Rest Easy *Valentine's Day Entry*

*I'm submitting the first part of a novel, as it is still underway, but almost complete! I began it in January and the majority of it was written after the opening of the competition, but I had to re-upload because of the original upload date*

*Based on Prompts #1 and #2*

In Arizona, two teenagers spend a summer attempting to decrypt the life of an elderly woman with dementia, who had gone missing over forty years ago and cannot recall to anyone where and how she lived. This ongoing mission keeps the teenagers occupied all summer, bringing them closer and helping them to avoid the rough times they have been going enduring in their lives, and the pasts they just want to forget. As the pair grow a bond, it eventually appears that the world around them wishes against it. The price of overcoming the obstacles that stand ahead of them is hefty, but only they can determine whether it is worth the risk.

For those on desktop - I've added thematic songs to some of the chapters :)

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3. CHAPTER ONE | THE RESTLESS

 

 

Dudley Warrington could not sleep. And he felt like letting his ex-girlfriend, Vanessa, know about it. Though it had been weeks since they had held a palpable conversation, he was itching to feel something more than emptiness, to fill up the cavity in him that drywall couldn’t fix. He had felt the hole getting bigger, ever since that god-awful, life-warping, indelible, Tuesday Morning. Eleven weeks ago. To be exact: eleven weeks, nineteen hours, seven minutes ago. He had felt the cavity feed like a black hole feasting on light, getting bigger, hungrier, satisfied when Vanessa left him, yet still yearning for more emptiness. He needed to fill himself up again. His brother’s leftover liquor wasn’t quite working. So, he thought it wouldn’t kill to pick up my phone and call my ex-girlfriend, my first love, at three-twenty-two in the morning, whilst his heart refused to drum a lax cadence. He was losing the smell of her. He was losing the memory of that look she’d sometimes give him; the look of sincerity, rimmed with love, rimmed with happiness. He was losing the feeling of her skin, and he’d never wanted it as strongly as he wanted it right there, right then.

He picked up his phone and dialled her number. To his surprise, Vanessa answered his call.

 

“You’re still up?” He asked, trying hard to mask the overt tone of triumph and I-didn’t-think-I’d-get-this-far, that slipped out of his slurred words. She giggled on the other end of the line.

“Yeah. I have a Spanish final tomorrow afternoon. Cramming, you know. Typical Ness.”

“Typical Ness,” he repeated. He gulped another shot of whiskey, and scowled as the molten lava went down his throat. He’d need to brush his teeth before he slept, he told himself. “I have a Math final at Noon. I studied all day for it. I’ve just been doin’ nothing for the past few hours. Typical Dud.” He half-grinned, staring hard at nothing in particular. He was drifting, trying to keep himself together and stop himself thinking about Vanessa’s breasts, or her collarbones or her eyelashes. Her lips or her ankles, her thighs. She was ripped away from him, like an angel’s feet divorcing the ground, back off into the clouds. He was lost. He needed to remember her again. And no, not from a distance in the school parking lot or across the hallway as she deliberately turned the other way or pretended not to see him when she clearly did. He wanted her right in front of his face. “I can’t sleep. It’s been really bad lately. I’m scared I’m going under sometimes. I don’t mean to offload this on you. I just know you’d understand.”

There was silence on the other end for a moment. It felt like forever enveloped within three seconds, and Dudley’s heart picked up pace as he waited for a reaction, a response.

“Of course I understand. Yeah, I do.” She spoke as if verifying her own answer. He sensed hesitance.

“I’m sorry. I just miss you.” He mumbled. It had only been three weeks since their relationship ended. Just after their one-year anniversary. The cavity in him was taunting him as it grew, and he thought he might just die. He knew he’d feel better in a few months, but that didn’t matter now. He missed her.

 

“I tell you what. I’ll come over. Just for a bit,” Vanessa said. Another surprise. Dudley wasn’t expecting such a statement from her, but he didn’t know what he expected, to be honest.

“You sure? It’s dark out.”

“It’s a five minute drive. I’m a big girl.”

“What are we gonna do?” He found himself asking.

“I don’t know. Talk.”

“Talk?”

“Talk."

“Dylan’s not home.”

“I figured. I’ll see you in twenty, OK?”

“Yeah, sure. Stay safe.”

