They kept asking me questions as we cleaned up the mess Jude had made, but I remained silent. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to tell them, if anything at all. Although, I knew I had to say something after they witnessed me swirling in the air. That’s not something you can explain away. I had to talk about it, but I couldn’t make myself speak. My brain was numb from the disaster, my words frozen on my tongue. They were probably right when they said I was in shock. I was still trying to process everything. Jude had tried to hurt me. What was that all about? Didn’t he like me anymore?
Kayla sat down at the table, the cleanup done, her concerned blue eyes trained on me, “Kai? What happened?”
“Yeah man,” Preston chimed in, sitting beside her, resting his arms on the table, “What was that? Did you see anything?”
I shook my head. More questions that I wasn’t ready to answer. I tied up the trash bag and stuck it in the outside garbage can, enjoying the invigoratingly chilly night air. When I came back inside, the two stopped talking, like I had interrupted a meaningful conversation. They both hopped down from the bar stools and took a few steps towards me, exchanging looks that spoke more at a glance than anything they could have said to me. They were worried. I could see it on their weathered expressions.
“I should go home,” Kayla said, hugging me tight until I was breathless, “But we can talk about this later. Or not. You’re choice… Okay?”
I nodded, my voice sounding small even to me, “Kay.”
I watched Preston walk her out, his hand on the small of her back as he leaned down to whisper something in her ear. Whatever it was that he said, made her smile.
“Bye Kai,” she said with a wave.
“Bye,” I said as she walked out the door, with a small backwards glance at Preston.
“I need to be alone. You should go walk her home,” I said quietly work a shrug.
“Are you sure? I don’t think I should leave you alone,” He looked torn, “That was pretty crazy, man. I don’t know how you’re not freaking out or something. It was like you were -- .”
“I know,” I nodded, “Go.”
“Okay....” He smiled uncertainly, opening the door, “Be right back.”
When they were both gone and the door was shut firmly behind them, I collapsed on the couch, sagging into the cushions. I wish they hadn’t of been here when Jude had his meltdown, but that wasn’t anything I could help right now. The best I could hope for was that they would understand what I was going to tell them about him and that they would keep their calm. I couldn’t think of any way around it. If I refused to talk about it, they would most likely take it upon themselves to try to figure it out on their own, bringing yet others into the mix. I was fearful, but strangely not mad at Jude for his freaking out. It seemed perfectly understandable to me. I didn’t have long to think about things before Preston was back, wearing a goofy grin on his face, that fell as soon as he saw me sitting there on the couch. For some reason, I felt so small, so insignificant.
“You okay bro?” Preston asked me, locking the door behind him and striding over towards me with the athletic grace I always envied.
My voice didn’t sound like my own as it hoarsely said, “Yeah. I think so.”
“Do you want to tell me what that was all about? Was it the ghost? Are you hurt?” Preston asked rapid fire, most of his brotherly concern replaced by enthusiasm and curiosity upon seeing me relatively unscathed from the incident.
I shook my head, burying my face in my hands, “I just can’t right now. Maybe tomorrow. It’s all too much, I need to process.”
Preston sighed and came to sit beside me, patting my back awkwardly, “Whatever you need. I know that must have been pretty intense for you. I don’t know that I would want to talk about it right away, either.”
“Yes you would,” I chuckled dryly, looking over at him with my head resting on one palm, “You would be so pumped.”
He grinned great big, putting his hands in his lap, “You’re right. I totally would be, but I also get the need to wait to talk. You must be pretty overwhelmed, huh?”
“A little,” I admitted with a sigh.
“Well, I’m awake right now. Did you want to hang out some more? I’m up for whatever.”
“Um I want to be alone tonight, if that’s cool? I want to tell you guys some stuff, I do. I just don’t know where to start or how much to say to be honest,” I rubbed my face with my hands, feeling completely drained of energy and numb inside still.
Preston nodded once, giving me a sideways hug and a smirk, “Cool, cool. I get it. I brought my laptop. So, that should keep me entertained for a while.”
“Alright. I’ll see you in the morning,” I said tiredly, dragging myself off the couch.
“Night dude. Get some rest.”
I chuckled wryly and attempted a smile, but failed, “I’ll try.”
I tossed and turned all night, falling in and out of sleep. My dreams were full of speculation and ‘what ifs’ as I recounted, over and over to myself, the memory of Jude’s enormous temper tantrum. The way he had looked at me, so angry, sad and hurt all at the same time percolated in my brain, going round and round. A few of my dreams had a winged creature lurking in the dark, staring at me. Each time I woke up, I felt dizzy and a new ache seemed to appear from the violent episode of Jude’s making. Eventually, I fell into a dreamless sleep, exhausted from trepidation and the prospect of facing him again.
