I am going out of my mind.
My butt is completely numb from this chair, my heart is going a mile a minute, my throat is constricted, my eyes are blurry and if I open my mouth to say one word, I know I’ll burst into tears. We’re going to lose, I know it…I wish I had kissed Melissa when I had the chance. Amelia’s nervous too…she’s chewing on her thumbnail so hard it’s starting to bleed.
It’s been thirty minutes since the jury adjourned to make their verdict – I’ve been checking the giant clock constantly. I don’t think I can stand much more and it doesn’t help that the reporters are talking about me ten feet away. Granted, most of it is complimentary, but right now every word brings me closer to puking.
I force myself to take a couple of deep breaths. It’s okay. It’s okay. Worst case scenario, you lose, go back to juvie and make an appeal. And if you lose that one, you’re only in there for five months. It’s not that bad.
I don’t believe a word.
Before I can scare myself again, the door opens and the jury files back in. I think one of them smiles at me, but I’m so shaky with adrenaline, I can’t be sure. Besides, that smile could mean anything.
Gianni doesn’t even look at them. “Has the jury reached a verdict?”
The foreman, an older guy with spiky hair and a lot of wrinkles, stands up. “We have, your Honor.”
I bite my lip, trying to keep from throwing up and crying at the same time.
“We find the defendant, Daniel Chamall, not guilty.”
My eyes tear up anyway.
I’m instantly surrounded by every reporter in the room. There are only about six or seven, but with their shouting and cameramen, it seems like a lot more. I can see Gianni’s furious expression over the top of their heads and I can’t resist a grin.
“What are you going to do now?”
“Did you know this was going to happen?”
“How would your parents feel about this?”
I had no idea I was this famous. I glance over at Amelia and she joins me in the middle of the circle of people. “Ladies and gentlemen, Dash will answer one question from each of you…as long as it’s okay with me.” She adds in an undertone.
One of the camera persons grabs me first and poses me with a reporter. “A little closer…yeah, that’s great.”
The reporter smiles a big fake smile into the camera before turning to me. “Can you tell us your feelings on this alleged crime?”
After making sure Amelia’s okay with it before I shrug. “I think I did the right thing. I saved a life, even if it was a small one.” There’s a lot of scribbling in notepads after that one. Must have been pretty good.
Another microphone is thrust under my face. “Would you do it again, knowing what you know now?”
I smile. “In a heartbeat.”
There are more, but mostly along the same lines – my feelings and so on. I get through them pretty quickly. Amelia thanks them and starts leading me towards the door, putting her arm around me. I’m glad she does…all of a sudden, all the nerves in my legs shut down and my knees start quivering.
“Wow. Am I really that popular?” Man, even my voice is shaky.
“I don’t know…a couple of those reporters were from tabloids. You’re probably the mutant boy raised by Nonextants now.”
I laugh for the first time in a while.
It’s not raining outside, but it’s dark and windy and all the protestors have gone home. Too bad…I really wanted to thank them.
Amelia walks over to her car and unlocks the door. “You’re free to go unless you left anything at the center.”
I roll my eyes. They offered to let me bring some stuff with me when I first got arrested, but I didn’t have anything much and they still would have made me wear the gray clothes. “Just a month of my life.”
She opens the door and gives me a sad smile. “Hey…cheer up. We just won!”
“I am happy!” I cross over to the other side and slide into the passenger seat. “It’s just a fact. It sucks, but it’s not that big a deal. It was only a month, after all.”
“That’s the spirit,” She gets in too and turns the key. “So where to?”
“That’s it? There’s no, like, paperwork to sign or anything?”
She waves a hand. “A little. But I can do it later. Right now is your time. So where to?”
My face breaks out in a grin. “Can’t you guess?”
It’s getting even windier now and the tall grass is practically vibrating back and forth. I can practically feel the oncoming storm on my skin and I can’t imagine what it must feel like for the animals. Terrifying, probably. But at least it won’t snow in here.
“Tanya?” I call half as loud as I actually want to, but weather like this is humbling.
I step through the grass carefully, hoping that I don’t run into anything… they could do some serious damage and without Tanya, I won’t be able to get away from them, no matter how tiny they are.
“Taaaaanya!” A little bit louder now. My heart is beating really fast for some reason. I almost wish I hadn’t asked Amelia to stay in the car. What if Tanya’s not here? What if something happened to her? Or what if she’s completely different now that she’s…completely different?
That was stupid, Dash.
I try to skirt around the edges of the long grass so it won’t keep whipping against my legs, but in some places, there’s no way around it. “Tanya!” She’s probably enjoying watching me suffer.
