Sitting at a desk in the back corner, surrounded by nervous freshmen and the loud babble of a high school soccer team, all I can think is that this is a mistake. This is dumb and stupid and idiotic, and I know those all mean the same thing but I'm not very good with words.
I look across the room and watch my old friends laughing and yelling. They're probably sharing sexual innuendos or teasing Ralph for his obsession with the captain of the girls' volleyball team as they bask in their confidence, popularity, and freedom. The classroom is so packed with players that they are practically stacked on top of each other, but they don't care. As upperclassmen, this is their year. They'll be in the starting line up, they'll be recruited by colleges, they'll haze the JV players, they'll go to parties and meet the love of their lives for just one night, and they'll do all of this while their ignorance and recklessness is loudly announced to the world, but why would they care? They're invincible. Nothing bad can ever happen to them. Other kids get alcohol poisoning, other kids get in car accidents, and other kids get comatose. They're invincible.
Just last night I told myself that I could still do that, I could still be apart of that. I had ended the season last year with my position as a forward locked for me and I was respected by my teammates. How could this year be any different?
Talo, a junior with brutish features and a permanent mischievous glint in his eye, is laughing louder than any of his friends. It's a barking laughter that makes his head fall backwards and his eyes close tight with joy. He's still chuckling when he brings his head forward, and for a moment his gaze wanders out of the exclusive varsity group and scans the room, probably checking to make sure that the underclassmen notice him. He sees me, and his brown eyes have never looked so black.
I am the first to look away. Right, that's what's different.
Coach Simmons finally enters the classroom with Assistant Coach Ingo marching right behind him. Only the freshmen notice the two burly men while everybody else continues being loud. Coach Simmons opens his mouth but Ingo, being the obnoxious brute he is, beats him to it,
"Listen up, ladies!" He shouts in an unnecessarily snarling voice and everybody but Talo shuts up. He quickly finishes his conversation with Mido, a pimply red headed boy, and the fact that the coaches wait for him to finish disgusts me.
"Thank you," Coach Simmons grudgingly says to Ingo, who looks pretty proud of himself as usual. Clearing his throat, Coach claps his hands and the meeting officially begins. "So, how's school been going for my favorite boys?"
Everybody groans and Coach chuckles. "It's only the third day back!" He yells with a smile but the boys start booing. Ingo, of course, is glaring at the crowd. His eyes swivel back and forth in a futile effort to get everybody under his stare, but when his eyes land on me they don't move. Great.
"Okay, okay, so welcome back everybody and welcome freshmen!" Coach greets cheerfully, though his smile is not as big as I remember it. "I hope you've all been practicing over the summer because we got a tough year ahead of us, but I've got a good gut feeling that we'll make it to States this year!"
There are some cheers from the varsity group and a few brave freshmen, but then Coach's smile turns sad and he waves his hands to bring the excitement down. Once everybody is quiet again he takes a couple of seconds to compose himself. His smile fades as he says in a grave voice,
"On a sadder note, Colin will not be joining us this season."
My stomach drops. I had a feeling this would happen.
The room is silent for once and I can feel a few gazes burning into me. I just look straight at Coach as he explains, "He's still in a coma and the doctors don't know how much longer he'll be, but to show our support we are dedicating this season – every single game, every single win, and every single goal – to him. All the money we raise this year is going to go to his recovery, and if we make it to States we'll definitely have enough money to cover his medical bills. I want you all to pray for him and support him when he wakes up. I talked to his parents and they say that even though Colin can't hear or see you, he loves visitors."
Coach takes a breath and a determined twinkle sparks in his brown eyes, a sure sign that his next words will be inspirational.
"Most of all," he begins in a powerful, booming voice. "I want you to always remember him. For many of you this is your year to get recruited or make your way up to varsity level, but this season is dedicated to Colin, so when you're out there on the field, out of breath and keeling over with a cramp or something, I want you boys to think of him and remember what you're playing for. This isn't just your time to win, this is our time to win! If we play with all our hearts – play through pain and sprained ankles and biased refs – then I'm positive Colin will recover with everything he has and pull through! Remember, for Colin!"
