***** IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT***** - the end of the last chapter was changed; basically a small chunk was removed. Just wanted to put that out there.
Anyways, I wanted to say thanks so much to everyone who's continued to check my page and post comments and favorite the story. It really helps to know that someone is reading it. Since I'm on vacation now, I'll to post as often as possible until school comes back again. Hopefully the story will start to move a bit quicker now. ^_^ Apologies in advance for spelling and grammatical errors as I haven't really edited this chapter. And if anyone wants to help me out by being a BETA for the story please let me know. Enjoy.
Chapter 10: Syncopation
Waking up was shockingly painful. My head was too heavy a burden to be moved and as my weighed eyelids were opened, small bursts of light flickered across a corroded image of blurred color and light, their capricious trajectory making me dizzy and queasy. Behind closed eyes small swirling black holes imploded from within a faded gray backdrop.
My head pounded. The more awake I was the more I felt the burning on the right side of my face.
I groaned in discomfort.
Boisterous sounds exploded at my ear drums.
I groaned again.
Someone was calling my name.
Someone was holding my hand.
I forced my eyes open once more.
Behind the sudden glare of light was Mena's face, her childlike features soiled by tears, made old and tired with concern. Behind her sat Broden and Hagan, so still and glued so close to one another that they seemed to be one pale, ashen-faced entity.
Hagan and Broden both looked up, staring at me as though I'd returned from the dead.
What happened? Why was everyone so grave?
I opened my mouth to speak and found my throat a barren desert. A croak was enough to have a glass of water handed to me. I reached for the glass and nearly knocked it over before a pair of hands steadied my hold on it. I forced the cup to my lips. A gulp was enough to start a coughing fit.
What was wrong with me?
My eyes wandered around the familiar setting of my room, exactly the same as I had decorated it when I was seven and came to live with Grandma and Grandpa Ackerman, exactly the same as I had left it that morning.
How had I gotten here from the car?
My eyes met Carter's in uncertainty. Why was he here? What was going on?
"You been out for a day," Broden said, his voice as loud as a bullhorn in the silence of my childhood room. "The doctor said it was okay to move you."
The confusion must have shown on my face because he continued slowly. His words seems harder now, thick as molasses as the stuck to his throat before clearing his lips. "We couldn't wake you up. No matter what we did," he said clearing his throat, "you stayed unconscious. You were practically in a coma for a day."
It was a few moments before I felt the impact of his words. A coma? How? It didn't make sense.
"Carter found you," Hagan said, "he went to check on you but when he got there you…"
Mena's hand tightened around mine and I squeezed her hand back as much as I could. I looked to Carter, urging him to explain what had happened, what apparently, I had not been conscious for.
He gulped audibly and half stood half crouched before me.
"I knocked on the window but you didn't wake up," he said. "I thought you were sleeping but then, I'd knocked on the window too hard and the alarm went off. You didn't move an inch. Eventually the alarm caught someone's attention and he helped me break the car window so we could get to you."
With a shaky breath he continued. "We tried to shake you, to smack you awake – anything – but nothing worked. He carried you to the nurse but she couldn't figure it out. I went and got Hagan and…"
Here he collapsed back onto his chair, spent by the story.
"I got Broden and he called mom. We had a doctor come but he said you were in a deep sleep, that you'd hopefully wake up sooner or later," Hagan explained.
"What happened Attie? Where did you go?" Mena asked, her voice breathy and shaken.
Where had I gone?
Too-pale eyes, an awful grin, and… "play".
A full body shudder shook me and everyone was on their feet, inching toward me, asking what it was I needed.
"I'll go call the doctor," Broden said, leaving the room.
"I'll make some soup," Mena followed.
"Do you want more water?" Hagan asked already from the hallway, already making his way downstairs to the kitchen.
I stared at Carter's sleepless eyes and wondered if he'd stayed with me and my family the entire time since he'd found me. And I watched him, he watched me back, scrutinizing me in a way that made me feel weak and fragile.
"I won't tell anyone," he said finally, "about Broden."
My eyes widened in panic. He knew now. Both he and George knew. The longer I stayed the harder it was for me to keep my secrets to myself. But he knew and he was going to lie for me. The pounding in my head worsened as the complications his discovery hit me.
"Hey," he said softly, "it's okay. I'm good at keeping secrets. Just don't keep it all in okay?" And then, after a moment of hesitation, he bent down and kissed my forehead. The gesture reminded me of Broden when he'd taken care of me as a child. With one last smile, he waved and was gone, telling Mena as she brought in my soup that he'd come by later to see how I was.
Later Mena fed me soup and the doctor had diagnosed the incident as a case of stress and exhaustion. He prescribed "plenty of rest and relaxation". But after unknowingly missing an entire day of my life and having everyone treat me as though I'd practically died, sleep was the last thing I'd wanted. What if I didn't wake up again? What if I had those dreams? In the dark I could feel Dr. Lawson's eyes staring at me. And my night was spent sleeplessly, as I chased away the forgotten memories of my past.
