Heal Me

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Chapter Fourteen

I stood outside the closed elevator for well over five minutes just staring at the scratched and dented steel doors. I wondered about the oddities of a life that tosses you both fortune and misfortune in equal measure. On the one hand, I might soon be embarking on a near death experience – or just a death experience – but on the other hand, I seem to have found, in Mason, a kindred spirit. One who shared my obvious lack of deference to social tedium but who secretly desired friendship. And with me…

I smiled to myself, because not many people in this life ever accepted me the way Mason did. Our time together had somehow softened my fears, set me on a high of expectation.

Finally, the shouting within my apartment grew to a disturbing volume, pulling me from my dumbfounded reflection. Notepad in hand, I slipped back inside the apartment and locked it noisily to let them know I was there. Cat and Sarah’s yelling didn’t even pause at the sound of my entrance. The former sat cross-legged in the living room at the perfect angle to glare toward the latter who had taken refuge in the kitchen. Both of them were red in the face – one from anger, the other from the exorbitant amounts of crying she had been doing.

“You can’t just not go to work!” Cat announced, rather loudly, from her place on the sofa. “What if you’re missing out on the tip of a lifetime? Maybe some spoiled millionaire kid will be there tonight!”

“Handing out ninety thousand dollar tips?” Sarah was kneeling on the counter and rummaging desperately through the cupboard for a can of organic clove powder and raw cane sugar. When she emerged with her treasures, her incredulous face was so red and blotchy even her freckles had morphed into tender, red dots across her cheeks. “Unlikely.”

I slipped out of my coat and almost threw it on the floor when I caught sight of Catrina watching me. In effort to keep her from getting an aneurism, I hung the coat carefully on the rack by the door and smoothed out the wrinkles before asking Sarah what the hell she thought she was doing. “You’re skipping out on work? What the frick? You got us in this mess, and now you’re just gonna quit?”

“I’m not quitting,” Sarah grumbled, jumping to the floor. Her voice was filled with all the same hopelessness she expressed in the slump of her shoulders.

“Not making an effort… is quitting,” answered Cat.

Sarah, her eyes glittering with fresh anxiety, replied, “What’s the use? There’s no way I can make enough money to pay these guys! Might as well enjoy my last two nights alive…” Frustrated, either with the situation or the tears, she swiped at her cheeks, leaving a trace of flour under one eye.

“So, what now? We just wait around to be dismembered?” Cat snorted. “Because I can think of a hundred different ways to handle this – all of them including a wig and a change of address form.”

“A change of address form might be counterproductive,” I informed her, earning an icy glare.

Sarah pulled a large bowl from another cupboard, gathered a wooden spoon. Tediously, she measured flour and baking powder into the bowl. I watched her hand shake a little. She seemed to be trying very hard to keep it together. “It wouldn’t matter. We can’t hide from these guys. It’s not like they’re teenagers. It’s not like they’re inexperienced, gangster wannabees. This is real.”

“A true New York experience,” Cat muttered, slumping forlornly into the sofa and pouring what was left of her bottle of wine into an empty glass.

Silence fell just then, eclipsing the conversation. Our ability to transfer the blame had dwindled, our bank of ideas was drained. None of us had the energy to fight. Instead, Cat went back to crocheting what looked to be a skull-shaped pot holder, Sarah went back to her baking, and I leaned over the counter and opened my notepad to see what Mason had written.

His penmanship was in all capitals, nice and neat. I traced the letters and numbers with a slow finger, remembering his concern. It was a simple message. His first name and ten digits followed by a notation.

I’ll think of you.

The words were direct and kind. He would think of me. And I would think of him. I smiled and traced his phone number with the tip of my finger, happy for a moment. Until the thought of Marcus and his minions crept in and wrapped it’s fingers around my mind.

