Okay, so...here's what happened.
As y'all remember me saying, I was *not* happy with what I wrote yesterday. I like parts of it, big parts, but it occurred to me the biggest problem with it, was the timing. That was NOT the time to tell Merrick's story. It was time for Cole's.
So, I took Merrick's section, set it aside, and will reuse it later. I think I know where that needs to go now. This might even give me time to smooth out the rougher spots of it. I am NOT throwing it out, it just wasn't where it needed to be.
Which bring us to today's writing, which is the ACTUAL sixth Dark Side interlude, Cole's story. Or, should I say, Nadia's? And that's why it's named a little weirdly.
The Dark Side - Part the Sixth, Three Years Ago
It was the best birthday ever, and it would become the worst.
Nadia had just turned 15. She was a normal, carefree, ordinary girl. Nothing stood out about her from the rest. She was so average, it was almost a statistical anomaly just how average she was.
She was a straight A student, but she never made a big deal about her grades. Her parents did more than enough of that for her. Nadia would have been quite happy to just keep her achievments to herself.
She was involved in gymnastics, and while she was not the best student, she was, yes, quite average. She was good enough to help her team beat others, but not much more. She might never win a gold medal for her efforts, but if she applied herself, she may have one day won a bronze. That was all her teacher really expected from her.
Not that she would ever go on to win any awards.
When she was younger, she had even taken ballet classes, but found that wasn't quite for her. Still, she had channeled that into her gymnastics classes, for all the good it did her.
Nadia never would have described herself as sporty, it was just something to do around going to classes. It wasn't that she disliked it either, she quite enjoyed herself in fact, but it was just something to do until she figured out what to do with her life. She was only 14, after all.
Well, not anymore, she had to keep reminding herself. They may have thrown a party over the weekend, but it was now Monday, February 10th, her real birthday, and she was now 15.
That was not a big deal around her household, but living in Arizona, she had her fair share of friends who had moved up from Mexico, and she knew all about their celebrating a girl turning 15. It was hard to avoid it, when all of her friends at school were congratulating her on the big day.
Nadia wished it wasn't a big deal, because she didn't think it was one. She had survived another year on the planet, just another day. She had woken up 365 more times since her last birthday, and that was the biggest accomplishment behind it all.
Her birthday was the same as the day before it to her, and tomorrow would be just the same as her birthday. No big deal.
If everyone would just treat it like another day, and no one said happy birthday to her (Except for maybe her parents!) then that would have been just fine for Nadia. She hated all the pomp and circumstance behind it.
What was so important about that day? There was nothing special or important about Nadia. She almost felt embarassed by all the attention she was getting.
Still, it was a good birthday. Nadia's family didn't have much, and what they did have, her parents put into making their daughter happy.
The party was not huge, no way it could have been. But it was thrown in their backyard. Arizona winters were cold, but still comfortably in the sixties most of the time. And Nadia lucked out, it was even warmer, so the party did not have to be moved inside, and everyone could enjoy a nice cookout with her father manning the grill.
All of her friends had come to the party on Saturday, and even she could not deny it; it was fun to be the center of attention. Even just a little. There was no way around it, all those people were there for her. She felt like she was torn between wanting it and wanting to run and hide all day long though.
The birthday girl got everything she had asked for (Save for no birthday attention), and most of that came from her family. Her friends gave her whatever dolls and toys they thought she might like off the toy shelves that their allowances could afford.
Nadia smiled with all politeness at all the new dolls she'd be adding to her collection, like oh so many girls, but they never really held much interest for her. She knew she was expected to, and played along, but for the most part they were becoming more and more decorations in her room than actual playthings.
Her parents, her father in particular, knew what she really wanted, though. He had seen her eyeing it all winter long. He hadn't been able to get it for Christmas, but had saved enough money leading up to that, and his daughter's birthday to get it. Now all he had to do was wait for his daughter to open the package.
When Nadia tore into the box, wrapped tight with paper covered in bright balloons, it took her but an instant more to pull off the top half of the box.
Once she saw what was inside, her face lit up like a beacon. It was the purple, leather jacket she had been hinting at for so very long. She scooped it up in her arms and hugged it against her like a toddler with its favourite blanket.
Next, she grabbed her father around the waist, coming close to squeezing so hard that he might lose all the cake in his stomach. He pried his daughter away before that happened, and just admired her perfect, round face smiling up at him like the brightest moon.
"Well, aren't you going to try it on?" asked her mother.
Nadia needed no further prompting, and the jacket was flung around her back, and both arms shot through the sleeves. The jacket hung loose around her shoulders, and the sleeves slid back down past her hands, the jacket being far too large for the petite young woman.
Her mom nudged her father in the ribs, and glowered. "Joshua, I told you it was too large for her."
"Oh, it's no big deal, Abby. We can just take it back tomorrow and get a smaller size for her."
Their daughter's smile fell and changed to a look of terror. She wrapped her arms around her body, hugging the jacket tight, making it look like a violet straightjacket on their daughter, waiting for the oversized sleeves to be tied behind her.
"No!" Nadia protested. "I love it, it's perfect!"
