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The Journal (Part 7)
I dropped the pen I had been tapping against the pages, trying to think of a way to word the next part, and glanced up at the door. My hiding place was simple yet effective: the enclosed porch. No one came out here since it was my grandmother’s cat’s domain, and she, the cat, didn’t like people in her territory. I had simply taken one step on the floor and she hissed at me. I held her gaze and said, “I’m staying here whether I have to kill you or not.” I barely spoke above a whisper, but after having a staring contest for another minute, she mewed gently, rubbed against my legs and hands when I bent to pet her as to claim me as hers, and disappeared amongst the exercise equipment no one has used since we got too heavy to use one pedal each on the bike.
Sticking his head through the door nervously was my cousin, Mickey. A furry head poked out from beneath the bike, mewed impatiently, and disappeared again. Either she was planning to use guerilla warfare, or she was going to let Mickey join me.
I attempted a smile, “Oh Mickey what a pity you don’t understand; you take me by the heart when you take me by the hand.” My attempt at a smile was an epic fail, and my voice refused to take the rhythm or even the tone of the words.
At twenty-seven, Mickey is exactly twelve years older than me. As he likes to remind me every year, the day belonged to him first, so I need to step back. I always reply that I was born an hour before him, so my birthday actually happens before his every year. He also likes to remind me that when I was a baby he would spend hours playing with me, even though he was only about thirteen, and that, in return, I should be spending all my time playing with his baby girl. I actually remember playing with him when I was little, although the earliest was when it was around my third birthday. He was the only one who could get me to behave or eat correctly when we went anywhere. When he enlisted in the army, I was the saddest to see him go and the happiest to see him when he got home. When he moved to Texas, I bid him and his girlfriend farewell at the latest time at the airport as possible. I kept in constant touch with him.
I hadn’t known he was here. I had to guess Mom and Dad didn’t tell me.
“You really should be playing with Kristin, you know.”
I shrugged, closed my journal, and arranged the journal and pen neatly on the ground next to me. Mickey stepped down the stairs, closing the door behind him, and sat next to me. Nobody said anything. I rested my head against the wall at my back, my eyes closed. The silence stretched. Mickey and I were always messing around, so silence around him was practically torture. Eventually, it got the better of me.
“How’s life in Texas?”
“Full of sexy cowboys and gorgeous girls with French braids in cow-patterned skirts. I’m hoping Kris grows up into the style.”
I couldn’t help but smile and relax, imagining cute little Kristin dressed as a cowgirl. She was even more adorable.
Mickey flicked my nose and spoke gently, “There’s the smile I have been waiting for.”
I tried to bite his fingers, making him laugh, and said, “I was imagining you dressed as a cowboy holding little cowgirl Kris. The difference between gorgeous and ‘ew, don’t look!’ were so obvious.”
He gasped, pretending to be offended, “Did you just call my daughter ugly?”
I rolled my eyes, “Nope, I said that she didn’t get her beauty from you.”
He laughed, and then I sensed a turn in the conversation. I have refused to talk to him ever since I came back, and the easy banter proved that he understood completely. Of my family, he was definitely one of Zelda’s favorites. I had a feeling he was about to breach a subject and try to get me to come out of hiding and join the family for the Tenth Annual Wolf Pack Olympics.
Yes, Mickey and I started it. It’s my team verse his team, but we pick new teams every year, and the winning team gets the giant gift box full of whatever Grandma decided. So far, I have gathered a Cat-in-the-Hat hat, an “I’m the Mini Wolf in the Pack” t-shirt, a Mrs. Clause costume, and fuzzy, cheetah-patterned slippers. He won the other five years. This was my year to redeem myself.
We’ll see about that.
“Hey Sour Patch Sister,” Mickey said quietly, “the shadow proves the sunshine.”
“My heart is darker than these oceans,” I whispered, “My heart is frozen underneath.”
Our conversations go like this a lot, using music lyrics and simple phrases that the other fully understands. Mickey doesn’t even really know what happened. No one except me does, yet he seems to get it as easily as he can tell when I’m happy or not.
“Two scared little runaways?” This seemed to be a question, and I knew he was referring to me and Zelda. I nodded slightly. It fit well enough. He continued. “Hold fast to the break of daylight where….”
“The shadow proves the sunshine,” I said, and I knew we were done with the Switchfoot lyrics. Mickey wrapped his arms around me in a hug, his voice soft and soothing, “It’s over, Sheik.”
“But it’s not. I can still see…hear…feel….”
I can still remember the many times they tried to get me to go to therapy.
Mickey seemed to stiffen, and I could practically feel his subtle, controlled anger. He knew enough about what happened to know what I was talking about, and he didn’t like it at all. I knew he wanted to kill them and that he was so mad he didn’t have a chance to. He suddenly shifted, and I was soon on my stomach with his hands loosening the knots in my back. Massage is a calming exercise for him and wasn’t his career, but with his skill, it might as well have been. It’s one thing guaranteed to make me completely relax and my mind to go blank.
