3. Bruises

It took a few more pokes for him to give some kind of response, and it was a pained groan at most. My heart pounded against my ribcage. I'd never actually had to think about what to do in this kind of emergency; Johan had always seemed so healthy that it had never even occurred to me it was possible something like this could happen, nor had he ever mentioned what to do if it did.

"Johan? Can you hear me?"

The only reply was the sound of his laboured breathing. I chewed my lip as I glanced around, still trying to figure out what to do next. Maybe I should call an ambulance? I only knew I had no idea what else to do.

"Johan, if you can hear me, I'm going to call for an ambulance," I told him. His eyes remained closed, though his breathing had eased somewhat.

Just as I rose from Johan's side to retrieve the cordless phone from the kitchen, something grabbed me by the wrist. Surprised, I shrieked and turned around to find that Johan had finally come around. He still looked fatigued – there were dark shadows under his eyes – but at least he was conscious and moving. He pulled me down toward him; I tripped over his long legs and landed on the floor with a thud.

"Are you okay?" he asked me as he helped me sit upright.

I pursed my lips, meeting his tired eyes. "I should be the one asking you that."

He laughed lightly, the melodic sound floating through the hallway. "You worry too much, Cerise. I've just been really tired ever since I started night shifts at work, and I haven't really been able to sleep much lately."

As much as I trusted Johan, I wasn't sure he was telling me everything. What he had said sounded like the truth, I didn't doubt that, but I just had a feeling there was more he didn't want to tell me.

Johan interrupted my thoughts. "Anyway, did you get the painkillers for me? I want to sleep comfortably, I have work in the morning."

Several minutes later, after gulping down a tablet with a glass of water, he sprawled himself across the couch. "You should get to sleep too. You'll take forever to recover if you keep going to sleep this late."

It took me a moment to realise he was talking to me; I'd been a little distracted by the fact that Johan still hadn't put on a shirt. "Ah… yes, goodnight."

I shook my head and sighed as I returned to my room to go to bed. Maybe my sleep-deprived mind was just playing tricks on me, and Johan actually wasn't doing anything suspicious. Gradually, I drifted off to sleep.

At around eight in the morning, Johan left for work, but not before I made him promise to see the doctor about his back injury. I clung to his arm, refusing to let him out the front door until I'd confirmed his appointment time with the clinic. Being Johan, he was less than enthusiastic about it.

"My back will sort itself out anyway," he muttered.

"It's still better to get it checked out," I insisted. "Besides, didn't you say you've had this injury for years and never had it looked at? All the more reason to go."

With another indistinct complaint, he stepped out of the house. "See you later. Do your homework, okay?" Then he was gone without another word.

As instructed, I returned to the stack of textbooks and notes awaiting me on the desk in my room. I'd taken leave from school about a month ago when I'd contracted the flu, but having a rather strict tutor as my guardian meant there were no breaks from schoolwork during the semester. I checked my homework schedule for today: three new exercises on trigonometry and revision of the last five exercises.

Heaving a sigh, I sat down at my desk and began to work. I didn't find trigonometry particularly hard; it was actually one of my strongest topics in my maths course. The only problem was that it was quite time-consuming. Hour after hour passed as I punched buttons on my calculator and scribbled triangular diagrams and solutions on the lined pages of my notebooks. After three hours straight of unknown angles and side lengths, I paused for a break, happy with what I'd managed to complete so far. There was something very satisfying about completing half of the day's work in just three hours; not to mention that trigonometry had once been a nightmare for me.

In truth, there was one particular reason I liked the topic of trigonometry now.

"Well, here we are. Behave yourself, Cerise," warned my mother as she stepped forward, raising her hand to reach for the doorbell.

Bitterly, I chewed my lip as I stared at the varnished wooden door before me, hands in pockets. "I said I didn't want another tutor."

She sighed exasperatedly as she lowered her arm again. "Cerise, sweetie, please be reasonable. You know your grades for maths are dropping."

I glanced at her uncertainly. "After the last two tutors, I'm still at the bottom of the class. What makes you think this one will help?"

