Warning Signs

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Speed of Sound

"You're going to take her where???" Roxanna gave me a small frown before twirling her spaghetti around on her fork. "That's so boring."

I just shrugged at her trying not to second guess myself. Where to take Sarah on our first date had tormented me enough these last few days and I didn't need Roxanna's scowl or doubtful tone to distract me.

"Babe," Joseph placed his hand over Roxy's, giving her a warm smile, "Matt knows what he's doing," he winked at me, "He knows Sarah best. Let him take her there, it actually sounds perfect for both of them."

Roxy wrinkled her nose at him before turning to me. "Well at least bring her flowers or something."

I pushed back from the table, giving both Roxy and Joe a sheepish smile. "Thanks for dinner, I better go, my English Lit essay is due tomorrow and my professor is really particular about our format."

"Essay? What are you writing it one?" Roxy reached for her glass of iced tea.

"The speed of sound," I grabbed my sweatshirt off the back of my chair, slinging it over my shoulder, "Did you know when a sound wave hits a molecule it will vibrate, transferring the vibration to the surrounding molecules, which pass it on in the same manner. If those molecules are packed closely together, the sound wave can travel very fast, increasing the speed of sound, but if those molecules are not as close, the speed of sound slows."

"What?" both Roxy and Joe turned their heads to look at me at the same time.

I gave out a small chuckle before continuing, "I guess the best know example is fireworks. When there are fireworks, you see the explosion before you hear the sound. That's because light travels much faster than sound. So the light reaches your eyes before the sound reaches your ears."

"Oh." Roxy quickly waved her hand in dismissal and rolled her eyes, turning back to her food.

"Fireworks? I never thought of that." Joseph pondered my statement for a quick second before giving me a sly smile. "Fireworks, I bet you'll see some of those on Friday night."

Roxy let out this cynical laugh, still looking down at her plate. "And if you decide to take her someplace else for your date, you might feel some of those too."

There were a billion fucking twinkling stars in the night sky as I made my way over to Sarah's dorm. The warm air swirled all around me, stirring with excitement and the hustle and bustle of a Friday night.

I was early, by ten minutes, but I knocked on her door anyways, not being able to stand the wait any longer.
The door swung wide open, and I found myself looking down at her bubbly, animated roommate Cassie.
"Hi Matthew!" Cassie offered me a wide smile and then turned to look over her shoulder. "Sarah! Matthew is here!"
I opened my mouth to greet her but I couldn't even get a syllable in. Cassie launched into an endless prattle.
"So, where are you guys going? Is it nice outside tonight? Chilly? Ben is taking me dancing. How long have you two been friends? Does he like the color red? I wore my red dress, see?" She spun around flaring her arms out. "But if he doesn't like red I can change to my blue one. It's not as pretty as this one, but it is sleeveless, maybe he would like that even better?" She took a quick little breath and then peered at me. "Wow, Sarah was right, your eyes are so green. I never noticed that before, I just love the charcoal gray jacket you're wearing, it really makes your eyes stand out. Sarah said that..."
"Cassie!" My ears heard Sarah's silvery smooth voice drifting across the room before I even saw her. When she made her appearance behind Cassie I had to grip the doorway for balance. She looked stunning.
"Cassie." Sarah placed her hand on Cassie's arm all while flashing me a brilliant smile in greeting. "I found your lip gloss, I put it on your desk. You better hurry, Ben will be here in a few minutes."
"Oh! Thank you! I've been looking for it forever!" Cassie nearly skipped away, bubbling over in her excitement at finding her lost lip gloss.
"Hi Matthew." Sarah's voice was softer now, not quite as loud. She was still smiling at me, making my already shaky knees feel like buckling. I forced myself to take in a deep breath.
"Hi Sarah, you look lovely." I was amazed that I could actually form a greeting.
"Thank you. You look pretty nice yourself. Is this dress okay? You didn't tell me where we're going." She gestured downwards towards her lap, and then looked back up into my eyes.
"It's perfect." I smiled down at her, wanting to tell her that the way that shimmery blue dress hugged her body and flowed around her knees was just breathtaking, and that the tiny silver pins she had tucked in her hair made her eyes sparkle.
She smiled at me again, reaching behind her for her sweater. "I like your jacket." She giggled.

