[I never thought I’d be on this page to post again, but the free time that the holiday season has given me has done a few things. One, it has made me sentimental. You may or may not know this, but December 26, 2013 will be the three year anniversary of me starting Amber’s challenge. I can’t believe it has been three years already, especially considering the self-improvement I’ve undergone. I started writing in the Sims world as an awkward, self-loathing 13 year-old, and now here I am, an even more awkward but a little less self-loathing 16 year-old. No, but seriously, the free time granted by the holidays has really inspired me to finish writing this chapter and publish it as a sort of “thank you” to all of my loyal readers who may or may not still be around. I know that in my previous post from August I said that I was done posting for good, which I still am, but this chapter was already half-written when I wrote that. Now that I’ve had time to finish it and approve of it, I think you all deserve a little Denis/Valerie drama in your holiday break. This is my gift to you all, dear readers. I missed you. :)]
“This was a stupid idea,” I muttered. Delilah, one of my newer friends that I made through my long-time friend Ande, led me out of the house with a bright face.
“It was not a stupid idea! I’ve always loved photography, and the guy teaching this class is legit. We had to bring a partner, so can’t you just help a sister out?”
“You should’ve asked Ande,” I groaned, dragging my feet. Delilah faced me, huffed, and then continued walking.
“And I think you should check your attitude.” I cocked an eyebrow at her, and she just laughed and continued walking. “Plus, I think it’ll be nice for us to spend time without Ande. You know I love you, right?”
“Well, I mean, when you make me do things like this…it could go either way.” As the late summer heat fell on to my face, I idly wondered why we were walking to the park as opposed to driving. It was finally September, so the typically bustling streets emitted nothing short of silence as we walked. A bead of sweat broke out on my forehead, and as it did I indignantly glanced at my friend’s cute outfit. “I didn’t know we were supposed to get dressed up.”
“We didn’t have to, but I’m trying to impress this teacher, you know?”
“I didn’t know you liked photography that much.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” Delilah wiggled her eyebrows and chuckled again, high and sweet. “That’s why today’ll be good. So now that you know something about me, tell me something about you.”
I glanced over at her shorter stature and sighed. “You already know my biggest secret.” She shook her head knowingly, but it was also a look that said I’d have to do this. The first time we met was organized by our mutual friend Ande in an extreme effort to get me to admit what had been eating away at me my entire life. I confessed to my rape, Delilah confessed to hers, we bonded, and the friendship had been formed.
So now, the biggest question was this: how in the world do you reveal something bigger to someone who already knows your biggest secret?
“I…went through a gothic stage when I was a teenager?”
Delilah giggled, then replied in a faux accusatory tone. “Oh, who didn’t? One time I wore black eyeliner around my entire eye day and night, seven days a week, for three months.” She shuddered, then continued walking. “A dark time in my life.”
I laughed out loud to this. I realized then that I adored spending time with her because she radiated calmness, clarity and optimism. Her face, however, had taken a dark route after mentioning her teenage years. “Are you…are you alright?”
She paused to think when we came to an intersection. Though there were nothing but late workers storming to work on the road, she still hit the crosswalk button and waited patiently. It wasn’t until we’d arrived on the other side of the road and walked for a few minutes that she finally answered my question.
“When I was a teenager, it sucked. Just everything…well, sucked.” She paused again. “I guess I just don’t like talking about it.”
Now it was my time to think. “You know, I understand that. We obviously have one major thing in common, but my teenage years didn’t only suck because of that. There was also this girl who I thought was my best friend, and then she started dating this guy…” I idly wondered if I wanted to wander into these dangerous waters. Without another moment of thought, I decided I didn’t care. “…and I was kind of in love with him. But he never noticed me.”
And just like that, without another moment’s hesitation, my mind went somewhere else. It went to a beach, where I’d always imagined we’d spend our honeymoon if the fates ever allowed us to be married. I thought of the one date we’d had on the boardwalk, the way he’d regarded me and the torrential downpour that’d nearly ruined our first kiss. Then I thought of the way the light caught his structured face the first time I’d seen him again, the way he’d regarded me then, and then, finally, the last time I saw him. I had lost so much a few months ago, but nothing hurt more than knowing that on top of never being able to see my child, I would never feel love from a man that I’d once sworn to be the one ever again.
“Huh?” I shook my head, breaking out of the daze. “What?”
“I asked you,” she said, annoyed, as we rounded the corner into the park entrance. “Was he cute?”
“He was…” I thought of so many adjectives, the most tempting being cute, adorable, handsome, chiseled, or even perfect. But when it came to give one to Delilah, I decided against using any of those. Complimenting him would only make forgetting him harder. “He is nonexistent to me.”
Delilah gave me a sidelong look, sighing in the process. “One of those?”
As we came to a halt by some other students, I nodded my head solemnly. “One of those.”
