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Everyone Except Him

By , Boca Raton, FL
Overhead, the ominous sky was a bluish black, with majestic clouds threatening to swallow up the Earth. Thunderous claps- ones that even seventy-year olds with faulty hearing aids could hear- and blinding lightning shot through the air, sending any five-year old running and dogs barking.

For the past hour, I had kept up my required façade, smiling at and soothing my mom, trying to reassure her that everything would be fine despite the papers that came in the mail. But now as I closed the heavy door behind me, the invisible makeup melted off my face, replaced by a dull, dumb-founded stare. I was incapable of showing any emotion and was positive I looked like an insane mental patient to any neighboring passer-bys. At the moment, though, my appearance didn’t enter my mind. It was only the empty loneliness that I felt as I dragged my feet away from the door I’d opened hundreds of times as a child. A child that had two bickering parents, but nevertheless parents that loved each other. Separation was…nonexistent, at least in my mind.

Then I grew up and reality set in.

“Hey, baby!” I jumped at the remark and looked up to see Jordan driving up in his dearly cherished car. I had forgotten about the date we were about to go on so his sudden appearance came as a shocking yet welcome surprise. He was perfect, as always, and my heart did a teeny hic-up which I would surely feel if I put my hand over my chest. For a minute I truly had forgotten what had depressed me so much but my consciousness wouldn’t free me of the topic. “New Year’s Day’s in a few hours! Can you feel the excitement?!” he exclaimed anxiously. I felt no excitement, only the effects of the hic-up he had induced wearing off, but I wouldn’t let that get to me. I was a professional at faking emotions and I was positive no one but me knew about my secret talent. Sure, I wasn’t proud of it…but that’s how I survived the periodic fights between my parents and the pressure to maintain straight ‘A’s’ which they openly gave. At school, with friends, with my teachers and parents- it was an act that I had impeccably perfected. No one knew my true feelings and I made sure it stayed that way.

I smiled and replied, “I’m pumped! You’re not going to tell me where we’re going, are you?” Oh yeah, the mask was glued right back on my face.

“Hell no! I’m not one to spoil surprises, you know. That would be you,” he playfully retorted and flashed me a flirty smile. We had already backed out of the parking lot and were exiting the community when he steadily braked at a stop sign and leaned over to kiss me. It was bitter-sweet because I was pretending. I wasn’t truly blissful on the inside as I sometimes was, because at times like those I’d kiss like I was fighting for my life. I hated pretending with him so I pulled away, shifting my gaze to the 2010 black Mustang in front of us.

Guessing that I just needed air, Jordan turned his focus on the road, turning on the radio and changing the stations to find his favorite one.

We reared a stoplight that shone a bright red when I froze. He had found the station all right, and I felt the beat of the music reverberate through the air and silently stroll on the strings of my heart. With every beat I felt my heart crack into numerous tiny pieces. It was as if a dead weight had been placed on my chest, stifling my breath.

I can be you hero, baby. I can kiss away the pain.

Just like that, a few verses broke me down into actual sobs when a) I do NOT sob and b) I found myself in an extremely embarrassing and vulnerable situation.

“Court!” exclaimed Jordan just as I threw open the car door, narrowly avoiding his grip, and sprinted across the road. The ear-piercing honks, angry accusations from drivers I’d cut off, and concerned shout coming from the car I’d just abandoned didn’t help my coordination. All I knew was that I had to get away from Jordan, that I could no longer keep up the painfully fake front I’d held up for years on end, and that everything in my life was going wrong- a wrong that I hadn’t experienced before and didn’t know how to handle. So I ran, the rain beating against my skin, since that was the only thing I knew how to do, across hedges, landscaped lawns and expensive cars, stop signs and mail boxes, into a local park with a kiddy playground.