"Attie, you need to sleep," Broden said, his voice trained with a control that signaled his worry and anger and frustration.
I shook my head.
"If you don't sleep now you'll be so exhausted it might happen again! Do you want to put us through that again?" It was odd to see him so disheveled. Though bad tempered, outwardly, Broden was the embodiment of composed. But today he was pale, his uniform shirt cuffs were unbuttoned, and his usually pressed slacks were wrinkled. Usually so well kempt, today he was a slob – by his standards at least.
I shook my head again, dizzy with lack of sleep. It wasn't exhaustion, I wanted to say but couldn't, it was these memories. They were making me sick. And as they came to me most vividly while I slept, I suddenly found myself somniphobic. It was hard to keep myself from unconsciousness but I didn't want to dream memories I was sure I'd forgotten for a reason. Besides, the longer I slept, the longer the memories.
"Attie," Broden scolded, moving closer to me but unable to do anything.
Guilt pooled at the pit of my stomach. He was so different, red eyed and vulnerable so that in a moment of weakness I admitted I was afraid. His face softened immediately and he reached out to ruffle my hair softly.
"You'll be fine," he said, "I said so, so you will be."
I smiled at the gruff Broden-ness of his words and shook my head.
Behind him, Mena approached with another bowl of soup.
"She still won't sleep," he divulged, or rather ratted me out, as Mena shooed him away.
"She'll be just fine with the doctor's special soup in her," she said as chicken noodle soup was spooned into my mouth, the hot, sticky broth trailing down my chin so that I felt like an awkward teen-toddler as Mena wiped my chin.
"I can eat myself," I said finally when I couldn't take the embarrassment any longer. But she as adamant in her need to take care of me. "This was all she could do," she'd said.
As the warm liquid filled my belly, I could feel my muscles relaxing, my eyes getting heavy.
"I don't want anymore," I said but it sounded a slurred whine.
"You should go back now Broden. The doctor's pills are working. Tell Hagan and Carter she'll be fine," Mena's voice said, my mind tripping over her words in an attempt to make them make sense in my muddled state.
I could just make out Broden's disapproving frown before sleep pulled me down and under a wave of unconsciousness.
It was night when I next woke up and in the still darkness of my room, my mind tried to shake the menacing images of my past. Through a fog of exhaustion, I could feel D. Lawson's eyes staring at me, from the chair across my room, his expression unnatural cheerful at my discomfort.
"What are you hiding little one?" His voice was a snake hiss that made my blood run cold.
I imagined the jingling of the doorknob, felt it turning left, and then right, and back again, David's presence standing just on the other side of the door, waiting to come in. But he never did and the promise of his arrival, the anxiety of waiting, left me on edge as my eyes flitted continuously from one side of the room to the other, from the chair to the door.
The rain beat across the roof of the house, muffling the house's usual sounds until the foreign tune that rocked the creaking house provided an eerie track to the ghosts of my past. And to gather some semblance of control, and to avoid the shadows I knew weren't there, I closed my eyes and tried to isolate and identify each sound. The click of the raindrops over the battered roof, the dripping of a leak in the hallway, the scratching of a tree branch against my window, and the way it thumped on the windowpane was the wind picked up bouncing the branch off the glass so that it almost sounded like knocking.
To my relief it lessened the presence of these figments of my imagination, listening to the way the floorboards groaned under the weight of the passing wind, an old house annoyed by it rickety joints. It was becoming my house again, its arthritis acting up in the rain.
But then there was an unrecognizable shuffle the wind got louder, the air got colder. I could smell the rain as though I was standing out on it and the uncertainty of these changes had me closing my eyes tighter in fear. The feeling of Dr. Lawson's eyes on me came back at full force, the loud fumble of the doorknob boomed. I refused to open my eyes – if I couldn't see it then it wasn't real – until a drop of water fell on my nose. Then another on my lips. Was it a leak?
I opened my eyes to a pair of eyes that glowed orange-brown in the darkness of the room, their color and the warm they created in me reminding me of blazing flames in the distance. The look in his eyes were fierce and for a while I just lay there watching him watch me as water drip from his hair, down the slope of his nose, the peaks of his mouth, the hill of his chin, to wet my own lips. I could smell the musky wet smell of his leather jacket and sucked in the smell in hopes that I could keep some part of this mischievous wild fox-boy with me.
"Gabriel?" I finally asked when the silence of the moment and the distance between our bodies was too much for me to bear.
The sound of my voice was enough to bring the immobile statue that was his body, back to life. His arms came around my torso awkwardly and with a vice grip. It was hard to breathe in his embrace but I said nothing as I felt the shaking of his cold body against mine. Instead I did as best I could to wrap my arms around the cold slippery leather of his jacket. Feeling this he squeezed me tighter.
Instantly his arms slackened and he moved away so quickly that I feel back onto the bed, feeling cold and damp where his body had connected with mine. I shivered.
