Chapter 15-The Wrong Shoes

glass_slippers

 

“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chapter 11-Runaway Girl

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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 10-Frienemy

7c70ddc13c7ab9f2f890f4855db66327

Chapter 10

Frienemy

We walked through the doors of Stella’s Bar and Grille and I was hit in the face with the smell of cigarettes. It was so loud, my ears rang.

Nash leaned in, his nose brushed my lobe. He put his hand on the small of my back and said, “Billy texted me, they are in the back.” Goose bumps sprouted on my skin, even though the air was stale and stuffy. It made me want to walk back to California right then and there.

Nash led me through the sea of bodies. Most everyone said hi to Nash some former classmates shrieked and threw their arms around my neck. I plastered the fakest smile. Nash looked at me and laughed. He looked at my face and just knew.

Nash’s hand was glued on my back as we entered the hall in the rear. The hallway was lit by a few orangish lamps with green shades on the wall. Half of them needed a new bulb. Even though I needed to squint to see, I was thankful the darkness. It was an unspoken agreement that no townie wanted to know just how dusty, crusty, and cob webbed the dive really was in day light hours. I felt bad for the unknowing out of towners. Stella’s was our night spot in the winter when bonfires and camping trips were out of the question. Stella’s didn’t bother to look at IDs. I wished that they had a place like that in Coralvalley. I was told, bouncers could spot a fake with their eyes closed. I just stuck with frat parties.

Nash opened the door and there were several pool tables, low hanging lights, and gray clouds of cigarette smoke wafting through the air. I scanned the room, my mind focused on finding the infamous Jessica Fabian.

Billy almost knocked me over in the doorway. He threw his long, lanky arms around me and lifted me from the ground. His sand paper stubble scratched my cheek. I flicked off his backwards hat and he picked it up and whapped me with it.

“Hey Merritt. You look like the California is rubbing off on you.”

“And you look like your hair line is receding.”

“Oh you sassy little sally. How I miss your verbal abuse!”

“Where’s the new girl I’ve hear so much about?”

“Who Trina Lubble?”

Nash and Billy had a good laugh at that jab.

“You are such an ass,” I said kicking Billy’s shin. I shot Nash a look. “Thomas has always been Trina on the inside. Some people are born like that… and some are born ugly, like you, Billy.”

Billy laughed so loud that Rex came over and patted his back. “Are you okay, buddy?”

“Hi Reximus,” I said. I missed my little Rex.

“Hey there. How was your flight?”Rex asked, giving me a gentle embrace.

“Long. Flying sucks. It’s boring and expensive.” I crinkled my nose.

“Damn. How do you pay for it?” Rex smoothed down his shaggy red waves.

“BU gave me a stipend for travel expenses as a bonus to my full ride. I also get student housing and a meal plan.”

“I’m going to visit you, Brie. This Spring, I think,” Bill said, wiggling his brows. “Got any single friends?”

“Billy, are you serious? No way, you aren’t visiting. If you show up, I’ll pretend like I don’t know you.”

“Hey,” Nash added, “take me with you, Billy, I want to check out BU. If I ever get a high enough SAT score, I might apply. That’s where my dad went for undergrad.”

I felt my stomach swish at the thought of Nash on BU’s campus. Those two worlds just couldn’t collide. “Guys, hell no! This is a not a plan. You are not coming to visit me!”

“What the fuck, Merritt?” Billy said taking a step back. “Too good for us now?”

Wow, it really did sound like that. I thought as my eyes darted from Nash to Billy to Rex and back again. There is no way that they would understand.

“No,” I held up the palms of my hands, “that came out the wrong way. I think that, as a freshman who is trying to adjust and going greek, you should come next year. Maybe. This spring would be a bad time.”

“How did you even afford to go to some fancy school close to L.A., anyway,” Billy said, his eyes shooting daggers.

“I wrote an essay about my life.” You rude ass, I added in my head.

“That must have been one hell of an essay.”

I smirked. “I had one hell of a life.”

