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Time to Spare and Advice to Give
“Wait!” A breathless voice makes me pause, one foot already extended to step into the street. I frown and turn, my frustration rising. I was already late; Mrs. Thomas was going to skin me if I walked in tardy yet again. A retort makes its way to my tongue, but it quickly dies off as I see who had called me.
He’s nearly insubstantial, his hair flat against his forehead despite the rough winter wind and his feet floating centimeters above the concrete. I shouldn’t know who he is, but I do. Of course I do. I saw him walk the hallways of my school for three years. I reached for his arm but lost my nerve and pulled away for three years.
“Bradley…” I whisper, and tears sting my eyes. “Oh, God, Bradley…” All at once, my backpack is too heavy, my jeans too tight, my sleeves too itchy. My fingers tremble. “I- I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. God, I wanted- I wanted to so badly, but I just… couldn’t.” I clench my hands into fists to stop the shaking, but even then tremors wrack my limbs. It’s difficult to remain on my feet.
He puts a hand on my shoulder, and though I can’t feel it there, I appreciate it. My eyes are drawn to his bare arms, something I have never seen before, and I am horrified by what I see there. Scars. Long, jagged scars across his wrists, some short but others deep and bruised. And, stretching across the lot of them like tally marks, two long vertical cuts, still red and oozing. Bile rises to my throat- not because I’m disgusted, but because pain arcs through me as if I had been the one to make the slashes. The hand on my shoulder moves to my chin and lifts it. Automatically, though there is no pressure actually applied, I raise my face. Our gazes meet.
There is so much sorrow there, so much pain, that a tear slips down my cheek and runs through his intangible hand, dripping onto the pavement. He frowns at my distress. “Why do you cry, Melissa?” He says, and I realize that the breathiness I had mistaken for exhaustion was actually untamable emotion transferring into husky words. I swallow around a lump in my throat and shake my head, unable to speak. His face softens and he shifts his head, bending so his chocolate eyes are nearer to my own. “Please don’t cry. I’m not worth your pain.”
I shudder, sensations raging through my small frame unchecked. “Don’t say that.” I whisper, and he looks surprised. “God, don’t say that. You were- you are worth it. I should have- I could have-“
He waves my words away like they are palpable, and I can’t remember what I was going to say. “I didn’t say I wasn’t worth it.” He says, and my face contorts to show my confusion. He taps my clothed wrist. “Of course I was. I said I wasn’t worth your pain.” He gives me a long, searching look. My mind is filled with memories of razors and welling blood. Of sweet, releasing pain. Guilt makes the images repeat, the blood thicker and the blades sharper.
Suddenly, he is substantial. His feet sink to the ground, the wind ruffles his hair, and the hand under my chin becomes calloused and warm. I shrink back, but his calm demeanor soon placates me. I take a step closer and am enveloped in his scent. I close my eyes, and will the tears away.
I become aware of soft, searching fingers on the sleeves of my shirt. My eyes shoot open. But before I have a chance to jerk away, Bradley has pushed up my jacket and revealed my most close-guarded secrets: my cutting scars. I turn my head away so I can’t see his reaction.
Something drips onto my most recent cuts, only barely healed enough to be freed from wrappings. My eyes widen, and I stare down at my wrist, where droplets of clear liquid sit on my skin, shimmering. I glance at Bradley. Tears stain his cheeks, making tracks down his tan skin. They drip onto my arm, tingling me where they fall. He cries for ages, stroking my arm with his thumb, his own wounds dripping red tears onto the ground and his shoes.
When his tears abate, he lowers his face to my wrist and presses his lips to the skin there. I feel the press of his mouth against my scars, then he is insubstantial again and nothing but the wind kisses my arm. When he lifts his head, my eyes fill with bitter tears and I long to reach out and cling to him… Yet I know that I can’t, that his time with me is nearly gone.
He drifts away from me, so we aren’t so close as before. “Melissa,” He says, and his voice is more urgent. “I can’t erase my mistakes. I can’t take back the pain I caused. But you can prevent more. You feel you are alone, as if you could have stopped me and that because you didn’t you’re cursed to be lonely.” He raises an eyebrow, and I nod. Why bother lying when he is closer to the truth than anyone has ever and will ever be? “Well, you know what? You couldn’t. And you aren’t. And this loneliness? It will pass. I promise. You’ve got one more year of high school, Melissa, and then your life will begin. Don’t feel confined by the idiots at school as I did. It will only cause pain.” He reaches for me, then seems to remember he can’t touch me and pulls his hand away. “I wish we had spoken before…” He gestures towards his cuts. “You know. But we didn’t, and I can’t fix that. I wish I could… but I can’t.” He leans closer, his eyes alight. “Melissa, I killed myself. And that was dumb. Because of me, my family has broken, my classmates feel guilty, and you… you are making the same mistakes I did. You take the blade to yourself… and that was NEVER meant to happen.” He ages before my eyes, his sorrow making him older than his years. “I’m sorry I drove you to this, Melissa. I really, truly am. But please… don’t keep doing what I did.”
He closes his lips tight and stares at me, so many emotions flickering within him I can’t even begin to decipher them. He starts to say something, then thinks better of it and pushes his hair out of his eyes instead. “You have a long, amazing life in store for you, if you would just hold on for a little longer. Will you do that, for me? Will you hold on?”
Tears slip onto my neck, the wetness alerting me to the fact that I was crying, when I hadn’t even realized I was. I wipe them away and nod. “Y-yes.” I say, and he smiles. My bottom lip trembles, and I take a half-step forward unconsciously, wanting so desperately to grab ahold of him. I reach outward. He carefully shifts away, his ghostly shirt slipping just past the palm of my quivering hand. I freeze and drop my searching fingers, sobbing uncontrollably now. “Bradley…” I murmur.
He smiles at me. It begins as a shy acceptance of my outburst, but morphs into pure delight as light fills him from within. His scars fade, the bags under his eyes shrink, and for a moment I think I see a shimmering behind him. When the light recedes, he is perfect, unmarked, and uncontrollably happy. He puts his hand to my face once more, and though I don’t feel the touch I do feel warmth seeping into my tired bones. Adrenaline pumps through my blood, not the kind from being frightened but the kind one gets as they do something they love. A grin splits my face, and though it feels unnatural to do so after so long I can’t help but beam. Then he closes his eyes, and I am blinded by a pleasant white light. When it withdraws, he is gone.
Filled with a mixture of unadulterated joy and a deep sorrow, I shoulder my backpack and cross the street.