Carolina

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Start your story with somebody taking a photo.... view prompt

9 comments

Drama Romance

The first time I meet her is in a photo, behind a beautiful pane of glass, outlined by the curves of an oak frame. I imagine that the crowds of graduates, friends, and family were bustling loudly around them. Tears of pride and joy streaked down their faces as bear hugs were handed out like penny candy at a birthday party. The sky behind them is blue, cloudless. Perfect. I’m so certain her mother pushed them together for the photo. Pulled out her phone and shot five or six of the same exact moment.


This girl has her arms wrapped around his neck, her princess pink nails perfectly polished. She has this soft, sparking smile, with full lips that even I want to kiss. Her cheeks have a glow to them with a hint of blush that sparkled in the sunlight. He is guffawing in the photo. His green eyes sparkle and shine. A smile creeps across my face as I trace those lips which I know to be soft as a rose. They both wear bright, royal purple caps and gowns. The gold tassels hang down, pulled by a soft breeze into their faces. “Who are you?” I whisper before I tuck the photo back in the bedside table, and look over at him sleeping in bed. His eyelids flutter softly. His lips are parted slightly. And I am in love. 


I toss on his T-shirt and pad over to the bathroom. I glance over at him, still sleeping, and softly close the white door behind me. The bathroom is a boy’s bathroom with toothpaste and poky little hairs scattered all over the once white sink. I smile at his metal razor and shaving cream jammed in one corner as I turn on the faucet. The face staring back at me is some bizarre, racoon version of the girl I was last night. The water warms quickly and I splash some on my face before my hands fumble for a bar of soap. I grasp it in my palms, lather up, and wash down. The water is hot, not just warm, but I grin and bear it during the second rinse. That’s when I realize there’s no hand towel. I tuck my wet hands under the T-shirt and pat my face dry with that. It smells like him: soft skin, a hint of beer, and cinnamon cologne. My nose opens and inhales deeply.


I amble into the kitchen and begin rifling through the drawers, desperately searching for coffee to cure this hangover.


Anderson lumbers into the kitchen wearing a stained white T with holes and a pair of bright green boxers, and then, upon seeing me, back out. “Sorry, didn’t know Conner had,” he looked me up and down twice, “Company.”


“You should really do the dishes,” I shoot him a look over my steaming cup of Joe which I soften with a cheeky grin.


“Right back ‘atcha,” Anderson aims finger guns at me and strolls out. I make a second cup of coffee for Connor. I returned to his room, cradling his coffee in my hand and place it on his bedside table. My eyes are drawn to the matching one I had invaded twenty minutes ago, on the other side of the bed, and I wonder if he knows I snooped. His eyes open slowly. I grin at him and kiss his forehead, “Good morning, sleepyhead.” He groans and reaches for his coffee. “I was thinking we could go for breakfast. Maybe Lucy’s?” I propose. Connor rubs his eyes and I can see him as a child. I imagine his little twin bed covered with a rocketship bedspread. This idea makes me giggle. “What?” he asks and looks up at me.


“Breakfast?” I curse the hope that lingers in my voice. Connor looks at me for a moment. It’s a peculiar glance like he can’t really remember how he got to his room, how I got into his bed. 


I look down at my bare toes, noticing the chipped nail polish. “I’m, um, not really up for breakfast today,” Connor says. He examines my crestfallen face. “But um,” he pats the bed and I sit obediently next to him, “We got that essay due next week. So will you maybe, like, look over mine?” I nod excitedly and he kisses my cheek,“You’re the best, Daisy Girl. I’ll text you, ok?” I nod and wedge my feet into the black stilettos I wore to the party.


“Can I keep the shirt?” I ask as I walk out the door.


“Mmmhmmm,” Connor agrees and flops back down onto the bed. I leave the mug on the kitchen counter, find my shirt, and begin the walk from floor two to floor three. 


After a quick shower at home, I brush out my hair, and begin my makeup before walking to the campus bookstore I work at. All through my shift, I check my phone. Connor still hasn’t texted. I return to an empty apartment. I turn on a TV show for background noise and prepare a chicken breast with some Mac and Cheese. Steam and the scent of spices fill our kitchen. My phone is at its highest volume. I half heartedly eat my dinner and upon seeing no new messages at 8pm, down a glass of red wine from the box in our fridge. It burns hot and fast. I am drunk in minutes.


