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Author's note: I wrote this book to mostly give people reasons not to give up. You can hit your lowest of lows and feel like no one cares and the world is against you, go through Hell and back, and still make i through in one piece, I promise you. And that's what this book is about; Truth, love, strength, and life. Hope you enjoy!
Clarissa rolled over in her bed, yawning as she rubbed her drowsy eyes. A soft knock came at her door, perfect timing as always.
“Morning baby girl,” Clarissa’s mother cooed as she poked her head into her room. Clarissa smiled and stretched her arms over her head. Amelia, her mother, waltzed in wearing a form fitting velvet colored dress that touched just below her knee with a modest neckline and matching bracelet. Amelia had always pronounced that with a job such as hers, she must always look exquisite every day. And every day, Amelia always looked stunning. Her perfect shoulder length curly black hair bounced lightly as she perched herself beside Clarrisa, placing a kiss on her forehead.
“Breakfast is being made by Mercedes today. I’m running late, I’ll pick you up after school. Okay?”
Clarissa nodded again, yawning. Showing off her charming smile, Amelia lovingly wished her daughter a good day before bustling from the room. Clarissa sat up and looked around her bug room with sleepy eyes. Everything was so tidy and clean, curtsey of her maid Mercedes. Rolling out of her puffy pink bed, she shuddered at the feel of the cold hard wood floor on her warm, polished toes. Slowly she made her way to her bathroom, passing her floor to ceiling window on her left, complete with its own plush window couch. Automatically, the lights flickered on as she stepped onto the cold tile and Clarissa smiled at the memory of her friend thinking that was the coolest thing in the world. Clarissa grimaced at her reflection in the mirror. Her pencil straight raven black hair stuck out at odd angles and there was a bit of dried drool in the corner of her pouty lips. Cursing Mondays, Clarissa flicked on the shower and cranked the music up on her built in stereo.
Feeling a bit revitalized after her quick warm shower, thirty minutes later, finishing the last touches on her makeup, another knock came at her door.
“Clarissa,” a teary eyed Sophie cried, “you used all the warm wader!”
Clarissa smiled at her 7-year-old little sister’s speech impairment.
“Water, sofa, with a‘t’,” Clarissa soothed. Sophie crossed her stout arms and glared up at her older sister with a pouty face.
“You ruin everything,” the younger girl pouted, “you are so mean Clarissa!”
Clarissa held back a chuckle of amusement at her little sister. “How about I make up for it somehow?”
Sophie merely stuck her button nose in the air.
“I’ll do your makeup if you'll forgive me?” Clarissa offered sweetly. Sophie caught the bait. Sniffling, she asked, “You will?” Clarissa nodded and let her into her room. After ten minutes of sparkly eye shadow and even sparkler lip gloss, a happy Sophie and bemused Clarissa sat down to a warm breakfast of oatmeal with blueberries in it, Clarissa’s favorite. Just before she could dig in, the kitchen clock caught her eye. Clarissa was late! Scarfing down her breakfast in record time, Clarissa interrupted Sophie and Mercedes’ conversation about which Barbie was better to thank the maid for breakfast. Dashing through her living room and momentarily blocking the plasma screen TV from her father, Clarissa had almost made it out the door when her father called out to her.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Scott Keys hollered to his daughter as she passed him. Sighing, Clarissa turned to her father who lounged lazily on their expensive curved burgundy colored leather couch. She plopped down beside her father smiling and replied, “Well it is Monday, so school.”
Removing his propped feet from the glass coffee table, Clarissa’s father stood and offered his hand to his beautiful daughter.
“You look beautiful darling,” he mumbled, hugging his daughter tightly, “have a lovely day. Maybe when you get home, we can go for a walk?”
Pulling back, Clarissa smiled. “I’d like that very much,” Clarissa replied before kissing him on the cheek and wishing him a good day. Clarissa bustled out the front door and down the sidewalk that ran between the two lush flower beds and hopped into her yellow convertible bug. Pulling out onto the road, Clarissa slid on her sunglasses and turned up the radio. The wind felt great on her sun-kissed skin. ‘Another beautiful day in the life of Clarissa Keys’ she thought to herself. Pulling into the school zone, she smiled warmly to herself. Today seemed to be a promisingly perfect day.
The first two periods of the day passed with ease. Spanish was a piece of cake, Clarissa was fluent and the teachers favorite. Second period was slow. English was her least favorite, but Joey Zininskii, the class clown, made the class a little more durable. Five minutes before the lunch bell, in third period, Clarissa’s eyes were beginning to slide shut for a pre-morning nap when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Clarissa turned to see Tessa, her best friend. Tessa was a tall lanky girl with a big smile and an even bigger attitude. She had light brown hair and chocolate brown eyes with a tinge of bronze in them. Smiling, she handed Clarissa a note, mouthing for her to read it and winked. Clarissa rolled her eyes and cast a glance in Mr. Russell’s direction, their biology teacher, before unfolding the note.
“Clarissa,” it read, “Have you seen the new guy yet? Oh my goodness, sooo to die for!! ;)”
Clarissa smiled and shook her head. Tessa was always drooling over guys, and never thinking about anything else. Very much so the opposite of Clarissa who had never had a boyfriend or much cared about guys to much. Clarissa was too focused on her studies and Vanderbilt to care about how cute Chad’s butt looked in football pants or whatever Tessa usually gushed over. Clarissa wrote back:
“Just another guy for you to gush about I presume. I'm sure you'll point him out to me! ;P”
Clarissa tossed the note over her shoulder at Tessa carelessly just as the bell rung. Tossing her pink book bag over one shoulder, Clarissa gracefully stood and joined Tessa in making their way to the lunch room. Gracie and Todd joined the pair.
“Why don’t you look pretty today,” Todd winked at Clarissa. Usually she would shrug one of Todd’s compliments off with a smirk, but today Todd was looking exceptionally handsome in his designer jeans and American Eagle t-shirt. Also, his new spiked blonde hair caught Clarissa’s eye, making her smile.
“And you look dashing with your new hair,” Clarissa purred back, returning his wink. She silently giggled as Todd’s eyes widened and his smile brightened. Gracie and Tessa tittered, knowing just as well as Clarissa how big of a crush Todd had always had on Clarissa. Gracie cleared her throat.
“Clarissa,” Gracie asked giddily, “what do you think of my new boots?”
All three of them looked down at Gracie’s new cowgirl boots that matched her cute cutoffs and white blouse. Clarissa giggled in admiration of Gracie’s wardrobe.
“I applaud you,” Tessa chimed, “classical, I love it.”
Other than guys, Tessa obsessed over clothes and the latest fashion. Entering the lunch room, the group tossed their bags to the side near their table and stood in line.
“Ugh, taco salad day,” Tessa moaned. Todd threw up a triumphant fist and proclaimed how much he absolutely loved taco salad. As Tessa and Todd bantered about favorite foods, Gracie turned to Clarissa.
“How’s the family?” she asked politely. Gracie was a short and thin curvy girl with bobbed sandy blonde hair, fair skin and green eyes. Although shy and quiet sometimes, Gracie was brutally honest and very bright.
“Great as always,” Clarissa replied, “How about yours, your brother still going through that rebellious phase?”
Gracie rolled her eyes and puffed out her cheeks as she added a handful of ketchup packets to her tray. Lately, Gracie’s older brother had been disappearing over long periods of time and returning home either drunk or with a new tattoo. He had recently turned 18 so his parents couldn’t do much to control his unruly behavior.
“Same old, same old,” Gracie chuckled. A squeal from Tessa distracted Clarissa as she paid for her food. She looked over to see Todd was harassing her with a spoon full of taco salad, and Clarissa and Gracie could hardly contain their laughter as they joined their other friends at a table nearby. Robbie immediately greeted them with one of his painfully corny jokes and Clarissa was still pretending to laugh at it when she noticed a new face at a table in the back of the room.
Every table in the room had a label. The table to her right was the freshman table as well as the one behind it. In front of Clarissa was the jock table. Down the row was the beta girls table, then the quiet nerd table, the band people’s table, the red neck table, the table of cheerleaders and the other snotty girls, then the flat out loser table. Only socially awkward people sat at that table way in the back. Those people had no friends, lice, a thousand pimples, and ended up as either drop outs or in jail. This boy was different. Not one pimple marred his perfect tanned skin. His longish dark blonde hair, though obviously dyed, was stylishly swooped to one side, meeting the corner of his almond shaped eye. Clarissa noted the slight stubble on his strong jaw line and the way he casually swiped the hair from his eyes occasionally. The sharp feel of an elbow in her ribs jolted Clarissa’s attention back to her table. Clarissa quickly saw that everyone’s attention was on her and let an easy smile shape her lips as she sipped her water.
“That’s him,” Tessa gushed, letting her chin fall dreamily into her cupped hands. “Isn’t her dreamy?” she mumbled, batting her long eyelashes. Clarissa focused on her food, hoping no one would call her out for staring.
“Clarissa,” nick howled loudly from the end of the table, “Were you drooling over the new guy?”
Clarissa looked up from her food, startled, as her table erupted in hoots and hollers. Nick, Todd, Devin and Henry began making kissy faces at Clarissa as Melissa, Gracie and Kellie laughed, causing Clarissa to blush bright pink.
“Don’t worry, I am to Clarissa. I mean, who wouldn’t?” Tessa said simply, ignoring the commotion around her. Clarissa rolled her eyes at the boys and poked Gracie in the ribs for laughing.
“He is cute,” Melissa sighed, pushing her peas around her plate, “cute enough to sit at our table.”
This got the whole table looking at the new guy. Clarissa scanned over the group at her table. Everyone wore designer clothes, was beautiful or handsome, and had perfect grades and successful families. Yes, the boy was cute enough, but could he make the full cut was the question.
Clarissa cast one last glance at the boy, doing a double take when he looked her straight in the eyes. Her heart fluttered at his devishly handsome dark brown eyes then stopped when he smiled at her. The bell rang and her group disbursed in different directions after brief goodbyes. Clarissa slung her pack over her shoulder and turned to leave when she ran smack into someone’s chest. As Clarissa was about to mutter and apology, she looked up to see the new guy smiling down at her. For some reason, the words caught in her throat and she found herself unable to speak.
“Ya know,” the boy said, continuing to smile, “I couldn’t help but see you staring at me.”
His voice was deeper than Clarissa had imagined it to be, and up close she could see he had a small golden hoop in his right earlobe.
“Yeah well to know if I was staring, you had to have been staring back now wouldn’t you have?” Clarissa casually answered back, thankful she had found a way to speak again. The boy chuckled and stuck out his hand.
“I’m Teddy,” he said, introducing himself. Clarissa slowly shook his hand, trying to comprehend that a guy so handsome could have such an odd name.
“Clarissa Keys,” she replied with her most alluring smile.
“What class do you have next, Miss Clarissa?” Teddy asked her, sticking his hands in his jean pockets. Clarissa told him government and a look of disappointment briefly flickered across his face as he told her he had French next.
“Tell you what,” Teddy mumbled as he snatched a scrap of paper from his pocket and stuck it in Clarissa’s hand, “give me a call sometime and maybe we can get to know each other?”
Clarissa nodded, speechless, as he grinned and wished her a good day before turning and leaving. Clarissa smiled down at the 10 numbers printed neatly on the scrap of paper as she made her way to class. Only halfway to her next class, the bell rang and Clarissa shoved the paper in her pocket before running the last half.
On the school bus, Clarissa sat next to a girl named Rebecca. Rebecca was nice enough but only a freshman and Clarissa, being a junior, found her rather obnoxious. As Rebecca rambled on about some history project and Clarissa pretended to listen, she smiled to herself as she remembered her encounter with Teddy in the lunch room. None of her more attractive friends sat on her bus so as Rebecca continued her ranting as Clarissa re-read her mother’s text from earlier.
“Dad had emergency operation today & I’m running late myself. Can’t pick you up, ride bus home! Sorry, love you! xoxo –mom”
As the bus turned onto her road, Clarissa stood and gracefully made her way to the front of the bus, her head held high in pride to live in such a nice neighborhood. As usual, two freshman girls gawked at the beautiful Clarissa, no doubt wishing they were her. Before exiting, Clarissa made sure to turn around and blow the two girls a kiss.
Clarissa stood on the sidewalk, admiring her beautiful home. And it sure was beautiful. A sidewalk winded form the driveway and ran between two lush flowerbeds. There were three steps up to the small front porch with four grand white pillars supporting the balcony above it completed with a grand front door. Clarissa bounded up the steps and swung open the 8-foot-tall front doors and stepped inside on the cooled wooden floor. All the rooms were hard wood except the kitchen and bathrooms, which were tiled. To Clarissa’s right was the kitchen with a grand view of the rolling lawn and weeping cherry tree that had delicate pink blossoms on the branches. The kitchen was also connected to the open area of the living room that held floor to ceiling windows, a plasma screen on the opposite wall with a wrap around couch, and two doors that exited to the back yard. The door in the kitchen led to a cozy screen porch that had summery furniture and a plasma screen TV. To her left was the dining room that had a 12-foot-long table made of mahogany tree and matching chairs with satin cushions to match the drapes. And straight ahead was the double wide spiral staircase to the second story. Clarissa made her way upstairs, admiring how the light reflected off the crystal chandelier. At the top of the stairs, two hallways ran the length of the house on her left and right. The right hallway held her mother and father’s room at the very end, a spa room on the right side of the hallway. The left hallway had Sophie’s and Clarissa’s bedrooms beside each other as well as the theatre room on the left side of the hallway. Clarissa skipped down the hall to her bedroom, tossing her book bag on her puffy pink bed and scattering the pillows that had neatly decorated it. Clarissa plopped down on her window seat, sticking her ear buds in and curling up for a cat nap in the warmth of the sun.
Clarissa was startled awake by the buzzing of her phone, telling her someone had texted her. Yanking the ear buds from her ears, Clarissa yawned and stretched before unlatching the floor to ceiling windows with golden trim. Fresh air flooded her lungs, smelling sweet like blooming flowers and morning dew. Even though the beach was 5 miles from her home, Clarissa could even taste a hit of salt in the air. Reaching for the comb on her dresser that was wedged between her window seat and bathroom door, Clarissa swung her feet out of the window, dangling 20 feet off the ground, and crossed her ankles as she brushed her long beautiful hair, making sure to get the full 100 strokes in. once done, Clarissa checked her phone to see it was a text from Sophie.
“Go for a walk?” it read. Clarissa blew a strand of hair from her eyes before locking the window back and jogging down to the kitchen. At the kitchen bar sat little Sophie messily eating a piece of razzle berry pie, her favorite. In the other room Clarissa could hear the TV playing. Sophie wore a tiara on top of her jet black curly hair as she always did when home. It wasn’t one of those dollar tiaras either, this one was real with one big diamond in the middle and three small red rubies on each side all set into a golden band.
Sophie looked more like her father Clarissa realized as she studied her little sister. She had his wide hazel eyes instead of Clarissa and her mother’s dull blue eyes. Her button nose and high cheek bones were also contributed by her father. So, other than her black curly hair, she was her father’s girl. Clarissa smiled, knowing that one day Sophie would be even prettier than herself. Clarissa was proud of her baby sister.
“C’mon sofa,” Clarissa teased, using Sophie’s very well hated nickname, “grab some shoes and we’ll go for a walk.”
Beaming, the little girl hurried to the door and slid on her sandals, complaining for Clarissa to hurry up as she cleaned up Sophie’s mess and wiped the little girls face off with a wet rag to remove the berry stains from the pie. The girls hopped in Clarissa’s pretty yellow bug and buckled up. Clarissa sent her mother a text before starting the car.
“Going 2 walk on beach with Sofa & will be home by dinner. Xoxo- Clarissa”
The ride was a short one down to an abandoned strip of beach that Clarissa had discovered by accident one day. The squeal of Clarissa’s polished tires coming to a halt against the cracked pavement was the only noise to be heard in the cool afternoon air. This was the sister’s secret place. It was roped off to the public because of old rail road tracks that ran nearby, but Clarissa had never seen a train on them for 2 years so she deemed it safe. As far as they knew, no one ever came down to that beach but them. It was a sort of escape from the world and its chaos; however, Clarissa knew her parents would kill her if they were caught so close to the train tracks. Especially if they knew that while Clarissa lounged in the sun Sophie was allowed to run free as long as she stayed in sight.
Clarissa got out and made her way to the water’s edge, calling out to Sophie as the little girl skipped down the beach.
“Stay in sight!” Clarissa hollered as the cool water engulfed her sandy feet. She watched her little sister play in the sand a moment longer before turning her thought to the new boy. Wading up to her thighs in the warm water, Clarissa caught herself smiling again. She pulled his number from her pocket and stared at the numbers. Something about Teddy intrigued her. Maybe it was his smile that made her heart flutter or maybe that he had the nerve to talk to her, a complete stranger! No one had ever done that before. A particularly large wave crashed into her, soaking her lower body and snapping her out of her day dreaming. Clarissa cursed and retreated to land where she rung out the hem of her shorts and shirt of the way. Discouraged, Clarissa sat down on the towel she had laid out earlier, closing her eyes and leaning back on her hands. The sun felt great this time of the year, not to hot and not to chilly. Feeling the warmth slowly draining from her skin and darkness beginning to grow, Clarissa stood and gathered her blanket. Sunset was about 30 minutes away, and when Clarissa and Sophie went to the secret beach, they always watched the sunset together.
“Sofa!” Clarissa yelled, keeping her eyes on the horizon, “c’mon! The sun will be setting soon!”
When Clarissa got no reply, it was then that she noticed the eerie quietness of the beach. Usually she could hear Sophie’s giggles. Peering down the shore, Clarissa saw no sign of the little girl.
“Sofa?” Clarissa called, her heart rate speeding up. The faint sound of a child’s cries reached her ears. Before Clarissa could register anything her feet were carrying her towards the train tracks. She rounded the corner of a derailed rusty train car to see Sophie. The little girl had been hopping from one rotten wooden plank of the tracks to the other, oblivious to how dangerous that was. As old as the wood was, one just wasn’t able to hold the girls weight and caved in, trapping Sophie’s ankle as the splintered wood dug into her soft flesh. Since the wood was angled down, with each tug Sophie attempted to free herself with, the wood only slid deeper into her skin. Clarissa knelt down in front of her little sister so they were eye to eye and grabbed Sophie by the shoulders, forcing her to focus. Sophie’s little round face was slick with pain-filled tears and her cries hysterical.
“C-calm down, honey,” Clarissa stuttered. She looked at Sophie’s ankle and how much blood there already was. Sophie went to look as well but Clarissa turned her little head in the other way and kept her voice low, repeating that she would be okay and hoping to calm the child down.