“Stay sane.” She said. His palms were instantly clammy once she hung up. He didn’t know if he was quite ready to see her up close, even though he thought he was. He had started off pathetic around her when they first met - a nervous mess, hiding it behind flirtation and cheap jokes. Now he was feeling that feeling again, but on a whole new level. In the worst way.

 

A half hour later, Dudley heard the doorbell ring. He had been hastily tidying his room, throwing stray clothes under his bed and into his wardrobe, clearing his desk, opening the window to let some fresh air in. He finished the whiskey and drank a glass of water to compensate for his ever-intensifying intoxication. Vanessa knew he wasn’t sober the second she saw him at the front door. She smiled at him, a sad smile. Then she sucked in her breath and planted a kiss on his cheek, before walking into his living room.

“Dylan pregamed here with some of his friends,” Dudley said. “They left drinks everywhere. You want some?”

“Sure. I’ll have a little. Not the wisest of ideas, but fuck it.” She walked into the kitchen and poured herself a shot of straight Absolut. She drank and chased it with cranberry juice, three times in a row. Her face was screwed up for a while after, like she was trying not to barf. She had just realised that the only way to make this whole encounter bearable was to be on a similar level as  her ex-boyfriend; to peel away her inhibitions for the next couple of hours. She was still thinking about her Spanish test, reciting phrases in her head on the way to Dudley’s, but decided it was best to push that to the side for now. “Did you join the pregame?” She asked, leaning against the kitchen counter, looking everywhere but at Dudley.

He moved closer, still metres away from her. He couldn’t keep his balance. “No, I didn’t. I just stayed in my room, listened to some music until they left for Phoenix. I know he won’t be back until, like, tomorrow evening.”

“You mean this evening?”

“Tomato, To-mah-to.”

“So you’ve just been by yourself, huh.”

“Yeah. Lonely.”

They finally locked eyes. Vanessa grinned, shaking her head. The vodka was already getting to her; she could feel her fingers and her lips tingling, her stomach flipping. She couldn’t stand his puppy-dog eyes, so big and so brown. He had always looked like a girl, with hair three times longer than her own, so long it almost reached his waist. She remembered the times she used to braid it, on quiet nights in. His hair was always so beautiful, and so was he.

“Let’s go to your room. More comfortable than the kitchen.” She walked up to him, taking his hand and leading him out and up the stairs. He followed so easily, without budging or hesitating like he would in sobriety. Since she walked through the door, he couldn’t stop thinking about her body. That was all he wanted. And it was everything he got.

 

They spent a few minutes making out on his bed, hands all over each other, fingers slinking and climbing under t-shirt, bra, boxer shorts, panties. The breathing was heavy and hot, like they were asthmatic dragons, gasping for air, existing as myths and not real, happy lovers. Drunken sex had never been the conduct of canny men, but it had never been so easy. It shrouded the bad parts, illuminated the best parts, evened it all out, made it endurable, forgettable. They had last shared a bed almost a month ago, but it felt rather like eons. Their last time was like a something between a married couple; they were used to each other, they didn’t need intoxication, they were comfortable and settled, and didn’t see an end to their love. Now it was like a huge elephant, a dark secret, something forbidden. The intensity was higher, and there was a sprinkle of hatred there. Hatred for one another for taking advantage of each other’s vulnerabilities; hatred of themselves for letting themselves be taken advantage of. Dudley couldn’t tell if the love was still as strong as before, but he was seeing double anyway. -he was in no place to judge accurately. Vanessa gripped onto him, groaning into his collarbone. Her eyes were closed, and she didn’t want to open them. She was scared she might cry, if she looked him right in the face. He broke her heart, shattered it into smithereens, and he still got to have her, whenever he wanted. All he had to do was call her at stupid-o’-clock in the morning, and she’d be there. She resented him for it. Dudley knew it was easy for her to come to his aid, even though she wanted nothing to do with him, or she thought she didn’t. He had been through a lot the past few months. He had been through a lot his whole life. She was the lucky one, the one with the functional family and the money and the opportunities in life. He wasn’t. There had to be a compromise, and it was right here, in each other’s arms, even when it was oh so wrong.

 

Vanessa got on top of him, eyes closed and head facing the sky. She tried her best to enjoy herself, to make him feel better. But something had changed. But his grip had softened, and he wasn’t moving. She looked down at him, found him staring emptily at the ceiling. It was like he was no longer there.

