Don’t freak out (Alex)

Just Remember to Breathe

Don’t freak out (Alex)

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I love flying west. It’s quirky, I know, but the nice thing about it is, you can leave in the morning and actually arrive still in the morning, if you’re on a non stop flight. Going east, across the United States, isn’t nearly as much fun. Going against the sun, a four hour flight turns into an all-day ordeal… leave in the morning, don’t get there until late at night.

Actually, I’m lying, just trying to stay positive.

The fact is, I hate flying at all. Being cooped up in a tin-can with two hundred other people at near the speed of sound, thousands of feet above the surface of the earth? I get the shakes on takeoff and landing. The only tolerable flight I’ve ever had in my life was the one home from Tel Aviv to New York three years ago. I spent that entire flight in Dylan’s arms, and didn’t notice the fear. He held my hand on takeoff, and I was asleep when we landed.

I was already regretting what I said to him. Even if it was the right thing to say, the right thing to do. I’d gambled, and it was a big one. But I’d also done what I needed to protect myself. I loved Dylan, but I wasn’t going to take him without conditions. I wasn’t going to take him without being able to trust that he’d be there tomorrow.

So this flight, I mostly spent crying. God, sometimes I’m pathetic. Is that a definition of strength? Doing what you have to do even when it’s horrible, when it tears your heart out, when it feels like a huge mistake? If so, I guess this counted. I felt strong. I felt self-affirmed, empowered. I felt miserable.

To make things worse, I spent the entire ride going through my album. I was updating it, adding the very few pictures we’d taken in New York. Together. Every picture I saw of us together made me feel like crying just a little more.

The flight attendant stopped by twice to ask if I was okay. The second time, I answered forcefully, “Do I look okay? Please, just leave me alone.”

She did.

Before the flight landed, I went back to the bathroom and carefully washed my face, then re-did my mascara and makeup. One thing I was not going to do was give any indication to my family that I’d been crying on this flight. This fell under the category of things my mother did not need to know.

At the end of the flight, as I was packing away my carry-on bag, the poor guy who’d been sitting next to me during the flight said, “He’s a lucky guy, I guess, to have you love him so much.”

I grinned. “Maybe. If he only knew it.”

“Good luck,” he said.

I guess I depend on the kindness of strangers. Because I’d put the rose in as well.The rose given to me by the florist around the corner from the dorms, just two weeks ago.

So, bag slung under my shoulder, a fake smile plastered on my face, I walked through the security gates and greeted my family.

My dad wasn’t at the airport, of course. He’d be sitting at home, waiting to greet me in some formal way most likely. But my mom was, and the twins, Jessica and Sarah. Expecting the same sort of giant, chaotic family bear hug I’d been greeted with when I got home for the summer, I was a little surprised (and disappointed) when my mother hugged me first, then each sister separately. They’d arrayed themselves on either side of my mother, Jessica dressed in a white dress, Sarah in black jeans and a grey t-shirt.

“Welcome home, darling,” my mother said.

“Hey,” Jessica said.

Sarah didn’t say a word.

My mother leaned close and whispered, “The twins aren’t speaking with each other at the moment. Sorry about that, it’s made things terribly awkward.”

She wasn’t kidding. I had to sit in the back seat of the minivan, because Sarah and Jessica, both sixteen years old, refused to sit in the middle row together, and the back row had been taken out, the space filled with boxes of God only knew what. Sarah sat up front, staring out the window, refusing to acknowledge anyone.

Jessica looked Sarah, then crossed her arms, pouted, and stared out the window.

Oh, boy. This was going to be a fun vacation.

“So, uh, Mom, what have you been up to?”

“Oh, not much. Mostly worrying about you girls, and waiting hand and foot on your father while he writes his memoirs.”

“He’s still working on them?”

She met my eyes in the rear view mirror for just a second, then said, “Yes, he’s still working on them.” She didn’t sigh, or roll her eyes, or anything else, but it seemed like she wanted to. “How is school? We hardly ever hear from you, Alexandra.”

I shrugged. “I’ve been really busy, lots of commitments this year. I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch more. I’ll try to do better.”

“Your father and I would appreciate that.”

Jessica blurt out, “Carrie’s home. And she has a new boyfriend.”

Sarah turned around in her seat and glared at Jessica, then muttered, “God!” and turned back around.

I raised my eyebrows. “Carrie has a boyfriend?”

My mother interjected, “It seems so. But she’s being very mysterious about it. She’s been home two days, and she’s constantly texting, or giggling on the phone, or locked in her room talking on her computer. It’s really undignified for a woman her age.”

I grinned, suddenly happy for the first time in days. “That’s great, Mom!”

“Well, of course, you would think so,” she said, putting me neatly in my place.

I guess I wasn’t in the mood, though, because I replied instantly, “What’s that supposed to mean, mom?”

She sniffed. “You know we’ve not always approved of your choice of boyfriends.”

I shook my head, keeping a smile plastered on my face, and looked out the window. “Yes, mom. I know that.”

“Well, let’s not get into all of that, it’s all over now anyway.”

I took a deep breath. If she only knew.

For the first time since I’d seen her, Sarah spoke. “What happened to Dylan, anyway? I thought he was cute.”

“Sarah!” my mom said, in an injured voice.

“Well, it’s true, he was cute. Didn’t he join the Army or something?”

I replied, my voice calm, trying desperately to not reveal anything. “Yes. He was badly wounded in Afghanistan.”

“Oh dear,” my mother said, her voice low.

