He stared at her lifeless figure lying on the floor in front of him. "Was this how a love story should end?" he thought.
He cautiously walked over to her, afraid that one wrong step might trigger the start of another series of explosions.
He cradled his bruised and bleeding arm against his throbbing chest, and crouched beside badly bruised, but living body.
Chapter 1: Aaron
Rita let herself drop to the hospital room's floor. She felt her long black hair escape from behind her ears and frame itself around her face, making her beige skin seem lighter in comparison to the soft black of her hair. She stared wide-eyed at the tiles, what had happened in the past five minutes had left her perplexed. She pushed the palms of her hands against the cold, clean floor. The coolness of the light blue tiles calmed Rita down a little. She continued to stare at her bent knees in disbelief. She heard the hospital bed creak as Aaron slowly lifted himself into a standing position. He edged along the bed, holding onto it for support. He was limping. The blue hospital pants that he was wearing made swishing sounds with his every step. He lowered himself onto the floor in front of Rita with some difficulty.
"Sorry, I could've said that in a more sensitive way. It must be really shocking considering you didn't know I existed," he laughed weakly, now staring at his own knees.
"...Why was it that-... umm" Rita brought herself to ask. Aaron looked up at her with one eyebrow slightly raised.
"Why what?" he replied, then his mouth formed an "O", "Why we've never met?" Rita nodded, "That's 'cause I go to a different school. Westmorland's a private school so it costs money and... well, Mum only had enough money to put one of us through that... So she picked Allen, but we've switched places a couple of times. Nobody seems to notice."
He frowned and a wrinkle appeared on his forehead. Without thinking, Rita poked his forehead and said, "You shouldn't do that, you'll get forehead wrinkles."
Her fingers were cold from the floor tiles and Aaron's forehead felt so warm against her fingertip. She immediately recoiled her arm, feeling embarassed. Since she was a toddler, her father would do the exact same thing whenever she frowned. Aaron smiled widely, displaying his white, perfectly straight teeth. A bandage on his cheek wrinkled with his smile, making the bagues under his eyes more apparent. It wasn't until now that Rita realized how different he looked from Allen.
Aaron's skin was a shade or two paler than Allen's slightly tanned skin. Allen had chestnut brown hair while Aaron's hair colour was closer to a dark auburn. Both of them had hair that looked like it had grown straight up but became lazy at a certain point and had gently curled to lay right above their ears. Aaron's teeth were completely aligned while Allen's were ever-so-slightly crooked - in the most endearing way possible. However, their facial features looked exactly the same. Even their eye colour was exactly the same: a chocolate brown that never seemed to sparkle.
Their personalities seemed different too. They'd just met, but Aaron already seemed so social while Allen never talked to Rita through months of being in the same class as her. Except once. Last month, there was an in-class assignment in Writer's Craft. Everyone was supposed to write a short story during class without the use of a thesaurus or dictionary. Right before they began the assignment, Allen had asked Rita to let him borrow her pencil sharpener, which was sitting on top of her desk, which happened to be right next to the garbage can. Of course, she happily lent to him. As he handed it back to her, he had given her a small smile before freezing as if he had recalled something important. Then he had grudged back to his seat. She cherished that 2 minute memory because it was the only time he had ever acknowledged her existence.
There was a quiet knock on the door, the familiar cold voice of a woman spoke, "Are you still alive, Aaron?" It was full of disgust. Rita immediately stood up but Aaron remained on the floor. The door didn't open.
"Yeah," Aaron offered a one word reply. They heard an annoyed sigh from the other side of the closed door. Rita glanced at Allen, appalled at how insensitive his mother was being.
"I had no intention of asking you, I hope you realize that. Allen asked me to check on you - what a sweet boy he turned out to be... This is the second time that youput my son into a hospital bed," her voice had dropped to a whisper as footsteps passed the door but now it returned to its angry, threateningly high pitch, "If the ambulance drivers hadn't shoved your useless body into ambulance and brought you here yesterday morning, you would still be lying half dead in that alley. Hah I'm so proud of my son, he finally got revenge for when you pushed him into that river 12 winters ago. I wonder how I could've ever given birth to a devil like you. Hah, it wasn't my fault at all! It was because of that - that man!" The tone of her voice had changed and it had sounded as if she was talking to herself. They heard her make a "hmmph" sound before the sound of footsteps informed them that she had stomped away.
