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Author's note: Dreams--day and night :)
“Earth to Ana!” The voice jolted me out of my haze. For a moment I had almost forgotten I wasn’t alone. I turned my face to the fingers snapping in my face. “What?” “Pass the sunscreen!” Carly yelled, sounding exasperated. It was a well known fact that Carly could be, well, a bit dramatic. I had met her two years ago, on my first day in Carlton, Oregon. We didn’t hit it off to a good start either; I was angry at having to start over again in a new town, and Carly was in a bad mood due to the fact that her parents wouldn’t let her go on the Drama trip to Italy that summer. She was texting on her phone when she ran into me as I was dragging in a box of dictionaries, literally. “Hello, watch it!” she snapped at me. I muttered an apology under my breath and continued to use the pull and drag system to get the box up the front walk. “You new here?” she called over to me. I watched, speechless, as she walked over and began to push while I pulled. I realized she was starring at me expectantly and replied, “Yeah, this is my first day here. I’m starting at Briarwood High tomorrow.” “I guess I’ll see you there. Do you have your schedule yet?” I pulled the worn piece of paper out of my shorts pocket and handed it over. I received all of my new school’s information the past week. I hadn’t even heard of three of the classes that I was signed up for. They were probably all the rejects since I’d be starting later in the year. “We have the same morning classes!” she chirped at me. It looked like she completely forgot about how she snapped at me just minutes ago. “Cool. I’m Ana Stovin by the way.” I held out my hand without thinking. Who shakes hands anymore?” “Carly McNiere.” She shook my hand lightly. It was one of those hands that feel perfectly moisturized and clean; the kind that you knew got manicures weekly. My own hands were rough and dry thanks to my past time of gardening. Carly ended up helping me lug a majority of the boxes inside. We crashed on the front porch when we were done. The house was an old Victorian right on top of the beach. It was painted a soft canary yellow with a white trim, there was a wraparound porch, big, arched windows, and even a huge yard to top it off. It was definitely the best place we had lived in so far. “Why did you move here anyway, it’s a total snoozer town,” Carly said. “My mom found a job here in a lawyers office, and we liked the town.” I lied. “Huh,” was all she said in return. It was true that my mom found a job as a lawyer here, and it was a pretty town, but it certainly wasn’t how we ended up here. “What grade are you in?” I was glad that she interrupted my thoughts then; that definitely wasn’t a story I wanted to get in now. “I’m a sophomore.” “Oh my god, me too!” she squealed. We ended up talking until sunset when my mom finally came home. I heard all about the cute boys, her future acting career, the best stores in the mall, her “besties”, and her family. My mom walked up right when she started in on her current nail polish color. It was our first day here and my mom was already working late. I let out a sigh. “I’ll be here tomorrow at 7:30 to walk to school, ‘kay?” Carly said as she started walking off porch, even though it didn’t sound like much of a question. Carly lived in the house next door. It looked almost identical to mine but was white instead of yellow. “Sure,” I called back. I smiled as I thought of our first meeting. I never would have thought I’d end up being friends with a girl like Carly. She was bossy and confident, which was pretty much the complete opposite of me. After moving around so much, I was content to stay on the outside where I wouldn’t have to lose any friends when I ended up moving, which would only be a matter of time. Carly wouldn’t let me back down though, she called every night to gossip, introduced me to all her friends, tried to set me up with the boys she deemed cute enough, and dragged me shopping; an activity I dreaded more than anything else. “I think I’m going to go for Brady this year,” she said while spreading the sunscreen across her stomach. Carly had one of those perfect Barbie bodies that some girls get without even trying. Her diet consisted of candy, soda, and chips, but she looked model skinny anyway. Carly was a notorious flirt, as I found out throughout the two years we’ve been friends. She usually ended up getting the boys she went after; they all loved her. She had blonde wavy hair that looked like gold in the sun and piercing blue eyes that practically reeled in boys with a single bat of her eyelashes. I always felt kind of frumpy around her; I had dark brown with hair with red undertones that refused to do anything but lay flat and limp. My body was average but I was taller that most girls our age. I was too tall and boys usually didn’t like that. People have always told me my eyes were beautiful, though. They were a deep green that changed from brown and gold to blue, but it wasn’t like I’d have suitors lining up for my eyes. “I thought Brady had a girlfriend,” I answered. “They broke up last week.” Brady Sacks was one of those guys who always had a girlfriend. The perfect ones who probably never even went near a cheeseburger, which happens to be my favorite food. I didn’t doubt Carly’s ability to snag him, but like always, I’d have to feed her ice cream and listen to her whine for hours once they broke up, which they would; they always did. “Maybe you should try being single this year, it works for me,” I said, half sarcastically. She gave a snort in return, which sounded barbaric coming from her small frame. “I’m serious, Carly. You always end up breaking up with them anyway.” “Whatever, Brady is mine.” I closed my eyes again and let the sun’s rays soothe me. It was the last day of summer, and it was a tradition for me and Carly to go to the beach all day before school started. This year we would be seniors and Carly couldn’t wait for all the parties and other senior privileges like free periods and eating in the quad for lunch. I didn’t really care about that stuff, I was just happy that I didn’t have to move again. The next morning I woke up early to calm my nerves. I always got nervous on the first day of school even if I wasn’t starting somewhere new. I slowly pulled on my faded jeans and t-shirt, the majority of my wardrobe, feeling exhausted after five hours of sleep. Despite attempting to going to bed early, I kept waking up from dreams of chases and hiding in the dark. I’ve had nightmares all my life and insomnia was a regular thing for me. I knew my mom would just worry and try to get me to take meds if I told her, so I pretended to go to bed at a normal time and would end up just reading for a couple hours. I walked down the stairs to get my usual cup of coffee and saw my mom already at the table. “You’re up early.” I said between a yawn. “My job starts earlier that I’m used to, but I get to leave earlier so we can probably have dinner together now.” My mom has always been a workaholic, and I can’t even remember the last time we had dinner together. She hates to lose cases, so she spends all her time researching and planning so she can’t lose. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy she is successful, but I can’t help wishing she was home more. I walked over and kissed her cheek, smelling her rose perfume. “I’m leaving now, I’ll see you when you get home.” “Make this year the best, we never have to worry or move again because of Him. Have fun at school, Annie.” I couldn’t help smiling as she hugged me tightly and ruffled by hair. I walked out the door actually feeling excitement for once. The two years I spent in Carlton were the longest we had ever stayed somewhere, and as of last year, we wouldn’t have to move again. I pushed that thought away as I saw Carly walking up. “Hey girl, you look…happy.” She said looking confused. She knew I hated the first day of school and that I never look this happy without cause. “Just looking forward to lunch on the quad.” She shrugged and we started walking towards school. The school was only a block away and was originally an old courthouse. It was a massive brick structure with dormer windows and a bunch of courtyards sprawled randomly around it. “This is going to be the best year yet!” she sing-songed. I hoped she was right. Ever since the last week of school last year, my mom and I have been living in freedom. There would be no more moving or keeping myself walled in. I could have boyfriends and friends and parties, and I wouldn’t have to leave it all later on. He was gone, and He wouldn’t come back. I felt the curtain that surrounded me lift a little. I was seeing the beginnings of the light that laid beyond. “Brady!” Carly shouted, bringing me out of my thoughts. I watched as she flung herself at him, he looked surprised but happy. I felt the smile lifting the corners of my mouth, and I didn’t try to stop them. All of a sudden I got that feeling on the back of my neck. That pricking, hair rising feeling that can only be described as someone watching you. My heart started pounding as I froze. Before I could think, I spun around to look. I caught sight of a shadow over by the big oak tree in front of the benches. It was a man shape shadow that was facing me. I felt my feet moving closer, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I wasn’t aware of Carly calling my name or any other person starring at my stricken face. The sun moved out from behind a cloud and I caught sight of what the shadow was covering. It wasn’t Him. It was just a student who was looking at me strangely. I thought his name was Sam something. I felt embarrassed for looking at him like he was a monster or something. I quickly grabbed Carly’s arm and hurried up the steps. She pulled her arm away to face me, “What the heck was that?” “I thought he was someone else,” I whispered, feeling a blush spread across my cheeks. She sighed loudly and I looked up at her. She was starring at me calmly, but I could see the concern in her eyes. “Honey, you cannot keep doing this to yourself. I don’t know what happened to you in your past, but you can’t let it control you anymore. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but this is not healthy.” “I’m fine, Carly. Let’s just get to class.” Briarwood High was a small school so most of the seniors had the same classes together. I kind of liked how everything and everyone was close together; it was a nice change from the separation I was used to. The first year was tough, having a new kid in town was a novelty to them. People usually didn’t move to Carlton unless they had family there, so everyone was curious to who I was and why I was there. They quickly realized I was nothing special and let off on the questions and teasing. Carly’s friends took me in surprisingly well; they seemed like the type to think they’re better than everyone, but they didn’t. Her friends were what was called the “Populars” in high school. They went to all the parties, went out with all the cute boys, and went shopping on a weekly basis. It really wasn’t the group I belonged in but Carly was nothing if not determined. I was sitting in English class during 3rd hour feeling restless. We were starting our Shakespeare unit and we had to read a book with a partner and do a project on it. I didn’t mind it, I loved Shakespeare, but I was nervous about who my partner would be. It made it hard if you didn’t know who you were with; you would have to make plans outside of school. I also didn’t want to get stuck doing all the work, which usually happened. “Carly McNiere and Brady Sacks…The Temptest,” Mrs. Tinlen droned in her nasal voice. Of course Carly got Brady for her partner, she always had the best luck. I almost missed who my partner was as I was thinking of Carly and Brady. “Ana Stovin and Sam Connery…Romeo and Juliet.” I blushed as some of the boys in the class gave whistles and cat calls. Romeo and Juliet with the guy who I acted like a freak in front of just a couple hours ago…great. I walked over to his desk after all the names were called since it didn’t look like he was coming to me. “Hey,” I said shyly. He didn’t say anything for a minute, just looked at me silently. “Hi,” Sam said, moving his books over. We sat there in silence for a while before I realized I would have to get us started somehow. “How about we read the book this week and then start on the project after the weekend?” “Okay,” he replied. Well, it looked like I would be doing all the work if he kept this up. “Have you ever read Shakespeare before? It can be kind of difficult at first, but the stories are wonderful,” I said, trying to start some kind of conversation. He looked at me strangely. I realized, too late, how dorky that sounded. Who reads Shakespeare in their free time? I only read books like Shakespeare because it was nice feeling like I was living in another time. I read on those days when everyone was out with their friends, and I was home alone. Reading gave me something to do; it took me to another place where I could escape. If the book was from a different era, it was the best escape there was. “No, I’ve never read any Shakespeare,” he said, still looking at me strangely. His dark eye brows were drawn together like he was concentrating hard on something. “Okay then, I guess we should just start reading then.” I looked over at Carly and saw that she was smiling at Brady. They were sitting close and her hand was on his arm. Well, that didn’t take long. She looked up at me and gave me a wink. I smiled back at her and started on the first line…two households, both alike in dignity. Carly linked her arm through mine as we made our way down the hall after English. I stopped short as I remembered I forgot my Chemistry book in my locker. “Hey, I’ll meet you in the quad, I have to stop at my locker.” “I’ll save you a spot!” She called, but I was already walking away. I walked quickly down the hall to the back of the school. They had to add an extension to the school to fit the lockers because the halls were too narrow. I put in my combination and grabbed my battered book. I closed the door to see a face right in front of me. I gave a squeal before I realized who it was. “Woah, calm down, I didn’t mean to scare you,” He said as he grabbed my arm to keep me steady as I stumbled. His hand was big and warm, I could feel tingles where his skin met mine. I mentally shook myself. Concentrate, Ana. “Sam, what are you doing here?” I asked, breathless. He was taller than I thought, and his hair looked like black satin it was so shiny. “I had to grab something from my locker and I saw you were at yours, I was just coming by to say hey.” “O-oh,” I stuttered, caught up in his hair. He pushed a hand through it but it flopped back across his forehead. I was captivated. “Did you need something?” I asked finally. Maybe he needed help with the book already. He gave a short laugh. “No, like I said, I just came to say hey.” Right, he already said that. That stupid blush was, once again, creeping up my face. “Well, it was nice seeing you,” I said quickly as I turned around to get to lunch. “Wait,” he called as he caught his way up to me. “Do you want to, maybe, go to the park and see a concert this Friday? We could talk about Romeo and Juliet.” I was stunned. Sam was making plans with me. English class was probably the first time I’ve ever talked to him...he probably needed help with the book, that was it. “Just as friends,” he said as an afterthought, as if he could hear my inner banter. “Um, sure, I guess” “Meet me at the fountain at 6,” he said, walking away. I stood there in the hallway for a moment, trying to catch my bearings. This was just too weird. I glanced at the clock and saw that lunch was already half over. I quickly made my way to the quad and sat down between Carly and Mary Beth. “What’s wrong with you?” Carly asked. I took a deep breath and said, “Sam Connery just asked me to go to a concert with him.” The whole table was quiet. I looked up and saw that they were all staring at me. The table consisted of all Carly’s friends, mine too, I suppose. They were all glamorous, but they were also nicer than I would have thought. But seeing them all stare at me like I was some kind of oddity…it was uncomfortable to say the least. “Sam asked you to a concert?” Lauren said. She was my least favorite out of the group. It wasn’t her fault, not really. She always had a snaky tone that sounded bi***y no matter what she was saying. I don’t think she tried to sound that way, it was just her. She must have thought I looked offended because she quickly added, “I mean, Sam doesn’t ask any girls here out. Not since his brother, at least.” That was news to me. I just assumed he didn’t like the girls here. I never heard about anything about a brother. “What happened to his brother?” They shared a look between each other before Mary Beth answered. She sighed and said, “It was before you came here. They were really close, like, they did everything together. Ever since their dad left, they stuck together. Sam would go crazy if he heard someone was making fun of Ralph, his brother. Sam was driving home Ralph one day from a movie when they got in an accident. A drunk driver. Sam got pretty beat up, but Ralph didn’t make it. The other driver t-boned them and Ralph was sitting in the passenger seat. He died instantly.” They were now all looking down. I couldn’t believe I never heard about this. No wonder I never saw Sam smiling or dating girls. Seeing someone die who was that close to you would be unimaginable. “Sam only had a broken arm and bruises,” she continued. “He blamed himself for the accident, God knows why. He just started running again last year. I think he realized that Ralph would want him to. He used to go to every meet and cheer him on. Sam was unstoppable.” That was a surprise. I couldn’t believe I never knew any of this. There was so much to Sam that I didn’t know exist. It only made me want to know more. “Enough about this sad stuff. What did Sam say to you exactly?” Carly interrupted, looking thrilled now. Carly could switch emotions in a blink. I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. “He came to my locker and asked if I wanted to see a concert on Friday with him,” I said. “He said we could talk about our project in English,” I quickly added. “That’s it?” Carly replied. “Sorry to disappoint you, but yes, that’s it.” I laughed. “Well, what are you going to wear?” I looked up to find them all looking at me eagerly. I didn’t know I was supposed to wear anything special. We were just meeting to talk about the book and listen to music. Was I missing something? My guess would be yes. “Don’t worry,” Mary Beth grabbed my hand. “We’ll help you.”
