Paper Cuts

From the outside, Paige Langley’s life seems pretty normal…whatever that means. But it’s not. Her new boyfriend Matthew—a chain-smoking, musician—is acting strange, her friends at school even stranger, and Devon Connors, the boy that Paige is crushing on nearly dies in drug experiment gone wrong. Then one of the local football players mysteriously turns up dead and it launches a full-scale investigation by police on the illegal drug use at Bass Towers High School. And with all the weirdness going on, Paige is starting to suspect that Devon knows more than he’s letting on. As the horrible truth about the wild afterschool party scene—filled with sex, narcotics, and even murder—circulates around campus, Paige’s perfect life takes an unexpected turn, and a dark suspicion is suddenly cast on those she trusts most….

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4. A Family Affair

A Family Affair

 

Teresia Eklund-Connors just wasn’t a beautiful woman and she knew it. It would have been a cruel opinion for Charles to have otherwise. The world knew it.

She was on the living room couch, her  eyes were closed and her breathing soft. The television played How I Met Your Mother. A peal of laughter echoed across the room.

He rested his pen down. The calculator lay next to his notepad and a stack of bills. A Microsoft spreadsheet was open on the computer. He blinked behind his glasses as he observed his wife’s slumbering form.

Why did I fall in love with you?

Like a book one reads and doesn’t know why; he could neither forget about her, nor properly put her away. She had attractiveness that couldn’t be placed by the naked eye, and even when it could, it didn’t make sense.

Gone was the slim woman he married in his twenties. Yet even now, blonde hair wisped around her head, plump, doughy hands throw over her face, he loved her. Her feet were propped up on the ottoman. Earlier in their marriage, he might have woken her up and massaged her feet. He would have told her about his day.

The good times. He tried not to think on them too long. It wasn’t productive. Tried not to think about how she lied to him, to them.

 The front door slammed close.

Dropping his backpack at the door, Devon took a swing from the can in his hands. Coughing, he walked into the living room and froze. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

Charles sat at a desk in the entryway between the kitchen and the living room. The buttons of his collar were loose and his tie undone. The glare from the lights shone on his balding head.

He rested down his pen. “Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon,” Devon said, his brow furrowed. 

Charles cast a brief look at the beer in his son’s hand. “Throw that away. Where were you?”

Reluctantly, Devon rested the drink on a side table. He pulled out a chair from the table and sat. “I went to the get a check-up, remember?” he said. “You made the appointment for me last week.”

“I thought you forgot.”

“Well, I went,” his son said. “Everything looks normal.”

Charles nodded, folding up the ends of his sleeves. The fabric was smearing the ink on the notepad. He tossed an envelope on the desk in Devon’s direction.

“What’s this?” Devon asked.

“Your ACT scores came in.”

“And you opened it?” Devon asked. He looked at the torn envelope.

“It is my business,” Charles said. “I did pay for it.”

Devon didn’t say anything. His face said enough. He wasn’t as appreciative of this breach in privacy as his father was. The envelope remained untouched.

Charles readjusted his glasses and returned to his work. “Good job. You got a 32. Four points from perfect.”

“Really?” Devon said.

“Take a look,” Charles said. Devon picked up the envelope and read the letter inside.

“With a score like that you can go anywhere,” Charles said. “Now your grades…”

“I’m working on it,” Devon said. “Wouldn’t it be something if I go to the school you and mom went?”

“Now, Devon you know you can’t go there.” Michigan was out of the question.

Devon shrugged. “Well, yeah…” he said. “What did Lyn get?”

 “And you assume I know because…?” Charles said, smiling.

“Well, if you opened mine, I know you opened hers.”

The man raised his hands. “Guilty.”  He handed Devon the letter. “Here it is.” Something in the tone of his voice changed. His eyes looked troubled.

Devon’s smile faded when he opened the letter. “Wow.” He rested the mail back on the desk.

 “She needs to apply herself.” Charles’ frown deepened. “She can get a score near yours, if she wanted too.”

“Or better.”

“Or better.” Charles stood up with a grunt. He lifted his coat from the back of his chair. “I’ve registered you and your sister for some SAT classes.”

“Classes?”

