Just one more cut. That was all it would take. Everything would end.
No man, no problem, whispered the nagging voice in her head. No one will miss you.
It will be like you never existed.
The knife seemed to take itself to her skin, gliding over it menacingly. Blood seeped out of the wounds as her skin parted under the blade. Nobody cared anymore. Pain and darkness were her friends. Her parents didn’t even care about her. They way they screamed at each other and her could hardly be called love. Her mother said they couldn’t divorce because they needed the money.
Money. Then why didn’t mom go out and get a job instead of spending the little money they had on new phones and Gucci clothes and Lamborghinis? It didn’t make any sense. Nothing made sense. It didn’t make sense why people bullied her for her shabby clothes when her mom rolled up to her school in a shiny new Lambo Gallardo. It didn’t make sense that her “friends” betrayed her. It didn’t make sense when her previous boyfriend had assaulted and abandoned her, resulting in her parents forcing her to get an abortion a few days after her sixteenth birthday. Nothing made sense. She wanted it all to end. She wanted to die.
She stood up. Her eyes burned with tears, but she refused to let them drop. She carefully wiped the blade of her knife and secreted it back in her shirt drawer. She looked down and noticed drops of blood trailing behind her on the tile floor of her bathroom. Her arm was bleeding more than it usually did. Shrugging, she rinsed it off and wrapped gauze around it. Then she got on her knees and wiped up the blood. Wiped up her own blood from the floor. The blood she had spilled. She sighed. Guilt tugged at her heart. She shouldn’t have done it––yet it was addictive. Her emotional pain forced her into causing physical pain. Nobody deserved to feel like this. She wished she could rid the world of all pain like this. She wished she could help all the other kids who felt the same way she did. She knew she should go to therapy, and she would ask her parents to take her, but her mother would say they didn’t have the funds. She said that every time her daughter asked for something––said it even when she was in the middle of ordering more unnecessary clothes.
Emma sighed again. It didn’t matter. She’d bear her pain alone. Nobody needed to know about it. Nobody ever guessed it anyways. She was always so cheerful and bright that people always said she was high. But it didn’t matter. She’d push on. She wasn’t a coward, although she felt weak and worthless most of the time. She didn’t let anything beat her. Life wasn’t going to win. Not today, at least.
She stood up and threw the bloody paper towel away. Time to start a new day. It was nine o’clock already. Emma jumped up and dressed. The slim curvature of her body was complemented by her distressed skinny jeans and distressed tee shirt, neither of which were made to be distressed, but the last time Emma had money to buy new clothes distressed the ones she had. Emma didn’t worry about her holey clothes––she saved the little money she had for college. She wanted at least a small chance of pursuing her dreams.
Emma looked at herself in the mirror. Despite what she thought, she was actually quite pretty. Big, almond-shaped dark brown eyes were her favorite feature. Her skin was quite fair, interrupted in a few spots by the pesky acne she hated. Her nose had the slightest little curve upwards, complementing her prominent cupid’s bow. Her curly reddish-brown hair fringed her face. Emma smoothed a dash of mascara onto her long eyelashes and some concealer on her few pimples before running out the door. She grabbed her phone, wallet, and bike helmet. She didn’t bother telling her parents goodbye. She knew her dad would tell her to be quiet so he could concentrate on his “work,” and mom wouldn’t reply to her at all.
Emma didn’t have a car, despite her mother having three cars of her own, and her father, two. Her parents said it was “too expensive” to put her on the car insurance. Oh well. Biking was good exercise. Besides, their house was close to almost everything Emma ever needed to go to. Today was Saturday, which meant she needed to go to work. It was the only day she could work. Her parents forced her to stay home on Sundays for “family time.” This usually consisted of a few fights and stony silence. Saturdays were, by far, Emma’s favorite day. She didn’t have to deal with people from school or her parents.
She was lost in thought as she biked along the sidewalk. The fresh breeze made her long braid flutter in the wind and chilled her nostrils. Emma slowed to a stop as she approached an intersection. The awful smell of gasoline and burnt tires crashed into her beautiful thoughts like a train. She scowled. The horrible smell reminded her of her parents’ fights and of blood. Of that terrible day at the abortion clinic when she had to give up her child. Emma instinctively clasped her belly. Her stomach felt like it had fallen thirty stories and crashed into the steel roof of a truck. She remembered the day when Ben had thrown her in the backseat of his car one night when he dropped her off after a date and assaulted her. She remembered her parents shouting at her and hitting her when she showed them the positive pregnancy test. She remembered hundreds of horrible things.
Emma’s eyes began to water as she crossed the street. She lifted her hand to wipe the tears, but her front wheel hit the curb and she flipped forward. Emma felt sharp pain in her back as she hit the pavement, then her whole body went numb.
