On the Edge
“On the Edge” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Maheen Khalid, Canadian Academy - Kobe, Japan.
On the Edge
I slammed the door shut.
The room was dark, closing in on me. I could hear the beating of the rain against the window - droplets streaming down the glass making it foggy.
The sky was dark outside. I closed my eyes, trying to stop the tears that were threatening to spill. That was when I realized how badly I was shaking, shudders running through my body.
I fell to the ground on my hands and knees. The ground felt cold against my bare skin. My heart was pounding loudly in my chest.
Don’t cry, I kept telling myself. Don’t cry. But I couldn’t. But I couldn’t contain myself. After all those years in pain. It was too much.
I felt as if my heart were about to break into pieces like tiny shards of glass. I wrapped my arms tighter around myself. I just wanted to burn and fade away from the world. I thought of my parents. But it hurt to even think. But what would they say if they were alive? I wished they were still here. Instead, I had to live with my horrible stepmom and stepsisters who treated me like trash.
Creeeeaaak …. A narrow beam of light poured into the room. I jerked back. Something fell down on the ground. With the back of my hands, I quickly dried my tears thinking it was Mackenzie and Janise. The skin felt raw against the back of my hands, tears making the skin moist.
I wasn’t right but I wasn’t completely wrong either. It was one of the boys that sometimes hung out with them. He stood in the doorway leaning against the doorframe, his amber eyes shimmering in the light. They were scanning the room. I was in the corner opposite to the door. It was dark in the corner so he didn’t see me until he heard my loud sniffling which I had tried very hard to stifle. His head turned in my direction. He took a step closer.
“I’m sorry”, said the boy, his voice echoing in the empty room. I squinted trying to figure out who it was. It was Jason Walker. I had seen him walking around the hallways with either the Lawrence siblings or Mackenzie and Janise.
“I don’t like to watch you suffer especially now that I think I know what actually happened to you but before this I believed Mackenzie and Janise when they told everyone that you are a horrible person and that you did something horrible to them.” Mackenzie and Janise were my stepsisters. “I don’t believe what they say anymore. It never really made sense. I would like to hear the story from your side - to know if, what I know about you, is true.”
A wave of shock went through my body. I’d stopped shaking and crying. I couldn't believe someone was talking to me as if I were a normal person and not some kind of beast. What was more shocking was that it was one of Mackenzie and Janise’s friend and he was talking to me as if he wanted to actually listen to what I had to say. I was still processing what he said when he asked, “You can speak now”. That was when I realized I hadn’t said anything. He took a step closer, stepping out of the light that was coming from the door. The darkness consumed him.
“I...I...ahh”, I stuttered. I didn’t know what to say. I pushed myself back against the wall as if I could dissolve in it.
“What happened to your parents?” He asked curiously but gently, kneeling down a little.
I started shaking again, this time more violently. No one asked me about my parents ever. Mackenzie and Janise were the only people who knew other than my stepmother but he just said he knew what happened.
“You know", I manage to croak out. My voice sounding hoarse from all the crying.
“Yeah, but I could be wrong. I want to know the true story. I’m done with all this fake stuff.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you know?”, I said weakly. I wanted him to be wrong - that everything he knew about me was fake, a lie - so he could leave me and I could just finally be left alone but deep down a part of me wanted him to be right so someone could finally understand me, see things from my perspective and perhaps this was because he came and talked to me in the first place. It gave me a spark of hope - that I still had a chance among these people, that I could still live a life, have friends. I knew that if he stayed longer this spark would turn into a flame.
“Well, I know your mom died when you were young and your dad raised you until he married your stepmom, then he passed away,”. I think he saw the look on my face because he stepped closer . . . perhaps trying to comfort me . . . I didn’t know and I didn’t find out because I flinched and moved back against the wall, wrapping my arms tighter around my knees. He took that as a sign not to come closer and stopped. Little did he know, it was because the memories that flooded my head every time someone mentioned my parents.
“Look, I know you're not used to people talking to you like this but Emma you have to let someone help you”, he said, his eyebrows furrowed. I would have taken that look for annoyance but his tone was pleading. Suddenly I was angry and frustrated. He had no right to be annoyed. No one asked him to talk to me. I was going to shout at him to go away and leave me alone but having see a glimpse of hope I found it hard to turn back to the dark. I desperately wanted him - anyone - to understand me because I didn’t want things to be like that forever. I couldn’t hold it back anymore.
I started to spill.
“My mom died of cancer when I was very young. My dad raised me. When I was twelve, he married my stepmom who had two daughters, Mackenzie and Janise. They hate me.” I took a deep breath and put my hands on my face only to find tears streaming down again. Mackenzie and Janise were like my mortal enemies. I suffered for years because of them. I took another deep breath and continued, “When I was fourteen, my dad died in a car accident. My stepmom, Mackenzie and Janise treated me like a slave at home. I had to listen to what they said otherwise I wouldn’t get any money for school.”
