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The Journal (Part 8)
That night, I was on stage dressed in jeans and a long, flowing plaid shirt. I was barefoot. Zelda was in the crowd, her eyes on me as words slipped from my lips and into her ears. I sang solo, and I got to sit back and relax in an “I’m doomed” kind of way whenever the boy, who’s name I now found out is Noah, sang. After five songs each, the abusive yet entertaining host bid everyone farewell and danced with me off the stage and into a hallway beyond, where Zelda was waiting as planned.
She was wearing a skin-tight black dress, high heels, and her hair and make-up looked professionally done. Her eyes were bright in response to seeing me, but I could already see a sadness poking its way through her. She could last as long as she wants to, but that doesn’t mean she’s always going to want to. One day, she’s just going to give up and give in. She’ll lose her light. She won’t be Zelda anymore.
She hugged me, “You were brilliant.”
I hugged her back, “What else is new?”
She laughed a little. I pulled away and looked at her, “Are you sure you’re going to be alright?”
She held my gaze, “Sheik, go with it. It’s better for both of us.”
I groaned, “But it’s still torture for you!” I spoke a little louder than I had originally planned, and Monty’s hand met the back of my head within seconds. My head was soon pounding.
“Zelda,” he said, and those two syllables tore at my heart. She smiled bravely at me and followed Monty down the hall, “I’ll see you at dawn.”
Zelda and I seem to have traditions for everything, even though we never realized it over the years. Another one you can add to the list is the New Year’s party. We don’t throw it, Barbie does, but we’re always invited. I decided to go this year, since the party has always been tons of fun and Mickey said it would be good for me. He talked to Barbie’s mom, and he’ll be there as a chaperone, but also to make sure I have no breakdowns.
I’m glad to know they have so much faith in me.
Of course, it was a good thing since I couldn’t take it after a half hour, and Mickey ended up taking me home. Well, he didn’t actually take me home. He took me to our tree house. As it turns out, no snow had gotten in, or at least not enough for it to have piled up; and all the pictures were still there, just in different places than I had left them.
When Mickey started to pick them up, I followed his lead. We cleaned the whole place, except he wouldn’t let me see one box. He told me to come back and look at it when I was under control. He also told me to stop telling my story (since I actually told him I was doing this) and give myself time to heal. I’ll give him at least two weeks, and then we’ll see.
Two weeks turned into a month, and then to two months. It’s Valentine’s day when I finally decided I could get back into telling the story and go into the tree house to look in the box. I told Mickey, and he told me not to look into the box until I was done with the story. I asked him why, and he simply said to trust him. So, I will.
Yes, it’s that easy. Anyway, back to the story.
A little over two weeks passed, and Zelda was adjusting fine. She fit right into the routine the other girls followed, and she was still laughing and joking. That is, until one night she decided to try to get out of there. She was simply going to walk out the door, find a group of people, cry and plead for them to listen to her and help her, and then all should go well from there. I told her not to try it, but she didn’t listen to me. Exactly three weeks after we were kidnapped, she tried to escape.
I saw her from the stage as I sang a duet with Noah, Bring Me to Life by Evanescence. It seemed easy enough, and she was out the door within thirty seconds of starting towards it. I didn’t see her at dawn, so I assumed she had made it and would send help.
At noon the next day, I was woken up by hands grabbing me and yanking me out of the room before I could figure out who they belonged to. They led me to the room where Zelda and I had been chained up the first night here, and released me when we got there. My gaze swept around the room.
Coffee House. It was another tradition Zelda and I were extremely fond of. See, her church had one three times a year, in March, in July, and in November. For years she would obsess over how she wasn’t allowed to go since it was only for teenagers, which means you had to be between the ages of 13 and 19. Finally, she could go. The first one she could go to was the one in July, and she was so excited yet so nervous at the same time. She took me with her so she wouldn’t feel awkward, even though she was literally the only person there I knew and she knew all of them at least by sight.
Arriving at the building that looked more like a City Hall, I had no idea what to think. She didn’t hesitate to lead me through a side door, down a few halls, and into a huge room that had markings for a basketball court on the floor despite that it was carpet. Twenty-three tables exactly were set up, each covered with paper and having a pile of markers in the middle so you could draw. There was a stage set up on the side opposite where we were standing, food to our left, and almost straight ahead were two sets of double doors about thirty feet apart that led to another room. That room had a snack-stand looking thing leading off it where you got the drinks, which ranged from simple water, white hot chocolate, and iced tea to mint hot chocolate, double espressos, and every kind of mocha or latte you could imagine.
