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Slashes of Sugar
The thick fog that covered the park was now cloaked with the scent of demise and torture. A dark figure stood, a triumphant smile pulling at the corners of his lips, his satirical eyes on a shadow that lay on the ground whimpering. The shadow convulsed, tearing and clutching at the wet grass beneath her fingers, writhing silently from the bloody slashes that eclipsed her ashen skin. The figure chuckled darkly, his hand twitching towards the pocket of his jacket which concealed a serrated blade. A scar, slitting through his left eyebrow and dividing the eye below it in half, overshadowed his thin, pallid face in the dim street lamps’ glow. In the distance, a faint siren called, and began to close the space between justice and felony. The figure took a fleeting look at his victim before departing into the dark street, leaving the girl to cease in her struggle and allow death to consume her.
* * *
I woke with a start, my eyes flickering to a clock that lay inches from my face. 7:24 AM. Crap. You’d think that by the middle of his junior year, a guy would be able to get up in time for the school; but apparently, eleven years wasn’t enough practice… not by a long shot. Running my fingers through my hair, I haphazardly rushed through my morning routine. After I had thrown on a white t-shirt and jeans, I slid a pair of black and green Nikes onto my feet. I half-ran out of my room, tossing my book-bag over my shoulder, and sprinted through the house, stopping only at the foot of the stairs to say goodbye to my parents.
Traffic was light, not nearly as much as it usually was; but that was probably just because the morning rush was over and everyone was already where they were supposed to be.
Arriving at school, I realized that the lot behind the building was full. It was just my luck that I would have to park in front with all the staff. In my haste, I pulled into the first open spot I saw, cut the engine, tore the keys out of the ignition, and grabbed my bag while swinging the car door open. Even faster than I had anticipated, it flew out of my hand and scraped against the Dodge Neon next to me. Some of its blue paint tore away from the door and fluttered to the asphalt. My eyes widened as I stepped out of the car slowly and watched as the Dodge’s only passenger locked her door and stamped toward me, an infuriated expression in her blue eyes.
“What the heck was that for?” she shrieked. “Do you have a problem with my car?” She stopped and pointed to the barely noticeable mark I had made on its paint job.
“Sorry,” I said, unintentionally rolling my eyes a little. She laughed without humor, exasperated.
“Ha… sorry? Yeah, right. Sorry won’t pay for it to be fixed.” She bit her lip, looking as if she might cry.
“Hey, I could pay for-” She cut me off.
“No, don’t even bother. I’ve had enough of you already.” Man, talk about melodramatic. She turned and walked briskly towards the front office. I stifled a laugh.
“Um… hey! Class is this way!” I yelled, pointing in the direction of my homeroom. She turned back to me, a sour look on her face.
“Not for me.” She said shrugging; her eyebrows were raised as if it were obvious. I smiled as she departed. Whoever this girl was, I liked her.
I got to chemistry just in time for Mr. Varner to check off my attendance.
“Nice of you to join us, Mr. Wilson,” he acknowledged me without looking up from the attendance sheet. “Take your seat,” he said, nodding towards my table, his eyes still on the paper. I sighed as I sat down at my table, the only table without two people seated there. As I began to unzip my bag and pull what I needed for the class, I heard the classroom door open and Mr. Varner telling a student that they could take the seat next to Mr. Wilson. Interested, I looked up and there she was. Unwillingly, she took her seat next to me and laid her books on the table.
“So,” I might as well start the conversation since she seemed completely reluctant, “I guess we’re lab partners, huh?” She glanced at me without turning her head, her lips pursed. She sighed and looked down.
“Yes, we are.” She seemed disgusted to say the words.
“Alright, so, maybe we should start with introductions,” I said, shaking off her bad vibe. “I’m Riley Wilson.” She finally turned towards me and let the full power of her blue eyes stun mine. Whoa.
“I’m Emma. Emma Scott,” she said, half-smiling. Okay, an almost-smile. That’s invitation enough.
“So you’re new, I take it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, looking back to the front of the room. Ugh, one word answers weren’t good.
