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PICTURES ARE BACK

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GUYSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Valerie is BACK!

I got a new computer, and you want to know what the first thing I did was?

I downloaded all the games, brought in Valerie, dressed her up all nice, and took some pictures.

Why?

BECAUSE I MISSED HER WITH THE POWER OF A THOUSAND FIERY SUNS.

VALERIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

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LOOK AT HER IS SHE NOT THE CUTEST THING EVER

Screenshot-10PRECIOUS

UGH

STOP

HELP’

And this, folks, was the only reason I posted this. I hope ya’ll have a nice evening. I haven’t started the next chapter yet. But expect some pictures.

BYE, LOVE YOU ALL.

-J

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[Howdy ya’ll! I hope this makes your week more bearable. ^_^ I was going to wait until Sunday, but then I was just like, why the hell not? It’s done. So here ya go! Let me know what you think! -Jaimee]

I tapped my foot impatiently against the side of the wooden chair I sat in. My eyes focused on the glass display case of pastries in front of me. Bear Claws, cupcakes, brownies, scones and more were laid out on display for me to feast my eyes on. I was only partially hungry, to be honest, but if I was going to keep blaming my considerable weight gain on over-eating, I at least better make a show of it. Though I struggled a bit to stand, it wasn’t long until I stood in front of the young cashier waiting to tend on me. She couldn’t be older than seventeen, what with her fair skin and messy blonde hair pulled into a loose braid down the side. She gave me a floppy smile as I pulled my eyes from the display case to her.

“Good afternoon!” She smiled genuinely, clicking a couple buttons on the register. “For here or to go?”

“Here.” I tried my best to smile back, but the pregnancy had left me a bit queasy and sickly today. Kindness wasn’t at the top of my priorities.

“Cool,” she grinned, unfazed. Her eyes flitted to my stomach, but only for a second. “What’ll it be?”

“Um, oh, yeah,” I said quickly, remembering where I was. “Can I get two crab claws and…hm, a Chai Tea Latte?”

“Sure thing-”

“-Oh, wait!” I cut off. “Sorry, can you make the latte decaf?”

She gave me a small, knowing smile. “Sure thing, ma’am.”

Satisfied, I started to fish some money out of my purse. A few moments later I brushed across some bill and pulled it out, happy to see it was a twenty. I handed it over, and as she gave me my change she smiled again.

“Congrats on your pregnancy,” she said whole-heartedly. “You look…really, really good.”

I almost thanked her, but then something hit me. If I told her, a random stranger, then who was I not to tell Adan? Or my parents? Some person I was.

“I’m not pregnant,” I rushed, creasing my eyebrows.

“O-oh,” the girl stammered. “Um, ma’am, I’m so sorry…it’s just, you’re so skinny, and your stomach is just…” Her voice faded out. “Sorry.”

However bad I would’ve felt about my family had I not told her she was wrong may have hurt less than the embarrassment that now showed on her face. It was beet red, truly and utterly apologetic as she looked down. Was it really worth it? She wouldn’t have told anyone. Why would she? She didn’t know how screwed up my situation was.

“Keep it,” I said, pushing her open hand with my change in it back. “Tip.”

The young girl brightened at this, which in turn made me feel a bit better. I turned and walked back to a farther table this time, wanting nothing more than to avoid making eye contact with her again. I set the bear claws and latte down on the table and eased myself into the chair.

Four months. I could hardly believe it’d been four months already. My wardrobe had long since changed to nothing but baggy shirts and lots of layers. Lucky for me, the pregnancy was also affecting my face and arms a bit, which made it more believable that I was just gaining weight overall. That’s what made it hard to believe that a teenager could have the insight to see what this really was…or maybe it wasn’t that hard to believe. Teenagers see everything through the clearest possible vision, and they always call it as they see it. That’s what is so frightening about teenagers. As much as no one ever wants to admit it, their raw views of the world are often true. It’s a shame we’re all trained to think the same.

Just as I was about to take my first bite of the bear claw, a surprisingly familiar voice-though not the one I’d expected-chirped out my name.

“Valerie?!”

I turned around so slowly that you’d of thought I was in slow motion. But no, that voice…I knew that voice. And I wasn’t as welcome to it as it seemed to me.

“Freya!” I pushed as much happiness into that name as I could. “What a surprise.” Unsure as to what kind of greeting our peculiar relationship granted, I stayed seated.

“I know,” she laughed, standing next to my table and leaning on it with her knuckles flat against it. “I never knew you liked coffe.”

“I don’t,” I countered, confused by the playful banter going on. My hand reached for the latte and tapped on it a few times, smiling semi-wickedly. “Chai Tea Latte.”

“You’re kidding.” Freya looked shocked. “I love those.”

To my own surprise, I smiled as genuinely to Freya as the cashier had to me and laughed lightly. “So what brings you here?”

“Oh, me?” I cocked an eyebrow, as if asking her who else I could possibly be talking to. “Meeting my fiancé.”

“Fiancé?” A jealous knot formed in my chest.

“Tall, red hair, freckles like me, pale as can be…” Her countenance was dazed and happy, a look I’d never before seen on her. “…and cute as can be.” She shook her head, breaking the moment of bliss. “How about you?”

“Friend.” I idly wondered if she’d get her soon and what I’d do if these “meetings” overlapped. I gestured to the seat across from me, tired of craning my neck upward. “Sit!”

Freya dropped her purse to the ground and pushed her hair back, smiling in wake of her tousled locks. “Speaking of friends,” she said, lowering her voice as she pulled her long hair into an elastic, “have you heard?”

Though I had no clue why, my chest tightened as she said this. “Hear what?” My mouth felt drier.

“Denis,” Freya gushed, leaning forward on her elbows. “Denis Levi.

Oh. So my chest had been correct when it’d clenched just a moment ago.

“Really?” I couldn’t tell if the feigned shock was evident in my tone, so I dropped my jaw a little lower for effect. “No way. Last I heard he was off to Iraq and destined to stay there forever.” The picture of Denis brought on startled and clashing feelings to me, the most apparent being the thought of him experiencing so much pain. Our time together had gone a long way to ease the tension in me when I heard his name, but not nearly long enough.

“I know, right?” Well, judging from Freya’s voice, she had no clue what was going through my head. “I never thought I’d see him again.”

“Wait, you’ve seen him?” There was that jealous knot again.

“Me?” Freya held her hand to her chest, eyebrows lifted. “No, of course not.” The knot dissipated. “But I have dropped by his house a couple times, you know, just to drive by, and I think I saw a light once. So that’s something.” The knot returned. “Who knows, maybe he’s back from the dead.”

I sat back in my seat suddenly, as I stared at Freya’s concerned and excited face. This was not the face of the girl who’d once been my very best friend, then pushed me into a lake when she knew I couldn’t swim. This most definitely wasn’t the face of the girl who’d deprived me of having a chance at Denis before things got so complicated.

“You okay-” Freya was staring at me when her gaze suddenly diverted. “Oh, sorry,” she murmured as she collected her bag from the floor and stood within a matter of seconds. “My fiancé’s here…it was good talking.” She started to walk away as I stared straight forward. Then she backtracked. “Here,” she continued, placing a crisp white business card down on the table. “Sorry to be so formal, but feel free to give me a call sometime…I’d love to catch up.” I nodded absentmindedly.

I sat in my disconcerted state for god knows how long, debating the simple question of why Freya was suddenly on good terms with me. Also, not to mention the fact that my mind was on Denis again. I reached down to my belly, placing a firm hand over my belly button. The simple move brought me some peace, though it was short-lived.

I started digging into the Bear Claw again when Ande joined me. If it was up to me, I would’ve stayed in today. But I’d avoided her for months, so it was about time I guess.

“Hey!”

I tried to look happy as I got up from my chair as normally as possible. Only the most careful watchers would see my struggle.

“Hey Lee!” Ande returned my grin, pulling me in for a quick hug. And thank goodness it was quick. I just barely arched my back enough to keep my belly back.

When I pulled away, I was slightly surprised to see that Ande had brought someone.

“Oh!” Realization seemed to hit her as my eyes were pulled from her to the new girl. I stared at her in wonder. Why did she look so familiar? “Lee, this is Delilah. Lilah, this is Valerie. Valerie, Delilah. Delilah, Valerie.” Her eyes were expectant as I stared down Delilah. “Do you…”

“What’s your last name?” I asked curiously, still studying her.

“Hutchinson.”

Oh. That didn’t sound familiar at all.

“Okay, sorry.” I took a deep breath, beckoning them to sit down with me. I carefully slid into my seat and concealed my belly as I turned back to Delilah. She was actually really pretty, what with her blonde hair and kind eyes. “That wasn’t the nicest intro I’ve ever made. You actually look pretty familiar, to be honest.”

“Really?” She looked me over similar to how I’d looked at her. “You know, now that I think of it, you look kind of familiar too.”

“Are you serious?”

“Dead.”

“Hm.”

We looked at one another some more, until Ande stood up abruptly.

“I’m gonna go get some food. The usual, Lilah?” Delilah nodded and looked back at me. I smiled.

With Ande gone, I decided to become friendlier with the newbie and stop being so creepy. I may be pregnant, but I wasn’t as socially inept as some people pegged me.

“Friend of Ande’s?”

She nodded. “Our parents were good friends, so we were around each other a lot. Made good sense for us to at least become friends.” I smiled genuinely as she spoke. “How about you?”

“Huh? Oh.” Casting my gaze down, I shrugged. “Uh, some class…in college. You know.” I sure as hell wasn’t about to tell this stranger I’d met Ande at Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Oh, right! I’m so stupid. Watercolor Painting, right?” I gave her a confused look. “The class you guys took together…Watercolor Painting, right? I think Ande mentioned that.”

“Oh, yeah.” A small smile flitted around my lips that I struggled to keep down. Of course Ande lied for us. Our friendship, even after months, was just that secure. A sudden pang in my chest clued me in to how much I’d actually missed her in our time apart. “Watercolor Painting…what a wild class.” Delilah laughed lightly as Ande reappeared.

“They were out of red velvet cupcakes, so I got you crumb cake.”

“No problem,” replied Delilah. She seemed so easygoing. “What’d you get?”

Ande lowered her plate so we could both see it. A Reese’s Cupcake. I picked some more at my crab claw and took a hesitant sip of the latte. Delicious.

With Ande seated next to Delilah and all of us making casual small talk, things seemed…well, normal again, to be honest. And it felt good for a while. That is, until Ande changed the topic.

“So,” she said once we hit a snag in the conversation. Her eyes hesitantly stared down. “Um, so, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about. A reason I brought Lilah here.”

“Okay…” I replied carefully.

“And, uh, the last time I tried to talk to you about this…well, the multiple times I tried to talk to you about this, I approached it all wrong. And I’ve had a few months now to think and sit on this, and I really couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t. I can’t.” Despite my best prying, my mind couldn’t think up one thing that could be bothering her. Everything was an open book between us. “Delilah?” She motioned to her friend.

“Um, okay.” The atmosphere was all nerves and none of the jovial giddiness it was the moment before.  “I’ll…I’ll just get right to it. Valerie…Val, may I call you that?”

I nodded uncertainly.

“When I was younger…when I was younger, I was raped.” All of the air left my body. Every ounce of it. “And we know…we know you were too.”

Moving as fast as I had since before my pregnancy, I stood up and started moving for the door. No way was I dealing with this today. Tears sprang up in my eyes. This pregnancy, Adan, Denis…and now this? No way in hell. Not today. Not now.

“Valerie, stop.”

I ignored Ande’s pleas and kept walking. Just a few more steps until I was out of her reach.

“Valerie.”

My hand reached for the door. Just as I felt the cool metal beneath my hand begin to turn, I stopped dead in my tracks.

Valerie.” My body turned rigid. “Valerie. Come back. Sit down.” I still doubted Ande’s sincerity, but there was something in her voice that I’d never heard before. A certain tone that told me this wasn’t a joke. “Just sit.

My heart beat fast in my ears and every single ounce of my being told me this was a bad idea: yet I still turned around. I had never once in my life so cautiously approached anything as I did that table. But sooner than I could think otherwise, my body had eased back on to the wood, across from Ande and Delilah.

When she tried to talk, I cut her off. “Why,” I began, “do you think that I was…uh, raped?” The word was painful to repeat. “Because I wasn’t,” I continued, matter-of-factly.

“You might not’ve been.” Good. At least she was listening to me. “But,” she went on, “you have that look.”

“What look?”

“The look that says you’ve been through something you can’t talk about. Something you won’t talk about. And Delilah…it took her a while too. But once you do…well, I’ll let her tell you.”

“Val, I know we just met, but you need to know something.” The tears I had been trying so hard to hold back fell from my eyes, one hot drop at a time. “I know how difficult it is to admit it to anyone, but especially yourself. For the longest time I tried to convince myself that the rape was normal, or that it was an accident or didn’t matter, or even that it was my fault. But I’ve learned.” She appeared like she might cry too, but I could’ve been wrong. I was looking at the world through a veil of…what was it? My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I realized what the feeling was. Relief.

“Please don’t cry,” Ande pleaded. She attempted to lay her hand over mine, but I jerked it back instinctually. She slowly repealed her own, looking dejected.

“I’m not crying.” I sat up a little straighter and started re-packing my things in my bag. “In fact, I’m starting to think you’re imagining a lot of other things too, like this stupid, stupid idea you have that I-“ I tried my best to stop my shaking voice. “-have been raped. I don’t know what kind of sick joke you’re playing, but this needs to stop.”

“Don’t go.” This, surprisingly, came from Delilah. Her eyes were wide as she looked up at my standing figure. I shook my head, refusing to listen. As I started to turn away my phone slipped out of my hand. Making a dramatic show of it, I dropped my purse to the floor and very carefully reached for it. Halfway down, my back gave way a little and sent me plummeting to the ground.

“Valerie?!” Ande dashed to my side, looking concerned. Damn, I thought. If only she knew I was pregnant.

“Don’t try to help me,” I said harshly when she reached her arm out. “I don’t need your pity.”

“Valerie-“

“-And I sure as hell don’t need you thinking I need saving all the time. Did you ever stop to think that I’ve avoided you for months for a reason?

I stood again, phone in hand. Ande placed an unmoving hand on my shoulder.

“When did it-“

“-Like, stop!” I screeched. “I wanna go. I wanna go home…to my boyfriend. Unlike you, he actually-“

“-Would you just stop for a second and-“

“-I wanna go ho-“

“Why?”

“Because I don’t wanna be with you.”

“Where do you live?”

“You know where I live!”

“Can I come with you?”

“What? No!”

“When were you raped?”

“Fourteen-“

It only took me a second after I said it to realize what she’d done-she tricked me. She tricked me into admitting the one thing I promised myself was my problem and my problem alone. In place of the anger I expected-the anger I always tried so hard to keep at bay-was that strange feeling again. Relief. But was it relief? Honestly? A hysterical cry sprang from my lips as I avoided her gaze.

“Fourteen?” Ande’s voice, while muddled to my screaming ears, was filled with an ardent concern. “Are you…are you serious?”

“No,” I shot back, looking up with an annoyed countenance. “I lied.”

She looked at me harrowingly.

“I didn’t mean that.” An indefatigable pain jumpstarted in my chest.

“I know you didn’t.”

Slowly, after exchanging hesitant looks between Ande, Delilah and myself, we sat back down. Exhausted, I leaned back. It really looked like I wouldn’t be getting out of this discussion this time.

“How old were you?” I directed this question to Delilah, and when she looked up her face appeared how mine felt-despaired and caught.

“Sixteen.” If physiognomy still held true in the modern age, she would be an enigma, what with her dejected eyes and sad, sad expression. No one who looked like that could possibly feel so much sadness. Yet here she was. “It was my best friend’s dad. Things were…complicated.” I nodded solemnly.

“Wait.” This came from Ande. Her face showed that a new idea had occurred to her. “Is this why…why you were in Alcoholics Anon-” Her voice cut off as she shot cursory glances between Delilah and me. “Shit. I didn’t mean to-“

I sighed deeply. “It’s okay.” And surprisingly, it was. I felt a sort of peace that I hadn’t previously known was attainable. Delilah helped me cope with some things about my life I hadn’t known needed coping, and Ande was nice to have for support. It was the weirdest thing to be a part of and talk about after keeping it in so long, but when all was said and done and the moon had long sunken into the dark hues of night, I felt at peace. Of course, that peace could only last so long.

