Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Missed Opportunities (An Original Short Story)

Standing in the window, Kimber noticed the glow from the streetlight fading in and out as the fog passed by. She could barely make out the car parked in the driveway across the street but the low pitched growl of the engine as it sat idling gave her all the information she required to determine it was Trey, the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Lisa – who just happened to live across the street.

Kimber didn’t know the exact model of the car, she was a girl after all, but she knew it was Trey because of the engine coupled with the muted sound of the horn… almost as if it was the car’s voice and personality, and much like a stray cat searching for a free bowl of milk, Kimber found herself becoming more familiar with it each time it visited the neighborhood.

After a few minutes of watching, Kimber could see the silhouette of Lisa climbing into the car and with a quick slam of the door, she was once again hidden from sight. As the car rolled away and the red blaze of the taillights faded into the fog, Kimber once again realized she wasn’t part of the story – she was only an observer. She didn’t have her name on the marquee, she didn’t even have a cameo, she was just another spectator who paid their $12 to watch from the cheap seats… remaining anonymous in the darkness.

It was already twenty minutes beyond ten on this Saturday night, but for Kimber it felt as if it could have just as well been five in the morning. She knew her schedule for this and any other Saturday evening, and it didn’t include a boy picking her up so they could head to a party. For Kimber a Saturday night was just another night for her to stay home, watch some television in her bedroom or perhaps read one of the old romance novels her mother had been collecting since she was in her 20s. Kimber would often times find herself reading into the night, and would only climb into bed after hearing the singing of the birds as the sun began to skulk between the curtains and reflect off of the almond color walls of her bedroom.

Her parents never questioned why Kimber seemed to sleep in on Sundays – they felt it was normal teenage behavior, but they had no idea their daughter only averaged a few hours sleep on any given night. Kimber’s room was littered with the half-read romance novels, their paper covers torn and faded from neglect, the images on the covers all blending together as if they were identical copies of the same book. Sometimes Kimber would finish two or even three books in a single day, but more often than not she would start five or six, and with none of them grasping her interest, she would simply set them aside and reach for the next.

Romance novels weren’t exactly Kimber’s favorite genre of reading material, but considering they were free, were readily available at all hours of the night, and didn’t require a lot of thought to discern their meanings, they suited her purposes just fine. She read other books as well, but it wasn’t nearly as convenient for her to have to visit a bookstore three times a week or have her father drive her across town to the library knowing full well any number of books she would check out would only quell her appetite for a day or two.

On occasion, she would spend her evenings in her father’s study, watching old home movies or his old videocassettes of sitcoms. It didn’t much matter what was on the screen, it was merely a way to pass the time and keep her mind occupied so she wouldn’t have to think about herself anymore. She found she didn’t watch movies or read books to be entertained, but rather did so to ensure her brain wasn’t in a neutral position where it would only serve to ask questions that she didn’t feel were worth finding answers for.

In the end, Kimber found numerous ways to throw away the hours she had to herself which didn’t include any human interaction… and that was essentially the goal all along. She wished to remain alone, not because she didn’t like other people, but more so because she didn’t like herself with other people. She was never comfortable around others whether that be family, friends or schoolmates. Besides, she was never a popular girl, she never was part of the crowd that produced prom queens and football stars, and she never seemed to find her niche within the whole high school popularity contest. Perhaps she didn’t fit that image of the popular girl, or perhaps it was just that she didn’t care… either way, she didn’t let herself become concerned about the situation.

It wasn’t that Kimber wasn’t an attractive girl, it wasn’t that she wasn’t a nice girl, or an intelligent girl, or a girl with a nice personality. In fact, Kimber was a very attractive girl in more than just the physical sense. During her Freshman year in high school she was even voted as the girl with the most natural beauty – so in theory that meant something. Actually, boys would regularly express interest in Kimber, but even the most devoted admirer would give up after investing weeks or even months of attention only to find out it did no good.

It seemed Kimber just wasn’t interested in boys… she never had a boyfriend throughout her entire life, and if you don’t count the time that her older sister Lana duped her into meeting William, a somewhat quirky friend of a friend, she hadn’t even had a single date. Even that night turned out to be odious, as William wound up spilling a beer all over Kimber’s jeans in some futile attempt to get into them. When it was obvious that Kimber wasn’t into random sexual encounters, (as a matter of fact Kimber had never even kissed a boy) the young man decided she wasn’t worth his time and vanished… moving on to the next victim, and forcing Kimber to call Lana for a ride home from the party where she was abandoned.

