I am a fiction and screenwriter kicking it for Christ in the greater Orlando Area. My work has been published or is upcoming with Poets.org,...read more Deep South Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, After the Pause, The Indian Review, Pegasus Magazine, and more.
Cory proposed to me a week after Haley came out of the closet. It wasn't unexpected -- after all, I'd been with him all of high school. The next logical step should be marriage. But the timing was too convenient, like he could see into the sordid details of the last three months and wanted to take me away from all of that until it was a distant memory. I’d only heard the details of what happened to Haley from the mouths of nosy soccer moms, every bit of my attention going into the wedding details to distract myself. Between the dresses and honeymoon plans, I pretended that she no longer existed, my thoughts so wound between the lace of my veil I couldn't see through to the mess behind me.
We sat in the living room of my mother's house one afternoon a week before the wedding. My gown and his suit laid across the faded green couch, the few wrinkles of his coat a welcome distraction to the conversation that bounced around the room.
"I know you want it to be more casual, but you only get married once," my mother said.
Cory shoved me jokingly before responding, "Aw, it's alright Ms. Darren," he said, his southern drawl hanging out. I used to find it cute. But now, it served as the reminder of the picket fence life I was settling into. "As much as I would like to just wear my sneaks and a pair of jeans--."
"Which was never happening," my mother cut in.
He snaked an arm around my shoulder and pulled me close to him. "I know how important this day is to both of y'all. I promise to be the perfect gentleman." I felt myself pulling away, which made his hold tighter.
My mother stood up, shooting a smirk at him. "Famous last words, Cory Barett." She turned away, her firm footsteps heading to the kitchen. "If you or your rowdy friends show up in that damn truck your mom will kill you."
"You already got me in a suit and tie," he said. "If you think I'm leaving Maddie at home, think again."
I pulled away from him, reaching over for my water bottle. "I still can't believe you named your truck."
His face dropped at the sharpness of my tone, but he recovered with that Barett charm that initially won me over. "You know you love it."
I didn't love it. I never did. I think he knew it too. But I forced a smile through my sips of water then set the cup down, inching my body a little closer to him. His eyes focused on my face, and I found interest in the tangled ends of my knotted burgundy curls.
"Hey," he said, his arm reaching around the back of the couch. "Savannah, what's wrong?"
I shrugged, palms slipping against my spit ends. "Nothing. I'm fine."
His face dropped for a second before a sweet concern glossed through his eyes and he gave me a soft embrace. "Pre-wedding jitters?"
"Something like that."
He took my hands from my hair and held them in his, pulling me tighter against him. "It's gonna be okay," he said. "I'm nervous too. But I promise it'll all be worth it." His lips reached mine in a kiss I didn't return. He pulled away, wiping at his mouth.
"It's fine," he said, looking away from me. "I know it's gonna take time for you to get back to your old self. It'll happen." He nodded a few times before turning to me, a genuine smile on his lips. "I'm so excited about this," he said. "I love you so much, Savs."
"I love you too," I said, hoping the crack in my voice was more loving than apologetic.
The trailer rocked as my mother came back inside, giving us a suspicious glance as she picked up a pile of dress shirts. "Cory," she said. "Why don't you go slip into the loafers in Savannah's room. Make sure they're the right size."
"Yes ma'am," he said. He pecked me on the cheek and squeezed down the hallway that was too small for his body.
Once he was gone, my mother turned to me, an eyebrow raised in anger. "You need to be nicer to that boy."
"I am being nice to him."
She shoved the shirt she was holding into a hanger, glaring at me between movements. "He's gonna be your husband in less than a day and you're acting like he has cooties."
I opened my mouth then shut it again, my eyes averting to the torn carpet.
"Savannah, we talked about this. Even after what you and…that girl did to him, he wants to give you the world. You're lucky he took you back after all that. If I were you, I'd be more thankful."
"I know," I said, and it was the truth. It wasn't that I didn't love him in some way, but the romantic part of the relationship left me months ago, finding me on the bombshell lipstick of somebody else. The guilt alone was enough to make me want to back out, and give his heart to a girl who deserved it more. But I had him back, and a shot at a normal life. I wasn't going to pass it up again.
"Don't mess this up," she said, her smile warming up a bit. "Besides, he's got money. Not everyday anyone from around here can say that."
I forced a chuckle as Cory came back into the room, groaning with each step he took. "Ms. Darren, I don't think these fit right."
"Oh shoot," she said. "I thought for sure you and Uncle Rick were the same size. I'll check the closet again. Can't be walking down the aisle in shoes you can't fill."
Cory saw me laugh at his limp and picked the shoes off his feet. "Oh, that's funny?" he said, chucking them in my direction. They missed and hit the window, rebounding off the curtains and landing on my head.
"Ow," I said, rubbing the sore spot. Cory came over and checked it. "Cory, I'm fine."
"If you're sure," he said, kissing the spot then leaning into my lips, and this time, I returned the motion.