He looked at me with worry and anger and I was suddenly afraid he would yell at me.
"Pajamas?" he asked his voice low and dangerous.
"Where do you keep them?"
"Um…" I hesitated in confusion, "bottom drawer."
He shrugged off his jacket and let it fall to the floor with a dull thump as he moved to the drawers and returned with a piece of folded clothing. He stared at me fiercely, almost bitter, and then after a moment of hesitation, moved his hands to the hem of my shirt.
His shushing me was enough to keep me quiet.
He tugged the damp shirt over my head with shaky fingers and for a few seconds, his eyes grew darker, before he unfolded the new shirt and pulled it over my head, turning away from me – my face flushed at having him see me in my white sports bra – as I forced my arms into long cotton sleeves and finally pulled the hem down to cover my stomach.
When I'd stopped moving, he turned his head to check on me, pulling my blankets up, easing me down onto the bed, as he smoothed my hair. It was oddly nurturing for someone as instinctively predatory as Gabriel.
"What are you doing here," I whispered. "How did you," I asked, as he crossed the room and shuffled my window shut. The floorboards groaned softly under the fluid shifting of his sinew muscles. My bed creaked as he sat on its edge looking down at me again.
"Did it hurt?" The complicated expression on his face was captivating. Before I could ask 'what', his cold hand slid over my right cheek, caressing the spot that had burned and stung two days before.
"Was it you who…"
"Your friend couldn't get to you. You just lay there," he said, his voice hushed, his fingers skimming the sides of my face as it trailed down my hair. "I was so freaked out I broke your window." He stopped speaking then, twirling pieces of my brown hair around his callused fingers, looping the loops of my hair.
Eager to hear the rest I grabbed his hand and forced his eyes to meet me.
"You helped Carter pull me out," I said.
He nodded. "You were like silly putty in my hands. Your friend tried to shake you awake but…you were pale you looked like a corpse. I couldn't wait. I smacked you. I thought you'd open your eyes and glare at me but you just lay there." Suddenly he was leaning forward, his hand to the right of my head to support his weight. I could feel his breath on my face, his weight on my stomach. He was impossibly close.
"What happened," he asked and then seeing some sort of doubt in me, "what's happening to you?"
It was then that the reality of the situation came back to me. A boy I hardly knew, who'd been lying and keeping things from me, had broken into my house after I'd relapsed and was asking me to explain myself while my family was none the wiser. I glared at him and the guarded expression in my face brought back the usual anger in his eyes, the soft worry from earlier dissipating like smoke into thin air.
"I don't know." My voice was hard and louder than was safe.
I looked away from him, annoyed by his persistence.
"You should leave. My brother won't be happy if he sees you here."
"I know, he threatened to rough me up today," he said, voice cold with disinterest.
My head snapped back towards him.
"Hagan would never…"
"No. Not him. Broden."
I tried to imagine the scene but couldn't. As magnetic as I'd found Gabriel, he was the shortest out of the male companions in his group. Raithe towered over Gabriel's 5'10, even Seiran beanstalked a few inches taller. And just a few inches short of Raithe was my brother, wider, stronger, and full of rage.
"What why," I asked and when he refused to answer, "You should go." It was hard to imagine the damage Broden could do to Gabriel, how just one good punch would mean a broken jaw or nose.
"I'm not leaving until you tell me," he half yelled. My eyes instantly went to the door as my hand covered his mouth.
I waited. Nothing.
Turning to Gabriel, I sighed and finally admitted, "I don't know. There's… Something's wrong with my head. It's hard to explain. You wouldn't understand."
His words stretched out into the darkness, warm and full of promise. He was so intense it was hard not to get pulled in by the centripetal field that was Gabriel Gainnes. No matter how weird the situation was, how little he knew me, how scared I was at having him sneak into my room; a part of me liked the thrill of being near him, the urgency and lack of control he created in the atmosphere, like crackling bursts of electricity, like syncopations in music.
I longed to tell him what was happening. I wanted him to know me. I wanted to know him to. Even if I didn't trust him. Even if he if he didn't trust me. But I couldn't break the silence. It wouldn't have made sense to.
He opened his mouth to speak again, to yell at me or insist on an answer – I didn't know because that was when we both heard it, the turning the jingling and turning of the doorknob. Despite hearing it a thousand times, of imagining David on the other side of the door, of his presence coming to suffocate me as it had done so many times in the past, I knew that this time it was real. Whoever was on the other side of the door would finally open it.
Gabriel's body hit the ground a second before the door stood ajar and my brother's silhouette paused at the door frame. On the floor blocked by it, there was no way he would be seen. He walked toward me all tension and uncertainty and I knew it was Broden before he sat on the edge of my bed.
"The pills had to wear off eventually," I said accusingly.
It must have been the surprise in his voice that had me so easily angered and forgetting about the dangers of Broden being so close to Gabriel.
"Mena just did what the doctor told her to. You needed to sleep." As was expected of Broden, his tone was factual and left no room for argument. "I didn't know about it until after the fact."
