Warning Signs

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"Mine's gonna be bigger than yours Joe!"

The hot sun beat down on the white, sandy beach as Matthew carried his blue, plastic bucket full of thick, wet sand over to where the boys were creating sandcastles.

"No way Matt, I got you beat, sorry." Joseph chuckled, not bothering to look up from his intricate task of creating large peaks at the top of his castle.

"It is too gonna be bigger than yours! You just watch." Matthew huffed, his small voice full of determination.

Joseph finally looked up at his younger brother's sand castle, it was lopsided to say the least, and nearly falling apart, but Matthew looked upon it fondly, his smile full of pride. Joseph looked down once again to his own castle, it was smooth and neat, he had even used a few twigs to create a makeshift bridge connecting the two pillars together. He listened once again to his little brother's huffs, and watched Matthew's small hands pile the wet sand higher and higher, tiny granules of sand stuck to his wrists and elbows.

Giving an internal sign, Joseph glanced down at his own hands, giving his castle one last look before bringing his palm up, leaning over awkwardly, and smashing it down onto his own castle.

"Opps!" He feigned surprise, he looked down at the remains of his creation before giving his little brother an exaggerated sigh, "Looks like you were right little brother."

Matthew looked up quickly, his small smile turning into a huge grin. "See! I told you mine was gonna be bigger!"

"Yeah," Joseph grinned back, "You were right Matt."

My hands trembled uncontrollably as I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. Tiny beads of sweat prickled along my forehead, and my eyes, which were usually a warm green, were almost black. With each passing day I could see myself getting closer and closer to failure and destruction. My head pounded furiously while my stomach turned.

Every single morning started out this way and today it nearly drove me to the edge. I splashed cold water over my face, trying to shake the feeling. It didn't help, nothing ever helped. I knew what my body craved, what it needed to be sated. I struggled internally, tried to keep in control.
I pushed away from the sink and walked over to the dilapidated kitchen. It was gloomy and dark, the walls a faded, grey color. And what was probably used to be warm, honey colored cabinets were now just a black, greasy mess, left behind by the previous tenants.
I headed for the rusted, off white refrigerator, and opened it warily. It let out this terrible screeching sound as the hinges rubbed against each other, and I winced involuntarily. I was going to force myself to eat something, I didn't want to, but that was part of the rules. Even if I had no appetite, I still had to make myself eat.
Throwing two pieces of bread into the toaster, I turned my head away as my stomach lurched from the smell. I shit my eyes tightly, tilting my head toward the ceiling, trying to keep it together. My hands gripped the counter firmly, and I leaned forward, resting my upper body on the cold tiles.
This was my life, every single day, and I was getting tired of it. A flash of bright glass caught my attention as I opened my eyes. There nestled behind some old, dirty pots and pans was a glimmering amber bottle. It was only half full, but my eyes locked onto it as if it were gold. And it was, it was liquid gold. I could see the succulent fluid pulling me in, the light glimmered off of it in a thousand rays, burning into my soul.
My trembling finger flexed against the counter, itching to reach out and capture the victory that I knew would taste so sweet. My body fought against the pressure and force beckoning it, luring it. I could smell the burn of the toast as it popped up, and my stomach turned again.
I spun around in a fit of pure panic, grabbing the nearest thing I could find. My fingers closed around the handle of the glass coffee carafe resting under the coffee maker. I flung it as hard as I could across the counter. It hit the pans in an ear splitting smash, sending shreds of glass exploding upward, falling all around me in a menacing shower.
I sunk down to my knees, not feeling the shreds of glass sticking to my palms, prickling them, causing tiny dots of red to break out along my skin. The liquid gold trickled into tiny rivers through the grooves of the linoleum, puddling near the wooden bast of the table.
I breathed in a deep breath, hugging my knees close to my body. I shut my eyes and rocked slowly back and forth, my brain begging my body to get well. I forced my mind to remember a time when my life was my own, and my heart full and happy. Images of the first time I met Sarah flashed through my mind, and when my hands trembled no more, I slowly opened my eyes.
I had won this round, it hadn't pulled me in, but the battle was just beginning...

