When you're at your lowest, people have a way of reminding you that good still exists.
|Written for "Journey Through Genres: Official Contest" . 1,759 words.
I jolted out of my daydream as a foot caught me across the shins, sending me sprawling. The heels of my hands skidded along the grass as I tried to break my fall, smears of green and brown streaking up my wrists. My breath wooshed out as I landed, my backpack thumping into my lower back. As my chin thumped down on the ground, I was grateful I hadn't been standing on concrete.
A shoe-clad foot smacked into my ribs, dislodging the left earpiece of my ipod, and the jeers and taunts filtered through.
The slurs and obscenities were unimaginative, to say the least. I knew better than to point that out though. I rolled in the direction of the kick, but my backpack was still on my back, preventing me from facing upwards. Not sure there was any point in seeing their faces though. They weren't hiding from me. They knew damn well they were safe from any consequences. Even if I went and saw the dean or the principal, their rich-ass parents would pull some sob story and save them from any fallout. I'd probably end up expelled, knowing my...
I yelped as a foot caught me in the jaw, damn lucky that I hadn't bitten right through my tongue. I was still reeling from the blow when a kick caught me on the side of my stomach. I gasped for air, drawing my knees up and wrapping my arms around my head. Someone placed their foot on my backside, shoving hard, causing my defensive pose to unravel and I sprawled forward. A blow to the temple had me seeing stars, and it took me a minute to register that something had changed.
"You all right?"
The voice came from close by, as if someone were kneeling beside me. A guy. I whimpered, unable to expose myself in case the danger hadn't really passed.
"Jesus, you okay? They're gone. Can you sit up? Shit, do I need to call an ambulance?"
I shook my head, but I wasn't really sure. That last blow to my head had left me dazed.
Large warm hands grasped my shoulders, and I whimpered again. Despite myself, I winced. Could there be a more pathetic sound? Puppies whimper, not men. Only, I wasn't much of a man, was I?
"Sorry, sorry," came the voice again. "I'm trying to help you up, not hurt you. Can you sit up? Um...." He trailed off.
I pressed my palms against the ground and heaved up, my arms shaking. I rolled to a sitting position, wincing at the pain in my chest and my jaw. My backpack pulled me off balance, so I struggled to pull my arms through the straps.
"Let me help." He gently tugged the straps down my arms and helped me ease the backpack off.
I slumped forward and pressed a hand to my ribs. With effort, I lifted my chin to look at my rescuer.
Just my luck. I'm a pathetic, dribbling mess and he's gorgeous. I lifted one shoulder to wipe my chin on my t-shirt just in case I really was dribbling. Drooling? Ugh. I bet he didn't even need to style his hair, it just fell into perfect waves as he rolled out of bed. And those eyes! They should be illegal! I stared into them, imagining myself disappearing into their depths.
I jolted when his hand landed on my shoulder, my whole body lurching with the movement.
"Sorry," he apologised again, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he frowned at me. "Are you with me? I think you need to get checked out. Maybe you have a concussion. What's your name?"
I dragged in a deep breath and pressed my palm harder against my ribs as pain shot through me. "Mason," I said.
"Okay, Mason. I'm Ben. How's your vision? You seeing double of anything?"
"Nope. Not unless there's only one of you," I joked.
He smiled at me. "Wanna try standing?"
I grabbed the warm hand he offered me. I swayed slightly on my feet, then released his hand and stepped back when I realised I was still holding on to him. My foot landed on the side of my backpack and I went sprawling backwards, my fall only arrested by his grasp as he snatched me back upright.
"Shit, maybe you were better off sitting. Damn it." He looked around, but I wasn't sure what he was looking for. "I really think you need to be checked out. I wonder..." His warm gaze stroked over me and I felt like I was about to melt into a puddle where I stood. "You think you could make it to my car if I helped you?"
He had a car? I had figured he was a high school student, same as me. Maybe a year older, but... I cut off my train of thought as I realised he was still waiting for an answer.
"Sure?" I offered.
He flashed me a quick smile then wrapped an arm around my waist. "Let's give it a go."
