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When Love Happens: Chapter Four
I refused to say another word. I refused to turn back around. Stay strong, I told myself. Don’t follow him. It’s better this way. There was no way I was about to get involved with boys again. I couldn’t let my heart go there. It was treacherous grounds I was walking on, and they screamed warnings and caution. Yet, there was a part of me that couldn’t get over the fact that I had just dismissed Dylan from my life forever. "What have I done?" I thought. I knew Dylan was no good for me, but I couldn’t seem to get him out of my mind. Is this how falling for someone felt like? No, I couldn’t be falling for Dylan. No, of course not. But what if I was? Oh, God, I couldn’t take this confusion. I should not have wanted anything more to do with this situation; I wanted out of the equation completely. But with each step I heard Dylan take across the lot away from me, I felt myself die inside a little more. Next, I heard the sound of his car, the whipped buttery purr of its revving engine. It had such a tempting vibe somehow. I couldn’t resist glancing at him over my shoulder. I watched him back out of his parking spot and slowly turn around. I couldn’t stand the sight of him leaving. It was too much. I exhausted myself fighting the urge to follow him. But when I saw him flash his turn signal, I broke down and surrendered to the battle. "Oh, I can’t believe I’m about to do this." I jumped to my feet and sprinted full-speed toward the departing car. The fight was over.
“Dylan! Dylan, wait!” As I approached, calling his name, I saw his car gradually slow down. I flung myself around the driver’s side and caught it by the open window. I felt the car stop. Dylan’s hands were locked on the wheel, but he had turned his head toward me. “Please…don’t go,” I panted. I saw the tears in his eyes glisten under the streetlight, and then felt my eyes fill up too.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “I’m not going anywhere…not anymore.”
I listened to the heavy sound of my breath, feeling my heart beat through the tightened muscles in my chest. I opened my mouth to speak, but it took me a moment to find my voice before I was able to respire, “Kiss me.”
Our eyes met, and the overwhelming spark I felt ourselves exchange kept my body frozen in place. It was beautiful and frightening at the same time, and I could have stayed that way forever. But before I knew it, Dylan’s hands had taken hold of my face and ravenously he began kissing me. When he stopped and pulled back, I found myself leaning in closer, hungrily seeking his lips. I mounted myself up on the front tire and stuck my upper body through the window, extending my arms and pulling in Dylan close to me. I tenderly caressed the side of his face, familiarizing myself with the shape of his jaw. I was taken by his feel, totally enraptured. I took a few more deep breaths through my mouth before pressing my lips against his again. Once I did, we were both sold forever.
* * * *
. . . Yeah, I wish it had happened that way. That would have been too easy, classic Hollywood. Happily ever after and all that crud. If only it had been real. No, this was reality. That wonderful scenario was merely my imagination conjuring up an image of what might have happened if I had sought out Dylan. I played that scene out in my mind a dozen times as I watched Dylan walk away, feeling stabs of regret slice through my stomach. It took everything I had not to run after him. I suddenly became aware of the blacktop below me. It felt cold and hard. My lower back ached. My tears burned like fire as they made thin trails down my cheeks.
Man, I felt like such a baby. What was I seriously afraid of? All my life I had dreamed of meeting a boy who would fall for me, and now that it was happening I was cowering in a hole to avoid it? It’s just that his irresistible charm was reflective of Shane’s seductive nature. But Dylan had not imposed any real threat. He was not like Shane, or at least not totally like Shane. Besides, the incident with Shane was so long ago, but ever since that day, I had lived the life of a recluse. I lived in anger and distress, all because of that one day. Should I have gotten over it by now? Then again, is it really possible to get over something like almost being raped? Well, maybe you never truly get over it deep inside, but you learn to move on in the real world instead of locking yourself up in your own psychological prison for life. I suppose you have to if you want to keep your sanity. Honestly, I wasn’t fond of the life I was forced to live in the aftermath of the attack. I didn’t like being caustic, stubborn, and mistrusting all the time. I guess I was suffering from the worst case of post-traumatic stress in history, because I just could not seem to break myself out of my depression, no matter how hard I tried. My heart was so scarred that it resisted allowing even Dylan inside, my potential dream boy. And I hated it.
