Bloom For Me

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2| Guts .•°

“Don’t be that way. Fall apart twice a day. I just wish you could feel what you say.”

Chapter Theme Song: ‘i don’t wanna be you anymore’ by Billie Eilish.

.•° ✿ °•.

SOFIA

When I get to my bedroom, I shove open the bathroom door and topple over the white porcelain toilet. I intake a deep breath, stick a skinny finger down my throat, and throw up the little nothing I had for dinner.

Strings and strings of green puke leave my mouth as I cough up my entire liver. I blindly reach a hand over to flip the tap on, the sound of the pipe drowning out my act of self-hatred.

It’s not safe. I know. But my legs are already fat enough. I am sure of it. I saw a new stretch mark this morning. Right between my rib and thigh. I don’t need any more of them, or I might as well become a zebra.

I sit on the cold floor next to the toilet and wipe my lips before flushing and standing up. I put on a bra then throw on an oversized sweater that is probably too huge for me.

I saw this black mysterious door in the bathroom earlier, so after applying body lotion and unpacking a few old novels from my carrier, I saunter back inside to check it out. The restroom is huge and white, and that’s pretty much all I can say about it. I grip the cold knob and with little force, crack the door open.

“Oh! Sorry!” I go rigid when I see Winter jumping up from the brown carpeted floor, perspiration bathing his shirtless chest. His lips divide in a toothy smile at the intrusion, and my face glows crimson as beads of sweat drip from his hair. Behind him are a whole bedroom with a King-sized bed, a giant wardrobe, and other pieces of furniture that I am much too unrelaxed to notice.

“It’s alright, Sofia.”

My eyes widen an inch, and he titters knowingly as he knots the strings of his joggers.

“Yeah, I finally got your name.”

Recalling the situation at dinner, I slowly release the door handle and stare down at my toes. I removed the ugly nail polish earlier and put on some clear ones. I am proud of my toes, much to your surprise, they are small and neat. I can say that they are a few of my only admired features.

“Why do you do that?”

My head snaps up to find him now peering at me calculatingly. His brows are high with wonder as he plods over to the huge wardrobe in the room.

He slides through a colored row of shirts while still looking in my direction, and I shuffle in the doorway, leaping to the side and blocking the light from my bathroom. The room is much darker now, but I can still see where he’s standing. And I can still see enough to know that there are drawn inks on his arms and back. Tattoos.

“Sorry, but...do what?” I ask quietly.

“Look down. You don’t keep eye contact; I notice.” He’s smiling again. I can tell since his teeth stand out amidst the insufficient lighting. I choose not to move just yet, not until he puts his shirt on. He’s attractive; it’s no secret, and I feel like him being half-naked makes the words clog in my throat even more.

“Oh,” I mutter.

“And you’re not a frequent talker either. I notice that too.” He grabs a dark dress shirt draped carefully on a hanger and places it on the bed. He’s going somewhere, it seems.

“Yeah...I am not really social.”

“Woah. You don’t say.” He presses a hand to his chest in feign shock, and I try not to smile, but he sees it either way, and his eyes twinkle with mirth. The darkness doesn’t stop my complexion from changing.

“So...this is you and Pearl’s room,” I mention, less like a question and more like confirmation. I wonder why our rooms have to be this close. I need my privacy to...cough my intestines out.

“Nope. ‘My’ room. Pearl’s room is to the left of yours.”

“You guys don’t share a room?”

“Nope.” He probably senses my discomfort because he picks up his white T-shirt from the bed and drags it over his body.

I finally step away from the lights now that he’s dressed, and he observes me closely. From my roomy sweater to my big, red basketball shorts. Then to my toes, and I am glad that I removed the chippy nail polish.

“It’s a long story. But...” He points, “for another time. I have to meet a client. So we will talk tomorrow, Sofy.”

The nickname prickles my skin, and he squints his eyes cautiously. I think I showed the reaction on my face.

“Sorry. I can call you Sofy, right?”

“Yeah. Sure.” I am playing with my fingers again. Something I do when I am nervous. I quickly catch myself and drop my hands to my sides. “Good night, Mr. Cage.”

“No. You don’t need to call me Mr. Cage.” He chuckles lightheartedly, and the sound is rich. Like that gold watch around his wrist. “It sounds weird; I’m only twenty-six.”