“The more practice the better,” his father said. “It’s already late to be taking entrance exams. You have deadlines to meet, especially if you’re going to a university.” 

Devon shook his head. Charles knew what he was thinking.

The scholarship made Devon overconfident. He thought his place at the University of Florida was a divine mandate. Charles knew better. He wanted his son to do more than catch a ball; Devon had to have other options. Nothing in life was sure.

“Ah…I hope you don’t expect me to do as well.” Devon said.

“Just try your best.”

Charles put on his jacket. “Now if you aren’t going anywhere this evening, your sister and I are going to Bianchi’s to celebrate.”

“Sure, but I promised Cristina that I would take her out later tonight.”

“We should be back before then,” Charles said.

Devon nodded and started upstairs to his bedroom.

“Son,” Charles called. He picked up his car keys.

Devon looked back.

The man smiled. “I’m proud of you.”

 

***

The hairs on the back of Devon’s neck stood when he felt it. The blast of cool air hit the back of his neck, the tingling sensation running down his arms. Heart rate spiking, he looked at the Word document in front of him.

He closed his eyes. Please help me. He expected at any moment to feel a cold hand on his shoulder.

Olivia was there, and yet she was not. Devon could sense her, though she chose to hide from him. Even when invisible, she always sounded like something, but he was never able to describe it. It was like the sound of a locked room or a closed door, or perhaps the sound of a burglar behind a curtain. It was an active silence that was both titillating and alarming on the ears.

The glow from the laptop reflected on his face. The only sounds in the room were his breathing and the laptop’s asthmatic fan.

I’m missing Cristina for this. He swallowed the taste of Bianchi’s still on his tongue. This better not become a habit. He enjoyed his social life, or he thought he did, but he needed this. Closure would bring peace.

The white screen of the Word document seemed to blur to gray in the darkness.

Show me.

Meeting Olivia, he remembered with clarity, seeing her whitened, mold spotted corpse was as familiar to him as the names of his own family members. He remembered dragging her body to the lake and setting it adrift on a boat; it was only in the timing of her last breath that the haze returned. He just knew he’d been angry enough to kill her.

It was finally happening. Arms numbed, they rose to meet the keyboard. The corners of his room dimmed into sepia before the world went black. His fingers hit the backspace key and he began to type. He felt her behind him, guiding his thoughts.

The color came back. They were playing in the woods, back in Michigan. The flap of her white dress caught the corner of his eye. The grass under them was green and young with spring.

He wrote, an unexpected sting watering his eyes. Now finally, here was his chance to mold the bones, shape the flesh, frame the memories and personalities, to take something as cold and inanimate as words and bring it back to life, just like he did with Olivia.

Why couldn’t life be like that?

Maybe with the right words, under the right circumstances…

BOOM!

Something large and heavy fell down the hall. A short, startled cry followed after. Olivia tore away from him. Devon slumped in his seat, hacking. His window opened and shut, signaling her exit. Coughing, Devon leaned his head against the desk, his heartbeat so loud and fast, he thought fleetingly of calling 911. His arms stung and throbbed as they regained feeling. He turned his head at the sound of whimpering down the hall. 

 

***

 

Lyn stepped away from her bookshelf. Her arm hurt. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead.

A tall, obscure form stood in the shadows near the door. Her throat constricted. She left it open. Why had she left it open? She wanted to run, but couldn’t.

“Who—?” she asked, her voice cracked and loud.

Her brother stepped out of the darkness. “It’s only me,” Devon said. 

She was still shaking when she sat on her bed. “What do you want?” she asked, catching her breath.

“I heard something fall.”  He walked closer. Light highlighted his angular nose and the curve of his lips. “I wanted to see if you were okay.”

She folded her hands on her lap, gaze down. The moonlight from the window gave the room a blue tint.

Lyn pushed her fingers through her hair. “The dictionary fell.”

“Oh,” Devon said.

The walls of the room were bare and the mattress lacked blankets. On first glance, the room appeared unoccupied, but the boxes revealed otherwise. They were plain cardboard and packed with clothes, schoolwork, and other keepsakes. Home for Lyn was wherever her friends were, with whoever was willing to take her in.

He looked at her. “What did you need it for?”

A dry laugh. “To look something up?”

