"Cian?" someone was calling. "Cian. Wake up."
I groan, weakly protesting because I felt like I hadn't slept in years. But the doctor is persistent, calling my name and--from time to time--lightly shaking me until I pry my eyes open to the merciless hospital lights. "Why?"
"Your temporary family will be hear in two hours. You might want to freshen up," he said, very nearly scowling when my eyes began to droop once more. "Cian."
"Alright, right. I'm up. Coming," I mutter, wincing as I force my arms to push me up. I slide from under the rough hospital covers, feeling even more exhausted by the amount of energy it takes to walk out of the room and across the hall to the restroom. I'm limping still, slightly, over my previously dislocated left knee. My arm ought to be in a sling, still, technically speaking, but I haven't worn it in a while. And since I only take it off as soon as the doctors leave, they gave up insisting I ought to leave it on, other than an occasional rebuke when I hurt my arm. At least three people asked me if I needed any sort of assistance on the way there, but I declined. I wanted to go by myself, to maintain some dignity. Whatever that was left of it. Being hand-bathed, spoon fed, and in a wheelchair consistently for the last couple months has all but left what pride I had in shreds. This was the least I could do.
By the time I closed the restroom door behind me, my legs and arms were shaking. I lean against the wall for a moment before tiredly staggering over to the sink, turning on the water as warm as I dare and soak my face repeatedly. It burns but it feels good, and I look up into the mirror. Clear liquid slides down a pale, gaunt face, eyes huge and slanted and hazel-green and intense staring back at me. Dirty blonde hair stuck up haphazardly everywhere, damp and slick with the grease of not washing it since three days past. I looked awful. I felt awful. But it was a heavy improvement since the last time I bothered to see my reflection.
My name is Cian Enda, born in Coleraine, Ireland September twelfth. I'm sixteen now, having stayed at this hospital three months and five days. I have no idea who I am, other than what the doctors have told me, and the few broken, painful memories I have left. Memories I would do anything to forget. But because I was the only survivor of a plane wreck, my lost memories are the only thing left that could tell this country what happened; everyone is pressuring me to try my hardest to remember everything. To the last detail. The police, the doctors, the media. Almost every single one.
But I don't want to remember. It hurts too much.
"Cian?" Dr. Rayden calls from outside the door. I turn off the light and open the door, since I was about to come out anyway. He immediately dumps iron pressed pile of clothes into my arms. "Here. Change into these," he says, turning to leave. "You know where the showers are by now, right?" I didn't really, but he's already gone before I can say so. So, sighing, I turned in the general direction I knew it was in, glancing down every coming hall to see if I recognised it as the pathway to the showers. Eventually, I had to ask, because I knew I was running out of time. I moved as slow as I could, nearly having to peel my sweat-soaked clothes from my body as I undressed, shivering as the first spray of water from the shower head was ice cold. I relaxed as the water heated, a welcoming the distraction from the ache all over as the near-scalding water ran over me. I tilted my head back, letting it burn my face and neck, smiling. I hated the smell of the shampoo and soap. It smelled as sterile as my hospital room, but for the moment I decided it didn’t really matter. For some reason I washed my hair last. I don’t really know why; I just felt like it was something I’d always done.
I’m almost falling asleep as I massage the shampoo into my scalp, trying to fully relax, and soothe my nerves. The water is beginning to cool, but I don’t really care. For the first time in a while, I felt my lips tugging into a slight smile…until I blinked shampoo into my eye.
I almost scream at the sudden, agonizing burn in my eye, trying to rub and wash it out at the same time and doing nothing but washing more shampoo into my eyes as the water washed the suds from my hair. Tears from the pain mixed with water and shampoo running down my face and neck, irrelevant to the fact that it felt like my eyes were being melted with a red hot poker. I tried to open my eyes to wash them out, and saw red.
I was kneeling in a pool of blood, watching an eyeball melt inside the flaming inferno around me. I was pretty sure my knee was broken—my arm too—and people were screaming around me. Screaming as their bodies were crushed beneath heavy, broken pieces of metal, and burned. They had no escape, because they were all pinned. Was I trying to run? I didn’t get far before part of the plane exploded, metal flying, people dying. From the corner of my eye I could see the side plate of the plane coming towards me, bouncing from the force of the blast. I couldn’t get away fast enough, and it landed atop me, breath forced out of me as it pressed me into the soft dirt. Pain had me shrieking as my head smashed against something equally as hard and unforgiving—the dark claimed me before I had a chance to fight it.
“Cian?” Dr. Rayden was ramming on the door, uselessly rattling the knob, I realised, because I had locked it. “Cian!”
