Rebirth (Tattooed Angels Trilogy 1)

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Chapter Three

At first, the muffled sounds in Hotan’s ears came in the form of a tunneled shout down the longest hallway ever. There was no sense of time as he strained to focus on the words. Whoever it was, it sounded urgent and horrifyingly desperate. Shivering, the coldness his body felt did nothing to pull him from the frozen darkness he sat in. Something warm and wet hit his cheek.

Wiping it off his face, he opened his eyes, looking at the clear liquid in confusion. He rolled it between his fingers fascinated by it. More started to hit his face, like tears falling from invisible eyes. The voice had stopped yelling its words and simply sobbed. If these were not his tears, than whom did they belong to?

Who is crying? Why are they crying? What does that have to do with me? There’s no reason to cry over someone like me…

“HOTAN!” His heart skipped a beat when he heard the voice loud and clear. “Please! Wake up, Hotan!”


He struggled to gain the strength, still tangled in his dreamlike state; he tore himself from the pitch-black prison to truly open his eyes. As his vision regained its focus, he stared into the brightest green eyes. For the first time, he was seeing her eyes and face in full color. The emerald green of Shellie’s irises was phenomenal. They held small specks of gold that added to the rich earth tone of the green, but the tears falling from her flushed face made his heart ache. “Shellie?”

“Hotan! You’re awake! He’s awake!” She hugged him tight as her tears rained down on him. “What happened to you? I thought you were dead! You were so cold when I found you and I… Did someone do this to you? What happened?”

Attempting to sit up, the cathedral tilted and spun around Hotan as an agonizing pain filled his head. Looking back to Shellie’s distraught face, he watched as the colors melted away. The rosy peach tone of her skin, the natural pinkness of her lips; it was all fading away. His miracle had come and gone so quickly that he felt a throbbing in his chest. He opened his mouth to say something, but the words were lost in his sorrow. “I…”

“The ambulance should be here shortly, Shellie!” Kyle was shouting as he walked into the cathedral with Hisota close behind him. “Oh man, what a relief! He’s awake!”

“Jesus, he looks pale.” The surprised expression on Hisota’s face let Hotan know how bad his current state looked. “What in the hell were you doing?”

With the help of his friends, Hotan managed to sit down on a pew. His head was still spinning as he struggled to remember how he got there. Another wave of shivering crawled across his skin as the sounds of distant sirens drew near. It took all he had to focus his thoughts, but all he remembered was leaving Shellie’s house.

Looking up past his friends, he looked around, puzzled. “Where am I?”

“The church by the school… You don’t remember where you are?” Shellie’s words lingered in his thoughts as his stomach twisted into knots. They all looked at one another, concern increasing on their faces. Shellie continued, “You come here all the time, Hotan…”

The church? The broken place I come to all the time? Where I come to think? When… but this can’t be the same place? I must be dreaming…

“The… church?” Hotan’s eyes scanned over the clean bright marble, the unbroken stain glass window, and lastly, the breathtaking Crucifix statue on a wooden cross behind the podium. “But, this can’t be…”

When did someone renovate this place?

“How long have I been missing?” A surge of panic was flooding his mind as cold sweat raced down his back. “This isn’t how I remember it! This can’t be the same place! How long was I missing?”

“Well, I last saw you when you dropped me off last night.” Shellie sat next to him as he looked at her, baffled. “You seemed fine when you left.”

“When you weren’t at school, we were all really confused.” Kyle rubbed the back of his neck a moment. “So when none of us had heard from you today, we got worried and decided to look for you after school ended.”

“No offense, but in all the years I’ve known you, you’ve never called in sick.” Hisota huffed as the church doors opened and the paramedics rushed in. “Anyway, let’s have the experts take a look at you.”

Hotan struggled to concentrate on the questions the paramedics were asking him as they went about their work. The pressure of the cuff on his arm, the prick of the IV, and the forceful shove of the thermometer did nothing to disrupt his befuddled gaze. He was trying to take in every detail of the church in its current state.

