The following story is by guest contributor Kayla Dean. You can find her writing at her blog (www.kidean.wordpress.com). If you like this piece, go and check out her book: Muted. Click here to find her book.
Hot tears scorched her cheeks. Her eyes blurred, causing the black asphalt and darkened sky to appear as one gigantic gray mass. Whenever Alana was troubled, she would seek solitude at Gum Springs Cemetery. She didn’t really know why she had chosen the place, but she began visiting the cemetery soon after Tobin died. Alana didn’t know him, but she was an acquaintance of his fiancé, Miranda. Of course, she believed that sixteen-year-olds were far too young to have fiancés or to even fully comprehend love. However, she still felt Miranda’s pain when Tobin died; the whole town did.
Alana didn’t know Tobin, but she knew of him. Tobin belonged to a clique at school that she longed to be a part of, yet feared simultaneously. The group of intriguing teens could be found during lunch hour out on the terrace behind the cafeteria. Although there were picnic tables, the group didn’t use them. Rather, they leaned on pillars, sat on the concrete railing of the terrace, or simply stood. They were always clad in black, often sporting black nail polish, heavy eye liner, and silver chains dangling from their necks or pants’ pockets. Their talk consisted heavily of punk or metal bands, movies, books, sex, and drugs. Alana, with her conservative background, was highly opposed to the later, but some of the bands she cherished. For the music, she felt, had delivered her many a dark time. The conversations of movies and books placed her in a trance. It was rare to find those of a similar intellect and taste. Her other friends did not read, and often playfully joked with her about her “nerdiness.” Therefore, these conversations became an exciting ritual in Alana’s daily life. The group fascinated her, and she admired them.
Tobin’s death became a shock to the intricately knit group and the entire community. School let out early on the day of the funeral, and the halls were empty. The funeral home, however, swarmed with sobbing companions, family members, and even strangers. Alana was among them. The river of tears carved its way into the young girl’s heart, and a spring welled up within her. Although this was not her first funeral, it was the first in which the reality of death seemed so near. Previously, Alana felt that death was beyond her—that she was untouchable. Tobin disproved that theory. The immense fear that she associated with the reaper finally transcended into a calming peace, and Tobin’s tombstone became a marker of that. This is why she traveled there today. She longed for that peace that only death could bring.
The morning began as any other—with the absence of the One she loved. She used to feel Him every morning, but now He was gone. She was grasping at straws desperate to hear His voice again. She sang her praises out to Him in vain—all she felt was her own guilt suffocating her. The knowledge of what she had done slinked into her dreams at night and haunted her during the sunlit hours. Before, she had conversed with her Creator daily. She had heard His gentle whispers in the rustle of the leaves and felt Him in the sun’s comforting rays. The large oak tree outside of her bedroom window seemed to house Him. In the mornings, before she met him, she would cast back her denim curtains and launch herself into His world in the presence of the oak tree that seemed to gaze at her with the knowledge of a loving father.
She thought about the day she met him. She had just returned from another campus visit at a prospective colleges. Driving home, she imagined her future beginning with her college career. She was unclear on her major, but she maintained high hopes that she would ascertain her niche upon arrival. She imagined her dorm room—a rite of passage, a symbol of freedom. How would she decorate it? Who would her roommate be? She continued in this dream-like state of mind for the entire forty-five minute drive from campus to her parents’ house.
The simple blue ford coasted down the road and into her parents’ driveway. Suddenly she was jarred awake by a bah-swish on her windshield. Her foot instinctively found the brake pedal, and Alana gazed open-mouthed searching for her attacker. An orange ball bounced down the drive way. The ball was followed by a young man whose attention was solely focused on its retrieval. Alana stepped out of the car. Her foot had not yet touched the ground when the youth caught sight of it. Hunched over, he snatched up the ball and tossed it to a friend hidden along the side of the house. Straightening himself up, he looked at her with his eyes sparkling. His jeans hung loosely around his waist. The stone-washed denim color brought out the blue in his eyes. His black button-up shirt was left carelessly unbuttoned near the collar, and from underneath little tufts of dark, wiry hair could be seen. He reached up and wiped away the sweat from his brow. His blonde locks stroked the back of his wrist, and his eyes finally met hers.