For the whole of my existence, I’d wanted for nothing. Money had always just been there - in mounds. And because I’d had so much, it was never a thing to think about or worry over. Now, suddenly, I understood why people seek it so desperately. Why they hoard it, and protect it, and commit crimes to accrue even more... Why they seem to treasure their worldly goods above the people in their life.

When those things were merely clutter.

Suddenly, my back straightened. Mason’s writing blurred. All this time I’d been focused on the actual dollars – getting ninety thousand in its paper form – when items, this so-called clutter, could be sold for a similar value. But did I own anything worth that much? My investing hadn’t been in bonds, but in services. Getting a massage, a pedicure, or seeking entertainment. Nothing that I could sell. Except…

From somewhere in the distance, a voice brought me back to the moment. “…sure your dad can’t help out? Even if we promise to pay him back?”

I sneered at Sarah’s comment, still dazed from the idea forming at the back of my mind. “And trade one debt for another?”

“At least daddy won’t try and rip off our legs if we falter on a payment,” Cat chuckled.

I clicked my tongue, shook my head. “I wouldn’t count on that…” I loved my father, but he was pure business, after all.

The next silence was heavily laden with gloomy resignation. Cat meandered back to the counter and took a seat on one of the bar-stools. Sarah finished mixing her ingredients and started to dot a pan with what would soon be Cat’s favorite cookies. Even I could see what she was doing. Her baking was an attempt to calm both her and Cat’s nerves.

“There has to be something we could do to earn the money,” Cat was saying.

“A car wash?” Sarah asked, not sarcastically. “We could charge like ten dollars a car.”

Cat shook her head. “We’d have to wash like a million cars.”

“A million cars?” I asked her, narrowing my eyes and waiting for her to work out that math.

She held up nine fingers. “Ninety thousand... divided by ten...”

“It’s nine thousand,” Sarah explained. “We’d have to wash nine THOUSAND cars.”

“In two days,” Cat added, completely resigned, as she reached for a new bottle of red wine.

I folded my pad of paper closed and tapped it on the counter. It bothered me that I might have a solution to this problem, but the personal sacrifice was causing me to pause. “You think you should have any more of that?” I asked Cat, making no secret of my judgement.

“Yes.” She nodded once and held out her hand for Sarah to hand her the wine-opener. When she got the bottle open, I opened the dish-washer and pulled out a short, heavy glass more suitable for whiskey and slid it toward her.

I watched Cat pour me a glass and remembered the first time I’d met her. We were paired together for a Chemistry lab during my first year of college when I’d still thought I was going to be a doctor. Apparently, making hydrochloric acid isn’t as easy as it sounds, because - whatever we did wrong - the solution started foaming up toward the top of the container and looked like it might explode. My immediate reaction was to take a step back and wait for someone else to come along and fix the problem, but Cat’s reaction was to grab a towel, soak it in the nearby sink, and drape it over the beaker.

She would do this for me. “I might have the money,” I told them.

“Really?” Sarah almost yelled, startling me and Cat.

“Might,” I reiterated. The clock on the stove only gave me twenty minutes before game time. “I’m still working out the details. I don’t know if it’ll work…”

“Tell us,” Cat pleaded. “And we’ll help you figure it out.”

“We’ll do whatever,” Sarah added.

“Just give me some time to think about it.”

Sarah nodded and went back to cleaning the counter and rinsing dishes. Cat looked like she wanted to strangle the information out of me - but she was holding back.

“Okay,” she said. “By the way - who is Mason?”

I shrugged. “Just some guy.”

“You’re telling me,” Sarah mentioned, sliding a tray of cookie dough into the oven. She tossed her mitts on the counter and looked at me sideways. “I see a lot of men, but none like him.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked her. The cupboards were also mostly empty. I resorted to snacking on the banana chips Cat had gotten me. They weren’t all bad.

“It means,” Cat answered, “That he’s hot. Didn’t you notice?”

I tried to shrug off the conversation but found myself readjusting my pony-tail and fidgeting a little under my roommates’ pointed stares. “Yeah, okay. I noticed… But it’s no big deal. We just met at the coffee shop across the street.”