I exhaled, slowly, trying to be calm as I turned off the water. “Yeah?” I croaked, voice raw from fright and the startled realisation that whatever I had just seen, it wasn’t real? Was it another memory? I didn’t know, but I didn’t want it to come again, ever.
“Are you alright?” he was asking, and I nodded. “Y-yeah. I’ll be fine.”
“Alright, but get out now,” he said, voice gentle like it was when he didn’t believe something I said. “You don’t have much time left.”
I stood up, shakily. “Why not?” I asked, confused. His answer was equally confusing, because Dr. Rayden sounded confused. “Because your adoptive family is picking you up in twenty minutes.”
There was a lengthy pause before he answered again. “The family that agreed to take you in while you recover from the crash,” he said. “Cian, are you alright?”
“I’m fine!” I choked out, startled at the vehemence in my own voice. “I just—” Why hadn’t he told me ‘til today? “You’re telling me only now?” His answer startled me. “We told you last week!”
It hurt too much to think about it, so I let it go. “Alright,” I called. “Just give me ten or something.” I heard the doctor walking away, talking to another doctor about making sure someone takes one last head examination before I leave. I don’t start moving again until I hear his voice fade into the collage of voices in the hallway outside the door. Then I hurriedly towel dried my hair and body, pulling on the khaki cargo pants, black short sleeve, and dusty, slightly worn brown combat boots I had been given. I did my best to style my hair, but I could only do so much. I needed a haircut awfully bad—my hair was just beginning to brush my collarbones, and I hated it. Just like I hated the darker circles beneath my eyes, the exhaustion I always felt, and the lingering feeling of terror at each piece of my memory that returned. I bit my lip in frustration, hanging my head as I gripped the sides of the sink in front of the mirror. I take a moment to calm down before looking in the mirror once more, surprised to see tears running down my face. As I grit my teeth, I suddenly remember something about myself.
I hate being weak.
When I stepped back into the hospital room, Dr. Rayden and Dr. Nigel nearly had heart attacks. I guess because I had cleaned up well—I looked much better from the pale, sickly kid I had walked out as. My hair, still irritatingly long, was no longer tangled and matt, my skin clear of the sweat and oil of not being washed. I probably smelled a lot better too. I ignored their reaction, instead glancing at an older couple standing near them. They were probably in their late fifties, early sixties, with slightly greying hair and wrinkling faces, but warm, hesitant smiles. I hold eye contact with the lady, then ignored them too, walking past them to put my dirty hospital clothes on the bed, neatly folded. Only then did I truly acknowledge anyone—I nodded at Dr. Nigel, and asked Dr. Rayden: “Who are they?” My voice was rude, I don’t think, but I surprised myself with the hostile tone nevertheless.
“This is Mr. and Mrs. Grivens,” he replied. “The couple I talked to you about.”
“Oh.” I looked at them briefly, awkwardly, before looking away. “Hi.”
“Hello, Cian,” the old man says slowly, almost carefully, as if he weren’t sure I’d understand. My gaze locked with his, suddenly angry. “We’re here to bring you to our home. To take care of you, okay?” Something in me frayed, and I glared at him. “Just because I don’t remember anything, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid!”
“Of course you’re not,” his wife says. “Sam, be nice to the boy. The doctors have already told you that’s he perfectly able to understand.” She turned to me, pale blue eyes kind, her smile apologetic. “You’ll have to forgive my husband,” she said. “He really doesn’t mean anything by it.” Her voice sounds sincere, and I find I have a hard time to continue being angry. “It’s alright,” I murmur, trying to offer a smile back, but it ends up more like a grimace. I let my mouth relax into a frown as she keeps talking. “I think we’ll all get along as long as we talk about what’s bothering us.” She holds out her hand for me to shake. “Hi! I’m Brianna Grivens, but you can call me Bri.” I hesitate to take her hand. “Cian…Enda,” I managed. “No nicknames, please.”
Bri smiled. “Your accent is adorable!” she laughs. “Where are you from again? Australia?”
“Ireland,” I stress, caught between irritated and confused as to how to react to this lady. I nearly have to pry my hand from her grip, because she doesn’t seem to want to let go. I resist trying to shake my hand out. For the frail looking lady she is, her grip is lethal. I try to smile at the man—Samuel Grivens—but it drops slightly as I notice that his eyes aren’t nearly as kind as his smile. He told me I could call him whatever I wanted to, but I had a feeling I’d be calling him ‘sir’ for a while to come.
