Over the next month, I carefully note my interactions with Carson. He doesn't change much of what he is doing, but I notice that I can never be too sure what side of him I am going to get on a day to day basis… sometimes even hour by hour. There are many sides to him but two that stood out are a clinging sensitive side and a possessive and almost vengeful side. Everything he did seemed to be a form of punishment. Why hadn't I seen these signs?
But today is graduation and tonight I will pull off a Grad Bash, unlike anything Harrison High has ever seen before. Nothing will spoil that for me! The morning breeze floated through my window coaxing me awake with it feather touch. The smell of eggs and bacon filled my room pulling me from the comfort of my bed into the dining room where Carson, his mother, and my parents waited for me. I smiled brightly at the lovely scene, exactly as Carson has planned it since Freshman year. Carson stands to pull out my chair for me, and just before I take the seat I catch his lips with my own.
"Hmm," he sighs. "You are in a good mood."
"Why not," I coo. "It is a lovely day to graduate." Plus he is a good kisser, so that helps.
"Melody Martin," Carson smirks, "I am so looking forward to our future." He kisses me again.
Future… this is a word that would usually mean endless possibilities. For me it means accepting my full ride to the college that Carson got us into, tending to the apartment in my off-hours and doing everything I can to make my husband happy as he climbs the ladder of success. I am sure he has even planned how many kids we would have, all the way down to genders and names.
I look into those magnified, cool gray eyes and whisper, "The future is now, Carson. Are you ready for it?"
"Oh you two are so cute," My mother exclaims. "I hope the future is kind to you two. Mellie, sweetheart, your father insisted that he make all your favorites."
"See," I shrug, "it is a beautiful day to graduate."
I observed my parents interacting with Carson, and how his mother fits into this perfect little picture. They are completely oblivious to any signs of concern or unhappiness. Maybe I am wrong; maybe I let Linkerson in my head and need to realize that I simply have cold feet. Carson seems to fit in this picture, and I am a fool to think that I can do better. Sure he is a little erratic but we are stepping into an uncertain future, that can make anyone a little crazy.
Carson brings me out of my thoughts and back to the conversation with a simple question, "Mr. Martin, I would like permission to marry your daughter."
Excuse me? His mother and I did a double-take. "Carson," I whisper. Marriage was always in the cards but I didn't expect it so soon. He is not going to risk any chance of losing me… sweet?
He doesn't look at me, just levels his eyes on my father. As my father swallows his scrambled eggs, I felt that tension again. A tension that always arises between Carson and any man that might deny him access to me, but this is one-sided. By the glint in my father's eyes, I can tell that he has no intention of saying no, but he's going to tease Carson a bit. Daddy… please don't…
"Well, Mr. Burns," my father begins, "I can't say I didn't see this coming, but don't you think it might be a good idea to wait and see what happens in college?" Carson's hand finds my knee, for now, it just rests, but my father continues. "You two are going to struggle if you get married too quickly."
"I understand that, sir, but we have been together since we were five-years-old. I don't think we are rushing anything." His hand begins to squeeze. "I just want to make sure that your daughter is protected and that those carnivorous frat boys are aware that she is taken."
I want to protest, say something about the fact that I can take care of myself, but the sharp pain grows as he fixates on frat boys. I just smile through the pain, and try to give him the most loving look I can muster hoping that will stop the pain. "Why would I ever look at a frat boy when I'm going to be on the arm of the most handsome man on campus?"
That does the trick; he loosens his grip but does not remove it. My father looks between us, pretending to assess us. I am sure he sees a determination in Carson's narrowed eyes and a pleading in my but he misunderstands my pleading. "I like you, Carson," My father laughed. "You have my blessing. That is if she will have you."
Carson's icy gaze sends a shiver down my back. His grip begins to tighten again. I quickly smile and grab his face. "Of course, I do," I exclaim bringing him in for a distracting kiss. My heart is beating faster than I can breathe but I know he will think it is an attraction to him so I am safe for now. Carson pulls away just far enough to put a diamond on my finger.
I look at him about to question how he got a diamond, when he whispers, "Four years of saving this better fit."
"Oh this is so exciting," My mother practically squealed.
Carson's mother pipes up, "But let's get you two graduated first, then we have a wedding to plan!"
Life seems to be in a constant state of fast forward. I close my eyes and walk back through the day's excitement. I remember little moments, like the swell of pride in Carson's valedictorian speech. How tall and beautiful I feel as I receive my diploma. Mr. Linkerson, Miss Holloway and Mrs. Crews all shake my hand as I walk down the aisle toward my seat again. I remember the little whisper from Carson as the building rains graduation caps, "What would you do without me?"
"Thankfully I never have to find out," I play along.
"You got that right, Mellie." He pulls me close, "Till death do us part, baby."
