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11

There was a dream Martin had once, where he would be chasing after an unknown girl – her face and appearance he does not clearly see. He'd chase her through the woods and the brooks. And off a cliff, where he'd grow wings of his own and pursue her down the skies.

But his wings were made of wax and feathers, and like Icarus, the sun melted his angelic wings and he fell down from the blue clouds into the ocean.

The obsessive, haunting feeling of that dream lingers inside him, and he is feeling it once more, like an old scent reawakened from memory.

He is running down the hallways, carrying Clare in his arms.

The nerds gather around Martin as he enters the cafeteria, and they look upon her lithe form with horror and startlement.

"Oh my God..!"

"Is she alright? Somebody get some help!"

Et cetera.

Even the clown from the foyer is here out of curiosity, and his first instinctive reaction is to reach for his phone and call for the medics.

"Out of the way!" Martin yells – wanting to lay Clare down someplace with enough space. "I called 9-1-1 already, stupid!"

"Oh." The clown puts away his phone.

"CALL THEM ANYWAY! THEY WILL COME FASTER!" Martin isn't sure what to think anymore; he puts Clare on an empty table, and one of the nerds takes off his sweater and puts it under Clare's head like a pillow. ("GOOD!")

"Why don't you take her mangled dress off?" one nerd suggests.

Good idea – maybe you can assess the damage. Martin's fingers frenetically search for the zipper to her dress, or something, but in the end he tears away through the whole fabric, leaving her exposed in black underwear.

Clare is bruised horrendeously. Her skin around her stomach and rib area is a dark purplish-black, with some bleeding gashes at her back. It just reminds Martin of those street fight videos when you'd see the aftermath done to a person, and he'd squirm at the badly injuries.

As well, her right arm is subtly off-kilter by the elbow – her forearm bulging in a way it shouldn't.

And most of all, her face, the bruises over her eyes and cheek, and her broken lips – blood that trickles down the side of her mouth.

"Dude, is she even breathing meng?" a nerd asks.

"AAAGHHH, what do I do?" Martin goes. He waves a hand over her mouth and nose, and feels the faintest trace of breath. Then notices how her entire chest seems to strain with taking air in and out.

More blood emerges out her mouth.

"DO I GIVE HER C-P-R!?" he goes, cupping his hands over her chest.

"No wait-- DON'T!" The clown restrains Martin before he goes any further with chest compressions. "I think her ribs are broken in, you'll just make it worse! Jesus, what in crikey's name happened there?"

"Those assholes beat the shit out of her, that's what!" Martin fumes, slamming his fist onto a seat. "They've always been picking on her from day one, and this is what she gets on DANCE NIGHT!"

"Whoa, please try to calm down mister," the clown says.

"Who the hell are you to calm me down!" Martin yells. "You don't even understand what it is like for her, having to face every day at this mierda school, getting raped by people who put on nice faces for everyone else! Like all those maricons you see lying there--"

On the floor, Janice has an ice pack over her forehead, and Martin's rant is assaulting her ears. What a headache.

"They're the ones who like making Clare's life a living hell!" Martin says. "Every day, they come and steal her lunch and give her a beating! Every day, people go whisper about her behind her back like she's some ALIEN from OUTER SPACE. Make her feel like shit!

"Nobody really gave a damn, until I met her. You all should have seen how happy she was when someone can actually be good to her. The kindness you take for granted from people, it was a real, precious luxury to her. Would you still rather make her cry, pretend to be good guys to your friends? Or you want to help her find the happiness she deserves? The happiness she badly needs.."

Everyone seems to simmer down in silence to Martin's words. In the distance, you hear the muffled approach of the rest of the students, getting out of the gym.

"Well.. whatever odds are for Clare's 'happiness' now, they're dwindling--" the clown points out. "She ain't going to have a future at this rate, if the medics don't show up."

Clare is coughing up more blood.

"DAMNIT!" Martin twiddles his thumbs. He's helpless to the horrible mechanics playing out within her body. Time still continues running.

"I'm not finished yet-- there is one thing we can do.." the clown says. "Have we got ice packs over here? Anyone? It should help ease the bruising and slow down her bleeding somewhat.."

"We're out of ice packs!" one nerd mentions.

"Oh come on – think of something you lads!"

"Hey-- let's get some drinks!" another nerd goes, pointing at the vending machines.

"What? This is not the time to--"

"No, the drinks are cold, you know?"

"Ohh, right on! Hurry it up then!" The clown (whose real name is Sir Michael Caine, CBE) takes a renewed appreciation for youthful ingenuity. He watches them run over and buy Coca-Cola bottles with every spare change they've got.

