I take a long, deep drag of the cigarette in-between my middle and index fingers, inhaling the smoke as far as my lungs will allow before blowing out a drawn-out stream of smoke. It burns on the way down, radiating fire in my chest. It’s a dull throb, but the sensation floods me with both warmth and relief. The motion of putting the bud to my lips is somehow relaxing as I feel the weight of the day start to lift from my weary shoulders; usually straight and tall but are now slumped over as I sit on the edge of Frank’s bed. My cheeks are still flushed from the intimacy we just shared, and I suddenly feel exposed and self-conscious in front of him, even in my underwear, as I stare at the walls of his RV.
I can feel his eyes on me. He chuckles, “You weren’t shy before. Why the sudden modesty?”
I can’t help but feel a small grin tug at the corners of my mouth as I shrug. “I don’t know.” I lean down to scratch the top of Pompidou’s head as a distraction, the pup grateful for the attention.
“You weren’t a virgin before this, were you?”
A half shocked, half amused giggle escapes, “Of course not! I think you would’ve known.”
“That was kind of a dumb question,” Frank laughs, smacking himself in the head before putting out his own cigarette. “But really, what’s up?”
I glance over at him, taking in the sight of the half-naked man beside me. He always looks rugged and harsh, covered in tattoos and usually has a mean gleam in his eye. He has this overwhelming aura of, “Don’t fuck with me” and usually glares at anyone that gets too close. Everyone in this town thinks poorly of him, seeming to only have bad things to say. Given he does sell drugs and isn’t always exactly the nicest person when you initially meet him. But the eyes gazing back at me aren’t hard or cruel. His face is soft, a small smile peaking at his mouth. His free hand softly tickles my arm, and he seems… gentle.
I’ve been with loads of guys, more than I would like to admit, but this feels… different.
When I hook up with someone, everything feels so forced, so emotionless; like robots. I’ve learned how to cut off any feeling to prevent any attachment. It’s just for fun, right? I like playing around from time to time, it helps lay off the stress and makes me temporarily forget about the outside world impatiently waiting for me, with all of its seemingly endless responsibilities and disappointments. The real world is dry and boring. So I get a little wild, I’ll admit it. But the guys usually have their fun and then push me away. They don’t want the cuddling, the romance, they want the sex. Nothing else.
But Frank wants me to stay.
It was probably a low motive, but I only maneuvered my way into Frank’s graces so I could have some easy access to his goods. Take that how you want to. Win-win, right? He was probably too old for me, but drugs are expensive, and this was an easy way to get my hands on it either discounted or free if I was lucky. It’s shitty, but I’ve done worse. Everything was easy in the beginning.
And yet… something happened. I wasn’t just forcing my way in anymore, I was genuinely enjoying spending time with him. He was funny and interesting once you got past his rough exterior, and as I’m discovering, he’s even sweet. I feel as if I’m plunging into this unknown, bottomless ocean that is Frank; always pondering and constantly discovering. I never had to pretend to be interested in the things he had to say, he had me pulled in by his presence from the beginning.
“Well, I… I’ve been with guys before, you know? But being with you feels…” I feel my voice catching in my throat, both the embarrassment of saying it aloud and fear of rejection holding it there.
We catch eyes, and as his glisten as he stares into me, I blush and avert my gaze once more. Frank chuckles and he puts one finger on my chin, pushing up to force me to look at him. He puts his hand on my face, his face inches from my own.
“Frank, I-I don’t know what’s-“
“Shhh, it’s okay. Don’t be afraid. Just embrace and live in this moment.” He whispers as he closes the space between us, gently pulling me into his arms. I find that I am losing myself in his strong hold, slowly relaxing as I let these unfamiliar feelings wash over me. They leave a small sense of unease, a natural threat to the careful wall I have fortified for so long to keep the world and myself completely separate, but I find peace in these emotions… and I let them consume me as our bodies mold together.
A small groan finds its way out of my lips, making Frank grin ear to ear. “Round two?”
I give him a small smack, giggling as I pretend to be appalled, “Oh you scoundrel!”
He goes along with it, putting the back of his hand to his forehead in mock horror. “How could I be so immodest? The indecency of it all!” He gets up, the bed creaking from the sudden release of weight, and turns on his stereo. A hard rock station begins to play.
