Vampire Boys Of Summer – Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Jigsaws & Tattoos

I rode Angela’s bus home. Even after skipping sixth period, she was still pissed about the Trumps, and like always, the conversation was along the lines of “I should have kicked her ass” or “she does that again and I’m going to stomp her.” Of course, both of us knew that was just big talk. You couldn’t just go up and punch Amanda without fighting the rest of them too. And even if you did manage to take them all on and beat them, your glory wouldn’t be long. In fact, they would do their best to turn it into humiliation. That’s what they did to me earlier in the year when I had had a run in with Chrissy. So I told her on the ride home it was best to leave it alone. Angela may have talked big but she understood, and soon we were riding in relative silence.
“Thanks for catching me,” she finally said. I knew she was referring to the hallway incident earlier. “You’re always there for me.”
I smiled. “You’d do the same thing for me.”
“You never did tell me the anime.”
“What?”
“Your drawing. What anime the guy was from.”
“Oh that,“ I laughed. “You just don’t let it go, do you?”
“Nope.”
“It’s a new one.”
“Okay, so what’s it called?”
I knew I couldn’t keep this up for long. I had no choice. “It’s called, I have a hot new neighbor.”
Her eyes grew wide as saucers. “No shit? You’re kidding me.”
“I just caught a glimpse of him last night. I made up most of the picture because I couldn’t see him very clearly.”
Her eyes got even wider. “Were you peeking in his window, perv?”
“No, he was on the back porch staring up into the sky.”
“Well hell, I’ll come over and keep him grounded if you won’t.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “I bet you would.”
“You going to talk to him?”
“I don’t know,“ I said. “We’ll see.”
“We’ll see? What’s wrong with you? Everybody at school already thinks you’re gay. Get the hook up and prove them wrong.”
Leave it to Angela to downplay her Trumps incident by referring to mine. It was the first party of the school year. Earlier that week I had called Chrissy Trump a skanky bitch after she tripped me up in the cafeteria. A girl at the party that I didn’t even know came up to me to say she thought that was the coolest thing ever and she wanted to talk to me outside. I didn’t think anything of it and went outside with her. Next thing I knew she had shoved me into the pool and dived in after me. As I came up out of the water she threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. It all happened so fast and I was gasping for breath so it was easy for her to take advantage. Before I could get away, The Trumps had appeared with cell phone cameras going in rapid mode. I shoved the girl away from me but it was too late. Next day it was all over facebook, Instagram, and twitter; me all wet and wild-eyed with some girl shoving her tongue down my throat.
“You just had to bring that up, didn’t you?” I said to Angela as we got off at her bus stop. “You know that was a set up.”
“Yes I know. But the fact remains everyone thinks you don’t like boys. And you have never had a steady boyfriend, unless you count Charlie Simkins back in the seventh grade.”
“You want to get slugged, don’t you? None of that was my fault.”
“Okay so, prove everyone wrong. Hit on your hot neighbor.”
I knew this was her way of daring me, but knowing Angela, I also knew this was a way for her to position herself if I failed. I wasn’t about to tell her I thought he was a vampire. She’d probably try to bite him back. I sighed. “Look, I’ll introduce myself and we’ll see what happens.”
“What do you mean, see what happens? “
“It means, I’m not going to throw myself at him like some lovesick fool I know.”
“I’m not lovesick, just desperate. Which is what you should be. Tomorrow I’ll be expecting to hear his name. I bet it’s something sexy like Ryan or Tatum. Or better yet Gray. Omg.”
With that she nearly danced up her sidewalk to the front door. “Don’t count on it,” I muttered, wondering what in the hell I’d gotten myself into.

The walk home from Angela’s was about two miles. It usually took me an hour, but that day it took longer. I needed to seriously unwind and think things through. To rise to Angela’s challenge would mean it would have to be tonight. If I drug my feet she’d give me hell when I didn’t give her his name next time I saw her. I berated myself for even trying to please her. If I went over to meet this guy it needed to be on my terms not hers. And again, she didn’t suspect what I did. She wouldn’t be the one who would have to kill the bloodsucker. Damn it, why was life always so complicated? Why couldn’t I just meet a guy I liked and not kill him? I was jumping ahead of myself I knew. Chances are he wouldn’t be friendly, or perhaps he didn’t like girls, or just flat out didn’t like me. By the time I got home I had already convinced myself my whole life was a disaster and always would be.
The sun was just starting to set as I threw my book bag on the front porch. There was still plenty of light out and if I was going to wait for the boy next door to come outside I might be waiting awhile. I could go inside my house and read my latest Manga acquisition, or perhaps watch some Netflix, or just sit on the porch and wait for the undead. Or I could be bold and go over right now and knock on the door. If he was a vampire he wouldn’t answer, unless he had one of them human caretakers to protect his resting place in the daylight hours. In that case, I would just have some slobbering Renfield to fend off. If that happened I could just holler for mom. She was probably sunbathing in the backyard with a vodka in her hand anyway.
I looked over to the house next door. I didn’t detect any movement in the yard or behind its drawn curtains. “Oh to hell with it,“ I mumbled, and headed across the lawn.
The first thing I noticed as I stepped from my yard into theirs was the absence of sound. It was almost like I had stepped into a vacuum, or perhaps even sound was afraid of being this close to nightwalkers. I couldn’t even hear the light breeze through the trees, though I could see them swaying. No birds, no creature made a sound on this property, and I have to admit it made me a little nervous.
Still, I went up the front porch steps and raised my hand to knock. I hesitated, wondering just what I thought I was doing. I had just gotten home from school. What little make up I started the day off with was now gone, my hair was a mess, and I was in jeans and t-shirt; not exactly following the ‘how to meet hot guys’ guidelines. I shrugged and knocked anyway. For a moment it didn’t make a sound, and I thought maybe I should just give this up, but then I heard the noise of my knuckles rapping the door. No matter that it came about thirty seconds after I actually knocked. I listened intently, hoping to hear footsteps or a voice telling me, “wait a minute, I’m coming.” Anything to tell me there were no vampires here; that I had been wrong. But no one came. I debated whether to knock louder, and in the end I decided to try the door handle myself.
I put my hand on the door and it was ice cold. Perhaps the AC was running overtime in there, but I didn’t think so. There were no window units and I didn’t see central air units outside anywhere. I tried the knob but thankfully it was locked. I decided to go around back, maybe knock there.
The backyard was spacious with a concrete patio and in ground pool, much like my own yard was. A row of hedges lined a back fence that separated our properties, but the shrubs were barren and sure enough I could see mom lying out in her bikini by the pool. I could tell by the rise and fall of her breasts that she had fallen asleep as usual. Part of me wanted to scream her name just to see how drunk she was, but before I could I saw I wasn’t alone on this side of the hedge. A man was sitting at a card table on the patio working what appeared to be a jigsaw puzzle. He didn’t seem to notice me at first, and when he did, his head came up so slowly it made me think of those old automaton gypsy fortune telling machines they had at the fair when I was like nine. He stared at me curious, tilting his head one way to the next, before beckoning me to him. My head was screaming not to do it, but something bolder inside made me approach his table. He held up a puzzle piece and handed it to me as if he wanted me to place it for him. He had very dark eyes, the kind that are so intense you almost feel naked. His smooth pale skin made him seem almost unnatural, and I wondered how he could be so white out in this sun. He impatiently shoved the puzzle piece at me with a nod of his head. I took it and looked down at the puzzle he was working on.
It was a bizarre kind of puzzle, like something out of a nightmare. The unfinished image clearly suggested a view of hell, with writhing, tormented bodies, some entwined in reckless abandon, others twisting in the talons of demonic figures. At the center, a tall dark presence drank the blood of several people at once, all of them hypnotically held fast in his gaze and grip. Where the puzzle piece was missing there was a young girl about the same age as myself . Her body was turned towards the terrifying figure, and she must have been looking up at him rapturously, but she didn’t have a head. It was the missing piece.
I looked in my hand and turned it over. Sure enough, the piece I held was the girl’s head, and looking at it I saw in her eyes a look of adoration and helplessness. I looked at the man behind the card table. His Asian eyes held no malice, but something within told me this guy did not wish good things to befall me. A slight sneer crossed his thin lips. His mouth began to open. He made a sound in his throat but it wasn’t exactly speech. It was a guttural kind of moan and his lips seemed to curl back to show me the only teeth he had were two pairs of fangs. His sneer turned into the scariest smile I had ever seen. I dropped the puzzle piece and bolted.
I ran so fast to my front door I didn’t even bother with my book bag. I slammed the door behind me and threw the deadlock in place. I kept waiting to hear the man’s body slam into the solid oak of the doorframe, but he never did. I wasn’t even sure if he ever got up from the table. I didn’t look back once; I’d been too freaked out.
I went through the dining room towards the back of the house. Looking out onto our patio, I saw mom was still sleeping one off and the guy next door was gone; the macabre puzzle still laid out on the table. Thinking he was on his way over, I ran upstairs and locked myself in my room; my dad’s vampire kit laid out and open on the bed. If anyone came through that door they were going to get hit with a one two punch of holy water and wooden stake. But no one came, and I sat on the bed as the night began to fall outside. I heard mom come in and rumble around in the kitchen. I wasn’t sure if she was fixing dinner or a new drink, but I wasn’t about to come out my room to find out. I was waiting for pitch dark so I could go stake that puzzle working , blood sucking freak.