“Really?” Cat asked, looking a little disappointed.

“Yep,” I grinned at her. “Serves you right for always sending me on the coffee runs, instead of going yourself.”

“Seriously,” she agreed, forlornly, swirling her glass and watching the liquid swirl. It was mesmerizing. “That’s Karma for you,” she muttered.

“I don’t believe in Karma.” But I did believe in Sangria. I found orange juice and poured some into my wine.

“Then call it Kismet,” Catrina told me.

“Same thing.” Same mindless cop out, I thought.

Sarah checked on her cookies. “Or fate.”

By then, it was seven fifty. The prospect of redemption had left my roommates in a calm, nearly cheerful, mood. Neither pressed me further as to what I had planned to save us. They simply trusted.

I took my glass and banana chips with me toward the back bedrooms. “All those words mean the same thing,” I offered in parting. “That basically nothing is within our control.”

And I would never let that be true.

In the quiet of my room, I could actually hear my heart pounding vigorously in my chest. In mere moments, I would be giving it my last shot at healing a raid I’d seen only once. And it would be alongside people whose voices would make them real to me – individuals – no longer just characters bouncing around my screen. But that wasn’t the cause of my nervousness. There was something worse on my mind.

Indecision.

Either I’d just lied to my roommates, or I’d be going through with the most difficult decision of my life. We were coming down to final resorts, and I’d thought of one. But it would mean sacrifice – something I’d never had to make.

Hastily, I set my glass, banana chips, and notebook next to my monitor. I signed onto the game and felt a twinge of excitement join the dread in my chest at what I was about to do.

On the top shelf of my closet was a velvet chest, its contents saved but never seen. Perched on the edge of my bed, I opened it and sucked in my breath - let the heart-retching pain wash over me in the low light. All those years, I’d kept this little treasure hidden away. Unwilling to part with it.

Unwilling even to look at it.

The memory.

Parting with the item, meant parting with the memory. But it also meant saving a couple of lives… Including my own.

La-deep

A private message was at the bottom of my screen – Sword inviting me to the raid group with a little extra incentive – if I didn’t hurry, they’d find someone else. I stashed the chest, telling myself I would deal with it later and accepted invite.

Here goes nothing, I thought, putting on my headset and preparing to hear Smith’s voice. The first, second, and third sips of sangria did nothing to qualm my restlessness as Merdok gave us his Vent account information. Eight familiar names popped into the program, one by one, mine included. I took a fourth sip of wine to settle the quivering of my fingers, and held my breath to hear the beginnings of the conversation.

The first person to speak was obviously Sword, who would prove even more vocal than usual without the restraint of having to type. “I only have like, two hours before the folks get home. They’re at some stupid parent teacher meeting, which means when they get back, I prolly won’t have a computer.” His voice was oddly low and gravely, as though his vocal cords might be confused about his age and maturity.

Someone answered with, “I see you upgraded your helm to leather, kid. You’re halfway there.”

“Don’t fucking call me kid,” Sword answered with annoyance, adding a little tension over the line. “But yeah, I found this in a pug raid this morning before school. You jealous?”

Easy laughter. “Naw. This is Zek, by the way.” He was older – maybe in his thirties. And his own voice was softly assured of himself. It fit with the confidence necessary to roll a female character.

More voices gave their introductions. Some were polite, others, less-so.

Unsurprisingly, as Cashé joined in, I noted that she was British. Her proper, elegant speech contrasted horribly with her insistent ego. She bitched about the time, the fact that Martin was making her play again, and then went on to insult the rest of our abilities.

She was ignored.

Mostly.

“Don’t mind her – she’s had a long day.” That baritone was undoubtedly Martin’s as he tried to smooth the ripples his wife was making.

“And you had nothin’ to do with my long day, did you?” Cashé again. “And don’ tell ‘em abou’ our life.”

