Caleb left the bar and headed over to the gym. He considered it quite lucky for Ken that he had been so distracted, as the punching bag took all the anger and frustration Caleb poured into in his place. After a quick shower, he headed back out to the parking lot, round a corner to his beat up old Volkswagen bus. The thing held a remnant of the dark green coat of paint that had originally been on it, now a myriad of scratches, sun damage and rust speckled over the ancient exterior. The inside wasn't nearly so bad though, Caleb had added enough blankets and pillows that it was hard not to make yourself comfortable in the back. In addition, some of the repairs he had done with Coach provided him with some basic necessities to survive like a small electric stovetop powered by a scavenged solar panel that worked at least some of the time. It was pretty easy to grab a quick bite from the gym cafe as he got at least one meal a day for free.
If his credit hadn't been destroyed the second his father got his social security number he may have had enough credit to apply for one of those life ruining student debt loans, but he made do. Besides, he considered, all this was temporary, once he got into Pi Phi Gamma, he’d actually have some room to get some actual stuff, along with some ways to actually make some money in the future. He pulled out his phone and saw the text message from the TA, and wondered vaguely how he had been inappropriate with her. Had he hit on her in the past? He didn’t think so, but he could be wrong. ‘I guess I should actually start writing that paper if I gotta bring one to class. I wonder if Val knows…” He shot Val a quick text ’ayy octopus bring ya essay tomorrow to the ta seems low-key pressed’
He glanced over the assignment himself and turned on the voice typing function on his google doc app and started speaking in accordance to the essay prompt. It was easier than typing his entire essay with his thumbs and he wasn’t interested in heading over to the library right now. The day’s revelations had been… a lot. Caleb still wasn’t quite sure how he felt about it all. Other people were like him. Some of them were assholes who threw up on your shoes. Some of them were hot. Some of them seemed to have very few social skills. One was Val. The key, however, was none of them could help him with controlling the fire that something inside him was conjuring, he shuddered and glanced over to the brand new fire extinguisher lying within arms reach of him.
Soon enough, sleep came and with it so did his dreams. He was nude in a dark sea, the water seeming to writhe around him chaotically, the motion making no sense to his sense. The only light he could see was a blazing figure standing in the sky above him, hands clasped in anger. The motion of the water around him shifted and the water began to rise around himself. He started and tried to move up, keep his head above water, but the water felt strange not like a liquid but like something alive. What he had assumed was water, was instead an unfathomable amount of rats surrounding him and about to drown him with their sheer numbers. Having realized this, he could feel their sharps claws cutting into this skin. He reached a hand out to the fiery figure, and opened his mouth to scream for help only to find he could make no sound. All but his hand and one eye covered he saw the figure descend and seize his hand and felt the flesh melting off in the primal flame of the figures touch.
Saturday 23 September 2017
And then he was awake, panting, and sitting straight upright with the fire extinguisher in his hands as he frantically glanced around him and his hand to make sure he was safe. For now, all seemed fine. He groaned in annoyance and flopped back on his nest of blankets. He texted the group ’anyone else getting real sick of this dream shit’
Caleb stood at the entrance of the hospital hall, his fingers clasping and unclasping themselves, trying to motivate himself to take another step forward. Everytime he attempted to, a cold shiver ran down his spine at the thought of what he was going to put himself through. He mentally ran down his checklist: ice pack, ibuprofen, stress ball, and an emergency beer if it really became too much. He was gonna get through it. Caleb took a deep breath and focused on the way he was going to walk. Swagger like his took time and attention after all, he joked to himself. He took one step forward and then another before giving Daria’s door a quick rap, before entering! “Daria! Prince Charming is here!”
Through the comfortable haze of hospital-grade painkillers, Daria almost believed him for a moment before she blinked and realized her visitor’s real identity. “Caleb!’
She greeted him warmly, pleased that he was visiting again. If he had visited before. She was pretty sure he had, but it was difficult to tell dreams from reality with the meds, and there were some details of his last visit in her memory that she was pretty sure weren’t true.“Do you want pudding? They give you so much food here,”
She offered, using her good hand to push the unopened chocolate pudding cup towards him. The left side of her body was more or less fine, with the few superficial burns now completely healed. But the right side, where the fire had started on the center console between them, was a different story. Burns of varying severity made a messy patchwork from thigh to shoulder, worst of all on her hands that had tried to undo her seatbelt, put out the fire, and pull the melting plastic off of her body.
Despite that she was still an attractive young woman, with a bright smile and girl-next-door charm that carried through even under the circumstances. “Isn’t it friday? You don’t have a party to go to, or someone more exciting to hang out with than a cripple like me?”
