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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5. CHAPTER THREE | SALVATION

“Where’s Totem?” Ash asked Dudley, legs dangling off of the edge of the skating pool. Wallis was fooling around inside it, either doing pull-ups on the edge or trying out flips on his skateboard. Dudley sat down next to Ash, sparking up a cigarette.

“Probably with Tori.”

“Fuck Tori, man. He was supposed to meet up with us a half hour ago.” Ash frowned, running a hand through his hair. In Dudley’s group of friends, there was Jamie Wallis, Ashley ‘Ash’ Hugo, Tomas ‘Totem’ Williams, and Taylor Evans. Wallis, Ash, Totem and Taylor. It was not like they meant for it to happen, but they ticked the box for diversity pretty well. Ash was the only white kid in the group; the others were either biracial or some different race. They used to joke about it at first - either sort themselves based on their likeliness to get a well-paying job, or divide themselves into the halves and the wholes. Ash was a whole; so were Taylor and Wallis. Dudley and Totem were the halves. Though he knew he’d have a problem if anyone ever felt the need to call him that, Dudley accepted it as a benign inside joke within the group. The Skittle Boys, as they labelled themselves in eighth grade. They revoked the name once they clocked onto the unfortunate double entendre (they were called The Gays by other kids for six months once their nickname got out). There was absolutely no homo here. Totem was too busy balls-deep in Tori Richards for that to be possible.

 

“He’s obsessed with her,” Dudley said. “I wonder what that feels like.”

“Don’t sweat it, kid,” Ash shook his head. “Heartbreak isn't unique. We’ve all been there.”

“Who said I’m heartbroken?”

“I know you are.”

“Let’s move on. Talk about Tote again.”

“Oh shit, yeah. I actually remember something about Tote! He told me last night.”

“What?”

“That you got jiggy with Bailey the other day.”

“Fuck you, Ash. You said this was about Tote.”

“So he wasn’t lying.” Ash laughed. Wallis stood in the pool, looking up at the two. He wasn’t privy to this new information. That’s what happened sometimes, with five kids in the group. News never travelled simultaneously. Sometimes things would have to be revealed twice or thrice, especially since they never really used the FaceBook group chat for gossip; just to send each other stupid images and jokes off of the internet, or agree on a meeting place and time.

“Let’s change the subject.”

“Alright, alright. Back to Totem.”

 

They poked fun out of him and his newfound love for Tori, one of the mildly affluent, i.e. not living in New Eden, preppy girls that sat on the steps outside the library on school campus at lunch. There was a group of them, too. Totem’s twin sister, Amber, was a part of it, and that was how he got to knowing about Tori. Whenever Totem and Dudley would cross campus before Lunch was over to get to History class, they’d have to walk past the Girls. Tori, Amber, Jasmine and Evie. Sometimes Totem would take a detour up to the steps to speak to Amber about something, and he ended up flirting with her friends in the process. Dudley guessed that Tori was the one who ended up stealing his heart. Ever since February, they had been having flirting matches that brought out the cringe in him. Their first date was during Spring Break at the end of March. A week and a half later, they went on their second one. It was to see a film that Totem had originally agreed to watch with Dudley, but once he realised he had double-booked, he felt bad for leaving him out. So he came along. And Dudley still wasn’t sure whether this was to either stop him from being Wheel Number Three, or to make things ten times more awkward, but Totem got Tori to invite one of her friends to accompany Dudley. Platonically, of course - he was still with Vanessa at the time. She invited a new girl who’d just moved to Harlow from somewhere in Texas a few weeks back, and  had started school on the first day of fourth semester. A girl who had just been taken under the Girls’ wing. He was only told about the double date an hour before the film.

It was excruciatingly awkward, to say the least. While Tori and Totem were all over each other, cracking jokes and making out, Dudley and the girl sauntered behind them like they were strangers - both to the honeymoon couple, and to each other. The latter was true. Dudley barely uttered a word to her, both before and after the film. Even during the ride back home. When she got out of the car with Tori, Totem kissed his date goodbye, and Dudley just nodded at his company as she waved. He’d wished to have been anywhere but there - ten feet under the ground, maybe. Stuck on the Titanic. Floating in dead space. He almost didn’t give Totem the time of day after his obliviousness to the clear elephant in the room on the date - two people with no real knowledge of each other, who’d never held a conversation, and clearly  had nothing in common, being forced to hang out with each other just for the benefit of their friends. It was an ingenious test of comradeship, in many ways.

