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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15. CHAPTER THIRTEEN | THE VERY THOUGHT

 

 

Dudley still couldn’t believe what Totem had told him at the party, and he had to meet up with him and speak more about it a couple of days later, in No Man’s Land. He couldn’t wrap his mind around something so life-changing happening to his friend, someone he had known for so long, someone who’s most pivotal moment before even getting a girl pregnant was losing his virginity in the first place.

Dudley thought back to the time when he told Totem he’d slept with a girl for the first time, a third of the way through Freshman year. He had been the only person he’d told about his sexual escapades with Karina Fitzgerald, who at the time, was the third girl he’d slept with. Three months earlier, he had found himself heavy petting on the regular with Shauna Begay-Graham, a Western Apache girl from Whiteriver. The petting graduated to sex, which was both everything nothing he had expected it to be. Not disappointing, nor a event full of epiphany and fireworks.  She was a virgin too, and they promised each other that they wouldn’t suddenly stop speaking once they’d finally had each other. A month later, she entered into her first real relationship with an older, more experienced guy that lived a couple of streets closer to her than Dudley did, and that chapter ended abruptly. The second girl was a house-party hookup, a brunette called Elle who smashed Xanax on the regular whilst also being the top of the leaderboard in their school’s chess championships. They spoke once more after, but she became another face in the hallways at school. Then Karina came along and switched things up a little. She was a little more unhinged, open to anything, a true nymphomaniac, even at sixteen. They spent six months sleeping with each other, on and off, before Dudley decided to bring it all to an end. On the same day that he told Totem that his adventures with Karina were over, Totem was rejoicing his first lay. He told him at a party, just as he told him about Tori’s shocking new predicament the other night. It was like groundhog day, but the event had a slight shift in narrative. Totem was having a baby, and Dudley was the first he told about it, as he always would have been.

 

“How has she been?” Dudley asked him.

Totem lay alongside the pool, arms behind his head, eyes to the sky. “She’s been a mess. Still hasn’t told her parents. I haven’t told mine. I told Amber last night, though. She said she already knew, that Tori told her a week ago, which was before me. I shouldn’t be pissed at that, if you’re a girl you’re probably gonna tell your girlfriends before you tell anyone else. But I was annoyed, and I argued with Amber for tiptoeing around me for five days without saying anything, and I argued with Tori, too, so now we’re not speaking properly.”

“You really need to fix this. It’s a time-sensitive issue.”

“I know, man. I’m just… scared. We haven’t been together that long. I know we’ve spent nearly every moment of our time around each other, but it hasn’t been all Gucci, all the time. We almost called things off, on two separate occasions. Before she got pregnant. Shit, before I got her pregnant.”

“How did this even happen? I mean, seriously.”

“Well, Einstein,” Totem smirked softly. “I think we all know how these things happen.”

“It didn’t have to be the case, though.”

“…As organised as she likes to appear to everybody, I should have noticed something was wrong when I realised how often she’d forget her volleyball practise shoes at home. Or how she’d forget to get that one thing I told her to bring from the seven-eleven on her way over to mine,  every single damn time, or how terrible she is at remembering names. She has this calendar on her wall, covered in all these colourful sticky notes that I’d always make fun of her for. She has a notebook, a planner, a bullet journal. She has all those things because she needs them, she’s a fucking goldfish, otherwise. She forgot her birth control. That’s what she told me. And I was disappointed, both in myself and in her, but I wasn’t surprised. She’s a goldfish, dude. I fell in love with a goldfish.”

“Whoah, buddy. You don’t want it to get out there that you’ve been engaging in aquatic bestiality.”

“Its funny, ‘cause the kid will prolly be a Pisces. A little fish kid. At least that’s what I’ve gathered, judging from the dates. She got pregnant early June, nine months later, it’s gonna be February or March. Now, I’m not stupid, I don’t believe in any of that shit, but it just occurred to me, and I don’t know why, but that really hit me.”

“You’re already giving it an identity,” Dudley said. “That’s why. It’s not just Tori, it’s something else. Someone else.”