Then they put the bottles atop Clare's chest.

"Pray to God this is going to work," the clown goes.

Suddenly David comes in the cafeteria from the foyer. "Hey!! The ambulance is here! The medics are coming!"

"WOOOOARGGHH--" Martin leaps up with massive salvation. "LET'S GO CLARE! YOU'RE SAVED!" He does a manic dance on the floor, not unlike what you'd see on the Maury Show when Maury tells the guy the magic words "You're Not The Father(TM)."

David has been leading the paramedics over to the cafeteria, suited up in red, where they bring multiple stretchers along with them.

"Get that one, she looks critical," one of them tells, pointing at Clare.

While they get the fallen goons onto the stretchers, some of them assess the damage done to her body. "Faint, erratic pulse; her lung is collapsing. We need to stablise her fast."

"Are there any more injured on the scene?" the head medic asks.

"Just a few on the rooftop," David goes.

"The next time, you should have notified us about that beforehand. What we heard over the phone is that this girl and the three people in the cafeteria needed help, correct?"

The clown nods.

"I think we can afford to get a medicopter to the roof.." the head medic goes.

And thus, they wheel Clare and the three goons down the foyer, wading through the sea of dance attendees. Everyone is stunned to see them on the gurney, and they start asking amongst themselves if there had been an accident.

They take their phones out and snap as many pictures as they can of this major news event.

Then they see how Clare is the worst injured, with a respirator mask, a cold pack and a blanket over her body.

"Oh.. is that Clare..?"

"I'm betting she's behind the accident.."

Martin and David hurriedly stride alongside, trying to keep pace as they head out the entrance doors, feeling the cold air hit them, the orange street lights casting the night in a bright shade.

There, the extra large ambulance is parked on the road, its siren lights strobing red and blue. The medics struggle with carrying the strollers down the steps – Martin points out there's an accessibility ramp that zig zags in-between the steps, but the medics don't seem to care.

They load the stretchers in the back of the ambulance, Clare first.

"Hey, can I ride along?" Martin asks. "I just want to make sure she'll be okay."

"There isn't any room left," one of them replies. "Believe me, if there were, I'd gladly let you sit beside her. She'll be fine – don't worry."

Martin whimpers. He sees them swiftly get in the ambulance and shut the loading doors from within, and a brief pause before the vehicle departs, carrying Clare inside.

Tearfully, he watches it go. Until it's little more than an indistinguishable speck amidst other cars. And even then, he still gazes out at the emptiness, like it is some place he is unable to follow her through.

~

The street lights are dim behind the window blinds. In his room, he hears the whispers of the wind from outside. While his parents sleep (it's 11:28 PM), he's sitting by the side of his bed, alone in silent virgil – alone with a sadness he could not put to words.

His eyes stare at the darkness, trying to find answers to the unshakeable feeling spreading through his chest, making his hands cold.

He used to feel lightly about Life, playing League of Legends or sports with his friends whenever he isn't busy with schoolwork. He'd imagine one day when he'd graduate into University, that he'd meet a cute girl and have a light-hearted romance – take her out to the parks, bring white flowers for her, and sing sweet songs he'd compose on the guitar.

Yes.. life could be like that..

But with Clare, what he felt with her is infinitely more meaningful than those childish whimsies. The joys that could make his heart explode, the sadnesses that cut deeper than pain, and every emotion in-between.

He's only tasted the tip of the iceberg before all that.

Now, he isn't sure of anything – of what is to happen tomorrow, if she'd make it out alive, or if he'd ever find someone as precious and beautiful the way she is. If it were Destiny that had introduced them together, or just plain, thoughtless luck.

Damn, he should have taken a picture with her, or even given her a kiss..

~

The holiday weeks roll in, and Martin scours for a chance to meet with Clare. But he doesn't know which hospital they put her in; there's 10 hospitals in the city, and he could only guess which one. So he heads over to Clare's home where upon ringing the doorbell, it takes around a minute before her parents even answer.

"What do you want?" her mere asks.

"Which hospital is Clare in? I want to go see her."

"Forget it! All you kids have done is hurt my Clare, and I won't allow you to hurt her any further!"

"But.. I'm a friend. I was the one who took her out to the dance.. that night.."

"You were responsible for looking after her." Her mere is prepared to shut the door flat in his face. "Now.. she needs months to recover.. her lungs need to be replaced.."

"There were people beating her to death – she could have actually died then, mierda! But I helped save her from those bums.." Martin wonders if he should mention rescuing her from falling off the rooftop.

"Regardless, you have allowed them to injure her to that extent. That is something I can never forgive. Goodbye, whoever your name is."

