ONE

Stepping out the bathroom, Mandy Sotam reached for her brush as she made her way to her dresser. Today she was to meet up with her best friend, Dawson, for a day of activities. What the activities were, Mandy had no clue; he said he wanted to surprise her. She pulled the brush up to her hair, quickly messing around with it until it was spun into a messy bun (she could never decide on a hair style, so this is what she wore), and clipped in place. She tapped the tip of the brush onto the edge of the dresser three times and put it into the can where she kept all her brushes and combs. This was a minor habit of hers, the tapping, to "get rid of all the dust and hairs and stuff, 'cause the brush gets nasty if you don't."

Her sister would be finally getting home from college today for the weekend before she began her vacation in Cancun after Mandy's graduation. She would have gone earlier, but their mother insisted she stay and watch this "once in a lifetime event."

"You only graduate high school once!" She'd said.

Janice just couldn't wait to see her.

The older sibling stormed into Mandy's room, completely disregarding the sight of her little sister dressed in nothing but a towel. Her eyes spelled fury. Mandy was taken aback; her sister never looked this angry for any reason. Janice was always a carefree person, putting on smiles at all times, regardless of what was going on in her personal life. Today… Mandy didn't even know what was going on with her today. She goes off to college with smile, and comes back with not an ounce of positive vibe. Mandy held on to her towel as Janice drew closer, cornering her.

"Okay, so I'm just getting a bad vibe, Jane." Mandy said with an audibly shaken voice. Janice's cheeks were boiling red. "Are you—?"

The older sibling took only one breath and spoke:

"I know what you did, Mandy! You thought you could hide it forever, didn't you? You thought you could just lie to everyone and think we wouldn't find out!"

Mandy was surprised at the sudden attack. "Okay, period, much? What the hell are you even talking about?" She asked with a frown.

"Oh please, Mandy!" Janice shouted. "You know exactly what you did!" She moved in closer until their noses were almost touching. Mandy sank into the wall, Janice standing over her. Her voice got softer but became more threatening. "You better tell him what really happened, or I will! I'm pretty sure he won't be happy hearing it from someone else… you liar."

"I'm not a liar!" Mandy straightened up, making her sister fall back a little. "You better stop threatening me, Jane. You don't know what you're talking about!"

"I'm not?" Janice dug in her back pocket and pulled out a red sheet of paper. "So what's this, huh? You suck at hiding stuff. I found it on the table in the backyard. It's got your handwriting all over it. Tell me the truth!"

Mandy stared at the sheet. "I don't know what that is." She growled.

"Oh? Let me refresh your memory, then!" With a flick of her fingers, the red sheet was opened. Janice read off the sheet. She mocked Mandy's voice. "This was a total accident… I didn't even know there were bullets in there. I can't tell him what happened, he'll hate me!"

"Shut up!"

"It's not my fault…"

"I said shut up!" Mandy reached out for the paper, but Janice pulled back too fast. She started to back towards the door. "Give that to me!"

"You better tell him, Mandy." She warned, turning away. "You've already waited three years. Now is the time to fess up." She looked back at her shaken sister.

"It's got nothing to do with you! Mind your own business…" The younger girl's eyes started to water up. "Get out!"

"Oh, you're crying? So you did do it!"

"I didn't do anything!" Mandy yelled with a hateful glare. "I said get out of my room!" With that, she grabbed the nearest item in reach, a book, and threw it at her. Janice ducked out of the way before walking out of her room with a loud slam of the door. Moments later the front door slammed closed.

Mandy dragged herself onto her bed with tears streaming down her face, burying her face into the pillow and screaming into it. She couldn't believe what had just happened. The worst part is Mandy knew exactly what her sister was talking about. Now she had a big weight on her shoulders. She had to tell him before Janice did. The challenge was proving to be seriously overwhelming for her.

"I can't do this…" She cried into the pillow.

