Friday, April 8, 2016

On The Outside Looking In (A Short Story)

            Daisy Jones was used to being the odd duck out.
All of her friends were partnered off – the light-haired ‘angel’ couple that looked like they stepped out of a Norse myth and the dark-haired ‘devil’ couple that oozed danger and adventure – but in the graveyard Daisy found her solace.
Soon after college, there would be weddings and baby showers to attend for her friends but that didn’t fit into Daisy’s immediate life plan.
Sometimes Daisy felt like an outsider within her group of friends but she’d learned long ago people couldn’t be trusted so she kept her distance.
She was too scarred by memories of the past to care what people thought. All it took was one night to change everything. A dark, ominous night, dangerous winding backroads through the mountains and terrifying strangers clogged her memories and unleashed nightmares she couldn’t shake even in her waking hours. The only positive memory of that night was the mysterious savior that carried her to safety before disappearing into the night. Who had he been?
Maybe her friends felt like they were the outsiders, blocked from knowing what had happened and how strongly it still affected her daily life.
Oblivious to her discomfort they tried to build her up, telling her she was a dark beauty that could be the center of attention if she opened up and ditched the baggy vintage clothing she’d favored since the incident.
Daisy crunched through the crisp, dull mid-fall leaves and smelled the scent of a bonfire from a nearby fraternity cloying the air. It made her think of Halloween, pumpkin spice lattes, and nights by the fire as the memory of summer clung to her for dear life. She lived far enough north to enjoy the fall colors but far enough south to escape the harsh wickedness of an impending winter. Here and there she passed a Magnolia tree rapidly losing its’ blooms.
Finally, she spotted him sitting on a headstone, his shaggy brown hair falling into his eyes as he sketched and the rings he wore on each of his long, slender fingers glittered in the late afternoon sunlight. Daisy often wondered if he played the piano – or maybe the guitar. The raven tattoo on his neck stood out prominently against his alabaster skin.
His name was Larkin and they met at a rock concert at a crowded club on a rare night where she let the music carry her away and let herself forget everything other than the here and now.
Daisy didn’t know why they always met in the dark, gloomy graveyard but maybe it was better that way. They were outsiders and the only place they fit in was with each other.
They never talked about anything of substance but that was okay with Daisy. It was an unspoken rule that they left their problems at the door, or gate as it were, and enjoyed each other’s companionship.
The graveyard had started out as Daisy’s special place. She’d stumbled through the long forgotten graveyard as a freshman, lost on the sprawling campus. The newest inhabitant of the graveyard had lost his spot among the living sometime during the Civil War.
Sensing her approach Larkin’s head spun around to face where she stepped through the waist-high wrought iron gate leading into the cemetery.
“Daisy,” he said her name in greeting as he slid his sketchbook into the black satchel at his feet.
Daisy hated her name. Girls named Daisy were supposed to be bright, bubbly, and perky; like the character she was named after in The Great Gatsby. Unfortunately, she was dark, sarcastic, and tormented yet somehow her name sounded sensual when it came from Larkin’s lips. His husky voice made everything sound better.
“Larkin, you beat me here,” Daisy remarked as she noted that her own voice sounded dry and raspy, like sandpaper, from lack of use.
“I finished in the studio early and decided to take advantage of the beautiful day,” Larkin responded. Larkin was an apprentice at an art studio downtown. “How were your classes?”
“Enlightening,” Daisy said wryly as she bumped shoulders with Larkin and sat down on the headstone next to the one he was perched on.
Larkin tapped his bottom lip with the pen still gripped in his hand as if contemplating whether to speak his mind. Changing his mind he pointed to a crumbling headstone across the narrow lane from where they sat and said instead, “what do you think her story was?”
Daisy studied the stone thoughtfully, “Miss Petunia Headstringe, born in eighteen-thirteen, died in eighteen-thirty. She was only seventeen when she died. I say she died of a broken heart after her love jilted her or died in some battle or another. She simply couldn’t go on without him.”
Larkin snorts, “You always say they die of broken hearts.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Daisy chewed on her lip in thought. “Maybe she was killed by a thieving highwayman while she was traveling by stagecoach or railway.”
It was a game they invented to pass the time. One of them would pick a grave marker and they would take turns thinking up imaginary backstories and causes of death.
“It’s better than assuming she died of disease or during childbirth,” Daisy offered.
“True,” Larkin concurs as they lapse into silence. Not for the first time, Daisy wondered what his story was. Who was he in the real world? Did he ever think about her and wonder what she kept bottled up inside?
After a long lapse of silence Larkin clears his throat, “do you want to get out of here?”
“Really?” Daisy tried to tamp down her excitement.
“Yeah, I mean it’s about time we do something besides hanging out here,” Larkin gestures to their surroundings. Their little sanctuary was the sole patch of darkness to be seen. Somehow in the few minutes she’d been sitting here with Larkin the clouds above their heads had swallowed the sun, although Daisy could still see the sun shining in the distance. Larkin continued on, oblivious to Daisy’s thoughts, “besides, I am starving.”
“Let’s go,” Daisy replies without her usual hesitation. She felt comfortable with Larkin.
Larkin grabbed her hand and they ran out of the graveyard and all the way to a small hole-in-the-wall diner at the edge of the university campus. The chains on Larkin’s black jeans clinked the entire way.
Neither of them caught their breath until they flung themselves into a booth by the window.
A waitress chomping on a wad of gum dropped a couple menus on the table with a vague promise to come back in a few minutes.
