Only Human

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Night Owl Hotel

A facade. A secret. A long lost friend.

Sometimes all it takes is one moment to realize who you really are.....and to realize the truth about another.....

 

 

Hot, humid, and sunny. Those were the exact words that I would use to describe the excruciating July heat that threatened to break the rickety air-conditioning unit in my apartment. The piece of junk had only just turned on an hour ago, but it seemed like it did nothing but spit out dust and dried carcasses of bugs. It was beyond filthy and was for sure far from sanitary. To remove it would require a whole hazmat team and probably the evacuation of the entire building. I was just glad that I was getting out of this hell hole next week. 

 

I sighed, kicking my feet up against the beat up leather Ottoman that I had installed in this apartment a few years back. It was in a terrible shape, with the worn mahogany colored exterior peeled away in some places. To remedy the situation, I had attempted to patch the seat with duct tape, but it only made the aesthetic appeal of it worse. After a few weeks of patching, I had given up, opting to let the Ottoman spend the rest of its life as a patchwork of grey duct tape and leather.

 

The seat underneath me was damp with my own sweat, and I could feel my thighs sticking to the cushion. It was an unpleasant feeling, and I was far from comfortable in my own little hideaway. I could feel the temperature in my living room rise up with every breath I took. It was driving me mad. I had to get out. It was just too hot in here.

 

There was an unpleasant sound coming from the couch as I slowly peeled my leg away from its previous location. It was something that I’ve had for months. It creaked whenever I sat in it and definitely was not the most comfortable thing I’ve sat in before. Despite my familiarity with its intricacies and tendencies, I still winced at the noise. My face furrowed into a frown as I stepped away from the ratchet seat and towards the chipped oak door that led out of my apartment.

 

I lifted my hands, reaching towards the brass hook that held my car keys. They were there like always, hanging from a ruby colored lanyard that depicted my alma mater. My fingertips brushed against the rough nylon texture of the string, and I found myself unhooking the keys from its previous location. Only four sets of keys were on there, each placed in their respective order. 

 

Call me a bit anal about organization, but it had to be that way. It just had to. If one little thing was out of place, it would drive me insane. I’d probably spend the rest of the day worrying about it, thinking about it, or even dreaming about it. I know it was terrible of me to obsess over such minute details, but I couldn’t help myself.

 

Maybe I have OCD or something along the lines; I don’t know. I never had the time or money to go to the doctor to see if I had it or not. So, I just assumed it was a part of my own little quirks. Those quirks made me who I was and, heck, I didn’t really give a crap about what others really thought of me. Twirling the keys on my index finger, I reached towards the brass door knob. My fingers clasped the metal surface, and I opened the door.

 

I was finally out.

 

The scent of cigarette smoke and cinnamon lingered in the corridor, and I found myself wrinkling my nose as I took the iron staircase to my left. It had been painted an off shade of black a few months prior, but I could already see the flakes of the paint strewn against the concrete steps. I sighed, feeling my legs strain as I took the steep steps down to the lobby. Then I finally made my way out of my dingy apartment building through the burnished metal door. 

 

The first thing that I noticed outside was that it was blinding. The sun was high in the cerulean sky, indicating that it was already midday. I could feel the heat of the sunlight hitting my skin as I observed a few light-colored cirrus clouds that dotted the south-west horizon. It was nice out, but still ungodly hot. I was glad that I had neglected to wear a long-sleeve shirt like I normally did.

 

I felt slightly insecure outside, almost naked without my usual outerwear. I hated social interactions. I hated going outside. I’d honestly rather stay in, hiding away in some dark corner in my room on my laptop, texting some random strangers that I barely knew online. Maybe that would be the closest resemblance to a social life I had. 

 

At first I was hesitant to join the group, opting to lurk on the forums for a while before finding the courage to apply. I didn’t know why I was so scared. Maybe it was because I was so insecure about myself. I wasn’t sure. But, there was no turning back when I hit that submit button on the application to the Olympus Writing Group. I might have cringed at some of the things I wrote in my application, but I didn’t regret joining. Not now, not ever.

 

I couldn’t help but wonder how my life would be if I wasn’t an introvert.

 

I’d probably have a ton of friends and a crap ton of things to do. It probably was for the better that I was this way. I didn’t think I’d have the energy or the motivation to maintain more than a few friendships at a time. Most extroverts I knew were fake — plastic even. They only made friends to use them and then trash them in the end. I was an introvert at heart, and I knew that it would be difficult for me to alter that part of me. 

