When the Lilies Turn Orange (Chapter 7)

When the Lilies Turn Orange (Chapter 7)

A Chapter by Raven Held

 

 

Seven

 

 

 

Oleander

 

 

 

Breaking and entering?” dad bellowed, unleashing all his fury.

I winced and stared at my hands, still feeling confused and cheated; I didn’t know why.

After the police came, we got brought down to the station and our parents called down. Mom and dad were in their pyjamas, stunned looks on their faces as they saw me sitting on a chair in between Connell and a police officer. Dad had pulled on his Dockers shoes. He looked comical. I would’ve laughed if the situation was a little different. Mom and dad filled up papers and they apologised profusely to the couple, who eventually decided not to press charges. Keith and Amanda stayed silent, and spoke only to apologise to the couple, and the police officers for their time. Keith left after submitting the papers, walking out of the doors without even checking if his wife and son were following. Amanda motioned to Connell, and they left.

I kept staring at Connell, hoping he would look back at me. But he never did.

The whole way back, they stayed silent. Dad had gripped the steering wheel so tight his hands turned white, a vein leading to his temple almost bursting out of his skin. Mom stared out the window, and kept checking the side mirror to look at me.

I had never felt more ashamed in my life.

Now, at home, where Dean was sitting in the living room, staring at me with a look more concerned than I had ever seen, I looked up from my hands, feeling the need to offer an explanation.

“He told me his grandfather had some sort of holiday shack –”

“He did, but that wasn’t it,” dad interrupted snappily. “It’s along the East Coast. They moved here, Raven. How can his grandfather have a house here?”

“Then –” I struggled to find my voice, my logic, my mind. “His granddad. He was killed, wasn’t he?”

Killed?” dad echoed in disbelief as Dean frowned in incomprehension. My mom shook her head sadly beside me and laid her head in her hand.

“He said – He said his dad killed his grandfather.” My voice sounded small and weak to my ears. I felt like a fool. And I still don’t know why. I didn’t know whether I still believed Connell or not.

Dad shut his eyes and sighed wearily. “Raven. His grandfather died of lung cancer. I even have his medical reports as proof.”

A huge chill drenched me and I felt my breath choke in my throat. A lie. Everything was a lie. Every word he said, everything he told me. It was all part of his tangled web of lies.

Then was that kiss a lie too? Did I just get caught up in his little dramatisation of his life, a playact he was working on or something? Was it some kind of ploy so he could kiss me? D****t, I wanted answers.

“Dad,” I said, feeling tears fill up my eyes. Everything turned fuzzy, and I saw only brightness. I blinked, and tears skidded down my face. I didn’t have to say anything else.

Dad came over to me and sat down next to me. “I want to hear everything that happened – from the beginning. Spill all,” he said.

And I did. I recounted how I was woken up by Connell’s stone-throwing, and how he suggested for a night-outing – me as a willing partaker, I hastened to add – and how we ended up in the clearing. I omitted the kiss and told them everything else he told me about his grandfather and his loss of memory and his theory about his grandfather being killed by his dad. Then I ended with getting caught in the house.

The more I narrated, the more ridiculous I felt the story was. How could I ever have believed that bullshit he fed me? It was so obviously a lie, a prank, a joke, anything but the truth!

“It’s not exactly a lie, Raven,” dad said quietly after I was done.

“What do you mean?” I swear, I was getting more and more confused as the night progressed on. Maybe I was sleepwalking at the moment, and me waking up to Connell’s stone-throwing was all just part of a weird dream that my conked-out mind was cooking up.

Dad looked at mom and then looked back at me. He shook his head. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

I looked at Dean, wondering if he was as confused as I was. He was, maybe even more. He looked like how I felt whenever I attempted to watch The Matrix.

“Ask him what? Why he cooked up the story of his dad being his grandfather’s murderer, or why he decided to break into a house that wasn’t his, even though he clearly thought it was? Yeah, I’m sure that would turn out very well. Maybe he’ll confess that he was the real murderer of his grandfather,” I said. It was difficult to keep the sarcasm at bay, but I was tired and confused, and all I wanted to do was sleep till the sun roasted my butt the next morning.

“Let’s try not to forget that we just hauled you back from the police station after you snuck out in the middle of the night with a boy, Raven,” dad warned testily.

