One-shot. It's a good one!
"You're just a piece of trash." The words, though a regular rebuke, never failed to slice through my being, ripping everything in it's path. "You hear me? You. Are. Nothing." With every word comes a sharp jab to the chest. My chest. I can't even tell you how many bruises I've found in the last month. "I said, do you hear me?" Another sharp jab, and another painful throb. I take a shuddering breath and let it out. Nod once. I knew what was expected of me if I wanted to get away. So I nod again, and whisper,
"I know I am."
"You know you are, what?"
I gulp back a sob and whisper, a little louder, "I am nothing."
Satisfied, the bully - my personal bully - lifts my face up to his and smiles. "That's what I thought." A tear runs down my cheek, and I lower my gaze to his shoes. Submission. There was just no other way to get out of this daily ritual.
With a snap of his fingers, he lets my face go and silently walks away, his posse quickly following behind him. I wait until they are around the corner before I slowly stand up and slip into the bathroom. If there was anyone in there with me, I don't notice them. I go to the sinks and run the water. I don't look at my reflection. I can't. Not when I knew who would be staring back at me, looking miserable at best. I cup my hands under the cold water and lower my face to them until the soothing liquid splashes over my heated cheeks and runs down my arms.
Another daily ritual.
~ ~ ~
None of my teachers have ever asked me why I'm late. Not after the tenth time it happened, anyway. I think they all just assumed that I'm a problem child, just as my parents used to be. They used to make me get a slip from the office before I was allowed to enter their classrooms. Now they don't even bother marking me absent. They know I'm coming. And even if I don't, they mark me present anyway. Suffice to say, I have an almost perfect attendance record.
~ ~ ~
When I walk into my fifth period class, the teacher, Mr. Burke, is nowhere to be found, and there is someone sitting in my seat. I grit my teeth, clench my fists, and then force myself to relax. I do this by taking a deep breath and letting it out. No biggie, I think, looking around the room. Only two seats are available. The one behind Thomas, the kid who would never shut up even if his life depended on it, and the one right next to Jared, the kid who's never said a word to anybody (that anyone knows of, anyway.)
I think I have my decision.
I swallow down some bile and silently make my way to the back of the room, and take the seat next to Jared. He glances over at me, briefly, probably wondering what I'm doing here, sitting next to him. Then he looks away, and moments later Burke walks in and starts rambling on about whatever subject this is. That would be English, I suppose.
"Today we're going to practice with iambic..."
It doesn't take long for me to space off. Iambic pentameters just aren't worth my time. I mean poetry is cool 'n' all, but doing the whole iambic pentam-whatever kills it a bit.
~ ~ ~
I spend most of the class period doodling in my notebook. Not anything special or worthy of being called art, just little bits and pieces of what's going around in my mind. So there's a picture of an ugly ogre's face, a cowering little mouse, and a blazing fire, surrounded by a bunch of little dots. The dots are supposed to stand for all the people around me who know what's going on, but don't care enough (or maybe they don't even notice) to tell anybody useful. Not that I'm complaning or anything. I just think it'd be nice for somebody just once to help me out. Not that I want it. It's just.. you know.. Yeah.
The bell rings sooner than expected, and I'm the last one out the door. Or at least I would have been if that Jared kid wasn't right behind me, practically rubbing up on me. On accident, I'm sure. Or not. Either way, I don't like it.
"Dude, do you mind? Personal bubble," I snap, stopping short so that he bumps into me. I turn around to glare at him and then take a step back. I have to look up at this guy. So not cool. I hold up my hands in a submissive manner and start to back away even more. All he does is glare at me, and then takes a step forward. That's it, I'm out of here! "Oh uh, n-never mind," I mutter, turning back around and speeding out of the classroom. Lesson number one in spontaneously growing a pair: Stick up to your own size. Not shorter, not taller, your own size.
~ ~ ~
My parents are almost never home when I am. If they are, they're either sleeping, eating, or hiding out in their room. It's their work schedule. From eight in the morning to about eight at night, my mother works at the pharmacy down town, and from five in the evening to about nine a.m. the next day, my dad works at the post office. Graveyard. Or something like it. But like I said, they're almost never home. Which brings us to this: they're sitting at the table, smiles plastered on their faces. It's like they've been sitting there, waiting for me, all day. I should say hi right off the bat, but I don't. I walk right over to the staircase that leads up to the attic (which is my room) and drop my book bag to the floor, kick off my shoes, and then walk into the kitchen to get a drink.
