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never say never
“Meeting by chance; the best thing in the world would be if even one person from the bottom of their heart said “I am glad to of met you” –unknown
I have found that night is not a blanket over a city but a mist. When I seldom do visit there, the night is a substance inches from my skin, illuminated by ghostly street lights and echoing sirens. The chill clung to me as I walked, my heels clacked incessantly upon the concrete. I’d cursed for wearing a skirt and stockings on such a night, though my dark petty coat was a comfort. It was later than I expected and I was without any transportation beyond walking. I’d wished I’d come home earlier but I did so enjoy the late hours of the comedy club, even alone. My stomach still ached from the laughs it had pressed out of me, though the muscles seemed to twist now as a sound beyond the sirens was caught in my range of hearing. Gunfire pierced the night air and I cringed, stopping mid-clack. I looked around but saw no one; I twitched, standing on the tip of my frozen toes.
But I continued walking in hope that I would wander away from the sound and closer to my sister’s apartment. My thoughts did focus on the worst as I slid by shadowy buildings, inching past the kind of dark alleys I’d only seen in the movies. If I were to be attacked or mugged, I’m a pretty strong person…but how strong is where I stood unsure. I wished Ellie were here, an old friend; a sturdy lacrosse player who sat in front of me in English last year. She could kick the crap out of anyone, even the foot ball players. I laughed remembering. Not that she was manly or anything, she was very feminine as well. (Could I still beat her at arm wrestling? she’s grown a lot since freshman year)…I wondered randomly, trying to distract myself. Thoughts of Irvine comforted me, my safe home I’ve grown up in and loved. I hugged myself, watching puffs of hot air steam from my face.
I found a lonely street corner to cross, few cars waited at the stoplight. The light changed and they zoomed off faster than they ought to be. I observed my wide frigid hands, rubbing them together incessantly, and then catching a flicker of movement, I looked up. A figure loomed opposite me, materializing from one of the stores beside the light. He did not look drunken or rowdy but abnormally still. Too still…I didn’t like it. When he caught site of me, his eyes never left. He was tall and heavily coated, with a stoic composure that I could not tear away from. I felt those eyes, watching me, as he edged to the curb. I then convinced myself not to cross the street; but to find means of another rout home. I coughed, picking up my phone as I walked round the corner. I stabbed the buttons, in hope of calling my sister. But it was dead. Panic struck my chest electrically, but I did not put it down, it was better to seem able to call for help. In my peripheral I tried to see across the street, I turned. He was following me at a leisurely pace…that somehow matched my panicked one. My calves began to burn as I quickened my walking, a joke from earlier echoed in my head with irony “when you choose your shoes in the morning, you’re really making a decision about your day-sandals-hope I don’t get chased today” I chuckled bitterly to myself. More like “heels, hope I don’t get chased today.” I scanned the stores around me for a safe place to possibly enter; restaurant, closed, adult store; no thank you, bar; closed, newsstand; closed.
My breath seemed tight in my chest, unable to anticipate entering and exiting my body fast enough. The dark figure loomed closer, parallel across the street. I needed to find somewhere, anywhere, I needed an opening. Sweat beaded on my skin, I felt myself flushing in anxiety. A block later an alley came into view between a smoky bar and a closed theater. I slid in, elapsed in complete shadow, out of reach from the streetlight’s harsh beams. I have never thought of myself as very pretty therefore have never faced stalking as a problem. Silly me, I knew exactly where my pepper spray was; at home in my desk drawer. It has been sitting idly in the same place since I’d mocked my father for even gifting me with it. I sighed but it caught it in my mouth as I heard footsteps; slow shuffles scuffing against the cement. I pressed myself against the brick wall of the theater, inching deeper into the alley’s bowels. I eventually hit my hip hard on a doorknob as I slid, I cursed silently.
Breathing accompanied the footsteps which pushed me to hold so much as a heartbeat from sounding. I twisted the knob, praying it would open, asking God from the depths of myself for help. My sweaty palms slid across the brass knob. It did not budge. The shadowy character was in view now and I braced, ready to throw a good punch. But my arms felt limp and my legs weak as he sauntered into the alley. “Get the hell back!” I yelled my voice authoritative and deep…not how I felt at all. But he kept coming, faster and faster. I came forward socking him as hard as I possibly could in the stomach, kicking for his shins. He came at me laying a good one right in my jaw. But I caught his next punch, snapping his wrist behind him. He waved his other arm around for me but I refused to give up the hostages that were his joints, spinning around him in order to keep my hold. A moment of relief seized me but he then broke free and threw me backwards. My ankle rolled as I staggered back, howling in pain. I waited for the crack of my head against the concrete. But it did not arise…something had buffered my fall. Then I heard a different kind of sound. Someone had lowered me to the ground. And I heard a great WHACK. A flicker of hope lit before me in the darkness. or (a flame of hope lit in my dark chest) ?
“What the hell?!” my stalker shrieked moving back after the blow. As he stood in front of me all I could make out of my defender was the silhouette of a shaggy head of hair. “Get the ---- out of here.” He said slowly, weighing each word with anger. His face must have proved to be quite fearsome, for the creep to have faltered in his movement. The creep’s glazed eyes rolled over us, waiting, unsure of what to do. When we did not move, his will to fight ignited again and he jutted towards us again. The man in front of me did not hesitate though; he full out slammed the hell out of him with some large black object, a loud SMACK erupted into the air. As scared as I was, I couldn’t help but note the hilarity of the look on the stalker’s face when he was hit. The alley was quiet as he flopped to the ground. “Get out.” The man said again. But the stalker probably would come at him again, out of sheer drunken stupidity. My chest swam with guilt; I hated knowing I was the reason for someone else’s pain. Despite his brave efforts, we’d both be hurt in the end.
The creeper dizzily stood, locking eyes with the man decidedly. No one moved. Silence filled the alley-way like the painful icy air eating at our faces. He glared menacingly, but then staggered towards the street. We watched him and he us, until he was completely down the block and out of site. As my Good Samaritan helped me out into the streetlight, I saw him fully. He tore off his jacket and covered me. I did not know how to respond, I felt so shaken. “Thank you…” I said quietly. I found him to be rather thin and fairly smaller than his competitor. I wondered if it was the bulk of his jacket or the blunt surprise of his attacks that had scared off the predator. Then in remembering I practically toppled over laughing. The exact contortion of his brows, the wideness of his eyes, I couldn’t help laughing in remembering the creeper’s surprised face.
