Waking Other Lives

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Chapter 4: The Inevitable

I didn’t see Seth for what seemed like days, I had almost forgotten about him, and my grandmother’s warnings up until Payal just brought it up in the Media and Politics class we were taking together.

“God, don’t my sore eyes miss that gorgeous male specimen? What’s up with him? Haven’t seen him in ages since that accident.”

“Who do you mean? Seth?” I replied back.

“Who else, Sierra? Wake up, of course I’m talking about him.”

It was then the professor showed up, and we couldn’t chat further on the topic. It would be hours by the time we could come back together again for lunch. The day was extremely gorgeous outside with the warmth of the sun kissing our faces so we sat down on one of the benches overlooking the lake as we ate our sandwiches. Abby was late, I waved at her approaching form.

“You are late,” Payal stated the obvious.

“For a good cause, believe me. You can’t imagine what I found out. I know what happened to him. He’s lost his scholarship and he’s suspended from college for two weeks,” Abby exclaimed, talking very fast and using sequential hand gestures.

“How do you know?” Payal asked.

“I found it from this girl who is a cousin to one of his close buddies.”

“Aww, my poor baby. Look at what they’ve gone and done to him now.” Payal really looked disturbed.

“But, what is he going to do?” I asked, feeling bad that he’d been stripped of his means of going to college. “Can his family pay the tuition?”

“Don’t know,” shrugged Abby.” But, I heard he’s been working somewhere, he may have some savings.”

“Don’t know? Girl, I’m leaving this college if he’s gone for life. This sucks, like big time!” It was obvious what Payal had been stuck on.

“Well, his actions brought this forth, I guess,” I muttered. “I don’t wish it on anyone, but what do you expect if you go ahead and beat the crap of two college boys in front of an audience?”

Payal was silent for once.

“When is the basketball match tomorrow? Will Baran be playing?” Abby asked, changing the direction of the conversation, thankfully.

“I don’t know. His knee is still giving him trouble. I’d be surprised if the coach lets him play despite his insistence that he’s fine. He loves the game, you know. Almost as much as his food,” I said, laughing.

“But, not as much as he loves you,” winked Payal, ever the romantic.

“Perhaps not as much,” I said, smiling. “I’ll be heading over there soon. I think he has a practice at the basketball court in the west wing. Do you guys wanna join me?”

“I can’t sweetie, I have an appointment with the dentist,” said Abby.

“Sorry, I have tons of work to do, they make us poor journalism major students work like slaves,” Payal added.

“That’s called college,” I laughed. “They are making all of the students work, equally hard, idiot!”

After we were done with lunch, we were all dispersed in different directions. I headed for the west wing court, I hadn’t checked it out with Baran, but I really hoped he’d be there, I wanted to surprise him. I heard the swishing sound of the ball as it made contact with the net, and the scrapping and shouting of the players as I approached the court. I sighed in relief, that meant I hadn’t come for nothing. But, when I entered inside, I realized with dismay that the basketball practice was definitely somewhere else. There was a group of college boys playing basketball, but none of them looked familiar.

It was then I paused as my gaze suddenly latched on the one whose shirt was clinging to his back in wet patches. He was dribbling the ball behind his back, switching from one hand to the other as he faked a pass and then made the successful shot just behind the three-point line. There was something familiar about the way his dark, curly hair clung damply to his head from behind, the way his muscles stretched and flexed beneath his skin, and the way his beautifully sculpted fingers dug at his neck for a brief massage to ease his body tension. But, if nothing had done the trick, the dragon tattoo on his arm which, since the day of the fight had been etched in my mind, would have given away who he was and why my heart had started its familiar flutter. Indeed, when he finally turned around, running to the defense line, his captivating face was on full display for me. Payal was going to be so pissed off for missing this. The thought made me smile. I could do nothing but follow the compulsory command of my legs as I found myself sitting in one of the seats in the front row watching him, Baran now completely forgotten.

I sat there for an hour, until the game was over. They started to leave as they laughed and cracked jokes about one another’s shitty performance, slapping each other at the back. Some of them, unfortunately not Seth, had taken their shirts off, holding them crumpled in the hands. What caught my attention was that each of the guys was adorned with a dragon tattoo just like Seth’s, a fact I had not noticed before. Some had it on their back, some on the chest, and some even had it on the neck. Each dragon figure was tattooed in vibrant and unique colors, making it look utterly authentic and beautiful. As they passed me by, I held my breath hoping to avoid detection which I only released when I was finally sure that Seth had not noticed my presence. But, then when they were at the door, I heard him say,“Don’t wait up for me,” to his buddies, making a sharp turn towards where I was still sitting.

“Hi, princess. What’s up?” he said, as he stood with his arms folded over his chest right in front of me, his posture relaxed, yet equally tense at the same time.

“Uhm, well good. Thanks. I thought the team’s basketball practice was here, but it seems they are having it somewhere else,” I said trying to find a way to justify my presence here. “I think it’s stupid to wait any longer.” I stood up on my extremely shaky legs.

“I see,” was all he said. Somehow, we were both immobile and silent thereafter, just looking at each other in the clutches of an inexplicable force, not even blinking, as if by doing so, we could keep the moment forever as a memory, unbroken, untainted.

But, it was not to be as the hurried entrance of Baran shattered the magic. “Hi, babe. I’ve been looking all over for you. Payal told me you were here to watch my practice,” he said, as he took it all in with a frown.

