Alliyah

United States of America

Hello everyone! I'm Alliyah. Writing is my passion. I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints. I also love nature, reading, making people laugh, playing sports, photography and art.

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Chapter 3 of Steadfast!!! If you haven't read chapters 1 and 2 go check those out first and then come back here pronto. Love you all! Please leave comments and reviews!

Steadfast (Chapter 3)

July 4, 2019

FREE WRITING

0
“I’m gonna need the lowdown.”
I stared down at my ice cream cone and shrugged. 
“Hey?” Aaron waited until I dragged my gaze up to his to continue. “It’s okay, TJ. You know that, right?” 
“What?” I asked, only half-interested. 
Aaron raised his eyebrows. “Sass-o-meter: level red,” 
I rolled my eyes and deadpanned. 
Aaron’s eyes were smiling. “Alert! Alert! May implode from  toxic levels of sass--” 
“People are staring,” I hissed, glancing sideways at the other people around us. 
Aaron stifled a laugh. He reached out his hand, laying it on my arm as though he was trying to be comforting. “Sweetie, I’m just worried for you--” 
My solemnity broke finally and I burst out laughing. “Aaron.” 
“If you need to talk about anything--” 
“Would you shut up?” I asked, exaggerated exasperation in my voice. 
“Shh! Your ice cream is melting,”
I groaned and stole a glance at my cone. It really was melting. I let out a surprised squeak and lifted the cone above my head. I tilted backwards and opened my mouth, letting the melted ice cream drip onto my tongue. 
    Aaron chuckled and turned his attention to his own ice cream. He dragged his tongue over the white, creamy dessert, pulling away with a clump on his tongue. The tip of the ice cream curled in a tiny spiral. 
    “So how’s the girlfriend?” I asked.
    Aaron looked up at me, mid-lick. He flicked his gaze back at the ice cream and then burst into laughter. 
    “What?” I leaned forward, grinning but not knowing why. 
    He sighed heavily and then laughed again. “She’s a girl, man,” 
    I raised my eyebrows. “No, really?” 
“You know what I mean, TJ. She’s picky. She’s stubborn as heck. She’s crazy,” 
“And beautiful. And she’s the only one that will put up with you,” 
Aaron cocked his head at me and watched my gaze for a couple of seconds. He smiled. “You’re right,”
“You like her a lot?”
He nodded, turning back to his ice cream. “But I didn’t come all the way down here to talk about myself.” 
“Yeah?” I asked. I avoided his gaze, guessing--knowing--what he wanted to talk about. I stared out the window. Outside, summer was in full force. The trees were all arrayed in the brilliant dark green that only served as a reminder of the bright hues sprawled across the LBPHS track black top. Sunlight glinted of the glass window, shimmering and highlighting the diamonds shapes of rainbow hues. 
I ran my hand over my face. 
When had life gotten so complicated? 
“TJ?” Aaron’s voice was different this time. Softer. More serious. More genuine. 
He didn’t wait for me to answer. “It’s okay to be mad, TJ.” 
We were both silent for a time. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to say. All of my words were stuck, caught in my throat or trapped, locked up in my heart and I wasn’t sure how to get them out.
“It’s okay be sad.” I glanced at my uncle. He cleared his throat, and swallowed a few times. I watched his Adam’s apple bob convulsively. He blinked rapidly. 
“It’s okay to not be doing okay. Some things are hard.” Another swallow. “Some things are hard and sometimes it seems like the whole world is against you.
“Sometimes, you don’t know what to do. Or how to feel.” 
I looked up at him and our gazes locked. 
“That’s okay, TJ. Life is hard sometimes. We don’t always have to pretend like we have everything under control. Part of being honest, is being honest to yourself. It’s okay to admit that you’re not okay.” 
I wished my eyes would stop stinging. 
“We both know that everything isn’t okay. It’s okay to say that.” 
I shrugged and let my gaze fall to my ice cream. It looked just as delicious as before but for some reason  didn’t feel like eating it anymore. 
“You don’t have to hold the weight of the world on your shoulders. That’s someone else’s job.” 
I looked up, slightly confused. 
Aaron gave me a sad sort of smile and raised a finger. His index finger indicated the ceiling. The sky. Whatever was beyond that. 
He smiled, his lips pressed tightly together. “Take that weight off your shoulders.” 
I looked down at my hands. Something was telling me that  maybe Aaron was right. 
“Uncle Aaron?” I asked. 
“Shoot, kiddo,” 
“Every once and awhile...you say something worth listening to.” 
Aaron laughed and suddenly--though a minute before I felt like crying--I had the urge to join in. 
I did. 
Aaron laughed louder. And even though every eye in the restaurant was on the two of us, I did the same. 
And for the first time in the last 24 hours, I couldn’t feel the weight on my shoulders. 
#
“I’m going to starve to death before they get me in,” I complained, trying to lighten the mood. 
