Chapter 16-May I call you Nash?

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I reapplied my pink shinning lip gloss one more time, for good luck. I cleared my throat. It was just me in the dorm, no distractions. Another glance at the clock, and I felt bubbles in my belly. 5:00 sharp. It was time for FaceTime. I tilted the screen just right and opened the app. I flipped my hair over my shoulder as it rang.

“Hey there,” Nash said, with a wave.

I spotted a tall pile of laundry on his bed behind him. He could have move that out of frame, I thought to myself. But why would he? It’s only me. He had his worn baseball hat on. I never understood why I love baseball hats on men. Maybe because of Nash.

“You answered fast,” I said. I tried to focus on him, and not judge the little squared me on corner of the screen.

“Damn, it’s been a long time.”

“I know,” I dropped my eyes. His eyes were piercing green over video chat. Or, maybe I allowed the details of his face fade in my memory. For sanity reasons, of course.

“So what’s up, Merritt! How have you been?”

“It’s been okay. My Theta Gamma Nu initiation was a week ago, so I am officially a sorority girl. Exciting times.” Sarcasm dripped from my words.

Nash chuckled. “The devil’s gonna have to wear his winter coat tonight.”

“Hardy-har.”

“Seriously, though, congratulations.” Nash beamed at me with a twinkle in his eye.

“It’s not a big deal,” I scoffed. “So, they asked me to take on this special role, and I had to accept. So now I’m in training for that. It’s taking over my life. I barley sleep in my dorm, I have to like, almost live in the guest jail cells.”

“What is the role?” Nash raised his brows.

“If I told you,” I darted my eyes around for dramatic effect, “I’d have to kill you.”

“Good luck killing me through the computer.” Nash leaned back and threw his arms over his head.

“I wouldn’t let my guard down so fast,” I said, curling my lip. I leaned into the screen and whispered, “my eyes shoot lethal daggers.  They can penetrate through the screen. Oh by the way, I need you to dump a body for me. I was FaceTiming Billy earlier…”

Nash groaned. “You are so weird.”

“Shh, don’t tell.”

“You know I’m recording this, right?”

“You are not, ass pipe, damn, I mean ass wipe!” I snorted with my laugh, which made Nash crackup, and in turn, I laughed more.

“I really wish I would have recorded this so I can play it when you go disappear again.” Nash shook his head.

“Quit with the guilt trips!”

“I’m only half joking.”

“Aw, I miss you, too, buddy ol’ pal. So, what’s new in your world?”

“Nothin’ much, other than, wrapping my mind around the whole Tabitha-coming-out-never-loving-me thing.”

“Hold on a second,” I said, as I got up to grab my water bottle. My mouth suddenly felt like a desert. I sat down in front of my monitor and took a sip. “This needs ice. The water here is kind of gross.”

“So, Merritt, what do you think?”

“Me?” I squeaked. I cracked my back as I readjusted in my seat. “I don’t have an opinion. I don’t even care.”

“Well, I don’t care, either. It is what it is. But it’s weird, right?  It almost alters my memories of high school. Like everything that happened, I see from this other perspective and am like, oh.”

“Ya, me too. I’m like ‘oh’, as well.”

I took a chug of water and it went down the wrong pipe. After hacking like a lifetime smoker, I returned to face the screen.

“Lord have mercy, are you okay?”

“How’s Jess?” I croaked.

“Fine.” Nash bit his bottom lip.

“I’m seeing someone,” I blurted. I am?

Nash’s jaw dropped. “Oh, really?”

“Ya, no titles or anything yet. We went out for New Years Eve and then he’s taken me out for dinner a few times.” Okay, he’s only taken me to dinner once, and it ended in a small, unmemorable peck.

“Well that’s cool,” Nash said, wiping his hand over his face. “I’m surprised; you are becoming Miss Social out there in Cali.”

I felt a jab inside my chest. After a few moments of staring into Nash’s eyes I said, “Well what did you expect? That I wouldn’t make new friends?”

Nash’s eyes grew and he held up his palms. “No-no. It’s just, I thought, when you first went away to school, that you would call me and tell me about class and all the plays that you are in. Not about gal pals and boyfriends. But there isn’t anything wrong with that. I’m just surprised.”

“Freshmen don’t get cast in anything and I am swamped with boring pre-requisites,” I snipped. “School it’s exciting just yet, and that’s how it works.”

“Sorry that I don’t know exactly how big Universities work,” Nash said narrowing his eyes. “At tech school, we just learn our trade. I like that though. No hoops. Just cars.”

“Don’t take it that way,” I said leaning back in my chair. “That’s clearly, not what I meant.”

“So how is this guy? Does he have a name?”

“Dillon McCloud. He’s President of a popular frat. He made Greek history at Baylor for getting elected as a Freshman.”

“Big man on campus,” Nash said in a mocking voice.

I felt my ears burn. “He sends me flowers and things. He holds doors for me and chairs.”

“So he puts you way up there on a pedestal, huh?” Nash made a soured face.

“I never thought about it that way,” I said folding my arms. “I guess he does put me on a pedestal. So what? Shouldn’t a man treat me right?”

“None of this ‘should’,” Nash shook his finger. “Men must treat you right. You demand it from them from day one. If any piece of shit does otherwise, you let me know.”

I fantasized about getting up, and tripping over the power cord, disconnecting our conversation. But I was stuck to that chair, like it was made of super glue.

“What the hell is this?” I threw up my arms. “You criticize me for liking princess treatment, but then you get all, macho man on me? What do you want from me?”

“I don’t know,” Nash snapped. He collapsed into his hands. After rubbing his forehead he said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said any of that. I think what it is, is you are so far away, I feel helpless here. I’m only a talking head on a screen to you anymore, not the guy next door. Forgive me for being a bit protective of you. It’s a habit, I’m sure is time to break.”

No you don’t! I love your overprotection! Stop it! “I am a big girl now. I don’t need it.”

“Duly noted,” Nash said with a thumbs up. “But, please, let me give you at least one drop of advice. Friend to friend.”

“I’d appreciate it,” I said, my heart crumbling into a mound of dust.

“A guy who dotes on you is nice. But make sure you chose a guy who treats you as an equal.”

I cringed. Nash was right. The little globe Dillon put in the palm of my hand went from a cutsy, mushy, lame gesture and transformed into to a slap in face. Dillon certainly didn’t view me as an equal. I’m not sure that I even was.

“Dillon, is like, a mega feminist,” I said waving a nonchalant hand.

“Good.”

“I’m so over talking about me. Tell me, how is Jess?”

“Um, we broke up.”

“What? Why?”

Oh no. Someone has to stand in the way! That’s how this works! Come back Jess! Actually, stay away, bitch. Good, God, I need a fucking lobotomy.

“Reasons.”

“James Devon Nash, you tell me right now!” I fiddled with my silver necklace chain.

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” Nash said with a smirk.

“At least be original! That’s my line!”

“No it’s not. It’s like, borderline cliché.”

“Is it really? I fucking hate clichés!”

“I know you do, that’s why it was fun to point out. Okay, Miss Social, I got to get off here.”

“You can call me Merritt.”

“Things are changing so much,” Nash said with a shrug, “maybe nick-names need to follow suit.”

“So, you’re saying, it’s time to call you Jimmy Crack Corn?”

“Bye, Merritt.”

*****

Later that evening, when Leah was snoring in bed, I crept out of the top bunk and slid open the wooden door of my closet.

I reached to the back and unearthed my memory box, adorned in My Little Pony stickers. My heart picked up pace, as it always does, when I’m deciding to open the lid or not. Most of the time, I don’t let myself go there. The conversation with Nash sparked a dark craving for the six secret items inside. It was a peculiar comfort that as my life changed, these demons remained. It was a twisted, ugly, reminder that Nash was still mine. After all, he knew all about the items and the horrors associated with each of them. Knowing things like that chains you to person whether you want to or not.

When I opened the box, my possessions screamed inside of head. I closed my eyes and fingered my favorite thing. It was that little gift I almost stepped on before I went outside to see Santa’s sleigh, that night. I picked it out at the dollar store and paid the cashier myself. It was blue, because part of me just knew that he would be a boy. Mom, so stubborn, refused an ultrasound. I didn’t need one anyway. It was a boy. This was before I met Nash, but oddly enough, I asked my mom if we could name my brother James. I had just finished James and the Giant Peach for reading club. She said “we’ll see” in a way that I just knew that she would give him that name. He was due in a few months.