 

I sighed, inhaling another deep breath of the muggy, mid-summer air. The scent of fresh cut grass pervaded through my nostrils as I walked towards the run-down parking lot where my car was parked. Slot 114 — that's where my battered grey Chevrolet sat. It was marked by a sun-beaten white sign, one that had lost its reflectivity long ago. The faded black Calibri font depicting my room number was barely visible, but I didn’t care. It was my spot. It always had been my spot for the past year that I had been living here. Well, it was going to be someone else's in a few weeks.

 

Unlocking my car, I reached for the door handle, feeling the burn of the heated metal against my skin. I yelped, pulling my hand away. I dropped my keys in the process as the door swung forward, bruising my side. There were so many things I wanted to scream out loud at that point, colorful curses, things that would make any hardened sailor blush. 

 

But I couldn’t.

 

I had to put my big girl pants on and keep my mouth shut.  I was an adult. Heck, there was no point of me throwing a temper tantrum. So what? I dropped my keys and didn’t have decent air conditioning in my apartment, but that wasn’t a valid excuse for me to be in a pissy mood.  I had to fend for myself. This was life — real life. No one was going to hold my hand anymore. I was on my own.

 

I bent down and picked up my keys from the asphalt below. A moment later, I managed to enter my car without injuring myself which was a relief. Inserting the key into the ignition, I started it, hearing the rumble of the four cylinder engine. I don’t really remember what happened after that, but somehow I ended up driving to the parking lot of a subway station.

 

It was one of those stations on the outskirts of town — one that had a subway that would arrive intermittently, maybe every hour or so. It was a weekday, so the station was unusually full, packed with business men and women who were rushing to get back to work after their lunch break. I knew that the commute would be long and not worth the wait. Moreover, I was slightly skittish of the crowds, having been cooped up in my apartment the past few weeks because of online college exams.

 

I exited my vehicle, still feeling self-conscious that I wasn’t anything real baggy to cover up my form. I was pretty insecure about how I looked and that was reflected in my wardrobe. However, I had made great strides to be more self-confident about myself. I guess what I wore today was a testament to that. Closing the car door behind me, I pressed the lock button on my set of keys. There was a short beep and flash of lights as the chevy responded to my action. I left the parking lot, wandering inside to the station.

 

The bustling noises and the flurry of movements inside the station made my stomach lurch. I didn’t know why I had this brilliant idea to go there in the first place. It was not like I really had a reason to be there, but for some reason I felt I had to be there. All of a sudden, there was a movement to my left, and I found myself shrinking against the wall as a group of men in what looked like expensive Italian suits pushed past me. It only made me feel like an outsider, and I was pretty sure that I stuck out like a sore thumb.

 

All the bright lights and the noises irritated me. I was pretty sure that my blurred vision was an early sign that I was going to have a migraine soon. I should have never came. I should have never set foot in this building. But, there I was, trapped in that god-forsaken place. I sighed, looking towards the exit. It was packed — filled with bodies of sweating, burly men with suitcases. There was no way I could leave here.

 

I might as well make the best of this I guess, I thought, shifting my gaze away from the exit. It’s not like I ditch this place right away.

 

As my eyes wandered across the platform, I couldn’t help but notice a raggedy old man sitting on a bench a few feet away. It looked like he was muttering something under his breath as he watched people pass before him. His hands were clasped in front of his stomach, and he wore a chestnut colored sweater that highlighted the color of his greying, mangled hair. Something seemed to draw my gaze towards him as I found myself taking a few steps closer. 

 

Why am I walking closer? He’s just another beggar. Another one of those strange types.

 

“Apple,” he said, watching a man walk past him, “banana, orange, pear.”

 

There was a brief pause after that statement as he looked doward at his feet. His floppy hair obscured his face, and for a moment I thought that he probably had died after his rather strange proclamation. I was mentally preparing myself to dial 911 when he suddenly jumped up from his position. His obsidian colored eyes lit up as he noticed a burly woman walking past him.

 

“Pig! Chicken!” He screamed triumphantly from his seated position.

 

I was slightly startled by the enthusiasm and vigor that he had when he uttered those two words. I was starting to get a bit concerned about the man yelling strange things into the crowd. I understood that he was begging for money by looking at the tin cup at his side, but I didn’t think that his current act was going to get him any.

 

“Honey,” said the man, looking at another passersby.

 

This guy needs to go to a mental hospital, I thought, watching him insult a few more people.

 

I wondered if he had Tourette’s syndrome or some other mental disorder that could explain why he was screaming out random things. It wasn’t my issue though. I didn’t have to be concerned about what the man said. But nonetheless, I found myself further intrigued by the beggar sitting on the bench a few feet away. However, my attention was soon diverted from the man as I noticed one of my classmates from high school entering the station. It was Alexis, my old lab partner from Advanced Chemistry.

