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Birds of a Feather: Stories Written by Teens Like You
2 a.m., and it begins again. The tremors rolling up and down my body, shaking my skin as if a million tiny bugs have crawled under my flesh. The sudden, deep chill, resonating in my bones, tearing the warmth from my body with icy fingers. I know what is coming next before it arrives, and brace myself, curling into a ball on the grimy alley floor. A burning pain, so contradictory to the chill and yet offering no relief from it, sears through my brain, breaking off all patterns of thought. I cry out in pain and suffering, a few tears escaping my bloodshot eyes and carving a path to freedom through the dirty film coating my face. My coherent thoughts have been decimated, reduced to wordless aching, yearning NEED. I grip the sides of my head with numb fingers, keeping the fragments from falling victim to the pain and separating altogether. One, pure, simple thought slips out: I cannot live like this. And I know what I must do.
I wrench myself to my feet, bracing myself against the brick wall at my back to keep from sinking to my knees. Trickster shadows play with my weak eyes, leaping out from behind dented trash cans and dirty piles of garbage. The dilapidated buildings on either side of me raise up into the dark sky, encompassing me like bars on a prison cell, closing ever nearer to my spent form. I stumble out of the way, towards the lamppost standing tall and imposing at the corner; the impassive guard to my weary prisoner.
He’s there. He always is, like clockwork. The only stable thing in my skewed, messed-up life is him. Standing at the corner, observing my desperate form as it staggers to him with coldly calculating eyes tinged with amusement. He knew, of course. Knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay away, no matter what I had said last night, out of bravado from the high I had been experiencing. I don’t meet his eyes as we perform our nightly dance in the harsh light of the streetlamp.
My tremors, by the time we have finished, have grown into full-blown shudders. My body reeling from the effect, the short trip from my position to the alley seems interminable now; a distance as wide as the Sahara, and just as uncrossable. I collapse to my knees on the filthy sidewalk, adding yet another layer of grime to ripped pants that had once boasted of a color other than Street Filth. Somehow, the icicles on my hand peel back the sleeve on my left arm and tie a shoestring around it; a ritual I don’t even have to consciously do anymore. It just comes.
I lift the needle cradled in the blackened palm of my right hand. The liquid inside glints in the moonlight- my very own elixir of life from the heavens. I stretch out my arm. The low light throws shadows across the track marks that mar the crease of my elbow, connecting them in a network of lines. My arm wobbles again, and the illusion is broken, my need once again surpassing everything else. Quickly, I slide the needle into the soft flesh, sighing as I hit the vein easily, instructed by years of practice doing the same. I push down on the end, and cool relief soars into my bloodstream. I feel the familiar glow surround my body, my spirits lifting as if attached to balloons set free into the atmosphere. My strength returns in full force and I feel invincible, absolutely unshakable. And yet, there is a darkness beneath my elation that I have not noticed before. A shadow that is slowly surfacing, enveloping my body in a black numbness. It’s wrong, all wrong- this shouldn’t be happening! The balloon deflates, my spirits crashing back into the disgusting ground, along with my convulsing body.
The streets remained silent, uncaring as the wasted form of a youth turned cold and still atop the curb. The body lay slumped amongst the black plastic and putrid stench of garbage, covered in filth and sweat, emaciated and adorned in rags, a needle still clutched in his fist. Indistinguishable from the other trash.
1 week after
I don’t know who else to talk to. I confided everything in you—every homework assignment I forgot to do, every little crush I had, every white lie I ever told our parents. You knew it all. We told each other everything. We were as close to one person and two could ever be. We knew each others’ secrets, all of them. We were always there to help each other. In 7th grade I pretended to be you at your 4-H meeting so you could go to the movies with Johnny Travatino. Since we’re identical, it actually worked. When Mark Lakanski dumped me halfway through freshman year, you knew something was wrong before I even told you. You had a carton of Double Chocolate Hot Fudge Brownie Chunk Ice Cream and two spoons waiting when I got home. But now what am I supposed to do? You’re gone. When I wake up during the night our—my room is too quiet. I can’t hear you breathing, or snoring, in your bed any more. You know how they say twins are just one soul in two bodies? Wait, that might be about true love…Whatever, let’s say it’s about twins. But I really do think it’s true, the twins part. It feels like someone took my soul and ripped it in two, and half of it died with you. Oh, I hate that word. “Died.” It sounds so…cold and detached, like you were never really a person at all. But you were a person, a living, breathing, crazy, awesome, insane, perfect person. I can still remember the feeling of your hand under mine when we both grabbed for those car keys. If only I had reached out half a second earlier. We would have taken the highway instead of that goat-trail of a road you insisted on. We never would have been stopped at that pointless stop sign. (It was for a dirt road that clearly hadn’t been used in years.) That truck never would have rammed into us from behind. Our car never would have tumbled off the road and into a ravine. A rock would have never broken your window and hit your head. You would not be dead right now, buried in your unworn prom dress. And I wouldn’t be sitting here staring at your forever empty bed.
