The rest of the week was very similar to Monday. I listened in class, to my teachers’ noticeable surprise. Lunch started with the bravery to reconnect to lost friendships until I chickened out and made my way to the usual, lonely table in the corner. Ben joined me each day, so I wasn’t too saddened by my table. It was more intriguing, my friendship with Ben, than it was moving toward anything resembling a relationship.
Yes, he was attractive, and kind, and patient. But I had too much baggage to drag anyone into a place in my broken heart. I wouldn’t put anyone through having to deal with me. I still felt the need to keep him and others at arms length, but I was trying, slowly, to feel something. But no matter how sure I was about my current mental status, it always felt like I was walking a tight rope, waiting to fall into complete insanity.
“May I sit here?” Ben stood across from his chair with a grin in his smile. His smile made my knees weak and I was happy to be sitting down.
“Ben,” I said as I silently cursed my heart for jumping at the sound of his name. “You’ve asked that every day this week, you’d think by Friday you would know the answer!”
“I just want to make sure.” He mumbled
“So,” he began, as he sat down in his chair, “when will my bank be open again?” His smile melted me again.
“Next week,” I said, taking a bite of hamburger to muffle any distortion the melting might have caused. I swallowed and continued, “They called me last night to ask if I was going to sue them.”
“Well, not in so many words, but they made their intentions clear.” I mused, remembering the unpleasant man on the phone and the legal jargon he had spun at me. “I had to tell my story, once again.” I rolled my eyes, unable to count the number of times I’d spoken each word of that day to various people: my dad, my teachers, my grandma whom my dad had mistakenly called in desperation.
“Ah. Well, that kinda sucks, that you have to relive it for them.” He picked up his pizza and chewed thoughtfully.
Conversation with Ben had been easier than I had ever thought. I never needed to hold up my end for long, and I liked that. It had been two years since I had a real conversation with anyone, and I was definitely rusty. But each word out of his mouth was a true reflection of his personality, and I never doubted anything he said. Easy, comfortable… I bit my tongue at the direction my thoughts were taking me.
“It’s not bad,” I replied to his concern, rubbing my swollen tongue on my front teeth “I really don’t remember much after…” I trailed off. This part always felt like a lie, mostly because it wasn’t stored away in my memory like the rest of the event. It hadn’t been hard to tell the attorney this part, but for some reason it felt like betraying Ben to lie to his face, even when I believed the lie myself.
“After what?” Ben looked at me cautiously. His eyes were so comfortable.
“Can I tell you something?” I continued before he could answer, I knew I could tell him anything, whether I wanted to or not, “Supposedly I got hit on the head, and blacked out. I mean, that’s what the doctor, the nurse, even my dad say. But I feel like I’m lying, or missing something. I wish I could remember him hitting me, but it all went black after Sarah got shot.” I slumped back in my chair, and stared at my hands, afraid to look him in the eyes. I knew I sounded crazy. “The weirdest part,” I gulped and finished in a low voice, “There wasn’t a bump on my head in the hospital. Not even a bruise.”
I kept my eyes down for a long time, and Ben stayed silent across the table from me. After a few breaths, I overwhelmed my pride and looked up at him. He had his head in his hands, and he was breathing heavily. It appeared as though he was upset about something, but it surely wasn’t my insane conspiracy theory. He was probably upset that he had wasted a week hanging out with a lunatic.
“Ben?” I whispered.
He looked up at me, and composed himself till he sitting just like he had before my confession. He reached across his plate and picked up his pizza again, and slowly took a bite.
“Weird.” He agreed, his mouth full of pepperoni.
We got up and parted ways, saying our brief goodbyes, him heading to History, me to Algebra. It was unlike him to lose composure. In the past few days we had begun getting to know each other, I came to learn a lot about him. He was very optimistic, and always turned whatever story I was telling to show me the good. It could be annoying, especially Wednesday when I just really wanted to vent about the math test I was about to take and he reminded me that I had studied hard and I knew the material better than the teacher. I huffed now remembering the apology I’d had to give him in Art when I finished the test before anyone else. He had just smiled and nodded. Humble, that was another word for him.
Dang it, I thought, rolling my eyes at the seemingly impossibility of my mind, stop it Audrey.
I walked into Art already beginning to feel the stress in my shoulders. The past week had been sleep depriving, and I knew it was because of this class. Along with Monday’s assignment, I had painted a pink balloon, what looked like a man standing in a room of light, and two dark figures. I shuddered at the nightmares the most recent one had given me. I hoped half-heartedly that today’s word would not induce the random shapes of the past days.
“Okay class,” Mrs. Martinez said after the bell rang and we settled down. “You have all done so well with this assignment, and I have a great word to end this week!”
She walked over to the board, and wrote the word as she spoke. “Hope.”
My heart skipped a beat. I had pushed this word far from me, even with the new mantra, that it created a lump in my throat and I tried to swallow. This was what I had been searching for every morning in the mirror for the past two years (excluding this week), and now I was expected to narrow it down and paint it’s definition. The white canvas stared back at me expectantly, intimidating me.
I closed my eyes, and did what I had done every day this week: I let my mind drift off and waited for the image I was to draw today, timid at the coming nightmares, but willing to try.
