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The Night She Lived
I really like the mysterious tone to it and the character development within the story that the reader can see even though this is a short story. I believe my readers' will be hooked right away, and I hope this story is published. Thank you for your time,
“You aren’t the same person I fell in love with four years ago,” Kyle muttered and raked his calloused fingers down his face.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Isabella snapped. Placing both of her hands on her hips, she straightened her stance and met his eyes. An American Airline plane flew past the airport window behind them and startled them both. Kyle looked past her and saw the plane lift off the ground in a hurried escape. He wished he was on that airplane now so he could leave her and their argument sitting on the airport benches.
They were sitting in the gate area awaiting Kyle’s plane that was scheduled to arrive in precisely fifteen minutes. There were a few people sitting in the chairs at his gate, but other than the airport employee standing at the desk in the front of the room, there was no one else around. And yet, Kyle didn’t want anyone to overhear their conversation.
“You know exactly what it means,” he said.
She threw her hands up in exasperation, “I, honestly, don’t know. It would be wonderful if you enlightened me, Kyle.”
He stood up from his seat and silently led her to a more private enclosure next to the food court in the terminal. They stood next to an abandoned food cart near the edge of the food court and continued their fight from where they had left off. People wheeling suitcases whirled around them, not caring who they were and what they were doing.
“You can’t accept-”
“It is not only me who can’t accept-”
“Would you just listen?” Kyle roared. In his anger, he pounded the wall next to him and the sound echoed through her mind. Her basement door had made that same exact sound four years ago.
Creak! Isabella’s eyelids fluttered open. She sat up, disoriented, and found that she had fallen asleep on her desk while she had been studying for an Algebra test.
“Mom? ...Dad?” she called nervously. Creak! The downstairs door usually never creaked unless someone was closing it.
She glanced at the clock on her dresser. Tick Tock… It read ten o’clock, but her parents weren’t supposed to be home until midnight. Isabella should have been the only person in the house for another two hours.
She stood up from her desk and slowly peered around the corner of her bedroom. The tiny picture frame of her family on the beach in Mexico glared at her from the opposite side of the hallway. In the daylight, everything was so familiar in her house and yet it scared her like she had never seen it all before at night. And she really never had, not in this way.
The air suddenly stilled around her like an ominous, soft wind before a fierce storm. She watched as rigid goose-bumps appeared on her forearms within seconds of leaving her room. Maybe she should go back to her room and hide. Maybe there was no one in the house.
I can’t just stand here waiting for them to find me! She thought and before she could overthink her next moves she tiptoed onto the first step of the staircase leading to the kitchen and the creaking door.
As Isabella descended the last step she grabbed an umbrella from the nearest closet for protection. She had no clue what she would do with it, but her gut knew to carry a weapon in case of an emergency. The umbrella was decorated with polka-dots and pink hearts. As a little girl, Isabella had wanted all of her possessions to be decorated with polka-dots and pink hearts and so her mother had embraced her collection. Clutching onto the umbrella like it held her entire life in its curtain of fabric, she peered around the staircase. Her stomach curdled, her heart pitter-pattered and her palms leaked with nervous sweat.
Isabella’s eyes rolled to the back of her head as she peered up at the ceiling wishing for a way out of their current conversation, “Oh, go to hell!”
“Don’t give me that, Izzy. We’ve been through hell and back together!” he snarled beginning to pace the room.
She remembered that night like it had happened only yesterday. Four years ago the seventeen year old Isabella was joyful and care-free, but that girl was long gone now. Two weeks before that night, she had entered into twelfth grade excited and innocent, but then five weeks later that same year she was visiting a therapist every Tuesday and Thursday.
Isabella gingerly set her foot on the final stair and the floor beneath her groaned. The last stair had always groaned for as long as her family had lived in the house. As a little girl, Isabella would purposely step on that specific stair every time she walked down the stairs to hear the annoying creak, but as a teenager she would skip it to avoid any unwanted attention
The noise would have alerted any intruder in the house to her exact location. She was utterly and totally screwed. Her heart began to race and her clammy fingers slipped from the staircase beam that she had been using to steady herself.
With a shuttering breath, she scraped her palm against her jeans and tried to get her thoughts under control once again. If she was going to protect herself against whoever was in the house, then she had to focus. Isabella now knew with a certainty that she was not alone. The darkness of the house took on a new meaning and for once in her life she was scared inside her own home.
She took a deep, shuddering breath and scanned the living room for any objects out of place. The lamp sat on the coffee table right where it always did- unbroken. The sofa wasn’t turned over. Her mom’s candy stash that she refilled constantly was still full to the brim with chocolates. Nothing was out of place in the living room.
