by Keri Brock. Winner of our Spring 2021 Short Story competition.
I was never much of a coffee person, but at this moment I find coffee to be my saving grace. My only comfort is this heating ceramic cup filled with the bitter tasting temporary fountain of youth. I have not given much thought to those around me in this classic diner off of interstate 81. Most of them are fifties and up enjoying their regular breakfast dishes on this Friday morning. I have my back to all of them as I sit at the counter on a worn and cracked maroon leather stool. A man that looks to be in his late thirties to early forties sits down to my right a stool length away. His appearance is a bit rough around the edges. He looks like he was an average respectable man not too long ago but fell from his pedestal and into his current state of existence. He is wearing two brown jackets, both different shades of brown, heavily worn blue jeans, and black work boots that have snow caked on the bottoms. He orders a cup of coffee and is greeted by another regular customer walking in the door.
After a few sips of coffee, he realizes that he is not alone at the counter. He sees me and inspects me. I do not blame him because I must be quite a sight. A walking crime scene with mascara smeared under my eyes, terrible bedhead, and an unfortunate odor detected by the nose from my lack of hygiene during the last thirteen hours or so. I can tell he is debating furthering his investigation. To let us sit in near silence with the only sounds be of sipping coffee or to engage in conversation that could go nowhere or go somewhere he did not ask for it to go. I do not know if it is the presence of boredom or overbearing interest that make him ask,
“You alright, kid?”
His deep voice creeps across the air and if I was not so exhausted, it might have frightened me. I am too tired for fear and lies, so I reply with a weak, “No,” before taking another sip of my coffee.
The regret of his asking is probably setting in now, but he listens to his conscience and asks another question,
“It’s a long story,” I reply looking him in the eyes this time. I cannot handle his judgement no matter how much my female tendences tell me to share.
He sighs and says, “I’ve got time.”
He is not going to let up and to be honest I want to talk about it. What happened was bad, but not to the level where it is something I cannot speak about. I take another sip of coffee and think about where to begin my tale.
The best place to begin is when I met them. It was the first week of college and I knew I had to make an actual effort to meet people and make friends if I did not want to repeat the loneliness and lack of quality friends I had in high school. I had friends in high school, just not the kind of friends I could call friends without changing the definition of the word. I started with my roommates. I lived with them and saw them daily so I thought it would be nice to be friends with them. We had the largest room on the floor. An oddly designed room that was different from all the others and everyone around us was jealous of our ability to walk around our room whereas they had to perform a shuffle like movement to reach the other side of their glorified prison cell. With that being said, we were also the only room on the floor to house three students. The first roommate I met was Sarah. Sarah was from St. Louis and was shy and timid in nature. She was easily persuaded and easily fooled. She was however kind and an avid reader. She always had a book with her. Pride and Prejudice in her backpack, Wuthering Heights in her bed, and Frankenstein in her hands every day. I thought her books had the same purpose for her as a child’s blanket. A source of comfort and familiarity. I grew to enjoy her company and she even convinced the three of us to have our own book club, Dorm 125 Book Club. Then there was Katie, my other roommate. Katie was from the other side of Missouri and I liked her instantly. She had this quirkiness about her that heighten her appeal. It was the kind of quirkiness that boys were drawn to. She was good looking, but not necessarily considered a beauty queen. She also did not truly know who she was or what she was thinking, which is the case for several eighteen-year-old girls. This was a factor of her that frustrated me. Neither one of my roommates possessed the ability to make firm, independent decisions.
Then there were our neighbors across the hall. Josh and Isaac had been best friends since eighth grade, from a small town in northwestern Missouri, and both business majors. We rarely saw Isaac because he was always at fraternity houses working towards his goal of being accepted into one. We did get to know Josh. He was easy on the eyes and a sight that made all of us girls nervous. He had a personality that shocked, horrified, and fascinated. He was racist, sexist, and a self-declared Nazi descendant. He had a toxic intoxicating masculinity that made you curse his name at every insult directed towards any being that was not a white male but worship him whenever his inoffensive attention was directed towards you. He was a man of many interests including cars, guns, weaponry, and heavy metal music. We had nothing in common, but like most girls with a crush on a boy she should not have a crush on, I was determined to have some common interest with him.