“Where’re you from?”
“A place,” she said, frowning a little. Okay, there’s a story behind that frown. Just need to pry a little. “What’s it matter to you?” That caught me off guard.
“Um, just wondering is all,” I replied, discouraged. I looked away from her, down at my books. Somehow, my response had triggered a spark.
“I’m from Ohio,” she said, a little less annoyed. “I moved because my dad got transferred.”
“Oh, what’s he do?” I said, happy that she was willing to talk now.
“He’s a detective,” she replied. “And I have to admit, it’s scary as heck - him out there with criminals.” I laughed.
“You think that’s funny?” she asked, crossing her arms.
“No, you said heck.” I laughed again. She shrugged.
“Excuse me for not cursing.”
“You’re excused,” I replied and she giggled. “Oh, sorry about your car, by the way.” I added, hoping it wouldn’t ignite her anger again. To my delight, it didn’t.
“No, it’s fine,” she said. “It’s just that I wasn’t having the best of days and a chip in the paint made it a little worse.”
“Oh,” was all I could reply.
“But, my day’s fine now,” she said, smiling. There was something about her smile. It was contagious. It sent a warm, tingly feeling through me. And I had to smile too.
After chemistry, I walked Emma to her locker, hoping she would need a guide to her next class. She piled some of her books into the middle shelf, and then reached for the top. She stood on her tip-toes and still couldn’t seem to reach it. I tried to help and instead, the pile on the top shelf crashed to the floor. Emma sighed, grinning at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said, bending down to pick up her books. I began placing them on the shelf again, one by one.
“No, its fine,” she replied, laughing. I finished putting the books back and handed her the notebook she had been reaching for in the first place.
“Did you notice that you’ve said ‘no, it’s fine’ to me twice today? I hope this isn’t a trend forming!” I said, sarcastically.
“It’s not my fault that you’re exceptionally clumsy!” she retorted, placing the notebook in her bag and zipping it closed. “I just hope I don’t get hurt like my car… or those books!” she added, nodding towards her locker.
“I’ll be careful,” I said, serious now. I couldn’t imagine anyone or anything hurting her. Especially me.
“Good,” she said as the bell for second period rang. “I don’t want to be late again.” She scooped her bag onto her shoulder in one fluidly graceful motion and, unexpectedly, bent closer to me. Her hair brushed my face as she whispered, “Thank you,” her breath tickling my ear. And then quickly, she turned and skipped to her class.
I sighed and leaned against her locker. Who cared if I was late for class? The skin on my ear still burned happily from where her words had touched it.
* * *
In the broad daylight, the sun reflected off of the plastic sheets and metal utensils and into the eyes of a man. He blinked twice and then turned back to the student ID card which had been given to him as evidence.
“Detective Scott?” a woman asked while he thought.
“Valerie Greene?” he inquired, looking at the ID card. The woman nodded as she carefully placed the victim’s items into separate plastic bags.
“Yes. She goes to the high school around the corner, NCHS.”
“Wonder what she was doing out so late…” he trailed off, contemplating.
“There was a football game last night. She was just walking home,” she answered as she sealed a bag containing a piece of torn cloth.
“Ah. That makes sense.” He looked at the pile of bags sealed with evidence. “What’s that?” he asked, gesturing to one.
“Her inhaler,” she responded, picking up the bag with gloved hands and pulling the item out. “She had asthma.” A moment passed as they said nothing.
“That’s strange,” he said, interrupting the silence and looking back to the ID card he still held.
“What is?” Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“Well, she’s a junior at North Carolina High School…” he said, waiting for her to absorb the information. She shook her head.
“I’m sorry. I still don’t understand.” He sighed, trying to phrase the words properly in his head without sounding rash.
“There was that girl a few months ago… um, Kate something.”
“Washington?” she asked.
“Yes. Kate Washington. Didn’t she go to NCHS too? I believe she was a junior as well.” He arched an eyebrow.
“What? You think there’s a connection?” she inquired, considering the possibility. “A murderer after 11th-grade-girls at North Carolina High School?” She pursed her lips, pondering.