“What the hell are you doing here, asshole?” my peaceful boyfriend, the one who couldn’t even bear to listen to civil war stories in class, said as he pushed Seth forcefully. “You’re suspended, dickhead,” he shouted.

Despite the forceful push, Seth had not budged. “And, how would you know that?” he said, his voice deadly calm.

“Everybody knows that. The two poor guys you beat are still in the hospital and you dare show your face you dare stand here in front of my girlfriend? You are so not touching her, you piece of shit,” he kept saying. I’d never heard Baran spout so many curses in one sitting.

“Those two poor boys almost raped a fifteen years old child. Don’t remind me, or else I will have the incentive to finish the job I’ve started,” he said, with a barely restrained anger.

I gasped in shock, with this information. “Is she okay?” I asked.

“She is now,” he said, looking back at me again. “Apparently, your boyfriend has sympathy for the attackers instead.”

“Still, this is not the way we do things here,” Baran said. “C’mon Sierra let’s go. And, I better not see you with her again, do you understand?”

My face flushed red with embarrassment.

“Why? Or, is it that you are feeling insecure with the princess? Perhaps she is far better off with the dickhead, hmm?”

“I’m gonna make you pay for that,” Baran cried out as he raised his fists, ready to let them fly at Seth’s face. I tried to get in between the two of them before the fight physically erupted and was simply irreversible. It was a lot easier to address grievances at the pre-hostilities stage as Prof. Martinek would always say in his lectures. And, that was what I was aiming for, to conduct some preventive action when my foot tripped and I found myself flying in the air, hands stretched forward to grip anything solid. And, that’s how it all happened. One second I was high in the air, and in the next I was in Seth’s arms, my hands firmly holding the solid muscles in his chest.

For a second, I did not know what was happening, as I started getting snapshots from another place, and glimpses of people I had never seen in my life, the scenes passing right before my eyes in a terrifying blur like a freaking slideshow. I covered my face with his sweaty t-shirt to stop whatever was happening, but it seemed to have made things worse as this time, it was the pictures of us together that I started to witness, us arguing in some kind of wilderness at night, him holding me firmly and aggressively in a spacious room surrounded by some other strangers, us kissing in the dim light...What was going on? Baran, having finally overcome his shock, seized me from Seth’s arms, slowly putting me down, making sure there was ample space that separated me from Seth. That seemed to have done the trick as the visions disappeared, leaving me free to massage my temples to end the huge headache that had suddenly showed its ugly face.

“Are you okay, baby?” he asked, with the muscles of his face tensing in deadly serious expression.

“Yes, I think so,” I managed to say. “Okay, we are getting out of here, fast,” he said as he seized my hand and started dragging me out. Seth did not intervene as he was too mesmerized looking at the dragon tattoo in his arm, touching it, as if he could make sense of what held him under awe. The last thing I heard was his exclamation as he said, “Well, I’ll be damned, it’s moving.”

“Baran slow down, I can’t keep up,” I said, as we were walking.

“I can’t believe any of this. I just can’t,” he kept repeating, as he took us straight to the parking lot. “I’ll take you home, you must be shaken up from all of this,” he said, kissing me tenderly on the lips. “We’ll take my car, and leave yours here. I’ll give you a ride tomorrow, so you don’t have to worry about anything.”

“I’m fine. I can take myself home. You don’t have to worry about me, don’t you have a basketball practice somewhere?”

“Yeah, but I’ll ditch it. Screw it all, you are what matters to me,” he said.

“Of course not, why should you? Nothing happened to me, I didn’t even fall. Everything is fine, you should go to your basketball practice and I’ll head straight for home,” I said taking his face in my hands. “I mean it.”

He remained frozen in his spot, undecided for a few seconds. Then, he asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, hundred percent.”

“Okay, then,” he said giving me a warm hug and then letting me go. “I’ll call you later to check up on you.”

I nodded. What a sweet guy he was, which is why, at some point, I had to dig deeper into why I had this constant feeling of guilt about us. I owed him that.

*************************

In a large dim shed, stood six bulky figures, their postures threatening, their every movement tense, and aggressive.

“Damn it, he has touched her!” one of them said.

“The second test is already completed. Now, all he has to do is save her while shedding his blood and the whole cycle will begin, we’ll have lost the only advantage we have in this war. How did you fuck this up? You are given one simple task and you can’t even complete that?” another shouted. “What the fuck do we do now?”

“I will kill him.”

The other one roared in laughter. “Are you fucking crazy? Are you stupid? You’ve already fucked this up for us once. Or, shall I have to remind you what happened when you killed him before? He is very much alive and worse still, we ended up having too many uncontrolled wars in our hands.”

“Perhaps, it’ll be different this time.”

“Really, you’ll take that chance knowing the consequences, huh? Screw this! You can’t kill him; you won’t kill him.”

“How do we stop the third test then? I thought the second one wouldn’t come to pass, and it already did. We can’t take any further chances, you know that.”

“I know what needs to be done,” the third man said. “We can’t kill him, but we can kill the girl, and that will separate them.”

“I don’t like this!”

There was silence in the shed. “It does not matter what you think”, the second man said. “You will have to clean up your own mess, this is on you. You will have to kill her!” he said. “It will be all be alright.”

“How do I know that?”

“You take my word for it,” the first man said.

He grudgingly nodded. “The protector has to die first, or else I won’t be able to touch her with the intention of harming her.”

“Pity really, our alliance had worked well so far. Damn! What needs to be done will be done,” said the second man. “I’ll take care of the protector, and you take care of Sierra.”

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