Publication date: April 11th 2017
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Mara Goodwin is a professional keeper of secrets, or that is what she intends to be. As a counseling psychology student at Northwestern, Mara’s ambition is unrivaled. She has the grades, the compassion, and the dedication, everything she needs to gain entry into the clinical psychology program.
However, after a traumatic experience leaves Mara in a state of mental distress, she finds herself keeping more secrets than she intended, most of them her own. Finding herself in trouble with the law, her dreams of being a therapist are jeopardized and as a consequence, Mara is ultimately forced into group therapy. While in therapy, Mara holds on to her secrets with a death grip, but when life comes full circle, her past is revealed and with it the potential to destroy her future career, her friendships, and ultimately herself.
Mara is a fighter, even if she doesn’t know it yet, but with each attempt to salvage what she can of her broken life, she is met with a consistent punch to the gut. After being pushed to the edge by meddling roommates, a persistent ex-boyfriend, and a potential new boyfriend, Mara comes to the precipice of her destruction. Yet with her destruction also comes her rebirth, and revelations of love, pain, and growth.
I lay in the closet naked, buried in a heap of dirty T-shirts and sweatpants that smelled like a combination of sour milk and sweat. If they could only talk, I thought. But if they could, I knew that my ears would be filled with expletive-filled rants for not having washed them a week ago.
I rolled over and my back smacked the floor, shooting pain up the back of my neck and into my head. My skin was hot but the coolness of the wooden floor surged through my body like an electrical current. I stretched my legs out, reveling in how good it felt to straighten them. I let them rest outside of the closet door, one tingling from being coiled like a scrunchie and the other freezing, attacked by the cold air gusting from the ceiling vent. Rosalina was home. Her inconsiderate tendencies had me beyond pissed and the day hadn’t even started. Always setting the thermostat to frigid, not caring if the rest of us suffered from hypothermia.
Sleep fogged my eyes and the smell of morning breath funk on my upper lip made my nose curl. What the hell was I doing in the closet? A thought I should have had earlier. I sat up fast, head spinning as the fringes of a dress swayed before me. I remembered that dress. It took me forever to get into but Frankie had needed no time to get it off. I didn’t know why, but the thought made me cringe and feel weak in the knees at the same time. It was on the left side of the closet, the untouched side. The side where my cute clothes went to die and collect dust after my sweat suits conquered the rest of the space.
It had happened again, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Before, I was only losing moments. Seconds of time. Small pieces of conversation here and there, but now I was missing the last several hours. I assumed that I had lost most to sleep but there were at least three or four that weren’t accounted for. I feared standing, certain that it would make my headache worse, so I crawled, skin brushing against the clothes that lay in my path. I felt like a worm dying in the sun as I crept out into the light and into the heart of my room. I got to my feet and a couple pairs of dirty underwear fell from my back to the floor. I looked around my room, rubbing my eyes in disbelief.
Sweat pants, shirts, bras, and all other manner of dirty clothing were scattered across the room. My bed was covered in research articles and books, as was my desk, which sat in the corner near the window. Several pairs of Chuck Taylors were askew against the wall, and the sun shining in made the dust particles dancing about more evident. I was not a slob by nature, but my room was now a disaster, a landfill. Everything that once had a place had none. This was not how I left my room yesterday.
The house was quiet, but I knew that my peace wouldn’t last long. I jumped at the sound of my phone ringing, chiming from an undisclosed location in my mess of a room. I kicked up clothes and moved books and papers from bed to floor with one smooth brush of an arm, but the damn thing stopped before I could find it. I still wasn’t completely awake, and the thought of having to search everything made my head hurt even more. I stormed around the room, tossing everything to an area of less clutter, until I caught a glimpse of myself in the floor mirror next to my desk and realized that I was still naked.
Why am I naked?