Against my better judgment, and maybe because I’m still a bit drunk, I text Connor around 9:30pm, asking when we might meet up. It takes a bit, but he texts back “tomorrow at 3pm”. I am giddy with delight.


The following afternoon, I walk from the apartment to our tiny university cafe. My clock on my phone says 2:40pm when I walk in so I order a vanilla latte and take my seat. I pull up my essay on the importance of healthy food in cafeterias. I lose myself in the process of writing. Connor scares me as he slouches into his seat. I press pause on a love song and frown at the time: 3:15pm.


I sigh and take out my earbuds. He sighs and pushes my laptop against his as he pulls up his essay. “Hey,” he mumbles as he pulls up his document. We awkwardly finagle passing our devices back and forth to one another. He finishes reading my twelve pages in ten minutes. I, on the other hand, take my time. Connor is brilliant. His pieces always blow me away. His topic is about defining nutrition when providing aid from first world to third world nations. It’s provocative. My face contorts as I walk my way through his argument and consider my own thoughts, which Connor has now changed.


I take a long sip of my coffee, letting the bitter espresso dance across my tongue, letting the thick milk soothe it before saying, “Connor, it’s brilliant!” He grunts in reply. “No, I mean it. It’s really really good. How did you pick this topic?” I inquire.


“My mom,” he mumbles and passes me my computer back. I read through his notes and jump into editing.


“Connor?” I ask quietly as he zips his laptop into its gray case, “What are we?” I can hear my heartbeat pounding nervously in my chest. The butterflies have flown out of my stomach and seem to swirl all around us. I hear nothing, but the sound of the plastic zipper slowly moving across its track. 


“What do you mean?” he asks. 


My stomach drops, “I mean, we’ve, you know?” I move my hands around to indicate sex. “But, um,” I clear my throat and reach for my empty cup before setting it back down on the table, “We haven’t gone on like, a real date.” I press my back against the chair and dry my sweaty palms with frustration on my jeans. “I just, you know,” I bite my lip and meet his gaze, “Maybe do you think I could have you over for the holidays with my family this year?” The silence is deafening. Connor leans across the table and kisses me. It shuts me up. I feel his familiar tongue which tastes like sugar, exploring. I give in. 


“Daisy Girl,” he starts in a low voice, “I’ve been distracted, I know. From us. But you’re important, ok?” He tilts my chin up so I can really see the sincerity in his eyes. “My mom is hosting a friendsgiving, why don’t you come?” he suggests and I feel my heart soar. I nod eagerly and we return to his bed to solidify our plan.


Using my holiday bonus, I buy a little black number with lace sleeves and matching red heels. I also splurge on a new clutch for the occasion. Connor swings by our door at 10am and saunters in, looking sharp in a black suit. “I have something for you,” he whispers after we pull apart from our kiss. He holds out a red velvet box. 


When I open it, I see a beautiful little daisy. Her petals are tiny pearls and her center is a little yellow stone. She sparkles in the daylight. “May I?” Connor asks. He takes the necklace and fastens it as I beam. “You look beautiful,” he breathes the words into my neck and traces soft kisses. I melt. He drives. Before I know it, we pulled into his parent’s driveway.


The house is navy blue with a red door. It’s adorned with a fall wreath with brown sticks and bright orange leaves. Connor doesn’t knock, just walks in. The whole place smells of cinnamon and I gaze longingly at the family photos decorating the entryway. Connor’s arm around my waist, warm, but assertive, pulls me to a sliding glass door. I see a small crowd gathered on a large patio. A few kids dart in and out of their parents’ legs and for a moment, butterflies reawaken. Connor kisses my cheek and slides open the door.


The crowd erupts in excitement as they gather around to meet me. Both his parents have his deep red hair, but he got his green eyes from his father. He is a tall man, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt advertising the local football team. After hugging her son, Mrs. Mccarthy moves to tend to the appetizers and talks me through the various dips and snack mixes. I am nibbling on a pretzel when I see her long, blonde braid. It sparkles in the sun like Rapunzel and cascades down her back like a waterfall. Mrs. Mccarthy pulls Connor from my arms and closer to her. She’s waving the girl from the photo over to him. 


