I know it has been a while since I last posted a story… I hate to admit it but I haven’t been writing as much as I should… Over the summer I took a creative writing class that afforded me the opportunity to, not only flex my creative muscles, but to also boost my self esteem… I hate to come off conceited but I was literally (not figuratively) the best writer in the class… I can cite sources if I need to… lol! This short story is one of the assignments… I got a 97 on it by the way…
“The patient’s name is Amber Halladay. She has been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder. She is here as part of a plea agreement to get her treatment instead of locking her away in prison. We are here to determine her fitness to return to society.”
The doctor sitting at the front of the room continued talking. The bright lights of the hospital conference room hurt her eyes as she looked for a safe place to land her eyes. All the eyes in the room, the doctors seated in front of her, the few people sitting in the back of the room, made her uncomfortable. She wanted to return to her room but knew that this meeting was a formality. They weren’t going to let her out. Not after what she had done.
Amber was accustomed to being alone in the shop. The only time people ever came in was to pick up the orders they placed online. The only friends she had while she worked were the printers she used on a daily basis. Most days she listened to music in her ear buds to break the monotone of the printer’s hum. She kept her head down and her hands busy refilling toner in the printers and cutting and filing photos.
Amber’s routine was disrupted when she noticed she wasn’t alone in the shop. Across the room, at the end of a row of computers, sat a young woman with her hair tied back and a pen gripped tightly in her teeth. Amber noticed her eyes were fixed on the screen and her hand made slight movements with the mouse. She watched the woman intently watching her movements. Her heart stopped momentarily when the woman made eye contact with her.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” Amber asked with a shaky voice.
“No but thank you.”
“Well, I have to close up soon.”
“I’ve been staring at this picture for too long anyway. I should just head home.” Amber stepped out from behind the counter and approached the young woman. Over her shoulder she could see a bright orange tulip with several small black dots on them. “I tried masking the black dots but there are so many it effects the background.”
“Do you mind if I try something?” Amber asked, taking control of the mouse before the young woman could answer.
After a few decisive clicks and drags of the mouse, the black dots on the orange tulips were gone. The young woman breathed a sigh of relief before hugging Amber tightly.
“You are a miracle worker. How did you do that?”
“I just used the color matching tool and layered the orange over the black. It takes a little extra time but it’s less stressful than trying to mask it.”
“My name is Jay, by the way.”
“Well thanks again, Amber. I have to get this to print before my gallery opening tomorrow night. You just saved my career.”
Amber was beginning to feel like a stranger in her own skin. She fidgeted around, stomping at a toner stain in the grungy carpet. Though she only just met Jay, she was taken with her. She appeared to be framed in sunlight, even in the harsh florescent lighting of the print shop. Her skin was smooth and taught and gently tanned from her time in the sun. Amber tried to remember what she was taught about eye contact and found a fixed point over Jay’s shoulder to look at.
“So how much do I owe you?”
Jay’s melodic voice snapped Amber out of her head. “Owe me?”
“For the computer time.”
“Oh, right. That would be seven fifty for three hours and forty-five minutes on the computer.”
Jay dug into her well-worn messenger bag and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. She followed behind Amber as she walked to the register at the front of the store. Amber ran the transaction through the register and handed Jay her change.
“You know I can print the photos here if you want. If it will save you any trouble.”
“That’s sweet but I get all that taken care of on campus. My computer crashed and it was easier to come here than go all the across town. You should come to my opening tomorrow. I would love to have you as my guest, seeing as you saved my skin and all.”
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t know what to wear.”
“It’s a gallery showing on a college campus. What you have on now is perfectly fine. It starts at seven but whatever time you can get off is fine with me. Will I see you there?”
Amber managed a weak smile and a nod. She felt her heart pound as she watched Jay dash out of the shop. She allowed her mind to wander to what Jay was like as a person as she started the closing routine. She swept the store and shut down the computers as she tried to determine the scent of Jay’s fragrance. She turned off the lights and was about to walk out the door when she discovered a flash drive on the floor in front of the door. Written in blue cursive was a capital letter J and she knew exactly who it belonged to.
Amber held the device tight in her hand as she walked out of the shop. The air outside was cool, stinging her flushed cheeks. She had something that belong to this woman that had breezed into her life to confuse her. Her mind raced, thinking of all the amazing things that could be on this small device.
She was living well on her own, keeping up with her rent and bills, and maintaining a steady job. For some reason this woman was breaking all that. She wanted to know as much as she could about her, follow in her footsteps to learn what it was like a day in the life of Jay. The conversation she had with Jay was the first meaningful conversation she had with someone since she dropped out of college. She longed to talk to someone about something other than photo quality and print size. She saw something in Jay that she hadn’t seen in anyone before. She saw a companion to share her life with, a face that she could wake up to, a warm body to share her empty bed with. Amber only just met Jay but she saw herself falling in love with her.
