Authors: Kelly Martin
He looks at it, and I instantly know who it is by the way he rolls his eyes. Truth be told, I know who it is because she's the only person who ever messages me. Well, that's not entirely true. I do have a few people on Instant Messenger who message me, so it doesn't
to be her. Sam doesn't like Tina much. He says I spend too much time talking to her. He's really going to love this.
"What does Tina want?" He doesn't look at me. He just sort of starts messing with my phone. He knows my keypad combination just like I know his. Unless he's changed it, which could totally be a possibility. I haven't checked in a long time.
"I don't know." I grab for my phone, and he snatches it back.
He looks at me then, challenging me. Am I really going to try to get something away from him? He's like twice my height and has muscles bigger than my head.
He may have bigger muscles, but I have a psychotic demon in my head.
I elbow him in the chest and take what's mine from his grubby little hands. Apparently, that was the wrong thing to do, because before I can revel in my victory, I'm on my back with my hands pinned down to the bed.
"Let me go." My eyes can be all fierce and dark, too. At least they are in my mind. I have no idea what I look like to him, but I picture myself looking pretty badass.
Sam doesn't even flinch. I suppose he isn't scared of little ole me. Bastard. "Don't you ever elbow me again, sweetheart. Got it? I put up with a lot from you, and I don't have to."
"And I don't put up with a lot from you?" I hate that my voice shakes.
He tilts his head to the side like he has to question what in the world I'm talking about.
"You, Sam. You! You've been different lately. For the past week, you've been… I don't know. Drinking more. More distant. Sleeping on the couch. Maybe we shouldn't have moved in together. Maybe you would've been happier. I know we both need the rent, but…"
"Is that the only reason you stay with me? Because I pay rent?" His grip loosens on my wrists, and he looks like some sort of lost puppy. He always did have puppy dog eyes that got him everything he'd ever wanted. When he asked me to move in with him, he had a sweet little puppy dog look on his face. The fact that he's still holding me down isn't going in his favor, though. I want up. I want up now.
Puppy dog eyes will be the death of me.
"No." Even though it's 95 percent a lie. "I'm not just here for the money or the apartment. But, look, my phone is my phone. There aren't any guys calling it or anything. Just Tina."
Sam's lip twitches, and his grip tightens on my wrists. I expect him to do something. I'm not sure what. He leans down. His big, liquor-caused red eyes soften, and he rubs his nose across my cheek. I lay very still, not sure what he'll do next. I'm ready, though, to scratch his eyes out if I have to.
The tip of his nose runs across my cheek, up my temple, and across my forehead until he lays his lips to my other cheek. Then, just like that, as quickly as he held me down, he lets me go. He sits up on the edge of the bed and rakes his hands through his hair. His shoulders are tense, and he looks frustrated. I can relate. I'm frustrated, too. Frustrated, sleepy, and tired of being me. I'm tired of having Hart in my head. I'm tired of seeing these people in my head.
"You've changed." He says very low.
"Me? I've changed?" Of all the…
"Yeah, Gracen. You've changed. When we first started dating, I don't know, you were happy. You smiled. The weight of the world didn't seem to be on your shoulders. Hell, the cops didn't show up at the front door asking to talk to you about being a possible murder suspect."
Wait, no one mentioned that. "You didn't say anything about being a murder suspect."
"What did you think I meant, Gracen! They were here because your fingerprints were on a card in that dead girl's pocket. This is bad. Very bad." He shuts his eyes like he's fighting with his own brain for what to say. Truthfully, there are no right words to say in a situation like this. "You've changed, and it isn't for the better."
Well, wasn't that the pot calling the kettle black? "And you haven't?"
"I have. Because of you." He stands and paces the floor with his arms crossed over his chest. "I just… I don't know what you did. I don't know how to help you."
"You don't have to help me. I'm fine. Of all the people in the world, you need to believe in me. You need to believe that I'm just going through some stuff right now, and that everything will be okay. I'll be okay, and everything will blow over. Just give me some space and some time and just chill out some. I don't need a warden."
