It creeps along at a lingering pace, the blast barely moving a handful of feet at a time. I desperately want to move, but I know they won’t allow that. Not until they have wrung every ounce of pain from my body. I’m hoping through my own suffering I’m able to convey the message convincingly enough that the people watching may listen. ‘May’ being the key word here. It’s almost beautiful watching the buildings bend around the blast radius, the pieces wrapping the dome of smoke and fire. My survival instincts kick in as the blast gets less than a hundred feet from me. I can’t scream, mustn’t scream I tell myself over and over. I want to believe I can do this, that I can somehow trick my mind into not trusting what I see and feel. I wasn’t sure how long in real time I’m here. Seconds? Minutes? Hours? I knew that it had to be less than an hour until the restaurant closed. I secretly hope that they don’t close and have to drag my catatonic body out of here as I stare lifelessly, or worse, scream my head off. Not that I would have to worry about losing my job but upsetting or freaking out Devon seemed far worse than any of that. As the light draws closer I think back to how many days we all had left. Four days after today. It had been so long that I thought I’d lost a day between now and this morning. It felt days apart. It’s less than thirty feet now, everything in sight a blinding blur. I should be feeling something by now, or ripped apart─ but yet again I have a feeling my friends have made it far worse. They’re showing me not only what it means to defy them, but the pain that they will inflict on me─ either at the end, or until the end. I’m not sure how much more I can take of this or if I can even last the next four days. I know I will have to upload my video and live-stream soon. If I give people more time, it will go much better for them.
The fire is directly in front of me, three feet from my face. I choke back a whimper as the heat stretched across my skin. The pain is so unimaginable that it steals the breath from me. My skin peels back from my fingers, arms, chest, and then face. The muscles along my bones turn from red, to purple and then black. An in-human sound escapes from me as I groan, unable to contain myself. I know it isn’t real and I know I can’t harm myself, but at this moment I want the agony to end. I fall to the ground, my legs and spine shattering into fragments against the pavement. I can feel every blow, every splinter as I slowly dissolve. A second, and then third blast tears me apart and finally I’m released into nothingness.
Devon carries me over the threshold as I cry against his shoulder. My arms are tight around his neck. I can’t shake the chill from my body and shiver uncontrollably. He says nothing and lays me on the couch. He disappears for a moment and then returns with a blanket from my room. He drapes it over me, pulls up a chair and places his hand on my head. He runs his fingers through my hair and we both sit quietly together. His touch is soft, as if he doesn’t want to press too hard. I breathe out and close my eyes, allowing myself a moment of release. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been touched this way. The only thing that came to mind was when my mom would rub my back and neck while I was sick. I snuggle against the blanket, my sniffles subsiding. The wetness around my eyes and cheeks have dried. I breathe deeply and my heart finally slows. It should be weird laying here with a man I barely know touching me intimately. I should cringe and pull away, my skin crawling at the invasion of my personal space. I should be a lot of things right now, anything but calm, and yet here I am allowing this to happen. He applies a little more pressure and I sigh. I nearly let out a small sound but stifled it─ eager to put behind the appearance of weakness. I know that moment however has passed, he’s seen me bawling like a child. I managed to make it out of the bathroom with my dignity still intact and before closing, but the instant I saw his face I disintegrated. I had collapsed in front of all the staff and worst of all, Devon. How many times could I do this in front of him before he decided to abandon me as a friend and a coworker? My breath hitches and my chest tightens just thinking about it. “Devon, I─” my voice falters.
“Shh,” he says, continuing to stroke my hair, “don’t worry about anything except here, and now.” I’m content for the first time in a long time. We quietly sit this way, his hand caressing my head and then running them through to the ends of my hair. His voice comes out soft, “Zedd had his moments, like this, for the past several months. He was starting to get much better just a few weeks ago.” He paused, looking down at me, “you want to know something that really strikes me as odd?” I look over at him staying quiet. “Zedd once brought in a sheet of paper, just like you and had me look it over. It was blank and he shrugged it off, much like you. But there was something there in his eyes. Haunted, like yours.” I keep silent but my eyes betray me and I have to turn away. I stare at the back of the couch, trying not to show what I’m feeling. “Kate, I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t want things to go the way they did for Zedd.” He gently places a hand on my shoulder. I wanted so badly to believe that I could stay strong and keep quiet, but I can’t anymore. The will to hide it all slips away. I’m tired, so tired of keeping it in.
I push myself up and swipe at my face. “You’re right about me hiding things from you.” “I know,” he says, “but I was waiting for you to tell me on your own time.” “The thing is,” I bite my lip deciding on what to say, “even if I told you everything, you wouldn’t believe it.” He’s quiet for a little while and then sighs, “I think that whatever you are going through is real, just like it was for Zedd. I know it was bad enough that he took his own life.” My lips quiver and I hug myself, running my hands along my arms. “I don’t think that you are the type to make things up and I think that what you and him went through is somehow connected.” I nod and wipe away fresh tears. “Yes, it is. I honestly thought that I was going crazy until Zedd approached me that day. We talked over dinner but I swear to you, he gave me no hint of his” I look at the ground “intentions.” Devon’s hand slides under my chin and he tilts me toward him. “I know you didn’t. That was his choice.” His voice is raw and his eyes tear up. We’re now inches from each other and I’m struggling to breathe. He leans dangerously close to my lips but veers to my ear instead. His whisper sends chills down my body, “tell me what you’ve been through. I want to hear it.” My chest rises and falls quickly, it’s too much and all of my senses are in overdrive.
He senses that something is off and pulls away, giving me my space. I’m thankful, but at the same time, I want him to be close. I’m so confused. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” My face is on fire from his words, “I no, well,” I clasp and unclasp my hands, “words.” I offer lamely and then try again, slowing myself down, “I like you.” “Duh.” He says, cracking a smile. My eyes grow wide and then I lose it. Despite the situation we both can’t help ourselves. It feels good to let it all go─the tension, the pain, and heartache. “How did you know?” I ask after a few minutes. “I didn’t, but I do now. I’ve been told I’m sort of clueless on signals.” He said, scratching the back of his head. “Damn it,” I mutter, “I’m so horrible at this.” He pulls me into a hug “I like you too, dummy. If it wasn’t obvious.” My grin grows wider at his words and my heart flutters. It’s the first time that I’ve ever felt something for someone and they liked me back. My shoulders sag and I lean into him. I want to capture this moment and remember it until I’m gone.