Kristen Chapter #22: Burning Bridge

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Published on 23.02.06 11:42 Age: 14 yrs

Letters : 16657 Words : 2929

By: Nemo

End of Kristen's first day of work

Kristen parked the car and slumped wearily in the driver’s seat. Almost done.

Every bone in her body ached; every muscle throbbed from fatigue. Her feet were hot and sore. Her toes seemed painfully cramped in her tennis shoes.

It had been a very long, hard day. This disheartening procession of houses and apartments hadn’t helped matters. Every place that seemed livable was unaffordable; every place that was affordable seemed unlivable. The disappointment and frustration had done more to erode her stamina than the day’s long hours and hard labor.

She leaned forward in the seat and tugged at the back of her t-shirt, where perspiration made the shirt stick to her back. Irritably, she adjusted the waistband of her shorts again. She had been wearing these clothes for a little more than five hours now, and she felt almost frantic to get back to Janet’s house so she could get them off.

These were the same clothes—the green t-shirt and shorts, the white cotton undies—that she had worn down to the beach on Saturday. The clothes had seemed perfectly comfortable then; now they seemed to bind, or pinch, or chafe in some way every time she moved. Saturday had been a day from that bygone era when Kristen had felt it was perfectly normal to wear clothes all the time. When she had called today to let her parents know that she would be staying at Janet’s house while she looked for an apartment, her mother had offered to bring out a few fresh changes of clothes. Kristen had giggled at the suggestion, then her mother had giggled too—tickled by the silly ideas of bygone times.

Kristen leaned forward and rested her chin on the steering wheel. She looked up glumly at the big Victorian house at the top of the hill. This was her last stop today. She didn’t want to go up there. She wanted to turn around, and drive away, and pretend that she had never been told about this place. But she couldn’t do that. She sighed. She was honor-bound to put in an appearance.

She opened the door and stepped out of the car. She knew she was burning her bridges here. She would have felt a lot better about this if she had already managed to find an apartment. As she climbed the steps up to the house, she felt a nervous fluttery sensation growing in the pit of her stomach.

It was a beautiful house, she realized. There were a few places where the trim could use some paint, but the building seemed very well maintained. As she stepped up onto the porch, she admired the heavy oaken door, which had been varnished and waxed and polished to such a high gloss that she could vaguely see her own shadowy reflection in its gleaming surface.

She took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.

“I’ll get it,” she heard a man’s voice say. “Just a second.”

The door opened slowly. Kristen broke into a broad smile, in spite of herself, when she saw Tommy’s face. Tommy looked at her blankly, and suddenly blushed. “Kristen!” he said, obviously surprised. “I…” He slammed the door in her face.

Kristen’s jaw dropped in shock.

“Sorry!” Tommy’s voice called, through the door. “I—I’ll be just a second, Kristen.”

“Kristen?” said a different male voice. She heard a considerable din from inside the house—the sound of someone racing up or down stairs, a sound like someone bumping into a chair. There was a confused babble of several male voices. Someone let out a loud whoop. “Shut up! Jeez!” another voice said tensely.

Kristen noticed a small movement of a curtain at one of the windows looking out onto the porch. A single eye peered out at her through a gap in the curtains. The eye disappeared as soon as she noticed it. There were more sounds of footsteps and banging of furniture from inside the house. She heard a feverish voice say, “Your old man is the greatest, Tom.” She felt her cheeks redden. “Shut up!” another voice said. She recognized that voice as Tommy’s.

The door opened again. Tommy stood before her, smiling meekly, his face flushed and his hair in wild disarray. He wore a white t-shirt and black Bermuda shorts. There were three other men, similarly dressed, standing a few feet behind him, craning their necks to get a look at Kristen.

“Sorry about that,” Tommy said. “Had to put something on. I—I thought you were the pizza delivery girl.”

“What—you were naked?” Kristen asked. She hadn’t had time to register what Tommy had been wearing the first time he had opened the door.

Tommy’s face reddened even more. “She—she says we’re her favorite customers,” he said softly.

“I imagine you would be,” Kristen said, laughing.

“Well,” Tommy said, “come on in. It’s great to see you again. It’s been a long time.”

Kristen studied Tommy’s face and smiled warmly. “It’s good to see you, too,” she said as she stepped through the door.

Tommy took a step back and bumped into one of the other men, who had crowded closer behind him. “Jeez,” he said irritably, “don’t you creeps have anything better to do?” Kristen giggled.