Quite simply, Kimber wasn’t the type to get involved with men, she wasn’t the type that lived her life around what party was happening Saturday night, and she wasn’t the type who worried about her reputation at high school. In all actuality, it bothered Lana much more that Kimber wasn’t a socialite like herself, and Lana took every available opportunity to “fix” her sister’s image.

Because of Lana’s status in school, the fact she was a member of the “in” crowd and the fact her parents had a fair amount of money allowed her to protect Kimber from the harshness of high school. Surely no one would dare to pick on the sister of one of the most popular girls in school and therefore, for the most part, Kimber was safe… at least for the remainder of the year while she shared the halls of school with Lana. Once Lana left next year for whatever college her friends decided was best, Kimber would be on her own, although that didn’t really concern Kimber as much as one might expect.

As Kimber sat in her living room with the lights out, she wondered why she rarely felt good inside. She knew she was smart enough, she knew she was pretty enough, and she knew she had practically everything she would ever need, but something was missing from her life. Her family cared for her a great deal and expressed interest in her lack of a social life, but somehow Kimber always had a way of diminishing the topic as if to make her parents feel as if she was normal and there wasn’t any reason for alarm.

Deep down, Kimber knew she wasn’t like everyone else. She would stare into a mirror for hours wondering what was so different about her and after a while she found she couldn’t recognize her face. She would often daydream about being someone else, yet when asked, she wouldn’t have any desire to change herself. Instead, she watched others and learned from them, trying to figure out what made their lives so seemingly interesting, while her life wasn’t worth so much as five full pages of text in a spiral bound notebook she purchased over a year ago in an attempt to document her life in some sort of a daily journal.

In truth, although Kimber knew she was different, she didn’t necessarily feel anything was wrong with her. She was actually more curious about others than concerned for herself, and she would study others to find out what made them unique from one another. She would peer from the gap between the curtains hanging in her bedroom – watching Lisa as she came and went – wondering what it would be like to live her life, questioning how one person would be comfortable interacting with so many others, while Kimber herself found it to be quite numbing and monotonous.

So the days blended together, and with time Kimber grew more distant from everyone, yet in some strange way, became closer to herself. She began to feel that she didn’t belong in her body, as if she was trapped inside of a coffin even though she was in perfect health. She knew something had to change, but she questioned what, and she didn’t feel she would be able to explain her feelings to anyone because for the most part Kimber was more intelligent that anyone she came into contact with in her daily life.

Weeks passed, and the gloomy weather caused by the spring rains actually made Kimber feel more at home with herself. She always loved the rain, and would sit in her bedroom listening to the droplets strike against the panes of glass as if they were knocking and asking for permission to enter. The wind would gust against the side of the house and force the rain to press against the windows in waves, sounding like a keyed up crowd at a basketball game. In the distance, Kimber could recognize some muted thunder and some brief flashes of lightning – if anything she was only disappointed the thunder wasn’t louder as it always seemed to comfort her.

As pleasant as the sound of the rain was, it served to remind Kimber than summer was almost here – and that meant she would have to find a way to spend her days…some way to keep her mind occupied for the time she otherwise would have been in school. There was always the idea of getting a job, but her father would have no part of it, he didn’t see why either of his daughters should ever have to work while in school. “Work comes later” he would always say…. “have fun while you can and let me worry about paying for things”. Most kids her age would probably be extremely grateful, but Kimber didn’t feel it was that big of a deal.

Now she was faced with an additional seven or eight hours a day with nothing to do, and she figured she only had a few more boxes of romance novels left - although she feely admitted she could re-read any of them… it wasn’t as if their plotlines were all that unique and she probably wouldn’t remember most of the books anyway. However, perhaps this was a summer to try something new. Perhaps this was a summer to just take a few chances and do what she wanted to do, instead of what was expected. Kimber was never the type to disobey her parents, but she didn’t feel she needed to be treated like a child either. It was time for them to start taking her seriously, and it was time for her to ensure others knew who she was. This was going to be an experiment of sorts to see how her family would react to a totally different Kimber.

