Awakening the Willow’s Heart *** Endeavors ~ Miya’s Story***
Awakening the Willow’s Heart
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Coming from a troubled home where no one loves her, Miya Jenkins turns to the only people who ever cared – the Walkers. Her best friends, Cate and Caden, always have her back and their parents treat her like a second daughter. She’s smart, dedicated to her education, and focused on success. Miya learns to trust her instincts and never relinquish control, all while enjoying what life and men have to offer. Trust is a hard thing to come by for Miya, and she refuses to open up her heart. Like the willow tree under which she lost her innocence, she bends but doesn’t break.
Caden Walker – always there for her, always protective, always a comfort, but wanting more.
Miya refuses to reveal her inner self, not even to him, and she’s not willing to sacrifice their friendship. She wants a normal life, to feel anchored in the safety of someone’s arms, but she wonders if anyone can ever tear down the high walls built around her heart. Is it possible the walls already began to crumble beneath that willow tree? Will all of her successful endeavors lead her to the one she thought most unattainable?
Cover Model: Cody Johnvin – https://www.facebook.com/johnvin49
Cover Designer: https://www.facebook.com/modernimagesphoto
Awakening the Willow’s Heart
Copyright © 2015 by Jacqueline Anne
Growing up, my family life was far from normal. Actually, totally fucked up was a far better description. My father had a problem keeping his dick in his pants, and each time my mother found out about his fooling around, she would gamble away some more of our money. Both lifestyles consumed them with drinking. Most of the time, it put them in a drunken stupor and caught me in the middle. Happiness was in short supply in my house.
By the age of eight, I’d managed taking care of myself. I learned to cook for myself, if sandwiches, cereal, and mac and cheese count. I did well in school, and had friends but never invited them over, for obvious reasons. I kept my home life a secret. I learned at a very young age by observation that people were constantly judging others, whether you had control or not.
I took gymnastics at the local Y. That was the only thing my parents ever let me participate in, and I am still not sure how they paid for it. I tried not to question it or the fact that they didn’t mind spending their precious gambling and liquor money on it.
When I got to high school, I made the cheerleading squad. I also had a part time job at a local restaurant waiting tables. The more activities I was in meant the less I had to be home, and the better that was for me.
My very best friend, Cate Walker, lived a street over. We met in the third grade and have been inseparable since then. Her parents were the epitome of a perfect couple. She had a brother, Caden, who was a year ahead of us in school. They were seriously a modern day Cleaver Family.
I kept my family situation quiet for as long as I could, but Cate was suspicious. She had tried to stop by my house a few times and on those occasions heard the screaming, as well as the sound of things thrown and shattered. I begged her not to tell her parents what was going on, and she pinky swore she wouldn’t. I was afraid of how my mother and father would react, and what they might do to me.
During the fall of my junior year, my father and mother were past the stupor stage of drunkenness and had entered a really violent one. Fighting was typical for them like most families watched television, a daily occurrence. I assumed things escalated from more than just alcohol at that point. Most of the confrontations happened when I came home after work or after practice. I tried so hard to sneak into the house and tip toe to my room unnoticed, but they almost always heard me.
One Wednesday evening in late September, my father tripped over my book bag, which I had regrettably left on the floor. I saw it happen and knew things were about to go bad. He picked it up and threw it in my direction, missing me and shattering a vase on the entry table. I tried to run away, but he lunged at me grabbing my long blonde hair. I tried not to cry at the pain I felt as he pulled me back, slapping me in the face. Not once, not just twice, but three times. The sting of the first two hits turned my face numb for the third strike.
I ran up to my room as tears quietly poured out of my eyes. I refused to let him or my mother see me cry. Ever. I packed a duffle bag full of clothes and waited until my parents had passed out on the floor. An hour later, I left.
I headed over to the Walker’s house, and quietly knocked all the while praying Cate would answer and she did. My closest friend, standing a few inches shorter than my own five foot six, greeted me with a look of worry in her bright blue eyes. Her shoulder length straight brown hair pulled up on top of her head like she always did to keep her hair out of her face when she was studying.
“Miya Jenkins, what happened to you?” Cate asked quietly gesturing me to come inside.
I stood there with a red hand mark and a bruise, which was slowly beginning to appear on my face, and tear stained cheeks. I motioned to her to be quiet with my finger at my lips and pointed upstairs.
“Who is it dear?” Mrs. Walker called out from the kitchen clearly doing dishes from all the clanging sounds. The television was blaring the evening news as usual, something Mr. Walker did every night after dinner.
