Note: NaNoWriMo is where writers work on a 50,000 word novel during the month of November without editing their work, including checking for spelling or punctuation. Therefore, my story The Swan & the Crow for NaNoWriMo is nowhere close to perfect. Please keep this in mind when reading this chapter and the rest of the chapters that will be following it. But I am open to hearing opinions on what I have written so far and am open to any feedback given. To read Chapter 2, click here.
Current word count: 11,196
After the party at Jason’s house, I returned home to a lonely room. I had to sneak upstairs in order to get to my room if I wanted to avoid waking up Mom and Dad from their slumber.
But I was not alone. Not really. The butterflies in my stomach from the night were with me. I felt them nestled in the pit of my stomach, growing larger in size with each minute passing. The stirrings of a curious heart beat within me. I do not know nor do I understand where all of these feelings came from all of a sudden. But they were there. They were everywhere. In my stomach. In my heart. In my eyes. In my feet. In every breath and every thought I made.
And yet, for the first time in my short life, I felt alive. I remember each moment with Max with a sharp clarity that I was never able to handle with anything else.
I remember the moment our eyes met across from the crowd of dancing bodies. The moment when I beckoned him with my movements to come over. To dance, to do whatever it was we were doing. Whatever all of this is. When I asked if he wanted to dance, seeing his cute stammered reply. The way our bodies felt closely connected to one another, our hearts skipping beat to another time. The way his blue eyes, his dark brown hair intrigued me into curiosity, wanting to know who he was and all about him.
And oh yes, asked him I did. As the dancing picked up and we met each other movement for movement, we began to talk.
“So,” I remember saying. “How did you hear about this party? I do not think I have ever seen you at one of these things before.”
“A friend,” Max said. “Matt. He has been inviting me to all of the parties going on this year. But I was not really interested in going to any of them. But I decided to give this one a chance. I do not know why exactly, not like it is different from going to any other party. But I guess I just wanted to get out of my house, get out of the normalcy of life for a little bit.”
“What about you?” Max asked me. “What has you interested in a party like this? You do not exactly strike me as a party girl. Then again, I have just met you so maybe it is wrong of me to judge you like that.”
“Oh, I did not know that you know Matt,” I said. “Well, well, what a small world. And yeah, you are right. I do not strike a lot of people as a party girl, but yet, I am one. But not for the reasons most people would believe.”
“I do not get a thrill from drinking so much alcohol that I puke, from having conversations with people I barely know, or from being around other people. The reason I like to party is none of those things. I enjoy it because it allows me to get away. Away from life, the mundane things I have to deal with at home on a daily basis. It allows me to be normal for a change. To allow me to pretend that my life is not as bad as it seems, to find some peace and comfort from something, at least one thing in my hectic life.”
“It allows me to express myself in a safely creative outlet. And yes, while not all parties are considered safe, I only go to parties for the dancing, no alcohol allowed in my system. Mostly because I have no interest in drinking or getting caught as a minor. But also because I do not think alcohol will wash all of my problems away. It is the root of most of my problems to begin with anyway.”
As I talked, I realized that I had opened myself so much to this guy. All without him saying anything in return or offering up his own life experiences.
You are saying too much, I remember myself thinking afterwards, slowly regretting what I had just said.
But this guy—no excuse me—Max, did not say a word. Nothing. He just listened intently as if what I was saying was the most important thing in the world. He did not judge me, ask what was wrong or why life had me so down. It was almost as if he understood exactly what I was talking about. As if he himself had been there before just as many times as me. Almost as if we were of the same mind, the same identity.
The thought that there was someone in the world who knew exactly what I was talking about struck me like a chord. And also made me curious, wondering what Max’s story was. But before I could say anything more, Max spoke.
“Yeah, that definitely makes sense.” Max said.
“Especially with the way you dance. You look captivated, like a child seeing something new in the world for the first time. It is very enthralling to watch and see with my eyes. But I admire you for it too. I wish I could look at the world that way, see things just the way they are and have something to forget my problems. But I guess I am not built that way. Even when I have something I am doing to keep my mind preoccupied, away from my other problems, the thoughts I do not want to have always resurface. Against my will, they return to me and I can never find a way of shaking them out.”
