Meetings and Departure
When I wake up, I can’t remember where I am. I look around the white room. Am I back at my dorm? I wonder. The mere thought of this sends me into a panic. No! They’re going to throw me out! I have to think of something. My eyes dart around the room, desperately trying to think of some plan. In my hysteria, I realize that this room doesn’t seem very familiar. There were no posters on the wall of popular movies or K-Pop bands, like Jill always has. Kathryn’s bookshelf was absolutely nowhere. The cheap television isn’t in its normal place. What’s going on?
There’s nothing in the room but a couple of beds. I sit in my chair, gripping the arm rests, trying to figure out what happened. Then, I remember everything! I was in the park last night…there was that wounded man I carried…that other guy…Charlie helped us get to the hospital. I look down and realize that I’m wearing a hospital gown. I embarrassedly look around the room. My eyes fall on a neat pile of clean clothes. Without, a second thought, I jump to my feet. My legs wobble and I grab the side of the chair to steady myself.
“Dah, my feet are asleep,” I groan. I sit down, rubbing and shaking my legs until I can feel them again. Then, I quickly rush over to the clothes. These are mine, I realize with delight. My black t-shirt, blue jeans, black shoes, and socks. The only thing missing was my grey hoodie. A thought back to last night reminded me that I might not want it back now.
I almost strip the nightgown off immediately, but I look around and realize where I am. Despite having plenty of privacy, someone could come in at any time. I’d die if anyone saw me. I turn around and see a door behind my chair. Oh, yeah. The bathroom, I remember, opening the door behind my chair. To my relief, I step into a bathroom. For a moment, I was scared that this was the way into the hallway and that would’ve been bad.
In the bathroom, I throw off the nightgown and put on my clothes. I instantly feel more comfortable. Putting on my clothes almost felt like stepping back into my own skin. I look at myself in the mirror. My clothes were clean, but they still looked like they had been dragged through the mud. Great. I’d throw these out if I had the money for more clothes.
I leave the bathroom and fold the gown on the table. “I won’t be wearing you again,” I say. I turn to find a vase of flowers lying on another table. These weren’t here yesterday. Amongst the yellow and blue flowers, a little brown card is sticking out. I pick it up and read it. “I hope you’re both feeling better. Signed, Charlie Devon.” Charlie…My memories of Charlie fill my mind again…What kind of Asian man is named Charlie Devon?
I lay down the card and look around the room again. So, where is…My eyes fall on a tall dark-haired man lying in one of the hospital bed. There he is…the man from last night. I pull my chair over and sit down next to him. I smile as he sleeps soundly. He’s draped in his hospital gown, with IV’s sticking out of his arm. I stare at the nearby machines. Based on what I know about hospitals, his vital signs seem to be fine. He’s white-skinned, almost to the point of being pale. However, I don’t know if that is his natural color or if he’s still pale from losing so much blood. Still, he’s sleeping and for the moment, he’s okay. That’s enough for me.
I stare at his nightgown. I wonder how his wound looks. In image of how bad it could look comes to my mind and I realize that I’d rather not see more of this stranger’s body than I already have. Still, it couldn’t be so bad if he’s sleeping so well.
I sigh with relief. “You finally did something right.” I lean back and look at the ceiling. After all I have been through, I never thought I’d be able help accomplish something like this. I actually saved a man’s life. A tear rolls down my face. I wipe it away quickly. “Come on,” I say to myself. “There’s no reason to cry over something like this.” Another tear rolls down my face.
I hear the door open. I wipe the tear away and turn around. “Hello,” Nurse Lily says kindly. “I’m glad to see you’re up. I was worried.”
I choke back my tears. “Really? Why were you worried?” I ask. “You said I was okay last night.”
She shakes her head. “I didn’t tell you that last night. You’ve been asleep for a whole day. I told you that two nights ago.”
My mouth drops open. I’ve been asleep for a day? How did that happen? Then, it hits me. I’ve hardly been sleeping for weeks. I was trying to pass my classes and I stayed up all hours of the night working. All of that lack of sleep must have finally caught up to me. Wow, I can really sleep.
