Love was a strong word. Well, it was supposed to be a strong word. In many languages, there was more than one word for love, because love between lovers entailed a different meaning—a deeper meaning. Day three of being friends with Derek, I loved him. Not quite like a brother, so I guess like a best friend.
We were 4 years old, at a daycare operated by some old lady in her house. I forgot her name. I remember that the house had brown shaggy carpet, faded yellow wallpaper with little white flowers, and the house smelled like old person and peppermint. There were 7 of us that were enrolled consistently until we went to real school. I was there before Derek showed up.
I remember when Alexis, Derek’s mom, dropped him off. She wore pink scrubs but I thought they were pajamas. As a kid Derek’s hair was bright, children of the corn blonde—so like platinum blonde— and long, down to his butt like a girl. I kept thinking he was a girl for the first few hours we played together. I kept asking, “Why are you dressed like a boy? You’re so pretty.” And he’d snap back, “I’m a boy!”
I got put in ‘timeout’ for bullying him for his long hair. I had a reputation as a little rebel, so the old lady didn’t believe I was genuinely confused. At snack time, I was liberated from the prison of the boring corner, and she made me sit across from him. I gave him my banana as an olive branch hoping to establish peace. As we reached across the table to exchange the monkey fruit, we locked eyes and he was the first person with blue eyes I didn’t hate or I wasn’t afraid of because he was so sweet.
On day three at daycare together, we were playing together nonstop and we were begging our moms to go to Mickey D’s together. And I loved him. I didn’t get why, but I loved him.
We didn’t go to the same school until 5th grade. My mom moved us right next to an elementary school, which luckily for me was Derek’s school.
And of course, no one understood our friendship. They thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend. Sometimes we pranked new students and said we were siblings, and they would wonder, “Is Savvy adopted?” Like a mixed girl couldn’t be his fraternal twin sister? No one fell for the lie. My curly, maroon-ish brown hair and nearly black eyes and dark olive skin never tricked them. I found it funny, because I had two half-siblings that looked white and I really had two half-siblings that were fully white. No one believes I’m related to them either.
Derek’s parents went through a nasty divorce over the summer leading up to middle school and Derek’s dad moved to California. From then on: the school year, Thanksgiving, and Easter he spent in Tucson with his mom. The Summer and Christmas he spent in the Bay Area with his dad. And maybe it was a little ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ of us, but we talked on the phone all the time, we texted each other, and we messaged each other via direct messages.
But then, 8th grade happened, when we kissed… And yes, we became boyfriend and girlfriend for real not for pretend to prank people… And he is the love of my life. I will not live without him.
“WHO the FLUFF do you think you are?” Jewel questioned me. “What kind of SNIFF is this?” She rhetorically asked throwing a bundle of condemns on the coffee table. All the pretty colors too… blue, purple, red, green… all the colors of the rainbow and a couple of dental dams as well. You would think a mother like her would be so proud I’m so cautious with my sex life.
SMACK… across the face… Which sting bitterly… It figured a mother like her wasn’t proud. Angrily, I chose to lie. It didn’t matter at this point. She’d treat me like she wanted to treat from here on out.
“So my secret stash is not so secret anymore… oops…” I said with so much attitude I pissed myself off.
SMACK… her hand slapped across my other cheek… She’s so caring to even out the pain of her punishment.
“Genie found that when that little SNIFF was helping put away your FLUFFING laundry little BLICK… She thought they were slimy balloons…”
I started laughing as Jewel told me both my little sisters did what I and Derek do with them after we get them. They made balloons… HOW HILARIOUS! Derek and I did that for fun sometimes after we’d get a fresh bundle from school. They passed them out on Fridays before every weekend after school. And we’re always allowed to stop by the many counselors’ offices and ask for more. Our school was progressive. Then again, they had to be. Most of us were high school rejects: flunkies, addicts, juvenile delinquents, LBGTQ, or teen parents… some of us were more than one those things. There were a select few who were elites: home-school-sheltered, or chose-to-be-there… but they were the FEW.
“SHUT UP!” Jewel barked. I tried to stop making noise but I couldn’t.
For that she smacked me full force from every direction. In the face, on the head, in the throat, on my bare legs, with the front and back of her hand. The only thing that stopped her from using two hands was the cigarette in her writing hand.
Outraged I wouldn’t be quiet, she pulled me by the neckline of my Grateful Dead t-shirt and pulled down the collar, stretching it out to expose my shoulder. She threatened to burn me for the fourth time there, if I didn’t be quiet. Immediately, I stopped laughing, I STOPPED breathing, holding my breath to prevent myself from laughing.
She threw me up against the back of our black pleather couch. The coolness of the material soothed my stinging skin. She paced the living room floor, taking a drag of her cigarette here and there. For once in a long time, she didn’t know what else to say to me. Maybe she forgot why she woke me up at 3 am in the morning to discipline me.
