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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10. CHAPTER EIGHT | BLANK SLATE

A week after Dudley and Naya’s second care home visit, Naya spent a Saturday hanging out with the Girls. They were over at Amber and Totem’s place in New Eden, being served homemade pink lemonade by their mother, Debra. She was a lovely lady; a pretty lady in her late forties with flaming russet hair, who spoke with a preppy tone that turned assertive whenever she needed it be. Amber and Totem’s father, Rory Williams, was  a fairly-known African American saxophonist from New Orleans who owned a small jazz club in town. He was a charming man who got along with everyone and their dog. It was easy to see how Amber and Totem were such charismatic, bubbly siblings. They had a warm and welcoming family who nurtured them in their coming of age like they were botanical roses.

 

The Girls (in particular, Evie, Amber and Jasmine - Tori was probably out with Totem somewhere) spent the afternoon gossiping and chatting about nothing at all. Mainly TV shows and Instagram profiles. Naya didn’t quite knew what to say around the Girls - she never had the right amount of beans to spill, and she knew that she wasn’t into the same things they were. She was better off being one of the members of Dudley’s group, even though she knew that that wasn’t going to happen. Not before everyone made a huge deal about it, like they did with everything else.

“Naya, why didn't you come shopping in Phoenix with us the other day?” Jasmine asked as they lounged in the living room. There was a large family photo hanging above the television that was really hard to miss. Amber, Totem and their parents all beamed at everyone in the room.

“I don’t have that kind of money.”

“You could get a job. I heard Benno’s is hiring.” She scrolled on her phone as she said this, like she was living and speaking in two worlds simultaneously. The modern age either created apt multitaskers, or diminished everyone’s attention spans.

“I was also kinda busy that day, too. It wouldn’t have worked out.” Naya didn’t want to seem like a pauper who couldn’t afford to hang out with her new friends - she had things her own to do, of course.

“Doing what?” Amber asked. Also on her phone at the same time.

“I’m doing the Summer Volunteer Programme that the school set up.”

“Wow. Boring. Why would you subject yourself to that? There’s no way in Hell I’m cleaning up someone’s barf in Silver Rock Plaza for free.”

“I’m working at a care home, actually.”

“Same difference. This time it’s just poop in a disabled toilet.”

Naya rolled her eyes. “It’s not all that bad, actually. I’ve only been three times, but I’m enjoying it still.”

“Yeah, but why did you choose to do it? I heard it’s only for deadbeats who need some last minute redemption to get into college.”

“I just wanted to, Jeez.”

Naya didn’t tell them about how her parents searched through the South Harlow High website and found the advertisement themselves, and how they told her that she had no choice but to participate. They said that if she wasn’t going to go to Church anymore, this was the least she could do to right all of her wrongs. If she didn’t want to continue being a disgrace to the Stephens’ name, she had better pull up her socks. Things were going to be different now that they had moved out of town - she could no longer embarrass them like she did once before.

Naya was born into a devout Christian community, back at home in Texas. The members of her grandmother’s Church were more like family members than just merely religious recruits. Some had been attending the service for decades, and her parents were no different. She had been christened and baptised, and once more just before they moved to Harlow, to rid her of her demons. Naya would every so often think back to the sensation of the biting cold water over her skin, how it filled up her tear ducts, merged with the moisture in her eyes and left her gasping for air, and she would think about how she never wanted to feel that way again. She had to show her parents that she had ‘changed’, that she had bettered her ‘wrongs’, that she was worthy of loving unconditionally, like the way Amber and Totem’s parents loved them.

 

“The nearest care facility to us is miles out. How do you even get there?” Amber had done a hasty google search.

Naya paused, before answering. “Dudley Warrington takes me there. We go together.”

The Girls’ jaws all dropped like they’d just been fed some juicy, pulpy drama, something that would put a Kardashian tabloid article to shame.

“No fuckin’ way do you volunteer with Dudley Warrington. He wouldn’t touch an OAP with a barge pole if he was paid a million dollars.” Evie snorted.

“How didn’t I now already know this? Surely he would have told Tommy.” That was what Amber called Totem, even though everyone else only knew his by his years-old nickname. It was only fair, since they had shared a womb together. He’d always just be Tommy to her.

“Clearly he didn’t tell him. Probably too embarrassed.” Jasmine said. Then she looked over at Naya, and her eyes widened. “Sorry. I don’t mean about you, I just mean about the place. It’s just… not in his character.”

“Maybe he’s turning a new leaf.” Evie said. “You know, after everything that happened with Vanessa Bailey. Maybe he just wants to feel like a better person.”

