Authors: Shelly Crane
As I reached the sidewalk and stopped for traffic, I felt someone behind me. I could tell it was Eli. I wasn’t sure how I always knew but I did, without a doubt.
“You were right about Tate,” I said without turning and tried to ease the strain from my words. “He had no intentions of not hurting me anymore. Tate and Dee have been making a fool out of me. I got what I deserved, I hope you’re happy.”
I started to cross the four lane but he pulled me to a stop with a hand on my arm.
“Now why would I be happy about that?”
I refused to look at him. I stared down at the black Chuck Taylors he was wearing.
“Because I’m a horrible person. I’m a brat, a tease, a sheep. I’m a bad person who lets bad things happen. You said so yourself.” I tried to cross the street again but he stopped me once more with a grasp to my fingers. I huffed and turned to look at him, my voice raising to a yell. “What! What do you want? I can’t handle anymore lectures tonight, ok, I can’t handle anymore disappointment. Just leave me alone,” I finished softly and tried one last time to leave his grasp but this time when he pulled me back, he pulled me to him.
I felt the warmth of his chest and it felt so much like I belonged there; like it was home. He lifted my chin with his finger, his forearm around my back, and looked at me intensely.
“You are not a bad person and you don’t deserve this.”
“Yes, I do!” I sniffed and felt more tears glide down to my jaw.
He wiped one away with his thumb.
“You’re better than them, Clara. You don’t have to follow them just because that’s what you’ve always done. Sometimes, you have to make up your own mind about what’s right.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I don’t even...belong here anymore.”
“Because Tate cheated on you? He doesn’t define you, Clara.”
“It’s not just Tate. It’s everything. I’m only involved in Spirit Squad because my mom wanted me to be. My dad was ecstatic I was dating Tate; the wrestling star and the Mayor’s son. I felt obligated to my parents to continue to be who I was when they were alive. But I’m not happy,” I cried harder.
“You have to make your own happy. You can’t depend on other people for that.”
“Are you happy?” I asked looking up at him.
He looked at me closely, watching me watch him. Then he bent his head and kissed me, softly and gently at first. I was completely confused and enthralled by how much I’d wanted him to do that and I wound my arms around his middle as our lips met for the first time in agonizing weeks. Then I opened my mouth to his out of sheer requirement.
He had a tongue ring that I had no prior knowledge of and my blood heated to think about it as it clanked gently once against my teeth. His fingers on my chin moved to my cheek and then to my hair. It sent thrills through me and I shivered and pressed myself closer. He groaned, a strained sound, and pulled away.
We stood close, our foreheads touching and our hot breaths mingling and swirling making me feel intoxicated in the foggy dark parking lot. He pulled back to look at me and smiled a little bit. Then kissed me once more softly on the lips.
“I’ve wanted to do that ever since I saw you in the park that day.” He pulled my hand up to kiss my palm then looked both ways and pulled me across the street. “Go straight inside,” he told me as he pushed me towards my porch.
Then he walked away and took off down the street towards his house. I was in stunned awe. I walked in a daze up the stairs and wondered what had caused him to end our kiss so abruptly. I also wondered why I wasn’t more upset about Dee and Tate. I was, but I would think I’d be in hysterics; I should’ve been. But I wasn’t in agony. I was hurt but I was more angry at the betrayal. I had no idea what tomorrow was going to bring but, I knew there was no way I could just sit with them at lunch and pretend that what they did was all ok anymore. And even if Eli hadn’t just kissed me, Tate and I would still be so over.
Things were about to change.
Pastor and Mrs. Ruth were watching television and the children were already in bed so I crept up the stairs quietly so as not to disturb them and went straight to my dresser. I had some soul cleaning out to do.
The prom picture from last year - trashed it. The picture of the whole gang at a beach party this summer, all wearing our bathing suits and jumping into the air - gone. The photo booth pics Tate insisted we get together at the mall where he kissed me in a different spot in every one - done with them. The ribbons I saved from Cheer camp from Sarah and my pompoms – through with them. The movie stubs and Grad Nite ticket I saved from the past years – down it floated into the pile that was my life. Everything I thought was important was no longer.
I threw on my sleep clothes, a long Navy t-shirt of my sisters that she gave me when she left. Essentially, it was a guilt gift. I paused and brought Eli’s shirt that I’d just taken off to my nose. It still smelled just like him and I held back the need to groan about it. I slipped under the covers, his shirt in between my fingers, and was already dreading school tomorrow. But right then, I was ready to close my eyes. Ready to see if Eli would still be there in the dark of my eyelids, waiting for me.
~ ~ ~
I was in the school parking lot. I had on my long t-shirt and nothing else and I looked around, but I was alone. I leaned against a car that had been left in the lot and for a second wondered if I had sleep walked over here and this was real, not what happened when I closed my eyes. Then I felt him. I turned my head to see him making his way to me. I wondered if things would be different between us now. He’d never kissed me in the dream-walk things before.
He answered me almost immediately.
He pulled me to him and pressed his lips to mine hungrily. I pulled him too so he’d lean with me against the car and he came willingly as he continued to kiss all the good sense out of me. Once again he pulled away too soon, it seemed, once I got worked up.
“I’m glad you came,” I said breathlessly.
