October 7, 2010

When the Autumn Leaves Blush - Part IIX

As dictated by Faranza Syns

When The Autumn Leaves Blush
Faranza Syns

I've gotten sloppy with language. I feel like retiring.

Chapter 7

Drake's roar of frustration rent the air, so alike that of an enraged lion that Danielle was quick to jump off her make-shift bed on the floor, tangled hair standing on end, eyes bleary from disturbed sleep.


Danielle flinched at Drake's bellow, and closed her ears while her tired eyes tried to adjust to the piercing glare of morning sunlight.

Through the blur shadowing her vision, Danielle saw Drake stalk around the room, going down on his knees to check under beds, then moving towards a closet, pushing aside clothes in a flurry of movement. "Where the friggin' hell is my Chemistry assignment, you--"

Clark, in total contrast, sat on his bed, calmly lacing his black class shoes. "It's in your bag - where you ordered me to put it."

With the final remnants of sleep finally rubbed off her eyes, Danielle took in Clark's smart, sharp-looking uniform. The crisp white shirt had nary a stray crease on it - all clean lines and near-perfect, smooth planes. The dark gray pants had been pressed neatly, and a smartly designed tie of black, gray and silver diagonal stripes with the emblem of the military academy boldly emblazoned in the middle, swung between his opened legs.

"Robin," Sean called out from the other side of the room. "Your tie—” A gray blur swung in an arc above Danielle's head and she watched as Robin snatched it out of the air. Taking a deep breath and sitting still on the pile of jackets the boys had turned into mattress, Danielle took in the general state of the room, somewhat buzzing with activity.

They had all had a late night last night, finishing up some last minute revisions on various subjects that would be tested at school the next day. It turned out that none of them had any visitors and since Sundays were really resting days, they were all bent over their books, ignoring Danielle who merely slept the day through, trying to reserve as much energy as she could to fight the lingering fever. Also, sleeping kept the pain of her throat at bay. Occasionally, Sean or Robin would approach her and ask her if she wanted food or water. Once, when the other boys had gone to the mess hall for lunch, her fever had spiked, and thoughtfully, Sean had cradled her body against his, patiently spoon feeding her isotonic drinks. Then, although very, very uncomfortable (she could tell by the dark slashes of crimson red across his cheeks and the way he gritted his jaw), he had sponged down her body with a cool, wet cloth.

Now, come to think of it, it was very endearing how he really avoided the 'Danger Zones' of her body. When he was done wiping down her arms, her legs up to her knees, her face and her neck, he had dampened the towel himself, then handed it to her. "Here. Do it yourself,” he had muttered. Although very lethargic, Danielle had been thankful for the cooling feel of the wet cloth. And only when Sean had removed her from his embrace did Danielle realise where she had been the whole time.

And it was odd how she had not responded negatively towards it.

Thinking back to yesterday, Danielle pressed her palm against her forehead, testing the amount of heat given off there. Not bad. Sean had sneaked out again last night, and had gotten the results of the throat swab done, and found out that she was clear of strep throat. But just to screw with Drake's head, Sean had pretended like he had not gotten the results yet. It was adorable how Drake had practically begged to go on Sean's behalf.

Danielle smiled to herself as she watched the boys prepare for school. She had only been here two full days, and yet, she felt like she had adored them since forever.


She looked up as Sean sat on the bed beside hers. He smiled, looking extremely smart in his shirt and tie. "Good morning," she croaked, and then closed her mouth in surprise at the sound, embarrassingly aware of her parched throat. Sean laughed low in his chest, and passed her a bottle of mineral water. He watched pleasantly as she twisted the cap then chugged down the water like it was the last droplets ever to be given to her to quench her thirst.

"Good?" he asked. Danielle nodded, smiling, when she was done drinking. "We have classes till four today. It's extended because we have intensive classes for the major exam we're sitting for." Danielle nodded as she absorbed this information. "So... we might not be back for lunch."

"Oh." At the mention of lunch, her stomach gurgled for attention. Danielle pressed her hand against her stomach, as if pressing it would muffle the sound and lessen her embarrassment. Too bad, Sean had already heard it. He stared at her with concern as he got up. He moved to his closet, then opened it wide, he grabbed a few packets of instant everything - soup, noodle, porridge. He then put them down at her legs, practically showering her with food. "Here. If you're hungry, feed on this for a while. I'm gonna have to figure out how to bring you food."