“Be strong, Sofa,” Clarissa soothed and she cried for her mother for the billionth time. Clarissa went to work, trying to free her little sister. Before she could even touch the wood, Clarissa felt it: a slight vibration traveling up her knees to her jaw.
“It has to be my imagination,” Clarissa thought, recalling how she had not once seen a single train on these tracks. “Clearly a dirty mind trick.” None-the-less, Clarissa frantically tugged at the wood. No doubt in terrible pain, Sophie wrapped her little arms around Clarissa’s neck and buried her face in her raven black hair, wailing loudly in her ear. Sophie’s heart-wrenching wails and tears went straight to her sister’s heart, making Clarissa wish she could do anything to make it stop.
The slight vibrations turned to prominent tremors. No doubt now . . . a train was coming. Clarissa jerked little Sophie’s arms out from around her neck and looked her in the face. Her eyes and face were swollen from crying. Her tiara still sat atop of her crazy tangled curly black hair, though now crooked. Sophie screeched at the top of her lungs, wailing for her mother and standing limp in Clarissa’s arms. Oblivious to Sophie’s pain, Clarissa yanked at the little girl’s ankle desperately, throwing her head back and screaming at the sky.
“Please!” Clarissa wailed at the stars, tears of fear and horror coating her face, “Please, let her go! Please!”
She was interrupted by the sound of a train’s whistle penetrating the cool air. Clarissa turned just as it rounded the corner, no more than 10 seconds away. The recognition in Sophie’s little face was obvious. Fear down to her very core struck the child and all of it showed on her face. Clarissa cupped her baby sister’s face in her hands, pressing a kiss hard to Sophie’s forehead.
“You are going to be okay now, Sofa,” Clarissa whispered in the child’s ear, “I love you, okay?”
Closing her eyes, Clarissa sprung off of the tracks, landing on her side with her head buried in the crook of her elbow just a split second before the train passed. Clarissa, her body coated in sand, sat up and stared at the wall of rusted steel speeding past. One minute little Sophie stood there, her arms and legs coated with sand and crooked tiara atop her head, and the next a wall of rusted steel speeding past in her place.
A great pain overtook Clarissa. An icy numbness crawled from the tips of her toes, up her legs, and through her chest, seizing her heart with a cold fist and ripping it clear out of her chest, rubbing it in the sand. A gaping hole replaced her heart. She blinked once, twice, three times as the train continued past. Each time she shut her eyes, that last image of Sophie popped into her head. Only when the sharp squealing of breaks brought pain to her ears did she register what had happened. The breath swooshed from Clarissa’s lungs painfully. When it came rushing back, Clarissa threw her head back and screamed. It was the scream of a wild animal caught in a trap. It was a scream full of pain; pain like no other.
When she ran out of breath and the train finally came to a halt yards away, Clarissa’s scream stopped short. Snapping her head back down, there on the end of the splintered wood was a little pink flip flop skewered through the middle. Her mouth still hanging open, Clarissa also spotted the tiara sticking up from the sand on the other side of the tracks. And it was all painted in red. The wood, the sand, the flip flop and her hands and clothes as well. Silent tears raced down her beautiful face, choking and blinding Clarissa. Sobs that rocked her back and forth built up in her chest like water behind a dam. That dam burst and the 17 year old girl rolled up into a ball and murmured a single word over and over again pathetically between sobs.
“No, no, no, no . . . ” Clarrisa whispered weakly, squeezing her eyes shut tightly like that would make it all go away.
Hands picked her up from the ground and Clarissa didn’t fight them. She wrapped her arms around the person’s neck and wept bitter tears into their t-shirt. Voices, although dim and seemingly miles away, asked Clarissa what her name was and how to contact her parents and who got hit and other things that she didn’t really hear. A wall of pain and denial surrounded Clarissa and she tuned every one out, though she vaguely registered someone taking her wallet from her pocket. She was only able to replay the tragic scene over and over again in her head. Clarissa heard her baby sister’s last scream as the train roared by like a broken record repeating itself.
Maybe it was seconds or possibly hours until Clarissa found herself sitting in the back of an ambulance with the doors open and her dangling her feet out the back. She watched her feet swing back and forth and found that this much pain was too great for tears. Clarissa wanted to be sick.
The first voices that she registered pulled her from her haze, directing her attention to the people in front of her. There they were, her mother and father both looking very professional and put together in their formal work clothes. Clarissa noted the confusion written across their faces as plain as day.
“Clarissa,” Amelia whispered, looking at her daughter’s blood stained clothes and swollen eyes and red face, “what happened?”
All Clarissa could do was stare at them with big doe eyes that glistened with raw pain and sorrow. An officer led her parents away at that time to deliver the news.
From where she sat, Clarissa saw the people, around 30 officers and medics, roaming around the tracks an odd number of yards ahead. Her parents stood stony faced only feet away to the right of Clarissa, in front of her bug. She looked at her parents, then the people, the train, and finally the ocean. It was sunset now.
The sun was settled gently on the warm ocean waves, floating lazily among the vibrant colors. Clarissa wondered how something so beautiful could exist in a time of such sorrow and tragedy.
The sudden cries of her mother jerked Clarissa’s attention to the right where her parents stood. Her father’s face was a mask of shock and disbelief as he stared at the officer. Her mother, however, had her face buried in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably into her husband’s shoulder. Clarissa’s father wrapped his arms around his wife, catching her as she went limp and fainted. Three medics immediately rushed to her side.
Scott left his wife’s side and stumbled over to his only daughter, cold hazel eyes bore into her own as he knelt close to Clarissa’s face. Searching her face frantically’ like he was hoping it was some sort of mistake of dirty joke, Clarissa’s father’s hard expression broke and his eyes filled with tears. They slid silently down his face, his lower lip trembling.
“Why didn’t you save her?” he asked in a whisper. Clarissa’s unmoving expression didn’t budged. She simply did not feel anymore. Clarissa watched her father weep, not once able to conjure up a single emotion inside of her.
“This is what it must be like to have your heart ripped out,” Clarissa thought to herself, “I bet this I show death feels: cold and emotionless. This is pain.”
A WEEK LATER
“Mmmm!” Mercedes hummed as she opened the oven to retrieve her homemade cherry pie, “just as you like is, miss: fresh out the oven!” She set the steaming plate in front of Clarissa, dousing it with whip cream. No doubt about it, the pie looked absolutely delicious, like something you see out of a magazine. Clarissa sat at the kitchen bar with her tangled, unwashed hair in a bun, a loose t-shirt and jeans. A rear rolled down her cheek, across the bridge of her nose and dripped onto her pie. Mercedes placed her hands on her hips.
“Now girl-” Mercedes started but was interrupted by Clarissa.
“I should have saved her.”
It was the first time she had talked since the accident. Her voice cracked and was hardly above a whisper, but it was there. Mercedes rounded the corner and sat down on a stool next to her. Clarissa looked into her eyes, searching for some answer as to why something so heinous happened to her family. Mercedes’ deep brown eyes matched her skin. She had a deep rough voice for a scrawny 5’3” woman, but she was a good woman and was considered a family friend more than a maid. Her slightly wrinkled skin, from aging, stretched taunt over her cheek bones as she frowned.
“Clarissa, you tried! There was nothing-”
“Then I shouldn’t have left her!”
Mercedes rocked back in her seat from the sudden rising of Clarissa’s frantic voice.
“No, you shouldn’t have.” A soft voice answered. The pair turned to see Mrs. Keys in a pin stripped skirt and flowing white blouse with her hair pulled into a tight bun, exposing her exotic beauty. Clarissa, however, only saw the deadness inside those dull blue eyes, no doubt resembling her own.
“She was your baby sister. You were supposed to protect her at all cost, never leaving her side.”
Each word was dead and emotionless yet like a slap to the face from Clarissa.
Clarissa scrambled to find words. “But that would mean-”
“A second funeral.” Her mother finished. A moment of heavy silence hung in the air before Mrs. Keys head bobbed once ever so slightly. “You should have stayed.”
With that she exited out the front door, her keys jingling. Mercedes tried to lay a comforting hand on Clarissa’s shoulder but Clarissa shied away and raced from the room, up the stairs and straight to her bathroom. Clarissa started a shower and hoped in, detangling her hair and trying to wash away the pain. Since the accident, her parents hadn’t spoken any more than necessary to her since they both blamed Clarissa for Sophie’s tragic death. Clarissa, however, blamed herself just as much. She had become a zombie. Clarissa had stopped eating and spent the majority of her days in bed or wandering aimlessly around. Her parents had immersed themselves in their work. They left home early and returned late at night. Clarissa hardly saw them, and when she did it was only passing them in the halls or on their ways out the door to work.
Clarissa dressed herself in a pair of shorts and a tight purple and grey stripped t-shirt. She did her make-up and placed her hair in a side pony tail. As always, Clarissa looked dazzlingly beautiful. To top it off, Clarissa placed a deep fantastic red lip stick on her full pouty lips, completing her run-away model look as she wrapped a plaid scarf around her neck loosely. Clarissa slowly made her way down stairs to get her keys.
Instead, she ran into her father in the living room. Mr. Keys caught one glimpse of her beauty from across the room and Clarissa watched his face as each emotion played across his features plainly.
First his lips parted in shock of how well she was put together. Then those strong hazel eyes turned rock solid into disgust. Sophie would have grown up to be twice as beautiful as Clarissa, he thought. But she was dead. Rage thwarted his thoughts as he marched up to Clarissa, towering over her by a foot. Clarissa was scared by the amount of pure rage on twisting his handsome face.
“Clarissa’” the veins in his neck stood out as Mr. Keys fought to control himself, “why did you do it?”
Clarissa had no idea how to answer, so she stood in silence, making her father clench his fist. Clarissa cowered as he raised a hand above his head.
“What were you thinking?!” Clarissa’s father screamed in anger as the back of his hand made contact with his daughters face. Clarissa fell to the ground, pain rocketing across her face and her heart heavy with shame and defeat. His hand clamped down over her forearm and he jerked her to her feet. Clarissa cupped the side of her cheek, her mouth in the shape of an o as she peered into her father’s cold eyes. His face was turning red as his grip tightened on her arm. Her father crushed her left foot under his own, making her cry out in surprise more than pain. Clarissa wanted so badly to crumple to the ground but Mr. Keys tight grip held her up. Clarissa watched him raise a fist above his head, trying to ready herself for the blow. His fist made contact and this time she was allowed to crumple to the ground in a heap.
“It should have been you!” Scott roared as he reared his foot back to kick Clarissa in the ribs but stopped cold at the sound of another voice.
“You lay another hand on that girl,” Mercedes growled, “and I call the police.”
Clarissa looked up at her father through swollen eyes, waiting. He took short quick breathes, assessing the situation before lowering his foot and standing up straight. Tears flowed from his eyes as he sobbed like a child. Mr. Keys stammered an apology before running from the room and up the stairs. Lying on the ground, Clarissa pressed her warm cheek against the cold floor, trying to hide the physical pain away with the mental pain.
Mercedes rolled her onto her back and supported her as Clarissa sat up. Her body’s shock was blocking some of the pain, but not all of it. With Mercedes help, Clarissa stood and shook her off before limping up the stairs.
She was a total disaster; a huge mess. Her life as she knew it in ruins and all she could do was hold on for the ride. Clarissa was ready to let go. She limped down the hallway to her parent’s room, listening to the silent cries of her father echoing from Sophie’s room. Clarissa marched into her parent’s room and went straight to the small safe her parents kept hidden the dresser. Her parents had no idea she knew the combination or the fact that occasionally Clarissa would ‘borrow’ a little bit of shopping money from it. Her mind on auto pilot, her movements like a robot and her mind a blank slate, Clarissa broke in and stuffed more than half the money that resided there into every pocket she had, including her bra and shoes until she couldn’t fit anymore. Clarissa closed the safe and put it back before hobbling out the door and down stairs.
Mercedes hadn’t moved from her kneeling position on the floor. She watched beautiful Clarissa, even breathtaking with her bruised face, struggle down the last few stairs. Mercedes was in awe of how strong the child was. How Clarissa didn’t allow one bit of pain showing in her dull blue eyes, though she knew there had to be a tidal wave of raw emotion behind Clarissa’s façade. Clarissa sat at the kitchen bar and ate her cherry pie, savoring its delicious sweet taste. When she finished, she stood and helped the maid to her feet before wrapping her in a bear hug.
“Thank you,” Clarissa mumbled in Mercedes ear. Mercedes hugged the girl back fiercely. When the two parted, Clarissa grabbed the keys to her car and without a glance over her shoulder left through the front door. Just as she was backing out of the driveway, Mercedes came bursting out the front door and ran across the front lawn, a cardboard box in hand. She reached through the window and dropped the box in the passenger seat.
“For later,” she explained before bustling back inside.
Clarissa looked around, committing every sight and smell to memory. Then Clarissa backed out of the driveway and was on her way.
After ten hours of continuous driving, dark had fallen, and Clarissa found she had no idea where she was. Subconsciously, she had been following the coastline all day long. She was currently driving down a little road that wound its way in narrow alleys between old brick buildings. It seemed to be an old town of sorts. Clarissa passed a cafe on her right, a gas station, some little diners and motels that all looked extremely low rent. A few cute neighborhoods were scattered here and there as well, all consisting of small cute houses that were surprisingly tidy.
Passing by the third hotel in 10 miles and seeing how none of them were in any better shape than the last, Clarissa pulled into the nearly empty parking lot. A multi colored minivan and a glossy sedan were the only other cars occupying the parking lot. Clarissa turned the ignition off and sat in silence for awhile. The sound of a loud zap caught Clarissa’s attention, making her turn her head to see a bug zapper. She watched a lightning bug fly to its fate, wincing at the noise. Gathering her mystery box in her arms, Clarissa sauntered inside.
A woman that seemed about her mid 50’s with greasy grey-brown hair and a pot belly sat at the front desk reading a PEOPLE magazine and chewing her gum unnecessarily loudly. When Clarissa walked in, the woman looked up and smiled widely at her, showing off her cigarette stained yellow teeth. Clarissa kept her face neutral, as she had all day. All of her emotions were locked up in a little steel box called her heart.
“Hey doll,” the woman said in a nasal voice, “you don’t look like the usual.” She shrugged and blew a big bubble then popped it loudly, turning the page in her magazine.
“Room 211. Here is the key,” she shoved a key in Clarissa’s direction before going back to her magazine. When Clarissa didn’t take the key the woman looked up with a raised eyebrow.
“How much for one room?” Clarissa asked. She didn’t recognize her own voice. The woman retracted her hand with a snort and muttered some intelligible words before grabbing one key of many off of the pegs that covered the wall behind her.
“25 for one night,” she grunted, “or 80 for three.”
Reaching in her overloaded pocket, Clarissa shoved a 50 and three 10s in the woman’s outstretched hand and took the key. The woman asked her name and Clarissa told her Krissa Carr. It was the first name Clarissa could come up with. The woman scribbled it down, spit into a disposable cup and took a swig from her stained coffee mug. Clarissa took her keys and made her way up a flight of stairs to her room.
The room held one bed, a TV sitting on s 3 drawer dresser and a sink with a passable bathroom. Clarissa set her box on the bed, taking in her surroundings. All her life Clarissa had become accustom to satin clothes, spotless rugs, maids and plasma screen TVs. This would take some getting used to.
Sighing, Clarissa went over to the bathroom, flicking on the lights and looking in the mirror. During her drive, Clarissa had applied heavy makeup to cover up the bruising. No wonder the woman has mistaken her for a hooker. Clarissa’s stomach rumbled loudly, reminding her of how little she had been eating lately. Stuffing the room key in her pocket, Clarissa left the little room to go to a diner she had spotted next door as she was pulling in. Clarissa wanted to be seen as little as possible and slipped into an alley way when she spotted some figures walking towards her on the sidewalk. Half way through the alley way, Clarissa felt eyes on the back of her head. She glanced over her shoulder to see the same people following her. It was two men, both twice her size. One had long greasy hair, the other was covered in tattoos and both were fully clad in black from head to toe. It was then that Clarissa felt her first real emotion of the day: fear.
Adrenaline rushed through every one of her veins as Clarissa began jogging to the other end of the alley. Merely 5 feet from entering onto the street again, a figure blocked her way. He was even bigger than the other two guys. That was the only thing Clarissa could register before a hang yanked her hair back and yet another hand covered her mouth. Clarissa gagged as rancid breath filled her nostrils. The man with the long greasy hair appeared in front of her, sticking a blade to her throat. Clarissa saw his lips part in a nasty smile, though she couldn’t see any details in the shadows.
“Search her,” the man said his voice low and gruff.
Three to one: one restraining her, one with a knife to her throat and one searching her.
“Stupid!” Clarissa cursed herself as the man pulled out wad after wad of money from the folds of her clothes. “You should have left the money in the room; so stupid, Clarissa.”
To be honest, Clarissa had no idea why she hadn’t left the money in the room. The man’s hands, once recovering every cent from Clarissa’s pockets, groped other unnecessary parts of Clarissa, who protested by screaming loudly in the man’s hand, producing a muffled sound. Clarissa was then released and thrown to the ground with a chorus of chuckles and hoots from the muggers. Unable to contain the river of flowing emotions, Clarissa pounced up and threw herself on the long haired man’s back. She didn’t care what happened to her or what the consequences were, she just didn’t care. Clarissa proceeded to rip out hair, claw his face and scream as loudly as she could. The three men paused in momentary surprise before ripping her off of the man’s back and throwing her to the ground. The first blow was landed to her ribs from the greasy haired guy. Clarissa would forever remember the vivid sound of cracking ribs as the wind left her lungs. Clarissa curled into a ball, her back soaked by a stray puddle she had landed in, and protecting her face with her forearms.
“Dirty little hag!” she heard one of them growl. A rain of hits kicks and punches followed; there was a lot of blood. Each blow hurt worse than the last. Clarissa could taste the blood in her mouth as she whimpered in pain.
“If I’m lucky,” Clarissa thought, “they will end this. Let me go from here. I’m through with suffering.”
Abruptly, the blows stopped. Clarissa dimly heard the scuff of feet on pavement racing away accompanied by yelling from multiple voices. Everything hurt so badly, her whole body aching in the most painful way. Through her haze though, Clarissa recognized one word: hospital.
“No,” she thought, “If they take me to the hospital, my parents will find me!”
Hands scooped her up from the ground easily and cradled her closely to a warm strong chest. As gentle as those hands were, every place on her body they touched was like a thousand needles piercing her skin. Clarissa whimpered and tried to feebly wiggle from the person’s grasp, muttering through bleeding and swollen lips, “No hospital, no, cant, no.”
