Cruise-control distressed her, kind of cursed and kind of blessed her, engine running on the fumes
Vision blue and blurry, falling angels in a flurry, spinning through the empty room
Let it rain, let it pour
- Ok Go
She threw herself in front of my car. I wouldn't have stopped otherwise- it's never a good idea to pick up a hitchhiker, especially in a sketchy part of town, in the rain, past midnight.
I almost didn't see her through the downpour, which reflected the dim rays from the lamppost under which she stood shivering. And she could tell I wasn't going to stop. I'd made no attempt to slow down- I hardly even registered that she wanted me to, until I heard her yelling indignantly, but the rain and the walls of the car muffled the sound and I rolled my eyes.
Then she did something so stupid, and very Sakura: she ran into the road in front of me, waving a hand frantically. I slammed on the brake pedal hard, my knuckles going white on the steering wheel. Too late.
I remember the look in her eyes when she realized I was really going to hit her. It was the first time I noticed their remarkable color- flooded by the beam of my headlights, they lit up celadon, and round as coins.
Then her adrenaline kicked in and she dodged, but not quite in time.
She collided with the left headlight, shattering it, and I heard the smack as a shoulder smashed into my side mirror. I'm pretty sure I shut my eyes as the car spun a few more meters and skidded to a violent stop.
My mind was utterly empty- all I could think was, "Shit, shit, shit, shit…" as I kicked my door open, feet slamming and heart pounding to reach her damaged frame, strewn motionless across the asphalt.
Dashing over and slamming my knees numbly onto the road, I pushed her soaked hair back and shakily slid my hand under the base of her skull, pulling her onto me. I shuddered at the state of her left side- the horrifying, fragmented mess that was the source of blood draining down the bridge's slope- and a cold swell hit my chest without warning. Then her face twitched and she muttered a soft, "…ow…"
Fleeting relief kickstarted my heartbeat, and I wrapped my arms around her, lugging her back to my car and setting her in the passenger seat. By the time I slammed my own door shut, she was fully cognizant, which was obvious by the way she leaned over, clutching her leg, and cried out in pain with ample projection in one long, "FUUUUUUCK!"
I turned the ignition, begging frantically with my engine until it complied. She looked at me through fluttering eyelids, her forehead resting weakly on the edge of the dashboard. "Where are you taking me?" she asked in a faint, drained voice. Keeping my eyes on the road, I nearly shouted, "The hospital!"
Her eyes went wide and she shook her head urgently, however slightly, and asserted, "No. Please don't. I don't need the hospital."
"What? Are you-"
"Really! I was just there."
"Don't be an idiot. You need a doctor."
"Please!" she said, growing louder and grabbing my sleeve. The unexpected contact shocked me into shouting, "You need a fucking doctor!"
I looked at her desperate expression for a moment, shaking my thoughts straight. How did I get myself into this mess?
Sighing, bringing my gaze back up to the empty road, I conceded in a gruff voice, "Fine. Where should I take you?"
At her extended silence, I gave her an incredulous look. "Are you serious? You have nowhere to go but you won't go to the hospital?"
She bent over with another piercing cry in response, nails digging into the fair skin of her thigh. She spat through clenched teeth, "You could be nicer, you know. You just hit me with your car."
I swallowed a fuming retort. "Where do you live?"
Once again, her silence was her answer. Huffing, I spat back, "Fine. I'll take you to my neighbor."
"He's a doctor. He can stitch you up."
"A doctor?" she asked, her question effectively hopeful, albeit weak.
"The hospital would be better," I sulked, my voice lashing at her.
"No! The neighbor's fine, thanks!"
At that point her breathing turned harsh and affected, and her eyelids started fluttering again. Watching her go paler and paler, I muttered, "You know, you- you're losing a lot of blood."
She didn't reply.
I ran several red lights on the way to Dr. Chang's place. Once we reached the apartment complex, I carried her up the back stairs at a strident pace, aware of how chillingly light her small, limp frame was. Instead of knocking at Chang's door, I kicked with all my might.
He answered a minute later with bleary, worried eyes, and without waiting I burst into his living room with the bloody girl in my arms, rushing her to the couch. "Sasuke! What are you doing-" the doctor stopped short when he caught sight of the blood. We exchanged a grim glance, and he nodded with a tense gaze toward the unconscious girl, "Let me see what I can do."
We didn't have any painkillers to work with. Chang told me to keep her still as he worked. What he actually meant was, pin the upper half of her body down with your full weight onto the couch, as that's the only way to keep her immobile.
I tried not to feel much empathy for her- I'd been in worse situations than this, with no one holding my hand. I tried not to tell myself it was my fault.
Her cries were more invasive than shudder-inducing. And the fact that this shitty situation was shoved onto me didn't help. But when she latched onto my collarbones and cried into my t-shirt, I sighed and let her.