Naya had a feeling that the Girls didn’t really, truly know Dudley. They knew him through other people’s words - the words in the corridors, the words of Totem and the Guys. They probably never even thought to hold a conversation with him. She still knew nothing of the whole ex-girlfriend debacle and she wasn’t sure she cared all the same. She just knew that Dudley wasn’t a terrible person, just like how she knew she wasn’t. Even if her parents thought otherwise. People didn’t always truly know one another, she thought to herself. People knew the things people did, and the things people said, but never what they thought, what they felt, dreamed or desired. Three-dimensional beings walked around in two-dimensional suits, trying to find a place in the world to realise themselves and have others realise them. Everyone was a cardboard cutout until you actually tried to find out what was inside of their chests, what was lurking in their cerebral cortex. Dudley wasn’t a terrible person. He was just made of cardboard, at least to the Girls.

 

“Let’s be real here. Karina Fitzgerald has always been a whore. Right? I’m not surprised she hooked up with him.” Amber said. “I am disappointed that he hooked up with her, though. I know he’s sometimes an ass, but come on.”

“We went over this last time, Amb. He was just using Vanessa for clout, all this time. He didn’t care about her. I know he’s your brother’s best friend, but that doesn’t make him a good guy.” Jasmine responded.

“I don’t know. What would he need clout for?”

“To live up to his brother.  He was King of the Hallways in his day. My sister told me. She was a freshman the year he graduated. Everyone loved him. Dud just isn’t the same, even if he wants to be.”

“Do you not like him? Like, at all?” Naya asked the Girls, feeling a tad bit discomfited with the way they spoke about him. They turned to her.

“We don’t want to make you feel bad for working with him. Like I said - he’s turning a new leaf, right? And he’s never had the best home environment.” Evie shrugged. “We just don’t expect the best from him. It’s great that he’s doing this mental facility thing, though.”

“It’s a care home.”

“Oh yeah. My bad.”

 

 

A few days later, something weird happened. Naya and Dudley went on their first off-work excursion, to eat a late lunch at Benno’s after Salvation Hill. They were speaking about anything and everything, like how it was weird that Salvation Hill was called that when there was no Hill in sight, how they needed to work on Theory Number Two, how Naya was disappointed in Dudley’s hatred for mangoes and mango-flavoured foodstuffs. Things were going great, and she was glad that she could get along with her volunteer partner. There were still things between them that had not been explained or delved into, and everything was pretty surface-level. Dudley loved the innocent shallowness of their conversations, and how they had a focal point when it came to the whole reason they were even hanging out - Marie Von Delden. His past wasn’t around to bother him. Not at least until this point.

 

Karina Fitzgerald stood outside of Benno’s, smoking. Naya saw Dudley’s face turn to stone when he saw her, and she looked over her shoulder to catch the sight that had caught him first. Karina’s hair had been dyed purple from the indigo blue it was the last time Dudley had seen her. The snake tattoo that wrapped around her left wrist was in full sight, and all he could think about was how close he had ever been to her hands, her face, her body, and how he couldn’t have wished to be any further away, at that moment in time. He tensed his jaw and squirmed ever so slightly in his seat.

“Are you good?” Naya asked. He didn’t answer. “Who’s that?” she asked, having a pretty strong feeling she already knew, based off of the Girls’ gossip sessions, and his reaction to seeing her. She genuinely felt awkward, like she had walked in on something forbidden, something that was none of her business. There was a reason she didn’t want to know about Dudley’s past, and that was because it didn’t matter. It had happened, it was done, and the present was better to focus on.  She’d tune out the Girls’ words like she had ear buds. Blank slate, blank slate, no charcoal, no paint. She was scared to colour him in. She wanted the Now to speak for itself, not the Then. But she still found herself asking, Who’s That? Someone from your past, I know. But I don’t know what else to say, because I need to fill up this stunning silence with something that might feed me back some noise. I’ll ask you, Who’s That? So that you can say, Nobody.

“Nobody,” he mumbled after crawling out of his daze. He looked down at his banana smoothie like it was the opening of an endless wishing well. Naya turned around again, and saw Karina looking back at them. Apparently, Karina Fitzgerald had always been a whore. But in that moment, she seemed worse. Like Medusa, like a Freudian nightmare, a fatal vice. Naya just wasn’t sure who the bad person was, here. The sheepish, solemn heartbreaker, or the intimidating, unapologetic home-wrecker. It didn’t matter. No charcoal, no paint. Blank slate. Just as she had to become one when she moved to Harlow, she allowed everyone to be empty so they could fill themselves up, and she could absorb that. No old versions, no history lessons.

Dudley apologised for his morphed demeanour.  She told him not to worry, that it was all good. He believed that she didn’t care; he felt the hospitality in her response.

They carried on slurping their drinks, and started working on the second theory for Marie Von Delden’s disappearance.

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