Grace Torak stared out the window of her sister, Maureen's, car. She put the visor down without turning her head. Her book sat on her lap, a thumb and index finger holding the page she had left off reading. On her left hand, a silver ring with tiny little cubic zirconium crystals lining the top of it embellished her ring finger. Subconsciously she was always drumming her left hand flaunting that ring.
The air rushing past the car created a soft whooshing sound that was aggravating her. She could no longer hear the radio and no matter how much she chewed, the gum wasn't helping the elevation.
In the backseat, her other sister, Marcy, was texting on her iPhone and talking to Maureen who was driving. Grace could smell Marcy's gum; it was an overpoweringly sweet strawberry aroma. Large words floated around the car between her sisters. Marcy was a nurse and Maureen was a doctor. Medicine and health and work were all they talked about. Grace could not relate at all. While they were exposed on the planet with careers and cars and money, she was still living in the dorms with her "job", she couldn't go anywhere that wasn't on campus.
She reached inside her bag and grabbed her MP3 player. Cher's "Rain, Rain" began playing, it sure wasn't raining but she envisioned water drenching the windows obscuring her view from inside the car. The phone can't reach out and it doesn't touch me like you can. As the trio got closer to California, Grace was surprised when her sisters asked her what she wanted to eat. They searched their iPhones for Thai restaurants in Cypress, California.
After an embarrassing situation of going into the men's room accidentally resulted in Maureen and Marcy laughing their fucking heads off, Grace hardly possessed an appetite. She nibbled at Pad Thai and the hot sauce it was slathered with.
It was around 11AM when Grace heard her phone vibrating. She reached over to the floor and snatched it up where it hung off of its cord plugged into the outlet. She struggled to open her eyes and couldn't distinguish the person calling her. "Hello?" She answered groggily.
"Hey, Sweetie," a familiar male voice greeted her. Miguel Cortez. She couldn't see him but she could feel him smiling.
"Miguelito," she said.
"How is your vacation going?" He asked.
"It's...um... okay." She lied. She did not want to worry him with her current discomfiture in assembling with her disparate sisters.
"Oh, good. Good." He said in an unaffected manner. "When are you getting back?"
"Tuesday." Grace yanked the phone from its charger and went to the window. She pushed aside the curtain and saw the limpid pool outside. She couldn't wait for that day to go back home. She turned around to see that both queen sized beds were unoccupied. She glanced at her watch, 11:24AM, she wasn't sure if Arizona time was still applicable.
"Have you gone to Six Flags yet?"
"Monday." She said.
"Oh. That should be fun."
Not with them. She thought.
"I'm sorry I didn't call you earlier before you left."
"Why didn't you?" Grace closed her eyes. She wondered what it was this time. "Where are you?"
"I'm in the hospital." He said.
She sighed. "Again?" Her heart began to race.
"Yeah." He stated casually. "I couldn't call, I was in jail."
"What?!" She felt fully awake now. "For what?"
"On who?" The other line was quiet. Grace looked at her phone to make sure that it was still connected. "Miguel? Miguel?!"
"Omigosh!" Bewilderment washed over her. "What did you do?"
"I hit her and I pushed her against the wall." Apathy invaded his sentence.
"W-why? Why would you do that?"
Then Miguel suddenly had feelings again, it erupted in immense anger; "She was being dumb! She was smoking weed, drinking, and getting tattoos!"
"You smoke weed! You drink! You have tattoos!" Grace matched his enragement.
"I don't have straight A's and I didn't graduate from high school."
She stuttered, struggling on what to say to him.
"I gotta go. I love you. Bye."
"Bye." Grace held the phone up to her ear even as the other line disconnected. For awhile she continued holding the phone though nobody was there.
The door opened. "Grace!" A cheery voice said.
Grace turned around to see Maureen. She was sporting a blue polyester-spandex shirt and black exercise shorts. Her bronze skin was slick with sweat and her dark brown hair was damp. She took off her iPod and earbuds. "Did you eat the breakfast I got you?"
"Breakfast?" Grace finally pulled the phone away from her ear.
Maureen pointed at the desk in the corner next to the window. She threw the curtains asunder letting in the intense sunlight.
It took twenty minutes to get to Huntington Beach. Grace witnessed Maureen and Marcy taking pictures of each other on the beach while she sat back watching their belongings on the sand. When Marcy came over, she reached into her purse while asking Grace, "Do you like it?"
Grace smiled. When Marcy left, Grace's pleasant expression faded into a glower at her sisters running on the beach. She watched as the waves lapped against the sand with vigor.
The water sloshed against the shore creating fluffy white foam. Her Mythology class popped in her mind. The image of Aphrodite standing on a seashell inserted itself into Grace Torak's head as the foam accumulated into mounds at the water's edge. The goddess was born when Uranus's genitals were cut off and thrown into the sea, from the sea foam arose Aphrodite. Grace stood up wandering towards the water. She felt the waves smack her ankles, the sand particles stinging her with its freezing temperature. She stared at the floor, white seashells spotted her vision. She plucked up several until she backed up and spotted a large flat shell, upon holding it her palm, it matched the size of her hand. It was thick. She veered, noticing that no one was looking at her. She licked the seashell and grimaced in its salty nature. She took the shells back to her purse and sat upon her beach towel. She found a paper cup from the hotel in her cloth purse and dropped them in.
An hour later as the meter was about to expire, the three sisters were riding up the street searching for a store in which Maureen could get change. After that, they ended up at a block of stores. Once they had all wandered into a clothing shop which advertised a huge sale, Grace found herself alone. She walked down every street searching for them to no avail.