“What? Hey are you ok?” he asked, confused. He wore only a short sleeve shirt, I wanted to return his jacket. His fore arms did have some build to them that would account for the hard blows he’d thrown. But I laughed even harder remembering “You- Oh my gosh…his face…!” I chortled, “When you hit him with that- that- guitar case?” on recognizing the object I fell into deeper laugher; (I’d liked remember this scene that way, rather than how afraid I really felt.) “Is there a guitar really in there?” I wondered. “No, no” He laughed, but watched me carefully. I probably looked intoxicated. He let go of my arm and I wish he hadn’t. My giggles ceased. I swiveled and winced, lifting my right ankle again. I looked up at him, he had very deep eyes. “I’m sorry, can you walk?” he said holding on again. I stared blankly into his broad face. I smiled unable to respond, maybe I was drunk. I withheld my response as in hope of not uttering something stupid. I shook my head, my ankle seethed in pain. “You could have sprained it! I need to take you to a hospital…or something!” He said, with sincere worry. I was instantly sobered by the thought. “No. I’m …fine. Don’t take me there.” I said, bruised by the memory of my last hospital visit. I tried to stand on my own again, hoping somehow to continue to walk home. I lasted only a moment before he caught me again. I sucked in with a hiss-like sound of pain. He paused looking at me. “I work in the theater here, you wanna sit down inside for a minute?” he asked. I wasn’t sure if the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ thing really applied to strangers who just kicked the crap out of strangers that tried to kick the crap out of me. I nodded. He was very gentle, lifting one of my arms over his shoulder; I used him as a crutch as he led me around to the front of the theater. I had to assume he was a good person, I mean after what he’d just done. I proceeded with caution but without a cold countenance. Before we went inside I told him “Thank you so much.” And he smiled at me. He had a very nice smile. As he knocked on the glass door, I internally noted how little I liked that a flash of teeth could have such an effect on me.
“Frank, it’s me.” He said and the doors opened.
He led me to a vast room adorned with band posters and white fold out chairs. It was a concert hall with a huge stage and vivid ribbon like curtains. He sat me in a chair front and center. “I’ll be right back.” He said, climbing onto the stage disappearing in a ripple of the curtain. I tried not to think about what had just happened and tried to distract myself again. I sat, listening intently, extending my hearing beyond the curtain. I heard only mumbles at first, then two women speaking with sarcasm, a bubble of laugher, someone yelling…but I couldn’t find my little hero amongst the noise. I’d realized just then that I had not offered my name to him, nor received his. He returned then, holding a tiny white box with a red cross on it. After he slipped off stage someone followed him, a shorter haired blond, with his arms crossed. He was tall, lanky and sour faced. He watched as the man in front of me searched through the first aid kit. “What are you looking for Dominic?” Blondie said. “Something for a sprained ankle…” he said, still looking. “Oh jeez what did you do?” he said hopping off stage. “Just brutally trip some random passerby?” the other exclaimed as he snapped the white box into his grip. Dominic laughed but denied a direct answer. I was glad for I; I didn’t want to talk now. Blondie sat down, pulling out a stretchy roll of fabric. “Which one is it?” he asked me sighing, with fairly lighter impatience. “Oh, it’s the right one. Ah!” I said as he touched it, carefully propping it on the chair. “Hmm, you wore the wrong shoes today kid.” He said as he tightly wrapped the fabric around my ankle. He had no idea. “Sorry, this is Heath. Did I already introduce myself?” Dominic asked politely. “Probably not you weirdo, I bet she’s scared to death. Trip her, convince her to come in some closed out theater, keep your identity from her. I’d be worried.” Heath mocked. Dominic punched him, jokingly, but hard. It was hard not to chuckle. “You think that’s funny kid? Huh? What’s your name? Maybe you’re the creep and we don’t even know it yet.” He said staring me down with dark eyes. “I’m um Maria.” I said awkwardly. “No, she’s not the creep.” Dominic said with a chuckle. “Keep your weight off of it for a couple days you little punk that means no more heels either.” Heath said. “Yeah listen to old Heath here, he went through pre-med school.” Dominic said clapping his friend on the back. “Oh so you’re a doctor?” I wondered. Heath looked embarrassed suddenly, then annoyed. “no I’m a…a…” he paused to glare at Dominic. “A Nurse” Dominic said bursting into laugher.
“So are you in a band?” I asked them when my leg had been all wrapped and taken care of. He seemed to be dressed too casually to work back stage. “Well kind of.” Dominic said. “He’s the main course of the show, I play piano or drums if a song calls for it, but usually not.” Heath said stretching. “Dominic is all guitar and vocals. Hey, you should go ahead and play her something, you did brutally trip her and all.” Heath laughed. Dominic rolled his eyes and went back stage again. An awkward silence rolled between Heath and I, I scrambled to fill it. “So…how long you guys going to be here?” I wondered, folding my arms uncomfortably. “Every night until Saturday, you should come see us tomorrow, Shortie.” He said. “Shortie?” I asked jokingly insulted. “Hey, hey, you’re not so tall either…” I thought for a moment “Blondie.” Hey, I’d been calling him that in my head anyways. “Not as close to the ground as you are.” He retorted. “Hey I’m AVERAGE height ok? 5”5” is average.” I defended. “Ok, ok, have it your way, you’re not short, just…vertically challenged. Now what really happened outside?” he wondered sitting down next to me. Though Heath was funny, Dominic was kind. Dominic had kept the subject off our plate of conversation, though I guess I couldn’t blame Heath for not knowing. “I’m a pretty clumsy person. I totally ran into your friend, it’s my bad.” I shrugged. “Nah, that’s a pretty bad sprain right there, ‘clumsy’ doesn’t do something like that.” Those dark eyes bore through me. I looked away. I knew he probably was only curious since his friend wasn’t elaborating but I was annoyed with his persistence. “How many blondes does it take to-” I began but he interrupted me “Oh you did not just bring blonde jokes to the table.” Heath said with glaring, and then added “Shortie.”
I hadn’t noticed Dominic slip onto the stage; I wondered how long he’s been tuning his guitar behind us. He sat on the edge of the stage, his fingers thrumming across the strings of an acoustic guitar rhythmically. Heath silenced and moved away from me. “What should I play for her? Music box or Never say never?” he asked and Heath nodded. “Hmm…Never.”
I watched him, as he dipped his head down looking at the instrument; his hair almost touched his eyes. His skin was pale like mine in the stage light but outlined in harsh shadows. “Some things we don’t talk about, we’d rather do without…just hold a smile. Fallin’ in and out of love, ashamed and proud of, together all the while,” he was very delicate with his words; they only softly touched the air. “You can never say never, while we don’t know it…time, time and time again, stronger now than we were before.” His words grew to long strokes of sound in the vast theater, erupting in the chorus “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go…” I barely moved throughout the entire song, my eyes flitting from strings to mouth to eyes, ever moving as he concentrated. “We’re falling apart…pull let’s pull it together again…”
The words still echo in my memory “don’t let me go,” the sound twisted with sadness. He didn’t want someone to forget about him. I liked the song in that I understood it. Human memories are so frail and unforgiving. He stared at the floor as the last chord faded away, and then snapped up smiling again. I clapped a little too happily. In my heart I wish somewhere that…no I won’t even go there. “You sounded amazing” I said as he stepped down from the stage. He smiled modestly and thanked me. “How long have you been performing, are you on tour?” I asked. “Awhile and no, but we’re trying to get a CD cover. Tomorrow some guys are going to come listen to us and decide whether they want to hear us again in a studio or not.” Dominic said happily. “Wow your going to nail it!” I said. He laughed a little, scratching his head.