This happened before I got home from my night class at the community college. The girls showed me their condemn balloons and I panicked she was going to beat the snot out of me there, right in front of everyone, because I figured they were from my unused stash because I really am NOT sexually active. I don’t even play with myself like normal teenagers. I know… I sound like a total fictitious character. I’m just not crazy about sex. The amount of STIs my eyes had seen in Sex Ed presentations were enough for me to opt out of sexual intercourse when faced with the choice to do so. I didn’t want to take any chances.
But she let me eat my dinner. She let me watch TV with the girls. She let me get them ready and put them to bed. She let me do my homework in the kitchen. She let me get ready for bed. She let me say goodnight and go to sleep like there would be no punishment for me.
Not until 3 AM came, after I had to hear her and the jerk screw on the other side of our paper-thin walls. After I heard them share some drinks in the living room and get high and screw again… I hope not on the couch where I’m sitting now. The girls sleep like bricks and can sleep through a monsoon or a microburst. I’m the light sleeper. My sisters slept peacefully on our queen bed while I was awake for most the night. I had just fallen asleep because the all ruckus stopped and then I was woken up by a very angry Jewel.
She just yanked me out of bed, well, the half-naked jerk was ordered to sit me up, throw me over his shoulder, and carry me to the living room… He’s still in really good shape for an ex-marine. He went off to bed because he’s never apart of any disciplinary meetings and actions. She grabbed a fresh pack of cigarettes off the coffee table. Took a new one out, lit it with a match from her “Deus Dive Bar” matchbook, and threw both packages in the décor glass bowl in the center of the black, glossy coffee table. She pulled more condemns and dental dams out of her bra and tossed them on the coffee table toward me. Then she begun her interrogation I was certain would be filled with physical torture.
She could just be pacing to psychologically mess with me. To confuse me or to keep me in a panic so I couldn’t anticipate her next move.
She stopped and faced me. She cocked her hip to the side and she crossed one arm underneath her chest, and she propped her smoking hand up via that elbow perpendicular to her free hand. She took a quick drag then she bent low and tapped her excess ash into the ash tray on the coffee table. Her dirty blonde hair was in a messy bun and her ice blue eyes glared at me. I hated those cold, mean, ice blue eyes… I hated my mother.
“I was 15 when I had you Savannah. FLUFFING 15 and I’ll be FLUFFED to have history FLUFFING repeat itself, you hear me?” Putting her cigarette in her mouth, only allowing the corner of her lips to lock it in, she walked away saying, “Find a better place for your MOD-SAMMED FLUFFING FLUFF STASH.”
Every day. To school- bussing it. To college- bussing it. To work- bussing it. To home bussing it. On the weekend- bus it to Derek’s- bus it to the mall- bus it to the game shop- skate shop- anywhere I want to go- bus it. PUBLIC TRANSIT SUCKS. Majority of the time it smells like sweat, urine, and unbathed hobo. Early in the morning, in afternoon when the high schoolers get out, and on the weekend during waking hours- the bus is FULL. Ugh?! And my 16th birthday was super not far away… but will I get a car? No! I’m too poor for that😊 Will I get to drive occasionally- ha! I wish😊
I’m old enough for a learner’s permit and Jewel won’t take me to the DMV to get one. If I wanted one, I’d have to bus it to get one… And who will teach me how to drive? Not Jewel, she had no time. Not the jerk, he had no car. Not Netty or Arnie because I like never got to see them. If Jewel knew I still talked to them I’m pretty sure she’d give me hell.
The real kicker was… Jewel hated lugging Genie and Albany all over the place but she didn’t trust me to take them anywhere on the bus… so Jewel made this statement often, “Sav you need to FLUFFING be 16 already so you can drive these little SNIFFs all over the place.”
What did that mean? She’d teach me how to drive when I’m 16, or I’m just supposed to know how to drive by then?”
I should be used to riding the bus. Both my life and riding the bus were very much the same in terms of how I felt about them. I HATE THEM.
Tonight is the night! Jewel went to Vegas with the jerk for the weekend. The girls were going to bed at 9 pm and Derek was coming over. His mom was working the night shift at the hospital, so she’d never know he was not at home and because it was our anniversary… we agreed it was time to have sex…
Like, I didn’t really want to completely. I mean I wanted to… I love Derek… everyone said you should be in love when you do it for the first time… but I didn’t feel like I’m ready… This was huge! I showed him like every day that I loved him. I helped him in class. I gave him extra cash for the bus. I went with him to the skate park to watch him skate even though I think it was totally boring. I pulled him out of his funk when he was depressed. I got a tattoo of his name, which Jewel didn’t know about, for him… I went to parties with him and I get high with him, and I drink with him, and I go down on him… because I would do anything for him. He was my soulmate. And all I asked of him were two things, let me get good grades in school and let me not have sex all the way until I’m ready.
