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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Falling

Exchange Student XI

Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here.

He tries to be gentle. He says he’s never been with a virgin before and, oddly, despite what I’ve seen, I believe him. I want him, but this is not lovely. It is not a gift. It feels sharp and painful, uncomfortable, like being jabbed with scissors.

“I’m sorry, Posh,” he says, his voice a whisper. He strokes my face gently, nuzzles my neck.

The pain ebbs, leaving a throbbing discomfort that I try not to think about. He holds me tightly to him. Our breathing merges as if we have become one. Abstract images of us play through my mind. I imagine never having to leave England, of being here with Eddie, for always. I fall asleep to such dreams.

When I wake, my face is pressed into his neck, legs entwined, his arms locked around me. A soft light filters through the window. It could be anytime from 9 to 3.

I hear the subtle shift in his breathing, know that he too is awake now.

“I could stay this way forever,” he says and then kisses me.

This time I understand why people have sex.

Back at my room, I plod through my homework, my brain only partly engaged. My mind is chaos.

We took a selfie in the back of the taxi and I stare at the image of our faces pressed together. I cannot rid myself of the feeling that this, what we have, is ephemeral. I send the image to my email so that there is a copy. At this moment, the image is the only proof of us.

I receive a text message from my Aunt Judy. She and my Uncle are touring Europe for three weeks and will be stopping in London to take me on a sightseeing trip to Scotland. The Glass Menagerie will be over by then. Classes will have ended. I had thought I would have that one week to be just with him before returning to life without him. There is no way to say no. Opportunity of a lifetime.

I feel time tumbling through my fingers.

 

end 3/10/2017

S. Darlington

 

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


 

Sinking

Exchange Student VIII

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

 

“He said I should ruminate on Tom’s desire to escape from his mother and yet not abandon his sister. Who uses the word ruminate?” Arthur Murphy asks, emptying his bag of cheese and onion crisps on a napkin. “Isn’t that something a cow does?”

I’m wedged between Arthur and Stella, a girl I’ve never seen before but who the boys call “Artois.”

I thought there would be something more stimulating by being here, sitting with them, but close up, I feel things I couldn’t feel across the room. The smell of beer on their breath reminds me of sour milk. The girls are catty about all of the girls in the pub and their eyes flit to me before they whisper words too soft for me to hear. Other than that, they ignore me. In Charley’s bag, I catch a glimpse of the end of a syringe jutting out from a case. I feel like I am too close and uncomfortably aware of all of the imperfections distance hid.

Eddie is the spotlight. Everyone at this table, with perhaps the exception of Stella, are actors, but it’s Eddie who possesses the charisma. As the evening progresses, the combination of alcohol and drugs take their toll.

“Another stout, Posh?” Eddie asks. His words come out thick.

I shake my head. I continue to limit myself to one as I can’t afford more. “No. I’m good.”

“I’m sure you are. And I will find out just how good,” he says, smiling at me as if he sees only me. I make no attempt to hide my smile from him although, from his squint, I am not certain his current condition allows him to focus. He will, no doubt, remember none of this tomorrow.

“She’s a prat,” Charley says. “No fun. Don’t know why you had her sit with us. She was fine in her dark little corner like some skanky stalking troll.”

She lifts her pint glass to her lips then notices that it’s empty and bangs it down so that it falls to its side.

“Be good, Charley,” Eddie says.

He stands, somewhat jerkily, staggers toward the bar but then redirects himself towards the restrooms. Arthur’s yearning gaze follows Eddie and then he stares down at his crisps with such intensity that I know he’s not thinking about the potato chips at all. He nods and then stands up, going in the same direction as Eddie.

I try to make conversation with Stella, but with Eddie gone, she seems to have deflated, even her shoulders sag and I wonder if she is, like me, another new sphere in Eddie’s orbit. I need to use the restroom, remember the last time, but see that all the girls are accounted for and figure it safe.

The hallway is dark and cool from an exit door that is slightly ajar. Dampness saturates. It must be raining again. Noises emanate from a back room, a storage room, I presume.

Without seeing, I think I recognize the gasps, the moans, and stand spellbound, wishing, wanting, closing my eyes, pretending.

I duck into the ladies, look into the mirror at my wide dark eyes in my very pale face before I splash my cheeks with cold water, feeling as if I am sinking into the depths of the ocean, far enough down that I no longer know which way leads to the surface and wondering if I can learn to breathe under water or if I am destined to drown.

end 3/7/2017

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 VI

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

 

This morning Eddie and I sit on stage, making believe there are candles providing a glow around us as we begin the only scene in which Jim, the Gentleman Caller, and Laura Wingfield are alone.

Last night Eddie found me at my corner table and told me to stop following him. I looked beyond him to his entourage who were smirking and shaking their heads at me, except for Arthur whose eyes displayed piteous understanding.

This is why I am an unsheathed nerve, calling on every technique I’ve been taught to focus on being Laura and not the crazy stalker girl. As I begin talking, I let the nerves become part of Laura as she shyly averts her gaze and tries to make Jim understand her.

I’m mesmerized by Eddie, his accomplished American accent, the movement of his body as he portrays Jim, though slight, he seems to physically overwhelm. His smile is vivid, open, so unlike the dark boy in the leather jacket. When he takes Laura in his arms to waltz, he is charm. As he says, “Somebody ought to kiss you, Laura,” my heart hammers. When our lips meet, my fingers clench the collar of his shirt.

“Very nice. I like what you did clutching Eddie’s shirt. Nice touch,” Henry Aldridge says. “Have you two been rehearsing together? That was very polished.”

I feel like I am still Laura as I look everywhere but at Eddie.

“No, sir. We haven’t had the opportunity,” Eddie says. He sounds different when he speaks with the director, not at all the rough boy who hangs out in the pub. I don’t know him. Not even by stalking him online.

When we are alone together, walking toward the exit, Eddie clears his throat. “You’re good.”

“You’re surprised?” My voice sounds breathy.

“Yeah,” he says. “I decided you were superficial.”

Between us it feels as if someone has erected a brittle glass wall. I try to think of words, something to say to explain my behavior, but I don’t understand this girl with her obsession, this stalker girl who covets this boy.

When we step outside, dull sunshine receives us. Eddie shrugs into his leather jacket.

“Look, when you come to the pub tonight, sit with us. Don’t hide in the corner spying,” he says.

I stare up at him. “I don’t know.”

“I do. Right, well, I’m off to work.”

“You work?”

He smirks. “We can’t all have rich mommies and daddies.”

“I don’t,” I whisper.

“You must, Posh.”

“I’m not posh.”

His steel-blue eyes hypnotize me. The smile on his full lips lifts slightly at the corner. He startles me by leaning down and lightly biting my bottom lip. Then he is walking away without glancing back. My fingertips press where his teeth had been, craving more.

 

end 3/5/2017

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 III

Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here.

I sat in the third row by myself, my elbows propped on the arms of the chair, my back stiff as my grandmother had taught me. The woman with the piercings snapped her gum and slumped in the front row, wearing a black tank top despite the chill, showing an array of tattoos on her upper arms and shoulders. She’d been texting constantly since returning from her “break” immediately after her audition.

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