Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
~Charles R. Swindoll
The big moving day.
Since there were three of them plus a lot of stuff, they shared one small rental moving truck and said goodbye to their parents and grandparents back home in Brindleton Bay before they would be off to embark on the next chapter of their lives together. Hannah, Ewan and Eric.
Off to university.
The three would share an off-campus apartment in walking distance to the huge Britchester university complex. They drove straight through and arrived early in the afternoon, hit the ground running right after arrival, carrying in countless boxes, then assembling furniture.
Ewan blew out air, groaning, as the dropped backwards into an empty box.
“I never screwed this much in my life! Just wished it were girls we had been working on, not furniture.”
“No kidding, my fingers are blistered from all the screwing! Thank God that’s all done. Now the unpacking. Ugh, why do we have so much stuff?!” Hannah agreed.
“Oh, I am so tempted to say something naughty to that, but I promised you I’d try to be good and am too tired to run from you anyway.” Ewan wiggled his eyebrows and grinned smugly at her.
“So there actually is hope for you. Color me surprised. Focus on moving in, Ewan. You can revert back to puberty and be your usual immature self after we are done.” Hannah shot back.
They had always bickered like that. Nothing serious, just their thing. They were thick as thieves. Eric barely acknowledged it anymore, as he stoically continued unpacking.
Eric and Ewan attended similar classes, but Eric focused more on music, while Ewan took classes to help him with his plans for an acting career, which meant they sometimes had to separate. Eric kept to himself, away from others, focused on learning, ignoring all else. Hannah studied Psychology and had a totally different schedule than the boys.
Eric would never attend any of the many parties and events Ewan and Hannah did, but both made it a point to frequently skip going out to just spend time at home with Eric, usually playing video games or binge watching movies and shows.
One day in the middle of their Freshman year, while walking home from his last class for the day Eric heard someone calling from behind him, which he ignored, then he heard fast footsteps, followed by a gentle touch on his hand.
In a reflex he froze, looked down at his hand, shot a brief side-glance at the person then straight ahead again as he felt nervous instantly. A girl. She was on his left side. His chocolate side, the one without the scars on his face.
“Excuse me, I am a brand-new transfer and you looked like someone who could make sense of the jibber-jabber from the professor, judging by all the notes you were taking. Was all Greek to me. I have no clue what our assignment really is and he referenced some helpful reads, but I didn’t catch the titles as fast as he was talking, hoping you could nudge me in the right direction.”
“I’d nudge you to the the library. There are lists right up front, marked by class and prof. You can find it all on those.” Eric briefly explained without looking at her directly.
“Any chance you could help me catch up faster? I am really desperate here. Transfering in mid-term is no fun, I found out the hard way. I am so lost, nothing is making any sense. I have been here a week now and just as confused as on day one.”
Eric closed his eyes then stopped and turned to her. Whatever this was, it had to stop NOW. Surely a good look at him would send her running, as clearly, she had not seen his face yet.
She did react like most people, no matter how they tried to hide their response, the eyes growing just that much wider, the brief, inadvertend sharp inhale, the moment of awkward silence.
“Oh damn!” she gasped.
“Yeah.” Eric turned to walk away, but she followed.
“I am sorry! That was not nice of me. I was just …. uh …”
“Surprised? Shocked? Disgusted? Rude?” Eric offered sarcastic help without stopping.
“Would you stop running so fast? Your legs are much longer and you are being just as rude as I was. And I am really sorry.” she sounded out of breath.
Eric stopped short, causing her to almost run into him, closing his eyes, before opening them and telling her
“Look, I do not need – or want – your apology or excuses or pity. What you are looking for is at the library. You hardly need me to read the list to you, so I’ve done all I can. That prof does not teach as you know it from high school. He just talks and we have to take the hints and find answers ourselves, each of us has a different interpretation and that is what he grades in the end. If I told you what I have, it would be too similar and he’d flag it. Sorry.” Eric began to walk off again, she held on to his arm. He stiffened.
“Wait! We got off on the wrong foot. Everything here is new and everything freaks me out right now. I am sorry I stared and the way I reacted, I swear reacted the same way when I saw my roommate for the first time. She has bright green hair. I mean, extra-terrestrial looking. I was just expecting more conventional stuff in an old stuffy place like this.”
Eric couldn’t help but chuckle.
“I’d hate to see your reaction when you see what cafeteria food looks like here on campus then.” Eric said dryly, the corners of his mouth almost forming the beginning of a smile.
“Can’t be any worse than at the community college I have been going to. I am Rebecca Michaels by the way. All my friends call me Becca or Becks.”
“Eric Cameron. All my friends call me .. well .. Eric.” Eric smirked as he thought ‘All my friends? Ha. Yeah, all two of them who also happen to be related to me.’
“I should be able to remember that. So Arts student, huh? Aspiring writer?”
“Not sure yet. Music maybe. We’ll see. I like painting, as I found out, but not exactly something to make a living with.”
“I want to write screenplays one day. Something big, successful, something that become classics. Memorable.”