 

Dudley had first noticed the girl a few days before the sham date, when Totem made his detour to the steps. He spotted her straight away, because she stuck out like a sore thumb. She she sort of looked like a walking kaleidoscope, wearing bright red lipstick, a yellow oversized sweater with different block colours on each sleeve and some metallic silver Dr. Marten shoes. Her lime green marble hooped earrings looked hand-made, and her eyeshadow was a jarring indigo against her pale skin and blue eyes. Dudley thought to himself that the only flattering thing on this entire girl’s body was her gold-rimmed glasses, even if they looked like they should have been paired with a zig-zag scar on her forehead.

But her fashion sense was not the only thing that threw him off, even if it was a huge contributing factor. All the Girls were African American, with varying hues of skin tone, different curl patterns and colours in their hair, all wearing the same kind of basic preppy outfits. She didn’t quite fit right, aesthetically. She was paler than the moon, her hair was a frizzy strawberry blonde, blending into a fiery red ombre. Her lashes were pure white, like they were caked with frost. But she wasn’t white. That, he could tell.

 

Dudley brought up the double date to Ash and Wallis. “God, that was painful.”

“Yeah. You were stuck with the new girl all night. Must’ve been a blast.” Wallis said.

“Yeah. She looks mad weird. Wears funky ass clothes and shit. She don’t wanna be normal. I feel like Amber and Tori and them, they still don’t get her. I know I don’t.” Ash chimed in.

“New kids always have something to prove. They always wanna stand out.”

“You think she, like, reinvented herself or something?” Dudley asked.

“Fuck knows. If she did, that’s not the way to do it here. You can’t go around looking like you shop at the rainbow aisle in Goodwill. Girls look plastic and pink, wear Chanel and Gucci. Harlow ain’t called the Pretty City for nothing.”

“You could have asked, you know. Why she dresses like that. Figure out what she’s into. Suss out what her deal is. If you had spoken to her.” Wallis said.

“I know, I know. I wasn’t right that night. I’d had a fight with Vanessa the day before. My mom had only been gone for like, a month. I couldn’t even hold a conversation with myself if I tried.”

“It’s cool, bro. We’re just teasing.” Ash nudged his shoulder softly. His way of saying he understood, Dudley didn’t need to justify himself where his mother was concerned. It’s cool bro, was the same thing he said to him when he found out about the break-up. Everything boiled down to sorrow; every rogue word or action. Things had to be judged on that merit. So it’s cool bro, we get it. We’re here for you.

 

“What are people’s plans for the summer? It’s like two and a half weeks away. We need to find out where the house parties are at.” Ash changed the subject shortly afterwards.

“More like, where’s all the pussy at? That’s the real question. My thirst levels are astronomical!” Wallis’ exclamation was followed by Dudley and Ash’s laughter. “I’m serious. I’ll take what I can get at this point.”

“Taylor knows some super hot chick in Nevada he can set you up with. She’s staying in North Harlow in her aunt’s summer house.” Ash said.

“Has he hooked up with her, though?”

“If he knows her, probably.”

“Nice. Do I look like dessert?”

“Nah. You’re too salty. You’re a side dish. Garlic Bread Ass.”

Dudley loved zoning out around his friends, with their repartee in the periphery of his focus. They always reminded him that he was never truly alone, even if he felt it. But when he found that he was hardly throwing in his two cents or contributing anything significant to the banter, he’d feel that glimmer of isolation that every so often caught up with him and loomed over his head. It was a strange limbo - to feel warm around the company of people he’d been close with for as long as he could remember, just as he felt the biting cold breeze, hanging outside of whatever it was he was missing out on.

“Yo, Dud. Plans for Summer?” Wallis addressed him, snapping him back to the now.

“Damn. I don’t know. Steal my brother’s drugs, host a couple of parties ‘cause I’m an orphan now and I don’t have a curfew, try and get over Vanessa, steal some more drugs, get over Ness some more, maybe go on a sex spree while I’m at it, more drugs, overdose on pills a week before Senior Year and end up six feet under. Sounds like a plan.” He lit up a cigarette. Ash and Wallis just stopped and stared at him. Today wasn’t one of his good days; the cavity inside him was thriving.

