My feet pounded against the soil path to the uneven rhythm of my heart. My breath kept getting caught in my throat and sweat was pouring down my forehead.
“Get back here Modeski, or I’ll slit your throat!”
I didn’t dare look back as I heard the voice so close behind me. Their thunderous footsteps were catching up to mine, and that just made my heart beat faster. I looked around for an escape, but all that surrounded me were dark forests, and the large pathway that stretched out before me. My legs were moving so fast that I couldn’t feel my jeans rub against them. I was so numb from the rush of cold air, and my mind had been frozen. Then without thinking I dived into the forest, being taken away into the thorns, bushes and high rising trees.
"You'll never live in there!" came the same voice. "Come out here and finish this!"
I stayed where I was, putting my hand over my mouth so that they couldn't hear me. The running footsteps stopped just above where I was, and I held my breath as their shadow loomed over me. My body stiffened as their voice echoed right in my ear.
"Found you Modeski."
A hand grabbed my shirt from behind and dragged me back up the dirt path surrounded by forest. I yelled for help, but there was nobody around. I had been foolish to run from the school where there would have been witnesses. Now, I was going to be beaten to death. I groaned as they threw me to the dirt floor, pinning me down.
Derek Smith, the captain of the football team punched me in the face. Blood flew from my mouth and my jaw went numb. His fist came down hard again, and I felt the same feeling spread through my mouth. I groaned, my eyes shut tightly.
"Stop it, please!" I pleaded.
"You're going to pay for your little scheme," he growled. His other football friends were circled around us, cheering him on.
"I've been paying for a month!"
"And yet it's still not enough!" He punched me in the stomach, causing me to cough up blood. I could already feel the bruises forming on top of the ones I had gotten at home, and the day before when he had beaten me to a pulp behind the gym. I gasped for breath as he put more weight on my chest. I was having a hard time getting oxygen into my lungs, and I wasn't strong enough to push him off of me.
Finally he stood up and I gasped for air. I heard Derek and his friends laughing at me.
"You're so pathetic." Then he kicked me one last hard time in the stomach, and then began walking back down the path towards school.
I groaned, clutching my stomach and rolling onto my knees. Their voices began to vanish as they rounded the bend. When I couldn't hear them anymore I stood up. I began walking down the long path towards home, bending over with pain. I didn't want to go home where I would just be beaten more, and I couldn't go back to school. My breathing grew rough as I rounded a small bed and entered the small park near my neighborhood. There weren't many people there; just the people who usually skipped school to smoke and drink.
It was a clear day outside, but there wasn't much sun. I walked slowly down the stairs that led to the bridge; the bridge I had seen in my dreams so many times. In my dreams it would be dark and I would be standing on the bridge. Ebony would be there, and she would be screaming at me about the darkness. There was a boy with her, but I didn't recognize him. Then my dream would just end. I walked halfway across the bridge and leaned against the railing, wincing as it touched my bruise. I came here every day at midnight to see if Ebony would come, but she never did. I didn't know why I kept hoping she'd turn up. She promised me that she'd visit. But for years, I never heard from her. I was already fifteen and a freshman in high school; it had been so long.
I saw a girl standing at the end of the bridge. She wore skinny jeans and knee high boot red converse. Her sweatshirt was a bloody red and her hood was up, covering up most of her blond hair. I peered closer, not being able to tell whom it was.
The girl turned towards me, but it wasn't Ebony. I groaned. It was Tara. Tara had been my best friend since fifth grade. We understood each other. Her parents were addicted to drugs too, but she rarely ever went home so she wasn't beaten.
She looked over me with concerned eyes as she walked towards me.
"Did you get beat up again Jack?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"How long is this going to continue? Hasn't it been a month?"
I nodded. "He just won't let it rest. It was a joke!"
She laughed. "I know, and it was hilarious. But apparently he doesn't like people painting his car neon pink."
I laughed as I remembered doing it at 3:00am with a few of my buddies. I was the only one he had recognized.
She reached up and touched the small bruise on my jaw with her fingers. I cringed away.
"Sorry," she murmured. "He's such an asshole. He doesn't even let the old bruises heal."
"Oh sure Tara, Derek is going to be nice and wait for my bruises to heal and then beat me to a pulp again making even bigger ones than before."
"I didn't mean it that way."
"Whatever." I turned away from her and stared out at the small creek below us.
"Are you thinking of your sister?"
"Sure you aren't."
I shook my head, running my fingers through my hair. "The last time I saw her...she told me that she would visit. I gave her my life savings along with my picture...but she never came back. I'm worried. What if she's...?"
"I'm sure she's not," Tara answered quickly. "What you've told me about her she sounds like a tough girl; I'm sure she could hold through."
"But she's just...so fragile. I mean she couldn't handle getting beaten at home; that's why she ran away. I mean whatever she's facing out there must be so much worse."
I felt Tara link her arm with mine and give it a squeeze. I winced again and I heard her mumble an apology. We just stood there for a while, staring out at the little kids playing in the water, their parents laughing and playing with them. I felt myself smile and I saw Tara look over at me.
"I wish that was the way things were."
"No," she said squeezing my arm again on purpose, "if that was how it was then you never would have met me."
My smile widened at her words.
"So," she began, "Seeing anybody?"
I laughed. "Like this? No way."
I looked over at her, licking my lips. "Why do you always expect me to give you a straight answer? I'm a guy, we don't think like that."
She just rolled her eyes. "Fine, then give me a straight answer on this. Are you doing anything tonight?"
I hesitated dramatically and then replied, "No."
"Good," Tara replied. "Because I am not going home." I didn't want to joke with her on that one. Tara got sensitive around her home environment, so I just stayed quiet. Finally she untangled our arms and stuck her hands in her sweatshirt pockets. Her lavender eyes stared into mine and her lips turned into a smile.
I laughed. "Smoothie time."