Zekari. “So, do we need to do a little marriage counseling before we start?”

“My parents are in marriage counseling,” a very young, slightly feminine male voice piped up. Obviously Catabolizer, our warlock. “And it’s not because of me. I swear.”

Zek chuckled. “Vent was a bad idea.”

“Could we just – fucking – get – this – going? Seriously?” Sword annunciated each of his words for the rest of us going at a normal pace. “This might be my last raid ever.”

Still, Smith hadn’t spoken.

We entered the dungeon like an army of misfit hopefuls. A strange calm overcame me as I was pulled into the electric world of elementals and cracking cemented walls. My room disappeared, and I became Heals – without dysfunctional roommates, indecision, or worry about tomorrow. For the moment, I was safe in my mail armor.

Merdok started giving orders, reminding us all about the first boss and what we needed to do. Also, what we needed not to do. “Catabolizer, could you put away your imp. We don’t need a repeat of yesterday.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” the pre-pubescent voice mocked. His imp disappeared off the screen. “You make one friggin’ little mistake, and-”

Merdok interrupted him. “Cashé and I will tank. Nobody pull ’em off – not that you’ll be able to with her agro.”

“Bloody right,” the bitch added.

[Firenice] FYI guys – I don’t have Vent or a microphone, so I’ll just type if that’s alright!

“Are you asking our permission?” Zek inquired dryly.

[Firenice] Umm, well, just trying to be polite.

[Záp] I don’t have Vent either.

As far as I knew, that was the first we’d heard from our ultra-reserved Shaman.

“You could download it real fast,” Catabolizer offered.

[Záp] Yeah – I could.

Which was his way of saying he wasn’t going to.

Sword joined in with a loud sigh. “We don’t have TIME!”

Martin chuckled, his voice was easy to pick out, as low as it was. “Yeah, Sword needs that helm he’ll probably not be using until he graduates.”

“At twenty,” Zek added.

“Funny,” Sword said sarcastically.

Merdok started in with his instructions. The leader symbol, usually gracing Smith’s icon, now nestled over his name. I was concentrating so hard on the reason behind the change, I didn’t hear my voice spoken the first time.

“Heals, are you with us?” Merdok was asking. “We need you on your toes.”

Fumbling slightly, I found the control key and held it down while I spoke. “Yeah, I’m here.”

Silence.

Then Sword, shocked, asked, “Seriously? You’re a chick?”

“What?” I asked.

“I just thought that... since you’re always so angry and defensive, that you were a guy, is all,” he responded as though it were no big deal to admit he’d noticed my lack of femininity.

Along with several others. Martin, Zek, and Zap all added that they’d thought the same thing about me.

Angrily, and with little idea as to how they’d all come to that conclusion, I pushed my control key. “No – I’m a girl. I have all the parts.”

Laughter. From several people. Including Sword. “Don’t get your panties all in a bunch. It was an easy fuckin’ mistake.”

“How-” I began, but Merdok cut me off.

“Alright, now that that’s all settled, how about we buff up and do this.”

Fuming, I drank down the last of my Sangria in one long gulp. Maybe I would buff them, maybe I wouldn’t.

My door opened to let in a warm scent. “Hey, you want some?” Sarah entered respectfully, still walking on metaphorical egg-shells. She offered a small plate of cookies.

“Yeah,” I answered, distractedly. “Thanks.”

With care, she set the treats on my cluttered desk, pushing aside wrappers and stacks of books to find enough room. “I uh… I know you’re busy, but…”

Finally, I clicked a few buttons, buffing my group and giving them extra armor, so I would have a better chance at keeping them alive. “Just say it, Sarah.” I knew she needed me to be gentle, but I didn’t have the time, nor was I in the mood to hold her hand and whisper sweet-nothings right now.

“Okay.” Sarah took a deep breath. “I just wanted to say thanks. I mean, we haven’t always-”

A private message appeared at the bottom of my screen. From Smith.

