Saturday, September 8, 2012

Outside the Comfort Zone

This is chapter 3 of my Coffee Shop story. I hope you enjoy it! 

Outside the Comfort Zone
Claire had seen some sort of change take place within Marlene. She couldn’t place her finger on exactly what it was but there was definitely something different about her mother. Claire was alone for a couple of days now. The periods of absence grew longer and Claire wondered for the third time what exactly Marlene did for work. The lessons had stopped and Claire felt an itching to learn more. The television had become her only way to learn anything. She watched all sorts of television documentaries and educational films on outer space. Her days were filled with planting, watching TV, and drawing. Claire never dared to touch the oven even when the supply of premade food had diminished.  
The only interruptions in her daily routine were the unexpected visits that Ryan would often pay her. He came more frequently now, almost once a week.  She wasn’t as freaked out when he came anymore. In the back of her mind she always expected Marlene to return but more often than not it was Ryan. Claire had grown indifferent to him as one would with a stray cat. He regaled with stories of his life but seldom asked for any information about her. By his tenth visit, all he knew about her was that her name was Claire and that she lived with Marlene. 
Claire stood outside the balcony. She lingered for a moment longer than usual. The plants were growing nicely and Claire stopped to prune the pots of any smaller buds that hindered the healthier ones. She sat down with her back against the stone wall of the balcony. Gardening always made her pensive. Claire wondered if God was waiting to pull her out too. She brushed her dirtied hands against her faded jeans and walked back. The door lock unhinged and Ryan was standing there. 
“Hi,” she said faintly. He took off his shoes and he seemed quite angry today. Claire tried not to be frightened but she was unnerved by the furrowing of his eyebrows and the way he clenched his fists. Ryan only came to see her when he was angry or sad. She didn’t know how that made her feel. It had been a long time since Claire had given up her safe haven to Ryan. There was no way she could get him to permanently leave her. She wondered if she even wanted him to leave her forever. 
“Make me food,” he ordered sitting on her couch with a hand over his forehead. Claire thought back to the first day that he had barged into her home. She walked slowly to the kitchen and sadly realized that nothing had changed. She was still the shy, meek girl who couldn’t say no, not even to an intruder. Claire looked at the fridge and pantry for anything that might be partly edible. It was the fifth consecutive day that Marlene was missing. There was no cereal anymore or any cans of microwavable soups. She nervously grabbed a frying pan from one of the bottom cabinets. Claire had seen Marlene make cheese sandwiches dozens of times. She reached for the bread in the fridge. No one had touched it for over a month but it looked perfectly normal. Claire’s fingers trembled as she touched the dials on the oven. The heat flared up and Claire was momentarily dazed. The frying pan let out a sizzling crackle when she placed it over the flames. She put two slices of bread onto the pan and searched for the cheese. 
Claire hated cooking and she closed her eyes as she gave the plate of burnt food to Ryan. He stared at her for three seconds before laughing. It had been a while since she had heard his laughter. His laughter wasn’t kind or sympathetic. It was always soul crushing and devastating. His laughter signaled that she had done something so unbearably wrong that he had to laugh at her. 
“What is this?” He asked her in a serious tone. Claire shook her head and tried to explain. The tears beat her to it and that only added to his laughter. She wondered what she could do now. He took a bite of her burnt sandwich and coughed, spitting it back out. 
“It’s really good,” Ryan said with a sneer.
“Thanks,” Claire said with a beaming smile. Maybe Ryan wasn’t so bad. 
“That was sarcasm, Claire,” he said sighing. He pushed the plate away from him. “Eating a dead cat would be better than your sandwich.”  Claire didn’t have anything to say and she didn’t have to say anything.
The lock unclicked itself and soon the door was ajar. Claire ducked down and asked herself how she could have possibly missed the sound of that. Ryan was hiding behind the kitchen counters too and Claire’s ears perked up at the sound of Marlene’s voice. 
 “Claire-bear,” Marlene shouted as if nothing was out of place. A man was standing next to her. He had dark shaggy hair and his eye sockets looked hollow. The man wore a dirty gray cap over his head and tattered gloves covered his hands. His toes were peeking out from his shoes. He carried a foul stench as he walked around the apartment. 
“Where is she?” His voice was gruff and let out a hiss noise. 
“C’mon, let’s go,” Ryan said tugging at her sleeve. 
“Go where?” Ryan put his hand on her mouth and motioned for her to be quiet. 
“Let’s go,” he said in a hushed tone near her ear. She shook her head.  She was not leaving her safe haven.