“Before we go,” Ande said quietly, as if nervous for my reaction, “I think you should…well.” She nudged my phone that sat in the middle of the table over to me. I didn’t remember her touching it, but as I looked down I came to notice something peculiar-my mom’s phone number scrawled on the screen.

I looked up frantically, begging with my eyes for her to relieve me of this one task. She shook her head sharply.

Before I could stop it, the phone was ringing. I prayed and prayed she wouldn’t pick up, and I even began to think she wouldn’t as the time ticked on, but at the very last second her voice chirped through the other end.

“Valerie?” she asked hesitantly, as if surprised by my call.

“Mom…” I choked back tears. Ande and Delilah stood up, nodding their approval and encouragement to me. I could always hang up after they left, but their looks told me I wouldn’t be getting out of this either. “Can I come over?”

“Yes…” She still seemed confused. “What do you need?”

In an air of certainty I never knew I possessed, I sighed and replied in my most level voice. “We need to talk.”

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D: coffee today?

V: time?

D: 11 good?

V: yep. place?

D: you pick 😉

V: Castiel’s Café, over on Werth Ave.

D: see you there

Waking up to the news that I’d never met Shane and was free of every ounce of depression that had ever haunted me couldn’t have filled me with more happiness than those seven messages did. I woke up at nine to the original, and the rest took less than a few minutes. I got right in the shower after a small bout of queasiness.

As I lathered up soap and washed it over my body, one though defeated all the rest: it’s about freakin’ time.

At least once in the past two weeks since seeing Denis again, you would’ve thought I’d’ve cracked and texted him. But no, in a rare showing of extreme self-control, I hadn’t. The part of me that wanted to talk to him nearly won, but then there was always that lingering thought that me texting first would send the wrong message; that message being that I was looking for more than a friendship. And no, the fact that Adan had the ability to read my texts had no effect on this new self-control. None at all.

I stepped out with dripping hair a few minutes later. I had to use every second I had in the next hour or so prepping myself to look normal. Also, as much as I hated to think of it, I also had to find an outfit that wouldn’t show off my growing belly. I’d found out at six weeks in that I was pregnant, thanks to a secretive doctor’s visit, which now left me at two months in. For the most part, it looked like I’d been snacking a bit too much lately, which was the story I was going to go with if anyone (namely Ande) asked.

It turned out that a plain dress I bought a while back did just the trick. It was black with small hints of mint blocking in certain parts of the dress. It was slimming and had a low scoop neckline that even I could admit was slightly appealing on me. Once smoothed out and paired with some eyeliner and mascara, I felt ready to go. I just had to fix my hair into a nice bun on top of my head.

I struggled with this part more than I would’ve liked, thanks to the queasiness building up in my stomach. My morning sickness could usually be tamed, but on certain mornings it was really apparent. Adan working so far away was a blessing since I had the apartment to myself most mornings. Not that, at this point, we’d even talk if he was home. So it was a blessing in more ways than one, but I didn’t really feel like delving into the politics of the latter at that particular moment.

I eventually got my hair fixed up into a messy bun. I left a few pieces hanging out in the front that, with the natural wave in my hair, curled back slightly and framed it well. Fitting my swollen feet into flats was a slightly bigger issue as I was about to leave, so I eventually gave up and threw them in my purse. I drove barefoot with ice on my feet that, once there at 10:54, I could barely fit into the flats. I shrugged and opened up the door, surprised when I saw a familiar buzz cut within just seconds.

“Denis!”

A smile crept up on my face as I approached the café. His back was toward me but soon became his face when he heard my voice. Our eyes met across the spring breeze, teal against green. I held it all the way until I reached him, and then I finally lowered it and let me smile falter a bit.

“Hey there, stranger,” he said lightly, standing up. His grin broadened, but then we both got stuck when we couldn’t figure out what to do next. Hug each other? If we did, I don’t think I could’ve handled being so close yet so unbelievably far at once. If we shook hands, the formality of it would’ve killed me. And plus, touching his hand…

“Uh, wanna sit down?” he asked, running his hand over his brown hair. The buzz cut was only one of the remnants of his post-high school history, and it hurt a little to look at it.

“Yeah, sure.”

Though some of the initial joy at the meeting had been dimmed by the uncertainty over our encounter, it soon returned after I sat down across from him. A smile started playing over my lips as I read the menu below me. I was so utterly aware of Denis when he was near. Just his simple breathing made me see all that I could have, and it was suffocating-in a good way.

“I’ll have the coffeecake,” he said, smiling up at the waitress. How did he so easily charm everyone? Even in high school, he was popular. Denis was so shy with me, but so easy with everyone else.

“And to drink?” asked the waitress smoothly, grinning sheepishly right back down at him.

Denis didn’t waver once before replying simply, “A hot tea,” and handing his menu up to the mesmerized woman. She looked at me for my order next, but I was so distracted that I picked the first thing I laid my eyes on and handed my menu up without another glance. With everything done, I turned back to Denis and that anxious feeling filled my gut again. How could one person throw me off so easily?

“Nice day, huh,” muttered Denis, looking off to the left. I looked up at him and let out a light chuckle.

“What, did I say something funny?” he asked, mock-defensively.

“No,” I said slowly, picking my words carefully. “I just never took us to be the nice-weather-talking kind of people.” I took a chance by looking up at him, and to my surprise he seemed amused.

“We aren’t, are we?” he chuckled. “Some things change, but this hasn’t…” he trailed off as a dark emotion crossed his face. “But some things do change,” Denis continued, looking down and fiddling with his thumbs. “Like your…your boyfriend.”

Oh.

So that’s what today was coming to.

An uncertain silence possessed the meal, but I knew where both of our minds were. No doubt we were both remembering the encounter at his house a few weeks ago. The silence broke when the drinks arrived. The tea seemed to visibly calm him down, so I chose that moment to speak.

“But, um, Denis,” I stumbled out. “He’s just…he’s just a thing. I mean, a guy-a guy my parents set me up with. But you…you weren’t…” I broke off my own speaking and looked down. When Denis spoke next, almost all of his earlier episode was forgotten.

“No, I’m happy for you.” He paused thoughtfully, taking a long sip of his tea. “I’m glad you…moved on.” His cheeks grew flushed again, but it only lasted for a brief second. “Besides,” he continued, laughing. “We went on, what, one date?”

I nodded, forcing myself to smile in the slightest. This wasn’t good territory for this “lunch date.”

“Yeah,” I murmured painfully. I could almost feel the rain slamming into me, cutting across my cheek as I ran from Denis and the life I could’ve had. Instinctively, I reached down to touch my belly as my depressed thoughts came on. Remembering where I was and who I was with, I removed it almost instantly.

“But he…your…” Denis searched for the right word to use but eventually gave up and continued. “Does he know you’re here? The guy you were with the last time we saw each other? Whatever he is to you.”

My eyes found his and searched for some sort of emotion, but I couldn’t grasp how he was feeling at all. Denis was hiding his emotions well.

“He knows that I went out,” I shrugged, taking my gaze off of him.

“Valerie,” said Denis sternly. I knew he was staring straight at me, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn back to him now.

“He’s at work, so he doesn’t care,” I continued, trying really hard to convince him-as well as myself- that there were no strings attached to this meeting. But I think we both knew there were.

“And besides, I’m my own person. If I want to have lunch with a friend from high school, then I will. No one-not even Adan- could tell me that I couldn’t do this or anything else I want. I’ve spent enough of my life letting people dictate how I act, who I am, what I stand for-“ I ticked the reasons off on my fingers harshly, a determined look on my face. Then I cut off my panicked voice abruptly when I realized what I was doing. Why had I chosen now of all times to go off on a rant about my life? Damn myself.

“So, the mysterious boyfriend has a name,” said Denis, chuckling-or was he? He held a smirk on his face, but deeper than that was a palpable anger just below the surface. “Adan…” Denis let the name play around on his tongue, when suddenly his face fell. “Do you like this guy?”

My eyes registered a clear shock at his daring question. For anyone else, I would’ve refused to answer, insisting that there was an obvious answer to such a silly question. But something about who was saying it and how he was saying it made me question the happy façade I’d long since put on my relationship. But there was more than just us now. There was this third person, an “it” inside me who complicated things beyond compare, and I felt compelled to defend it. Gripping the fabric lying over my belly, I turned back to Denis.

“I do,” I said, surprised by the hardness in my voice. His face made me falter, but I tried  desperately to hold on to my initiative. “I love…I like him very much, and I love where my life is at. We’re very happy together, and we even live together! Why is it so hard to see that we’re happy?”

My voice had risen considerably and my face flushed, so I decided to dial it back and sit farther into my chair. I hated to admit it, but I couldn’t help thinking I was trying to convince myself more than him that I was happy.

“Forget I asked,” said Denis after a long silence. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought this up.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” I agreed, casting my gaze down. I hated this fighting, but I’d be a fool if I’d have thought this topic could’ve been evaded today. It was inevitable.

“Well, um, what’s going on in your life? Obviously a lot has changed with you too since high school.” My attempt to change the topic wasn’t completely overlooked, but I think we could both appreciate the effort. Denis conveyed that much when he sighed heavily and drummed his fingers against his mug.

“Well, the army was…different than I thought it would be. I mean, yes, I knew that it would involve  lot of labor, yelling, and sleepless nights, but I didn’t realize how much it would affect my life until about a week or so in. I was pretty terrified, to be honest.”

The amount of truth he was admitting comforted me. It reminded me that I’m not the only one who gets a little scared sometimes.

“And that sounds totally lame, I know. You’re the first person I’ve even told that.”

I smiled lightly to myself.

“So, um, eventually I got used to it, of course. I was in training more than I was in the field, but towards the end…well, Iraq was all I saw. The endless desert, the freezing nights, and the blood were all horrific. I mean, that’s not the best word to describe it, but it was my own kind or horror.”

Denis heaved a heavy sigh, glancing up to gauge my reaction. Though I had no clue what my face read, his eyes seemed to widen when he saw it.

“God damnit, I’m so stupid,” he said apologetically.  “Why am I talking about blood and gore? I’m so sorry Val-“

In an instant, I pushed my chair back and started sprinting to the bathroom. I tried hard not to think of blood as the muffin I’d just been eating threatened to make a reappearance, but I was unsuccessful. I only made it halfway through the café before it happened. I thought of blood, and nothing had ever been so repulsive. I threw up all over the floor and struggled to breathe. I thought of blood again. It kept coming up, and it was only when Denis laid a reassuring hand on the small of my back that I realized where I was and what I was doing.

“I’m sorry,” I said automatically, using all of my strength to steady myself. All I could seem to think about were two words: morning sickness, and how I needed to conceal it for once. If Denis figured this out, then I would be-

“What, you drink a little too much last night?” he asked, laughing lightly and guiding me toward the bathroom.

“Hardly,” I murmured, avoiding his gaze.

He bent his knees and met my eyes levelly before pushing open the men’s bathroom door. He reappeared a minute later with a disheveled pile of paper towels in his hand and a determined look on his face.

I muttered my apologies the entire way back, but he’d have none of it. He bent down once again without a word and started cleaning up my mess with practiced efficiency, waving employees off when they tried to help. It only took a few minutes for the floor to once again be shining.

I held the door open when we reached the outside Denis murmured his thanks as he slid past me and disposed my mess into the trash.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked in disbelief when we finally sat back down at our table. The waitress, having seen what happened, soon after brought us wet wipes and breath mints. Together, we nodded our thanks. “You shouldn’t be thanking me for anything. I’m the one who threw up like a loser and made you clean it up. It’s not fair. I’m sorry. Let me do something, anything, to prove to you I’m better than this. I mean, I can totally handle war stories. I swear. If you could just-“

“You didn’t make me do anything,” he replied in a slow, calculated way. “Friends help friends out.”

Friends.

Ouch.

“And besides,” he continued, “I know how people are with war. Half the men in my bunker could hardly bandage their own wounds without doing what you did.”

He let out a light laugh, though I hardly doubted anything being said was very funny to him. It was more so in an effort for normalcy.

I nodded agreeingly, moving the mint around in my mouth with my tongue.

“You cleaned that up pretty efficiently,” I said lightly. “Were you ever on cleaning duty, warrior?”

He bowed his head, shaking it.

“Nope. More like I practiced my entire childhood every time my mom came home drunk and threw up. She did that more often than I’d like to remember.”

A dark expression crossed his face, similar to earlier. That part of him scared me, and we were tapping into it a lot more often than I felt comfortable with.

“Well, uh,” I started, attempting to brighten the mood. “I guess we both had interesting childhoods, if I remember correctly.” Denis fixed his sad gaze on me, visibly lightening up a little. “Remember that time in high school when you showed up late for the timed mile, so you sprinted down to the track and just started running? And then you ended with a better time than anyone, despite starting a minute and a half late.”

“Yeah,” Denis, smiled. “That was when I was thinking of doing track and field in college. But then you know how the story goes from there.” His half smile made me so emotional I nearly cried, but that was thanks to my pregnancy. Or maybe that was just the effect he had on me.

“I know,” I replied quietly.

For the next hour or so, the conversation stayed lighter, thank god. We often brushed over topics that I liked to refer to as the “Danger Zone.” We’d have to no doubt discuss them someday, but that day wasn’t today. And I sincerely hoped it wouldn’t be for a while after that either. Around 1:30, we finally had to say our goodbyes. If anything, I felt more flustered and unsure about how to part than I had been greeting him earlier. What terms were we on now that we’d properly “caught up?”

It became obvious that we’d reached friend status again when Denis pulled me in for a hug. His long, muscular arms wrapped around me in a way that was surely friendly and casual to him, yet meant the world to me. I sank into it but eventually realized that my stomach was starting to brush against his. I could let it stay, but then I’d have to do some pretty hefty explaining of my newer “eating habits.” To my mortification, when I started to lean back he pulled away immediately, looking like he had committed some sort of felony. I laughed, waving off his distress. His creased eyebrows relaxed  bit as his hand ran over the buzz cut.

“It sucks, but I’ve got work,” said Denis as he opened up my car door for me. I tried to hide my blushing.

Don’t get too attached, I demanded myself.

“Hey,” I said, turning to face him one last time. “Duty calls, right warrior?”

“Right.”

I could see that he wanted to say more, but he left it at that. It was probably a smart move too, because if he’d said more we likely would’ve stayed for a while longer. His deep green eyes stared down at me until he was forced to break the look. As soon as he did, I had to look around and re-gather my surroundings.

“Um, yeah, okay. Bye,” I muttered, stepping very carefully into my care. Denis gave me one last, wistful look as he watched me pull out.

All I could think was thank goodness the parking lot was empty.

If there had been another car, I would’ve run into it and never noticed as I looked at Denis. And wouldn’t that be a nice way to die, I couldn’t help but think? To die looking at the one person you loved?

Because there was no more doubt. This was the person I loved most. I just wasn’t sure he loved me back. 

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[This street. How, oh how, did I always end up here? And why? Why did everything in my life always lead back to the same thing? Why couldn’t I stop the never-ending voice in the back of my head telling me that maybe he still exists? That maybe Denis and I could be together. Staring at his house, I frowned so deeply I thought my face might collapse. And that’s when the craziest thing of all happened.

                The light turned on.

                I stumbled out of the car so fast it was a wonder I didn’t fall and break my neck. Some other-worldly force pushed me up to his door. No thought told me that this was a bad idea. All of my thoughts, jumbled as they were, all had one thing in common: Denis. Was this him? Was he home? Did someone else move in? Was I deluding myself? Was this a dream? Without another thought, I reached out and knocked on the door.

                And, against all reason, it opened.]

 

A woman, probably in her late thirties, with a high blonde ponytail and bright blue eyes answered. She appeared impatient as she looked me over.

“Can I help you?” She seemed genuinely curious, which I could understand. I had just barely enough time to shut my gaping mouth before answering.

“U-um, I’m sorry,” I managed to get out. “I must be at the wrong house…”  While every fiber of my being was telling me to get out of this embarrassing situation, I couldn’t stop the question before it came out. “Uhm, do you live here?”

