|Image via Faith|
By: Eve Estelle
If given the choice, would you choose the charm of strength and bravery, or the subtle pull of compassion and integrity? The choice becomes obvious as one grows older, but it isn't always clear at first sight. And sometimes it takes making the wrong choice to truly understand your mistake.
I came to that realization myself just a few days earlier. Before I sat in a hospital, I was like any mildly adventurous young girl: Living in the moment, enjoying the wild and carefree side of life. Experimenting with my own personality, with other people, trying to figure out where I fit in with the world. But while I was doing all of that, I nearly destroyed what I would later realize to be the best thing that ever happened to me. That one person we look for, that one person so often overlooked.
It was just a few days ago, but it's strange. The events that unfolded in those few moments have changed my life. I feel..
"..Like a completely different person! Amazing what these things can do to ya, huh, Toby?" Jared yelled over the blaring music, a big grin on his face as he danced with various random people as they sauntered by.
Toby, who never liked to participate in such things, gave Jared a wry look from his stationary spot against the wall. "Amazing is one word for it," he replied, obviously unimpressed.
"Oh that's right," Jared rolled his eyes, "forgot you're the killjoy of our group."
I got up from my seat on the couch, and as I approached them, Jared grabbed my arm and pulled me towards him. I let out a quick sound of surprise, and laughed.
"What kinda moves you got, Janine? Bet you're a great dancer!" he shouted, taking a quick drink of something.
The loud music drowned out anything at a normal level, so I did my best not to sound like a screaming banshee when I responded. "Oh, I don't dance," I shouted back with a smile. "Especially not during my first party, and definitely not inside Terry's house!"
"Bummer!" Jared yelled, not wasting any time before turning his attention to another girl walking by.
Toby, still leaning against the wall, folded his arms, disgust written all over his face. He looked at me and said, "I can't stand these types of parties. I come to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid, but I wish he hadn't forced you here."
"He didn't," I replied, "he merely suggested it. I came because I wanted to try it out for myself."
He bobbed his head in acknowledgement. "Yeah, but you don't really want to be here, do you?"
"Actually, I'm kind of enjoying it," I said, smiling and looking around the house-turned-wild.
Toby grimaced. 'Well, let me know if you'd like me to take you home."
"Lighten up some, Toby. You're a great guy, but you won't try anything new and exciting. Jared is always out there, having fun and being fearless."
He didn't say anything for a moment, and someone further in the crowd yelled out a loud, "Woooo!" When the shouting returned to normal levels, he said, "I'm not afraid to try new things. I don't find this," he gestured toward the preoccupied, obnoxious crowd behind us, "to be exciting. Jared is reckless. He's my friend, but he is reckless. I don't want him to..." Toby trailed off and straightened as Jared came walking back to us.
"Party's over, dolls. We can leave now."
"Great," said Toby. "Knowing you, you're not exactly sober right now. Got a driver?"
Jared chuckled. "Yes, dear Mother, I got a driver. We ain't kids, Toby. Come on, Janine."
I started to follow him but Toby put a hand on my shoulder. "Wait," he said, "I can take you home if you'd like. Less to worry about, then." He smiled.
I suddenly wasn't sure who to go with. I looked between the two of them, trying to make up my mind. "Thank you, but I think I'm going to go with Jared," I finally said, giving him an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry." I could see the concern wash over his face, and his own smile faded.
Jared laughed again. "We'll meet you back home, Toby," he said, playfully smacking him on the shoulder. Annoyance flickered across Toby's face, and I saw him clench his teeth.
"Be careful," he muttered, before turning to leave. My party soon followed.
It was only after about halfway back to my home that things started to go wrong. The small sports car was filled to the brim with people - Jared and a few of his friends. They had decided to make a quick pit stop at the convenience store for drinks, and I became a little nervous when Jared decided to leave me in the car with all those, in my eyes, random partygoers while he went into the store.
"What are you worrying for?" he said when I told him just that. "Every soul in that car is cool. They're with me. You got nothing to worry about, sweets. I'll be gone only a minute."
So I sat in the cramped little car, surrounded by a bunch of loud people who I'd never met. I'm starting to think Toby was right, I thought to myself. This was a bad idea.
I tried to focus on the convenience store entrance, instead of the fact that I felt alone. It must've been over ten minutes or so before Jared made an appearance again. Except this time he burst out of the door and was racing to the car.
"Go, go, go!" he shouted excitedly once he crammed himself inside. Our driver quickly reversed out of the parking spot, and floored the gas pedal, the car's tires screeching and the smell of burnt rubber filling my nose.
