Beauty is in the Eye
hap·pi·ness noun a : a state of well-being and contentment
At first there was the tunnel. Dark and ominous, yet she found herself smiling. The thick stone bricks built up along each side of her, and the smaller bricks that arched up overhead. As she looked over this familiar scene, she noticed how they seemed to breathe, to move, in time with her own breath, her own pulse.
She reached out to the side. Running her fingers along what should be coarse, jagged rock she found instead a warm, rough, yet pliable surface, like the leathery skin of some beast — or perhaps thickly knotted scar tissue. She pressed her hand against the surface, using it to guide herself as she made her way down the dark stairs.
Deeper and deeper she went, a descent into ever growing darkness. Soon enough, she could only hear the faint flap of her feet against the solid steps, the feel of her hand against that strange wall. Then the light hit her — bright, unforgiving, garish light. She staggered and blinked. Though she’d known it was coming, it still overwhelmed her. She raised her arm, attempting to block the light, but it was all encompassing and didn’t seem to radiate from an actual source.
Eventually her vision cleared and she found herself standing in the damp soil of a garden. A bent, wizened old woman knelt in the dirt just up ahead, tending to the plants. Her eyes were disfigured, the lids sealed shut with scar tissue. It was a wonder she could keep the garden so neat and tidy. How did one manage without sight? Marie wondered.
“Well, hello my dear!” the old woman exclaimed.
“Hi.” was Marie’s stilted response. “How do you keep your garden so neat? I mean...” She stuttered, before she could catch herself.
“Oh, it’s simple really. You get to know your plants by feel. One adapts as needed, my dear.” The old woman straightened as much as her hunched, aged body would allow and made her halting way to the porch.
Marie followed, as if drawn. She stood, fidgeting at the edge of the porch, staring up at this wrinkled, gray haired old woman. She seemed so content, sitting in her wicker rocking chair. Her gnarled fingers worked away with her crochet hook, her mouth moving as she counted off silent numbers. “So, are you happy, my dear?” She said after completing a long crochet chain.
The question was like a punch to the gut, and Marie gasped.
She awoke, her forehead damp from the condensation on the window of the car. Looking up, she realized they weren’t far now. They were mere minutes from the comforting familiarity of home and all the charms of Americana within. Mitchell gave her a concerned look before turning his attention back to the road.
“We’re almost there.” He commented, “I’ll pick you up Sunday night, okay?”
She nodded, and they pulled into the long paved drive. She roused herself, ready to haul a good sized load of laundry into the house.
“Come on, sleepy head!” Her blonde friend, Alyssa chimed in from the back seat. “Home sweet home!” The spunky, gorgeous, fair haired girl was Marie’s constant companion and best friend. She followed Marie into the house, her own little cheerleader.
Marie’s mom greeted them much like a fifties style mother would, perfect dress, apron, and food in hand. “I made apple crumble!” She exclaimed and Marie winced. It smelled amazing.
“Oh, mom, you shouldn’t have. I’m training.” She sighed, though she was finding it hard to resist reaching for a lump of brown sugary goodness right there on top of the steaming, just out of the oven delight.
Her mom laughed good-naturedly and gathered her up in a hug. “So, you were homesick? It was so kind of Mitchell to bring you home.” She held her daughter out at arms length. “I don’t see what you’re so worried about. You look almost too thin if anything. Goodness, just look at those runner’s legs. But If you like, I’ll make you up some nice grilled chicken and veggies. That’s allowed, right?”
Marie nodded in relief and escaped to her room. It was decked out in stereotypical childhood decorations, except for perhaps the silhouettes along the walls. A horse here, a child with a ball there, a fish, a bird, all placed in a way that you wouldn’t notice them at first, lost in the pattern of her blue wallpaper. Strangely enough, they were comforting at night.
They were her father’s invention. After too many nights of being woken up to her screams about shadows creeping out from the corners. He created his own shadows to adorn her room. Comforting, fun shadows. The pony she’d always wanted. Her own shadow while holding a ball... and the birds. It was probably the birds she liked best. They were everywhere, hidden among the tiny periwinkle flowers, swirling up to the ceiling to circle the light fixture.
She threw herself down on her bed, holding her growling stomach. Damn her mom for that crumble. It looked so good. She was doing so well, though. Coach was pushing her to do more than just the distance runs, she couldn’t slip up now. Short as she was, the fact that she could cover the distances as well as she did was nothing less than a miracle. To stay competitive, she had to fight for it, push.
She was losing her drive, though. Alyssa was always encouraging her to go out to parties, make new friends, join in the clubs and social circles on campus. She had to admit, she wanted to do that too... With a sigh, she sat up, staring into the mirror. Long jet black hair fell around her face, and she grimaced. Her mom was blonde and gorgeous, and so many of her friends were fair haired. She’d always wanted to be like them. It took several attempts at bleaching her hair and having it break off into a damaged, horrid mess that she finally gave up and accepted her slick, dark locks for what they were.
She didn’t even dare look down at her boyish, muscular body. Just a machine, she thought. A way to reach a goal. She wasn’t a beauty, so she would get there the way she knew how. Running. It was her only hope.
She tromped down the stairs, into the dining room. There sat Alyssa, in all her golden beauty, her father across from her, and of course, her mother, hand resting on the back of the chair on which Alyssa sat. “Ah! Marie! We were just talking about you. You’re pushing too hard with this track thing. It’s not like you have to maintain that scholarship. Daddy and I will pay your tuition either way.”
“I’m good at it,” she grumbled.
“Well, you don’t seem happy,” her mother put in with a bit of a pout.
The words cut into her, and she fought the urge to bend over in reaction to the gut wrenching pain of it. “Fine,” she muttered. “What then. What should I do?”
“Well, first...” her mother started, “we’ll go get makeovers, manicures, all that. It’ll be great fun!”
“Then,” Alyssa added in, “you’ll be my little pet project. We’re already best friends, right? It’ll be easy to get you into the campus circles. It’ll open doors, babe!”
“Oh, my god. Is this some kind of teen movie?” Marie snapped. “No,” she added emphatically.
Alyssa gave her a long hard look. “You know how I feel about these things. Life is a game. Do you want to be a pawn? Or do you want to be a Queen?”
Marie rolled her eyes. It was one of Alyssa’s favorite sayings. She was the chess queen after all. Though Marie often wondered if her brains or cleavage won all her games. Those poor little chess geeks never knew what hit them when a devastatingly groomed and polished blonde would sit down across from them and proceed to demolish them at their own game.
“Listen. Some socializing and primping won’t hurt you. You’ll get to eat something besides muscle fuel, too. Soften you up a bit. It’ll be good for you. Let you relax,” Alyssa continued. “You’ll just look smoking hot doing it.”
“Alright, alright. Manicures and all that couldn’t hurt,” Marie reluctantly agreed. Knowing how to meet and greet, to make connections, to be one of the people that were noticed would do nothing but good for her — her selfesteem and her future. Or so her mother and Alyssa insisted.
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bit·ter·sweet: being at once bitter and sweet; especially: pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret. A collection of short stories I've written since joining Wattpad for various contests, challenges and publications. The...