I collapsed next to the towering monkey bars, crying hysterically. From the corner of my eye, I saw lightning strike the ground, immediately reducing the vibrant green grass into charred black ashes. My black leggings were already sagging wet, seeing as I had sat in a mixture of sand and rain; my hair was no longer frizzy but instead dripping with rain, and I was shivering from head to toe. Word to the wise: running away from a warm and cozy car into the pouring rain and severe thunderstorm at the end of December is, astoundingly, not that smart an idea. But I didn’t care. Getting hypothermia here was better than putting up with the mess that my life had become. By now, Jordan was probably already driving away, cussing me out for embarrassing him on a busy and dangerous intersection, and planning exactly which excuse he’d use to break up with me tomorrow. Just as my sobs calmed down, another wave of tears rushed out and I really hoped no one was watching. I hugged my knees to my chest, hoping that maybe they’d provide some sort of comfort in my freezing and depressed state. I was sure the volume of my sobs matched those of the thunder, and the amount of tears I’d cried equaled the amount of rain that had fallen.

It was funny how my endurance was so low- only ten years- and that I had ruined a perfect date with the guy I loved because of that stupid song. Hell, I had just lost him forever because, face it, who in their right mind would ever want to deal with such a weak emotional wreck like me? Even if he loved me, I was positive my breakdown was a nonnegotiable deal breaker. All of this, in accordance with the rectangular envelope my mom had received officially marking my parents’ divorce, along with the happy-go-lucky attitude I kept at all times was more than I could take. I didn’t want to hide my emotions, my thought, or my feelings anymore. All I wanted to do was scream everything I’d kept silent about all these years- the words that hurt me, the ear-splitting arguments that reduced me to tears more times than I could count, and all the true feelings I hid so as not to burden my mother with any additional worries.

I didn’t hear the shouts at first. They were distant and other-worldly and I was sure I had already fainted from lack of oxygen to my shuddering lungs. But then a powerful hand gripped my shoulder and crouched in front of me, the man’s face emanating concern and, deep in his eyes, fear.

“Court,” he whispered, breathless from running, “What happened, sweetie?” His palm was on my cheek, so warm and alluring against my ice-cold face. “Why are you crying?”

I was incredulous, to say the least, and my chattering teeth left me speechless. “Go. Leave already.” I retorted. “You’ll leave anyway, just like everyone else. Love doesn’t even exist... If it did, my parents would be together right now. If it did, your dad wouldn’t feel alone and broken-hearted right now. If it did, my mom wouldn’t be home crying her eyes out and turning to me instead of her husband of eighteen years for comfort!” By the end, I was shouting at him and sobbing to myself and miserable at having to feel this way, yet relieved that I’d finally gotten some of this out of me. Any willfulness and power that was left in me had disappeared along with my words so that I was now leaning back on the cold metal, looking up at the gloomy sky, waiting for Jordan to awkwardly stand in silence and gladly walk out of my life.

Instead, he closed my open mouth with his, quenching my parched throat. Although I didn’t want to feel anything, didn’t want to feel vulnerable for one second because I knew he’d leave any minute now, that this was just his farewell kiss, I couldn’t fight it. It was harmony. It was necessity. It was craving and yearning. It was passion and ache. It was…

“Love,” he uttered with fervent intensity after roughly pulling away. “If it exists, then you would’ve felt a lot more than just my tongue intertwining with yours...” His eyes were piercing mines with his vehemence, “And I know you did.”

I stared dumbfounded, puffy eyes glazed from the tears, into his eyes which burned with determination. His face was stoic and still, like a paused moment in life. His jaw muscles tensed, outlining his no longer adolescent face. He blinked but never lost track of my eyes.

Unconsciously, a tear, one of the last ones left, slowly rolled down my right cheek. He raised his hand, gently placing it on my cheek and wiped away the stray drop with his thumb.

“Sweetie, I will stand by you forever. What I’ve dreamt about and fantasized to have my whole life is right in front of me. You are all I need and all I want and no matter how fast or how far you run… I’ll never let you give up on us,” his watery eyes were very real, his caring tone genuine, and his touch caressing. “Look,” he shifted over closer to me, sliding me into his lap so that he was leaning (uncomfortably, I presume) against the metal bars and I was leaning against him, like a little child being comforted after waking up from a nightmare, “When I said we were in this together, I meant it, and I don’t ever want you to hide your pain, especially from me. That’s why I’m here- so you don’t have to suffer through anything alone, but instead talk to me about it and I can hopefully make it better.” He caught a tear just as it overflowed from my bottom eyelid and began making its journey south. This one, however, was tranquil and relaxed, mere remnants of my previous anger.