I need you,
18 months after
18 months. Can you believe it? It’s been a year and a half, but not a day goes by that I don’t think of you. Every time I look in a mirror, my heart skips a beat. I think it’s you. You’d wonder why I haven’t realized it’s just me by now. I know it’s not you, but I can’t help but hope. Hope that you’re not gone. Hope that you never were. Hope that I’ll open the door one day and see you getting ready for a volleyball game or basketball game or whatever kind of –ball game you have that day. I know I won’t see you, but can you blame me for hoping? Earlier today I thought I saw you, wearing an ill-fitting black robe and a matching square hat. But, alas, it was just me. Same ol’ boring me. A hundred people soon lined up in the hallway we had walked for years. You should have been standing there next to me. We always dreamed of the day we’d walk across the gym for the last time and finally escape the Bridesdale Prison (aka Bridesdale Local Schools). The ceremony was just like we predicted all those years ago: everyone hated and looked ugly in the itchy gowns but no one complained; Tommy Valesco gave the most boring valedictorian speech in the history of the universe; Jessie Simmons gave a speech that was actually slightly touching; Abbi Lee tripped in her 7-inch heels and gave everyone a clear view of her thong, and so on and so forth. No surprises there. But there was thing I wasn’t ready for: a speech about you. Mr. Bolkin, the principal whose office you never entered, told us all about you. He mentioned your sports, your grades, your friends. It was all true, but how would he know? He never said a word to you. How can he claim to know anything about you? He was right about one thing though. You were, and still are, missed by everyone who knew you. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include Mr. Bolkin. After he finally finished his speech (I’m thinking Miss Alice, the secretary, wrote it) we threw our hats, took pictures, and did all those other high school graduation stereotypes. Afterwards, Mom and Dad took me to Antonio’s. You loved their White Truffle Risotto. We’d eaten there for every birthday since I can remember, but this was the first time since, well…you know. I couldn’t go last year without you, it just didn’t feel right. But they convinced me tonight. It was kind of nice, actually. It felt like you were there with us. The whole family was back together again, sorta. Not for long though. I’m going off to California in the fall. Goodbye Bridesdale, hello Stanford. I still wish you could come with me. By all logic and reasoning, you should be able to. But this is the real world, logic and reasoning don’t apply. I hope you’re having fun up there.
I miss you,
10 years after
Remember when we planned our entire futures out together? Well, I didn’t exactly follow the plan. I went to school in California like we decided, but honestly, the whole vet career wasn’t going to work. I took the undergrad courses my freshman year, but my stomach just wasn’t strong enough. I dropped all the pre-vet classes and went undetermined for the rest of the year. That summer I went on vacation to Florida and saw the space shuttle take off. That very day I signed up for my new major: aerospace engineering. I loved it. My classes, my professors, my fellow students, everything. Speaking of love, he was in my classes too. Sean Monroe. He’s nothing like the motorcycle-riding boys we imagined meeting while backpacking across Europe, but he’s amazing. He’s smart and sweet and a bit shy (and yes, very good-looking). He’s exactly what I was looking for, even though I never realized I was looking. We didn’t get married in a huge church with stained glass windows like you and I imagined. We stood barefoot on the beach at sunset. It was wonderful. We spent a week in Italy (not Hawaii) wandering around taking in the sights and eating the food. We had both graduated a few years earlier and, as we do now, worked together at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. k43qw=]=[4W9p80#$^ Sorry about that. Emily’s just playing with the keyboard. I was just about to tell you about Emily, my perfect little girl. She’s only 14 months old but she has already figured out how to use her big brown eyes to get whatever she wants. My life, here with Sean and Emily, is nothing like the one you and I imagined all those years ago. It’s even better than anything I could have dreamed of. I wish you could be here though. But I know that we have a guardian angel watching over us.
I love you,
I could see waves gently lap the sandy shoes from the high ledge. the salty air brushed my cheeks and tousled my hair. Everything was at peace. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a flock of geese fly overhead in that perfect “V.” I began to feel a restlessness bubble inside me. There was a sudden prickle that spread from the base of my spine to the nape of my neck. A hand touched my shoulder. I practically jumped five feet in the air. “Sorry,” my mother said as I whirled around to face her. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Geez, Ma, haven’t I told you that I’ve got the nerves of a newborn rabbit?” She smiled at my response apologetically, “It’s just been so long since I’ve seen you...”
An awkward pause. She didn’t like to bring up their divorce much.
“What do you think of the place? The subject had changed. I grimly turned my attention to the lighthouse. It was old-- paint peeling, floors and doors creaking, the works -- but it had one h*ll of a flashlight. It looked pretty run down, seeming to be only an empty shell of what it once was. Years of being by the sea had weathered the exterior. The lighthouse seemed sad. “Yeah, it's alright,” I decided, thinking of the beach below and the forest a few hundred yards away. “It’s just that--”
The sound of an annoying ring-tone interrupted me mid-sentence. “Hold on, sweetie,” Mom said, digging her cell out of her purse. “Hello? Oh, Bob, darling, it’s you! Yes, I have time to chat.” She gave me the single finger that meant for me to wait until she was done. I grimaced. Of course she had time to talk to him. When it came down to him or me, guess who won out. I couldn't stand it another second.
“Mom, I’m going for a walk,” I mouthed. She nodded and turned away from me. For a moment, I stared at her back with a cold stare that would freeze fire then fled into the woods, running as hard and fast as I could. I had to get away from her and her stupid boyfriend. That’s why I didn’t want to be here this summer. Ever since Mom and Pop split, she’s been to wrapped up in her social life to even remember why I was here: to spend “quality time with my mother.” Or, that’s what the school counselor told me after I almost got suspended for fighting... again.
