I had always known Matt and AJ. Growing up in a neighborhood that was basically the whole town, going to school with the same ten other kids up until high school really sealed relationships in. The town was small, always smelled of lilacs, and everyone lived off of Main Street and it was something out of a southern movie.
Matt and AJ lived next door to me also, which just further proved the point that they held some significance in my childhood and life there on after. As a little girl, I would frequent the Jackson’s home with their gorgeous wrap-around porch that my momma was always jealous of. Matt and I would play cards while AJ, the younger brother would watch and want to play with us. AJ and I were actually the same age, but little girls in the south age faster so I was always up to par with Matt, in fact maybe even more mature since he was only a year older. Our mothers taught us right and we included AJ in our adventures, even though Matt complained a little too much.
And that was mine and the brothers relationship for most of our lives. We went to school together, where I talked to AJ some more because when around Matt I didn’t want to seem lame by enjoying the same things his nerdy little brother did, but I knew that I liked AJ just as much as liked Matt. They were equal in my eyes.
Once puberty hit, you could really tell which brother was who. Matt filled out big like his father, playing football and basketball throughout middle school. AJ on the other hand, maintained his small frame, though he received his mother’s beautiful features with sandy blonde hair, striking ice colored eyes that even made Matt’s forest green eyes look duller. But AJ was quiet and never really noticed. People frequently forgot that Matt even had a younger brother, since they had really grown up so differently, but I never forgot about AJ.
As our parents had predicted many a days on that wrap-around porch, I started dating Matt. In my defense, Matt and I were inseparable as kids, closer than him and AJ. And even though I was fully into my nerdy stature in school, much more towards AJ’s territory, I had grown up fuller and more vivacious as well and I matched Matt’s comments and actions perfectly. Matt, like many football players in high school, could have any girl he wanted, and for some strange reason he picked me the minute I entered high school with his brother.
I hung out even more at the Jackson’s house once Matt and I started dating and I couldn’t have loved it more. I would have dinner over there and leave politely, only to sneak back later by climbing the tree in between our yard in my floral sundress and clamber onto the patch of roof under Matt’s window. He would sneak some of his dad’s beers, and we would make out all night long.
Matt was my first for a lot of things. First kiss, first date to a dance, first big fight, first makeup, first lover. It also felt great knowing that we were first together. We had been together for so long as just friends and now it just seemed perfect being together now.
Well, almost perfect. Matt had acquired a friend. A kid forced by his parents to play football, to get that whole high school experience, but something about Shawn always felt wrong to me. I liked to give him the benefit of the doubt, I liked to give everyone that benefit. But they just seemed like an odd pairing. Shawn was a small kid, did somewhat well in school, liked hard rock and loud bands, and occasionally, or more than occasionally, experimented with drugs. Like I said, I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and weed was just another experience for kids Matt and Shawn’s age so it didn’t bother me too much.
Except for when Shawn started demanding more time of Matt. I would come over as Shawn was leaving and then he wouldn’t leave for hours. I was missing some valuable making-out time with my boyfriend of three years. I could tell that Shawn didn’t like me and I spoke about this to Matt and he just said that the kid was a little off and didn’t have many friends so Matt had took him under his wing and made him something better. I scoffed at this and earned a look from him and that was the end of that. So when Shawn decided to stay over extra because he saw me knocking on the front door, I would head over to AJ’s room.
AJ was in all top classes, much like me so we had similar tastes in knowledge and what we wanted to do in our lives: succeed. AJ had also aged just as well as his brother had, if not better to some degree. Matt’s largeness stemmed from his excessive working out and protein shakes, where AJ just ran track and fit into snug T-shirts like every woman dreamed about. Except for me, I saw AJ as AJ, my boyfriend’s little brother, a brother to myself in fact, a friend. So I hung out with AJ a lot and we talked school and family, college choices and majors, and life in general. Our subjects never really swayed towards deeper regions and I didn’t particularly think they should, but something told me he had something he needed off his chest.