This was the peak of the cathedral’s prime. The wood braces on the roof were each intricately placed and held unique carved scenes. The cedar pews were vibrant even through his grey-colored world. The shiny embellishments made each seat feel like a throne, confirming what he had speculated about the decor.

A gurney rolled in and with the help of the paramedics, he laid down on the rolling bed. Staring at the roof as they rolled him out, he witnessed not one cobweb on that ceiling. From his last memories, the rafters had barely been visible through the filth and spider webs.

The sunlight was blinding as he made his way to the ambulance. Squinting his eyes from the stinging white light, he continued to answer questions and reply to the information they were giving him. Nothing that he could remember was assisting the paramedics in figuring out what had happened to him either. Hotan’s body ached, his head pounded, and worse off, he felt sick to his stomach.

What happened to me?

No memories or hints would present themselves to him. Frustrated he turned his focus on what was currently going on in the ambulance as it sped towards the hospital.

“So, where have you been this last week?” Hisota was leaning against Hotan’s locker as he approached. “You couldn’t call me and update me on how you were doing? I had to get my info from Kyle, or worse, Shellie the last several days.”

“Recovering.” Hotan twisted his mouth as he nodded for Hisota to move out of the way. “I heard you actually made it to the club over the weekend. What brought on that change of heart?”

“I’m not that big of a dick.” A smirk crawled across Hisota’s face as Hotan slammed his locker closed. “I know that’s your livelihood, and you’re going to need the money to pay the hospital bills, right?”

“Don’t remind me.” He glared at Hisota, trying to figure out what new angle he was trying to pull. “Does this mean you can play at the club as long as I’m not there?”

“Maybe.” Hisota raised an eyebrow as he lost his smile. “At least your girl is a half decent bassist, and Chaz had one of his guys play the guitar in your place. You’re welcome.”

“I’m not in the mood for this.” Breaking eye contact with Hisota, he stared into the bustling hallway of students.

I still don’t feel like myself. Last thing I need is to let my temper loose…

Sighing, Hotan bumped shoulders with Hisota as he passed. He disappeared into the crowded hallway, leaving Hisota standing at the lockers alone.

“HEY!” Kyle was bulldozing his way from the other direction. “HISOTA!”

“And here comes his majesty’s dog.” Hisota huffed under his breath as Kyle stopped, panting in front of him. “What on earth do you want?”

“I, I was wondering if Hotan made it back to school?” Finally catching his breath, Kyle stood up straight. “My classes are way on the other end and I was trying to catch him.”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Nodding down the hallway, he replied, “But he’s already headed to his next class. You’ll be able to catch him after school.”

“Oh, thanks! Well I had better run back before I’m late to class again.” Kyle started to run down the hall, until he knocked books out of a girl’s hands. “Oops! So sorry, here let me help you!”

Hotan stopped in front of the cathedral. Its outer walls were just as clean and bright as the inside had been the last time he had been there. He had kept his distance from the church, needing to build up his courage. Whatever happened that night, it left an unnerving sensation with no memory and a place he did not recognize anymore. A jogging duo of women passed him by, both commenting on the beautiful church.

Sighing, he felt exposed in what once had been his sanctuary from the world. No longer the invisible fortress where he could be alone, it stood out among the homes around it and shouted its existence. Taking a deep breath, Hotan stood there with his hand against the new wooden doors. Calming his nerves, he walked inside.

Maybe coming here will help me remember what happened that night. I feel like a piece of me is missing, and my body still gets waves of shivers. The doctors insist its severe dehydration. I can’t shake the feeling that they are so wrong…

Walking down the aisle, he looked at the miraculous renovations. It was as if the church had been reborn as he looked down at his own reflection in the marble floors. A surreal sensation grew with every glance he made as he paused in front of the podium. The crucifix was powerful as it hung in front of the rows of pews. It demanded attention to the front of the church and the feelings it invoked were amazing. Hotan’s eyes took in every detail as he observed the battered look of the cross.

The granite statue painfully nailed to the wood stared down at him with a mournful expression. He admired the adaptation of the large granite wings that cast a shadow across the pews through the light of the stained glass window. The statue would have seemed almost free with the wings spread so wide, if it hadn’t been tied down with that earthly possession. Shifting his attention, he could hear a trickling sound. In the back right corner, a fountain of holy water flowed from what he assumed was a natural underground spring. Walking over to it, he looked into his own face in the shimmering reflection.