“-gotten along. But I respect what you’re doing – trying to help me. And I appreciate-”

“Uh-huh…” I murmured, reading Smith’s message.

[Smithlol] Hey, sexy.

A greeting to make anyone blush.

[Healslater] Uh, hey.

“-it more than… Look, I’m just wondering-”

[Smithlol] You miss me?

I choked on my bite of cookie, sucking in a few crumbs.

Sarah patted my back and glanced into my empty wine glass. “I’ll get you a drink. More wine?” As soon as she caught sight of my emphatic nod, she headed from the room.

[Smithlol] I’ll take your silence as a yes.

Finally, my eyes stopped tearing enough for me to compose a reply.

[Healslater] Whatever! Your ego could fill a warehouse.

[Smithlol] And she deflects the question.

Rendered speechless by his honest teasing, I sat and read the conversation again, unsure of how to respond. It was hard to know how to answer when you weren’t certain of what was being asked of you. Either he really did want me to miss him, or he was making fun of me. I decided to play it safe.

[Healslater] No. I didn’t miss you. I didn’t have time to miss you.

[Smithlol] Spending time with someone else?

Before I could make head or tails of that particular accusation, Sarah was back with more wine she’d so kindly mixed with orange juice. Frazzled by Smith and his insinuation, I gladly took the glass and drank it down a little too fast.

Sarah watched me with a concerned expression. “Better?”

“Yeah, thanks. And the cookies are awesome,” I choked out by way of dismissing her.

But she wasn’t done. “Anyway, as I was saying…”

Her words blended into the sounds of rushing blood behind my ears. I thought about Smith and his apparent jealousy, or was it baiting? And why hadn’t he spoken out loud? What could he possibly be hiding?

[Healslater] Why aren’t you talking on the channel?

[Smithlol] This is kind of personal for group chat. But if you’d like to profess your undying love to me over Vent…

“-do you think this plan you have-”

[Healslater] *rolls eyes*

“-well-”

[Smithlol] You’re even adorable online.

I’d been about to offer a few scathing insinuations of my own about his possible elevated age, or weight, or how maybe he was really a girl. But none of that mattered. Because now I was wondering what he meant by ‘even adorable online’. What other possible way could I be adorable to someone I’d never known in real life?

[Healslater] What does that mean?

[Smithlol] Nevermind.

Humph.

[Healslater] And he deflects the question.

Oblivious to the fact that I was in a very important meeting, Sarah continued to ramble on. “Do you think it’ll work? I mean, do we have a real chance at getting out of this?”

“Getting out of what?” I asked her, irritated.

The group had decided to move forward, even though a few of us were paying little attention. Catabolizer had stepped away from his computer for some Cool aid, or whatever, and Smith was still standing near the entrance, ten or so yards away from the rest of us. Still, Merdok marked two targets for crowd control and one for off-tanking. The main guy we were going after had a loud, white skull above his head, marking him for instant death.

The group surged forward like peasants in battle over taxes, or some other relevant cause, except that we were fighting for intangible gold and items.

Clutter.

The look on Sarah’s face was clear in my peripheral. The colors of my screen were reflected within her mesmerized eyes as they opened wide, little lights dancing on her pupils. “So, this is that game you love. No wonder.”

In one way, we were a lot alike – prone to addiction. “Yeah. And yeah, the plan will work.”

With effort, she pulled her gaze from where we’d just killed the last guy in the group. Everyone took a moment to gather life. Sarah spoke. “Really?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I’d made my decision to sell the jewelry. No more useless clutter. Meaningless stuff. I swallowed. “Don’t worry.”

Sarah gave me a grin and a tight, unexpected hug, almost knocking me to the floor.

I patted her back. “Alright…” Physical contact wasn’t really my thing.

“I’m going to work!” She told me, skirting from the room. “See you tomorrow!”

“Yeah,” I muttered to myself. “You do that.”

