Burnt.

This is pretty rough, and rather long, but I still really love it and maybe you will too?
Much love.

 

She’d barely looked at me all night. No one had noticed much except me, and her I guess. She sat unattainable through a fog of gossip and girlfriends, as far away from me as possible.
My friends knew of course, they shot me amused and questioning looks every time she refused to make eye contact with me. She hadn’t known I’d be there, I hadn’t known she’d be there. We were practically swimming in the awkward.
Obviously her friends didn’t know. They didn’t raise their eyebrows at her once; I never felt a hostile stare on my back. Their glances were completely oblivious behind the identical make-up and pin-straight hair.
Her friend Arianna, some loud and wiry girl my friend Shane had gotten together with, was one of her best friends which was the only reason for out two groups were hanging out together. Something we never ever did before they hooked up.
Shane and Arianna’s short lived fling was also the only reason I knew Sophie’s middle name, about her fear of toasters, her dream to open a bookstore someday. I remember just a couple short weeks ago when my cell phone was always alight with some new fact about her, some fresh piece of information. I almost found her interesting on rare occasions.
She was pretty; pretty enough, and she liked hearing it. What girl didn’t? I had become somewhat of an expert in the field of giving girls that particular comment. A lot of guys weren’t as strategic about it as I was. If you said it all the time, they got used to it and if it became too excessive, they think you’re creepy. But on the other hand, if you never say it they get insecure and might start looking elsewhere. A happy medium produced the maximum effect.
Parking lot rendezvous, very common among the teenagers wanting to be together and talk but not actually wanting to go into a restaurant or store or anything.
Idle gossip and f-bombs littered the air around us like cigarette butts populated the ocean of pavement at our feet.
She wasn’t talking much. After I’d dropped her I didn’t think she’d have much to say anyway. Once you hurt them they practically disappear, which is convenient.
I don’t remember who had brought the fireworks, but by July second they were everywhere.
The first bottle rocket exploded in the sky in a beautiful golden shower of independence. And then another, and another.
“Hey Grif, let me have a shot,” I said, stepping off his truck bed.
I’d been relatively chill the entire evening because as much as I didn’t really care, it was still a bit awkward seeing her. But I was itching to set off one of those bottle rockets.
Griffin turned to hand me the rocket, an old Corona bottle, and a Zippo. My heart was pumping as the wick caught fire and I dropped the firework into the bottle. The air smelled like gunsmoke.
I held it out away from my body as I watched the wooden wick blacken centimeter by cemtimeter.
Griffin leaned over and jokingly whispered to me, “Is this for your lad-ayy??”
I cracked up and turned to look at him, dipping with the tickle of a chuckle in my stomach. The bottle’s mouth tilting away from the sky the exact second it exploded.
It happened so fast, I only had a fraction of a second for irrational panic before the wily, hell-bent bottle rocket skidded against her white, slightly freckled cheek.
A white hot flash of light, her scream, a collapse.
“Sophie!” Arianna screamed.
“Shit!”
Every body around me flocked to Sophie’s crumpled form on the black top.
I couldn’t move. I was literally paralyzed to the spot with fear. If that split second had been irrational panic, then this was rational panic. Blinding, paralyzing, real, rational panic. My insides felt like jelly on fire. I couldn’t look at her, what if I’d burned her face off?
No one even noticed me standing there, rooted to the spot. My heart was racing to fast it felt like it was going to take flight any second. I was terrified. Would she sue me?
The mob of my friends around Sophie heaved and dipped as they tried to pull her to her feet.
She screamed with pain and clutched at her cheek. I buried my face in my hands and turned away, trying to control the surging, swelling tide of guilt that had just broken free inside me. I could barely keep my arms suspended because they were shaking so badly.
I turned just in time to see Griffin carrying Sophie in his arms, Shane supporting her head, Arianna supporting her feet, Emily hovering, and Allison running ahead to unlock her car and wrench the back door open.
Their shouts were all around me, but I didn’t even hear them. And there was that awful, putrid moment that I’ll never forget as long as I live. The moment we locked eyes.
My heart was writhing in guilt and fear. Through the cracks between her fingers I saw every ounce of pain she had inside her reflected through those features.
They eased her into Allison’s car and flocked to their own.
“Derrick!” Shane’s rough voice broke through my stupor. “Southeast Methodist, let’s go!” he shouted and jumped into Griffin’s truck like a muscled rag doll.
I’d come alone, so I ran to get into my car just as panicked and determined as everyone else had.
I turned the key in the ignition as Allison’s car sped out of the lot. Put the car in gear as Shane and Griffin pealed out in the truck. I went to slam my foot into the gas to follow but… I couldn’t.
I sat there for hours.
No matter how many times I told myself ‘just go’ I couldn’t shake the swelling, cool panic building in me. That hospital was the last place on earth I wanted to be. Everyone there, sitting next to me, blaming me, judging me. When the blaze calmed down, they’d all turn on me. And when her parents came, I had no idea what I’d do. I might’ve been able to push through all that. I might’ve had the balls to just shut up and drive to that hospital of it wasn’t for that look she’d given me. That ‘I can’t believe you did this to me’ look that was imprinted in my skull forever.
The longer I sat in that parking lot, the harder it was to talk myself into going. I couldn’t go home and just go on with my life, but I couldn’t go see her, see what I did to her. So there I sat, for way too long, just replaying the whole thing in my head over and over. Making myself sicker and sicker. I had no peace.
I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket a few times, sending angry, tingly feelings up my leg. I knew it was them, wondering where I was. I didn’t answer and soon it fell silent.
It was around 1:30 AM when I finally dragged my tired ass home. I knew my mom would be suspicious if I was out too late and there was absolutely no way I could handle an interrogation.

