The first day I laid eyes on her was the first time I’d drawn in a while. She was in the park behind my house. She had a camera in front of her face taking what looked like intimate shots of her claustrophobic surroundings.
I looked out into the rest of the park. It was large enough to be plenty of material for a photographer; large enough for my canvas.
There were trees that lined the back of the park and promised great sunsets and starry nights. The walkways winded and curved in harmony with the trees giving the area a music sheet look. The contractors must have noticed that because there were sporadic note shaped bushes and fountains with baby angels playing mandolins.
Beautifully cared for grass welcomed feet and she’d obliged because I noticed that her shoes were a ways away from her. The claustrophobic park had the forest to its back and right and a music bush to its left providing what seemed like an entrance.
I automatically knew that she came here often; so often that she considered it sacred and respected it enough to not bring in anything from the outside, degrading her place of solitude with her sneakers.
I watched her take picture after picture for what seemed like hours. I was beginning to think the camera was permanently attached to her hands and face.
I finally got my opening when she decided to take a break. She lowered the camera from her face and let it rest on her chest via the strap around her neck. She stayed angled away from me as though she knew someone was intruding on this private moment she was having and was used to having uninterrupted.
She took a moment to admire a dark colored flower with fingers that appeared every bit as fragile as the blossom. A cool breeze flitted through her garden, jostling the hair on her neck and the collared shirt she wore.
I secretly thanked the breeze for showing me one more thing about her because with the hair and collar blown away, I glimpsed that she had a tattoo just below her neck, between her shoulders. Unfortunately, I was too far to see what it was.
She gently lowered herself to the ground, sitting with her legs bent in front of her, her hands on the ground and her face and knees up to the sky.
She was, simply, gorgeous. Her dark brown hair shrouded her face but slowly fell away like a curtain moving aside to reveal its star. The light breeze that still lingered made her hair sway like wind chimes.
My hand began moving along the empty page I’d opened my sketch book to. My pencil duplicated the patterned shirt with harsh and mild strokes where appropriate. Eventually, my pencil was moving to her face. Her eyes were closed so I estimated and moved on to her elegant nose that led to full tanned, pink lips; lips that were slightly parted and seemed forever so. Just parted with words she couldn’t say or wouldn’t? Full of secrets and personal info that I yearned to know.
I took my time on her lips, getting the size of her fuller bottom lip just right along with the barely noticeable shadow beneath it. I stepped back to examine my work. The strokes I took on her lips were intense. I ran my finger over the drawing and imagined that she’d never been kissed. I smile to myself. Surely, she was someone’s girlfriend.
As the thought crossed my mind, she opened her eyes. Looking into them, I truly felt like I was invading her privacy. She had the saddest honey brown eyes, low eyebrows, and the darkness under her eyes which were no product of any line of cosmetics but the product of a lack of sleep. Her eyes were unfocused and now I noticed this: her whole demeanor seemed to bleed hopelessness.
This beautiful creature…was unhappy.
So unhappy or mistreated or both that she couldn’t even hide it. With sleepless nights, she probably didn’t have the energy.
I thought about this while I filled in the shadows and distortions that only intensified the bleak look on her face. I feel sorry for her. I want to comfort her. As I’m contemplating going down there, I hear a voice.
I turn to my sister, Macy.
“I don’t know. She’s-
I look down into the claustrophobic garden and she’s gone.
“Who?” she repeats.
“I don’t know.”
The car hasn’t even stopped moving before I have the door open.
“Hey, what’re you-
“I’m late, Dex,” I tell my driver.
“Your dad would kill me if something happened to you.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, buddy.”
“A little warning next time. I’ll drive faster.”
I thank him and tear up the stone white stairs.
My heart rate picks up and my breathing shallows. Just being at this door alone scares the hell out of me but not going in is only going to make me later.
I open the door and see him coming out of the living room to meet me. I slowly walk toward him.
“You want to get over here today?” he said pointing to the spot in front of him.