I felt my skin hum as I gave the rattle shake. The sound of the beads, or pebbles, or whatever was in there made me crave my razor. I reopened my eyes and stared at it. The razor gleamed in the dim room from its spot in my box. But I would never use that again. Never. I was all sewing needles or eyebrow shapers since Trina found me bleeding out. Razor in one hand, bloody loose-leaf paper in other. I shuttered. I needed to get rid of it. I would one day; it didn’t belong next to James’s precious rattle. One day.

When we got off the bus, the day that I first met Nash, he told me his name. Then, that his parents told him about what happened to me on Christmas Eve. He said that he liked my sunglasses and that I looked like a movie star. I told him that I liked his name, but it was my brother’s…

….could I call him Nash.

 

 

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Chapter 15-The Wrong Shoes

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“Just call him,” Leah said, pushing her phone on my ear.

We were standing outside, because while tipsy, Leah smokes. The evening wind nipped my bare flesh. I buttoned my black, form fitting sweater.

“Fine,” I grumbled with my champagne courage. I tucked my blowing hair behind my ears.

I held the phone. It was already ringing.

“What?” Dillon yelled over eardrum shattering music.

“Um, hello to you, too. It’s Brie Merritt.”

“Oh, damn. Brie? Wait a minute, I have to go someplace to hear you.”

I tapped my foot.

“I apologize for my lack of manners, you are calling me from Leah’s phone.”

“That’s how you answer the phone for your cousin?”

I shot Leah a look. She shrugged and blew out a cloud of gray smoke.

“It’s a family-thing, I was just kidding.”

I doubt it, I thought.

“Okay, just so you know, the Theta girls and I are accepting your invite.”

“Perfect. I am sending you a limo,” Dillon said. “I had a few reserved.”

“Seriously? You were that sure we’d accept?”

I glared at Leah and she gestured for me to keep going.

“I assumed Leah would talk you into coming. She’s been nagging me for a spot on the guest list since she got accepted to BU.”

“She did.”

“Good. Then, I thought, if you didn’t want to go out in LA, then I’m going to bring LA to you. Everything top of the line.”

I swooned a little. “Thank you.”

“How many limos, princess?”

“Oh, just one. It’s like, ten of us. That’s all.”

***

Before I knew it, we were in front of Lambda Psi Tau, in the back of a long winding line to get in. I gawked at the white mansion with three towering Greek letters in the center.

My face flushed when everyone in line turned around to see girls arriving in a limo, dressed like disco balls, to a college frat party.

Lauren linked her arm into mine. She gave me that mega-watt smile. “Brie. We don’t wait in line.”

I felt a pang of guilt walking along side the line to the door. I felt the stares slice through my skin. When we got to the door, two pledging Lambda’s in dress shirts were sitting behind a card table. They each had clipboards in hand.

One of the pledges gave Lauren a sheepish smile, revealing silver braces. His eyes darted back and fourth between us.”Good evening ladies, go right in.” He didn’t even check the guest list.

“Well thank you, sir,” Lauren said giving him a little wink. “What’s your name?”

“Um, Todd.”

“Thank you, Todd. Can you tell us where Dillon McCloud might be? This is his date, Brie Merritt.”

Todd shot out of his chair, knocking it over. His face looked like Lauren had pulled a pistol out of her purse and pointed it to his head.

“Right this way, Miss Merritt,” Todd squeaked. He put his arm on my shoulder and guided me to the doors.

I looked over my shoulder at my future sisters who just stood there, frozen. I mouthed ‘come-on’.

They rushed behind Lauren and me. I noticed that they huddled close, almost like we were going through a haunted mansion. I glanced over at Lauren, whose head was high, shoulder’s squared, and wearing a ‘I am the shit, bitches be gone’ expression. I did my best to imitate her.

We were led through the house, which was overflowing with students clutching red plastic cups. There was a DJ in the middle of the grand living room. All of the leather furniture, lamps, and breakables were roped off to the side, with a red velvet rope.  Their living room reminded me a little of Theta’s; they must have had the same architect. Yet, everything was masculine. Even the chandelier was made to look like antlers.

Then, I saw him. He was laughing with a gang of model-looking frat brothers, in an unbuttoned dress shirt. I skipped the butterflies, and went straight to lightheaded. He didn’t notice us at first, he was telling a story and buddies were clinging to his words like a fish on a hook.

Dillon did a double take. His dimple came out from hiding when he saw me.

“Welcome to Lambda, Brie Merritt,” Dillon opened his arms wide and walked my way.

He wrapped his arms around me, like he’d known be for years. I rested my cheek against his chest and fastened my arms around his solid waist. His shirt felt like silk. The warmth of his body and and handsome smelling cologne made me want to linger in his arms. Thanks to the champagne. I did.

Dillon leaned back a little and he stared into my soul with his eyes. “You look amazing.”

“Thank you. And you’re no slouch, yourself.” What the fuck did I just say? What the fuck is a slouch? 

Dillon threw his head back with a laugh. Good! He’s mistook my dorkiness for comedy. 

“You are adorable,” Dillon said, in a voice coated with delafee chocolate.

He combed my locks back with his fingers and the tingling sensation of hair play made my mouth water. Perhaps it was the bubbly flowing through my veins, or maybe I was more open to the idea of dating. Whatever it was, he was so hot.

“Todd, did you get Brie a drink?” Dillon barked.

“Ugh, no, not yet.”

“What are you doing? Get her,” Dillon paused and looked at me, “2007 Nappa Valley Chardonnay.”

“No problem, sir. Um, I think I need a key for the liquor cabinet for something like that.”

Dillon grunted and dug through his pockets. He unearthed a miniature key and flung it at Todd.

I, finally, let go of Dillon and took a few breaths. “These are my sisters.” I gestured to my cluster of arms folded, legs awkward, shifty eyed sisters.

Dillon nodded. “Good evening, Ladies. Lauren.”

“Hey Dillon,” Lauren responded.

“Let me show you around, Brie. Lauren’s our house sweetheart, she can fend for herself.”

“I’ll show the girls the game room. There is probably a waiting list for beer pong game, huh?”

Dillon shook his head. “Not for you, Lauren. Just tell them I said you go next.” He winked at Lauren.

I felt my eye twitch. Do Lauren and Dillon have a history? If so, hell no. I am so over love triangles! 

Dillon guided me around the house, pointing out the key features of every room. His fraternity pride practically oozed out of him. I didn’t know what to make of it.

Todd found me with the best wine in the world and after a few sips I found the balls to do it.

“Dillon, did you and Lauren ever…she said she dated a Lambda guy. And she’s the sweetheart, what is that?”

Dillon chuckled. “Yes, I took Lauren on a few dates when I was a freshman. It hardly counts, hun. The guy she was referring to is probably our vice president, Bradley Owens. We eat a lot of popcorn watching their drama play out.”

“Oh man.” I felt my ears warm.

“A house sweetheart is a girl that the frat votes for. Lauren won that title the last two years. It’s just a girl who helps us out, supports us, is friends with the guys.”

We walked up a winding stairway and down a hall. Dillon opened a door and we stepped into an over sized bedroom.

I felt panic grip my throat. Bedroom? Do I look like that kind of girl?

Dillon interlaced his fingers with mine and lead me to a set of double doors. He flung open the doors and I gasped. There was a spacious stone balcony. Thousands of white lights on strings were wrapped around the ledge, emitting a romantic soft glow. There was a small dinnette set in the center.

Dillon pulled out a chair for me from the dinette. I couldn’t hide my smile.

“Wow, this is freaking beautiful,” I said, my eyes scanning the lights.

“Yes, the pledges did a good job.”

Dillon picked up a bottle of champagne that was ice chilling in a stainless steel bucket. I jumped when he popped the cork, and the white foaming bubbles rushed over the bottle neck. He poured two glasses.

“This is a really nice room.”

“It’s nice. I bet you can’t guess who’s room it is.”

Well, there is no way it’s yours. “I’m going to guess it’s the president’s room.”

“Yes it is the president’s room. It’s also my room.”

I furrowed my brows. “You’re the president? No way, Leah never told me that.”

Dillon shrugged. “Maybe she doesn’t know. We aren’t exactly close.”

“So you’re a senior?”

“A junior.”

“How the hell are you President?”

“Because I’m me,” Dillon pulled out a cigar from the inside of his pocket. “Mind if I light up a cuban?”

“Not unless you don’t share.”

Dillon chuckled as the end of his cigar turned orange. “I never met a lady who smoked Cubans.”

