After waving goodbye to Jennifer, I pulled my keys out and unlocked my house. It was dark, just as I had left it. Sighing, I dropped my already monstrously heavy bag and made my way toward the kitchen. I kicked my heels off near the dining table then shrugged what was left of Mr. Night's coat from my shoulders.
"Mom?" I called, already knowing what the answer would be.
I shook my head. My mother was always out on business trips, board meetings, anything-it seemed-to stay away from home. I rarely saw my mother anymore. Frequently, she traveled out of state, and she'd be gone for weeks before I saw her again. Once I actually forgot what she looked like, and when I'd heard her coming in the door, I'd thought her a burglar. It would have been funny, if it hadn't been so pathetic.
When I entered the kitchen, I opened the fridge to grab the carton of orange juice. Retrieving a glass from the cupboard adjacent to the fridge, I poured myself some juice and returned the carton to the shelf. I sighed and took a gulp of it, wishing it was stronger to soothe the stresses of my first day back. Through the wavy design of the cup, I spotted a polka-dotted scrap of paper held to the refrigerator with a butterfly magnet. My eyes narrowed, and I plucked the note from the door brusquely.
Setting the glass down on the wooden dinner table-which was hardly ever used-I read the note over in ten seconds, my face growing redder and redder the whole time. It was a note from my mother, neatly written with small, bubbly letters with such curvy loops they would do a voluptuous aunt proud.
I'm sorry we don't get to spend time together. I know you're at school, and I know how dedicated you are to school. I barely have time to get ready for my next plane. Business has really been...busy lately, so once this settles down, we'll be able to spend some quality time together. I love you, and I know you're doing well. I know I can trust you if Steven comes over. There are some gifts for you in your room.
Crumpling the colorful scrap of paper-the poor excuse of an apology-I chucked it across the room. It landed ten feet in front of me because it didn't weigh much, but I'd accomplished something. I hated her! Who said I even wanted to spend time with her? How pathetic! She wasn't even around enough to realize that I'd broken up with Steven a year ago! It made me sick and sorrowful at the same time. She wasn't a real mother. Someone I should be able to spend time with and share my secrets and fears and desires with was never around. And she used excuse after excuse, expecting me to be okay with it.
Perhaps the best part about her being a successful business woman-let me stress the 'successful' part- was that she loved using large sums of her money on buying me apology gifts that I absolutely loved. Not that it could measure up the real thing. But it was a nice substitute knowing that I could be carrying around an authentic Ferragamo purse as a 'please forgive me for being a terrible mother' symbol. As much as I loved those gifts, nothing would have pleased me more than to have a close relationship with my mother.
I knew that wouldn't happen anymore. I'd stopped dreaming at fourteen, and I was tired of waiting for my mother to stop treating me as a second priority compared to her practically twenty-four hour job. Whatever. I was getting over myself, and I was always ecstatic about getting expensive articles that I could flash everywhere I went. I'd learned how to take care of myself, and I didn't need a clucking mother to make sure I was a good girl anymore. The things that she missed, that we could have had, weren't important anymore, and I'd lost interest in her a long time ago.
The telephone jingled from across the kitchen, bringing me out of my frequently confirmed rumination. I bent to pick the note up along the way, and I snatched the receiver from its place. The tan plastic was cold against my skin.
"Good afternoon. This is an automated message for Mary Graham-"
"She doesn't live here," I muttered to myself. I slammed the receiver back onto the holder, more amused than aggravated.
As soon as I'd placed the phone back, it rang for me again. I picked it up and glanced at the caller ID, something I hadn't thought of doing the first time. My spirits leapt as I recognized the name. Suddenly, my day turned for the better, and I practically clapped my hands as I placed the speakers to my ear.
"Damien!" I exclaimed.
"Hey, honey! You like a Cafe Macchiato, right?" His carefree baritone of a voice rang loudly through the speaker.
My nose scrunched up as I tried to recall when I'd informed him of what kind of coffee I liked. "Yes, I do." Opening the island cupboard, I tossed the note into the trash and leaned against the wall.