I rested my head on his chest, so warm and at peace in his embrace. I looked up, meeting his eyes which were a mirror image of mine. He leaned down, gently kissing me on the forehead.

“I’m sorry….about my, um, emotional breakdown,” I said as he lightly chuckled and stroked my hair. I sighed, my breathing finally back to normal and under control. I was ready to tell him everything that had ever hurt me, bothered me, agonized me, and made me want to break down and cry in the rain where no one could distinguish my tears from the raindrops. Everyone except him.

I took a long, deep breath and let everything I had hid in my heart and behind my emotional wall out.
* * *

Two hours later we were getting up from the spot we had thoroughly warmed up for an innocent little critter that would undoubtedly take advantage of the warmth we had created. I was praying my red and puffy face had now gone back to its usual size and color. Letting all my worries and built-up anger out had done me good- that was for sure. For Jordan, it had shown him a side of me I’d kept locked up my whole life, so that now he had a newfound knowledge of my innermost thoughts and emotions.

“All right, now here’s the plan. You, my love, are going to get in your best friend’s car, go to her house and change, and she will drive you to the destination for our date. Don’t bother asking her where it is or what we’re going to do there. Your instructions are simple… go with her, let her do what she’s volunteered to do, and meet me at our date. Are you going to be able to follow these very simple instructions?” he asked mockingly, knowing that in my head I was already planning how to get the information I needed out of Jocelyn.

“Yes, sir,” I obediently answered, a mischievous smile on my face.

“I highly doubt that,” he said, a smile playing on his lips as he moved in and kissed me before a car horn scared the crap out of me, ruining our blissful moment. Looking over Jordan, I saw Jocelyn in her 2006 Honda Civic, the driver’s window pulled down and her favorite station faintly audible.

“But…” I began, about to do my legendary puppy eyes to get something, anything, out of him.

“But nothing,” he declared, ending and ultimately winning the argument with a prolonged kiss.

“I have needs, too, you know! And having to watch you two make out when that could be me and my own boyfriend is not one of them,” shouted Jocelyn from her car.

We pulled apart and I flashed Jordan a serene smile as I headed to my friend’s car and he headed to his. I slid in, noting the messy state the Civic was in. Cookie and peanut crumbs lay on the floor, sprinkled with an occasional penny or rolling Red Bull can. The seat groaned as I settled in, and I wondered how many times she and BJ had made out in here and abused the seat I was currently reclining in. I pushed these thoughts out of my head as I turned to meet Jocelyn’s sly grin.

“You… better get ready for the time of your life, honey, ‘cuz there ain’t no way on Earth you’re going to forget tonight,” she declared, pulling out of the playground parking lot and gunning the gas.

Two hours later, with my attempts at retrieving details about my date proven completely futile, Jocelyn swerved into the Empire State Building parking lot, preferring to return the honks and obscenities rather than ignore them.

“Um… uh… Joce?” I inquired hesitantly, afraid to ask her anything considering the bad mood the drivers had put her in. “I, uh,… I think you got the wrong place.”

“No,” she said through gritted teeth, “I do not have the wrong place, okay? I meant what I said about tonight being unforgettable. Now, are you ready?” she had pulled up to the valet parking and, just by saying Jordan’s name, the car was taken and parked in one of the best spots possible. I just stared.

Taking her orders to get out of the car, I fixed my dress and looked up. The tallest building in New York towered over me as I stared in awe. It was breath-taking and intimidating. If this was the location of the date, what else would he have in store for me?

