Authors: R.J. Lewis
Copyright ©2015 R.J. Lewis. All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, place, events, and other elements portrayed herein are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons or events is coincidental.
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I’ve been in love with Carter since I was ten years old. It started the day I saw him move into the trailer next door with his father howling at him to hurry out of the car. It was the summer of 1999, and it was hot, and the trailer park stunk of rubbish and smoke. Huddled quietly on the porch, I watched as he stepped out of the old truck, and the first thing I noted in my innocent mind was how tall he was.
I liked tall.
I also liked his hair. It was dark blonde and shaggy, and it needed to be seriously combed. He tried to run his fingers through the mess of it as he moved with an unusually slow pace toward the trailer. His face was downcast on his way to the front door, like this was the last place he wanted to be. I noticed his hands curling into fists the closer he got to his father.
When he disappeared inside, the father looked up and, to my surprise, met my gaze. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. He was scary looking and reminded me of my Uncle when he was angry. I would have hurried inside if I could, but said Uncle had kicked me out due to “business”. Every time he did business it consisted of him forcing me out for hours. Strangers would come and go, all of them men with strange, hungry eyes. When I eventually was welcomed back in, I’d see Aunt Cheryl curled up in a ball in her bed with the covers over top of her. Uncle Russell would be counting money in the small living room with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Those were usually my favourite days because he’d ask me what kind of take-out I wanted, and I’d get whatever I craved. It beat living off mac and cheese or Suimin noodles the other six days of the week.
So when Carter’s scary father looked at me, I turned my body away from him and stared out into the trailer park with my knees to my chest. Moments later, I heard the door slam shut. Minutes after that the sounds of shouts emerged from within, and I craned my head in the direction of the trailer to listen in, but I couldn’t make out anything.
I was a nosey girl. Only because I was lonely. There were a lot of kids around, but they were mostly boys, and Uncle Russell didn’t like me around a lot of boys. I spent most of my time sitting on the porch and watching them play. They usually kicked a ball around on a bit of land in between the trailers next to a rundown park no parent would dare let their kids on. They were boys of all ages, and some of them would say derogatory words to me I didn’t really understand at the time. Of course, as I aged, I’d learn just what they meant.
When Carter did eventually come out and integrate himself in the crowd, my body would tighten and a tingle ran through my chest all the way down to the pit of my stomach. He was tall, light haired and beautiful. An almost twelve year old boy that never once turned his head to look at me. I watched him naturally blend in with the kids, becoming vastly popular among them without even trying.
It wasn’t his blasé attitude that had the guys submitting to him. It was the fact Carter had no fear. He was unafraid of any kid, no matter their size, and it was unheard of to be this way in a rough place like the one we were living in, where the adults we should be looking up to were actually the villains in our story. In return, the kids wanted him on their side, and they looked up to him like he was gold among a sea of rubbish.
To me, he was just that; shiny and bright, smooth but hard, and beautiful beyond anything I’d ever seen.
Like me, he spent most of his time outdoors. Even when it was so hot under the scorching sun, Carter and I were out. Away from Cheryl and Russell’s arguments, I’d flee from the porch and follow Carter around. He usually had a basketball in his hand, and he’d bounce it up and down the street with his shirt off and looped around his neck. And there I was, twenty paces behind him, hidden behind trees and cars, in nothing but a pink sundress on and worn-out sandals.
He’d bounce that basketball out of the trailer park, slamming it hard against the asphalt, crossing the road and into the nature reserve. And I’d trail behind him every time, moving past the brush as he held the ball and stopped by a stream. He’d take his shoes off and rest his feet in the water under the shade. I wished I had the courage to approach him. To sit down next to him and rest my own sore feet in the refreshing water. Instead, I was batting mosquitoes away and constantly moving my sweaty, dirty blonde hair from one shoulder to the other.
And I’d just take him all in, waiting desperately for him to open his mouth and do what he did when he thought he was alone.
He had a soft deep voice, resonating from deep within and made you want to cry if you closed your eyes and just listened. A lot of the time he’d sing the same song, and I wished I knew why. I wanted to understand what it meant to him.
Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” flowed from his lips, sounding better than the singer himself.
If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.
