Love and Hot Chocolate

February 26, 2008
By Alicia Flatt, Walnut Creek, CA

Alli felt a hand fall across her back and squeeze her shoulder. She whipped around, and to her dismay saw Will standing there.

“Hey, You disappeared yesterday! Al, where did ya go?”
I began to walk away before he had even finished his sentence.

“I was getting away from you.”
I heard his hand before I felt it. The pain shot up the side of my cheek. I tried to scream but when you think you are in love, it is easy not to say anything.

“Come on, I love you,” He kept repeating it over and over until I had begun to believe it.
I twisted my arm away only to be pushed to the ground with my hands held behind my head.
“Can’t you say anything? Tell me you love me,” and his grip tightened.
He began to shake me vigorously as if he wanted to bring me back to life. My vision began to get blurry with tears, and the last thing I saw was my boyfriend’s fist falling from the sky towards me.

I don’t know what it means to be in love, despite the numerous boyfriends I had had. Love for me was just an illusion, and the only way to break it was the heart beating in my chest. The hospital walls gleamed white underneath the fluorescent lights. The IV in my arm made a constant dripping noise in tune with the monitor above my bed. I had blacked out, and Will had fled the scene. So I was left lying there alone with a broken heart, soul and cheekbone.
The door banged open and in whirled a bundle of color. Hannah was here and was determined to inform the whole hospital of her arrival. She sat down on the bed, just narrowly missing the cords that ran to the monitor.

“So what’s the story this time?” She said in a sarcastic voice, “You fell down the stairs? Tripped on a banana peel?”

I let out a pained smile, but said nothing else. She had no idea, just as the rest of the people in life had no idea.

“OK, well I know one way to get you to talk,” She unzipped her coat and out tumbled three roles of cookie dough, “It always works. It’s my medicine, plus it’s cheap.”
She handed me a roll of dough and a spoon, which I managed to drop on the floor almost immediately. She leaned over just enough for me to see a small pair of angel wings tattooed at her underwear line.

“I am not the only one getting into trouble, am I?” I said, motioning to the tattoo.

“I got it for a very special reason, missy, and very important things you want to keep with you for the rest of your life. Well, this is my way of keeping it with me.”
Hannah, always the logical thinker, had failed to tell me the reason for the tattoo, but after nine years of knowing her, you learned not to push anything. She was always the wild one, but sincerely bold as well. Hannah was the one who had hooked me up with Will in the first place. She told me she knew a guy “with benefits.” He turned out only to benefit me for about two months until he started hitting me. I didn’t tell anyone, and made up excuses for the bluish bruises that ran up my arms. I became notorious for being clumsy, because of all my “accidents” that explained the scratches, bruises, and cuts.

“Listen, Al, I gotta go, but when you get home we’ll talk about it, OK?”
She didn’t wait for an answer as she gathered up the leftover cookie dough and left as swiftly as she had entered.
I got out of the hospital around noon and my mom drove me home. It was eerily silent and you could feel the tension in the air.

“I wish you would have told me about this. I would have listened.”
I hear that all the time and it infuriates me. It was so easy for her to sit there with her full heart and preach to me about listening when she didn’t even notice I was being abused. It was so easy to say she would have believed me, when really she would have thought I was overreacting and sent me to a therapist.

“Mom, let’s just make it clear that you were not standing there calling me back to the light. You were so wrapped up in your career; you didn’t see the facts that were layed right out in front of you. I will not be blamed for this love game, and to make another thing clear, I am through with love and hurt. I am done with it.”

I became suddenly impulsive and when the car stopped at the stoplight, I unbuckled my seatbelt and jumped out of the car, leaving my mother calling my name behind me. I walked sobbing through the streets, kicking the brown leaves that covered the sidewalk, and sulking. Night was beginning to set in, but I wasn’t going home to the pain. I figured if I walked far enough the scars would erase themselves and my life would go back to being the pretty girl dating the hot guy.

