“Wake up, Stephanie.”
Twisting under the blankets, Stephanie wanted nothing more than to slip back into the wonderful dream she was having about Trevor. He was holding her in his arms as they lay in her bed. This was one of her favorite dreams with him.
A sharp and furious male voice commanded, “Wake up! Let’s go. I’m tired of waiting around for you to drag your butt out of bed.”
A sarcastic smile pulled at the corners of Stephanie’s lips. “Good morning, sunshine.”
Trevor scoffed at this, “Nothing morning about 11:30. Are you going to do anything today, or am I stuck here in this rat-hole apartment with you all day?”
Stephanie tucked a loose lock of strawberry-blonde hair behind her right ear, “Would you like to go somewhere? We could go to the park?”
“I don’t care where we go, as long as we go somewhere. You’re killing me keeping me cooped up in here.”
Trevor was over six-foot tall and wore a fitted, athletic shirt that clung tightly to the muscles underneath, and black gym shorts. He had paced the apartment for hours, waiting for Stephanie to wake up.
Sliding her bare, freckled legs out while flipping back the blankets, Stephanie teased her hair a little and stretched her arms overhead. Chiding him, “Oh, Trevor. Don’t be so dramatic. It’s not that bad in here, is it?”
Trevor crossed his tanned arms across his chest as he looked around the messy bedroom considering her question. “Um, yeah. It is.”
Stephanie crossed the stained carpet towards Trevor who was a full head taller than she, while a playful tone filled her questions, “Why are you so grumpy today? Did you not sleep well?” She played with the buttons on her oversized nightshirt as she waited for his answer.
He averted his eyes to a picture on the wall of running horses to avoid the barely concealed form of Stephanie, “I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
Covering her mouth with her hand in a feigned state of shock, “Not at all? You poor baby. Was it because you were thinking of me all night?” She took a step forward and unfastened the top button, daring the shirt to reveal more.
Not this again. Will she ever stop doing this? Meeting her eyes with an icy stare, he coldly said, “Being stuck with you is hell enough without my thoughts being filled with visions of you as well. So don’t flatter yourself. You know that I can’t stand you and I’ll do anything to get away from you.”
Stephanie let her eyes fall to the floor as she traced small circles into the carpet with her left foot, “It hurts my feelings when you say things like that, you know.”
“Then let me go. Please, stop hanging on to things that are not yours and let me go.”
She spoke with a small, pitiful voice, “But, you came to me. I’ve never had anyone my entire life until I met you that night. Why do you not like me? Am I not pretty enough?” I practically throw myself at him and all he ever does is look away. What do I need to do get his attention?
Trevor let out an exasperated sigh as he rolled his eyes and looked away, “I had a wife and two kids before you came along. If you’re trying to replace Kathy, here’s a hint; it ain’t happening.”
Stephanie was quiet as she walked to the door. Turning in the doorway, “I hope that one day, your hatred towards me ends and you see me for who I really am.”
Trevor kept his back to her as he heard her footsteps leave and the shower water begin raining down. He wanted more than anything to get away from this demented woman. He tried scrubbing the frustration from his face with his hands. His wife was always there for him when he needed her. Now, the only person he could talk to was the one he couldn’t stand to be around.
What do I have to do to get her mad enough to make me leave? I’ve done everything I can think of, and she still won’t let me go. I feel like I’m border-line abusive towards her, but I’m stuck here with her anyway. I would leave in a heart-beat if I could.
The park was one of Trevor’s favorite places to come with his family. Seeing the trees families were having lunch under, reminded him of the times spent with his own family. He taught his son to catch a football over by the massive oak tree. The four of them would play Frisbee in the clearing next to it.
He hadn’t seen his family since the evening he left to go jogging while Kathy stayed home with the kids. He wanted more than anything to see her again and tell her what really happened that evening he didn’t come home. Stephanie didn’t kill him on purpose, she had apologized a thousand times the first few days after it happened. However, no amount of apologizing could return his former life to him. His resentment towards her was building, but he didn’t feel like he could change anything about it.
It was a slightly breezy day as the two walked along the narrow, asphalt path that serpentined its way through the manicured hills.
They hadn’t spoken since leaving the apartment and the tension between them was obvious. Trevor was the one to break the silence.
Blurting out, “Why are you not seeing your therapist anymore? You were going once a week, and now not at all.”
She spoke with decisiveness in her voice, “I’m fine now, I have you to talk to.”
“But, you were making progress getting passed the incident and moving on to recovery. I don’t understand why you quit.”
