Second Nature

second nature n. An acquired behavior or trait that is so long practiced as to seem innate. Trin, Nirvana, Toby, and Oli. Each of them Have a bad habit they need to shake. Can you figure out what they are?


1. Trin

My heart races, I’m trapped in a hallway, by myself. It’s dark and cold. The thin black hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end. I can see the heat from my mouth as it hits the cold air around me. The tips of my fingers go numb as the try to grasp something, anything to keep me steady.

Suddenly, the room changes, I’m no longer in the cold hallway. I’m in a basement. The yellow wallpaper is peeling from the concrete walls. The carpet is damp beneath my bare feet. A water heater sits in the corner, probably the cause of the damp carpet. In front of me stands my dad. A dim light shines over his head. He looks famished, and tired, like he’s been in this basement for a long time. His dark hair is long, hanging just below his bushy eyebrows. His skin is a blank white sheet, covering the muscles and fat below it. Silver shines around his wrists and ankles in the dim light. He’s chained to the wall. Tears threaten to spill over my cheeks.

“Dad.” I whimper, weak and afraid. “Dad.” I say again, trying to get louder, but he still does not notice me. He stares absently off into the dark behind me. I turn, curious as to what he’s so fixated on. By now the tears are falling slowly. A dark figure stands behind me, grinning past my shoulder maliciously. Before I can think, before I can stop him, the stranger lunges to my dad, stabbing him in the chest. “No!” I sob, falling to my knees. Tears race down my rosy cheeks and land on my ivory chest.

“Trin!” I am shaking. The room is shaking. “Trin!” The voices calls out of nowhere, but the room rumbles every time my name is exclaimed. The dew yellow wallpaper peels more and more each time. Things collapse off the shelves.

I cry out, opening my eyes quickly. My breath is heavy, and my heart races. “Trin.” I turn to the voice. I am lying down in a soft warm bed. There are light blue pillows surrounding me.

“Trin, it’s okay. I’m here, it was just a dream.” The voice belongs to Toby, my sweet Toby.

I let another sob escape me and curl up beside him, letting him embrace my small complexion.

“It was just a dream.” He reminds me softly.

I’ve slept next to Toby for the past three days, scared of the nightmares. He’s wakened me up and comforted me each time they came. He’s just a friend, but I’ve always wished for more.

Once I calm down, I slip out the room into the hallway that leads to the kitchen to get a sip of water. My bare feet tap against the hardwood floor with every step. The apartment smells like mulberry and spice. When I reach the kitchen, Oli is sitting at the table across from Nirvana. Their voices hush to even less than a whisper as Nirvana’s soft hazel eyes meet my puffy brown eyes. I don’t question them, but sneak a look at the clock behind Nirvana’s head. Its 11:27 p.m. Oli must not be going to classes tomorrow; he’s usually in bed by 10:30.

I reach for a small, glass cup above me and fill it halfway will cold water. Whispers trail behind me as I leave the kitchen and return to the comfort of Toby’s bed. The door clicks shut behind me and my hand lingers on the door knob as I stare at Toby. He’s completely unconscious, breathing calmly. He looks so peaceful in his slumber, like all his troubles are behind him. Instead of curling up beside him again, I tip toes over the pile of laundry on the floor and leave.

When I return to mine and Nirvana’s room, her long, dark locks peak out over her bright pink pillow and tiny cries echo around the room.

“Nirvana. . .” I sit beside her and place my hand between her shoulder blades. “What’s wrong?” My attempt to help leads to more tears. Something must have gone bad with Oli.

Oli and Nirvana have a thing for each other, though they won’t admit that. They’ve liked each other since freshman year in high school.

“Oli,” His name rubs over her vocal cords. “He hates me.” I chuckle. “What’s funny?”

“Oli could never hate you. He loves you too much.” I look down at my feet. Oli and Nirvana are in such a good place, even if they don’t realize it. He likes her. She likes him. It’ll work out. And I wish Toby and I was like them.

She looks at me with glossy eyes. “You think so?” A smile arises across my face.

“More than anyone else.” She sits up and wraps her warm arms around my shoulders.

“Thank you.”

“So where did her go?” She shrugs, and her eyes drift over to the end of her bed.

“Probably looking for a new apartment.” I roll my eyes and smile.

He loves being roomies with you.” I reassure her again. She slightly smiles and rests her head and pulls her rosemary pink sheets over her head again.

“Good night, Trin.” I stand and make my way to my bed on the other side of the room. My bed is made neatly next to the window. The blue and silver bed spread shimmer in the Los Angeles moon light. My body feels relaxed as I lay under the sheets, looking up at the moon. The best part about living in a high rise apartment in this city, it the view. I feel so relaxed; I start to forget who I am. I am Trin Phan. I am 22 years old. This is my last year of college. I’m studying photography.

My thoughts are interrupted by the click of the front door. Oli is back.

My feet swing over the bed and I plant them on the cold, hardwood floor. I need to catch him before he goes back to bed.

“Oli,” I call out the crack of the door, careful not to wake Nirvana. He’s almost to his and Toby’s room when he turns around. His face shine, wet with tears in the moon light. His hand falls from the door knob to his side. “What happened with Vana?”

I close the door behind me and cross my arms. He sits on the white couch. “I can’t really talk about it.”

“She was crying, Oliver. . .” He had seemed to had stopped crying, but it started back up again. He rests his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

“I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“You need to apologize.” I suddenly regret getting involved and giving the advice. How do I know he even did anything? Maybe she was crying over something else. I wish I had talked to him about it tomorrow. Then second he gets up, I know he’s going in there and they’re going to talk and forgive and forget but it’s almost midnight and they’re tired so he’s going to cuddle with her and fall asleep.

And I don’t want to sleep in there with them.

He disappears behind the door with a click.

I sigh and trudge into Toby’s room. I expected to see him sleeping, like I left him. But he’s sitting up, shirtless. His hair is sticking up on one side from sleeping, and his blankets are piled up in his lap, exposing his torso. His white iPhone is pressed against the side of his face. I lock eyes with his. He pats the bed next to him, inviting me to sit with him. He speaks on the phone for a while, and I have no clue who he’s talking to. Before he finishes his conversation, I rest and pull the blankets p to my chin.

When he finishes, he lays beside me, wrapping his warm arms around me. I smell alcohol on his breath, and spot a bottle of vodka on the side table.

“Do you want some?”

I never liked vodka. “No.” I respond. It’s late, and I have class tomorrow. Toby and Nirvana were always the ones who can handle liquor and hangovers.

Soon, I start to fall asleep again.

“I love you, Trin.”

“Love you too.” I whisper. After I respond, I wonder if he really said that, or if it was my imagination.

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