Seven

Written by bridget

This work was last updated November 11, 2020


Cursing

June stood at the kitchen counter cursing the twelve year old can opener that had failed her once again. Her soup, still confined by its steel, shook in its can as she slammed it onto the counter. She was ready to cry when Paul came through the door. June put on a smile and brought the can and its opener to the door.

“Well, hello to you too.” He said to her, kicking off his boots and nudging them under the chair next to the door.

“Welcome home. Do you want dinner?” she said, putting the soup and can opener into his hands before turning and walking back.

He took off his coat, laying it over the chair before following her to the kitchen. She was sitting on the laminate countertop kicking her legs out almost far enough to touch the scuffed wall opposing her. He leaned in the doorway waiting for her eyes to meet his and in those few seconds he felt his guilt rise and fall. Once she looked over to him he straightened up in his stance.

“Well, Jean-Paul?” she poked at him.

“Yes Juniper?” he jabbed back. She responded first with an eye roll, knowing his retaliation had been inevitable.

“Well, would you like soup or starvation for dinner tonight?” she joked, gesturing at the soup in his hands.

Paul shuffled to the counter and put the can down on its edge, next to where June sat. He made a valiant effort but the indents made by Junes earlier attempts only made the extraction efforts that much more difficult.

He was washed in a non-soup-related shame when he saw the heavy makeup around her eyes. He let the severity settle over them for a moment.

“I’m sorry.” he said, his face washed in a seriousness she didn’t register at the time with her gaze set on the can.

“That's fine” she grunted, pushing herself off the counter, “We can have ramen instead” she turned, reaching up into the cabinet above her head. He wrapped his arms around her torso making her flinched at his touch before settling into the embrace and reciprocating, throwing her arms over his shoulders. He settled his face into her shoulder and let out the heaviness that had been stuck in his lungs from the night before. They’d gone to sleep angry and June had decided when they woke up that they weren’t fighting anymore. Paul was happy to adopt this in his 27 minutes of consciousness before running out the door for his class, but now that he was home he had apologies to make. Classes had been particularly boring and he had spent more time panicking about the previous night's events than taking notes.

“It won’t happen again.” he told her, speaking into her sweater that had belonged to her mother.

“I know. It’s ok” she assured him of what she herself did not believe. “Now can we figure out what we’re doing for dinner?” she laughed, trying to allow the moment to pass, but he only tightened his hold on her.

“I’m sorry.” he sobbed, “I love you” he continued, against her wishes. “I don’t deserve you.” he sniffled pathetically and she internalized his pain on top of her own. She could feel the fear that had carried him through the day and suddenly her own fear subsided and the facade she had put on for his return crumbled and she started to shake.

“Can we make dinner please?” she said, trying to speak through the few tears that fell and squirming against his hold that only firmed to her struggle.

She had already made up her mind and she knew the more time he had to talk, the more time he had to pull the threads. She just had to wait for him to fall asleep and her dad would be waiting outside with the truck, and her backpack was stashed away containing all of her essentials. Her dad was already on the way. He had been driving since she called, right after Paul had left for class. She wasn’t looking forward to the drive, knowing her dad would remind her that he advised against the two moving in and that the police could take care of the situation much better than simply running away. But the 14 hour drive with her father failing to say anything helpful was her safest option, she knew staying another week or so would bring her back to this night.

They’d moved in halfway through second year, 8 months of dating and a one bedroom 20 minutes from campus at 400$ was too good to pass on. He hadn’t yet hit her then, but she’d known the relationship had an expiration date. More than a year had come and gone since then and their lives had only become more complexly tied.

The first time he’d hit her was an accident. They were entwined in their bed and he lost grip pulling up the blankets tucked into the bed frame. He laughed out of shock and her nose bled onto her shirt and the sheets. It happened so quickly that he forgot to apologize at first. She took a shower while he changed the bed. He had told her that turn down service would be an extra cost and she chuckled, not wanting to leave him with any guilt; she was the one that insisted on making the bed so properly every morning despite it being less practical. The next day when she woke up he asked her to put on makeup to cover the mark left behind so he wouldn’t have to be reminded of his stupidity and she complied, not wanting to waste any further thought on the matter.

