A wealthy teen tries to discover why his girlfriend is always secretive and frightened.
I pressed my fingertips deep inside the pockets of my black, leather jacket. The winter wind was not what I would call angry, but still, it was irritable enough to bring forth a burning chill. I had been dragging my feet across the same sidewalk for quite some time. Occasionally, a pebble or twig would distract me, and I would pause to kick it out of my way. Then again, some of the tiny hindrances just fed my troubled thoughts even more.
Sage Lunete Crewe. That was her name. She was the source of my pondering. I first met her six months ago; I’d not been able to remove her from my mind. I could still envision that moment as if it happened a mere hour before.
Around three miles from my family’s mansion (my parents are ridiculously wealthy) was a string of water, not large enough to be considered a river, but far too grand for one to address as a stream. The cool liquid was a welcomed relief from the heat of summer. I never did enjoy the season’s hotness in particular. To me, the rivulet was the equivalent of my own clubhouse, and made me feel as if I was living six years ago---the time when I was a boy of twelve measly years. Humble pines channeled a quiet breeze, which added to the pleasant sensation of solitude.
In technical terms, I had it all. Everything that I could envision anyone wanting was mine, and I was certain all of my peers referred to me as “another spoiled rich kid” behind my back.
If, truly, I had everything, why did I sometimes feel as if that simple river was the only thing of meaning in my life?
No. It was more than just valuable. It was a haven. The only escape I had from the misunderstandings of the real world.
Since my discovery of the forest playground, I realized something very important was missing in my life. No longer did I desire to live in the material world. I wanted something more than cloth or plastic. I desired something I could feel without having to touch it.
My parents had always provided for me. Not once had I ever felt needed by anyone. Perhaps that was what was creating an empty sensation in my soul.
Worthless. Useless. Insignificant. Those are the words that ring in my ears every time I think of myself. And there was another desire, something that every normal teenage boy wants: the love and affection of a girl. But what female in her right mind would love someone as worthless as I?
For six years, I had swum alone in the water. I was certain no one else knew of the little hideaway. I was wrong. As I crept behind a lofty evergreen---trying to obscure all six feet, five inches of my insanely tall frame---I spied with great fascination on a girl around my age---maybe a little younger---swimming.
She was fully clothed, wearing a teal, capped sleeve tee and dark blue jeans. A pair of teal, sneaker-like shoes waited on their owner by the shore. I decided to take a step closer. Crimped hair brighter than summer’s yellow sun reached the middle of her back, and wavy bangs brushed her higher eyelashes. The fair skin encompassing her slender, though shapely form captured sunbeams peering through the forest’s canopy. My mouth fell open a little. Never before had I seen a creature so perfect. Such natural beauty. I could do nothing but stand there. Perhaps that would buy me some time to think of something to say that wouldn’t make me sound like a complete idiot.
Before I could gather my thoughts, however, she spotted me. I’ll always remember the astonishment on her beautiful face. It was far greater than I would have expected. Sure, I had snuck up on her---somewhat---but the most I assumed she would do was gasp. The water around her seemed to turn into ice, supporting her frozen frame. Her teal eyes were wild, like a frightened doe facing the merciless hunter.
Often I questioned the matter; what man would take pleasure in killing another living thing? Why should an innocent doe lose its life? Because it can’t talk? Because of its natural instinct to flee? Or maybe even because it’s a female? I did not believe anyone would ever learn the answer to that question. Not even the hunter himself.
At this point, I had begun to approach the stream. She remained still.
“I’m sorry if I startled you,” I managed to say; somehow, I was able to flash her a smile as well, “Um… Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Azrael Angel Treloar. Weird, I know, but my mom was obsessed with angels for some reason. It’s kind of ironic, really, since my first name means ‘angel of death’, and my middle name’s meaning is obvious.”
I had just proven myself right: I had no time to think of something to say. Therefore, I’d just made an imbecilic impression on a lovely girl.
“I didn’t think anyone else knew about this place…” she replied, her voice justabove a whisper.