“You fit your stereotype so well, how original.” I pretend to nag at him and he just rolls his eyes at me. “Well it will have to do. C’mon, get up here.” I usher him to stand on the bed with me, my hips swaying side to side with the music. “Dance with me.”
He scoffs. “No way,” and tries to get off, but I hold onto his arms.
“Please? For me!”
Finally after some annoyed grunts, he starts moving too, and before we know it, we’re both dancing and laughing our asses off in his smoke filled RV. Pompidou barks excitedly, watching us move around like lunatics. Frank pretends to passionately jam out on an imaginary guitar while my hair swings back and forth as we lose ourselves in this mindless, stupid fun, this moment, and each other.
1 Year Later
The trees lining the entirety of Arcadia Bay fly past as I stare outside the passenger window, the breeze caressing my face. I sink into my seat, taking a deep breath while trying to take in my life’s recent events. What a handful. The Vortex Club, Blackwell, Modeling, Mark Jefferson, Frank… My mind lingers on the memory of his face, and a mixture of feelings rush in. I’m not sure how to feel about it all.
Chloe’s voice breaks the train of my thoughts, “Yo, you seem pretty out of it. You alright?”
I think about what she said. Am I alright? Such a small statement with only three words, and yet the full impact of that question is so overwhelming, so full of meaning. I feel a lot of things, but how do I summarize what’s going on inside? Should I spill my feelings, all of my inner turmoil?
I settle on a typical, simple answer. My lips form a tight line as I respond. “I’m fine.” Chloe doesn’t buy it for a second, and before she can persist the subject further, I push the attention back onto her. “How are you Chlo?”
“Don’t treat me like every other loser in this town Rach, talk to me.”
Should’ve known she wouldn’t drop it that easily. I tuck some hair behind my ear, my feather earring dangling and tickling my neck. We start curving around the valley, getting closer and closer to the lighthouse up ahead. I shrug, “Really Chloe, I’m okay.”
Chloe turns towards me with this look, like, “really?” with one eyebrow raised. “Don’t make me stop this car and get hella crazy and tie you down to get the truth out of you.” It’s a typical Chloe thing to say, and I’m laughing without even meaning to. She’s smirking, “I’m serious dude!”
“Okay okay,” I raise my hands in surrender, “I’m not lying, I’m fine. I’m just a little scared… there’s so much going on.” I hesitantly glance at her face, her eyebrows furrowing as she listens to what I say. “Do we really want to leave Arcadia?”
A scoff comes out of Chloe’s mouth, as I expected. “Is that a legit question? Who the hell would want to stay in this shit-pit?” She shakes her head. “Did all those drugs you’ve gotten from Frank go to your head?”
The mention of Frank’s name makes me go still. I push the discomfort away. “Of course not… I’m just thinking. Can we really make it out there in L.A.?”
“Well it will probably get hard at times, money will be tight.” Her voice trails off, getting soft, and I can already picture her imagining our future there. “But I know we can do it if we stick together. I’ll get us by doing whatever I can, and you can start your modeling career. We’ll take on the world, just the two of us.” She breathes a dreamy sigh. “Don’t you want that?”
The idea does make me smile, even if I’m not sure I believe in it wholeheartedly anymore. I can’t bear the thought of making Chloe upset, so I force myself to nod, “Of course. What was I thinking?”
I feel a vibration in my pocket, causing me to pull out my phone. Upon looking at the screen, I see that it’s a notification from Mark Jefferson. My heart quickens in a mixture of excitement and unease, creating a knot in my stomach with a strange kind of anxiety. I read the message with anticipation, twirling my hair with one finger.
Thanks for last night. You never cease to amaze me with your photos, you’re so beautiful… but there’s something lacking. Do you want to take more photos tonight? I have something special in mind for you.
I stare at the text for a long time, wondering if I should take up his request. There was something so alluring about Mark that I couldn’t resist, a fascinating pull that drew me to him that always left me longing for more. But there was something about him that also set me on edge… I couldn’t decide if I wanted to stay attached to him or get as far away as possible. The message stares at me, further encouraging the vortex of emotion inside me. It’s tempting.
