Not Meant To Be Broken

By: Cora Reilly

My feet seemed glued to the floor. Move, Amber. Move. I tried to force my body to move forward, to step into the elevator but my muscles refused to bulge. Until about two seconds ago, Brian, Dad and Zach had been too absorbed in their conversation to notice my hesitation, but now their attention shifted to me. The happiness on Dad's face evaporated and an expression of sadness took its place. I caught the look of hurt on Brian's face before he averted his gaze and stared at the ground.

Zach was watching me with a deep frown; now he probably regretted having ever agreed to let me live in their apartment. And why wouldn’t he? I was a mess. I couldn’t believe I’d actually hoped this was the beginning of a new life. Tears welled up in my eyes but I forced them back. Guilt was a vice around my heart. I was a horrible person for hurting my father and brother like this. But I couldn't step into that elevator.

I hated myself for my next words. “You can go ahead without me. There’s not enough room for all of us. I'll take the next elevator.” I stared at a spot on the wall. I could imagine the pained expression on Dad's face and the despair on Brian’s; I didn’t want to actually see them.

Dad reached for the button to send the elevator up. A couple of years ago, he might have protested. The front door swung open and a few young men entered the hall and headed in my direction.

I quickly stepped into the elevator, careful not to touch Dad, Brian or Zach, who stood immediately to my right. Zach shifted a few inches to give me more room but there were still only two inches between my shoulder and his arm. Dad jabbed the button with more force than necessary. The doors closed smoothly behind me and I pressed my back against them. The sense of being trapped washed over me. I focused with all my might on the pink suitcase in front of me, but Brian’s brown leather oxfords were in my peripheral vision. No matter where I looked there were shoes or legs or hands.

I closed my eyes for an instant and buried my face in Pumpkin's soft fur, breathing in his familiar scent. The elevator began to move, too slowly.

Too slow.

Too slow.

Too slow.

My throat tightened, my heart pounding in my ears. The silence pressed in on me. How much longer? I couldn’t do this, couldn’t, couldn’t. I was startled out of my rising panic attack when Zach cleared his throat. My eyes peeled open and I peered up at him before settling for the safer sight of my suitcase again.

“Your room has a clear view of the small park behind the house. You'll like it. If you’re lucky, you might even get to watch squirrels scurrying after joggers for food,” he said, his face lit up by a small smile. The dimples around his mouth gave him a boyish appearance and made me forget his intimidating frame for a moment. “I bet your cat will love the squirrels.”

Pumpkin’s ears perked up as if he realized Zach was talking about him. I opened my mouth to say something when I noticed Dad and Brian watching me in worry as if they expected me to break down crying because Zach had spoken to me. My lips snapped shut. Instead of voicing my reply, I nodded and gave Zach what I hoped was a grateful look. The elevator halted; before the door had slid open completely, I squeezed through and stumbled into the hallway, sucking in a deep breath, relief surging through me at being free.

There were four wooden doors on this floor, two on either side of the elevator. Brian walked past me, startling me. I managed to suppress the gasp rising into my mouth. I held myself close to the right side to give Zach and Dad room to pass me on the left side. Zach’s shoulders brushed the wall across from me as he passed by, carrying one of my suitcases as if it weighed nothing, and headed for Brian who had stopped in front of the last door; Zach was obviously trying to give me as much space as possible. Brian had definitely schooled him well. Heat rose into my head.

How much had he told him?

Brian unlocked the door and they entered the apartment. Dad turned his head, waiting in the doorway, and gave me an encouraging look before disappearing inside. Hesitantly, I walked into my new home. I stood in a spacious living room with two narrow but high windows. There was a huge flat-screen TV on one wall, surrounded by hundreds of DVDs and Playstation games. Bang & Olufsen loud speakers were attached to every corner of the room. There were two round beige love seats and a long black sofa facing the TV. A sleek glass table was positioned in front of the sofa. There was even a liquor cabinet with more bottles of whiskey, scotch, tequila and all other kinds of alcohol than I’d ever seen. The expensive furniture and the new wooden floor weren’t something I’d expected. How was Brian able to afford such a luxurious home? The walls were brick but painted in the same warm beige as the loveseats. Through the open door to my left I could see the kitchen; a corridor branched off the living room and led to more rooms.

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