In the room next to ours lived Adam and Blake. They were from a small town along the border of Missouri and Arkansas on the Arkansas side. They were also racist and sexist and immediately clicked with Josh given their shared values. I did not know people like them still existed in the twenty first century and especially among my generation, but there are always exceptions to expectations I suppose. Adam was hilarious, a natural leader of friends, and had a touch of obesity. Although his jokes were usually offensive, after a few days my roommates and I’s taste in comedy changed and found him more entertaining than Comedy Central. Blake, after three sleepless nights, was diagnosed with insomnia and was prescribed medical marijuana. He usually spent his time lounged across his extra-large twin bed curled up with his dab pen and the occasional homemade joint. He said few words and when he did speak, I usually wished he had not.
Last but not least there were the Texan cousins Randa and Maria Blackwood. Their room was next to Josh and Isaacs’ room and Josh could not have been happier about it. The Blackwood cousins were true to their Texan culture. They believed in the “everything’s bigger in Texas” moto with lips, breasts, and butts plumped by technologies greatest advances. They were loud, and never had a problem making their presence known, especially to the opposite sex. Their room could have been mistaken for the local beauty shop with piles of products for their dyed blond hair, ever changing skin color, and faces made symmetrical with the heavy help of the products. Any man that says a woman looks best without makeup is a liar because if that were true the Blackwood cousins would not have been lusted after like goddesses with their smoke and mirrors act. Randa had an anger problem but would never admit it and no one dared to bring it up. One small, dismal lie or wrongdoing anyone dared to do would pay dearly. She operated in stages. Stage one was unrelenting rage where she would yell and throw a fit at the criminal until her dramatic exit. Stage two was the silent treatment and complete belief that the person was in fact dead to her. This stage’s length would vary from a few days to a few weeks to forever. The third and final stage was her version of forgiveness. She would neither forgive nor forget. Instead, she would wake up one day and act as if nothing had ever happened and make the criminal/victim of her wrath feel as if they dreamt up the whole thing. The only reminder of its reality was the occasional looks she shot their way as a warning of her capabilities and that they would forever be on probation because she would never forget their crime and she would never forgive them no matter how sorry they were because no one, not even her own flesh and blood, deserved her grace. Maria was the most unique person I had ever met. She had a Cinderella story of a wicked stepmother and two snotty younger siblings. I did not know if it was her bitter upbringing that made her the way she was, but what she was wasn’t natural. She resembled a snake by inserting herself into situations and groups, stirring up drama, and slithering away when the war started. She was a great actress. She could be the sincerest friend you had ever known among a generation that found sincerity irrelevant. She would be your shoulder to cry on, cheerleader, and warrior as long as she needed to be so she could gather your greatest secrets, insecurities, past traumas, weird fetishes, and any other information that would be useful in your defeat. She was mysterious and almost other worldly. With a single look she could have anyone she wanted under her control and with powers like that she could not be conquered and would be overlooked as a suspect of foul play. I was friends with her during the first few weeks before I saw through her act, but by then it was too late. She knew the book of my life and I would not know the capabilities of her use with the information until months later. Somehow, we all became a friend group and got along with Adam as our unelected leader, and Maria as a close second.
Josh did not see-through Maria’s award-winning performances and instead saw her through the rose-colored glasses of love. Not only was he blind to the ways that she could crush his heart and soul, he also did not care if she did. He was attracted to damaged goods and that Maria was. He did not let anyone into his heart that he subconsciously knew would not hurt him. I was not damaged goods; I was simply good. Some called me innocent and pure because I was more of a virgin than Mother Mary. I was not on Josh’s radar. I was not even friend zoned. I was worse, sibling zoned. He said that I reminded him of his little sister who was twelve, but that did not stop me from trying for months to get him to see me in a more desirable light. I was not the only one trying to be desirable to someone. Adam liked Katie and convinced me to take on the role of his secret agent with a mission to make him more appealing to her. This excited me for a few reasons. One, Adam seemed like he genuinely cared for her. He said he wanted to take her on a picnic and introduce her to his mom. I thought it was sweet and I worshipped romantic comedies and could not resist the chance to direct one of my own by being his wing-woman. Second, Katie was in a crappy long-distance relationship with her high school boyfriend and I had to listen to her complain every night about him and about how difficult long distance was. Lastly, I knew Katie liked Adam too. I could feel it in the air when they were next to each other. I saw my secret assignment as a win-win-win situation and happily obliged.
