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Melting, Alone MAG
“Fifteen?! Are you insane?”
“Aw, look who is afraid after all!”
Cole folded his arms determinedly, staring at her square on. “I'm no chicken.”
“Naturally.” Kay's eyes glittered mischievously as she tossed her hair over her shoulder. “So are we agreed?”
He considered her bubbly enthusiasm with a solemn expression. “Just to confirm: 15 minutes hanging upside down on that streetlamp. And there's no risk of anyone seeing us?”
“Not the slightest.” Kay let out a tiny sigh, scattering a handful of pebbles with a swift kick. “I kind of wish they could, though. Add a little danger, y'know?”
“I've had enough danger for one lifetime,” replied Cole in a sharper tone than he meant to use. An awkward silence trailed his statement. The cruel irony of his words hit him. Embarrassed, he jammed his hands in his pockets and shuffled toward the silver pole.
Looking up at the towering rod, Cole felt a slight squirming in his stomach. However, when he heard the light pattering of Kay's footsteps behind him, he grit his teeth and internally smashed the doubt within him. There was no way that he would suffer the triumphant leering of a little girl.
Squaring his shoulders, he wrapped his arms around the pole and started shinnying up. To Cole's surprise, a feeling of agility and fluidness fused his muscles, and the process became quite simple. As strange as it sounded, it seemed as if a sticky substance on the soles of his shoes bound his feet to the metal.
By now, nothing should shock you, Cole reminded himself sourly, straining to pull his body onto the top of the pole. You're past shock, dude. You're …
He couldn't bring himself to say the word. Instead, he focused on balancing on the small circular post beneath his feet. Unable to help himself, Cole smirked at Kay, who was waiting below with hands planted on hips. She clucked her tongue loud enough for him to hear, although she appeared mildly surprised that he had climbed up so quickly.
“Jealous, much?” Cole snickered, reveling in his moment of superiority.
Rolling her eyes, Kay retorted, “You haven't even started. Get on with it!”
With careful precision, Cole balanced his right foot on the outstretched arm that clutched the lamp in its grasp. It seemed sturdy enough, so he swung his other foot around. So far, so good. Now, though, he was barely balancing on the arm of the streetlamp and had no idea how to proceed.
“Try falling,” Kay's voice floated up behind him.
Cole snorted. “Nice try.”
“Trust me, it'll work. I'm not trying to hurt you – you can't get hurt anyway, remember?”
Something inside Cole snapped. It wasn't as if Kay's words weren't true, but did she have to remind him so blatantly? Had it been so long that she'd forgotten what it was like to feel as if he was hiding from the world, and no one noticed his absence ….
Cole could feel himself swaying but wasn't too focused on his anger that he failed to steady himself. Why was he even tagging along with this annoying, bratty girl? He could do fine on his own … just fine. His eyes bore into the sidewalk stretched out below. Jump, jump, jump, it taunted him.
Blinded by aimless anger and prodded by the faint, anxious calls of Kay, Cole took a deep breath and let his legs buckle beneath him.
Everything happened in a instant. A whirl of color, a brief but acute sting as the crook of his legs met hard, cold metal, and Cole was face-to-face with an upside-down Kay. Within milliseconds waterfalls of blood tumbled into his head, filling his ears with a dull roar. He tried his best not to wince, but merely closed his eyes briefly; he would have to keep this up for 15 minutes, after all. Hoping that Kay would be furious at his success, Cole opened his eyes.
On the contrary, the ginger-haired girl was all smiles, sitting cross-legged on a browning grassy patch. “Told you so,” she giggled, poking his nose with one finger. The only thing that stopped Cole from swiping the stupid grin off of her face was the fear, however miniscule, that he would tumble to the ground. He had to be content lavishing his best scowl at her as she rocked back and forth, whistling.
“So … how'd you get here?” she asked.
The scowl deepened. “You know how.”
A gust of wind danced around them, ruffling Kay's hair and creasing Cole's blazer with icy, delicate hands. She lay back, snuggling into the grass, and closed her eyes. A peaceful smile settled on her face. The older boy refused to let the breeze mold his face, no matter how gently it caressed him. Thinking that Kay had fallen asleep, Cole prepared to ease himself down, but stopped when the girl snapped her eyes open.