I took another step towards her, so I was standing on the shore, “Neither did I. That’s funny.”
Once again, I caught sight of her dark blue jeans lingering beneath the limpid brook’s skin, “Do you always swim in jeans?”
“Yes.” She answered me, but it was out of obligation. I’d met a few girls who were shy at my high school, but this girl was just plain terrified.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid,” I said in as cautious a voice as I could muster, “It’s like a haven for me, I guess you could say.”
“Why is that?” she asked.
“It’s stupid, really. For some reason, this place gives me a sense of value. I don’t feel as if my life has meaning.” I was taken aback by my own words. This girl, this stranger in the water was the only person I’d ever shared that with. Sometimes, I didn’t even like to remind myself of my true feelings.
“I’ve only been coming here for the past six months… but I feel the same way,” she spoke, her voice growing louder, and tense posture liquefying with every sentence spoken between us, “I’m Sage Lunete Crewe.”
“Sage,” I muttered, “Nice to meet you, Sage.”
“Would you… like to join me for a swim?” she asked with nothing more than a hint of hesitation in her voice.
“I’d love a good swim right now.”
And that is how it all began. We stayed in the water for nearly two hours that day---July 4th, 2005, the sun---brighter than my flaming orange hair---beating down on us through gaps in the forest’s canopy.
I’d never really believed in love at first sight. Not until that moment. When I returned home later that afternoon, I admitted it to myself: I was in love---with Sage Lunete Crewe. And I wanted her forever by my side.
A small weed protruding out of the sidewalk interrupted my reminiscing, and reminded me of yet another memory. Really, more of a clue to a mystery that I was still trying to solve at that very moment.
As I discovered the day at the rivulet, Sage lived in my neighborhood. Her father was wealthy as well, and owned the mansion a few blocks down from my family’s own estate. We had been spending time together nearly every day for the past three months. In that era, I had worked up the nerve to ask her to be my girlfriend. To my delight, she had said yes with gladness in those big, teal eyes.
However, when I had reached to hug her, she flinched, and pulled back at my touch. She’d blamed it on static electricity. I hadn’t believed her, and still didn’t at the moment, for that was not the first time she had shied away from my embrace.
One day, I had decided to surprise her with a visit. When I’d arrived at her mansion, a servant answered, and he led me to her room.
I surveyed the place. The décor was nice, but for some reason, I received an eerie vibe. Shrugging the strange sensation off, I went to knock on her door.
It had not been closed all the way, however, and glided open slightly at the touch of my knuckles; this time, instead of her freezing to the spot, my shoes were stapled behind the threshold.
Through the small opening, I could see Sage---far too well. She was standing beside of her bed, her shirt tied just above her waist. One of her hands were occupied by the largest bandage I’d ever seen. The other held another of equivalent size---with a large patch of crimson unevenly distributed in the center.
This, however, only complemented the heart of the scene.
My eyes fixated upon her abdomen. Honestly, I’m not sure how to describe what I saw, but I’ll try my best.
Her stomach had been swathed in serrated scars; some were fresh, others were old. The newest cut straight through her middle, making it look as if she did not even have a belly button. At some point through my dumbfounded trance, I must have gasped, for she swung around to face me---the jagged marks taking the appearance of dancing red flames as she revolved round.
“Azrael!” she exclaimed, shoving her shirt back down over her abdomen, “Wh… What are you doing here?” Something told me she would try to brush the subject off.
“I came to see you…” I began, pushing the door open all the way, and once inside, closed it behind me, “Sage… what on earth happened to you?”
“I… I just had my appendix out. Which reminds me, I’m sorry I never called you back; I forgot to tell you I was scheduled for that yesterday.”
“But some of these scars look fresher than the others. These are still open wounds, and the rest are completely healed.”
“You’re right. Some scars are older than the others.” I held my breath, and braced myself. I was afraid. Afraid of what could have happened to her. Or even worse: what was still happening to her.