That last part makes no sense but the whole room erupts with cheers of "For Colin!" and even though I really regret attending this meeting, I have to admit it's touching that the whole team is supporting Colin this way. Am I a horrible person, though, for wishing they had done the same for me?
Once the team calms down, Coach takes a deep breath and says, "Now, I'd like you boys to all take a moment of silence and pray for him, okay?"
So he bows his head and everybody follows his actions. I don't move. I've been praying for the past three months and it hasn't worked, what will one more time do?
Despite that, I like the one minute where we're all quiet and I don't feel out of place, but then Coach brings his head back up and a few people begin whispering to each other. Clearing his throat, Coach begins his yearly speech,
"Now tryouts start tomorrow and everybody…"
My phone vibrates in my pocket. I take it out and New Text Message flashes across the screen. I don't recognize the number, which is never a good sign, but I open it.
Immediately the room feels ten degrees colder and my throat feels tight and constricted, like somebody is slowly pressing down on it. Without even touching it, I can feel the scar on my neck pulling at my skin as a cruel reminder of the accident, as if this text wasn't enough.
I know I'm not a murderer because Colin is still alive and it was an accident. Everybody knows it was an accident, the court even ruled it so; therefore, I am innocent. It was an accident. I'm not a murderer. I'm not…
I take a deep breath and run a clammy hand through my unmanageable blond hair. My face is hot and the classroom suddenly seems so much smaller. I just want to leave. Coming here was so stupid, just like every other decision I've ever made.
I glance around the room nervously. Do I want to know who sent it? I'm not sure, but nobody is looking at me.
My neck feels sore and twisted and my throat is raw. I want water but just thinking about digesting anything makes me nauseous. Without thinking my hand moves up and my fingers gently run down the long, thin scar that stretches from the front of my neck to my collarbone. The raised, rough texture makes me shiver, and when I swallow I can feel the skin pulling at the seam.
I know I'm not a murderer. I'm not. I'm not I'm not I'm not, but…but then why – dear Goddesses, why – do I feel like one?
My eyes grow heavy with unshed tears as I feel my scar again, but it seems so pathetic now. I should've gotten more of a punishment. I don't deserve to be free. I should be in the coma –
My destructive thoughts are interrupted by an eruption of chatter and the sound of chairs screeching against the floor as they're pushed around. The boys around me stand up and everybody moves towards the door like it's taco day in the cafeteria. Talo laughs loudly.
I put my phone away and wait until everybody is gone before making my way towards the door, but Ingo steps in front of me. Shit, what now?
"Listen – "
"Hey, Link," Coach steps in before Ingo can release his years of pent up aggression on me. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"
Ingo glares at him but Coach just smiles. "I'll see you tomorrow!" He says cheerily to his assistant, but it's obviously forced. With a huff, Ingo leaves by slamming the door, and then the room is silent.
I look at Coach and I'm glad to see he hasn't changed since last year. His chin is covered with wispy gray hair and his thick brows hang low over his almond-colored eyes. As always he's wearing his red and yellow Kakariko High School sweats, which surprisingly works well for him.
He takes a deep breath and forces another smile, which makes me wonder when was the last time somebody genuinely smiled at me.
"It's good to see you, Link. How've you been?"
It's not one of those polite how've-you-been-I-know-the-answer-is-good-though, but more of a seriously-how-are-you-holding-up-with-all-that-happened? Knowing he actually cares lift some of the oppressing guilt I was feeling just a second ago.
Unfortunately, I can't give much of an answer. I shrug and bobble my head slightly. What else am I supposed to do?
His smile falls as my disability is displayed before him. I watch his dejected brown eyes stare at my scar for a moment before he looks back at me.