Nash cleared his throat and threw his arm around my shoulder. “We’re all proud of you.”

“Seriously, Brie,” Rex said, beaming.

“Aw, shucks,” I said sarcastically bashful.

“What are you even majoring in, Merritt?” Billy asked, eyes locked on mine.

“What do you think?” I said throwing up my arms. “Theatre!”

“Oh,” Billy said with a smug smile, “you mean waitressing.”

I shrugged. “Touché.” I’d rather be a starving artist than a balding twenty year old. I thought to myself. Clearly you’ve had one two many and it’s only 9pm. Classy.

“Shut up, ass wipe,” Nash said shoving Billy’s shoulder.

I saw a vein pop out in Billy’s forehead. My heart raced, anticipating a scuffle. This wasn’t the first time joking around escalated to an argument between Billy and me. He was just like a brother. Nash and Billy have actually thrown punches about it.

“Come on, Merritt. I want to introduce you to Jess. She said she’s excited to meet you.”

“I’m sure she is,” I huffed.

“Be nice,” Nash said with a sideways smile.

Nash drug me to the pool table in the back corner and I noticed a slender girl sitting in the shadows.

“Hey, Jess. This is Brie Merritt.”

The girl jumped up and scampered to Nash’s side. Then, they were both staring at me with toothy white smiles. Like, I was some sweet little girl selling Girl Scout cookies.

“Oh, nice to finally meet you, Brie! I’ve heard so many things about you.” Jessica said, in her smart, sexy sounding English accent. She reached for a handshake, and her arm flowed down like a swan’s neck.

What kinds of things does this graceful bitch know about me? I wondered, fuming through my smile. I gave Jessica a stiff, eye contact hand shake. I had to gaze up, she was so tall. Her eyes were two perfectly symmetrical almonds.

“Are you asian?” I blurted. Shit. Was that rude?

Jessica covered her pink glossed lips as she giggled. “That’s awesome! Most people assume I’m latina. I’ve even gotten Italian. In fact, my one friend thought I was Italian her whole life, so I gave up and said that she could believe it. I’m half Swedish half Vietnamese. ”

Nash gave me a wink. “Do you ladies want a drink?”

“Oh sure. Can you see if they have wine? If so, I’ll have something a little dry and red. Not too dry.”

What a pretentious little twat, I thought. I rolled my eyes when she was looking at Nash. “A beer. Just a beer. Whatever is on special.”

Jessica snickered and grabbed my upper arm. “I really need to develop a taste for beer. My immaturity is showing…beer is so College. Come sit! It’s not too smoky over here.”

I sat down on the red plush chair that had stuffing peeking out of a rip. My muscles were all tense. Maybe if I clicked my cowgirl boots together three times and said ‘there is no place like home’ I’d wake up in my dorm watching MTV with Leah.

I unlocked my phone. I knew Jessica was going to grill me about Nash like dozens of girls have done in the past. Now I was without a handy ‘Tabitha card’. How was I going to avoid gushing over my best friend with his new, exotic, extremely hot girlfriend?

Me: I’m by the pool tables in Stella’s. R U here?

I saw Trina typing and stopping. Typing and stopping. Finally.

Trina: I actually am here, but you can stay and play pool. You haven’t called or texted once since you’ve been back. I guess you had better things to do.

Me: What? No. I’ve been in my room…. the anniversary of my mom’s death is soon. Snow always reminds me. Does Christmas have to come every year? L

Trina: I know that and I’m sorry. But just text me and I would understand!

Me: Sorry. I’ve been a shit friend lately.

Pause

Trina: At least you know that you are a shit J Just come over by the jukebox, the Thespian Society is here. They will flip out to see the legendary Brie. Did you come here with Nashy-poo?

Me: Dad’s at Louie’s with the car. So yes.

Trina: 😉 😉 😉

Me: Shutup!!! Lol He’s such a dork. I think I lost half of my brain cells inhaling all that cologne he put on. All to see his little twit who I’m sitting next to and ignoring as I type.