“You said the girl was here,” the man said throwing his cap on the floor. 
“There’s nowhere else she could be. Claire!” Marlene sounded impatient and angry. 
“I have a gun in my pocket and I will use it, let’s go Claire,” Ryan grabbed her sleeve and forcefully led her out of the apartment.  They somehow made it out the door without Marlene or the man she brought in noticing. Ryan clicked the button on the elevator. 
“I want to go back home,” Claire said. 
“We all want things we can’t have,” Ryan whispered afraid that he might be caught. If his parents ever found out that he was kidnapping a girl . . .  He didn’t even want to think about it. Still, he couldn’t just leave Claire with crazy lady Marley and that guy who looked like a serial killer. 
“Get in the elevator,” Ryan shouted once he saw that serial killer man had spotted the two of them. Serial killer man was actually taking out a gun and Ryan pushed Claire into the elevator. He urgently closed the elevator with another push of a button. 
“Sorry,” he said brusquely. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Let me go back home,” Claire said letting a tear slip. 
“Is that all you ever do, cry?” 
“I want to go back to safety.”
“Sorry,” Ryan just said again. He stood rather close to her and tried to hold her hand. The elevator opened on floor three. 
“Ooh, sorry,” some lady said turning the other direction. “Don’t you kids know that elevators aren’t the place for that?” 
“Really, did you think that she’s on my standards?” Ryan yelled before closing the elevator. 
“What does that mean?” 
“I have a girlfriend,” Ryan said not wanting to see Claire cry, again. “Do you know of any other family?” 
“Yeah, my mom is still in the apartment. She wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.” 
“Claire, that’s touching and all but I’m not letting you go back.” Claire wondered why he was so bent on kidnapping her. She shrugged her shoulders and felt the fear of the outside world sink in. The elevator opened and she saw the lobby for the first time. It was a dingy little room with a front desk and a couple couches. There was a tacky picture hung on the opposite side of the couch. 
“We’re in a hurry,” Ryan said interrupting her observations. He grabbed her hand and started running for the door. She heard him curse when they reached his motorcycle. “Well at least I brought an extra helmet.” He plunked the extra helmet on her head and saw the disbelief in her face. 
“I am not getting on that thing,” she said firmly stepping away. The helmet was strapped on and she didn’t know how to doff the helmet. 
“Too bad,” Ryan said uprooting her from the ground. He started up the motor and it made a terribly loud vroom sound. He stepped on the pedal before even checking if Claire was properly situated. She screamed before holding on to his waist. 
“You’re crazy,” she said closing her eyes. He drove like a maniac and got to his house in less than ten minutes. 
“You have to hide in my room, okay? I’ll bring you food and whatever. It won’t be too different from what you’re used to.” Claire didn’t hear half of what he said because she was so enthralled with his huge mansion of a house. 
“You live here?” 
“Yes,” he curtly responded before sneaking her in. They ran up flights and flights of stairs before finally reaching his room. His room was larger than the whole apartment that Claire used to live in. 
“I’ll be back,” he said. “The closet’s yours.” Claire nodded in excitement. He must have been perfectly happy to live in a place like this. Claire shuffled into the closet until she found something, or rather someone. The closet was huge, with a couch and a coffee table. There were racks upon racks of clothing. She stood back wondering where the voice was coming from.
“Who… who are you?” Claire felt silly talking to a silhouette but today the strangest sequence of events had happened. 
“I could ask the same,” the voice said. The shadow materialized into a small girl, at least two feet smaller than Claire. She had curly locks of a reddish color. Freckles were splattered all over her face. Claire stepped back and felt uneasy once her back had touched the edge of the clothing rack. The little girl glared at her and for the first time she saw the similarities between her and Ryan. They were siblings and things were starting to click. 
Melanie stared at her brother from across the couch. Both their parents were at the office. She glared her eyes at him and they both knew all too well that it was now a challenge of will. Melanie Nichols never lost at anything and she stared at him intently. He bit his lip in that agonizing fashion that so many of his girlfriends adored. 
“I’m not Sasha,” Melanie said loudly hoping that would get on his nerves. 
“Childish but well played,” Ryan said. He glanced over momentarily at their family picture just to find that Claire had somehow stumbled into the living room. 
“What are you doing?” He asked flustered. Round one was over. 
“Am I not supposed to be here?”
“It’s fine, Claire,” Ryan said with a little snarl.
“You can leave now,” Melanie said with a little smile. Claire stood awkwardly as she watched Ryan get up in a huff. She had never seen him so overworked. He left without saying one word. 
