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Beating Rapidly Out of Sync
Flames from the fireplace leapt and jumped through the holes in the screen, a blinding fountain of color in a room of gray. I stood, mesmerized, eyes glazing over from the heavy thickness of the smoke. It seeped into my lungs and seemed to stop my heart.
The boy stepped aside and my heart dropped all the way to my knees. He was standing right there, right there in front of me like he had been there all along; like he had never left at all.
I must have looked ridiculous, standing there, slack jawed, eyes wide like a scared little kid. I wanted to turn away, but my brain seemed to be disconnected from the rest of my body. I wanted to run, but my legs had turned to stone.
“Alyson? Are you okay?”
I was paralyzed; completely frozen, and I didn’t know how long I could stand right there in front of him before he would brush his hair from his eyes and raise his head to catch a glimpse of me, completely confused and a disheveled mess.
“I’m fine,” I heard myself say, and it came out surprisingly convincingly.
“Okay. If you’re sure.”
Whomever the kind voice belonged to, she was long gone now, lost amidst the tightly packed crowd. A setting that had been warm and comforting only seconds earlier had now become a suffocating torrent of claustrophobia. Voices faded to the background of my mind, the images before my eyes blurring in and out of focus.
In the midst of my panic, a sharp elbow jabbed into my side, and, thankfully, sent me sprawling. I used the momentum to force myself to put one foot in front of the other, and I headed to the back hallway to hide out.
I leaned against the wall, breathing heavily, thinking of Cass and what she would do if she were me.
As if I had conjured her up with my imagination, she suddenly appeared beside me. She grabbed my arm, nails digging into my arm like a drill.
“Ouch! Let go of me!”
“He’s here,” she said quietly, ignoring my cry.
Her face softened and she placed her hand on my shoulder in a way that was supposed to be supportive. “He wouldn’t have done what he did if he didn’t love you, Aly. He was only thinking of you.”
“He didn’t have to do it like that.”
I knew she was right, of course. I knew that everything about the two of us together had been wrong. He had found his way into my heart and made me someone else. He had turned me into a girl who could hardly look her mother in the eyes.
“I need a break from all this,” I told her, fighting back the wave of nausea that threatened my throat. “I’ll be in the bathroom if you need me.”
I made my way through the crowded room, fighting through the bright lights and harlequin faces, the boys struggling to impress the girls with the tiny dresses. The music was throbbing inside my head like its very own heartbeat.
I found the bathroom and stepped inside, eyes flapping shut. I just needed a minute. I needed to breathe.
I snapped my head up, hands flying to my face as a shiver ran down my spine. The sudden presence of another being, when I’d thought I was all alone, made my heart stop beating in my chest.
Letting out a shaky breath, slowly gaining a little bit of composure, I pushed a clump of sweaty hair from my eyes and looked to see who had scared the hell out of me.
“Hey.” He was sitting right there on the countertop, back against the mirror, arms folded loosely across his chest.
I took a step backward, closing my eyes and wishing I was anywhere but here. He, too, looked like he’d rather be anywhere else.
“Looking for an escape?” he asked knowingly, as if we were friends and he cared what was going on inside my head.
“An escape from you,” I said coldly, turning to leave.
“Wait, Al. Please.”
And for some reason, I did. He hopped down from the countertop, crossing the tiny bathroom like he had a purpose, but when he stopped in front of me, mouth open but no sound coming out… I realized that he had no idea what to say to me either.
“You’re sorry.” My breath was gone. He was standing so close to me, so close that if I took one step I’d be right up against him where I’d yearned to be those three months since I saw him last.
I took a deep breath. “I deserved so much better from you.”
“I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You didn’t have to be so cold.”
“I didn’t know how else to be.”
I dropped my head and turned away slowly, focusing my eyes on the cotton candy colored rug that was pushed up against the side of the bathtub. I swear if I touched the rug it would melt in my hand.
I tore my eyes from the rug and focused on the wallpaper. Water stains had discolored the peeling corners, and the roses that were probably once a vibrant red appeared to be wilting.
I cannot do this.
“Aly. Look at me. Please.”
I clasped my hand to my mouth to keep from crying out. My shaky fingers gripped the countertop and I knew it was the only thing holding me up.
“Can’t you please just look at me?” His voice was broken and I was sure he was crying. I hoped this was hurting him as much as it was hurting me. I hoped he knew what he was doing to me; what just seeing his face still did to me.
“No.” My voice sounded like it had been stabbed through the heart.
And then suddenly he was behind me, arms wrapped around my waist, and holding me like he did in every single dream I’d ever had.
He held me still while my body fought to tremble, his lips on the side of my neck, and he was crying too, tears of glass melting on my hair. He took my hand from the countertop and slid them into his. His hands against my skin felt exactly as I remembered.
“What are we doing?” I asked. I felt completely derailed.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’ve missed you so much.”
He let go of my hands and I turned around, pressing my face into his chest, not ready to let go again. The pounding beat of the music slowed and I grabbed his hand impulsively.
“Will you dance with me?” I asked, my voice small.
“Aly, we shouldn’t-”
“One last dance,” I said, breathing in his scent. “Please. Like that day in the street, when it was raining. You held me.”
“Aly.” He was broken, conflicted. “I don’t know.”
“Just hold me,” I said again, and he did. The song grew louder and it got inside my head, and all I heard was the music and the singer’s soft words and all I could feel was his touch and our hearts beating rapidly out of sync.