“What else am I supposed to do, Kyle? You tell me that I haven’t gotten over my issues, but I never claimed that I had. No, no that was you.”
“I have never claimed that!” Kyle retorted.
Her head drooped to the floor in defeat and she peered down at the dark blue carpet on the airport floors. They reminded her so much of her mother’s living room carpet.
Quietly, she tiptoed to the front door, paying careful attention to her steps and the carpeted living room floor. One loud noise and the downstairs door might open up to an intruder. The front door was forty feet away now. Thirty feet, twenty feet- Creak! One pair of shoes hit the carpet ten feet away from her in the darkness and they began to run in her direction. She threw herself into the living room and hid behind the large piano her mother had bought for her two summers ago. She clung to the umbrella- her only weapon.
Eyes wide and afraid, she peeked her head out from her hiding spot. She couldn’t breathe; her lungs weren’t filling with air! Isabella’s gut sent alert signals to her entire being, but there was nowhere to go now. Maybe death was knocking at her door this very moment.
The intruder entered the living room. His steps were hesitant, but quick, as if he was scared too. Isabella held on tightly to the piano leg and planned her escape. Maybe if she hit him with the umbrella and then ran out the front door she would finally be safe. The attacker slowly peered over the piano and spotted her.
Isabella screamed and swung her umbrella blindly as she ran from the piano. The intruder ducked and threw his arms over his head trying to protect himself. Isabella ran to the other side of the room and groped the darkness for a light so she could defend herself. The switch flipped on and instead of an attacker she discovered her neighbor.
Kyle’s eyes drifted to his mother and father sitting on a bench near the airport gate’s coffee shop waiting for their turn to say goodbye to him. His father was shakily drying his tears with a worn-out handkerchief and his mother was softly patting his back. This had been their first and last weekend back from college for the spring season. Four years away at college and he still didn’t want to be anywhere near his or Isabella’s houses.
“What the hell? Kyle?” Isabella yelled and held up her umbrella threateningly.
Kyle Harrison, who was in her grade at school, stood before Isabella with his hands up at his head and his feet crouched. He looked entirely helpless and gradually she slid her weapons to her side. He looked up at her with sad brown eyes and saw that she had lowered her weapons and his entire body responded. His shoulders relaxed and he held his head up again in relief.
Isabella looked deeper into his eyes and realized he continued to look fearful. His fear meant that he didn’t feel like he was completely safe yet, which further meant, she wasn’t safe either. It was then that Isabella noticed that he was holding a baseball bat in his right hand. She peered down at her own weapons and remembered that Kyle played baseball. He was using household items to defend himself just like Isabella was trying to do with her umbrella.
“Look, I didn’t bring you to my house to fight right before you left.” Isabella said.
Kyle chuckled, “But you did, didn’t you?”
Her eyes filled with small tears and she nodded her head at him silently. She couldn’t deny that a part of her had brought him this weekend to make him suffer the pain that she did every time she visited her family. But another, better part of her just wanted to finally take him home and share the last Easter holiday with him before he left for six months.
“What happened to us over all these years? We fell in love that night.”
He nodded and put his head on the door, “I thought so too, but we have clearly fallen out of love.”
“What happened?” she asked him and once again scanned the room for a dark figure.
Before he could answer there was a pound on the front door only three feet away from them. A shadowy figure moved closer to the door and peered into the brightly lit house spotting Isabella and Kyle. The man wore a dark hat that complimented his light blue eyes and he almost appeared angelic with dirty blonde hair and a small moustache that matched the hair on his head. In an alarming moment, his lips turned up in a half-smile, half-grimace smirk, then he lifted his hand and began to smash the window next to the door.
Oh my God! She realized in horror. He’s going to kill us!
Kyle grabbed her arm and tugged them both up the stairs. As soon as they entered Isabella’s bedroom, Kyle turned and locked the door. Her heart raced and she shakily raised her weapons in front of her face. Why did he lock the door?
When he moved back to face her, his eyes met her umbrella’s sharp tip and she watched as his face shifted in surprise and fear. It was odd that he found her scarier than the man that was trying to break down her door.
“Isabella, I’m not trying to hurt you. Let me explain the whole situation.” Kyle said cautiously and began to move towards the bed. “I’m just going to sit on the chair near your bed and tell you why I’m here. Keep the umbrella towards me if you need to. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”
She nodded and faced the door incase the man outside had been successful in breaking through the window. Her father had put in those windows himself and he had reassured her that they were sturdy enough to last any storm. Could they stay intact when a man was banging on them?