Every word hurt but Clarissa knew that being back in that unforgiving heartless place they called home would hurt that much worse.
“You’re very hurt!” a young man’s voice protested. “You have-”
“Bring her.” And elderly woman’s voice interrupted. Clarissa stopped writhing, taking short painful breathes.
“Thank you,” she murmured. Clarissa allowed herself to slip into a black unfeeling oblivion, grateful to escape the pain.
Whatever Clarissa was lying on, it was softer than her plush goose-feather stuffed mattress. She sank deeper into its inviting warmth, sighing even though her ribs ached with a burning fire with every move. Clarissa had awaken hours ago but had lain still and kept her eyes closed, letting the sound of the ocean sooth her. Clarissa had no idea where she was or who with but she didn’t care. Her whole body ached in the most painful way possible, but the pain let her know she was alive. Clarissa wondered idly how long she had been . . . well wherever she was. The sound of a door squeaking open made her reflexively tense up.
Clarissa vaguely remembered that voice, as if from a dream. It was a deep male voice, confident sounding but gentle. Unable to resist her curiosity, Clarissa peeked through her eye lashes. She was in a small, old looking room. Clarissa lay in a tiny twin sized bed in the far corner of the room across from a double door closet with a chest as tall of her bed on her right within reach ad dresser with a tall built in mirror across the room. The cream wall paper was sagging and discolored yellow in some spots. Clarissa noted the sun shining through a small round window on the wall just above her head. Walking towards her bed, work boots loud on the creaky wooden floor, was a boy. He looked about 19 and was not an inch under 6’2”. He had shaggy unkempt straight brown hair that hung in his bright honey colored eyes and a well kept goatee. The boy wore a loose fitted white t-shirt and long khaki shorts that seemed old judging from the many stains on them. The boy’s dazzling honey eyes locked on her face as she quickly snapped shut her eyes again. Clarissa’s heart jumped at the sound of his rich chuckle and the shift of her bed as he sat next to her.
“You look a lot better you know,” he said in a low voice, “maybe you won’t be totally disfigured after all.”
She couldn’t help herself. Clarissa’s eyes snapped open and she held her breath in shock. She tried to sit up but the pain of her ribs stopped her.
“Totally disfigured?!” Clarissa moaned desperately. Her voice was rough and her tongue felt like sandpaper, but she could talk. That was a start. The sound of laughter filled her ears and Clarissa, now propped on her elbows, stared at him with her mouth hanging open. He had a big toothy smile and Clarissa found herself mesmerized by his laughter and how the skin around his eyes wrinkled in the corners as he laughed.
“You are sick,” Clarissa growled, laying aching body back down gently. The boy, still smiling brightly at Clarissa, moved over to the chest where he sat with his elbows resting on his knees, looking at Clarissa. She rubbed her pinky finger gently over her dry and cracked lips, trying to wet them again.
“Name is Garret by the way,” the boy said, sticking out his hand for her to shake. Clarissa stared back at him blankly until he withdrew his hand, though that goofy smile remained.
“So how do you feel?” Garret asked.
Clarissa stretched slightly, feeling the pain of every bruise and cut on her body.
“Like I got mugged,” Clarissa replied sourly, bringing her knees to her chest and retreating into a ball. She lay on her side facing Garret. Garret sighed and cocked his head to one side, studying Clarissa.
“Well today is Wednesday. You slept for two days straight. I thought you’d never wake up,” Garret chuckled, “but you’re healing quickly.”
Clarissa tried to fold her hands underneath her head and it was then she noticed the small pink cast on her left wrist. Lifting her arm so Garret could see the cast, Clarissa raised an eyebrow.
“I thought pink fit ya best,” Garret shrugged with a light laugh.
“Not what I meant,” Clarissa sighed, exasperated. Garret’s smile slowly faded.
“You got away with 8 broken ribs, one fractured wrist, broken nose, couple bruised fingers and extensive bruising and scarring,” Garret said. “It could have been much worse though,” Garret interjected as he saw Clarissa’s expression of horror. Clarissa wished she could wipe that look of pity from Garret’s face but she was too busy trying to stand and get to the mirror on the dresser. Garret stood and handed her a hand held mirror instead, telling her to relax and stay still. It hurt her fingers on her right hand as she wrapped them around the mirror and held it so she could see her face.
Clarissa’s beautiful pouty lips were cut and swollen. Black and purple welts were spotted across her face, mostly on the right side of her face, and ran from her hairline to her jaw. The bridge of her nose was swollen and purple, matching her black eyes. Garret was still talking, saying she was lucky she didn’t lose a tooth or have her jaw broken, but Clarissa was too overwhelmed to hear him.
“I look like I was hit by a truck,” she thought to herself. “I look like the Hunchback of Notredome!”
One thing Clarissa noted was her hair, silky and clean, put neatly into a side ponytail. Clarissa gave Garret the mirror again and attempted to sit. Garret helped her, leaving a supporting hand on the small of her back. Clarissa studied her forearms. They were both covered in nasty black bruises with numerous cuts; a couple of them had bandages on them. Clarissa peeled back the sheets with timid fingers. She saw that she was dressed in a loose fit white gown that reached down to her knees. From what she saw of her exposed legs Clarissa saw they were also covered in welts but not nearly as badly as her arms and face. Clarissa rolled the covers up to her chin and lay back down on her back, staring up at the ceiling with moist eyes. Clarissa had to be on pain medication because her whole body was numb.
Garret sat back on the chest, letting out a sigh.
“Anne is the one you can thank for taking care of you. She is a retired nurse, one of the best.” Garret said. When Clarissa didn’t answer Garret continued. “So what’s your name?”
“Clarissa,” she whispered, blinking back tears.
“Clarissa,” Garret repeated, trying it out. “So Clarissa, why didn’t you want to go to the hospital?” Garret wondered aloud.
At this time, Clarissa could not hold back anymore. The dam went down and the tears flooded her eyes and drenched her cheeks. Instantly, Garret was at her side gently dabbing the tears away with a tissue and gently hushing her sobs.
“I'm so hideous,” Clarissa whimpered.
“No, shhh,” Garret soothed. Through her tears Clarissa saw that sad smile he wore.
“They are just bruises. They need time to heal. You are lucky we found you before too late, it could have been much worse!”
Clarissa, however, continued to weep, unable to restrain herself. Garret tried again.
“Clarissa?” he whispered. Clarissa sniffled, blinked back another river of tears and looked up at Garret with big doe eyes.
“Yes?” she asked meekly.
A smile, real and bright, flashed across his lips.
“May I say how ravishing you look this fine day?”
Clarissa couldn’t help but smile up at him and how goofy he looked with that ridiculous smile. She wouldn’t realize it until later but it was her first real smile since Sophie’s demise.
Not a second later the door slammed open and a stout woman, nostrils flaring, stormed in. She was not an inch over 4’10” with a tall beehive hair-do and a big pot belly. The little old woman threw her hands in the air, angrily mumbling to herself as she stormed up to Garret and Clarissa. Suddenly she quit rambling and put her arms down, looking at the befuddled Clarissa and amused Garret as if just now seeing them. A warm smile broke across her soft wrinkly face, revealing pearly white and perfect teeth.
“Hiya, sweetheart,” she smiled at Garret, and then directed her attention to Clarissa.
“How’s our guest doing this evenin’?” the woman asked as she twined her fingers together. Clarissa found her thick southern accent annoying.
“I'm breathing,” Clarissa replied, clearing her throat. At hearing her voice the little woman turned on her heels and shot out of the woman, mumbling to herself yet again. Clarissa’s confused half smile dropped and she looked at Garret with a questioning look. Garret merely smiled back down at her.
“That’s Anne, finest nurse that ever lived,” Garret winked, “you’re in good hands.”
Garret stood as Anne bustled back in with a medicine bottle and wet rag.
“Garret, pumpkin, fetch some water from the tap,” she cooed as she sat on the edge of the bed next to Clarissa. He saluted, winking at Clarissa, and exited the room. Anne dropped the pills in her hand, explaining that they were pain medication and antibiotics for her cuts.
When Garret got back with the water, Anne helped Clarissa sit as she swallowed each pill then laid back down. Anne laid the cold damp rag over her forehead and gently dabbed her welting bruises as she spoke.
“Now I don’t know where you come from or why you here, but you must be plain dumb to be out on y’er own so late!” Anne said.
“Anne, please,” Garret laughed.
“No, no, no,” Anne interrupted Garret, “I'm just tellin’ the truth, but since y’er dumb at least y’er pretty.”
Both Clarissa and Garret smiled at that one.
“Child, you may stay here as long as you must but not until you answer some questions. 1, where are y’er parents? You can’t be a day over 14!”
“17 actually,” Clarissa corrected with a sad smile, “and they are dead.”
Clarissa didn’t know why she lied . . . it was easier than the truth of her parents just didn’t love her anymore. Anne continued unfazed.
“2, why you been out there alone?”
“I got lost,” Clarissa said, making things up as she went along, “I had decided to stay in that hotel for the night and was on my way to the diner across the street when. . . ”
“Where you be headed?”
“My aunt travels and I stayed to finish this week of school and to meet her on the weekend at some hotel in Arizona.”
“You don’t stay with your aunt?” Garret asked, confused.
“No,” Clarissa replied, scrambling for an explanation, “when my parents died they left me to my aunt and we don’t much get along. So we came up with an agreement that since her job requires a lot of traveling that if I promised to check in frequently she’d leave me alone if I left her alone.”
The pair nodded and Clarissa let out a sigh of relief.
“What is your name, child?”
She had lied about everything except for probably the most important detail: her name. Anne was right, she really was dumb.
Anne nodded and stood, staring intently at Clarissa, making her nervous. Clarissa felt as if the old woman could see each lie written across her forehead, knowing that it was all a lie. Finally, Anne spoke.
“You ain’t in good shape, but in a month or two you’ll be al’rite.” Anne announced before bustling out, mumbling in a low voice to herself.
Garret waltzed to the door, turning back to look at Clarissa.
“That medicine will make ya sleep,” he said in a low voice. Clarissa loved the sound of his voice. It was silky and deep, making her heart flutter. “Sweet dreams.”
Garret winked and closed the squeaky door behind him. The ocean waves her lullaby, Clarissa drifted off to sleep.
Clarissa awoke several times after that over the course of a week. Garret was there each time she awoke. He would bring her some food and sit with her as he talked. Usually it was small talk about the weather or what he was going to do that day. Clarissa only half listened. She never said anything back as she obediently ate. But her appetite was small and she usually only ate about slim to half of the amount of food given to her. Garret raised an eyebrow at this but asked no questions. Clarissa, though, was sure to make the meals draw out. She liked Garret’s company. He usually sat at the end of her bed, staring at the door open to the hallway or above Clarissa’s head and out the window. She would watch him out of the corner of her eye, risking an occasional glance or two when she thought he wasn’t looking. Clarissa loved how he was never 100% put together. His attire was always old looking and had stains or tears from good wear. Garret had a very particular “just-rolled-out-of-bed” look to him that, Clarissa thought, fit him perfectly. Something about the boy just took her breath away. She hated for him to see her this way though, even though he didn’t seem to mind.
After her meals, Garret would give her some sort of pill; either for pain or headaches or antibiotics. Then he would leave with a wink and wishes for her to have sweet dreams. When he left, Clarissa would spend a good five to ten minutes looking in the small hand held mirror and worrying over her reflection. But mostly, Clarissa slept. She slept so much that one morning, when she woke up, she was tired of sleeping.
Clarissa forced herself into a sitting position, feeling the warmth of the sunlight streaming in from the window.
“Yup,” she moaned, “that hurt.” Clarissa took a moment for the pain to leave some before swinging her legs off the bed and touching her feet to the floor. The wood beneath her bare feet was warped from age but warm. She stumbled over to the dresser and frowned at her image, still not use to the monster her face had been molded into. It was then she noticed the faint sound of guitar music outside her window. Ignoring it, Clarissa lifted her gown just high enough to expose her ribs so she could examine them. Her sides were black and blue and ached horrible. She gasped in pain as she gently ran a hand over her right side. The sound of the guitar music changing caught Clarissa’s attention. She let her gown fall back down to her knees and climbed on top of the bed, looking out the window. Her room resided in the front top of the house, right over the three front steps that led to the front door. On the second step sat Garret. He sat facing down the beach, guitar in hand as he strummed lightly. Clarissa’s mouth fell open as Garret began to sing. His voice was silky and smooth, flowing with the music as easily and perfectly as it could possibly be.
All at once, as if knowing he was being watched, Garret whirled around and looked up, looking directly up at Clarissa. Unable to duck away fast enough, Clarissa stood there like a deer in headlights. She looked like a child that had been caught with their hand in the cookie jar before supper. Garret, however, just smiled and waved before rising and making his way inside. Clarissa sat down gently, listening to the sound of a door slamming somewhere in the house and the sound off footsteps. Then Garret appeared, slowly pushing her door open with a bowl of tomato soup in hand.
“Hungry?” he asked with one of his goofy smiles.
“Starving,” Clarissa answered, though not actually the least bit hungry. He set the soup in her lap and she slowly began to eat.
“So,” Garret asked, “feeling better?”
“I guess so,” Clarissa mumbled, slurping some soup. A minute later, Clarissa handed Garret back the soup with the bowl still half full.
“You’re a really good guitarist,” Clarissa ventured timidly. Maybe she was mistaken, but she could swear Garret was blushing.
“I’ve never played in front of anyone before,” Garret replied, hanging his head, “you weren’t supposed to hear that.”
Clarissa couldn’t help but smile. “Well hasn’t Anne heard you play, or your parents?”
At that last part, Garret’s expression fell.
“Oops,” Clarissa thought.
“I'm sorry-” Clarissa began, but he cut her off.
“Don’t be. I never knew my parents. They didn’t want me. Gave me to Anne, and they took off, never looking back. I was an accident that they weren’t willing to take responsibility for.”
Garret’s words were filled with spite and anger. Clarissa hated how he looked when he talked about this. She liked his smile and easy laugh, not this.
“It could be worse,” Clarissa tried. Garret looked at her with a hint of confusion in his honey colored eyes.
“You could look like the hunchback of Notredome, like me!” she said with a slight giggle and a shrug. The trunk creaked as Garret leaned back and laughed lightly.
“Much better,” Clarissa thought.
After the laughter left, awkwardness settled between the two. Garret cleared his throat.
“Well,” he said, standing, “I was instructed by Anne to get you up and moving. Stretch out your muscles some and go for a walk.”
Clarissa slowly stood, trying not to let the pain show in her face.
“There is a dress you can pick out in the closet. And there is a hair brush in the dresser.”
“Is that a bad hair joke?” Clarissa asked sarcastically, watching Garret smile from the corner of her eye.
“Of course not, Medusa,” Garret winked.
This got the both to laugh and it took everything in Clarissa to not cry from the pain brought to her ribs form mere laughter. Garret gently closed the door behind him and Clarissa listen to his retreating footsteps before making her way over to the small closet. She folded open the mesh doors to see there was only one bar that held clothes. It ran eye length across the closet and was bent under the weight of so many dresses. There was not one inch of space to fit one more dress, the closet was packet full. Short dresses to long dresses, from floral to plaid, they were all there. Her eyes widened and she gave a little laugh in shock. Clarissa gingerly picked up the first one she saw. It happened to be an old emerald green baby-doll styled dress that had a modest neck line and went down to her knees. It took a good 10 minutes for Clarissa to painfully exchange dresses. When she was done, she awkwardly grabbed the wire brush in her good hand and combed out her long wavy raven black hair. She gently prodded her deformed nose and gasped at the pain. Sighing, she went back to studying how she looked. Clarissa rubbed the cotton dress between two fingers with a sigh.
“Green,” she mumbled, “Sophie’s favorite color.”
Clarissa watched in the mirror as one tear raced down her cheek, he heart icing over yet again. Clarissa put her emotions back in her steel box of a heart under lock and key.
Clarissa walked numbly from her room, memorizing the house as she wandered through it. Across from her room Clarissa saw another room, and another room beside of her own. She went right and down the hallway, a bathroom on her right and another room at the end of the hallway. A flight of stairs branched off to the right between the two doors. At the bottom of the stairs, Clarissa saw to kitchen to her right and to her left at the end of the hallway the front door. She went left, into the small kitchen that held a small round table, a stained stove, and an old microwave next to an even older fridge. The counter top ran across the far wall, counters running across the top of the wall and ending on the opposite side of the room where another room began. Clarissa passed Garret, who sat at the table, to peer into the other room. A big table sat with a sparkling chandelier along with a spotless chestnut china cabinet. The whole room was complimented by the long window that was set in the far wall that peered out over the ocean. This was Clarissa’s kind of room. It was much more marvelous that the bland distasteful colors in the other rooms of the house she had seen. Clarissa sighed and went back to the kitchen, passing the back door as she sat at the small round table with Garret.
“PB&J?” Garret offered, pushing a plate with a sloppy looking sandwich on it as he stuffed one in his mouth. Jelly poured from the back of the sandwich and stickied his fingers. Clarissa glanced out of the small window beside the table and peered down the shore line, watching the bright morning sun. According to the cruddy clock on the countertop it was 10:47 in the morning. Clarissa turned back to Garret who was downing his massive bite with a glass of water.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, licking the jelly from his fingers.
“What day is it?” Clarissa asked in a monotone voice.
“Tuesday morning,” Garret answered, shoving the rest of the sandwich in his mouth. 12 days ago Clarissa had runaway . . . she vaguely wondered if anyone knew she was even missing. Garret tried to say something but Clarissa couldn’t understand him with his mouth full.
“Come again?” Clarissa asked. Garret swallowed, following it with a big gulp of water.
“I asked why you’re not eating,” he replied.
“What type of jelly is this?” Clarissa asked.
“I’m allergic,” Clarissa lied, pushing the plate away from her. Garret shrugged and proceeded to eat her sandwich in two bites. When he finished, he got up and cleaned the plates in the sink, then turned and faced Clarissa. She sipped her lemonade, pretending not to notice Garret studying her. Unable to bare the silence any longer, Garret sat back down with a sigh.
“Tell me about you,” he sighed, looking out the window in the same direction Clarissa was. She stole a peek at him from the corner of her eye to see him peeking at her back. Clarissa quickly looked down and sipped her lemonade again, replying, “Nothing to tell,” in a small voice.
“Well, for starters, where do you live?” Garret asked with a smirk.
“That’s none of your business.”
