Until It Breaks – Chapter 12

Bet That’s It

Telling her parents about Havencrest  had been much easier than Valerie had anticipated. She had simply made up a story about calling the university director who then went over Dalton’s head to have her accepted.

Her parents had bought the story without further question and they had celebrated Valerie’s acceptance by going out to a nice restaurant. Thank god no one asked for the acceptance letter…

Then there was this other thing that had happened… a miracle, more like. Jenny had called to apologize. She said she was sorry for overreacting and that she believed Valerie. Rightfully so…

The downside was that Valerie didn’t have any excuse now for not feeling guilty about what she did. She kept telling herself that Jenny would find out about Ethan on her own, but she still felt bad when thinking about the whole ordeal.

Jenny had asked her to meet at the bar for drinks to celebrate their reunion. It would have been a perfect opportunity to tell Jenny about the real reason why she met with Ethan. But there was no going back now. If she spilled the beans, Ethan wouldn’t only take her out of college, he might even make sure she was arrested for hacking into it in the first place.

Given these circumstances, Valerie was not in the mood for partying but she decided to go nonetheless to dispel Jenny’s suspicions. When Valerie arrived at the bar, she saw Jenny already sitting at one of the tables next to the dance floor. She waved and went over to her. Jenny’s face was solemn, she clearly had something on her mind.

“Hey Jenny, what’s going on?”, Valerie asked. Part of her hoped Jenny had found out about Ethan.

“It’s Ethan”, Jenny mumbled and Valerie’s heart did a leap. Could it be? If Jenny ditched Ethan on her own, she was off the hook. Or am I? Suddenly, she was scared that Ethan would believe she had something to do with this. What if he rats me out anyway?
“What is it?”, she asked Jenny in an attempt to pretend she had no idea what Ethan was up to.
“It’s just, he’s not spending a lot of time with me lately.”

Oh… so she didn’t know about the other girl. Valerie’s insides squirmed. Jenny went on without waiting for Valerie’s input.
“I guess I projected it all on you. I’m sorry for that. I’m just so scared that our relationship is going downhill. Every time I call him he seems to be busy. I went to his house yesterday and his dad said he was working on something. But what is he working on?! Without me?”
Jenny’s voice broke and Valerie was afraid she would start to cry.
“I’m sure it’s nothing. Maybe he’s preparing a birthday present for you?”, she suggested, picking up the idea given to her by Ethan’s dad. Jenny’s face lit up.
“That would explain it, wouldn’t it? You’re a genius, Val, I bet that’s it!”

Jenny’s mood seemed to have taken a u-turn as she rambled on about what Ethan might be giving her.  Valerie nodded and said “That might be it!” a few times before she excused herself to the bathroom.

Valerie stared at herself in the mirror. What was she doing? She felt sick. What would Jenny do if Ethan didn’t have some elaborate birthday present for her? What would Ethan do? She had to tell him. She wanted to grab her phone but realised she had left it in her purse at the table. Back out there it is…

Jenny was still bubbly about the possible birthday surprise when Valerie came back to the table. Valerie was desperate for a change of subject so she said the first thing that came to her mind.
“Hey, did I tell you that I got into Havencrest?”

Jenny stopped her monologue about presents and looked up.
“That’s amazing, I am so happy for you!”, she smiled.
“Thanks”, Valerie said and they continued to talk about colleges. At least this was a safe topic. But not as far away from Ethan as I would like…

Next: Chapter 13

Until It Breaks – Chapter 11

Practically Foolproof

“And that’s it. It’s practically foolproof”, Ethan grinned after explaining his plan to Valerie who was still suspicious.
“I’m not entirely convinced. This is a lot of setup. How do you know Mr. Dalton won’t see my file?”
“Because he only handles the applications. He’s head of the admissions office not the director of the whole college. If we pretend you were enrolled all along there is no reason why he’s going to see your file.”
“But what if he does? He knows my name.”

“But he doesn’t know what you look like. Bouchard is not exactly the rarest French last name. Valerie is fairly common, too. We still have the fake background check as cover.”
“I’d still rather use a fake name…”
Ethan sighed impatiently.
“I told you, the fake name doesn’t work out. If your ID is ever checked, your story would blow up. And while there are many things I can do” – he winked and Valerie impulsively leaned away from him – “faking an official ID is not one of them. Believe me, this method is better.”

