Extra 1: How She and I Found Love
*This is the first of four total extras I have planned. Enjoy!*
I fell in love. It was an instant attraction and I immediately had a strong compulsion to fall to my knees before her. Beautiful. Angel. Goddess. These were only a few of the words that came to my mind to describe her, but none of them seemed to quite capture her true essence. She was beyond such basic words as those, but it would be years before I’d find the right answer.
I’d just arrived at that empty classroom for my first session as a Spanish tutor for another student in need. I’d had many students before her, but none had made such a striking impression on me as she did. Most were slackers who only chose to use my services as a last resort, when they finally realized that passing without putting in a little effort was not an option. I’d always do enough to get them to at least pass, but I never went out of my way to help them greatly either.
I walked further into the classroom and allowed myself to take a closer look at her. She was hunched over slightly, but still retained her posture. Her head was deep inside a textbook, but I could clearly see her warm, mocha eyes scanning the page for something, but ultimately she kept coming up short. She was so focused; she didn’t seem to notice my presence at all. I cleared my throat lightly, to alert her that she was no longer alone, but also to avoid scaring her.
“Hello there, I’m Miguel. Miguel Arias and I’ll be your Spanish tutor starting today.” She didn’t respond immediately, but she did look up slowly, giving me a better view of her face. She wore an absolutely miserable expression, and with tears pooling in her eyes, to me she said,
“Save me Senor...Mig...as...Migas! Yea, Senor Migas, help me understand this stuff! Please....” Her voice was filled with desperation and I had to stifle my urge to take her into my arms at that very moment. “I’ll do anything you ask of me, just please don’t let me fail,” she pleaded to me. I knew in that moment that I’d have done anything for her, but this was a start.
I smiled, as it was all I could do at the time without freaking her out with my impulses. I sat at the desk before hers, opened my book and adjusting my glasses I said, “Well, let’s begin.”
For many months, I was the happiest I’d been in years. For an hour a day she and I would be together in that classroom, frozen in our personal time, while the rest of the world carried on. We were supposed to be there for studying but ended up talking most often. We’d talk about all kinds of things, yet we never ventured too deep into our personal lives. It was as though we both subconsciously agreed to keep that a safe space where we could be ourselves and not be faced with our demons. No one could hurt us, or judge us, or shackle us as long as we were in that room. It became our sanctuary and studying became an afterthought. I’d do it for her instead.
“The Christmas trees in the square would look so pretty I bet,” she said to me one day. “They’d be lit up with all the lights and maybe it’d even be snowing. How pretty they’d be.”
“Aye, I’m sure they’d be pretty, but not nearly as pretty as you Nai.” I’d spoken so casually, but seeing her cheeks fill with color despite her darker complexion made me realize I’d been a little too honest. “Ah! I didn’t mean anything weird, I just thought…it was obvious.” There was a moment of silence and I was sure that I’d freaked her out enough to make her end this entire arrangement, but then she surprised me, as she never failed to do somehow.
“Well…maybe we could…if you’re not too busy I mean….” She was usually so articulate, but this time she was rambling on, trying to find her words. “Want to go see them?!”
Sacrificing her subtlety, she simply blurted the words out, but kept her eyes planted down, acting as if she was looking at her book, though it wasn’t open. I might’ve been passive, but I wasn’t inept at picking up on social cues. I realized that this was her way of asking me out.
I could feel my tan cheeks going hot and suddenly became hyper aware of her every movement. How she nervously intertwined her fingers, how she played with the loose end of her braid, and how she bit her lip slightly; something she tended to do when nervous or focused.
“I wasn’t trying to insist or anything, I’m sure you’ve got way better things to do than hang out with a kid like me.” She never looked up, but her face showed a mild panic. “I mean, you’re a senior after all, you’ve got college and stuff to think about. I’m just a freshman with no friends and too much time on her hands. I should be grateful you even agreed to tutor me. I-.”
