By Josie Ann Paul
Before it’s too late, I want twenty seconds of being free. Twenty seconds without this weight. Twenty seconds of normalcy. That’s all, twenty seconds.
It’s at least the fifth time I’ve told Anna that I’m fine. She won’t leave me alone. I just want silence.
“You don’t seem it,” she replies.
I flinch at her touch. She notices. I stare. She moves her hand back. The look of pain on her face, makes me hurt.
“Lets just get to class.”
She walks away. I can feel the corners of my lips turning up, but my eyes won’t crinkle. Will I ever be happy again?
Down the corridor Anna meets up with Ben. They look happy. She leans against her locker, the arch of her back so curved that I can see the corridor continue behind her. Ben rests on the lockers too, his arm floppily around her waist. He whispers something into her ear, and they laugh. Easily. I remember feeling that.
I remember that sparkle. The touch of our hands. The feel of his breath against my face when he was close, telling me all his secrets.
Something presses my arm. Jump. Get away.
“Wow, sorry for bumping into you, Leah. No need to be so frightened.” Michael restarts his sprint down the corridor.
It’s just Michael. Just Michael.
The corridor crowds. People bumping their way to class. Noise.
The party. And we went upstairs, two steps at a time. Our hands entwined. A dark corridor. Silence.
And now there’s no noise in me. I’m numb, nothing. I’m here waiting, so I can feel normal and like I belong, if only for a couple of seconds. Twenty seconds. That’s all I need. Normalcy.
“What do you think it is, Leah?”
Oh, that’s me. “Sorry, could you say it again?” This keeps happening, for the past month and four days. Nothing I learn is staying in me, there’s no more room.
It’s dark. I try to make noise; nothing escapes but air. I can feel every touch, every slither of hand. No more sparkles. My head hurts. So do my arms. I can’t move. I taste salt, open my soundless mouth. I can do nothing.
I notice every touch now, every glance. Do they know that the people they’re with can turn into monsters? Or did it just happen to me. Stop twirling your hair! Please. You’re only going to get hurt. And you, stop biting your lip in anticipation! Get away while you can.
But I say nothing. I walk to my last lesson of the day—it’s English with Anna. I should be okay because she’ll be there. I walk in, and there she is, with the biggest grin on her face, like she misses me immensely, even though we just had lunch together. I want to say something. But I don’t.
The classroom door slams shut behind me. I hear the grind of my chair being pulled across the floor as I position myself to sit. I take a long hard steady breath. I just need twenty seconds.
“We’re starting a new book,” Anna whispers.
I love reading, “What book are we doing?”
“The Lovely Bones!”
I wish I had died.
My eyes open. One of the books is on the classroom floor, the title staring at me. Anna grabs my face, and I know where I am. I calm down. I’m at school. I’m in English. I’m safe.
Anna and I are walking home, we aren’t talking, we haven’t spoken since English. I can tell that she’s watching me, scanning my body.
“Are you okay?”
My face swells, my throat clogs, I want to cry.
“Hello, Leah? Are you there?”
His breath was sour. The room was dark. I couldn’t move my arms or legs. I said no. I cried. I tried. He hit my head. I tasted salt, the dirt and sweat of his palm over my open mouth. She knocked on the door, “Leah, are you okay? Are you in there?”
“Give us twenty seconds,” he said.