“That’s fucking terrifying, dude. I’m… terrified. You and I… we both fucked up this year, somehow. We both made big fuckin’ rookie mistakes with girls. If it makes you feel better to know that.”

“You’re talking about Karina, right?”

“Well… yeah,” he looked towards Dudley. “Bad mistakes. That’s all we’ve made.”

Dudley couldn’t reply. Yes, he had made many mistakes. He was an awful person. But his mistake was not like Totem’s. It did nothing but consume him from the inside out; no good came out of it - no silver lining, no light at the end of the tunnel. Just a growing cavity. His best friend’s mistake was potentially having a child at eighteen. His own mother had him when she was seventeen, so he saw nothing inherently awful about that. There was no mistake in life itself. But life birthed mistakes, it festered ugly chaos and chains of events that the human experience could only classify as mistakes. And no, mistakes weren’t all bad, clearly. Undesired consequences that arose from misjudgment in decisions didn’t always mean it was the end of the world. But Totem, your mistake has nothing on mine, Dudley thought. I’m scared of myself, now. I’m scared of a girl who has no real significance in my life except to taint it. I’m scared of what has happened; you’re scared of what may be. It’s not the same. You can’t tell me it’s the same.

 

“I can only hope the best for you. Whatever decision Tori makes, we’ll all be there for her. Even though she hates me.”

“She doesn’t hate you, Dud. She’s just a chick. They’re hella judgemental. And I love her, so  that’s what matters. I’ve never loved anybody more than her.”

“That’s all you need. Corny, but it’s true.”

“You right. With your John Lennon ass. You’re just missing the hippy shades.”

Dudley laughed, and then there was a prolonged pause. He felt it right to change the subject. “Speaking of love. I told Vanessa I still loved her at the party.”

“I thought you said you fought with her. Doesn’t sound like a fight to me.”

“We exchanged a few… pointed words, in the heat of the moment. Then I went all soppy, and she ran away. Way to go.”

“Damn. Yo, when Pearce arrived, she was all over him, eating his face on the couch and shit. Looked kinda desperate. Whatever you said must have worked.”

“But I said  loved her.”

“Well, do you?”

“Hmm. No. I don’t know. I shouldn’t.”

“Hell no. Plus, you’ve got a new girl, now.”

“Not exactly.”

“Have you kissed Naya since the last time?”

“…I might have. We met up yesterday. Made out a little bit. It was… nice, I guess.”

“Then the fuck do you still ‘love’ Vanessa for?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“It could be. Just keep makin’ out with your volunteer partner, and you’ll be over her in no time.”

“That’s not all it takes.”

“Take her out on dates, then.”

“Actually, yeah. I almost forget to tell you. It’s Naya’s birthday on Sunday, but she managed to keep quiet about it up until now. I need to do something for her. I know she’s into live music, so I was thinking of taking her to see a band or something, this weekend. Saturday.”

“So you’re already on it!”

“I don’t know if that’s a date. Just a birthday present. Couldn’t exactly buy her tickets and make her go alone, could I?”

“It’s a date.”

“No, but-”

“You’re having make-out sessions with a girl who admitted she has a crush on you, and you’re taking her out to a show, and you don’t want to call it a date.”

“Nope.”

“Ever heard that quote by Shakespeare? About the rose? Can’t remember it. Point being, that shit’s just semantics. A spade is a spade, my guy. A date is a date.”

 

 

The show wasn’t being performed by anyone that Naya nor Dudley knew. It was a small indie-slash-R&B band from somewhere in Nevada, lead by a fully tatted soulful singer, backed by four decent instrumentalists. The band were called Melody Spoke, and they were touring in promotion of their sophomore EP, Terror v. Tranquility. Dudley had checked out a bunch of their songs on Spotify, gauging whether this would be the type of thing Naya would enjoy. He thought, they better be, because it was either that or a Green Day tribute band (called Chartreuse  Afternoon) on the same weekend. It was a last-minute fix, and it would have to suffice.

 

“You really, really didn’t have to do this,” Naya said as they made their way through the Harlow streets, en route to the gig. She had on a Burberry-styled checked peplum blouse, dark blue slacks and denim wedged espadrilles. “I didn’t tell anybody about my birthday, I don’t need the attention. It’s not even on my FaceBook.”