“It’s Miya, Mom. We are going to go up and study for a bit,” Cate shouted down the hall.
“Okay dear. Hi Miya.”
I cleared my throat and wiped my eyes. I tried to sound as normal as possible when I answered, “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Walker.”
Cate took my bag in one hand and used the other hand to pull me upstairs closing her bedroom door behind us. She put my bag on the floor and stared at me for a moment clearly assessing my swollen face.
“What the hell happened?” she demanded. “Who did this to you?” I didn’t answer and she noticed my trembling hands. She grabbed my hands and pulled me over to the bed to sit down. “Miya. Answer me. Please.”
“My father,” I said as my chin sunk to my chest.
She hopped off her bed. “Jesus Christ, Miya! You have to tell someone. I can’t just let this go like all the screaming and throwing things.” She paced back and forth with her hands on her hips. “If you don’t tell someone, then I will. I care about you too much to let this go.” She was pissed, and worried and rightfully so. Cate and her family were the only ones who ever cared about me.
“Cate, just please let me hang out here for a few days until I can get myself together, and then I’ll get help.”
She stopped pacing, and sat back on the bed with me. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “Miya, you have to promise me that you will get someone to help you and your parents.”
I pulled a deep breath in and slowly let it out. “I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“No, you don’t. Either you do it or I will.”
“Fine. I promise,” I reluctantly agreed. “Now, can we try to get some studying done?” She nodded and moved to take her seat at her desk. My hands were still trembling. I had escaped one situation and entered yet another one. I knew I was safe here, but didn’t know what would happen once I asked for help. I lived each and every day of my life always asking, what if? What if I’d had different parents? What if I had other relatives to live with? What if I had come home at a different time?
Cate turned on some music and we tried to get some studying done. My mind kept wandering as I contemplated what I should do, and how I should go about doing it. I shook my head and wiped away the tears welling up in my eyes again. I looked back down at my history book and read the same damn sentence for the tenth time.
Caden burst into Cate’s room. Apparently, we didn’t hear his knock at the door, or perhaps he hadn’t knocked at all. His presence commanded attention in almost any room, especially Cate’s small bedroom. He had just come home from football practice. His brown hair still mussed up and wet from an after practice shower. I looked up at the disturbance, right into his brown eyes. Big mistake.
“Miya, what happened to you?” he exclaimed, his voice filled with concern.
“Nothing.” I shook my head and looked back down to my book reading that same goddamn sentence again.
Please just go away. Please don’t ask. I repeated the words over, and over again like a prayer.
My silent plea hadn’t worked, Caden entered and closed the door behind him. “Cate, turn that shitty music down,” he ordered her. Cate shuffled over to her iPod and turned the music off. Caden walked over to me and sat down beside me on the bed. He got on my case sometimes, just like he did with Cate, but I knew he had my back if I ever really needed him. He pulled my chin over so he could look at my face. “Miya, who did this to you?” Even as he demanded to know the truth, there was a caring gentleness in his voice.
I remained quiet as tears began to fall again. Cate came over and put her arms around me. “Caden, it was her father.” I was too exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and physically, to give her a dirty look for breaking our promise.
“Miya, is this the first time he hit you?” I didn’t answer, and so he asked me again.
“The first time in the face,” I mumbled feeling ashamed.
“What the fuck? How many times has he hit you?” Caden asked, and Cate looked just as shocked. I hadn’t told her about the other times. I had easily covered the other bruises by wearing certain clothes.
“It’s not just him.” I covered my face with my hands, upset and embarrassed.
“Your mom too?” Cate questioned with surprise and sympathy.
I just nodded my head. Defeated feelings ran through me. All these years of trying to keep my parents, and the life I suffered, a secret was now all out in the open. I shouldn’t have felt defeated, but I did. I should have felt somewhat relieved now that the truth was out. Then why didn’t I? Because confusion and an unknown world scared the hell out of me just as much as my parents, perhaps even more.
“Jesus! Miya, we have been friends for so long. I can’t believe screaming has escalated to all of this.”
She was right. I had kept this a secret from my very best friend. I didn’t know what to do. I was ashamed. I was scared. I didn’t want my parents to hurt me more, but this was the only life I knew. It fucking sucked, but they were my parents. I didn’t want to end up in a foster home either. What if those people were worse? What if I had to switch schools? More what ifs.
“Look, I need to figure out what the hell I am going to do. We have school tomorrow and I have to figure out how to cover this up, not to mention the football game Friday night.”
