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A Heaven In Hell This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I was alone again, even before the dawn peaked over the horizon. The dried tears on my cheeks felt tight as I brushed my tousled hair out of my face. And then I could see the view from my spot on the couch, each ray of light bringing back a repressed memory from last night. The cell phone screens, the police flashlights, the headlights from the ambulance. The club’s neon sign blinking out when that boy pulled the trigger.

I had never felt so lost in all that light.

He disappeared after the gunshot, when people started panicking. When the blood pooled around the girl’s head after her body fell to the ground. She was all I could see in the crowd of chaos, no matter how many times I had been pulled and shoved away from her. They wanted light, an automatic safe haven for their fear. They needed direction.

I craved darkness.

I scrambled for any corner, any ditch that blinded me from the insanity. The fear kept rising in my throat like bile, and I fought to keep it down.

The brick corners were filled, the screams and flashlights sending the darkness away to nowhere. I could see everything, every tear, every speck of blood, all of it. Everything. Especially in my new view from the ground.

I didn’t have time to react to the shove before I was crying out. The only reason I didn’t confuse my blood with the blonde girl’s was because of the pain, the bones of my fingers grinding together out of place. The bright red pool flowing from my skin, down my hand, and right over my bracelet.

James.

He’d given it to me after my sister died as a reminder of his supporting presence. I wore it every day, everywhere, even after I broke up with him. His security would’ve been too big a loss, even though I’d hurt him within seconds. I knew I still wasn’t alone. His spirit clung onto me like a second skin, an armor of flesh whenever I wasn’t feeling strong enough. All because he’d kept my name in his mind, heart, and phone.

At that thought, I felt my good hand retrieve my cell phone in my pocket and stab the letters into a message. I was offered just enough reception for it to send, and then I found myself crawling until I reached the street corner. The police cars were splashing rain onto my face, but I’d become too numb to be bothered. My knees stumbled as the tremors from my hand spread to the rest of my body in a wave of fire. Curling up against the damp brick, I tucked my hand against the frozen pavement and waited. The harsh flow of electricity eventually gave way to a dull throbbing that receded only to my elbow as the rest of my weak body was spared. I could feel the frozen breath escaping my mouth while I tried so hard to keep my eyes closed, afraid that the dirt and blood would follow me around like a recurring nightmare. The screams of my surroundings echoed within my skull, like the walls were alive with fear and not offering a single hand to pull anyone within their protection. We were all scared. Scared of the glittering carcass lying at our feet, drowned in her own blood. Scared of the officers and firemen trying their best to calm us down and get information on where her murderer might have gone, who he was, and why he had shot her. Scared that he was only running to get more guns before he came back to finish off the rest of us.

But in the horde of rigid movement, one of them stood out to me. My vision had long since been blurry and unreliable, but his black hair and olive skin were crisp. The intensity of his muscles gently pushing the debris of people out of his way was all too familiar to me. The moment had slowed down, as the streetlamp engulfed him in an aura of gold that was almost surreal. Whoever he was looking for was in the best of hands, I realized, and I tried as gently as I could to lay my head on the icy pavement. The tears were close, and I would soon feel them gather at my cheek and turn my skin to stone. This was how I would die, alone, waiting for James to come save me. But it was so crowded, so many bodies to push through to find the right one in time. If someone didn’t mistake me for a garbage bag they could easily step on, I would surely turn to ice.

And then it happened. The ground below me was melting away into a flourish of heat, bathing me in comfort and relief. It was almost enough for me to smile the pain away, but I couldn’t distract myself from the warm hand of an angel wiping my cold hair out of my face. But even though I was afraid of heights, I was now untouchable. So gradually, eventually, they cracked open to see that I was right. The sidewalk was far below me and I was moving through the crowd in the effortless, careful hands of the angel come to collect me. I closed my eyes again and lay my head on the powerful chest of my savior, as his soft lips came down on each of my broken fingers. I couldn’t feel the pain at all.

“I’ve got you,” he whispered into my hair. “I’m here. I’ve always got you.”

It wasn’t until I woke up on my living room couch, my hand in a purple cast and my face stinging from disinfectant that I realized I was still alive. I pulled James’ hoodie tighter around my still-shivering body and closed my eyes to block out the rays of the sun. My bed comforter was still warm from where James slept, so he couldn’t have left more than ten minutes ago. I could still smell him, centimeters away from my pale face. The only thing that could make this moment perfect is if I had had a chance to say goodbye.

Then suddenly, the aroma of donuts and coffee filled the room. My eyes crept open again, and then my lips were turning up. James set the Dunkin’ Donuts box down on the table and crouched on the floor in front of me, flashing his bright, beautiful smile that I so hopelessly fell in love with. It always made me feel self-conscious, all I being able to muster was a thankful grin back.

He looked straight into my eyes and his smile dropped into a soft, serious line. With the steam from the coffee curling in front of his face, he looked to be something straight out of a dream, or maybe I’m just remembered a dream of him that I’d already had. Either way, I could do nothing more than stare right back and whisper “Thank you.”

His eyes flicked down to my cast and in the next second, his thumb was stroking the material covering the back of my hand. When he didn’t look back up at me within a few seconds, my eyes joined him. When I read his signature message, my throat clenched and my tongue became trapped between my teeth. I didn’t know if I had any tears left to cry, but I wasn’t about to find out.


I will always be whatever you need me to be. My only condition is that you never forget that. ~ James


James leaned forward and appended his lips to my forehead for no less than ten seconds. I was sure he could feel my tears on his chest, because he brushed them away as he looked into my eyes again, bringing me back home to his heart.

“Always, Rose. Always.”



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