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It had been cool out. That was the first thing I remembered.
Summer was winding down, but it wasn’t supposed to be this chilly after sunset until November. I remember seeing my breath, vapor gone from my mouth and then dissipating in the stoic air. High above me, the clouds rested their wispy heads, drifting lazily from one end of the universe to the other. The moon draped its blanket of light across their white bodies, lending the night an eerie color. I could see the faint blinking of stars in the empty patches of sky, their eyes staring down at the world with a kind of detached interest. I wondered if they cared at all.
I sat against a rough tire in the dusty parking lot, leaning my head back against the old Chevy, just breathing.
Inhale, exhale – watching my breath create clouds from my lips.
I’d seen Bobby angry before, but he’d never scared me. When we were screaming and yelling, shouting words too pointed for our sensitive mouths, he stepped towards me, his size suddenly foreboding. It was the first time I realized how much bigger than me he was, how strong he looked. Fear skittered through my mind, but it wasn’t strong enough to dig through my anger. I snapped at him and his presence became overwhelming. He was everywhere. All I could see, all I could feel, was Bobby.
And then he struck out, his hand rough and angry, swift like a bullet. His knuckles rapped against my face, my neck shooting backward as he connected with the bone beneath my cheek. I twisted in the air and fell to the ground.
Oh my God.
I didn’t dare look up at him…didn’t move, didn’t breathe…just concentrated on the burn his fury left behind. My face reddened and swelled, but I refused to cry. I struggled for composure, searching for some sort of decorum as I lay amongst the dust mites.
The sting came later, after my head hit the broken lot and my elbows scraped across bitter, hidden rocks. My cheek felt like it was on fire, burning skin beneath my eye. My hand flew to my face, eager to put out the flames I expected to find there. But there was nothing.
Bobby stood, still poised above me, his body contorted, trapped in the movement of the blow he’d dealt. I stared up at him as pain pulsated through the blood of my face, eyes glossy with shock, and saw the remnants of his rage scamper away to the darkest parts of him – creatures so twisted and black, a cruelty that I never knew kept a home in his heart. Then those angry things were gone, leaving bare the confusion that now clouded his features.
“Dell…” he whispered, my name coming out in a jumbled rush of half-intended sound. He looked at his hand as if uncertain about how it got there, a strange appendage that didn’t belong to him at all. Out of his control. His eyes grew watery with remorse and he stepped again towards me.
His movement struck a kind of fear in me that I hadn’t known before. I whimpered and scooted away from him, frantically pushing my feet against the loose soil. He reached for me and I flinched, my face crumpled in disbelief. My reaction slammed in to him like a body hitting the cool, hard surface of a still lake. He stopped. I’d jerked away from his extended hand, a hand he’d this time offered in sorrow, no longer in malice. But still, I could not take it.
My body ached. It hurt more than falling off my bike and scraping my knees, more than stitches. It hurt because of him. It hurt because he wanted it to.
I couldn’t ignore his intentions, no matter how sorry he felt after the fact. He must have seen, must have understood, because he began backing away from me, turning to leave the parking lot, sweating despite the chill in the air.
The air simmers with heat, creating waves across the wasted landscape. It’s heavy on my shoulders, pressing me down into the soft earth below my feet. On any other day, the white tank top I’m wearing would feel feather-light, a nearly imperceptible fabric draped across my back. But today, the thin material makes me sweat, clings to my skin like the length of a snake curled around its prey. I long for the cool air of the falling months, but it’s been a long time since the winter has bothered to stretch so far into southern Texas. Waiting for its relief is bound to be the death of me.
“God, Dell. Are you sure bobby’s coming?”
I kick at the dust on the road. From where I’m sitting on the curb, I can see it poof up into the air, swirling in grand patterns before the wind steals it away. Some of it blows into my face and mingles with the sweat on my brow, companions in the heat. I make a fuss of brushing it off so that I can stall my response. I only do this to annoy her. Becky’s never been a patient person, so it doesn’t take much. Besides, Bobby always comes. It wasn’t a question worthy of reply, really.
“Adelle,” she says, put off by being ignored.
It’s a struggle to hold back my reaction, but I don’t let her snide tone get to me. She’s three years younger, but she thinks me incompetent. Or deaf. “I’m sure,” I say, shuffling my feet again.
“Would you stop that? You’re getting dust in my hair.”
The muscles in my face twitch into a frown, but I don’t kick anymore. I just shield my eyes against the sun as I look up into the blindingly blue sky. I wish Bobby would hurry up. He’s late.