I could have driven there, but chose not to. So we walked along all the lit up shops and restaurants, looking into all the windows, watching all the couples stroll along the sidewalk beside us. Sarah's eyes danced from the stores to the people to the cars driving past us. Finally, she looked up into my eyes and slid her arm into mine, sending these tiny jolts up my spine.
"So, tell me about yourself." She squeezed my arm. "What are you majoring in?"
"Music." I answered, trying not to let her see how rattled I was at her hand being so close to mine. I tried not to move my arm, keeping it in careful control not to let our fingers touch. "I plan to write music one day."
"How cool." Her eyes brightened, "Your family must be very proud."
"They are." I could feel myself relax a little bit. The crowds were thinning out, we were almost there. "My parents couldn't be happier, and my brother won't stop bugging me to teach him to play the piano. He rebelled against piano lessons when we were younger, he regrets that now."
"The piano? You can play the piano too? I thought you only played the guitar. I mean, that day, when I saw you practicing, you were playing the guitar."
I could hear the awe in her voice and it gave me the confidence to adjust my arm, just a little bit, so that our hands lingered right next to each other. "I can play quite a few instruments." I smiled, making sure the bragging couldn't be heard in my voice.
"Really?" she let out this admiring little breath, "I can only play the guitar, that's it, that's all the musical genius in me."
No. I wanted to tell her, you can sing, and your voice is amazing. "You play beautifully." My eyes locked onto hers. She smiled up at me in thanks, her eyes twinkling brighter than all the stars in the sky, and I battled the overwhelming urge to kiss her right there.
"Thank you." Her tone lowered, it was slower and more drawn out, shaky almost.
As we rounded the corner the flashing lights of the electronic sign captured her attention. She turned her head away from me her eyes flying over the blinking letters. I watcher her, how she sucked in her breath when she read where we were, how her fingers opened up and wrapped themselves around my hand, how she turned to me eagerly, bouncing on her tiptoes.
Once I felt her hand in mine I knew. I knew that my life was finally complete, and I never wanted this to end.
"The symphony," she breathed, "Is this were we're going? The symphony?"
I nodded at her, pulling the tickets out of my jacket pocket.
"Oh!" Her hand tightened around my own again. "I love the symphony! I've been dying to come here. I've been bugging Cassie to come with me but she never wants to."
I couldn't hold back my grin any longer. "Really?" I cocked my head to the side.
"Really Matthew. Thank you so much for bringing me here."
So we didn't lend up in this fancy restaurant, or go dancing at the gaudy dance club, or park at lover's point to make out. No, we went to the symphony, and sat amidst all the older couples who cast approving, affectionate glances our way, pointing us out as the only young adults in the group.
Sarah held my hand the entire time, and as the music soared and spun throughout the room I hoped that she would never let it go. We couldn't see the violinist very well but we sure could hear the colle of the violin as the sound built up rapidly around us and then slowed smoothly creating an intense, charging effect.
Each new number the conductor introduced was livelier than the last and Sarah gripped hand tighter and tighter as the night wore on. I could feel her energy flow through her shooting straight up my arm and around my heart.
The last few songs were slow wistful melodies, full of yearning, reaching through our souls with their low timbre. My heart throbbed with each new rhythm until I felt it would burst, and when the final number of the night ended, everyone was on their feet in a standing ovation. Sarah squeezed my hand one last time before joining in on the applause.
She chatted happily on the walk back to her dorm, telling me about her parents, her youth, how she was an only child and always wished for a brother or sister. I told her about Joseph, my own youth, and as we got closer to her dorm I began to get nervous. I wanted to kiss her, but I wasn't sure if she would let me.
To be honest, every girl I had ever kissed always leaned into me first, taking that first unsure step out of my hands, but I was almost positive that Sarah would never do that. She wasn't like any of those girls, she was unique, special, and I wanted to treat her as so.
We lingered for a few minutes outside her door. The hallway was empty; almost everyone was still out dancing and partying, leading the life of a true college student. Sarah smiled up at me, her eyes were all lit up as she spoke.
"I had a wonderful time tonight, thank you so much for inviting me." She was leaning against her door, one hand behind her back gripping the door knob, the other resting at her side.
I smiled at her, trying to figure out how to close the distance between us, "You're very welcome, I had a great time myself."
She stayed quiet for a minute, her eyes searching my own as if she were looking for something. Still not quite having the nerve to kiss her, I used this as an opportunity to ask her out again.
"Sarah, would you like to go out again? Maybe if you're free, we could get together for dinner? In the middle of the week, if you'd like?"
She sort of rose on her tiptoes and flashed me another one of her exquisite smiles. "I would love that."
"So I'll call you?"
"Yes, you can call me, or stop by the Coffee House, I am usually there all the time, you can be my favorite customer," she tilted her head to the side, her hair falling over her shoulder, still staring into my eyes, "I'll save you a cookie..."
And even before the work cookie invaded my senses, both my hands were pressed against her door on either side of her head, my body finally less than an inch away from her, my head tilted in the opposite direction than hers.
Joseph was right, I felt those fireworks light up inside of me the second my lips touched hers. Her mouth felt so incredibly soft, yet so amazingly hot at the same time. I moved against her slowly, letting her feel the warmth of my lips, not forcing her to do anything more, but when I felt her hand gently slide up my chest, fisting the collar of my jacket in her fingers, I was lost.
My mouth opened to hers the same time my fingers closed around the back of her head. She let out this faint little moan as her tongue darted out to meet mine, and like the violin we heard earlier, the emotions rose and crashed all around us, pulling us higher along its peak, and then smoothing out, leaving us floating together.
"So green," She murmured against me, as our kisses slowed down. "Your eyes, so green, they're beautiful, I could get lost."
I'm already lost, I wanted to whisper in her ear, but all I did was pull her closer to me, breathing in her scent, reveling in the feel of her body next to mine.
And as the last few minutes of that Friday night ticked away, for the first time, I fell in love...

