// Ignite drabble #3: How to Save a Life //

Step one, you say, “We need to talk”

She walks, you say, “Sit down, it’s just a talk”

She smiles politely back at you

You stare politely right on through

Some sort of window to your right

As she goes left and you stay right

Between the lines of fear and blame

You begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend

Somewhere along in the bitterness

And I would have stayed up with you all night

Had I known how to save a life

// The Fray // How To Save a Life //

                If only he’d known.

                That was the predominant thought running through his mind as he sat in the infirmary’s waiting room, golden head bowed and his hands clasped at his chin, as if in prayer.

                If only he’d known, then perhaps this whole mess could have been prevented.

                The corridors on either side of him were empty, silent— save the frantic murmur of voices from the end of the hall, in the convalescent wing.

                He forced himself to block the sounds from his mind. He didn’t want to hear about the bullet wounds, the paralysis, the unconsciousness.

                He didn’t want the harsh reminder of how he’d failed her. His thoughts were guilt-ridden enough without the nurses’ murmurs to set him on edge.

                If only he’d known what she had been doing. If only Vanessa had told him sooner of her suspicions when she’d seen her sneaking out above-ground…

                But no, it wasn’t Vanessa’s fault. She had only wanted to give Autumn the benefit of the doubt.

                But he should have seen that something was amiss with her. He had known her for much longer than Vanessa had; in hindsight, it was so glaringly obvious that she was not acting like herself.

                By nature, Autumn Blythe was a firecracker: loud and vibrant, opinionated and unreserved (for better or worse). But in the past few months she had slowly begun to draw into herself, becoming very secretive and silent— almost brooding. She was more irritable than usual and rarely laughed— the girl whom Vanessa had once said “had laughter running through her veins”.

                That should have been his first clue that something was wrong.

                His second clue should have been when she started to skip the optional (and even the mandatory on occasion) worship services Ekklesia held each day. There was always some half-baked excuse offered up for her absence (despite her cleverness she was never good at making excuses), but although he was disappointed he never confronted her on the matter, feeling it was her business. It wasn’t until yesterday’s revelation of where exactly she’d been going that he’d realized what she was really up to— but by then it was too late.

                His third (and, in his estimation, the most obvious) clue should have been her recent skepticism regarding Christianity, her irrepressible longing to do whatever she wanted in disregard of the rules. It was only logical that, if presented with what appeared an opportunity to be free, she would take it in a heartbeat.

                Why didn’t I see the signs? he grieved in silence, alone in the waiting room. She was slipping away before my very eyes, yet I was blinded by my preoccupation with the Pyros.

                A fragment of a memory flashed through his morose thoughts, and suddenly he was no longer sitting in the pristine, quiet waiting room, but standing in the center of the Café de la Foi, lantern-lit and Pyro-filled. Autumn was no longer tucked away unconscious in the emergency room, but standing before him in the warm café, very much awake.

                Her eyes shot amber sparks of fury at him as she stood there, her arms folded and her chin lifted in defiance as she challenged him, “What’s the point of any of this, Grant? You’re so willing to die for this— what if it’s not even real?”

                He should have answered. It was the perfect opportunity to confront her skepticism. Perhaps they could’ve gone to a quiet corner and had a long conversation (debate, actually, because this was Autumn Blythe he was talking to) over coffee, and perhaps he would have been able to help her see that Christianity was a reasonable faith…

                But she had chosen to confront him at the wrong time; it had been a very long and taxing day, and he was preoccupied with missives that had to be sent out to the other underground cities that night. He didn’t have the mental energy or patience to deal with challenges at the moment, so he brushed it off with a, “I have full confidence that it is real, and worth any sacrifice. Christ died for us; it’s time we were willing to do the same.”

                She shook her head at him, as if disappointed in his lack of response, and without another word turned and stalked out of the Foi.

                He had failed her. They had all failed her in some way by letting her slip away, but he most of all. His silence— when she was searching for answers— was deafening.

                If he would have really listened to her for once, he would probably have been able to deduce that she was working for the Catchers— those who wanted to eliminate Christianity by any means necessary. With further thought, he would’ve realized that she was working for his own father: Hunter Grant, the head of Vita City’s branch of Catchers.

                And if he’d known that, he could’ve warned her of the dangers of consorting with such a ruthless man. He would’ve had a fighting chance at protecting her from his father, from herself. She wouldn’t be lying in the emergency ward now, with a bullet wound that would impact the rest of her life.

                “Grant?”

                The blond young man lifted his weary head to see his best friend and right-hand-man, Caleb Blythe— Autumn’s twin— trudge into the room with red-rimmed eyes and an exhausted ghost of a smile. “I didn’t know you were still here,” he commented as he fairly fell into the chair beside him.

