I shift the car gear to Park when I finally stop in front of Tony's double door entrance. The drive here from the Starbucks was quiet and awkward after my sudden and unexplained outburst. Except, it wasn't unexplained to me. What was he doing there, so close to me? More importantly, how can he be real? Wasn't he just a dream character in my mind? Questions flood my thoughts for a few minutes while the engine cools off.
Beside me, Tony stirs and I turn to face her, my smile stiff and obviously fake. "Sorry about that... I... thought..."
"Don't worry," Tony's smile is strained as well. I can't see her eyes since she's got her huge Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses on. "I'm sure it was something important."
"Tony, it's not that--"
"I tell you a big, dirty secret and you leap back from the table?" Tony smirks and stares out the windshield at some small birds playing in one of the stone fountains at the side of the winding driveway. "I get it, Clara. I get it, maybe more than you know."
"What are you talking about?" I say, now wishing she'd take off those stupid glasses. "I told you back at Starbucks that it wasn't about what you said."
"Oh yeah?" Tony looks back at me, a tear silently crawling down her thin cheek. "Then what was it about?" She suddenly screams, the tiny car walls eerily swallowing up her anger.
"I... I can't say," I swallow and tighten my grip on the steering wheel.
Tony sniffs and opens the car door, the interior lights barely flicker on before she slams the door shut. I sigh and close my eyes briefly, how did it get this way? If I told her what I saw she'd think I'm a nut job, yet I can't let her think that I was reacting to her shameful secret. I build up my courage and step out of the car, the afternoon heat hitting me immediately.
"Tony, wait!" I cry out to her just as she's pulling out her keys."Please, just trust me, please."
She pauses with the keys in mid-air. From where I stand, at the bottom of the small set of stairs leading up to the wide, stucco patio, I can see her hand shaking with repressed anger. The sight makes me take a step back.
"Trust you?" Tony asks in a low voice. "How can I trust someone who's spent our whole friendship lying to my face?"
So she had noticed my lying. At least that's one question answered. I cross my arms over my chest and protectively hug myself. "I... had my reasons."
"Oh, I'm sure you did," Tony hasn't turned around to face me yet, but from the sound of her voice I hope to God she doesn't. "One of which was probably so that no one would question your place in the popular circle, right?"
My chest spikes with a sudden pain at her voicing my exact thoughts.
"Well, I've got news for you hun, life isn't as easy as a fake smile. Everyone knows what a liar you are; what a fake piece of crap you've become since your mom died."
I flinch at her words, reminding myself that she's just angry. Of course, the sensible part of me also seems to be confused as to why Tony is so angry over such a small thing, especially one that she doesn't even fully understand.
"Oh, and since we're coming clean here about how we really feel?" Tony finally turns to face me and her face is red with anger around her bug-eyed glasses. "Pat? The love of your life, Pat? He's been screwing Jenny, you know, the girl with the big boobs in grade eleven?" Tony lets loose an emphasized breath, feigning relief. "Oh wow, that feels so much better, not lying to your face any more about your terrible love life."
I am speechless for an instant, while fighting back the tears that have suddenly threatened to appear. My lips are trembling and my hands are balled up tightly into fists at my sides.
"Fine," I say through clenched teeth. Tony raises an eyebrow, the look giving her the appearance of a curious bug. "I'll tell you what I think. Every time I'm with you or my other 'friends' I feel like a phony because I don't belong in your Gucci and Prada society. I smile every morning in front of the mirror, hoping to maybe one day smile genuinely around you guys. When mom died, you were there and I'll forever thank you for that, but you will never understand the pressure of forcing yourself to live a life you no longer are a part of." I take in a deep breath, feeling the first of many tears coming down my face. "What you did to Connor is disgusting, but you not ever telling him is worse. He loves you and would never do that to you. But my reaction wasn't because I thought less of you or because I suddenly realized what kind of a person you are. It was for a different reason that you will never know," I yell out the last part and run back to the driver's side of the car.
Tony is frozen in place as she watches me drive away from our friendship, her expensive leather purse swings in the afternoon breeze.
The last place I want to go to is home. Dad's probably either holed up in his office or spending a late night at his office at the firm in Toronto. Either way, being home will feel too lonely and depressing. Instead, I drive to a Macs nearby and buy some pop and a bag of bite-sized Aero balls. I've got to thank my mom's side of the family for my metabolism.
All thoughts of the day prior to my big, friendship-ending fight with Tony evaporate as I park in one of the parking lots that overlooks the city of Burlington. This spot I've chosen to binge my feelings away at is at the top of a high hill that leads from Burlington to Hamilton. It is several minutes away from the big Cineplex theatre by car and it is completely secluded. Pat brought me here on one of our first dates. The thought of him makes me want to binge even more.
I step out of the car into the warm night, pulling the bag of chocolates and the cans of pop out with me. I slam the door and pull out a blanket from the cramped back seat, along with a pillow. I've always anticipated coming up here to get away from everything, so I'm always prepared. The first time I came here without Pat was last year during the anniversary of mom's death. Dad had stayed in his room all day and I'd just felt unbelievably lonely. The morning after I'd spent hours out here, my neck was stiff and my arms were dented with marks from the hood of the car, so I vowed to always be prepared.