I quicken my pace; anything to keep him calm.
“I’m sorry. I lost track of time.”
I want to say more but I’m hyperventilating. The fear must be all over my face because he reaches out and brushes my hair back with his fingers.
“Go get dressed, Kendall.”
I head for the stairs and my breathing evens but the fear never goes away unless I’m away from this house.
There’s a white skirt, white long sleeved sweater, and pink camisole lying across my black duvet cover. He says that pink favors my skin tone.
I grab the fleece blanket from the futon on the right side of my bed and cover the large mirror next to my closet door.
While I undress and redress, I think about the past three months. It had been a great summer having my brothers home from college. I’d spent almost every day with them and my father wasn’t as physical. Out of the nearly ninety days, he’d probably hurt me ten times; the times they weren’t home, of course.
I hadn’t felt any fear at all. I knew her brothers would protect me and he must have known that, too.
“So why haven’t I told them?”
Once I’m dressed, I removed the fleece and checked my appearance.
I check that the tattoo on my back wasn’t visible then meet my father at the bottom of the stairs.
He touches the necklace around my neck.
“Do you really need all these rings and bracelets?”
“I guess not.”
I take off all but one ring and one bracelet.
“And these two?”
“Donny and Derrick gave me these.”
He stares at me.
I could keep on the ring and bracelet and take a big one tonight, the day before school starts, for blatantly disobeying him. Or I could run the risk of him getting drunk tonight and beating me up anyway.
“I think I’ll keep them on.”
He narrows his eyes at me and I almost throw up.
“Are we ready to go, baby?”
His Audi’s outside waiting so we head to the country club where I’ll have to pretend to be polite and together and happy instead of scared out of my wits like I really am; instead of dreading going home; instead of scared for my life.
After, what I considered, a lovely evening, we go home. I put on my pjs and sit on my balcony. There’s nothing like hearing your father and his current hussy going at it with the knowledge that he’s going to beat you with those same hands later. They’ll be drinking, too.
I shake my head and lean forward. The thing I love most about Napa is that all the trees and plants keep the air clear so the stars are at their best. They make the vineyard just below amazing. The rows of fruit trees and bushes all evenly line up and lead further back to the mountains. The red woodchips smell of fertilizer. Sometimes the vineyard makes it all worth it.
I let the rare peace lull me to sleep.
I don’t know how long it’s been but when I wake, I’m in pain. There’s something in my hair so I instinctively move my hands to my head. The thing in my hair turns out to be my dad’s hand.
“Oh, gosh,” I whisper because he’s caught me off guard.
“What’re you doing out here?” he slurs.
“Trying to leave me?”
He pulls me to my feet. My head is throbbing and now my stomach is too because he just punched me in it. It takes everything in me not to throw up on him. My body wants to curl in on itself, protect itself but he’s still holding me up by my hair.
I don’t have a lot of dignity left but I have to give in this time.
“Please, dad! I’m sorry. I won’t go anywhere. I swear!”
He looks at my defeated face, places his foot on my chest and kicks me backwards as he releases my hair.
I tumble back and hit my head and shoulder on the chair.
“Don’t embarrass me again.”
And again, just before he walks away, he give me that look; a look like he’s almost sorry.
But he just walks away. He doesn’t say anything along those lines and he doesn’t look back. He just walks away as I lay there in pain.
This is how it went. This is our relationship.
I have to admit, the school is cool. My family and I have been in California for a month and I hadn’t been looking forward to this.
My sister, Macy, and I split off from each other when we get here. We don’t like to be affiliated with one another unless it’s absolutely necessary.
The bell has rang but I take my time getting to class knowing that Mr. Parks will most likely introduce me in front of the class.
I take my hat off before I knock.
The man who opens the door is not what I expect. He’s young and the way he’s dressed impresses me.
He gives me a once over with his gray eyes.
“Right,” I say.
“I’ve been expecting you. Come in. What’s up?”
