Author: theDeadTree PM
Quinn Johnston was always under the impression that her life was normal - well maybe not 'normal' per say, but possible at least. That unfortunately changes with the sudden reappearance of Drew Anderson, her childhood friend who had vanished four years prior. That boy is hiding something, and Quinn knows it.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Angst - Chapters: 30 - Words: 107,824 - Reviews: 48 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 11-22-11 - Published: 08-14-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2943018
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I'll tell you now, what you are now reading won't end happily. Now isn't that just a smashing way to grab your attention? I honestly don't know why I'm telling you this; I guess I thought I'd better warn you in case you started reading this expecting a light, happy, carefree story about a girl who meets a boy and lives happily ever after, because this isn't one of those types of stories. This is…I don't know. Not like that. Who cares anyway? Maybe you're one of those sick, twisted bastards that actually like stories that don't end happily, stories where the characters suffer needlessly. Or maybe you're a saner human being than that. It's none of my business whatever kind of person you are. All I'm saying is that you're probably not going to end up with what you expected. What does it matter? You probably knew that anyway. Who opens a book that starts exactly how they expected it to? That'd be a lame, not very exciting world, wouldn't it? I suppose you're expecting me to go into a huge big long speech about who I am, where I come from, who my family are, what I like and don't like, what I'm good at, what I'm scared of, you know, all the basic core things you'd want to know about someone. But why should I do that now, when I've just said all that? There's no point. And here I am, rambling on and the only thing you've learned is that this isn't going to end happily. Either way, I'm not going to talk about where I am now.
See, there's a whole bunch of things that have happened in the past decade of my life that are kind of vital for you to know if you're going to understand anything about anyone in this mostly woeful tale. You need to know all the shit before I can even begin to talk about where I am currently. You need to know about a person's life and the things they've been through before you can really understand them. And since I'm the one narrating, you need to know about me. That's just the luck of the draw. And I'm pretty damn complicated. Like, seriously complicated.
So anyway, on the hot summer night of December the sixteenth, in the year 2000, in the suburbs of a smallish city called Adelaide, which is located the central south of a rather significant sporting country in the southern hemisphere at the time known as Australia, seven years after my own birth, our story began.
It was nearly Christmas, and much to your probable lack of shock, I was impatiently bouncing up and down in my bed. I was a very impatient seven year old girl. Being a part of a family of six in a house with three bedrooms would always have its complications. I knew that. I had to share bedrooms with my three year old sister Charlotte, after all. My two brothers, Jason and Liam, also shared a room. I remember Jason, the eldest, had been twelve. I was the second oldest after him, at seven, then Liam at five and Charlotte at three. Jason was so much older than me because mum had given birth to Jason when mum and dad were still going out. Then they got married and had me. It's weird and hard to explain. But however weird and hard to explain my family was, I loved them. I loved my life. I had a perfect life. I was completely and utterly convinced that you couldn't get a better life than I had.
And then, all of a sudden, you could.
I don't really remember how or why it started. I don't remember how I discovered it. I do remember hearing the smoke alarms wail a high pitched squeal, and I do remember leaping out of my bed and running into the hall. I do remember Charlotte not getting out of the bedroom in time. The walls collapsed around her, trapping her and burning my three year old sister to a crisp. I remember hearing her dying screams of fear and pain until she finally succumbed to the flames that were killing her, burning her alive.
And out of all the things I remember from that night, I remember not being able to move as a flaming wooden beam that had once kept this house standing fell straight towards me. I barely noticed it, I was too shocked. The end of beam hit my shoulder and clattered to the ground. The fire singed through my nightie and ate into the skin on my right shoulder. I fell back against the wall, screaming in pain and swatting at the flames until they went out and all that was left was a singed hole in my nightie and a huge, throbbing, red and black burn right across my shoulder. I screamed and cried and shook, unable to move, unable to comprehend what was going on. And the whole time the others were screaming, trying to get out. The whole time I could hear my mum screeching in fear, calling out, desperate to know if her children were okay, desperate to know if they were still alive…until those screams too, faded away into the horrible silence of death. I stood there, unable to think, waiting to die as the house collapsed around me and the flames grew taller, hotter and more destructive than before. That was the first time in my life when I realised the terrible truth of death and mortality. I was so convinced I was going to die under these flames I did nothing to stop it.