“Ohh, touchy all of the sudden now, aren’t we?” Garret teased, throwing his hands up jokingly. Clarissa felt the over whelming need to smack him, but she sat silently and continued looking out the window, pretending not to care. Garret’s smile faded and he studied Clarissa closely, noting how hard she was trying to hold back emotion. Garret stood, placing his hands in his front pockets and clearing his throat. Clarissa glanced up at him.
“I’m going for a walk on the beach, care to join me?” Garret asked nervously. Before Clarissa could hardly process what he had said, she found herself blurting out “yes!” and jumping up to join him. Garret looked a little surprised, but an easy smile broke across his handsome face. She followed him to the front door, excited to get some fresh air. Standing on the porch, Clarissa closed her eyes, leaned her head back, and just stood there. She breathed in the salty fresh air and feeling the soothing wind on her tender skin. Clarissa took a shaky, painful breath, enjoying the taste of salt in the air. She loved the beach. Opening her eyes, Clarissa saw Garret standing only a couple feet away, smiling down at her with such a look of fondness in his eyes. He stood a good half a foot taller than her, Clarissa noticed as he helped her gently down the stairs. Once out from the cover of the porch and in the sunlight, Clarissa couldn’t help but gasp at what she saw. There was nothing. To her left was 500 yards of white sandy beach until it met with the foamy churning ocean. To her right was 50 yards of sand and rocks until it met a one way small road heading parallel to the ocean. Straight ahead was endless beach. Never in her life had Clarissa felt so isolated. She stumbled backwards in shock, glad Garret was there to keep her from completely falling.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Garret breathed. Meanwhile, it was all Clarissa could do to not have a panic attack. She shrugged out of Garret’s arms.
“Clarissa,” he said incredulously, “what’s wrong?”
“Don’t touch me,” Clarissa hissed, backing up. Garret stood there with a dumbfound expression, wondering what he did wrong.
“Where are we?” she asked, frantically looking for another house nearby. Garret took a step forward as Clarissa took a step back.
“Just a couple of miles from town,” Garret said in a gentle voice.
“Well then why are you living so far away?” Clarissa asked, her voice tinged with a hint of hysteria, “Hiding something?!”
Garret’s shoulder’s fell as he stared at Clarissa like she had three heads. She began nonchalantly searching for a rock or stick to protect herself. Garret began to laugh. A closed-his-eyes-leaning-back-hand-on-stomach laughs that made Clarissa’s temper flare. While he wasn’t looking, she gathered a medium sized rock in her fist and hid it awkwardly behind her back.
“Please, tell me you’re joking,” Garret sputtered between dying chuckles. Clarissa, however, was dead serious. She had seen movies like this before. Sure, Anne and Garret seemed nice enough by taking her in and taking care of her. But for all she knew, they would murder her in her sleep, adding Clarissa’s dead body to their growing collection of teenage girls in the basement. There was no way she was going down without one heck of a fight though. Every limb of hers ached as she reeled back and flung the rock at Garret’s face. Clarissa had forgotten how badly she threw, and that was without three bruised fingers!
The rock fell a foot short from Garret who abruptly stopped laughing and picked it up.
“Hey!” Garret whined, “That could have really hurt!” he threw the rock to the side as he approached Clarissa, his face showing a bit of annoyance now. Clarissa tripped over her own feet and fell on her butt as she tried to escape.
“Owwwwww!” Clarissa moaned, in agony over her ribs. Instantly, Garret was kneeling by her side in a panic.
“Are you okay?” he gasped. Quickly, Clarissa threw a fist full of sand in her face before scampering down the beach a few yards. Not more than 20 yards away, Clarissa really did collapse in pain. Her body needed lungs full of air, but her screaming ribs protested to each shallow breathe. Tears of pain and self-pity slid down her cheeks as she dug her also aching fingers into the soft, white sand. Blackness began closing in around her vision as she fish mouthed for air, fearful she was suffocating. Her last thought before she passed out was how she wished for the suffering to end and to see her baby sister again.
His voice came from far away; faint, like from a memory. Her head hurt, she felt like someone had dropped a cinder block on her forehead. And breathing was impossible without the following of unbearable pain.
There was that voice again. Clarissa wanted to wrap herself in that silky voice and let it take away all of the pain. It hurt . . . she hurt.
“Clarissa, open your eyes.”
She shook her head back and forth, mumbling, “No, leave me alone, no, no.”
Slowly, someone cupped the back of her neck and sat her up, supporting her weight against something stable and warm. All Clarissa wanted was to sleep . . . why wouldn’t he let her sleep? More than a little aggravated, Clarissa opened her eyes, letting the black slowly fade from her eyes.
The concerned face of Garret loomed above her. Clarissa found herself lying in Garret’s arms, her head resting in the crook of his elbow. When she opened her eyes, Garret sighed with relief.
“Don’t EVER do that to me again,” he mumbled, shaking his head.
The warm ocean water nipped at the ends of Clarissa’s toes. She hadn’t realized how close she had fallen to the water’s edge. Feeling awkward, Clarissa quickly sat up and settled on her back side beside Garret who placed his right arm behind her, supporting her back. Clarissa’s eyes never left him. It was like her eyes were glued to him! Noticing this, Garret turned and faced her again.
“I understand you jumping to conclusions about Anne and I,” Garret began in a low, teasing voice, “but you have nothing to worry about. Anne hates people. She hates crowds and just people in general. Since I am the only one she will tolerate, I stay out here with here to keep watch over her since, well, she isn’t in her prime.”
“So,” Garret continued, “Anne doesn’t have any phones here. Do you want me to take you into town to call your aunt?”
For a moment, Clarissa was utterly confused and was about to ask what he was talking about, when she remembered her story.
“NO!” Clarissa shouted, not thinking. Garret looked at her with a bit of surprise and a lot of concern. She scrambled, trying to think of an excuse.
“Uhhhh,” she mumbled, “Ya know, I had bruises before that night . . .” Clarissa whispered in what she hoped to be a pathetic voice as she drew her knees to her chest, wincing in pain.
Garret sighed, and Clarissa almost sighed with relief.
“We don’t have the best relationship,” Clarissa continued, her racing heart beginning to calm, “I stay out of her way, and she leaves me alone. I check in about three times a month with her but . . .” Clarissa let herself trail off as she peered out over the tossing waves. She felt no guilt for her lies; she was only trying to survive in this world like everyone else.
“I get it Clary,” Garret mumbled, “You don’t have to call her. Like Anne said, you’re welcome here for as long as you need to stay.”
A minute passed as the two sat in silence, listening to the soothing repetition of the ocean waves. Clarissa took a silent breath of relief.
“But,” Garret added, “You might want to sleep with one eye open. I’ve been known to hack people to pieces with an axe as they sleep.”
Garrets began howling with laughter, and try to hold it back as she might Clarissa giggled and rolled her eyes, blushing. She watched him from the corner of her eye, catching herself smiling for no apparent reason. She loved how he tilted his head back as he laughed and how care-free his laughter was.
“Come one,” Garret chuckled, standing and brushing the sand from his shorts, “I’m sure you’re due for more pain meds by now.”
Garret reached down to help Clarissa up, but she only pulled her legs closer to her chest and looked away.
“I actually feel kind of sick,” Clarissa mumbled, “I’d better just sit for now.”
“Nonsense,” Garret snorted and, before Clarissa could stop him, he scooped Clarissa into his arms like she weighed 5 pounds. Clarissa shrieked, wrapping her arms around his neck as he took off in a fast walk towards the house.
“Garret, I’m serious!” Clarissa cried, desperately trying to hold back the vile that had begun rising in her throat. “Put me down! I’m going to be sick!”
Garret laughed merrily, obviously enjoying her discomfort, “Chill out, you’ll be fine, Cl-”
Unable to stop it, Clarissa leaned over and threw up . . . all down the front of Garret’s T-shirt. Garret came to a screeching halt. He took a deep breath, looking up at the sky.
“Oops,” was all Clarissa could bear to mutter. She felt extremely light headed. With her arms still wrapped around Garret’s neck, Clarissa’s head slumped forward as she fought not to black out. Next thing she knew, she felt the soft cushion’s of the couch against her back as Garret oh so gently lay her down.
“You just rest,” he muttered, “I’ll be back in a flash.”
Clarissa opened her eyes, letting the black slowly fade from her vision. True to his word, Garret came sprinting back around the corner in no time, a wet wash cloth in his hand. He laid it against Clarissa’s feverish forehead. The cool cloth felt like heaven against her warm skin. Garret sat down on the edge of the coffee table, watching Clarissa. She sighed, sitting up painfully. Garret smiled at her.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
Clarissa gagged, placing her hand over her mouth, and looked away.
“Why are you still wearing that?!” Clarissa gasped, referring to his stained T-shirt. Grimacing, Garret peeled the shirt off and tossed it to the side, careful to not let it touch him. Clarrisa smiled.
“What?” Garret asked suspiciously.
“Your tan line is awful,” Clarissa giggled, referring to his farmers tan. Garret raised an eye brow at her as she wrapped an arm around her rib cage, trying to stop the burning pain that was triggered by a mere giggle.
“I’ll get you some crackers and pain killers,” Garret said, exiting the room.
Clarissa lay back, covering her face with the cool towel and trying not to take deep breaths.
“Hey sleepy head,” Garret whispered, removing the towel from her aching face. Garret was on his knees beside the couch and eye level with Clarissa. It took a minute for her to swallow her pain meds, and an even longer time for Garret to get her to eat some crackers to keep the medication down. But it took ten minutes for him to convince her that he needed to carry her to her room. All Clarissa could think was how embarrassed she was; she could hardly look at him.
“Clary, no way am I letting you walk up all those stairs! You’re in bad enough condition right now anyways!”
“No, Garret, I’m fine!” Clarissa argued. The pain killers must have been kicking in because slowly the pain began to fade and a heavy drowsiness tugged at her eye lids. Slowly Clarissa sat up, but her vision became blurry and she couldn’t force herself to stand. Seeing his chance, Garret collected her in his arms. For some reason Clarissa found this hilarious and giggled quietly to herself.
“Well,” Garret chuckled, looked down at Clarissa, “At least we know your pain meds are working.”
Clarissa giggled all the way up the stairs and didn’t stop until Garret placed her in bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. She beamed up at Garret, memorizing his handsome face and sparkling honey colored eyes underneath that crazy mop of brown hair. He was the most gorgeous boy she had ever met.
“What are you smiling about?” Garret wondered out loud, standing up straight.
“Nothing, carrot,” Clarissa mumbled, then laughed when she realized she had said ‘carrot’ instead of ‘Garret’. “Oops, I mean Garret!” Clarissa giggled wildly, letting her eyes slid shut. Garret chuckled softly before slowly leaving the room, closing the door gently behind him. Clarissa rolled over, still smiling, and buried her face into the cloud soft pillow, taking in its aroma. It smelled like lavender and the ocean.
The mirror reflected the image of Clarissa lying on her back in the fluffy clean bed. Her raven black hair spread out on her pillow like a halo, startlingly dark against the brilliant white. Every time Clarissa saw herself, she noticed that the swelling was slowly leaving, but it was still quite visible 13 days later. The bruising, however, seemed to not want to leave. The whole right side of her face was a deep blue-grey color as well as spot across her rib cage. The bridge of her nose was still swollen and black as well as both of her black eyes. Her forearms were spotted yellow from bruising and still covered in scabs from the multiple scratches Clarissa had retained from the multiple hits she took. Clarissa peered into those icy blue eyes of hers, reminding herself of her mother a little too much. She had her mother’s appearance and father’s personality. No matter how far she ran or where she went, Clarissa would never be able to escape he two. Clarissa hugged the mirror to her chest, squeezing her eyes shut to prevent tears.
“Of all the people in the world,” Clarissa thought, “Your parents are the ones who are supposed to love you no matter what. I bet mine don’t even miss me.” A couple of silent tears escaped and rolled down her cheeks.
“I wish you were here Sofa,” Clarissa whispered to herself aloud with a sniffle, “I’m so sorry.”
At the sound of footsteps approaching Clarissa quickly brushed the tears from her cheeks and set the mirror aside just in time to see Garret poke his head in with a smile.
“You’re up!” Garret beamed.
Clarissa shrugged and laid her head back down, trying to swallow a lump that had risen in her throat. Garret took a seat on the edge of the bed as Anne bustled in, her arms full of stuff. Anne’s beehive hair-doo was up neatly, her make-up perfect and very bright, and she wore a flowy tie-dye dress.
Muttering angrily to herself Anne dumped the contents in her arms on the dresser and began to rifle through it frantically.
“Sorry,” Garret whispered, “She is kind of upset.”
Clarissa fluffed her pillow and leaned up against it, watching Anne in bewilderment. Anne continued to sort the stuff out, though Clarissa could still not tell what it was.
“About what?” Clarissa wondered aloud. Garret just shook his head and helped Clarissa out of bed and to the kitchen. She sat at the table and smoother her green dress across her knees, suddenly self-conscious. Garret stood in front of the fridge, retrieving a variety of things. Outside the blazing sun was high in the sky, blinding Clarissa.
“So, feeling better?” Garret asked.
“I guess,” Clarissa replied. She noticed his neon green shirt and blushed, remembering how she ruined his shirt yesterday. “Sorry I . . . well about yesterday.” Clarissa mumbled pathetically. Garret turned around with a toothy grin, holding a slice of bread in one hand and a knife covered in mustard in the other.
“As long as you feel better, it’s all good,” Garret laughed.
A moment of awkward silence followed as Garret stood beaming down at Clarissa. She didn’t return his smile.
“So,” Garret coughed, turning back to his work, “What’s your middle name?”
Clarissa stared blankly at his back until he turned around again, raising an eye brow as he awaited an answer.
“Why?” Clarissa asked in a very monotone voice. That hint of a smile lingered in his kind honey colored eyes as usual, stealing Clarissa’s breath. The knife made a sharp clanging noise as Garret tossed it into the sink and replaced the condiments back into the fridge. He took a seat across from Clarissa with a plate that held 3 huge sandwiches, all looking delicious and stuffed with turkey, lettuce, tomatoes and mustard. Clarissa’s mouth watered. He took a gigantic bite of one.
“So,” he asked again through a mouth full of sandwich, “what is it?”
“None of your business,” she muttered, looking out the window and ignoring her stomach growling. Thinking of how much Sophie use to love turkey sandwiches instantly stopped the hunger pains.
Garret finished that sandwich and started the second.
“Mine is Daniel: Garret Daniel Wilson. But you, you can call me Carrot,” Garret added with a wink. Clarissa felt her cheeks turn crimson. Garret liked how she blushed so easily. Clarissa cleared her throat.
“Sophia,” she breathed hesitantly.
“Clarissa Sophia,” Garret said, trying it out, “Belle.” He whispered. Clarissa raised an eye brow and Garret smiled. “It means beautiful in French.”
Clarissa smiled softly, staring at her cast on her left hand and 3 swollen bruised fingers on her right hand. Garret ate his last sandwich in 3 bites and belched loudly before hopping up and washing his plate.
“Soda?” Garret asked and Clarissa nodded. He handed her a soda and then led her to the living room.
“I figured you were sick of sleeping all the time and since walking didn’t work out very well,” Garret teased with a laugh, “that a movie would suffice.” Clarissa sat on one end of the couch, sipping her soda with her knees to her chest, and Garret retrieved a quilt from a small closet and covered her up before settling down next to her. Pressing a button on the remote the screen blinked for a little bit.
“Sorry,” Garret sighed, “Anne never uses the TV and it’s really old. I’ll get it working though. Promise!” Garret smiled as he jumped up from the couch and banged on the side of the TV twice. With a pop, the screen turned on and showed the beginning of the movie Titanic. It took every ounce of strength from Clarissa to keep her jaw from dropping. And just to add the icing to the cake, Garret brought out a box of tissues and set them on the coffee table.
Unable to help herself Clarissa stared at Garret, her mouth hanging open. Garret merely shrugged.
“Ya never know,” he mumbled.
She turned back to the screen, stunned.
“I’ve never seen this movie before,” Clarissa mumbled.
“Well,” Garret announced, jumping from the couch, “It’s no good without pop corn!”
Clarissa listened to the ruckus that proceeded to emanate from the kitchen as she awaited Garret’s return. When he came back he was holding a huge blue bowl and as he sat down Clarissa saw it was steaming hot pop corn, shiny with butter.
“Made with real butter,” Garret whispered, “Want some?”
Clarissa passed and directed her attention to the movie as Garret shrugged and shoved a handful of pop corn into his mouth.
Near the end of the movie Clarissa found tears making their way down her cheeks. She sniffled and grabbed a tissue, seeing that Garret had fallen asleep. At the end of the movie Clarissa was bawling. Tears of sadness, pain and even a little bit of anger slid down her face.
“No one can just be happy in life,” she thought, wiping her cheeks with her damp tissue, “This just proves I was right. There is more pain and sadness in the world than anything else.”
Wrapping the quilt around her shoulders Clarissa made her way to the front door. She turned and looked at Garret. He had a bit of dried drool in the side of his mouth, butter stains on his shirt, and his hair could sure use a good brushing. Clarissa hadn’t noticed the bags under his eyes before. He was also cute though. Clarissa smirked and made her way onto the front porch. It was dusk out and this air was humid, making her hair begin to stick to her neck with sweat. Clarissa sat down on the steps, keeping the quilt around her shoulders more so for a comfort than anything else. She watched as one star after another began the peek out from behind the clouds as the sun disappeared over the horizon.
“Hey there,” said a gentle voice.
Clarissa turned to see Garret leaning against the door frame, looking down at her fondly. He took a seat next to her, rubbing the sleep from his droopy eyes as Clarissa leaned her head against the pole beside her. Garret let out a loud sigh as he leaned back on his hands and peered at the night sky.
“Makes you feel real small, doesn’t it?” Garret whispered to Clarissa as she shrugged.
“I never took the time to look at the stars,” she replied.
Garret shook his head, “That’s a shame.”
“Why? They are just big gas balls in the sky, nothing of significance or importance.”
When Garret did not answer Clarissa looked at him to see him gazing at her like she had three heads. “What?” Clarissa asked.
“I don’t understand, that’s all,” Garret replied, searching her face to see if maybe Clarissa was joking. “I mean this is our universe, our world. It’s full of wonder and beauty and life!”
“No,” Clarissa said plainly, looking back up at the dark sky, “I don’t see any beauty. I see a vast emptiness filled with darkness and coldness.”
With that Clarissa got up and made her way to her room without a look back. She didn’t understand how Garret saw beauty in the night sky. Space is cold and black. There was no life and beauty in that. Sitting on her bed Clarissa eyed what Anne had earlier placed on the dresser. It was make-up, a mountain of make-up. Clarissa was eternally grateful and said a silent thanks to Anne as she lay down on top of the sheets, resting her eyes. A moment later Garret poked his head in the room.
