Photo by Susan NYC (Flickr)
I felt Lydia’s pain before I saw it.
Having cashed in my annual leave, I was strolling along the beach at Batu Ferringhi when the first storm of nausea struck me. Gasping, I collapsed onto the sand, my chest tightening, my heart thumping with confusion and fear, swaying on all fours for what seemed like hours. Looking every bit like an intoxicated tourist, I crept off the grainy canvas and stumbled back to my hotel room, dropping onto the bed. Trying in vain to ignore the throbbing ache in my ribs and arms, I drifted into a restless sleep with the sounds of the Night Market beating below.
The next morning I booked the first available flight home and went straight to my sister’s house.
“Cora!” Lydia exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“Is everything okay, Lydia?” I was in no mood for small talk.
“Of course,” she replied – quickly and a little too brightly, I thought. “Come in.”
I entered the house, placed my handbag on the kitchen table and leaned in for a hug. I felt Lydia stiffen and wince at my touch. Remembering my own anguish the night before, I took a firm hold of her wrist and pushed her sleeve up.
Dark purple bruises marred her pale white skin. I knew if I lifted her blouse I would see more of the same.
“I tripped on the stairs yesterday and fell,” she offered lamely.
Lydia and I were born just 10 minutes apart, with the same fair skin, hazel eyes and mousy brown hair but it didn’t take anyone who knew us long to realise that our similarities ended there.
I frowned at her guilt-ridden expression. Her gaze dropped and she began twisting her engagement ring as she often did when she was nervous.
Lydia had always been far more gentle and timid than me. As the one person who knew her inside and out, it was my duty to protect her.
“Hi, Cora. Wasn’t expecting you back so soon.” Lydia’s fiancé Austin emerged from the bathroom, flashing a sugar-white grin. “Sick of shopping already?” He finished knotting the tie around his neck and planted a deep kiss on my sister. She smiled back.
I felt a ripple in my stomach and narrowed my eyes.
“Just missed my sister,” I replied shortly.
Austin laughed. “That twin connection thing, huh. Alright, babe, I’ve got to get to work. I love you. You girls have fun, okay?”
The door shut behind him and I took a step towards Lydia. “You’re afraid of him. I felt it. He did this to you.” It wasn’t a question.
“He didn’t mean it,” Lydia whispered. “He was so sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“Like hell it won’t!” I snapped. “And once is too many.”
I made her a cup of tea and kept her company for the day, rubbing the jetlag from my eyes as I kept watch on the clock. At 5pm, I knew Austin would finish work and I had to be there before he left. I said my goodbyes to Lydia just after four and drove to Austin’s office building, pulling in to a parking space along the street.
Austin swaggered out at five minutes past five with three other men. They all hopped into a black van. I trailed them to a pub situated about halfway to Lydia and Austin’s house and waited with the radio on, as Only Women Bleed filled my car.
An hour later, Austin emerged alone and began his walk home as I followed slowly behind. He turned, startled, before his trademark grin stretched across his face.
“Hey, Cora, you scared me there. Any chance of a lift?”
My face stared stonily back at him. “I know what you did, Austin.”
I saw his lip twitch. “What did she say to you?”
“Nothing. She didn’t have to.”
“That twin connection thing, huh.”
“You know it.”
Austin grimaced. “Then know this: I love Lydia. I didn’t mean to hurt her. It won’t happen again.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Austin squinted sharply and frowned. “Then I’m sorry.” He started to walk again. I continued to follow in my car.
I saw the exact moment his fear engulfed him. The same fear he had pounded into my sister. He began to sprint through the side streets, sweat shaking off his athletic frame.
I stamped my foot on the accelerator. My bonnet collected him first. He bounced off the windshield and landed with a flop on the road several metres away.
I kept driving.
I reached Lydia’s house and found her in tears. “Austin hasn’t come home,” she sobbed, her hazel eyes wide and fearful when she saw me.
I held her in a tight embrace. “You’re safe now, Lydia. He can’t hurt you anymore.” I felt Lydia stiffen and wince at my touch.
She was scared of me.