A man hug is exchanged.
“New in town, ya know. So, nothing much.”
“I got you, kid.”
My eyebrows shoot up.
“Guys! Hey, yo!”
“Yo,” a girl near the back reply’s provocatively.
He laughs and clears his throat, “This is William Slaughter. He hails from SoHo in Manhatten, New York.”
“Your mom goes to college,” I hear someone say.
The class burst explodes into a fit of laughter and I crack a smile. I love high school.
“Where am I sitting?”
You can take the empty seat in front of Kendall. Can you raise your hand for me, Kendall?”
I look around for this Kendall and think whoever it is is joking around.
My eyes lock with the girl’s from the park. Her name is Kendall. How fitting. She looks away first but I’ve already spotted the sadness. I take the seat and as I’m getting settled, Mr. McCoy asks a question.
“Who would like to share their take on Romeo and Juliet’s relationship?”
“How do you feel about it, Mr. M?”
“Nice try, Devin. Someone. Anyone?”
A silence settles over the class. Everyone stops moving as well because if high schoolers know anything about teachers, it’s that they call on the person that’s moving the most.
She lets out a low sigh.
“I have nothing to contribute,” she says quietly.
“Did you read the material?”
“You must have an opinion. At least one.”
“Not one I’d care to share.”
“I think Shakespeare didn’t understand the magnitude of what he was writing,” I begin. “Teenage love is often mocked by adults but these kids displayed more than just ‘teenaged’ romance. Their love was beyond grown up. Romeo and Juliet were star crossed lovers who were able to look past their last names to the person within. They were ahead of their time. Their love was wise and passionate and expansive. ‘Do with their death bury their parents’ strife. And the continuance of their parents’ rage, which, but their children’s end, nought could remove’.
“Their deaths were in vain because their parents were idiots who didn’t understand and didn’t learn the unspoken lesson their children learned; the unspoken lesson that survived this tragedy. Adults aren’t always smarter and they’re not always right.”
“Screw The Man!” a boy yelled.
The class broke out into whoops, howls, and applause.
Devin leaned over and high-fived me. I’m grateful because now I’m casually sitting in a way that allows me to steal glances at her.
I notice, while Mr. McCoy is still trying to settle the class, that her copy of Romeo and Juliet is heavily marked. She had plenty of opinions, just none she cared to share.
“Looks like you’ve got plenty to share.”
“Can I-,” I stop short because when I reach for her book, she flinches.
“Sorry,” she forces out.
“No need. So, can I?” I indicate the book.
I like how soft spoken she is and how gentle, practically vulnerable she seems.
She pushes it toward me and I flip through it. She has more than enough notes. She’s got a perspective for everyone in class.
“I’m a freak. I know.”
“No. it’s great. You’re thorough. Efficient.”
She shrugs a tight shouldered shrug that moves her entire upper body. I stare at her and her slightly parted lips that were unsure if they wanted to express her thoughts or not. She looks down and her hair falls forward. She combs it back over her head with her fingers. Kendall is graceful.
“What?” she asks uncomfortably.
“Sorry for staring. Formally, I’m Will.”
I hold out my hand and she looks at it, then me. She doesn’t shake it but I don’t mind. She looks me right in the eyes and it gets my heart going. There’s so much intelligence and life experience in them.
“I don’t mean to be rude. I just-
“Formally, I’m Kendall.”
“Nice to meet you, Kendall.”
I keep my eyes on hers for a second longer then give Mr. McCoy my attention.
“Tomorrow everyone," he says with emphasis looking at Kendall, “will give an opinion on Romeo and Juliet’s relationship.”
The bell rings and she’s up and out of the class. I rush after her because I still have her book. I barely catch up to her but when I do I place a hand on her shoulder to stop her. She turns so sharply that I don’t even have time to think.
She lets out a low sigh and places a hand over the shoulder I touched.
“God. What, Will?”