“But some things in life work out that way. While you try and forget the problems you face on a daily basis, they appear when you least expect them to. And not always in the way you want. But you just have to work through the struggles, through the pain, through the tears. And in the end, you will be okay. You will have made it and you will be stronger than you started out. But you will never forget what has happened, even if you do not yet understand why.”
I stared at Max, surprised by what he said.
How? I thought. How does this guy know exactly what I am thinking, what I am feeling? It is almost as if he has had some of the same experiences as me. Strange… have definitely never met someone like this before. Never met someone under these type of circumstances, that is for sure.
“So,” I said, doing the best I could to hold my emotions in, continue with what I was saying. “Why are you here? I mean, I know Matt invited you and everything. But you just admitted that parties are not your scene and that this is not something you would normally do. Besides getting out of the normalcy of everyday life, there is another reason, isn’t there? Something you do not really feel comfortable talking about?”
I sensed the change in Max’s mood immediately. He went from happy go lucky guy to silent and thoughtful at the drop of a hat. It was as if something changed, something that he did not want to talk about but felt that he wanted to share with me. I do not know why exactly, but I had a feeling about him. That there is more to him than what meets the eye.
And something familiar. It had something to do with his name, I am sure of it. Almost as if I had heard of him before, somewhere. Where even I am not really sure. But I could tell that I was right when he was able to collect himself piece by piece and began to talk.
“Well…” he began, hesitant to begin this discussion but talking about the subject at hand anyway. “A friend of mine here—attempted suicide. He and I have been close friends since middle school. But he tried to do it during our freshman year at Rockwell High School. He was trying to recover from a messed up relationship with his ex Emily, who cheated on him with another guy at this school. The guy she cheated on him with had no idea that she was already in another relationship and felt bad, trying to make things right.”
“But my friend wasn’t able to keep himself together. He started to feel depressed, as if the world were turning against him. He started cutting classes, leaving school early, and sometimes did not even come to class. I tried the best I could to help him, but it was not enough. Then one day, he skipped another one of his classes, without a word to me or to anyone. We all thought he was sick or just having a bad day and decided not to come to school. But when I was at lunch, I saw him.”
“And I had a feeling something was wrong,” he continues to say. “So I followed him without him even realizing it. And when he went to the rooftop of our school, that is when I realized what he was about to do. I called out to him, hoping he would hear me and stop. He was almost to the ledge when he finally heard my voice and turned around to look at me. The look he gave me in that moment was terrifying to behold. He looked… lost. Hopeless. As if the only way to solve the dilemma in front of him was to jump off the ledge. I was scared in that moment because I felt as if I had already lost my friend. That he had already made the jump and that I came a minute too late.”
“But I was not late. I had made it just in time apparently. When he heard my voice, you could also see the panic in his eyes. Partly because I was there, the one friend who cared about him, but also because he was still trying to decide to jump off the ledge and I was the one person he never expected in his plans. He asked me what I was doing there, how I had managed to know he was going to do this, and told me to not stop him. But I did not listen. I do not remember what I said exactly, but I know it was enough to pull him away from the temptation of the ledge and have him fall on his knees, crying. He said he was sorry that he almost made a bad mistake, that he had hurt me in ways that he never had wanted to, and told me how much he appreciated me being his one true friend.”
“I have that day,” he continued, “Ingrained in my head for the rest of my life. I remember it as if it happened only yesterday. The way he looked on the ledge, what he said that made him decide to take things too far. Everything. But he was lucky. Very lucky. Because of my heroic act, he was treated at the best hospital in the area for his depression and is now doing just fine. Apparently, this sort of incident with him was going to happen sooner or later, the doctors informed me. He was already depressed when he was in his relationship with Emily and battling with his inner demons. The end of the relationship was just the one thing that pushed him too far and caused his depression to go off the charts.”
