After three weeks of not being here, I walk slowly through the halls of this prison they call college. My head hangs low and my long, curly brunette hair hides my pale face. If anyone saw how vulnerable and weak I am, I wouldn’t hear the end of it. Biting my bottom lip hard, I keep the tears I so badly want to let free, inside. If only they knew the pain I am feeling, the broken soul I keep within myself and what I went through... But if I open my mouth to anyone, I wouldn’t know when to stop.
So I walk – past all the students and their hard stares– and keep my face hidden. My fingers tightly wrap around the school books in my arms as I walk into my first class of the day, Music App 101.
Music used to be my life, but now it just reminds me of him.
I walk through the aisles and towards the back of the classroom and near the window that looks out at the lake - that beautiful lake where we used sit and talk for hours about everything that came to mind. I always had a lot to say as my life has always been a rollercoaster ride. My three brothers, little sister, and mom kept the chaos going in my life.
So whenever we sat in the grass and talked, I knew exactly what to talk about.
Mrs. Winter walks in and begins her lesson. She is an old woman, grouchy at times, short, and petite. She wears black pencil skirts most of the time and nice blouses. Students don’t like her because she gives out pages and pages of homework every night. I, on the other hand, like her. She is smart and intelligent and I love her lessons. She keeps them lively and interesting. But today, I can’t focus.
“Did you hear about what happened to James?” I hear one of the girls, Joanna, who is sitting next to me, whisper over to her friend. I listen intently to their conversation but keep my head low.
“I heard. Poor guy. In the wrong place at the wrong time.” Allison replies with a shake of her head.
She is wrong…if only she knew.
I look out the window and watch the birds soar through the sky. The water in the lake ripples as the wind blows through. Trees sway under the bright sun, and leaves fall off, gliding to the ground and sitting peacefully on the green grass.
Where we used to sit…
“Didn’t he get shot in the head?” Joanna asks, obviously not letting this whole ordeal go.
“I think so. That is what I heard. Killed him instantly. My father was one of the doctors on the case. He was dead before he even got to him.”
Out of the corner of my eye I see one of them look at me as she whispers over to her friend, “Wasn’t she the one who ran into the bank?”
I bite my tongue, feeling the tears form in my green eyes. I can’t do this. I can’t.
Pushing my chair back, I quickly get up and grab the books from off the desk.
“Ms. Jane. Where do you think you are going?” Mrs. Winter exclaims, but I ignore her and the stares from the other 30 students as I run out of the classroom.
“You told me you would stop.” I say angrily, shaking my head at my dumb boyfriend, James.
“I will baby, I promise.” James reassures me with a kiss on my forehead, but I pull away from his embrace. I need to get my point across.
“You said that last time, and the time before that and the time before that.” I breathe in deeply, trying to contain my anger, “shall I go on?” I raise my eyebrow at him.
James has been doing drugs for the past couple months now. Popping pills, snorting cocaine…His hair is no longer the shiny, dark brown he used to have. Now it’s a dull, poop brown color. His once beautiful blue eyes are now blood shot most of the time, taking away the unique color of them. He is getting skinnier as time goes on and just last week, his dad kicked him out after finding him passed out from drugs and alcohol.
“Look, I will stop.” He says, throwing the small baggie of cocaine on the grass. We are standing behind my shed, out of sight from my big and annoying family.
My arms cross over my chest and I study him with a hard glare. “I don’t believe you. You need help, James. Professional help.”
He turns away from me and runs his fingers through his brown hair. It once used to be so soft, now it just feels like straw…My boyfriend of three years is fading right before my eyes....
“I can’t Autumn…” He breathes out in despair, closing his eyes and sitting down on the grass. Pulling his knees up to his chest, he rests his head on his arms.
I make my way across the green grass and over to him. I sit down next to him and rest my hand on his arm, giving it a little squeeze. “You can, James. I know you can.” I whisper in his ear. Tears fill my eyes. I hate seeing him like this…
His bloodshot, blue eyes meet mine, “will you be there?”
Nodding my head, I give him a small smile. “Of course I will be. I love you, James. You know I will always be here for you through it all. It’s not just you anymore, it’s us. The both of us.” Leaning up, I gently press my lips against his.
