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| “Go on, jump,” he taunted her. “What’re you afraid of?”|
Jess sighed, looking from Nicholai behind her to the pavement below her. If she jumped, she could be killed, but she ran the same risk if she stayed.
“Well, whatcha gonna do?” he smirked, knowing she was trapped as he stood there twirling his knife.
How had she ended up like this? Athens, New Jersey was supposed to be a safe town. All she had wanted to do was stop in at school after work to get her things from her locker. On her way out, she had stepped into the bathroom. As she stood at the sink, washing her hands, someone else had entered the room. She looked up. It had been that freak, Nicholai Kahlo.
“Get lost, kid,” she had sneered. She was answered by the click of the lock and a broad smile spreading across Nicholai’s face as he pulled out a switchblade.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” he said softly, with almost maniacal calmness. With that, he had leapt at her, silver blade reflecting dancing stars across the ceiling.
Somehow, she had managed to kick him in the stomach. When she opened her eyes, he was on the floor, but quickly recovering. Looking quickly around her, she determined that the window was a closer, and therefore faster, means of escape. Safer, too, since she wouldn’t have to pass him. She had forgotten that she was on the third floor.
Of course, she remember quickly enough when she felt the cool evening air on her face and looked down at the parking lot, much too far below. She was already halfway out the window and was about to go back and try her luck with the door when she heard Nicholai stand up behind her.
She cursed herself silently.
“Hah, now this is amusing,” had been Nicholai’s words. “Will Little Miss Perfect be trying her luck with the pavement or my blade this evening?”
“Bastard,” she spat at him.
“Such language!” he retorted, in an almost perfect imitation of their vice-principal.
She almost laughed, then caught herself. What was she doing?! Laughing at some freak that was threatening her with a knife?
Which brought her to where she was now...sitting half-in half-out of a third story window at her school.
“Why me?” she questioned him. “What have I ever done to you?”
“Get comfortable, honey, ‘cause that’s gonna be a looooong list.” He laughed mirthlessly. “You and your friends have made my life hell for me since you moved here. It was fine before you came; people stuck mostly to taunting me behind my back and the occasional shove. I was content just to read in the bathroom through lunch. It had worked for me for the previous nine years.
“Then this past November you come strutting in and within a week you’re all of the teachers’ favorite, going out with the captain of the football team, have been accepted into the popular group and the cheerleading squad, and, for some reason, hate me with a passion. What was it? The blue hair, the baggy pants, the obscure music?
“Well, whatever the reason, you decided to hate me and have no problem showing it, as you proved when I walked in here. Somewhere along the line, others see this and decide; ‘Oh, Jessica Alvarez hates him, let’s all hate him too!’
“So then it begins: the taunting me, calling me all the names they can think of. Names I don’t mind, I can block them out easily enough. But then the beatings start; a whole group of jocks cornering me against the building, one or two holding me while the others punch me, kick me, throw things at me – I get enough of that at home, thanks.” He stopped, a look of pain clouding his dark eyes.
“Y-you get beat up?” she stammered.
“No,” he said sarcastically. “I just decided to run repeatedly into my locker and then lie down on broken glass.” He lifted the bottom of his black hooded sweatshirt revealing a well-muscled torso marred by countless scars.
“Not all of these are from them,” he explained. “Most of the burns are from home, except for the one on my left arm.” He rolled up his sleeve to show her. “These ones are from your ‘wonderful’ boyfriend, Zach.”
“Zach hurts you?” she exclaimed. “He would never do that, he’s way too sweet.”
“Ah, so these don’t exist?” he asked, gesturing to the round burns on his arm.
“Or this?” he said, pointing to a scar that ran across his abdomen.
“And of course, none of these do,” he said, pointing to three vivid purple bruises standing out sharply against his pale skin.
“He…he really did that to you?”
A sharp look left her with no doubts. “And all because of you, babe.”
“But what did I do?” she asked petulantly.
“Let’s see…the burns were from you complaining to him that ‘that freak Nicholai’ was staring at your chest (which, by the way, I wasn’t). The slashing my stomach was because I was ‘watching your ass.’ I didn’t even get a reason for the bruises, he just had his friends hold me so I couldn’t run and used me as his personal punching bag until he was tired. Then he spit on me, said ‘That was for Jessie,’ and walked away.”
“Why didn’t you tell somebody?”
“Hmm… the vice-principal laughed in my face, the guidance office said there was nothing they could do, my dad belted me for not fighting back, and I’ve been beat up by too many pigs to trust any of them-“
“Why would a police officer beat you up?”