“Hey, just a question guys; what time is Shortie supposed to be home before her mum calls the police out looking for her.” Heath wondered and I hated him for it. I really didn’t want to leave. Whether it was in that dark apartment or in the lonely streets, I had new images to haunt me. “You can wait here as long as you want; you have a ride or something?” Dominic wondered, bringing his cell phone to life and checking the time. He announced it was 3:32am. Yeah as much as I wanted to call my sister and ask for a ride, she’d throw her phone out the window before she’d pick it up at this ungodly hour. Besides she’d skin me alive if I even asked her. “Um…” I stalled, thinking of some way to get home. The buses were definitely done for the day…I couldn’t walk fast but…“I’m not that far from home, I can totally wal-” Dominic interrupted me though “You know what nurse Heath said, you got to take it easy on that leg.” He said waving his finger. Heath glared at him. “I can give you a ride if you want. It’s a little too late for walking anyways.” He said with serious eyes. I was at a cross road of options, accept a ride from an amiable stranger, get strangled by my beastly sister or crawl home (and probably get mugged). Hmm…
“Hey where’s Heath going?” I asked as we walked up a flight of stairs, funny I thought the parking lot would be ground level. “My car is parked pretty far down the block so I told him to go get it for me so you wouldn’t be waiting all alone.” He said as we reached a door about four stories up. A little sweat had bubbled under my clothes. I tried to breathe quietly as not to sound out of shape. He opened the door and a gust of night air instantly wrapped around me. But it felt refreshing now. “What are we doing up here?” I wondered as he held the door for me. We were on the roof of the theater, it was plain and concrete but beyond it… “Wow it’s beautiful!” I said smiling. I went to the ledge of the building and could see miles of glittering lights. “And that right there is Heath.” He said pointing to a little figure a street away from us. He wasn’t hard to see, we could shoot him like a target with the bright red shirt he was wearing. “The side door is right here.” He said pointing below us. “We’re going to pull a little prank on Heath.” He said winking at me. “He thought it would be hilarious to suspend my guitar from the stage ceiling the day of our first show. I don’t even know how he got it up there. Five minutes before show time, Frank our manager told me to ‘look up.’ I practically tackled Heath. I was so mad.” he said pulling his guitar case off his back. “So what’s you revenge plan?” I asked excitedly. “I love pranks.” I said with a slightly maniacal laugh. “Well, he’s going to think twice before he puts instruments above people’s heads again.” He said, tying a rope around the guitar case’s handle. “Wow that thing has been through tough times.” I said looking at the battered case. “Yeah…” he said, lowering the case, measuring the string. “Ok so if I drop it with this much string it will fall without hitting him.” He said laughing “But it will also scare him shitless.”
Heath was taking a long time. We’d been out waiting for nearly twenty minutes. “How far is your car?” I asked, leaning against the ledge, arms dangling. “Pretty far but…he should be back by now.” He said, confused. It had been a pretty quiet sit and I had been thinking about things. With my distractions dissipated I began to wonder deeply, “Dominic?” I said. He was looking up, his back against the ledge. There weren’t many stars out to observe, only one twinkling directly above us. “Hm?” he said turning his eyes toward me. “Do you think things happen for a reason?” I wondered, sitting down next to him. “Sometimes” He shrugged. “What do you mean, 'sometimes?” I said. “Well I’m not the kind of guy who’s into horoscopes and all that...but some things I think happen for a reason, you know, significant things.” He said looking up again. He grew more talkative. “Because if you think that all this is random chance; space, life, even right now, what is there to hold onto? You have to have faith in something.” He said and I asked “What do you believe in?”
“God and sometimes people.” He chuckled “How bout you?” he turned to me again, he looked very calm. “God…I guess…” I said, feeling my brows twist. “But life is no coincidence. And the random chance that I’m even here right now has to be because some force decided to send you be it fate, instinct, God…I’m sure glad it did. Thanks for helping me out back there.” I said trying to sound as sincere as possible. And I was very thankful. I wasn’t sure why but at that moment big fat tears rolled down my cheeks. I hated myself for not being able to control the emotion, I smudged them away sniffling. “You ok there?” he said turning to me. I nodded, silently. Then I muttered, kind of laughing, “That was kind of…scary.” The familiar feeling coiled in my gut, as if I were in the darkness of the alley alone again. “It’s ok, it’s ok.” He said patting my back. I scrubbed my face of its wetness and said “I know, I know...” I hated sappy moments. I felt dumb.
He smiled but looked away again, at the sky. “Do you believe in God, Maria?” he wondered. I paused. “…he’s been in and out of my life.” I said “I mean hey, it’s probably hard being everywhere at once” I tried to joke, sniffling. I was glad he laughed. “Maybe that’s where the faith part comes in” he grinned. “Yeah…true. It’s really probably my fault anyways. I’ve been neglecting our relationship.’” I said chuckling. He did too, but his was more serious.
“Hey Frank open up already!” we heard from below followed by a rap, rap, rap on the hard steel door. Dominic chucked the case over the ledge and a blood curdling scream followed. We watched Heath literally flip backwards in fear of the random guitar case flying towards him. It dangled shoulder length above him, he stared up at us with a “What the hell?!” kind of expression. His eyes were wider than anyone’s I’d ever seen. I couldn’t stop laughing, my stomach muscles felt like they were bursting. But Dominic, oh he almost fell off the ledge with laugher, he had had his revenge. "Look up Heath!" he chortled and Heath glared viciously. It wasn’t long before he went running though; for Heath was on the move, probably ready to tackle him or something.
I felt better about accepting the ride since we’d talked; I liked knowing more about him. I felt like my mother would be less scornful of me up in heaven, knowing I wasn’t accepting a ride from so much of a stranger. But someone kind, close to God (And who has guitar case ninja skills.) She would have laughed if I would have told her that part. My sister won’t though, I fretted at the thought of meeting her at the door. “So what were you doing out here so late?” Dominic asked me, interrupting my thoughts. We were walking to his car now, after evading Heath within the bowels of the theater for half an hour. He had found us though and he had the keys anyways. I thought he was going to kill Dominic, they wrestled to the floor. They were laughing though. “I like the comedy club on 5th street, I stayed there pretty late, forgot the time…” I said. “Alone?” he inquired. I shrugged embarrassed. “I’m staying at my sisters and I don’t really know anyone out here.” I said, wishing I’d said otherwise, “but it’s all good, you don’t need a lot of people to be able to laugh.” I lied.