“Well, I should warn you,” I shifted a bit in my seat, “expect a lot of surprises when it comes to me.”

Dillon blew out a plume of dark smoke and passed the chubby brown cigar. “I look forward to solving the puzzle that is Brie Merritt.”

I took a puff. “When you do, could you let me know? I want to peek at the answer key.” I passed back the cigar.

A bottle of champagne later, Dillon got up and took my hand. He escorted me to the edge of the balcony, which overlooked that backyard. I peered over of the edge and felt my chin drop. There was a giant stone water fountain in the center of the yard with two Greek inspired male sculptures.

“Pretty,” I commented.

Without a word, Dillon swooped me into his arms. I melted into his broad chest.  Dillon slid his fingers under my chin and tilted up my face. When I met his powder blue eyes, I felt my heart bash against my ribs.

Dillon lowered his head with leisure and brought his lips to mine. My eyelids slid closed. I felt his lush lips stroke my own with a small, gentle peck. It ended way too fast. I kept my eyes shut when he pulled back. My legs felt like noodles, I was glad his strong arms held me steady.

“Before I forget,” Dillon said, reaching into his pant pocket.

He revealed a tiny globe on a key chain. He took my hand and placed the globe in my palm. He closed my fingers around it.

With his eyes unblinking, he said. “This is for you.”

“Wow, thank you,” I said with a confused grin.

Dillon smoothed back his silky black hair. “If you date me, the world is yours.”

I uncurled my fingers and stared at the tiny blue sphere.

“Please excuse me, I will b right back,” Dillon lifted my hand and planted a small kiss on my knuckles.

As I watched him leave, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Is this real? Is he a real person? 

I dangled the key ring from my finger and held to my face.

A memory waltzed into my mind. I asked it politely to fuck off, but it didn’t honor my request.

I remembered when we were in eighth grade. I saw Nash staring at a sheet of paper when it was time to line up for the bus. His nose was all red and his eyes looked glossy. Rude pre-teen me grabbed the sheet out of his hand, and he snatched it back so fast, I got a paper cut. When Nash saw what happened his eyes rounded and he let go of his paper to clutch my cut hand in his. He apologized again and again. That’s was before he knew that I took a sick pleasure in ripping my skin, so the paper cut was no big deal. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that there was a huge red ‘F’ on a Geography test.

Later that day, I went home and rummaged through my things and finally found my beach ball that doubled as a globe. I blew it up and taped up the holes. Without mentioning the test or grades or even the word ‘geometry’, I went next door to Nash’s with the globe beach ball under my arm. I talked with Nash about the countries we learned in class. Learning things from paper came to me, like memorizing a script in my plays. But Nash’s brain was different. It was unique, just like him. The hands on method was the only way Nash could retain factual information.

I think we stayed up, looking at the countries in Africa, until his parents kicked me out. When Nash thanked me, I did my best confused look and asked what he was thanking me for.

After that, I found ways to help Nash learn. We never even acknowledged what I was doing, just how we never discussed the bags of necessities he left around my house.

My mind returned to the balcony of the handsome Dillon McCloud. I looked around at the lights and the empty champagne flutes. I wasn’t supposed to be there. Or was I?

It was one of those emotional moments best expressed by tears. My eyes were stone. The contents of my stomach sloshed around and I knew that I would be losing some water weight that night.

I wound my arm back and tossed the globe keychain as far as I could. I aimed for the fountain, I’m not sure if it made it.

I shuffled into the master suite and decided to ditch the shoes. I needed to leave as fast as possible, before the eruption. My feet sang when I flicked off the death stilts. I jogged out of the room and made way for the stairs. I had my phone and a few emergency dollars tucked in my boob, if I could make it to the street somehow, I could call a cab. As long as Dillon didn’t see me sick, I didn’t care.

I groaned when I realized that Dillon would return to find a pair of scuffed, basic, ratchet, Jimmy-Choos.

I can’t be his Cinderella, I don’t have the right shoes. 

Capture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13-What the BLEEP is Mascot Girl

 

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Chapter 13

What the BLEEP is Mascot Girl?

Christmas, the day of death, had arrived. I spent most of it in bed with the curtains drawn. It was a cycle of nightmares and restlessness. My phone rang when I was in my bathroom, vomiting the remnants of the McCloud family Chritmas Eve dinner. Since I can’t cry, sometimes I barf. Fun fun. I didn’t look to see who was calling me.

I heard a gentle rapping on my door. I rushed to my bed and pretended to be asleep.

“Miss Brie,” Sylvia, the kind, direction giving, maid, said, “you must have a drink, hija.”

I pretended to wake up. “I’m sick.”

Sylvia gave me that look. A pained, sympathetic, cherubic gaze. Leah must have told her about my mom’s eleventh death-aversary.

“I take care, senorita.”

“Sylvia, its Christmas. Can’t you go home? You deserve it.”

“I have no children. No husband. I do have a sick chica. I take care. Sit.”

I didn’t want calories today. But, there was no use arguing. I arose to a sitting position and winced. It is curious how the body can respond to emotional turmoil with physical symptoms.

Sylvia fluffed a pillow and placed it behind my back. She gave me a glass filled with a bubbly clear liquid, ice, and straw. I slurped up the liquid.

I crinkled my nose. 7UP. Whoever thought lemon and lime would make a good fizzy drink was smoking crack, I thought. I forced a grin that I’m sure looked like road kill trying to look happy.

“Dulces suenos, Senorita Brie,” Sylvia said, running her smooth hand over my cheek. “Sweet dreams.”

When she left, I staggered to the bathroom again. Sylvia was a stranger who cared for me. It was a crying moment with no tears. I wished that I wasn’t so broken.

My phone rang. Backstreet Boys- Incomplete.

“Hi, Dad,” I said into the phone. I scampered back to my bed and dove under the covers. I braced myself for a slurring train wreck on the other end.

“Hi, there, Brie.”

I couldn’t even say anything for a minute. He sounded clear-headed. “How are you?” I managed.

“Not too bad, not too bad. Does feel mighty strange without ya. Ya know?”

“Ya. I know.”

“I’m glad you are up in LA with the McClouds. But I-I just….”

“I miss you too,” I said. “And Dad…”

“Yes, dear?”

“Thanks for calling me. It’s nice to hear your voice. You sound, um, like you are well.”

“Thank you. We ‘ought to call more often. Ya think so?”

“Yes. Especially if you are…all clear to talk.”

“Sober.”

“Yes. I like sober Dad.”

“Me, too, Brie. Me too.”

Pause.

“Brie. I know we don’t give each other gifts or nuffin. Christmas isn’t our thang. But my gift to you is me tryin. I gone to my first AA.”

Just like that, my resentment towards my dad started to thaw.

“That’s all I could ask for,” I said with a crackling voice. “Just to try.”

After that conversation I slept for a long while. I woke up and it was 12:12 AM December 26th. I let out a huge gust of wind. I made it. A little package with silver paper and a red bow was on the foot of my bed.

I leaned over and read the note on the top.

 

Brie,

You can donate this.

Or you can keep it.

I don’t care.

I just want you to be a little happy.

At least practice opening it. It’s the first step.

Love ya, girlie,

Leah Marie

 

I stared at the gift. If my dad could try, why shouldn’t I? It took awhile to remove the ribbon. I almost had to hunt down a pair of scissors. I slid my hand under the paper and heard the ripping sound as the paper tore. I smiled. I remembered that sound.

I wondered what kind of makeup or handbag was in the box. Maybe it was a scarf from Macy’s. Or perhaps something more practical, like Theta gear.

My heart fell to my stomach. I pulled out a canvas that had an amateur painting of a long, winding yellow brick road, and a pair of shoes that had red sparkling glitter. I flipped it over and saw Leah’s signature on the back. I flipped it right side up. Some of the glitter sprinkled off onto my blanket.

There was a quote from the movie in sloppy cursive.

Everything you were looking for

Was right there with you all along. –The Wizard of Oz

 

My first thought was Nash. My second thought was that I felt like the cartoon Grinch when his heart grew three sizes. The gift wasn’t what I was expecting, it was better. I guess I had forgotten that gift giving was about the gesture, not the price. I made a silent promise to craft gifts for family and friends next year. I was shocked at my self-promise to participate in Christmas culture.

Friendship is everything, isn’t it? I thought. Trina gave me a set of wings. Leah pushed me from a cliff, knowing that I would fly, even if I didn’t know it.