Fast forward to the end of October and things were heating up. There were golden brown and yellow leaves on the ground and a chilling wind in the air, but emotions were running high. The pressures and desires for relationships were in full swing. Josh constantly put himself out there for Maria and she would dang words and sometimes actions of her affections in front of him only to yank them away at the last minute so he would fall headfirst into rejection. One week she allowed him to hold her hand then did not talk to him for five days. Then, during a movie night, she cuddled with him and when he invited her back to his room she said no and was not seen again for a week. Josh was an emotional wreak and confided in me since he saw me as an extension of his sister. He would come into my room almost every night and ask us for advice. Sarah, Katie, and I would all tell him to move on and not play her game anymore, but he always did. He would sit in the middle of our floor and cradle a bottle of vodka while informing us of his misery. All of our maternal instincts were in bloom during these counselling sessions. We wanted to help him, but he would never listen. I believed that Maria did not like him and was using him to hurt me. I told her that I had a crush on him in the early days when I still spoke to her. I noticed that every time she would lead him on, I was in sight of it. She knew he would come to me for comfort, which would increase my pain of knowing I could not have him. Of course, I had no real way of proving this, but I considered my theory to be golden.
Then, four nights before Thanksgiving break, she kissed him. She kissed him right outside his door, which was right across from mine. They were talking loudly late at night in the hall when the rest of us were trying to go to sleep. I, being the predictable being that I am, looked out of my door’s peep hole to see who was in the hall and it was in that moment that I was the only audience member of their kiss. At that point I knew he would never like me, and their kiss destroyed any hope that remained. I was not the only person that kiss destroyed because it also destroyed Josh. He was living on cloud 9 until the next night when she disappeared again. She was not in her room and she was not answering her phone. We did not know where she disappeared to, but Randa said she knew some guys on the third floor and that she was probably with them. That night Josh was the most upset he had ever been and knocked on my door. I was the only one there since Katie and Sarah were taking tests. I opened the door and he stood there, hunched over with a one-third empty bottle of vodka in his hand and a flushed face. He was a drunken wreak. He came into my room and went straight to my bed. He laid down and took another swig. I was in shock of the situation and slowly walked towards my bed. As I stood in front of him, he sat up and extended his arms towards me in want of a hug. It took me a second to realize what was happening, then I hugged him. It was agonizing being that close to him, smelling his cologne, and seeing him in my bed. I forgot about everything and sat down next to him. He rested his head on my shoulder and kept his arms wrapped around me. He whined about how she was tormenting him. Kissing him then running off to some other guy’s room. How he longed for her to stay in his room, especially that night. I sat there but tried not listen. I took in the moment and thought only of his touch and attention. After a few more minutes he stopped whining and laid down behind me and rested his head on my pillow. He starred at the ceiling and asked me why she did not like him the way he liked her. I knew the answer to this question but chose not to answer it directly. I told him that sometimes we like people who are not going to like us back and it is the unrelenting pain of unrequited love. I told him that it was the only form of love that I had ever known, so I knew what he was feeling. I could not see him and heard no noise from him, but hoping he was still listening told him that sometimes the people we should be with are the ones we would never think to be with. Then I turned around to what I hoped would be him realizing that he should be with me, but instead found him to be fast asleep. I was crushed and felt like I missed my opportunity. I was tempted to sleep next to him and pretend we were something that we were not, even for just the night. I contemplated it for a moment. I was the representation of a pure white lamb that never did what I knew should not be done and that had gotten me nowhere. Maybe being good caused me to lose. Maria was not good, yet she got everything she ever wanted. For once in my life, I did something my conscience told me not to. I did something bad. I grabbed a blanket and laid down beside Josh. I let my head nest into the same pillow as his. I felt the heat of his body only inches away from mine. I eventually drifted off to sleep while watching him sleep.