Suddenly, something closed around my wrist and wrenched me away from the wall. I looked up, barely able to see through my tears and the shock and fear that coursed through me. Jason's face came into view, terrified, sweaty and pale with fear. He was panting, but he never let go of me. I was mostly in shock.
"The front door, run!" He told me, pushing me in the direction of the front door. I couldn't do it. Not on my own.
"J-Jason…" I stammered tearfully. "Charlotte…"
"RUN!" He roared, shoving me towards the front door, which stood ajar, showing the safety of the street beyond. There was a terrifying tunnel of fire between here and there, but it was my only chance at survival. Adrenalin coursing through me, I sprinted through the burning hall, clutching my horrifically burned shoulder and wailing in pain and fear. It was the longest few seconds of my life. The flames never seemed to end, and my bare feet were getting seriously burned from the ground. It was there, I knew it. Freedom and survival and life were beyond that door. I just had to run fast enough. I just had to keep running and never, ever stop. Run forever, never stop running. Surely…surely they'll be okay…surely those screams hadn't been dying screams, they'd be rescued, just like me, it's all going to be okay…they'll survive…I'll be having Christmas dinner with them in nine days time…it'll all be okay…it's…going…to be…okay…
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I shot out of the house, ran through the burning front garden, through the open gate, jumped over the gutter and collapsed onto the street in exhaustion. The bitumen of the road grazed my hands and knees; ripped my already wrecked nightie and my feet and shoulder were all so badly burned I couldn't feel anything but the agony from them. Blood trickled off my palms and dripped onto the ground. I screamed and cried and shook. There was nothing…nothing worse than this. Nothing good could come of this. It was over, everything was over. My life was over. The house slowly disintegrated into little more than ashes. Sirens blared louder as they drew closer and closer.
Too little. Too late.
Some things change your life. Forever. Something you can't experience without walking away a different person. Sometimes I look back on my life before the fire and I wonder how that little girl could really be me. How could that happy, smiley little girl be me? I've changed, I've grown up now. I know a lot of things I didn't before, but I still don't know how the little girl I remember is the same person I am now.
I lay on the ground, my chest heaving with the effort of my flight through the burning house, still shocked to find myself alive. It took me far too long to realise that I wasn't the only one lying on the street, gasping for air, having inhaled too much smoke.
I let out a cry of happiness that sounded more like a howl of misery as I realised this. I pushed myself into a sitting position and half collapsed on my older brother. I don't know how he got out, but he got out. His hair was singed but he wasn't as badly burned as me. I didn't care. I wasn't alone. I wasn't alone. Oh god I wasn't alone.
"It's okay Quinn…" Jason rasped. "We're okay…we're alive…"
I still have nightmares about that night.
Christmas has never really meant anything to me since the fire. I've never been able to face the spirit of it. I quickly developed a strange fear of Santa Claus, convinced that he and his holiday only ever brought death and suffering upon people. Christmas has only brought about memories of the fire for me. Nothing could be worse than this. Nothing at all. The death of my family has haunted me ever since. But I had my brother, which was more than I expected. I had my brother who had saved my life. Without Jason I positively would have died. There was nothing…just nothing. Just black. Emptiness. A cold numbness swirled around me, engulfing me. Dragging me back and never letting go. I didn't fight it. I didn't want to fight it. I didn't want to feel. I never wanted to feel ever again. I would never let go of Jason, never, ever let go of my older brother. I needed him. I wouldn't let go, not for anything.
