"Are you ready to dream again?" Julia asked after she'd winked at him. With a laugh, she floated up higher into the blue sky, smiling at him. She beckoned him, calling out his name in her familiar, cheery voice. "Steven, c'mon! We're dreaming, Steven!"
But he most certainly wasn't.
Below him, Jasper had walked over to a spot on the cement, kneeling beside it. He was shouting something, calling over a group of students that were milling at the other side of the parking lot.
"Julia, I was just awake! Stop flying; tell me what's going on!" She could not though, for in the blink of an eye she had disappeared. He was alone, save for a jet soaring hundreds of meters above him, littering the air with a plume of exhaust.
His body, still floating upwards like a hot air balloon, was drifting higher and higher. Beginning to fear the heights he was acclaiming, Steven shouted out for Julia to come back and help him.
Flailing his arms did nothing, so he wrapped them around his body, hoping that he would wake up from this psycho nightmare. Closing his eyes, he tensed in apprehension of the moment when he would fall to the ground.
It was like that horrible ride at the fair that would send you slowly upwards, only to drop you right from the top. Only this time he had no guarantee that he would land safely.
"Steven… I'm right here."
Her voice, sweet and reassuring came to him. Opening one eye, he saw that he was once more not alone in the air.
A few meters above him, a hooded man also floated in the air.
No… Steven's eyes widened, as he let out a shout of rage and fear.
From his hoodie, which was wrapped tightly around his gangly body, he pulled out a pistol.
"Julia! Why is this happening!?" He couldn't restrain the shaking that overtook his body.
He'd seen this man before, carrying that exact pistol, while he wore that tight, ripped hoodie. Aiming the pistol down at Steven, the man moved his grimy finger to the trigger. His mouth, the only thing that the hood didn't conceal, let out a laugh.
Then he shot Steven.
The bullet tore through the air, piercing Steven's chest before fragmenting inside his upper left pectoral.
"No!" Steven screamed, clutching the bloody wound as pain spread throughout his body.
Firing the gun a couple more times, the hooded man tossed the gun aside. Drawing closer to Steven, his dirt-covered hands reaching out for him, he spoke those familiar words. The same words that had haunted Steven for years, searing into his mind like a hot, burning ember. "No! I didn't know! I didn't know!"
Suddenly, the man's hood and hoodie went up in flames. His head, now wreathed in flames, was contorted and horrific. Leering at Steven, his lips turned into a devilish grin.
Then he was gone.
Steven was falling.
Letting out a scream, he closed his eyes and anticipated the bone-crunching landing that he was sure to receive.
Only, he noticed there was no more air resistance and he opened his eyes.
Jasper, who was standing over him with a crowd of several other students, let out a sigh of relief. "Steven, hey, what happened?" He offered a hand, which Steven only stared at with a confused frown.
"I don't know… I think I just fainted." He eased himself up, finally taking Jasper's hand with a weak smile. "How long was I out?"
"A few seconds, not very long. Still," he produced a Kleenex from the satchel around his shoulder, "you scared the hell out of me and you're bleeding. Here." He passed Steven the tissue, indicating on his own forehead where Steven was bleeding.
"Yea, I guess I'm just stressed out lately." Steven thought back to the hooded man in the sky-he shivered. "Really stressed. I'm just gonna go home actually, I'm having supper with Cerise later, I just need to rest up."
Jasper shrugged, studying his friend with a suspicious frown. "Are you sure, you're okay?"
"You sound like my dad," he laughed, more for his own sake then Jaspers, "I'll be fine. Take it easy."
Those around them had already dispersed and the phone Jasper was going to use to dial 911, went slowly back into his pocket. "Okay, you take it easy to. I need you, bro." He laughed, briefly waving before the two teens went their separate ways.
Her fingers wrapped around the cool base of her glass cup, lifting it up and tipping the frigid iced tea into her open mouth. Wishing it was wine or something stronger; Cerise placed the glass back on the red table cloth. She dabbed her lips with a napkin, glancing around the crowded restaurant for one person.
Lifting her purse on her lap, she opened it, retrieving a small mirror to once again make sure she looked alright. As usual, she found a curl amiss in her hair, sighing as she tried to put it back in its place.
At least her skin was tanned, free from a spot of acne that had terrorized her face two days earlier.