She teased with a mischievous grin.
Caleb put a hand over his heart in mock outrage, “How dare you underestimate the sheer depth of which I love hospital pudding? No casual friday night hook up could match the desire this tiny pot of chocolate gold inspires in me! Plus you are not the worst company, I just stole the pudding of a comatose patient down the hall and he was a terrible conversationalist!”
Caleb smiled at her and grabbed a chair, spinning it around, and sat in it backwards. He gently took the pudding from her good hand. Her left side was just about done, but the right had some serious work left to go. Her right hand had suffered the most fire and it was the spot that seemed the most potentially painful for him. He had decided it was his next target yesterday, the only way past his fear was to face it head on after all. “Thanks for fitting me into your busy appointment schedule by the way! Must be hard to do between getting high and napping.”
He took a luxurious bite of the pudding, though it could only be called okay at best, and overemphasized a loud mmm as he took a bite. “Hey, I know a magic trick! I bet I can distract you from being lightly crisped if you promise I can have your pudding tomorrow.”
Giggling at his antics, Daria let herself be charmed by her visitor’s corny performance. Some small part of her wanted to resent him for everything that had happened, even though it wasn’t his fault - but right now all of those negative thoughts were a million miles away, courtesy of the drugs that were -as he so delicately pointed out - getting her high.“If you stay high, you don’t gotta get high!”
the coed joked in her best RuPaul voice, a surprisingly apt impersonation. Making funny voices had always been one of her talents, much to the frustration of those who spent longer than a day around her. “But seriously, thanks for coming. The nurses aren’t really paying too much attention to me, which I guess is a good thing.”
She shrugged, then grimaced as shrugging moved her bum arm.“I expect some real magic if you’re expecting to get paid a whole pudding cup for it,”
She warned with a mock-serious expression. “The going rate for phony fakey magic is two shreds of lettuce from my baked chicken burger.”
Caleb laughed at the irony of the statement and replied “My god, the economy for magicians is even harsher than I could have imagined!”
He stuck his own right hand out of sight behind the chair with his ice pack already resting on top of it. “Okay go ahead and close your eyes, otherwise the magic won’t work.”
After making sure Daria had actually closed her eyes, Caleb began chanting “Abra, Kadabra, Alakazam, Mega Alakazam, alohamora, expelliarmus, open sesame!”
He reached out a gave a sharp, more surprising than hurtful flick to her ear, before reaching down and touching her shoulder in the moment of her surprise.
As soon as he made contact, he was back in the truck. The flames were crawling up the sides, Daria screaming as she desperately clawed at her seatbelt as the plastic began to melt into the flesh of her sides and hands. Except this time, it was his hands clawing at the seat buckle, trying to escape, sheer agony overwhelmed him for a moment almost losing consciousness at the burst of pain in his hand. Rather than turn red as it had when he had healed Val’s minor injuries. Caleb’s hand turned jet black behind the chair, the ice pack doing nothing to prevent the pain.
He didn’t heal the whole injury of course, it would be noticed too quickly, but all the major underlying damage and severe scarring was taken away. In due time, her hand would regain full mobility and be left with nothing but some small scars. Most importantly, the pain for Daria would not be nearly as grim. It was the least he could do for her after all. Whatever excuse he threw out there about not being able to control it. The fire came from him so it was his responsibility. He knew he would never sleep again if he didn’t balance the scales here. He gritted his teeth in a grin and stood and spun with a dramatic flourish to hide his grimace, entering the restroom with a cry of “Alas, it seems my magic has backfired upon me! Too many pieces of lettuce!”
When the door was closed and locked, Caleb slumped onto the floor exhausted cradling his hand. The color had yet to fade even slightly, but the pain, while excruciating was not as bad as the initial burst had been. Reaching under the cabinets of the sink, he pulled out a pair of nitrile gloves. Wincing and silently writhing, he put one on his blackened hand and roughly got the other one on with his teeth. He took a moment to collect himself, wipe his face, flush the toilet and turn the sink on for a moment before exiting the restroom with his trademark grin on his face, gloved hands held before him. “Daria! We should play Doctor later!”
He gave an exaggerated flirtatious wink to go with his playful tone. “Especially, if I keep upping your morphine!”“Whoa hey!”