I reached down to the floor and rummaged through a pile of clothes, looking for a long T-shirt to put on. Maybe Frankie had been there, or maybe it was someone else. My heart stopped. Could it have been someone else? I crouched down to the floor.
“Hello…” I called out, still hearing the sleep in my voice. I pulled a dirty clothes pile up to my naked body. There was no response, so in relief I let the bundle fall back to the floor, keeping only a semi-clean tee, and resumed my search.
I held the T-shirt in my hand and viewed my naked form in the mirror, still not seeing the beauty that people tended to babble on about. I never thought that I was beautiful, but I didn’t think I was ugly either. The sunlight blessed my body, and I admired the brownness of my skin and the slenderness of my face, but I still found myself wishing I looked like my mother. The Jamaican goddess whose curves could rival any racetrack. Unfortunately I took after my scrawny father, whose leanness left me small-chested and ass-less.
After I had scrutinized myself enough, I finally put on the shirt and kept searching for my phone. Moments later I found it blinking in the trash can. I dusted it off and examined it, hoping that none of the gunk from the trash had attached itself. I had three missed calls from Frankie, two from my mother, and an array of text messages I had no intention of responding to. But Frankie I couldn’t ignore, so I called him.
“Where the hell are you?”
I could hear the fright in his voice but it was overpowered by condescension. “I’ve been trying to reach you all morning. Why didn’t you call when you got home?”
My heart raced. “Jesus, Frankie, you don’t have to interrogate me. What is it? What’s wrong?” I reached down to collect the pile of books I had swept from bed to floor. My hand sweat lingered on the book covers as I tried to organize them on the shelf. I was shaking, waiting for him to tell me something horrible. To tell me I had hurt someone, or even worse, to tell me that we had sex.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“I don’t know!” I took a book in my hand and threw it across the room. “That’s why I’m calling you!”
“Well, you don’t have to be a—”
“Be what, Frankie? A bitch? I don’t remember coming home last night.”
“Yea, shit.” I sat on the edge of my bed, feeling research papers crumpling under the weight of my body. The sound was excruciating to my ears but so was the sound of Frankie’s paternal voice so early in the morning.
“The last thing I remember is your apartment. I called you hoping you could shed some light, but you’re obviously no help.”
He took a deep breath. “Yea, Mara. That’s me. Mr. No Fucking Help.”
His sarcasm wasn’t helping.
“Don’t be a smartass, Frankie,” I said. “Now do you have anything important to tell me? Otherwise you’re wasting my time.”
“You said you had to go home and work on your thesis so you could get to bed early to get to that meet—”
“Son of a bitch.” I took my thumb and index finger, rubbed my eyes, then squeezed the bridge of my nose to relieve the pressure that had been building up in my head. “I almost forgot about the meeting. What time is it?”
“You did forget, and it’s 8:15.”
I hated him for calling me out.
“I got to go… and don’t call me back. I’ll call you if I want to be bothered, so find someone else to harass today.”
He laughed. “Whatever, Mara. Besides, probation officers don’t like to be kept waiting. I shouldn’t even be associating with people like you anyway.”
“What do you mean people like me?” I asked.
“You know… delinquents. Menaces to society.”
“That’s not funny. Not even a little bit,” I said. I wanted to cry, but I wouldn’t do it. I wasn’t going to open that can of worms. Not today.
“Come on. I’m only messing with you. Good luck, and let me know how it goes,” he said.
“Yea, whatever.” I hung up the phone.
I darted to my closet to find something suitable to wear. I had sweat pants hanging there, but I knew those weren’t going to work, not for a meeting so important, but I couldn’t be without them, so I pulled some out. I fingered through the clothes on the forbidden side and pulled out the longest, plainest skirt and blouse I could find along with a pair of dress flats and threw them on top of my bed. I grabbed a tote bag from the closet shelf and threw in a gray sweat suit, a shirt, and some Chucks and dashed to the bathroom. I tried to let myself in but the door was locked. I didn’t have time for this. I balled up my fist and banged on the door so hard it made my hand sting.