"I'm really glad you'll be joining us again this season," he says with forced pep. "Soccer will be good for you, and of course the team would be really hurting if you weren't there."
He pauses and I don't know if he wants me to do something, so I just blink a couple times and stare.
Scratching his gray moustache, he sighs, "As you know communication is key on the field, but we're not going to let that hold you back, understand. We'll figure something out, I promise, but…. I don't suppose you have any ideas?"
I shake my head.
"Yeah, well, ain't nothing to worry about. You're gonna play again and everything's going to be fine."
I've never heard a bigger lie in my life, and the worst part is that he actually believes it.
He smiles again and leans closer to me. "And don't worry about tomorrow," he whispers. "You've already got a spot on the team."
He looks at me expectantly again and I remember that such information is to make me excited. I try my best to force a grin but judging by his fallen expression I can tell I failed.
"W-well," he coughs. "I'll see you tomorrow then. Get plenty of rest and eat well!"
I nod and wave goodbye. If all my conversations at school are like this then I'd rather be invisible.
He awkwardly waves back and I rush out the door, glad to be away from the cramped, oppressive room where the word Murderer will hang in the air forever. Walking down the empty hallway, I force myself to dispel any thoughts of that text. Everybody knows it was an accident, nobody thinks I actually tried to kill him. It was just some ignorant kid. Nobody agrees –
"Well, look who's showing his face again," a malicious voice calls from behind me and my body freezes.
"What, not gonna say hi?" Somebody else asks. "What happened to polite, teacher's pet Link?"
I start walking again but my attackers jump in front of me. Even though he's four inches shorter than me, Talo stands proudly in front of his crew. Mido is next to him, his pimpled, pale face pulled into a deep scowl, and Grog is seething behind both of them. Grog is dimwitted and lazy, but he's barrel-chested, got the biggest thighs I've ever seen, and he's twice my weight. Even Talo and Mido, who are lean guys, are threatening with Grog standing behind them. Judging by the deadly gleam in Talo's dark eyes, I think if it was just him attacking me I'd still be scared.
"You've got a lot of nerve coming here again!" Talo snaps as he takes a step closer to me. "You think you can try to kill Colin and then we'll all welcome you back onto the team? We don't play with murderers!"
His words sting and I just want him to listen to me, to let me explain that it was all an accident, that I spend every night lying awake and thinking about what I could've done differently, but how can I explain? Will he let me go grab a piece of paper and write what's been happening to me the past two months?All I'm capable of doing is shaking my head, but that doesn't stop him. With an enraged grunt, Talo shoves me and I stumble backwards, barely staying on my feet.
"What? No excuse?" Talo growls and the other two come closer.
I want to ask him why he would suddenly care so much about Colin, the shy boy who he bullied throughout his entire life, but I just raise my hands in a placating manner. It goes unnoticed.
"Answer me!" Talo demands as he shoves me again.
Before I can even think of a clever retort, Grog finally loses it and he punches me in the stomach.
I'm immediately breathless and my urge to puke increases tenfold as I lean forward, clutching my bruised torso. A scream is lodged in my throat and it pulls at my scar. Still hunched over, I start backing up but not before Mido punches me in the face. I fall heavily on my shoulder as my vision swarms and my head throbs. My eyes are prickling while a pent-up scream stretches my scar even more. Oh, Goddesses, I have so much regret for attending that stupid meeting.
"Why don't you call for help, Link?" Mido sneers. "Come on, give us a scream."
That makes my instincts kick in and I scramble to my feet, ready to slam his head against the locker until he's as silent as myself, but Grog easily kicks me back down and I crumble to the floor like a rag doll.
Through the ringing in my ears and my throbbing headache, I hear the sound of a door opening, and then they all scatter just as fast as they came.
"Link?" Coach Simmons yells from down the hall. I hear him running towards me as I struggle to stand up even though all my muscles feel like abused rubber bands.
He reaches me in no time and tries to help me up, but I slap his hand away. Screw people, I just want to be alone.