“So your friends don’t know?” Dudley strode by, hands in his jean pockets.

“No. And I’d like to keep it that way. You’re lucky I even told you.”

“No, you’re lucky you even told me. Now look where we’re heading.”

“If this isn’t as good as you made it out to be, consider our friendship over. I could have been binging on episodes of Black-ish, eating tonnes of candy until I felt sick and passed out. That’s what I call a birthday treat.”

“This birthday treat is  a million times better. You know why? ‘Cause I’m a part of it.” He laughed.

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

 

They first kissed five days ago, and since then, things had been on a steady incline. They were getting closer. With every gesture and word they spoke, there was another level of meaning. The day before, they lay on the grass in the Salvation Hill garden, reading after an hour and a half of book sorting. While Naya took out a copy of Go Set a Watchman, Dudley flicked through a tattered One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, only half paying attention. He said that he was never much into reading, and he meant it. But he felt the need to assure the girl he liked that he was willing to give it a try. Really, he was daydreaming as he fingered through the aged pages, itching for the day to end so he could kiss Naya in his pick-up. And when the time came, they did, as a song from Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange album played on the radio. Her lips tasted like Burt’s Bees pink grape, her hair smelled like coco butter. He’d never paid attention to these things before, but they were scents that raided him now, smells he couldn’t shake off.

 

They stood front row at the show, since there wasn’t a huge queue once the doors opened. An array of people showed up, most dressed like hipsters, musicians and professional art critics. It was a side of Harlow that Dudley didn’t even know existed. He just knew skate parks and trashy neighbourhoods, hip hop and rock music his friends played, or EDM that blasted from speakers at parties. The summer was granting him new surprises, and he was liking it.

It took a while for the band to arrive; there was a two-hour DJ set that they weren’t made aware of, and people spilled into the venue slowly and intermittently. Dudley thought it a good idea to put his fake ID to use and take a trip to the corner store that he visited the most, to buy a few beers for them to drink during their wait. He and Naya spoke and chugged, joked and drank, and by the time the band arrived, the pair were slightly bubbly with intoxication. It wasn’t Naya’s first drink, but it was one of the few she’d ever consumed, for glaringly obvious reasons. She didn’t feel like she was rebelling, even though she knew she was. If her parents smelled a drop of alcohol on her breath, she’d be crossing out all the free days on her calendar to make way for chore on top of chore. But that didn’t matter in the moment. The good music and lively atmosphere mattered. The arms of a pretty boy, slung over her shoulders as his chin rested atop her head was what mattered.

Melody Spoke performed a neo-soul rendition of Billie Holliday’s The Very Thought of You, which had every couple slow-dancing like it was prom. It was a wonderful moment, and Naya couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate turning seventeen. Black-ish and snacks could wait.

 

After the show, they walked to Silver Rock Plaza, the town’s central park. It was almost midnight, which was Naya’s curfew. She was still tipsy, losing her balance as she tried to walk along one of the benches, arms outstretched. Dudley lit a cigarette by the fountain.

 

“You know, that’s bad for you,” Naya said.

“So are a lot of things. Doesn’t mean we don’t do ‘em.”

“You don’t have to add to the list.”

“Gimme a break, Birthday Girl. I’m gonna quit when I’m eighteen, anyway.”

“When’s that? Next week, hopefully.”

“November. I’m gonna try and improve myself, little-by-little. Let me revel in my debauchery for the meantime.”

“You don’t seem that immoral. You’ve never done anything that most teens don’t do. I don’t smoke or drink, but it doesn’t mean I have anything inherently against it. You’re a good person. You don’t need to improve yourself.” She stood on the bench, towering over him. The water from the fountain glistened in the moonlight.

“I really do, though. I need a rebirth.”

“You’re born, and then you die, and everything that happens between means everything, and it means nothing at all. Living is just being, until you can’t be anymore. You can be anything at all times. You can be terrible, you can be amazing, it doesn’t matter, just be. Don’t try to think hard about it. That’s what I’m always telling myself.”