"Well, come on out, silly. I'm not going to stand around all day!" He laughed then hung up. I ran to the window. Damien leaned against the passenger side of his silver car, each hand holding a cup from the nearby coffee shop. He grinned as he spotted me through the window, and I laughed.
"I love you," I called through the screen.
Damien's smile grew even wider. I put the phone down, ran to the mirror to check my hair and makeup, and sprinted to the door to throw it open. Damien straightened and set the coffee cups down on the hood of his car. Laughing, I ran to him and jumped into his arms as he swung me into his embrace and twirled me around.
"Thank you!" I squealed, kissing his cheek. "Thank you!" I kissed his other cheek.
"You're welcome," he laughed into my ear.
While I was mature at school and at home, when Damien was around, we both were like six year olds all over again. We'd grown up together; he and I had gone to the same school since Pre-kindergarten, we'd lost our first tooth together, ate our first ice cream together. He and I had been two people born of different families, but no one could ever have been closer than us.
I slid down the length of his body as he let me go, and when my feet touched the grass of my front yard, Damien swooped down to peck my cheek. His thumb caressed the spot where he'd kissed, and I giggled and threw my arms around him once more. Damien gave me one last tight squeeze before I finally released him. He turned around to hand me my drink.
"Maybe I should get you surprise gifts all of the time," he teased. "You made me blush with all of that kissing!"
Tugging his hand, I pulled him inside. "I just found a note from Mary saying that she was here while I was at school." I shook my head as he scoffed in acknowledgment. "But she got me some more gifts! Do you want to see them?"
Damien knew all about my mother, and he understood-coming from a household where he practically supported his three younger siblings while his drunken father yelled at him for being gay. His own mother was always away, so he knew what it felt like. The grip of his hand tightened around my own, and his big fingers laced with mine.
"I'd love to see what cute accessories Mary brought you this time."
I lead him up to my bedroom and grabbed my backpack and my heels on my way. Damien offered to take them for me, but I laughed and shook my head. He was always a gentleman, even when he didn't need to be. When I opened my bedroom door, Damien leapt onto the couch in the far corner of the room, which was right next to my bed. I gazed around briefly, marveling at its size. Because my mom was never around, she insisted that I take the master bedroom. Hey, I wasn't complaining.
"Come on, come on!" Damien insisted. "Let me see!" He gestured to the nicely wrapped packages that awaited me on my bed.
Dropping my bags on the floor, I hurried to the bed and picked up the box that looked big enough to hold a pair of shoes. I loved shoes. There was nothing in articles of clothing that I adored more. Damien patted the seat beside him, and I carried the rest of the gifts with me. I sat and then placed the unwrapped gifts on the floor. Eagerly, I tore the ribbon from the box and, pulling the lid off, rummaged through the tissue paper until I found what I sought.
Our jaws dropped simultaneously. As though I'd just uncovered the world's most coveted artifact, I pulled out a pair of pumps, created by none other than the designer Manolo Blahnik. The pair was gorgeous-fashioned with a beautiful crystal brooch at the toe, a heel that covered approximately four, and the color the color was a stunning cobalt blue.
"I'm so jealous of you!" Damien whisper-yelled. It was obvious he didn't want to ruin the moment of our awed shock either.
"Why? Do you want to model for Alan?" I teased. Alan was Damien's boyfriend.
"No!" His cheeks flushed. "We're gay, not cross-dressers!"
I giggled and handed placed them back in the box. "Well, I want you to try them on!"
"Just for you, my dear."
I proceeded to open the rest of my gifts, all of which were more surprising than the last. Along with the pumps I received, I also opened a striking chandelier necklace made of diamonds-which I had to pry the box from Damien's fingers. Knowing him, he probably would have sold it for something even more expensive, but only after wearing it for a week. I laughed internally at the image of Damien strutting around wearing a women's necklace.
Damien grabbed the last gift-which we both knew was an outfit of some sort- and forced me to chase him around the house until I agreed to let him wear the necklace. As I unzipped the sleeve covering the outfit from the hanger, I shook my head. Forget about selling it, Damien would probably keep it for an event that-after talking about it- would make me roar with laughter.