We killed the final three groups with little effort and even less talking. Except for the couple of times Sword yelled at us to get out of his room.

“Dude,” Zek told him, “Say no to drugs.”

“Not you guys,” Sword informed us idiots. “My sister. Seriously, if you don’t get out-”

“Then what?” It was a little girl’s voice in the background. “You’ll tell mom and dad that I was interrupting you playing your game. I don’t think so,” she taunted.

Everyone heard a door slam and grunge metal start to play lightly in the background. Obviously Sword had his microphone set to stay on continually, but nobody complained.

[Firenice] This is awesome! Only twenty minutes in and already at the first boss!

[Záp] Yeah. Two days per boss. New record!

Merdok’s game plan was for he and Cashé to tank, the rest of us to kill and heal. No biggie. Since all the adds had been taken out in the correct order, all we had left in this room was the boss. And he was dead in five minutes flat.

At the second boss, just fifteen minutes later, we got the helm Sword had been looking for. He rolled need, replaced the useless leather one he’d been wearing, and started dancing around in what looked to be an awkward, erotic version of the Macarena. “Alright, I’m out.” he said.

[Smithlol] He better not ditch after getting what he wanted.

[Healslater] Why don’t you tell him that?

[Smithlol] Headset’s not working.

A little relief replaced my dread that he was some weirdo, trying to hide his true voice.

[Healslater] Ah. Cause I was worried you might have a tracheotomy from fifty years of smoking.

[Smithlol] lol - You think I have something to hide?

[Healslater] Do you?

[Smithlol] Everything I told you about myself is absolutely true. I’m twenty six, I work in programming, I have a place in upstate, and my headset is currently useless. And even though I never actually said it – I am a dude. I have all the parts.

[Healslater] Oh, hilarious.

My comment was another deflection. I was good at deflecting – perhaps even better than my own father who taught me.

[Smithlol] Do you believe me?

[Healslater] Yeah, why not?

[Smithlol] Do you ever just answer the question?

No.

[Healslater] What did you mean when you said I was EVEN adorable online?

There was a long pause in which I rebuffed the group and paid a little attention to the banter over the channel. Fire had gotten some magnificent piece of armor that was the completion of his perfect life. Catabolizer took another potty break before asking Sword for advice on girls. Martin and Cashé were at each other’s throats because he had to resurrect her for the third time. Plus, their baby was teething.

[Smithlol] I just meant that you must be pretty cute in real life for it to come across in chat. That’s all. Didn’t mean to scare you.

[Healslater] I don’t get scared.

[Smithlol] I believe you.

Which was what people said when they didn’t.

For the duration of the raid, everyone got along well enough. We finished off the final boss without a hiccup, retrieved our winnings, and wished each other well.

“That was a great run, guys,” Sword allowed with a hint at a smile in his tone. “And great job, Heals. You did pretty good tonight – for a girl.”

“Thanks, Sword. I’ll take that as a compliment.”

[Smithlol] Wow.

[Healslater] What?

The group signed off, leaving Smith and I alone. We were always the last two to leave.

[Smithlol] Just your voice. It’s amazing.

His comment left my cheeks tinged with a blush of discomfort, but my usual sarcastic vibe was waning, and I had nothing good to retort with - I couldn’t decide how I felt. People fell for each other all the time – and lots of those times were over the internet. It shouldn’t matter what a person looked like, or what they sounded like, or smelled like. The core of an individual, the truly important qualities, resided in the heart. And from the heart - the mind - comes forth thought and speech. Probably, I knew Smith better than I knew Mason.

Still, flirting with him felt like cheating.

[Healslater] Thanks. I gotta go.

[Smithlol] Did I make you mad?

[Healslater] No…

What was I supposed to do? I liked Smith – a lot. I liked his humorous whit, his ability to lead, even his ego was attractive. But in real life, Mason had given me his number and told me he would be thinking about me. I couldn’t betray that.