“Are you OK?” she whispered, breathing heavily. He didn’t respond, just looked shell-shocked. Maybe he saw something she couldn’t see. Maybe a ghost. She got off of him, feeling lost. Then he sat up, still silent. There was just silence in the room for a long, long time.

“I’m sorry. It isn’t you. You know it isn’t.” He muttered. She nodded, trying to hold back tears. Nothing was the same as before, not anymore. She moved to the end of the bed, grabbing her underwear and her sweatpants. She didn’t want to speak. “I’m fucked in the head, Vanessa.”

“This wasn’t a good idea.”

“I know.”

“I need to go.”

He paused, getting out of bed and searching for his boxers in the dim light. He tied his hair up. “Yeah, no, of course. It’s late. We’ve got to wake up soon.” It was ten past four in the morning, and they had class at nine. This wasn’t the first time he’d slept late, but he felt bad for keeping Vanessa up. He watched her put all her clothes on and slide into her sneakers. She’d normally steal his hoodie, but she didn’t this time. “I’m sorry, Ness,” he slurred. “I’m trash. You know that.”

“No you’re not,” she sounded exasperated. “I’m not going to rub your back and tell you you’re a good boy. Not anymore. You know you’re better than this, and I know I am.” She sniffed, wiping away her wet eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You mean today.” He smiled pathetically. She didn’t react. Just grabbed her phone from the table and left his bedroom.

 

Dudley got an hour of sleep before his alarm clock went off.

 

 

He walked into his first class twenty minutes late. Vanessa was sitting to the left of the room, as she always did. She looked up, sinking into her seat. He only looked at her for a millisecond, before traipsing to his seat in the newfound silence that came over everyone. His teacher called him out, asked him why he was late. His eyes were still burning from lack of sleep.

“Car broke down, I had to use my brother’s.” Half-truth, half-lie.

“And you didn’t feel the need to call in and give the school a heads-up?”

Dudley sighed. “No.”

“It’s omissions like that that will make all the difference to your future, Warrington.”

“Call me Dudley or don’t say my name at all.” He snapped. The tension in the room was sharp. He had a huge issue with anyone mentioning his last name, the same one he shared with his father. It made his skin crawl, his heartbeat stammer. The same last name that was plastered all over news channels around Arizona when he was a kid. Accompanied by a mugshot of his dad, and a FaceBook photo of his mother. It was a name he despised, and nobody could ever use it against him. Not even Mr. Myers.

Enough of the attitude. You’ve already wasted minutes of this class and managed to make it about yourself.”

“Fuck you.”

The teacher paused, before getting to his seat and pulling out a slip. A detention slip. He wrote furiously before standing again. “All lunch today, Dudley. You’ll be back in this room. You better have brought a packed lunch. Now. Let us continue with the class; time is money.”

Dudley spent the majority of the lesson with his head on the desk, somewhere between reality and a dream state. He could see Vanessa from where he sat, albeit from a horizontal point of view. He could tell she was trying to avoid looking at him, and she was. Still, when everyone emptied out into the hallway after class, she caught up with him.

“Can we talk after school? Like, at my car? Just for a second.”

Dudley stared at her. “Yeah, sure. I’m cool with that.” Kids in the hallway looked at them, and it was the one thing he hated about dating Vanessa Bailey. Everyone knew, and everyone cared. Everyone talked. Conversations like this:

 

Did you hear? Vanessa’s single again.

Which one? White, or Bailey?

Bailey.

Shit. The blonde one with the Class-A tits?

Yeah, the mayor’s daughter.

Sheesh. There’ll be a queue in her DMs in no time.

You think?

Yeah. Of course. She needs a shoulder to cry on. Didn’t you hear what her boyfriend did to her the other week?

Oh yeah, I heard about that. Thought it was just a rumour, though.

Nah. All true. Can’t believe someone would do that to Vanessa fuckin’ Bailey. She’s always been too hot for him.

You think?

Yeah. Of course. It’s like... he really took her for granted. I know I wouldn’t. I definitely wouldn’t. I’d praise that girl, and her golden jugs.

Hahaha. Same. I wonder how long she’ll stay single for.

