Chapter 7

We were running for so long that I didn't think we were actually going to be able to outrun those guys but we eventually did.

I knew that Alex would've been able to outrun them easily since he was in the soccer team but I was a pretty lousy runner. He could've probably outran them 15 minutes earlier if he wasn't holding my hand and pulling me along with him.

So to put it simply, yes, I was deadweight and he basically carried me for half an hour as we ran.

The boys finally gave up as we turned a corner and Alex pulled me along for a few more minutes to make sure that we lost them before we stopped at a quiet alley.

When we finally stopped running, Alex let go of my hand that had turned clammy. Alex bent over, hands propped up on his knees as he tried to catch his breath while I staggered forward to lean on the alley wall, looking for something that can help support my weight, as my head became light and my knees started to go weak.

I could see black spots on the edges of my vision and I knew if I didn't calm down soon, I'll black out in the middle of this alley. I gasped for air and my hand flew to my chest as I felt it constrict painfully.

Alex raised his head and looked at me, noticing that something was wrong with me.

"You alright?" He asked as he kept his eyes on me.

I swallowed, about to answer, when I realized that the panic attack that was about to hit me wouldn't allow that. I nodded my head instead, letting him know not to worry as I tried to calm down.

I practiced the breathing exercises my therapist had taught me and focused on fighting to subdue the attack by telling myself that everything's going to be okay.

Silence consumed us as I kept my eyes closed to concentrate on my breathing. I let my mind imagine the expansion of my lungs as I inhaled and the contraction when I exhaled, picturing how it expands and contracts. I felt my chest rise and fall and focused on the rhythm. It took me some time to calm down, but when the black spots had gone away from my vision and the weight on my chest finally got lifted, the tense muscles in my body went lax and I crumpled to a crouch on the ground in exhaustion.

"Whoa," Alex's hand shot out to catch me, his body falling with mine, thinking I was about to fall.

He retracted his hands when he saw that I was okay, backing away awkwardly to respect our respective personal spaces. He stayed crouching, leaning his weight on the balls of his feet to keep a close eye on me.

My hands rested on top of my shoes as I bowed my head, hiding it behind my hair that acted as a curtain. After gathering my courage, I finally raised my head to look at Alex who was watching me like a hawk.

I wanted to offer him a smile but I didn't feel like that was an appropriate gesture right then so I gulped and opened my mouth to say something but before I could project my voice, he straightened up and got to his feet.

He ran his hand through his hair, twisting his body around to look at the direction we ran from.

"A simple thank you is enough." He said out of the blue, surprising me.

"If you're gonna say something like 'thanks but bla bla bla, save it. A simple thank you would suffice, don't waste your breath saying things you don't mean." He explained when he saw my lost expression.

My face flushed, catching the shade that he was throwing at me for my sassy behavior at school when he tried to help me.

The sad thing was, though, this was the most Alex has ever said to me in years.

I stared at him, mostly because I was amazed that he was still here and showing me kindness when he had been so cold to me for the past 4 years.

"Well, I've got shit to do so.." He trailed off awkwardly, looking around the streets by the alley's mouth.

I found my voice again just as he was about to step out of the alley.

"Thank you." I spoke softly, unsure that he would even hear me.

But he did.

He turned around to look at me again and paused, before he nodded and walked away.

I stayed in my crouching position and stared at the ground in front of me, hugging my knees together as I tried to chase away the feeling of loneliness.

I don't have enough willpower or energy to fight another panic attack and I didn't want to end up passing out in the alley all alone.

I shook my head, trying to get rid of those thoughts before I really trigger my panic attack.

I stood to my feet and tried to brush off my back, conscious of the dirty wall I just leaned on.

"Okay, get your shit together, Em."

I nodded to myself and breathed deeply one more time before stepping out of the alley. We had ended up running towards a quieter neighborhood. There were no people walking down the streets and there was only one or two cars passing by occasionally. Most people would take the main road instead of this small street unless they lived by this street so there was nothing surprising about how quiet it was.

I turned around the corner, that Alex and I ran came from to find my way back home, when I heard Ty's voice.

"There you are," he said, a bit breathless.

No, he wasn't talking to me. He was talking to the boy that stood before him, taken by surprise by his sudden appearance. Alex raised his hands in surrender as he stepped back to put some distance between himself and the group of boys that were advancing towards him.

My eyes widened as I watched the group of guys jog towards Alex who was visibly caught off guard, not expecting the ambush.

My feet felt rooted to the ground as I watched them close in on Alex.

"Boys, what-"

"Shut up." Ty growled out as he pulled his arm back before throwing a punch at Alex. "You're so full of shit," Ty snapped.

My hands flew to my mouth, covering the startled gasp that forced itself out of my lips as I watched Alex fall to the ground.

Having remembered the 2nd place taekwondo tournament trophy Alex had shown me 4 years ago, I thought that defending himself would be a piece of cake for him.

But as I waited for him to pick himself up from the ground and fight back, or at least run, the boy in question didn't move an inch. My fear spiked as Alex remained immobile even when Ty bent down to grab him by the collar.

"What is he doing?!" My conscience screeched in panic as I could do nothing but watch.

He stared up at Ty as he got pulled to his feet by his collar. I was facing his back so I couldn't see the look on his face or tell what he was feeling or thinking, but I knew something was wrong.