"Louis was very pleased that you attended all of your meetings this week Mr. Steele." Dr. Whitewater smiled up at me from behind his clipboard.
I actually felt like talking today. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the warm spring air that floated through the windows, or the sounds of the unseen birds chirping high above the trees.
"We're going to meet up again tomorrow." I offered, liking the effect Dr. Whitewater's approval had on my mood.
"Sounds like progress." Dr. Whitewater flipped through some pages, his eyes moving silently over his own words. He placed his pen down carefully by his side. "We need to go over our last session for a few minutes. It seems you have something to tell me."
I shifted in my seat knowing what I was going to have to say. I actually practiced it back at my apartment a few times trying to make the admission easier.
"It happened at the park." I tried to keep my voice emotionless, looking above Dr. Whitewater's head. "What I saw, last week, happened at the park. It made me angry."
"What made you angry Mr. Steele? What did you see at the park?" Dr. Whitewater didn't look up from his notes, which made me feel a little more comfortable.
"My son." I looked down at my hands; the skin was rough and wrinkled. I turned them over; they looked worn, used, old, just like I was. "And my wife, they were at the park, they go there every Monday."
Dr. Whitewater still didn't look up. "Were they okay? At the park? Did anything happen to them to get you so upset?"
"Nothing happened to them." I drew in a shaky breath. This was the hard part. "They were perfectly happy, playing, on the swings. I saw my parents with her, with my wife."
Dr. Whitewater gave me a quick glance before scribbling something down on his papers. "Your parents. I see. Did they look okay also?"
"They were fine. Seemed happy to be with Henry. They bought him a balloon and a hot dog from the vending cart..." My voice trailed off.
Dr. Whitewater remained silent, not looking up, not writing, just waiting.
"Sarah looked so happy, so relaxed. I haven't seen her that way in a long time. She was talking to my parents, smiling. I can't remember the last time I saw her smile, but I think it was because...because..." My throat tightened just thinking about it. The way her hair fell over her shoulders as she threw her head back and laughed at whatever he said to her. The way her eyes shone as she watched him push Henry on the swings. They way they sat so close to each other on the park bench, sharing stories. They couldn't see me, but I could hear every word they said. And never once did she mention me.
They talked about all the normal things in life, their jobs, how their day was going, some funny things Henry did during his breakfast with Sarah. And they looked completely happy together.
Their words ripped through my heart, burned right into my soul. I wanted to jump out from behind the tall trees and yell at them. Announce that I was still here, could still be a part of their lives.
"Because?" Dr. Whitewater's voice sounded far away.
"Because there was someone else there with them. A longtime family friend. He used to play basketball with my brother. His name is Clay."
"I see." Again there was that neutral tone, Dr. Whitewater always used it when he didn't want to seem eager.
"To everyone out there at the park, they were just one big happy family, complete. Two loving parents, two loving grandparents."
"But he isn't the parent. He is just a friend right?"
I just shrugged.
"It made you angry?" Dr. Whitewater began writing again.
"Yes, very angry." I kept staring at my hands, looking at the tan line on my left finger where my wedding band once rested.
"Because she's moving on, they all are. Sarah, Henry, even my parents."
"And so should you." It was the first time I heard emotion in Dr. Whitewater's voice, and it shook me. "The accident, it wasn't your fault Mr. Steele. There was nothing you could do. You couldn't stop it, everyone knows that. They are moving on, but you, you haven't, and if you don't hurry, sooner or later it will be too late to catch up..."

