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The old couch's cracked leather was rough against the smooth skin of my leg. The wave of guilt that was crashing over me was almost unbearable. I stared blankly at the potted plant above my desk, with its wilting leaves and dying flower. Slowly, I walked across the room cradling the small plant in my shaking hands.
The fluorescent light of the kitchen hurt my eyes as I dropped the plant into the wastebasket with a thud and slowly returned to my seat on the couch. The cushions sagged under my weight as I grabbed for the remote. The TV clicked to life and I began to flip through the channels aimlessly. I stopped when a man holding a tiny, frail looking ball of fur in his hands filled my screen. He was rambling on and on about how with the correct care and a loving family this once badly abused kitten could grow into a healthy and lovable pet.
My cluttered mind returned to the small plant laying abandoned in the next room. My feet felt as though they were made of lead as the slid across the tattered carpet. Gingerly I plucked the tiny plant from the basket and placed it on the counter. After taking a glass from the paint chipped cupboard, the sound of running tap water broke the silence.
Leaving the water on, I dumped the contents of the glass into the plant and set it on the windowsill to soak up some much needed sun. The cold water was a shock to my senses as I splashed it on my face. I grabbed a towel, dried my face and headed down the hall to my pitiful excuse of a bathroom.
I leaned into the doorframe and took a look around. All the fixtures were out dated; the metal rusting and tiles cracking with age. Was this really, what my life had come too? Working my way through college and barely paying the rent? I had been so eager to leave that place, so focused on getting as far away from that small town as possible that I hadn't bothered to think things through.
Two years, five months, and two weeks ago on my eighteenth birthday I packed up all the things that I could fit into my Mustang and headed off for college. Back then I had been so confident, so sure of myself, and also extremely naive. I thought college life would be easy; I thought it would be fun, and for a short time my assumption had been correct. Getting up half an hour before class and walking the short ten minute walk to class in your pajamas, and partying with all my new friends at night. It was fun, but then the homework started to pile up and the bills just kept coming. Eventually I had to take a second job, lost all my new friends due to lack of time and ended up being kicked out of student housing due to lack of payment.
Eventually I ended up dropping out of college and selling all my books to scrape up enough cash for a down payment on a spacious loft apartment. I thought the odds were finally in my favor. However, I was a little pressed for time with working two jobs and what not that I signed the lease before ever going to see the place.
Upon walking in, it was obvious that while yes, it was in fact spacious as promised it was definitely a fixer upper. Though, I was almost certain that it was going to take a lot more fixing than I was ever going to be able to do. But still I tried to save whatever small amount of money I had left over each month and yet I could never seem to get ahead.
Then I met Cody. His gorgeous smile and bubbly personality was infectious and soon we spent every moment possible together. He was the only thing that kept me going when times got rough. Over the past two years he had become my entire world, and I his. Cody became a vital part of my day-to-day life, much the same as toothpaste and soap. I guess you never know how much you need something until it's gone.
An old claw foot tub sat back in the room nestled into the corner. I walked over, threw back the fading shower curtain and balanced myself on the edge. Slowly, I turned the water on and carefully lowered myself in, cloths and all. I watched the steam rise slowly as I felt the warm water relax my muscles one by one.
A car passed its radio much too loud, the faucet dripped and the man on TV continued his speech in the other room but all this was just background noise. My empty gaze was still fixed on the water running from the spigot, as the scene played out again in my mind.
"But wait... I just...I just don't understand." Cody pleaded. "After two years you're just gonna throw it all away for no reason?" His dark spiky brown hair caught the falling snow.
"Please don't make this any harder than it has to be." I begged my voice cracking. It was taking all I had to keep my composure, but I couldn't hold it together much longer.
My hands shook and I began to tremble, and not because of the cold.
"But Lily, what did I do?" He would no longer look me in the eye; instead, he seemed intent to kick around the fresh snow as it collected on the cracking stairs.
"Nothing." I whispered.
"Well then what is your problem?" he questioned, as she pulled his oversized leather jacket tight around his slender figure.
