From above, the waters looked serene. It was twilight, and the setting sun cast a brilliant glow across the gentle waves. The turquoise waters were deep, deeper than anyone knew, with shades of periwinkle and navy mixed in the dark depths. Yes, it seemed like the ocean was taking a rest for the night, lulling itself to sleep with the rhythm of the undulating waves.
Being in it, however, was a different story.
When she had fallen in did not matter. All that did matter was the girl had fallen. The petite girl who was beautiful and unafraid, with ivory skin, delicate features, and silky hair as black as the night. The girl who had stood at the top of the tallest skyscraper in the city, staring down forty stories of gleaming metal and cold, glittering glass. The girl who had tumbled, twisting and turning through the silent night air, down, down, down, eyes wide with knowing panic.
The waters closed around her, whispering their thoughts of evil and malice. Why have you come here? They laughed threateningly. There is nothing for you but death and destruction. And so they wrapped around this girl, through her nose and open mouth that silently screamed even in the darkness. They suffocated her, the girl whose hand reached for the surface, for one more breath of air. But the waves were cruel. They squeezed the life out of her, the very soul of this brave girl, lungs burning, eyes watering, regrets and reminders of life waiting for her on the other side. She felt herself losing consciousness, the voices drowning in her sorrows. All that was left was her and the world.
And then everything went black.
Kiona’s eyes fluttered open as she awoke, gasping and sweating. She had the nightmare several times, especially the past week, but it seemed as if the waters had only gotten darker. They voiced her fears of leaving behind the life she had always known, and drowning had always been one of her greatest fears. She had thought about it several times, and each time Kiona had decided if it was time for her to go, she would want something quick. But drowning, feeling your soul slip away as you reached for something you could never have… that was definitely not quick.
Sighing, Kiona pushed all thoughts of the terrifying ocean out of her head. She wasn’t home anymore. She had left her mother, two sisters, and baby brother for the coldness of the college dorm just two months ago, and it was time for her to grow up along with her life. Nightmares aside, it was morning, and it was time for her to start the day. Kiona stretched her sore muscles and yawned. The last of her drowsiness slipped away, replaced by a mild excitement for what the day held. She slipped out of her covers and got up, her hand moving automatically to the teapot.
Kiona looked around as she did every day. And day after day, she could only feel sorry for herself. The dingy, gray apartment was not what she had wanted, but it was enough. She should be grateful to be living here at all. In the last few years, prices for freshman living spaces had risen astronomically. However, when Kiona had first stepped in, she wasn’t sure if she could ever really call it home. There was a small bed with an iron frame that never let her have a comfortable sleep, a leather couch where she pondered her life decisions, and a cramped kitchen where she never cooked anyway. She couldn’t bring herself to.
Kiona gasped, guilt filling her chest and spilling over in the form of tears. She blindly walked towards the door, only one thought in her head: outside. She needed fresh air. Ignoring the curfew, she turned the handle, rushing into the empty hallway and through the silent dorm. She led herself down the spiraling staircase, muscle memory taking over, until finally, finally, she reached the great oak door that would take her outside.
Kiona ripped it open without hesitation, only calming when the cool night breeze hit her face. She gulped in the air, wrapping her arms around her lavender pajamas and shivering. The cold did her good, though, and finally brought her peace of mind. She couldn’t think about the past, about the mistakes she had made. She couldn’t think about… Brooks.
At the name, the tears flowed again. Kiona doubled over, clutching her knees to steady herself as her world turned blurry. She took sharp, deep breaths, pushing everything out of her mind. She couldn’t afford to think about this, she reminded herself. She was older now, and her family was trusting her to take care of herself.
“Hey, miss!” Kiona angrily wiped away her tears and turned around. She saw an older man approaching her, a smug smile on his face. She noted his hand in his jacket pocket, obviously covering something worth hiding. Kiona tensed up, ready to run.
“Whatcha doing out here, eh?” he asked, revealing a toothy grin. “Bit dangerous, don’t ya think?”
“I’m fine,” she declared, trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince him. Blood pounded in her ears, pulsing with rage until she couldn’t hear anymore. The world went still around her until it was just her and the street. And her instinct was to run.
Running was the only thing she was capable of now. She knew she had to own up to her past at some point, but why now? Kiona had to take care of herself, and this was the only way she knew how. She had to escape her past, escape Brooks’ murder, escape the ocean… she had to escape everything, once and for all, and never let it catch up with her. She had to run, away from the guilt and horror. Away from life, away from feeling anything at all. She couldn’t.
And so, Kiona ran. Her feet bounced rhythmically on the asphalt, arms pumping at her sides as she challenged herself to go faster, run harder. As she ran, the world slid by, every meaningful thing turning into a blur. That was how she felt. Heart racing, legs pumping, going on and on for eternity. Everything good in life had been taken away from her. And now she left the world, letting her fears slide away, letting the wind pick up her raven tresses and fan them around her face.
