Next up from PS, here is a scene that occurs not long after the Halloween party at Brendon’s house. Before you read it, you should be aware that the remaining pages of that party chapter describe a crucial event that deeply affects Elyse and leaves her with a memory that will haunt her for the rest of her life. I don’t want to give too much away, but… I just thought it might be helpful for you to know that little detail. 😉
EXCERPT FROM: “PS, BOOK 1”
CH. 13, MURDERED
On Saturday morning, I had gotten Brendon off my mind long enough to teach the little girls ballet and tap. It was a very welcome change of pace to my week and I had nearly managed to forget recent circumstances altogether as I gathered my things and followed the little girls and their mothers through the changing room, across the lobby, out the door. Within a moment, I had plowed directly into a sturdy human body that was walking past the studio.
“Bye, Miss Elyse,” one of my students said in a tiny voice, wiggling her fingers at me.
“Bye, sweetie,” I spoke cheerfully, regaining my balance, knowing it just wouldn’t do to appear completely forlorn and inept in front of such untainted, innocent minds. “See you next week.”
The sturdy human body then spoke to me as though it was confiding something of utmost importance, “Those little girls are so disgusting—”.
The sturdy human body’s voice paused.
I looked up at the human figure’s face to match the sound of its voice to Brendon, and I regarded him scornfully, confused. He looked beautiful and smelled delicious. But I refused the urge to allow myself to be held captive in his eyes. I looked away.
He continued, “…—ly cute.”
What? Ahh. It was a joke. I get it: “… disgustingly cute.” But I remained silent. I had a hard time finding things funny these days. I turned away from him to catch my breath. How was I going to escape this intrusion? It was one thing for me to ignore Brendon in a crowd… it was a whole other thing for me to blatantly avoid him one-on-one, when he was mere millimeters away from me.
“So… hey,” he continued in his usual casual tone as though there had been no gap in our friendship for the past three weeks.
“Hi,” I said, making my way down the sidewalk past him, slinging my dance bag over my shoulder, hoping it would knock him over. Brendon dodged my attempt and offered to carry the bag for me, but I assured him it was unnecessary.
“Haven’t seen you in a while. Wanna have lunch?” he offered.
“Umm… I really need to get back home and work on some stuff,” I semi-lied. What I had to “work on” was getting over him.
“Well, we could just pick something up and go back to your place, if you like.” His suggestion of being alone together again would have made my heart skip beats, if I still had one.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“Is something wrong?” his question was sincere, his voice strained. It seemed like he really wanted to know. And like he really didn’t know. I could have told him a thing or two, but I held it in. I wasn’t sure what to say or how to say it… so I lied. It was my favorite new coping mechanism.
“No, Brendon, nothing’s wrong,” I tilted a small, fake smile up at him.
He walked silently, slowly beside me down the street. Our feet crunched through the fallen autumnal leaves. Bits and pieces of orange, gold, red and brown broke off with every footstep. I had walked this same path home several times alone. None of those times seemed as lonely and as long as this. But it occurred to me that I may never have another opportunity to walk beside someone I love in the fall. So I cherished every moment while it lasted. Broken heart and all.
We walked past Angell Street Eccentricities. The woman who had been behind the cashier counter the day I made my purchase was outside beating the dust out of a small rug. She patted her hands together to rid them of the dirt, then called out to us, “Hello, dear rose.” The merriment in her voice hurt my ears.
I nodded at her. “I’m surprised you remember me. That was a while ago. I actually haven’t used that rose-scented bubble bath yet—” My voice was quiet, weak. I didn’t trust my interactions with anyone in any real way with Brendon looking on. I didn’t want to have to think too hard about anything. I just wanted to survive the moment.
