Romance Friendship Teens & Young Adult

"You take care of yourself," said Nursy, my surrogate mother in the orphanage who never saw me as the eighteen-year-old girl I was now. For Nursy, I would always be the thirteen-year-old burn victim she took under her wing five years ago.

She pressed a bulky brown envelope into my hand and folded my fingers over it. "This is your salary for all the years you worked as my assistant," Nursy's weeping openly now.

"Don't spend it all in one place." Nursy dried her tears long enough to look me over with pride in her eyes. "Fold your sleeves, it's spring."

I started to protest, but she insisted. "Just up to the elbow, right below your spots." She meant my burns, but she would never let me call them burns.

Mother Nursy, who convinced the other kids in the orphanage that the red spots on my body were nothing more than birthmarks inherited from my deceased father, was in charge of the rooftop garden. She was the only one who knew why I was scared to venture outside. She had been helping me get used to living normally for when I have to move out.

She sent me out to buy planters and seedlings from the local market alone and would threaten me with whatever punishment she could think of if I protested. I’d rushed out, my hoodie pulled low, and ran like the devil was after me toward the city square.

"Thank you, Nursy, I'll survive" I said, trying to keep the nerves out of my voice. I hugged her one last time before finally opening the door and leaving the orphanage for good.

The first few times I went out, I experienced panic so strong that I had to stop to calm myself. In one of those stops, I noticed a boy watching me from across the street. A street urchin dressed in mismatched clothes much like myself. He smiled widely calling out a name “Amanda!” I guessed he meant me, but I was too freaked out to respond normally. I walked faster and ducked inside our building immediately.

Amanda must have been my name then, but now I went by the name they gave me in the orphanage, Macy. I lost my memories at thirteen years old when I was thrown out of the window of a burning building. I survived, but all thoughts of who I was and who my folks had been were gone.

The same stalker boy was now standing in the front yard holding a bunch of wildflowers. In my head, I named him Stalkie. He was smiling at me like we were friends.

“Your maintenance guy told me you’re moving out today, so I stopped by,” Stalkie said, holding out the flowers to me, which I ignored. His face fell. “I guess I should have brought food, huh?” 

“I’m sorry, but I’ve had amnesia. Maybe I knew you then, but I don’t know you now. Excuse me.” I walked around him toward the street but he fell into step with me. I furtively pulled a lock of my thick hair so that it covered my scarred forehead.

“I know you have amnesia, and I know how you got that scar,” he said conversationally. “I was there when it happened. The fire.”

I stopped walking, my backpack sagging down my elbows. I ogled him. “Alright. Explain.”

He beamed. “Let’s grab some hotdogs and sit on the park bench.”

Weirded out as I was, I couldn’t help but appreciate the steaming hotdog bun he thrust in my hand. I was not about to admit it to him, but Stalkie was rather nice for treating me to breakfast. Was he family? No, the orphanage would have informed me if I still had family members willing to take me in.

“So, how long have you been stalking me,” I asked after several moments of chewing.

 “Since after the fire. We were neighbors. My family evacuated to a shelter in another district when our apartment building burned to the ground,” he looked at me curiously, “Did they tell you about your father?”

“Yeah. I guess I should feel sad about him, but I don’t remember enough to be sad about anything,” I said, munching thoughtfully.

When the counsellor told me about my family, he didn’t mention that my father had been dead drunk the night of the fire and tried to cook using a faulty butane burner, but the other staff members in the orphanage filled me in. I was asleep in our tiny studio and survived only because someone pushed me out of the window and into the fireman’s trampoline. 

“Hey, if you were there that night, do you know who it was who saved me,” I asked, curious. 

“I did,” he said simply, and winced ruefully when he saw my expression change, “hey, I’m not expecting a thank you from you.”

“Well, thank you anyway,” I said, shocked. “You must have been my friend back then to bother. What’s your name, by the way?” I just couldn’t keep calling him Stalkie after discovering he saved my life.

“Rico,” he answered, extending his hand for a handshake. “Enrico Sanchez. And you’re Amanda Stevens.”

“I’m Macy Stevens now, but Amanda sounds good,” I said, shaking his hand warmly. The social workers said no one remembered the name of the girl who was the daughter of the resident drunkard, but they remembered my father as Mr. Stevens. They at least got the last name right.

Rico’s voice became nostalgic as he remembered that night. For the first time, I looked at him directly and saw that he was not that much older than me. Around twenty-one years old. His olive-toned skin was rugged, like he spent most of his days outdoors.  

“When my pops smelled the smoke, we all ran to the fire exit, but I wanted to check on you and went back. You were asleep, and your entire apartment was on fire. The firemen were directly below, so the fastest way was to jump. Only, you overshot and hit your head on the pavement.” He pointed at my scar.

I touched the scar absentmindedly while Rico was recounting the events of that night. I sighed as I felt the familiar heaviness that usually settled on my shoulders when I thought about my life as a whole. Yes, I was lucky to still be alive, but I was also terribly alone. I shrugged off the melancholy as I always did and forced a smile.

“Thank you,” I said again, with more emotion than the first time. “I don’t remember anything from before, but if I could remember anyone, I’m sure I would have remembered you.”

He smiled brightly. “You should. We dated for a while before the fire.” His smile turned to laughter after a few seconds of silence had passed.

“No!” I gasped. “I was thirteen!”

“And I was sixteen,” he said, still chuckling.

“Not that anyone noticed we hung out after school. My parents were always out working, and your father was always… uhm…” He trailed off. He pulled out a bundle of photographs from his bag and handed them to me.

My mind was still reeling from his revelation, but all thought flew out of my head as I looked at that photographs of much younger versions of myself and Rico. In one of them, I was holding a cat, which was nearly as unkempt as I was.

I flapped my hand in dismay. “I don’t know how to feel!... I… how…” I realized I was blushing furiously. “Did we kiss and… do intimate stuff?”

Rico was silent, and I realized that he was as flabbergasted at my questions as I was. Or, he was dying of laughter. I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t look at him.

He cleared his throat. “No, we didn’t do anything that we’d have regretted later on. But yes, we were each other’s first kiss.”

His eyes crinkled when mine finally met them. “Don’t be embarrassed. We called ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend, but we were really just the best of friends. That’s why I never left this town. I wanted so much to resume our friendship, but only when you’re ready. I mean, if you don’t mind having me back.”

I pretended to rearrange my rucksack so that I could hand back the bundle of photographs to him. I was starting to feel giddy at the sudden influx of information. My hands shook as I realized that the bubbly sensation in my stomach could be something like happiness. It was an unfamiliar feeling.

“I would like to have you back as a friend, Rico,” I said and hoped he could hear the sincerity in my voice. “But I’m just starting my life over now, and I don’t know if I’m ready for anything more than friendship yet…”

“Oh c’mon, don’t worry about that. I’m not rushing,” he said, still chuckling. Then, his voice turned gentle.

“I’m just glad to meet you again, Amanda.”

We left the park together, and I let him walk with me until I reached the house of Nursy’s gardening club buddy who was looking for a housemaid. I guess I was wordlessly showing him where I was going to live and where he could come and visit me sometimes. 

October 23, 2020 17:24

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