Her beauty did not escape him either. Upon bending over to pick up the ball, he saw a brown tennis shoe lightly step out of the truck. From the shoe, his eyes gazed up toward the leg clad in a light-colored jean pant. A bright pink shirt caught his attention with red curls draping down from the girl’s crown to her mid-back. She turned to face him; her cheeks flushed with anger at his carelessness and her icy blue eyes blazed. The flush only highlighted the girl’s freckles, and the fire was obstructed by her wire-rim glasses. “Hi, I’m Peter,” he said with a smile. The smile carved two adorable dimples into his cheeks, and cooled the girl’s anger. Suddenly, the second youth emerged from the brush and jogged to meet with his comrades.
“Hey, Pete, you gotta be more careful with your long shots. Are you okay, Alana?” inquired the young man.
“Yes, Derrick, I’m fine. Your friend here scared me a little though.”
“Sorry about that,” replied Peter, “It’s Alana, right?”
“Well, Alana, I’d like to make it up to you if that’s alright. First impressions mean a lot to me, and I obviously have failed at this one. Do you wanna see a magic trick?”
“A magic trick?” asked the girl.
“When did you learn magic?” asked Derrick.
“Shhhhh,” Peter hissed at Derrick, then addressing Alana, “Yeah, a magic trick. I know a whole bunch. Do you have a deck of cards?”
The three left the drive and made their way up the stairs and into the house where Alana learned of Peter and Derrick’s acquaintance and their purpose at her house. There was a concert a few towns away to which she, herself, intended to go. A bus from her church was leaving that evening and Derrick and Alana, both, planned to be on it. Derrick, who was a year older than Alana, had invited his friend, Peter, to come along. Derrick and Peter were roommates at college, and having some time off, the two were staying at Derrick’s parents’ house.
Even the night Alana and Peter met seemed like a first date. Alana, Peter, and Derrick, of course, all rode to the concert together. Peter helped her in and out of Derrick’s dually truck. Upon feeling his hand firmly yet tenderly grasping her own, Alana shivered with excitement. The concert was of no importance to her; instead, she spent the evening glimpsing at Peter. He returned her glances with his boyish yet understanding smile, continuing their secret game.
Fading back into reality her tears were quitted with a brief smile. She wished that she could remember Peter with that girlish innocence instead of resentment. Upon this thought, the warm spring returned. Her cheeks steaming with fresh tears, Alana reached the four-way stop near the cemetery. Ti tick…ti…tyck. The ticking of her blinker intruded on her silence. The rhythmic sounds once again brought her back to her first real date with Peter. She could still hear the tinkling of the chimes in Eminem’s “Loose Yourself” as she remembered Peter blasting it over the radio in his white blazer. The song spurred their first argument, since Alana viewed the rapper as a negative role model and a poor musician. Instead, she tried to persuade Peter to listen to her Skillet CD, which she had cleverly brought along. Yet, this was not the only argument of the night. And fortunately for Peter, Alana’s sister, Carrie, was on the receiving end.
Although Alana felt a strong attraction for this young man, she constantly viewed it—and consequently Peter—as an obstacle in her path. She absolutely refused to date him. She began to cultivate a hatred for him in her heart—and fabricate excuses to never face him or her fears. Carrie, however, saw right through her masquerade. Carrie knew that Alana loved Peter whether she knew it or not. Therefore, Carrie and Peter had devised a plan. Alana knew that Carrie was desperate for a date, and she had asked her several times to “hook her up.” Alana usually laughed at Carrie’s suggestions, but this time it seemed that Carrie had had enough. Seeing that Alana would not help her, Carrie elected Peter to be her match-maker. Being only fifteen of course, Carrie couldn’t drive herself to the date and was too afraid to let a stranger—even a highly recommended friend of Peter’s—to come to her home to collect her. “Please, Alana,” she begged. “I know you don’t want to chauffeur me around, but it’s just this one night…just to make sure the guy isn’t a creep. Please.” Of course once Carrie and Alana got in the car, the plans changed, and Alana found out that there was no blind date waiting for Carrie. Instead, it was all an elaborate plan concocted in order to trap Alana into a date with Peter. Although, she and Peter had a great time, she was furious. That was the night she realized that she did love him, despite not wanting to. She knew she would get hurt; she just didn’t realize it would be so soon.
