He didn’t come back. I spent the entire weekend closed up in my bedroom waiting for him but he never came. I’d gotten up Monday morning and dressed with such desperation I almost ran out to my car to rush off to school.
When my mother asked, “Is Leif not picking you up today?” I stopped with my hand on the doorknob, unsure how to answer. I’d let his calls go to voicemail most of the weekend.
After listening to his pleading messages I’d finally called him and reassured him I was just in bed, sick. He would be expecting to take me to school this morning. I forced myself to sit down and eat my breakfast while I waited ten more minutes for Leif to arrive. Somehow, I managed to maintain the appearance of patience until I walked in the front doors of the school. I couldn’t feel him. He wasn’t here. Kendra’s pouty, red lips reassured me that he wasn’t hiding from me.
He just wasn’t here. Each class that went by without him felt like an ever-expanding black hole in my world. Leif watched me with a mix of concern and frustration I knew he was trying to conceal. Once the last bell rang I walked out of the library and headed for home. I needed him to be there.
But he wasn’t. He stayed away for two more days.
The moment I walked into English Literature on Thursday, I felt him. The tingling warmth I’d grown accustomed to was strong due to its four day absence. I looked to the back of the room and there he sat, giving Kendra his crooked grin while tracing her jaw line with his fingertip. She giggled and he leaned closer and whispered something in her ear that caused her to throw her head back and laugh. She glanced my way and smirked triumphantly. I glanced from her to Dank who seemed to not see me at all.
He was watching her, smiling seductively. He had kissed me and left me alone, confused, and then vanished for four days.
Now, it was as if nothing had ever happened.
I stared at him, willing him to look at me, to acknowledge my presence. He didn’t. Unable to watch anymore, I turned around and left the room. Leif was still standing outside the door, where I’d left him. He was talking to Justin and glanced back at me with a surprised smile.
“Hey, did you forget something?” he asked, reaching for my hand. I shook my head, afraid the huge gaping hole Dank had just torn in my heart was visible to the world. I walked up to Leif and wrapped my arms around his waist. His arms encircled me instantly.
“I’ll talk to you later, man,” I heard him say to Justin over my head.
“What’s wrong?” he whispered in my ear as he continued to hold me. I wanted to weep because I didn’t love him. Leif loved me and he would be easy to love. He would never hurt me the way Dank just did. He was so good and honest. Why couldn’t I love him instead? I held on tighter to him, afraid he could hear my thoughts and would back away from me any moment. However, Leif couldn’t hear my fears.
He pulled me closer and began rubbing small circles on my back with his hand. Tears sprang into my eyes and I hated to cry in his arms over another guy. Leif deserved someone who could love him. I’d once hated him because I thought he believed he was too good for me. Now, I hated myself because I knew he was too good for me. I didn’t deserve him, yet I held onto him anyway. I may not love him, but I needed him. He had no idea my insides felt as if they were being ripped from my body because of the way someone or something else rejected me.
“Mr. Brown, Pagan doesn’t feel well. She needs to go to the nurse’s office. If she goes home, I’ll make sure to bring her excuse back to you myself.” Leif explained to my teacher as he held me.
“Very well, you’re taking her then?” Mr. Brown’s voice sounded concerned.
“Yes, sir.” The door closed and the hallway became quiet.
I didn’t want to see a nurse but I knew I couldn’t stand in the hallway all day letting Leif hold me. Though I was pretty positive if I wanted him to do so, he would. I stepped back just enough to gaze up at his face. His face was a mask of concern as he wiped a tear from my cheek.
“What’s wrong, Pagan?” he asked quietly.
I managed a weak smile. “I think my feeling bad just got to me. I want to feel good again. This weekend was miserable,” I admitted, needing to add some truth to what I was saying.
He nodded and pulled me back into his arms. “I’m sorry for my part in this. I can’t stand seeing you cry. It kills me,” he said softly and squeezed me. Leif was my link to the real world and my source of comfort, especially now my heart felt broken beyond repair. What scared me the most was the fact that my heart had been shattered by someone I didn’t even know.
I went to the nurse but only remained in there long enough for English Literature to end. Once I knew it would be safe to head to Algebra II, I assured Nurse Tavers I felt much better and wanted to go to class. Algebra II happened to be the only class I didn’t share with Dank or Kendra. I could make it through this one. Leif would be with me in World History so Dank’s presence would be easier to ignore.
