Losing Liberty: Part 2

www.pixabay.com

Read part one here: https://medium.com/collaborative-chronicles/losing-liberty-part-1-f067559356da

12 Months Later

“That’s her, Andy. That’s the girl that I am going to ask out.”
Andrew looked back down the library line to where his younger brother, James was pointing. When he saw caught sight of the girl in the study nook, surrounded by a mountain of books, he paled.
“Liberty! Are you interested in Liberty Avery? Please tell me that you are not serious.”
Deadly serious, James met his brother’s doubtful gaze.
“I’m not joking. There is no such thing as joking when it comes to courting girls.”
Andrew snorted. Courting girls, indeed. Despite how James liked to think that he was a tomcat, he had his doubts that the kid could string a sentence together if he ever spoke to one in person.
“One week into high school and you already have your sights set on an older girl? You have to admit that you are aiming a bit high. Let alone that it is Liberty!”
“What’s wrong with Liberty?” James asked, already fired up to defend his future girlfriend.
“What isn’t wrong with her?” Andrew remarked. “She’s the school unicorn, mate. Yes, she is beautiful, but she won’t let anybody tame her. Nobody who has ever asked Liberty out has come away with a date. You only need to spend two minutes with her to tell that she is a lost cause. Something just isn’t right with that girl. 
James frowned.
“What do you mean something isn’t right with her?”
He took another glance at her and sighed, unable to comprehend what could be wrong with this living angel. Andrew sighed too. How was he supposed to explain Liberty Avery?

“So Liberty transferred into my class when we were in the second ” he began anyway. “Even back then, she was exceptionally clever and talented. The girls worshiped Liberty because she was as pretty as a living doll, but back then she used to ask them to stop fussing. Libs was awkward back then. More innocent too. She used to ask me a thousand questions about what kids were playing on the playground, and about why they were laughing, screaming at each other or crying. Liberty may have been the smartest in our grade, but in many ways she was clueless. I remember challenging her to a race one day. At the end of it, she grinned at me and asked me if that was what fun felt like. Who does that, right?” 
“Somebody extremely interesting,” James piped up, not deterred in the least. Andrew smiled. At the time, he had thought so as well.

For the first few years of their friendship, Liberty remained very interesting. Andrew did not mind all of her eccentricities as she was also loyal, truthful and kind. He used to think of her as a younger sister, as Liberty used to delight in grabbing his hand unexpectedly and leading him to something new and exciting that she had learned about the world. The day after Liberty’s mother saw them like this together in the schoolyard was when everything started to change.

The next morning, Liberty had looked Andrew in the eye and asked him to leave her alone. There hadn’t been a single hint of expression on her face, so Andrew had no idea why her feelings towards him had changed so suddenly. For many months he persisted in trying to find an explanation. Not only did Liberty refuse to speak with him, but she would also go out of her way to avoid meeting his gaze. Then, the rumours started. Some of the students became convinced that Liberty was losing her mind, as she was often caught talking to herself. Others said that they had witnessed her crying and pleading for help. Despite how loudly she screamed and insisted that her mother was taking control of her, nobody took her seriously. ‘Maybe Dr Avery was a witch,’ they joked. Perhaps that was how she was manipulating her daughter like a puppet on a string? Andrew didn’t believe her outlandish claims either. Instead, he became so afraid for Liberty’s sanity that he took it upon himself to tell his concerns to the school counsellor. 
Most people would claim that this visit cured her. Andrew wasn’t convinced, as afterwards Liberty’s personally changed entirely.

“What are you talking about?” James interrupted. 
“How can a personality change? That doesn’t make sense?”
“Liberty doesn’t make sense,” Andrew snapped, suddenly agitated. He was so loud that he even made the librarian jump and drop Andrew’s books. Andrew apologised to the young man, and then took a breath.
“Just give up on the idea of asking her out, alright James? At first glance, Liberty looks normal. She can make a pretty enough speech as class captain, but if you try talking to her one on one, she will look right through you. She’ll smile at you and say the right words, but she won’t take you in. Liberty doesn’t care about friendships anymore, so she will have even less tolerance for being asked out on a date. The only thing that you will gain in return is humiliation and heartbreak.”
James raised an eyebrow. Was it his imagination or was Andrew still bitter for being shut out by Liberty? 
“I guess that it didn’t occur to you that Liberty could have just grown tired of you, all on her own? Just because she stopped talking to you all of a sudden doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with her.”
James then sighed at his hopeless, older brother.
“Andy, Andy, Andy”, he tut-tutted. “It’s no secret that I got all of the charisma in the family. I’ll bet you $20 that the only thing wrong with Liberty is that she hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting James Donnelly.”
Andrew stared at the delusional Casanova, debating whether to caution him further or to try for the $20. No doubt it would be the easiest money he would ever make. Knowing very well the power of his brother’s determination, Andrew shrugged and accepted the bet. As James walked towards his target, he followed at a discreet distance, unsure who in this unusual pairing to feel sorry for the most. Andrew could not shake the feeling that there was no chance that this encounter was going to go well.

