Those Green Eyes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This one was written by my father while he was overseas in Kuwait. The story is hard to write about without giving something away, but it is utterly beautiful. It is a story about a young boy and a girl, ever curious by nature, and a house with a story to tell.

Submitted: January 14, 2015

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Submitted: January 14, 2015

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Those Green Eyes

by Scott McKenzie

 

 

From the moment I first laid eyes on Amanda Warfield I knew I had a crush on her, even though we were from different worlds.

She was a junior at Stony Creek High School, quite popular with no shortage of friends.  She was a cheerleader on the varsity squad, but you wouldn’t say she was one of the leaders.  She was comfortable and dynamic in front of the hundreds in the bleachers, but deep down was essentially a introvert.  She had a subtle beauty, one that was lost on most that saw her.  Her straight blonde hair fell just below her shoulders and framed her round face.

Of course, most of her redeeming and attractive qualities were lost on the general population.  As it is so often, people don’t necessarily recognize the wonderful qualities they possess themselves; it takes a soul mate to help point them out.

I was always a shy kid myself, but when you see someone like Amanda, you throw your fears to the wind for fear you’ll never be given the chance at love again.  That’s why I was quick to approach her right away.  For anyone that knew me at all, they knew that was extremely uncharacteristic of me. Walking right up and talking to a girl is just about the most terrifying things I can think of, but when you know it’s the right person you know you can’t let the moment pass. I knew Amanda was that person from the very beginning.

Amanda and I spent most of our time together in the old Manchester House on the end of Hilldale, just the two of us. Its remote location, plus the fact that it’s been vacant for so long, always afforded us all the private time we wanted.  We spent countless hours together in that house, mostly in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

I know you’re probably thinking there was a lot of funny business in that room, but our relationship wasn’t like that.  We’re not those kinds of kids, even if there was a bed in those bedrooms. Many people thought it was strange that this old, abandoned house was still fully furnished with furniture (albeit old-fashioned and way out of style). Old, framed photographs lined the walls of the living spaces, bedrooms, and hallways, too. Amanda always felt a little uncomfortable being in a place so well-maintained with family photos staring at us, but since no one had lived there for years, it felt more like we were in a hotel, and the photos were disconnected from any real family.

No, Amanda and I are not your average teenage couple. We’re more mature than the reality TV types that you see making fools of themselves and embarrassing our generation. Our relationship was, and always will be, built on mutual respect.  I would never do anything to harm her or disrespect her, and I never will.

 

 

The Manchester House was built a little over 80 years ago by Philip Manchester, who came to the working town of Stony Brook and built a considerable fortune building a lumber business.  He married the former Lydia Barker, a local girl from a working class family, and they had two children four years apart, first a daughter, Emily, and a son, Elliott.

They built the house near the top of one of Stony Brook’s gentle rolling hills, where it had an impressive view of the humble downtown area below. On clear days, Manchester could even see the higher parts of his lumber mill at the base of one of the larger hills and adjacent to the Stony River. Because of his fortune, he was known somewhat as a local celebrity and was often spotted at the town’s more aristocratic social events, but he generally shied away from the social spotlight except when it suited his political purposes.  It was not uncommon to see him occasionally shake the hand of the mayor or a city councilman or other local businessman (provided it wasn’t one of his direct competitors, of course).

His wife Lydia would occasionally make an appearance at such an event, but she was not one to excessively rub elbows with the social set. The local gossip rag would comment on what she was wearing (she was generally considered quite fashionable and tasteful) and rarely what she said or did.  For the wife of a high-powered local man, she remained remarkably invisible in the public eye, never the source of scandal or much of any other public interest.

Philip kept the children out of the attention of the public, restricting their unwanted public scrutiny from attending major social events, and continued this practice even as they grew into their teens. This was fine with the children themselves, as they had no interest meeting and greeting people about whom they didn’t know or care.

Philip’s lumber business stayed competitive over the years, but his continued success didn’t come without significant personal costs, mostly in the relationships he had with others in the community and with the members of his own family.  Tension could often run high in the household, and when he was pushed beyond his limits of self-control, Philip would explode with a slap across the face.  Elliott was just as susceptible to one of these violent outbursts as his mother or his sister. After such an event, Philip would apologize for his loss of control, but the emotional scars remained with each member of the family. There was never an accurate barometer of what might set him off, so the end result was Lydia and her children had to tiptoe gingerly in their own home.