I'm so tired. My eyes can hardly stay open, and I fall back against my pillows. I don't want to be tired. I don't want to be fighting with Sam. I don't want any of this. Know what I want? To be in class. Learning. Or at the cafeteria with Sam, eating and laughing like we used to do. Or heck, I'd be okay chatting with Tina on Instant Messenger.
Since I can't do any of the other options, I choose her. My phone screen lights up as I enter my code and wait.
"You're seriously talking to that person you don't know at a time like this?" He's hurt. I don't blame him, but I can't deal with him right now. I can't deal with this anymore. It's too much. I could tell Sam about Hart, the dreams, and how I knew about Danika, but I know there's no way he'll ever believe me. Who would? Whoever did?
"She's my friend." I need to talk to someone. Someone who doesn't know. Do you know what my reply will be to her, no matter what she says to me? It'll be
Hi :) How are you today? I'm fine. Slept good. Excited about today.
Maybe I just need someone to lie to. Someone I can be the person I want to be with instead of the person I really am. Is that really too much to ask in life? Who's really themselves on the computer anyway? I know I'm not.
@tinaM Things any better?
I'd forgotten all about our last messages to each other. I can't even talk to Tina anymore without weirdness. Nothing is safe. Nothing is mine. I don't have anything to comfort me, to lie to me, to even like me. Not really.
I'm all ready to shut my phone off and throw it down when Sam erupts. I'm not the only one who's had enough.
"Gracen!" Sam seethes through his teeth, making me jump. He needs to just leave. Just walk downstairs and start playing his game. It would make us both happy. I can't fight. Not now. I'm too tired.
"Sorry, I was just…."
He shakes his head. "Unbelievable."
"She's my friend, Sam." I'm not sure who I'm trying to convince: him or me.
"She's not real, Gracen." He counters.
"She is. She has a picture. I've seen her kids."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it." His gaze hits me hard in the stomach. Why did he have to come home early? Why did I? I could've found a table somewhere hidden in the library and taken a nap. Yeah, Hart would have come, and I might have screamed, but at least I wouldn't be fighting with Sam right now. No one would have cared. Not really.
"Fine, she is the closest thing I have to a friend, all right. She likes me. Sometimes… most of the time… She thinks I'm nice. She's told me that I'm sweet." Tears sting my eyes. I didn't know talking about Tina would make me so emotional. Maybe because in real life I don't have friends. Never really did. I had one in grade school, but she moved in high school. I talked to her on occasion. Nothing big or major. And I had Sam who used to like me. I have a few other Instant Messenger friends, but Tina is the major person I talk to every day. Maybe because I never tell her the truth on anything. I tell her what I think she wants to know so she won't leave me.
I won't tell Sam that Tina is worried about me, too. It would give him more ammunition. Can't give him that much power.
"Tina says I'm a nice person." I wipe a stupid tear away that has rioted and fallen down my cheek. I hate crying in front of Sam. Hate. It. I hate it as much as I hate crying in front of Hart, which has happened on one or two occasions.
Sam runs his bottom lip over his teeth, and his eyes start to glisten. There is no way I'm getting to him, am I? Sam used to be an emotional guy. He used to cry when we watched tearjerker movies, well, the manly kind. Big guy like him crying sort of makes you fall in love with him.
"I'm not being overly dramatic, Sam. I'm not. It's just… I don't have many friends in real life. If you haven't noticed, things are kinda falling apart right now, and I just need someone to talk to."
"You can't talk to me?"
Why was he doing this to me? Why was he making my stomach hurt so badly? Not my heart, I don't have one of those, but my stomach. Why does he have such a hold on me? Love is stupid. "It's not the same. There are things… things I can't tell anybody." Too much? Yeah, too much.
"And you can tell Tina."
"Because she says you're nice."
I nod. It's a lie. I can't tell her, either. Heck if I can't even trust what I read when she messages me anymore.
I'm so drained from all of this.
Sam leans on the doorframe. I can't tell if he seems compassionate or wants to kill me. Maybe a little of both. "Do you know what that is? Why you like talking to Tina? Someone you don't even know. Why you prefer talking to someone all the way across the country instead of your own boyfriend who is living with you and still doesn't know you? Do you want to know what is wrong with you?"
