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There are times, in dire situations, when laughing would be considered completely inappropriate.
Off the top of my head, these could include: giggling at a funeral when a pallbearer trips over and the rest of them fall down like dominoes; accidentally spilling red wine on your sister's wedding dress – down low, so it has the added benefit of looking like fresh blood – and then laughing hysterically at the results; and, of course – my personal favourite – snickering at the damage that friends have suffered from your own hands, ie when you have narrowly avoided killing them because you 'forgot' about their allergies.
In situations such as these, it is customary to quietly sit in the corner until the urge to laugh has passed.
My friend Monique, however, had no such qualms about social stipulations.
"Look at your face!" she crowed, ignoring the look of disapproval that Doctor Singh sent her way. "You look like you've been eaten alive by mosquitoes. Even if you had, you'd still probably look better."
And your acne scars look as though itsy meteors have created itsy craters all over your itsy bloody face, but I don't say anything about that, do I? Other than that, what could I possibly say in reply? It was true – and it was all her fault.
"And you said these only appeared once your skin came into contact with onions?" Doctor Singh said, looking bemused. He touched one of the many, many boil-like lumps that now covered my forehead and we all watched in awe as it jiggled, not unlike tiny, baby jellies.
I nodded. "I've never had a reaction like this before."
Monique snorted. "No one's had a reaction like that before."
"That's because no one's ever forgotten about my allergy," I mimicked, flinching when Doctor Singh tentatively flicked one of the pustules on my forehead.
"Interesting," he murmured, moving to his desk and picking up a pad and pen. He scribbled something down for a couple of minutes, during which I took the time to properly examine my reflection in the mirror that, for some narcissistic reason on Doctor Singh's part, encompassed the whole of the wall.
To put it shortly, I looked like some kind of leper-zombie mutant. My entire face was covered in red, fetid lumps that continued down, beneath the neck of my top and ran all the way to my hands – even the skin on my stomach was red and inflamed. And when I squinted, I swear I saw one of them move.
"I'm going to refer you to a dermatologist, just as a precaution, because it's highly unusual to suddenly develop a rash of such… severity. In the meantime, however, I will prescribe you some anti-biotics to deal with the inflammation."
He said it all with a straight face, without even a hint of a smile, so that Monique rolled her eyes behind his back – until she made eye contact with me and dissolved into laughter all over again.
Seriously – the least she could do would have been to at least put up the pretence of supporting me, but no. She couldn't even manage that. What sort of friend endangers the life of another and then laughs about it?
Well, not a very good one, obviously.
"Thank you," I told him as sincerely as I could muster, trying to remain up-beat about the 'two to five' weeks that he'd told me the boils and their subsequent scabs would remain on my face.
He merely nodded, still gazing at my face in an alarming 'even-the-doctor-has-never-seen-anything-quite-so-horrendous-as-your-face' way.
"Come on," Monique hissed, "doctors give me the creeps."
Doctor Singh glared at her, and she pulled me out of his office so quickly that I didn't even have time to try out my patented 'don't-take-any-notice-of-her-because-she's-mentally-incompetent' apologetic look.
"Can you believe him?" she lamented as we walked down the stairs to the reception. "Looking at me like it was my fault!"
"Well, you were kind of the one to throw the onion at me when I complained about the fumes. And it did kind of hit me right in my face," I said genially, trying not to make her feel too bad about the whole ordeal – after all, it was one thing for me to blame her, but I didn't need to make her feel any worse. Even if she didn't act like it, I knew that deep down inside – probably deeper than any normal person, really – she was in turmoil over the guilt she felt.
"Oh, shut up, Reeve," she snapped. She paused for a moment when I tripped and walked straight into the door – I couldn't see all that well on account of the large red lumps that had sprouted on my eyelids – and sighed. "If it's any consolation, I guess I'm sorry."
I waved her off cheerfully, or at least as cheerily as I could with a blocked nose and covered in hives on every square inch of my body. "'S okay," I grunted, "at least you finally got to meet Doctor Singh. I told you I wasn't lying about his incredible ability to suppress laughter."