“Your story is that your parents live in Europe and you need a place to go. No one will ask more than that. I suppose you can add the fact that you were my best friend in camp, in second grade,” Melanie said putting out her hand in front of Claire. 
“Hello, I’m Claire,” Claire said beaming. 
“I’m Melanie and from now your trusted advisor. The guest room next to mine can be yours,” Melanie said shaking Claire’s hand. They walked up the stairs and Claire felt oddly intimidated by this little girl. The room was a nice turquoise color and it reminded Claire of the pictures that Marlene had shown her of the beach. 
“It’s called the beach room,” Melanie said as if she sensed what Claire had just been thinking. Melanie promptly left and she wondered why Ryan had brought her here. She found Ryan reading a magazine in the living room. He had been waiting for her. 
“Make sure she doesn’t go anywhere. Thanks,” Ryan said mumbling. Melanie nodded and walked away. She wondered what Claire exactly was supposed to do. Melanie didn’t ask any other questions before walking into the den. She sat down on the spinning chair and started to tap her pen against a blank pad of paper. The only rewarding thing about Claire, in Ryan’s viewpoint, was the fact that she was pretty. Claire had blonde hair with a little mix of nutmeg brown. Her green eyes had a depth of them that Melanie hadn’t seen in a while. Her pinkish colored skin was envious and Melanie stared at her own freckles with a slight sense of disgust. She walked back up to the guest room and found Claire intently staring at a bulletin of some sort. 
“What is that?” Melanie asked trying to read over Claire’s sloped shoulders. 
“Oh just something I found lying around.” Melanie saw the emblem of the school her mother helped build up, Le Cordon Bleu Academy. They have an extremely prestigious branch for high school students. Sasha was a prodigy before she actually moved to the branch in France. Vanessa attended that school and Ryan was always at that campus. 
“It’s my mom’s,” Melanie said before leaving. “We can take a tour if you like. Ryan probably left a couple minutes ago.” Melanie stared at clock on the wall. It was already three and that meant that classes were over.
Vanessa pushed her hair back behind her ear. Ryan was late, again. She sat down on the bench and sighed. Why hadn’t she followed Jessie and Mara in Mara’s sports car? They were going to the mall but Vanessa had wanted to see Ryan. It was still a bit chilly even though it was already April. Vanessa smelt something burning and heard an engine revving up somewhere near campus. She ran as fast as her five inch heels could take her. 
“Ryan!” She squealed loudly. He half smiled and waited for her to climb onto his motorcycle. “Do you have to take this thing around? What happened to your Ferrari?”
“Oh, the Ferrari got main stream,” he simply said and almost stepped on the pedal until Vanessa opened her mouth again. 
“Isn’t that your sister?” She asked pointing. Vanessa wrapped her arms around his waist. She loved taking advantage of any excuse to get closer to Ryan. Vanessa accidentally inched her legs closer and heard him yell out in physical pain. 
“Damn it, Nessa! God damn those shoes,” he said staring down at the reddish mark on the back of his leg. “Why didn’t I wear jeans today?” The reddish mark was already starting to swell. It quickly became a purplish color. 
“Sorry,” Vanessa said quietly, so much for a romantic endeavor. Melanie came around and Vanessa wondered what to do. That little twerp always said something so belittling and Ryan always had to laugh. Today, the little twerp had brought a friend, a very pretty friend. Vanessa clung on to Ryan’s arm even though he tried to push her away. 
“I was just giving Claire the tour,” Melanie asked when she saw her brother had raised his eyebrow. 
“Lanie, I told you not to bring her outside,” he growled. His voice was low as if he didn’t want to hurt that girl’s feelings. Vanessa rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. The Ryan she knew wasn’t sensitive. 
“Ryan, I’m going to be late.” 
“Just get her home,” Ryan said before putting on his helmet. 
“I need to give her the tour,” Melanie said and turned her back. “That’s the library, Claire. It’s even better inside. I hope Phyllis is here today.” 
“What are they doing here?” Vanessa asked raising her voice. “Who is that girl?”
“That’s Claire,” Ryan said nonchalantly. “She’s a friend of Melanie’s.” 
“Melanie Nichols, what are you doing here?” Vanessa asked before hopping off of Ryan’s motorcycle. Ryan closed his eyes and tried to stay calm. The last time Vanessa tried to pull one over Melanie, Melanie had actually pulled at Vanessa’s precious hair. 