Joshua shrugged and smiled at his girl. "The princess has spoken, dear. I guess she'll just have to grow into it."
Nadia's smile returned, and she waved the ends of the sleeves in the air like the happiest girl on the planet. "I am gonna look so bad-ass in this," she murmured, but her mom had heard her anyways.
"Nadia Grace Cole!" Her mother was disappointed in her daughter's choice of language, but she saw her father's smile, despite how much he tried to hide it.
"Sorry mom," she took off the jacket, and set it on the table, to finish off the remaining few presents, but nothing topped the jacket.
Nadia wore the jacket to shcool on Monday, her proper day of birth. Her mother had protested, but there was just no arguing with her stubborn daughter. As long as she kept the sleeves pushed up, it didn't look too horrible, just bunched up in all the wrong places.
After school, Nadia had a practice for gymnastics, and no amount of protesting by the birthday girl could get her out of it. An important match was around the corner, and everyone had to be at their best, no slacking off for birthdays.
The practice went longer than expected, and the sun had set early. It was February, it was Arizona, and the full moon was high in the sky. Despite the practice going long, Nadia was surprised to not see her father already there to pick her up.
All the other girls on her squad were picked up, leaving Nadia there all alone. Her coach offered to stay behind until her dad arrived, but Nadia just shook her head. It wasn't the first time this had happened, and she was sure he would be along soon.
The days in Arizona might be warm during the winter, but desert nights could become quite cold, well below freezing, and it felt like that night was threatening to do just that.
Nadia was quite grateful for her new jacket, as she zipped it tight, or as tight as it would get on her small frame. The collar came up over her nose and let her keep most of her face from feeling the affects of the plummeting temperatures.
She pulled her arms out of the lengthy sleeves and into the confines of the jacket. She sat on a bench near the school's football field, letting her sneaker-clad feet dangle and swing back and forth, swining with the impatience of a 15 year old girl.
The lights on the field were still on, so she wasn't waiting in darkness at lease, and she was grateful for that as well, when she heard something howling in the distance. Coyotes were not uncommon in her part of the state, but this one sounded different. And closer.
Nadia thought it was just her mind playing tricks on her, what with being alone, but every howl of the creature sounded closer and closer. She was sure it was nothing more than her imagination until she heard a growling behind her.
Still thinking it had to be in her head, but having watched enough horror movies when her parents weren't around, she turned her head expecting the worst.
What she did not expect to see was a large, dark red wolf standing in the empty football field, staring at her with golden, glowing eyes.
The girl was frozen in place, and watched as the wolf took several steps closer to her. She could almost smell it now, as it closed the distance between them.
The closer the wolf got, the more Nadia was able to move. She jumped off the bench and left her backpack behind. But she had forgotten about her arms being inside her jacket. The awkward positons of her limbs against her body, and trying to swing them as she ran threw the young gymnast's balance off, causing her to pitch forward to the ground.
Nadia did her best to brace for the fall, but it was a nigh impossible task to perform with no arms to use. Her head hit the pavement and she felt everything begin to swim. The wolf was forgotten as her mind was filled with explosions of light.
She managed to roll over onto her back, and ended up staring right into the face of the wolf. It's nose was almost close enough to touch, and she feared its drippings falling upon her.
That was the least of her fears, as she scrambled backwards, trying to put any kind of distance between her and the beast. It growled as she tried, its lips peeling back to reveal long, ivory teeth that glistened in the lights around the school. She did not stop however, her momentum undeterred by the threat the wolf posed.
The creature snapped at her and growled, but she kept moving. It lunged forward, pouncing forward. It missed landing on her body, but it put her right back where she had been.
She lay there, ready to bolt if the beast even blinked. It looked her over from head to toe, as if it was considering what to do next.
Just when Nadia believed she might somehow get through the ordeal, the wolf opened its jaw and snapped it shut on the girl's leg. If the crack to her skull had been bad, the bite was worse. She was almost too dazed by the hit to even realise how much it hurt, but she felt every blinding, searing surge of pain as the wolf's teeth sunk into her leg.
Nadia heard the crack, and thought the wolf had broken her bones, making her scream even louder. It was when she realised that the wolf's teeth had been removed from her leg, and the air was broken by another crack, that she realised she was hearing gunshots.
The wolf stood there, motionless, staring where Nadia thought the gunshots had come from. If she didn't know better, she would have sworn that the wolf was thinking about what to do, if the risk was worth it to stay and finish her off, versus getting shot.
It gave her one last look, before another shot rang out through the air. That was enough for the wolf, and it turned, scampering back through the football field, disappearing from sight like it had never been there.
Joshua Cole rushed up to his daughter's side, rifle in hand. He apologised to his daughter for being late, that he was busy doing his job as the city's game warden, but she couldn't hear him.
All she wanted to do was put her arms around her dad and hug him tight, but the stupid jacket kept her bound up tight. Any words she had to say were lost in pain and tears.
Josh did his best to pick up his injured daughter and carried her to his truck, rushing her to the hospital.
She did not realise it at the time, but Nadia's fifteenth birthday was the day that Cole was born.