Unable to relax, Mandy climbed out of bed and moved into the bathroom. There was no way she was going to let it pass. Opening her cabinet, she snatched the blade that she hid on top of the shelf ("I'm going to hide this in case some guy tries to rape me or something." She'd told her friend, who laughed at her). She stared at it for a long time, breathing hard. Could she do it again? Her eyes looked into the mirror. It was a frightening sight; her face was wet from the tears she cried. Her head was hung low, her gaze coming up under her eyebrows with intent. Mandy ripped her attention away from the mirror back to the blade.

She could do it.

A sigh escaped from between her lips while she picked up the metal, briefly touching it over her left arm before driving it into her flesh. She bit her bottom lip hungrily, watching herself drag it all the way around and down her arm to her wrist. She kept cutting herself, rocking the sharp edge back and forth over her upper arm as if playing a violin. Blood squirted on her face, making her stop. Nothing could have make her happier than that; going back to that feeling of being able to inflict her own pain rather than take the pain from someone else, feeling sad and hurt when she wanted to. Mandy continued cutting not realizing that her towel was now gathered at her feet.

This feels so good… Mandy thought to herself, her tongue slowly coming out to lick the blood from her lips. Her movements got weaker with every stroke. I don't even know why I stopped… A single tear ran down her cheek as she finally dropped the blade, watching the thick crimson liquid seep out her arm like a mad waterfall and drip into the sink. More and more blood poured out with each pump of her veins.

All the while she giggled softly.

"It's ok. It was only an accident… He understands." She kept telling herself with a smile, watching her bleeding arm. Her mind clouded with past thoughts and images. The blood trickled down to the floor in a quick and steady rhythm. She grinned and sat on the bloody floor, leaning against the wall. Giggles filled the quiet space.

There were footsteps coming her way. "Mandy, I brought lunch!" She felt someone come into the bathroom. "What the hell?!" The voice called. "Mandy, what the hell are you doing?!"

Mandy's half-open eyes dragged sideways to look at Dawson. "Oh! Hi, baby… You're just in time, I'm starving! What did you bring me?" She giggled. She brought her bloody hand to her mouth to muffle out the hiccups attached to her laughs. They were uncontrollable. She reached out her other hand towards him, motioning him to approach her. "Come here, I wanna tell you something…" Her body gave away and she tipped sideways to the floor. She slowly rolled on her side, her giggles increasing in volume. "Come, come!"

Dawson fell to his knees next to her. "What did you do?!" He snapped, digging in his pocket to pull out his cell phone. Before he was able to dial the last number, Mandy took the phone from his hands.

"No." She said, lazily poking his chest. She looked as if she had drunk three bottles of whiskey. "Don't call mommy. She's… she's not here."

"What? No, I was calling the hospital, Mandy you're going to bleed to death I need to get help!" He grabbed her hand and took the phone back. "I'm calling them right now, don't move!" Dialing 911, Dawson quickly stood and went into Mandy's room to get some clothes. He could hear her laughter echoing around the house.

Her arm felt as if a million bees were piercing her skin over and over again. Finally the laughter ceased, and she rolled onto her other side to face the wall, closing her eyes. Something brushed delicately over her forehead. Mandy then felt her body being lifted up and taken somewhere. Moments later she was lowered onto something soft and fluffy. Was it grass? Stuffed animals? Maybe it was a cloud? Hopefully it was a cloud. She didn't know. Tired, the girl let sleep get the best of her. The voice kept speaking, but it was muffled; she could hardly make out any words. Mandy did feel something on her hand though, which was comforting.

---

Mandy had always hated the sounds in a hospital. She couldn't take another second of that beeping machine standing right next to her. With the softest groan escaping her lips, she slowly fluttered her eyes open. It took her a minute to realize that something was stroking her cheek softly. Her gaze turned towards the shadow beside her bed, and she found herself staring into Dawson's soft blue eyes. He wasn't looking at her, though. He was staring off to the side somewhere. He probably didn't hear her waking up. Closing her eyes again she leaned her cheek against his touch. The stroking stopped for a second before continuing. She could just feel his eyes on her now. She heard the door open, followed by some incoherent mumbling, then the door closed again. It wasn't long after that she felt some weight press against the other side of her bed. Something hot was coming close to her face. Just seconds later, she felt something gently brush against her lips. Mandy opened her eyes a bit to take a peek at what it was. The view surprised her.

