Authors: Jade Alyse
Tags: #Romance, #Multicultural, #New Adult & College, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #Multicultural & Interracial
When You Come to Me
Copyright © 2011 by Jade Phillips
All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Printed in the United States of America
ISBN: 978-1-257-80966-0 (ebook)
I present this book with a little trepidation. I first wrote this as a result of a long, winding bend of confusion that had lasted almost two years between myself and a person of the opposite sex. Four years ago in the early spring of 2007, I was only twenty-years-old and a junior in college, and my frustration turned into jotting down ideas and feelings in between classes. I was sitting in the parking deck on a particularly warm day in early March, and while I should have been studying my notes for my forthcoming art class, I was reeling from the conversation I'd had with the aforementioned person of the opposite sex. I realized that we'd never work in the way I'd figured in my head. It was equally tragic because we were best friends and we spent a great deal of time with one another. But the disparity of our color and cultural makeup were always glaring us in the face. So, as I sat in my car with my laptop in front of me, and the clock ticking, I began to think: "So what if it did work? What would happen? Would it be easier? And why would it work?" I'm a romantic, and I'm a sucker for happy endings. But I also enjoy realistic dynamics. Please don't read this as an autobiography. Although I am very similar to Natalie Chandler in many ways, my characters are a composite of people I hold very near and dear to my heart. They are my inspiration. Some of them are mentioned below.
Even years later, I still recall writing this novel as being one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life (thus far). It was like my first love in many ways: it was my first completed novel, and anything I've written since, I've unconsciously compared to it. And though my writing has since matured, I still like to read this from time to time and reflect on how inspired and happy I was. After all, I would feel shameful about not putting it out there, when the people mentioned below know it just as well (if not better) than I do. These people helped in my creative process more than they realize. Some stayed up nights with me coming up with titles, names and new ideas, some said that they were similar to the characters. But they all read and listened to me go on and on about it, partially out of love for me and out of genuine love for the book itself.
Without further adieu, this book is dedicated to
, who read my ratty mead notebooks in 10th grade band and thought that they were the best things in the world. To
, who stayed up with me until sunrise coming up with titles for this book, who answered every single one of my asinine questions. To
, who hated when I gave her random chapters that weren’t in order, who always wanted me to do this. To
, for patiently listening to every single one of my ideas, good or bad, long or short.
I love you all.
When you come to me, unbidden,
To long-ago rooms,
Where memories lie.
Offering me, as to a child, an attic,
Gatherings of days too few.
Baubles of stolen kisses.
Trinkets of borrowed loves.
Trunks of secret words,
- Maya Angelou
SHE WAS THE FIRST IN HER FAMILY to go to college. For years and years, her older sister Sidney had been the shining light of the family, until her plans got deterred, having to painfully announce to the rest of the family that she had a baby girl due in December. And though Leah had been a blessing, it didn’t really change the fact that her dear sister’s future would never be the same. Sidney had been twenty at the time, claiming love for Leah’s arrival – love for Darrell Nolan, her boyfriend of three whole years, whose future peaked the moment he took the job in the mailing room at a law firm. Pleasing Darrell, loving Darrell, wanting Darrell mattered more to her than her mind, her well-being, her future, her intelligence.
She hadn’t been more than ten feet away from her family her entire life, and as each day passed, she became less and less sure about her decision to go to Athens, to go to the University of Georgia, a world starkly different from her own.
Her being was the honeysuckle bushes that surrounded the brick house with the white wraparound porch where she lived with her mother and two sisters. Her soul was the cool autumn breezes at the state fair in October. She was the taste of homegrown peaches on the porch at sunset, the fireflies that danced about the yard in twilight. Her spirit was as easy and as comfortable and as soft as the patter of rain against the window on Sundays, was as incalculable and as enigmatic as the stars and the moon. She belonged to an array of magnificent complexions, a glorious spectrum of browns and honeys and ambers and mahoganies.
She was an element of a sweet southern life, wasn’t she? For years, she’d enjoyed the perspective of being surrounded by people who looked like her, who talked the same, quiet, honey-dipped drawl, a life that her mama, with her hips and breasts and deep, booming voice, approved of. And though Athens was only a two-hour drive from Decatur, though there was still the distinct southern flair in the atmosphere, it wasn’t home, it wasn’t her life.
She was a brown, big-eared, willowy something that hot, sticky August in the year 2000. She was seventeen, and, consequently, she was the youngest girl, in smelly, yellow-tiled, cramped, ten-floored Allen dormitory. She stood awkwardly at five-foot-ten and each night, she prayed to God that she didn’t grow another inch. It wasn’t enough that all the girls who lived on her floor snickered as she walked past, her increasing height would only add to the hilarity. A day didn’t go by when her head of natural waves, baby fine and soft, irritatingly unmanageable, didn’t give her grief. She kept it up as best as she could, and it hung loosely past her defined, boney shoulders, layers tickling at her pronounced collarbone. She never had much trouble with her skin growing up. She owed it to good genes, to her grandmother and her mother’s almond tone.
She was a victim of cruel isolation from the rest of the girls, and she spent most of her nights in the first couple of weeks since the start of college, locked in her cramped dorm room, dreading the moment that her roommate would return.
