I ran into the cottage and cupped my hand over my mouth. The air smelt of burnt wood and when I’d pull my hand away, it’s as if I’d choke. I called out for Lana as I searched the room. My eyes watered and I felt my chest close up. I crouched and avoided the planks as well as the fire that surrounded me. From the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I whipped my head around and looked down the hallway. There she was. I squinted my eyes as I neared her. I waved my hand to remove the path from any smoke but cussed when I got burnt.
“F*ck,” I muttered as I looked down at my arm. When I glanced up, I saw Lana look right at me. Her mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear her. She pointed to the bathroom and walked toward it. My body stiffened as I watched her crouch down. I didn’t know what she was doing. Something caught my gaze as I looked up. My eyes widened when I saw a huge plank, right above her. “LANA!” I yelled then crouched down as the plank fell. I heard a bang followed by a scream. I couldn’t see her anywhere as a cloud of gray smoke covered the path. I dropped to my knees and crawled toward the smoke. Every time I blinked my vision got weaker.
“Blake,” Lana called, and I felt around for her. The only thing I knew was that we were in the hallway. I heard voices behind me as well an ambulance, but I didn’t know what condition she was in.
“Lana, where are you?” I demanded. My palm touched something, and I gripped onto it. I realized it was her hand. I squinted my eyes and looked down. The smoke disappeared, and my eyes widened when I saw her on the ground. I managed to get both her hands in which she raised her head.
“No, no, no!” she yelled as my grip tightened. “Don’t pull!”
Lana looked over her shoulder, and I froze when I saw the big plank on her. From what I managed to see, it laid diagonally from her lower back to her legs. I slowly stood up and tried to lift it.
“Hey!” someone yelled, and I turned to see Axel and Levi. They looked at Lana. First, the color from their faces drained at the state she was in.
“Stop standing there and f*cking help!” I yelled as I tried to lift but it was heavy, and my arm hurt. Levi and Axel went on the other side and tried to lift but it was no use, we couldn’t get it off her. Sweat ran down my forehead as I gritted my teeth. My fingers became numb as I stepped back. I looked at my arm again, and I felt nauseous. My head felt heavy, and smoke surrounded us. We were trapped. I fell to my knees in front of Lana. She laid on her stomach hopelessly and cried out in pain. My breaths quickened as I stared her. She’d drop her head but soon raise, and I knew she’d fall unconscious soon. “F*ck!” I hissed as I gripped my arm. Lana raised her head and looked me. She gave me a once-over and stared at my arm. I watched her reached out for my hand that gripped my arm. I gritted my teeth together as I looked at her. She seemed completely fine as Levi and Axel struggled. My eyes watered yet this time they were tears. “I’m sorry,” I said through gritted teeth as she pulled my hand away. Lana tilted her head and rested on her temple as she stared at me. Her mouth curved into a smile as her eyelids drooped. I noticed her forehead bled yet it couldn’t be the fire; it was something else as if she was hit or knocked against something.
“It’s okay.” She whispered as her thumb grazed my hand. I let out a pathetic scream as her eyes closed and her curly hair fell on her face. I backed away and gripped my arm. I felt useless as Axel tried to remain calm, just like when dad was dying. Levi didn’t stop as he shouted at Lana to stay awake. I heard people yell at us but couldn’t see them as my eyes weakened. The tips of my fingers were white from the numerous times I gripped my arm. Every time I inhaled it felt like I’d never exhaled again. My gaze dropped to Lana who laid motionless. Levi and Axel gave up yet I wanted to scold them, but it’s as if I didn’t have a voice anymore. Axel walked to me while Levi went to Lana.
“Hey, brother.” Axel smiled as he crouched down in front of me. “Stay with me, okay? I can’t lose you too.”
I let out a gasp in response and noticed how the muscle in his jaw tightened. He lowered his gaze, and I followed to see that he looked at my hands. Axel took my hand in his, and with the last bit of strength I had, I gripped his hand and closed my eyes.
My eyes snapped open, and I was met by a dull ceiling. The air smelled nasty like bleach, yet I immediately knew where I was. I pushed myself up yet felt a palm against my bare chest. I glanced up only to be met by my mother.
“Hey, baby.” She smiled as her hand moved up to caress my cheek. I stared at her and opened my mouth, but it hurt to speak. My throat felt sore as if a needle pricked my throat every time I tried to talk. “Take it easy.” She said as I rested on the pillow. I looked down at my left arm and noticed the bandage around it. I ran my fingertips across the bandage as Lana entered my mind. I looked up and stared at my mother.
“Where...where is she?” I managed to croak out yet my voice was raspy and weak.
“Last we heard, she was taken to the Emergency room.”