“Nai.” I spoke more sternly than I ever had before, and it got her attention immediately. “Please look at me.” She hesitantly met my eyes, their amber tint reflecting in the window. I took her hand gently and held it firmly in mine. “You’re not some silly kid. You’re smart, funny and so kind. You’re one of the best people I’ve met, and I’ve never been happier than when I’m here with you. I would love to go see the trees with you if you’re sure I’m good enough for you.”
The way her eyes lit up; I was far more entranced than I’d ever be at some trees with lights. Her spirits were instantly lifted, and she began going on about all the stuff we could do before and after. I fell right into the excitement with her, so neither of us realized that we’d still been holding hands until the third bell rang, and it was time to go. That’s how it’d been going more often lately though, and our path to becoming a couple was all but assured it seemed.
“Five o’clock at the square on Friday, don’t be late, okay?” She spoke adamantly.
“Five o’clock, you got it. I’ll definitely be there. Nothing will be able to stop me!” I spoke so confidently and was so certain I wouldn’t falter. We said our goodbyes and left.
I’d already begun to let myself get excited and imagined walking the halls hand and hand with her as I made my way home. However as I entered that hell, I finally lost my wings and fell.
Worthless, weak, cursed, a burden, an eyesore. Only some of words used to describe me since I was twelve and left Australia for the American foster system. I’d somehow managed to keep my head above it all, but you can only take so much before the waves come crashing down. They came down hard on me, and I became exactly what everyone said I was. I became a loser and a shell of myself. I stopped drawing, I stopped thinking, I stopped living and let alcohol consume me until I was alone in the deep sea without a life vest. I was slowly drowning, and I didn’t even care. I figured it was only fair since I’d gotten to live all this time while my parents didn’t. I didn’t allow myself to think of having happiness anymore, I didn’t feel I deserved it.
Therefore I didn’t let myself think of her either. Needless to say, I never showed up for our date. I never called or gave her any explanation. I never allowed her the option to choose. I just assumed she’d be better off without me. God how I regret that decision every day. That one decision led to such suffering for us both that I can never atone for. I was such a fucking idiot.
By the time I had returned to the land of the living, she’d already moved on. She’d gotten caught in the talons of a deadly scavenger and I had no way to save her as I was then. Even If I somehow freed her from his grip, what could I offer her? I was a weak, worthless man with nothing to my name. I’d only disappoint her, and she’d have no reason to forgive me anyway.
So I resolved myself to becoming a man that could protect her and save her from that monster. I knew he was dangerous, but not even I imagined how dangerous he really was. If I had known, I’d have thrown my inhibitions away and done whatever it took to free her then and there. Even if she hated me, even if I had to steal her away, I’d have taken her back for sure.
However, I didn’t know, and I again made a decision on my own. I enrolled in the police academy, worked my way up to detective and went undercover at her university to try and win her favor as a completely different man. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off at first, no matter how different I looked and even though I was going by a different name. However, she really didn’t remember me at all. While it was beneficial for the situation, I’ll admit, it still hurt.
I didn’t let it get me down though, and I decided that I’d just have to win her over the natural way. I’d have to win her heart and make her fall in love with me again. I was sure she loved me back then, so the key was figuring out how to make her remember that. All while trying to respect the fact that she had a boyfriend, even if he was so wrong for her. I couldn’t tell her directly. I had to help her connect the dots and find out the sick, dirty truth on her own.
She eventually did however, and we found our way back to each other, but by that time, she’d already become entangled in a thick web of lies, deceit and murder. I held on to her tightly, but ultimately my strength alone wasn’t enough to protect her, and I again felt like a failure.
The day she told me that she didn’t love me anymore and was choosing him instead, I cried. My heart broke all over again just like back then. Even though I knew she was only saying it to appease him, I couldn’t help but think a part of her meant it and I’d lost her again. It was more than I could bear. I did everything in my power to get her back but fell short every time.
In the end, it was Nai herself that became her own savior and saved another victim at the same time. I always knew she was strong, but she proved just how strong with the entire ordeal. I may have come to her rescue, but she did all the hard work and ended the nightmare on her own.
From that day, she became my hero and inspiration to grow and transform. She made me evolve into a better version of myself. I’d found the right word to describe her at last. Phoenix.