Rough edit of a school piece; dark realistic fiction meant to tug on your feelings.
I raced down the hall, my heart racing, and tears streaming down my cheeks. I had a terrible feeling about this. I don't know why, I had just woken up and I felt like something bad had happened to Kenna I flung the door to her room to see a man with a handgun standing over a motionless woman lying on the ground. I stepped farther into the room and screamed, my hands flying over my mouth. The woman on the ground, her veins a dark blue color and a perfect bullet hole in the center of her forehead was my mother. Her eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling as the man turned around, pointing the gun at my chest. The man was my father. I closed my eyes as I readied for the shot to go off, tears coming from under my closed eyelids. Nothing. I peeked out of one of my eyes and my father was gone, vanished. The corpse wasn't my mother anymore though. It was Kenna. It was my baby sister.
I bolted upright in bed, the sheet pooling around my waist. I held my hand over my heart, using the steady, if fast, beating to anchor me to my harsh reality. It was just a dream. Kenna is still alive. My baby sister hasn't left me. My breathing calmed down as I repeated those words, over and over again, in my head like a mantra. A few wisps of my hair were plastered to my forehead, the light sheen of sweat sticking them to my skin. That was what happened in September with no air conditioning.
I flopped back onto my pillow, the fear and pain flooding back to the edges of my heart, lurking there for the next time I closed my eyes. That was always how it was though. The coldness seeping to the background, letting you go on with your day, but staying in the back of your mind, and then coming out and crushing your heart with its icy grip when your eyes closed. I turned my head to where my old fashioned alarm clock sat on my nightstand, checking the time. Ugh. 5:07. A good hour and a half before I had to wake Kenna up for school. Why couldn't my brain play games with me a few minutes before I had to wake up instead of an hour?
I swung my legs over the side of my old twin bed and got up, knowing I wouldn't get back to sleep this morning. I peeled my tank top off, the material sticking to the sheen of cold sweat left from my nightmare. I quickly changed into one of my two pairs of pants, faded black jeans with paint splatters on it, and my worn leather jacket, the nicest thing I owned, before throwing my hair up in my signature high ponytail and going into what passed as our kitchen.
I went about my daily routine, making sure Kenna’s little flip phone was fully charged, putting together a lunch for her, putting my apple in my bag for my own lunch, and popping some frozen waffles into the toaster to make breakfast for Kenna. When all of that was over I slid down the wall with my small cup of black coffee, ready for the forty-five minute wait before waking Kenna up.
Our morning routine was a well worn out one, our family, or what was left of it, was a well oiled machine, and that was just how I liked it. Not that I particularly liked the condition in which Kenna and I lived, but knowing that I had some control over something made me feel at peace. I didn't have control over my father's action's when he killed a man, getting him a life sentence away from us. I didn't have control over my mother’s thought process when she couldn't take reality anymore and ran from her children and to the drugs that killed her. I didn't have control over my best friend Kyle’s emotions when the hardships of being gay was too much for him and he threw himself off of a building, landing right in front of me as I tried to talk him off the ledge. It felt like Universe: 3, Naomi: 0. Just the same old same old.
Then I had gone to court to get custody over Kenna, even though I was a minor myself, hoping with the last parts of me that still believed in hope, that for once something would go my way and I wouldn't be separated from the last family member I had. The last person who gave a damn about me. When I proved myself to the court, and got to keep Kenna, I finally gained some control over my life, and it finally felt like it was Universe: 3, Naomi: ½. And that was improvement in my book.
I was pulled out of my thoughts by my alarm going off, in my early morning wake up call I had forgotten to turn it off, and I pushed myself to my feet, feeling a little more ready to start my day after my internal therapy session.
I slammed the little button on the top of my alarm maybe a little too hard, and maybe I clomped a little too hard down the hallway, and maybe I swung the door to Kenna’s room a little too hard against the wall, but hey, I said I was feeling a little bit better, not all the way better.
“Kenna! Up, up, up! Time to go! You’re already behind schedule!” I burst into the room, the caffeine for my coffee hitting my system hard, making energy rush through me like the rapids of the Congo river, and I forced on my happy face. Kenna didn't know the half of our problems, or the quarter of mine, so I kept a smile on my face, and the darkness hidden away. I dropped onto the bed beside her, keeping my feet off the edge, exactly the way she liked it. I rubbed her arm slowly. Not a single movement. Then I grabbed her ankles and pulled. She kicked her feet out of my grasp, staying on the bed. Our wake up ritual. I tried to wake her up, and she pretended to sleep for as long as possible. She was doing so good once that that I had to resort to dumping a cup of ice water on her, and she didn't speak to me directly for three days. Honestly though, it was worth it for that little moment we had when the water hit her. I lived for those moments of sibling normalcy, when I didn't have to play the part of mother.