Trina: Maybe he put it on b-c he knew he was going to see YOU!

Me: I’ll be over in a bit.

I felt guilt snap my chest like a rubber band. In truth, I might not have texted Trina if I didn’t need an escape plan. I meant it when I said I was a shit. I was using her.

I went back and forth on whether or not I wanted to break free from everything Kansas. My dad. Dr. Jones. Even Nash. Probably not Trina. She saved my life once. I kind of owe her the say on when the friendship dissolves.

I just wanted to avoid Rivertown until I decided if I had the courage to change my phone number and find somewhere else to stay on breaks.

Avoiding Rivertown was impossible sitting in Stella’s. Next to Jessica. In a living nightmare.

“I like your phone case,” Jessica commented, crossing her legs. It was a little cold to be wearing a black skirt, but evidentially, not cold enough to bother Miss Fabian.

“Thanks,” I mumbled.

“Are you going to get one with your sorority letters?” Jessica leaned in with shining eyes. “Nash told me how you were rushing.”

I felt my muscles relax a little. “Perhaps. Or just throw a sticker on the case I have.”

Jessica’s eyes widened. “I would have never thought of that.”

“Things you learn growing up poor.”

Jessica nodded her head. No looks of pity. “I admire that.”

I shifted in my seat and wondered where Nash was with the drinks. He probably got caught in a conversation.

“Can you tell me about rush?”

“Um, okay.” I couldn’t hide my surprise that she wanted to talk about something other than Nash. Maybe she was warming me up. “It’s differs a lot from school to school.”

“Oh really?” Jessica looked up with a thoughtful expression.

“Ya. I think one of the universal things is that you pick your favorite sororities and they bid on the pledges.”

“That sound nerve wracking.”

“Going Greek?” My heart fluttered. Going Greek meant Jessica was going away for College. Away from my Nash.

“I will if I get a bid. Who knows if I’ll fit in? This foreign girl with a confusing racial background.”

I giggled. “Everyone fits somewhere. Well, except for this girl on my floor…”

“See? There is a chance I won’t get in. But I can see why they picked you. Everyone still talks about how you were the best actress to ever step on Rivertown’s stage. So cool. I actually just joined the Thespian Society here. I was too nervous when I first arrived, but I just sucked it and went for it.”

I felt a flood of warmth and fuzzies. What is happening to me? I asked myself. I’m not supposed to like her. Stop liking her!

“I think they are all inside. You should hang out with them and screw these hillbillies and their pool tables.”

“Oh, the theatre gang invited me out, actually. They probably just want to observe my accent for their own theatrical development.” Jessica snickered and flipped her thick ebony hair over her shoulder. “Honestly, I only came tonight because I wanted to meet you. Oh man. I just sounded like a weirdo.”

I wondered how someone like her could be so humble. Was this an act? Was I being fooled?

“Thanks, Jess.” I grinned. “So were you in a Thespian Society in your old school?”

“Oh yes.”

“Was it different? Or kind of the same thing?” Why do I care? I wondered.

“Well, the same in some ways. For instance, kind of cliquish. And rightfully so…I just hope they can make an exception for me.”

“Understandable.”

“It’s hard to be the new girl. I still can’t believe my parents did this to me during my senior year. That should be punishable by law.”

 “I’m sure they all like you. You seem so nice. Down to earth.” What is happening…

“Well, Trina Lubble doesn’t care for me, and she is top dog,” Jess said looking at her knees.

I waved my hand. “Don’t pay her any mind. I can tell her I met you and thought that you were nice.” I would?! My internal thoughts questioned.

Jessica stared deeply into my eyes. “Oh my gosh, thank you.”

I hardly noticed that Nash was back with our drinks. He set them down on the circular table that was up against the wall, in between Jessica and me. I took a little sip. Warm and flat.

The rest of the night was like dumping a bunch of paints in a bucket and swirling them around with a stick. Then, opening a silvered scar and pouring fresh blood in the bucket colors.

It becomes the shade of shit brown.

 

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