“Wow, is this your car?” I said as we stopped in front of a shiny silver fit. “Yeah, she’s a little thing, but she does the job.” He said patting the hood. “I can fit our entire drum set and my guitar and our bags in if I put the seats down” he said proudly. “Nice.” I said smiling. The doors closed with a clap. I liked the dash board it was oddly shaped, artistic. He turned the key and the thing geared to life, buttons flitting with a blue glow. As he backed out he asked “Now where does your sister live?” he looked over his shoulder and a figure appeared. “WOA!” he said stopping the car. We heard a thud and saw the figure slam into the rear end of the car, falling backwards. “Oh my Go-…did I hit someone?!” he said in quiet awe. I gasped. He opened the car door and flipped out of his seat. I waited a couple seconds and before I knew it he was back in. He slammed his door and backed out angrily onto the road. When I looked back I saw Heath on the ground laughing and pointing at us as we drove away. “We’ll get him tomorrow.” Dominic said in joking annoyance, glaring at the road. I thought for a moment. “I’ll take care of it.” I said smiling. “What’cha thinking?” he asked. “You’ll see, I’ll bring an envelope to empty it in his bag tomorrow night.” I said laughing maniacally again. He laughed too, but a little cautiously, wondering what the substance could be. My best prank was one that involved dog fur and my arch nemesis in high school. You should have seen his face. Now…my sister’s roommate has a very fluffy cat that could do the job well…
“Oh sorry, she lives on bellflower and terrace. There’s an apartment complex there called Bella Casa.” I instructed, but added “I have no idea how to get there from here though,” and laughed. “Ah, no problem, I know these streets by heart. Heath too if you ever need a ride.” He said. “How long have you lived here?” I wondered. “I don’t live here anymore but from high school through college I did.” He said. Wow so he…graduated already? I was disappointed with how old he was. I was only a freshman in college. “Wait…how old are you?” I wondered, unsure. “Twenty two.” He said “how old did you think I was?” he asked with playful disdain. “Oh, I don’t know. It’s just you said you graduated so…wait how is that possible?” I said, still confused. “I graduated early, with Heath’s class. He’s two years older than me.” He said smiling. Wow, I thought. “You two have been together forever!” I said. “We’re best friends alright.” He smiled. “Yeah this whole prank war, it’s been going on for a long time.” He laughed. “My freshman year, I did a solo on guitar when I was an aid for the choir. He suspended all my guitar picks jell-o and left them in the band room. I had to pick each one out and wash them off separately. I was so pissed” his eyes brightened as he laughed. “Oh. Bellflower, shoot.” He said turning too sharply and churning a squeak out of the wheels. “Right here is fine.” I told him and he slowed in front of the old apartment complex. The ‘B’ in Bella Casa was flickering and going out and the decrepit building desperately needed a new paint job. I checked the time on the dash, it was past four. “Thank you so much, for everything” Then paused adding “You’re a good person.”
“Tell me if you still believe that after I stick that mystery substance into Heath’s bag tomorrow.” He laughed and so did I. I got out and he offered to walk me upstairs but I declined. “Ok cool, see you Maria, the show’s at 8:00 if you want to come, you’re welcome. And go easy on that leg.” He said. There at that moment was ignited an irreparable burning in my chest. The beginning of destructive, passionate, warm flickers of a fire I did not recognize. He zoomed off then, just a flare of taillights.
I swelled with endorphins as his face flickered through my memory. Him smiling, laughing, pondering, I never thought I could feel like I knew someone so well after only a couple hours. I smiled to myself as I limped up the concrete stairs to the third floor. I walked slowly, procrastinating the moment I would wake my sister. As I passed the stairwell though I saw something I hadn’t before. Had the patios always been connected to close together? Being the little monkey I was, I lifted my bad leg over the banister of the stairs and reached onto the ledge of the first patio. As I dangled, reaching for the edge of the next one, I thought how ironic it would be if I died from the fall after being saved earlier. I held myself close to the bars of the ledge, inching my toes across the roof beneath me as I squirmed from patio to patio. I knew my sister’s because she had a little white wooden table and chairs set up.
Also her roommate had a large purple cushiony mat for yoga. I looked into dark windows, thinking how embarrassing it would be if someone came out on their patio at this moment. But finally I was home. I stretched and stretched, pulling myself over the ledge, banging my bad ankle in the process. I cursed silently as pain swelled up my leg. I landed on the patio with a quiet thump and drew toward the sliding door. In the dark I could see nothing past the glass. I reached for the door handle. Of course; it was locked. I growled internally, thinking of my sister and how kind I was not to wake her and all. For a moment I considered pounding on the glass until she opened it. But I didn’t, I’m not as brave as I imagine myself. I was warmed by the exercise of climbing for it was exercise with this ankle. So the air did not seem so icy…I laid out Jeanine’s yoga mat and leaned against the glass. I was so very tired. My lids felt as if they had lead strapped to them and my body ached in every place imaginable, it felt good to just be still. Still. Still…images flashed before me. I saw Dominic, my center warmed; he was singing to me “don’t let me go.” He sang over and over again. It made me so happy, I felt so content, so wanted, like he sang it just for me. My chest was so warm and bubbly; I did not want the dream to end, even if it wasn’t real. More flashes and the scene changed. Darkness…then I was in an alley, my very bones chattered in the cold. Someone…was ahead. A silhouette…the tall figure…he frightened me and drew nearer but I could not move. I could not move. I writhed and rolled where I sat but could not move. He still came, leisurely even, and when he reached me he said in a deep, deep voice “Maria…” I gasped “Look up.” I snapped my head up. Above me a guitar case seemed to fall in slow motion. I turned back to the silhouette and a face formed. “Heath?” I said looking at him. He began laughing and suddenly the case moved at normal speed, falling faster and faster! I still could not budge and at the rate it was moving I would be crushed! “Maria.” A warmer voice said “Maria wake up.” The darkness melted away. “Where are you?” I asked and I was in a white room. “Mom? Mom is that you?!” I called desperately. A hospital bed appeared, with the most precious victim it would ever hold. “Mom! Wait!” I said. “Don’t worry honey, someday we’ll all be together and have a big party!” she said trying to smile. She was as pale as the walls. “No! What if it’s not real Mom! What if this is the end! This can’t be it! Don’t leave me!” I yelled, but slowly she dissipated. I was crying, yelling and crying. “Maria? Do you believe in God?” Dominic’s voice echoed throughout the room. Then everything faded from white to black to a golden sort of light. “God?”
