Deception by Beauty
New England during the winter is a desolate ice-land. Snow piles around towns, blockading any intrusion from outside. Wind blows through your skin, it fills your veins. Streets are empty. Streetlights inch their necks around the corners to trying to get a peek; a peek of the same house that I've been admiring since last semester. It stands about a mile off campus in Manchester, New Hampshire. A cabin right beside a lake. Vast windows cover the back of the house, while from the front of the house is kissed with two frog eye windows protrude from the top of it. It's made of cherry wood logs that line the house. As for the man on the inside, he lines my heart. I guess you can say that this infatuation occurred after I found out that Chase was the father.
• • •
My name is Layla. I've looked up the different meanings behind names, but I think the best one that defines mine is "dark beauty." My hair is slick black hair that runs to the middle of my back and people tell me my green eyes are piercing. I inherited this obsession with names after my mother gave me a porcelain heart that I hung on the wall in my dorm room. It said my name engraved in a gold paint that spelt out the meaning of it, "Dark Beauty". This led me to question other names and start my researching.
It was a hot and muggy day in late August and my parents just had finished helping me move into my dorm room of freshman year when my mom gave me the heart.
"Layla, before dad and I drive away and don't see you for," my mom choked back her tears and began sniffling, "weeks or months, please look at this when you feel alone. I bought it a few weeks ago from an antique store. Whenever you feel like you miss home or us or anything, just look at it and remember you are never alone."
I gave that heart away though…
• • •
My whole life turned upside down when I came to college. I've never been so lost in my life. College really allows people to let loose. I am the prime example. Freshman year, I let loose. I mean that in every sense. Weekends were spent out partying. Daytime was spent napping and attempting to do some sort of homework and studying. By the end of the year, blacking out was my specialty. I didn't go out of my way to achieve that, but I just didn't know how to put the bottle down. Every weekend was a new kind of Rubinoff that varied in flavor, Raspberry, Peach, and Mango. It's just some cheap ass vodka that will get the job done and fast.
I had a good number of friend's freshman year but I don't talk to any of those people anymore. I think all the girls I was friends with saw me as a threat and the guys just couldn't handle me. The way I carry myself can be a bit overwhelming for others and I don't really give a shit what others think. I mean you can't blame the haters when they see me get up on the speakers next to the DJ at a party and dance the night away. I will never understand completely but I guess girls just hate me because of my hair and my clothes. I don't give two shits. Everyone sees me when I'm on the speakers. I notice the looks. Guys want to be with me while the girls hate me, that's for sure. But what's more for sure is - sorry, I'm not sorry.
• • •
Chase was in one of my painting classes New Hampshire Institute of Art. I saw him, and I knew we would have a connection. I watched him for days, even months. He sat a row ahead of me in lecture and only a few stools to my left in the classroom. I watched every move he made. I studied him like an unknown species. I could tell by his body language that he wanted to say something to me but was too shy. I took control.
"Does anyone have an extra pencil?" he asked. Silence fell over the classroom. No one tried to make any eye contact with each other. I dug through my bag as fast as I could and grabbed out the only pencil I had, a pink one.
"Here, you can keep it if you don't mind pink," I awkwardly giggled and turned around quickly just so I could hide my face behind my sketchbook.
• • •
So far away from home, I disconnected myself from everyone back there. College is supposed to be the main factor in making you a better and new person...Right? Well I'm fine, I'm my own. My parents separated when I was sixteen. My father fucked his secretary. Being the only child I didn't know how to handle it. My mom is still in denial about my dad cheating so instead of getting a divorce they just call it a "separation." I call it bullshit. I learned not to trust a single person but yourself. I secluded myself from everyone and began reading a lot of books. A lot of books. Mostly mystery books grabbed my attention. In the words of a great author, John Green, from his novel Paper Towns, "she loved mysteries so much that she became one."
I had a wooden bookcase that I carved "Layla's library" into with a Swiss army knife. I must've read all of those books about four times each. Authors from Alan Bradley, Adam Johnson, John Green, and a few collections of short stories by Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King.
I was completely fine being alone and not needing anyone, until Chase came along. He was the game changer.
• • •
One day after art class I saw him walking to his car. I began to wonder why he drove to class instead of walking, and it all clicked. Chase lives off campus. I need to see where. I had to follow him. I followed him for a while, keeping my distance in my Camry. The sun began to set and I knew I should've ventured back to campus, but I just needed to see his house. The pastel colors of pink, blue, and purple shinned hope on my adventure. I watched him slowly pull his Ford Pickup into a rocky drive way. The chrome rims spun like a pinwheel, and I was in a daze. Finally I was at the place he lived.