Her friends targeted me first with text messages. It was almost immediate. They called me a coward, heartless, an unfeeling piece of shit. They tried to force me into going and visiting Sophie, to tell her I was sorry and terrible for doing it, yada, yada, yada. I got a lot of those from a lot of her friends, but never from her. I didn’t hear from her at all.
As per human nature, this made me want to go even less than I already did.
I never responded to any of their texts, though it really pissed me off that they were calling me weak and cowardly to the point where I did decide to go.
I actually got up early on July fourth so I could go see her at the hospital. While I was possibly walking right onto a parent landmine, I wouldn’t have to deal with the friend landmine and that would make it a little easier for me.
I drove up to Southeast Methodist wondering why a religion would call themselves something with the word “meth” in it. I hoped it wasn’t closed, being the fourth of July and all.
When I walked in I didn’t know what to expect. There were a few couches, a coffee and muffin kiosk, and the bite of an overworking air conditioner chilled me the second I stepped inside. Over to the left I saw a desk that looked promising and official with a few RN’s sifting through papers behind it.
“Hello,” said a chipper, old nurse as I walked up.
“Hi, I’m looking for Sophie…” Oh shit what was her last name? “Collins. Do you know what room she’s in?” I asked.
The nurse offered me a slight smile, “Honey, visiting hours aren’t until four.”
“Oh.” Damn. I didn’t think I’d be able to come back at four. “Okay.” I turned to leave, my cheeks slightly reddening from embarrassment.
“Hey, wait,” the nurse called behind me.
I turned to find her thinking hard about something.
“Sophie Collins, didn’t she come in with a firework burn?”
“Yeah.”
“I’m pretty sure she went home yesterday morning,”
I didn’t respond because she started typing something into the computer.
“Ah, yes,” she said, “Sophie went home yesterday, honey. I guess if you want to see her you’ll have to go to her house.”
“Okay thanks,” I said, wanting to go to her house less than I wanted to smash my Xbox.
“And you should bring flowers. Girls love flowers,” she tucked a strand of her grayish brown hair behind her ear, still smiling.
I offered her a little, pained smile in return before leaving.

As the weeks started to pass, I began to forget about it. She was out of the hospital so she must be okay, right? And as far as I knew, nobody had contacted me about a lawsuit or having to pay for her medical care.
I started to feel better although I still couldn’t answer those texts saying things like ‘I heard what happened, are you okay?’ from the handful of girls I was talking to. It made me feel too guilty when I tried to respond.
The rest of July faded too quickly, as well as those first two weeks of August before school reared its ugly head once more.
I thought about what would happen when we would start to see each other at school again. I hadn’t seen her, heard of her, or heard from her in months. She hadn’t made me pay for anything. I mean, it was a total freak accident, it could have come from anyone.
This was what I told myself as I was registering for junior classes, wondering if I would see her.
I didn’t.
I tried just forgetting about all of it. It was all in the past. Her face was probably all fixed by now anyway.
By the first day of classes I had pushed her completely out of my mind. I had entertained for a while the fantasy that she would switch schools or move away and I’d never have to see her again. I think I wanted it to happen so much that I actually started to believe it.
Halfway through swirling , never ending lectures on proper classroom procedures and mind numbing boredom. Despite all that, I was relieved I hadn’t seen any trace of her. We went to a big school, there was a good chance of our paths never crossing.

