"Forty-two, get your head out of your ass and hustle! This isn't a walk on the beach with your girlfriend!" I hear my coach's words, but I can't seem to process them. My vision goes in and out of focus, and I stumble as I walk across the field.
"Adam, you alright?" My buddy Josh asks as he comes up to me. I must have nodded my head, because he pats me on the back a bit too hard before jogging away.
I take off my sauna of a helmet and feel the heat of the sun beat down on my face. The last thing I remember seeing is the world dip and sway before I fall over and black out.
"Payne! Payne, wake up!" Coach Evans grips my shoulder firmly and rattles me awake. I feel water run into my mouth and trickle down my throat. My head throbs with every small movement. I gradually peel my eyes open and squint at the bright sun.
"Dehydrated again, Adam. What did I tell you about getting liquids in your body, especially during practice?"
"Huh?" My eyes wander towards the source of the voice, only to find the athletic trainer hovering over me.
"Can you hear me?" She inquires a little louder than needed. The commotion around me makes my head feel like someone is ramming a sledgehammer into my skull repeatedly.
"Yes, I hear you." I mumble.
"You should be fine, but stay hydrated, Adam." She advises before carrying her fragile looking body off the field. I prop myself up on my elbow and take another sip of water, and cringe at the burning sensation it creates in my throat.
"Get him to the bench. As for the rest of you, hurry up and finish drills!" Coach Evans voice rings in my ears louder than his whistle. Two pairs of rough, meaty hands grab me by the shoulders and practically lift me up themselves. I hobble my way over to the bench, and plop myself down. I sit with my head in my hands until practice is over.
Later that night at the dinner table, an unsettling feeling sat in my stomach. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't shake it.
"I got a call from the school nurse today. You passed out during practice?" My mother says calmly. She says it in such a tone that makes me hate her even more. I glance over at my father who sits across from me. I see the anger growing on his face and I immediately lower my gaze to my untouched plate of food.
"I was dehydrated." As I speak, the words taste sour in my mouth and they barely come out as a whisper. My father slams his fist down on the table violently, making my glass of water ripple, and I flinch.
"What have I told you COUNTLESS TIMES!?" My father barks. I could immediately tell what was coming. His words slur out and he wreaks of alcohol. I try to brace myself, but no amount of time could ever prepare me.
"I know you guys don't support my football career but-"
"There is no such thing as a football career!" He growls at my face, and I detect a slight hint of a mimicking tone. I hear his chair skid against the wood floor and fall back as he bolts up from his seat.
"Shut the hell up, Anna!" My mother rolls her eyes in annoyance, wonders over to the liquor cabinet, removes a red bottle, and proceeds upstairs. Moments later, a door slams and the sound of a TV blasting follows. My heart races uncontrollably.
"You are going to quit that stupid waste of time, got it kid?" My father gnarls through gritted teeth. I can tell he isn't in the mood to beat me tonight. I take that to my advantage as I stand up as well with clenched fists. I have suffered in silence for far too long, and it's time to speak up.
"Those are my dreams, dad. I'm not going to quit and you can't make me!" I immediately knew I had the wrong idea and regretted ever opening my mouth. My dad lunges at me, but luckily I'm faster. I knock my chair down in front of him in hopes to slow him down and dart upstairs. I hear the chair break behind me, but I don't stop to look back. I sprint into my room and lock the door behind me. I push my heavy dresser in front of it just as my dad starts pounding on the door. My hands shake and I back away, bumping into my bed.
"OPEN UP NOW!" He yells. The dresser starts to shake back and forth a bit, so I force my desk in front of the dresser as well. I make a quick decision and grab all the bags that I own out of my closet along with my suitcase. I fill them with essentials like clothes, my wallet, a half-eaten bag of chips from the other day, and whatever else fits. I sling the bags over my shoulder, slightly surprised at how light they are, and crack open my window. I chuck my bags out first, and then scale down half the side of my house, before jumping the rest of the way. I felt the grass underneath my bare feet just as the door broke two stories above me. I don't wait around to see what happens next. I grab everything and run aimlessly into the night.
I end up standing in front of my girlfriend Courtney's house. I stop for a brief moment to catch my breath and recall her old tree house. Quietly tiptoeing to her backyard, I climb inside the tree house and set up a place to sleep with a blanket I brought, get a sweatshirt and use it as a pillow, and I layer up to face off the chilly night air. I try to get some sleep to have enough energy for the obstacles of tomorrow.
