A girl sits at a table in front of a coffee shop, eyeing the charming boy lounging next to her. They observe one another as if their friends don’t exist, his eyes catching hers like a blue wave crashing on the beach. “Well, I’m not ordinary.”
She glances next to him in the car, pulling strawberry delicacies into her mouth, but she can barely appreciate it. He has captivated her. “I mean how often do you meet someone and have this kind of connection.”
She takes a deep breath, striding confidently into Barnes and Noble with her sunglasses pressed up on her head. He’s brought his sister, and the cute blonde bundle of light does cartwheels around the shelves and he smiles coyly.
He strokes her hand softly, whispering sweet reassurances to her as tears bubble in her eyes. It’s a beautiful, perfect, blue day, and once the ordeal is over, she feels confident and free and safe. He keeps his hand on hers as he drives and her heart soars. “I’m meant to help you overcome this fear.”
She dresses up for him in a new plum frock. He tells her she’s beautiful. They order the chicken fingers and they are crispy and golden but and their conversation flows sweet and rich like honey.
Sitting on his bedroom floor for the first time, she closes her eyes at his command and waits for the surprise. Eyes open and he has her favorite album on vinyl. He remembered a comment she made. They have only known each other for a week, and yet he does the sentimental things already. She feels herself falling fast and hard for him, in that dim bedroom, with that excited look on his face.
She rides next to him in a golf cart, surrounded by the topography of living green rising up around them as they soar through the hills on the small path. She confronts him and they disagree, but then they find the top of the hill behind the one length of white picket fence and under the moonlight they stop. Stop driving. Stop talking. And they stare at each other, growing closer, like plants to the sun, until his lips are on hers.
They go for a picnic. The lake shimmers in the morning light and the food tastes delightful, as it always does, but somehow they never focus on food. Too enthralled with each other, they talk about the future. What they want, what they insist upon, what they choose for themselves. “Nothing is black and white. The world is all gray.”
They lay curled into one another like puzzle pieces, and she can feel his heartbeat resounding in her ear. His hands are strong and she traces the lines on them with her fingers. He tells her that he thinks she’s important. He might stay in town for college to be with her. “I told him you’re something special.”
They wander around the golf course sharing the basics. She shows him martial arts and he laughs, impressed. Its all tinted with a sort of glow. “I talk too much.”
They eat dinner and discuss the universe and God. She feels like an adult out with him on date night, discussing the big questions. They’re not like the others at school and they know it. They talk about all deep things and all controversy and it’s good-natured. It feels magical.
They sit on the bench, the smell of flipping burgers surrounding them, but she cries into his shoulder. He explains how her best friend has betrayed her. He insists his sister heard the whole thing. She can’t believe it, but she does. She trusts him so.
They sit on the rock wall letting their thoughts intermingle in the impish night air. Vulnerability has encompassed the conversation, both in action and in topic.
Sinking into the leather couch, they look at the ceiling, discussing the universe and the purpose of their lives. She knows hers. He does not. He can’t contain the fire in his heart. “’I think I have something to tell you.’ ‘Say it.’ ‘No.’ ‘I’ll say it back.’ ‘I love you.’”
He appears bearing Panera and love letters. She feels at home – taken care of. He understands her and wishes her luck.
She finishes the test and he’s there to meet her. Crunched into a crowded table, he sits arms folded and closed off. She searches for his light, but comes up empty handed. He shakes her friends hands out of obligation and remains retreated inside himself. Concerned and confused, she retreats next to him, wondering how he could be one way with her and the opposite with others.
He calls her every night in their absence. He learns her life story. He pieces her together like a puzzle and she feels he knows her, really knows her. He makes her laugh and laughs back. She feels wanted, maybe for the first time. He pays attention.
She drags her exhausted body off the runway, praying to God she looks pretty enough. And there he is, going wide eyed when he sees her. He reminds her how gorgeous she is and greets her with a kiss. She bestows upon him a vanilla cupcake, and he takes her home.