The discomfort I felt was worth it. If it meant studying Carter, then I welcomed the mosquitoes on my sunburnt flesh. I let them ravage me until I was head to toe in pink itchy sores. He intrigued me too much to care. I think it was the way he took in his surroundings with a faraway look on his face that pinched my heart at times. I saw so much emotion when he sang. He acted tough. He wanted everyone to think he could handle himself, and for the most part he could. But after spending an entire summer with my eyes pinned to his head listening to his soulful voice, I knew what most didn’t.
Carter was broken. He was lonely and sad. He was without a mother and the love of a father that, when he wasn’t drinking his sorrows away, gave him a hard time some nights. He was like me in a lot of ways, and with every fibre of my being it made me want to reach out to him and tell him he wasn’t alone. That I knew what it was like to be without a mother, to be left alone without a shred of love in a neglected, poverty-stricken area. To go to bed hungry and tired, and wanting nothing more than eight hours of sleep without the sounds of barking dogs and screaming couples and crying children.
But I didn’t reach out to him. For two years I watched from afar, invisible to him like always. Until one day it just happened. It was unexpected, and I was unprepared for him to walk into my life the way he did.
It took a nasty, bad mouthed little bastard to get him to look at me, and it was then our lives intersected into one.
Spring of 2001
12 years old
“My mother says your aunt’s a whore,” said Graeme, stopping in front of me as he ate his purple Popsicle.
Ah, yes, another day of bullying.
I’d been mindlessly seated on the park chair overlooking the basketball court, painting my nails a rosy red while taking in my fill of thirteen year old Carter. He looked good this day, wearing an oversized white muscle shirt that made his tanned skin all the more pronounced. He was in the middle of organizing the teams when this little bastard had to ruin it. I ignored him, though, and resumed painting my toenails.
Graeme always instigated fights. He picked on everyone so long as they were smaller and younger than his thirteen year old self. To put it blatantly, he was a pathetic bully if he could get away with it. And, unfortunately, he got away with it a lot.
“She says you’re going to turn into a whore too,” he continued. “Says your Uncle’s waitin’ for you to be just a little older. You’re going to be a whore like your aunt. You listening to me, Leah? A whore.”
“Okay, Graeme,” I simply replied, unbothered by his words.
It wasn’t the first time someone had said this to me, and now that I was twelve years old, I was a lot more mindful of what was really going on inside that trailer some days. I didn’t need this sadistic little prick to tell me about it.
“Oh, so you’re okay with that then,” he said. “I’ve got three dollars in my pocket. You wanna ride me like your auntie rides those men?”
“No? I can round up some boys, chip in some more coin if you’re being a stingy little bitch.”
“No,” I repeated absently.
I didn’t have to look at him to see he was most likely turning purple from anger. He was seeking a reaction out of me, and he didn’t seem to realize I was numb by it all. Growing up around foul-mouthed people was the norm for me. Graeme was too small time to care about.
I heard his steps, and before I could look up, he grabbed my nail polish and threw it hard on the ground. It didn’t break like he wanted it to. It hit the soft soil with a thud, but the damage had been done. The liquid oozed out of the bottle, disrupting the bright green grass. I stared at the nail polish for a moment, and all I could think about was Aunt Cheryl giving me it for my twelfth birthday three weeks ago and how happy I was to have it. I’d only opened it up for the first time this morning, and now it was upside down, discharging every last drop of colour that should have been used to make me look pretty.
“Whores don’t wear nail polish!” Graeme screamed at me.
I felt my blood rush into my ears. My heart rate picked up, and my skin gleamed with sweat.
“Whores aren’t meant to look nice!”
My fingers twitched as my eyes focused on the red.
Rosy red everywhere.
Rosy red that should have been on
“Whores like you don’t deserve nice things –”
His words died off and a high pitched squeak erupted out of him the second I tackled him to the ground. In a blinding fit of rage, I balled my hands into fists and rained them down on him.
Little monster wanted a reaction?
I was going to give him one he would never forget!
He fought me back almost instantly, throwing me off of him and jumping over me. He smacked me against the face and pulled my hair. I thrashed my body beneath him, covering my face with one arm and scratching at his sweaty throat with my free hand. I didn’t care that he was hurting me because I was feeling a rush hurting him back with equal intensity.