“Hey,” said one of the men, “we just wanted to meet our new roommate. Hi, Kristen.” The other two men nodded, and one of them gave Kristen a sheepish little wave.

Kristen felt her cheeks grow hot as she noticed the way the men’s eyes moved up and down her body. She gave a weak smile and nodded in acknowledgement of their greeting.

“Okay,” Tommy said with a sigh. “Kristen, this is Bob, and Joe, and Bill.”

Kristen forced a brave smile and reached out to shake each man’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Bob,” she said. Bob’s face turned bright red, and he let out a strange, gutteral laugh as he took Kristen’s hand.

“Hi, Joe,” Kristen said, reaching for the second man’s hand. Joe shrank from her, then stiffly reached out to shake her hand.

“You—you are some dish!” Joe said hoarsely.

Kristen almost laughed. Instead, she shook Joe’s hand and said, “Nice of you to say so.” She turned toward Bill, who lowered his gaze to the floor and reached out to shake her hand. “Nice to meet you, too, Bill,” Kristen said.

Kristen’s embarrassment was giving way to amusement. As eagerly as the three men had pressed forward to get a look at her, as wolfishly as their eyes had devoured her, they all seemed almost afraid of her. She slowly realized that each of them also seemed to bestruggling to conceal a growing bulge in the front of his pants. She quickly flicked her glance over to the front of Tommy’s shorts. He had his hands clasped together at the front of his pants, but it wasn’t enough—there was no way to miss the evidence that, in one way, at least, Tommy was very happy to see her.

“Here, Kristen,” Tommy said. “I’ll show you your room.” He put a hand gently on her elbow, and started to lead her toward the stairs.

“I—I really don’t…” Kristen protested.

“I really think you’re going to like it,” Tommy said. “It used to be a completely separate apartment, so it’s all kind of self-contained.”

Kristen shrugged, and followed Tommy up the steps. The other three men followed, a few steps behind.

At the top of the steps, Tommy opened a door and revealed another flight of stairs leading up to the third floor. “Now, you’ll get the whole third floor,” he said. “Your door’s down here, see? I think this gives you a little more privacy than just having a room off the hallway. The, uh, the lock doesn’t work very well, but we can have that fixed.” He made a motion toward the stairs with his hand. “Why don’t you go on up?” he said.

With a sad smile, Kristen started climbing the stairs to the third floor. Tommy stepped into the stairwell behind her, and closed the door. The other three men called out “Hey! No fair!” Someone booed. Kristen giggled.

At the top of the steps was a very large room. Two of the walls sloped inward slightly, following the slope of the gabled roof, but there was plenty of usable space, and the room was nicely furnished.

“See?” Tommy said, climbing up behind Kristen. “It used to be a sort of efficiency apartment. You’ve got your living room area over here, and that little alcove could be set up as a sort of mini-kitchen. And you’ve got your own private bathroom, so you don’t have to stand in line downstairs.”

“Would you mind if I just wash my hands real quick?” Kristen asked. “Your friends all have sweaty palms,” she said, smiling. “Who knows where those fingers have been?”

Tommy smiled and shrugged. Kristen stepped into the little bathroom and quickly washed her hands.

Tommy walked over to the bed and sat down on a corner of the mattress. “This is your bed, of course,” he said, patting a spot beside him on the bed.

Kristen dried her hands and stepped out of the bathroom. “So what’s the deal here?” she said. “You stay naked for the pizza delivery girl, but you have to get dressed when I show up?”

Tommy blushed and lowered his head. “I—I was always taught that it’s not polite to point,” he said meekly.

Kristen smiled. “Nice thick carpet up here,” she said.

“Uh, yeah,” Tommy said. “It—it’s new. We just had it put in last year.”

Kristen sat down on the floor near Tommy’s feet. She looked up into his eyes and smiled. “I heard a rumor about you,” she said. “I’m really glad to know it isn’t true.”

“A rumor?” Tommy said, puzzled. “What rumor?”

Kristen stretched out on the floor beside the bed. “I heard a rumor that your father was a little bit worried about you,” she said. “He thought maybe you were—you know.”

Tommy’s face turned red, and he seemed to slump a little. “Is he telling stories like that to everybody in town?” he said, dully.

“How’d you ever turn out so nice, Tommy?” Kristen said. “You’re a really good guy. And, so help me, I don’t see where you get it from.”

Tommy slid off the edge of the bed and sat cross-legged beside Kristen lying on the floor. “My dad’s in a tough business,” he said. “He has to act tough all the time. Sometimes I think maybe he’s forgotten how to be nice. But deep down, he’s a good person. He really is.”