She ignored me. "Honestly, Reeve, why didn't you tell me you were allergic to onions? Maybe if you'd told me before I cut ten of them up, I wouldn't have to foot your fifty-dollar medical bill and a parking fine!" Monique moaned, picking up the offending piece of paper and slamming it angrily back against her windshield.
Her dark blue car, parked hazardously in front of the medical centre, didn't seem to appreciate her sentiments, because it let out a tired wheeze and lowered, almost imperceptibly, a couple of centimetres closer to the ground. Well, it wasn't my fault she'd parked as though she was a husband whose wife was having a baby, was it?
"I've told you about it before. And it's not like I made you pay for me," I protested feebly.
Her green eyes flashed angrily at me. "You left your wallet at home!"
"Well, yeah," I agreed, scuffing my shoes against the concrete, "but it wouldn't have been a problem if someone hadn't barged into my house – thanks for telling me you stole a copy of my keys, by the way – and decided to take it upon themselves to make onion and garlic soup for their boyfriend."
She rolled her eyes at my sarcasm and jingled her keys in my face. "First of all, if you weren't so immature to think that hiding your keys under the pot plant was actually a sure-fire way to prevent a burglary, I wouldn't have found them. Second of all, you know that Laird is sick and that the very sight of onions can send him into hysterics."
"Yeah," I grumbled resentfully, "sick in the head." It was common knowledge that Laird Wainwright and I just didn't get along – there was just something about the guy that set off warning bells in my head, not to mention that mutual enmity that flowed between us in suffocating waves.
I'd decided to make it my personal mission in life to push him in front of a semi-trailer, but unfortunately not too many of them passed through the inner city. That and I had the sneaking suspicion Monique would slit my throat if I tried anything on her precious boyfriend. So for the time being, I had to admit we were at an impasse – I couldn't physically harm him, and she couldn't verbally abuse me for doing so.
"Reeve," she sighed exasperatedly, making me feel as if I were ten years old, "he's ill, I'm exhausted, and I don't want to debate it right now, okay? If I give you the money, do you think you can buy the medicine by yourself? I need to go make sure he hasn't died on me. The pharmacy's right across the road, and I'll be back in about fifteen," she elaborated when I still didn't make a move.
"Typical," I told her, "you're more worried about your beloved boyfriend than your best friend. Look what you've done to me!" I stuck my hand in her face, which was now sporting an interesting shade of purplish-red lesions.
She rolled her eyes. "I thought you'd forgiven me for that?"
I shrugged. "It does make for good blackmail. Now you can finally stop harping on about that two hundred dollar bag of yours that I lost last year."
Bloody ugly bag it was, too.
"Fuck," she said. "Your little scratches cannot even begin to compare to your losing my bag. You know what? No," she added, when I opened my mouth to reply. "I don't want to hear it. Here's the twenty bucks to go get the cream. I'll be back soon."
With that she gave me one last glare – which I thought was secretly a guise to mask how worried she'd been when the raised lumps had started breeding like rabbits and covering my face – and threw open the car door, so that several flakes of paint of paintwork fell off. That was what she got for buying the oldest car she could possibly find. Apparently, 'vintage' nowadays doesn't necessarily have to mean 'reliable'.
"I'll pay you back later, I swear!" I called after her as she sped away, but the only response I received was the slight raising of her middle finger as she ran through a red light and did an illegal u-turn. And people called me a crazy driver.
I smirked and took a look at the money she'd thrust into my hand. She must have felt worse than I'd thought, because in addition to a new orange twenty-dollar note, she'd also given me a five-dollar one. Probably to buy jellybeans – I have a notorious sweet tooth – but even if she'd only put it in my hand by accident, I didn't care. Money was money, and even if I got it by nefarious means – ie guilt – I had no problem with spending it.
The rash was starting to get unbearably itchy, so I moved to cross the road to the pharmacy. I know that jaywalking is bad and all that, but honestly, if a police officer had written me out on it I would've laughed in their face and maybe bared my teeth for extra effect (but mostly just because it looks cool in all those D-grade horror movies). Of all the things to be arrested for, jaywalking is quite possibly the lamest. The fact that walking across a road, at your own risk, is illegal makes me laugh.
