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Life's What You Make It

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By the iWrite 2011 campers:
Emily Borst, Marie Cox, Maia McCrae, Nina McCrae, Alivia Moe

Hayden Cateline Hughes was jet lagged and hungry. If she were still in Paris, she’d be eating crusty bread and butter in a café within view of the Eiffel Tower. At home in Spotsylvania, Virgina the best she could find was Easy Mac…which after two bites tasted revolting.

The sunlight filtered through her window and illuminated her paisley bedspread, making her look up from her journal and squint. She jumped off the bed, pulled down the tattered blue shade and flopped on her favorite fuzzy blanket.

Her momentum interrupted, she decided to reread what she’d written so far in her journal.

April 19, 2011

Dear Cateline:

Where do I start? Oh, I know…. I HATE MY LIFE! If I could I’d pack my bags and go back to Paris, where I belong. Dad’s there – I could live in his little apartment and start high school. My French is good enough… and it would only get better. I could cook for Dad, and help him take care of things when he’s on deadline. And, of course, I could be with Stephane.

God, I hate Spotsylvania – there’s nothing to do here. It’s a suburban nightmare with whiny kids, conservative Neanderthals and soccer moms. Enough about my sucky life here… I want to remember Paris.

It was so odd how we met, well, I mean, how we met again. It was my third day in Paris and Dad asked if I’d like to go to a writer’s party in Montparnasse. It didn’t sound like too much fun, but because my dad seemed to really want to go, I said yes. I did come here to see him, after all.

Anyway, when we got to the party, it was packed, smoky and there was no one under the age of 35 in sight. A blonde elegant French woman, smelling like L’eau de Temps (way too much of it) greeted my dad and dragged him off to the bar on the veranda. “Mon cheri, you must meet Jean Paul, he’s been waiting for you….”

Great. Already on my own.

I noticed a big tattered maroon armchair in the back corner of the room. I headed for it, grabbed a baguette, spread it with brie cheese, and filled a glass with cold Perrier from the food table on my way. I picked up a random magazine, Photographie Extraoidinaire, and started flipping the pages.

“Excusez-moi, mademoiselle, Que lisez – vous?”

I looked up into the deepest bluest eyes I’d ever seen, and somehow they were also vaguely familiar. I think Oh, God! This is it… this guy thinks I’m French and he’s gorgeous. How can I respond in perfect French?

“Uh, c’est uh,” I stuttered.

Oh, d*mn, what is the word for magazine? Livre? No, that’s book… Oh, God. He’s gonna walk away. Say something…

“Oh, c’est rien.” I finally blurt out. Oh, s***. Really, the best I could come up with is ‘Nothing’?

“Merde.” I said under my breath, but loud enough that he heard me.

Great job, Hayden, you finally found the right word in French, I think to myself. He laughs and a piece of his brown shaggy hair slips in front of his face. God, I can’t stop staring at him as he brushes it back. My face was hot, I’m sure it was red.

“It’s OK, I speak English. Do you like photography?” he said, pointing to the magazine.

I laughed and said, “Actually, I do.” From there, we found ourselves lost in conversation, not pausing until interrupted by a big crash from across the room, like a tray of wine glasses was dropped.

I was suddenly aware of how drunk everyone was at this party. How long had we been talking? We stood and tried to move around the crowd, but got separated. The next thing I knew, I felt my cell phone vibrating in my jean’s pocket. I pushed my way to the foyer of the apartment, passed the crowd and heard my Beatles ringtone “Hello, hello… I don’t know why you say good-bye, I say….”

“Dad?” I yelled. “Where are you?”

He told me he was holding a cab out front and I needed to hurry. I looked back hoping to see ‘blue eyes’, but he was nowhere to be found.

When we got into the taxi, Dad asked if I was alright and chortled, “These Parisian parties, they can get crazy sometimes. Hey, by the way, has Stephane changed much?” Dad asked.

“Stephane? Who’s he?” I asked.

“The boy who used to be your pen pal? You know, my editor’s son. You met him when you were 6 and wrote to him for a few years. Don’t you remember him? “

“Of course, I remember. But was he there at the party?”