“We will figure out something,” Cate said frantically sorting through her makeup, pulling out different bottles of concealer and foundation.
“Miya, I have to tell my mom and dad,” Caden stated in a take-charge manner and pulling himself to his feet.
I grabbed for his hand as he got up. “No, Caden. Please don’t.”
“I won’t let this happen again. You can be pissed at me all you want.” He walked out and slammed the door. I knew he was firm about his decision. With that tone of voice and the look on his face, I knew there was no changing his mind.
Dammit! This is such a mess! I shouldn’t have come here!
I should have left but what was the sense, my secret was out. Caden was going to tell his parents, and then they would know the truth. Ten minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Walker came up and opened the door. Both parents were aging so gracefully with their brown hair sprinkled with some grays. Mrs. Walker had tears in her eyes. All of them showed so much concern and compassion, I felt guilty about pulling them into my horrid world. Caden stood firmly behind them. He was a senior at the time and already built like a pro football player. He had brown hair and milk chocolate eyes, and looked like his dad.
“Miya dear,” Mrs. Walker’s voice oozed sympathy. “You are welcome to stay here as long as you want, or need to.”
“Thank you. That is very kind. It will just be a few days.”
They walked toward me making me feel like I was part of a Walker family intervention. I guess in many ways, I was. Oh, God, please don’t do this. Just leave me to my studying. I will figure everything out. I always do. I always have.
“Miya, we love you and consider you part of this family. Let us help you. You don’t have to do this alone,” Mr. Walker said with genuine concern. He was a big man who had played college football until he blew out his knee. Since then, he invested his free time to coaching and was the director of the Y. He was a wonderful man and great with kids. Everyone in the community looked up to him.
“I just don’t know what to do.” The tears began to rush out of my eyes again. “If I say something, they will put me in a foster home. I just have to get through the next year and a half until I can leave and figure out how to pay for college.”
Mrs. Walker pulled me off the bed and hugged me. She hugged me just as I imagined a loving mother would hug her daughter. It was a feeling I had yearned for, but never knew. “I will call the school tomorrow and tell them you have been staying here since your parents are out of town, but that you are sick. We will work on some makeup tomorrow to see if we can cover this up for Friday and the game.”
She knew cheerleading and gymnastics were important to me, as well as my schoolwork. Now she knew why. It was my ticket away from my parents. I was dedicated to my education and working hard to make sure I had a chance at a good future. Nothing like what I hoped to escape.
“Thank you,” I said in a quiet thankful voice, noticing Caden standing behind her. His face was full of emotions – anger, shock, sadness. Emotions he was trying to fight. They all left Cate’s room and a few minutes later, her mom came back with some blankets and a pillow for me.
The next day when I finally woke up, Cate and Caden were already at school. I sat up and felt as if a bus had hit me. My head and face were throbbing. I got up and looked in the mirror to see the damage done. Looking back at me was someone I didn’t even recognize anymore. A nasty bruise on my cheek overshadowed my long blonde hair and fairy green eyes. I wasn’t a small girl by any means but had an athletic build and was coming into my own. It was more than just the physical aspects of what I saw, but staring back at me was a tired teenager. Tired of fighting. Tired of hiding. Tired of trying to survive shit I shouldn’t have to deal with, now or ever. No one should.
I took a shower and tried to let the warm water wash away the emotional and physical pain, but there was no relief in sight. I closed my eyes and leaned against the cold tile, contemplating all the same thoughts I had last night. I took a few deep breaths and got out, not wanting to think anymore.
When I went downstairs, Mrs. Walker was placing pancakes and eggs she’d made me on the table.
“Morning, Mrs. Walker.”
“Hello dear. I hope you slept well. It is almost lunchtime. How are you feeling?” she greeted me as she filled a glass with orange juice.
“Like I was hit by a truck.”
She gave me a compassionate smile as she handed me the glass and gently patted my shoulder. It was a small reassuring sign that the Walkers had my back. “When you are done, Miya, let’s see what we can do to cover up that bruise.”
“Okay. Thank you for everything, Mrs. Walker.” I received a nod and smile. I wasn’t used to smiles.
I sat and ate my breakfast not realizing how hungry I really was while Mrs. Walker tidied up the kitchen. Mrs. Walker ran her own errand service company and had a few people working for her. They did everything from running to the grocery store for people to helping them get to their doctor’s appointments. The business suited her well. She was always ready and willing to help out where needed, and always with a sincere smile.