 

***

One week later, our yellow taxi dropped us at Theta Gamma Nu. Leah and I struggled to free our luggage from the trunk.

“I’m glad I have an excuse to give to Dillon, if I ever see him again,” I said pulling my suitcase up to the sidewalk. “I didn’t think gallivanting around LA with a stranger sounded like a fun New Year’s Eve.”

“Girl, you should give him a chance,” Leah said, out of breath, as she struggled with her three humungous suitcases. “He’s  handsome, I think.  He’s my cousin, so it’s hard to tell.”

“He is hot,” I admitted. “I guess a getting a coffee sounds okay. New Years Eve was just too much.”

“You’re in big trouble, he probably sees you as a challenge now,” Leah gave me a nudge.

“It might feel nice to be sought after.”

“ You know, he is in Lambda Psi Tau. They are, like, the richest, hottest frat.”

“Really?” I asked as we walked up the sidewalk. “I don’t remember partying there yet.”

“We haven’t. I bet they don’t invite Theta pledges often,” Leah said through her teeth.

“Lambda doesn’t, but Sigma does?”

“Notice all the Star Trek posters and pimples at Sigma?”

“No, not really,” I said sifting through fuzzy party memories. “Well, now that you say it, kind of. Frat brothers look the same to me. I don’t know.”

I thought about Dillon. Then I thought of the Sigma guys that dissected the plot of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ with me until 2AM. I would sooner date a Sigma. Or then again, maybe not. It was hard to decide whether or not someone is dateable when your mind is all wrapped with the handsome James Nash. I just wasn’t looking. I needed to start.

“You really just don’t see stuff like that, do you?” Leah shook her head. “Like why we are called the leftovers.”

“Okay, look. Subconsciously, I know, right? I don’t fully consider it because I’m too busy not giving a shit about shallow categories and boxes and clichés.”

“Girl, this isn’t Glee the TV show. This is Baylor U. Not everyone is all ‘be yourself’ here. We are outside of LA, of all places.”

“I always thought of LA as a place for dreamers.”

“Girl, I grew up in LA. The scene is rich, plastic, polished. Be rich and famous or go home. It is what it is. Honestly, Theta’s are average. Some are ugly, a lot are plain Janes, a handful are pretty. But place us next to perfect, plastic Barbies…”

The red door swung open with Lauren on the other side. I cringed, wondering if she heard Leah’s words.

“Welcome home,” Lauren said, giving us each a butt-out hug.

“Thank you so much for letting us spend New Year’s Eve with you,” I said, walking into the foyer.

“The pleasure is mine,” Lauren said shutting the door. She folded her arms. “This actually works out well; Brie, I love to speak with you. In private.”

“Private?” I gulped. Lauren always made me feel as if I was a moment away from being in trouble.

“Yes,” Lauren said. “You girls can stay in the guest rooms in the basement. Follow me.”

We trotted behind Lauren. Behind her back, Leah mouthed “what the hell?” to me. I shrugged in response. After a few hallways and lots of downward stairs, we were in the basement. The smell of old house was pungent. It wasn’t like the rest of the updated, sparkling clean house. The basement reminded me of an old school building that was in need of a remodel.

“Here you go,” Lauren said, gesturing to two doors at the end of a hallway. “Put down your things, Brie, and we can go to my office.”

My stomach churned.

After I put down my things I followed Lauren, without words, to her office. I walked in and she shut the door behind me.

“You can have a seat,” Lauren said, gesturing to a large easy chair that was in front of her cherry wood executive desk. Lauren sat behind her desk and folded her hands.

I sat down and peered into Lauren’s hazel eyes.

“Brie, with the initiation ceremony next week, you are practically a Theta. Right?”

“Yes,” I said with a nod, wondering where this could be going.

“Well, I want to tell you about your role, so that we can make that announcement at the ceremony. It’s tradition that you know first. Okay?”

“Um, okay,” I said fidgeting with the button on my grandpa sweater.

“You agree that you will keep this secret?”

“I promise.”

“As you know, you will be our new Macot Girl. Mascot Girl symbolizes Theta Gamma Nu. She is our Miss America. She is our ambassador. She gives us credibility with the other houses at Baylor. She represents the beauty within Theta.”

“W-what? You want me to be that?”

“I’m not telling you what I want; I’m telling you what you already are. You are the ‘it’ girl.”

“Oh, I’m really not.”

“ Brie, you are naturally pretty,  got a perfect figure, confidence, a great personality. You know this. You don’t have to be humble, we are just stating facts.”

“Honestly, Mascot Girl t sounds a lot like you and nothing like me.”

“ I’d rather focus on my duties as the President TGN for my last semester, and transition out of this role. You will need lots of training and I will help you.”

“So, it’s mostly like, an honor.”

“No you’ll do a lot. Until you have reached your senior year, the elected social panel will give you your duties.”

“What kind of duties?”

Lauren sighed and rested her head on her propped up arm. I guessed that I was being more difficult than anticipated.

“Like, an example,” Lauren said, “if we need to communicate with another sorority, Mascot Girl makes that call. Social committee will be by you and tell you what to say when you call. If a group wants to go to a frat, Mascot girl walks in front and gets the Theta girls in. Things like that.”

I shifted uncomfortably. “So, you want me to be a puppet for the social committee?”

“You are an actress. When we reviewed you for this position, you were, like, the perfect person to do it.”

“But I’m not. I was just like some drama geek in high school. I was certainly not an it girl. You have me pegged out all wrong!”

“College is a place of reinvention. In high school, I was that fat girl who had to wear a back brace. When I wasn’t being awkward, I was playing the trumpet in band. The summer before freshman year, I lost weight and was able to ditch the back brace. The Theta’s recruited me as Mascot Girl. I felt like you do now.”

“There is no way you were that girl,” I said shaking my head, looking at Lauren’s effortless beauty. She had to be a cheerleader in high school.

Lauren scrolled through her phone for a few moments. I was about to think she was rude, when she flipped her phone so that I could see. There was a picture of a younger Lauren. She was a chubby girl in a marching band hat next to a heavy boy with greasy curls and circular wire framed glasses.

“That’s me and my ex, Rob,” Lauren said shuttering.

I covered my mouth.

“Yeah, I know, Brie. The old Mascot Girl taught me how to act. What to eat. How to do makeup. In return, the sorority house bought me clothes, paid my dues, things like that. It worked. I have Lambda boyfriend. I have, like, a million friends in other sororities. Theta got invited places because of me. It’s amazing. It’s all an act, Brie. Underneath, I am a band geek, back brace loser.”

My brain scrambled. “I thought Mascot Girl, was like a cheerleader or something. Like I’d have to wear a big bear suit and dance around at parties.”

“You weren’t too far from the truth. You will wear a mask of some sorts.”

“This is nothing like I thought. I don’t think I can do it, Lauren,” I said hanging my head.

“Yes you can.”

I lifted up my head to meet her gaze. “No, I’m saying that I won’t do this. As humbled as I am that you chose me, you’re going to have to choose someone else.”

“Then you aren’t a true Theta. A genuine Theta would do this for the sake of her sisters and her sisters’ social standing on campus.”

“What are you saying?”

Lauren licked her lips and folded her arms. “Either you are a Theta sister and our mascot, or you aren’t either.”

I stared at Lauren and felt every emotion swirl around like a hurricane in my heart.

I wondered if Dr.Jones  could get on Skype.

Chapter 12-Christmas with the McClouds

rich tree

 

Chapter 12

I followed Leah up the stairs. My heart beat against my ribcage like a boxer jabbing a punching bag. I took deep, slow breaths to calm. In and out. In and out. I felt a little bit like orphan Annie, checking out Dr. Warbuck’s mansion. Only I wasn’t a cute, singing red head little girl. I was more like a stray cat with gunk eyes and fleas. Probably ticks, too.

Leah McCloud put on her superhero cape and allowed me to stay with her for the remainder of Winter Break. I didn’t know what I expected when I arrived at LAX. Whatever I thought was wrong. It started with walking out of the airport and being welcomed by a reasonable temperature. No snow. Then, the chauffeur. Now, I was under the impression that private chauffeurs only existed in movies and for the President. I’m not even sure if I’d know how to correctly spell the word. We didn’t exactly need it in Rivertown.

Nevertheless, Leah and the McCloud family’s chauffeur picked me up from the airport with Leah in tow. I immediately felt guilty, knowing what that must have cost to get a driver with LA’s prices the day before Christmas. Leah assured me that Frank was salaried. It was then I knew that I crossed over the threshold into Bizarro World.