The thing is, though, there can be problems when crossing a busy road. Especially if you get distracted. For example, the urge to sneeze distracts from the detection of oncoming traffic. And closing your eyes for a few seconds while in the process of sneezing doesn't necessarily help. Add to that the fact that the violent force of the sneeze has immobilised you in the middle of oncoming traffic, along with the way a large semi-trailer (ironic, considering Laird wasn't even there to sacrifice) blares its horn at you so loudly that you think you may have gone deaf, and the result isn't all that pretty.
Particularly if you find yourself immobilised with fear.
So there I was, opening my eyes to face Death – thinking about how I already looked like road-kill without the added factor of being run over by a truck – when a large pair of hands reached out and hauled me back over to the curb. Despite the fact that they'd saved my life and all, I was left feeling mildly disgruntled. Really, who just drags people around by the collars of their shirts?
"Fuck," mentioned hands' owner swore, still dragging me away from the road. Maybe he missed the fact that cars don't drive on the footpath. "What the hell were you doing?"
I squinted up at him. It was a typical wintry Melbourne day, but pretty much any temperature over fifteen degrees left me with an irritating red tinge to my skin, and my eyes especially never adjusted too well to any kind of light. (That was supposedly an effect of not bothering to wear my glasses during my prime 'formulating' years.)
Nevertheless, in the shade of a random café's awnings I could see the guy pretty well. Around six feet tall, dark brown hair and dark brown eyes, he was, I suppose, not half bad. His skin, similarly to mine, was a pale ashen colour and he looked to be a couple of years older than me.
"I thought, 'Today looks like a perfect day to be run over by a truck,'" I said sarcastically. "And you?"
His mouth tilted at the corners. "I thought, 'Today seems to be the perfect day to save idiot girls that can't pull off sarcasm to save themselves,'" he mocked and rolled his eyes. "Maybe you didn't notice, but that was a big vehicle."
"Huge," I concurred amiably.
"So after you'd finished wiping your snot on your sleeve you didn't think to move out of its way?"
A prim elderly couple walking past gave us a haughty look. I was still sprawled out on the disgusting brick path, and my ragged jeans had unleashed my very own personal Grand Canyon for all the word to see. Mr Saviour – as I'd dubbed him in my mind – was leaning casually against the café's window, right where the faded neon paint proclaimed, 'Forget heroin, get into methadone!' I beamed at them, which seemed to frighten the old woman into grasping her gentleman friend's arm more tightly and hurrying around the corner.
"It's not even my fault," I explained to Mr Saviour, wiping my hands up and down the faded blue denim that was barely covering my muffin top. "It's all the onions."
For some reason, this comment did not seem to bemuse him whatsoever. He merely raised an eyebrow, which I took to be an invitation to continue my – by now – shell-shocked babbling.
"I'm allergic to them," I added redundantly. "I even have a minor reaction, but it's not half as bad as it seems, I guess—"
"You have a huge lump on your eyelid," Mr Saviour interrupted flatly. "I think it's even moving."
"Um," I said. Really, what is there to say to that? Yeah, thanks, you prick; I was trying to salvage the few shreds of dignity I have left!
But then my indignation completely abandoned me as I felt something niggle at the back of my head. It was kind of like the eerie feeling I got whenever I came into Laird's immediate vicinity, only nowhere near as panic inducing. It could almost be described as pleasant… until the headache that usually accompanied such feelings kicked in at full force, that is.
"Holy shit…" I muttered, swaying slightly as I stood up. My hand found one of those shitty little cast-iron chairs and I slumped into it gratefully, my brain feeling as though it was doing a weird hybrid of the nut-bush and the cha-cha inside my skull. I groaned and pressed a hand to my temple.
"Reeve?" Mr Saviour hesitantly inquired. He probably just thought it was 'That Time of the Month' and didn't want to know about it. Typical guy.
