Damages

 

Exchange Student XII

Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here.

He looks dead.

His face is pale. There’s caked blood under his nose, along the ridge of his upper lip, on his chin. I glance around me before approaching him, surprised that he’s by himself.

“Eddie,” I whisper, half-afraid that he will not respond, half-afraid that he will. I take his hand in mine and squeeze. It’s warm to the touch and just that dissolves some tension.

His eyes open. For a moment he frowns as if trying to place me. “Posh. You’re here.”

I smile. “What happened?”

“I got pissed and went for a walk,” he says, a slur in his voice. He closes his eyes again, but his thumb rubs over the knuckles on my hand, letting me know he’s still awake.

I lift his hand to my lips, kiss his fingers.

The curtain opens with a rasp of its rings on the metal rod. A gray-haired man enters, his blue eyes flicking over me with something like disdain.
“Who are you?” he demands.

“I’m Eddie’s friend,” I say.

“Ah, the little American from the show. The controversy,” he says in a clipped accent as if I should understand what this last bit means. “I’m afraid you’ll have to go now. Edward’s on his way to a rehabilitation centre.”

Two male attendants appear as if on cue.

“Father, give me a moment with Posh,” Eddie says.

“Posh,” his father repeats. “No. We have no time. We must get you admitted into the facility. I have an appointment.”

Eddie clutches my hand as if it were a life-preserver. “You’ll visit?”

“Not possible. Only family,” his father says, summarily dismissing me.

Tears sting my eyes as I see the distress crease Eddie’s face. I lean over to kiss him when he grabs me by the upper arms and almost hauls me onto the hospital bed. He smells of beer and vomit and antiseptic.

“Don’t forget me,” he says, his voice urgent, almost panicked.

“That’s enough, Edward,” his father says. He then gestures to the attendants.

I watch them wheel the bed down a long corridor. There’s a strange silence around me, a vacuum. I feel almost afraid to move, as if movement will shatter calm. No one looks at me. I feel as if I am invisible. I fold my arms across my chest, tuck my chin downward, and walk into the permeating chill rain.

Tomorrow at this time I will be on a plane just hours out of Norfolk International Airport. My family will pick me up, be relieved to see that after a semester abroad I am unscathed.

My former crazy has been tamped down with the help of a soul nearly as broken as mine and I will think of him, nearly constantly at first, wondering about his hours and his welfare, wondering if he thinks of me, or if a new smiling visage inspires his heart. And I will daydream that somewhere down the years we will meet, perhaps at the Tonys or the Academy Awards or the BAFTAs. We will be elegant and charming and witty outwardly, but inwardly we will still be two kids, Posh and Eddie, who once fell in love.

 

end 3/18/2017

S. Darlington

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Egress

Exchange Student X

Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here or choose the one you may have missed: I, II, III, IVV, VI, VII, VIII, IX.

I don’t know where he’s taken me. Eddie hired a taxi that drove through darkened glistening streets until it jerked to a stop in front of an elegant stone building with a wrought iron fence in front and stone walls on either side. Now I look from him to the building, uncertain.

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Is This Just Fantasy?

Exchange Student IX

Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here. or choose the one you may have missed: I, II, III, IVV, VI, VII, VIII.

 

I feel like I have forgotten every single line. The more I reach for them the farther they slip away and all of the words are lost. It’s opening night and I am beyond nervous.

Arthur Murphy rushes through the hall exclaiming, “Guy Ritchie’s out there.”

If possible, my face pales even more as I sit in front of the mirror applying makeup with the assistance of Eddie’s sister, Kate, who evidently is a “wicked” make-up artist.

She squeezes my shoulder. “You’re shaking. Is this your first show?”

“My first in England. My first really big one with a big part. I feel sick,” I say softly, wondering if I will be able to speak my lines without my voice trembling. I suddenly feel like a very little girl in a very big world, a very real world.

“Ah, wait. Eddie’s really good with this,” she says.