"Link," He says again but I shake my head. "Let me – "
I weakly shove him away, but it's enough for him to get my message. Without even a glance back I stumble onto my feet and limp down the hall alone. Blood trickles from my nose and I can feel my eye swelling shut.
It's good to be back.
"Link, we can either sit here for an hour or we can make your life better, which do you want?" Doctor Gaebora asks yet again in his calm yet obviously exhausted and frustrated voice.
I stare at him. He stares at me. This is nothing new, and after many sessions of just staring I've memorized his face, so if I close my eyes I can perfectly explain everything about him. His cheeks are round and plump like the rest of his body, and a cluster of freckles that look like the Big Dipper decorate the left side of his face. Today his thick beard is trimmed close to his jaw, but usually it protrudes at least an inch, and his wavy brown hair reaches his shoulders. At first his keen amber eyes unnerved me because they're abnormally round and large like an Owl's, but now I can stare at them for a full hour without ever looking away in fear, except for when his massive eyebrows cast dark shadows. Then his eyes are just black sockets and that's creepy.
He shifts in his plump orange chair and rubs his temple without ever breaking eye contact. In the same tired voice, he asks, "Do you want to talk about how you got a black eye?"
I turn my head to the left, effectively hiding my beaten face, and I gaze at the wall. My eye constantly aches and touching it just makes it hurt more, which makes me want to go back and beat Talo, Mido and Grog up until they can't breathe. Then again, that wouldn't help my whole I-am-not-a-murderer campaign.
Sighing, I observe the wall rather than stare at Doctor Gaebora and let him see my black eye. The afternoon sun makes his moss green walls glow and illuminates his hoard of owl trinkets. Owl clock, owl photograph, owl action figures (he calls them statues), owl paperweight…he's the one who needs therapy, not me.
"We can discuss whatever you want, Link," he tries again but he and I both know that it's futile. My lack of participation has nothing to do with him (he's actually quite nice, a little boring, but overall he's a stand up guy), I just don't want to talk about it, and by it I mean anything that has to do with myself. I don't even need therapy, especially three days a week. Really, it's just a waste of money.
I glance at the owl clock. Five more minutes.
"Have you been practicing your sign language?"
My eyes narrow at the question and I adamantly stare at the clock. Why does he have to remind me of my disability? Why do we need to discuss it?
"Do you want to play a game?" He asks but, judging by his defeated tone, he already knows the answer.
Four more minutes.
He releases a heavy sigh, and finally ends the misery, "Very well. You may leave early today."
As I make my way towards the door I glance at his weary face, and I feel a pang of guilt. He's only doing his job and I'm so difficult, but maybe if he'd stop telling Grandma I need help then I would respect him more.
Aside from the actual therapy, I enjoy walking through the psychiatric hospital. It's quiet and I don't mind when I see people here. Half of them are quite friendly while the other half is crazy, so I don't feel bad when they tell me to go fuck myself.
Outside the weather is warm but with a cool breeze, a sure sign autumn is coming. The psychiatric hospital has a nice location on the outskirts of Kakariko, so there is nobody on the street to judge me, no cars to try to kill me, and no other threats. The small, crowded houses along the road are silent and even the auto body shop is closed. Just by the stillness of this street I can tell that my walk home will be a nice as long as my eye stops hurting so –
Something hard collides into my back and I stumble onto the street. I hear a gasp and a scuffle of feet as somebody leans against me.
"Oh my goddesses, I-I'm so sorry," a woman stammers as she jumps away. "Are you okay? I'm so sorry!"
I turn around with the intent to just brush it off and run, but I freeze when I see her. She's such a mess that my brain can only register a limited amount of information: sapphire eyes are red and puffy from the tears streaming down her rosy cheeks, trembling pink lips, long wavy blonde hair that falls across her perfectly round face, and an expensive looking camera hangs around her neck. Somehow in complete hysteria and just jean shorts and a ratty t-shirt, she looks better than most of the girls in my school on a good day.