It didn't take long. The worst part was her left shoulder: already heavily bruised and hypersensitive, it was completely dislocated. The fix was simple enough- Chang said I just had to pull as hard as I could and it would pop back into place. But it was so tender that as soon as I touched it, she cried out and her whole body cringed. Her eyes caught mine for a moment, and I recognized an emotion in them that, for some reason, I hadn't expected. She was scared.
I looked helplessly at Chang, for that moment willing to admit I was afraid too. Of all the injuries I'd dealt with in my life, I was pretty sure I'd never been in as much pain as she was now. But Chang just nodded as he held her other hand, trusting me, and said, "It's okay, Sasuke. Just pull on three, as hard as you can."
I looked at him grimly for a moment. He'd said his old bones didn't have the strength to do it himself, and I knew it was probably true- but I still resented him for it, just a little. Giving me a slight nod, he counted slowly, "One-"
I yanked, hard. And the girl's bones popped right back into place with a sort of grinding sound. Her eyes flew open, and she cried out in shock, and I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding. Heaving ragged breaths, she shuddered and gripped her shoulder weakly until the throbbing dimmed some.
Pulling herself up by her good arm, she shouted unsteadily, "Asshole! What kind of idiot can't count to three?!"
I leaned back, taking a moment for my fingers to stop shaking before I crossed my arms and glared. "You're telling me it would've hurt less if you'd been expecting it?"
"Well, I could've used some time to mentally prepare for-"
"Most people move or flinch on three, and that would've made it worse."
That effectively shut her up, but as she turned to lay back down on the couch I heard her murmur, "You're still a dick."
The rest of the operation consisted of Chang picking out shards of asphalt and headlight glass from the jagged gash along her left hip. After that, he stitched up the wound, seventeen stitches total. Even cleaned up, it looked pretty bad. Chang wrapped it in bandages for good measure, then stepped into his kitchen to clean up his tools.
I ended up with long gouges in my forearms from her fingernails. Ironically, they weren't even that sharp; I could tell by looking that she was a habitual nail biter. But her fingers were deceptively strong- bruises were starting to form around the grooves where she'd latched onto me.
She had her fingers curled next to her face as she slept. I watched her a bit enviously, reminded that it had been months since I'd been able to sleep so soundly. Studying the slow, methodical movement of her chest put me in a momentary daze, and for a little while the world quieted. I forgot the situation, forgot everything, just for a moment.
But I was startled back to the present by the dark bruises I spotted around her thin wrists- my own doing. I frowned at the spark of guilt that passed through me.
By then, we'd both dried off, and I finally noticed the color of her hair: a soft, delicate pink, like a spring rose. And looking closer, I could see the variation in the color- soft highlights, varying darker shades underneath, and no trace of faded roots. Not even the most expensive stylists in New York could reproduce that organic pattern- this was her natural hair color.
And that was when I realized I'd seen that distinctive hair before, on the cover of The Inquirer - the tabloid responsible for the majority of celebrity divorces. That's right- she was a socialite, one of those jet-setting trust fund heiresses.
I found it hard to swallow that the stunner in US Weekly was the same worn out girl sleeping on Chang's old couch five feet in front of me.
Soft footsteps padded up behind me, and I asked rhetorically, keeping my face on the sleeping blueblood, "You need us to leave."
I felt Chang's warm hand on my shoulder. The gesture was comforting in its familiarity, and I sighed, grinning dejectedly for a moment before I stood, slid my arms under the celebrity, and slumped out the door. Turning around as Chang closed it, I gave him a long look, not sure what to say. He sighed, smiled in what seemed annoyingly like pity, and said, "You're welcome, Sasuke. Keep that leg elevated."
It was almost dawn. As it had been for months, drowsiness was no issue for me. I thought about what she had said to me before- or, what she hadn't told me: where she could go. She had nowhere. Shit, this was my problem to deal with. It became my problem the minute I turned onto that bridge.
I took her back to my apartment in Brooklyn.
It's a dismal, cramped space on the twelfth floor that doubles as my studio. After living there for almost a year, I've managed, unwittingly, to transform it into the inside of my brain. Every inch of the walls is covered in words, scenes, images that don't mean anything. They just ended up channeled through my hand onto the closest available canvas. Even the ceiling- or, especially the ceiling- was covered in a huge abstract landscape of the city, done in crayon over a month of sleepless nights.
I hate the hell out of it. Every time I come back and am reminded of the whole senseless mess, or notice something I don't remember putting there, I feel like I'm looking into the mind of a psychopath.
Largely, it's the result of my insomnia. Or, rather, it's the only solution I've found. I put my thoughts on the walls to get them out of my head. But its success is so fickle and temporary that it pisses me off to need it in the first place, rather than bringing any respite. I think every day about moving, but I don't have the drive. I want someone to take away my supplies. I've actually thrown them out the window before, in fits of aggravation, and then rushed down to make sure nothing was broken. It's such horse shit.