Emma felt something cold against her face. Was it water? She opened her eyes and tried to look around. Her whole body was sore and she could barely move. She saw she was sitting in the front seat of a car. The door was open. Her bike and helmet laid a few feet away.
“Can you hear me?”
The words rang in Emma’s head like an empty hallway. Her eyes focused on someone’s face. It was a boy, and judging from his voice, he was around Emma’s age. She didn’t exactly recognize his face, but she knew she had seen him at school.
“Hey, are you alright? Are you in a lot of pain?”
Emma opened her eyes wider. She tried to talk, but the words wouldn’t come at first. The metallic aftertaste of blood was in her mouth.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay, I think,” she said vaguely. “I’m really sorry about that, I’ll go now.” Emma began to move. Pain shot through her body as she tried to move.
The boy gently pushed her back into the seat.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea just yet,” he said. “I saw you fall. It was pretty nasty. You flipped over the handlebars and hit your back really hard and rolled a few feet. You probably want to go home. If you tell me where it is, I’ll take you there.”
Emma sighed and sank back in her seat. She couldn’t go home. What would her parents say?
The boy saw the frightened look in Emma’s eyes.
“Are you alright?” Then, very quietly, “you do have a home, right?”
Emma grinned wryly. “If that’s what you can call it.” She looked keenly at him. She definitely recognized him. “What’s your name?” she asked. “I know I’ve seen you at school before.”
The boy smiled. “Glad you asked that. I guess if you have a concussion, it’s not that bad since you can recognize someone as obscure as me. Name’s Peter Lorris. And you’re Emma Warren. I see you a lot at school. So about taking you home. Do you want me to take you home, or do you want to spend the night with my sister? You’re completely welcome to if you’d like.”
Emma’s cheeks reddened. Someone being nice was so unfamiliar to her. “It’d probably be worse for me to go home,” she said slowly. “Who’s your sister?”
“Ashley, the nerd. You’ve probably seen her sitting in the back corner of your classes. She doesn’t make friends easily, but she’s the nicest person on earth. Do you want me to load your bike up?”
Emma didn’t see any other option. It was either go home and get beat or go to Peter’s house and deal with any potential consequences. Peter seemed genuinely nice. It was worth it, Emma decided.
“Sure,” she said smilingly. “I really appreciate it.”
“No problem,” replied Peter. He stood up––he had been kneeling on the concrete while talking to Emma––picked up Emma’s bike and helmet and loaded them into the trunk of his CR-V. Peter walked back to Emma’s side and leaned in, grabbing her seatbelt.
“I hope this isn’t too awkward,” he laughed as he gingerly reached across Emma’s body and buckled her in. “I just want to make sure you’re safe.” He closed the door and walked back to his side of the car.
Peter started the car up and made friendly conversation as they drove along. Emma didn’t talk much, partially from the pain and shock, but mostly from the surprise of finding there were nice people left on the earth. They finally reached Peter’s home. Before getting out, Peter called Ashley and told her to come outside and help him with Emma. This made Emma a little nervous––wouldn’t Ashley be disgusted when her brother brought home an injured beggar?
To Emma’s complete surprise, Ashely exclaimed sympathetically when she saw Emma and assisted Peter in helping her walk inside. Their mother, when she saw Emma, kissed the hurt damsel’s forehead and offered her food and drink.
“Why don’t you go lay in the guest bed,” said Mrs. Lorris. “And don’t you dare worry about getting the sheets dirty, darling. When you’re ready to take a shower, I’ll change them for you so you’ll be snug. Peter, carry Emma up the stairs so she doesn’t have to do it herself. Ashley, make sure the room is just the right temperature––I’ll be up in a minute with some Betadine and gauze.”
Emma felt like she died and went to Heaven! Who knew there were people like this? Peter gently picked her up and carried her upstairs. She didn’t look him in the face because she feared she would blush, and that would be awkward. When they entered the guest room, Peter set Emma on the bed and helped her lay down.
“Are you good?” he asked. “Nothing hurting too much?”
Emma smiled gratefully. “No, I feel great, thank you so much.” Emma extended her hand to Peter, and he took it and held it for a moment, then looked down. His eyebrows furrowed when he saw the many scars and fresh cuts around her wrist. Emma pulled her arm back and looked away.
“Emma baby, here I am,” said Mrs. Lorris, sweeping into the room and sitting on the edge of the bed next to Emma. “Let’s get those owies fixed up.”
Ashley giggled at her mother’s hurt term and winked at Emma. Emma smiled back. She felt… happy. It was the first time in years she had genuinely felt happy.
“You probably want to call your parents and tell them where you are. They must be very worried!” exclaimed Mrs. Lorris. Emma glanced at Peter, alarmed. Mrs. Lorris also glanced at Peter, and the look he gave her told her all she needed to know.