Kiona ran past the houses, past the streets, past the neighborhoods until her smart watch beeped. She slowed, her rhythm reducing, and stopped at an intersection she didn’t recognize. Whoa. She didn’t realize she had run that far. And now her watch was beeping, alerting the officials to her run.
Kiona stared at the whitewashed walls of the interrogation room, wondering how many criminals had sat in this very chair before her. More importantly — how could she be so irresponsible? What would her family think? They thought the therapist had fixed all her problems, that she had gotten over Brooks. But she’d only been pretending all along. How could she do that to herself? She went still and calmed, placing a hand over her heart to dull the ache and taking a few deep breaths.
Kiona looked at the tinted two way glass that she couldn’t see through, wondering who was staring at her from the other side. Would her mother be there? Or just a disgruntled official? Whoever it was, could they see the hurt and longing in her face, the fatigue in her motions, the tiredness in her eyes? Could they see how much had really happened to her since Brooks had died?
For the first time, Kiona could think his name without feeling the pain that came along with it. She could remember the good times, like her mother had suggested. She could see him now, easy smile that made her heart melt, pale skin and short dark hair that was messily gelled back, and… his eyes. He had the most gorgeous eyes in the world, sea-green with flecks of amber that sparkled knowingly in the light. And he stood there now, before her, hands in his pockets like they always were, but smiling. He smiled at her, then slowly reached out his hand, graceful fingers unfolding, grasping for her. Come, he gestured.
Then, there was a loud bang, and Kiona gasped with surprise. Metal slammed on metal, and as quickly as it had been opened, the door shut. A man walked in. He was looking down at the ground and thumbing through a file. He, too, had a tired expression on his face, and his slow movements suggested he didn’t really want to do this. He didn’t want to ask her about things she didn’t want to answer.
But Kiona didn’t care. She couldn’t see anything, didn’t want to see anything except for Brooks. Ignoring the man, she spun around, looking, searching at the place where she had seen Brooks, glittering in the light.
He wasn’t there.
Kiona nearly cried out, the pain of longing was so sharp. It felt as if someone had stabbed her in the gut with a red-hot blade. She doubled over, but as her mind cleared, she began to think. Perhaps this is what Brooks had felt when he had supposedly shot himself, the bullet lodged between his ribs and working its way to his heart. Perhaps this is what he had felt when he had jumped into the ocean with only moments left, his soul left to drown in the dark. But she was sure this is what she had felt when the body had washed up on shore the next day, bleeding and broken. He hadn’t even been given a chance to live. And she didn’t even know why.
A loud clearing of the throat brought Kiona back to the present. She hadn’t even realized that her gray eyes had pooled with tears. She hadn’t known they were coming. She swiped them away quickly and turned to face the official, pushing Brooks out of her mind as she had done since he had died. She couldn’t give herself a chance to grieve. She would never move on if she did that.
“Miss Rose?” It was only a whisper at first, but as the man grew more confident, his voice did too. “Miss Rose?”
“What do you want?” Kiona said angrily, glaring at him through her thick lashes.
He cleared his throat again, looking a little uncomfortable. Shifting from foot to foot as if trying to decide, the man eventually sat down in the cold metal chair opposite to her. “I know you don’t want to do this. I don’t want to either. But I’ll have to report that you’re emotionally unstable if you don’t subject to the questioning. And you’ll have to follow the rules after this, you understand? You have to follow curfew, and you can’t — ”
“I. Don’t. Care!” Kiona hissed through gritted teeth, slamming her hand on the table. Then, the anger was gone, and as much as she tried to avoid it, the sadness started to fill her again. Tears dripped from her delicate lashes and pooled in her eyes. “He’s gone,” she said slowly, her voice breaking. She looked down.
Now, the official had no experience with crying women, especially since he knew about Brooks and her past. He also knew that her family had reported she was over the grief. However, standing in front of her now, watching her try to avoid it but at the same time falling prey to her sorrow, he knew she really wasn’t.
And Kiona knew too. She saw pain in the official’s eyes, pain like hers, but he hid it well. He was over it. And she wished with all her heart that she could be like that too. Maybe she was being unfair. Maybe she should have subjected to his questioning so he wouldn’t report her. Maybe she should have pretended to be okay like she had with her family. But seeing him, seeing how he had handled everything so calmly… how could she pretend to be okay when she was so clearly not?
The official gently placed his hand on top of hers, and for once, Kiona didn’t say anything. “I know. I know how it feels.”
Kiona shook her head, not understanding. “Then how can you be so calm? How can you avoid the pain?”
The official averted his eyes, then returned her gaze after a few moments. “Because I realized she’s gone. I have to live my life without her.”
Kiona’s bright gray eyes turned stormy. “I’m not sure I can do that.”
The official nodded slowly, pausing to think. Eventually, he extended his hand, a smile appearing on his weary face. “Mark.”
Kiona wasn’t in the mood for it, but maybe he could help her. She had to be polite. She shook it, forcing a thin smile. “Kiona.”