It was the most awful thing I’d ever seen, that burn up her face.
I almost stopped dead in my tracks in the middle of the lunchroom when I saw her. My nails dug into the flimsy Styrofoam of my lunch tray as I wobbled and almost caked the floor with pizza and 2% milk.
It was definitely not all fixed. The ragged, curling scars looked like flames themselves, marring the skin up and down her jawline and right up to the corner of her eye. I felt positively sick from the onslaught of repressed guilt.
She caught my eye for a moment. I fully expected it to be like the last time she looked at me, dripping with hatred and contempt. But her gaze was cool, neutral, superior. For that fleeting second we were connected by our glances she raised her eyebrows ever so slightly. Like she was acknowledging me, like she was challenging me.
I had no idea what to do. I think my mind lost the ability to function the nanosecond before I quickly moved on.
I thought I was free after that moment, but of course that wasn’t the case. Not if seventh period chem. had anything to say about it.
I sat a few seats behind her and whenever she tilted her head a certain way, I saw the stupid thing and I fought the urge to punch the wall and run out.
People knew too, which made the situation even more unbearable. I tried tapping my pen, shifting in my seat. The stares, that gnawing guilt, that scar. Damn. Damn that Griffin and his damn joke. Damn!
A week. I lasted a week. She didn’t look at me again, but I felt her cool, neutral, superiority within the freeze out. I tried to forget it, she seemed fine. It was just that scar. That damn scar. That spiraling, ugly burn along the edge of her face was making me crazy.
i need sophies address.I typed to Shane and sent it before I could talk myself out of it.
He took ten minutes for him to respond. I knew for a fact he had his phone on him because he was talking to a few new girls.
dnt have it. He finally responded.
I sighed, yes u do. When u were dating arianna u took her there, u hung out there.
A few more minutes passed before he said, i can give u directions but i dnt no the street #.
thx, wat r they?

