My heart is on a mad rampage to escape my body. Adrenaline is coursing through my veins like a Formula One racer. My mind is drifting between dream and reality as it fires off stress signals that have my skin turning prickly from cold and blistering with heat all at once.
Something heavy is preventing me from my escape. I can’t flee because I currently have, what feels like an elephant, sitting on my chest. My eyes flutter, but sleep is unwilling to release me. In my mind, I’m being crushed. My life is evaporating from my lungs as the pounds on top of me slowly deflate the breath from my body.
All clear signs of panic.
I’m debating how exactly I can fight for my life while unable to move when suddenly it clicks, and my eyes fly open. I’m relieved to know it was all just a dream. But my relief is short-lived as I realize that I do, in fact, have an elephant on my chest. That’s if an elephant came in the form of school supplies, a backpack, a box of candy, and an entire life’s collection of clothing.
I’ve been buried alive in my own crap.
“Mercy!” I yell, but my angry voice is met with silence. I strain to peek over the mound sitting on my chest to find that Mercy’s bed is empty. I’m alone.
With one gut-busting thrust, I’m able to shift the pile on top of me just enough to allow gravity to take over, and it tumbles to the floor in a noisy heap. The carpet does little to soften the sound of a hundred pounds of junk hitting the floor. The people living below me are probably slightly concerned about my safety.
Since I have no classes today I spend my morning putting all my belongings back into their previous homes. Definitely not how I planned on spending my day. My mood is a clear indication of just how thoroughly I despise cleaning. Good news though is that I’m able to sift through all my stuff and throw away a lot of the things I never use. I even found an expired bag of Reese’s Mini’s, and gleefully tore the package open for consumption since no one was around to judge me on my hygiene. With all the preservatives in foods these days, it could probably be expired by fifty years and still be just as edible as it was the day they packaged it. Actually, I should be more concerned about the preservatives I’m eating than the expiration date.
Once my things are put back in order, I decide to finally enjoy some good old fashioned reading. I pull an actual, physical book from the shelf that I just recently organized into size-order and cuddle under my blankets for added cozy effect while I skim through the delicate pages. I read about ten pages before I realize I’m bored. I hate rereading things. Once I know the entire plot and the guessing game is no longer a guessing game, it kind of removes the thrill from reading. Why read something that I already know the ending to? Unless it’s poetry, or just exceptionally deep and inspiring, I have a hard time reading it again. I throw the book down and jump off my bed, realizing that my stomach is actually busy working on eating itself—that’s how hungry I am.
I head to the cafeteria, which is a place I normally avoid like a foot avoids a pile of crap, but desperate times call for desperate measures... so here I am.
I grab a tray and proceed to wait patiently in line. I’m thinking back to this morning when I thought I had an elephant sitting on my chest, and I’m suddenly wishing it was true. I could have killed it, cooked it up, and eaten the entire thing. That about sums up just how hungry I am at this moment. Like, if my arm isn’t careful I will eat it. If this line doesn’t hurry along then I might just become a danger to myself. Even the mayonnaise-smothered pea salad and floppy, nearly uncooked, bacon appears appetizing.
This level of hunger is a scary place to be. It’s the stage that makes people fat because everything Must. Go. In. Mouth! I snag a carrot stick from the salad bar next to me as I shift back and forth from one foot to the other impatiently.
Plate full and saliva glands bursting, I hurry my way across the bustling cafeteria and find myself an empty seat near a window. I instantly turn into a wolf as I basically breathe down my food. If I could get away with jumping on the table and chowing down like an animal, I totally would. Wild Emma breaks loose when I’m hungry. I’ve named her Betty the Beast.
Now that I’ve eaten, my brain is functioning properly again, and I suddenly realize that I haven’t heard from Trevor in awhile. He seemed so ticked off when he hadn’t heard from me, but now that I’m back on campus he’s surprisingly quiet. Curiosity finally spurs me to head back to the dorm, since I happened to leave my phone in my room. Typical.
I push through the door and rush to grab my phone from the side table next to my bed, expecting it to just be crammed full of missed calls and unread messages. Instead, I’m met with a blank screen. By blank I mean black. Nothing. Dead.
I groan because this seems to happen far too often with me. Am I really that careless about keeping myself reachable? What if something happened to my mom and my phone was left in my car or dead, and I didn’t get it until days later? That would scar me for life. My extremely responsible self needs to remember this.