Kyle searched her eyes as he gently scooted closer to her, “I was home alone when I heard the garage door open. My parents weren’t supposed to be back from their baseball game until eleven o’clock and it was only 9:30. I grabbed this baseball bat from my room and went downstairs. I found a thief trying to steal our TV and money in the kitchen. Before I could run for the front door to leave the house, he spotted me. I ran out the back door and all the way to your house. This house was the only one with a light on so I figured your parents would be home so I could stay here, but the front door was locked so I went around to your backyard and found an open window that led to your basement. I was trying to find safety when you discovered me and I still am.”
“Why do you have to act like that?” Isabella asked. She flung her arm out in exasperation and accidentally touched his shoulder. As if she had awakened a fire, her heart sparked and she thought she might have seen a look of surprise on his face. Then he turned away from her and that spark was gone.
“You brought me to your house to dig up memories that don’t need to be remembered. Don’t pretend that you did any of this for me.”
“You’re right. I thought that if I could just bring you there one last time you would understand my issues and why I can’t let them go,” Isabella admitted.
“And this has always been about you,” Kyle shouted.
“Me? Kyle, you’re leaving in fifteen minutes!”
The room around them went deadly silent with her last words. Isabella didn’t dare move.
Kyle shook with newly ignited rage, “Tell me, Isabella, why my leaving has anything to do with that night!”
She believed him and his story added up with his uneven stance and baseball bat. And she didn’t really have many other options at the moment considering their situation. She put her umbrella on the bedside table and moved to sit beside him on the bed.
He let out a sigh of relief and asked, “You believe me?”
“Yes.” She sighed and turned to the large windows in her room, “We need to get out of here. The glass on that window will hold for a little while, but sooner or later it will break.”
Kyle nodded and his eyes grew dark and worried. His hand clenched around his baseball bat and Isabella saw the fear that she felt in his eyes. She pulled his sweaty palm into hers and peered up at him, “We will get to safety together. You’re not alone now.” He briefly looked down at their intertwined hands and then set his refocused gaze on Isabella.
“Okay, I’m going to go open these windows while you guard the door. As soon as I break the screen we’ll go out onto the roof and jump down from there,” Isabella said and released their tightly clasped hands.
She headed to the windows and searched the ground below her bedroom for any signs of movement. Nothing was down there from what she could tell. The intruder was either inside the house or he was still trying to break the window. But she didn’t know anything for sure and the intruder could be outside her room listening to their plan of escape for all they knew. We could be setting ourselves up for failure.
She had to stop thinking like that. The only way that they were going to make it out alive was if Isabella had a clear mind working to get us to safety. She remembered the defense class she had taken in eighth grade that she had thought was useless at the time, but now mentally thanked her mother for forcing her to attend. In the class, they had learned that when faced with an emergency the people that were calm and focused survived to tell the story.
Their eyes locked and for a second she considered biting her tongue and allowing him to continue his hypocritical assumptions of her when he, himself, hadn’t bothered to reflect on his actions that night. But she couldn’t stand back any longer. Then, as if he wanted to dare her to say it, he raised one dark eyebrow and she lost it completely.
Isabella looked towards the door at Kyle, who seemed like he couldn’t take much more danger for the night. His eyes moved from the door to Isabella and back again repeatedly. She could tell he was getting more and more worked up as the seconds ticked away.
“Kyle. Look at me,” She squeezed his hand and his eyes finally stopped on her. “We will get out of here, but you have to help me.” His breathing quieted and slowed as Isabella brushed her fingers along his cheek. Magnetic electricity tingled up her fingertips to her forearm as Isabella touched his skin. All she wanted to do was keep holding him in her arms forever in their tiny shelter in her room. Isabella didn’t want to get back up and continue fighting an enemy that was unseen, but she looked at Kyle again and realized that he wouldn’t continue if she didn’t. There would be no one to save them if she did that.
Tenderly, her hand grazed his strong jawline and she touched her forehead to his. “We can do it together.”
He nodded against their joined heads and sighed, “Thank you, Isabella.”
Suddenly a loud noise from the kitchen echoed up the stairs. Kyle spun towards the door and held his baseball bat out in front of him. Isabella jumped into action and ran to the windows. Pulling them open, she slammed her umbrella into the screen. It broke on the third hit.
“You’re going to war because your ego took a huge beating that night,” she said and waited for the heavy weight on her shoulders to be lifted, but she didn’t feel any different. Ever since Kyle had told her that he was going to be a soldier two weeks ago, something had come crashing down on her. And she had, unwittingly, thought that she needed to bring him back to their houses in order for her mind to ease. None of that had ended up occurring, which brought them to their current dilemma.