“You should meet my friend Ewan. He wants to be a famous actor. Maybe you could help each other out.”
“And you could write the music for it. Hey, do you want to go and help me discover the scary cafeteria food you mentioned?”
“I don’t really go there … I mean, I am not hungry. But it’s that way.” Eric motion with his head in the direction.
“Please? I don’t want to be that girl, alone at the food court.”
“I … really can’t. I have to … get back home and … I have papers to write. Sorry.” Eric lied.
He just turned around, waked off, leaving her standing there.
But he had to leave now, it was too tempting to just go with her.
To be normal again.
Like a regular student doing student things.
But he wasn’t and nothing would ever be ‘normal’ for him.
There was only so much rejection and stares he could deal with in one day, and he already had attended several classes today. With people. Lots and lots of people. Eric was well beyond his socialization limit for the day.
He wanted nothing more than for things to be normal again, as they once were. Some years ago, had a girl like Becca asked him to go have lunch, he would not have thought twice. He would have pulled the full register of charm to see how far it would take him with her.
But things weren’t like that anymore. He had been made fun of, borderline bullied, dissed and dismissed, all of that awful, but the stares were the worst. He was so sick and tired of them. Scared ones, disgusted ones, appalled ones, any adjective you can think of, he had seen it in people’s eyes before, but worst of all were always the looks of pity.
Often accompanied by insults or words that burned like acid in his ears and mind
‘What a shame, such a handsome boy otherwise …’
Sometimes he’d have prefered the flames would have not half-assed the job and either killed him or just burned all of him, not leave half his face and body as a mockery of what he once had been.
He arrived home, Ewan was already there, Hannah was cooking. Ewan really used his puppy eyes on her and it worked every time. Poor Hannah. Or maybe not. Eric had told her before not to fall for it, but she just told him that she didn’t mind, that she liked taking care of her two boys. Hannah was the oldest of the group, followed by Ewan, Eric being the youngest, even though all that by just a few months.
Eric would run into Becca a few more times and finally he began to open up.
Maybe she meant it.
Maybe she really was just nice.
Maybe there were people who could still like him, despite of his tortured looks.
He still didn’t trust it all enough to tell the others about her, not yet, afraid they’d push him too much, too fast.
He needed to take this slow and easy.
For months he kept Becca a secret.
Her mere existence but above all the fact that he had fallen head over heels for her.
She seemed to like him too, there had been those telltale moments, that certain touch, the glance.
Even the moments in which he got so very close to kissing her.
Each time he was about to go for it he remembered what his face looked like, and that the rest of his body was riddled with burnt patches and scars. He was disgusted by himself if he ever caught a glimpse of himself naked.
No way he could risk her – or any girl – seeing him like that. He would never be able to perform with that occupying his mind, which would add even worse insult to injury.
So why even go there if nothing could ever come of it?
He could tell that she wanted more and got frustrated by getting so close to kissing so many times only for Eric to suddenly become distant and withdraw into a shell completely, changing the entire mood of the moment from friendly banter to sparks in the air to strangers passing on the street.
He knew she’d give up on him eventually.
And then the inevitable happened.
Eric came home from a late night cramming at the library, he had it all to himself as most students were attending a huge bonfire party.
Standing at the counter in the dark about to grab something to drink, suddenly two people emerged from Ewan’s room, the girl giggling as Ewan was all over her, pulling all registers.
Both were barely dressed making blatantly obvious what they had been doing in Ewan’s room. Most likely they had come out to hydrate before going in for round two.
One of them was obviously Ewan, Eric stood there stiffly frozen in place, staring on, as they were making out until both noticed him, staring back at him.
Eric just continued to look at them in disbelief, while the girl blushed deeply and Ewan complained
“Dude! You scared me shitless! Do you have to creep around in the dark?”
“Eric!” the girl exclaimed, still surprised.
“Becca.” Eric’s voice was plain and matter-of-factly, underlining that he wasn’t impressed.
“You two know each other? Small world.” Ewan annotated.
“I thought I did. I need air!” Eric pressed out between his lips without looking at either of them again, pulled his sweater over his head as he rushed out of the apartment.
“Eric, wait … please! Shit!” Rebecca cursed, her eyes welling up.
“Wait a second! Something’s not right here. How well do you know him exactly?” Ewan asked, now suspicious.
Rebecca shrugged, averting her eyes, her facial expression looking guilty and apologetic.
Ewan cursed, grabbed his clothes, throwing them on as fast as he could, grabbed his keys and ran after Eric, leaving Becca and Hannah, who had awoken as well, dumbfounded in the kitchen. It didn’t take him long to find Eric. They knew each other like the backs of their hands. At least most of the time.
“Hey man.” he offered carefully.
Eric said nothing. Just swallowed hard.
“Look dude, I didn’t know. I swear on my life, I had not the faintest clue. I would have never, had I any idea ….”
“I know. It’s not you I am mad at. It’s myself. And my life.” Eric said quietly.
