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Curiosity: Friend or Foe? | A Short Story
It is past 12:30 in the morning. The air is warm, but there is a cool breeze coming in from the east where lies the ocean, silent and still with no waves in sight. All of the shops along the promenade are locked up with “Closed” signs in the windows. Only an hour ago this part of town was teaming with life, but now the only life that can be seen are rats scurrying from alley to alley and crows perching on hydro lines.
Appearing on the boardwalk along the water front is a woman in her early 20s, her loose coppery hair flowing around her face, glowing slightly in the moonlight. The wind catches her loose jacket, making it billow out in a puff and she hugs it tightly around her to keep warm. After a movie marathon and gossip session with her best friend, she is walking home to her apartment, taking a shortcut because of the late hour.
As she passes an alleyway filled with dumpsters and garbage bags, she spots something moving is the shadows. She has always been curious, wanting to know as much as she possibly can before it’s too late, so her greatest instinct is to enter the alley, just to see what is there. A part of her becomes a bit frightened, though, as she walks deeper into the alley, so to calm her nerves, she starts humming a lighthearted tune her father always sang to her when she was little.
She continues walking and humming, heading for the opposite end of the alley to the next street whereupon lies her apartment. This is just one further shortcut. She will be home in no time at all.
But when she reaches the halfway point, someone suddenly leaps out of the shadows and pounces on her, pinning her to the ground. Two more figures appear: One wearing a balaclava over his head and a knife strapped to his waist, the other, his eyes concealed under the rim of a baseball cap and a shot gun poised in his right hand. They are both heavily build, their jackets tight over their biceps, and cruel smiles—the only part of them she can see—plastered across their faces.
The woman panics, terrified of these unknown men with weapon. Without success, she tries to scramble out from under the first man’s knee and they start to laugh in a malicious way, their voices deep and guttural. The thug in the balaclava pulls out his knife and dangles it over the woman’s eye, but before it can drop, a shot rings out and the thug, blood dripping from his chest onto the woman’s face, rolls to the ground stone dead. There’s a slashing sound and the woman sees the second thug, the one with the gun, drop dead as well. It seems someone has come to her rescue, but she can’t see who it is.
As she continues to struggle under the final thug’s knee, she can hear something heavy being dragged across the damp ground. Footsteps approach, slow and deliberate, and she is relieved from the weight. Someone, their arms strong with muscle and sinew, yet still slim, throws the last thug over his head and into the garbage bags lining the alley wall to join, as the woman can see, his two partners. Then, she slumps back down because of her lack of strength, and closes her eyes.
A warm, strong arm winds its way around the woman’s waist, another beneath her knees, and she is lifted up into the man’s arms.
“Are you all right?” he asks, his voice is deep and breathy after what seemed like an effortless toss. “Miss, can you hear me? What’s your name?”
The woman stirs in the man’s arms, her eye fluttering and threatening to close again because of the fall she has suffered.
“I’m f-fine…” Her voice trails off as her eyes close, but the man snaps his fingers to get to open them.
“What’s your name?” he asks again, but his voice isn’t demanding. It’s soft, yet urgent.
The woman’s vision begins to clear and she sees the man’s face for the first time. He’s young, in his early 20’s as well. Stubble lines his jaw and upper lip and dark blond hair covers his eyes. He swipes it away to reveal pale blue, almost grey eyes and laugh lines in the corners.
“Aderyn,” she says. She knows she can trust him with that much.
He smiles, then grunts. “I’m Jason and I’m going to help you, but first you have you stand. I can’t carry you for long.” He nods to his left shoulder where blood seeps through his windbreaker.
“You’re cut!” she exclaims. Seeing the blood brings Aderyn back to the present, her mind clearing almost completely.
Jason nods absently and lets her legs down so she’s standing, but she grips tightly to his right side because she’s still a bit disoriented.
“My apartment is just down the next street,” Aderyn says, pointing west, then nodding to the north to indicate which direction it’s in.
They start walking and as they get closer to the apartment, Aderyn becomes stronger with every step. On the contrary though, Jason becomes weaker as he continues to lose copious amounts of blood from his shoulder. By the time they arrive at Aderyn’s apartment, Aderyn is borderline dragging Jason along the stone street and his breathing is turning shallow with every breath.
“Jason?” Aderyn says, her voice strained from caring his weight. “Jason, I’m going to find some help. I can’t carry you up the stairs by myself. But I’ll be back in a minute.”
She enters the building and asks the superintendent, Greg, to help her. He has always been friendly with her ever since she first came to the apartment building two years ago.
As they’re carrying Jason up the stairs, Greg says, “So, who’s this, Ad?” His voice is gruff, but deep down he is actually a very sweet man.
“He saved me,” Aderyn says and then goes into what went on in the alley, how the thugs had pinned her down and were going to take out her eye and possibly kill her, but at the last minute, Jason had stepped in and killed them, though not before getting injured himself. “He seemed fine a few minutes ago, but I guess his shoulder lost too much blood.”
“It’s not only that.” Greg lifts up Jason’s right pant leg to reveal a shard of glass sticking out from the back of his calf.
