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My parents, James and Melissa Thomas, couldn’t have their own children so they decided to adopt. I was placed in foster homes until I was five, then found and adopted by James. They tried to adopt before, but the father of the child they first chose took him from his mother. My parents didn’t think it was right to take that child since the mother did not give him willingly, so his birth certificate was returned to her in exchange for me, a sickly pale girl. They found me and loved me. They decided to let me keep my original name, saying I could change it later if I wanted to, and I am still Belen Marie Everard. My birth mother, also Belen, had more children before and possibly after me. I must have a mix of nationalities to have been given a name like that. Yet I was a nothing more than a shadow in my first family, unnoticed and unwanted. So I was finally adopted to be given medical and emotional attention. After that, life was easy and uncomplicated like I wanted it. That was the way it was supposed to be and the way it would stay.
Shadows give things volume and reality but are stepped on or pushed in the background. The person I want to be is the one pushing everyone else forward. I choose to be unnoticed. I matter in the process, not in the final product, not in the spotlight. I’m about what’s real, not just what looks good on the outside. I’m often either very small or invisible. Being this way helps me see things from both sides. People often complain about my stubbornness, but I have an excuse: I’m an artist. I’m living my favorite dream. I am who I want to be.
Growing up here was a luxury. I had everything I needed and then some. We had a million dollar home with no one in it and a cabin in Lemon Cove that we visited every summer. We would rent part of our large home out to new members in the local church, thus contributing to society. My mother also had compassion for abandoned animals, so I was never at a loss for pets. The hospital’s abundant supply of chemo patients often kept my dad away from home at strange hours. I never minded the extra time alone. The stillness of an empty room was a gift, even a thrill. I was taught that it was a sin to be anyone beside your self and I lived in that. My frustrations were vented through tears; crying is a wet version of strength. Friends were hard to make and hard to keep, few of them understood me. It’s a cliché for teenagers to feel misjudged and it reminded me that I was just like all the others, nothing special. I never quite understood the concept of normal, but that would change soon.
Bianca Daniel was one of our first tenants. She and her mother moved into the apartment above our house when she was fifteen. I remember exactly what she looked like the day I met her day with her glistening complexion as she radiated a huge smile on her ruddy cheeks. Her countenance showed her new inner happiness. The lights shone on her silky brunette hair neatly pulled back in a more professional look. Her beautiful frame hugged my thin lumpy one; her hugs breathed life into my days. Even though she was four years older than me, she was my most special friend. We spent the rest of our teen years together almost every day. I learned to trust people because of her. She let me know it was normal and good to be open about my feelings.
Only she could have convinced me to do anything dangerous, like trying escargot, shopping with other people, or swimming in the ocean. Bianca broke enough of me out of my shell just in time for the most important month of my life. When I had just turned eighteen, we took our annual summer trip to Lemon Cove, and this time Bianca came. The clinic gave her two weeks off, and knowing that she worked late sifts, she loved the time off. The house was magnificent: a beautiful log cabin that overlooked the lake right on Sierra drive. I loved the cove for two reasons: because it was small and rural, away from society and because it was quiet.
There were only two local churches, and Bianca had to convince me to visit at least one. I had to ask Dad for the car, which I obviously made her drive. We went to the ten-o clock Sunday morning service of the Presbyterian church together for the first time. I was so nervous that I couldn’t concentrate on the message. Bianca was as outgoing as ever. The youth of the church were more than friendly and I slowly began to socialize after a few weeks. Bianca had her eye on a guy named Luke Fox, a tall dark handsome one. Beside his apparent youth and charm, he was musically talented and had a deep voice. He was just right for her, and Bianca’s “type” was a rare find. He went for her right away, but she didn’t make it easy for him. She tried to explain to me about men, but I didn’t quite have her taste. After spending endless nights on this fascinating subject I made up my mind about exactly what I wanted in a man: I wanted someone who loved me for exactly who I was, not who he wanted me to be. I always dreamed that he would find me someday.
