D e f i a n c e
"In these desperate times,
This I plead.
When all else fails,
- 'Desperate Times' By Killswitch Engage
Chapter One: Remember
I remembered the last time I was here. With the morning sunlight beaming down on me, glistening with delight as it warmed the playground. I could so clearly remember everything that happened here, and that was almost fourteen years ago. My eyes cascaded over the ancient playground, with its upturned swings and rusted slides. A small, stone sea lion perched decoratively just a few yards away. Its nose pointed skyward, with a small nozzle for water to spray out of.
I remembered when I'd first seen this little black stone seal. I danced around it, poking and riding it. Wondering just what it was here for? When summertime finally arrived, I quickly learned it had been a new sprinkler for kids to enjoy. I always fought to sit on its slippery back, and before long most children learned that the seal was my main attraction as a child.
It was during one of those sweaty summer days that my life forever changed.
I sighed, taking a solemn seat on a wooden bench. Staring at the old, chipped seal. The park was practically abandoned nowadays, and even in the fruitful summer heat it was a barren wasteland. Most of the children had grown tired of the small red playground and had moved on. As an eighteen-year old I couldn't help but wonder what people might think of me sitting here.
I guess it really didn't matter.
Reaching out, I let my fingertips glide over the rough edges of the seal statue, and let a withering smile grace my lips. I remembered this place, and I remembered him – just like it had happened yesterday. A soothing summer breeze brushed over my skin, and I relished the tender sensation. Like soft, loving fingers tickling my skin. The summery scent reminded me of him, of a time of happiness…
And of hardships.
I shook my head to scramble those lingering thoughts. I wasn't just solely here to reminisce about the good times, as a child and when he was a part of my life. I wasn't here to just sit and simply brood of a time long past. I was here to remember, and never forget those times. So, with yet another meaningful sigh I sat back on the bench and pulled out a small, worn notebook out of the bag I had brought with me.
* * *
Manhattan, New York
– 1995 –
I was playing, happily leaping around the sprinklers. Watching as the frigid droplets of water caught a few rays of sunlight, blasting me with magnificent hues of lavender and pink. Every so often I could just barely make out a small rainbow against the moist floor, and jumped on it each time. This place, though simple, was a marvelous adventure for me. I had never had so much fun in my entire life.
The laughter of other children playing surrounded me, with a few excited screams as some kids played tag. There was noisy chatter all around, from the chirping of joyful birds to the gossip of bored parents. It was almost noon, and the sun was high in the sky. Winking warm rays of sunlight down on us, keeping the temperature comfortable. The distant bell of a cart caught my attention, and I cracked a wide grin.
My eyes, deep brown, hurriedly scanned the playground area for that familiar cart. The one with the old, nice man pushing it with a tall, colorful umbrella protecting him and his cold assortments from the beating sun. He rang his little bell again, and the children screamed. I was one of them. I rushed to my Father, pulling on his pants leg. He turned away from his small conversation, and smiled down at me.
"Daddy! Can we go get an ice cone?" The level of excitement in the playground had escalated, and I watched as a few children rushed hand-in-hand with their respectful parents. Rushing to meet the man and his old cart. He often served a variety of flavors, but my favorite was always strawberry.
"Of course, Pumpkin." Daddy assured me, and I felt him stand up. My Father was quite tall, often towering well above most other men I saw. His skin was a crisp tan complexion, and his eyes were just as dark as my own. With a careful swoop, I was lifted into his strong arms and laughed. We were already walking towards the ice cone man and his small, wooden cart. The children had all but engulfed him from view.
When we reached him, my Father secured me on his broad shoulders. Shuffling around in his back pocket for the dollar it cost. The old man, tanned from too much sun exposure, always wore a gentle smile. He chuckled when it was our turn to order, and with a knowing look asked, "Strawberry for Lyna?" I threw my arms up in the air, and nodded.
I heard my Father clear his throat, and winced. Automatically correcting myself, "Yes, please!" The word 'please' was always a great value in our small family, and one could rarely go wrong with it. The old man shaved off some ice from the gigantic ice block on his cart, dunking it into a small, clear plastic cup. His trembling hands flitted across the various colors, until they touched the warm, red of strawberry. Plucking the bottle of juice, he poured it over the ice.
Dipping a tiny, red straw into the cup – he handed it directly to me. My little hands quickly grabbed it, and I thanked him before slurping away. It always tasted the same; it was always just as good and just as refreshing. Before long, I was sitting beside my Father on the wooden bench. Feet kicking back and forth in delight. He watched me, with the loving expression of most dedicated parents.
