I couldn’t catch up with Dakota when the bell rang. He was busy trying to cut past the swarm of girls beaming at Pierson near the front of the class, patting him on the back for his writing.
I took one glance at the paper Faye had, and I knew it wasn’t his. I wasn’t any penmanship specialist, but I knew it wasn’t Pierson. I had sat next to Pierson in Spanish class all throughout the first semester. His writing was worse than mine. You could barely make out a letter. Calling it chicken scratch would be a compliment, and it would be an insult to chickens everywhere.
Faye sat next to me today—not willingly, may I remind you. It was the only seat left. I had gotten a glance at it before she went up to the center of the room. I recognized the writing to be Dakota’s. I had spent an afternoon staring at his sketch book last term, admiring the way it resembled modern calligraphy.
Giving Pierson a pat on the back for something he didn’t do was definitely a kick in the gut to Dakota, but he didn’t appear to be disheartened. Out of all the people Ronnie could’ve said, she had to say Pierson. Even I knew he wouldn’t write about some girl in his dreams. He’d probably drone on and on about himself in third person.
Dakota was out of the hallway by the time I exited the classroom. I went through my phone to see if I still had his number saved. Something inside of me told me to contact him. I couldn’t quite describe the temptation, but it was urgent.
I walked over to the girl’s restroom and hide inside. Being caught with a cell phone in school would lead to getting it confiscated.
By the second ring, he picked up. “Who’s this?”
There was a pause. “Sorry. You have the wrong number.”
“Dakota. I know it’s you. I know your voice.”
His suppressed a laugh. “I’m shocked you still have my number. I don’t have yours.”
“I got a new one.”
“I’m well aware of that already, Silvia.” He chimed in a very passive aggressive way. We weren’t face to face, but my imagination filled in how he would be looking at me.
I waved my hand under the automatic hand dryer out of boredom and also because talking to Dakota on the phone made me feel uncomfortable all of a sudden. “Are you off-campus yet?”
“I will be soon. I’m thinking about getting something to eat before I go home. I would ask you to tag along, but I’m worried Gabriel won’t be ok with it.” He paused. “You know he’s fifteen, right? Do you plan on babysitting him this weekend?”
“Of course you were eavesdropping,” I grumbled.
“It’s not considered eavesdropping if you’re in the same room as me.”
“Yes, it is,” I sighed. “It’s not like that, Dakota. We have math together. Ronnie’s busy doing something with her younger sister. Gabriel offered to study with me. And besides, he’s got a girlfriend now and she’s going to also be there.”
“Smart girlfriend,” he noted. “Does that automatically mean I’m invited, too?”
“Automatically?” I scoffed. “You’re not my boyfriend. And, it’s going to be over at his house. I don’t know if he’d be alright with you coming over.”
“He might be and he might not be. It doesn’t hurt to find out,” he suggested. “Any who, why’d you call in the first place? Is there something you want to tell me?”
My fingers hovered under the paper-towel dispenser. “I was going to ask if you wrote that poem.”
“You don’t need to ask. You already know the answer to that, Silvia.”
I hated to admit it, but I was fighting a smile from taking over my face. “So, that’s a yes.”
“It is. You know better than to think someone as emotionally stunted as Pierson could write something like that.” I heard a car door open and close in the background. “Well, I have to go. I’m in the car. If you want to get lunch, you can sign out. I’ll wait.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
“Your afraid of going out for some cheeseburgers with me?”
“It’s not you I’m afraid of,” I whispered, “It’s me. It’s who I become when I’m alone with you. It’s too soon, Dakota.”
“For lunch? I think it’s perfect time of day for Lunch.”
I rolled my eyes. “You know what I mean.” I said and went to the exit. There was still a slight stream of students filtering in and out of the hallway, making their way to the cafeteria. Across from the girl’s restroom, I made eye contact with someone I didn’t see at first.
“Hey, Silvia can we talk?”
Heath was on the bright blue walls, leaning next to a poster that was announcing the audiences for the upcoming school play. I brought my cell phone up to my face. “Dakota, you should go without me. Something came up.”
“Oh-Okay,” Dakota stammered. “See you on Monday then.” We said one last farewell and then the line went dead on his end.
“What’s up?” I inquired, stuffing my phone into my back pocket. I was pleasantly surprised to see Heath had anything to say to me. Knowing him, it might have to do with Ronnie.
He kept the conversation level at a minimal. All we did was walk over to the office and sign off-campus. The one thing that he did repeat twice, though, was that he wanted to talk. What we were going to talk about wasn’t specified, beside saying that it had to do with Dakota.
I thought of how Dakota had said Heath may or may not like me as a person. And though I shouldn’t have taken it to heart, it did bug me a little. Then again, I didn’t necessarily have a connection with him like I did with Ronnie or Dakota.