“You’re the first person I’ve ever met to think that about the night sky.” He said.
“I’m right,” She countered in an even voice, not even bothering to open her eyes.
“Ya know,” Garret replied in such a quiet whisper that Clarissa found herself straining to hear, “Sometimes you have to look past the dark to see the light.”
Just as Clarissa was about to protest to how that made no sense she heard him walk off. By the time Garret returned Clarissa was almost asleep. He helped her sit up and take her pain killers. As she lay back down under the covers Garret pulled the covers up to her chin.
“You’re so blind,” Clarissa thought she heard Garret whisper sadly in her ear. Clarissa was slightly startled when she felt Garret’s warm lips press a kiss to her forehead. She listened to his retreating footsteps, a smile creeping over her lips. Rolling over, Clarissa was surprised to look out the window and see the stars twinkling back at her. For whatever reason Clarissa found herself trying to unscramble what Garret had said. But no matter how hard she tried, Clarissa couldn’t convince herself that the night sky was beautiful as Garret said.
“That sky has seen everything. Death, heartbreak, war, horrors, pain, everything . . . how is that beautiful?” Clarissa thought. For a minute she merely stared at the sky, then a tiny voice in the back of her mind answered, “That sky has seen all of those things, yes, but also the good things. Peace, love, smiles, laughter, joy, birth, the first day, and much more. And that is beautiful.”
Resentful, Clarissa rolled over so her back faced the window. What did Garret mean she was so blind? Clarissa sighed, guessing she would never know.
For the first time in 13 days, her whole entire stay in that house, Clarissa found it impossible to sleep. She tossed and turned. Praying her pain killers would make her sleep, but sleep never came. Though she had tried not to think about it as of lately, Clarissa found herself thinking about the future. She use to have it all planned out. After high school she would go to college and get her degree to become a nurse. While in college she would met the love of her life and they would get married soon after college. They would go to live in New York, Clarissa’s favorite place on earth. They would have one kid (a boy) and live happily ever after.
That was nothing but a mere dream now, a fairytale. Now she was a teen runaway, her heart an empty box, her mind a train off its tracks and her own body a wreck. Crawling out of bed Clarissa flicked on the lights and shimmied out of her dirty green dress, about to slip on a cotton night gown that was in one of the drawers when she saw herself in the mirror. Her ribs and hip bones were prominent and her legs and arms think little twigs. Clarissa had always been petite but now she was borderline anorexic. Without realizing it she had been starving herself, a way of punishing herself for the death of Sophie. Slipping on the night gown she turned the lights off and crawled under the covers. From that hour until sun rise Clarissa cried. The waves crashing on the shore soothed Clarissa’s silent sobs to an extent.
At the sound of someone moving about the house hours later Clarissa rose from bed. Looking in the mirror she hardly recognized herself. Her blue eyes were cold and dead, her raven hair was tangled and needed a washing.
Clarissa heard Garret’s voice echoing from downstairs. She didn’t want him to see her like this anymore. She peeked out of her door into the hallway and, seeing it was empty, snuck over to the bathroom diagonal to her room. Clarissa locked the door and took a quick shower, letting the warm water wash away all of her pain and make her feel fresh and new. Down the drain washed the old Clarissa, out stepped from the bathroom the new Clarissa.
Within another hour Clarissa had slipped on a looser white dress that had ruffled short sleeves and a ruffled v-neck. Also she had dried and combed her hair so it was silky and smooth. To top it off, Clarissa even found herself rifling through the make-up. When she looked in the mirror, she was impressed with herself. Clarissa had made herself presentable. Though swelling still made her features look a little puffy, the bruising was less noticeable through her layers of foundation.
Clarissa’s eye lids were white and sparkly, her lips a subtle pink and her cheeks more sharply angled with a touch of blush. Clarissa gently laid her hair over one shoulder and took as deep as breathe as possible. The need for pain medication drove Clarissa from her room.
When she reached the top of the stairs Clarissa was hit with the smell of heaven. She let her nose guide her to the kitchen where Anne was seated at the small table and Garret was over the stove tending to some bacon.
“And that’s when I realized,” Anne was saying with a laugh, “that-”
She stopped cold at the sight of Clarissa in the doorway.
On the table were plates spilling over with pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, toast, biscuits, fruit, etc. As she was staring, Garret turned around, an instant smile crossing his face.
Trying not to drool Clarissa asked, “What?” when Garret continued to smile at her. He shook his head and went back to the stove, still smiling. Shyly, Clarissa took a seat across form Anne, forcing herself to fold her hands in her lap so she wouldn’t take anything. Anne had not taken her eyes off of Clarissa once. Clarissa nodded and gave her a little smile. Anne looked away. Clarissa clutched her ribs when a wave of pain rolled over her. Instantly Anne got up and removed a container of pain pills from the cabinet, bringing them over to the table. Just before putting one in her hand, Anne stopped short.
“You must eat first, otherwise it will make you sick,” the old woman said. Clarissa stared at the huge meal in front of her. She couldn’t bring herself to eat. Instead she sat with her head hanging.
“Anne-” Garret began as he scrapped bacon onto a plate on the table.
“No,” Anne mumbled, cutting him off harshly, “My house, my rules.”
When Clarissa didn’t answer Anne took her seat and loaded her plate full of food. 3 pancakes, a biscuit, bacon and eggs, all smother in syrup. Garret did the same, although a little lest hastily.
Clarissa rubbed the back of her hand’ looking out of the window. She was obviously not the only one to notice that she had lost weight. Clarissa knew she had to fix that, but also that fixing one of her many problems would come with time. Clarissa grabbed her plate and timidly put a spoon full of scrambled eggs and a pancake on her plate. When she was done, Anne stood and dropped the pill on Clarissa’s plate before quickly leaving. Clarissa finished her meal and swallowed the pill. With Garret still eating Clarissa excused herself and wandered out onto the porch. She sat down, wrapping her arm around one of the poles and leaning her head against it and looked out to the ocean. It was so vast . . . and dangerous. Clarissa sighed, tears welding in her eyes once more. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted something sitting on the porch on the ground. It was a book. Curious, Clarissa picked it up. It was hard backed with no title and was very small. She opened it to the first page.
“The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” It read. Making sure no one was around Clarissa hid the book in the folds of her dress, wanting to read it later. Behind her the screen door slammed as someone came out.
“Hey,” Garret said in a gentle voice. Clarissa gave him a nod of acknowledgement.
“Clary,” Garret asked, sitting beside her, “Can I ask you a question?”
Clarissa looked him directly in the eyes. There was concern there and, as always, that faint hint of a smile.
“Sure,” Clarissa sighed. Suddenly Garret jumped up.
“Sorry, just remembered I have to run to town real quick. Be back soon!”
Garret ran back inside and a moment later came bounding out, keys in hand and a red worn out baseball hat on his head. He winked at Clarissa as he strolled around the house. Clarissa listened to the sound of a starting engine cut through the calm afternoon air and watched an old grey pickup truck make its way to the road. She watched until it drove out of sight. Sighing Clarissa took a deep breath of the salty air, listening to the hypnotic ocean crashing on the soft sand and committing that soft breeze that tickled her skin to memory. She sat on the stairs only a beat longer before silently making her way to her room, glad she didn’t run into Anne on her way. Sitting on the edge of the bed with the door closed Clarissa brought the book out from under the folds of her dress and opened it to the front page. The book seemed pretty stupid to Clarissa. It was, after all, about a china rabbit. Rolling her eyes Clarissa looked out of her window at the endless ocean, admiring how the sun’s rays sparkled on top of the never still waves. Sighing, Clarissa turned back to the book and began to read.
Five hours later, Clarissa shut the book carefully and laid it gently down on top of the trunk that sat next to her bed. She had read the whole book cover to cover without moving or stopping. Now, Clarissa sat and she thought.
His life had been so perfect, the stuffed rabbit’s life that is. He had been loved and cherished by all, though he did not love or care about them back. But in the end, he loved them all more than he thought was possible. Edward Tulane, the china rabbit, had learned to love and hope even when everything he had cared about had been lost. Clarissa cried for him. For his pain of losing the people he loved, for his pain, hopelessness, and despair. New pain-filled tears welled in Clarissa’s eyes before overflowing and running down her cheeks before soaking her collar. At the same time, there was a knock on her door as Garret entered her room. Clarissa turned her head away in hopes he did not see her tears, but she did not stop crying.
Garret’s deep voice was gentle and soothing, full of worry and a little bit of surprise. He sat beside her. Clarissa’s ribs and bruises throbbed and hurt, especially from crying. Garret tucked his hand under her chin and slowly turned her head to face him, he swiped from hair from Clarissa’s face, looking at her with concern. She kept her eyes down, refusing to make eye contact.
“Let me help you,” Garret whispered. The desperation and sorrow in his voice broke Clarissa’s heart. She could only shake her head pathetically as her lower lip trembled. Unable to resist comfort any longer Clarissa wrapped her arms around Garret’s neck and sobbed into his shoulder. Garret pulled her closer and held her gently, not saying a word.
After Clarissa was able to choke back her cries and cease the tears, she asked for some alone time. Garret nodded in understanding and, after giving her one pain killer, left Clarissa alone with her thoughts. About half an hour later, standing at the top of the stairs, Clarissa heard Garret in the kitchen. He was watching a football game on the old little TV that sat on the counter. She knew this because he was yelling at the TV about someone not passing the ball. Clarissa tuned him out as she sneaked her way down each step. Without being caught, Clarissa finally made her way outside. It was dusk and there was a slight chill in the salty air that made Clarissa have chill bumps. Clarissa turned at the sound of a squeaking floor board. She was surprised to see Anne rocking slowly in a rocking chair at the far end of the porch.
“You scared me,” Clarissa chuckle nervously. For whatever reason, the old woman made Clarissa shy and nervous when in her presence. Anne made no response to Clarissa’s presence, not even eye contact. Clarissa shuffled her feet awkwardly as she glanced at the ocean. Figuring it was only polite to start a conversation, Clarissa gave it another shot.
“You have a lovely house. Thank you for allowing me to stay here w-”
Without making eye contact or blinking Anne cut her off.
“Once you are healthy, you are leaving.”
Clarissa’s mouth hung open in surprise. She wondered what she did to make Anne hate her so much.
“I was just saying thank you,” Clarissa muttered, turning to leave. Anne abruptly stopped rocking and looked straight into Clarissa’s dull blue eyes, making Clarissa freeze.
“I do not welcome liars into my home,” Anne growled sternly, “You are currently allowed here because of Garret. I am old. I have seen and learned much in my life. I have learned enough to know you will only bring pain with your lies and dishonesty.”
Clarissa looked closely at the old woman. Her white hair was tangled and thrown messily up into a pony tail. Her face was soft and wrinkled with age. She had a round kind looking face, but her eyes were black and emotionless, like rocks. Anne jumped up and waddled inside, slamming the door behind her hard.
Clarissa stood dumbstruck on the last stair on the porch, alone. The only sound was the gently lapping of the waves.
“If only Anne knew how bad and painful the truth was,” Clarissa thought, “then she would understand.”
Clarissa walked down to the water’s edge. She let the water lick her toes as she tried not to think. She turned at the sound of a sigh to find Garret standing a few yards behind her.
“Don’t mind her,” Garret said, referring to Anne, “she is just more cranky than usual.”
“What about?” Clarissa wondered aloud.
“In a week or two her whole family is coming down here for a family reunion and, well . . .”
“Anne doesn’t like people,” Clarissa finished for him.
“Bingo,” Garret chuckled, burying his hands in his pocket as he wandered closer to Clarissa until the two stood only a foot away from one another. The two stood in silence for a minute; Clarissa burying a sea shell with her toe as she tried to look busy, and Garret watching Clarissa wonderingly from the corner of her eye. Garret cleared his throat.
“So do you miss them?”
Clarissa’s heart ached as she looked to the horizon, her face a blank slate.
“Who,” she asked in a monotone voice.
“Your parents? Friends?”
Garret sat in the sand just out of reach of the water’s edge. Clarissa pictured the last time she saw her mother and father. Mrs. Key’s had told her she should be dead and Mr. Key’s had physically abused her. Clarissa remembered their faces as she last saw them. Her mother’s had been emotionless and her father’s contorted by rage.
Clarissa tucked her chin to her chest and stood limply in ankle deep warm water.
“No,” Clarissa lied, “they didn’t love me. My parents didn’t care about me.”
“What about your friends?” Garret asked wonderingly, “or your boyfriend?”
Tessa and Gracie were the first two people she thought of. Both were beautiful and rich; people to hang out with. But did either one of them know any of Clarissa’s secrets? Did any of them sleep over any time or like sisters? Deep down, though she didn’t want to admit it, Clarissa knew that back home if anything had gone wrong none of her friends would have stood by her if it risked lowering their reputations.
“I never had any true friends,” Clarissa shrugged like it was no big deal. She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly feeling chilly. “Just people to hang out with and keep my reputation up,” Clarissa mumbled. She had always been envious of the less pretty and less rich girls that had a best friend they were always with. Clarissa had always wanted that.
“What about your boyfriend?” Garret asked again. Clarissa turned dramatically around to face him to add emphasis.
“Never had time for one,” Clarissa said with a small smirk before turning back around. When Garret didn’t respond Clarissa asked him, “What about you?”
“Never knew my parents, so I don’t miss them. And the only friends I have are Anne and a few people in town I see on a daily bases that are all at least twice my age. I’ve lived in this house my whole life and I’ve never left town As far as a girlfriend I’ve never had time either between taking care of Anne and making sure the house doesn’t fall apart . . .”
Clarissa felt awful. Everything Garret knew about her was the lies she had made up, and yet here he was, telling her all about him.
“I guess I shouldn’t complain though, I have it pretty good here,” Garret sighed, “Everyone I nice enough and we care about each other. The ocean is a bonus.”
“What about Anne? What’s her story,” Clarissa asked.
“Not even I can tell you that one,” Garret mumbled.
Clarissa bent down and snatched a pile of seashells she spotted by her foot before turning towards Garret and going to sit by him. She shuffled through the pile, depositing the ones she disliked beside her. Since Clarissa’s left hand was in a cast this took twice as long.
“So what was the question you were going to ask me earlier?” Clarissa asked as she continued to shift though the shells. She felt Garret’s eyes on the side of her face but pretended not to notice and kept her head down. Garret gently took a hold of her right hand, stopping her progress. She let the shells slide between her fingers, watching them fall. Clarissa let all but one fall. It was a pretty yellow spiral shell about the size of her pinkie. Clarissa gasped at the feel of Garret cupping his hand on the side of her face and turning her head towards him. The smile on his beautiful lips was so sad. She found herself wishing to see his goofy happy smile again.
“Why,” he breathed, “is there so much heart break and pain in eyes as beautiful as yours?”
Clarissa’s breath seemingly caught in her throat as she watched his honey eyes memorize every detail of her face. He was stunningly beautiful. She memorized his face from the curve of his lips to his shining almond eyes.
“Why won’t you let me help you?” Garret continued, dropping his hand from the side of her face, “You barely eat, you cry so much, and you push everyone away . . . let me help.”
Clarissa was stunned by the amount of grief in his voice and how much he really cared. Looking deep into his eyes, Clarissa knew she had to tell him. She couldn’t lie; not about Sophie.
“I had a sister,” Clarissa managed to choke out. She wound her fingers through Garret’s trying not to cry anymore. Garret gave her fingers a little squeeze, urging her on.
“She was only 7 . . . her name was Sophie, but I called her sofa,” Clarissa gave a sad chuckle, “she hated that.”
She told him about how one day, on a whim, Clarissa had taken her to the little beach and about Sophie’s tragic death.
“I was my fault!” Clarissa sobbed, “I wasn’t able to help her! She died in front of my own eyes and . . . it was my fault.”
Tears of bitter grief and self loathing raced down her face as trembles shook her body. Garret wrapped an arm around Clarissa’s lower back and pulled her close to him and Clarissa didn’t fight him. She laid her head on his chest and wrapped her right arm around his torso; hugging him tightly like me might disappear at any moment. She balled his T-shirt up in her fist as she fought back the sobs and forget the memory of that terrible day.
Garret stroked her long raven black hair gently, letting her cry into his chest.
“It’s okay,” he mumbled gently as he rested his chin on top of her head gently with a sigh. She sniffled pathetically. This felt so right; being in Garret’s arms.
“I-I’m sorry,” Clarissa stammered as she tried to pull away, “I didn’t mean to have a meltdown.”
Garret refused to let her go and only smiled at her, “Feel free to cry on my shoulder whenever you want.”
Clarissa looked closely at Garret and his perfect smile. Then, slowly, she laid her head back down on his chest. She let go of the breath she had been holding and closed her eyes. Clarissa felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Before too long the pair got up and, with Garret’s arm wrapped protectively over Clarissa’s shoulders, went inside. Instead of going straight to bed Garret led Clarissa to the kitchen where he made her a hot bowl of tomato soup and crackers. The whole time, the two talked.
He told her more about himself and what he wanted from life. Clarissa found out that one day he wanted to be a marine and as soon as he could, he was going to join. Garret told her his favorite things and she told him about her dreams to be a nurse one day and more about herself as well. And even though she had a feeling it was a bad idea everything Clarissa said was 100% truth. They laughed and joked until one in the morning. Every time Clarissa looked at Garret she felt hope and felt so alive again. There was something else too that Clarissa couldn’t identify. It was an emotion stirring in her chest that made her stomach clench and her head fuzzy.
Garret found Clarissa’s laugh like music to his ears. She was so beautiful and witty. Clarissa was so much stronger and braver than she saw herself and the way that her eyes lit hp with hope inspired him. Garret couldn’t stop smiling. When both of their eyes began t droop from sleep, Garret walked Clarissa to her room and held her close.
“You’re a good, beautiful person, Clarissa,” Garret whispered in her ear has he hugged her.
“If only you knew,” Clarissa thought sadly as she hugged Garret back. Letting her go, Garret smiled and kissed her on the forehead. She shut the door behind him and quickly switched her gown for a looser and softer one and tied her hair into a pony tail. Clarissa wiped away the makeup and looked in the mirror. 15 days she had been missing now. 15 . . . and no one had tried to find her. Clarissa climbed into bed and slept well into the next afternoon.
Clarissa sat up in bed, panting, looking around frantically. As real as Sophie’s death had just seemed, Clarissa knew it was just a nightmare formed from her memory. Covered in sheen of sweat, Clarissa sat still and waited for her heart rate to finally slow down. Clarissa pulled her knees to her chest, vaguely noting she could ignore the pain that was aroused in her ribs from the simple movement. It seemed like a life time ago that she had lost everything that ever mattered to her in the course of one week. Watching the people she had loved and moments that could have been filled with joy and laughter slip through her fingers had about been the end of her.