I needed to breathe, relax a little. What time was it? Trying to pull myself together, I scrambled to my feet, reached up to pull the trunk door down and close it, and made my way to the driver’s side of my car. I propped my left foot on the mat beneath the seat and pushed myself up and into the car with my right heel, pulling the door closed once I was situated in front of the wheel. I checked the digital clock on the dashboard. 8:15—the mall was still open for another forty-five minutes. I’d have to hustle, but I knew I could make it. Turning the key in the ignition, I placed my hands on the wheel, pulled out into the street, and did perhaps the stupidest thing I could have done at the moment: I drove back to the mall. The last thing I needed right then was to put myself back in that environment, especially given my mental state. But I wouldn’t be loitering around, oh no. This was going to be a quick trip—in and out. My only consolation was that Dylan was off work now, so I wouldn’t be running into him by any chance.
I parked close to the door and made my way in. The crowd of shoppers was much sparser now. Only a handful of people were shuffling along the halls now, and the corridors were much quieter. Some stores had begun shutting their gates in preparation for final closing time, lowering them about a third of the way down to the floor, calling for any last-minute purchases. I sauntered down the south wing, where a few fluorescents had been dimmed already, reducing the path to a land of shadows. It was peculiarly eerie. About halfway through District 7 I identified an amber-hued sign that read, “Yankee Candle” in blocky, capitalized letters. I sighed with satisfaction and went inside, taking in a big breath through my nose, filling my nostrils with the mix of warm aromas that drifted through the air.
“Hello, and welcome to Yankee Candle,” a young woman in a tan polo shirt and black skinny jeans said sweetly when I walked in. “How are you this evening?”
“Fine, thank you.”
“Just so you know, we have a sale going on right now; 50% off select jar and tumbler candles, and our sample votives are running for $1 each today and tomorrow only.”
“Sure thing; my name is Becky if you have any questions.” She smiled brightly and walked away.
I started to browse the shelves, claiming a whiff of various scented candles, some sweet, some sour, some spicy—kind of like my life right now. I happened across a collection of sample votives, which were indeed marked “$1” apiece. That was admittedly a pretty fantastic deal. I’d never seen a sale here quite that generous before. I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. I filled my arms with a small bouquet of Lavender Vanilla and Fresh Mint-scented candles, and hurried over to the check-out counter where I uncrossed my arms, dumping the bundle in front of the cashier. She rang them up, dropped them into a couple white bags, and handed me the change.
“Thank you for shopping at Yankee Candle. Come again soon,” she told me. After acknowledging her with a nod, I turned around and headed out into the hall again. More lights had been turned off by now, and several stores had closed their gates completely. I broke into a fast walk, as to not dawdle while the mall was trying to close up. When I got to my car, I immediately started driving towards a nearby Wal-Mart, where I purchased a basic candle lighter. Then, as I drove back to the hotel, it dawned on me that it was probably not allowed to light candles or make use of open fire in any way inside the suites. Oh, well. What the hotel management didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. I would just be very careful.
It was around 9:15 when I pulled back in to the Crowne Plaza, exactly one hour since I had left. The sun was finally beginning to set, dyeing the sky orange and the puffy clouds shades of pink and purple, which resembled cotton candy. A few stray fireflies had awakened, dotting the atmosphere with occasional flashes of yellow, and the crickets had begun playing their symphony of subtle yet elegant chirps. It was a relaxing transition into the nighttime hours, if you could tune out the clamor of traffic. I stepped out of my car, filling my lungs with the mild evening air, and took my two small shopping bags into the hotel with me. I found myself taking short, quick, almost hoppy steps as I nervously approached the elevator, hoping the gentleman at the front desk couldn’t see the forbidden candle lighter I was smuggling through the translucent plastic bag. But he was preoccupied with his computer, and from what I could tell, barely noticed I was even there. I felt my stiff shoulders relax when I made it to the elevator safely. My only concern now was the possibility that the rooms were rigged with security cameras and I might be seen lighting my candles. I guess I wasn’t too worried about getting in trouble tonight—everything I’d been through that day had left me drained of all capacity to give a darn about anything—because when I was in my room again, I immediately jumped into action.
