The light peering in through the opened window is welcoming. The birds are chattering amongst each other on the ancient oak tree situated next to my window. The scene is tranquil yet there is still a darkness that looms in the background. The STENCH!!! Was that real? The room smells fine now. The thought of that smell makes me want to gag. I had to be dreaming, right? Oh, please let it have been a terrible nightmare. I’m begging. Please.
I tug at my sheets. They skim up over my bare legs as they were untucked. Just like in my … Oh my God!!! I leap out of my bed and sprint towards where the thing in my nightmare was standing, but there are no signs of it ever being there. I get down on my hands and knees and I crawl towards the door. I’m searching for evidence of its existence, being extremely thorough, making sure that I don’t miss anything. Nothing. I check the door, the upstairs hall, the bathroom, the bedrooms, and still there isn’t a single trace.
What about my sheets? They were untucked from under my mattress. What had happened? It was on top of me and then … I can’t remember. I’m hit with another wave of nausea, more powerful than before. I rack my brain for a logical answer. The only thing that I can think of is maybe I had kicked and tugged at my sheets in my sleep causing them to become undone. That has to be the only logical explanation.
It must have been a nightmare, I think to myself decisively, although an underlying doubt still creeps around in the background of my conscious. I try not to think about it as I head to the bathroom to do my normal routine. I try to keep myself distracted by concentrating of my menial tasks; get your toothbrush out, put the paste on, but in the end it does little to shut out my abject fears. It was just a dream? Right? Now just forget it! I go back to focusing on the task at hand. I really want to kill Sage for planting that seed in my mind.
I hastily descend down the stairs. I guess I was the only one still sleeping. I can smell the food cooking in the kitchen. I head towards the living room. I pop in and say hi to Marisol. She’s sitting on the couch pretending to read the picture book, Peter Rabbit. I give her a quick kiss before I take my exit.
“Good morning, or should I say, good afternoon,” Papa says, pointing to the clock as I enter the kitchen. It reads twelve-fifteen. “Up at the crack of noon, as usual,” he adds.
“How come you didn’t wake me up?” I ask.
“I told him to let you sleep since everybody’s not used to the time change.” Texas is two hours ahead of Oregon. In Oregon it would be ten-fifteen, a decent hour for a teen to wake up on a summer day.
“What time did Marisol get up then?” I ask, slipping a piece of bacon into my mouth.
“At eight to watch her cartoons,” Mama answers.
“Is breakfast almost ready?” The smell of the food is making my stomach grumble and mouth water, and the bacon I just ate isn’t helping either.
“You mean brunch,” Papa teases. “It will be ready in five minutes, and don’t touch anymore bacon,” Papa says swatting my hand away.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“I don’t start till Monday, so you have one more day to spend with me so, HA!” Papa replies.
Everybody sits together during breakfast as usual talking about the plans of the day.
“Why are you dressed?” Papa asks, puzzled. “You usually just hang around the house all day on the weekends wearing your pajamas. What, are you going to see some guy I don’t know about?” He’s joking of course. His eyes are dancing with amusement and the corners of his lips form a wide smile. Smiling changes his demeanor immensely. When he smiles he no longer looks big and scary. When he smiles it pulls everybody in, a gravitational pull.
“No,” I lie hastily — maybe a little too hastily. “I’m planning on taking Marisol to the park. If that’s okay?” Asking to take Marisol anywhere isn’t abnormal, so he has to buy it.
“That’s a great idea,” Mama says; slipping in a wink. Oh no, I see Papa’s facial expression change. His Mr. Hyde is emerging. He opens his mouth to speak when I notice Mama shoot him a dirty look that keeps him silent. He looks down at his plate and grumbles under his breath as he shovels a big forkful of food in his mouth and shakes his head. Thank you Mama.
When we get to the park I see Sage sitting on the same bench that we had sat on yesterday. He watches me as I get out of the van. Today he’s wearing a blue t-shirt. As I approach him I notice that his eyes appear blue. I wonder if it’s because of his mood or because of the color of his shirt? The coloring of his injured eye looks a little subdued. How long have I been staring at him like this? I avert my eyes away but I can still feel his eyes on me, to the point that his gaze causes me to become a little uneasy and I just escape from tripping over a large crack in the pavement. That would have made a good impression.
