Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bitterness, on the Rocks

Women have a powerful way of wounding each other. Where men use fists, women wield words like barbed weapons. Sticks and stones are nothing compared to a full fledged verbal assault.

Every last word ever used to injure her came back to Stephanie when she spotted Kendal across the rented ballroom space.

She had dreaded this moment. When the email inviting her to her ten year high school reunion, Stephanie's lunch had threatened to make a second appearance. Graduation had been the end of a twelve year prison sentence.

Kendal had served as warden.

It started off with the era of Stinky Steph. She had the misfortune of stepping in dog poop at the bus stop one morning. For years after, kids would walk by her holding their noses and chanting "Stinky Steph, Stinky Steph!".  She knew she didn't stink, but caught herself checking the bottoms of her shoes and sniffing her arm pits when no one was watching. 

If you hear a lie enough times, you start to wonder if it is actually the truth. 

Middle school was a particularly special circle of hell. The awkwardness of puberty provided a plethora of taunts. Stephanie never knew what would be taped to her locker each day, only that she could expect an artistic display of maxi pads or coupons for yeast infection cream for all the school to witness. 

She learned years before not to cry. 

High school could have been worse, but it was far from a John Hughes movie. There were more people to hide among and rarely used bathrooms tucked away in forgotten spaces that provided a sacred space. 

A few other casualties of Kendal's war had become her friends. Stephanie was in awe of their self assurance. They stopped caring what rumor had been started about them. Kendal always knew where to press. She was like a dog, able to smell the festering wounds left on Stephanie's soul. 

The years had introduced her to the full spectrum of pain. Every shade from blinding, hot white to the cold despair of black. It had muted over the years to a softer grey like the fading shades of a deep bruise. 

The invite to the reunion had resurrected it all in a hateful flurry of red. 

Kendal laughed at something and flashed rows of perfect teeth.  Stephanie always thought Kendal's smile was too wide. People called it a toothpaste smile. Stephanie knew it as a predator's grin. 

"There's about two hundred people here, at least." Aaron's voice snapped Stephanie from her trance. "We can just avoid her."

Stephanie rubbed her thumb over the USB stick in her pocket. "No. I need to talk to her. Just for a minute." She gave him a genuine smile. "Face your fears kinda thing. No biggie."

"If you're sure," he conceded, not sounding sure at all. 

She squeezed his hand in an effort to reassure him. Aaron knew personally how venomous Kendal's bite could be. He bared his own scars, even though he hid them well. 

With a deep breath for courage, Stephanie fought every flight instinct and pressed her way to Kendal. 

She recoiled when Kendal greeted her with a warm hello and offered her hand. "I'm sorry, I don't think I remember you."

The response was like an icy fist through the chest. She had braced herself for insults or awkward feigned politeness, but this? This was more insulting than any name or rumor. 

She had spent most of her life with Kendal at the center. A sadistic ringmaster in a circus of misery that couldn't be bothered to remember Stephanie long enough to regret anything. 

"Stehanie? Stephanie Jones?"

Confusion wrinkled Kendal's nose for a brief moment. Stephanie noticed the exact moment recognition struck her in the gut. 

"Oh!" Her surgically enhanced lips formed a perfect O as her eyes widened. "Hey. So, I was hoping to see you."

Another unexpected response Stephanie had not prepared for.

"I know I was kind of a bitch back then...,"

"Kind of?"

Kendal tried to cover her nerves with a laugh. "Okay, more than kind of. It wasn't anything you did or deserved. I wanted to apologize. Maybe we could both move on." She smiled expectantly, proud she managed her speech. 

Stephanie tried to breathe. Forgiveness had crossed her mind once or twice while reading sappy quotes about poisoning yourself with hate. She always overcame the urge to let it all go. 

When her apology was met with a silent stare, Kendal trudged on. "I don't expect us to become best friends or anything, I just hope you could consider it. I went through some shit and handled it poorly."

Kendal shuffled nervously until a waiter stopped by with a drink. She affixed her wide grin and thanked him, more for the interruption than the girlie drink. "So, um it's weird to see everyone all grown up, huh?"

Stephanie shook her head. What sort of deranged plane of existence had they slipped into where Kendal Martin attempted small talk with her?

"I mean, look at him. He grew up nicely, don't you think?"

Stephanie followed Kendal's gaze right to Aaron. The icy pit in her chest melted into a quiet rage that had smoldered for years. "Yup, he sure did." Her fingers grazed the stick in her pocket and renewed her purpose for coming to this fiasco. "You know, I've been working as an IT specialist for a while. Do you know what that involves?"

Kendal smiled like a beauty pageant queen. "Computers?"

"Uh, well yes. But more specifically, I listen to people bitch about errors and problems and fix issues before they stop operations. I also get to block lots and lots of porn."

Kendal's mouth fell open and she leaned in like she wanted to share a secret. "At work? People look at that stuff at the office?"

"Oh yes. I'm pretty immune to most stuff. But one day, I stopped cold when I recognized someone."

"No way! Like someone famous?"

"No, just someone I knew. Nothing special, really. Just some dumb girl trying to impress the guy she was with by agreeing to put their encounter on film. He's an NFL player, so she was probably wanting to get her claws in deep."

Kendal's face drained to the color of ash. All remnants of her commercial smile gone. 

"Guess it found it's way onto the Internet, but it's a pretty remote site. And he isn't a big enough name to really cause a scandal. But the faces are incredibly clear." Stephanie pulled the eight gigs of vengeance from her pocket and held it out to Kendal. "How's your Dad, by the way? He's up for re-election this year, isn't he?"

Stephanie savored the small whimper Kendal emitted. "What do you want?" it was a whisper, but it was resigned. Stephanie knew she could have anything and Kendal would steal or kill to get it. 

"I want you to find a way to make everything up to me," she took the sweaty drink from Kendal's clutched hand. "I'm sure you'll figure something out."

She left her there, frozen in a puddle of dread. Stephanie made her way back to Aaron sipping on the sweet drink flavored with cherries and victory. 

It tasted like happiness.

This weeks prompt was brought to you by the color of pain and the taste of happiness. Now onto Watermelon Kisses by Denise.

I seriously want some watermelon now.

Thanks for reading our double prompt journey. Maybe I can convince Denise to do it again someday.

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