Knowing this, I knew it was his intention all along, as well as to release his own anger. Still, with his hands working magic on my tightened muscles, I wasn’t complaining about his trickery.
Ten minutes later, Mickey flicked my ear, “Let’s go gather the Pack.”
The door burst open, startling all of us fully awake and conscious and straining our nerves, or at least mine. It was still pitch dark, and I couldn’t see who was storming into the room or how big they are. I could hear the other girls giving into them, all except Zelda, who grunted from a hit. When hands found me, I let them drag me out of the room and push me after the other five. Crystal looked impassive, which wasn’t as surprising as it should’ve been. Esme, Alice, and Rosalie were all scared to death. Zelda looked as if she wanted revenge for the beating, but I knew she knew we were in way over our heads.
At least, I’d hope she knew that by now.
As we passed doors, one of us was shoved in them at a time. Crystal went first, than Zelda, Esme, Alice, Rosalie, and finally, at the last door, me. These people had a precision operation going on here. It’s a little more creepy than scary to me, but it’s still scary. There’s no way I’m going to deny that. The door closed behind me, and a lock clicked into place.
I imagined seeing Jack behind the door again, and within the next three seconds the time I spent in the room with him flashed through my mind. I heard all his whispers, saw every image, felt every touch, smelled his smell, and tasted…everything. I probably would’ve curled into a fetal position and cried if a voice hadn’t broken into my thoughts.
“Hey, SweeTart, how’s it going?”
I didn’t turn around. I just stared at the door and swallowed, waiting. After a while of silence, I took a deep breath. I still didn’t turn around, but I spoke.
“What, are you going to introduce a new kind of torture now? Maybe make me cut off my own fingers or shoot myself in the foot?”
I heard a light laugh from behind me. I sighed and reached out, my fingers skimming over the red paint coating the wood of the door. I closed my eyes, listened to the laughter that echoed in my mind, and then opened them again. I stared at the door, focusing on the way the paint felt beneath my fingertips.
More suggestions of torture they could put me through started flashing through my mind, and suddenly my imagination was going wild. I saw myself die fifteen different ways in less than a minute.
I could see my blood, the same red as the door
Flowing through the cracks and towards the floor
I could see my fingers, still slightly warm
Still the same size, still the same form
I could see my eyes, staring blankly into the air
I could see my skin, growing more and more fair
I could see myself, see my arms, legs, and head
See my hands, my feet, see everything…dead.
You probably won’t believe this, but that was what I was thinking after the images stopped and just seconds before the nerves on my shoulder tingled in reaction to a light touch. I was absolutely shocked that I didn’t jump.
“Look at me.” The voice was gently commanding.
“Go jump off a cliff and let me pick up the pieces.”
A force so strong I couldn’t resist if I tried my hardest yanked on my shoulder. I would’ve flown straight onto my butt if he hadn’t kept a hold on my shirt, using the momentum to spin me around and follow it up by slamming me against the wall as hard as he could. My head smashed against the red, and suddenly my vision was flashing and blurring and blacking out and my head swam and I probably would’ve passed out or fallen over if he hadn’t been holding me up by the front of my shirt and whispering to me.
“Behave, SweeTart, or you’re going to get a rude awakening you’ll regret for the rest of your life.”
My vision completely cleared, and I found myself looking at a face I vaguely remembered. Suddenly, I put two and two together and realized that he was the boy from the stage, the one who called me a star. He seemed nice before, but now he’s being a total jerk. I scowled at him.
“I think I’ve already had one, thanks to you.”
He pulled on the front of my shirt until I was about a foot and a half from the wall. I immediately knew what he was going to do, and responded to the inevitable pain by grabbing his shirt in one hand and his wrist in the other. A gasp slipped from my lips before I could stop it, “No!”
I hit the wall, but it definitely wasn’t nearly as hard as it could’ve been. My head still swam, and my vision went black while I was still conscious. I barely heard him speaking, and I couldn’t make out the words. A few seconds later, I could feel hands on me, never straying from my arms or shoulders, guiding me until I was sitting, hard surfaces beneath my butt and behind my back. I was in a chair. The hands continued to move, checking my pulse in three places and feeling my forehead. Murmuring that sounded concerned but was unintelligible to me filled my ears.
Slowly, light filtered into my sight. I could make out what was around me. I saw more as my vision kept clearing. Someone was leaning against the wall on the other side of the room. There was a lot of furniture, including a bed and a loveseat and at least one other chair besides the one I was on. Paintings hung on the wall, most of them bright colors. Everything was so bright. I kept my eyes open, blinking fiercely and letting my eyes water as they adjusted. Eventually, I buried my face in my hands, groaning in response to the killer headache that was starting behind my eyes.
“SweeTart? Sheik? Can you hear me?”
I winced against his voice, even though it was only a whisper, and nodded.
He sighed, and even that made my head hurt worse.
