Chapter 11- Unguarded
“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
“WHERE IS SECURITY?”
Raven huffed. “You are so unappreciative.”
I scowled and shifted in the hospital bed. “And you’re a kind-hearted pain in my butt.”
For the last twenty-four hours, Raven had been the doting friend, making sure my pillows were fluffed, my food wasn’t crappy (the hospital’s chicken nuggets had scarred me for life), and generally suffocating me with attention.
Jesse chuckled and slung his arm around his girlfriend. “Give the girl some space, Rae.”
“Fine!” Raven threw her arms up dramatically.
“We’ll be in the cafeteria. Page me if you need anything. I’ll bring you back a cookie.”
They left me to my thoughts, which immediately returned to their primary obsession since I had regained consciousness a few hours ago. I drew my knees to my chest and tried not to drive myself insane.
Landon had vanished.
Raven said he had stayed by my side the entire time
I was under. The second I woke up, though, he’d disappeared.
The police had taken my completely unhelpful report yesterday. Did I see his face? No. Was there anything to distinguish my attacker? He was a psycho who desperately needed a bath. They’d promised to investigate the matter, but I doubted they’d come up with anything. Getting attacked in an alley gave a girl some perspective. I was terrified of a faceless man, and I had new nightmares to occupy my sleep. And every time I woke up, sweating and gasping, I remembered the safety I’d felt in Landon’s arms, and I felt even more alone than before.
I was being discharged in an hour, and I knew where I would be going.
My head hurt.
I was concussed and woozy, thanks my attacker introducing my skull to the brick wall. Jesse was carrying my overnight bag while Raven watched me like a hawk. Escaping her would be tricky. “I need to go to the library,” I lied. “Riker feels guilty about what happened, and I need to sign up for a few more shifts.”
Raven scoffed. She was still pissed at me for walking down ‘The Alley of Dumb White Chicks in Horror Movies’ alone at night, but even more irrationally angry at Riker for…I didn’t even know. Not walking me home? “He’ll survive another day or two.”
Drat. This would be more difficult than I thought. I switched gears. “So Jesse, what are your plans for tonight?”
“Are you asking my boyfriend out on a date, Michaels?”
“No! Of course I’m not-” I stopped when I saw her grin widen.
Jesse shook his head in amused exasperation. He’d had to put up with us for the past few days and was probably grasping the meaning of having a girlfriend with a best friend. “What I’m doing tonight…hmm. Might head to Grimm or the Sound.”
“You’re crazy if you think we’re taking you out tonight,” Raven reprimanded. “You need bed rest.”
I stopped outside our dorm and placed both my hands on her shoulders. “I love you, and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but you have got to stop mothering me.”
Raven sighed. We were interrupted when a blonde figure threw her arms around my shoulders.
“I am so, so, so sorry I didn’t visit you at the hospital! Stupid Shellman gave us our midterm early, and by the time I found out what happened, I couldn’t go!”
I patted her head. “It’s alright, Maddie, I’m glad you didn’t come. I look like a cheese puff when I’m in the hospital.”
Maddie giggled and gave me one last squeeze before stepping back.
“Shall we go inside now?” Raven quipped, unlocking our door and beckoning us in.
A ginger fur ball leaped onto my leg and sunk his little claws into my calves.
“Poe!” I cooed, lifting him into the cradle of my arms. “I missed you too, honey bunny. Aww, you missed Mommy? Huh?”
I petted his sullen head while he swatted at my hair.
“That mini-monster kept climbing into your bed and meowing. There were instances where I considered animalcide,” Raven admitted, completely unashamed.
“Okay, well, thanks for not killing my cat, and keeping him fed. I know Poe’s kind of a handful.” Raven snorted at my understatement.
Tucking my phone into my back pocket, I began to edge towards the door. “So…I’m heading to the library now.”
Raven opened her mouth, reconsidered, and said instead, “At least take Jesse with you. Yes, its sexist, but I want some man muscle with you for the peace of my fragile mind.”
“Fine. Let’s go, man muscle.”
Jesse pouted. “I feel so objectified.”
Raven gave him a peck on the cheek. “Don’t worry, you can prove your manliness to me tonight.”
I scrunched my nose in disgust. “Ew.”
Jesse and Maddie blushed in tandem. I opened the door and walked out before the strange tension in the room gave me a headache. Jesse fell into step with me as I descended the stairs. Outside, the air was misty and the sky overcast. It was Thursday, so students were convening on the grass and at the cafeteria to finish homework before the weekend. I felt a sense of calm wash over me. This was familiar. Franklin was familiar.
“So where is he?” I didn’t bother with the small talk or the lead in.