I finally ventured downstairs around eight o’clock. Mom had left some meatloaf and potatoes in the microwave for me before heading off to work. How she managed to drink all day and then sober herself up enough to work the night shift at Walmart was beyond me. I heated up the food, but looking at the ketchup on top of the meatloaf turned my stomach. It made me think of the Asian man with the sneer and pointed fangs.
Venturing back up to my room I decided to get me a shower before heading next door. I needed something to steady my nerves. Part of me wanted to call Angela and tell her what had happened, but instead I just laid my cell phone on the bed and headed for the bathroom. I was so freaked out even the running water in the shower seemed menacing and intrusive. After a while I scared myself into thinking I was being watched. I crossed my arms over my breasts and tried to turn away from the shower door, but I found myself looking over my shoulder, fearing that at any minute the vampire would come lunging through the glass just to get to me. And then I would be like that girl in the puzzle, helplessly hypnotized and a willing victim to the powerful creature of darkness.
I turned off the water, threw open the shower door and grabbed a towel off the rack. If anyone was in the room they were only going to catch a quick glance at me. I have never been self-conscious about my body, but I’m no exhibitionist either. I had worn tight or revealing outfits at times, mostly to go to a show or something, but I had never felt so exposed in all my life. I wrapped my towel around me and nearly dashed into my bedroom where I closed and locked the door. I turned to the bed and noticed my cellphone was gone.
I froze to the spot. I knew I had put it on the bed. But now it wasn’t there. My eyes scanned the room. Perhaps my bathroom freak out was warranted after all. Someone had been here watching. And now they had taken my cellphone. I walked carefully to the window and looked through the blinds at the house next door. There were some lights on and I could see some movement in one of the rooms, but no one was outside. I heard the sound of an echoing tinkling bell from behind me and I spun to the sound, dropping the towel in the process. Naked, I grabbed up the stake from the vampire kit still on the bed and scanned the room. There was no one there. Again, the bell sounded, soft and distant. It was my cellphone. Sitting on top of my dresser, plugged into the charger.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I had plugged it up before I headed to the shower and had absent-mindedly forgot about it. I went to the dresser and opened the top drawer. I grabbed some fresh underwear and slipped into them as quick as I could. Next drawer down, dark pants and a black tank top advertising an X-Japan concert my dad had taken me to in New York a couple years back. I turned away to grab my shoes and the bell sounded again. It was a cellphone notification of some kind. I woke up the phone and didn’t see anything to alert me to email or a message or anything. I hit the home button and pulled up the last used applications. The one at the top was the camera. I clicked it and the app opened to my photo gallery which was normal if you had just taken a picture. The top photo in the gallery brought me to a breathless stop. It was the picture of a tattooed moon, encircled by bloody vines, or perhaps veins. Under it were the words “Loveless”.
The first thing I thought of was that was the name of my favorite song by Luna Sea, but the next thought was the realization that this tattoo was on a boy’s hairless chest. And I knew for a fact I hadn’t taken it. I pulled up the tag info on the picture. It had been taken only a few short minutes ago, which meant there had been a boy in my room with a loveless tattoo and the balls to let me know he’d been there. But if he had thought to scare me with this, he was mistaken. Now I was pissed. I stuck the stake down the back of my pants and covered it with my shirt. I put the holy water in my front pocket and in one last gesture, removed the crucifix from my dad’s vampire kit and looped it around my neck letting it drop on its chain just out of sight down my shirt. I snatched the cell phone from the dresser and took one last look at the photo before sliding the phone in pocket. It was time to stake that pervert right through his tattoo.

 

“Vampire Boys Of Summer” 2017 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.

Vampire Boys Of Summer: Chapter 1

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Chapter 1: Tramps & Trumps

 There’s a saying that everything looks better in the morning. Whoever said that probably had someone special to wake up with, but in my world waking up just meant I was still here. It also made me remember the fact a vampire lived next door and he needed to be dealt with. Lucky for him I wasn’t the vampire hunting professional of the family. That would be my dad, though I truly don’t think that he’s dispatched anyone. Oh, he tried. Two years ago, he was arrested for attacking the night clerk at the supermarket, whom he was convinced was a vampire. Now he sits at the psychiatric hospital looking out a lonely window in the same manner that I do, perfectly hopeless.

 I fixed my usual breakfast; eggs over easy, two pieces of bacon, and coffee. I know a lot of my friends’ mothers fixed their breakfast for them, but I’d starve if I had to rely on mine. By the time I was off to school every morning, she would already be three drinks into her day.

 I slung my backpack over one shoulder. It was custom made, meaning I had taken my dad’s old military backpack and drawn on it with bright neon markers the names and logos of my favorite J-Rock bands: L’Arc En Ciel, Acid Black Cherry, Luna Sea. Only a few people at my school knew who they were, but that was okay by me. Dare to be different, I always say.

 Stepping out into the morning sun, I took a glance at the house next door. It didn’t really look like anyone had moved in. For a moment I was tempted to skip school and investigate, but I thought better of it. My grades were bad enough; I didn’t need to make it any worse by cutting classes. Still, it was pretty tempting. I looked up to the second floor of the house. Directly across from my own second story window was a widow’s walk that encircled the whole house. A door on the walk led inside, probably to the attic or a bedroom. I entertained the notion of leaping from my windowsill to the tree that had scraped my window the night before, and onto the neighbor’s widow’s walk. It was possible. It could be done, but one false move and I’d be cracked on the pavement. I shook my head at these thoughts and mumbled under my breath, “Get your ass to school.”

“Nora Williams”, the teacher called out, and I raised my hand to show my presence. He made a note of it and moved on to the next name on his list. This was fifth period English class one week before summer vacation, and even though it was the end of the school year I was still waiting for the inevitable; a new student who just happened to look like my new neighbor. But he never showed. And of course he wouldn’t; it’s daytime and he’s a vampire.

The image of him on his front porch staring up at the sky just wouldn’t leave me alone. I found myself sketching his lonely, nocturnal figure in my notebook. Even though I didn’t get a close look the night before, I drew in his features anyway, or ones that I like hot vampire boys to have: piercing dark eyes, full pouting lips, slightly flushed cheeks. My drawing, and imagination, showed an average build on him. If I’d drawn him without the school uniform he would have been well built, but not too many rippling muscles. His shirt was parted just enough at the top so you could see his chest was hairless and his cute boy nip…just then, while I was contemplating nipples and navels my bestie Angela, who sat next to me in every class, passed me a note. I glanced at her casually before opening the folded paper. I looked down at her handwritten scrawl. “OMG, who is that?” it read.

I grinned and shook my head, trying to let her know it was no one. Angela had known me since fourth grade so she knew I wasn’t being entirely truthful. She flicked her long blond hair out of her eyes and gave me a look that said, “confess.”

