The Scars on My Wrists (Nanowrimo 2013)

After struggling with depression and a suicide attempt, Marie decides to take a Gap Year to Italy and Spain. She falls in love, and more importantly, changes her entire life.
Edited for movellas, in its poorly written state. R rated for lots of swearing, cutting, and sexual language. TW: (recollection of) sexual assault, cutting

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14. Chapter 14

My new host family was an elderly couple with frosting white hair. They spoke a mile a minute, fussing over me. While I'd had some ground in Spanish, I had almost no way to speak Italian, however I found myself understanding small words. Sometimes, I would say something in Spanish and they would nod their heads and then repeat the word in Italian, so bit by bit I learned that the bathroom was bagno instead of baño and good night was buona notte instead of buena noche. 

    They lived in a very large apartment overlooking one of the canals, and gave me a room with a balcony. I would sit on that balcony sometimes with my iPod, writing and writing, trying to capture the serenity that the scene brought me. Some days I would read, and relax. That balcony was my own little corner, my special spot, and I asked them if I  could add flowers to it. They did let me buy some flower pots and I even bought some herb plants and watered them and gave them to Mama to make into a delicious sauce.

    I was quieter now, secretly hoping that any day Jandro would message me begging me to come back and I'd be able to tell him fuck you. Instead he just messaged me on Facebook with an "I'm sorry. Please be happy." I blocked him and shed several more tears. So I retracted back into my cocoon and held my head high and tried to be strong, and the pain began to fade. I deleted his number from my phone. I soaked in the tub and cried some more. And I got over him. I still dreamed about him at night, still cried sometimes, but I could get through the day without feeling like the smallest thing would shatter me into a million pieces.

    Class wasn't so bad. Honestly it was like relearning Spanish with different words, although they sounded similar, so I had a basis to compare to. Everything felt vaguely familiar. Like I'd done this before, learned that before, and I was just speaking it a different way.

    I fell in love with Italian. I loved the way the words sat on my tongue and I loved the people. One day, a man in a cafe walked up to me, around college age.

    "I just want you to know that you are the most beautiful girl I have seen in this cafe," he said in English. I smiled at him and blushed.

    "Gratzie," I said. "How did you know I can't speak Italian really, by the way?"

    "I heard you talking to the waiter. Would you like to go on a date with me sometime? I can cook a nice dinner for you, pour you a nice cup of wine, and then we can-"

    "I'm sorry," I said firmly. "I'm not looking for love right now. I just got out of a bad breakup." Which was true. I needed time and rushing into a new sort of relationship scared me.

    "Are you sure? The offer stands."

    "I'm positive," I said, without a shred of doubt lingering in my voice. I didn't want to open my heart to someone new, being here for only three months, like I had with Jandro. I didn't want a fling. I wanted something lasting, something meaningful. Someone that I could open up with fully, trust fully, and love with my whole heart unadulterated. Someone like Jandro. I gasped.

    "Are you ok miss?"

    "Fine," I said, smiling fakely at him, hoping he'd get the message and leave so that I could continue studying and ignore the fact that I was still hopelessly in love with a man who thought that the best option was to leave me be, breaking my heart because he was a stupid asshole idiot bastard….a stupid asshole idiot bastard that I loved. Still. Shut up, shut up, shut up brain. But it was too late. I began sobbing and heard a loud scraping sound as the man presumably pulled up a chair at my table.

    "Do you want to talk about him?"

    "Who?" I asked, stupidly through my tears.    

    "Bella, who else? The man who stole your heart of course."    I cried harder at his words, because he was right.

    "H-he said that he was doing me a f-favor, the idiot. He didn't realize that by b-breaking up with me, he was hurting me more. He was the only person I'd ever loved. Ever. And I trusted him with everything, my heart, my body, my mind, and he just took it and threw it away saying he wasn't good enough, and we wouldn't work out. He was a coward. I could have waited for him. I would have gladly moved to where he was to be with him. I wanted to fight for him, but he didn't care what I thought. The fucking bastard was too full of himself in the end, fucking noble knight complex. Doing me a favor, my ass," I ranted bitterly, as the man stirred some coffee.

