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Back to the Start
A loud pounding on the door jerked me violently out of sleep, and I sat up in my bed, startled. “Mommy?” I called out, and screamed when a few seconds later I heard what sounded like an explosion coming from downstairs. “Daddy!” I yelled again, and sprinted as fast as I could out of my room and over to the banister that overlooked the living room.
There were wood splinters and glass covering the floor and a small flame flickered in the corner. Soot was caked onto the wall like a child’s finger painting. There was a smell of sulfur in the air, making me gag violently. I saw the front door that was blasted violently from its hinges in what looked to be some kind of explosion in the foyer directly underneath me, the previously beautiful stained glass that was framed by the door shattered around the floor. Jagged edges were left sticking out of the white wood and slivers of rainbow glass were scattered around the white marble floors.
Then I finally saw my parents. They were standing in front of the bare doorframe, my mother in her flowing white nightgown and my father in his red and white flannel pajamas. Scratches crossed their bodies every which way, and patterns of burns, soot, and blood accompanied them. I looked more intently at the doorway, and saw what they were staring at. There were three black-cloaked figures standing uniformly, absolutely nothing but black showing over their bony frames. I could hear my parents pleading with them.
“Please, don’t do this. We don’t have anything you are looking for here.”
“Ah, but you do! We can taste the lie in your voice; you are trying to hide it.” The figures seemed to speak all in one voice; their words echoed and sent a chill up my spine. They sounded like snakes, drawing their words out in long hisses.
“Please, no, we have a child upstairs…please-”
“Then anything you have done and hidden from us has brought this curse down upon your child. It is your doing. It is not our faults.”
They raised their arms in unison and the black sleeves fell away, revealing what looked to me like bones covered in aged yellow parchment. Black fire and yellow sparks shot from their palms, and my parents were covered in a blanket of fire and lightning. I screamed out for my mom and dad, and one of the creatures jerked its head up to look angrily at me. I saw two red eyes, the color of old faded red chalcedony stone, before a brilliant white flash of light blinded me. The last thing I remember seeing was a pile of ashes and dust where my parents had been standing, and two golden rings buried beneath.
I glance restlessly around the old clichéd diner, waiting impatiently. The torn fake leather of the booth that I sit in sticks uncomfortably to my thighs; I wonder again why I came here. Because you miss him, the voice in my head whispers. And I realize it’s true. No matter how much I try to deny it. There is evidence of this all around me, in pictures and papers. There are multiple pictures of a fourth grade field trip to Mackinac Island. Many pictures are of the bus ride up. My friends Rachel, Nichole, and I were sitting in front of our three ‘boy friends’, Xander, Zach, and Derrick. We would all tease each other endlessly. Boys had cooties, girls were gross. And yet, you can still see how happy we all were together, innocent and carefree. In most of the pictures, I am standing or sitting next to him, happiness radiating from my smiles.
I think about what I am doing for while. How stupid I was, risking everything I had gained since that day eleven years ago. And for what, a silly childhood crush. So before I can do anything too idiotic, I start quickly shoving memories of my scattered childhood that were neatly laid out in front of me, into my ginormous messenger bag. I glance up, taking in every last detail of the diner and catalogue it to my memory. Then just as I extend my stiff legs to stand and walk away, he walks through the doorway of the diner.
Just a glance of his eyes and a flood of repressed memories break down my barriers, and the diner disappears, and all I can see is:
Clear crystal water, shadow of a bridge above, darkening half of the face in front of me; blue eyes sparkling and glittering from the reflection of the rippling water below…
Yells of young children and a gentle hand taps my arm and other children run away from me, screaming gleefully…
Sitting on a cream shag rug that lay out on the middle of the classroom floor and hearing a soft breath behind me, fingers tickling my sides lightly…
Watching the figure with blue eyes and black hair turn his back to me and walk into the junior high doors and out of my life for what I thought would be forever…
“Yvonne?” His voice yanks me out of my past. I try to say something, but one look at him and my voice gets stuck in my throat.
So many things are the same, but so many things have changed. His blue eyes are widened slightly in surprise and are still the same brilliant topaz I remember so clearly. Dark lashes frame his eyes, the white of his eyes standing out from the light caramel color of his face and exposed skin. A mop of black hair reaches down to just cover his eyebrows, and his hair is stuck to his forehead from the bushy snowflakes falling outside melting in the heat. Snow melts in his hair and on the shoulders of his jacket. Drips of sparkling water roll down his face and trace around sharp cheekbones, rounded jaw, and a soft curved smile on flushed lips.