Aderyn almost lets go of Jason as she gasps in horror.
“And that’s not knife work on his shoulder. He was shot.”
They pick up their pace and arrive at Aderyn’s apartment door in less than a minute.
“Key?” Greg asks. He has a better hold on Jason so Aderyn passes him the key to open the door.
When they’re inside, Aderyn pulls out the futon and Greg plops Jason onto the cushions. Aderyn rushes to the bathroom to get medical supplies as Greg begins to remove Jason’s shirt as carefully as her can and rolls up his right pant leg.
Aderyn comes out of the bathroom, her arms full with antiseptic and gauze, but Greg tells her to turn around and plug her ears.
“Why?” she asks.
“I’m going to take out the glass from his leg. And seeing as he’s still has some consciousness left in him, there’s a chance he might scream out in pain.”
After he says this, Aderyn obeys and turns around, her hand cupping her ears. But despite that, she still hears the scream and cringes. It feels like her insides are tearing apart.
Greg patches Jason up as best he can, then leaves to return to his superintendent duties downstairs.
“If you need anything,” he says at the doorway, “just call down and I’ll be up as soon as possible.”
Aderyn nods. “Thank you.”
Every half hour, she checks Jason’s bandages, but nothing seems to be wrong. She begins singing the song she hummed in the alley, her voice soft and melodic and she can see by the set of his forehead and jaw that Jason is reacting to it. He looks younger as he falls into sleep, though the laugh lines are still there, but everything else about him is youthful and fresh. After gazing affectionately at him for what seems like hours, she falls asleep on the edge on the futon, she head facing Jason and a smile on her lips.
When she wakes, a set of warms arms are wrapped around her, tightening when she stirs.
“Jason?” she whispers and looks around to see him sitting up straight with her head in his lap stroking back her hair.
“I’m here. Did you have a nice rest?” he asks.
She snuggles closer to despite him being a complete stranger. But when she speaks, she’s very formal. “Yes, I did. How about you? Do you feel any better?”
“Much. The Super did a fantastic job.”
But she can hear the pain in his voice, hear his scream still, so real in her mind.
“He removed the glass and the bullet—which is no small feat,” he continues, “—and stitched up my leg.” He pauses then asks, “Was he some kind of doctor back in the day? I can hardly feel the stitches.”
She shrugs because she honestly doesn’t know. He’s never mentioned anything previous to him became the superintendent, but Aderyn has always figured he’d done something else before that.
Then, there’s a knock at the door and the Super himself enters the room. “I’ve dabbled in it a bit, but nothing major,” he says lightly. “My father was a surgeon. How are you healing up?”
“Not sure about the shoulder,” Jason says, “but the leg’s fine.”
“That’s what I was expecting. The bullet didn’t go deep, but it took a few tries to get it out. As long as you stay put and don’t move around much, I’m sure you’ll be well in no time.”
Greg turns to leave without any needed words, but is stopped when Aderyn places her hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you, Greg,” she says with as much warmth as she can muster and hugs him tightly.
“No problem,” he says. “And I’d advise that you stay put as well. You may have a small concussion from that fall you told me about.” Then, he winks at her and whispers, “No more late night walks down suspicious alley ways. There may not be someone as willing as Wonder Boy over there—” He jerks his chin toward Jason, who’s quietly scanning through a book. “—to save you next time.”
She lets him go after a final squeeze and he leaves the room.
In no time at all, as Greg had said, Jason recovers and is left with only faint scarring on his shoulder and leg.
As it turns out, Jason lives alone with no pets, so he didn’t bother going back home until he was fully recovered. Throughout the time he spends at Aderyn’s, she learns a lot about him. He tells her about his brief time at college—brief because he dropped out after his second year—and his time on the community soccer team during the summers. He also learns a lot about her. She loves to read, has just finished her third year of university studying English Lit, and spends her free time with her best friend who lives not far away.
When the time comes for Jason to go home, Aderyn accompanies him back because he still has somewhat of a limp from muscle damage. But as Jason’s going through his mail and Aderyn sits by him silently taking in everything around her—the soccer trophies, little bobbles and numerous photos of family and friends—Jason pauses when opening an envelop, puts it down and turn to Aderyn.
As Aderyn looks into his pale eyes, she sees a thought rolling around in his mind. It’s full of happiness and—if she isn’t mistaken—love.
“Aderyn,” Jason says and he encloses her hands in his. “For the past three weeks you have cared for me and put up with me being in your home. I’ve gotten to know you and you’ve gotten to know me.” He licks his lips and rubbed his thumb against the back of her hand. “I know we’ve just met it all, but I was wondering…” Releasing her hands, he puts his hand in his pocket, kneels down on the floor and takes out… “Would you do the honour—” In his hands is a small box and when he opens it, a ring, with small diamonds all around the while gold band, sits snuggly on a cushion. “—of marrying me?”
Aderyn gasps, tears coming to her eyes, and she nods.
Jason wipes the tears away with his free hand and with the other, he picks up the ring and places it on her finger where it will sit forever and more.