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   Chapter 19 Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

Cuddle Application By Anna Rae Characters: 19002

Updated: 2018-01-18 17:43


"Here, from her ashes you lay. A broken girl so lost in despondency that she will never see, feel, taste, or touch life the same way again."

~Amanda Steele

~~~

"Help m-me, " Cora stutters again, hiccupping through an evident panic attack.

The tears fly down my face, escape pilots fleeing to deliver bad news, and land in sporadic drops on the ruffled bed sheets. The mattress springs scream as someone tumbles onto the bed, jostling me and Cora, then again when the body is thrown off. I turn away and draw Cora's face to my chest so she can't see the fight behind us. Grunts and uncontrolled sobs fill the room, a juxtaposed symphony of horror and pain. The only light slices through the open door, and unforgiving ray reaching half way across the dirty floor.

Something topples, and a book flies across the room, another one landing next to me on the bed. Lolita. I can't help but notice the irony.

Cora screams. Maybe I scream—I can't tell. There's so much noise. It mixes in with the stereo downstairs, the loud music blasting through empty halls.

At some point, I begin singing. "You Are My Sunshine" had been Cora's favorite since she was a young girl. I rock her body and mine in rhythm to the song, voice cracking with each slam, punch, and crack I hear behind me.

"It's gonna be okay, " I say, a salty tear slipping through my lips. "It's gonna be okay."

I murmur the song through the noise, trying to be louder than the fighting. Cora shakes, huddled up in my lap, and whimpers. My heart breaks, shattering like the shadowed vase in the corner. The fight feels like hours, but I know it lasts only a minute.

Someone swears, so angry his fists hit their target and the target cracks.

Cora sobs. I rock us, stroking Cora's head. Her blonde hair is ratted into knots, wet with tears and an act that cannot be undone. Finally the room falls silent. No more screams, no more fighting. Cora seems to hold her breath.

Oliver comes to the foot of the bed, fists clenched, seething. He sits calmly on the mattress, shifting the weight, running a swollen, red hand through his hair. When his fingers fall back into his lap, I notice the cracked skin around his knuckles and the bruises already forming. A story unfolds through the marks on his fists. In the shadowed room, I see the clench of his jaw, the anger in his eyes. I shiver at the emotion he tries to hide.

Gratitude warms a small part of my heart, surprising but present nonetheless.

I know there's a body, unconscious, behind me on the floor. Cora knows it, too—I can tell by the way the muscles in her back relax. She buries her face deeper into the fabric of my shirt.

Everything stays silent - the whole world - for a moment. The hot blood that pumps loudly through my ears is the only thing I could register. Everyone breathes in and out, filling the room with shallow exhaling. The choppy breaths taken by a hiccupping Cora, the air sticking in her throat like thick honey. Oliver's ragged breathing, accelerated by the fight and his own anger. Mine, which was slow and disbelieving.

Even the body on the floor. His breaths are whispers.

My best friend's face hide's in the crook of my body, my shirt stained with her tears and mine. Hurt spreads through my chest. No one deserved this, least of all Cora.

Park was going to murder.

Park.

This was going to break his heart even more than it was breaking mine.

Thick tears well up in my eyes, my lips starting to tremble. I bite down, hard. It's enough to draw blood, the metallic taste of it exploding across my taste buds. My lungs flutter with cries for the oxygen I'm not giving them. I hold my breath even longer, the pain making me focus.

Don't cry. You can't cry.

"Cora, " Oliver says softly, his voice cutting through the void of silence. "I am so, so sorry." The warm hum of his voice reminds me that it's okay. Because he's there. "What can I do?"

The sincerity of his voice makes my heart break further.

"Get him out of here, please, " Cora whispers, voice muffled against my shirt.

He stands, walks towards the back wall, stops. "Would you like me to call the police, Cora?"

She doesn't answer. There's a long groan, but it's not from anyone in the room I can call by name. Emotion floods my chest and head like a cacophony of red.

"Yes, " I whisper, attempting to control my anger. "He deserves whatever punishment he gets."

Oliver leaves the room, dragging the body unforgivingly across the floor. I stroke Cora's hair, pretending not to notice the streak of blood that stains the carpet. I don't ask Cora the many questions that race through my brain. I don't ask, Who is he. I don't ask, How did you get up here. I don't ask, How far did it go.

