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Too Little Too Late
A faint smile crept across my face as I held the old photograph in my hands. It must have been Halloween or something when it was taken. I was dressed in a full body, black ninja suit. My little brother hung limply in my arms, his fireman’s hat falling over his eyes. Matt stood in front of us, Indiana Jones hat perched on his head, his legs spread apart in a defensive stance, and a small plastic gun cocked in one hand.
My hands began to shake as tears began to sting the corners of my eyes. He was always doing that, protecting me. Matt had protected me no matter what, ever since we’d met. Always, always, always. That’s what had gotten us into this mess, Wasn’t it. My whole body ached with that thought. If only I had been faster, stronger . . . just like him. Maybe then it wouldn’t have happened.
I could still hear the footsteps, his and mine mixed together, that steady rhythm I’d known since we were small. I could hear the squealing of car tires as they skidded across back ice. I could hear his voice, screaming out my name. And I felt his hands as he leapt forward and shoved me as hard as he possibly could. I heard the horrible sound of his body taking the place of mine. All these noises whirling around inside my head like some sick song. And I couldn’t make it go away. It was stuck in my head and it wouldn’t leave.
I flung the picture away from me and wrapped my arms around myself. I shivered, choking back the tears that threatened to overwhelm me. My heart was caving in on itself, and there was nothing I could do.
‘Corri’” my little brother’s head suddenly appeared around the corner of the door. “There’s a phone call for you . . .” his fourteen-year-old hands reached out and tentatively passed the phone to me.
“H-hello’” I whispered. I didn’t want anyone to answer back. I didn’t want to know.
“Corri’ Matt’s regained consciousness-” I clicked the phone off and rose to my feet. I pushed past my younger brother and headed towards the door.
“Where are you going’” He yelled after me, “ wait until mom gets home! She can drive you!” I ignored him. “At least put on a coat!” he called after me.
I raced out of the house. I didn’t need a car, I wanted to run. I wanted to run those five miles to the hospital. I wanted to ache. I wanted to feel the cold stinging pain of January night air on my body. I wanted to feel the pain. I wanted to be strong. And maybe be even just the slightest bit closer to where he was.
And so I ran. I kept running, never stopping until I was there. By the time I reached the front doors of the building, my breath was coming in short and fervent gasps. I couldn’t get enough air. And for the briefest of moments I thought I might suffocate. My muscles hurt so bad I thought I might die. But that was fine. I wanted that. To feel even the slightest amount of what he had felt.
My footsteps echoed down the empty white hallways. They bounced off the walls, echoing with the word “alone, alone, alone,” over and over. I stood before the door with his name printed on it. My hand trembled as I slowly pushed it open.
He sounded so relieved. I stepped forward, trying to stop my voice from shaking. “Hey.” I sat down beside him on a chair next to the eerie white hospital bed he lay on.
Suddenly, his hand reached up towards me, bandaged hands grazing gently across my eyes. “Why are you crying’” he whispered.
I pushed his hands away, choking back the tears I hadn’t noticed before. “I’m sorry,” I sobbed, “I’m so sorry.”
He smiled softly, “oh . . . Corri . . . it’s not your fault.” His hand wrapped around my trembling fingers, “it’s not your fault.” He smiled again, “I wanted to protect you. It was my choice.”
“You could have . . . could have died!” I sobbed, “what would I have done if you’d died!’”
He laughed faintly, “you sound like a girl.” His arm moved from my hand to around my shoulders, pulling me down into as much of a hug as he could muster. “don’t cry. I promise I’ll stick around for a long time yet to come . . . so let me keep protecting you.” He whispered against my ear.
“Hey Corri, remember this’” I held out an old picture to him, “I found it under my bed yesterday.”
“Shows how often you clean your room,” he chuckled. He snatched the picture away from me, “oh, sort of . . .” he stared at it a second longer before glancing up at me, “why was I a ninja’”
I shrugged, “I think it was Halloween or something.” I walked a few paces ahead of him, “my costume was way cooler.”
He glared at me, “ninja’s rule.” His eyes fell upon the picture again, you looked so cute then . . . “ his gaze returned to me, “what happened’”
“I grew up, “I said, laughing, “you however, haven’t gotten any taller.”
“I’m only four inches shorter than you!” he hissed.
I laughed again, dodging out of the way of his half hearted punches.
It all happened so fast. A horrible screeching noise, a car skidding towards us. Too fast, too fast. I leapt forward, my mind screaming out, “no, no, no, no!” I said something, a desperate attempt to reach him. Hurry, hurry, hurry. My hands reached out, pushing him roughly away.
And then, an agonizing pain. Everything spun around me. I could hear him screaming. So loud. “Matt! Matt!” screaming words that hardly registered in my mind.
Suddenly, he was leaning over me. I couldn’t understand what he was saying. They were jumbled words. His hand gripped mine, smearing my fingers with blood. His blood” No . . . I realized it was mine. Something wet hit my face. I peered up at him, my vision blurring and fading more and more each second. Hot tears were spilling out of his clear blue eyes.
I squeezed his hand, flinching with the pain of just moving those simple muscles. I smiled gently, ‘it”s okay . . .’ don”t cry, please don”t cry. “It’s okay . . .”
“Why’” he whispered, “why did you do it’”
“Because . . . you are precious to me . . .” I thought, as everything went black around be.
I don’t remember what I dreamed. It was so hazy. Images of past events I didn’t remember, flashes of smiles, and clear blue eyes. And crying. I could hear him crying over and over. Please . . . please don’t cry . . . I wont let you be alone. Please don’t cry . . . I promise to never leave you alone. Only my arms will ever encircle you, I wont die like this . . . I promise.