When I finally awoke, unable to take it any longer, nearly everything on my body was in pain. I hadn’t fully understood the implications of being Jude’s friend or what exactly that would entail. He was unstable and he had hurt me, both physically and emotionally, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him or what he must be going through. He was at unrest and I felt like it was my responsibility to help him achieve some peace of mind. I just didn’t know how to do that.
“Jude?” I called softly, half of me wishing he would answer and the other half hoping that he would stay hidden, “Are you there?”
I sat there waiting for what seemed like forever in the darkness, the trickling light of the rising sun leaking into my room and casting shadows. They danced on the walls like monsters trying to break free from the shadow-lands. I was disheartened that he wasn’t answering and relieved that he was giving me space all at once. I was confused and torn, awash with sympathy and fear, angry that he hurt me, sad he was hurting. I didn’t know what to do or how to proceed. What was the right thing to do? I sighed, awake albeit exhausted, but unable to bring myself to get out of the warm comfort of my own bed.
I sank into the mattress, pulling the covers over my head. In my mind, I was hidden from the outside world. Which insisted on playing cruel tricks on me; despite my desperate outcries that protested my willingness to participate in the madness. I felt myself fall as I started to spiral downwards, into the rabbit hole, so to speak. Everything seemed like it took too much effort, felt too raw, too painful. Whose idea was it to play such a cruel trick on an unsuspecting human soul like myself? Bringing me the perfect guy, only to reveal that he was basically a figment of my imagination. It was unfathomable. I drifted back to sleep. Lulled by the silence combining with the overwhelming need for me to shut down against reality.
I was falling down a dark, vertical tunnel, grasping for something to hold on to, but not finding the relief of anything to break my fall. I looked up to see the waxing moon shining bright above me, growing smaller and smaller. The further I fell, the more frightened I became. I hated that I was out of control, that there was nothing I could do but wait for my world to bring me to a halting crash below.
I waited for it to end, for the fall to stop and for my bones to shatter, as my spirit felt shattered, when I came to the end of this adventure. Why was this not stopping? I wondered if this was how Alice felt as she tumbled into the rabbit hole, if she felt as lost and as helpless as I did right then. Hands reached out at me, grasping and tearing at my clothes until they were in tatters. I began to lose track of time as I kept falling, the air whooshing around me, deafening me.
Glowing eyes surrounded me, blinking slowly as they observed my fall to death. Wings fluttered nearby, the sound deafening me and the shadowy figures morphing into strange shapes. I closed my eyes tight in preparation. For either the collision I suspected would be coming or the strange flying creatures with the glowing eyes that would rip me apart. Giving in to the insanity of my new reality. Instead of the crash, as I had anticipated, everything stopped and I felt solid ground beneath me. I opened my eyes, presuming that the worst was yet to come, only to discover myself in an all white room that was endless and huge. So big in fact, that I could not see the four walls that must be surrounding me, but were being so elusive. I spun around in a circle, trying to see something, anything, anyone, but there was an infinite, flat, nothingness.
“Hello?” I called, cupping my hands around my mouth to get the greatest amount of volume so that I had hopes of reaching someone, “Is anyone out there?”
There was no answer to my question, not even an echo to keep me company in this stark white existence. Where was I? Was I still dreaming? I had to be dreaming, I reasoned. I broke out into a run, feeling a rush of panic fill my veins, pumping adrenaline through my body as I searched for someone to answer my questions.
“Mom? Preston? Jude? Kayla?” I tried again, this time with more force behind the words, the veins in my neck protruding with the effort to yell, “Anyone?”
Still silence. I ran, most likely in circles like I suspected, until my lungs burned and my legs ached, finally stopping to catch my breath. I spun around, squinting as I tried to locate some sign of life or even for a clue to my location. But again, I had nothing to show for my frivolous pursuit, but the empty, stark white room. I collapsed in a crumpled heap on the ground, defeated and broken. As I lay there, my back to the floor, I looked up at the ceiling, listening to my heaving breaths as I tried to calm myself down. I slung an arm over my eyes, blocking out the blinding white glow of the room, that seemed to only grow brighter with each passing instant. I heard footfalls, drawing closer and closer to me, wrecking the silence with each loud thud. They stopped, right before they reached me, peaking my curiosity. I uncovered my eyes in my attempt at getting a good look at whomever it was lurking above me.
All I saw at first were white converse shoes and blue jeans, as whoever it squatted beside me, their elbows resting on their knees. Not a word was spoken as my eyes continued their upward travels to the source of the nice shoes and tight, fitted jeans. Their head shielded me from the white light, creating a silhouetted figure who chuckled with a low rumbling in his chest.
A hand reached out to me, pale and unblemished, to help me to my feet. I grabbed it and was hauled to my feet by strong, but soft hands. I was met with piercing, intense blue eyes and an inviting smile with teeth that rivaled the whiteness of the vast room I was trapped in.
“Come find me,” Jude said, his eyes searching my soul, “I’m waiting for you.”