We were at a party last weekend. I told Jewel I went to Kaylie’s for a two nights, and two days for a getaway, which was true, but we snuck out Friday Night to go to Hayley’s party. She lived out in the Foothills. Her parents were loaded and she should go to private school, but the only high school that would take her was Brink, ours… She’s got a huge rap sheet. Her parents were gone so much they’re never around to even care when she added to it.
A group of us were sharing some seriously good KGB via Hayley’s favorite bong… and somehow the guys were talking about how gifted they were in their manhood. Everyone teased Derek, saying he was the tiniest amongst the men and Derek got all defensive and pants’d himself to show the whole group how well-endowed he was… After that… all the girls from that group, even Hayley were flirty with him all night… Then it got around the entire school, and all day, everyday, I had to watch girls flirt with Derek… in the hallways with small talk, in P.E. with their bodies, and in class by passing notes. Derek was smart… he ignored it all as best he could and he showed me the notes so we could laugh about the girls… but I’m scared. If I didn’t do more, I’d lose him and he had always been there. He couldn’t just stop being there.
So we were bussing it, after school, heading to my place and he told me to stop worrying about all the attention he was getting from girls at school. He reminded me that I’m his one true love. That we will be together forever. He reminded me our anniversary was this upcoming Friday night and after being together for 3 years and knowing each other for 12 years… it was time… it was time to celebrate by making love. This was on Wednesday, I think… And originally we were going to do it at his house because his mom would be working, and I was going to use Kaylie as a cover and she was down with it as long as I promised to use protection, but when I went to ask Jewel to stay the night at Kaylie’s, Jewel announced her and the jerk were going to Vegas for the weekend.
“Tell us a story!” Genie yelled from the hallway.
Genie and Albany come rushing around the corner, in their pajamas, all ready for bed. They climb on the couch, Genie to my left, Albany to my right.
Genie screamed, “Tell us a story!”
“No, let’s just jump on the couch.” Albany said smiling. She faintly laughed as she stood up taking position. “We never get to when mom is here.”
Genie nodded her head and went to stand up too. Expect, I folded her in my arms and sat her on my lap. Then I grabbed her by her armpits and used all my strength and lifted her in the air as I rose to my feet. “Let’s go jump on the bed.”
As I rushed toward our bedroom, Genie spread her arms out and yelled, “I can fly!”
Albany chased after us and then passed us around the corner zipping into the hallway to get to the bed first. When Genie and I got to the room, Albany was quite the gymnast doing back flips on the bed.
“Hey! No flips, just jumps!” I reminded her to stay safe.
I tossed Genie on the bed, but I stayed on the ground. I let the two of them jump their hearts out. Again and again they asked me to join them, but I remained firm and declined. If we broke the bed, we’d all get knocked around and burned for sure.
Once they tired out, which was like two minutes later, they got under the covers. I tucked them in… and gave both those hazel-eyed blondies a kiss on the lips goodnight. The light was off and the nightlight was on. I was halfway out the door when—
“Story!” Genie yelled.
“No!” Albany shouted back.
Genie and Albany entered a verbal fighting contest to see who could be the loudest and get their way. I flipped the light back on and took a seat at the foot of the bed and yelled, “SHUT UP!”
Albany jolted up and said, “That was creepy, you sounded just like mom.”
Genie added, “Don’t do that again… please…” Covering half her face with the blue comforter. Then she chanted in a loud whisper, “Story! Story! Story!”
“It’s time for bed.” I said.
“Can you please tell us a story?” Genie asked with a gentle voice sitting up.
Albany rolled her eyes as she plopped back down, “Fine…” she sighed. “Tell a stupid story. Just not the one about the cowgirls… That’s really stupid.” Albany covered her face like she’s a corpse.
“Which story should I tell, Genie?” I asked.
“The Yellow Butterfly,” Genie said.
Albany jabbed the air with her legs below the covers as she moaned from frustration.
I ripped the covers off Albany’s face and saw Albany smiling. Albany was just giving us a hard time. She didn’t want to go to bed. She liked the idea of staying up all night just because Jewel wasn’t here. I stuck my tongue out at Albany as I threw the covers back over Albany’s face. I told her to be quiet.
“You be quiet.” Albany sassed back.
“Stop it!” Genie shrieked.
“Both of you shut up or we all go to bed now.” I said firmly.
As if my words were law, neither spoke another phrase.