Glancing at the empty chair in front of her, she wished that Steven would come over and fill it. It had already been ten minutes after the time that the two of them had agreed to meet at Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria for dinner.
Steven had called it a spontaneous celebration of their last time, ever, going to school on September the 21st.
Cerise had another name for it, which brought her smile to life.
Ever since that afternoon the two of them had gone out for smoothies, Cerise couldn't help but smile when she thought of her cute, blue-eyed neighbor. Old feelings, she had no intention of stopping, but had surprised her nonetheless, had arisen in her heart.
When she'd grabbed his hand, meshing her fingers into his, she felt the electricity shoot up her arm. There was delightful warmth in the way their fingers intertwined. It was hard to explain, but it was like their hands were sized perfectly for one another.
She wished that he wouldn't have let her go.
But he did anyways.
Tonight, if she was fortunate enough to get the chance, she would make sure that he never let her go. There was something so perfect about Steven, his only mark-up being when he'd broken her heart four years ago. She still remembered the pain that had ripped through her when he walked out of her life.
Desmond had pretty well destroyed everything else.
It was funny how much two weeks time had changed inside of her. Whenever she thought of her old boyfriend, there was still an ache in her heart, but it was only an ache. She didn't feel that regretful, awful and heart-wrenching pain that had come over her when she'd broken up with her past boyfriends.
No, there was only an ache.
Now that she thought of it, the day that Desmond had cheated on her for the second time, Cerise realized that most of her feelings for him had died. She was just too scared and unsure about a future without him. Desmond had completely enveloped her life, causing her to lose nearly all her friends.
Drake was the only friend left that she felt she could tell anything to.
He'd promptly called her the day after professing his love for her, "Cerise, I feel like such an idiot," he had begun, his deep, familiar voice carrying through the phone. "I'm so sorry I put you in that kind of position, I was being selfish and not thinking. I'm so embarrassed, let's just forget it ever happened, please?"
She had accepted his apology, saying that she understood.
At work neither of them said a word about what happened, using their words to only communicate in light, meaningless banter.
Cerise's eyes broadened, her smile coming to life when she saw Steven walk into the restaurant. Donning dark blue jeans, a tight, brown shirt and matching blazer she felt her heart stop a beat. His usually messy, unkempt blonde hair was styled to the side, making his cute face broader and handsomer.
Feeling like a silly middle-schooler, she dropped her gaze. "Hey Steven."
"Hey Cerise," he stared at her, his eyes deliciously blue. Taking a seat, he complimented what she wore, adorning her with encouraging, complimentary words. Fixing his collar, he picked up the menu and asked her what she was having.
"I was thinking of starting off with a plate of bruschettas, they're amazing. Then we could get a traditional, thick crust Porteno pizza?" She showed him where they were on the menu; he agreed it was an excellent choice.
When the waitress came back, she took their orders and their menus.
Ten minutes later, after a light, laughter filled conversation, Cerise proved to be correct. The bruschettas were amazing, surprisingly different and almost enough to satisfy them both, though it was just the appetizer.
A slice of tomato fell from his mouth, bouncing off his knee and landing on the carpeted floor. Picking it up, he stared at the delicious piece of fruit, blew any dirt off it and plopped it into his mouth.
Most girls, at seeing this, would've been horrified or disgusted-who eats off the floor? However, Cerise giggled. She pointed at another crumb on the floor and asked if he wanted to eat that one as well.
Steven's face went bright red before they both broke out into laughter.
"I can't believe I just did that, sometimes I don't think." He shook his head, a little relieved at the way her eyes lit up when he foolishly plopped the tomato slice back in his mouth.
"It was cute-a little gross, but more cute."
"I'll try not to do that again." He picked up another slice of tomato, this time it was on his plate. "So do you mind if I ask about Desmond?"
Cerise, who was chewing on a mouthful of bruschetta slowly, nodded her head.
"Did he ever tell you why he broke up with you? I'm just trying to wrap my mind around how anyone could let you go." His charming smile made up for the tactless way he'd worded the question.
Biting back a bitter remark like "well you did it pretty easily", she shrugged. "I don't know. At first, honestly, I thought it was because I wasn't good enough for him. But now that I think about it more, I don't think he was ever in love with me. He just wanted me because… well, I think because he could. You don't exactly cheat on someone that you're planning on marrying."