Moments later, Eddie raps lightly on the dressing room door and then enters. He’s wearing a dark blue suit. His hair is slicked back and he looks like a more mature version of himself. My heart stutters.

“Look at you,” he says, grinning. He touches my hair softly. “Kate says you’re a bundle of nerves. Don’t know why. You’re the best prepared of all of us.”

“And the prettiest,” he says before glancing in the mirror and fake-preening. “Although, I’m looking quite pretty too.”

My smile wavers.

He pulls me into a gentle hug, mindful not to mess up makeup or clothes or hair. He rocks me. “Once you get out on that stage and the lights are on you and Arthur and Anne start speaking you will shine, Posh. It’s in you. I’ve seen it. You’re prepared and you’re lovely and it’s all going to come together.”

He steps back and surveys my face and then takes my hand.

The way he looks at me in that moment, so unguarded and vulnerable, longing in his eyes that seeps into me, I feel as we have been taken from the same woven fabric, carefully stitched so that we could be fitted again.

He’s stilled most of my nerves, except for the ones that keep me alert, reacting when lines are spoken.

During our scene together, the tenor of the play alters ever so subtly as Eddie and I shift in our roles. The audience has a palpable reaction to him as he regards me, his voice, his gestures impetuous as he firmly says the line before he kisses me. And the kiss is different from all of the other practiced ones, a little longer, a little desperate, a little telling.

When he steps back, the unravelling begins as he says that he has a girl. He’s been going steady. And, I react as if I were truly the lame girl with the man she had a schoolgirl crush on, a brave front as a heart breaks like the glass unicorn.

As the audience begins to clap, I think this is what is meant by thunderous applause. It shatters something inside of me, the peace held together by gossamer strands of spider silk.

 

end 3/8/2017

S. Darlington


 

“I Met A Boy”

Exchange Student VII

Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here. or choose the one you may have missed: I, II, III, IV V, VI.

 

“I met a boy.” These are the first words I say to my sister after the usual greetings.

The hesitation in her voice is not unexpected because I know what she is thinking so instead of waiting for her response, I continue. “But it’s okay. I’m okay. Don’t worry about a thing.”

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Exchange Student V

Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here. or choose the one you may have missed: I, II, III, IV.

A brief explanation. In the US, there is a tendency to butcher the French language. We have been known to say Mercy Bo Cups instead of merci beaucoups (when I tried to find out the origin, I however found out that there was a porn star named Mercy Bo Cups; isn’t the internet delightful?) and Parlay for parlez…although, at least that one sounds correct. As such, since I couldn’t think of a way to legitimately use “parlay,” I cheated. So glad that “brief” explanation has been gotten off my chest.

ETA: It’s also come to my attention that there are those who believe Americans butcher the English language as well, not realizing we are speaking Amurcan.

Parlay American, old chap?” This is what I hear as soon as I step through the door to the pub. The loud arrogant American voice roused in self-congratulatory humor. My back stiffens as I move farther in.

Immediately I see the voice’s owner. Austin Patricks. Photographs would lie to you. With his close-cropped golden hair, his big blue eyes and easy smile, you would think: such a nice, cute boy. Like me, he’s part of the dramatic academy’s American contingent. Unlike me, his parents have lined his pockets, paid his tuition, and provided all of the amenities.

My stomach drops when I see that it is Eddie he’s addressing. He stands over Eddie by about six inches. Others from my class laugh. Austin is their royalty.

All of my joy from today’s classes–practicing fencing, relaxing with the Alexander technique, voice practice–vanishes. I stand, inert, watchful, waiting, my hands growing clammy in the pockets of my coat.

“Back off, mate,” Eddie says, his voice coiled anger.

Austin pulls a face and then tries to replicate Eddie’s accent and words, doing a piss poor job, which makes me wonder if his parents also paid his way into drama school. I glance around, see that Charley, Arthur, and Eddie’s other friends sit at their table watching. Charley’s face is mottled, her hands fisted. Other patrons also pay discreet attention.