I make myself comfortable on top of the blanket on a patch of grass nearby and lay my head on my large pillow. The chocolate is on one side of me, while the cool Coca-Cola cans lay on my other side. Any person driving by may think that I'm here relaxing, but any curious stranger, upon closer inspection would note the tears silently falling from my searching eyes.
With each Aero chocolate that I pop into my mouth, a different person comes to mind. Pop. Pat. Did I really love him? Or did I just use him for my own needs? Pop. Dad. How can someone who once showed such love to his family be so completely detached now? Pop. Tony. In a way, I feel a strange mixture of freedom and sadness for my lost friendship with Tony. She was there for so long, will I be able to regain a semblance of normalcy in my life without her? Then again, I don't even know what normal really is. Pop. Mom. Can she see all of this? Does she know if there is a reason for all of this confusion, anger, and sadness in everyone I know and care about?
I stare up at the stars and ask all of these questions and seek all of these reasons, but nothing comes. I am alone in this, as always.
A noise somewhere by the trees that lead the way down the small mountain towards Burlington wakes me up. I've fallen asleep here before, so I'm not surprised to find myself suddenly groggy with sleep. I sit up and rub my eyes. I drank about three cokes and ate all of the chocolates before passing out and now the empty cans and package are littered around me.
"Hello?" I call out, my eyesight still a big foggy. "Anyone there?"
A twig snaps far into the foliage and I'm suddenly more alert. My mind races with excuses. Rabbits, deer, coyotes, squirrels. I stand up and listen for a minute. The darkness is overwhelming now that the lights of Burlington have dimmed deeper into the night. My car is silent, dark. The street is dead quiet.
I exhale a breath I didn't know I'd been holding in and pick up the garbage and toss it into the nearby recycling unit. I'm folding up the blanket when I feel it: the burning sensation of someone watching me.
I finish folding the blanket and grab my pillow. I stuff my things into the back seat of my car and stare out at the group of trees, where I feel eyes staring me down. I've been out here before and never felt this way. This... fear.
Slowly, I shut my door and walk towards the trees. My heart is beating a million miles per second. With every tha-thump, my hands shake and my brain keeps telling me to turn back and run. I know I should be on the road by now, not looking back, but part of me is pissed that something or someone is trying to scare me off from my spot.
"Whoever you are, stop it. I know someone's there. I--" I gulp and take a deep breath as I get closer to the first tree, "--I'm not scared, so come out already. This isn't funny."
It's interesting how much fear and anger combined can make every thing around you come into focus. I can hear every rustle of leaves in the wind, every random spurt of car alarms coming from the sleeping city.
Something ahead starts darting through the fallen leaves, up the incline of the mountain, straight towards me. I stop in my tracks as I hear branches breaking and shadows looming. I blink, trying to focus my eyes, but my fear is overwhelming, my anger seemingly forgotten. I am frozen, awaiting my doom.
Suddenly, something crashes out of the woods and I stumble backwards and fall on my behind, sending a shock of pain up my tail-bone...
...A rabbit darts past me, its white fur illuminated by the light of the large full moon. I close my eyes and try to catch my breath, chiding myself for my immaturity. What the hell was I expecting? This is Burlington, not some fantasy world from questionable teen fiction novels.
I sit for a moment, trying to collect my thoughts and breath. Then the feeling of being watched starts up again. That creepy, skin-crawling feeling burns through me, warning me, begging me to leave. I start shuffling back away from the entrance to the darkness of the woods. Every chill that passes through my body makes me go just a little bit faster. Something shifts around in the darkness and a sudden, frightening thought hits me: what scared that rabbit?
A growl echoes from somewhere within the group of trees just out of my eyesight and the feeling of being watched, preyed upon, intensifies.
"Oh my God," I choke out as howling begins to cry out from somewhere in the woods. I bite my shaking lips to keep a moan of fear from escaping my mouth.
Then the howling stops abruptly, making me shudder. By this point, my body is not my own to control. I am shaking, shivering with fear. My forehead is covered with sweat, despite the goosebumps on my skin. My legs are scratched from where my capris don't offer any protection. My heart is speeding so fast that I swear at times it forgets to beat at all.
For a tense, dark moment I stare into the bleak nightmare black of the forest, feeling those eyes staring back.
A twig snaps.
A growl sounds from only several feet away, just out of reach.
Then, threatening to make my heart completely stop, two pairs of yellow eyes glare back at me, making their presence known.
We stare at each other for what feels like an eternity. Whatever it is seems to be waiting for something. Me, I'm just hoping I'm not found in the morning, dead from a heart-attack and wet because I pissed myself. I'm shaking so bad that the grass around my body is vibrating with my fear. The knowledge that something so scary is staring me down makes bile rise up in my throat; makes my lungs cringe with the need for oxygen.
Then, whatever it is, turns away, the yellow eyes disappearing into the dark.
Even though I know it is gone because I don't feel the intensity of its eyes any more, I still sit there like an idiot waiting for my spasms of fear to go away. It takes me a long time to finally get up on very weak legs so that I can drive home.