Again, I have to think back to the situation I’m in. As soon as I go back to college, I’m going to get kicked out. In less than a week, I’ll be back home, facing my family and friends. I’ll have to stand in front of everybody and face their ridicule. Despite my one success, I couldn’t change my life. Having to face that realization again made me feel sick.
It’s not like I could do anything else. I don’t have enough money to live anywhere else. I don’t have any friends that would let me stay with them. After what happened two days ago, I don’t think I want to go to any more parks. Going home is the only option I have, no matter how much I hate it.
“Excuse me,” Nurse Lily says, pulling me out of my thoughts. I step out of her way as she passes me to look at the wounded man. She makes some notes on a clipboard she is caring and says, “He seems to be doing fine. Now, all me need him to do is wake up.” She turns to me and says, “By the way, the police will be paying a visit tomorrow. You’ll need to stay here until they arrive.”
“What?” I exclaim. “Why are the cops coming?”
“It’s our policy to alert the authorities whenever we have severely injured patients. We have to make sure that there was no foul play. It keeps us from getting involved in unnecessary law suits.”
No, I don’t want to deal with the cops, then go prepare myself for going back home. That’s way too much stress! “But I just found him under a bridge!” I exclaim. “What could I tell the cops?”
“Just tell them that,” Lily explains. “They aren’t going to question you long. Believe me, you brought him to the hospital, I doubt they’ll think that you were responsible. You’ll be fine.”
Yeah, I’ll be fine, I repeat. Everything will be fine, right? I take a calming breath. “Sorry, I just wasn’t prepared to hear that.”
“That’s okay,” she replies. “You’ve had a rough few days, the last thing you want to do is relive them by having to tell police.” She looks at the sleeping man. “But it’ll be him who they’ll really want to talk too.” She turns back to me and says, “Have you been hurting at all?”
“No,” I reply.
“Um…how long will he be like this?” I ask, looking at the man’s peaceful face. Even though I don’t want the cops coming here, I do share their curiosity. I’d really like to know how he ended up under that bridge too.
“It’s hard to say,” Nurse Lily replies. “We’re giving him blood transfusions. His wound is stitched up. Honestly, there isn’t much more we can do. No one knows how to contact his relatives, if he has any. We don’t have any medical records of him, which makes the doctors nervous about trying anything else. In the end, it’s all up to him now.” She shakes her head. “If you need to eat anything, feel free to go to the cafeteria, but don’t go anywhere outside the building. If you need anything else, there’s a button by his head, or you can yell out in the hall. I’ll get here as quick as I can.”
She exits the room, leaving me and the sleeping man. I take a seat next to the sleeping man. So, I don’t have to go back to my dorm yet, but I have to see the police tomorrow. Even when I win, I lose. Guess I can’t run away from your problems. I sit quietly, watching the man sleep.
A fuzzy memory comes back to my mind. The little mark. Did I see that on his head or not? No, that had to be my imagination, right? I might as well check and settle my curiosity. I lean over and reach up to his forehead.
Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door. I quickly sit back in my chair and turn toward the door. A tan-skinned nurse sticks her head inside. “Ms. Jade Wilkinson?” she asks.
“Yes,” I reply, innocently.
“You have a visitor for you in the lobby,” she replies.
“Who was it?” I ask. The police aren’t coming until tomorrow, so who could it be?
“I’m not entirely sure,” she says to my surprise. “He said his name was a Mr. Charlie Devon. Says that he knows you. Does that name anything to you?”
“Yes, I know him,” I reply. What’s he doing here?
“Would you like to see him now?” the nurse asks. “If you aren’t feeling up to having visitors, I can tell him to stop by another time.”
“No,” I reply. “I’ll see him. Tell him I’m on my way.” The nurse nods, closing the door. I stand up and turn my attention back to Charlie. I reach out my hand and move aside his messy hair…to find a pale forehead. Guess it was my imagination after all.
With my curiosity settled, I leave the room and head straight to the front lobby to find a tall Asian man standing with a hat in his hands. His friendly smile greets me, and he asks in a familiar, warm voice, “How are you feeling today?”
“I’m fine,” I reply cordially. So why are you here?
“Good,” he says with a sigh. “I was worried yesterday when they told me that you hadn’t woke up. Seeing you now really puts me at ease. So, how’s our friend?”
“He’s still asleep,” I reply.