“It’s just an idea. But we should look into it.” She nodded in agreement. He placed the ID card into a bag and sealed it shut along with the inhaler.
* * *
Several weeks went by as Emma and I began to talk to each other more often each day; and I realized after a while, she was starting at least half of conversations between us. She wanted to talk to me and that was good.
When we began to near the end of the semester, she invited me over to her house to study for finals. We were sitting in her little brother’s tree house, watching him play with his toys while she quizzed me on World War II.
“Who was the Japanese commander-in-chief in the battle of Midway?” she asked, looking up from her paper at me through her incredibly long lashes. I blinked and tried to remember her question. Noticing my hesitation, she laughed her delicate, twinkling laugh and I smiled in response.
“Maybe we should take a break. You have no idea what any of these answers are!” she exclaimed, tossing the paper on the floor and standing up. She was right about the break, but the answers weren’t the things getting me tongue-tied. “My mom made cookies earlier… I’ll go get some.” She climbed down the ladder to the ground, her long blond hair fluttering in the breeze.
A few minutes later, she came back with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a pitcher of lemonade. I grabbed a cookie as she poured the lemonade into three cups. She handed one to me and one to her brother, who set it down without taking a sip and went back to his toys. I noticed she didn’t take a cookie after several minutes.
“Aren’t you going to have one?” I asked, pointing to the plate. “They’re really good.”
“I shouldn’t…” she said, frowning. “My blood sugar is already high as it is.” I stopped chewing and looked at her, swallowing hard.
“Your what?” I asked, hoping I had heard wrong. Her blood sugar? No, she must have said something else.
“My blood sugar, Riley.” Nope, I had heard right. “It’s high today, so I shouldn’t eat too many sweets.”
“Oh…” I replied, still confused. Why would her blood sugar matter? It shouldn’t… unless… I guess she noticed the curiosity in my face because she answered my unspoken question.
“I’m diabetic, Riley,” she stated calmly. “I’ve been diabetic since I was four.” Diabetic? No, that couldn’t be what she was saying. She was perfect. Smart and pretty – well, more than pretty – and fun and healthy; totally and completely healthy. I was hearing things. “Riley?” she asked, probably because I was just staring at her with some mixed expression of horror and shock. “Riley? Did you hear me?”
I nodded slowly and tried to pull myself together. I didn’t know what to say. Emma had diabetes. Emma had to check her blood sugar and she had to physically harm herself to do so. But Emma was such a good person. It wasn’t right.
“No, that isn’t fair,” I whispered, surprised she heard me.
“I established that a while ago,” she replied. Why was she so calm about this? “Are you okay? You look sick,” she added, concerned.
“I’m alright,” I answered impishly and then decided the words weren’t right. “I’m alright as long as you are.” She smiled.
“I’m great.” Yes, yes she was.
At the end of the night, Emma walked me to my car. It wasn’t dark yet, the sun was still visible. I hadn’t wanted to impose, even though Mrs. Scott had offered me dinner, so I decided to leave earlier than I would have liked.
As we walked, Emma looked up at the sky, the bright sun shining down on her face. Her blue eyes sparkled and her hair, golden and tinted with silver, danced about her heart-shaped face in the wind. She looked practically angelic.
Without even noticing it, I took her hand in mine. It felt like an electric jolt was sent spiraling through my hand, up my arm, and into my chest, warming my entire body. It was not an unpleasant feeling. She squeezed my fingers gently and looked at me, a smile on her lips.
“I hope you study a little harder at your house. You got almost every question wrong,” she commented. We reached my car and I leaned against the door to keep my balance. I always seemed to be only semi-coherent when Emma was involved.
“I was distracted,” I admitted, her hand still in mine. Her eyes narrowed.
“Oh? By what?” I hadn’t noticed until now, and maybe she hadn’t either, but she was leaning towards me, and maybe I was leaning towards her. Like the only other time we had ever been this close, my heart began to hammer feverishly in my chest. And suddenly, she kissed me. If holding hands was an electric jolt, then a kiss was a nuclear explosion. Almost immediately afterwards, she pulled away, smirking. I would have been perfectly happy to stand there forever, blissfully staring at her magnificence.