A soft knock came at the door followed by a voice, saying, “It’s Garret.”
Clarissa immediately straightened her night gown and smoother her hair while pinching her cheeks for color. Garret entered wearing a loose turquoise V-neck shirt and simple jeans shorts. He balanced a tray with food in one hand and a glass of orange juice in the other as he held another glass of orange juice tucked in the bend of his arm. Clarissa climbed out of bed and helped him out, smiling at his ignorance. Garret laughed merrily and handed her the orange juice while brushing a light kiss on her forehead.
“Morning sunshine,” he smiled, placing the tray on the chest beside her bed, “brought you some breakfast!”
Clarissa’s insides felt like they had melted as she could barely make her way back to sitting on the edge of her bed without giggling to herself. “I can see that.”
Garret sat beside her and handed her one of the two plates on the tray. It had two delicious looking pancakes and some bacon with a scrambled egg. And, on Clarissa’s only, was one of her blue pain pills cut in half. She held up the tiny half pill with a raised eye brow. Garret shrugged.
“Anne says it’s time to slowly wean you off of them,” he replied before stuffing a huge bite of eggs in his mouth. Clarissa swallowed the little pill before digging into her breakfast in bed.
Garret got about half way through his pancakes before setting the plate aside and standing. He paced the room back and forth, his expression telling Clarissa he was thinking deeply. Clarissa munched quietly on her food for a few more moments before asking what was wrong.
“Nothing you have to worry about,” Garret mumbled with a quick smile at Clarissa before going back to pacing. Clarissa frowned and set her plate aside. She didn’t like how those honey eyes of his looked so lost and sad . . . she would give anything, she realized, to keep that beautiful smile on his handsome face. Garret stopped and looked out of the small window above Clarissa’s bed, a look of hopelessness in his eyes and his lips pressed into a thin line.
“Garret, what is it?”
He merely shrugged, “its Anne is all,” he sighed, looking at his feet, “I’m worried about her.”
Clarissa, her tummy full and eyes still droopy with sleep, laid her head down on the pillow and yawned.
“Why are you worried about her?”
“She is just so lonely . . . she never goes into town, doesn’t interact with anyone but me, and frankly just hates people. It pains me to see her so sad, but I-I don’t know how to help her . . .”
“Get her a puppy,” Clarissa mumbled, fighting to keep her eyes open. She smiled lazily to herself, slightly amused at the thought of seeing Anne playing with a puppy. It would never happen. Not that old cranky bad playing with a sweet, loving puppy. Not getting a reply, Clarissa sneaked a peek at Garret though her eye lashes. He was smiling down at her sweetly. Clarissa yawned again and smiled back up at him with her eyes closed.
The bed shifted as Garret sat beside her and helped her under the covers gently. Once settled in, the bed shifted again as Garret stood. Clarissa’s heart fell with slight disappointment. She wanted another kiss on her forehead from Garret.
“Why don’t you just sleep today,” Garret whispered, “I have some errands to run.”
Clarissa listened to him gather up the dishes and she let out a sigh. Just as she thought he was leaving, Garret bent down and brushed his lips lightly against her cheek, making her heart jump half way up her throat.
Clarissa felt as if she had just shut her eyes when suddenly she heard the door to her room burst open. A weird scratching noise filled her ears as she rolled over and opened her eyes, agitated. Clarissa gasped when she saw the intruder.
Instantly she was out of bed and sitting in the floor as she scooped up the tiny bundle of fur into her arms that was frantically trying to get a grip on the slick wooden floor with its little paws.
“A Shar Pei,” Clarissa gasped. It was a snowy white color with black tipped ears and a little pink nose.
“Daisy Mae,” Garret called, chasing the puppy though the door. He stopped and smiled at the sight of Clarissa lovingly stroking the puppy’s wrinkled coat as the pup slobbered all over her with glee.
“You actually got a puppy,” Clarissa said, dumbstruck, with a slight giggle. Garret settled down beside her, rubbing Daisy Mae’s stomach, “I was just joking!”
“I know,” Garret chuckled, “but it actually wasn’t that bad of idea.”
The two sat and played with the wrinkled ball of fur for a minute longer, laughing and joking the whole time.
“Daisy Mae,” Clarissa sighed, affectionately tapping the puppy’s pink nose.
“What,” Garret asked, rubbing the restless pup’s head with a laugh.
“It’s a beautiful name is all,” Clarissa smiled. Clarissa looked up and her eyes locked with Garret’s. They both smiled at each other, and Clarissa prayed he couldn’t hear her racing heart.
“Look away! Do something!” Clarissa thought frantically to herself as Garret leaned in closer. Her head felt dizzy as she, in turn, leaned in closer too. His lips were so perfect and only a breath away . . . and Clarissa turned away.
“No,” she thought to herself, “you can’t hurt him like this any longer. Soon you will leave and hurt yourself as well.”
“So, Daisy Mae,” Clarissa said in a perky voice, “want to meet Anne?”
Clarissa scooped the pup in her arms awkwardly, her cast and stiff, still sore fingers getting in her way. She grimaced, fighting back tears and trying to steady her trembling hands. Clarissa hoped Garret hadn’t noticed her shaky voice. She walked numbly down the stairs and stopped just outside of the kitchen where she heard Anne bustling around. Clarissa set Daisy Mae down and watched her scamper around the corner, listening to Anne surprised yelp and smiling softly to herself as a tear glided down her cheek. Swiping the pesky tear away, Clarissa entered the kitchen with a big smile. Anne was on her knees, fawning over the bundle of pure joy.
“You like her?” Garret asked from behind her, startling Clarissa. She hadn’t heard him behind her. Anne looked up and the pair was startled to see tears glistening in the old woman’s eyes.
“She is beautiful, thank you,” Anne whispered. Garret walked over to Anne, his boots loud against the hard wooden floor, and gave her shoulder a gentle pat before he exited out the back door. Clarissa made her way to the front porch, giving Anne and her new best friend some time alone.
Sitting on the last stair on the porch, Clarissa watched Garret’s truck speed off towards town as she dug her toes deep into the warm soft sand. As she sat basking in the sun, Clarissa thought. Garret was a good guy. He cared about Clarissa, that much was obvious, and he was so selfless; always looking out for Anne and setting aside time for a strange girl that would have died if not for him. Clarissa had only known the guy for about two weeks and yet Clarissa couldn’t stop the butterflies that invaded her stomach when she merely pictured his smile.
“Stop it!” Clarissa’s mind commanded her, “As soon as you can go out in public, you will have to leave! Stay here to long and anyone who might be looking for you will find you! Besides, Garret doesn’t know the real Clarissa Keys. If he did, he would never like you.”
Although it was the truth, Clarissa had a hard time admitting it to herself. Garret thought she was a remote city girl with a traveling aunt that lived with her best friend half the time so someone could take care of her. Her only living relative was her aunt who didn’t care about her. The only truths Garret knew about her that even mattered were Sophie and Clarissa’s name. Garret was all about the truth and despite his bad history, he was nothing but kind. His heart was big and open, his mind always understanding, and his words always kind . . . and Garret deserved better than her. Having lost track of time, Clarissa was surprised to see Garret’s truck pulling back into the drive way so soon. Clarissa listened to the truck door slam and Garret’s heavy footsteps come from the side of the house and up the path towards her. Just before Garret turned the corner, Clarissa stood to duck into the house before he would see her.
“Clarissa,” Garret hollered and Clarissa stopped short. She dropped the screen door and turned back around with a sigh.
“Hey,” Clarissa mumbled. She sat back down on the step and watched Garret coming up the path. Two heavy metal cans swung to and fro in each hand. Garret sat the cans to the left of Clarissa before sitting down on the next stair up on the right of Clarissa. She eyes the cans questioningly.
“Anne wants her kitchen repainted before the family reunion,” Garret said, cutting her off. Clarissa nodded and inspected the cans. They were a bright yellow color.
“When is the reunion?” Clarissa asked.
“Two weeks from Thursday. Today is Tuesday.”
Garret lay back with his hands folded back behind his head. Clarissa dared a glance back at him to catch him staring at her with a soft smile. Clarissa turned back around, pretending to not have noticed.
“Will you help me, Clary? To paint,” Garret asked. Clarissa couldn’t help but be surprised at him giving her a nick name. No one had ever given her one before. And the way Garret had said it, so gentle and lovingly. When Clarissa didn’t answer, Garret nudged her playfully with his knee. “Come on, princess, it’ll be fun.”
Clarissa fought a smile as she shoved his leg away and said, “Fine, fine! I’ll help.”
She turned to see Garret smiling ear to ear and gazing up at the multicolored sky. Something inside of Clarissa ached. She wished she could just tell him, wished it was that simple.
After excusing herself with the excuse that she was tired, Clarissa went up to her room and sat on the edge of her soft bed. Staring into the mirror, Clarissa was surprised at how well she looked. Her bruises were still visible and tender but not swollen anymore. Her ribs were still what hurt the most, even though it was more of an awful ache. But with the half of the pain pill taken in the morning, Clarissa found she could take small breaths without searing pain. Clarissa gave a little smile and probed the bridge of her nose, glad to see that it looked like her broken nose would heal straight, but possibly leave a scar.
Out of all of her wounds and pain, Clarissa hated the long ugly scratches all across her forearms. It was a small price to pay though to keep her face from being beaten in at least.
Sighing, Clarissa moved over to the window above the bed and, lying on her back, peered up into the night sky. The stars twinkling down at her reminded her of Garret. He made her heart ache with his ability to find beauty everywhere. Clarissa knew she would have to leave. As soon as Anne took the cast off of her left wrist, Clarissa would take off. The thought of never seeing Garret again made her insides feel hollow though, but it had to be done.
As Clarissa laid her head down to sleep, she gave herself a moment to remember her parents and Sophie.
“They must be so happy,” she thought, “to get rid of the burdens of us.” No, Clarissa did not miss home at all. She was on her own now.
Clarissa was pulled from her thoughts by the sweet sound of a strumming guitar drifting in through her window. It was a love song. A moment later, a silky smooth, angelic voice accompanied the music notes, mixing together to create the most beautiful noise Clarissa had ever heard. She fell asleep to the silky melody, a smile on her lips.
Clarissa’s days began to bleed together, and she stopped trying to keep track of time. She spent many hours sitting on the porch or wading into the warm ocean, lost in her thoughts. A war was raging between her heart and mind. Her mind told her to leave Anne and Garret and the warm, beautiful ocean she had become accustomed too as soon as possible. Staying in one place meant more of a possibility of being found and drug home. And Clarissa wanted to be any place on earth but home. Her only dilemma was no money and no car, since her own car had surely been seized by now. Surely, though, she was smart enough to figure that out on a whim.
Yet her heart told her to stay with Garret and Anne until she could pay them back for their troubles. But to stay with Garret was what her heart really desired. And no matter how many hours she spent oblivious to the world and lost in her own thought, Clarissa found no resolution to settle the never ending dispute. With each passing moment, Clarissa felt more and more lost.
“Clary!” Garret laughed loudly, snapping Clarissa back to attention. It was Friday afternoon, and the two were in the kitchen, getting ready to paint over the dull washed out walls. Clarissa managed to move her foot just a second before a glob of yellow paint hit the plastic covering the wood floors.
“Careful now,” Garret chuckled. Clarissa looked over to see him hunched over, painting the wall with long yellow strokes carefully. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, sweeping the long, messy brown hair from his eyes with the back of his hand and leaving a yellow streak in the process. Clarissa smiled at this, and Garret smiled back. Her heart melted . . . and the war waged on.
Clarissa and Garret both wore baggy white T-shirts and jean shorts. Clarissa had to borrow a pair from Garret, however, and since they were huge on her she had tied a strip of cloth through the loops to keep them up. Clarissa had once asked about where Anne had gotten all of those lovely dresses and learned that they had once been Anne’s; when she was a teen, of course.
They both turned at the sound of Anne laughing. Peering out of the window they saw her throwing a stick for the puppy, Daisy Mae, to fetch. The two had been inseparable since the moment they had met. Clarissa smiled. She had never thought Anne could laugh and smile until now.
“Have you ever painted before,” Garret asked as turning turned back to their work.
Clarissa slopped up some paint onto the wall, splashing a few dots across her face. She grimaced.
“No,” she replied with a slight laugh, “is it that obvious?”
Garret stood and gently took Clarissa’s wrist in his hand, moving it up and down in long, clean strokes.
“Not at all. Now remember,” Garret breathed, his breath warm on the back of Clarissa’s neck, “You are painting the wall, not your face.”
Clarissa gulped and nodded. She was so aware of how close Garret was to her. Being near Garret was like being on drugs. Everything was fuzzy, she felt like she could fly, and her brain refused to function. Garret stepped to the side and faced Clarissa, rubbing off the yellow paint from her chin and cheeks. Butterflies invaded her stomach at his touch as she glanced to see his honey eyes on her face. Swallowing back her pounding heart, Clarissa dipped the brush back into the pan and smiled sweetly at Garret who eyed her suspiciously.
“So, kind of like this,” Clarissa purred as she threw her arm up and ran the brush across Garret’s face. Laughter rocked her body back and forth, bringing her to her knees from the pain in her ribs and the joy in her heart. Garret, smiling, picked up the whole paint can.
“More like this,” he replied.
“No, please don’t!” Clarissa begged as she held up her arm to shield herself, but it was too late. Garret tipped the bucket and soon Clarissa was covered from head to toe with shiny yellow paint. Clarissa gasped as Garret collapsed on his back next to her, clutching his stomach as he laughed. Clarissa rolled onto her back beside him, wiping the paint from her eyes and flicking it onto his white shirt. When their laughter subsided to giggles, Clarissa silently gasped when Garret wound his fingers through her own. She looked over to see him smiling at her. His goatee was crisp with yellow paint and his nose as well, yet he somehow managed to still be breath taking. Clarissa caught herself smiling back.
“Lunch break?” Garret asked, sitting up and bringing Clarissa with him.
“But we just started painting,” Clarissa laughed.
“Well yeah,” Garret replied, helping Clarissa to her feet, “but now I have to go get more paint. Plus I’m hungry.”
Clarissa winced from her ribs and Garret quickly got her a pain pill and glass of water.
“Go and rinse off real quick,” Garret told her, nudging her towards the stairs, “I’ll be out front.”
Clarissa obediently took a quick shower. She slipped into a knee length, strapless brown dress with pink poka-dots and tied her long wet hair into a pony tail before heading back out down stairs. Walking out on the porch, Clarissa squinted in the bright sun light before spotting Garret.
He stood on the cement walk way just off of the porch. His yellow splattered white shirt hung on the railing as he stood in his shorts and rinsed off the yellow paint from his face. Clarissa wrapped an arm around the porch railing and tried to breathe while trying not to let her jaw drop. Garret had a very tan, well built body. He had a broad chest and well defined abs, and with his messy brown hair and well kept goatee, Clarissa was convinced Garret was an angel.
Garret rubbed water from his eyes and peered up at the staring Clarissa.
“Take a picture, Clary, it last longer,” Garret teased in an alluring voice as he winked at her. Clarissa sneered and looked away, replying, “Someone is a little full of themselves aren’t they?”
Laughing, Garret cranked up the hose and soaked the use-to-be-dry Clarissa who shrieked and retreated into the house. The rest of the day continued like this. Clarissa had more fun that day than she had had in a month. Somehow this boy with his devilish grin and witty comments took Clarissa’s mind off of her troubles and made her smile. Smiling around Garret, Clarissa found, was as natural as breathing. And it wasn’t that painful fake smile she put on for the world, no. it was a real, beautiful smile. At 12 that night, and five cans of paint later, they finally finished painting the kitchen. Clarissa’s cast was now more yellow than pink and it would take multiple showers for her to clean all of the paint from her hair.
Garret went to put up the paint and Clarissa took another shower and exchanged her dress for cotton shorts and T-shirt for pajamas. Braiding her hair into a side braid, Clarissa quietly made her way back down stairs so as to not wake Anne. She found Garret in a simple stripped T-shirt and long cotton pants sitting on the couch watching some CSI: Miami.
Clarissa plopped down on the couch beside him and he passed her the bowl of Doritos. Clarissa had stopped resisting food and found that, slowly, she was beginning to be a healthier weight again. She looked at Garret from the corner of her eye. He would never know just how much he had saved her life.
“So, want t hear something funny?” Garret asked, munching on a chip.
“What?” Clarissa asked, facing him. He smirked and said, “The family reunion was moved up. It’s next Thursday now.”
“Are you serious?” Clarissa laughed. They still had to clean and rearrange almost the whole house in less than a week now. Garret nodded then stretched and laid his arm across the back of the couch behind Clarissa. She gulped and moved a little closer to him.
“So, how are you feeling, Clary?”
She felt his hand settle lightly on her shoulder and in response she lay her right arm across his chest and rest her head on his shoulder.
Her wrist and ribs were a mere ache all the time now, but it was better than the searing pain that use to be there. Her bruises still occasionally throbbed and she was upset over the scars they would leave.
“Much better,” Clarissa sighed, her words muffled by his shirt. He smelled like lavender and the ocean. Clarissa could almost hear Garret smiling as he kissed the top of her still damp hair. She peered up into his honey eye, her chin resting on his chest. Something about the way Garret looked at her made her feel like she could fly.
“Let’s get you to bed,” Garret whispered.
Giving her a glass of water, Garret walked her to her room. Before she walked into her room, Garret turned her to face him, bent down close, and brushed his lips against her smooth cheek, sending sparks flying though her body.
“Night,” he smiled.
“You win tonight heart,” Clarissa thought to herself as she snuggled deep into the covers, replaying Garret’s peck on her cheek, “But not ever again.”
With each passing moment, Clarissa became healthier and her body mended. Anne gave Clarissa a sort of lotion that made the cuts heal faster and the scars less noticeable. Her fingers didn’t hurt anymore and her bruises were merely dark spots now. And she owed it all to Anne and Garret. And Clarissa realized she had slowly become part of the routine. In the mornings, Clarissa got dressed and ate breakfast with the pair, which was always made by Garret from scratch. Anne would poor over Garret and shower him with compliments but speak no more than three emotionless words to Clarissa on a good day. Clarissa was okay with this though. She gave the old woman space and proceeded to be kinds to her.