I woke up an hour earlier than I usually would so that I could be far enough away from Courtney when she woke up. I knew it was a risk to leave my belongings there, but I didn't have another option. I waited behind a bush, a little up the street from her house, until she opened the door to go to school.
"Hey Courtney!" I yell, popping out from behind the bushes. She looks my way and smiles warmly. I start to jog towards her, but I am forced to slow down when my ankle screams at me in pain. I must have twisted it last night when I leaped from my window.
"Hey, you!" She says softly as I approach her. I pull her into my arms and plant a small kiss on her rose tinted lips. As we make our way to school, I take her soft, gentle hand into my calloused one.
"So, how's my girl?" I ask her in an attempt to make small talk mostly for my own benefit.
"Great! I got first place in the tournament yesterday!" She explains excitedly.
"Congrats! I knew those practices would pay off." I smile and gently squeeze her hand affectionately. Courtney then start getting into depth about her gymnastics tournament. I listen attentively; I love the sound of her voice. "What about you? I heard you passed out during practice yesterday."
"Ah, I'm fine. Just got a little bit dehydrated, but I'm still alive."
"Adam," she sighs wearily. Her expression contorts into one like a mother about to lecture her child. "You need to take better care of yourself." Courtney stops and turns to me. She stares me down like my father had just a short 8 hours ago. I shiver with fear.
"I will, I promise." I pull Courtney closer and kiss her again. We walk for another 5 minutes, talking about nothing in particular, before we reach the school.
"OTP! OTP! OTP!" My friends stay chanting. Courtney laughs and I roll my eyes at this nonsense that happens every day. She kisses the top of my nose and then goes off with her own friends.
"Are your lives really that pathetic and boring?" I ask them. My friends stand there thinking, and stroking their imaginary beards.
"Yes." Josh says with finality.
"Basically." Matt adds.
I laugh a little and shake my head.
"Losers." I scoff. We all laugh as we start throwing insults at each other. It only stops when we see two textbooks sitting on our desks, and a huge collection of numbers written on the board.
"Read the board, follow the directions." Our teacher instructs, not even bothering to look up.
"This should be a fun day." I mumble. Josh and Matt chuckled as we took a seat as far back in the classroom as possible.
"I want to go home!" Courtney wines to me at lunch. I simply kiss her temple and sigh.
I feel like I'm wearing a mask. Everywhere I go, I have a fake smile. I try to hide my pain and fear, try not to look weak, but it's hard. I don't know what to do, or who to trust.
I don't want to burden Courtney, Josh, or Matt with my problems. They are the types who aren't good with tears or conflict.
All I can do; all I know how to do is wear my mask.
After school, I couldn't follow Courtney home or go into her backyard. She would become suspicious. I reluctantly decided to try and go home.
My parents cars were absent in from the driveway, so I took the opportunity to sneak back inside. I pulled out my key and fit it into the lock. The door slowly creaked open, and I stepped into my house. I paused, listening for any movement. I grinned and closed the door when the hum of silence continues to surround me. My dogs came rushing to meet me.
"Hey guys! Did you miss me, huh? I bet you did, oh, yes you did."
"So did I..." A voice startles me from the other side of the room. I look up and see my mom standing there, her head hung low and her eyes peering up at me. I immediately turn around and open the door, ready to bolt out, when she talks. Her voice sounds desperate, and filled with pain.
"Adam," I don't turn to face her, even with her pleas. "Please wait. We need to talk, please." I inhale a sharp breath and hold it in my lungs. My feet slowly turn me around to face her general direction. I can't bring myself to meet her gaze.
"About what mom, last night? How I almost got beaten to a pulp again, by this man I am forced to call my father?"
"Adam, I'm sorry bu-"
"No! But nothing mom. It's your fault Danielle is in therapy right now! How did this occur to you mom, huh? You woke up one morning and decided to cheat on your amazing, loving, respectful, caring husband; the father of your children too. Is that what happened mom? Did you just say to yourself that a rich jerk was better than a middle class man. It's alright to just get a divorce and ruin your children's lives and Mary a jackass right?" I feel my heart being ripped to about a thousand pieces. I want to let the tears spill, but I can't allow myself to look week.
When she didn't answer I just got more aggravated.
"Answer me!" I shook the house and my mother flinched. She looked smaller; tears lined her eyes and shine on her cheeks.
"I didn't think like that, and I didn't know he was like that." Her voice barely escaped her lips at a whisper.