    "I see. And did you tell him everything you just told me?"

    "Well, yes, I mean, sort of, but he should have known-"

    "Ah, ah, ah! Did you or did you not?" He searched my eyes my eyes for the truth. He was actually really handsome, not like Jandro, but in an unshaven, sort of scruffy way. His eyes stuck out, bright blue, almost shocking against his toned and tanned skin. It was a pity that I was still hopelessly in love with an asshole that had dumped me.

    "Well, I kind of did, but not everything, because I got upset."

    "Here is my advice, bella. You tell him everything you told me. Then you tell him you still love him. If the man still does not love you enough to get back together with you, he is a damn fool." The chair scraped against the floor.

    "My name is Antonio. Give me a call if you need anything." He then wrote his number on my napkin and walked just as quickly out of my life as he had into it. I never called him. I tore up the napkin and threw it away. I knew that if I called him, I would end up probably in his bed and then regretting it the morning after, or perhaps I would end up leading him on and then awkwardly turning him down while he waited for me to become emotionally available. Frankly, neither was appealing. It was better to keep my distance, I thought, so I did.

    That night I unblocked Jandro from Facebook, and started typing a message to him, but then noticed that his relationship status was listed as In a Relationship with Esmeralda Santiago. Fuck. Only a week, and he was already with another girl? I guess I had just meant that little to him. She was beautiful, skinny, blonde, everything that I wasn't. Going to one of the best schools in Spain too. I definitely wasn't good enough to compete with that. I broke down crying, and reblocked him.

    That day, I went for a jog. I cut my caloric intake slightly and ate more salad and drank water instead of sweetened coffee. And after another week, I had lost five pounds. I prayed and hoped that I wouldn't see him when I came back to the United States. I needed to find a way to get him out of my head, so I threw myself into my schoolwork. To my surprise I was doing very well, much better than I had done in Spain. I was able to talk more with teachers and got used to putting myself out there, stepping out of my comfort zone and toeing the line.

    Late one night, I watched Mama make pasta. She poured a circle of flour on a cutting board, made a crater in the center and added several eggs. Like a tai chi demonstration, she drew flour into the center with a fork as I watched awestruck.

    "Do you want to try?" she asked in Italian and I nodded. 

    "Si."

    "I will show you how. Here, bring the flour with the fork, like so. Yes, very good."

    I scraped the flour off the sides and mixed the flour with the fork. I could see the paste coming together, and the dough forming, which made me want to shout with excitement. I was making pasta! I added more and more, until the entire flour volcano had become dough.

    Mama took over, smacking and folding and whipping it into shape. Her gnarled old hands showed a story of years of cooking like this and I watched, completely consumed by the actions. Folding. Pressing. Kneading. Over and over.

    "Ok. Now it rests," she said. I nodded, and watched as she spread more flour around.

    I helped her clean and tidy up the kitchen, doing some dishes while she rested her feet. She got tired easily, but it wasn't because she was ready to roll over and die, no, she had a spark in her that allowed her to hustle around the house, and whip something as resistant as pasta into shape.

    "Ok. It has rested enough," she said, bones creaking as she rose and toddled towards the dough, wrapped in plastic.

    She demonstrated for me, rolling it through the pasta machine, then folding it back on itself, and rolling it again. I took over, and let the motions distract me from Jandro. Turn the handle. Roll the pasta. Fold one way. Turn the handle. Roll the pasta. Fold the other way. I repeated it, until Mama stopped me.

    She changed the setting on the machine and made it smaller. Then she made me repeat the motion of rolling and turning and folding. I could feel her gaze on the back of my neck, scrutinizing my actions, making sure that I wasn't ruining dinner. I desperately wanted to do this right. I wanted to be able to make pasta. I wanted to make Mama proud.

