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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16. CHAPTER FOURTEEN | SUNBURN

 

 

 

“Why did I think your room would be super messy?” Naya asked, sitting on his desk chair as he perched on the bed, smoking a joint.

“It is normally. I currently have a guest.”

“This guest would rather see it in all its chaotic glory.”

“Trust me - you wouldn’t. Most of the time I can’t even see the floor. I just hop around in case I end up stepping on a family of nesting rats.”

“Gross.” she laughed.

“Told you.”

 

It was six days since the birthday date and the racy text messages. They went to Tuesday’s Salvation Hill shift with mischievous grins on their faces, flirting throughout most of the day. When Marie asked Dudley how long they’d been together for, he said, just a week. She went on about how she adored young love, how it reminded her of her intense infatuation with her husband Charles in the early days. Dudley felt like he could tell her anything, because she wouldn’t remember, and also because she didn’t have any hidden agenda, like everybody else seemed to. There was not one conniving bone in her body. She was just full of stories, and it was only fair he finally spill her a few of his own, like she had wanted him to a few weeks ago.

The pair were now over halfway into the summer, with less than four weeks before the whole thing was over and school started again. The future was  uncertain but the present was pretty concrete: they were smitten. No ifs or buts about it.

 

Dylan had a friend’s bachelor party to attend in Vegas over the weekend, so it was the right opportunity for Dudley to let her into his life a little more. His brother left for a friend’s house before his evening flight, whilst Naya and Dudley were still in the middle of their Friday volunteering shift. He jumped at the chance to invite her around, and she accepted. Even though she knew his brother wouldn’t be there, she was still curious to know about other things, like how he lived when he wasn’t with his friends, or with her. She was so far impressed, and admired how he tried hard to keep his life in in order.  His bed was made, wardrobe in tact, photos sat nicely framed on his bedside table. He had some film posters and album art pieces haphazardly blu-tacked to his wall, which gave the room more personal substance. She turned to his desk, picking up a framed photo.

“Is this you?” She asked. There was a coffee-haired olive-skinned young woman with almond eyes and a big smile, holding onto a toddler with shoulder length golden hair and a stubborn frown, indicating a possible recent tempter tantrum.

“Yeah. I was born blonde. Weird, right?”

“Yup. Is that your mom,?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“She looks so young. As old as you are now. You look a lot like her.”

“She would have been around eighteen or nineteen in that photo.”

“No way. She’s beautiful.” Naya said, noticing that she spoke of her in present tense. “How old was she? When... you know.”

“Thirty-four,” he said. “It’s weird. She lived twice as long as I have. I always think to myself, that’s literally nothing. Living seventeen years twice... that’s nothing at all.” He bit the inside of his lip, then took another drag of weed.

“I’m so sorry, Dudley. This must be awful,” she said as she stood up and walked to the bed. She sat herself next to him, resting on his shoulder. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want.”

“I think you’re the only person I’ve really wanted to speak to about it since it happened. When she died, I just shut my girlfriend out, stopped talking to my friends. There’s something a little easier about opening up to someone who wasn’t there when everything went up in flames.”

Naya kissed his cheek. “I’m always here.”

“I know,” he said. “I know.

 

They shared the rest of the joint before lying back on the bed. Naya was wearing a tie-dye maxi skirt and her pastel pink tank top, the same one she wore when she invited Dudley for dinner with her parents. He thought back to that moment, mid-prayer, when he spent thirty straight seconds just staring at her collarbones. Then he reached out and ran his fingers along them.

“What are you doing?” Naya asked, feeling heavy from the marijuana. Everything was spaced out, not quite real. She could feel everything stronger, too. His touch was like a spark, sliding between the wheels of a train and the rail tracks.

“Nothing.”

“Yeah, you’re touching me.”

“I’m sorry,” he closed his eyes. “I’ll stop.”

“I didn’t say stop,” she took his hands, placed them back. “Ugh. I have the boobs of a twelve-year-old famished boy. You feel those bones, right there?” She slid his finger to the ridges under her skin.

“Feels fine to me. I have the same thing. We all have bones, Naya.”

“But I’m a girl, you’re not supposed to see mine.”

“Says who?”

“Says society.”

“Society says  a lot of shit, Naya.”

“I know, I know.”

