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Empty Home, Broken Heart
“Look, let’s drop the small talk. I have an important question.”
I looked up at him, and I was struck by how handsome he was. This was the first time I had really noticed it. He was surrounded by the soft light of his home, his scruffy black hair hanging into his walnut-colored eyes, his skin soft and smooth, his chin pointed and his eyebrows like little forests on his face. He was tall and lean and built, and he had such emotion in the dark pools that were set deeply in his face, something I now knew was a family trait. His teeth were crooked around soft pink lips, and even if he was cold and mysterious, he was loving and caring and broken in the same way that I was. I felt like my stomach had exploded into what Amanda called “butterflies” – I was nervous, but it also tickled, and a warmth spread up from deep inside me. “Go ahead,” I said quietly.
He leaned forward, his eyes meeting mine. “What did you think of my show?” he asked.
I stared at him for a moment. It was unexpected for me. “What?” I asked blankly.
“My show!” he waved a hand around, gesturing wildly. I had seen him worked up, but not excited. His eyes now sparkled, and there was a big grin on his face. “What did you think of me performing in Books and Bakers? Your mom suggested I play a show, and she said it could become a weekly thing if it was good. I have no idea what she thinks, but if you like it and you bring it up, then I feel like I’d have a better chance. But I don’t want you to lie. It’s pretty obvious when you’re lying or not. No offense, of course,” he added quickly as I stared at him, not sure how to respond. “But you don’t lie often. And since I don’t lie, I don’t want someone to lie because of me. But if you thought I was good, and you thought it was good, your mom might be more inclined. She wants to bring in a younger crowd, and you’re part of the crowd she’d like to bring in. You know, high schoolers,” he said, might mistaking my confused expression being caused by confusing to the crowd rather than how I was failing to wrap my head around things. “So, I just think it’d be cool if you could bring it up next time you see her, you know? But whatever, if you can’t, it’s cool. But… Did you like it?”
“I didn’t know many of the songs,” I said. “I don’t listen to a lot of music; mostly classical instrumentals and whatever is on the radio. As a matter of fact… I don’t think I knew any of the songs.”
Cameron stared at me for a moment before pulling his guitar out from underneath his bed. He opened the case and lifted it out. The light caught it a momentarily blinded me; I blinked erratically and when I was focused again, he was ready to play.
“This is called ‘Broadripple is Burning’,” he said quietly. “It’s by a kind of old and obscure band, Margot and the Nuclear So-and-So’s. I know, it’s a weird name,” he said with a smile at my taken aback expression. “But their music is… amazing. I won’t do it justice.”
I’m still not sure what he meant by that, because his music nearly moved me to tears. His husky voice, bleeding with his Spanish accent sang about love and loss and pain, his fingers plucking away at what was undoubtedly the most expensive thing in their house, and I was completely entranced. I understood why Cameron wasn’t interested in school, or in Latin, or in inverse functions and graphing. That wasn’t where his future lay. His future was in music and feeling and family, the things that he knew best. And when his last note filled the bedroom, I found my hands interlaced and squeezing my fingers tightly as if I was trying to keep them from breaking into pieces like my heart just had.
That wasn’t quite the moment I fell for him. I had been falling since he saw I was lonely, since he smiled at me in the hall, since he had taken my hand in his bedroom. But I knew I had fallen when he flicked his hair back and looked into my eyes, tears in his own because he knew that I wouldn’t cry.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“You’re welcome,” he said, and even though he didn’t know what I was thanking him for, he said it nevertheless. He walked over to me as I closed my eyes, keeping back my tears, and he kissed me on the forehead.
“I hate it there,” I whispered. “I hate that huge, abandoned house. I hate that I don’t even know my own family. It’s empty there. It’s dead. I wish that my family was like yours,” I confessed. He watched me as I stumbled over words that spilled out my soul. “I want a family that talks to each other and laughs and watches out for one another. I can’t go back home. Please,” I begged, opening my eyes and looking up at him. “Don’t make me go back there.”
Cameron looked at me, and he smoothed my hair. I tucked the uneven strand behind my ear, and then he suddenly said, “Don’t.” Ever so gently, Cameron took the strand and put it back into my eyes. “You don’t have to be together all the time, Trisha,” he said quietly. “You don’t have to be perfect.”
“That’s all I have,” I said, my voice snagging in my throat, filled with emotion. “I’m completely put together. I’m a finished puzzle. I’m–”
“You’re broken like the rest of us,” he whispered. I shook my head, squeezing my eyes shut. Cameron’s hand gently touched my face, stroking it. “And it’s okay. Call your mom. Tell her that you’re going to stay at Amanda’s. You don’t have to go home.”
I opened my eyes and looked up at him. “Really?”
“Really,” he said, his eyes soft. “I’ll talk to Mama. It’ll be okay.” He kissed my forehead once more and left the room. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and called my mother’s cell. She picked up on the fifth ring, right before voicemail would’ve picked up.
“Miranda Baker,” she said crisply.
“It’s me, mom,” I said quietly.
“Trisha! Honey, is everything alright?”
“It’s fine, mom,” I said, holding the cell phone with both hands. I was about to lie to my mother. “Um, Amanda picked me up from the store and was wondering if I could spend the night. Is that okay?”
The funny thing is that part of me wanted her to say no. Part of me wanted her to tell me to come home right now. I wanted her to see through the lie. I wanted her to be able to tell that I was upset. I wanted her to know me and to understand that I was miserable.
“That’s fine, sweetie. I have to close up the store. Your little friend was better than I expected, and I need to make a schedule. I might have him start playing regularly, and you and all your friends can come every once in a while. I’ve got to run, honey, I’ll talk to you later. Have fun at Amanda’s!”
“Bye,” I whispered, but she was already gone. When Cameron came back into the room, he saw my empty, dead expression. He leaned down next to me, searching my face before looking deep into my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. I began to cry, burying my face into my hands. And Cameron moved me from the duct tape chair onto his squeaky mattress, one arm around me and the other stroking my hair. And he held me until fourteen years worth of tears streamed from my eyes, and then held me still as I felt into a restless sleep.