My fingers were frozen inside my sweatshirt pocket as I walked up to the wall of an ice-skating rink. I leaned against the wall and watched people skate in circles, leaving tracks etched in the ice. I saw children laughing and tried to remember what it was like to be innocent. I suddenly wanted to go ice-skating. Out of nowhere, I was walking in the entrance and asking the lady behind the counter for a size 9 ½ ice-skates.

I had never been ice-skating before, and as I stepped on to the frozen, slippery ice, I began to wonder what hallucination my brain had created to make me come out here. I gripped the wall and tried to turn around to get off only to be stopped by the thought of returning home to my parents and then Will. I inched along the wall, an absurd sight in my jeans. Kids whizzed by me and I had to resist the urge to put out my ice-skate and trip them. I reminded myself of the Grench, all alone and just plain pissed off at the world because of what it had done to me. I felt a small hand clutch the back of my jeans, and I turned around to see a little blonde girl in a pink hat with a puff on top.

“Are you one of Santa’s helpers?” She asked, her eyes wide and full of adoration.
I wondered what on earth had caused this little girl to think that me, with my smudged mascara and soggy socks was Santa’s helper. But why not spread the Christmas spirit? I thought to myself, that it couldn’t really get any worse than this when you need to talk to five year olds for entertainment.

“Sure I am Santa’s elf. What do you want for Christmas?”

“I want a pink castle with a pink Barbie to go inside it. And I want a Prince Charming for her to fall in love with, so they can live happily ever after.” Her eyes shown with excitement at the whole idea of having Barbie’s pink castle.
“Well, I just have to tell you, it really doesn’t work out that way. In reality, Barbie doesn’t find Prince Charming and she is stuck in a tower alone for the rest of her life.”
My mouth formed a ridiculous smile at the realization that I was finally taking life literally and not from a romance novel. The little girl’s face fell, and she began to cry at the thought of there being no Prince Charming for Barbie. It is only the beginning of all the crying you are going to do for Prince Charming, I said to myself, as the little girl skated and stumbled away.

Instantly after the little girl left, I felt my feet start to slip out from underneath me. I let out what was between a scream and a grunt. The ice felt cold as the wetness spread down my legs and over by back. I layed my head on the ice and looked at the sky. I knew I was getting soaked, but for some reason I kept laying there thinking about life and wallowing in how miserable I was. Then a face crept slowly into the corner of my vision.

“Do I need to call the paramedics? You don’t look so good.”
A hand extended out to me and I found myself staring into the face of a guy who couldn’t be more than two years older than me.

“I’m fine, it’s just I have never been skating before . . . and my boot came loose.”
For a second he didn’t look like he believed me, but he let it go.