 

“Human,” said the man looking at Alexis as she passed by him.

 

Well at least he got one thing right, I thought to myself as I watched Alex walk closer. 

 

Alex grinned, flashing her pearly white teeth. Her eyes lit up behind her spectacles as she reached out her arms. I just stood there, awkward about the situation. I wasn’t much of a touchy person myself, and I didn’t really enjoy much physical contact with anyone. I liked my personal space. I liked not being touched.

 

However, Alex never got that memo from me. The scent of her perfume wafted towards me as she took another step. Soon, I was engulfed in another one of her infamous bear hugs. I stood still, unsure if I wanted to reciprocate the gesture. It seemed like forever before she finally released me. She still had a goofy grin plastered on her face.

 

“Hey,” I said awkwardly, unsure how to start our conversation.

 

“Hey Emily,” grinned Alex, “how’ve you been? It’s been ages since I’ve seen you.”

 

I smiled weakly, noticing that Alex was a lot taller and skinnier than before. In high school she was always bullied for her weight and dorky appearance. We both never really fit in and often were shoved in lockers right next to each other. I guess getting shoved into an enclosed space while being claustrophobic really was a way to get to know another person. After a few of those experiences in middle school, we became fast friends. It was astonishing how close we became in a short period of time.

 

We’d often study together and hang out at libraries and parks, in our spare time. Often we’d study until the late hours of the night or stay up all night discussing various topics that interested us. Her ravishing intellect was unmatched, and I was certain that she was destined for great things. I felt like a second-rate student in comparison to her, although I obtained high marks myself.

 

It was kind of sad that we had drifted apart in college. But it was a given since she wanted to be a surgeon, and I wanted to become an engineer. She ended up attending one of those high achieving Ivy League colleges on the west coast while I was stuck in a modest state school near my hometown. I only knew this because I Facebook stalked her recently. It wasn’t something that I was overly proud of, but it happened.

 

I guess fate had a way of bringing people together again. Shortly after I had Facebook stalked her, she had reached out to me about connecting again. I, of course, felt obliged to meet up with her. So, we did. It wasn’t anything real fancy, probably some wine and steaks at her house. It was there that I had learned a few things about her.

 

Apparently she was married a few times. Four times to be exact. But, each marriage was apparently short-lived since they all died around a year or two after they married. I felt bad for the poor girl, and I was curious about how they died. However, as soon as I popped the question, her face turned stone cold. Her guarded expression made me instantly regret my decision to ask her. The only curt response I got from her was that it was because they were older men. 

 

I never asked her that question again. I knew better than to pry in her personal life. I didn’t know how to respond back to her when she told me, so I kept quiet. It was awkward for the rest of dinner, and I felt kind of bad when I slinked off back to my house that night. We probably left on bad terms, and I wanted to remedy that.

 

“Emily,” asked Alex, “are you okay? You seemed to have zoned out for a bit.”

 

I felt the heat of her palm on my shirt as I raised my eyes to look at her once again. There was genuine concern in her eyes as she took another step back. I shook my head, trying to drag myself away from the memories that had previously inhabited my mind.

 

“I’m fine,” I rasped. “I really am. I was just lost in thought.”

 

Alex smiled.

 

“How have you been?” I asked, attempting to divert the attention from me.

 

“Good!” exclaimed Alex. “I went to Mexico a few years back for a mission trip.”

 

I wasn’t surprised. Alex was always a high achiever and really cared about bettering communities. Heck, she was student council president in high school for a reason. The woman oozed charisma and charm; no wonder she was able to tie the knot more than once. I, on the other hand, never found myself in a relationship. I was way too awkward and shy. I hated going out to bars and social events. I could only blame myself for my own misfortune.

 

“Cool,” I replied. “Was it a great time?”

 

“Yeah for sure,” beamed Alex. “We toured a few historical places and tried some new cuisine. It really changed how I perceive things today. Matter of fact, it really helped with my diet and my weight problem.” 

 

“Oh, that sounds a great experience,” I stated. “I’m glad you’ve been doing well.”

 

“I’ve been better than ever,” gushed Alex. “Matter in fact, I’m engaged again!”

 

My eyes widened at that statement. Alex engaged again? I thought she would be over with marriage at this rate. Maybe I was being cynical though. I felt that love was overrated sometimes. But, that was probably just me being bitter again.

 

“Congrats,” I said, attempting to place enthusiasm in my voice, “I’m happy for you!”