“Look, Connor!” she gushes, “It’s Carolina.” Carolina stands six feet away from him, as if she’s nervous to be in his presence. She’s wearing a simple cotton blue dress. It looks like a piece of my grandmother’s china and I swallow my pretzel dry before marching over to claim my man. Carolina smells like Lilac. I instantly recognize her soft, creamy dollface.In contrast to me, she wears little makeup and pink gloss. The headband she chose, a white one covered in silk, looks like something I’d wear when I was ten. Her long thin arms are covered in a perfect cashmere sweater, which matches the dress, naturally. And now they’re hugging Connor.


After an embrace which lasts a bit too long for my taste, she thrusts a hand out. Her nails aren’t polished, but are neatly filed. As I shake her hand I notice the freckles and the green, green eyes. I take a deep breath as Mrs. Mccarthy makes conversation with Carolina. She tugs on her son’s suit jacket each time he attempts to excuse himself. I nod and listen to Carolina’s story. She’s a concert cellist on a full ride to the university three towns over. The one which rejected me a few years back. Naturally, her passions include volunteering at the animal shelter, leading Sunday bible study, and baking. My eyes don’t leave my feet, tightly balancing in stupid red heels. Carolina blushes when Connor looks at her. I resist the urge to cry as he laughs and tucks a golden strand of hair behind her ear. 


Mrs. Mccarthy sits me at the kids’ table which is at the other end of the patio by the door handle. It used to be the appetizer table. I politely quiet Connor’s protests and sit next to the kids. I sink into the little lawn chairs they have provided and raise my eyebrows at the blank turkey coloring sheet and four crayons placed by my plate. They ask me to examine their coloring and help me cut their meat. I hope Connor’s watching how amazing I am with kids. When I look up, I see he’s laughing with her. Carolina’s hand is on his shoulder. Mrs. Mccarthy and Mr. Mccarthy gaze at them adoringly. They all clink wine glasses and I smirk at my soda can. I stand abruptly and walk over to Connor. “Sweetheart,” my voice is loud and intrusive. Forty eyes suddenly look at me. My chest flushes red. “Would you please show me to the restroom,” I soften my voice in this request. Connor begins untucking himself from the table and stands. 


“No, Connor!” protests Mr. Mccarthy. “It’s just in there-down the hall to the left,” he hooks a fat thumb over his shoulder.


“Dad,” begins Connor, “I can take her. I haven’t seen her all night.” I see Carolina’s face has a dark cloud pass over and I am delighted as we depart. I feel like I have finally won. We open the door and he shuts it behind us. The only sound is my heels on the wood floors. “Daisy Girl,” says Connor, “I’m so sorry, Daisy Girl.” I resist the urge to look at him because I know I will start crying if I do. “Carolina is the daughter of my mom’s best friend. I-” he stutters, “I didn’t know she’d be here. If I did, I would’ve protested.” He takes my hand so he can look at me. My eyes brim with tears. “‘I’m gonna talk to my mom, I promise.” His arms pull me into him and I hear his heartbeat. Connor kisses the crown of my head and I clean myself up in the bathroom. 


Judy is Connor’s cousin. She is eight and pulls me into the living room on the carpet in front of the couch to examine her dolls after dinner. She is the best part of the night. I am lost in my childhood when the glass door opens. Our voices are quiet as I hear Connor and his mother enter. Their black leather couch hides me and Judy. “It’s fucking outrageous, Mom,” Connor’s almost yelling at her. “Why the hell would you invite her?” he demands. My heart swells with pride and I pretend to straighten her dress as I eavesdrop. 


“No. What is outrageous is that you broke that poor girl’s heart!” Mrs. Mccarthy’s voice cracks with emotion. 


“Because, Mom. She was moving three hours away from me! We couldn't make it work,” he’s exasperated. The faucet turns on and I can’t catch her full reply. All I hear is the word, “Tramp,” and I feel more tears start. We eat pie and I am not offered coffee with the adults. Carolina is batting at Connor’s arm like a playful kitten. The evening drags on until Connor approaches me and whispers, “Time to go.” His voice is even, but his breath stinks of alcohol. We say our goodbyes and I relish in Judy’s big, strong hug. We drive back in silence. Soft, Christmas carols play on the radio. When we arrive at the apartment complex, I climb the stairs to my floor. Connor kisses my cheek at the door, but I don’t invite him inside. 