I opened my eyes to the sound of heavy traffic. Light pierced my eyes, beating down upon me in harsh rays. Judging by the sun, it was probably late morning now. I sat up, disoriented, coughing. My mouth was sandpapery and sour tasting. I shivered, despite the sun’s light. I couldn’t remember much of what I dreamed and was glad. The words Look up were scratched in my memory. I startled, staring at the sky. But nothing was there but haze and the ever burning sun. I turned round to the glass sliding door, feeling my neck crack. The door was unlocked now. I slowly slid the door open, sticking my head in, listening. The apartment was silent. I sighed in relief, it was Friday; she was at school already, her roommate Jeanine at work. HISSS! I jumped. A white fur ball flew off the kitchen table, spitting and showing its teeth. “Stupid cat, what are you? Guard kitty?” I said, annoyed. It glared at me. It had large intricate blue eyes, scrutinizing me. ‘You again.’ I could imagine it scoffing. “Yeah you think you think your hot stuff don’t you?” I said. I love animals, but if ever there was a cat with a personality disorder, it was this one. It stood and stretched, keeping its eyes on me, and decidedly climbed a nearby shelf. I walked by it though, to the kitchen, ignoring it. There wasn’t much in the fridge, it was all Jeanine’s. Organic this, organic that. My sister called her a Tofureak. I wasn’t that hungry anyways. I shuffled across the wood floor, flipping off my shoes and clothes. I slipped into a t-shirt as big as a dress then I stumbled into Anna’s room.
Her room was very artfully decorated, filled with sketches and paintings framed on all the walls. But all desks and table tops were strewn with an assortment of papers, books, make-up, and jewelry. And to contrast that, the floor was always unnaturally clean. As was her bed. It was always made. Her bed was a tidy cloud of forbidden colors. She had not allowed me to sleep on it, but condemned me to the couch. But I didn’t care right now, I was too desperately tired. I dove into the orange and yellow sheets and felt a peaceful sleep cast over me. But it didn’t feel like long before I was awaken.
“Maria Adrian Godchild.” Each syllable was pronounced with a specific sum of disgust. I knew I was in trouble. I closed my eyes tighter and clung to the sheets like a child, hoping she would go away. “You wake up right now.” She snapped, her words venomously coated with British accent. She was in the doorway with her arms crossed over one too many books and folders. I had always been a pretty good kid with Mom; I hadn’t been yelled at a lot. I hated this. “Where the hell were you last night? That was not ok Maria, not ok!” she said when she saw I was awake. “I didn’t have a ride home ok?” I said snappily. “I could have picked you up!” she growled. “You were in class! Plus you would have killed me for calling so late!” I said glaring now. “I would not and even if I had, at least you would have been safe!” she snarled. She dropped her books on the desk and somehow nothing dropped off of it. “I am safe, look at me!” I said, but she shook her head, staring at me with those hateful eyes, as if I were the most inferior thing she’d ever witnessed. I wondered what I looked like, bruised at the jaw, my short hair was probably frizzing around me like a madwoman’s. She had darker more manageable waves, mine just frizzed and fluffed. “I can take care of myself Anna!” I growled. But she just snapped “Get out of my bed,” observing the mussed sheets with much more calmness than I expected. I waited for the explosion that would follow when I didn’t move. “Get OUT!” she growled. “You’re not my Mother! Stop trying to be!” I snapped. Her eyebrows were so snared they looked like a tight muscled uni-brow. I stomped out of the room like I was four and heard her slam the door behind me.
The clock in the living room told me it was six thirty four. I was starving. I found some whole grain cereal and tossed it in a bowl with the milk my sister used as cream for her coffee. I made sure to use a lot of it. I clenched the box tightly; the quarrel reverberating through my memory, then dropped it. My stomach was filled with a potent hot liquid like emotion, like molten metal bubbling within me; hate, destructive fury, annoyance…they all polluted my system. I stared at the window ledge with a heat in my heart that almost burned a hole in my chest. I had often stared at the window in this house with the earnest intentions to fling myself out of it. All because of her, all her, it was her fault, she was doing this to me. I sat crouched on the ground gnashing my teeth together, stomach tightened, nails clawing into my palms. It wasn’t me it was her, her…her! She always does this; she always gets away with it! No one ever listened to me!
And I needed to let it go, the abhorrence, it was building too veraciously within me. I calmed myself with thoughts of the theater, I breathed in deeply, letting the fit of anger pass. The hot breaths I exhaled seemed to carry the emotion within me, leaving my body empty and tired.
Noise erupted from Anna’s room. She was calling Dad…again. “She’s being a little monster! I don’t even know when she came home last night!” I heard her rant. A couple years earlier I would have run in to defend myself and grabbed for the phone, but there was no point. She’d always complain to the higher authority and yelling like the monster she accused me of never helped. Wait. I grabbed my bowl and snuck into the shower before she could… “Maria, Dad wants to talk to you.” She yelled. But I had already snapped the door shut. I ran the bath and ate while it filled up. The cereal was ok, like crunchy cardboard. I ignored the constant pounding on the door. “This is my bathroom!” followed by some restriction on it. I stripped and slipped into the water rebelliously with a loud splash making sure she could hear.
When I came out, she was gone. I guessed she was getting dinner or something. I stood, wet and steaming in the cold airy living room. The heat had softened my tense muscles and calmed me immensely. I’d leave her a note, but I wasn’t going to tell her where I was going. I didn’t like not telling her, but she’d criticize me if I told her about my little hero. We were just barely friends and she’d jump to conclusions. My family had a tendency to make fun of me for any male friends I have ever had.
I felt unsure of myself as now that I really thought about it, did he really want me to come tonight? For the prank sure, but was he just being nice? We really were barely even friends. But he was unusually kind. Maybe he is just being nice under the circumstances of what happened last night. I wondered if he really would care if I did not come. I was scared now. What if I came and he didn’t even remember me. I prattled on and on internally as I changed, throwing clothes here and there. The only clean thing I had left to wear was a white dress trimmed in frills. I’d chosen to wear it last for a reason. I picked the thing up, twirled around a couple times with it, watching it flow. It wasn’t too bad I guess. I threw it on the couch. “To go or not to go,” I said to the cat stalking behind me. It jumped when I looked at it and ran. I laughed and stared at the dress. I’d never worn it before. It was knee length and sleeveless. I brushed through my hair and paced all around the room. The cat did not like this and watched me with careful eyes from its shelf. I checked the clock, it was seven o’ two. It was now or never...
I slipped t dress over my head, just to try it on. It pretty much fit, close on the hips though. I snagged my petty coat and stared at myself in Anna’s long eloquent mirror. The coat made it more conservative. I liked this. The outfit worked. I could go…and just say hi. If he looked busy after the show I could just leave. I wanted to hear him sing more anyways. I grabbed my bag, shoes and wallet and went for the door, then paused. “I almost forgot” and said with a grin “hear kitty, kitty.”