    She changed the setting again, and I rolled again several times, and then she changed the setting again and again. The pasta's texture had changed. It was no longer stiff and doughy but springy and stretchy, and it was very thin. Suddenly, she stopped me by putting her hand on the dough and spreading it across the counter top. I watched her slice it up into noodles, well-floured. Then she shuffled over to the water boiling in a large pot.    

    "Taste," she said. I blew on the spoon a couple of times, because the water had been boiling after all, and tasted. I cringed immediately at the taste. Salt, salt as strong as the ocean. Resisting the urge to spit it out, I suddenly realized that this was her way of teaching me how to cook it, getting past the language barrier and communicating through sense. Touch, taste, smell. The water needed to be this salty to properly cook the pasta. I looked back at the pasta and tore off a small corner, putting it in my mouth. No, she hadn't added salt to the dough, which mean that all the salt had to be in the water, compensating for the lack of it in the pasta.

    After cooking the pasta, Mama encouraged me to taste a small piece again. It was al dente, not gummy, not raw, but a perfect in-between, and the salt water had been infused with the dough, giving it proper flavor. I watched her add the tomato sauce she had spent all day cooking on top. 

    "I added the wine," she said, pointing to a bottle of red wine. "Bad for drinking. But good for the sauce." She then poured me a generous glass from a different bottle of red wine and called her husband over. He tasted the sauce and kissed her on the lips.

    "Delizioso!" he proclaimed happily. Inwardly, I burned with jealousy. They were at least seventy and still clearly in love. I supposed if my grandparents were still alive, they would have been very much like this couple.

    That night I had a horrific flashback, probably brought on by the stress of Jandro's breakup finally catching up to me. I could feel myself entering the borderline between panic and calm and I began to hyperventilate in a corner. All of a sudden, I could hear Jandro's voice.

    Una nanita de amor

    Una nanita por amor

    Mi amor esta cansada

    La luna esta llena.

    The panic attack ebbed away. I took a deep breath, and his voice rung in my mind again.

    "Te amo, mi amor, con todo mi corazón." I remembered those words too. I took another deep breath and wandered out into the night air on the balcony, sitting on the ledge. I felt like Juliet, and I looked down, almost expecting to see Jandro, my Romeo, beneath the vines. But of course he wasn't there. Slightly disappointed and admonishing myself for being so fanciful and romantic, and overall for just being an idiot, a stupid lovelorn idiot, I went to the kitchen and poured myself another generous glass of wine, stepping lightly back on to the balcony. 

    Music from a late performance somewhere down the street floated through the air and I could see the moon reflected in the murky canal under the bridge. I flipped open my laptop and began to write, about a girl who lived in this sort of world, and the legends of the canals. She was sure that somewhere in one of the  canals, there was a sea serpent. And this girl, a ten-year-old child named Cecilia, would hunt him down and ask him for one of his scales to cure her mother. Of course the serpent didn't exist, and her mother would die from her illness one day while she searched, and she would lose all hope in the magic and faraway lands she had fancied. There are no such things as fairytales, after all. Nor fairytale endings, I thought.

     It was rather dark, rather influenced by my abysmal mood, but I set to work on it anyway.  Oh, I thought I was so mature and moody, entering my writer's cave as I called it. Which wasn't really a cave, I mean it was a balcony after all. But I sat perched on it like a bird, except instead of singing, I wrote. I wrote until the dawn came up, and then I had a espresso, strong, and headed off to class with bags under my eyes.

    I stopped sleeping for three days, and wrote, consumed completely by this world in my mind. I convinced myself that I had even seen Cecilia one day underneath my balcony, throwing rocks into the canal to agitate the water.

    "Serpente! Serpente!" I could hear her yelling for the serpent in my imagination and closed my laptop and slept for two days. When I woke up, I limited my writing only to a couple of hours. I didn't need to add a mental breakdown to my list of complaints. It was going pretty well, and I considered self-publishing it because while certainly it could have benefitted from some serious editing. I began to patch up my broken heart with bandaids, hoping the sutures in it could heal like my arms. I knew there'd be scars. I just hoped that they wouldn't reopen and hoped that they wouldn't run deep.