If she was startled by my question, she didn’t show it. The lady just seemed confused. “No…” she began slowly, looking behind me. A wave of disappointment welled up inside me as I debated the reason for her curious glances. Probably to see if she was being punk’d. I somehow doubted that would be that much weirder. “I’m actually here to help-“

“Aunt Beck?”

The woman swiveled around at whoever called her. She seemed to relax a little at the sight of whoever was coming her way. In fact, when she did, I couldn’t help but notice the difference. Had she really been that tense around me? I mean, I could understand that it was a little weird for a complete stranger to knock on your door and ask who lives here. But still. If what she said was true, then she didn’t live her either. I knew I probably didn’t look normal, what with the crazed look in my eyes and frantic ramblings, but I surely-

“Honey, there’s someone here…”

I looked up and, without a word, it was as if my entire world had been slapped in the face. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. Could it? Denis. Denis Levi was standing right in front of me.

 Age had done him well. It’d been about ten years since I’d laid eyes on his once-scrawny body. His skin was darker, tougher, more lived in and was definitely covered with more scars. Denis’ eyebrows creased in a seemingly permanent dismay despite the shocked expression on his face. His lips were slightly parted, but they kept opening and closing as I read him. He raised his hand to scratch his head as his tall frame leaned lightly against the side of the door. Denis’ arms crossed and uncrossed. My breathing picked up as he looked at me from his slouched stance. I think his aunt left at some point, but I hardly noticed. I didn’t feel okay.

“So,” he muttered, making the first sound.

“So.” I breathed heavily, looking down. My palms were sweating incessantly, so I rubbed them together.

“Wh-what’s-you look so, um, hey-how are you?” Denis stumbled over his words, but it’s not like I could form them either. I bit my lip, waiting for the right words to come to me.

“F-fine,” I managed. “It’s just been a…long, uh, time.”

Denis grunted agreeingly, doing that thing where he bows his head and looks up, smoldering me with his gaze. I shivered, backing up.

“What, are you cold? Do you-I mean, only if you want. I’m sure you have to be somewhere but, uh, wanna come in? It’s kind of crazy here, but if you’re cold-“

“Yes,” I laughed quietly, releasing my arms. “I would-“

The sound of a car engine and a slamming door knocked me out of my trance. Denis looked confused as he lifted his eyes above me, so I turned around slowly, anticipating some creep to be behind me. But when I turned around, it was worse. So much worse. It was Adan.

“Hey man, I don’t know what your problem is-“

“No, I don’t know what your fucking problem is,” snarled Adan, reaching us in just seconds. I think that was the first time I’d ever heard him curse.

“Whoa, I’m not looking for trouble,” said Denis quickly, grabbing my arm in a brave move and attempting to push himself in front of me. I stood completely still as the scene unraveled.

Adan lowered his gaze from Denis to me, keeping all of the intensity in it.

“So what, I follow you here and you’re with some guy?!” Adan returned his icy glare to Denis, pulling me forward and out of his protection. Underneath the anger, I could sense a sharp pain. I just barely recalled that he was about to propose to me. “Even I thought you respected me more than this, Valerie,” sputtered Adan.

“Wait, Val-“ Denis caught himself using his pet name for me and corrected it quickly. “Valerie, you know this guy?”

“Um, yeah, Denis-“

“We’re leaving now,” cut off Adan. I couldn’t remember a time when he’d been half as aggressive as this, and I was surprised he chose now of all times to unveil it. “Get in the car.”

I shot back a pleading look at Denis. His face wore a particular look of confusion, and unless I was mistaken I also saw some desperation. His eyes darted quickly between Adan and I, and then he eventually settled on me. Our gazes locked, and suddenly it was as if no time had passed. A thousand messages ran between us in the span of a few seconds, the most apparent being his uncertainty over whether or not to let me go. I shrugged, as if saying, “I don’t know either.” But I did know. I just wasn’t sure I wanted him to know I did. At the same time, not telling him was probably allowing his mind to wander as far as thinking this was a kidnapping.

“Valerie!”

I hadn’t noticed, but Adan was back in the car-and he was angry .

With one last, helpless look, I recounted my steps to the street. I was momentarily confused as to how he got there, but then I realized he borrowed my Aunt’s car. Was it out of pity?

Once we were driving for a minute or so, a startling thought occurred to me. “The car,” I said quickly. “The car is still-”

“I’ll get it tomorrow,” Adan growled. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that much coldness.

I sank farther back into my seat and snuck occasional glances at his brooding face. His posture was tense and rigid, face hard and staring straight forward. After about ten minutes of driving, I think he actually forgot I was there. But I was alright with that. I felt like a child about to be chastised for something like staying out too late or talking back. It was hard to believe I was 24-wait, 25 now-and being held up as a child by my “boyfriend.”

I didn’t think I could feel any worse, but as soon as the car pulled back up in front of my parents’ house and the engine cut to a disserting silence, I suddenly realized it could. I gathered up all of my courage and attempted to reason with Adan before things got any worse.

“Adan, if you could just listen to me, I can explain that that wasn’t anything bad! He was an old friend and I was just going to say hello-hell, I didn’t even know he’d be home but I figured that maybe I would try and say hi but I swear it’s nothing bad and I just-”

The smallest gesture could be worth a thousand words. Adan held up his hand between us, begging for silence. On one hand, I felt oddly relieved that he wasn’t resorting to screaming like I thought he would. On the other hand, I’ve been wrong before.

“I don’t care who that was,” Adan shot at me, scowling. “All I care about is that your family gathered here today-just to celebrate your birthday-and you skipped out not only on dishes-“ I bit my tongue to keep from insisting that they wouldn’t let me, “-but then you just out right left! Right in the middle of the god damned thing! Do you have no respect for the people who love you? For the people who want nothing but happiness for you? For the people who work every day just to make you smile?

A bit of my confidence faded into an uncomfortably startling realization: the people who work every day just to make you smile. What people? I couldn’t even remember the last time I smiled genuinely, aside from when Denis asked me to come inside so hesitantly. I almost smiled again as I thought of him, but then another thing occurred. Was I doing it right now, the thing he said I do? Pushing away the people who try to help me?

“I-I’m just-I’m so sorry, Adan…”

“I don’t want your apologies.”

“I know, but I-”

Adan’s hand dropped from its tight grip on the steering wheel and on top of something in the cup holder. I looked down, desperately trying to see what it was, when I suddenly noticed it. It was the ring box.

“But if you just let me explain…” I attempted to continue.

“I think right now you need to go inside and finish tonight.” Ouch. Adan drew in a deep, unsteady breath. “If they ask, you were at the store getting medicine.”

“But I swear, it’s not what you think!” I couldn’t help the anger churning within me, insisting that this was unfair. “Adan, it wasn’t anything bad! Why are you assuming-”

The driver’s car door opened as he unclicked his seat belt. The crisp evening air blew in, providing somewhat of a wakeup call in the midst of the darkness. I allowed my body to be woken up and shoved out of my funk, left to my own devices once I was alone again. I watched Adan walk quickly back into the house, not turning to look at me once. Was this really what this was all coming to? A misunderstanding? Or, maybe, Adan saw what I couldn’t see. Maybe Denis could be more.

But in the back of my mind, I knew that was a pipe dream. And plus, considering I could hardly keep a hold on my current relationship, I highly doubted I should be looking into a future one. Sighing, I undid my seat belt. It came off weird and zipped harshly over my stomach. I normally would’ve accepted the pain and moved on, but things were different now. Call it the hormones, but I struggled to suppress a tear as I clutched my stomach and silently apologized for managing to hurt the one person left, the one person who it was seemingly impossible to hurt. The person who wasn’t even born yet.

I gathered myself as much as I could and went inside five or so minutes later. The house was still alight with chatter and familial warmth, but I could feel that all plummet when I walked in the door.

Or maybe that feeling just came from the dirty looks from Adan.

“There you are!” exclaimed Aunt Penny. Her smile looked a little strained, but she was still quick to my side. “We were thinking we wouldn’t be able to toast to your birthday!”

“Oh, um, it’s really okay,” I said quickly, shooting panicked glances to Adan. He didn’t return any of them.

“No, honey, come on.” I refocused on my aunt. She placed a delicate hand on my arm. “It’s a family tradition.” I noticed her sneaking glances at Adan, but I wasn’t really sure if he was returning them. “Why don’t you head into the kitchen with your parents, and Adan here’ll help me with your gifts?” Gifts? “Alright?”

“Yeah,” I murmured, shuffling away. As soon as my feet hit the tile I craned my neck to try to hear what was being said back in the living room.

“-tonight? You still have the ring, right?”

“Yeah.” This came from Adan.

“Are you alright, sweetheart?”

“Fine,” Adan said dismissively. I could almost imagine the face he was making. He always acted like this when something about work was bothering him.

“So…I mean, are you still going to ask?”

“I’m sorry.” Adan did sound genuinely apologetic, but I could hear the anger backing his words. And it was all directed at me.

“Here, Valerie.”

I turned back around, unfocusing from what wasn’t technically my business. My mom handed me a shaky glass of champagne in a tall, cylindrical cup. I think it was plastic, judging from the light weight. They probably wanted to eliminate any potential threats in case I had a psychotic episode or drunken fit of rage.

I almost took a sip but then remembered that’s not in good taste. Aunt Penny and Adan joined us a moment later and were handed equally satisfying glasses, though I’m pretty sure they were given a significant amount more than me. I shrugged as they all began to speak. It was my mom who got the ball rolling.

“Can’t believe it’s been 25 years,” she began nostalgically. “You were such a cute baby…the best birthday you ever had was when you were five. Oh, I can just imagine your excited face when you saw the Dora cake. You were so happy.” The word were did a lot more damage to me than I think anyone noticed. Were. I was so happy. Everything was past tense. “And I know I don’t say it a lot, but things have been better since you’ve returned, Val. You were missed…” Her voice dropped off before deciding to clarify and added, “Are missed. Stop around more.”

I thought she would go on more, but when she didn’t we all kind of looked at one another. In a show of tradition, we all took a generous sip of our drinks and moved on to the next person. I knew how it looked, but I took a pretty generous first sip of my drink. I silently prayed no one would notice.

Soren went next, and he hardly said anything I wouldn’t have expected. At one point he did mention that he wished I would stop over more and maybe look after Alice sometime, but I secretly disagreed with that. Sure, I was apparently having a kid of my own (which I kept nearly forgetting), but that didn’t mean I was good with them. In the back of my head I knew that me babysitting would likely result in a crying baby and possibly a burned down house, and I think they all knew that too. They just didn’t want to say it, as usual.

As he wrapped up his sentimental speech and I struggled to retain anything he said, we all took another sip. I tipped the cup back and drained it, half-hoping that I could sneak some more but also knowing-

Oh my god.

My heart sunk as I stared down at the empty glass. Champagne. Alcohol. I’m pregnant.

Was I really so ignorant that it took chugging a glass of alcohol and a few minutes of tipsy stupidity to realize the fault of my ways? What if I hurt the baby? What if I killed the baby? All of the blood rushed to my face as my heart beat about ten times faster than normal.

What if I killed the baby.

I didn’t have any clue as to what to do, but the first thing that came to mind was to throw up. My mind wasn’t on Denis or Adan or the way my family so casually spoke of their “fondness” for me. MY mind centered around the word “killer,” and that was about it.

“Um, hey, sorry,” I said quickly, interrupting Jaimee as she spoke. “I, uh…I need to go to the bathroom. Real bad. Sorry. Be right back. Uh…hold that thought.”

My feet were going before my mind, and before I knew it I had twisted open the difficult door to the upstairs bathroom. As scattered as my thoughts were, I knew throwing up downstairs wouldn’t exactly send the message “I’m okay” to my family. Their concern was the least of my worries right now.

And surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to make myself throw up as I thought it would be. I remembered watching all those shows when I was younger, shows in which pregnant woman would, like, faint at the sight of fish and stuff. So I just thought of a fish and I threw up. Simple enough, eh? Maybe pregnancy had its perks.

Well, that is, had perks until I realized I couldn’t actually stop the vomiting. I eventually lost track of how long I had my head slung over the toilet, but it had to be at least in the double digits of minutes when someone came knocking at the door.

Nothing could’ve shocked me out of my sick haze more than the deep voice that beckoned me.

“Valerie.” Adan said it with a sigh, like he knew he was losing in this fight by approaching me. “Valerie, are you okay?”

“Fine,” I said after coughing. I struggled to stand up, nearly slipping on the tile. I held tightly on to the sink to stabilize myself. “Um, be out in a sec.”

He sighed again, but his feet were unmoving, clueing me in that he wasn’t leaving until I joined him. For a second I thought he’d forgiven me, but then I realized that my family didn’t know about our fight, and he was hardly the person to drag others into personal matters. It took a millennium and a half each time to get him to talk to me.

When I finally found the will to stand up and flush the toilet, I started reaching for the door-but then I caught a look at my pale, rimmed eyes and sickly skin in the mirror. I wouldn’t go unnoticed like this. My fingers worked through the knots in my hair, pushing it all forward to cover the hollowed places in my face. The picture of pregnancy, I thought mockingly to myself. A subtle glow of beauty.

Satisfied, I opened the door-and to a less than amused Adan, might I add. He somehow looked more annoyed than earlier, a stark contrast to the warmth I thought I’d heard when he was asking me if I was okay.

Wordlessly, we went downstairs. He gave my parents, Aunt Penny, and Soren and his wife a look. Then he reached down and waved very animatedly to little Alice. In another universe, that would have been reassuring and adorable to watch, to be made sure Adan would be a good father. In another universe, he’d know I was pregnant and we’d be the happiest couple alive.

In this universe, I bowed my head and tried not to look at what I knew would never happen for us. It was too wholesome, too pure for someone as broken as me.

I followed suit and bid my farewells to everyone, idly hoping that none would take a closer look at my concealed face and shaking hands. Adan’s feigned happiness dissipated as soon as we set foot outside. The drive was silent and uncomfortable. My mind wandered to Denis and all the possibilities he held, the baby, and whether or not the alcohol would affect it. It. Sooner or later, assuming I didn’t mess this up, I’d have to give it a gender. For now it was an it.

We didn’t talk for the rest of the night. Once home, Adan rushed upstairs. He quickly got changed and was back down within minutes, when I hoped to talk to him. But the look on his face told me I wouldn’t get a single word out.

Rather he grabbed a blanket and flopped on the couch, turning off the light before facing away from me. Sudden darkness surrounded me as I watched his body lose its rigidness as sleep took over. My steps were unstable as I silently made my way upstairs through the darkness, but one thing I was sure of.

Of all the uncertainty of my life, choices, and relationships, of all the ways I screwed everything up, there was one thing I knew: darkness. And not just in the literal sense. As the room grew darker and I laid in bed, the darkness in me began to rear its ugly head again. But one thing I was sure of: maybe it wasn’t so ugly as I once thought it was. These days, it was all I knew. And I’d give anything to be certain of anything anymore.

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The thing about having to wait for results to something is that though the answer could be the difference between what seems like life and death to you, to someone, say, your neighbor, your impending life or death couldn’t affect them in the slightest. An example of this type of situation, for comparison, would be a woman waiting for the results to her peeing on a stick. She knows that a deep breath will be in store if only one measly pink line shows up, but she also knows that if two appear, her life will change right before her very eyes. The her, in this situation, would be me.

And to be honest, despite my panicked breaths and sweating palms, the outcome of those next two minutes wouldn’t affect anyone but me. And my boyfriend. And my mom. And maybe my dad, but the only person it would mean anything significant to would be me. And I didn’t want the ability to feel the way that two lines could make me, at least not alone. But the sad truth was that just like every other moment in my life, it was up to me and only me to solve my own problems completely.

“C’mon, hurry up,” I said quietly, picking up the stick. I shook it a few times, but then worried that doing that could skew the results. I placed it back down and instead stared at my phone. Thirty seconds left until I knew.