“Man,” he groans. “I was really hoping that he’d be up today. Since they took such good care of him and all. I guess he’ll just need some more time.”
“Um…thanks for all of your help,” I reply awkwardly. Really? Why are you here? You don’t have to be here.
“Oh, that was nothing,” he replies. “Anyone would have done the same.”
“I guess so.”
“Anyway, you were the hero of last night,” he continues.
I slightly blush, being taken off guard. “I didn’t do anything that special.”
He gives me a look of disbelief. “Don’t you dare sell yourself short! I was the sidekick compared to you. You should have seen everyone at the park! No one could even believe their eyes! A small girl like you pushing a big guy like him in a cart. Where did you even find him anyway?
I look at the floor, starting to feel a little embarrassed by his praise. “I found him at the Omaha Bridge.”
I feel two hands clamp on my shoulders. I look up and find the man staring into my eyes, a look of awe on his face. “That’s amazing!” he exclaims. “That does it! You deserve a reward. Come on.” He throws his arm around me and guides me down the hall. “You and I are going to have a nice talk. This might be a bit forward, but I think I’d be missing out on something special if I didn’t take you to eat something right away!”
I would have argued with him or moved away from him, but for some reason, I’m swept away by this man’s overwhelming excitement. Within a few minutes, Charlie and I are sitting at a table, each of us with a tray of food in front of us. Charlie has pizza, soup, bread, grape juice, chips, a bowl of applesauce, and part of a sub sandwich, the other half on my tray. He insisted to pay for everything and forced me to get plenty to eat. I tried to restraint myself at first because I didn’t want this stranger to spend too much, but as we walked through the line, I could feel myself realizing how hungry I was. My grumbling belly wanted to be satisfied and I gave in. I ended up with two bowls of pasta, a bag of chips, two pudding cups, a soda, two chocolate bars, and the sub. Charlie starts eating as soon as he sits down.
“Go on and eat,” he says. “You haven’t eaten in a day, right?” He didn’t have to tell me twice. I throw aside any thoughts of manners and devoured my food as fast as I could. Charlie laughs. “I’m glad you’re doing better.” He dips his spoon into a bowl of applesauce and takes a bite. “Man, that’s great.”
We eagerly consume our food. Each bite makes my taste buds sing. I chomp and slurp through my food. I eat faster than I have eaten in my entire life. As I reach the last bites of my chocolate bar, I look around and blush. Everyone else in the cafeteria is quiet and staring at us. “Um…Charlie,” I say a bit nervously.
“What?” he says, looking at me. I tilt my head in the direction of the staring eyes. He looks around and suddenly looks embarrassed. “Oops,” he says. He mouths ‘sorry’ at the staring eyes, then quietly returns to his food. “I forgot where we were for a minute there. I tend to be a bit excitable every now and then; and I’m not the best at reading a room. Guess that’s a social skill I could improve on.”
“It’s okay,” I reply, trying to hide my own embarrassment. As long as I can remember, I’ve hated for people staring at me. It’s just too nerve-wracking. As we eat quietly, a few questions start to come to my mind. After all, I’m eating lunch with a guy I hardly know. It wouldn’t be rude for me to ask him about himself, would it? “So,” I say. “What do you do for a living?” Really? Is that the best you can come up with?
He gives a playful smile. “Is that all women care about?”
“Excuse me,” I reply, being taken aback by his response. I expected him to be offended but didn’t expect this kind of answer.
“Wanting to know if I have a job,” he replies. He takes a bite of his pizza. “You know,” he says with his mouth full. “Whenever I try to get a date, one of the first things they ask is if I have a job or not. Shouldn’t a woman show more interest in a guy’s personality before asking about the job? I get that that’s a question that’s going to come up eventually, but does it have to be right out of the gate?”
“Sorry,” I reply quickly. “I’m not trying to offend you.” Great, my failing personal skills are already getting in the way.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” he replies with a shake of his head. “It’s not you. It’s just a preference of mine.” He is quiet for a second. Then, he bursts out. “It’s just so annoying to have to meet everyone’s standards, especially when I don’t wanna meet them, you know? Take you for example.”
“Me?” I say surprised. Why is he switching the conversation to me?