A few moments later I can breathe and speak again. I breathe out his name, “Xander.” I feel a smile spread across my face. “Xander.” I repeat, more securely now, the word a cinder block instead of a light feather. I throw my arms around him tightly and am just able to bury my face in his neck. Xander jerks slightly back in surprise, but he quickly wraps his arms snuggly around my waist. I yelp when I feel my feet being lifted off the ground.
“How ya been, Ivvy?” Xander says as we slide into opposite booths. He stretches out his legs and I feel slight pressure on either side of mine. My face warms slightly at my old nickname and the intimate contact.
I find that all I am able to do is grin stupidly. “I’ve been okay, I guess. I’ve just changed a lot since I’ve seen you last. It’s a lot different here than in Allen Park.” Stupid, stupid, stupid. Could I be anymore idiotic? But if I had made a bad impression, he didn’t show it.
He smiles lightly. “I know how different it is here. I spend every weekend here, remember?” I am mentally hitting myself for saying this. Stupid, stupid, stupid. “I can see that you’re a lot different. You never dressed or looked like that back in Allen Park.”
This makes me start slightly. I study my reflection in the window behind Xander, wondering what he meant. My hair is cut the shortest I’ve ever had it before, almost as short as a guy’s cut in the back and coming down to jagged layers in the front down to the tips of my earlobes. I dressed up for the occasion, in a black lace and silk skirt just above my knees, black turquoise and gray layered tank tops and a black halter corset on top. I realize that I really had changed. Then I think about how I must look to Xander. I am no longer the girl who would swing alone at recess, who read in the corner during free time, or who dressed to blend into the background, as he once knew me; I am dressed for center stage.
Xander smiles happily when he sees that I know what he means. “I never thought you could get any prettier,” he says shyly, averting his eyes down to the table, very interested in shredding the corners of his napkin.
Then with (im)perfect timing, a waitress walks up to our table. Oh goddess, no. please let it be anyone but her. Please. I sigh helplessly when I recognize the waitress as my own cousin, clad in black pants and a white shirt so tight they could’ve been a second skin.
“Well hey there little ‘cuz,” she exclaims loudly, clearly trying her hardest to emphasize the little part of the statement. Then, everything playing out just like I was dreading, she turns to Xander and standing up straighter to stick her chest out says, “And who might your friend here be?”
I can hear the underlying suggestive tone to her voice. Being the nice person I always try to be, I give her a smile, but I feel like a clown using sticky paint to plaster a grimace to my face. “Hey Hanna. This is my old friend Xander. From before I moved.” I try to add a ‘back off’ sound to my voice, but it just comes out weak, like usual.
I see anger flash through Hanna’s eyes at my obvious challenge, but before she can make a comment back, Xander stands up and sticks out his hand to shake Hanna’s. She smiles in delight and I scowl at her until I see Xander wink at me over her shoulder. I honestly try to see Hanna through his eyes. Dyed bleached hair falls in waves down her back, and her insanely tight clothing shows off her curvy figure. She has perfect hair, teeth, and the perfect cream colored skin actually makes the light smattering of freckles on her cheeks look good. Why couldn’t the beauty gene have been passed down to me? I can’t help but ask myself.
When Xander lets go of her hand, he is still looking at me but says to Hanna, “So you are the cousin Yvonne tells me about all the time. She has nothing but good to say about you.”
For once Hanna is speechless. She and I hadn’t been on the best terms since one New Year’s Eve at my aunt’s house when I walked in on her and her twin brother’s friend. Not that I care. I was getting tired of her. “Yvonne, I just wanted to come and say hi and to meet your friend. By the way, is there anything I can get you?” She flips her hair and raises her brows at Xander, the double meaning behind her words as clear as if she had said them aloud.
Thankfully, Xander only smiles politely and shakes his head. Seizing another opportunity to tick her off, and because I know it can’t get much worse, I say, “Oh thanks for asking, Hanna. I will take a black coffee, please.” I know she wasn’t asking if I wanted anything. I don’t even know if my order will ever make it to the kitchen.
Hanna sneers at me and with contempt dripping from her words says, “Of course, little ‘cuz. I’ll get right on it. But hopefully we will see each other again?” This is aimed more towards Xander than me, much to my dismay. Without waiting for an answer, she walks away with a teasing swish of her hair, and twitches her butt all the way back into the kitchens.