A huge grin spreads across his face as he pats the empty space next to him. Did he notice my fumble or is he just happy to see me? I can feel my face redden as I sit down beside him. I make sure there’s a good few inches between us — the thought of me being so close to him causes my stomach to do flips.
“Go play,” I tell Marisol as I let go of her hand and she runs towards Oscar.
“Hey, I wasn’t sure if I would see you here.”
“I wasn’t planning on coming, but Marisol begged me to take her to the park,” I say indifferently. I hope that was convincing.
A few minutes go by in silence as I pretend to read my book while I am actually watching Sage in the corner of my eye open and reopen his mouth in an effort to strike up a conversation. It’s actually pretty pathetic/comical which is why I don’t bother to say anything. Besides, the guy should make the first move. I wouldn’t want him to think that I was desperate, would I?
Finally after a minute of struggling to find his voice; he regains his ability to speak. “You don’t happen to have a boyfriend that I would have to worry about getting pissed off, do you?” he asks, offhandedly. Like he’d have anything to worry about. He’d probably kick his ass.
“Why would he get angry?”
“I’m sitting next to you and he might get jealous.”
“I don’t have one at the present.” Smooth. “And if I did, he wouldn’t have a say of who I sit next to.” He scoots a little closer to me, making himself comfortable.
“That’s good to know,” he says trying to act as if he doesn’t care, but his eyes betray him.
We again sit for a minute in silence as he waits for me to ask if he has a girlfriend, which I am never going to do — it’ll just make me sound as desperate as I feel.
“Yeah, I’m single too,” he finally says, “not that I can’t get a girlfriend, it’s by choice,” he says.
“Yeah, no, I’m sure it’s by your own choice.”
I pretend to go back to my book so that I don’t seem too interested in his affair.
“How old did you say you were?”
“You’re a little short to be sixteen ain’t you?”
“Have you ever thought that maybe you’re freakishly tall?” I retort.
“Touché. I don’t know about the guys in Oregon, but around here most guys are pretty tall,” he responds with matching fervor.
“I never said —?”
“You were from Corvallis, Oregon? You can’t keep too many secrets in a small town.”
“For your information, guys are tall there too, and technically I didn’t live within the city limits. Don’t people from Texas usually wear cowboy hats?”
“That’s original, what’s your next question? Do we all own cowboy boots?” I roll my eyes at that answer. Funny he says that, he has on a pair.
“When’s your birthday?”
“November twenty-eighth. When’s yours?” I ask.
“July seventh,” he responds.
“How long have you lived here?”
“All my life. My whole family has grown up here.”
“Do you have any other siblings?”
“Nope, just Oscar. You?”
“Just Marisol. My parents call her Sunny, but I call her Sunshine.”
“So,” he says, trying to keep our conversation going, “how do you like it here?”
“How do you like it here?” If I find out that he likes this town I’ll ease up on my obvious disdain.
“Truthfully, I’m getting out of this hellhole as soon as I finish high school.”
“Wouldn’t you miss your family?” I ask, totally amazed. I can’t imagine doing that.
“I don’t get on well with my parents, especially my stepdad. The only one that I would miss would be my little bro. My parents don’t really care about him — hell, they’ll be glad when he’s gone too. So when I find a place next year, when I’m legally an adult, I’m gonna take him with me. I don’t think my parents will object. As soon as I can afford a cheap place I’m gone. I’ve been saving for one since I was twelve. Which is why my truck is a piece of crap or else I’d have fixed it up pretty good.”
I wonder if his stepdad gave him the black eye. “Yeah,” I say getting on with the conversation, “I really hate that we moved here. My parents aren’t really thrilled about it either.”
“I bet,” he mutters. “How was Oregon? I heard the weather there is cold. I’m kind of partial to the heat.”
“We loved Oregon, we literally lived and breathed it. We lived in a community up in the hills not far from the city. The commute to my Papa’s work was pretty close. We were always surrounded by nature. You couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a tree or some kind of wild life. We lived right next to a river where we could find all kinds of quartz and fossils, and we could swim in it whenever we wanted. We were surrounded by mountains and every time the wind blew you’d get a whiff of pine. The weather was amazing. Yeah, it rained a lot but that didn’t stop us. It was always so cool, the average high is eighty-one degrees in the summers. It was heaven on earth, but I guess all good things can’t last,” I sigh.
“So how’d ya’ll end up here?” Sage inquires.