I was so stupid. Ever since the first time Adan and I had sex, about three months ago, I felt inclined to do it again. And again. And again, again, again. If he came home from work, stressed and on the verge of passing out, I offered myself to him as a kind of distraction. He always said yes because he still believed it was exactly what I wanted. I guess I could blame that on myself, considering I told him that it was all I wanted. Wasn’t that a stretch of the truth? Just a bit?

Well, if it was, it’s not like I’d be admitting it any time soon.

A sharp pain began in the back of my skull, slowly making its way to the front. It felt as if tiny razorblades had been slicing carefully at each section of my brain as the pain spread. I tried pressing my fingers to my throbbing temples, but that did little, if anything, to relieve the pain. My eyes met the screen again. Ten seconds.

A nagging voice in the back of my head kept saying-no, screeching-at me that I was an idiot. An idiot for doing it so often, an idiot for feeling the need to impress Ande, and especially an idiot for never really making sure Adan and I were on the same page when it came to protection. I assumed, just like everything else in his life, that our sex life was as neat and compartmented as the rest of it. I figured he had a small shelf, perhaps labeled, Valerie for all extensive purposes, where he kept track of all these things. Well, no matter what happened the next time I looked at that stick, one thing was true: one of us messed up at some point.

The incessant beeping of my phone startled me from my thoughts. Whereas before, when I’d wanted nothing but for those two minutes to run their life, I now wished I had another thousand years to wait. To sit and wait, praying that my worst fears wouldn’t be realized.

But, as the indefatigable voice in my head kept reminding me, I didn’t have another thousand years. I had now, and that was about all I would seem to get.

My steps were as heavy and slow as they’d ever been as I made my way over. Every single one reminded me of what exactly these next few moments would reveal. My heart beat hard and fast in my ear. My breathing accelerated to a point where I had to count in order to maintain even the slightest resemblance of normalcy. I felt like-

“-Valerie?”

I’d been so wrapped up in my own thoughts and worries that I hardly noticed Adan’s voice from the door.

“Valerie, you in there?” he called again. I suppose my half-hour long escape hadn’t been rendered unnoticed.

“Yes,” I managed to get out.

“You gonna be long?”

“Just a minute,” I replied hurriedly, praying that in that minute I’d have a light heart and a free mind as opposed to what my mind was conjuring up. In my head I saw a forced, life-long marriage with someone I hardly cared for and one, perhaps two children. Maybe we’d even-

“Just hurry up. We have to go soon.”

With that, Adan seemed to walk back downstairs. That’s right. We were going to my parents’ house today for my birthday. I was turning 25, a feat in and of itself, and who knew? Maybe I’d have some other surprising news.

I finally realized I couldn’t delay this any longer, especially with Adan’s impatience. His work most often drawled out this anger, which led me into this situation. But lately, I’d noticed, I could bring this mood out of him.

The test sat below me. I kept my eyes closed, wishing upon every wish I’d ever had the chance to make for this to turn up negative. Just one little line, not two. How much was I asking for?

Looking down, I learned my answer.

Apparently I was asking for a lot.

“Ready now?”

I smiled tightly as I emerged from upstairs. In an attempt to keep from looking over at Adan, I incessantly smoothed down the front of my dress. I nodded so small that I doubted he saw it, so instead I let out a muted, “Yes.”

“Are you…alright?” Adan continued tentatively.

Damn, today was really twenty questions with him. Where am I? Am I alright? Am I ready to go? When will I be out of the bathroom? Do I want some fries with that?

Okay, maybe not the last one. But still. It was a little hard to handle his line of questioning when so much was on my mind.

“Fine,” I murmured, looking at anything but him. A little voice in the back of my head wanted to look at him and figure out what our child would look like, but I also knew that allowing that might make this too much to handle. It was probably better if I avoided him for now and figured out what to do later. “Just…excited for my birthday.” That was a suitable lie.

Pleased that I was giving away some of how I felt, Adan smiled a little. “Yeah, the big two-five.” I didn’t know why, but I could swear I heard a nervous note in his voice too. He kept glancing down and avoiding my eyes too, which was weird. Usually he was in control and ready for anything. I shrugged it off, figuring he was anxious to spend the day with my crazy family. “But it’ll be fun, I’m sure. Who’s all coming?”

I headed toward to the door and grabbed a light coat for the ride over. It was spring, yes, but a brisk chill was in the air today. Better safe than sorry. “Um, my parents, of course, and I think my brother and his wife…” I grew distracted as I put on my coat, but then I smiled at the next part. “And I think my niece Alice too, which’ll be nice.” A small bit of happiness welled up, but then, as if hit by a truck, a thought occurred to me: Baby. She won’t be the only baby in the family. I’m going to have a baby.

“Yeah, that’ll be good.” Adan apparently hadn’t noticed my lapse, to which I was thankful for. Whatever was distracting him today was benefiting me in more ways than one.

Baby. I’m going to have a baby.

“Ready to go?” I asked expectantly.

It took a moment for Adan to return to me, a hazy expression on his face. Then, as if startled, he replied quickly, still avoiding my gaze. “Yup. Let’s go.” What if he knew? My heart clenched up, but then I realized he probably didn’t. Whatever was distracting him right now was likely work-related. It had to be. If not, then what could it be?

We made the long drive across town effortlessly and arrived about twenty minutes later. I wasn’t surprised to see that my parents still had some lingering Christmas decorations on the house since it always took them awhile to get around to those things. Adan pulled up by our mailbox and hopped out. I decided to delay a moment. Unknotting my hands in my lap, I sighed and tried to wipe any uncertainty off of my face. I had to keep reminding myself that no one could notice yet. Also, despite myself, I had to also remember that this was my fault. No one to blame but myself.

Adan opened up my door before I could protest, gallantly holding out his hand. In stark contrast to the dark feelings welling up in me, I smiled slightly and accepted it. I walked out into the blistering cold. I couldn’t remember it being this chilly on our way out.

I shut my door behind me and was startled when I felt Adan’s warm arm wrap around my shoulders. He handed me the car keys, which I slipped into the purse slung over my shoulder. Whatever was bothering him earlier seemed dimmed. I couldn’t help but shy away from his touch but had to remind myself that the circumstances were changing. Where would refusing his affection get me?

We wordlessly walked up to the door. Just as I was about to knock, the door flew open to reveal a smiling Jaimee with Alice balanced on her hip. I didn’t even want to ask how she got stuck with door duty.

“Valerie!” she exclaimed, grinning. Alice gripped tightly to her mom’s shirt as I got pulled into a hug. “Happy birthday!”

“Thanks,” I muttered, looking down after the obvious display of affection. I never handled attention well, so in spite of myself I continued. “It’s really great to see you. And Alice…” I bent over a little, despite being shorter than Jaimee and, by default, Alice. “You look beautiful! Look how big you’re getting!”

“Oh, yes,” laughed Jaimee, craning her neck to get a better look at her daughter. “Sweetie, tell Aunt Val how old you are.” To me, she continued, “She just loves telling people.”

“I’m fwee!” Alice beamed excitedly.

“Three?” I feigned a gasp, grinning. A small voice inside nagged that this would be my life sooner than later. Was I ready? “You’re practically a big girl!”

Alice gushed, smiling and then buried her face in Jaimee’s scarf.  My sister-in-law chuckled for a few more seconds before regarding me with-was it pride? Excitement? Whatever it was, she looked me over and smiled. “You look really good,” Jaimee offered. I could sense the subtext, partially wondering what she would think if she knew it was just a pregnancy glow. Shying away, I smiled back.

As if taking cue, Adan slipped his arm from my shoulder and walked into the house. He paused for only a brief second to acknowledge Jaimee. The talking increased inside once he was gone.

“Thanks,” I replied, forcing as much happiness into that statement, no matter how strained.

“I’m serious,” she continued, still looking at me in that weird way. It was as if she was trying to figure out some missing puzzle piece. I idly noticed my hand shaking, which I quickly put to rest. Shaking her head, she seemed to fall out of the daze. “Well come on in. You must be freezing.”

Was I ever. As soon I stepped inside, not only was I welcomed by the obvious warmth but also by the smell of my favorite dinner-stir fry with Teriyaki sauce-wafting through the house. The delicious smell enveloped me like a blanket, offering so much comfort in the midst of the mental battle I was waging. With a source of renowned strength after the run-in with Jaimee, I walked in-only to run into another sibling.

“Little sis!” gushed Soren, wrapping me in a hug. I hadn’t even seen him there, but I’d take what I could get. The attention was getting a little old though.

“Hey Soren,” I replied as I pulled back. “Lookin’ good.”

A small laugh escaped him. Soren didn’t seem nearly as adept to subtle differences in my attitude as his wife, which I took happily. I didn’t think I could survive another round of public scrutiny.

“I hope I didn’t miss too much of the fun,” I added lightly as I looked around. My dad sat in the corner with Adan, talking very animatedly as his hands made wild gestures. Someone I didn’t expect-my aunt Penny-sat next to them too, grinning when she saw me.

“The fun never starts until you arrive,” Soren joked. I sensed him sneaking glances at my expression as I debated my response. But then again, what else was new? Everyone always regarded me with some sort of hesitance. “I’m glad you’re finally here.”

“In the flesh.”

Another laugh, though I didn’t find anything I said particularly humorous.

Taking the silence as my cue, I walked around from Soren and into the kitchen. My mom sensed me before I could even utter a word. Looking perfect as usual, she stirred a pot of vegetables with a wooden spoon. A white apron with light flowers on it tied neatly into a bow on the small of her back, which she no doubt had trouble achieving.

“Hey mom,” I said hesitantly.

“Hey hon,” she replied quickly. Ever since I’d returned from running away, things were strained between us-hell, things were strained between me and all of my family. I wouldn’t go as far to say that my mom and I were close, but compared to the relationship I had with my dad? Well, anything could pass for affection, so long as it wasn’t that.

“Is Adan here?” she asked, still not turning.

“Yeah,” I replied. Then I added, “In the living room.”

“How was the drive?”

“Good. A little windy, but the roads were pretty empty.”

“Makes sense,” mom muttered. “The town gets pretty lazy on Sundays.”

And that’s how it continued. I’d never say that I liked the attention I got on my birthday, but I was a little surprised that my mom didn’t immediately jump all over me. She continued stirring, making small talk, and occasionally glancing back. Yeah, this was definitely weird.

Trying to ignore the weird mood, I politely excused myself and went back to the living room. I tried to be happy that the attention was leaving me, especially with this new secret I had to keep, but I didn’t know how I felt about complete ignorance. Frustrated, I collapsed on the couch.

`               And just as soon I was bombarded with questions.

“How’s it hanging over near the city?” This came from Aunt Penny, smiling and beautiful as usual. She looked a lot like my mom, only she had freckles and brown hair in place of red.

“It’s going great,” Adan replied, looking over to me as if asking if his answer was alright. I shrugged, staring forward. “We just got a new landlord, which has been pretty good. She finally fixed this annoying creak in the elevator that wakes us up all the time. Even did it for free.”

“Oh, let me tell you, I know all about landlords,” Aunt Penny exclaimed, leaning forward slightly. Something about the way she spoke drew me out of my lull and into the conversation. “When I was younger…I think Amber was still living in Sunset Valley. But anyway, this was before I had any kids, and I was living in this apartment building close to the city. And I had this neighbor, right? Weird guy. Glasses. A comb-over. I think he was gay, though he’d never admit to it.” She let out a laugh, as if remembering a nice memory. “Okay, so one day your mom-“ She gestured to me. “-came over to talk about something. I think it had something to do with some paperwork for her new house. But yeah, so she came over and as we were working she heard some weird noises coming from my neighbor-like, really weird noises. I tried to ignore like I always did, but your mom? She had other ideas.”

At that precise moment, my mom walked in the room. “Not this story,” she groaned, showing more emotion in those few words than she had at all while talking to me.

“Oh, yes, this story,” Aunt Penny laughed. My mom walked over to my dad, half-sitting on the armrest of his chair. His arm snaked around her hip, to which my mom smiled at.

“So anyway!” she continued. “Your mom, daring as ever, went over and knocked on his door just to ‘See what’s up.’ Yes, children, those were your mom’s brilliant last words. I warned and warned and warned her that there was a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy with the building, but she wouldn’t have it. So she knocked on his door, and it took a while for him to answer. But when he did-“ She inhaled sharply, staring each of us down. “-he had about four ferrets sitting on his shoulders, and not to mention about ten behind him.”

Adan, Soren, my dad, and even me a little bit let out some pent-up laughs. My mom shook her head, as if hardly believing the story’s authenticity.

“Sometimes I wonder what the twenty year old version of me was thinking,” mom laughed. “For all I know, he could’ve had those things trained to kill. He could’ve said one word and sent them out to finish me off.” She continued chuckling, still shaking her head in that unbelievable way.

“How have I never heard this story?” This came from my dad, and he looked particularly baffled.

“What, offended that you don’t know everything about your dear old wife?” Aunt Penny asked incredulously. “Face reality, old man. You don’t know everything your wife has done.”

A silence that I found awkward-though I hardly doubted my parents or Aunt Penny did-fell over us. It finally broke when my mom continued talking.

“Well, if ya’ll are tired of listening to my dreadful twenties, there’s dinner in the kitchen.”

And that’s all it took. We all stood up and made our way around the kitchen table. Amazingly enough, my mom had managed to cook all of my favorite dishes and lay them all out. A plate sat in front of every chair. We all took our places and feasted. Everyone spent the entire dinner recounting all of my embarrassing birthday memories, though carefully skipping over the few I missed while away. That was the weirdest part about my return. It was evident that everyone always thought about it, but no one ever actually brought it up. This realization that I was always on suicide watch, on top of my pregnancy, worked together to create a very dark mood inside me as the night wore on. Around seven  everyone started cleaning up, and after being told repeatedly that I couldn’t help with dishes, I excused myself.

I didn’t think anyone really noticed me leaving in the midst of all the cleaning chaos. Regardless, it didn’t really matter. I just wanted a moment alone to try and cure the horrible feeling stirring up inside me. I slipped out of our back door, only pausing to kick off my flats before I walked down the few stairs. The night, though chilly, was refreshing after the crowded house. I could feel those same dangerous feelings making their way up to my mind as I walked to the barn. It was my birthday, but I still felt as though I were the least significant person here. And the newest revelation? I was pregnant with a baby that would only complicate things that much more.

I reached the barn and silently unlocked the large door. I slipped in, already reveling in the peace, and closed it behind me. The hay stack proved comfortable enough for the time being, and it was where I found it easiest to rest my weary body. If I didn’t know I was pregnant, would I still feel this way? Or was it really already taking its toll? I leaned my head against the barn wall.

This would be my life, every day, for the next eight months. How long could I keep this a secret? How long until somebody-let alone Adan-realized that I wasn’t just putting on weight due to stress? That could only last so long, so then what? What was my next big step? Admitting that I’ve been pregnant for a while but never really got around to telling anyone? I knew exactly how that would go over, which was exactly the point-it wouldn’t go over.

Because even though Adan had my family fooled with his progressive, excited and determined attitude, I knew that underneath all that was simply an angry, angry man. And I could bring out that anger. In fact, I could bring out that attitude with the snap of my fingers. It was just too easy.

Sighing, I rested my head back further. When I was younger, I certainly hadn’t expected my 25th birthday to be spent in a barn, alone, and trying to suppress tears. I also hadn’t expected I’d be pregnant with a man’s baby whom I didn’t think I loved, but I let that fact take a little less control. I just couldn’t believe that it had come to this.

I rested for a while and was convinced that I even fell asleep at some point. I decided it would probably be a good idea if I returned inside so, cold, I walked back across the grass. When I came to the back door I slipped my shoes back on and very, very silently crept back in. I almost expected the house to be the same flurry of activity it was when I left, but I soon learned that that was hardly the case. I heard quiet voices from the kitchen that, once closer, I could just barely decipher.

“-don’t think she knows,” I heard. It sounded like it was coming from my Aunt Penny.

“I thought I was going to slip, but thankfully I could make small talk.” I think this came from my mom, but the voices were all so similar and hard to pick apart. And besides, who and what were they talking about? “You nervous yet, kiddo?”

To my complete and utter surprise, the next words were spoken by Adan. Now what in the world did he have to do with my mom and aunt? “I’m pretty nervous.” That same anxious edge was in his voice from earlier. I dully noted that he had avoided talking to me all night, and that this was probably why. “But I’ve got the ring in my pocket, all ready to go.”