I finally stopped stirring up my angst enough to try to take in my surroundings. Every pine tree, branch, and rock looked the same. Great, I thought miserably, now I’m lost. However, I continued anyway, finally coming to a startling drop-off of a hundred feet from icy water and weathered rocks. I knew what I was going to do. Shaking off my jean jacket and shoes, I tried to ignore the strange biting cold wind of mid-September, but it brought be back to reality. The rumble of distant rolling waves comforted me, bringing about a new kind of peace. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and dove off of the cliff. My stomach didn’t drop at all this time; I was a pro by now. Right before I was dashed to pieces by the sharp rocks, I unfurled my long white wings, letting them catch the wind the way a parachute would. I immediately started pumping them. Higher and higher into the sky I flew, feeling invincible. There was a thick cloud ahead; I soared toward it. The inside was wet. Really, really wet. I was soaked to the bone. Shivering, I emerged above it and into a vast blue of the sky. For miles it stretched, nothing but a mix of pure white and baby blue. The wind wasn’t gentle up there either. It blasted frigid whirlwinds against my face and arms. I could feel the water on my face freeze. Suddenly, I wished I had my jacket. My fingers began to turn blue at the tips, and I was sure that my lips were purple, but this was the most alive I’ve ever felt. Every tip of my nerves were tingling. The air I breathed was chilling me inside and out. There was a blizzard raging in my stomach.
I plummeted down toward the rolling waves again. This time, though, I stayed low, skimming the water. The salty sea air filled my nose, bringing memories of building sandcastles with Mom and Dad before the big D, frolicking in the waves with my childhood friend Hunter. However, they were disrupted by a spray of ocean that blasted my face at the unfortunate moment I decided to sigh. My tongue was coated with a heavy, salty tang I tasted the night of my parents' big fight. I couldn't stop crying then. That was when I decided to end the flight. Tilting the off-white tips of my wings slightly, I arched around and headed back in the direction of the beach.
Eventually, I drifted down onto the soft sand. The warmness seemed to heat my whole body, fighting the cold. My toes curled, and my eyes closed. I let myself relax.
“What are you? An angel?”
I heard a voice in front of me. My eyes fluttered open in surprise. Staring at me with a dumbstruck expression was a boy about my age. From the tip of his golden hair to his bronze colored toes radiated pure light. I swear, I thought he was the sun. His hazel eyes narrowed, scrutinizing my windswept, wavy, dark hair that probably resembled a rat’s nest more than hair of an angel. I wasn't much to look at, with my muddy brown eyes and pale, freckled skin.
“No,” I replied cautiously. “What would possibly make you think that?”
He laughed, and everything else seemed to fade away. “Well, you do have wings,” he said, wearily eyeing them. Cr*p. I quickly tucked them in, but it was futile at this point.
“What wings?” I countered, feigning a look of confusion and innocence. “It must have been a trick of the light, silly boy.”
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” He didn’t sound too coninced. “What’s your name, Angel?”
I could have lied. I should have but instead I found myself saying, “Brianna.” He smiled. Everything inside me melted into a mush.
"Will you be attending Monroe High this fall?"
"Yeah," I said.
"I guess I'll see you later." With that, he disappeared, humming an indistinct tune.
Gillian and I used to be best friends. We still hung out sometimes, but that was just through mutual friends. There was always an awkward smile in the hallway whenever we saw each other. We had just gone our separate ways in High school. Every year our High school had a big important musical concert to raise money. It ended at 10:30, so almost everyone had left by 11:00. The concert hall was downtown, so I was planning on walking home.
“Hey Stacy, wait up.” Gillian rushed up next to me. The day had been thick and humid; now that it was dark the air was cool and foggy.
“Oh hey, um good job. I mean singing.”
“Yeah, you too.” She smiled, uncomfortably.
“So… you uh want to get a cup of coffee of something.” That was one thing about our town, there was a nice coffee shop on almost every corner downtown.
“Um sure, I guess,” She pauses for a moment “Actually, that sounds great.”
I shouldn’t have asked. Now I’m stuck with a painful half hour, at least, of talking about classes and the weather. We walked to the nearest dimly lit shop with a college student playing an acoustic guitar in the front. We both ordered coffee. Mine was extra strong, just to be able to pretend I’m interested.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while.” She said, and then strummed her finger against the mug casually.
For a moment I waited, there’s really not much I can say to that right? So, I didn’t really have to say anything. “Really?” I said, desperately trying to be interested.
“Um, yeah…” She paused, and looked down at her coffee.
She giggled “I hate coffee.”
I laughed, loudly. I can’t stop.
She laughed along. Our duet of chuckles seemed to disturb the mellow atmosphere of the coffee shop. No one seemed to care; it was as if we were the only ones in the shop. We tried to talk about other things, but we couldn’t stop laughing. By the end we didn’t even remember why we were laughing, we just kept laughing because we were enjoying ourselves too much to stop.
Gillian finished her whole cup of coffee, for some reason. I didn’t take a sip of mine, for some reason.
I just can’t think of what it is.
The rain pours down on my car as I speed down the winding road, growing closer to you. My stereo is turned on loud, trying to drown all my thoughts. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest and my hands growing sweaty. I tell myself to calm down; that everything is going to be okay. I look in my passenger seat and see the handwritten note I intend to give to you, explaining the reason I was giving up on us.