 

 

He wasn’t in the mood to speak anymore. He kept silent for the next ten minutes, as the conversation continued between just Ash and Wallis. When Totem finally arrived, he felt a tiny bit better, but still terrible. He couldn’t shake how awful he was feeling. It was coming from everywhere, coursing through him like a heatwave. He was just a fuck-up; it was genetic. With a stupid, naïve, unconditionally loving woman as a mother and a violent, deplorable man as a father. He was a dud, in every sense of the word. He sometimes wished he could leave and go to a place where nobody knew about him. There was a place where rumours about him weren’t spread like a school hallway-borne virus, a place where he didn’t get looks for being the moody, acrimonious kid who broke the Mayor’s Daughter’s heart. There were people who knew nothing about the people he had betrayed, or those he had failed to save. People like the Double Date girl, the one who at one point, knew nothing about him during their first encounter, and probably nothing during their second one. Of course she had heard things by now, but it lightened his mood to know that there was still someone in Harlow that didn’t know his deepest, darkest secrets.

 

 

“My name is Naya. Not Neya, Neeya, Nadia, or whatever else you want to confuse my name with.  It’s Nah-ya. Naya.” She sat up straight, staring the Head of the Extracurricular Leadership Team in the face with a deadpan expression of impatience.

“I’m sorry about the mispronunciation. Your last name is still pronounced Stephens, right?” The man chuckled awkwardly. Dudley eyed both him and the girl, arms crossed and leaning back as far as he could in his chair. He had been called out of Math class on Monday morning, along with the eccentric newbie. She had been there for almost six weeks at this point, and he’d always see her in the hallways, on the library steps and in class, but she was still new, for as long as he hadn’t held one conversation with her. Now they were both being sent to the ELT’s office, and Dudley had a pretty assured reason as to why. The second he heard his name called and found that he wasn’t in trouble, he knew what it was, and he wasn’t happy.

“And Dudley Warrington. Welcome, both of you. How are things going?” The man asked, trailed by a cringing silence. The name tag on his desk read Mr. Walters. Dudley thought to himself that he looked like a Walters. A Bartholomew, an Edgar, something lame like that. It was the moustache that planted the assumption. “Alright, I’ll just cut to the chase.” He gathered a few papers in front of him, straightening them out in his hands. “Your names are on the Summer Volunteer  Programme list. It appears you expressed an interest.”

“Bullshit.”

“Watch your language.”

“I just let my Lit teacher put my name down so I could get out of detention.” Dudley said.

“Is that so? Hmm. What about you, Naya?”

She shrugged. “I just want to do it. That’s all.”

“Well, this programme is normally for struggling students, or those who need to improve their educational credentials before college. You’ve had straight A’s since seventh grade, according to your previous school’s transcript; your track record is impeccable. Are you just an all-round goodie two-shoes, then?” He smiled.

“Sure.” She muttered. She wasn’t looking, but she felt the boy next to her perk up when he heard this information. He was staring at her. But this wasn’t new; he always did. As did most people, especially because she had just started at South Harlow and wore things like mustard yellow corduroy flared pants and flower-embroidered denim blouses. Especially because she looked like she looked like an African experiment subject, a test tube Baby created by Nordic scientists with the Aryan gaze in mind.

Mr Walters turned to Dudley. “I know you’re not going to be keen on this, but you shouldn’t knock it just yet. There is so much you could do for this community. Even if just for a few weeks.”

“Ten weeks isn’t a few weeks.”

“Even if just for a couple of months.”

“Almost three.”

Mr Walters pursed his lips together, clutching tightly to his patience. “Here’s the thing. I called you both here at the same time for a reason. The SVP is only running with pairs or groups  this year. Last year was our first ever run, and we logged the results. It showed that those entering into the programme solo were five times more likely to drop out, or not even make it past this meeting. Those who were in groups of two or more had a much higher chance of seeing the whole thing through to the end, and they had more fun too. So, the idea is that everyone is given a partner or a ‘squad’ to carry out their weekly volunteering activities with. Now, you  were were two of the last few people to sign up. Naya, because you’re new, and Dudley, because it was done on your behalf, and apparently against your will. Everyone has been grouped and assigned their tasks, bar the pair of you. Meaning that if one of you drops out or refuses now, you’ll leave the other one on their own.”