“When I was a toddler,” she began, “I was far too curious for my own good. And when one of the gardeners walked away from a push mower without turning it off, you could probably guess what happened next. Evidently, I hadn’t understood why they’d made so much noise, and why the grass always looked like carpet when the sound went away. So I walked over to it, and explored. Somehow, I turned it over, and fell against the blades. I was very lucky someone helped me before it was too late.”
If there was one thing I’d discovered about Sage, it was that she had an answer for everything. Whether or not her replies were truthful was another story.
That day, with a kiss on her forehead, I let the subject go, although I did not want to.
Since I was deep in thought, Sage’s mansion seemed to jump in front of me from out of the blue; looking at it retrieved me from the second memory, and brought forth yet another.
This occurrence had taken place a mere week ago when I’d invited her to attend my family’s annual Thanksgiving formal party. She had not yet met my parents, and I’d wanted to introduce them.
The event began at seven o’clock sharp on Thanksgiving night. Each time the doorbell rang, I grew more and more anxious. I couldn’t wait for Sage to arrive. I couldn’t wait to show my parents, my brother, and everyone else that I had found the girl of mydreams.
At last, the bell I had been waiting for sounded. I raced to answer it, and yanked open the door. I was taken aback by the sight before me. No doubt the girl was Sage, but not my Sage. Not the Sage I had spent so many summer and fall days swimming with in our private rivulet.
She was wearing an immensely short, low-cut halter dress---or red paint; it was kind of hard to tell---as well as high heels of the same color to match. Crimson hue stained her voluptuous lips and the fair skin coating her eyelids. Her crimped, sunshine hair, however, cascaded beautifully behind her shoulders---as usual.
“Hey,” she began, nervousness evident on her face, “Am I too early, or too late? I hope I look alright. I wasn’t sure what to wear at a nice party like this. I’ve never really had a mother around to help me with that sort of thing.”
That sentence confirmed what I’d known all along. Even though her natural beauty was masked by heavy make-up, and somewhat cheap-looking attire, she was still the most innocent girl I’d ever met.
And I knew it was cliché, but Sage Lunete Crewe’s inner beauty bled into her still-lovely exterior that night.
“You could not be any more beautiful, Sage.” I took her hand, and led her inside.
My parents were huddled in deep conversation with one of my high school classmates.
Unity Sloan Everette. In the eyes of the world, she was perfect. The teachers adored her intellectual mind. My friends had pronounced her a goddess. And now, apparently, her good looks and charm had won over my parents as well.
I, however, remained unaffected. I had to admit it. She looked gorgeous, especially in that long, ice blue gown, matching her eyes with an uncanny likeness.
But she was far too shallow and worldly for my taste. I’d finally found something of incredible value with Sage. In my eyes, Sloan was both meaningless and of no worth.
“There you are, Azrael! I’ve been searching all over for you!” my mother, Stella Modesty Treloar exclaimed, “Come, I’d like to introduce you to Sloan. She’s the daughter of one of your father’s business associates.”
“I already know her, Mother,” I informed her, my tone polite, “We go to school together.”
“Well, Son, there’s no reason not to get to know her better,” my father, Arvel Rylan Treloar probed.
“But there’s someone I’d like for you…” I was interrupted by Sloan. As she progressed towards us, I wouldn’t have been surprised if thunder sounded in the background.
“Hi, Azrael.” She smoothed a caramel curl from her face, showing off its natural bright red highlights, and complementing her tight up-do, “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend? I don’t believe I’ve seen her around the school before.” She surveyed Sage, and I could tell by the way she turned her nose upwards---more than usual---that she would not approve of our relationship.
“Mother, Father… Sloan. This is Sage Lunete Crewe. She’s my GIRLFRIEND.” My mother’s face paled. I was certain my father was having a heart attack. And Sloan. She scared me. The smug expression on her face told me her intelligent mind was already
scheming up a way to hurt Sage.