“Yes. Now, if no one has ever told you before, you’re a pretty young lady.” I slightly blush as soon as I hear ‘pretty.’ No one ever calls me that. Does he really find me pretty? “If a guy is interested in you, he’s wanting to be around you and doesn’t care about what you do for a living. After twenty-three years, that’s just one of the things I’ve learned. Don’t even try to tell me I’m wrong.”
“I wouldn’t be able to argue anyway,” I reply bashfully, still recuperating after hearing ‘pretty.’ “I haven’t been around too many guys.”
“What?” he exclaims. “That’s insane! A dark-skinned beauty like yourself? You’re pulling my leg.”
“Why would I do that?” I reply with a bit more venom than I wanted.
Charlie is quiet for a moment. “Sorry,” he says softly. “I didn’t mean to say anything wrong.” He leans back and laughs, putting a hand on his face. “There I go again. Making a fool of myself in front of someone I hardly know.”
“I understand that,” I offer kindly. I don’t really understand this man, but he does seem to be a nice person.
He sighs. “Since I made myself act that way, I guess I’ll tell you what I do. I’m an assistant for a businessman in town. He’s a friend of the family and wanted to give me a job.”
“Do you enjoy it?” Wow. An assistant. He’s certainly doing better than I am.
“It pays well, but I wouldn’t say I really enjoy it,” he replies. “I’m mostly doing manual labor.”
I look at his suit. “But you’re dressed so nice,” I state, a little confused. “Why would you dress that way if you’re only doing manual labor?”
“I’ve been looking for something else to do. I actually have an interview later on today.” He shakes his head. “Haven’t had too many takers right now, but I’m going to keep looking. So, what about yourself? What were you up to before our fateful meeting?”
I instantly clam up. What do I do? I can’t talk about college without bringing up that I’ve flunked out! I don’t want to look bad, even if he’s a stranger. I could always lie…no, that’s ridiculous. He seems to be honest with me and how can I lie to someone I owe so much to? “Well, I’ve been a student so far,” I reply cautiously.
“You’re in college?” he asks with a smile. “What year?”
“First,” I reply.
“Well, you’re a young thing, aren’t you? Man, I wish I could go back to the start of college. It beats where I’m at now.”
“Really?” I ask, glad that he seems to be changing the subject.
“Yeah. I graduated a year ago and it’s been terrible since. Take it from me. You need to enjoy your life as long as you can.” He finishes the last of his pizza and says, “You done?”
I look at the scrapes of food left on my plate. “Yeah,” I reply.
“Well, let’s get going. No need to stay here.” We stand up and take our trays to the garbage can. “I hope you don’t mind if I follow you back to the room. I’d like to see him even if he is still asleep. After all, I still have a little time before I need to leave.” I didn’t try to stop him. So far, I’ve enjoyed our conversation, even if it’s been a bit strange.
When get back to the room and I open the door. Charlie hurries inside, and follow, closing the door behind me. “What?” Charlie yells.
I jolt, turning around quickly. I gasp and collapse on the ground as soon as I see what surprised Charlie. The hospital bed was empty. The covers were off to the side with the IV’s hanging from the machines. With his head hanging low and body hunched over, the dark-haired man stands with his hand pressed against the wall. He struggles to stand up straight, but his body keeps sliding down.
Charlie rushes over. “Hey,” he yells, grabbing the man under his shoulders. “You don’t need to be out of your bed. You were badly hurt. You need to take it easy.”
The man’s head rolls around, looking at Charlie. “Get your hands off of me,” he barks, in a surprisingly strong voice. For a second, Charlie looks like he’s going to let the man go, but he steels his nerves and holds on. The man growls, struggling to escape Charlie’s grasp.
“Help me out,” Charlie calls. Almost in a daze, I push myself to my feet and run over. I don’t know what to do. Should I lift his feet? Charlie’s already holding him so what should I do? Out of ideas, I grab the man by both shoulders and look him in the face.
“Stop it!” I yell, trying to sound stern. “We’re only trying to help you. So, stop fighting!”
The man meets my gaze and as soon as our eyes meet, I know something’s wrong. The man’s body starts quivering uncontrollably. His eyes widen. His mouth hands open. He stammers, “H-How? This wasn’t…I didn’t…No…no…” Then, his head drops. As his head drops, his hair moves slightly. Beneath the hair, I see a yellow mark.