“Oh.” Twenty-six...

“Call me Winter. You know, better yet, call me Abe. All my friends call me that.”

“Oh. Okay...” I smile a little.

“Yeah. Anyway, it’s a good talk but I am running late. Have a good nap.” He spins away, and I turn my back to leave. However:

“Hold on, Sof.”

I pivot and look at him. “Yeah?”

“If you’re having stomach or digestive problems, there’s a bottle of bismuth in the top cupboard of your bathroom.”

My lips fall apart in confusion, and he runs his slender fingers through his long hair and gather the strands into a bun. “I overheard you throwing up inside there earlier.”

I am humiliated. And I deserve to be. Maybe then I’d stop hurting myself like this.

“I-I am alright,” I tell him, and he nods once and steps back.

“Alright, Sof, have a great night.”

I force a strained smile and drag his door up before practically running back over to my side of the space.

.•° ✿ °•.

“Can’t you do something about those ugly pimples on your face? They’re disgusting, Sofia.” Pearl complains as she glances over at me, one hand on the steering wheel while the other lies on her pant-covered thigh.

I chew on the skin of my lip and squint from the morning sunlight pouring through the windshield of her BMW. She gives me another crude once-over and frowns openly.

“What cream did my mother make you use for those?”

“A variety. But none ever works...” I mutter, staring at my pleated skirt and wishing Maryland High School would come into view any second now. Her glances of scorn and disdain are getting too much to withstand, and I just want to yell in her pretty, spotless face and tell her that I don’t want to be this way either.

“Last night while you were asleep, I checked out your closet. You don’t have many clothes and your panties look like you’ve had them since the age of ten. You’re a big girl, Sophia. Girls your age are wearing cute lace underwear and living their best lives.” Then she sighs and mutters under her breath, “But I guess I can’t expect too much since you were raised by your grandmother.”

She says that as though Mama was not her mother. I choose not to say anything to her verbal belittling. My throat feels terribly sore, and my guess is that I had scraped the walls when I stuffed my fingers down there last night. I keep hurting myself and I have no idea how to stop.

“After school, Abe will pick you up. He will take you to the mall to get some new underwear and clothes.”

I instantly tense up in my seat. What makes her think it’s okay to ask a man to follow me to get personal stuff? Shouldn’t she have checked to see if I’m alright with the arrangement first?

“Abe...?”

“Yes. I don’t get off work until eight, so he will pick you up in the evenings.”

She is a Financial Advisor, the head of her team back in Australia, and she’s here in Livoston to get some work done at the local branch. So far what I have gathered is that my mother is prime and stuck up and uptight. Her choice of men tells a lot about her personality. She doesn’t settle for mediocre. Abe Cage is appealing in an unreal way. He has a good personality, has a nice job(s), and a healthy-looking physique. He is the whole package and more. And aside from being insensitive and unkind, my mother is also a lucky woman.

I roll up my white knee-length socks as she finally turns into the noisy parking lot of Maryland High. I sigh in relief. This car ride has been more torturous than sitting under grinning kids with sweaty armpits on the evening school bus.

“Sofia. Why don’t you let your hair down?” Pearl continues on, the look of contempt returning. “Most of the girls are wearing theirs down.”

She doesn’t understand. Even with hair oil and gel, my hair is dry and brittle. Keeping it in these blue scrunchies would be a lot better for me.

“Do you eat candies?”

I breathe harshly. “Occasionally.”

I don’t eat candies a lot. And it’s been a long while since I’ve had any.

“Stop eating them, that’s why your skin is so bad, child. You need to get yourself together. Do you understand me?”

Silence.

“Answer me, girl.”

“Yeah. I got it...” I mutter, pushing my door open and climbing out of her prison. The fresh morning air signals the start of my eight hours of freedom. It’s only been a week since we’ve been around each other and I already want to graduate and move far away from her.

I am sure the feelings are mutual because, with that bold look of derision on her face, there’s no way that she could be thinking otherwise.

Without another word, my guardian starts up her engine and speeds out of the dirty lot, dust particles surrounding me as I watch her car gradually fade out into the distance. I release a mentally tired breath before passively dragging my feet toward the building.

.•° ✿ °•.

School has always been monotonous and tedious for me. It is like a never-ending cycle. But at least I won’t have to be home in that miserable mansion. I am lying, the mansion isn’t miserable, it’s nice, but I am just not comfortable being around Pearl and her lover.