“Nice philosophy,” he stood on the bench too, reaching out to embrace her, plant a kiss on her forehead. It was spontaneous, but warm. “I’m sorry I smell like cancer sticks and booze right now. I need to shower.”

“I don’t mind. It’s eleven forty-seven. I’ve got to get home.”

“Off we go, then,” and he hopped down, taking her hand so she’d follow.

 

They stopped at the end of Naya’s street, so he didn’t have to walk her all the way to the front door. She’d told her parents that she was out with Tori, Amber, Jasmine and Evie, so she didn’t want them to believe otherwise. Her drunkenness had been wearing off with every step she got closer to her house, and a new fear flooded her chest. They’d know she had been drinking, and they’d flip. She told herself she was ready for it, just like she was ready for it the last time it happened.

They kissed in the corner of the street before telling each other goodbye. She thanked him for the amazing birthday present and strode off as Dudley watched. Everything was always changing, everywhere and this was one of those moments. So were the hours that followed, where everything just seemed to fall through the ground, so abruptly, so terrifyingly.

 

 

Naya’s parents were still awake when she entered the house as quietly as she could. Her mother sat in the living room, sipping on wine. Her father was reading something on his laptop. The air was cold - they were already upset.

“I’m sorry I’m late. The show overran schedule,” she began, standing at the other side of the room. She was afraid they’d smell her, even after she cloaked herself in perfume.

“Oh, we’re not worried about that. It’s fine.” her mother replied in a calm tone that she knew all too well signified otherwise. “We’re just worried about… other things.”

“Like…?”

Her parents looked at each other for a few seconds, before turning to her. Her father spoke. “As we were… trying to find a place to hide your birthday present for tomorrow… well, today, now that its past midnight-”

“Happy birthday.” Her mother drank her wine.

“-We stumbled upon some questionable items in your bedroom.”

“You went through my things?”

“As we said, we were looking for a place to hide your gift,” her father’s voice got a decibel louder. “But we found things we weren’t expecting you to have.”

“…Like what?” Her mind was in a frenzy, trying to think of anything she owned that could send them over the edge, but nothing came to mind. She wasn’t a wild child, after all. But then, she remembered- “Oh. The condoms in my drawer, right? That’s what you found.”

“Yes, and a lighter.”

“Well, the lighter’s a bit of a reach, because you know I buy candles every now and then. And the condoms - I got them in Health class, ages ago. They were handing them out. I just took them, put them away, forgot I even had them.” Everything she was saying was the truth, but her parents had a way of making her feel like she was lying through her teeth. She’d go bright red, and she’d wish her skin was dark as it was supposed to be, so her embarrassment wasn’t painted all over her face.

“We don’t know if we should believe you, Naya. Not after everything that has happened in the past.”

“I think you should be more concerned if I didn’t own contraception,” she found herself saying. “That would be a lot worse.”

“You should not put yourself in any kind of position that renders such things necessary,” her mother said. “1 Corinthians 7:2 clearly states - ‘But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman, her own husband.’ Does that mean nothing to you?”

“I haven’t been having sex.”

“It’s hard for us to think otherwise, Naya Grace.” They always said her middle name when things got serious. “You surprised us when we found out you were… gay.”

“I’m not gay.”

“We’d hope. But now… now you’ve found another way to sin. We won’t stand for it. I think you need to start going back to Church, Naya. We mean it. You have never been here in Harlow, and we allowed it for this long, but we think that extracurricular volunteering is not enough. You need to spend more time with the Lord.”

“You’re overreacting. You think I’m lying, but you don’t know. You don’t believe me, and it’s not fair.”

“Did you go out with your friends today?” Her father asked. “Or was it somebody else?”

“No…” she felt her skin prickle.

“Is that the truth, or a lie?”

She swallowed. “The truth.”

They all stayed silent, for a few moments. Then her father stood up, sighing. “Fine. We believe you. We apologise for this. There are just certain reservations we have, which are fair. We have every right to voice our concerns. We don’t want you led astray. Again. Especially as you grow older, and a new year of life awaits you.”