“But that day has changed me. Changed me in ways I was not expecting. It has made me see the world in a completely different set of eyes, allowed me to understand my friend and everything he was going through differently. But it also put some pressure on me too. Because not only did I just talk my friend from jumping off a ledge, I also became known for saving him. Somehow, everyone knew about what happened. Even people who were not there heard about it from other friends. I do not know who told who exactly, but that day changed my days at Rockwell High School. People started calling me a hero, acting as if they completely cared about my friend and were thankful I was there to save his life. As if they were expecting to see great things from me moving forward. People I did not know well at school wanted to be my friend, wanted to hang out and be seen associated with me. They wanted me to be the friend I was for my friend, wanted someone who was willing to lend an ear whenever they needed it.”
“And it never seems to end. Even now, almost a year since the incident happened, people I do not know still come up to me and idolize me. And I hate it. I hate that I am now the hero of Rockwell High School because I did what any kid would do for a friend. I did not save my dear friend because I wanted recognition. I did not save my friend so that other people at school could gawk and stare at me as I am on my way to classes, talking about what happened as if it happened yesterday.”
“I just want to be a normal teenager,” Max said. “I do not want any of this. I did not ask for any of this. But people keep acting like I did something special. But I did not. I just saved one of my dearest friends.”
“So yes, I came to this party,” Max finally said. “But not only because I know Matt and to get away from life. I came to let loose. To have fun. To forget what happened. And most of all, to live this night and the many more to come as if they are my last. Because you never know what could happen to you day to day. You have no guarantees that you are going to be breathing and still living tomorrow. Or even next week, next month, and next year. There are no guarantees in our lives so why not spend a night out hanging out with strangers, having a good time, and forgetting what happened? Besides, being at home was starting to get lonely anyway.”
I was numbed into absolute silence. I did not expect Max to say all of that. To tell me every aspect of his life, the most important of details. I did not expect to hear someone openly admit all their faults, all their issues, all their mistakes in life. And to do so so completely stunned me most of all. It was as if he had been waiting for someone, anyone, even a complete stranger, to open up to as if he had been meaning to get these words off his chest for a very longtime now. Maybe even as long as a year, when the incident happened.
I knew more about this guy within a couple minutes than I did anyone else. I felt both honored and terrified all at once. I was honored that he wanted to confess to me all of his feelings and to tell me how he was feeling emotionally. But I was also terrified too because I was not expecting this much from our conversation together. I was expecting a simple conversation, telling each other a little bit about ourselves piece by piece. But definitely was not expecting any of this. At all. A total surprise, most definitely.
It scared me too because now I felt obligated to tell him everything about myself too. To open up to him, just like he did me. And while I did not mind having such a conversation with this guy, I did not expect this conversation to be happening so soon. Especially because neither one of us knew each other’s names. We were total strangers, suspended in time, having a conversation. About life. About our lives. Our own personal lives. Everything we have each been through and then some. Things so personal that most people would be surprised we were talking to each other about, considering how we just met and everything.
So saying that I am stunned into absolute silence does not sound like an understatement.
But what do I say? I thought to myself. What do I say in response? How do I tell him I am sorry, that I wish I could do more to help, and that I understood his pain only too well?
Because I most definitely did. While I did not almost lose one of my friends to suicide myself, just imagining such a thing happening to Becca and Allison made me shudder in appreciation at the fact that I had such wonderful friends who were always open with me about every aspect of their lives. In return, I treated them with the same, opening to them in ways that I was not open with everyone else at Rockwell High School. But this guy made me pause. While I do not know him, I felt absolutely drawn to him like a magnet. For some reason, I felt as if I could trust him completely. With anything. I know part of the appeal is because of his willingness to save one of his friends. You could definitely tell that this guy really cared about his friends and would do anything to help them, even talking them out of making a bad decision. So I definitely knew I could trust him.
I continue to think, contemplating what I should say before I come up with a response that I think he would be completely okay with.
“Well, I know what could help with that,” I said in response, a mischievous grin appearing on my face. “We could continue dancing if you would like. I think the music is definitely picking up so that should definitely help you forget your troubles.”
“And,” I continued. “I am so sorry about what happened. I can not even imagine going through what all you had to go through. Especially because of how everyone is reacting to it. And while I do think what you did was very heroic, I also understand why you did it and why you are tired of everyone treating you differently because of it. Just know that it will not change my opinion of you as a person in anyway and that I feel like I have no room to judge you for what happened. You can not control things like that happening to the people you care about and there is nothing you can do whenever they make those type of decisions. And people do not seem to understand that. Anyway, we can continue dancing as if this were our last day here.”
