Authors: Jennifer Edlund
Chapter 1: The Beginning
I’ve always believed that people come into our life for a reason. I know things like this can’t always be explained, but it happened to me once. I met the most amazing boy
when I was a young girl, and believe it or not, I fell in love with him at twelve-years-old. Unfortunately,
before I got a chance to let reality set in, he disappeared.
His absence left me in a state of wonder and confusion
for years to come.
Only in the last couple of months
did the truth about his disappearance unfold. His resurfacing sent me reeling to the point of a nervous breakdown.
Several of my acquaintances suggested seeking therapy before my feelings imploded like a swallowed hand grenade. I have few friends and virtually no family. My current boyfriend is the only one who understands my circumstances.
He also urged me to see a shrink
for the sake of saving our relationship.
I'll admit that I wasn't big on the idea of getting my head examined. Although, I feared that if I didn’t take care of my problems once and for all, I’d be denying myself of any potential happiness.
I was recommended to a Swedish therapist in Los Angeles, California, one experienced in family counseling. I made an appointment for a three-week session. If I felt I got something out of it, I would continue to see her.
The address took me to a house instead of the expected office building. From my car, I gazed at a cozy one-story ivy covered cottage that looked like it was just rolled with a fresh coat of bone-white paint. The property was adorned with a rainbow of beautiful flowers: blue azaleas, lilies, and rose bushes. Red poppies lined the walkway and magnolia trees led from the pathway to the back yard. A breeze gusted through wind chimes. The twinkling melody eased my frayed nerves.
A cat slumbering in the sun on the flagstone doorstep, bounded off as I approached. The house had a warm and inviting element to it. It was a welcome contrast to the sharp, cold grayness I felt for the past several days. This definitely was not
the typical shrink’s office, and it
made it seem a little easier to ring the doorbell.
A stout older woman with a round face and rosy cheeks greeted me at the door. She had short hair as blonde as Hawaiian sand and bird-like eyes the color of the blue sky in winter. Reading glasses were perched on the bridge of her nose.
be Alexa.” Her fingers gently closed around mine as she clasped my hand.
“I’m Dr. Merle Magnus.”
“Hello. It’s good to finally meet you.”
I took a second cursory glance at the woman standing before me. Her attire consisted of a modest navy-blue floor-length skirt that disguised her ample figure, a tight-fitting black tank top and a paisley shawl. She also wore an abundant amount of jewelry—big colorful dangly earrings and several wooden bracelets that pinched her fleshy wrists.
She echoed like the wind chimes hanging outside
whenever she moved.
“Please, come in,” she said, stepping back and gesturing me through the doorway.
The house smelled like fresh flowers and cinnamon,
decorated in a country style with lots earthy colors.
Dr. Magnus sat down in her leather recliner
in the living room. “Do you mind if I continue eating while we chat? I was just in the middle of lunch when you arrived.”
monstrous meatball sandwich
was saturated in marinara sauce. “Please feel free,” I responded, taking a seat on the floral couch.
“Do you feel comfortable enough to begin?” Dr. Magnus picked up a yellow legal pad and pen off the coffee table in front of her. “I want you to feel as relaxed as possible.”
I took a deep unwinding breath. “This is entirely new to me. I really don’t know what to expect.”
“Well—” She took a bite of her sandwich and chewed thoroughly, holding up a finger to let me know she had more to say. “There’s nothing to be afraid of dear. I’m here to listen.”
I looked down at my tightly clasped hands. “I’m just…just a little hesitant, I suppose.”
“That’s understandable. Let’s break the ice by talking about why you decided to come see me today.”
“I have some unresolved issues from my past. My boyfriend thinks it’s a good idea to talk to someone about it,” I explained. “I’m afraid that if I don’t seek help, I might lose him.”
“What kind of unresolved issues?”
“Well—with someone from my past.”
“Would this be the person you mentioned on the phone? An Aiden Storm?” She grabbed her tumbler off the coffee table and took a sip.
“Yes, Aiden. We were childhood sweethearts,” I explained. “Good or bad, I suppose we can all think of at least one person who made a significant impact on our lives. And Aiden forever left a mark on mine.”
Dr. Magnus scribbled something on her notepad and said, “That’s true. Almost everyone can reflect over the course of their lifetime and remember at least one person who made a lasting impression. Depending on the nature of the relationship, memory can be a powerful thing.”
“For the last fifteen years, he’s been so deep down in my soul that just hearing his name triggers so many emotions. It’s like a door that refuses to close.” I desperately tried to hold back the tears forming in my eyes. “I dream about him almost every night and I can’t make it stop. I think it’s because of…of his disappearance. So many things were left unsaid.”
“In other words, you have an unfulfilled longing from his absence, a longing that cannot seem to be satisfied by anything or anyone else?”
“Yes, and it has affected my friendships—all my relationships, in fact. Something in my heart just will not let go.”
“Maybe you should begin this session by telling me how your relationship with Aiden Storm came about.”
I found her suggestion a bit overwhelming. I had so much to say. “But I don’t even know where to start.”
“How about from the beginning?”
Summer of the Unexpected
Our Honda Civic slowly inched its way through the congested unloading zone,
and finally passed
the sign that read, BECKMAN JUNIOR HIGH.