Kristen rolled onto her side and propped her head up on one hand. “You know,” she said, “back in school, you seemed to be the only guy who ever saw me. I mean—really saw me. All the other boys were checking out my body. You seemed to be the only guy who would actually listen to what I had to say.”

Tommy laughed and put his hands over his eyes. “I hate to break the news to you, Kristen,” he said, “but—but I was checking out your body, too.”

Kristen tipped her head back and laughed. “Oh, I hope so!” she said.

“Don’t you think you’d be more comfortable lying on your bed?” Tommy asked.

Kristen looked into Tommy’s eyes and smiled sadly. “I can’t stay here, Tommy,” she said. “Sorry. I just came by to say hello—I really wanted to see you again—and to let you know that I can’t stay here.”

Tommy sat tight-lipped and nodded glumly. “Okay,” he said.

Kristen sat up and scooted a little closer to Tommy. “I really like you, Tommy,” she said. “I’m going to be down at the beach all summer. You know where to find me. I hope you’ll come down to see me sometime, okay?”

Tommy nodded.

“I’ll be easy to spot,” Kristen said softly. She leaned over and put her lips next to Tommy’s ear. “I’ll be naked,” she whispered.

Kristen had leaped to her feet and trotted halfway down the steps before Tommy had recovered himself enough to get up to follow her. She encountered Tommy’s three roommates, still gathered on the second floor landing. “So long, Billy Joe, Bobby Joe, Betty Joe,” she said with a cheery smile. “I’ll see you all at the beach.”

She hurried down the stairs and out the front door of the house. She took the steps down to the street two at a time. As she was going down, she passed a young woman carrying a pizza, on the way up. “I’m sorry,” Kristen said, with a giddy laugh. “I’m not sure they’re ready for you.”

When she reached her car, she turned and looked back up at the house. All four men stood on the porch, looking stunned. Kristen smiled and waved to them, and after a few seconds, they all waved back. Kristen breathed a sigh of relief and got into the car.

By the time she got back to Janet’s place, the fatigue of Kristen’s long day was firmly back in control. At Janet’s insistence, she ate a small bowl of potato salad, but she kept nodding off at the kitchen table.

Kristen grabbed a quick shower, and dropped her clothes in the bathroom’s laundry hamper. Janet led Kristen to the couch, and brought her a pillow and a sheet.

It wasn’t entirely clear whether Janet had exaggerated how noisy her roommates were, or whether Kristen was just too tired to care. She had no trouble at all falling into a deep, deep sleep.

Her sleep was interrupted by a single dream:

She was alone on the trail up from the beach, and she saw the two gawkers approaching. She was empty-handed and frightened. She looked about desperately for something to use as a weapon, and picked up one of the sharp-edged black rocks that littered the sides of the trail.

As the two men came closer, Kristen gripped the rock tighter and tighter. She looked down and saw that she had cut her own hand. The pain shocked her so much she dropped the rock. She looked up from her cut hand, and jumped with fright to see Tony and the other man standing right in front of her.

Tony smiled, and Kristen could smell the alcohol on his breath. “You’re looking very, very lovely today,” Tony said.

“What a dish,” the other man chortled.

“What a beautiful bunny tail,” Tony said. He reached out for Kristen’s cut hand, bowed theatrically, and kissed the back of her hand. As he straightened up, Kristen realized it was not Tony, but Tommy’s father. She looked at the other person, who was no longer Tony’s companion from the trail, but Tommy’s mother, her head bobbing steadily.

“I’d love to take that bunny tail home with me,” the man said, with a dirty leer. “Pretty the place up a little.”

Kristen looked intensely into the man’s eyes. There was something there she had never noticed before. The man seemed unsettled by the intensity of her gaze.

“Why are you afraid of me?” Kristen asked.

The man roared with laughter, startling even his wife, who stopped bobbing her head. “Ho! Me, afraid of you! That’s rich! I’m not afraid of you, baby! You’re afraid of me!”

Kristen smiled. “You don’t have to be afraid of me,” she said. She looked down at the hand that had been cut. There was no sign of the injury now. She reached out slowly and pressed the hand against the man’s chest. “You don’t have to be afraid of me,” she repeated.

“I’m not afraid of you,” the man replied. It was not Tommy’s father, but Tommy. The nodding woman was gone. “I’m not afraid of you at all,” Tommy said, smiling warmly.

Kristen slept soundly through the rest of the night.

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