"Bull shit!" I finally looked up at her; I looked her straight in the eyes. "You knew damn well how he was! You were just so fixed on his money. You don't even care if he beats me, do you? You don't even care if I have countless bruises that I have to cover or make up excuses for them. Don't even try to say you care because you didn't care when Danielle was getting beat like that. You stood there and watched as her skull got crushed! You watched it like a tv show and then left when you got bored. Meanwhile, I was laying nearly unconscious on the other side of the room. Did you ever think of calling the cops that night? No because then you would have gotten caught too. They would have found your damn drugs. You went off to get drunk or high to forget the horrible things you did, to feel good about yourself! That's not how life works for all of us! No matter how high I get, or how drunk I am, those memories never go away. One day, I'll make him pay for what he did to her, mark my words." I looked away again, unable to handle the sorrow in her eyes.
I waited for a response, but when I got nothing I just walked out without even looking back. I slam the door behind me and stand in front of it with my eyes closed.
Every ounce of energy I have is keeping me from walking back in and apologizing.
The events keep playing in my mind as I try to make sense of it all. I jerk them back open when I hear the terrifying crunch of a car on gravel. My eyes dart over to the source of the noise to find my stepfather pulling in the driveway. I don't even hesitate before taking off through the grass. I just run with all I can.
"Adam!" I hear a raging voice that encourages me to somehow pick up my pace. I then hear a bone chilling sound; the car is in hot pursuit behind me.
I don't have time to ponder where I should go. I simply turn at random corners in attempts to lose him. Nothing seems to work. He drifts every corner I take and is still on my heels.
I hear him yelling profanities and other words at me, but I can't understand them. His voice is muffled from the roaring of the engine.
After about 3 minutes, my breath becomes too heavy for me to continue for much longer. I start to lose hope as my lungs slowly start to fail me.
Up ahead, I see a pole connected to a stop light. I don't have time to calculate whether my plan will work or not. I simply test it out.
Just as I approach the metal pole, I wrap my fingers as tightly around it and let the momentum of my body take over. I lift my feet just the slightest bit, and I am sent flying in the other direction.
With a hard smack on the pavement, and a little bit of skidding, I am at a full stop 5 meters away.
I recover as rapidly as I can and continue to jog. I take another turn and finally I have lost him. I slow down to a walk, attempting to repair my lungs and open up my airways once more.
Without even noticing, I ended up in Courtney's yard. I carefully tiptoe around to the back and dash to the tree.
About half way up the unsteady ladder, a familiar voice sounds out from behind me.
I slowly lower myself back down the ladder and turn around to face her.
"Hey, Courtney! What are you doing here?" I ask her, forcing an unsteady laugh. I want to curl up and crawl into a hole for asking a dumb question like that.
"I'm the one who should be asking you that question. I live here." She didn't look angry, quite the opposite; Courtney looked extremely humored.
"Oh, right. Well I guess I'll be going then. Talk to you later!" I walked to her, kissed her on the cheek, and walked on past her to the street. I hear her try to ask me what I was doing there again but I act like I didn't hear her.
When I turned the corner, I doubled over in nervous laughter and relief. I kept walking and I didn't even notice that I had absentmindedly walked to my house.
As I looked up, my smile faded. All the joy I had felt just seconds ago had been washed away and replaced with fear.
I wanted to move - I wanted to get away before anything else could happen - but there was a compelling force that kept me in place.
I had flash backs from when I was four, the earliest age that I can recall the abuse. I blinked and all the flashbacks dissipated from my eyes, but the memories remained stained on my brain. I stood there like a dear in headlights, staring at my stepfather. He had appeared on the other side of the glass door. He slowly opened it and that's when a bell finally went off in my head.
I wasn't running, but I was speed walking this time. For some reason, the panic in mt had diminished. As i turned the corner, I glanced toward my house. To my surprise, Kurt was just standing there staring at me.
I can't make out the expression on his face from this far, but from his posture he looked kind of upset. His shoulders were slumped, and his head was hanging on his neck like it was attached by a tiny string. I know that our eyes met, and that was my breaking point. Rage rushed through my veins again, and any sympathy had been stored into a vault deep in my heart.
I tried not to make too much of it, but it bugged me all the way to Courtney's house.
I tried to make sense of all that had happened to be able to tell Courtney everything when I got back to her house.
"Why didn't you tell me any of this? Adam, I could have helped you." I stared out the window of the tree house at the top floor of her house. "Adam, what else aren't you telling me?" Her voice penetrates my thoughts. Her house had reminded me of back when we first met.