“You’re going to be fine,” Aunt Penny (I think) replied exuberantly. “My own daughter isn’t interested in getting married, but if my niece can? Then all the better! And so soon, too. But I’m so happy for you two. And-“ She cut herself off as I tried to digest what I just heard. Was this a joke? “James, stop making that face,” he chastised. My dad grumbled something even I couldn’t hear.

“Well I think she’s going to be coming in any time now…I think she left to the barn for whatever reason.” Aunt Penny’s steps sounded, scaring me from my corner. Without another thought I started walking toward the door as quick as I could. Was this true? Was I-against all odds-going to be proposed to? By Adan? Dear lord, I couldn’t do this. This wasn’t happening. I couldn’t get married to-

“Valerie?”

Shit.

“Yes?” I asked impatiently just as I reached the front door. So close.

“Um, where were you, sweetheart?” I picked up on a nervous edge to her voice as well. In the split second  had, I decided ignorance would be bliss.

“Oh, I just got in a second ago. Needed some fresh air.”

She relaxed immediately, shooting a refreshed smile my way. “Well good timing, we were just about to toast to your birthday! I think your mom has some champag-“

“Um, actually, I need to run to the store.” I thought of the first lie I could and just as soon scolded myself. I sounded, well, bitchy to put it plainly.

She was clearly startled, but she showed a quick recovery. “Anything you need, we’ve got it here,” she said slowly.

“I need some headache medicine.” That wasn’t entirely a lie.

“I’m sure your mom has some.”

“I need a special kind.”

“But-“

“Sorry Aunt Penny, I’ll be right back.” Before she could utter another word and, as a result, make me feel worse about this hasty decision, I grabbed my purse and ran out the door.

In the car, the full reality of this situation hit me hard. Adan was nervous because he was going to propose. My mom wouldn’t talk to me because she was-what-anxious that she would tell me? Everyone knew but me. How typical.

In a frenzy that I related closely to when I left the strip club so long ago, I started driving-and didn’t stop. I cut around streets and made sharp turns that, as a result, got me some angry honks. The street names blended into one another as the sun fell deeper into the sky and the moon made its daily visit. In fact, things grew so hectic in my mind that I only dimly noted when I arrived on a familiar street-and slammed my breaks down.

This street. How, oh how, did I always end up here? And why? Why did everything in my life always lead back to the same thing? Why couldn’t I stop the never-ending voice in the back of my head telling me that maybe he still exists? That maybe Denis and I could be together. Staring at his house, I frowned so deeply I thought my face might collapse. And that’s when the craziest thing of all happened.

The light turned on.

I stumbled out of the car so fast it was a wonder I didn’t fall and break my neck. Some other-worldly force pushed me up to his door. No thought told me that this was a bad idea. All of my thoughts, jumbled as they were, all had one thing in common: Denis. Was this him? Was he home? Did someone else move in? Was I deluding myself? Was this a dream? Without another thought, I reached out and knocked on the door.

And, against all reason, it opened.

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Gen. Two: Chapter Thirteen

Howdy folks! Long time, no talk! So I have lost complete (and when I say complete, I do mean complete) interest in the sims. I tried taking pictures for what I wrote yesterday, was bored out of my mind, and then the game crashed anyways. So, with that being said, I think I am going to sit out from taking pictures for awhile. I also want to work towards making this blog more serious so that I can pull from it when I start submitting things to different writing competitions, etc. For those of you who only stick around for the pictures, this is awkward. For those of you who are here for the writing and story, I guess you’re in luck? I don’t know. The pictures are always a bonus, but at this point the sims part actually means so little to me. I’d rather continue with my writing as opposed to slaving over photos. There will be pictures in the beginning for photos I took before my game crashed, but other than that I think I am done. Sorry guys! It’s always been about the writing for me, and if anyone at all comments without the pictures, that would mean from the moon and back to me. Thanks for your continuous support through my sudden and unannounced hiatuses. I hope this doesn’t throw you off too much. 😛

As always,
Jaimee

“So, what’re your thoughts on sex?”

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Confused, I took a step back and tried to imagine what face Ande was making. Over the phone, I could hardly tell.

“U-uhm, what do you…what do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, Lee,” Ande replied, using her favorite nickname for me. I could almost imagine her now-teasing smile over the phone. Either she was messing with me or asking for a legitimate answer.

“I think it’s…fun,” I said slowly. My eyebrows furrowed as I debated her motive for starting this type of conversation over the phone.

“Oh, really?” she asked, laughing. “You cat. When’s the last time you had sex?”

I tried to conceal my sharp intake of breath, but I highly doubted I was successful. “Why exactly is this relevant?”

Ande’s sigh was apparent, though I tried my hardest to ignore it. “Just answer the question, dork. I’m allowed to ask these things.”

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“Well, um,” I murmured quietly, pulling my free hand into a fist and pushing it against the counter to relieve some tension. It didn’t work. “I, um, I think it was…I don’t know, like, why do you even need to know?”

The line went blank, her aggravation clear.

“Um, I think when I was, like, 21,” I said all-too-quickly, hoping she would move on. Thinking about this brought up some really bad memories of a really bad time, and that was hardly the place I wanted to look to when things were kind of okay.

“Twenty-one? Three years? You kiddin’ me, woman?” she replied, aghast.

Apparently we would be on this topic for a while.

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“I don’t like to…y’know, do it…not many people want to…with me.”

Do it?” Ande let out a suppressed laugh, and it took a few moments for her to return to the line with steady breathing. “Oh, come on, Lee,” she chuckled. “We’re not in middle school.”

I couldn’t help but be slightly offended. I mean, I knew she was always with men because of her challenge or whatever, but I wasn’t prepared for her to compare her tendencies to me. Was my mom like this once? We led two separate lives.

“So you haven’t with Adan?” she asked when I didn’t reply, slightly more serious.

“It hasn’t come up,” I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose with my free hand.

“Hasn’t come up? You guys haven’t even gotten close to…are you serious?”

“As serious as I can get.”

“Do you…want to?”

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I didn’t like the way this conversation was going, not one bit. Yet I couldn’t help but think that she had some sort of ulterior motive. The way she changed her tone so abruptly made me think that she knew the whole time, even before the joking, that this is what she ultimately wanted to ask. The thought of it made me slightly uncomfortable. I shifted my feet, searching for a way out of this phone call.

“You know what? I think I’ve gotta go,” I said, shuffling the phone around and pushing a magazine off the dresser to make her think I was walking around. “I forgot, I have work today! Boss is calling! Gotta go! Talk soon!”

“Lee, can you pl-“

“-Bye!”

I hit END on the phone and slammed it down on the dresser, pushing it as far from myself as possible. A deep breath escaped my body, but with it did not come calm feelings. Instead I felt the confusion and anger over Ande’s unnecessarily inquisitive questions. She was my best friend, sure, but who was she to ask me about something so personal? Or, on the other hand, was I taking this too seriously because of…because of what I’ve been through?

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I reached up to rub my temples, which coincidentally did little to relieve my anxiety. I loved Ande, I did, but sometimes her questions were too evasive to handle.

I half-stumbled, half-walked coherently down the steps to Adan’s pristine living room. Sighing, I walked over to the couch with my back facing it. I pressed my knees softly into the armrest and allowed them to buckle and drop me, back first, onto the cushions. I wiggled until my right hand was comfortably supporting my head and the other holding the remote.

Nothing, as I learned over the years, was on during the day. Well, besides dead-beat soap operas that were all focused around drama, drama, and more drama. I tried to flip to the next page of channel options, but rather accidentally clicked on to one of the stupid programs I’d learned to hate so dearly.

“You can’t leave me,” declared the obviously plastic woman from the screen. She tossed her blonde hair behind her shoulders, then pushing them forward to make her boobs appear larger.

“You know I can’t, Veronica,” said the man in reply, hardly above a whisper. The camera made it no secret that it desired to capture the gazing going on between them. My hand made the correct movements to change the channel, but I was pretty hooked.

“You can just this once. Let’s be together. Let’s forget everything.” The remote slipped out of my hand as I watched, unblinking.

Veronica let go of whatever sense of civility she previously had, throwing herself forward and into the mysterious man’s arms. He caught her and pulled her in closer, only the slightest bit of hesitation corrupting the moment. My eyes went hazy as I watched. Was this love, or was this the televised version of it? Was this how it was for Ande? And what about-

I blinked and pushed myself upright when the screen quickly changed from passionate kissing to passionate love-making. I gasped as my hand fumbled for the fallen remote, but it was too late. And holy shit, could they even show this on daytime television-

At the first sight of boob, I counted myself out. I practically slammed my fist against the remote until the TV was anything but on. A fuzzy screen replaced the prior. I took a deep breath and leaned back, sighing. Was this the topic of the day? Was it “Let’s Make Valerie Uncomfortable Day?” The day on which everything in the universe worked together toward one goal: making me feel much, much worse about myself than I usually did.

I mean, call me impressionable, but if Ande, all of the characters on television shows, and even my mom got more action than I did, then what was I waiting for? I had a long-term boyfriend, and as far as I was concerned that would still be going on for a while. What was sex to everyone but me? Just some act that you performed to profess your love? To feel better about yourself or your situation? Was sex, to everyone else, just some place filler for a love they never had or didn’t even exist? Because if so, then what the hell was I waiting for. Everything seemed to come crashing down on me in several earth-shattering waves. I had to stop waiting for some savior to help me from this life. This was the best life I was going to get, and if it called for some sex? Well, perhaps it was time I stepped up to the plate and delivered what I was oh-so-obviously meant to do.

“So, how was your day?”

My voice was quiet among our clinking forks and wind outside, but I needed there to be conversation. My nerves were stuck in my throat, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could last before they made an appearance.

“My day?” Adan asked, taking a big bite of his salad and meeting my eyes briefly. He pulled them away less than a second later, shrugging. “Same old, same old. How about you?”

“Oh, same here,” I murmured, shying away. Maybe this wouldn’t happen tonight. I mean, I needed to know if there was something there between us, but if it waited this long then maybe it could go a bit longer.

I spent a good amount of time pushing around the salad on my plate. I gathered a bunch of pieces onto the fork, but when I raised it to my mouth I felt no hunger. No hunger except for my hunger for answers, the answers I wanted now. In a panicked moment of desperation, I pushed my chair back abruptly and stood up.

Adan stared up, surprised, with the fork halfway to his mouth and a newspaper in his other hand.

“You good?” he muttered.

“I’ll be right back.”

Before I could gauge his reaction, I turned on my heel and walked to the bathroom. To be completely honest, I didn’t think his eyes were on me. Why would they be? I sat in sweatpants and a t-shirt, my hair in a messy bun. Now only if he knew what I had planned.

Once in the bathroom, I pulled the elastic from my hair and dropped it by the sink. My fingers plumped and pulled at my curly strands until it looked about as desirable as possible. Next I grabbed the lip gloss I’d shoved in the cabinet earlier and dotted a small bit on the center of my lower lip. Delicately, I pressed them together. Finally, I reached the part I was most scared about. Peeling away the layers that protected my biggest insecurity.

At my lowest point, when I was staying with Shane, I knew my body was skinnier than the average woman. Well, if I was even considered a woman then. In a very far part in the very back of my mind, part of me knew exactly what I was doing every time I smoked a blunt and refused to eat. The rest of myself, the majority, was uninterested in the politics of what I did. I just wanted to get skinnier, feel better, make up for everything else that I hated about myself. Maybe I thought that if there was less of me, then it’d be less to hate. Now I knew it was quite the opposite. I gained back most of the weight, but the hatred was still alive and burning.

I forced myself to peel my eyes from the mirror and just do it. My mind was already set, and for once in my life I just wanted to follow through with something I set my mind to, no matter what it was.

My fingers grew cold and shook violently as I raised them to my t-shirt. They wrapped around and clung to the top collar. Head bowed, I took a deep breath and lifted it slowly over my head, looking back to no regrets.

Before I could over think going through with this, I shrugged out of my sweatpants and stood, bra and panties in full site. My hair fell in dark waves over my shoulders, my lips pouting and shiny in the harsh light of the bathroom. I didn’t stay for too long. Reluctantly, I reached for the door knob and pushed it open. Adan still sat, reading his newspaper and refusing to look up. I had to change this.

My foot steps were nearly silent, but I could tell once I was a few feet away from him that I had his full attention. His head snapped up, eyes searching but clearly trying to resist.

“Valerie-“

I held up my finger, and he let his eyes run wild.

I watched them look over everything he’d never seen, maybe wanted to but never been able to. His eyes feasted my long legs, moved up to my pudgy stomach (which I covered as he reached), and then finally my chest. This was one part I was less nervous about. When I was in eighth grade, that was just about the only thing Mr. Farver didn’t touch nearly as much.  As absurd as I knew it sounded, I still felt like I owned them, and for me? That was the world.

“Valerie, I don’t know w-what you’re trying to, uh, do, but I-“

I held up my finger again, which seemed to be doing a lot to silence him. Adan shut his mouth immediately. His back pushed farther into his chair. His forehead began to glisten as he puckered his lips to talk and then dropped them repeatedly. My hands stayed positioned over my stomach as I made my way over, walking as lightly as I could. When I stood in front of him, Adan looked desperately up at me. His hands moved hesitantly, softly, and stopped once they were on top of mine.

A frown formed as his hands tried to pry mine away from my stomach. I held them protectively over my abdomen, refusing to budge. I could feel the mood dimming when Adan looked up and pleaded with his eyes for me to let my hands go, but I refused. But I still didn’t want to lose this night. I shrugged away but then leaned in closer, kissing him on the lips.

I sucked in my stomach, pushing as much passion as I could muster into the kiss. Adan returned it, but he seemed hesitant. Nonetheless, his hands reached up and ran around my hips, pulling me down on top of his lap. A surprised squeak escaped me, but he seemed to finally be returning the passion. Smiling a little, I pulled away and traced the outline of his jaw.

My thumb ran over the light stubble on his jaw, dipping into creases of stress as I went along. His right hand stroked my hair and the side of my face. He kept a steady eye on me, but eventually I was the one who had to initiate the romance once again. I leaned in, kissing his lips hungrily and pleading for him to return it.

And he did. For a little bit. I was distressed that I still wasn’t feeling anything when I kissed Adan, so I found that if I pretended it was Denis I could get into it. And actually, with my eyes closed, it wasn’t that hard to convince myself. I had a little alcohol coursing through my system that made me a bit more daring than usual.

My heart raced as we both fell into the moment. I couldn’t remember this ever happening prior, so I tried my best to remember every second. The way our lips intertwined, the way his hands moved across my back, and my sudden passion for this. His warm fingers sent tingles racing into me as they swept my bare skin. Appreciative, I opened my eyes and let out a defeated sigh. I almost forgot that in place of long, soft brown hair and deep green eyes was short blonde hair and a shade of blue for eyes. This wasn’t Denis.

But I’d be kidding myself if I said I wouldn’t keep trying.

I tried desperately to forget the fact that this wasn’t who I secretly hoped it was and focused on furthering this night. If only this could happen, I would prove Ande and hopefully myself wrong.

“Valerie…” Adan drawled, pulling back. His hand found the side of my face again, pushing my hair back as I leaned against it. “We don’t have to-“

“Nope,” I stuttered, shaking my head violently. “No talking.”

A small protest came from Adan , but the more I forced myself on to him the less it seemed to matter. In the back of my mind, I was praying to a god I don’t believe in that the alcohol would take more of an effect soon. I mean, honestly, how much longer could I try to convince myself that this wasn’t Adan? Just the way he held me proved the opposite of Denis.

“But Valerie-“

The breath I’d tried and almost managed to sneak in didn’t go undetected. Frantic, I dove back in, but somehow Adan found the will to stop me. His warm hands found my shoulder, forcing me to sit up and face him. An anger I always tried to keep down started to rise in my chest. Adan’s pleading face made it almost impossible not to scream, though at other times I appreciated it most. You know, the more I thought about it, the more I started to think I was the problem.

“Can you stop ruining this?” I said all-too-harshly, immediately repealing my angry tone.

