I open up the door in front of me and make my way down the busy hallway. Reaching my locker, I shakily grab hold of my lock and start to twist and turn the knob until it matches my combination; 13 to the left, 43 to the right, two. I yank, and the lock snaps open with ease. I start to pile my books and belongings into their hidy-hole and freeze when I hear the familiar scuff of her red converse. My breath quickens and I can feel myself start to flush. She is walking towards me.
“Hey Charlie. How was work last night?” Her cheeks are raw; highly pigmented from the strong, biting wind outside.
“I'm ok, work was, well... work.” I can feel the corners of my mouth involuntarily twitch upwards, and can vividly see the twinkle in Julie's deep, blue eyes. She chuckles. This is one of our inside jokes. I work at the local bookstore “The Writer And His Quill”. I work cash and re-stock shelves, but there are never any customers. To tell you the truth, I think that I only got the job because I used to spend so much time in there. After I grab my books and my locker squeaks shut, she grabs my hand and I feel like the luckiest man on earth. Nothing can ever spoil this, not a poison known to man.
* * *
He is gliding into the classroom noisily, the chains hanging from his oversized pants announcing his arrival.
“Hello, you must be Mr. Hunter.” The nasally voice of my ancient biology teacher addressing the stranger.
“Uh.. yeah, that's me.” His voice was as stereotypical as his appearance; cocky, disrespectful and annoying. Mrs. Smith's firm but friendly demeanour falters for just long enough to catch the boy's attention; just long enough to give him the ok. He has penetrated the wall of authority which meant that he could get away with murder. Her smile instantly vanishes and she points to the far back corner seat to the left, clearly trying to get rid of him.
“You can sit there. I'm assuming you already have a textbook?” This snarky smile makes me want to punch him.
“Yes, ma'am.” He slithers and sways his body through the path between desks, stopping for only a second right in front of Julie.
“Hey there.” He looks down at her like she was a piece of meat, and he is a ravenous carnivore, ready to sink his teeth in.
“Hello,” Julie's sweet, tender voice is always friendly, especially with new faces.
“I'm Jake,” I mentally gag as he suggestively winks at my girlfriend. Classy.
“My name is Julie,” She must have felt my legs go rigid under the desk. “And this is my boyfriend Charlie.”
“Hello Charlie.” He put on a sickeningly sweet tone to his voice and slightly glared at me while covering it with a smile for Julie's sake. From a male's perspective, this friendly gesture is basically code for a slap in the face and a collection of mental insults being thrown your way. Super classy.
“Hi.” I telepathically tell him where to shove his sly grin and release the breath I didn't realize I was holding as he continues on his way. I look to my right, expecting to participate in a whispered conversation about how much of a spaz the new guy is with Julie, but I am faced with the back of her curly head as she watches Jake sit down.
* * *
Julie's strange behaviour continues for the rest of the week; we'd walk to class together, and she would completely ignore me for the rest of the day. She usually picks the seats that we sit in during bio, and those seats seem to be getting closer and closer to Jake's. She insists on sitting inside in the cafeteria instead of our usual bench outside. Somehow she managed to become Jake's lab partner instead of mine. She doesn't return my calls nor does she answer my text messages. It is like trying to converse with a corps; cold, distant, flat.
“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” I strategically step in front of her and look her straight in the eyes so that she can't pretend that she didn't hear me.
“Well.. I was actually just about to meet Jake so that we could finish that bio assignment.”
“I've been trying to call you, but you never answer your phone, you never text me... hell, you hardly ever look at me anymore. What is going on Jules? Did something happen?”
“Of course nothing happened. I don't know what you are talking about.”
“That's bullshit and you know it. What's going on between you two?”
“Us two?” She looks up at me with those oversized, doe eyes. It is not going to work this time.
“You and that Jake guy. He is the only person that you ever spend time with anymore.”
“You're imagining things, Charlie.”
“I'm not blind Julie! Why are you even bothering to deny it? It seems like he's replaced me, but I can't even imagine how. What the hell do you see in him? He is absolutely pathetic!” Judging by the look on her face, I might as well of slapped her.
“I'm pathetic? You're the one who can't except that she doesn't like you anymore. Get over it and move on.” His voice stabs me like needles from behind.
“Excuse me? I was talking to my girlfriend buddy, so back off.”