Valerie frowned. The idea seemed awfully fragile. So many things could go wrong. But what if nothing goes wrong… This was her chance to right the injustice she had experienced.
“You know we’re in this together, right? If this fails, you’re going down with me”, Valerie told Ethan. He nodded.
“You know the deal. You in?”
Valerie hesitated. There was no turning back once this was done. Ethan would get away with his cheating and she was going to Havencrest, the college that would secure her the future she wanted. And Jenny… Jenny would find out about Ethan’s true nature soon enough. There was no point in telling her. If she believed that Valerie was trying to steal away Ethan she would never believe her story. Too bad I didn’t snap a picture…
But this was her chance to get something positive from the whole situation. And didn’t she deserve it?
Ethan impatiently waved his hand in front of her face.
“Earth to Valerie. I asked: Are you ready to seal this deal?”
Valerie took a deep breath and nodded.
“Let’s do it.”
Ethan smirked and immediately got to work at his computer. Valerie didn’t understand anything he was doing.

She quietly observed while letters and numbers flashed on the screen and Ethan’s fingers raced across the keyboard. I thought hacking only looked like this in movies… She let her eyes roam around and spotted the tip of a tattoo peaking out of Ethan’s shirt on his back.

I wonder what it means… She shook her head. Probably something stupid. But the tattoo drew her in and she was certain Ethan must feel her burning gaze on his back. But if he did, he didn’t say anything about it. She quickly looked away to not give him any incentive for more dirty jokes.

“Almost there”, Ethan grumbled while quickly copying the fake background story they had invented earlier. Valerie’s parents were supposedly called Fleur and Henry and they lived in New Oasis, which was far far away from Havencrest so no one would ever try to check up on them in person. Now I only need to make sure that my parents never visit me there. Oh god… my parents! How am I going to explain to them how I got in?

“And it’s done”, Ethan announced and presented to Valerie a website with her photo and information on it, “It’s Havencrest’s internal file system. Congratulations, you’re in.”
Valerie stared at the screen. She felt light-headed and momentarily forgot about Jenny and her parents. Her dream was coming true. But of course her high spirits didn’t last long. Just in that moment, Ethan’s phone rang and he picked up.

“Hey, Jen. Yeah… No, sorry…it’s not a good time…I’m with my mom, she’s sick so I have to take care of her… No, that would be too much stress. … love you, too, bye.”
Valerie’s head was burning with shame. Love you, too?! She felt sick and angry at Ethan. This was all his fault.

“You are so disgusting. Don’t you think you’ve caused enough pain?”
Ethan’s face was stern when he turned towards her.

“That’s none of your business.”
“I think it is. ”
“Not anymore”, he pointed at the screen. “I might be going down with you if this doesn’t work. But if you rat me out, you’re going down with me.”

Next: Chapter 12

Murdock, Ian – A Short Story

WARNING: This story contains mentions of suicide (in conversation and thoughts). 

This is my submission for the July Short Story Challenge. The Theme is “I open at the close” meaning stories must begin and end with the same sentence. Here you go:

When I open my eyes again, I see Dr. Holt, my transfer specialist.

I see him more often than I see my own parents. They don’t visit me often after an… incident. But Dr. Holt is always there. He’s responsible for the cloning division G-N and that includes me. Murdock, Ian. Number of Transfers: Not enough.

I sigh. Every time I do it I wish it’s the last time. But it never is. I have the sneaking suspicion Dr. Holt is taking more DNA from me every time to make new clones. I used to believe they would run out of new ones at the rate I keep using them up. But they seem to have developed new methods because whenever I die, I always wake up again.

“Glad to have you back, Ian”, Dr. Holt says but he sounds neither enthusiastic nor pleased. Just tired. Maybe he is even as tired as I am of this game. Maybe I can convince him to stop.

“Just let me die”, I say my voice barely more than a croak. It takes a while for the new body to reboot after a transfer. I know the procedure by now. Feeling weak, headaches, croaky voice. I get the whole package. And it sucks. But not as much as living my miserable life with my constantly disappointed parents in a world I don’t belong to.

