Authors: LK Collins
She slides the key in the door and I know I have to stop her, so I reach for her. “A,” I whisper, searching for the strength that’s suddenly been stripped away. Her body tenses and I see a chill run over her as goose bumps form on her skin. It takes her a moment before she turns towards me. I stand frozen, trying to read her reaction. I won’t push myself on her. She will come to me, I know she will.
Arion’s skin turns pale, as if she’s staring at a ghost. Considering what I’ve been through, being beaten, tortured, and starved, I should be a ghost. All of the grocery bags fall from her hands. The second the milk hits the floor, it busts open, tipping over and pooling at her feet. She takes her hands and presses them to the sides of her face, just shaking her head vigorously.
Dammit, this is not the reaction I wanted.
She looks terrified, like I’m a monster.
“Nate?” she questions. Like it’s not really me standing before her.
Reaching for her to provide some sort of comfort, I say, “It’s me, A.”
She pulls away from me, the gesture a swift kick to the gut.
No, don’t do that.
I dreamt of her running into my arms and now…this. Looking at her as tears roll down her cheeks, she just continues to shake her head and backs away from me ’til finally she’s pressed firmly against the door. I don’t want to scare her any more than I already have so I stay where I am, praying she comes to her senses and to me.
“Please, A, say something?”
“I…This…It’s just a…dream…a dream. Wake up, Arion,” she tells herself.
In the distance, I hear the elevator ping and we both turn to look down the hall. That’s him and I know it. I’ve seen this asshole she’s with on TV and shit. The basketball star himself. She starts to breathe heavily and reaches her hand for him as he walks down the hall. He takes in the scene, then runs to her and asks, “What’s wrong, baby?”
He glances at me briefly, I know not making the correlation yet. All he sees is her panicked and struggling to breathe.
“Nate,” she whispers between deep, struggled breaths and looks at me. His head whips towards me and anger looms in his eyes. I know he can’t believe it probably even more than she can’t. Her gasping starts to get out of control and she moves her hand to her chest. “I can’t breathe,” she tells him.
“It’s okay, baby, everything is going to be okay,” he tells her holding on to her shoulders and looking into her eyes. Then all the color drains from Arion’s face. Her eyes roll back into her head and she collapses. My instincts move me and I try to catch her, but my crutches slip on the milk and I hit the floor. I keep my eyes on her and Bain has her. I couldn’t care less about me. I only watch her head, making sure it doesn’t hit anything.
Holding it gracefully, Bain lays her down gently, cradling her head in his lap and shouts, “Baby? Baby, wake up.” She doesn’t respond and he looks at me and asks, “What the fuck happened, motherfucker?”
I shake my head, unsure how to answer his question. This is not something that I ever imagined in a million years. Leaning over her, he caresses her face and talks to her, coaxing her to wake up. “Come on, baby, wake up.” She doesn’t move, except for the slow breaths moving in and out of her. “Call 911,” he orders.
“I don’t have a phone,” I respond, embarrassed, and scoot away to collect my crutches.
“How do you not have a phone?” he snarls at me angrily and calls himself. As I go to stand, he looks at my pants where the fabric is bunched at the spot where I lost the lower half of my leg.
Right away, I can tell that the wheels in his head are spinning. Then Arion begins to move and I can’t stop myself from crawling to her. Looking at her, I want to touch her, to see if I can soothe her pain in any way. But Bain stares at me like a protective animal that’s about to take his prey down, all the while giving the dispatcher her symptoms. While I just sit and shake my head, wanting to run my hand over her soft skin, wanting to be the one on the phone, wanting to be the one she reached for. But I’m not.
He hangs up and looks at me without saying anything. I mean, in a moment like this, what is there to say? Taking his eyes off of mine, he looks down and we both watch her. A lonely tear of his lands on her neck. He wipes it away and shakes his head. Being this close to her and not able to do anything kills me. Glancing up, I catch sight at the way he’s looking at her and I know he loves her just as much as I do. I never dreamt of having competition for the woman I love when I was rescued. All I thought about was finally being able to be with Arion. I survived for one reason. One – her. Now, all of that is in jeopardy and I just don’t know what to do.
The paramedics arrive rushing down the hall. Right away Bain stands up and moves out of their way, and I myself struggle a little more trying to get up. Surprisingly, Bain helps me up, then he hands me my crutches as I balance on my one leg. The paramedics begin to work on her, checking vitals and asking us what happened. Bain speaks, and I let him. Once they finally get her awake, they talk to her, asking all sorts of questions, but she is dazed and still really out of it. Her eyes are glazed over as she turns and looks at me. They move her onto a body board and start to strap her down, the sound of the Velcro instantly triggers a flashback…
“He’s alive,” a man shouts.
Slowly I move my head, trying to open my eyes. It’s the first time I’ve heard the voice of another person in almost two weeks. Why won’t my eyes open? I can’t see anything. I try to lift my arm to wipe away the dirt and grime that covers them and I remember how bad it hurts when I move.
I freeze from the pain. I should have been dead days ago, but…I’m not. I know the only reason is because of the small water leak coming from the ceiling. It drips a few drops here and there, and up until I couldn’t see, I could catch them in my mouth.
“Man, you’re fucking mental. He’s dead,” another man says.
I know this is my last chance at survival. Since I was left for dead, these are the first people I’ve encountered. I moan and try to move with every ounce of strength I have. It’s excruciating, but I have to. They both stop talking as they catch my movement, then shout, “We’ve got a live one!”
“Stay still,” one of them says and touches my shoulder. Then I feel a hand on my wrist.