“Millicent, a beautiful Darlin of the Darlinquex Tribe, wanted to pick fresh wild flowers…” I told the story of The Yellow Butterfly. It’s a story I made up myself since Jewel never bought the girls books. I did’t always remember it word for word, or even from plot point to the next, but Genie knew it well. Any time I spiraled out of control, way off course, Genie got the story back on track, nice and steady.
Before I found opportunity to tell the good part, where Millicent follows the Yellow Butterfly home, the roar of Genie’s snoring hit my ear, and Albany appeared to be too quiet. Both of my sisters were sleeping. I’m free to wait for Derek.
Something was wrong. It was 11 pm and I texted Derek a bunch of times, but I hadn’t heard back from him. This was his idea… If he road his bike over, what if he got hit by a car, or worse a bus. Maybe I should start calling hospitals? Or maybe his phone was dead… He never charged it… He always forgot. He was like the only teenager on the planet not addicted to his phone… It was weird. I brought my charger everywhere with me and I like never turn off my phone. I put it on silent. I never TURN. IT. OFF. NEVER.
Finally, at 11:13 pm there’s a knock on my door. Relief cooled my nerves as I opened the door to Derek, who stepped into the living room fuming!
“It’s fluffing bark-sniff!” He yelled.
I took his hands and put them on my waist, and I cupped his face in my hands. Staring him straight in the eye, I asked what’s going.
We took a deep breath together as he rested his forehead against mine. He broke into tears and through his muffled groaning he explained… His mom didn’t go to work tonight. He was getting ready to come over and his dad and stepmom and half-brother were in the living room… waiting for him to come out of his room… They confronted him about some drugs his mom found… Weed and prescriptions pills Trevor gave to him… They found the condemns and his mother read his journal… about him wanting to commit suicide. All the drafts of letters he wrote to his family of why he needed to end his life. Plans for all the possible ways he could kill himself… His journal had more disturbing things. Drawings and doodles of the creatures that tormented him at night. The confessions that he sometimes heard voices telling him to kill himself. His mom showed his journal to a clinical psychiatrist at the hospital.
Tomorrow, his family was taking him to a really expensive mental facility in California. If he tested looney, he’d be staying until he was better. If he just needed anti-depressants and was not a threat to himself or to anyone… he was going to military school…
I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like the floor got ripped from underneath me. We collapsed to the ground and holding each other we cried.
Once we were all cried out. I moved as he moved and we sat in the silence with our backs against each other. For some reason the warmth we generated was soothing… sort of…
“We could runaway.” I suggested.
“No… you’re going to college and high school at the same time… don’t run from that…” Derek pointed out.
“I don’t care. I don’t need school like I need you.” I stated clearly.
“They’re just worried I’m going to be like Laney.” Derek sighed.
Laney, or really— Delaney, was Derek’s older sister. His parents got divorced because she killed herself. They didn’t admit that, but they were happy together when Delaney was alive and then they hated each other after she died. At first, they thought it was because of bullying, but then it turned out she had schizophrenia— which was incredibly rare in teenagers, especially teenage girls… but all her journals and some of her YouTube videos showed all the signs.
“But you’re not… You’re perfectly sane! You go to counseling…” I complained.
“Yeah… but I don’t tell that shrink SNIFF…” He confessed.
We both knew that. We were both afraid if he told his shrink all that he experienced, he would get sent away. Now our fear had come true.
I wanted to make love now. I closed my eyes and initiated things. Things quickly went from just kissing to beyond. For my own sanity, I tried not to think about what we were about to do. I forced myself to think about my unshakeable love for Derek. I told myself the truth. Derek would never hurt me. When we were close to going all the way. When he was on top of me, we were lying down, stacked on top of each other on the carpet floor half-naked.
I didn’t recall when I started, but I was balling. I was freaked out, hyperventilating, experiencing a full blown panic attack.
He started to get dressed. “You’re fluffling not ready. I can’t deal with this fluffing sniff right now. You’re so MOD-SAMMED fluffing dramatic. I’m about to get sent to a fluffing nut house or worse, military school, and you can’t even come through and put out like a fluffing girlfriend is supposed to – blick!”
With one shoe on his foot and another in his hand, he left, slamming the door behind him.
I knew he reacted like that because he was scared about getting sent away. I knew he would come back.
Him walking out though alleviated my anxiety a bit. My chest stopped tightening. Peace started to take over in my mind.
Without knocking, Derek came back inside a few moments later. He softly closed the door. He kicked off the one shoe on his foot, he tossed the shoe he carried on the ground by the other near the door. He got down on his hands and knees and crawled up to me on the floor. Where I lied, curled up into a fetal position.
Gently, he kissed me on the forehead and lied beside on the floor, not taking his blue eyes off my brown eyes.
“I’m a fluffing butthole. I don’t deserve you. You’re worth the wait… I will wait for you…”
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