Soon after her eighteenth birthday, Emily met a young man named William Barstow and got engaged, married, and moved out of the house. William was a good man, and a young, ambitious entrepreneur. Philip saw himself in the young gentleman (at least in terms of his business sense and eagerness to take on the world) and perhaps grudgingly, liked and respected him for it. William and Emily’s courtship was quite short; in less than a year, the couple had met, married, and moved to the other side of the country. Once she was gone, the only time her parents heard from her was during the holidays, and that was only over the phone. This distressed Lydia more than Philip (who barely slowed down in his relentless focus on business matters over the holiday season), but both parents were glad to have their daughter married off and happy in her new life. Emily was fine with the less frequent contact with her parents, especially her father, and viewed her changed life as a success in that she had escaped the gravitational pull of the town of Stony Brook, but more importantly, of the stress of her own family. Her heroic escape from the Manchester House proved to be even more momentous than she could have imagined.

With Emily out of the house, fifteen-year-old Elliott, now the sole offspring in the household, bore the brunt of Philip’s wrath when the steam rose. No longer with Emily to share in Philip’s outbursts, Elliott had them all to himself. And when tension was especially high due during a period of heated labor disputes that threatened the business, the frequency of violent outbursts in the home increased by a factor of three.

One sprinkling April evening, Philip returned from his office more agitated than usual. Lydia was in the kitchen preparing dinner, and Elliott was in the parlor reading. Lydia could tell it was going to be a difficult evening simply by the sounds of frustration she heard coming from the foyer. The briefcase slammed on the wet, wooden floor. The raincoat thrown on the rack, causing it to fall with a crash. She heard the rubber shoes of his shoes squeak, followed by dry thuds as they collided with the walls (with this sound, Lydia mentally noted she was going to have to wipe down the walls the next day).

Lydia took a minute to look out the kitchen window, but saw only her own refection against the dark night sky. She saw that her eyes were on the verge of releasing tears.

Philip entered the kitchen and stood just inside the doorway for a minute. Lydia by this time had moved back to the stove, stirring the pot. From the side of her face, he caught a very quick, subtle glance at him and instantly looked back into the stew brewing on the front burner. He could tell she had hoped he hadn’t noticed the look.

“What? No ‘how was your day?’ No ‘what happened at work today?’”

Lydia paused before she said, “I can tell, and why don’t you cool off before we go down a road we don’t need to go down.”

“Oh, that’s right, you’ve just been able to stay home and enjoy the fruits of my labor while my labor force thinks that the generous salary I provide isn’t enough! Twenty years ago, I’d be overjoyed with having a job at all, let alone one that could easily sustain a family of six like that Johnson clan! What more do they need?”

“Philip, why don’t you get changed, relax just a little, have some dinner, and after that everything will...”

“Oh, everything will be better! That’s fantastic! Once I have a little goddamn runny stew go through my system my worries in life will be over! This is the greatest day of my life!”

With growing exasperation, Lydia said, “Well, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it at this moment, so in the meantime why don’t you just go upstairs and whine for a little while?”

Philip’s eyes turned red. “Don’t talk to me about whining like I’m a four-year-old. My damn personnel costs are about to explode twenty-five percent...this is not like I dropped my ice cream cone. And if this strike happens, we are going to get hit in a big way and you’re going to feel the pain.”

“For pete’s sake, Philip, it’s only money.”

“It’s only money, it’s only money.” He took a few steps forward, Lydia stepped back, the small of her back touching the counter next to the stove. Philip was now about four feet away from her, but it was close enough that she could now smell the whiskey on his breath. “You don’t seem to think this is much of a problem, but that’s all right, I guess we don’t really need to eat.” He took a swipe at the boiling pot on the stove. It fell to the floor of the kitchen, splattering perpendicular to the short line between them. Splotches of stew splattered as high as some of the cupboards. A few drops popped into Lydia’s face, causing her to scream with pain. She quickly wiped the spots off her face with the sleeves of her shirt.

A few seconds after she blinked the spots out of her vision, her eyes focused on Philip. He tried to duck from the heavy wooden spoon whirling toward his face, but it caught him square on the forehead. He bent over, grabbing his head in his hands.

