[Outtake]: Life in Florida

Just a small (basically unedited) short that would fall in between the last chapter and the epilogue of Surviving on a Whisper


 

I sat at the piano bench, frustrated for no apparent reason. Usually playing the piano helped to calm me down, helped me relax, which is why I had dragged myself out of bed and crawled in here. So far, no luck. It seemed that my efforts were a waste.

We’d been in Florida for…a week? Two weeks? I’d lost track. It was beautiful, quiet, and solitary–a perfect combination for me–and I absolutely loved it. I should’ve been so happy here. Ecstatic. And I was. I couldn’t remember a time when I felt so safe and protected, especially when being with the two people I loved most. Everything was great.

And yet…it wasn’t.

That was a lie. Everything was great. I was the problem in the equation. Despite being so happy, I couldn’t shake the sense of failure, despair, and plain fear. The scene of Felix with Erika’s phone replayed over and over in my mind, and I couldn’t escape it. The knowledge of my mistake haunted me to no end.

The glass door opened suddenly–making me jump–and Sark came in. I quickly tried to compose myself, knowing that my facial expression could give me away easily. This line of thinking always created edgy responses from my body.

“Well, you’re up,” he remarked. I scooted over and he sat down next to me carefully, so he didn’t jostle his arm. It was still in a sling most of the time, thanks to Erika, which irritated him to no end.

“Yeah, I was…bored.” And kinda freaking out.

He nodded thoughtfully. “How did you get in here?”

“I have legs,” I retorted, annoyed. Just ‘cause I was basically incapacitated didn’t mean I couldn’t take care of myself.

Sark glanced at me, finally catching up to my mood, and I just stared at the ground, knowing I’d given myself away. It shouldn’t have been surprising though; last night’s nightmare had been cruel.

I waited for him to bring up one of Erika’s ideas: that I needed to talk more, be more honest, open up, discuss my nightmares so that maybe they’d go away or I could learn to control them…blah, blah, blah. Her attempts to help me, though they were very sweet, just annoyed me. There was nothing ‘fixable’ about my situation.

Instead of some lecture, Sark completely surprised me. Reluctantly, he placed his free hand on the piano and started plunking out some keys. It took me a minute to realize he was playing a slaughtered ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’

I brightened up instantly. “You play?”

“Not very well,” he answered, missing another note. “Obviously.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He nudged me softly with his shoulder. “It’s hard to compete with Mozart over here. I can’t have you beating me at everything. I’ve got an ego to protect.”

The song went on, and he literally destroyed every note besides the last one. I tried my best to keep a straight face, but ended up laughing.

“Play it again,” I said when he was done.

Sark grinned, shaking his head. “No, I think I’ve made a big enough fool of myself as it is.”

“Please? This is so fun.”

“Fun for who?”

“Please?” I asked again, bouncing in my seat. “Look, I’ll teach you a different one. It’s on your level, I promise.”

He raised an eyebrow skeptically. “My level?”

I ignored him, pointing to two keys on the piano. “Just play these one after the other, over and over.”

He sighed, but did what I said. “Like this?”

“Yeah. Perfect.”

“Arie, that sounds pathetic.”

I couldn’t help but snicker. “Just keep doing it.”

I played my part on the other end, a bunch of intricate chords that turned his simple two-note melody into a harmonious song. Sark figured out the rhythm quickly and kept it up easily, making the whole thing sound even better. We did three repeats before finishing it off.

“See?” I said when we were done. “You’re much better than you thought.”

“Thanks to you.” He nodded towards the piano. “Although, I could get used to you making me look talented.”

I smiled, then looked at the ground again. “You know, you’re pretty good at that.”

“Playing with two fingers on the piano?”

I laughed again. “No. Though you do have admirable talent.”

“Then what?”

“Doing something that will make me happy so I’ll be more willing to talk to you afterward.”

There was a pause. “Yes, I do have a knack for that.”

“It’s manipulative,” I accused.

“But it works.”

I clasped my hands together in my lap, keeping my eyes on them. “I’m sorry about last night.”

He sighed. “Arie, stop apolog–”

“It’s got to be terrible for you, never being able to sleep because of me.”

“It is,” he admitted, “but not in the way you think.”

“I heard Erika crying last night,” I said quietly. “She was freaked out.”

“You would’ve been too if it had been the other way around.”

I already was, I thought, remembering how long it had taken for Sark to calm me down. That was a mistake. Before I could stop it, the dream replayed in my head, as if I was having it all over again. This is why I chose to never talk about them: they never ever went away.

Thankfully I was able to shut it out of my head right as Alexis showed up, but my panic attack had already set in. My whole body shook and the room started spinning as I hyperventilated.

“Whoa, Arie,” Sark said, putting his arm around me, partly to comfort me and partly to restrain me if I really lost it. “Don’t let–”

“I’m fine,” I said through my teeth. I rubbed my forehead and bit my finger as I reigned myself in. I was fine. It wasn’t real.

“Arie, talk–”

“I’m fine!” I snapped, standing up and stepping away. Of course, I’d forgotten the fact that I hadn’t been able to walk by myself since the stupid medicine Alexis had given me. I lost my balance and fell backwards onto the floor, thankfully catching myself with my hands.

Erika walked in just in time to see me wind up on the floor. She still looked a little sick from her time incarcerated, but she had bounced back faster than any of us.

“I was just about to say I didn’t know you were back on your feet,” she said disapprovingly, “but I’m guessing you still aren’t supposed to be.”

I gritted my teeth in frustration. “I’m fine! I can take care of–”

“Arie, you have to be careful,” she lectured for ten millionth time in our existence. “You can’t push yourself so far or you’re going to make–”

“I don’t care if I make it worse!”

“Well I do.”