Adan struggled to keep his cool, something I was never all that great at. His breathing was soon steady again.

“I just…” I could see him grasping for words, but I was secretly happy he was miserable. Surprised by such a harsh feeling, I tried to push it back down. The twisting in my stomach showed my failure.

“I don’t want to force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

“You’re not forcing me to do anything.” Attempting a smile, I dove back in. He pushed me away again.

“No. You know what I mean. I don’t want you to feel like you…have to do this. I don’t want you to do something just because you think I want it.”

I sat in his lap, brooding and suddenly uncomfortable with how close we were. In a rash move, I stood up and backed away a little. Then a thought occurred.

“If you’re doing this because of my past, I swear I will walk out right now.” A slight pounding started up in the back of my head as I suppressed tears. The silence made it so that I had nothing to do but feel each and every part of the skin on my face heat up with anger, embarrassment, and so, so much remorse.

“Don’t…don’t cry,” Adan pleaded, standing up. I closed my eyes to gain more control but flinched and pulled away when I felt his arm on me.

“What can I do to stop-um, to stop this? We can go back to…we can, you know, if you want…I just want you to be happy. I thought that since you used to-and since you never really want to-and you always-“

I tried to ignore Adan’s ramblings, but I found it increasingly difficult with my eyes closed and nothing but the fireworks exploding behind my eyes to focus on. Listening also didn’t go a very long way to calming me down. While I’d previously thought my face couldn’t grow any redder from pure frustration, I hadn’t accounted for how much anger flared up in me now.

“I tried! I tried so hard, Adan!” I cried out. “I put myself out there tonight, and it took so much courage-so much building up-to walk out her like this, to hand myself over to you. And you made my worst dream come true! You refused it! I feel so, so, so stupid for even trying this. How did I know this would happen? Only skeeze-bags like me! Not nice guys like you. You probably want a girl without problems that would loop the earth a thousand times before they came to an end.” I gave into the sobs I’d tried so hard to choke back. The headache spread through the rest of my head as angry tears escaped my eyes. Whatever sexiness and surprise I achieved by walking out in this get-up dissipated with this episode.

I don’t know how long I stood there, crying. Eventually I grew too weak to stay up, so I folded myself up neatly on the floor. Adan kept his distance, sitting next to me without touching. Eventually, though at which point I was unsure, the crying stopped. All of the anger I felt-everything that had been eating away at me since Ande’s phone call earlier-was gone, and I felt completely devoid of emotion. In place of my need to impress Adan sat a shriveled up heart, beaten to a pulp and on the verge of giving up. Wiping the last of the salted water from my face, I looked up to him. And then I was completely out of breath.

Adan leaned down as soon as I met his eyes, kissing me harshly on the lips. Once again, I felt nothing. In fact, I’d go as far to say that I felt even less than I did earlier. Regardless of this, I ignored it and let him finish. My lips felt moist where his were, but other than that it was as if no one had even touched me at all. Maybe I was a psycho, inept when it came to emotion.

But then I thought of Denis, and I knew that wasn’t true.

“What was th-“

“I’m sorry-“

Our sentences quickly tangled.

“Go ahead,” Adan urged, looking devout.

“No.” I couldn’t hide how flustered I was over tonight. All of my expectations were far-fetched dreams by now.

“Okay, well, um,” Adan began, looking straight into my eyes. I glanced down at his position on the floor, and he didn’t seem particularly comfortable. “I shouldn’t have said what I did. I know you won’t believe me, but I just really don’t want to force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

“I wanted this,” I said coldly.

“And now…now I know that.” Adan sighed, making it obvious that he was trying to figure out a way to deal with my change of mood. Maybe he thought I was bipolar and was trying to figure out the nearest mental institution to drop me off at. I almost welcomed the thought. Perhaps I’d see Denis there.

“Um, so, anyway,” he continued, looking up, “if you still want to…you know, I’m in. No questions. I trust you that this is what you want.”

“I don’t want to do this just because I want it,” I countered, casting my gaze away.

“I want it too!” he added almost as I spoke.

“Well, then.”

I leaned back on my arms, welcoming any sort of attention Adan wanted to give me. Confusion at first was soon replaced by determination, to which I could almost give him props for. I don’t think this night could’ve gone any differently from what he-not me to mention I-thought it would turn out to be.

I would be lying if I said Adan wasn’t hesitant, but with every emotion possible out of my system I had half a mind not to care. He could do all the work now that I did my part. Part of me wished I could feel this careless all the time.

Eventually we moved to the bedroom, which is where things progressed much faster than I probably could’ve dreamt in my little mind. My bra was hesitantly removed and discarded on the floor, along with his work pants and tie. We continued kissing, though stiffly and only on the lips. The lights were also off which complicated things more. I don’t think Adan realized that half the time he was caressing my stomach and not my breast, but that was something I could live with. And then, finally, the big reveal. It all came down to the final moment between us, the moment that would prove Ande wrong, and you know what I felt?

Absolutely nothing.

Well, I mean, physically I did, sure. But emotionally? Nothing. My heart still sat shriveled up, but now beating out reality as opposed to blood. It would be stupid to think that sex could invoke any emotion that a normal day couldn’t. I wasn’t looking to be sexual partners with this man…in fact, if it were up to my parents, he’d be more like my partner for life. Have kids together, live in a suburban home just outside the city. He would have a job as the CEO of a major corporation, and I’d stay home and tend to the kids day after day. Maybe, just maybe, I’d even learn to feign the happiness I knew so many people wanted me to have.

But this was a reality that wouldn’t be happening any time soon. If it were up to me, and somehow I knew it wasn’t, I could imagine just who’d be by my side in my little suburban home. And it sure as hell wasn’t Adan. But I guess that’s the thing they never teach you when you’re younger. Life isn’t always something you can manipulate. Often times, it’s not. Life wants to give you what everyone around you wants, and that provokes the question: Should you ever prove life wrong?

I couldn’t shake the feeling that the coming weeks would answer that question.

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Bonus Scene: Drunk Amber

This is something I wrote recently. It’s a flashback to generation one. This takes place during Amber and James’ road trip from Sunset Valley to Appaloosa Plains, where I am assuming they stopped several times overnight on the way and occasionally…went out. That’s all I have to say about that. Also, they have no kids, aren’t married (but are engaged), and James is still a model in this time period. Please enjoy, and there’s a surprise at the end!

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“Easy there, Ambs…” James swiftly grabbed ahold of my arm, pulling it over his shoulder. “I’d prefer to get you home safe, not like…this.”

“Home?” I chuckled, nearly allowing my drink to slip from my hand. Luckily I caught it and turned back to James, smiling. “Where’s home?”

“That’s the hundredth time you’ve asked that tonight.” A deep sigh escaped James, but at the moment it seemed so irrelevant that I didn’t even bother to ask why. I liked how simple things seemed when the world was fuzzy, so I lifted my beer back to my lips, grinning as he pushed open the door.

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“No, you’re done.” James reached up so fast his arm blurred into the air. “I think you’ve had enough.” My hand felt so empty with my drink gone that I couldn’t help but start to whine without it.

“Give it back!” I screeched, gripping on to thin air and hoping to meet my savior once again. “I can have more. I’m fine.”

“Amber, you can hardly stand,” James countered.

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I focused really hard, telling myself I was fine. And after a few seconds of that, I did start to feel alright. Raising an eyebrow at James, I took a hesitant step back from his arm. Just as I was about to pull back my second foot and stand on my own, the floor felt like it’d been pulled from right under me. Everything went spinning, so I collapsed to the floor in order to ground myself. Unfortunately, I never made it.

“My point exactly,” laughed James, catching me right before I hit. I focused on his beard. When I reached up to touch it, he pushed my hand back down, shaking his head. “Not like this you don’t.”

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“What?” My voice sounded desperate, and I knew it too, but for whatever reason at the moment I didn’t want to care.

“You always do this when you’re drunk, but no matter how good you look, I won’t…I can’t…

“Can’t what?” I complained.

“Once again,” James muttered, pulling me to my feet, “thank you for proving my point.”

Can’t. WHAT?” I gathered all of my energy and threw it into those two words. With the rest of it, I reached out for where I saw the bottle in James’ hand. I successfully grabbed it and took a long sip. It tasted so good, and I could actually feel it lessening my worries. I was so stressed out as of late. Call it the engagement if you want, but it was probably just me being stupid.

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“Amber, stop,” James warned. Feeling humorous, I shut my eyes, stuck out my tongue, and wiggled it in his face. Too bad that in that brief moment he grabbed my drink. However, I had a good hold on it and what he did manage to grab when spilling all over his shirt, pants, and shoes.

“Woops,” I murmured, surveying the damage with a light smile on my face. James stared down with a dismissive expression on his face, yet no detectable anger. Surely this would set him over the edge.

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I was sad from the loss of the only drink I managed to smuggle out of the bar, but part of me was thrilled that it was used to make James miserable. I hated when he was a party pooper. When I didn’t want to drink, he did. When I did, he didn’t. Was there something wrong with me? Sometimes I just liked to enjoy some of the life I’d given up for my stupid challenge. One hundred babies later, and I was still miserable. But of course, there was Ashleigh who was the moodiest teenager ever, and Bleu who loved to help around the house, and Henry, Vincent, and Jordan who belonged to me and James. Okay, maybe my challenge wasn’t so bad after all.

But right now I thought it was.

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I turned back to James, and to my surprise he still seemed alright. Shrugging, he faced me. “Your fault,” he said simply.

“Excuse me!” I screeched, stomping my foot. I lost my balance again, only this time I did hit the floor. I tried to keep my head up and brace it from the fall, but then I realized I don’t care and let it hit the worn carpet. The next place we stayed in would have to be nicer than this.

James let out  strangled gasp that I couldn’t help but smile at. Of course, my smile was about as screwed up as a smile can be considering it was smushed into the carpet. My breathing slowed down until I felt at peace, but then James reached my side and flipped my over, holding my head in his lap.

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“Amber!” he called out in a panicked voice, as if I couldn’t even hear him. “Amber! Are you okay?” I tried to nod, but my head felt even fuzzier than before so it ended up just looking like a spasm. “Amber, if you’re awake can you please do something? Anything? Please. Oh god, oh god, no, Amber, please-“

“I’m fine,” I replied, staring up at him. Then I let out a light laugh, reaching up to touch his beard. Surprisingly, this time he let me go ahead. The beard felt prickly but oddly reassuring under my fingertips. I smiled.

My smile was soon cut off by James’ lips. He reached down and kissed me hard, nearly sucking the life out of me. But it was alright. Whether it be the alcohol or the chemistry, it felt right. I held no doubt that I was supposed to be with this man, no matter how much he annoyed my sometimes. He pulled away all too soon, reaching down to touch my hair. It was in a bun, but most of it had fallen out and pooled around my shoulders. His touch sobered me, but I really started not to care. I wanted to hold on to this moment.

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“So you do remember that night?” laughed James.

“Of course I do, idiot!” I replied, meeting his gaze then breaking it to chuckle. “It was thirty years ago, but my mind hasn’t started deteriorating yet.” I paused, thinking that over. “Well, as least I hope it hasn’t.”

“Oh, it hasn’t.” James’ smile was so infectious as he laid his arm over my shoulder, just like he did on that night, bringing me back to such a different time.

“We knew so little when we were that young,” I thought out loud, turning to face James. “I thought I had it all figured out, but in reality…well, I was pretty delusional.”

“Hey, I don’t think we did that bad,” he replied thoughtfully. “Two kids and one grandkid? Not too shabby.”

“It just hasn’t been the easiest,” I sighed, thinking of our daughter Valerie. I was still so angry with her, yet I wanted so badly just to help her get to a happier point.

“No one ever said it would be.” James pulled me even closer, planting a kiss on my lips. “But I’m sure as hell glad I had you along for the ride.”

 

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A really small few sentences I once wrote in school for fun. It’s the tiniest bit imaginable of Denis’ perspective from his first and last date with Valerie. I just figured I’d post it while I’m getting my life together.

The pouring rain hit me in neat rows, soaking my back and scattering my hair, yet I could hardly even focus on it. Back hunched, I watched the only girl I’d ever loved stare at me, wide-eyed, mouth shut in a grim line, eyebrows creased in dismay. She looked like she so badly wanted to say something, but no matter how much her lips quivered it couldn’t come out. I shook my head, searching, begging for her to say it, but she didn’t. She never did. The last thing I saw was that look on her face that I swore would never leave my mind. That look of utter horror, such confusion as to what the future held. The worst part was that I was the one who did that to her.

So yeah. I hope that was at least semi-interesting. It’s kind of been sitting there for months in my creative writing notebook for school, and I felt bad for lacking, so I just wanted to post it. I hope you’re all well! Good luck with finals and midterms, if you have them. Miss you guys!

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I woke up, drenched in sweat.

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I pushed the sheets back quickly and sat still for a moment. Glancing to my right, I noticed that the spot was empty and looked as if no one had slept there the night before, but I knew better. It was the same every day. Adan left every morning around four and took a train into the city to work. He was always silent, and it was rare that he would wake me up while making coffee or taking a shower. As usual, his side of the bed was made, and the bathroom door showed no sign of previous life. Sometimes I hated that I never saw him in the morning.

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My hands found my eyes and rubbed out the sleepies from the corners as I let out a small yawn. I was still covered in sweat, so I rubbed my forearms on the sheets and then pulled my legs up to my body and put my head down. I rested there for a moment, thinking.

Nearly two years, and it was the same every day. When I was ten, I never thought being 24 would mean living in a high rise apartment on the skirts of Appaloosa Plains, dating a guy who was simply too good for me, and feeling like I had no purpose in anyone’s life. That last reason was the one thing that I still thought of myself, even five years later. It was sometimes hard to believe that it’d been so long since I ran away. I came back a few years ago, lived with my parents for a while, and now I somehow found myself in another situation that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. It was like a reoccurring pattern.

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I was so, so tempted to lie back down on the sheets, but one look at the clock made it clear that it was time to get up. He’d left three hours ago, and now it was seven and shining brightly. Sometimes I wished I could sleep the day away just to forget how little I had to offer society, but then I realized how much worse that would make me feel. I got up and felt my way to the plush stairs.

A lot of the time, I hated how nice Adan’s apartment was. It was so white and modern, and I felt like someone as out of control as me didn’t belong there. Everything from the white walls to the white floor to the glossy kitchen made my insides churn like no other. I walked around the house all day in perpetual fear that I would bump something over or spill something colorful on the one white rug in the apartment, and then he would hate me. I knew it was doubtful that he would actually hate me over something like that, but I was still trying to wrap my head around why someone as prim and perfect as he would want anything to do with a crashing train like myself. Maybe it was because he thought he needed his opposite in order to find true love. Or maybe he really did feel inclined to go out on that one date with my years ago, and then that spun out of proportion and I somehow started living with him.

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My mind spun without coffee when I finally reached the first floor, but I was still sweating. There was a blizzard outside that’d been going on casually for days. The heater was running ramped, so I was waking up in a sweat more than I was feeling the effects of the storm. Without thinking and my mind still clouded from sleep, I pushed open the door to our deck and step into the foot deep snow. My socks were drenched within seconds, but it wasn’t deep enough that I fell all the way in. I walked delicately and swiftly to the edge of the deck, enjoying the cold. Small snowflakes fell on to my nose and melted soon after, cooling my body from the heat of the apartment. For a moment, I felt free.

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Eyes closed, my hands felt their way to the railing of the deck. It was slick with ice, but as soon as I found a good grip my hands were getting colder too. I stood for a moment, reeling in the morning. Unlike rain, I loved the snow. It reminded me of simpler times, like when I was five and Soren and I made snow angels. A few years ago, at my first Thanksgiving after I came back, it snowed. That was the same night Adan asked me out, and now look at where I was.

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Feeling adventurous, I found a small nook to hook my right foot on to on the railing. I wobbled until I felt steady, and then I lifted the other. I was about to have both feet securely on when one slipped, and I nearly fell over the railing. Thankfully, I was awake enough to catch myself before I could fall through, and then however asleep I still was dissipated with the small accident. I felt alive and awake at first, but then that faded again, and I just felt…numb.

