'They say, "follow your heart. But when your heart is broken into a million pieces, which piece do you follow?" ~ Unknown
My parents didn't come home that night. Or maybe they did, but they were gone before I even left. When I got home, I was soaked to the bone. I stripped from my soggy clothes and changed into a dry pair of sweats and a t-shirt. My hair also looked like a rat's nest but I didn't care. I couldn't stop thinking about Zander.
Who did that to him?
He didn't really seem bothered in the least by what happened to him. He was calm. Collected. So this was most likely not the first time it's happened to him. What the hell was Zander involved in?
I know I shouldn't ponder over what just happened. After all, Zander was just another boy. He was no one to me, but my next door neighbor. So why the hell was I still thinking about him and what happened to him? There was more of a mystery surrounding Zander Collins then I imagined.
Surprisingly, when I fell asleep around three in the morning, I stayed asleep. I didn't even have a nightmare. I woke up with this new feeling in the pit of my feeling I wasn't quite used too. I didn't know to call it. Maybe it was because the interaction with Zander triggered something in me. I didn't feel as uneasy around Zander as I thought I would. I didn't trust him with my life. I didn't trust him not to do something that would intentionally harm me. But maybe- maybe I could try. Maybe, Zander was genuine. I'm sure he has his fair share of secrets, but step one of moving on with life is accepting what happened, isn't it? I can get past this. I can learn to trust people again, can't I?
"Layla!" I blinked slowly, turning my attention to the boy in front of me with his hand outstretched. A paper gripped tightly his palm. Understanding dawned on me seconds later, and I quickly took the paper from his hands and passed back the other ones. All the while a hot embarrassing blush tinted my cheeks.
I let my hair shield my face from the few students who turned to stare and looked down at the paper. It was our next English assignment. She wanted us to write a short story that incorporated our biggest fear, and how the character in the story overcome that fear by the end of the story.
"Now, as you all have read, I want a short story about a fear. This fear doesn't necessarily have to be one of your fears, but it would be ideal in the story. A good story comes together when the writer can put themselves in the shoes of the character. If it's your own fear, you can better express yourself through your writing. I want you to write about this character overcoming their fear. Whether you've overcome your own fear or not, that's alright. This is due in three weeks everybody. I want them to be good. And the best score will get a free pass from the next essay." At the end of her explanation, the entire class went from series of groans to hollers of excitement at the mention of getting out of an assignment. But I didn't really care about doing her essays. I liked to write. Sure, I wasn't the best at it. But writing isn't so bad in my opinion. I enjoy it most times.
The kid in front of me raised his hand shyly. "Mrs.Gale? Are there any special requirements for the assignment?" He asked, his voice wavering. He was a shy kid. But he was smart as hell, I knew that. Maybe he'd write his on overcoming social anxiety.
Mrs. Gale smiled at him. "Only a few. Your story has to be at least five pages in length, or I'll take off points. You can write about anything you'd like. You can write about superheroes, personal experiences, and so on. Just so long as it includes a fear and the character overcoming it. And of course, is no shorter than five pages. Any other questions?" She asked, looking around.
Mrs. Gale really was a good English teacher. I've always liked English to begin with, but she made it fun. She concentrated on your strengths instead of your weaknesses. She only made it clear that our strengths could be used to help our weaknesses. She was the kind of teacher that made you feel welcome. She made learning enjoyable.
When no one raised their hand, she simply nodded her head with a smile still plastered to her face. "Alright. Well, you can use the rest of the class to start brainstorming. This is the only time I'm giving you in class, so use it wisely. Tomorrow, we'll begin Shakespeare." With a final clap to close, Mrs. Gale headed back to her seat, her hair bouncing with each step. The entire class once again erupted into bubbles of laughter as they began to talk to one another.
I chose to tune them on. Instead, I wanted to start brainstorming for this.
What did I fear?
Lots of things. I was scared of spiders. I was scared of tiny crawlers with pinchers. I was scared of clowns and their creepy faces and big, red noses.