My lip shakes. No. No I don't.
He doesn't seem to get the hint. With a big deep breath, he breaks my heart. "Because it isn't real, Gracen. The person you put on the computer isn't the person I see every day. If it was, if Tina or whoever saw the real you…" he fades out before he finishes his sentence.
"No, tell me. What would happen if she knew the real me? Might as well finish your thought." It's my turn to give him a steely glare. My jaw quakes, and I slam the nail of my thumb against my middle finger to keep my sanity and not break down.
He swallows hard and nods, looking anywhere but at me. "Fine. You want to know the big secret? Here it is. If Tina or anyone else you happen to talk to on that computer knew you, knew the real you, they wouldn't say such flattering things about you. They sure wouldn't say you are nice."
"Think about it. I live with you. I'm with you all the time. I asked you to live with me, so obviously I had… I have… feelings for you. And think how much we fight and argue lately, and how much you lie to me. The freakin' police were here today because of you, Gracen. They still want to talk to you. Imagine if Tina knew who you really are. She wouldn't stick around like me. Nobody would." With that, he walks away. He doesn't even slam the door. He just walks away.
The entire fight.
I just sit there in my bed, my head swimming in a bunch of directions, but I've never felt so empty or hallow inside. It's one thing to think something about yourself, it's another for someone to tell you it's true. The exact reason I didn't want to tell Tina about me was I didn't want her to leave me. I didn't want to be alone.
But hearing Sam say it hurts worse than I could ever imagine possible. My chest feels like it's been hit with an elephant. Next time I see Hart, I should tell him he's a liar. I do have a heart. Apparently it's black and broken and cruel, but I have one. Somewhere. And it hurts.
My phone dings, and it's Tina messaging me again.
I just happen to turn my head to my right and catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror next to my bed. Wow. I look bad. I mean, I could look worse. I have looked worse. Still. It looks like I've aged ten years over night. My hair is getting so dark… wait. Are those gray hairs?
"No, no, no!" I jump out of the bed and run to the mirror. Sure enough. A few gray hairs stood out at my part. Enough of them to give me highlights. Good glory. Kick a girl when she's down.
I don't even try to make it back to the bed. It's just too far away. I slump to the floor and pull my legs to my chest. I'm cold. I don't care. I'm sitting here until the sun comes up again. Then I'm getting up. Taking a shower. Getting dressed. And going back to class tomorrow. I don't have Professor Mitchell. Maybe I won't see Hart, and maybe my brain won't feel so screwy. Wishful thinking and all.
Maybe I'll even talk to the police. I have nothing to hide, so why not?
There's something else I have to do first.
I drag out a piece of paper and begin writing down everything I remember about Hart, Danika, and the girl from today's dream. I didn't remember her, but if Danika died, it was safe to assume that the girl in my dream would too. Such a pleasant thought.
Since I don't know her name, I call her Scarlet because of the red hair. I can't exactly sit on the floor all day so I grab my laptop, open a tab, and get to work trying to figure out who Scarlet is and what I can do to keep her from being dead.
I don't read Tina's message.
I don't message her back.
I don't go after Sam.
I have something more important to do first.
ART ISN'T HAPPY WITH ME.
good, because I'm not happy with him either. I'm in my normal spot. Cold table. Naked. Blah. Blah. Blah.
He's standing in the corner with a knife in his hand, his arms crossed and a scowl on his lips. Hart never scowls. Never. If there's ever someone who enjoys his or her job, it's Hart Blackwell. That guy enjoys torture like a kitten loves milk. Not that Hart is a kitten.
"What?" I finally mumble against my mouth strap. I wish I could say this gets easier, that I get used to it, but there's actually no way to get used to it. Pain is worse when you know it's coming.
Still, Hart is scowling and that makes me nervous.
He shakes his head. "Something isn't right."
I roll my eyes because they are the only things I can roll. I twist until the mouthpiece slides down around my chin. "No kidding. Ya think?"
He just stares at me. I wish I could read his mind like he seems to be able to read mine. He looks like he's trying to solve some big mystery just by looking into my eyes. I doubt there's any big mystery there.