I freeze. That mark is real! Or did I just see it again? “Gah!” Charlie yells as the man’s body completely collapses on top of him, pushing him to the floor. “Go get the nurses,” he says, panting.
I shake myself out of my daze and run into the hallway. “Help,” I yell. “He got out of his bed!”
Within a minute, Lily and another nurse show up and make quick work of helping Charlie put him back in the bed. They put his IV’s back in, make sure the machines are running correctly, tuck him under the covers, and turn to us. “What happened?” Lily asks, clearly panicking.
“I don’t know,” I reply, the image of the mark still in my mind. “We found him out of his bed, with his IV’s ripped out, when we got back. We tried to help him back into bed, but he passed out.” Charlie leans against the wall, catching his breath.
“We should have been alerted as soon as his IV came out…but for some reason the alarm didn’t go off.” Lily shakes her head and turns to her companion. “We’ll need to tell his doctor about this and we’ll need someone to check out the alarm.” Her coworker nods, checking his vital signs. Lily pauses. “Um, Jade.”
“Yes,” I reply.
“Could you help keep an eye on him until we get all of this straightened out? I don’t want something like this to happen again and we just can’t spare anyone to watch him the whole time.”
After what I just saw, I don’t want to leave this man’s side for a minute. “Okay,” I answer.
“Thank you. Let us know if anything happens,” Lily replies. With that, the nurses leave, and we’re alone with this strange man again. I look at Charlie. “Are you okay?”
“Just a bit stressed,” he admits wiping sweat from his forehead. “Not as much as I was the other night, I’ll admit. But it’s not pleasant to have to deal with a deranged patient.” He takes a seat in a chair. “Man, I’m gonna have to calm my nerves or my interview’s going to be terrible.”
I stand next to the bed, staring at the sleeping man. His shaggy hair is covering his forehead again. Underneath that hair is a yellow marking. Or am I still just imaging it…I reach down and pull back the hair…to find nothing! No way. I’m sure I saw it that time. He has to have a mark. I stare at the forehead in disbelief.
“So, now that we’ve had our thrill for the day,” Charlie says, interrupting my shock. “How about we talk a bit more?”
I slowly remove my hand and turn attention to Charlie. “Sure. What is there to talk about?” I reply, while my mind still wondered about the disappearing golden mark.
“Plenty of things. We just need to think of something,” he replies. “It doesn’t have to be anything special. I just need to calm down, so I won’t bomb my interview.”
“I’ll start,” he says, sounding relived. Then, he gives a look. “Wait a minute. You never introduced yourself to me. What’s your full name anyway?”
I think for a moment to realize that he’s right. I never did tell him my name. “It’s Jade Wilkinson.”
“Okay, Jade,” he continues. “I’ve been living on Mousecreek Drive, for about a year now. What about you?”
“Leeland College Campus,” I reply.
“Really? Why aren’t you living with family or friends?” he asks, surprised. “College dorms can be a bit pricey.”
“My family doesn’t live around here,” I reply, trying to keep the conversation away from my secret. “I’m here for college. They live in Foxville.”
“Man, that must be hard to be away from your family.”
“Sure,” I reply, but my heart wasn’t in this. We’re getting close to my failure and we’re not talking about that. Time to change the subject. “So, what do you do in your free-time?”
“Oh, it depends on the day…I have a lot of interest,” he replies. “You?”
“I like reading.”
He nods. Then, he smiles to himself. “By the way, that cab woman was livid the other night.”
“Really?” I ask, trying to be interested. “About what?”
“You guys made a mess of her cab. Blood and mud everywhere.”
“We couldn’t help it,” I say defensively.
“I know that, but she wasn’t going to stop badgering me until she got what she wanted.” He adds with a wry smile, “I’ll have to ask you for that money back someday.”
“I’m poor,” I reply. There’s no way I’d ever be able to pay him.
“It’s okay, I have plenty of time to wait.” He laughs. This man…he’s something else.