I was so out of it I barely registered anything that wasn't me or Jason. I could still feel the heat coming off the smoking, ashen remains of the house. I could hear the water from the fire hose gushing out and splashing over what was left of my life before that night. I lay there as a flurry of activity took place around me, unmoving, tears still sliding down my face. I didn't notice when a fireman scooped me up gently into his arms and carried me as carefully as he could over to the ambulance that was waiting for me. I could vaguely hear Jason moaning in pain, coughing and gasping and asking if anyone else had managed to get out alive. I didn't move as the paramedics wrapped a soaking wet towel around my shoulder and feet, trying to soothe the burns, to dull the pain. I simply lay there, staring at the ceiling of the ambulance as Jason and I were rushed to hospital, seeing nothing but flames. Hearing nothing but Charlotte's dying screams echo throughout my head.
To lose someone important to you hurts. To lose someone close to your heart, it hurts. It hurts so much more than what you think. It feels as if someone has plunged their hand into your chest, ripped out your heart out of your chest and left it there in front of you, where it still beats, oozing blood. Every breath is like swallowing a thousand knives. But to lose your whole family in one night…that's a completely different level of grief and pain.
They loaded the both of us onto stretchers and rushed us inside the Royal Adelaide Hospital. I was in a much worse state than Jason, and I frequently heard Jason point that fact out to the paramedics. He was in tears, of course he was, how could you not be after something like that? Everything was hazy, unclear. I didn't really know what was going on, nor did I want to know. I could have just lay there forever, watching the world go by. I was ready to become nothing more than a bystander, a viewer, one of the crowd. I didn't want to partake in life anymore. I didn't want to die, it wasn't like that. I just wanted to lie back and let the world go on without me. I didn't care anymore.
They told me as soon as I came round that I would live with my mum's parents, who lived in the next suburb over from the house that had burned to the ground. They were already in the hospital, talking to Jason, who had recovered well from the minor burns he'd gotten away with. I wasn't so lucky. I would have that burn on my shoulder for the rest of my life. A big, red, ugly burn that spread right across my shoulder. The burned skin would always be fragile, they told me. It would be a while before it stopped hurting when I moved my right arm. The prospect of living with my grandparents might have cheered me up a little if I could just think about something else.
So when I say something changed my life forever, you'd better understand that I mean every single word. I don't take that sentence lightly, and neither should you. Not while you're reading this, anyway. I was alone, with no one to turn to, no one to talk to. Sure, people pitied me. I didn't want pity. I wanted empathy. I wanted someone who had been through the same kind of thing, someone who was willing to talk about it, which instantly put Jason out of the question. He didn't talk about it at all, despite everyone's gentle prodding for him to open up about it. I needed someone, someone new, someone different, who understood. I needed a friend. A proper friend. A real friend. Someone who could understand me and someone I could learn to understand in return. A stranger, someone to get to know. But where are you going to find that kind of person anymore?
Sometimes, you just know that life is at it's worst. You just know you've reached rock bottom. You know that you can't fall any further, that there isn't a level lower than this. It takes a lot to get to that level, and once you're on it, you just know. You simply know that nothing can be worse than this. Even when you're too young to really know anything.
My name is Quinn Johnston. And this is my December Sun.
I spent Christmas in the hospital. Jason was already out and living with Gran and Grandpa, but I had to stay in due to my slow healing burns. It was a quiet and sombre occasion, I couldn't walk all that well because of my feet and still couldn't move my arm as well as I'd like, but it was the closest I'll ever get to a family Christmas, so I joined in the best I could. My feet didn't hurt so much as time went by and I slowly became able to walk, but I still refrained from doing so out of fear of stepping on something sharp. That was my biggest fear in those days. When you've lost so much so quickly, things change. A lot. I had pretty much nothing, so what did it matter?
It was there in the hospital, after the biggest tragedy of my life, I first met him.
I'd seen him around for at least a week or so beforehand, he wasn't the kind of person you forget. He had intrigued me since I first saw him skulking in a corner a couple days before Christmas. He kept to himself, never talking, never even opening his mouth. He was almost like a ghost in a way, skirting around the place, never making any kind of sound. He can't have been any older than I was, perhaps six or seven. Someone roughly my own age. What had originally caught my attention was that he seemed to be having the exact same problem as me; he was trying to walk when he clearly didn't want to. He was quietly balancing on a pair of crutches, an obviously bored expression on his face. I pressed myself against the wall, watching him silently, hoping he wouldn't see me spying on him. Usually I didn't spy on people like this, but he was so intriguing and I was so curious.