“I'm not your girlfriend anymore Charlie, I'm so sorry.” The students that walk by become one, blurry wall, and their rambunctious, lively discussions become blaring white noise surrounding me, waiting to knock me to my feet. Her words attack my stomach and I can feel my legs turn stiff, ready to crumble.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Let it go bro, you heard her, it's over between you two.” I can feel the rage bubble up inside my body. My mind barks the order, and my arm response energetically. The feeling of my fist meeting his face in very satisfying.
“What the hell is your problem asshole?!” Jake's hands cradle the bridge of his nose like an infant as red, hot liquid streams down through the cracks between his fingers.
“Charlie! Are you psycho?” Julie is instantly at his side with her arm around his giant shoulders. I take a step forward, completely aware now of how childish my actions were.
“I... I'm sorry. I love you, Jules.” My hand starts to shake and I look down to see someone else's blood on my knuckles. In this moment I notice that thick lines of water streak my ex-girlfriend's face, dripping off of her angular chin and jawbone.
* * *
I can't stop thinking of her; how different she was in that moment. Someone who was as familiar as my own reflection is now a complete stranger. I am just another face in the hallway to her; mundane, forgettable. Lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to push everything out of my mind is making me feel worse. I cannot handle feeling anything anymore.
In an attempt to nurse my soul, I shakily walk down the stairs and into the kitchen. I reach for the small, wooden cupboard and jerk it open. The late afternoon sun dances through each coloured bottle, causing a rainbow to linger on the back of the cupboard. I nervously grab one, unsure of its contents. The smell is sharp, pungent. Vodka. I bring the opening up until it reaches my lips. Without thinking, I start to gulp. The clear liquid burns its way down through my body, leaving my throat raw. The bottle is empty much too quickly, so I grab for another one. By the time that one is dry, I can barely stand. All I can think about is him. Him interrupting our conversation. Him standing up for her. Him crouching on the floor, allowing her to embrace him as he holds his nose. Him fighting for her. The rage flairs up again like licking flames, but there is nothing close enough for me to punch this time.
I incoherently shuffle down the street to Julie's house. I have to make her understand. Blinded by my certainty, I awkwardly fumble with the lock on the old, wooden gate leading into her backyard. I stumble up to the door and reach into the rusted mailbox. The extra key is still there. Pushing the key into the lock, I wrestle with it until it clicks open. I take off my shoes, not wanting to track the old mud that is caked on my sneakers into the manicured house. Once at the foot of the stairs, my stomach rebels over and I feel like I am going to be sick. She is just twelve stairs away.. I can do this. Looking up the steps again, the railing starts to shift and everything becomes a blur. I can do this. After taking the first step, I start to hear muffled voices coming from Julie's bedroom. Two voices; a woman's and a man's. He is up there! Tripping back down the stair, I practically crawl my way back into the kitchen. I need to make sure that he understands me, that he needs to back off. I reach up and pull down the first thing that my hand meets; a bread knife. While trying to slowly get up and regain my balance, my arm swings and knocks over a floor lamp. There are loud banging footsteps coming down the stairs, getting closer and closer.
“Yo, what the hell are you doing here?” His voice sounds slurred and distant, but I can feel him grab my forearm. Now is my chance to make him understand. As he is swinging me to my feet, I shift my weight wildly and turn to talk to him.
“Did you hear me? What are you doing hear, Charlie? She doesn't want to talk to you.” I try to hold up my hand in protest so that he would let me speak, forgetting that I still have the sharp, serrated object in my hand. From what I can tell in my shaky, distorted mindset, Jake has stepped back and is trying to reason with me.
“Holy shit! Is that a knife?” Finally, he has shut up. My hand stops shaking, and I feel a little more confidant with the sturdy object on my side. I point the shiny tip in his direction.
“You.. y-you listen t-to me. I-I-I love her, and you ca-an't change th-th-that, so get-t out and lea-eave us alone!” Halfway through my demand, I stop and take a breath in an attempt to steady my voice and get my point across, loud and clearly.
“Look, just put the knife down Charlie, you're drunk, dude. Just calm down and we can talk about this.”
“Where is-ss she? You were upst-stairs with her weren't y-you?” I can feel my rage continue to rise. Who the hell does this guy think he is?
“We were just studying, I swear.” He continues to back away from me, almost tripping over the lamp that I so gracefully knocked over a few moments before.