“Who is it?” Chloe tries to look over at my phone, curiosity written all over her face. “You’re awfully interested.”
I try to angle my cell away from her view. “Nothing, just a message from my mom.”
Chloe yawns, “Oh.”
I breathe a sigh of relief that she believes my lie, but it wrecks havoc on my conscious. I finally decide to do nothing, and tuck away Mark’s offer in my pocket, putting it off.
Shortly after, we’re sitting side-by-side on our bench, staring out at the sunset settling over Arcadia Bay. It should be peaceful, with the ocean waves softly lapping at the shore below us and the distant chirping of cheery birds, but all I can think about as I stare into the distance is the town I’m going to be leaving behind. Everything I’ve built here, my family, the people, the experiences and memories I’ve made… for so long I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of here. I’ve always hated this town, always felt so unhappy. There was a constant wonder of what else was out there, and I felt like something better was waiting for me; I just had to pursue it. But now that we’re finally getting ready to leave, it suddenly all feels so nostalgic.
Writhing in my conflicted thoughts, I begin fidgeting with the promise ring on my finger, twisting the tiny scrap of silver metal in-between my fingers. It features a tiny pink sapphire shaped to look like a rose. It’s simple but so beautiful. It glistens in the soft glow of the sun’s dimming rays, the stone sparkling.
Frank gave it to me.
After I wrote him that letter, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t bring myself to put the ring away, but I knew I shouldn’t keep wearing it on my ring finger. Around Chloe I always made sure to move it to my index finger so she wouldn’t ask any questions. It made me feel so guilty, lying to her. This secret was sitting distressfully inside, begging to burst forth, but I let it continuously rip myself apart inside. How could I tell her?
I loved Chloe, she was my world; my angel; my one sweet thing left after all the shit I had gone through. But she was also Chloe; prone to being selfish, reckless, and unexplainably stubborn. She understood me in ways that no one else ever could, and I have always confided in her. But this was something I knew she wouldn’t understand, something she would judge me for. I knew she wouldn’t mean to hurt me, and would probably eventually come around, but I dreaded the initial attack. Perhaps it would be easier if the affair was still fresh, but I had kept this secret going for so long now. An entire year of pretending Frank was nothing to me. I lied and said I was using him for the drugs, and in the beginning I was. But things changed…
I fell in love with him.
I stare at the tattooed star on my left wrist, looking happy and bright; the exact opposite of how I felt. An arm wraps around me, and I feel Chloe leaning against me. She takes my hand and squeezes it in her own. “Hey… you’ll be okay. We’ll be okay. I’ll be here every step of the way.”
I look over at her and smile, feeling touched by the gesture. Her comforting hold makes me feel safe. “Thanks Chlo… I’m sorry I’m being so moody. I’m not normally this depressing.”
She laughs, giving me a gentle punch on the shoulder. “You sound so emo.”
“Emo? No way!”
“You totally do, admit it. You’re evening starting to dress like one.”
“Hey!” I’m laughing along with her joke, it’s actually kind of true. I’ve become a mess these days, wallowing in my problems and rarely smiling. But I can’t let her win. She starts tickling me, wiggling her fingers under my armpits and sides, making my body twist in a violent revolt against her teasing, and before I know it we’re dying in a fit of giggles.
“Really though,” Chloe suddenly stops, becoming serious. “I’m your partner in crime Rachel, I’ll do anything for you.” There’s something deep lingering in her eyes, and I know that there is so much more meaning behind her words than she lets on. There’s a certain intensity about them, and I know she’s holding herself back. It makes me blush, realizing the truth in her gaze. She’s so close, close enough that I can feel her breath and the heat radiating off of her body, connecting with mine. The invitation is there.
Mixed emotions and logic fight for a desperate battle of control, and I’m not sure how to process it all. I squeeze her hand back. “Thank you, Chloe.”
The door to Nathan Prescott’s mansion swings open, revealing a flood of bodies as music and the chatter of people and laughter blares in my ears. My senses are invaded by thick smoke and the earthy, distinctive smell of weed.