The next few days felt like they all blurred together. It certainly didn’t feel like the first week; I had the homework load to prove it. Every teacher loaded us with work and tests, and I could barely keep up. The woes of being an honor student, I suppose.
I still caught Sam looking at me throughout the school week. I couldn’t stop thinking about him and his brother. In a way, I understood. I had lost a family member too. It wasn’t someone I was closed to, or even loved. But I still knew what it was like to live without someone who was supposed to be there. It always felt like there was a missing piece. You could try to fill or replace it, yet I found nothing worked.
I wondered if Sam had someone to talk to about what happened. I never did. There was my mom, of course, but I didn’t want to bother her. After all our running, she was always caught up with something. It didn’t matter if it was work or grief. I truly hoped Sam had someone, anyone, that was there for him.
Sam was an enigma. At first glance, he appeared to be a laid-back slacker. He didn’t participate in class discussions and his face never showed any emotion. So I was surprised to find how well he followed along, I thought he would expect me to explain everything to him. He was actually very smart, and he had his own opinions about what parts of the story meant. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that I would be able to share the work load. Through working together in class, I became less shy around him. I didn’t hold back my thoughts or ideas.
Naturally, Carly constantly bugged me about him, even tried to push me towards him like we were in 6th grade. She says guys like confident girls, but I’ve always been nervous around boys. I never had time to have a relationship with what was always going on.
My mother and I were constantly on look out, keeping our things packed in boxes, staying home after dusk, and never walking alone. He might be out there watching, waiting, until one of us slipped up. Even though now He couldn’t hurt us, He still haunted me, He still stalked my every move. His whispers would creep into my ears whenever it was dark, His eyes were still seared into my back when I was alone, His steps would run through my head wherever I walked. He wasn’t gone, not entirely anyway. He was the reason I had no substance in my life, but I vowed I would change that when He was gone. I stayed friends with Carly, I unpacked our boxes, and now I was even going to hang out with Sam. It was to work on homework nonetheless, but it was something. The curtain had moved up another inch. I wasn’t suffocating in the tight embrace that followed me wherever I went. I could breathe.
It was Friday before I knew it, and my stomach was in knots. I knew it was foolish, we were only going to a concert, but it was still a first for me. I never went to concerts or movies or to parties. Instead, I watched it all on the TV at whatever place I called home. I was elated that I could finally experience the things I missed. I felt like I was living the childhood I never had.
I drifted off through my first three hours and didn’t even realize it was lunch until Carly poked me out of my day dream. I walked slowly with her to the quad, still unfocused. I think she knew she wouldn’t be able to snap me out of it and didn’t bother trying.
“So did you figure out what you’re going to wear?” Lauren said as we sat down. She pushed the sunglasses up on her head, creating a headband for her bleach blonde hair. She was the shortest of all of us, but she made up for it in sky-high heels. She was gorgeous with big brown eyes, silky hair that reached just past her shoulders, and a body any human would drool over. She was also going out with Brady’s friend, Tom Jennings. She and Carly were exhilarated over double dating. They spent hours on the phone planning their dates. It was almost comical to watch.
“Um, no, not yet,” I replied.
“That’s it! I am coming over after school to get you ready,” said Carly. It seemed wrong that they were more excited than I was about this.
“That’s really not necessary.” I tried to think of an outfit in my mind to get them off my back, but it was hopeless and they could tell.
“Fine, come over,” I replied. We all stopped talking abruptly as we caught sight of Sam walking by. He was wearing faded jeans and a black shirt that fit his defined chest wonderfully. I couldn’t look away.
He usually sat with some of his jock friends. Our school wasn’t very cliquey, but we were friends with people who shared the same interests: Jocks, Goths, Nerds, Student Council, Drama, etc. Sam didn’t seem to fit in that well with the jocks despite being one. I wasn’t sure if this was because of the accident or something else. I had never seen him at any of the parties Carly dragged me too. There were all sorts of people at the parties. It was the one time when we didn’t physically separate ourselves. It sounded mean saying that, but it really wasn’t. We Didn’t fight or judge each other, we simply stayed with our own friends.
I brought my eyes away from Sam’s chest and up to his eyes. I caught his wink at me as he walked away. I looked down quickly, quite aware of my blush. The girls all giggled and whispered to each other. I really hope he didn’t hear them gossiping about his cute butt. I didn’t blame the girls, it was cute. Sam had one of those lean, athletic builds from cross country. It was way better than the overly buff look some of the Jocks got. The rest of lunch was spent talking about these jocks. It was amazing how intense these conversations got. I tuned out, thinking about Sam again. Mmm.
Just like my first three hours, I couldn’t pay attention to the last three. In only a few hours I would be with Sam, and I was starting to regret saying yes. I knew it wasn’t a date or anything, but I’ve never been alone with a guy before. Pathetic didn’t even begin to describe it.
“Really, Ana, stop worrying about tonight,” Carly said on our walk home from school. I was biting my cuticles, my bad habit, and Carly grabbed my hand.
‘You’re going to a concert and will probably only talk about your English project,” she said, trying to calm me down. She was right, it wasn‘t a big deal. We walked straight up to my room to find an outfit. My wardrobe was pretty much only jeans, t-shirts, and sweaters. I never had any reason to own a skirt or dress, let alone heels. I didn’t think Carly would find anything that didn’t look like what I wore everyday, but oh well.
“At least make yourself useful and get us some snacks,” Carly said.
I sighed and went back downstairs to get some food. I popped some pizza rolls in the fridge and turned away from the windows. I hated looking out windows, there was always the chance something was looking back. I knew I was paranoid but I couldn’t help it, He did it to me.
I grabbed our snack out of the microwave, grabbed some coke, diet only, and went back upstairs. I stopped dead in the doorway; it looked like my closet exploded in the five minutes I was gone.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I had to find something date-friendly for you,” Carly said, smiling.
I sighed and didn’t bother correcting her about the date part. I said, “Did you find anything?” She immediately started pulling off my clothes and bending me into the ones I was supposed to wear. I just closed my eyes and acted like a doll for her; it would be the easiest. She next sat me down to put some of her makeup on me. I never wore anything then more then a touch of mascara, and I warned her not to put too much on.
“You’re not going to look like a clown. I know how to do makeup, I do everyone’s before the shows.”
I closed my eyes again. Out of everyone, she would be able to make me look the best. I trusted her; she never tried to pry things out of me or make me do anything I thought was uncomfortable. She pulled me in front of a mirror. I’m embarrassed to admit I was scared to open my eyes. I slowly opened them, and stared. I was wearing dark skinny jeans and flat boots. On top, I had a cream blouse on that tied into a bow in the back which I didn’t even know I owned. The outfit was actually pretty cute but it was my hair and face that surprised me the most. She pulled the front of my hair back with a clip and left a few strands to frame my eyes. My eyes looked bigger and greener than usual. She lightly lined them with deep brown eyeliner and spread some blush across my cheeks. I looked older and more girly than ever before. I let a slow smile spread across my cheeks. I didn’t even let myself worry over how I shouldn’t dress up for tonight.
“Carly, you did great,” I said, hugging her. She laughed and hugged me back. When I looked at the clock it was already quarter to 6. I hurried down the stairs with my tote bag swinging and Carly following behind.
“Good luck!” She called and I swept out the door.
The park was only a few blocks away and I didn’t mind walking. I couldn’t help smiling as I thought of my mom’s reaction when I told her about tonight. She was thrilled, to say the least. She always felt guilty that she couldn’t give me things other girls had like dances and boyfriends. Now that we were staying, she took every chance to make it up for me. She bought me makeup and tried to get me into a dress, which didn’t go well. Even though I never really wanted any of it, it make me happy that she was trying. When I told her about Sam she actually squealed. Just like Carly, she ignored the studying part. I let out a laugh that turned a few heads as I passed by, but I didn’t care. I was feeling happy, and I wasn’t going to let that go.
I caught sight of Sam by the fountain and stopped before he could see me. The happiness left me as nervousness once again settled in my stomach. I tried taking a few deep breaths but they didn’t help. He turned around suddenly as if he felt my eyes on him. He gave me a smile that made me heart beat faster. Since there was nothing else I could do, I walked over to meet him.
“Hello, Ana,” he said. His voice was deep and rich, and I actually got chills on my arms.
“Hi, Sam. He looked me up and down in that way guys do. He gave me a lopsided smile and said, “You look nice.” I blushed and mumbled some kind of thanks. He took my hand and walked me over to a bench beneath a Japanese maple tree. It was a gorgeous day; the sun was out and there was a slight breeze to counteract the summer heat.
“Thanks for coming today.” I looked over and met his eyes. Even sitting he was a few inches taller than me; he was probably a little over six feet.
“Why did you want to go to a concert to talk about Romeo and Juliet?” I felt embarrassed asking this, but I was curious. He looked down like he was the one embarrassed and took a minute to answer. When he finally looked up his eyes were piercing. My mouth dropped open a little and that same crooked smile lifted his lips.
“I wanted to talk to you.” I was confused. We were meeting to talk about the book.
“You’re different than most girls, and I know that is cliché to say, but it’s true,” he said before I could ask. What did this have to do with English? Besides, I didn’t know why he would think I was different. We’ve never talked or hung out, so I didn’t understand how he would know if I was like other girls. He could probably see my confusion and hurried on to say, “I’ve seen you in class and in the hallways with your friends, but you aren’t like them. You don’t gossip or go out with every male in school. You don’t worry about makeup or clothes, like they do. You read, and not books like Gossip Girl. I’ve seen you read Shakespeare for fun, and other books that I can’t even pronounce. What person in High School reads like that for pleasure? You’re different, Ana, and I wanted to find out more. I know I told you I wanted to talk about the book, but I just wanted to talk to you,” he explained. He looked embarrassed. I was speechless. I literally had no words. My thoughts were jumbled. I had so many questions and wonders. I never knew Sam had even noticed me before except when we were partners. I was flattered but very confused. I didn’t think I acted that different from my friends, and I didn’t know he paid that much attention to notice if I acted differently, anyway.
“I’m nothing special,” I whispered. I was abashed. To me, Sam and I seemed to be from different worlds. He was beautiful and mysterious, and I was lanky and awkward. I think he figured out how was feeling and took my hand.
“The band is starting, lets go.” I stood up with him, and we walked over to the space where the band was. It was a local band, and they were actually pretty good. I could tell Sam was really into the music. I couldn’t focus on the band so I looked at Sam instead. His face was close to perfect. I took note of all his features: his eyes were a stormy grey and heavily lashed, his nose was long but straight, his lips were full and almost red, his jaw was chiseled, and his cheekbones were high and sharp. He looked like someone you’d see in a magazine ad, but I knew he never would be. There was a hardness in eyes that showed that he’s seen more than he should have. Through looking at him the past week, I saw a shell around him. He smiled, but it never quite reached his eyes; he laughed, but it was short and weak; he had deep conversations, but his eyes wandered. He never looked like he put his full self into things. It made me wonder what he was thinking, but his face was closed off. He turned his eyes and caught me staring. I didn’t blush this time, I just continued to look.
“Come on,” he said, taking me hand once again. I followed him without word across the park. He took us over to the hill that overlooked the water. It was quiet up there, the hill was at the edge of the park so not many people wandered over. We sat quietly, just looked at the water. It wasn’t uncomfortable though. He wasn’t one of those people who always felt the need to fill the silence.
“Ana,” Sam said. I looked over at him but he was still looking at the water.
“Why do you like to read?” he asked. I was flustered but I answered,
“It lets me escape into a new world. I get to be someone I’m not, feel things differently. There is such a variety that you can always find something to match your mood.” I felt embarrassed again. He intimated me a bit. I felt like a loser for being so into reading, but he didn’t look at me like I was a dork. He smiled and it looked sincere.
“I’m the same way with music, you know,” he said. I wasn’t very surprised. He was fully absorbed during the concert.
“Why do you like it?” I asked.
“I guess it’s like reading for you,” he replied, still looking at the water. “It’s so real, the lyrics are a story. It’s relatable and it feels like it touches something deep inside me.”
“I understand completely,” I said, and I did. He looked at me now, and it felt like there was some kind of connection between us. It sounded stupid to think; it was almost indescribable. It felt like we had a deeper understanding of each other.
“I should probably go, it’s getting late.” I looked at my watch and was surprised at the time. It was later than I thought. I hurried up and brushed the grass off my jeans.
“Ana, could I have your number? You know, in case I need to ask you something about the book.” It was then that I realized we never even mentioned the book once.
“Sure,” I said, giving it to him.
“Bye, Sam,” I whispered.
I walked through the door and rested against the back like a girl who just got her first kiss. I was startled out of my reverie with the smell of brownies. That was weird. My mom never cooks, and I mean never. I turned the corner into the kitchen and saw my mom slicing a pan of brownies.
