He told me I was pretty today, but it was a lie. His eyes gave him away. I know he only said that to the new me; he never would have liked me before. That only made me feel worse that he said it.
When he walked me home I let him give me a kiss on the cheek, but that was it. He would have gone as far as I would have let him, but I didn't want him to touch me. My body was mine, and that's how I liked it.
Five minutes after I got up to my room, the house phone rang. That would be him. I didn't want to talk, but I had to pick up the phone before my dad did.
"Hello," I said.
"Hey beautiful," he replied.
Why did he have to call me that? "Did you just get home?"
"Yea, my mom's not home from work yet, and I'm lonely so I thought I would give my girl a call."
I could tell that he was smiling, so I tried to return the sentiment, "It's nice to hear from you."
"I miss you already and can't wait until I can be with you again."
The smile was in his voice again. "Yea, me too," was my answer.
"I can't wait to hold your hand and look into your deep blue eyes…"
My eyes are green, I thought as he continued his well-practiced speech that he probably spoon-fed to all the girls to make them go weak at the knees and fall into his well-muscled arms.
"Are you on the phone? It's dinner time!" I heard Dad yell from downstairs.
"Hold on," I cut through Brian's rant, and without giving him a chance to respond, set the phone on my bed and hurried to the top of the stairs, where Dad was waiting at the bottom.
"Dinner time, now," he told me.
"But Dad, I'm on the phone with Stephanie, and she invited me to have dinner over at her house," I told him, looking at the large blue vein pulsating in his forehead, rather than directly into his eyes. "Can I go?"
"Why do you always ask me at the last minute? Dinner is already fixed!"
"Sorry Dad. I can't help it if she just called," I said to the throbbing vein. "Plus it is her mom's birthday today, so even Mrs. Martin asked me to come celebrate with them and Steph-"
"Alright, enough," Dad ended the discussion. "You can go, but remind Stephanie to call with more notice next time."
"Yes sir," I said and rushed back to my room, forgetting I still had Brian on hold until I saw the phone lying on my bed.
"You still there?" I asked, picking the phone back up.
"Where were you? I missed you!"
"Sorry, Dad called me to tell me it was time for dinner, so I've got to go."
"Okay," he sounded a little rejected, "But I'll be thinking about you Jilli!"
I hate being called that. But instead I said, "Okay, bye."
As soon as I hung up the phone, I hurried around the room gathering the essentials and throwing them into my blue and gray striped satchel bag: a flashlight, matches, my sketch pad, charcoal pencils, and the key. My notebook, eyeliner, concealer cream, and a photo of my mom and me from when
I was four (the last picture we ever took together) were already securely placed in my bag; I never went anywhere without them.
After this was taken care of I headed down the stairs to the front door. Just as my hand had turned the knob, I heard my dad call from the living room, where he was eating his spaghetti dinner on a TV tray, "Don't be late! I want you home by 9:30!"
"Yes sir," and I shut the door behind me. There was no point in arguing with him; I had already tried the whole 'I'm 18 now' thing. He's never listened to it before and certainly isn't going to start now.
I walked down our driveway and directly across the street, cutting through the side lawn of our elderly neighbor's house, Mr. Schmidt, aiming towards the woods about thirty yards beyond. And Stephanie's house.
So "Stephanie's house" isn't actually a house, but rather an abandoned shack I happened to discover three summers ago when I had run away from home for the first time. It was the only place in the world where I could go to truly be myself and to be alone with my thoughts. I had even bought a
lock to put on the door to assure that it would stay this way.
Once I reached the woods I turned immediately to the left down a hidden path just slightly off of the main trail. After walking for about ten yards, the path opened into a clearing with "Stephanie's house" sitting in the center. Just seeing the front door of the wooden shack lightened my
mood, and I felt a smile brush across my face.
I think that at one point "Stephanie's house" had been a barn because off of the main room was a door that had a ladder behind it which led to a loft. All the hay had been cleared out by the time I had discovered it, which I had replaced with pillows, blankets, rugs, sleeping bags, and even
my old bean bag chair. The loft was my favorite room in the house, especially because of the huge octagon window that took up almost the whole west wall, which I opened every time I went up there to let in the cool summer breeze, to smell the scent of the honeysuckles that encircled the clearing, or to watch the
sunset over the line of dogwood trees. My step quickened as I approached "Stephanie's house," digging in my bag for the key as I went.
But as I approached the front door, something felt different, out of place. Nothing seemed to be missing or tampered with; I just had this feeling that things had changed since the last time I had been there. I could feel tension grab hold of my shoulders and squeeze so tightly that I felt
my breath catch in the back of my throat. I didn't even realize that my hands were shaking until I heard a crunch at my feet and jumped back, only to realize that I had dropped the key, and it had landed in the leaves at my feet.