“Society says stuff like… that guys can only have short hair. Society says blonde hair and blue eyes are the  ideal, unless they’re a spontaneous genetic occurrence that doesn’t quite reflect their standards. Society says a lot of bullshit.”

“I think we need a word with Society,” Naya grinned.

“Yeah.” he stroked her jaw with his thumb. “…You know. I think about those photos you sent all the time, right?”

Naya flushed crimson. “Oh god, don’t remind me. That shit was make or break for me.”

“It was make.”

“I’m glad to have made you that happy.”

“You really did. I’m gonna be honest with you,” he sat up. “I did things I’m not proud of, to those photos. You really found my weak spot.”

“I know your kryptonite.”

“You are.”

She sat up too, kissing him. They made out for a long, long time before untangling their fingers. Naya’s whole body was on fire. Certain places more than others. She didn’t want to be the one to initiate anything, so she secretly hoped that he would. But she was also afraid that he might.

 

“Do you wanna have sex?” He asked quietly. She straightened her posture, staring at the floor as her leg hung off the side of the bed. She didn’t say anything. “I mean, it’s completely up to you. I wouldn’t try anything otherwise. Oh, God. Those sentences, just sounded so... desperate. Forget I said any of that.”

“I’ve thought about it a couple of times.”

“You have?”

“I am a girl, Dud. And I’m a teenager. Can’t just crush on a guy without imagining the unimaginable.”

“...Well, I’m quite relieved.”

“Why would it be a big deal to you, anyway? You’ve slept with girls before.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Kinda does. For me, anyway.”

“Why?”

“I don’t wanna have to spell out the obvious, here.”

Dudley screwed his face, perplexed. Then the realisation hit him. “...Oh.”

“Yup.”

Dudley frowned. “What about the girl? Haley.”

“I’m down for changing definitions of the word ‘Virgin’ to exempt anyone who’s gone to second base, even with someone of the same gender, but unfortunately, that’s irrelevant. Good old anti-lesbian heteronormative bullshit. Hah.”

“Hetero-what?”

“Dudley, I’m a virgin. I’ve never had sex before.” She looked at him, going quiet. “Even if I think about wanting it, I’m still kinda nervous.”

He lay his head on the pillow. “It’s fair. We don’t have to do anything. I guess I’m just rushing things because... it took me a while to realise I liked you, and I don’t want that realisation to end, I just want realise it over and over again. In all these new ways.”

“Don’t worry. We still have time.” She lay next to him, draping an arm over his ribcage. “Hey, Dud. I think I know the exact moment I started liking you.”

“When was it?”

“When you stayed in the ELT office.”

“You know I would have been an ass if I walked out.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know you then. I would have been pissed for a couple of days, then I probably would have gotten over it. I’d still end up hanging out with you because your friends are my friends, so I wouldn’t have held any animosity over it. You didn’t have to stay.”

“I felt bad, that’s all. Especially after the cinema date shambles.” They both laughed. “That was so stupid of me. I was going through a rough ass time. I shut people out when that happens.”

“Shhh,” she placed a finger over his lips. “Don’t explain yourself. Stop. I’m always saying to you, it doesn’t matter. I mean it.”

“You know. When you told me that over and over after I bumped into Karina for the second time... I was so grateful. I was angry and I wasn’t listening, but you were the voice I needed. You were like alkaline to the acid in my brain.”

“Nice wording.”

“Can we kiss some more?”

She smiled, and they locked lips.

They were so lost in each other’s grip, that they almost missed the sound of activity in the belly of the house. There was a crashing thud, partnered with a hollered profanity. Dudley’s heart sank; Dylan was back. He must have missed his flight. Now here he was, bulldozing his way through the tranquility of the moment.

“It’s my brother. Stay there,” he hopped off the bed in nanoseconds, leaving the room and  rushing down the stairs. Naya sat and listened, trying to make out what was happening. All she could hear was Dylan laughing, Dudley responding in an irked tone. She was trying to eavesdrop in on the world that he hid from her.

 

“Dylan, what the fuck?”

“Who’s shoes are those?” He snorted, pointing at Naya’s silver Doc Martens.

“My friend’s here. Why aren’t you in Vegas?”

“I missed my flight. I’m catching a later one tomorrow noon. You been smoking my weed?”

“Just a little.”

“You know this is a very... Netflix-and-Chill scenario you’re painting, here.”

