The curtain was pulled back; the rings clinking together like bells in Nathan's aching ears. He shuffled uncomfortably in the white sheets and blinked several times to get a grasp of his surroundings. He had an IV tube stabbed into his left arm; his right was feeling sore. The nurse—she looked like a nurse—unwrapped the bundle of flowers she was carrying in her hands and placed them in a dusty vase beside him. She handed him a card,

"Looks like someone's thinking of you." She smiled. "How are you feeling, Nathan?" He opened his mouth to speak but his lips were dry and the skin clung together like velcro. He just shook his head. She nodded and patted the railing on his bed gently. "You dislocated your right shoulder in the accident, but you should be fine. Those bruises on your forehead will heal up in no time." He wiggled his arm and winced at the soreness. "I'll ask you again when the anesthesia wears off." She ruffled the flowers once more and left the room, leaving the curtain opened. Nathan strained to turn his neck and peek over to the other side of the room. Charlie lay there with the same IV drip stuck into her arm. She had scrapes all along the right side of her body and her torso was stiff with bandage. Somehow though, seeing her there, bruised up and all, sent a wave of reassurance through him. Even in the broken state she was in, the light from the window rained down on her in peaceful waves. He averted his attention for a moment and opened the card that had come with the flowers.

Get better soon! Read the default print of the card. Love, Mom and Dad. They didn't even bother to write their own message. He scoffed and gripped it tightly in his hand. He looked over at Charlie's bed-stand to see if anyone had left her anything; but it was bare. Not even a vase. He sat himself up, groaning the entire way and reached for the pen attached to the clipboard at the end of his bed. He scribbled out the name signed at the bottom and added this above the printed words:

Hope you're feeling better Charlie, we're all worried about you. Come back soon! He decided against signing it in case she asked someone about it when she got back. What she didn't know couldn't harm her, after all. He sat himself back up and stifled a moan; everything was aching. He grabbed the IV tube and yanked it out quickly, a little wince escaping of the corner of his mouth. He grabbed the vase carefully with shaking arms and limped over to her side of the room. He placed it delicately on her stand and set the card upright beside it. She was still asleep. Her chest moved rigidly as she breathed, and her brows were in a slight furrow. He chewed on his bottom lip, thinking about how much pain she must've been in, and because of him, too. She didn't deserve this. Her fingers twitched slightly and her mouth took short little inhales as she slept. Watching her put him in to a strange place of mind; almost as if he was glad the accident had happened. In some twisted way, he found comfort in having gone through something so traumatic with her. It made him feel closer to her, in a way that he couldn't have if their fates had never intertwined in such a fucked up way. Human connection was a strange thing, and something Nathan had never understood until now. It wasn't something he could put into words but he could feel it, beating in unison with her fragile heart. Her eyes fluttered a bit and he quickly stumbled back to his side of the room, pulling the curtain behind him. He laid down flat on his back and pretended to close his eyes. She stirred around in her bed for a moment and he could see her shadow straining to reach for the vase. He wanted to get up and grab it for her so she wouldn't pull her stitches but he restrained himself and waited.

"…Nathan?" she said, finally giving up on the roses.

"Yeah." He mumbled. His voice was coarse. She pulled back the curtains to look at him. She smiled softly at the sight of a familiar, bruised up face. "You feeling okay?"

"Yeah. You?" He asked.

"I think so." She used her weak, thin arms to push her body out of the bed while suppressing the pain of her shattered ribcage. She sucked on the inside of her cheek and suppressed a cry.

"Stop moving!" He growled, perhaps more aggressive than he intended. She didn't seem to mind. Her voice was a daze.

"Someone left me flowers." She muttered, tugging the IV stand closer to her.

"—I'll get them." Anything to keep her from moving any more. He threw himself out of bed a bit too eagerly, and she watched as he carefully handed her the vase.

"Roses." She said, her eyes still fluttering "That's nice. They smell nice. You can put them back. Can you hand me the card?" He did as asked and she patted the space beside her for him to sit down. He cautiously obliged, only letting himself on a tiny fraction of the space. "Lay down, Nathan." She mused. Her voice was barely a breath. She didn't look well at all. They must have put her on stronger medication than him. Nathan gently rolled himself next to her. The bed was just big enough for their two small, frail frames. "Hope you're feeling better Charlie, we're all worried about you. Come back soon." She read softly. "I wonder why they crossed off their name." Nathan held the card in his own hands and pretended to study the ink he'd just imprinted only moments before.

"Maybe they were nervous?"