“You know you can tell me anything right AJ? I may be dating your brother, but we have always been friends.” He blushed at that, coloring those already tan cheeks and for half a second I was attracted him deeper than I had ever been before, but I let it slide. His response was a stretched smile and a nod and with that I went to find Matt.
Fast forwarding through our slow town, everything seemed to be going as it had been for the past four years. Matt and Shawn were getting ready to graduate and AJ and I were getting ready to almost finish our short-term career here and head out into the real world. I had noticed Shawn getting more aggravated with my sighting because Matt was wanting to spend more time with me instead of anyone else for some reason and I wasn’t about to argue.
One night Matt was running late to one of our dates, and I understood his excuse even if it was so he could watch some more TV. Either way I got into my car fifteen minutes later than I should have, when it all went black.
Like out of a movie, I woke up groggy, my head pounding and in a chair, though I was perfectly fine I concluded after a few seconds of going through my body. I struggled to rise from my chair when my foggy head realized that I was in fact tied down to said chair. That’s when a panic and adrenaline filled concoction began raging through my body. I was tied down, in what appeared to be a basement, and I barely remember getting into my car. I looked around desperately, my mind racing from a knife to cut the ropes, to Yale and my dreams which might be turned to ashes if I didn’t get myself out of this situation.
I had seen enough cop shows to notice that being kidnapped on TV was nothing like what I was experiencing right now. I had literally no idea what I could do, or should do, and I was about to give up when someone, my captor I presumed, came down the wooden stairs. Before I could see his face, he turned a radio on by the door, cranking the volume all the way up to eleven, a hard rock and screamo band mixed in one.
“Shawn?” I asked, my voice quivering because I knew the truth, I knew that the man in black leather gloves and long-sleeved T-shirt was Shawn. I knew that he was different, I knew that he was creepy, that he was off. What I didn’t know was that he was capable of this, but it all makes sense now.
“What gave me away?” He said, coming into the lone solitary light hanging above me.
I decided to be as honest and normal as possible, as if I wasn’t tied up or about to scream from fear. I cleared my throat, gathered all my courage from my toes and up, “the music,” I said simply as if I was commenting on the weather.
He nodded, and I noticed just how creepy he really was. His gray blonde hair, at only eighteen, pale skin, weird stature that didn’t seem fit but wasn’t fat either. His breath smelled awful too as he examined me, his dull brown eyes taking me in.
“What is this all about, Shawn.” I asked, trying to sound annoyed.
“You can drop this charade of sounding tough, your fingers are shaking pretty noticeably on the arm of the chair. And, dear, this is about Matt. It wasn’t obvious?”
Now I was confused, what did Matt have to do with this. When fury seemed to spill out of his eyes, because of my confusion, I was able to figure it out. He was jealous of my relationship with Matt. He didn’t want me taking up any of his time with him.
He was obsessed. And needed me out of the picture. He was going to kill me. I was sure of it.
And with that he smiled as he produced a large knife from his pocket and the first slice began. He took my right arm and on the inside of my elbow, a four inch slice in the curve of a smile. I screamed in pain as red blood bubbled to escape. It stung and it hurt and it wasn’t the end. Shawn was going to torture me.
“That was for the time when Matt canceled our golf plans so he could take you shopping.” A push of my white dress revealing plump thigh and a flick of his wrist, cutting deeper this time into my skin, I screamed again realizing it wasn’t doing any good. Realizing my tears were being wasted because this kid wasn’t going to let up.
“That was for Matt leaving right after the game to go kiss you in the stands. We hadn’t even begun celebrating yet and he already left!”
Another small slice on my finger, exposing more blood to oxygen. One on my knee, my shin, my back, my other arm. He wasn’t cutting very deep, but I was bleeding. Some left blood trails trickling down to the concrete floor. With each stroke, he had an even crazier reason for it.