I made frequent trips there in the mornings before he woke up. I never did anything in the beginning. I just sat in my car with the lights off, as the sun was rising. Pink and purple rose high up behind his cabin, as if greeting me with a compassionate "hello." One day I ventured out. I tip-toed my way around the cabin just to get a glimpse of what it all looked like. As I walked, snow blew around my body as well as his house, as if we were connected in some way. After a few minutes I walked back to my car and let my mind wonder as to what he looked like as he slept.
• • •
On exactly February 20th, my professor chose partners for all of us. "Chase and Layla, you two are together." That statement still echoes in my head. It remains in my memory just like the church bells that went off every hour back home or the sound of my father's keys hitting the table when he would home from work. Now all of that was tainted.
"Today you guys will be sketching each other. I know most of you don't know your partner too well, but over time you'll get better acquainted. Alrighty, let's start with focusing on each other's certain facial features, so mostly eyes and noses for example. Really study your partner," said our professor.
This was perfect. I got to analyze every curve and line of Chase's face. Staring was accepted in this case. Hell yeah.
"Wow, you have amazing eyes. They're breathtaking," I said, peeking over the canvas.
Chase looked at me with a smile and responded, "no one has ever really noticed, thanks."
"Isn't that called Heter- heter-oooo siridum-dum something?"
Chase laughed in an awkward manner by going from a loud pitch to a very deep pitch fast. "Yes, very close. It's actually called Heterochromia iridum. I'm impressed that you knew that though. Most people just focus on how odd my eyes look."
"I just find things like that interesting. I love studying and researching different things," I said, giggling back to him while I could feel my whole face hot and flushed.
Truth be told, I had noticed the first day I walked into class. I found it intriguing that Chase had such a breathtaking feature. He was heavyset but in a buff kind of way. He had a sad excuse for a beard that was patchy. He wore a plaid long sleeve shirt everyday even if it was warm out, and he always had different pairs of Timberland's on during the winter that complimented his outfit well.
• • •
Our professor started class one day with, "All right class I'm going to come around and just look at the work you've been doing with your partners for the past week. Layla and Chase, I'll start with you two."
Shit. Shit. Shit. That was my reaction. I'd only drawn Chase's eyes. No face. No head. Nada. Nothing. Just the vibrant colors of blue and brown. Blue was the color of his left eye and brown was his right eye.
"Professor, I haven't really got much to be honest. I'm sorry I just..." He cut me off by throwing his hand in the air and replied, "Layla, that is amazing. The way you used the shading by his pupils and iris is astonishing. It is completely abstract and interesting that you only drew his eyes. Sketching is just experimenting, but wonderful job."
Chase looked at me with that look again. He wrinkled his nose as if he was about to sneeze and did an awkward laughed that sounded as if it was a snort.
I responded, "well, I guess you're just my little experiment then." He laughed again and responded with, "here, I'll give you my number. My roommates and I are having a huge rager this weekend and you should come. Bring whoever you want, but you're not allowed to bring any boys. It's against the rules." He smirked.
"Sure, I'll text you this weekend and don't worry I'll just bring myself and a good time." Did I really say that...a good time? With rosy cheeks that were filled with embarrassment, I gave him my number and continued out of the classroom with my head filled with dreams.
This was my chance. The weekend came, and once again good old Rubinoff and I met, but we planned on conquering. No blacking out. That was Chase's job.
• • •
After the weekend, I wasn't sure how class would be on Monday with Chase. It was 10:05 a.m. Class started at 10:00 and Chase was normally never late.
"All right Layla, since Chase isn't here, you can partner up with Mike," said my professor. He followed up that statement with a glance over to the scrawny kid in the corner who clearly still hadn't found out what Proactiv is. Mike sat in the corner by the storage closet that was overflowing with canvases and portfolios of other students.
"He-he-hey Layla," Mike stuttered as he twirled his pencil over his dry knuckles back and forth between his pinky and thumb. This was going to be a long class, and I just wanted to know where Chase was.
I ended up taking care of him on Saturday night after he blacked out. I guess taking an entire handle of Captain to the face probably wasn't the best choice, even for a man of his stature.
• • •
The booming of the bass shook the cabin and the music echoed throughout the wooded neighborhood. Nearest neighbors were about, a mile down the road. I pulled up to the house that seemed so familiar yet foreign to me. I walked up to the door without any hesitation, as my red dress snuck its way up past my knee and hugged closely to my body. As I walked up I kept imagining the way Chase looks as he walks up and down the rocky driveway.
"La-La-La, you were able to make it," shouted Chase in a slurred drunken voice as he swung his beer from right to left.
I grinned and replied back with what I thought was a clever nickname, "Hello Mr. Drunky-Pants."