Now I am here sitting in Math class, copying the chalked table from the blackboard. Another aspect I like about myself is my photographic memory. Yeah, I am not entirely a gone case; there are still pieces of me that make me proud. For example, how good I am at snapping random photos of everything except myself. That’s why when Abe mentioned his side job of selling pictures online it secretly fascinated me. I wouldn’t let him know that, though. No way. It’d be a reason for him to hang out with me and I am not keen on becoming close to anyone. I’d like better to stay in my shell as it is where I feel the most safe.

People leave when they get close to you. I’ve seen it before. They start to see all your flaws and imperfections and then suddenly wake up one day and decides to leave you behind. They’ll get tired of you eventually; that’s how it goes. I prefer to appreciate something or someone from a distance. That’s how you keep it alive.

“Did you do the homework?”

I turn my eyes to Zoey, a short girl that sits next to me who wears these really huge pair of glasses. Zoe doesn’t talk much either. I wouldn’t say she’s a friend of mine but I speak to her a lot more than the other kids here.

I don’t have many acquaintances at Maryland High School. The thing is...a lot of these girls call me pimple-face, or wormy-skin, and other derogatory terms that I prefer not to mention. Oh yeah, period-butt too, but I’d rather not retell the origin of that one.

“Yeah. Did you?”

She nods her head, her orange bang slipping across her forehead as she does. “I just couldn’t get past the second to last question, though.”

“Oh. No problem. I’ll show you before Mr. Pete arrives.” I grab my notebook from the desk and slide it across to her.

“Thanks, Sofia.”

“You mean pimple-face.” A girl known as Regina utters as much she walks past my desk, ensuring her left hip bounces against my shoulder as she does. Her strong perfume bathed into my nostrils as she calls out, “I heard men’s cum can help with that!”

Strings of hysteric laughter filter through the classroom, and Zoey sends me a sad smile of encouragement from the right side of me. I only smile back and reach into my bag for my Math textbook.

I have grown accustomed to the jeers and attention. It is something that happens every day of my life. At school, when I go to the convenience store.

What’s wrong with your face, dear? Allergies?

You should use some acne-removal cream on your skin.

Oh, sweetie, those bumps are big.

It is not my fault I have stubborn pimples that just won’t come off no matter how many times I scrub my face with cream. There are days that I just want to razor my skin off my body and be done with all the haunting questions, and stares, and insecurities.

After Math class ends, the rest of the day flies by utterly uneventful. When the last bell goes off, a girl begins to run around the classroom creating a huge commotion.

“There’s a sexy car parked at the gate, gals!”

My pencil stops moving between my fingers, and I peer over my shoulders at her. Wide grins appear on all the girls’ faces as they scramble off their plastic chairs and cluster together at the open window.

“Oh my God!”

“Can you imagine the hottie who drives that?”

“How do you know it’s not a woman, idiot?!”

“The car screams ‘man!’”

“Girls, please sit down!” Mrs. Foster, our homeroom teacher walks into the noisy room, her heels clicking against the floors, and the smitten ladies reluctantly scatter to their respective seats with grinning faces painted with vanity.

Our homeroom teacher calls out our names to tick us off the register, and just as I answer to mine, I catch a flash of motion in my peripheral view. Then the girls start whispering among themselves as I shift my attention to the door.

I stiffen immediately.

Standing outside of my classroom is Abe. Dressed in a fitted and crisp grey tuxedo. He’s speaking calmly into his cellphone, brows knitted slightly, eyes turned away from the class with a hand on his waist. The ring on his forefinger glistens in the sparsely lit hallway, and he looks noticeably different in work attire. I hadn’t seen him this morning since Pearl said he left early for the office.

My cheeks heat for some really stupid reason and I hang my head, my hands becoming sweaty.

“Oh my God, he has to be the one who drove that sexy car.” A girl whispers behind me, and I take a chance at peeking up again. Mrs. Foster is strolling her way over to him, her smile so wide it could break her face in half. Zoey notices my sudden odd behavior and glances over at me worriedly.

“You okay, Sofia?”

“Yeah...” I smile at her.

“Sofia?”

I lift my head, and my teacher beams at me.

“He’s here to get you, sweetie.”