I swallow, bite my lip, and ask, "Are you okay?" My voice hitches in the back of my throat.

My best friend sits up, wipes the tears from her cheeks, smearing mascara and lipgloss, and shakes her head. "No. Not really." Her chest rises and falls in quick staccato rhythm. "But you saved me. Oliver saved me."

Oliver. I dare to hope, face lifting. Maybe it's okay—maybe she'll be okay. "Soon enough?"

She knows what I mean. Did we save you before...

Her eyes drop. She forces a sad smile. "No. Not soon enough."

It's then I realize how alone Cora must have felt. The music pumping, laughter from other party guests - everyone else was just having a normal night. Even I was sitting under the stars, oblivious.

And she was on a bed, helpless.

I turn away so she doesn't see the tears running down my face. Wiping them away, I blink rapidly to stop the flow. Loneliness, regret, and sorrow settle in my gut. My chest

f on a side street and pull up to the police station as the digital clock on the car dashboard hits 1:43 AM. The building is square, gray, and boring. Two wide windows sit on either side of the double door out front. The police cruiser glides into one of the dozen parking spaces, sidling up next to a blue van. I pull in to a spot a few feet down, not wanting to overstimulate Cora. The car hums and dies when I pull the key, and then I'm staring at my hands.

Not a single cell in my body wants to go into the police station. I don't want to wake Cora up, tell her it all wasn't just a horrible nightmare, and walk her in for questioning. I don't want to sit on a hard chair and wait for Oliver to finish talking to the police. I don't want to think about what he'll say—what Cora will say.

I'm just so tired.

I look up to see Officer Pike and his partner walking Oliver and Cora's attacker into the station, both officers on either side of the man, Oliver trailing behind. He looks at me through the car window as if to ask, "Need me?"

I nod my head, because I do. I need someone else to take over; I can't do it anymore.

He says something to the officers and they nod, two bobble heads holding a hellion. Oliver jogs over to my side of the car, opens the door, and crouches down. My fingers fumble with my seatbelt, but it won't come off. Tears of frustration pinprick my eyeballs as I push, trying to force it.

"It won't—" I say, but a sob catches in my throat.

"Skylar, " Oliver whispers softly, reaching over. With a click the seatbelt is released, and it slides over my chest. I all but collapse into Oliver's open arms.

"Oliver, " I force out, but it sounds like I'm saying it from under water.

"Shh, " he murmurs, wrapping his arms around my back and lifting me to my feet. My head falls to his chest and I breath in his scent, which tickles my nose, earthy and warm. He closes the car door softly as to not wake Cora, and leans me softly against it. I can feel my tears wetting his T-shirt, but I know he doesn't care. My chest is tight with anxiety and sadness. In his arms, I release everything.

He rubs my back and smooths my hair, all the while whispering, "I'm here. It's okay, I'm here." I'm reminded again of a memory from last year. It slides into my brain like the soft snow that comes with winter.

Just nights before, it had jolted me awake, reminding me of sophomore year. Molly's cancer, my rebellion. The party where I'd gotten drunk. The party where an older kid had taken me upstairs, kissed me, and ignored my protests to "stop." I remember the dark haired boy I'd locked eyes with just before I was pushed into a dark room.

"Help, " I had muttered.

And then he'd stopped the boy, put me in a car, and driven me home.

"What's your name, " I'd asked him.

And it was Oliver.

I wrap my arms more fully around the warm boy in front of me, new tears wetting my cheeks.

"He's lying to you, " Park's words play in my head like foreign invaders. I force them out. I can't handle anything else right now.

Instead of confusion or anger, the emotion that plagues my chest is gratitude. And a love that I can't name yet.

"Thank you, " I say, my voice muffled against the cotton of his shirt. I pull back, wiping away a tear, and say it again.

His beautifully bold green eyes, like shadowed emeralds, study my face, his hand reaching up to wipe away smothering falling teardrop. "For what?"

For saving me, I think. For saving Cora. For being here. For kissing me. For the tiger balloon on our first date. For the ridiculous letter you wrote me. For calling me "Sorry."

For sending me a Cuddle Request that first day so long ago.

I smile softly, replaying it all. "For everything, " I finally say. "For everything."

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