“You’re shaking, Come over here.”
He grabbed my hand and pulled me over towards the exit. He sat me down at one of the picnic tables and left. But, soon he was back with two Styrofoam cups of hot cocoa. He sat down across from me and waited in silence.
“So . . . let me guess, your boyfriend broke up with you and you came here to get away from it all?”
He made it sound like a question, but for some reason he already knew.
“Something like that. What do you do all day, pick girls off the ice?”
“No, but I figure it is a good start. The ladies love it when you pick them up. I think it reminds them of a knight coming to their rescue. I like the idea of being a knight even though I have never held a sword or rode a horse in my life.”
I wondered what in the world I was doing talking to a boy after one just like this had caused me so much pain. But he still was funny, and so easy to talk to. Oh what am I doing to myself?
“Well, I can see you don’t really need me here now, so I am just going to go, but don’t worry I am going to be back.”
He walked behind me and put his coat around my shoulders. He sauntered away back onto the ice and took a little girl’s hand—the pink castle little girl. I suddenly felt really embarrassed and fidgeted with the zippers on the pockets of the jacket. I realized that I was so stupid to think I should be sitting here waiting for something that was not going to come. So, I gathered myself together and began to run away from the ice-skating rink as if it would disappear. I only looked back once, and he wasn’t at the table. Two lonely cups of hot cocoa sat on the table. With no one to drink them, the steam rose into the dark of the night.
I fell into an irritable sleep and dreamed of Will. Kissing him behind the movie theatre had seemed so daring, and now that I look back at it, I realized that kissing made it all the harder to let go. Splashing water in his direction at the pool when he told me it was too cold to get in. Walking along the street alone with him, and holding his hand. My fingertips grazing the side of his pants, and tracing over and over the tattoo on his wrist—a pair of angel wings. I bolted up right and fell out of bed. I broke into a cold sweat and my breathing was labored. Hannah was stealing Will. How could I have not seen it before? Of course she had needed to go somewhere that day at the hospital, probably a make-out session with Will on the sofa in his garage. I felt a chill go down my spine as I picked up my cell phone to call Hannah. She picked up just before the message machine would have picked up. She sounded out of breath and frazzled.
“Hello? Al, you are already home? That’s great.”
“Yep. Why don’t you celebrate it with my boyfriend?” I said the words with the accusation dripping off each one.
“What? Al, did they give you too much painkiller at the hospital? Either that or you have the wrong number.” She let out a nervous laugh and I knew she was lying.
“You b****! I finally understand why you kept encouraging me to keep dating him. You wanted me to be the stand-in so you could have your little party backstage! God, I hate you, but at the same time I feel sorry for you because I bet you wouldn’t be with him if you knew he hit me!” I had a snarl painted across my face and I knew Hannah saw my face even though she was three miles away at her house.
“Listen, I didn’t want it to end this way, but we love each other. So please don’t make up reasons for me not to date him because you are jealous. It really was obvious, you just had your nose so high in the clouds, you didn’t realize that it was me he really wanted and not you. So, wake up and smell the fresh air. You know what? You just couldn’t stand the idea and someone would choose me over you. You really think you are that s***! Well here is what I say to that: You can take your perfect life and shove it right up your a**!”
I heard a voice in the background,
“Babe, what’s going on? Alli again? Tell her I’m not here.”
He began to giggle and I could hear him kiss Hannah’s neck. He was so drunk he didn’t even realize that I could here every word and noise that plunged daggers into my heart. I remember him kissing me and snuggling against me and just for a second I wished I was Hannah. I felt a nauseating feeling rising in my stomach.
“You are the one who is going to be sorry Hannah. You are so--,” my sentence just trailed off at the end when I understood that I had nothing to say.
She was the one in Will’s arms, and for once, I was the one who was alone. I heard the phone fall to the floor as Hannah and Will rolled onto her bed and completely forget about the once important girl on the line. I hung up the phone. She had gotten the last word. I felt a sense of dejavu washed over me. It reminded me of my middle school crush and how he never really liked me, and how crushed I was when he fell for the strawberry blonde who sat in front of me in math. I shivered at the thought of Hannah and Will together, I hated her with a passion, but even then, I just couldn’t leave her to suffer the same consequences I did. Not even a devil’s spawn like herself deserved that. My mind kept wondering back to the guy at the ice-skating rink and how he had seemed to calm me with his presence. Why couldn’t I get my mind off him? I needed him as much as I needed Will in my life right now. I looked over at my dresser where his forgotten jacket sprawled across the floor of my room. I turned the light on and squinted in the light. I picked the jacket up and put it on. I thrust my hands into the pockets and sat on the floor. I felt a small piece of paper squished in the corner of the pocket. I squeezed my hand around it and yanked it out. A name and number scrawled in messy handwriting appeared: Matt 384-5697. I took a deep breath and felt a warm feeling spread to my toes. He did want to see me again and I was attracted to him. I had to slow myself down. How did I know I was attracted to him? I let myself fall into guy’s arms and look what it did to me. I tore the paper up and threw it out the window. I was just hurting myself and I was done with this life.
The ground beneath my bare feet was damp as I ran crying into along the street. I ran until I reached the bridge that crossed the lake. I gripped the railing until my knuckles were white and my feet were throbbing. My mind was racing, confused about what I was about to do. Ever so gracefully, I stepped onto the railing as the wind blew against me and turned my nose a light pink. I looked down at the frozen water below and felt a tinge of excitement. Now everyone would finally feel sorry for me. Hannah and Will would have to carry the guilt for the rest of their lives. The pain would be gone, and all I would be able to feel would be numbness. There would be no more Hannahs or Wills or Matts or school or scars or life. It could all be over in just a moment and that is why I loved this bridge so much. It would be quick, like the bridge was doing some kind of service to me. I swung my leg over the railing until I was facing backward. I could feel it in the air, all the moments rushing by in my head and filling my veins with adrenalin. I looked back and saw my footprints in the snow, and then I looked down and the darkness seemed so inviting. I took a deep shaky breath and let my hand begin to slowly slip off the rail. I closed my eyes and tried to remember what getting what you wanted felt like, because this was definitely what I wanted. I let myself go. My foot dangled over the edge and the air in between seemed to pull my body closer and closer to the ground. All of a sudden a strong, masculine hand covered mine. An arm grabbed the back of my shirt and hoisted me back over the railing. A body pulled my close and held me there. I knew it was him the moment his hand had touched mine. At that moment, I snapped out of the trance I was in,
“What . . .what are you doing here? How . . .?” I gasped from all the effort it took to talk.
“Oh, I hang around the ice and wait for girls to fall so I can pick them up, remember? Your fall just looked like it was going to hurt a lot, so I just saved you the pain of trying to get back up.”
“Were you following me? What the h***! Are you some sort of stalker? What kind of a guy saves a girl from emotional breakdown, and then suicide in one night?”
He shifted uneasily and I realized he was still holding me very tightly above the ground. It was so awkward because he didn’t answer right away and wind seemed to blow me closer to him.
“You know, when I saw you, all alone at the rink, I felt like I kinda fell in love with you even though you hadn’t even glanced my way,” he paused, obviously trying to read the blank look on my face, “ you know that supposedly everyone has a soul mate, you know someone you were meant to be with since the beginning of time? It was like that. People come into our lives for a reason, you know. They make us better or more complete in some way. Well, the rest of the world got blurry for me—except for you—you were the clearest thing in my vision.”
Now I was talking to a maniac-stalker who thought he was in love with me after knowing me for maybe ten minutes. But the strange thing about it was that I couldn’t disagree with him, and here I was with my arm twined around his neck and his big blue eyes staring at me wearily.
“I really can’t be doing this right now. It’s making me lose control and you are driving me insane! I am a mess,” I paused motioning to my chest, “ I just tried to commit suicide after having an abusive boyfriend who is hooking up with my best friend! You really don’t need me right now, no one needs me right now,” the sobs were racking my insides, “ and why are you still here through all that? You should have let me fall!” I tore away from him, but that only made him hold me closer.
And before I knew what was happening, his lips were on mine and his hands were twisting through my hair. My head was being pushed onto his lap and his extra hand was feeling slowly up my back. I felt so dirty as the kiss grew steamy and increasingly electric. I weaved my legs around his hips and felt the length of my body press against his. I relaxed as his body heat warmed me and the kiss lasted for what seemed like forever.
Then I woke up from my confusion. It clicked in my brain that I needed to get out of here and that I just didn’t belong here.
“Listen, I have got to go, but I want you to come back, OK?” I said nervously.
“I’ll be waiting.” And I believed him.