We zig-zagged through parking lot, in search of his car. Heath drove a dusty van that had their band name spray painted in red. I buckled myself in the passenger seat and held my breath. It smelled like something old had shriveled up and died inside of it. He had an older kind of car. There wasn’t a button for the window. In its place, there was a crank to open the window. Once the car started moving, chilly mid-January air blew in and I could finally breathe again.
I looked down at my phone and checked to see the new text message I had gotten from my dad.
It explained to me that he would be gone for the weekend and that the business trip he was going to be taking to San Francisco next week was actually going to start today. He went on to tell me that the twin’s dad was flying into to California to see them and was going to hang out with them for the three-day weekend.
There was some high-profile celebrity case his law firm was dealing with. Evelyn tagged along for her personal reason, and Lenard just wanted to see San Francisco. I knew they were going to leave last week, but now I would have the house to myself a lot sooner than I thought I would.
“Where exactly are we going?” I questioned and put my phone back into my pocket.
Heath turn the car into the main streets so he could leave the parking lot. I was still unfamiliar with Crescent Heights. When he took another a left on to fifth street, I knew that we were going into the small downtown portion Crescent Heights had. It was fifty years old and my dad had told me how they had barely changed it throughout the years. It was only a few blocks. If you closed your eyes, even for the slightest of seconds, you’d miss all of Downtown Crescent Heights.
“I want you to tell me, Silvia, have you ever questioned if Dakota’s feelings were you are genuine or not at all in the past few weeks? Because I can fucking assure you that a guy like him wouldn’t do this for just anyone.”
Where the hell did that come from?
If I was going to answer him honestly, I would’ve said yes. Yes, I had questioned his feelings for me and also if I could trust him or not. But we were working on fixing that. I didn’t need his best friend to start interrogate me in his funky van.
“What are you talking about? Do what for just a....” I trailed off as the car stopped in a parking lot that faced an abandoned brick building. I clicked off my seat belt and yanked the passenger’s door open, nearly tumbling out and on to my knees.
“He kept calling it gift number three. I’m not all that certain if there’s an actual name for it. I think he made this one back in October. But he made an exact replica of this in Boulder Valley not too far off from the High School during Christmas break.”
I was caught off guard by the size of the mural. You never realize how huge your head is until you see it blown up on the side of a building, covering a majority of one of the walls. I recognized the art piece from inside of Dakota’s sketch book. It was the one that once said: ”I find my sin within her existence, I find my destruction within her persistence.” But now, it was replaced by something else.
"I know I can conquer the world with one hand as long as the other hand is holding hers," was written in long, swirling letters.
The drawing that was once in black and white was in full color. He used bright reds to color the shirt I was wearing and deep shades of purple for the sky above my head. Purple faded into a pitch black color, resembling night. My head rested on my hand, angled in a way that looked like I was dreaming the thoughts myself.
How long did he spend on this? It had to have been a month-long project. But how was he able to do this without me knowing? He had band practice, babysitting duties, and classes at the community college. His ability to juggle all of that while painting this had me awe-stuck more than the painting itself. Don’t get me wrong. It was breathtaking. But it was the action behind it that truly touched my heart.
My voice wobbled as I glazed at Heath. “Why am I only now hearing about it?”
“You guys weren’t together when he finally finished it, nor did it seem like you guys were going to get together for a while. He did tell me that he tried to show you this for your birthday during the beginning of Christmas break, but you refused to go with him.”
During those days, I was spending with Pierson at his house. Dakota did come over and offer to drive me to the last gift he had for me. I told him that I didn’t want to be in the same car as him. I didn’t admit it at first, but seeing him in that state of devastation – with the stained clothes he had on and the sleepiness trapped in his eyes – had done more damage to me than the breakup itself. Seeing him at all really hurt, but knowing that he was just as unhappy as me was enough to make me choke.
At the time, my pride was boiling my blood, making it impossible to admit that. Stubbornness was something I needed to put a lid on sometimes - along with my attitude. I could be one hundred present wrong, but my constant stubbornness, mixed in with my pride, would always stop me from fessing up to my mistakes.
“I should call him,” I thought aloud and fished out my phone. I called Dakota, breathlessly hoping for him to answer. My hysteria was greeted with his voice mail message, telling me to leave a message if I had something worth telling him.
He was probably still driving to a place to eat. Depending on if he got drive thru or not, I wouldn’t be hearing from awhile. Though I wanted to ask him to stop over to see me as soon as possible, I knew that was a slim chance. He had Ophelia to take care of this afternoon.
I had all this time to talk to him, I knew I could wait just a little longer to see him in private.
. . .
Hot sweat beaded my forehead as I sprang up out of my bed. The lonesome, silent house made my heavy breathing seem ten times louder. I could still feel the itch over my skin, as if he was still there, holding me by my wrists. He was back in my imagination.