She found herself inside a restaurant called Bomburger. She ordered a teriyaki chicken burger and sat alone at a table in a corner munching on it. Unable to locate her sisters, she felt sadness at the isolation she was experienced in an unfamiliar place. Tears began to form in her eyes and roll down her cheeks. She could feel her eyeliner sliding down with it.
Half an hour later, she found a spot outside a surf shop to sit down. She felt the contents of her stomach emerging through her esophagus. As hard as she tried to keep the chicken down, it materialized as white, clumpy specimens that splashed on the red brick sidewalk. Nobody was nearby. Grace had no idea where any bathrooms could be. Another surge of sour liquid rushed from her throat and hit the floor. The more she saw the vomit, the more came up.
She stood up, abandoned the substance on the sidewalk that formerly inhabited her stomach, and ran towards the middle streets where Maureen had parked. She glanced at her watch. It had been three hours since she'd last seen her sisters. She texted Maureen asking where she was at. Maureen told Grace she was eating with Marcy in a seafood restaurant. Grace had always despised seafood. Maureen had been born in Maryland twenty five years earlier. Marcy had been born in Georgia twenty three years earlier. Grace was born twenty years earlier in Arizona.
I hate you. Grace found the restaurant and saw a reflection of herself in the window. She wiped the black eyeliner off her cheeks bringing the foundation with it. Her cheeks were red. She reached in her purse and grabbed her tube of sunblock. She smeared it on, disregarding the patchy look of her foundation. As long as her face didn't burn, she didn't care about her makeup.
She put a small smile on her face as she entered the restaurant, pulled up a chair and sat next to Maureen. The fishy stench in the air was even stronger than at the beach. If any contents were left inside her stomach, Grace would have thrown up again.
A few minutes later, Maureen and Marcy stood up. Grace realized how much her feet hurt and reluctantly stood as well. Marcy was about two inches shorter while Maureen was petite at around five feet tall. The three of them exited the establishment. While Grace believed they would be walking together, she walked ahead a mere three feet. Only five minutes later, still thinking she was associated with her sisters, she turned around to find they were gone. More tears swelled forth and her chest heaved. Her ribs felt as if they were going to break from the constant rapid inhalations she was experiencing. She sat down on the curb behind a parking garage where no people were and sobbed quietly. Though it was muted weeping, it still hurt her head pretty badly. She sat there for an hour, then Maureen texted her. Grace wiped her reddened eyes and put her sunglasses on. She met her sisters and they headed back to the beach.
As they sat on the crowded shores, passing thin average looking people in bikinis and trunks, Grace was in disbelief that the population wasn't as pretty as she expected them to be. As she sat on the beach, several feet behind Maureen and Marcy, weeping entangled her emotions again. Even behind her sunglasses and tangled caramel colored locks hanging lank over her face, Maureen noticed her crying.
Maureen was a doctor; she observed her sister's sadness (five hours later) and questioned her. Grace replied that she was so nauseous it made her head hurt. Maureen led Grace to the bathroom at the restaurant on the beach. She waited out in the hall. Grace ignored the signs in the window RESTROOM FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY and entered anyway. Though she no longer had any food left in her body, she apparently had enough water to create vomit. She squatted over a toilet, loudly sobbing. Puke collected with the sand on her hair. Someone knocked on the stall door while a polite concerned voice asked, "Are you okay?"
Grace continued to vomit and sob. Eventually the knocking faded and there was no one in the restroom. Her blubbering echoed in the empty room. Then she departed the stall and went to the sink. She washed off her face and rinsed out her mouth. An acerbic taste remained on her tongue.
Grace put her earbuds on. The lime green gummy bear earbuds were given to Grace by her mother as an engagement present eleven months prior. She turned on her MP3 player and pressed play. She didn't give a shit as to what music was on as long as it would block out the voices of both her sisters. She sat in the passenger seat staring out the window. Quiet sobbing occurred at random moments between the beach and the hotel. The first song that played was Rihanna's "Complicated." Grace had received the album; Loud, as a gift a few years before. She had often thought the entirety of the album had to be when Robin Fenty was deaf because every song had low background beats with Rihanna seemingly screaming at the chorus. Loud was right. Everything in that song replicated how she felt about Miguel at that moment. He wasn't easy to love and the duration of their relationship had been a year and a half.
She gasped as Maureen had gently touched her shoulder. Grace pulled the earbud out of her ear. Maureen asked her if she wanted anything to eat. Grace asked for smoothies but the closest establishment that sold anything close to a smoothie Marcy found on her iPhone was a frozen yogurt store. They stopped in and Grace purchased a vanilla yogurt. She ate it and believed her stomach was at last satisfied.
Maureen dropped Grace off at the hotel. She left with Marcy to go eat while offering to pick up something for Grace.
In the hotel, Grace thought she was fine. Then she went to the window. Miguel's voice resonated in her skull. "MIGELITO!" She cried out and ran to the bathroom throwing up.
Grace woke up. She looked over her shoulder to see that the room was empty. She glanced at her watch to see that it was almost noon. She texted Maureen. Maureen said she let her sleep in because she hadn't felt good.
Grace got dressed and put on her makeup. She straightened her hair with a flat iron and turned on the radio searching for a top hits station. Usher's soft melodic vocals penetrated her ears in "Without You." Why aren't you here with me?
It was too late in the afternoon for them all to hike in Catalina Island like Marcy had wanted. Grace had always hated hiking. When they decided to go to a different beach, Grace relished in the thought that they didn't get to do what Marcy wanted.