First, I hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign I was provided with when I first checked in to the hotel on the round doorknob outside my room and locked myself in, as an extra precaution; I didn’t want any surprise visits from housekeeping tonight. I took my bags inside the bathroom and dumped everything on the floor. The candles thudded dully against the tile. Crossing my legs underneath me, I sat down and began stripping the small votives of their thin plastic wrappers, one by one. Next, I took the candle lighter in my hands and ripped the back of the cardboard packaging off to free it. I lay it gently on the floor. Then, I gathered all the wrappers from the candles and the cardboard scraps from the lighter and disposed of them in the wastebasket in the cabinet under the sink. Then I proceeded to meticulously scatter the candles all around the bathroom, alternating the Lavender Vanilla with the Fresh Mint scent as I lined them up. I bordered the sink, placing the candles along either wall, and across the full length of the mirror. That took most of them. I used the rest of my stock to trace the edge of the bathtub. Now that I was done setting up, I took a moment to just sit there on the floor and reflect on the events that took place over the past few days, trying to find some peace of mind through it all. I internally talked myself through everything, venting my emotions as if my conscience were my own personal therapist. It didn’t feel quite the same as calling up Chelsea and rattling on about everything that was wrong with my life, which I quite often did—I suppose human communication truly is the ultimate outlet—but I figured it would suffice in a pinch and be far better than bottling everything up inside, which would undoubtedly lead to a violent explosion later.
Once I had brought myself into a somewhat relaxed state, I got on my knees, reached over the edge of the tub, and ran the water. I turned on the ventilation fan to keep the bathroom from getting too hot and steamy, and left the bathroom to allow the tub to fill up. I stood next to my suitcase in the dimly lit bedroom and stripped down. I gathered my clothes in a messy ball and shoved them under the bed. Then, I crouched down in front of my suitcase, and rummaged through it until I uncovered a familiar pink bottle, half-full with my favorite bubble bath I’d used since I was a kid. I saved it for days like this, when I needed a good dose of TLC. The innocent memories of childhood always came flooding back to me, comforting me and making me forget for a little while about the outside world. It smelled of berries and cream, which I realized just then when I saw the label, and twisted my lips to the side, pondering how this would affect the scented candles. I obviously hadn’t thought this through; I’d purposely selected the Lavender Vanilla and Fresh Mint candles because I knew the two fragrances would go together, but adding a third fragrance might have created an overwhelming mix that would clash with the others. I unscrewed the cap of the bottle and lifted it to my nose. The smell of berries wasn’t extremely potent. Regardless, it would have to do. The movement of air over my body as I walked back into the bathroom chilled my skin, raising little goose bumps on my arms and legs. But the warmth of steam in the bathroom was more welcoming, flattening out my skin again. I closed the door behind me with my foot, and glanced over at the tub. It was about half full now. I held the bottle of bubble bath clear over the water, and poured in a generous amount of the pale purple liquid, listening to the satisfying "glub-glub-glub" of the flow. I stirred the water with my hand to mix in the bubble bath, and once it was evenly distributed, I shook out my hand and dried it with a towel.
Next, I began to light the candles. I noticed my hands were shaky, and had to grip the lighter with both of them to keep it steady. Concentrating on my movement, I pulled the little trigger under the handle of the lighter, hearing it click, and lowered the erected flame into the wick of each candle, one by one. I started with the ones on the sink, and finished with the ones on the edge of the bathtub. When I went back to check on the water this time, the tub was probably three-quarters full. I turned the water off, and immediately the bathroom went silent, aside from the low hum of the fan. Peace and quiet—that’s what I’d been craving for so long. Grabbing my phone off the sink, I slowly began lifting my right leg over into the tub, taking extra care to not knock over any of the flaming candles. Pressing my hand against the porcelain wall of the shower for balance, I gradually retracted my left leg over the candles and lowered it down next to my right leg. The water was warm on my ankles. I got down on my knees and slid my phone into the little indentation on the wall where you would put a bar of soap. It fit perfectly. I brought my knees out from under me, stretching my legs straight forward as I sat down in the steamy, sudsy water, and submerged myself. I hadn’t been aware of the accumulated tension in my shoulders until I felt them relax under the soothing heat of the water. Some vacation this had turned out to be. The whole point of this trip was to leave behind all of the stress and issues with school and family in my hometown, and get out of my head a little with some serious unwind-time. It seemed to me like all that this trip had done was heave a load of new issues on my chest. Why me? Why did my life have to suck so much? Seriously, what did I do to deserve any of this?