I get my phone plugged in, and the moment the screen comes to life it begins to ring in my hand. I glance at the name on the screen. Trevor. I try to swallow down my excited little heart from jumping out of my mouth. Cue the instantly sweaty palms. He’s gonna rip me apart, and I don’t even care because I’m so anxious and nervous about just hearing his warm voice. I take an audibly deep inhale, preparing my lungs for not being able to get another full breath. He could do something as simple as cough at me, and I’d be a hot breathless mess.
“Hello,” I say, after quickly scooping up the phone and hitting the ‘talk’ button at the same time.
“Emma!” He sounds irritated, but he’s doing a good job of controlling himself. “Where have you been?”
“I have been calling and texting you for days, and I’ve heard nothing,” he interrupts.
“I know, I went to—”
“I’ve been going crazy!”
“—visit your sist—”
“Yeah, I know that now,” he says, cutting me off again.
I’m suddenly very aware of how irritated people must get when I interrupt them constantly. Lindsey must be the queen of patience to be my friend.
“Emma, what is wrong with you? Are you completely unaware that other people might worry about you when you vanish for days at a time?”
“I’m sorry Trevor. I just for—”
“I came after you,” he suddenly says, and the line instantly goes silent.
I can almost hear his regret as I listen to him suck in a sharp pull of air before letting it out slowly. I can imagine him rubbing the back of his neck, and shaking his head as if he’s reprimanding himself for revealing this sacred piece of information.
“What?” I gasp quietly. My throat won’t allow any more than a whisper to pass through as it closes up in shock.
“I uh... came after you,” he repeats with a bit less confidence.
It makes sense now why he never asked me why I wasn’t in class yesterday. Apparently he wasn’t either.
“Wait, are you saying that you’re—”
“Yep. I’m with Trinity.”
“You’re in Colorado?” Well, so much for whispering. My vocal chords just released all their shock into those three words.
“Yes,” he tells me sternly, and the guilt instantly hits.
Because of my lack of communication he just made a thirteen hour trip to find me, and I’m not even there. But at the same time... wow! No one has ever done something so romantic, and I’m literally spinning with delight. I slump onto my bed as my muscles give out. I’m beginning to wonder if he feels just a little more than he lets on. Why does he try so hard to hide his emotions from me?
“Emma...” His voice drifts off and I wait silently for him to continue. “Why wouldn’t you tell me where you went? I had to find out from Lindsey.” He sounds legitimately hurt and to know that I hurt his feelings almost makes me want to throw up. My guts twist into a tight knot as I try to figure out the answer to his question. I’m a horrible person.
“Honestly?... I don’t actually know,” I confess in shame. “I just... I think that I thought you wouldn’t care.” I’m already cringing as I prepare for him to let loose.
“Not care?” I hear him sigh in exasperation. “You literally think I don’t care? Emma, even if I only cared for you as a friend, I would still care enough to want to know where you are and if you’re okay.”
I hear what he’s saying, but what he’s not saying is much louder. It’s nearly screaming in my ears. Did he just unknowingly admit to having feelings for me that go beyond friendship? A ringing is echoing inside my skull. My heart is going nearly as crazy as it was this morning when I thought I was being buried alive. I can’t breathe right. My chest keeps constricting but I’m incapable of pulling in a full breath.
Oh no! Can he tell that I’m nearly hyperventilating?
“Mm-hmm,” I mumble, hoping that he doesn’t catch the strain in my voice.
“Did you hear me?” he asks.
“Yeah. About caring for me more than just a friend?” The words fall out of my mouth before I can stop them, and I instantly try to cover up by laughing lamely.
“What?” he says, sounding completely confused.
I’m dying of embarrassment at my stupid mouth, and I’m so grateful he can’t see me. Why in the world did I say that? I could have just enjoyed his unconscious slip of the tongue, but instead the dodo in me had to go and spill my thoughts.
“I didn’t...” His words die off, and the line goes quiet.
Did he just realize his mistake? It’s strange that the air can grow so thick when the two of us aren’t even in the same room. The awkwardness is heavy enough that it can be felt in two separate States.
“I was just kidding,” I quickly say, and feel even stupider that I have to explain myself. This is just getting ridiculous now.
“We’ll talk more when I get back, okay?” Trevor finally says, and I’m half relieved and half broken because he didn’t verify what my heart was dying to hear. Maybe his feelings don’t go beyond friendship. There’s obvious attraction, or he wouldn’t have kissed me, but actual feelings? I’m not so sure.
“Okay,” I pout as I fling myself backwards so that I’m sprawled out on my back, my hair spread out above me on my comforter. “When are you coming back?”
“Uh,” His voice fades off a bit before he responds. “Maybe Thursday or Friday.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t expecting him to be gone that long. I feel surprisingly depressed by this news. “What about class? This is our last week as partners.”
