Whoever does not abide in love
abides in death
1 John 3:14
I think I am dead.
That or I’m about to be.
Surely that is the only way to explain this utter lack of feeling, this complete emptiness I find myself in. It is like all the emotion has been washed from my body, and I lay here now with nothing but my thoughts and the blood running onto the ground from my body.
There is blood. I am dying.
They say that when you die there is supposed to be some bright shining light that beckons you to Heaven, if you’re lucky enough to get in. I see no such light- just utter, utter darkness. And silence, as well, which further leads me to believe that I am truly dead.
But then I feel a hand on my arm, sweltering hot compared to the cool air that surrounds my near-lifeless body. Is this the hand of an angel, I wonder, coming to lead me into the white light that I have yet to see?
I become vaguely aware that someone is talking to me, but I haven’t the slightest idea who they are or what they are saying. I don’t try to listen. I haven’t the energy to focus on their words.
They seem to be addressing me- there is more than one voice now. I hear them say my name, waiting for me to respond, but I don’t. One of them sighs. I make out two of their words.
Darkness engulfs me.
I sat up in my bed with a start, heart racing, my body drenched in a cold sweat. Quickly, breathing heavily, I threw back the covers and slid out of my bed. There would be no more sleeping after that dream.
I made my way to the bathroom at the end of the hall, making sure to be especially silent as I passed by my mom and step-dad’s bedroom. There was no need for them to be awake yet. It was only- I glanced at the clock sitting on the counter- two-seventeen. Besides, if they were awake, they would just pry to know about the dream. It would all be an act, of course. My parents and I both knew that I was nothing more than a burden.
Still, I did not want to relive that.
It wasn’t the first time I’d dreamed of dying, or even the second or third. If it was, I wouldn’t have cared so much. Everyone had nightmares. But mine were so vivid and so frequent, I was a little more than worried.
I’d never told anyone of my dreams, though. I’d been having them for three years, and I’d never told a soul. Besides, who would I tell? My parents would have me committed, or at least in therapy for sure. And Friends? I had none. I preferred to keep to myself. I couldn’t get hurt that way.
I splashed some ice cold water against my face letting the droplets roll down my pale cheeks and fall back into the sink. My eyes drooped closed half-way, and I probably could’ve fallen asleep right there. Only the dull roar of nighttime traffic out the open bathroom window kept me from doing so.
Patting my face dry, I went over to the window, pressing ever so slightly on the screen until it popped out of place. Then I swung my leg over the sill and stepped down onto the balcony below.
I’d done this a million-and-one times, though never from the bathroom window. Below me, the nighttime traffic of New York City rushed by. This city really didn’t ever sleep. How perfect.
I closed my eyes and allowed the breeze to tug at me in a way that made me a little more than nervous. My choppy black hair blew against my face, tickling me in the most irritating way. I raised my hands to push it behind my ears.
The balcony was the one thing I really liked about our new apartment. I still wasn’t completely used to living in New York, with Mark. He seemed nice enough, but it was still going to take time to adjust to the fact that it was no longer just me and my mom.
They’d met just three years earlier, at a seminar on the importance of evidence in supporting your client- both happened to be lawyers. Unfortunately I wasn’t blessed with the kind that made hundreds of thousands of dollars. They got into some huge argument about something or other, and suddenly my mom and I were packing up and moving clear across the country. I hadn’t had much say, but then, I wouldn’t have said much if I’d had the chance to anyway. I tended to be a very passive person- meaning if I had any feelings on the matter, I didn’t voice them.
Sighing, I turned and climbed back through the window.
Dawn broke out over the horizon not long after I’d managed to settle back into my bed. I hadn’t even bothered trying to go back to sleep; instead I’d laid there scrolling through my iPod, jumping anxiously from song to song, never staying on the same one for longer than thirty seconds.
As soon as the sun was high enough to penetrate the violet curtains that draped over my window, I knew it was safe to exit my bedroom.
My mother and Mark were sitting at the counter- the apartment didn’t have a table in it, just an island with three barstools encircling it- deep in discussion about something. I didn’t bother to listen in; their conversations were always so impossible to keep up with.
“Good morning, Arielle,” my mother greeted suddenly, cutting Mark off mid-sentence. As was customary, I shuddered a little at my name. What had possessed my mom to bestow upon me such a god-awful name, I wasn’t sure I’d ever find out. All I knew was that I planned on changing it the day I turned eighteen.
Suddenly, instantaneously, my parents glanced down at their watches, and then rose to their feet. It was somewhat pathetic, actually. My mother came and kissed me goodbye atop the head; Mark waved awkwardly from across the room.
“Don’t be late again, Arielle,” my mother warned. “The last thing you need is another tardy this year.”
I nodded, although there was hardly any meaning behind it. My mother seemed to realize this, but she was already running late herself, and didn’t have the time for a lecture. I wasn’t worth it even if she did. The door slammed shut.
Mechanically, I pulled an English muffin from the fridge and stuck it into the toaster. I went through all the motions of getting ready for school- eating, showering, dressing, applying my makeup- without thought. When the clock reached seven, I swung my backpack over my shoulder and left the apartment in silence.