Most Mothers talked to him, always so pleased when they learned that I was his little girl – and we were just having fun at the park. Most of the parents I saw were Mothers, or Grandmothers. My Daddy was always the center of attention here. Suddenly a loud, obnoxious slurp tore through my thoughts and I whined. Looking into my now empty cup, I glanced up at my Father.
"Can I go get some more?" I asked, and when he smiled I knew it was okay. He dug into his pocket once again, handing me a single dollar bill.
"Just be careful, and come straight back." He warned softly, and I nodded enthusiastically. A second later I was bounding towards the old man and his cart, clear across the playground. With my empty cup in hand, the dollar shoved recklessly into my pocket and my favorite toy clutched securely in the other hand. I had had my toy beanie dove for almost a year now. It went everywhere with me, no matter what. His name was Oppo.
In my hurry I tripped over myself, and before I knew it the ground swooped up to meet me. The fall hurt, and I immediately knew I had scraped my knees. It stung and I cringed as the warm rush of tears flooded my vision. My plastic cup was a foot in front of me, accompanying Oppo. I yelped in embarrassment and pain, knowing I had hurt myself. Fear swept over my body at the thought of my Father being upset, or missing the old man and his cart.
But I couldn't move. I didn't want to. I just remained sprawled out on the ground, wrinkling my face as I shuddered and sobbed. It was in that moment that someone stepped in front of me, and I peered up at him through tear-stained eyes. I blinked back a few tears, reaching up to rub my eyes and hopefully clear my vision. I coughed, and looked up again. He was a younger man, much younger than my Dad. With hair a peculiar silver shade that immediately reminded me of starlight.
His eyes, gentle and kind, were the color of my birthstone: peridot green. Pale, yet still light and fluorescent. He blinked down at me, and I watched his lips curl into a tender smile before reaching down with one hand. I took it, and immediately noticed it was cold and hard. Not the sort of touch you felt when holding hands with your Mom or Dad. Nevertheless, he helped me to my feet and I stifled a sob. Quietly, he knelt down and plucked the bean-bag dove off the ground, dusting it off before handing it to me. I took it, and grinned up at the kind man. His smile never faltered as he stood back up, and stepped away from me.
"Lyna!" I heard my Dad call to me, voice much closer than it should have been. I felt his warm hands rush over me as he knelt down. "Lyna, are you okay?" Daddy was worried, not angry like I thought he'd be. I nodded silently, still watching the young man in front of me.
"Thank God, what did I tell you about running? You could fall and get hurt." Daddy scolded me, dusting me off before surveying the minor scrapes on my knees. When his fingertips brushed over the wound I winced and jerked away from his touch.
"Daddy, it hurts." I complained, scowling now. He followed my gaze, and tilted his head.
"Pumpkin, what're you looking at?" He asked, and I smiled once again. What a silly question to ask! I lifted my finger, pointing directly at the quiet young man only a few feet in front of me. My Father followed with his eyes, and suddenly frowned. "Sweetheart, no one's there."
Confused, I blinked up at Daddy then looked back to the young man. The grip around Oppo tightening; I couldn't understand why Daddy couldn't see him. He was standing right there! With an aggressive sigh, I huffed and glared up at the young man. That same, knowing smile plastered on his serene face. He watched me with a sense of fondness, and I immediately knew that he would never hurt me.
Whoever he was, he was here to help.
My Father stood up then, tugging at my hand. "Let's go get you another icy, then head home." He explained, and I nodded as I let him lead the way. It took only a few seconds to reach the old man and his cart, and I let Daddy order a second ice cone for me. I observed as the young man followed us, and stopped at my side. He glanced down at me with those beautiful green eyes, and yet another smile graced his lips.
My eyebrows knitted together to form another scowl as I watched him lean down, and delicately touch my scraped knees. At first I leaned away from his cold, stony touch – but quickly began to realize the scrapes were slowly fading. The stinging pain slowly subsided into small, powerless throbs and I watched in awe as the blood simply vanished.
Right before my eyes, my knees slowly healed.
Somewhat frightened, I merely stared up at the young stranger. "Thank you." I said quietly, and at that same instant the old man handed me my second cup of strawberry icy. The old man nodded fondly, and my Father pulled me away.
The young, green-eyed stranger didn't follow us home but I had a peculiar feeling I'd see him again.
* * *
"Mom!" I yelled at the top of my lungs, voice tiny and shrill. My footfalls were labored with the weight of my precious cargo. I scrambled through the apartment; most of the lights were already dimmed or turned off. "Dad!" I yelled, rushing towards their bedroom door. The wooden floor whined under my frantic steps, but I didn't care. Just beneath the crack of their door a light flickered on, and my Father emerged from the bedroom.