After breakfast, Anne spent the majority of the day outside, training and playing with the puppy, Daisy Mae. Garret would usually go off into town for an hour or two to shop for groceries or other necessities. While Garret was gone, Clarissa would do whatever she felt like to fill the time. Most of the time Clarissa found herself going for long walks down the beach and collecting sea shells for a necklace she was making; other times she tidied up the house to stay on Anne’s good side.
When Garret would get home, they would work on the house together for the majority of the day to get ready for the family reunion. Anne had a made a list of things she wanted done before then. But, at the end of every day, no matter how hard Clarissa tried to resist, she always ended up in his arms. They would collect sea shells together, watch movies, or just sit on the porch and talk well into the night. More than once Clarissa had seen Anne shooting her glares when Garret and she were together. Instantly Clarissa would be reminded of her lies and feel guilty, just how she was sure Anne wanted her to feel.
On Tuesday night, Clarissa and Garret were seated on the porch steps, both admiring the night sky. Garret sat at the top of the third step and Clarissa on the step below. She sat horizontally on the step, her back leaning against Garret’s legs for support as she weaved some sea shells together with some sturdy string and listened to Garret tell her about a boat in town that he wanted to buy.
“Sing for me,” Clarissa sighed, interrupting Garret. Garret paused and looked down at her. She looked beautiful in the flowy light blue colored dress with her long raven hair spilling over her shoulders that danced slightly in the summer breeze.
“I don’t sing,” Garret replied, tucking some hair behind Clarissa’s ear. Clarissa rolled her eyes and looked up at him.
“I hear you almost every night out here with your guitar,” Clarissa said, “please?”
Clarissa’s heart did a cartwheel as Garret leaned down close, a smirk on his perfect lips, and said, “You weren’t suppose to hear that,” while holding eye contact. Clarissa forced herself to breathe and managed to conjure up a sweet smile.
“Well then you shouldn’t sing outside of my window, Romeo.”
Garret let loose a full blown grin that made his eyes light up. Clarissa smiled back. It was like watching the sun come out from behind the clouds. Garret got up and went inside the house to get his guitar. Clarissa took that time to get her breath back and push away the butterflies before he sat back down, his guitar in hand.
“Ya know,” Garret began as he plucked at the strings, “this will cost you.”
“Oh really?” Clarissa asked, taking the bait. She couldn’t help but flirt back, no matter how much her mind told her to stop. Maybe it was because he made her heart stop and at the same time like she could fly, no, soar high above the clouds with only one glance? Maybe because he was all she thought about now and that she fell asleep with him on her mind and awoke with him still on her mind? Because he took all of her pain and sorrow away with a wink and gave her hope and joy with a simple smile and “good morning”? Or maybe it was because, and no matter how many times she denied it, Clarissa Keys, the girl who had never so much as had her first boyfriend or first kiss, was in love.
“I think a kiss will cover the cost,” Garret purred. Clarissa saw the nervousness plain as day written across his face and how his hand shook ever so slightly. He knew it was a long shot, and he was too nervous to hide it. But Garret was enough of a gentleman to ask her. Clarissa’s heart fell to her toes and her mind gave a triumphant holler.
“Actually,” Clarissa said quietly and she rose to her feet, keeping her eyes trained on the ground, “I’m kind of tired . . . maybe later.”
Before Garret could stop her Clarissa ducked inside and bounded up to her room where she shut the door and collapsed on her bed.
“Why do I have to make everything so complicated?” Clarissa asked, chiding herself. Not a moment later, the faint sound of music floated through her window. It was soft and slow at first before Garret’s silky voice accompanied it. Sitting up, Clarissa peered though her small window and saw Garret standing in the sand, facing the house and looking up into her window. He sang her a song that she had never heard before, so she figured he had written it. When he was down, Clarissa clapped with tears in her eyes.
“Bravo,” she whispered to herself.
“Good night, Juliet,” Garret called up to her. Clarissa smiled and sniffled, trying not to cry.
She lay down in bed, pulling the covers to her chin and blinking the tears from her eyes. She couldn’t help but flirt back with Garret, but maybe, it was because she was in love.
Thursday morning was the first morning in over a week that was different. Clarissa awake to find the house in chaos. Clarissa wandered from her room, still in pajamas and with no makeup on, down stairs and into the kitchen. She found Garret in the kitchen frantically baking and rearranging things. The air was filled with a thousand different scents from Garret’s crazy cooking spree.
“What are you-” Clarissa wondered aloud, baffled.
“Clary!” Garret gasped, “You’re up! Good! Go get ready and come back . . . quickly!”
“Geeze, okay,” Clarissa mumbled as she stumbled back upstairs sleepily. After a quick shower and ten minutes to put her makeup on, Clarissa made her way back down stairs to help. Clarissa loved how the halter top black dress sashayed around her knees. Garret smiled as she re-entered the kitchen.
“What was that about/” Clarissa asked as she snatched a steaming pancake off of a plate and took a giant bite out of it.
“Today is the reunion,” Garret explained as the oven timer went off and he grabbed some oven mitts to retrieve whatever was in there, “and they are going to start arriving soon.”
“What do I need to do?” Clarissa asked, polishing off the first pancake and grabbing another. Garret was one of the best cooks she had ever encountered, and his sweet, delicious pancakes were to die for.
“Just answer the door and direct everyone to the kitchen,” Garret replied as she took a freshly baked apple pie from the oven and set it on the one clear spot on the table. Clarissa eyed it hungrily. Clarissa smiled and nodded and was about to leave to go stand in the front when Garret stopped her and motioned for her to come closer. Clarissa warily moved by his side.
“Yes?” she asked.
Garret tossed the mitts down on the counter, weaved an arm around Clarissa’s waist, and pulled her close. Clarissa placed her hands on each shoulder, not pushing him away but also not allowing him any closer to her. The whole time, Clarissa had to remind herself to breathe. Garret had shaved and taken a shower. He looked dashing in his grey button up shirt and white shorts. Clarissa admired how his feathery brown hair hung down slightly in his gleaming honey colored eyes. Garret’s lips were turned up into a handsome smirk.
“How do you feel?” Garret asked.
Clarissa gave him her most charming smile and replied, “Better each day.”
Garret, slowly as to not startle her, leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. Clarissa held back a smile. It startled her how badly she had butterflies and how hard her heart pounded in her chest with a simple touch from him.
“Tell me if you need anything,” Garret mumbled in her ear. Clarissa swallowed loudly and nodded before stiffly leaving the room.
“Clarissa Keys,” Clarissa thought, mocking herself, “What have you done? You’ve officially fallen in love with this guy when no other guy has ever made you so much a stammer before!”
Feeling a bit dizzy, she took her spot at the front door alone, trying to sort out her feelings. Not ten minutes later, Clarissa heard a car pull up and the door slam shut. Smoothing out her dress and combing her fingers through her hair, Clarissa stood straight up and put on her best smile.
Coming up the path were two plump women that looked to be in their mid 50’s. Clarissa was surprised to see one of them was Anne; or at least looked like Anne. She had on bright pink lip stick and blush, a flowy yellow sun dress on and lively hazel eyes that matched her huge straw hat.
“Why hello darling!” the Anne-look-alike chimed. Clarissa smiled.
“Hello,” she replied politely, nodding to them both. The other woman had short grey hair with a multicolored butterfly hair clip holding back a section of hair. She wore hot pink cut offs and a tie-dye pink and white shirt. The women both had the same color skin and beak like noses, but this one had black eyes, like Anne.
“I’m Maybell,” the Anne-look-alike introduced herself as she shook Clarissa’s hand vigorously.
“And I’m Sheryl,” the other woman said, shaking hands with Clarissa as well, “We are Anne’s younger sisters.”
“And I am Clarissa,” Clarissa replied, not quite sure how to go on. There was a brief moment of awkwardness before Clarissa held the door open for the older women and directed them to the kitchen. Clarissa listened to the women bustle inside and their cries of glee as they found Garret. Three more cars pulled up.
Out of the first came a tall, skinny man and a blonde haired and blue eyed girl that couldn’t have been much older than five.
Out of the next car came and elder man with a full head of silver hair and a big, wide nose; a young couple that seemed to be in their late 20’s; and twin boys that looked about 12 and were dressed identically in jean shorts and simple black dress shirts.
Out of the last car came a young girl, probably only five years older than Clarissa that was noticeably pregnant. She was Asian with short black hair that framed her pretty round face.
The group spent a couple of minutes greeting and hugging each other before making their way to the front door. Each one of them rattled off their names as they shook hands with Clarissa and she held the door open, directing them to the kitchen.
“Bill and this is my daughter, Fiona,” the tall skinny man introduced himself and his daughter, “I am Anne’s son, and this is her granddaughter.” Bill informed Clarissa before disappearing inside. Next was the young couple with their sons’ and the old man. The woman was petite with straight brown hair, brown eyes, and a big toothy smile.
“Hello,” she smiled, “I am Ashley, Anne’s youngest daughter. This is Terry, my husband; and Tim and Tom, our sons.”
Her husband, Terry, looked like a line backer with broad shoulders and a tough guy look, but when he smiled Clarissa got the vibe that he only looked tough, and was really a big push-over. Tim and Tom were both brown hair and brown eyed with smiles as big as their mothers and button noses. “I’m Alexander, Anne’s older brother,” the old man grunted, following the family inside.
Lastly was the pregnant woman.
“hi sweetie,” she chimed, making her way slowly up the three steps, then, surprised Clarissa, sweeping her into a big hug. “I’m Chloe, Anne’s daughter.”
The two parted and Clarissa, still smiling, raised an eye brow. “Ummmm . . .” Clarissa mumbled, trying to figure out how that worked. Chloe smiled.
“Adopted,” she said with a slight giggle. Something about Chloe's shy yet sweet nature made Clarissa like Chloe. She directed Chloe inside with a smile.
After moment after Chloe went inside, Garret appeared at the door.
“Why don’t you come inside and take a break and I’ll stand out here for awhile.”
Clarissa nodded gratefully, it was hot out.
“What do you want me to do?” Clarissa asked as she stepped inside. Garret passed her on his way out the door and Clarissa’s shoulder barely brushed his chest, but it was enough for her to smile and her make electricity shoot through her veins.
“You just relax and mingle,” he told Clarissa with a wink. She smiled and nodded.
“And Clary?” Garret called, stopping her in her tracks, “You look beautiful.”
Clarissa, beaming, turned to leave and made her way to the kitchen. It was only four simple words. Words that Clarissa, admittedly, had heard plenty in her life, but Garret said them differently. He meant it. She felt his eyes watching her walk away and Clarissa made herself hold back tears. She was in way over her head.
“Why, there she is!” Maybell squealed as Clarissa wandered into the kitchen. The place was chaos. Family members crowded every square inch of the small kitchen, all chattering loudly and making a mess. The twin boys and little girl (Tim, Tom and Fiona) ran and weaved their ways through the adults, laughing and squealing. Clarissa spied Anne sitting at the table, Daisy Mae in her lap. She was pretending to listen to Terry and Ashley, the young couple, as they chattered away. Clarissa joined Maybell, Sheryl, and Alexander in the middle of the room.
“How did you come to know Anne and Garret now, dear?” Sheryl asked in a sweet voice. The trio looked at her curiously, awaiting an answer.
“Just, uh,” Clarissa cleared her throat nervously, “met them in town one night. They sort of saved my life.” She said, chuckling nervously. Maybell and Sheryl smiled at Clarissa and commented on how handsome Garret had become since their last visit. Glancing at Alexander, Clarissa gulped. Maybell looked like Anne, but Alexander was the real twin. Clarissa saw he didn’t trust Clarissa at all by the way he glared at her in complete disdain with his deep black eyes. Clarissa excused herself and made her way through the crowd, making sure to greet everyone. Anne, Clarissa learned quickly, had a lot of family for not liking people so much. After two whole hours of mingling and learning more names than she could remember, it had cooled off enough for the huge group of people to move outside. Throughout the evening, Clarissa had met Anne’s two sisters and one brother, her son and two daughters, two grandsons, three granddaughters (including Chloe’s pregnancy) and more cousins than she could count. She was relieved to get out of the cramped house.
Walking out the back door, Clarissa smiled when she saw what Garret had set up. There were multiple blankets scattered throughout the back for everyone to sit down on and relax. Also, there was one long table that had all the food and drinks on it.
Clarissa made her way to the table and took glass of soda pop. Fiona ran by, Daisy Mae on her tail, giggling and squealing loudly. She hid behind Clarissa’s legs for a moment before taking off again in the opposite direction. Clarissa smiled sweetly at the little girl. Everyone had been so nice to Clarissa, paying her complements and making her feel like family. The whole party, by about n hour after everyone started arriving, was convinced Clarissa was Garret’s girlfriend. After denying it a couple times and finding it futile, Clarissa merely nodded and smiled when it was mentioned, hoping Garret wouldn’t take it the wrong way.
Clarissa made her way over to Chloe and another middle aged woman who she could not remember the name of when she was startled when someone wound their arm around her waist, but merely smile when she saw it was Garret.
“Why hello, girlfriend.” He purred with a goofy smile. Clarissa felt her face glow bright pink as Chloe and the other woman gushed about how sweet they were together. “Please excuse us, ladies,” Garret drawled, his eyes never leaving Clarissa’s, “We shall be right back.”
Clarissa allowed herself to whisk away by Garret where she found herself in the kitchen, alone with him. Garret didn’t let go of her waist.
“So,” Garret said with a quirky smile and a raised eyebrow. Clarissa folded her arms and simply looked into his mocking eyes.
“Yes?” she asked innocently.
“Finally gave into my charm now didn’t ya . . . girlfriend?” Garret chuckled, adding emphasis to the last word. Clarissa let her arms fall to her sides in defeat.
“I didn’t know how to convince them we aren’t . . . are you mad?” Clarissa asked meekly. Garret looked confused.
“Mad? Clary, it’d be an honor to be with such a girl as you. I could never be mad.” Garret leaned in closer, pulling Clarissa in closer as well.
“And what kind of girl is that, carrot?” Clarissa asked jokingly, remembering the night she had accidently called him carrot. Garret’s smile widened.
“AA charismatic, beautiful, funny, amazing girl, Clary,” Garret whispered with a hint of a smile.
Clarissa swallowed loudly, her mind feeling fuzzy. “That’s something typical to say,” Clarissa murmured, unimpressed. Garret pretended to think for a moment before meeting her eyes again with an easy smile.
“My dream girl, but only better.”
“How so?” Clarissa asked, her heart drumming loudly in her ears.
“Your real.” Garret replied. Time seemed to stand still as Garret leaned in closer to Clarissa until his lips were only a breath away. Clarissa didn’t pull back. He hovered there for a second more before Clarissa understood. He was letting her choose to kiss him or to pull away. It was all up to her.
Clarissa kissed him.
Her heart stopped for a moment before jumping out of her chest and flying high in the sky and touching the stars. At that moment, Clarissa felt sure she could sprout wings and fly at any moment. Garret’s lips were so soft and fit perfectly with her, like a long lost matching puzzle piece. Garret kissed her softly, holding her close as if she could disappear at any moment. The two parted moments later. Clarissa kept her eyes shut a beat longer, committing every last detail of that moment to memory. Garret looked down at her like he had just found the most precious treasure in the world. Clarissa looked up at him and smiled widely. At that moment, Clarissa made up her mind. Clarissa loved Garret, and that was all that mattered. Her heart had won the war.
“Don’t leave, Clary,” Garret pleaded in a sad voice.
Clarissa smiled and batted her eyes at him, replying, “I’ll stay for as long as you’ll keep me.” Garret smiled, leaned down and pecked her on the lips one more time before winding his fingers though hers.
“Come on, I have something for you.”
Holding hands, the two went out the back door and made their way to the front of the crowd. Their backs to the ocean, Clarissa and Garret stood in front of no less than one eighty people.
“Everyone! Hey!” Garret hollered. Slowly, one by one, everyone fell silent and sat on the blankets, facing the pair.
“If everyone will get comfortable, I’d like to give you guys a surprise I have put together.” Garret said. At this point everyone was whispering, wondering what it could possibly be. In front of everyone, Garret gently laid a kiss on Clarissa’s forehead. The crowd sighed in admiration of the cute couple. “Take a seat, Clary,” Garret whispered with a smile, unwinding their fingers.
Clarissa, slightly confused, found a seat in the front row with all of the children. Fiona laid her head on Clarissa’s shoulder and she ruffled the little girl’s pretty blonde hair. It was then that Clarissa noticed the guitar Garret was slipping on over his shoulder. Clarissa gasped.
“This is dedicated to Clarissa: the only person that has given me courage and inspiration in no way that I can describe . . . thank you, Clary.”
Clarissa tried to wipe away the tears that slithered down her face as she smiled meekly and nodded to Garret as the crowd clapped excitedly. Smiling, Garret began to play. Clarissa giggled slightly as new tears spilled when she recognized the song. It was “For you I will” by Teddy Geiger.
Garret’s voice flowed smoothly and perfectly with the guitar, producing an angelic harmony that made Clarissa’s heart melt. In front of eighty some people Garret, who had never played for anyone but Clarissa before, sang a song for Clarissa.
Her blissful state of mind didn’t last long.
Only a minute into the song, Garret’s expression turned completely confused and he ceased playing. Everyone turned to see what could have possibly made him stop. What Clarissa saw made her heart contract, and not in a good way.
Anne stood in the doorway of the kitchen flanked by two police officers; both tall and very official looking.
“Can I help you, officers?” Garret called out to them in a baffled voice. They were too busy scanning the crowd, so Garret turned his attention to Anne.
“Anne . . . ?”
“We are looking for a Clarissa Keys,” the taller officer with a bald head and bigger belly called, “can Clarissa Keys please come with us?”
Clarissa wanted so desperately to sink into the sand and never be found. She ignored the surprised whispers that rippled through the crowd as everyone’s eyes turned to her.
“She didn’t do anything, Anne!” Garret cried angrily. Anne looked guiltily at her feet.
“I’m sorry Garret, it’s for your own good,” she said in a soft but stern voice.
The shorter officer with a thick grey mustache and seemingly to be all muscle held up a missing persons poster with Clarissa’s smiling face plastered on the front. The crowd gasped, and Clarissa winced at the sound. She looked at Garret and felt her heart break at the look on his face.
Garret saying her name was like stabbing a dagger through her heart. Humiliated, sad, and defeated, Clarissa rose to her feet. The police men made their way towards her. Clarissa stood still and stared at her feet, her heart weighed down by an alarming amount of grief. She listened to Garret screaming how it could only be Clarissa’s aunt who had overreacted.
“Right, Clary?” Garret pleaded her to agree, “It’s all okay.”