It was Dawson.

What a thief… was the first thing she thought.

She closed her eyes again, feeling the skin of his lips touching hers. They lingered there before their lips parted slowly. His hand moved away from her cheek. Mandy heard him approaching the door and walking out, closing the door behind him. A small smile played on Mandy's lips.

I wonder how many times he did that.

She spent all of her two days on that bed sleeping away most of the time. Her mother came to visit her. It was definitely a scene. All she did was cry.

"Mandy, we gave you therapy; you were doing so well! What happened? Why did you do it again, how could you do this to me?! I tried so hard to help you…" She sobbed into her hands, shaking her head. "No, no, no… I can't leave you in the house alone anymore! Only God knows what you're capable of."

Mandy sighed and patiently scratched her temple. "I'm sorry mom, I couldn't control myself. I won't do it again, I promise. Just… calm down, please."

But it wasn't enough to calm her mother down. Her head continued shaking. "No, no, no… I can't calm down with my baby looking like this! No, no…"

Janice never showed up. It was better that way; Mandy would rather not have to face her.

By the time she woke up again the morning before her release, Dawson was sitting at her side. Her mother had already gone home to prepare for the business trip with her husband. His head rested on the bed next to her. He seems to be sleeping. Mandy smiled at the sight. She turned on her side to face him, looking down at their laced hands.

"Hey."

Mandy's attention quickly broke from their hands, her smile fading. Their gazes met in silence. She frowned. "You kissed me," she said suddenly, "you thief!"

Dawson stared at her in surprise, quirking up an eyebrow. "What? No I didn't." He replied, picking up his head from the bed.

"Yes you did."

"No I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"No—"

"I felt it."

"So? It could've been anyone."

"Yeah right, you're the only one allowed in the room besides the nurses. It was you, alright. I looked."

He blushed. "You were awake?"

"Duh."

He looked away from her, lightly nibbling on his bottom lip. Jackpot, Mandy thought to herself. She knew he was guilty; he always nibbled on his lip like that when he felt bad about something.

"Dawson…"

He hesitantly looked back at her again, meeting her eyes.

She reached out to him, grabbing his collar and pulling him to her. "I liked it." She said softly. He leaned forward, looking into her eyes as their lips moved closer. She captured his lips in a kiss. His hand came to her cheek, returning the kiss he so yearned for. Mandy's heart raced, but so did her head.

"You liar!"

Mandy gasped and pushed him away quickly, her hand coming to her mouth.

"What's the matter?" Dawson asked, watching her. He reached out and pulled her hand from her face.

"It's… it's nothing. Sorry." Mandy replied quietly, unable to meet his eyes. I can't tell him… She thought. It's just too late to bring it up. She finally brought her eyes to meet his. He shared a smile, which she couldn't deny. Just look at him… he's so happy. Mandy reached up and ran her fingers through his long, curly jet-black hair.

"You get released tomorrow, right?" Dawson asked softly.

"Yeah…" Mandy replied, nodding.

"Good." He kissed her.

The next morning came swiftly. After a brief physical exam and an approval from the doctor Mandy was released early. Her arm was covered in a long bandage, with the instruction that it was not to be removed until it was time for the stitches to come off.

"Thanks." She said softly as Dawson opened the car door for her. He gave her a smile before shutting the door. Mandy watched him as he moved slowly to the driver side. He stopped to pick up a phone call. Conversation was short; he made his way into the car and pulled out his keys. He looked at her, another smile playing on his lips. Mandy smiled back at him. "Who was it?" She asked curiously.

"It was my mom. She just wanted to know how you were doing. She says hi."

"Oh, ok."

The drive to her house was quiet.

