When I wake up the next morning, my spine feels as no human spine should. But I can't seem to wipe the slap-happy grin off my face as I wake up in a hospital room with my two favorite people in the entire world.
Still half asleep, I stumble down to a vending machine on the other end of the hall and munch on a candy bar for breakfast, just watching as the nurses bustle around. Do they ever sleep? Do they even have families, or do they exist for no other reason than to serve other sick people? I've always found it fascinating that nurses seem to do nothing else.
"What, you're scared?" The voice is like the screech of a devil, matching the face of the nurse completely accurately. When she first showed up, I thought she was beautiful: her dark red hair escaped in tiny ringlets from her cap, her eyes the most ethereal shade of blue and green that I had ever seen. She was young, smart, and I thought she was beautiful.
But now I'm starting to wonder if she's no better than the rest of us.
Her long, manicured fingernails poke me in the ribs, a teasing grin playing on her garish mouth. "You blanks are just good for nothing, aren't you? I wonder if you even feel anything." Her elbow jabbed into my stomach, a little too hard. "You might as well be dead. Right, honey?"
She speaks the pet name as if it's a curse, mocking me because my lips could never let words pass like hers do. Her elbow jabs lower and sharp pain spikes through my entire body, my vision blurring as all I can focus on is the pain. I'm too pitiful to do anything, say anything, ask for help. Of course, she knew that. No one helps a blank. Why is she even working here?
The nurse just sneers at my pain and straightens, her spine making a loud protesting noise. "You're not even worth my time.
And that was the first time I actually believed something a nurse told me.
My feet shuffle their way into the room again which--of course--doesn't have any balloons or flowers. I'm still quivering with the memory, but it seems more distant, as if I was watching someone else suffer through it. It's interesting how the flashbacks seem less and less like something that inflicted me personally and more and more like a bad movie I was forced to watch on a cheap set.
Jenna is curled up on the bed next to Jo, who's small chest is quivering as she attempts to breathe through the tube plunged into her nose.
"Jen," I mouth, feeling like an intruder as I stand there with my hands crammed into pockets. "Come here." Her barely open eyes catch the words and she slowly stands up and straightens her skirt. Her dark hair is coming out of her messy bun as she tries to take a breath.
I lower my eyelids at her when she grips the hem of her skirt, resisting. "Just come here," I sign again.
In a split second, she's against me, her arms in a tight hold around my neck. I find her waist and we stand there for what seems like hours, just rocking to the tune of the heart monitor beeping.
Hugging her is much different than hugging Josephine. Jenna is all curves, softness, and smells like clean linen and island margarita hand sanitizer. Jo is rough edges, sharp angles, hospital scent, and pencil shavings. To a stranger, the choice between the two would be extremely obvious. But to me, the two are a looming problem weighing especially heavy on my mind. Jenna understands music, books, intelligence, and the Deaf culture. But she comes with a dark past and she is undeniably older. She's bitter and seems to be wounded beyond repair. On top of that, she hates me and would probably pay to have my head impaled on a stick
And yet, Josephine literally saved my life. Even if she doesn't know it. There is only so long that a person can live in an insane asylum with no friends, outside contact, or parents. Then she arrived in a whirlwind of blood, black ink pens, and that foreign something that was missing in every girl that came in, I saw on TV, or read about. She was insane and she knew it. She was a firecracker that went off daily at random intervals. She was the one flash of scarlet in a pile of rotting corpses. The bit of color in a never-ending grayscale.
I don't even realize that I'm still standing here, embracing Jenna. She gives me one final squeeze before taking a step back. "I'm going to go buy a drink. I'll be back in a few minutes." She turns on her heel and that's when I notice it. Jenna is wearing a pair of beaten black Converse--just like Josephine use to.
I'm still gawking at Jenna's shoes when I hear Josephine start stirring. I pull up an awkward chair and am next to her in a matter of seconds. She motions with her eyes shut for my hand, which I quickly give to her. "Get hat," she fingerspells into my palm, pointing shakingly to a purple knit hat sitting beside her bed.
She carefully puts it on her head and pushes a button so her bed moves to a sitting position. "Sorry. I don't want you looking at my bald head while we talk."
I just grin at her and respond when she opens her eyes again. "I love your bald head."
Her face cracks into a weak smile and she mouths that I'm so stupid. I'm pretty sure that she's going to fall asleep when she suddenly reaches up and before I know it, we are kissing like we never have before. By the time I hear the door open, I'm practically on top of her, her tongue is in my mouth, and we're having the final breaking point of immaculate control we previously had.
I turn around to see Jenna clutching a cup of coffee, her free hand covering her eyes. With them still closed, she fluently fingerspells, "You thank goodness that it was me and not Mom."
Josephine's eyes are huge and her mouth is agape; I'm pretty sure that I'm not in a better state. Her hand, shaking, reaches up and smooths down my mussed hair.
"I don't even know what to say, okay?" Jenna's eyes are the size of saucers and her arms are literally shaking. Some of her hot coffee--which I know is black with two packets of sugar--sloshes out and steams on the tile. She gives it a second glance and just strides quickly back out the door.
Josephine sighs deeply and rubs her temples. "John. If you don't see that she has a crush on you, you are the blindest person I've ever met."
"What? Jenna doesn't have a crush on me! Jenna doesn't have crushes. Jenna has feelings and attractions and love. And plus, she likes this deaf guy from her old theater. She likes him." I must have been getting closer to her as I signed because she puts her hand on my forehead and slowly pushes me back.
"First off, John, I love you, but personal space, okay? Secondly, you will tell me who this deaf guy is later. And third, Jenna does indeed have feelings and attractions for you." I stand up for a second, putting my hand over my face before whipping around to respond.
"Josephine! I know that I just got back to you, but you're still my best friend. Jenna does not have feelings for me because she freaking hates everyone. She is not attracted to me, because I am not attractive! I am a blank, stupid guy who no one ever talks to. I'm like the punch line of a joke! Not even my own mother loved me enough to stand me for more than a few years!" I angrily drop down and put my head in my hands.
I feel her gently tug at my wrist, her finger under my chin until I am forced to look at her. "John Andrew Montgomery. I do not agree with one dang thing that just came out of your mouth. And out of all the people that I've ever met, I have agreed with you the most out of anyone. And that's saying something."
I squeeze my eyes shut. "Jo..."
"Listen to me." I feel it against my arm and slowly look up. "I would not normally tell my boyfriend that a girl likes him--let alone a pretty, smart, girl. I am making you aware because she must really, really like you if she tolerates watching you kiss her baby sister who always stole everything from her." She holds my eyes the entire time.
"She doesn't like me," is all that I can say.
"Oh my word! Boys are so oblivious... Hey, John. I'm changing the subject. I've got something really important to tell you..." She never finishes though. She's out like a light, and I'm left alone with the whirring of an oxygen machine.
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Skin Deep (Featured - Completed)Teen Fiction
John is blank in a world where everything anyone says appears on their skin. They're held accountable for every secret, every demand, every sacrifice scrawled across their foreheads in bold black letters. He grew up in an insane asylum and had acc...