If I hadn’t chosen such an obnoxious ringtone, I wouldn’t have been so irritated when it went off at nine. I scrambled for the touch screen and breathed out my hello.
“Are you still sleeping?” It was my grandmother. Sitting up, I pushed back my tangled hair and tried to blink myself awake.
“Not anymore,” I muttered. “What’s up?”
“I’m going shopping,” she replied. The glorified s-word had me up in seconds and darting into the bathroom. I wasn’t a shallow person. I had no issues going out with my hair up or hardly any makeup on. But if the opportunity came, I never turned down a chance to go shopping. “Want to come?”
“Are you kidding? I’ll be ready in twenty.” She laughed and said her goodbyes, and the line went dead.
I rushed to shower, tossing my hair up and tracing a black ring around my emerald eyes. My outfit of tight purple sweats and an aqua tank did little to portray who I was…or maybe not. I wasn’t really so dark anymore. I had Loren to thank for that.
Thinking of him reminded me that I should probably call him. We hadn’t made plans for that day, although we probably would have ended up seeing each other anyway. Still, now he could spend some time with Terris, or maybe just relax at home. When he picked up. I could tell he had been sleeping. “Hey, baby,” he murmured in a drowsy voice. “Everything okay?”
I plopped down on my bed, reaching for my Converse. “Yeah. I just thought I’d let you know I’m going out shopping with my grandma. I’ll call you when I get back to her house.”
“Okay,” he mumbled. “I love you.”
“I love you too, baby. Go back to sleep.” That was all the invitation he needed. He said something that sounded vaguely like goodbye before hanging up.
I doubted there were two people in the world who ever had adventures like my grandma and I. We’d been to countless places, blowing money and sampling everything from foreign cheeses to high fashion lingerie. There was something empowering about knowing your underwear were cute. Like you were ready for anything the world could throw at you.
I emerged from the mall with more than a few overstuffed bags, eager to get home and admire the clothes. My grandma started the car, rambling on about her new curtains and the white blouses she’s bought. Three things she couldn’t resist: drapery, white shirts, and new wallpaper. She could have written a novel on all the built up wallpaper in her guest room. I too had weaknesses, things like black lace and skinny jeans, but none compared to the weakness that was Loren.
As was tradition, we dined at The Olive Garden, and then we were homeward bound. I smiled as she drove, humming along to the catchy, uplifting lyrics of Taylor Swift. If there was an award for writing the most music to save teenage girls’ lives, no one deserved it like her.
I helped my grandma bring in all the bags, nonchalantly heated some water for hot chocolate. Acted like I hadn’t a care in the world before reaching for the phone and disappearing to call Loren. It was just after three; there was no way he was still asleep.
It took three rings before he answered. “Hello?” Right away I knew there was something wrong. There was too much distance in his voice. He was too far away from me.
“Hey,” I said warily. “How’re you?”
“Fine.” The response was immediate and final.
“Loren, I know you well enough to know when something’s wrong,” I retorted, hating the harshness that crept into my voice. I worked to soften it. “Please, baby. Talk to me.”
There was a long delay, a heavy silence. My breathing caught more than once, but I did all I could to stabilize it. Loren wasn’t the sort of person that could be pushed. When he was ready. he would open. In the meantime, I found myself pacing the length of my grandma’s bedroom, pausing only to glance in the three-way mirror. I looked much the same as ever, long hair unnaturally straight, pallid skin and dark, haunting eyes, lips that smiled too seldom. Lips that tingled from every impact with Loren’s. No, the changes in me could not be seen. They rested within the shell, a cocoon much more vulnerable. I could be pushed. I could be forced to open. I could be shattered.
“Something happened, Salem,” he said at last. “But I need you to know that I love you.”
Hard swallow. The sinking feeling grew until I was sure I’d slipped too far under to breathe. I managed a feeble, “Okay?”
Loren stopped again. At that point, I was so far beyond waiting patiently. Whatever it was, he needn’t drag it out. My head was spinning, my heart pounding. I was so engulfed in chaos so violent it made me want to scream. Instead I remained silent, still, and perfectly serene.
“I went for a walk today,” he began tentatively. “ I went to this bridge where I like to write lyrics and shit. I wasn’t there ten minutes when I fell asleep. I woke up to someone prodding me and calling my name. When I opened my eyes…Melissa was there.”
The initial swell of anger instantly faded to a dull nothing. Melissa, with her vacant eyes and forked tongue and absolute power over him. She’d found him. I realized I’d been clenching my fists. Maybe not all the anger had vanished.
“Salem, I swear I was going to leave right away. But she was begging me for five minutes. I only thought that it would bring her closure.”
My reflections suddenly seemed fragmented. Like someone had taken a sledgehammer to the mirror, to my perfect universe, to my heart. In Black Hills, careful constructions so easily crushed. “So you talked to her? Its not a big deal, Loren,” I said in a voice too high pitched to be believed.
“Salem. There’s something else.” If he expected me to reply, it wasn’t happening, and after an elongated silence he must have realized it because he simply said, “She kissed me.”
Lucky for me the bed was there, because when the dizziness hit me I needed a place to collapse. Breaths came in short gulps of air. I could just see it too, Melissa with her long black hair and permanent sneer, or maybe just for me, eyes closed as she leaned into him. She would have held his head in place, refusing to let him pull away. I thought I might be sick.
“Salem, are you there?”
“Please don’t think I cheated on you. I didn’t mean for anything to happen. I swear I didn’t kiss her back.” I thought to myself that, really, there was no way not to kiss a person back. Once your lips had touched, you were pretty much screwed. I might have said something mechanic in response, but in all my personal frenzy I was utterly oblivious.
“I’m so sorry, Salem.” His words stopped my frantic behaviors. Or more so, his voice. I’d never heard him sound so completely destroyed. Like his sky had fallen down over him and he was suffocating in the tangles as he was forced to watch the last glowing light disappear from the darkness.
I told myself to be calm. Loren was right. He hadn’t had any control. Melissa had thrown herself at him before he could react. And, after all, he had told me, so it couldn’t have meant anything to him. It just couldn’t. Loren wasn’t the type of guy to sneak around on his girlfriends.
“Okay. It’s okay,” I spoke slowly. I wasn’t sure who I was trying to convince. There was still a part of me dying to know why he had stayed in the first place, but the bigger part understood that all Loren really wanted was for Melissa to stay out of his life once and for all. I knew that. I knew that if Loren wanted to be with Melissa, he’d be with her, because it wasn’t like she was resisting at all. But he was still here with me, on his knees, and that wasn’t changing.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him sincerely. “Everything’s okay with us.” Loren let out a sigh of relief, and I did the same. “But, uh…you don’t suppose she got that closure, do you?” I asked then in a lighter tone.
Loren dared to let out a single laugh. “I don’t think so,” he admitted. His own voice still sounded sort of grim. “Honestly I’m not sure she ever will.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I replied in a delicate near-whisper.
Loren hesitated. “Don’t be afraid,” he said solemnly. “She means nothing to me. Nothing will ever change the way I feel about you, Salem.” I smiled at that, told him that I loved him. On the outside I was perfectly composed. On the inside, I was ready to rip her heart out just so she could understand how it felt.
July 6, 2010 at 12:13 pm.
You. Me. Swimming tomorrow.
July 6, 2010 at 12: 14 pm.
Hah, okay. I can make that work.
July 6, 2010 at 12:16 pm.
Been wayyy too long…