I guess I could have confided in her about the vampire boy next door, but if I was going to have to kill him I knew she’d try to talk me out of it just so she could flash her blue eyes at him and get his number. I don’t mean to give the impression that she’s boy crazy or anything, but the truth of the matter is…well, she is boy crazy, what can I say? It’s not like she’d steal your man or purposely walk down the street in her bikini to make guys stop what they’re doing and stare. No, she was more like closet boy crazy. She tried to play it off as much as she could, but she reminded me of one of those construction worker guys who doesn’t say anything when a pretty girl walks by, but their heads turn and eyes follow their movements intensely, as if such a gaze would make the girl fall all over them. Angela was like that with the hot boys. And now she was doing just that, trying to see what I was drawing as if he was going to leap off the page and say, “hey there, blondie.”

She made an impatient nod of her head to let me know she was waiting for me to tell her. I pointed to my head to try and convince her it was all imagination. She gave me a smirk and turned in her seat away from me as if she were pouting and offended. I knew she wasn’t. She’d catch me the moment I was in the hall after class. And sure enough, that’s exactly what she did.

“Okay, Give. Who is he, you tramp?” she demanded playfully, grabbing hold of my arm as I exited the classroom.

I laughed. “Nobody, tramp. I made him up.”

“Bullshit.”

“Okay, maybe not totally made up. I saw him on an anime.”

She gave me a curious look and I knew I had her. As much anime as I watch I’m bound to eventually try drawing storyboards myself. After all, she had seen my room and all the sketches plastered on the wall.

“Damn, “ she said, a little disappointed. “You drew him pretty damn fine. And if there’s an Asian boy at school, I want to know. They are crazy about blondes I heard.”

In Angela’s world everyone was mad for blondes, but at the moment the only one I could think of I’d seen on the porch next door last night, and when I left school I was going to march right over and find a way to introduce myself.

“So what was the anime?” She wasn’t being nosy I knew, she just loved playing the question game. To prove this she launched right into “Was it crunchy roll or Netflix?”

“Netflix.”

“Cool. Rosario? Fairy Tail? Sword Art?”

“Nope.”

She put her finger to her chin as if to emphasize she was thinking this one out. “Titan? Elfin? Ouran High School?”

Before I could answer, someone shoved Angela and she stumbled into me.

“Out of the way, sluts,” said several girls at once and we knew this wasn’t like our playful banter, this was The Trumps. Every school has a trio like them. The prima donna divas of the school hall. They dress like hoes and act like pros. The untouchable celebs of the teen world. Girls either fear them or want to be part of their clique. Boys want to sleep with them, or at the very least, get to second base, which I’m told is pretty automatic. If you are good looking enough to get a date, it’s not going to be a wasted night.

We called them The Trumps because they acted like the rich elite of the whole school. Seeing themselves as Goddesses or something, they made like they were better than everyone else, and if anyone, boy or girl, went against them, the retaliation was vicious. Bullying was an art with The Trumps. In fact, rumor had it Amanda Trump, we never called them by their real last names, had bullied Samantha Connor into attempting suicide last year. Luckily, Samantha survived and her parents promptly moved the family far away, claiming the school officials dragged its feet in the issue. But since Amanda’s mom was on the school board, everything was swept under the rug. Personally, I think Amanda should have been beaten with the rug.

The other Trumps, Chrissie and Kari, were actually cousins and they absolutely hated anyone that Amanda told them to, which at that moment in time happened to be Angela. It wasn’t her fault; she just happened to be the wrong person in this life. And she also happened to be the ex-girlfriend of Amanda’s current boy toy, Devin McCullough. What was silly about that was that Devin and Angela had been going together in the sixth grade and that was like four years ago. You would think if Angela still wanted him she would have made her move by now. Of course, try to explain that to The Trumps.

Amanda gave Angela an “I dare you to say something” look as she passed by. I helped my friend steady herself. Chrissie and Kari both snickered like the trained monkeys they were. You have seen this very scene in teen movies since the dawn of time, and if you think its all make believe, you’re wrong. This happens all the time. And unlike the movies there would be no one riding in to save the day. There were no heroes here, just cowards and villains. As if to prove that point, Colin Deeds, the biggest coward of Chelsea Valley, came up to us and handed Angela her math book, which she had dropped.

“You shouldn’t tangle with them,” he said, trying to sound like he was offering solid advice.

I looked at him and his mismatched clothes like he was one of those irritating gnats that manage to reach places you’d rather they didn’t.

“What do you know?” I said and jerked the book out of his hands.

Angela was still embarrassed from the push Amanda had given her and didn’t say a word. I knew it was a bigger embarrassment knowing a nerd boy like Colin had been witness to the whole event.

“What do you want, Colin?”

The boy looked at Angela and stammered out his answer. “I…I just wanted to help.”

“It would help if you’d get lost.”

“Oh. Oh, okay.” He hung his head for a moment and started to walk away. He reminded me of a pup that had been beaten, but with the devotion of a pet. He finally looked up and said, “Have a nice summer vacation.” Then, he moved off down the hallway, his book bag slung over his shoulder, nervously running his fingers through his never combed brown hair.

As Angela and I started off in the opposite direction, I looked at her. “Maybe we shouldn’t have been so mean to him.”

She shook her head. “He’s a pest. He’s been crushing after me since grade school.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he lives right down the street from me. Sits outside on the curb waiting for me to come out. Rides his bike in the alley behind our house. He even buys me stuff and gets one of his nerd buddies to give it to me. I mean, some of it’s cool stuff, but I don’t like him like that, and I swear to God I never will.”

“Hey, no God swearing.”

“Oh. Forgot your God thing.”

She knows I believe in God. Unfortunately, she doesn’t put much stock in it. It’s not something that affects our friendship; Personally, I think she’s been taught not to believe by both her parents and teachers alike. It’s that kind of world now.

“I don’t think I want to go to sixth period,” she finally said.

Knowing that one of the Trumps was in that class, I didn’t blame her. But also knowing we couldn’t leave campus, I was at a loss. “What do you want to do?” I asked.

“I got a couple smokes.”

I smiled. Her mom smoked these cocktail cigarettes she kept in this fancy flat box. They were rolled up into pretty colored paper and had a stronger scent than your usual blend. I think you were only supposed to smoke one, and then only with your favorite mixed drink. We didn’t have any alcohol, but we did have a bathroom stall that had an air vent overhead to blow the pungent smoke up into. I’d probably have to walk part of the way home just to get the smell off my clothes but that was okay. I was never in a hurry to get home most days anyway. But then again, most days up until now didn’t include trying to introduce yourself to the vampire next door.

“Vampire Boys Of Summer” 2017 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.
 

 

 

The Vampire Boys Of Summer: Prologue

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*Being a fan of anime/manga and a recent convert to the concept of the Japanese Light Novel, I thought I’d try my hand at creating my own serialized tale of growing up, first loves, and of course, vampires. My wife Heather has been invaluable in helping to flesh out characters and plot, so this is hers just as well as mine. We hope you enjoy this foray into modern young adult fantasy. Stay tuned, more to come.*

Prologue

A vampire moved in next door to us this past summer. I knew he was a vamp right away because he was so unbelievably freaking hot. So hot it was almost unnatural. Kind of like those anime boys I watch online. You know the kind – so pretty most girls would throw themselves in traffic just to meet them. Perfect hair, perfect eyes, perfect teeth, and beautifully bare chested through half the episode. Of course, I should mention that these boys usually hook up with perfect anime girls with cutesy faces, girly voices, and breasts so large you could carry your lunch tray on them. I was none of these, and so I took one look at the vampire boy who was standing on his front porch looking up at the lonely night and said, “yeah, whatever.” Then, I returned to the manga book I had been reading before I noticed him. Ironically, it just happened to be about vampires…

It was hard to concentrate on the book. Once you have seen a vampire they kind of stick in your head, even if you didn’t get a good look at them. With my face buried in the manga’s cute illustrations, I tried not to think of that shadowy figure out there on his porch, but I kept looking up at my window, wondering if I was going to see him hovering outside the glass, saying “come on, invite me in.” I had never had a boy in my bedroom before and I certainly wasn’t going to start with some guy with sharp teeth and a lust for blood.

I was looking back down at the book when I heard the scratching on the glass. I looked up to see something raking across the window. It seemed a fog had descended on our valley and it was all swirling outside my window. I got up from my bed and stepped quietly to look out. Cautiously taking a peek, something scraped the window again. To my surprise, or perhaps disappointment, it was nothing but my cat Sissy trying to get in after a night on the prowl.