There were more girls than guys which was fortunate for me. I was more at ease. Bianca introduced me to Luke’s identical cousins Leigh and Carys Denton. Leigh was shy like me so I understood her better. She was bright but she hid a lot. Because our group stood in a circle, I noticed that she looked away from one of the guys. He quickly glanced around to see if anyone had seen their cold unspoken communication. There was more to her that I wanted to know. I wondered if Bianca felt the same about me at first. Carys was as beautiful as her sister with wavy but shorter blonde hair, almond eyes. big cheeks and pearly whites. She was Leigh’s exact opposite, a talkative impulsive girl. Bianca would call her spunky. As we talked on and on, I grew quickly atattched to Leigh and we became better acquainted. Luke’s stepbrother Seth seemed to take a liking to me as well but his enthusiasm made me nervous.
We both enjoyed art and music. Carys and Bianca liked fashion and movies. It was strange to see our one group of four unconsciously split into two. We got along anyhow and we did everything together that summer. My life seemed to have more meaning now that I was surrounded by people and they weren’t so frightening after all. I was happy.
As Leigh and I opened up to each other, she started to talk more about her past with Seth Safford. He was the one whose look troubled her the other night. We went to the one deli in town on a Friday together after we drove by the cattle ranches; she didn’t mind driving. We split a 12 inch turkey sandwich as we sat down to talk. I silently scraped the mayonnaise off the bread with a black plastic knife.
“Sorry, I didn’t know,” she apologized softly.
“Don’t worry about it. Tell me abut Seth,” I prompted.
She looked out the window to the empty street. I waited for her to tell me when she was ready. She closed her eyes and let out a huge sigh.
She seemed a bit reluctant but was determined to let it out of her system. Her thin white glasses were falling off her nose and she pushed them up, taking a deep breath. She started off telling how she’d known him for the majority of her life. One summer he came back changed and started hitting on her. He followed her around everywhere. He was relentless. As she started to talk to him, he didn’t seem so bad. She was on her way to meet him at the antique shop one night. It was the last place anyone would think to look, she explained. He never showed. She was so disappointed that she started to walk home. Hot tears hugged her cheeks as she hung her head in the warm night air. On her way home she passed the café on Avenue 324 and she saw him in the window with the waitress, Tessa Reed. Apparently he got his dates wrong one night and she walked in on them. She was so angry with him that she dumped a pitcher of ice water on his head and stormed out. She ran the rest of the way home.
Even though I had only known Leigh for a short time, I felt for her and was shocked that he would hurt her like that. Needless to say, the next Sunday morning was tense for the both of us. I didn’t want to be close to a guy who liked any girl he could get his hands on. Seth understood by our looks that we didn’t want to be anywhere near him. Luke suggested that we all go mini golfing that night to break the ice. I’m sure he meant well. He also wanted to introduce us all to his best friend Tod who was driving up to the cove that night. I could see that Bianca was thrilled by the way she answered for both of us knowing I had no other plans. She still did it knowing how nervous I was to meet new people.
I took her up on it back at the cabin.
“You need this,” she said. “It will be good for you.”
“Bia, I freeze, you know that. Why did you say I would go?”
“Did you have an excuse not to go?”
“No.” I lowered my head.
“It’s settled then.” Bianca’s triumphant grin spread out across her face.
I winced in fear but she wouldn’t budge. She continued :
“Carys told me Seth’s friend Tod is adorable.”
Knowing Seth now, I looked at Bianca slightly disgusted. “I thought you liked Luke…”
She ignored the confused look on my face, “Yes I do, but maybe you should-“
“No I shouldn’t meet him,” I cut in, ”I’ll faint.”
“You will not faint. You can do this Belen.”
“I don’t know anything about him.” I tried to find excuses without explaining to her why I was so set against him already.
“Now’s the time to find out.” she finished.
Bianca left the room with great satisfaction; she always had the last word with no remorse. I shook my head in disbelief, feeling slightly betrayed by my own best friend. I lowered my head again to concentrate on the fast drying nail polish. My favorite red hue sparkled in the light. The small market in town had a very small beauty section, a small checkout counter and a rather large line. It was worth it to stand there for half an hour to buy two bags of cracker jacks and a red jar nail polish. My fingers were now sticky from the syrup and it made me thirsty too.