I was still shaking hard, tears flowing down my face. I hadn’t looked up, not wanting to see his reaction. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had tried so hard to keep a façade of normalcy. And here I told everything to a stranger just because I was frustrated and mad at him. What could I say? I could never control myself when I got angry. I either burst into tears or screamed. Mostly the first one. There was silence for a few moments. I could still hear the rain but it had slowed down. It was merged with the sound of my own heartbeat which was pounding loudly in my chest. My anger had faded. That was another thing - my anger would come and then disappear without a trace. Right now it was replaced with a deep, hollow feeling of emptiness. I finally looked up tired of the silence.
He was sitting down on the floor now, only a few feet from me. His eyes met mine. I could see the pity in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry”, he said. “I had no idea”. Instead of feeling glad that someone actually felt sorry for me, I felt my anger rise again since he made me spill everything.
“Oh, so now you decide to feel sorry!”, I yelled. He looked astounded at my outburst. He tried to say something but I cut him off. “No, No, No! I don’t want to listen to anything you have to say!”, I shouted even louder.
My breathing quickened. He started to stand up. I thought he was about to leave. Panic struck me like a lightening bolt. I didn’t want him to leave.
Instead of leaving he came and sat right beside me. I froze. He was sitting so close but he wasn’t touching me. I was not expecting it at all. I wasn't used to people being this close to me. Most people just avoided me. I tried to move away but the cold and hard surface of the wall stopped me.
We sat there in silence for a little while. Finally I asked, “Why are you here?” I didn’t mean to ask that but had to know. He looked at me, his amber eyes meeting my eyes. He looked surprised. I realized he hadn’t expected me to ask that. I turned away feeling embarrassed and I felt my cheeks turning red.
“I’m here because I’m your friend.”
“You are my friend?”, I asked feeling very confused.
“Yes, I could do with some real friends”, he said.
“Real friends?” I asked still not understanding.
“Oh we all know Mackenzie and Janise hate me, the only reason they pretend to be my friends is that my dad’s their mom’s boss and they want their mom to get promoted”, he said. “They're hoping I will convince my dad to give their mom a promotion since the actual chances of that happening are slim”. He looked disgusted.
“Then who are your real friends?”, I asked curiously.
“The Lawrence siblings”, his mood suddenly shifted. He looked eager and thrilled to be talking about them. “You know Lizzy and James? They're my closest friends, practically my siblings”. I did know who the Lawrence siblings were. James was a senior, a year older than Lizzy who was a junior like me and Jason. Jason, Lizzy, and James came to this school last year. They had come from England. It was obvious from there strong British accents. It was also known that Jason knew them before they came to this school. That was pretty much all I knew about them.
“Yeah”, I mumbled. “I know who they are”.
Jason’s eyes lit up. “You have to meet them”, He said looking very excited.
“I don’t know”, I said not meeting his eyes. The truth was I really did want to meet them. Jason made it sound as if they were greatest people on earth but I was afraid. Afraid that in the end I would be humiliated and mocked as always. At least now, for the most part, people ignored me. But before this . . . . I don’t even know how to explain the horrors. I felt tears prick my eyes again as memories came rushing back to me. “Hey”, Jason said quietly. “I know you’ve suffered but it’s time to move on and make friends”.
“Don’t you think I’ve tried”, I retorted. “They always end in disasters, all because of Mackenzie and Janise”. I felt empty and hollow on the inside.
“I’ll be your friend Emma”, Jason said earnestly. “And I promise if you come meet Lizzy and James, you’ll see that they are wonderful. It’s your choice now”. His voice and eyes were pleading me.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had nothing to lose. If it ended badly, at worse I would end up where I was. But there was a chance that I could actually having friends and my life could change forever. I didn’t even remember the last time I had a friend. The thought of having a friend made me feel good and all warm and fuzzy on the inside. It was a happy thought, something that I was not used to. The fact that Jason listened to what happened to me and tried so hard to convince me to be his friend made me think that if Jason wanted to make my life more miserable he would have already done it. The flame of hope inside me was now burning brightly.
I looked up, ready to tell Jason I’ll be his friend. However, when I looked up I saw defeat in his eyes. He started walking towards the door. He thought I had rejected his friendship. No, no, no! I wasn’t going to lose my only chance of ever having a friend like this. My heart was screaming at me that I couldn’t let this happen.
It’s now or never I thought. I took a deep breath. The darkness in the room was suddenly making me feel uneasy. I got up, turned on the light and said, “Wait . . . ”
His stopped and turned to me.
“I want to be your friend”