Dudley scoffed. “Why can’t the other one just join another group?” He didn’t want to say her name, and he was already starting to feel guilty about his suggestion.

“Does this look like a mix-and-match to you?” Mr Walters chortled. “Your late registration meant you missed out on the switch-up period, which ended last week. You unfortunately don’t have much choice. You either stay or you leave this poor girl to do all the volunteering on her own.” He frowned mockingly at Naya.

Dudley felt cornered. He could technically back out if he wanted to, and in any other instance, he probably would have. But this was different. Here sat the girl he virtually ignored a month ago, leaving no words between them when he should have said something. He thought about it, knowing that if he backed out now, she would probably tell her friends about it. Her friends being Tori, Amber, Evie and Jasmine. Amber being Totem’s sister, Tori being his girlfriend. Word would get around to his friends, and they’d probably tease him again for chickening out over a girl he’d never spoken to. He wasn’t sure if the embarrassment of being picked on for avoiding the new girl outweighed his friends finding out about him volunteering over the summer, but in that moment, it felt like it did. For a split second, he resented her and her weird yellow pants and her gold rimmed glasses and her frizzy red-blonde hair. Stop making me do good things, just because you’re a good person. I didn’t ask for this. I’m a shitty guy, just let me be shitty. It’s easier that way.

 

“I’d like to know now, before I continue, if you want to stay and proceed with the programme, Dudley. Your class is almost over, and I don’t want to keep you any longer. So, are you up for it?” Mr Walters continued. Dudley winced, trying harder and harder not to answer the question. He stayed quiet, hoping that would do the trick. “OK, let’s try something else. If you don’t get up and leave within the next ten seconds, I’ll take that as your full consent of participation.”

He was frozen to his seat that point. All he had to do was glance over at Naya, who sat staring at the floor, twiddling her thumbs and wagging her toes in either impatience or nervousness. His chest tightened, and he realised something. He was compelled by the sudden overwhelming feeling that he just couldn’t abandon her. He had no clue whether she truly cared and he knew she’d go on with it anyway, but he’d feel like a real jerk for leaving the room. He sighed, sitting forward with his head to the ground and his elbows rested on his knees, as his hair tumbled out in front of his face. He didn’t leave the room.

“Your ten seconds are up. I’ll take that as a yes!” The man pumped his fist in the air, though nobody else in the room was smiling.

 

 

Naya felt like she’d coerced the boy in deciding into joining her, and that wasn’t a nice feeling. She also didn’t want to spend time hanging out with someone who clearly didn’t want to hang out with her. But she also knew that there was something else about Dudley that wasn’t revealing itself. There must have been a reason he didn’t refuse like the way he’d ardently protest against a request of action in class on a regular basis. It came natural to him, avoiding things he didn’t like; she had noticed over the past few weeks how he good he was at that. He could have easily left the room, but he didn’t. And she wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or pissed off at the fact, because maybe his tendency to reject orders was still the same reason he hadn’t budged.

After Mr. Walter’s lone cheer of victory, Naya and Dudley swapped looks. She was intrigued by his dark and restless aura - he gave off an intense violet purple. That’s how she felt around him. He had a face like thunder and melancholy stirred together, mapping out the contours if his cheekbones and colouring his eyes. He wasn’t much of a smiler, but when he did, it was wonderful. It turned him soft, wiped away his ever-furrowed brows and painted his face with a certain femininity to match his long dark hair. Ten weeks partnered up with him could either be a nightmare or a daydream. Or both.

 

The head of the ELT  commenced typing something onto his computer and staring at the  screen for a few seconds. “Everyone has already been allocated their activity and locations in different places around Harlow and there is one location left. You two will be working at the Salvation Hill Nursing Facilities.”

“Where’s that?” Naya asked.

“It’s a care home, ten minutes South of Smithson. It’s the furthest location we have - a fifteen minute drive from here, a little out in the desert. Probably an hour’s walk. Watch it for rattlesnakes!”

“I don’t have a car, I can’t drive.” Naya responded. “Is there any other way I can get there? Public transport?”