This explanation didn't sit well with me. Broden was always on top of things, it was odd to have him so out of the loop and a small part of me knew I resented him for it.
"I won't sleep if I'm not tired and it's not right for you to have a doctor force me." It was embarrassing the way my voice cracked at the end. Broden sighed and I looked away, not wanting to seem weak in front of someone so strong.
"Are you afraid of him?"
I stared off into the darkness.
"Whoever it is you stare at when you won't sleep."
Knowing he knew came with an odd sense of shame and I couldn't find the words to respond.
"Attie, we might have you talk to someone."
The words sounded like a prison sentence.
"I don't want to."
"I know. Neither do I," he said, "but we don't know what else to do. You're not okay and we don't know how to fix it. You're anxious, you're seeing things, and you went into a coma for twenty four hours. We don't want to put you on medication and we don't want force you to see someone but what else are we supposed to do. Tell me Attie? What can I do?"
When I didn't answer all he could say was, "We're scared for you."
Tears welled up in my eyes as betrayal and fear nested in my gut. I didn't want to do it again. I didn't want to sit in a too white room and have a pair of eyes strip me of myself. From the other side of the room, a shadow of a grin mocked me from Dr. Lawson's usual perch.
I sniffled trying to suck in the tears before they could fall.
"What if… but what if he's like Dr. Lawson?" The words came out small and trembling and I felt like a child afraid of being left alone in the dark.
"You remember him," Broden said, slightly astonished. There were so many things I couldn't remember, that I'd blocked out in self defense that my family never brought up the past. After the memories I'd gotten back, I could understand their not wanting to push me, their trying to protect me. "How much to you remember?"
"Not much. Only a little. But things keep coming back in bits and pieces."
My confession left him with a scared expression that mirrored mine.
"I think it's what's making me sick."
My words drifted in the quiet air of the house. Outside the pouring rain had slowed to a drizzle and the wind that had beat so harshly against the house, angry and forceful, was nothing more than a light breeze now that the storm had passed.
He was at a loss at what to say, I could see it from the way his stern mouth with pressed together, as though he wanted to comfort me and maybe himself but didn't know how. So I grabbed his hand, offered him a shaky smile and told him I was tried.
"Attie…" He sounded hurt, like he thought I was pushing him away and in a way I guess I was. We couldn't handle this right now, just the two of us before dawn, scared and tired, and not ourselves.
"You said I needed sleep and you have school in the morning. We'll talk about it tomorrow. I'm not going anywhere."
His frown rippled over every muscle of his face until he nodded curtly, feeling dismissed, and kissed my forehead goodnight. He paused at the door post, his silhouette a mirror image of his coming in. "Call me if you need anything." The door shut and I was left alone in the darkness again.
I closed my eyes exhausted by the conversation and had to open them again the sound of Gabriel shuffling from under my bed reminded me he was still here. At any other time I would have been furious, annoyed at myself for having let him hear so much, but I had no more energy to spare, nothing left to make me feel stupid and vulnerable. So when he got back on his feet and looked down at me with those expressive eyes, I could do nothing more but stare back. I expected him to say something, to ask questions, to take what information he wanted while I was weak enough to do so without protest. Instead he took my hand, my fingers small and childlike as his hand engulfed mine, and caressed the back of my hand with his thumb.
I questioned him with heavy lidded eyes.
"I'll stay with you until you fall asleep," he said and his offer comforted me like a lullaby.
The rhythmic stoking of his thumb over my hand, the weight of the night's conversations, and a sweet song I could barely hear him sing beneath his breath, has me losing consciousness much quicker than any medication could. And this time I wasn't afraid of sleep or what might come with it because besides me, a strong hand anchored to sanity, its owner singing of how he pined for Attaline.
In the morning he was gone.
I could tell from the way that Mena and Hagan treated me the next day that Broden had told them nothing about what I'd told him that night. They didn't look at me with the same worry Broden's eyes held, didn't ask me about what I'd remembered. Instead they asked me if I was tired, if I needed rest, and after the peaceful sleep I'd had the night before, protected from my personal demons, I was more than well rested. And in the daylight, there was no need for me to be afraid.
That is until Mena's voice rang from the stairs.
"Attie, the doctor's here to see you."
I fidgeted uncomfortably in my bed, drawing the covers up to my nose as she opened the door and the doctor followed. The last time the doctor had been to the house, I'd been asleep and to my relief, his brief assessment had been enough to keep him from seeing me much sooner. But now it seemed there was no way to hide from him. He was tall, dark haired, and tan. He was too muscular and smiled too much to be a doctor. Worse yet, he wore blue jeans and a red t-shirt that red "EPIC FAIL" in the front. I decided I didn't like him then and there.
"Attie this is Dr. Silva."
"Please, call me Jesse," he said to me with a small bow, all smiles.
I said nothing and I must have looked displeased because Mena cleared her throat and said in a voice much too pleasant, "I guess I'll be downstairs. Call down if you need anything." Sending me a look she closed the door and we were alone.
