Authors: Shelly Crane
His hand came down to smooth my cheek.
“Are you ok? You seem very...torn,” he said finally.
I could think of nothing with his hand on me. Absolutely no words came to mind as I just stood there and let him touch me and held his gaze. And then he leaned in slightly, carefully, testing me. More, more. Then when he was so close I felt his breath on my lips, I put a hand on his chest to stop him.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I can’t.”
“Because of Tate?” he asked and I heard the edge there.
“He hit you, Clara,” he growled. “He hurt you. How can you even think about him right now?”
“I know what Tate just did was horrible but I have to talk to him. I can’t kiss you when I’m still dating someone else, even if it is on the rocks. I’m not like that.”
He nodded and seemed to calm down.
“Alright. You’re right. I respect that.” He leaned back and took a deep breath. “Come on. I’ll get you home.”
~ ~ ~
Pastor was waiting on the porch for me.
“Coach called. You ok?” he said and came to pull me into a hug.
“I’m fine. Pastor, this is Eli Thames. He’s new.”
“Thank you, son, for walking her home,” Pastor said and shook his hand.
“No problem, sir. I’m glad to help.”
“Well, you need a ride home?”
“I just live a little bit that way,” he pointed and started making his way. “See you tomorrow, Clara.”
“Bye. And thank you,” I called.
He nodded and lifted a hand in acknowledgement as he walked away.
Pastor took me inside and passed me to Mrs. Ruth, who took me straight upstairs for an inspection. She removed my shirt and even through my bra I could see a faint spot showing right between my breasts.
“Clara...I can’t believe Tate did this to you. I think it’s needless to say you can’t see him anymore and we need to file a police report.”
“No! Wait... He didn’t know it was me, I came up behind him. I need to talk to him first, to understand what happened.”
“Clara...I don’t think it’s a good idea but...I’ll talk to Pastor about it.” She ran her hand down the back of my hair. “You want to stay home from school tomorrow? I’m sure that would be quite alright.”
“It’s ok. People will just talk even worse if I’m not there. They’ll say Tate killed me or something,” I joked and tried to make light of it. “I’ll go, I’m fine.”
“If you’re sure. I’ll make you pancakes in the morning, ok?”
“Mrs. Ruth, it’s ok. I know the twins keep you up at night. Really, I’m fine. You guys are doing just fine at taking care of me. You don’t have to try so hard,” I said with a smile.
“Oh, honey. It’s been a pleasure having you stay with us. Your parents are so proud of you. I guarantee it.”
“Night. Let me know if you need anything. You know I’ll be up,” she said wryly making me laugh.
“Ok, thank you.”
She closed the door and left. I collapsed on my bed, wondering how the day had ended like it had. Pulling my knees up I felt the sting in my chest and buried my head under my pillow. He hadn’t known it was me coming up behind him…but still. Why would he punch someone he when he didn’t even know who it was? Just because it was me still didn’t make it ok for it to be someone else.
I lay down just like that, my bra on and jeans, face under my silk pillow case and feet hanging off the side of the bed. I closed my eyes and realized my subconscious had been invaded when I was standing back at the school gate. I was leaning my back against it and there was a presence over me. It wasn’t ominous though I felt if it had been seen by someone else they would have thought so. He leaned in, his face shaded and dark like before, his breath overly warm and powerful before my lips. He spoke.
“I’ve waited a very long time for you. Please don’t hate me.”
“Why would I hate you?” I whispered, fearing my voice would no longer work.
“I’m not a good person. I’m an evil thing that has fallen under your spell,” he muttered and ran the back of his hand down my cheek and neck.
“Eli?” I asked, testing my theory.
“Is that who you want it to be?”
“I want you to be who you are.”
He hesitated then the shadow lifted from his face as he inched closer and I was struck by his face. He was unlike anything I’d ever seen. He looked like him, but not. He was so completely breathtaking with his gorgeous ruggedness and imperfections and he was looking at me like I was the only thing he wanted in this whole world.
“What did you mean you’re an evil thing, Eli?” I asked.
“I am...something I can’t describe. I’m not worthy of you in any sense of the word but I must have you. Do you understand? You have ensnared me, bewitched me, and I can no longer exist without you with me.”
“I barely know you,” I whispered.
“But I know you,” he said cryptically against my cheek, kissing my scorching flesh. “Open your eyes, sleeping beauty.”
I gasped, aware on my bed, and felt my cheek where he had laid his soft lips. It was still too warm to be normal. I sat up and looked around. Oh man. My imagination was working overtime. Was I becoming one of those pathetic girls who couldn’t get a boy off her mind to the point of obsession, usually ending in restraining orders and timed served at a mental health facility?
When I lay back down and closed my eyes, I was alone.
The next morning I woke with a start. A quick glance at the clock showed I was borderline running late so I hurried to jump in the shower. The bruise was a little more angry today but still not horrible. I put my hair up in a ponytail and worried over my wardrobe. I’d have to pick something to hide the bruise. I put on my black turtleneck under my school vest and earrings with a necklace so I didn’t look like I was trying to cover anything up.