From my bedroom I could hear the neighbor's television drone on and on. There was always some sort of fucking catastrophe going on in the world that needed to be reported over and over again. I could almost picture the news reporter with his beady little eyes, eager to tell the world about another horrific tragedy happening.
I listened for a few minutes, my mind conjuring up its own images as the reporter talked. I could hear the sirens in the background. Some woman's screams. It all began to mesh into my brain with my own struggles.
That first night, the one after it happened, pulled me back in.
The moon bright and full. The streetlamps all turned on. My son, just a tiny infant, wrapped securely in his cradle.
It was peaceful, serene, but not in my head, inside my head a war was being fought.
"Baby please let me help you." Sarah's soft voice sounded so far away, it hardly reached my ears. I knew she was somewhere behind me, I knew she wanted to comfort me, but I didn't let her.
Instead I sunk further down into the cold tiles of our kitchen, my knees screaming out in protest against the unforgiving ceramic. But at least this I could feel. Maybe this pain would block out the one that invaded my mind. Took over my soul. I had done everything wrong, everything.
I still blocked her out, fisting my hair in my hands, shoving my head down on the floor. The tears flooded my eyes and I squeezed them shut, willing them to stop. I could hear the sirens over and over again, the screams and the terror, the haunting eyes.
It exploded into a million pieces when I felt her hand on my shoulder, she was trying to reach me and I didn't want to be reached.
I flung my arm back, and I saw fear for the first time in my wife's eyes. She stepped back, her own tears falling unchecked, still reaching for me. But instead of reaching back for her, I reached for the bottle. That glistening, amber bottle, with all its false promises. It whispered to me that it could erase my memories, erase my pain, give me peace. But it lied. I never forgot, never found peace.
I walked out of my house that night despite my wife's begging pleas and walked into my next life. Surrounding myself with new people who would become my family for the next year, the other drunks, the cheap women, the bartender, the bouncer who reminded me of Ben.
They all accepted me, no one judged me, no one wanted to talk to me about what happened. No one ever asked me why my eyes were so red, or why my hands trembled. The men all whooped and hollered when they were happy, sometimes ordering another round for everyone. The women would hang over my shoulder offering me a provocative smile and a promise of a good time. The days would turn to nights, and the nights to days, all meshing together in an endless blur.
So I stayed there, drowning myself in them, in the false promises, and in the bottle.
Sarah tried numerous times to pull me out of there. The first time she was scared, her eyes darting around her as she pulled her jacket closer to her body. She headed over to me, being careful not to touch me. I was hunched over the bar, probably yelling at the bartender who was taking too long to fix me my drink.
I listened to her voice without bothering to look at her.
"Please some home." She begged. "I need you, Henry needs you."
And I ignored her, pretending not to hear her.
The last time she tried to reach me, she was angry, tired, done.
"Matthew I know it hurts. It hurts all of us. Please come home. For me, for your son. He looks for you all around the house. Your mom, she came over yesterday, she wanted to show something to you. I had to tell her, even though I couldn't stand the thought of hurting her more. I had to tell her that you weren't there."
I actually turned to look at her when she mentioned my mom. Her eyes searched mine longingly until I turned away.
"I can't keep coming here." Her voice broke. "It's breaking my heart, and I need to be strong, for our son."
I watched her retreating figure. Watched her walk away from me; all while my screaming heart howled at me to go after her, but my body wouldn't move. The guilt and regret, the anger and sorrow, the lies and broken promises, they made me immobile, frozen in my own shell.
So I pushed her away, even though she tried to help me. I pushed them all away. My parents cried right in front of me and it didn't make one bit of difference. I hated them all at that moment. Because what they had showed me was a fake. A mask. Some kind of idyllic dream that could never be truly reached. I had believed them when I was younger, all of them, and that's what made me so angry...

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