“I mean, I know how you got here. Duh, it's how everyone does.” She rolled onto her stomach and propped her elbow under her chin. “I bet yours was more exciting than mine. Your life, I mean, before you ended up here. I lived way out in the middle of nowhere, and my dad was so tired after work every day that we barely talked. Mom was okay, I guess. She ran off when I was 10 but came back after a few months. She said she was worried about me. I think it was because she couldn't get an acting job in New York City. We all came here a year later so it didn't matter much anyway.”
Cole raised his eyebrows. “All of you?”
“Mm-hm. Mom, Dad, my little brother Joe; even Aunt Nina and baby cousin Weaver. The car was pretty big,” Kay explained. Instead of elaborating, she proceeded to pick at the grass.
For once, Cole was at a loss for words. What were you supposed to say at times like this? “That must have been hard,” “How did it feel,” “I'm sorry”? He mentally smacked himself for his lack of empathy.
It turned out his words weren't necessary. Kay abandoned the grass and glanced at him with a small smile. “Isn't Weaver a weird name? Dad hated it, but he would never tell my aunt. Well, he almost did. Once, during one of their fights. Mom had shut Joe and me in the living room but we could hear everything. The door was pretty thin, especially since Dad had put a few cracks in it. It would creak and creak, like old Mr. Hay across the street when he was pissed off.” She let out another of her tiny sighs, barely audible. “I never knew a few empty bottles could make a door hurt so much.”
Such a childish thing to say, and to jeer at her. Kay's downcast eyes and folded hands oddly reminded him of his mom, right after she read the jobs section in the newspaper for the thousandth time. When he skipped up to her, whining about something unimportant, she would hide behind a mask of happiness and gaiety made specially for her children. It was an effective mask for the outside world as well; no one notices the cracks in your life when you act bubbly and cheerful.
Cole didn't realize he had spoken his last thought aloud until he felt a soft warmth envelop one of the hands that was dangling below his head. Kay had touched it, ever so slightly, and was staring up at him unabashedly.
“How can you be warm in a place like this?” he demanded, but didn't snatch his hand away. “I'm freezing. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if my hands turn blue. You stupid girl – how are you warm?”
Kay frowned slightly. “There was fire. That's what happens in every car crash, isn't it? Fire everywhere. I remember smoke so thick I couldn't see. I think that's what did it in the end: the smoke. It was so hard to breathe.”
“I could see my breath!” Cole shouted furiously. He felt his face swelling up with the blood rushing to it, but it didn't matter. Words were running together in a language of pent-up anger even he didn't understand. “It was a million degrees below zero! There was snow everywhere, and I was so excited. Snow! I dragged my brother outside and begged him to let me go on his motorbike. He said sure, great, as long as I didn't tell Mom. We went to the farthest corner of the park, where nobody goes and where the best snow hills are. God, I was cold, but I didn't care. I didn't … I didn't care.” His voice drifted off into nothingness.
Cole started his story again, but his voice had dropped into a low whisper. “Then what? I was stupid. Stupid like always. Jason started the bike, and I jumped on. I went straight up the steepest hill. It flipped … there was an explosion. Someone screamed. Loudly. I could only see red; it was red, and I was cold. It was so cold, Kay.”
His legs slid off the pole and smacked the pavement. Cole waited for the blood to start pouring out, like it did that day, but nothing happened. He was just a dead boy lying on a strip of sidewalk, crying his eyes out.
“It's okay, Cole,” Kay murmured, crawling over and helping him sit up. “You can't get hurt anymore. It won't be cold for long, I think. Or warm. Or anything else.”
The boy nodded, not sure whether to believe her or not.
“By the way, you won. Sixteen minutes. Isn't that great?”
Cole snorted and wiped his eyes. “Yeah, great.”
“It sure is.”
Something in Kay's tone made him look at her. She smiled and squeezed his hand, sending a burst of warmth through his body.
“Ready for a rematch?”