“I know,” he said. Then after a moment’s hesitation, he continued, “I’m afraid we’ll have to keep you here until you answer a few questions, but let me know when you’re ready. I know… ” He sucked in his breath. “I know it’s hard. And grief can make you do terrible things. So I want you to know I understand, I really do. And I’ll try to help you as much as I can.” And with that, he left.
Kiona nodded, the numbness in her heart dulling. She had finally let in one emotion, the only one she could allow. Hope.
Kiona stepped outside, smiling as the wind tossed her raven hair over her shoulder. She reached into the pocket of her jeans for her jingling silver car keys, walking towards the candy apple red Volkswagen Beetle that had been a gift from her mother after Brooks. At first, nothing could please her, nothing could bring her out of her misery. But now she stopped, admiring the smooth, shiny surface and the adorable roundness of the car. It really was beautiful.
The ride back to the campus was silent, but at the same time, the silence was delicate, graceful. Kiona had been in silence for so many months that it now fit her like a comfortable glove. It gave her time to notice the world in full color, not the black and white that grief had painted over it. She noticed the trees bursting with bright green leaves, the still blueness of the sky, the fluffiness of the clouds. She saw everything good in the world, everything there was to live for.
Kiona already felt a difference. Maybe with enough time to grieve, she could move on. She could even get the tracking watch removed. She remembered when the officials had showed up at her doorstep with it, giving their apologies over Brooks. But they weren’t sincere. They never were. Maybe that’s why Kiona had taken the interrogating official’s advice to heart.
Of course, her mother had assured them Kiona was perfectly stable. But as Kiona stood by her mother with a smile plastered on her face, giving way to the waves of grief, she knew the officials could see what had really happened. They were the ones who had to make sure everyone maintained baseline emotion, that no one was too happy or too sad. They gave time for joy and misery, but only enough, and then you must move on. For what is the point of life if you revel in your glories all the time, making the hike up the mountain only to sit there and enjoy the view? No, happiness was no motivation. It was just a distraction. And the same was true for sadness. Sure, certain things allowed moments of disappointment, but there was no point wallowing in it. That’s what the officials had realized.
However, the drug they had given Kiona to combat her sadness hadn’t worked. And for some reason, they hadn’t showed up to administer it again. She wasn’t sure she wanted them to, knowing the passing of her misery was fabricated. But, remembering the long, hard months, Kiona thought maybe it would have been better if she hadn’t had to go through that. And then there was the tracking watch. She didn’t know what the officials saw when they pulled up her data, only that her sorrow lasted for an abnormally long time for someone being drugged. Since then, they’d place a suicide watch on her, tracking her every move to make sure she didn’t do the same thing as Brooks.
Even before, when Kiona had been consumed in grief, she would never have commited suicide. To take the thing she valued, the thing that others loved even if she hadn’t, to shoot herself knowing that she had only herself to blame… the thought was sickening. But even if the officials had known that, they would have tracked her. They were always suspicious of her, always suspicious of everyone. A bitter taste rose in Kiona’s mouth, but she forced it down.
The officials weren’t all bad. They, too, had suffered loss and pain. Besides, hadn’t the interrogation official just promised to help her? And he had let her go?
Momentarily distracted, Kiona snapped out of her reverie, able to truly see the beauty in the world since… well, in a long time. She had been driving on mostly empty roads, and now her watch was beeping to alert her she was approaching the main street that led to her college. Even though the students were in classes right now, the highway was full of cars traveling long distances. The road hummed with the energy of all the engines, drivers chatting, talking, and gazing into the distance. They were going places, far, far away. Kiona had always imagined herself being one of them someday, traveling somewhere far to start a new life. She could be anything she wanted there, not just the girl who had lost her best friend or the girl that had a suicide watch on her.
Kiona smoothed back her silky hair and stopped at an intersection to wait for oncoming traffic. She glanced at the drivers beside her, running their hands through their hair or fumbling with their phones. She saw the simplicity in their actions and smiled. For some inexplicable reason, it made her feel better. Turning, Kiona studied the traffic light, waiting for the moment when it would turn from blood red to emerald green. And just as it was about to happen, just as the light was about to read go, she saw it coming.
She saw the car around the corner.
She’d heard of time slowing down in situations like this, but instead it seemed to speed up for her. The driver in the veering black SUV, making reckless turns and driving like a madman, did not see the red light. Or maybe he did. Because he drove towards it, eyes flashing determined as he spun the wheel maniacally. He drove straight towards where the traffic on the highway had stopped, cars lining up tip to tip in a perfect line, all the drivers sharing a moment in which their life was put on hold for a simple light. Except for his. She saw him coming straight for the left corner, where she sat in her candy apple red Volkswagen Beetle, his eyes trained on her. Kiona’s stormy gray eyes widened for a moment, a scream clinging to her mouth as it took the shape of a surprised “o.” And it all happened so fast. She watched him speed up, hurtling towards her, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She threw her hands up to shield herself and felt only a slight jostle at first. Then…
Help. Please. Crash. Collision. Brakes. Car.
A bump. A bang. She was thrown forward.
Head first. Head hit. Pain. Crash. Pain. So much pain. Exploding pain. Like longing.
And then everything went black.