A pill was placed into my hands, and a glass of water. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want him to slam me into any more walls, or possibly even do something worse. I was done defying someone so strong, at least for now. Blinking against the light again, I threw the pill in my mouth, emptied half the water behind it, and swallowed with a prayer running through my mind.
I won, and this year I got a sweatshirt covered in little elves with a huge Santa and Mrs. Claus on the back. I planned on wearing it April Fool’s Day.
Afterwards, Mickey told me to put on my socks and shoes and change into the jeans my parents brought in case I decided to “be a normal person for once.” I knew that translated to “please go to a psychiatrist or get out of your funk before more people think we’re horrible parents when we go anywhere.” They don’t think I see right through them.
Once changed and covered up with a thick coat, gloves, and a scarf against the cold, Mickey led me outside and down the hill my grandmother’s house sat upon. We joked along the way as if it was old times, before he watched people die right in front of him and before I watched people die and did things I probably shouldn’t have. Things lifted from my shoulders that I thought never would, simply by being with my second favorite person.
We reached the bottom of the hill. He led me into the middle of the field at the bottom, picked up a snowball and lobbed it at me. I dodged it easily, and soon we were in a full out war, covered in snow, and not caring about the cold at all. Then we were side by side in the snow, the outline of angels all around us, and not moving at all.
“I’ve missed you, Sheik.”
“I missed you too, Mickey.”
“Sheik,” he whispered, “you aren’t the same.”
“Neither are you.”
I expected a Touché, but it didn’t come.
“At least I know how to deal with what I’ve seen, and at least most of it is easy to say goodbye and get passed. There’s nothing that’ll make me want to miss seeing my family and competing with the pack.”
“Don’t lie to me, Sheik. I know you too well.”
I stared at the stars littering the skies above me by the millions, from bright ones to dim ones to red ones to blue ones, and realized he was right.
Did you really think I was going to admit it?
“Let me know when you’re ready to tell the truth.”
We stood up and walked back up the hill to my grandmother’s house in silence. He wasn’t p***ed off; he just wanted me to know that he was ready to listen whenever I was ready to talk. I didn’t have the guts to tell him that I never want to talk about any of that ever again, and that writing it in the privacy of my room is bad enough.
We got back up to the house and walked in the door, ditching all of our wet clothes and our shoes. I changed back into what I was wearing originally, and we joined our family in the living room. Presents were already scattered across the room in the piles designated for every member of the family. My pile was bigger than it usually is, and I had absolutely no doubt as to why. I sat next to it, and Mickey took his place beside me. The first thing I unwrapped was pepper-spray, a pocket-knife, and a book of ways to defend yourself and survive in any situation. I was about to get mad until I saw that it was from my uncle, who brought a “Get Well Soon” card to my grandfather’s funeral, and then I saw the note that said, “You’ll get ‘em next time, princess!” I knew there was a reason he was my favorite.
I suddenly couldn’t be mad at him anymore, and I walked over to him, hugged him, and whispered, “Thanks for not changing just to pretend you care.” I knew no one else could hear me. His light laugh shook his whole body, “My pleasure, Sheik.”
The pill kicked in very quickly, and two minutes later I looked up without the light bothering me, glared at the boy who was now across the room again, and hissed between clenched teeth, “Do they pay you to beat up on little girls, or what?”
He watched me, and I had to guess he was assessing every time I moved to make sure I was healthy. He was completely calm when he spoke, “Yeah, they pay me to kill them too.”
I rolled my eyes, “Scary. I’ll run and duck for cover now.”
He crossed the room, grabbing the front of my shirt and pulling me to my feet. My eyes widened and I looked up at him, knowing full well I looked scared to death and having absolutely no idea how to change the expression. He slowly released me, “You talk a lot, but you don’t want to back up your words.”
“My words have nothing to do with me getting slammed into a wall and blacking out, genius.”
He threw his hands into the air, making me duck back in case he was going to hit me. Instead, he cried out, “Listen to me! You’re either going to do as I say and make your friend’s life a little easier, or you’re going to disobey me and you’re both going to go through hell. Bloody Mary is going to get it worse, because we all know that’s going to get to you worse. You can take the physical pain if you have to.”
He pushed me back as lightly as he could. I managed to keep my head from smashing against the wall.
“So tell me,” he whispered, using one arm to pin me against the wall and the other to brush my hair out of my eyes, “Are you going to listen to me, or are you going to watch me beat her to death?”
“You need a psychiatrist.”
He raised an eyebrow, muscles tensing. I swallowed.
“What do you want me to do?”
His lips twitched into a smile, and he kissed my forehead.
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"According to some, heroic deaths are admirable things. (Generally those who don't have to do it. Politicians and writers spring to mind.) I've never been convinced by this argument, mainly because, no matter how cool, stylish, composed, unflappable, manly, or defiant you are, at the end of the day you're also dead. Which is a little too permanent for my liking." — Jonathan Stroud (Ptolemy's Gate)