Stephanie was tight-lipped as they walked. A brief silence with only the sound of her flip-flops setting the pace. This topic always frustrated her. “Why do you bother me with that crap? We’ve had this discussion before, I’m not going back to therapy. End of story.”
“Whatever.” A dismissive tone shoved the word at her.
Stephanie sat on one of the benches along the pathway near the thicket of trees. As she put her face in her hands, Trevor looked around at the other people enjoying the park. A group of kids were playing Ultimate Frisbee while others were watching and cheering on the players. A black and white border-collie dog was fetching a rubber toy thrown by a middle-aged woman with blonde hair.
The wind picked up some nearby dandelion seeds and hurled them towards Trevor. As they passed through him he took a moment to realize again that he wasn’t in this world anymore. A memory. His eyes wanted to fill with tears as the amount of grief collecting within him began to swell. He would have boldly shed the tears if they would come, yet they never did.
A gentle sobbing caught his attention. He looked towards Stephanie to see that she was having another one of her melt-downs. She had started the day looking better than normal with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, black yoga pants, and a light blue cotton shirt. It was loosening now due to her rubbing her head as she rocked back and forth. She seemed so out-of-place at times. Not being completely devoid of compassion, he walked over next to her and sat down on the bench beside her.
“It sure is a nice day to spoil it with tears, don’t you think?”
She managed to gain control over her emotions long enough to voice, “What do you care? Go away and leave me alone.”
He continued looking out at the other people, “You and I both know that twenty feet is hardly considered ‘space’. Look, if I’m stuck with you, could you at least quit crying all the time?”
Stephanie looked up at him through blood-shot eyes, “I can’t help it that I’ve been ignored my whole life making me who I am now.”
Trevor turned slightly towards her, “You know, my wife went through the same thing when she was younger. Although, the difference between her and you is that she didn’t let that define who she is. You won’t let go of the past, which is why I’m still around serving time as your personal prisoner. Let go of all the bad stuff in your life and move on. You could have a wonderful and fantastic future, but you refuse to live anywhere but in the past.”
“As terrible as my past is; it’s all I have.”
Trevor leaned toward her expecting more, and when she offered nothing, he leaned back again and looked out over the park, thinking to himself.
That was the most she’s ever spoken about her past. I’ve been wrong about her this entire time. It’s not that she’s in love with me, rather, she doesn’t have anyone else in her life to get attention from. I don’t think I would let go either. I’ve been so selfish since that night, I couldn’t see her pain that she’s in. Have I been making it worse?
The sunset had cast its wonderful pinks and reds across the clouds as they made their way towards the apartment.
“Do you ever cook for yourself?” Trevor asked as they walked along the sidewalk in the downtown area.
“Does warming up left-over Chinese food count?”
A lighthearted chuckle highlighted Trevor’s answer, “No, I’m afraid not.”
Holding her hands up, a bashful smile surfaced on her face, “Do you cook? Maybe you could teach me.”
He took a moment to ponder her question, “I can teach you to cook, if you promise not to get mad at yourself if it doesn’t turn out right. Deal?”
The corner of Stephanie’s mouth lifted in a sly smile, “Deal. What do I need?”
“Do you like soup? It will be way healthier than that junk you eat now.”
“I don’t eat junk!”
Trevor intentionally looked at her stomach to draw attention to it.
“Okay, so I have a little pudge, so what?”
“It’s hard on your heart and other organs, that’s all I’m saying.” Pointing ahead, “Head down to 2nd and I’ll show you a hole in the wall.”
Stephanie cocked an eyebrow at Trevor, “What’s so great about a hole in the wall? Does it grow magical, healthy food in it?”
“Sorta, I’ll show you when we get there.”
As they rounded the corner of the building, Trevor pointed ahead to an awning. “The blue one.”
“They all look black to me.”
“Just follow me, please.”
Stephanie was genuinely shocked, “Manners all of a sudden? What did I do to deserve this?”
“Normally, I would hold the door open for people as well.”
“But you can’t. So, I’ll get the door myself. Thanks, anyway.” She was playfully being sarcastic with him. She pictured him holding the door for people with a smile on his face. He cared about people, but seemed to hesitate when it came to her. She wondered if they would ever get along like a normal couple could.
As Stephanie entered the shop, she was immediately bombarded with a vast variety of smells. Spices, herbs, and many others she had never smelled before. Dried produce hung from hooks and various fruits nested in hanging baskets. “What is this place?”