Again, Grace was in the ocean, the freezing water slapping her and tossing her about like a little doll. She lost her footing and was completely upside down drowning in the ocean. At some point she finally found the ground and crawled to the beach. Her sisters were gone. Not touching the water at all. This day was dull. The sky was gray and this beach was comprised with seaweed. Grace wondered if it tasted as pleasant as the dried stuff she regularly sprinkled on her Chow Mein noodles back in Arizona. She bit into the salty verdure. It didn't resemble it at all.
Both her sisters ate at Z pizza, while Grace sat in solitude waiting for an order of Pad Thai at a Chinese restaurant that had a section of Thai food available to order. Grace bought starfish and magnets, postcards and a geeky t-shirt saying Sea Wars over the words: Seal Beach, California, with sea creatures personified as characters from the Star Wars movies.
Grace got home and vomited in the toilet. Miguel's face ostensibly burgeoned in the water rippling in the bowl. She cried, "I love you."
In Yuma, Maureen leaned over the passenger seat telling Grace that the gas to California was $150 dollars. Asking for her cut of $50 dollars, Grace reached into her left pocket and pulled out a $50 bill. She handed it over to her eldest sister before closing the door, politely waved and walked up to the front door of her Mom's house. She went directly to her room. She kicked an unopened cardboard box next to the bed. Since she lived in the dorms during the school year, she had to stay at home during the summer. She'd been home three weeks and had not yet unpacked.
She lay in bed and wiped the streaming tears away from her cheeks. Her pillow was damp when she had at last lifted her head. She got up and went to her desk. She opened her laptop, she pressed f7 and a Kristinia DeBarge song rumbled: "Doesn't Everybody Want to Fall in Love." She wanted to think that Miguel was sweet and good to her. She had melded with him. She needed him. She wanted him. She'd fallen in love with him and completely cherished him.
She reached inside her desk to pull out her shoebox full of letters. Among the letters received from her grandmother, her dad, was a card from Miguel Cortez. He had written how she was his best friend and he loved her. She smiled. When she remembered what he'd told her Saturday, the violence startled her into agony. She couldn't do it anymore. She gasped.
A piano played a soft melody with vocalizing, and then drums joined in as Avril Lavigne started saying how she was living in mistruths, feeling utterly uncertain about her relationship. The song was "Together." As a couple they were not working. She felt healthier without him. The image of holding hands with Miguel cultivated in her psyche. Fall. Fall. Fall. Plummet. Collapse. Drop. As they held hands, Miguel's hand began to crumble. Her engagement ring dissolved into silver that dripped down to coalesce with the remnants of Miguel that was in a small heap on the ground. The silver globules dripped into a cursive word; LOVE.
Grace opened her eyes to turn her cranium and saw Miguel sitting on the side of her bed. She smiled and sat up. He intimately kissed her. He began tearing off her clothes and got on top of her.
She closed her eyes and heard him saying, "I fucking love you!" When she opened her eyes, she was standing in front of him at the beach. He was opening a condom wrapper. As he reached inside, he pulled out a ring. She reached for it as he held it between his fingers, but he pulled away and threw it into the ocean. He turned around and punched her in the chest. She screamed in pain. He came over and kicked her. "Stop, Miguel, stop!" She begged him.
"You're being stupid! You're doing everything wrong!"
"Miguel, stop! I love you! I'm going to marry you!"
He picked up a giant seashell the size of a car windshield and raised it above her head. "You're so dumb!"
Grace lifted her head. She blinked rapidly and glanced at her watch to make sure she was awake. She glanced at her left hand. The engagement ring was there. She pulled it off to peer at the inside engravings; M.J.C. & G.L.T. were jotted on the silver.
She remembered how they had met in Philosophy class the Fall semester of 2010. They both had been in the back row. She had incessantly transcribed the lecture of the tall skinny white man. When Miguel was absent, she offered to share her notes and they met in the library after class. After finals were over, he emailed her with his phone number. She'd been kicked out of the dorms for the winter break and was residing with her sisters; she'd been so pleased with the excuse to leave the house. She called him and they ended up meeting at the public library. After being asked to quiet down because of their raucous laughter from viewing internet videos, they departed from the library where Miguel drove her home. They hung out almost all winter break. Grace believed they were just friends until January just before the spring semester was beginning, his grandmother asked him who she was when they entered the apartment and he said; "Grace is my girlfriend." And he kissed her on the cheek.
She was surprised as she peeked at Miguel's unofficial transcript to see an 'E' for Philosophy. She never mentioned it because she didn't want to admit to seeing his grades. In his other four classes he had received C's. That would have brought his grade point average to a 1.6.
On Sunday afternoon following an hour of church, shaking hands with countless people she had no interest in since she did not reside in Yuma year around, Grace succumbed to numerous questions about Tucson and the University of Arizona. It became apparent that her mother had become braggadocio and had informed everyone she'd ever been acquainted with about her daughter's engagement and trip to California. Grace smiled and talked about screaming on the rides. In reality, she felt knots in her stomach at the mere memory of those rides. She felt like her body was upside down falling fast, flipping, whooshing, rushing and being thrown about in the air. It had been a tumultuous ride both physically and emotionally. Six Flags sucked. She thought every ride felt the same and screaming was the only thing that could get her through it (and it would be an addendum if she could burst both her sisters' eardrums).
Everyone asked about Maureen and Marcy Torak. They apparently were so fantastic because they'd graduated from universities and were already beginning their careers in the medical fields. Grace attempted to change the subject but then it turned to her pending nuptials. Eleven months was apparently too long to go without setting a date. Grace and Miguel had discussed getting married between both of their birthdays- hers April 25th and his on May 8th but that had passed already. Neither of them had the money. They had no where or when. Despite the cross tattooed on his shoulder, he'd never once visited a church since they'd been going out, neither his or hers.