Connor’s MIA for weeks, but I text him on the 18th out of desperation and at Penny’s insistence: Hey, I was thinking we could go to my parents’ for Christmas Eve since I met your family for Thanksgiving.


We should talk, he texts. We plan a coffee date the next day. I am a bundle of anxiety as I dress in jeans, a sheer black top, and heeled boots. I am toying with my necklace the whole drive there, while I order my latte, and as I sit waiting for Connor. The dark circles under his eyes frighten me and my brow furrows. He orders his coffee, but opts for a large. His cream and sugar is added and he sits in front of me. His eyes are red rimmed. “Daisy Girl,” he says softly and takes my hand, “Daisy Girl.” I lean in for a kiss and he sits back. My heart begins to break. Connor goes on a long rant which ends in the news that Carolina has been diagnosed with cancer. Connor is going back home at the end of the semester. Connor’s tone is calm and clear as he ends things. 


A few months later, Carolina sends out tasteful pearl white invitations to the wedding day which is June 30th. It’s salt in the wound when mine arrives. I’m sure he smoothed me over by claiming me as, “just a friend” to all who were at Thanksgiving. The focal of the invite is a photo from their engagement shoot. Carolina’s arms are wrapped around his neck, her princess pink nails perfectly polished. She has this soft, sparking smile, with full lips that even I want to kiss. Her cheeks have a glow to them with a hint of blush that sparkled in the sunlight. He is guffawing in the photo. His green eyes sparkle and shine. A smile creeps across my face as I trace those lips which I know to be soft as a rose. 

May 01, 2022 04:24

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9 comments

Riel Rosehill
18:06 May 18, 2022

Wow... This is amazing. I loved de description of the new photo at the end, matching the old one's at the beginning. I could really feel all the anxiety and discomfort Daisy felt throughout. Really great work with this one, Amanda!

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Amanda Lieser
23:28 May 27, 2022

Hi Riel! I’m so glad you loved this piece. It was one of my favorite ones to craft! I also love that you pointed out my mirroring. It’s one of my favorite things to read and write! Do you have a piece you’d like some feedback on? I’d love to repay the favor! Amanda

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Riel Rosehill
23:32 May 27, 2022

Thank you! I'd be super happy to get feedback on any of my stories. :)

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Kate Winchester
02:55 May 18, 2022

Hi Amanda, I really liked how the descriptions of the photos came full circle. I also like that Connor calls the MC daisy girl throughout the whole story. You do a great job of making the reader care about both characters. You could have villianized Connor, but you didn’t and I appreciated that. This is such a sad story, but it’s very well written. Great job!

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Amanda Lieser
23:27 May 27, 2022

Hi Kate! Always such a joy to get a comment from you. I love that you picked up at my choice to keep life itself the antagonist in this story. I’d like to repay the favor of your comment. Please send the title of one of your stories you’d like some feedback on. Much love! Amanda

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Kate Winchester
00:41 May 28, 2022

It’s always a pleasure reading your stories. 🥰 I would love feedback on Light at the End of the Tunnel or whichever one suits your fancy lol. Thanks!

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A.G. Scott
20:49 May 06, 2022

It's tagged drama and romance, but it's lowkey a horror story; things get worse and worse. Here's a transcript of my reaction as I was reading: "Oh, come on... oh, come on... oh, come on..." etc. You present this hard truth, and nobody's really right or wrong, it's just an impossible situation. I liked the full-circle idea with the twin descriptions of the photos at the beginning and end, but with a gutwrenching twist--a technique I'm fond of myself :). Overall well-written, the only thing I would say is that (for my taste) some of those lon...

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Amanda Lieser
23:55 May 06, 2022

Hello! Oh my gosh! I was so excited and touched that you read my story and commented! I love that you added in commentary. I really love mirror imagery in a story so when I saw this prompt I definitely saw it as an excuse to employ it. I went through and split up some of the longer paragraphs as you suggested. Please let me know any stories you’re itching for feedback on. :) Thanks again!

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A.G. Scott
20:55 May 07, 2022

Whatever tickles your fancy :) I'm proud of the newest one.

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