SNHU Undergrad Prose Winner from the 2011 issue
I see her from across the wood yard, and she’s smiling at me. Her green eyes light up with excitement. She flushes beneath the freckles sprinkled across her nose, and she tucks her long brown hair behind her ear. She’s so beautiful, young and innocent, and I know I have to be with her. I know she wants me too, because I’ve seen her watching me. She brings her dad his lunch most days at the mill where we both work.
I smile back and give her a small wave. She hides behind her hand and turns away quickly, but not before I see the color deepening in her cheeks.
Tomorrow, I’ll walk over to her and say hello for the first time.
Her shy little smile will completely do me in.
There’s something special about her, and I’ve known it since that day I said hello. In comparison to her, the others were less than nothing. I never spent as much time with them as I spend with her, and I never wanted to. I didn’t fall in love with them the way I’ve fallen in love with her.
We’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks. We’re happy, but we have to keep it a secret. I’m older than she is. I don’t see why that should be a problem, but I know not everyone sees it that way.
I’ve known her dad for years. He’s a good guy, but I can’t let him find out about us. I’ve been here before, heard the lies and the accusations. He’d take her away from me, and I can’t let that happen. I love her, and she loves me. That’s all that really matters to us.
Tomorrow, I’ll ask her to be with me for the first time. She’ll be nervous, maybe a bit scared, but she loves me.
“It won’t hurt?” she’ll ask.
“Maybe a little,” I’ll say. “But you want to be with me, don’t you? You love me, don’t you?”
She’ll say yes.
It’s our six month anniversary, and things have been going well. She’s everything I need her to be, always gives me what I want, and I couldn’t be happier. We haven’t talked much about our future, but it’s time to start making plans. Something wonderful has happened.
She’s crying, and she’s never been more beautiful.
“How will I finish high school?” she asks through her tears. “What about college? I’m too young to do this!”
“Shh,” I say. I run my hands through her hair to calm her and hold her close. “It’s all right, baby. I’ll take care of you. You know that, don’t you? You trust me, don’t you?”
Tomorrow, we’ll tell her parents about me. There’ll be a lot of yelling, crying and threatening, but we’ll hold each other tight through it all. They’ll never understand. They’ll tell her the same lie about me that the other parents have told their daughters, that I’m some sort of monster. They’ll throw me out of their house and tell me to never come back. She’ll climb out her bedroom window that night, and get in my car.
We’ll drive until they can’t find us, and we’ll never go back.
I never really considered myself the marrying kind, but I’m standing in front of a judge, promising to love, honor and cherish the girl at my side. We’re holding hands, so I know that hers is cold and shaking. It feels good.
I’m not really paying attention to the judge. Then I realize what he’s asking her. “. . . from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to obey, till death do you part?”
Her hand is still shaking in mine, and there are tears running down her face. She’s so young and beautiful and scared, and she’s mine.
Tomorrow, she’ll give birth to our daughter. She’ll be so small and innocent and beautiful, and she’ll look just like her mother.
I work long, hard hours at the steel plant, and I make barely enough money to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table. All I want when I get home is a clean house and a nice dinner on the table, but that’s not what I get. I get toys on a floor that hasn’t been vacuumed in two days. I get macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. I don’t even get a beer with my supper, because she didn’t ask me to buy more and she’s too young to buy it herself.
“I’m sorry!” she cries through her tears. “I’ll do better, I promise! I didn’t mean to, I just didn’t think. . .”
“You do it on purpose, don’t you? You try to make me mad, don’t you?”
She starts picking up the toys. “No, it was an accident. I swear,” she says. “I’m so sorry.”
Tomorrow, she’ll have bruises on her face and arms, and she’ll look at me with fear in her eyes. I’ll take her in my arms and kiss the pain away. I’ll tell her that I love her, that I’m sorry, that I’ll never do it again. I’ll mean every word.
She’ll believe me.
I haven’t worked in almost three months. Orders at the plant dried up, and I was the first one kicked to the curb. The freezer is empty, the refrigerator almost is, and there are only a couple of cans of soup in the cabinet. The rent is two months overdue, the water bill is two weeks late, and they’re going to shut the electricity off in the morning.
“I got a job today.” She says it quietly, reluctantly.
“You got a job without my permission?”
“I just thought. . .”
“You didn’t think!” I tell her. “You never think. You’re happy about this, aren’t you?”
She nods slowly. “Yes,” she whispers.
“You’re happy that I can’t support my family? You think I’m not a man, don’t you? You think you’re so much smarter than me, don’t you? You didn’t even finish high school!”
“I’m sorry. I just. . .the bills, and the rent. . .I’m sorry!”
She runs, but she can’t hide.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell her to make sure she puts makeup on her neck before she leaves for work. I’ll tell her that I love her, that I’m proud of her, that I know she’ll be a good waitress. I’ll explain how hard it is to know that I can’t support my own family. I’ll promise that her job’s only temporary, that I’ll find another one soon. I’ll tell her I was just hurt, that I didn’t mean it. I’ll apologize and tell her that I’ll never do it again.
She’ll believe me.
The years haven’t been kind to her, and she’s starting to look a little rough around the edges. Her green eyes aren’t as bright as they used to be, and they don’t light up as much when she sees me. There are fine lines starting to show around her eyes, and her freckles stand out against how pale her skin has become. There are more strands of gray in her long, brown hair than there used to be. I know she loves me, but I’m starting to think I don’t love her anymore.
“Why do you look so old?” I ask. “You’re letting yourself go, aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I just don’t have time to worry about it, with work and the house and everything. I’ll do better.”
“Yeah, you will,” I tell her. “If you look this bad at thirty, I don’t want to see you at forty.”
Tomorrow, I’ll take her paycheck and take her to the store to buy some moisturizing cream. She’ll use it every morning and every night, just like the bottle says she should. She’ll dye her hair to cover the gray. She’ll put on her age-defying makeup before I’m even out of bed. She’ll try as hard as she can to look the way she did on the day we first met.
It won’t work.
She’s the same age now that her mother was when I met her. She’s got the same bright green eyes, freckles, and long brown hair, and the same beauty and innocence. She is everything her mother used to be, everything she’ll never be again. And she’s mine.
“You’re so beautiful,” I tell her. “And you know it, don’t you? You look just like your mother did when she was your age.”
I reach out my hand to touch her face.
I don’t recognize the pain for what it is, not at first. I look down at my chest, and I see the blood slowly spreading across the front of my shirt.
I look up, and I see her standing in the bedroom door with a smoking gun in her hands.
“It’s okay, baby,” she is saying. “It’s going to be all right.”
Her green eyes are bright with tears, and she wipes at them with her hand. Her freckles show through where the makeup’s been washed away. Her hair falls across her face and into her eyes. She’s shaking and crying, and she’s beautiful. So beautiful.
I know she’ll call an ambulance. I know she’ll apologize and tell me how sorry she is. I know it was an accident.
“I love you so much,” she’s saying. She’s moved away from the door, and I’ve fallen to the floor. I can’t see her anymore.
Her hand should be on my face, but it isn’t. She should be on her knees at my side, but she’s not. I don’t understand what’s taking so long.
“I’ll take care of you. I swear. I’ll do better, I promise.”
She isn’t talking to me.
My chest hurts. It’s hard to breathe. I can’t turn my head, can’t see, can’t move my hands. I can feel blood running across my chest and down my sides.
“Baby?” I think I say, but I can’t hear my own voice. I think that’s blood. Bubbling up in my throat. I try again.
She doesn’t answer.