Tears stream down my pale cheeks as those memories come back. I slide down against the wall and onto the floor of the girl’s bathroom. Picking up my books in anger, I throw them at the wall beside me. They crash against it, leaving a small scratch in the blue paint as they fall to the ground in a loud thump.
Why? Why did this have to happen?
I hug my knees tightly against my chest, digging my nails through my jeans. A loud sob escapes my quivering lips, not caring if anyone hears me.
I throw the remote to the side and get up from my couch. I walk over to the large dining room table where my cell phone sits while charging. Looking at the caller idea, I answer it without a second thought.
“Hey Alicia.” I smile, glad to hear from her. It’s been too long. I miss her voice.
“You have to come to the bank right away.” I can hear her voice crack as she talks. Police sirens blare in the background and I immediately know something is wrong.
“What’s going on?” I whisper, walking over to the door and sliding on my brown Uggs. Grabbing my keys and purse, I quickly walk out with the phone pressed between me ear and right shoulder.
“I’m at Bank of America in the city.” She stops talking when people yell behind her. The words that come out of her mouth next make me stop dead in my tracks. “Autumn, it’s James.”
The phone clatters to the ground and pieces of it break when it hits the cement. Running to the car without a second though, I quickly get in, start the engine, reverse, and speed down the road towards the bank.
When I get there, people are running around, a SWAT team with huge guns and approximately 50 police cars surround the bank. I park my car on the curb, turn it off and get out. I try to spot Alicia through the hundreds of people as I get closer. My legs feel like Jell-O and my heart is racing.
Please…Please tell me he is ok…
Her blue hair is not hard to notice and I quickly make my way over to her, shoving people out of my way. Her eyes meet mine and she walks over to me, taking me into her small arms.
“I am so sorry. I saw it on the news and had to get here as quick as possible.” She says against my shoulder, but I can barely hear her as I hug her back and watch the police walk around.
Why aren’t they doing anything?...
“What happened? Is James ok?” I ask impatiently, pulling away from her suffocating hug. Even though she looks tiny, she is a strong girl.
“There are 7 hostages. James is one of them because they caught him on tape through the windows in the south side.”
“That’s towards the back.”
“Yes. Also, they said on the news that the gunman-“
“Guns?” My eyes widen at the thought. Oh no….James…
Alicia nods her head with the same fear in her eyes. “It’s Ryan…He is the gunman.”
“Fuck.” I mutter, closing my eyes tightly. Ryan is my oldest brother, but he is a drug dealer. I knew James getting involved with him was a horrible thing… Ryan is famous for getting people involved in his business and I knew once I saw them together at the bar, it wasn't going to end well...
I have to do something about this. If anyone will listen to me, it will be Ryan. I hope...
Before Alicia can say anymore, I duck under the yellow Crime Scene tape and run towards the front door.
“Hey! Don’t go in there!” A cop yells from behind me, but before they catch me, I am through the doors and in the bank.
It sounds too quiet and my hands are shaking uncontrollably. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I quickly shove that thought to the back of my mind and walk towards the back and behind the counter. I wipe my sweaty hands against my tight, blue jeans. Careful not to make a sound, I tiptoe against the wall and down the narrow hallway towards the back of the bank. It is dim lit with only some light coming from the ceiling. I can hear muffled voices coming from the large room in the back and I quietly make my way towards the door.
I can hear Ryan shout, and the sounds of small sobs coming from the other hostages. I slowly peak my head around the corner, and cover my mouth with a gasp. James is tied to a chair and Ryan has his gun pressed against his temporal lobe. The others are sitting against the wall and I can see a small child clutching her mother’s side in fear. My eyes dart back to James, wishing and praying Ryan won’t pull the trigger.
“I didn’t want to have to do this, but you gave me no fucking choice. WHERE IS MY MONEY!” Ryan’s voice roars through the large room.
“I don’t have it.” James says through gritted teeth.
“Then why the fuck were you withdrawing over 20,000 dollars? Huh? Explain that to me you little piece of shit!”
I jump at his words. 20,000 dollars? For what?