If Dr. Silva was taken aback by my reaction to arrival he didn't show it.
"So… should I call you Attie or Attaline?"
"Where's your medicine bag? It'll be hard to examine me without one," I said instead and he sighed, flopping down into the chair beside the door like a tired kid.
"I don't need one. I'm not really the kind of doctor that needs the stuff people carry in medical bags."
I blinked. Though I was glad, I didn't like being touched, his answer made little sense to me.
"Well then what kind of doctor are you?"
"Well, I like to think of myself as a hired metaphorical attic cleaner but most people would say I'm a psychologist, or a shrink."
Beneath the duvet my palms were sweating.
"I don't like shrinks," I said.
He laughed, not the least bit offended. "So I see. But I heard we were having some problems and I figured maybe I could help you sort through the mental clutter. What do you say?"
He seemed friendly enough, didn't wear a white coat, and wasn't as intrusive as I was used to. Still, my experience told me not to trust him.
He sighed and slumped forward on his seat, biting on a thumb nail.
"Want to tell me why your family was so concerned that I got called over?"
I hadn't been so obstinate in a long time. No was not a word David allowed in his vocabulary and in extension, ours and it was impossible to deny Mena of anything when she asked for little and give without taking much back in return. The last time I had been able to say no so many times must have been the summer I'd lived here when Grandma and Grandpa had let us have chocolate chip pancakes for dinner and lasagna for breakfast.
"That's okay," he shrugged, "I already heard the story. You went to sleep and didn't wake up for a while." He looked to me for confirmation. I gave none. "It must have been scary for you." I mirrored his shrug.
"The general practitioner seems to think that the incident was due to stress and exhaustion but I don't think that quite right. Do you? No. I think exhaustion was an easy excuse for it but really it was the stress that's key in situations like these. Can you think of anything that's been stressing you out recently?"
The easy answer would have been "everything". Nothing in my life seemed simple anymore, everything suddenly an obstacle to maneuver around only I wasn't fast enough to keep from crashing. School was stressful, friends were stressful, even family was stressful and then and there, I resolved to call David and tell him to bring me home. Freedom wasn't worth this much struggling. It was easier to just do what I was told.
Without an answer Dr. Silva pulled left leg up so that his left ankle rested above his knee. He made a face, one that suggested deep thought and said, "Your record says that you have PTSD and your brother told m briefly that some of your repressed memories were returning which could be the cause of the coma episode. Your brain unable to process the new information could have shut down – sort of like a computer you see – and then turned itself back on once it had subconsciously righted the images. Which… would make sense except that the restoration of these memories must have had a trigger else wise none of the above would have occurred?"
He turned to me, snapping out of his tangent. "Can you think of anything?"
My memories had triggers? I thought about the memory of wig and the new journal I'd gotten, Dr. Lawson's echoing question and Gabriel's taunts about secrets. They had all been related, one triggered by the other but they hadn't been the start of the problem. It had been the fever that had caused my memories to start righting themselves, the fever I'd gotten from soaking in the rain with Gabriel. Suddenly I wanted to yell at him, to tell him that this was all his fault.
"You've figured it out didn't you?" Dr. Siva's voice snapped my eyes back in his direction. "Come on, throw me a bone here. You don't have to give me details but not being able to figure it out is killing me."
I glared at him and decided to tell him as little as possible, if only so he wouldn't tell Mena I was uncooperative. "I had a fever a week or so ago. When it got bad, I started having dreams that were more like memories."
He nodded at my words; hand over his mouth until he spoke again. "The fact that a fever of all things could have caused the returning of memories my point to swelling in the brain then the coma after that sort of trauma might be linked. You should probably get checked out at a hospital by a neurologist."
"I don't like doctors and I don't like being touched."
"Of course you don't," he replied cheerily, "but what still doesn't make sense is why now. I mean, you must have had several fevers up until now, right?" I nodded. "So why is it that only now your fevers are creating link to inaccessible memories from your subconscious? Arg, there has to be another trigger."
I frowned. Another trigger? What? What could it have been? I hadn't the slightest clue.
"Well, it looks like you've already gotten a head start on trying to figure these things out. You don't seem to like me much so I'll try to stay out of your hair. But I'll come check on you next week. Technically, you're my patient now so let's try to get along and I'll leave my number with your mother in case you need me to help de-clutter again." He rose slowly, dusting imaginary lint from his jeans. "I don't think you will," he said with a smile, "but I figured I should offer. It was nice meeting you Attie. I hope you can figure this out on your own."
With another small wave the door shut behind him and the thudding of his mountain boots echoed through the house, silent for moment as his voice mingled with Mena's, and then thudded again until the front door shut and he was gone.