But my biggest fear? I didn't know what it was.
Men? No, that wasn't true. I wasn't scared of all men. I was only scared when they gave me a reason to fear them.
Death? No. Truthfully, I wasn't scared of death. We all died anyway. It is what it is. The act of dying didn't scare me. It was the unknown that scared me. The not knowing what would come after life on earth. That scared me.
But how the hell does one overcome that fear? The fear of the unknown.
Being rejected or forgotten weren't really big fears of mine. I've been rejected my entire life. I've been forgotten countless times. Those things didn't scare me. I was used to stuff like that. That was my life.
So what scared me enough to incorporate into a story? What fear did I have that I felt comfortable enough to write about? I didn't have the slightest clue.
Needless to say, by the end of class, I was a frustrated mess. I got nowhere with where to start with my story.
When I got to my locker, I was confused to see Zander standing in front of it.
He was wearing black jeans and a hoodie. The hood up so it was shadowing his face. But as I got closer I could easily spot the bruises and cuts that marked his face from last night. His left eye was now a deep shade of purple. Tiny cuts marred his face, and I noticed the cut above his eyebrow was stitched. I was glad he was okay, but I didn't expect to see him today.
"Zander?" My voice was shaky when I spoke to him. He looked at me, slowly lowering his hood. It was as if the confident, arrogant guy I talked to at the bonfire was gone and was replaced with this shy, scared little boy.
What happened after I left?
"Hey, Lala," his smile was warm. "I know I already said it, I just wanted to say it again. Thanks, for last night, you know. Not asking questions. Helping me when I didn't ask. Thanks. I mean it. You didn't have too." He grinned.
I only nodded my head slowly. "Yeah," I said softly. "No problem, Zander. Did uh- did your brother come home?"
He chuckled slightly, the sound alone makes me weak in the knees. I like his laugh. "Yeah. Almost tore me a new one. But it's alright. He stitched me up and stuff."
"Oh? Is he a doctor?" I asked, genuinely surprised.
"No, no. Well, I mean I guess he would've been. He went to medical school, but when our parents passed, he dropped out to come get me," he breathed out a dry laugh, wincing lightly. I looked down, remembering his ribs. Before I could ask anything, he spoke again. "Hey, uh you have Mrs. Gale for English, right?" He asked, lifting his hand to nervously scratch the back of his head. At that, I narrowed my eyes at him.
"Yes," I answered simply.
He didn't let me jump to conclusions- thankfully. "Yeah. So that assignment she passed out today. You see, I'm no good at writing. Like, my writing is really bad. Kate told me you were pretty good. I was wondering if you'd help me, you know? You don't have too." He finished, tucking his hands into his pockets nervously.
I nodded. "Sure." Why not? Helping him wouldn't be so bad.
A grin broke out across his face then. No longer did he look like a scared, shy boy who was talking to his crush. He was back to being the confident Zander I've known him to be.
"Cool. Wanna meet at my house or yours?" He asked, and I cocked my head to the side.
Zander didn't seem like a bad guy. But still, I didn't trust him enough to let him inside my house. Not yet. And even though I went to his house last night, I was overwhelmed and overcome with worry for him. My focus was on him and making sure he was alright. Last night wouldn't be a regular occurrence, I hoped. I wasn't willing to step into his house again. Not yet. I wasn't ready.
"How about the library?" I offered instead, hoping he didn't question me. I wouldn't know what to tell him a cover story.
"Uh, sure. The library is cool too. After school?" He asked, and I internally sighed in relief. Thank you, Zander.
At least at the library, it was a public area and people would be there. I didn't need to worry about being alone with him.
I nodded my head. "Yeah, that sounds good. Right after school. Don't be late. If you're more than five minutes late, I'm leaving. Bring your laptop and the assignment." I didn't wait for a reply. I walked off ahead of him, my books clutched tightly against my chest.
I could do this. I could learn to trust Zander. Not in a romantic way. Not in a way where we would form an intimate relationship. But, we could form a platonic one. One where we're close, but not close. I could allow myself to trust Zander.