“Well, I mean, we can just do our assignments over the phone, right?”
“Yeah.” I’m pouting again, and I feel like a selfish child. “Okay, have fun with your sister. I’ll see you later.”
The line goes dead almost instantly, and I’m wondering if he was really that excited to get off the phone. I listen to the dial tone as it beeps in my ear. I sit like this for far too long before hanging up. I need to do something to distract myself from being abandoned by the man I love.
I flip through my phone and suddenly realize that I have no messages or missed calls from Lindsey. I was gone for three days and after responding to my text about being in Colorado, I never heard from her again. This is definitely strange.
I tap in her number and wait for her to answer. When she doesn’t pick up, I leave a message for her to call me back, and then get busy watching some Parks and Rec. I need some comedy to get my mind off my shriveled little heart.
It’s nearly ten o’clock by the time I pull myself out of a Parks and Rec stupor, and I lazily check my phone. Still nothing from Lindsey. This is extremely unlike her. She’s that girl that lives on her phone. Worried, I quickly punch in her name and call her again. I wait. And wait... no answer. I leave another message and then decide to call up Mike. He’s the only person I can think of who might know where she is if she’s not with him.
As the phone rings, I suddenly wonder if I’m going to be disturbing something that I shouldn’t, but I don’t care at this point. I’m beginning to sense what Trevor probably felt when he couldn’t reach me. Only, I’ve been suffering for mere hours while he suffered for three days.
And my guilt just grew. Soon it’ll be leaking out of my pores.
If Trevor happens to feel even a hint for me what I feel for him, then he must have been in a frantic state of misery when I didn’t respond for days. Crapsack! I really am a jerk.
“Hello?” Mike’s deep voice greets my ear.
“Mike. Hi.” I was lying down, but I sit up abruptly as soon as the words leave my mouth. “Do you happen to know where Lindsey’s at?”
“Lindsey?” The word comes out sounding harsh. “Why would I know where she is?”
“Uh.” Now I’m confused. “Because you guys are like... together. Kind of. Almost.”
“Okay?” The tone he uses instantly makes me feel like I’m two inches tall, like he’s trying to make me feel stupid about something. This isn’t like Mike. He’s usually friendly. What’s with the attitude?
“Apparently she didn’t tell you what happened then,” he states.
My thoughts are going crazy. “Huh? What are you talking about?”
“Listen, I really don’t want to talk about this okay,” he says, and I can tell he’s ready to bid me farewell. “She left, okay? She left, and I’m not sure what I did wrong. You’re gonna have to talk to her yourself because I just... I don’t know.” The harshness in his tone begins to soften and I can feel the defeat spilling from his lips.
What in the world happened?
“Do you have an idea of where she might be?” I ask again.
“Not a clue,” he mutters, and my heart aches for him. He sounds so broken that I can nearly feel the sharp edges of his pain.
We say our goodbyes and then I jump from the bed, slip on my shoes, and hurry out of my dorm to begin my search. I just can’t believe what a selfish person I’ve become. It’s like everything about the last few years of my life has been about me. My father’s death, Trinity’s breakdown, Trevor’s hate. Then I start fresh and I still only focus on myself. I tried to do a good thing by visiting Trinity, but in the process I completely ignored the fact that other people might need to know where I’m at, because in my head others don’t care about the details of my life. Apparently this assumption has turned me into a selfish human being.
And now, here I am, sad that Trevor won’t be coming home the very moment I want him to, while my best friend suffers somewhere alone. When did I become so thoughtless?
Lindsey needs me even if she doesn’t know it, and I’m going to find her. I’m going to be that friend that everyone else has been to me. The fact that she hasn’t messaged me for nearly three days now has me very much concerned. She could be off drinking herself senseless, or lying somewhere in a gutter. What if she was in an accident and her life is bleeding out of her body.
I need to find her, because at this point in time, I don’t actually know if she’s okay.
Either Lindsey wanted to be found, or she was too distraught to care. I step through the door of Distilled, the bar/restaurant, and immediately spot her blonde head across the room. She is seated in the furthest booth, in the darkest corner of the room. I make my way forward, hoping that she won’t be too disappointed that I’m disturbing her. The moment I spot her blotchy, red face, I know she needs me.
“Lindsey,” I whisper, not wanting to break the silence.
Her gaze meets mine, and a forced smile touches her lips. “Hey,” she mutters softly as she takes another sip of the bubbly gold liquid in front of her.
My eyes scan the tabletop and concern churns in my gut as I take in four empty glasses.