I have two choices: get my stout and hide or move into the fray. My nature dictates the first. But something building dark in me, the same inexplicable, darkness that’s made me stalk the English boy in front of me, pushes me forward to stand next to Eddie.

“Your accent needs work, Austin. You sound like someone’s giving you a wedgie,” I say and then do an imitation of his imitation, which is perfect. “You should sound like this.” I then do a perfect imitation of Eddie as I look Eddie in the eyes to let him know I am not mocking him.

Several observers clap. Michael Nathan, who is perhaps the best actor in this semester’s American contingent, laughs and then fist bumps me. Life proceeds.

I glance at Eddie. I see no appreciation in his eyes. No gratitude. Instead, there’s anger. He slides my curls away from my ear. His touch sends a tingle through me. He presses his mouth close to my ear, my body hums. I feel his lips, his hot breath as he whispers: “I don’t need your fucking help, Posh. Ever.”

 

end 3/4/2017

S. Darlington


 

Exchange Student IV

Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here.

The pub is quiet and warm when I arrive. I purchase a stout and wend my way toward a table I discovered a couple of days ago. It’s secluded, highly undesirable except for couples who want to snog, but it offers the advantage of seeing without being seen.

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Exchange Student II

Although I showed up on time and waited for Eddie for thirty minutes, he never showed, which wasn’t too surprising to me. A boy like him probably forgot about girls like me regularly. Still, I thought I would go ahead and sign up for auditions until I saw that it was for The Glass Menagerie. While I loved the play, it consisted of just five characters and the only one I could play would be Laura, the fragile, crippled owner of the glass menagerie.

I stood there hesitating, staring at the board for far too long. A young woman my age, sporting an eyebrow piercing, approached, looked me over and smiled, not at all warmly.

“Sign up. Audition. But it’s me who’ll be getting the part,” she said.

My eyes burned a hole into the back of her black leather jacket as she strutted away. I scrawled my name and information on the sheet, below hers and then did my own strut from the building.

For a change it wasn’t raining and the sun hovered uncertainly in the sky. I jammed my hands into the pockets of my red wool coat and decided to walk around town.

“Hey, Jennifer Lawrence,” a familiar voice yelled.

I turned to see Eddie swaggering toward me, an amused smile on his lips. His hands were in the pockets of his blue jeans that had a frayed tear in the knees. He wore a black leather jacket and a smirk.

“You don’t really look like Jennifer Lawrence,” he said.

“I know that,” I said sounding miffed.

He invaded my space. His warm fingers took a strand of my hair and slid it behind my ear, his eyes never leaving mine. The intensity of his gaze unnerved me.

“Wanna come back to mine?” he asked.

“No, thanks. I have plans.”

“Right. Plans.” He stroked my cheek and then grinned. “Wanna change your plans? I make a wicked cheese and marmite sarnie.”

“Hmm. I’ll pass.”

“You’re afraid of me?”

“No. Should I be?”

He shrugged, his gaze moved around the street before returning to me. “I thought we had a ‘thing’ last night. A connection.”

“Light of day and all that,” I said.

“Light of day. Meaning that I’m not good enough for you?”

I automatically gasped. “What? I didn’t say that.”

The smile was gone from his face and he looked everywhere but at me. When he finally glanced at me again, his gaze was ice cold. “You lot are rich. I know the type. You show up each term, flaunt your daddy’s money. But I thought you might be different,” he said. He turned, kicked a wadded up bit of trash, and walked away before I could even muster the ability to speak. Rich? Me? In my second-hand clothes?