She had a red door. It was tall too. I can’t remember ever seeing a door that tall, or that red.
I stalled.
I stood outside that tall, red door for five whole minutes. The only reason I knocked as soon as I did was because the guy next door trimming his hedges kept giving me suspicious looks.
Some awkward-around-the-middle blonde woman answered before I could start panicking about what to say.
“Hello, can I help you?”
Shit. She was polite. Polite put pressure on me to be polite as well.
“Hi, uh. Is, uh, Sophie home?” I finally forced out, shifting my stance, shifting my gaze shifting my hands from the right pocket to the left.
The woman gave me a tight, close-lipped smile, “Yes she is.”
She opened the door wider and stepped back so I could come in.
“Thanks,” I said quietly.
“Sophie’s, uh,” she ran a hand through her stiff crew cut, “Um, uh, upstairs. In her room.”
She seemed a little flustered and unsure about sending a boy up to her daughter’s room.
I wondered if she knew, or at least suspected. How could I make her like me? I wracked my brain for an answer.
“Don’t worry, I’ll knock,” I said.
The tight smile returned. “First door on the left.”
I wasn’t sure if it had had the desired effect. “Thanks.”
I took a deep breath, no turning back now.
Living on a prayer, I ascended the stairs and tapped my fist against the first door on the left. Some soft core pop rock song was emitting faintly from a room down the hall.
“Come in,” I heard her voice behind the door.
Carefully I turned the knob and opened it.
She was lounging on the bed, her back propped up by overlapping pillows and a book in her lap.
I slowly let myself in and closed the door behind me. The entire room smelled of vanilla and it brought me back to that night a few weeks before the burn. Vanilla scent on her neck, my hand covering half of her back.
She was wearing those short, Capri pant things and the first glimpse I had of her was of her ankles. Out of nowhere I noticed she had really delicate, beautiful ankles. Her head was angled so that I could only see a sliver of her burn.
I anticipated some sort of dramatic reaction. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was expecting, maybe a bitter stare, or harsh words, a scream for me to get out. Instead her eyes flitted from her reading for a mere second before returning to their previous occupation.
It was a full moment before she asked “Can I help you?” almost exactly like her mother had. Neutral, unassuming, not a trace of hostility in its midst.
“I just wanted to come by and…” She was paying attention to me now, “see if you’re okay.”
“I’m fine, how about you?” she asked, flashing a vaguely confident smile in my direction. It was so different than the one before the kiss a few months ago. The shy one that let me know I was in control.
“I’m okay.”
She sat up, crossed her legs and put the book down beside her
“So to what do I owe you paying me such a spur of the moment call?” Her long, curly, blonde ponytail was perched high on her head and off to the left.
Paying a what? “Uhh.”
“Did you stop by just to chat?” She pulled down on the hemline of her tee shirt.
“Or are you here to get my chem notes?”
She was playing with me. It was uncomfortable.
“Oh… you’re here about this.” She turned her head so the right side of her face was completely visible. Bumpy, ragged, curling burns and all.
“Took you a while. I’d all but given up hope.” Her voice wasn’t at all mean or hostile, even now.
“I didn’t- I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
The playfulness seemed to drain out of her features, “I know you didn’t.”
She pressed her lips together, they were pale pink and shiny. I remembered the feeling of them on mine. I remembered a dark corner at a raging pool party, I remembered a sharp intake of air, I remembered her expression of betrayal.
“You’re different,” I observed.
The smile returned to her face and she smoothed back a few strands of hair. “Yeah well, I had a lot of time to think over the summer. Didn’t really want to see much of anyone. Which to the untrained eye might seem like flagrant and overly-dramatic self pity, but it wasn’t. At least after the first week.”
She stretched her arms out and I noticed that her wrists, like her ankles, were delicate, perfect, and oddly beautiful.
“I mean, whoever said ignorance was slavery was absolutely right. Truly, the things you can find out with just a little introspection. It’s fascinating.
I fidgeted and shoved my hands into my pockets. “What did you find out?”
She looked down at her hands for a moment, then back up to me, her face emitting a gentle severity.
“Hmm, well, I found out that low self esteem didn’t become me. I found out that the person I was before this burn was just some silly girl destined to become the victim in any bad high school cliché,” her voice sounded really raw, really honest, “And I found out that you are who you are and I can do nothing about it. The day I realized that was the day I stopped hating you.”
She coolly tilted her gaze to the window and I had this weird, achy feeling in my chest when I saw her profile.
“I didn’t want you to hate me, I just couldn’t… go.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured.”
Stuffing my hands in my pockets again, I meandered to the window and looked out.
The view was of some goddamn suburban wonderland. Minivans galore, kids outside playing basketball, the man I’d seen before was still trimming his hedges. I don’t know why but it ruffled me a little. My ’98 Subaru was parked along the side of Sophie’s almost too lush, almost too green yard. I kind of wished I was driving away in it and I kind of didn’t.
“Why did you finally come here?” she asked.
I turned to see her leaning back again, thumbing through her hair distractedly. Her head was now facing forward and I felt like I was talking directly to her scar.
“I’m just… I’m, uh, sorry. About. Everything.”
She didn’t say anything, just kept twisting her hair between her fingers. I was getting used to the scar. Bleached white in the sunlight, you could barely see it.
When a full minute passed without a word between us, I began to get anxious.
“Do you-“
“I forgive you.”
A wave of relief washed over me and the weird, achy feeling in my chest returned.
“I think I might like you again,” I said before I even had time to think about it.
She smiled, a small smile that I could only half see.
I was so in again. With that scar who else would date her?
She turned to me full on and something about her smile made me uneasy.
“You know,” she started, “The thing is, I didn’t expect anything less from you. It’s a good thing I’ve accepted that this is just who you are or I might have thrown you out of that window by now.”
Shit.
“Yes I’ve said that I don’t hate you. But that doesn’t mean that I will ever like you. Yes I’ve said that I forgive you, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever trust you,” she pulled her knees up to her chest and looked at me like I was out of my mind.
“Will anything make you see that you ruin people, especially yourself?”
She looked away and took a deep breath. “I just, I know now that I deserve better.”
She turns to me, looking more gorgeous and more unattainable than I’ve ever seen her.
I wonder if I should’ve brought flowers.

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~ by Jade Elizabeth on September 8, 2011.

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