I can’t suppress my feelings anymore when the tears start streaming down my face. I pull over on the side of the road, take a few deep breaths, and tell myself this is for the best. As I sit on the side of the two-lane dirt road, I think back to the beginning and wonder, “How did it all come down to this?”
The first time you said hey to me in the hallway, I got butterflies in my stomach. On our first date when you kissed me, nothing else mattered. The first time you said I love you, I knew what we had was real. You made me weak at the knees and more in love than a sixteen-year old girl should ever be in. But, if all that had been true, then how was it so easy to walk away?
All senior year I dreaded the day I left for college. You were staying behind, not caring about an education. An underpaid job and living at home was all you wanted, but for me I wanted more. I wanted out of the small town and into a place with opportunities for my future, our future. I heard you complain, try to make me stay, make fun of the place I would call my home, why couldn’t you just be happy for me?
My tears have stopped falling; I’ve gathered my courage once again. I put the car in drive and pull back on to the dirt road. Only two more miles to go, and this will all over. The rain starts picking up, faster and faster. I can barely see the road; I can barely see the what’s coming towards me.
Out of nowhere, a truck comes flying down the road. All I can see are the two headlights coming straight for my tiny car. There’s nowhere for me to escape to, nothing that I can do. I hear the breaking of metal and screeching of tires, and then everything goes black.
Neither one of us got our happy ending that day, the letter I wrote got lost in the debris of the wreck never to be found again. You buried me never knowing our love had run out.
Dear little sis,
I’ve been sitting here for 20 minutes trying to come up with an opening to this letter. But it’s hard to concentrate when there is gunshots going off every 3 minutes. I really wasn’t expecting a letter from you baby sis, I really wasn’t. I thought you would never forgive me for leaving you alone with mom and dad, I know how protective they get. You need to understand that what I did wasn’t to get out of that horrible bleak house, it was to find myself. I know you may not understand now, but someday you will. And so, when they called out my name and told me I had gotten a letter, I was a bit surprised.
When I opened the letter and saw ‘Dear big bro’ I swear I could’ve cried, but I didn’t, you see it’s hard to show any weakness when you are a part of war. To show weakness would like be showing a sign of wanting to die. No, in war you must be strong, or else you won’t survive. I’ve been trying so hard to survive, you have no idea of how hard it is here. I am in the middle of a desert land and every second I fear for my life. I fear that I won’t be able to come home and see your smiling face again. The last memory I have of you, little sis, is not a good one. I remember you wouldn’t look at me, tears were running down your face and you wouldn’t stop shaking. I remember how I told you it was going to be okay, and then I hugged you and walked through the security gates at the airport. It broke my heart when I heard you ask Dad if I would come back. He said of course I would come back, but he didn’t know that three of my best friends died within the first month.
I’ve only been in war for three months now but it feels like I’ve been here my whole life. I need you to understand that if I make it back home, I won’t be the same. I’ll have changed, much more than you will ever know. You can leave the war, but the war will never leave you. Things I have seen here little sis, will scar me my entire life. I have seen strong men shot down, right in front of me, I don’t want to scare you, but I have to tell you, I have killed more enemies than I can even count. Every time I try to fall asleep, I see their faces and I know they will forever haunt me in my dreams.
This war isn’t going well little sis, we have lost a lot of great men and we have lost even more souls. After you have witnessed war, you can never go back; you can never forget the landmines and the grenades. I please remember sweetie, that I am not trying to scare you, so when you read this letter, please don’t get upset, every time you feel like you will cry, just remember that I am okay, and I will hold you in my arms once again. You asked me how I felt, well I am going to be honest, I feel sick every time I go out with a loaded gun. One second, one minute could change my life forever. War, is not a safe place and the minute you stop wanting to live, you will die, either mentally or physically.
I have to go now baby sis, but I will write again soon, I swear to god I will even if it’s the last thing I do. Tell mom and dad that I am okay, and I love them. I love you all so much, much more than you know, I still have our family picture from my graduation day beside my bed. I look at it every time I begin to miss you. I miss you and no matter what happens, I will forever love you and you will always be my little sis.
Your big bro,
Kris sealed the envelope and walked over to the post station. He walked slowly and his hands were shaking. He was scared for Annabelle to read the letter, she was only fourteen, still a child. He wasn’t sure if it was right to send this letter to her, a letter full of hidden scars and hurt. Annabelle was his little sis and he wanted to protect her from the war, but to do that he had to tell her what happened when you went to war. He put the letter in the post box and began to walk back to his station. He went the long way to appreciate the soft air and to try make himself stop crying. His body suddenly went stiff. He had stepped on a landmine.
It was a strange town. Full of strange people. A place where the light danced, and told you that nothing was wrong. But there was something wrong. Something horrible. And it was music.
Every day, just after the sun set, you could hear a lonely violin, playing from the balconey of the largest house. It was a beautiful song, but was so sad. It spoke of loneliness, of the people who had nothing left. It cried for someone, anyone, to come to it, to alleviate the pain.
And people did come. Children, grandmothers, your average Joe. They were people who couldn't take the song, as it swirled along the wind. So they went to the house. They would follow the melancholy aria. They would come to the largest house in town, and knock on the vast pine doors.
It would creak open, another sound of solitude, one that added itself to the violin. And the people would walk inside. The door would creak more, louder.