Suddenly, my ears prick as I hear the rhythmic beeping of the heart machine speed up. My head turns. Huh? What does that mean? Should his heart be beating that quickly? Charlie stops laughing, looking at the sleeping man. “I think we’d better go get a nurse,” he says, getting up. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
I stand up, but I freeze, my blood running cold. I look at Charlie, who looks as shocked as I am. A hand is gripping my wrist. Slowly, I cover my mouth with my other hand to keep from screaming. I turn around to find the man’s hand tightly holding my wrist. His eyes are closed, but it’s clear that he’s awake again. Charlie quietly makes his way toward the door. I don’t say a word; I’m too scared to even breath. Charlie grabs the door handle, and suddenly, the man speaks, breaking the silence. “Don’t leave. Stay where you are.”
The authority in his voice makes Charlie freeze, still holding the handle. Without opening his eyes, the injured man demands, “How did I get here?” I don’t even know what to say. My mind is drawing a blank. We don’t answer. “Hurry up! I’m not the patient type.”
“You were badly hurt. The doctors took care of you,” I croak, trying to regain my composure.
The man nods slowly, not opening his eyes. “How long have been here?”
“Only for two days,” I reply quickly.
He nods again. “Who’s your buddy at the door?”
“I helped get you both here,” Charlie explains, obviously trying to stay calm.
The man continues nodding. He does nothing for a moment and the room becomes tensely quiet. Finally, his hand releases my wrist. I quietly, but quickly, move away from him so he can’t grab me again. I look at Charlie who seems completely out of ideas. The man lays his hand on his stomach. He slightly winces. Then, his lips move.
He doesn’t say anything aloud, but his lips move quickly, like he’s trying to say something. His lips stop moving as quickly as he started. Slowly, his hand moves away. Suddenly, he pushes himself into a seated position and his eyes open. He looks at us for a moment. His gaze is more alive than it was moments ago, but there is definitely something off about him. He looks away from us quickly, turning his attention to his body. He stretches his arms and legs. He rolls his neck around. He touches his stomach, not wincing this time. Seeming satisfied, he turns away from us, his legs hanging over the side of the bed.
“Where are my clothes?” he asks. We don’t reply. How are we supposed to answer him? I wouldn’t know what they did with them. I stand in silence. There is something really off about this guy. “Where are my clothes?” he demands sternly.
“I don’t know,” I manage to reply. “The doctors took care of you, but you had a huge hole in them…you know, from your wound. I don’t think they would have kept them. At least, that’s my best guess.”
He doesn’t say anything for a moment, then says somewhat casually, “I guess it can’t be helped.” He pushes himself out of the bed.
“Should you be moving?” Charlie asks in a panic.
He stands up, using the bed to prop himself up. “Where am I?” the man asks, ignoring the question.
“Altan,” Charlie says.
“Altan,” the man replies. “Why is it always Altan?” He shakes his head. “Who are you?”
“I’m Charlie Devon,” Charlie replies. “But that doesn’t matter. Should you really be moving?”
“I’ll decide what I can do!” he bites. Suddenly, his voice softens, “I’m sorry to have caused you any trouble. That was never my attention.”
“I didn’t have any problems, besides having to pick you up a couple of times,” Charlie says. He gives me a look of surprise. I shrug my shoulders. He turns his attention back to the man, “Now, Jade has been a bit put-out. If you need to apologize to anyone, I would apologize on her.” I look back at him, giving a look. I don’t want this man to say anything else to me. Right now, I’d be content if he would just go back to sleep.
The man doesn’t say anything for a moment. Finally, he replies quietly, “Jade…what’s your last name?”
“Wilkinson,” I reply quietly. The man slowly leans against the bed and his shoulders sag. What is wrong with this guy? I couldn’t figure it out.
“I’m sorry, Jade Wilkinson. I didn’t intend to put you out,” he says softly. “What happened?”
“Um…” I say. “Well, I found you under a bridge. I had to carry you through the park and Charlie managed to help us get the rest of the way by getting us a cab.”
The man says nothing for a moment. Then, he sighs. “It seems I can’t win no matter what I do.” He gets up and walks over to the window.
“What are you doing?” Charlie exclaims, running to his side. I follow. Before we reach him, the man climbs out of the window. I stand in shock as he casually walks across the grass, like he wasn’t in the hospital a moment ago.