If he doesn't give me a reason to fear him, then I shouldn't fear him.
I could do this.
* * *
As soon as school was out, I immediately made my way to the library.
My stomach was in uneasy knots. Butterflies were flying around, making me want to throw up. But I held back. I was just nervous that maybe this whole 'helping Zander' thing wouldn't work out. I mean, he was dangerous wasn't he? He got into some fight last night. It didn't look like the first fight he'd been in, so it certainly wouldn't be the last. He was the type of boy I should stay away from.
But there was that nagging in the back of my head that told me to give him a chance. So, I would.
When I made it to the library I stopped short in my tracks.
There he was. Sitting at one of the tables. Alone. His eyes focused on the screen in front of him His hands were clasped together, his chin resting on them. His brown moss of hair was, of course, spiked up. He looked so tired. I guess he didn't get much sleep last night.
Snapping out of my thoughts, I willed my feet to move and walked over to him. When I made it to the chair, his eyes flickered up to meet my own.
"Cutting it close, Lala. I've been here for four minutes. One more minute and I would've left." He joked, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
I rolled my own eyes, not able to contain my grin.
"Shut up," I mumbled shyly, sitting down. "So, have you figured out what you want to write your fear about at least?" I asked, getting straight to business.
The humor didn't leave his eyes, but he nodded nonetheless. "Yeah. I think I want to write mine about the fear of darkness. You see, when I was little- and don't you dare laugh at me- I was terrified of the dark. But when I was like twelve or thirteen, I uh, I realized how stupid it actually was. I started to turn off the lights in the house so I could see if I could get through a night without any sort of light. It wasn't easy, really. It wasn't until the fourth night, I fell asleep without waking up to turn on some sort of light. It was a stupid fear, now that I think about it. But after that, darkness was no longer an enemy of mine. I learned to welcome it. Accept it. Embrace it. I learned not to be afraid of the dark anymore by just forcing myself to come to terms with the fact that the dark isn't scary. It's only scary if I overthink and make myself scared." He finished, while I saw in the chair, slightly dazed.
After getting over my initial shock, I spoke. "Well, Mr. Poet, from the looks of it, you don't need my help at all. You're wonderful with words." I was sincere in my words. Zander sounded like a true poet from another world. The way he spoke was captivating. Surely, he didn't need my help with this. Not really.
Zander shrugged his shoulders. "I'm good at talking. Putting my own words on paper is the tricky part. Plus, she wants this to be a story. How do I make a story out of that?" He chuckled.
I pondered it over for a moment. It'd be tough. A challenge. But it was certainly doable.
"Well, for starters. Anything is possible when you're the writer. You have the power to create whatever you want. Your only limit is imagination, Zander. Do you want to write about your own experience or do you want to make it into a fiction story?" I asked him, taking his laptop from him so I could start typing down what our thoughts were.
"Well, I mean a fictional story would be pretty cool. But my own personal experience would be easier."
I looked up at him, smiling mischievously. "You're right, that would be easier. Which is exactly why we're going to make a fiction story out of it." I said, beginning to type.
"What? But I wouldn't even know how to start!" He complained.
"Zander, this assignment is meant to be a challenge. It's no fun if it's easy. So, here's what I'm thinking. You could make a story pertaining to your own experiences, but add a little more pizazz, you know? Like, you could focus your story on a little boy who's scared of the dark. Since you've been afraid of the dark before, you can illustrate that into the character's emotions. How he's feeling when he's in the dark; how he suffers; how scared he is; why he's scared. You can make up some backstory to his fear of the dark. And then, you could make it so the boy doesn't want to be afraid anymore. Much like you did, you can make the character cloak himself in darkness until he finally begins to get over his fear." I paused in my rambling, blinking up slowly at his intense eyes. "Why are you smiling like that?" I quirked an eyebrow, forgetting about my next words.
"Nothing, nothing." He muttered softly. He didn't stop smiling.
I shook my head. "You're listening, right?"