Why would he not just accept it and go away? I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around him and tell him I was sorry, but I knew what I had to do. A sudden wave of anger washed over me. None of this was fair. Life was never fair for me. I was going to lose it. I had to end this now.
"You want a reason Cody. How about this one, I. Do not. Want. To be. With you." I raged.
He finally met my gaze and immediately I wished he hadn't. His piercing Emerald eyes saw right through my bravado. He knew I was hiding something, and took a step toward me. I quickly ran into the house slamming the door in his face. Finally, now that I was out of his sight, I stopped fighting back the tears and just let them flow down my face.
I leaned my head against the smooth lip of the tub, the water now ice cold. I hated myself for hurting him like that, but I had no choice. It was the only way to keep him safe. They were coming for me; how soon they would come I did not know.
The fact that my death was their mission did not bother me at all. They had completely underestimated me. The things I was capable of would blow their minds.
However, Cody, he wasn't like me. If they found out about him, he would become the target. Once he was discovered, I would have to give myself up without a fight to save him. What I did was nothing compared to what they would do if they caught him.
The tears began to well up in my eyes again. I jumped to my feet wiping them away. They wouldn't lay so much as a finger on him. I'd make sure they never got the chance. I was ready for this fight.
Quickly I stripped out of my soaking wet cloths, dried off and hurried to my room. My room wasn't much better than the rest of the house; small and in need of some desperate attention. The thick curtains were drawn, darkening the small room. My four-poster bed took up much of the space. I didn't sleep often but when I did, I enjoy this small comfort. Quickly I moved to my closet, and dressed with out looking; my mind was else where. A forceful pounding ripped me from my thoughts.
In seconds, I was at the door, my thoughts racing. I stood tensed, waiting for them to make their move. Then I heard it, the slow creak of a loose board as they stepped forward, shifting all their weight unto its protesting grain. I leaned forward, listening closely for what was to come. All was silent. Slowly, they stepped back as the board creaked again. I pressed my ear to the door only to hear the slow easy rhythm of a human breathing. I relaxed, waiting for him to leave.
The seconds ticked by slowly and yet he didn't leave. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror by the door. I ran my fingers through my hair in an attempt to tame the mass of red curls, but to no avail. With a sigh of defeat, I opened the door.
He stood in my doorway, flowers in hand. Taking a deep breath, the smell of daisy's filled my mind. He continued to trace the intricate wood grain with his foot before finally looking up. My heart sank. He stared up at me with questioning eyes. I blinked back tears as I felt the lump rise in my throat. He cleared his throat as he took a step toward me.
"Listen Lily, I don't know what I did but I'm really sorry. If you could just forgive me I promise whatever it was I...I'll never do it again." he pleaded as he brushed a loose curl away from my eyes.
"Cody, you didn't do anything wrong. It's not you it's...'
"Oh please Lily!" he exclaimed, anger oozing from his every word.
"Don't you even give me the whole it's-not-you-its-me thing. You would think after all this time you could at least give me a solid reason!" He waved his hands angrily as his voice rose to a shriek. "I Can NOT believe you!"
I flinched, his words cut deeper than any weapon could that they would bring. His anger pierced through me with ease. I coughed to fight back a sob. This was becoming more than I could handle. He'd started yelling again but I couldn't hear him. I had fixed my gaze on a single snowflake drifting through the air.
Snowflakes were fascinating. Millions fall from the sky with every storm, yet no two are ever alike. They spend half their life floating from the skies alone and different. Each its own individual; each delicate, yet strong. When they come together, they create such a pretty picture; each fluffy white flake working together to blanket the treetops. Leaning over the banister, I reached out to catch the falling snow. I watched intently as the small puff landed and then melted into my palm.
The pain in his voice brought me back to the present.
'Fine, I'll go. If that's really what you want then fine.' he stated as he watched the surprise on my face. 'But don't you ever try to blame this on me'EVER.' With that, he turned and left. I watched him as he trudged through the snow, never once glancing over his shoulder.
I stood on my porch until the sound of snow crunching under his feet could no longer be heard. Not knowing what else to do I sat down on the steps and just breathed. The smell of fresh fallen snow mixed with the daisies that now lay discarded on the sidewalk.