Daria exclaimed as he flicked her, shaking her head like her flopping bob cut would be any protection from further petty assaults on her defenseless ears. His ruse had worked, so when she opened her eyes to scold him the only thing on her mind was the trick he had played. She was surprised and amused when he ran off rather than face the wrath of a bedridden theater major - a tough guy like him could surely take worse than she was dishing out.“Too much lettuce? Is there any such thing?”
she called after him, glancing at her tray for anything she could use for revenge. Discarded lettuce was the only weapon she could find, so she gathered a few shreds into her good hand, but had trouble positioning them well. With a preparatory grimace she reached her right hand over to try and nudge the pieces around, but when she flexed her fingers to move her projectile into position she was surprised to discover the joints bent without the creaking pain she was becoming used to. She flexed the burned digits experimentally and winced when the skin started to stretch, but found that motion was far easier than it had been with the nurse only a few hours ago.
She supposed a positive attitude really must make a difference when it came to healing. He had only been there three minutes but she was already feeling much better both emotionally and physically! It was almost like… magic. She shuddered as she thought about the other inexplicable event in her life recently. One that Caleb had also been present for. A coincidence, surely, but an odd one.
As he came out of the bathroom with that goofy grin of his plastered across his face, she chided herself for her suspicions. He was the only one who had visited more than once except her family, and she was high as tits. Everything would make more sense once she was out of the hospital and thinking clearly. Right now she just wanted to enjoy his company.“Sounds like fun,”
She agreed with a wink of her own. “I’ll play the wise, experienced Doctor and you can be my slutty nurse!”“Oh Doctor! I seem to have dropped my pen!”
Caleb turned around and bent down to pick up his imaginary pen giving her a good show. Coming back up, he glanced at the time and then looked back to her. “I can’t stay too much longer today, I am afraid I got class in a bit, and apparently if I ditch any more of that professor’s class she isn’t gonna let me back in for some reason! Still, got at least a bit more time, and I will come by tomorrow round the same time to collect my hard-won pudding cup.”
He scooted his chair up closer to her bed looking thoughtful.“Let’s see what story shall I tell you about today? I can tell you why I am never going to try and help an emo kid again, or the latest words Val has learned in english, ooooo or I can make you jealous by telling you about my latest targets of my vicious flirting… one of them has a surprisingly nice set of dreads for a white guy.”
Daria stuck out her tongue when he mentioned his latest target, as much to cover a pang of jealousy as to tease him. She felt dumb expecting anything more from him, yet the disappointment was still there. This was not exactly the exciting fresh start she had been hoping for when she hooked up with him two weeks ago.
Then she put two and two together. “Oh shit, a white guy with dreads? Kal’s roommate, whatsisface… Rowan! That guy?”
She raised an eyebrow at him skeptically. “That’s your type? You can do better.” She blew him a kiss and winked. “Not as good as me, obviously, but like… better.”
Distracted by the drugs, she didn’t realize she’d brought up Kalama until after she finished talking. Was that a mistake? She still wasn’t sure if he knew she had a girlfriend at the time or not. It wasn’t exactly a conversation she had been keen to have with him.
Caleb blinked in surprise "You know Rowan and Kal? Huh small world! I can't remember if I knew if they were roommates."
He paused for a moment checking to see if he felt that same magnetic sensation in his chest as he had with the others, but felt nothing with some relief, "Give me a break I just met those people yesterday! Hippie's can be hot! And that Kal seem's like a tough nut to crack, I get some real self-sabotage vibes you know? Besides, I am sure no one is as good as you! Why do you think I keep coming around? Once you're all healed up we can finish up our night together... maybe on a waterbed this time though huh?”
He gave an uncharacteristically small, soft smile and patted her good hand.I don't think Kal is much one for nuts, tough or otherwise,
Daria thought but decided against saying aloud. There was too much to think about right now, and the guilt was eating at her. She chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip, managing only a very small smile in reply. Now she felt like complete garbage, which was definitely not how she saw this visit going. But if he was going to be spending a lot of time around them, he would figure the truth out sooner or later…"Yeah, sounds good,"
She answered, yawning as big as she could. "Hey, as much as I appreciate the visit I'm crashing pretty hard. I might need to catch a quick nap."
It sounded like a lame excuse even to her own ears, but she didn't feel nearly ready for confession time."Such a layabout! Here, head up for a second."
He gently supported her back on its good side to help her up and took her pillow out with the same hand, the other still out of commission, flipping it to the cooler side and fluffing it up a bit. "Get some rest, Doctor..."
He gave her cheek a quick pat, healing her side just the smallest bit to make her feel more comfortable as she slept. With that he left the room and went back into the hall. Immediately, he swallowed some ibuprofen hoping the placebo effect would kick in and make his hand more manageable. Checking the skin under his glove, found his skin still black but at least a lighter shade of black. With a sign he walked off, heading towards the TA's classroom.