Carbon

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Chapter 21

Devin leaned over to glance at the long lines of spices that had a special price for some sale going on in the grocery store. I leaned back against the racks and crossed my arms across my chest impatiently. She kept explaining to me that she needed just the right cinnamon for her teas, and I kept explaining to her that every cinnamon is the same. She curtly glanced at me and gave me the finger, turning back to the rows of differing cinnamons. I released a resigned sigh and knelt down beside her, my knees cracking and popping as I descended to the floor.

“You sound like an old man,” Devin declared as she turned to look at the back of a bottle of cinnamon and then placed it back nonchalantly. I think she must have examined the same brand for about five minutes before I knelt down to help her.

“Says the girl taking half an hour to pick out cinnamon.”

Devin’s eyes veered to glare at me, but then her jaw fell, revealing her pink insides and pearly teeth. She fervently turned back to the cinnamon and fixed her attention on the shelves. She grabbed her abundance of hair and pulled it over her shoulder to shield her face—a veil of yellows and browns.

I glanced furtively over my shoulder to absorb what was so frightening. I furrowed my brow to see a man dressed smartly in a tailored suit sorting through different coffees, glancing at the nutrition labels. A wedding band glinted on the middle-age man’s finger. I turned back to the girl, shaking and alarmed by this man’s presence. Her hand snatched a cinnamon canister, and she shot to the balls of her feet with the agility of a gazelle. Her icy eyes fiercely narrowed as she venomously hissed, “Let’s go.”

I turned my gaze back over my shoulder in time to see the man stare at Devin, a glint in his eye of recognition and a matter of upheaval. He took several quick steps towards us, and I noticed his eyes fell from Devin’s hair to her feet, and then he repeated the enveloping gaze several more times until he called out with a soft, confident voice, “Devin? Devin Sebold?” His hand reached out and snatched the hood of Devin’s sweatshirt, gently tugging at it.

The bottle of cinnamon fell to the floor, glass shattering against the concrete. Glass littered the area like snowflakes shining in the dewy morning sun. The cinnamon powder dusted up and kicked up towards us, falling on my tongue like pixie dust. A storm of turmoil surrounded us.

Devin swiveled fiercely and bared her teeth like a trapped canine. Her brows framed her irate, furious eyes with a slight timidity that faded the longer she absorbed this man’s features of ginger hair and scruff on a stocky, muscular build. She shrieked in the shop, “DON’T TOUCH ME!” She scratched at the man’s hand, leaving a bloody trail of scratches and scars behind on hi porcelain skin.

The man’s hand slowly let go of her hood, and I glanced from the man back to Devin repetitively, trying to understand the dynamic between this relationship and the two people. I stepped forward beside Devin, threatening him as I towered over the man by at least five inches.

The man’s brown eyes fell on me, and he gave me a toothy smile, reaching out his hand. He hummed and sang, “Robert Krueger.”

My fingers brushed against his before Devin wrenched my hand away from the man, my bones crinkling and crunching against each other with the sheer ferocity. She hissed, “Don’t touch him.”

My eyes fell on her and then back on the man. I whispered, “Devin, what’s going on?”

“Is this your new boyfriend, Devin?” Krueger inquisitively rubbed his chin as if extending his beard to a point. His bare eyebrows collapsed over his eyes as he observed us longer, his eyes remaining on Devin for an extensive amount of time—enough for her breathing to increase. Her hand rested against mine at our sides, and I could feel the hairs rising. I couldn’t understand why she was having such an absurd reaction to just a man, any ordinary man. Her veins bulged at her forehead, swollen and alert.

I reiterated again, “What’s going on?”

Krueger turned from her to me repetitively, measuring me up with his narrowed eyes. He smirked sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m a little embarrassed he doesn’t know about us, Devin.”

Her blue eyes focused solely on him, ignoring me as I brushed the back of my hand against hers more forcefully to hopefully grasp her attention. However, those familiar eyes morphed into something foreign, something animalistic. I furrowed my brow with concern, assessing the situation and what she needed, but she regaled no signs or hint of what I needed to do. I was transfixed between these two poles of wanting to help and desiring to know.

“What don’t I know?” I finally asked the man, the man growing with pride with each passing second as a new glean shone behind his unapologetic eyes.

“Devin and I used to be very good—“

Friends.” Devin took a step toward him and threatened with a sharp edge to her voice, “I swear to God, if you come near me ever again, I’ll fucking kill you.” She turned back to me and snatched my hand, resisting eye contact as I continued to evaluate the situation and what exactly happened. “We’re leaving.”