I held my head in my hands, breathing through my teeth. I didn’t want to fight now; we hadn’t fought in such a long time, and Erika didn’t deserve to be the victim of vexation.

“Can I start over?” I asked, running my hands over my hair. “Please.”

Erika let out a long breath, obviously confused at my emotional disarray. “Sure.”

Look, you were doing fine five minutes ago, I told myself. You were happy five minutes ago. Go back there and pretend none of this happened.

I took a few more deep breaths, then looked up at her semi-annoyed-but-not-really expression.

“Sark can play the piano,” I blurted. Sark scoffed and shook his head.

Erika raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. He’s not that good but he played with me anyway.”

“Really?” She tried to suppress her smile. “That was nice.”

“Yeah. I thought so too.”

She folded her arms and took a few steps towards me. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“How did you get in here?”

I bit back any response that may be considered rude. She was just worried about me, and was probably right to be.

“I just…used the furniture and tried not to fall.”

She shook her head. I went on quickly before she could.

“I was sick of the room and I wanted to play again ‘cause I…” I paused, trying to decide how honest to be. My gaze shifted to the ground. “‘Cause I was scared,” I finished quietly. “I was scared and freaking out and knew that I had to distract myself, and both you guys weren’t in the room and I didn’t feel like asking for help because I hate doing that and already feel way more vulnerable than I should or like to be.”

Instantly I felt stupid. Honesty about ‘feelings’ and such had never been one of my best policies–something that Erika didn’t agree with. She always wanted to have deep conversations about ‘emotions’ while I would rather just eat chocolate and not talk about it.

I watched her feet as she walked towards me, then kneeled down in front of me. A billion different things went through my mind–things to say, or do, or not do–but mostly I just remembered the sound of her crying last night.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I never meant to–”

She put her hand on mine, her eyes soft with understanding. “Hey, it’s okay. I think…we’re all just adjusting after…what happened and that’s fine. Don’t ever feel guilty, just let me in every once in awhile so I can help you.”

I thought for a second, then decided that was mostly fair. “Okay.”

Erika smiled. “Well, I think you’re right about staying in bed–after all, if you can walk a little bit then you’re not going to get any better just laying around. You need to practice.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” I replied, smiling a little myself.

“Okay, I know exactly what we should do.” Instantly she was back to herself, and I was grateful. “You haven’t been outside yet, but you have to ‘cause the beach is just gorgeous and I think you would love it and we have it all to ourselves. So why don’t you practice walking on the beach?”

I nodded. It sounded great to me.

She eyed me sternly for a second. “With our help, of course, just until you’re fine on your own.”

I rolled my eyes. “Of course.”

“Perfect.” She clapped her hands once. “Okay, I’ll go get your water–you should be drinking more than you are, especially if you’re going to start exerting yourself like this–while Sark helps you up and out.” She barely had time to finish talking before she was out of the room.

Sark stood up and offered me his hand. “She means well.”

“I know. You both do.”

He somehow was able to pull me up with one hand. I grabbed onto his good arm as we shuffled slowly out the door, trying to put the least amount of pressure possible on him. Sark may act all tough but I knew he was still recovering from the whole incident. We all were.

“You know,” I said as we turned down the hallway, “you could be really great at the piano.”

Sark rolled his eyes, but still cracked a smile. “You’re funny.”

“No, I’m serious.”

“You just want someone to play with.”

“Come on, we sounded great.”

You sounded great.”

“Please Sark?” I asked, trying to sound as pitiful as possible. “It was so much fun.”

My pleas couldn’t break him though. “No. That was a one time thing.”

I thought for a minute, grinning when I finally came up with an idea. I started tripping up my feet a little bit more than I already was.

“Okay, how about a bet?”

He raised an eyebrow. “A bet?”

“Yeah.”

I waited for him to ask. Sark didn’t pass up stuff like this–he was too competitive.

He took the bait. “What bet?”

“If I can walk up and down the beach twice with only Erika to lean on, then you have to play that song three times with me once we come back inside.”

Sark appraised my walking skills for a moment. I hoped he didn’t realize that I’d been making it worse on purpose.

“Deal,” he finally answered.

Erika met us outside, which, I had to admit, had been a great idea. The mix of the sun’s rays and the slight breeze felt amazing, and the sand was perfectly warm under my feet. The ocean was calm and clear, seeming to clear and calm me. I automatically loved it out here.

I informed Erika of our bet, which she was more than enthusiastic about. She started coming up with strategies we could use to make sure I would win.

We ended up staying outside for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. After a picnic–which turned into a food fight, which then turned into a sand fight, which got dangerously close to a water fight–I walked down the beach two and a half times, successfully winning the bet and rubbing it in Sark’s face. He promised me piano in the morning, then went inside.

Erika and I decided that watching the sunset made us want cookies. We went inside and managed to make a big batch of cookie dough that was eaten before it had the chance to be cooked. That created a problem: what were we going to eat when we watched our planned movie that night? The only solution was to make brownies, popping popcorn to snack on while they cooked.

Of course, Sark wanted brownies too, but Erika said he didn’t help with anything (technically, I didn’t actually help make the brownies, but I was an awesome supervisor). Sark argued that he was the man of the house so he should get at least half the pan. After much deliberation, it was finally determined that he could have a fourth of the pan and didn’t have to watch the movie with us. Since I let Erika pick the movie–some stupid chick flick I’d never heard of–Sark was more than happy with that deal. He took his portion and left us alone for the rest of the night.

Erika may drive me insane sometimes–and I knew I grated on her nerves more than necessary–but she was still my best friend in the whole world, and made excellent movie treats. I decided that it was probably going to be hard, but I was really going to love life in Florida.


 

Check out the other extras for Surviving on a Whisper here