 “Lyn…I know you came in through the window.”

Lyn closed her eyes. “I’m not on drugs and I’m not pregnant.”

“I didn’t ask,” he said.

“But that’s what you meant.” Maybe she was a bit jealous of the golden-boy of the family. She knew that Devon felt the need to make-up for her shortcomings. That was why he worked so hard and did so much. She wished that it didn’t have to be that way. She wished he didn’t have to work so hard.

He nudged her. “Hey, don’t be like that. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Lyn smiled. “Maybe I am tired of all your questions?” She hit him with a pillow. “When are you going to stop being so paranoid, lille bror?”

He grabbed the pillow. “I worry about you sometimes. Seriously.” He stared at the ground and kicked at the carpet. “How was your date with Stevens?” Stevens finally had the courage to ask her out after approaching Devon about it Monday.

“I…I didn’t go.”

“So where were you?” he asked.

Lyn clenched her teeth. I snuck out to see Rob, get drugs and fuck. Was that what he wanted her to say? What they both knew? The drowsiness of coming down was hitting her in waves, the euphoria washing out like an eroded sea shore and giving way to the sharp rocks of irritation.

 “Nowhere.” She rested back on the bed in the fetal position. She hugged her sides; her eyes looking up at the ceiling, or rather past it. “Weren’t you supposed to be on a date yourself?” She faced him in time to see his reddened ears. “You’re not still messing with Dawn, are you?”

“No—and we’re talking about you now.”

“When was the last time I really talked to you anyway?” Lyn asked. “When we were twelve?”

“It had to be sooner than that.”

“You pretty much ignore me at school.”

Word around school was she was a ‘slut’ and a ‘poser.’ She liked to think of herself as a sexually liberated, free-thinker. Harassment forced her out of the cafeteria most days. She ate lunch alone behind the school portables with a pad between her knees, scribbling script ideas and penciling doodles.

 “You don’t know how it feels to have this football star brother, who everyone adores, and looks up to…” Lyn said. “And I—I’m just the pot smoking drop-out with a fucked-up dye job.”

“Not really.”

“Oh yeah, what do you think I am?”

“I think you’re my very intelligent and beautiful twin sister. You’re talented. You wrote last year’s play for the drama club. And your hair isn’t that bad. It just takes some getting used to—”

She kicked his side. “That’s just your way of saying I have issues.”

He stared up innocently at the ceiling. “You’re very special to me…”

Scram! “Devon, you’re full of shit.” She couldn’t suppress the laugh that followed.

He winked. “Aw, I’m not that bad am I?”

She shook her head. “Worse.” She sighed. That comment about Steven wasn’t lost on her. If she were honest, she’d been thinking about him all night.

“And honestly, you haven’t dropped out yet,” Devon said. “You can still graduate.”

“Can I ask you a serious question?” she said.

“Shoot.”

“And no bullshit answers.”

“I said yes already, didn’t I?”

“How do you…get over things?” She hugged a pillow to her chest and willed herself to breathe. This was the first time she was actually talking about it, no matter how vaguely.  She was supposed to be a good pastor’s daughter—strong, immovable, faith like a mountain— instead she was an agnostic bisexual who still couldn’t get over being raped twelve years before.

He shrugged. “It helps me to think over things. Write them down. Sort out how I feel.” He was getting sleepy.

“Oh.”

“Does that make sense?” he asked.

“Not really.” She yawned. “Can you hand me a blanket?” she asked. “It’s in one of those boxes.” She pointed in their general direction.

He stood. “You’re so fucking lazy,” he said. He searched through the boxes. “You got a lot of junk in here. People let you live in their houses like this?”

“Just toss me a blanket!” Lyn said annoyed. “And who are you to talk about someone being messy?”

He handed her one.

“Thank-you,” she said. She grew serious. “Listen Devon, can writing something over and over again change the past?” She rested her head down and drew the covers to her chin.

He’d been walking to the door. He stopped. “No, but sometimes it helps to write it all out.” Paper was the best listener.

Her eyes closed, she yawned. “What if you can’t?”

 “I—I don’t want to think about that,” he said after a long moment.

Lyn didn’t hear him. She’d already fallen asleep. He closed the door quietly behind him.

 

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