    That weekend, the trip took us to Murano and Burano. Since they were just boat rides away, no hotels were necessary. I spent the day wandering through the glass shops, watching them blow red hot molten sand and twisting it like candy into millions of different shops. One of the workers smiled at me, showing straight white teeth, and dropped thousands of little glass cane leftovers into my hands. They usually embedded them into paperweights or made larger pieces of glass from millions of molded canes melded together, but these ones were chipped or fractured, imperfect, yet too beautiful to be discarded. 

    Like me, I thought suddenly. So quick to point out my own faults and hate my scars and imperfections, and yet as a whole I was still beautiful. Holding up one of the pieces to the sun, I watched the light trickle through the translucent glass, making a light purple spot on my arm. Like the rest of the pieces, it was a flower. Although some of them did depict snowflakes. I smiled back at the worker and slipped them into my pocket before going back out to the gift shops.

    Adams and Eves, naked and uncensored out of glass, with certain body parts exaggerated. Little animals. I found a small orange frog and bought him. A fragile, but adorable gift for Petey. He couldn't play with it, because I knew he'd smash it accidentally and then hurt himself, but I was hoping mom would be able to put it into the china cabinet, so that the frog could watch over Petey and make sure he did his homework or something. Some kids got fairy godmothers. Petey was getting a godfrog. 

    God, I was getting homesick. I missed mom and dad and Petey. Petey asked mom and dad about me all the time, apparently. For my mother, I bought a calligraphy pen. She used to be a part-time teacher before she had me and I consumed all of her time with my wailing as a kid. Oh, it was a beautiful pen though, purple and green with iridescent gold sparkled throughout. I tried to imagine how they must have made it, but I couldn't. And for Dad, I got a nice solid purple paperweight with grapes stamped into the glass.

    On Burano, I watched an old lady outside weave lace with her gnarled fingers threading the delicate threads into pictures. A small couple of kittens with yarn began to form as she weaved and knotted and parted and threaded.

    "What is this going to be?" I asked her in Italian. It was rather narrow in form, too narrow to be a handkerchief.

    "A bookmark," she said, and pointed to another gift shop. Sure enough, there was a rack of bookmarks with different animals, and butterflies and the Virgin Mary and St. Mark's Square. All delicately made from spiderwebs, it seemed. I bought five for myself and later stuck them all in my books to keep them crisp and clean. Somehow I worried that the pure white of the lace would get soiled by my fingertips and become ugly, but even now, they've stayed white, though they've gotten considerably limper. Without a doubt though, that day I felt like I'd spent a morning down in the rabbit's hole, awestruck by so many beautiful works of art, all done by hand, passed down through the generations.

    These people were leaving something behind. They were making beauty and leaving it for the next generation. I felt like perhaps I wanted to do the same. 

    Maybe this was why I was writing. I wanted to preserve all this, lock it up with words and leave it behind for those to enjoy these things too. Suddenly, I felt compelled to change my story. I kept writing words over and over in my head, playing out my story. I was Cecilia. Seeing things from her point of view. Yes, there was magic in Venice, but I had been blindly ignoring it with my gloom and misery. I watched the lady's hands work again at the lace. What would Cecilia see, with her overactive imagination?

    A sorceress, weaving together tangled webs of fate, like a poisonous spider forming a picture of life. Like the Lady of Shalott, perhaps, doomed to spin the fates of all but her own, condemned for eternity to write other's stories.

    Poetic, Cecilia, but look closer. What did you see in the glassmaking at Murano? The answer came to me quickly, so quickly that I immediately whipped out a notebook and began writing furiously.

    They were magicians, spinning orbs from molten glass that they would later peer into to scribe and see the future. With their craft, they were imvincible. And so I, Cecilia consulted them on my quest to find the serpent of the Canals.

    "We see scales in your future," they said, "although if it is the scales you truly seek, we know not." Such a vague answer was to be expected, so I paid them a lira and went on my way. For the magicians could only scry cloudy objects and imprecise meanings, since the future is subject to change based on our actions as humans. Yet I took their words with hope, and went on my way.