His left leg from the knee downwards was encased in plaster, which looked odd on his skinny, slight frame. I had wondered vaguely what he'd done to his leg for days, but couldn't pluck up the courage to ask him. His shaggy mop of jet black hair hung over his face, obscuring his eyes because his fringe was so long. I watched him push his hair out of his face, revealing two very deep dark blue eyes. It was a nice dark blue, the kind of colour you can never really describe in great detail. His boyish, slightly rounded face screwed up in pain as he accidentally put too much weight on his bad leg. He just looked like any other kid, really. Nothing particularly eye catching or special, just a normal, every day boy. Maybe that's why I stared at him so much, because he looked so painfully ordinary, and that was what I was beginning to miss about my pre-fire life.
Of course he took no notice of me, so I didn't know if he'd caught me staring at him or not. When he stubbornly refused to meet my gaze, I realised that he was purposely ignoring me. I didn't know if he did that to everyone, but some people just strike you as the type, you know? He balanced on his crutches and kicked off from the wall, bored. I couldn't get over how odd he looked. He was very thin and slight, the kind of person you'd expect to be graceful. This boy did not embody my perception of graceful. There was nothing graceful about the way he shuffled and slipped and staggered around, trying to get his bearings and utterly failing to do so. It was almost amusing to watch, but I forced myself to remain silent from fear of annoying him. I think my staring at him was annoying him too, but I couldn't help it. I stiffened with surprise when I realised why I was interested by him.
He was like me.
Finally, my burning curiosity got the better of me. I had to talk to him. I had to find out who this skulking boy was. I had to know, it seemed vital all of a sudden. I don't know why. Don't ask me why. I just…I needed to know. He was some dark, mysterious boy who kept to himself. That's enough to intrigue anyone.
"Hello." I greeted him awkwardly, hobbling over to him. He jumped in surprise and nearly fell over. He quickly regained his balance and turned to face me, burning curiosity on his face. He didn't look like he was all that used to social interactions with strangers, so it was unsurprising for me to see him look straight at the ground, shuffle awkwardly and mumble something incoherent in reply.
"Um…I'm Quinn." I told him after a short silence.
He continued to stare at the floor and didn't look up. "I'm…I'm Drew."
Drew? That wasn't what I would have guessed to be his name. He looked like more of a Mitchell to me. Or perhaps a Michael, something starting with an M. My desperate, unquenchable desire to know everything about him got the better of me. I knew I would probably just annoy him by asking, but I had to know.
"Is that short for Andrew, or is it just Drew?"
He looked up, his lip slightly curled in disgust. He obviously got this question a lot.
"What do you think?" He snarled, acting very unlike a typical seven year old boy. I recoiled slightly but otherwise didn't react to his very open hostility. Small wonder why he wasn't used to social interaction. He clearly didn't want any of it.
"Well…is it?" I asked him a little coldly, recovering from my brief shock. He was so different to anyone else I'd met before. Different. Key word.
"…yes." He hissed angrily. "Go ahead and laugh."
My brain was confusions galore as I tried to make sense of what he was saying. His name was Andrew, he called himself Drew and he didn't like his name. I couldn't quite get my head around it.
"Why would I laugh? There are heaps of people called Andrew."
He looked away and refused to look back at me. This was clearly a touchy subject with him, though I had no idea why someone would be so sensitive about something as small as a name. I had never had any problems with my name, and I didn't see what was so horrible about Andrew. I looked him up and down and smiled. Andrew, I thought his name to myself. Andrew. It kind of suited him. Well, it made more sense than Drew, at any rate.
"I hate my name. What kind of person calls their kid Andrew?"
I cocked my head curiously at him. Andrew seemed like a pretty normal name to me. "Don't you like your parents?"
He shrugged. "I dunno."
"How can you not know?" How is that even possible?
"I never knew either of them."