I half laughed at myself for being so paranoid as I bent down to retrieve the fallen key, I convinced myself that everything was okay and stepped into the big open main room of the house. Everything looked the same as I had left it, but I went around and checked, just to be sure. On the left
hand wall, my shelf of novels and collections of poetry that had made my 'must read list" were all in their specific positions: in the order in which they were to be read. As I walked past the shelf I ran my hands along each of the spines, looking at the titles, and trying to put my mind at ease. I made my way to
the back corner behind the book shelf to a small wooden cabinet with ivy vines stenciled along the top and bottom. The padlock that held the doors together was still firmly in place, but just in case, I unlocked it and looked inside. My old CD player was still there along with my random assortment of CDs:
everything from Backstreet Boys to Sean Kingston, All Time Low to Linkin Park, and my personal favorites, Boys Like Girls and Anberlin. After counting all 12 CDs and making sure they were all in their correct cases, I locked the cabinet back up and continued my room scan. The wall on the right, my gallery, seemed
to be just as I had left it on my last visit. Here was where I displayed my artwork: paintings of sunsets, self-portraits, sketches, and abstracts of still life photos.
But as I walked closer, I noticed that one piece was missing from my collection: my most recent one. In this picture, a self-portrait, I portrayed myself as I am now looking in a mirror and seeing the girl I used to be when I was younger.
I started to panic slightly because the painting wasn't where it was supposed to be (in the bottom-right-most corner of my gallery). I knew I hadn't taken it home with me- my art never left this house- and I certainly would have noticed if it had been anywhere in this room. Then a thought
occurred to me: maybe I had left it up in the loft since I had just finished it on my last visit. That idea calmed me down because, technically, I wasn't even finished the piece; it still needed a title.
After I convinced myself that I would find my painting upstairs, I went through the door immediately to the right of the main entrance which opened to a ladder leading to my beloved loft. With each step up the ladder a different emotion flooded over me: relief, anxiety, certainty, doubt,
paranoia. When I did reach the top I was just praying that I was overreacting and that my painting was just where I should have left it. My eyes were closed as I stepped onto the plush lime green rug that I used as a welcome mat, hoping to shield myself for just a second longer from what I was to see, or not see.
When I did open my eyes, after the longest count of three in my life, the last thing in the world that I expected to see was sitting on top of my blue tye-dye bean bag.
He had his back to me and had in his hands none other than my latest painting, staring at it as if it was his first day as a professional art critic, and he didn't want to mess it up.
I took advantage of the fact that he hadn't heard me to just look at him, as if he were posing for a portrait, and try to collect my thoughts. He looked different than he normally did: his eyes looked so peaceful, and his carriage did not scream "arrogant jock." Before I could think of
anything intelligent, or even appropriate to say, he turned around and caught my stare. He held my stare as if he believed that if he broke eye contact, he would lose me too. The innocence in his stare actually softened my heart for a minute.
But finally I had to say what was really on my mind. "What are you doing here! How did you get in here? What are you doing with my painting?"
"Wait, you painted this?" his eyes grew wider as he took another look at my artwork, with genuine interest.
"Well, yea." My anger was starting to subside and was being replaced with anxiety; no one had ever seen my work before, and I definitely wasn't expecting Brian to be the first.
"Wow! I never knew that you painted." Brian was now staring at me with the same awestruck look that he had just been giving to my painting.
"There are a lot of things you don't know about me." I said this barely above a whisper, walking over and sitting in my favorite chair that was right in front of the octagon window. There are a lot of things I don't even know about me, I finished the thought to myself.
"Well, what does it mean?" he had come over, placed the picture on my lap, and stood behind my chair with his hands resting gently on my shoulders.
I was so glad that he avoided my last comment that I actually let him keep his hands there. But I didn't really know how I should answer his question. Of course I know what my picture meant, but I didn't know what to tell Brian. I inhaled slowly and then as I exhaled, I felt his grip tighten
just slightly, putting me a little more at ease, surprisingly.
"I'm looking into a mirror and seeing who I was as a child." The words just spilled out. "Wishing I could still be that young, innocent, beautiful girl."
I felt a tear run down my cheek, as Brian wrapped his arms around me and told me, "You still are beautiful, and so is she."
I turned around and gave him the first genuine smile I had given anyone in a long time and actually placed my hand on his. Then I took my signing pen off the windowsill and after putting my signature, Jillian Martin, wrote the title of the piece: If Only.
Brittany Morris is a senior at Mt. St. Mary's majoring in English. In addition to perusing her passion for creative writing, Brittany is a student teacher at Tuscarora High School & Editor of the Mount's Lighted Corners Literary Magazine.