I was never led astray, she thought, holding back tears. I just loved someone. All I did was love someone. And I’m falling in love again, and I’m scared it’s all gonna go to shit, now. All I do is love, and this is what happens.

 

With tears in her eyes, the first thing she did was go to the bathroom to wash her face. She was upset that her parents didn’t trust her, that they still held the past over her, used it against her. She understood Dudley, why he’d get so upset over Karina, why he wanted to become someone new. She felt it now more than ever. But she was tired of trying to fix herself. It was taxing. She was seventeen now, but she felt smaller than ever. She was angry, and she was tired.

Checking the bathroom door was locked, she stripped down to her underwear. She looked in the mirror for a long, long time, studying her small, boobless chest and her alabaster skin. She poked and prodded at her stomach, her hips, her thighs. Then, she picked up her phone, heart in her throat. She sat on the surface near the sink and turned to face the mirror. Happy Birthday to me, she thought to herself as she opened her camera. But this one’s for you.

 

 

 

Dudley came home to a drunk Dylan. No surprise there. He was yelling angrily on the phone, probably to his girlfriend Mia. Dudley had noticed that he’d been fighting with her more often in recent weeks, and he didn’t know whether to make the conclusion that he was just becoming more of a jerk, or their relationship was on its last legs. Either way, Dylan’s temperament was more chaotic than ever, and he’d have any reason to get angry, any reason to take it out on his younger brother. Dudley wasn’t looking forward to whatever Dylan was going to spring on him this time. He went upstairs to shower, spending a longer amount of time than usual under the stream of water. He was thinking back to the date, how he never thought he’d end up falling for the last person on Earth he thought he would. Naya was helping him to forget about things. Helping him to forget about Dylan, Vanessa, his mother. He’d never forget about his mother of course, but her death was taunting him less. Her death on that Tuesday Morning, eighteen weeks, fifteen hours and fifty-three minutes ago. There was no way he could forget that, but he had to move past it. He just had to move on.

 

His hair was still wet from the shower when he came downstairs to grab some water from the kitchen. He heard Dylan call him from the living room, and he knew it wasn’t going to be a great conversation. He walked in with the glass of water in his hand, and stayed fixed at the frame of the door.

“Where’d you go tonight?”

“I told you earlier. I went to see a band in town.”

“Oh. Yeah, I remember that.” Dylan ran a hand through his hair, which had grown dishevelled in recent times. Dudley saw the physical change in him - he was rougher around the edges, had gained a few pounds most likely from drinking and eating like shit, and he’d gotten three more tattoos on his arms since the summer started. Each day, he was looking more and more like Ricky. Dylan’s eyes were blue, like his mother’s. Both their father and Dudley’s mother had brown eyes, so he was always the odd one out in that sense. But nothing could stop him becoming a replica of his father. “Who’d you go with?”

“My volunteer partner. You remember that, right? The volunteering I’ve been doing.”

“Hell Yeah, I remember. Good on you. How’s it going?” He asked, looking down at his phone, barely paying a slither of real attention.

“It’s going great, actually. The residents are so nice. They have a lot of stories to tell.”

“How’s your partner?”

“She’s... cool.” Downplay it, Dudley. Don’t attract attention to it. Keep it away from your brother, the guy who ruins everything.

“OK, I guess,” he flipped his phone out of his hands and finished the rest of his beer as it bounced off of the couch and onto the floor. “I saw Regina George in the mall with this dude yesterday. Kid’s like seven feet tall, Jesus. He could qualify for the NB-fuckin’-A.” It took Dudley a few seconds to realise that he was talking about Vanessa.

“Why are you telling me this?”

Dylan shrugged. “Just thought you’d wanna know. Girls are so easy, man. Moving from one guy to the other like flickin’ channels on the TV.”

“What makes you say that?”

Dylan paused, shaking his head. “I didn’t tell you this, because why should I. But. Mia broke up with me last month, fucked some guy from downtown Phoenix, then told me she wanted me back.” He laughed hysterically, angrily. “So I take her back, and we’re fighting, and she’s telling me she’ll leave me again. It’s been seven fuckin’ years, why won’t the bitch leave me already, then? Girls are fickle but they’re also pretty damn needy. It’s an ugly combo.”