I wonder if the clones they transfer my memories and personality to know what is going to happen to them. Dr. Holt never tells me what their life is like before they step in to revive me. Can they refuse to do it? But even if one of my clones is rebellious enough they will just grab the next one. I wish they would just let me die in peace.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Ian”, Dr. Holt says with a sigh, “Your parents haven’t revoked the transfer agreement…”

I huff angrily. My parents. They still believe that someday I’m going to wake up happy, like they always wanted me to be. But their expectations only pull me down further. Deep inside I know they are never going to accept my decision of wanting to end my life. The sheer endless supply of clones is making my everyday suicides completely pointless. But just dying stopped being the point long ago. I refuse to walk around and pretend to be happy just because they want me to be their perfect son. This way I can at least annoy them as much as possible while waiting for the day they will finally let me die.

I reach up to my forehead and cautiously touch it. Of course, I can’t feel the bullet hole, this body is not the one I shot. But I still remember pointing the gun at my head, hoping today was the day. Bullets are my favorite method. Painless and messy. Maybe if my parents get sick of having to organize a clean up every time, they will finally stop reviving me. I am already thinking about how to do it next time. Razor? Bridge? Rope?

“Please, not again, Ian”, Dr. Holt says. He knows me too well. I only stare at him and don’t reply. He sighs.

“Your parents will be here soon. Get some rest.”
Finally, he leaves and I am alone. I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing. Inhale. Exhale. This body doesn’t feel different than all the others I had before. It’s like they are slapping me with copy-paste over and over again. I feel tired. I have the theory that a piece of my soul gets left behind with every transfer. One day all that will be left of me is an emotionless husk. Maybe then they will have mercy.

Sometimes I wonder if I should just give up, stop trying. But I still have hope that they will run out of clones someday. And if today is that day, how could I miss it? While I still have this hope, I will always try again.

I grab the glass of water on my nightstand and smash it, picking up a fragment and turning it against the light. It sparkles. Maybe this time.

When I open my eyes again, I see Dr. Holt, my transfer specialist.

Until It Breaks – Chapter 10

The Future She Wanted

More than ten days after moving in, Valerie had finally unpacked all of her boxes. After giving her room a few final touches, she sat down with a book to get some well deserved relaxation. The last two weeks have been crazy.

But before Valerie could indulge into her escape from the real world, her phone rang as if to say ‘No rest for you!’. Valerie sighed and picked up the phone.
“It’s Ethan. Look, I think I found a solution to your little… problem. I can do it right now and we can close the deal”, Ethan didn’t bother with smalltalk. He found a way? Valerie’s heart was racing. This could be her second chance. But…

“What’s your brilliant idea?”, she wanted to know. She didn’t trust him. He might be stalling her to keep her away from Jenny just long enough to get his own college acceptance from Jenny’s dad.
“Can’t tell you on the phone.”
“Well, I want to know. Be sure you’re not playing with me.”

“I’m not”, Ethan said sternly, “But if you don’t trust me, you can come over to my house and watch. If that’s your thing.”
The way he said it made Valerie’s cheeks flush red.
“Keep your dirty innuendos to yourself”, she snapped at him.
“Fine. Now are you coming over or what?”
Valerie agreed to meet at Ethan’s house and he gave her the address. Valerie didn’t immediately leave after hanging up. Was she doing the right thing? It was true that she didn’t trust Ethan but demanding to meet with him also gave her more time to think about it. You owe Jenny nothing. she’s so caught up with Ethan she wouldn’t even believe me, said a voice inside her head. But if she wouldn’t, why would Ethan offer up so much for my silence? I’m being an awful friend for not telling her, another voice replied. Jenny doesn’t want me as a friend. She hasn’t called once since our fight. Her future was on the line. And the future she wanted was Havencrest…

Valerie didn’t know what she had expected Ethan’s home to be like, but it looked surprisingly normal. The suburban house was in a part of Willow Creek where people usually did not worry about money too much.

Valerie walked the short path up to the door. When she rang the bell, a man opened the door who could only be Ethan’s father. He had the same black hair and the resemblance was uncanny.
“Hello, Mr. … uhm…”, it just then occurred to Valerie that she had no idea what Ethan’s last name was. But the man just smiled.

