He's sitting on the other side. He looks so innocent when he's sleeping and I find myself pausing to just stare at him for a second.
He doesn't deserve anything like me. He is so kind, and pure, and funny and handsome. He deserves someone whole, someone that doesn't lock him out of his own bedroom because she's lost in a meltdown of emotions she wasn't even aware she had.
I step over him carefully, making sure not to wake him. I pause outside of Arrow's door and can slightly hear her snoring on the other side.
I let my eyes drift shut and feel sadness tugging at my chest again.
She deserves a better friend than me. I am a bomb that is doomed to blow up- to ruin everything around me. I need to walk away from her and protect her from the monsters of my past. The monster that I am.
I walk silently down the stairs and thankfully don't run into anyone. I pull my winter boots out of the pile by the front door and gently tug my arms into my puffy jacket. I open the front door and step through it as quietly as I can. It closes with a final quiet thud.
I walk up along the road, intent on getting home. It's cold, but I can barely feel it past the numbness I am slowly slipping into. The position of the moon tells me it's not too far from sunrise, so I walk faster to get out of there before anyone wakes up.
Why walk away from them now? My conscience asks me as I trudge through the dark.
I have to protect them. I whisper back. But why now? Instead of when they were pressing closer, or instead of waiting until he actually comes back for you? What if he never does and you've let them slip through your fingers for nothing?
Not for nothing. Even if Seth never comes back for me, I am still broken. I am still a murderer. I am still shrapnel meant to cause damage to anyone close enough. I was selfish before. I couldn't walk away from them because they didn't know about my damage. But they do now. And the closer they get the more hurt they'll end up.
I think of Steven. He was the purest soul, the sweetest man and the best friend I ever had. And he'd had his throat slit because of me. He'd been killed because of me- because some man thought I belonged to him and was willing to kill to prove that.
I wouldn't let anyone else die for me.
I finish my walk in silence just as the sun breaks over the trees. I ignore the ache of my muscles and head to the basement, stripping my winter garments as I go. When I reach the basement, I switch my jeans out for yoga pants and tug my hair back into a ponytail. I stuff my phone onto the docking station and hit shuffle on my playlist.
I head for the treadmill, but before I can reach it the soft keys of John Mayer's "Dreaming With a Broken Heart" start drifting towards me.
Without my permission, my body shifts.
My back straightens, my limbs loosen, and my heart cracks.
When he starts singing, I move. I straighten my back and roll my head back. I stretch and reach out in front of me, reaching for someone that can't reach back. As the music picks up, I spin. Steven moves with me, the ghost of him moving fluidly alongside me. Soft memories of happy times, of dances that we practiced mixed in with movements we improvised, dance along beside us.
The world whips past me as I move. My heart breaks and heals and breaks again as I twirl, chasing after the ghost of my best friend. He flutters in front of me never close enough for me to touch. I reach out for him and he slides back, a smile I can't match on his face.
"Gone gone gone gone gone." Mayer croons. The music swells and I move faster, bending and twisting, hands flying to catch the pieces of myself I can feel falling away from me. This is a dance filled not only with melancholy, but also goodbyes I can't bring myself to say- Not only to Steven but to the other people I'm going to have to leave behind.
I launch myself over in an aerial cartwheel, and for a second I can feel Steven beneath me, waiting to catch me. I want so badly to land in his arms, to feel him wrap around me and take all of this pain away.
"Would you get them if I did? No you won't." I hit the floor in a slide and the slight tug of the skin of my knees against the floor stops me from getting back up.
I curl into a ball as the piano starts to drift out. I can see the ghost of Steven standing in front of me with his back towards me. As John sings his last line, he walks away from me and no matter how hard I try, I can't get up and follow him.
"When you're dreaming with a broken heart... the waking up is the hardest part." I wrap my arms around my torso as the song ends. A weak attempt at holding myself together.
"Gone gone gone gone." I whisper to the empty room. It feels bigger now than it used to. I shift my arms down to around my knees and lower my head to rest my chin on them.
"I wish you had taken me with you." I whisper, fully aware that my ghost has already left.
"She moves so fluidly when she wants to..." His breath hits the glass between us and the love he feels for her is so clear that it cuts deep into my heart. I sniff to hold back my tears and offer him as big of a smile as I can fake.
"She does. She was dancing just for you." His eyes light up and he shifts in his seat, closer to me. I try not to show how disappointed I feel that the only reason he's getting closer to me is her.
"Did you get it on tape?"" I nod and he smiles at me, a genuine smile meant for me.
"Good. Good boy." I smile back at him, joy sending shivers down my spine.
"Time's up." I frown and my master shakes his head.
"Keep up the good work, darling. I am so happy you're here for me." My heart skips a beat and I smile back at him.
"Of course master. Of course." He drops the phone then and the guard comes to unlock him and lead him back to his cell. Once he's done his pat down I work on transferring the newest batch of photos and the tape of her dance into his pockets. The second I feel their weight disappear from my own pocket I stand and head towards the guard who let me in here. I ignore the pain in my chest as I leave the building, heading back to my car.
Once I'm settled in the driver's seat, I pull my pants down as much as I can manage and think about the smile he gave me.
A few minutes later, I imagine him pressing a kiss to my forehead.
"Good boy, keep up the good work." His voice whispers through my mind again.
I lay there for a few more minutes, recovering my breath and trying to imprint the full force of his smile into my memory.
