An excerpt from a senior comp: Return to Me

Sarah Sheppard
    Across the room, Bethany was pulling on her black lace underwear, the pair that just barely covered her butt cheeks. She slowly opened Chris’ wooden drawer and yanked a green t-shirt from it. She pulled it over her head, letting the shirt fall to her thighs.
    “Hey there,” he murmured.
    “Hi,” she smiled. She was a mess. Her black hair cascaded down her body, looking heavy on her shoulders. The dark makeup on her eyes had smudged onto her cheeks. Chris could no longer see her peach tan lines, just her tan limbs. She was still sexy, standing there in his shirt.
    “What are you doing? Come back to bed.”
    Chris held his arm up, so she could fit in. She squeezed underneath, making herself the little spoon. Chris placed his arm across her stomach and pulled her in tight. Bethany had long legs that stretched to the end of the bed and wild hair that always got in the way. Chris lifted his chin to keep the curly strands from tickling his face. Closing his eyes, he took in the smell of her fruity shampoo; it was exotic, like Bethany. He was drifting to a light sleep when he felt Bethany shift away from beside him. She removed his arm and stood again.
    “What’s wrong?” 
    “I need to go.”
    “If you go back to sleep, I’ll make you chocolate chip pancakes later,” he said, knowing it was her favorite. His green eyes were almost grey under his thick eyebrows and when he smiled, his cheeks tightened. 
     Bethany leaned down and grazed his forehead with her lips; they were dry, but warm.
     “I should go,” she whispered.
     “Come here,” he said, wrapping his hand around the back of her neck. He kissed her passionately, hoping to lure her back in. Their tongues slid together as their bodies touched. She pulled away slowly, as Chris lifted the baggy shirt from her body. He dropped it, and laid her flat against the bed. He touched his lips across her neck, down her chest, all the way to her lace underwear. He kissed the bony part of her hip and dragged his fingers lightly across her tattoo. He had seen it many times before, and had always been fascinated by the intricately detailed wings.
    “Why a butterfly?” he asked, outlining it as he spoke.
    “Because I like them.”
    “I like potato chips, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to tattoo a chip on my back,” Chris retorted. He was always a little blunt, but Bethany knew that.
     “Well,” she started. “I always used to go to the butterfly conservatory when I was younger. I haven’t been in a while, but I don’t know, I loved it. All the butterflies were so different and beautiful,” she said seriously.
    “So, you’re obsessed with butterflies, then?” he joked.
    “It’s more than that,” Bethany said firmly.
    “How so?”
    “It just is.”
    There was something mysterious about her. He had kissed nearly every inch of her body, but for some reason, that wasn’t enough. He wanted more.
    “Why are you looking at me like that?”
    “Like what?” He asked.
    “I don’t know. I feel like I’m being judged.”
    “No, you’re beautiful.”
    Bethany’s forehead creased as she sat up, pulling the t-shirt back on.
    “What’s wrong?” Chris assumed most girls liked compliments. Then again, Bethany wasn’t like most girls.
    “I need to go.”
    “Alright, fine. Let me drive you.”
    “I’ll just call a taxi.”
    “Bethany, come on. I always drive you.”
    “Fine,” she said.
    “I had fun last night,” Chris said to break the silence in the car.
    “Yeah, me too.”
    “Next time we’re sleeping in, though.”
    “There’s not going to be a next time.”
    “What?” Chris looked over, consciously touching the brakes.
    “I can’t do this anymore.”
    “Do what?”
    “This, whatever the hell this is,” she motioned with her hands.
    “I thought we agreed this was fun,” he said, trying to focus on the road.
    “Well, it’s not anymore.”
    “Is this because of the whole beautiful comment?”
    “No. I just, I don’t know,” Bethany began. “I thought I wanted something easy, but this isn’t easy anymore.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “I just don’t want to get attached.”
    “What’s so wrong with that?”
    “Everything,” she claimed.
    “But, you know I like you.”
    “It doesn’t matter. You don’t know anything about me.”
    Chris stopped in front of Bethany’s dorm. He parked the car and turned to face her, his arm dangling across the wheel.
    “What are you talking about?”
“This has been great. I think you’re an amazing guy. I just can’t do complicated.”
“How is this complicated?”
    “I’ll give you back your shirt, don’t worry,” Bethany said as she stepped out of his car still wearing the green t-shirt over her bleached jeans. She carried her black tank top and lace bra in her arm as she walked towards the dorm. Chris opened his door and stepped out.
    “Bethany, wait,” he yelled.
    She turned back, “what?”
    “Let’s go see 500 Days of Summer. Didn’t you want to see that?”
    “Bye, Chris.”
    Chris watched her turn and walk up the concrete steps; her hips swayed rhythmically as her left arm moved back and forth. He drove away in defeat.
    “Oh my god,” Bethany squealed when she saw Chris sitting beside her dorm room. Her chest was visibly pulsing. She was dressed in baggy sweats and a tight shirt with her hair in a high pony tail, the curls falling down her back.
    “Hey,” Chris said, now standing.
    “Sorry, I was going to drop off your shirt this morning,” she began.
    “I don’t want it,” he said.
    “I came to talk to you.”
    “About what?”
    “About us.”
    “There is no ‘us,’” Bethany exclaimed.
    “Sure there is,” he said seriously.
    “What do you want from me?”
    “I like you,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I do.”
    Bethany shook her head, “no you don’t.”
    “Yes I do.”
    “You can’t like me,” she said defensively.
    “Why not?”
    “I don’t want a relationship and neither do you.” She lowered her voice as a girl passed, “I can’t do that again. I can’t,” Bethany said as she paced back and forth. 