Daisy tried to look over the menu but the sights and sounds of the diner distracted her. A baby squealed, the cook rang a bell alerting the next order was ready, and a vibrant college student drummed on the table he sat at as he fought with his laptop. It was a lot for Daisy to take in all at once.
“Hey, are you alright?” Larkin asked as concern etched his handsome features.
“What?” Daisy asked as her attention snapped back to Larkin, “Oh, yes I’m fine. Sorry, but I don’t get out much anymore. The night we met at the club was a rare moment of social lucidity for me.”
“You ‘get out’ to see me almost every day,” Larkin pointed out wryly.
Daisy shrugs, “that’s different; that’s a more one-on-one setting. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of a loner.”
“Why is that?” Larkin asks quietly as he shoves his menu away.
Daisy traces the pattern on the table refusing to meet Larkin’s inquisitive gaze. “Do you ever feel like you’re on the outside looking in?”
“Constantly,” Larkin answers without missing a beat.
“My friends keep saying I’m pushing them away,” Daisy admits. “I never used to be like this but they hardly seem to notice since they’re all dating each other.”
“What caused the change?” Larkin asks as he fiddles with the leather bands around his wrists.
Daisy’s eyes dart around the room as her voice lowers, “I won’t bore you with the details, besides this isn’t really the place to talk about it.”
The waitress returns, notepad in hand, but Larkin shoves the menus into her unprepared hands and says, “Two deluxe burgers to go.”
The waitress rushes off to put the order in as Daisy looks at Larkin uncertainly.
“There’s something I want to show you,” Larkin says by way of explanation.
They take their food and grab a cab to a park above the city. As dusk falls over the city the buildings come alive with light.
“The city is so beautiful from up here,” Daisy breathes as they sit on a bench near the edge of the hilltop.
“I come up here to think and get away from it all,” Larkin says. He turns to her and adds, “You can tell me anything, Daisy.”
‘I know,” Daisy pauses, “I’ve just never told anyone about this – other than the people who already knew.”
“Tell me your secrets, Daisy. You can trust me,” Larkin urges.
Daisy sighed and collected her thoughts. After several false starts she says, “One day last spring I decided to visit my cousin up at the army base about an hour north of here. I stayed too long and it was getting dark. My cousin suggested that I stay the night and drive home the next morning but I had an early class the next day so I decided to drive back that night. I thought I’d be okay but driving the twisting, winding roads down the mountain in the dark proved difficult. I almost drove off the road twice and I had a sinking feeling I was lost.
I pulled off to the shoulder to check the map and not two minutes later someone was rapping on my window. I stupidly thought it was someone offering to help me so I rolled down the window – and came face-to-face with an angry brute with throbbing veins and bulging muscles.”
Larkin wraps his hand around Daisy’s supportively when she pauses to catch her breath.
“He demanded money or else there would be trouble. When I told him I didn’t have any he growled and ripped the door open, practically tearing it clean off its’ hinges. He yanked me out of the car and towards a ditch on the side of the road. That is when I saw the glint of the blade of a knife in the moonlight.
I must have fainted or blacked out because the next thing I remember was a stranger carrying me to safety.”
“Is that all you remember?” Larkin asks quietly; almost cautiously.
Daisy nods slowly, “yes. I was so out of it I never saw the guy’s face that saved me, just an infinity symbol tattooed on the pulse point of his wrist. Ever since then I’ve shut everyone out not wanting to let anyone in – until I met you. You make me feel safe.”
Larkin fiddled with the band around his right wrist as Daisy drifted off, trying to fill the gaps in her memory of that awful night.
The sound of Velcro ripping tore Daisy from her thoughts and her focus shifted to where Larkin was removing the cuff from his wrist. Etched into the skin on his wrist was a simple black infinity symbol.
Daisy’s eyes snapped to Larkin’s apprehensively,” but how-?”
Larkin opened his mouth to explain but before he could utter a word Daisy’s eyes glazed over with the memories her mind had blocked out for her protection.
It was all coming back to Daisy now. Her assailant had thrown her into the ditch on the side of the road, pinned her down, and held the knife to her throat. She could smell the scent of stale onion bagels on his breath. Just when she was about to give up all hope of making it out of this nightmare alive headlights flashed in her eyes illuminating the scene. A figure swathed in all black emerged from the vehicle and yanked her assailant off of her.
He threw the muscle bound freak to the ground and started pounding on him. That’s about the time, embarrassingly enough, Daisy really did faint. When she came to, her savior – Larkin – was carrying her to the ambulance to get checked over. Before she could thank him he was gone.
The cops told her later that he arrived at just the right time. A minute later and things could have ended much differently. After that, Daisy closed herself off from everyone she knew.
Everyone except Larkin – it was him all along. It was his strong hands and comforting arms that pulled her out of the ditch she’d collapsed into when she lost consciousness and carried her to the safety of the ambulance. He’d been watching over her from the beginning.
“I saw the university sticker on your back window. At first, I just wanted to see if you were alright. Then I felt like I just had to make sure, from a distance, you were safe at all times. Soon that wasn’t enough anymore, I had to meet you. So I bumped into you at the club. I never meant to fall in love with you but somewhere along the way it just happened,” Larkin bit his lip. “Do you hate me?”
Daisy took a huge leap of faith and kissed him then. “I could never hate you. You saved my life. Even if I couldn’t remember at the time a part of me must have known I could trust you. We met under terrible circumstances but I wouldn’t take back any part of it.”
Larkin’s relief showed on his face as he pulled her close. Together they watched night descend on the city.
Who needed anyone else? They might be outsiders standing at the fringe of society looking in but at least they had each other. 

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