Grace's mom was loquacious much to the irritation of her daughter. She brought up the wedding again, offering to take Grace shopping for wedding dresses and perhaps scout out a Christian church where Miguel and her could be married by a judge because Christians and Catholics apparently were evidently too different faith systems.
When her mom began talking about the updo hairstyle she should wear and that her caramel locks were too dark in the roots and needed to be professionally treated at a salon-Grace turned on the radio full blast despite it being the Sabbath and there needing to be an absence of "worldly" things on that day. Neon Hitch's voice blasted out of the radio as she sang the chorus part of the Gym Class Heroes' song "Get Yourself Back Home." Mrs. Torak seemed to take the hint, she did not touch the dial and she veered from her daughter completely and faced only the road. Are you home yet, Miguel? Please, God, bring him home.
Grace sat on her bed holding a clipboard, a blank sheet of paper sat on it diagonally. She had the pen in her hand but could not think of anything to write to her dad. She put it down and went to her desk. She opened her laptop, entered her password and opened up the Windows Media Player. She didn't care that her sisters had iTunes; she never bought music online and felt she had no need for it since she didn't have an iPod. She pressed play and Kelly Clarkson's soft voice uttered out to her. She sung of a force and being stuck. A comparison of drug habits entered Grace's mind as she finally recognized the song as "Addicted." She felt strung out herself on Miguel. She grabbed her phone from out of her purse and found only residual sand beneath her fingernails as she clutched it from the outside pocket. There were no calls or texts. She wiped a tear from her eye. Please let him be alive.
Two more days passed until Grace woke up around 10AM to her phone vibrating. She saw the picture of Miguel on the screen. He's back home. She answered.
"Hey, Grace." His voice portrayed alertness.
She yawned, "How are you?"
She smiled then realized she was on the phone and not with him, "Yeah, I'm good. You woke me up."
"When are you coming back to Tucson?"
"That's when I'll get to see you?"
There was silence, and then Grace answered, "Yeah."
"Why can't you stay with your sisters?"
Grace flinched. Her muscles tightened and her eyes closed so tightly she thought she may never be able to open them. "It'll be fine."
"I can't wait to see you."
"Miguel, I can't do this anymore."
"What are you talking about?"
"It's over. We're not a couple anymore."
"You beat up your sister!"
"That was one time!"
"One time? One time?! You'll probably hit me next!" There was a knock at the door. Grace hung up. "Yeah, Mom?"
"You were yelling."
"I was probably talking in my sleep. I just woke up." Grace felt the phone vibrating in her hand. She saw the screen glowing with Miguel's picture.
Ke$ha's soft voice began to sing about missing a boy, presumably named Harold. "The Harold Song" embodied everything that Grace had been feeling for the last seven weeks. She vocalized in the intervals before the loud chorus. Killed. She felt that homicide had occurred in this relationship. She'd been the murderer. She lay in her bed feeling unpleasant solitude. There was a knock. Grace murmured. The song ended, she got up, stepping over her unopened boxes until she reached the entryway to her room. She opened the door. Her mom stood there smiling and holding several sealed envelopes. "Mail came." She handed them to her. Grace glanced at each return address. "You okay?"
"Fine." Grace made no visual acknowledgement of her mother.
"I know it hurts with everything you're going through with Miguel."
Grace slammed the door. The next song began. It was Danity Kane's "Damaged." A tool box formed in her mind. Her heart seemed to be possessing deep cuts in need of sutures. They kept saying that word over and over again until Grace finally believed that was what she was. Broken. Required repair. She opened the letter from Miguel.
She read it until every word lacked meaning and was only a clutter of consonants and vowels put together on paper in hopes of it forming words. A tear rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away. She glanced at the calendar on the wall seeing that she was to move back to Tucson in one week.
As evening arrived, Grace stared at the old pictures of Jesus Christ on the wall. The plaque saying; "Life is Fragile, Handle with Prayer" mocked her. She ripped off the plaque. She threw it into the corner which collided with the desk's edge causing the structure to crack. She went over, pushing the desk out of the way and stomped on it. The plaster crumbled. She went back to the wall and pulled off the framed portrait of God's Only Son. She took it to the desk and smacked it against the corner. The glass shattered and the picture ripped. She reached inside and grabbed the paper. She tore Jesus into pieces. Tiny slivers of glass crept into her fingertips. She seized the bible on top of the desk and opened it. The many highlighted passages and countless notes greeted her from years of poring over its words. She began tearing out the pages in small clumps. The entire process took forty minutes.
Her computer played a soft humming song. Then she recognized it as Madonna's "To Have and Not to Hold." Nobody was holding her anymore, neither God nor Miguel. She was so empty. Over two thousand pages were removed, they were ripped, crumpled, and then Grace took a lighter out her drawer. She set the pages on fire and tossed them into her wire waste basket. She opened the window as the room filled with smoke. From the decreasing oxygen, she lost consciousness and fell into a traumatic dream state.
She woke up on her side, her phone vibrating with a voicemail. She picked up the phone with her left hand to see her engagement ring there. Though nobody could see her, she felt ashamed to be wearing the ring when she was no longer going to become someone's bride. She listened to her voicemail and cried hearing Miguel's voice. She pulled the ring off her finger and held it with her right thumb and index finger. Minutes elapsed and at last the strength of her fingers gave out and the silver circle slipped and hit the carpet below.