Leaving him felt like being separated from my favorite shirt. I loved the shirt and taking it off made me feel so vulnerable.
The house was chaos when I got home. The police were still looking for Will, and I knew where he was. I don’t know what was holding me back from telling them, but I still loved him, or so I thought. But I knew it would be over. The police were interviewing Hannah next, and I knew they would find out. I never had talked to Hannah after the tirade on the phone, and I wasn’t quite ready. So I just clamped my mouth shut and shook my head at all the questions that I wasn’t really listening to.
I ran back to the bridge and found Matt standing there already. I grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the main street.
“Let’s go, I want to show you the city.”
“You know I am not from around here?” he asked, surprised.
“Well, you are obviously not from here. Nobody talks so primly around here.”
“How about we start over? I am Matt, nice to meet you. And you?
“I am Alli. And what brings you here to this small town?” I began to giggle.
“Just visiting family, and wishing to meet a fair maiden such as yourself.”
I looked at him sideways. He pulled it off perfectly, like a lord in one of those medieval movies. But, I decided it was funny and ran across the street with him chasing close behind. It was a game of cat-and-mouse and I knew it well.
We stopped at a small café and chose to sit outside despite the bitter cold. I smiled across the table at him and he smiled back. His smile was like therapy for my soul and I was soaking it up. We talked about everything: life, the weather, family, school, and friends, everything except Will and it felt good. Everything we talked about seemed interesting just because I was talking to him.
Time passed. The seasons changed and it was winter yet again. I was so in love with Matt and he loved me. I was finally piecing my life back together. That was when I got the call. It was Hannah. I stared at the screen of the phone and thought of turning it on vibrate, but I couldn’t do that to her. I didn’t even get the chance to say hello before she started in.
“It’s over, you know. They caught him.” Her voice was low and raspy from crying.
I remembered that this was the same girl who had told me my rainbow striped socks looked ridiculous in third grade. I had of course taken them off immediately, because I thought she must have been right. It was weird to be in such a position of power. This time I was right.
“You knew the whole time. Why didn’t tell me? I should have known after all the drinks he had; he might become a little irrational. But—I mean—he hit me—hard.” Her voice shook more with each word.