He could always bully one of the junior boys to bring their food over to this room, but Sean really was not up for a bout of ragging. And besides, he did not want anyone dying of hunger. Buying some food at the canteen should be okay. But how to bring the food over to Dee Dee when he most probably needed to be back in class as soon as lunch was over?

Oh well. He was an SUO. He'd figure something out.

He turned back to Dee Dee. "Will you be okay?" He inspected the not-unhealthy flush on her cheeks. She still looked a bit peaked, but none the worse for wear. Thank god her health was turning around. He could not be here for her on the other times if she had been sick. He had classes to attend to, and SUO duties to perform. Again, Sean was astounded by the amount of energy he expended on worrying about Dee Dee's well-being. He shook his head mentally, and pushed the thought aside for a while.

The remnants of his worries were allayed when Danielle smiled up at him. "I have all this," she motioned to his secret stash of emergency food, and Sean could not help but grin. "I'm gonna be a-okay."

It was 2 o'clock. Danielle O'Connor was definitely not “a-okay”. She hated to admit it, but Sean's predictions were coming true - she was feeling slightly restless from being cooped up. The need for fresh air pressed on for dominance in her brain, making her stare yearningly at the windows. Should she open the window, or keep it shut? Was it a hostel rule to keep all the windows closed when at classes? Should she take the risk and crack it just a little? The military people were no doubt very freaky about neatness and discipline. She hated to be the one to get her new friends into trouble. A flashback of how Clark had closed the window as if on automatic this morning helped Danielle make her decision.

No open windows.

The final say given by her logical mind agitated the restless creature prowling inside her head. She really needed to get out. Just for a while. A bit of fresh air, after being so weak for so long. Again, Danielle gazed at the windows with dejected hope in her eyes, the realisation of how much the outside world had become a part of her touching deep into her heart. After being something of a nomad for months on end, having no place to stay was a bitter fact that she had been forced to accept and live with. Little had she known then that it would soon become the only way she knew how to live, the only fact that sat well with her.

Humming to herself in boredom, she moved to the row of study tables lined up against one side of the wall. The way they kept their things neat and tidy somehow felt a bit alien to her. Everything had a place of its own - even the pencils and pens looked like they were grouped together in a complex arrangement that made a disturbing sort of sense.

She moved towards Drake's study table, seeing that it had the highest pile of books stacked on one side. Browsing the titles, she felt a daunting sense of inferiority. The books consisted of serious titles, discussions of serious matters and eye-opening subjects, some of which were slightly political. Despite Drake's general air of lackadaisical whimsy, the books he read were scarily grave.

Robin's table predictably held books of medicine and also a few fictions that Danielle would never have thought to read in a thousand years. On Clark's table, there were mostly revision books with very little evidence of any other sort of books. Danielle smiled at that. So, Clark probably was not much of a reader. Smiling to herself, envisioning how the quiet boy had talked with her last night, as if he knew at that time that she was feeling a little bit neglected what with the other boys really ignoring her in favour of their books. Danielle moved on to the last table - Sean's table.

If the other boys' tables were merely clean, his was extremely spick-and-span. Everything was organised, from the tallest book, to the widest, it all had a system of its own. Danielle was almost scared to breathe around the table for fear that she might misplace or shift something with that breath.

Moving cautiously, she leaned over the table, and scanned the books that were held up together by two bookends. Some of the books were those that she had read years ago, some were titles that looked rather interesting - thrillers and also a few contemporary literature, nothing overtly grotesque or embarrassingly feminine, but eye-catching titles all the same. She grabbed one book, biting her lip like a child who knew she could get caught anytime, but still unable to resist the temptation of the forbidden. She chanted in her heart that she would put the book back at the exact same spot when she was done, as if the silent avowal was a silent promise and assurance that she could channel to Sean.

With keen interest, she turned the book over and read the general description of the story. Fade Away, by Harlan Coben. Again, she gnawed on her lower lip, looking out the window. It was so long since she'd read a book - a long time since she had the time and luxury to. Hugging the book close to her chest, she walked over to the window, leaning against the windowsill as she stared out - staring at the green lawn of the hostel building. It was a bit scary to start reading this book. What if being able to read again became the wonderful addiction it was once upon a time in her past? She would be leaving this place soon. There might be very little chance for her to read again - she would need to find work, and a place to stay.

The question of leaving brought up millions other in her head, more than a few tearing her heart apart; would she be able to continue her studies, would there be people who would hire an unkempt little girl who really had very little market value, how long would she need to work to be able to afford a roof over her head, would she ever be able to retrieve what little respect she had once had in her life, would she ever be able to find a small sense of security ever again...