My heart was pounding, and I was gripping the door handle for dear life. After the store we had apparently just stolen from was out of sight, the car once again returned to a normal speed.
"Woo," the driver exhaled with a laugh, "that was unexpected. Did anyone spot you?"
"No, man, everyone was in the back," Jared laughed. "Perfect opportunity."
I swallowed. I was terrified. I was silent. I just tried to pretend that I wasn't there, and it wasn't too difficult to do that. What was I thinking choosing to ride with Jared?
"Hey, hey, stop here for a second," one of the passengers said after a few minutes, pointing. "It's my girlfriend's house. I wanna pick something up quick."
Our driver pulled over and into the driveway of a small house, unlocking the doors for the passenger to let himself out. He went to knock on the door of the house and waited. When the door finally opened, it wasn't a woman who answered.
"Who are you?" I heard my fellow passenger ask. "Where's Nikki?"
"What do you want with Nikki?" the man at the door responded. "It's the middle of the night, man."
"You telling me I can't come to my girlfriend's house when I feel like it?"
"Your girlfriend?" The man stepped out from behind the door, closing it behind him, and raised his eyebrows.
I groaned and put my head in my lap. I just wanted to be home. I didn't listen to the rest of what I knew was going to be an argument of some kind, but I suddenly heard Jared say, "Whoa, whoa. Not cool," and he, along with everyone else but me and one other, jumped out of the car and headed over to the house.
Looking up, I saw our passenger on the ground after being hit in the face by the door man. Too many voices began mingling together as the others approached, and I couldn't, nor did I want to, make out any of their words.
To my absolute horror, another vehicle pulled into the driveway not ten seconds later. The car stopped and a man quickly got out and angrily began heading towards me. My heart lifted when I saw who it was, and I jumped out of the car.
"Are you okay?" Toby asked me when he got closer.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I said. "How'd you know we were here?"
"I called when I got home, and neither you nor Jared picked up," he said, trying to contain his anger, "I got worried when I realized your house is a quicker drive than mine, and saw Jared's car parked here on my way back." He glanced at the arguing group and shook his head. "Can't believe this. I'm taking you the rest of the way home - this isn't safe."
I let out a shaky sigh of relief. "Thank you. I'm sorry I didn't -"
Toby lifted his hand to stop me. "Come on," he said, gently taking my arm and leading me away from Jared's car and to his.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" Jared yelled, obviously at us. "She chose to come with me. Janine, stay in the car!"
We ignored him, almost to the car, when Jared suddenly rushed down the porch stairs towards me and Toby, simultaneously pulling out and cocking a gun. I nearly bumped into Toby as he froze in his tracks.
"Give me Janine," Jared yelled.
Toby let out a curse and shouted back, "She's not safe with you! You can't go fifteen minutes without running into trouble! All you had to do was drive her home, Jared!"
"So let me finish the job!"
"No. You had your chance. You're going to get her killed," yelled Toby.
I squealed in surprise as someone came up behind us and attempted to grab me. Toby lunged forward at the man to stop him, and the gun Jared was holding roared. The man elbowed me in the face, sending me down to the ground. My vision blurred, and my head became nauseatingly dizzy. As soon as I tried to stand up, someone painfully hit the back of my head, knocking me right back down.
I lay disoriented for several minutes, as running footsteps quickly faded away. I vaguely remember hearing police sirens before I drifted into unconsciousness.
I still can't believe how one small, stupid decision lead to all of that. But it did. A ride home with the wrong person lead to theft, arguments, and a trip to the hospital.
So now here I sit. Waiting. Waiting for what feels like the longest, most terrifying moments of my life (yes, even more terrifying than the previous events). Every sound sends me into a panic - sudden footsteps in the hall, a change in the constant beeping of medical equipment, the slightest screech of a chair being moved. Everything feels so delicate in this moment. And yet I fear the silence perhaps more than any sound.
He wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for me. He wouldn't be lying here, fighting for his life. The doctor's say it could have been so much worse - that the gunshot wound could easily have killed him. A few days of care and treatment have brought most of his vital signs to stable levels, and now we just have to wait for him to wake.
I continued to hold his hand as I drifted in my pond of thoughts. But I immediately snapped back to reality when I noticed that, for the first time in three days, Toby's eyes were open.
Author's note: This short story was requested by Faith P (Stories by Firefly). She provided the image above, and wanted to see what kind of story I could make out of it. Hope you enjoyed the result, Faith! :) Thanks for your request.