My mother let out a coughing noise and we broke a part. She smiled at us, a teasing tone to her voice. "Alright you two, save it for the wedding pictures." I looked up to see a happy yet relieved smile cross from cheek to cheek, and I remembered why I kept up the charade. The last few months have been cumbersome for her, the tension between us so thick it kept a sizable distance between us. Not backing out of the marriage was a quid pro quo effort in the end; she got the son-in-law and the grandkids, and I got to keep my family.
The concrete growled under the fast approaching wheels of a car outside, drawing all of our attention to the window. The engine stalled and a pair of feet stomped onto the pavement but didn't come closer. My mother took two steps to the window and peeked through the blinds, her eyes glowering as she came up. "Savannah, your little friend is here," she said, the word friend coming out like a rotten taste in her mouth.
My insides turned to static as I stood up, pushing aside the curtain.
"Haley's still here? I thought she left already," Cory said, oblivious to my mother's anger but just as disgusted. Once she came out, her parents made a sizable show of kicking out and disowning her. Last I heard she was living out of her car until she could get to Tampa. I didn't expect to see her again before she left.
"She probably wanted to say goodbye," I said, my voice absent, my mind already in the driveway. I took a breath and headed to the door, praying my mother's glare didn't hold my feet in place. "I'll just get it over with," I said, my business like tone contrasting the quivering in my stomach. "I mean, I'll probably never see her again. It's not like I'm totally heartless."
The look in my mother's eye crossed from disgusted to concerned, and for a second, I considered sitting back down and leaving Haley outside until the sun started to set, if for no other reason, to avoid the drama to come. After the news about us spread, my mother didn't talk to me for days, the years of closeness between me and my ex-best friend flashing between her hazel eyes and making her see me as something less than her daughter. But my constant reassurance that "nothing else will happen" eventually set in, not because I was convincing, but because she wanted to believe it.
"Alright," mom said reluctantly, gritting her teeth. "Just be quick about it."
I offered a weak smile and went outside, flashes of her voice telling Cory to put on the suit echoing against the screen door. I stood at the top of the stoop for a few seconds before going down the stairs, Haley already watching me with glossy eyes. As hard as I was trying not to look at her, the few glances I got told me she wasn't doing so well. Her hair was greasy and the bones of her face pulled her skin so tight it looked like it could rip. There was no color to her skin aside from the wrinkles under her eyes, which were bruised from sleepless nights and malnutrition. Her baggy clothes making her look every bit homeless despite the fact she'd been living out of a car. While my mind was telling me that she was less than desirable, I couldn't suppress the urge the run my fingers over her hips and the curves that probably weren't there anymore.
"Hey," I said, forcing the cheer into my voice. She didn't say anything as she looked at me, her fingers flicking the burning stub of a cigarette. "What are you doing here?"
She took a puff before dropping it to the ground still lit, a habit I'd grown to hate over time. "I, uh…" She stopped, biting her lip a little too hard before dropping her hands to her sides. "I left a sweater here before the thing happened. I want it back."
She grinned at my disappointment, leaning against her car. "I'm kidding, idiot. I just came to say goodbye."
She shook her head. "I come all the way back here and all you have to say to me is 'oh'?" She looked towards the window, a flash of worry over her face.
I bit the inside of my cheeks before turning back towards the house, where I swear I saw the curtains and blinds shut seconds later. "Mom's just fitting me and Cory with our stuff…for the wedding."
She looked down, realization setting her mouth in a line. "I heard about that. I'd say congratulations, but we both know it'd be a lie."
She stood upright, pulling her cardigan tighter around her.
"So," I said, my voice shaky. "How've you been doing…?"
"How do you think?" she said.
"Well, I'm sure that things will be better when you get out of here," I stammered. "I'm sure a fresh start will be--."
"Cut the crap, Sav," she said. "Jesus, stop treating my like a stranger."
"You might as well be at this point."
"Most strangers haven't seen you naked."
"Okay," I said. "Never mind."
As I turned away, she stopped me, her voice panicked. "Alright, I'm sorry for being a smartass. I just…" She sighed, her words escaping her faster than she could catch them. "I wanted to see you before I left."
I held my arms up. "Here I am."
"No, that's not what I meant."
A few moments of silence lingered before I started to back away again. "Look, I don't mean to be rude, but I have a wedding to plan and--."
I stopped, watching her demeanor crumple. "What do you mean?"
She groaned, stomping a boot into the ground. "I mean, what happened? A few months ago we were talking about leaving this town and going somewhere else and going to school. We were going to do big things together, remember that?"
I felt my glare harden as I stepped closer to her. "Yeah, I do. But you promised me that we weren't gonna be a thing until we left. And then you had to go and blab to your sister."
After a pause, she said, "Horribly." She took a step closer. "But you have to understand, it was too hard to not say anything." She took a shaky breath. "Every day I had to listen to them talk about gay people…do you even know what happened to day I got kicked out? I was fighting with my sister because she was saying that one kid in the news who killed himself deserved it because he chose to be that way. And I was saying he didn't, and that no one would choose that for themselves. She said that it was because they weren't raised right, and thank god we'd never know anyone who was that way. So I said, well I'm gay, what do you think about that?" She reached for another cigarette, but didn't light it between her teeth. "She ran out crying to dad. I don't remember much after that."