When darkness had claimed the sky over the city it brought back with it the chill of night. I cursed once again for the dress. I should have done laundry. I was happy for my shoes though. As I limped among the colorful crowd I was in soft cushiony Mary Jane’s. I had never been so comforted by the sound and site of people. After last night, it was a blessing to have them flushing around me. I stepped in and out of conversations, listening with glee. My bad mood had been cast off with the sun’s light, my chest bubbled with excitement now. I was going to hear him sing again! For maybe as much as an hour! And Heath was going to flip. I wondered what he’d think the white fluff was…I hope they didn’t think it was too strange of a prank. I thought it was hilarious from a “what the hell?!” stand point. Walking wasn’t as bad as yesterday either, I could limp at a good fast pace now!
But when I hit 25th I was sure I was lost. Though my moral was not down! I was lost when I’d found the theater so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. I stopped at a closing news stand. A rather frail old man with very round spectacles sat gathering his things. “Excused me, Sir is there a theater near here?” I asked politely. “Yeah sweetheart, make a left at that light up there and keep walking. You’ll run right into it.” He said in a grizzled voice. I thanked him, hoping it was the right theater. “Hey be careful though, the city’s a big place, ya can get lost real easy.” He said with a serious face. I nodded, I knew.
The city seemed more magical and alive when the windows of stores were lit and people were buzzing all around. It was when I’d turned the corner that I’d really started to recognize where I was. I noticed restaurants and bars I had looked to for shelter the night before. They were teaming with people, as was the entire street. I wasn’t sure at first, as I stared across from me, waiting for the light. A group of men laughed together, sharing drinks outside what I was sure was a bar. There was something familiar…something about the one on the right. Something…I gasped, turned on my heels, making my right down the street as sharp as possible. I headed for the theater as fast as I could limp. I couldn’t tell how much paranoia was overtaking me, I turned over my shoulder. Was it? It was him…and he had friends. As bad as my eye site was I was almost sure it was. I hobbled towards the theater, whose lights now called out to me with blaring violence in the night. I was in such a hurry I did not even stop to admire Dominic’s name at the theater entrance. As I reached the line I tripped on my bad leg and head butted a girl in the back. I staggered, apologizing. She turned around with her whole face contorted, mouth ajar. She was blonde and immensely tanned. She looked pissed. Her coffee had spilled when I hit her. I apologized again, her friends chuckled. Steam rolled off the stain on her hand. She didn’t even say anything to me but turned and advanced in the line. I was glad when I’d lost her in the crowd.
A stout African American security guard stood taking tickets at the door. After bustling at the box office I hurried over to him. He was quite round and all smiles. “Why I know you.” He said to me as he took half my ticket. “You’re the girl who came in last night, your Dominic’s friend. How’s your foot dear?” he asked, very much like mother goose. The girl’s behind me stared enviously and I wasn’t sure if this announcement made me cooler to them or made them hate me more. I somehow felt the blonde somewhere behind me, glaring. I smiled at him and nodded in the affirmative. “Hurry in now, I’m Frank by the way.” He said. “I’m Maria, nice to meet you.” I said rushing in.
I went through a familiar hallway and into the vast room, not so empty or lonely looking as last night. I found myself a seat about five rows in, center, with a nice view of the stage. I sat myself down and smoothed the rumpled edges of my dress. From then on, I had nothing to keep myself occupied. Girls and sometimes couples swarmed around me, catching seats like fish in a stream. Squawking at each other, fighting about who had been first. I stared ahead at the velvet curtain, watching it ripple now and then, wondering who was behind it. I kept my eyes there as the seats beside me were taken, trying not to hear the conversations around me. The sound lowered into an ever constant buzz as I stretched my hearing. That was one thing I was good at, hearing. I focused past those around me, past the sound in front and listened. I heard a couple metal clanks and a tap on a microphone, but nothing good. Please start soon, please start! I hoped.
After twenty minutes had ticked by like a hammer rapping against my temples, the lights dimmed. My spine stiffened as I leaned forward. I fumbled with my thick glasses, watching the stage before me sharpen. (I only wore them for long distances, mostly for driving and school.) A low familiar voice announced Dominic in a mockingly serious tone. The curtains split and he walked out on stage. He felt so far away, despite my good seating. His shaggy bowl cut was brushed out now. He was casually attired in a blue t-shirt and dark jeans. I watched his every move as the crowd cheered for him. He leaned over the mic and asked “how’s everyone doing tonight?” and the crowd roared in response. It did not matter at this point that I was alone in the crowd; my vision seemed clouded of all reality beyond the stage. I stood, like everyone else, waving at him as he began to play.
The concert faded nearly an hour and a half later with a slow melancholic backdrop. Drums softly tapped and I wondered where on stage Heath was. I flinched excitedly when I realized I knew this final song! “You can never say never while we don’t know yet, time, time, time again…stronger now than we were before…don’t let me go, don’t let me go” he sang and I knew it was the song he’d sung for me the night before. When he looked out into the audience I felt like he was looking right at me, it made me pop with joy, (though I realistically I knew he wasn’t.) His voice steamed around the microphone with the last words and faded away with another softly strung chord.
We cheered of course, yelling his name as he waved and thanked us over the mic. He seemed almost embarrassed by all the attention, smiling as he exited stage left. As the curtains drew and the hum of voices around me rose again I was snapped away from the day dreams wrapped around my head. Being alone I had no reason to dawdle in the theater but rushed straight out, through the crowds, past the hallway and out into the street. I stared around the lit theater trying to locate my infamous alleyway and the stage exit that had saved me. I doubted it would be unlocked, but there was no way I could just slip on stage from inside. People slowly began to pour out of the double doors and I was forced to move. I noticed the bar neighboring the right end of the theater and shuffled that way.
The crowd had thinned towards the back of the theater, I peered around the corner. Not a single fan stood in the alleyway. The shadows deepened towards the back and a great chill crawled through my spine. The door opened. I jumped, whipping my head back. I heard someone hauling trash into the cans, and then the door closed. I waited a long time. People came in and out of the door, some for a smoke, some muttered on their cells and some just stood, in the chilly stillness. I wasn’t sure what was holding me there, some unknown fear. I tried to pinpoint it. When I imagined the shadows, I did not scare. I imagined all the people, stage crew, friends of Dominic’s, all random strangers. That gave me but a little fright. But then I fixated on Dominic and I saw a face that truly frightened me. A face contorted and annoyed, brows furrowed with polite rejection. Rejection. The word twisted in my stomach like indigestible gum. But it was late and I feared missing him. I shuffled like I’d never shuffled before, facing the concrete floor as I slipped into the alley.