I sighed, “Oh, it’s you,” and opened the window to let her in. She came in easily enough, but looking past her I saw him again. It looked like he hadn’t even moved. He was still staring up into the night sky, and against this backdrop I noticed a few things about him.

First, he was thin and pale unlike the boys at my school, who all seemed to think they were the coolest thing since Nutella. Half of them seemed more interested in showing off their muscles to each other more than the girls who made fools of themselves chasing after them. But this boy was no football star in the making; physique wise he had more in common with the library nerds or science geeks.

Second thing I noticed was that his hair was blond and uncombed. Again, this set him apart from over half the people I knew. Everyone at Chelsea Valley High seemed obsessed with the whole goth look, meaning they all dyed their hair black. Last year, the wrestling team all dyed their hair because they thought it made them look meaner. They still lost. Hair may not make the man, but this vampire boy must not have known this because it sure made him more arresting to the eye.

The final thing I noticed about him while he stood there was that he wasn’t from around here. He looked Asian, probably Japanese. And since there was no Japanese community in Chelsea Valley, this made him the only Asian for miles and miles. Normally, around about this time, my mind would have been screaming, “Girl, you have a hot blond Asian guy living next door! Get busy!” That didn’t happen this time because no matter how you cut it I knew he was a vampire and I was going to have to kill him.

Orchard House Chapter 6

Chapter 6

I was kind of embarrassed to have Summer riding in my car. I had been living out of it so long I was afraid it might say something about how I was as an individual. Apparently it did, because she delighted over the whole ‘living in my car’ look.
“Don’t you just hate cars that are immaculately clean?” she asked. “You have to wonder if anyone ever drives the darn thing. If there ain’t trash in the back floorboard you wasted your money.”
I laughed nervously. “Then I definitely got my money’s worth,” I replied, looking over into the back floorboard at all the empty soda bottles and fast food bags.
She patted my hand for reassurance. “Don’t worry; I don’t think you’re a messy guy. Cute when you blush, yes. Messy, no.”
Of course I blushed and she laughed at my embarrassment. “Ha! Love it!” she squealed in delight. “Let’s ride, Clyde.”
I started the car and backed down the drive to the gravel road. As I turned onto the gravel she reached for the stereo and turned it on.
“Let’s see what we got to sing to tonight,” she said, as the car was filled with some mid 90’s grunge song. “Nope, not that. I grew up with all that angry music; tonight I want to have fun.” She started scanning through the radio stations, passing over jazz, hip hop, and modern rock stations before she found the song to stop the dial. “Oh hell yeah, here it is!”
The sound of a harmonica in a rhythmic country groove came over the speakers and she started swaying in her seat to the music. She looked over at me, smiling sexy enough to melt an iceberg. “If you wanna get to heaven, you got to raise a little hell,” she cooed, and I nearly ran off the road.
I grew up in the 70’s and remembered this song. Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Never thought of this tune as sexy but once she started singing it I changed my mind. There are certain images that you just know will forever be ingrained in your memory, and watching her shimmy and sway in her seat to the country rock classic, singing it word for word with her head hanging out the window, assured that it would be scorched into mine. There are some days, even now, that when I get behind the wheel of the car and turn on the radio all I can see is Summer laughing and singing to that song. And when she propped one of her feet up on the dash and her dress slid up just a little to reveal the full shape of her leg I knew we were going to be in a ditch if I didn’t concentrate on the road.
If she had let down her guard in the orchard and afforded me a glimpse of her crumbling soul, out here on the road with “if you wanna get to heaven” blaring at top volume brought her back to the fun loving girl she wanted everyone to believe she was. And in that moment I truly believed this was the girl she wanted to be: in love with life and trying to infect everyone else with that same zest. I grinned when she let out a long playful squeal as we passed by an older couple sitting on a porch. I couldn’t help but laugh, because as we passed I swore the couple were shaking their heads and probably mumbling something like, “dern kids.” They would have fallen off their porch swing if they knew it was a guy in his mid 40’s and a sweet hell raising thing pushing 30.