“No, no, my dear,” she gestured toward Brendon, and I totally didn’t comprehend her gesture at all. Brendon’s eyes grew a bit wider. He seemed equally as stunned. She waved us over and we made our way toward her together slowly, in total confusion, until we were standing side-by-side before her. Our uncertainty deepened when she smiled at us ebulliently, grabbed his left hand and my right, and placed our palms against each other. His skin, his touch, sent shock waves like an electric jolt through me.
This nearness, this contact, this textural memory-in-the-making was what I had feared all along, since the first day I laid eyes on him. The intensity of his warmth was unspeakable. I couldn’t help myself. I inherently, without restraint, absorbed as much of him as I could without exploding. And it hurt — physically, mentally, emotionally, soulfully — to be that close to him. I couldn’t breathe.
This should have been another dream, but I couldn’t wake myself from it. It was the first time I’d ever really touched him and it brought tears to my eyes. But they were tears I couldn’t allow him to see, so I froze every ounce of blood that was coursing through me and held my personal rainfall in. I wanted desperately to pull away, but the woman wouldn’t let me. “Such beautiful roses,” she said to us without a care in the world.
I looked for an escape route, but was confined to the prison of her hands. I muttered “Thanks,” in response, helplessly hoping to put an end to my confinement.
But she didn’t let us go until she’d studied our faces and recognized pain and anguish in both of them. Brendon then forcefully wrenched his hand away from mine, shaking it in midair as though he had been holding it in a tub of hot water and was releasing the remaining drips of it from his hand. He flexed his fingers and grabbed his wrist with his other hand as though he was in pain. I only gasped and caught my breath, shoving my hands into the half-pockets of my skirt as we walked away from the woman, each unnerved. She called after us to deliver one more bizarre line, “You don’t have to be afraid.”
I nodded my good-bye over my shoulder, pretending everything was okay and hoping never to run into her again. The look on her face fell as though she suddenly realized and felt my hopelessness. She wanted to say something else. Maybe she wanted to let me know that she now understood her mistake and pitied me. But she said nothing. She just turned away and began beating the rug again. I envied her for having something to hit. I wanted to take out my frustrations on something, too.
“See what I mean?” Brendon whispered jovially, apparently attempting to hide his disgust at having to be so near to me, “Everyone’s totally insane.”
I had to agree, but it was difficult for me to internalize any of his thoughts now. Adding one more of them to my memory would only make things harder for me to process… once I got around to processing them.
“So, are you going home for Thanksgiving?” he asked, determined to keep the conversation going, oblivious to my internal struggle. I wanted to run away from him and wrap my arms tightly around him all at once. Neither option was acceptable right now.
“No. I’ll wait until Christmas.”
“What are you doing for Thanksgiving, then?”
I shrugged my shoulders. I wished I hadn’t. I wanted to tell him that I had made some exciting plans he wouldn’t be a part of, but I didn’t want to lie to him again, or be mean. It actually made me sick to think that’s what this was coming down to; that I had to lie and be cruel to Brendon in order to continue existing in his presence.
“Well, don’t spend it alone,” he told me, flashing a quick smile that nearly prompted my tears to break through the dam I had constructed. It was almost as though I was wrong about him; as if he truly cared about me. But I couldn’t believe such a thing anymore. I couldn’t allow myself to think such frivolous thoughts. I needed to maintain a safe distance from him in every way possible. So I fumbled through my memories trying to think of something that disgusted me. For instance, I suspected that Brendon would be spending the holiday with Lucie. I pictured her pressing herself against his body again, and again, and again, failing to notice the physical pain I was causing myself as I dug my fingernails into my palms.
Hold on, Elyse. Just a few more corners to turn and you’ll be home.
“I won’t be alone,” I assured him. But our conversation reminded me that I had no appetite for Thanksgiving this year. Alone is just what I needed to be to get through it in one piece. And if I could forget Brendon ever existed, I would be truly thankful. But, for now, he was intent on walking beside me across the irregular squares of concrete that formed the sidewalk, stepping over yellow painted curbs, down into the roads that turned us left and right, past all the strangers who had no idea who we were or what we meant to each other; what we would never mean to each other.