I managed to force a weak smile. "It's fine, it's just a thing that happens sometimes… I'll be fine once I eat some Fruit Loops," I managed to convey over the pounding noise in my ears and the slight black dots in the corners of my vision. The headaches – perhaps more accurately described as migraines – had never been quite so bad before. Still, it would've been weird to just march straight back into Doctor Singh's office demanding to know what the hell was wrong with me ("Besides your face?"), so I did the next best thing: sucked it up.
"Right," he muttered, "the sugar in your blood level's too low." He sounded faintly self-mocking, but I was too busy with my own problems to care about some random's inner demons.
"Do you think you can stand up?" he asked, and I had to stifle a laugh. I couldn't, however, suppress the next few sentences that flowed out of my mouth like verbal diarrhoea.
Even when I'm on the brink of admittance to a mental hospital I can still find a way to make a complete douche out of myself, which (I think, anyway) is kind of comforting. Monique says it's just because my brain short-circuits, but she wouldn't have a clue – she's only a design student.
"I'm not letting you take me anywhere! For all I know, you could be some feral prisoner on the run, luring poor, unsuspecting girls in-so-much-debt-that-no-one-would-miss-them into becoming your whores and then, when you're done, I bet you take them into alleys and suck their blood right out of them!"
Right. Like I said, cra-zy. I am twenty-one years old and have the mental capacity of a twelve-year-old. Also the physical stature of a tweenie as well, but as I have repressed issues about my height…
Let's not go there.
I also have repressed (or not so repressed, depending on which way you look at it) issues about people that like to, for lack of a better term, suck neck. And yes, it is because of personal experiences (let's just say I am never going out with a guy again until I inspect the varying length of his teeth) and yes, I do tend to rant – quite coherently, unfortunately – about things that should not always be made public.
Such as that one time, almost four years ago, when my boyfriend and I were in the middle of a boozy PDA session in some supposedly 'underage' (meaning the door-bitches just let anyone in) nightclub when he grazed my neck with his teeth and then just…
There wasn't exactly a whole lot I could have done about my (ex, as of the moment he decided to start sucking out my life-source) boyfriend drinking my blood, so I'd sat there, frozen as a plank of wood, until some random had come up and hit him over the head with a baseball bat. Not that I'm condoning violence, or anything, but it was a fucking good hit, I'll tell you that much. Anyway, I escaped, went home, dressed the wound and forgot about it. Kind of.
Except now it was hurting like no one's business, and Mr Saviour had whipped around from glaring at something-or-other to staring right at me, his expression unreadable. I also noticed, through the tears of pain welling up in my eyes (I've always been an easy crier), that he didn't refute my accusations. And okay, maybe they were made when I was practically delirious, but still. A girl's psychotic imagination needs to be soothed, you know?
"… I'm not going to suck your blood," he sighed, even having the audacity to sigh boredly.
"Gee, thanks for that," I replied, my eyes fusing shut automatically as a second wave of pain engulfed me. "Wouldn't want to… wait… too long, or anything."
"I'll be right back," he said suddenly, and without another word he ducked into the queerly named Hash House. With a name like that it was a wonder there weren't more vagrants hanging out in there, because it certainly looked like a prime hang-out for them.
It started raining, but the combined crisp, clean smell of it and the sudden chill in the air helped to alleviate my headache. It was fairly quiet for a Sunday afternoon (most people have enough sense to know that they 'shouldn't go out in the rain or they'll catch a cold'… thanks, Gran). That, however, still didn't stop Monique from ringing my mobile and frantically demanding, "Where the fuck are you, Reeve?" Pfft. As if I was one of many people lounging around in front of a seedy-looking eatery.
I blinked and wiped away the precipitation. "Outside, uh, the Hash House," I admitted sheepishly, admiring the owner's ingenuity when it came to decorative skills. The marijuana leaf in the corner just gave it that extra bit of originality.
"I've never even heard of it-" she broke off to the sound of squealing breaks and a string of indistinguishable curses. "Fuckers. Think they own the roads…"
Through my blurry vision – the dancing elephants had abandoned my head, but in doing so they'd left great gaping holes in my sight, and the rain wasn't helping any – I watched as her car inched forward along the road. The big dark lump that I determined to be her head was sticking out of the window, until finally she stopped the vehicle a few metres in front of me.