The doctors were pleased with my seeming acceptance of them, because I hadn’t outright ignored them or denied their existence altogether. They were given temporary guardianship over me, I heard as I waited for them to sign me out. I hurry to keep up with them as they walk out, because they walk fast and I’m tired. Their car is a silver Nissan Altima, clean but significantly dented on the front side. I politely refused to sit in the passenger seat, not comfortable seated beside a complete stranger. Bri chattered pleasantly as she drove, asking me questions about myself, about what I remembered, if I would remember more anytime soon—questions I certainly did not feel like answer, now or ever, and told her so. “That’s fine,” she said, and instead asked me questions about things I liked, not seeming to understand—despite the fact that I’d already told her—that I didn’t know squat. I gave her short answers, trying to dissuade her from asking questions, because I didn’t want to talk. She got the message, because eventually she just talked about where I would be living with them: the neighbourhood, the house, the yard, the school—and yes, I’d be going to school next week, after I’d had some time to settle, and that I’d be tested to see what grade I should be in, and the teachers at the high school were very accommodating to their students’ needs, that I would fit in quite nicely. I was content to listen to the warm tones of her voice, although I admit that I fell asleep at some point. I woke up with Mr. Grivens shaking me slightly. “Wake up, kiddo.”
I sat up, wiping my palm on my pants because I had drooled a little. “Wha—?”
“This is the barber we always go to,” Bri said. “You need a haircut, so go in there and pick one.” She handed me a twenty dollar bill and shooed me into the building. After a moment I stepped into the shop, observing the brightly coloured walls occupied by posters of different hairstyles, freezing as I realised that all eyes were on me. I backed up towards the door, nervous, only to be pushed forward by a hand on my shoulder and a boisterous laugh.
“Guy!” Mr. Grivens called. “I’ve brought you a special!”
I stiffened at being called a ‘special’, like some new thing to be fawned over. I heard a few of the waiting customers laugh; I glanced at them, but otherwise ignored them. The head barber, Guy, smiled at me as he came out of a back room. “Pick a haircut—any haircut at all. It’s on me, kiddo.” I nodded, glancing around at the various haircuts available. I didn’t like any of them, I found. I wanted the same haircut I’d come here with—the beach boy kind of look, only with the front side of my hair a little longer.
“Hey…hey, kid!” one of the customers called. I looked at him and he frowned at me, pointing to my picture in the newspaper of me when I was still in the hospital—with the exact cut I wanted back. "Are you this guy?" he asked. I walked over to him, taking the newspaper from his hands and showing it to Guy. “I need this haircut back!” I told him, ignoring the man’s indignant shout that I took his newspaper. The barber gave me a startled look, glancing at each poster as if to ensure it wasn’t already up there before taking the paper from my hands and studying it.
“Can you do it?” I asked, when he’d been quiet for a minute. Guy almost looked offended at the question. “Of course I can,” he said. “Sit down—we’ll start now.” I obediently sat on the giant black chair he offered, letting him put on the equally giant apron around me. I watched in the mirror as he felt my long locks. “You sure you wanna cut this, kid?” he asked. “There aren’t many guys that can pull off this look, but you look great in it.”
But I shook my head. “I want it the way I had it before,” I insisted, and Guy shrugged. “Okie-doke.” And then he picked up a pair of scissors. I watched as he cut my hair in a short bob before using a smaller pair of scissors to style my hair the way I’d ask him to. I watched his eyes narrow and brows furrow as he glanced from the newspaper picture to my hair every now and then, determined to do it perfectly. I surprised myself with the sudden urge take a photo of his concentration as opposed to my lax expression. Had I been a young artist in Ireland?
“Done!” Guy announced proudly. “And to complete perfection too!” He undid the apron so I could stand and look. I turned so I could see as much of each side as possible. It was indeed to perfection. I couldn’t help but smile. “This is amazing,” I told him, giving him a genuine grin. “Thanks.” Guy beamed. “Does this mean I have a new regular customer?” he asked, and I laughed. “How about I only come here for a cut?” I said, and Guy grabbed my hand to shake it. “It’s a deal.”
We’re almost ushered out when I try to pay Guy for the haircut; he stubbornly insisted that since I was an amazingly famous kiddo, this first cut was free. After much protesting on my part, Mr. Grivens pushed me out with him, calling his thanks as he pushed me out the door. Bri was practically gushing over me when I stepped back into the car. “You’re so cute!” she squealed, in a way that reminded of a little girl seeing a stuffed doll. I smiled and told her thanks, running my hand through my hair with a sense of relief that it was normal again. My spirits dampen as I think that my appearance is the only normal part of me, since everything else is a scattered, empty waste. If Bri noticed my smile had faded she said nothing, continuing friendly chatter that I paid no attention to; instead I stared listlessly at the passing scenery in the window, not really seeing, just looking. I ignored the tight feeling in my chest, like my lungs were being squeezed and kept from breathing properly, too tired to be worried over it. Or not caring enough to do anything about it—I wasn’t sure which one. I fought to keep from nodding off the drive to the Grivens’ home, but gave up and slept for the last few minutes, woken by Bri overjoyed screeching from the front seat.