“Hi, Sweetie!” she called as she saw me walk through the door way.
“Did you just bake?” I asked incredulously.
“I thought it would be a nice treat, and you know how much I love chocolate.” It was true. My mom had to have chocolate every day like some people needed coffee or she would be cranky the rest of the day.
“I didn’t think you even knew how to bake.”
“I used to bake all the time before you were born. I could bake every one of your Granny’s recipes.” She smiled, but it looked sad. I knew when she said before I was born that she meant before Him. After I was born she didn’t have time to make things like brownies; she was too busy making sure everything else was perfect.
“I almost forgot, how was the concert?”
“It was good, the band was great,” I said, smiling. I knew she wanted to hear all about Sam, but it was fun teasing her.
“What about Sam?” she asked. I ignored her and grabbed a brownie and swept out the door.
I was tired despite how electrified I was feeling. I quickly put on my pajamas and got in bed. I fell asleep quickly. That was when it started:
I was in a closet, tucked behind all my pretty dresses. I knew He was coming. I didn’t’ want Him to come. He was scary and too big. I tucked my teddy bear closer to myself and closed my eyes. I could hear His heavy footsteps coming closer. The door creaked as He slowly opened it. Mommy was asleep downstairs, she wouldn’t hear my cries. I could hear my heart pounding as I saw His shadow creep into the closet. The monster had arrived. The door opened slowly and revealed Him. His face was hidden in shadow but His hands were clear as they reached for me. They were big and ugly and scarred. I had no where to go and a tear rolled down my fat cheek. He picked me up under the arms and I squealed. I watched as my teddy fell to the ground, it only made more tears pool in my eyes.
“Shh,” he whispered. His voice was dry and raspy. The voice of a hungry monster. “Everything is going to be okay.”
I knew everything wouldn’t be okay. He laid me down on the bed, I tried to back away, but I only made it to the headboard. He crept closer and more tears fell down onto my Winnie the Poo quilt.
“Mommy!” I cried. The monster was hungry.
I woke up with a start from the nightmare. My heart was pounding and I could feel the sweat pouring down my back. The nightmares were getting more and more vivid. Except they weren’t nightmares, they were memories. Memories of Him, the monster. Memories that kept me up for hours, that made me afraid to close my eyes. The monster always came back and my mom could never save me.
“He’s gone,” I whispered. I would never forget Him, but I had to let myself move on.
I stayed awake the rest of the night, reading Romeo and Juliet with the lamp on. I knew I would look awful in the morning, but it was better then more dreams. I soon got swept up in the forbidden love between Romeo and Juliet.
I walked into English on Monday and slumped on the desk. I had about 10 hours total of sleep over the weekend. The nightmares scared me too much to fall asleep willingly. I had bags under my eyes and my skin looked pasty despite my natural tan. Sam never called. I wasn’t waiting by the phone or anything, but I did hope he would. To top it off, Carly couldn’t stop talking about Brady. He asked her out last night to the movies and she had to tell me everything he said.
“He was so nervous, it was adorable. He said we could even see that new romance that came out. That one with the couple who…” I tried to listen to her, I really did, but I was just too tired. Finally the bell rang and Carly went back to her seat.
“Today just work on your projects quietly, class,” Mrs. Tinlen said to the class. I was glad we didn’t have any notes today. The class would be anything but quiet, however. I slowly made my way over the Sam. He sat in the back left corner, while I sat right in the middle. I sat down and rested my chin on my hand.
“You look tired. Couldn’t sleep?” he asked.
I answered without looking at him, “I got an hour or two.” He gave a small laugh that quickly died down when I glared at him. He cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry. Did you finish the book?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, we can meet after school today to work on the project if you want.”
“Sure, want to meet at Eve’s at four?” Eve’s was one of the local coffee houses known for the hot chocolate. Eve started it about 40 years ago, and she still worked there everyday. She knew more about the town than anyone else.
“Yeah, sounds good.” I didn’t hear what Sam said next because I was fast asleep. Mercifully, I was too tired to dream.
I raised my head too quickly and got a huge case of head rush. My eyes focused and I saw Carly standing in front of me. Sam was already gone. He never mentioned anything about Friday. I didn’t know if it was because I fell asleep or if he was embarrassed.
“I can’t believe I fell asleep!” It was definitely a first for me.
“Next time you decide to take a nap, lay off on the snores, girl!” Carly laughed.
“What!?” I exclaimed. Sleeping was embarrassing enough, but snoring?
“Calm down, I was kidding.” I sighed and followed her out the door. I didn’t talk to Sam the rest of the school day even though I had Chemistry with him 5th hour. I knew he wanted to talk but I was too humiliated to meet his eyes after falling asleep on him. Too bad I wouldn’t be able to cancel our plans later.
I got to Eve’s early and ordered a cinnamon hot chocolate despite how warm it was outside. I got a table by the window and took out my book. I’ve actually read Romeo and Juliet before, but I didn’t mind reading it again. It was one of my favorite Shakespeare’s. I knew it sounded girly and cliché; however, I loved how far the couple both went to be with each other. I was day dreaming of Romeo when I saw Sam walked in. He stood in the doorway and looked around until his eyes met mine. He held up a finger and went to the counter to order.
“Hey,” I said when he sat down.
“Hey, think of any ideas?”
“A couple, but their rough. What about you?”
“Maybe,” he said. “I was thinking we could act out a scene like an anecdote, and then go into the themes and symbols.”
“That could work but I’m not a very good actress,” I said. I took forensics once because it was required and it was humiliating. 50% of my most embarrassing moments probably happened in that class.
“I doubt it,” he said. “We’ll pick a scene and practice acting it. Then one of us can do the themes and the other can do the symbols.”
“Okay, what scene do you like the best?’
“I was actually thinking the beginning monologue. It’s what essentially sets up the story even summarizes it.”
“That would work,” I said, getting excited. “We could go back and forth saying the lines and then go on to say how forbidden and difficult their love was. Then there is how they both transformed throughout the story.”
We spent the next two hours planning the project out. I wasn’t aware of the sun getting lower and the sky getting darker. We started memorizing and practicing the monologue so we wouldn’t have to read a script. We were halfway through when I saw them..
“Where civil blood makes civil…” I trailed off as I glanced out the window. There was someone standing across the street, just outside the glow of the streetlight. They were motionless, just staring across the street.
“Ana, what is it?” I didn’t answer him, just kept staring.
“Do you know him?” he asked. I didn’t move, I kept starring even though my eyes were burning. The person moved slightly and they were revealed in the light. I gasped and shut my eyes quickly.
“Ana, look at me.” I felt his hand on my arm and looked up. He was leaning halfway across the table. He looked concerned and glanced through the window every couple of seconds.
“What’s wrong? Did you know him?” I didn’t know him. It was just someone waiting at the bus stop that I was too caught up to notice. I’d like to say that it was just a coincidence or mistake, but I did it too often for that to be true. I constantly thought people were watching and following me.
“No, I didn’t know him. I have to go.” I quickly put all my supplies in my backpack and stood up.
“Wait,” Sam said, standing up too.
“Ana, what happened?”
“Nothing, I have to go. It’s late.” It wasn’t like I could say “Nothing, Sam, I just thought someone was stalking me. No biggie.” I hurried out the door aware of his eyes on my back. I walked down the sidewalk quickly, not looking at the bus stop across the street. I was breathing heavily and my vision was getting foggy. It was what happened whenever I thought someone was there. It was like my brain was trying to block out whatever was there. It made me wonder about my nightmares. They were becoming clearer; was my brain finally unblocking them from me? I was glad my mom took that moment to interrupt my musings.
“Ana, is that you?”
“It’s me!” I called. I walked into the family room to greet her. It was a small room, but it was cozy. We bought a plush olive couch and matching chairs. There were colorful rugs on the wood floor and vases of flowers everywhere. My mom loved color. I found her sitting in the big armchair reading her currant romance novel. She bought a new one each month. They all had men with long hair and some kind of damsel on the cover. The thought of my tough, workaholic mom reading a book like that made me smile.
“How did your study date go?”
“Good, we almost finished actually.”
“If you don’t have too much homework tomorrow, would you like to go to dinner at Esposito’s?” Esposito’s was the only Italian restaurant in town. It was also the nicest restaurant in town.
“Sure, Mom. I’m going to go to bed, I’m exhausted.”
“Okay, Honey, sweet dreams.” I could see the worry in her eyes. Now that she’s home more, I think she is finally realizing how tired I always am. You would think my body was adjust to the short hours of sleep, but it never did. I walked up the wooden stairs and into the bathroom off the hallway. It was my own bathroom, my mom had one attached to her room. We painted it a lavender color with matching towels, my favorite color. I brushed my teeth and changed into my pajamas. Despite feeling like I could fall asleep any seconds, sleep wouldn’t come. I kept thinking about Sam. He was different than I imagined him to be. I could tell he was truly concerned at Eve’s and not just confused. It almost seemed like he cared about me. That sounded stupid knowing we’ve only talked in English class the past week. Since sleep wouldn’t come, I decided to work on my part of our project. I spent the next hour writing out the symbolism shown in Romeo and Juliet. I fell asleep with my pen still in my hand. The dream came quickly.
I walked outside quickly. My pink slippers were sticking to the mud. I could see my teddy just feet away. I had left him outside earlier where I was playing. My mom was already asleep, and I wanted to show that I was brave enough to go out and get him alone. I knew I wasn’t supposed to go outside after the sun set, but I was 10 now. I was old enough now. I knew keeping a teddy at my age was stupid, but I loved him. I walked another couple feet until I heard a sound. I spun towards the sound, but I didn’t see anything. I barely took another step when I heard it again. I saw a shadow on the sidewalk in front of the house next door. The shadow moved closer, a man shaped shadow. I sprinted back inside, leaving Teddy behind. I dead bolted the door and ran to my room. I dove under my covers and stayed silent. It was Him.
“Ana, is that you?”
“It’s me!” I called. I walked into the family room to greet her. It was a small room, but it was cozy. We bought a plush olive couch and matching chairs. There were colorful rugs on the wood floor and vases of my flowers everywhere. My mom loved color.
I found her sitting in the big armchair reading her currant romance novel. She bought a new one each month. They all had men with long hair and some kind of damsel on the cover. The thought of my tough, workaholic mom reading a book like that made me smile.
“How did your study date go?”
“Good, we almost finished actually.”
“If you don’t have too much homework tomorrow, would you like to go to dinner at Esposito’s?” Esposito’s was the only Italian restaurant in town. It was also the nicest.
“Sure, Mom. I’m going to go to bed, I’m exhausted.”
“Okay, Honey, sweet dreams.” I could see the worry in her eyes. Now that she’s home more, I think she is finally realizing how tired I always am. You would think my body was adjust to the short hours of sleep, but it never did.
I walked up the wooden stairs and into the bathroom off the hallway. It was my own bathroom; my mom had one attached to her room. We painted it a lavender color: my favorite color. I heard once lavender is supposed to relax you; maybe that was why I liked it so much. I grabbed my toothbrush from the cup next to the sink and brushed my teeth, simultaneously shimmying into my pajamas.
Despite feeling like I could fall asleep any second, sleep wouldn’t come. I kept thinking about Sam. He was different than I imagined him to be. I could tell he was truly concerned at Eve’s and not just confused. It almost seemed like he cared about me. That sounded stupid knowing we’ve only talked in English class the past week.
Since I couldn‘t fall asleep, I decided to work on my part of our project. I spent the next hour writing out the symbolism shown in Romeo and Juliet. I fell asleep with my pen still in my hand. The dream came quickly.
I walked outside quickly. My pink slippers were sticking to the mud. I could see my teddy just feet away. I had left him outside earlier where I was playing. My mom was already asleep, and I wanted to show that I was brave enough to go out and get him alone. I knew I wasn’t supposed to go outside after the sun set, but I was 10 now. I was old enough. I knew keeping a teddy at my age was stupid, but I loved him. I walked another couple feet until I heard a sound. I spun towards the sound, but I didn’t see anything. I barely took another step when I heard it again. I saw a shadow on the sidewalk in front of the house next door. The shadow moved closer, a man shaped shadow. I sprinted back inside, leaving Teddy behind. I dead bolted the door and ran to my room. I dove under my covers and stayed silent. It was Him.
I woke up suddenly. Tears were silently running down my face. They were the tears of a scared little girl. The next morning my teddy was gone. I never told my mom what happened. I pretended that I lost him on the bus. I didn’t want her to get mad at me for not listening to her. I didn’t want to think of what happened to my teddy. I told myself it simply blew away during the night. I knew deep down, though, that He probably took it. But I didn’t want those thoughts, and I pushed them aside.
I tossed and turned the rest of the night. I got a couple more hours of sleep that were blessedly dreamless. My eyelids felt like sandpaper when my alarm clock finally blared to life.
I zombie-walked into the shower and let the warm water relax my muscles. I wondered if I would ever had a normal night of sleep. It didn’t seem like it would be anytime soon. That would be pure bliss. I sighed and dried off. I took longer than I thought in the shower and quickly got dressed. I took the stairs two at a time and hurried into the kitchen.
“Hi…bye!” I called to my mom, and I chugged down my black coffee. The bitter taste was smooth down my throat. I already felt more awake. I didn’t hear her reply as I ran out the door to meet Carly.
“Where’s the fire?” said Carly when I met up with her.
“Slow start. C’mon, were going to be late.” Even though we were fast walking to school, Carly still wanted to know all the details about Sam.
“How’d your study date go last night?”
“It was good, we’re almost done with the project.”
“Let me rephrase,” she said. “how was Sam?”
I laughed. “Sam was fine. But he probably thinks I’m a huge weirdo now.”
“What? Why?” she demanded.
“I acted like a freak when I saw someone at a bus stop and then ran out on him. He probably thinks I’m a paranoid psycho. This is the second time he’s seen me freak out.”
She sighed. “I’m sure he doesn’t think that.” I wasn’t convinced. We made it into first hour right as the bell rang. I tried to pay attention in my classes, but I just couldn’t focus. I was too worried about what Sam would say when I saw him. I hoped he wouldn’t bring up my freak out. I wouldn’t be able explain it.