Trevor came close to her ear, “Prem’s Foods. Order half a pound of lintels there.”
Whispering to him, “You do realize that I have no idea what is what in here, right?”
“I do now.” Going over to a display of large, hand-woven baskets, Trevor pointed at one basket in particular with red handles and said, “Lintels, half a pound.”
“Okay.” Stephanie caught the Indian shop keeper’s attention. When he came to the basket, he pulled out the scoop piercing it and said through his thick accent, “How much?”
“Half a pound, please.”
“Very good.” The man scooped out lintels, weighing them with the scale. Satisfied, he dumped the lintels into a white, paper bag and rolled the top closed. “What else, Miss?”
Trevor ran over to the other side and pointed at a canvas bag with a rolled down top, enunciating the syllables, “Keen-wah.”
Stephanie pointed to where Trevor stood and said, “Keen-wah.”
As the man walked to it, he questioned again, “How much?”
She looked to Trevor with a questioning expression.
She repeated this to the shop owner. Reaching under the counter, he pulled out a measuring cup and dipped it into the quinoa, leveled it, and dumped it into another paper bag. The man raised both eyebrows anticipating the next item.
Trevor sauntered over to Stephanie and spoke in her ear, “Now for spices. Say: cayenne pepper, turmeric, and crushed red pepper.”
She echoed the list of spices to the man, who held up his right hand with all the fingertips touching the tip of his thumb. Trevor leaned towards Stephanie, “Do what he is doing with his hand.” She reciprocated the gesture and the man nodded. He turned his back to her as he pulled out several small clear bags and filled them with the various spices lining the back wall.
Trevor explained to her, “What he did with his hand is how much he measures out, a generous ‘pinch’ of each. When he gets those done, say to him, ‘Thank you’. He will then bag all the stuff together and hold out his empty hand. Put a ten in his hand and then we get our food.”
“He doesn’t ring it all up?”
“He only charges what people can afford. When I came here, I would give him extra money to help offset the costs. He’s an honest man just trying to help people.”
She pulled her leather wallet out of the small purse she carried and found enough small bills to total a ten. When the shop owner turned around, Stephanie held out the money and said, “Thank you.” A large smile warmed the face of the man as he took the money with a grateful nod and handed her the bag.
When she placed her hand on the door handle the man called to her, “Miss!” Looking back at him, he said in a genuine tone, “Enjoy your soup.”
Six weeks later, Stephanie asked through a mouthful of food, “What is this called again?”
“Toad in a hole. My wife would make it for our breakfasts on the weekends.”
She mumbled appreciated moans as she scooped more into her mouth. Her phone vibrated on the nightstand. “Would you see who that is?”
Trevor walked over to the phone, “It says, ‘message from Abby, Do you want to hang out today?’”
Stephanie let out a little squeal as her feet danced in place under the table. “I haven’t hung out with Abby in forever!” She wiped her mouth with a napkin and raced across the room snatching up her phone as her thumbs danced around, typing her response. After sending her message, she threw her arms up in a triumphant celebration while laughing excitedly.
“Who is Abby?”
“Abby is my younger sister. I can’t remember the last time we hung out together.”
“Finish your breakfast and let’s go. I want to be outside today as much as possible.” Trevor said as he paced in front of the window occasionally looking out at the street below filled with people.
Wolfing down her remaining breakfast, Stephanie raced to the bedroom to get dressed. Calling from the other room, “What should I wear? Is it nice outside?”
“Put on your light blue skirt and those sandal things you have. Wear something light weight for a top because the sun is shining and it might be hot outside.”
A few minutes later, as she came into the room asking, “Should I wear my hair up or down?”
Looking at her as she modeled her hair, “Up with the chop-sticks.”
“This is going to be so much fun!” Stephanie laughed as she hurried to the bathroom to fix her hair.
As she entered the bathroom, Trevor slid several feet towards her. This was his curse; invisible shackles keeping the distance between them in check. All she had to do was confess what she did to him, and freedom was his. Yet, she still refused to relinquish her hold on him.
As they approached Tito’s Pizza Parlor, a younger, shorter version of Stephanie with pink tipped hair, ran up to her and embraced her as the two women elated in their excitement at seeing one another. Trevor hung back as the two shared their exchanges.
Seated in a corner booth, they began looking over the menu while Trevor paced the floor mentally distant within his limits. Stephanie never knew exactly what was on his mind while he paced. She stopped assuming he was mad at her because he was acting differently towards her now. He was starting to become a friend to her.