“So, what had you so distracted that you couldn’t concentrate on the Japanese commander-in-chief?” she asked nonchalantly, pushing her hair behind her ear. I thought of a million different ways to phrase my answer, but decided on the simplest one.
“You.” She laughed, her twinkling, tone-chime laugh, and leaned in to kiss me again.
* * *
The moonlight cast an ominous glow across the parking lot, shimmering over the blood-sodden hands of the figure once more. He crouched low to the ground, his chin jutted out, eying his fingers with contented and widened pupils. He stretched and flexed his hands as if to make sure the joints worked, watching as the liquid glinted on his skin and dripped to the ground, seeping into the cracks in the asphalt. A body lay next to him, her face scraped against the mercilessly ragged surface of the lot, her eyes open and impassive. The skin above her skull was stripped away from the bone in long, callous slashes. The wounds pooled fountains of blood and rapidly overflowed in copious streams, obliquely sheathing her scalp. Her dark hair, half matted to her skin by crusted blood, tangled and coiled about her face like thin metal wires twisting and bending over her skin. Her limbs were askew and distorted, the back of her leg marked with the pattern of a shoe; her shinbone had slit through the adjoined cartilage, punctured the skin above it, and now visibly scraped against her shattered kneecap.
Surrounding her were several items which had flown out of her open purse as she had attempted to defend herself; the purse’s long shoulder strap was still clutched in her broken hand, her knuckles crushed against the ground, bruises and scars trailing down her fingers. The contents of the purse were few, among them a cracked, orange bottle which read CYTOXAN, LEUKEMIA TREATMENT.
* * *
Every moment I spent away from Emma was slow, boring, and pointless. When I was with her, the time was an hourglass with but a few grains of sand in it to fall before we were apart again. And when we were apart, I more or less used up the better part of the hour pacing, waiting for the phone call she promised to honor me with. There was nothing… nothing that could compare to the sound of her glittery, exuberant laugh on the other end of the line. Okay, I thought, there was one thing… her smile. It lit up her entire, beautiful face with a warm sparkle. Heck, it lit up the entire room. If I could have it my way, I’d spend most of my time just watching her smile and listening to her laugh; if I could only have my way.
Emma laid, lovely and statuesque, a smile on her lips and her eyes closed. I don’t know how long it had been since she’d opened them, maybe minutes, maybe hours. But I would have been perfectly happy to stay like this for another hour or two, my arm around her, her head on my shoulder, and her hair dancing around my face, the wind lifting the scent of her perfume into my lungs. The day was perfect, not too warm, although the sun shone brilliantly, and not to cool, whereas there was a frequent breeze flying in from the waves – a subtle anecdote to the sun. We sat high up on the beach, surrounded by patches of tall sea grass and fine white sand. The waves were blue… actually blue and framed with creamy white foam. I don’t think I’d ever seen perfect blue waves as those ones, although I’d been to the beach a hundred times before. Maybe it was just the warm glow from the girl next to me blurring my eyes, but who cared? If Emma had the effect of making everything perfect all the time – and usually she did – I never wanted to see grayish-green waves ever again. I looked down at her as she snuggled deeper into my chest.
She blinked, her eyes fluttering open, and looked up at me.
“What?” she asked, after I had stared at her for another immeasurable moment. “What are you looking at?”
“You,” I whispered as I kissed her forehead. “I was looking at you and thinking about how amazing and beautiful you are.” She laughed quietly and ducked her head into my shoulder again, sighing. After a few minutes, she looked up once more.
“What time is it?” she asked calmly, no tone in her voice of wanting to leave. We both glanced out at the water and I realized it was later then I had thought. Keeping track of time wasn’t usually my first priority when I was with Emma. Taking my phone out of my pocket, I looked at the time.
“It’s four thirty,” I said with a grin. “We’ve been here for three hours.”