“You’re late. You usually come wake me up at 6:36 on the dot, and it is now 6:38,” Kenna said, rolling over to give me a pointed look. I rolled my eyes at her. Only she would notice that I was two whole minutes late. I mean come on, two minutes? The world might implode.
“Yes, well, two minutes won’t kill you,” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant, perfectly masking the speeding up of my heart as my words conjured up images of a lifeless Kenna lying on the ground. Bad choice of words on my part there. Kenna meanwhile, simply got up and quickly changed into her clothes as I turned around to face the wall. Being the sole guardian of a ten year old genius was exactly as hard as it seemed.
A few minutes later, as I shooed Kenna out the door to the spot where her school bus would stop, I waved to her as her figure slowly receded before remembering our second morning ritual, and I gave her my consistent goodbye of, “Text me when you get to school, and when you get home!”
Kenna replied with her consistent answer of, “I know Naomi. I will!” without even looking behind her. I laughed, very glad for the normality of our rituals. This was how our entire life should be like, these little moments of happiness. But no, because some as-, nope. Not going to think it. Some selfish people had taken that away from us with a few moments of weakness.
Then, when Kenna vanished around the corner of our short, shabby, Seattle street, I took off at a sprint, my feet pounding the pavement as I made my way to headquarters. I was already late, and I knew Shane wouldn't like that, but oh well. I would like to see him switch roles with me and still be on time for work. I skidded around a corner, turning into a familiar alleyway, never breaking stride. I didn't want to be late to work today though. Today we were being commissioned to paint a mural for an LGBT organization, and for once the work I was doing was important to me. Ever since Kyle committed suicide, I had been dying to do something to steer others away from that same path, but seeing as I was poor and all it wasn't as easy to give back, and I didn't get to choose assignments at work. Also, doing a mural otherwise was illegal, so I didn't have many options. Now that I did though, I planned on pouring my heart and soul into it. Shane wouldn't give me an opportunity to though if I was late.
I was still sprinting through the network of alleyways in downtown Seattle, but I wasn't getting winded from the run. I had run this path so many times it was a walk in the park. A six mile walk in the park.
I turned around another corner, finally hitting the dead end that marked our headquarters. I slid the door of our small warehouse open and stepped inside.
“Shane!” I called out, my voice bouncing off of the walls. If he had left without me, we were going to have some interesting words. I was only three minutes late after all. I started grabbing cans as I waited for a reply, throwing all of the colors of the rainbow into my bag along with the black and white already in there. I already had the whole mural planned out in my head, and I couldn't wait to paint it on the walls of Seattle.
“Red! Glad you decided to show up! We were about to leave without you!” Shane said, walking down the stairs with his ams spread wide in an embrace. I walked forward and hugged him, his familiarity a nice and natural wake up call for me, much different than the coffee. The one person who wasn't blood that has always been there for me my whole life. Or at least most of it.
When we finally let go of each other we were smiling. I grinned at him. “We both know you wouldn't have done that. I’m your best tagger,” I said, smiling like the Cheshire cat. I knew he hated that term. I just waited for it…
“We are not taggers,” he repeated for the millionth time, going all parent mode on me, scolding me like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar. I laughed, already having heard this a ridiculous number of times.
“Whatever. Where’s the rest of the team?” I asked, unable to keep a smile off of my face. Man, this job had it's serious upsides.
“Gathered outside in the back,” he replied, turning around and walking away to join them. “Finish up and meet us out there,” he added over his shoulder as I turned back to the cans in my bag. I added a small paintbrush and my little cups of silver and gold paint before closing it up and slinging it over my shoulder. As I walked out of the room the cans clinked together in my bag, bringing me to a whole different place and time. A time with happiness in it.
I closed my eyes and thought about the last thing Kyle said to me before he died, tears prickling at my eyes. He had told me as I did a little freelance graffiti on the walls of our apartment building, “Paint my name in silver and gold across the city,” before rushing away, and although I had not known it at the time, the roof. I blinked the tears away, refusing to relive what happened next. From then on I had alway painted his name in small silver and gold letters on every mural I worked on. It was my graffiti tag, the way I signed my work. In fact, everyone outside of my team thought that my name was Kyle Stame. That name must be written across the city about fifty times, and I wasn't anywhere near done yet..