His eyes were dreary with sleep, but he immediately knelt down as I bounded towards him. His hair was ruffled and unkempt due to slumber, but still his eyes snapped into awareness. "Lyna, what's wrong with Missy?" He asked, scooping the black cat out of my tiring arms. I watched with an expression caught between horror and sorrow as he lifted her up, and she seemed to just sag.
My sniffle was involuntary. "Daddy, she's sick." I eyed her and watched as he stood up, studying her and pulling at her mouth and ears. His dark brown brows knitted together, forming a calloused scowl before he looked down at me with those deep eyes.
"Get dressed, Lyna. We'll see if Dr. Misaki will see her." He said sternly before poking into the bedroom, where I heard Mom shuffling out of bed. I nodded curtly, immediately rushing back into my own bedroom. I could just barely hear my parents discussing something as I burst into my room. Quickly grabbing a pair of jeans, and a small short-sleeved blouse that Mom had left out for me to wear tomorrow.
I was struggling with my shoelaces when my Father came through the door, fully clad with a jacket perched over his broad shoulders. He leaned down, quickly pulling my laces together and I noticed his hands were just slightly trembling. I stared at his hands for the longest time, before he stood upright. "Don't forget Oppo." He reminded me, and waited for me to pluck the beanie dove off my nightstand.
I slipped off of the bed, and took the hand he offered. "Lyna, Missy is going to be okay." Daddy began gently as he led us out of my bedroom, grabbing a tiny jacket of mine on the way out. "Dr. Misaki said she'd be at the office in ten minutes, so we're going there now." He wasn't looking at me as he spoke, far too focused on the route that led out of the apartment. Mom was already waiting outside in the night frost, standing sentinel by our small, red Ford Focus.
It took us only a few seconds to hop in and pull away from the curb. The night was cold, and eerily quiet. It felt safe within the backseat of the warm car, to be able to peer out of the window and know nothing could catch us. This was our little sanctuary, and not even the cold frost could reach us. The sky was littered with dusty stars, trapped against a blanket of velvet indigo. Sparking down on us, while the moon sat high to shimmer its unnatural glow. The trees were dancing with the chilling wind that had come suddenly.
It was summertime here in New York City, but still the nights could get menacingly cold. The normal humidity that often accompanied the forecast had eluded us tonight, and most people were huddled inside. I watched as the world blurred by and we turned at a stoplight. Here, in the lower east side of Manhattan, was where the sidewalks began to bloom with life. Nightlife, as people walked by and chatted, huddling within the folds of their spring jackets.
I let out a small, tired sigh and gripped Oppo against my chest – stroking Missy's dull, ebony fur at my lap. She lay peaceful there, sprawled along my legs and unmoving. I had just suddenly found her at the floor of the bathroom, splayed along the white tiles and looking quite lifeless. She had failed to respond to any notions, and I knew she had fallen ill. Her breathing came in soft, slow breaths as she stared forward with unfocused eyes. My throat clenched to suppress the spill of tears that threatened to consume me as I stroked her face.
She had always been my partner in crime. She was old and somewhat obese but I loved her dearly. Missy had never scratched me, and had always tolerated my childish games. She was my Mother's house cat of many years now, and I knew we were all worried for her safety. I could only comfort the small cat on my lap with shaking hands, while clutching Oppo to my chest as though the dove were my life support.
The light in this darkness.
"Lyna, do you have your seatbelt on?" I heard my Mom's voice chime like a crystalline bell through my somber thoughts. I blinked in surprise, and quickly checked for the familiar belt of safety over my chest. My fingertips touched the coarse fabric of my jacket, and I panicked. Looking hurriedly down for the seatbelt that had eluded my mind in my sorrow.
"No, Mommy – I'll get it." I assured her cautiously, and she turned around in the passenger's seat to help me find it. Her hands were unnaturally cold, and stiff with grief and fear. She fumbled awkwardly until she found the seatbelt pinned beneath me. Her eyes, the color of sweet honey, trapped in an expression of irritation and concern. "Here, Swee'pea, pull this out and put it on." She said gently, and I slowly lifted myself to do as commanded.
The car suddenly jerked and my shoulder slammed into the door, head smacking hard against the window. My Mother screamed while gripping my arms with a vengeance as Missy tumbled carelessly out of my lap. I vaguely heard my Father yell as he fought to control the car, and then it happened. So suddenly that I could hardly recall the details. Something rammed into us almost at top speed, and I was jolted entirely out of my seat. Soaring through the car, and crashing through the windshield like a useless ragdoll. The pain was immediate, and the disorientation was blinding. The rush of cold, nighttime air quickly lapped against my face and body as I landed somewhere.