We spent about 30 minutes getting to the restaurant she had chosen. The long winding road led us from Orchard House into the heart of Bedford. Not far from the old rail yards that used to bring passenger trains through the area, we crossed a bridge and she directed me to a small parking lot beside an old red brick building. A window in the front had painted on its glass, ‘Little Italy in the heart of the country.’ Above that you could see traces of stenciled letters that must have at one time been the name of the place. Now it couldn’t be read.
After parking and standing in front of the place I could tell just by looking in the front window we were indeed overdressed. Several people sat around tables dressed in their everyday clothes. A young couple wore jeans and tie dye shirts staring into each other’s faces over a large pizza. An older man in bib overalls sat in the corner hunched over his Stromboli. A pair of ladies shared a booth chatting, and they too were dressed casual. I looked at Summer and she realized how out of place we were going to look in our attire, and the fact we were a couple who to some looked more like father and daughter than two lonely people on a date.
“You ready to do this?” I asked.
She gave me a reassuring smile. “We aren’t here for them. We are here for us. “
“In other words if they don’t like it, screw them?”
She grinned. “Exactly.” She reached for my hand and I opened the door.
There are times when you feel so out of place in public that when you open the door you imagine everyone has turned to look. This was not one of those times. When we came through the doorway, some dared to glance up to see who had come in, but then they immediately went back to their own world, leaving us in ours. It was a relief. Here they didn’t seem to care like they would have in the big city. Back home I had seen how people stared and often glared at May-December couples. If there was more than an obvious five year age difference you were nearly branded as either a lecherous old man or a gold digging tramp, something I was sure neither of us was. But here there was none of that vibe. The waitress, a pretty dark skinned girl, greeted us with a smile that was both welcoming and genuine. She told us to go ahead and sit where we liked and the waiter would come take our order shortly.
We chose a small table at the very back of the place in an effort to not only have privacy but to continue going on unnoticed. The waiter, a young man of college age with the slight remainder of teenaged acne, soon arrived at our table and set our menus in front of us. He took our drink order. Summer had tea; I ordered root beer, naturally. Sitting across from me Summer barely glanced at the menu. Instead she looked up at the waiter, who seemed so awestruck by her you could have pushed him over with the slightest nudge, and asked him if they served Cheese Calzones. Speechless he nodded and she flashed him a smile. “I’ll take one then, sport.”
You would have thought she called him Baby cakes or something, for his enamored face flushed and he replied, “My pleasure.” I wondered if he was thinking about her order at all. Finally, he wrote it down on his order pad and turned to me. I couldn’t help but tease him. “Spaghetti, sport,” I said. He didn’t seem to like it that a man called him sport and he turned towards the kitchen with our order.
“You’re so bad,” Summer said. “I can’t believe you called him sport.”
“You said it first.”
“Maybe I should have called him sexy sport.”
“You trying to make me jealous right off the bat?” I asked.
She teasingly smiled. “A girl likes to have some power over her man.”
Her man. What a notion that was. I’m not sure how it made me feel to have her refer to me that way. In some ways it made me feel like the luckiest guy alive, but in others it scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t ready to be anybody’s anything, much less their man.
The waiter brought our drinks out. Maybe it was just me, but when he sat my drink down I could have sworn he intended it to come splashing out on the table a little. Summer snickered.
“I don’t think he likes you very much,” she reasoned.
“He better behave,” I joked. “Unless he wants a dollar tip.”
“You wouldn’t.”
“I would.”
“Mmm, I like a tough guy,” Summer softly sighed.
“I thought you were all about nerds.”
“Oh yeah that’s right,” she replied playfully. “Had a relapse. Tough nerds then.”
I smiled. This was fun. A little playful banter never hurt on a date. Of course, it had been ages since I had even been on a date. Ashley and I had long passed that stage, and even date nights we had before our intended wedding were dull, going-through-the motions affairs. We’d sit there and eat, maybe talk about our day, and then go home where she would do her thing and I would do mine. This date with Summer wasn’t anything like that, and I was amazed by the fact that this was our second day knowing each other and already it was natural for her to flirt with me and I to try to come out of my shell to flirt back.
Our food soon arrived and this time the waiter was friendlier. Of course, he was still trying to make eye contact with Summer and I had to silently berate myself for my own shyness. How come a kid barely out of high school could stare into her eyes with no problem and I could barely look into those dark depths for a few minutes before getting scared and looking away? What was it that I was afraid I might see there? Or was I afraid she might see something secret hidden within my own.
“You coming back to earth any time soon?” I heard her say, and I realized I had been staring off into space, lost out there somewhere in my own thoughts.
“Oh, sorry,” I apologized, turning my attention to her and the big plate of food the waiter had set before me.
“Please tell me you weren’t thinking about her.”
“No, I wasn’t,” I replied, daring to look at her for the briefest moment. “I was thinking about you actually.”
To this she smiled. “Now if I could just get you to look at me for more than two minutes.”
“I’m afraid you’ll think I’m staring.”
“Maybe I want to be stared at.”
I picked up my knife and fork and began to work on my plate of spaghetti. “Let me rephrase that,” I said. “I’m afraid you’ll think I’m being too..um… lecherous.”
She laughed. “I love your choice of words. I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy to use the word lecherous on me, even if they were lecherous themselves.” She cut a piece off her calzone and eyed it hungrily. “But I don’t think you’re like that.” She took a bite of her food. “I could be wrong,” she added with her mouth full.
“You’re not. I’m one of the nice guys.”
She seemed to snicker at this. “That’s exactly what a lech would say.”
I could tell she was teasing and so it was only appropriate to tease back. “Damn, busted.”
We both smiled and dug into our plates of food as if we hadn’t eaten all day. In between bites she would look up at me as if she were studying the way I ate, or how I looked around the room, or sat in my chair. She had that way about her. Summer just seemed to be studying you as if her desire to get to know you was the most important thing in the world.
I did have a habit of looking around the room when I ate and she noticed this I’m sure. It’s a habit I picked up from my father, who always seemed to be sizing up every room he was in, possibly looking for a way out if it got too uncomfortable. I noticed that this little establishment was definitely nostalgic. Italian style paintings depicting villas and vineyards decorated the walls. In one corner laid out on a table were pieces of homemade jewelry for sale, necklaces and bracelets made of gems and local stones by an area artist. A card read proudly, ‘Visit Me at the Artist’s Village.’ In another corner sat an old jukebox. So old in fact it played 45 rpm records. I imagined the records inside must be pretty scratchy by now, but still I was curious. I pointed it out to Summer.
“Look, that jukebox is almost as old as I am.”
She grinned. “So play me something old then. Educate me, oh wise music nerd.”
I took a bite of my spaghetti, and got up. “Be right back, young un.”
As I went past she playfully squinted her eyes at me as if she was mad. The jukebox was old indeed, but the records inside weren’t too ancient. At least not to me. Mostly from the 70’s, there were a lot of one hit wonders that I imagine no one knew now. I found one that I thought might be appropriate for a date, though maybe not the first one. I put in several quarters and made the selection. I found a second one as well, and happy with my choices returned to the table.
“This first one was popular before you were born,” I joked. “You may have heard it on an oldies station.” I made sure to emphasize ‘oldies’.
“You ever had calzone in your eye,” Summer threatened, and then she stopped. The song had come on. The smile had left her face and the dancing light that had been in her eyes seemed to snuff out. Suddenly I got the feeling I had ruined another perfectly good time. Obviously she had heard the song before and it meant something to her. And not something entirely good. She stopped eating and turned to look at the jukebox as if the machine had intentionally offended her. Then she turned back to me, a neutral look upon her face. She closed her eyes and then with a sigh said, “I always liked this song.”
“You don’t look like you do.”
“No I do,” she tried to convince me. But the sad look on her face said otherwise.
“But it reminds you of someone.”
She looked down at her plate of food. “When I was little my parents used to dance to this song in the living room. My dad bought my mama this record by them. Rock n roll alternative, it was called. They played this song over and over until I imagine even our next door neighbors knew the words. I didn’t know it then, but I was even conceived to this song.” She began to quietly sing. “I am so into you, I can’t think of nothing else…”
For a moment I thought she was going to cry. She closed her eyes as if to fight any tears from coming. Her soft singing dropped off and I felt bad for making her sad. It seemed to me to be just another example of how I could never seem to do the right thing to make her happy for a while. “I’m sorry, Summer. I didn’t mean to bring you down.”
She seemed to push the sadness away from her and opened her eyes. She attempted a smile at me. “Like I said, I do like the song. It’s great.” She looked down at her plate and picked at her calzone. “It just makes me think of my parents in happier times.” She took a bite as if the food would bury her memories. Again, she smiled and this time it seemed genuine. “So, what were your parents like?”
“They were great together. Of course, they didn’t dance to Atlanta Rhythm Section. They were more Dave Brubeck Quartet. I can remember them slow dancing too. Their song was called ‘Audrey’.”
“Was that your mom’s name?”
“No, it was pop’s favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn. Mom didn’t seem to mind. She had a sexy favorite too. Gregory Peck.” I looked at Summer, and for a moment she seemed lost. I realized she probably had no idea who I was talking about. “Well anyway, they loved to dance to slow piano jazz. Stuff from the late 50’s, when they were young.”
“Too bad you don’t dance. It is liberating.”
“That’s one thing I didn’t inherit from my parents.”
She nodded, taking a sip of her tea. Then her face got serious. “Promise me something.”
“Uh…okay,” I replied, suddenly wary of what she might ask.
“Before I leave, dance with me.”
“Summer, I can’t…”
“Yes you can.”
A new song coming from the jukebox saved me. My second selection had rescued me from committing to making a fool of myself. “What’s this?” she asked.
“True Fine Love. Steve Miller Band.”
She smiled in approval. “I like it.”
“Me too.”
“Ever find one of those? A true fine love?”
I thought about this a moment. I reached for my soda and took a sip. It was nearly empty and I signaled the waiter for a refill. He took my glass and returned with a new drink. I thanked him and then gave Summer my answer. “I think we all believe we have when we first fall for someone. Each time you fall you feel like it’s the first time you have ever loved.”
“But does that make it a true love?”
“If it’s true, it doesn’t end.”
“True,” she agreed.
“So, the answer is no. I believed what I had with Ashley was true, but obviously it wasn’t.”
“Perhaps on your part it was. There’s always one who loves more than the other.”
“It’s not supposed to be that way.”
She nodded and gave me a sad look. “I agree.”
The song from the jukebox had prompted some of the restaurant’s patrons to look at us. Two rock n roll love songs in a row. I guess they were expecting a proposal, or at the very least doe eyed looks across the table. We disappointed them on both counts.
“I don’t think my parents believed in a true fine love,” Summer said. “I guess that’s why I want to. The things they believed didn’t last, so I want what they never had, you know.”
“Yeah,“ I replied, and I knew she was going somewhere with this, so I waited.
”What do you want?”
The question surprised me. “Excuse me?”
“What do you want out of life?”
“Oh. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Well, I used to think I wanted a fairy tale romance. You know picket fence, little pink houses for you and me. But now I’m not so sure. I find it hard to believe in those things now. I guess if I have to give a real answer I would say I just want someone to love me, and not be trying to look for a way out behind my back.”
“Sounds fair enough. I think all I want is not to end up like my parents. To spend all that time falling in love, starting a family. All to watch it disappear in an instant. I guess that’s why all my relationships go straight out the window, because I’m afraid of devoting all that time and energy for it to come to nothing. Does that make any sense, or does that make me seem selfish?”
“It makes sense to me, and no, it doesn’t sound selfish.”
“You know I came here with what seemed to be my life’s purpose to find out from my father why he left mom and I behind. But, now I’m wondering if there is any point in that. I mean, what would that really accomplish? I fear it’s not going to make me happy to know. And it won’t give me lost time with my dad back.”
I didn’t know what to say. She had her reasons for wanting to track down her father and none of them had anything to do with me. I wanted to be there for her in her quest but what could I do, really? I had to be careful what to say; I didn’t want to influence her to make what could be the wrong choice. Lucky for me she didn’t give me a chance to respond.
“You know, I really didn’t want to talk about, or even think of, my father tonight.” She shook her head. “I just wanted to go out and have fun with someone. Forget my troubles and all that.”
“I’ve had fun,” I reassured her.
She smiled and reached across the table to pat my hand. “So have I.” She paused for just a moment as if listening for something. It wasn’t the jukebox; the songs I selected had finished. “But he’s still there,” she said after a moment. “A shadow hanging over everything.”
I thought to myself, her father wasn’t the only shadow. Ashley seemed to be in the background too; thoughts of her looming on the edge of the evening. I thought how crazy this seemed, for Summer and I had each other to make conversation with, to enjoy time together, and here we were still overwhelmed by the two people who caused us the most pain. I wondered if we would ever be over our pasts, whether they would ever let us go. I found myself wishing I could talk to Ashley right now, so I could ask her why she had….I stopped. This was wrong. To even think of her right now was wrong. If I was ever going to have any kind of relationship, even friendship, with another member of the opposite sex I had to put her out of my mind long enough to do so. Easier said than thought.
Summer seemed to be lost in thoughts of her own. Perhaps she was thinking something similar about her life and the place her father had in it. She looked up at me and downed the rest of her sweet tea. “I think I’m done if you are,” she said. “Want to get out of here?”
“Yes, I do,” I replied. I had been feeling like the walls were closing in on us here at the restaurant. I needed some fresh air.
Outside, the night had cooled down a little but you could still feel the humidity of the day lingering, much like our own demons hung out of sight, yet close enough to make us feel uncomfortable. We walked to the car, her hand clutching on to my arm, just as much for comfort as for guidance, for it was dark in the small parking lot. I opened the passenger side door and she got in. I closed the door behind her and went around to my side. I got in and rolled down the window to try and air out the car.
“You know, that is the first time in ages anyone opened and closed the car door for me,” Summer said, glancing at me.
I smiled at her. “Well it is our first date. After playing the wrong song I guess I better try and dazzle you in other ways.”
“It wasn’t the wrong song. Just kind of took me back and made me have too much to think.”
I grinned at her analogy and put the key in the ignition to start the car.
“Matthew, can I ask you something?”
I took my hand off the key. “Yeah, I guess so.”
She was looking at me with a solemn expression. “Have you ever felt a connection with someone you haven’t been in love with?”
“What do you mean?”
She turned in her seat so her back was to her door and she was facing me directly. “I mean, have you ever felt something special with someone you weren’t romantically involved with?”
“I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“No reason.”
“Liar. Why do you ask?”
She looked away for a moment and seemed to be deciding what to say. Finally she was ready. “Well, I feel something special with you. When we’re together I feel great. I feel like I could do anything. I’ve had male friends before, and I’ve had lovers, but I don’t know…you make me feel special, and I feel like there’s something between us.”
“But you don’t know what it is,” I added.
“Yes.”
Now it was my turn to look away and decide what to say. I opted for the truth. “I feel the same way. I’ve never felt this kind of connection, but I like it.”
“I do too.” She laid her head over on my shoulder. I wasn’t used to such closeness, but I didn’t say anything. The truth was I liked this. It was comforting. Maybe she found comfort with her head resting on my shoulder. I know I felt comfort just having her do so, but I wasn’t sure how to say it out loud. She seemed to know what I was thinking as always. “Does this bother you?” she asked.
“No, it doesn’t.”
“You’re scared, aren’t you?”
Sometimes I don’t like her perception. “Yes I am. Aren’t you?”
“Always,” she replied, and wrapped her arm around my own and softly cried into my shoulder. A streetlight shone down on the car and for a moment I felt we were actors on a stage fumbling with our lines. If so, I had completely forgotten mine, and we sat there in a silence that was only broken by her muffled sniffles in my shoulder.
“I had a nice time tonight,” I finally said.
“Me too.” She lifted her head from my shoulder and looked right into my face. “Do you like me, Matthew?”
I almost laughed. “Well of course I like you. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
“No, I mean…do you like me…you know…a lot.”
I felt a huge lump in my throat. It was like I escorting my first date to her front door and not knowing what to say. “Yes, I like you a lot.”
She leaned closer to me. Her chin was nearly resting on my shoulder, her face just inches away from my own. “I want that dance, “she breathed.
I swallowed, trying to rid myself of the lump. “I want…”, I began, only to be interrupted by a knock on the car window. She jumped, letting out a little yelp, and I have to admit I was startled too. A figure stood beside my open window. It was the waiter kid.
“Hey, I don’t mean to be whatever, but you forgot to sign for the tip.”
In his hand he held our bill. I had given him the credit card and he had run the ticket but I hadn’t signed it. In our desire to get out of there we had just left. “Oh sorry.” I looked over at Summer, and silently mouthed, ‘one dollar.’ She gave me a stern, ‘you better not’ look, and I filled out the bill with his tip and signed it. “Here you go, “I said. “Sorry about that, really.”
He grinned as if to silently tell me he would have forgotten too with the company I had this evening. The waiter walked away and I turned back to Summer. Our moment had been broken. In a way I was glad I didn’t have a chance to complete my sentence. I was afraid of what I wanted to say. And to be honest, she seemed relieved too. “I still expect the dance,” she said, as she put on her seat belt, letting me know that whatever almost passed between us would have to wait until both of us were daring and fearless again.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2014 Paul D. Aronson. All Rights Reserved.