I walked into third hour at the last seconds. Mrs. Tinlen gave me a scolding look that I chose to ignore. I knew we’d have to talk when the class split into their groups, but at least I wouldn’t have to see him before class started.
“Mrs. Tinlen.” I raised my hand. “When is our project due again?” I knew when it was due, but I just wanted to have a couple extra minutes to think. It worked. Mrs. Tinlen took almost five minutes lecturing about our irresponsibility and how you can’t do that in the real world…etcetera. The five minutes didn’t work as well to calm my nerves. I walked over to Sam’s table without meeting his eyes.
“Hey, Ana,” Sam said.
“I finished the symbolism for our project. Did you work do the themes yet?” I didn’t bother with small talk.
“No, I was going to work on it today in class.” That meant we wouldn’t be able to talk. Thank God.
I closed my eyes and let myself relax. I took a yoga class once, and I tried to remember the meditation techniques they taught. Breath in. Breath out. I didn’t feel any better.
“Ana.” My eyes snapped opened and turned to Sam.
“What happened last night?” There goes my miniscule relaxation. I took a minute before answering. It wasn’t like I could just go, Oh, nothing, I just thought some guy was stalking me. I thought the same thing on the first day when I looked at you like you were a monster. Don’t worry, happens all the time. Yeah, like that would work.
“I just thought I saw someone I knew.” I wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“You looked scared. Not just scared, but frightened. You had the same look in your eyes on the first day of school.” Crap.
“I thought I saw someone I used to know,” I said, trying to be vague. I hoped he took the hint that I didn’t want to talk about it.
“Right. Once we do the poster we’ll be done. We can present on Friday for extra credit.”
He didn‘t look like he wanted to let it go, but he seemed like the type of person who wouldn‘t pry. I took a deep breath and answered, “I have some art supplies at my house. We could work on it after school.” Did I really just invite him over to my house?
“Okay, I can be over at 4 after cross-country practice.”
“I live on Mulberry, it’s the yellow house on the corner.”
“I know the one.”
I couldn’t believe he was coming over. I was going to have to do some serious clean-up when I got home. Our house wasn’t dirty or anything, but since it was just me and my mom we left things around. I knew right now there was a bra on the stairwell banister and a box of tampons on the kitchen table. It would be more than embarrassing if he saw that.
I walked home alone after school. Carly was going over to Brady’s to work on their project. I had an odd sense of loneliness. I didn’t pass anyone on the sidewalks and hardly any cars went by. I made it home faster than usual due to speed walking. I sat down on the porch and looked at my garden.
In every house we lived in, I started a garden. I guess I felt I needed to leave something behind. Red tulips dominated the small space because they were my favorite flower. Each Sunday I spent hours maintaining it. I ripped out the weeds, watered the soil, trimmed the bushes they laid against, and planted new seeds. Ever since I first started I was a natural. I had a green thumb, or whatever.
It started when my mom and I were in our first house. I was nine years old and it was summertime. The house was tiny and located in a bad part of town. Each day I had to see the overgrown weeds and grassless yard. We didn’t have much money at the time, but I went to the store and bought gardening supplies with the meager money I had saved up. I spent a whole week ripping out weeds and raking up all the fallen leaves and branches. I filled over ten yard bags.
The next week I planted grass and laid out soil. The entire time my mom never said a word about it. Some days, when she wasn’t out looking for jobs, she would simply sit on the concrete steps and watch me. She’d lay out lemonade and even put an old radio that was stationed to country music on the ground near me. Gardening took my mind of the monster. It was dirty and took a lot of work so I didn’t have time to let my mind wander.
My mom was frightened all the time. She knew just grabbing and leaving me wouldn’t stop Him. He would find us, and He did. Only three months later, after I completed my garden, did he find us.
We were at the Food Market one Saturday, a week after I started at my new school. I even made a couple friends, I didn’t know I would have to leave so soon. I was looking at the tomatoes, thinking that maybe I’d plant a tomato bush, when my mom grabbed my arm in a strong grip. I winced but she didn’t notice.
“He’s here,” she whispered. “We have to leave. Now.” We went home immediately and I packed all of our things up, which wasn’t much. My mom was on the phone to deal with the house. I never had time to say goodbye to my friends.
I found out later that my mom saw Him across the market. He was watching us. Just watching. He never did anything more than that in whatever town we lived in. Sometimes it took up a year to find us, but he always did. There was only one time He ever approached.
I sighed and moved inside. Sam would be there in less than twenty minutes. I spent more time on the porch than I thought. I hurried and cleaned up around the house. The doorbell rang as I was washing the last mug in the sink. I quickly wiped my hands on a floral dish towel and answered the door. Sam was standing there, cheeks still flushed from his practice. He looked adorable.
“Hi, come on in,” I said, opening the door wider. He stepped inside and kicked off his shoes so they wouldn’t trail mud. I smiled slightly at his manners.
“Do you want a Coke before we started working? We only have diet, though.”
He nodded. “Are you one of those girls who only drinks diet soda because it’s less calories and they want to lose weight?” I laughed as I grabbed two sodas out of the fridge.
“No, regular coke is just too sweet for me.” He smiled at me in return. His teeth were white and straight, and I stared. His lips were perfect. Full and luscious. The lips that any girl would dream about kissing. They were also moving. Oh, wait.
“What did you say?” He laughed and raised an eyebrow at me. I always wanted to be able to do that. I blushed when I realized I was caught.
“I asked if you wanted to get started.”
I walked into the family room and stopped. My mom left files everywhere. I somehow missed her mess when I was speed-cleaning before Sam got here. My multi-tasking skills needed improvement.
“Um, we can work in my room.” He shrugged and we made our way up the stairs.
I never had a boy in my room before. I was nervous, my room was still very bare. It had all the necessary furniture. but it lacked a lived-in feel. I didn’t have any knick knacks or pictures. All I had was flowers from my garden and lavender bedding. The only places to sit were the bed, the desk chair, and the floor. I’d feel uncomfortable sitting on the bed, and the desk chair left Sam without a chair. I looked around my room, clueless.
Sam took the decision out of my hands and flopped on the floor with his back against the bed. I sat down next to him trying to figure out how close I was supposed to be. I settled for a few inches away.
He set his Coke down on the nightstand and unrolled the poster board he had tucked under his arm; the poster I didn’t even notice he had. A+ for my observation skills.
“Are you any good at drawing?” He asked.
“Well, I’m awful so you better not let me go near the markers.” I giggled; I actually giggled.
I got up to drag the ragged box filled with my old art supplies out of my closet. I never bothered unpacking it. When I was younger, I would colors for hours. It didn’t matter if it was crayon, marker, colored pencil, or paint, I loved it all. I would draw pictures of myself as a some kind of princess. My parents would be king and queen and I had a cute knight boyfriend. In the pictures we were all together, smiling hugely. It was far from reality, but I never had a problem with dreaming. All my dreams were of family and happiness that I never knew and copied onto paper. Those papers were now either thrown out or stuffed at the bottom of this box.
I started drawing out scenes from our play as a border while Sam glued down out information. He pasted down another paragraph and looked at the drawings I already completed.
“You are alright at drawing?” He asked me incredulously. I knew I was pretty good at drawing and painting; it was like with gardening, it came naturally to me. I enjoyed taking art classes, but they were more of just a way to spend time.
I looked up and smiled at him. I realized I was becoming more comfortable around Sam. I didn’t blush half as much around him as I used to, thank God. He looked at me like he was trying to figure something out. He seemed to do that a lot around me.
“Do you want to take a break?” I nodded.
“My mom won’t be back until dinner time so the house should stay quiet.” I don’t really know why I said that. I think I just wanted him to know that my mom wouldn’t suddenly barge in or anything.
“You keep mentioning just your mom. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are your parents divorced?” I knew he wasn’t being insensitive, but this was not something I wanted to talk about.
“You could say that,” I answered. He looked me at curiously.
“Are they separated?” Why couldn’t he just let it go? This was the last topic I wanted to talk about; of course it’s the one he chooses.
“Something like that. What about your parents?” It was his turn to look uncomfortable.
“I live with my mom now, my dad left when I was younger.” His face showed a hint of anger and hurt before he closed it off. “I had a younger brother, but he…he died a couple years back.” His voice cracked then. It broke my heart hearing his voice choked with grief. I didn’t know what to say. I was never good at comforting people who were hurt. With Carly I usually ended up just letting her talk until she got it all out. I didn’t think Sam would be the same way. He wasn’t as open as she was.
“I’m sorry.” Sorry seemed too inadequate, but I never meant it more. “I heard about your brother. I can’t begin to imagine.”
He looked up at me then and we locked eyes. I returned his gaze with empathy. I wanted to say more, yet my thoughts ran wild. Our lives were so similar but also so different. His dad left, mine kept coming back. Mine wasn’t a father to me though, he was the monster. Nothing more. He lost his title when he came into my room that first night.
I was a scared little girl with no defense. My cries were muffled with one hand as the other stroked my side. He did nothing but touch, running his fingers and occasionally his lips over my skin. It lasted what felt like hours. He didn’t hurt my physically, but it was torture nonetheless. No! I could not think about this. I was starting to feel the burn coming on. Whenever He creeped into my thoughts, I broke down.
“Excuse me,” I said in a low voice. My voice cracked.
I stood up quickly and walked out the door in what I hoped was a normal pace. My legs gave out and I collapsed against the hall wall, sliding down until I was on the floor, arms around knees. I couldn’t stop the shaking that ran through me. My vision dimmed, and I lost sight of the worn wood floor I was focusing on. My body and mind was fading into the gray ahead of me. I was too helpless to fight it.
I felt hands clutch my face, pulling my head up. No, this wouldn’t happen again. I didn’t think, I lashed out. I wouldn’t let the monster get me again. Those days were over. I was older and stronger, I could beat him. I could try, anyway. The hands that were holding my face let go and wrapped around me.
“Ana, calm down. It’s me, Sam.” The voice said. His voice was different. It wasn’t the cold slither I had gotten used to, it was warm and deep. A voice that made me think of honey and cinnamon. This wasn’t the monster, it was Sam.
I clutched at him and caught hold of his shirt. I craved his touch like I craved air. It was a comfort I rarely received. He pulled me against his chest and waited until the shakes died down. His chest was big and warm. The nook between his shoulder and neck fit my head perfectly. It felt like paradise resting there. I couldn’t think of anything better at that moment.
“What happened, Ana?” His voice startled me. I had grown accustomed to the silence. I didn’t know how I could answer him. I couldn’t lie about something so big. He would know it wasn’t the truth, and I couldn’t face lying to him after I threw myself at him. So I went with the only thing I had: the truth.
“I thought you were the monster.”
“My father.” When he didn’t say anything else, I looked up. I saw the emotions flash across his face: confusion, understanding, horror, anger, and the worst, pity. I pushed his arms away. He didn’t try to stop me.
“What did he do to you?” He said in a dangerous voice.
“It doesn’t matter.
“Of course it matters,” he shouted. I actually felt afraid for a moment. “You had a panic attack when I mentioned your parents. You attacked me when you thought I was your father and touched your face. Twice now you thought someone was watching you in the shadows. Something happened to you, something your father did. Of course it matters.” I wasn’t a crier, haven’t been since I realized the uselessness of it, but at that moment, I wanted to cry. To just let it all pour out. Sam wanted me to tell him what my father did, something I could barely handle. I knew I could trust him, I didn’t know how, but I did. I was scared, though. Sam figured it out. He figured it out in one conversation what no one had before. He understood.
“He wasn’t my father,” I started. “He was a man who knocked my mom up and wouldn’t let her go. She stayed around so I would be safe. She didn’t know what happened at night.” I swallowed hard, but I didn‘t break the eye contact. I would get through this without breaking down. “He never hurt me, not in a way you could see at least. I was five when it started. He came in my room every couple of nights to see me. Sometimes I tried to hide, but it was futile, he could always find me.
“He would put me down on my bed and cover my mouth if my cries got too loud. He liked my skin, he liked touching and stroking it. I tried to hold still, it only got worse if I fought it. I taught myself to fall out of my body in those times. I let go of my physical body and locked myself in a good memory.
“When I was nine, when my mom walked in and saw him, she got us out. I still don’t know how she did it. But ever since, every town we lived in, he came back. He would just watch us, but he never not approached. Every time we moved to a new place. It was different when he came here. I was out alone, I slipped up. And this time, this time he approached.” I closed my eyes. It didn’t keep the images out of my head.
It was a summer night. The sky was clear and the moon shined brightly over the streets. I was babysitting that night, a last minute job. The parents were supposed to be home at eight, before it was dark, but they were late. My mom was already asleep so I had to walk home. I thought it would be okay, it was only a couple blocks away. I wrapped my arms around myself, it had gotten chillier since the sun set. I walked quickly down the sidewalk, my steps sounded too loud in the night. There wasn’t any cars or people around. The street seemed deserted. I heard what sounded like footsteps behind me. I risked a glance behind me, thinking I was just being paranoid, but I didn’t see anything. I quickened my stride anyway. I looked behind me again and thought I saw a shadow a few houses down. My pulse sped up. I started jogging. The footsteps got louder and closer. I could hear my heart beating in my ears. My stomach felt like it would shoot out of my throat. My hands shook so hard it hurt. This couldn’t be happening. My worst nightmare, come true.
“You can’t keep running from me.” The voice slithered to me in the night. It wrapped around my body and goose bumps rose on my skin. The voiced seemed to get only closer the faster I went. The monster was hunting.
“You’re going to be mine again.” I stumbled as the words floated in the darkness to me. I righted myself and pushed myself harder. I was gasping, with tears and exhaustion, but I kept going. I wouldn’t let him get me without a fight this time.
“I let you have your fun. But now it’s over. You are mine, Ana.” His voice was cold. There was no warmth or love in it, it was dead. It was a perfect match to his inane eyes. The eyes that saw nothing and everything.