Finally he stopped, and looked at my blood stained dress. I felt like passing out, not because of blood loss, but out of terror. Rage was evident in his eyes and he was going to finish me off now.
“And this is because he loved you and not me.” With that, a single bullet was shot into Shawn’s right arm, forcing him to drop the blood soaked knife into my lap. I screamed as he screamed, unable to piece together what was going on. Was someone here going to shoot both of us? When had a third person even come into the room?
Shawn was on the ground, clutching his arm, fury seething out of him. I screamed again as three men came down the stairs: the sheriff, another cop, both of whom had their guns pointed at Shawn, and then of all people, AJ.
“AJ!” I screamed his name, so relieved to see him, and the feeling struck me quicker than anything. I was relieved to see AJ. For him to be my rescuer. His eyes were so full of worry, as he crossed the room in three long strides and squatted in front of me.
“Oh my god, oh my god, he hurt you. Charlotte, you’re hurt! I’m so sorry, Charlotte, I’m so sorry I wasn’t here earlier!” When he looked up at me, everything I had ever seen of AJ changed. He was very attractive, special, caring, and overall better. And I knew deep down, that it had been AJ all along. My mind flashed quickly to when he kissed me when we were both six. Down by the creek bed as Matt was fishing for bull frogs among the rocks and leaving us youngsters behind. AJ grabbed my hand and kissed me. I remember screaming as if I was bit, but it was because, and I’m sure of it now, that electricity ran through my body. A feeling I never seemed to get from kissing Matt.
“AJ,” was all I could say when everything just became too much and I passed out again.
I woke up at the hospital, in one of those scruffy beds and meters ticking and beeping behind me. My body hurt all over, but it wasn’t too bad; bearable. I had bandages all over my body covering the places Shawn decided to mark me, including one long one on my left cheek. I went to feel for it, when I realized that my hand was caught in something and when my eyes adjusted in the dark room, I could see AJ’s form, leaning onto my bed, eyes closed by tan eyelids, sleeping. His hand was in mine firmly, protecting.
“AJ.” I whispered and he shot awake.
“Charlotte,” he whispered back, his voice softening, he took his hand and placed it on the bandage on my cheek. It stung but felt warm and loving, “hi”
“Hi,” I responded, noting that smiling hurt my cheek a little too much, but that I also didn’t care; the heat from my blushing stung as well.
After a short moment, which seemed much longer, of just staring into each other, AJ reluctantly removed his hand. “How are you?”
“I’m okay, a little shaken up, but I’m okay.” I said and was honest, and then asked the question I knew I was wondering right away, “AJ, how did you know where I was?”
AJ then proceeded to tell me the story of how he was bored one day and did some background checking into Shawn. He smiled sheepishly at this, but moved on quickly. After not showing up to our date, Matt had texted AJ asking if he knew where I was, AJ had pieced together that it had to be one thing. He explained that Shawn had had some prior time in juvie and had some therapy sessions that didn’t end well. AJ had picked up early, much like I had, on how Shawn treated me. So he glanced back over Shawn’s background info, found his house and told the police to trust him for less than ten minutes. For some reason they listened to the smartest kid in town and followed him to Shawn’s house.
“Charlotte, you don’t understand. I know it’s all so sudden, and probably not welcome, but you once told me that I could tell you anything, and now I believe this is the best time, seeing as you almost died back there, but Charlotte, I think I’m in love with you.”
I smiled down at him, letting him get the words out right and when he said that final piece everything came together in my heart and I wasn’t in the hospital bed anymore, there weren’t beeping machines behind me or bandages on my face. It was just me and AJ, nothing else at all.
“I know AJ, I know. I think I’m in love with you too. I think it’s been you all along.”
And when he leaned over and kissed me so gently I knew that it was true. Electricity surged through my body, the heart-rate monitor accelerating as I kissed him back. I didn’t need to worry about Shawn anymore, or worry about what I was going to tell Matt about all this or anyone else. It was just me and AJ.
Everything leaves a mark, you live with the scars you choose.