When I completely unzipped the sleeve-after forcing Damien to sit on the floor and watch quietly from ten feet away-I stared down at the dress in shock. I found myself staring at a silk chiffon dress that was of the same color as the shoes I'd received. The base sheet was the blue of the shoes, and it had black chiffon overlay. The straps were straight in the back, but as they wrapped around to the front, they crossed to cover the breast area. It was gorgeous. And it was styled by Dolce and Gabbana
"Can I see it now?" Damien asked, obviously aware of my facial expression.
I couldn't reply. Damien pounded his knees with his fists and bounced up and down on the carpet. My jaw remained slack, and Damien grumbled my name. I touched the fabric lightly afraid it would crumble at my touch.
"Let me see it," he whined. "Lesssllliiieee!"
"Get your butt over here and look then," I replied without taking my eyes off of it.
Damien scurried to my side to peer over my shoulder. He oooed to show his approval. "You'll look gorgeous in it! Maybe you should wear it for homecoming."
"Maybe," I replied. "Do you want me to model it for you?" I asked. I batted my eyelashes in a sort of 'pretty please.'
He grinned at me, his big wide smile making my insides tingle. "I will only if you let me model in it afterward." Damien threw his head back at my shocked expression and smacked my bottom playfully. "Go put it on."
I clapped my hands in triumph and grabbed the dress, completely ignoring the previous moments of exultation and silence I'd so used to cherish it. Swiftly, I reached down to swipe my heels from the box and skipped to my bathroom. Most of my makeup was in the bathroom, so I was sure I could come up with something pretty from what was supplied. Damien hooted as I closed the bathroom door. Shaking my head, I practically ripped my clothes off to wear it. As I gazed at the cut of the dress, I realized that I couldn't wear a bra with it; it was way too low, even for a strapless bra. My face flushing, I peeked out the door.
"What is it, ma cher?" Damien took French and was actually in AP French. He was President of the French Club, and sometimes he tried to teach me how to speak it. I failed miserably. He approached the door and leaned forward, his hand resting lightly on the doorframe.
"Would you…" I cleared my throat, which was suddenly hoarse. "…grab the breast cup thingies in the bottom right drawer of my bureau?"
He laughed and shook his head. When he retrieved the cups from the drawer, he plastered them to his chest and sashayed my way. The crooked grin on his face made me giggle. Damien handed them to me, and I snatched them away before he could find another way to make fun of me. Narrowing my eyes playfully, I rawred at him and shut the door in his face.
Slipping into the dress, I found that it was a perfect fit; it hugged the gentle curve of my bosom perfectly, and it shimmered and waved around my knees. The shoes also graced my feet with exquisite comfort, and I felt that if I wanted to, I could have done a cartwheel in both the dress and the shoes and landed it perfectly. Licking my lips, I shuffled through my makeup drawer and pulled out the closest thing I could find to matching the outfit. Because we weren't actually going out anywhere, I didn't take my time with my makeup. It was just a quick brush of bronzer, a light sprinkle of eye shadow, and a little bit of eyeliner to accentuate the different colors of my eyes. My lips glimmered with the small amount of lip gloss I'd applied.
I looked at the mirror, staring at my reflection like I couldn't recognize myself. Usually, the colors I wore would compliment one color of my eyes-either the aqua blue of my right one or the emerald green of my left one. The shad of this dress was stunning, and it actually complimented both of my eyes, neutralizing each to look at least a little similar.
"Are you done yet, Leslie?" Damien knocked on the door. He could be heard pacing back and forth in my room.
Taking a deep breath, I grabbed the bathroom doorknob and pulled it open. Shyly, I stepped from the bathroom and cleared my throat. Damien turned around, and when his gaze traveled up and down my body, a faint blush tinted my cheeks. I didn't understand why I would blush; he and I were like siblings. But I hadn't been looked over and appreciated in such a long time, and Damien was just…
"You look gorgeous," he murmured. Damien approached me, his green eyes intent. They lowered to gaze upon my lips. Damien stood not a foot away from me, his head lowering, those green eyes becoming brighter and brighter.