Abby was quick to engage the conversation, “So, tell me what you have been doing? We haven’t spoken to each other in months.”
Stephanie had hoped that this would come up later, but she forgot that her sister was very pointed when it came to these things. “The same. Nothing much is different.”
Abby looked up from her menu, “Don’t lie to me. I can tell when you do and I can see that you’re hiding something, what is it?”
Stephanie was terrible when it came to lying, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” She tried hiding behind her menu to avoid making eye contact with her sister.
Pulling Stephanie’s menu down, “Oh, come on now. Tell me, please? What are sisters for if we can’t share secrets with one another?” She was pleading with her eyes.
Stephanie opened her mouth to speak when their approaching waiter interrupted them.
“What can I get you lovely ladies to drink? Perhaps, some sweet tea?”
Abby looked up at him as she said, “I would love some sweet tea with lemon.”
Winking at her, he turned to Stephanie, “And you, Miss?”
“I’ll bring those right out.” As he walked away, Abby watched him go.
“Now that, was some sweet tea. Do you think I have a chance with him?”
“You’ve always been able to catch any boy’s eyes.”
Abby faced Stephanie, “So tell me about yours.”
Startled by this, “Mine? You know that I haven’t dated anyone in years.”
“You’re dressed up, wearing make-up with a bright smile; you’ve got a guy, now tell me about him.”
Stephanie stole a glance at Trevor to see if he was paying attention. He was staring in the distance as a waitress passed through him carrying a steaming pizza. She didn’t like that objects and people could pass through him as though he weren’t real, because he felt so alive to her.
She let out a big sigh, “It’s complicated.”
Abby perked up at this, “Those are the best ones. And…”
As Stephanie started to continue, the waiter returned with their drinks. “One water for you,” as he slid the drink to Stephanie. “And, one sweet tea for you.” With a complimentary wink, he slid the tea to Abby.
Grabbing his pen and notepad, “Are you ladies ready to order?”
Abby popped in, “Do you want to split one, Steph?”
“I’ve recently started a diet actually, so, I think I’ll have the Roadhouse Salad with the dressing on the side.” Stephanie imagined that if Trevor heard what she ordered, he would have been proud. He wasn’t a health nut, but he did know how to cook good, clean food. She noticed that her clothes were starting to fit differently. He had taught her how to make several meals and she actually looked forward to their evenings cooking together.
Was this what it was like being married? Getting to spend every waking moment with someone who cares about you?
“That is my favorite salad. And for you?” he said directing the question to Abby.
“Well,” looking up at his name tag, “Drew, what would you recommend?”
“I really like Tito’s Deluxe. It has everything on it.”
“Get me a large then, because I want left-overs.”
“Sounds good, I’ll get this on the board for you.” Drew gathered up the menus and gave Abby an award-winning smile as he left.
“I’m so getting his number before we leave. Now, about your guy, what is he like?”
Stephanie was uncomfortable with the idea of talking about Trevor. What if she said too much and lost him? What would she do then? “I don’t want to say too much about him, because I don’t want to jinx it.”
“What, are we in the eighth grade again talking about our crushes? I want to hear some details, girl.”
Telling Abby the details about Trevor struck fear in her heart. She wasn’t ready to live without him yet.
As long as I don’t tell her what I did to him, he should stay. Hopefully, I don’t say too much.
Slowly, she began speaking, “His name is Trevor. He is becoming one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. He’s been teaching me a lot about myself and giving me encouragement to become a better person.”
Abby interjected, “You mean he’s not an alcoholic dirt-bag named Nick?”
Stephanie had a pained look in her eyes as she looked to see if Trevor noticed they were speaking about him. He was in his reclusive state that meant he was thinking about his family. Seeing him like this always made her feel guilty about her decisions.
Why can’t I let him go? I know he would leave me if given a chance, I know I would.
Abby broke the silence, “Steph, I’m sorry. I forgot that you don’t like talking about what happened then. I thought you were past all that. Are you still seeing Dr. Hodge?”
Stephanie dropped her eyes, “No…I stopped seeing her some time ago.”
Abby deflated in her seat, “I’m sorry to hear that. Can I ask why, or would that be too much?”
“She almost got me to talk about what happened that night.”
“The night of the wreck?” Stephanie nodded. “Would it be a bad thing if you told someone what happened?”
“If I tell anyone the truth about what really happened that night, I’ll lose the best thing that ever happened to me. I don’t think I’m ready for that, yet.”