The next morning, I woke up to him shaking me. He angerly asked me why we were both sleeping in my bed. At first, I did not know how to answer, but then I came up with a brilliant explanation that was mostly true. I told him that we were talking about Maria and must have talked until we fell asleep. I assured him that was all that happened. He immediately unraveled and was concerned about what would happen if Maria found out. He made me promise not to tell anyone, but it was too late. Katie and Sarah were already out of the room and no doubt saw us when they came in last night. He ran out of my room to try to track them down before the news spread like wildfire. He believed that if Maria thought he was sleeping with me then there was no chance of her ever sleeping with him. Once again, I was rejected, and Maria was the only thought his brain could process.
Even though I failed at my plan of love, I succeeded in another. I had done a brilliant job of getting Adam and Katie together. In September, she broke up with her boyfriend and a week later she told me she had a crush on Adam. I was so excited in that moment that I almost gave the plan away. Katie was catching on that something was up and that maybe Adam liked her too. I could not tell her that Adam liked her because it was not my place to say. Instead, I blurted out that Adam had a crush on a girl in one of his classes so she would be thrown off until Adam could tell her himself his true feelings. The operation was in full swing by the beginning of November. Adam and Katie would hold hands and flirt. Adam told me I had been a good wing-woman to him, and I could step down from my position now. The problem was that I did not want to stop. I had become addicted to my secret role and was afraid that if I did not have news to report to Adam, then he would not talk to me. I enjoyed his and Katie’s company and was afraid of losing both of them because they would be too into each other.
Their company was not the only ones I had grown fond of. Sarah, Randa, and I had our own group within the friend group. We were an odd mix, but somehow, we worked. Sarah was go with the flow and a bit of a pushover which was pleasing to Randa who always had to get her way. I was the glue that held us together and the one that come up with things to do. We discovered a TV show we loved and organized a viewing time almost every night for us to huddle around my laptop and eat popcorn. You cannot consider your friends your family until you share the tradition of watching a TV show together. After a few weeks they really did feel like my family. They were like sisters to me.
It was two nights before Thanksgiving break and Randa, Sarah, and I were watching our TV show, when we heard shouting in the hallway and went to see what was wrong. Maria, Blake, Josh, and Adam were there and told us that they just saw Katie having dinner with a guy in the dining hall. They did not know who he was and were not happy about it. Maria and Randa called Katie all the names in the book that described a girl with multiple boys in interested. Blake and Josh were also in agreement with Maria and Randa. Josh was just pleased to be in Maria’s presents again and was disgusted as soon as my foot stepped into the hall. Sarah and I just stood there and watched their madness unfold. We knew there was probably a good explanation for Katie having dinner with the guy and she was not cheating on Adam because they had not given themselves a label yet. Adam shut down as depression overcame him. He was silent, went back to his room and played video games until the early morning hours.
That night when Katie returned to our room, she was unaware of the reaction to her dinner. Sarah left the room when Katie came back so I had to be the one to explain the others newfound hatred for Katie because she could not handle all the drama. I did not want to hurt or scare Katie, but I also did not want her to walk into a verbal assault trap set by the others. I told her that they saw her, and they thought she was cheating on Adam. Katie said that the guy she had dinner with was a project partner and they were going over the project. I told her that they thought she was being flirty with the guy and she said she did not know she was and if she was, she had not meant to be. She did not know what her feelings for Adam were, but she did not appreciate their criticism. She was afraid to go around them and I told her that it may be best to lay low for a little while. I did not like the situation that I put her and myself into, but it was too late now. I wanted to be friends with everyone and for us all to get along, but I guess that was too much to ask from a group of teenagers.