She shuts the door, and Martin resorts to asking the people he knows about Clare. They don't know any more than he does.

The news reports the outrage parents have over the Christmas dance incident; Martin has been found dead by the janitor in the student council room, and passersby have seen Gina's mangled body on the sidewalk, covered with a layer of snow. Meanwhile – Janice, Emilia, Clare, et al.; they are recovering down in the Rockyview Hospital. Police investigation is ongoing, asking various attendees what they've witnessed, as well as asking the recovering patients what they've experienced.

The testimonies given so far are inconclusive.

Rockyview Hospital..

When Martin tries visiting Clare there with his friends, to his dismay he finds that Clare is still badly unconscious in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). It would take her at least two months for her to regain consciousness, and another four months to rehabilitate.

He leaves her some flowers, and buys her a 'Get Well' card from the nearby postcard store.

For Christmas Day, he gets a new guitar – a Gibson Les Paul Studio, one of the better guitars out there, and he avidly tries out all the songs he knows. Man, it sounds so refined, with a creamier feel than his old Fender.

He passes by an old doll shop, where one of the dolls on display catches his eye – a black-haired woman with a skull in hand. Clare comes to mind; he's reminded of her dark paintings and hopes she'd appreciate it as a gift. It smells like dark vanilla, and he gets it gift-wrapped in a box, where he goes to the hospital and tells the orderlies that this is his present for her.

Every chance he'd get, he'd see her, lain in that room, surrounded by various tubings like a dormant princess caressed by vines. The Sleeping Beauty. Hear the artifical respirator pump the air for her with a steady, calm rhythm.

He'd tell her about the everyday happenings, such as seeing the latest blockbuster 'Quicksilver' by director Jean-Paul – it's about two rival scientists competing to invent the world's first warp engine for interstellar travel. He liked the intense rivalry portrayed between ze characters; what's tragic is that once before, they were good childhood friends who had only ever frought over picking ice cream flavours, or worrying that they'd be caught for a prank on their mean chemistry teacher. Until one tragic event when they were both competing in the Science Fair (separately) – one of them won first prize, while the other got last place.

The disparity of mood in the movie seems to mirror his own, in a way. He tells Clare that Life just hasn't been the same for him ever since the dance night. He misses hanging out with her, and how the holidays would have been so much better if she were awake by his side.

He could show her his own music, strumming the tunes on his new guitar. That would have been a real Christmas present for the both of them.

Alors.. he'd have to leave every time her parents show up during the evening.

But there is always the next day to see her. And the next day..

Until school days start once more, and he sees Janice, Jon, Emilia.. they're out of the hospital and everyone is swarming around them like they're celebrities. But Clare isn't anywhere to be seen.

By the will of Clare's parents, the hospital has discharged her for an emergency transferral to a Swiss clinic in France, where they can rebuild her lungs and properly repair the dislocated bones in her body.

There's a sign by her house, saying the property is for sale.

They've left.

The school has transformed for him somehow. It's no longer a place of youthful innocence anymore. He glances at the spot in the computer lab that Clare used to sit at, and just sees the occasional guy desperate to complete his English essay on time. In his new classes, he grins and makes new friends, but keeps wary of the possibility they've been mean to Clare in the past.

And in the hallways, he'd lookout for anyone who needed help from bullying. Two times, he saves the nerds from drive-by spitball barrages.

The days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months into years. Martin has formed his own progressive metal band at the University,Katarsis – he's studying for a music degree. In band rehersals, he'd bring the origami crane for good luck, and to remind him his feelings for that girl.

The only picture he has of her is in his high school's yearbook, and she looked.. if you peer closely, you recognise the sadness, the loneliness and the pain in her brown eyes.

He couldn't find her over the internet on Facebook. When he tried looking for her artwork, he typed in search terms like 'gothic,' 'surreal,' 'haunting' – the very words which came to mind when he saw it. But the images returned are nothing resembling her art, and he's forgotten the name of the art contest she's been in. Was it Fantasia?

After a lot of hard work composing the lyrics and melodies, Martin's band launches its first album – White Chalk. An impressive album that sells over 3 million copies worldwide, and which wins them music awards like the Grammys.

He tours various places around the world, in the USA, in England, Italy and Russia.. each night a maelstrom of wild energy and cheers. He's always wanted to see the world since he was young.

More albums, and more tours. Each album heavily different, but still with the same fiery, soulful energy infused into the songs.

14 years have passed since that night.

