1| Skins .•°
“I’m sure we’ll meet in the spring. And catch up on everything. I’ll say I’m proud of all that you’ve done. You taught me the ropes, and you taught me to love.”
Chapter Theme Song: ‘Good Side’ by Troye Sivan.
.•° ✿ °•.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I watch as the small bulbs of freezing rain hit the cemented pavement and slowly form puddles along the circular driveway. A few spot the fogged up windshield mirror before the wiper rhythmically scrubs them away again, creating a temporary pathway to see on the outside. Black. Everything is. The sky is black. My life is black.
“Give me a second, I’ll ask him to come and help us with these boxes.” The woman next to me, who many would refer to as my mom, says as she climbs out of the new pick-up truck that smells of fresh leather and engine oil. Outside, the rain has lessened and the sun is peeking through a puff of grey cloud. I bend my head to observe as the slender-bodied lady, the exact opposite of me, ambles her way up the massive marble steps.
My mother, Pearl Gayer has been absent since the day I was born. My grandmother, who I refer to as Mama, said she was always busy. Traveling aboard, studying, building a career while I barely scraped through life without a solid mental ground. I am graduating high school in only a few months, but I have no idea what I want to do with my life career-wise, and so maybe I’ll just a take year off from college. Find a job in the meantime or something.
We are moving in with my mother’s boyfriend, or fiancé, or whatever she had said earlier. I was too absent-minded to pay attention, and there was something demanding about her tone of voice that made me feel defiant. It was as though she was commanding you to listen with her high-pitched diction and overly-dominant choice of words. The thing with my mother is, she doesn’t love me. My father never loved me either. Or they both would not have left me behind to ‘build themselves.’
I am not bitter, just a tad concerned. I wonder if I was an ugly baby who cried too much.
Mama said my father was too chicken to take care of me. He and my mom were only sixteen when she became pregnant with me, so imagine how tiring that must have been for them. To be fair, I can faintly see where they were coming from. They weren’t ready to have a baby. Life happens sometimes and mistakes are inevitable, and they too deserved to be ‘someone’ even if that meant leaving me behind. I suppose that thought was what pushed me to put the past behind me and move in with her. She flew in from Australia only two months ago for Mama’s funeral. Then I was shocked when she suggested I move in with her so we can ‘build the connection’ that we don’t have and is probably much too late to have.
But I didn’t expect the ‘her’ would be ‘them.’
The driver’s door splays open again, the smell of wet grass filing in as my mother sticks her brown head through. All teeth and smiles.
“He’s coming. I am so excited for you to meet him.” She gushed dazzlingly as though whomever he is, is God himself clothed in flesh.
In the meantime, I climb out of the vehicle to help her with some of my luggage in the back. My suitcase isn’t heavy. I don’t have many clothes and shoes, and most of the space is occupied by old novels and photo albums. The rain has stopped entirely now, a bright rainbow stretching across the sky that now holds a softer grey. I love the smell of the soil on rainy days just as much as I love the smell of rain in itself. It is earthy and natural and makes me think of how mysterious life on a whole is. How we were suddenly born into the world, meet different people, create bittersweet memories, and then in the end, return to the soil of the earth. The cycle is mystifying.
But the smell of the rain and mud easily takes a backseat when the smell of wood and aftershave breezes its way through my senses.
“I got it; let me.”
Listerine and Minty Toothpaste. I turn my eyes to the left of me as a veiny, masculine hand covers the handle of my leopard suitcase. I follow the firm biceps that lead up to a well-defined jawline; as sharp as a knife, lips that are full and heart-shaped, and a nose that is as straight as an arrow. Then pink lips separate ever so slightly, displaying perfect rows of milky-white teeth. The sun that is conveniently tearing through the clouds glistens on them almost blindingly.
When it comes to men, I don’t have any experience in the category. When it comes to a ‘dad’ I don’t have any experience in that category either. Needless to say, this entire situation is wholly not my area of expertise.
“Thank you,” I mutter softly, despite the intimidation of his appearance. He resembles someone from one of those magazines Mama used to keep on her porch, or the male lead/rich bachelor from one of those novels I have stashed away in my light suitcase. It is exceptionally light since he grabs it up like a packet of candies and swings me another soft smile.
“I am Winter. Winter Cage. And you’re...Sofia, right?”
“Yeah. Sofia Grace.” I shift my weight uneasily, fighting the urge to fiddle with the long sleeves of my blouse. It’s not a crush. I am not having a crush on this stranger. It’s just the apprehension I am normally faced with when corresponding with people. I am an introvert. I stay in a lot, and I have never had a boyfriend in all my years of existence. Mama sent me to an all-girl school so that sure adds to my lack of social skills when it comes to the opposite sex.
“Oh. I am not good with names, but I will try my best to remember that.” He smiles at me for the umpteenth time.
I narrow my eyes slightly, and he quickly adds.
“Not to offend. It’s just...I didn’t know Pearl had a daughter. She didn’t tell me until a few weeks ago before she flew in.”