“One more year and I'll be the proud mother of a high schooler,” Mom said as we pulled up to the curb. “Aren’t you excited?”
I suppressed a groan, and answered, “Yeah—thrilled.”
From the window, I watched a throng of students scatter across a long stretch of grass and disappear behind the school building.
“I know it’s been hard, honey.” She gently brushed her fingers across my left cheek and gazed at me with such sympathy that I almost felt sorry for myself. “Next year will be better. I promise.”
Mom was sweet. Unfortunately for her, she was only somewhat clued in on the hell I’d gone through over the past year. I had no reason to believe that eighth grade would be any better.
I expelled a heavy sigh and said, “I have to go. I’m already late.”
“Okay. Try to have a good day please. For me?”
The scent of toast from that morning’s breakfast crept up on me
when she wrapped her lanky arms around my waist.
The muggy summer air smelled sweetly of fresh-cut grass and morning dew. In a matter of hours,
it would become one of those unbearably warm early June days in Irvine, California.
Most students weren't worried about making it to class on time
on this particular morning.
Some leaned against trees while others immersed themselves in deep conversation in the parking lot. Another cluster lingered around idly by the lunch benches. I crossed the atrium and made my way to the girls’ restroom. The moment I stepped inside, the strong whiff of bleach and the lemon scent of freshly mopped floors made my eyes water. There were no students in sight. I ambled on over to a white sink with a ring of rust surrounding the basin. I became more self-conscious by the moment
as I looked into the filmy mirror in front of me. I couldn’t find one thing remotely appealing about my pale complexion. I never obsessed about my appearance
the year before.
I used to be one of those girls who rolled out of bed and went about my day in whatever hairdo nature fitted me and whatever clothes I happened to find closest to me. But right then all I knew was that my pasty white face was in dire need of color. I unzipped a small pocket on my backpack and retrieved a tube of pink lip-gloss. I swiped it back and forth across my lips, hoping it wouldn't be too noticeable. After all, I didn’t want my lips standing out like that rust ring on the white sink, but I hoped it would do a little good.
“Nice of you to show up, Ms. Moore,” announced my English teacher. “Just because it’s the last day of school doesn’t mean I’m not giving out detentions.”
Twenty pairs of eyes drilled into me as I made my way to the back of the classroom. I finally sat down at one of the many empty desks.
“Please take out your spelling assignments from yesterday. I will be coming around to pick them up.”
The sound of rustling papers and the unzipping of backpacks filled the room. I pulled out my blue folder and quickly laid the assignment out in front of me, aware of the teacher watching me closely.
Before I had a chance to blink, Mrs. Salmon stopped by my desk. Her piercing, sharp gaze sent an unexpected wave of panic surging through my chest.
With a tremble
in my voice, I said, “Yes?”
“Are you wearing lipstick?”
I met her questioning stare with a stare of my own that refused
to give her a valid answer.
“Give it to me,” she said, holding out her sun-baked, Navajo hand.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked in my direction
as if I were some kind of roadside attraction.
Mortified, I dug into my backpack and handed over the small tube of lip gloss.
“I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, but this school strictly forbids junior high students from wearing any makeup whatsoever. I suggest you wipe that paint off of your mouth this minute.”
Following the silence, Jillian Manson turned around and faced me. Her blue eyes grew enormous with curiosity. “Hey, Alexa,” she whispered. “Where do you get all that stuff?”
“My mom,” I replied, “mostly samples that come with her purchases.”
“Lucky,” she said, quickly turning back around to avoid getting herself in trouble.
The teacher stood with her back to us and wrote, My Summer Vacation, on the chalkboard. “Class, for your last assignment of the year, I want at least one page written on how you will spend your summer. This is to be completed before the end of class. I will be picking someone to come up front and read what they’ve written.”
Jillian braved a chance to turn around
a moment later
and face me again. “Do you have any big plans this summer?” Jillian had the classic features of the girl next door with her strawberry-blonde curls and piercing blue eyes. She always seemed nice, yet I couldn’t help but feel she was somewhat a fake. We’d been classmates since the very beginning of the school year. The girl never once took the time to get to know me.
I slumped down in my chair and fiddled with my pencil. I didn’t want to admit that I had no plans. Taking a vacation was virtually impossible with Dad's work hours at the car dealership. While Dad worked (which seemed like always), Mom stayed home and took care of us. We had a hard enough time with money as it was, even with Dad putting in so many hours.
“No—not yet,” I responded dryly.
“My family is taking a cruise to the Bahamas. Can you believe it?”
We all wrote in silence
for the next half hour.
“Okay, please put down your pencils,” the teacher announced. “Who would like to come to the front and read what they've written?” She looked pleased by the number of hands that flew up in the
air. “How about—let me see here—Kristy?”
Kristy Thompson stepped forward. She smoothed out her lemon-colored sundress and flipped her straight blonde hair off her shoulder like a super model readying herself for her runway debut. “My summer vacation—”
We all knew what was coming. Kristy’s parents were the self-appointed rulers of the plastic surgery world. They also happened to live in a multi-million-dollar mansion
on the coast of Newport Beach.
Kristy's family took off to some exotic place
each season—a safari in Africa over spring break or skiing in Aspen for Christmas. We could all count on the fact that whenever we returned from a school break, her most recent vacation would be the first topic of discussion.