As the events of their past spiraled in a vortex of confusion within her memory, Alana bathed her firmly rounded cheeks in a vat of fresh tears. Pulling into the drive at Gum Springs, she readied her heart for the death of a relationship. She wondered, “How could he replace me with her?” “Did he not cherish those times as dearly as I?” “Why would he even start talking to her again…especially when everything was going so well?” “And after I gave him my virginity?” With her last contemplation, guilt gnawed at her girlish heart which seemed to crumble under the pressure of becoming a woman. Coming around the bend, Tobin’s grave was finally in sight. She gently coasted down the gravel road almost comforted by the pings made by the rocks cast against the blue ford. She felt it to be fitting for her guilty conscience but still far less than what she truly deserved. Placing the truck in park and opening the door, she stepped out. “Tobin Studdard,” the marker read, “1988-2004. Beloved son, brother, and friend.” Under the caption, rested a photograph forever capturing his youth. The mound of earth was still piled with a blanket of dead flowers.
Alana kneeled near the right side of his grave. For the first time, her thoughts ceased as she stared into the painful reminder of mortality. Her cheeks, wet and cold from the tears, were blistered by the sharp wind. Yet, she was oblivious to the pain, lost in the depth of the moment. Silence.
Suddenly, a chirping sound was heard accompanied by an irritating vibration coming from inside her purse. It was Peter. Reluctantly, she answered.
“Hello?” Alana answered.
“Alana, where are you? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
“Yeah right. As if you even cared.”
“What are you talking about?” Peter asked concernedly.
“That’s right. Play dumb. Carrie told me about you and Jennifer.”
“Me and Jennifer?”
“Yes. And your secret Xanga page?!” Alana snapped.
“Secret Xanga page? Alana, what are you even talking about? Jennifer and I broke up a year ago. We had a Xanga page…a YEAR ago. Please. Where are you?”
“You’re lying!” Alana shouted spinning around in anger. Yet in her dizzying spin, Alana lost her grip on her bag and it went spiraling through the air only to empty its contents directly in the center of Tobin’s spray of flowers.
“Alana, did you even see it? Did you even read it? The last comment was from 2004, that’s before you and I even met. Alana, I was still in high school. Alana, come home. Alana…Alana…”
In frustration, she let out a scream and began to frantically yet carefully dig through Tobin’s patch of memorabilia. After finding an object, Alana would lay it aside near the headstone of the grave. Finally, she had collected all of her purse’s contents, but just as she reached to return them to the safety of her bag, a black boot pressed down into the mud by her hand. Alana let out a blood-curdling scream, but when she looked up, she was relieved to see a familiar face although she was not pleased to discover it was Peter’s.
“Here, gimme your hand. Let me help you up.” He said.
“I’m more than capable of doing that myself, Peter. Besides, how did you know I was here? How did you find me?”
“I know you, Alana. And after we talked, I knew you were upset. This is where you go when you’re upset, right? So, I knew you’d be here.”
“What about Jennifer? What about what Carrie…?”
“What about Jennifer? I thought I already explained that. I love you, and that’s all that matters, right?”
Alana did not bother with answering his question. She knew she loved Peter—that she had since the beginning. Could it be? It must be a misunderstanding that was launched into a fearful fit of jealousy by her fifteen year old sister, who—although wise for her age—still had a lot to learn about relationships and prying into other people’s business.
Walking away from Tobin’s grave, Alana hesitated.
“What’s wrong?” Peter asked.
“Um…I think I forgot something. But I don’t know what.”
“Let’s see,” said Peter as he emptied her purse on the hood of his Blazer, “You have your keys, wallet, garage door opener…there’s a nail kit in here. Like you need that,” he added playfully. She smiled. “That’s it besides some loose change and some pens. Did you have anything else?”
“No, I don’t think so. If I did, I don’t miss it,” she said taking his hand.
As he gently wiped the tears from her face and ushered her into her truck, the two giggled over the childish fit. A ray of sun split the gray sky and seemed to rest on Tobin’s grave. Briefly, a shimmer could’ve been seen reflecting off of Alana’s purity ring that still lay shrouded by the shriveling blossoms. But the young couple was too preoccupied to notice.