"Hi, sweetheart," my mom says, turning to look at me. I finish gulping down my water, set the glass down on the counter, and give her 'the look'. "How was your day?"
"Uhm.. It was okay, I guess. What're you guys doing home?" I already knew something was up the moment I walked in the door and saw them. Now I just needed them to confirm something horrible was either happening or was about to.
"Well, I was just getting ready for work. I don't have to go in until six tonight, and your mother wanted to have a family dinner," says Dad. I nod slowly. Riiiight, I think, squinting at them both. This is all just about dinner. Mom looks at Dad and smiles, totally ignoring my squinting glare, then points to the oven.
"Would you mind pulling the chicken out, Nicci?" Still squinting, I pull open the oven and do as she asked. Then I bring three plates to the table, along with forks and knives and glasses for us all. Dad takes the chicken and cuts it up, Mom dishes it all onto our plates (along with some sort of vegetable), and I pour water into everyone's glass. Then I sit down and stare at Mom and Dad, who are, in turn, staring at me. Each of them have their forks in their hands, and after squinting at them for a few more seconds, I, too, take up my fork. Just as I go to take a bite, Mom says, "Why don't we pray first?" It's enough to make me choke on my food. We haven't prayed in a long time, not since I started elementary school. And that was over ten years ago.
"Uh, okay?" Something's definitely going on.
"That's a great idea," Dad says, putting down his fork. Then he grabs Mom's hand, who then grabs my hand, and I'm left with no other choice but to reach across the table and take Dad's other hand. And so it goes; Dad prays, and Mom and I listen. "Amen."
"Well then, now that that's all done," Mom says, a bit too casually for my taste. Here it comes... "Your teacher called me today. Mr. Burke." I groan and drop my fork. "What's that all about?"
"Probably nothing. He hates me." I cross my arms. "What did he say?" Mom takes a rather large bite of chicken and takes her own sweet time chewing. Then she says,
"He called to talk about your grades. You're failing." I close my eyes. Mom sighs, takes another bite, chews slowly, and says, "You want to tell me why?" I sigh.
"No, not really." There's no way I could tell her the reason why I'm failing. 'Gee, Mom, I'm real sorry that I'm failing, but it's not my fault. Really it isn't. You know that guy that comes over sometimes and tells me stuff, and pretends to help me with my homework, and you think he's real sweet and that he's my boyfriend? Well he's not. His name is Paul and he's a bully. And I'm his favorite little girl to pick on, because I'm real quiet and never fight back like Daddy taught me to in the fourth grade, and he just happens to do his worst right before fifth period, which is Mr. Burke's class.' Yeah, that would go over real smoothly. She'd probably accuse me of lying. Then she'd accuse me of taking advantage of her soft side. And then she'd call a counselor or something and force me to talk to them to see if I might actually be telling the truth. Yeah. Not gonna happen. "Nope, I'm good." Mom frowns.
"Nicci. You're failing. Failing! How do you fail an English class?" By now Mom's done eating, and Dad is nowhere to be found. I look over at the clock on the stove. Five minutes to six. Sneaky bass turd. Mom snaps her fingers in front of my face and asks me again. "How?" I shrug.
"I don't know. Pretty easy, I guess..?" She sighs and shakes her head.
"Why, though? I mean, are you missing work? Skipping? It must be the missing work. Your attendance is almost perfect." See? Told you. "Nicci, honey, I want you to talk to Mr. Burke tomorrow, okay?" I roll my eyes.
"Only if it'll make you shut up."
"I was kidding, Mom. Sure, first thing tomorrow I'll talk to him. Can I go now?" I'm not hungry. Not anymore. Not when I've got Paul on my mind again. Just the thought of him makes me want to hurl. "Please?" Mom smiles and nods, and for the first time today I notice how tired and old she looks. I hope I don't look like that when I get older. If I get older, anyway.
"Sleep well, Nicci." I nod and stand up, then shovel my food into the garbage. Mom doesn't object to this. My family has never been afraid of wasting what we can always buy the next day.