“My mom . . .” Melanie started to say. That was how all arguments with Vanessa started out. 
“And you?” Vanessa said cutting Melanie off. The Claire girl was a couple inches shorter than Vanessa but Vanessa was wearing five inch heels. 
“I was just touring this lovely school. Do you attend here?” 
“Yes, yes I do,” Vanessa said with a sheepish sneer. This girl was ever so peculiar. 
“You’re quite lucky,” Claire said in admiration. “It seems like a special school.” 
“It’s a school only for chefs,” Vanessa said in a patronizing tone. 
“I would give anything to come here, even if I hate cooking.” Claire said in a wistful tone.  
“Did you hear Vanessa, Claire? It’s a school for chefs, not people who burn cheese sandwiches,” Ryan said. Vanessa smiled at Ryan before slipping her arm around his. 
“Yeah,” Claire said. Her voice sounded so hollow. 
“Besides, a thing like you wouldn’t last a day here,” Vanessa said before mounting Ryan’s motorcycle. 
“I bet I could,” Claire said under her breath. Vanessa still heard her and laughed. She shook her head a couple times and wiped a tear away. It was just too funny.  
“I’ll get you home Claire.  I don’t think you’re fit for the Outside world.” Vanessa stared curiously at him. 
“I want to attend this school, Ryan. If I don’t last then you can return me home. What if I told Marlene about you? That I was kidnapped? I know your address and your full name, Ryan Nichols.” 
“Is that a threat?” His voice betrayed the confidence he displayed.
“She has point,” Melanie said shrugging her shoulders. 
“Fine, let’s make a bet, Claire,” Ryan said half smiling. Vanessa leaned closer but didn’t like where this was all going.  “If you can make it here for a whole year, then I’ll get you anything you want and return you home. But if you can’t, you’ll be my personal servant for three months and you can’t tell the police about your situation.” 
“Fine!” Claire shouted before thinking about anything. How hard could it possibly be to stay in this paradise?
“Except you won’t be like Vanessa, I’ll get you into the school but everything else is your responsibility. She lives on campus but I have no idea where you’ll live,” Ryan said starting up the engine on his motorcycle. He didn’t turn back and started driving. Vanessa hung on tightly. The thrill of motorcycles always made her feel nervous and light headed. 
“Are you seriously going to let her contaminate our school?” 
“It’s not my school. Where do you need to be?”
“Nowhere,” Vanessa said. “I just need to be back before curfew.” 
“Let’s go to Dylan’s party,” Ryan said making a swift turn before she could say anything in protest. 
“I was thinking more of the movies,” Vanessa said crossly. She hated the feeling of beer and seeing Ryan wasted. “Weren’t you at some party yesterday? You still need to tell me more about that girl.” 
“Later,” Ryan said. 
“How am I going to get home?” 
“Isn’t Jessie going? She is dating Dylan. You guys can figure something out.” Vanessa sighed. 
Jessie was telling her that she was coming. It was her first time cohosting a party with Dylan. They had been dating for three months and had already slept together. Vanessa had been dating Ryan for five years, except for a very small blip, and had known him literally since forever. And yet, he wanted nothing to do with her. He would rather be caught in whole tank of sharks than have her see him shirtless. From the outside they seemed like the perfect couple and Vanessa was willing to give everything up for it to stay that way. Ryan parked his motorcycle on the driveway and started to walk towards the door. His face brightened up once he saw Dylan. 
“Ryan! Wait up,” Vanessa said teetering after him. He had disappeared into the crowds of people and she knew it was useless trying to find him. She sat down at one of the kitchen chairs and grabbed a martini. 
“Nessa, you showed up,” Jessie said with an exhilarated look. “Dylan, I’ll see you later.” She did a classic three finger wave before he left. “Where’s Ryan?”
“Probably getting a drink, I told him it was a girl’s night,” Vanessa said hoping she hadn’t used that excuse before. Jessie smiled and sat down next to her. Vanessa sipped her drink and closed her eyes three seconds after. She hadn’t expected such a strong taste. 
“I told Dylan that these weren’t good,” Jessie said pointing at the tray of martinis. 
“Yeah,” Vanessa simply said. Why didn’t she host parties with Ryan? They gossiped for a while before Vanessa’s eyes started to look around for Ryan. 
