I hopped inside the passenger seat and scooted away the fast food bags that littered the small car. Xoe is slim, but you would never guess from the way she eats. McDonald’s for breakfast, Taco Bueno for lunch, and Panda Express for dinner, a healthy diet, not so much. I shut my mouth and was content to just listen to the indie music Xoe floated through the car. My house was so far from school, it was a testament to our friendship that Xoe even bothered making the drive to pick me up.

Hillson High is not a normal high school in the sense that it does not look like a high school. It’s large, towering, and void of joy. It used to be a prison, it still is. The warden, Principal Neward, doesn’t seem to notice that this is not the military he misses so much. He is stuck on the battlefield. We are the enemy. He and the other teachers, the foot soldiers, are at war for our minds. Every graduating class is a step closer to victory, their retirement.

I dread walking into this place, but it’s what we must do five days a week. Xoe pulls into the parking lot and the with sound Trusty makes, I think this is it. But thankfully, this is not the day that he decides to die. He shall live to wheeze another day.

The dreary building stares at me, ready to swallow me for a few hours before spitting me back out on the sidewalk. I hate you too, I mutter. It must hear me because I trip up the stairs. I can almost hear its stifled laugh.

“Need help?” I hear.

I look up and am horrified. He cannot be here. Not in real life. The phantom being that haunted my nightmares stares down at me with a smile so genuine, I almost forget the things he can do. The things he’s done. But I can’t. I’m paralyzed by fear, my limbs unable to move, my vocal chords nonexistent.

And then I blink. He’s not here. It’s just some sophomore who wants to help me up.

“Sure. Thanks,” I add as he lifts me up. Paranoid. That’s what I am. He doesn’t exist outside of my nightmares, I tell myself.

I take a deep breath. It was a bad one last night, but I’m okay now. I walk inside the entrance, careful not to insult it again. I don’t want to get hit by a swinging door.

I head mindlessly to pre-cal. It’s my worst and first class. I’m barely awake. Mr. Quinn told me that if I fell asleep in his class again, I would get a detention. Joy. I force my eyes to stay open, no matter how much they protest. I don’t get enough sleep at home, not with him there, waiting for me as soon as my head hit’s the pillow.

I remember the first time I saw him. It was my birthday, sweet sixteen. He was perfect, everything I had ever imagined in my dream guy. And that’s what he was. He was only in my dreams, they hadn’t gotten bad yet. He was tall, but still short enough that his lips could easily reach mine. They were soft and bow-shaped, always turned up in a knowing smile. His grey-blue eyes were perfect. They were the tropical sea on a stormy day, dangerous and inviting. And I loved him, though I knew I could never have him, not really. I talked to him about everything, even the things I couldn’t tell Xoe. He listened and told me how everything was going to be okay. I didn’t realize how real he was until that cold day in February.

Step-dad was driving home from work, the roads were icy. His breaks locked and he spun out of control. The car crashed into the rail, it buckled and the car fell into the lake. They couldn’t pull it out for a week, the water was too cold. When they pulled it out, when we knew it was him, Mother and I cried. She cried tears of sadness.

I cried tears of joy. Never again would he hurt me. I remember crawling into bed, safe for the first time. He was there the moment I was asleep. His smile was still there, but twisted somehow. He can’t hurt you anymore. You’re safe Rose, he told me. But I wasn’t afraid. I was glad he had taken care of him, until I realized just how far he would go.

The End

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