“Lindsey, are you okay?” I ask as I slide into the bench seat across from her.
Her head dips, and I get the impression she’s ashamed of something. Maybe she hates that I caught her in the depths of her misery. I sit quietly, waiting for her to find the words she needs to answer my question.
“I ran,” she finally says, and I’m more confused than when I first stepped foot in the restaurant.
“What do you mean? Ran where?” I ask, trying my best to decipher the look on her solemn face.
“Away,” she chokes, and I nearly regret asking when I notice tears welling up in her eyes again. “I ran away from him, and I don’t know why. Now he hates me.” She begins to blubber and I instinctively hand her one of the stray napkins that are littering the table.
She dabs her eyes as my mind scrambles to understand what she’s talking about. I know it has something to do with Mike.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning. What exactly happened?” I ask once she’s pulled herself together.
She hiccups before taking a deep breath. “So, Saturday, Mike decided he wanted to do something special with me. He said it was going to be a surprise. I was so excited, Emma. Like, all day that’s all I could think about. He ended up taking me into the city to this rooftop restaurant attached to a garden overlooking the city. It was beautiful and so romantic.” She pauses to take another breath as she tucks her hair behind her ear. “He told me he loves me.”
I gasp. “He what?” I’m smiley like a model on a toothpaste commercial until I see her glassy eye, and my smile drops off. I lock it up in smiley prison, to be released at a more appropriate time. “Why is this bad?”
“Because,” she mumbles, “he then took me for a little drive down the street, where he planned on having me meet his parents.” She drops her head into the palms of her hands, pulling at her hair.
“Wait a minute,” I order, putting up a hand, palm out, as a sign to stop. “Are you guys officially dating then? Why didn’t you tell me?” I had kind of assumed they were, but I’m hurt that she never shared this vital piece of information with me.
“What?” Lindsey freezes, and I can tell she’s rewinding through all her memories until she points her gaze at me. There’s guilt written quite clearly in her features. “I thought I told you. Did I really not tell you that?”
I’m already shaking my head ‘no’ before she even completes her question. “Nope,” I say, putting emphases on the ‘p’.
“I’m sorry. I guess I’ve had a lot on my mind.” She sounds regretful, and I remember that this moment is not about me.
I bury my own feelings so I can focus on hers.
“It’s fine,” I tell her with a gentle smile. “Let’s hear that story.”
“Okay.” She laughs softly before getting back to the reason for her tear streaked face. “So, we actually started dating like, what, two... maybe three days after we set you guys up and you ended up apologizing to Trevor. You remember that?”
I huff out a laugh that lacks any humor. “How could I forget?” I mumble.
“It was a Sunday that he asked me to date him. So yeah, I guess we’ve been dating for a little over two months now. Oh my gosh, I just can’t believe you didn’t know that. I’m horrible. I guess I just figured you were busy with Trevor.”
“Well, then I should be saying sorry too, because if you thought you couldn’t talk to me just because I was working on things with Trevor, then that doesn’t make me a very good friend,” I say, reaching across the table to grab her hand. “As long as we promise not to let it happen again, then let’s just say we’re all good. Now please, finish your story.”
She nods before continuing. I pull my hand back and drop it into my lap as I relax against the seat.
“Okay, well his parents live in the city,” she begins, “so we drove to their place. I was completely unaware of where he was taking me, so when he pulled into a driveway and shut off the engine you can imagine how confused I was. He turned to me, and the look on his face made me so nervous.” She stops to glance at me. “It was one of those moments where I could have sworn he was going to propose or something, and I wasn’t ready. I started freaking out, and I can just remember the hurt on his face. Thank goodness he wasn’t really planning on proposing or my reaction probably would have killed him.
“He finally got me calmed down,” she says. “He grabbed my face and forced me to look at him, and I remember feeling my body melt from the warmth in his eyes. He’s such a passionate, gentle person.”
I’m nearly gagging at the love-struck look on her face, but I don’t comment. I just listen like a good friend should.
“That’s when he broke the news. ‘I’d like you to meet my parents’ is what he said. I didn’t even think,” she tells me. “I just threw the door open and walked away. He tried to chase me down, but it was like my brain had shut off. I was gone before I was actually gone. He finally gave up the chase, because I had already tuned him out.”
“Lindsey.” I’m shaking my head in disappointment from her harsh reaction. The poor guy did nothing wrong. “Why? Why would you do that?”
She glances at the delicate watch dangling from her wrist before eyeing me again. “This might take awhile. You got some time to listen to me ramble?”
“Absolutely.” I relax further into my seat as I prepare for story time. I hear my phone vibrate from somewhere inside my purse, but I ignore it.