The roof over the grand staircase at Leah’s was comprised of clean glass. Warm sunlight beamed through white clouds, giving the stairs a bright, heavenly glow. They winded around and when we got to the top, I followed Leah down a hallway. I passed some art pieces I wanted into look into later. They looked like original pieces. Then, there were petite tables with vases of fresh flowers every few feet. In the hallway? I thought, scratching my head.

Leah opened a set of white double doors. “This is your room. Will this do?”

I opened my mouth but no words followed. I scanned the room. It was the size of the second floor of my house. It had warm redwood floors with a white and gold swirled oriental rug. The walls had gold and beige striped wall paper, that contained a hint of golden glimmer. There were two patio doors with heavy thick white curtains tied to the sides. I could see a modest sized balcony on the other side, with miniature palm trees in ceramic vases. I was glad my cardiovascular system was in decent shape, because I thought surely, my heart would stop.

“I get to sleep here?” I asked. I wondered where I would hide my beat up suitcase and dufflebag. I wanted to stash them right away.  It didn’t belong inside the luxury, penthouse suite in the Hilton.

“Yes!” Leah threw her arms around me and gave me a hug. I felt a few bones in my back crack and pop. “Girl, I am, like, so excited you are staying with us. It’s just like having a sister.”

“I’ve always wanted a sister,” I said. How old would my brother be right now? I wondered, doing mental math.

Leah’s eyes bulged. “Seriously? Me too! I guess now we have what, like, 80 sisters, huh?”

“Well,” I said taking my suitcase and stuffing it under the California king sized bed, “I am cautiously optimistic.”

Leah rolled her large, round eyes. “You are so in. Unless you suddenly move to France, you are in.”

“Well, who knows what I’ll do next,” I said, sitting on the bed. “I am officially a runaway. Never thought I’d do that.”

“Why did you runaway?” Leah said taking a seat next to me. “You told me you’d tell me when you got here.”

“I don’t feel like talking about it, really.”

“Nuh-uh, Miss Merritt. You tell me. I invited you to spend Christmas with me! We’re, like, in a pretty serious friendship now.” Leah snorted and burst into giggles.

I curled my toes in my Nikes. “Um, okay. My friend, Trina, and I didn’t think I was a healthy environment and needed to leave.”

“Environment, like, it was smoggy or something? Because it’s not any better here in LA,” Leah said.

I stared at her for a moment. I had to blink a few times. “No. Like, my mental wellbeing.”

“Oh,” Leah said nodding. “You and that boy? Nash?”

I pressed my lips in a hard line. “My dad has never been…. And my mother’s death happened on Christmas day, like 1AM or something. Then, as I’ve told you, Nash is newly single. Now he’s dating a girl who is way to pretty. Not saying he’s more than a friend, but–”

“Say no more,” Leah held her finger to my lip. “My boyfriend broke up with me three months before Freshman year. Then, I come back for fall break, and there he is. With all our friends, and some new thing on his arm who looks like Elvis. I know that’s a weird, but bitch looks like Elvis.”

I fell back into the bed and laughed for the first time in awhile. “Sorry, I know it’s not funny…”

Leah collapsed next to me. “Girl, yes it is!”

“Thank you so much for letting me stay here.”

“You know how shitty my family is,” Leah said, switching her gaze to the ceiling. “They won’t do it in front of you. So you’ve, like, spared me the drama this Christmas. Thanks for coming.”

“I get it. My parents fought all of the time,” I offered. “I remember sleeping in the closet.”

Leah buzzed up and headed towards the door. “Dinner is at 6. My aunt, uncle, and cousins will be here for our annual Christmas dinner.”

“Sounds like fun.” I said forcing a smile.

Leah turned back and rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry. You and I will get drunk afterwards to forget the stuffy boringness and excess calories.”

When I heard the door click shut, I kicked off my shoes. I snuggled under the sheets which just so happened to be woven by angels.

I heard Dr. Jones’s voice in my head. “How do you feeeeeel?”

Before I answered my subconscious therapist, my eyes closed and I slept like a corpse.

***

I rolled over and looked at my cell. My heart jumped. I scrambled out of bed and tore open my duffle bag. It used to be Nash’s wrestling bag. It still kind of smelled like him. I scowled. Even in LA, Nash was around every corner of my mind. I saw that he texted me ten times. This is getting ridiculous. I thought as I poured my clothes on my bed. Get out of my head!

I found a pair of black skinny pants that were a little bit fancier than regular pants, yet not too dressy. I wished I had at least asked Leah what kind of clothes their family wore. I slid into a plain white t-shirt with a low dipping V neck. I completed the outfit with a grey, oversized, button up sweater that sort of reminded me of my grandpa.

Without time put on makeup, I scurried to the door and ran for the stairs. I combed through my hair with my fingers, piled it on my head, and made a messy bun. Luckily, it always looked like I planned for it to look bed head chique. My bun trick disguised my hair-care laziness. Or tardiness.

I took three steps, but I wasn’t used to wearing those gray heeled ankle boots. I tumbled down a few more steps before I caught myself.

“Aye, dios mio!” A small maid yelled. She rushed over to me and helped me up. “Are you okay, mija?”

“Yes,” I said wiping my hands on my pants. “The only thing that is bruised in my pride.”

“Como?”

“Nothing, sorry. Can you point out where the family is having dinner? I’m late and this place is like a museum. Do you have a map, handy?”

The maid stared at me for a moment and then sniggered. “Aye, you are a funny girl. Yes-yes. I show you the room.”

The maid took her arm and linked it through mine.

“Your accent reminds me of my best friend, Trina’s mom,” I commented as we arrived to the landing. The maid guided me towards the rear of the house. “I’m Brie, by the way.”

I heard voices traveling down the hallway. My heart fluttered.

“I’m Sylvia. I come from Puerto Rico.”

“Yes!” I squealed. I had no idea why that was exciting. “So is Trina’s mom.”

“Here we are, senorita Brie.”

“Thanks, Sylvia.”

I walked into the dining room to find a lengthy table, draped with a stark white table cloth. There were silver platters in the center with food that looked like wax. I felt my mouth water at the smell. There was a massive candelabrum in the center with dancing little flames on top of red and green candles.

The family around the table looked just as picturesque. Ties and kakis, Christmas colors, little black dresses, pearl earrings. Their eyes were set on me with frozen smiles on their lips.

“Brie!” Leah got up and came to my side. She gave me her usual bone cracking hug. “Family, this is my college roommate and future sorority sister, Brie Merritt.”

I beamed a gigantic smile and a stiff wave. My hand crashed down to my side and I didn’t know where to put it. So I folded my hands behind my back. I leaned on one leg, hoping to look stylish, but casual.  I told Dad to sign me up for finishing school instead of equestrian club. I joshed to myself. I had to bite my lip to prevent a laugh.

Leah led me to the chair next to her spot.

“So sorry I’m late,” I said sliding into the red velvety cushion on the chair. I sunk in an inch.

“Girl please,” Leah left out a puff of air. “We all know you are jet lagged! It’s fine.”

“Thank goodness,” I said, knowing to put my cloth napkin on my lap. That is where my fine dining education ended. I leaned into Leah’s ear. “I don’t know how to act, like, with etiquette or whatever. I’ll just watch you.”

“Brie, we are the McClouds,” Leah whispered back, “not the Kennedy’s. Don’t worry.”

Leah gave me a playful shove and I sailed into the shoulder of the gentleman next to me.

“Oh, God,” I said, my ears burning hot.

“Hello, I’m Dillon.”

Dillon reached for my hand. I shook his hand, and after, wondered if I shook it too stiffly for a family dinner setting.

“You’re Dillion?” flew out of my mouth.

Dillon raised a brow.

“Sorry, it’s just, I remember Leah saying that she had a cousin at BU named Dillon.”

“Ah,” Dillon said nodding, “you were envisioning something else.”

I stared into two baby blue eyes. “Yes, I was. Although, you do look familiar.” Maybe I seen him before on campus?

            “He gets the dark hair from my aunt Lindy,” Leah said nodding at a lady with milky white skin and onyx waves. “Our fathers are brothers.”

My eyes darted from Leah to Dillon. They didn’t look remotely related. Leah was tall and round with thin light brown hair and honey brown doe-eyes. Dillon was almost opposite.

“So you are rushing Theta?” Dillon said crinkling his forehead.

“Yes. So?”

“Oh, nothing,” Dillon said revealing a dimple in his left cheek.