I finally snapped out of it and forced my legs to work again to bring me closer to the group of guys. I will not repeat the same mistake I made 4 years ago.

He might not be my best friend anymore but they say it's never too late to make up for a mistake you've done in the past, right?

I made a mistake of not stepping up to defend him from getting bullied by our homeroom teacher in front of the entire class 4 years ago. I've beaten myself up for not moving a muscle then and I am definitely not making the same mistake again.

Plus, he did end up getting wedged in the middle of this mess trying to help me.

I marched towards the group of guys dauntlessly while taking my phone out of my bag and waving it in the air as I called for their attention.

"HEY!" I screamed, my panic seeping into my voice.

All their heads whipped to the side to see who was screaming as their attentions snapped to me.

"Let him go." I yelled as I got closer to them.

I didn't know what came over me or what gave me the courage to actually move closer towards them but I didn't stop walking until I was 6 feet away from them.

"I called the cops and they'll be here any minute now. Once you're arrested, I will make sure you face jail time. I will make sure to bring up any charges I can to put you behind bars as long as I can, and trust me, I do not bluff." I said in my most serious voice.

I didn't know how my voice sounded so firm when I was quacking inside. All I could think about was, "If they call my bluff, I'm fucked."

Ty looked at his friends who were looking at each other with wide eyes.

"We should go, Ty." One of them finally spoke up on behalf of the group as he laid his hand on Ty's shoulder.

Ty glared at Alex for a moment and I swear I broke into a cold sweat when he didn't let go.

"You better hope I don't fucking see you anymore." Ty gritted out through clenched teeth.

Something must have taken over my sane mind when I started glaring daggers at Ty for what he said.

I could feel the small girl in me clawing out to protect her best friend, but now was not a good time. We were outnumbered and my bluff was actually working. I didn't want to mess this up and end up getting us beaten up or killed by this bunch of guys.

You never know how far people will go, mate. The world's a fucked up place.

Ty finally let go Alex's collar with unnecessary extra force, pushing him back a few steps.

Alex stumbled before I caught him, one hand on his arm and the other on his back to try and stabilize him.

I stared at the boys' backs until they disappear from sight, making sure they don't change their minds and turn around to beat us up. When they were far enough for me to feel safe, I finally checked up on Alex.

I didn't notice it before but he had his eyes squeezed shut as if he was in pain. He had a light bruise forming on the side of his lips but the pain etched on the look on his face seemed like it was more than just the throbbing from where he had gotten hit.

He shrugged my hands off of him and started patting down his pockets, looking like he was searching for something.

I could only watch, feeling lost.

"Where is it? Goddammit." He mumbled as he continued to search himself. Panic and desperation laced his voice and I grew worried the longer that I watched him.

"What? What are you looking for?" I finally asked him.


I frowned. Was having a smoke all he could think of after getting punched? Not a bag of ice maybe? But a cig?

Judging by the stream of curses that left his mouth, I assumed that he ran out. I never thought that running out of cigs was that big of a deal until I saw Alex breaking down in front of me, kicking the ground and falling apart right before my eyes.

However, I soon realized that it wasn't the cigs. I started to see the familiar signs of an attack I was well acquainted with.

He was having a panic attack.

I could feel my eyes grow in size as Alex broke down, falling to his knees and gasping, hitting his chest and clawing at his neck as if someone was cutting off his airway.

I fell to my knees beside him, a hand on his back and another on his face to force him to look at me.

"Hey, hey. Breathe. Breathe. Look at me," I imitated how my therapist guided me out of my panic attack the first time I had one in front of her. I sucked in a deep breath slowly and exhaled, my chest rising and falling as I breathed. I maintained eye contact the entire time because I've always felt like that was what helped me the most when I had panic attacks. Just the reassuring look I would find in the eyes staring into mine.

But I didn't anticipate the terror in the eyes that I looked into at that moment. The fear in his eyes spoke volumes, it was so loud that it shook my core when I looked at it. I resisted the urge to look away and held on to maintain our eye contact.

I tried to channel the same reassuring look I've seen a hundred times in my therapist's eyes and provide the same comforting feeling to Alex as his breathing started to match mine.

I kept up the breathing exercise until all traces of the panic attack was gone and he had visibly calm down.

I bit my lip and waited for him to react.

Judging from the way he was acting, it must've been the first time that anyone has ever witnessed his panic attack. Smoking cigs seems to be his alternative coping mechanism and I don't think he had shown this vulnerable side to anyone.

I remember the first time anyone saw me during my panic attack. I can still remember what it felt like for me vividly; the embarrassment, humiliation, the anger directed at myself. I knew, more or less, what was going to circulate in Alex's head in the next few seconds and that was why I wasn't the least bit surprised when he finally snapped.

He drew back from me so suddenly that he almost fell to the ground again, as if my touch had burnt him.

I reached out and tried to help him but he scuffled backwards as if I was a monster he was running from.

I finally settled with staying put, letting him pick himself up.

I knew what he was probably feeling but I also knew that people react differently to the emotions that was probably cooking up a storm in his mind.

I couldn't be sure of what to expect but I tried to not let whatever he does in the next few minutes hurt me.

But that still didn't help the emptiness and dismay I felt when he got to his feet and walked away as if I wasn't there.

I stayed on my knees, watching his back disappear from sight, wondering what happened to the boy I knew 4 years ago.

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