Almost as if the rain served to excite her, she found herself digging through the drawer of her nightstand for her notebook. She read the first few pages of her attempt at a journal and after a few minutes of silence she proceeded to create a new entry. It was a simple entry but that is all it was intended to be. Something that served to remind her what her goals were, something that signified a beginning without forgetting the end.  It read:

May 8 – Today I am discovering I am not who I want to be. I will change – I will not fail. People will know me – I will know myself.

She stared at the words for a few minutes, and a very muted smile appeared in the corner of her mouth. She finally understood what she had to do but she didn’t understand how to do it. “Fine” she said, “I’ll just start small”. With that, she stood up from her bed, walked over to the curtains and proceeded to pull them apart – letting the dimmed sunlight enter the room for the first time in months. She could see that car in Lisa’s driveway again….but this time something was different – the engine wasn’t running, the horn wasn’t honking.

Kimber thought to herself that was a bit odd, since other than the exception of Prom night a month ago or so when Trey brought Lisa some flowers and attempted to feel comfortable with a $80 rented tuxedo, Kimber couldn’t recall ever seeing Trey actually enter Lisa’s house. Even then he was in the house less that 15 minutes…just long enough to say a few words to Lisa’s parents no doubt, and long enough to see Lisa come down the stairway in her gown, as if it was that old stereotypical scene from a movie where all eyes are on the daughter and the father proclaims how beautiful she is.

But then again, Kimber didn’t really know… she could only see what was happening outside, everything else had to be envisioned in her head – thoughts and possibilities darting in and out like a fly bouncing against a window. That didn’t change what was happening now though, so it served to catch her curiosity. Just then she saw some movement in the house… it was brightly lit inside and that made it all the easier for Kimber to watch. She saw what looked like three people, but she couldn’t be certain as they seemed to come and go from her view. She could see the flicker of a television in the living room area, catching the light reflecting off of the back wall where it projected towards the couch… was funny to think that Kimber had never been in Lisa’s house, but knew practically every room, every piece of furniture, and even some of the paintings hanging on the walls.

Kimber actually felt guilty spending so much time watching Lisa and her family, but she took solace in the fact that she never used a telescope or anything that would seem too invasive. She wasn’t asking to infect their lives, but only serving as a spectator from across the street, surely she couldn’t be mistaken for a stalker in any way. She knew she was walking a fine line, but she perceived a difference between watching and spying and she clearly didn’t feel this was spying. As she drew her curtains closed to prevent anyone from seeing her, she thought to herself how her first step forward had already failed. She wasn’t even able to keep her curtains open for fear of being caught spying – almost as if she suffered from some sort of addiction.

She continued to watch Lisa’s house, and the hypnotic tapping of the raindrops against the glass seemed to push Kimber in and out of a never-ending daydream. As she used what felt like the remainder of her energy to focus her eyes on the house yet again, she found it was slowly getting darker….which was a good thing since it was now even easier to see inside of the house. There was no doubt now, there were 3 separate people in the house – one of which was probably Lisa, one is obviously Trey, but the other was anyone’s guess. She had to know who it was - it suddenly became almost an obsession, and as the minutes went by and she wasn’t any closer to discovery, she became increasingly frustrated.

Finally, Kimber knew she would have to cross the street if she intended to find out for herself. Perhaps she could peer into the lower level windows and see who it was, and then disappear back into her own home without being seen. She thought to herself how odd it was that she was willing to take that much of a chance just to find out who the third shadow belonged to, but it was almost as if it was calling to her and she didn’t know how else to react.

As she threw on her jacket, she continued to peer though the front door, wondering if maybe the mystery would solve itself if Trey were to leave for some reason… wondering if the third person was there with him or if it was someone who was there with Lisa. Now there were even more questions to be answered, but Kimber didn’t know how she could ever figure that out. She slipped out of the front door and immediately was greeted by the rain against her face. She turned away for a second so she could react to it, but then turned her head again back forward and welcomed the stinging of the drops against her face. She didn’t know why, but the rain almost seemed to be breaking into her… making her feel more normal and leveled.

As she slowly stepped down the sidewalk she thought to herself how crazy this was. Why would someone get soaking wet simply to know who was in the neighbor’s house? Why would someone risk being labeled as being nosey or digging into someone else’s business just to answer a mystery? She couldn’t say exactly, but she knew this was going to be done, so there didn’t seem to be any use fighting it anymore.