 

Alex raised an eyebrow at my statement. I was pretty sure that she could sense that I was faking it. She wrinkled her face and pursed her lips in a straight line. Placing her hands on her hips, she looked into my eyes. I could see the shine of the lighting fixture above reflect across her iris. It sparkled, a shimmering hue of emerald and azure that reminded me of the lake we used to cool off in after school.

 

“You don’t sound happy,” stated Alex. “Is there something that you need to tell me?”

 

I shifted from one foot to another, unsure of what I wanted to say. There was a host of emotions boiling deep within me. I wasn’t sure if I was quite ready to admit them to her. Maybe I was being too chicken about this. Maybe I was in over my head. I never told anyone about this, not even my parents. I sighed, opening my lips. I had to tell her. I wanted to tell someone.

 

“I — I want to tell you something Alex,” I whispered.

 

Alex didn’t lower her left eyebrow. She crossed her arms in front of her. I couldn’t help but notice the stern expression plastered on her face.

 

“I — I’m —”

 

I never had the chance to finish my response. Before I knew it, my back was against the wall. I felt sparks as her soft lips brushed against mine. My heart was palpitating, and I felt my stomach churn. I never felt something like this before. I never thought that this would ever happen to me — not in a million years. I felt a tender touch to my face as her hands cupped my cheek. She drew me in closer, and I could hear her sigh as she deepened the kiss.

 

I could taste the mint on her breath as her tongue tangled with mine. My heart raced, and I could feel my body reacting to hers. I didn’t know that this was going to be my first kiss. Heck, I sure didn’t think that it would be with her of all people. My brain was mush, and all I could do was revel in the moment. With so many sensations racing through my body, I couldn’t do anything but just stand there. 

 

“— gay,” I whispered, feeling her pull away.

 

I was pretty sure that my face was flushed and a bright shade of red at this point. Alex smiled as she stepped away.

 

“I know,” she murmured. “I’ve always known.”

 

My lips were still puffy from our kiss and there were still traces of mint lingering on my tongue. I felt my vision begin to blur as tears started to seep from my eyes. I had kept this a secret for so long from everyone. It felt good to let it out for once. I just wasn’t sure how to quite express it. I’ve isolated myself from my emotions for so long that I forgot this feeling — this feeling of happiness, this feeling of being loved.

 

Something warm brushed against my face as I felt her fingertips delicately brush away the strands of hair that had fallen across my face. I shivered as the palm of her hand wiped away some of the tears that trailed down my cheek. It was a tender gesture — probably the most tender I’ve seen her be.

 

“When...” I managed to rasp, “when did you know?”

 

Alex smiled.

 

“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, removing her hand from my face. “I’m glad you found the courage to tell me.”

 

I shrugged my shoulders, unsure of what to say anymore. I didn’t want things to get awkward between us, especially after that. However, the reassuring smile Alex had on her face made me feel a little bit better about myself. Maybe it was okay for me to not be closeted. Maybe it was okay for me to let someone in. Maybe it was okay for me to open myself up to feeling for once.

 

Maybe it was okay for me to love.

 

As I stared into her crystalline eyes, I realized that I was missing more than just my emotions. I had been barricading off this part of me for so long. I neglected to admit the truth, even to myself. It had been blatantly staring me in the face for so many years; I just never had the courage to embrace that part of myself. But now, I did. I finally allowed myself to expose that part of me that I’ve hidden for so long. There was no turning back now.

 

“I’m not courageous,” I finally managed to whisper. “I’m not confident. I’m not strong. I’m not good enough. I’m not any of the things you think I am.”

 

Her eyes hardened at that statement. A frown furrowed her brows as she crossed her arms in front of herself once again. She didn’t seem pleased with my explanation.

 

“Don’t say that,” she growled. “You’re all of that — courageous, confident, strong, intelligent, beautiful —  and you’re so much more. Don’t put yourself down. Don’t you dare ever say that about yourself.”

 

I averted my eyes, unable to look at that piercing gaze of hers. I didn’t have the self-confidence that she had. I didn’t have any of those things. I just couldn’t see it from her perspective. Call me ignorant, call me stubborn, but I didn’t think I’d be able to alter my own perception of myself. Heck, I didn’t think I’d be able to look at myself in front of the mirror and say that I loved myself for once.

 

I wasn’t sure where all of these trepidations and insecurities stemmed from. Was it because I was born this way? Was it because I always felt second place to my older sibling? I never really had the chance to be myself. It was like I was forced in this cookie-cutter mold, forced to be the ‘perfect girl’ that I never was. Sure, it looked like I had my life together on the outside. I got good grades; I was in a ton of extracurriculars; I had some friends. But, for some reason I couldn’t shake the fact that maybe, just maybe, I was living a lie.