The roaring of a car engine is all the answer I need to my silent prayer as Bobby drives up to the curb. Whatever worries Becky’d had about her hair grow exponentially as the car stirs up more dry earth than my food ever could. Bobby stares at me through the glass of the window, his blue eyes holding all the apologies in the world.
“Sorry,” he says, though I don’t need to hear it.
I only grunt and climb into the front seat. Becky scrambles into the back, airing her protests louder than necessary. But Bobby’s too focused on me to hear her. His smoldering glance falls on me with a heat that’s filled with hope. I know what he wants from me – some sort of recognition, a smile if I could manage it. But if he knows anything of importance, it’s that today is not the day.
Becky clears her throat and his eyes are gone from mine. They drift towards the road and we surge forward with the putt-putt of his engine. My thoughts become louder in the silence of the car, pegging me with questions I’d rather not hear and answers I’d rather not know.
How long has it been?
Three weeks. Three weeks since he hit you.
Will you ever forgive him?
Will it be today?
I’m dragged from my memories of that strangely cool night when I feel the warm press of fingers over my hand. I cautiously look to the side seeing Bobby’s hand resting lightly over mine. The action shocks me. It’s so normal…such an average thing to do. But it’s unexpected. I can tell by the way he tenses up that he hadn’t thought about it, that he wished he hadn’t reached for me. He’s waiting for me to pull away, but I can’t. Something within me is frozen. Instead, I use my free hand to twist the gauge for the air conditioning.
“It’s broken,” he says. His voice is raw, rough as it forces its way from his mouth. How have we grown so unused to talking to one another?
Clicking the knob a few more times for good measure, I grimace. It’s stifling in the car and the temperature’s getting to me. I have to twist my hair into a knot above my head and grit my teeth as my stomach turns. I’m feeling nauseous, but all I can do is stare out the window as the tires bump over the uneven road.
When we finally reach the mismatched group of squat buildings that make up our school, Becky hops out of the car and leaves Bobby and me alone. For a long time, we sit there in silence, his wide thumb rubbing over the scars on my knuckles.
“I’m sorry I was late,” he says.
I’m not sure how much conversation I can handle, so I wait for him to open my door instead of saying anything else. He offers his hand to me and I step out onto the cracked blacktop, my eyes catching the harsh glare of the sun. I sway to the side and thankfully, Bobby’s there to steady me. He leads me into the courtyard, nodding to the few students who haven’t yet fled to the cool interior of the hallways. My head’s pounding, the heat creeping into my veins. I’m so out of touch that I don’t hear what Bobby’s saying to me. I look at him with empty eyes and he purses his lips. He thinks I’m mad at him. I’m not, but if I say anything, he’ll just start talking again. So I keep my mouth shut and sit beside him the way I’m supposed to. We’ve been together since middle school, Bobby and I, but I’ve never felt so distant from a person. The calm lake that used to be our haven had been thrown up in torrents, the waters expanding into an ocean, the waves driving us cruelly apart.
The bell rings and it’s time for our paths to splinter apart, but Bobby pulls me towards him. He envelopes me in his arms, my face cradled comfortably between his collarbone and his shoulder. I’ve forgotten how good it feels to be with him, and I’m almost sad that things have turned sour for the two of us. I miss him.
Before I can tell him so, he ends our embrace, pushing me an arm’s length away. It’s the first time I wish he wouldn’t follow my rules. They went unspoken at first, subtle hints of my drifting, but now he knew them by heart. Physical contact was high up on the list of DO NOT But at that moment, I wanted to keep his arms around me for just a few more seconds. I wanted to remember what it was like…before.
He reaches up, oh-so-hesitant, and brushes his thumb over my cheek. “You’re beautiful,” he says. He’s pushing the limits today, testing the boundaries of what’s become acceptable.
I glance down, unable to look him in the eye. His hand falters and he moves away from me, staring at me one last time before we head our separate ways. I want to say something, but it’s too late now. He’s gone and I’m alone. Again.
When he disappears, I finger the bracelet that hangs over my wrist. The sun glints off the locket’s silvery surface, the reflection sparkling. Carefully, I pop the latch. On the left side of the heart, an inscription reads “I love you,” and on the other, there is a picture of us together. It’s from before – when we were happy. I touch my face in the spot where bruises had once flowered in purples and blues over my skin and wince, my eyes tingling as tears gather at their edges. It will never be the same. Not after what he did.