Both literally and metaphorically. My socks were damp and starting to freeze over, and starting with my toes I could feel different parts of my body become aware of the cold.

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It was time to head back into the heated house, but this time I actually appreciated it. I turned on the coffee, and while it was starting to brew I peeled off my socks and walked up the steps, careful not to get the snow on anything. The warm shower was welcoming, and when all was said and done I braided the side of my hair and pulled it into a bun in the back. I threw on an old denim shirt my mom gave me for my birthday last year, and with it I wore floral leggings Ande got me for my birthday the same yea-

“Shit,” I muttered out loud.

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I completely forgot that I’d promised my friend, Ande Langly, that she could come over today. The clock read 8:30, and she’d said she would be over around…well, 8:30.

I was grateful that I was dressed, but I was a little less happy that I still hadn’t had a chance to clean the house back up or even get a sip of my coffee. As I was pouring a cup, the doorbell rang and I half-ran, half-stumbled to go get it.

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“Ande!” I grinned, opening the door. She stood sweetly, puckering her lips and waving. She made me laugh to myself, and suddenly I was so much happier.

“Hey there, stranger,” she smiled back, walking in. She dropped the coat she was carrying on the table next to the door and looked around.

“Place still looks clean as ever,” she murmured, craning her neck to see into the living room. “Don’t you think it would be smart if you advised him to loosen up a little? This place looks like an asylum.”

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Ande said these types of things every time she came over, so I brushed it off and let out a small laugh to lighten the mood.

She pulled me into a hug, but I felt her still looking around even as she did so. When we pulled back, she just shook her head.

“I swear, if he were ever actually here when I am, I would ask him why the hell this place has gotta be so white. It scares me.”

I laughed again, turning around and grabbing my coffee off of the counter. We both walked into the living room and sat down, and I let out a lazy sigh. Things with Ande were always easy. Simple, even. We weren’t always friends, but ever since we met in AA and started talking more and more, she’d proved to be a better friend than I had in a long time. We tried to see one another often, but it grew hard to do as we both got older and the stakes got higher.

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“So, what’s with this snow in October? It’s not nearly as deep as this in town,” said Ande conversationally once we sat down. “Around my place, it’s pretty light, actually. Here it’s like a blizzard.”

“Actually, I think it is a blizzard,” I replied, yawning. I felt bad, but she brushed it off and smiled over at me.

“Lemme guess, you just got up?” I nodded, taking a sip of my coffee. Ande laughed lightly, shaking her head. “It wasn’t too peachy with me either this morning. The kids would hardly let me get out of the house.”

That was another thing. Ande was involved in what my mom had told me she was involved in once, though very minimally compared to what Ande told me. She was doing the 100 baby challenge which, to me, sounded like a whole lot more work than necessary. It also made me realize how many half-siblings I must have, but that thought kind of freaked me out so I pushed it away.

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“What, were your kids begging for you to stay?” I asked quizzically. Talking to someone who almost had forty kids this young was still weird, but I learned to control my confusion. She made her decisions just like I made mine. And plus, there was the fact that she was raped when she was younger, just like I had too. I felt like we were bonded because of that, though I would hardly let on that that’s why I wanted to be friends with her.

“More like begging for me not to stay,” she muttered, looking down. “Well, the older ones at least. The younger kids hardly noticed I was leaving once I gave them the TV and some toys. Being a parent is hard, but not as hard as most people would think. I kinda still consider myself a kid, so I’ve just gotta think, ‘What do I want?’, and then poof. I am mom of the year.”

I laughed, doubling over.

“You are a child, Ande.”

“Hey, at least I can admit it!”

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My hands found the mug by my side once again, and I took a long sip.

“How was the drive in?” I asked curiously once I set it back down.

“There were plow trucks all over the roads, but I got lucky and was driving right behind one of em’. My pathway was clear as a baby’s bottom all the way here, though I can’t really say the same for the rest of the drivers.”

She smiled when she finished talking, setting her eyes on me. Ande always seemed like she was…oh, I don’t know, studying me. It sounded like a weird prospect, but the way she always stared at me made me wonder. And no, it wasn’t a lustful smile. It was just…well, curious.

“Valerie, are you…are you doing alright?”

She also always asked me the same questions. Ande always wanted to know if I was alright, whatever that even meant, if I still liked Adan, whatever that meant, and if there was anything I wanted to talk about. Sometimes it was weird to have to answer to this line of questions, and other times I liked the familiarity.

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“Yeah, I’m fine,” I murmured, picking at my nails. I had to be sure to pick up any chipped nail polish later so Adan wouldn’t get mad.

“Are you…sure? You look nervous.”

I dropped my hand immediately and shot my head up, but only out of habit. I was so used to hiding how I felt that when someone picked up on the fact that I was lying, I had to make them believe I wasn’t.

“Nope, I’m not!” I said quickly, laughing to change the subject. “Perfectly fine, silly!”

“Valerie,” Ande said quietly. “You don’t have to lie to me, you know that.”

I wasn’t sure if it was because we shared the same past, but Ande always seemed to know when I was lying. I didn’t want to have to lie to her, but it was the only way to keep everyone in my life safe and away from all the troubles I had. If they knew what I’d been through…if they knew what my teacher had done…it would kill them. Absolutely kill them. And I didn’t want to inflict that kind of pain on my loved ones, no matter how much I despised them at times.

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“I’m not lying,” I replied, forcing a smile. “Never been happier.”

“Alright, whatever,” muttered Ande, pushing back against the couch. She let out a sigh and looked over at me.

“Can you be completely honest with me right now?”

Damn. Did she understand what a big request that was for a person like me?

“I’ll try,” I said quietly.

“How are things with Adan? Have you two…you know, had sex?”

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That word did really weird things to me, and hearing it concerning me almost made me gasp. I held it in, of course, because I would never let her be the wiser.

“No, we haven’t.”

Well, at least I was telling the truth now. Ande let out a strangled sigh, though I wasn’t sure why.

“Do you…want to?”

I was just about to reply with some sort of fake explanation, but then I bit my tongue. Maybe if I tried telling the truth for once, better things would happen. I vowed that I would tell the truth for the rest of the time she was here to myself.

“I don’t know…I mean, it depends if it, uh, would make him like me better, you know? Like right now I feel like he likes me but wants nothing to do with me at the same time. And I feel like he just feels inclined to date me and have me live with him. Because I really don’t feel right here, y’know? Like I’m just extra baggage, or an annoying little sister or something.”

I heaved a sigh, daring to look up to Ande. For some reason she was smiling. Maybe she felt victorious for getting me to talk.

“Nah, I get it,” she smiled. “Do you love him?”

“L-love him?” I murmured, testing the word on my lips. It didn’t feel right, not about him, though I’d hardly let on to that. “Maybe.” I thought for a moment, then continued on a dare. “Is love acquired?”

“Acquired?” Ande looked confused as she pondered the thought. “Maybe. I wish I knew more about this, but all I’ve had is Spencer, and he is just…”

“Do you love him?” I asked spontaneously.

“Spencer…” she said the word like I would say chocolate. A blissful haze came over her as she looked away, no doubt in deep thought. Then she snapped out of it. “He’s an asshole,” she muttered. “Sometimes he does things that I just…well, you know. I’ve told you about all of it.”

It was true. Half of the time when we hung out, we would end up talking about Spencer, and I was alright with that. It felt nice to drown myself in someone else’s problems.

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“But then other times,” she continued, smiling again. “Sometimes I see him and think to myself that no one has ever looked so perfect.”Ande looked down, scratching at the carpet. “And I know he really does love me, it’s just that…well, in some ways, I really don’t think I’m good enough for him. I mean, think about it. He’s this rich doctor. He’s going back to college to get another degree, and meanwhile I’m just having kids as my mother’s wish and leading him on. I have nothing going for me,” she said quietly, sighing. “Nothing at all.”

“Yes you do,” I countered, looking sharply at her. Is this what it felt like to talk to me?

“It sure doesn’t feel that way.”

The conversation had taken a weird turn, one I wasn’t sure I could handle. Even when we usually talked about Spencer, it never ended up with Ande feeling down and me trying to pick her up. I hated knowing that I did this to people all the time, but especially Ande. All I wanted to do was make her feel better, but I couldn’t while she was refusing to hear what I was saying.

 

And that’s how it went for the rest of the day. We talked about everything: Spencer, Adan, my family, her family, her kids, my troubled thoughts, both of our worries and fears. It felt so nice to just sit and talk about everything we wanted to. With Adan, we always talked about one of three things: his work, my family, and the weather. It really never surpassed that, so it wasn’t surprising that we hadn’t had sex yet.

Ande eventually had to leave around five. We’d lost track of time and spent the whole day together, but it was so nice to see her again and we had a never-ending list of topics to discuss. I was sad to see her go, but I knew Adan would be home soon. As soon as Ande left, I started dinner for when Adan got home. His favorite was pasta, so I put some boiling water on and pondered the ways tonight could go. It was a Thursday, so maybe if I could get him in a good enough mood we could try to not talk about the stock market for once. Who knew, maybe I was the one who didn’t try hard enough.

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He walked in the door around seven, and he looked only mildly affected by the storm raging outside. A bit of snow rested on his jacket, but then it melted as soon as he shook it and then set it down nicely on the bookshelf by the door.

Adan walked right past me without a word. Through a careful ear, I heard him shuffling papers around and then finally pulling the chair out and plopping down into it. This was how is usually went, so I wasn’t that offended. Tonight, sadly, he just seemed more aggressive. I almost tossed my plans for making it a good evening out the window, but then I looked back at the situation like it was a challenge. And I accepted it.

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Once I’d finished the pasta and Adan still wasn’t talking, I arranged it nicely in a bowl and walked into the small dining room where he sat. The snow had started to come down harder, and it created a nice feeling in the apartment. The nice feeling simply didn’t stay because I could literally feel the tension pulsating from Adan.

“You alright, um, sweetheart?” I asked in the nicest tone I could possibly manage. Before him were endless spread out papers, so I placed the pasta in a corner of the table that wasn’t occupied. I tried to give him a light smile, but he wouldn’t even spare me a glance.

“Fine,” he muttered, completely focused in on the document he was reading. All I knew of his job was that he was some big shot, because the rest of the time he talked about it I usually zoned out. Woops.

“Busy day?” I tried to sound light and jovial as I scooped us both out some dinner on to the plates I was balancing on my arm. I held his out to him, and it was the thing that snapped him out of his concentration.

“Oh, thanks,” he said quickly, taking a huge bite as he leaned over the papers again. “Yeah, really busy…sorry, but can I just finish this? We can, uh, talk after dinner or something. I swear.”

My heart sank, but I tried my best to appear indifferent.

“Yeah, no problem,” I lied, taking a small bite of my dinner. “No problem at all.”

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Adan did keep his promise, and he was finally able to close up his unfinished work around nine. He stacked the papers with practiced efficiency and pushed them to the corner of the table before joining me on the couch. I’d spent the past couple hours mindlessly flipping through channels until I settled on some weird Halloween romance movie.

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“Doing alright?” I asked as Adan sat down next to me. He buried his face in his hand, rubbing them up and down until he felt more awake.

“I’m alright,” he murmured. “Just a long day at work. Some higher up decided today was a good day to promote me and give me all his work.”

“Promotion?” I asked, only half-listening. “Congrats!”

“It was nothing, he just wants someone else to do his work. Whatever.”

Adan finally lifted his head, and when he caught sight of my face he let out a heavy sigh.

“I’m exhausted…how was your day?”

“Ande came over,” I said lightly, somehow feeling like what I did today was nothing compared to him. “We hung out and whatever. But I’m exhausted too…”

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Adan nodded agreeingly, falling against the side of the couch. Though we’d had yet to kiss that night, I was still holding out hope and leaned against him, snuggling in close. Surprisingly, he was warm and welcomed my embrace. His hand rested, mangled in my hair as we let out a collective sigh.

“Sometimes I wish everyday could be like this,” he murmured, leaning back.

“It could be,” I sighed. “Just take a day off.”

“You know I can’t do that,” he said more harshly than I would’ve liked.

“I know, but I can only dream…”

Adan didn’t reply, signifying that the conversation was over. I was so curious about so many things, like why he didn’t just quit if it caused him this much stress. In the two years I’d known him, his hair had already begun to fall out, and I even spotted a few grey hairs. A little soon for a 25-year-old, if you asked me.

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We stayed like that for a while, never kissing though. I started dozing off when I felt a light vibrating in his pocket. I could feel his tension as he slipped out from under me, thinking he had me fooled. The television was turned down enough that I could even hear him clicking the answer button on his phone. His absence from the couch was more than evident.

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“Deacon, not now,” I heard him whisper as he headed into the kitchen. No doubt he was debating heading outside, but he didn’t like the snow nearly as much as I did. “Fine, send me the transfer, we can…”

Adan’s voice died out as he walked from the room. The heater was still going wild, and a soft sweat broke out on my skin. Somehow though, I still felt cold.

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Yes, it was the same thing every night. I tried so hard to make something of this relationship, but we were caught in an endless abyss. He was the white knight, the shining prince in a world of black, and I was the girl who couldn’t find a way out of the never-ending maze. Sometimes I wished for the relationship to end, to be set free from the constraints of pretending to be the perfect girlfriend, but other times I would find myself appreciating the distraction. Because that’s all it was. A distraction from the bottomless pit that had formed in my heart, a pit that only one person could fill. But that person was as good as dead to me now, so all I had was Adan.

I guess you could call me greedy, greedy for a love that would never return. But I was still holding out hope. My eyes fluttered shut as a sweet calm embraced me. I fell asleep with the green orbs of the person I loved most clouding my mind and helping me forget the pain that was always there.

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Gen. Two: Chapter Eleven

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“Whoa, hold up-where are you going?”

My dad sat in our living room, glasses perched on the edge of his nose with the news right under him and a coffee to his left. Of course, despite my soundless steps, he dropped all of that to see what I was up to.

“I’m going out,” I murmured, pacing quietly by the door. I’d been so close, and it made me wish I could go unnoticed again like I had for those years when I’d stayed with Shane.

“Going out where?” asked my dad forcefully.

“To…to…” I racked my brain for a lie, then gave up and told the truth. “I’m going out with Adan Sheridan.”Screenshot-730

My father’s mouth hung open for a moment as he gaped at me. A moment later, he closed it and eyed me closely.

“Anthony’s kid?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.

“Yes,” I muttered, looking away. I was still pacing, though I wasn’t sure why. Because I’d gotten caught? Because I was nervous? Because I was both?

My dad shook the newspaper and flipped to the next page, pulling his gaze from me.

“Well, be careful,” he said quietly, staring at some article, though I knew he wasn’t reading it. Then a thought occurred to him.

“What’re you-ah,” he said quickly, placing his hard gaze on me. “A turtleneck. Good. Have fun.”

It was snowing, so naturally I’d dressed up as warm as possible. Plus, Adan had mentioned something about the winter festival when he called me last week, a week after Thanksgiving. But I knew my dad was concerned about what I was wearing for more than the chill factor. He wanted to make sure I was covered up.

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“Um, yeah, alright dad. Bye.” I checked my phone to see what time it was, and thankfully the stop with my dad hadn’t taken too much time out. If Adan was my last resort for “love”, then I wasn’t going to screw it up. Not this early, anyways.

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“Oh, hey! Valerie!”

Adan and I had agreed to meet at the library because they had 24/7 parking and then walk to wherever we were going, just so we could enjoy the winter weather. It was chilly, yes, but it was also kind of serene. Adan beckoned me over a bit of wind flew around me.

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“Finally, we’re able to do this.” Adan grinned down at me, so naturally I bowed my head and averted my gaze. He didn’t make any move to hug me or anything, so I stuck out my hand to shake his and he took it. “You wouldn’t believe how much my dad has been on me to go out with you, but you know, with my work…”

“I get it,” I murmured. It was true. Adan and I had tried to schedule this outing about three other times in the two weeks since Thanksgiving, but his work always interrupted. Once he had to drive down to the city for an emergency meeting, another day his coworker was sick and he took up all of his work, and then the last time we tried to do this got cancelled because of some scheduling conflict. I wasn’t entirely torn up over it since I barely knew him, but I could see where his dad was giving him hell. My mom had been particularly anxious for news about “us” in the past weeks as well.