“I couldn’t not come,” he answered. Then he lifted me to sit on the hood of the car as he came to stand between my knees. “You’re laying with my shirt,” he said knowingly and smirked.
“How do you know that?” I asked seriously.
“I know lots of things,” he said cryptically.
“Please, Eli. I am so confused. Is this real? Are you really here or am I just wishful thinking every night? How is this even possible?”
“I don’t want to mess things up, Clara,” he whispered and ran a hand absently down my arm.
“You won’t. I just want to know.”
He looked around, blowing an exasperated breath.
“Walk with me?”
“Are you going to answer my question?”
“Will it matter as to whether you walk with me or not?”
I huffed but smiled at him.
“You’re impossible.” I let him help me down and he took my hand. I felt completely comfortable, even though I was only in a long t-shirt. “Where are we going?”
“I thought I’d show you the park at night. It’s pretty amazing.”
“You hang out at the park at night?”
“Sometimes. I’m supposed to be...there’s things I’m supposed to be doing but I...I can’t anymore. So after I visit you, I go there,” he confessed.
“Eli, please,” I pulled him to stop in the middle of the streetlamp lit road. “You have to tell me what’s going on. Are you in some kinda trouble or something?”
“Sweet, Clara,” he said softly and touched my cheek, rubbing caresses with his thumb. “Are you going to save me if I am?”
“I’ll do anything I can,” I said and looked him right in the eye.
“There’s nothing you can do I’m afraid. But I love it that you’d try anyway,” he said and kissed me again, lingering.
Then he towed me to the swings, setting me in one and pushing me in a slow easy rhythm. We stayed there for a long time just like that, just being with each other. Sometimes we talked about school or things we liked but, mostly we just enjoyed each other’s space and time. I realized he was not going to answer my questions but I didn’t want to push. We lay in the grass and looked at the bugs buzzing and humming around the streetlamps for hours it seemed. At the end of our time, he walked me home.
“If this is a dream or something, why does it matter where we end up? I’m still in my bed, aren’t I?”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t want you to think I wasn’t a gentleman. Besides, I’ve been dying to kiss you every time I drop you off on your doorstep.” I blushed and he smiled wider as he leaned in, pulling me up to meet his lips. It was easy and controlled. Then he leaned back and touched my bottom lip with his thumb. “By the way, what we’re doing is called a Reverie. It’s not a dream, because you’re still awake. That’s why I need to leave, so you can get some sleep. Goodnight. I’ll see you tomorrow, CB.”
I could only nod and touch my lips in wonder. Had it all been real? I felt a little insane but giddy too. It was official; I was crazy obsessed. I giggled as I made my way back to my room and saw myself laying there in the bed. That scene and the shock jolted me aware and I sat up in bed quickly, back in myself.
I lay back down and smiled as I wondered if it had been real at all. It was crazy to think so, but I wanted it to be so badly.
~ ~ ~
By the time I reached school the next morning, my heart was in a tizzy. I was scared; scared of what I was going to do with Tate and Dee and all the rest of them. I was a little early this morning so I sat in the courtyard under the oak with a bench around it, along with everyone else in their little groups but, I was alone.
A couple of smiley freshman came up and asked me about joining the spirit squad. I was debating quitting, though I didn’t tell them that, so I directed them to Sarah. They gave me funny looks when I pointed them her way. I knew it was because I wasn’t sitting with my friends. I just smiled extra brightly and waited for them to move on.
I was about to pull out my math book when I heard a commotion and looked to see Dee, Mike and Megan chanting ‘chili boy’ across the yard. Patrick was about ten feet from them and had just sat down with his friends. He shook his head and looked away from them angrily but they didn’t stop. Chili boy? That wasn’t even a good insult!
My mind made itself up right then and before I even realized what I was doing, I’d packed up my stuff and was making my way to Patrick.
Dee and Mike looked deviously gleeful as they slapped hands. Dee watched giddily me as she actually thought that even after her betrayal – something that was so hurtful and evil that I was confused as to how she was really even a human girl - I was coming to sit with them, but when I veered off her smile turned to disbelief.
I heard Mike mutter, “What is she doing?”
“Clara!” she called and waved for me to come. “I forgive you. Come sit with us,” she said snidely with a little evil smile.
“Yeah!” Mike yelled too even though he had no idea what was going on. “It’s all good, baby.”
I glared at them as I made my way to Patrick. When she realized what I was doing she turned bright red. No one crossed my group. They were like the Mob of high school.
“Patrick,” I said softly and saw him stiffen before he turned. He looked at me with a little frown and waited for me to say something else. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know...I didn’t mean to put you in the middle of all that. I’m really sorry and they were wrong to act like that.”
“You were sitting right there with them, as I recall,” he said smoothly but I could tell he was fighting for control.
“Yes, I was,” I said and heard my voice choke back tears, “and I’m ashamed about that. I just wanted to say I was sorry,” I repeated and walked away towards the school.
He watched me and when he saw me pass Dee and the rest of them, he yelled my name. I turned to see him standing, his friends looking between the two of us. He waved me back and I started slowly his way again. I could see Mike and Dee and the others watching us. I could practically feel the anger pouring off them as they glared daggers. And Dee. She thought she had me, that I’d have to just suck it up and endure her and everything she’d done to me. That I’d just take it, but she was wrong and now she was mad.