Grace sat in the living room. She heard the familiar engine of Maureen's Honda and opened the door before she could knock. Both girls stuffed the backseat with cardboard boxes and two large travel bags.
It was on the drive up to Tucson that Grace realized Maureen was excessively chatty like their mother. Their mother had informed the family of the breakup which led to sympathy from Maureen. She was entirely optimistic about Grace's future.
Maureen hugged Grace and then waved, smiling down the hall. Grace searched her boxes, found her twin sheets and fitted it over the bed. She put down her blankets and stuffed her clothes in the drawers. She took her laptop out of her backpack and placed it on the desk. She found herself in old photographs. She watched videos of her and Miguel. Then she got to one video taken four months earlier when her mother came to Tucson to take her dress shopping. Maureen and Marcy insisted on coming along.
"Oh, my goodness!" Grace's mom was heard off camera. Grace walked around in fluttering mermaid pattern dress. The ivory satin glinted in the store's lights. "Turn around." Her mom squealed with adoration. The dress flowed.
"It's so tight!" Grace whined.
"We can have it altered." The saleswoman adjusted the clips in the back.
Maureen came over and threw the veil up a few times. Marcy pulled at the skirt. Then she leaned over and whispered into Grace's ear.
Grace never forgot what Marcy said even though it wasn't audible on camera. "Are you sure you should be wearing white?"
She deleted the video.
The next morning, she attended job training for her Fall Rush job in the UA bookstore. She walked back to the dorm and realized she had didn't have her CatCard with her. She knocked on the door but nobody was at the reception desk. She waited for twenty minutes for anybody to come open the door. At last she started for the campus library which was a few blocks away. Her phone began to vibrate in her pocket. She pulled it out and answered not even looking at who was calling. "Hello?"
"Grace?" It was Miguel.
Her stomach seemed to shrivel inside her.
"You're back in Tucson?"
"How are you?"
"Okay. Start work Monday."
"Cool. Cool." There was a long hesitation. "Can I see you?"
Grace thought her situation of being locked out of her dorm. "If you want."
He picked her up from campus and they drove to his apartment. "Is your grandma home?" She asked as he shut the door.
"No. She's at my mom's." He answered.
She went to the sofa and seated herself. She leaned back and let the soft cushions press against her firmly. She was so tired and oblivious to everything around her. She didn't notice when he had sat down next to her.
"Where's your ring?" he had taken her left hand in his and gently caressed the top of her ring finger. She veered to fixate on him impassively. She closed her eyes again and he began kissing her arm. She became imbibed with his fingers coming in contact with her skin. Every pore in her body craved to be touched. He began to apply more pressure in his kisses. "Take off your pants." He said to her quietly. She unbuttoned her jeans and pushed them down past her waist. He crouched in front of her on the floor. He tenderly took her cotton panties by each side of the waistband and pulled them down. He pushed her legs apart and he leaned forward. His tongue sliding down causing Grace Torak to enter a state of carnal satiation she hadn't felt for months.
Grace liked the spot in the middle of the Bookstore where she stood on a welcome mat facing the stairs leading down to the lower level. She wasn't sure if it was a station playing, because there were no commercials between songs. When there weren't many people asking her questions, she took the time to sing along with the radio hits she recognized. She saw her floor supervisor approaching her and ceased singing. She manifested a weak smile and straightened her posture. "How's it going?" The supervisor asked.
"My feet hurt," Grace whined and shifted weight to one side.
"You get used to it."
The supervisor stood next to her for awhile and then randomly asked her questions. Automatic answers flowed out of Grace about her major and previous work experience, how long she'd been at the University of Arizona and where she lived. When asked about whose idea it was for her to go to college, Grace Torak felt stupid because it had been her own decision. Then the supervisor asked, "Do you have a boyfriend?"
Grace's stomach tightened. "I had a fiancé."
"He went to jail."
"Beating up his sister."
"Now you've got to find someone else." The supervisor walked away. Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" began to play over the speakers.
After five hours of work, Grace headed to her class two buildings away. Her feet and neck ached so badly, she was slouching over the table. The teacher greeted them in Spanish. Grace couldn't understand past Hola. She was glad when class was over. She went to the Information Commons to play on the computers until her next class two hours later.
Three weeks had gone by. Grace was behind in her Spanish class. She was frustrated with the large amount of reading required for the other classes and was skipping assignments for some classes and getting by with the bare minimum. She was thoroughly unprepared for every class. While in her dorm staring at her Spanish homework, completely baffled as the instructions were written in Spanish, she didn't know what to do at all. Miguel called. "Hey." She said.
"I'm sorry, I was in the hospital over the weekend." He cleared his throat, "How are you?"
She didn't care about his latest hospital vacation. She slammed her book shut and shoved it off the desk into the trash in the corner of her room. "Spanish is hard! I don't understand!"
"I can help you." He said, "I can help you this weekend."
She scoffed. "Fine."
He came over at noon on Saturday. The roommate was out of town to Grace's content. Marcy called asking if she wanted to come eat Chinese food with her and Maureen. Grace declined saying she had work to do. Although Grace was a serial procrastinator, in three weeks she'd pushed back too many tests which resulted in the manic cram sessions she was now holding for three classes. He translated the written words for her and helped restate her sentences to uphold correct grammar. He helped with the pronunciation she couldn't understand through his thick accent when he spoke Spanish. When she was finally done with her first writing assignment, he attempted to kiss her on the lips. She turned away. "No."
"Why can't I kiss you?"
"We're not together, Miguel. Okay?" He reached over for her hand, attempting to grasp it with his. She yanked it away. "Stop it! You're twenty five years old! Don't act like a child!" She got up and went to the door. She was stuck staring at her reflection.