“My Papa was laid off. He tried to find another job but he couldn’t, and seeing that we wouldn’t have been able to afford the house, we had no choice but to move. A friend of his, former friend if you ask me, had told him that he had heard that places here were cheap and he could probably get a job here somewhere so … here we are.”
“I’m glad that you moved here. I-I mean not that you are miserable but —”
“I get it,” I say mercifully cutting off his blunder.
As we sit at the bench talking some more, Sage tries to casually scoot over towards me. This time passing my imaginary line, so I casually move away from him. Sage then tries to pretend to yawn as he tries to put his arm over my shoulder. I pull away and pretend to start reading. Offended that I snubbed him but trying to hide it, he tries to rest his arm on an armrest but falls over forgetting this bench doesn’t have one.
“Are you okay?” I manage to ask in between a laugh.
“That’s not funny,” he says embarrassed, his tone has a taste of hostility. His eyes turn a darker greenish-blue.
“Actually it kind of was,” I say still laughing.
“How would you like it if you fell over and I laughed at you?”
He gets up from the ground and sits back down on the bench, irritated. Temper, temper.
“Maybe you should learn not to be so damn sensitive,” I answer back coldly.
Again we sit in silence as he cools off. Minutes pass and I begin to feel bad for offending him. That and the situation is becoming awkward. I begin to think about moving on to another bench, but that would make it look like I cared what he thought. Besides, I move for no one. Especially for some sulking baby.
Seconds pass and seeing that neither one of us is going to budge, I decide that I’ll be the bigger person. Since I did offend him.
“Sorry for laughing,” I say half-heartedly.
“It’s all right, I shouldn’t be so irritable.” As he says that his eyes seem to cool off, they really are a mood ring. I wonder what color they turn when he’s lying.
“Are we good?” I ask hopefully — he was man enough to own up to his fault, a good quality for a friend and maybe.…
“Yeah, we’re good.”
“So, what are you doing later?” he asks smoothly, or so he thinks — I could see through his façade that he’s a bit nervous.
“I don’t know, I guess I’ll find something to do, why?” I say slowly, mischievously. I knew if I confronted him that it would throw him off — make his only supply of confidence run dry. It worked.
“I-I was,” nervous chuckle, “wondering if — if you wanted to go to the movies with me? You know, since you really don’t have anything planned. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I just figured it would be fun.” Watching him squirm is just too much fun.
“Sure, but I’m going to have to check with my parents and see if they have anything planned for us. Are you planning for it to be something like a date?” I’m starting to wonder if I have a conscious.
“If you want it to be,” he says shyly, with an unsubtle hint of eagerness.
“So, what movie do you have in mind?” I say purposely ignoring his question. Nope, I guess not.
“Well, we can check out that new vampire movie. The girls at school have been talking about it non-stop.”
“Kay, sounds great. I’ve been wanting to see that one,” I say while getting up.
“Cool.” Sage nods. “Wait,” he says catching my hand. I guess he’s as nervous as I am, because his hand felt moist. Gross. I can’t wipe my hand without him noticing and that would just humiliate him.
“I’m going to need your phone number.”
“Oh, okay, I almost forgot.” I slyly wipe my hand in the inside of my pocket as I grab my phone.
We exchange phone numbers.
“I’ll call you later, Marimar.”
“It’s Mar-r-r-ee-mar-r-r, you have to roll the r’s. My parents call me Marimar, call me Mar.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to you later, Mar.” When he says my name my heart skips a beat, and I have to remind myself to breathe.
“Later,” I say, still recovering from my shortness of breath. I grab my book and start walking towards the playground.
“Come on, Sunshine, let’s go. Say good-bye to Oscar.”
“Five mowe minutes, please,” she says as she goes down the slide.
“No, we’ve been here long enough,” I say.
“Okey-dokey,” she pouts, “bye-bye, Oscaw.” She skips towards me. She bounces back easily. As we walk to the van I realize I totally forgot to go off on Sage about causing my nightmare. He’s not off the hook yet.
“Please, can I go? It’s just a movie. He’ll be buying me dinner. I’d be back by eleven and I’ll call you when we get there, and when we’re leaving.” I know that last part is ridiculous, but right now I’m trying to feed Papa whatever he wants to hear. Mama’s already onboard with the idea — I sold it to her earlier. Papa was all right with me going just a few moments ago, but as soon as I mentioned that I was going with a guy he had totally freaked out. He was like:
“What boy, the same guy you met yesterday? I don’t even know his name.”