Somewhere away from our red Focus. Something was holding down the horn, which blared through the nightlife and commotion that quickly arose in the streets. My eyes fluttered open, and I peered around slowly. I was sprawled out along the street, arms flailed over my head and legs twisted in an unnatural position. Blood trickled down the side of my face, seeping into my mouth and staining my lips. I could still see our car, crumbled and trashed – with another car lodged to its side.
My first reaction was to get up, and help my parents and Missy – but I couldn't move. I willed my legs to react, and found that nothing responded to my demands. I was stuck, frozen in this nightmare, unable to help my parents. Tears flooded over my eyes, diluting the blood that matted my face as I panicked in my childlike fear. I couldn't move! "Daddy…" I groaned awkwardly, voice hoarse and jaded. People were already crowding us, shouting and whispering around me.
Within minutes blinding, red lights flared into my vision – casting me into a gleaming, foreboding blanket of crimson. Two men filed out of the starkly white truck, and I immediately recognized it to be an ambulance. I grimaced as the pain stripped me clean of my valor, and I just cried. Cried, even after the obnoxious blaring of the car's horn and alarms were quieted. Cried until the sound of my wails was the only thing I could hear. As if the world around me had grown cautiously silent, to let me mourn.
They rolled my Mother and Father out on stretchers, ushering them into the truck while a woman came rushing to my side. She was clad in pristine white, wearing a concerned and hopeless expression as she approached me. I could just barely make out her dirty blonde hair, and deep drown eyes through my unrelenting flow of tears. Could just barely calm my wails so I could hear her ask me, "Sweetie, what hurts?"
And nothing at all.
I mumbled something incoherent, and she leaned closer. Hands brushing over my body and cradling my face in her palms. She was examining my condition, but I could care less about it now. I had seen the worried, broken face of my Mother on that stretcher – but my Father, he had been concealed under a white blanket. Hiding his face from the growing crowd that had clustered together to watch. Watch as the lives of an innocent family were forever torn apart.
I gulped a lungful of air and let out a tortured scream. The woman covered her ears at my eccentric and manic antic before standing up and rushing into the ambulance truck. It was here that I saw him. Standing amidst the crowd, and I couldn't quite recall seeing him there a minute ago. But he stood out amongst the New Yorkers, with his brilliant snowy hair and shimmering grass-green eyes. They were steadily watching me, and the moment our gazes met I saw it.
As if he had done something he shouldn't have.
I stared at him for the longest time, wondering what he was doing there. Standing stiffly, until he slowly approached my paralyzed body. Slowly reached my side, and knelt down in one swift, fluid motion. He still looked monstrously tall from my position on the ground, and against the darkness of nightfall his skin seemed to glow. Glimmer like tiny sparkles of radiance, as if his skin were made more of gemstones than flesh. The wind tousled his pallid hair, long and unruly so that it partially shrouded his face in a shadow of mystery.
Looking into his eyes I felt calm.
Like everything would be okay.
So, my sobs and cries gradually quieted. My fits slowly subsided, and I relaxed. Staring up at him, he carefully smiled. The smallest crease of his sultry lips lifting to form the smile I would never forget. It illuminated his ethereal features, breathing life into his face. I let my eyes waver, watching the stars in the night sky shimmer and wink down at us. Completely unaware of our plight. It was then that I opened my mouth, and whispered, "Star."
And so, it became this enigmatic stranger's name. For to me his skin and hair gleamed like the starlight during a crisp, clear night sky. Twinkling amidst the blanket of midnight splendor and mystery. My expression faltered as I remembered Missy, and carefully guided my eyes back to him. Star. He was still watching me, with an eerie intensity that only he seemed to possess. No other person had ever mastered a gaze so powerful and penetrating.
It was a gaze of ageless knowledge and awe. A gaze that held many secrets, and intended to keep every last one of them. He blinked peacefully, and I uttered something I hadn't thought about. "Oppo." My toy was still somewhere in the accident, probably crushed under the disaster that I knew had claimed my Father's life tonight. The woman ran back to my side, only this time accompanied by one of the men.
"Honey, lay still. We're taking you and your Mom to the hospital." But not Daddy…
She spoke quickly as they both worked to lift me onto my own stretcher. Star stepped away, unseen, and merely observed in his silent wonder. It was through my short journey into the ambulance that I let my eyes shut, and welcomed the soft, peaceful embrace of darkness. The night continued to buzz with whispers of our car accident, in hushed voices as the howling wind carried the many voices away and out of reach.