[Healslater] This was fun. And it was cool talking to you.

[Smithlol] But?

Silence.

[Smithlol] You don’t like me. I understand.

[Healslater] No that’s not it at all.

As much as it dinged my pride, I couldn’t lie. But I was a one guy gal, and I couldn’t get Mason out of my head.

[Smithlol] But you have a boyfriend.

[Healslater] Not really – not a boyfriend…

[Smithlol] A girlfriend?

At that, I actually laughed out loud.

[Healslater] You wish.

[Smithlol] Naw… I think that shit is weird.

It would have been easier for me to drop Smith if he could turn a few degrees toward the asshole he’d been in the beginning. I thought about trying to piss him off, the good ol’ ‘make him dump you so you don’t have to dump him’ method. But I wasn’t twelve anymore.

[Healslater] Look, I don’t have a boyfriend. And I really do like you – for whatever strange reason. But I have to be honest. There might be someone else, and I don’t think it would be fair to him if I was flirting with anyone else. Even online. You know?

[Smithlol] Yeah, Heals. I get it. I understand.

I felt hurt, like crying even. It was an odd sensation – sentimental regret, hot at the back of my eyes.

[Healslater] I’m sorry.

My door slammed open then – Cat was giggling behind me. “Oooh, sorry! That door looked a lot heavier! Or maybe I’m stronger when I’m drunk… Do you think people get adrenaline rushes from alcohol?”

“I don’t know, Cat,” I murmured, still concentrating hard on Smith. I wondered, momentarily, what he might look like, sound like… I wondered if I was making a mistake.

[Smithlol] So, I guess this is it, huh? No more talking?

My fingers were shaking, indexes over the home keys of my keyboard. Catrina was informing me how drunk she was in case I hadn’t noticed. Smith was waiting.

[Healslater] Yeah.

It was all I could answer with.

[Smithlol] Good luck with that burglary thing – good luck getting those guys off your back. You know where to find me if you need anything. And…

And? And what? I was on the edge of my seat, ignoring the fact that Cat had curled up in my bed and had started to snore.

[Healslater] And what?

People swore that if you refused to close your eyes, during meditation or candle watching, they would water to compensate. It was a natural response to keep you from going blind. Of course, these are the same people who poor salt water into their noses and swallow gauze for the purpose of pulling it back out and ‘cleansing their stomachs’. So when my eyes began to burn and dry out from staring so long at the bottom of my computer, I wasn’t completely disillusioned.

Finally, after an eon, Smith responded.

[Smithlol] And I probably won’t be able to keep from getting on every once in awhile to see if you’ve sent me mail. I’ll think of you… I hope you don’t forget me.

And he was gone. Logged off for the night. Forever.

Maybe he was hurt, too. Maybe he was angry, or maybe he was letting me off easy. As I turned around in my chair to see that Cat was drooling on my pillow, I felt broken and a little lost for the first time in my life. Would it be that wrong to be friends with a guy I knew had feelings for me? Mason and I had only had like, two conversations. It wasn’t serious. Maybe I’d mail Smith and tell him I changed my mind…

An hour later, after getting Cat into her own room - with a Gatorade and two ibuprofen next to her bed - I found myself staring into the velvet chest. I remembered my father explaining how dim-witted my mother had been to not just give the mugger her jewelry.

Half a million measly bucks… Didn’t she know her life was worth so much more than that? Didn’t she know it was only money?′

He’d spoken with a slur and with a tear in his eye. I was twelve that day in his study. It was the first and only time he’d talked about her death, and wouldn’t have at all if not for the whiskey. I learned he would never remarry, and if not for those jewels, my mother might have lived to see me graduate high school, college... It was that day I asked to keep the diamonds as though, somehow, it would be like keeping a piece of my mother.

Half a million dollars.

Except I didn’t have a clue how to sell them or where to go. I needed advice. I needed to make a call. I needed to hear his voice.

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