“Can’t you go to Mia’s or something? She lives closer to the airport. Or.. or the friend you were supposed to hang with.”

“I forgot a shit-tonne of stuff here. Like my passport and ID. Thought I’d call it a day and get an early night.”

“It’s half one in the morning.”

“Time is relative. Can I say hey to your friend?”

“...She’s asleep,” Dudley said in a hushed tone. “You’re making noise. Keep quiet or piss off.”

“She doesn’t look very asleep to me,” Dylan laughed, looking up behind Dudley. Naya was standing at the top of the stairs. “Hey, girl.”

“Hi.”

Dudley sighed. He knew it could only get worse from this point.

“You’re his friend, huh? Don’t think he’s ever mentioned you before.”

“It’s OK, I’m fine with that,” she shrugged. She knew things were complicated between the brothers, but somewhere inside her, there was a pang of disappointment. “I’m Naya, by the way.”

“Come on down, Naya.” Dylan beckoned to her, and she did. Dudley stood with his fist balled, trying hard to contain himself. She could see the expression on his face, thunder etched into stone. “I’d like to think my kid brother’s just hiding all his friends away. How’d y’all meet?”

“We work together at Salvation Hill.”

“...The care home?”

“Yup.”

“Well, damn. Ain’t that sweet. You... mixed-race or something?”

“No, I’m Black. One-hundred percent.”

“Huh.” Dylan stared sceptically, scratching his jawline. “You two got a thing going on?”

“No,”  Dudley responded a tad too quickly. “We’re just friends. Come on, Naya. Let’s finish the film we were watching.”

“I thought you said you were sleeping. I may be dumb drunk, but I’m not dumb.”

“I don’t have to explain myself to you.” Dudley said, turning around and walking up the stairs. Naya followed.

 

The air in the room was different now. Dudley wasn’t in the mood to explain himself to Naya, either; he was tired and upset. Things seemed to be bliss for moments on end until something ruined it. This time it was his stupid racist brother. Dylan’s appearance rocked everything.

“You know, I would have left now if I didn’t tell my parents I was sleeping over at Jasmine’s,” Naya said as she stripped down into her underwear. “All of a sudden I don’t feel wanted here.”

“I told you to stay in the room, didn’t I?” Dudley retorted. “You didn’t listen. When I say these things, I mean them.”

“You don’t have to protect me from your brother, I don’t care that he’s an ass-”

“Hey, well I do. This is one of the things that does matter, and I can’t let you act like it doesn’t.”

“I’m sorry,” she sucked in her breath. “I just don’t want to be hidden away all the time.”

“I’m not hiding you from anyone, Naya. I’m hiding people from you.”

“I don’t need you to.”

Dudley peeled his t-shirt from over his head, throwing it at Naya for her to wear. He sat on the bed, pulling her towards him, wrapping his arms around her torso, ear resting on her naval. She stood, clasping her hands around his nape.

“I like how things are right now and I just don’t want things to change.” he murmured.

But everything was always changing, everywhere.

 

That’s the new girl?” Dylan started, the next day once Naya was gone. “You chose her as your rebound?”

“Pretty sure it was you who suggested I find someone new.”

“That was before I realised what a freak of nature she is!” he chortled.

“You don’t have to be like that. What did she ever do to you?”

“What kind of black person looks like that?”

“She does, and it’s there’s nothing wrong with that-”

“-Pretty sure she does Dominican witchcraft in her spare time. Watch your back.”

“-Get over yourself.” their words tumbled over each other as they argued.

“First you don’t wanna cut your hair to bring out your inner Red Cloud. Next you get a thing for girls like… that. You must really have something against us.” Dylan bit into an apple after he spoke, leaning nonchalantly against the kitchen counter.

“Who the hell is ‘us?”

“You know who I mean, buddy. You know.”

“You’re a fucking moron. Vanessa’s white. Karina was white. I have white friends, white family, but I can also look past someone’s fucking race, unlike you.You just want something to give me hassle over.”

“The fuck is Karina?”

“That’s besides the point. Point being, I like whoever the fuck I wanna like. And I told you already, she’s just my friend.” His words echoed the same thing he said to Naya a few weeks ago, and he suddenly realised how he was in the same position as her - getting flack for the people he chose to fall for. Only it was Naya who was the problem. In films, there was always a beautiful struggle. In real life, it was just unnecessary bullshit. Everything was bullshit.