“It’s a really nice house.” I said. The salad was being passed around family style. Leah scooped the romaine lettuce and plopped it on my china plate for me. She passed the bowl to Dillon.

“Would you like a drink, Brie?” Dillon asked.

“Um, okay.”

Dillon asked for the merlot and poured me a glass. I sunk down in my seat a little.  

After the best meal I’ve ever had, the group of dinners moved to the living room. I met Leah’s mother and father who looked like Barbie and Ken at 45. It felt a little naughty of me that I knew about the demons that lurk below the surface. Luckily I didn’t have to talk with them for long. Leah and I sat down next to the 20 foot Christmas tree.

“That tree is out of this world,” I said, admiring the red velvet ribbons, strands of white beads, and twinkling lights.

“We others in the house,” Leah said taking a sip of her wine. “This is the best one.

I noticed the presents in silver shining paper with flouncy red bows beneath. A vivid memory flickered. That terrible night, I tiptoed to the front window. I was right next to my tree. It leaned a little, and anyone could see the pole. That didn’t matter to me, it was perfect.  Right next to my foot was a little present. I almost stepped on it when I decieded that I should go see Santa’s sleigh. I was relieved that I didn’t step on it. It was all I could get with my piggy bank money.

But I knew he would love it.

I glanced at the entryway. I could have gone back upstairs and visited that gift. It was in my suitcase in a shoebox of things I can’t part with. Part of me wanted to visit it and give it a good shake.

“I got you one,” Leah said.

“What?” I almost jumped when Leah pulled me out of my mind, back to her living room.

“I saw you looking at the gifts,” Leah said with a impish grin. “I got you one. I think my parents did too.”

“No,” I said shaking my head. “You’ve done enough. Absolutely not.”

“Just take it,” Leah urged with sparkling eyes. “I like giving gifts.”

“I just can’t,” I said with a weak voice. I knew Leah wouldn’t like that.

Leah threw up her arms. “Why the hell not? It’s paper. You open it. You smile and pretend to like what is inside. It’s not hard!”

“I don’t know what happened to my gifts under the tree the night my mom died. Presents just represent death, now. God, I’m such a bummer, aren’t I? So sorry, Leah. I think I’ll go back upstairs now, thanks for–”

“Don’t you think it’s time to open a gift again, Brie?” Leah rested her hand on my knee. “I don’t know what happened that night. Maybe one day you will finally tell me. But wouldn’t your mom want you to enjoy the fun of gifts at Christmas?”

“Thank you for the gift, Leah, you are so sweet.” I said, my soul twisting inside. “But I can’t. If it’s okay with you, I would love to donate it to a woman’s shelter.”

Leah pouted. “Fine. Excuse me,” Leash said as she got up and stormed towards the dining area.

Brie, you hard headed, ungrateful little shit-stain! I scolded myself.

I decided that the night was over. My head was pounding, my stomach was too full for my liking, and the wine made my mouth feel dry. Plus, my eyes burned for more sleep. I hadn’t slept much for 48 hours and I yearned to sleep in my borrowed, rich person, angel sheets.

When I reached the stairs I heard someone calling for me. I turned around.

“Brie, wait up,” Dillon said doing a light jog. “Where are you headed so early?”

“Do you see these dark circles?” I pointed to my eye. “This is not normal. Unless you are uncle Fester.”

“All I see are two, captivating, blue eyes,” Dillon said, looking even more familiar.

“Thank you Dillon,” I said, feeling my heart skip a beat. “I am seriously wiped. See you soon?”

“Where’s your phone?” Dillon asked taking a step closer to me.

“Upstairs.”

“Hmm, okay. Old school then,” Dillion said as he reached for the inside pocket of his sports jacket. He pulled out a silver pen. He grabbed my arm and flipped it, exposing my wrist. I ripped my arm away, afraid he might see my scar.

“What are you doing?” I asked, feeling my cheeks drain of color.

Dillon chuckled and yanked my hand towards him. He flipped over my hand. I closed my eyes. I just knew he would see and ask. I just knew it.

“Here’s my number, little miss jumping bean,” Dillon said when he was done scribbling on my palm. “Let’s hook up for New Years. Have you ever been out in LA for New Years Eve?”

I shook my head.

Dillon laughed and gave me a wink. “Then you haven’t lived yet. Let me take you out, Brie.”

“Um, okay, with Leah, right?”

Dillon rolled his eyes. “Leah and I don’t roll with the same crew. She probably won’t want to come. Say you will come.”

I stared into his eyes. Being pushy must be a genetic trait.

            “I’ll let you know.”

Dillion laced his fingers into mine and gave the top of my hand a small, wet, peck. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

“Goodnight, hun.”

Dillon spun on his dress shoe and made way for the living room. My stomach felt like a soup comprised of contradicting ingredients.

I hated being called ‘hun’. Plus, he might have been mocking Theta. There is, also, the issue that his hair would stay still in a tornado. No man should use an entire jar of jell for one dinner at his aunt and uncles.

Nevertheless, my hand was still tingling from where his lips touched. I felt like giggling just thinking about that dimple. And, I could see the outline of carved pectorals and abs.

I grunted and went upstairs to my room. I closed the door and locked it behind me. I fell backwards on the bed, It was so nice not to worry about a stray spring ripping through the mattress and stabbing me in the kidney.

My phone buzzed.

Those 10 messages.

I knew I shouldn’t look, my mood was already way off. I sighed. I couldn’t take it any longer.

Nash: Merritt, I’m looking for U. Where did U go?

Nash: Did you go home? 😦 Y no bye?

Nash: I hope you are feeling okay. Trina texted and said you were puking and spending the night with her. I’m glad you are safe. Text me. Good night.

Nash: How is your hang over? Do you need anything?

Nash: Are you okay? Trina won’t answer her phone either. SMH

Nash: By the way, Jessica said that you are the most amazing girl she’s ever met. No one can take your place. I hope you know that.

Nash: Y no answer? 😦 U  Mad?

Nash: I can’t believe you left for LA! No goodbye?

Nash: OK, something is wrong. So, at Stella’s, I’ve been thinking and thinking. Before you went and barfed, you saw me kiss Jessica. Was it me and Jessica? I thought you liked her. What’s going on.

Nash: Fuck you, Merritt! Where are you? This is my last text.

 

I whipped my phone across the room without caring if it broke. I stuffed my head in my down pillow and demanded that my mind relax. I was working on my mediation and breathing, when my eyes poped open.

“Zack Efron!” I said to my vacant suite. “Dillon looks just like Zack Efron…that’s where I know him from.”

I felt butterflies flutter about my stomach. Aristocrat, Zack Efron’s doppelganger, roommates cousin wants to take me out on a date. I thought.

I stuffed my face in my pillow and allowed myself a much needed scream.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11-Runaway Girl

heels

Chapter 11

Runaway Girl

I allowed Jess to link arms with me on our way to the bathroom. Nash had told her so much about me; it was like she already knew me. I didn’t know her, but what’s not to like about a friendly, humble, beautiful, model?

After the bathroom, we went to the theatre table. There was a roar when the club saw me. All at once, the questions about majoring in Theatre rained down. I was happy to answer them; there is never a moment when I don’t want to talk about acting. Their captive ears and shining eyes made me feel like a celebrity. I thought I was a shadow in school, but I had left a footprint. I could literally feel my skin glowing with happiness.

Trina was surprised to see Jessica Fabian attached to my hip. Through nonverbal communication, I told Trina that Jess is okay and Trina told me to watch out. Then, it dawned on me. Trina and Nash are the only people who I can speak to without saying words. Was I really considering never returning to Kansas?

Trina bought me a beer. Jess bought me wine. Billy came inside and apologized for being rude by buying me a rum and coke. Nash bought me some nachos with extra cheese. Everyone was my best friend and every damn thing was funny. I was spinning.

For the first time in a long time, I forgot about calories. The last thing on my mind was my dead mother or my drunken dad. The more I drank, the happier I felt, so the poisonous liquid kept on flowing down my throat. At some point, Nash pulled me aside and asked me to slow down. I told him that my tolerance went up because of the jungle juice at frat parties. It was true. So he let me dance with Jess until we had to hold each other up.

“I am getting us more drinks!” Jess screamed over the music.

I swerved over back to our table, bumping my hip on a table. I winced in pain. I frowned when I remember that was the hip that I carved into a heart shape, like my necklace, a month prior. I shook my head. I was having a good time, no depressing thoughts. In a minute later, Jess returned with two whiskey stone sours. I felt my mood deflating like a helium balloon.