School in New York was ten times different than that in California. It started promptly at eight and ended promptly at three. Students were to be in their seats promptly when the bell rang, and were not permitted to be in the halls without a pass.
At seven-fifty-six, I slammed my locker door shut and trudged down the hall towards my first class- English. I entered the chaotic classroom and walked straight past the Cheerleaders and Brainiacs to my usual seat in the back of the room.
There was just one problem: there was already someone in my usual seat.
He was leaned far over…something- too far for me to see what it was. He was so engrossed in it, he hadn’t even seemed to realize that I was standing there. His messy black hair was swept over one of his vibrant green eyes; the visible one was thickly circled in eyeliner.
I was taken aback by his very presence. He was just so different from the guys I had thought to be New York standard. There seemed to be an aura around him, separating him from the rest of the world.
So entranced I was, I didn’t even realize that I had been staring until he looked up suddenly and said, “You’re staring at me.”
“Oh, uh…” I tried to form words, but they all seemed to be lodged in my throat. His gaze was just so intense. He raised his eyebrows expectantly. “You’re, uh, in my seat,” I finally managed.
He made no motion of gathering his books or moving. He remained in my desk, a slight smile playing on the corner of his lips.
“I don’t see you’re name on it.”
I was sure that I almost died. My heart gave an involuntary shudder in my chest, and I took an unsteady breath. Sure, I’d liked a boy or two before, but I’d never been hit by one as strongly as this one seemed to. I felt my knees begin to tremble.
“It’s alright,” I told him instead, sliding into the seat beside him. “I can sit here.”
The boy shrugged indifferently.
I tried to focus completely on correcting the sentences on the board before me, but every few seconds I caught myself glancing over at the boy. A few of these times, he was glancing back, and I had to look away shyly.
What is wrong with you? I scolded myself. This was all so out of character for me. I tended to be completely oblivious to all other students. I preferred it that way. Yet, despite myself, I found that I couldn’t help it. He was just so… I couldn’t even come up with the right word.
When the bell rang forty-five minutes later, the boy gathered his books lazily and rose to his feet. I pretended to do the same, but I was staring after him as he left. I silently prayed that he would stop and say something to me. He didn’t.
I was startled awake from my nightmare, sitting up and all but throwing the burgundy comforter off of me.
The dream hadn’t been nearly as bad as some of the others. The mysterious girl who haunted my sub-conscious mind had been alive, at least, which was more than I hoped for most nights. But it had been so vivid, watching her there on the ground, screaming in agony as she was practically drowned in her own blood.
I shook my head slowly, hoping the memories would fade. I knew they would not.
Standing up and rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I took a long glance around my darkened bedroom. As reality set in, I let out a silent groan. Today I was being forced to start attending Billiards Day School.
My eyes had finally adjusted to the dark, and I made my way across the room to my small desk, sitting down upon the three-legged wooden stool. I pulled a match from the nearest pack and used it to light the scentless candle that rested on the ebony desk’s top.
Two weeks earlier, when I’d first come to New York, there wouldn’t have been a force on the earth that could have made me touch a match or lighter. Almost mechanically, I held my wrist up in the flickering light and ran my index finger over the intricate scars that had been left there. They crossed over each other, blending until I could no longer tell where one began and one ended.
I shivered, despite the warmth of the room. Two weeks ago, I’d still been dragging the razors across my wrists.
Shaking the painful memories away, I searched my desk for a piece of charcoal. The feeling of the smooth cylinder between my fingers brought a feeling of peace to me, however small it was. There was already a blank sheet of paper before me, and without a second thought I pressed the charcoal down hard and drew. It was what I had always done in moments of extreme emotion, whether it be joy, anger, or pain. I poured all thoughts and feelings onto the paper, the lines flowing effortlessly from my fingertips.
“Griffin, Dear, are you awake yet?”
At the sound of the gentle voice coming from the hall beyond the closed door, I jumped in my seat, dropping my charcoal. It rolled across the paper, leaving a shadow behind. I yanked up the page and crumbled it into a ball, dropping it back onto the desk. It hadn’t been that good of a picture anyways.
I rose quickly and opened the door to see Cordelia Barrett. She was one of New York’s most loved, one of her generation’s royalty. And she was also my grandmother.
“Cleary, Cordelia,” I replied, trying to keep all the sarcasm out of my tone. Cordelia had informed me on day one of living with her that she didn’t appreciate it, and I was well aware that she didn’t deserve it either. If it hadn’t been for her, I’d probably have been found dead days ago. I owed her my life.
Cordelia offered me a small smile, one that said,I’m here because I care about you.I attempted to return the gesture, but I was sure that mine came out as more of a grimace.
“You should get ready, if you want to be on time. Billiards wont wait for you,” she informed me. I did my best to remain emotionless. “Would you like me to make you breakfast?”
I shook my head ‘no’. “Thank you, though,” I thought to add as I watched her disappear down the spiral staircase.
There had to be three-thousand students at Billiards. Granted, it housed all grades. K-12, the younger grades in a separate building. The setup was surprisingly easy to understand, thankfully, and I found my way to the main office without any trouble.