And let's face it, what kind of seven year old is going to understand that? We both stared at each other for a few awkward seconds, trying to work exactly who the other was. What kind of person was he? I knew he was overly hostile, I knew he skulked in corners and didn't like talking to people. But I didn't understand a word of what he was trying to tell me about his parents.
"My mum's dead." He mumbled. "That's why I don't know her."
I didn't say anything for a while. He really was like me. And yet he was also the complete opposite of me at the same time. I liked that. You don't find people like that everyday. I smiled uncertainly at him, completely and blissfully unaware of just how much this boy would utterly ruin my life in the years to come. So blissfully unaware. Just like all the other little kids in the world these days. I shuffled from side to side, still a million questions in my mind.
"Doesn't…doesn't your father talk about her at all?"
Andrew sighed heavily and lifted his eyes to mine. "I've never met my dad. No one knows who he is."
"Oh. So…you're an orphan?"
I'm not quite sure I quite grasped the concept of 'orphan' when I was little.
He gritted his teeth. "Yeah, I guess so."
"How long have they been gone?"
"All my life."
"Then who do you live with?" I mean, he's got to live with someone.
I guess I knew I wasn't going to get a better answer than that, I decided to change the subject. I looked him up and down, from his mop of strangely seemingly natural black hair, down to his plastered left leg. I wondered vaguely how he'd broken it. I looked back at his face. He was watching me warily, as if he wasn't sure if I was safe to talk to or not. Like he was half expecting me to punch him in the face or something. Desperate to make him realise that I meant no harm, I gestured at his plastered leg, which looked oh so outrageously out of place compared to the rest of him.
"So…um…what happened to your leg?" I asked hesitantly.
"I broke it." He replied shortly.
Ah. Another touchy subject. "How'd you break it?"
Andrew took a while to answer this. He stared at the ground, unwilling to answer. I bit my lip. Was it a personal question? I didn't really understand how such a thing could be personal. When you're seven years old, you don't exactly pause to think things through clearly. Thoughts just whiz around your brain and you barely have any time to actually think things through.
"I…I was hit by a car." He admitted finally.
I arched an eyebrow curiously. What was so personal about that? Maybe I'm thinking about this wrong. I think about a lot of things wrong, so it wouldn't be a first. Desperate to make him look happier or at least lighten the mood a little, I tried to joke.
"That was a bit stupid; usually you have to avoid cars."
He stared at me like I was insane, and I looked down. It had gotten awkward again. Really awkward, and it was my fault. I couldn't help it, I was nervous, and I made crap jokes when I felt like that. It wasn't my fault. Well, yeah, it was, but still. I carefully avoided his glare. Neither of us said anything for a while.
"So," He began, but trailed off. I looked up.
"So…?" I prompted, eager to make conversation with him again.
"What about you?" He asked quietly. "You have a family?"
I closed my eyes and a tear slid down my cheek. "No. Not anymore. Just a brother."
And then the fire all came flooding back and all those emotions I should have had before came bursting forth and suddenly I was tears and hugging him like he was the only person in the world. Though briefly and understandably shocked, Andrew managed to wrap one arm around me while trying to support his own weight with the other. Since then, I have never lost faith in our friendship, no matter how strained it would become. Since then, I knew that everything was going to be okay.
I pulled away from him and smiled weakly, wiping the tears from my face.
"I'm sorry Andrew." I apologised quietly.
He rolled his eyes and I could see the slight annoyance flicker through his expression. "It's Drew."
He seemed so insistent about it I could only humour him. Drew, I tried silently. It was nice, solid, one syllable. I looked at him. Drew. Yeah, I guess I could call him that, it wouldn't be too hard. Drew.
"Drew." I stated, smiling slightly.
For the first time that day, he smiled back.
Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes people die. Sometimes your life is ripped to pieces and all you can ask is why. Things happen, and you can't stop them from happening. But usually, out of the terrible tragedies, a small glimmer of light, a little fragment of happiness is found. Out of all bad comes good. Maybe not as much good as you'd like, maybe it's so tiny that you can barely see it, but it's there. It's always there. You just have to look hard enough.
And we've been best friends ever since.