    “Listen,” he said. “I can’t just walk away from you. There’s something about you that keeps bringing me back.”
    Bethany looked down and then back up again. He hadn’t shaved since Friday night and his blonde hair was poking out from his chin. His eyes were still bloodshot from the night before.
    “I don’t know.”
    "Just give me a date,” he declared.
    “Why not?”
    She released a sigh, “Alright, fine.”
    He wanted to lean in and kiss her plump lips, but he resisted.
    “I’ll call you,” he promised.
    “You better.”
    Chris walked back down the hallway, smiling. She liked him, he knew it.
    Five days later, Chris picked up Bethany for their date. He drove through campus into town. Bethany shifted uncomfortably in her seat, but Chris was determined to surprise her. They parked behind a large white building. He led her inside and walked over to the desk to ask for admissions.
    “Excuse me, can we get two passes to the Butterfly House,” he said to the lady behind the counter. He handed over cash, took the passes, and then turned to Bethany. She looked numb, her body frozen in place. She had empty eyes and he was afraid she might collapse.
    “What’s wrong? Are you okay?
    Bethany shook her head repeatedly. “I can’t,” she stammered.
    “What?” Chris said, perplexed.
    “I just… I just can’t. It’s too personal,” she said.
    “But,” Chris began. He didn’t know what to do. She was clearly distressed, but he didn’t know why. “You love butterflies.”
    He walked over and placed his hand on her lower back. He could see sweat seeping through her shirt. She gazed at him with watery eyes.
    “What’s the matter?”
    “Nothing,” she snapped. “Let’s go in, it’s fine.”
    “Are you sure? We really don’t have to.”
    “No, I want to. Let’s do it,” Bethany said.
    Chris followed her down the hallway until they reached a large door leading to the butterfly room. She paused before opening it. Bethany took a big breath and opened the door.
    Upon entering, there was dewy moisture and an overwhelming array of sounds. Birds sang from tree to tree, flying boundless overhead. People chattered back and forth, laughing and screeching as they discovered new butterflies. Chris walked further into the greenery. There was a plethora of trees; large dark ones with hefty branches and small ones just barely poking out from the manmade ground. He fixated on a group of flowers. They were lavender in shade, with round pedals and a pink center. One flower held a small blue butterfly. From the center, its wings were sky blue, bleeding into a sapphire color, the ends painted with black. On each curve of the wing was a small white dot. It reminded Chris of Bethany’s tattoo. He watched the butterfly breathe, its wings twitching.
    The moment was electrifying. 
    Chris turned around suddenly, wanting to share his sensations with Bethany. She was nowhere in sight. He panicked, thinking she left. He walked back to the entrance, but she wasn’t there. He rubbed the side of his neck, creating red marks with the pressure of his fingers. Looking across the room, he saw her curly black hair through the branches of a tree.
    He walked along a bridge, over the clear water. He looked down on the large silver fish maneuvering through the pond. Their fins flickered, creating little waves on the surface. He stroked the wooden railing, the glossy texture softening his skin. Once he reached the end of the bridge, he saw Bethany more clearly. From the back, he saw her forefinger touching the edge of a leaf. He meandered towards her, hoping not to alarm her.
    Beside her, Chris could hear the sniffling. There was a butterfly resting on the leaf where she touched. He wondered how she hadn’t scared it off. Bethany grazed the edge of the leaf and then dropped her hand.
    “Hey,” Chris spoke.
    Bethany turned abruptly. Water glazed her face, but she seemed at ease.
    “You alright?”
    “I haven’t been to a place like this in years,” she smiled.
    He nodded, “I’ve never been.”
    Her head tilted, “really?”
    He shook his head, tucking his hand into his pocket.
    “My mom first took me when I was five,” she said softly. “I just wanted to touch every butterfly I saw, but of course when I lunged at them, they all flew away. It was so upsetting,” Bethany now laughed. Chris loved her laugh.
    She continued, “My mom told me to be patient and maybe then a butterfly would come to me. I didn’t believe her, but after an hour or so, a butterfly landed on my mother’s green sweater. I was so jealous.”
    Chris nodded, taking in the beauty of her face. He had never seen Bethany so comfortable. She was glowing in the way she spoke. The brown in her eyes brightened her face. She looked away as a tear fell down her cheek.
    “I spent my childhood obsessed with butterflies. My room was adorned with monarchs, and American Painted Ladies. God, I loved it. My mom even made a quilt for me; she hid a different butterfly in each flowered square and I spent hours searching for them. And then when I was a teenager, I thought I was too cool for it, you know?”
    “Yeah, sure,” Chris replied.
    “My mom died when I was sixteen,” Bethany sputtered.
    Chris shivered at her words. He didn’t expect that. He sat down beside her.
    “I’m sorry.”
    “I haven’t told anyone since high school. When the kids at school found out, it was like a disease. I was lost, you know? I vowed not to talk about it ever again. I thought by moving away and starting over, it would all go away, but it hasn’t. The pain is still there, everyday.”
    “Come here,” Chris motioned. He put his arm around her lower back.
    “You’re amazing, you know that?” he said into her neck.
    Bethany was crying now. She had let him into her world and allowed herself to be vulnerable. Chris was thankful for that.
    “I’m afraid to get close to people,” she admitted.
“Well, it’s too late. I’m already hooked on you.”
Bethany smiled. Chris leaned over and kissed Bethany’s wet eyes. She giggled as his lips touched her long lashes. She was complicated and imperfect, but she was everything Chris was looking for.