“I told you Hannah. You just never wanted to take my advice, and look where you are now! What do I have to say to you? I don’t owe you a d*** thing, so you can stop calling. Here is one last piece of advice: you take your boyfriend and shove him right up your a**!”

I hung up the phone and I swear I could see Hannah’s jaw drop to the ground. But, I didn’t need her anymore. I didn’t need Will anymore. I needed Matt. I called his cell phone to tell him the news, but only got his message machine. I sprinted down the street and turned left on the dirt road that led to his Aunt’s house. Before I could knock on the door, Matt’s aunt opened the door and told me Matt had just left for the airport. He was going home without me. My heart dropped to my feet, but I was not letting him go this easy. I grabbed Matt’s keys from underneath the stone troll in his front yard and jumped into his car. I drove speeding along the freeway in a panic. He was not leaving me, I loved him. I began to hyperventilate and rolled down the window. Other drivers honked at me as I swerved through the lanes, but I barely noticed. I bet they would be driving the same way if their soul mate was about to get a plane to leave them forever without even saying goodbye.
I parked the pick-up in an illegal spot and ignored the traffic guard as he screamed at me that the truck as going to get towed. My hair came loose and one of my sandals came off as I ran across the terribly ugly checkered carpet that lined the halls of the airport. I looked out at the plane that was taking Matt away, and ran out through the door past the always-smiling fight attendant. I recognized the freckle on his hand and I pulled it to me. His face looked up and then recognition spread across his face.

“Alli? What are you doing?” His eyes were wide and confused.

“You weren’t even going to say goodbye?” I whined, reminding myself of a two year old in the “I want” stage.

“I just thought it would be easier this way, you know, no tearful good-byes. But, I guess we have already failed at that,” he wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb.

“But I love you. And now you’re leaving.”

“God, I would never leave you, Alli.”

“Then stay. Prove it to me that you love me.”

“I can’t, you know that. I have a family and a life back there.”

“Yep. I knew it. You are just like him,” I began to walk away from him and his hand dropped from my grasp. I turned my back on him with my eyes burning a hole through the ground. But it wasn’t time. We still needed each other. I whirled around and ran towards him. He had already dropped his bag and he caught me when I fell into his arms. We kissed. Out on the cement of the flight deck with a plane full of people watching us. I didn’t let go of him for a long time and my lips didn’t want to leave his. The wind blew against us, sending gusts of cold through our bodies, but we weren’t really there. But, I could swear the world paused for us; me and Matt. I know what it is like to be in love. Matt just had to teach me.

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