“Who’s in there?” I asked. I listened for movement. “I have to be on campus in thirty minutes!”
There was no response.
I banged again.
“I need in!”
The lock jiggled, and the door cracked open. Kate stood there wrapped in a towel, her face engulfed by her wet blonde hair. She was pretty, if having keen facial features was the current beauty standard, but her personality was just as sharp as her face.
“You can have the bathroom when I am done,” she said, her face stoic as she peered at me from behind the door.
I stared at her and wondered what it would feel like to plunge my fist into her face. She was trying to be a smartass. She closed the door and locked it, as if I planned on barging in on her. I could see her in there now, wasting time, sitting on the toilet wrapped in her towel reading a Cosmo, Glamour, or whatever magazines women like her had an affinity for. It was May, I’d moved into the house in February, and I could count on one hand the number times we’ve spoken to each other. I walked away and was only a few steps gone when I heard her yell through the door.
“Next time get up earlier!”
I dug my nails into the palm of my hand so hard I thought I would draw blood. I stared at the door waiting for her to say something else, wanting her to say something else. It wouldn’t take much for me take it down and do it, punch her square in the nose, but I opted against it. I didn’t need to create another problem for myself. I’d hired her father as my attorney out of an act of desperation and I needed him on my side, so punching and drowning his daughter in the toilet didn’t seem like the right decision to make at the moment.
When my eyes stopped seeing red, Rosalina stood in the kitchen, staring at me with her disapproving little beady brown eyes. Rosalina wasn’t fat, but she was thicker than the rest of us, and every time I ran into her she was in the kitchen drinking something, cooking something, or eating something. I don’t think I ever saw her in street clothes, either. She was always in scrubs with her hair pulled tight away from her face, sterile and unwelcoming. I stopped worrying about Kate and walked through the living room.
Our house was aesthetically pleasing, but it was not a house full of warmth and love. It had an open floor plan with rich-colored hardwood floors, soft blue paint on the walls, and a cream-colored sectional that sat in the middle of the living room with an assortment of throws and pillows. It appeared that everyone but me brought something to make it homey. Rosalina had her Wizard of Oz trinkets on display, Kate liked flowers, and Melanie had hung up wall pieces with happy home quotes. Melanie was the only one that I didn’t hate, but she was always at her boyfriend’s so I didn’t understand why she still claimed to live here.
I walked toward the kitchen but stopped by the thermostat to turn the air up just to piss Rosalina off, the whole time feeling those beady eyes searing through me.
“Can you not mess with that, please?” she asked, clearly irritated that I had the audacity to even touch it in her presence.
“It’s at sixty-five and it’s freezing in here. It’s not even eighty degrees outside,” I said.
I didn’t know the real temp, but I knew it wasn’t hot enough to have it blaring. It was May in Evanston, and even in August there would be no temp that could justify it being that cold.
“Well, maybe you should put some clothes on,” she said, looking me up and down, analyzing my bare legs and my frozen nipples on full display through my shirt.
“Maybe you should get a fan.”
That was it. I didn’t have a better comeback than that.
She gave me such a look I thought that the butter knife in her hand was going to fly across the room and plunge into my heart, but she waved me off and continued chewing on her toast. I didn’t let my eyes leave hers until my foot got caught. I looked down and saw my ankle was tangled up in Kate’s purse straps. I shook my foot in hopes of freeing myself from that hideous thing, taking note of how ugly it was. It was one of those name brand purses that had the company logo printed all across it that screamed, “Look, I have money!” And to make it worse, a tacky, glittery, yellow toad keychain dangled from the zipper. The girl had no taste. Rosalina watched me as I struggled. Her face was expressionless, but I knew she was amused. Once freed, I walked past her to the fridge to grab the orange juice, listening to her crunch on her food with every step I took, never out of her line of sight.