I crossed my arms. "I'm really sorry that happened. But it wasn't fair to me. You knew what had to happen."
"I couldn't help it."
"I know," I said, still angry. "But you can't blame me for not sticking around."
My words hurt, and I knew that they did, but we both know that there was no other outcome. I looked back to the window, the crack in the blinds was gone again. I prayed that it was Cory watching and not my mother, too emotionally drained for another fight after this.
"Listen...I didn't come here to fight," she said, hugging herself.
I turned back to her. "Then please get to the point."
After a moment, she whispered, "Come with me."
I blinked twice, hard, trying to make sense of the three simple words she told me. "What?"
"You don't have to do this," she said, checking to make sure no one was around. "Just run in, grab your stuff and let's go. I know you feel like you have to stay but you don't have to. Cory will eventually understand and--."
"No," I said. "You don't understand."
Her hand clasped around her throat, to the empty spot where her crucifix used to rest. "I thought this was what you wanted."
"Haley, this is what I wanted," I said, pointing to the ground. "I was dating Cory for years before you came along. I love my family and I love it here." I shrugged. "Being a photographer, living in a big city, all that would be nice. But this is what I want. Seriously."
She could see in my face that my words were bold faced lies, but she also knew that she only had a few minutes before either Cory or mom would come out, and didn't want to make the situation worse that in already was. "Alright," she said, taking a deep breath and double checking the window. She closed the space between us and grabbed my cheeks into her hands. I didn't flinch when her lips found mine or when my face relaxed in her hold, but I kept my eyes open, because I couldn't let myself consciously enjoy what was happening. When she did pull away, she looked to the front of my trailer, a wink thrown in my general direction. "Have fun with your husband and his truck."
A second later, the front door tore open, two feet pounding into the cement. "Get out of here!" I turned to see an ornate Cory stabbing a finger in her direction. Afraid he was going to hurt her, I moved to put a barrier between them. "I told you the last time to stay far away from her."
Haley's eyes went wide as she backed towards her car, grappling for the handle desperately.
"Get away from here right now," he roared. Haley tripped over her footsteps as she opened the car door, trying to get away.
His words hit me, as I pushed him away. "Whoa, what do you mean last time?"
He glared in Haley's direction, his chest heaving in anger for a minute before he looked down at me.
"Cory, what do you mean last time?"
He said nothing, and I turned to Haley, who stood behind the open door of her car. The look in her eyes--the fear saved for when she was in trouble with her father as a kid--hit me deep. I looked to Cory, praying it wasn't what I thought.
"I didn't do nothing--."
I shoved him away. "Jesus Christ."
"I just…I found her car outside the store. And I told her to stay far, far away from you."
"Cory," I said, running my hands through my hair. "Why would you do that?"
"Savs," he said, grabbing my hands and holding them on his chest. "We were together and happy, and then that little…dyke comes along and messes it up? We had a good thing going, a really good thing. I didn't want it to get messed up again."
"What you had must not have been so good if it was that easy for me to ruin it." Haley's voice came out strong, with as much pressure as her hands were putting into the metal of her car.
"Stay out of this," he barked, which sent her inside the vehicle.
"Don't talk to her that way," I said, shoving him away again. "You already scared her, you're making this worse than it already is."
His eyes met mine with a level of hurt I'd never seen in him, even when he found out about me and Haley from my mother. "I'm the one making this worse? You're kidding, right?"
The three of us stood there, uncomfortable, the sound of cicadas the only thing we could hear.
"Alright," he said. He stepped away, wiping the beads of sweat from his face and refusing to look at me. "If you wanna pick her over me, go ahead. I won't stop you." He made eye contact with me, his voice grave and serious. "But if you don't wanna ruin your own life? I'll be in there shoving my feet into your dead uncle's shoes for your wedding tomorrow."
I didn't move as he walked back into the house, nor as Haley got into her car and turned the motor, putting on her red heart shaped sunglasses and rolling down the window. I stood there, paralyzed as she gave me one last pleading look. I couldn't go. She knew I couldn't go. No matter how much I wanted to, my future was settled. Once she was gone, the hard part for her would be done. She was out, she'd paid her dues, and was now free to move on and try to find some happiness. My problems would only begin as I set foot down the aisle, spending every day of the rest of my life Mrs. Cory Barett, and even a divorce or runaway can't get me back the pain I'd felt. I couldn't articulate any of this this, so I gave her one last wave as her headlights dimmed.
I watched as she rolled down the windows and looked behind her, flashing me a shaky peace sign as she backed out. As she drove away, I kept my attention on the gravel, where the red-rimmed cigarette was pulsing against the ground.
"Savannah," my mother said, her voice hard. "Get in here. Now."
"Okay," I said, the emptiness around me so abundant I could breath it in. I stepped on the cigarette and pushed it into the gravel. The flame went out but the smoke still floated into the sky, staining my dark night with its musky tears.