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Stranger in the Backseat
He wrapped his fingers around my wrists, and guided my hands up to my eyes.
“No peeking.” I felt his warm breath slide down my neck.
“I promise,” I smiled. I heard the rustling of wrapping paper. My breathing accelerated in anticipation. I was never big on birthday celebrations or presents. It was just this whole feeling that made me tremble. I didn’t know how I could have possibly gotten so lucky. I had known from the second we’d moved in together during junior year that I was in love with him.
“Happy almost twenty-first birthday, Ava. I thought I should give you your present early, before everyone arrives for the party tomorrow.” I shuddered when I felt his fingertips touch my neck. Something about the way he touched me then -- it made me uneasy. I kept my eyes closed and felt him step away. “What’s wrong?” I rolled my shoulders a few times. Relax.
“Nothing, nothing, “ I assured him. I felt his face hovering over me. Something cold touched my skin. I heard him fastening something around my neck. A necklace. He gripped my waist firmly.
“Do you trust me not to bump you into any walls?” He chuckled.
“Of course.” He pulled me a few steps to the left, and then slowly pushed me forward.
“Open your eyes, birthday girl.” I heard the smile in his voice. He had led me in front of a mirror. What he had placed on me was a yellow sapphire encased in a cluster of small shimmering diamonds. It seemed to compensate for my otherwise plain features. My auburn hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail. My cheeks lacked any color, as did the rest of my skin. A pale purple outlined my eyes -- a result of sleeping about three hours each night. Cameron would hear me whisper things in my sleep about him and become upset -- angry, even. He would shake me until I rolled awake and assured him I loved him, and would never say anything bad about him.
“Cameron! It’s gorgeous!” I traced the jewel with my fingertips. “How could you afford this?”
“I’ve been saving up,” he confessed with a crooked smile.
“I love it,” I said distractedly, marveling at my reflection.
Something hard hit my back. I whirled around. Cameron was smiling devilishly. “Ow! What was that?”
“A roll of streamers,” he laughed. “Let’s get decorating!” I groaned.
“Do we have to? It’s going to take forever!” He glanced at his watch.
“Oh, come on! The night is young!” He danced playfully in a circle around me. I shoved him away and laughed.
“What time is it?” He bit his lip.
“Liar!” I grabbed his wrist and looked at the time.
“It’s eleven thirty, I’m going to bed!” He brushed wisps of hair out of my face and kissed the top of my head.
“Sweet dreams!” he called, as I turned the corner and stepped into the bathroom to brush my teeth.
“What about the decorations?” I asked, worrying that we wouldn’t have enough time to prepare the living room before the party.
“Just get a good night’s sleep, I’ll take care of it!” The sound of running water and tape being torn filled the house. It was surprisingly relaxing, simply because it filled me with a relieved and calm feeling.
When I got in my room, I pulled the covers up to my neck and sighed. Who ever said there’s no such thing as a perfect human being?
I woke up to the sound of pots and pans banging together. I yawned and sat up in bed. The morning sunlight formed a flimsy pool of gold on my carpet. I rolled out of bed and sluggishly pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans.
When I walked into the living room, my mouth fell open.
“Cam! Get over here!” He rushed to my side with soap dripping from his hands.
“What? What happened?” he asked breathlessly.
“It…it looks incredible!” I scanned the room. Neon colored streamers dangled from the ceiling. A table was pushed into a corner with bowls of chips, and pretzels, and six packs of beer. Draped over the table was a tablecloth with confetti patterns strewn all over it. Cameron had moved the stereo to the center of the front wall. My iPod was connected to it. There was a line of framed pictures of everyone we had met during our college years with their hands cupped around their mouths. Above all of the pictures was a poster with the words in marker: All your friends are screaming “Happy Birthday” to you, Ava!” I couldn’t help but smile.
“You’re welcome,” he grinned, nudging me in the side.
“Aw, thank you. It looks great. I’m so excited for tonight.”
By nine, the living room was packed with people. The music was blaring, and some of the pictures had been knocked off the wall. Crushed pretzels and beer stains littered the floor. Cam came up to me, dancing with a red plastic cup in hand.
“So, do I get credit for your insane party?” I kissed him lightly on the lips.
“There, happy?” I smiled.
“Very. Except…something’s missing,” he hinted. I rolled my eyes as he handed me his cup. “It’s your twenty-first birthday, Ava! You’re morally obligated.” I took a sip. It was cheap beer. The alcohol lingered on my tongue. I winced.