“You’re not supposed to eat six hours before the--” Mama broke off. The expression on her face told me that she was almost scared to say the word. 
“Surgery?” I finished for her. “Mama, I told you, it’s fine.” I reached over and squeezed her hand. “I’m going to be running again by August,” 
Mama forced a tight smile. “Of course, baby,” 
I was thinking of what to say to that, what to tell her when my train of thought was interrupted by a voice. 
“Talia Jackson?” 
I stood, flashing Mama a brave smile. I about-faced and gave the nurse a one-over. 
She was shorter than me, about six inches shorter. Her olive skin and dark wavy hair reminded me of an actress. Her hair, the ends highlighted like they were dipped in gold paint, was wound into a professional looking chignon on the side of her head, giving her face a sort of asymmetrical look. Her jade eyes smiled at me just as much glowing white teeth did. 
“Nice to meet you, Talia,” 
I liked the way she pronounced my name. It rolled off her tongue easily, with the soft a sound that Mama always said was the correct way. 
‘I named you ‘Ta-lia’ not ‘Tal-lia’’ She would always fuss.
    I would always laugh and roll my eyes. 
    She would always smile and my and tug on my hair. 
    “Nice to meet you too,” I said, to the nurse. I squinted at her name tag and read Audra in slanting, small letters.     
    Audra smiled widely. Her pen cracked against clipboard in her hand. “A big operation today,” She said, in a conversational tone. 
    As though it was nothing. 
    I smiled tightly. 
    Audra shook her head. “It’s nothing to worry about, sweetie. Everything will go perfectly.”
Except for the fact that I won’t have two legs anymore. I tried to keep my expression pleasant. 
Audra beamed at me and motioned towards the door. “Right this way,”     
I nodded and made my way to the door. Pain throbbed through my shin and as Audra moved in step behind me she clucked in disapproval. I focused on not limping. 
“Did they teach you how to use crutches?” Audra asked. 
I swallowed and my throat still felt dry. “I’m fine, thank you,” I thought about the crutches I had been given, leaned up against my dresser at home. Mama hadn’t been in the mood to argue with me. 
“Okay,” Audra didn’t sound convinced. 
We walked in silence. The hallway was long and narrow and brightly lit; the fluorescent lights made everything look almost fake. 
As we walked, I rubbed at my collar. It felt weird to not wearing my silver chain and the little pendant--imprinted with a winged shoe--that was attached to it. I thought of Mama, back in the waiting room, probably wearing that necklace now, rubbing it between her index finger and thumb like she did to her matching one when she was worried. 
I blinked hard and stuffed my hands into my pockets. I felt them trembling against my legs and withdrew them. I raked them through my hair a few times and then dropped them back at my sides. I wasn’t sure what to do with them. What to do with myself. 
“Right here.” 
I stopped walking, felt the familiar jolt of pain that accompanied abrupt movement. 
We turned into a room that was a sort of smaller hallway. My history teacher probably would’ve called it an antechamber or something equally as nerdy. Along the walls, changing rooms were sectioned out Directly across from that were several faux-wood cupboards. Audra opened the one on the far right and pulled out a milky blue hospital gown. 
Inwardly, I cringed. 
“Here, sweetheart. Change into this.” 
I took the gown with another smile that was everything but genuine. I wished she would stop called me ‘sweetheart’. 
I ducked into a changing room, put on the gown and emerged again. 
Audra lead me into another room, this time one that looked more like a regular doctor’s office room. I sat on the end of the examination table. 
“Alright, sweetheart. I’m going to ask you a few questions.” 
#
I don’t really remember much about the rest Wednesday. 
I remember my thoughts, loud and violent in my head. 
What if something goes wrong? 
What if the cancer spread? 
What if I’m never able to run again? 
I remember the surgeons face, who spoke to me before I went under: salt and pepper hair, cut short and green eyes that squinted up when he smiled. 
    I remembered the anesthesiologist: enormous glasses, amber eyes, her hair covered with a blue hospital cap. 
    I remember the feeling I had as the anesthetic seeped into my veins like liquid winter. I remembered how the world had grown dark--around the corners first and blurring towards the middle. I remembered how I thought I heard Coach Williams voice. And then everything as dark and I heard nothing. 
#
    Light. 
    Too far away. 
    I groaned. 
    “Talia?” 
    A voice. 
    A familiar voice. 
    Mama? 
    “Talia, I’m here,” 
    Mama. 
    I pried my eyes open and blinked them shut again immediately. The world was too bright. The darkness was too...empty. 
    I didn’t want to feel empty. 
    I opened my eyes again. 
    Mama’s face focused slowly. 
    “Hi, baby,” 