“I mean... I’m sorry, bro.” Dudley fiddled with the glass in his hand once he’d drank the contents. “I didn’t realise it was that bad.”

“She realised nobody wants to be with her ‘cause she has my name tatted on her chest. And I have her name on mine. That’s a mistake we both made, thinking this shit’s permanent when love’s about as permanent as whiteboard marker.” His voice was slurred, he was rambling. “Girls are fickle bitches.”

“Huh. I don’t know. Not all of ‘em.”

“Your ex is already walking arm-in-arm with someone else.”

“It’s been two months. Almost three.”

“I bet you a million they were already fucking, long before you split.”

“I really don’t think so.”

“Girls are fickle, Dud! Don’t get it twisted.”

Dudley sighed, staring into the glass. “So are guys.”

“Not as bad as girls, though,” Dylan burped. “Never as bad.”

“I cheated on Vanessa. I never told you, but that’s how it ended. And I’m seeing someone new, now. Not even the girl I cheated with. What does that make me?”

His brother stared at him for five seconds, eyes wide. Then he began guffawing, clapping his hands, creasing over. “That makes you a legend!”

“You’re ridiculous, you know that?”

“When are you gonna cut your hair?” Dylan came out of nowhere with a new train of words.  He did that a lot. He clutched onto his forehead as if a sudden migraine hit him. “It’s about time.”

“I’ll do it when I want.”

“....You know... sometimes I feel like... you’re trying to hard to be... a minority..”

“I am a minority.”

“You’re not another one of your... black... friends. You know that, right? You’ve got nothing to prove.”

“Do you hear what you’re saying?”

“Yeah. I’m saying that... you shouldn’t try so hard... to be this... edgy, ethnic dude. You’ve got the whitest name going. It’s all a bit of a juxtaposition.”

“I didn’t ask for things to be like this. You can’t try and erase my identity. It’s the only thing I have. It’s what my mom gave me, and your parents are both meth heads shacked up in state penitentiaries. I know which side I’d rather be on.”

Dylan huffed. “You exist because my dad got the hots for an Indian bohemian stoner chick once upon a time. You’re just a product of a fetish. Now Pocahontas is dead, and John is serving time. Not quite how the story ends, is it?”

“Go. fuck yourself. ” Dudley spat, seething. Sometimes he hated his brother so much it paralysed him. They were yet to have physically fought besides their trivial tussles in the past, but Dudley knew that one of these days, fists would be raised. He left the room and went upstairs to his room, collapsing on the bed, staring at the ceiling. To stop himself from falling into bothersome thoughts, he picked up his phone. Three messages from Naya - no text thread, just attachments. He opened them.

 

“Holy shit,” he whispered, gobsmacked. Then he started grinning like a Cheshire Cat, and his heart was hammering, his skin heating up. She’d sent photos of herself. Bathroom mirror selfies, where nothing but porcelain flesh and pink lace was on display. She sent a final message underneath the third photo: just my way of saying thanks. He didn’t think she had it in her, to do something so racy, so revealing. Because now he wanted her more than ever before, in every way. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the pictures, and he couldn’t keep his hands out of his boxer shorts.

 

-You’re wonderful, he replied. Happy Birthday.

-Thanks. And thanks. Cya Tuesday.

-You’re fuckin wonderful.

-Go to sleep!

-I can’t. Not now. Not after that.

-Goodnight Dud.

-Fuck. Goodnight. Wonderful.

 

Dudley knew that if his brother had a problem with the friends he had, he wasn’t going to like Naya any better. He lay in bed, eyes open, no sign of sleep any time soon. He was jittery, both with anxiety and exhilaration. It was like all the atoms in his body were high energy, bouncing off of each other with no room to move. He was falling in love but he was also afraid. Of all the eyes that watched his every move, all the friends that talked and the words that came from his brother’s lips. He was afraid, he knew it. But better to be scared of what may be than of what has happened.

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