"Yeah, of course. But how should I end it?" He asked, leaning back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest.
"Well," I paused. "You could end it with him having to ultimately overcome his fear. You could create an obstacle the character has to go through. Maybe he loses something and the only way to get it back is by going into the darkness. Just, something with him having no other choice but to willingly go into the darkness. You can end it with him finally understanding that there's nothing to be afraid of in the dark. Or something like that." I finished, waving my hand around.
I wasn't typing the story for him. But I was writing the ideas down. So he wouldn't forget. When I was finished I turned back to him, showing him the computer. "How's that?"
He didn't even spare the screen a second glance. "I love it. You're really good at this stuff, you know. What are you writing yours on?" His eyes held that of genuine interest and I almost couldn't help but to shy away from his gaze. Zander wasn't intimidating to me. But he was.. Odd. I've never quite met someone like him before.
"Thanks. And I don't know yet," I answered honestly. "I was trying to brainstorm all period but I just haven't figured it out yet." I sighed exasperatedly, huffing out an irritated breath, earning a light chuckle from Zander.
"Well, what are you afraid of? Not having enough money to buy that new dress at the mall?" He snorted with laughter, while my heart constricted painfully in my chest.
If only my fears were that simple. That irrational. If only my fears could even be explained.
After noticing my silence, Zander quickly sobered up. "Hey, Lala. I hope you know I was only kid-"
"I know." I cut him off, forcing a tight smile on my face. "I have a lot of fears, Zander. It's just picking the right one to write about. That's my problem. As soon as I figure that out, everything else will fall into place." I said, avoiding his gaze.
"Oh," he trailed off.
"Well, I hope this helped."
"Yeah, yeah it really did. Hey, when I'm finished, you wouldn't mind reading it over right? To see if it's any good?" He asked hesitantly.
I nodded. "Of course, Zander. Good luck." I smiled at him, grabbing my things to leave.
I turned around. "Hmm?"
"Do you need a ride home or anything?"
Shaking my head, I tighten the strap of my bag, my heart picking up its pace slightly. "No, thanks. I have my own car."
"Oh, right," he chuckled. "Thanks for the help, Lala." Zander sent me one last friendly smile before I nodded my goodbye and left the library.
* * *
When I got home, I was still thinking about Zander.
What his motives were.
This was a start. I could talk to him without wanting to strangle him to death.
He was different. Zander wasn't what I expected to be. He was... genuine. But was it an act? I still had to be careful. But even I knew, talking with him was easy. I felt at ease around him. Yet, my head wouldn't let myself forget about why I needed to be cautious, still. My heart was screaming at me. Shouting from the top of its lungs to just let down my guard; to trust someone.
But that was the thing about hearts. They involved feelings. They involved attachment. Which involved the risk of being hurt. The risk of breaking my heart even more. Whereas, the brain is logical; realistic; rational. The brain does not involve feeling because its purpose is to protect.
I could ignore my heart and listen to my brain. But if I lived my life listening to my head, I would be forever trapped in a bubble I couldn't pop. I would be protected, yes. But I wouldn't be living.
But if I followed my heart; my feelings; my truest desires; I could live life. It involved risk.
But no one ever lives life without risk. No one gets through life unscathed; unharmed. No one lives life in a perfect harmony with birds singing every morning and the sun forever shining down on everyone- hope never dwindling.
The sad truth about life was exactly that. Life was bittersweet. I just needed to turn the bitterness into sweetness.
I opened the door to my room, slinging my bag on the floor.
Exhaustion crept upon me in no time but as I talked myself into taking a short nap, my blood ran cold.
I stopped my breath hitching. My body went into shock, a type of coldness simmering in my veins.
There, laying on my bed in a crumpled mess, was a note. The note:
'We had fun, princess. Maybe we can have another go at it soon? Remember, you asked for it. Girls like you don't get raped. They only get what they secretly desired. Be a good girl and keep quiet'
The note itself wasn't what bothered me.
It was the fact that I crumpled that paper into a ball and threw it away- two years ago.
That was what bothered me.