I watched him walk along the street. He hadn’t gotten far when the woman with the piercings, shouted to him, and ran on her tiptoes toward him, throwing her body against his and holding on. He spun her slightly, said something to her that made her throw back her head and laugh. He looked up at me then. Our eyes met briefly before he turned with his arm around the woman’s waist, his cheek pressed against hers, and disappeared from view.

end 3/1/2017

S. Darlington


Exchange Student I

Exchange Student is a completed story (now). You can read all of the sections here. This story is in the process of being rewritten. I will post a link to the completed project in April 2017. Thanks!

I was an exchange student who felt the weight of homesickness, so far away from my sleepy beach town and even my University in the States. England felt cold, damp, the people distant and judging. As we progressed toward winter the sun seemed to hover just at the horizon, never moving too far into the sky and the day seemed to end at 3 pm. I felt myself begin to turn inward, not knowing how to deal with this cold climate and the cliquish nature of the people around me.

My sister called on one particularly grim afternoon laced with darkness and rain and dared me to go to the nearest pub. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

I hung up thinking, she would never know whether I went or not, but then again, somehow she would.

I pulled on my insulated slicker and headed down the three blocks to the pub trying not to mind the rain or the chill that embraced me far too intimately. I hadn’t been before because I thought they might be too much like the bars at home, dark and cold and someplace where a girl like me could feel ultimately lost.

As I entered, viewed the fire roaring at the center, the warm brick and wood, the laughing chatter of accented voices, I thought for the first time that maybe I had been missing out.

There was an old man in a wheelchair, an oxygen tube hooked to his nose, sipping on a pint of stout. There was a lovely blonde with blushed cheeks leaning against a boy in a leather jacket, his chestnut hair curly and dark around his head. Three women, bright cheeked from drink, sat and giggled, at intervals throwing their heads back and laughing, then pausing with fingers over their lips as if they had indiscreetly allowed something to slip.

I watched and wondered if somehow I could become this.

While I hadn’t been indoctrinated, I knew I needed to put in an order at the bar and then find a table. I stared at the labels on the taps, what was a bitter? Bitter. It didn’t sound very nice. I chose a nut brown.

“Where you from, luv?” the bartender asked, his blue eyes dancing.

“North Carolina,” I said.

“America?”

I nodded and smiled, barely able to keep his gaze.

“Might have to visit if the birds look like you,” he said.

I blushed and smiled at the unexpected complement.

I sat at a table near the fire, but I looked at everyone around me. I wanted to be part of this, all of these people living, laughing, drinking, enjoying.

He approached without me noticing and he sat at my table without asking. “You’re new here,” he said. He had grayish blue eyes that to me felt as if they absorbed emotion. They reminded me of a stormy sea, but his face, his full lips seemed kind, gentle.

“I’m an exchange student,” I said, watching him carefully.

He leaned back and fingered the coaster in front of him, twirling it between his fingers, with practiced ease. He watched it and then raised his eyes to mine. “From America?”

I nodded.

He grinned. “I thought you might be from Ireland.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“You seem a little quiet for an American,” he said. “The American girls usually are giggly and loud.”

I shrugged. “We’re not all like that.”

“Obviously,” he said. “What are you studying?”

I hesitated because I knew that someone like him would find this amusing. “Drama.”

His eyes brightened. “Really?”

I nodded and looked away from his brilliant eyes to my drink.

“You’re an actress,” he asked.

I nodded again and then raised my eyes to look at him. My heartbeat quickened. He was spectacular to look at. His eyes were bold, but together with his full lips, he was the most sensual boy I had ever seen. His look was something beyond me. In my town, there were no boys who looked like this. There were the pretty boys and the athletic boys, but there were no boys who imbued the air with sensuality. This was not an American quality. I stared at him a bit longer than I should and then lowered my gaze, wondering what, if anything, he thought about me.

“You’re at Uni?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Are you going to do the town showcase?”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t think so. I haven’t been here long enough.”

“You must,” he said. “People get discovered that way. I’m just signing up. We should sign up together.”

And, I could find no reason to say no, especially to those eyes.

end 3/1/2017

S. Darlington