I laid the girl in my bed, which hadn't truly been slept in in months. It was partially satisfying, mostly irritating, to see it finally getting some use. Again I noticed how unsettlingly thin she was, seeming so neglected and brittle against my fluffy comforter.
I slept on the couch. Not really. I laid there, attempting to smother thoughts of, 'Who is she?' 'Why did she refuse to go to the hospital?' 'What do I do tomorrow?' 'Why the fuck did she jump in front of my car?' 'Why me?'. I jammed a pillow against my ears, begging it to muffle those questions even slightly. Of course, it didn't.
Growling in exasperation, I threw the pillow across the room, stood, and grabbed my palette.
The pink-haired girl woke up to a grayscale vignette of a three-foot wolf spider six inches from her face. It was plenty to shock her awake. She jolted her face away from it in an instant, her thought process not so much 'oh shit, spider' as 'what the fuck?'. And very quickly, her eyes were drawn to the other corners of the room. They panned the interior in slow motion, jaw dropping gradually as she took in the explosion of images coating every inch. Staring up in awe, she uttered a single uneasy, "Whoa."
Where the hell was she? She vaguely remembered going through something painful as hell, then dozing on some old Chinese guy's couch. This room was not that one. In fact, somehow, the light coming from the smudged window across the room suggested she was in an entirely different part of the city.
Bringing her hand up to rub the tired shock out of her face, she noticed the thick bruises circling her wrists. Rubbing them gingerly and frowning, she flipped the blanket off herself to examine her scored hip. Pressing the covered skin lightly and testing for twinges of pain, she found only numbness, and the odd feel of the stitches under the bandages. She counted seventeen. Jesus Christ, it was at least five inches long, and on the outside of her leg. Someone would be bound to notice that scar.
She noticed she was still wearing her clothes from that ill-fated day- rather, she was wearing them again. They were the only things other than hospital gowns she'd worn since. Slowly, yesterday's events came back to her, and she groaned, burying her face in the covers. The unexpected soothing she felt in the room settled on her, and she turned back to look up at the unfathomable artwork surrounding her, sighing.
Unable to focus on any one aspect of the room, she shook it from her immediate attention and climbed out of bed. She hissed as her sore bones rejected the movement, and cringed at the sudden memory that came crawling up- a pair of headlights, coming too close too fast, and then seeing only red.
Pushing herself carefully to the edge of the bed, she placed her feet gingerly on the painted floor and took a tentative step with her good leg.
Limping severely over to the door, she passed an old mirror, from which she could tell layers of paint had been poorly removed. Peering at herself, she shuddered at the deep shadows under her eyes and the paleness of her skin. She looked about as frail as she felt.
Light fingers shook my shoulder. Prying my eyes open and straightening my sore neck, I realized I'd dozed on the stool in front of my easel. Turning around tiredly, I was shocked awake by malachite eyes just inches from my face. I didn't say anything, but her voice immediately filled the silence. "Did you sleep like that all night?" Her voice twinkled like her eyes. "That's actually pretty impressive."
She turned around to take in the walls again, her hand still resting contentedly on my shoulder.
I blinked, drowsiness slowing my comprehension. She held her other hand out over my shoulder, and I eventually shook it.
"I'm Sakura," she grinned. Christ, those teeth were blinding.
"Sasuke," I managed. She smiled again, this time with just her eyes. Without losing that warmth, she asked, "Sasuke, did you hit me with your car?"
Her voice was coated with sugar, but I honestly couldn't tell if she was being passive aggressive. I narrowed my eyes at her, retorting in my abrasive early-morning voice, "Are you suicidal?"
Her expression immediately chilled, taken aback. I still couldn't tell if she was acting. "Why would you think that?" she asked, almost accusingly.
"You threw yourself in front of my car."
My tone came off cutting and colder than I expected, but I didn't bother to amend it. She stood there for a moment, frowning at me with a retort on the tip of her tongue. Blinking, she shut her jaw, leaned away from me, and asked quietly after a moment, "Do you have anything to eat?"
Exhaling a bothered sigh, I gestured sharply over her shoulder to the kitchen. She stalked away, and I buried my head in my hands, rubbing the sleep off my face with a worn out groan. I grumbled through my palms, "You shouldn't be walking around on that leg."
She didn't respond, but I knew she heard me.
It wasn't until then that I really noticed the painting on the easel, the one I'd done last night: It was a picture of a dark, rainy night. Under a single streetlight on an empty bridge stood a girl, whose face was hidden by her raincoat. She clung to the bridge's railing from the outside, staring into the choppy waters far below with the sudden urge to jump.