“Wait, you can’t just leave,” Charlie says. “You were badly hurt!”
“Yes, I can,” he replies without turning around. “I have important things to do. Can’t waste time in a hospital.”
Without another word, Charlie jumps out of the window after them. “You need time to heal,” he says, sounding a bit nervous. “You shouldn’t even be walking right now. This isn’t good for you.” I climb after, bewildered.
“Don’t lecture me like you know me,” he snaps at us.
Charlie rushes forward and grabs the man by his wrist. “Stop!” he yells, his voice quivering. “You’re not well.” Suddenly, the man turns, grabbing Charlie by the arm and throws him! Charlie sails through the air and lands ten feet away from where they were.
“You don’t know who you’re messing with,” the man yells. Charlie lies on the ground, groaning. The angry man turns in my direction, but he doesn’t look directly at me. “Are you going to try and stop me?” he asks coldly, his eyes looking at the ground
“No,” I reply quickly. There’s no way I would even try.
He seems satisfied with my answer. He turns away and waves his hand in the air, standing perfectly still. I hurry over to Charlie’s side. “Are you okay?” I ask as I help him up.
“Yeah…” he coughs. He looks at his attacker. “What’s his deal?”
“I don’t know,” I reply.
We watch him stand perfectly still. “Argh,” he yells. He stomps the ground. “Come on!” he screams. “Why isn’t it working?” He waves his hand again and runs his fingers through his hair. “I must have run out. This is not a good time. I’ll be stuck here.” He’s quiet for a moment. “I’ll need to get her,” he says to himself. “I really wanted to avoid this for once…” He becomes quiet for a moment.
To my surprise, a bright light appears in the sky. I stare at it, unable to say anything. The light shimmers, then it lowers to the ground. How? The light fades and a young lady dressed in a red and purple gown appears. Blonde hair drapes over her left shoulder. My mouth drops open in disbelief.
“What the?” Charlie exclaims. My thoughts exactly! A woman just appeared out of thin air. I shiver…but I don’t know what from.
The woman looks around and her eyes fall on the man. “Jasper,” she says calmly with a slight smile. “It’s about time we heard from you.” She walks toward the tall man. “What have you been up to?”
“I ran into a few…” he explains, but is interrupted when the girl hits the man, Jasper, in the head. “Youch!” he yells, rubbing his forehead. “Why do you have to do that?”
“You had us all worried sick! You know that you’re on a deadline, but you go off and completely disappear. Not even the gods know where you are!”
“I’ve been unconscious,” he argues defensively. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Don’t get unconscious! It’s simple. How did you even do that?” she asks. “Did you not eat enough?”
“How it happened isn’t important and I didn’t call you so you could berate me,” he exclaims heatedly.
I stare in bewilderment as these two argue with each other. A mysterious man and an even more mysterious woman…I have no words to say. I can’t even think of something to do. I just stand in silence waiting to see what would happen next.
“Then, why am I here?” the girl asks.
“I need some magic,” he says. What? Magic? What is going on here?
She sighs. “You ran out?”
“I had things to take care of,” he says defensively.
“It’s always something with you,” she replies. She reaches out her hand to touch his forehead but stops. She suddenly asks, “Are either of those the one?”
“Them,” Jasper says quickly. “No. They’re just people I found.”
“Uh-huh,” she replies. “Then, who is the pick?” Pick? What is she talking about? And what was that about magic? She waits, but Jasper doesn’t respond. “You don’t even have one,” she yells angrily. She hits him again. He doesn’t respond. “You’ve had all of this time and you can’t even bring back one! I can’t believe you!” She throws her arms in the air and paces in frustration. “Do you even understand how much time is left? Do you know what’s at stake here? Don’t even reply because I know you do.” Jasper remains quiet. The girl looks at him and starts crying. “Do you even care if everyone dies?” Jasper doesn’t reply. She stares at him and he looks away. She tries wiping away her tears, but they keep flowing. “Fine! If you won’t do something, I will.” She turns and walks toward us.
“Wait, Sapphire!” Jasper exclaims, snapping out of his silence. He chases her. “Don’t do anything rash!”