“Oh, Philip, I’m sorry...I didn’t mean for that to go so...here...” She moved toward him with outstretched arms. When she was close enough, he pushed them aside with one hand, then swiftly slapped her across the cheek with a high-pitched smack.

The two struggled in the center of the kitchen as Lydia tried beating Philip with ineffective blows with her fist to his chest and shoulders, but he quickly gained control of her arms by grabbing each of her wrists. They struggled for control for a few more seconds and then, as if by instant mutual agreement, stopped and glanced toward the doorway to the foyer.

Elliot stood there, arms by his sides, with a soft but determined face.

“Daddy. Let go of her and go upstairs.”

Philip let go of Lydia and turned to Elliot with a curious expression. “What did you say?”

“Go upstairs, Daddy. You’ve been drinking.”

Philip turned his shoulders so he was squarely staring at his son. “So what if I’ve been drinking? I think I’ve earned the right. In fact, I think I need a refill.” He walked straight toward Elliot, who held his ground defiantly, but was easily shoved aside as Philip moved into the foyer and turned right to enter the parlor and his liquor stand.

Elliot followed him into the parlor and saw his father pouring himself a generous glass of brandy.

Walking toward him, step by step, Elliot spoke. “No, Daddy. You’ve had enough. And we’ve had enough. It stops now. I’m done with you yelling at Mom, I’m done with you threatening me...your abuse.” By this time, he was one step from his father, and though the room was heavy and intense, he had not raised his voice above a conversational tone.

“This is where it stops. Right now.”

Philip looked at his son over his left shoulder with a considered, but cold stare. His eyes softened as he glanced down at his glass of brandy in his right hand. He swirled it gently and observed the sweet liquid cling to sides of the snifter.

The glass shattered on the side of Elliot’s head.

He stumbled back and tried to shield himself from...he couldn’t see. He brought his forearms together in front of his face, then felt the sting of his cheeks, his ears, his neck, as glass shattered against the bone of his temples. Moving his defenses there left the top of his head unguarded, and he felt the weight of the brandy bottle on it followed instantly by a thousand sharp pains. He was vaguely aware of the sound of his mother shrieking in the distance.

From the neck up, Elliot felt a general warmness overcome him. It turned numb as he realized his own blood freely flowed like tiny tributaries down every nook and cranny of his head. His balance was the next to go, but he didn’t remember how he came to be on the floor or why his hip was sore. In what seemed like a matter of seconds, it didn’t matter anymore. He wasn’t feeling anything.

Lydia shreiked, “What have you done?! My son!”

Philip impatiently said, “It’s just a little blood, he’ll be fine. Now get up.” He grabbed Lydia’s arm, but she violently pulled away.

“No! Don’t touch me. He needs bandages.” She hurried up the stairs.

Philip chased after her saying, “Jesus, settle down, it’s just a scratch!”

“It is NOT a scratch, did you see how bloody his face was? Stop touching me!”

Philip continued to grab hold of Lydia’s arms and she continued to resist. “Lydia, settle down!”

“I will NOT settle down!” she cried. Then after a short, considered pause she said, “We need to call the police.”

“Why do we need to call the police?”

“Because you assaulted our son, and you won’t even let me tend to him.”

“Assault? The kid had no right...”

“...to what? Right to what? Stand up to his drunk father? He showed more courage just a moment ago than you’ve even shown.”

“Shut up! Shut up and let me think!”

“There’s nothing to think about! Our son lies bleeding downstairs, and all you can think about is some stupid argument you’re having at work? You can’t even think straight because you’re drunk! What’s the matter with you?”

Philip sat on the bed and put his face in his hands and screamed. Lydia continued her verbal assault: “What are you going to do?!”

“I’m thinking!”

“Stop thinking and call the police! Never mind, I’ll do it!”

“Lydia, wait! No! We have to think this through!”

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“NO! I CAN’T LET YOU!”

No one knows why anyone acts the way they do, especially when they are in an extremely state of mind. Perhaps at that moment, Philip was so hysterical himself he wasn’t thinking rationally, or maybe in his twisted state of mind he was committing an act of mercy. Whatever it was he was thinking, he stood up, grabbed the revolver from his nightstand, shot his wife through the heart then turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger once more.

Since Stony Brook was accustomed to hearing the pops of backfiring cars (and the house was a mile or so out of town), the three bodies weren’t discovered until late the following morning.