Kyle didn’t move his eyes from the floor for a while, but eventually he whispered, “I see.”
She crumpled under those two words. “Look, we’re handling our fears differently. Let’s be honest, you are signing up for something even more scary than that night so you can regain your confidence. And I’m…” Isabella took a deep breath and then let it all sweep out of her, “I’m avoiding all of my problems.”
Kyle turned to face her, surprise written all over his face. Four years and it had taken her that long to come clean. All of a sudden the heavy weight was lifted off her burdened shoulders. Taking a long and freeing breath, she sighed and leaned into the nearest wall. She looked at the stunning man before her in all his imperfect glory, who was still as gorgeous as ever even when he was furious with her. How could she lose something as wonderful as their relationship only to aid her wounded pride?
His brown eyes touched her blue ones for a moment, and she recognized a familiar expression in his face. Love. Love for her?
Then he kissed her, and she felt like she was falling from her house roof again.
She tore through the material and made her way onto the roof with Kyle right behind her. There was one obvious problem with leaping off a roof. One of them could potentially break a bone and then not be able to walk to safety. She searched her brain for a solution, but came up empty.
Isabella looked out into her backyard. They were so close to the protection of their neighbors’ houses, they couldn’t give up now. Her eyes wandered to the very back of her parents’ yard and spotted the answer to their problem.
Quickly, Isabella formed a plan, “There’s a ladder on the far side of the yard so one of us will have to jump from the rooftop and then bring the ladder to the other person still on the roof to climb down from.” That way if one of them broke a bone, the other could escape down the ladder without injury and then help the other to safety.
However, there was still a key problem in her new plan. They stared at each other for half a second and she knew the thoughts that were running through his head because they were running through hers. If the other person that jumps first survives, will they come back for me or will they run away?
Kyle was beginning to melt down. It would be easy for him to leave me behind in his freaked out state. She thought back to her time in defense class and remembered that her instructor had said that there had been experiments that had proven humans tended to get worked up and act hysterically in emergencies. Kyle will be no exception and if he leaves me here, then I will be defenseless against that man…Isabella thought and prepared herself to jump. She trusted Kyle on a basic level, but not when her life depended on it. She had to be the one to jump first and then go back for him.
Kyle finally spoke up and made the final decision, “Okay, you jump and then I’ll follow after you on the ladder.”
Isabella nodded gratefully and sweetly kissed his soft cheek, “I will be right back. Don’t worry.”
He helped her closer to the edge and they both peered down at the ground eight feet below. Her stomach dropped with the realization that she would have to fall and then possibly break a bone or two. Isabella wasn’t sure she could willingly leap off a roof knowing that there was a possibility that she could injure herself.
Kyle saw her hesitation and whispered into Isabella’s ear, “I’m doing this for you.”
And then he pushed her
She let out a wail of surprise and fell from the sturdy roof into thin air, but she barely had time to register herself falling before she roughly landed on the ground. Her entire body ached as she slowly got up from the earth and checked herself for any serious injuries. Her right ankle was twisted, but other than that she was physically stable. Maybe not so much mentally since she had just been pushed off a roof.
Kyle peeked over the roof’s edge and called down, “Isabella, are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m going to go find the ladder. I’ll be right back,” she stumbled across the lawn in her bare feet. The soft grass soothed her senses and allowed her to take a moment to breath. She cleared her mind and reminded herself that Kyle was still in imminent danger. She had to concentrate on the task at hand.
The ladder was on the far side of the yard near the back porch. She maneuvered past the swing set and put both of her hands on the first step of the ladder. It was heavy, but the adrenaline in her system carried the ladder to Kyle. Eventually, Isabella managed to find the part of the roof that was right outside her bedroom window in the darkness.
“Kyle, I wish I had your vulnerability.”
With her words, his face twisted in pain like she had just brutally punched him. His jaw dropped to argue, but she held up her hand to stop his force.
“Wait,” she said, “let me finish before you yell at me!”
“Okay, climb down.” Isabella whispered. Kyle didn’t answer. Above her there was only silence.
She waited a couple seconds and then tried again. “Kyle?” No response. She bit her tongue to stop herself from screaming out his name in panic. Her heart beat wildly with renewed dread and her lungs began to close up around her.
No! He had to be there. Their plan had to work. Isabella couldn’t deal with anything other than a happy ending for them both.
Grunting erupted right outside her bedroom window and Isabella could hear two sets of footsteps scuffle onto the roof. Immediately, she recognized Kyle’s youthful groan of power and then guessed that the other man was the intruder. A shutter rippled through her as Isabella realized that they were fighting right above her.