                “I can’t leave. I feel guilty,” Grant admitted, having left his marble mask of stoicism behind under the circumstances. There was no use in being taciturn at this point.

                “Why? It was you who led us in to save Dad and confront your father. None of us expected Autumn to jump in front of the bullet.” He closed his eyes and allowed a real smile to flicker on his face for an instant. “She’s got more courage than I expected, honestly.”

                Grant didn’t comment, instead asking in a low tone, “How is she, Caleb?”

                Caleb’s chocolate brown eyes flew open, and he straightened in his seat. “Well, they finished the surgery earlier this afternoon, and she woke up about ten minutes ago. She… um, she noticed that she couldn’t feel her legs.”

                Grant released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, even as he winced at his friend’s last statement. “So… she knows?”

                “They’re telling her right now. That’s why I left the room.” Caleb sighed and raked a hand through his wild chestnut hair. “She’s not going to be happy about this at all.”

                “That’s an understatement.”

                “It’s not fair,” Caleb exclaimed in a burst of brotherly passion. “Even after she put Dad and Ekklesia in danger. Nobody deserves to be paralyzed, but you know how much she loves her freedom… this’ll kill her!”

                But Grant was wiser. “No, don’t say that. We were fortunate that she wasn’t killed today. If the bullet had hit her in a different place—”

                “I know that, but Autumn won’t see it like that. She’d rather be dead than have to fly around in a hoverchair for the rest of her life.”

                Grant’s heart sank as he stared back down at the pristine white floor, for he knew that Caleb was absolutely right.

~

                The rebuilding of their friendship had a rather rocky beginning.

                Caleb had told him not to take it personally, though; Autumn was rocky with everyone, scornful of help and isolated due to her betrayal.

                So Grant was forced to watch helplessly as she went through the first lonely, miserable month after The Incident, as her betrayal was now dubbed.

                It was incredibly frustrating to watch— especially when she would struggle to reach something from her permanently seated position; or when she’d drop an object and be forced to sit there and stare blankly at it, her jaw clenched in frustration because she refused to ask for help to reach it; or when she would stare longingly at the other youths who darted through the underground corridors, running and laughing and completely unaware of their great blessing of having two functional legs.

                And one day, Grant made up his mind that he wouldn’t stand for it anymore.

                He came to this conclusion after entering the Foi one night after closing hours to read, stumbling across a broken girl in the corner with her head buried in her hands, sobbing.

                Sobbing.

                Autumn Blythe didn’t cry. It was just an unquestioned fact that has been established in the minds of everyone she encountered. She glared, she raged, she slapped— but tears never fell from those vivid amber eyes of hers.

                But everyone has a breaking point. Autumn Blythe had reached hers.

                Grant made his decision and grabbed a chair, pulling it to the corner and setting it across from her before sitting down. When she didn’t do anything to indicate she’d noticed his presence, he gently reached out and took her hands into his.

                She reacted in a predictably Autumn-esque fashion, jerking her hands back as if she’d been scalded. Her eyes were wide with horror, and she hurriedly swiped at them in a futile attempt at hiding her tears from him. “Grant! What’re you doing here?” Her voice was rough, from both the tears and the fact that it had gone unused for hours— she hardly spoke nowadays. Yet she still attempted to sound confident— as if everything was perfectly fine.

                He held up the book and arched an eyebrow at her. “I could ask you the same question. It’s rather late to be out of your dorm.”

                She scowled. “I’m sick of sitting in my room. Since I can’t go above-ground anymore, I’ve got to content myself with escaping here. I wasn’t expecting anyone to come in now. Do you always come here late at night?”

                He nodded. “It’s a nice, quiet place to get some studying and planning done.”

                “Oh. Well, I guess I ought to find a new place to escape to, then…”

                “No,” he said, a little too urgently. “Please don’t. You don’t have to avoid me.”

                She averted her gaze, focusing intently on a single lit lantern in the center of the café. “It’s not personal. I’m avoiding everyone.” A bitter laugh escaped her. “Imagine that: me, wanting to be alone!”

                “But you don’t,” he argued quietly. “Not really. You don’t want to be pitied or looked down upon— but you don’t want loneliness either.”

                Silence reigned for a long moment as he watched her struggle; her face twisted as she mentally commanded herself not to cry, and then the words that she’d been holding in for a month burst out of her: “I hate this. All of it. I’m a cripple, Grant! I’m worthless! And everyone either pities me or is ticked off at me for betraying Christianity. I mean, I don’t exactly blame them, but either way it’s infuriating. You’re the only person on the planet who’s not driving me insane right now. I just… I hate myself and I hate my life and I wish I were dead!”