“Just give up now.” He was close, way too close. He could grab me at anytime. I saw headlights coming up the road. They were like beams of hope to me. This car could help me. But they were driving fast, faster than I realized at the time. I didn’t think, I didn’t have any rational thoughts, I just sprinted across the road. I heard his laugh as he followed. A merciless laugh. A laugh that could freeze fire. I turned around suddenly. He stopped too, never taking his eyes off me. I caught sight of him under the streetlights. He looked exactly the same except older. Buzzed head, beady eyes, thin lips. Tattoos ran up his arm in a sleeve and a beer belly spilled over his belt. Wrinkles cracked his face and the small amount of hair on his head was faded gray. I knew my mom was a party girl in the past who ran with a bad crowd, but I still had trouble believing she could ever be with this man. He didn’t have one redeemable quality. He didn’t even spare a glance to the car rapidly reaching us. The driver leaned on the horn, but it was too late to slow down. Recognition filled his eyes, but it was too late. It hit its target. I watched the body as it soared in the air and landed with a thump in a crumpled pile. I didn’t even blink as the driver raced out of the car to the bloody mess that was left of the monster. It was obvious he was dead. Sirens were blaring before the driver even saw me. I didn’t know who it was, I never took my eyes off the body. The monster, Him, Carl, my father, was dead.
I told Sam the story with a neutral voice. I detached myself from it. I wasn’t planning on tell him the full story. However, once I started, I couldn’t stop. No one but my mom knew the entire story. Now Sam did, too.
“Ana,” he whispered. I looked away from his eyes, I was too scared to see what was there. His hand went under my chin and tipped it up until my eyes met his. There wasn’t horror or disgust as he looked at me. Only a look full of compassion and sadness. It took my breath away.
“Being a monster runs in the family, I guess.” I watched my father die with satisfaction. There was no doubt he was perverted and cruel, but death isn’t something to be pleased with. I was glad he was dead, I really was. But it was still murder to me. I saw the car coming, I knew it would hit him, but I let it happen. I could have screamed for help or flagged down the car, but I didn’t. He could have finally gone to jail for good. Only instead, I killed him
“Listen to me, Ana.” He looked me straight in the eyes. I couldn’t break his gaze even if I wanted to. Those deep blue orbs were magnetized to mine. “You did the right thing. He was a monster. Death was going easy on him, the way I see it. You are not the monster. You didn’t murder anyone. He got what was coming to him. He is to blame, not you.” I wasn’t convinced. We didn’t say anything for a while.
“We should get back to work,” I said, finally breaking the silence. He nodded and followed me back into my room. For the next hour we stayed on lighter topics. I was glad. I wanted to ask about his family, but it definitely wasn’t the time. We talked like we’ve known each other for years. It was surprising how much we had in common: favorite food, class, action movie, and even ice cream. We were arguing over which Saw movie was the best when my mom came home.
“No way, the fifth is awesome. It reintroduced the whole series!” He exclaimed.
“You’re crazy. The first was a classic.” I heard my mom’s heels click against the wood as she made her way upstairs.
“Ana?” She called.
“In here!” She appeared in the doorway and looked over at our poster sitting a few feet away.
“I can see you are working hard,” she said sarcastically.
“We finished, Mom.”
Sam stood up and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, ma’am. I’m Sam Connery.” His manners were impeccable. Even my mom looked impressed.
“Hello, Sam. Please, call me Janine.”
“Alright, Janine.” He smiled. She looked caught off guard. I stifled a laugh. Sam’s smile was perfection; it could be an angel’s smile. After a second, she turned back to me.
“We have a 6 o’clock reservation at Esposito’s remember?” Oops. I completely forgot about dinner tonight after I knew Sam was coming over.
“You are welcome to come, Sam,” she offered. He smiled but turned down the offer. I was actually disappointed.
“Thank you, but I can’t. It’s my night to cook dinner at home. Today is taco day.” I laughed. He grabbed his hoodie from the bed and made his way to the door. “It was nice meeting you, Janine.”
She smiled. “You too.”
“I’ll walk you to the door,” I offered. We walked to the door and stood awkwardly before it.
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Sure,” he said. “Have a good time a dinner.” I opened the door for him and watched him walk out. I caught sight of a red jeep liberty parked on the street. I never noticed it before now.
“Ready to go?” My mom said as she walked up behind me. I jumped, I didn’t hear her coming.
“Yup.” On the short car ride to the restaurant we made small talk. Talking about school and Sam to be exact. We walked into the restaurant a minute later and I had to blink a few times until my eyes got adjusted to the dim lighting. Esposito’s was a bistro style restaurant with a gold and red color scheme. The sconces on the wall with cream-colored candles inside were the main source of light. Quiet music played in the background. It made quite the ambiance. It was my favorite restaurant in town. I always felt relaxed eating in the quiet room. Despite the appearance, it wasn’t overly expensive or pretentious.
We followed the twig-thin blonde waitress to a table in a corner. It laid right in front of a picture window that framed the water. I took the seat facing the window and looked out. The water was dark and foreboding. The water at night always scared me, because you couldn’t see anything under the surface. It was dark, deep, and anything could grab you. I felt like a child being scared of the dark.
“Can I get you something to drink?” The waitress asked in a sugary-sweet voice.
“Two waters, please.” She wrote down our drink order and walked away, hips swinging. My hips didn’t so much as twitch when I walked.
“I wanted to talk to you about something,” my mom said. I looked at her and saw she was staring at me. Uh-oh, this could not be good. The only times my mom had to “talk to me about something” was when we had to move. I was pretty sure we weren’t moving, but this still was sure to be bad news.
“What is it?” She cleared her throat before she continued.
“Well you know I haven’t been with a man since Him…your father.” I was lost. What did my mom’s love life have to do with me? I never thought she wanted to date. Well actually, I didn’t think about it at all. We were always on the move, there was no time for relationships.
“Yeah…” I trailed on. She delicately cleared her throat again.
“I met someone at work this week. He asked if I wanted to get dinner this weekend with him.” I was shocked. My mom dating was a new concept for me, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I wanted her to be happy, of course, but I didn’t exactly want a new “dad.”
“Wait, are you asking for my permission?”
“I wasn’t sure if you would be okay with me dating.”
“Mom.” I grabbed her hand. “I want you to be happy.” She gave me a grateful smile in return.
“I want you to meet him tomorrow night. His name is John and he is a lawyer, too.”
“Of course.“ I was going to meet John the Lawyer tomorrow.
I didn’t believe in love. It sounded cynical, but I didn’t care. Love to me just didn’t seem real. I believe people are in love with the idea of love; however, love seemed to be a fable. My so-called father always said he loved my mom, but who treats someone like he did and love them at the same time? It wasn’t just him either. Everyone I’ve seen in love has always ended up unhappy. They fight, cheat, lie, abandon; they do anything to deceit the other person. I loved my mom, that was no question. But that was different. Family love and romantic love were practically in different worlds. Family love was more about being close physically and mentally close and having a connection to the people who created you. Romantic love was about wanting a fairytale and needing to cling to someone. I wasn’t gong to cling to some fairytale any time soon.
Carly has been “in love” with about 4 people. Not once did it end well for her. For the first couple weeks they would be infatuated with each other (the honeymoon phase), and then things would start on a downfall (the separation). Small arguments would spring up more and more until their whole relationship seemed to be based on fights and lies (the break-up). She’d end up heartbroken, no matter who broke up who, and it would take weeks before she was back to herself. Then the cycle would start up again. I didn’t understand why she kept doing it if she only ended up hurt. I even tried to ask her one time. She gave me a small smile and said, “Because it’s worth it. The happiness outweighs the pain I feel afterward.” I didn’t know about that. How good could it feel just to be with a boy? I’d probably never understand. Sure, I had crushes on boys growing up, but I never thought I loved them. I hoped I never did. I didn’t want to turn into one of those obsessed, starry-eyed girls. It was pathetic.
We finished up our dinner; spaghetti with meat sauce for me, mushroom ravioli for my mom.
“Maybe you should ask Sam out to dinner this weekend.” I chocked on my meatball.
“He likes you, Ana. It’s time you started dating, too.” I couldn’t believe my mom was encouraging me to date. Didn’t most parents want their kids not to date? I sighed.
“We’re just friends, Mom. We are working on a project together, that’s it.”
“I saw the way he was looking at you. And you know what? You were looking at him the same way.” She had a sly grin on her face.
“Mom, let it go. We’re really just friends.” Plus, I really didn’t think Sam liked me that way. I wasn’t even sure if we would talk after presenting our project tomorrow. I hoped we would. Sam was so easy to talk to, and I knew I could trust him. He was the first person that didn’t judge me or try to force things out of me. I had Carly, of course, but this was different. She didn’t understand me the way I felt Sam could. I wanted to find out more about him.
I watched as out waitress flounced over to us. Her nametag said Lucy. A cutesy name to go with her cutesy voice.
“Can I get you anything else? We have the world’s best ice cream sundae.” She went on to name everything in the famous sundae. We couldn’t have gotten a word in even if we tried.
“Just the check, please,” my mom said as Lucy took a breath. I watched as she trotted away with a small shake to my head. I looked at my mom and we both started laughing. We didn’t stop until tears were in our eyes. It felt good laughing like that with her. We never got the chance to simply relax and have fun. I felt a pang in my chest as I looked at her. I hadn’t realized until now how much older she looked. Crow’s feet framed her eyes, her dark hair was lined with stray gray’s, and she had dark circles under her eyes. I didn’t know how I couldn’t have noticed before. She was constantly stressed and worn out despite. She always seemed vibrant to me in her 42 years, younger looking than others her age. It made me sad to think of her aging.
We walked out of the restaurant, her hand resting on my arm. We got in the car and my mom switched the radio on to a soft country song. We didn’t speak on the way home. It was a comfortable silence, though. I rolled the window down and leaned my head out. It was a chilly fall night, but it felt good. The wind slashed my long ponytail in my face and I absently brushed it away. I closed my eyes. I’d never felt as peaceful as I did in that moment. It felt like everything was turning up. The curtain was slowing creeping up. I could breath again. The light was beginning to shine on me, and I could feel the warmth.
I stuck my head back inside the car and rolled up the window. For some reason, I couldn’t stop smiling. My mom glanced at me but didn’t say anything. I wouldn’t have been able to explain my sudden happiness, anyway. I let my head fall against the headrest and dreamed. I dreamed about my life for the first time in years. I let myself become anything and everything.
The next morning I felt refreshed. It was the first time in what felt like years that I didn’t have a nightmare. It was a lovely, rejuvenating uneventful dream. I hummed as I got ready for school. I threw on jeans and my favorite green blouse and tied my hair into a ponytail, my usual hair style. I was still humming as I made my way downstairs.
“Someone is in a good mood,” my mom said from the table.
“Just had a good night sleep.”
“You’re going to be late if you don’t hurry up.” I glanced at the clock and saw she was right. Carly was probably already waiting. I grabbed my bag on the chair and walked to the door.
“Good luck on your project, Annie!” I wasn’t feeling that nervous about my project with Sam, which was a good thing. Actually, I tried not to think about it too hard. Carly and I hurried to school that day since I was later than usual. By third hour, the nerves settled in my stomach. It felt like a thousand butterflies were roaming around down there and my hands were shaking.
“Calm down, it’s going to go great.” He briefly covered my hand with his. It calmed my nerves a little bit. He was right, our project was pretty good. Mrs. Tinlen called us up to the front of the room after taking attendance. The whole project was a blur when I thought about it later. I said all the right lines and read off the symbolism in the book, and Sam read his. All I remember was his voice through it all. It was strong and traveled easily through the room. He seemed totally comfortable in front of the class’s eyes. I, on the other hand, felt like a nervous wreck. My knees shook and it seemed impossible that students around us couldn’t hear my heart pounding. I always hated public speaking. I was fine meeting new people, although I didn’t really enjoy it, but being in front of a crowd was different. Something about all the pairs of eyes looking only at you unnerved me. It was safe to say I was glad when it was over. I vaguely heard the clapping as I made my way to me seat. Sam flopped down next to me.
“We did great, Ana.” I looked at him. He was grinning and I felt myself smile in return. He turned back to Mrs. Tinlen and I continued looking at him. No boy should be as attractive as he was. He was flawless. Every feature looked sculpted by an artist. The only imperfection I could find was a tiny white scar that slashed across his right eyebrow. I wondered how he got that, but I thought it would be rude to ask.
The teacher announced we had the last five minutes free to talk, and Sam turned to me.
“Do you want to have lunch today?” I quickly looked up at him, trying to gauge his emotions. He looked sincere enough. I was feeling scared Sam wouldn’t want to talk after the project. But now I was relieved. I smiled at him and agreed. We stood up together as the bell rang. As we were walking out I glanced back at Carly. She was staring, openmouthed, at me.
“Lunch with Sam today,” I mouthed at her. Her blue eyes widened and she smiled hugely. She started doing a little dance right there in the classroom, and I couldn’t hold back a laugh. Sam glanced at me and then glanced back behind us. Carly had already turned away though. As we sat down at a table on the edge of the quad, I felt eyes follow us. It made me uncomfortable to have everyone watching us. I quickly took a bite of my pizza. Bad idea, it ended up going down the wrong way. If anything, more people were now staring. A fit of coughing choked out of my throat and I felt Sam’s hand pat my back. I grabbed my soda and chugged about half of it until I could breath again.
“Sorry about that,” I told him, embarrassed. God, I was such a loser. I can’t even eat pizza without making a spectacle of myself.
“Don’t worry about it.” He gave me a dazzling smile that almost made me choke again
“So what do you think? A+ on our project, or what?”
“I’m not sure about the plus part, but I definitely think we aced it.”
“So I wanted to ask you something,” he told me. “I know we were just hanging out to work on our project, but I wanted to know if you wanted to hang out again. I liked talking to you over the past couple weeks.” I looked down when I felt a blush run over my cheeks. I felt an almost crushing wave of relief fall over me. I didn’t realize how much I really wanted to see him again outside of school. A slow smile turned up the corners of my lips. I looked back up at him and brushed a stray dark brown lock of hair out of my eyes.
“Yeah, I want to hang out again.” He smiled at me in return.