Momma turned her head, and I followed her gaze to see Axel. He sat beside me, and I noticed the corners of his mouth lifted as we locked eyes. He had a bruise below his eye, and the clothes he wore were dusty. My eyes widened as the fire entered my mind. It was reckless of me to go in, but I tried to save Lana.
“Hey, little brother.”
I smiled back but turned away. I took a deep breath, and as I exhaled, I pushed myself up. Mom gripped my arm for support as I looked around the room. It was a basic hospital room. Television displaced above us which showed the news. My jaw tightened as I saw the cottage. It was full of cop cars, news reporters, and big vans. I paled when I saw a perfect view of the cottage or where it used to be. Now it was ash and broken wood. Everything that happened in that cottage was gone.
“Why am I here?”
“You passed out due to the lack of oxygen, and the nurses just wanted to treat your burn,” Axel said as I watched the screen. “Other than that, you’ll be fine.”
“So, I don’t need to be in here,” I said then pushed the blanket off me. From the corner of my eye, I saw my mother and Axel exchange looks.
“Honey, just stay in bed for a wh-”
“I can’t momma!” I cut her off as I slowly stood up. I turned to look at my family as my breaths quickened. “Lana’s in the ER because of me; I wasn’t in time to rescue her!”
“Don’t blame yourself, brother.”
I ignored Axel and straightened my posture. My head ached but other than that, I was fine. Once I was stable, I walked. Every step I took, my head spun. I slowly shook it off and continued to walk. I saw the door a few feet away from me where people strolled by.
“Put this on,” Momma said as she handed me a black shirt. I nodded then walked to the small mirror which was on the wall. I gently put it on since I was cautious of my arm. Once it was over my head, I stared at myself in the mirror. I had a few scars on my face that’d fade soon. The corners of my eyes were red, and every time I blinked, I wanted to sleep. My lips were dry, and as I licked them, I saw the cracks. I lowered gaze as I looked at my arm again.
“We’re gonna’ go see what’s happening,” Axel stated, and from the corner of my eye, I saw him and momma walk out the room. As I stared at my arm, I clenched my fist as I remembered her hand. Lana assured me she was okay, but she’s in the Emergency Room. Anything could have happened. I let out a sigh as I walked toward the door. When I looked up, someone else walked in, and I quickly recognized him. With all my strength, I gripped his collar and pushed him out of the room. I shoved him against the wall and gritted my teeth as I tried to ignore the pain.
“HOW F*CKING BLIND ARE YOU?” I yelled at Levi. He raised his head, and my eyebrows rose when I saw that his left eye swell. It wasn’t from the fire, it was still fresh. He cupped his hands over mine as he tried to push me away but I pressed my knee against his thigh.
“She said it was okay!” Levi screamed. His blue eyes darkened as he glared at me. I let out a dry laugh as my grip tightened around his collar.
“Bullsh*t! You knew that place was sketchy and you knew what happened there!” I yelled. “Now she’ll hate me even more!”
Levi let out a dry laugh in which I raised a brow. My grip loosened on him as he laughed hysterically. He shook his head then rested his gaze on me.
“So, what? Have you ever made her happy? Has she ever not hated you?” Levi asked, and I gripped his collar then pushed his head against the wall. He laughed and continued. “She’ll still hate you but love me.”
“Screw you! You’re so f*cking full of yourself.” I screamed as I felt the back of my throat sting. “Just remember that you might be her first love, but you’ll forever be her first heartbreak.”
That seemed to hit a nerve as the muscle in Levi’s jaw twitched. He tried to push my hands away, but my grip tightened as I tried to get to his neck. I heard voices behind me as Levi raised his gaze. I felt a tug on my shoulder as I staggered back. Levi pushed himself off the wall and I walked toward him but Keene stepped between us. He was angry since I noticed the vein popped into his neck as he glared at us.
“We’re in a hospital!” Keene exclaimed and placed his palm on our chests. “Have some respect.”
Heavy breaths filled my body as I stared at him then Levi. I glanced around and realized how bad it was. Children, doctors, nurses, and adults looked at us. Levi must’ve noticed it too when he leaned against the wall and sighed. I let out a huff then pushed Keene’s hand away. I turned around and trudged off. I didn’t know where I walked since every hallway looked the same. I must’ve walked out of a particular area since there were waiting rooms. As I walked past I noticed Miranda, Ethan, Benny, Liam, Nick, and Carter seated. When I passed Benny, I looked down to his swollen knuckles which answered my question to who punched Levi. For once I tolerated that action. Levi acted like an ass moments ago and what he said was utter crap. He was always so self-centered and careless. We were even since he created the problem, Lana and I were injured so he at least he was by Benny. I noticed the exit up ahead, and my shoulders relaxed. I wanted to get out of the hospital; I didn’t like being in one. It reminded me of my father’s death. I heard footsteps behind me and looked over my shoulder to see Levi. My jaw tightened as I quickened my pace.