I cleared my dishes and put them in the dishwasher. We went upstairs and she pulled out all of her makeup and got some of Cate’s as well. She put dollops of color on a paper plate so she could mess with her own color palette. “Miya, Bob and I were talking last night. We want you to stay here with us until you are off to college.” Mrs. Walker continued to mix and match the colors before testing them on my bruised cheek.
“Thank you, Mrs. Walker, but I can’t do that. I don’t want to burden you and your family.”
She halted her work, and grabbed my hand. “You are not a burden nor could you ever be. We already talked to Cate and Caden about it, and they are more than fine with it. We can help you with food and clothes as well.” As if what she said was the final word, she apparently thought she found the right color combination because she gently rubbed it onto my skin, trying not to hurt my black and blue cheek.
A mix of feelings surfaced all at once. A sense of relief overwhelmed me that this wonderful family was willing to take me in. A family who actually had no obligation to me other than being their daughter’s best friend, yet they truly cared about me. They were willing to go above, and beyond for me. At the same time, I also didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. I wasn’t their responsibility. I wasn’t their child.
“I can’t, Mrs. Walker,” I said slightly shaking my head.
“Miya, we insist. You’re a good girl, and a hard worker. Please let us help you.” Her eyes were pleading.
“I don’t know.” My continuously shaking head spoke of my inner turmoil. “I love all of you, and your offer is very generous, but what I am supposed to tell my parents? I assume at some point they might start wondering where I am.” I took a deep breath and glanced in the mirror. “Or maybe not. I don’t want to jeopardize the safety of anyone in this house either.”
Mrs. Walker let out a little chuckle. “Miya, have you seen the size of my husband and son?” Her laughter brought a slight smile to my face. A few of my doubts and fears began to dissipate because she was right. “I think you should talk to Bob’s brother. He is a police officer in the next town over. He will be able to help us.”
I thought about what she said as she continued to fix my face. Maybe Mrs. Walker was right. I would just make sure I was not a burden. I would pitch in around the house, and help out where and when I can. My tips at the restaurant would help me pay for gymnastics and I can make do with thrift store finds for clothes. A little bit of relief began to spread through my mind and my heart. I was safe here. I didn’t know how this was all going to work, but I knew they wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
“Okay. Let’s talk to Officer Walker and see what he says. Thank you again for being so kind, Mrs. Walker.” I gave her a big hug. She held onto me longer than she needed making me sigh. She held me, supporting me in her own way, and making me feel so safe.
“You deserve it, sweetie.” She continued working on my face. After about ten minutes, I think she nailed the right combination of makeup. With her hands on my shoulders, she turned me so I could look in the mirror. I turned my cheek to a get a better look at her work of art. She mastered the color blend. I rewarded her with a gentle smile.
Officer Walker helped us out a great deal with the situation. He was able to give us the name of a good friend of his who worked in social services. They quickly processed the paperwork to remove me from my home and place me in the care of the Walker family. It was easier than I thought, and sad in some ways. My parents didn’t even put up a fight. Then again, I am not even sure if they were sober when they got the call or made their court appearance.
I continued gymnastics without worrying about the cost. Mr. Walker said my lessons were set up with a lifetime membership to the Y. It was set up like that years ago. I had no idea, but I was thankful my parents had done that much for me. That was the only thing they did for me other than procreation and a roof over my head. I also continued cheering, and maintained my honor roll standing.
Cate and I ended up sharing a lot of clothes, mostly shirts. Her pants didn’t fit me since I was taller than she was. I shopped a lot at the thrift stores mostly because I liked to get the crazy deals, but Cate would shop there with me too. She thought it was so awesome to find designer stuff for a couple of bucks.
Caden went off to O State on a football scholarship as a wide receiver. He was currently six feet tall and just shy of two hundred pounds. The guy just kept growing. Mrs. Walker could barely keep up with his meals when he was home, all healthy but large plates full. He was like a human garbage disposal. He played hard, ran fast, refueled, and grew then repeated it over, and over again.
We went to visit him a lot during football season. It was a crazy football town, to say the least. We got to meet the players and Caden introduced me to the cheerleaders. I liked the vibe the school put off, and so did Cate. We both applied to the university. Thankfully, we both got accepted.