Just as she reached the opposite curb it hit her – what would she do if they were looking out of the windows just as she was looking in… how could she react to that? How could she attempt and look like a “normal” person while staring through someone’s windows? Even with these thoughts, Kimber never stopped advancing on the house. It was almost as if she had the mentality of a soldier with orders to capture an objective, there simply was no option to quit, there was no option to stop.

It was then that her plan actually fell apart, just as she was half way up Lisa’s sidewalk the front door opened and there stood Lisa – staring directly into Kimber’s eyes, leaning forward slightly as if she was ready to address her. Kimber reacted almost instantly with a sense of fear – she stopped walking forward and just stood there in the rain. She didn’t know what to say, and didn’t know how to act… but she felt perhaps she would be best to just turn around and run back to her house.

Luckily for Kimber, her body didn’t react to her insane thoughts before Lisa could offer a suggestion… “get in here before you get soaked more than you already are!” she yelled – and even without hesitation Kimber darted towards the door. Not because she wanted to get out of the rain, but because she wanted to get inside of the house she had been watching for so many years. It was only after she entered and Lisa closed the door behind her than she realized she didn’t know what to say or how to explain what she was doing on her sidewalk.

“I thought you were the pizza guy” said Lisa, looking surprised, but not disgusted in any way. She continued… “so, what’s going on?”. Kimber stood there for a second and responded in an almost stuttering tone “I… I was wondering if I could use your phone… ours seems to be out or something and I left my cell phone in my locker at school”. Even she was surprised she could come up with a line like that under pressure, but it must have worked because Lisa never even questioned it. Lisa stated they just ordered pizza so it must be working, and she picked up the cordless phone to verify… “yea, it’s still working” she said. “Maybe the storm knocked yours out… Do you need to use ours?”

Kimber responded with a yes, but while Lisa was handing her the phone she suddenly realized she didn’t know who to call. Would her entire little game fall apart because she didn’t have a number handy? She thought to herself all the numbers she could remember, who could she call that wouldn’t seem odd or that wouldn’t draw attention to herself. Suddenly she began dialing… her fingernails against the keys never expressed any hesitation. She held the phone up to her ear awaiting an answer, but after 5 or 6 rings she pulled the phone away and clicked it off answering to Lisa that nobody was home. “No matter” she said… “I can wait until my dad is home and try again later with his cell”. Of course Lisa didn’t know that Kimber just called the library… at least she knew nobody would answer at this hour and it was one of the few numbers she could recall at the moment. As Kimber thanked Lisa for the phone, she turned once again towards the door, but Lisa stopped her saying that maybe she would like to stay for pizza.

Although Kimber had never thought about what might happen if she were inside, this seemed even better than anything she could have imagined. She didn’t want to seem pushy though, so she said she had better not since she didn’t want to intrude. “Oh come on” Lisa responded “it was a buy one - get one day and we will have way more than enough”. Kimber thought it best to play innocent as to not give away her real motives, so she asked “we?… so there are other people here too?”. Just then, Trey entered from the living room and said hi – and Lisa introduced them. “Trey – this is my neighbor Kimber… Kimber, this is my boyfriend Trey”. Trey responded with the standard “hey” line you might expect from a teenage boy, but it was what he said next that surprised Kimber. He said he knew her from school, and then proceeded to mention that they had two classes together last semester.

Of course Kimber knew that, but she never expected Trey to realize it – she thought she was invisible to people like him. For some reason finding out that wasn’t the case made her feel remarkable. She also was a bit shocked that Lisa knew her name, because even though they had been neighbors for several years, they never before had spoken face to face.

“Yea – I remember seeing you in a few classes too” Kimber responded… not wanting to sound too excited, but just then another boy entered the room – as Kimber thought to herself that this was finally and mystery person she was trying to unmask.

Lisa continued “oh yea and this is Mike… he’s Trey’s cousin, he goes to school at Lincoln… you know, over on the West side?” Mike and Kimber said hi almost simultaneously to one another, and Mike smiled as he looked into her eyes just as Kimber shifter her gaze towards the floor in a slight bout of embarrassment. Lisa told Kimber to hang up her coat and they could all go into the living room – so she unzipped her coat and hung it on the hook next to the door, leaving puddles of water to form on the tile floor underneath as it slowly drip dried – and then followed Lisa into the living room.