“You don’t even know where you’re going dude.” He said and caught up with me. From the corner of my eye, I saw him reach into his jeans pocket and take out a pack of cigarettes. Mine was in my jacket pocket, but I wore a shirt, so I had to follow Levi. As we walked out of the hospital, I noticed that we were in the city. I realized it was the hospital where Lana’s mother worked. While we walked to the car, I raised my gaze at the tall skyscrapers of Chicago. The afternoon sun peeked through buildings, and I lowered my gaze to see a few reporters.
“What’s happening?” I asked as the reporters turned to us. The only thing that separated us from them were the many cars parked. Levi shrugged in response then got into the car. I got in the passenger seat and stared straight as we drove out of the hospital.
“Just ignore them.” He said as the reporters knocked on the window and I squinted my eyes as the cameramen shone their camera light on us. It took us a while to get out due to traffic. I barely came to the city in the day, but it was busy for a Saturday afternoon.
The car came to a stop, and although we were still in the city, it wasn’t as crowded. None of us spoke as we got out of the car. I glanced up at the tall building where Levi approached. It looked abandoned because most of the windows broke, spider webs filled corners, and the entrance sign was discolored. I followed him as we walked into the building. My assumption was right as we walked through the building and up the stairs. We reached the rooftop where he finally took out two cigarettes. My mouth watered since he took his time to find his Zippo. He put his cigarette between his lips, lit it then handed me the lighter.
“I didn’t know man...” Levi trailed off as we overlooked the city. “We were in the car, and she told me it’s okay...she said that everything was fine. You know that look she gives you, to assure you that everything’s okay?”
“Yeah, but you knew what happened at the cottage.”
“I asked her, and she said it’s okay.” Levi snapped as he turned to me. “I watched her, she smiled at me then walk inside, and I still texted her.”
Silence surrounded us as I remembered the text. It looked sketchy since Lana used symbols to illustrate the important words. Then again, I didn’t know what happened in Levi’s head when he thought of her and when he watched her walk away.
“I still remember her last words to me...” I trailed off as the faint memory of Lana on the ground under a big piece of plank entered my mind. “that ’it’s oka-”
“NO!” Levi cut me off as he pressed his cigarette against the rail then threw it over. I watched as it fell and landed on the side of the road. “No last words, she’s gonna’ make it! She’s tough! She went through worse.”
“What do you mean?” I raised a brow because I couldn’t think of anything worse than the ER from a fire.
“Back in summer 2015 after one of Jaden’s parties we went to a street race. Princess raced with me, but we got into a car accident.” Levi mumbled then shook his head. “We broke so many rules that night; we weren’t supposed to go to a party, weren’t meant to race or drink.
“The car hit us from her side, so she was knocked out for three days. Within those three days, it was ten times worse than this because it was just us...Uncle Griff yelled at me so bad because he babysat us that night and I persuaded her into sneaking out.
“With everything that happened the past year I know she’ll make it, she has to...she just f*cking has to. She can’t die because of my stupid mistake.”
I remained silent as tobacco filled the air. It ached to smoke but I needed something to relieve the stress, I needed something to remind me that it’d be okay. Every time I inhaled I heard a wheeze from the back of my throat and I’d clear my throat when I exhaled. I had to stick with Levi’s words and be optimistic, very soon I’d see Lana at home with a smile. I raised a brow as I thought of a few hours ago when I was at her house. Apparently, Levi and Axel had something to tell us. Lana and I were always curious about it, yet we barely spoke of it since things had changed.
“Hey, what did you want to tell us?” I asked. “When we were at Lana’s house.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it now.” Levi shrugged his shoulders then walked past me. I let out a huff as I gripped his arm. He stopped then turned to me.
“Dude, don’t worry. We’ll tell you guys later then it’ll make sense when both of you are there.”
“A clue at least?”
“Ugh.” Levi scoffed then pulled his arm back. “It’s nothing big; it’s just about Lana, Axel, and your father.”
With that, he carried on. I kept my stance as I stared at the ground. Lana had never met my dad, although I didn’t understand the Axel part. Whatever it was, it must’ve filled the empty gaps that Lana and I tried to meet.
We drove back to the hospital, and it’s as if time hadn’t changed. I still followed Levi and every hallway we walked down; it was the same dull look. Every door we passed was either occupied or reeked of air freshener. Finally, we reached a floor where I knew Lana was on. The hallway crowded with doctors, nurses, and other people. Most of our friends arrived yet they were told to wait.