“There is a new movie out at the theater tomorrow. I doubt it’ll be as good as SAW, but it might be worth it. Want to see it tomorrow afternoon?”
“Sure,” I answered. “Oh wait, I promised Carly I would go to the mall tomorrow with Lauren and Mary Beth. She’s been nagging me for a while now.”
“That’s okay…another time, then.” I saw the small disappointment in his eyes before he put his neutral face back on. He started to turn away but I caught his arm. He looked back over at me, eyes curious, and I dropped my hand.
“I can see it tomorrow night.” I felt a little desperate saying that. But I really wanted to see him. He looked at me for a minute before answering.
“The next time is at 7:15. I’ll pick you up at seven, okay?” He was picking me up. Did that mean it was a date? I hoped so. I didn’t think I was capable of speech so I nodded.
I was lost in thoughts for the rest of the day. Carly finally had enough of it after final bell.
“Snap out of it!” She shouted in my ear.
“Jeez, Carly! Sensitive hearing over here.”
“We’re going shopping tomorrow. You can’t be all out of it when she go shopping, so you better be more fun tomorrow!” I gave her a look that said I didn’t appreciate her calling me not fun. She lowered her voice down.
“Tomorrow you can tell the girls and I all about what’s floating around your crowded brain. For now, just let it go.”
“How’s Brady going?” I was trying to get her to change subjects…it worked beautifully.
“Oh my god! Things are so great between us. He’s different than all the other boys I’ve gone out with.” She said this about every new boy she went out with. They were all different.
“Carly, you say that every time,” I said in a dry voice.
“I mean it this time!”
“What is so different about Brady?”
She got a dreamy look in her eyes. “He’s so nice and caring. He brings me flowers before our dates. He doesn’t try to get me to go all way with him. Brady treats me like I’m a special prize. No other guy has made me feel as special as he does.” I had to say, I was impressed. Brady really did sound different than the rest. All the other boys either just wanted a girl to brag to their friends with or to have sex with.
Carly has done it with the four guys she thought she was in love with. She had never admitted to me that she regretted it, but I knew she did. She told me about how she used to dream about the night she’d lose it. You’d think it was a wedding she was planning. It turned out she lost her virginity at a party in some unknown bedroom to Charlie Sanders.
“It doesn’t matter where it is, it’s with who it’s with,” she said. They broke up a week after that night. He lost interest after he gotten what he wanted. He only wanted sex, she wanted commitment. It took weeks after that break-up to get back to her normal self. She went through her usual motions-flirting, shopping, going to parties-but her heart wasn’t in it.
She then met Michael Samson. He wasn’t one of the four she ‘loved,’ but he did cheer her up. I liked Michael. He was nice, shy even, and he was good to Carly. Carly needed more excitement though, and they broke up after a month of dating. The most they ever did was kiss at the end of their dates. Carly craved more. The cycle continued on from there. Three more boys made the cut according to her, but like the rest, they didn’t last.
I though Brady would be the same as the others. Every time I’ve seen him, he had another girl on his arm. I never talked to him before, but he had the typical player looks. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a sardonic smirk always pasted on his face. He was also quarterback on Briarwood’s team. Typical, I know. I would probably meet him soon enough, Carly liked everyone to see her with her current arm candy.
The rest of the walk home, I heard all about Brady. His likes, his dislikes, play-by-play’s of their dates, I heard it all. She was just beginning the wonders of their first kiss when we reached my house.
“Carly.” She stopped short and looked at me expectantly.
“We’re here,” I said, pointing to my house.
“Oh.” She looked surprised.
“Lauren is coming at 2 to pick us up. Look cute!” Carly would no doubt try to set me up with some boy we’d meet at the mall.
I walked through the front door and set my backpack down on the landing. The house was silent and empty, my mom wouldn’t be home for a couple more hours. I felt a rush of loneliness coming from this house. I was in a good mood, I didn’t want to be surrounded by this shell. I walked into the kitchen and took out all the supplies needed for chocolate-chip cookies. Baking always calmed me down. I didn’t do it often, hardly ever, but when I did, it felt comforting.
I remembered when my mom used to bake. She would hum, just like I did. Chocolate chip were her specialty. I would sit on a chair in the kitchen and watch her move around the kitchen. She looked so graceful. After the dough was mixed, she would let me lick the spoon clean. It was my favorite part. She’d give me a radiant smile and run her fingers through my mussed hair. It was the best feeling in the world. She didn’t bake often, He would get mad that she made a mess. Even when she cleaned until it was spotless, he would claim it was dirty. She continued baking anyway. Not often, but just as a special treat for me. She stopped one day when I was eight. It was the last time I saw her bake.
She had just finished cleaning the kitchen up when He came home. I was in the pantry putting the ingredients away so he never saw me. The door was open an inch behind me and I looked through it. He stalked through the room and stopped when he was less than a foot from her.
“What the hell is all this?” He shouted, spit flying from his mouth.
“Carl, just calm down. I made some cookies and I cleaned up the mess.” Her voice was low and calm. but I could see the fear in her eyes. She threw an anxious glance in my direction and saw I was looking. She gave a subtle shake of her head, small enough not to catch His attention.
“You call this clean? All you do is waste everything I work for. I give you and that girl food and a home, and this is how you repay me?” He put his head even closer to her. She didn’t cower away like I would have.
“I appreciate everything you do, you know I do. I was just making cookies for Ana, that’s it.” His eyes only grew harder. He twisted brain took what she said as an insult.
“You deserve shit.” His hand whipped out and backhanded her. My mom’s head flew to the side, blood spurting out of her slit lip. I was astonished and frightened. I had never seen Him hit her before. I knew it had to have happened behind closed doors. She would have random bruises that had unconvincing explanations when I asked what happened.
My mom was silent, her hand laying on her cheek that was rapidly turning red. He looked at her with disgust and walked to the family room. The TV blared on the next minute. I watched as my mom took a deep breath and turn toward the pantry. She slipped in quietly with me and closed the door behind her.
“Mommy,” I whispered. I put my little hand over hers on her cheek. Tears were running down my face. She kneeled down in front of me and kissed them away.
“It’s okay, Baby. It’s going to be okay.” I believed her. I had the innocence of an eight year old. I wanted to tell her then about what He did to me in the nights, but I was too scared. I didn’t want him to hurt her again. We stayed in the pantry for a little longer with her arms around me. Her arms felt like heaven around me.
I was thinking of the moment of being in her arms when my mom got home.
“Something smells good!” My mom called, dropping her purse and keys on the table.
“You must be in a good mood, then.”
“I am.” She came over to me and looked over my shoulder at the cookies.
“Chocolate chip, my favorite.” I smiled at her and put the pans in the oven. I knew she remembered that day I witnessed her getting hit, but we didn’t bring it up.
“The house will smell great when John gets here.” I forgot I was supposed to meet him. I was so caught up in Sam asking me to a movie and going shopping with Carly, that I forgot all about my mom’s date. I felt guilty, then.
I was a little nervous meeting John. I had no idea what kind of person my mother was attracted to. I hoped he wasn’t some sleaze ball who just wanted to get into her pants. Any man getting into my mom pants was reason to dislike them. I hurried upstairs to put on something more presentable. I didn’t want the mystery man thinking my mom raised a slob. I put on the cream blouse I wore to the concert with Sam with black leggings and ballet flats. I let down my hair and brushed it out. That was the only thing I could do with it; it had a mind of its own. I was just putting on my grandmother’s necklace, a gold locket, when the doorbell ring. I heard my mom great John and call me down. I took a deep breath and walked out of my room.
From the top of the stairs I could see only the top of his head. It was covered with thick dark hair. I walked down the stairs tentatively.
“John, this is my daughter, Ana.”
“Hello, Ana.” He held out his hand for me to shake. His hand swallowed mine and felt rough against mine.
“Stephenson. Call me John, though.”
“Okay then, John.” I took a good look at him. He was tall, probably 6’5’’, and was dressed nicely. I could tell he was fit and buff but not body-builder buff. I could see he was graying at his temples, however, it only added to his appeal. He kind of had a James Bond thing going for him. I had to admit, he was nice looking…for an old guy anyway.
I looked at my mom next. She looked smitten. There was no other word for it. She was dressed in a deep red dress that looked beautiful on her. I could not even remember the last time I saw her in one; she was more of a suit person.
“We should get going,” she said to John. I saw then that she was holding a bouquet of red roses.
“Let me put those in water for you.” I took the roses from her and said to John, “It was nice meeting you.”
“You too, Ana.” I watched them leave together with a smile. He held open the door for her and shut it behind her. Huh. Maybe chivalry wasn’t dead.
The rest of the night was pretty calm. I did my homework, laundry, and even cleaned the house up a bit. I collapsed onto the couch after my cleaning spree and turned on a lifetime movie. A romance…figured. I chomped on some of the cookies I made as I watched Jeffery fall in love with Grace. I felt like I should be in a romance movie. Mom dating again, me crushing on a schoolmate, best friend falling in love again. Sounded like a usual lifetime or hallmark movie to me.
I drifted off to sleep during the next movie. I vaguely remember some kind of murder story starting. My eyes opened slightly as I heard the front door close. My mom’s lips brushed over my forehead, and they closed again. The couch was small but in that moment it felt like the most comfortable thing ever. I didn’t move all night.
I bolted upright. I forgot I was on the edge of the couch and fell over onto the floor, bruising a knee in the process. I muttered a curse word under my breath. I dragged my feet into the kitchen to see what was wrong. I had taken three steps before I felt something stab my foot.
“Ana, watch your fe--”
“Too late,” I said dryly, bouncing on one foot. An inch long shard of glass was sticking out of the pad of my foot.
“What did you break?”
“The vase that the flowers were in. I was trying to refill the water and I lost my grip.” I looked around and saw she was right. Her once beautiful red roses were now all over the floor, broken petals sticking to every surface.
“I am so clumsy.” She sighed. “Honey, sit down.” I hobbled over to the closet chair, trying to avoid any more glass. I wrapped my fingers around the glass and closed my eyes. With a sharp tug, I pulled it out. I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, it always made me nauseous. I set the shard on the table without looking at it. The metallic scent was already starting to fill the air. I started breathing through my mouth.
“How did your date go last night” She got a dreamy look in her eyes that I recognized from Carly.
“Oh, Honey, it was wonderful. John is such a nice man.”
“I’m happy for you, Mom.” And I meant it. She deserved someone who could cheer her up. She was always so stressed from working and moving. Hopefully John could keep her mellow.
“Enough about me. What are you doing today?”
“I’m going to the mall with Carly, Lauren, and Mary Beth at 3, and then I am going to a movie with Sam at 7.”
“Sam, eh?” I didn’t meet her knowing eyes.
“Is it a date?” I picked a piece of lint of my pajama pants, giving myself a minute to think. I really wasn’t sure if it was a date or not. He never clarified.
“I’m not sure.”
“If he didn’t say it’s not, then it’s a date.”
“Really?” I hated how hopeful I sounded. It was wrong of me to want a boyfriend. I knew it couldn’t end well; I had never seen a relationship that did. But I was a teenage girl. I wanted someone to go on dates with and kiss. Someone I could brag to Carly and the girls about. Someone who cared about me as a person.
“Really,” she answered.
I walked upstairs to take a shower. I let myself soak under the warm water for a good twenty minutes. My neck and back were stiff from sleeping on the couch all night. Despite Carly telling me to look cute, I put on one of my usual outfits: jeans and a tee. I threw on a cardigan too, now that it was colder out. As I waited for Lauren to pick me up, I started unpacking the last few boxes left in the back of my closet. It was time. Nothing inside them was important or necessary, but it felt good to have them unpacked. A picture of my mom and I when I was only a baby, a gold bracelet from my grandmother, a ratty scarf one of my friends from another town knit me, and some souvenirs I picked up from each town. Post cards, stamps, tiny stuffed animals, buttons, etc. I don’t know why I bought a representation from every town we lived in, it just seemed right. You would think I would want to forget them all, and I did, however, I thought I would want them someday. I laid them all out on my armoire in the corner of my room. Looking at them, I could remember each town. The good and the bad combined. Most of all, I could remember the goodbye.
A car honking outside drew my attention away from the objects in front of me. I grabbed my old tote bag from my bed and ran down the stairs. I opened the door to Lauren’s baby blue convertible and got in next to Carly. Mary Beth was in the passenger seat reapplying her lip gloss. Some new pop song was blasting from the radio. I let myself get caught in the music, and we all started singing along. I knew the song would be stuck in my head for the rest of the day. After it was over, Carly reached over the console and turned the radio off. She turned to me next.
“So,” she started. “Tell us all about Sam.” I blushed. I couldn’t help it.
“We’re going to a movie tonight.”
“What?!” They all exclaimed in unison.
“He asked me to go to a movie today with him.”
“Oh my god!” Mary Beth said to me. “What exactly did he say?”
“Like I said, he just asked me if I wanted to see a movie tonight, and I said yes.”
“This is huge!” Carly said. I started to think I should have told them. They weren’t going to leave me alone about it. It was kind of nice feeling in the loop for once. I could never understand the excitement before. And I had nothing to contribute when the rest of the girls had dates. I guess I could let them dote on me for once.
“I don’t know if it’s a date, though.” I decided then to just my wall down. I would let them inform me on all the wonders of dating.
For the rest of the drive to the mall, I gave them all the details. I learned that if he doesn’t mention being friends and if he pays, it’s a date. I stored the information in my brain for tonight. It was fun acting like a regular teen age girl for once. Every town I went, I would see groups of girls having fun. Their biggest problems would be a break up or a pimple. If only things could be that simple for me. I hated sounding so pessimistic all the time, yet I didn’t know any better. I never had even a taste of the greener grass on the other side. Now that I was on that other side, I was going to take advantage of it. I would gossip with the girls, go on a date with Sam, and maybe even buy a dress. The dress scared me the most…
We pulled up to Meadow View Mall. It was a two story structure with almost every store you could imagine. There was department stores, boutiques, shoe stores, accessories stores, a food court, discount shacks, and more. I didn’t come here a lot; like I said before, I hated to shop. If I had a credit card, I would buy everything I needed online. That way I could skip the lines and dressing rooms. But I wasn’t going to think about the claustrophobia, I was going to have fun with my friends.