"She always hangs out here." Ben had pulled me across the quad in his desperation to get a closer look at Cassie. Our English Lit class was finally over and we had the rest of the afternoon free.
"This is where her friend works, right?" I pulled my arm out of Ben's grip and kept walking towards the small building. The flashing neon coffee sign blinked at me, encouraging me to walk through those brightly painted doors.
"Yeah, she's the waitress. That's why Cassie is always here."
I wasn't listening to Ben any longer, the smell of fresh coffee drifted through the air, along with the faint scents of cinnamon and chocolate. I could see all the baked goods lined up in neat rows behind the large glass cases. Small round wooded tables were scattered around the far end of the room, and cozy leather sofas were nestled right near the windows. A few large, empty stools sat along the wall.
My eyes searched rapidly for her but didn't find her. Ben headed for one of the tables, his backpack in hand. It didn't surprise me to see Cassie sitting at the table next to him, engrossed in a book. She didn't even look up when Ben made all kinds of fucking racket, scraping the chair against the wooden floor as he pulled it back. I plopped down on the seat next to him, watching him with bored amusement. It was rare to see Ben all shook up and not in his element.
He deliberately flung his backpack down by his side so that it settled right in between him and Cassie, closer to Cassie than him. He made a great production of leaning over and rummaging through it, searching for an imaginary object. He pulled out his iPad, his elbow jabbing against Cassie's leg. Cassie finally lowered her book and glanced over at Ben with a small frown.
"My apologies ma'am," he said in his best southern accent. "I hope I didn't harm you."
Cassie's eyes widened at the sound of his voice, and I could tell just by the way she shifted her body that Ben really had a shot at this. Trying to stifle a smirk, I looked down at my fingers, absentmindedly tapping out a few piano keys, as Cassie accepted Ben's apology.
"Welcome to The Coffee House, what can I get you?" I jerked my head up, looking into the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen. She wasn't looking at me; her eyes were on the small white notepad she was holding; her fingers gripping a gold pen. She had her hair pinned back against her head in the large, black clip, making me wonder what it would look like down around her face. I was at a loss for words, just staring up at her, probably like an idiot.
She glanced down at me when I didn't respond to her, raising her eyebrows in question. Ben hadn't even turned his head in her direction, he was busy with Cassie, talking about the music on his iPad, I think. I struggled to think of something witty to say.
I stared at her for a long minute before muttering, "Well, um...what do you have?" Smooth...real smooth Steele.
Her eyes twinkled and I could see that she bit back a snort or something, "Well..." She began with a small smile on her lips, "We have coffee, and more coffee, and that's about it, unless you're hungry? You could get a muffin, or a cookie."
"I'll have the coffee." I offered her a sheepish smile.
"Excellent," She smiled back before scribbling something onto her notepad, "And your friend?" She glanced over at Ben.
"He'll have the same." I didn't even bother asking him.
"Sure thing." She tucked the notepad into the back pocket of her jeans. I could see it now, her name tag, the small black letter spring out at me.
"Thank you Sarah." I looked up into those beautiful eyes again.
She blinked at me, startled for a second before collecting her thoughts and giving me a half smile, "You're welcome."
I watched her walk away from me, my heart hammering wildly in my chest. She was beyond beautiful, the most stunning creature I had ever seen. It nearly overwhelmed me. Ben and Cassie's voices drifted across my senses.
"Most people don't realize the vast impact music has on our everyday mental, physical, and spiritual health, it really pulls us in..." Ben was droning on and on, but the funny part was that Cassie was hanging onto every word, her head propped up on her hand, and her eyes never leaving his face.
I looked back down at my fingers, they played a few retrospective chords against the wooden table, what did Joseph always tell me to do when I wanted to impress a girl? I racked my brain trying to remember, getting frustrated with myself when i couldn't. I never wanted to impress a girl so badly before, I never really had to, girls had always flocked to me in high school. Despite my reserved disposition and even brooding temperament at times, the girls still came around.
I really kept to myself, never dating a girl more than a few times, never getting serious with any of them. I spent most of my free time in the band room, hidden away in the corner, my fingers flying over the piano as I played song after song. Sometimes I would get bored of the same old thing and pick up the wooden guitar that no one ever touched, they all fought over the electric guitars, leaving the wooden one tossed carelessly behind the piano.
The guitar was old but made of Spruce, though it was not as pretty as maple guitars, I knew this guitar was at the "top" of flat top acoustic guitars. You see, spruce is light and has a tight grain. This enables the wood to vibrate much like a speaker cone. Better yet, as the guitar ages, the sap hidden in the grain of spruce gradually dries and crystallizes, further accentuating the bright, resonant quality of the wood.
Whenever I held that guitar in my hands it seemed as if the music just flowed right out of me. The notes soared high and low around the room, drifting and swirling in a lazy, whimsical lure. One time the band teacher walked in on me as I was playing and literally begged me to join the band, but I never did.
"Here you go, two coffees."
I could smell the beautiful floral, freesa scent of Sarah's hair as she leaned next to me and placed two cups on the table.
Before I could open my mouth to thank her, she placed a small white, wax bag next to my cup, "And a cookie." She winked, smiling, "It's on the house."
My eyes shifted down to the wax bag and then backup to her face in wonderment. I couldn't believe how excited I was over a fucking cookie. I mean a cookie? What was I? Five?
"Thank you." I desperately wanted to keep talking to her, but I didn't know what else to say.
"You're welcome, we give the cookies out to everyone their first time here at The Coffee House, it keeps the customers coming back for more." She grinned at me as my heart sank a little. It was part of her job, to give out the cookies; I was just a regular customer to her.
"My shift is over in five, I'll see you up front?" Her voice got all light and airy, my heart jumped when I heard it, I looked up at her in surprise.
"Yeah, I'm almost done here."
My head jerked over to Cassie as she answered Sarah, Cassie was looking right past me and over to Sarah. I realized they were making plans to meet up.
Sarah gave Cassie a quick nod and smile, she walked away from us. I stared down at my coffee and cookie dejectedly as Cassie exchanged her phone number with Ben. Shoving her cell phone in her back pocket, she rose and grabbed her bag, slinging it around her arm. She squeezed past Ben and came around the back of my chair.
"Just so you know," she said in a low voice, her hands resting on my shoulders, "Sarah does not give cookies out to just anyone," she giggled, "In fact, you're the only one." She gave my shoulders a quick squeeze and headed over to where the large stools were.
I looked down at my cookie with renewed fondness, a smile sneaking over my face. Ben snickered at my reaction, grabbing his coffee. "Hey, where's my cookie?" He complained, I wasn't listening to him. A beautiful melody suddenly filled the room with its soft notes and graceful aria.
When I heard her voice, singing, it washed over me heavily, the force and timbre invaded my mind, making me dizzy with want. Her words swirled and floated around me in quiet whispers.
Sarah looked relaxed and right at home, perched upon one of the stools, a beautiful wooden Roger McGuinn 12 string guitar was being stroked by her fingertips. She had let her hair loose and it fell in soft waves all around her shoulders. Her eyes were bright and shining as she sang, making me unable to catch my breath, unable to move.
That's when I finally understood what Joe had been trying to tell me all along. Nothing would ever be more important to me, than her.