"It was probably a group effort or…something." She sighed, fading in and out of drowsiness. Her eyelids slowly fell shut like garage doors and her nodding head fell onto Nathan's shoulder.

"Charlie?" he murmured, but she didn't respond. A slow burning brewed in the pit of his stomach as he felt her breath so close to his skin. He turned his head slightly as if not to disturb her. She was so vulnerable now, broken and asleep like the way she found him that morning on the roof. Her arm had fallen into his lap, her wrist exposed and he could see the many cigarette burns she imprinted into herself. They ran all the way up her arm and stopped at the crevice of her elbow. He fingered his own scars and felt sad for her. She didn't deserve to feel how he did. Beside the window her tanned face glowed like butterscotch; freckles decorating her nose and forehead. She was a mere lamb that had wandered too far into the lion's den.

The past few weeks had progressed so quickly Nathan felt as if he'd lost all sense of time and what it meant to build a relationship. Not so long ago he bitterly deemed Charlie as an anti-social outcast because that was what everyone saw her as. He could understand now, why she always seemed a little sad, and jaded in conversation. She wasn't interested in everyone else, or what they thought. It wasn't important to her. Kate was important to her. Finding Rachel was important to her. She was a good girl hanging out with the wrong boy.

He raised his good arm and stroked a stray hair away from her face, resting his nose on the top of her warm head. She smelled like lavender shampoo and cigarettes; a strangely calming scent that he could imagine himself falling asleep beside.

Nathan shook the idea from his head. He was afraid of what was happening. To him. To her. He didn't want to look at Charlie anymore, afraid that he might find something he didn't want to see; hope for them, hope for himself. But he couldn't bring himself to drag his eyes away from her peaceful face. He pulled the hospital sheet over her shoulder and propped her drooping head against a pillow. Standing up away from her felt cold. Maybe he needed to stay that way.


Class again. At least it was photography, the only thing Nathan ever took seriously, and even then it was difficult to listen to Jefferson ramble on about 'aberration' with the thought of Charlie in the back of his head. They'd both been released on the same day, but she was excused from classes for a week due to her severely shattered ribcage. He hadn't gone to see her yet. He didn't know if she'd want to see him.

It was Thursday, a week since the accident; a week since he last saw Charlie. After she fell asleep beside him, a nurse came in to tell him he was free to go, and though he contemplated the idea of waiting for her, he left. The days had been getting longer since he got back, and every minute of class felt draining. The image of her sleeping listlessly beside him was engraved into his mind, and every time his mind wandered he found himself thinking of her.

"Now for next week I'd like you all to—" The bell rang before Jefferson could finish. Everyone's savior from possibly one of the dullest lectures to date. Nathan rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and grabbed his backpack to leave but Jefferson was at his desk before he could even get out of his chair.

"Nathan, I'd like you to stay after class. I've got something to discuss with you regarding the uh… 'everyday heroes' contest." Nathan swallowed and looked up at the daunting figure shadowing over him. Jefferson never kept him after class unless it had something to do with their "photography sessions". The thought of the dark room always sent guilty shivers up Nathan's spine when he wasn't in the moment of it. It was a disgustingly morbid relationship he and Jefferson had, but he would forever be a part of it. He couldn't escape Jefferson, he didn't know how. The man had him under a sadistic spell; taking the place of a father Nathan never knew, and like a mouse he fell right into the trap like a masochist would, despite knowing the sacrifices he was taking in partaking in such "activities".

Everyone filed out of the classroom, desperate for some lunch and within seconds they were alone.

"What did you want to talk about?" Nathan asked.

"I heard about your little accident with Charlie last week." Jefferson said, circling Nathan's desk like a hawk.

"Yeah? Everyone's heard about it." Nathan replied, picking at some scratch marks in his desk with a pencil.

"How is she doing? Have you gone to see her?" The man's voice was calm and collected; something that always scared the shit out of Nathan. A storm was coming; he could hear it brewing in Jefferson's taut voice.

"I don't know, I haven't seen her." Nathan replied snidely. Perhaps it was a mistake to speak with a false air of confidence. Suddenly Jefferson slammed his hands on the table and Nathan dropped the pencil he had been twiddling between his fingers.

"Don't you fucking talk to me like that Prescott. She was my—our—next subject. I told you to keep a fucking eye out for her. She's innocent, fragile, and more importantly Blackwell's beautiful little outcast. No one would ever believe her! She was the perfect girl for this, and you went and fucked it all up, you shithead!" He leaned down to stare Nathan straight in the eyes; his hands gripping so tightly to the table that his hard knuckles faded to white. He held eye contact for a brief moment, Nathan's shoulders shaking maniacally, before the man finally stood up and walked away towards his desk in a frustrated huff.