I sank back into the couch. “Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Jason,” mom spoke up for the first time since the drive home. Her voice was gentle, soft, almost imploring. It sounded like it was being dwarfed by the gaping silence hovering about in the house. We all turned to look at her.

She rubbed the cover of the throw pillow for a moment before saying, “I don’t think Raven should go looking for Connell anymore.”

“I didn’t even go looking for him in the first place!” I protested.

“What I mean is,” she said in a placatory tone, “you shouldn’t see too much of this boy unless circumstances force you too.”

I took a moment to digest this. “You mean ….”

“Keep your distance from him,” Dean said. It wasn’t so much of a second opinion than a translation.

“Ruth, there’s nothing wrong with Connell,” dad said firmly, somewhat defensively, as though a teacher had just told him one of his kids had autism.

“Is there supposed to be something wrong with him?” Dean asked.

“It’s not about him being in therapy, is it?” I seconded. “Because then, that would be a completely unfair assessment of him. I willingly went with him, after all; I was the second hand that made that clap.” I was vaguely aware of the awkward expression.

“Nice analogy,” Dean snickered.

Dad nodded as though he was agreeing with me that mozzarella was nicer than parmesan cheese. “Yes, you were – which is why you’re grounded for the whole of next week. You can only go to the Garden or come home after school, not even the office.”

The injustice of being grounded rankled (when does it not?), but I guess I deserved the punishment.

Then I wondered how I was going to understand the deal with Connell if I wasn’t allowed to see him. He was more complicated than I thought, and the people around me weren’t making things any easier.

I still wanted answers, but not now. Right now, I just wanted to fall right into bed.

After I had crawled into bed, groggy and weary, a knock came on the door. Without waiting for my answer, Dean opened the door and leaned against the doorframe, wearing an amused look on his face. 

“Don’t start, okay? We can argue about this all you wish tomorrow,” I grumbled.

“I’m not one for arguing” – I couldn’t even work up that muscle to snort here – “but I just want to express my awe at you, little sister. The first boy you get involved with has to be not only a felon, but a nutjob. Way to go.” He smirked. “I don’t get it. What’s wrong with Dom, anyway?”

He left with a final grin after I worked up the strength to hurl my alarm clock across the room at him.  

 

*

I was feeling the aftermath of insufficient sleep the next morning when I was rudely awoken by the extension in my room.

“PIG! I want you to tell me everything that happened on your midnight rampage this instant! Give me details; I want to know everything he said, everything you said, everything you did….”

I let Rox prattle on until she lost her steam. The only time I ever saw her so worked up was when she received the first reply email from the public relations manageress of the Women’s Movement Organisation, where they then began a weekly email conference. It’s still ongoing.

I glanced at my watch (since my alarm clock was lying near the door where it so nearly bulls-eyed Dean’s head) on my bedside table and groaned. Eight-thirty. I barely had eight hours of sleep! “Rox, I’m still in bed –”

She cut me off mid-grumble. “I don’t give a blink, Raven! Spill all – now! I can’t believe you actually agreed to leave with that guy, a guy you hardly know! And into some deserted woods!”

I was rushing to keep up with her animated rambling. “Wait, how did you know all that?”

“Duh.” I could picture her rolling her eyes in annoyance. “Dean told me, of course. I simply cannot believe you. What on earth were you thinking? Were you even on earth last night?”

Realising the only way to make her shut up was to cloy her appetite for details, I told her to meet me at Mom’s Garden in fifteen minutes. I figured since I couldn’t go anywhere (not that I was intending to go anywhere; I, like Dean always said, coop myself up in the Garden so much it was unhealthy), the Garden might offer some solace by letting me sort out my jumbled thoughts.

Mom had already left for the Garden. She always leaves at ungodly hours just to catch her beloved plants in the morning where the mist lying above was cool and had a magical quality to it, and dewdrops were still lying on the leaves and petals. I would do that too sometimes, just to catch a glimpse of pink hydrangeas in their pure, waking beauty. When mom dragged Dean along too, while I bent and stared awestruck at the breathing leaves and petals, soft and tender in their vulnerability, Dean only yawned all over the bonsais, and mom never tried bringing him there in the morning again.

Now, it was the same irritation that bugged me as Rox harassed me for ‘details, pig, details’ about last night. Some people could stop in their tracks and have their breaths robbed by the sight of orange gerberas and lavender-coloured asters; others, most others, merely walked through them without even pushing them aside.