When I returned to school two days later, I was weighed down by the smorgasbord of new problems on my plate. Every day I had to reassure my family that I was fine and that I was sleeping, Mena and Hagan still none the wiser about the cause of my lapse. Sleeping too had become a chore. At nighttime the shadows played tricks with my mind until I was pale and shaking in the folds of my sheets. My fears persisted with a vengeance until the second Gabriel opened my window and sat on the edge of my bed, neither of us talking as he held my hand and waited till I fell asleep. Despite the questions I had for him, the curses I wanted to throw his way, the blame, I was too relieved at his protective presence to say a word. But in the day time things would be different and I dreaded seeing him outside the purple walls of my room where he would go back to being cocky and womanizing and abrasive. And above that were the rumors.
"I heard she was meeting up with a guy out in the parking lot and that Carter caught them."
"No, I heard that she was ditching class in order to deal drugs to the freshmen."
"I thought she on heroin?"
Everywhere I went the school sounded like a badly written script from a teen fluff movie. The rumors were spreading like brushfire and under the pressure of everyone's scrutiny; I was felt like an insect scorched beneath the lens of a magnifying glass.
Beside me Marie snorted in disbelief, "where do they get this crap from?" and glared at the gossips as we passed. They wilted quickly under her gaze and shut their lockers loudly before scampering off like scared mice.
"It's high school," Jenny replied from my other side with a shrug, smiling softly at anyone who looked our way. Two boys who had been making crude comments and gestures about what I might have been doing with a boy alone in a car stopped in their tracks at Jenny's sweet and untroubled smile, clearing their throats before changing the subject. As bodyguards went, the two girls made a formidable team.
"Are you okay Attie? This must really suck," Marie sympathized as we sat down at our lunch table. Around us, the tables had gotten even more quiet than usual, eavesdropping on our conversation lest the truths of the incident be brought up.
I shrugged. It did suck. It had been odd to have people pay so much attention to me before but at least then the attention had been positive. I had never imagined that their curiosity of me would transform into negative attention. But as the sophomores debated on whether or not I was now pregnant, I tried to play my thoughts fortissimo over their chatter.
I still hadn't figured out what the trigger could be and I'd heard nothing from Dr. Silva since he'd left other than Mena's echoing that he'd "come check on my next week". Broden had been avoiding me again since Siva's visit – either in fear of his betrayal at getting me a shrink or for reasons I couldn't understand. And across the table from me Hagan was eyeing me like any second I might wilt like a flower and die. It was becoming exponentially harder to figure out what was wrong with me, what my trigger could be, with everyone's eyes on me. Though I suppose it did make sense that they were worried. Despite the extra effort used in curbing their concern, was manageable.
Marie and Jenny had been the first to easily accept the story. I had fainted due to exhaustion and stress. Period. They'd nodded, offered to help me with my studies and moved on. Their male counterparts were not so easy. Far from it. Carter was glaring at every passerby who came too close and George would reach out to touch my hand, my shoulder, anything, and ask if I was okay.
As much as I loved him, George seemed the biggest obstacle in my path. All day he had escorted me from one class to another, giving the other students new fuel for whatever rumors had circulated. A diligent and concerned chaperone, there was not a second in between classes that he he let his sights off me. For a moment, I resolved to blame Broden for this as well.
"Are you sure you're alright?" he asked as he opened a bottle of soda and handed it to me. "You're getting enough rest?" His hand found my forehead and feeling the heat of someone's gaze from across the caf, immediately set to dispel his worries.
"Yes. I'm fine. I'm getting plenty of sleep," I said thinking of how right before I drifted off I could always hear Gabriel's voice, singing so low under his breath that it sounded like a hum as his fingers drew invisible shapes on my hand. Just the thought of him had brought our eyes together and even despite the distance, I could make out his steady glare at my contact with George, his eyes more orange than brown so that they glowed like a flame.
I back away immediately from George's hand and was trouble by the disappointment in his eyes. I must have seemed ungrateful to him for his care. I offered him a smile and looked over at Gabriel, whose wrath had doubled in the short time I had regained my personal space.
What had I done wrong? I sighed and shook my head, lowering my eyes as I moved closer to Marie. It was impossible to appease Gabriel when he was in a mood. Instead I focused my attention on the table.
"If you baby her like that, she's never going to be able to do anything for herself," another voice said, and we all jumped as a chair scraped in under the table. To George's left was Hannah, pen in hand, notebook on the table. "Sick again?" she asked in a tone none too friendly.
There was another hush on our side of the cafeteria floor.
Beside me Marie rolled her eyes.
"Hey Hannah, now's not a good time. Can you come back maybe tomorrow?" Hagan asked and I could tell he felt as intimidated as I did at how her determination oozed out of her pores and into the atmosphere.
"No can do Hagan. The news doesn't wait for anyone." She wrote something on her notebook and looked at me questioningly.
"How about you write about me then," Carter asked flexing his arms like a body builder, "you can do an awesome expose on hot soccer players. I could be the main subject and Hagan can come in at the end, you know, for some variety." To make it clear he was joking he offered a dopey wink and laughed.
Hannah was not amused.
"Attie, this is the second time you've been out sick. Do you get sick often?"