“Yum.” My voice dripped sarcasm.
“Hey, you try getting high quality beer for a party of over sixty people!” I chuckled.
“It’s fine. The party’s great, Cam. Thanks.” He nodded, smiled.
By 10 o’clock, I had lost track of how many cups of beer I had consumed. I skipped over to Cam who was talking to one of our mutual friends, James.
“James, can I borrow this boy for a few minutes? I need to talk to him. Pleeeease?” I felt my slurred words rolling off my tongue, sloppily. I pulled Cameron by his shirtsleeve into my room.
“What is it?” I tired to focus on listening to his voice while the blare of music shook the floor from downstairs. It made my head spin.
“There’s just something you need to know. Something you really need to know!” I sat down on the bed, and leaned back onto the pillow.
“I’m all ears,” he said. I closed my eyes, hoping to remediate my massive headache.
“I don’t think I like you anymore,” I blurted. I laughed. My words sounded funny. My voice sounded funny.
“What? I don’t get it.” He sputtered. He was confused, I could tell. That made me laugh, too.
“You’re funny,” I smiled, feeling drowsy. “All I mean is that…I don’t really think that I love you at all. Maybe I never did.” He put his face in his hands, and rubbed his eyes.
“Ava, you’re not making any sense!”
My stomach was churning. I sat up, and shook my head a few times. Everything was becoming hazy. I bent over and emptied my stomach onto the floor. I leaned back onto the bed and I was out in seconds.
My eyes snapped open. My cheek was stinging. Before I could make any sense of where I was, someone slapped my face. My head was pounding.
“Cam?” I extended my arms out, feeling for him. It was too dark to see. A strong hand grabbed my arm and pulled me up. I staggered back. Before I could say anything, a crushing blow to my stomach knocked me to my knees. I cried out in agony.
“Confused?” whispered an angry voice. It was Cameron. “So was I.” The lights turned on. Cameron was hovering over me, fists clenched. He was breathing heavily.
“Cameron,” I sobbed, struggling to stand up. He kicked me in the ribs and I gasped for air. “Cameron,” I tried again. “Why -- ”
“Because, I’m not something you can just throw away.” He lifted his foot and crushed the sole of his boot into my chest. “You deserve this,” he spat, wickedly.
I sucked in air in short gaps. I shoved his foot off me and tore out of the room. I reached the front door and fiddled with the lock, fingers shaking violently. Once I unlocked the door, I bolted into the front lawn.
I tried to catch my breath and turned when I heard footsteps behind me. I ran into the road, my bloodcurdling screams tearing through the midnight silence. Cameron followed quickly after me.
“So was that how you really feel Ava?!” he hollered. “You don’t love me anymore?! You get drunk then just figured you’d get rid of me!” Hot tears rolled down my cheeks. He had to know I hadn’t meant it. My bare toes were slapping against the pavement. I continued to sprint aimlessly through the infinite blackness, hoping someone would hear my screams.
Heart pounding, I accelerated and dove behind a car. I tried to regulate my breathing as he searched for me. His footsteps would get louder, then softer, then silent, then louder again. What was he doing? I clapped my hand over my mouth when I heard gunshots fired.
“Are you scared, Ava?” he bellowed from behind me. I let out a long piercing cry, and ran back towards the house. Silhouettes of houses rolled past me as I began to run more quickly, and unsteadily. The only illumination was the crowd of stars etched into the black sky.
I was babbling now, stricken with fear. I flailed my arms as blur of flashing lights and sirens rolled up to me.
“Where is he?” called an armed policewoman. A string of syllables escaped my lips. I tried to stop crying, but I couldn’t find my voice. I tried to make sense of the tangled words in my throat, but all I could do was cling to the open door of the police car.
A tall man with dark curls stepped into view, with Cameron struggling in his grasp. Cameron’s hands were pinned behind his back, as the police
officer slapped handcuffs on him.
Red and blue light was painted on his face each time the lights on top of the car flashed. They almost seemed to peel away a layer of him each time they hit his face, making his evil side more and more blatant. I got one good look into his piercing green eyes before they shoved him in the back of the car. Before this day, I could have sworn they were blue.
Another police car drove up to me, and gestured for the other to leave.
“Did you know that man, miss?” asked the policeman. The police car disappeared into the darkness with a stranger in the backseat.
“No, I didn’t,” I replied truthfully. “I didn’t know him at all.”