“I can’t perform the procedure on her!” someone yelled, and I glanced up to see Mrs. Willson in front of the Operating Theater Room. I tilted my head to get a glimpse inside but the surgeons crowded the room and the door shut. Sheriff Willson along with a few doctors spoke to Angie Willson.
“What’s happening?” I asked then sat down next to Aidan. He let out a sigh then turned to me. I glanced over his shoulder at Tiffany who wiped her tears with her sleeve. I raised a brow then turned back to Aidan.
“You just missed her. She looked terrible cuz, they rushed her out of the emergency room and straight into there.” Aidan pointed at the Theater room. I dug my nails into my skin and gritted my teeth. From Tiffany, Miranda, Melissa and Lana’s mother’s appearances, it seemed as if things were bad. Yet I couldn’t do anything. Like everyone else in the room, I had to wait. From the corner of my eye, I saw Mr. Bronx and Levi. I thought of earlier when Levi told me he got scolded. Maybe it wasn’t so bad the last time because Griffon Bronx looked as if he had it with Levi.
“Yo’ guys, check it out!” Liam exclaimed as he turned the corner. I watched as the brunette approached us with two bags of gummy bears. “The vending machine gave me another pack, and I only paid the price of one!”
“Hey, that’s mine!” Aidan shot up in his seat and tried to snatch the other bag. “I thought the vending machine broke, so I just left it!”
“You snooze, you lose.” Liam pulled his tongue at Aidan. Everyone watched as the two fought of gummy bears. Liam was taller, so he raised his arm and laughed when Aidan jumped. The corner of my mouth turned up as I remembered when I’d do that to Lana.
“Can’t we just share?” Carter whined as he rested his palm on his stomach. Aidan and Liam stopped, shared a look then shrugged. Eventually, they shared with everyone since they were big bags. Liam sat beside me and offered, but I declined. I couldn’t eat, even if I did, my stomach would’ve growled anyway. I didn’t know how long we sat, but the corners of my eyes watered when I didn’t blink. I’d gaze off at the opposite wall, in hopes that it’d swallow me up.
“Hey look.” Liam nudged my shoulder, and I followed his gaze to see Deputy Paul at the end of the hallway. He waved at someone, and we turned our head to see that he called Sheriff Willson. Liam and I watched as Sheriff walked past us and toward the Deputy.
“Come on,” Liam whispered then shuffled to the chairs at the end of the hall. I raised a brow but reluctantly followed behind him.
“Maybe they have an update on the body,” Liam said as we sat near Sheriff Willson and Deputy Paul who stood a few meters away and spoke.
“Didn’t you know?” Liam smiled. “In the front room of the cottage, around the center...A body was found. That’s all you see on the news.”
I raised my gaze to the television and of course it showed the cottage. There weren’t many vehicles like earlier, but it replayed the recent event. Lana was brought out on a gurney and the other body Liam spoke about was covered in a black zip-up bag. Liam nudged my shoulder once again, and I followed his gaze. Deputy Paul and Sheriff Willson talked, and I tried my hardest to listen in.
“Paul, what are you doing here?” Sheriff Willson asked as I stared at the ground.
“Detective Kale just wanted me to collect any evidence of our two victims. I’m heading to the medical examiner now, Sheriff.”
“Has the body been identified?”
“Yes, sir.” Deputy Paul said, and I heard the triumph in his voice. “We’re one step closer to getting James...the body has been identified as Christo Aimar.”
“Well then,” Liam muttered beside me as I raised a brow.
“So, the person who was at the cottage with my daughter was Christo Aimar?”
“Yes, sir but I overheard the medical examiner when he spoke to Detective Kale at the crime scene. He predicts that Christo has been dead quite a while, long before the fire.”
“That must’ve explained why the body looked so...gruesome.”
“Apparently, the body was kept frozen for a while, they must’ve planted the body there since it was still a bit cold but due to the fire, the ski-”
“Okay, thanks, Deputy.” Sheriff cut him off then shook his head. I scrunched my nose up as I thought of Christo Aimar. It made me curious as to what happened to him and Lana.
“How’s the evidence?” Sheriff Willson asked as Deputy Paul handed him a file.
“We’ve located tire tracks that headed up north, but Detective Kale is dealing with that. Other than that, everything else in the cottage was burnt. Nothing much after we cleaned it out the last time.”
“Not really, Sheriff, we’ve questioned Levi Radcliff who dropped your daughter at the cottage and was the last to see her.”
“So, Lana’s the only one with answers,” Liam whispered then turned his head. I followed his gaze to the Theater room, in hope, that she’d give answers.