“It’s Sage Sterling.”
“I don’t even know what he looks like, who his parents are, how old he is, if he is some kind of a creep that preys on naive girls.”
“He’s taller than you are, he’s about six-one or six-two, and he has brown curly hair and hazel-green eyes, and he is going to be seventeen next month. And as far as I can tell, he’s not a psychopathic serial killer.”
“That’s what he’d want you to believe…. Go call him, but I’m not saying yes or no to you going out on a date with him just yet. I want to see him first and if I disapprove it’s not happening,” Papa answers grudgingly.
“Thank you!” I exclaim as I run over and kiss his cheek. Damn. There goes the whole “I don’t care” thing.
“I said maybe,” Papa answers annoyed.
“Yeah, but you didn’t say, no.” Where the hell did my pride go? I’m no better than any other giddy teenage girl.
The conclusion: Papa is at the moment laying his rifle on the coffee table in the sitting room, preparing to clean it when Sage get’s here. Mama talked him out of holding it. I should have known to hide the guns before I asked Papa about going on a date. How stupid can I be? Sage should be here any minute....
Knock, knock, knock. Yes! He showed up. For a minute there, I was beginning to worry. Girls get stood up all the time. Bark, bark, bark! Trevor races passed us from the kitchen to the front door. I had waited till the last moment to ask Mama’s and Papa’s permission so that if Papa had said yes he wouldn’t have had much time to take it back. What he didn’t know was that Sage was already on his way.… Hey, I didn’t want to be underhanded, it’s just that the less time we have until the movie starts the less time Papa will have to interrogate him.
“I’ll get it,” I yell as I run for the door, but Papa beats me to it. Damn.
“Get back, Trevor!” I yank him back by his collar. He resists — barking and lunging towards Sage — his motive isn’t out of aggression, but towards getting his belly rubbed. He finally calms down a little after Sage says hi and gets his arms covered with dog drool. He got his belly rubbed.
“Sunny, can you go lock him in the bathroom?” Mama asks all the while apologizing for his behavior. Sunshine complies, I hand him over gratefully — the scene is becoming less chaotic.
“Good Evening, Mr. and Mrs. Utt. It’s very nice to meet you,” Sage says, cool and collected, as he puts out his hand for Papa and Mama to shake. Papa just keeps his hands in his pockets while looking him up and down. I think he’s just angry because he can’t find anything wrong with him. Mama flashes Papa a disapproving look before she shakes Sage’s hand and asks him about his welfare.
Sage is wearing a navy blue polo shirt tucked into his new looking baggy jeans that are held up properly by a belt; his cowboy boots even look like they’ve been polished. He’s wearing cologne, it smells like Polo. Papa has absolutely nothing to complain about, which put him in a bad mood. Sage didn’t honk when he drove into our driveway, his pants aren’t falling down like the boys nowadays, and he even tucked his shirt in. He sure does know how to make a good impression. Even his hair is properly styled in a gentlemanly way.
“Why don’t you come in?” Papa says grudgingly, after Mama gave him another dirty look.
“Hey, so are you ready to go?” I ask Sage, pushing my way passed Papa. I’m hoping to leave before something goes wrong. Papa answers for him.
“Not yet, come. Follow me to the sitting room where we can have a nice little chat,” Papa says feigning friendliness. Mama has just left to go prepare dinner. Why did she have to go? He gestures with his hand for Sage to walk in front of him. He looks militant, he probably wishes he had his gun in hand so that he could escort him like he was taking him to his jail cell — like he’s some kind of high profile prisoner. His eyes seem to burn a hole through the back of his head.
Great, he’s going to totally try to drag this out. At least he has some kind of time limit. We have about twenty minutes before we have to leave. Sage could survive twenty minutes, couldn’t he? Shit, I might as well go change into my pajamas. I’m not going anywhere. I’m sure Sage is regretting ever meeting me.
Papa sits down in his throne. He has Sage sit in the chair opposite to him, the coffee table separates them. Papa starts taking the gun apart to clean it; it’s not his only source of intimidation. Sage’s reaction is not what he had planned. Sage whistles as his eyes fall on to the gun.
“Nice rifle, my stepdad has one of those, not as nice though.” He seems to be completely unfazed. Ha! Take that Papa. Papa’s stupefied, but it doesn’t stop him from his work.