"I'm so sorry," she mumbles again, sniffles, and then bends down to collect what she had been carrying. I follow her movements to help her pick up a stack of papers and a worn notebook, but when I reach for it she snatches it away from me.
Our eyes lock for a second and though her tears continue to fall in torrents, she doesn't look away.
"You look familiar…" she whispers as her eyebrows scrunch together with thought. "Do you go here?"
I definitely hadn't seen her before because I would have remembered that face, so where could she have seen me? The only places I ever go to these days are my house, school, and the psychiatric hospital.
I just nod, however, because there's not much else I can do.
Immediately she seems much more comfortable. Her tense shoulders fall as she releases a deep sigh, as if knowing she's talking to somebody who needs therapy is a good thing (except I don't need therapy, Grandma just thinks I do). A few strands of wavy blonde hair fall in front of her face and I have to resist the weird urge to brush them away for her.
She stands up and holds her notebook and papers close to her chest while staring at me with calculating, stunning blue eyes. A tear leaks out as her gaze travels to my throat and my skin immediately feels hotter.
Before she can ask me anything, I point to the pen in her hand. It takes her a moment to realize that I want to borrow it, and with caution she gives it to me. Immediately I write on my hand Are you okay?
Her eyes widen with surprise for a second as if she forgot about her sobbing, but then she just smiles sadly, wipes away the tear, and answers, "Yeah, just a regular day of therapy, you know?"
I just realized that was the first time I communicated with somebody other than Grandma or a doctor, but I push those pathetically lonely thoughts away. Shaking my head, I write, Is therapy always this bad?
She sniffles once before replying with her forced smile and shaky voice, "My doctor says that if you're not crying then the therapy isn't working."
Raising my eyebrows with astonishment, I write, That's messed up.
She releases a small laugh, and just the sound of her chuckle makes me feel so much better. I hadn't made anybody laugh in a long time, but what does that matter? I like being alone. It's quiet and peaceful, just me an my thoughts…
Okay, I'll admit I like "talking" with her…just a little bit.
"It is, isn't it?" she grins while wiping away a few remaining tears. "I'm guessing your therapy sessions aren't quite so dramatic."
My palm is now covered with my awful handwriting, so I write on the back, They aren't because I don't participate much.
She shifts her weight and purses her lips, which makes her nose scrunch up in an oddly cute way.
"You're new, aren't you?" she states with an intelligent gleam in her still puffy eyes. "The new kids rarely open up to their therapists. I get it, you know, it's hard opening up, but you'll never get better if you don't work with your doctor."
I like that she doesn't say this in a reprimanding way but with the kindness of a friend. Even though, I reply, I don't need to get better. I'm fine.
This time her smile is sad and full of pity, and I feel like I said the wrong answer.
"Well, what are you here for?" she asks with a sniffle, and then hastily adds, "I-I mean, if you don't mind me asking…. S-sorry that was rude of me to ask, because you don't have to tell me if you don't want to. Sorry that was…why are you smiling?"
Despite her scolding tone, she's grinning as I write, You're rambling.
Placing her hands on her hips, she retorts playfully, "So you like watching people fumble with their words. Ironic, huh?"
I shrug and a slightly awkward silence comes between us. I don't want this conversation to end but talking about my problems is not my forte. My therapist has been trying for three months and I still haven't said anything substantial, but I suppose this couldn't hurt. She won't think I'm evil, right? I'll be vague to be safe.
I'm in therapy for "stress and depression" and possible PTSD. I show it to her, but before she can respond I add, I had a bad accident.
Emphasis on the accident.
She nods and looks at me with an understanding that I haven't seen from anybody else. It makes me shudder.
"It wouldn't have anything to do with this, would it?" She asks while touching her throat.
Yes. I write on my arm, and even though I'm sure it's obvious, I add, I'm mute.