"You too, Mom. I'll take care of the dishes." She nods and stands up, kisses me on the forehead, and walks down the hallway to her and Dad's room. "Great.." I hate doing dishes. Absolutely, positively hate it. But the sight of Mom's dark circles is enough to make me clean the entire house, I swear. Poor Mom. Getting old must suck.
~ ~ ~
You know what else sucks? Planning to talk to your teacher about making up work and whatnot after walking into class on time for once, only to find he isn't even there yet. And to make it even worse, the same guy is sitting in my seat. So once again, I'm forced to sit next to Jared. Woo-hoo. This time when I sit down he doesn't glance at me. Not that I can tell, anyway.
"Dude, did Burke, like, die?" some preppy blond chick up in the front asks the whole classroom. Nobody bothers to answer her. But the conversation does shift a little, and soon everyone's talking about death this and death that. It's kind of annoying. I sigh rather loudly and lay my head down on my desk.
"God, just kill me now," I groan, closing my eyes. If God hears me, he doesn't bother answering. But I do have a headache..
~ ~ ~
Paul catches me right after fifth. In case you're wondering, Paul's a big guy. Standing at almost six foot six, he practically towers over everyone else in the school. Except a couple of the football players.
"Hey Doll," he cooes, pushing me up against the wall. "I missed you earlier." I gulp back some of my fear and look him in the eye.
"I'm sorry. I got.. held up.." The lie sounds silly even to my ears. Paul's not stupid. He knows when somebody's avoiding him. Especially when that somebody is me. Which is why he presses me up even harder against the wall.
"That's an effin' lie, Darlin', and you know it," he hisses in my ear. "Now, tell me I'm wrong." I don't say anything at first. But when he pulls back and roughly grabs my jaw, I squeak out a,
"Y-you're right." I'm afraid, honestly. As well as being really tall, Paul is really strong. All it would take is one wrong word on my part and he'd break my jaw. Or something.
"That's right," he says softly, turning my head left and right, as if he's looking for something on my face. "Now say it again, a little louder. And no st-st-stuttering."
"You're right." With a smile, he loosens his grip on my face and puts an arm on either side of me, basically trapping me, so that he's leaning against the wall. Immediately, I look down at the floor, hoping he's finished. He's silent for a while, and then he starts tracing my jaw line with his fingertips. I almost flinch, but I don't. That would piss him off.
"Look up at me." I do. His face is a bit too close for comfort. "You know how I know you lied?" I start to say something, and then I stop. Shake my head. He chuckles, and leans a little closer. "You really want to know?" My heart is now pounding in my chest. So I shake my head again. "I can't hear you," he says, slowly. I can hear him grit his teeth. I gulp back more of my fear.
"Y-yes?" He leans in even closer.
"Because you're nothing." Once again, that feeling errupts in my chest. It feels like someone is taking a razor blade and just meticulously cutting at my heart and lungs. I swallow down tears and nod. He's right, of course. No, he's not! something inside me shouts. I mute it out.
"I know." A tear dribbles down my cheek, and Paul wipes it away.
"Don't cry, Dear," he cooes. "I know the truth hurts, but it's easier if you just take it like a man." I close my eyes and nod, and he walks away. As soon as he's around the corner, I accept that my knees are going to give out, and I crash to the floor. I will not cry, I will not cry, I will not cry, I will.. not.. cry..
It doesn't matter how many times I think and mouth the words, the tears come anyway. I quiet my sobbing for just a second to see if anyone is around, and when I don't see anybody I lower my head into my arms and continue to let the sobs rack my body. A bell rings, off in the distance. The warning bell saying that sixth is about to start. Amazing, what somebody can do to you in just five minutes.
"Why do you let him do that?" I freeze, cutting off mid-sob. I swallow down bile and rub my eyes, then look up. Though my vision is blurry, I can still make out a tall, dark figure. Jared. I know I should ignore him, maybe even get up and run into the bathroom. But against my better judgement, I answer him.
"D-do what?" My voice sounds weak and raspy, and it kind of hurts to speak. Jared sighs and squats down in front of me.
"You know. Talk to you.. like that. It's cruel, Nicci." I clear my throat and shrug.
