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Ben stood and watched the woman before him walk towards him, her body relaxed and wrapped in a creamy gauze confection, and her smile warmed him. He flexed his toes in the sand and saw the setting sun’s glow wash over her smiling profile as tears welled up inside him. Golden, glittering specks danced on her hair, blowing with the wind as if she was part of nature herself. Lilacs and gardenias swept across the line of bridesmaids, the fragrance blooming in the air, as purples and yellows smeared the sky, leaving Ben speechless. Parker, the best man, patted Ben on the back, a kind gesture to a cold-footed groom, one ready to run but nailed to a picturesque beach. But Parker knew that wasn’t him, and knew he wasn’t nervous. This was the beginning of the rest of Ben’s life, and he couldn’t wait to begin it with her. With the hushing waves crashing behind him, Ben remembered the day they met. It replayed in his head while he waited for his bride to near him, clasp her soft hands in his and tell him she was his forever. Four years ago when he met Rosaline, he was a whole different person. He wasn’t himself. They were both searching for freedom. From their family, their providers, and from themselves-they searched freedom. She had showed him how beautiful life could be, and he proved that true love could happen, it could last, and it could change your life.
Rosaline pushed a bouncing curl off her cheek and tugged the ratty quilts up around her shoulders. Carefully placing her heels onto the raw, hardwood floor, her toes followed and she stood, teetering while her grogginess pulled against her, urging her back to bed. Rose padded down the hallway and made her way to the kitchen, quietly passing Kyle’s room, dodging a heap of magazines and newspapers stacked against the wall. She slid the teakettle onto their rusted stove and sighed, realizing she had overslept and that Kyle would be up soon, wanting breakfast. There were two eggs left and half a sleeve of pork roll from last week, not enough for two breakfasts, and certainly not enough for a meal that would suit him. She poured herself a glass of orange juice from a sticky carton and let the thought leave her mind. After finishing her glass, she turned and slipped into the bathroom they shared. Rose dropped the quilts and button-down flannel Kyle had thrown to her last night and pushed the pile aside with her foot. With a glance in the mirror, her eyes appeared red and swollen with tears, and fat, purple spiders grew on her cheek and arms. Wide thumb prints circled her fore-arms and she grimaced, knowing they proceeded down her legs as well. The hot water on her skin beat hard on her bruises and abrasions. Rosaline turned away from the spray and relaxed her shoulders, dropped her head and let the water rush over the sore spots with closed eyes.
“Clop, clop, clop.” Kyle rapped on the wooden door and it banged in the door frame. Rose’s eyes snapped open and darted to the bathroom door before she remembered where she was. She stepped out and quickly stammered a reply to her land lord’s fists, clutching a towel to her bare body. Rose’s fingers gently pulled the thick, wooden door open. Kyle’s face was jammed in the space she had made between them, contorted into a red, angry twist. His jaw bone was clenched and he was moving in the all too familiar quick, uneasy movements she had become afraid of, yet he smiled sweetly.
“Rose, baby…” he cooed with a turn of his head, “breakfast?”
“Yeah, Kyle after I get out of the shower, ok?” Rose began to push the door closed but he swung his palm up and pushed it open, sending a rush of cold air to her damp skin, swirling into the foggy bathroom. Rose hugged the towel closer to her body, hoping he wouldn’t notice her breasts bulging from the top or her long bare legs. She wanted to start this morning right and not be left alone, trembling and dirty on his bed when he was finished with her, throbbing and stinging with pain.
“Jesus Christ, I’m starving here!” he threw his hands up and spat the words at her with his heavy Brooklyn accent. “I’m not gonna wait for you to get all pretty when you know I gotta lotta business to do. Jimmy’s gonna be by any minute. Now let’s go, you’re already out. I’m going out for cigarettes and if there isn’t food on this table when I get back, you’re done, girl”. Kyle snarled and ran his eyes down her dripping body. Adrenaline filled Rose’s head with heat and she punched him hard in his gut. She shoved him aside, her arms shaking, and the rush ran through her body. She started to kick his legs before grabbing a lamp from the small table in the hallway and swung at his head twice until he fell to the ground in a heap. She ran her hand over her hair, pushing it out of her face and watched for a second as he lay on the ground, motionless. Realizing he wouldn’t stay there for long, she ran into her room and grabbed her pair of jeans slung over the back of a chair and quickly dressed, keeping her eyes on the doorway. Rose heard nothing but the shallow breathing in her ears and her heart thumping against her bones. She darted out and was passing through the kitchen when she heard him groan and fumble, attempting to get up.
A few minutes away just west of Prospect Park, Ben Stonewell grabbed his coffee mug and sat down at the carved mahogany table carefully centered in his spacious kitchen. As the eggs and bacon simmered, Ben pulled out the two energetic and colorful pamphlets from his leather briefcase. He had carefully slipped them from a sidewalk stand jammed with tourist t-shirts and cheap plastic travel mugs. After grabbing the brochures, he had joined the rumpled nurses and art students on the subway, politely avoiding thrown elbows. Ben suddenly had felt out of place flipping through the stack, being a proud local, and disregarded them until now. In the privacy of his own apartment, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and face before taking a closer look at one he had selected. A tattoo shop boldly announced a 2 for 1 tattoo offer. Ben scoffed. He would never even consider doing that, but he could admit he’d dreamed of the looks he would receive from women in blue jeans and white tank tops and long brown hair when they saw the ink on his biceps… His thoughts began to wander as the sizzling of the grease behind him grew louder. The small pops were interrupted by a ring slicing through the fragrant air. A Florida area code flashed on the small screen. Ben grabbed the receiver on the second ring and hastily punched the TALK button.