“Yes, Cat, you were talking to him the whole time.”

MERDE!!!!!!


Hayden jumped and dropped her pen when she heard the rap on her bedroom door. “Cat?” Her mom asked in that sweet but irritating voice. Hayden hated it that her mom started calling her “Cat.” It was her dad’s nickname for her. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah, come on in.” she groaned.

“Hey, I had an idea. Want to go to Bridges for pizza tonight?”

“No, mom, I’m beat and not hungry anymore. Anyway, Nick and I have plans later.”

Hayden’s mom sighed and said, “Ok, just don’t be too late.”

Hayden rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling.

Geez! Why do I always feel so guilty around her? I hate being here. Why can’t she be happy with her life? I feel like she wants me to make her happy. It’s been five d*mn years since Dad moved out, went to Paris and the divorce was final. He’s moved on, why can’t she?

Hayden picked up her pen, tapped it against her lip and began reading again.

The next morning, I asked dad if I could go to the Tuileries to take photos with my new digital camera. I took a picture of a gorgeous weeping willow and realized there was something vaguely familiar about this scene. I walked towards the tree to get a closer look, taking photos as I went. I sat down at its base , the moss was cool and soft. I lay back and closed my eyes, thinking of him. I could smell the fragrance of the spring flowers and hear the sounds of children squealing in the park nearby.

“Well, bonjour again!” he said. “It is you.”

Startled, I peeked around the side of the tree. I couldn’t believe my eyes; it was Stephane! I watched him as he broke into a wide smile.

“I did not learn your name last night,” he said with his thick French accent, which made me melt.

“I-I-I…. it’s -uh- my name is Hayden.”

“Hayden? I knew an American girl named Hayden. We were pen pals for years.”

“W-well, what’s your name?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Stephane” he said, extending a handshake and grinning; “Nice to meet you.” He held my hand for what seemed like forever. Finally he let go. “Do you want to take a walk? I know a great place to take photographs.”

Stephan led me down a narrow dirt path past several signs that said ‘INTERDIT!’ in big red letters.

The path ended at an ornate wrought iron gate that opened into a private garden. “What is this place?” I whispered. He took my hand and quietly responded, “It’s my little secret.” Stephane removed his shoes and gestured for me to do the same. Then he grabbed my hand and led me to a small bench near a fountain with a Rodin sculpture of two lovers. We sat next to each other in silence, until I blurted out,

“Stephane, I am your pen pal!”

He blinked as he took in what I had just said.

“I didn’t know until last night. Dad saw us talking at the party and told me in the cab on the way home that you were Stephane.”

“Oh, my God!” he said. “It all makes sense now. I felt last night that I knew you somehow. And then again today, there you were taking photographs where we first met each other with our parents all those years ago,” he exclaimed.

We talked on and on, sharing stories of our lives. Stephane’s life had been exciting compared to mine since we last wrote one another. He had traveled all around the world with his mom. They lived in Spain for a year. Barcelona! I’ve always wanted to go there. Then he went to middle school in Brazil.. He speaks Spanish and Portuguese now. And the coup de gras: he studied electric violin with Ringo Starr’s daughter in London! As I sat listening to his stories, I realized how boring my life in Spotsylvania had been. What stories could I tell him? Well, I thought, I could tell him about Nick. And so I did.

After we talked, lying in silence in a patch of grass in my Stephane’s secret garden, I shivered and Stephane inched closer to me. It was beginning to get dark, the sun was lowering in the sky, and a chill was setting in.

“Are you cold, mon cherie?”

“A little,” I murmured.

Stephane took off his jacket and draped it over our huddled bodies.

“You know, Hayden, I feel I could tell you anything,” he whispered into my hair. I turned my face up towards his, he cupped my chin in his soft, warm hand. He leaned in, staring into my eyes. I closed mine, leaned forward and…

Hayden’s phone began playing “I Get by With a Little Help From my Friends.”

“Hey! Oh, sorry Nick. What time is it? OK. I’m coming! I’m on my way.”

Hayden bounded down the stairs, leaving her journal and pen on the bed. She jumped on her teal Cruiser and pedaled as fast as she could towards Nick’s house.