I sank lower in my bath so the water rested just below my nostrils. I inhaled and exhaled, watching the water quiver under the gentle force of my breath. For the first time since I’d arrived in Auburn Hills, I was filled with a sense of tranquility—my favorite bubble bath had done it again. It was incredible how such a simple childhood memory held the power to overcome all the discontentment and adversity that came with adulthood. Perhaps it is true what they say about childhood being the best time in a person’s life. We’ve all had that philosophy preached to us at some point or another. But when it comes down to it, I don’t think any of us relished our youth as much as we should have. How could we? We were too ignorant to know any better or too stubborn to listen to what our parents told us. But once we finally cross the finish line at the end of our journey through childhood, we see just how unappreciative we were of our first few years in this life. And admit it: we all wish we could go back and live it again and live it right, because adulthood is definitely not what it was all cracked up to be. The transition from child to grown-up is always followed with regret. And no matter how hard we try to stress the importance of enjoying youth to the new coming generations, the fact of the matter is that their natural naiveté will blind them just as it blinded us, and we’ll have no choice but to watch them go through the same unfortunate wake-up call that we did. Then the cycle will repeat, and repeat and repeat again; if only we could change it, somehow prevent the inevitable disappointment associated with growing up. If only we could experience more flickers of childhood memories so we have the chance to cherish them in a way that we didn’t the first time.
Yeah...childhood was undeniably a simpler time, definitely happier, at least on my part. I took a moment to observe my surroundings. I watched the tiny flame on each individual candle dance in their wick, illuminating the room with shadows that bounced off the walls. Then I focused on soaking up all the yummy fragrances that surrounded me, reveling in the sensual pleasure it gave me. My day still felt far from perfect, but this alone time was definitely an improvement. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how the rest of my trip would play out. The given course of events up to this point had left me skeptical—that’s me, always the pessimist.
Suddenly, my cell phone started going off, and I jumped in the water, startled, causing it to slosh a few inches up the sides of the tub. I shook my head to clear it of the momentary panic that had just been thrust into me, and leaned forward as far as I could toward the little space in the wall where I’d set my phone and barely was able to make out the caller I.D. Another surge of panic rushed through me—it was my mom. "Really?" I thought. "Now?" I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised; my mom had always had a way with bad timing—or maybe that’s just my teen angst talking. Nevertheless, I knew I couldn’t just ignore her, even if she was calling at the worst possible time. She probably just wanted to check up on me. That was an inconvenience, not a crime. And I honestly did feel bad that I always treated her so wrong, especially since she had begun trying to piece our relationship back together. It didn’t matter if her communication skills weren’t the strongest, or if her unending questions were phrased so awkwardly that it was obvious she had labored over what she wanted to ask beforehand and rehearsed an over thought script trying to make everything sound perfect. The bottom line was she was trying. I figured I owed it to her at least to let her. So I stretched my arm up, reaching behind me for a towel. My fingertips grazed the fabric and I barely managed to get a hold on one of the ends. I yanked it down and quickly dried off both my hands and arms before picking up my phone.
“Hi, Kim?” she asked as if anybody else but me would answer my own phone.
“Hi, sweetie. How are you doing?” Her voice was hushed and timid, almost cautious, like she was afraid of saying the wrong thing.
I tried to be as vague and neutral as possible. “Tired, but okay,” was the best I could come up with. But the distressed tone of my voice gave me away.
“Kim, you don’t sound right. Are you sure you’re all right?” asked my mom.
“I’m fine,” I said, trying not to sound too defensive. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”
“Well…good. I’m glad,” she said, sounding less than convinced, but unwilling to risk pushing the question any further, at least for now. “So what have you been up to? Are you having fun on your vacation?”
Fun? Not exactly the word I would have chosen. Hmm, how to put this? “I’ve been…staying busy,” I decided.
Pry, pry, pry. “Oh, you know, some shopping, and…” I realized I’d run out of activities worth mentioning already. Everything I could remember doing involved Dylan, and there was no way I was bringing him up. I wracked my brain for something, anything I could tell my mom about that would back up my claim on “staying busy”. If I couldn’t explain myself, she would definitely not let the subject drop, and I was in no mood for a cumbersome interrogation. But finally, I thought of something. It included Dylan, but I just left him out. “Oh, yeah, I got a pedicure done.”
“Oh, that sounds fun,” she replied. “I can’t remember the last time I went for a pedicure.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. “Um, yeah, it was, uh, very relaxing.”