"It's not cruel," I argue, frowning. "It's just.. Paul. It's how he.." I don't even know what to say. It is cruel, what he does to me, and I know it. So why am I defending him even in the slightest?
"How long has it been happening?" Jared's sitting next to me now, staring intently at me. I shrug.
"And how long is a while?" I shrug again.
"I don't know. I stopped counting after the tenth time.." I glance over at Jared and see the angry glare on his face. It's scary. So I look back in front of me and stare out the window, and think of a way to change the subject. "How long have you been standing there?"
"A while." I frown.
"And how long is a while?" I look over at him and watch the way his bottom lip twitches. He shrugs.
"I dunno. I stopped counting after ten minutes." A smile tugs at the corner of my mouth, and I have to clear my throat and sigh to try and stop it from happening. It happens anyway. "Come on," he says after a while, standing up and offering me his hand. I look at it for a good few seconds and then take it. He reaches down and grabs my bag, hoists it over his shoulder, and starts walking towards the doors. Since he has my bag (and I really don't feel like going to class) I follow him, out the doors and all the way across the parking lot.
"Where are we going?" He twists a little and smiles at me.
"You'll see." We stop beside a red toyota and Jared pulls out a set of keys. "Get in," he says, opening the passenger door and tossing my bag inside. I look around once before I hop in and pull the seatbelt over me. Jared jumps in right after me and puts the key in the ignition. The car starts up momentarily and he backs it up and pulls out of the school parking lot. We drive in silence for a couple minutes, and then he says, "I hope you're hungry." My stomach gurgles in response. He glances over and me and smiles, then turns at a light. "So uh, you're a.. junior?" I nod.
"Yeah. I'm actually ahead for my age. I'm supposed to be a sophomore." He nods. My turn to ask questions. "Why don't you ever talk?"
"I'm talking right now," he chuckles. I roll my eyes.
"I mean before, like in English. You're always so quiet. Everyone thinks you're a mute or something." He laughs.
"Seriously? That's a new one." I raise a brow. He looks over at me and sees it, and says, "Most people just assume I'm stupid or something. Or that I'm secretly plotting something evil and horriffic." I smile.
"And are you?" He grins.
"Maybe. You'll never know."
"Ooh, sounds mysterious," I say in my wavering ghost voice, wriggling my eyebrows. Jared doesn't see it. "Where are we going? You still haven't told me."
"Hm.. How do you feel about.. sushi?" I sniff.
"I've never tried it." With a gasp, he pulls into a vacant parking lot and twists in his seat after the car is parked.
"What? You've never- are you kidding me? Dear God, this is worse than I expected!" I giggle and look at the floor. He pats my arm and then pulls back out of the parking lot and drives a few more blocks before pulling into another parking lot, this time one that isn't vacant. "I think it's time we de-virginized you of the awesomeness," he says, all serious-like. "Come on, in you go!"
"Hey, wait, what are you-!" One minute I'm sitting in the car, and the next I'm being tossed over his shoulder. "Jared, what are you doing?" He laughs and walks into a restaurant. Thankfully, there's nobody in the place but us.
"Hey, Jimmy, hurry up!" Jared hollers, ringing a bell. I hear loud footsteps approach and a door opens and shuts, and Jared clears his throat. "Hey, Jim-bo, up here, not over there." I blush. I mean come on, it's obvious that's he's got to be staring at my.. yeah. You know.
"Jared, put me down!" I whisper, tapping his back. He chuckles, and I can feel it in my stomach. "Jared!" I whine.
"I need the sushi platter, Jimmy. Make it good." I can tell he's smiling.
"Aw man, you've got another one?" Another what?
"Yup! And I want her first time to be unforgettable. Can you do that for me?" Both men chuckle and I roll my eyes.
"Sure thing, Jared. It'll be a little while. Why don't you go sit down and I'll bring it to you?" Jared says thank you and turns back towards the way we came in, and I just barely catch a glimpse of a blushing young man disappearing into the kitchen. When Jared sets me down in a chair, I cross my arms and glare at him.
"That wasn't cool," I say, pouting. He smiles and playfully taps my shoulder.
"You'll get over it.
~ ~ ~
I did, by the way. Get over it, I mean.
