didn’t stop singing or painting or writing right before she got her head kicked in by a bunch of thugs?”
“Castle, that’s not what happ- that’s -” Dad tripped over his words, somewhat trembling in his seat as he tried to recompose himself. His next words seemed to be so carefully chosen, once again walking on eggshells around me. Maybe this time it was glass he was walking on, now knowing how frustrating it was when someone put words in your mouth, or spoke what they thought you were thinking. “No matter what you think, I loved your mum, and I knew her well. She wouldn’t have wanted this for you. And I think that you know, deep down, Starry wouldn’t want this either. She was such a free spirit, and right now you seem to be so trapped in some cycle of depression. If you need our help to escape it, we’ll be here. We still love you, Castle. Addy and Aris too. I mean, Aristotle and Adeleine. They’d love to see you if you wanted to stay for the night. We’d be glad to have you here with us again.”