They spend a lot of time listening to golf.
He kisses her aggressively, pinning her down, hands drifting, she pushes away, over and over. Wincing, she starts to cry. He finally stops, moving back. He pushes waves of guilt on her, validating himself through his so-called Christian purity and she believes him. Eventually, she gives in, and he goes on unwavering.
She forces herself to bear it, make do with what he wants. She will be strong; it’s all she knows. She won’t refuse. She loves him. She can’t. It’s her job. She feels dirty and she has to fight herself all the time, but she does it anyway.
They walk on and ride on the course. He hands her a club and tells her to swing. She asks him to help. He says no and laughs. She swings, and she misses. He laughs harder, and she giggles. She swings and she misses. He laughs harder, and her face falls. She swings and she misses. He laughs harder, and she’s covering up tears.
He cries on her screened in porch, explaining how his greatest offense is a terrible misunderstanding. He feels horrific about returning. He has her in his grasp. She strokes his face and hair. She has no idea.
She gives him a lucky gold elephant at 8 A.M. on the first day. He doesn’t understand the significance of the gesture, shoving it to the back of his locker, and she tries not to let it bother her.
Miles away they fight because she doesn’t check up on him enough. Every minute must be theirs. Every minute. She enjoys both experiences, but he insists upon the first. Together means one person, but he won’t compromise to form the union.
She dresses up and they slurp up ravioli at the corner table, disputing jealousy. She refuses to buy into it, but he insists, pushing her until she caves, a pattern growing familiar to her. He charms her again, as he always does, sharing more pieces of his glorious puzzle of humanity.
He hands her the little bag. An adorable necklace to commemorate their love and a beautiful bracelet. And the tickets, the ones she loved and wanted. He doesn’t like concerts but he would do it for her. She throws her arms around him.
His locker is covered in photographs of her. “It’s like a shrine.”
He begs her to stand up with him on the stage. He doubts her and she surprises him again, marching up because she would do it for him, expecting he would do the same for her. That’s what love is: being brave and doing for others.
She relaxes, side by side with his adorable mother, sifting through a million photos to represent his life to his peers. He picks a few cute ones, and insists upon one with her. She rebuts but eventually gives in. She appreciates the gesture.
After a long fuss about nothing at all, a deal is struck. Like the adults they think they are, the couple tucks in her little sister, finally willing to rest in the promise of the two. The boy and girl talk sweetly to the young one, quietly thinking about having children of their own one day.
Tragedy strikes and she offers her assistance but does not cancel the night’s plans. She hasn’t seen her friends in ages, and this has been planned for so long. His grandpa is ill, he insists she stay with him. She’s done so much staying lately, she insists she go, but offers to stop by. He thinks he deserves more. She says she’ll do anything before but he refuses. Without a car, she can’t see him. He tells her he might go see the girl who is in love with him. He sleeps as she freaks out. She hisses over a voicemail. “This is what very mad sounds like.”
It’s all a misunderstanding. Somehow it’s always a misunderstanding. Once she’s home he’s yelling, over and over. She’s broken his trust and feels sick all over. Did he go to her? He denies but she knows what he said. He changes history with the guise of alleged intention until she’s so sick of the fighting she gives in. “It was just one night!”
She sits in the commons, atop a table with him and his twin and the other’s girlfriend. “It’s hard dating an Adkins boy. No one understands. It’s an experience.”
He takes her home with him, as another addition to the daily routine. She prays to stay downstairs. The kitchen is common ground for the whole family, but upstairs is his jurisdiction. She likes his philosophical anecdotes, his lips, his hugs, and his care, but he also has another side. Animalistic. Cruel. He undermines women they both don’t like and yet she doesn’t know how to respond. Boys will be boys? “She’s a whore and you know it.”
He pulls her up on the bed. She says no. He insists. He does that a lot now a days.