"Damien?" I whispered. What was he doing? Wasn't he gay, and taken?
The clouds over his eyes faded, and he jumped back. "Sorry! Sorry!" He raked a hand through his hair and exhaled sharply. "That never happened!"
Something crashed through the bedroom window, interrupting the awkward moment and making me completely forget that Damien had just tried to kiss me. It landed ten feet away from us in a pile of broken glass from my window. Both Damien and I jumped, and I gasped as I spotted the object that had been thrown through the glass of my window. It was a stone…Actually, it was more like a rock, and something red was oozing from a splotch on the side and staining my carpet. I moved to get it, but Damien held out an arm to stop me.
"I'll get it," he muttered. "I wouldn't want you to get glass in your new shoes." Damien crunched his way over to the rock. He picked it up and came back to me. Damien looked at it and handed it to me. "It's paint," he said.
Taking it with a shaking hand, I turned it over to look at the red splotch. Although the mark was a little deformed, I could recognize it without trouble. I found myself gazing at a smeared heart-written in red paint. Just like the dress I'd worn today.
Red was Steven's favorite color.
A terrible screeching scraped at my eardrums, and both Damien and I flinched at the sound. I didn't know what to make of it. It sounded like a banshee had checked into their own kind of motel-one with unlimited amounts of glass that they could shatter. The noise stopped momentarily, and it resumed all over again. Damien shook his head and blinked a couple of times, looking dumbfounded. I screwed my eyes shut, desperately trying to figure out what it was.
The sound echoed through the window. It sounded like . . . metal being scraped upon metal. Hurriedly, I ran to the other window in my room. Oh my God.
"Get downstairs!" I ordered to him. "Steven is messing with your car."
Damien cursed-something he rarely did-and tore from my room to bound down the stairs. Kicking off my shoes, I chased after him, and as we both sprinted towards the front door, we heard Steven's car squealing away. Damien threw the door open; I followed close behind him.
Steven was gone. The only thing that remained of his intimidating, yet pathetic, presence was the smoke that had emitted from his tires on the road.
Damien had reached his car long before I had, and when I ripped my eyes away from the steaming asphalt, I saw that he was clutching his hair. He stood right in front of it, and his face was growing darker and darker with blood.
"Damien?" I asked softly.
He turned to me with tears in his eyes. "Look what he did, Leslie," he whispered.
I felt like I was walking to my death. Or to Damien's. His father-or the poor excuse of one-gave Damien his car because he'd hoped the gift would make him more 'manly.' In other words-not gay. The only thing his father remotely supported him with was his car. But his father had become crueler lately. Moreover, we both knew that his father wouldn't help him out this time.
As I approached the car and saw what had been etched on the hood, I clapped my hands over my mouth.
Scrawled along the metal of Damien's car was the word FAG. The etchings were deep and noticeable. Damien shook his head in shock, and my gaze shot from his face to the car and back again. Damien's father was sure to not help him out-as predicted. In fact, he would probably laugh in Damien's face and applaud Steven. Damien was going to have to pay for the damage himself-and he couldn't do anything to make sure Steven didn't do it again; his job didn't pay him enough for it.
"I'm so sorry," I said. "It's my fault. He's attacking you because I hurt him. Oh god, Damien, I'm so sorry." I burst into tears.
His strong arms were around me instantly. "It's not your fault, Leslie. He would have singled me out anyway. He did this to me even when you were going out, remember?"
"I don't want to remember!" I wailed. "I want you to be happy and not prejudiced against because of the way you are!"
"You make me happy, Leslie." Damien kissed my forehead. "I'm going to go and see what I can do about the damages." He pulled away and wiped my tears away. "You look beautiful, Leslie." Damien bent to kiss my cheek.
I sniffled and attempted a smile. "Thank you."
"I'll see you tomorrow." Damien gave me a sly smile. For someone who'd just had his car destroyed, he put up quite a good show of not looking perturbed. "Maybe you should give that cute teacher of yours a call." He got into his car and drove away.
I don't know what I'd do without him.