“Bullshit!” Without thinking, I charge at Jake, surprised to feel the knife meet, then penetrate his football jersey. He lets out a choppy yelp as he drowns in his own blood. I stand over him, watching the life leave his eyes. My face, my drunken hysterical face is the last think that this boy will ever see. I bend down and pick up his limp, muscular body and carry it out into the backyard. I set Jake down, and the rain registers in my foggy brain. I pull the foreign object out of his body and watch as the rainwater washes it clean.
Julie must have heard the thump of her boyfriend's fall, for she came thundering down the stairs and out into the rain the meet me.
“Oh my god.. Charlie, did you do this?” She was at his side in a second, weeping over his lifeless shell. “No... no, this can't be happening.. no..” The cold breeze shocks me back to reality and the icy water seemed to wash away some of the alcohol.
“He.. he wouldn't l-listen to me. He intru-uded into our lives and took you aw-way with him. I-I love you Jules and I would d-do anything for you.”
“You did this for me? You're crazy to think that this would make me love you again!”
“Julie, p-please just listen to me-”
“No! I don't want to hear it! I'm calling the police!” As she stands up, I can see the fresh mud that covers her ripped jeans and the dark stains on her shirt from where her body had wrapped around Jake's. She tries to step around me to get to the phone, but I instinctively grab her wrist.
“Let me go, Charlie!”
“I c-can't do that, not until you say-ay that you will take me back!”
“That's never going to happen!” She is now sobbing so hard that her words come up in a jumbled mess.
“I'm sorry Julie, so sorry.” I pull her closer, and raise the knife. She sees the wet glint of the blade and tries to pull away. I slash the sharp object sideways, and her left ring finger plummets to the ground like a stone. Julie falls with it, staring dumbfounded at the red stump and starts to hyperventilate.
“Ch-Charlie. Oh my god.” My eyes glaze over and I can no longer see as water wells up and spills over the brim of my eyelids.
“Julie-” She instantly cuts me off.
“Jake was right, you are fucking psycho!” My hands are shaking violently now, and I can hardly hear her over the ringing in my ears. The motion the speeding blade makes does not register in my brain. After realizing what I am about to do, Julie's terrified face morphs into one filled with acceptance. Just before the cold steel meets her pink skin, she utters her final words.
“I hope that this makes you happy Charlie.”
* * *
My brain and body now completely numb and wiped of all emotion, I pick up Jake's empty shell and toss it like a bag of potatoes to the other side of the garden. I then walk into the old tool shed that might as well of been made out of drift wood, and carry out a long shovel. In the far corner of the yard, I am a robot as I dig deeper and deeper into the dark, moist earth. The wind pushes my hair into my face, sticking it to my forehead and cheeks because of the stale sweat and solidified blood that lingers there. I then lay the shovel down, and reach for the carcass, cradling it close to my own body. I stand there for a moment, taking in the situation in pieces; I'm not ready for it to really hit me as a whole just yet. As the moment passes, I gingerly place the body down into the unnatural hole that I just created. I arrange each area individually with care, limb by limb. First the hands, all seven fingers sprawled out; straight at attention with the eighth resting just above where it should be. I pull out the section of red ribbon knotted in Julie's hair and tie a bow right where the halves should be attached. I then move on up the arm; bending the elbows to fifty degree angles and allowing the hands to rest on top of her abdomen. Arranging her hair is the most difficult. I can still faintly smell the remnants of her favourite perfume. I place the long, maroon trendrals to mimic the way they float on top of still, clear water. I look down at her face; her eyes still closed from the moment that she took her last breath. I choose to leave them untouched, because it reminded me of the way she looks when she sleeps; peaceful, still and childlike. Her lips are chapped from the nasty habit that she picked up recently to ease the stress of her up-and-coming exams. After I am satisfied with what I see, I make a second trip back to the old shed and pull out two sanded and stripped doors and place one on top of her. Noiselessly, I then start to cover it with more soil. When finished, I slowly walk over to her mother's colourful flower garden, pick a fistful of white Baby's-breath and sprinkle it all over the grave, silently praying that this in some way makes up for what I have done.
After a moment of listening to the rain pounding down around me, I bend down and pick up the shovel, pushing it back into the packed soil once again, right beside where I have just finished minutes ago. Setting the shovel down, I slowly crawl into the hole and drag the second, larger, heavier door on top of me, completely cutting off my external air supply.
“Ill see you soon, Jules. I love you.”
© Copyright 2016 Joy Evans. All rights reserved.