He eats dinner with her family and a lady from Denver. Spirituality is on her mind. She tells him that she wants to teach the world to be happy and that takes priority, and that she doesn’t know where it will take her. Sitting on the bench his baby blues turn cold like arctic ice and he shoves his finger in her face, chastising everything she loves. She doubts. Her mother drops in.
She reveals the autocracy in her life. She shows him how she wants to leave that other place but how she feels they are her family, like she needs them. He shakes his head and smiles at her. He promises her forever. “My family can be your family now.”
They sit in the car. He’s upset again. Their relationship needs to be private. He can’t have anyone else influencing her. She complies. She wants him to be happy. He can support her on his own.
They stand around the island in the kitchen. Stromboli bakes in the oven. The older boys rim the edges, the brothers and their friends. The sisters pour in. She stands in the corner smiling at the scene. Everyone smiles, everyone laughs and jokes. She feels a part of something.
She’s locked in his room with him, plugging away at homework. Anything to stall, but she thinks it’s just for responsibility’s sake. She denies her own needs. She can hear his brother and girlfriend outside playing with the little one. She wants to be like that, but he doesn’t. He eventually decides he wants her, and she complies, going action by action pressing down the fear and self-hatred that flares up in response to this. But she ignores it for him, still secretly hooked on the soft shrieks of fun from outside.
They stand near each other on the stage, the unspoken connection keeping them together. She loves to hear his songbird voice. He sings beautifully and he sings to her.
They golf with the boys. All obnoxious; boys will be boys, but she is his accessory. He shows her off. The mood turns sour when she suggests they join the guys at dinner. He insists she doesn’t try and doesn’t understand his needs. She’s so confused.
She stares up at him, trapped in his room again, breaking down because he’s pushed her too hard. They order hamburgers and she spills more life story and he looks at her like an experiment, then assures her that her just loves her. He shares his God with her, a God she doesn’t believe in, but she listens. She tries to understand.
He tells her he’s the alpha and she’s the beta. She guesses she understands. She thinks he should be still working on bettering himself, because anxiety is there. He insists it’s mostly gone and will never fully disappear. She’s the beta, apparently, and those panic attacks she keeps seeing are a figment of her imagination.
Appeasing her little sister is like dealing with the devil. He fulfills his end, letting her paint his face like a clown, or more accurately a queen. His love laughs from the corner.
They go to church with the family. He’s excited to see what she thinks. She’s unimpressed, but tries to make the best. She joins the clan at California Pizza Kitchen and they discuss life.
Theater grows more intense, and so do their fights. He’s pushing her harder than ever these days. He needs her with him always. They need to go to college close. They need to believe the same thing. His God is better. His school makes sense. His life plan for her is practical. She can pick where they go to dinner.
They go to the concert, standing in the throngs of people and he’s uncomfortable. They know they have to leave early but she’s just happy there to be with him. He holds her and hugs her and she discourages him when he gets more inappropriate. She loves him in the flashing lights and musical heartbeats.
He wishes she’d be jealous, but she refuses. She believes that the trust is strong enough to excuse the variable of jealousy. Without the strong trust, they should not date, she says. He does not understand. He tells her he’ll fix it.
They lay on his bed, and he tickles her tongue. Then starts pushing her head. She says no. He tells her not to be scared. She says no. He says not to be scared. He tells her to come on. He says she’s the only one he could be with, so she may as well put out. She feels used, but she loves him.
They walk along the street at night, because when he walks he talks, and she knows it. He can’t figure out why she’s so anxious. He tries to get her to calm down. He asks her what’s wrong. Over and over. What’s wrong? Until he’s begging her to explain. She digs nails into her arm, pressing red marks and breaking the skin. He tells her not to. She must. If she lets go, she’ll lose it. She must restrain herself. Why, he asks. He tells her to just let go, so she does. She sprints off as fast as she can, wanting to die. He doesn’t look for her.
He accuses her of being too flirty with another. She doesn’t understand. She’s just being friendly. Apparently, friendly is flirty.