The next day, which was the last day before Thanksgiving break, was awkward. Katie had not done what I suggested even though she thought she had. After class we saw her getting out of a car with the guy from the night before. They had ice cream in their hands and were walking back towards the dorms. Randa, Sarah, and I saw this when were in my car looking for a parking spot. Randa was immediately infuriated and the fire of her unique anger ignited. She raced back to the dorms and alerted the others of the breaking news. Adam, still in his mopey state, put headphones in and drowned out the world. Maria had a look in her eye that I knew meant trouble. They all, except Sarah, continued their rant from the other night and bad mouthed her for what felt like forever. They even mentioned physically hurting her when they saw her. Randa said that she would give her a black eye if she dared to speak to Adam. I did not know if she would or not, but I felt like it was a possibility with her anger issues. I could not stand there anymore and let them destroy her in this matter. I raised my voice to silence them and with emotions raging, explained that we did not know the full story. I told them that he was a project partner and that they could just be friends. After all we had no say in who she could and could not date because her and Adam were not an official couple. They really did not like that observation. They all rearranged their anger towards me, and I could see it in their faces. Before they had the chance to yell at me, I left and stayed in my room for the rest of the night. Terrified, I warned Katie about their threats, including the physical ones. We were both in hiding, afraid of our own friends.
The next morning was the beginning of Thanksgiving break and we made plans to go stay in Josh’s uncle’s cabin in Carbondale, Illinois. I drove with Sarah, and Katie for the three-and-a-half-hour drive, while everyone else rode with Josh. Things were still awkward and I feared that this week would not be as fun as I had hoped. We were all going to leave the day after Thanksgiving to go home, giving us four full days together. There were only two bedrooms and two queen size beds. Sarah, Katie, and I were in one room and Maria, Randa, and Adam stayed in the other room. Blake and Josh slept on the couch. There was not a lot around the cabin. There were no other homes in sight, a gas station a mile up the road, and a small restaurant and shopping area ten miles away. The cabin backed up to a tree line of woods where the boys planned to go hunting. I had no idea what I was going to do for the next four days. At least I brought a book as a backup.
After I put my things away, I ventured around the cabin to see what everyone was up to. I stepped into the living room and saw Maria, Randa, and Blake talking. They did not bother to look up at me, but they knew I was standing there ten feet away from them. They stood up and walked towards the bedrooms without pausing their conversation and still without looking at me. There was an odd feeling in the air from their coldness. I was hurt and confused by it but decided to continue my search for the others. I walked into the kitchen and got a glass for water. As I filled the glass, I saw Sarah, Katie, Josh, and Adam outside. They were talking and laughing, and Josh was showing them how to use a bow and arrow. I stood there for a moment, feeling strange in a strange house watching people I knew, and that knew me, but pretended that I was a stranger. They saw me through the window and walked into the woods so they would be out of my view. It was official, I was a disease.
I stayed in my room for the rest of the day and read my book. I did not know why everyone was ignoring me and it was torturous. I read until seven that night, when my hunger overcame me, and I had no choice but to face the shunners. To my surprise, no one was around, and Josh’s car was missing. They must had gone out to dinner. There I was, all alone in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to eat since the fridge was empty. I thought about driving into town to get dinner, but I feared running into them. They did not tell me they were leaving for a reason and it killed me not knowing what that reason was. I decided to walk to the gas station and find something edible and if possible, appealing, for dinner. They were still gone when I got back, so I stayed in my room, ate a bag of potato chips, and cried myself to sleep.
The next two days were the same. I was ignored and practically invisible. I pulled Sarah aside and asked her what was going on. I could see the panic in her eyes. She told me to keep to myself for a while until things cooled down. Cooled down? No one looked anger or upset, they simply treated me as if I did not exist. I kept to myself those two days just like she said to, not because I chose to, but because I was forced to. I went for daily walks to the gas station for food and walks in the woods to keep myself out of bed. Every time I came back to the cabin, I hoped it had all been a bad dream and they would say hello to me, but they didn’t. For two days I was alone, utterly alone. The next day, I hoped and somehow believed it would be different because the next day was Thanksgiving. I kept up my regular routine of a walk to the gas station and a walk in the woods. By the time I returned it was late in the afternoon. I decided to be brave and sit in the living room. It was Thanksgiving, and how could they shun me on Thanksgiving? I sat in the chair closest to the corner while Josh, Blake, and Sarah were playing a card game on the couch. Within two minutes they scattered. Blake and Sarah went outside, and Josh went into the kitchen. I had to know what was going on. It was Thanksgiving for god’s sake! I followed Josh into the kitchen and as my mouth opened, I began to cry. I asked him why they were ignoring me and what I had done wrong? He looked right into my water filled eyes and told me in a firm aggressive tone to stay away from him. I chased him out of the kitchen and called his name. He slapped me across the face and said, this I will always remember, “Have you no heart?”