Samantha was the only one that didn’t give her grief, that only smiled at her awkwardness, her impish, icy disposition, as if she reminded her of a child, brave enough to walk away from its mother for the first time. Natalie Chandler took a surprising leap of faith when she asked her roommate, if she could accompany her to wherever she was going one Saturday night. Sammy was a hotheaded blond known for her loud alternative, black nails, and stiletto boots. She was a northern Georgian, who carried a heavy twang, like most of the other girls who lived in the dorm, who, at eighteen, had the most intense relationship of anyone on that third floor hall. Billy was steely-haired and rather greasy, and smelled more like stale cigarettes and warm beer than any bar in town. Nevertheless, on the nights that Sammy didn’t spend the night with him, she was on the phone with him to the early hours of the morning, telling him how much she loved him and blah, blah, blah. Natalie nearly felt the urge to gag at their nonsense, at their young and rather pathetic depiction of love. Sammy was there on a merit scholarship, Billy worked third shift at a Wal-Mart in Tucker, unloading inventory from trucks. What sort of evocative relationship could they have? They were night and day, an apple and an orange, the sun and the moon…
Sammy laced up her knee-high boots at the moment that the skinny brown nerd stood in front of her, gave her quiet roommate a look of disbelief, perhaps recalling in her mind the many, many moments that she came back to the room and saw Natalie sitting at her worn brown desk with a book in her hands on Friday nights.
Sammy looked at her, grinned slowly and said, “Natalie Chandler, you actually want to leave the room?”
Natalie nodded timidly. Of course she did. She was feeling wild at the moment, wanted to get the whole “college experience” out of her head, wanted all the other girls on the hall to stop snickering as she walked past with a book in her hands, wanted to prove something. But she couldn’t think of what. She anticipated that, by the end of the night, she would be patting herself on the back, would realize that all the partying and nonsense that went on was not all that it was cracked up to be.
“Alright then,” her roommate replied, a tinge of warning in her tone, as if to suggest that she should inevitably brace herself. “Let’s go.”
Sammy was given her older brother’s old red Tacoma as a birthday present that summer, and she climbed behind the driver’s seat with pride of her hand-me-down, while Natalie and four of the other girls that lived in the dorm sat uncomfortably in the back, the wind from the fleeting vehicle blasting her in the face as they drove through downtown, entering a small development, forested and quiet.
There was a house of blue siding on a narrow, unevenly paved street called Trent Road, set on a decline, set beneath a bevy of oak trees, dripping wet that night, after a long afternoon of Indian summer rainfall.
Natalie listened to one of the girls who claimed that she’d met the people who lived in the house. Four boys lived there, and they always threw parties, especially on warm nights. It was one of the housemate’s twenty-first birthday: a real knockout, an athletic something that a lot of people knew, and a lot of people liked.
They entered the house, minimally decorated, with creaking and worn hardwood floor, wood paneling on the walls, ratty curtains, and the occasional poster of Bob Marley or a symbol of the cannabis leaf, or some vintage rock band that she didn’t recognize. It smelled of stale beer, sweat and some type of strange perfume, and the house, with its small living room, barely-existent kitchen and nearby bedrooms, gave it a strangely cozy feel, with the exception of the one hundred or so people occupying the living area.
She stood by Samantha for awhile, and allowed herself to get settled into the scene unfolding around her, watching students come and go, watching alcohol being passed from the left to the right, watching this white girl grind on this white guy, and that white guy try to pick up that white girl. She found the whole situation strangely entertaining, like a scene from a bad teenage romantic comedy. She grew slightly uncomfortable when her roommate offered her a can of Budweiser. This gesture made Natalie’s face grow hot, and she pushed her roommate’s hand away. Mama would have died!
“No, thank you,” she told Sammy politely, watching the girl’s face wince with displeasure.
“Natalie, it’s only a can of beer,” Sammy replied, rolling her eyes. “You’ve never had beer before?”
No, she could honestly and proudly say that she hadn’t, and witnessing all the drunken mayhem that surrounded her that moment, she was certainly glad that she hadn’t.
“You certainly are the strangest little thing I’ve ever met,” Sammy murmured.
Was she? Was she so strange that she didn’t enjoy the debauchery in the same way that her roommate enjoyed it? She realized then that this wasn’t her scene, realized that this wasn’t the place for a Christian girl, and she increasingly got the urge to smack Sammy in the face for offering her alcohol.
As if Sammy knew any better…
She’d somehow lost Sammy among the people an hour later, and she wandered around aimlessly, in the darkness, bumping into couples that lurked and cuddled in shadowed corners together, while Bob Marley wailed his reggae blues through the speakers. She then wished that she could have been at home, cooking with her mama, arguing with her sisters, letting her grandma spoil her. Instead she was here, amongst an insane amount of white people, the most she’d seen in her entire life.
After all, wasn’t it her decision to go to UGA? Could she necessarily complain?
Natalie Chandler shoved past people left and right, heard their loud banter, watched beer cans fly over her head, waited for the moment that she would wake up from this nightmare. She headed back in the direction of the kitchen, figured that Sammy had to be somewhere near there and…
She felt something strike her forehead, and as she attempted to reach up with her boney hand, she fell backward, barely feeling someone reach out for her, stopping her before she fell onto the hardwood floor.
When she opened her eyes again, she tried to make out her surroundings, was highly unsuccessful, tried to take a breath, found it difficult, and her head throbbed with relentless power.
She determined that she was in a room, a very cloudy room, of course, but certainly some sort of room. She assumed it was a bedroom; saw the hazy silhouette of a collection of posters on one wall, and a set of tall gold trophies, standing on a shelf against another, and a series of pictures on a chest of drawers. The door was closed, but the noise on the other side was so apparent that it made her head hurt worse. A faint voice hailed above her head, distantly, like a specter. She was strong enough after a couple of moments had passed, to raise her arm and lay her boney hand flat against her forehead, feeling the tightened knot, pulsating between her fingers.