“It is my utmost pleasure to meet you, Sage,” Sloan managed to mutter. At that moment, a servant chauffeuring---with a single hand---a tray of filled wine glasses walked by. Sloan “clumsily” extended her manicured nails to shake Sage’s gloved own.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. That was so klutzy of me. I hope I didn’t ruin that… interesting dress.” Sloan was pleased with herself; her revealing eyes hid nothing. I was sick to my stomach with hatred for the stuck-up witch.
“Sage, are you alright?” I asked, ignoring Sloan’s sarcasm, but glaring at her with my peripheral vision.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Hey. There’s a spare bedroom upstairs, first door on the right, that may have another dress you can change in to. I’ll be up to check on you in a bit. I’d like to have a little chat with my parents first.”
“Alright, thank-you, Azrael.” I planted a soft kiss on her lips, and watched her ascend the wide staircase of white marble. After Sage left, my parents told me exactly what I’d expected to hear. I didn’t need “some cheap tramp”. I needed a “sophisticated,classy, and intelligent girl like Sloan, who is going to make something of her life.”
Sloan was seemingly out of audible range, but I knew her meddlesome ears were drinking every word.
“Is everything alright?” she asked, making her unwanted presence known yet another time.
“No, Sloan, everything is not alright.”
“It’s that girl, isn’t it? She’s trouble, Azrael, and you deserve better than that. What would a respectable gentleman like you want with… What’s the word I’m looking for… a WHORE?” At that moment, something inside of me boiled over. I snapped.
Before I knew it, I had my hands around Sloan’s snake-like neck, and pressed every jagged diamond in the choker she was wearing into her pathetic flesh.
“Do not EVER speak of her like that again; do you hear me?!” My silver eyes were blazing as my dad restrained me. Never before had I acted in such a manner. Never before had my anger grown to such an extent, I couldn’t control it…
Back in the present, I looked at the door in front of me.
“Should I knock?”
My knuckles made contact with the stained-glass. I often wondered why even a person of wealthy means would waste money so lavishly on a thing like a door. Perhaps Sage’s father was a man who wanted the world to know he was important, and held immense power in his hands.
No one answered the rapping sound. The wait took me back to the Thanksgiving party---more memories, as you probably guessed. However, these memories were not mine, but my brother’s and Sage’s.
She had just changed into an old, black mini-dress of my mother’s; even though it was outdated, she still made it look nice.
A knock sounded on the spare room’s door, and Sage answered it. A handsome guy of around twenty-five years with dark brown, slick hair greeted her, an amiable smile on his face.
“Hi, you must be Sage. I thought I’d stop by, and introduce myself before I left. I’m John...” my brother began.
John described to me the same look in her eyes when I had first startled her at the rivulet nearly six months earlier. Wild like a frightened doe. Except this time, even more so. Her already light complexion lost every trace of color as she held her breath, not daring to take her paralyzed eyes off of him. John was taken aback.
“Are you okay?”
“Get away from me!” she exclaimed, attempting to slam the door shut before tearing to the closet, and locking it behind her.
At that point, I was almost to the room. When I entered, John was standing outside of the closet, looking incalculably confused.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I… I don’t know. I just said ‘I’m John’, and she freaked. The door’s locked. I already tried it. ” I moved to the closet, and rested my hand against the door, as if somehow it would reach her shoulder.
“Sage… can you hear me?” I asked in as gentle a voice as possible, “Sage, please open the door.” No response came. I pressed my ear against the door, but could hear nothing.
“John, do you have a pocket knife?” I took my brother’s knife, and somehow managed to work the lock open. I stepped into the closet.
In the dark of the confined space, I could just make out Sage’s form. She was pressed into the back corner, her knees tight against her chest. Her body was trembling all over. I dropped down on my own knees, and moved towards her with caution. The fear in her eyes seemed to blind her of my presence.
When I reached her, I placed a tender, loving hand on her quavering shoulder. In an instant, she jerked away, and let out a scream. The more I tried to touch her, the louder she shrieked.