“Cian, we’re here!” She turned back and smiled at me, and I ducked my head to school my expression so I wouldn’t end up glaring at her. I was not happy to be awake.
But I forced myself to be.
The Grivens’ house was big for only two people, with three guest rooms all in a row, and all upstairs in a separate hallway from their room. Three bathrooms: one in their room, one at the end of the guest hallway, and one behind the expansive living room downstairs. Each one was beautifully done, with black marble tiles and counters, embroidered hand towels and the softest towels I’d felt. The kitchen was huge, with oak cabinets and black marble countertops and floor tiles. The fridge was tall and wide and filled with food, to which I was invited to eat when and whatever I wanted. The living room had a two forty inch TVs side by side—one for a WII console and the other for an XBOX console. There was more: a basement and the backyard and an attic, but I was exhausted and Bri insisted I sleep the rest of the day.
There was a calming look to the room I was given, and it was as spacious as the rest. The floor was carpet, the walls were painted darker shade of a robin egg blue, and the bed was queen-sized. The closet and desk were oak, the wardrobe and bookshelf were cherry. The shelves beside the long desk in front of the window were painted the same colours as the walls, and there was a laptop and an iPhone sitting on the bed stand beside the lamp. I’d check them out tomorrow. The mattress and sheets of the bed were heaven compared to the hospital beds—not too firm, not too soft. The sheets felt like silk, but had the pleasant roughness of cotton. The pillow smelled like cloves and spice for some reason, but I loved it. I kicked my shoes off and curled up beneath the covers, welcoming the darkness that came soon after.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had been in a fight.
I mean, I was used to being picked on, but I usually was never ganged up on. Especially on the walk home after practice. Especially not after I’d already hurt my leg during practice. And especially not when I’m sick, and it’s raining, and cold. But that didn’t stop them. Neither did my pleading for them to stop, because what had I done? They didn’t answer. They only continued to kick at me, every one of the four bigger and bulkier than I could ever be. The biggest one picked me up and leaned me against the fence, since I was barely conscious enough to stand on my own. He held me still, then aimed one well-aimed punch straight to my stomach, forcing every ounce of breath from my lungs. I collapsed face down, barely noticing the pain in my skull. Blood tricked from my nose to the ground, red and sticky. I was pretty sure they had fractured a rib or something, because trying to breathe shouldn’t hurt that bad. One eyes was swelling shut; my lip was split wide and bleeding.
I was flipped onto my back; a hand covered my nose and mouth, another gripped my neck—small compared to the size of it—and squeezed. I tried to gasp for air, but with my nose pinched and a dirty, salty hand over my mouth that wasn’t possible. I tried to struggle, squirm my way from their grips but I couldn’t because I was no match for them. So instead I lay there, trying to writhe, overcome with panic and fear that yeah, I was probably about to die, and dark spots getting bigger over my vision, my lungs screaming for the breath it couldn’t take, my consciousness fading quickly, as the guy’s grip round my neck got tighter and tighter, my grip on his hand getting looser and looser until it finally slipped and hit the concrete, not dead, but almost there.
A choked sound escaped me, but I couldn’t make a proper sound. That tight feeling in my chest was unbearable now, my lungs unable to take a full breath even as I tried to remind myself that it was just a dream, that it wasn’t real, that I was okay—even though my mind screamed the opposite. But whether it was real or not didn’t matter. What mattered was that I literally could not breathe, and I was panicking. I threw the covers off, taking in wheezing half-breaths but still feeling like no air was coming through. I stumbled off the bed, collapsing as my legs gave up, and somehow managed to drag myself over to the small bag Dr. Nigel had given me. Inside was an inhaler—“Just in case,” she had said—and I took it out, barely able to keep my grip around it as my body weakened from a lack of air. I shakily brought the end to my mouth, struggling to press the top down, but I managed. I shakily inhaled the medicine from it, exhaled it just as shakily, and then did it three more times. When I was done I could breathe, but I was shaking badly from the albuterol. I curled loosely into myself, cold and shaking but not having the energy to crawl back into the bed—not having the energy to do anything but lay there, miserable.
I fell asleep like that.