James was confident, at least until he saw Liberty up close. Then he started to sweat a little. Weren’t the teenage years the time when they were all supposed to look out of place and awkward? How was it that Liberty had dodged that bullet? Her complexion was gorgeous and free of blemishes. Her eyelashes were uncommonly long and stunning. Somehow, instead of being constrained by her school uniform, her chequered dress fit her perfectly. Her most striking feature was her long, honey blond hair. Not one strand was out of place.

Come on, Donnelly, he bolstered himself. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward and initiated the conversation.
“Er, Hi. H..h..hello Liberty.”
Watching from a nearby bookshelf, Andrew cringed as he heard his brother stammering. As he suspected, upon contact with a girl, James had become a bundle of nerves. 
“Good afternoon,” Liberty replied. Barely looking up from her page, she asked: “have we met before?”
James shook his head, grinning like an idiot. Her question had been accompanied with the most beautiful smile. The excited junior wondered whether this is what love felt like. 
“Nope, we haven’t met. Not yet.”
Boldly, he leaned in closer.
“Would you like to meet? My.. my name is James, and I’m a pretty awesome guy. I’d love to sweep you off your feet if you will let me.”
In a rare moment of self-awareness, James then heard what he sounded like.
“Of course, there doesn’t have to be any sweeping involved,” he added, worried that he might have come on a bit strong.
“I’d be more than happy if you would let me sit with you for a while. You’re… you’re the loveliest girl that I have ever met, and I just want to get to know you better.”
Andrew smiled, surprisingly moved by the confession. James might not be dripping with charisma, but now that he was acting like himself the kid might just stand a chance. For a second Andrew was hopeful. Then he remembered who James was speaking to.

Still wearing that delightful smile, Liberty shook her head.
“No thank you, James”. She then gestured to her mountain of books. 
“As you can see, I am very busy. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, but I need to get back to studying. Please, won’t you leave?”
James’ shoulders sagged. He truly hadn’t expected to be shot down. He was also taken aback with how much rejection hurt.
“Come on, James. We can’t afford to miss our bus.”
In truth, the bus from Library Square left every half an hour, but, with the bet won, Andrew had no desire to prolong James’ humiliation. The best James could hope for now was a dignified exit. 
“I’m coming,” James called reluctantly, giving Liberty a deflated wave. Initially, his retreat had been sincere. Then, four steps in, his expression changed to a look of determination. Was he really going to give up this easily? Once again set upon taming the unicorn of Stafford High, he turned back around again. Andrew groaned and shook his head, already seeing that this would lead to disaster.
“We have to go, James,” he hissed, but it was already too late. 
Channelling one of the romantic leads that he had seen on television, James slammed his hand on top of Liberty’s page and looked into her lovely, leafy green eyes.
“Liberty, I know that we have only just met, but I love you. Won’t you please humour me? Agree to go on a date with me? You might fall in love with me too if you would just give me a chance.”
Andrew predicted that Liberty would react in one of three ways. Either she would reluctantly agree to the date, politely shoo James away or finally drop the nice girl act and give him a piece of her mind. Liberty being Liberty came up with a fourth option.

Initially, there was no reaction at all. The bookworm kept on reading until she could no longer see the words. Then, Liberty asked, “Can you move your hand, please?”
James pressed down harder.
“I am not moving until you say yes. I’ll stay here all night if that is what it takes.”
When she heard him say, ‘all night’, Liberty frowned.
“Move your hand, please,” she asked again, this time sounding distressed.
When James shook his head, Liberty started to have a meltdown. 
“I can’t wait all night,” she started to fret. “I’ve only read five books. Mama will be expecting for me to finish twenty at least. I must finish. I need to read every word, from cover to cover. She’s not going to understand. Mama’s going to think that I am such a wicked girl.”
“What did you say about your mother?” James interrupted. As if this rant wasn’t confusing enough, Liberty then blinked. Was it his imagination or did she suddenly look as frightened as he felt? Her breathing suddenly became heavier. In a voice almost too soft to be audible, Libby cautioned him.
“Please, James. Let go, and walk away before it is too late.” 
James didn’t take the hint. 
“Will you walk away with me if I do? That’s the only way that I am going to budge. I really am that desperate to get to know you better.”
With Liberty back in control, her eyes widened in horror. If she left her study nook, that meant that she would have to stop reading. If she dared leave a book unfinished, then she would be in such terrible trouble. 
“Can’t you see that I am studying?” she shrieked at the top of her lungs. In a desperate scramble to reclaim her book and keep reading, Liberty lashed out, grabbing a handful of chestnut hair in one hand and prying back James’ fingers with the other. As it turned out, Liberty Avery was freakishly strong.

