Twenty-Eight

Griffin:

 

Arielle was alive. This single thought coursed through my entire being, filling me with a hope that I’d never believed before to be real.

            Although I knew she’d be angry with me, I felt compelled to tell Cordelia. For reasons I couldn’t quite explain, I had a feeling that if I didn’t tell her, she’d find out anyway, and that would be much, much worse.

            I found her in her room, her candles lit and curtains drawn, the fire in the hearth ablaze.

            “Cordelia?” I called quietly from the doorway.

            “Griffin, darling, come in,” she replied. I detected a trace of… something in her voice; an emotion that I just couldn’t put my finger on.

            I entered the darkened room, crossing to kneel beside her chair.       Her bible was open on her lap.

            I did not look at it.

            “Surely you didn’t just come in to soak up my company,” Cordelia prompted in a lazy tone. As much as I tried to stop them, the corners of my mouth curved upward slightly.

            “No, I suppose not,” I responded. Then I got to the point. “I saw Arielle.”

            Cordelia kept her gaze fixed on the crackling fire, the orange, red and yellow flames mixing together, rising together until they blurred into one single color, one single breath of flame.            “I figured as much,” she said quietly. “I assume you won’t be going into details as to how you maanged this arrangement?”

            I shook my head ‘no’. “I wouldn’t want to bore you, Cordelia,” I answered. This time it was she who flashed an amused grin.

            “She’s alive,” I told her in a voice that was barely a whisper.

            Only then did Cordelia look to me, for once the lines of her elderly face etched with concern, sympathy, remorse maybe. “Oh, Griffin, are you sure?”

            I nodded solemnly. “I saw her, Cordelia. I know.”

            A sort of gleam appeared in the very core of her bright green eyes as this soaked in.

            “Hope prevails,” she murmured.     Before I had the chance to ask questions, she was speaking again.      “Help me up, Darling. We’ve got a visit to make.”

 

XXX

 

            Although I knew I should have been, I wasn’t at all surprised when the cab dropped us off in front of Arielle’s apartment building. A pain filled my chest as the memories of the night began to seep in, the scene replaying again and again in my mind, the piercing scream filling my ears. I shook my head to shake the thoughts away; no such luck.

            Cordelia placed a heavy hand on my shoulder. “It’s alright, Griffin,” she said soothingly. “Just breathe.”

            I led Cordelia straight up to Arielle’s apartment, pointing to the door and then stepping aside; allowing Cordelia to do whatever it was she felt she needed to do here.

            Cordelia raised a thin arm, knocked gently. I absent-mindedly chewed on the inside of my cheek as we waited.

            A moment later, the door flew open, and there stood Arielle’s mother. She was clearly a wreck, her hair in disarray, her face void of any makeup.

            Cordelia’s lips bent into a warm smile. “Mrs. Crayton,” she greeted with an extended hand.

            The woman’s lip quivered. “Just, Stephanie, if you don’t mind,” she choked out.

            Cordelia nodded; she did not let go of Stephanie’s hand, but with her other she gestured towards me. “You’ve met my grandson, Griffin.”

            Arielle’s mother nodded slightly. She let her cold blue eyes travel over to me, holding to my green ones for but a second before dropping them back to the floor.

            “Yes, we met a time or two,” she muttered. “I’ve heard a lot about him.”

            An awkward sort of tension settled over us then, and I shifted my weight uncomfortably. Why had Cordelia even brought me to this dreaded place, this building that held so many memories within its paper-thin walls?

            It was, of course, Cordelia who broke the silence. “Well, we just wanted to stop by and, you know, make sure you were alright.”

            Stephanie nodded, the blank expression returning to her pallid face. “I’m fine,” she whispered unconvincingly. “Really.”

            Cordelia smiled broadly. “Everything will be alright,” she told her- or me? - confidently.

            For the first time since we’d arrived, Stephanie looked her directly in the eyes. A silent moment passed, and I was sure that they’d exchanged words of their own, ones that needed not be spoken, between them.

            “How do you know?” Stephanie finally whispered hoarsely.

            Cordelia’s words were filled with every ounce of belief she had. “I just do.”

 

XXX

 

            School on Monday was hell.

            By then, every single person in the city- or at least, it seemed, at Billiards- had heard some rendition or other of what had happened.

            And suddenly, the girl that no one had ever given a second glance to became the most talked-about person at school. Arielle would’ve died of embarrassment.  

            By the following Friday- only a week before Winter Break- I wouldn’t have doubted that every student on campus had said some form of sorry. It wasn’t like I wanted their pity- I was self-pitying enough- but it was nice to think for Arielle’s sake that they cared.

            That weekend, I got a call from Arielle’s mom, who informed me that the hospital was, at long last, allowing visitors, and was wondering if I wanted to come along with her. Her offer reached out to me and touched me in such a way that I’d never known.