“Your book,” I caution holding it out to her.
“Keep it,” she says backing away. “Enlighten yourself.”
She fades into the crowd of kids.
He touched me on the shoulder I’d hurt last night. There was a really bad bruise there now and it was sensitive. He’d made me flinch twice. He saw me flinch two times.
It was all too weird. I haven’t had a conversation with anyone at school since early last year, when I was a freshmen. Now, here’s this kid, Will, who stares at me with dark chocolate colored eyes, and a warm smile. I couldn’t tell, though, if he was the kind of guy who knew he was cute or not. All in all, he seemed nice but I have a daddy complex. He could be as nice as Barney the Dinosaur. I would never trust him.
If I was lucky, he would spare me the disappointment and never talk to me again.
However, I wasn’t lucky because while I sat alone in the back of the lunch room near the windows, a pair of Nikes obstructed my peripheral vision.
“Do you mind?”
I look at him with his red backwards hat, long sleeved red thermal shirt, black and red shoes, and his black book bag high on his back. There’s that warm smile again.
“I kinda do but help yourself.”
He ignores the first half of my response and sits, his eyes landing on what’s in front of me.
I become all too aware of my portfolio lying open in front of me. I slam it closed and he smiles again.
“Private when it comes to your photos, I see.”
I give a look of indifference.
“You’re a bitter one, aren’t you?”
“What do you want? Do you want to give the book back so badly? Most kids would kill for it.”
He leans forward on his elbows and narrows his eyes, confused. It’s very attractive but his narrowed eyes remind me of my dad so I have to work to hold his gaze.
“Did you not hear me speak in class? I don’t need your book. I’m new here and you look like good people. The kind of person I’d want to be friends with. Was I wrong? Are you a nasty person I should avoid?”
I hear the voice my dad likes so much but I save for my brothers come out of my mouth.
“You should avoid me. We can try, though.” I can’t hold his eyes, “But I’m not making any promises.”
“Is it so hard for you to maintain a friendship?”
I can’t answer him.
“Trying is all I ask.”
I feel like he just let me off the hook like when he bailed me out in class.
He stuffs a countless number of fries in his mouth. I watch him chew and wait for him to swallow because I get the feeling he’s not done.
“What were those pictures on top? They weren’t in the protective covering so you haven’t chosen yet. Can I be of some assistance?”
I do need an opinion. I pull the three loose pictures from the book and spread them out for him to see.
“Oh, wow. These are good.”
“Which is best?”
He stops and looks up at me then examines each picture closely, running a finger over random places.
“This one,” he says after awhile, pointing at the photo on the far right.
I gather up the photos.
“I thought so, too.”
He looks at me and his features…soften. I’ve never seen it before. I’ve seen my brothers look sad but this was different.
“Who is this in the photos?”
I contemplate my answer but not long for fear of suspicion.
“The wonders of Photoshop.”
“Really?” he asks almost too excited.
“Yeah. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I mean, I prefer dark room photos but when I have something special in mind, I use my computer. The bruises look good, huh?”
“Thank you. You couldn’t possibly imagine how long it took me.”
Inwardly, I breathe a sigh of relief. He sounds genuinely shocked at my Photoshop skills. He can never know that this picture is unenhanced; that this is the picture for all it’s worth. It hasn’t been changed. My father gave me these bruises to have, and that I got that tattoo to keep myself from seeing the truth about what he was doing to me.
The bell rings.
“So, we’re friends?” he asks.
I nod, “Yeah.”
“Then can you show me to my next class because I have no idea where I’m going?”
I listen to his low chuckle and wonder if I’ll ever be able to smile so easily.
“Sure,” I reply.
“Do you ever smile?”
I feel like he read my mind. I feel invaded and violated; a way I don’t usually feel at school, away from him. I didn’t like having friends. They got to know you, read you, learned you.
“Well, do you?”
He cuts off my thought process.
His smile disappears and he follows me out of the lunchroom.