Day 38: Writing Alternative Endings (#1)

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This is a follow up to my “Alternative Ending” post.
———————–
I sat on the floor across from him, the raised edges of the cold parquet floor tiles digging into the backs of my thighs. I dared not move.

Our shoulders were mirrored hunches, eyes lowered. I twisted my fingers nervously around the laces of my black Chucks. “Really, you can leave. I only have, like, 11 hours left to stay up.” I put exaggerated emphasis on the “11 hour” part.

“Please,” he replied, rolling his eyes. “You won’t make it half that long without someone around to poke and prod you.”

“Keep your pokes and prods to yourself,” I said, playfully shoving him. I picked at a small hole I discovered in his sweater.

“Come on.” He unfolded his stick-like limbs and stood. “Let’s go for a walk.”

“Are you kidding me?” I screwed up my face. “It’s 15 freaking degrees outside!”

“Exactly,” he said, holding out his hand. “Get up, you lazy ass. The cold will definitely wake us both up.”

“Seriously?” I groaned. The cold and I never got along, which, of course, is exactly why I ended up moving to balmy New England three years prior.

“Come on,” he repeated more insistently, grabbing my elbow and hauling me to my feet.

“The things I do to keep you entertained,” I muttered. But he was right. No way I’d be able to make it through all those hours without his help. My bed would beckon and in an instant I’d be on my side, drooling all over the pillows. Then I’d have to reschedule the damn test—the test I didn’t want to take in the first place.

He thrust his arms through his downy coat sleeves and watched me fumble to get on my jacket.

“You keep me pretty entertained most of the time.” Hands shoved in his faded jean pockets, he continued to watch me struggle to find the wayward armhole. I watched his shoulders shake with silent laughter.

“Nice,” I responded. He clapped when I finally succeeded.

I humphed in return. “Glad I can meet your entertainment needs.”

“Oh, trust me, you do. How many people can say they’re helping a friend stay up all night long in prep for an EEG that might verify, scientifically, that her brain is genuinely warped?”

I ignored him and pulled my wool cap with earflaps hard over my head. The truth was, I was scared that the EEG would show just that: something else wrong with my blighted body. Another anomaly. Another illness, disease, or ill-functioning body part. I felt heat prick the backs of my eyes, blinked hard, and cleared my throat.

“When I’m finished with the test, since you stayed up all night anyway, I’ll recommend that they do you right after. If either of us is warped, it’s definitely you.”

He gently pushed me toward the door. “Yeah, yeah. No need to be so competitive.”

As soon as we stepped outside, the bone-chilling wind sliced at my exposed cheeks. I made an about-face to go back in.

He barred the entire entryway with his arms. After all this time, his wingspan still surprised me.

“Don’t be such a baby. I know a cart that sells hot chocolate all night long. Let’s go.” He ushered me down the stairs.

At the bottom, I looked up at him. In a rare moment, our eyes met. I felt a stab as I recognized kindness and concern. It was too much; I had to look away. I cleared my throat again. “You know, dumb ass, you don’t have to do this,” I said in a quiet voice.

He dropped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me to him. “‘Course I do, dimwit,” he whispered. “Can you think of anyone else stupid enough to waste a perfectly good evening sleeping in a warm cozy bed just to hobble around in sub-zero weather all night long? Especially with a loser like you?”

I pushed my head into his chest and felt the danger of a tear sliding down. Yes, I was scared of what the tests would reveal…but I didn’t want to let him, or anyone else, know.

For just one moment I let myself relax in his grip, my head comfortably pillowed against him. “Well, when you put it like that…how could I possibly resist your company?”

I closed my eyes for half an instant, then was ambushed by a crushing pressure that billowed in my chest.

No! I wouldn’t let this happen. I was a land mine; I’d end up blowing apart everyone around me. Just like before. I couldn’t bear to think about the injuries I’d cause along the way…The endless revolving doors of doctors and their “talks.” The sickly, septic smell of hospital waiting rooms. The syringes, the pic lines, the medicines, the vomiting, the wheezing, the…

I stiffened and then pulled away.

“Thanks,” I said simply. “You’re a good friend.” I started walking down the street with him at my heels. Glancing back, we once again locked eyes. There was no mistaking the sadness. He shook his head.

“Shit,” he said. “I’m your best friend.” He caught up and rubbed the top of my wool hat.

I closed my eyes for half an instant, then was ambushed by a crushing pressure that billowed in my chest.

No! I wouldn’t let this happen. I was a land mine; I’d end up blowing apart everyone around me. Just like before.

I stiffened and then pulled away.

“Hey,” he said. “Calm down. Take a deep breath or something. You’re looking all weird.”

The frigid air burned my lungs. But all the same, it steadied me. I looked beyond him, to where the lights blinked across the river.

Yes, I thought. I’m a land mine. But he knows that, and still he stays. I was tired of deciding for others. Maybe it was time to let people determine for themselves whether they wanted to risk life and limb by walking in my path.

I leaned ever so slightly in his direction again. He must’ve noticed, because his arm slipped protectively back around my shoulders. I wrapped myself around him and hugged hard.

“Relax,” he said, “You’ve got your best friend here with you.” He kissed the top of my head. “Your best friend,” he paused, “…and more.”

________________

Each day of 2014, I’m forcing encouraging myself to have at least one new experience (and chronicling it to keep it real). If you’re interested in why–though I can’t for the life of me imagine anyone would be that bored–check out the “about” page.

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