"I'm… I'm sorry." Nathan murmured timidly. Jefferson clicked his tongue.

"Hah, sorry. Oh please. You've already FUCKED this up Nathan, like you do with everything." His booming voice was eerily calm, like speaking to a madman who doesn't know he's crazy. "We'll have to wait and see if her scars heal well, I suppose… Can't photograph her in the state she's in now." He put his hands behind his back and paced around. Nathan watched in petrifying fear as he finally sat himself down on the corner of his desk with his hands placed neatly in his lap. "What were you doing in the car with her anyway?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I was... getting close to her. L-like you wanted me to."

"Bullshit. I never asked you to talk to her. I simply told you to watch her."

"I- was trying to get her to t-trust me. You know? So that it was easier to t-to get her somewhere we could—" He felt dirty even saying it. It was a lie, it was all a lie, and Jefferson knew. He sat down in his chair and began reading some papers on his desk, as if anything was worth more attention than the quivering boy sitting in the back of the room.

"If you're going to lie to me, I don't want to hear it anymore. Go on. Leave. I'm done." Nathan swallowed hard and furrowed his brows at the teacher as if looking for more confirmation. "I said LEAVE." Nathan jumped in his seat and quickly grabbed his bag, stumbling out of the room; his mind in a scramble.


"Kate, Kate please open up. It's Charlie." She let out a frustrated sigh and leaned her bruised forehead on the door. "Kate, please tell me why you're mad at me." A muffled voice responded from the other side, but Charlie couldn't make out what it had said. "What? Kate I can't hear you." The door finally opened, causing Charlie to lose her balance for a second and stumble into the dorm room. Everything was neat and in its place; but the mirrors were all covered with towels and the curtains had been pulled shut, blocking out any sunlight from coming in.

"What do you want, Charlie?" The blonde asked, sniffling and crossing her arms across her flat chest. Her nose was pink from crying and her eyes looked sullen and puffy as if she'd been sobbing for a week straight. She probably had.

"Kate is everything okay? I've been trying to contact you all week. You're never in. That or you're ignoring me, I guess…" Charlie reached out to rub Kate's shoulder but she wilted at her touch.

"H-how are you feeling?" Kate asked, not making eye contact with her.

"Well I can't sneeze without wanting to cry and wiping my butt has become one of the most difficult tasks in my entire teenage life. But yeah, I'm doing alright. I'm worried about you, Kate. That's why I wanted to come by." Kate shuffled her stance and looked down; pieces of her hair falling into her face. The girl looked broken, like a record player that had been scratched too many times to sing what it wanted to properly. "I know I haven't been there for you lately, and I'm sorry for that. I've been a shit friend, and you've always got my back so now it's my turn to have yours." She sat down on the bed and groaned, rubbing the bandages around her ribcage. Kate took a step out of the dark corner and looked up at her.

"Why have you been hanging around with Nathan?" she asked quietly but firmly.

"Nathan?" The question caught Charlie off-guard. What did Nathan have to do with this?

"Why were you in his car?" Kate spat out, her voice cracking with every word.

"I- we were going for a drive. I needed to talk to him about something—"

"Charlie, he's not a good person." Kate snapped, hot tears forming in her eyes. "He…he drugged me! He's the reason that video is up! I know he is…I…" Charlie got up from the bed and wrapped her arms around her friend, who was fighting hard to hold back sobs.

"Kate…" Charlie's hands turned into tight fists as she tried to hold back her own tears.

"I thought you were my friend. How could you go around hanging out with that… that monster? If you had been here for me you would've known that he…" Even in her most shattered state, Kate couldn't even bring herself to call anyone any names. She was so pure, how could Charlie have let her fall so hard?

"Kate, the reason why I was in his car was… because I wanted to ask him if he knew anything about what happened to you. I knew we couldn't talk about it anywhere else without people listening in so I asked him if we could go for a drive. Honest." The girl stopped shaking for a moment and looked up at Charlie; her eyes red and glossy like cherries.

"Really?" She murmured,

"Yeah. And I'm sorry I haven't checked up on you these past few weeks. I've been selfish. I know you've been going through hell and… this was my way of helping out. Max came by and told me you'd been…having a hard time. I was too scared to go to you. I knew you'd be upset with me for ignoring you and I just didn't know how to deal with the situation." She took the girl's hand in her own and held it as if she was scared Kate would fall right through the floor if she didn't hold on tight enough.