 

The pair argued for a while longer, before Dudley finally stormed out. He drove to Totem’s house and walked in without knocking. Tori, Amber and Totem were sat in the living room, and they all turned their heads in unison as he appeared.

“Yo, dude,” Totem greeted him. “How’s it going?”

“Fine.” He lied. “Are you guys good?”

“My parents aren’t home. We’re just talking about... you know.”

Tori scratched her neck, looking to the ground. She was wearing Totem’s sweater and her frizzy hair was tied up in a loose puff. She had no makeup on, and anyone could tell that she was a little bit worse for wear.

“I know Tote told you.” She said to Dudley. “It’s all... pretty fucked up.”

“You still haven’t told anybody else?”

“I’m gonna tell my mom and dad tonight. Totem’s gonna tell his soon, too.”

Dudley walked over and sat with them. “Have you made any decisions?”

“I don’t want an abortion,” she said almost instantly. Amber had an arm around her, softly rubbing her shoulder in comfort. “I can’t do it. My parents are gonna be mad, but I know they’d still be there for me. I’m just devastated, because I was gonna go to college on a sports scholarship. I was gonna join the track team. Now I gotta wave all of those things goodbye.”

“You don’t have to. You’re still so young. A child won’t ruin everything.”

“Everybody’s gonna stare at me in school, once I can’t hide it anymore. They’re all gonna talk. I don’t know if I can deal with that.”

“You can deal with anything. You’re Victoria fuckin’ Richards.”

She managed to smile, even in her deep brooding. “You aren’t all that bad, you know. I feel like shit for always being mean.”

He shrugged. “We all have our reservations about everyone.”

“Mine were awful. I mean…I used to really judge your family,” her voice went quiet. “When I found out that your... mom... that she had you so young. I used to think, that’s why your life was so sporadic. Why you weren’t so great at school, and why your home life was messed up. But I know now that it was wrong of me,” she sniffed, holding back tears. “I was a bitch for that.”

“Don’t worry about it. There are bigger problems to handle right now.”

She nodded, wiping her eyes. The crying had begun. “I’m trying to adjust. I need to fix myself inside out, if I’m to do this all properly.”

Dudley paused for a moment, looking for the right word to say to ease her mind. “Whenever I was worried or stressed, my mom would tell me: Rest Easy. Whenever I failed a test  or panicked about something, got worked up over things I couldn’t control. So that’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna keep calm. Rest easy. You’re gonna need sleep now more than ever.”

“Ugh. You’re an angel.” Tori said. “A real life angel.”

 

Tori told him how she knew about Naya, that Totem broke his promise and told her. He turned bashful, awkward. At least now it’s just my brother who’s the only obstacle, he thought. That was somehow still awful. He could handle his friends having an issue, but not his family. Not his own flesh and blood. As he sat with Tori and the twins, he saw a family of unconditional love in front of him, a family that would do anything for their children in the face of adversity and troubled times. He didn’t have that anymore. He remembered how much he still really, really missed his mother. She would have loved Naya; she would have welcomed her into the home, joked and laughed with her, told her embarrassing stories from Dudley’s childhood. Totem and Amber’s parents carried the love he was missing. He knew Dylan was troubled and messed up from his upbringing - he was raised in hostility and he carried a soul filled with rancour, stemming from the first eight years of his life. It was something that even Freya Stone couldn’t fix, once she came into the picture. Dudley was glad that he hadn’t been completely tainted, but was frustrated that the one thing keeping his life bright was gone forever. He missed his mother, and as he left Totem’s place later that day, he was sad. The Night hadn’t passed. It was here, and it was here to stay.

 

 

“Hey. You haven’t been answering my texts.” Naya slid into Dudley’s car on the morning of volunteering. They hadn’t spoken all weekend, since she left his house. It was more that Dudley hadn’t spoken to her.

“I’ve been busy.”

“Doing what, exactly?”

“Not everything is your business.”

“Wow, OK. Wrong side of the bed this morning?”

Dudley kept quiet. Naya could cut the tension in the air with a knife. Trying to ease it, she reached out to touch his neck, but he flinched. It was only the slightest move, though it stung just as hard as a slap to the face. She wondered what she could have probably done wrong for him to act this way. Instead of carrying conversation, she turned the radio up as they made their way to Salvation Hill in silence.