He notices. He always notices. While she sits, refusing to eat, he’s the only one who sees. He knows her like no other and insists. He tells her not to punish herself. She finally obliges, with an extended pinky, to take care of herself. He does care. He says he loves her. “Pinky promise me you’ll eat. Promise. I love you”
She takes him to his favorite restaurant. The chicken fingers are piping hot and taste like home. Conversation is pleasant. They wander into Barnes and Noble and she buys him a record. She loves to dote. She spoils him with presents, excited to express her adoration. He accepts the attention with pride and excitement. She’s happy to please him. She feels enough. She does as he asks and he feels more powerful.
She’s late and sits sobbing in the car. He asks her to compromise everything for him. She doesn’t understand. It’s never enough. She runs to the bathroom, skipping dinner to prepare herself to settle again. Anything for him. She said she’d die for him, but she never expected to feel it like this, to look at herself in the mirror and see the life slowly leaving her face every time she wakes up again.
Surrounded by pancakes, they’re separate again and he’s revealing more to her. She understands. It’s dark and vague material, but she understands. They hold hands. She feels sweet and innocent and in love.
The rest of the world dons masks but he persuades her to stay in. She’s crying again. Why is she always crying? He wants her to stop. He wants her to be happy. He wants her to love him. “Don’t ever settle, okay. Not for me, not for anyone.” They eat pizza and talk about life. Its one night they actually watch a movie and it’s because he’s asleep, but she can’t stop thinking.
She lays alone with him over the phone. He’s breaking, maybe for the first time. He cries about the others. Genuineness and how much he hates their recklessness and bad habits. He can’t stand it. He can’t handle it. He needs order. He needs control.
They go out for dinner. Disappointed that his first choice was no longer available, they scour the Internet and she tries to calm him, anything to keep him calm. He’s wearing his baby blue sweater that brings out his eyes and she strokes his shoulders. They decide on a jazz club. Sitting directly in front of the stoned musicians, they are quieter than they’ve ever been. She strokes his back and they feel like an old married couple. She appreciates him, memorizing him: beautiful eyes, curving nose, full lips, high rosy cheeks, soft short hair, strong calloused hands, focused mind, clever will, his deep passion and hurt. She knows that this is the crossroads.
She sits on the couch with his parents. They all discuss future. She expressed her desires, and then her compromise. They seem pleased. She offers to help the girls, before departing, soaring down that country highway she now knows like the back of her hand.
She’s absent again, and he insists disrespect. He can’t fathom that she has other boys for friends.
Too far again, but this time it’s worse than ever. She’s shaking. She won’t talk. He’s broken her. She wants to die. She is frantic and yet unmoving. She wants to die. She can’t handle it. She wants to die. He wants to be enough, but as she cries out for help, he doesn’t let anyone in. After a two hour fit, she’s empty. She cleans herself up and goes downstairs. His brother tells her she’s beautiful. She tries not to cry.
One more night.
They sit together. Her mother wants to talk. He builds her a battle plan. Instructs her on what to say. She is his. She is not her own.
She prepares for confrontation, ready to fight, but instead the parents tell her they’re worried. That they notice. That they love her. That they want to help. That they want to support her, and the dam breaks.
The abuse. The force. The shame. The guilt. The conformity. The cheating. The isolation. The brutality. The lies. The terror. The breaking. She feels dead. And she cries for hours.
She takes the next day off to get strong. His jacket is in a pile with a letter. She still loves him, she just loves herself, too.
She reclaims her life, but he pushes. “’So we’re really done?’ ‘Yes.’” He stalks. He creeps. He lies. He torments. He tortures. But she never gives in, but he never leaves her mind. She sees her first relationship from time to time in snapshots, frame by frame, like an old movie. Under a full moon, she sits on her front porch and she writes, reminiscing another time, where she was both wildly happy and desperately miserable, and the figure of the million different ways she saw him.