She might take him back. You know what girls are like.

Delirious.

Damn right.

Wanna go IHOP at Lunch?

Sure thing.

 

His Math test didn’t go as bad as he thought it would, despite it being just before lunch, when he was at his hungriest. He had skipped breakfast as he did most days. Dudley wasn’t a dumb kid; he studied when necessary, but he did try to make life as easy for himself as possible. He’d sometimes skip class or hand in assignments late, but that was only when he really felt like slacking. Maybe when his brother was partying or going on benders and he had no quiet space, or back when his mother needed help processing orders for her herbal soap store in town, and he’d stay up all night helping her. Sometimes he’d put other things first, before class. Ever since the break-up, he’d been pretty good. Working hard, keeping himself busy, trying to redeem himself. Not just his grades, but to compensate for how terrible he felt about the last few weeks. He was getting back on track. But now here he was, in Mr. Myer’s classroom at lunch, paying the price of his impulsive, razor-sharp tongue. He was hungry, and no sir, he didn’t bring a packed lunch.

 

“I understand you have been going through a lot recently,” Mr Myers said. “I’m very aware of the fact. But I don’t want to see you succumb to it.”

“You know jack shit about what I’ve been going through.” Dudley didn’t make eye contact with him.

“Well... maybe I don’t. Yes - I probably don’t. But I can assure you, I’ve suffered through hardships of my own. You and me, Dudley... we have something in common. We’ll always have to work thrice as hard in life to get what we want. Me, as an African American man, you, as someone of Native descent. That’s just the way the world works. And Hell, we’ll have to battle our way through the simple things, and we have to put a face on to let the world know we’re not weak. Even when we feel it. But it makes us better people. Pushing through things. I just don’t want to see you take a u-turn on the progress you’ve been making.”

Dudley just stared at him, not saying a word. He hated this kind of talk: the pep talk where they try to find common ground, try and act like their struggles parallel with his. It pissed him off. He wasn’t a dumb kid. He didn’t work with inspirational speeches, or even detentions. He could see through it all.

He ran a hand through his hair, sighing. “Sir, I get it. You don’t want me to fuck around, missing class, cursing in front of everyone. I won’t do it again. Can I leave and get something to eat?”

The teacher chortled, shaking his head in something of mild disbelief. “OK. I’ll let you go early,” Dudley shot from his seat. “If-IF-” Mr. Myers raised his hand. “If you do me one favour. Just one.” Dudley listened. “It’s quite a big one, but I think it would benefit you more than it would ever do anything for me.”

“Well, what is it?”

“...It’s called the Summer Volunteer Programme. It was initiated last year, and it did pretty well. It contributes towards your educational credits, which is something you have to start thinking about, since you’ll be a Senior student in the Fall.”

Dudley’s stomach kept growling. He was barely listening at this point. He’d do anything to get out. “Well, what is it?”

“It varies. You’ll be assigned to do something throughout June, July and August. You may or may not get paid. But I guarantee, it will help you out a lot.”

He shrugged. “Sign me up. Whatever. Can I go now?”

The teacher smiled. “Sure, man. Just don’t act up in my class again. Or you’ll get more than a detention next time, OK?”

Dudley beelined straight for the door. Just before he left, he turned to the teacher. “Next time, don’t call me by my last name.”

 

 

Dudley bumped into Totem, his best friend, on his way out of final period. They greeted with a handshake and bumped shoulders before they walked down the hallway.

“Where the fuck were you at lunch, dude?”

“Detention. Sorry, forgot to text you. I turned up late to Lit, cursed out the teacher so he sent me back there. Then I left to get something to eat at Benno’s. ”

“Dud’s back to his old ways,” Totem laughed. Totem wasn’t his real name - he was called Tomas. He adopted the nickname two years back, when the guys thought it would be a great idea to watch Inception whilst under the influence of marijuana. The name stuck to Tomas like duct tape, ever since. From there on, he was Totem, or Tote - both of  completely miscellaneous meanings in the real world. At one point, Dudley was addressed as Dom, the protagonist from the psychological action thriller played by Leonardo DiCaprio, but that one wore off. He was back to Dud. An oddly ironic, yet fitting nickname. He wasn’t much of a dud himself - he wasn’t a sore loser, or unappealing to girls and pitied by guys. But he was a bit of a messy guy, with a bit of a messy reputation. He had a small circle of friends who understood him, though. Totem was one of them.