I inhaled deeply. Sweet, cool, tanginess greeted me as usual. This was my constant; it hasn’t changed since I was born, and I would make sure it never would.

“Hello? Could you please – talk already!” Rox was yelling in my ear.

“Rox!” I hissed. She knew how I hated it when someone raised his or her voice in this floral shrine; it was like disrespecting Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and the season of spring.

“Tell me, then,” she said insistently.

I sighed. And I told her. I told her about the kiss too. There wasn’t anything I could not share with her. Besides, she would have sussed something out anyway even without my telling her. She was that shrewd. Or maybe I was just really easy to read.

By the time I was through, Rox’s jaw was already at a dangerously ground-scraping level.

“Tell me you just made all of that up,” Rox said – more like beseeched. “Say it’s all some story you came up with – or that it’s just a dream, a really whacked-out, elaborate dream.”

“I wish I could say that,” I said with much chagrin, “but it’s true – every word of it.”

Rox suddenly turned wistful, and I braced myself for the worst. “Did you enjoy it though?”

I groaned inwardly. It was one thing to tell your best friend about your first kiss, but not so when they started analysing every movement your lips made. “Enjoy what?” I figured it was the easiest to play up the nonchalance. At least it bought me some time before mom came ambling along and break up the conversation we were having.

Mom did emerge from the office – thus sparing me the need to answer Rox’s rather rhetorical question – but she wasn’t her usual self. She seemed harried today, like she always did when she received a last-minute order or learnt of a case of mixed-up orders.

“What’s the matter, mom?” I asked, leaving Rox still trying to let my account sink in.

“They’re coming in half an hour’s time, and this place still looks like it lacks something….” she murmured, zipping around arranging the potted ferns and placing them back the same way they were before.

Who’s coming in half an hour’s time – the Grand Duchess?” She could be, for all the flurry that mom has been sent into.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you, honey? A bunch of people are coming here for a photoshoot for Seventeen magazine. The photographer said the model was the one who suggested this place for the kind of backdrop they needed.” Mom paused, finger on her chin, brows slightly furrowed, the classic thoughtful damsel pose. “It’s still lacking something. Why can’t I seem to put my finger on it?”

“Mom, this place looks the same as it always does,” I assured her. When she looked at me questioningly, I explained, with a smile, “Splendid in all its natural beauty.”

Just as mom flashed me a grateful smile, a white minivan (much like the one the Reilly and the rest had, except theirs was grey) with the words Cruise Modelling International on it rumbled up to the Garden’s grand wrought-iron gates. As soon as the van was neatly parked, the passengers got off and unloaded their equipments.

Mom smoothened the fuchsia blouse she had on and put on her calm-and-controlled businesswoman look. With a composed and assured (but not off-putting) smile, she strode briskly to the opened double-gated entrance. She shook hands with the photographer and the rest of the crew (lighting assistants, makeup and hair stylists, et cetera) and exchanged brief and polite but sincere words. Mom always had the charm to make everyone feel appreciated and welcome.

Two young, svelte and leggy girls got off the last. They were chatting a little, dressed in casual wear: tank tops, shorts that complimented their long toned legs, and flip flops.

I tried not to stare enviously at them, but found that it was difficult to do so. Beside me, I saw Rox sneaking slightly sour glances at them too, though she tried to concentrate on what the crew was doing.

It wasn’t until the two girls entered the gates and neared us that I recognised one of them.

“Reilly!” I exclaimed in surprise.

“Hello, Raven,” she said with a wave, like she expected to see me here all along. I sensed a certain tension in her smile, which appeared stiffer somehow. She seemed too polite today, nothing like yesterday afternoon when she was so excited to see me at the Beaming Rose. I wondered if the reason behind this was because she had already been filled in about what Connell and I did yesterday.

I suddenly felt tired. If I had to give my version of what happened last night again, I swear I was going to scream. My mind was still a mud pit, my thoughts stirred around in stale circles, accumulating but unanswered, eventually choking up even more. The last thing I needed was to see someone who reminded me so much of last night.

“This is Amber,” Reilly was saying to me and Rox. Amber murmured a hello, smiling mildly (tiredly, I thought). “We’re here for a photoshoot with a garden for a backdrop. I thought this would be a good place. Hope that’s okay.”