 

“I don’t know if I can love myself,” I admitted to her. “I’ll always put myself down, no matter what. I’ll always hate myself. I’ll always have these insecurities, these doubts in my mind. Nothing will ever change that.”

 

Alex sighed. I was pretty sure she was devising some sort of plan to beat some sense into my pig-headed self. I just shrugged my shoulders again, unsure of what else I could say to roast myself. It seemed like I had already done a decent job at that.


“Nobody’s perfect,” she stated. “I’m not. You’re not. We’re only human. We’re bound to make mistakes. We’re bound to hate ourselves. It’s hard to change that habit when it’s the only thing you’ve known for so long.”

 

I knew it was true. Everything that she said was right. We were only human. We were bound to make mistakes. Hating myself was the only thing I really had at that point. I felt like it was so deeply ingrained in my character that if I were to alter that part of myself, I’d lose my very purpose on this earth. It was convoluted for me to think about myself this way, I know, but I couldn’t help but just feel insecure about myself. Maybe I was fabricating a facade, creating a mask so that no one would see the broken person underneath it. 

 

Or, maybe I wasn’t broken.

 

I wasn’t sure of it all. I was starting to come into terms with myself — figuring out who the real me was for once. Maybe it was time I stopped hiding behind all of my excuses. Maybe it was time I finally admitted that I wasn’t worthless for once. Maybe it was time I did something about myself instead of wallowing in my own self-pity and hate.

 

“I know it’s hard,” I whispered. “It’s hard for me to accept these things. It’s even harder to change my own perception of myself.”

 

“It’s difficult for everyone,” murmured Alex. “I know it was hard for me. It took me years to finally be able to look at myself in the mirror and not think about all of my flaws. I was in a dark place for the longest time. But look at me now. I managed to pull through. I know you can do it too. You just have to give it time.”

 

Give it time.

 

I wish I had more of it.

 

I didn’t know how long I stood there, pondering those three words. What I did know was that the next time I looked up, Alex wasn’t there. The faint trace of her rose-scented perfume was the only reminder that she had been there at all. I shifted from my position against the wall. There was no sense in me staying any longer. I was here for a reason — to finally face my worst enemy — to face myself.

 

I reached into my pocket and procured a crisp five-dollar bill. Walking towards the beggar who was continually screaming out random words, I dropped the folded bill in his hat. The man looked at me with a strange expression before he grinned, baring his yellowed teeth.

 

“Toast,” he proclaimed. “You’re toast.”

 

I just rolled my eyes at the man, thinking that the maniac was just spewing out random nonsense again. I didn’t really care to hear him anymore, so I slowly walked away from him before he decided to beg for more money. However, the man was adamant about me being there. I felt his hand on my arm as he forced me to spin around to face him. At this point, I was regretting my decision of not dialing 911 earlier. The man was a raving lunatic, and I didn’t want to deal with him.

 

“Look kid,” said the man, still ranting in that baritone voice of his, “I have a gift. A real gift.”

 

I raised an eyebrow, still looking at the grimy hand that clutched my arm. I attempted to shrug him off and feign indifference. I didn’t really care if he had a gift or not. I just wanted to go home. A cup of tea and my warm bed was calling my name; I didn’t want to have to deal with a raving lunatic.

 

“Sure you do,” I replied cynically. “You’re giving me a headache. That’s your gift. Bothering others and insulting them.”

 

“No seriously I do,” said the man. “I really do have a gift. I can tell the last thing that someone ate. You, for an example, ate toast. So you’re toast.”

 

The man released my hand after his statement. I thought about it a little and started to laugh. The man was right, I did have toast sometime. It probably was the last thing that I ate as well. My stomach rumbled, reminding me that I still hadn’t eaten lunch. Turning around, I thought about how useless this ‘gift’ of his was. What a waste. Honestly, it probably didn’t help him much in life. I left the station without further thought.

 

It was only a few moments later when I finally remembered what the man had said about Alex earlier.

 

Human.

 

We were only human.

 


Submitted: October 31, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Bandit26139. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Ann Sepino

This is the first time I've read a story that mixes self-discovery with the macabre, and I must say, I enjoyed it. :) I think there are a few parts that need some trimming down, but this might just be my personal preference. The stars of the show, Emily and Alexis, had some great camaraderie going on. I like this a lot!

Sun, November 1st, 2020 3:56am

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