Garret threw down his guitar, the neck of it snapping clean in half, and ran to stand by Clarissa. Fiona, her wide blue eyes full of confusion and fright, wrapped her tiny arms around Clarissa’s leg and stared up at her.
“It’s okay,” Clarissa whispered to her, “It’ll be okay. Let go.” Fiona let go and ran to her father’s open arms. By now everyone was shouting and protesting, all trying to get their opinions and confusion in the air. To Clarissa it was all just white noise. Clarissa looked up at Garret as the police man with the big mustache took her arm. His face was a mask of anger, confusion and a little bit of fear.
“What going on?” Garret pleaded to know.
The police man (His name tag read Dale) asked her gently to follow him. Clarissa felt as though every last ounce of strength was drained from her and found she could merely shake her head at Garret. Officer Dale escorted her around the house and to one of the two police cars waiting. She sat in the passenger seat and Officer Dale walked around the car to the driver’s side. Clarissa watched Garret and Anne climb into the other cruiser.
“What now?” Clarissa whispered.
“We go to the station and sort this mess out.”
It had been a rhetorical question, but it didn’t matter. The cruiser started and they pulled out of the driveway on their way to town. Clarissa saw everyone watching them leave, no doubt all of them were curious and confused. Clarissa wished she could have the same ignorant bliss as them.
The police station was small and smelled strongly of cleaning chemicals. A small, stringy lady sat at the cramped front desk, typing away on who-knows-what on a small old looking computer. Officer Dale led Clarissa to a back room. A table and some chairs sat in the middle of the room, and a small counter with a coffee machine and some snacks to the side. A mirror on the back wall loomed over the room, no doubt a two way mirror. She was ordered to sit so she took a seat on the far end of the table. A few seconds later, Garret and Anne entered the room escorted by the taller and bald officer whose name tag read Officer Shaun. Anne and Garret sat down in front of Clarissa and the officers stood at opposite ends of the table. Clarissa felt Garret’s eyes on her, but she kept her eyes down on the table.
“Okay people,” Officer Shaun began, “I need to hear everyone’s side of the story. Let’s start with the owner of the house.”
Anne shuffled her feet and cleared her throat.
“Approximately 23 days ago, Garret and I went to dinner at a little dinner in town. On our way home, we witnessed a mugging. Garret chased the muggers off and found Clarissa who begged us not to take her to the hospital. Since I am a retired nurse, I took her to my home and gave her the proper treatment for her wounds. When she came to she proceeded to tell us that she had been on her way to meet her aunt when she was mugged. Said her aunt travels constantly but is her legal guardian so every once in a while they would meet and check up on one each other. Clarissa told me that her aunt didn’t need to be notified because she would not miss Clarissa. I let her into my home and allowed her to heal. She healed quickly and since I didn’t believe one word she had told me, I figured she’d be gone soon. Today I heard her name on the radio and when I saw her making eyes at Garret . . . I figured this was best.”
Garret sat quietly when the officers asked him to confirm this.
“Well yes . . . we saved her life, and I began falling for her . . .” Garret trailed off then looked Clarissa dead in the eye.
“What going on, Clary?”
The officers and Anne and Garret turned their attention to her. Clarissa folded her hands on top of the table. It was time for her to fess up for her lies.
“About a month ago, my little sister died in a freak accident . . .” Clarissa started. She told them how guilty and lost she had felt afterwards and how the weight of her parents blaming her was too much for her to deal with. Clarissa told them about how she ran away with her parent’s money, only leaving out the part where her father hit her. Clarissa went on about how when it got dark she pulled over and decided to stay in the hotel down the street and went to eat when she was violently mugged. And when Anne and Garret saved her life she didn’t want to go home so she begged them to not take her to the hospital. When she began to heal, she told them, that when her cast was taken off she was going to leave and never look back.
“But then I started to develop feelings about Garret and I trusted him . . . he made me feel safer than I had in a long time. I told him about Sophie. Since then I hadn’t really wanted to leave. I figured I’d stay with them as long as they didn’t know and would allow me to stay . . . I didn’t plan to make such a mess.”
Clarissa dropped her head in her hands and sobbed quietly.
“I’m so sorry for everything,” Clarissa whispered. More than anything, she needed Garret to tell her it was okay. For him to take her in his arms and tell her it’d be okay. But when Clarissa looked up, Garret wasn’t even looking at her. Officer Shaun handed her some tissues and Clarissa took it slowly.
“Garret?” Clarissa whispered.
He refused to acknowledge her.
“Garret, please, I-”
Garret’s voice was icy and full of spite, Clarissa hesitated.
“I had no choice!” she protested, trying to defend herself.
“I told you everything! I never lied to you, not once! I trusted you Clary . . . I told myself I was crazy to believe you’d ever go for me and that I was living in a fantasy, but I took that chance anyways. And for what? To find out this whole thing was a lie and that you planned on taking off in the middle of the night one night to never look back.”
Garret had jumped to his feet and stood in the opposite side of the table, his fist planted firmly on the table-top and his eyes smoldering as he looked at Clarissa. Garret slowly shook his head and Clarissa was alarmed to see tears in his eyes.
“I told you everything,” he repeated as he clenched his jaw, “and yet you yourself was on big fat lie.” Garret stood up straight and let his arms fall limply to his sides as he continued to shake his head. “You made me fall in love with you.”
Clarissa’s heart broken into a billion pieces as Garret’s voice cracked and a single tear fell from his eyes. As she watched those silent tears run down his beautiful face, Clarissa wanted to die.
“I-I’m sorry . . .” Clarissa stammered weekly, still crying. Anne stood and went to Garret’s side, patting his arm gently. Garret’s eyes were reed and full of heart break and grief.
“He hates you,” Clarissa thought as she searched his eyes for some form of forgiveness.
“I am too.” Garret replied, his angelic voice cracking. Anne gently led him from the room, whispering quietly to him that Clarissa couldn’t quiet hear.
Clarissa sat in utter shock. This had to be a nightmare. No one could have so much bad luck in one life time. Officer Dale began to say something, but Clarissa interrupted.
“How long until my parents arrive?” she asked quietly.
“About 5 hours,” came the reply. Clarissa nodded and politely asked for some water. Officer Dale got her some water and the left after talking in hushed whispers with office Shaun.
Clarissa waited . . .
And waited . . .
Around one in the morning, Clarissa’s parents finally had arrived. Clarissa was sitting in the same spot, her untouched water in her hand when the door squeaked open.
There stood the beautiful Amelia Keys, Scott Keys arm around her frail shoulders. Neither of them had changed. Not one bit. Her mother had been crying though, Clarissa noticed, and her father’s eyes were red.
“Clarissa!” her mother wailed, “You had us so worried!”
She took a step forward and threw her arms open.
“How dare she think I would just run into her arms after all that I have been though,” Clarissa thought angrily. Keeping her temper, she stood gracefully, pushed her chair under the table, and slowly made her way towards her parents. She allowed them to wrap her in their arms and fawn over her, but Clarissa made no move to hug them back, or even speak. Clarissa’s mother cried and held her tightly as the officers repeated what all had happened. Minutes later, Clarissa found herself in the back of her father’s SUV, on their way home.
No one spoke. Her mother’s tears had not ceased, and nor had her father’s. Clarissa knew home would be just as she left it; lonely and empty. Clarissa also knew that she would not be able to tolerate it. No, she could not simply go home and act as though the last month had not happened. Clarissa couldn’t go home and live with the guilt and sorrow that she had battled with every day when he parents only made it worse. No. She could not let that happen.
Clarissa glanced up at the dash board where the MPH read and saw they were going 15 due to the extremely curvy roads. Looking to her right out the window she saw the outline of a small house just off the road. And, maybe it was just a trick of the eyes, but Clarissa could have sworn she saw a figure standing near the water’s edge. Praying it wouldn’t hurt too much, Clarissa swung the door of the SUV open wide and leapt from the vehicle. Miraculously, Clarissa landed on her feet. She stumbled and scraped her knee badly, but as soon as she got her footing, Clarissa was sprinting down the beach.
Her stomach and ribs ached with every step worse than the one before, but if anything Clarissa merely sped up.
There he was.
Garret stood ankle deep in the foamy water, staring out over the endless ocean before him. Clarissa whizzed past the house, briefly nothing the befuddled Anne before screaming at the top of her lungs.
Garret whirled around a moment before Clarissa crashed into him. He stumbled back one step, but kept his footing and managed to stay standing.
“Clarissa, what-” Garret gasped.
“Hushed!” Clarissa commanded him breathlessly. “Now look, if you won’t talk to me then fine! But you are going to listen,” Clarissa growled ferociously. She took a deep breath and looked up into Garret’s eyes. “I didn’t plan this.”
Garret stood up straighter and folded his arms as he looked down at Clarissa with disdain. Clarissa could hear her parents shouting at her, so she continued on quickly.
“I didn’t plan on my sister dying in a freak accident, or being depressed and running away or getting beaten half to death and being saved by you! I wanted to die that night, Garret! I had nothing to live for, no reason at all. But you . . .” Clarissa painted her finger at Garret and stood on her tippy-toes, trying to get in Garret’s face so he would understand, “You and your stubborn head wouldn’t let me die. Yes, I lied. I lied because I was trying to escape my life. But the thing is that lying didn’t help me forget . . . you did. I hurt you, I know . . .” Clarissa took another deep breath and got out of Garret’s face, taking a step back but not dropping his eye contact, “For the first time in a long time, you made me feel like life was worth it. You find beauty in everything and you make me feel like . . . like . . . like I can fly, happy, ready for anything, and no guy has EVER had that effect on me. If I could redo it, I would. But I can’t . . . so, Garret?”
Clarissa felt the eyes of Anne and her parents on her back as her heart pounded loudly in her ears.
“Yes, Clarissa?” Garret asked coldly.
Clarissa, standing on her tippy-toes once more, pressed her lips against Garret’s. The kiss only lasted a split second, but Clarissa would forever remember it. She wrapped one arm around Garret’s neck and placed her right hand on his chest. Garret’s arms hung loosely by his side, he didn’t fight her kiss, but he also didn’t kiss he back. Clarissa ran her fingers through garrets hair.
“I love you,” Clarissa whispered so only he could hear, “And I hope one day you will forgive me. You don’t have to love me back, but just please . . . forgive me.”
Clarissa let her arms slide from his neck and fall limply to her side before turning around and walking slowly back to her parents. She passed Anne on her way.
“Thank you for saving me . . . for everything.” Clarissa said as she looked the old woman dead on in the eyes. Anne nodded.
Her father gave Garret a lingering stare before wrapping an arm around Clarissa’s shoulders.
“You can explain later,” her father said, leading her to the car.
Clarissa woke up at 2:05 in the afternoon. She was in her room again, everything perfect and clean, just as she remembered it being. Clarissa drug herself from bed and took a shower. In comfy pajamas, her hair still wet and bruises still visible Clarissa went to he kitchen.
At the table sat her mother and father, breakfast made and waiting for her. Without hesitation, Clarissa plopped down at her seat.
“It’s Friday, don’t you guys have work?” Clarissa asked.
It was the first thing Clarissa said to her parents since she had seen them. Her mother grabbed a fork and began picking at her eggs.
“Family comes first,” Clarissa’s father announced as he smothered his French toast in syrup. Clarissa looked up to see them both looking at her with sorrow in their eyes.
“We know that now,” Mrs. Keys concurred as she grasped her husband’s hand. The two looked at Clarissa, pain clearly written on their faces.
“Let me get this straight,” Clarissa growled, “it took your youngest daughter’s death and your oldest daughter running away for you to realize this?! What kind of parents are you?!” Clarissa stood’ fuming over the table. She so badly wanted to throw or hit something, but was too busy shaking with rage.
“Clarissa . . . we were bad parents. We were so shocked and full of grief over Sophie’s death that-”
“You were shocked? I. Watched. Her. Die.” Clarissa growled.
‘What we did was wrong. Clarissa you’ll understand one day when you are a parent, we-”
“Then,” Clarissa interrupted, cutting off her mother and grasping the chair so hard her knuckles turned white, “you told me I should have died and you hit me!”
By then Clarissa was pacing back and forth on the cold tile floors. She missed the always warm and a little uneven floor of Anne’s house. Her parents’ tears stopped her rage.
“We are so sorry, Clarissa!” Mrs. Keys sobbed, “words and actions that were only spoken out in anger are unforgivable, but . . .” she could not finish her sentence, Clarissa saw, she was crying too much.
“We love you so much Clarissa,” Mr. Keys continued as he pulled his wife close and rubbed her arm soothingly, “We don’t expect you to forgive us, but we love you nonetheless.”
“I know how you feel,” Clarissa thought. She sank to her knees and her parents were instantly by her side.
“You’re my parents,” Clarissa said, her voice cracking as she looked into the eyes of both her parents, “of course I forgive and love you. How can I not?”
Once the tears subsided, breakfast was resumed. Clarissa filled them in on every detail that happened when she left. That includes her feelings towards Garret. They asked her a few questions. Mostly about how she felt and gave her some pain killers for her ribs.
Clarissa’s parents told her that when they found her, they went nuts. They told Clarissa about how they sent flyers to every western state, had multiple search parties, and even called the national news to broad cast it. Clarissa was a little surprised, but refused to show it. It would take time for her to fully forgive and trust her parents that much was obvious, but she also knew that they loved her and she loved them. And that was all that mattered.
Maybe home could be like it use to. Maybe it could be a loving and happy home again. More things were discussed at the time as well. It was decided that Clarissa would be homeschooled the rest of this year and then return to school her senior year. Clarissa also agreed to go see a physical therapist to ease her mother’s mind. She even told her parents that she would get a job to repay them for the money she stole. Once this was all decided, Clarissa went back to her room to sleep.
Lying in her plush bed, Clarissa found she could not get Garret out of her mind. She wondered if she would ever see him again, or even if he wanted to see her again. Clarissa couldn’t help but feel a little regretful over leaving so easily and a lot heartbroken from losing the only guy she had ever loved. At that moment, for whatever reason, Clarissa thought of the book “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” and how, in the end, he ended up with the people he loved. After all of his hardships, trials and errors, he found the person he loved, as impossible as it seemed. So maybe, after all Clarissa had been through, God would cut her a break and let her be truly happy.
Clarissa vowed to live the way that Garret would want her to until the day she met him again. She would never lose that scrap of hope she so desperately clung onto because that was the only thing keeping her afloat in her sea of despair.
1 YEAR LATER
Clarissa had been driving all day. It was dusk now, the sun setting on the ocean, creating remarkable scenery of colors. The cool June air was soothing against beautiful sun kissed skin. As the four lane road narrowed down to two lanes, Clarissa glanced in the mirror, her nerves beginning to set in. Her long black hair was French braided and reached half way down her back, her lips a pale shade of red that complimented her fitted red halter top and short khaki shorts. Clarissa had a small scar across the bridge of her nose that she subconsciously rubbed when nervous . . . which is what she did then. She passed some diners and inns as she drove through the old town. Clarissa rubbed her forearms, feeling the bumps from the many scars that remained from that night over a year ago. They were pale and most of them small, but all stood out like a flash light in the dark on her dark skin.
Trying to calm her heart rate, she took deep breathes as a little house came into view as she exited the town. She pulled into the drive way slowly and forced herself out of her little punch-bug and to walk up the side walk to the front door. Clarissa felt as though she was watching herself from far away as her stomach did summer salts. Before she could convince herself it was a bad idea and bail, Clarissa knocked loudly on the old wooden door three times. For a moment, no one answered. Clarissa’s heart sank as she let out the breath she had been holding and turned to leave. Suddenly the door flew open and Clarissa was tackled from behind by a huge Shar Pei.
“Down Daisy Mae,” Clarissa laughed, pushing the giant dogs paws off of her shirt and scratching her ears.
Clarissa looked up with a sweet, sincere smile.
“Hello, Anne. How are you?”
Anne stared open mouthed at the beautiful young woman on her door step. Without one word the old woman scooped Clarissa up into a bear hug. Clarissa hugged her back tightly. Once they parted Anne, tears in her eyes, sniffled, “Don’t waste your time here with me, dear. Garret is around back.”
Clarissa nodded her thanks and hopped down the porch, looking back to see Anne smiling at her. Anne went out of sight as Clarissa rounded the house. In her mind, she imagined everything decorated the way it had been the last time she had been at the old house, which had been Anne’s family reunion. She closed her eyes and imagined all of the blankets laid out on the ground for everyone to sit on, the long table covered in drinks and food, and the night air filled with laughter and chatter of the reunited friends and family. Remembering, though it brought her great pain and sadness as well, lightened Clarissa’s heart and made her smile to herself. Clarissa opened her eyes and stopped short.
There he was.
Garret stood facing the ocean, his back to Clarissa. He wore jean shorts that looked like they needed a good washing and a simple tye0dye T-shirt. Clarissa noted his shorter hair cut and how his shoulders went up as he took a deep breath of salty air. Clarissa, her heart racing and her head fuzzy, took a few steps forward.
“Hey, Carrot,” she said softly in a sweet voice. For a moment she thought her quiet voice had been carried away by the salty summer air, but then Garret hesitantly turned to face her.
Clarissa was almost sure her knees would give out from the joy she felt simply from seeing him again. She liked his shorter hair with only a soul patch. He looked like a fallen angel . . . just as she remembered. But something about his eyes was different. Those beautiful honey colored eyes seemed less brilliant and bright than she remembered.
As soon as Garret smiled though, they were almost glowing.
“Clary,” Garret breathed.
Clarissa had imagined this moment many times before. She didn’t know if she would stay standing still and let him come to her, if it’d be awkward, if he would run to her like in the sappy movies, or if he would even want to see her at all. But as soon as Garret said her name, Clarissa raced into his open arms.
“I thought you hated me,” Clarissa mumbled into his shirt as she hugged him back fiercely, loving the way he held her tightly and close to him like she was something precious. He rested his chin on the top of her head.
“How could I hate the only girl I ever have and ever will love?” Garret whispered back. Garret broke the hug and held Clarissa at arms length, but kept his hands wrapped around her small waist firmly.
“Clary, I thought I’d never see you again. And it was killing me . . . how we parted was all wrong and I-”
Clarissa stood on her tip-toes, letting his hands lock behind the small of her back and intertwined her fingers behind his neck as she hushed him with a gentle kiss.
“I love you,” Garret breathed when they parted. Clarissa’s cheeks were slick with tears of joy.
“I love you, too,” Clarissa chuckled. Garret picked her up by her waist and brought her lips to his. Clarissa, startled but a step beyond delighted, cupped his face close and kissed him back.
“Yes,” Clarissa thought, “Edward Tulane was right to never give up hope.”
And Clarissa’s heart soared.