My mother's gaze shifted to the door of the house in front of us, and then back to me. "I think you'll find him easier to get along with. He's younger than the others, for one. He's just started sixth form. Give him a chance."

She pressed the button to ring the doorbell and stepped back to wait with me. Grudgingly, I lifted my bag from beside my feet on the pavement and slung it over one shoulder. I heard the creak of the door opening, but my stare remained fixed on my shoes, partially blocked by a thin curtain of reddish brown on either side of my vision.

"Oh, good afternoon," spoke a cheerful male voice. His words were veiled with a light foreign accent, but his voice had some kind of smoothness to it. "And this must be Cerise?"

Reluctantly, I nodded and glanced upward, but my gaze didn't move much higher than his slightly pointed chin before dropping back to the ground. All I'd glimpsed was a neatly pressed white shirt and black trousers, and short brownish blond hair that reached just above his shoulders.

"Johan, I've got to run to another meeting, so I'm trusting you to look after Cerise until I come back for her."

"Yes, that's fine. We'll see you then."

My mother patted my shoulder. "Go in," she mouthed, before speaking aloud again. "I'll see you later, honey."

For a moment, I watched her walk back in the direction of the car, still a little peeved that she was dumping me at my third tutor's house before running off to take care of other work. I turned back to the house only to find myself suddenly facing the chest pocket of a white shirt and dropped my gaze to the pavement again.

He extended a pale hand to me; for a moment, I couldn't help but notice just how white his skin seemed compared to mine. "I can carry that bag for you, if you want," he offered. I immediately shook my head, but it didn't affect his light-hearted tones. "Well, come inside."

I followed him through the front door and into the foyer. There wasn't much in here except a shoe-rack and a few boxes, but each pair of shoes was arranged neatly and the boxes stacked carefully out of the way. He led me into a brightly lit kitchen; at its centre were a large rectangular dining table and the eight chairs accompanying it. Atop the table were a few books and sheets of paper, and a plastic cup filled with an assortment of pens, pencils and rulers.

He pulled a chair out for me. "Have a seat."

I glanced up at him, still refusing to look at his eyes, but saw the smile on his lips. "Um… thanks," I muttered as I sat on the cushioned seat and began to search through my bag for my books.

"So how has school been? Are you okay with your other classes?"

Pressing my lips together, I nodded vaguely. I knew he was just trying to be friendly but I didn't really want to talk to him.

He sat on the chair next to mine. "How are things with your friends?"

That was when I hesitated. He probably saw my lips part in uneasiness.

"Oh… That's right, you started at a new school not long ago, right? It hasn't been very long yet, so don't worry. It takes time to make friends."

I wasn't sure if I made it that obvious or he was just really sharp. At school, I was neither teased nor welcomed as a new student; I just happened to be there in the class, and everyone else ignored me.

"If not… we can always try to be friends." He squeezed my hand lightly.

Normally, I would have been annoyed at someone trying to touch my hands when we'd just met, but I didn't feel angry or upset with him; maybe because he sounded like he actually meant what he said. I raised my head and met his eyes for the first time. His irises were an unusual pale purple, subtly tinged with blue, but it was a nice colour. A smile played on his lips, revealing his straight white teeth. He winked at me and brushed my hair out of my eyes.

"Maybe no one's tried to be your friend because they can't see your face behind your hair. Don't hide it anymore. You're a pretty girl." He slid a hair clip into place to keep my bangs out of my eyes.

I was sure it was just flattery, but he sounded like he really meant every word of it. I fingered the hair clip lightly as he turned away to test a pen in his notebook, scrawling lines on the page.

"Well then, are you ready to start? What's the current topic in your class?"

With a sigh, I opened my textbook and flicked a few pages to a certain chapter. "We're learning trigonometry…"

It was about two in the afternoon when I finished all of my homework for the day. My head began to feel sore after I'd forced myself to sit through nearly six hours of study after scarcely sleeping at night. I rose from my desk and left my room to help myself to a drink from Johan's fridge.