“Really?” I lean my side against the car, somewhat nervously, and he points to my side.
I move away quickly, now seeing a damp spot on the side of my thin blouse, and a rush of embarrassment envelopes me instantly.
I purse my lips, and he chuckles faintly. “I’ll help you get changed. Follow me in.”
He turns around and I take him in. Discreetly. Dirty wash jeans, a black tank shirt, small hoop earrings hanging from both ears. His dark hair is silky and long, much to my knowledge, and is wrapped up in a bun in the middle of his head.
Mm. So far what I have gathered about my mother is that she has good taste in men...
He seems Latino or Mexican, and he’s rocking a faint stubble that seems about a few days old. He likes jewelry, it appears. He’s wearing a silver locket, and his fingers are lined with a collection of shiny rings. The pair of sneakers on his feet could be classed as new despite the splashes of mud on them, and—
“Gonna show her to her room; her shirt got wet,” Winter informs a quizzical Pearl as we pass her along the way.
She nods her head slowly, looking me up and down before her gaze lands on the wet patch on my rib. “Okay...”
She’s not pleased. I can tell. Perhaps thinking I am already on the route to embarrassing her. That’s the last thing I want, so I make a mental note not to screw up from here on out. Keep in my lane. Keep in my room. And all will be well.
Everything inside of the house is either white or black with a little touch of red and grey in different areas. The dwelling is luxurious and beautiful and I wonder what kind of job he does to own such a mansion. The house I lived in back home with Mama was nothing compared to this.
“Shoes by the door, alright?” He says it humbly, and I nod respectfully as I peel my feet out of my dirty sneakers. The red polish on my toes is all chipped and faded, and I pile one foot on the other to lessen the discomfort. Winter doesn’t notice or care as he walks toward a long, transparent staircase at the left hand of the room. On the right is a huge poster of him...shirtless.
His hair is flowing over his shoulders, a thick arm perched behind his neck as he poses for the camera. He’s fit, and I wonder if his occupation is a model.
My face gets warm, and he follows my gaze before his manly laughter, drenched in pure testosterone, fuels the room. “I should probably take that down. I look like a wanna-be stripper.”
I press my lips together as I follow him, not sure if laughing at his ‘joke’ is okay. He surely doesn’t look like a wanna-be stripper, but his skin is probably smothered in too much oil.
“It’s okay to laugh.” He says, glancing over his broad shoulders. I grip the bag I am carrying tighter as he swings my luggage like it’s a sheet of paper. “I hate it too, you know. Have you ever taken a picture and at that moment, it looks amazing, but after a while, it starts to annoy the hell out of you?”
When my answer lags for a little over a second, he looks back at me, the white ceiling lights above our heads making his hazel eyes seem brighter. I tense up at the beauty of them. “Uh...n-not really.”
And I stuttered. Way to go, Sofia.
“Mm...” In an attempt to save my awkward self, I add, “I-I don’t really like taking pictures.”
I really need to do something about my constant stammering.
“Oh? Why’s that?”
We are now on the second floor in front of tall white double doors, but Winter doesn’t open them as he waits for me to speak.
Because my pictures always suck.
“I just...” I shuffle on my feet uncertainly, gnawing at my pale lip. I have an insecurity issue. Particularly with my body. Taking pictures highlights that too much. I have pimples on my face, butt cheeks, and neck, and I hate how brittle my hair is. My legs are fat, and my collarbones always seem to be sunken into holes.
Winter stares down at me, brows furrowed attentively, lips straightened. He looks like a good listener, as though whatever it is I am about to say is more important than Global Warming and Covid-19.
“I- I just don’t like it...”
Shit. That answer was so repetitious. The man probably thinks I dropped out of high school and haven’t got much words in my vocabulary.
I could have said something better if anxiety wasn’t currently eating at my brain cells, though.
But he doesn’t beat me up about my mechanical retort. He only smiles slightly and nods once. “Alright.” His stare is calculating and somewhat intense, and I look away from him and at the door, silently reminding him of why we are here.
His shoulders jerk like being pulled from a trance and he grips one of the gold knobs and opens the barrier. We walk inside the spacious room that smells of new sheets, and just like downstairs, the walls and pieces of furniture are all white and black. The room is meticulously clean and organized and the floors are spotless. The bed is huge, and the wardrobe is even bigger. I don’t have many clothes to fill all of it, though.
“So, here we are. This will be your room, Sa...So—”
“Sofia,” I interject, and he shuts his eyes and grins. He has dimples. Some really deep ones. He reopens his mellowed circles and smiles apologetically.
“I’ll get it right. I’ll get it right. I promise.”
I smile and nod my head, looking down.
“Alright. Unpack and settle in. If you want to change the color of the room, let me know. I’ll paint it over.”
“The white is alright.” I reply softly, then I get a tinge of courage and ask, “do you paint the rooms yourself?”
The question makes him surprise for some reason. “Yeah, I do.”
“Oh...um, is that what you do?”
