Due to the rural setting of Tuttle most houses were one-storey, there was plenty of room for wide-long expansion. Zoe's house had two-storeys like mine. It was also Victorian-esque, but taller and thinner with sharp spires over rusted grates. The whole thing was unpainted timber and it gave the structure an old, witchy feel.
The house still had wide spaces between the wood fencing at the borders, but there was no fencing where the property met the street. Instead if you looked from the road you could see past the house to the backyard quite easily. The property was all the same, long weedy grass, unmowed. And the house stood alone amidst this space, taller than it was wide. While it was factually creepy, I'd been coming here since I was seven-years-old so it had a nostalgia home feeling to it as well.
Upstairs I sat in a huddle, sweats and polo jumper. We were now in the middle of winter. Beside me was the old window, wide but also tall, that thin glass that'd break if anyone bumped it while moving furniture. Cobwebs on the edges outside. Through it I could see the opposite house, beyond the wide berth of both our front yards and the unmarked road. Rural town distance. Beyond that house was the woods. It was cold and misty.
Behind me Zoe busied herself beside another frosted window. The wooden frame was flaky with age. The glass in slats that you could open by tugging at the rusted lever to the side, that is if it still worked. Zoe's hair was growing out, her fringe was the longest part and went past her chin, she combed it behind her ear as she worked.
Like all genuinely cool people, Zoe had one typically uncool interest that she was really skilled at: sewing. She had a bulky, old-fashioned sewing machine and in this room upstairs were several gowns on coat-racks in the closet she'd made herself over the years. Multi-colored fabrics, cheap but glittery wreaths, some with dyed feathers or purple furs. When we were younger the two of us stitched together our own teddy bears and stuffed animals, even exchanging them as gifts on birthdays or Christmas. I hadn't sewn in a long time, but those were good childhood memories.
"It sounds to me like you're more enamoured by the idea of love." She randomly commented while working. She'd been focusing and thinking, and didn't even look up to restart the conversation that'd stopped ten minutes ago.
I itched the hem of my soft sleeve. She was a lot smarter than me, than most people I knew. Cool and wise. On the work table were two empty mugs, peppermint tea her Mum had brought up for us.
"I don't know, Zoe... I do love him." but I said it in the tone of:of course I must.
"You guys have been dating for a month." She aligned the material for the needle. "You told me you had to lie to him just so you could see me. You haven't seen your friends since you've been with him. You said he doesn't want you hanging out with other people, that sounds all hells of unhealthy."
"He has a point though, our friends are immature. Apart from you... I wish..." I wished he could be okay with Zoe, my oldest childhood friend. But that was just the way he was.
"You are way too passive. I should've known this was gonna happen, sooner or later. Guys are going to take advantage of you. You're going to attract the wrong kind of people, you already do whatever Sebastian tells you."
"That's not true!" I felt a pang of defensiveness. It wasn't entirely like that. Sometimes I could make Sebastian see reason with words when he was being particularly unreasonable.
"It's just like what happened with Hailey," she shook her head. "Everyone knew you'd become her lackey. You used to hang out with her all the time. She said you were her 'best friend' but she sniffed you out as being this non-confrontational and giving guy, and so she swooped in. Your entire friendship was just about her, that's why she doesn't want to let you go. Now someone else has claimed you too, and cause he's technically giving you what you wanted – on the surface – he's got a massive hold on you. And you're deluding yourself."
My whole body was bristling at her deduction. I hadn't made a blog entry for her to read in weeks, but she still had me figured out.
"Does Sebastian know you're hanging out with me?" she raised her dark eyes to me now.
"...No." I admitted.
"You had to lie just to see me. Your own friend." She shook her head. "He's got a major hold on you, Corey. If your grandparents knew, or the teachers knew... that's what controlling people do. They cut you off from outside influence. It's all a mental game."
But I knew Sebastian wasn't like that. At least, it wasn't his intention. But I also knew that he wasn't alright in the head. I was... fine. I was very happy to have someone to call my boyfriend, but there were gaps in my happiness and day-to-day life. Punctures in the fantasy. Yes, we spent a lot of time together. We were always in mobile contact. I loved having someone to be affectionate with: kissing, hugging and talking to. The sex... I suppose I liked that too, even though Sebastian was so demanding about it that it was just something I relinquished in order to keep him appeased.
But when we were apart... my life was now more restrictive in unpleasant ways.
I was not to talk to my regular friends. Even a brief exchange of words upset my overly-territorial boyfriend. I was to let him know of my whereabouts at all times. I was to always respond to his messages and quickly, at all times. Sebastian dictated how I was to behave in public, commented on what I did, even on what I wore: he liked certain clothes on me but not others. I was due for a haircut but knew automatically that getting it cut without letting Sebastian know, essentially asking for permission, would be bad – and then he'd want to weigh in on whatever style I chose. Never mind that he got his hair cut two weeks ago and it's already outgrown and always messy, and I still love him. That sort of unfairness never even occurs to him.