After the de-virginizing me of the sushi "awesomeness", Jared and I chat about stuff. Lots of stuff. So much stuff, in fact, that I don't even remember what all we cover, exactly. But I do know that he's just about the nicest person I've ever met.
"Thanks for the sushi," I say as we climb back into his car. He looks over at me and smiles.
"You're welcome. It's been a while since I've been out like that, with a friend." I nod, feeling slightly special. "So uh, do you want me to take you home now, or what?"
"Home, I guess. If you don't mind, I mean," I say quickly, buckling my seatbelt. "It's uh, over on 8th street. Right by the high school." He nods and turns onto the right street, and the rest of the ride home is quiet. When we reach my house, he pulls into the driveway, noticing right away that no other cars are there.
"Are your parents home?" I shake my head.
"Nope. My mom won't get home till a while later, and my dad.." I look at the clock. "He just left for work half an hour ago. Why?" Jared drums his fingers along the steering wheel. "Jared?" He looks over at me.
"What? Oh, uh, sorry. No reason, I was just curious. I'll uh, see you later?" I smile and nod.
"Yeah, that'd be great." He smiles and gets out of the car, walks around to my side, and opens the door for me. "My my, don't I feel like a princess," I joke, getting out.
"Good," he says, smiling. "Come on, I'll walk you up."
~ ~ ~
When I was little, I used to wrap a towel around my shoulders and run around, pretending to be a super hero. Super Girl, The Incredible Helper, Wonder Rag (that one was because of my dirty blond hair). But as I got older, I started to lose my imagination. And when I hit middle school, instead of wanting to be a super hero, I wished for one. I would go to bed almost every single night, praying that a big, strong man would suddenly appear by my side and sweep me up off my feet and away from all the big bad bullies. Obviously, that didn't happen. And after a while, I stopped praying for one altogether. For four years, I didn't even so much as think about a hero coming to save me. Because I knew if I did, then it definitely wouldn't happen. And I just couldn't chance it.
~ ~ ~
"My, Honey, you're looking.. extremely happy, tonight," my mom says. It's Saturday. My birthday, actually. It's the one day of the year when my parents let me do whatever I want without consequences. Drink whatever, eat whatever, even smoke whatever, if I so wished. But I didn't. Smoking's bad, drinking gets old, and eating? Well.. The only thing I've craved lately is sushi, sushi, sushi. Thanks to you-know-who.
"I am happy, Mom," I say, smiling. "Really, really happy." She smiles and hugs me, as does my dad, and then they hand me a small box with a note card on it. "Have a nice night, Nicci." Then they walk down the hall and into their room. I smile and plop down on the couch, and take the note card off of the box.
I smile. Of course, my parents would be in on it. As soon as they'd met Jared, they'd practically fallen in love with him. My mom especially. They even talk when I'm not here. It's like he gets along with everybody, once he opens his mouth and starts to spill. It's one of the many things I like about him.
Tucking the note inside my pocket, I stand up and shout down the hall, "Mom, Dad, I'm stepping outside!" They shout a response that's quickly cut off by something.. too intense to talk about.. and I smile and walk to the front door. Before I step out I pull on a jacket. It's starting to get chilly at night. I don't want to get sick.
There's nobody outside when I step out. It's cold. Cold enough that I can see my breath. "Jared?" I whisper, looking around. The only light, a street lamp down the block, shines dully. A while back there was a thunder storm, and somehow the lights on my block all got knocked out. The city's too lazy to have someone come and fix them. "Jared, come on. It's cold." Where are you? I think, rubbing my arms. If he's not here in two minutes, I'm going back inside. He can just text me or something.
Two minutes go by, and just as I'm opening the front door I hear a twig break behind me. I smile. "Jared, what took-" I choke back my words as I turn around to see who it is.
"Hello, Nicci. Nice to see you, too." I swallow the bile that's rising in my throat.
"P-Paul?" When I say his name, he smiles. It makes me want to hurl. "What are you d-doing here?" He takes a step forward and on instinct, I take a step back. Or at least I try to. The door is in my way. "Where's Jared?" He chuckles and shakes his head.