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“But I’m glad we can finally do this,” he added, smiling when I looked up again. “Are you cold?”

“No, not really,” I said simply. “Just anxious. Where are we…where are we going?”

“The winter festival.”

Oh.

Part of me had been hoping that, just like with my date with Denis, he was going to be surprising me today. Something in me liked a man of surprise, not habit. I guess that’s part of the reason I liked Shane so much though, after a while, he was a creature of habit too. Always drinking and smoking and bringing girls home.

I hated when I thought about him, so I pushed the thoughts out of my mind.

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“Well, then what’re we waiting for? Let’s go!” I exclaimed, pushing as much emphasis and excitement into those words as I could. The last thing I wanted was for him to think I was a depressed, crazy freak.

In other words, I didn’t want him to know the truth.

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“Where are we going now?”

Adan had described where the Winter Festival was by saying that it was the town park, yet the more we walked the less I figured him to know. He maneuvered around a fallen tree and into a bit of woods before we open land again.

“Wanna take a shortcut?” he asked, breathless. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to impress me or something, but he wasn’t willing to admit if he was lost. I chuckled quietly to myself, so low that he couldn’t hear, and replied that I would be alright with a shortcut.

“Good, so I think that if we just cut through here and then follow this park’s trail, then we should…oh, crap, am I wrong-no, no, I’m right. It’s this park, just follow me.”

Adan was a man of intent, so I stayed silent and followed him. I couldn’t help but feel like those stress lines from what I assumed was work were getting worse because of…well, because of me, to be completely honest. I wanted so badly to bring a light air to the conversation, but with him-

I felt like all of the breath in my body had been taken away in one go. It wasn’t the cold that was chilling me to the bone, but more so what I saw in front of me. Adan hadn’t led us through any shortcut. He’d led me to the very place that I first met Denis Levi, when I was four years old.

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It almost didn’t make sense that this was the one memory I would remember from my childhood, but it did to me. I remembered the day exactly. It was a warm summer day, and my mom and dad had brought me to the park along with Soren because he wanted to play with his best friend…if my memory served, his best friend was Corey, I think.

Being four, my parents had drug me along, but not without setting me up a play date too. I even remembered when I first saw him in that little sandbox. I think he was wearing a hat, so I had nothing in my memory of his hair. What really stuck were those eyes. He had the purest green to his gentle orbs as I’d ever seen, even to this day, and they weren’t something easily forgotten. They were the one feature that if I thought about them, I would visibly calm down. It was hard to forget someone as memorable as Denis Levi.

But then, in a wave of reality, I realized something so desperate: I had to forget him if I was going to do this today. Whatever relationship started today would be the beginning of a new part of my life, and it was one that Denis just didn’t fit in to. If I could accept that, then I could-

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“Valerie? Are you…alright?”

I counted to three and then pulled my gaze from the sandbox. I’ become so lost in my thoughts that I had almost expected Denis when I turned to face him, but it wasn’t. It was Adan.

“Yes?”

I looked up with wide eyes and as innocent as a face as I could manage, given that I had just been thinking about a guy I loved-used to love, in the presence of one that I was supposed to love. I smiled slightly, giving the appearance of simplicity.

“Are you…you good? Ready to keep going? We’re almost there.”

Somehow I managed to break myself out of my slumber and blink a couple times. I wanted so badly to look back at the sandbox, but I knew that it was in my best interests-and Adan’s as well-to not go there again.

“Yes, I am,” I muttered, forcing a smile.

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Most of my uncertainty over the sandbox had been dismissed by the time we reached the Winter Festival. Believe it or not, the shortcut had worked. We came upon the big fair a short time later, and the beauty of it all did a good job of settling my uneasy feelings. Everywhere were beautiful icicles, booths, an ice skating rink, snow piled upon snow, and more. The snow we’d received on Thanksgiving was just the beginning of what was a long winter in Appaloosa Plains. As long as it wasn’t rain, I accepted it with open arms.

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Before I even realized it, Adan had led me over to the ice skating rink. He quickly paid the booth guy for ice skate rentals, and we walked over shortly after. I had no clue how he knew my shoe size, but somehow that wasn’t the most important question when he laced his up and urged me to do the same.

“Um, I don’t ice skate,” I said quickly. “I’ll probably fall and die if I do.”

“Are you sure?” Instead of urging me to do it, Adan quickly came over to me with deep concern laced in his features. “If you don’t want to, we don’t have to.”

Giving me the power to choose what I wanted to do wasn’t something I was used to, especially from guys, and it really set me off. I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not.

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“No, I mean, I’ll do it if you want to,” I said emphatically. “Just…how do I lace these up?”

Adan laughed lightly, leaning down to tie the skates on.

“Seriously, if you don’t want to we don’t have to. When I was little, we had a pond out back that froze over in the winter, so I just like skating now. But we don’t have to do it if you feel like you’ll be scared.”

“No, I think I’ll be alright,” I muttered as he finished the first skate and moved on to the second. I helped him get it on my foot before leaning back again. Subconsciously, I couldn’t help comparing him to Denis. If Denis was here, he’d probably be making me laugh, confused about how to tie the laces, and I would definitely feel a spark if he was touching me like this. With Adan, I felt…well, I felt nothing. I was still holding out for it to happen though, I couldn’t give up yet. I was certain that if I could just hold this out, something would click for me and I’d be capable of feeling that for him.

“Alright, all good to go,” Adan said warmly, patting my ankle and standing up briskly. He mechanically held out his hand, so I latched on to it and stood up. We both made our way over to the rink, and like a gentleman he let me go in first and then shortly followed. How could I not like this like I did Denis? He was the textbook definition of a good guy.

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When I first got into the rink, I won’t lie: it was shaky. I held on to the side for dear life, then tried to go on my own for a little, then held on for dear life again. At first Adan followed me very cautiously, like I would fall any second. It finally got to a point, about ten minutes in, when I forced him to go on his own. I knew it was a date, but I wasn’t about to make it a babysitting job. Now he was skating circles around me, though I was a bit surprised when he came up behind me.

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“Alright, I got an idea,” he said brightly, the tip of his nose very red and reflective of the weather. He skated his way fluidly around me and started skating backward as he talked to me. What a show off.

“What’s your big idea?”

“I know it’s our first time out together, and I’m a shy guy, but I think maybe…maybe I could help you skate if you just held my hand. I know it’s weird, but, oh, I don’t know. I shouldn’t have even brought it up.”

I had no clue why he was so nervous, but a lot of the previous joy of skating had dimmed as soon as he started talking.

“That’s a good idea,” I said quickly, smiling up at him. His face immediately brightened. I couldn’t place whether he felt obligated to act like he liked me or if he actually did. Or maybe I was complicating things too early on.

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He gallantly held out his hand and, laughing, I took it. The laugh was forced because I almost saw him as more of a friend than a boyfriend. Obviously we weren’t dating, but I was still waiting for that spark. It was winter, we were ice skating in the cutest and most cliché way possible, yet I still didn’t feel that spark. Was there something wrong with me?

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We skated together in circles for a while after that. He would catch me every time I fell, though a couple times he wasn’t fast enough or, even worse, I dragged him down with me. During those moments, I laughed without forcing myself to do it. The date, or whatever you wanted to call it, got simpler as it went on, but I couldn’t decide if it got simpler because things were suddenly clear or if it was only because I suddenly didn’t have the time to think. My focus was on not looking like an idiot, though I had already miserably failed there.

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Later on in the day, as the wind slowed down but it got chillier, we did other things. We tried to have a snowball fight, though I think Adan was a little petrified to hit me hard. He lobbed them over and let them fall twenty feet from me. It made it less fun, and it got me thinking that if he were Denis, I wouldn’t be having these issues. I hated being looked at as delicate, because that’s exactly how he treated me. Like I would break if he touched me.

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Eventually, it got so cold that we finally had to retreat to the snack area. We’d exhausted ourselves until the sun was setting into the winter sky, and then a break was in store. We found comfort in a snowy picnic table surrounded by families and cute couples sharing hot drinks. I made a mental note to go get us some things later on, but I held off for now. I wanted to defrost a little on my own.

Adan took a seat next across from me, rubbing his hands together and smiling when he glanced up. Today had been fun, but I was so concerned over when we would eventually have to part. Would he kiss me? Should I try to kiss him? Would we go on another date? Did he want more than this in the future? There were never any questions with Denis. We just…knew.

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“It got pretty cold, huh?” muttered Adan, leaning his arms on the table. He smiled lazily at me, though I still couldn’t tell the difference between obligation and legitimacy.

I shrugged, leaning my arms on the table too. It was pretty cold, so I put my hands together and started breathing heavier to warm myself.

When I looked up, Adan’s smile had faltered. I wasn’t sure why until he took his arms off of the table and lifted his phone out of his pocket.

“Oh, dear god,” he mumbled, looking down seriously as his fingers tapped crazily on his screen. This lasted for a moment before I asked what was going on.

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“Work,” he said, almost mechanically. “It’s just that these idiots in corporate think that they can get along with going on their yachts more than they do work, and then they expect me to pick up the pieces.”

“Adan-“

“-and then it’s just, like, really? I do all of this work all of the time, and I never complain-in fact, I like it! I love my job, and I put a hell of a lot of effort into it, and then when I want one day off-one day to spend with you-they can’t stand it. What, do they not want me to have a life? Do they-“

“-Adan, um-“

“-And then now I’m stuck here, leaving my phone for  few hours and coming back to a thousand emails, a thousand texts, and now I’m annoying you! Like-“

I reached across the table, more quickly than I thought I could move, and grabbed ahold of his face. Surprisingly enough, he let me take his phone and set it down  on top of a napkin on the table. I was short, so I had to move my body fast to get across and get into position. I held his eyes for only a moment before I leaned in, and…nothing

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“Adan?”

He hadn’t taken my kiss. I was trying to shut him up, be noble, and push this relationship to where it needed to go. But he didn’t want any of it.

“Adan…”

For the first time today, he was the one to ignore my gaze. He refused to meet my eyes, and when he finally did, I almost started crying. Did he not want to date me? Was he just using me? Why had, the one time in my life when I decided to do some bold, I been shut down? Wasn’t this what my parents had always wanted me to do? Stick to my gut when I thought it was right, and then run with it? Why did everything I have to do come falling down in pieces?

“Valerie, um-“ he mumbled, turning away again. I sighed, holding back my tears and looking up quickly.

“Adan, do you not like me? I thought today…I thought maybe you…and me…we…” I cut myself short, a tear falling down my face. “I thought you wanted to…god, I am so stupid!”

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I tried so hard to hold it together so I didn’t look like an idiot, but I had surpassed that point. Of course he wanted nothing to do with me. Why would he? He only asked me out to please his dad, but he wanted nothing more! Today was a lie, a lie that he probably conspired with my parents for in order to make me feel like someone could actually care for me the same way Denis once had. I shook my head, feeling stupid, when he managed to pull my hands from my chest and across the table in his.

“Valerie, please don’t cry,” he said quietly, looking up. I only saw him for a moment, but if he was really using me I couldn’t bear to look any longer. The only thing connecting us were my hands in his, but I was sure he was about to tell me how this was all a lie or a stupid, stupid prank.

“If you hate me, then just tell me!” I said angrily, surprising myself. “You don’t have to pretend to like me, I know I’m not good enough for you. Just tell me if-“

“Wait, what?!” he screeched, clear shock registering on his face. “Valerie, and I am being completely honest when I say this: today was one of the best days I’ve had in years. I had so much fun with you, why would you think otherwise?”

“Because…because…” I was drowning in confusion, and I could only resurface for short periods. “Because you didn’t want me to kiss you,” I finished, so quiet I was sure he could barely hear me.

“Um, yeah, about that-“

Adan took a deep breath and released my hands a little.

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“I’m sorry, that was out of instinct. I want to kiss you, I really do, it’s just…I know…I know about…about your past.”

Oh.

So he did think I was weird, and he for some reason he knew every gritty detail.

“Who told you?”

“Um, I mean, we don’t-“

“Who told you,” I said harshly.

“Um, alright, but I mean, she did it because she just wanted me to know in case-“

He didn’t even have to finish for me to know who told him. My mom. Did she not know how much it took for me to tell her and dad about what I’d done last year, and now here she was blabbering about it to everyone? No wonder Adan wanted nothing to do with me, no matter how much he insisted he did.

“How much do you know? I asked deathly quiet, looking down. With every word I spoke, a small piece of fog joined it, and it occupied me while I waited for him to answer.

“Um, just about, you know, your old boyfriend and running away and stuff. And I really do want you to know that none of it changes how I-“

“I’ve heard enough,” I said quickly, standing up and releasing his hands. “I’m going to go get, um, something to drink. You…you stay here.”

I tried to push as much forced dismissal into my voice as I could, but to be completely honest? I was hurt and terrified that even someone who I thought could be a new beginning for me knew of all my screw-ups. This was most definitely a pity-date, then.

Screenshot-797With anger, I stormed over to the food booth. I automatically started scanning the menu for some sort of hot drink to burn myself with and take away some of this pain, but I was interrupted by a very familiar and kind voice behind me.

“…Valerie?”

I turned around and was surprised to see Ande Langly, a girl I met at an AA meeting on the same day I met Adan. I hadn’t seen her in the same amount of time, though I was slightly more happy to see her. I dismissed that comparison immediately though. I was probably just happier to see her because she shared a similar history to mine, though I wouldn’t ever let on to that around her, or around anyone for that matter. That was my problem, and my problem only.

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“Oh, thank goodness it’s you! I wasn’t sure at first,” she laughed, smiling lightly. It was actually really great to see her. She’d given me her number to call her and continue our conversation, but I hadn’t gotten the chance with everything going on in my life. I was glad that she had shown up out of the blue, though.

“Good to see you,” I smiled.

“Good to see you too…what brings you around to this festival?”

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I gestured around me for no apparent reason, letting my smile drop back to my stressed state. “I’m on a…an outing with someone else,” I muttered.

“A boy?” she giggled, wiggling her eyebrows. I still had no clue as to why she was so easygoing with me, but it felt nice. She reminded me a lot of Freya, minus the evil.

“Um, yeah, but he…” I debated whether or not to let on to my misery over what I just found out, but I tried hard not to drag her into my issues. “It’s nothing,” I finished, letting my hands fall.

“Are you sure?” Ande’s face took a more serious stance, and I almost laughed. Why was she so concerned for me? Did she know too?

“Yeah, I’m fine, I just…found out something that I didn’t expect.”

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“Oh, come on,” she smiled, glancing up at me. “You’re stronger than any boy drama. I know you are.”

She looked so happy and certain that I could hardly believe that she had the same history as me. And plus, why did she think I was so strong? She wasn’t letting on to anything, but I knew she knew something I didn’t.

“Seriously, Valerie,” she encouraged. “Whatever comes your way, just take it with stride. You and me, I know we’re alike. And I know that sounds creepy, believe me, but you need to trust me, alright? Go with your gut and stick to your guns.” She glanced at her watch, and then looked up panicked when a small child behind us called out mommy. “I’ve gotta go,” she smiled and then, surprising both of us, pulled me into a hug.

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Her mysteriously good friendship was something I needed to look more into, but for the mean time all I could do was appreciate it. I nodded, happy to have a friend, and rather than getting the drinks I turned and walked back to Adan. I now knew what I needed to do.

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“Alright, Valerie, I know you’re probably really angry, but please don’t-“

“Adan, you need to know something,” I said quickly, remembering Ande’s words. He stood up and walked to me, looking anxious and apologetic. “I am my own person,” I said quickly, staring at him hardly. “My past doesn’t reflect who I am now, and I more than capable of making my own decisions. You know some things I’d really rather you didn’t, but I guess it really doesn’t matter now. I don’t care if you only took me out today on a guilt trip or what, but earlier, when I tried to kiss you, I was being sincere.”

I took a deep breath, holding up my hand to let him know not to talk.

“And I don’t want you to question what I’m about to do, alright? Because this is my decision, and my mom won’t be affecting it.”

Screenshot-819I leaned over, pulling him into a kiss.

He took it this time, and he surely didn’t question it.

But you know who did?

Me.

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