It was a mess, really. Graeme was a weak little shit and he’d just met his match. Neither of us had the upper hand, and I was too disoriented to understand what was happening. I didn’t know if we’d been at it for minutes, or even seconds. My brain had shut off and my body did all the work, acting of its own volition, attacking Graeme with whatever strength I had left. I was silent, too. Not a word out of my mouth save for a few grunting sounds. I was all adrenaline and determination. Who knew a scrawny little thing like me had it in me? I certainly didn’t. I was waiting for my inner coward to beg him to stop, but all I had to think about was my poor nail polish’s demise and having ugly toenails all over again.
I didn’t want ugly toenails. I’d had too little in life to be okay with departing from the one beauty product I’d ever had.
I heard sounds around us, and then the pressure of him on me completely eased. As soon as I realized I was hitting air, I ceased immediately. When I moved my arm from my face, I saw a tall body bent down, grabbing at Graeme and swinging him off of me. I saw blonde shaggy hair, a white muscle shirt, and the tanned skin of a boy I’d just been drooling over minutes prior. I almost thought I was imagining the whole thing. Had Carter really come to the rescue? Or was I so bloody desperate for my saviour to be him that I was hallucinating the entire thing?
“The hell you doing hitting a girl?” growled out a voice.
I was right. It was Carter. Too surprised, I barely moved as I watched him kick Graeme in the stomach. Graeme fell to the side, groaning out, “She hit me first!”
“And why’d she hit you first, dickhead?”
Graeme didn’t respond. He turned his head and just looked at me. There was a storm in those little eyes as he regarded me like I’d caused all of this. I stared right back at him, perking up one side of my mouth, silently goading him to do something. I felt untouchable with Carter standing in between us, guarding me like I was some damsel in distress in need of saving.
Graeme kept his mouth shut, even when Carter hit him again. As soon as the kids that had gathered around us started to laugh at him, he hurried to his feet and took off running, but it wasn’t without a kick up the ass from Carter that had him tumbling to the ground. After his face plant, he wiped the blood that ran from his busted up nose and took off again, disappearing into the trailer park where he would most likely spend a few days hidden away recuperating.
“Yeah, fucking run, little weasel!” Carter hollered, and his friends laughed and mimicked the sounds of a wild weasel’s squeal.
When he turned around to face me, a small smirk at the corner of his mouth, I tensed and gaped at him in awe. My heart was pounding in my chest, but it wasn’t because of the fight anymore. For the first time in, well, ever, Carter Matheson was staring at me. He wasn’t staring through me, either. His eyes were focused on my face before they glanced down my body. His eyebrows shot up a tad at what I was wearing: small shorts and a spaghetti strap top that stopped at my belly button. I wasn’t entirely to blame for my lack of modesty when Uncle Russell encouraged it by not saying anything. Besides, girls my age dressed like I did around here in droves. I thought nothing of it at the time.
With bated breath, I watched him take a few steps toward me. He blocked the sun out with his frame and stared down at me. For a few seconds, I just saw him and nothing else. The world fell away when he extended his hand out to me. My eyes flickered down to his open hand, and I would have taken it had I not been entrenched in the ground from shock.
“Come on, Leah, let me help you,” he said to me in the softest voice imaginable.
He knew my name. I can’t tell you what that stirred within me. All this time I thought I was some forlorn object in the background of Carter’s life. But no. He… he knew my name.
I swallowed and reached out for his hand. I waited for the bolt of electricity to spark between us – you know, that delicious connection you feel every time you meet someone that has struck you down with their beauty? I’d never felt it before, and I expected it like my next breath. Instead, I felt warmth as he pulled me up to my feet. His skin was rough, and I held it for a moment longer, feeling a pleasant lick of pleasure run through me before I let it go.
I can still tell you every little detail about this moment. I’d spent nights after reliving it. I can tell you how swallowed up I was in his arctic blue eyes. That the smile on his face had lessened as he took me in with equal intensity. Or how little his chest moved, as if he too was breathless. I can tell you that although we didn’t have to touch to feel that electricity, I could feel
like it running between the two of us. It may have been my imagination, but I don’t think so. At least, I’d like to think it was mutual.