“His pulse is weak and by the look of him, we’ll need to airlift him out of here.”
“Just hang in there, man, you’re going to be okay.”
I don’t respond, I just lie still.
“I’m going to pour some water over your eyes, okay?”
I nod my head and then almost cry from the burning sensation. They keep pouring water over and over, but still I can’t see. Fuck, I’m blind.
“We’re gonna get you out of here.” They lift my weakened, emaciated body and the movement causes me to scream out in pain. My body trembles and my breathing is beginning to get so fast I fear I might pass out. But before darkness takes over, the last thing I remember loud and clear is the sound of Velcro as my body is tied down to a bodyboard…
The noise that day is exactly the same as it is now, watching Arion being secured for transport.
“Is one of you her significant other?”
“I am,” Bain responds looking right at me. I nod my head, letting him know that I agree. The truth is, I am
hers, nor is she mine. Not now. I left her and made the biggest mistake the day I enlisted. Today I’d thought our love was strong enough and she would come running to me, but I guess not. Staring down at the ground, I can’t bring my eyes up to meet his again.
The room is dark and everything is quiet, it’s the only place that I feel at peace…alone and away from the world. For so many months, I laid like this, praying for the day that I would get to come home and see my family. My parents and Arion are all that really matter to me. They always have been and I know that will never change. Even if things with Arion didn’t go as planned, I will never give up on her, because I was given a second chance at life, and I know my life was meant to be spent with her.
Even though I lived through hell, I knew the day my parents arrived in Germany at the military hospital and Arion did not come with them that something was wrong. But even then, I never gave up hope. Until now.
I should be thankful for being given a second chance at all, but how can I when the person who matters most to me, who kept me alive, day in and day out while I was living in hell, loves someone else?
Closing my eyes, I can still hear my dad’s words as he broke the news to me.
She’s moved on.
Both of my parents felt so sorry for me then, and they still do now. But sorry didn’t do shit then and it sure as hell isn’t doing shit now.
There’s a knock on my door and I don’t answer, instead I pretend that I’m sleeping like I have so many other times. My dad flips the light on and sits on my bed. “How are you holding up?”
I shake my head without responding.
“Listen, I know you’re in pain and I feel for you, Nate, I really do. But dammit you’re alive. Do you have any idea how lucky you are?”
“Trust me, Dad, I know,” I gripe.
“Then would you start acting like it?”
“Is this really how you’re going to treat me? After thinking I was dead?”
“Nate, you know your mother is ill and you don’t seem to give two shits about her or me for that fact. So yeah, this is how I’m going to treat you. You have a doctor’s appointment in about an hour. Maybe you could shower and not act like your life is over. Open your eyes – you’ve been given an amazing second chance at life, son.”
My dad walks off and I roll over, forcing myself to open my eyes. It hurts, fuck it hurts, but his words resonate with me. My mother is in a lot of pain and has taken the news of her medical problems really hard. Plus, as much as I don’t want to admit it and want to wallow in my own bullshit…I
very lucky to be alive.
Thinking for a few moments about my parents, and what they must have gone through when I was gone…it’s hard to even imagine…so I take a dose of my dad’s advice, knowing I have to fake it for them.
I can do that.
They deserve at least that from me, not this pathetic immature person who sulks around. Plus, I need to figure out a plan to get Arion back. Being depressed and in bed isn’t the place to do that.
Getting out of bed, I make my way into the bathroom, crutches and all. Leaning over, I turn the shower on and then sit on the lid of the toilet to get undressed. What used to be such a normal everyday thing is now so difficult. I become frustrated very easily, but do my best in this moment to keep that in check. Getting into the shower, I leave my crutches outside and sit on the stool that my dad put in here for me. Looking down at my legs, tears fill my eyes. It pains me to remember how I used to be. I was so athletic and full of energy.
When I left two years ago, I had so many plans and now…this is my reality. I guess it was crazy of me to think Arion wouldn’t get on with her life after the news of my death. She’s perfect and Bain jumped at the opportunity, now he’s the lucky one.
I wipe away the tears, remembering my dad’s words again. I begin to wash myself, trying to forget about everything for a little bit. I just want some relief from the torture of my mind. But then her face flashes before mine as I rinse myself. I think the thing that really sickens me most about it all is how when I showed up at her apartment, her reaction to me was that of…fear.
I should have stayed away like I’d planned, until I had my prosthetic and gained some weight, and maybe when Bain was out of town at a game. But I had too much time on my hands and it drove me mad not to be with her or have her, since I was back home and so close. So finally when I couldn’t bear it any longer, I broke my own rules. I was becoming obsessed with needing to see her and had this vision that the moment she saw me, she would run into my arms and everything would be as it was.
Instead, my biggest fear came true and things went the complete opposite. I acted on a whim like I have so many other times, just took a cab to her place after I stumbled upon her address after searching and searching about her online.
She’d just moved into this elegant sky-rise with an NBA player, but none of that mattered to me. I just needed to see my girl. It didn’t make a difference that the military and the government asked that my return be kept low profile, for the chance they could find my captors before they knew I’d been found alive. I went against them too and made another mistake.
Now I don’t have a clue what’s going on with Arion. Is she okay? What’s she thinking now that she knows I’m alive?
Getting out of the shower, I wrap a towel around my waist and stare at my reflection in the mirror. I look nothing like I used to. I can’t gain weight, and I know it’s because I never feel like eating, even though I know I have to. I used to think about food all the time when I was held captive, so I should be eating like a pig, but I just can’t. I’ve lost the will to do anything for myself.