She managed to calm him and he managed to cut the soup can open with a bottle opener, a knife and a wild determination to prove useful. They ate in front of the tv and June was upset that she wouldn’t be able to finish Breaking Bad, they were only on season 3 and she knew once she’d departed she wouldn’t be able to separate the show from this time in her life. She’d already planned on deleting the 4 playlists she’d been listening to on repeat for the last 8 months, the songs they looped were irreversibly tied to Paul and their apartment.

They finished off a second episode and he collected the dishes and went into the kitchen to wash them. She checked her phone and had a notification from her father: In Kingston, See u soon. She turned her phone off and joined him in the kitchen. Her first love story was in its dying hours and she was the first of the two to know. He finished with the first bowl and laid it on the drying rack as she leaned against the fridge, just a foot away, next to the dishwasher that had never worked. As Paul started on the second dish, she opened her phone and put on one of the playlists that would soon be relegated to her deleted folder. The song that had played at their department formal when they were just friends came on. They had slow-danced to this song first and she felt her knees falter at the introduction. Paul turned around seconds later at the singer's first words. He set down the second bowl and wiped his hands damp on his pants before extending his arm. They swayed in the kitchen for 3 songs before she felt ready to let go. She smiled at him and he planted a kiss on her forehead before turning back to the sink with a yawn.

“I’ll finish up.” she said, stepping in front of him. “Get some sleep.”

“Coming to bed soon?” he asked, putting an open hand on her back.

“In a few hours,” she responded, picking up the bowl and sponge “I still have a couple readings to finish up.”

“Ok, see you in the morning then.” he said with a kiss on the back of her head.

“Goodnight” she said, scrubbing at the bottom of the bowl for 4 minutes to ensure he would not be in the room when she turned sound.

She sat in the living room until she heard enough doors open and shut down the hall to safely assume he had changed, used the washroom and went to bed. She guessed she had another 2 hours until her dad would be outside so she retrieved her backpack from its hiding spot in the dishwasher’s bottom rack and left the apartment.

She had never been particularly romantic nor had she ever thought of her future love affairs with any yearning or escapist mentality, but this was certainly not how she imagined the end of her first relationship. She walked the street she now knew better than the one she had grown up on; past the coffee shop that served a cheap coffee adjacent beverage, a key cutting business whose continued survival with such low customer base could only be explained with some type of crime affiliation, a corner store that slowly bankrupted all nearby residents with the magic formula of convenience and over priced essentials, and of course she passed buildings full of students like herself. Some of them she’d had classes with, some of them she considers friends.

Once she reached campus she checked her phone and shared her location with her dad. She sat on a bench long enough for reality to clarify in her mind and she retched the contents of her stomach into the plant holder beside her. The dark of 2AM did not change her familiarity with the campus. She hadn’t thought about what her plans for school were yet. She wanted no part in Paul's academics being derailed but she couldn't continue at the same school. The rough plan in her mind was to finish out the 2 weeks left of the term online by request with special circumstances and finish exams online by proctor. She would be able to switch schools if she missed a semester.

* * *

Lists

In her semester off June found lists to be helpful and took to keeping small notebooks and listing everything.

Sunday morning (before 9. a.m)
Make bed
Brush teeth
Get dressed
Make and drink smoothie
Banana
Frozen fruit mix
Almond milk
Protein powder
Laundry

She knew her time at home tended to break apart her friend-personality, the one she liked best. Her personality with Paul became quiet, with her father it became overly emotional but with the friends she made at school her personality was a reserved quiet rather than a fearful one and a passionate emotional rather than defensive. At the ttime her thinking was that staying busy would keep her in the mindset of school. In the time of no assignments she took up writing again. Having nothing to stress about and no classes to run to gave her mind the time to slow and create.