Her weak feet crumpled underneath her with a mind of their own. She hit the ground hard and allowed her entire body to begin to shake uncontrollably with all the pent-up tension inside her. Kyle was going to die up there and all she could do was wait and hear him being murdered. Reluctantly, she brought her fingers up to her ears and drowned out all other outside noise.
A little while later, Isabella felt the ground rumble under the ladder as someone began to climb down from the roof. She slowly held her hands in front of her face in a slight shield and waited for the intruder to find her. There was no way that Isabella would have made it out of the yard alone with the knowledge that she was leaving Kyle behind. Isabella had made the decision to stay with Kyle whether he was dead or alive and now she had to accept her horrific fate.
I hadn’t trusted him enough to retrieve the ladder himself and come back for me. Isabella thought miserably. She had been selfish and untrusting and he had paid for her actions. I should have been killed by the intruder, not Kyle.
Suddenly a hand pulled her palms away from her tear-swollen eyes. A timid sob escaped her mouth as she scraped at the intruder’s fingers before her eyes were totally uncovered. He aggressively continued to pry her hands from her face and finally she was able to squint up at him. Instead of a monster, Isabella found a familiar face.
Kyle nodded, but she felt his impatience sour the air between them. They were only a breath away from each other now.
She continued hastily, “You are brave, Kyle Harrison, yet you are also vulnerable. I can never be both; I have to be passionate about one or the other. But you have the ability to morph into one of those qualities depending on whatever situation you are dealing with at that moment.”
Isabella watched his face for warning signs, but he just plastered on a blank expression and let her continue. “That night you were both vulnerable and brave. And you don’t ever have to try to prove yourself to me or to yourself. We both survived, Kyle. That is what matters.”
“Kyle!” Isabella lunged toward him and grasped his waist in a tight hug. Instantly, she was crying hysterically without holding anything back. He scooped her up into his arms and kissed both of her cheeks happy to be reunited.
“Where is he, Kyle? Are we safe?” Isabella scanned the yard and the roof in case anyone was veiled by the darkness.
I knocked him out so he’ll be unconscious for at least an hour.” Kyle whispered and started the walk to their neighbor’s house with Isabella still in his arms.
“I…I thought you had…” she trailed off and clung to his disheveled navy blue shirt. It was oddly comforting pressed against her cheek. He snuggled closer to her, also taking solace in her presence.
“Yeah, I thought I might have…too. But I didn’t. I’m here.” Kyle reached his hand up and gingerly touched her tear-streaked face. “Shh shh…It’s alright now. It’s over.”
Gradually, she began to adjust to the idea of safety. Her heart slowed to a healthy pace, her hands unclenched their fists and her shoulders slumped. Then, all of a sudden everything in her body stuttered back to life again with the feel of Kyle’s hands on her upper back. His presence gave her a chance to forget about the night’s events for a moment, but the fear in her heart and soul never left.
Hot tears slipped down her face, “I love you, Kyle. I gave you my heart that night and you still have it as long as you are willing to keep it.”
Suddenly, the room vibrated with his laughter. She quickly rubbed her tears away and searched his eyes in wonder. What could he possibly be laughing about right now?
Kyle smiled at her, “God, Isabella, you don’t know how long I have been waiting to hear you say that.”
A shiver wracked her body as her crying turned to sobs. She was a complete mess, but she couldn’t have cared less. Everything inside of her wanted to reach out and grab hold of him forever and never let go. But she couldn’t do any of that. He was going to walk out that airport door in fifteen minutes and abandon her for six months, “You are still leaving.”
His eyes shone with fresh tears and he nodded, “When I signed up for the military, I had wanted to serve my country. But I had also wanted to prove that I could handle an emergency without depending on someone; and I’m sorry for that.”
She nodded and her body sank with her disappointment, “I know.”
He watched her closely, “Isabella, will you be here when I get back?”
Ever so slowly, she looked up at him with a determined expression on her face, “I’ll be here and we will go home together.”
Suddenly a voice rang out, “American Airlines is boarding now. Row one through four please come to the frontdesk.”
The airport employee stood awaiting her costumers at the front of the room. Kyle saw that as his cue to leave. “Izzy, I love you.”
Their arms encircled one another in a last goodbye. Kyle felt his heart warm to her once again, just like it had four years ago, as she nuzzled her face into his neck. Isabella felt his warmth too, and she admitted in her heart she had always known that he would go to war. All the anger that had built up within her for four years dissolved in their embrace as did their past.