There were only two secretaries behind the desk, and both of them were on the phone. I took a seat in one of the chairs and waited impatiently. As I did so, I took the opportunity to examine the schedule that had been mailed to Cordelia’sFifth Avenuemanor- I refused to think of the house as home. To me, all it was was an empty, meaningless building.
“I can help you over here,” one of the secretaries suddenly called out. I stood up slowly and then went to her desk. “How can I help you?” She asked in a soft tone, smiling at me in a motherly way.
“I’m, uh, new here,” I said, feeling dumb as I pulled out the packet of papers that Cordelia had sent with me.
She typed a few things into her computer. “GriffinBarrett?” She asked. I nodded, handing her the papers. After having me sign a few things and go over the basic rules, she welcomed me to Billiards and then sent me off to class.
By the time I reached my first classroom- Mr. Narson’s English- I had already had my fill of Billiards day School. I dropped into the desk with a frustrated sigh and pulled out another white piece of paper and a regular pencil. Time faded away the instant I set the tip to the paper, the world around me disappearing until there was nothing left but me.
Until someone intruded upon my non-existent paradise.
I felt their presence before me, distracting me from my drawing, and I looked up slowly from under my lashes.
For whatever reason, it surprised me to see a girl standing there before me. Her cold gray eyes were guarded as she looked on at me with a curious expression.
She was the first person who had approached me so far- if this even qualified as approaching me. Why not amuse the poor girl?
“You’re staring at me,” I said in a tone of utter indifference. The girl’s hard eyes went wide, seemed to soften a little, as she blushed a furious shade of red.
“Oh, uh, you’re in my desk,” she mumbled, looking away.
For the first time, I looked at her- really looked at her. My eyes ran over her fragile-looking figure, her pallid skin, her long jet black hair. They finally settled on her own eyes. Those eyes that were so thickly lined in kohl, that held the same caution they had since she’d first come near me. I wondered how I looked through those eyes, and I found myself longing desperately to take that fear in her gaze away.
There’s no reason to be afraid, I told her silently, though obviously she couldn’t hear me.
“I don’t see your name on it,” I said instead, a slight trace of an entertained smile on my lips.
The girl’s blush deepened, as if that was possible. “It’s alright,” she told me. “I can sit here.” And so she slid into the desk beside me, and she didn’t say another word about it.
As a matter of fact, she didn’t say another word, period, although I had to admit I sort of was waiting for her to lean over and saysomethingaboutanything. It would have been nice to talk tosomeone.
But she never did. And so when the bell rang, I gathered up my books and I left.
Neither my mother nor Mark was home yet when I reached the apartment building. It didn’t bother me, though, or surprise me. They usually weren’t.
As I grabbed an orange from the fridge and sliced it, I couldn’t help but think of the strange boy from English. I’d been in New York for a while now, but I really hadn’t made any friends. In fact, I hardly even talked to anyone. I pretty much just went on my merry way, trying to avoid trouble.
But this boy had caused me to feel something new- a longing to know him, know everything about him.
And I didn’t even know his name.
I was sure he didn’t feel the same about me. Hell, he probably hadn’t given me a second thought. To him, I was probably just another girl wearing too much eyeliner.
“Arielle?” My mother’s voice startled me. I hadn’t expected her home till at least five.
“Yeah?” I replied. She entered the kitchen.
“How was your day?”
I shrugged indifferently. I hardly remembered anything besides the boy, and I couldn’t very well tell her that- not without some weird mother-daughter-hormone talk. My mother had never felt it necessary to talk to me about sex, since I’d never even liked a guy too much. And these were the kinds of things that moms went all mushy-gushy about.
“Boring,” I said instead. It was true; it had been- except for English. “How was yours?”
I knew that my mother could talk for hours about whatever case she was working on currently. And it was better to have the topic be her instead of me.
“Well, Roger thinks he may have a way to prove Cunningham innocent, but I highly doubt it, because Roger is utterly inept…”
And on and on she went, although I knew she knew I wasn’t listening. Finally, I rose to my feet and excused myself from the kitchen.
Once I was within the walls of my own room, my thoughts returned to the boy. How could some random person I didn’t even know consume my thoughts so? It was illogical and pointless to think of him so.
Yet the image of his messy black hair and brilliant green eyes was still strong in my mind. It was senseless, I knew. But it was true.
There is laughter in the distance, or perhaps it is just the memory of laughter. Who would be laughing in this place?
I am vaguely aware of a figure standing over me, gazing down at my broken body, bloodied and torn. The shadow seems to be crying. Grieving. I want to tell them to stop, but my voice is lodged in my throat. Words will not leave my lips.
I only then become aware of how thirsty I am. My brain tells my arm to reach for the cup of water beside the bed, but the arm does not respond.
The shadow figure moves, bends over me and kisses my forehead gently. I wish I could see who the person is. I wish to know who is grieving for me when I am still alive.
Or perhaps I have died, and this was all a vision. Or a test. Or both.
No. I do not believe myself to be dead. I am asleep, maybe, but I am alive.
The figure disappears.