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Echoes of You
Author: Margaret McHeyzer

The palms of my hands are sweating.

Standing in front of an unassuming building, I look up to see its sheer size. Still, it’s inconspicuous because it looks exactly like all the other buildings surrounding it.

The sun breaks out just behind the brick building, casting the entrance into shadow.

Funny, that. Because I’ve been living in the shadows all my life. Now is the time for me to come out of the shadows, and speak my truth.

Speak our truth.

There’s a line of cars in front of the building, all marked with the same lettering.

My heart beats quickly as a shock of finality runs through my veins.

This is where part of me will die and another part of me will live.

All my life I’ve been worried about what people think of me. But I can’t continue on in a life where I’m only breathing. I need to learn to live.

I take several deep breaths, ready to cross the street and take the leap I’ve been longing for.

“You can do this,” I say to myself. The sun is moving higher, the shadow becoming smaller.

Yes, you can.

I look to my left, and to my right, checking for oncoming cars.

I keep walking, crossing the street. I know if I stop for even a second, I’ll talk myself out of going.

You can do it.

I walk until I come to the automated doors that slowly slide open.

Hopefully, they’ll believe you.

I head to the counter, where a woman with dark hair pulled back in a severe ponytail and wearing a uniform is working on a computer. She looks up, but remains seated. “Can I help you?” she says in a flat voice.

My hands tremble, so I knit them together to stop the emotion bursting to come forward.

“I, um,” my voice quivers with uncertainty.

“Are you okay?” She stands and comes closer to the counter. She looks behind me, searching for a hint as to why I’m so edgy.

“I, um, need to talk to the police unit that deals with sexual abuse.”



“Thank God it’s finally over,” I say to AJ, who’s lying on his bed.

“School’s not that bad,” he replies.

“For you it’s fine. For me, it’s only ever been…” I look away, hoping he doesn’t see how I’m really feeling. “…hard,” I finally say.

“School’s fun.” AJ sits up on his bed, and flexes his arms, checking the mirror to admire how he looks. He stands, walks over to his dumbbells, and starts pumping them.

“Don’t you ever get sick of working out?”

He looks down at his body, and gives me a cheeky smile. “Not when the end result is me being so strong and so hot.”

“Ugh, how can we be friends when you’re so full of yourself?”

“We’re friends, because I’m full of myself.” Rolling my eyes, I shake my head. “What are you going to do now you’ve finished school. College? Work?”

“I have no idea. I suppose I’ll just hang back, and you know, do nothing.”

“Great aspirations.”

AJ huffs. He places the dumbbells down, then drops to the ground, doing pushups effortlessly. “You know, you’re gorgeous. Why don’t you try modeling?”

“Modeling? Really? When have you ever known me to want to be a model?”

“What about an actress?” I shake my head at his ridiculous suggestions. “A politician?” I curl my top lip, questioning his bizarre work suggestions. “Astronaut, professional wedding guest. You know, I once watched a thing on YouTube about a guy who was an earwax cleaner. They had this little hook, and they’d get the wax out of…”

“Stop!” I say before he finishes the sentence. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”

“Suit yourself.” He keeps doing his pushups. “What about a pimple popper?”

“Really? Are you trying to gross me out?”

“I’m giving you career options.”

“And pimple popper is a career?” I question with lifted brows.

“Thirty,” he says as he springs up to his feet. “People make an absolute fortune from popping pimples on social media. Truthfully though, I’ve never really been into social media.” He walks over to a bar above his door frame, and starts doing pullups. “One, two, three,” he continues.

“But you’ve watched things on ear wax cleaners? Yeah sure.”

AJ laughs. “You gotta figure out what you’re going to do.”

“We both know that’s impossible. Until M can deal with the demons, I can’t do anything.”

AJ slows his pullups, and hops to the ground. He runs his hands through his hair, then steps back, leaning against the door jamb. “M has a long way to go.” He lets out a long breath.

“Do you think M will find peace?”

AJ sighs again. This time his mood is darker, more tortured. He looks away from me. “I um, don’t ever want to go through that again.”

A knot forms in my stomach. I know the pain he’s gone through. And still, to this day, he struggles with the horrors he’s had to face. We all have. All for M. What I went through was bad, but what AJ had to do…no one should have to endure that.

The room is heavy with sadness. AJ is wrestling with his own demons, his own memories.

“What about a bee keeper?” I say, trying to break the massive weight that’s crushing both of us.

AJ’s staring at something invisible. It’s what he does when his pain gets bad. He’s fixated on one point, not hearing me.

“AJ,” I say a little louder, trying to snap him out of his misery.

“Yeah?” He flicks his glance to me, and I see the bitterness. He moves forward, picks up his dumbbells again, and starts working his arms. “What did you say?”

He’s completely distracted now. But I can see if he doesn’t distract himself, the pain will eat him alive. “I said, maybe I can be a beekeeper.”

A small smile tugs on one side of his mouth. “Beekeeper? I like my idea for a professional ear wax cleaner better.” His muscles flex beneath his white t-shirt. Sweat beads on his forehead as he pushes himself.

“Maybe I should try to get in shape.”

“Nah, you don’t need to. I’ll protect you,” he says as he keeps the repetitions up.

“It’s not about protecting, AJ. It’s about being healthier.”

AJ smiles. “You’re fine the way you are.” I look down at my too-skinny legs. “I know what you’re doing,” he says.

“What’s that, Mr. Smart-Ass?”

“You’re looking at yourself, and telling yourself you’re too skinny. Right?”

Damn him. “No,” I snap.

“Aha! I don’t believe you.” He places the dumbbells down, and comes over to me. “Come here.” He crooks his finger for me to walk toward him. His hands are big and rough, with cracked skin around the knuckles. They can be frightening. Yet I know he’d never hurt anyone. Not without cause.

“What?” I say as I stand close to him. He has a distinct smell. One that always puts my mind at ease when I’m stressing. It’s a mix between sunshine, and sweat. Not that repulsive sweat that makes you hold your nose, more the sweat that’s bordering on ash from a fire, but with a twist of warmth from the sun. I love his smell. He always makes me feel safe, like it doesn’t matter what’s going through my mind, he’ll be there to protect me.

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