The hospital was crowded with the entire student body of Palm Valley Prep, teachers, students, and parents all crowding the small lobby and itching for information of the boy found bloody and unconscious in dumpster on school property. They were all holding onto a false sense of hope, hoping Asher’s injuries boiled down to some bruises and a shallow cut to the jugular, but something told Mina the doctors were withholding the truth from them, something told Mina that her friend was walking a fine line between life and death. She wanted to be mad at the doctors for keeping them waiting, she really did, but a part of her knew that not knowing the truth would probably hurt less.
She sunk lower into the couch beside Khalil, burying her head deeper into his warm chest as her whole body shook with emotions she couldn’t suppress, try as she might. Asher had been a jerk to her, but he was still her friend, still her first love, still someone she couldn’t stop caring about no matter how hard she tried. At least she had Khalil to hold her through the ordeal, at least she had Khalil to kiss her forehead and tell her that everything was going to be alright, even if was a lie.
“Mina, it’s going to be a long night” Khalil whispered above her head, his face buried in her curly hair as he spoke. “If Asher really is hurt, he’s probably going to need surgery, and that could take all night. There’s nothing you can do right now to help him. He needs his parents, and you need sleep. We should just go.” Khalil pleaded with her, but the words falling from his lips seemed to go in one ear and out her other.
“I’m going to try my parents again” she sat up, ignoring Khalil’s audible sigh behind her as she rose from the comfort of his lap and began pacing the tiled floor of the hospital lobby for what felt like the thousandth time.
“Mina-” He tried again, but she held up her hand to silence him, quickly pressing her finger aggressively against her phone screen for a few moments before placing it to her ear. She listened to the rhythmic buzzing of the dial tone on the other side, her eyes spinning as her pacing became faster and faster with each silent second that passed. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.
“Ughh!” she groaned aloud, throwing her hands in the air as the call went to voice mail for the tenth time that night. “Why aren’t they answering!” she was on the verge of tears yet again. “Why aren’t they answering?” she repeated once more, her frustration and anger only growing.
Without rising from the plastic blue hospital couch, Khalil reached for her trembling figure, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist as he pulled her to stand in front of him once more.
“Hey” he sung, but Mina was looking down at her fidgeting hands, she couldn’t stay still.
“Hey.” He repeated once more, moving one of his hands from around her waist to stop her hands. “Calm down” he whispered. “Everything’s going to be ok. Your parents are probably-” he paused, thinking of an excuse. “Their phones are probably dead” he replied matter-of-factly and Mina scoffed at his lame attempt at an excuse. The more likely reality was that her parents had left on a work trip like they always did. She could already hear her mothers snickering voice now, “There’s no service on the plane Mina Joyce”
She muttered her thoughts inaudibly under her breath as she pocketed her phone once more., slipping it into the back of her jeans. “God” she moaned, yanking herself free of Khalil’s grip as she moved to bury her face in her hands.
Khalil dug his fingers harder into her sides at her action, and she had to physically stop herself from attempting to throw him off. She knew he was just trying to help, but his coddling wasn’t going to tell her if Asher was ok or not.
“He’s going to be ok right?” her voice was thick with tears as she began to visualize Chris’s paralyzed body over and over again. “Asher’s going to be ok?” she looked up from between her hands, daring the boy in front of her to give her a sliver of hope.
“Of course baby” he didn’t hesitate. “Asher’s going to be just fine, but I really think you should get some sleep before-.”
“I’m not leaving until I know he’s ok” she immediately began to shake her head back and forth in Khalil’s arms.
“I know. I know. Mina, I know, but you cant’s help him right now, and if you don’t get some rest-”
“I said I’m not leaving” A number of heads turned in their direction at Mina’s abrupt and unexpected outburst. She hadn’t meant to yell at him, but her words had come involuntarily, her emotions controlling her.
“I’m sorry” she quickly apologized, rubbing her hands against her face again. “I’m sorry.” her voice was muffled underneath her palms. “The- the-um- the cafeteria” she stuttered, dropping her hands, though she was still unable to look her boyfriend in the eyes. She ran her fingers through her curls as she spoke “I think the cafeteria has coffee.”
“You- you want...coffee?”
Mina nodded silently, and she stepped back as Khalil rose from his spot on the couch. She felt guilty for sending him away, but she needed to get away from him, just for a minute.
“Ok” he nodded, and he placed a soft kiss on her forehead, his hands still attached to her sides. “I’ll be right back” Mina nodded in silence again, still unable to meet her boyfriends eyes, only plopping back down onto the blue, plastic-wrapped couch when the soles of Khalil’s beat up trainers were so far away that she couldn’t hear them tapping against the linoleum tiles anymore.