Then I heard them. I can always hear it before I see it. Their footfalls came faster than any human was capable of. I jumped to my feet, trying to pinpoint exactly where they would make their appearance.
In seconds they were there. Three of them stood before me, each one massive when compared to my tiny frame. Suddenly, I felt very small inside. I shook my head, it didn't matter. The bigger they are the harder they fall. The tallest of the three men took a step forward, his long blonde hair casting shadows across his sharp features. I stood still as a statue, not blinking, not breathing. I would not be the first one to crack. We stood in our tightly knit circle, where you could taste the tension in the air. They stood unfazed by my attempts, sullenly glaring back at me.
Silently I stood surveying the situation. The middle man was the shortest but far from the smallest, his sweater tight against the smooth muscles of his chest. He seemed preoccupied, his eyes constantly shifting as if he was trying to see all of his surroundings at once. He sensed my eyes on him as he shifted his weight uneasily. During this slight movement I caught a glimpse of what fueled his unease. I caught a glimpse of her.
She looked up immediately, her shimmering blue eyes catching me off guard. His body tensed in response to the change in my expression. He took a step back his arms reaching for her protectively. With no hesitation she slid into his waiting arms and folded herself into him, trying to be as small as possible. I found this little embrace touching, even if he wanted nothing more than for me to be dead. I studied her face with its odd angles, and her flowing brown hair. She looked so tiny there wrapped in the tree trunks he called arms.
She looked up at him with waiting eyes, her expression sad, almost scared. None of this made any sense to me. Why should she be afraid of me? Why should he be protecting her when they out numbered me four to one? He quickly picked up on my puzzled expression and shoved her behind his body protectively.
Then it clicked. Suddenly it all made sense, all the pieces of this strange puzzle came together. She wasn't one of us. She was frightened of me and so was he. Suddenly my heart ached. The slow ache I'd felt since he left was now back with a vengeance. I felt for this tiny girl, but I felt even more for the nameless man protecting her. The vision of Cody's face stricken with pain as he turned away from me filled my mind as I blinked back tears. I blinked.
I stood, frozen with doubt. Why would they even bring her? Leaving her at home would have kept her out of harm and obviously he was determined to keep her safe. I would have never taken Cody to a fight like this. I loved him too much to put him in harms way for my own selfish desires.
In one swift motion I threw my hair up into a pony tail and crouched, ready for their impending attack. A silent smirk spread across their menacing features. I stumbled backwards, grabbing at the empty space around me searching for something to regain my balance. Catching myself only inches above the ground, I jolted upright. A chuckle escaped the largest of the three as he stepped forward slightly.
I had walked right into their trap. They loved to play mind games and as soon as you let them in you were toast. I had almost done just that. I would chastise myself for this slip up later; I had no time for self pity now. I stepped forward, freezing mid stride. My foot fell with a heavy thud. They knew. They already knew. I had hurt him to save his life, and yet I had done it all too late.
A tidal wave of fury crashed over me. My hands trembled, as I shook with rage. A low growl ripped through my chest. Startled they all took a step back. A smirk spread across my face as I stalked toward them pausing only long enough to throw them a wink.
With a snarl, I leapt at them.
'Cody! Hurry up we're gonna be late!' I insisted. My screams were followed by a loud crash from down the hall. I shook my head as I stifled a giggle.
'I am hurrying. Five more minutes I promise.' He groaned. Cody was always late for everything. Taking a seat at the table to wait I thought back to that terrible night. Apologizing to Cody had been the easy part. Avoiding having to give him an explanation however, had not been so easy.
'You know pretty soon we are gonna have to get a bigger pot for that plant.' Cody pointed out as he wrapped his arms around me. 'I'll go warm up the car.' I watched him walk to the door before turning to flash me his million-dollar smile as he put on his coat.
I walked to the window and ran my fingers over the smooth leaves of our now not so tiny plant. Its bright purple flowers were a stark contrast to the white walls of our small kitchen. I watched Cody through the window as he brushed the snow from the windshield of my beat up old mustang. I pulled on my sweater and hurried out to join him pausing in the doorway only to glance back at the now prospering plant.