I began counting my paces, honing in on every other sound around me that could drown out the sound of his voice — the breeze that meandered through the small trees that lined our path; the giggling little girl licking an ice cream cone. Her mother dabbed her mouth with a paper napkin and kissed her on the forehead as my mind wandered back to one of my own childhood memories.
I remembered being very small, sitting on a swing set and laughing endlessly as it moved back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. I concentrated on the sensation of the cool fall wind sweeping across my face and body, over and over and over again, under a bright, clear sunny sky. I could feel the warmth all around me even now, and I tried to hold it inside me, to let it radiate throughout all of my empty spaces, to remember how easy life was once upon a time. I wanted to feel that kind of peace in my life again. I wanted to go back and re-live it… and never grow up to feel the way I felt right now.
“So, what have you been up to?” Brendon inquired, unnerving me once again.
None of your business, I answered, silently.
He pressed on, “Things have been kind of strange lately, huh?” he brought up the topic I didn’t want to discuss.
I feigned ignorance, “Strange? No.”
“Well, you know… with Lucie.”
My stomach convulsed. I never wanted to hear him say her name again, especially not in this proximity to me. I needed to put an end to this conversation immediately. “Brendon,” I began cautiously, mentally preparing myself for the next thing I was about to say, “I don’t think we should hang out… I mean… I would prefer it if we weren’t friends anymore.”
He stopped on the sidewalk beside me and gently grabbed my nearest elbow. The shock wave of his touch hit me again, but I remained as steady as possible so I wouldn’t give myself away. “Why? What do you mean?”
Brendon was completely confused. Apparently, he couldn’t fathom a guess. Too bad. I wasn’t about to tell him the truth. What did it matter anyway? He’d already told me he was leaving — one of these days — forever. May as well make it today.
“I just think we’re two totally different kinds of people, and we don’t belong in each other’s lives anymore.” The words rolled off my tongue easily — as easily as the tears I was holding back would be falling later when he was no longer in my presence.
Brendon just stared at me incredulously. He didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why not. Was he that blind? Was he that inconsiderate? Was he that unobservant? Was he that… stupid? If he had been a normal guy, his ego would have told him the answer I couldn’t…. But Brendon wasn’t normal. He was amazing. And he didn’t even know that much about himself.
“Where is all of this coming from?” he asked unemotionally. It only superficially occurred to me that he was actually willing and able to discuss the matter with me; that he cared about our friendship. But I knew his feelings for me paled in comparison with his love for Lucie, so I disregarded his attempt to make things better between us.
“I don’t really want to discuss it, Brendon. I just don’t want to know you anymore.” There. That was easy. Let him think I’m the stupid, non-sensible one. Let him think I’m the most horrible person on earth. I don’t care! Anger is a much easier emotion to deal with than being hurt. Anger only lasts a moment. Unrequited love is forever.
“Is this about me being with Lucie?”
Of course it is!, I screamed silently at him… at myself… until I couldn’t take my own silence anymore. I turned away from him, but he pulled me back and spoke out loud before I could find another happy place to run off to.
“You have a lot of nerve to condemn me over this.”
I stood before him fuming. Surely this time he could see the angry tears hovering in the corners of my eyes. I didn’t even have to try to make myself look and sound like the bad guy. He already thought I was one. And he wasn’t finished chewing me up and spitting me out yet.
“Why on earth you would get so upset, I have no idea, but I am sorry I said anything.”
“Me, too.” I told him emphatically.
Now it was Brendon who stood before me fuming. Ugh. He was right. I was a horrible person. Only horrible people act this way.
I didn’t look back as I left him standing alone in one of the few moments in time we had managed to share together recently. Somehow, and soon, I would have to find a way to fake every feeling that was surging through my body so that no one would ever know anything I was actually thinking. The good news was that Brendon had just made it a little easier for me to get over him. At least, that’s what I told myself.