    “Hey,” I don’t know if I actually smiled and if I did I don’t know how I managed  it. 
    Mama laughed. “That’s the spirit.” She reached out and stroked my brow. “How do you feel?” 
    I grimaced. “Tired.” 
    The corner’s of Mama’s eyes crinkled. “Okay, baby. Get some sleep, then.” 
    I tried to nod. My movements felt sluggish. 
    “I love you, Talia,” 
    “Love you too, Mama,” 
    Darkness. 
#
I yawned, bringing my hand up to cover my mouth a second too late. Blinking my eyes open, I looked around the room. 
The carefree smile that had been tugging at my lips shriveled up and died. 
The hospital. 
Next to me, I heard someone shift. I looked over and saw Mama. She was in a chair next to the bed I lay in, leaning forward her head in her hands. Sleeping. 
I almost smiled at that. 
Then I remembered. Slowly, I sat up, careful not to jostle any of the devices around me, poking into my skin. I leaned back against the pillows, steeling myself for something I was likely to regret. 
I would have to get used to it at some point, wouldn’t I. 
I threw back the sheets. 
I didn’t look as bad as I had expected--all wrapped up in bandages and what not. Still, I little tingle crept up my spine and my feet felt cold. 
My foot. 
Goodness, that was weird. 
I reached out my hand and felt the bandages. They were smooth and soft. Slowly, gingerly, I felt the space where my left calf used to be. 
Plain air. 
Empty air.  
Why did that word always squirm its way into my thoughts?
“Miss Jackson?” 
I jerked my head up. A nurse was standing in the doorway, a clipboard in hand. I didn’t move, didn’t react. 
“How are you feeling?” 
I gave a half-shrug. I didn’t trust my voice. 
The nurse smiled gently. She inclined her head towards my outstretched hand. “It’s a little weird at first, huh?” 
It must’ve been something about her voice. The softness of it. Or maybe the faint curve of her smile. Or maybe the strands of grey hair were that were so like Mama’s. 
“Just a bit,” I said. 
The nurse laughed softly. “May I check you out real quick?”
I nodded. The nurse--Jessica Emptage-- came to see on the other side of the bed. 
Time passed quickly as she checked my temperature, my blood pressure, etc. She peppered our conversations with little things about herself, with questions about my life and my mom. 
When she stood, clutching the clipboard close to her chest once more, I didn’t feel as empty. 
“I have one last question for you,” 
    I nodded. 
    “Do you feel up to a visit?” 
    I squinted, surprised. “Yeah, sure.” I rubbed absently at my quad. “Who’s coming?” 
    Jessica winked as she opened the door. “You’ll see. I’ll send him over.” 
    #
    “I don’t know.” I told Mama. “It’s weird. It doesn’t feel...real yet, I don’t think.” 
    Mama nodded and flashed a smile. “Well, that was quite a distance to go to get out of chores.” 
    “Mama!” I laughed. 
    She put up her hands, showing me her empty palms. “Hey! I’m just saying!” 
    I rolled my eyes theatrically. “Right,” 
    “Truth only offends liars,” She shot back. 
    I jerked my head back. “Oh. Oh. I see how this is going to go.” 
    “You’re darn right it is,” Mama tried to keep a straight face but she couldn’t hold it. Her lips twitched a few times and then she exploded into laughter. 
    Once she started laughing, I was a goner. 
    The knocking was what interrupted. If not for the noise, we might’ve kept laughing for who knows how long. 
    Mama turned and looked at me. I managed a smile not nearly as real as the one I had given her before. 
    “Come on in,” Mama called out. 
    The door creaked open.
    A boy stepped into the room.
    He looked about my age, maybe younger. My eyes only flicked over his facial features though. Then my gaze snapped onto something and however much I wanted to look away, I couldn’t. 
    A prosthetic. 
    A blade. 
    It was attached to his knee and replaced his lower left leg. 
    He stepped forward. The artificial leg planted on the ground, the black material bunching slightly as though trying to simulate a calf muscle, flexed and ready to push off. 
    Another step. 
    His gait was smooth enough. Not normal, but smooth. 
    I watched the prosthetic, staring longer than was polite in probably any culture. I watched how it bent, what parts stayed rigid. 
    That was what I was going to be running on. 
    That's what I had to run on. 
    “Could I see your blade?” 
    The words popped out of my mouth. 
    Not ‘hi’. Not ‘Hello, I’m Talia’. 
    Ask him about his prosthetic first. 
    Of course. 
    The boy laughed and I brought my gaze up to his face. He squinted, tilting his head to the side. “Well, hello to you too. And I’m doing fine, thanks,” He said, in a half-serious voice. 
    I felt my face go warm. Out of my peripheral, I saw Mama bite her lip. 
    “Oh--I’m sorry...I just….” I tried to think of something to say. 
    Oh, I’m sorry. I was just staring at your leg and was intrigued by the way it functions because I’ll have the unfortunate opportunity to run on one in the very near future. 
    Likely. 