“Let’s go find Mara,” Jessie said getting up. There was some sort of tenseness between them. Jessie led the way to the living room. She spotted Dylan immediately and Ryan was sitting next to him on the couch, with his arm around some girl they both didn’t know.  The girl was blonde and tan as an orange. She was holding one of his shirt buttons and he wasn’t pushing her away. Vanessa stiffened and Jessie shot a ‘what the hell is he doing’ look to Dylan. Dylan shrugged and glanced briefly to the empty bottle of whisky on the table. 
“Ness, let’s find Mara,” Jessie said grabbing her hand. 
“No,” Vanessa said. Ryan had never done anything like that before. If he had ever cheated on her, it wasn’t so shamelessly as now. 
“Vanessa,” he said icily. He wasn’t drunk enough not to recognize her face. “Hand me another whiskey.” Dylan awkwardly looked in Jessie’s direction. 
“Ryan, I think you’ve had enough to drink,” Jessie said quietly. The nice party atmosphere had suddenly died in the living room. Vanessa felt an indefinite hole forming in her stomach. She left the living room only to see Dylan handing Ryan another beer from the corner of her eye. 
“Jess, when are you going home? Are you sure you don’t need to finish hosting this party?”
“Now,” Jessie said pulling her cellphone out of her purse. “I guess Mara didn’t come.” Vanessa nodded and swallowed a shot of vodka before leaving Dylan’s house. 
 “I had a project to finish back at school anyway,” Jessie said without looking back. “I can’t believe Dylan’s not doing anything about that tramp.” They left the party and Jessie unlocked her Mercedes. 
“Whatever,” Vanessa said. If she learned one thing in their relationship, it was to forget and forgive. She just knew that she was going to make little Claire’s life hell. 
Ryan stared up blankly at his ceiling Monday afternoon. He had been too hung over to pay attention to school and knew better than to step foot on Le Cordon Bleu Academy. He knew too well that Vanessa would pretend nothing had happened. Ryan didn’t even know her name but had enjoyed his night with her anyway. Ryan walked into his father’s office and saw that his mother was busy filling out paperwork. 
“Mom,” he said smiling. He hadn’t even taken off his school blazer yet. She glanced momentarily at him before returning to her impending paperwork. 
“Mom,” he said a tad bit louder and walked closer to her desk. He had already filled out the form for Claire. “I need your signature.” His mom finally looked up and put her pen down. 
“Vanessa,” his mother said slowly. “Ryan, I know you don’t like her okay? Just try to make it work. She’s pretty too, you know.” His mother still didn’t know about Claire and it was hard hiding her for even one day. Melanie had done a pretty good job at it and the fact that their parents hadn’t come home yesterday helped immensely. Everything would be better that way. Claire was hiding in the guest bedroom and Ryan had told all the maids not to clean that particular room. As soon as she transferred into the Academy, he could stop having panic attack whenever someone went up the stairs. His mother glanced over the form and furrowed her eyebrows. 
“Who is . . . Claire, Claire Hoskins?” Claire didn’t know her last name but Ryan had found out that crazy lady Marley went by the last name of Hoskins. 
“She’s Melanie’s friend. Claire just recently got back from Europe and you know I wanted to do Melly a little favor.” He smiled. One. Two. Three. 
“Aw how sweet,” his mother said signing the form without asking any other questions. That always happened when Ryan claimed to be doing a nice thing or whenever he called Melanie Melly. Ryan took the form and gave it to Claire, all very quietly. She was very ecstatic and even tried to glare at Ryan. He couldn’t but laugh at her pitiful stare. 
“You should try frowning first,” he said before leaving the room. As he left, he saw her practicing in the mirror. Where in the world was this girl from? 
He sat down in the lounge by himself until Melanie came down. She was only eleven but somehow she was doing more homework than him every night. 
“Are you really going make Claire survive without a dormitory?” 
“Yes, Melanie, I don’t play fair. You of all people should know that best.” He felt his phone vibrating and took it out. It was Vanessa. 
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she said in the phone. Ryan rolled his eyes and smirked. This process of “forgiving” usually took a lot longer.
“Nessa, I forgive you,” he said. “I love you.” He added the last part right before hanging up. She was lucky to have someone like him. He felt smug. Melanie shook her head in disgust. 
“Even Vanessa doesn’t deserve that,” Melanie said before racing up the stairs.
“You’ll learn when you’re older, Lanie. I wonder how far you’ll go to secure a guy like me. Wouldn’t you rather have a Ryan Nichols instead of a Dylan Parker?” Melanie made her thinking face before blowing raspberry.
I hope you enjoyed it! On a good note, I also got my invisalign off!!! I've had it for about a year and a half and its the best feeling in the world. Invisalign is like braces.  

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