“She really likes you, if that is any consolation. I mean, if you can get over the facts … not all is lost for you two. I’ll never touch her again.” Ewan tried to patch what seemed broken.
“No. Dont’ worry about it. I’ll be okay. It’s my own fault. Best I get used to the feeling.”
“You shouldn’t. But why did you never mention her? I thought we tell each other everything? Man, I really wish I would have known!” Ewan sounded genuine.
“We do tell each other everything. Just not that. I needed to figure this out for myself first. Guess I took too long.”
“Man, I feel like shit now. I swear, had I even had the slightest clue, I would never have touched her. She was at the party looking lost, like she was waiting or looking for someone. I thought her date was being a dick, but now I am starting to assume that she was waiting for you?”
“If she did, it’s on her. We never spoke about any parties and she knows I don’t go out.”
“How serious were you two?”
“We weren’t. At least not officially. She may have been a little inclined and interested, but I did what I always do. You know the result.”
“Judging by your reaction, you were inclined and interested too? Damn man, you really need to share shit with me. I want to beat myself up now.”
“Don’t. She definitely got more out of this with you than she would have with me. With me it was probably just the novelty of screwing a monster to see what it’s like. That is assuming I could have managed to get over my shame enough to get one up at all. I am not convinced I’d be able to. How’s that for oversharing?”
“You REALLY need to get over all that, Eric! Seriously. You do not look even remotely as bad as you seem to think. So you got a few superficial imperfections. They will always be some insecure assholes out there who like to distract from themselves by pointing at others, but there are a LOT of people who see past your scars, you just need to give them a chance. I’ll be the first to attest that you are the best friend anyone could ever ask for, don’t see how you couldn’t make a decent boyfriend for some deserving girl.”
“Well, let’s just drop this, okay. If you like her, and she you, I am happy for you both. She is a nice girl.”
“Bruh, you know I am not looking for any relationships. She and I aren’t anything but a one time fun distraction from getting my brain fried in boring classes all the time, sorry to tell ya. That’s how I roll and I am pretty open about that too, you know me. I am not tying myself to anyone, no relationships. Not yet. Not in college. She and I have done all we will do with each other as far as I am concerned. So guess this is twice as awkward now.”
“It’s not. Becca and I were friends. Nothing has changed. Everything else is just … background stuff. If it wasn’t you, it would have been some other dude. I am fine. Just want to be alone, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure. But we are cool then?” Ewan knew that when Eric wanted to be left alone, it was best not to argue with him.
“Good. Because I would never risk our friendship over some girl. No sex could ever be good enough to warrant that. If I ever have to choose, it will always be you, man.”
Unfortunately the coming weeks showed that Eric’s connection with Rebecca had lost its luster.
They both tried to go back to the way things were, but everything was just awkward between them now.
Even more so when she came over to study one day and ran into Ewan. To him, she would remain a one night stand as he had said, being confronted with Eric and Ewan at the same time was too much for her.
But Ewan often would be where Eric was, same with Hannah, so this was a lost battle from the start.
Eventually both Eric and Becca had to admit their friendship had fallen by the wayside after that night.
They agreed it would be best to stop hanging out altogether.
Eric didn’t breathe a word about it to anyone, but it affected him a lot more than he let on.
He was hurting bad.
He hated what had happened, he didn’t blame Ewan, for he really had no way of knowing. Despite all, it still burned badly.
While he never said it out loud to anybody, Eric did blame Becca for it.
He knew that she knew there was something budding between them, yet he evidently was not important enough to her to give him the time he needed to work up his courage to allow more between them, help him slowly build up his confidence, instead she destroyed whatever was left of it by jumping in the sack with some random guy she met at some party, who just happened to be Ewan.
Maybe, just maybe, had it been any other guy Eric could have gotten over it, but the fact that it had been Ewan of all people – and in his own home, of sorts – just seemed an insurmountable problem that could not be explained away, nor ignored by him to just move on.
Furthermore it functioned to confirm what Eric had felt from the moment he was told he’d be disfigured for life: he would never find love. After this debacle now, he swore to himself that he was done trying too. Even if there was a girl out there who would truly just love him for him, how could he expect her to then deal with the terrible reactions he often received from others when in public? The stares, the comments. He still couldn’t deal with it himself and he got near daily experience.
Who would want to endure that?
That was assuming they could get over the disgust to touch him at all. He still had problems with that himself. He still flinched when his mother, grandmother, aunt Kiera and even Hannah touched his burn marks like it was nothing, or even kissed his cheek on his bad side. How they could manage that was well beyond him. He could barely stand the feeling of the rough, raised patches of the burn scars himself.
And he kept his promise to himself. He did not let another girl close again, withdrew even more than before, aside from Ewan and Hannah – and the rest of his family back home, of course. And he never once told either of them, how much he was hurting. Not only did he not want the pity, but he really did not want Ewan to blame himself for something Eric felt had been inevitable. And to Eric, there would never be any scenario in which he would place a girl, any girl, above Ewan and Hannah. Not now, and not ever.
-to be continued-