She nods again and looks down the deserted street. The breeze plays with her flaxen hair as she says wistfully, "Sometimes…I wish I were mute."
Why? I write almost angrily. It's awful.
She looks back at me with a hard yet regretful expression in her eye, one that I can't quite define, and she says slowly, "I have a disease that…well…that makes me say things I wish I could take back."
I want to ask her what disease she's talking about, but even I, a person whose social skills have decreased tremendously in a span of three months, can tell she is guarded about the issue. After all, she's a lot more vague than I was.
We reach another lull in conversation, but without even thinking I keep it going by asking, What's your name?
The corners of her lips twitch upwards, clearly relieved that I changed the subject, and the fact I did something socially pleasing makes me smile, too. Human interaction is still possible!
"I'm Zelda," she states cheerfully while stretching her hand towards me.
Link I write in the center of my palm.
"Link" she reads as I shake her hand, the way it sounds rolling off her tongue making my skin tingle. "I like that."
I just smile and stare at our clasped hands. Her skin is soft and warm…the last person I touched was when I hugged Grandma.
Dear Goddesses, I'm actually the most pathetic person in the world.
"Hold on," she says eagerly. Her grip tightens to prevent me from leaving while her other hand awkwardly grabs for the camera around her neck. Smiling, she takes a picture of our hands. The fact that she wants to remember this moment makes me nervous for reasons I can't determine, but it feels like a good kind of nervous.
She releases my hand and I instantly long for human contact again, which just sounds incredibly desperate, but then she's next to me and holds her camera in front of my face to show me her photo.
In the picture her arm is smooth and clean while mine is tanned and covered in sloppy handwriting, and though I wish I didn't write as if I were having a seizure I can see why she finds it interesting…maybe? I don't understand art.
I find some free space on the underside of my forearm and write Are you a photographer?
She blushes and smiles, and if her cheeks weren't stained with her previous tears I would have never guessed she'd been crying. I hope I had something to do with her improvement.
"Kinda…" she mumbles with an adorably shy smile. "I'm trying to be at least."
I hear the sound of a car rolling behind me and I follow Zelda's gaze to look at a sleek black vehicle. I can't see the driver but she recognizes it.
"Oh, that's my ride," she states and I hope that's reluctance I hear in her voice. "I have to go now, Link, but it was great talking to you and sorry again for bumping into you. I'll see you later?"
I nod, slightly breathless and slightly hating myself for being so easily affected by human interaction, and I watch her briskly walk past me to a shiny black car.
She's about to open the door when she spins back around and adds in a rush, "Hey, you should come to group therapy on Saturday! It's just for people under eighteen, I'll be running it, no therapists, and it'd be great if you'd come! I mean…only if you want to. You can do whatever you want! I just think it'd be a good experience because you get a chance to listen to other kids your age, you know? And…oh Nayru, I'm rambling, aren't I?"
I smile and nod while she blushes.
"Okay, well…Saturday at ten. I'll see you there?"
It doesn't sound like my kind of thing – I don't even talk to my therapist, how will I talk to strangers? – but I find myself nodding and her smile makes it worth it.
"Great!" she chirps and opens the car door. "I'll see you then, and I hope your eye gets better!"
And with that she jumps into the car and immediately drives away. There's an odd empty feeling in me, which is either because she left so abruptly or because I'm hungry. Both are plausible explanations.
I gingerly touch my cheek to see if the bruising is still there, and of course it is. It's weird how the entire time we were talking I didn't even notice it, but now that she's gone today's events resurface and I sigh, already dreading tomorrow.
I watch the black car turn the corner and listen to the sound of its motor fading into the distance. If I can communicate fairly well with a total stranger then maybe I can talk to people….
Looking at my arm, I realize that I forgot to return her pen, but that makes me smile. Well, looks like I'll have to go to group therapy on Saturday to return it, huh?
Breathing in deeply, I begin my walk home, glad that I at least have one thing to look forward to.