Pulling up into the driveway, Dawson glanced over at Mandy as he turned off the engine, only to find her sleeping. He got out of the car, moving around to her side and opening the door. Smoothly, he pulled her out, carrying her in his arms. Using his feet he closed the car door and walked inside. Mandy's front door was always open. He frowned when he opened it, having warned her countless times to lock her door whenever she went out.

"There's always someone home though!" She'd always say with a pout and a stomp. "They could lock it themselves."

Upstairs he took her, into her bedroom, where he set her down onto the bed. With a kiss to her forehead, he turned and walked out.

It was not much later that Mandy woke up to the smell of bacon. She lay there in bed for a moment staring up at the white ceiling. Pouting her lip, she frowned. I need to paint the ceiling too… the white's getting on my nerves. She thought, sitting up and untangling herself from the covers. She climbed out of bed and walked slowly out the room, rubbing her waking eyes as she moved downstairs. Combing her fingers quickly through her hair she walked through the living room into the long hallway leading to the kitchen. She poked her head through the entrance only to find Dawson at the stove, cooking. Mandy stepped out and leaned against the wall, crossing her arms over her chest. He couldn't see her for his back was facing her. Dawson seemed to be enjoying himself, whistling a tune she didn't recognize. Pulling away from the wall Mandy crept up toward him. He kept whistling, oblivious to the girl who was about to pounce on him.

She sneezed.

Dammit!

Dawson glanced behind him. "Hey." He said a smile, turning back to the pot, momentarily stirring up some white rice before turning to pull her up in a hug. "Happy birthday!"

Mandy blinked, her arms instinctively coming around his neck as he gave her a peck on the lips. "Huh?" She asked quirking up an eyebrow.

Dawson reached back and turned off the stove. "I said," he said slowly, leaning back to take a look at her, "happy birthday."

Mandy was quiet a long moment. Their gazes met in a short staring contest.

He lost. "Today's your birthday… Mandy, are you okay?" Dawson asked, placing a cautious hand on her forehead. "Did you forget when your birthday was or something?"

"What's today?" She asked.

"June twenty-third."

Mandy's eyes widened. "Wow! I guess I lost track of time in the hospital… Thanks."

He smiled, lowering his hand from her head. "You hungry?" He asked. Mandy smiled and nodded. I guess I could tell him later… She thought to herself, watching as he turned and walked toward the cabinets, pulling out two plates for them.

They ate in silence, though Mandy did get occasional glances from Dawson.

He sighed, sitting up. "Mandy-"

Mandy shook her head. "No, Dawson. No more. I told you that."

"But—"

"No, Dawson."

"Mandy—"

"No."

"Your mom said—"

"I don't care."

"You have to—"

"I don't want to."

"Fine, I won't bother you about it again."

"Good."

"But just—"

"Stop!" She growled, frowning at him. "You're so stubborn!"

Defeated, he looked back to his plate. "Sorry."

Mandy sighed. "Anyway… Did you get your things from your locker at school yet? Tomorrow's the last day."

"Oh, yeah I did." Scooping up a spoonful of rice, Dawson shoved it in his mouth.

"Okay…" Mandy silently stirred what was left of her food.

"Mandy?"

Mandy looked at him. "What?" She hummed.

Dawson swallowed his food. "Are you okay?" He asked softly, watching her closely. He tapped his bottom lip with the tip of the spoon, sticking his tongue out to lick it.

She nodded and turned back to her food, forcing a smile.

"You're lying. That was the fakest smile I've ever seen." He said, setting his spoon down.

"No I'm not."

"Liar."

She sighed. "I just really miss my parents, that's all. I hate how they always go away for days at a time." She replied, though it was only a half-truth.

Dawson reached forward and ruffled her hair. "Don't be sad. They'll come back soon."

Mandy nodded slowly, her gaze dropping. Dawson gently dropped his hand onto her shoulder, and she looked at him. She forced a smile, and he smiled back at her. Don't worry... I'll tell you what's wrong later... I just hope that you won't hate me for it...