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I stood in front of the cozy heated kiosk, pulling my coat closer toward my torso as I waited in line. The evening was ending—I figured it was about eight o'clock. I needed to get this done quick or suffer the consequences.
The line shortened quickly and soon I was staring face to face with a tall, plump man.
“What will it be? Hot Chocolate? Coffee?” he asked, looking at his hands instead of me.
“Cold Water.” I answered. He looked up at me curiously.
“Are you sure? I could get you tea if you like, something warmer....”
“Cold water.” I replied curtly. The pills have already waited long enough. How much longer?
He passed me my water and I paid him the small fee, not bothering to take them in private.
“What are those for?” he asked, his face pink and innocent. I looked up, startled. What happened to privacy? I wondered.
“Just a little mental thing...uh, nothing big.” I answered. It was at least half-true...it just wasn't very mild. His eyes smiled.
“That's got to be so cool!” he exclaimed energetically. I felt thoroughly disgusted. No, it's not. It's only cool because you've never had to deal with the voices screaming wickedly at you in your head on the darkest nights of your life. Only because you've never experienced the ethereal illusions that no one else seems to see walking toward you, making you almost frightened for your life even though you're just ordering a meal. The feeling of being watched wherever you go, restrained by helplessness, as if nothing's under your control anymore. Maybe it'd be cool to shove brick sized pills down your throat everyday and feel the shame of walking into a psychiatrist's office every week and waiting with the people most discriminate against, and knowing you're exactly the same as them. That someone thinks that there's something wrong with your BRAIN. Yeah, that's gotta be cool. Ditto.
I felt as if I was about to burst. How could he say that?, I thought as I got a stare from the stranger. The realization that while my internal monologue had been raging I'd left this man unanswered gave me a little sense of victory inside but I quickly disregarded it. Even though this answer would have worked well for my taste I just smiled and walked away.
I needed to stop fighting with people. I needed to learn that ongoing conflicts with almost everyone in my life were enough and that I didn't need to declare war on some man I had just met a few moments ago. I continued strolling down the historic street, feeling the snow pack under my boots and kicking it off in the vicinity of some unsuspecting lamppost. My hair felt wet and frozen, my eyelashes coated with a thin layer of snow, glittering white and gold in a blur as I blinked.
The canals were unnaturally still for this time of evening, reflecting the street like a replica or a completely different world. I started to cross the bridge, watching as the street lights flickered on one by one, spiking the darkness with their dull imitation of sunlight and filling the air with a quiet electrical hum. Couples passed me, holding hands in the incredibly blue night, laughing and heading home after a long, happy outing. Why couldn't I be like that? Why couldn't I be holding hands with some significant other, caring about now and only now as the evening light vanished from the sky? Just feeling excited about every last second I spent with my lover? I gazed at the glassy water with an incredible sense of longing. The water acted like a mirror, revealing a world that looked a hundred times warmer and more inviting than the original.
How easy would it be to hold my breath and slip into this copy? To just let go and live among the happy reflections, feeling as if I belonged? I leaned forward a few inches feeling the cold air bite my face, getting closer and closer....
To my left a pair of heavy, dull brown boots slammed the cobblestone bridge, wobbling from side to side frantically, trying to keep the stalk-like legs they carried upright.
“G-wh...Gwen!” the boot's owner cried. I turned around quickly, feeling my hood falling down and raising my eyebrow at the sight of my friend.
He panted some more, bending over and placing his hands on his knees, choking a bit, coughing his lungs out at the ground that supported him.
“Christian?! Are you okay?!?”
His head shot up, greeting me with serious brown eyes.
“Don't go home today.” he replied simply, coughing again at floor of the bridge. I gave him a look that I normally would only use on someone who had just told me not to dance with the seashells.
“Are. You. Okay?!” I asked again, panic rising in my veins.
He gave a sarcastic, nervous laugh. “Me? Me?! I'm the last person you should be worried about!” He muttered something unintelligible under his breath and collected himself. “Gwen, you can't go back to your house tonight. Because there's just a little...situation in front of it.”
“Enlighten me a bit?” I asked. He wasn't making any sense.
He took a deep breath, his muddy eyes giving me the most sincerely morbid look I'd ever received in my life. “You don't know him...but someone was shot.”
I gave a blank stare. That was the only reply in my head at the moment. My mind was stripped of words, every one of them afraid. Shot? Shot? It was the only word that remained.
“You...” I started slowly.
“Saw it? Hell, I almost lived it! I was the one who called emergency, Gwen!” His face took a green tinge and I commanded him to sit. He didn't think twice about it and just collapsed to his knees, holding himself up with his arms, oblivious to the curious legions of people passing us.
“There were two men. I had walked past them. I was behind that row of shrubbery, they probably didn't see me. I heard the argument. Money or something, you know?” He intterupted himself by holding his breath for a few seconds but continued. “I was far past them, heard the noise and it was over. The one guy ran. The other's dead. I called emergency, realized that they were kind of in front of your house when she asked the address and ran to find you.” His breathing became heavy again, labored. “I'm going to hear about this alright...I made the call! What if they think it was me, Gwen?!”