“You left that out on the counter yesterday. Put it back when you’re done, please,” she said.
Was she my mother now?
“Yeah.” I rolled my eyes.
I opened the cabinet next to the stove where we kept the glasses, but it was empty.
“Where are the clean glasses?”
She spread butter on another piece of toast.
“Sorry, they’re dirty,” she said as she picked up her glass of water. “I took the last one.”
I shut the cabinet and crossed over to the other side of the kitchen and looked in the dishwasher. It was full of bowls with soggy fruit loops stuck to them, plates with last week’s spaghetti, and glasses with an assortment of lipstick colors and lip glosses painted on the rims. I grabbed a dirty glass out of the top rack, put the detergent in, and slammed the door. Four people lived in this house and nothing ever got done. The trash would never get taken out unless I took it. The dishes would never get washed unless I started a load. This was adulting at its worst. I washed out the glass and poured some juice, then leaned against the dishwasher sipping, waiting for Kate to get out of the bathroom.
I thought about my meeting and read one of Melanie’s homey house sayings that hung next to the TV.
A house is made of bricks and beams; a home is made of love and dreams.
What bullshit. I turned my attention elsewhere, but caught Rosalina still staring at me, so I stared back. I assumed that she had just finished her shift at the hospital when I found her in her sanctuary. She had a career job, a nurse on the psych ward at some hospital, and on occasion it was nice to have someone to chat with about psychology, but she worked the night shift so we only saw each other in passing, which was fine with me. After a moment of staring I felt the tension subside a bit, so I caved and decided to initiate conversation.
“Long work night?” I asked.
“It wasn’t too bad,” she said as she slowly turned her body to face mine. “What about you? Looks like you had a rough one. Again.” I could hear the cheekiness in her tone.
I cut my eye at her.
“No, it wasn’t a rough one. I just spent some time reorganizing.”
“How’s that coming?” she took a sip of her water.
“Good.” I put glass in the sink, ready to return to my room and wait it out there before I continued this conversation.
“Can you please put your glass on the other side of the sink? I can’t use the sink if both sides are full,” Rosalina said.
I looked at her, then looked back at the sink in disgust. I hadn’t noticed it earlier, but one side overflowed with dirty dishes, none of which were mine. I rested my hands on the edge of the sink and squeezed. I could see the pink leave my fingertips as I pressed in. “I would put it on the other side of the sink but someone else has filled the other side to capacity, so what would you like me to do about it? Better yet—”
“I’m done,” Kate said as she stormed out to of the bathroom into the living room. She grabbed her books and her ugly purse before walking over towards Rosalina.
“Jesus take the wheel.” I rushed out of the kitchen toward the bathroom. When I looked back before shutting the door, Kate whispered something to Rosalina, and I could read my name on her lips. I wasn’t sure what they thought of me, but I didn’t care. When the lease was up, they could kick rocks.
“Mara,” Kate said.
The bathroom door was shut so I pretended not to hear.
“Mara.” She was right outside the door.
I cracked it open to see what she wanted, and her icy blue eyes were so close it made me jump.
“Don’t forget about the lunch today,” she said.
“What lunch?” I threw my arms up. She was wasting my time.
She stepped back away from the door.
“The lunch,” she said as she continued to move farther back into the living room.
“You better not be trying to get out of it!” Rosalina yelled from the kitchen.
“Yeah, we suffer, you suffer,” Kate said, walking towards the entryway.
I let out a sigh. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”
I closed the door to the bathroom and took a deep breath. The meeting. That’s where my focus needed to be. I kept telling myself to stay positive, but I knew I was toast. Everything over before it even started. I had this one opportunity to try and make it right.
I just hoped I didn’t blow it.
I have loved writing ever since I was a young child in school and after years of procrastination I finally decided to go for it and write my first novel. When I’m not writing or reading I love spending time with my puppy, listening to music, and binge watching shows on Netflix.
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