Finally, I spoke, “Sage, Sweetie, it’s alright; it’s me, Azrael.” At the familiarity of my voice, she snapped out of the trance, soon meeting my gaze. Without a word, she threw herself into my embrace, and sobbed uncontrollably. I swallowed hard, and held her close. She was scaring me. The way she was acting had confirmed my suspicions: something serious was wrong. Something far greater than she would admit.
When I had finally coaxed her out of the closet, John was gone. I explained to her that he was my brother, and she seemed to calm down even more.
“Sage, are you going to tell me the truth now? I know those scars were from something far more serious than falling on a lawn mower, or having your appendix removed. And the kind of fear in your eyes… Sage, small things can’t place that there.” She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out.
“I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Sage, please stop doing this. Tell me the truth. I love you too much to let you suffer with whatever it is you’re going through alone.”
With new tears in her eyes, she spoke once more, “Azrael, we’re over.” And with those final words, she left, not even bothering to take the main steps. I watched in shock and hurt as she descended the balcony’s stairway.
“Yes, can I help you?” I blinked hard. A servant had finally answered the mansion’s stained-glass door.
“I’d like to see Sage, please.”
“I am sorry, but miss Crewe is occupied, and is not taking any visitors for the time being. I will be sure to tell her you stopped by, Mr…?”
“Mr… Ariel. Alright. Good day, then.”
“Wait! You don’t understand. I have to see…” He had already closed the door in my face.
“Her.” I sighed, and tried to think of another way into Sage’s room.
Suddenly, it hit me. There was a fire escape that could take me directly to the third floor’s hallway, the level her room was on.
The climb was not difficult in the least. And before I knew it, I was closing the third floor’s window behind me.
After making sure the coast was clear, I darted for her room, opening the door without even bothering to knock once there.
Although it shifted a few inches, the door was locked in the inside with a chain. As I fixated my attention on the lock, my eyes were pulled to a sight I wished I never would have had to see.
Half-dressed, lying on her neatly made bed was Sage. A well built, tall man---though still shorter than me--in his mid thirties straddled, and pinned her down.
“Since you’re already paid for, how about another go around? If you’re the slut I’ve heard you are, you shouldn’t mind.”
“Please…” she begged, her voice weak and shaken, “Stop!”
“Shut-up, or I’m getting a refund!” The man struck her hard against her face---her young, beautiful face. Pure adrenaline was coursing through my veins. In one, swift movement, I stepped backwards from the door before kicking it down.
“You have two choices: get away from her right now so I can break your neck, or stay where you are so I can kill you.” Never before had I witnessed such a menacing quality to my own voice. Then again, never before had my Sage been in danger like this right before me.
“Is that so?” the man’s beady eyes obtained an even cockier gleam as he stepped off of the bed, and turned to face me straight on, “I’d like to see you try.”
Those were the wrong words.
Soon, he was on the floor, his body beneath the furious pummeling of my fists. I lost track of time. The rest of the room metamorphosed into nothing but a blur. My eyes were blazing, yet, my inner self was becoming more and more satisfied as I watched his repulsive, withered skin turn black, blue, and purple while the rapid force continued.
If I had not realized Sage was still lying on the bed, down and broken, battered and bruised, that man would have lost his life instead of consciousness.
I rose to my feet, and made my way over to her.
The sight of Sage’s shaken form, too stunned to cry, the palms of her trembling hands shielding her eyes would forever haunt my memory.
“Sage.” My voice cracked as I tried to fight back tears. If there was anything she needed right now, it was the strength and sureness of my support.
However, as I took her into my arms, and heard her pained sobs, the tears came, steady and sure.
“Azrael,” she remarked, her voice barely above a whisper, “I don’t want to live anymore. Please, let me leave this world.”
“Sage, please don’t talk like that. You have so much to live for. Think of who loves, and would miss you.” Somehow, she found the strength to pull away from the safety of my embrace, and confront me at last with the truth.