“I can drive.” Dudley said, taking his car keys out of his pocket and showing them to her. He couldn’t believe he was doing this, even though he refused to refuse. He didn’t ask for any of it, but it was happening.

“Problem solved!” Walters chirped. “This is our final meeting. The next step is an induction with the staff at the care home in a couple of weeks. As far as I know, you’ll be assigned to look after certain residents for a few hours, twice a week.” Dudley’s chest sunk at the last part of the sentence. Twice a week. Two times. That meant ten weeks and twenty visits. It felt like a prison sentence. “I don’t want to leave you guys any longer, so I’ll just give you these leaflets that have a bit more information about Salvation Hill. Give them a good read. Visit their website, drive down there to gauge the place before your first visit. Good luck!”

 

After the Math class, Dudley attempted to rush to Lunch. Naya stopped him.

“Are you sure you’re cool with this?”

“Yeah, whatever. It’s just reading books to seniles, I can do that.”

“I just need to be sure that you won’t drop out.”

Dudley paused. “I won’t.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You don’t know me. I’m not a liar.”

“Breaking a promise isn’t exactly lying.”

“When did I promise anything?”

Naya held out her pinky finger. Dudley just stared at it, dumbfounded by her speedy, yet nonchalant reaction. She looked around the hallway, whistling as she waited for him to link up his finger with hers. “You’re not serious.”

“I don’t joke about pinky promises.”

He had the urge to burst out laughing, because he realised that she was funny. Odd, but funny. He couldn’t be a dick to her like he was to most of the Pretty City girls. She wasn’t quite worthy of his wrath. He shook his head, linking pinkies with her. “I don’t break promises.”

“Great,” she beamed. “I know it’s still a while away, but I need to know that I can trust you with help whenever I need it. You know, so I can ask you stuff about the programme. Got FaceBook?”

“No, I don’t.” Naya already knew this, after spending her first few weeks searching up any new names that kept being bounced around her. She looked up her new friends, as well as her friend’s friends, and her friend’s boyfriend’s friends. It didn’t take her long to realise Dudley wasn’t active on social media. But she went along with the notion that she had no idea, so she didn’t seem like a stalker.

“Who doesn’t have FaceBook in this day and age? It’s 2016.” She frowned.

“Me.”

“Hmm, OK. Snapchat?”

“Nope.”

“Instagram?”

“I deleted it the other day.” He did it to stop himself checking out his ex’s account, to stop himself getting engulfed in the lives of those who he was not close to. He wasn’t even in the FaceBook group chat anymore - Totem just texted him anything he needed to know. “I don’t have Twitter, either.”

“Jeez. Well, this is weird. I don’t know, then.” She shrugged.

“I have a phone…? I have a phone number. You can have that, you know.”

She raised her eyebrow and shrugged her shoulders. “Well, If you insist. Flirt.” Shaking her head she whipped out her phone and planted it in his hand, letting him fill in his contact details. “OK. I’m going to text you. Wait.” She did. His phone buzzed, and he saw the notification come down on his screensaver.

 

U suck.

 

He smiled, looking at her. He answered her text.

 

No, U suck. Sucker.

 

She laughed, responding.

 

Sorry nah I don’t suck, I’m only into girlz. Do not get ur hopes up.

 

He looked up at her, stripping his smile away. His face was a pure expression of befuddlement.

“Save my name. See you later.” Naya turned around and skip-walked in the direction of the library. Dudley wasn’t sure if she was lying or not, whether it was part of the banter. As he walked away, his phone lit up again.

 

Im kidding LOL that was mad immature.

Im into boys and girls.

 

Also, before U ask me at a later date. Yeh I am black. I have albinism. Cya whenever!

 

 

He didn’t know what he had signed himself up for, but it certainly wasn’t to spend his summer with a funky-looking girl with eyes bluer than his older brother’s and clothes more colourful than a Crayola set. He didn’t know he needed it at the time. He didn’t have anything to lose - not more than he already had.

He set off to meet his friends at lunch, and kept quiet about the meeting. Yes, he always hid the worst secrets in his brain, away from everyone else. But he cherished the days where he had benign secrets to conceal, just little beans of harmless gossip. He wouldn’t even reveal anything to Totem until after the first day of the programme.

 

Salvation Hill would be his secret, and so would Naya Stephens.

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