It was one of the only times she ever held my hand with such fervor and intent.

As she dragged me behind her, she slammed her shoulder into the man’s arm, forcing him to take a hesitant step back. I slid past him, and our eyes locked for what seemed like an eternity. His dark eyes told a story, and it threatened Devin’s sanity. I peeled my gaze away from those abyssal, knowledgeable orbs, concerned that perhaps I would lose myself in them much like Devin was losing herself.

I could sense his gaze glued to us as we walked out the store empty-handed.

I drove down the road carefully, my right hand resting on Devin’s thigh as my left hand remained at the wheel. I occasionally stole a glance her way, expecting her to mention the episode, giving her time to explain herself. I finally just had to say something as all the possibilities congregated in my imagination, ranging from innocent misfortunes to surreal experiences. My eyes nailed to the horizon as I finally inquired, “What happened between you two?”

Devin immediately covered her face with her petite hands. Her ears burned a bright red as horror sunk into my chest as the images in my brain continued to escalate to hell. She slowly shook her head and released an uneven sigh.

I turned into a parking lot to the side of an abandoned building and shut off the engine. I unbuckled my seatbelt and anticipated an emotional outburst from this tiny girl. I mean, we were just kids—what can you expect? My green eyes fell upon her as she continued to shake under the pressure of the ponderous question. She combed her fingers through her hair frantically, and her respirations continued to hasten and soften.

“Devin…”

“He was my first boyfriend.”

Shocked, my eyes widened in extreme horror. I furrowed my brow and turned to her, my eyes scouring for something to say or anything to really concur with. I finally inquired, “How old were you when this happened?”

She tore away from her hands and sat up straight. She frantically twisted and turned in the car as if to figure out what was happening, her eyes wild and enlarged. She fervently shook her head and cried, “I got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”

She swiveled in the seat, staring at me with her large, icy eyes. She continued to shake her head and murmured, “I can’t. I can’t.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything.”

Her jaw shook as she bit her bottom lip; wrinkles creased across her chin as she stared at me, her eyes beginning to gloss over with tears. She began to say something, but I interrupted her quickly.

“You don’t have to tell me anything.”

Our eyes locked, and she gave me a meek smile and a weak giggle. Her brow continued to fold as her face began to crumble under the stress of such poignant emotions. She heaved a giant breath before saying, “I’ve got a past, but I swear I’m trying to fix it. I’m trying to fix everything now.”

I remembered the one and only time I inhaled the sweet aroma of a blunt and how I immediately regretted the decision afterwards. I recalled how I wouldn’t want her to judge me for my moment of illogical nonsense, and I couldn’t judge her for her past either.

We’ve both made our mistakes. Hers involved something she wasn’t willing to share, and I understood our relationship was yet to that state. I understood I couldn’t chide an answer out of her luminescent eyes, and, in a weird way, I was excited to find myself in the position where she would be able to trust me. She would be able to shed her mind of all those burdens and weights delicately balanced unstably, threatening her sanity.

I smiled. “You don’t have to explain yourself.”

“I’m trying so hard,” she mumbled before collapsing into herself. Her shoulders shuddered forward, and her hair fell like a golden curtain to hide her face. She heaved shallow breaths before falling short of hyperventilation.

“I know. I know.” I rubbed my hand in between her sharp shoulder blades, feeling the interrupting bumps of vertebrae run through my hand. I slid my hand across her shoulder and pulled back her veil.

Her blue eyes timidly turned to me, reddened and irritated from the outburst. Her bottom lip unfurled from underneath her curled teeth, and her rosy cheeks regained their color as her eyes shivered in confusion.

I became lost. Frozen in awe, I hesitated to move my hand closer to her face. My heart rose into my throat as she unraveled from her catatonic state and stared at me with those humongous eyes. I longed for her to give me her breath. I desired to cup her jaw and feel her chest rise and fall against me. My hand fell against her face, and I leaned forward towards her. The space depleted between us, and I could feel her warmth bathe my face and body. She slithered over the console and fell upon my lap, bracing herself against my headrest as she held my neck with her other hand. She tore away for a moment and murmured, “I don’t want you to be scared of me.”

“Then why are you afraid of me?”

“It’s not you.”

I brushed her blonde tendrils behind her ear gingerly, leaning back into my chair. I could tell she had hardly slept the past couple of days, a blue tint shadowing underneath her eyes. The veins in her eyes appeared emphasized and alien.

She whispered against my lips, “I’m afraid of me.”

I should have made her explain every facet and every mistake—her fault or otherwise.


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