“Hey Rach, how’s it goin’? Welcome to the party!” Nathan smirks as he sees me, an expensive watch adorning his wrist as he ushers me inside. “I’m so glad you came. Tonight is gonna be fucking SICK!”
I give a polite laugh, running one hand through my hair, “Yeah for sure, I’m stoked. This party looks on point. Where’s the drinks?”
“Over there.” He points behind him a couple rooms back, “I’ll be there in a sec.”
I wander through the crowd, pushing my way through while getting some occasional greetings from the fellow students of Blackwell. The furnishings decorating the house are incomprehensible. One, maybe two of these rooms are bigger than my entire house.
I find a table covered in every kind of alcohol imaginable, and decide on a beer. I stand there alone for a while, silently swigging back the bitter drink in my hand, watching my peers awkwardly flirt with each other, dance and stagger around in their drunken stupor. The appeal of it all has slowly drifted away from me, and I wonder why I even come to these parties anymore. The appeal has begun to die off, and I find myself distancing myself from everyone and everything these days. It’s throwing everyone off, this depressing behavior isn’t like me at all. I used to be at the center of these gatherings, getting as wild as I possibly could without a single thought or care. But somehow it seems everything is changing, and I can’t keep up with myself or the world.
Nathan appears, approaching me with a glass in his hand. The concoction looks fancy, a light colored substance inside adorned with ice on the rim and a slice of lemon wedged onto the top. He offers it to me, “Here, I made you this.”
I’m a little surprised, but I decide it’s a nice gesture, especially coming from Nathan, even if it was a little questionable. He probably is trying to kiss my ass so I’ll mess around with him, he’s been trying for ages. I decide to take it, not wanting to be rude. “Thanks, what is it?”
He starts laughing, kind of awkwardly while looking around. “Oh you know, secret family recipe.”
I raise my eyebrows at him, but take a swig anyway. The liquid is sweet in my mouth, kind of thick, and I can feel a delicious warmth spread over me. It reminds me of honey. “Wow, this is really good.”
He gives me a thumbs up, “I knew you’d like it.” His phone goes off. He pulls it out of his back pocket, unlocking it and gets an intense look as he scans over the content on the screen.
“Yeah, yeah of course. Just gotta pick something up.” He looks up, and waves at someone, “Hey Frank, over here!”
My heart stops. Frank?
I’m frozen as his voice calls out in response a few moments later behind me. “Hey.”
I turn, registering him before me. A very strong part of me wants to wrap my arms around him in a desperate search for his familiar warmth and touch, but I force myself to stay put. He hands Nathan a black bag, wrapped up tight so the contents are hidden.
“Remember, I want double for the delivery.” Nathan waves his hand and passes over the cash for their deal. Nathan mutters a small thanks, looking antsy, and disappears again. For the first time, Frank finally realizes I’m there.
He stares for a second, blinking a few times. “Hey.”
It’s strange. We haven’t seen each other since I left the note. I fiddle with my bracelet. “Hey.” It’s all I can think of to say.
We stand there for the longest, most awkward, drawn out few seconds of my life. I stare at the floor, unable to meet his eyes. I can’t bring myself to say anything as the memories of the breakup come back to me unwelcomely.
Finally, he breaks the ice, much to both our relief. “Wanna meet me outside?”
I’m extremely hesitant, but he seems calm, collected, and cool. It may not be the best idea, but I decide it can’t hurt. So I nod and manage to say softly, “Alright.”
I chug the last of Nathan’s drink and put the glass back on the table, then follow him back through the hot crowd of people into the cool, crisp air outside. We venture away beside a grand oak further away from the loud party overlooking a ledge with the lighthouse and ocean. There’s a light spray of rain enveloping the valley with a misty cloud, and a few drops trickle down my face. Frank and I stand there for a long time, shuffling our feet, none of us having the courage to say anything. I take in a deep breath and try to cool my head, I can feel my eyes slowly getting heavy. An owl hoots nearby.
“I’m sorry.” His voice pierces the tense night air, making me look over at him. “I’m so sorry Rachel… I never, ever wanted to hurt you.”
