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I felt the numbness fade away, the blackness turn to a dim yellow. Heat coursed through my body, sending electric shocks down from my head to my feet as it tried to keep me warm. I shivered, my teeth beginning to chatter when I opened my mouth, my throat parched.
“So…cold,” I managed to choke out. I couldn’t remember what had happened the night prior.
My eyes seemed to be glued shut. I raised my hand up, but it fell onto my bed, limp beside me. I rolled onto my side, grabbing for my warm lavender-scented blanket I knew to be there, but… it… just…wasn’t. I jolted upright, beads of sweat clinging to my forehead. I forced my eyes open and took in my surroundings.
A strange boy sat at the foot of my bed. I opened my mouth, ready to shout, “Rape,” but he was on top of me, his hand over my mouth, before I got a word out.
My eyes widened as I noticed his closeness. I screamed into his hand, tears forming in my eyes. “Aghhhhh!” However, the sound was muffled.
I heard a creak as the door opened. Another boy entered, with a woman. I was giving myself pep talks, my adrenaline pumping.
“Okay, nevermind. I guess she doesn’t need you anymore, Victoria.”
“Are you joking, Roman? She thinks Jace is about to murder her. Look at the poor child!” the woman protested.
I screamed, hoping someone would hear me. Of course, no one came to my rescue. I saw hurt in the woman’s eyes- Victoria, they’d said her name was.
I allowed my screams to fade, now that I knew that no one was around to help me. “Why am I here?” I muttered, holding my knees to my chest. “And what the **** happened to my dog?”
I looked from face to face. The boy next to my bed had amusement playing on his features, the woman concern, and the other boy who’d just come back, nervousness.
“What happened to my dog?” I demanded.
“I-I… He…Your dog is fine,” the boy farther away from me said quietly. “My name is Roman. I just have to ask you a quick question. Did you… Do you, um, remember anything about what happened before you woke up here?”
My eyes widened as the memories came flooding back at me. “My god, you’re that boy! You… you had fur. And ears.
You had dog ears. **** it, I’m crazy,” I moaned. “They’re right; I’m crazy. I’m a psychopath, and I deserve to be locked up in a padded cell, like they say. They’ve been right all along. It’s all in my head. I’m completely delusional, and I’ll spend the rest of my life in a mental institution if some one doesn’t tell me what the **** is going on!”
The people in the room looked shocked. “Who are you?” I mumbled before letting my head fall back onto a pillow. “Why can’t you just leave me alone? I’m crazy.”
“You’re…I don’t know what to do about this,” mumbled Roman. He slammed his fist against the wall. “We can’t leave you alone. This is my room.”
“Where are we? I can…leave,” I said hopefully. But that led me back to the question, what do they want with me in the first place? If I didn’t actually see what I thought I saw- which was impossible- then why were they keeping me here?
“Just…leave. It was traumatizing, I’m sure,” the boy next to me said.
“But I-” started Roman.
“No. You Shifted in front of her. She’s obviously scared. Leave, or I’ll tell Joseph myself. And, anyway, you need to get your story straight, because Joseph’s going to want to kick her out because she’s nothing special to him.”
Roman considered for a moment before exiting the room, Victoria at his side.
I turned to the boy. “And you are…?” I asked.
“Excuse my manners,” he said, beaming at me. “I’m Jace Roberts. Roman’s a good friend of mine.”
“Umm okay? I’m…Ava… Ava Hansen.” What the ****? I thought, bewildered.
“Let me start out by telling you, you’re not crazy.”
“What you saw Roman do was real.”
I gave a small smile. “That’s not why I think I’m crazy. It just confirmed it,” I said sadly.
I shook my head. “I…”
“Tell me, please. If you want to live, I need you to tell me every weird thing about you,” he begged. “I want you to live;
you didn’t do anything wrong. You shouldn’t be punished for Roman’s mistake.”
I blushed. “I can’t tell you,” I whispered.
“Why?” he asked, his eyes revealing his hurt.
“It’s not exactly something I go around putting up on billboards. I’m crazy,” I told him. That’s when what I was doing
occurred to me. I was trying to convince myself I was crazy, too- even when I’ve been spending my whole life trying to convince everyone around me that I’m perfectly sane.
“Tell me, please.”
