Song: “Tessa” by Steve Jablonsky
I woke up crying in the fetal position. My face was wet from lying in a puddle of my own tears. I had no idea how long I’d been out or how long I’d been crying. I blinked through my blurry vision and took in my surroundings. Lulu was a few feet to my left, but he was ripped open and white stuffing was spewing out of his stomach like a dog had shred him apart. And there was a feeling on the floor next to him.
I pushed myself to sit up and my body trembled as I did. I could still feel the shards of rejection in my back and the memory sent another wave of sobs rocking through my body. Why had Two done that? Why would he reject me? What had I done?
I shook my head and forced myself to take a deep breath. I knew I should’ve never trusted him. The man in the hood was right. This was what happened when I let my guard down.
I spun at my name and everything in me froze. Who was there and how did they know my real name? I jumped to my feet and reached for my gun, but got nothing but belt instead. I’d forgotten that Two had taken it. There was a man sitting in a rocking chair on the other side of the room with chocolate skin, but dressed in all white: white pants, white button up shirt, and white beard.
“Who are you?” I demanded, swallowing any residual emotions. “And where am I?”
“I’m the Gunsmith,” he replied. “And you know where you are.” He waved his hand.
I looked around and that’s when I noticed the bed with the pink pillows, the toy cars, and the stuffed animals in the corner. I was in a child’s room. Then it hit me like a brick in the face.
“Let me out!” I shrieked. “Get me outta here!!!”
I ran towards the door, but suddenly there was a little girl sitting on the floor in front of me playing with her cars. Her hair was the color of fire and her cheeks were like freckled porcelain. And an newer version of Lulu was laying next to her.
I shook my head and took a step back. This couldn’t be happening.
The next thing I knew my mother came running into the room and knelt in front of five-year-old me.
“Scarlet, listen to me,” she said quickly. “You have to stay in your room.”
“Why, Mommy?” little Scarlet asked.
My mother grabbed newer Lulu and jammed the barrel of her gun into his stomach. “No matter what happens, remember that Mommy loves you, okay?” Then she shot a feeling into Lulu and shoved him back into my arms before running out of the room and slamming the door shut.
There were gunshots in the living room and little Scarlet stood up.
“No,” I whispered to her. But I knew she couldn’t hear me.
She walked to the door and I stood in my spot as she opened it, knowing good and well what was about to happen next.
From where I stood we both saw my father aim his pistol at my mother and fire a rejection into her chest.
“Daddy!” little Scarlet screamed. She ran towards him and I couldn’t help myself. I ran after her, knowing it was useless, but hoping I could stop her.
But before I could reach her, my father turned, aimed at her, and fired a rejection straight into her chest. Her tiny body flew backwards and landed limp in my arms.
The instant her eyes looked up into mine, the scene suddenly fizzled like a broken TV screen and I was on my knees back in the room with the Gunsmith.
I clutched the air where little Scarlet had been a second ago and something broke inside of me. The tears came bursting through and I sobbed into my knees on the floor.
The Gunsmith knelt in front of me, but didn’t touch me. He just sat there and let me cry.
“I hate being vulnerable,” I choked out. “That’s what got me hurt.”
The Gunsmith reached under my chin and lifted my head so I could see his face. “No, Scarlet. Being vulnerable is what got you loved.”
I wanted to smack him or at least spit on him, but I didn’t even have the strength to move his hand. I just looked at him and went on crying.
“Bulletproof vests blocks rejections,” he reminded me. “But they also block everything else.”
He handed me Lulu and his stomach had been stitched back together. I took him and clutched him against my chest. Then the Gunsmith held out one hand, holding the feeling that had been inside of Lulu. He turned the feeling over so I could read what was on it: INNOCENCE. Then he raised his other hand and held up my vest.
“You’ve got a choice,” he told me. “You can either be safe…” He nodded at the vest. “Or you can be loved.” He nodded at the feeling. “But you can’t have both.”
I looked at his hands then brought Lulu up to my mouth as I stuffed the emotions down. The Gunsmith watched me without another word and I looked back and forth at his hands. Then I took a deep breath, grabbed the vest, and flung it across the room.
He grinned then loaded the feeling into his gun and aimed at my heart.
Original artwork by Jessica Bryant