Had she been just using Mitch? Goddess, she hoped not. Would that make her little better than her mother, who her father accused of trickery. Her shoulders drooped as the pizza solidified into an uncomfortable mass in her stomach. “Why me? I’m not deserving of your affection.”
Before he could answer, Stella stood to leave. Wiping away tears, she lunged away from the table, making an unsteady path through the tables.
A yelled comment about another chick who couldn’t hold her liquor went right over her head until she realized the speaker meant her. She whirled, ready to face her nameless accuser and bumped into the solid form of Mitch.
He cupped her elbow and guided her unto the sidewalk. They walked a few moments in silence before he spoke. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
More tears filled her eyes, threatening to fall. Was she crying for herself or Mitch? She wasn’t terribly sure. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s me.”
His hand tightened on her elbow as she stumbled on the uneven pavement. He kept her upright instead of allowing her to kiss the cement. “There’s nothing wrong with you. I consider you perfect the way you are.”
A grunt served as her reply. Hard to fathom that someone thought she was perfect the way she was. One of tears blurring her vision trickled down her face. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be that person he thought she was. “You don’t know me that well, then.”
“True.” Mitch admitted. “But, I’d like to know you better.”
What was that supposed to mean. Stella watched her feet as they negotiated the buckled sidewalk. “Better you don’t. I kinda like the idea of you thinking so highly of me.” Her words made her sound like a diva, so she managed to chuckle, making it sound like a joke. It wasn’t.
She wasn’t sure when it happened, when she stopped thinking of herself as okay and regarded herself as someone who needed fixing. Having the nerve to show up nine months after they did the deed was somehow her fault. Of course, her father enduring a loveless marriage as well as spending thousands of dollars on her upkeep didn’t help either. Upkeep made her sound more like a lawn.
Her mother’s newfound religion wasn’t much better, which resulted in her mother constantly warning her of eternal damnation. This bothered her mother more than it did her since it somehow reflected poorly on her mother’s parenting skills. She wasn’t sure if the real problem was her going to hell or her mother looking bad. It might be both. Then, there was Kevin.
Oh, she tried not to think too much of the almost unknown senior who awkwardly asked her out to the senior prom. He chose the morning her father stomped out of the house with a suitcase. The traumatic departure continued out on the front lawn where mothers with kindergartners stood at the sidewalk with strollers waiting for their oldest to board the bus.
Her mother clutched a skillet in her right hand because his abrupt announcement caught her in the middle of unloading the dishwasher. Her mother baited him by telling him that running back to his skanky ho would result in some incurable STD and a painful death.
The nearby mothers took a step back while covering their attentive children’s ears. Those with more than one child had more of a challenge as far as ear coverage.
Her father, halfway in his car, yelled back. “You ruined my life. Everything you touch you destroyed.” Catching sight of Stella, he added, “I wish you’d never been born.”
Most people at the bus stop probably thought he was talking to her mother. Apparently, that was the impression her mother received too, because she hurled the skillet at the car, dinging the door. Her father’s face suffused with red, and he opened his mouth, but no words came out. Instead, he closed the car door and sped off.
Her mother, suddenly aware of her audience, dusted off her hands, announced to the listeners, “Good riddance.” Her actions announced it was her plan to chase off her husband with a frying pan before work. Stella stayed on the front stoop staring at the departing car, knowing he’d been staring at her, wishing she’d never been born.
It was hard to stop thinking about it. So when Kevin Hardesty asked her if she’d go to the prom with her, she didn’t answer, barely even heard the words as she turned away afraid she might start crying again. Apparently, not quick enough, because by the end of the day it was all over school that the idea of going to prom with Kevin sent her into an enormous crying fit. When the gossip finally reached her via Leah, she wanted to find Kevin and explain. She never had the chance. He hanged himself that night from local park swing set. The police found him near midnight when making their nightly rounds.
Though no note indicated he had killed himself due to her not going to prom with him, it didn’t stop the rumors. Leah assured her she wasn’t the problem. Bullying may have sent him over the edge. His stuttering made him an easy target. It also made it hard for him to ask her out, but he tried, and she cried. The image of her father screaming that she ruined everything she touched came to mind. Maybe he did mean her mother, then, but apparently, she was her mother’s daughter.
They were almost at her dorm when she realized they had stopped talking while she fell into her memories and pulled the scabs off old wounds. “Sorry about being so quiet.”