Cate and I went to visit Caden during the spring of our senior year. We toured the campus and had meetings with the financial services department. I was eighteen, but turning nineteen late in the summer. My meeting lasted way longer than Cate’s. I had to explain my family situation and show them paperwork proving my parents were no longer part of my life. Mr. and Mrs. Walker also supplied me with a letter stating their role in my life through the end of high school as well as a recommendation. I asked them to do this for me, and they were more than willing. The letter brought tears to my eyes. They believed in me so much and were downright proud of my accomplishments, and determination. All of this seemed like the only way I could try to get financial aid based on my income, and not my parents. I told them I was also planning to try out for the cheerleading squad, hoping there were scholarship opportunities. I also asked about campus jobs. I felt I had thoroughly impressed them with my research and inquiries. I had to be. I was on my own.
Later that night, Caden took us to a party. He didn’t do so without a major warning. “Don’t take any drinks unless you get them yourselves or from me. Stay together too. Understand?”
“Yes.” We both nodded. I missed having him and his air of protectiveness around, and I think Cate did too.
We were at the party for a few hours. We talked to the football players we already knew and met a lot more people. Caden introduced us as his sisters, which confused the hell out people seeing that Cate and I didn’t look anything alike and we were the same age. I think it was more of a protective course of action on Caden’s behalf. After speaking with a few people, they got the fact that I was really good friends with both Cate and Caden.
I started talking to a player I hadn’t met before. Nick was a sophomore. He was hot as could be with his dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned skin. He was wearing a button down plaid shirt and jeans, which hugged his nice ass. I hadn’t really dated in high school. I was involved in lots of stuff and hung out in groups, but I never let myself get close to anyone, except the Walker family. Only they knew my secrets. Coming to O State would be a fresh start for me, so why not explore new possibilities. I was young, outgoing, and thought I was decent looking.
Nick and I talked for a bit with Cate. Then she excused her herself to find a bathroom. He seemed like a nice guy so I wasn’t worried. After she left, he pulled me close to him and began kissing my neck, and then my mouth. His kissing was rough, and all over the place and he reeked of alcohol. He grabbed my breast, hard, and I started to squirm away firmly telling him no and to slow down. His hold got firmer as he reached between my legs. I yelled, not sure if anyone could hear me over the music.
Suddenly, Caden was there pulling Nick away. “What the fuck, Nick?” he yelled in his face.
“What Caden? She’s a nice piece of ass.” He smirked, and Caden wiped the insipid smirk right off his face with his fist.
“Stay the fuck away from Miya, and Cate! You hear me?”
Caden turned to me. “You okay, Miya?”
I nodded. I tried so hard to hold my tears back. The last thing I wanted was to cry at a party. Caden put his arm around me, and dragged his sister along by her hand leading us both outside.
Within minutes, we were on our way back to Caden’s place. He just moved into a three-bedroom apartment, the one all three of us would be sharing in two months’ time. We decided to do that so we could get summer jobs, not to mention me having cheerleading practice if I made the squad. The ride back was quiet. I was thankful for what Caden did but knew he needed to cool off by the scowl on his face, and his tight grip on the steering wheel. His knuckles were turning white as he tried to regulate his breathing.
I used the drive home to calm my nerves. By the time we arrived, my hands had almost stopped trembling. We walked in together, but Cate and I left Caden alone to get ready for bed but before I went in the bedroom, I watched Caden grab a bottle of water from the fridge, and then sit down at the breakfast bar in the kitchen. When I came back out from my room, I saw he had buried his head in his hands. I walked up and touched his arm.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
He looked up at me, now with steady hands. “You two are going to cause the death of me…or perhaps someone else.” He let out a deep breath, which he had held way too long.
I smiled at him, kissed him on the cheek, and patted his back. “You’re a good guy, Caden.” A small smile found his lips. The look in his eyes confused me a bit. I wasn’t sure if it was relief, over protectiveness, or what. I knew the Walker family always had my back. I guess you could say they were my family by choice. I never had good role models when it came to relationships, except for Mr. and Mrs. Walker.
That night, I barely slept. The tears and fear I experienced tonight felt too close to the fear I experienced the last time I saw my parents. I felt violated. Vulnerable. At someone else’s mercy. I lay in bed thinking and feeling sorry for myself. The more I thought about all the moments in my life that had caused those feelings, the angrier I got at myself. How could I have let it happen again? How could I put myself in a situation that brought back those feelings from my childhood? True, I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be cared for. I’ve tried so hard to suppress all the feelings and the nightmares that haunted me. I had to bury them deep down inside. I had no choice. I had to do it to survive. To move on. For years, I have felt powerless. The only thing that kept me going was hope. I grasped it with all my being. I had to. I had to be in control and stay in control every moment of every day. I needed to be the one calling the shots from now on so I could fulfill my own dreams, my own wants, and my own needs.