Then, within the bowels, a baby wailed, crying for a mother, joining the salute to seclusion. Then, a woman would weep, weep of lost love. The wind would howl through the open spaces. A cold rain would clack against the windows. And all through, the woeful violin would continue its song, growing louder and louder, until the unfortunate being to be caught in its grasp could take it no longer.
Everyone did it differently. They would find a chair, and hang themselves, snapping their necks. They would happen upon a kitchen knife, and slit their throats, splashing the crimson on the fine carpets, spattering the tasteful paintings. They would literally tear themselves apart, ripping their ears off, and, finding no respite, would rend the skin off their very bones, and still they couldn't stop the God-awful symphony, and would tear the meat from themselves, throwing it every which way, trying to make it stop.
But it was only when the last drop had flowed out of them, did the violin finally cease. And the violinist would look over the gristle and the gore, the bones, the human meat, the flesh.
And he would smile.
She saw the boy standing there, partially hidden by the shadows as she walked through the summer festival with her mother. All she could distinguish was the beautiful silver fox mask on his face, the twisted smile seeming to silently beckon to her. The startling sea-foam green eyes that stared at her from the holes of the mask had some hidden emotion within their depths, but she couldn't put her finger on it.
Cassie glanced away from the shadows and stared up at her mother, her dark blue eyes full of questions. Who was the boy in the mask? And why was he staring at her? She wasn't anything special. She was just plain tomboy Cassie; 12 years old; shoulder length black hair that spiked in the back with long bangs in the front and dark blue eyes that were full of naïveté. Pale skin that made her look washed out and a simple baby blue kimono -her mother was into the Japanese culture- with plain wooden sandals. In her hair, there was a plain blue rose that hung off the side of her head.
Yes... Just plain, boring Cassie.
"Momma," Cassie's tiny childish voice piqued as the brunette woman glanced down at her daughter, her dark blue eyes full of love.
Cassie fidgeted and her cheeks flushed pink as she pointed towards the shadows, her hair falling into her face to hide her expression of embarrassment.
"There's a boy looking at me."
Cassie's mother's head shot up quickly and she tugged Cassie closer to her knees, a look of shock on her face as she surveyed the area. She didn't see anyone... But... Someone watching her daughter...?
As long as they didn't wear a mask -the symbol of the notorious gang, the Black Cranes- she had no reason to worry.
Cassie glanced up at her mother, a confused look on her face, as she tugged her mother's red kimono sleeve incessantly.
"Momma? What's wrong? Why was that boy looking at me so intently?"
"Because... He was dazzled by how pretty you are. So he couldn't keep himself from staring," her mother replied wistfully, a soft motherly smile on her beautiful face.
Cassie didn't understand that at all. If the boy in the smiling fox mask thought she was cute, why didn't he come over and tell her? Or tug her hair like Jess from English class did when he told her that he thought she was cute, neh?
Letting out an exasperated sigh, she grabbed hold of her mother's hand and walked through the festival, enraptured by the soft glow of the paper lanterns and the sweet music singing in her ears. In front of her, little children were racing around, tiny paper cranes folded neatly in their hands. She had always wanted to have her own paper crane.
"Look Momma! Paper cranes," she squealed as she released her mother's hand and raced towards the children, a small giggle escaping from her pink lips. The children smiled at her tantalizingly and began to scatter, leaving an abandoned pink paper crane on the ground.
Cassie blinked her eyes in awe as she crouched down and picked the pink crane up, holding the delicate crane in the palm of her hands with an innocent smile on her cherubic face. It was so beautiful, so well sculpted...
"You found my crane."
Cassie's head snapped up and she flushed at the blond haired boy in front of her. Her eyes traveled over his form, starting at his feet and drinking in his features, until her eyes landed on his face. Her breath got caught in her throat and she gasped as she was captivated by the boy's eyes.
His sea-foam green eyes were staring at her so intently, as if seeing through her...
Where had she seen those eyes before?
"I-I'm Cassie," she whispered softly, trying to ease the tense atmosphere that seemed to loom over the boy. Her blue eyes scrutinized the boy with curiosity, her attention immediately being drawn to his face. His honey blond hair framed his matured face perfectly, yet it looked like he just rolled out of bed.
"... I'm Tobias."
Cassie blinked her eyes in shock as his rough, matured voice filled her ears. He didn't sound anything like the boys at her school; his voice was husky and deep. She licked her lips tentatively and nodded, a small blush on her pale cheeks.
"T-Tobias kun," she murmured in her squeaky girl voice, her head tilted up to stare at Tobias in awe. He was super tall, at least 5'7. She wondered how old he was. Cus his voice sounded to mature for him to be a twelve year old like the other boys.
She really wanted to know more about Tobias kun. He seemed mysterious and different. Cassie always did find herself attracted to the different things in life.
Tobias blinked his eyes in confusion, his mouth twisted in an awed look, as he stared down at the smiling Cassie.
"Tobias... kun," he repeated, his beautifully strange eyes full of shock and his tone clearly stating that he was startled by her name for him. "Are you... Japanese?"
Cassie giggled as she picked herself up from her crouched position and dusted her kimono off, a soft look on her face as she shook her head and held her hand out. The paper crane sat on top of her palms, undisturbed, as Cassie offered the beautiful art back to Tobias reluctantly.
"No. My mother and I just like the Japanese culture," she admitted with a charming smile as she spun around on her tiptoes childishly, her arms clasped behind her back as she stared up at Tobias with innocent blue eyes. "Do I look Japanese? I don't think I look Japanese, neh, Tobias kun?"