I hated whiskey. Looking at it, smelling it, tasting it. It was what my dad smelled like on school day mornings when I sat and ate stale cereal next to his passed out body on the couch. He was usually in boxers, a grubby tshirt, and had the crumbs of his late night bar food in the corners of his mouth in a mashed, spitty, blob. He smelled like stinking sweat and whiskey. At some point, I stopped eating breakfast.

Dr. Jones said my physical response to my neglect as child was my negative association with food. In fact, he traced a lot of my problems back to the way Dad raised me. He even suggested I moved in with my grandparents.

I couldn’t abandon my dad.

I wasn’t my mother.

But… Jess didn’t know all of that. She didn’t even notice that I didn’t take a sip, she just swayed to the music. Her hair billowed around her pore-less naturally tanned skin. I should hate her. But she would be away at college in just a few months. Away from my Nash. No way would they last. Nash dating Jess for a few months. I couldn’t blame him, she was sort of incredible.

“Bathroom break! Coming?” Jess asked.

I shook my head.

“Okay, watch my drink, please!” Jess set her glass on the sticky table next to countless empty bottles and glasses of melting ice.  “Be right back.”

I sat there for a few moments, alone. Everyone else had given into the dance floor. Even Trina, who usually was too stylish to dance in a bar. I groaned when three songs passed by and Jess wasn’t back. I had to pee. I bobbed up and down and waited and waited. I couldn’t leave Jess’s drink unattended, that was nightlife safety rule number one. I decided just to take both drinks with me to the bathroom with me. This couldn’t wait.

It was difficult to manage two glasses, but I couldn’t waste it. I knew I shouldn’t, but I sucked a bit of fruity bitterness up the thin straw. I prepared to be disgusted. It wasn’t too bad, not like I thought it would be. Dr. Jones would be so proud of my self-initiated exposure therapy. Still, there was something wrong about consuming whiskey, even whiskey in a clever fruit disguise.

I stopped in the bathroom and after I was done, I realized that Jess wasn’t there. I worked on my drink a little bit so I could combine the two, and just give Jess a full one.

I couldn’t find Jess on the dance floor, so I figured she was in the pool area. I finished enough to combine the two drinks, and abandoned the glass on an empty table. I started towards the hallway that leads to the back. My mind flashed to Nash guiding me back there. I giggled. I wondered what he would think if he knew what his touch did to me.

In the middle of the hall, I saw two silhouettes. It looked like they were leaned against a wall.  I squinted and walked closer. I stopped. The drink slipped from my hand and shattered into a million pieces. Whiskey stone sour splattered on the jeans Nash picked out. I felt droplets on my ankles.

Nash noticed me. His eyes locked on me while his lips were still on hers. His hands were nestled in her shiny, ebony hair.

Jess turned, looked over her shoulder, and her lips curved. I back pedaled, crunching over broken glass and ice. My back slammed into the opposite wall. I looked at Nash and our eyes locked. He frowned; pink lip gloss smeared on his lush lips.

Maybe it was the heart ache mixed with the smell of whiskey. Perhaps it was the frigid, wet on my ankles paired with the shock. I’m not sure. I never truly know what sets me off. I was eight years old again, in a pink flannel nightgown, with my Barbie tucked under my arm. I thought I heard a noise, so I crept to the living room. I tip-toed next to the Christmas tree and wiped the fog off of the window.

The moon was a glowing orb, and its silver beams reflected off of freshly fallen snow. The snow was like glittering crushed diamonds. It was brilliant. I strained to see. It looked like something was outside in the front lawn. My heart fluttered. Santa’s sleigh! I imagined what the kids in my class would think. Without a thought, I walked out into my front yard in my slippers. No boots or a coat, I didn’t have time. I could see my breath form into clouds as I walked towards the dark shadow. It looked like a sleigh in the curious trickery of moonlight. I slushed through the snow; my ankles began to burn from cold. As I got closer, my heart raced. The shadow was transforming to a monster. Then I saw it. Then I knew.

I needed to run back inside my house!

I raced to my house and knocked into a few random bar-goers who gave me angry looks. No time for apologies. I saw Dr. Jones’s face appear like a hot air balloon. Count Brie. 1, 2, 3, I ran to the table and crawled under. 4, 5, 6, I wrapped my arms around my legs and rocked. I was outside and the snow was falling, soaking my pink flannel nightgown. The bar’s music sounded like me screaming. I covered my ears. The flashing lights. 7, 8, 9, 10. They looked like police car lights.

My consciousness observed from a faraway place. Not real. Not real. Not real.

“Brie!” Trina’s head appeared under the table. “Oh Lord, sweet, Brie.”

I screamed as I snapped back. Reality took a hammer pounded me on the head. I was back in the bar, again. I looked around. My thoughts immediately went to Nash. I needed to cover this up. Fast.

“I-I’m ssorry, Tr-tr-trina.” I said, so traumatized that I shook like I was electrocuted. “He-he can’t. He won’t under-sstand.”

Trina nodded without any questions. “Stay there.”

Some time passed and I watched my chest rise and fall. Rise and fall. I breathing again.

I saw Trina again; she reached under the table and slid her hand into mine. She pulled me out and tucked me under her arm, as if she were coddling a bird with a broken wing.

“Hurry, he’s looking for you.”

I commanded my heavy ankles to jog to the door under Trina’s arm.

When we got outside, Trina didn’t slow down until we got by her car. She opened my door, sat me down, and clicked my seatbelt across my chest. She ran to the other side, switched on the car and peeled out of the parking lot, like we just robbed a bank.

Her car fish tailed on the ice, but Trina wasn’t the least bit phased.

“Stay with me tonight, sweetie. Impromptu slumber party.”

“F-flashback,” I replied. I was still shaking.

“Just focus on your breaths. It’s all over now. You are in my car. You are safe.”

“Y-y-ou sssaved me again. Th-thank you.”

Trina nodded. “Nash asked me about you and I said I thought that you were in the bathroom throwing up.”

“Did h-hee buy it?”

Trina shrugged. “Sweetie, he’s only a man. Men don’t catch on all that quick, they are an inferior species. That’s why they need us girls.”

We were almost at Trina’s when my violent shaking melted into trembles. She pulled into her driveway and put the car in park. She turned and faced me.

“I saw Nash kissing Jess. I knew he was dating her. Dating people kiss. I don’t know why that would trigger me into flashback.”

“Well, I know why,” Trina said shooting me a smug look. “Told you I didn’t like that little bitch.”

“I started liking him, again, over fall break.” I felt I owed Trina at least an explanation. The words tasted like bile in my mouth.

“Oh sweetie,” Trina wrapped her hands over mine. “You never stopped.”

“He picked Tabitha.”

“You never gave him a choice!”

“I was that scraggly, weirdo little girl who wore sunglasses day and night for six months. There was no coming back from that.”

“What?” Trina said, pulling her hands back and placing them on her hips. “You looked just like Dakota Fanning, you were an adorable little thing.”

“Did I ever tell you how I met Nash?”

“Probably…I don’t really remember though. Sorry boo.”

“I was on the bus to my new school. I sat all the way in the front and I could hear the kids whisper about me and my sunglasses. They said that I was blind. A freak.”

“Ooo, if I was on that bus, I would have smacked those lil fuckers upside their heads!”

A hint of a smile graced my lips. “I know, Trina. So I looked back and they were all staring at me. I remember one kid stuck out his tongue and asked what planet I was from.”

“Planet Phenomenal.”

My smile grew. “Right? So, that’s when I met Nash. He walked past all of those kids and plopped right next to me. He didn’t say one word.”

“Didn’t need to. Nash was the Lord of the Rings even back then. I remember.”

“After that, the kids just ignored me…no more taunting. I started to like being invisible. When I wanted to be someone again, I would choose someone else. I told Nash I wanted to be a movie star, like my mom. So for my birthday, he got my first Shakespeare. Eight years old and he knew to get a girl Shakespeare. Can you believe that he thinks he’s dumb?”

“He’s not dumb in general…he’s just a man, he can’t help it. He doesn’t even know you love him.”

“I never gave him a reason to think that I love him. Even while I’m drunk, I would never reveal something like that. I’m always in control.”

“Except for flashbacks, sweetie.”

“Except for flashbacks. God, Trina, I haven’t had one in years. I feel stupid and so much…shame. How can I think I’m back there on that night? It’s not a memory. I’m there.”