"Don't know. Don't really care. How've you been, Nicci? It's been a while since I saw you last." Come to think of it, it has been a while since Paul last picked on me. I've been by Jared's side for at least the past month, and Paul's never been one to pick on me when I'm around people. Especially other men. Especially other tall men.
"I've b-been, uh, g-good," I manage to say, despite the cold and fear that's slowly building up inside of me. "H-how've you been?" He takes a deep breath and lets it out, taking yet another step closer.
"I've been better." He steps even closer and leans down, placing his mouth by my ear. "I've missed you, though," he murmurs. I close my eyes and turn my head as chills run down my spine.
"I wish I could say the same." The words are out of my mouth before I can censor them. With a gasp, I open my eyes and look up at him. Thank God it's too dark to see his face. The look in his eyes would most likely kill me on the spot. He pulls away and puts his hands on his hips and starts to pace in little circles, an obvious sign that I've pissed him off. Before I even realise what I'm doing, I say, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it." He stops mid-pace and stares at me, probably deciding whether or not I really am sorry.
"Yes, I bet you are." In one stride he's pressing up against me, one hand in my hair, pulling my head back, and the other caressing my face. "And if you aren't.. you will be." His lips are suddenly pressing against mine, hard. My body jerks without my approval and before I know it I'm shoving him off of me with both arms. Startled, he stumbles slightly, and before he can touch me again I slap him good and hard, and then make a run for it. But I don't run for my house, like a smart little rabbit. Instead, I run around the corner of my house, heading for my backyard. It's the stupidest thing I've done all day.
Behind me, I hear Paul cursing and stumbling after me. I don't think he's ever been slapped before. And if he has, I highly doubt it's been by a girl. Gasping for air as I reach my fence, I try to climb over it. Truth be told, I've never climbed a fence in my life. At least not one this high. The sound of Paul's heavy footsteps and his cursing gets louder, and I start to panic. If Paul catches me...
I don't finish the thought. Paul can't catch me. Not if I try harder. With a growl, I back up and run at the fence. If I hit it at just the right angle..
Something big and hard rams into me from behind, sending me face first into the fence. It breaks as the weight of me and what could only be Paul crash into it, and we fall to the ground. I hear Paul groan and mutter a curse, and before he can stand up I roll over and kick out, getting him square in the chest. He falls back to the ground and I jump up, my feet already carrying me closer and closer to my back door. I don't remember slowing down, but I must have, because right as I reach the door I'm suddenly yanked up off the ground and thrown backwards. All the air in my lungs whooshes out of me as I hit the ground, and for a moment I'm stunned. Before I can even roll over onto my stomach, in an attempt to crawl, Paul is already picking me up, my arms pinned to my sides. "Paul.." It comes out as a faint whisper. He doesn't even hear it.
The sound of water meets my ears, and with a start it hits me: the pool. Aw hell, why'd I run to the backyard?!
By now, Paul is almost halfway to the pool. With as much strength as I can muster, I try to fight back. I try kicking, hitting, yelling, even biting. Everything only pisses him off further. "Shut up, you effin..!" He doesn't finish the sentence. Instead he throws me to the ground, right by the edge of the pool. I cough a little and roll away from the edge. "Oh no you don't," he grunts, grabbing my leg. I screech and kick out at him, nailing him in the face. I hear a satisfying crunch as his nose breaks, possibly shatters, and for a moment I'm ecstatic. But then the fear returns as I realise not only have I pissed him off even more, but he now has an even bigger reason to throw me in that pool and drown me.
"Oh.. Crap!" Gasping, I pull myself up onto my hand and knees and try to run. Once again, I get all the way to the back door before he grabs me, this time hitting me in the back of the head beforehand. My knees buckle and Paul lets me hit the ground before he grabs my arms and drags me towards the pool, just a like a rag-doll. "Jared," I moan. I'm seeing stars, and there's a very painful throbbing in the back of my brain. Paul stops dragging me and chuckles.
"Moan all you want, Nicci. Your Jared ain't coming." Tears trickle down my cheeks. He's right. The note wasn't from Jared. It was from Paul. For all I knew, Jared could be out of state, it being a break and all. I'm going to die, I thought suddenly, choking on a sob as Paul turned me around so that my head was just above the water. I'm going to die, and I'm going to die in my very own backyard. My parents can't even hear me...