She stared up at him with bright blue eyes full of innocence...
His throat tightened at that word. Innocence. Out of all the children he had lured away today, she was, by far, the epitome of innocence. Her eyes were full of trust and her body language stated that she was willing to listen and follow this boy's judgments without question.
He almost felt guilty for what he was about to do to this little girl.
"I know a place you can get more paper cranes…" his husky voice whispered in Cassie's ear and he offered the unsuspecting girl his tanned, calloused hand, a fake, misleading smile plastered onto his matured face.
She always wanted to have her own crane.
"Take me to the cranes," she chirped eagerly as her small hand grasped Tobias's larger hand. She hadn't even noticed the fox mask lying on top of his head as the boy swept her away from the festival, a lone black paper crane replacing the spot Cassie had occupied only a few moments ago.
In the distance, the yells of a distraught mother filled the festival night, getting lost in the joyous laughter, the soft glows of the paper lanterns, and the sounds overhead as fireworks lit the night sky...
The rain dripped fondly on the sheen glass of the windowpane. She sighed deeply in affection while staring at blurred nothingness. The view had never been more beautiful as it was with a layer of rain to look out from.
It represented everything she felt, a thunderstorm of waning love keeping her away from the bleak reality of life beyond. There was only a noiseless peace, a wonderful lack of distractions. It was her. It was the dream.
It was as if she were in some game of hide and seek, and her turn as Hider had not yet ended.
For as long as she could, she would stay hidden.
A blanket of shivers settled along the back of her neck and the deep end of her stomach while she caressed her imagination with a sense of yearning. When life let her see the world through a new lens, she could do nothing but take the new, accept the new, adapt to the new, and live the new.
While she still could.
Youth would fade over time. She hurriedly sucked in the memory of the moment and kept it under lock and key in the core of her mind. Never could she forget.
Solitude was comforting in its silence. She sometimes found she resented the mangled and dramatic businesses that came in one package when entering teenhood. Confusion and frustration, then, overwhelmed and toppled the sanest of people when accompanied by complaints from friends, unforeseen arguments, exhausting distress and awful family situations.
Sometimes, it did her good to get away, just for a little while.
Eventually, she knew, the rain would stop pouring and reveal what truly lay beyond the horizon, probably something nasty, something she would fail to handle, something that would be the final straw.
She took a staggering breath when realization coldly blew in her face, and she asked herself the dire question: Did she really want to go back?
It was probably a century later, but the tears finally began to flow, dripping in slow, staccato beats onto the wooden floor, forever to leave their mark of her sadness.
There was nothing left in her world.
In her isolation, there was really no need to care about life. If she went into the abandoned room beneath her, and if she opened the drawer she knew would hold the precious glinting knives, she could end it. She could end the sorrow, end the pain, end the fantasies.
Because what she wished for was a bag full of happy endings, and, with her parents gone, there was no more chance to get it.
So she would go ahead with the plan. She would grab the knife and plunge, as she had so often seen herself done in her dreams. She hurried to the stairs and took a step.
And then there was a creak. Oh, sweet distraction, so small and insignificant, yet it gave her a lucid moment to snap out of her trance. There was no telling who, or what, could have joined her in the peak of her decision. Then again, it didn’t really matter.
An image of her three younger brothers, all smiling up to her, looking up to her for guidance, only longing for a helping hand to bring them past their confusion, emerged uninvited. How cruelly death could act, tearing apart happiness, giving the weak a reason not to live.
She wrapped a hand around her neck in sudden fright, realizing how close she had been, how death had almost flicked its tongue at her, a slithering and silent creature.
Yet it all would have been her; she would have given herself over.
Was that really the way to go? To take her own life, and leave the rest behind in a blind decision?
For she was blind. There was no clear path she could follow, nobody to reach out and hold her hand while she trudged helplessly along that road of life to finally get to…
A flower bloomed in whole and she tentatively touched it in her mind, unconscious that doing so suddenly gave her hope to keep going, to never stop moving until she reached a wall.
Here, she had reached the smallest of hills, created because her parents’ bodies, buried unevenly in the earth, stood frighteningly in the way. She could leave their lives behind, but keep their memories. It was all there was to it.
To simply… persevere. That fork she would reach down the road would come in time, and she would face it head on, strong in her being.
She took the final steps to reach the main floor of the cabin and headed in a different direction than the room that had held her thoughts for days. She opened the front door as the downpour turned to a drizzle, lightly spilling drops onto the green filled ground.
How… beautiful… it all seemed, even in the last minutes of the day. She frowned as she stepped out into the mess, her conflicting feelings still at war.
The sun was not to appear again that day. She watched the sky for several seconds, willing any form of light to lead the way. There was nothing.
She put her hands in her pockets and shivered in the night, starting home. A clot formed in her throat, a sign for the wrong choice. Indecisiveness barred her way, caught her in her tracks until she was shaking with grief.
Up ahead, calls wafted their way to her ears. She heard them, but did not listen while her face became a mask of tears once more. That she would keep convincing herself her choices were wrong… She loathed herself for it.
“Where are you!”
The shout jolted her and she fell in the wet mud, sniffing.
A twig broke somewhere to her left. Footsteps padded the forest greens. Wind made the voices clearer, until it seemed they were on top of her. And always, they asked, “Where are you?”