The horrific sounds of screams filled the night air. I could see the metal being twisted in all directions, collapsing under the force like a toothpick broken in half. Sparks and flames shot upwards towards the heavens. The smell of burned rubber made me want to hold my breath. I kept running, trying to reach it before it was too late. I could see the people huddling together on the sidewalk, terror written across their faces, gasping and pointing.
Sirens grew louder and louder, drowning out the rapid beating of my heart. Still, I kept running, as long as I kept running I would make it. I wouldn't fail this time.
But no matter how hard I tried, it was always just out of my reach. I extended my arm, straining with all my might, it was only inches away. I could see those haunted, frightened eyes looking back at me, warning me to stay away. Only I couldn't, I would keep fighting, until the orange flickering flames were all around me, and I couldn't see the eyes anymore.
It crushed me like a thousand deaths, jerked me upright in bed. I was drenched in sweat, gasping for air. My eyes searched wildly around me in the darkness, I could almost smell the awful burn, feel the heat of the fire.
I clenched my eyes shut, trying to block out the madness. I fell against my pillows once more, taking in large gulps of air, until my breathing leveled out. I willed my brain to think of something else, of a time before these nightmares. And I thought of Sarah, I always thought of Sarah. She would be at the park with Henry tomorrow afternoon, as she always was, and even though they never saw me there, I was always with them, watching, waiting, for the time that we would be together again, hoping and praying that it would happen soon...

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