What did that mean? Me, not have a heart? What about them! What about him! Slapping me and ignoring me for, now, four days! How was I the heartless one in this situation? I went back to my room and packed my stuff. I would leave first thing in the morning. I did not want to exit from my room until I was ready to leave, but I was really hungry and out of gas station snacks. It was eight o’clock and I could hear them in the living room. They were laughing, talking, and having a good time. That noise sent daggers into my heart. I was once a part of that noise, a part of the fun. I felt like I would never be a part of it ever again. My heart was beating rapidly fast as I opened my bedroom door. Somehow, I just knew that what was going to happen next was going to be something I was not prepared for.
I crept down the creaking hallway and kept my eyes on the ground and mind on the kitchen hoping there were leftovers. As I passed beside them in the living room, I heard Adam ask them if they were ready. Then, the next thing I heard was my name. I looked over to him and he told me to take a seat. There was a chair from the dining room table in the middle of the living room. I sat in it, fearing what was going to happen, but grateful to be noticed. Adam and Randa had what looked like lists in their hands. Adam started the conversation by stating the fact that I was probably confused and to that I nodded my head yes. He proceeded by telling me, the way a disapproving father explains to his daughter, that they were ignoring me for a reason. He said in a firm, emotionless voice that he, and presumably the rest of the group, were no longer friends with me. My mouth dropped open in shock and tears began to roll. He continued saying that after talking with Katie, they discovered the lies I had filled her with. I was more confused now than ever. He used vague descriptions and large vocabulary words to describe my deceitful acts. I had trouble following him since he used so many words that I did not known the meaning of. His eyes glanced at the list, which was the receipt of all the reasons he was ending our friendship. He stated that I was delusional and obsessive. That I had convinced myself that it was my job to get Katie and him together. I whimpered that he had asked me to, which he firmly denied and used as an example of my level of delusion. His next accusation was of my lie to Katie. The only lie I ever told her, that Adam had a crush on a girl in his class. He asked why I told her that and in that moment my mind was completely blank. I remembered saying it, but I could not remember why. I was in an intense state of shock and my brain could not process what was happening. I confirmed that I said it, but that I could not remember why. He laughed in a way that sent shivers down my spine and told me to stop the BS and confess. I searched my mind, but it was all black. The moment when I told her that lie in distant past that seemed like heaven compared to my current residence in hell. I sobbed and repeatably said sorry.
Randa stood up next to Adam and asked, while wiping a tear from her eye, why I spouted lies to Katie telling her that she would punch her. She said that I was taking things out of context and tried to turn Katie against them. Randa looked at Katie, held her hand, and said that they loved Katie and would never be so childish towards her. My mind spiraled as I left like I had fallen into a Twilight Zone episode. I was the one accused of immaturity. This was coming from someone I considered family, and she just threw me under the bus. Then she asked me how I could have been so cruel to Sarah. That when I made fun of her lifestyle, Sarah went crying to her. Made fun of her lifestyle? The only thing that could come to mind was one time when I asked Sarah if she was going to do laundry since her dirty laundry hamper was overflowing onto my rug. I shook at the thought of Sarah crying over something I said. My face was bright red from the blood rushing to my head to keep myself from passing out over shocking grief. My hands trembling, clasped my cheeks and were wettened by my unrelenting tears. I looked at Sarah and told her I never meant to hurt her, and that it was a terrible joke. Out of nowhere, Maria shouted at me. She said that I was playing the victim when I was not, Sarah was. She said I had to own up to the terrible and rude things I said to Sarah. I glanced back at Sarah and said that Maria was right. I was a terrible, terrible friend and Sarah deserved better. I asked Sarah if we could still be friends and for the first time that night, she opened her mouth and said that she was willing to let me try to earn her forgiveness.