My decision to withdraw myself from the Cardinal's- although a tough one- is the right thing to do. After my hours in the basement, I had come up with a solid plan to pull back.
So instead of following my normal routine and going to pick up Row—Arrow—I mentally correct myself, I drive slowly straight to school. I hate what I am doing to her, to them, but this is better. If they only knew—
But you don't want them to know. This is your decision.
I sigh to myself, hating that my conscience is right—this is my decision. But if I didn't do this.... I would ruin them. I destroy everything and everyone I love, and these people... These lovely, kind, amazing people don't deserve to be destroyed.
But maybe you won't destroy them...
I feel a tear slide down my face as I remember the look on his face that last time I'd seen him.... Blood splattered across his cheeks, eyes shining brightly as he grinned at me, promising that now I'd see... Now I'd be able to love him.
No. I am a bomb. They're better off without me.
First period has started and they have yet to arrive. I've been holding my breath anxiously, waiting for them to walk through the door and surround me. But they haven't shown up yet. Fifteen minutes into the class I feel myself start to relax, thinking maybe that they decided not to come today. And then the door swings open.
"Why are you three late?" The teacher doesn't miss a beat. I duck my head, already feeling their eyes tracing over my shape in my seat. I shiver as he speaks up, but push the feeling aside.
We're not friends any more, Andy. You're no good for them.
"My sister's ride didn't show up, and she refused to stop waiting and get in my car." His voice holds confusion, and accusation. I don't dare look up. One look in his eyes and all of my resolve will disappear.
They need me to stay strong.
"Very well, Mr. Cardinal. I'll excuse you this once. Now please, take your seats." I gulp as three sets of feet trudge towards me. I slump more into my seat, ignoring the eyes I can feel glued to me.
A moment hadn't passed from them settling into their seats when a note landed in my lap from beside me. I press my lips together before knocking it onto the floor, not even bothering to read it. Another note lands in my lap almost instantly—it suffers the same fate as the one before it.
Another note flies into my lap and I hear Arrow growl slightly when I throw it into the growing pile.
I feel Ryker turning, his gaze heavy on me, but I ignore him too. I keep my gaze steady on my desk and continue my pattern of tossing the unread notes onto the floor beneath me until the bell rings. Arrow doesn't stop tossing notes no matter how many I throw on the floor.
When the bell rings, I dart out of my chair and rush from the classroom. I tear through the hallways, completely ignoring the shouts coming from behind me. I only stop once I am standing outside my car, chest heaving.
Anger at myself, at this situation, at the entire world takes over and I thrust my fist into the bark of the tree I'd parked beside. My knuckle splinters but I ignore it and keep tossing punches.
"Why c-can't this b-be easy?" I scream. I tear a branch from the bottom of the tree and hurl it away from me. " Why c-can't they l-leave me alone?" I hit the tree a few more times and then feel myself starting to crack under the pressure.
Why can't they understand that I am doing this for their own good? After they saw everything I went through yesterday after reliving my trauma, how can they want me to still be their friend? How can they look at me and see anything other than a monster? Anything other than their demise?
I turn and catch my reflection in the glass, and hate what I see. I hate the pathetic girl staring back at me, so angry and scared and worthless. Screaming, I throw my fist through the side mirror of my car before climbing into the driver's seat and speeding away, not stopping long enough to let myself process that they had witnessed my little scene.
I ignore the pain in my hands, the swinging of my broken side mirror, and the embarrassment of being watched while I'd melted down in favour of driving towards the only place I had sworn I would never go to.
I drive for hours, getting lost in the thoughts that had brought me to this decision.
I stop at a gas station halfway between my destination and the town I lived in now. There is a mom and her little girl standing at the counter when I walk in to pay. The little girl smiles at me over her shoulder, and I feel a single tear fall down my cheek.
"Are you OK?" She calls out to me. I give her a weak smile as her mom turns to see who she's talking to.
"Do you need a hug?" The little girl whispers to me, taking a step towards me.
"N-no... I'm OK." I breathe back. She frowns and reaches into her pocket.
"When I'm sad, mommy tells me to write it down to let it go. Here." She offers me a pink notepad that's shaped like a fish. "I think you need this more than I do." Her mom smiles at me and squeezes her daughters hand. I take the notebook from her gently, careful not to touch her.
"T-thank you." I whisper. She smiles at me and then follows her mom towards the door. "Feel better!" She calls. I give her a small wave and step up to the counter to pay.
When I get back to my car, I drop the fish notebook into my passenger seat. It looks out of place, but I kind of like it. I bite my lip and scramble through my bag for a pen.
Once I have one in hand, I flip through the pages of her notebook to find a blank one. I find myself smiling sadly at some of the things that she's written, things she's been sad about.
One page says, "Mommy likes pickles and I don't." Another says, "Lisa said it's weird that I have two mommies and no daddy." Another says, "I got detention for punching Lisa." I smile at that one especially.
When I reach a blank page, I pause to think of the biggest reason that I am sad, because I'm sad for so many reasons.
I'm sad because of my past, and sad because of my future. I'm sad because the highlight of my life is a little fish notepad handed to me by a stranger, and I'm sad because that's not really the highlight but I won't let myself think of the REAL highlights; the people who I had never wanted to say goodbye to but couldn't stick around for nonetheless.
I'm sad for so many reasons, but eventually I figure out the biggest one.
Eventually, I write one sentence.
"I'm sad I have to be alone again."