Cate and I graduated in May, both with honors. The Walkers had a big graduation party for us. It was a lot of fun seeing all of their family and our friends, but part of me hoped my parents would show up. Mrs. Walker thought sending them an invitation was the right thing to do, so we had.
It was later that night when I knew it wouldn’t happen. Most of the family members had already left. The party was still going with all of our friends. At this point, I knew my parents weren’t going to show up. Usually by this time every night they were passed out somewhere in the house.
I needed some time to myself. I took a walk down the street to the local park. I sat on a swing and tried to hold back the tears. It was no use. I was angry. It was impossible for me to understand how a mother or father could not want their child. Most days, I was fine pretending I was actually a part of the Walker family, that I actually had parents, and a family, who cared about me. The anger and hurt filled my thoughts.
How could they not even bother to call, send me a card, or show up for even a few minutes? This was my damn high school graduation! I am their only child!
Thinking I was alone at the park, I was surprised when I heard someone walking up behind me.
“Miya? What are you doing here? The party is still going on,” Caden uttered softly trying not to startle me.
“Just needed some time by myself, Caden. Go on back to the party. I’ll be there in a bit.” I tried to keep my sobs at bay, but it was obvious I was crying. Caden always seemed to know when I was hurting. He came around in front of me and pulled up my chin to look at my face. The overhead lights of the playground were shining down on him.
“Miya, what’s wrong?” His voice was sincere, his eyes showing so much sympathy.
I hated it. I looked away from him. I couldn’t handle that look in his eyes. I didn’t want people to feel bad for me. That whole woe is me thing wasn’t for me. I tried so hard to keep my life, feelings, and turmoil to myself.
“Miya? Please tell me.”
I lost it. “They never came.” I covered my face with my hands. “Why don’t they want me?” My words cracked as I spoke through my sobbing.
Caden pulled me off the swing and dragged me into his arms. He held me so tight while rubbing my back trying to soothe me. I felt so weak, like someone had punched me in the gut.
Goddammit! I hate feeling like this. Why do I keep letting my parents affect me like this?
Caden’s arms held me tight and I needed what he gave me. I found comfort in them, relying on his strength to keep me standing. I tried to be strong, and most days I managed to do a damn fine job of keeping my shit together. Then there were days when I felt weak, sad, but sometimes downright pissed off at the world. I hated feeling that way. Caden had a sixth sense for those moments. I never understood how he did it. As much as Cate was my very best friend, it was Caden, who always seemed to know when I needed someone the most.
“What did I ever do? Why don’t they love me?” My cries were full of anger and sorrow.
“Shhh. Don’t cry, I wish I had an answer for you, Miya. I really do, but know we all love you so much. And look at you, you graduated in the top of your class. You did that, Miya. You are going to be a success because that is who you are. Who you want to be. Not because of anyone else.” I looked up at him and he gently wiped my tears away. He kept me in his embrace until my tears slowed.
“Do you remember that time we came here, and we found Lilly peeing behind this tree?”
We both looked up at the great willow tree that dominated the park. I had often thought of myself like that tree with its roots seeking something to feed and nourish it while its branches hung in despair as if it was weeping with sadness. I wondered if like me, the tree felt its heart forever locked away.
Caden laughed. “Yeah. People still make fun of her for trying to kill that tree.”
“Remember when Cate ran away when she was ten? She was pissed because your parents wouldn’t buy her that rap CD. Then we found her here with her tent all set up.”
Caden sighed. “This park does hold a lot of great memories, doesn’t it?”
“Sure does. Some didn’t seem so funny at the time. Like when the fire department had to come and get me out of the tree.”
“I almost forgot about that.” We laughed together reminiscing about our childhood memories. “Feeling better now?” he asked me, smoothing my hair back from my cheek.
“Yes, thank you. Sometimes I just need a reminder to focus on the positive things.”
“I’m here anytime you need that reminder, Miya.”
I smiled up at him, and he leaned down kissing my cheek. I gazed into his eyes. I found comfort with Caden. I reached up on my tiptoes and pressed my lips to his. It should have been a quick kiss, more of a best-friend-I-care-kind-of-kiss, but our lips lingered. I wasn’t sure what came over me but the warm sensation, which ran through my body, surprised me. It felt so good, so right with Caden. Perhaps it was because of my moment of vulnerability where Caden, once again, swooped in to give me one of his pep talks. He always tended to get me back on track and remind me of my accomplishments and strengths.