I found myself concentrating so hard on the warmth of his arm and the strength of his shoulder beside me that I barely noticed the aches and pain from my beating. I glanced up at him, only to find him staring down at me, our faces just centimeters apart. I quickly looked back down.
I didn't understand why he was helping me. He was gorgeous and built, clearly one of the popular crowd, and didn't he realise I was gay? If anyone saw him helping me...
He paused our journey toward the car park that was still a few meters away and turned to face me. "I don't give a shit what people think. If they're so small minded and bigoted that they'd judge me for helping someone in need, then their opinions are irrelevant. Who cares if you're gay? You're still a person, and no one deserves to get beaten up for something they have no control over."
My eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. "Ahhh...." I scrabbled to get my brain back on track. "Did... Did I say that out loud? I only meant to think it."
"You shouldn't even be thinking it. You shouldn't even... Argh, don't get me started." He took up his position beside me and we started off again. As we reached a dark brown sedan that looked like it had seen better years, I leaned back against the cool metal and realised I'd left my backpack behind. "Oh shit, my backpack! It's got all my school stuff in it and my..."
He swung it off his shoulder.
"Oh. I didn't see it there." Duh, obviously. I didn't even remember him picking it up. Maybe I was concussed. Or maybe this guy, Ben, was so freaking hot he was melting my brain cells.
He asked me questions as we drove to the hospital. About myself, what I was studying at high school, my family, even questions about the family dog. I was puzzled by his interest, but flattered, until we pulled up at the hospital and the metaphorical lightbulb in my brain came on. Of course, he was just checking I was alert, and wasn't going to doze off into a coma. He wasn't actually interested in me. God, I was stupid. I would have smacked myself in the forehead, but frankly I hurt enough already.
We had to wait an hour to see a doctor, and by then I was stiff and aching and my head felt like chipmunks were practicing the anvil chorus in there. Ben knew pretty much my entire life story by then, but hadn't shared a lot about himself. Typical. No, I shouldn't think like that. A typical guy would never have bothered to check if I was okay, let alone take me to A&E to see a doctor. Really, typical was about the last word I should use to describe Ben.
The doctor said I had a mild concussion, and I was told to take some over-the-counter pain relief and ensure someone checked in on me over the next 24 hours. Ben drove me home, and I wasn't sure if he was unsurprised at the dump I called home, or if he was just very clever at hiding his expression.
"There's someone here who can check up on you?" he asked as he parked up against the curb.
"Yeah," I replied, careful not to nod in case my aching head rolled straight off my shoulders. "One of my folks will be home at least."
Even as I said it, the front door opened.
"Mason! Where have you been? Your boss rang."
I groaned. I had totally forgotten about my after school job at the bookstore. "I forgot to call him. I, uh, had an accident and Ben took me to the hospital."
Ben climbed out of the car, and walked around to shake my mother's hand. Seriously? Who does that anymore?
"Sorry we didn't think to call, ma'am. Turns out Mason has a concussion and so he probably shouldn't be working in any case. The doctor said he needs to rest for at least 24 hours."
Watching my mother fall under Ben's spell, I was glad to know I wasn't the only one who found him irresistible.
"Mason," he said, nudging me.
I glanced up, my cheeks heating as I realised I'd been lost in my daydreams again. "Yeah?"
"I'll pop by tomorrow and make sure you're feeling better, okay?"
"Why?" I waved my hand at him. "You don't need to. I really appreciate your help today though. Thank you."
"You have so many friends that you can afford to turn a new one away?"
"What?" I frowned at him, then tried to uncrinkle my forehead as frowning apparently doesn't go with concussion headaches. "You... What?"
He laughed, and I knew I was doomed.
"I'll see you tomorrow." He nodded at my mother. "Ma'am."
I stood stiffly by my mother as we both watched Ben clamber back in his car and drive off.
"So, new friend?" she asked as I shuffled my way up the path to the front door.
"Mum, don't start. I'm 99% sure he isn't gay. I'm sure he would have said so."
"Maybe not. But he seems like a lovely young man. Now, you park yourself on the couch, and then I want to hear the whole story."
I groaned. "Can I at least have some Panadol before the interrogation?"