“Resisting arrest,” he smirked. “'Possession of illegal substances,' tell me – when did oregano become illegal?”
“You were arrested for having oregano?” she asked naively.
“No, I was beat up for having ‘pot;’ the oregano. I was arrested when my knife fell out of my pocket for ‘carrying a concealed weapon.’”
She couldn’t help but wonder if the knife was the same one he was threatening her with now. As if he had read her thoughts, he continued.
“In juvie for a month before I got a trial that time. The jury decided I was innocent. I guess I looked more innocent back then, barely 13, brown hair, glasses. They were furious when I got let off, though. Anytime one of them sees me alone now, they jump me. I can’t fight back or I’ll be arrested for assault. I can’t run, or I’m ‘resisting arrest.’ I just have to stand there and take it.
"Anyways, they kept my knife. One of them had the nerve to use it against me one time. I flipped out. Hence, I was ‘assaulting a police officer.’ Got another two months for that. I just got this blade last month. Been waiting to try it out.” He grinned malevolently, starting towards her.
“That’s got to be harsh,” she offered, “with your dad beating on you and all. Things are tough all over, you know.”
He snorted. What could she, princess of the sophomore class, with perfect clothes, perfect makeup, perfect body, sweet car…what could she possibly have gone through? How could she know the terror of arriving home to a father in a drunken rage, a father who threw you against a wall, kicking, punching, or burning any part of your body that you left exposed? All he did was smirk and say roughly, “Right, I can see how much you’ve been affected, perfect makeup, expensive clothes…tough all over, there.”
“Just because someone puts up a good façade doesn’t mean they’re not hurting, scared or sad. They just don’t want pity, so they don’t show it,” she snapped. She would have moved farther away, but as she shifted her weight she realized she was still balanced precariously on a window ledge. She ended up trying to move subtly back and lunge forward at the same time. As she looked up from the tile floor, she saw Nicholai doubled over in silent laughter.
“It’s not funny, you know,” she said in a dignified voice, still sprawled on the cool blue tiles. “Help me up.”
He moved forward, clasped her proffered hand, and pulled her up. They just stood there silently for a moment, watching each other. Then as if they remembered the roles they were in, she moved back to crouch in a corner, while he stepped back a few steps and flicked open his knife, drawing it across the back of his hand.
“Don’t do that!” she exclaimed, shocked at seeing the casual way he watched the blood well up.
“Why not?” he replied lazily. “Keeps me calm; helps me think.”
“Don’t you get hurt enough by other people without having to hurt yourself?” she shot back. His eyes hardened and she knew she had said the wrong thing.
“Don’t ever assume things about me!” he shouted. “They’re weak, I’m strong, and this is what makes me strong! They wouldn’t be able to handle it…” He kept shouting along those lines for quite some time, as Jess shrank farther and farther into the corner.
She stared at him, wide-eyed, not sure what to think. He noticed her staring and smiled ruefully.
“What, do you think I’m crazy now?” he asked.
She shook her head nervously, and was relieved when his eyes softened somewhat. “But why do you do that to yourself?” she questioned. “I mean, doesn’t it hurt?”
“I don’t know,” he murmured. “I’ve been doing it for a couple years now; I guess it’s just easier to care for a physical wound than an emotional one.” He turned away, embarrassed, but not before she saw him looking like a lost puppy, his dark eyes begging to be understood. It was then he decided he really didn’t want to hurt Jessie, in fact, he found himself wanting to be her friend. He hated himself for stealing her innocence.
“Come here,” he said moving towards her, intending to help her up. She shrank back, hazel eyes wide and terrified as a single tear carved a path down her dusty cheek. He stopped; the tear on her cheek was like a slap in the face. He shook himself mentally. Of course she was terrified! He had just been threatening her with a knife! He probably hadn’t even remembered to put the knife away. He looked down. Nope, of course not, it was still out, pristine silver surface reflecting scattered stars across the white ceiling. He shut the blade and stuck it back in his pocket.
“See? I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, stepping back and unlocking the door. Her frightened eyes darted from Nicholai to the door as she tried to figure out if it was a trick. He smiled sadly.
“I’m sorry, Jessie,” she thought she heard him whisper as he slipped out the door.
She sat there trembling for what felt like hours, uncertain if he would be back. At last, relatively sure he wouldn’t, she got up carefully, wincing as she discovered her leg had cramped from being in one position for so long.