These paintings I had created were not only confusing and scary, they were the best things I had ever produced. It was hard to think about, but I would trade sleep any day for the talent induced by the nightmares.
It took longer today than it had previously this week, but it came, like it always did. This one had me concentrating harder. It came in jagged pieces. I squeezed my eyes, putting the puzzle back together piece by piece.
I picked up my brush, and, through squinted eyes, began to paint.
The hour flew by, and it was the bell that told me my painting was finished. Taking a deep breath, I opened my eyes.
It was… beautiful. My jaw dropped as I appreciated my talent, and the image that had surfaced.
“Ah, an angel!” Mrs. Martinez crooned next to me, absently cleaning the seat next to me. I looked around, realizing the classroom was empty. “A great symbol of hope!” She smiled, proud of my work.
I turned my head back to the painting to admire it again. The man, features indistinguishable, with brilliant wings protruding from his back, and white light shimmering all around him.
I gasped and wiped the single tear from my eye. Why was I crying?
“I think I’ll take this one home.” I mumbled at Mrs. Martinez, and she nodded in approval, already across the room.
I was half out the door, deciding if I should wait till I was outside to run, when I was caught on the elbow by a warm hand.
“Wait.” It was Ben. This excited me beyond what it should have, but I caught a gasp in my throat when I realized he had been waiting for me.
“I…wanted to walk you home. Have you been crying?” His voice was low so the crowds of students around us, eager to get home, couldn’t hear us.
I turned my head up to look in his face, so warm, so caring. “No, well, yes, it’s just…” I held up my painting to show him.
He stared at it for a long time, his lips pressed firmly in a thin white line, his eyes wide with shock.
He was quiet for too long. “I know it’s not the best, but I don’t really know what…” I mumbled at him.
“No,” He interrupted me. “I think it’s…” He looked me straight in the eyes, and my breath was gone, lost in my chest where my heart now beat francitally.
He stopped what he was saying, pressing his lips harder together.
“Can we talk? Somewhere… private?” His deep blue eyes probed mine, searching again.
“Sure.” Was all I could say. I walked in front of him, leading us out of the school. My feet must have known where to go, because my mind was too wrapped up in questions.
What did he want to know? Had I said something I shouldn’t have? Did he finally see the crazy in me? Was he going to apologize for wasting both of our times, leading me on like this?
We got to my house in silence. I opened the door, and walked into the living room, my hands still clutching the angel painting. I sat down on my couch, making sure to keep my eyes from his, afraid of the tears whelming my eyes. I put the painting down with the angel facing the wall.
Ben paced twice, stopped right in front of me. He knelt in front of me, and placed both his hands methodically on the sides of my arms. It wasn’t till now I noticed how hot his skin was. It was burning me, but the fire only sparked something in my chest. My heart skipped again.
I watched his face as he slowly opened his mouth and took a deep breath.
“What do you remember?”
“A-about w-what?” My words were useless when he held me like this.
“Audrey,” He spoke my name with such softness. I couldn’t decide if I liked him speaking my name or me speaking his name better.
I replied by simply raising my eyebrows. Was it that my words weren’t working or that I wanted to hear his voice more than mine?
“I need you to think, “ He spoke slowly, thinking each word through. “Think about last Friday, at the bank. Do you remember me giving you my number?”
Was that what this was all about? Were his feelings still hurt by that? The only reason I hadn’t called, well besides misplacing my backbone, was I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere.
“Yes, I told you I was sorry about not calling you, but you didn’t…” I started to argue, wanting him to smile again. To be Ben. My Ben.
NO! I thought, chastising myself brutally.
“No, Audrey, it’s not about that. Keep thinking. Remember the Gunman?”
I nodded my head.
“Remember him shooting Sarah?”
I looked down and nodded my head.
He didn’t continue so I looked up at him. His face was twisted into some odd emotion I couldn’t place. Annoyance?
“Yes, but then it’s all black, I told you!”
He stood up and began pacing around my small living room faster, his hands on his forehead. He was muttering to himself, but I couldn’t tell all of what he was saying.
“…I can….but then they…and her….she has to….but they…” He stopped and bent down to me again.
“I need to tell you the truth. I wish I could lie to you, but I think I might actually go crazy if I keep lying to you.” He was so serious I just stared at him.
He suddenly wrapped his arms around me. They hugged me tight and his warmth covered every part of me. His smell invaded my nose and I breathed it in eagerly. My arms reacted instinctively and wrapped around his waist. From every point where his skin touched mine, a quiet light penetrated my body. It spread up and inward until it touched my frantic heart. My heartbeat was in my ears, as my mind was the final resting place for this weird little sunshine he had given me.
The fog, the fog I hadn’t even known was there, abruptly lifted. I could see everything, everything I had lost and never knew I had lost.
I saw the man shooting Sarah, I saw him pointing the gun at me, I saw the light – oh the beautiful white light that was the outward expression of this inward warmth. I saw Ben, I saw Ben’s wings!
gasped out loud at my own memory, and Ben pulled away a few inches and looked down at me.
“I remember” I said, barely a whisper.