My mouth clamped shut as the memories knocked the breath out of my lungs for a second time, recalling in gripping detail how it felt to slowly lose sanity under the weight of that man. It was the same nightmare. Was it really a nightmare though if it was only a recap on what I had been through?
A foul stench curled up in the back of my throat as if I was transported back to that smoke-filled room. All of the components were there. The condescending laughter that lulled into my ear, the sharp pain between my legs, the moisture that ran along the side of face and made my pillow damp, the smell of cigarettes in the air and in my mouth.
I blinked away the stinging tears and patted my palm around my bed, looking for my cell phone. I had to call Ronnie. She’d talk me through it and make weird jokes about nose jobs, and we’d laugh until I started to momentarily forget how fucked up I am.
I pressed redial and waited for her to pick up.
A husky voice responded, yawning on the other end. “Hey.”
I brought the phone down so I could read it through my blurry eyes. My vision was unreliable at this state. I rubbed my eyes and tried to read the words on my screen. For a brief second, Dakota’s name flashed across the top. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up. I thought I was calling Ronnie.”
“It’s fine. It’s almost four am. What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing,” I croaked, feebly. “I’ll call you back tomorrow, okay?”
“Silvia? What’s going on? Is it the nightmare you mentioned before?”
I was hard to handle at this state. If I didn’t calm down, I would babble endless on my deepest fears as I collapsed into an anxiety episode. When I first came to Crescent Heights, I didn’t have any of these nightmares or anxiety episodes for a solid year and a half. But rehearing it play back, for all to hear, at Pierson’s part had reignited something.
All of the work I had done to block out those days from my memory and all of the work I had put in to build a wall around me had failed me. Dakota wasn’t safe when I was in this mindset. Ronnie at least knew what to expect. I wasn’t myself. I was twenty times more destructive and pessimistic.
“Silvia.” Dakota pulled me out of my train of thought. “Talk to me. I can help.”
My limbs felt numb and the fire that was make a home in my chest was growing hotter. “No one can help me. I can’t even help myself...I...I need air.”
“Don’t go outside. Please talk to me until everything feels better.” The sound of bedsheets moving filled into my ear. “I’ll come over right now. I’m on my way. Just don’t go outside. Please, not at this hour. I’ll be there in less than five minutes.”
“I need to go outside.” I regained feeling in legs and began to kick back the blanket. My stomach lurched while the room appeared in and out of focus. I had gone to sleep with the lights on. Not out of fear, but out of habit. I was home alone and wanted to be able to see the ground if I decided to get up and walk around.
“Don’t hang up,” I begged.
I got up off the bed and headed for the restroom that was attached to my room. It had a second door that lead into the hallway. I grabbed the glass cup on my nightstand, holding on to it hard enough to make my fingertips turn red but not hard enough to break it. Flipping on the light and padding over to the sink, I turned on the faucet and ran my cup under the water until it was about halfway full. I drank it feverishly, gulping it down at breakneck speed.
Slamming down the glass on to the countertop, I inhaled through my nostrils and closed my eyes, but it couldn’t take away the sharp pain racing up and down my spine. A distressed noise ripped out of me.
“D-do you remember that sleeping tape I made you? The one to help with your sleep?”
“Yeah,” I breathed.
“Do you recall the first song?”
“Um, kind of.” I said unconvincingly. “It’s the Doo Wop, song, right?”
“Right. It went a little like this,” He cleared his throat. ”Good night sweetheart, well it’s time to go. Good night sweetheart, well it’s time to go. I hate to leave you but I really must say. Goodnight sweet heart.”
Dakota started to sing the rest of the song through the phone. He also attempted to do the background vocals on his own during the second time he sang it, which only made me smile.
The fear that roamed my thoughts was no longer riddling my imagination. I didn’t sense their skin on mine and I couldn’t hear their voices, cradling into my ear. The grip I had on the bathroom counter top loosened as Dakota sang the song a third time. He had a nice, calm singing voice.
Bright white lights flashed against the walls of my bedroom. “I’m here. I pulled in.”
I set the phone down on my bed and shuffled my feet against the white carpet. I quickly unlocked the front door and opened it. I couldn’t quite tell if it was my current state or the fact that he had just sang 50s song to me to calm down my episode, or maybe the combination of those two things. I didn’t care to find out. I throw my arms around him and buried my head into his neck.
His hands enclosed around my body and stayed in place. “Are you better now or do you want to talk?”
“I’m fine for now.” The world didn’t feel like it was closing in one me and I could breath a lot better than before. I still felt like mess on the inside. The aftermath would remain in the back of mind until tomorrow morning. It felt like I had just run a mile barefoot in July.
Dakota retracted from the hug a bit so we could be eye to eye. I ran my thumb under his puffy eye and observed the light red coloring around his blue eyes. His cheeks felt damp to the touch. “Are you okay though?”