"Twice." He took another bite, staring at her thoughtfully. "Do you two still talk?"
"We share the same friends; he was at the party I was at last Friday night." She couldn't really recall the alcohol, friends, dancing and music; as much as she remembered the intense way that Desmond had stared at her. Although he never came up to her, he always stuck close by, talking and laughing with his friends, his eyes constantly on her.
"Meh, not really." Cerise took a sip from her Iced Tea, really wishing that it was some good champagne. "Though his other girlfriend did break up with him and rumor has it-"
Steven broke out into song, singing the chorus line of Adele's 'Rumor has it' grinning at Cerise playfully. In his tone-deaf, teasing voice, he finished the short rendition, both their faces bright red.
"I'm sorry; there must be something in this bruchetta." He chuckled, feeling her shoe-clad feet lightly kicking his shins.
"It's bruschetta, actually."
"Sorry, haven't had much time to brush up on my Spanish."
"It's Italian." Cerise grinned at him, finishing off the rest of her food.
Rolling his eyes, an impish grin on his face, he also finished off his food and asked her to continue what she was saying. She at first refused him, saying he didn't deserve to know after so rudely cutting her off. He pleaded with her too, and it didn't take long for her to comply.
"Fine," taking a sip of Iced Tea to wash down the food, she finished her sentence. "Rumor has it that he still likes me," rolling her eyes, she hoped that her countenance came off as casual as possible. "I don't care though; he cheated on me twice, and then broke up with me." As she went on, she took her napkin crumpling it into a ball. Dropping it on her plate, she smiled bitterly. "Screw him, like Taylor Swift said, we are never ever getting back together."
"Deep." Steven took a sip from his water, swishing it around in his mouth before swallowing. "But that's really good, Cerise, he was a jerk and didn't deserve you. And I mean that as a friend, please never take him back."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
Steven choked on the water he was drinking, his face shimmering red.
"What was so funny?"
"Nothing," he cleared his throat, getting out the last of his coughs. Grimacing, he felt a pang of guilt strike his heart. Here he was, enjoying the company of a beautiful girl, having a delicious supper while the girl he loved was in a coma. Not to mention this was a single girl who had at one point in time been deeply in love with him.
Sighing, he told himself that they were both here just as friends. Surely Cerise, as hot and gorgeous as she was, had hotter, better prospects where she went to school.
"Okay," she glanced behind her to see the waitress walking towards them with a warm, sizzling pizza. Setting it on the table, they thanked her, and slowly ate their meal, talking in-between bites of the scrumptious supper.
Later, when all that was left were crumbs and they were both full from delectable, incredible pizza, she suggested that they go back to her place. There was a twinkle in her eye, a knowing, yearning-filled way in which she asked him to accompany her home. "I was thinking we could watch a movie."
Steven shrugged, his eyes clouding over. "I don't think I can tonight, sorry."
"Why not?" Cerise looked at him with her eyebrows raised. Surprised and a little hurt that he couldn't make it, she frowned.
"I've got a lot of homework," he said without missing a beat. "I'm sorry; we'll have to do that another time." Although he seriously doubted that he would, zippering up his sweater he waited for the waitress to come to their table with the bill.
Cerise only shook her head, "Please, Steven. The night's still young."
"I can't." This time his smile faltered, he caught himself staring intensely into her deep, brown eyes. For a second, he almost reconsidered as the old emotions in his heart roared to life. Swallowing nervously, he gave his head a brief shake. "Sorry, we'll have to do it another time."
The waitress came up to their table, giving them the bill and accepting Steven's payment for the entire meal. When she was gone, Steven stood up, pushing in his table. "Okay, Cerise." He waited for her to stand up as well, walking with her out of the restaurant.
Once they were outside in the warm, dark night, she put a hand on his shoulder and stopped him. "Goodnight, Steven." She went on her tip-toes, giving him a brief kiss on the cheek.
Watching her stride away from him, Steven let his arms and jaw hang loosely. "Oh Cerise… why?" He stared up at the sky, imaging that Julia was watching him. With a shiver, he imagined the man with a gun, felt the cut on his forehead throb.
Though he'd done his best to cover up the wound, he could not cover up what it had done inside of him. That had been the first time that Steven hadn't wanted to dream again.
It wouldn't be his last.