Orchard House Chapter 5

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Chapter 5

After our moment in the kitchen that afternoon things seemed slightly changed. Maybe we had a new respect for each other, or perhaps that heart to heart conversation took us from complete stranger to new friend. Either way, I did feel a little more comfortable around her. It’s a scary thing to feel exposed to someone you just met. My deepest sadness had been revealed to her, and maybe in a small way she had revealed her own. Feeling a need to get out of the kitchen, and indeed the house for a while, we decided to take a walk in the orchard. We could have wished to be alone and retired to our rooms, but suddenly I was very aware that I didn’t want to bear my burden alone anymore. I realized then we all needed someone to talk to. Bottling things up inside would just destroy a person from within. And even if you knew you wouldn’t have that person to talk to forever, you still needed them now.
“Thanks for everything, Summer,” I said, as we walked amongst the trees.
“Thanks for what?”
“For trying to get me out of my shell.”
“I didn’t do anything, Matthew. You needed to let some things out and I was there.”
“Yeah, but I feel like ever since you showed up you have been trying to get me to relax and…I don’t know…be a little more like you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want you to be like me. I probably wouldn’t like you too much if you were.” She laughed. “I like you the way you are. You are an interesting guy. It’s been a long time since I met a guy I want to know more about.”
“I’m not that interesting. I’m just a forty-five year old has-been. Or never-was.”
“Don’t put yourself down so,” she chided. “You act like you’re so old life is over.”
“Some days I feel like it.”
“Well, forty-five ain’t old.”
I shrugged. “If you say so.” I noticed she wasn’t telling me how old she was. Maybe she wanted to keep that barrier between us. If that was the case, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I mean, just because we had become new friends didn’t mean anything beyond that. She might have found me interesting, but surely not that interesting.
“So what do you do, Matthew?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean do you travel all the time staying in old farmhouses or do you have a real job?”
I laughed. “Well, I guess I’m a writer.”
“You guess?”
“I had a book out. It didn’t do too good. My publisher decided to pass on anything else I’d written.”
“What else had you written?”
“Poetry.”
“Cool.”
“As a younger man I tried my hand at being a music writer.”
Her face lit up. “I knew it! You’re a music nerd. “
“Yeah, but a very boring one. I didn’t have anything bad to say about the bands or albums I reviewed. I loved the music too much to be critical about it. I covered the Southern Rock scene for a fairly decent magazine. Unfortunately, by the time the time the 80’s hit the southern rock scene was dead, so I was a bit too late.”
“I was a bit too late too,” she said. “I was born in the 80’s.”
There it was. A woman never says exactly how old she is, but she always finds a way to hint at it. And her hint made me feel incredibly old. She must have realized this because she let out a long sigh. “Okay, stop guessing in your head because you’ll get it wrong. I’m twenty-nine.”
“It’s okay, I wasn’t guessing.”
“Yes you were. I think part of what make you so nervous around me is the age difference. You think I’m so young, and that you’re so old.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Fibber. I’ve seen it in the way you treat me. I say things and you give me that look as if you aren’t sure what’s appropriate to say. Like today, I know you wanted to say I looked nice when I came home. But you didn’t because you were afraid of what I might say or think. But let me tell you something, a secret if you will. A girl likes to be told she looks nice. “
I didn’t know how to respond. She was right of course. I felt like there were boundaries to keep, and that if I crossed them, even innocently, they would be construed as something bad. So I had tried to keep things casual and simple, while she had been trying to get me to relax and just be free. In that way I guess we clashed. In that way perhaps the age difference did show. But walking with her now in the orchard on a sunny afternoon I did find myself relaxing. So much so, I wanted to reach for her hand. But still I felt I shouldn’t. This wasn’t what she wanted. Just because a person thinks you’re interesting or wants to be your friend doesn’t mean they want to be touched. Even though I knew I needed someone for emotional support, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be touched either, even if it was something as simple as holding hands. I lived in a world where people put up fences around themselves, cutting everyone off from each other, and if you let someone inside your fence it changed everything in your relationship with that person. So Summer stepped inside my fence and took my hand. If I was feeling I shouldn’t reach for hers, maybe she felt it was up to her to take the initiative or it would never happen.