“What’s rash is to do nothing!” Sapphire looks down at Charlie and me. I’m struck by how beautiful she is. Even in her tear-stained state, she is still far more beautiful than most of the people I’ve met. “Do either of them meet the requirements?”
“H-how would I know?” he asks defensively.
The woman looks us up and down. “They seem to be the perfect candidates, but I’m no expert. Perhaps some questions might help.” She clears her throat and asks, “Are either of you down on your luck? Find that your life isn’t worth living?” Could this woman read my mind? Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Charlie almost nodding. The woman puts her lips together in thought. “Have either of you wanted more out of life?”
I find myself nodding, to my own surprise. The lady nods, seeming pleased by our response. She leans down and suddenly asks quietly, “Do either of you want to save the world?”
“What?” we exclaim. What was going on here? What was all of this talk about? How did saving the world fit in to what is happening here? I wait for an explanation, but none was given.
Instead, she repeats, “Do you want to save the world?”
Neither of us say anything. Who is this girl? Where did she come from? How did she just appear? Why do those two know each other? So many questions were whirling through my mind. I’m overwhelmed. I can’t think clearly.
Suddenly, the inner voice appears. “Does it matter if you don’t know everything?” Because that’s just common sense. “Who cares about that?” I do. “Why don’t you just take a chance?” I don’t do well with chances. “That could change. You’ve had some good luck recently. This might be your opportunity.” I don’t trust luck. “This could be a golden opportunity.” I don’t know what I’m getting myself into.
“Haven’t you ever wanted the chance to get more out of life?” she asks us, pulling me out of my thoughts. “Aren’t you sick of the life that you’ve had? Wouldn’t you like a chance to get away from it all?”
Those words instantly cut me to my core. My mind flashes to my college dorm, the sleepless nights, the disappointed faces of my family…I’ve tried so hard and nothing worked…I can’t face that. I don’t want to go back. I’d give anything to get away from that! I don’t want to face my failures!
“Okay,” I finally say. “Please, let me go with you.”
“Please, take me too,” Charlie says.
Sapphire smiles warmly at us as she wipes her tears away. “You don’t know it yet, but we’re all indebted to you now. Thank you.” She turns back and shakes her head at Jasper, “Now was that so hard.” She waves her arm through the air. “Now, get them out of here and do your job.”
Suddenly, there is a loud creaking noise, almost like a rickety gate opening. Then, a door shape metal gate opens in front of us. The inside is complete dark. All I can do is stare, half in wonder and half in shock. What did I just agree to? “Don’t worry about it,” the inner voice reassures me. “You’ve made your decision. Stick with it.” Right…
Jasper looks downcast as she passes him. Sapphire pats him on the shoulder. “I’ll be going now. Can you take it from here?” He nods slowly. “I won’t tell anyone about this.” She leans over and lightly kisses his cheek. “And please, don’t scare me like this again. I need you.” Without looking back, she walks away and disappears in a flash of light, leaving the three of us alone before the open door.
“Cool,” Charlie breaths. He looks at Jasper. “Um. Are we going to have to go through there?”
Jasper looks at the door and says, “I’m going through there. You can stay here if you want.”
“No way!” Charlie says. I look at Jasper in shock. What was all of that about if he was going to say that we could stay? Are we going or not?
“I didn’t ask you to come with me,” he says, walking to the door.
“Doesn’t matter to me,” Charlie says chasing after him. “I don’t entirely understand all of this, but something tells me that I’m going to like it. What about you, Jade?”
Jasper stops in front of the door and asks, “Yes. What about you, Jade?”
I don’t answer for a moment. Is this what I really want? Walk through a door without a clue about what I’m getting into? “Hey,” the inner voice adds. “You gotta walk through whatever door opens, right?” That’s right. My entire life has been a series of doors slamming in my face…I need to take advantage of whatever door opens for me.
“I don’t want to stay here anymore,” I say, my voice croaking with sudden emotion. A chance to leave all of this behind? It’s too good to be true. I step up next to Charlie, “I don’t want to be left behind.”
Jasper says nothing for a moment. He stares through the door. Finally, he says, “Whatever you want.” He walks through the door.
I look at Charlie, who smiles at me. “Let’s see what happens next,” he says. I nod. I stare at the door and steel my nerves. We walk through the door. It closes, and we’ve left our world behind.