We quieted as the professor began to dispel directions for the day. “For today’s class, I’ve asked you all to bring a partner.” There were a few whoops and hollers of over-excited teenagers, as well as some dispersed grins. Delilah simply grabbed my hand and waved it in the air for half a moment before I tore it away and blushed. “Ah, very excited I see. Well, for today’s class I was planning to give ya’ll a long list of particular shots to work with, but then I got pretty drunk last night and decided against it.” Delilah and a few other older people chuckled, but I stood quietly, patiently. “I’m just messing with you guys. In all seriousness, today is going to be a reward for all of the hard work you’ve all been putting in down at the community college. You’re all free to spend the day about the park, taking photos together, alone, of nature, the sky, the grass…really, anything you want. You’re to have a portfolio of properly edited photos using techniques from throughout the semester. Don’t forget that that list can be found both on my webpage as well as the notes outline you received on the first day of class. Any questions?” He paused for a moment to make sure we were all listening. No one raised their hand. “Well alrighty then! Go ahead and get started, and we’ll meet back here at three!” I looked down at my phone, which displayed the time of day as 9:30…in the morning.
“Five and a half hours?” I asked, bewildered, as Delilah began strutting across the park. “Couldn’t we just snap a picture of a couple flowers, your cute outfit, and maybe an attractive guy who walks by and then move on with our…” My voice trailed off as I caught a glimpse of brown hair rounding a tree. After a second, it was gone.
“Are you alright?” Delilah only asked half-heartedly since her head seemed to be somewhere else. Her eyes scanned the area relentlessly as I pondered an answer. “You look like you saw a ghost.”
“Uh, yeah, I think I’m alright. I just…I thought I saw that guy I was telling you about earlier.”
She nodded her head tightly, breathing a hefty sigh of relief when we came upon a green-flowered tree. “You see, this is perfect,” she mused. “If I could get actually in the tree and take a picture down of you…”
“Of…of me? Of me?” Delilah attempted but failed to hoist herself into the tree. “Um, I didn’t exactly dress for this-“
“Enough with the excuses, sassy. You look gorgeous, as always.”
“As always? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know how pretty you are.” She’d managed to hook herself on to a low branch and begin her climb. She paused to look down at me with a half-frown on her face. “You’re telling me you don’t see the way people stop and ogle at you at literally all hours of the day?” I frowned deeply. “You see? Frowning, and you’re still pretty. Now quit that and help me up.” I sighed heavily and helped push her up.
“You stable?” She wasn’t very high up, but that didn’t mean I wanted her to break her neck. And plus, the comments she was making had thrown me off so much that I was having a hard time saying anything past pointless small talk.
“I think…I think I’m goo-“ She nearly fell, but caught herself. Only after letting go of the camera, though. “My camera!” she cried out, nearly falling again.
I ushered quickly over to it, inspecting for any damage. I didn’t see any.
“My mom…” Delilah’s face looked flushed and just about ready to burst into tears. “That camera was my mom’s, and if it’s ruined…oh my god, I’m the worst person ever.”
I held up my hand, feeling the immediate need to make her feel better. “It’s good, Lilah! Nothing happened. Good for you, you picked a really grassy area. Are you…is it okay for me to hand it back up now?”
She nodded her head slowly, picking back up the pieces of her breakdown. I made a mental note to ask her about this later, when she was more stable, both mentally and physically.
She took a few minutes to calm herself, but she told me that she was, “Finding the right angle.” I stood still and waited until she needed me.
“Okay, so I think if you could just…” she raised the camera to her eye and looked through, messing with the zoom a bit. “If you could just sit below the tree…like, cross-legged or something…” I sat down as so. “Yeah…and just look, like…innocent, right? Like, untuck your hair from your ears and let it fall around your face. Yeah…like that…”
I interpreted the following pause as her taking the pictures, so I tried to stay as still as possible. However, a few seconds in I noticed a daisy right in front of me. Absent-mindedly, I picked it and began playing with it, twirling it in my fingers, smelling it. Delilah didn’t intervene. After a few minutes of this, she hopped down from the tree, grinning.
“You’re a natural!” she boasted. “The flower thing was totally cool. You looked amazing!”
I half-smiled, dropping the flower on to the ground. Delilah was quick to pick it up, remove the stem, and hand it back to me. “Put it behind your ear,” she smiled. “You deserve it, miss model!”
I laughed, placing it behind my left ear. “This good?”
“Perfect.” She found herself another one and put it behind her ear. “Now we’re matching! Here, let’s take a picture to document it…”
She turned the camera around and centered it on our faces. I leaned in close to hers and grinned as she tickled my side with her free hand. She smiled when she laid eyes on the photo, but she shielded it from me.
“What, I can’t see?” I asked, pouting.
“I’m practically an artist.” She winked, moving on from our location. “You can’t see it until it’s complete.”
“Even if it is my face?”
“Especially if it’s your face! For goodness sakes, Valerie, it’s like you know nothing about being an artist!”
“Woops,” I muttered.
We spent the rest of the day in and about the park. We were mostly isolated from the other pairs, but every once in a while we’d run into them taking a really good picture and I’d hear Delilah growl under her breath. Every time she did, I outright laughed and pulled a smile back on to her face. The summer sun felt glorious, and I could practically feel the beginnings of a tan creeping on to my skin. It felt like the perfect day.