"I didn't want to burden you with my nonsense. I promise there is nothing else that I'm hiding from you." It wasn't a full lie. I wasn't hiding my sister from her, I just haven't told her about her yet. "Besides," I continue. "When was I going to tell you? Between our crazy schedules we've barely seen each other for 2 minutes at a time." She makes her cute thinking face and looks down at the cracked floorboards. I look back out the window.
I remember that we met about 2 years ago, the summer I entered high school. It was exactly a month before the first day of school. My best friend, Jake, had just moved to the town next to us. He was too busy to do it himself, so he had asked me to get his phone charger from his old house. Of course, I hadn't checked up on it, so I had no idea it had been sold. He had told me years ago where he kept the spare key, and surprisingly I had still remembered. It was still in the exact same spot as before too, so I picked it up and unlocked the door. When I walked in I remember my heart stopping.
Standing in front of me was an exact replica of my dream girl. Dark blonde hair, vibrant green eyes, perfectly rounded face, rosy, chubby cheeks, and high cheek bones. Besides the fact that she held a raised kitchen knife tightly in her hand, she was perfect. She must have stood at around 5 feet and 6 inches, but her heels made her seem 5 feet and inches. It was a bonus that she had the body of a model.
"Who the hell are you and how did you just get into my house!" Her voice was also perfection and strange enough, her menacing words soothed me. I snapped out of my daze. I stuttered, trying to explain to her, but words couldn't form in my mouth. I got quiet when light footsteps came down the stairs in front of me.
"What's going on down here?" She said more soothingly. I nearly fell to the floor; the girl on the stairs was identical to the one with the kitchen knife. I assumed that it was her twin sister, and I couldn't control a stupid grin from appearing on my face.
They started bickering back and forth, arguing about every possible thing wrong and right about the scenario. I whipped my head back and forth trying to keep up with the rapid discussion. Finally, the yelling reached a point that I couldn't handle.
"Let me explain!" I bellowed over the both of them and they immediately got silent.
"Please do." They both said in unison, making it sound like only one of them had said it. I felt my face get hot, and I knew it was a bright shade of red.
"I-Well uh... I um... Okay." I still couldn't speak English so I paused and took a deep breath. "My best friend used to live here. He just moved out and asked me to come back here to get something. I knew where he kept the spare key, so I let myself in. I really am sorry, I didn't mean to trespass, intrude or any of that." I waited for their reactions, keeping my eyes on the kitchen knife that was still being held up by the first girl.
"Oh, well why didn't you say so! My name is Courtney, Courtney Pierce, and this is my sister Eleina." The girl on the stairs, who I now know is Courtney, explained. Eleina lowered the knife but she didn't let it go. She eyes me suspiciously and didn't accept when I offered her my hand.
"Welcome to the neighborhood." I told them, truing to be friendly.
I noticed very tiny differences between the two. Courtney had long, flowing hair and Eleina had shorter, curlier hair. Eleina had a fiery look in her eyes, but I could tell even by the way she walked that Courtney was the nice one. I took a small look around and spotted Jake's charger.
"Ah, there it is," I walked over and picked it up. "I guess I'll just be going now!" I make my way awkwardly back to the door and pull it open. "Thank you." I add and walk out, closing the door behind me. I left out the part 'for not carving me like a pumpkin' to stay true to it. I stood there trying to catch my breath again before I took one step forward and stopped. Hushed whispers where escaping through the cracks in the door.
"Good job Eleina, thanks so much for scaring away yet another cute boy!" It was followed by stomping up stairs and a loud sigh of frustration after a loud slam of a door. I walked away quickly to not get caught eavesdropping.
"I have an idea!" Courtney screams and holds her arms up in victory. I look back at her and laugh at the cute but silly, accomplished look on her face.
"About what exactly?"
"Tonight," She talks quietly and inches towards me with every word. "How about we go on a date. A typical, cliche, date with dinner and a movie. We are both free, we can talk, spend time together, and be on a date at the same time!" I look at her to see if she is messing with me. She has always hated anything cliche, but I can see the seriousness in her eyes.
"Okay. You know I wonder sometimes."
"Hmm? Wonder about what?" She asks, crawling into my open arms.
"How I got so lucky. How did I get to meet such a crazy girl who gets over-enthusiastic about everything. How did we fall in love?" She flashes me a cute smile.
"Fate." She replies and kisses me for a long time before we look out and watch the sun set.