When I finally faced the large black door, I gave it a hard rap with my knuckles; they burned on the cold metal. I coughed dryly, waiting. The door seemed to mock me in silence for several minutes and I rapped even harder, then stood waiting. I snapped the heart shaped locket around my neck open and closed, open then closed; a nervous habit. I decided with somewhat of a relief that no one was going to answer. I turned on my heel to sneak away.
But alas with a creak, it did open. A very burly man with long pony tailed of blonde hair stared down at me. He was clad in a dark suit and an unhappy twist of expression. He did not greet me but waited for me to speak. My voice shook with the intimidation. “I…I um am here to see my friend Dominic, he’s um there isn’t he?” I wondered. “Dominic has probably left already.” He said shortly in a heavy Russian accent. My heart fell. “B-but I …is Heath there? I’m Heath’s friend, I know he stays late.” I said trying to sound determined. He lowered his head, inspecting me. I felt like a shivering mouse in the eyes of a cat. Please don’t make me leave! “Heath.” He called over his shoulder. “You know this person?” he said jerking his head in my direction. Heath stopped by the door, holding a drink and peered out at me. “Hell Yeahh I do. Shortie!” He said happily, too happily, he had to be buzzed. He glared at me with icy blue eyes as I slid by him and into the warm theater. “What’s with the scary Russian body guard?” I asked Heath quietly. I heard music playing somewhere backstage. “Ohh him…?” he laughed hysterically. “Body guard? You’re funny. That’s my Uncle Nicholas.” He said, wobbling; I steadied him, noticing expensive looking sound equipment all around us. Not a great place to fall… His dark eyes were glazed and sleepy looking. “Where’s Dominic?” I asked before he could pass out. “Oh…Dommy…Dommy’s over with the people and the sounds and the…” he swayed backwards. I grabbed his shoulders and pulled him forward “Hey, hey, Heath! Wake up.” I said revealing my annoyance. “Is that you Lizzy?” he said in a daze “Ya know I always thought you were awful pretty.” He said smiling stupidly. I let him fall. He snapped his head up angrily and bellowed “Hey what the hell, man?!” then recognized me. “I’m Maria, Ma-ri-a, remember? Who’s Lizzy?” I wondered lifting an eyebrow. He rubbed his head, pretending not to hear me, “Aw help me up Shortie.” I took his hands and yanked on him, but he was far too tall for me to lift. He yelled after me when I left for the door.
“Excuse me.” I said, to the scary Russian body guard. “Could you help me take your nephew somewhere to sit down? I think he’s going to end up hurting himself.” I asked as politely as I possibly could. He had been standing quietly by the door, watching with a stoic expression. Somehow I could tell they were related; though he must get the funny from the other side of the family. He snorted and followed me, picking up Heath on his own and dragging him away like a captive. Heath protested of course but did not make any move against his uncle, wise I thought. Though I was glad to help, I had just lost one of the few people I could converse with in the entire theater. I stood, uncomfortably in the darkness, squirming, unsure of what to do. A blonde girl in a black stage crew shirt stared down the hall Heath had been confined to. “Was that a drunk blonde guy?” she asked me “with an attitude problem…” she added. I nodded “Heath?” I said. “Yeah, ok thanks…” she said sighing, sounding annoyed and following the trail of his angry shouts. I wondered if that was his Lizzy.
I followed the music I’d heard before right onto the stage. The curtains were drawn of course and I knew the audience must be empty by now. I peered over a mess of speakers and wire all crowding the lining of the stage. There was a small group of people crowded there. They were mostly in the same black crew shirts as that blonde I’d seen. But there were a couple exceptions including two older men in suits. Light chatter arose from the little crowd, as well as the chink of glasses and the smell of what I thought was Chinese food. The aroma tickled me; it was sweet and warm. I fidgeted with my hands as I peered at all of them. I spotted Frank in the corner, looking on everyone with a jolly countenance. His beady eyes spotted me and he drifted to the other corner, talking and looking over at me. I tried to lift myself a little on a fat speaker to see who he was speaking to. I stumbled backwards on my bad leg with a clatter. He’s right there! “Woa, woa, careful there,” came a girl’s voice, on the edge of being mocking. I wasn’t sure if I was thankful to Frank or not. A couple people looked over at me, but could not see in the dark. I turned around and Heath’s blonde girl was behind me. She had very short hair, in a cut that would be cuter on a boy than a girl. She was about my height with shadowy eyes on a small face. She was pretty…in a tom boy-ish kind of way. “Hey don’t step on the speakers, you got it?” she staring me down harshly, but smiled when mine deteriorated. Was she messing with me?
“You came.” I jumped. I turned around to see Dominic smiling behind me. My chest flared in happiness, he was smiling! Smiling! Was he happy to see me?! “Oh, this is Cindy. Cindy this is M…Maria.” He said thinking for a moment. Oh so she wasn’t Heath’s Lizzy. “So how did you like the show?” he asked me, taking a sip of…water? “I loved it! You were amazing; I’m officially a big fan.” I said happily. He laughed. “Well I bomb less than I used to so I think it went pretty well. There was a really good crowd tonight.” He said. I agreed the crowd was very enthusiastic. “Of course they were, now that you finally posted your performance dates online.” Cindy said with a sigh. “There were a couple kids out there from out of state that I saw.” She said nodding. I found it funny that she called them ‘kids’ when she didn’t seem much older than any of them. Dominic chuckled, flattered. “I hope they don’t try to drive all the way home tonight…” he said, a little worried. “I told everyone who stayed where the 24 hour coffee shop was.” She said adjusting an ear piece she had on. “Mr. Le Vide” One of the suit clad men came to the lining of the stage and called him, quietly. “Oh, hey I’ll talk to you later Maria. Stay awhile and have a…no wait your under aged aren’t you? I’d not have a drink now, Heath used to do that and look at him now…” he turned to find his best friend making a fool out of himself but could not find him. “He’s in the back barfing.” Cindy said calmly. Dominic looked satisfied and followed the men down a different hallway nearby. “Who’s he going with?” I wondered as they disappeared. “Those guys want to talk to him about the record deal. Heath is supposed to be with him, but it’s probably better he’s not right now.” She said rolling her eyes. Oh, I’d forgotten about that. “You said people stayed after?” I said. “Yeah a couple psychotic girls and their dates, raved about how much they loved his music, yatta yatta yatta. I had supervise and make sure none of them tackled him.” she sighed, again. When she talked her slight sarcasm was funny but when the sharpness of her tone was turned on me, I felt very much afraid. I wished Dominic hadn’t left.
