It’s Not Cowardly To Run | A Short Story by Katelyn Daniels
Katelyn Daniels is the 1st Place Winner for Grade 12 in the 2015-16 Seton Short Story Contest
“You lied to me, Nick! All that time you were lying to me. I can’t marry a man I can’t trust!”
The words came back to him like a sharp knife. They cut open his chest, drowning him in guilt. He drew a quick breath and unconsciously clutched at the front of his shirt. It had been so long since anything had been able to do that…
He ran a hand through his thick, black hair and reached for the glass bottle that sat dangerously close to the edge of the dusty table. Lifting it to his lips, he took a long drink of the clear, lukewarm liquid, letting it slide slowly and comfortingly down his throat. He already knew from experience that the drink was strong enough to drown his consciousness. Maybe this time, if he were lucky, it could also erase that throbbing pain brought on by her desperate tears and accusations. He hoped so. In fact, he had never wanted anything so badly in all his twenty-seven years.
He finished the bottle silently, but it didn’t take away the pain. Pushing back his chair, he strode over to the cupboard near the sink. He needed more. His hand grasped the next bottle; the cap rolled across the floor. He even raised it to his mouth, but for several seconds not a drop touched his tongue. His mouth felt dry and his fingers itched to tip the bottle forward, but he surprised himself and set the bottle down.
It had been this devil-drink that had been the source of so many lies he had indifferently handed Jade these past months. It was the gang, too, but the gang was always intertwined with the drink. How could he expect it to erase the pain it had caused? With a groan, he viciously knocked the bottle to the ground where it crashed into a million pieces, spraying liquor in all directions.
Nick slipped on his leather jacket and left the house, slamming the door behind him. The street was utterly silent, just as it always was at this hour, right before dark. People were all inside their houses in front of their televisions. He usually was, too, but not tonight. How could he stare at a screen when he knew that Jade was somewhere crying, attempting to mend the heart that he had so cruelly broken?
He strode quickly down the sidewalk. He had no destination in mind. Even if he had, it was unlikely that he would have made it there. With that throbbing pain in his chest and Jade’s words on repeat in his head, he was almost unconscious of what was going on around him. After a while, the pain became unbearable and a wave of dizziness swept over him like a smothering blanket. He paused, resting his head against a building.
The dizziness passed, but the pain was obdurate. Nick glanced up, absently wondering where he was. The place seemed vaguely familiar. There was a cross on the top, so it must be a church. Something prodded him to go inside, but he suppressed the idea with a sneer. The last thing he needed right then was some overzealous, sympathetic clergyman telling him how evil drunkenness was and how he should avoid temptation and bad companions. More likely than not he would tell him to read some verse in the Bible and ask God to forgive him. Ha, that was amusing. God – even if He existed – wouldn’t forgive him. Not Nick Arsen.
He stumbled on, but the church had jarred his memory and a woman’s voice broke through his thoughts. He caught his breath. It was Jade’s voice, but it wasn’t the accusing words he had been hearing for the past seven hours. It was gentle and affectionate like the Jade he had known from the beginning.
“My mother always told me that no one’s strong enough to confront some temptations head on. It’s not cowardly to run, Nick. Sometimes it’s the bravest thing you can do.”
He had never understood that advice. How could running away be anything but the stereotypical reaction of a coward? It hadn’t made sense then and it didn’t now.
Night began to fall, throwing its thick, dark folds over the city. The temperature was dropping steadily and if Nick had had the presence of mind to think of anything but Jade, he would have been grateful for his jacket.
He was beginning to wander closer to the bar where the gang gathered each night. It wasn’t deliberate; it was almost as if he were subconsciously drawn in that direction by the force of habit and addiction. They would be waiting for him with some sort of task to do, whether it be a petty robbery down at the nearest convenience store or delivering a threat to the endless list of victims who supplied the gang’s income. He never knew beforehand what the job would be, but there was always something. And he always did it.
He saw them at a distance and quickened his step. They were congregating outside the door, loud and rough and vulgar, and he thought that once he was in their company everything would go back the way it had been previously. Then Jade’s voice echoed through his mind with intensity: It’s not cowardly to run, Nick. Sometimes it’s the bravest thing you can do…the bravest thing you can do…the bravest thing…
Noisy, indistinguishable voices were shouting greetings as he came closer. They all held glass bottles and cigarettes.
Not cowardly to run, Nick…
He panicked for a moment. I can’t run, he thought wildly. Does she even know what she’s asking? Does she know what they do to rogue members?
But the voice continued without hesitation. Run, Nick!
He spun around and fled, sprinting past telephone poles and around parked cars. He could hear the men begin to pursue him. Threats and curses followed, and he could almost feel their hot, malodorous breath on the back of his neck. Everything in front of him swam into one big pool of darkness and he felt himself crash into something or someone and fall to his knees. He was up in an instant and running again, blinking fiercely to keep his vision clear. Soon the noise of the pursuers died out, but he didn’t notice it. He didn’t stop until he was physically incapable of taking another step. Then he dropped onto the rough ground in an alley and buried his face in his hands.
He couldn’t think; he could barely breathe. Sleep mercifully overtook him.
He awoke to a small man in a chef’s attire yelling at him.
“Get out! This is a restaurant, not a homeless shelter! You’re blocking the way to the dumpster!”
Nick stood up quickly. Too quickly, it would seem, for he reeled and put a hand to his head. The unsympathetic chef threatened to call the police, so Nick staggered out of the alley and into the street.
He tried to remember what had happened the night before, but only little bits and pieces came back in a confused order. He had run away from the gang, and they were chasing him. Wait, why had he run away from the gang? Jade’s voice. That’s right, Jade had told him to run. But why would she tell him to run?