 

 

As the sole surviving family member, Emily Manchester (now Barstow) inherited the house and all that was in it, plus the family business. She returned to Stony Brook just long enough to bury her parents and brother and tend to the arrangements of Philip’s estate. She left the administration of the business to Philip’s next-in-line Ted Murphy and enjoyed the benefits of being the senior stockholder. She and William were doing well enough that they didn’t need the money, and since she felt she didn’t need to take from the hundreds of workers that were keeping the business afloat, she made arrangements to take only what was necessary to maintain the house until it was sold.

In a somewhat strange gesture, she insisted that the house keep its furniture, artwork, and family photographs maintained. When the house was sold, its new owner was of course welcome to do whatever he or she wished. She insisted that until the deed exchanged hands, the house would retain a sense of dignity by remaining in its present state.

Despite repeated attempts to sell it, the house remained vacant ever since the tragic incident. Understandably, there was absolutely no interest for several months after the gruesome murder/suicide, and by the time an outsider might have rolled into town to show interest, a cold winter had arrived and the real estate market had slowed considerably. Plus, the incident naturally became the stuff of legends and no one wanted to interact with the ghosts of the house.

 

 

Though the house never came off the market, it was several years before the house began to show well. Lydia’s arrangement with the local real estate agent to keep the care and presentation of the house at a high level was never a discouraging factor to potential buyers—the house showed well and was meticulously maintained.  For the several years immediately following the incident, it was understandable that no one would bite, but after the statute of limitations for grisly murder/suicides had well past, visitors, though charmed by the house’s old-fashioned style and mystique, were turned off by its lack of modern amenities.

The closest I had ever heard of the house getting sold was a young married couple with a toddler.  The woman looked to be about seven months pregnant.  Their growing family was straining in the confines of a smaller house, and since the man’s business was flourishing, they were looking to expand.  I overheard their conversation with the agent:

“Well, it’s absolutely beautiful and charming,” the woman said, “but I just don’t know about that staircase. It’s far too steep and dangerous.”

Her husband answered, “It’s nothing that we can’t fix, dear.  We can carpet the steps, the foyer, the landing, and add some extra bars for safety.”

“I know we can do that, but do we really want to go through the extra trouble, especially when there was that Cape Cod over on Walton Lane...it was move-in ready.”

And that was that. I never saw them again, and the Manchester House once again remained vacant and unsold.

 

 

Amanda first visited the Manchester House when she was in fifth grade. Prior to her first visit, it remained a local curiosity that no one ever seemed to be curious about, just sitting in its quiet corner of James Street, a part of the scenery. But Amanda walked up one morning to the porch and peered in the windows. As kids are prone to do, she naturally tried to open the front door, working her hand around the doorknob, fumbling around a real estate lockbox. Not to be discouraged, she went exploring about, walking around the house, studying it from all angles, and eventually found one of the family room windows unlocked.

I admired her bravery and her tenacity. I was around the house all the time and knew of the same security vulnerability, but never thought anything of it. I kept my distance and watched her ease the window open and carefully step into the house.

She kept no regular schedule visiting the house, and she never brought anyone else. Every time she visited, she’d enter the window (after checking around for any adults, or children for that matter, who might be watching), go upstairs and sit in the rocking chair in the master bedroom. She was only ten years old, a child—she wasn’t aware it was the site of a horrible incident all those years ago. Sometimes she listened to music, but most of the time she enjoyed the quiet. Mostly, she’d be contemplative and write original poetry in a small notebook she’d bring with her.

We’d explore the house together all the time, Amanda always leading the way. She was perhaps a little too nosy—she would after all, move things around in a house that wasn’t hers, peering into closets and studying photographs. But she was always careful to put things back exactly as she found them. And she didn’t poke around the house because she intended to steal or hurt. She did it out of pure curiosity, and I got the sense that she came to know the previous occupants of the house simply by showing genuine interest and care.

One spring afternoon when she was in seventh grade, Amanda walked the halls of the house, studying the framed photographs on the walls. I loved the respect she showed them. It was just the two of us in the house, no outsiders, but she always treated the place as if the original inhabitants were still living there.

I reached out and gently brushed her cheek. She emitted a quiet gasp and turned to face me. I looked into her green eyes and although she looked back, I felt a palpable distance between us. I feared that I had overstepped my bounds with such an intimate gesture, and a split second later my fear was realized. She shuttered, turned and ran down the stairs and back out the window.