Do I look that sad? Maybe the statue and I have a lot in common. We just want to be free, but we’re both being forced back to the ground.

“Hey!” He jerked at the sudden sound of Kyle’s voice. “I was hoping to catch you at school since Hisota said you were there today. How are ya feeling? You need help with anything?”

“I’m fine.” Hotan took in a deep breath as he broke eye contact with his wavering reflection in the fountain. “So what brings you to the church?”

“Figured you would come here, you know, fall back into routine. You’ve been extra quiet, lately. I mean you’re the strong silent type, but this is sort of scary silence stuff, ya know?” They both started walking back down the aisle towards the front doors. “Plus, I wasn’t sure if I would find you passed out on the floor again.”

“I should be fine.” They paused a moment as Hotan looked Kyle in the eyes, taking a firm grip of his friend’s shoulder as a sign of reassurance. “They said I was super dehydrated. Most likely, a result of all the stress and not getting enough sleep lately. I’ll take better care of myself, since none of us really want a repeat of this debacle.”

“Definitely man... well, guess you know I’m there for ya.” Kyle sighed. “Did Shellie catch a ride with her girlfriends today?”

“Yea, I think they were going to go study.” Hotan rubbed his jaw a moment as they walked outside. “I feel bad, they were asking me to help them with Calculus homework. I may be a genius, but I lack the patience to teach others. It’s so hard for me to pitch it in a more dumbed down version, since it makes perfect sense to me when I look at the stuff.”

“I think Shellie understands.” Kyle started laughing as he watched Hotan straddle his motorcycle and strap on his helmet. “Plus, that one time you tried to help me it was a disaster. You have a short temper when it comes to tutoring. Well, that and Hisota.”

“Tell me about it,” he muttered, starting the bike.

Hotan waved good-bye to Kyle before racing down the street. As he zoned into the drive home, passing through the endless rows of houses and subdivisions, he started recalling the first time he met Shellie:

It was the first day of high school, and the freshman were all getting their fair share of harassment by the upper classmen. As usual, he had kept a low profile and cold-shouldered all the encounters thrown at him. The day was nearing a close as he walked to his locker for one last book exchange. Turning the corner, he found himself walking into a scene of two jocks pinning a girl against her locker. Their grins and expressions were clear that they weren’t going anywhere until they got what they wanted from her. That girl was Shellie.

“C’mon, sweetheart. Why wouldn’t a freshman like you want to go on a date with one of the senior football players?” His grin was faltering at this point, showing his frustration with her refusals.

They had been at this for some time before Hotan had come across them. He went unnoticed as they continued harassing Shellie, “Think of how popular you’ll be when everyone finds out we are dating?”

“Get over yourself.” Shellie tried to push through the two jocks, but a tight grip on her arm shoved her back against the lockers. “Ow! Let go, you’re hurting me!”

“Darian doesn’t just ask any girl out, you know?” His friend scoffed at her, “And no girl has ever turned down the chance to date my friend here.”

“Well consider me the first.” She pulled her curly short hair away from her mouth as she jerked her arm away from him. “If you don’t mind, I was aiming to be on time to all my classes today.”

“I don’t think so, doll.” Darian pushed her yet again into the lockers, his smile was long gone as she continued to rebel. “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me yes.”

“Are you kidding me?” Her face paled as she realized this was starting to push deeper than just freshman bullying. “You can’t go around forcing girls to be with you! That’s messed up!”

“I’ll do what I want, when I want.” He placed his hand on her hip and she slapped it away. “I dare you to do that again.”

Sweat ran down the side of Shellie’s cheek as she swallowed back her fears. Darian was massive, twice her size. His short dark hair and dark eyes only added to his menacing demeanor. She glared at his companion, a slightly lighter haired boy with light colored eyes who started to shift nervously. It was becoming clear that this was getting too aggressive even for him. Once more, Darian placed his hand on her hip. She grimaced as she aimed to slap his hand away again, fearing he would hit her for the action. Her hand missed, but his hand was gone.