“So I do need to know which of them you are planning to jump after the theater closes.” She said, folding her arms. “For safety reasons.” She added. “They should have a fair warning.” She said with that same sarcasm on the edge of seriousness. I smiled and tried to laugh a little, denying her an answer. Did she think I was going to tackle them? And steal their belongings like a creepy stalker fan girl and frame them on my wall? Because that’s what her expression told me. She lifted an eyebrow. “No, no, it’s not like that.” I said, waving my hand. “Mhm, so why else would you be here if before tonight you were not already a fan?” her dark frigid eyes pierced me. She looked at me contently raising her head slightly, as if she had defeated me. But I looked back with innocence. I could not ever tell a soul, my real feelings, not until I knew. Not that I would tell her anyways. “I’d just…known him before tonight and he’d invited me to the show.” I said shortly. She stared at me, looking for something. She stepped back and nodded. “You want to jump em.” She said crudely and the image of me mugging one of them flew into my mind; very unrealistic.
She began to speak again but I spotted Frank and interrupted her. “I’ll be right back.” I smiled and escaped to the corner of the stage. I had to pass under the lit crowded area to reach him and a couple people stared at me strangely. I looked at the ground as I shuffled by.
“Well Hi there, Miss Maria.” Frank said smiling. I liked Frank like that. He had an aura of positivity. “Hi Frank.” I said, happy to talk to someone who wouldn’t verbally bite me. “Do you know where Heath’s bag is?” I said pulling out a slightly puffy manila envelope. “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to tell you that…” he said sadly. “Didn’t Dominic tell you.” I whispered “about the…package…for heath?” I wasn’t sure if this would incline him to tell me more though. He stared at me for a moment. I had coughed the word, had he heard me? Then with a big “Oh,” he told me that Heath’s bag was right down the hallway on the left. “The room is number fourteen.” he pointed out. I thanked him and shuffled away with the envelope in hand.
I crept down the hall and found at the end a very deep stair well, which stated rooms ten through twenty fifteen were at the bottom. The heating had dissipated as I slipped carefully down each step, it grew dimmer as well. There was a low ceiling down here and the dressing room doors were ajar with darkness creeping out of them. I hurried down the hall, going quite a ways, passing two corners until I finally found it on my right. As I stepped in front of a fluorescent light above me flickered on. I looked around me, wondering who’d turned on the switch. But they were the kind of lights that turned on in long rows all connected. I slipped into the room and shut the door. I felt the cold walls for a light switch and found one, it flipped on a tiny lamp in the corner. I flipped another and was blasted by a sudden burst of yellow light by the mirrors. I hurriedly flipped that one off. The room was very small, with warm red/brown walls, a chair and a small plant near the lamp. It smelled slightly of smoke and I grumbled promising to sock Heath later for subjecting his lungs to cigarettes. I found his bag next to some clothes piled on the chair. It was a large messenger bag of faded green, I pulled it open. Inside I found a white binder filled with music. I stared at the colossus compilation of sheet music; it was the piano instrumental version for every song he’d sung and more...! I stared in awe; I wanted to behold such a great package for myself with almost a possessive need. If I had any talent it was on the contrasting keys of a piano, I loved to play. As I flipped from sheet to sheet looking at all his songs I heard a great crash above me. Something on the upper floor had fallen, something big. I then remembered the prank. Becoming nervous, I shakily dumped the envelope of fluffy white cat fur into the bag and evenly distributed it. The smell of the cat lifted into the air causing a great hacking cough to come out of me. I cleared my throat, put his bag back in place and flipped off the light. It was dark once again and I slid my hand over the metal doorknob, opening it discretely and slipped out.
I coughed with potently with a dry sound that echoed throughout my rib cage. It was weird; I had never had allergies before this. Stupid cat I said to myself, that fur ball had its revenge in the end. My lungs ached and burned as if they were saturated in salt. As I stumbled down the empty hall, shaking with each puff of air that was forced from my lungs, I felt eyes watching me. The halls were icy and shadowed. I didn’t like the way that distant light caught on the dressing mirrors as I passed each room, the glimmers pulled my attention, startling me again and again. Something of a tingle in my spine pushed my back into a straight line; I stood very still, every instinct in my body telling to bolt out of the darkness. Farther down I heard voices. They were men, talking quietly in serious tones. I turned around, listening, I would imagine my ears perked up like a dogs. The moment passed. No other sound rose besides the voices and I turned back, as not to intrude on them as they drew closer.
A very firm arm then externalized round my elbow, hooking me into one of the rooms. I jumped half to hell under the grip, struggling. My throat felt too dry to build a scream, I ducked down, lowering my center of gravity and scrambled to sweep a foot under the leg behind me, tripping someone. He held a tight grip on my arm as he fell he pulled me down. I heard “Hey, what the he…?!” the question slurred. The ground was hard as concrete and I couldn’t see a thing. I ripped at the hand on my forearm and it loosened easily. What was with me getting in fist fights with strangers lately?! I scrambled to my feet, hearing him stagger to his. “Hold on they’re coming, wait till they pass.” He instructed and suddenly the mussed words grew familiar. I was glad I hadn’t proceeded in punching him in the gut. Heath moved quietly to the door peeking around it, I followed, quite embarrassed. Then after making out my facial expression in the thin light he tried to silence a slight chortle. He put his hand to his mouth wheezing a laugh after realizing he’d scared me so. I should have punched him.
The suits grew closer and we stepped back a little from the door. In my only glimpse of them all I could decipher was that one was of rather stout stature and the other taller and balding slightly. “So do you think they really have potential for a full album?” baldy wondered. “They sound good…and do have quite a selection of songs. But they are immature; they have no experience it seems.” The other grumbled. They were down the hall now. I heard Heath’s breathing stop for a couple moments, then release in a melancholic sigh. I imagined his posture slumping behind me. They were climbing the stairs now and when I was sure their voices had faded I turned and said “I’m sorry man,” to Heath and for a moment, he was very still. “Nah its cool tiny.” He said, and then paused. “Don’t tell Dominic about this, ok?” he said with sudden seriousness. But then in a sudden break of laugher he formed the words “Oh my God, you jumped like two feet off the ground!” and he gave me crap about my hysterical reaction. I wondered if tiny was an upgrade from the nickname shortie? It sounded a bit nicer; maybe now that he mortally terrified me twice it meant we were friends. “I swear I’ll get you back Heath, you just wait.” I said fake punching him. He was still convulsing in laugher.
“What’s with all this girlish laugher in here?” a wary voice wondered. The light flipped on and I saw Dominic’s head curved around the doorway, wondering what he was interrupting. He saw me standing angrily with my fists all bunched up at my sides. “Oh it’s just Heath, of course. Ah your laugh is like…the sweet ring of a twelve year school girl. You make me think of when my sister was little again.” He said with mock nostalgia. I was glad as the awkward atmosphere was cleared when Heath realized he was being insulted. I laughed, but stood uncomfortably. Dominic entered the room and stood by me “Aw, what have you done to poor little Maria?