As soon as Hanna is out of earshot, I mutter loudly, “If she twitches anymore while she walks, she’s gonna break something.” And then, a minute too late, I remember that Xander is sitting right across from me. But when I look up in embarrassment, I can see he is shaking in silent laughter. When we meet each other’s eyes, we both burst out laughing so hard I snort, and then we laugh even harder at that until my stomach starts cramping and we are both crying. People from other booths are staring at us, but I don’t care. I want them to see how happy I am.
As we finally calm down, I start delicately dabbing away tears that are still running down my cheeks. When I think I am done, I put down my napkin and sigh. Taking me completely by surprise, Xander reaches across the table to my face and gently, as if he was touching a fragile baby, brushes away a hidden tear from the corner of my eye. I feel my eyebrows raise in surprise, and he quickly jerks his hand away and starts tearing the corners of his napkin again.
“Sorry,” he says quietly, his voice shaky with insecurity.
I smile back at him reassuringly and hesitatingly reach and take his hand in my own. He thankfully doesn’t jerk back and I see his shoulders sag in relief.
“Hey,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. “Remember that day in second grade…”
“In Mrs. Tina’s class,” he says eyes unfocused in memory.
I smile when he catches on. “Yep. And that kid that sat next to me, in alphabetical order, started trying to argue with me…”
“About him sitting in front of you-”
“Because he thought a ‘t’ came before an ‘s’!” We both say together, happily immersed in the joyful worry free past of elementary school.
He sighs at the pleasant memory and flips my hand, palm up, and starts lightly tracing the calluses on my palms. The simple act makes me shiver in pleasure and all my joints, bones, muscles, and brain turns into jelly. My mind blanks, leaving me unable to think of anything to say. Thankfully he starts talking instead.
“You wanna know a secret?”
My voice is stuck in my throat again, and I barely manage a weak nod.
“That day in second grade, when that kid started trying to argue with you, I knew I wanted to get to know you. You had…spunk. Instead of just ignoring him or silently agreeing with him, you stepped up and proved him wrong and argued right back. You stood up for yourself.” He focuses on me then, the topaz of his eyes looking smooth and aqueous.
I look at him skeptically, doubting that he remembered that day so well. What he says next, though, blows all of my doubts out of the water.
“But of course, that wasn’t the first time I noticed you. I remember seeing you on the first day of school, lining up outside of the class. You had on blue jeans, with a brown flowery shirt on. The shirt had long bell sleeves that came down past your fingertips. Your hands were uncovered, though, because you were nervously biting your fingernails. You were so scared that you weren’t going to find any friends, because everyone else had known each other before from preschool and kindergarten, but you had just moved there.” He smiles and lets out a soft laugh, still lost in the memory. “I wanted to be the first person to talk to you and be your friend. You have no idea how many people were talking about you that day. You were a shiny new toy, someone that no one knew anything about. But unfortunately,” he pauses for a moment, a wry smile twisting his lips beautifully, “Rachel and Nichole got to you first.”
My mouth gapes open incredulously. “I didn’t start talking to them for another week! I was alone that whole time! What do you mean they got to me first?”
He gives me a puzzled expression, his eyebrows pulling together and his bottom lip sticking out slightly. “Well, of course, it took that whole week for me to work up the courage to talk to you. You were, and still are, a very intimidating person.”
I sigh, exasperated. “Well, at least we did end up seeing a lot of each other. How are they all doing, by the way? Zach, Rachel, Nichole, and Derrick?”
“Well, Zach and Derrick I don’t see too often, but they are pretty much still the same as when you left. Rachel is as Rachel has always been, switching from guy to guy every week. And Nichole actually has a three month old girl. Not that it surprises me, but still. A baby that young of an age. I can only imagine what kind of environment that kid lives in.”
“My mom had me when she was fifteen. And I turned out great.”
Xander’s face suddenly turns completely serious. His eyes widen out of the grinning squint they usually are in, and the corners of his lips turn down. “Is it still bad? After what happened?"
This is not a place I want to go to, not a memory I want to unbury from that box in the corner of my mind. And yet I cannot admit this to Xander. Not if he is to help me.
“It’s still bad. It will never not be. But I am fixing it.”
I sigh, realizing that the time for the conversation that I have been dreading is here. “Look, I know you want to know about everything that has happened. I’m going to tell you. But now is not the time, nor the place. If you’d like, you can come back to my house and I’ll explain everything.”
His brows furrow at this. “Your house. Your aunt won’t be upset?”
Tightening my fists, I smile at him sadly. “My aunt passed away last December. I live in the house by myself now.”
Xander’s eyes widen at this. “Alright. Let’s head over then.”