I stepped into the hall and the eerie warning in my head that someone was watching me made the hairs on my arms stand up. I glanced both ways down the empty hallway but no one was there. Fear seemed to clog my throat and I forced myself to take a calming breath before heading toward Algebra II with my pass from Nurse Tavers. I walked faster than normal, wanting to be around other people. Being alone in the hallway brought back frightening memories.
Especially now, I wasn’t sure Dank would come to my rescue.
He wouldn’t even look at me, so why would he come to me if a soul haunted me? The sensation that someone was there watching me intensified the farther down the hall I walked.
Why did Algebra II have to be at the very end of the hall? I peeked back over my shoulder and still the hallway remained empty. A chill ran up my spine and I broke into a run. I couldn’t see her but I knew she was there. My heart pounded in my chest. I kept my eyes on the door to my Algebra II class. It still seemed so far away, yet I knew if I screamed someone would hear me. The coldness grew stronger and the air had grown thick, making it harder to breathe. I needed to stop running so I could force oxygen into my lungs but then she would have me alone that much longer.
A door opened just as my vision started becoming hazy from lack of oxygen and air immediately filled my burning lungs. The chill disappeared. I dropped my books and put my hands on my knees, gasping for more air, drawing it in and trying to steady my racing heart. Footsteps startled me and I jerked up ready to run again when I saw Dank walking away.
Whatever had been after me fled because of him. Lucky for me she didn’t realize Dank didn’t care about keeping me safe anymore. My heart no longer raced from fear but ached from the pain of rejection. I picked my books up off the ground and watched Dank’s retreating form one more time before heading into my classroom.
* * * *
“If you aren’t ready to start on my speech, I’m not in a hurry,” Leif leaned down and whispered in my ear. We ordered pizza and cuddled on the couch to watch television.
The truth of the matter was, I wasn’t in the mood to work on his speech. All I really wanted to do was enjoy the small measure of warmth from being in his arms. Sitting on the couch cuddling with my boyfriend helped me keep my fear at bay. When Leif left, I would have to go to my room alone.
The thought of facing my room after my experience in the hall today terrified me. Seeing Dank saunter away from me as if he were just another guy without a care in the world, while I stood bent over gasping for air had left me with a feeling of despair. I reached down and took Leif’s hand in mine. He was here. Granted he was no protection against psycho souls. Only Dank could stop that… that… whatever she was. But Dank wasn’t here. Leif was all I had and I wanted to bask in his presence a while longer. Leif held my hand in his and we sat in silence. I wasn’t even sure what we were watching. He would laugh out loud at times and the sound of it made me smile. I enjoyed seeing him happy.
Sometimes I forgot what happy felt like. The ringing of his phone broke into my thoughts and I jumped. I was on edge tonight.
He grinned. “It’s my phone, not the fire alarm. Jeesh, you’re jumpy tonight.” He reached into his pocket and slid it out.
“Hello?” he paused, “I’m at Pagan’s right now….I realize that, but I’m busy….We haven’t finished it yet.” Leif glanced down at me apologetically. “Okay, I’m on my way,” he said, frowning as he closed his phone. “That was my dad. He needs me to ride with him to drop mom’s car off at the mechanic’s. They’re going to work on it first thing in the morning. He can’t go to bed until he has dropped it off and he’s beat after working a double shift at the station.” I sat up and forced a smile. My mother wasn’t home yet and the thought of being alone made me want to curl up in a ball and cry. “Oh, yeah, um, go on. We can work on the speech tomorrow.”
He frowned and slipped a hand into my hair, brushing his thumb against my ear. “You look uptight. I hate to leave you all wound up.”
I smiled and shrugged. “I probably just need some sleep,” I lied, hoping he bought it. He bent down and kissed me softly. I slid my hands behind his neck and deepened the kiss. Leif took my face in his hands and tilted it to fit his perfectly. I soaked in the comfort of his closeness and his warmth. I knew I needed to let him go so he could go help his dad but I held on tighter. Letting him go meant he would leave and I would be alone. I pressed up against him without thinking about how my need for comfort would be misinterpreted for passion. A moan came from Leif’s chest and he gently pushed me back on the couch and covered me with his body.