I sighed. "I've gotten sick a lot since I was younger."
"So the rumors that you were taking drugs are false?" There was a gasp from one of the surrounding tables.
I floundered for a second in confusion. Was she asking seriously? The expression on her face told me she was. The pause must have been too long because she persisted with an annoyed "answer the question". Before I could say anything, George was already on the offensive.
"Damn it Hannah, couldn't you just put this on pause while someone recuperates? She obviously hasn't been doing well. Why are you harassing her?"
"Why are you sticking up for her so much?" she demanded, her face reddening in anger.
"Because she's my friend," George nearly shouted and I was surprised at his anger. Usually so calm, it was unnatural to see George so riled.
She made a sound of disgust in the back of her throat. "You'd like me to think that wouldn't you? I bet you were the guy she was meeting in the car!"
Her accusation as so loud another gasp followed and even some of the music students turn to survey the escalating tension. George was fuming with anger, his ears a bright red, hands tightened to fists. Marie too had gotten to her feet and was ready to scream at the poor girl.
Again it was Jenny that spoke first, her tone calm but threatening. "That was out of line, Hannah. Continue on with this conversation and I'll report you to the principle for journalistic harassment." Hannah wheezed and after a moment of uncertainty, grabbed her things and left the cafeteria, the doors slamming after her exit. For a while we all stared after her.
"Why is she afraid of being reported for journalistic harassment?" I asked.
"If he's harassing another student because of an extracurricular, she would be banned from partaking in the activity that caused the inappropriate behavior," Jenny explained.
"That girl is impossibly stubborn," Carter said after a while as he swallowed a spoon of mac'n'cheese.
"I don't know what's going on with her recently. She's never been this insufferable before. Even when we were kids," said George.
"I do!" someone shouted from around us and a chorus of giggles and laughs erupted.
I sighed and George blinked in confusion, obviously oblivious to the crowd's suggestion.
"Maybe we just shouldn't eat here anymore," I said with a sigh.
One word hung in the air as we all grabbed our trays and put them away as the bell rang.
The rest of the day followed in a frenzy of titters and whispered gossip. Even Mrs. Webbers had to stop the class twice to scold us about the unwelcome noise. As the day went one, the ruckus of high school sounded as unpleasing to the ear as atonal music was to me – blurts of odd sounds erupting only to be silence seemingly without time or reason. My friends tried to quiet down the rumors, explain reasonably the 'true' events of the story, its cause, but it seemed the lies were more entertaining than the truth.
By the end of the day, the only moments of peace I was allowed were the ones I got waiting for Hagan as he practiced soccer after school on the school's small sports field. Not large enough to hold a full audience, it was maybe half the length of a real soccer field but more than adequate for the team's practice training. I sat on the middle tier, closest to the doors, watching the boys run back and forth in on the field squatting down and touching the field with their hands when they neared the end before sprinting to the other side and doing the same. Back and forth they went and I imagined closing my eyes at the frozen image of them racing, some in the front, some in further in the back, some next to each other, other with larger gaps, that they were notes in the grand staff. I imagine seventh chords and notes leaping from one to the other, where to puts rests, and line breaks. And then when I could stand it no more, I looked back down at the players, lined up for a new drill involving cones.
It would be another hour at least until his practice was over and given the "incident" I was barred from going anywhere without a worthwhile chaperone – which meant my brothers of George. Broden had been spirited away to God knows where again and George had been called away by his mother to run errands, leaving me with Hagan. I was not allowed to go anywhere but to the water fountain or the girl's restroom, leaving me a ten, maybe fifteen minute if I dawdled, window for whatever it was I needed or wanted to do. Which at the moment was nothing.
No new memories had come to me recently and I wondered if Dr. Silva was right about the cause being swelling in my brain, swelling that at this point must have gone down. I thought about my memories – Dr. Lawson, Wig, Rebecca, Broden and the recital. The only thing that all of the above had in common, was the pressure for me to play and the things that came as a sacrifice to me playing. Was that it then? Was the trigger me playing? I thought back to how traumatic playing Broden cello had been who shortly after pressure kept building and building inside me until finally I got sick and the memories came spewing out. I could still remember the way the strings felt on my fingers.
I trembled at the memory and was embraced by smooth musky smelling leather.
I knew it was Gabriel without having to look at him.
I waited for him to speak first. When he didn't, I turned to him, seeking an explanation but he was nowhere to be found. Had he left? I sighed and brought the jacket closer to my body, not from the cold but in need of breathing in his scent again. He couldn't have left I decided. I could still feel him close.
"What was the fight about?"
I peeked my head over the rail and found him leaning against the wall the doors opened from. At the angle he was standing, it was impossible to see him from both my seat and the field. He voice was low and demanding and I knew that I was dealing with the usual Gabriel Gainnes, not the nighttime guardian version of him I had grown accustomed to. As per the usual Gabriel, he ruthlessly went for the big questions.
"It was nothing. Hannah was just asking questions about me for an article."