“I’m down here,” declared Jocelyn, already nervous and in a hurry. “We’re late; we should’ve been here at eleven p.m. and it is currently,” she flipped open her phone, “eleven thirty-seven. Crap! Okay, let me see…” she twirled me around, the mid-thigh dark red dress that she had picked out for me softly swishing. When we had arrived at her house, I had taken a shower and endured an hour and a half of dressing, hair styling, makeup-applying, nail-polishing, grooming, and additional painful but necessary procedures which Jocelyn had spoken so highly of. Then she showed me the dress which was utterly gorgeous; it was short and flirty but very sexy which she already regarded as my preferred and unique style. Black strappy heels and modest dangling earrings accentuated the beauty of the dress. What I didn’t understand was why there was a brand new, sexy red and black bra and matching underwear for me to put on… from Victoria’s Secret. When Joce saw my questioning stare, she just looked away and mumbled something about “things can happen” and “I’m just doing what a best friend would do”, followed by “did I get the right size?” which she stealthily used to change the subject and elaborate on the Victoria’s Secret Fall Season.

Since she was naturally gifted at cosmetic application, my makeup was amazing, so much so that I would shoot myself looks in the mirror from the corner of my eye. I had actually hung out in front of the mirror for quite some time until she had yelled at me to stop eyeing my reflection and twirling nonstop. I was euphoric before, and seeing the Empire State Building now just made me want to climb to the top and fly right back down.

“I think you’re beautiful, honey,” conceded Jocelyn. “He’s going to love you. Okay, let’s get going. We’re late enough as it is.”

Although walking in my high heels was a struggle, I pictured Jordan waiting for me at the top and made my way with ease. At the front desk, Jocelyn asked for an envelope she was supposed to pick up from Jordan and she was immediately handed one along with a red and white tiger lily, my favorite type of flower. She handed me the lily and proceeded to the grand elevators where she pushed the last possible floor button.

By now, I was already nervous, shivering, and smiling uncontrollably. My hands were freezing since they always did when I became anxious. When we reached the top floor and the doors slid open to reveal a stylish foyer leading to the penthouse suit, Jocelyn didn’t get out. Instead, she shook out the contents of the envelope- a run-of-the-mill-looking key- and slipped it in a space in the elevator panel that matched perfectly. At once the doors closed and we, once again, began ascending the eloquent building.

“Are you, uh, going to tell me where we’re going or are you going to torture me until the last possible second?” I inquired.

“Hmm, let’s see… I think the torture option sounds more appealing,” she answered with a childish grin.

“Right. Of course…” I sighed as I pictured Jordan and I having dinner in the attic of the acclaimed Empire State Building, cobwebs and boxes encircling us. That is, if it even had an attic.

The elevator bell quietly rang and, following her lead, I stepped out and into a dark room that smelled of settled dust and cold, dry air. I couldn’t see anything but Jocelyn immediately headed out so I cautiously followed her silhouette. A few steps later, she stopped abruptly and turned to me, the still open elevator doors emitting faint rays on her figure.

“All right, Court. Up you go. Happy New Year’s and tomorrow we’ll meet up so you can tell me everything,” declared Jocelyn with an excited smile.

“Sounds like a plan. First one to wake up calls the other,” I said, acknowledging our age-old ritual. “Now, I think Jordan’s worked you enough for one day, so go and have a great New Year’s Eve with your man!” After exchanging a quick hug, she headed back toward the elevator as I felt around the wall and gripped two vertical metal bars. I had to climb a dingy metal ladder which, as I now realized, led to a portal that was already open, while wearing brand-new two-inch heels. This would be fun.

At the first three steps, I had four near-death experiences, despite the fact that I was only inches off the ground. As I ascended the ladder, it became easier until I reached the last step and would have surely fallen if it wasn’t for a hand that gripped my arm. Jordan pulled me up and, a strand of hair coming out of place and settling itself in front of my eye, regarded me with awe.

“You know, next time you attempt to kill me you could wait until after the New Year has arrived. At least I’d get to see the first few hours of 2011 and be having a horrible enough hangover as it is so I wouldn’t be as vocal when your plan fails, as I am now,” I started, putting the stray strand of hair back into place, adjusting my dress, and staring vehemently into his eyes. Climbing up, I had been scared but now my anger was much more predominant.

Just as he opened his mouth, I wasn’t sure whether it was to say something or simply a defense mechanism against my accusations, and I was about to continue my rant, background lights caught my attention. Hundreds and thousands of lights flickered all around us until my anger had subsided and I realized we were outside. Outside, on the roof of the Empire State Building, the stars staring me down from overhead and surrounding lit-up buildings encircling us. I wasn’t sure if it was the altitude but, for a minute, no air entered my lungs.