As she massaged her leg, an idea hit her with such force that she almost cried out. What if he was waiting just outside of the door for her to be lulled into a false sense of security? Then as she came out, she would walk unsuspectingly into his knife. She shuddered as pictures of this scene played in her head.
Well, the sensible part of her mind told her, there was only one way to be sure: to go out in the hallway. As she looked fearfully at the door, the distance between it and her seemed to stretch for miles.
She forced herself to creep slowly to the door and put her ear against it; listening with all her being for any sound he might make. Was that a cough she heard? No, it was only the air conditioning system turning itself off for the night. She tensed certain she heard footsteps. Calling on courage she didn’t know she possessed, she flung open the door to face – nothing.
She stumbled down to her car and sat there, shivering, although the air outside was warm. She drove home cautiously, struggling with conflicting emotions. After what had just happened, she should hate Nicholai, shouldn’t she? He had locked himself in a room with her with every intention of killing her, yet he had walked away leaving her physically unharmed. But for some reason she couldn’t fathom, she felt herself wanting to apologize to him.
Nicholai walked home in the darkening evening with his emotions in turmoil. He had planned carefully for this night, and had been fully prepared to make her suffer the consequences for what she had done to him. It would have been his revenge for all the beatings.
He sighed, knowing his father would be furious at him for coming home late, unless this was one of the rare occasions that he was sober. He hoped his father had passed out from drinking too much. He turned into his driveway and looked up. No such luck, the house was lit up like a Christmas tree, and judging from the yelling and screaming coming from inside, his father was already in a drunken rage, and might have started beating on his girlfriend. He seemed to have a new one at home every week since Nicholai’s mother had left three years ago.
Nicholai sighed heavily again and trotted inside to play the rescuer. He had never figured out why, it only made his father more furious at him, but he always tried to stop his dad from hurting his girlfriends. Opening the front door, he was greeted by the stench of alcohol and the sight of broken glass everywhere. He looked around in dismay. His father must have been really drunk; it looked like he had put his foot through the TV screen and broken every glass he had used. He stood still, listening for where his father might be.
As the screaming grew louder, he realized it was coming from upstairs. He ran up the stairs and followed the sound to the end of the hall. He flung open the door to his father’s bedroom. His father looked at him with bloodshot eyes, distracted momentarily from whatever he had been doing to the small brown-haired woman he had pinned against the wall.
“Get out!” he roared, black hair matted and disheveled, eyes wild.
“C’mon Dad, calm down,” Nicholai cajoled. Some nights he was able to talk his father into calming down. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those nights.
“Calm down?” his father bellowed. “Why the hell should I calm down? I’m fine!”
“Dad, knock it off,” Nicholai said warningly.
“Don’t you take that tone with me!” his father yelled, starting towards him, forgetting the woman who had now fallen to the floor.
Shit, Nicholai thought, it looks like she either passed out or he knocked her out.
“Whassamatta, old man, don’t think you can take me anymore?” taunted Nicholai, walking back towards his room. He hoped if he kept his father occupied for long enough his girlfriend would wake up and get herself out.
As he opened the door to his room, he heard his father crashing down the hall after him. Good, he thought determinedly as his father stumbled into his room. He looked at his father, who was grinning madly.
“I’ll teach you to mess with my affairs, boy,” his father muttered, reaching into his pocket. Nicholai flinched, knowing his father was going for his lighter. His father saw, and laughed.
“Aw,” he slurred, “you scared?”
“No,” Nicholai lied firmly, standing up straighter.
Suddenly his father fell on him, pinning Nicholai’s body down, as he fumbled with the lighter.
“I’ll teach you,” his father muttered, finally managing to ignite the lighter.
Nicholai trembled slightly. He could never bring himself to fight back, although if he did, he could probably win. As his father brought the lighter closer and closer to his skin, something inside Nicholai snapped.
“No,” he whispered, lashing out with his arm. The back of his hand hit his father across the face. His shocked father stumbled back, confused, and Nicholai leapt up and began to wrestle for the lighter. As his father tightened the grip his sweaty hand had on the lighter, he tripped and fell, his head hitting the wood floor with a resounding crack as the lighter flew across the room onto Nicholai’s bed. For a moment, he thought everything would be alright. He turned back to his father and began trying to wake him up. Taking a break, he took a deep breath and started coughing. Looking around, Nicholai froze in horror as he realized what was happening. He just stood there, looking from the fire to his father.
This is all my fault, he thought. The one time I try to fight back look what happens.
He ran to his father and tried to pull him across the floor, back muscles screaming, expressing the pain and horror Nicholai couldn’t. After a few precious minutes of pulling, he found that he had barely moved his father at all, and the flames were definitely getting closer.