            “I can be over in a half-hour,” I replied before hanging up.

 

XXX

 

            Being in the hospital once again dragged back those old feelings of hopelessness that I’d been doing so well suffocating. These walls held no love, I told myself. These walls housed nothing but pain, sorrow, loss, defeat, death.

            Cursing myself for being such an eternal pessimist, I tried to focus on the positives.

            Arielle was- to some degree- alive. And I was going to be seeing her in but a few minutes.

            Stephanie and I reached her room, and I waited in the hallway, allowing her to have a few moments alone with her daughter.

            In the meantime, I took a seat on a bench pushed up against the wall in the hallway. The metal was ice cold; I could feel it straight through my jeans. The minutes dragged, each second the clock that had been mercilessly placed above the bench ticked away slower than the last. Were these the ticks counting down Arielle’s life?

            I closed my eyes and tried to focus completely on the blank, black slate of my mind. Was that all that Arielle could see behind her closed eyes?

            “Griffin?” Stephanie’s soft voice called from the doorway of Arielle’s room. “Did you want a minute alone with her?”

            Rising slowly, I nodded. A pang erupted within my chest; my stomach knotted itself up as I approached the door.

Arielle:

                       

            The door clicked shut, and then I became insanely aware of a presence beside me. They did not speak, but they came to sit at the edge of my bed, and they took my hand in their own.

            “Hey,” the voice said uncomfortably. It filled me up to the deepest depths of my being, to my very core; it was undeniably the same person who had visited me so many days past. That voice that I just couldn’t recall. “So, uh, they say you can hear me.”

            Yes! I wanted to scream. I hear you! Take me away from this darkness!  But, as usual, the words would not come. I’d gotten used to that by now.

            He did not speak again, but he took my hand in his own, running his thumb gently over my palm, and the touch felt like fire on my skin, and I longed for him to cradle my body to him, to keep me warm and not so alone.

            “Arielle,” he murmured. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

            Don’t be. This wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have saved me.  

            “I just feel like… well, I don’t know how I feel,” he admitted. “But I wish you were… well, I don’t really know how to finish that sentence either.”

            The words poured from him in a jumble, but it didn’t bother me. Just listening to his voice was enough. Just feeling him beside me was enough.

            “You’ll be okay,” he whispered, his voice suddenly choked, like he was holding back tears. “You’ll fight this, Arielle, because you’re strong. A hell of a lot stronger than me.”   

            He raised my fingers up to his lips, then, kissing them softly before replacing them on my lap. And when he left, he took all the warmth along with him, and yet I felt warmer than I had before.

 

Griffin:

 

I fell into a sort of routine after the first few days, heading straight over to the hospital after school, spending as long as I possibly could with Arielle. Many times, I ran into Stephanie there, and we would chat a little, mostly small talk. I noticed that neither of us ever discussed Arielle.

            Winter break came and went, and the days crept passed us as the New Year came to a slow start. One particularly sunny day, as I sat alone with Arielle in her room, saying nothing, merely staring into her emotionless face, the door creaked open unexpectedly.

            I turned slowly, frowning as I took in the figure in the doorway. He was tall and gangly, about fifteen or so, with spiky black hair and a worried expression plastered on his face.

            “Can I help you?” I asked unsurely.

            The boy got ahold of himself. “Is this, uh, Arielle Kemp’s room.”

            Still frowning, I nodded. “And you are?”

            The boy cleared his throat nervously, and all at once, the answer came to me. I hadn’t recognized him at first, but suddenly it became blatantly obvious who he was.

The boy from the subway.

            “Oh,” I stated, clearing my expression. “I didn’t recognize you without your guitar.”

            He laughed anxiously.

            I gestured towards one of the guest chairs. “I’m Griffin, by the way.”

            “Cody,” he answered instantly. There was a pause, and then he added, “I saw the whole thing when it happened. It was awful.”

            I blinked slowly, suddenly hating the young boy before me for bringing up that.

            He didn’t notice. “She seemed like a really great person,” Cody continued. “I wonder what could have possibly made God choose her.” He shrugged. I cringed inwardly at his words, clutching Arielle’s hand tighter. “My grandma always told me that when God took a soul from Earth, it was ‘cause he really needed them in Heaven. She says that’s why He took my parents.”

            I was too busy ignoring him to notice the irony of his words.

            “I guess God really needed her, to take her so young.”

            I couldn’t stop myself; I turned and full-out glared at the boy. “How old are you?”

            He went defensive immediately. “Fifteen,” he sneered. “But I’ll be sixteen next October.”

            “Well, let me tell you something, Cody,” I replied in the same degrading tone. “If there was a God, he would’ve let her be.”  

The End

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