    I cleared my throat loudly. The boy looked like he was about to burst into laughter. 
    “I’m Talia,” I forced the words out of my throat, struggling to keep my voice pleasant. Mama massaged her temples.  
    The boy laughed again, finally letting it out. “Great...you, uh, done staring?” 
    I jerked my head up, tearing my gaze from his prosthetic for the second.
    Something in my brain couldn’t register, couldn’t believe it. That--that thing--was what I was going to run on. 
    Not a leg. 
    Not a flesh and blood leg. 
    I didn’t have one of those anymore. 
    “Goldilocks?” The boy said, in a tone that meant this was the second time. 
    “Excuse me?” 
    “I asked if you were ready to stop staring,” 
    “Goldilocks?” I repeated back to him, quirking my eyebrow up. 
    “Yeah,” He motioned to the chair by the bed and then without permission, grabbed the back of it and swung it to where he was standing, a few feet from the bed. “Don’t like it?” He sat down, and grasped one ankle, pulling it up to rest on the opposite knee. He scrunched up his face. “I’ll think of something better,” He nodded his head then, as though he was agreeing with himself. 
    “Why Goldilocks, though?” 
    The boy gave me a half shrug and didn’t answer the question. Instead he turned his face towards my mom and gave a two finger salute. 
    “Talia’s mother?” He guessed. 
    Mama nodded and smiled, serenely as though she was trying to make up for my bluntness. “Mrs. Jackson.” 
    The boy’s eyebrows floated to the top half of his face. “The Mrs. J?” 
    Mama grinned, wider this time and said, theatrically. “The same,” 
    “My friends love you, by the way,” 
    “They have good reason,” Mama returned. 
    The boy raised his eyebrows even further--further than I thought possible. “I see why, now,” He turned to me, then. He smiled, and for the first time noticed his eyes. 
    They were dark. And they smiled when he smiled. 
    He reached down, and removed the prosthetic blade. It took a few seconds and I watched as he removed a couple of layers of socks and something that looked sort of like a brace. 
    His residual limb looked much like mine albeit lighter and hairier. 
    Something hit my hand. I looked down and grasped the blade that the boy had handed me. 
    I nodded my thanks and turned over the leg in my hands, letting my fingers run over the smooth, plastic-like material. It was almost ‘J’ shaped, minus the cross at the top. 
    “Carbon fiber,” The boy said, as though he had read my mind.     
    I nodded, not looking up at him. I ran my hand from the top to the bottom, feeling the curves and wondering how it would hold up for sprinting. 
    “You run?” The boy asked. 
    Not ran. Not past tense. 
    “Track and Field,” I replied, looking up at him. 
    He nodded, reaching up to run his hand through feathery, black hair. “Me too,” 
    I squinted at him. “Really?” 
    He grinned, seeming pleased to have elicited such a reaction. “That’s right. The 400. 4 by 4. The jumps. The works,” 
    I found a smile growing on my face. “The 400?” 
    “That’s what you run?” He guessed. 
    I nodded. 
    “You any good?” He cocked his head at me, raised eyebrows that seemed to think they didn’t belong directly above his eyes. 
    I gave him a half shrug. 
    “What’s your PR?” 
    “56.08,” I replied without hesitation. 
    For a second, his face registered surprize. Then pity. Then that cocky smile was back, plastered on his face. “That’s alright,” He offered. 
    I felt the corners of my lips pulling upwards. “Yeah, it’s alright,” 
    “Alright enough to make State?” 
    I didn’t answer that, only gave him a sly smile and handed back the leg. 
    “Oh, really?” He leaned down, putting the leg back on. 
    I remembered it, remembered that I would have to be down that--putting on a leg--in a couple weeks. My face darkened. “Not anymore,” 
    The boy didn’t look surprised at my words. He leaned forward slightly, dark hair falling into his eyes. He smiled, not showing his teeth, simply quirking up one side of his lips in a sort of smirk. 
    “We’ll see about that.” 
    I nodded, looking down at my hands. My gaze roved, glancing at what was left of my left leg and flicking away once more. I couldn’t look at it now. 
    Not now. 
    “Yeah?” My voice took on an almost sarcastic twinge. 
    The boy leaned back, then, intertwining his hands and putting them behind his head. “Yeah.” He sounded confident. 
    Confident that I could run. 
    He didn’t even know me. 
    I thought about my calendar. About the day, in August, that had ‘Begin running’ written on it in red. 
    I remembered what I had thought, then. A time that felt like decades ago. 
    I would start running or I would die trying. 
    I looked back up at the boy. “Who are you, anyway?” 
    He stared at me for a second, his almost black eyes scanning my face. Then realization dawned on him. “Oh, right.” He said, understanding glinting in his eyes. He stuck out his hand. I grasped it and shook firmly. “Daniel,” he said. 
 

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