Some of the Updates of Juniper Dalliher
0.0.01: Juniper is born to Miles and Phoebe and named for a tree.
0.2.20: Juniper is a happy baby that only cries when there is good enough reason.
1.0.00: Juniper goes to school and makes friends who play with dolls. She asks her mother for a doll so she can play with them
1.0.25: Juniper names her doll Maisey.
1.2.02: Juniper is renamed Juney by her friends.
2.0.00: Juney starts playing soccer. She is disappointed whenever she comes home from games with a clean uniform.
2.6.00: Juney is renamed Dalliher by her teammates.
2.7.23: Dalliher breaks her wrist in a game and wears a cast for 2 months while continuing to play.
3.0.00: Dalliher starts highschool and loves her art class. She draws castles that look like ant hills but she can see the insides, and they are magnificent.
3.9.99: Dalliher is called Juniper again at her mother's funeral.
4.0.00: Juniper is comforted by everyone but her father and resolves to get through highschool and move as far away as possible.
4.2.00: The next three years are blurred, all actions in this phase are simply in an effort to move away.
4.2.20: Juniper works part time jobs.
4.2.50: Juniper expects nothing below 90% in school.
4.2.65: Juniper volunteers at the school on weekends.
4.8.02: Juniper only applies to Universities 2 or more provinces away from home.
4.9.94: Juniper is renamed June by guides at University orientation.
5.0.00: June meets new friends in her dorm and in classes. She joins the writing club.
5.4.00: June meets Jean Paul who, through his updates, has come to be named Paul.
5.8.55: June and Paul start dating.
5.9.04: June quits the writing club.
6.0.00: Paul hits June
.
6.0.24: Apologies.
6.1.75: Paul hits June.
6.1.30: Apologies.
6.2.00: Paul hits June.
6.2.01: Three - This is the point in children's shows that the lesson is learned.
6.2.39: Apologies.
6.3.00 to 6.7.99: the cycle repeats with increased intensity and apologies moving back incrementally.
6.8.00: Paul continues to hurt June.
6.8.24: His techniques have improved.
6.8.83: Apologies.
6.9.00: Paul hits June.
6.9.04: Paul sleeps and June makes her plan.
6.9.25: Paul leaves for class and June calls her father.
6.9.26: Miles begins the drive, June packs light.
6.9.87: Paul comes home. They have dinner and watch TV.
6.9.98: June gets into her father's car.
6.9.99: June renames herself.

Her writing erred on the side of obsessive. Notebooks filled faster than she was able to process the stories. They fall out of her head as soon as they are on paper. The process of writing was enough to keep her afloat at the time.

A catalogue of touchstones
After three minutes of examination to see if there could be a faint second line I decided the results were negative and left the stick in the stalls trash receptacle. That night you brought over a bottle of tequila and we fell asleep in eachothers arms. We didn't know each other well enough for me to tell you about my paranoia. You woke up to shut off your alarm at 8 the next morning, decided your first class wasn’t worth getting up for and pulled me closer to you. Once we were out of my room we were strangers again. We only knew each other behind closed doors back then. I suppose that always remained true.

The fighting eventually diminished but the animosity didn’t. This night was different. You wanted to punish me. My body still remembers the pain you inflicted for fun, just because you wanted to know you could.
All of my writing has been addressing you. You have sent 63 messages that I’ve left unreturned. In my world, I don’t need to respond since I’m constantly speaking to you in the stories I write. You frame all my narratives now. I haven’t spoken to you since January. This is the most I’ve ever loved you.

I came out to my father. He’s now convinced I only left because I wasn’t able to love you while being queer. I suppose that’s easier for him to live with, and who am I to tell him his coping strategy is wrong. ‘It can’t hurt me if I don’t let it’. That's what I have had to unlearn because of you.

* * *

Cheated

I am sorry if you feel cheated by the way I’ve chosen to share this story. As first a story of young lovers. That's how it first felt by those living the story. That's how it looked to those watching in real time. Her friends tried to be there once they knew but some stepped into spaces not meant to be filled. All well intentioned, some friends made things feel worse with public advocacy and others made huge impacts with late night messages.

I’ve tried to keep my own feelings out of this but following Paul's story no longer interests me. Should you want to know what has become of him, picture the privileged boy you had a few classes with in school, look into how many rapists and abusers out of the number that exist actually end up being brought to justice or even publicly accused at all. Combine those and write a story for yourself. Perhaps you’ll add a touch of magic to allow yourself to rest better or maybe even add an immense amount of magic and have him be eaten by a dragon, whatever you write will change nothing for her.

She never hears from or about him once she changes her number and moves to University in Manitoba. Her lists continue to bring comfort but diminish in frequency and she graduates on the dean's list. Had you asked her at the beginning of highschool she would have told you she wanted to be a lawyer like her mother. At the end of her undergrad she found a job as a legal secretary and stayed her entire career. She moved in with her partner when they were 28 and 29, after 4 years of dating and they stayed together through unavoidable fights and hectic dog raising.

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