So Max and I continued to dance together as the music picked up in tempo. We danced at the party as if tonight was the last moment we had on the Earth. As if this was the last day we were going to be spending together. As if this night were the last we would see each other before saying our goodbyes and going our separate ways. Which of course, is absolutely possible. Because while I am enjoying my time with Max, I have no clue where this is all going. I have no clue what is going to happen next, what we will be doing next. And there is no guarantee that once I leave here, I will be seeing Max again.
Because before this night ever happened, I had never seen Max before. Yeah, I had heard all of the stories about the “Hero of Rockwell High School,” but I always thought they did not have any truth to them. That they were made up stories by my peers to make our school seem extra cool. And so did Becca and Allison. But that was because we did not know him that we did not believe his story to be true.
Until tonight. I am now able to put a face to the name of the person everyone at school has been talking so much about. For the first time, I have met someone who completely understands me as a person. Yes, I know that he does not know about my past and what I am currently dealing with just yet, but he is the type of person who would understand what it is I am currently going through. He has dealt with a lot already, so I know my issues would be something he would understand.
And he would listen. I know that for certain.
And that was partly what scared me. Meeting someone, a guy, who could relate to everything I was saying and would listen. I have never had a guy friend, guy anything present in my life. Unless you can count Allison’s boyfriend Jason, of course. The exception being my father, of course who was not much of a help with anything. He was too busy beating on Mom to give me sage advice on anything a teenager could possibly go through while in high school.
And I can not really ask Mom either. While she is one of the best people I have been able to get advice from throughout my life, I feel that she would not be of much help either. Considering her own life choices, I would be better off asking both of my best friends what they think I should do.
But that is neither here or there. Right now, I am living in the present, dealing with what is currently in front of me. I will work with what I am given and hope for the best.
It was well into the night and most of the morning by the time the party ended and we had to go our separate ways.
And it was difficult. I had such a good time that I did not want this particular party to end. Mostly because I did not want to say goodbye to Max, partly because I did not know where my future was heading. I did not know where all of this was going, where any of this was going. I just knew in the present moment I was in now that I did not want any of this to end. I did not want this party to end.
I want to continue seeing Max. I know that for certain. But what is going to happen next I still have yet to know. Whether Max and I will see each other again after this party is yet to be determined.
What I do remember though is that Max was of the same mind as me. Before we parted our separate ways, he asked for my name.
“So,” Max said hesitantly. “What is your name? Here I am, just opening my heart up to you and spending most of my night and morning dancing with you and yet, I do not even know your name. How impolite of me not to ask you until now. My name is Max, by the way.”
“Max, nice to meet you,” I remember responding. “And my name is Steph. I know what you mean. I did not even think to ask you either. Guess we were having too much fun in each other’s company to notice that we did not even ask the most basic of necessities sooner. But that is okay. We were having so much fun together that we did not even notice how quickly our time passed here.”
“That’s okay,” Max responded. “I just enjoyed getting to spend my night with a wonderful woman like you Steph. Speaking of which, when will we see each other again? I enjoyed my time with you and would like to see you again. Of course, as long as you want to see me too, that is.”
“Of course I do,” I responded. “I enjoyed my time with you as well Max. And I am not sure. I would enjoy nothing more than to see you again too. But I just do not know. We both go to the same school so maybe we can talk at school. Does that sound good to you?”
Max nodded his head, coming to the same understanding I did. Yes, I had a good time with Max, I will admit. But I am just not sure how this is all going to work yet. I do not know if we should see each other again or not.
What I do know is that these feelings are real. My heart was hammering in my chest like crazy during the whole night we were together, butterflies emitting from my stomach constantly. And I know I enjoyed the feeling too, that much I know for certain. But I do not know what is going to happen and do not want to rush this, whatever this things with Max is.
So as I sat in my lonely room, thinking about all of this, everything that happened, I contemplated what was going to happen next and where my future was taking me. And then, I got out of bed, got dressed and prepared myself for the weekend at home ahead.