After parking in the underground lot, we walked through the Nordstrom entrance. Lauren immediately went to the sunglasses, her favorite accessory. Lauren’s family was very wealthy, her dad owned half the businesses in town. She spent in one trip what I spent all year. She wasn’t bratty though. She knew we had less money and respected it. It was one of the qualities that surprised me in Lauren. Getting to know her over the past couple years, I found so much about her that I never would have guessed. She was actually somewhat of a Martha Stewart. She scrap booked and cooked in her free time. She watched the food network on a daily basis so she always had some new kind of meal to experiment with. It was always amazing. Looking at her glamorous stature, arts and crafts did not come to mind. It was what made her truly unique. I shook my head absently while looking at her.
I turned around and found Carly and Mary Beth in B.P, the juniors section. I looked around the department, but I didn’t have a clue as to what to look at first. I decided to hover around Carly and Mary Beth. Carly turned to me holding up something on a hanger.
“Come here, Ana! I found something perfect for your date tonight!”
“Great,” I muttered. So then it started. An afternoon of dressing rooms, clutter, lines, and budget. I could get an A in calculus, but this was lost on me. After an hour or two, I started to get the hang of it. Grab whatever you can carry in your size, try it on, buy what fits and what’s cute if affordable. The girls had dedicated the shopping trip to me, so I was the lucky girl who got clothes piled on. Shopping was a work out, let me tell you. All the undressing, redressing, holding hangers, balancing shopping bags; it was exhausting.
After a good three hours roaming the mall, we were all satisfied. Carly bought a new purse, Lauren got sunglasses, and Mary Beth bough a new skirt and tank top. I, on the other hand, got a pretty sweater with a lace back, a pair of black boots, and some fancy mascara. None of it was my idea, but I did like it. I would wear it all tonight. It was simple enough that it wouldn’t look like I was trying too hard, but pretty enough to keep him looking. Not my words. Carly, Lauren, and Mary Beth clarified this for me when I mentioned it wasn’t my usual style. I appreciated their help. I’d be a mess without them.
We left the mall and all piled back into the car. We agreed to stop at Swirl ‘N Twirl Yogurt. It was the best frozen yogurt I ever tasted. We ordered at sat down at a table outside. I took a giant bite of my chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. I was in heaven.
“So I got accepted to Tisch University in New York. I got the letter this morning,” Carly said. I thought she sounded way to casual for something so exciting. I was surprised enough to choke on the bite of ice cream I was swallowing. The cold snaked down my throat like an icicle. I coughed until in cleared. Carly was a great actress, no doubt. I’ve been to a few of her performances in the past couple years. She always gets the lead, there’s never any competition, really. She can sing, dance, transform, anything. I never doubted she would get tons of offers and scholarships to college’s around the country. I just wasn’t sure which one she liked the best. But I knew New York always appealed to her.
“Why are you just telling us this now?” She shrugged.
“I don’t know if I’m going to accept or not.
“It’s your dream school, Carly!” Mary Beth exclaimed.
“You know my parents…” Carly’s parents didn’t support her dream of being an actress. They were fine with it being a hobby, but they didn’t see it as a job for a successful woman. Ever since she started talking about college’s and the new hot acting spots, her parents have grown more against it. She wouldn’t give it up though. Carly never gave up on anything she went for. Her parents weren’t happy about it, but they finally gave in. They didn’t help her in any way, though. If she wanted to be an actress so badly, she could do it herself, they said. I knew it hurt her to not have her parents support; however, Carly was strong. She hardly ever showed how much it wounded her. It just showed how close we have gotten, that I could see how she really felt.
“Carly, listen to me,” I began. I wanted her to know that she had to do what she wanted, that it didn’t matter what her parents wanted. It was her life, not theirs. “You have a dream, you’ve always had the same dream, and you need to go for it. This is your dream school we’re talking about. Don’t give up now.” I sounded like a motivational speaker, but if it worked, it was worth it. She looked at me and saw the sincerity in my eyes.
“You’re right. Tisch is where I want to go, so I’m going to go. Screw what my parents think!” We all laughed. I was glad Carly was going to go for it. We stayed there a little longer, talking about college. We all wanted to go to different places, but we swore we’d keep in touch. Mary Beth wanted to go to Brown, Lauren to FIT in New York, and I was planning on attending Oregon State. I wanted to stay close to town and to my mom. I also had no idea what I wanted to major in. I had subjects I was interested in, like English, but I had no idea what I wanted to be. I never had time to think about it before until this year. Growing up, I always thought I’d be running away with my mom. I didn’t even think about college or a career. I was years behind everyone else in regard to this, and I didn’t know how to catch up. I had no idea what I was good at or what I’d enjoy. I’d probably end up as one of those people who take classes in every subject and never pick a major. They just try everything out and never settle on one. I didn’t want to be one of those people. I wanted to have one thing and stick with it. Except, how was I supposed to get there? Whenever I tried to bring this us to my mom, she just told me not to worry, how I’d find my place, and that everything would turn up okay. She meant well, but it didn’t felt me.
I listen to my friends speak, and didn’t say much myself. I didn’t have anything to contribute, really. We stay for another hour until I look at the time.
“I have to go!” I stood up and wait for them to all scramble up. We piled back into the car and headed home. It was a short ride, only about ten minutes. The nerves were already settling in my stomach. The nerves built with each mile that went by. What if we had nothing to talk about? What if it was awkward? What if…? I had so many worries piling up in my head.
We pulled up to my house first since we were running late. I practically threw the door open. I had only an hour until Sam would get here.
“Good luck!” They all called and I jogged up the porch steps.
“Yeah! Okay! Bye!” I called back. I ignored my mom’s greeting and flew up the steps. First things first, shower. I took a record breaking fast shower, washing my hair with vanilla shampoo and conditioner. The scent of vanilla always called me down. The warm water did, too. I was feeling better as I got out, but I still rushed. I pulled on my new sweater and boots with a pair of black skinny jeans. Next was hair and makeup. I stared at the mascara for a full minute, trying to figure out how to apply it. They really should have instructions on these things. I took the swab out and swallowed hard. I leaned closer to the mirror and held out the wand. I carefully dragged the brush up my lashes in a slow, rhythmic motion. Huh. It didn’t look to bad. I applied some light pink gloss as well.
Finally, it was hair time. Luckily it wasn’t very humid out today so it wasn’t frizzing out. I really had no idea how to style my hair. These were the times where I wished I was more girly. I grabbed a black headband from the draw under the sink and pushed my hair back. It was the best I could do.
I walked back out into my room and looked into the full mirror on the back of my door. It was so strange seeing myself looking like this. I looked so feminine. It wasn’t like I usually looking man-ish or anything, but I just never wore this kind of outfit and makeup. It was embarrassing to admit I liked it. I gave the mirror a slight smile. The girl’s eyes looking back at me were widened, like she knew I was now on unfamiliar turf. The doorbell rang downstairs. I took a deep breath and walked out to meet the unknown.
“Ana! Sam’s here!” My mom called up the stairs. I walked to the top landing and started down the steps. It was like a pre-prom scene: walking slowly down the stairs, hand on banister, meeting the cute boy waiting for you at the bottom. Except I wasn’t going to a formal dance with my crush. I was going to the movie with a guy who I just might like more than I should. I made it to the bottom of the stairs without tripping, which I took as a good sign. I saw Sam in the family room with my mom, and they looked to be chatting. I could only guess what they were talking about. I walked towards them and, so help me, I tripped over the threshold. Serves me right for not tripping on the stairs.
Sam’s head turned towards me. The smile he had while talking to my mom slowly faded. I looked down to make sure I didn’t forget pants or have a big stain on anything. Nope, nothing. I met his eyes when I looked up. He looked shocked at my appearance. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing.
“Ready to go?” I asked shyly. I wanted the end this awkward moment. He nodded and walked over to me. I grabbed my sweater from the banister where I left it and began to put it on. My arm got caught in one of the sleeves and I felt Sam’s hand reach around me. He helped my arm fit in the sleeve and I heard his voice next to my ear.
“You look beautiful.” I gave a slight jerk, and I could hear his short laugh next to me. A blush filled my cheeks immediately. No one, except my mom, has ever told me I was beautiful. No, that wasn’t true. The monster did. He used to whisper it to me in the dark. Cut it out, Ana, I thought. Tonight was going to be happy and fun, not be stabbed with memories of the past.
“Thanks.” I didn’t meet his eyes. I turned to my mom standing a few feet away.
“Bye, Mom.” I thought I saw the beginning of tears in her eyes. I had never seen her cry since we left Him. Through all the moves and stress and pain, she never shed a tear. She wanted to be strong for me, show me that it was all going to be okay. But now, when I was going to the movies with a boy for the first time, she was going to cry. I walked over to her and hugged her waist. I didn’t care if it was childish or embarrassing. Sam would probably understand, anyway. He always understood.
“Bye, Annie. Have a good time.” She ran her hands through my hair once and let go. I saw one tears fall down her aged face in my peripheral vision as I walked out the door. Things were changing for both of us.
Sam and I walked out to his red jeep. He pulled open the door for me and everything. Maybe chivalry wasn’t dead. He walked around the car and hopped in. Immediately a country song started playing on the radio.
“Willie Nelson!” He threw me a sideways glance.
“You like Willie Nelson?”
“Of course! He’s one of my favorites!”
“Me too.” I looked at him and smiled. I started to sing the lyrics, I couldn’t help it. Country made me sing.
“Maybe I didn’t hold you, all these lonely, lonely times…” He started laughing. I didn’t stop.
“…And I guess I never told you, I’m so happy that you’re mine…” He started to sing with me and I smiled. I turned up the volume and we belted out the chorus. He actually had a pretty nice voice. He stayed on tune and knew on the words. I could definitely picture him on a stage with a acoustic guitar across his lap. He kind of had that indie, broody look to him. I felt kind of smug that he picked me to go our with. It was the most fun I had in a long time.
Sam went around to the back of the theater and parked. Naturally, he was right in the middle of the spot. I usually took up two spaces diagonally when I parked. For some reason, it just never caught on for me. I unbuckled my seatbelt and hopped out.
“So what’s this movie about?” I asked him as we walked up to the ticket booth.
“There’s a group of genetically modified people spread around the world. The government agency that sponsored the modification realized there was a flaw in their DNA, and they have to hunt them down so they don’t go on mass killing sprees. It turns into this huge war: mutants vs. gov. agents.”
“Sounds like X-Men to me.”
“Eh, sort of. Movies like that are pretty much all the same, but I love a good X-Men movie.” He winked and bumped shoulders with me. Even his winks looked graceful. Whenever I tried to wink, I ended up looking like I had some kind of twitch.
“Who doesn’t love X-Men?”
Sam asked for two tickets at the booth. I pulled out my wallet to give him money but he shook his head.
“My treat,” he said. Did that mean that this really was a date? God, I hoped so. I don’t know if I could handle being friends with him while I’m secretly fantasizing about his lips.
“Are you sure?” I didn’t want him to think I was just offering to sound better. He smiled and nodded. I felt a thrill go through me. I was officially on a date with Sam Connery. Well, according to the girls, at least.
We walked through the revolving door into the lobby. Like every other building in town, this place was remodeled from an old building. A theater, to be exact. The rooms were lined with balconies and suites that stretched high up. Old play and movie posters lined the walls, next to hanging torches. I always loved coming here. I could pretend I was in the ‘20 wearing a flapper dress. I would sit in a corner with a cigarette dangling from my fingers while watching an older black man singing a soulful song about unrequited love. I could get carried away in the dream for hours.
“You coming?” Sam asked. I had stopped just inside the door without realizing it.
“Um, yeah.” I followed him to the snack counter, and we got in line behind an older couple arguing over popcorn size.
“Why don’t you go get us seats and I’ll get the snacks?”
“If you insist.”
“I do.” He smiled, and I grabbed my ticket from him and went towards the back of the lobby where the theater rooms were. I walked into theater number two and paused. I wasn’t sure where to sit. I wasn’t sure if he liked up front or far back. And then there was middle seats or aisle. This really shouldn’t be so hard.
I chose the exact middle of the theater. We could always move if he didn’t like it, anyway. Some trailers started up on the big screen and I watched them absently. It was quiet, there wasn’t many people in the room. I didn’t like the silence, it felt too heavy. I fiddled with my necklace and tried to calm myself down. Deep breaths, Ana. I saw Sam walking around the corner into the theater and waved my hand so he’d see me. I watched as he made his way up to me, arms filled with snacks and drinks. Every balancing all the food, he still looked graceful. Like he could walk across a tight rope right now and not spill a drop of soda. I wouldn’t make it an inch before falling, the klutz I was.
“I got you a coke. Diet, of course.” I smiled and took it. I loved how he remembered something so small about me.
“Thanks. What else did you get?”
“A little of everything. I wasn’t sure if you were a sweet or salty person so I got popcorn, sweetish fish, and snowcaps.” I grabbed the popcorn and snowcaps out of his hands and opened them up. Next, I dumped the snowcaps into the popcorn. It was a movie tradition of mine. The creamy smoothness of the chocolate mixed with the saltiness of the popcorn mixed beautifully. It was my own, private ambrosia.
I grabbed a big bite and shoved it in my mouth. Mmmm. It tasted like a little piece of heaven on my tongue.
“Wow, you look like you really enjoy that.” My eyes snapped open, I hadn’t even realized I closed them. A blush crept up my cheeks as I thought of what I must of looked like.
“Chocolate and popcorn? I have to say, I never would have thought of that.”
“Try it, you’ll love it.” I held out the container and he took one snowcap and one popcorn kernel. He popped them both in his mouth and chewed slowly, I watched intently. He looked completely focused on his bite, I wasn’t able to tell if he enjoyed it or not.
He swallowed and looked back at me. “Interesting. Weird, but actually pretty good.”