“Before you guys leave to go on your date,” Papa says, swallowing hard as he says the word date, “I have some rules that you need to know about before you start dating my daughter. I take them to heart and I follow them to a T.” I scoff. Papa’s eyes land on me. Freaking hell, he forgot I was in the room. I just blew my chance at staying invisible.
“Marimar, why don’t you go help your mother in the kitchen while the boy and I get to know each other for a while.” His tone is dismissive. Typical. How could I be so stupid and blow my cover?
“Close the door, sweetheart.” As I’m about to shut the door, Trevor suddenly runs in. Marisol must have forgotten to close the bathroom door all the way. The last scene I take in before I close the door is Trevor standing faithfully at Papa’s side like he’s waiting to pounce on Sage; growling all the while. Strange. Not five minutes ago he was slobbering all over him. I wonder how Papa got him to do that. Man, Papa looks almost like a hillbilly. He must have seen something on my face because a slight grin breaks through his icy expression. He lives for this kind of stuff. A split second later, his former expression returns but he can’t fool me, because behind all of the fire and brimstone; this’ll be the highlight of his evening.
Oh, yeah, you’re freaking hilarious.
I close the door acting as if I am heading towards the kitchen when I pivot on the balls of my feet back towards the door to listen. What the hell are they saying in there? The room is quiet? My conscious is gnawing at me. I feel kind of guilty listening through the door, and Papa is probably going to ask Mama if I had helped her in the kitchen but … Ah! Screw it, I’ll have to go help her in the kitchen or he’ll know that I was prying. Brilliant!
I walk or should I say stomp to the kitchen. The scent of food hovering in the hall causes my mouth to water. Mama is making arroz con pollo. I hadn’t realized until now that I was so hungry. My stomach is practically snarling at me. I let out a wistful sigh. I’m not even going to be eating here; Sage is taking me out.
Opening the kitchen door, I see a heat wave leaking out through the crack. As I speedily enter, the large room comes into full view. The room has a quasi vintage air. The period wallpaper and the cabinets starkly contrast the up-to-date industrial kitchen with granite counter tops and center island with two additional burners and a small sink. This is what sold Mama on the house.
Mama still looks as happy as a little girl with a new Easy Bake Oven as she makes dinner. Marisol is sitting on the opposite side of her on one of the kitchen stools. The scent that I caught was coming from the pot boiling on the burner. My Mama appears dazzling the way the light is playing off her face. Her cheeks are red from the effect of the heat and her hair is becoming curlier from the steam. Marisol is coloring with her favorite colored crayon, orange. She is no less dazzling than my Mama. Marisol looks up at me, meeting my eyes. Her eyes seem to sparkle the same way my Mama’s does.
“Mama, what did you think of him?” I ask as I walk over to help her sauté the onions.
“I can see great looking grandkids in my future.” My jaw drops and my face colors as she breaks out laughing. “I’m just teasing. He’s very cute and he seems like a very nice, clean cut, guy. I’m glad he’s not one of those skinny jeans wearing, metro waifs or Papa would have slammed the door on his face. I guess we’ll find out what your father thinks of him in a few minutes.
“Was he dressed like that when you first met him or did he just do that for the date?” I answered, Yes, he was dressed like that. “He doesn’t look like the guys around here. He looks like he’s mixed with some European blood.
“How old did you say he was?” Sixteen, I answered. “He looks like a man more than he does a boy, which I am sure you had noticed.”
“He’s vewy nice,” Marisol says. “You should mawwy him.” That last comment made me blush again, my face must look like I’ve spent as much time as Mama over the burner. All I can do is laugh, I’m so flustered.
“Marisol, she’s too young to marry. That would mean I’d only have one baby left.”
She continues gushing like she hadn’t heard me. “I wish that you would both just stay this age so that you would never leave. Although, I do want grandchildren. Just not yet.” My mortification continues. The only thing that could make this worse would be if Sage was present to witness this fiasco.
“One date won’t lead to a marriage,” I say, able to regain my speech.
“Some do,” Mama reminds me.
Slamming my head in the car door would be less painful than this conversation.
“Don’t worry, Mama, believe me. I’m not planning on getting married or having kids for a long time,” I say quickly before she gets any more ideas.
Jesus, if she’s acting like this now. How is she going to react when I get a marriage proposal? You know, on second thought, I think I’d rather elope.
I wonder if Sage is suffering as much as I am.…