“Well, that’s exactly what you were wanting, after a long year at school—some relaxation, right?”
“Right,” I muttered.
“What else have you been doing?”
I pulled the phone away from my ear for a moment and leaned my forehead into my palm, huffing out a deep sigh. Keeping this conversation going was taking more effort than I could handle right now. I had neither the energy nor the patience for it. And knowing my mom, she was just getting started.
“Kim? Kim? Are you there?” Her voice sounded fuzzy and muted over the phone with me holding it several inches away from my face.
Reluctantly, I brought it back to my ear, and said, “Yes, I’m here,” in a tone that was a little edgier than I’d intended.
“Kim, can I ask you something?” my mom requested.
I threw my head back in frustration and mouthed the words, “Oh, my God!” silently, trying to compose myself before I answered her. “What is it?”
“There’s a boy, isn’t there?”
“No!” I automatically exclaimed as if I had expected her to ask that question even though I was actually taken completely off guard. I almost questioned whether I’d heard her right. “Where in the world did that come from?” I demanded.
“I don’t know; you just don’t seem…yourself. You seem more a wreck than usual, almost like you were initially after Shane—”
In reaction to hearing my attacker’s name, I shouted, “Okay, Mom, you know what? Shut up! Just shut up, okay?” sitting bolt upright.
This time I caught her off guard. “Kimberly, I—”
“How dare you mention Shane? How dare you?”
“Kimberly, please…you need to calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down. My life is my private business, and I’m sick of you butting in on it. You know what? I think I’ve finally figured it out. You feel sorry for me. You feel sorry for what Shane tried to do to me, and all you want is for me to get over it and put myself back out there and find a guy who will make me happy again. You’re hoping that if you keep pushing me, I’ll finally do it. Well, let me tell you something, you’re just wasting your time. There is no guy, and there is never going to be a guy, because all guys are the same, and love is a farce. I don’t need your sympathy. So why don’t you do us both a favor and leave me alone? Nothing is ever going to change.”
“Kimberly,” Mom said earnestly, “I’m sorry. I never meant to offend you.”
“You know what, Mom? Whatever, I don’t even care. Just don’t call me anymore. Get on with your life instead of trying to fix mine.” With that, I hung up on her, seething with anger. I almost threw my phone across the room, but instead I just slammed it back into its little nook in the wall. Somehow I knew I would regret answering the phone this time. I’d put up with my mom’s neuroticism for several years, but now she’d finally crossed the line and I snapped. I knew it would happen one time or another, but I wished it hadn’t been tonight, when I had gone to so much work to transform this tiny hotel bathroom into my own little temple of peaceful meditation. Now, the whole vibe was shot. I tried to put out of my mind the conversation we’d just had and focus on the warm water and the subtle fragrance of lavender, mint, and berries that circulated around the room, but I couldn’t distract myself. I was far too worked up now. Well, there wasn’t much point in staying here anymore, so I yanked the plug and let the water drain. I blew out the candles beside me with short, forceful breaths; shoved them to the side, causing a few to fall to the floor with a clatter; and stood up, shivering as the cold air above the water instantly encircled my whole body. I grabbed another towel and wrapped it around me, creating a thin barrier from the glacial air.
I made my way to the bedroom where I hastily changed into my warm pajamas. Crawling into bed, I felt my head start to throb. Great, now I had a migraine to go with everything else I was dealing with. I tried to lie down on the cushy pillow and fall asleep, but the pounding in my head was keeping me awake. With a groan, I kicked the sheets off of me and crawled to the foot of the bed where I lay on my stomach and leaned over the edge, reaching into my suitcase for some Aspirin. I popped a couple into my mouth and returned to my pillow. As I lay there waiting for the pain medicine to kick in, I did some hard thinking. It seemed that my conversation with Mom had awakened me to some truth. I repeated the words I’d said to her in my head: "There is no guy. There is never going to be a guy." And I realized that I had not only lied to her, I’d been lying to myself all along. There was no more doubt holding me down now. I knew in that moment that I wanted Dylan, and wanted him bad. I wasn’t in denial, anymore.
Part of me hated the fact that my mother was right, but on the other hand it was an enormous load off to have finally sorted out my feelings, and to find what I’d been looking for. My heart was telling me to seek him out, and starting tomorrow that was exactly what I was going to do.