                “You’re not worthless, Autumn.” He took her hands in his again and stared her in the eyes. Cobalt met amber, imploring her to listen to the truth he was speaking into her life. “Once you realized what they were going to do to your dad, you jumped in front of the gun for him. Not many would have done that. If you hadn’t done that, he would most likely be dead now. I’d say that’s an act of courage.”

                “You’re forgetting that if it wasn’t for me, Dad wouldn’t have been anywhere near the Catchers in the first place,” she objected, but he could tell she was softening by just a fraction.

                “Yes, well that is something I wanted to speak with you about.” At the flash of fear that crossed her expression, he chuckled. “Don’t worry; I’m not condemning you. Actually, I wanted to apologize.”

                She blinked owlishly. “Wait, what?”

                “I failed to provide you with answers when you were seeking them, and so you went down this path. For that, I am sorry.”

                “No, it wasn’t your fault. I mean, we were hardly friends… it’s no wonder you didn’t want to deal with me. I was a brat.”

                “Well, I’d really like to remedy that now.”

                She arched a dark eyebrow at this. “Meaning?”

                He smiled, ever so slightly. “Meaning that I’d like a second chance at being your friend. And this time, I will really listen to your questions and do my best to either answer them or point you in the right direction to research it yourself.”

                She cocked her head in curiosity, eyes flashing with interest. “Research it myself? Nobody’s ever told me to do that before.”

                “Then that’s where we’ve failed you.”

                “Everyone always told me to believe and have faith. As if it were that easy!”

                “But you can’t believe solely based off of what another person says! Then you’re just affiliated with their faith; it never becomes personal. You are a skeptic by nature like me, and skeptics must find evidence of their own before they will truly believe something. My offer stands: can we start over and do things right this time?”

                A slow smile dawned on her face, the first she’d given in a month. It wasn’t her trademark smirk either, but something gentle and hopeful that most people would never get the chance to see. “Yeah. I’d really like that.”

                He heard the thank-you in her tone; it didn’t need to be spoken aloud. She would never be eloquent with her words, but that was okay. He was just relieved that she had allowed him back into her life. His private resolution was that he would never fail Autumn Blythe again.

~

                They developed a routine: he would stop by her room each night right before curfew (9:59 p.m. on the dot, without fail, for he was an immaculately punctual person). She would float out in her hoverchair, and together they would head down to the Foi, conversing animatedly about their days on the little journey. Autumn always had some humorous anecdote about “life as a cripple”, as she called it; she had also taken to eavesdropping on other people lately, for lack of anything better to do. People seemed to, for whatever reason, feel as if they could divulge personal info when around someone who was bound to a hoverchair; as a result, she always had something interesting to say ready when Grant came around at the end of the day.

                He was extremely proud of the way she’d adapted to things; time and his friendship had given her courage to sit up tall in her hoverchair and begin to approach people again. Her laughter and vibrant spirit had returned, but gone was the bitterness that had tainted it before The Incident. He could often hear echoes of her laughter from as far away as the other side of Ekklesia, and it never failed to make him crack a smile.

                She had proven her intelligence to him time and time again during the course of their nightly meetings over coffee; she was sharp, and eager to dive into research of her biggest arguments against Christianity, and the combination made her an excellent student. They talked of origins, of the Bible’s authority, of God’s goodness, of the real reasons why Christianity had been outlawed, and so much more. The lone lantern they kept lit in the Foi burned bright through the night, and the pair were often exhausted the next day— but both agreed that it was well worth it.

                They didn’t just speak about the technicalities of faith, though; Grant stressed to her the importance of grace and redemption, knowing that she still felt a large burden of guilt for her actions, and eventually she began to believe that maybe she wasn’t worthless; maybe there was hope for her after all.

                One night, after about a year of these meetings, Grant was just gathering his books and Holograph Pro and preparing to meet Autumn when there was a sharp knock at his bedroom door. With a confused glance at his clock— it read 9:55 p.m.— he frowned and went to answer it.

                Autumn was sitting there in her hoverchair, eyes shining and a huge grin on her face. “I couldn’t wait for you to come,” she explained hastily as soon as he opened his mouth to ask for an explanation. “I’ve just made a monumental decision and we need to rejoice immediately.”

                Did he dare to hope? “Do you mean—”

                “Yep. I finally get it now. God, Jesus, my messed-up self, grace— all of it. And I want in.”

                That night’s meeting was the most joyous one yet.

{fin}

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