I Am No Longer Strong Enough
Annie Kirkpatrick met Elijah Price when she was a first year and very lost.
She had been new to campus; new to a public schooling system, really. Her parents had set her up in a private school for the first two years of her high school experience, and then when things went wrong at home her mother pulled her out and she was homeschooled. She was too weak and fragile for high school her mother told her principle and her teachers. She would do better at home.
But she refused to stay at home for university, and so she had packed up her bags and left as soon as she got the acceptance letter, disappearing into the dorms and out of her family’s life for the next four years of her life.
She liked it enough, she supposed. It was all a bit frightening if she were to be honest, and there were so many people; so many men and women that she didn’t know how to handle herself.
That was when she met Elijah.
Elijah was a year ahead of her and almost seemed to know what he was doing. He was friendly and sweet and very gentle with everyone, and Annie drifted over to him as if he were a flame and she the hapless moth. They became fast friends, Annie spending nights sleeping on his couch and Elijah spending weekends sleeping on her floor when her roommate would disappear and she’d be left alone to her nightmares.
How was she to know that the man who helped her so much would need so much help from her in return?
It was the middle of second year, meaning third year for Elijah and automatically too difficult to comprehend. Annie did well enough in her classes, she supposed; she was not the top of her class, but neither did she fail.
Elijah was constantly barraged by papers and readings and more papers. He only really took a break from work on the weekends, sleeping for long periods of time and spending time with her.
And then the party that changed everything happened.
Annie didn’t know what happened, but Elijah came to her dorm room with a terrible headache and a terrible feeling in his gut that something he had not been planning for happened. No matter how much the redhead tried to coerce information about his drunken escapades from his memories, he could not clearly remember anything.
It was unfortunate, but they didn’t think too much on it. Probably nothing happened, anyway.
And they didn’t think about it – but Elijah did seem to change.
It might have been the stress of third year. He was over halfway done university, but not quite done at all, putting him in the awkward position of almost-there-but-not-really. It brought stress to most, if not all, third years; already there had been two suicides in Elijah’s 18th Century Literature class. Elijah was never the suicidal type, though, not that Annie knew of, anyhow.
But he did seem to unhinge a little.
He would put off his homework, pushing it back and back and back until he was talking madly on the phone with Annie until three in the morning, talking through his papers and his textbooks and his novels that were supposed to be done for the next day. Some days he skipped classes.
And he took to drinking on the weekend to excess.
He would drink at Annie’s or his place, Annie always staying with him to make sure he would be alright during the night. The redheaded woman didn’t like what Elijah was doing to himself, but she didn’t know how to help. How was she supposed to help, anyhow? She couldn’t force him to stop drinking.
It was a very helpless situation.
A very helpless situation Annie attempted to grab the reins of when she went over to Elijah’s apartment one day and saw him sleeping instead of attending classes. Closing the door abruptly behind her, she watched with feigned calm as Elijah twitched and jerked awake, looking around with wide eyes as though he could find the source of the noise. When his dark blue eyes finally landed on her wide hazel, he blinked at her belatedly, head tilting to the side.
“Elijah.” She nodded, before making her way to his side and sitting on the couch next to him. “What are you doing?”
“…I was sleeping –”
“No, Elijah,” Annie interrupted, tucking back long, thin strands of hair and drawing her knees to her chest, thin arms wrapped around her shins, “what are you doing with your life?”
Elijah kept quiet, turning away from her and frowning. Age lines too early for his youthful features dragged at the corners of his mouth and eyes, making him look older than he actually was. Making him look tired.
“…I’m tired, Annie,” he said, smiling thinly and scratching at his shoulder awkwardly. “I’m tired and…I just – I want to be done. I want all of this to be done already. I don’t care anymore.”
“That’s just third year –”
“I’ve felt like this for months, Annie. Practically since the end of last year. I don’t want to do this anymore, what’s an English degree going to get me? Huh? Where’s an English degree going to take me? Am I going to end up working in the McDonald’s down the street for the rest of my life?”
“You’re going to be an author,” Annie insisted, pursing her lips tightly together. “And you’re going to be great at it. I’ll buy all of your books and you’ll be famous and you won’t have time for old friends like me, you’ll be so busy. But you have to finish your degree. It will get you some leeway. A leg up from the others. People will look at you seriously because finishing university means you’ve got commitment.”
“Pretty words, Annie Kirkpatrick,” Elijah said flatly, closing his eyes and shrugging heavy shoulders, “but do they really mean anything?”
He was shoved out of his moment of self-angst when Annie roughly pushed at his shoulder, causing him to fall over in his seat. Pulling himself up again, the third year looked at the frail girl, eyes wide and confused.
“Elijah Price if you don’t stop feeling sorry for yourself I will give you a reason to feel terrible,” Annie said swiftly, flipping back her hair and raising her chin defiantly. “It’s exam time and you haven’t been sleeping properly. Probably because you’re up all night doing projects that should have already been done. And you’re drinking. And generally not being very kind to yourself.” She narrowed her eyes, hollowing her cheeks before blowing out a sigh. “You gonna let me help you?”
“Elijah, are you going to let me help you?”
“Good.” Annie smiled, standing up and making her way to his kitchenette. “Then here’s what we’re gonna do…”
And just like that, Annie helped the man who had helped her, telling him what they were going to do and guiding him to graduation.
And it was good.
But it wasn’t.
It was years later, after Elijah Price had become Eli and Annie Kirkpatrick had taken the name Walker and regretted it every day of her life.
Things were hard again, but Eli didn’t turn to drink like he would have. He had to go to therapy to walk, and everything hurt; from his outsides to his insides, everything hurt.
His heart the worst.
He hadn’t been expecting her to visit, but she had come anyway. All red hair and wide eyes and thin frame; she looked half-starved, these days. She looked haggard and harsher and sharper than she had in university.
And he had to wonder why life had been so harsh to an already frail girl.
She stood in front of him, taking in his crutches and his general appearance of inability. She could see the tiredness of his eyes and the drawn quality to his face. It reminded her so much of that day in university that she almost softened and offered to help. But only almost.
“Annie,” Eli started, eyes widening as he took her in. “What are you doing here?”
“I heard you got hurt,” she murmured, stepping inside and closing the door behind herself. She took in a breath, looking up at him again, and sighed. “…Elijah, what are you doing?”
“…What am I – oh. Annie…”
“You’ve allowed yourself to fall too far, Elijah,” she said gently, her voice a murmuring song gone cold. “Just like then.”
“…So I have.” He sighed, rubbing his forehead and leaning his weight against the wall. “I don’t know what to do, Annie. I don’t. Please tell me what to do.”
“Just like the old days?”
It was a bitter smile that crossed her face, ugly and ill-suited to the Annie Eli knew best. But maybe this wasn’t his Annie anymore.
She didn’t feel like his Annie.
“No.” Her voice dragged him out of his more ponderous thoughts. “I’m sorry. It’s time to think for yourself. Help yourself. I can’t – and I won’t. I’m not the little girl you used to know.”
It ached worse to have that confirmed than he had imagined it would.
“I just came here to make sure you weren’t wallowing in misery,” she said after a moment, reaching out for the door again. “Goodbye, Elijah.”
Eli reached out, grabbing her wrist to stop her. The woman froze, eyes fixed on the door, shoulders stiff and back too straight to be comfortable.
“Annie, please –”
“Let go, Elijah Price,” she said quietly, words a whisper. “Before I make you regret reaching out to me in this moment.” There was a sharp edge to her voice that promised she actually would make him regret it. Regret it and hurt from it and this was no longer Annie Kirkpatrick.
This woman was a stranger.
Eli let go.