“Alexander, but please call me Curtis. Ethan told me that you were coming over for your little project.”
“He did?”, Valerie was surprised that Ethan would be this open with his dad. Doesn’t he care what his son is doing to his girlfriend?
“Of course! I think it’s great that you are planning a surprise party for Jenny. She will be so happy.”
“Oh, yeah, sure…”, Valerie was startled. A surprise party for Jenny? She was probably the last person Jenny wanted to see at her birthday party right now. But at least Ethan wasn’t sharing his cheating endeavors with his family.
“But please, come in. Ethan is in his room”, Mr. Alexander beckoned her inside and showed her the directions to Ethan’s room which was in fact in the basement. Very fitting.
She knocked on the door and stepped inside after Ethan’s brash voice had allowed her to do so. The room was untidy, measured by any standard. Clothes were lying around everywhere, boxes were carelessly thrown into a corner.

Valerie wrinkled her nose in disgust.  Ethan was sitting at his desk which featured obnoxiously many and big computer screens. Judging by the tidiness of the desk, it seemed to be his main workplace. He smirked at her.
“Yeah, girls don’t usually like it down here. But believe me, this room has seen a lot. You’re welcome to stay anytime.”
Valerie flushed red once again.
“You’re disgusting”, she replied but Ethan only shrugged.
“Grab that cube and sit down so we can get going.”
Valerie did as she was told while Ethan opened up some windows on his computer.

“So… what’s your idea then?”, Valerie asked.
“Listen up now, this is genius…”, Ethan said and began to explain.

Next: Chapter 11


Until It Breaks – Chapter 9

Keep The Guilt At Bay

Jenny had called Valerie in the evening, asking if they could meet at the cafe the next day. Valerie had agreed but now that she was here, she felt nauseous. How would she get through this chat without spilling the beans about Ethan?

After she had told him everything about Havencrest and Mr. Dalton, Ethan had promised to try to find a way to get her in within one week. If he didn’t, he would tell Jenny about the other girl. It had seemed like a good deal at the time. Valerie wouldn’t even have to tell Jenny herself, the thing she was afraid of the most. But when she thought about it now, she felt incredibly guilty about the whole agreement. She wanted Havencrest more than anything else, but Jenny was her friend. It felt like betrayal. Are we friends though? We hardly know each other anymore. Ethan is her problem. At least, that was what Valerie told herself to keep the guilt at bay. A small part of her hoped that Ethan would fail and the whole thing would be over quickly. But an even bigger part of her hoped that he would succeed and right the injustice of her rejection. If she hadn’t got in because of grades or by lottery, she wouldn’t have given it much thought. But this was another level… it’s so unfair!

In this moment, Jenny arrived at the cafe. She spotted Valerie and came over to her table.

“Hey, Val, so good to see you!”, she smiled and sat down. Valerie managed to fake a smile.
“Good to see you too, Jen.”
“It’s so nict that we finally have time for some catching up, don’t you think?”, Jenny cut right to the point. Valerie only nodded.
“Now, you have to tell me everything. How was Windenburg? How was school? Were there… boys?”, she giggled.

“Windenburg was great, really, it’s… nice.”
“Just nice? Come on Val, don’t let me interrogate you! Tell me, do you have a boyfriend back in Switzerland?”, her voice had gone from the happy giggling to a serious tone within seconds. Valerie felt the heat rise in her cheeks. Great topic.
“Well, no… there used to be this… guy from my school. I guess we kind of dated for a while, but it didn’t work out”, she said vaguely.
“Oh, okay. And is there anyone you’re interested in here?”, Jenny asked. Valerie felt strange answering all these questions about her love life. Jenny seemed to have developed a great interest in boys over the time. Only the wrong ones…
“Jen, I’ve been here for a week. The only guys I met were the ones at the party and there were so many, I can’t even remember them”, Valerie explained. She had bigger problems than finding a boyfriend.
“But you remember Ethan right?”

Valerie didn’t like the direction the conversation was taking. And she was especially uncomfortable with talking about Ethan.
“Of course, he’s your boyfriend, Jen”, she said but avoided Jenny’s gaze.
“So, what did you think of him?”
Oh god, why. Valerie’s cheeks were burning and she didn’t know what to say.
“Yeah, I mean, he seemed… nice. It looks like you love him a lot”, she finally managed to say. That last part at least was true. Jenny sighed.
“Val… I’m really not sure if we can be friends if you’re trying to steal my boyfriend from me”, she announced. Valerie stared at her wide eyed the fake smile still etched into her face.

“I saw you two in front of my house a few days ago. Did you meet him in secret?”, Jenny narrowed her eyes and her voice became aggravated.
“Jenny, I’m not trying to steal your boyfriend”, Valerie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. But of course, from Jenny’s perspective it must seem just like that.
“Just admit it! I saw you two exchange numbers. I can’t believe it, my best friend…”, Jenny almost yelled, every hint of friendliness now gone from her voice.