James shrieked. The hysterical girl was tugging his hair so hard that his eyes had started to water. She was also dangerously close to breaking a bone.
“Get off of him!” screamed Andrew, running to the rescue. Liberty met the gaze of her former friend for a second, and then annoyingly avoided his gaze.
“Stop it, Liberty,” Andrew begged, grabbing at her wrists but unable to make her budge.
“I’ll make sure that my brother leaves you alone. Please, Libs. If our friendship ever meant anything to you at all, do this for me. Let James go.”
Then, to the surprise of everybody, the startled librarian from before knelt next to Liberty. Cupping her cheeks in his hands, he looked over the frames of his glasses so that the two of them were gazing into each other’s eyes. In a soft, soothing voice, he attempted to reason with her. 
“Get a hold of yourself, Libby, and remember who you are. You are such a sweet girl. It isn’t in your nature to hurt anybody so don’t let her win. Fight against Liberty and let the boy go.”
Libby obeyed at once. Free at last, James leapt out of the chair and retreated over to Andrew’s side. Meanwhile, a very dazed and confused Libby focused solely on Thomas.
“Do you know me, then? How? Nobody at school calls me Libby. Mama hates that name and the only other person that calls me that doesn’t…”
“He does,” Thomas interrupted. He gave her a watery smile and an affectionate tap on the nose.
“I’ve never doubted you, Libby. I’ve never lost sight of the real you, despite your mother’s influence. I think that I may have finally found a way to free you, so you just need to hang in there for a little longer and be brave. Do you think that you can do that for me?”
Slowly, Libby nodded. Then she threw her arms around the librarian and started to cry. 
“It isn’t fair,” she sobbed. “You have been watching me, trusting in me all of this time and I didn’t know that you were there. Now, you are right in front of my nose, and I can’t even see you. I hate.. I hate.. I can’t even say what I mean most of the time and most days I am more asleep than awake. That wretched doll. It’s like she is the girl and I am nothing more than a dream, and it is more horrible than you can imagine.”
“I’m sorry,” Thomas apologised as he stroked her hair, meaning it more than Libby could ever know. Libby just clung on tighter.
“Are you truly planning on rescuing me, even after all of the horrible things I said to you? Uncle Talon, I..”
“Shh Libby,” Talon hushed as her eyelids began to flicker. As was Janice Avery’s will, the very second his name was spoken aloud; the poor girl fainted dead away.

Catching his niece was the easy part, God knows Talon had done it enough over the last five years. What hurt was knowing that Thomas would be lost to her now, just like Samuel, Aaron and so many identities before that. Programmed to see the identity of a complete stranger instead of his true face, Libby had felt alone in the world when that wasn’t the case at all. Wearied after being lost and forgotten over and over again, and at a complete loss as to how to save Libby, Talon had settled for remaining Thomas over the last few years and for staying discreet. At least then, the librarian could become a friendly face for Libby to see every afternoon. Even though she remained oblivious of exactly how much he loved her, Talon had been able to smile at Libby, freshen the flowers upon the windowsill near her study nook and attempt to lift her spirits and be there for his girl without giving his identity away. 
“Liberty’s mother. The rumours about her were true, weren’t they?”
Talon looked up at the boy who had spoken, Andrew. He could still remember how heartbroken Libby had been to learn about her mother’s latest command- the inability to speak or look at her first and only friend. 
“It’s my fault Libs lost her way, isn’t it? If the two of us had never been friends…. If I had just kept my mouth shut and not talked to the school counsellor…. I should have believed her from the start. Maybe then we could have found some way to free Liberty before her mother took control. She’s all twisted up inside, and it’s all my…”
Andrew didn’t finish his sentence for James unexpectedly put a hand on his shoulder.
“You are not allowed to feel guilty. You’re the best brother, Andy, to both of us. It sounds to me that you were just trying to look out for Liberty. There was no way for you to know what was really happening to her. I won’t allow you to feel bad.”
“I won’t either,” Talon agreed, giving the boys a sympathetic smile. He had played the ‘if only’ game enough for the both of them. 
“There is only one person responsible for Libby’s torment, and her name is Janice Avery. I have a plan to stop her. If you are up for it, I would like you boys to help me.”

End of part 2:

Read part 3 here:

Thank you so much for reading. I will continue to work on Libby’s liberation and hopefully have the last part finished and posted soon. If you enjoyed this story please show your appreciation with a round of applause.