    Perfect. Oh, it was perfect. I felt like I had made a major breakthrough in my story, and I wanted to kiss the old lady for inspiring me. I wandered about the island, peering into shops and making other small lace purchases until it was time for the ferry home. Once home, I kissed Mama and Papa as they rested on the couch watching television and promptly went into my room, to my balcony. 

    There, where the afternoon light shone on my arms like gold, I sat typing furiously into my computer for several hours. The sun sank lower and lower in the sky, but I had to commit this story to pen. Cecilia was jumping at me from beneath the balcony, short of swimming in the canal. The only thing that stopped her was knowing that swimming in the canal could cause sickness, and she needed to be strong for her mother. Which meant that getting sick was definitely not in her plans. But now she was paying a man her only meager allowance, saved for five years, from sewing buttons. All so that he could take her on a midnight ride. He promised her he would show her the serpent's den, and there I was stuck. I could end this in two ways. She could find the serpent's scales. Or the man would be a figurative serpent, a snake, a lowlife and murder her. Shit. I couldn't decide. Happy ending or fuck with my readers? Did I want this to be an adults book or aim it at a younger audience? I didn't know yet. I needed time.

    I wandered off to the kitchen. 

    "I am writing a story," I said to Mama quietly.

    "Oh? A story?" she asked, amused. "What is it about?"

    "A serpent in the canal," I said vaguely. I didn't know how to translate the full idea for my story. Jesus. "But I am stuck. I do not know what to write about now."

    She paused for a moment.

    "I am not an expert on story-writing matters," she said, pausing for a moment while she chopped tomatoes. "But perhaps you need to forget about trying to control it. Let it lead you instead, to the ending it wants. It will tell you, I think."

    I pondered that for a bit. When I had heard and seen Cecilia, as a manifestation in my mind, perhaps that was my story speaking to me, telling me where to go. I wasn't totally going crazy. Back to my room, I caught a reflection of myself. I had gained some weight from eating so much delicious food. But to my surprise, I liked it. My body was a little bit rounded out, and the weight had gone to my hips and breasts instead of my thighs and stomach. I rolled up the long sleeves of my cardigan that I had habitually worn since Jandro's breakup.

    The scars were still there. I wasn't magically smooth all over like a model, no matter how much I wanted to be. I had made a mistake by cutting. But I didn't regret it. It was a journey for me, and necessary. That phase of my life was over. I was in control, of my feelings, of my body. and though sometimes my mind spun out of control, I was alive. I didn't need the blade anymore to remind me that pain made me alive. No, it was smiling and laughing and eating and talking that made me feel alive. Sharing joy, love, and yes, even sadness. That was what made me human. That was what made me alive. Not my ability to withstand pain, to feel numb. I could cry. I could ask for help. I could love. The only thing that was stopping me was myself.

    I took a deep breath, as my heart twinged in my ribs. No. I wasn't ready to love again. Perhaps I'd find someone in college that I could seriously consider dating, but no more break flings, especially not with one month left in the program all together. Then I'd be back home, a million miles away from any potential relationships that I had started here. And that was just simply not going to happen, not after what had happened with Jandro. I needed to be careful with the guys I opened up too. The wrong guy could cause a panic attack, just by rushing me too fast or saying something insensitive. So I needed to be extra careful before rushing into something like showing my scars or having sex or anything.

    I plopped onto my bed, feeling heavy again. Why had Jandro been so stupid? Why couldn't he just stick to the plan, be a doctor, go back to America? Because he was a human being, and human beings changed. And I didn't love him because of his aspirations or his goals or where he lived. I loved him because when I was with him, he made me feel special and loved and safe and made me laugh. 

    A million things that I can do without him now, but still, when he was there, it felt better. It felt special. Like I was the only other person in the world that he had eyes for. I felt important. But apparently, it didn't matter how I felt, because he thought he knew what was best for me. What was I, five? Hadn't he told me that he had thought me his equal? Or something along those lines, even though I was fresh out of high school and he was entering graduate school.