Walking hand in hand through the orchard was nice. I can’t properly describe how it made me feel, her soft warm hand in my own. It had been so long since I had held someone’s hand like this; I’m not sure what it meant. Ashley was never much for holding hands, nor any public displays of affection, unless she was trying to assert her place as my girl, and then only at the beginning of our relationship. In the later years I felt it was mostly show and rarely genuine affection that made her reach for me, unless it was in private and relegated to the bedroom.
“What ya thinkin?” Summer asked, noticing my mind had wandered off somewhere.
I squeezed her hand. “I was just thinking about how nice this is. Walking with you.”
She smiled, and it was like a ray of sunshine. “I like it, too.” She started swinging her arm and we walked on like two teenagers innocently clutching hands. “I kind of had a rough morning,” she added.
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“”I thought I was ready to see someone today.”
“I’m confused.”
“If you came here to get away from someone, well, I guess I came to find somebody.”
“A guy.”
“Yeah.”
“Does this guy have a name?”
She looked down at the ground. “Yeah, I’m just not sure what it is. He changed it since the last time I saw him.”
“Did you find him?”
“I thought so…but it wasn’t him. It made me think I’m really not ready for this, and I should just go home.”
“Is he like my Ashley?”
“Yeah, he is in a way. I mean, she ruined you for other people, and he ruined me in a similar way. Because of him I can’t hold a relationship for long, I can’t trust anybody, can’t even say I love you without breaking down crying, which tends to freak the guys out.” She shook her head. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“Maybe you want to trust me,” I answered. “I trusted you with my…hurt.”
She smiled. “Yes you did.”
We walked on in silence for a while. I got the impression she was deciding what to say, or possibly how much of her pain she wanted to reveal.
“My mother died two months ago,” she finally said. “She was a brave woman. All my life I remember her facing down every bad thing that happened to her like she was some kind of war hero. She got sick last year and she tried to face that bravely too, especially when it was diagnosed as terminal cancer. I went to stay with her and in the past year I think she unloaded on me everything she ever wanted to say about my father.”
She let go of my hand because it was starting to shake. I wanted to grab it back but I thought it best just to let her have her freedom. For a brief moment I looked in her face and her eyes held this look as if she might bolt and run at any moment like a wild horse out on the range.
“He left her…us really…when I was seven. I remember sitting on the front porch waiting for him to come home from work one day and he never showed up. I waited until dark and mama made me come in. The next day she told me he wasn’t coming back. When I asked her why, she told me he decided he had a hungry heart and wanted to be somewhere else. I thought at the time she meant that one day we’d get to go to that some place else he went and be a family again. But it never happened. Finally, she just said he didn’t want either one of us and that I should get used to it. I’m still not used to it.” She looked up at me, her eyes dark and serious. “Every man I have known since doesn’t stay either. They all want to be somewhere else eventually. They always run.”
“I won’t run,” I promised.
She stared at me so hard I had to look away. It was making me very nervous.
“Yes you will. You’ll get a hungry heart too. In your defense you can’t help it. You’re a guy.”
“Hey wait a minute, that’s not fair. Not all guys are like your father.”
“No man I have ever known has stayed. Not just my dad, but every…single..guy. And I think sometimes that maybe if I could find my father he could tell me why every man is like that.”
“Summer, I’m not like that. If we were..you know, together…I wouldn’t do that to you.”
She shook her head sadly. “I wish I could believe you, Matthew. I know you mean well and want to be the ideal friend, but you can’t fight your nature.”
I grabbed her hand this time and stopped her right there in the orchard. “Look at me,” I said, and she obliged me, looking at me with her dark smoldering eyes. “As someone said to me earlier, my god, what has he done to you?”
I couldn’t hold her gaze for long, so I looked down, and she saw it as something else other than my own shyness. “What does it matter, Matthew? You won’t even look at me for long before your eyes turn away. How long before the rest of you turns away?”
“I’m not turning away. I’m right here.”
“But I am,” she said, and the dam nearly broke, tears building up in her eyes and threatening to stream down her face. Before that happened though, she did exactly what her eyes had originally told me. She bolted and ran. Without a word, she just turned and took off deeper into the orchard. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to chase after her; the other said let her go. I debated the things I would say to her that would make things alright, but maybe there was nothing I could say to right the damage her father had done to her. It’s sad how one person can ruin you for life, how they can have a dark effect on you and be a shadow in every relationship you have afterwards. Summer had her father, I had my Ashley. And like two trains gone off the rails, we were dying in the wreckage.

I think what surprised me the most about our aborted walk in the orchard was the temporary deterioration of the mask Summer wore. Up until that point her face was a happy one. Yeah, the night before I had hurt her feelings but in every other moment shared she had been smiling and like a happy go lucky girl in love with life. Now, all of a sudden, I was seeing another side. She had let down her guard and I’d caught a glimpse of the hurt and scared little girl hiding inside. I didn’t quite know what to do from this point forward. After all, maybe that happy exterior wasn’t real at all. Maybe it was there so that people would like her. Perhaps the real Summer was not summery at all. Was this the point she always reached before the men in her life abandoned her? Was this first crack in her wonderful exterior the thing that sent people running, as she claimed?
I walked back to orchard house, glancing behind me every now and then to see if I could spy her out there in the fields, with this new picture of Summer in my head. But if it chased others away from her, it had the opposite effect on me. It made me feel a little bit closer, because I felt she shared a similar pain as mine. Kindred spirits is what they called people like us, but was our hurt so great we would never be able to fully connect or let the pain go? I didn’t have the answers, but I was surprised by the fact that my problem with Ashley was receding to the back of my mind and Summer’s dilemma with her estranged father was edging its way to the front. Is this the way we get past our own troubles and worries, by helping someone else with their own?
I didn’t know what to do but return to the house and wait. Hopefully Summer would find her way back home too. Strange to call such a place home, but as long as she was there it was feeling as such. I sat down on the back porch and began my wait. It was kind of strange but on our first night I had found myself sitting here waiting for her to return from the orchard after I had upset her on our Wal-Mart trip. Now here it was our second night and I was waiting on her in the same fashion. It made me think of that Brad paisley song, ‘Waiting On A Woman.’ Man, was there no end to my music geekdom? Even in serious reflective moments songs popped into my head.
Something else popped into my head as well. I had been without purpose for so long. Forever wrapped up in my own heartbreak I had cut myself off from others. When I felt like I was no good for Ashley, I felt like I was no good to everyone else too. But now here was Summer and it was obvious she needed someone to help her learn to carry on without her mother and resolve the issues with her estranged father. But what could I do? Maybe I could go with her to help her find her dad. Or would it be better to just let her do this on her own and wait for her in the event she needed me when it was all over? As much as I wanted to help, there was this part of me that said let it be. Let her do what she needed to do alone. I think there are some things you have to go through alone, so maybe this was one of them. But on the other hand, I felt with her change of mood in the orchard she was tired of being alone. She needed someone to be there.
While pondering all this, she returned. The sun hadn’t quite gone down, but it was close to sinking behind the blue tinged mountains. I was sitting on the metal porch swing, my feet quietly rocking it on its rails. She came up the steps slowly and around to the porch where I sat. Wordlessly, she settled down beside me. For a moment she didn’t say anything, and neither did i. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, waiting for the best time to say anything. The sinking sun played its light across her freckled face and her eyes took on a copper glow. Staring at her when she wasn’t looking was easy. She was very pleasant to look at, but once she turned her head in my direction I averted my gaze like a shy schoolboy caught looking at the prettiest girl in class. She softly sighed beside me and we both stared off into the coming sunset. Finally she spoke. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to treat you so mean.”
“You don’t treat me mean,” I answered, daring to glance her way.
She looked my way too and tried to smile. “Really Matthew, I don’t mean to treat you badly. It’s just that you are the first guy…man…that I have felt comfortable around in a long time. It’s funny, really. I don’t know you that much. I’ve known you for two days and already I feel we have been friends for years.”
I smiled. “I feel connected too.”
“Yes exactly, that’s what it feels like. Like there is something special, you don’t quite know what it is, but it feels nice.”
“Yes it does.”
“But it scares me too.”
I grinned. “Terrifying.”
“You are still very nervous around me,” she suggested.
I hung my head, kind of embarrassed. “Yes I guess I am.”
She nodded, and then went silent. I could see she was turning something over in that pretty head of hers. “Maybe we just need to start over, so we can be nervous together,” she finally said.
“Maybe so,” I agreed, though to be honest, I wasn’t sure what she was getting at.
She turned a little in her seat so she was facing me. “Matthew, would you like to go grab a bite to eat with me?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. On one hand it seemed like she was asking me out, and on the other hand…well it seemed like she was asking me out on that one too. “You mean like a date?” I nervously asked.
“Well, yeah, if you want to call it that. Does that make you uncomfortable?”
“N-no,” I answered.
“Nervous?”
“Big time.”
She laughed. “Well then, that’s what first dates are all about. Chasing the butterflies from your stomach and getting to know each other. So, you game?”
“Yes I am,” I replied, but there must have been a touch of worry in my voice, because she gave me this look.
“Stop thinking about Ashley. I’m not going to leave you waiting for me to show. In fact, we’re driving together and I know just the place. I spotted it on my way back today. You like Italian?”
“Yes I do. My favorite.”
“Good, come on. Let’s get changed and go.”
“Changed?” I asked.
“Yes. You don’t think I’m going dressed like this, do you? I need to be back in my jeans and t-shirt. I can only take dressing up like a lady in small doses.”
I laughed. “I think you look fine.”
Smiling, she winked at me and stood up. “There ya go. You’re starting to loosen up and relax, I like that. But really, I don’t want to overdress. I’ll be back.”
I stood up to follow her. “Okay. Maybe I won’t overdress either. Taking my car or yours?”
“We took mine to Wal-Mart. Let’s go in yours this time. I’ll show you how to get there.”
“Only if we get to sing out the windows again.”
“Deal,” she said, and we both went into orchard house, she to change and I to wait.

