For the officathon challenge on

Challenge #24:
Genre: Romance.
Rating: PG-13.
Likes: Characters with personalities. Something dark and artsy. A hot guy. Humor.
Dislikes: Characters with no personality. Clichés. Too much melodrama. A guy who doesn't act like a guy. Main characters over 20 years old.
Words/phrases to use: "Have you ever wondered how it would be like to eat a cat?"; "Bananas are...yellow."; "My three-year-old sister is my inspiration."

Your face it haunts
my once pleasant dreams;
your voice it chased away
all the sanity in me

My Immortal, Evanescence


The Scent of Her

springish


I am responsible for my girlfriend's death.

Or is it ex-girlfriend?

What do you call a girl who loved you so much that she killed herself?

In love?

Messed up?

Or both?

She lies among the earth and the roots and the sadness, in the orange dress she always hated and that I loved. She used to say it made her butt look too big.

She wasn't wearing that dress when I found her. Her dress had been white. Pure white drenched in a red so deep that it almost looked black. A cascade of dark silky hair against that pale, waxy skin. A faraway look in those glassy gray eyes. And a smile that graced those blue lips.

She looked like an angel, in a sad, sick sort of way.

And in my own sad, sick sort of way, I'd wanted to sit there in that deathly silence and paint her. In blacks, and whites, and deep, dark reds.

I don't know how long I sat there on the edge of her bed, staring at the piece of scented, white paper she clasped between her cold fingertips. An intoxicating perfume kept me company, dancing about my nostrils. The scent of strawberry. The scent of her.

Only later, when her parents had seen and wept for their only daughter, did I dare to slip the letter from her grasp. It had seemed wrong to disturb her before – as if, just by touching her, I would break her spell.

I was shitted enough for breaking her heart.

Her letter was a poem, composed of eight lines.

I can't bear the thought

Of my life without you.

I couldn't bear the pain

If you said we were through.

In this way, I'll recall

Our love as pure and true.

I am doing this because

I love you

Jesus.

How could eight lines make up for the life that she'd left behind? How could eight lines be so accusing and gut wrenching and loving all at once?

It all seemed so stupid. So funny. So sad.

And the funniest thing was that I didn't even know if I loved her.

How could I, a seventeen-year-old who didn't even know if he preferred boxers or briefs, comprehend that baffling 'L-word'? I'd liked her enough to go to theYear 12 formalwith her, sure. I'd liked her enough to consider her my girlfriend, yes. And yes, we'd already succumbed to the temptation of sex, on a night that seems so long ago.

These feelings had been the most powerful I had ever felt for anybody in my whole life. These feelings alone had been more than I had ever thought I'd ever feel at seventeen.

But she'd wanted more. More than I had been capable of giving her.

And now, she was dead.

And I hated her, with all of my being. I hated her and yet I think I loved her and I didn't know how I could feel both at the same time.

But I know that with the sadness came the anger and the hurt, because why couldn't my feelings have been enough and how dare she put me in such a position to regret feeling as I had?

You see, it is my fault that 'Natasha Jane Howard, loving daughter, missed by all' is dead. Trapped forever in that damn orange dress that yes, did make her butt look too big.

And maybe it is the grief.

Or maybe it is the guilt, which keeps her here.

---

Do you love me?

It has become a daily ritual.

Yes, Natasha. I do.

Lunchtime in the quad with Natasha. But there is no Natasha Jane Howard, I try to remind myself. And I feel myself begin to shake.

It is cold. As it usually is when your life has gone down the shithole.

Too cold for soccer season, but not cold enough for Coach, who has already begun scouting for his players. Too cold for me, who refused.

I can hear Peter and Marco arguing as they head toward me.

"Man, I can't believe I got a D and you got a freaking A. Who needs to know how to describe things, anyway? That's bullshit." Marco shakes his head angrily. "It was a freaking banana. Ms. Gregory is fucked up, I swear."

"Well," Pete says, unwrapping his sandwich as he leans against the fence. "It's not like you put a lot of effort into it. She asked you to describe a banana. And what the hell did you say? Bananas are...yellow."

He snickers to himself.

"Bananas are yellow!"

Marco bites into his lunch moodily.

Peter uses the silence to try to persuade me to rejoin the soccer team.

"Mikey ain't gonna be too happy about you quitting," Pete tells me seriously, referring to our captain and the school's all-round sleazebag. But his love life has never been any of my business – as long as he could captain our soccer team, I'd had nothing against him.

He's the one who'd introduced me to Natasha in the first place.

And aren't you glad that he had, sweetie?

Yes, Natasha, I am.

"He's not going to be pleased, you know. He likes his men on the team. Not some fucking newbie he has to train up for the season."

I'm all too aware of Mike Harrington's preferences, but the painful reminder of my girlfriend is all that I need.

"I don't think -" I begin.

"So you're in the team, because the rest of us are gonna cop it if you're not." Marco folds his arms across his chest, daring me to debate the matter further.