“Jen, calm down!”, Valerie was getting angry. Ethan was the cheating poobah and she was being blamed?!
“I’m not going to calm down! Just… stay away from me and Ethan!”
Valerie angrily got up. If Jenny was so intent on jumping to conclusions why did she even bother?
“Fine!”, she yelled and stomped away. Jenny could see for herself what Ethan was up to. She officially didn’t care anymore.

Next: Chapter 10

Until It Breaks – Chapter 8

It’s Him

Dear Ms. Bouchard,

sadly, we must inform you that you have been rejected from Havencrest University as you have not passed the mandatory background check. The background check is performed to make sure that future students fit in with the values and principles of Havencrest University. We hope that you understand this decision. Please refrain from applying again.

Sincerely yours,

Geoffrey Dalton
Head of Havencrest University Admissions Office

Valerie stared at the letter, speechless. Background check?! How on earth could this be? There must have been a mistake, a misunderstanding. She stormed inside to tell her parents. Surely her dad could fix this by making a few calls. Yes, it’s a misunderstanding, that’s all, she told herself. She couldn’t bear thinking about the possibility of being rejected from Havencrest – permanently.

When her parents had told her that they were moving back to their hometown, Willow Creek, Valerie had been furious. After uprooting her five years ago, they were doing it again, after she had settled in and found new friends. But later she had figured that this was a chance. She had wanted to become a psychologist since 10th grade. And Havencrest University was THE college for aspiring psychologists. It was the best in the world. If you graduated from Havencrest, all the possibilities would open up to you. It wasn’t far from Willow Creek either. It was perfect. Valerie’s grades were flawless and she had studied hard so she would get accepted. And now this…

She found her parents in the living room, watching a comedy show.
Her mother turned and looked at her expectantly.

“What is it, sweetie?”, her mother asked.
Valerie swallowed the lump in her throat as she handed her the letter. Her mother’s face darkened as she read it.
“I don’t understand. It must be a misunderstanding”, she mumbled.
“I think so, too”, Valerie nodded as she sat down next to her mother, “We can fix this, right?”
“Yes, of course. We will call the university now”, Suzanne Bouchard passed the letter to her husband who read it quietly.

“So you are sure this is a mistake? There’s nothing that they could be talking about?”, Valerie wanted to make sure she was right before calling Havencrest.
“No, of course not”, her mother looked over to her husband whose face had turned pale. He was visibly uncomfortable. Suzanne’s brows furrowed.
“Philippe…”, she said with a dangerously demanding tone.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, it’s my fault… Suzanne. It’s him. Geoffrey Dalton, you remember…”, his shoulders slumped. Valerie didn’t understand what was going on.
“Papa, what are you saying? What is this about? Tell me!”, she all but yelled as tears welled up in her eyes. Was there something she didn’t know? Philippe sighed.

“This man, Geoffrey Dalton…”, Philippe looked helpless as if he didn’t know how to explain. “I made a mistake. A few years ago. He… he hates me for it.”

Valerie couldn’t believe it. She was going to be rejected from her dream college. Because her father made a mistake. Years ago.
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart…”, Philippe tried to console her, “I will try to fix this. It’s not fair to you.”
Valerie nodded but said nothing. She was afraid she would cry if she did. He’s going to fix it, he’s going to fix it.
“Would you leave us alone for a minute? I’d rather make this call in private”, her father said as he grabbed his phone. Valerie blindly obeyed. As she stood in the hallway she breathed in deeply. Papa is going to fix this. But she was still worried. What if he didn’t? Then she would never be able to go to Havencrest. And for what? Why does this guy hate my Papa?

She heard her fathers voice from the living room. I have a right to know, she told herself. On her tiptoes, she went back to the doorway and listened intently.

“… I beg you… my daughter’s future…I told you over and over… sorry … even the court said … not my fault … How can you … No! … You wouldn’t …”
The tidbits she heard had made her even more confused. A court was involved? She couldn’t remember her father going to court. When she heard the shuffling of feet, she quickly stepped away from the door and pretend to walk down the hall. She turned around as her father came out of the living room and looked at her. The look on his face was pure defeat.

“I’m sorry.”

Next: Chapter 9