Amber rode the bus back to her apartment with the flash drive still clutched in her hand. Her head was crowded with competing feelings of lust and disgust. She knew that she didn’t know the woman but couldn’t help how she felt. Instead of going home, she walked three blocks to a small library behind her apartment building. She was tired but wanted more than anything to see what was on the flash drive. She sat at a computer and inserted the drive. It took a moment for the computer to recognize it but after a few moments the contents of the drive were laid out in front of her. There were nearly a thousand pictures laid out in three separate files. She opened the first file and started scrolling though.
A lot of the photos were posed pictures of people around the college campus. As Amber scrolled through the second file, she began to see more personal and candid pictures. She couldn’t help but smile when she saw the first picture of Jay she had come across. It was buried under the hundreds of other photos and it was just Jay, in the mirror, taking a picture of herself. The room was small and bare, with white walls and no decoration. The boxes in the corner suggested moving day. This was Jay, fresh out of high school and in her first semester of college.
There were more pictures of smiling people she assumed were Jay’s friends. They were people frolicking on the beach and sitting by a bon fire. There was a set of pictures with Jay in a Wonder Woman costume, her long curly hair cascading around a plastic tiara. She was flanked on both sides by people dressed as the other members of the Justice League.
Amber paused for a moment on that picture and touched the screen. She continued to scroll through the file until she came to the end. As if she had no control over her hand, she found herself opening the second file. The first photo to come up was a photo of Jay lying in bed with the sheets covering her naked body. The room was dimly lit and Jay was looking at the camera with soft sparkling eyes. The next photo she was reaching towards whoever was taking the picture, causing the sheet to fall away. There were several more photos like this, with Jay’s long limbs coiled around a man in coital passion. Her heart ached the more she scrolled through the file.
Amber logged off the computer and removed the flash drive before rushing out of the library. She walked back to her apartment, her footsteps quick and her breath erratic. She squeezed her eyes shut, attempting to force the images out of her mind, as she climbed the stairs to her third floor studio.
The room was bare, faded yellow walls and curtains that were constantly closed. The air conditioning kept the room near meat locker temperatures. The setting sun cast eerie shadows on the floor, adding to the tomb like feel of the room. Amber curled up on the bed, fully clothed, and tried to go to sleep.
The only thing that gave her any comfort was the thought of Jay. She knew she had only just met her but there was an undeniable attraction to her, an attraction she was raised to think was immoral and wrong. Amber was the only daughter of Reverend Mark Halladay and his wife Christine. She was adopted at the age of eight but they raised her like she was their own. Though her parents’ raised her in a conservative home she had normal experiences like sleepovers and birthday parties. It wasn’t until she started puberty that her parents started to change.
Her mother refused to buy her pads when she started her period because she thought that Amber had done something to anger God and when she showed an interest in other girls, her father beat her and locked her away in the basement until she admitted to him that she was wrong. She had attempted suicide by cutting her wrists but her mother found her before it was too late. During the unhappiest times in her life, Amber was forced to plaster a smile on her face and get through it, lest the congregation know of what was happening to her. There were a few parishioners that she could have gone to but the thought of the punishment from her parents was enough to keep her in line.
Jay was the first woman since she moved out of her parents’ home that even caught Amber’s attention. She tried going to college right out of high school but that was no better than being at home. The college her parents chose for her was more an indoctrination camp than a place of higher education. The abuse continued which caused her to have a mental breakdown. She decided on her own that she was going to move out and start living her life, her way. Seeing Jay in the shop brought up feelings she hadn’t been allowed to feel since high school. They were all rushing back at once causing her head to feel crowded.
The next morning Amber awoke early and got dressed for the day. She put a floral print dress in her purse to change in to because she was leaving to Jay’s gallery opening right after work. She skipped breakfast and got to the shop early. She started up the computer behind the counter and plugged Jay’s flash drive into it.
Amber knew exactly what she wanted. She opened the file, dragging and dropping individual photos into a template. With her duties to the shop getting in the way, it took Amber until closing to finally print and bind her project. She wrapped it in a sheet of brown paper and closed the shop. She changed into the dress and headed out the door, humming as she walked across the street to the bus stop.
She was happy with how her project turned out and she was certain that Jay would love it as much as she does. She used only the best photos and made sure to touch them up just enough to accentuate her natural beauty. She knew that Jay was going to see this and see what is in Amber’s heart. She was going to make Jay fall in love with her.
Amber got off the bus at the college campus. She followed the signs that led her to the Arts and Humanities building where people were milling around. She tightened the laces on her Converse sneakers and fidgeted with the button on her dress before walking inside. The ground floor was a long hallway of glass walls. To her left was an empty gallery of sculptures and to her right was an artistically lit room with all of Jay’s photographs hung inside. She entered the room cautiously, careful to swallow the knot of anxiety that was growing in her throat.
She wound her way through the crowd when she saw the photo she had helped Jay with the day before. It had been printed on a four-foot by six-foot-long canvas and was framed in an intricately carved wooden frame.
“Oh my God, you made it!” Jay squealed.
She came from behind the wall that divided the room. She was wearing a romper with a plunging neckline. The fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra caused Amber’s throat to tighten.