“As in...your job.” I am genuinely curious, but mostly, trying to save our first encounter last minute. It is no question that I’ve been weird and uncommunicative since the second we’ve met, and there is that saying: first impressions always last.
I don’t want to pave a dim way for the rest of my time staying here. I plan to move out after I turn eighteen and graduate in a few months, and I don’t want to get needless in my skin every time I remember my weird experience with my mother’s boyfriend. I am an avid over-thinker, and things would be gone years ago, and I’d still pine over it five years after.
Things I said. Things I didn’t say. Stuff like that often occupies my mental capacity and leaves me utterly drained. And due to this, I’ve started to calculate every word and movement I make. It gets tiring sometimes.
“No, I have my own company.” He says, tilting his head a little. “Have you ever heard of Garbed? It’s a brand name.”
I chew on my lip and slide my eyes to the side of me. After several seconds, Winter smiles again.
“You haven’t. But it’s a clothing line. I make my own clothes and shoes; stuff like that. I do photography too. I take pictures of every and anything and sell them online. And I also do a little planting, painting, and other little stuff.”
“Other little stuff?” My curiosity heightens, and he chuckles softly.
“Since we all will be living together, you’ll know in due time, Sa...”
It’s literally five letters, come on!
“Right.” He chuckles. “Forgive me. Anyway, I’ll be downstairs helping your mom with the other stuff. Get changed and settle in. Then you can come down when you’re ready.”
“Okay.” I smile politely as he takes a step backward, turns away, and leaves the room, taking with him his charming smile and captivating scent. I sink into my bed and stare at a painting of where the sky meets the sea above the tall, black wardrobe.
I release a breath.
My mother’s, or rather; Pearl’s, life feels so different from mine, and I am already wanting to return to the small town of Graysville that Mama had lived in. Truthfully, I don’t know what I was expecting about her new ‘lover,’ but I certainly was not expecting someone that young.
.•° ✿ °•.
My mother herself looks extremely young. So young that people would probably pass us as sisters. Her long black hair is spilled over her slim shoulders in beautiful waves, and she has a pretty smile. My smile looks like a cat being choked to death.
I push around the beans on my plate while she laughs and chats with Winter who is now wearing a white T-shirt. He too has a nice smile, one that makes his eyes appear squinted and his features, softer. He has a beauty spot near his left eyelid, and I can identify the smell of him from across the long dining table. It’s mild and gentle and faintly citrusy.
I am not keen on living here with them. I don’t know if it’s silly and irrational to feel like a pathetic third wheel. Plus, I keep blushing whenever the man talks to me like a girl who has never interacted with a guy in her entire life. I’ve had male teachers throughout the years, so I am not sure why I am acting like a cavegirl.
I snap out of my reverie to see both pairs of eyes fixed in my direction, and I squirm slightly on the soft chair as I rub my knees together. “Sorry...”
Pearl looks at her lover before turning her gaze back on me. It hardens slightly. “He was asking what year you’re in.”
“Oh. Year 12...” I answer, and he nods and smiles.
“Oh, what school do you attend?”
I glance at Pearl, who says nothing as she takes a bite of her cheesy pasta. I bet she doesn’t know the answer to that question. She’s my mother but is nothing more than a stranger.
“Maryland High School for Girls,” I reply and watch as Winter’s unique eyes light up with interest.
“Oh.” Is all he says, and I drop my vision to my plate.
Pearl calls my name again, and I raise my head to see her full lips pressed into a grim line. She’s mad. I did something, but I don’t know what.
“I am seeing your chest.” She speaks.
I am confused at the statement, and Winter lowers his head, staring into his full plate. He looks...sympathetic?
“I am seeing your entire chest, child, you’re not wearing a bra!” She raises her voice, and her harsh tone causes goosebumps to grace my skin. I feel embarrassment flood my cheeks when I look down and see my small breasts prodding against my blouse.
I got this top only a week ago. It’s a long sleeved-one with a floral design. Grandma’s dear friend gave me as a gift after the funeral along with some soaps and panties. I had no idea it’d be see-through, and I feel my heart races up as my insecurities come alive.
I am not one to expose myself. Especially with my current case of body dysmorphia. I tend to wear long skirts, and tall pants, or men’s basketball shorts. Tonight I am wearing a red pair that covers the stretch marks on my thighs and the huge scar on my knee. But Pearl has to point out my obvious poor judgement in relation to my choice. I should have worn a thicker blouse; silly me.
The room is closing in on me, and I can hardly breathe from the angst and insecurities sitting on my chest like a big fat ugly elephant. But my pink nipples are still standing at attention, and I am so humiliated that I could cry.
“I-I am sorry.” My arms quickly fly up to my almost flat chest, and Winter holds out his arm pitifully.
“It’s okay, I didn’t even see anything. It’s alright—I am not...”
Tears. They’re starting to blur my vision. The chair creaks loudly against the tiled floors as I shove back with my shaking body and hurry toward the long staircase.