“I… When I look in mirrors, it’s like I’m talking to myself. There’s this…echo-y voice that talks to me in my head, and my lips move in the mirror. But I don’t control it. I know, it’s stupid. I’ve been hearing voices since-“
“You were probably about thirteen or fourteen? Twelve, even?” he cut me off with the question. I blushed.
“Y-yes. How did you-“
He smiled, shaking his head as he climbed onto the bed and plopped down next to me. “And afterwards? How do you feel when it’s over?” he pushed.
I glanced at my bare feet. “I-I feel like ****; I’m always really tired and hungry.”
He gasped. “You cannot tell anyone what you just told me, do you understand?”
I muttered, “I don’t even freakin’ know you!”
“Ask me anything,” he challenged.
“What’s your favorite color?” I said sarcastically.
“Probably a forest green. Reminds me of the jungles,” he answered. “But I know what your questions are. Come with me.” He held out his hand, expecting me to take it.
“Where are we? And where’s my dog?”
“I don’t know where your dog is, but we’re at the, um, Marriot Hotel. We’re in northern New Jersey.”
“How north?” I asked.
“Very. Drive for five minutes, through two towns, and you hit New York. We’re fairly close to the city, actually.”
“Are you kidding? What the **** did he- Roman- do, toss me in a van and drive all the way here?”
“What do you mean? Aren’t you from around here? He said he found you in a park.”
“Yeah, a park near where my mom lives! I live on a ******’ farm!” I protested. “We are nowhere near farms! We’re in the suburbs!”
“Oh,” was his only response.
“I don’t know you, I don’t know Roman, I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know where I am, and I am exhausted!” I yelled.
“Okay, okay. Just…calm down,” said Jace.
“I’m not going to freakin’ calm down! I need to go home. My family… They’ll die without me, Jace! They don’t know how to do anything,” I cried, angry with my family for what they’d done, angry with Sammy because he led me here, angry with Jace, angry with Roman, angry with the whole world because I was going through this.
“What…what do you mean by that?”
I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. “What do you care?”
He smiled sadly. “We might be taking you away from everything you love. If you tell me what’s happening, I might be able to help you.”
I let my head fall to my knees. “I can’t just tell you all my secrets- especially the ones I’ve been keeping for this long.”
He put his hand over mine. “I know this might be asking a lot, but do me a favor. Trust me. I promise I won’t disappoint you.”
I dropped my gaze, trying to decide what to do. I began, “All my life, I’ve felt unwanted. My father left when he discovered my mother was pregnant. A few years later, my mom…She remarried. When I was ten, my step-father and my mother had a child. My half brother is just…this awful, spoiled person. My parents stopped caring about me. Instead, they focused all of their time and energy on my brother, Daniel. My mom quit her job. My step-father insisted we move onto a farm so he could work from home. At fourteen, I began working two jobs- plus working the farm. That didn’t leave much time for socializing or continuing to play soccer. So, I quit the team. That led to slowly losing my friends.” I hadn’t noticed that my voice cracked at the end. I began sobbing, my body shaking with tears.
Jace scooted closer to me and wrapped his arms around me. I cried into his shoulder for what felt like hours. When my eyes were finally dry, and I couldn’t find any more tears to cry, I looked up at him. “Why? Why me? What am I doing here? Why is this happening to me?”
He smiled sadly. “Sorry, Ava. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’ll all be okay, though. I promise.”
I dragged my sleeve across my face, my sleeve coming away with mascara. I must look great, I thought, a hint of sarcasm trickling into my mind as the words came to me. With that thought, I ran my hand through my hair and sighed.
“You want answers, I know. I also know how hard this must be for you. Let’s go,” he decided.
“I can leave…? I can…go? Home?” I whispered hopefully. Once again, home isn’t my ideal place, but I’m stuck with these people right now. Anything is better than that- except maybe a mental institution, I thought with a shudder.
“No, we need to go… eh… see someone.”
“Me?” he suggested.
I narrowed my eyes. “If you leave, I’m not trusting you. I won’t tell you anything else,” I said. That was the only thing I had on him at the time.
He threw his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. I’m not going to leave you,” he promised.
I nodded curtly. “Good.”
He reached out for my hand, and I took it, grateful. I shot him a sidelong glance and was met with a smile. “Stop shaking. It’s no big deal.”
I breathed in deeply, and then exhaled slowly. “Alright, I’m good. Now let’s go to this mysterious destination before I lose my nerve.”