It took a great push, but she put her hands firmly on the ground, not caring that the dirt stained her palms so nastily. With a staggering breath, she stood and wiped the remaining tears from her face.
It was as if she was trapped in some game of hide and seek, and she had just taken on the role of Seeker.
For as long as she needed, she would keep on looking.
Three voices called vehemently to her, and each voice struck her so forcefully, so passionately, that now it was hard to respond, hard to ignore. For now, she nodded to herself; for now, she had to try.
“Again. No freaking way. You told me that you were coming home tomorrow! You can't be pushing the date back again!” I was almost screaming into the phone. My throat was so tight that I was clueless as to how this much sound was bursting from my lips. I didn't even try to hold back the tears, just so Conan could hear them in my voice.
“I'm sorry, Jell-O, I—”
“You can't call me Jell-O anymore! I'm Jill!” I wailed, cutting off his quivering voice. I hunched over, my free hand clutching my ribcage to keep my heart from ripping through. Why was he delaying so much? Didn't he know how much I needed him now? How could he even think of work after what happened?
“Jill. Okay. I'll call you Jill. But you have to listen to me, Jill. I'll call you Jill if you don't hang up on me.” Conan's voice was hard and steady this time, trying to push his way into my head. I couldn't say anything for a while. When he got tired of waiting, he said, in the same hard tone, “Jill, We do have to live after this. I'll lose my job if I go. My bosses made that very clear-”
“Stop lying, Conan! They would let you if you told them what happened! They're not soulless vultures!” I cried. I was then overwhelmed by sobs, violent enough so I didn't notice the long stretch of silence that followed my words. It took who knows how long for a quiet, pained voice to touch my ears.
“And I am?”
In any average fight, the hurt tone of his voice would have tugged at my heart, and made me want to end the argument. This fight, however, was worlds away from those kinds of fights.
'Yeah. Yeah, you ARE a soulless vulture. Beady eyes and all. I bet that tight sound in your voice is just because a bird's throat is smaller then a human's. You don't feel anything at all! Is that why you're not coming home to ease your wife's broken heart?'
Those thoughts swam through my head. I ached to speak them, to hold him accountable for what he was doing. I couldn't speak, for fear that the words would slip through my lips so quickly that I couldn't rein them back in. The words were pushing to hard to be let out... I was afraid that simply opening my mouth would release them. My worries evaporated as his voice took hold in my head, knocking the thoughts out of my mind.
“I am. I get it. That's what you think. I can take a hint! But you're WRONG!” Conan's voice shook with rage. I could hear him swallowing hard, trying to scale down his emotions. He was never one to yell. A much softer tone was took his pained whisper, “I... I just don't want to plan for a funeral... not for her. She wasn't supposed to need one now...”
Suddenly I was shaking so hard that my phone toppled out of my hands. The tears were too hot against my burning skin, like fresh lava over hot cinders. It was worse when they fell onto my arms, though. They were cold, still taking in the shock of what had happened. After I stopped hurting over Conan, the rest of me would match. Then I could hurt over someone else entirely.
In the midst of my next wave of tears, my lips broke open. Air raced inside me, letting the fast, jagged breaths of a sob begin once more. I'd kept my lips so tight to keep from spilling my enraged feelings to Conan. It should've been a relief to finally be able to say them, even with no listener, but all I could feel was pain now. No good emotions could come near me. Not now. Not ever again.
Suddenly my heart started hurting so badly that I rolled down to my side, taking up the entire space of the park bench. The tears stopped running, but only because my heart was in too much pain for tears. I closed my eyes, knowing that if I kept them open, I would forget that I needed to blink. This pain would make sure of that.
The ache wasn't Conan's fault. It was for someone else. Someone of much more value. Someone who my heart beat for the moment she came into existance. Someone whose loss tortured me beyond any person could imagine.
With one last spear of burning pain, Conan's pain ended, and hers began. Shuddering, I felt this new pain, the different kind of pain, change me. The heat I felt from Conan's actions seeped away, allowing cold to seep in. Now I was too cold. Much too cold. Like my insides had been turned to dry ice. The hot summer afternoon sun was like a flashlight, making no effect on the searing cold that froze me to the park bench.
I could have been lying in the midst of a fiercest, coldest, most violent blizzard of all time. Nothing would have changed inside me. I might not even notice the temperature change, because my soul was colder. I was frozen. I would never melt. Not after... her.
Flame touched my skin. Or at least it felt like flame. It burned my skin like a red-hot iron. That made it hard to notice how soft and gentle the fire was. The fire pushed under my shoulder and pulled me upright onto the parking bench. Then the rest of my body burst into flame, the soft cheek singing mine and the burning arms toasting my shoulders. I was welcome to the flame, though. Anything was better then the bitter cold. So I wrapped my arms around the flame, pulling it closer into a deep embrace.
The fire didn't melt the ice. It was more like the fire scared the ice, chasing it down to my heart and restraining it so it couldn't spread again. It felt so good to be free of the ice that for a moment, a glimmer of happiness came close to appearing. But the hollowness left from the ice refused to allow any more then that.
I breathed in deeply, hoping to fill the hollowness. My chest tightened, as if rejecting my attempt. My body was determined to stay hollow, and to do so, it refused air. The hollow feeling grew worse without air, swallowing up more and more of me. Suddenly, I was gasping, trying to get something to lessen the hollowness spreading inside of me. The gasping was of no help, only making me tighten up even more. Only the fire could keep the hollowness at bay. The burning, hot fire that scared the cold away... the kind, compassionate, almost maternal fire...