It had to be.
“You going to tell me what all that was about?” he suddenly asked me.
“Graeme’s just a bully,” I answered him in a shaky voice.
He looked down suddenly with furrowed brows. I followed his gaze. He stepped off of something and cursed when he looked under his shoe and saw the red streaks along it. I saw the nail polish just then and was horrified the colour had ruined the bottom of his shoe. I bent down to get it just as he did and our heads slammed together. I stumbled back just as he grabbed my arm and steadied me. Looking at me with a heart stopping grin now, he muttered, “Sorry, babe. Let me grab it.”
Oh, my God. I’d have been happy to slam heads all day if it meant him calling me that.
He grabbed my nail polish and stood back up. By now, most of the kids around us had scattered, including his friends who all had returned to their game on the court. I watched him study the bottle before he glanced down at my bare feet. Cringing, I realized my toenails were a mess after I’d lunged at Graeme.
The worst part? I didn’t even have nail polish remover.
“He threw it on the ground,” I muttered, feeling a little awkward now.
“Is that why you jumped at him?” he questioned.
I reddened just then. I didn’t know he saw that. In fact, I was so lost in my anger, I didn’t consider there might have been an audience the entire time. I could have sworn I saw him playing, though.
“Yeah,” I said quietly.
He smiled again. “Nice. I’m not used to seeing girls getting their hands dirty.”
I smiled back. I could be a dirty girl. Hell, I’d be the dirtiest girl around if that meant impressing him.
“You gonna tell me what he said to you? I’d like to go back there and give that little dickhead a few more punches.”
I shrugged. “Nothing that needs to be said out loud again. You don’t need to do anything about it. He got what he deserved.”
I resisted telling him about Graeme’s insults in regards to my aunt. I didn’t need a pity party. I also didn’t need to fill him in on how dirty my family was. He might run the other way, or worse, call me a whore too. In hindsight, I know it was silly, because I’m sure everyone knew what my aunt did inside that trailer. But I was twelve. What made sense to me at that age? I wasn’t all that bright. I just had eyes for a certain boy that made a lonely upbringing bearable.
Carter’s lips pursed for a moment as he stared down at me. I could tell he had something to say, but he wasn’t going to say it. Instead, he nodded and said, “Let me take you home.”
“What about your game?” I asked.
He looked past me and at the court. After studying the game for a few seconds, he answered, “They’re doing fine without me.”
He threw the bottle back on the ground and motioned for us to go. What could I do except follow? I’d been longing for time alone with him. Now that he noticed me, I couldn’t mess it up.
Please, Leah, don’t mess it up!
He took me home. We said nothing the entire way, but the butterflies inside of me ran rampant with each step I was alongside him. He walked close to me, closer than you would a friend. I opened my mouth several times throughout that walk. I just couldn’t force any words out.
When we got to our trailers, I saw a random car out front of mine and I knew it meant the trailer was occupied. I’d have to be waiting outside again for who knows how long. It didn’t bother me, though. This part of my life was normal for me. I didn’t really know any better.
Turning to Carter, I told him timidly, “Thanks for walking me back.”
I could hardly look into his eyes for more than a few seconds. The constant heat in my cheeks wouldn’t go away. I was completely wound up in him.
“No problem,” he said to me, smiling wistfully as his eyes danced about my face.
Cue the most painfully awkward moment ever. Was he going to give me a “see you later but I really mean never” wave? Or was this an opportunity for me to strike up a conversation to keep him here? I didn’t know. Christ, I was inexperienced. I was pretty much a loner with zero social skills. Being at school nowadays was difficult. Everybody knew about my aunt. Rumours had spread like wildfire, and I was often excluded from activities during recess. I spent more time ignoring people’s wicked insults and learning to keep my face as impassive as possible. Which is why my jumping Graeme was out of necessity. I had nobody to depend on but myself to get out of bad situations.
I had no friends except Rome, an introverted boy that would one day grow to be quite the opposite. Rome was reserved like me and not popular enough to hang with the crowd Carter was prevalently part of. It was during Art class that we hit it off, and it came only after being partnered up for a project due to being the only ones left at the end.