I can see the pain in his eyes, the utmost torture and sincerity of those words written all over his face. His fists are clenched, and I know how torn up inside he must be for his outburst the last time we were together. He looks like he wants to touch me, I can see him take a step forward, but then he holds his ground. I’m unsure of what to do, so I just do what my heart tells me. I know it’s probably not the best idea, and the alcohol is probably influencing this decision, but fuck logic. I just want to be happy.
I close the agonizing space between us, and wrap my arms around him. I feel myself being pulled into his strong hold, and it’s amazing.
After a time, I pull away slightly to look up at his face. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but I think I see a tear escape from one of his eyes. He seems extremely embarrassed and tries to hide it, putting one hand over the guilty eye and wipes it quickly. “Oh fuck.” It makes me laugh seeing his mortification at being caught. I’m grinning ear to ear, and suddenly we’re both cracking up. “You’re never going to let me live this down, are you?” I shake my head, much to his dismay, but he’s grinning with me. It feels good to just let go after the tension tying us in knots before.
I grab onto his hand, and peer into his eyes. I find the courage to tell him what I’ve always felt. “Frank… I love you.”
I see a warmth spread over his features as he whispers without hesitation, “I love you too” before leaning down to kiss me.
We hold each other for a long time, before I force myself to pull away. The rain is starting to get harder. I take off my blue bracelet and put it over his wrist. “Here,” I say as I loosen the strings to fit, “take this. I want you to have it.” I half expect him to make fun of me for giving him something so girly, but he seems grateful.
“Anything for you, my lioness.”
It makes me blush, hearing him speak to me in that deep, husky voice beckoning me back to him. I search for words, my mind is getting fuzzy. “I don’t know… what’s going to happen. Let’s just… take it slow. Okay?”
He nods, content. “That seems fair.”
I start to feel really strange, my body feels like lead. There’s a sickening ache in my stomach and I suddenly want to collapse and fall asleep. I force myself to look up and smile, “Anyway, let’s catch up later. I’m gonna head back.”
“Alright, if you want to go back and hang out with those Vortex assholes, be my guest,” He laughs, before giving me one last kiss. The scruff from his beard brushes my chin, resulting in a sweet roughness that leaves a certain sense of longing for more. “I’ll see you later Rach. Be careful.”
I smile before he turns away. He looks back with a mischievous, happy glint in his eye, and I realize how much I’ve missed him. I whisper goodbye as I watch him slowly disappear down the path. I find myself peering down at my hand. Purposefully and with a sense of peace, I switch the ring resting on my index finger back to my ring finger, and decide it’s time to tell Chloe. I can’t hide this anymore.
My vision is getting dark, I can barely focus. How much did I have to drink? Maybe Nathan’s “special family recipe” was way stronger than I thought. I’m stumbling to the front door, tripping over myself no matter how hard I try to walk straight. It’s like I pounded a bottle of straight liquor, and it’s throwing me off guard. What is happening?
An arm helps me up, and I look up to see Nathan. “Whoa whoa, easy there. I think you raged a little too hard Rachel. I thought you had a higher tolerance.” He laughs at his own bad joke. “Let me take you home. I think you need to call it a night.”
My body is collapsing involuntarily, and I see little choice at this point, I just want to lie down. So I nod, trying to keep it together. My vision starts to fade… only pieces.
We’re in a car… it’s dark. I can hear Nathan on the phone. I make out little bits in my unexplainable stupor.
“Got her… on our… nobody… 5 minutes…”
It doesn’t make sense to me. I try to ask Nathan where we’re going, it seems like it’s been ages, but the words don’t come. A small groan makes its way out, but it’s completely illegible. The world starts falling away again, and I feel myself being dragged. I’m being pushed around roughly. I want to say something, but my body is as lifeless as a doll.
My body and mind are so numb.
I open my eyes enough to see a blue butterfly fluttering by, and I think about Chloe and Frank, and I just want them here. The feeling is so intense, and I want to cry out but am unable to. I want them here with me to keep me safe. I miss them, I miss them…
A bright flash blinds me as I hear a camera rolling. I squint, confused and dazed, and make out a face of a man. I’m stunned to see Mark Jefferson peering down at me with a sadistic smile twisted on his face.
Another flash. He takes in an excited intake of breath and then says slowly, “Welcome to the Dark Room Rachel.”