He could remember his parents mentioning a visit to the condo but was surprised he was hearing from them mid-trip. For as long as Ben could remember, his parents would arrange for the maid to keep an eye on him while they were away, but only called when a true emergency presented itself. They liked to isolate themselves from outside pressures, a rare occurrence counting for the fact that his father was constantly receiving business calls and the like. Eventually the maid’s eye began to wander as he grew older, but Ben always felt that his parents were aware of his every thought and it made him increasingly uneasy. Most of the weekends of high school he spent alone in their empty yet luxurious penthouse were uneventful in Ben’s mind. Homework, charity benefits, social events and special photo ops for his parents stole the hours. Ben was allowed to accept one or two glasses of wine or champagne to be polite at dinner parties, and no curfews or traditional rules were set. As a ‘representative of New York City’s most prestige family’, he had to make his parents look good, brown-nosing men in tuxes and kissing powdered hands of important women. Ben knew better than to come home tumbling around, clenching his stomach or drifting through the empty house with his eyes rimmed in cherry glaze. His parents would know, and he could be sure they would be disappointed.
Clearing his throat, Ben barked a nervous hello. An invitation to the Bleau at 6:30 this Saturday; it was nothing new. Ben’s father was on good terms with the 5-star restaurant’s owner and was guaranteed the best table for their weekly dinner parties, but without necessity. His parents silently insisted he attend every planned dinner, even though the reservations surely meant nothing to a man who presumably either owed Ben’s father money, or succumbed to his charming personality and promise of social importance. Ben accepted, not even considering another choice, an excuse or a path out of his own special brand of torturing himself, a successful grown man. This Saturday was just another common, routine action for him to drift through. His body would perform the act and maintain a calm position while inside his mind would be either somewhere else entirely or steaming with impatience. He just couldn’t take it anymore.
Ben sighed and ran his finger along the rim of the squat brown mug before him and remembered seeing the cluster of Indian inspired flat wear wrapped in a dark red bow beneath his Christmas tree last year. Ben liked the rough pottery, the rustic earthy feel of high end pieces, and knew he could never pick something out like this for himself. Despite living an independent life for the good part of his 25 years, Ben’s parents were always determined to present him with only the best home furnishings and private chefs. Anything Ben purchased himself would eventually be seen by his nosy parents, and need to stamped and sealed worthy for their example of perfection walking the earth. They were simply trying to keep their reputation shiny and polished, despite their new additions of wrinkles and health problems unseen to the public’s eye. Ben didn’t care much for their materialistic ways but gave in to their advice after agreeing that he could do away with the in-home chef. Not even the rich dishes he had prepared for Ben could warm the ache and swell his heart until it rose inside him, filling out his chest. There was always a tinge of dissatisfaction with his self; while he impressed his parents he never quite could impress himself with his own life.
Ben sucked air into his lungs and picked up the phone. He hit the redial button and mustered up courage, pushing the air out through his nose in a quick pulse.
“Hi, Mom. Yeah it’s Ben… Listen… I’m not coming. Busy.” Ben paused and despite the fiery mood that had come over him, regret washed over him. He wasn’t trying to lie to his parents, just make a point. “No, you know what? I’m not busy. I’m going to make plans for Saturday instead this week. Talk to you later, bye.” Ben hung up the phone as the last syllable of his confession crossed the line into Florida, cutting the goodbye sharply.
Ben’s eyes darted from the stove to the floor and paused, soaking up the adrenaline. He stacked the sunny-side up eggs and bacon onto two thick slices of bread from the bakery downtown. After Ben finished the last bite and scooped up some fallen egg with a last bit of bread, he decided to run over to Parker’s place. He and Parker roomed together at Yale and were both on the crew team all four years, with the only difference between them being Ben had money, and respectively, had majored in finance and economics. Parker had just moved in to a set of old apartments on St. Marks Ave., and despite them being massive beautiful stone buildings wound in ivy, he was still pretty uneasy about the rough city outside his window. Ben figured he’d show him some local places while grabbing a beer and catching some of the Yankees game, hopefully regaining a clear head and a guiltless conscience.
Ben slipped his cell and wallet into his pocket and started to climb the dark slate stone steps of his apartment when he saw a quick moving figure rush down the stairs and burst through the front doors. Her face down and cheeks wet with tears, she must not have seen Ben until they were both on the ground. The door had opened quickly and smacked Ben just beside his left brow. Blood trickled from the cut and ran down to his lips while he laid on the cold stoop. Ben had only caught a glimpse of his scrambling opponent before being knocked down, but stared at the straw-colored blanket of smooth waves cascading over her shoulder as he scrambled up. She was absolutely beautiful. Freckles spotted her pale skin and icy blue eyes flashed softly beneath her concerned brow, and then the sounds cut away. The brick walls and street started to run around him, teasing him silently, playing with his mind. Quiet cars and people rushed by and the wind blew her hair, swirling it around her face. His eyes went black and she disappeared, the pictures faded away like the sounds had, leaving Ben in dark silence, missing and wanting and wishing for the beautiful woman.
Now, as Rose stepped into her place beside the man she had met just four years before, she realized she wasn’t looking at the same person. He was more alive than he had ever been, his eyes twinkling under thick lashes. They had both changed over the past years, had grown together, and also grown separately into the people they always wanted to be, and had always been but never had the chance to be. He became a safe, comforting familiar source of her happiness. She had found herself, and found herself in him.