That’s when the tears she had been holding back begun to run down her face uncontrollably, her shoulders heaving with all the emotions she had been harboring inside and she had to restrain herself from screaming into the electric hospital air. First Chris, and now Asher, these types of things didn’t happen at Palm Valley. These types of things didn’t happen around her. She had never felt so in control and yet so completely lost at the same time and she wondered if this was what the rest of her life was going to feel like.
“Hey?” the couch beside her slunk down as a small girl took a seat beside her, and Mina quickly wiped her shining cheeks with the sleeve of Khalil’s jacket, though a new landslide of tears escaped the corners of her eyes to replace them. She couldn’t stop.
“MJ-” Mina recognized the girl’s voice, it was Hailey. “Hey” she sung “Are you ok?” she asked softly, and Mina wasn’t sure she had ever heard Hailey sound so unsure of herself, it was a shocking contrast to her usual snarky remarks.
“Fine” Mina was short and curt with her answer, her eyes still trained to her lap where she was wringing her hands back and forth in her lap again. She wiped her cheeks again.
“I-I” she stuttered. “I’m not here to- to bother you or anything, I just wanted to tell you that I’m- that I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.”
“Asher’s stubborn, and tough” Mina sniffed, shaking her head back and forth “- and-and he’s going to be fine. He’s going to be just fine.” She was talking more to herself than anyone, afraid she would burst into hysterics if she started to overthink again, but Khalil had said it himself. Asher was going to be perfectly fine.
“You-you haven’t heard?”
“Heard what?” Mina’s head popped up at the speed of light, her eyes boring into Hailey’s beside her, but the girl beside her seemed to be looking everywhere but in Mina’s eyes. “Hear what Hailey?” she repeated a little louder this time when Hailey hadn’t responded “Hailey?” her voice cracked. “Hailey!” she yelled her name now. “What haven’t I heard?”
“M-MJ I’m- I’m so sorry.”
“No” she shook her head, her neck twisting back and fort in disbelief. Hailey was lying. “No.”
“The doctor’s- the doctors tried everything they could, but he- he was to far gone once he got here.” Hailey tried to explain, but Mina was still shouting over her, drowning out every word she spoke.
“No! You’re lying.” Mina was on her feet now, the walls of of the hospital lobby beginning to spin around her as she turned in circles. “Where’s the doctor?” her eyes traveled without seeing a thing. “Where’s the doctor!”
“His neck was completely lacerated and he lost- he lost a lot of blood and-”
“Where are his parents! I-I want to talk to his parents!” she was screaming at the top of her lungs now, her body convulsing with a sheer pain she had never felt before.
“MJ!” Hailey had risen to her feet now, her tiny frame attempting to try and keep Mina under control with no avail, and a hundreds of pairs of eyes were staring back at her in awe, but she couldn’t have cared any less. “Where are his parents!”
“MJ, please” Hailey grabbed her arms, trying to steady her, but Mina was trembling on her feet, her knees threatening to collapse under her at any moment.
“NO! NO! NO! NO!” she screamed. “NO!” Everything inside her hurt. She could see mouths moving around her, but it was as if all the sound in the world had been removed and the only thing she could hear was her own palpating heart and erratic breathing. Faces swirled around her, but they all seemed to blend together into one until she could only see shiny silver blobs. She couldn’t feel her hands anymore and her fingers curled in on themselves, unable to move, she was completely numb, both physically and mentally.
She gasped for air, but it seemed there wasn’t enough in the world to satiate her.
“Noah?” Mina cried her friends name as her face slowly came into view, surrounded by a sea of curious onlookers, all harboring the same pain and confusion that plagued her own features. Everything was still spinning around her and yet, plain as day, Noah’s face stood right in front of her.
“Noah!” she breathed. “Noah he’s dead! Asher’s dead!” She felt her friends arms surround her and she couldn’t stop herself from collapsing into her chest at the touch. She missed the familiarity of the feeling, she missed it all.
“I know babe” she heard Noah whisper above her, her hands moving along her back in circles as she embraced her tighter in her arms. “I know.” she sounded as if she wanted to burst into tears too.
“He’s gone” Mina cried, her voice clogged with tears as she shook in Noah’s arms. “I-I was terrible to him and-
“Shhhh MJ, it’s ok. It’s ok”
No! No, it’s not ok. I-I yelled at him! I-I-I told him to stay away from me, and I nev- I never even apologized to him!”
“It’s ok MJ”
“I didn’t mean the things I said! I didn’t mean any of what I said! He was just trying to look out for me and-” Mina broke off, choked by the tears cascading down her face in a landslide.
“He knows MJ.” Noah whispered above her. “Trust me, Asher never stopped caring about you, and his death isn’t going to change that ok? But we have to get out of here right now Mina. We have to go.”
An inhumane sound escaped Mina’s parted lips.
“I know. I know.” Noah continued “But we have to leave before Khalil gets back ok? We have to leave before he finds you again.”