“Stop it, Brie. You can’t help it.”

“I’m no better than when my dad and I moved to Rivertown after I saw…you know…”

“You aren’t that girl anymore. You are a beautiful survivor.”

“But I am that little girl. She’s right here.” I put my hand on my chest. My palm felt the cold metal of my silver necklace. “She’ll never go away as long as I’m here. Somewhere in the Rivertown dump, my twin mattress is probably still there, saturated with my blood.”

“You are upset right now. Don’t let your mind go there.”

“Why not? I had a flashback, grabbed that razor, sliced open my wrist… if you didn’t find me…”

Trina grabbed my cheeks and pulled me inches from her face. Her eyes were shining with tears. Her nostrils flared. “Brie. You go. You run away and never come back here. Run!”

The next day, she drove me to the airport.

I ran.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9-Head Doctor

therapy

Chapter 9

Head Doctor

I loved how Dr. Jones required sweatpants and slippers during sessions. In his educated opinion, patients deserve to be comfortable while working through uncomfortable things. I was back in his office in Rivertown. Familiar yellowed wallpaper and partially wilted plants. A grape juice stain on the olive colored carpet. I still remember spilling that cup when I was nine. I didn’t need sweats to be comfortable. But I wore them anyway.

The only sound was me crunching on the salted pretzels Mrs. Jones packed Dr. Jones in his brown paper bag. I thought he liked me best.

Dr. Jones crossed his legs and scribbled his notepad. I never saw another man cross his legs like that; it always made me giggle inside. He peered at me through his large tortoise shell glasses. I didn’t feel like making eye contact today, so I stared at his feet. Dr. Jones didn’t mind. It was the end of December, and he was wearing socks and sandals again. I stiffed a laugh.

“How did you feel after texting honestly with Mr. Nash?”

I kicked my legs up on his chase lounge and sighed. I didn’t like reliving that night. That was the night that sent me into a tailspin. It didn’t help that winter was approaching, and Christmas was in a week. The most depressing time of year.

“I felt bad. Guilty. Embarrassed.”

“Mm,” Dr. Jones said scribbling on his pad. “Did any part of you feel relieved that you told him about self harm and how you expressed that you idolized him?”

“No,” I shook my head. “I wanted to take it back.”

“You should feel proud for being truthful. Maybe you said it the wrong way, but this was a break through day for you. Did you resent revealing the EDNOS to Miss Leah?”

I looked up at the ceiling. There was a brownish yellowed spot in the corner that looked like water damage. I focused on the spot. It sort of looked like a painting of a face with jagged teeth and beady eyes.

“No. I was nervous at first but we ended up bonding over it. She has her disorder, I have mine. We have been supporting each other ever since. She lost ten pounds in three weeks and I gained ten pounds. We joke and say she gave it me.”

Dr. Jones curled his thin lips into a smile. “I’m happy to hear it, you need support in school. And regular therapy sessions. This is a delicate part of your life, moving away, being in the gray space between girlhood and womanhood, and leaving all you’ve ever known. It’s a challenging time, especially for someone with your history. You need a support system.”

“I like Leah and the Theta girls. I don’t trust all of the sisters, though.”

“Everyone needs to earn your trust, Brie. That is a healthy defense mechanism. Yet, you can’t let everyone in right away. But you shouldn’t completely hide yourself, either.”

I laughed. “That was my main objective when I went to Baylor. I guess I can’t do anything right.”

“We’ve been over this,” Dr. Jones said, switching to him smooth but firm tone. “You can’t hide from the past. Or erase it.”

“I can’t tell him.”

“You wrote that essay for the Baylor U scholarship, and look how something dark and horrible turned into a beautiful opportunity.”

“I couldn’t have done that essay without you,” I admitted.

“The more you accept memories and feelings, the less power they will have over you.”

I rubbed my temples and shifted my eye’s to meet Dr. Jones’s. Those two dark brown eyes watched me grow up. Why couldn’t I just trust him and do what he said?

“Also, texting is not the best form of communication,” Dr. Jones said, setting his notepad aside. He made a tent with his fingers and switched his crossed legs.

“I’ve noticed.”

“What was the outcome?”

I released a big breath. “Nash texted me the very next day and said he was sorry. I didn’t know, but he had retaken the SATs and he didn’t get the score he needed. He also had just gotten in an argument with his dad about the whole thing.”

“My, that is a bad day. Did you accept his apology?”

“Of course.”

“Mmm, yes. But you are still resentful.”

 Watch it. I growled internally.

“He hurt me.”

“Allow me to play devil’s advocate. He’s only human, entitled to occasionally say things he doesn’t mean…Correct?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t make it less painful.”

“His words spoken after a hellish day? Or hearing of his new love interest? Be honest with yourself.”

I sat up a bit straighter and felt a stabbing pain in my heart. Dr. Jones crinkled his forehead. He already knows, so why is he asking? I wondered. Sometimes I wondered if he was a therapist or a mind reader.

“He’s not supposed to be with her,” I said under my breath.

Dr. Jones cupped his hand behind his ear. “What’s that?”

“I love him!” I said, so loud, that I startled myself.

“Why are you hollering this to me and not him?” Dr. Jones didn’t blink.

“I won’t. Not ever. It would change everything when he tells me that there would never be anything romantic between us.” I folded my arms.

Dr. Jones shook his head ever so slightly.

“I used to have everything under control. It wasn’t this bad until Tabitha left!”

“Relationships only exist in a common world built by two people. Only two, Miss Merritt.”

Later that day, I locked myself in my room and turned off my ringer. I didn’t want to be social. Ever since I returned to Kansas for Winter break, I wanted to go back to school. Trina and Nash kept calling me and asking me to go out and I claimed cramps.

Pretty little lies.

I laid flat on my back and stared at the ceiling. The silence was so loud. Dad was out at Louie’s bar so I had no vehicle, even if I wanted to go out. Not that I would want to drive, it had been snowing for hours. I hated snow. Each flake was a sparkling crystal of death.

My brain screamed at me to watch television or play with my phone. Just to do something. Anything to drown out the screaming that was trapped inside a silent house. Dr. Jones’s words were on a broken record from hell in my mind. I needed to move, but I was frozen.

I heard a faint knock at my door. I wondered if my dad came home from the bar early to actually spend time with me.

Nash squeaked my door open. I could already smell his cologne.

“Hey stranger, Nash said waltzing in and collapsing down on my chair next to my tall antique bookcase. It was my mom’s.

“You are getting snow all over my carpet.” I glared at his slushy boots.

“Astute observation.” Million dollar smile.

“What do you want, Nash?” I pulled covers to my chin. “I’m kind of busy being a hermit, as you can see.”

“Get your ass out bed, dweeb. Everyone is home and asking about you.” Nash got up and ripped open my closet doors. He ruffled through clothes. “I never saw this?”

I looked at hardwood flooring. “Hand me downs. Theta discovered that I’m as poor as a homeless mutt in an alleyway.”

Nash chuckled. “Nice visual.”

Nash pulled out a faded pair of form fitting blue jeans and a white peasant top. He muttered to himself while making his selections. He sounded as clueless as a guy should, while navigating through a woman’s wardrobe. I sucked my lips in; dying to laugh. He picked a royal blue sweater to wear over the blouse and brown leather cowboy boots, worn out by someone else.

“Here you go.” Nash threw the clothes on the foot of my bed. “No excuse.”

“My bed is so warm and it’s cold out!”

“I’m glad you grasp the basic concepts of temperature. But come on. This is you…shit part of your year. I’ll drive you again, but, Merritt, I swear if I have to stay with you until morning again…”

“Morning?” My voice cracked.

“Yes, remember fall break? You got drunk so I carried you upstairs. After I had to help you change, um, your clothes. Then you asked me to stay with you until morning. So I did.”

I felt my face skip red and go right to purple. Nash raised his eyebrows. “Oh come on, I’m just giving you shit. I didn’t mind doing it, that’s what friends are for, right?”

“That’s above and beyond the call of duty,” I mustered.

Nash looked confused. “What? Not to me. Come on, Merritt. Everyone is there. Billy, Rex, Zack…that new girl, Jessica.”

I sprang up. “Fine. You win.”

I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to meet miss UK model, Jessica Fabian. My arch nemesis.

I Begin Again

The helium balloons are now a few inches from the floor. The confetti under my feet is dirty. It’s time to sweep it up. It’s time to crack my knuckles and open a new word document. “Cadence” is not over. What … Continue reading