“I knew you would.” He gave me a smile that made my head spin. I couldn’t get over how good looking he was. I never thought a girl like me, a girl with a past like mine, would ever go on a date with a boy like him. He was every girls dream. Good looks, muscular body, athletic, charming, slightly troubled. And I happened to me the one he wants. Who knew.
The lights dimmed and the volume went up. I leaned back into my seat, trying to find a comfortable position. I wasn’t sure if I should put my arm on the armrest separating us or not. This felt way too complicated for something so simple. I pushed my hands under my thighs to keep them still. Hopefully Sam didn’t notice how tense I was.
The movie seemed decent, but I just couldn’t pay attention. I kept sneaking peeks at Sam. He, on the other hand, seemed totally absorbed in the movie. I turned back to the screen in time to see the main character burrowed in some dark hiding spot with another mutant, an attractive blonde girl. Despite her messy appearance, she still looked like a pageant screen. Typical. Movie always made everyone look better, it didn’t matter that they would look like road kill in real life. I started to get more into the movie from that point. It was almost amusing how dramatic it got. Explosions, break-ins, bad guys, wars, anything that could fight back, did.
The warm touch that brushed my hand snapped my thoughts away from the movie. I looked down and saw that Sam had reached across and captured his hand in mine. I thought I would faint in shock. His hand was warm and hard. It was big enough to swallow my smaller one, and I couldn’t help but like the way they looked intertwined. I looked up into Sam’s eyes. He gave me a slight smile, his eyes questioning. I gave his hand a small squeeze in return to show that it was okay. His smile grew.
We broke gazes at the same time as another explosion rang out through the speakers. Any chance of focusing on the movie vanished now that I held Sam’s hand in mine. I felt light and floatey. Like he could take the weight that constantly laid on my shoulders off. In that moment, he felt like my savior. I wasn’t worrying about prying eyes, or awkward silences, or even sweaty palms. I only thought of the wonder and awe of the simple gesture of touching palms.
The movie ended some time later. I couldn’t tell you what happened for the life of me. Sam let go of my hand and stood up. The loss of his hand was like how I felt when I got out of bed in the morning: cold and craving more. I stood up after him and we shuffled out of the aisle.
“How did you like the movie?” I was hoping he wouldn’t ask me that.
“Uh, good. It was interesting.” He looked at me with knowing eyes.
“I know you weren’t watching it. But you missed out, it was intense.” I could only hope that he didn’t see me staring at him. He probably did, though; he noticed everything. I refused to blush and attempt to deny it. I had nothing to be embarrassed about.
“Let me rephrase. From what I did see, it was interesting.” He laughed, and I couldn’t help but join in.
“So what held your attention?”
“You.” Did I really just say that? Whenever I saw around him, I said something I wasn’t planning. He was just one of those people that made you feel like you had to spill your guts to. It was unnerving, to say the least.
He paused as we made our way through the lobby. All he did was look at me; like he was trying to figure something out. It made me uncomfortable; I felt too vulnerable under his sharp gaze. I met his eyes unflinchingly, though. I wasn’t going to be cowed away. His eyes were deep and clear. They reminded me of a summer thunderstorm. It looked like someone took two drops of the stormy sky and dropped them into his eyes.
“Do you want to go to the park and walk around a bit before it take you home?” He finally asked.
We turned left towards the park out of the theater. It had gotten darker while we were in the movie, but it was still pleasantly warm. The sky was clear and you could see billions of stars.
Sam tilted his head back to look at the night sky.
“I wish I knew what the constellations were called. I’ve always wanted to learn, but I kept putting it off.”
“I taught myself when my mom and I lived in Montana. I would sit outside in the open field outside our house with my old astronomy book across my lap. I’d stay outside for hours memorizing them. When it was cold, I’d bring out my old afghan blanket and a mug of hot cocoa with peppermint. That field was the one place where I felt content. I never thought of Him or the next place we’d move to; it would spoil the peace. It was just me and the stars.”
We stopped when we reached the top of the hill that we sat on the last time we were at the park together. We sat cross-legged, and I pointed out the constellations to him. The big dipper, little dipper, ____________...
I laid back against the grass and Sam followed. We didn’t break the silence. I wanted to feel Sam’s hand in mine again. It felt so nice and different to me in the movies, and I wanted to experience it again. Now that I’ve had a taste of how normal girls live, I wanted more. I decided to take a chance. To do something that I never would have dared to before.
I reached across the few inches that separated our bodies and clasped his hand in mine. I didn’t turn my head even when I felt his eyes on me; I kept my eyes glued to the sky. The warmth of his hand spread through me, sending unfamiliar tingles across my skin. It was a perfect moment. A Kodak moment.
We stayed for a while longer, just basking in the moonlight. We made our way back to the theater parking lot slowly. I think we both didn’t want the night to end.
“I had a good time tonight. Thanks for asking me.”
“Trust me, it was my pleasure.” I smiled at him. Our hands were still locked together. I was dreading the moment when we’d have to let go at the car. It was sad to see the night over; it went by way to quickly for my taste. Another few hours, and I probably still wouldn’t get tired of his company. I wanted a chance to test that theory.
We made it to the car and got inside. Country music started playing quietly on the radio. The streets were calm and quiet; hardly anyone was outside. Our town was always like this; people usually went inside around eight or nine. It was almost ten o’clock now. I didn’t have an official curfew, but my mom said to be back by ten before I left. Sam told me about the movie on the way home. He made it sound a lot better than what I thought it would be. However, I bet he could make the fertilization of soil sound interesting.
He pulled into my driveway and turned off the engine. I contemplated getting out of the car, but decided against it. I wasn’t quite ready for our time together to be over. I didn’t know what to say though. I glanced at him from the corner of my eye, and he seemed to look nervous too. It wasn’t a look I’ve seen on his face before.
He turned to me and met my gaze straight on. I really didn’t know how he kept eye contact for so long; it was intimidating sometimes.
“Would you like to go out again?” Oh, my god. This was really happening. I didn’t realize until then how scared I really was that he wasn’t going to want to see me again.
He gave me a prize worthy smile. “I’ll walk you to the door.”
Him and his manners. I grabbed my bag from the floor and hopped out of the jeep. He met me and the front of the car and we started up the front walk. I wondered whether he would try to kiss me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to.
“Goodnight,” I said quietly. I turned to the door and unlocked it. I was just beginning to open it when Sam’s hand landed on my arm.
“Wait.” I turned back towards him. He leaned forward and pressed a feather light kiss on my cheek. I stood there, stunned.
“Goodnight,” he said, walking back to his car. I stayed on my porch for a minute longer; I was too much in shock to move. I realized he was waiting for me to go inside before pulling away. I went inside and stopped right in front of the closed door. A goofy smile started to lift my lips. I, Ana Stovin, just went on a date and got a kiss at the front door. I was living the dream.
That was the first night I didn’t have a nightmare. No chases, no hiding, no stolen caresses, no Him. I dreamed of Sam. I couldn’t remember the details, but I know it was good. I felt refreshed and completely awake for the first time I could remember. Who knew a date could make a girl feel this good? Probably everyone, really.
Since I was in such a good mood, I decided to put some effort into my appearance for once. Could help, right? I dabbed some of my new mascara on my lashes--I was really getting the hang of it--and even swiped some gloss on my lips. I pulled on my tightest jeans paired with a cute sweater. Looking good, I thought.
It was strange to see how different I was. It wasn’t just the way I was dressing, either. I, myself, was changing. I was no longer searching shadows for lurking men. I was no longer hiding in corners to avoid confrontation. I was no longer blowing people off to read. I was coming out; I was finding myself at last. It was about time.
I went downstairs and grabbed a mug for my coffee. My mom walked in just as I was putting the carafe back. I poured her a mug and handed it to her.
“Thanks, Sweetie. How was your date last night? I didn’t see you when you got home.” I was planning on giving her a play-by-play when I got home, but I found her past out on the couch surrounded by files. She was working too hard again. I really hoped she wouldn’t wear her self out like all the other times.
“It was good. He asked me if I wanted to go out again.”
“Oh, Honey, that’s great! What did you say?”
“I said yes.” She gave a squeal like a school girl. It was nice talking to my mom like this; we never had before. I felt like Rori on Gilmore Girls.
“I got to go, Mom. I’m going to be late.” She gave me a quick peck on the cheek, and I grabbed my backpack from the table and left.
I met Carly on front and we started walking to school. I knew any second she would be asking about my date with Sam. I wasn’t even dreading it this time. I wanted to feel like a teenage girl gossiping with my girlfriend about our love lives.
“So…what?” I was teasing her. She looked offended by my cavalier attitude.
“So what happened on your date? Give me all the details!”
I smiled and started in gladly. “We went to the movies, then to the park after it was over, then he took me home.”
“Did he put any moves on you? You better not lie, I’ll know!”
“We held hands, and he kissed my cheek at my front door.”
“Is that it?” She didn’t sound rude, but she was still killing my buzz a little bit.
“Yes, Carly, that’s it.”
“That’s adorable! He’s such a gentleman; you’re so lucky.” She sighed. Okay, forget what I just said. My buzz was back. Carly was now jealous of me. There really is a first time for everything.
“Please tell me he asked you out again, and please say you said yes.”
“Yes and yes.” She gave a small jump and threw her arms around me. I hugged her back, without the jump.
“I’m so happy for you, Ana. You’ve seemed lonely lately; I’m glad you’ve found such a great guy.”
That was the thing about Carly. She could seem ditzy and Barbie-like, but she had a soft side that cared for people more than they knew. She liked working at the assistant living center on the weekends, she tutored her cousins after school when she didn’t have play practice, she even makes cookies for bake sales. Those were the last things I thought she would do in the free time. The first time she told me she couldn’t hang out because she was running the kitchen in the assisted living center, I thought she was lying. I assumed she just didn’t want to hang out with me but felt too bad to tell me the truth. It was only when she showed me pictures of her and her “adopted grandmother” that I believed her. I instantly felt guilty for assuming she would lie to me. Although I was wrong, it made me feel closer to her.
“Enough of this sad stuff. I have to tell you something.” I braced myself for bad news. A huge grin split her face; her radiance then was almost blinding.
“Brady and I are going to make love. Tonight.” Carly always said “making love,” not sex or doing it, or any other casual things. I was surprised she and Brady were that serious, though. It had only been a couple weeks; this was a new record for her.
“Isn’t it a little…early?”
“I know it’s soon, but I’ve never been more sure. Ana, I think he might be the one.” Woah there. This was different. Carly has never said any boy she went out with was the one. I had no idea why he was so different.
“How do you know?”
“He treats me well, makes me feel special. He’s so caring and passionate and romantic.“ Her blue eyes were glazing over. “He surprises me with gifts and dates. And last night he told me he loved me. I love him, Ana. More than any of those other guys I’ve gone out with. I can see myself with him in the future. Mom and Dad love him already, and his parents are great. We’ve never even had a fight. So it doesn’t matter if it’s soon. We want to show our love. And we will, tonight, at his house. His parents are out of town until tomorrow afternoon. So I can stay the night and everything; I told my parents I’m sleeping over at Laurens. You can’t imagine how happy I am.”
This was way over my head. I couldn’t imagine caring about a person enough to plan a future with them. There were millions of things that could happen. I was scared for Carly. If this relationship doesn’t work out, I don’t know what she’ll do. I believe that she cared more about Brady than the other dweebs, but this was over the top even for her. Maybe this time she wouldn’t go back to normal after a couple weeks; I didn’t want that to happen.
“That’s great, Carly. But are you sure you are ready for this?” I saw she opened her mouth to speak and quickly added, “I just mean that if you care about him this much, why the rush? Why not wait and see what happens first? Maybe it’ll be even better with the wait.”
“You wouldn’t understand, Ana. Once you fall in love, you’ll see. Just try and be happy for me, please.”
Her tone and words weren’t mean, but they still cut through me like a blade. I had been trying so hard to fit into this world she lived in that it was surprisingly painful to be reminded that I probably would never completely understand.
I mustered up a smile and tried to look unaffected. “You’re right, Carly. I am happy for you.”
I walked into class feeling flustered. The talk I had with Carly had filled my head with so many thoughts; it felt overwhelming. Like there was a swarm of bees buzzing around in there with no where to go. Some of them would sting when thoughts of loneliness and anger hit me. Others just created a buzzing loud enough for me to lose focus completely. I felt dangerously unsteady.
The day dragged on. Each class felt like it lasted hours instead of the 70 minutes it really was. English class was spent watching other groups presentations, so I didn’t have the change to talk to Sam. It made my glum mood even more glum. It seemed Sam was the only one who could make my days worth it anymore. I didn’t think that was a good sign.
I collapsed on the couch when school was finally over. A night watching mindless lifetime movies sounded like paradise. I felt so worn out from worrying so much about everything. Carly. Brady. My mom. Sam. Him. It was overwhelming.
I was only fifteen minutes into the romantic drama when the phone’s shrill ring blasted in my ear. I groaned and picked it up.
“Hello,” I answered, sounded too harsh for a simple greeting.
“Ana? It’s Sam.” No. Fricking. Way.
“Sam, hey! What’s up?” I hated how perky and desperate I sounded.
“So I wanted to know if you wanted to hang out tomorrow. I want to take you somewhere.”
“Sure. Where to?”
“It’s a surprise. I’ll pick you up at eleven, okay?”
“Yeah, see you then.”
“Bye, Ana.” He hung up, and I left the phone cradled against my shoulder until the dial tone began. Another date with Sam. I sighed.
I sank back against the couch, completely ignoring the movie playing across from me. The memory of Sam’s voice was so much better. Warm and silky, yet deep and husky as well. I could float in his voice. Drift through it for hours. Be that creature in the sky like I always dreamed of.
I was in paradise again.
Baldwinsvillle, New York
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This book has 6 comments.
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Never give up on what you really want yours.
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"The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything;
They just make the most of everything they have."
"Today is life. The only life we're sure of. Make the most of today." -CSI:NY
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Stephen Fry - There are many people out there that will tell you that "you can't". What you've got to do is turn around and say, "watch me."