"You're letting her write an article about you?" his voice was condescendingly mocking and I didn't appreciate it.
"So?" I asked in irritation. Somehow it was easier to be angry and defiant towards him when I couldn't see him, couldn't be confused by his wonderfully colorful eyes.
He scoffed. "Nothing good ever comes from letting Hannah write articles about you."
I shrugged. There wasn't much I could about it now. I'd already given her permission though I couldn't see any way she could have gathered enough information about me to write anything given the numerous sick days and absences. Maybe this, in addition to her unnecessary jealousy of my friendship with George, was the case of her cantankerous attitude.
"I'll find a way to get along."
He growled and I imagined him moving about restlessly in irritation.
"What about the accusation?"
"What about me and George?"
"But there's nothing to explain," I said in confusion. "You know that George wasn't there with me. You were until the…."
Just the coach's whistle blew and I jumped before two rows of boys assumed different positions on the field.
Seconds later he broke the silence. "You could have said something."
His disapproval was palpable, even through a stone separation.
"But what? What could I have said? I couldn't tell them I was with you."
For a second I thought my words might have hurt him but when he answered, his voice was laced with disappointment. "Your friends said something. You could've too."
I fumed in annoyance. What did he know about my friendship with my friends? What was wrong with people helping me when I was in trouble? I glared out into the field and held my tongue.
"What," he said when I didn't respond. "You have something to say so say it."
"There's nothing wrong with friends helping each other. I know I'm not an expert but I thought that's what friends were supposed to do."
He sighed but said nothing. Intrigued I peaked my head over the rail where he was hidden but saw nothing. Confused, I rose and rounded the rail, finding Gabriel close to the doors than before. He held out his hand and for a second I stared at it confused until I remembered his jacket around my shoulders.
He shrugged the jacket back on and turned his eyes to me in words that chilled me. "If you keep letting people fight your battles for you they'll get hurt."
I stared at him, wondering if he was cursing me as he said those words, his orange eyes dark in the shadows of the doorway. Behind me the coach's whistle blew again and a commotion erupted on the field. My head tilted at the sound and it wasn't until Gabriel nodded and left through the heavy field doors that I turned to find the source of the noise.
Hagan was holding another boy down on the grass, twisting his arm behind his back, his head shoved to the ground. Carter stood beside them. He was yelling something.
I made my way to down the stairs to the field as the coach was yelled and immediately Hagan lifted himself off the boy. Without warning, the other boy had launched himself onto Hagan, jumping on his back and head-locking him as he punched Hagan on the side. The coach yelled again and I could feel my voice rising too, yelling for the boy to get off as Carter finally pulled the boy off and pushed him toward the coach.
"Go hit the showers and then wait for me to deal with you," the coach yelled, giving the boy a shove as he stomped off.
"What happened?" I asked as I reached them wheezing.
Hagan straightened when he saw me, flinching almost imperceptibly as his hand moved to his ribs. Moving his hand I pulled up his shirt and gasped at the blue and purple bruise blossoming on his side.
"One of the guys he…"
"Carter!" Hagan's voice was all tension and warning. And then as though the moment had never happened, he turned to me, himself again and said, "Nothing, Attie. It was just a stupid fight. Wait for me by the car while I get changed?" He ruffled my hair and began walking up the stands.
"But I thought practice wasn't over…"
"Hagan, go see the medic and put some ice on that," coach said before rounding up the other boys, "nothing see. Back to work boys."
He offered me a smile. "It is for me."
He wasn't limping but I could tell he was walking with difficulty.
When he was out of sight, I turned to Carter who looked after Hagan, troubled.
"What happened?" I asked again.
"I don't know if I…"
"Carter, tell me. Hagan got hurt. I need to know."
"One of the guys was saying things about you. I got mad when he started talking about hitting on you and I told him off. When he tried to hit me Hagan held him down."
I nodded. Hagan would never hit anyone first and even when he was being attacked he did little to retaliate. Being their size, my brothers were careful about being physical with other people, both of them for their own reasons. Hagan was too mild tempered to hurt anyone and Broden, knowing his own temper, was afraid of what he might do were he not in control.
"But why go so far?"
"We didn't want you to hear the things he was saying. They… they weren't nice…"
"I could have handled it myself!" I yelled and the team looked over at me, surprised by the outburst.
"Carter, get her out of here," the coach said, blowing his whistle.
Before I could say anything, Carter was pulling my up the stairs by the wrist.
"I could have handled it myself," I mutter again though I could tell from the way he said nothing that he didn't think so, that none of them thought so. I followed without a word, ashamed. Carter got angry and Hagan got hurt because of me. "If you keep letting people fight your battles for you they'll get hurt."
If things continued this way, how many more would get hurt?
Syncopation - includes a variety ofrhythmswhich are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak but also powerfulbeatsin ameter(pulse).
Not too proud of this chapter but thanks again to everybody, especially SaintMurphy for telling me to continue. Please leave comments, the encouragement really helps. Thanks!