 

He stuck wallowing in sourness for the remainder of the day, barely uttering a word to anyone, including Marie. He still read a few poems from her book to himself, heart sinking when he came across To Drown A Fish. It made him think of things he really didn’t want to think about, and the thoughts writhed through his brain, well into the afternoon.

Naya spent an hour sorting out books, wasting more time reading the backs of them to make the work go faster. She tried so hard to break the silence in the room where Dudley just sat, chewing on the inside of his cheek, staring at nothing in particular.

“Don’t you find it annoying how most of us are erased from sociopolitical discourse?” She bemoaned, reading the blurb of a book on racial inequality. “Yeah, they spend time talking about the African American struggle. They spend time talking about the female struggle. But what about the African American female struggle? What about... the Asian female struggle? The Native female struggle? They’re not all the same. Can’t just talk about women like we all go through the same shit. And look at me! My blackness is challenged every day of my life. Sometimes I used to doubt whether I could even say I lived the real, authentic experience of a black girl in America. It’s like... a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes can’t possibly know the struggle, right?” She was rambling. Dudley just shrugged in response. “And don’t get me started on their skewed statistics of the female struggle. God, no. Like the gender pay gap? What about the race pay gap? What about the crossover between gender and race? And... the way they always act like rape cases are the same all through all the races. Or domestic abuse. There are things that people just don’t talk about.

Minorities are way more likely to go missing. End up in dangerous relationships. Hell, even in First Nation communities-”

“Naya, shut the fuck up.” Dudley sighed.

“What?”

“Complain about your own people, not mine. You don’t know shit about what we go through.”

“But can’t you see that I’m trying to? That’s my point.” Naya was irritated, flushing rose. “Can’t we have a mature conversation about these things?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“...But-”

“You’re so annoying sometimes. Don’t you get it? I don’t give a fuck about all this politics. All these statistics. They’ve done nothing for me. I don’t care. You have your own problems, rant and rave about those. I don’t need to be reminded of my own.”

“What do you mean your own?”

“Naya, please. Just stop talking.”

She didn’t want to break in front of him, but she was so sure she was close to it. Her heart was in her throat, and she felt hot all over. Over the weekend, a switch had been flicked, and things had changed. Dudley was becoming the colder, angrier boy that she had first heard about, before she gave him a chance, tried to get to the bottom of him. She was was saw something in him, and it was like an abyss, a place of no light. She was peaking into the cavity. It was hurting every bone in her body.

 

“I’m walking home. Don’t even argue about it.” Naya said with her arms crossed as they stood outside the care home.

“OK. But wait.”

“Wait for what?”

Dudley got into his truck and reached for something in the side door. He pulled out a bottle of sunscreen. “I don’t want you to  catch sunburn.”

“...Did you bring that for me?”

“Maybe.”

“So you knew this would happen.” She swallowed, hurt.

“If you could drive I would have been the one walking. I promise. I just knew you’d hate me by the end of the day. I’m not gonna force you to get in this time.”

Naya sighed, frowning. She didn’t know whether to feel stung by the gesture; he knew she’d end up walking, but he also prepared her for it. It was backhanded. It was heartbreaking.

“Things don’t have to be like this,” she said, holding back tears. “I really like you, and you know it. Don’t hurt me like they said you would.”

“I don’t deserve to be liked.”

“You do. You just don’t want to be. Stop it, stop being so afraid. I know when something’s bothering you, and I can’t say I can help you with that, and I don’t promise to. But I don’t want you to push me away, too. Don’t hurt me.”

They stood a metre apart, staring each other out. Then Naya grabbed the bottle from his hands, stuffed it in her backpack and turned away, storming down the road like she had done once before. This time, Dudley didn’t follow. And it felt like her heart was tied to the wheel of his truck, and as he drove off, he dragged it through the concrete and red soil.

 

 

You can’t drown a fish under water. You must lure her onto land.

You must show her how beautiful the shore is. The promises it bears.

You can’t drown a fish in the ocean; she’s too comfortable here.

You have to drag her out of her element, choke her with a pure intensity.

You have to constrict her airways, make her believe you are the only one who can help her breathe.

To drown a fish, you must love her with your fingers around her neck.

You must administer mouth-to-mouth

With your hands wrapped around her lungs.

 

 

***

 

 

End of Part One.

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