She shut her eyes and gripped the paperback to her chest, her knuckles turning white from gripping the book so hard. She took a deep breath, as if the air rushing into her lungs would soothe the open wounds in her heart. She held the breath, then released it. It was probably best to let go of the problems too, and not worry about the bridge too much until the moment came when she had to she cross it.

Calming down to a degree, Danielle smiled to herself.

Until her eyes caught sight of something that made her heart freeze.

It was a familiar face, with familiar hair, and familiar features. A face she had seen contorting in pain, twisted with anger and agony. It was her - that woman who had been--

The woman looked up. Both sets of eyes collided.

Danielle pulled away from the window swiftly, her heart hammering a loud staccato beat of fear and anxiety. Did the woman see her? Oh God, if she had seen her...

Swallowing, she gripped onto Sean's book tighter, moving further away from the window, eyeing it like it was about to grow fangs and chomp away at her bones. God, what should she do? The boys would be murdered if the woman had seen her.

Looking around in distress, trying to figure out what to do, Danielle ran her fingers frantically through her short, brown tresses. A million prayers were sent up in her heart, hoping beyond everything that she would not be the death of Sean. She just could not bear the thought of being a disappointment in his eyes. She had only been here a few days - what more damage could she do?

"Hold up, Hayes."

At that call, Sean stopped jarringly in his heated tracks, and spun around to look at the direction of the voice. His eyes scanned the hallway, and landed on Fahran Maiza, immediately recognizing the Echo SUO in the crowd. He raised an eyebrow as Maiza strode towards him, the SUO's walk as proud as it was confident. The other Heroes made way for him, as if he released a powerful wave that shifted them without them realizing it.

Sean stood sideways and waited for the SUO, his books held lazily at his side. "What do you want, Maiza?" he said as soon as the SUO stopped two metres away from him, forcing the two of them raise their voices, letting the stern notes of their vocalizations stand as their show of authority.

"A private word," Maiza nodded his head sideways to the general direction of the common toilet. Sean narrowed his eyes at that, his lips thinning with annoyance. He needed to get back to his room to check up on Dee Dee, and then rush back to the Mess Hall for lunch and limp back to class for some extra classes right after that.

"We can talk fine here," Sean stated, his voice hard and unmoving.

Maiza's stare hardened at that, turning swiftly into a controlled glare. "You really don't want your crap blurted out all over the hallways, Hayes."

Sean's cheek muscles twitched, then he gritted his jaw harder. He sensed Maiza's challenge and hated the bastard for it. Since day one, Maiza had been out to get him. In fact, it was a resentment that ran deep and old. It was an eight-year silent feud between them, and it did not look like their animosity for each other would ever abate.

"Then don't blurt my crap all over the hallways." His tone was cool, calm and scarily controlled. Just like that, he turned on his heels and went on his way, leaving Maiza staring at his back disgustedly.

Maiza turned around and walked away, his mind racing as he focused on what he had been about to tell Hayes. That bastard really wanted his ass screwed, Maiza fumed. This was an important matter, and as much as it pissed Maiza off, he needed to warn Hayes, or that idiot was going to get what he's asking for.

He paused as he recalled the direction of Hayes' hasty retreat. The guy was headed towards the hostel, probably going to grab something in his dorm. Maiza smirked at that. He should intercept the guy in his room. The other SUOs in his dorm probably needed to be warned off, too. Good. Killing two birds with one stone always appealed to him.

Danielle had wound down enough to stop cowering in the hidden corner of the room and instead of that, she sat on Sean's bed, reading his novel as she munched on a packet of biscuits. Crumbs fell on his bedspread, but so entranced was she by the book, everything else ceased to matter as much as the next word in the book - the next twist, the next heart-gripping phrase, the next impossibility overcame.

Her stomach growled a little louder in protest, the biscuit working its way leisurely down at a pace not fast enough to please her stomach. She sat up straighter and patted her stomach. "Chill. I'll get something else to eat soon. You're very noisy," she chided.

The next sound that came to her ear was one that made her jump with joy at one second, and caused chilling dread to trace its way down her spice.