I looked up from my perch on the stool when I heard Sakura's gossamer voice ask from the kitchen, "Hey, Sasuke! Is this me?"
When I stepped into the kitchen, I saw what she meant. Over the door was painted a pair of eyes, not even human-looking eyes, which appeared to consist purely of minuscule painted emeralds. It had some sort of abstract pink edging that could possibly be construed as hair.
Weird. I definitely didn't remember painting that- but I did know I hadn't done it last night.
"That's old," I answered, and I saw her glance at me, stunned. I kept my eyes trained on the painting. "Well, it might still be me. You could've seen me before."
I watched the light fade from her eyes in my peripheral view as she said dejectedly, "You saw me in the Inquirer, didn't you?"
Glancing at her with a dead serious expression, I asked simply, "Why would you be in a tabloid?"
She blinked, nonplussed, before replying, "Wha- I wouldn't. I'm not. Duh."
My eyebrow twitched. She thought I didn't know who she was- although truthfully, I didn't know anything the tabloids had been spouting about her.
Sighing and leaving the room, I added over my shoulder, "There's cereal in the cupboard over the sink."
I could practically feel the light on my back from the smile I knew she flashed me.
My TV is a piece of crap. It's from the eighties so it has that chunky wooden frame and antennae, which actually still serve a purpose and need to be adjusted every five god damn minutes. I have no idea where I got it.
I've had to remove paint from the screen countless times, and it's slowly gained an obscuring smudge that has a tendency to sit right over characters' faces.
I sat watching Beavis and Butthead, wide awake but too tired and completely unwilling to focus on the show, while Sakura perched next to me on her knees, chomping away at her Frosted Flakes.
My gaze swerved haphazardly over to meet hers when she randomly spouted, "You don't get much sleep, do you?"
I blinked at her with tired eyes, but didn't respond. She moved her mouth, obviously lost for words, and ultimately chose to just shut it. I turned disinterestedly back to the TV. A minute later she piped up, "If you can't sleep, why don't you just get a graveyard shift? You know, like at a cemetery or something."
"A cemetery?" I remarked skeptically.
"Yeah. You know. They're good for… inspiration. For your paintings," she answered, waving her hand in the air on the word 'inspiration'. I scowled at the TV, glowering to myself that 'inspiration' and 'jazz hands' are not synonyms.
Blinking at my abrupt irritability, she turned back to the TV again. A couple minutes later she turned back and said, watching carefully for my reaction, "So, I have a problem."
I looked over at her with disinterested raised eyebrows. Her smile twitched at my apathetic face, but she pressed on, "I have nowhere to go."
I gave her a responding look that said, '…and?' and she huffed in irritation. "Can- can I stay here? Tonight, I mean?"
Not bothering to address her face, I rolled my eyes and told the TV, "…No."
She sighed unhappily. "B- but- seriously? You hit me with your car!"
"You jumped in front of it."
"Because you weren't gonna stop!"
"Nope. I didn't even see you."
Silence followed her statement. I rolled my eyes, and she sat staring at me, pale and helpless.
"Come on, please? Just for one night?"
I kept my eyes glued to the TV, refusing to answer. She watched my face tentatively for a moment, waiting, before her slight mope gradually spread into a wide grin and she uttered a sugary, "Thank you, Sasuke."
I frowned at her. Why was I being so nice? Her shit was not my problem. Sighing, I resigned myself to the idea that maybe I wasn't as hardhearted as I'd hoped.
Leaning my head back against the top of the couch, I tuned Butthead out completely. I could feel Sakura watching me uncertainly, until she settled on a decision and picked up the remote sitting between us. She flipped past Good Morning America, Reba, and Full House before giving up on E!. She threw the clicker back on the couch and followed my lead, leaning back and closing her eyes.
"…Lindsay Lohan ever stop acting out? Only time will tell. In other news, the New York-native Haruno family has been seeing some hard times lately, especially concerning their daughter, who sources report has gone AWOL-"
"- and then you just chop chop chop, just like you're dicing carrots, and then you just throw them in the blender and voila!"
I looked up at the sudden change in station, and caught for an instant the wide-eyed look Sakura was giving the screen, holding the remote with shaking hands like it was a gun she'd just fired. I didn't say anything, but she whipped around and returned the wary look I was giving her with a distressed, almost betrayed, gaze. After a sharp sigh she stood, bringing her bowl into the kitchen. She must have assumed I knew something concerning the truth about her by then.
Writer's note: Hey! Thanks for reading, guys! So if you've read this story before, here's a little update: I've revamped some things slightly, changed at least a little bit of every chapter- and combined a few, like these two. Some other changes are so small you probably won't even notice, but it was grating my nerves to leave things the way they were before moving forward. Which means that yes, I'm moving forward! New chapters are coming soon, have no fear :) Thank you so much for reading!