"I can't see a fucking hydroponics place," she snapped into my ear. "Where the—" she finally noticed me, sitting cross-legged on the brittle chair that was already threatening to dump my sorry ass. "And you're sitting in front of a fucking religious book shop, anyway." Monique's vocabulary tended to shrink whenever she was anything more than calm – an emotion she rarely felt – but even attempting to tune her out I still picked out the words 'sitting', 'religious' and 'book shop'.
I turned back around. No, it was definitely not a bookshop. Everything from the shady vegetation printed on the window to the carelessly etched Hash House and the grubby door pane told me that Monique Souza must have caught whatever her cherished significant other had, because she was just about as screwed in the head as he was.
She slammed the car door so hard that for a second I mistook the small tinkling noise coming from the café to be the sound of her windows shattering into tiny little pieces. She strode over, tall and poised as ever, looking as if she were about to give me the verbal lashing of a lifetime.
"You," she fumed, "have no idea what I have just gone through. First I have to drag your pathetic ass all the way over here—"
"—And then I go home to selflessly care for my boyfriend in his time of need, and do you know what he does?"
I shook my head no; I didn't.
"He's invited a friend over to my house – thank God Mum and Dad have gone to Greece for six months – and, get this, he's miraculously fine! No cough, no fever, nothing! The fucker is staying at my house, eating all my food, and playing black jack with some friend of his whom, and I quote, 'needs a place to crash'!"
"Ahem." We both whipped our heads over to the doorway of the café (sorry Mon) where Mr Saviour stood, armed with a packet of Life Savers. They were even the chewy kind, my favourite, but they were also Monique's as well, which is why I didn't complain when she snatched them off me after Mr Saviour hesitantly handed them to me, still warily eyeing Monique as if she was a rabid lion. It was sadly obvious that he really didn't have a whole lot of experience with emotional women.
"Thanks," I chirped to him, the one Life Saver I'd managed to steal from Mon already working wonders. It's the sweet tooth thing again. Sugar just has an amazing psychological effect on me.
"And so now," Monique continued around a mouthful of masticated lollies, "I have to go buy more food so we don't all starve to death. 'I swear, Mon, it'll only be a week, at most,'" she mimicked, her eyes rolling. Then she seemed to come back down to Ground Zero. "Get in the car," she ordered me, already stomping back through the rain to her beat-up little car.
Unlike Monique, I had some saving social graces, so I decided to awkwardly linger in order to thank Mr Saviour for, you know, saving my life and all. "So, thanks for pulling me out of the way, trying to help with my headache and not ordering my friend a psychiatrist," I said brightly.
His mouth quirked at the corners in a not-quite smirk. "No problem."
"I mean, what, with her thinking that this place was a religious book shop and all," I blathered on obliviously, "I mean it's obviously not. Although I did notice a couple of weird looking people walking in, but I doubt they were going in to start singing a rousing rendition of 'God is great', so it's all okay."
"Ah, yeah, about that," Mr Saviour began awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and shifting from foot to foot. The classic 'Hey look, that guy's uncomfortable!' pose. "It actually is a book shop—"
"So now I'm crazy?"
"—To people other than you and me."
Silence. Awkward silence, if you exclude the relentless beeping of Monique's failed security alarm in the background and her subsequent use of expletives.
"'People other than you and me'," I repeated, wrinkling my nose. "What does that even mean?"
Mr Saviour's brown eyes finally came back to meet my own hazel ones. "It means," he said ominously, "That you aren't exactly a normal human being, Reeve Rafferty. And you haven't been since your boyfriend tried to kill you."
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A/N: So this is pretty different from what I usually write, and my preferred genre of realist/romance/young adult. I've actually had the idea for it, and the first couple of chapters floating around on my computer for a couple of years, but I've just never been quite satisfied with the writing. Over the course of about two years I've rewritten this chapter about ten times, and even now I'm still now entirely happy about it. I just keep getting the 'parody' vibe from it, which I guess it sort of is, really. But I figured now was as good a time as any to tell Reeve's story, so here it is. Oh, and as a side note, I got the title from an Eisley song - thought it was pretty apt. :D