Nicholas Jacob Burnson (Nick) had been her best friend since kindergarten. Every day, he sat in the sand box working on a sand castle that some mean 3rd grader was sure to topple over in the next recess period. He was the only black kid in her kindergarten class. He sat alone and hardly said a word to anyone. And he wore an oversized Beatles shirt almost everyday. Hayden thought to herself, best friend material if I ever saw it.

One day she offered to help him with his sand castle. He said, “Sure.” She sat quietly adding turrets and moats until the bell rang. As they walked into the school, she looked back over her shoulder at their creation and asked, “Doesn’t it bother you that it will be gone by the end of school?” He looked at her and said, “Nope.” From that moment on they were inseparable. Nobody else understood them. And that was totally OK.

Finally Hayden pulled up in front of Nick’s brick and vinyl house. The only thing that distinguished it from the other brick and vinyl houses on his block was the oversized RV in the front yard. Nick and Hayden used to love to hang out and listen to their Beatles albums in the back of that leaking, rusty RV that hasn’t left the driveway in 8 years.

“Hey!” Nick yelled from the RV. “Come on in.”

“What are you doing in there?” Hayden asked.

“Just come in…” he replied dryly.

“What the h*ll?” Hayden said as she reached out to touch his face.

“I told them…” said Nick.

“You did? “

“Yup. And he hit me.”

“Oh, God. I’m so sorry. Are you OK?”

“Yeah. At least it’s out now.”

“What did they say?”

“Mom was pretty cool actually. She cried a little. Dad just lost it.”

“So, you’re out here because…”

“Mom thought I might feel safer out here for a few days.”

“Geez! He’s such a homophobe!”

“Nah! He’ll come around. He loves me, he just doesn’t get me.”

“All d*mn parents are the same. They want you to be just like them. They say they love you but they only love you if you’re just like them.”

“We just need to let them know who we really are. Isn’t that what you’ve been saying to me all these years? Just be myself. Don’t be afraid to be who I am?”

“Yeah. I just didn’t think he’d hit you.”

“He feels pretty awful about it. He’s gone to church to pray about it, too. He’s never done anything like that before and I think it really scared him. Anyway, I’m relieved it’s over. I’m out… I’m Ok with it.”

“That’s awesome, Nick… Really.”

They sat in silence. And from the radio, they heard, “Life’s What You Make It. So come on, come on…”

“Really? Hannah Montana now? God! Turn that crap off!” Hayden yelled.

“So… How was Spring Break?” Nick asked as he reached up to turn off the radio.

“It was awesome…” and Hayden leaned back into a fluffy orange pillow to tell Nick the whole story.

Hayden finished her story of Stephane and Paris with, “And now I’m back here… and I hate my life even more than I did before Spring break.”

Nick threw his empty water bottle at her and yelled, “Get over yourself, girlfriend! So, yeah, you hate Spotsylvania. And, no it’s not Paris. But you have two parents that love you and they let you go to Paris. And then you had an amazing romantic adventure reuniting with a gorgeous guy named Stephane who totally gets you…. And yeah, your dad is totally distracted with his work and your mom’s unhappy with her life but I am NOT buying that your life is miserable. God, you’re starting to sound just like your mother.”

Hayden didn’t know what to say and they sat in a long silence as she took all this in.

Suddenly, her phone sang, ‘Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody.”

“Hey, mom. Ok. On my way. Yeah, love you too,” Hayden mumbled into the phone.

Hayden looked at Nick’s swollen face. And she saw that same kid she met all those years ago making sand castles. He didn’t let the bullies get to him then – the ones who teased him and took pride smashing his castles. And now? He’s found a way to forgive his dad for hitting him.

“Thanks, Nick. You’re the best.” She walked over and gave him a big hug. “See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow.”

She headed down the steps of the RV. “Hey, Nick… Glad you told them. It was right thing to do.”

Hayden got on her Cruiser, turned on the headlamp and headed for home. A car came up behind her with head lights beaming, and radio blasting. As it passed, she heard “Life’s What You Make It. Come on… Come on…”

Hayden chuckled to herself: God, I hate to admit it but maybe Hannah Montana’s got it right.





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