Her pastor greeted her, welcoming her and congratulating her on finally being able to come. Knowing me from the few times I went to church with her and when I went on a camping thing with the youth program, he greeted me and welcomed me to the show as well. With the order to grab a drink and go make friends, he took off to talk to the first act. We obediently got drinks, Zelda got a white hot chocolate and I got mint hot chocolate that tasted like Christmas in a cup, and made our way over to another younger looking pair of girls. They were identical twins, with blonde hair and blue eyes and about my height. Zelda greeted them as Millie and Molly.
They said hello back, and then said goodbye to go get drinks. Zelda then remembered that those two were scared of her and started laughing. I laughed, too. Meeting gazes, we each bought a shirt with the Coffee House symbol on the front, small and on the upper left. We disappeared with markers for about ten minutes. When we came back, our shirts each elaborately said “Need a little love in your life?” on the back, and “Free hugs!” on the front with a heart underneath.
Soon, everyone knew us as the girls with the hugs. Since we got the shirts three sizes too big, we made sure they could fit no matter what and have worn them to every Coffee House since. I found mine at the bottom of my closet and folded it neatly on my dresser. Another Coffee House is in two weeks. I plan on going.
A hand fell over my mouth before my scream was fully developed, choking it off. I was yanked backwards, but not before the scene in front of me shifted and faint sounds reached my ears. They played in my mind over and over as I was dragged back to the room and thrown in. The other girls stared at me as the door slammed and I dove for it. The lock clicked just before I reached the doorknob. I pounded on it, kicked it, rammed my shoulder into it, and anything else I could think of that might make it fall off the hinges. None of the other girls moved. Eventually, the door was unlocked.
I stepped back and when the door opened, my body moved without my mind really having an idea that I was punching one of them in the face. He winced, but his hand still grabbed my wrist before I could pull it back and yanked me into his arms. His grip was tight and he dragged me down the hall as I kicked and tried to scream through the hand he clamped over my lips.
I was thrown into another room, and I recognized it by the fact there should be a dent the shape of my head in the wall. I dove for the door again, but it was slammed and locked in record time. I kept pounding on the door, ignoring the dizziness setting in and the ache in my limbs to hopefully annoy the hell out of them. I don’t think it worked to annoy them, but they were definitely angry. That was proven about thirty minutes later when they came in and tied me to the bed. Noah stayed, and he tried to calm me down as I pulled against my binds and screamed obscenities at him and the world in general that would make Zelda proud. Another ten minutes passed before he received a text and gagged me. I tried to scream and break free for another five minutes, but then I gave up and stared at the ceiling in anger, fear, concern, and every other possible emotion as images and audio from what I saw played in my mind over and over like a broken record on steroids.
Noah was talking to me urgently, but I couldn’t hear him. I could barely see him. Everything was blurry. Time passed and I was untied and given water to drink. I’m not sure how much I had, since I was barely able to keep focus on Noah. I barely realized I was crying.
Then I was allowed to lie down, and suddenly everything went black for a split second, only to be replaced by image after image and whisper after whisper.
A bundle of clothes on the floor of the room, mixed with skin and blood. Zelda, beaten with only her face truly recognizable through the mess around it. Her eyes, half unconscious, focusing on me and her lips, ashen, moving slowly to quietly form words.
“I just lost the game.”
The second Coffee House we went to, we were at a table with a few of the people who wouldn’t be able to come to the next one. Somehow we ended up going around the table announcing what we would say if we thought we were going to die. The answers were basically what you would assume.
“I love you, Mom.”
“Don’t forget me.”
“Keep your head up.”
“I’ll miss you.”
See, completely obvious.
When it was Zelda’s turn, she didn’t miss a beat when she responded, “I just lost the game.”
Throughout the room, cries of, “I lost the game!” filled the air. Zelda smiled triumphantly, and I could tell she was extremely proud of her accomplishment. I was sure proud of her.
Everyone at the table was confused except me. I simply smiled and when someone asked her, I explained with one sentence, “Life is the ultimate game.”
They understood that.
I replied the same thing as Zelda, since we had decided on this a while ago for some reason I’ll never remember. It was meant to be a code phrase, holding everything we want to say in it. If ever kidnapped or held at gunpoint together, that was to be our secret phrase whenever we thought we might die or be killed.
Apparently, Zelda didn’t have much faith.
A hand brushed the hair out of my eyes, and that’s what began to slowly draw me from my nightmares. A deep silence filled my ears as everything came into focus. My eyes opened, and the first thing I saw were icy blue eyes on me. One of them was slightly swelled and black and blue. The hand brushed my other cheek as I realized who it was and that he was probably p***ed.