We’d never let things go this far before. Dank always stood there, somewhere in the middle: an unseen force that had me holding Leif back at a distance. It would be wrong now to allow things to go any further. Leading Leif to believe we could go further in our relationship wasn’t fair to either of us. Dank would always be there in my mind. Leif deserved more than being second best. Even now as he pressed against me and his breathing sounded ragged, I felt nothing but security. His hand slid beneath my shirt and I knew it was time to stop. Just as he brushed the underside of my bra I broke away from the kiss.
“No,” I whispered and his hand slowly retreated. His breathing sounded labored and I could feel his heart thumping against mine. Slowly he sat up and reached for my hand to pull me up too. He ran a hand through his tousled blond hair and laughed shakily.
“Wow,” he said, smiling. I wasn’t sure what to say because “wow” wasn’t what I felt. “I’m sorry, I got carried away,” he apologized staring down at my shirt that was still hitched up just above my belly button. I tugged it down and smiled reassuringly at him. It wasn’t as if he’d just attempted to rape me.
“Don’t apologize. We just needed to stop. Your dad is waiting.”
Leif nodded, his expression still a little glazed over, and stood up. He slipped his jacket on and grabbed his books and keys.
“Are you going to be okay until your mom gets home?” he asked.
I wanted to laugh at the answer to that question. Instead, I nodded and smiled. It wasn’t like I could tell him a deranged soul wanted to kill me for reasons I didn’t understand.
The door closing behind Leif made the lead weight on my chest vibrate. I thought of going outside and standing in my yard so I could see other houses lit up and people inside them. Somehow, knowing other people where inside them sounded safe. I glanced back at the stairs and the thought of going up to my room made me tremble. I walked over and stood at the front door. I could stand here until my mom got home. If anything showed up I could take off running down the street and screaming. Granted, everyone would think I was mental, but still it would draw some attention.
“I don’t think such drastic measures will be necessary. Go on up to bed Pagan, I’ll be here.” I turned at the sound of Dank’s voice. Relief and anger washed over me simultaneously. I wanted to throw my arms around him but then I also wanted to punch him in his perfect nose.
“I’d prefer you do neither. Just go to bed.” His cold tone hurt worse than the fear. He wasn’t looking at me, but instead at a sports magazine Leif had left behind. His boots were propped up on the table as he reclined in a chair. Tears burned my eyes, but I would not cry in front of him. That was one humiliation I refused to give him. Instead I ran up the stairs.
The hot water washed away my tears as I stood in the shower much longer than necessary. In here my sobs were camouflaged. Once the tears stopped falling and all that was left was a hollow ache, I turned off the water, stepped out onto the white fluffy rug and wrapped a towel around me. I studied the girl in the mirror. Her eyes were red and puffy.
No amount of hot water could wash away the sadness they reflected. He was here and I was safe. I had something to be thankful for. Why he was here I didn’t have the courage to ask him. I did not want him to see me cry. I didn’t want him to know I’d just spent thirty minutes in the shower crying over him. He may have stolen my heart or had he taken my soul? I couldn’t be sure but I refused to let him have my pride too.
I wrapped the towel tighter around me and headed for my bedroom. I stepped inside knowing it would be empty. Dank didn’t want to be anywhere near me. A small part of me had hoped to find him sitting in the corner chair with his guitar in his hands. Fresh tears sprang to my eyes. I needed to get control over this agony or whatever it was. I reached for my cut-off sweats but I couldn’t bring myself to be near anything that reminded me of Dank and the nights he spent singing me to sleep. Instead, I took out my nightgown and slipped it over my head. It was pale pink. I smiled sadly, realizing that I’d never thought of that before. I immediately took it off and let it fall to the floor. I couldn’t wear it either. I opened my closet and pulled out a t-shirt I had of Leif’s and slipped it on. I could still smell Leif and it gave me a sense of power to be able to snub my noise at Dank and embrace Leif with my actions, even if my heart felt differently. I walked over to my bed and laid down, thinking of the music I wouldn’t hear.
The silence echoed through the house but I knew I wasn’t alone. He was watching. I didn’t want to close my eyes, hoping he would come to sit in his chair and play music just for me. The only sound I could hear was the slow drip of the faucet in the bathroom and the settling of the house. Had Dank not been downstairs, each small sound would have had me jumping and running for the door. However, with him watching over me I was able to close my eyes and be softly lulled to sleep by the silence.
Music drifted into my dreams. Hauntingly sweet music filled the hole torn in my heart. I smiled, reaching for the source of the sound but I found nothing. It was only a beautiful dream.