Soon our lips were parting and our tongues were playing. One thing led to another, and then Caden took my virginity right there in the park under that beautiful weeping willow. He was amazing, gentle, and caring. I loved him and trusted him enough to be my first. I know he felt the same. It wasn’t the marry-me-and-live-happily-ever-after kind of love. I didn’t know what that was nor could I even begin to fathom that kind of love. My heart just wasn’t built for it, neither was my mind. What I did know was, at that moment, we truly cared about each other. He was one of my very best friends and I treasured him just as much as Cate. There would always be things I would never be able to share with him, memories of the past and fears for my future haunting me every day. Allowing anyone to get too deep a glimpse into my world, into my heart, would be too much for me to handle. The last thing I would ever want was to risk hurting someone I cared about, especially Caden.
Afterwards, we composed ourselves and started back to the house.
“Thank you, Caden.” I was looking down at my sandals and smoothing out the wrinkles in my pink dress.
“For what?” he asked in a soft voice.
“For being there for me. For this. For being such a wonderful friend.”
He put his arm around me and kissed the top of my head. “You know I will always be here for you.”
“So was it weird? You know, what we just did?” I asked with a bashful smile.
“I’ll admit that I will always protect you, like I do my sister. But, Miya, I don’t see you that way. I’m honored to be your first.” He smiled and I finally let out a nervous laugh. He was overprotective of me, and his sister. That was just Caden and how he was about the people he cared about.
I lay in bed later that night and thought about what happened with Caden. Despite how amazing he made me feel, I started to feel nervous things would be odd between us.
The next morning when we woke up, everything seemed fine. We went right back to normal. Our normal. I just wasn’t a virgin anymore. I was glad my first time was with someone who really knew me and cared about me.
Cate and I moved into the apartment the following week. I made the cheerleading squad and was really excited about it. Cate got a job at a department store and I got one at a diner. I brought home food for us, which helped keep costs down, and she got a store discount to share with us. I had practice five days a week for two hours a day. I worked about twenty-five to thirty hours a week in addition to practice. Needless to say, I was really busy but happy to finally feel like a grown up. It was all up to me now but with the help of two great friends.
I celebrated my nineteenth birthday and school started after Labor Day. I decided to major in business with a minor in marketing. One day, I hoped to be a business owner. As to what type of business, I had no freaking clue. My classes were off to a great start. I had a few for my major, and then the standard boring core classes, which you have no choice but to take. Being at a big university definitely had a lot of perks. There were so many things to do and tons of people to meet. No matter what you were interested in and what types of people you liked, there was something and someone for everyone.
My job at the diner only lasted for the summer. I ended up getting a job at a local pub as a waitress during the day, and then shot and beer girl at night. They were great about being flexible about my practice and game schedule. I think they liked the idea that I was a cheerleader for the university and thought I would bring the players and fans in.
I got some really good tips with the outfits I had to wear. I learned to flirt. I also learned when to kick it up a few notches, which also brought in more money. This new outgoing personality of mine started taking over, and not just at work. The attention I got at the bar was definitely starting to build my confidence. It was amazing to discover by calling guys honey or sweetie and giving them a sexy smile or a wink, I could more than double my tips. With the female customers, I found they loved to receive compliments. Whether it was on their hair, nail polish color, or wardrobe, if I gave them nice compliments it got me pulled into their circle of friends, even if it was just for a short period of time.
After a few weeks working at the bar, I met a nice guy named Christian. He worked at the coffee shop next door, and he would come in for dinner or drinks after the shop closed. Christian was a little taller than I was, with dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. He was lean like a runner, which was his workout of choice. He wore black rimmed reading glasses. They definitely added to his sex appeal. He was intelligent and insightful about current events. He always thoroughly listened and respected other people’s opinions at the same time. He was a little shy at times or so I thought. Perhaps then again, maybe it was only when people were conversing about a topic he didn’t know about or didn’t want to talk about.
One evening we went back to my apartment, and it was a like a switch was thrown. He was sweet, but couldn’t keep his hands off me. I welcomed it as long as he kept his manners intact, and he did. We were making out on the couch and slowly ridding ourselves of our clothes. Our shirts were on the floor near our feet when all hell broke loose.
Caden walked in – all six-foot-three two hundred and ten pounds of him. He threw his duffle bag in the corner of the living room.