“Well, that’s alright, dear. You can spend the night at our house and I’ll phone your parents. Don’t worry about a thing. Once you have enough energy, Ashley and I will help you get in the shower. We have nice, soft towels for you to use, and plenty of food.”
Mrs. Lorris rambled on sweetly, distracting Emma from her stinging wounds. When the bandaging was done, Mrs. Lorris kissed Emma’s forehead again, promising her she’d be back soon. Peter was nowhere to be found, but Ashley sat next to Emma on the bed and talked to her. Emma was soon laughing merrily with Ashley. A few hours later, Mrs. Lorris and Ashley helped Emma undress and get into the shower. After she was done, she patted herself dry and slipped into a pair of new pajamas. She was expecting to get an old pair of Ashley’s, but Mrs. Lorris said she had run to the store and picked up a “few things” for Emma. The “few things” consisted of three new pairs of jeans, five tee shirts, three pairs of pajamas, several pairs of underwear, toiletries, and snacks galore.
After Emma was all settled, she checked her phone. Nothing from her parents. It was already five o’clock in the afternoon. Emma sighed. She wondered if it was even worth telling them where she was. After a few minutes of contemplation, Emma decided to call her mom and tell her what happened. Emma’s mom didn’t answer the first three calls, but the fourth one, she said, “What?” irritably.
Emma explained to her mother what happened. Mrs. Warren was not very happy, to say the least. She commanded Emma not to come home until she was well, and that Emma would have to pay every cent it cost to get better. Mrs. Warren hung up ferociously.
Emma sunk back on her pillow and tears began running down her face. She felt someone sit on the edge of the bed. Looking up, she saw Peter. He was looking down at the floor.
“I guess you heard that, didn’t you?” she asked quietly. She had put the call on speakerphone because it was too painful to hold it to her ear.
Peter nodded. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. Mom asked me to come and check on you, and I didn’t want to walk in on it, but I was also wondering what your parents are like. I’m sorry you have to deal with that.”
Emma looked towards the window and bit her lip to keep from crying. “Life isn’t fair. We just have to deal with what we have, I guess.”
Peter reached forward and put his hand on Emma’s.
“If you ever need someone to talk to, Ashley and I are right here.” Peter stood up and began walking to the door.
“Peter,” said Emma. “Thank you.”
Peter grinned and playfully saluted her.
Emma stayed at the Warren’s house for a few days. In those days, she became part of the family. She wasn’t physically able to go to school, so Ashley took ample notes for her, and Peter helped her complete her homework. The night before she went home, Emma was sitting with Peter and Ashley on the guest bed. There was a lull in the conversation, and Emma decided to speak.
“I think I should tell you guys the truth,” she said. “Honestly, this is the first time in a very long time I’ve actually felt happy.”
Ashley smiled and held Emma’s hand. “We couldn’t be happier to take care of you.”
Emma smiled back. Then she told them her story. All of it. Ashley cried with her and hugged her, and even Peter shed a few silent tears.
“I’m so sorry you had to go through this,” cried Ashley. “I wish we could’ve been here sooner. Any time you need help, we’re here for you. Never hesitate to come over and spend a few days.”
“Thank you so, so much,” said Emma. She looked up and saw Peter looking at her. A warm, tingling sensation filled her heart when she met his gaze.
“I’m really glad I met you, Emma,” he said, smiling.
Emma smiled back. “I’m glad I met you, too.”
The next day, Peter drove Emma back to her house after school. Ashley had to be at work, and the two parted tearfully. Both Mr. and Mrs. Lorris hugged Emma and told her to come back soon. As she and Peter drove along, it was very quiet––but it was a nice, comfy sort of quiet.
Peter opened his mouth as if to say something, then dismissed it from his mind.
“What were you going to say?” asked Emma curiously.
“I don’t think you’d want to hear it because you might not believe it,” he replied, not unkindly.
Emma’s heart leaped. Could she do it? She had to!
“I love you,” she said quickly. Her cheeks burned as Peter glanced at her. He took one hand off the steering wheel and clasped Emma’s hand. He slowly twined his fingers into hers.
“I love you too,” he replied. He said it quietly, but Emma knew he said it with all his heart. When they reached Emma’s home, Peter got out of the car with her. She looked up into his eyes, and she saw so much love in his gaze.
“Is it alright if I kiss you?” he asked a little awkwardly. Emma was surprised he asked but glad.
“Yes,” she said. The word was barely out of her mouth as Peter kissed her. It wasn’t like any other kiss Emma had received. The kiss reminded her of chemistry lessons in school when right two elements were put together, they'd explode. Her heart was bursting with emotions she had never felt before. She felt so safe with Peter. She had told him her secret, and even if he had been alarmed and scared for her, he didn’t leave her or act disgusted. She felt safe. She felt love.