“Azrael, you’re my everything, all that I have. Once you learn the truth, I’m sure you’ll agree. This isn’t my father’s mansion. I don’t even know what happened to my real parents. A year ago, when I had just turned fifteen, I ran away from the physically, and verbally abusive environment of my foster parents’ household. Minutes later, I was walking beside of the street. A jet black limousine slowed, and before I knew it, the man I
now refer to as my ‘father’ had deceived me into thinking he would care for me, and make sure I had a place to live. I had a home alright. But what I did not know was that it came with a very costly price,” she averted her eyes, and looked back into my own before continuing, “I’ve been forced to work as a prostitute for a year now. Every other night they would come. Every single time, I’d hear the boss talking to them in the hallway. There had to have been a hundred, but all of them had but one name: John. And you were right. The scars you saw on my stomach were not caused from what I told you. I’ve lost count of how many at home abortions he’s made me undergo.”
My mouth fell open. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was stare in useless disbelief. She stopped crying, a blank expression forming in her eyes.
“I have been beaten, raped, and carved on all together dozens of times. There is a limit to how much one person can withstand. I just can not keep going past that any longer,” with weak eyes, she looked at me, “He threatened to kill anyone I told if I revealed my secret. That’s why I’ve kept it from you for so long. But this time, there was no way to avoid it. I love you with all of my heart, mind, body, and soul, Azrael Angel Treloar. You’re the only one I’ve ever cared for, and the only one who could have sheltered me further.” She closed her eyes, and her body fell limp. For a moment, all of
my hopes were gone. Then, I felt her pulse.
The pale, crescent moon shined down upon Sage’s hospital bed through the room’s seventh floor window. It was too dark to see, but I figured she must have still been asleep.
The police had arrested the man she’d referred to as ‘father’ for a year right after the paramedics arrived, and gave Sage proper medical care; she needed it with all of the damage that had been done to her---physically and emotionally. I crept into the room, and shut the door behind me. I never wanted her to be alone again. I’d always be by her side.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim lightning---a contrast from the rest of the brightly lit hospital---I realized something wasn’t right. Now, my vision was in full night mode. I could see clearly that the unmade bed was empty.
Suddenly, a noise sounded outside the window, like light steps against metal. As I went over, and investigated, I could just see a flash of white disappear beyond the rooftop.
And when I climbed the fire escape, towards the roof, my instincts told me I’d find what I was looking for.
Peering down at the pavement below, her hospital gown waving gently in the breeze, was Sage. Her gray socks were at the edge of the roof.
“Sage! Don’t do it!” I called, coming within inches of her.
“Azrael!” She was utterly stunned to see me.
“Sage, please don’t jump. I know the pain is unbearable now, but…”
“I have to do this, Azrael. You don’t know just how unbearable this pain is.”
“Even though I have no right to compare, I have an idea. Every time you shed a tear, an invisible dagger’s blade finds its way through my heart’s core. In fact, it’s happening right now. For me, the thought of losing you is the equivalent to unbearable pain. If you ever stopped needing me, if you ever left me alone, if you ever took away the only meaning in my life, I can promise you one thing: I will die. I would have given my strength to a false happiness. With no energy to live by, tell me, how could I survive?” Her tensed frame softened at my words. Maybe, just maybe I had convinced her to keep faith.
“Sage,” I probed, “Let me take the pain away. From all things, from all hurt and heartache, let me be your final escape.” For one moment, she glanced at the traffic beneath her, then back at me. Without further hesitation, she leapt forwards into my sheltering embrace. Tears streamed down my face as I pressed her against me, and we remained like that for endless moments.
After a while, I noticed she was in nothing but a hospital gown; I pulled her into my jacket before picking her up, and kissing her hair.
“I don’t see how you can be Azrael, a merciless angel of death who can destroy pain, and at the same time, Angel, a protector and shelter for troubled ones.”
“You’re my life, Sage. Please don’t ever take that away.” She fell asleep on my chest as I carried her back to her hospital room. Moonlight through the window illuminated the bed. And after I had placed Sage between it and the sheets, the night sky’s lantern lit up pure innocence itself.