I was just normal me. The mirror said as much and I grabbed my bag swiftly from the chair and raced downstairs. I kissed all the babies and grabbed an apple as I shoved my way out the door, trailing loud goodbyes in my wake.
Once I reached the street though, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of embarrassment and shame. What had happened last night would no doubt be the talk of the school today. My steps faltered and I looked around at all the faces. There seemed to be a lot of eyes trained on me but then looking away quickly. I straightened my back and slung my bag further up my shoulder.
I was not going to cower for something I didn’t even do.
I walked all the way across the street and saw a few people who normally didn’t talk to me wave at me and smile. I returned it and looked for my friends. I saw Megan and Deidre...with Eli. Deidre had her tacky fake nails on his arm and was pushing her chest against him as she laughed at whatever he was saying.
And just like he could sense me, Eli looked up and directly at me. He watched me watch him and then he craned his neck, his expression changing, and began to come forward but Dee grabbed his arm to stop him. I wondered what was wrong but then I felt it. The warm, gentle hand on my wrist and the eerie quiet of the courtyard as everyone watched.
“Hey. I’m glad you came today. I was so worried about you last night but you’re phone was dead and the Pastor wouldn’t get you for the house phone.”
“I’m surprised you came,” I said softly.
“Why? I had to see you,” he said and came closer, his hand drifting down to rest in mine.
I heard a bunch of murmurs and gasps and looked around to see everyone’s eyes still glued to us. I pulled him by his arm, feeling Eli’s eyes on me, and took a swift glance to confirm that. He looked like he wanted to follow but I towed Tate all the way through the school to the girl’s bathroom. I shut the door and turned against it for support as I faced him.
“What’s wrong, Tate?
“Nothing,” he said and looked at the floor. “I’m fine. I just got really mad. That guy was cheating.”
“Don’t lie to me. Not to me.” He took a deep breath before letting his book bag fall to the floor and shoving his hands in his pockets. “Steroids, Tate? Really?”
“You don’t know what it’s like!” he yelled and I flinched.
He saw and came until he was flush with my toes. He touched my cheek.
“You can’t think I’d ever hurt you. I’d never, ever, hurt you, Clara. I love you.”
He finally said it. After he hit me and humiliated me in front of the whole school, he says it.
“Tate, I can’t do this. You can’t just say, yes I’m taking steroids and expect everything to just go back to normal. Stop taking them!” I yelled and he seemed surprise by it. “Get your crap back together! You could have killed that guy! Do you even understand that?”
“I know, ok!” he yelled back. “I know, but what can I do about it now? I already got a court date for it. Friday I have to see a judge and them tell me what they’re gonna do to me. That guy pressed charges so...”
“As he should have, Tate. You really hurt him.”
“My mom was worried you were going to press charges too,” he muttered and looked at me from under his lashes. I noticed his parents weren’t worried about me, just Tate’s reputation.
“Pastor wants me to but I told them I had to talk to you first.”
“That’s my girl,” he crooned, cracking a smile, and pulled me to him. “I knew you’d know I never meant to hurt you. It was an accident.”
I pushed him back a little.
“This isn’t over, just like that. You hurt me, Tate, and scared me. Watching you hit that guy over and over...I never want to see that again. That’s not who you are.”
“I know it’s not. I’m sorry. Babe, I’m so sorry. I love you, please, please, forgive me,” he begged into my neck.
“I’m working on it,” I told him. “But you have to stop taking them.”
“Already did. I flushed it all last night when I got home. I’m done, babe. Promise.”
I let him kiss me, though I wasn’t into it, he didn’t seem to notice. I noticed he never asked to see my bruise or if there even was one. And after a few minutes we made our way, well passed the bell, into the empty hall and he walked me to my first period class. He opened the door for me and kissed me right in front of everyone as they all looked to see who was coming in late. My cheeks flashed scarlet and I wanted to ask Tate why he had done that. It was like he was telling everyone ‘See, she forgave me, ha!’
The rest of the week went just like that. Tate was extra attentive, especially in the halls where everyone could see. Our group of friends pretended that nothing had happened at all and everything was fine. And Eli.
When I lay down at night and closed my eyes, Eli was right there, every night. The first night he pulled the collar of my shirt down with his finger to see my bruise and winced. He said he’d kill him if I’d let him. We almost kissed every time and he always told me he needed me and wanted me more than anyone else. In real life, he was different.
He watched me, always watching, and Deidre seemed to cling to him whether he wanted her to or not and he let, her but everyone could tell he was just humoring her. I heard her say he was taking her out on Saturday but who knew if that was true, knowing Dee. He never spoke to me unless it was about school stuff as he walked with me to classes and in Art. Things were strange, awkward in an oddly comfortable way. It seemed that Eli was just waiting for me. And I was curious about the dream-like visits and how I felt so strange around him.
And Tate. He had spent every night at my house. Despite Pastor’s advice, I let him come over and told them everything was fine. It was all just a big misunderstanding. They didn’t seem convinced but let me have it anyway. Tate tried to seduce me in his truck before we went in every night. I told him he didn’t have to try to make up for anything anymore. He said he wasn’t, he just wanted me so badly. I had to physically push him to stop him twice, which I’d never had to do before.