Jesse didn’t try to play dumb. “He’s probably at our dorm, asleep. He’s been pulling long shifts at Grimm.” “Take me there,” I replied instantly. At this point, I was fed up with being subtle and coy.
He sighed. “Are you sure that’s the best idea? He’s been in a terrible mood since you got attacked. You should have seen him with the hospital staff.”
I shivered. My body was still adjusting from the moderate hospital temperature. “God knows why. He didn’t even stick around to find out the details.”
“You’re wrong,” was all he said.
We reached their apartment complex, and I clocked the scattered beer cans and faint reek of vomit. College living in all its putrid glory.
Their apartment was on the second floor, and my aching body appreciated the short climb. Jesse handed me his key. “I’m going to the Sound. Just…take it easy on him, okay?”
“No promises,” I muttered. Jesse started heading back, but my fit of guilt had me calling out, “Wait!”
He swiveled, an expression of martyred patience on his face.
“Thank you…for everything. You’re a good friend, and I think Raven’s a really lucky girl.”
He smiled and stuck his hands in his pockets. “Aw, I think we just bonded a little.”
“Don’t ruin in,” I warned, shooing him away.
Taking a deep breath, I returned my attention to the door. Part of me wanted to run away and pretend everything was normal, wanted to get back to thinking of Landon as a thorn in my side.
I swiped the key card and opened the door.
The apartment was dim. I stumbled past an untidy living room towards the slightly ajar door ahead. I didn’t have much time to take stock of their place. I tripped in the direction of the open bedroom door, hoping I didn’t pass out on the pile of discarded pizza boxes. When I caught sight of the sleeping form on the corner bed, my movements stalled.
Landon sleeping was a work of art. The lack of guarded mistrust on his face hit me like a truck, and I wondered exactly how many walls Landon put up daily.
I crouched beside the bed and shook his shoulder. “Wake up.”
Brilliant blue eyes flashed open at the same time that his arm swung to the side. I stumbled back, landing on my ass and cursing. So much for not ending up on the floor.
Landon sat up and blinked. “Sophia?” He rubbed his forehead, as if to check whether he was actually awake.
Standing up with as much grace as possible, I dusted myself off and crossed my arms over my chest. “Morning, sunshine.”
Landon didn’t look sleepy anymore. “How did you get in here?”
I raised Jesse’s key. Landon frowned. “I’m going to kill the bastard.”
“Careful, I might think you’re happy to see me,” I said, tone dripping with sarcasm. It was the only way I knew how to cover the massive blow to the chest his cold reception was.
Landon closed his eyes tightly. “What are you doing here, Sophia?”
My hands formed into fists, cutting the jagged metal into my palm. “How dare you?”
I stepped towards him and stuck my finger into his chest. “How. Dare. You.”
Landon’s brow furrowed and he captured my wrist. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Why did you stay with me at the hospital but disappear the second I woke up? I was lying there, scared and confused, for what? So you could have the audacity to ask me what I’m doing here?” my voice rose until I was almost shouting. “You ass!”
Landon’s muscles tightened, and he dropped my
wrist abruptly. “You don’t understand.”
I laughed incredulously. “Then make me understand!
I was attacked, Landon, and I don’t know why. How could you just leave like that?”
To my utter humiliation, tears rose to my eyes and spilled over before I could stop them. Landon froze. In one rapid movement, his arms were around me, and my face was buried in shoulder. For the first time since the alley, I cried. My hands wrapped around Landon’s back and I didn’t let myself think.
I just cried.
When I was finished, I pulled back slightly and looked up into his tormented face. My anger was gone, replaced by a quiet determination.
“You’re my friend.” But you feel like so much more.
“And friends are supposed to be honest with each other. Who was that guy? What did he want?”
Landon idly tugged on my hair. He sighed, and his shoulders bent, like the weight he always carried had settled a bit deeper. “You’re right. I know you’re right. And I’m sorry for leaving the hospital. If it means anything, I haven’t been able to keep my mind off you. I’ve been taking more shifts at Grimm to try to distract myself but…nothing.” He smiled sadly. “You’ve invaded every thought I have and I don’t know how to get you out.” He let go, and laid on his bed, back against the wall and one leg crooked. Landon gestured for me join him.
I should have felt triumphant that I was about to get some answers, but instead I felt like I was doing something wrong, like I’d struck a low blow.
“Sit down, buttercup,” Landon urged softly, but firmly.
Too late to do anything now. I kicked off my shoes and folded my legs Indian style across from him. Landon stared at the ceiling, and for a few minutes, there was only the sound of a soft rain outside, pattering against the window in a steady beat.
He finally looked at me, resigned. I held my breath.
“I’m going to tell you everything.”