    He has a girlfriend now, Marie. Shut up, shut up brain, I know. A fresh wave of pain rolled over my body as my heart sank even more. I meant that little to him, I supposed, that he was able to just jump in a relationship with another girl so fast. Maybe the age difference had been too much after all. He was just too old for me. Perhaps he saw me more as a little sister than a lover. Yeah right, if that's the case he would have never boned me. Guys don't bone girls they only think of as their little sisters. That's like mental incest.

    Or perhaps it was my scars. They made me ugly. No they don't, said another voice in my mind. They make you a hero. A survivor. He's an idiot for breaking up with you.

    Thanks brain, I thought. Now I can add multiple personality disorder to my list of exhausting medical conditions. I'm sure they have a pill for that too.

    But seriously, said that annoying voice. You don't look all that bad, hell, you look good for someone who used to be emo goth and tried suicide as a solution. You're healthy. You're attractive. And you're wasting your life pining over a guy you idolized for no good reason.

    Thanks brain, I added glumly. First sign of craziness: talking to yourself. In your mind counts as well. I strode out to the balcony and looked down, ignoring my black-screened laptop. As the sun faded over the buildings next door, I could see kids playing in the street with trucks and dolls and toys, yelling things I couldn't understand in Italian slang. Their mothers watched nearby from the cafe outside. I knew it was because several times a kid with a skinned elbow or knee ran up crying for a kiss on the booboo, which they received, and then they promptly ran back, scrapes and all. 

    Then the mothers would roll their eyes and continue their discussions. They were fashionable mothers, decked in designer clothes. They probably had kids just to please their husband or something or to get pocket money. I knew a woman back home who was given a pearl necklace after popping out a kid, as if it was some sort of reward for labor. Wasn't the reward for labor a child? A beautiful son or daughter to live and love and sweat and cry for? I shrugged. Guess sometimes people were more concerned with themselves than others, including those that they were responsible for. 

    Was I ever like those kids? Carefree? I cried so much in preschool and elementary school, bullied for every last thing, hair pulled, pinched, kicked, even spat on. I'd never really had a good friend. I had alway been such a loner. Really, Jandro was my first real friend. He was more than a boyfriend, a lover. He was my best friend. I needed more friends. Ones that wouldn't punch my lights out after triggering panic attacks like idiots. Maybe that would ease the pain of the breakup. I hadn't just lost a boyfriend. I had lost my only friend. My only friend. Jesus that was pathetic.

    So I sent Lena a text. God knows why I hadn't reached out to her earlier. Well, part of it was we weren't in the same class and the other part was that I had been rather, uh, consumed lately.

    Yo, know any good cafes? I could use some help with my Italian.

    I set down my phone, but only a couple of seconds later it buzzed. An impressive feat considering we were using archaic flip phones that took forever to punch out messages on. Although I remembered Lena had purchased service for her iPhone.

    Of course! Meet me in St. Marcos at like, nine tomorrow?

    Woah. She was down. That was a surprise. Or not, given her nice attitude when we shared a room together. I gave a little giddy grin, and went to bed that night, excited.

    The next day I rose fast and got changed quickly, taking a couple of water taxis down to St. Marcos square. I was a couple minutes early, actually around twenty, so I bought a bag of corn from one of the men selling them and started feeding the fat pigeons. They were actually sort of cute. One particularly greedy one hopped on my hand, to my surprise, and I resisted the urge to shriek as his sharp talons scraped my thumb. I stayed very still, and tried not to laugh as he pecked right out of my hand.

    "Having fun?"

    It was Lena, looking amused. "Careful, make sure you wash your hands before you eat anything. These suckers are bearers of the plague, I swear."

    "Got it," I said, grinning. I gave her a handful, at her request, and she threw a couple to the ground, creating a frenzied bobbing of feathers.

    "See the lions?" she asked, randomly.