Kimber was very nervous, but she did her best to prevent it from showing. Lisa asked some questions about school, mutual people they would both know, and they just chatted about anything and everything. As the minutes passed, the tension melted away from Kimber’s body and she started to open up. She spoke about how she didn’t feel comfortable in high school and how she didn’t really have any friends. She spoke about how she didn’t fit in and how she had never dated anyone. She spoke about her fears, her regrets, her goals, and her dreams… all the while Lisa, Trey, and Mike asked questions, listened, and discussed every aspect of Kimber’s personality without ever sounding condescending, demeaning, or cold hearted.

Lisa apologized for not ever stopping by to say hi or for not introducing herself after she moved in, and Kimber apologized for not making herself more visible. Trey said how different Kimber was than he had imagined, and how “normal” of a person she is. Mike did his best to keep in the conversation as well, cleverly dropping a few key phrases to let Kimber know he was attracted to her and that he would like to get to know her more. A conversation that seemed to take hours actually occurred in only about 20 minutes, but it was a huge step for Kimber… and she knew it.

Just then as Kimber glanced through the slight fog that was forming in the picture window, she noticed her father’s car entering the garage across the street, and having successfully begun her process of changing herself, she felt it was a fine point to make an exit. She could use her father’s cell phone now she said, and she wanted to talk to him about some other things… in reality it was just an excuse, but she wasn’t totally relaxed around others quite yet, so she didn’t wish to push her luck on the first night. She apologized for not being able to stay for pizza, but the others understood, and Lisa even said they need to get together again sometime soon.

As she zipped up her coat for the return trip through the rain, she thanked Lisa for the use of the phone and said she would talk to her on Monday at school. Only after saying it did she even understand what she said, but it didn’t change anything because she actually meant it. Mike asked if she would be interested in going to a movie with them next weekend, and even without hesitation she said she would very much enjoy that – “it would be cool” were the words coming from her lips, even though she didn’t recognize the phrase as being one she would use. Lisa offered to set up the details when they spoke at school, and Kimber replied that she would be sure and remind her… because Kimber wasn’t about to forget.

So it began… where Kimber took a small risk and resulted in a big step she found herself in an area she had never been before. She was surrounded by people who she was comfortable with and as she said her final goodbyes and stepped into the rain, she whispered to herself how things are going to be so different from now on and how this is a day she would never forget.

As she slowly paced back across the street, she thought to herself how odd it was that Lisa was so nice, how all of them treated her like a real person, and how even though she had never said more than a few sentences to Lisa the entire time they lived directly across the street from one another – that none of them treated her like the freak she thought she was perceived as. She thought back to all of the old 80’s movies she had watched over the past few years and expected the cliché about the popular girl being so mean to actually be based on fact. She expected the boyfriend to treat her as an interruption or the friend to start badmouthing her… but none of that happened.

She wondered if all of her perceptions were that far off base. She suddenly felt this urge to find out what else she was wrong about and what else she could experience. Her mind filled with possibilities and once again a small smile appeared on her face – just as the headlights from the car appeared out of the corner of her eye and reminded her that she was still in the middle of the street. She turned to verify what she already knew and she began to process what her body needed to do to get out of the way… but it was too late. The vehicle was traveling far too fast for her to respond. The car struck her legs and threw her into the windshield – only then did the driver realize what had happened as he pressed his foot into the brake pedal in some vain attempt at stopping in time.

Kimber’s limp body slid back off of the car and onto the asphalt, striking it with just enough force to slide across the wet pavement into the curb where she struck her head against the wet and muddy concrete. Watching from her window, Lisa screamed and ran outside in a panic as Trey immediately reached for the phone and dialed 911 while Mike stood silently against the fogging glass with his mouth hanging open in disbelief almost as if he was unable to react.

As Lisa reached the curb and as she crouched down to look at the motionless body, water rolled off of her face and onto Kimber’s. If it were not for the look in Lisa’s eyes it might have been easy to confuse the tears with raindrops, but as she sat looking at Kimber’s lifeless shell, she was overcome by emotion… only to be somewhat calmed by the rigid smile on Kimber’s face – almost as if the impact from the car locked the expression on her mouth never to be removed.

As Lisa looked up at the car, the glow from a pizza delivery light sat atop the roof, with the driver motionless behind the wheel with a look of fear in his eyes. He knew the fate of Kimber even without getting out of the car to look at her and even though he may have thought he just hit a young girl he could have no idea how true those thoughts were. As it was, this particular young girl’s life had just begun… less than 30 minutes ago.

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