There was a moment of silence, apart from my sobbing, and I thought that it might have been over, but I was wrong. Maria was not done. She scorned me for “throwing myself” at Josh and stated that I clearly had no dignity. She said that just because I could not be with Josh, did not give me the right to keep Adam and Katie separated because in all their eyes I kept Katie and Adam apart from day one and never wanted them to be together. According to them, if I could not be happy, then I did not want anyone to be happy. She carried on her accusations by saying that I was a pathological liar that needed professional help.
By now, my sobbing turned into a sniffily, drippy cry and my lips were horribly cracked and chapped. I laid my head in my hands but looked up into Maria’s eyes as soon as she reasoned that I did not have the right to treat them with such cruelness just because that is how my high school friends treated me. There it was. The information I had given her all those months ago twisted against me for the final stabbing of my heart. This was the line she had written months ago for her performance tonight.
After a moment, Adam asked if anyone had anything else that they would like to say to me as he checked off the last item on his list. No one spoke. At that moment I knew two things. One, whatever I said they would not believe and two, I was starting to believe that I was the hellish person they were describing. I asked Adam if I was free to go, to which he replied that I was never forced to stay. I rose, scanned the room remembering the last moment I would ever be in the same room as all of them, said thank you and went to my room. I have no idea why I thanked them. Perhaps because I believed they showed me who I really was. My inner demon that I had ignored and denied.
As soon as I reached my room I cried hysterically. I could not stop; it was a force not to be reckoned with. The realization that I had no friends and was hated by not only them, but myself sunk in. I could not stay there, and I did not feel welcome to, not that I ever really did. I grabbed my things and ran out of the door to my car. It did not matter that I had not eaten in hours and that it was pitch black outside. It did not matter that I was still crying hysterically and could barely breathe. Nothing mattered because I did not matter. I did not want to drive home because I did not want to face reality. I needed to escape, and I knew just the place.
“Do you think they are right? Do you think I am a crazy, cruel, pathological liar?” I question the kind stranger who asked to hear my tragic tale.
He makes sure I am looking him in the eyes before he answers,
“Based on what you just told me, these are your crimes: you told a little white lie with good intentions behind it, you showed love to someone that did not deserve it, you made a bad joke about laundry, and you meddled too much with a possible relationship. No kid, you’re not crazy, you’re just young.”
“What do you mean?” I ask as my eyes start to tear from his comforting answer.
“When you’re young, you’re a little confused and a little foolish. It’s nothing you can help and the only thing that will cure it is time. Don’t worry kid, you’ll still get into heaven. If you want to hear some real sins, then you should hear mine.”
“What did you do?”
He looks down at the counter and takes a sip of his coffee before answering, “A while ago, I cheated on my wife and ran away when she found out. I left her with our four boys. The oldest was in middle school, the middle ones were toddlers, and the youngest was only a year old. So yeah… if anyone here is to be considered a criminal, its me.”
“It’s not too late, you can go back. You can try to work things out and see your kids.”
He looks down at the counter and chuckles to himself, “You think my boys are going to want to see me after what I did? No, no they don’t want to see me. They probably hate me.”
I wait until he looks back at me to speak again, “Us kids might not get along with our parents all the time, but we never hate them. We can claim to hate you, but in our hearts, there is always some amount of love.”
Now the man looks like he may cry too.
“Thanks, kid. I’ll think about it.”
I nod at him satisfied with his answer. Then he speaks again,
“So where are you headed? Where is the place you’re escaping to?”
“That’s another long story, but to make it short, I’m headed to a small coastal town in Massachusetts. You see, my family has been going there every summer for the past five years to run a lighthouse. I have a friend that lives there, Philip. I met him the first summer we went there. He is the only real friend I have and since I lost all my other friends, I wanted to be with my best friend.”
“So, your parents still don’t know what happened?”
“No, you’re the only one that knows.”
“You should call them.”
“I was supposed to be home over an hour ago, so they might be worried.”
“Call them, kid. I know I’m not exactly parent of year or anything, but I know I would be worried.”
“Okay… thanks for listening.”
He nods his head, puts money on the counter for his coffee, and stands up.
“Take care, kid. Things will get better.”
“You too.” I say and he leaves.
I decide that he is right, and I call my mom. She answers on the first ring.
“Nikki? Nikki, where are you? Are you okay?”
“Yeah mom, I’m okay.”