Suddenly, there’s a movement in the grass ahead of me. I almost swallow my tongue and try to take a step back, but my ankle’s tangled around an especially long blade of grass. My heart beats so fast, I’m sure it’s echoing off the trees.
I see a form crouching in front of me and the word’s out of my mouth before I can stop it.
She straightens up.
She’s not exactly pure white, but tinged with yellow or beige and her coat looks incredibly soft and smooth. Her little tuft of hair on top of her head and her tails are a lot longer now and she has nine tails, with no gaps in between. Her eyes are reddish orange and when she’s sitting in front of me, like she is now, the top of her head comes almost to my chest.
I had no idea what Tanya looked like.
But I know this is her.
I reach out a hand to pat the top of her head cautiously – after all, she is a lot bigger now – and she presses her head into my palm.
I drop to my knees and hug her around the neck, tears blurring my vision for no reason. “I guess you won’t fit in a backpack anymore,” It comes out as a husky, whispered sob.
She purrs reassuringly, radiating a gentle heat and licks my cheek.
I laugh softly and sit back on my heels. “You know what I’ve been through for you?”
She nods and gives me a look that says You know what I’ve been through for you?
I let out a long, shuddery breath and put a hand on her neck. “I guess you won’t be able to come home with me.”
She shakes her head.
“I didn’t think so. Those tails are a little bit harder to hide.”
She curls them around her feet and nods.
I just look at her a while, stroking her neck. Her fur really is as soft as it looks and I’m just trying to get used to the fact that this is the puppy thing that I rescued from an alley. It’s not that hard, actually. It somehow…makes sense.
“So the others have been visiting you?”
“Have you been okay?”
“Do you think you’ll still be okay when I leave?”
I bite my lip and bury my face in her fur. “I love you.”
She purrs a little louder.
After a while, I pull away. “I have to go. But I’ll be back.”
She nods and almost smiles. I know.
I stand up and she walks with me towards the exit, stopping when we get close enough to the road to be seen.
“I’ll be back tomorrow, if not later today, okay?”
“Okay. Well…then. Bye for now.” I turn and start for the exit, taking deep breaths to try and not look so weepy.
Then I feel something being pressed into my hand.
I look down. There’s a small stick nestled into my palm and Tanya’s already gone.
As I climb under the chain, back to the car, Amelia opens her door and hurries over to me with an umbrella. “I was wondering when you’d get back. You’re soaked!”
I didn’t notice.
I wanted to go see Melissa and Rock too, hang out, maybe even have a little party, but I had no idea how exhausted I am. I’ve been running on practically nothing but adrenaline all day and now that I’m wet and cold, I want nothing more than to just sleep in my own bed.
Amelia drives me home and gives me a little hug while stifling a yawn. She’s pretty tired too. “Wood’s still out…he should be getting back late tomorrow or maybe the day after that. He said there was food in the fridge, but call me if you need anything, okay?”
“Did you tell him that we won?”
“I called him while you were with Tanya. He says he knew it all along,” She smiles. “Now get some rest.”
I start to shut the door, then pause. “Do I have to go to school tomorrow?”
Her smile gets bigger. “Only if you want to. Don’t strain yourself, okay? Goodnight, Dash.”
“G’night,” I slam the door and she drives away, waving over her shoulder.
Climbing the stairs is a physical exertion – the wet suit weighs a ton and my legs are still shaking a little bit. And once I do get to the top, the apartment looks completely different. I mean, we’ve cleaned it in the past, but this is almost…habitable. The rug is actually the shade of white it’s supposed to be, you can see the bottom of the sink and the black handprint I left on the wall when I was ten is miraculously gone. My room is clean too. The police probably searched it, but it’s back in order now. Anyway, my guitar’s fine and my nightstand cabinet’s empty, so I’m happy. I wonder if it was Amelia or Wood who did all this.
I peel off my suit and drape it over the radiator, hoping it won’t be too gross…It’s the only suit I have. Then I take a shower, which is pure bliss. Just being back in this bathroom, where there isn’t graffiti all over the walls and the lingering smell of cigarettes is heaven.
My bed’s even better. I toss and turn for about fifteen minutes, just enjoying the fact that I can without a million springs squeaking. A sudden wave of elation hits me and I snuggle into my blankets and heave a happy sigh. I’m so glad to be home. I only wish Tanya were here. Or Wood. It’s amazing how fifty square feet can feel so empty.
A faint light from behind me casts shadows on the wall.
I smile, but don’t roll over. “I always thought this place was haunted.”The low moaning noise is the last thing I hear before I fall asleep.