As Paul lowers my head to the icy water, a scream bursts forth from my throat. Paul curses and violently shoves my head beneath the water, choking me off. I gulp in water that freezes my throat and trickles into my lungs. I never realised how utterly disgusting chlorine tastes. My arms fly up and grab a hold of Paul's shirt. I yank on it, trying to pull him off balance. It works. Paul falls into the water, pulling me in with him, and for a second he's underwater. He's under long enough for me to bring my head above the water and take a couple of deep breaths and cough up some water. "Help.." I croak, just as Paul reappears and pushes me back under. We're in the shallow end. I can tell because when I open my eyes, Paul is above the water, and the bottom of the pool is grazing my back every now and then. My survival insticts start to kick in, and before long I'm struggling against Paul's hold on me, kicking up at him and lashing out with my hands. I get a couple of slaps in before he starts to shake me, which causes my head to start pounding. As soon as I stop thrashing about, he stops shaking me, and the headache starts to fade away.
With a scream that only gives off bubbles, I let out my breath, giving up. My vision fades in and out, growing fuzzier and fuzzier, until I close my eyes. The last thing I want to see before I die is Paul's face. My head starts to throb again, this time dull instead of sharp. It doesn't hurt as bad. My body starts to get heavier, and I sink to the bottom. My body twitches as it starts to shut down. There's a light.
They say that when you're dying, you either see a light or you see hell. This definitely wasn't hell. But then again, how could I be so sure it was really a light, too?
Something jabs my side. I barely feel it, but I know it happens. Above the dull thudding of my fading heartbeat, I hear distorted voices. Yelling. Screaming. Sobbing? Something wraps around me and lifts me up. It feels like I'm floating, up and up and up. Towards Heaven? I don't know.
I hit the surface. It's warm, yet still cold. The distorted voices and noises are slowly fading away.
Something grabs my face. Rough, yet not so rough. It feels nice.
A bright light shines into my eyes. It's all I see, besides the black. Something slaps my face, forces it's way down my throat. I spit up whatever's in my body. I take a shallow breath, let it back out. Take another. Someone speaks. Hysterical, shrieking sobs, amongst angry voices and soft, feathery touches. I lean towards the touches. It feels so much better than what was touching me before. Someone murmurs a name. Nicci. My name?
I know that voice.
"Jared," I whisper. My voice is hoarse, raspy, like I haven't spoken for years. My throat burns, like someone's poured chemicals down it. "Jared," I whisper, louder. Almost a moan. My eyes flutter open. I'm blinded by bright, evil lights. The ground moves beneath me. It scares me, but I know it's good.
"Hey! Hey, you, she's awake! She's awake, oh, thank God, she's awake!" Blurry figures block out the light. For that, I'm grateful. The figures above me touch my face, shine a light into my eyes, poke my wrists. A sharp jab. Needle, I think. IV. Lifesaver.
"Nicci, can you hear me?" I turn toward the voice.
"Jared?" Someone takes my hand, squeezes it. I try to squeeze back. My hands are cold. So cold, I don't even know if they moved or not. "Jared, what..?"
"They're gonna knock you out, okay Nicci?" I nod. A knock out sounds good. "I'll be right here, Nicci. Don't worry. I'm right here..."
~ ~ ~
The thing about wishes, is, you don't always know if they'll come true. Some wishes just lay dormant in your mind and you forget all about them. Some times you remember them. Most times you don't. It's like they never existed. And if they do come true, you forget them after a while. Forget how badly you wanted it. Prayers, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. They're stronger, more powerful, somehow. And when a prayer is answered, it's likely that you'll remember it for the rest of your life.
When I was younger, I used to wish every night for a hero to come and save me. Then I gave up wishing and switched to praying. I used to have a type of hero I wanted. Batman. Superman. Mr. Incredible. Even the Hulk. But during these last few months, something occurred to me.
It doesn't matter what you want. It doesn't even matter who you want. It doesn't matter if your hero wears a cape, or a costume, or if he's strong and handsome. It doesn't even matter if he's there to sweep you off your feet and carry you off into the sunset in the end. The only thing that really matters is that he's there to save you when you need it most, and hold onto you until you're strong enough to carry yourself again.