I can sense all the popped eyes and gaped mouths around me, but I ignore them as I collect my backpack from the arms of my chair and stand up. I tell Zoey, whose beady eyes are wide, and my homeroom teacher a farewell before shyly slipping out the door.

The first thing that greets me as I land on the busy corridor is Abe’s soothing cologne, and then his signature smile. His dental hygiene is beyond perfect.

“How was your day?”

His question catches me by surprise, and me being my silly self, wears the reaction on my face again. He chuckles lightly.

“Bad then?”

“Um...”

“Pimple-face!” A random girl spits at me, but when she sights Abe standing in front of me, she bashfully snaps her lips together and carries on her way.

I close my eyes for a second. Embarrassing. I reopen them, and Abe is studying me again. I don’t like it.

“Are we ready to go?” I question, hiking my bag straps on my shoulders. I pray he won’t ask about the nickname. It’d be my last straw for the day, and I’d probably yell at him.

After a few seconds of him silently ‘peeling the layers of my soul’ and digging around for whatever it is that he’s looking for, he nods finally.

“Sure. Your mom says I should take you to the mall?”

“Um, yeah.” I smile at him as we begin to trot down the hallway. “I am sorry that you have to take me around like a babysitter. Or whatever. You can just leave me at the mall; I’ll find my way home.”

“And why would I do that?” He cocks his head and pushes his hands in his seamed trousers.

He’s a fan of eye contact. But I don’t enjoy locking eyes with people. It makes me feel...naked. And if you know me well...I hate being naked.

Suddenly, he grips my arm and gently tugs me back so that a girl rushing in our direction wouldn’t bump into me. My back lands against his hard chest, and I stiffen as his smell surrounds me like a flood. His breath fans my forehead, and I drop my eyes to his perfect fingers wrapped around my arms. His skin is soft, like marshmallows, but I frown when I realize I didn’t take my sweater today. I normally wear my sweater every day.

He releases me and I am cold again as he points to my bag. “Want me to carry that for you?”

I come back from our close contact and shake my head. “It’s okay; it’s not heavy. I didn’t have much classes today.”

“Oh good. I guess Monday is your favorite day then?” The look returns. The one of interest. The one that makes me feel like pouring my heart out to a stranger.

“I guess. After Saturday. I normally get time to do what I love on a Saturday.” I crane my neck to regard him. He’s very tall, seeming a quarter over 6ft. Today his long hair is in a knot again, and his lips are oddly redder. My face becomes hot like the evening sun as he leads us out of the building and to his parked car.

It’s a matte black...something. I am not good with vehicles, but it is just as luxurious as his house.

I grip my straps firmly as he presses a button on his keys to unlock the doors. The day is breezy, and my skirt whisks around my thighs as I move a strand of hair from my face. He walks fast, but it’s probably because his legs are so long. Or maybe he has somewhere else to be after this?

“What do you do for fun?” He drops the dreaded question as he opens the passenger door. I don’t want him to know I like taking pictures. But bless my conceited heart if this handsome man spares me a second out of his business schedule to help me snap pictures of bugs and bees.

“I like to read books.” I sit in the seat, smiling respectfully, “thank you.”

He closes the door to get around to his side and I sigh in relief. The conversation has just been conveniently terminated. But he proves me wrong when he climbs into the drivers’ side and picks up where we left off.

“Nice. What sort of books do you read?”

Love. Romance...Erotica?

I gulp. “Romance...”

“I didn’t catch that.” He says truthfully. I know. I whispered that in my tonsil.

“Romance,” I repeat.

“Oh.” It’s a relief he decided to respond fast. “Romance. Nice choice. You know, I do read too sometimes.”

“You do?” I scrunch my eyebrows, looking over as he fires up his engine. It roars to life healthily and he adjusts his handbrake to reverse out of the lot. “Yeah.”

His pink tongue sticks out at the corner of his mouth in concentration as he backs out of the school. “But, just boring stuff.” He shoots me a fast smile, and I glance away from his lips.

“Like what?” I am staring at my plaid skirt now.

“Stock Market. Forex. Stuff like that.” He touches a button to get the air conditions on. “I guess that would be slightly boring to younger people.”

The car is now drafty, and I grip my backpack closer to my chest for warmth.

“The Stock Market and Forex are interesting topics,” I answer. “It’s productive. More productive than reading romance books...”