“It was a slip-up. I had no sleep last night. I wasn’t in the mood to be spoken at.”

“Why you not sleeping right? Still thinking about Ness?” That’s when Dudley remembered that he was supposed to meet up with her at the parking lot. He stopped in his tracks, looking ahead to see if he could spot her. Giving Totem his car keys, he told him to wait for him, that he’d be there soon. Totem gave him a puzzled look. “Where you running off to?”

“I won’t be a second.” He paced quickly to the parking lot, in the opposite direction of where he his pick-up truck was. It wasn’t long before he saw Vanessa leaning casually against her Mercedes Benz, typing something on her phone. She turned around once he caught her attention, smiling softly.

 

“Hey.”

“Hi.”

“You good?”

“I’m fine. Kinda hungover. It was worse in the morning. You saw my little show in class,”

“Yeah, I did.” She looked at the ground. “I felt kinda worse for wear, too. Forgot what drinking does to me. Leaves me incapacitated for days, normally.” She rolled her eyes. Silly her, making silly decisions.

“Yeah. Leaves me cranky. And hungry. Detention wasn’t fun.”

They both looked out into the distance. Dudley lit a cigarette. He offered one to her, and she accepted. He helped her light hers, cupping her cigarette whilst she lit. They both took long drags.

“I didn’t last long, trying to quit.”

“Just be like me,” Dudley grinned. “Don’t quit. Then you won’t disappoint yourself when you cave.”

“Funny.”

It seemed like they were trying to avoid the real reason they needed to speak. It was easier that way, pretending small talk was the right way forward. But it wasn’t, it never was. A group of girls walked past, ogling at the couple like they’d just witnessed something scandalous. He could hear it already. Vanessa’s speaking to him again, I saw that coming. She could do so much better - what is she thinking? She’s better than that. She’s too hot for him. She’s a pretty rich girl, with legs for days. He kinda looks like a male, indie version of Pocahontas, I didn’t know that was even possible. Is that racist? I don’t know. I mean, he’s not that bad looking, anyway. Kinda hot. Just wouldn’t want to admit it. I’m dying for a latte. Starbucks?

 

“Are you OK?” She asked him. “And I mean, really OK. Not fake OK, or just getting by.”

“I’m fine. I’ve just had trouble sleeping, that’s all.”

“You sure?”

Dudley sighed. “What do you want me to say, Vanessa? I’m still reeling from the death of my mother, I’m heading for a downward spiral, I think I might just get life over with and kick the bucket?” He turned. He didn’t expect that of himself, and he instantly regretted everything he said. He wished he could wind the words back into his mouth like tape from a cassette.

“The fact of the matter is that you hurt me,” she frowned. “You fucked me over, and I didn’t want to accept that you used your grief as a way to excuse yourself from the way you acted the last couple of months. I stuck around until I no longer could.” Vanessa’s voice wavered. “I loved you.” She turned to him, angry, softly shoving his chest with her free hand. “I still do. I just want to make sure you’re doing OK. I still care about you, after everything. Is that hard to imagine?”

Dudley bit his tongue and tensed his jaw. “You don’t need to worry about me. I don’t deserve that.”

“That’s not why I worry about you.”

“Yeah, whatever the reason. You don’t need to.”

“I just want you to be happy, to be at peace. It’s just you and Dylan now. You have your friends, you’ll always have me, as a friend. I don’t want you to suffer.”

“I’m fine.”

“Dudley -”

“I mean it. I just need some melatonin pills. Or some Valium. Maybe a lullaby.” He crushed the rest of his cigarette with the sole of his foot. “I gotta get home, catch up on some sleep.”

Vanessa breathed out, tucking a stray hair behind her ear. “Alright. Alright. I’ll let you go.”

She kissed him on the cheek, and he turned and hugged her, mounting a kiss on her forehead. They both made the mutual decision not to bring up last night. That was probably best. He watched her drive off in her expensive car, before traipsing off to his own run-down vehicle. More kids stared at him along the way.

 

The fact of the matter was, he missed his mother. More than anyone else in the world. More than Vanessa Bailey. That’s why his heart was breaking. That’s why he couldn’t sleep at night.

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