When I was done gathering my supplies I went around to the back of the warehouse and out through the side exit, emerging out into the sunlight by the old open top Jeep that we used to transport us and our stuff to and from jobs. There had been a huge debate when buying a company vehicle, because Penny, Click, and Max wanted a van like every company had, and Shane, Jax, and I wanted a Jeep which was more fitting with our line of work. It had become this whole big thing where Jax, Shane, and I even had to do a few jobs ourselves because the others wouldn't come within twenty feet of us.
So now we had a grey Jeep with plain black graffiti letters on it for our company name, which was Spraysters.
“Yo! Little red! Put a move on it. I want to get over to that LGBT place and work some Spraysters magic!” Jax, my new best friend, colleague, and possibly more, called out, a grin splitting his face as we clasped hands and did one of those bro hug things. I smiled, breathing in the old spice scent that clung to Jax, and reveling in how he could match my passion for LGBT causes. He too had lost a person near and dear to his heart because of the stresses of being homosexual. His situation in that sense was even worse, because the person was his older sister. One night, after a long time of hanging out and sharing stories, he had told me what happened to her. He said that she had hung herself on her dorm room at her fancy prep school, and it caused his parents to become distant and make them lose their jobs and move out here to the dingy backwaters of Seattle. As horrid as it was to think it though, he was lucky. He didn't have to witness the death. Kyle threw himself off of a building in front of me, and I would never get that picture out of my head, since it was practically branded to my vision. Just one more demon waiting for the closing of my eyes.
I shoved those thoughts out of my mind and got a smile to come onto my face as I continued hugging Jax. No bad thoughts now.
“As lovely as it is to watch you two lovebirds have a moment and make the rest of us feel awkward, we really do have to go,” Click said, a smile of amusement filling his face as Jax and I broke apart, a blush forming on both of our faces. I kicked the toes of my boots against the ground, for a short while, and when I looked up I was surprised to see the rosy color creeping up Jax’s neck, because why would he be embarrassed to hug a girl he had no romantic interest in?
I quickly masked my surprise, looking at Click, laughing and saying, “Not our fault that you feel awkward during friendly displays of affection,” I said nonchalantly, while internally I was hoping to to the gods that I had sounded casual enough. It was always like this when someone mentioned Jax and I in any way other than friends. I tried to play it off like it was nothing, but I was always hyper aware of every movement I made, and everything I said. It was terrible.
“I mean, it kinda is though, for being the one to make us feel awkward in the first place,” Click pointed out, raising one of his eyebrows at me. I laughed, less forced this time, my blush forgotten about, while Jax’s face was only getting redder as he scratched his neck. Maybe he was embarrassed that anyone would think he would like a short, clumsy, broken girl like me.
We all piled into the Jeep, Shane taking the driver’s seat, Penny calling shotgun, forcing Click, Jax, Max, and I to squeeze into the backseat, making the awkward situation of me having to sit on Jax’s lap because there were only three seats. Wonderful. Just wonderful. My blush returned full force, my face matching red hair at this point.
“Everyone buckle up. Naomi… hold on to something. We are going through the rough part of town,” Shane announced, revving the engine and pulling out of the back alley. The sudden movement made me lurch backwards though, right into Jax.
“Woah. Little red! Don't damage the goods,” Jax began, circling his face with his hands. Then a mischievous glint lit up his gorgeous cobalt eyes. “And I know you’re falling for me, but that was a little much, don't you think?” He finished, a smirk plastered onto his face, all shyness from earlier gone now, replaced with the usual arrogance. I stuck my tongue out at him, my brain not working enough to do anything else. Jax laughed, his black hair falling into his face. He was wrong though. I wasn't falling for him. I had already fallen. Hard.
“Stop flirting, would you! I can't even get out of this situation because we are literally trapped together. Just say you like each other and be done,” Click said, throwing his hands up in exasperation.
“If I didn't know better I would say that you like me Click, with all that you have been noticing lately,” I teased him, even though the whole car knew he like Penny.
“I have to be good at noticing things. You had to be good at that to hear the tumblers clicking into place while picking locks,” Click defended himself, referencing his old job and his nickname.
“Yeah, well, you weren't a very good at it considering you got sent here as community service after being caught for like the fifth time,” I pointed out, causing him to scrunch his face at me.
“But it led me here,” he said in honesty.