Flashing cameras from both our parents, the yearbook, teachers, and friends nearly blind me. I am surprised I didn't have a seizure. Our parents take Carson and me out to lunch before I have to split early and get the gym set up for the Grad Bash.
After four trips to Goodwill and hours of phone calls comparing prices of drinks and decorations, I finally have everything in place for my last big bash. I have turned the gymnasium into the perfect replica of a cinematic frat party. Couches are scattered over the floor, every kind of snack I could get my hands on within reason fans the tables, and the D.J. is primed and ready for a college rave. The final additions are the three root-beer kegs that I had to beg for but were tested by three different teachers and approved for the evening.
The party is bouncing all around me as I stand in the middle of the room taking it all in. The party is barely thirty minutes in and yet I can already smell the sweat of 300 high school seniors jammed into one room. I see smiles of students that are just looking for a good time, and I watch the worry grow as teachers try to monitor the loose cannons. I look that the ring glittering in the disco light. A symbol of protection and love, but it felt cold against my finger and weighed like lead. I am supposed to happy… right? I am engaged to my high school sweetheart! But I feel nothing. Even Novocain has some feeling attached to it.
I take a deep breath and close my eyes for a quick second. There is no going back now. I open up and look through the mass of students bumping and grinding to find Carson looking for me. He wore a gray and black stripe polo that sharpens his eyes that scanned the room with radar precision. I hate that color on him. His shirt is tucked into his cowboy cut wranglers, held up by a black belt. He narrows in on me and I move through the crowd to meet him.
As I approach I see him scan my attire. I am wearing a white sundress with black roses on it, my favorite black Mary Jane's and black stockings. He better like it, he chose it. My hair falls about my shoulders in soft curls, the left side is lifted ever so slightly by the burette that my mother gave it.
"Looking for me," I smile as I slide my arms around his waist. Just keep him happy, Melody.
"Always, my love," He coos. His hand runs over my loose brunette curls, "We did a good job."
"We?" I try to keep my tone playful. "If I remember correctly someone was busy and couldn't get away to help me."
"You think that any of this would have happened if I hadn't smooth over the school board," He defends. "Admit it, Mellie, you would be useless without me."
I raise a hand to caress the stubble on his cheek. "I am just glad that I've never have to be without you," I purr. He kisses me, but like his ring, his lips are cold. I break it off early. "Carson, I have a present for you."
"Really," he questions.
I lean down and pull out a flask from the top of my stocking, "I had to sneak it in, but I thought since you were such a big help on this project we should celebrate the pay off with a little wine."
"Break a rule," he pretends to gasp.
"If we have a sip are they really going to notice," I reason. "Besides it is elderberry wine, there is hardly any alcohol in it. What do you say?"
"What the heck, we are entitled to a little fun, right?" He takes the flask from me and downs a big sip before handing it to me. I bring the flask to my lips, slipping my finger in between them and the opening, and threw my head back. Just at that moment Meghan Trainor's song "After You" started playing.
"That's what you were doing," He realizes, "You were asking for our song."
"Of course." I smile. I watch him begin to wobble, but he keeps his cool. He slowly begins to move with the rhythm.
"Woah," He chuckles, "I must be a light-weight, that sip took it out of me."
"We could sit-"
"NO!" He demands as he pulls me closer. I feel his breath becoming shallow, his knees give out and he falls to the floor. He is gasping for breath.
"Carson," I call to him. "Carson, what is going on?" The students surrounding us are now paying close attention. Carson struggles to stay breathing.
"Someone call an ambulance!" I scream to my peers. The rest blurs around us. Students are being ushered to the benches, teachers are scrambling to calm nerves and everyone fills the room with questions.
Carson is gripping at me in fright. "I am here," I reassure. I lean down till my nose gently rubs against his. I look at the life fading from his eyes and whisper, "Till death do us part, baby."
Is this really happening? One minute Carson is about to lead me in our dance, and the next he is on the floor fading away. Could this really be happening? When I finally come back down to earth, I find myself in Mr. Linkerson's room. An officer sits in front of me with a look of concern plastered on his face. Mr. Linkerson is sitting to my left watching us silently.
"Are you alright, Miss Martin," the officer inquires.
"I am," I answer.
"You were the victim's girlfriend?" He begins the line of questioning. I just nod. I try to muster a tear, but I cannot. "Do you know of anyone that would want your boyfriend dead?"
"He's dead?" I can barely whisper.
The officer gives me a sympathetic smile, "Someone mixed his drink with a heavy dose of a poison our M.E. has yet to detect."
"Are you sure it is poison," Mr. Linkerson ventures.
My eyes move between the detective and the rest of the room. This is it… this is how it ends. I look at Mr. Linkerson and feel a smile creep across my face, "Plot twist."
Linkerson's eyes grow in fear. I turn back to the detective, almost giddy with anticipation. With a gleeful glint in my eye, I whisper, "I did it. I did it all by myself, and it felt incredible."