“I was withdrawing the money I SAVED up. I was going to use it to buy an engagement ring for Autumn.”
Wait…what? A ring?...He was going to propose to me...?
Ryan scoffs in anger and turns away, running his fingers through his messy dark hair. I quickly pull away from the door before he sees me. “You don’t have any money. You were going to use the money that is mine. MY FUCKING MONEY! Am I right, James?”
“No. You are wrong.” I hear James reply that I know will set Ryan off even more. I run out from behind the door to see Ryan pointing the gun at his head, getting ready to pull the trigger.
“No!” I scream as loud as I can.
Shocked, he whips around with the gun pointed at me, and I suddenly see the whole room spin in circles. "Don't. Please." I whisper, stepping closer to him.
"Stay back, Autumn. I will shoot you." Ryan mumbles. He is crazy enough to shoot me...I know he is.
"Autumn, what are you doing? Get out of here!" I hear James yell in surprise and anger as he struggles to break free from the rope that holds him to the chair.
I ignore his command and drag my attention back to Ryan's. Sweat beads against his forehead and he looks beyond exhausted. His eyes are bloodshot and his hands are trembling. To think my brother was this psycho...
"Please, put the gun down." I whisper loud enough for him to hear, praying he will be smart enough for once in his damn life.
"You don't want to do this, Ryan. It's not worth it." I say again, hoping I am getting through to him.
His jaw tenses as he stares at me. "Do you love him?"
"DO YOU LOVE HIM!?" He shouts and I jump in fear, nodding my head.
"Yes, yes. I love him." My eyes land on James'. "I love him more than anything in this world. More than words can ever explain." I sigh and turn my attention back to Ryan. "So please, don't...don't do this."
He stands there speechless and I think, for once, he is going to actually to do something he is told. But then he turns around and points the gun at James and my heart calapses in my chest.
"Ryan! No!" I scream in agony as the sound of a gunshot rings through my ears and echoes through the whole place. My eyes widen at the sight of the bullet hole in James’ head as it falls back against the chair. I can feel my heart stop and my world crash around me, and I fall to my knees.
“GET DOWN!” I hear the shuffling of feet behind me as cops bust through the door with guns. Ryan’s widened eyes meet mine as he gets to his knees and puts his hands behind his head. The gun is still in his hand…the gun that shot James....
Someone pulls on my arm but I don’t budge. My eyes go to James…Blood is everywhere and his eyes are wide open. Those same blue eyes I would get lost in. But now they are lifeless….and he is dead.
I am suddenly picked up in somebody’s arms as they carry me away from the sight. If only they could take away that awful picture that will forever stick in my mind… I don't cry. I am in too much shock to cry...
The door of the girl’s bathroom swings open and my counselor, Mrs. Catherine walks in. My eyes don’t meet hers as she strolls over to me in black slacks and a red blouse. She sits down next to me on the cold floor and sighs.
“Do you want to talk?” She asks, leaning down to look into my eyes. I must look like a complete mess…
I shake my head, not really wanting to go there with her. With anyone, really…
She sighs, “I know it’s hard, Autumn. James was a great friend of yours, not to mention a very smart amd talented student. A lot of people are going to miss him, but I can’t even begin to know and understand what you went through,” A small sob escapes from me as she says those words, and her arm wraps around me tightly, pulling me into her warm embrace. “You are going to get through this.” She whispers, rubbing my shoulder to comfort me.
Her words hit me hard.
My lips quiver and fresh tears slide down my cheeks. I can taste the salt from them as they slide over my lips and drip onto my blue t-shirt. “How long? How long am I going to have to deal with this?”
“It will never go away. It will only get easier to deal with as time goes on. But Autumn, don’t think for one second no one will want to listen. If you ever need anything, a gentle hand to guide you through this horrible time, or just a shoulder to cry on, don’t hesitate to come see me.”
I slowly nod my head against her bony shoulder.
“Good, now let’s go call your mom and see if she can pick you up.”
She stands up and grabs my books off the floor. I also get up from my spot on the floor and follow her out of the bathroom. The halls are deserted and classroom doors are closed. I walk past them with her arm around my shoulder. I can do this…I have to do this…
I will do this.
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