I don't feel like a person - I'm a possession.
He's just convinced his way is always right, and I'd submitted to his childish insistence because I cared about him.
As our routine settled in over the month Sebastian only seemed to become more emotionally demanding as well. Like it was my fault for not tip-toeing along the eggshells that his sensitivity had become. I was trying to ignore how unfeasible this all was, I was already bent out of shape. But Sebastian was getting worse instead of better. I couldn't physically follow all his demands. But he was always so convinced that he was right and I was the difficult one... when it was just the two of us it made me question myself. And he had the louder voice.
"I'm worried about you-" Zoe continued but I cut her off.
"Oh my God!"
Beside the wide window I was fully visible. There by the street stood Sebastian with his arms crossed – I couldn't believe it. Did he detour through the woodland? His eyes were cold and black. He stood unmoving. A dark despair settled over me and I hung my head. I'd been caught disobeying.
"Sorry Zoe, I gotta go." I rushed in a mumble.
Zoe's chair almost clattered to the ground, her mouth dropped open at the sight of my stalker by the road. Sebastian knew me too well by now. I stood up and made my way around the desk to the door, I knew the longer I made him wait the angrier he'd become. But I was still terrified of confrontation. I wanted to apologise, I already wanted it to be over.
The wooden stairs were a zigzagging spiral, I pushed off the tall banister. Saying nothing to Zoe's Mum who was somewhere in the kitchen. My head hung low as I exited the thin door, closing it behind me. I kept my eyes lowered as I walked the cobblestone path, my whole body tense. I stopped in front of Sebastian who stood still. When I chanced a look upward his dark eyes were even darker than usual. It didn't matter that I was technically taller, it felt like he had several heads on me. Without saying anything he grabbed my arm hard and pulled me after him.
I followed out of shock, I hadn't known what he'd do. I'd braced for yelling but he was silent – perhaps that was to come. Is Zoe still watching? We were all the way to the corner when the pain made me yank myself free.
"What is your problem?"
"Youliedto me." Steady anger.
"I didn't have a choice!" Panic rose up inside me, that runaway car of my emotions again "Why can't I spend time with my friends when I want?"
"I told youno." his dark eyes were transfixing.
I avoided them, the stress finally forced me to say it "I'm breaking up with you, Sebastian! We can't do this anymore. It's not working!" There was silence. I wasn't crying, not yet, but visibly upset. When I finally chanced a look at Sebastian he was as impassive as ever.
"No," he answered me.
"What? ...no what?"
"No." he was resolute. We were not breaking up and it was that simple. I was aghast at his certainty, beyond words. He wouldn't accept it. I just shook my head and he continued like a parent, like he was the undisputed boss of me "Go straight home and don't talk to anyone else. I'll message you later."
"I was going home anyway!" Panic always hindered my ability to think straight in an argument. He nodded for me to go so I stormed past him and away. Around the corner until he was out of view and then I kept walking.
I'd finally found the courage, in a fear-driven snap moment, to end things and I'd been unsuccessful. Sebastian had point-blank refused to accept the possibility. It was like I had no say whatsoever. We were together untilhedecided otherwise. If Sebastian wasn't going to listen to me I thought he'd notice how unhappy I was. And if he still didn't care... I figured he'd eventually dump me when he realised it wasn't working. But he hadn't realised. Sebastian was never going to leave me, I couldn't wait for that. I'd have to leave him, but after finally being pushed to that point... no effect.
He's not gonna let me leave him.
I didn't know what to do anymore. My eyes were wet, which happened every time I got in an argument with someone. My social anxiety flaring. I was entirely at a loss about what to do, no solution came to me all the way home.
We had a school assembly the next day. Years Ten, Eleven and Twelve beneath the undercover concrete sports area beside the oval. I ignored Sebastian's text messages after our showdown, he eventually gave up and told me we'd talk at school. I purposely sat away from him in roll call. His dark, soulless eyes locking onto me from across the room but I did my best to ignore him. Walked with friends to the assembly area to keep him from catching up to me alone. As we sat on rows of plastic chairs I could still feel his eyes, turning to me every odd moment from the row ahead and down the line. I couldn't ignore it.
The principle stood up on his podium, voice echoing through the little microphone. All I could feel was the constant looks Sebastian was giving me. This is what it felt like for someone to have an emotional hold over you.