“What?” Mina wasn’t sure if it was from all the heavy hyperventilating or the crying but she was not only utterly confused, but she didn’t feel like moving to go anywhere. “What are you talking about Noah?” she muttered pulling back from her friends arms to notice the look of pure terror on her face.
“I can explain in the car ok, but right now we need to leave before-”
“Noah?” she questioned, but Noah’s eyes weren’t trained on her anymore, but instead a looming figure over her shoulder, and when Mina turned around she was met with the grueling eyes of her boyfriend, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. Khalil wasn’t wearing a smile anymore and the corners of his lips weren’t pulled into a smirk, he looked like the embodiment of pure unbridled anger and Mina’s heart begin to palpate in her chest again.
“I got your coffee” His eyes were dark and clouded over as he shoved the steaming cup of coffee into her hands without looking at her, his eyes trained on Noah’s instead.
“Thank you.” Mina squeaked, her gaze traveling back and forth between the two of them in both confusion and fear. Not now, not here, not while Asher was lying in one of these hospital beds dead.
“MJ we need to go.” Noah whispered into the electric air, maneuvering her body closer to Mina’s.
“Where are you guys going?” Khalil shoved his hands into his pockets, and the look of intimidation he wore on his face was scaring her.
“Mina come on.” Noah continued, ignoring every word that fell from Khalil’s lips, and the pleading look in her eyes almost made Mina take her hand and walk through the automatic double doors of the hospital without a second thought. Almost.
“We’re going to stay here and wait for news about Asher.” Khalil stated matter-of-factly and she jumped at the sensation of his hand wrapping around hers, pulling her tightly to his side without hesitation. His grip was tight and unrelenting and the more the two of them conversed the more nervous she became.
“He’s dead.” Noah said without falter.
“Please!” Noah scoffed, throwing her arms into the air in exasperation. “Don’t act surprised, as if you weren’t the one to slit his throat!”
“Noah!” Mina exclaimed.
“It’s fine baby.” Khalil spoke without looking at her, his eyes trained on the vocal girl in front of them. “I would never do something like that.” His voice was calm as he spoke, calmer than Mina expected it to be.
“Just like you wouldn’t push someone off a balcony or beat a rock over their head to try and kill them, right?”
Khalil’s hand grew tighter at Noah’s words and she writhed under his grasp. “Noah, I appreciate you being here. I really do, but- but maybe you should- you should go.”
“I’m not leaving without you Mina.”
“Yeah, well she’s not leaving without me” Khalil retorted.
“I think we all just need to take a deep breath and-” Mina tried to mediate, but neither of them was interested in what she had to sat and Noah interrupted her without a second thought, yelling in both of their faces.
“God! Tell her the truth Khalil!” Noah exclaimed. “Stop lying to her and tell her the truth!”
“Noah! Noah please!” Mina attempted to plead with her friend. “You’re making a scene.”
Noah ignored Mina’s protestations, continuing on as her gaze fell directly upon Khalil’s once more. “Tell her about your parents Khalil! Tell her who you really are!”
“You need to calm down.” Khalil’s voice was low and menacing as he spoke and it sent a chill down Mina’s spine. She didn’t like where this conversation was headed. “Listen to your friend, you’re making a scene.”
“He’s using you Mina! He’s been using you this entire time! He doesn’t care about you!”
“Noah?” Now Mina was interested “What- what are you talking about?”
“Don’t listen to her, she’s just spouting lies again Mina. She’s the one that doesn’t care about you! She’s the one who doesn’t want you to be happy”
Mina’s neck hurt from looking back and forth again and again. She didn’t know who to listen to, she didn’t know who to believe, but she did know that she was completely and utterly fed up with all the manipulation, and the fighting, and the arguing. They were both in the wrong, and they both needed to grow up.
“Oh my god stop it!” she yelled as they began to try and talk over one another, but her voice drew them both silent “Stop it!” she exclaimed, finally yanking her hand free of Khalil’s. “Do you two hear yourselves? You’re both acting like children. Noah, our friend is d-dead.” Her voice cracked on the word and she felt fresh tears spring up behind her eyes, nevertheless, she powered on over her friends. “Asher is dead! And yet the two of you still find a way to make everything about you!”
“Mina you don’t understand-” Noah tried, but Mina plowed on.
“Stop! Aren’t you tired of all these lies Noah! Aren’t you tired.”
“Mina, he was there the night your parent’s estate caught fire” Noah rushed out before she could be cut off once more. “His parents were the ones that died MJ. He was there, and he’s back for revenge.”
“What?” Mina questioned, but as she opened her mouth to speak again, another voice chimed in,“She’s telling the truth.” and in complete synchronization, all their heads turned to the automatic double doors of the hospital to find Beau standing mere feet away.
“Next time you try and kill someone” he spoke again “Try and make sure that they’re actually dead before you walk away.”