I looked at her, trying to discern from her expression, did she know? My dad emailed Dylan when he was in the hospital. He at least knew Dylan was wounded, and didn’t tell me. My father saw how miserable I was last year, and he knew. And he didn’t tell me.

Dad and I were going to have a discussion.

“Did you know about that, mom?” I asked.

She shook her head. “No, I’m so sorry. I hope it wasn’t serious. Even though we didn’t really approve of him, he’s a nice boy.”

“It was serious,” I answered, still trying to gauge her reaction. We were sitting at a red light, and she met my eyes in the rear-view mirror. “He nearly lost his leg. And his best friend was killed.”

She went pale, then whispered, “I’m so sorry, Alexandra. I know you cared for him.”

I exhaled and sat back in my seat. My mother was, as usual, inscrutable. She could have made millions as a poker player, though I suppose being the wife of a diplomat was much of the same thing.

This drive was excruciating. I took my phone out and turned it on. I knew it was too much to hope for, but maybe there was a message from Dylan. Or an email. A text. Something. Some clue that he’d really heard what I was trying to say. Anything.

As soon as the phone turned on, text messages started coming in. None from Dylan, but one from Kelly, and two more from Sherman, then one from Carrie.

Kelly’s message was short and to the point:

Call me the moment u land. Urgent.

Sherman wrote:

Alex, do not turn on the news. Call me or Carrie ASAP.

Carrie’s was far less cryptic, but but no more helpful.

If mom wants to stop for lunch or something, pretend you are sick. Tell her u need to come home. Now. Call soon. Luv u.

Oh, God. What was wrong? Did something happen to Dylan? What was wrong? I blinked back tears, trying to erase it before my mother saw it.

“Your phone sounds like a car alarm, dear, what’s wrong.”

“Oh, nothing,” I replied, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “It’s just Kelly, I’m going to give her a call real quick, okay?”

“Alexandra…” my mom started to interject, but I was already dialing. Jessica gave me an odd look, eyes falling to my hands, which were shaking, but I brushed it off.

Carrie answered on the second ring.

“Alex?”

“Hey, Kelly,” I said a fake cheery voice. “I got your text messages. What’s this about a paper?”

Carrie immediately understood what I was up to. She asked, “Are you in the car with mom?”

“I am! On my way home right now, we’ll be there soon.”

Mom looked over her shoulder at me as I said that and said, “I thought we’d stop for lunch.”

I frowned. “Hold on, Kelly.” I said to my mom, “Mom, do you mind if we skip lunch? I don’t really feel well, the flight and all.”

Sarah shook her head and muttered something, then crossed her arms over her chest.

“Oh, hon, your sisters were so looking forward to it!”

Oh, God, why wouldn’t they all just shut up and go away!

“Please, mom? I think I need to lay down for a while.”

“Of course, dear.”

“Thanks,” I said, then put the phone back to my ear. “Sorry. What was that you were saying?”

Carrie’s voice came through loud and clear. “Alex, don’t freak out. All right? Whatever you do, I want you to stay calm.”

“Of course,” I said, the fake smile still plastered on my face. My cheeks were starting to hurt.

“Okay. Listen… this morning, Randy Brewer was arrested.”

I closed my eyes, and felt my knees draw up involuntarily. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear what she was going to say next.

“He followed a girl home from a bar last night and raped her.”

I gasped, and my hand flew to my mouth.

“Alexandra, are you all right?”

“I think I’m going to be sick,” I whispered. My stomach was cramping, hard, and I couldn’t stop the tears that started to run down my face.

“Alexandra, put down the phone. What did you eat on the plane, do you have food poisoning?”

“Kelly,” I whispered to my sister. “I’ll send you that email. So sorry, I gotta run, not feeling well.”

She replied right away. “I’ll be here waiting for you, Alex. I’m so sorry.”

I hung up the phone and lay it on seat next to me, and leaned forward in my seat, arms crossed over my chest, trying to hold in the emotions that were threatening to overpower me.

“Alexandra, do you need to go to the doctor? I think we need to take you to the doctor.”

“No!” I shouted.

The silence following the shout was deafening.

My mother screeched to a stop a second later, after almost missing a red light. She looked up at me, her mouth open, eyes wide. I’d never yelled at her before.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I just… need to lay down for a little while, okay? Please?”

I pulled my legs up in my seat and lay my face against them, wrapping my arms around my legs and trying to shut everything out. All I could think about was those minutes last spring, when I’d been unable to get up, unable to defend myself, as he ripped my shirt, before his roommates intervened. And then it happened again, only this time it was Dylan who protected me.

I hadn’t been able to protect myself. What Randy had done made me feel worthless, less than worthless. Like a piece of meat, to be touched and poked and prodded, pushed into position. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to vomit.

Because if I had reported it last spring, he’d have been in jail a long time ago. That girl wouldn’t have been raped. Dylan wouldn’t have been arrested.

It was my fault.

After a couple minutes of dead silence in the car, I felt a poke in my left side. I looked up, and it was Jessica. She had one eyebrow raised, a suspicious expression on her face.

She was holding my iPhone, and had the call history up. The last call, of course, was to Carrie’s cell phone. When I’d been pretending to be talking to Kelly. A couple of calls to Kelly below that, and fourth on the list in my call history: Dylan. The contact picture next to his name was a picture, just taken two weeks ago, of the two of us.

This is first draft material from a new story I’m working on. You can find the  beginning and contents of the story, here. I love feedback, and would appreciate hearing any thoughts about the story. You can also check it out on Goodreads or Wattpad.

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