He was bound to corner me sometime during the day, and I was terrified of what our upcoming confrontation would be like. I wanted it over. At that moment I wanted to be the one to apologise again just so it would end. I imagined shouting it to him at approach before he could raise his voice at me. Or having an entire conversation over text before seeing him, just to make sure he wouldn't be mad when we were face-to-face. My pits were sweating and my heart was pounding in my thin chest as I kept my face forward, my thin-frame glasses slid a fraction down my nose from my perspiration.
"...Year Eleven Drama students attending the Belvoir Street Excursion are to hand in their money to the front office before the end of this week." our speaker droned the trivial announcements "The school lock shed is closed, rusted from water damage, students will have to lock their bikes by the Visual Arts entry..."
I blinked to maintain my focus. This anxiety was consuming, swirling my vision and making it hard to breathe. I tried grounding again... Five things you can see (beige chairs, school bags, trees, podium, basketball hoop), four things you can hear (birds, Mr Caust, distant traffic, dragging shoes), three things you can feel (breeze, chair, my sweat), two things you can taste (toothpaste, cornflakes) and one thing you can smell (someone's green Brut deodorant, and maybe blue shaving gel). I closed my eyes so I could focus.
When the assembly was over I all but ran to my next class. I lined up outside the shiny painted door to Maths. Classmates joined me, but nobody I was friends with. I lay my head back against the bricks and closed my eyes again, when I opened them he was there.
"How are you today, Corey?"
"Fine..." I answered in a weak gasp. He settled into place beside me and I felt my clenched insides release in defeat. I was exploitable and he knew that.
"Did you finish the homework?"
The friendliness was a front to test the waters, edge his way back in. I couldn't stop him. Before the class was done I'd be back under his power. The friends I had in this class finally arrived, merrily joining the end of the line and away from us. And then a few minutes after that Ms Lee made her way to the front, jingling keys in hand.
It was true that in being an item with Sebastian I was more popular, in a sense. People knew who we were, they knew about us, always sitting together in classes. And sitting even closer together at lunches. But I had no other friends. At first I'd caved to Sebastian's pressure and stayed by his side and away from everyone else, being overly-concerned with my boyfriend's feelings. Now I looked at passers-by and silently screamed at them to notice me. Sitting where I was, isolated. At a corner-room desk or to the side of walkways against buildings. Sebastian sitting hunched beside me, jaw robotically munching a muesli bar.
At the end of the day we walked side-by-side out the gates just like normal and I felt sick. Students rushing past us or lingering for the school bus. Ahead was a family of blondes by a parked maroon four-wheel-drive, one of them was my old crush Billy Murphy. His Mum was on the other side, half-way in the car and fiddling with a baby-seat. Two other siblings of his talking, one a girl in my year. Billy must've thought it safe to mock me again, that his Mum wouldn't hear. Cruel eyes locking onto me once more, darkening in recognition, then flicking to the boy I was walking very close to.
"Faggots..." he chanted after us, and though I'd went to keep walking Sebastian stopped, taking me by surprise.
His body was still and tight, like a defensive animal. He was over a head shorter than Billy, and though fuller than me he didn't have muscle, which our antagoniser did have from manually chopping wood at dawn every weekday morning. I couldn't believe Sebastian's rage and that it would make him so reckless. Billy's face only alighted with pleasure when he saw my boyfriend stop and turn livid.
"Babe," I tugged on his arm. "Come on, let's go."
Mrs Murphy finished busying with her infant and opened the driver's door. Sebastian let me pull him away while Billy watched us go with a wide smirk. We moved on. Silently passed the huge side-long gas cylinder through the security fence, locked up at the edge of the playground in its cage. I remember my friends tossing handballs at it years ago as if it might explode. That was before they locked it up cause too many students were climbing it and someone fell off last year and got a concussion.
"Do you know that guy?" Sebastian was still seething when he asked. The school was out of sight by the time he spoke up. We walked the footpath beneath overhanging tree foliage. I passed a hydrant and looked over my shoulder again, there was a greater distance between the home walkers.
"Not really. His name's Billy, I know his sister."
"I want to kill him."
"Don't say that!" I felt a tremble of fear, a squirm in my guts. Sebastian was easily annoyed, easily snappish, but when he got proper mad it was a blinding dense thing that I found frightening even when it wasn't directed at me. "You don't know what you're saying."
"Yes, I do."
I hadn't seen him mad like the way he was now though; this was mad and focused. Like he felt threatened. Face set and calculating.
"Just ignore him, babe. He's a nobody."
We walked the suburban streets of Tuttle together in silence. I studied Sebastian's rigid posture from the corner of my eye, the set of his jaw and clenched fists. It wasn't until we made our way to the street shops, our usual stop before one of our houses, that he finally relaxed and let it go.