“True. Without your horrible lock picking skills we wouldn't know the artistic talents of Click,” I finished as we arrived.
“Alright you two. Cut it out. We are getting paid a lot for this job, so let's not scare them off with your bickering,” Shane told us before cutting the engine and getting out, followed by everyone in the backseat. We all grabbed our bags and headed over to where the people who hired us were waiting, Max in the lead, practically bouncing with all of his fourteen year old energy. He was the youngest of us, everyone else being seventeen or sixteen.
We met with the people hiring us, and they pointed out the wall we got to use, and told us their slogan, which they wanted painted onto it. Respect the different. I thought it was a little odd, considering the point of this organization was to make people who fit into the LGBT category feel normal, but it wasn't my job to critique them, it was my job to paint for them.
We set to it, the paint spiraling out of my cans as I did the rainbow lines that dipped and curved and tangled all over the mural, coming out of the black cursive slogan that Jax was working on, and avoiding the black and white faces of every type that the rest of the team was making. We painted for what felt like forever, and when night fell, we painted by streetlight. Finally everyone else finished signing their tags, a crown for Jax, a name for Click, a penny for Penny, an eye for Max, and a triangle for Shane, and it was only me still working, lost in the paint spiraling to the top of the wall, so I told them to go without me. When I finally painted my silver and gold Kyle in the bottom corner it was nearing 3:00 am.
As I sat on the curb waiting for a taxi to come by and bring me home, I realized that I had never gotten a text from Kenna telling me that she was home. I quickly typed out a text on my little flip phone, hoping that the incoming text noise would wake her up if she was asleep. No answer.
I called her, knowing the sound would wake her up. No answer. Freaking out now, I ran to the center of the road, knowing that if Kenna was okay she would answer her phone.
When headlights came up to me I jumped in front of the car, all thoughts of my safety being pushed out of my head by thoughts of Kenna’s, and I got the car to stop.
“Mister! I think my little sister is in trouble. Can I get a ride?” I asked this stranger. He leaned over and popped the door open. I hopped in, firing up the only app on my phone, which was the tracking app. It took a few moments to pinpoint Kenna’s phone but when it did I gave the driver the address, which wasn't ours, and he drove away.
The first thing that hit me when we pulled onto the street was the sound. Then the lights. The police sirens and their flashing blue and red lights. I think my heart stopped beating in that moment.
I got out of the car, sprinting to the house, the pit of dread in my stomach getting as I realized that it was the house Kenna was at. And even bigger when I saw all the police cars and ambulances.
I stopped, my body not functioning well enough to move as I listened to the news caster reporting live on the scene. I was too in shock to catch most of what she said, but I heard snippets like, “Two friends hanging out,” and “armed home invasion,” and the one that made my blood run cold. “One casualty.”
I lurched forward to the police barricade, trying to find out what was happening. I heard the officer in charge say, “Can anyone identify this body?” as he pulled down the sheet covering a corpse on the stretcher. Staring back at me was the lifeless face of my little sister. A sob came out of my throat, drawing the officer's attention. “Do you know this girl?” he asked me, his eyes softening.
“Little sister,” I managed to choke out, and I would never forget his eyes in that moment. I would never forget his eyes as they told me that nothing in my life would ever be the same again. And he was right. What was I without Kenna? A graffiti artist? I was no one. Because when no one in the world cares about you, did you really even exist at all?
I caught a few more words as my world shattered into a million shards of reality all around me, every noise becoming a dull humming and my vision going blurry like in all of the movies. I heard the officer saying that Kenna, “died a hero,” to me. Tears flowed freely down my cheeks at this point, falling in slow motion before pitter pattering onto the pavement. I was all alone in this world now. I was all alone.
The paramedics gave me one of those “comforting” orange blankets, the ones they gave shock victims, and I wrapped myself in it as the lines between reality and oblivion vanished for me, sucking me into a dark abyss of nothingness. If I had not been so controlling of Kenna she wouldn't have wanted to rebel and she wouldn't be dead. I shouldn't have thought I would keep her safe by controlling her. I shouldn't have controlled her. Those words bounced around in my head, feeling like sledgehammers to the brain. Universe: 4, Naomi: -1,000,000.
I remembered my dream from the other night, and how Kenna had died in there too. The my mind wandered to my mother and I thought about the last thing she ever said to me.
“They always told me that my dreams would come true, but they forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams too.” And I guess my nightmares had come true. I was alone. I was all alone. My baby sister was gone and I was alone.
So I did the only thing left to do.