At the age of only four years-old, my life had already changed forever.
* * *
When I awoke, it was oddly cold. I was wrapped in a mound of stiff, pastel blue blankets with monitors and an IV linked to my hand. The world came to me in a blur of glowing white and pale blue. I blinked and struggled to focus, but found it almost impossible. I was somewhere quiet, where only the faint and distant beeping of my heart monitor sounded. The walls were a mixture of blue and white, with small playful puppies and kittens decorating the walls.
It was an honest attempt to make a child feel at home, but it only reminded me of Missy. My eyes widened in horror, and I struggled to rise in the uncomfortable bed. I was alone in this unfamiliar, too-childish room. Alone and unattended, and I wanted someone to tell me things were going to be okay. Tell me that Missy and Daddy would be here shortly. I wanted Mom to walk through the ominously empty doorway, and tell me sweet lies. Anything to avoid hearing the truth, or worse – not knowing it at all.
I whimpered in my futile attempts, and found my body continued to ignore my commands. I was still frozen in the bed, unable to move anything below my neck. I wanted so badly to burst into another fit of tears – but he was there. Suddenly materializing just a foot away from the bedside. Even within the brightly decorated room, Star still radiated with his own luminescence. His eyes were cast downward, and I followed that protective gaze. There, cradled tenderly in both palms, was my toy dove Oppo. Marred by the dirt of the streets and the accident, but still intact.
I watched as his gaze slowly rose and met my own. Star always moved slowly, almost hesitantly – but he had come to my side. Gently resting Oppo on my lap, and I realized I couldn't feel the little bird's weight. My face twisted into one of agony, and I tossed my mute friend a strangled expression. A look that cried "Save me!" and revealed a world of tormented thoughts and uncertainties. Carefully, he lifted a hand and let it rest on my forehead.
Those eyes, almost devastatingly luminous always watching me. Trained on my face and slowly my limbs began to warm, the life in my body returned and I wiggled my toes. At first the motion was delayed and awkward, but before long they responded. I gasped, lifting my hands up to grab Oppo out of my lap. Giving it a firm, loving squeeze. It was then that Star pulled away from me, and I looked up to him.
Such a beautifully, enigmatic being.
"Thank you." I whispered in an exhausted and dreary tone. He nodded silently, and the movement tossed his silken hair into a fray. His eyes were idly staring at nothing in particular, and a somewhat peculiar expression caressed his handsome features. An expression I had never seen dawn on his pallid face; uncertainty. I stiffly moved, so my legs were hanging precariously off the side of the tall hospital bed.
"Star?" I asked, and immediately he responded to the nickname. Eyes flickering with a green intensity. It was a gaze I had grown quite fond of in a short time. Somehow, I knew he was different than me and my family. Different than the people that walked the streets of New York City. He was strange, and didn't quite fit in with his all-too-perfect appearance and pristine elegance.
"Where's Daddy?" My naiveté resonated in every spoken word, and when the tiniest of smiles graced his lips I returned it with a sad smile. I had lost my Father in the accident, but everything would still be okay. I already missed him, with his tanned smiles and strong hands. Always so careful when holding me – playing with me, and scolding me when I needed it.
I missed my Daddy already…
The door swung open and a crisp-looking woman entered with a pad locked in one hand. Startled, I squealed as if in trouble and hurriedly tried to scoot back underneath the blankets. Her head snapped up, and with wide eyes just stared at me. The pen in her other hand clambered against the shiny, white tiles of the floor and she gasped. Confused, I just stared back with Oppo clutched in both hands.
"My God." She breathed, and immediately rushed out of the room. Her voice echoing down the halls, as she yelled,
"Doctor! It's a miracle!"
I blinked in confusion, and slowly turned to Star. He wasn't there. I searched the room for a moment, and suddenly recognized the sensation of vacancy. When you knew, without a doubt, you were alone in a room. "Star?" I asked in a hushed tone.
He was gone.
Author's Note: After putting my stories on an indefinite hiatus, I've decided to pull down Defiance permanently from Fp. Yes, it's partly because of the plagiarism that's been floating around and taking the Fp Writers by storm – but it's also because Defiance is a novel I plan to publish some day.
So, I want to thank all of my readers for your unwavering support! I really couldn't have made it without all those encouraging words, and thoughtful critique. I will definitely put up a note if Defiance is ever published – and I promise you, when that day comes, it'll be worth your while.
So, this is good-bye to Defiance…for now.
On another note, I am working on a few other stories that I intend to complete and put up on Fp. So, if you enjoyed Defiance I'm sure you'll like the others too.
Happy Readying & Writing!