Holding On: Chapter 9
In willwriteforhearts last chapter, Nick was contacted by a mysterious man—but does he want to help him or hurt him?
“Is…” My voice rises quickly, getting hysterically loud. Keeping my eyes on him, I hesitantly put my backpack on the kitchen table side opposite where he’s sitting, smiling idiotically.“…is anyone else home?”
Mom’s boyfriend shakes his head, wearing the same creepily smug smile that's been on his face since I arrived home. I didn’t know she’d just leave him here… what are we, man-daycare?
“But it’s nice to finally talk to you. I didn’t have the chance—“
“—the first time you saw me?” I feel the red jump up into my face again, and I look into my backpack, pretending I’m looking for something. “Yeah. I know.”
Is that a car door?
He shakes his head again, standing up from his chair and staring at me with the emotion of a rock. “You-“
The door slams open. “Alice!”
I turn around quickly, relieved that we’re not alone anymore. But… what happened to Nick?
“Hi, Nick… are you okay?”
He stares at me, wide-eyed and slightly breathless, panting heavily and looking around. “No! I mean, well… I’m not sure…” He scratches the back of his neck in sorry confusion, before he sees Mom’s boyfriend across the room. Smile. “Hi, sir. Nice to see you again.”
They stare at each other for a while before Nick fully comes into the house, rolling himself in and stifling the weird paranoia he’d had when he’d opened the door. What’s wrong with him? Mom’s boyfriend frowns vaguely, going to the fridge. “So you’re Nick? I remember you.” He says absently, rummaging through the fridge’s contents. “I’m Tom.”
“Right.” I don’t care who you are!
Standing up, he turns to look at us with an increasingly bored look, sighing. “And you know that I’m staying for a while?”
Nick doesn’t say anything, occupying himself with his backpack by the table.
Tom nods, hawk eyes hopping uncomfortably away from Nick, then moving and settling on me.
“I’ll see you kids later.”
I turn on Nick the moment he’s gone, practically seething. “You could’ve helped me out there.”
He rolls his eyes, fingers curling around the wheelchair’s armrests forcefully. “Let’s not go through this again.” Tired. Nick looks down at his lap and his eyes are rimmed red.
It isn’t right for him to be like this. It isn’t right for him to just take that man like he’s nothing.
“Okay.” My voice breaks mid-word and I run my hand through my hair aggressively, at a loss for words. I try to force Nick’s eyes up feeling that somehow… somehow he can still fix things…
“I’m going to my room.”
I go to hide before anything else happens, followed almost immediately by the sound of Mom’s car pulling in.
It keeps getting better.
Even though I know he’s staying the night, I still have the instinctive thought that he’ll leave in the morning. But he won’t. Not this time.
I only feel a little bad after what Alice had said… it’s not like I’m obligated to swing in to her rescue every time she can’t handle something, right?
“It’s not my fault he’s here!”
I glare at Wheelchair from my bed, covering my face tiredly. I feel angry. And stupid. And useless. And slightly insane.
The man in black.
I mean really, what was that?
“Do I sound insane, Wheelchair?”
You’re talking to a chair, Nick.
However charming, witty, and insightful I may be—
“Yeah, don’t push it.”
Some unfamiliar smell comes through my door and it takes me a few seconds to register it as smoke. So now Mom smokes, huh? Or at least her boyfriend does.
I remember when we were little and Mom and Dad told us about smoking. Dad had once said that smoking for your lungs was like leaving peaches to rot; they shrivel up and darken until there’s nothing left.
My cellphone rings from my pants pocket and I clumsily get it out, holding it up to my ear awkwardly. “Hello?”
“Is she okay?”
The phone drops onto the ground when I let go, changing to speaker even though I’m sure I didn’t press the speaker button. “You! You again!” It’s all I can manage, really, my face feels like its been put in the freezer. It’s the man. What is this?!
“Nothing happened? Nick, please.”
“How do you know my name?” My voice cracks and I fall off my bed in a desperate scramble to grab my phone, only succeeding in pushing it farther away. I pull myself across the floor and feel like a slug, shoving Wheelchair aside.
“Nick! Tell me!”
Finally getting a hold of it, I nod, forgetting for a second that he can’t see me. “Uh, yeah, she’s fine. But who—“
“Good. Watch that man, Nick. I don’t trust him.”
“Who are you?”
The phone line is dead.
I slump against the side of my bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to convince myself that I’m breathing deeply when I’m hyperventilating. I check my cell phone’s call history, seeing a group of astericks covering up the last call. But it’s there. It exists. Why’s he so interested in Alice? How does he know me? How—
The phone rings again and I attack it like a 5-year-old on a sugar high. This time he’s not hanging up without answer all of my questions. I hear him take a breath on the other side of the line but I cut in before he can say anything.
“Look, you can’t just keep mysteriously calling me, okay? You’re going to tell me what’s going on, right now.”
Quiet static. “What—“
“No, you what! I know you’re probably just a creep stalking Alice!”
“So back off!”
Well, that caught me off guard.
I fight the urge to ram my face into a wall, hand balling up around a knot of blanket that I’ve pulled off the bed. It’s just Timothy.
“Why would I be stalking your little sister?”
With some effort, I pull myself onto Wheelchair. It flips over. Today isn’t exactly my day. “Er, sorry… I didn’t mean that. I just… was…”
Wheelchair whispers quickly, Um, practicing.
For a play!
“Right! For a play!”
Timothy is quiet for a little bit until suddenly he starts laughing. I frown, shooting a look at an apologetic Wheelchair, not really in the mood for this sort of thing. But it was pretty weird… “Weird play.” He says finally. That’s all.
Then, “You okay?”
“Stressed.” I say, rolling out of the room. And a million other things.
“You did seem a bit… edgy.”
The smoke is stronger in the hallway.
We love how this story is unfolding, don't you?
Related post: Holding On