"I needed you…" Kate sniffled. Charlie could feel her heart sink to her stomach; how could she have let her own selfishness hurt the only person she'd ever cared about?

"I know… I know." Charlie sighed, gripping her hands even tighter. "I'm so sorry Kate. You know how I can get sometimes with tough situations. I'm trying now. I'll try harder for you."

"It's okay, Charlie. I'm sorry I didn't visit you in the hospital. That was horrible of me too. I should've come to see you, I just… I was too ashamed to show my face outside. And I was mad when Juliet told me you were hanging around with Nathan. That was wrong of me… I shouldn't have assumed things. I'm sorry Charlie." She pulled her in for a soft embrace and Charlie let out a sigh of relief.

"I'm not mad, I wouldn't have come to see me either." She remembered the flowers she had received and wondered who had sent them if not Kate. "I would've told you what I was doing, but it was hard to see you like this. I wanted to figure things out as soon as possible so I could help you. I didn't know if seeing you would help. I should've been there." Kate smiled weakly at her and shook her head,

"I understand, Charlie. You were only doing this to protect me."

"Good, good…" She sighed.

"So, did you um… find anything out about Nathan then?" Kate sat down in the rolling chair beside her desk and crossed one leg over the other. Charlie followed suit and sat down across from her on the bed.

"Well we… crashed before I could get much out of him."

"But anything? Charlie I know he did it, I remember seeing him there at the party. He drugged me." Charlie scratched the back of her head and darted her eyes around the room, searching for the right words to say. "You believe me, right?" Kate asked desperately.

"Kate I… I don't—"

"Charlie I swear, I know it was him. I know it was!" it was hard to see her like this again. They had only just mended things and Charlie was already undoing the stitches.

"I spent some time with him, and… He's not as bad of a guy as everyone thinks he is."

"Charlie, no, please." Kate's voice broke once more, this time she was in hysterics. "You have to believe me. I know it was him!" Of course Kate wanted her to believe her. Nathan Prescott was the school bully. He had power, the connections to cover up whatever it was that he may or may not have done. Everything pointed to him, but Charlie couldn't bring herself to believe he did what Kate had claimed. Drugging someone and kidnapping them would take a steel-cold heart, and though Nathan could be mean, he didn't seem to have any malicious intent to hurt anyone. Images of the hospital room flashed around in Charlie's head; she was heavily medicated at the time, but she couldn't forget how he had let her fall asleep nestled into his shoulder; the feel of his soft skin on her own, and how nervous he had been to lay down. A boy that gentle could never do the things Kate was accusing him of. No way in Hell. But Kate was so sure, and so desperate for Charlie to concur. She was at a split road. Which one was the right one to take? Her friend was in tears, a girl who never deserved to be on this shithole planet. Kate was too pure for the world she had been put into; a soul too big for the body it was placed.

"Charlie? You don't believe me, do you?" She cried, rubbing her eyes furiously. "Do you really trust him that much? Over me?" She sounded less accusatory and more hurt. Charlie opened her mouth to speak but found her words tangled up in her throat.

"No Kate—I just…"

"Get out, Charlie. Please, get out." She was speaking through broken sobs. Charlie shook her head, reaching out to grab her friend, but Kate bitterly swatted her hand away.

"Kate, I'm sorry, I'm trying to figure things out, I just don't think Nathan—"

"Get out!" She screamed, her shriek piercing through Charlie like a dagger. She had finally cracked, Charlie had ruined her. The conversation had taken such a terrible turn. Charlie staggered her way to the door with her head hung low and tears forming in her own eyes. "Don't come back." Kate's voice rasped. Charlie wanted to drop to her knees and apologize; for breaking Kate, for abandoning her when she needed a friend most, for not wanting to believe what she said about Nathan, but she knew it would be for all the wrong reasons. Kate fell onto her bed and bawled heavily into her pillow. Charlie bit her lip and could taste the tears running down the side of her bruised face. She put her hand on the doorknob and stopped for a minute, but the sound of Kate's sharp sobbing pushed her out. She opened the door and stepped out into a silent hallway.

"Oh fuck— Nathan, what are you doing here?" She slammed her back onto the wall beside Kate's room and held her hand over her chest in fright. The boy had been standing outside the door the entire time, listening to every detail of their drawn out conversation.

"I— I wanted to see you."