“Wow. I guess I wasn’t paying attention,” she said, laughing. She leaned up and kissed me. “We should get going.”
“Alright, if you insist.” I replied with mock weariness, getting to my feet. I reached a hand down to her and she took it as I hoisted her up. Just as soon as she was on her feet, she fell against me. I staggered back, catching her quickly before she fell to the ground.
“Are you okay?” I asked, concern framing my voice. She stumbled again as I tried to hold her up.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just dizzy is all,” she answered quickly. “I’ve been sitting down too long.”
“Are you sure?” She didn’t seem just dizzy. She suddenly looked pale… and then something hit me. “When was the last time you ate?”
“Uh… this morning,” she answered. “I wasn’t that hungry for lunch.” I wrapped my arms around her to try and help her stand. It didn’t really help, so I decided to just pick her up. “I’m fine, Riley. You don’t have to do this,” she said, her voice shaky. Despite her words, she leaned into my chest as I began to walk back to my car. Thank God I had parked close to the beach; I wouldn’t admit it, but she was heavier than I had expected. I put her down next to the car and she leaned against it while I unlocked her door. I helped her in, trying to wipe the expression of fear from my face with a smile. I got in as quickly as I could and watched as she tried to buckle her seat belt. Her arms were quivering. I finally took her hand and maneuvered the buckle into the lock. We looked at each other for a minute before I couldn’t take the sound of her uneven, shuddering breaths anymore. I felt so helpless.
“Emma, I don’t think you-” she cut me off.
“I’m fine, Riley. Just drive,” she insisted sternly. I listened to her, plunging the keys into the ignition and hitting the gas as quickly as I could. I took her hand in mine and her trembling fingers sent vibrations through my hand and into my bones. This wasn’t an electric jolt and it terrified me. If anything happens to her, I thought, even my mind shaking, I don’t think I could live through it. I felt sick… sick to my core.
Scrambled and blurry, thoughts flew in my mind like a million little gnats. Sick, trembling, home, too far… Yes, home was too far, two hours if we were lucky. Sick, shiver, hospital, sugar… Sugar, that’s what she needed. My mouth cracked open to speak, to ask her if food would help, however, nothing but incomprehensible, whispery slurs came out. I shouted in my head, talk! I yelled it at the top of my mental lungs and nothing except incoherency escaped my lips. I closed my mouth to clear my throat, swallowed, and tried again. But this time, the only thoughts in my mind were framed around where I was driving. I gritted my teeth together and tried to remember what I was going to ask her before I had shut my mouth. Back-track! Back-track idiot! My lips felt numb, my face cold. I suddenly realized that the air-conditioning was on high. I shut it off quickly and then replaced my hand in hers. The shivers came again, harder this time. I glanced at the clock, my eyes flickering between the road and the numbers before I finally put the blurry digits together: 5:20 PM. Had I really been driving for almost an hour? I had only been able to back-track in my mind so far to hospital, as I fixed my eyes on the road. I didn’t move them. I was too afraid.
At a stoplight, I finally pushed being a coward away and looked at her. It was worse than I had imagined. The hand I didn’t hold was clenched into a fist to stop its trembling. Her entire body was vibrating so much, the outline of it smeared into the color of her seat. Sweat had beaded up on her forehead and cheeks. Her skin was absent of color; it was nothing but white. But it wasn’t the shaking or the color that was making me nauseous. It was the look of complete love and trust in her eyes. Love and trust I didn’t deserve for letting this happen to her. I should have known better than to forget to check on her. I wanted to scream. I wanted to slam my head against the window and hope I shattered my skull and curse myself for thinking I was ever worthy of the look in her eyes. I wanted to be run over by a train. I deserved the train. But not her. Never did I deserve her. And even though I was the most miserable excuse for a boyfriend, she still needed me; and anything that may make me worthy of her, I was willing to try, and so I stomped on the gas pedal and flew to the nearest hospital.
The emergency room’s parking lot was almost unoccupied, thank God, and right after I carried Emma into the building – seeming as she was still unable to walk - a nurse was immediately there with a wheelchair. As I placed Emma into the chair, I brought her ear close to my lips to whisper that I loved her. But when the time came, my mouth wouldn’t budge under my gritted teeth, so I just kissed her forehead and put her down.