Chase held my hand as soon as I walked in the door. I felt the clamminess of his sweat in my hand, and I never wanted it to go away. We walked all around the house, and he introduced me to people I have never even seen before and I couldn't help but to think to myself, "Do these people even go to our school?"
The night continued and was filled with the normal scene of a college party. Strobe lights flashed to the beat of the music as sweaty men lined the walls of each hallway. Young women in outfits that shouldn't be even considered outfits. Skirts rise towards the ceilings and drunken bodies hit the floor. Girls had their bodies completely flung over themselves, hands touching their toes, grinding upon their prey, the sweaty men behind them, to songs that had lyrics like "To all these bitches crawl" and "Make it nasty". I don't listen to music like this, but I pretended as if I did, just to please Chase. At least he was shitfaced, so he couldn't hear me mumble and hum to the lyrics that I didn't know.
Half empty handles of vodka were shoved in glass cabinets that were easily accessible to anyone who wanted some in the kitchen. The floors were paved over in blue glass from shattered Bud Light Platinum's. The dining room table was being used a beer pong table and also an area for body shots.
"La-La-La-La, why donn you take dat body shot," Chase demanded as he threw up once digested beer and liquor all over my Steve Maddens. As he bent over to empty out his stomach onto me, I got a quick glimpse of a circular bruise or rash that was resting upon his neck. I thought nothing of it. I was more focused on where Chase was looking. I didn't mind his vomit on my shoes but there was just something about him staring at the girl who was lying down on the table. I followed his eyes trace her body as it was on the table. She had short blonde hair that rested upon her shoulders as she wore a tight metallic skirt and transparent white tank-top.
"Chase, are you all right? Show me where your room is, so we can get you to lay down. I'll take care of you," I said, as he gripped my hand harder. Something inside me got a rush.
• • •
There were three bathrooms in Chase's house, and each was designated for a different drug. The bathroom on the main floor was referred to as "Kush Island," and scent of "skunk" lingered throughout the cabin. The half-bath that was in the corner of the kitchen right next to where Chase threw up, was called "Coke-a-Cola," and the line went on for days inside the bathroom and out. The master-bath that was attached to Chase's room upstairs was declared "Pandora's Box," due to the fact that any kind of drug was welcome and it was always a variety at every party.
I was introduced to all of these places around the house, as Chase was holding my hand tightly and never loosened up. As I was dragging him through the crowd like a lost puppy, he began to shout and repeat over and over again the infamous line from the Titanic, "Never let go Jack," while swinging his head back and forth through the crowd. Other men his size were fist bumping him and shouting "Get it, big boy" and "Don't get her prego". I glanced back at them and winked.
He led us into his room, and I have never felt so at peace with myself. The noise was muted and although he smelled like a homeless man I found on the streets of New York, he had never looked so perfect. His plaid shirt was soaked in bodily fluids and his hands still clammy.
It was just the two of us. I helped chase down onto the corner of his bed that was lined with silk sheets and a comforter that soon became his towel for sweat and vomit. As he sat there, I looked around and took in my surroundings. Posters of naked girls in bikinis, Lil Wayne, the Hulk, and System of a Down lined the walls welcoming me into their kingdom of sorts. Different pictures from high school graduation and family gatherings hung up along the walls.
• • •
The next morning I tried to be as quiet as possible, as I rolled out of Chase's queen sized bed. I tried to remind myself over and over again, "Layla, just step over the two plastic shopping bags of vomit and get your ass out of here." As I reached for the doorknob to escape the room that had a scent of sweat and regret, I remembered before I came to the party I packed the heart in my car.
I trotted down the wooden steps like a baby deer just learning how to walk with my heels in my right hand. Delicately stepping around the few bodies of drunken kids who clearly didn't know how to handle their liquor, I quickly made it to my car and back with the heart in my left hand.
I placed the porcelain heart on Chase's dresser and frantically looked around for any piece of paper I could find. I glanced over next to the bed, and there was a receipt from CVS that showed the purchase of Trojans. Before I left room I looked around and thought to myself, "I can't really just leave his room looking like this." Running around like a chicken with its head cutoff, I frantically gathered the bags of vomit while trying not to breathe through my nose and tossed them out the window adjacent to his bed. I lifted the corners of the comforter to tuck them gently into the bed frame when I saw it. A broken condom. All I can imagine in my head is the shorthaired blonde in the metallic skirt and the slight hickey that was kissed on Chase's neck. My clammy palms grasped the porcelain heart. I walked out of the room leaving the heart shattered on the floor along with the note, as my eyes filled with tears.
"Whenever you feel alone, just look at this and I'll be there with you, Chase."