I had just popped the can of lemonade open and taken two sips when a sudden sharp sensation sliced through my chest. Caught unawares by the abrupt pain, I dropped the drink can onto the floor with a loud clatter. I clutched tightly at the folds of my shirt as the bubbling liquid spilled over the tiles before my eyes.

It had been weeks since I'd become ill, and I should have been recovering now, so these pangs of pain should have become less frequent, but why did they seem to happen so often now?

The dull rhythm in my head from a lack of sleep began to pound faster and more violently. Feeling dizzy, I leaned my weight against the counter as I stumbled out of the kitchen. My chest felt tight, and now my throat began to feel constricted. A blistering cough pushed its way up my throat, and an unpleasant taste crept into my mouth. I covered my mouth with one hand as I staggered to the bathroom and spat into the sink. Red stains swirled around the water as I turned the tap on to flush the basin. Now my stomach felt sore too. Before I could even blink, the bathroom dissolved into a blur of colours, and I found myself lying on the cold tiled floor.

Then I blinked, and I wasn't in the bathroom anymore; the light on the ceiling looked like the one in the living room. I tilted my head to the side and saw the kitchen counter, confirming my suspicions. Questions raced through my mind. How did I end up on the couch? How long had I been lying here?

Only then did I notice the pale, toned arm around my waist. I shot a glance behind me; sure enough, Johan's head rested on the couch, his sleeping face pressed against my back and obscured by a curtain of blond and reddish brown. The rest of his body was sprawled awkwardly on the floor next to the furniture; it looked like he'd dropped me on the couch and fallen asleep himself. He stirred as I brushed hair away from his face and forced a tired smile as he realised I was awake.

"Cerise? How are you feeling?"

Something on his face caught my attention, and I ignored the question, instead pushing long strands of his hair away from his face. Almost immediately he pulled my hand away and deliberately brushed his hair back in front of his face. But he was too late; I'd already seen it.

"Johan… What happened to your face?"

"Nothing," he muttered groggily. "Since you're feeling okay, we can eat now. I'm starving." He heaved himself off the couch, but I grabbed his wrist.

"This is nothing?" I asked incredulously, sweeping the curtain of toffee-coloured hair aside to reveal the large patches of bruised skin on his face. At this close distance, I could make out a few dark blemishes on his neck too.

He shrugged. "I move heavy things at work. Accidents happen. Anyway, you look a bit of a mess right now." He nudged me towards the bathroom. "Why don't you go take a shower before we eat? I have something to talk to you about over dinner."

I turned back to shoot a curious glance at him. "Can't you just tell me now?"

His lips curved into a smile, but it looked forced and didn't reach his eyes like his usual smiles did. "I said at dinner. Go get yourself cleaned up first. Your hair is sticky with lemonade."

Fifteen minutes later, when I was feeling refreshed after a hot shower and a change of clothes, I sat at the dining table, quietly poking at a potato with my fork. I didn't think I could eat until Johan told me whatever he wanted to tell me; I couldn't help thinking it had something to do with him fainting last night and the bruises on his face. The expression on his features was serious; his brow was furrowed and his mouth was drawn into a deep frown whenever he wasn't eating or drinking.

"So… you wanted to talk about something?" I asked timidly, still absentmindedly poking holes into the potato.

"Hmm? Oh, yes…" He fixed his stare on the kitchen clock. Silence fell for a few moments.

I cleared my throat. "Um, so… What is it?"

He sighed and turned back to look at me. The bruises on his face and neck were less visible now in the shadow of his hair. He spoke rather hesitantly. "Well... I don't know, maybe it's not a good time for it now, what with your health and all…"

I couldn't wait anymore. "How long am I going to have to wait before you finally tell me anything?" I wailed.

His shoulders heaved as he breathed deeply before answering. "Fine, I'll tell you now. I… I'm leaving."

A/N: Eh... I'm really not that fond of writing in Cerise's POV because I always feel like there will be odd-sounding sentences that need to be ironed out and such.

The part I'd most appreciate feedback on is the flashback, since I feel that it's lacking somehow. Of course, I welcome feedback on anything else as well (because honestly I feel like the whole chapter is a flop...). Thanks =)