I wondered what the night would bring. My heart did back flips when I thought of Tod, and I didn’t even know why. I hated him simply because he knew Seth. I never took Bianca’s word for anything, why should I start now? Was this a set up? Who was this guy and why was a so nervous to meet him? Maybe because you’re afraid to meet everyone my inner voice told me. Oh, right. What was there to like? I tilted my head slightly as I looked at myself in the mirror going over every inch. My hair was short, brown and curly, which in English equaled a bird’s nest. Basically, I looked like a Shirley Temple clone. My skin was soft but white as sheets, and I had freckles. Do guys even like freckles? Probably not, my inner voice responded instantly. I told myself to shut up. My eyes at least were a nice light blue. Nevertheless, I could not be wholly discontented with my features. A sudden sharp noise interrupted my thoughts. I peeked out the door to see Mom standing on a chair: Dad’s cigarette set off the fire alarm. I kept reminding him that he’ll kill himself with those blasted things.
I tried to keep my thoughts occupied on the latest book I was reading; it beat doing nothing. Three more hours dragged on until Bianca finally announced that I had five minutes left to get ready. I dreaded this moment but there was nothing I could do to back out now. I dug through my large duffel bag and inspected its contents. I chose a pair of denim Capri pants, brown flats, a sweater I bought in London and a green cami with a white abstract print. Instantly I fingered my neck and jumped up in surprise as I noticed my favorite necklace was missing. I wouldn’t go anywhere on earth without it. Losing it would be a disaster but not wearing it would be worse. Bianca presented it to me after my Grandmother Adele passed away. She helped me through the hardest emotional point of my life and the necklace reminded constantly me of her friendship. She was exactly what I needed. It meant everything to me. My cold fingers carefully lifted the delicate pure gold chain out of its box. Opening the tiny clasp in the back was frustrating. I managed it after a long struggle and straightened it out as I lifted my neck from its cramped position. I examined my appearance in the mirror: I was happy with the way I looked. I hoped this would satisfy Bianca. There was nothing to do with my hair but put a simple headband in it and let the curls fall where they may. Bianca barged into the bathroom and gave me a nod of approval in the mirror as she stood behind me. I lingered as long as I could until she was tired of waiting.
“Let’s go.” She finally forced me out.
“Bye Mom, bye dad!” I half called half yelled as I was pulled out the door.
The place was nearby so I didn’t have to listen to Bianca’s constant chatter for long. She met up with Carys and Luke right away, and I went with Leigh. We were left with Seth. Knowing how uncomfortable we were around him, he left us alone and went to the arcade. Leigh let out a sigh of relief and we went on to the ticket booth. It was fifteen dollars on Fridays, twenty on weekdays. We walked into the building to find an arcade. The park was outdoors and was lit up at night with blue lights for a gorgeous view. It was decorated well with eighteen holes a waterfall and a river with a bridge. Every five holes there was a decorated hole, one with a bridge, another with a volcano, the third with a large hippo and the very last one was a castle. The park was nearly empty that night. The crescent moon glowed beautifully in the night sky above us.
Leigh brought me back out of my daydreams and let me start the game. I was new to this but the enthusiasm of the other group made me eager to try. Leigh held the bucket of balls in her left hand and handed me a club with her right. My fingers surrounded the club with a strong grip and I swung at the ball. It bounced over the hill into the small river next to hole three. The other group ahead of us turned to look at the clumsy person responsible for the mishap and Leigh giggled. She reminded me to be gentle as my cheeks blushed a bright red. I tried again and got the ball about three inches away from the hole.
After Leigh and I had gone through the next five holes, we noticed four more people had come to play. A young couple and their son started at hole one but the fourth person who walked in went to sit on a bench. I looked at the couple while Leigh took her next swing. She hadn’t noticed them. The father bent over the little boy’s body and helped him swing. He was excited to hit the ball and I smiled as I watched. My eyes wandered back to the fourth person. I found it odd that he wasn’t looking for anybody. He looked up and saw me staring and I quickly looked away. It didn’t matter to me who he was anyway. I redirected my attention back to my course. I hit the ball to softly this time. Apparently my new spectator was making me nervous. I shook my head in slight frustration after another try but Leigh encouraged me to continue. I would go for one last try on hole six but before I was ready to start Bianca came up behind me to scare me. As she did, she tripped on herself and was about to knock me over like a domino effect. I tried to avoid her push but as I turned to move aside I fell backward into the river and hit my head on the concrete. My body didn’t have time to recover from the shock and pain before I saw an unfamiliar figure bend over me in a black haze.
Missouri City, Texas
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