“My childhood was unique,” she starts, and she seems strangely nervous as she plays with the salt shaker on the table. “See, I have a brother who is six years older than me. He was in high school before I even made it out of elementary. He was a bad kid. Started off with him sneaking out at night when he was about fourteen. He’d go out partying, eventually got into drugs, had to be bailed out of jail twice during his freshman year of college. Like, he was a mess. By drugs, I mean the hardcore stuff. Like, the stuff that rots your teeth and kills your brain. It was bad.”
“Wow, I had no idea,” I gasp.
“Yeah, well, most people probably didn’t even know I had another brother. For the most part it was always just me and Chuck. My parents basically disowned Simon. I talked to him for the first time after four years during my senior year. It was extremely weird. We’re still working on our relationship now, but at least he seems to have turned a corner. My mom calls him occasionally, but my dad still wants nothing to do with him. He’s clean now, and actually just got engaged a few months ago. I’m beginning to think he’s for real, but my dad can be stubborn.”
“Anyway,” she exhales loudly. “Moving on. So, my brother kind of left a bad imprint on my parents, so by the time I stepped foot into high school they were ready with chains and bolts. They barely let me breathe without permission. I was a part of every stinking club, graduated at the top of the class, as you probably remember. I was in dance and did horseback riding. Dance didn’t last long though because I’m completely uncoordinated. Can you imagine my lanky self trying to be graceful?” She chuckles. “It was painful to watch.”
I laugh at her admission, leaning forward to rest my elbows on the table. “I have a pretty entertaining image of it, though,” I joke.
“Shut up,” she huffs, but I don’t miss the smile that dances across her face. “So, my parents basically filled every free moment of my life with something. Even time with my friends had to be penciled in. It was ridiculous, and it really messed with me. Like, I had no freedom. My parents felt like they couldn’t trust me before they gave me a chance to even prove myself. It started to really wear on me. I was so relieved when I finally graduated and moved three hours away.” She pauses to take a sip of her drink, and I watch her throat muscles work to get the liquid down.
“What about Chuck?” I ask.
“Pfft,” she scoffs, “Chuck’s as harmless as a gnat, plus he loved all that extracurricular crap, so my parents never even batted a worried eyelash in his direction.”
“So, what does that have to do with you meeting Mike’s family?” I ask when she doesn’t go on.
“Oh,” she laughs as she realizes that she never actually explained the most important part of her story. “I guess I was just hit with a moment of anxiety. He said the word parents, and an image of my parents flashed through my mind and I instantly felt trapped. I already have one set of parents that don’t let me breathe; I didn’t need two. I just didn’t think. I imagined having his parents breathing down my neck too, and it was too much.” She glances up at me timidly.
“I haven’t talked to him since that night,” she confesses while continuing to fidget with the salt shaker. “I feel so stupid.”
“Lindsey, feeling ashamed is not a reason to come drink yourself into oblivion,” I chastise, which just makes me feel like I’m sucking more of the breath from her lungs. She doesn’t need more people telling her what to do. I peek up at her, expecting her to be annoyed, but instead, I find her giggling at me.
“This?...” She lifts her glass at me, “is ginger ale. I wouldn’t stoop that low. It’s not like he cheated on me. Even then, I think I’d rather overdose on ice-cream than alcohol.”
I begin laughing along with her when I realize that I never asked her the most important question of all. I decide to wait for her laughter to die before voicing my curiosity. I place my chin on my fist as I watch Lindsey closely. I don’t want to miss even a fraction of her reaction. Her laughter fades off and she takes another sip of her ginger ale.
“Do you love him?”
My question has her choking on her beverage. It doesn’t last long, and finally, with a little burp, she recovers. I’m still watching her closely, and as she wipes choking-induced tears from her eyes, I know she can tell that I already know; there’s no getting away from my scrutinizing gaze.
“Then go get him.”
Lindsey and I talk for hours. We order drink after drink and eventually dump some food into our stomachs as well. I saunter back into my dorm room well after two before remembering that someone had tried to contact me earlier. I pull my phone from my purse and click on the single unread message. It’s from Trevor.
I probably won’t be back until Friday.
My heart instantly sinks. No! I could cry, but that would be a ridiculous reaction. It’s not like we’re even dating. Heck, it’d be a ridiculous reaction even if we were dating. It’s not the end of the world or anything.
In an attempt to assure him that I am alive, so that he doesn’t get thrown into a full blown panic attack again, I respond with a simple...
... and I’m so glad he can’t tell how much disappointment is wrapped up in that one word.