Rita stared at the door, wondering what to do. She wondered if the least awkward thing to do would be to just walk out of the room as if nothing had happened. She tried to start walking away but she could see Aaron's face through the corner of her eye and it kept her frozen to the spot. Before she knew it, she had turned to face him. His eyebrows were furrowed and his eyes were brimmed with sadness, leaving no room for anger to be expressed. Rita opened her mouth, wanting to say something but she couldn't think of the words to use and she felt stupid with her mouth hanging open. He glanced up at her and quickly averted his gaze to the other end of the room, evidently ashamed of what he thought Rita might've been thinking.
Rita wondered how awkward it would be if she copied what always happened in movies, and went over to Aaron and hugged him. Before she had realized it, she had walked over to Aaron and crouched down in front of him. It's too late to go back now, she thought, shrugging internally. Aaron's confused eyes met Rita's, making her heart race. Without thinking, in an effort to escape his gaze, Rita hugged him. She awkwardly placed her arms around his neck, trying to comfort him. His hair brushed against her cheek and she wondered if he could hear her heartbeat - it was ringing in her ears. Rita noticed the contrast between the honey-beige colour of her arm and the ivory colour of the back of Aaron's neck. It immediately made her feel self-concious. Was it bad to be darker skinned? Is that why Allen never seemed to notice her?
Rita's family was from northern India and Pakistan, a region called Kashmir. Rita's skin colour was lighter than a large percentage of the South Asian population because Kashmiri's had roots mixed with Caucasians. Nevertheless, she often felt self-concious when compared to lighter and more rosy skinned Caucasians. Racist beliefs were strongly etched into her mind because of her nationality. Even though Rita's family had been in Toronto - the most multicultural city in Canada - for 18 years and even though she was born here, South Asian racist views had never escaped the minds of her family. Rita's parents would often lecture her about staying out too late in the sun and getting tanned, and therefore, less pretty. Rita didn't consider herself racist. She knew perfectly well that beauty could be found in both the darkest and the lightest shades of skin. However, when it came to herself, she felt that she needed to stay as light-skinned as possible, otherwise - as her parents would often say - "nobody would want to marry her".
It wasn't as if that was a completely absurd thing to believe either: A friend of hers had once recounted to Rita that she had asked out a guy that she had liked for almost a year and he had rejected her, purely on the basis that she was - direct quote - "brown".
Rita was lost in her thoughts. When Aaron lightly put his hands on her sides to push her away, she jumped, startled.
"We might look similar, but I'm not Allen," Aaron said as he lifted himself off the floor - with some difficulty. As he rose, the bottom of his pants lifted slightly, revealing his swelled ankle.
I wonder how much it hurt him to crouch on the floor Rita thought while watching Aaron's foot as he limped away from her towards the washroom on the other end of the room. She shook her head quickly to recall what he had just said.
"Hey!" she called out, quickly jumping to her feet, "What did you mean by that?"
Aaron stopped walking and turned back to face her. He replied to her question with a look that made Rita feel that he could see right through her. He looked more frustrated than he looked angry and seeing this on an identical face as the guy who she had liked for so long, was painful. Then, the wrinkle on Aaron's forehead disappeared as his eyebrows raised slightly in the centre, making him look completely vulnerable. His gaze fell from Rita's face to her feet and then slid along the ground until it faced the washroom door once again.
"I'm gonna go take a shower," he said quietly, limping to the washroom door.
"Don't you-" Rita started.
"Don't you have rounds to do?" Aaron interrupted her, giving her another heart-wrenching look before lightly closing the washroom door behind him. Rita let out the breath that she had been holding for so long and felt a tweak of pain in her ribs. The sound of the lock of the washroom door turning made her remember her responsibilities as a hospital volunteer. With one glance at the white wooden door of the closed washroom, she walked out of the room. She had failed to fulfill her duties twice already today by leaving two patients as -if not more- disheartened than before.