He came up behind her and placed his hands over her upper arms. "I'm sorry for what I did. I didn't mean it."
He led her to the bed. He ended up pushing up her dress and pulling off her boylegg underwear to place his tongue down there again. When he came up, he put her underwear back on to tell her, "I still love you."
After he left, she sat there staring at her open computer. She pressed f7. A Britney Spears song came on; "Inside Out." It was a breakup song. The repetitive bridges of a consciousness causing Britney to crumble matched her own breakup. He coursed inside her blood like a pernicious virus.
It was the middle of the week when she was at his apartment. She scribbled down his translations and tried to comprehend what he was saying. She was so tired. She leaned her head on his shoulder. He smoothed down her hair. They were talking for awhile when she suddenly found herself in her memories. Two years before, she had been riding her bike when she lost control and inadvertently swerved to avoid a giant boulder. She couldn't quite remember where she was in this memory. She remembered forgetting to brake the bike as it was racing so fast from the decline. Her bike hit a rough mound of uneven dirt; it sent her bouncing off of the bike, leaning forward and her chest smacking the handlebars. She flew off; the bike landing on top of her with so much impact it didn't hurt for an entire minute. When it began to hurt, it rushed in so fast her body couldn't take it and she felt like she was going to pass out. She didn't realize she wasn't even breathing.
"I'm strapped down on a gurney!" Grace's arms flailed about as if attempting to get the straps off her body. "I can't move! I can't move! Oh my fucking God! Help me!" Her voice rose until it was a shriek, "Help me! Why aren't you bastards helping me?! Get off me! Get off me!" Grace's breathing was so fast she wasn't getting adequate air. She was hyperventilating. Her head was so light. She fell off the couch onto the carpet. The entire time, Miguel had been holding her by her arms but she didn't even realize he was there.
"Baby! Baby, I'm here! Grace! Grace! You're here! You're in Tucson! You're with Miguel! You're with me! You're not there! You're not strapped down!"
"Get off me!" She screamed. Miguel looked around. He began to shake her.
"Get them off!" Streams of tears ran down bringing green eyeliner to mark her cheeks. When she blinked, her black mascara stuck underneath her eyes to create spider legs there. Her eyeshadow smeared into large yellowy smudges that were nowhere as disturbing as the rest of her face.
Her breathing began to slow. Six minutes elapsed. The both of them were still. She shuddered. She closed her eyes tightly and opened them to see the kitchen. She looked down to see the carpet below her, she felt Miguel's clutch upon her arms.
The weekend arrived. Grace was both sad and thankful that her job was over. She finished up a cursory reading of her Roman History class. She went outside to find Miguel waiting for her.
They drove back to his grandmother's apartment. From there they began walking to the library. He reached for her hand. She pulled it away and tucked it into her pocket. During the walk, he began talking about a book he'd read for his psychology class. She adjusted her sunglasses and rolled her eyes. His thoughts seemed to turn into random observations and sporadic thoughts pulled out of the mind of a rabbit rather than any human being. She grew increasingly annoyed until she violently shoved him against a car parked on the street. "Hey!" He lost his balance and fell down on one side.
"Shut the fuck up!" She yelled. She began to kick him in the stomach. He grunted.
There was murmuring in the background. Some screaming occurred and then Grace felt someone yank her by her arms pulling her back away from Miguel on the floor. He lay there coughing up blood. Someone was on their knees in front of him. Grace felt very dizzy. Everything around her seemed to happen very slowly. Blue and red lights arrived with a shrill siren following. There were questions floating around the air but Grace could not grab any one of them to figure out what they were saying.
As they put the handcuffs on her, a police officer pulled her MP3 out of her pocket, accidentally turning it on. "It's All Your Fault" by P!nk began to play loudly out of the gummy bear earbuds.
Miguel Cortez stared out into the hall while sitting on the bed in the Emergency Room. He touched his stomach lightly. It was still sore despite the morphine they gave him. He glanced at his watch and sighed heavily. He touched the back of his head and grimaced at the ache it produced. The curtain was suddenly shoved aside and a police officer stood at the entryway, "Miguel Cortez?"
"I need you to tell me about the altercation between you and Grace Torak."
"Look, I really don't remember anything." He lied. The brutality in which she'd inflicted upon him was literally still throbbing.
Miguel completely ignored the officer. A nurse came in. "Okay, I have your discharge papers. You're all set." Miguel put the papers in his messenger bag.
"Where is she?" He asked the officer.
"Pima County Jail."
Miguel scribbled out some notes and highlighted some passages in his psychology book. He skimmed the paragraphs and then shut the book. He went to the kitchen and picked up the phone. He dialed Grace's number and put the phone to his ear.
"What?" Her voice was groggy.
"Baby, are you okay?" he stared at the refrigerator moving about a round magnet with one finger.
"Fine." He listened to her weak voice.
"When did you get out?"
"A few hours ago."
"How'd you get back?"
"What's gonna happen?"
"I have to go to court in a few weeks." He heard her inhale deeply. Her voice began to break. "I'm sorry, Miguelito. I'm so sorry!" She cried.
The lounge in the residence hall was empty except for Grace and Miguel. He sounded out the Spanish words for her as she read them off the page. Ninety minutes had gone by then she suddenly stopped, quickly closed her book, and leaned back against the couch. She tossed her book to the floor. Her eyes were shut as she let both arms fall to her sides. He took her right hand with his left interweaving their fingers together. He grasped her hand tightly preparing himself for her eventual jerking movement. To his surprise, she didn't pull away or let go. She then leaned on his shoulder. They stayed that way for awhile.