“Amanda!” I shouted, chasing after her, but frankly I didn’t try very hard, knowing that she wasn’t one to change her mind.

After a couple of months of not seeing her in the house, I worried that my overstepping had irreparably harmed our relationship, but we did meet again and when we did, things were different. She didn’t flinch when I touched her skin or held her hand. In retrospect, I think she just needed a little time to adjust to the idea of me wanting to get closer; once she made the decision to return to me we both knew what the boundaries were. We were both comfortable with this, and I decided right then and there that I would never attempt a kiss; that would be a decision for Amanda to make on her own terms at at time of her choosing.

At the beginning of Amanda’s junior year, we would meet at the Manchester House every late Sunday afternoon. I loved seeing so much of her, and I didn’t realize until we had been seeing each other for such a regular basis how much I craved the contact (Amanda and I never shared classes in school). Like I said at the beginning, I loved Amanda from the moment I first saw her, but it was these few glorious weeks since the school year began that I realized that I had seriously fallen for her and knew she had to be mine.

One Sunday in late October, I was waiting for her upstairs and heard the creak of the window as she made her way in the parlor below. I stepped out into the small hallway and glanced at the photograph of the Manchesters at the top of the stairs. I called out to Amanda and looked down over the bannister to see her round the corner to ascend the stairs. As she did so, her hand held onto the thin bannister and I watched her hips gently sway as she came up toward me. Even the way she walked could make my heart beat faster and more intensely.

I glanced behind me at the old black-and-white photograph of the Manchester family hanging on the wall (because it was right there at the top of the staircase, it was nearly impossible not to see it). It was a portrait: Philip and Lydia were still relatively young at the time it was taken; Emily was just a little girl of five in a beautiful ruffly dress, baby Elliott was nothing more than a swaddled bundle in Lydia’s arms. I tensed up thinking about the unjust act that ended his too-short life.

Amanda had nearly reached the top of the stairs.

As I adjusted the picture on the wall, it slipped off the hook and shattered on the wooden floor. Amanda, jerking in reaction to the sudden noise, took a half a step backward, but that was enough for the heel of her foot to slip off the landing and shift her balance to somewhere behind her. She involuntarily leaned back just enough to send her tumbling down the stairs. She cried out. I reached for her.

Her head hit the stair with a sickening thud, and the momentum of her legs carried them completely over the rest of her body—a giant backwards cartwheel, but using the head instead of the hands. With a few more bumps and knocks, her body finally came to rest at the base of the stairs. She lay on her back, with her left leg and head bent in unnatural angles.

“Amanda!”

I rushed to the bottom of the stairs, heart racing. I tried to steady my breath as I knelt by her side and touched her cheek. Her eyes remained open, unblinking and fixated on infinity.

“Amanda! Can you hear me? Amanda!”

No response.

I tapped her cheek with my hand and jumped at the touch of her skin. I looked at my hand and touched her cheek again. Her skin was warm and soft and made me shudder. I looked at her face again.

I whispered,

(Amanda)

To my relief, she blinked. She let out a soft groan and squeaked out in a barely audible voice, “What happened? I can’t feel anything.”

“You had a bad fall. Are you okay?”

“I don’t…” Her face flushed. “Whoa, I feel a little out of it.”

“Take it slowly,” I said. “Can you move?”

She pause briefly before she said, “I don’t think so.”

“Go easy, try shifting.”

To her own surprise and my great relief, she shifted her arms, then her legs just enough to bend a knee. She reached for my hands and looked at me. “It’s okay,” she said with a slightly surprised tone. “I think I’m okay.”

I took a step backward and eased her to her feet. She rolled her head and shoulders around with a light crack, but she appeared to feel fine.

“Thank you for helping me,” she said.

“I think you’re fine, but you should be careful and take your time.”

“Right...okay.”

She looked down and realized her hands were in mine. I felt her soft fingers. She looked up and our eyes connected.

Amanda’s green eyes studied mine—a deep, concentrated gaze. For the first time, she really saw me. My heart danced.

“I’m so glad you were here to help me. I feel lucky.”

“I’m glad I was here, too. That was quite a fall.”

Amanda looked up toward the landing, picturing the fall she’d just experienced. She’d already put it behind her, though. Once again, she looked at me and stared right into my soul.

“By the way, my name’s Amanda.”

“I’m Elliott.”


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