The wait was longer than I thought. How long does it take for a woman to put on jeans and a t-shirt? I thought about that Brad Paisley song again and realized I didn’t mind waiting on a woman either. However, the longer I waited, the more I realized now was my opportunity to impress her. I went to my bedroom and dug through my clothes until I found something nicer to wear. I chose a pair of black khakis and a matching button up shirt. As an added touch I picked out some silver cuff links. I changed into dress shoes and was debating whether to add a tie to my new ensemble when I heard her on the stairs. I didn’t want to keep her waiting so I rushed out the room into the hallway just as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
I stopped in my tracks. Now I knew what was taking her so long. “I thought you said you didn’t want to overdress,” I said, when I finally found my voice.
She was wearing a black dress, the hem coming down to just below her knees, giving one a look at her legs. The dress was slit at one side affording a more teasing glimpse, while allowing her to actually walk. A slightly plunging neckline revealed the beginning swell of her breasts without showing off too much. This was not a trashy dress, but one that was all classy lady. I looked down. On her feet, she wore black high heels, but I could tell from the way she stood that she wasn’t entirely used to them.
“I changed my mind,” she said. “I’m glad I did. That look on your face is priceless.”
Suddenly aware I was staring, I looked away from her. “Oops, sorry. Again, I was expecting jeans and t-shirt. You have surprised me.”
“I can go and change again if you like.”
“Absolutely not. Now we match.”
It was now her turn to look me up and down and she took it at her own leisure. “I like. You look good in black.”
I blushed. “So do you.”
Her smile lit up her whole face. I noticed she had put on a little eye shadow, and the violet shade brought out her dark eyes and the shape of her face, though I had already been aware of those things when we were walking through the orchard. She was one of those rare women who didn’t need makeup, but for tonight if it made her feel more beautiful, then I was all for it, too.
She held out her arm. “So, let’s go paint the town black then.” I took her arm, linking it in mine and we marched together down the hall, and around to the kitchen, as if we were waltzing down the aisle. And even with that thought in mind, never once did I think of Ashley. She was worlds away, and tonight was all Summer.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2014 Paul D. Aronson.

Orchard House Chapter 4 Writing Notes

When looking at these chapters it has been enlightening to me to see how some elements were intentional and yet others weren’t. I believe every writer experiences that moment when a story begins to write itself. We lay down the characters, what makes them tick, their desires, their hangups, their way of talking and interacting and then we just let them go. Often I am surprised where a story goes once I start writing it. This became evident to me in Chapter 4.

Two scenes here weren’t even intended and yet they flashed into being. One was what I now call the flirting scene, where Summer attempts to get Matthew to dance. Originally I had intended to build a scene around the kitchen radio and once I decided on the song the scene just wrote itself. The only thing I intentionally tried to do was to keep it innocent. Though it may be a little flirtatious, it was about fun not desire. I wanted Summer’s carefree, fun attitude to contrast with Matthew’s ineptitude when it comes to interacting and understanding women. Looking back on this after the fact I didn’t realize I was turning the normal romance novel scenario around. In most novels of the genre I have read it’s usually the guy who is trying to bring the girl out of her shell, but here the female is the protagonist.

The second unplanned scene in this chapter was Matthew’s confession about his ex, Ashley. I had always intended this subject to be broached but not quite this soon. It would need discussion(and still needs it further) eventually, but it wasn’t until the exasperated Summer walks away that suddenly it all came out of my character. By starting the reveal of Matthew’s ill fated romantic back story we can now focus on fleshing it out and see how it has damaged his whole outlook on relationships. When starting this I began with a basic idea that he had been left standing at the altar. As we get further into it in later chapters we’ll see how basic ideas come leaping into being when you don’t try to map them out. This for me is the most exciting part about writing: Watching the unplanned parts of the story unfold.

Once again, music played a big part in the flow of this chapter and when I went into it I had a few songs as my outline and built the events around those tunes. First off there was the REM song “(Don’t go back to) Rockville.” Though it is not specifically mentioned, the reference can be found in the mention of a REM t-shirt Matthew wears. Then as he walks to the convenience store and passes the migrant workers it was the Gypsy Kings Latin version of Hotel California that figured largely in the writing process. I don’t think Matthew would have interacted much with these workers in the course of the story if I hadn’t been for that song which I heard on a Latin playlist on the rhapsody streaming service. The scene here had actually begun being written while listening to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. It’s notion of giving up city life for the country way appealed to the story, but once I arrived upon the migrant workers I didn’t think it was a song they would have been singing amongst themselves. Finally, musically speaking, I got to the scene in the kitchen with Matthew and Summer in the kitchen. The hint is laid out that the first song playing before she arrives home is “Tiny Dancer” by Tim McGraw, but I felt the Kenny Chesney song “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” fit Summer’s carefree personality better, and it also gave me the words to pepper her dialogue with as she begins to dance. I really like how this scene shifts from a physical scene to one that is about emotion when Matt reveals what had happened  between he and Ashley. Again, this scene seemed to shift on its own and not because I had mapped it out as such. My music references and the way music helped craft the story and its events in my head will become a little clearer with the next chapter hopefully. I personally do love music in a big way, but with chapter five we’ll see how it plays a little into the life of our narrator.

In finishing my notes on this chapter I have to admit this was the chapter in which I realized this would be a dialogue heavy story. I personally believe solid relationships are built on dialogue. In the beginning when i first met my wife we spent hours talking. about our life, the past, things we liked or didn’t like, and so if the old adage that a writer should write about what he knows is correct then I know this to be true: If you want to start a relationship of any kind you have to talk. Here the talk is first fun and flirty, then deep and serious. Not only does dialogue help unravel the story in this way it also allows us a peek into the character’s personalities, desires, and dreams. I hope you’ll join me for chapter five and see just how much there is to know about a person once you get characters interacting.