The flat screen TV in front of the couch was off. He stared at the reflection of the two of them. "¿Estás muy consada?" he asked her.
"Does that mean tired?"
"Uh-huh." She murmured.
"You worked hard."
She opened her eyes. She turned to him. He leaned in for a kiss. She pulled away. "Don't."
Miguel was aware of the rules that all guests in the residence hall had to be escorted in and out of the building. Regardless, he led Grace to her room and planned to walk out alone. He was leading her by her hand which gripped his hand back equally with not too much strength or weakness. He stopped at the door where Grace used a key. "Hey." Her roommate greeted her. Miguel observed a subtle anger staining her face. He saw his opportunity to kiss her and leaned in when she veered to face him. She quickly reached forward with her right hand and shoved his face away. "Stop it!" She yelled. He pulled back as she'd shoved him very hard. He stood there completely embarrassed.
Their eyes locked and then he saw her eyes glint in anger. She shoved him again so hard he hit the mirror on the wall behind him. It cracked, causing thin slivers to descend into the carpet. He maintained his balance.
Before he could figure out what was happening, she struck him in the face with a closed fist. He attempted to reach out and grab her by her shoulders, but she kicked him in the ribs. He lost all his breath and fell down to the floor. He conjured his strength in an effort to lift himself off the ground, but before he could put enough weight on his hands, another blow slammed into his chest.
Sounds began to gurgle in his ears as he heard distorted voices yelling. A loud ringing occurred and past his coughing, he couldn't comprehend any words being said. A shoe collided with his mouth and the back of his head hit the wall.
The ringing that had occupied his head earlier was now a soft static. He heard murmuring and when the static ceased, distinct voices spoke. "How long has he been unconscious?" A female voice asked.
"About fourteen hours." A male answered.
Miguel woke up and saw he was in a hospital bed. "He's awake." It was a nurse.
"Miguel, how are you feeling?"
He opened his mouth to speak. Before any words could form, his head began to throb. "My fucking head!" He touched his eye. He realized it hurt worse to touch it and grunted. "Fuck!" he yelled.
"You have considerable bruises." The nurse came and restrained his arm.
"Let go, bitch!" He tore his arm away and continued feeling at his sore skin with his fingers. His stomach ached, his leg hurt, and his head was killing him.
Miguel lay in bed watching the muted television in his room. He lifted up his head. He grabbed the bottle on his nightstand and opened it. He dropped three large pills into his hand then threw them into his mouth. He gulped them down and felt them sliding down his throat. He placed his head back down and pulled a pillow under his arm. The pain in his body was numbed now. He stared at his palm facing the ceiling. He imagined holding Grace's hand again and when he took it and slid a ring on her finger asking her to marry him. The first seven months of their relationship had been so perfect. Every time he'd gone to the hospital she was there to sit by his bed. Every time he needed help in his classes, even though she'd never taken them, she helped him. When he needed someone to talk to, she was there.
He opened his eyes and saw Grace sitting on his bed. She reached forward and touched his face. He got chills from her warmth. She smiled and took his hand with her left. He saw a large diamond accompanying her engagement ring. "I love you." She said.
"Te amo." He told her.
She began to speak Spanish to him and climbed on top of him, unzipping his pants and as she was about to put her mouth on him, he woke up.
He took a deep breath. He lifted his head and saw the TV was now off. The room was very dim. He switched on the lamp and grabbed the photo underneath it. He stared at Grace and him together. He sat up and then picked up the lamp. He grabbed a folded piece of paper. He unfurled it and read it.
I remember when I first saw you in philosophy. You looked so mad; I wondered what you could have been so angry about. Then you talked to me and I saw you smile for the first time.
I still want us to be together. I want you to be my wife. I know you broke up with me because I fucked up. Please, take me back and I won't fuck up again. I love you so much. I want to be with you. I knew I loved you when you were at my Grandma's. I didn't even have money to take you out that much and both of us had school all the time. You're my best friend. I never felt the way I do about anyone else. I never met anyone as smart as you. I never seen anyone as beautiful as you. I never knew anyone like you.
When you get back to Tucson, I hope that we can talk. I wish you would answer my calls. I wish you would give me another chance. I want to kiss you and we would forget that all this happened. I want everything to go back to the way it was before I went to jail. I'd never hurt you, not ever in my life.
What happened, it was just one time that I lost control and it won't happen again. We were together for a year and a half! You can't just forget that because of one mistake I made. Grace, please, you are too nice of a person to be this mean to me. I love you and I know you love me too. Let's start over again and we'll be even better than we were.
I love you. I miss you. I want to be yours again.
He folded the piece of paper. His first draft of his letter to Grace. He put it inside the drawer. Nobody wanted him to be with her, but that was all he wanted.
"Does your grandmother know you're with me?" Grace looked up from her hands.
Miguel shook his head. "I didn't tell her."
"Maureen's getting my stuff from the dorm."
"You can't go back?"
"No, I'm not allowed back there."
Her voice cracked, "The University expelled me."
He put his hand on top of hers. "I'm sorry." She pulled her hand away to wipe her eyes. She then put her hand back on top of his. He smiled seeing her need for him.
"Are your sisters home?" Miguel asked. She sat down on the couch.
She shook her head. He sat down next to her. "Do you love me, Grace?"
She turned away and moaned.
"You remember all the times I went down on you?"
"Shut up!" She shoved him with one hand.
"There's no one here."
"Stop it!" She yelled and stood up walking near the grand piano.