“Romance books are productive. You’re learning about love and what it is like. So, in the future, you know what you want and what you don’t want in a relationship.” He shrugs.

I shake my head. “Love in books is a lot different than love in real life.”

“Mm.” He narrows his eyes in my direction. “Interesting.”

I shake my head again and look down at my socks. “Not that I have ever experienced it. I just know that because...well, observation.”

He smiles, his dimples sinking pretty holes in his cheeks. “Well, guessing from your preferred genre...I’d say...you’re a Pisces?” He tilts his head in my direction.

“You mean in terms of the zodiac?”

“Mm.” He carefully drifts a car in front of us and perches his elbow on the ledge of his window.

“Oh...I am a Pisces actually.”

“Oh.” He lifts his eyebrows.

I frown, smiling. “What’s ‘oh’?”

“Nothing.” With both palms on the steering wheel, he elevates his shoulders. “I just heard Pisces people are mostly in touch with their emotional side...”

My brows pull together.

“But,” he adds quickly. “They have very big hearts.”

He smiles at me again, and I feel my heart melt in my chest. I glance away quickly, then smile. “And you’re a Leo?”

“Scorpio.”

I meet his eyes, a brow quirked. “Mm.”

It’s his turn to laugh, the deep sound reverberating through the car. “Okay, what’s ‘mm,’ Sof?”

“It’s...it’s just, I have heard a lot of things about Scorpio...men.”

He’s simpering. I am not looking at him. But I can tell.

“Like what?”

“Nothing.” I shake my head, staring out my window.

Things I can’t say.

A silence passes over us, and he speaks again.

“You can tell me.”

“No, it’s really not appropriate to say.” I push a strand of hair behind my ear then fiddle with my fingers. But my need to always know takes over and I sit up in my seat. “Well...they say...that they like to...”

“Like to what?”

“Like to...um...”

I can’t say it.

“Have sex?”

My cheeks redden uncontrollably, and I gaze over at him, finding a small smile of amusement on his face. When my answer delays, he inclines his head in my direction, and I nod, looking down again.

“Yeah.”

He laughs again, louder than before as he overtakes another car.

“Is it true?” I ask softly.

“I don’t know. I can’t speak for anyone but myself.”

“Oh...well...do you?” The question slips out

of my mouth before I even got the chance to process it, and I almost face-palm myself in utter humiliation. I shake my head again, embarrassed. “I am sorry, please don’t answer that. I don’t know why I asked that...”

He smiles as he focuses ahead of him, and I bite harshly on the skin of my inner cheek, desperately wishing I could dissolve into his leather seat.

“How old are you, Sofy?” He then asks quietly.

I look over at him.

He lifts an eyebrow at me.

I squeeze my backpack. “Seventeen.”

His shoulder relaxes and he reaches a hand over to stroke me on the head. “When you’re eighteen, I’ll tell you if that myth is true, alright?”

I sink into my shoulders, suddenly feeling like a little kid. I don’t like the feeling, but I can’t exactly tell why. Kids are cute. They’re carefree and light-hearted. But for some reason—today—I don’t want to be seen as one.

I return my eyes to the window and watch as the trees and buildings drift by the tinted glass.

After another few minutes, Abe finally turns into the scanty parking lot of the mall and my earlier discomfort returns tenfold. Pearl did not give me money this morning.

“Did...did my mom...”

“Money? No worries, you can use this.” He extends a black card in my direction. An unlimited card; the ones I’d normally see in movies. I stare at it, then slide my gaze up to his.

“It’s okay, Sof. You can take it.”

“I know, it’s just...it’s...it actually makes me...” So uncomfortable. I let out a soft sigh and pinch the crisp card from between his fingers. “Thank you...”

He smiles warmly. “You’re welcome. Do you want me to come or—”

“No, please don’t,” I answer way too fast, and Abe cannot help but chortle.

“Okay; I won’t.” He opens his palms in a surrender way, and I give him a tight-lipped smile as I reach for the door handle and climb out of his ride.

Blowing out a breath, I trod my way to the store with the card clutched in my hand.

Truthfully, that interaction went a lot smoother than I had thought. Abe doesn’t seem to be as stubborn as Pearl, and I wonder what had led them to date when, so far, they appear to be polar opposites.

He is not so bad after all. And I am actually considering the possibility of us becoming very good friends.

~

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