Dakota met his hand with mine, cupping it, and then kissed the middle of my hand. “I got scared that you wouldn’t be here once I got here. Are you positive you’re fine?”
I plastered a smile on to my face. “Positive. I’m sorry I woke up and made you come all the way—”
He lowered his hands to my waist. “Don’t apologize for that. I came here willingly. I’m the one who offered to come here in the first place. Don’t ever say sorry for something like that. I’m always going to want help you in any way...as long as you want me to be there, I’ll be around.”
He let go of me and backpedaled away from me and to the door. As his hand went for the doorknob, I took a hold of the sleeve of his jacket.
“I want you here, right now,” I cried out, holding on to his hands. My vision was blurring, but for a new reason now. “And I know, we both have every reason to not want to start up this catastrophe of a relationship again, but I can’t stop myself from wanting to be with you. Maybe it’s because it feels different this time than the first time, maybe I’m stupid for everything thinking this might work.” I sniffled loudly. “Either way, if we can promise each other to not make mistakes, then I know it’s worth a shot.”
Dakota shook his head, swiping his thumb over my cheek. “I can’t promise you I won’t make a mistake. Just like you can’t promise me you won’t make mistake either. That in itself is leading us to failure. I’m going to get pissed about something so frivolous and meaningless and you’ll probably get annoyed by something I do or what I don’t do. We’re bound to mess up sooner or later, which isn’t bad at all. The number of times we mess up shouldn’t amount to anything.” He let out a sigh, laughing to himself. “As unoriginal and cheesy as it might sound, it’s doesn’t matter if we fight, as long as we have we have something worth fighting for.”
I snorted. “You think the way we fight is healthy?”
“With the way we fight, it’s extremely unhealthy. I know that now, looking back. You say some fucked-up things. I say some fucked-up things to make it worse and we end up never resolving the problem at hand. It’s something we can work on and fix. That along with trusting each other and possibly getting to understand what our other issues are as a couple.”
A warm sensation fluttered in my heart. “A couple? So we’re a couple now? Not a pairing?”
He rolled his eyes and a smile took over half of his face, leaning down to me to plant a kissing on my lips. “I was a bit of an asshole then. There has been some progress though, right?”
“You still are an asshole,” I commented with lips on his. I pulled back a little. “We’re getting there though. Step by step...I want to ask you something.” I blurted.
He raised his hand up to my hair and tangled his fingers into the waves. “Shoot.”
“If you can’t promise me to not make mistakes, then what can you promise?”
“I read somewhere that making promises in relationships is a bad idea.” He cupped my chin with his extended hand when he saw my face drop. “But, something I can promise is that I’ll try to show you that you matter to me in every way possible for as long as you let me. I’ve made some careless, senseless decisions, and I’ll try to make up for that. I can’t give you empty promises - you’re too good for that - but I know I will try and that’s the only thing I can ever offer anyone.”
“And,” he continued, “Heath is in the process of excavating very important information as to what I did while at Segg. If there’s anything else you want me to find out or clarify for you, I’ll do it, Silvia. Whatever it is. Whatever it takes for me to get to be your boyfriend again, I’ll do it in a heartb-”
I raised on to my tippy toes and landed one brief peck on his mouth. “That’s the best answer you could give me. Everything about it. You don’t have to say anything more.”
My right hand remained in Dakota’s while I walked up the stairs. I was exhausted and my body was begging for sleep. Dakota’s face was drained of all energy and I could sense the tiredness that hung off his shoulders.
He stripped off his jeans and shirt, and then he discarded his shoes to the front of the room. I was in bed by the time he crawled in and tugged me into his chest.
I may never find happiness in this dismal life of mine, but tonight – in Dakota’s arms –I felt at peace. I was at peace, for once, in the warmth of his embrace. My heart fluttered in reaction to his presence in my room and my breathing became shallow when his hand gripped my hip under the covers. His inhales and exhales trailed a path down my back. Right before I shut my eyes, I could make-out the outlining of his lips pressed on my shoulder blade.
Love was such a strange when it came to Dakota. I never knew where the source of the feeling came from, but all I did know was that I never wanted it to go away.
“I love you, Silvia,” he breathed into my skin, holding me tighter.
A lump grew in my throat. “I love you, too, Dakota.”
I never wanted to let Dakota go, despite what the outcome might be in the end. He was the constant life-line I had to pull me out when I was stuck in my dark place. He was the glimmer of hope I was left with when I was ready to tear myself down into a pile of nothingness. He turned to me with an utmost certainty that I wasn’t as damned or damaged as I thought I was. And the craziest part, above it all, was the fact that I believed him. That I wanted to believe him.
Like his poem suggested, even with my mind at its weakest, my soul still loved him wildly.