“It’s great,” I said. My words sounded mechanical to my ears, the way they were when I had to make small talk. Rox and I introduced ourselves briefly before they were called over by the crew.

As she passed me, Reilly shot me a meaningful glance that suggested a private chat soon. I chose to look away quickly, ignoring it. Connell was not exactly my favourite topic in the world right now.

 

*

 

Dean came a little later, when the models were busy posing as the best of friends, sitting on a wide wooden swing in the gallery (or so mom liked to call it; it was actually just an open shed, with wooden flooring plants creeping around wooden posts – and of course, the large swing that I liked to sit on and read when I roamed around here). They had hibiscus flowers in their long lustrous hair and their skins were flawless; they had each donned on simple tank tops and floral-printed skirts, looking absolutely chic in a bohemian way.

“Wow,” Dean breathed as he approached us at the doorway of the gift shop, which was where he was loitering. Rox and I were staring at the whole shoot through the windows of the shop. I caught Martin, one of the helpers who mainly manned the shop, sneaking occasional glances at the models outside.

“What,” Rox said flatly, sounding annoyed.

“What’s with the party?” Dean asked. His eyes seemed to be glued tight to where Reilly and Amber were. I rolled mine. Eyes, I mean.

“Just a couple of models here for a photoshoot for some magazine,” Rox said disinterestedly.

I gaped at her. The jealousy oozing out of her pores was so viscous they were almost solid. “It’s Seventeen,” I told her. She nodded with a half shrug.

“I’ve seen her around before, haven’t I?” Dean said to no-one in particular. “The one in the light green skirt?”

“Reilly’s grandaunt just moved into the Beaming Rose,” I explained as Rox huffed her fringe out of her eyes. “Guess you might have seen her around.” Rox turned to glare at me. “I think Rox’s hair looks great today, don’t you think?” I hastened to add.

Dean turned somewhat reluctantly to look at me. He seemed to only just realise my presence. “Oh, hey Raven.” He glanced at Rox’s hair. “What’re you talking about? Rox’s hair looks good everyday.”

I smirked at Rox, who failed at masking her delight with a roll of her eyes.

It was difficult to avoid Reilly for the entirety of the day. As Dean and Rox both harassed me non-stop for details of last night – Dean with appropriate amusement and awe at my audacity and folly, and Rox, in constant shock, with sporadic freaking out that was, I’m sure, uncharacteristic in Dean’s eyes – Reilly kept trying to catch my eye as she flitted about with Amber like a couple of exotic butterflies.

I was trying to busy myself with sweeping up the dead leaves and soil around one in the afternoon, when someone tapped me tentatively on the shoulder. I knew who it was before I even turned around.

“Nice scarf,” Reilly remarked. I fingered it. It was Rox’s birthday present for me, a bright orange and yellow thing that I didn’t think I would ever wear, but was now, since it proved useful.

“Keeps the hair out of my face,” I replied somewhat awkwardly. It wasn’t that I felt uncomfortable in Reilly’s presence, really. Reilly was quickly becoming someone I could talk to all day and not feel self-conscious with.

It’s just – the Connell thing. It hung in the air like a precipitously.

She nodded, dismissing the subject. “Look,” she began with the air of a mother disciplining her son. “Last night – Connell wasn’t … himself.”

“So I should just accept that as the reason for his lying to me – is that what you’re saying?”

“Of course not. But there are things about Connell that you have to understand first –”

“Which I gather I’ll not be learning from you?” I demanded, growing angrier. Everyone wanted me to know the ‘actual situation’ before I jumped to conclusions, but hello? How was I going to understand the situation when nobody seemed willing to tell me?

“It’s Connell’s choice whether to share it with you,” Reilly returned coolly.

“Right,” I said. “Thanks.”

I made to turn away with as much dignity as I had, but Reilly held loosely onto my arm. “He’s all torn up, Raven. I’ve never seen him like this before. He wants to see you, but he doesn’t know if you’ll agree to it, and besides, he doesn’t know if you’ll understand.…”

“And by getting you to be his messenger, he thinks I’ll agree to see him?” The way I saw it, Connell had no right to be going crazy.

“No, but he thinks by appearing here now, you’ll have no choice but to,” Reilly said with a little smirk, looking past my shoulders.

“Hey Ri,” Connell said.