    "Yeah," I said, trying to understand what point she was trying to make as another greedy pigeon joined the first.

    "When I was a kid I used to dream about them," she said, with a faraway look in her eyes. "Do you read much?" I could feel her gaze sharpen on the back of my neck.

    "Yeah, I read a lot," I said. "I've even written quite a bit too." 

    "Oooh! Nice! Well, when I was like nine I read this book called the Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, have you heard of it?"

    "Uhh…." was my brilliant response.

    "I'll take that as a no. Well, anyway, its about this band of thieves trying to survive in Venice, and it's really quite brilliant. One of my favorites. But ever since reading it, I was obsessed with trying to come here. I learned Italian through private lessons because my school didn't offer it. This was my dream," she said. I shot a quick glance at her face. She was definitely far away. But that was ok. I liked hearing about her life. It seemed so much nicer and simpler than mine.

    "Of course," she added, "When I actually came here for the first time and experienced it in person, I was floored."

    "Why?" I asked, curious.

    "I spent a million times imagining it. What it would look like in person. And when I did finally see everything, it was like I was speechless." She sounded close to tears. "Do you ever see a place and just become totally winded by the beautify of it? I'm sorry if I sound crazy, like a stupid hippy or something."

    "No, not at all," I reassured her. "I think it sounds beautiful."

    "Really?" I could hear her smiling. "Anyway. That's why I came here."

    "I wish I could say that I came here for a reason like that," I said, reluctantly. "But honestly, while the pictures online were a definite motivation, I needed to get away from everything and grow up a bit, learn to live with myself." I used a joking tone, but I was dead serious.

    "I understand," she said. "Me too. You know, everyone, no matter what age, has to learn to live with themselves. In the end, we're all a bunch of sad people trying to get over our mistakes and enjoy what time we have left in this world."

    "Well put," I said admiringly.

    "Well, shall we get going?" She led me to the cafe, and then to my surprise, ended up clearing a lot of my grammatical questions with the patience of San Marco himself. That lead to the beginning of my first true, non-romantic friendship, as I like to think. One particularly bad night of nightmares, I called her, maybe around three in the morning. To my surprise, she not only picked up the phone without a complaint or a fuss, but she talked me through it with soothing tones, helping prevent me from entering into the panic zone as I cried silently.

    Later, I found out that she'd had a series of panic attacks at soccer games as a kid, and so she knew exactly what I was going through. But at the time all I could think of was that I was incredibly lucky I had found her.

    "So what college are you going to after all this?" I asked her one day, as we ate more gelato, at a store that was famous for its rather unconventional flavors. I nibbled at persimmon and she tried milk.

    "Princeton," she said quietly. "Don't make an Ivy League comment, I just studied my butt off like mad. I don't have family connections. I'm just a hard worker." I smiled at her defensive attitude. 

    "Of course. You're absolutely brilliant, and I can see you doing well there. I'm sure Princeton saw some great stuff in you, and that's why they accepted you. Really, it's more of a myth that minority status and connections will get you in honestly, if you don't have the skills and accolades and grades and killer essays, you're toast. Kid from my school was black, trying to major in engineering, double legacy, but with a 3.0 GPA he wasn't getting into an Ivy. I'm going to Drexel, on a nice and hefty scholarship, and I think I'm lucky to have that. I'm just average."

    "Dude," said Lena, staring into my eyes. "Don't say that. You let me read your story. It's really really good. You should stop putting yourself down so much. You're amazing."

    That caught me off-guard. I had showed her my stories in a moment of weakness. I don't know why, but I thought she would appreciate them, and she did. But her honesty and earnestness broke through my wall. Why did I always put myself down? Why didn't I ever feel like I was good enough?

    I kept thinking about that. In a full year, I had gone from wallflower extraordinaire to actually initiating friendship and socializing. Getting over the realization I had been raped. Actually managing a relationship, although it had soured. Holy crap. I had changed my own life in so many ways. I had stopped cutting. I reached out to people now.