Then suddenly everything came back to him. He remembered his heartbreak, the broken bottle, and the wandering. He recalled the church and Jade’s voice in his head.
“I need to go back,” he muttered to himself, directing his step toward the bar from which he had run. “I need to come up with some excuse for last night. They won’t care as long as I’m back.”
But even as he said it, he caught sight of a plain girl with a brilliant smile walking with a young man on the opposite side of the street. She had her arm slipped through his and her attitude of trust and affection made Nick wince. He and Jade had once had that, before he had ruined everything.
“No,” he said aloud, spinning around on his heel and heading in the opposite direction. An old man getting out of a taxi peered at him curiously, but Nick didn’t care. He wasn’t going back. He might have no chance of winning Jade back, and she might never know what he was doing, but if she did, he knew she would be proud of him. Things got around in his apartment complex. Maybe she would hear from someone that he had left. The faint hope that she would understand his desperate wish for her approval lightened his heavy step ever so slightly.
He made his way to the bus station on Main Street and went inside a tiny office, where a man sat behind a very messy desk. Nick asked for a one way ticket to Boston.
“In a hurry, eh?” asked the man, his pudgy face cracking into a broad grin as he stamped a ticket. “No luggage?”
“Get into a row with the police or your girlfriend?” the man queried, with an insight only found in men who see every kind of person on a daily basis.
“That’s none of your business,” Nick retorted, his face growing dark. Only the remembrance of how Jade hated him fighting stopped him from punching the man’s face.
“Don’t worry, son,” the man said, handing him the ticket and stuffing his money into a drawer. “If it’s the police, you’ll be safe in Boston. Don’t tell ‘em I said so, but it’s true. And if it’s your girlfriend then hey, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Your bus leaves in two hours. Good luck.”
Nick went out and found an empty bench to sit on.
If only he knew, he thought bitterly. You don’t just pick Jades off of trees. I was lucky enough to find and love the only one. There’s no one like her. He groaned and buried his face in his hands. Thoughts of despair began crowding in his brain, stamping out any little seed of hope. He began to seriously consider dropping his ticket in a trashcan and running away from the station, back to the gang. The whole idea of going away was rapidly becoming a terrible idea. What if they tracked him down? What if…?
A gentle touch on his knee made him lift his head. He found himself staring into the big blue eyes of a very little girl. Short golden hair fell in ringlets to her shoulders.
“Does your head hurt?” she asked, with a sweet lisp.
“Oh, come, Angela; don’t bother him.” Nick looked up to find a woman – evidently the little girl’s mother – trying to hold a wriggling, whining baby while keeping track of another young child by her side. She looked tired.
“But does it?” Angela demanded, ignoring her mother.
“Yes,” answered Nick, honestly. The little girl gazed at him for a moment and her mother ran after her little son who had escaped.
“Maybe if I kiss it you’ll feel better,” she suggested, in a very grave tone. “That’s what Mama always does when my head hurts.”
Nick hid a smile and said: “Perhaps.”
Angela went on tiptoe and kissed his forehead. “There!” she beamed, climbing on the seat beside him. “Do you know what I’m gonna be when I get real big?” Without waiting for an answer, she continued: “I’m gonna be a doctor. And you know how I’m gonna fix everyone? I’m just gonna go around and give them all big kisses. Frankie says that’s silly. Do you think that’s silly?”
“Angela, please come,” begged her mother, who had finally retrieved the little boy. Angela tripped after her mother to another bench without saying good bye.
Nick let his head fall back into his hands. The little girl had prodded a memory into his thoughts. Jade, her green eyes sparkling like stars, was speaking of her longing to have children of her own.
“They’re just so innocent and perfect, aren’t they?” she had said softly.
He had readily agreed, as he always did when she asked him something, but he hadn’t thought much of it. Entrenched in his lies, he had rarely interacted with children and he hadn’t understood the innocence of which she had spoken. With Angela, though, he saw that childish trust and purity up close. Instead of not understanding it, he craved it. He enjoyed the soft touch of the tiny hand. His heart stopped its painful throbbing at her kiss, and he had to smile at her aspirations because she was so small yet so sweetly in earnest. It was only then that he realized just how much he had lost when he lost Jade.
In that rather uncomfortable position, both in body and mind, he dozed off. While he was sleeping, a bus stopped, and the mother and her three children moved toward the door. As they did, Angela ran back toward Nick and tucked something under his arm. Then she skipped up the stairs of the bus, the door swung closed, and the station was once again quiet.
Nick awoke just before his bus came in. Rising to stretch his legs, he noticed something drop to the ground. He bent to pick it up.
When the ten-thirty bus came rolling into the station, only one person was waiting for it. It was a tall, muscular young man in a leather jacket, with no traveling bags, and he hesitated so long at the open door of the bus that the driver grew impatient. Then the man looked down at something and seemed to make up his mind. As the driver grabbed the offered ticket with an annoyed grunt, he noticed that the young man was holding something tightly in his hand: it was a faded white teddy bear with a little golden cross stitched over its heart.
About Katelyn Daniels
Katelyn Daniels, is a 18 year old senior from Maine, the 2nd oldest of 6 siblings. She has been homeschooled her whole life, and has been a Seton student since 8th grade. She is a decided introvert and loves spending quiet time alone, pursuing hobbies such as reading classic literature, writing stories, and creating poetry. She is firmly convinced that she ought to have been born in the nineteenth century into an English cottage or onto an Oriental mountainside village (depending on her mood). Teatime in the afternoon is a daily essential, and she loves gardening, taking long walks in the woods, and daydreaming about a fairytale life with Prince Charming and a brood of her own mischief-makers. She is an ardent advocate of late nights, old-fashioned things, romance, and chivalry. She has a special devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, St. Joseph, Padre Pio, and St. Rose of Lima.