Abby spoke with a calm confidence, “But, think about how much you could gain if you would speak to someone about it.”
“I do speak to Trevor about it. He thinks I should talk to someone about it too.”
Slowly, “Then why don’t you?”
Stephanie looked to Trevor sitting on the floor with his knees drawn up to his chest and his forehead resting against them. He was clearly very distraught with grief over his family. Looking around the restaurant reaffirmed her assumption. Several groups of people gathered around tables eating as a family. She could hear ‘Happy Birthday’ being sung to someone and the cheers that follow the candles being blown out.
We shouldn’t have come here. What was I thinking? She knew the hurt he felt at that moment. It pained her to see him this low. On cue, Trevor raised his head revealing how deep his grief rooted itself within him. Stephanie’s heart felt as if it had been slowly removed from her chest.
What am I doing to him? How could I not see this sooner? He’s miserable because of me and my selfishness. But, I don’t think anyone would want to be around me. Why would anyone want to?
She could no longer keep eye contact with him.
“Stephanie, are you okay?” Abby’s question awakened Stephanie.
“I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“Steph, you’re my sister and I love you. Please, tell me what is wrong. Mom and Dad told me that you don’t return their calls or messages anymore. They say that you don’t speak to anyone in the family anymore. Will you tell me what is wrong?”
Stephanie was looking down at her interwoven fingers, “Abby, I have a secret that no one knows about except Trevor. The reason he knows, is because he was there that night of the wreck. And the reason I keep it secret, is that, if I tell anyone what happened, Trevor will leave me.”
“But, the police report said that you were alone in the wreck. No one else was around.”
“That’s what I told them; but that wasn’t the truth. Trevor was with me.”
“This Trevor is sounding like one of those guardian-angel type of guys.” Leaning in on the table, “How often do you get to see him?”
“Every day.” At this, Trevor slid into the bench beside Abby with pleading eyes.
If she’s going to tell anyone, it’s here and now. She hasn’t been this open with anyone except me. Maybe if she could see that people really do care, she would tell and let me go.
Abby began rubbing her left arm as the goose-bumps rose on her skin. “I’m getting a cold-chill talking about this stuff. So let me get this straight. You and Trevor have a secret about the wreck, and if you tell it to someone, then he will leave you. Did I miss anything?”
“Nothing I’ve told you.”
A look of shock dropped Abby’s jaw, “You mean there’s more?”
Stephanie nodded as the fear surmounted to an ever-increasing high. Could she answer the questions resting on the tip of her sister’s tongue? Trevor leaned forward adding to her uneasiness.
“Wow. Will you tell me more about Trevor? I’m intrigued now.”
A smile lifted the corners of Stephanie’s mouth, “What I can, yes.” She took a breath as she gathered her thoughts. “Trevor is everything that Nick wasn’t. Although, he didn’t like me at first. We fought and argued as much as I did with Nick. I wasn’t sure if I did want him around.”
“I’m still pissed at Nick for getting you drunk all the time. Just saying.” Abby blurted out.
“Me too.” Stephanie looked up into Trevor’s eyes, “Trevor has been helping me get off the stuff. He is helping me become a better person now. I don’t deserve his kindness.”
“Have you two made out yet? It sounds like I couldn’t keep my hands off him if I were you.”
Stephanie broke eye contact and looked down at her hands, “No. The most we can share is a conversation, and at this point, I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
Trevor leaned back with understanding in his heart. She wants nothing more than for people to notice her. Her advances towards me were never about love or sex, it was purely for attention. I don’t know why I didn’t see this sooner. She’s told me before she’s been ignored her whole life, so that’s why she can’t stand the thought of losing me. She doesn’t want to be alone. This is going to take time for her to heal and the best thing I can do both of us is to help her with it.
“It sounds to me like you might have something for Trevor.”
Stephanie placed her interlocked fingers on the table, “I do. Which is why I’m terrified to lose him.” I desperately want to release him from this prison I’ve made. But, if I do, then I place myself in one instead. I don’t know which is worse; entrapping those I love, or letting them go.
Abby enclosed Stephanie’s hands in her own, “Part of loving someone, is being able to let them go. I can help you with this, if you will let me.”
Trevor reached forward and placed his hand inside the sisters’ hands, “You have those around you that love you and are willing to help you move past this. Please, don’t shut them out. I’m going to help as well, no matter what it takes. We’ll get past this together.”
A tear trailed its way down as Stephanie smiled. Looking at both of them in turn, she said, “Thank you. I never knew people cared about me this much.”