“Hello, SweeTart.” His voice was light, breathy, like a whisper on a breeze. It seemed to wrap around me, caressing me gently and lulling my eyes closed. A faint smile lit my lips. With that voice, I could pretend this is all a dream. I could pretend I’ll wake up tomorrow in Fort Bruno with Zelda by my side, both of us perfectly fine except for maybe a cold. I could pretend none of this ever happened and maybe get some real sleep for once in the last month.
Of course, that’s too much to ask.
“Would you like to try behaving?” The voice was thicker this time, deeper, heavier, and a little more threatening. My eyes opened and met icy blue. I couldn’t look away. I found myself drowning in them, unable to do anything except lay there and stare with ice slowly trickling into my veins. Chills made my hands shake, or maybe that was the fear.
Without another word, he bent down and kissed me. This slowly escalated, and then he proceeded quickly, getting his job done and enjoying it at the same time he left me breathless with fear, afraid to even say anything he could find offensive. His hands and motions were both gentle and light. He was never rough. That seemed to just make it worse, since it seemed as if he wanted me to enjoy it.
He left me shivering underneath blankets. Someone else came in, but I was too afraid to look. I wouldn’t put it past them to send in Jack and put me through it again, only so much worse because he wouldn’t be as nice about it. It wasn’t until I heard the gentle “SweeTart?” that I relaxed just a little. It wasn’t Jack.
At the third Coffee House we attended, Zelda decided we would be performing. She didn’t tell me this until two minutes before we were to go on stage and sing “Bye Bye Bye” by ‘n Sync. Of course, she knew I had the song memorized. I didn’t want to do it, but she was expecting that and produced a five pound chocolate bar the pastor had bought for the specific purpose of getting me to sing on stage. It was his goal after he heard me sing at the one youth group I went to with her.
With a five pound chocolate bar on the line, I sang with her. Zelda and the pastor felt quite accomplished, and we became even more well known at Coffee House. Not only was wearing our Free Hug shirts part of our Coffee House now, but so was singing at least one song. After “Bye Bye Bye,” no one was expecting them to be normal songs.
Especially after they managed to convince me to sing another song without bribing me first. We sang “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. It’s not as if either of the songs were weird or anything, they’re just not expected, completely random, and sung by boy bands from our childhood.
“Noah,” I whispered. I heard a light laugh, “You know it’s me?”
“Yeah,” I snapped, sitting up and glaring at him, “I’ve heard enough of your voice to tell when it’s you or not.” I took in his appearance and realized it looked as if he had just had the crap kicked out of him.
I raised an eyebrow at the same time he did. I was raising an eyebrow to question why he looked beat up. He was raising an eyebrow to question why I was deciding to be sarcastic after everything that’s happened. I didn’t answer, but I decided to voice the question as politely as I could in this situation.
“What the hell happened to you?”
Yeah, I know. It’s pure poetry.
Noah narrowed his eyes at me. I found myself smiling at first in innocence, and then in amusement, “They beat the crap out of you, too?”
His eyes flashed angrily, and that’s the first thing that hinted to me to tread lightly. I dropped my gaze, focusing on arranging the blanket and crossing my legs so I was sitting a little more comfortably. The dropping of my gaze must’ve made him realize I wasn’t interested in getting in trouble and couldn’t help it, since he didn’t bash my face into the wall. When I looked back up, he was watching me with a calculating expression. I couldn’t stop myself from making another comment.
“Is that how they control you? You’re such a hypocrite if you don’t want them to do it to you, yet you do it to others. I mean, really?”
His teeth clenched, and he took two angry steps toward me. Before I could duck back, he reached out and grabbed a fistful of my hair. His voice low and angry, he growled, “You don’t know me.”
Once again, I couldn’t stop the comment.
“That was a good book. I really don’t know how it applies to this situation, though.”
His face was suddenly right in front of me, his nose literally touching mine. I shivered and tried to pull away, but he held me there with a vice grip on my hair. His breath smelled as if he just had cinnamon gum. His eyes were carefully controlled, hiding any flashing emotions. Time ticked by slowly, the seconds stretching to minutes and the minutes to hours in my mind. Eventually, he moved, putting his lips against my ear. My pulse quickened. My eyes closed. His whisper was practically silent.
“You’re my favorite, SweeTart, but you need to learn to behave.”
I yanked away from him and fell off the bed, but I knew the only reason I pulled that off is because he let go and stepped back. From the floor, I looked up to find him smiling at me in amusement. I stared at him for a while, until he said, “What songs are we singing tonight, darling?”
I didn’t miss a beat.
“Remembering Sunday, Falling Inside the Black, Epiphany, A Little Priest, and the Anthem.”
He tilted his head as he looked at me, “I don’t think so, SweeTart.”
I flipped him off.
Wow, would I regret that one.