"You gave me oral too. And every time I wanted to have sex, you always said that you wanted to wait until we were married. We were together for over a year and we didn't have sex. Why would I stay with you if I didn't love you? Why?!"
"Stop it!" She screamed and picked up a trophy on the fireplace mantle. She threw it at him. He ducked. It hit the couch.
He picked up the trophy, stood up, and walked over to the mantle. He put it back over the fireplace. She was beginning to hyperventilate. He extended his arms and wrapped them around her. She began to sob and tried to shove him away but he was holding her so tight she couldn't even pull away.
Through her weeping, he managed to hear; "Why would you still even love me?"
"Because I do." He continued to hold her close to him. He didn't want to let her go.
"I don't believe in God anymore." She wailed. "My mom kept telling me…" she gasped for air, "to go to church with her, but I didn't want to go anymore!" She sobbed louder. He shushed her and rubbed her back. "I ripped up my bible! I didn't want to read it anymore." Her wailing quieted. "You know how I used to believe that there was reason for everything?"
"Yeah." He answered softly.
"Now I think there was no point to anything! It's all meaningless! It's all fucking pointless! There was no reason… for anything! I hated Six Flags! Maureen and Marcy are so fucking selfish! They didn't talk to me at all! They always think they're better than me!" She took a breath. He shushed her again.
"They've always been like that. Ever since we were little. When we got engaged, they were so happy for me. My mom and my dad were so excited! Then Marcy kept making jokes that I didn't deserve to wear white. Like every day she kept fucking saying that!"
"But you know you did deserve it," he said.
"What do you want for Christmas?" He asked.
"What?" She pulled away and sniffled.
"What do you want for Christmas?" He repeated.
She looked up at the ceiling, her eyes tearing up again, and taking staggering breaths. She laughed abruptly. He watched as she seemed to be counting the stripes on the walls, "A new life?" She questioned aloud.
He stepped closer again and wrapped his arms around her again. "Marry me and you can."
"Where we gonna live? You live with your grandma. I sleep on the couch in my sisters' house. I have to go back to Yuma."
"I'll get a job. I can get more than what I get on Social Security."
"I just wanted to go to school and I can't anymore."
"You can go to Phoenix."
"No, I can't! I'm expelled from all the universities in Arizona."
Miguel opened his drawer and pulled out a shoebox. He put it on his bed and took off the top. Inside were CDs and pictures, and condoms he never got to use. He pulled out a CD, "Idina Menzel?" He put it in his stereo. The first song skipped so he put it on the second song. "Better to Have Loved" came on. He listened to the words, finding them a bit cliché but the vocal strength which the singer used was so powerful.
When the song ended, he listened to the lingering soft piano keys and then he wondered if that was it. He wondered if Grace and him were over. He wondered if he had already gotten his chance to be in love and he wouldn't get it again.
"Do you want some ice cream, Grace?" Marcy asked. She held a little bowl in her hand as she stood next to the booth.
Grace shook her head.
"Come on, you're not dieting for your wedding anymore!" Marcy laughed.
Grace veered and glowered. Marcy scooted in beside Maureen.
Maureen was typing onto her iPhone. "I don't think I can take you to court next week, I got an early shift at the ED that day."
"I can take her." Marcy took a spoonful of chocolate ice cream to her mouth. "This is so good!" She smiled.
Maureen put down her iPhone and put a spoon into her own bowl of mint ice cream. "Don't you want anything?" Maureen asked.
Grace stood up and grabbed both bowls. She shoved them in her sister's faces. "Go to hell, you stupid selfish bitches! You're fucking assholes!" She stepped out of the booth and picked up her own plate of discarded bones, she shoved it in Marcy's face. "I hate you!"
"So you don't want to get married in a church?" Miguel held Grace's hand as they sauntered down the sidewalk.
He looked at her grimace as he asked that but she didn't answer. She pulled her hand away to use both hands on her phone. "I finally figured out how to put music on the music player on my phone. This song is so sad!" She handed one of the gummy bear earbuds to Miguel and he put it in his ear. Miley Cyrus' song "Stay" came on. "Isn't she so sad?"
Miguel Cortez took the earbud out and put it in her hand. He stopped completely and he leaned over and kissed her on the lips. She closed her eyes and let him take her hands in his. When he pulled away, she smiled. As she was about to put the earbud back in her ear, he started talking, "You know I was reading in my psychology book-" he halted mid-sentence to see she wasn't adjacent to him on the sidewalk anymore. He veered and saw she was standing still a few feet behind him.
Her face was stoic, her lips were curled into a frown, and she furrowed her eyebrows.
"Babe?" he approached her.
She screamed and shoved him forcefully with both hands in the bordering street. A loud thud occurred as a car struck him. The car's tires screeched and stopped. His body flew ten feet away. He rolled over a few times, until he landed facedown, blood forming a puddle beneath his head.
She gasped seeing Miguel motionless in the road. The driver's door opened, a figure got out and raced toward the young man lying in the road.
"Miguelito! Miguelito!" Grace screamed but didn't move from the sidewalk. She put her fingers in her mouh and bit down on them. Bystanders looked at her.
"I think he's dead." Someone yelled.
Grace began crying. Loud sobs erupted from mouth. Between her hoarse screams, sniffles, and bawling, she muttered indistinctly. Bystanders and other stalled drivers began to stare at her. She turned around running the opposite direction. She ran straight into the road where she was smashed by a car.
Her sunglasses and phone went flying. As the driver got out, he kicked her cell phone which had been ripped away from the earbuds. Both plastic green gummy bears were broken, the inside silver wires spilling out. From Grace Torak's cell phone played Nelly Furtado's "All Good Things (Come to an End)"