“What’s wrong?” the nurse asked, petrified by Emma’s expression.
“She’s diabetic… her blood sugar’s low,” I raced through the words, hoping she understood them. She nodded and began to wheel Emma towards two large, automatic doors.
“Did you eat anything?” the nurse asked her. Emma opened her mouth, her jaw shivering.
“Y-y-yes-s-s. I t-tried c-c-cand-d-y b-b-ut-t-” Her lips quivered, not responding enough to talk. I hadn’t even noticed her try to eat. Some person I was.
The large doors suddenly swung open as a man in a blue lab coat and Latex gloves walked through them. He stood by the door as the nurse wheeled Emma into the hallway and around a corner. I could no longer see her. My eyes shifted from the spot where I had last seen Emma to the face of the doctor now watching me intently. His mouth twitched, fighting a grin… a malevolent and somehow repentant grin. His skin was sallow and grey, the only color in it being the purplish-blue shadows beneath his eyes. His hands stretched and flexed at his sides, each joint in his fingers curling one by one. It was unnerving. And then, without any previous sign of moving, he swiftly turned on his heel into the hallway and followed the nurse around the corner.
As the doors closed behind him, I glimpsed around the room at my surroundings, subconsciously looking for some kind of distraction. I saw a row of chairs, but I was too anxious, and quite frankly, too disturbed by the doctor, to sit down. It felt like every other second, my heart skipped a beat and the one that followed was slower than the last. Was I having a heart attack? I couldn’t tell. My eyes lingered on the automatic doors, a tinge of hope in the back of my mind saying that someone would walk through them any minute. No one did. I tried to pull my eyes away from the doors, to no avail, and eventually just closed them. Without noticing it, I sat down as I began to count my uneven heart beats. One, pause, two, pause… three, four, five… A creak and a swish broke my count and I opened my eyes. My heart almost stopped altogether when I saw the doctor walk out from the doors. It was a moment before I realized I wasn’t breathing and only did the sparkles that flooded my eyes remind me to inhale. I filled my lungs with a breath of crisp, clean air and refocused my eyes on the doctor. My heart pumped faster now and I felt a shiver run through my chest. How strange.
The doctor walked towards me as I stood and went to greet him.
“Hello, are you here with Emma Scott?” he asked with a tone which told me that he already knew my answer. I replied anyway.
“Yes,” Something told me I would regret telling him my name, so I didn’t mention it. “Is she okay?”
“Yes, Miss Scott is well now.” There was an edge to his voice, but I couldn’t point out what it was. He hid it all too well.
“She’s okay?” I asked. He nodded, flexing his hands. Ugh. “Can I see her?” I looked over his shoulder at the automatic doors.
“Not right now. She’s resting.” What does that matter? I want to see her… awake or not. Just to know she’s okay.
“Oh. I can wait,” I offered, bending to sit back down and emphasize my point.
“No, that’s quite alright,” he answered, gesturing for me to stand back up. “We’re going to keep her overnight anyway just in case.” In case? Was she okay or wasn’t she?
“Oh,” I answered. The nerve of this guy. “I guess I’ll come back tomorrow morning, then. I should tell her parents, anyhow.”
“No need to worry. I’ve already taken care of that,” he replied, backing away towards the doors.
“And she’ll be fine?” I asked. “She’ll be okay?”
“Yes,” he answered, his fingers twitching. “She’ll be perfectly fine.”
His eyes narrowed as his lips pulled into iniquitous grin. And then he winked and disappeared through the doors. I felt the crease between my eyebrows deepen as I turned and walked out the door, deliberating. He had winked. The doctor had winked…but why? I couldn’t tell. The sudden sound of my car door closing made me jump. I hadn’t noticed until then that I was inside the car. My breathing hiked as I finally realized another thing. Why the doctor had made my hair stand on end and my fingers tremble. He had winked with his left eye… his scarred left eye.