I used to be afraid of the dark.
I'm not anymore. I love it now. Nighttime is much more beautiful than daytime. Especially here, in Elm Valley Park, when the most significant amount of people you see is perhaps one, like tonight. I observe her. It's a girl out for a jog, hair tied back, sweat beading on her eyelashes and skin. She seems calm, or maybe just appears that way. I don't know.
I'm supposed to read. I've got an essay due soon, and most people won't even read the book until the day before. I'm too anxious about schoolwork.
I'm anxious about everything. That's why I like the night so much. It's so calming to be in a place empty of judgment, people, stress. The nighttime world is different. It's dark and beautiful, and the sky and the stars have this fragile balance with the earth. I feel still. I feel grounded.
I push my hair back.The air is cold and real, and a snow flurry touches my lips. I'm not wearing much, just a casual sleeveless dress and leggings, and the storm must have soaked my flower crown and hair by now.
I don't like this snow because it won't make up its mind. It stings my skin and wets my hair, but it won't collect. I can see the snowflakes disappear when they touch the ground, melting before disappearing.
Sarah used to tell me I thought about things too much, back when I said the things I was thinking. Mom said I overthought out loud. They weren't wrong. Having adjoining rooms made her the target for my loud overthinking, and when she moved out to live with Lilly, I realized most people weren't as accustomed to it as she was. So I learned to keep my overthinking quiet.
Overthinking doesn't seem like the right word, however. It feels messed up and strange and sounds like there's something wrong with me, some unknown disease making my brain overthink. Maybe it's true. Is anxiety a disease?
I hear footsteps behind me and turn. There's a boy behind me, behind the bench, holding a lighter and a cigarette.
"Fag! Fucking pussy!"
He stares, fists clenched, words hovering on his tongue before he swallows them and, to my shock, sits next to me. All of a sudden, he's crying, and not just a little but real, deep, hyperventilating sobs. He seems like he wants to get up, but now I can I see what his low-pulled beanie and gloves were hiding.
Dark bruises streak across his face, and there's a nasty cut above his right eyebrow bleeding into his eye. His eyes are purple, and his skin is swelled and bleeding. I notice now his clothes: sure, they're weather-appropriate, but they're too small, worn to the thread, and patched.
"Hey. Who did this to you?"
"Leave me the hell alone. I'm fine." He lights a cigarette and places it between his lips, taking a shaking breath.
"I am." As if to prove my point, he attempts to stand up and walk away before his knees buckle out from underneath him and he cries out as he collapses onto the bench.
I wipe away a blood drop on his jacket. He still flinches. "Need anything?"
"Get away, asshole. It's not your fucking business."
An anxiety ball settles into my chest. He seems so damn angry, so resistant to anything. I don't deal with this well. I can hear Sarah's voice in my head, the day after Lily was raped. "Some people aren't worth saving, Alex. And you won't listen to me, but someday this might happen to you, and you'll regret trying to help." And I know she's right because I'm proving her point right now as I turn to hand a tissue to the boy. "Should I get help from someone?"
"Dammit, no. You can't call the fucking police or the ambulance; you're just going to make it all worse." He dissolves into a sob. "They're either gonna ruin everything or blame me and say I got in a fight. I mean," a gasp of bitter laughter escapes. "I'm black. If we call the police while being murdered by a white person, we'll get arrested for making it harder for them to kill us."
"I didn't mean calling them. I've got some water, maybe some chocolate or leftover Halloween candy. And if you let me get some stuff -"
His eyes go wide. "God, no, you can't get things from your house."
"Okay. So just the candy?"
"Don't talk until you're done eating."
When he finishes, he sets the wrappers aside. "You didn't need to do that.
"You didn't. Especially after what I said. It's just, you know, seeing you, being so damn proud and open - I wish I could. I wish I could pull it off like you, you know, the whole being you thing, but I fucking can't, and I hate it. I hate everyone, and I wish it were just me, you know, just me deciding what I want and I need, because no one seems to give two shits about me."
"I give two shits about you, or otherwise I wouldn't have given you my candy. I like sweets."
"What's your name? I'm sorry I forgot to ask, considering you gave me your candy and all."
"Nice to meet you, Evan."
I graze the cuts. "Who was it?"
Evan's body freezes, his blood drain; his eyes glaze over. Evan pulls up his knees and uses his hands to block up his ears, even though I can't hear anything.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Just breathe, Evan. Do you know where you are?"
"No, Evan. You're in the park. You're safe."
His eyes shut.
I ring my mom. "Mom? Yeah, mom. I'm so sorry. Yes, I know I worried you. Anyway, can you come pick me up in the car? I need it."
I had to cut this down over 1500 words to fit into the word count. I promise, it was better with the extra words. I swear I'm not a horribly shitty writer.