Nicholai ran down to the bathroom, grabbed a blanket from the linen closet, and threw it into the bathtub, turning the water up as high as it would go. As soon as it was fully soaked, he ran back to his bedroom and threw it over his prone father, tucking it in firmly around him. He looked at the flames. If he called 911 right then, they might be able to get there soon enough to save his father.
“I love you, Dad,” he sobbed, not even noticing he was crying. He knew he couldn’t wait any longer to leave, so he turned and ran down the stairs, feeling like his heart was being ripped from his chest with every step. Halfway down the stairs, he realized he didn’t know if his dad’s girlfriend had ever left. He ran back up the stairs and down the hall, coughing from the smoke that was beginning to seep under the door. He flung open the door to his father’s room for the second time that night. She was still there, lying in a heap on the floor. Without hesitating he threw her over his shoulder, ran back down the hallway, down the stairs, throwing open the front door and running out. He put her gently down on the sidewalk, and fumbled in his pocket for his cell phone. Fingers shaking, he dialed 911.
“Hello, this is 911, what is your emergency?” a cheerful voice on the other end asked.
“Fire – 5 Walnut Ave – my father’s still inside!” Nicholai gasped.
“Calm down,” the voice soothed. “You said there’s a fire?”
“Yes!” he said impatiently. “Five Walnut Avenue and my father’s still trapped inside!”
“Alright, I’m sending over a fire truck and an ambulance, they should be there in a few minutes. Can you tell me your name?”
“Nicholai, Nicholai Kahlo,” he said worriedly, looking at the flames sprouting from the window of his room.
“Is there anyone there with you, Nicholai?” the infuriatingly calm voice asked.
“Just my father’s girlfriend,” he said, still watching the flames, “but she passed out.”
To his great relief he heard sirens in the distance. “They’re almost here, I can hear them,” he said excitedly, glad for the first time in his life to hear sirens coming towards him.
His dad's girlfriend moaned and her eyes fluttered open.
"Billy?" she said dazedly. "Billy? What's going on?"
"Billy.....had an accident," Nicholai said softly as he knelt beside her. "I'm his son, Nicholai."
"W-what happened?" she asked nervously looking around. "Why am I outside and - " she broke off abruptly, seeing for the first time the firey inferno that still bore some resemblance to the Kahlo's house.
"My God," she murmured, totally stunned. "What did he do? Is he alright? How did I get out here?" She paused to take a breath, and Nicholai took that moment of silence to try to start to explain.
"He was trying to light a cigarette, and he passed out. The lighter fell out of his hand, and set a pile of my clothes on fire. I tried to get him out of there, but I couldn't move him, so I covered him with a wet blanket. I don't know if he's alright, but a fire truck is on its way. You're out here because I carried you out, you had passed out or something in his room," he explained as gently as he could. No one besides Jessie knew what his father did to him, and he intended to keep it that way.
"What's your name, anyway?" Nicholai asked her.
"Patti," she replied, beginning to sob.
"Oh, c'mon, he'll be fine," Nicholai tried to reassure her. She carried on crying silently, oblivious to his concern.
He was staring soundlessly into the inferno that was once his home when the firefighters finally showed up and began to battle the flames. A police car pulled up behind the fire truck, and a female officer he had never seen before stepped out and gazed at the angry blaze.
She walked briskly towards them, startling Nicholai out of his silent reverie.
"Nicholai?" she asked.
He nodded mutely.
"Is everyone out of the house, Nicholai?" she asked.
He shook his head again as the tears started to flow freely. He was disgusted by this show of weakness; his utter inability to keep the tears back.
"Who's still in the house, and where are they?" she asked quickly.
"My dad, he's upstairs, it's the first door on the right. Do you think he'll be ok?" he said, wiping the tears angrily from his face. He rarely ever cried, and he didn't intend to start now. "I put a wet blanket over him," he continued, remembering.
The woman jogged over to the firemen to relay what Nicholai had just told her. Looking grim, one of the firemen put on all his gear, oxygen tank and all. He had scarcely entered the building as a fierce groaning was heard, and the roof collapsed, leaving a cavernous maw gaping at the sky.
author's note: I still need a title for this. If anyone has any ideas, could they send them in a reveiw? If I use your title you'll get....something. Probably gift points, but I dunno how many. Couple hundred? A thousand? Well, there's one way to find out! Send me ideas!!
Also, this is still a work in progress, sorry to those who may have been confused, I'm updating every couple pages I write...