Author's note: "Talitha Cumi" means 'little girl arise'. Written for Livia's X-Title Challenge. Thanks to her for the inspiration and to nerodi for the beta!
Lana has always loved grooming Amos after a ride. Such a sweet horse, unlike Sherman-the-Biter who makes every trip into his stall a tense experience. With Amos, she can spend long minutes stroking his sides with the curry brush, and use a comb to remove every one of the burrs from his mane and tail. The way he leans into her hands and lips at her hair lets her know how much he loves the attention. Almost as much as he loves the carrots once she finishes. She likes to take a long time grooming him, letting him know how much she loves him. The routine is soothing, and lets her mind roam.
She had overheard something at school earlier in the week that had lingered and bothered her. Some of the cheerleading team had been in the cafeteria, and as Lana approached she had heard Cindy say "Like she can really remember! She was three when they died, no way does she really remember them." The whole table had fallen uncomfortably silent when they noticed her walking up with her lunch.
Lana knows that Cindy doesn't understand. It's not like Lana has an instant replay in her head of every moment with her parents. She has flashes - vivid pictures called up by feelings or odors. Like when her father carried her into the hospital room where her mother was laying in the bed, plastic tubes running up to her elbow. The walls were this odd green-blue color and the machines had beeped while her mother waved at her. Daddy had held her down to kiss her mother before snuggling her back tightly in his arms against his broad chest. The light was harsh and Mommy had smiled weakly at her, the bandage starkly white against her knee. Lana had told Nell about the hospital visit recently, and Nell was shocked. She said Lana was eighteen months old when her mother had knee surgery. All the recent trips to the hospital to visit injured friends had evoked that one memory, that indescribable hospital smell summoning it from the recesses of her mind. She holds tight to the recollection now, as one more link to her missing family. Something before the horror of the meteor strike.
For years, Lana couldn't watch violent television shows or movies. The sound of explosions and breaking glass and screams were like a hammer shocking her back to the sight of her parents dying before her eyes. One moment they were waving at her and she was eager to launch herself into their arms and the next moment her world detonated into fire and chaos. The old grey sedan had catapulted into the air before crashing back to the street. The screams of the crowd echoed in her ears as she stared uncomprehendingly. Nell grasped her tighter and tighter until the blast wave blew them backwards away from where Mommy and Daddy had been standing. Where only black and red chunky smears remained. The hours after that when she hid under the side table in Nell's living room, trying to find a place where she felt safe. Clutching her teddy bear and rocking back and forth in the small, enclosed space, still waiting for them to come get her. She felt like she had spent the rest of her childhood moving in a fog, disconnected from the world, fulfilling all of Nell's wishes so that Nell wouldn't abandon her too.
All the activities - gymnastics, ballet, horseback riding, academics - where she felt compelled to excel because of Nell's encouragement. Felt like she needed to live up exactly to Nell's subtly stated expectations or she would be left alone again. Nell would talk to Lana sometimes about what her mother had been like as a girl. Those talks left Lana wanting to emulate her mother so badly that she adds them to her list of ways to behave. Nell shushing loud voices, so she learned to talk at a low pitch. Nell emphasizing happiness, so she pretended that she wasn't sad so much of the time. Nell wanting her to be popular, so she made friends at school. Nell preferring clothes that emphasize sweetness and innocence, so she had a wardrobe full of pale pink. Never any place or time to be her true self, or even to learn what her true self was.
Her only brief escape was into the pages of books where she could lose herself in imagined worlds. She remembers the first time she read Little Women, and how much she wanted to be one of the March sisters. To be embraced into a warm and loving family, with sisters and friends and rustling dresses, to eat blancmange (exotic word that she still has never experienced), and have a fan and posy holder and play silly games in an overgrown garden. The empathy she felt for Jane Eyre, orphaned and alone and tortured. Lana could imagine stumbling across the moors just the way Jane did towards the end of the book, nearly dying before seeing the warm yellow windows of the vicar's house. She became Jane when she was reunited with Mr. Rochester, reveled in the love and togetherness that she had lost with her parents. It was so hard to be a good student in school, to practice her sports, when all she wanted was to get home and discover another world on the printed page. But she did it for Nell and for the memory of her mother.
The past few years had been easier, Lana thinks as she gets the hoof pick and starts to clean Amos' feet. Nell had let Lana stop competing in the show ring, so now she rides at her leisure, for pleasure. The flow of her body as she posts up and down, the rolling snap of her hips at the canter, the sheer glory of galloping with her face chafed by the wind. Not worrying about fence pole faults or dressage judges lets her revel in the physical connection with her mount.
She wishes she felt that type of connection with Whitney. Emotionally he makes her happier than she has been in years. He shelters her from the world when times get tough and always wants to take care of her. She loves the attention, loves his concern. She feels safe with him, safer than she's felt since her parents died. His protection has let her feel secure enough to try to discover who she is, her own personality instead of the ideal daughter of Nell's dreams. But she knows something is missing from their relationship. She looks at the girls around her in school, how comfortable they are with their boyfriends. The casual touches and lingering caresses make them happy. She almost dreads anyone touching her, feels like she's being invaded when Whitney reaches out to her. Maybe if not for that horrible, grasping grip of Nell's hands as she watched her parents die, maybe then she would enjoy it when Whitney hugs her, kisses her. Instead his hands and lips make her feel panicky, and he's learned to be gentle and sparing with his approaches.
Lana runs her hands down Amos' long neck, pressing her face against his withers as she thinks about Whitney. Suddenly, Amos' head knocks into her arm and he lips at her shirt. Lana giggles and pets the length of his nose. "Are you hungry, sweetie? Let me get you some oats." She looks at her watch, realizing that it's almost dinnertime. She better finish up here quickly. Amos stretches out his neck out longingly and watches as she walks down the length of the barn to get his feed. "You'll always love me, won't you?" she asks him. His nose deep in the feed bucket, Amos doesn't bother to reply.