Until, that is, I saw that flash of brown hair again.
“You’re making that face again,” she noted, leaning down to get a picture of a flower on the ground.
“What face?” I stuck my neck out, following the path of the hair until it was once again out of my sight.
“The same one you made earlier, about one of those guys. Don’t tell me I’m boring you so much that you can’t even remember this morning!” I tensed, but then she laughed and I let it go. “I’m kidding.”
“I hope so! I’m having fun today. I’m really glad you pulled me out of my room. I’ve been…uh, going through kind of a thing, a funk I guess, and I needed this. So thank you.”
“Care to talk about it?”
The care and concern in her voice was clear, but I still resisted. Maybe it was something from my childhood, but to this day I still couldn’t shake my hesitancy to connect with someone. “That’s alright.”
“For once, and I hope you don’t hate me for this, I’m going to force you to do something.” I eyed her warily, but she shrugged it off and pushed further. “I want you to tell me what has been on your mind! I’ve asked you probably thirty times in the past month to do something like this, and you’ve always said no. I understand when you’re going through something, but if you could get yourself out of the house finally, then maybe you need to take the next step and talk it out. Maybe after today, you could just be a little bit better after whatever happened.”
There was nothing worse than when someone spoke with so much reason and truth. I hated that someone could predict exactly what I needed but was too afraid to say.
So I did. I told her everything from our first and only date at the carnival, to him going to war, to us meeting again, to the complications with Adan, to how we now weren’t talking. As I told the story, I felt myself becoming completely invested in “our story.” We’d been through so much, said so much, not said enough, and now here were, not talking. As my face grew flushed and my heart sped up as I finished telling Lilah, some things started to occur to me. The one that hurt my head the most was the fact that I knew I couldn’t go on like this. Not talking to him wasn’t an option, but I had no clue how to reverse that. Then Delilah, knowing the situation for a total of about two minutes spoke more truth than I could muster up in my head in the past months.
“Why don’t you just lay it all out on the table? Tell this guy what his options are? Either he accepts that you wanted him while you were dating someone else, and that was a mistake, or he lets you know that he’s moving on.”
“That’s what I tried to do last time we saw each other. He turned me down. Did you miss that part?” I turned to her, pouting, but she remained determined.
“No, but things were different then. You were still dating Adan. Now you guys are broken up and you’re free as can be! Believe it or not, he’ll probably react differently this time around.”
Everything she was saying made sense, but I think that’s what convinced me not to buy into it. There were just too many things that could go wrong for this to be the perfect solution. There was no perfect solution. I’d convinced myself that things had been messed up beyond repair, and that was a mindset I could live with.
Or could I?
“Okay,” I mumbled, still pouting. “Suppose this is the perfect plan.” I tried to hide my sarcasm, but judging from her sidelong look, she could sense it from a mile away. “How exactly am I getting into contact with him? He stopped answering my phone calls a long time ago, and I’m not about to show up on his doorstep. I’m telling you, it’s not meant to be.”
“All I’m saying is that if this is meant to be, it’ll happen. If it’s not, then you need to move on. I know it’s not exactly what you wanna hear, but that’s all there is to it.” She smiled sympathetically down at me. “I’m gonna go get us some lemonade, it got pretty hot out. What size do you want?”
“A small is fine, thanks.”
She turned to walk away, but last second she turned back around. “Sorry, but can you hold my camera? Judging from my klutzy day today, I’ll probably ruin the camera before I can make it back.” I agreed and took the camera from her. “And hey!” she called over her shoulder. “Maybe you can take some pictures while you’re at it!” Her sweet, simple laugh filled the space between us until she was out of sight.
I tried to sit in the shade for a while, but when it got too hot to even do that, I realized that I would need to busy myself until she got back. I fumbled with the camera, sneaking glances at the pictures she’d been taking all day. The ones of me, despite my protesting, had actually turned out alright. Twenty-five years old, and it was still a rarity that I would look at a photo of myself and think, “Wow, I actually don’t look half bad.” However, with these, I could. It surprised me how in a few photos, she was able to capture the essence of my being. Suddenly, her passion for photography made sense to me, and I wanted a taste of what it was like to capture something so perfect.
I laid on my belly across the plush grass. The camera was positioned so that it had a few lonely blades of grass were in the shot, but the background was blurred. I struggled, playing with the controls, to put the background into focus for a little while. Then, suddenly, it did. I grinned, looking into the camera’s viewfinder. I felt so creepy looking into it, taking photos of unsuspecting people walking by. I idly wondered what it’d be like for someone to take photos of me like this, but then I shrugged it off, realizing that no one was looking at me.
And, as usual, I was wrong. I felt a pair of eyes on me through the camera. I leaned down further to get a glimpse of the person watching back, sure they couldn’t see me, until I realized who it was and that they knew exactly what I was doing.
Then, I captured the perfect picture.