“Yeah. I couldn’t miss your big night. The photo looks amazing. Is that canvas?”
“Yes. I got it printed in the nick of time. Thanks again for your help yesterday.” Jay wrapped her arms around Amber’s neck.
“It was nothing. That’s what I was there for,” Amber said, choking out a chuckle. “Speaking of yesterday, you dropped this.” Amber pulled the flash drive out of her messenger bag and handed it to Jay.
“I didn’t even notice it was missing. You saved my life, again.” Jay held the drive clutched in her hand and close to her chest. Fear and panic played across her face for half a second before her attention was drawn away.
Jay excused herself to meet a tall, muscular man, Amber recognized from the pictures. Her heart thumped loudly in her chest as she watched Jay’s fingers interlaced with his. His large hands held her waist firmly as he leaned in for a kiss. Amber tried to look away but her eyes were transfixed on the way he touched her, the way she touched him. She wanted to know what she had to do to get Jay to act that way towards her.
“Babe, I want you to meet Amber. She helped me with the tulips. Amber, this is my fiancé, Nate.”
Amber didn’t take his hand at first, thickening the tension between the three of them. She grabbed a full champagne flute from a passing waiter and raised the glass in a toast. She downed the contents of the glass in one sip, the alcohol giving her the courage to give Jay the present she worked so hard on.
“I made you something, as a thank you gift for inviting me tonight,” Amber said as she took the brown paper wrapped package from her bag.
Jay opened the wrapping, eagerly anticipating what was inside. The smile fell from her face when she saw the cover of the spiral bound book Amber had given her. “What is this?”
“’For the Love of Jay’. It’s something I threw together before coming here. It’s a photo book.”
All levity and color left her face as Jay turned the pages of the book. There they were, the contents of the second file, artfully laid out and carefully edited so Nate is out of all the pictures. Jay turned the pages of the book, horrified by the images that she saw. She tried to maintain her composure but the fact that her privacy was invaded and put on display prevented that.
“What the hell is wrong with you? You went through my photos?” Jay asked, angrily throwing the book down.
“I thought they were beautiful. I think you’re beautiful. I just wanted to show you how much you mean to me.”
“How could you think this was okay? I don’t even know you.”
“But you will. We have similar hobbies. I can help you whenever you get stuck on a project. We were meant to be together.”
“You’re sick, Amber, sick. I want you to get out of here and take this with you.” Jay picked up the book and shoved it into Amber’s chest. “I never want to see you again.”
Jay stormed off with Nate close behind her. Amber was left standing in the center of the gallery with more people looking at her than the photos on the wall. She could feel her neck and chest flushing and her breathing becoming more shallow. Her fist tightened around the champagne flute, shattering the glass and leaving the stem in her hand. She didn’t feel the glass pierce her palm or the blood trickle down her finger and on to the floor.
Emotions were running wild in Amber’s mind, chief among them was rage. She laid her heart on the line and Jay crushed it under a designer high heeled shoe. She forced her way through the crowd, finding Jay by the door to the building. Amber didn’t see the people standing around or hear the words of warning that were being yelled from over her shoulder. The only thing she could see was Jay with her cell phone to her ear and a look of disgust on her face.
Amber turned Jay to face her and with a fluid motion she jammed the broken stem between Jay’s ribs. The only sound she could her was the thud of her fist hitting Jay’s chest and the sound of her breath leaving her body. She removed the stem and proceeded to stab herself in the neck with it.
She collapsed to the floor beside Jay, a pool of blood forming around her head. She watched as a rush of people came to Jay’s side, as Nate pressed his blazer on to her side to stop the bleeding. There was no one to come to Amber’s side and she was okay with that. She knew that she was going to die and there was no need for anyone to worry about her anymore.
She wished she knew why she did this, why all of her emotions came up at once. The only joy that came of the situation was knowing that Jay was now a part of her, her blood flowing in her veins. She could hear the sounds of sobbing and yelling mixed with the sound of approaching sirens.
“Do you have anything to add to these proceedings, Miss Halladay?”
“I wanted to die that night. I didn’t understand why I hurt her then but I do now.”
“Why did you hurt her?”
“I didn’t have the proper coping mechanisms to deal with my jealousy that was triggered by rejection.”
“Do you think you have been rehabilitated, Miss Halladay?”
Amber didn’t answer right away. She ran her finger over the keloid scar on her neck that had formed over the three years since she had been admitted into the hospital. She looked over her shoulder to see Nate sitting in the back of the room, across the aisle from her parents. She hadn’t seen her parents since she dropped out of school and wasn’t sure if she could handle living under their roof again. She knew why Nate was there. He was there to make sure she staid locked away. Her heart dropped a little when she noticed the gold wedding band on his finger. She wanted Jay to be with her forever but the only thing her actions succeeded in doing was bringing her closer to him.
Amber hung her head. She blamed the tears that fell from her eyes on the harsh florescent lights. “No, Doctor. I don’t think I have been rehabilitated.”