    The realization continued. I was stronger now. I was older now, in so many different ways. Less the awkward, nervous bumbling teen. And I had found happiness and confidence, but of course, I had had the ability all along. It had been inside of me. I just had pushed it away, continually focusing on the bad, even when there was overwhelmingly good.

    Homesickness hit me like a wave. I needed to see my parents and Petey in person, not just Skype calls and emails. I needed to hug them and let them know how much I loved them. Life was too short. I needed them to know how much I appreciated them.

    Jandro didn't hurt as much. I felt so much stronger now, and the pain had dulled to be bearable. I felt hope, perhaps for the first time in my life. I was going to make it. I had already survived a suicide attempt, a plane ride from hell, a relationship, panic attacks, cuts, everything. I was going to make it. I was going to survive. I felt this from somewhere inside, an assuredness, a redness that burned with passion. Suddenly I knew where I wanted my story to go.

    Cecilia was led to a cave by the man in the boat. There, she waited until the moon grew pale with the light from day, while the man himself waited patiently. Neither said a word. Then, in the first beams of the moonlight, in the water, she saw waves ripple in a pattern different from the wind's direction. And from the water slithered not a serpent, but a dragon. He blew water out of his nostrils, spraying her accidentally, and she shrieked in delight.

    "I have heard you calling for me," he said. "Though I regret to inform you that I am not a serpent. I am Lazarus, the dragon, guardian and protector of Venice. I am what keeps Venice from collapsing into the very ocean itself. My scales are the most potent magic there is. Take this one and grind it into a fine powder. Then mix it with the water from the pump near your house. Make your mother drink it and within a fortnight she will grow rosy with strength and be able to sing and bake bread again."

    Cecilia could hardly breathe with excitement. She turned to leave, but the dragon stopped her. 

    "My only condition is that you return here, with this man, on your birthday in ten years, and marry me."

    Cecilia gasped at that. 

    "Marry you? But you live in the canal and I live on land!" she exclaimed, horrified.

    "It is my condition." 

    Cecilia did not pause for even a moment. 

    "Then I shall do it, to save my mother," she proclaimed bravely. She did as the dragon had instructed, first grinding up the scale into a lovely green powder that sparkled in the sunlight, then mixing it with water so it dissolved entirely. Then, she fed it to her mother, sip by sip.

    True to his word, the scale healed her mother. In one week, she had regained the color to her wan face. In another week, she was able to work again to support her daughter and repay her medical costs. But Cecilia did not forget her promise, and though many suitors sought for her hand in marriage, she denied them all, to the worry of her mother.

    On the eve after her twentieth birthday, she snuck out while her mother slept silently, to the boat that was waiting for her, and she sat silently as the man ferried her to the cave. Again, they sat silently as the moon grew pale in the sky. And when the dragon rose from the water of the cave, she faced him fearlessly.

    "My dear," said the dragon, "Since you have honored your commitment, you have proven your worthiness." And he transformed, into the prince of Venice himself, before her very eyes. "I am the protector of Venice, yet I must have a mate to rule with. It is not a job that I can do by myself. You have proven your strength and worthiness, so will you take my hand, not as a dragon, not bound by promise, but bound by love?"

    Cecilia declined, to his surprise.

    "I do not want to be bound by one place for eternity," she said firmly. "Not all the power and riches of Venice could tempt me. I want to travel the world. And I regret to inform you that I do not love you. Love at first sight is simply impossible." She was a rather sensible girl, as you see, as well as brave.

    The Dragon Prince sighed. But he honored her wishes. And Cecilia set foot out across Europe, fighting in many wars bravely. She was honored by the Prince of Spain and the Prince of France and the Prince of Germany, to name a few. In the end, she married someone she loved truly with her own heart, someone of her choosing.

The End.

    It had turned out to be a children's book after all to my surprise, and I was impressed with the spunk I had imparted on my own character. Especially because she had been such an idealistic dreamer in the beginning, somewhat like a fool. But maybe the message that I was trying to impart that hoping and dreaming perhaps wasn't a bad thing.

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