I don't get a chance to argue because, at that moment, a Chinese girl, whom I vaguely remember as being the girl in my English class who could never understand the difference between 'your' and 'you're', bounds toward us with surprising enthusiasm.

Do you know her, honey?

There's an almost accusing quality to Natasha's tone.

"Hey Pete, hey Marco," she greets my friends, but, to my unease, it is me whom her gaze lingers on. She regards me with inquisitive golden eyes, which maybe I would have found attractive before.

But not now.

It is as if my life is separated into two stages, and I am now living in the After of Natasha's death.

"Tina!" Pete grins, draping an encouraging arm over her shoulder. Marco is too busy looking down her top to offer much support, but he grunts in acknowledgement.

I want to tell her that I am not single, that I have a girlfriend whom I love very much. But the words stick in my throat and I remember that that is not entirely true.

"This is Tobias. Tobias Viteri. Tobias, this is Tina Zhi."

She smiles. "You're in my English class," she says, holding out her hand to shake.

Only, I'm pretty sure she thinks that she's saying 'your'.

I take her hand, despite the fact that every fibre of my being is screaming against it. I haven't touched a girl since I'd let my fingertips brush Natasha's over her suicide letter. She doesn't like it when I get comfortable with other girls.

Because I love you.

I know it is only because she loves me.

The silence is awkward and painful, and I entertain the thought of leaving them there to sort out whatever mistake they'd made. I am not interested in finding another girl and it is upsetting that my two best friends can't see that.

After a long pause, Pete brightens. I want to smack the shit out of him for his satisfied expression.

"Tina here volunteers at the RSPCA. She's very passionate about it."

"Pete is interested in animals too," Marco offers, finally able to tear his gaze away from her ample chest. "He paints them all the time."

My chest tightens and burns, knowing what my friends are trying to do.

Don't let them take you away from me.

I cannot control the words that next come out of my mouth.

"So, Tina Zhi, have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat a cat?" The words are snide and racist. It is as if somebody else has possessed my body, taken over my thoughts, my actions, my words.

Her eyes widen, but she says nothing, unsure how to respond. Pete and Marco turn to each other, their mouths wide open. And I have no idea why, but all I feel is a sudden urge to laugh.

Silence.

I love you.

"I think," Tina says hesitantly, shooting me a nervous glance, "that my friends are waiting for me in the library. I'd better go."

I feel sick as she leaves, but there is also a fire raging inside my belly, a spiteful feeling that I cannot explain.

It is Pete who tries to cut the tension that hangs in the air, trying to reach between the void that hangs between us. I cannot be the Pete and Tobias and Marco that we were. And they cannot understand.

"Come on, man," Pete pushes, punching me on the shoulder as if physical abuse is going to shake me out of whatever has taken hold. "What's with you being a dick all of a sudden, huh?"

I bristle.

"Gee, excuse me if I'm mourning for my dead girlfriend, okay?"

"Holy mother of Jesus." Marco exhales. "Okay, okay. Seriously, it's been two months, mate. You need to get yourself another chick, alright? Yeah, Natasha's death was bad. Holy hell, never seen so much blood before. But she had you puss - "

"- she had you wrapped around her little finger," Pete chimes in, always the more eloquent of the two. But not by much. "She said 'I want you to act out my sex fantasy' and you'd go buy yourself a Jack Sparrow costume if you could, complete with the freaking sword and parrot."

"Pussy whipped," Marco confirms. "Like I was going to say before, you were so pussy whipped. And now she's gone she's still got you right where she wants you."

I chew on my bottom lip.

Natasha isn't going to like this and, sure enough, there's anger in her voice.

They've always hated me, Toby. They never gave me a chance. But I love you.

"You always hated her. You never gave her a chance."

Marco's look is one of revulsion.

"Has she taken over your mind or something? You're starting to sound just like her."

They're trying to take you away from me.

"You're trying to take me away from her." I can't help the accusing pitch to my tone.

Pete and Marco exchange looks and Peter's next words are laced with concern.

"Are you okay, man? Seriously, okay. You don't need to find yourself a chick, but God, you're starting to creep us out. You sound exactly like her. That's what she said every time we had soccer practise, remember? "

Don't you want to spend time with me, Tobias? I love you.

Suddenly, it is far too chilly out here. I stumble away, leaving Marco and Peter to themselves, unable to stand being outside any longer.I am suffocating on the cold, choking on something that I can't see or hear. I am choking on nothing. And everything.

And her.

---

The RSPCA stands for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

This is only Chapter One. The due date for thechallenge is on December 23, and both Chapter Two and Three have been written. They only need editing. It was quite a challenge indeed, as I don't usually write 'dark' stories. I still don't think I achieved the dark aspect yet, but…eh, oh well. This has been one of many drafts. It was especially hard to incorporate humour and guy-qualities into a dark story without suddenly switching tones.

Well, this is a learning experience, and I'll take it! Hmmm…what do you think? Is Natasha really haunting Tobias? Or is it just his guilt? o.0