The doorknob rattled. And continued to rattle. Danielle sat in frozen shock as she stared at the doorknob being tried, and she felt the blood drain from her face. People who sleep in a room have keys for the door – and people who have keys do not try the doorknobs...
Loud staccato knocks on the door echoed inside the room, and the sound reverberated within Danielle’s chest.
…neither do people who have keys knock.
“Open up!”
Danielle jumped at the sound, but relief quickly consumed her.
It was Sean. She knew that voice. Smiling giddily with a lightened heart, Danielle got up and chuckled at her silliness, trying to soothe the remaining jitterbugs that hopped around in her stomach. Jumping off the bed, she paused for a while to catch her breath. Then, she moved to the door and twisted the knob open.
Swiftly, Sean hustled her deeper in, closing the door behind him. “Sorry, left my room key in the locker and I had to come back here quick.”
“No, no, that’s ok,” Danielle replied, unable to cease smiling widely. It was not entirely something she was even aware of; hence, it was hard to stop. She watched as he lifted a small gift bag of sorts.
“Yours,” he said.
She was quick to snatch it away from him. Sean smiled at her reaction, pleased at first. But then, he slid his hands into his pants pockets, when a sudden sense of insecurity crept out from nowhere as he watched her rummage through the bag. Would she like what he got her? Would she eat it? Was it enough? Gauging her reaction was nearly impossible since she had her face almost buried inside the bag. Unnerved at himself for worrying about her reaction, he balled his hands into fists in his pockets. “There are only cans of tuna, and some canned fruits. I’ve bread, so you can eat it with that. The bread should be okay. I bought it last week, but it’s still recently, and it should be okay. And it should be enough, right? And the canned fruits – they might be a bit sweet, but if you put it in plain water it should taste okay. The sugar makes it sweet. The tuna – I’m sorry if it tastes bland, it’s a new product and I wasn’t sure—it was all I could get.”
She looked up from the open bag, seemingly amused. “Canned fruits?”
“It was gift basket—” he began defensively, but stopped when he saw her bite her lower lip, her eyebrows crinkled with emotion, her face giving the message that she was touched.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“It’s no big deal,” he muttered. Silence passed by for a few seconds as he avoided Dee Dee’s eyes. He cleared his throat at the end of it, and moved to the door again. “I guess I’d better get going. Gotta go to the mess hall.”
Dee Dee smiled, her expression softer than before. “Okay.”
“I’ll see you tonight.” Sean paused at that. The atmosphere felt oddly intimate, and suddenly, it came to him that the way he said it sounded like he was telling her he would pick her up on a date that night. His eyes quickly met hers, and the way hers were wide open showed that it sounded the same to her.
Sean rushed to the door, all awkward movements and jerky motions as he straightened his ever smart-looking uniform. “I’m off.”
“Bye,” he rushed out, closing the door loudly and quickly when it registered to him that she sounded just as awkward as he did.
See you tonight? What was he – insane? Grunting at himself in disgust, Sean picked up his pace and rushed over to the mess hall before anyone would miss him.
Danielle blinked once, as if to pull herself away from the spell-binding web Sean’s words captured her in. Why did it feel so … warm yet so awkward? She bit her fingernail, then turned to stare at the things she had been given. She smiled. He remembered about her, despite his busy schedule. It was… sweet. To have someone mind about her at all once she was out of sight was a great feeling – a feeling she had not experienced for a long while. She never stuck around long enough for anyone to start caring who she was. All they knew was that she was a runaway, and they left it at that. No one cared if she had eaten or not. But Sean did.
It felt good. Sean made her feel good. It was enough to make her smile wider—
She nearly jumped as the door slammed shut again. She caught her breath, then turned to stare at the door. She grinned gleefully. It was probably Sean again. After that one “tonight” statement, he probably would not feel too good having to talk to her again. Danielle sat on Robin’s bed and shook her head. His awkwardness was endearing and endlessly adorable.
And she would never want to be the one who would cause him any trouble.
That thought brought her worries to the forefront again. The woman who had or had not seen her…would that come back to haunt her one day?
Danielle’s eyes quickly went to the door. At the sight of it unlocked, she lunged at it, and quickly locked it.
Once that was done, she heaved a sigh of relief. She was safe now. Perhaps. But again and again, the image of that woman staring up at her came to her mind’s eye. Somehow, doom and disaster felt like it hovered over her shoulder, and this time, unlike her pain and her sorrows, this was one feeling Danielle could not put away into a little box. It lingered throughout the day, and Danielle felt an ache in her gut, knowing full well that those same piercing eyes that had found her this morning would one day stare at her again as punishment is meted out. And she was not the only one being punished.
That thought ached her the most.

Chapter 7 - End

Gah, I need to re-read the whole thing again. I've gotten REALLY sloppy.