“What the hell?” Darian roared as Hotan tightened his grip on his wrist. “Who do you think you are?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Hotan’s voice was calm and solid, as always. “Are you ok?”

Shellie stood in silence as she looked from Darian’s face of rage to the stern expressionless face of Hotan. “I, yea, now I am.”

“Let go of me! Mikey, get him off of me!” Hotan had worked Darian’s arm behind him. Twisting it in a way that Darian couldn’t break free without some sort of pain prevented any struggling. “I’m going to kill you for this!”

“Man, I didn’t sign up for this shit.” And with that, his accomplice rushed away, leaving the two boys and the frightened Shellie alone. “Fight your own battles, Darian.”

“Now, apologize.” Hotan tugged at Darian’s arm, sending an excruciating pain to his shoulder. “Apologize and promise you’ll never touch her again.”

“What if I refuse?” Darian tried laughing through his discomfort as he gave Shellie a baleful glare. “You going to hold me here forever?”

“That was your plan.” A smirk crawled across Hotan’s face. “Tell her sorry and promise to leave her alone, Darian. You’re not going anywhere until you tell her.”

“Go screw yours-” Hotan slammed him into the lockers next to Shellie, causing her to squeal as she continued to stand there in her shock. “Dammit!”

“If you keep telling me no, I’ll make sure you’ll be kissing your football career good bye before ever kissing another girl.” Hotan’s words stung at Darian’s ego as his shoulder throbbed and he stared at Shellie’s wide eyes. “Now, let’s try this one last time. Tell her you’re sorry and promise to leave her alone.”

After a moment Darian sighed, looking Shellie in the eyes and spoke, “I’m sorry. It will never happen again.” Hotan shoved him harder against the lockers. “I promise! I’ll never mess with her again! I’m sorry! Now let me go!”

Darian slid to the floor on his knees, rubbing his shoulder as he gave Hotan a sour look. Ignoring him, Hotan turned his attention to Shellie who still seemed stunned and confused. Rubbing the back of his neck, he finally looked her in the eyes, catching her attention.

“Do you need me to walk you to the administration office? Nurse’s office? Class?” Mustering a sincere smile, he waited for her decision. “It’s up to you. I can just leave you here, but I won’t do that until I know you’re ok first.”

“I, I think I’ll…” She watched as Darian finally stood up and walked away. He was still holding his shoulder, his face red with anger. Hotan had left a lasting message and Darian would not be bothering her anymore. “I don’t want to go to class or go home…”

“Ok, that’s a start.” He took a moment to read her baffled expression and body language. “I’ll tell you what, how about we go for a walk off campus? I’ll be sure to get you back in time for the buses. I like to go to the old church around the corner to clear my thoughts. Maybe some place safe like that might help you relax?”

Looking him in the eyes, she weighed her options for a moment before responding, “I would like that.”

By the time they made it back to the school, he had Shellie laughing and giggling. She was a happy person by nature and it was a relief to see he was able to snap her out of her shock. It felt so strange to feel the warmth of her arms around him as she hugged him good-bye. He hadn’t expected it and took a minute before he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her back.

Once more, she threw him off guard as her lips softly kissed his cheek. She left him behind as she boarded her bus and it pulled away. He found himself standing there admiring the moment, surprised at how much his own heart fluttered over those tiny gestures. The next day at school, he found Darian avoiding any hallway he was walking down and Shellie hanging on his arm.

It was not his intention to steal the girl away with an heroic act. At the same time, he couldn’t let something happen to anyone like he saw going down. No matter how many times he opened his mouth to say no, he lost the will to do so with each smile and stare they exchanged.

He had plenty of girls that passed him notes asking if he had a girlfriend or that a friend of theirs had a crush on him. The hearts he had broken every time he threw one of those letters in the trash grew every year. Perhaps it was time to let someone through the door.

He admired her courage against Darian. Most girls would have given in, but she was brave and stubborn. It wasn’t hard falling in love with someone who made him feel happy by just being near him.

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