“Who the fuck are you?” he shouted at Christian.
I shot Caden my angry face, the one that told him to mind his own business. “Seriously, Caden? Settle down! You’re not even supposed to be home.” I turned to Christian. “Christian, this is my roommate, Caden. His sister is my best friend and he lives here too.”
“You live with a dude?” Christian seemed a little shocked I hadn’t told him.
I nodded. For future reference, I should probably tell the men I bring home about my roommate situation. I just never found it odd since I was so close to Cate and Caden.
“Out,” Caden yelled pointing to the door, shoulders back and chest all puffed out like he was fucking Hercules.
Christian didn’t know what the hell to do. He looked at me, and then at Caden and back again. Caden was a giant compared to him, so he put his shirt back on and headed for the door. I apologized for Caden’s behavior and told him I would catch up with him later. Once Christian was out the door, I turned on Caden in need of an explanation.
“Would you like to tell me what the hell that was all about?” I was pissed.
“Miya, he was all over you.”
I stomped over to where Caden stood like a sentry. “Yes, he was and I wanted him to be. This is my place too, Caden. I have every right to bring people back here.”
“No,” he said firmly with his arms folded across his chest.
Like that was going to intimidate me, or something. “No? Last time I checked, I paid rent too!”
“End of conversation, Miya!” He stood with his feet planted firmly just as his words stamped the air as final, but I was prepared to have the last words.
“Fine then. Have it your way.” I poked him in the chest making my point clear, crystal damn clear. “But if I don’t come home some nights then you can guess what I am doing, but not know who I am with.” I stomped back to my room and heard Caden growl out his frustrations as I slammed my bedroom door.
Caden had not brought anyone home so far, at least not that I saw. It would have been nice if we went over these house rules before scaring Christian away. I remained pissed at him for a good long while, ignoring him as much as I could.
The following week, I was still keeping to my room. I was working on a number of papers anyway. One evening there was a knock on my bedroom door. “Yeah?”
Cate poked her head in. “Roommate meeting in the living room in five minutes.”
I groaned. What the hell was this all about? I finished typing the current paragraph of my paper, and saved the document. I shuffled out to the living room in my tank top and yoga pants.
“This better be important. I am working on a paper,” I scowled.
“It is Miya,” Caden declared. “Look, I apologize for kicking out whoever that guy was last week.”
“Yeah, Christian. We have to set some ground rules for when we bring people home.”
“Let’s hear it, Caden,” Cate said. “And they better be fair.”
“The opposite sex is welcome here, but everyone must remain clothed in common areas. And no groping in common areas either.”
“Sounds fair,” I said.
“And they can’t sleep over,” Caden added, his tone declaring he was finished.
“Fine. Too personal anyway.” I was done with this conversation.
“Fine with me too,” Cate agreed. “I assume this applies to you too, Caden?”
“Are we done? I have a paper to finish,” I asked, sounding harsh. Caden nodded and I headed back to my room.
I finally finished my paper over an hour later. I stretched my legs out on my bed and shut down my laptop. There was a knock at my door, and then Caden poked his head in without even waiting for me to answer.
I shot him a glare. “You know, one day you are going to barge in here and see me naked, or worse, see something else you may not want to see.”
“First of all, I have already seen you naked. Second of all, I did knock.”
God I hope Cate didn’t hear that. I had never told her about the night of our graduation party and I know Caden wouldn’t have either. This was actually the first time he had brought it up since it happened. “First of all, I wasn’t entirely naked, Caden. We were in a park for crying out loud. Second of all, you didn’t wait for me to tell you that you could come in.”
He growled and took a deep breath, clearly counting to ten to compose himself. “Look, I just want to apologize again for flipping out when Christian was over.”
“No worries. I caught up with him later and screwed him in the back of the coffee shop.”
Caden’s face expressed his shock, and then I was certain he saw red. He took another few deep breaths. “Just be careful, Miya. I care about you and don’t want to see you get hurt, or in trouble.”
“Caden, I am always careful…and selective.” I was always careful. I was on the pill and knew to make the guy wear a condom. The selective part was true too, or maybe it was a means of justification.
He walked out closing my door behind him.
So, I didn’t really fuck Christian in the back of the coffee shop, but we did have oral sex. Awkward oral sex, but it got the job done. I only told Caden that to get a rise out of him and it obviously worked. It was okay when I was in younger, but now he needed to stop the whole overprotective thing he felt the need to have with me. I didn’t need him like that anymore.