Clare is an artist working at Studio Escalier in Paris, producing various works that are commissioned by clients, ranging from the realistic (painting the Notre-dame de Paris) to the fantastic ('Le Petit Mais Belle Mort,' an erotic, sensual depiction of angel dance) and even the silly ('The Portrait of a Cow,' €14.95).

Ever since she's moved to France, her parents had changed their last name to signify a fresh start, and to distance themselves from the horrid events that had transpired back there. Her own recovery had been unsteady; she grew frustrated having to walk with crutches, and lashed out against the doctors who constantly told her "You're doing great, but you have months to go until you fully recover."

The crutches changed to leg braces, and one early morning, Clare forced herself out of the apartment where she pushed her legs to the limit on the streets, enduring the pain until the braces finally broke and she was able to walk freely like a dignified being, albeit with a gait.

The leg pain soon disappeared with painkillers and ointment.

She never graduated with a high school diploma – instead, she relearned how to speak French more natively, and took her timedoing sketches outside. The hands of an elderly woman stroking her cat, the violet mime pretending to be trapped by a box, the lions and the contemplative bishops at the Place Saint-Sulpice.

Soon, people noticed Clare – her in her black beret and shabby-chic wear. They paid her money to do their portraits and this eventually lead Clare a recommendation to the art studio.

At first, she was very shy with her other artists. She'd peer at their art, but when approached, she'd seem to shrink away. That made them only more curious about her, and one night, Paola found her crying in the washrooms--

Clare told her everything. The story of a lonely girl in high school, who nobody saw as anything more than a strange alien, until she met a nice boy named Martin.

"He must be the sweetest guy in the world.." Paola went. "And I'm really sorry about what you've been through. A lot of people can be cruel to each other there."

Soon, Clare started opening up to the other artists, and they grew close to her. She realised she'd always been the swan, and it was because she found people who could truly understand her at last, who were also just like her too on the inside.

..

She sees a floating advertisement for a concert that takes place tonight, a band named Katarsis. On the striking graphic, she thinks she recognises a face, holding his guitar up high in the air. It's a face that has grown lean, more mature, but still the spark exists in his eyes.

Could it be?

The concert is all but sold out, but she's able to get herself a ticket anyway, ordering online.

That evening, it is a thunderstorm, and Clare could not wait to have headed inside amidst the swarm of giddy fans.

The wait is palpable. It's merely the dimmed darkness before the band appears on stage. Then there is red smoke and yellow spotlights, and there is Martin, standing there, waiting for the massive cheers to dim down before he begins his act.

Maybe he doesn't see her, but it just feels like all the songs he performs are laced with.. it is hard to describe, but the words and music seem to transport her back to a time when the snow was falling, and she felt touched by that boy who introduced to her the light to her overwhelming despair.

She struggles to get herself to the front lines, where she can see him more clearly, his head bobbing and his guitar whishing in the air. She listens intensely, like those around her caught by immortal poetry and a superb performance.

Once it is over, her heart lingers in ecstasy as she revisits every detail of his performance in her memory. She could live off of the pure two-hours of emotion she's just experienced..

There is only one more thing she has to do, that urge she cannot ignore.

Clare tries sneaking backstage, where there are hundreds of die-hard women all wanting to meet Martin, who are held back by the burly security guards.

Damnit.

There's no way she'll ever see him now.

Dejected, she can only turn away, and head back home..

But something snabs everyone's attention. An especially crazed fan breaks through the guards and makes a dash for it down the hallways.

"Stop! Come back here!" they go, and they glance back at the other fans for a moment – promise us you won't go past this doorway.

Clare is smiling. While the fans stay here, she brushes by them and enters the backstage halls, hoping the guards won't come back any time soon. She glances at all the doors, looking for the right one. A washroom.

She passes by a caterer who has broiled beef on a tray.

And there she sees it. A door with a gold star, with Martin's name on it. His dressing room.

Clare looks both ways for any sign of the security guards, before she turn the knob and pushes the door open.

Inside, he is standing there, in the middle of the room, just washing away the makeup applied to his eyes and cheeks.

She gazes at him silently for a while, just simply adoring every inch of him, comparing what he looks like now to the Martin in her memories. He's so grown-up now. His hair curls down to his shoulders, and he's a few inches taller than her.

He doesn't seem to notice her in the mirror – he's so deeply absorbed in his own thoughts. She just knows he's thinking about her. She comes up behind him, and whispers, "Martin..?"

Martin turns – he sees her as if she's stepped out of a dream. It is a sudden blow to his heart. His face starts to glow alight, the look of somebody whose buried feelings of love cannot help spilling through the surface.

"C-- Clare?" he goes, her name haven't been said in a long while.

".. I've found you."

The End

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