I took a step forward, taking all this in. We were hundreds of feet off the ground and the only thing around us was air. The city was breath-taking from so high up. I could see taxis breaking and accelerating, tiny figures moving over the sidewalks, and majestic buildings all around us. I did a 360, turning until I was right back to where I started.

“You look beautiful, Court,” said Jordan, whom I had unintentionally forgotten, from behind my ear.

“Me?! Have you even seen where we are?” I exclaimed, believing what he had said but still in shock over where I was standing.

He laughed softly, putting his arms around my waist and perching his head on my shoulder. “You’re surprised! That means you didn’t coax Jocelyn into telling you. I’m so proud of you!” he remarked sarcastically.

I turned around, his grip loosening so his hands were still on my waist even after I’d turned around to face him. “It’s not like I didn’t try, you know,” I explained.

“Well, I had to make sure you wouldn’t break her. That you wouldn’t seduce her with your eyes, your lips,” at this he outlined my bottom lip with his finger, “your arms,” he lifted my hand and put it on his shoulder as he kissed the top part of my arm, “and who could forget that exceptional physique of yours,” he whispered as he pulled me in so close that I could literally feel every single inch of him. To say that I wasn’t turned on would have been the understatement of the year. It was a challenge to keep my train of thought and remember that it was my turn to say something.

“Well…she has a boyfriend and is a hundred percent straight so I doubt my seduction would’ve worked on her,” I explained, my head tilted to one side just as it usually was when I was about to kiss him, my lips mere inches away from his, and my eyes staring deep into his. “But…” I moved slightly to the side, causing him to loosen his grip, “I do know one person on whom it would’ve worked.” I saw the craving in his eyes and the unyielding decision that he would make me his tonight.

Just as he proceeded to close the minute space separating us, I slipped right through his arms, winking teasingly as I walked away. I came upon one corner of the roof where there was a colorful package, just like the other three edges of the building.

“Fireworks,” I declared, staring incredulously. The first month we had been together Jordan had asked me what various things I wanted to do before I died. One of my answers was to set off fireworks with the man I love from the tallest building in New York. I never, in my wildest, freakiest dreams, thought that it would ever come true. The fact that it was New Year’s Eve just made it that much more unbelievable.

My legs had lost their power and all the excited energy they had possessed when I first climbed up the ladder, so I just stood and followed him with my eyes as he went around to each corner of the roof, setting off each firework box with a lighter he had instantly attained. Gold, silver, and red sparks shot out of each package, illuminating his face and making his eyes twinkle as he set each one off. They didn’t fly off into the sky but were the kind that stayed on the ground, the sparkles shooting several feet into the air and, by the end, closing us in with an array of beautiful flashing colors.

When he had lit them all up, he took out an individual sparkler from near one of the firework packages and began walking toward me. His naturally magnetic scent- the one that made me want to glue myself to his chest, close my eyes, and take in the deepest breath I could- signaled his presence. Meeting my eyes for a split second as if to confirm what he was going to do, he lifted the lighter and ignited the top end of the sparkler, which began hissing and emitting clear silver rays, each one disappearing within seconds just as a hundred other ones began at the same time.

And then, as if an atomic bomb had been dropped upon the city, night became day as the sky lighted up with tens of hundreds of different colors and shapes and ear-piercing blasts and bangs and roars. Below, the elated cheers and cries of friends and family and strangers floated up until the explosions of the fireworks had tuned them out.

In that moment, I couldn’t remember a time when I had been more ecstatic, more exhilarated, more blissfully euphoric than I was now. The only thing I could think of that could ever beat the seventh heaven I was flying through now occurred a second later.

His gaze uniting with mine and hands slipping down my back and waist, I could feel his intense desire running through his veins and at this point I gladly returned it. Above us the sky was flashing a rainbow of hues which danced across our skin. I felt the tiny zipper of my dress slide down and struggled to find the buttons on his black shirt, which complimented his physical form so well. I didn’t even notice that the firework sparklers he had lit were still spewing gold, silver, and red sparkles and would continue to do so until daybreak.





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