“You okay, sweetheart?” The fire whispered. All the tightness vanished and my eyes flew open.
Flowy white hair filled my vision and sweet raspberry perfume warmed my nose. I wanted to see who the stranger was, but I couldn't pull away. My arms were welded to the fire woman.
“No,” My voice came out completely distorted by sadness, making me wonder how it could have possibly come from me.
“Why is that, kiddo?” Her last word hit me in an odd way, sinking into the ice still buried in my heart.
Kiddo. I used to call her 'Kiddo.' A quivering breath escaped me before it happened.
An explosion of blinding, mind-numbing, and nearly deadly pain shot out from the depths of my heart. My heart had ripped. That had to be it, because there was no other explanation for this much pain. Why else would it feel like an earthquake inside of me? Why else would I be shaking so hard? Why ELSE would I be dying inside?
I thrust the stranger away. A hug couldn't help me now, and I would not spread the cold. So the comforting scent of her raspberry perfume vanished, and the ice came rushing back to me. I was suddenly shivering, more violently then ever before. Clutching my sides, I tried to hold myself together. I wanted the hug, but sharing this cold would be no way to show my gratitude. But I couldn't stop myself from looking. I glanced -just for a brief second- at the fire stranger, expecting to see her walking away, thinking that I didn't want someone here.
The stranger, a woman in her sixties with flossy white hair and sad blue eyes, hadn't left. Instead, she smiled understandingly and extended a hand.
I felt a pang. Conan should be the one here, extending his hand to me. Instead it was a stranger. Exhaling slowly, I took her hand. She sat beside me, rubbing my shoulders in a strange motherly manner.
“I'm Lily,” She breathed. I lowered my eyes.
“Jill.” I said so quietly that I wasn't sure she heard. There was silence after that. The silence was not empty, though. I could feel binds developing between us, like real friends rather then strangers. Lily knew what I was going through...
“You're not alone,” Lily said, her gentle robin's egg blue eyes on me. “When I saw you... I remembered how it felt to lose Charlie,” She swallowed, biting her lip before she continued. “...My son.”
The ice overpowered me in seconds.
“Dead!” I wailed, tears streaming down my cheeks. “My baby is dead! She was only five!” I screamed, not caring that I was turning heads.
“I'm sorry, sweetie.” Lily whispered. I could barely hear her. Thoughts of Cioccolato were exploding through my head like a thousand mines. My heart was even worse, a battlefield of a billion bombs.
Cioccolato! My sweet little baby, was dead. Gone. Plowed over in a hit-and-run. Killed in an instant. There was no worse crime then killing her. The driver got away with murdering an angel.
Suddenly I couldn't get her out of my head. Her gentle waves of cinnamon hair that dangled just over her shoulders, her warm cream skin, her round, full pink lips that tripled in beauty just from a smile, and most of all, her loving, sweet brown eyes the exact color of chocolate chips on cookies, still melted from baking-- it had all been stolen away in a fraction of a second. I could never again stare into her beautiful eyes and wonder how they could possibly be such a wondrous shade.
The memory surfaced before I could stop it. I'd been gardening in the front yard, only slightly watching Ciocco. She was playing with a little rubber ball. I'd had my back to her... I didn't notice when she threw the ball onto the road. There was barely any traffic. She should have been able to grab it and come out fine. She should have... but didn't.
The sound of her scream... it more horrible then any sound I had ever heard. Her fear, shock, and pain all tied together in the sound. The only sound worse was the car hitting her. I remembered bolting to my baby, screaming and my body shaking. When I reached her there was already a pool of blood beneath her head. She was just crossing the street to get the ball she threw too far off our yard. She couldn't have died... Not just for crossing the street!
I was screaming, trying to get her to wake up. But her eyes were open. She couldn't be asleep, yet I couldn't register that she was dead. I called an ambulance despite the fact that no one could save her. It wasn't until they arrived that I finally looked into her eyes. It was only then did I see it.
Her eyes were no longer the sweet Italian chocolate brown for which she was named. The melted chocolate had hardened because there was no Cioccolato to keep it warm. Ciocco was dead.
“Jill,” Lily whispered. My eyes flew to her, but it wasn't her I was seeing. I saw Ciocco's empty eyes. Everywhere I looked Ciocco's lifeless eyes followed. I wanted the living ones! The ones that I looked into when I called her 'Kiddo!' ...The ones that that I could never stop missing.
“I can't move on,” I croaked. “I just can't.”
“Then don't.” Lily breathed. “You can never let go, sweetie.”
I said nothing for a long while. It was then that I realized that I couldn't fight the ice.
“No, I can't,” Was my reply, my voice finally calm and smooth. My eyes fell on Lily one last time, actually seeing her for this instant. Then, closing my eyes, I filled my head with memories of my daughter.
“I love you, Mama,” Her voice was like a songbird in the early morning. I couldn't help but smile at the child nestled in my arms. “I love you more then anything!”
“I love you, Cioccolato,” I whispered, kissing her soft hair. “I'm never going to let you go.”
“I'm not going anywhere, Mama.”
I smiled. “You're right,” I pressed my lips to her cheek. “I love you, kiddo”
“I love you too. And I'm never gonna leave.”