I, feeling somewhat betrayed (although I didn’t quite understand why), turned to find Connell planted right in front of me. A gasp escaped me. His proximity seized me, leading me back to last night when he leaned across to kiss me. I found myself noticing more about him that I hadn’t before, like how flecks of his hair reflected golden brown hues when the sun combed through it, and how his jaw was probably as defined as his shoulders were, and – how he was really good-looking, even with that perpetual brooding look as though he carried the weight of the world upon his shoulders (I’m pretty sure that phrase came from a song, though I can’t remember which).

I don’t wish to say that my anger dissipated the minute I saw him strike such a wicked figure before, or anything like that, because that would make me sound completely shallow like some girls I knew, and also because I didn’t allow myself to think that. He had lied to me, for whatever lame reason that he had probably come up with on the way home from the police station, and no matter how good he looked in those jeans and with that hair and burning eyes, I wasn’t going to be taken in again like a complete thickhead.

“Raven,” he said. He had struck his trademark pose, with his hands shoved into his jeans pocket and his self-deprecating, yet troubled, look.

I nodded and resumed my manic sweeping.

“I like your scarf.”

“Is anyone ever going to get to the point and explain to me what the hell happened last night, or are they just going to go on and on about my damn scarf?”

His eyes widened. “It was just a conversation starter, Raven.”

“Yeah, well, I think we’re way past that stage, Connell.” I propped my arm and fixed him with a steady gaze. Dad said that almost always worked when you wanted to worm something out of someone.

“I don’t know how to explain it all to you,” he sighed.

“Aren’t we the martyr,” I sniffed, moving away from him as I swept like my depended on the cleanliness of the Garden. I could hear the photoshoot crew, on their lunch break, laughing and yakking with Dean and Rox as though they had known one another for years.

“Raven.” His voice snapped me back to my spot. Sweep. Leaves on my right, soil everywhere.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of soil that results from spillage during watering or when pots crack. It’s a troublesome chore, especially on rainy days when mom and I would have to scrape off the mud from the ground, but I suppose someone has to do it.

“Raven,” his voice tailed me.

I whipped around, glaring at him. “Is that all you’re going to say – my name?”

His wide eyes looked confused – torn up was how Reilly put it. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Oh,” I said, a full dosage of sarcasm kicking in, “how about what the hell all that was about last night, when you fed me with the story about your dad being your grandfather’s murderer, and then kiss me, and then proceeded to break into a house with me as your accomplice, and ignore me for the rest of the evening after we got our butts hauled into the police station? How about telling me the truth for once, huh, Connell?”

I was panting, like people often do when they were so agitated they actually went out of breath. I had no idea I was that mad at him, but seeing him now somehow unleashed the tumult churning about in me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, he said after a long while. “That is the truth.”

Too bad it was the truth anyone could be entitled to, as long as they could say it with heartfelt sincerity. After last night, I was beginning to think he might have a bright future in the acting industry.

“Instead of letting me know more about you, you’ve made me come up with more questions about you – since I first met you, spoke to you, kissed you…. Tell me.” I looked at him. “Was that kiss a lie too?”

He stared at me for a long moment as I, unblinking all the while, felt my eyes hold the fort until it felt like bursting. Like a dam, I thought, like wild horses trying to tear down a dam.

Then he leant down and, so softly, left the ghost of a kiss on my lips. I closed my eyes, feeling that familiar touch upon my lips again. Those lips left before I had time to respond, though, and I was left hanging there feeling like I was being cheated again.

“That wasn’t a lie,” he said softly, his dark eyes glowing, yet subdued, like a flame in the darkness faraway.

“Then tell me,” I murmured, “what it is you’re hiding from me.”

“It’s not something I wish for you to know, Raven,” he said and took a step back from me. I felt the sunlight cast a wall of light between us. “Try to understand.” His jaw grew hard as he looked away.

My lips felt hard against each other as I pursed them. “Fine,” I said, and took a step back too, shrugging. The brightness grew greater. “Keep your secrets, then.”

When he left, I could still feel the whisper of a promise lingering upon my lips.

 



© 2008 Raven Held


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Added on February 15, 2008


Author

Raven Held
Raven Held

Singapore, Singapore



About
Aspiring author, dreamer, TV addict, fed with a steady diet of grapes, green tea and supernatural fiction. I have five novels under my belt and is working on her sixth. more..

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