BellaOnline Literary Review
Ruffles by Christine Catalano

Table of Contents


Paradise Disillusioned

Jes Friday

As I ran my fingers along the hundreds of soft white feathers, I thought back to that time three years ago when I had first earned my wings. Each wing spanned about two feet wide and two feet long, the tips stopping at my lower back. My mother had used the money from her late night stocking shift at Target to purchase them, and they had cost her a pretty penny. They were my reward for maintaining my honor roll status while juggling the new responsibility of taking care of my little brother. That year had been my last year of trick-or-treating, though I still walk Matthew around the neighborhood each Halloween. What had made for a modest angel costume back then, had transformed into something far more provocative now. I tugged self-consciously at the hem of the white mini-skirt, and recalled that it had not seemed so “mini” the last time I wore it. Gone was the old loose silky blouse, and in its place was a fitted white top with a plunging neckline, borrowed from my mother’s closet. Over these past couple of years, I had undergone a metamorphosis, leaving me in a body that has earned me the envy of my friends, and furtive glances from grown men.

Tonight was a special night, my very first time going to a grown-up party. Though Halloween was still a week away, Seth’s dad was throwing a huge costume party. It would be my first time meeting my boyfriend’s father, and I had every intention of coming off as the mature and attractive woman that I knew I’d become. Seth lived with his grandparents, but his father had just recently re-entered his life. I had the privilege of being the first of any of his friends to meet him. Seth and I had been together for two whole months, and I knew it was real love. From the start, I was captivated by his handsome face with his clear blue eyes, and pouty, almost feminine lips. I had been anticipating this party for the past week, and I felt a rush of excitement as I slid my glossy white heels on over my lacy thigh-high stocking clad feet. Between school and watching Matthew, I was entitled to have a little fun, and Seth had promised that the party would be a real treat.

“Lucinda?” called my mother, the front door slamming shut behind her. She was home from her eight hour shift at her call center job, which meant it was already a little past six o’clock. Taking slow, steady steps, I walked down the short hallway towards the living room. I was not used to wearing shoes with such high heels, and my quivering legs reminded me of Bambi. My mother was standing in the living room, her waist encircled by Matthew’s small arms.

“Mommy!” Matthew squealed into her shirt.

“Hey baby,” she responded, tousling his deep strawberry blond hair with her hand. There was no denying that Matthew and I were our mother’s children; the matching hair was a straight giveaway. Escaping Matthew’s grasp, she shrugged off her raincoat and turned her attention toward me.

“Oh,” she said, scanning me from floor up, “that costume certainly looks … different.” Her gaze lingered for a moment on the familiar top before continuing up and stopping at my hair. Her eyes widened. “Your hair—it’s blonde.”

“Yeah, I dyed it two days ago.” My eyes locked onto hers, daring her to criticize my new platinum curls. My new hair went perfectly with my costume, plus Seth had a thing for blondes. I looked at my mother’s short cropped hair and the heavy bags under her tired pale green eyes on her pallid face. I couldn’t help but think that she should try to put more effort into her appearance; maybe if she had, Dad wouldn’t have left.

“It looks nice. It’s just different is all,” she responded. Turning to Matthew, she said, “How about I make us some dinner? I can make some mac ‘n cheese!”

Matthew wrinkled his nose.

“We already ate. Dinner is on the stove. Besides, Matthew hates macaroni and cheese,” I said, trailing past her to the foyer mirror. With great attention I painted my lips with a thin layer of cherry lip gloss.

“Since when does he hate mac ‘n cheese?”

“He’s refused to eat it for over a year now. Besides, that stuff isn’t healthy anyway. I try to make more health conscious dinners,” I said. My voice sounded superior even to my own ears, and I felt a flash of guilt. My mother’s face appeared in the mirror behind me as she placed her hands gently on my shoulders.

“You do a lot for this family, Lucinda. Please, don’t think that I haven’t noticed that. I wish I could be here more, for you and Matthew both.” She looked exhausted. I knew that tonight was a truck night at Target, and she only had about five hours before she had to work the graveyard stocking shift.

“You should go eat dinner and get some rest, Carol,” I said as I turned to face her. Her brows furrowed in response to her first name. It had been over two years since I last called her mom. “Seth and his dad will be here any minute. Mrs. Johnson says for you to bring Matthew next door within the next hour or so.”

I watched my mother’s face closely, and observed the way she nibbled her lower lip just slightly when she disapproved of something. I knew she couldn’t stop me from going to the party and from the look on her face, she knew this as well. Her opinion of Seth was no secret; it was she that had coined his nickname, Satan, after all. Little did she know that the name had stuck, and to my chagrin, it was used even by my own friends.

“Where exactly is this party? Are you sure Seth’s father will be there? I just don’t know if that outfit is appropriate for you to wear out in public, Lucinda. That skirt is awfully short, and it’s cold and rainy outside. ” Her voiced was rushed, as if she was worried that I was going to interrupt and deprive her of this rare opportunity to act motherly. “You should take my raincoat and umbrella. Take my cell phone too, in case you need to call me at work,” she said, collecting the items.

“I’m not going to wear a raincoat because then I’d look ridiculous. I want everyone to see my costume. Besides, I won’t need to call you, because I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

A shadow passed across the curtains of the front foyer window. Both my mother and I paused in anticipation. There were two firm knocks on the front door.

“Be nice,” I whispered, as I opened the door. For an instant I thought the man standing before me in the black hooded jacket was Seth. He was in his mid-thirties, with a dark goatee that came to a neat point below his chin. His face was smooth and pale, with icy blue eyes and a large mouth. My eyes were transfixed on his lips, and though I found them so perfect on Seth, I couldn’t help but think how very vulgar they looked on this man.

The man smiled a politician’s smile and extended his hand. “You must be Lucy,” he said in a booming voice that was about three notches too chipper for someone standing in such a heavy downpour. “Seth told me his girlfriend was beautiful, but he didn’t mention she was an angel,” he finished the sentence with a dramatic wink and then pressed his large clammy lips firmly onto the back of my hand. I managed to keep a pleasant smile on my face as I inwardly recoiled from his touch.

“Her name is Lucinda,” my mother corrected. She stepped forward in the doorway, making no move to invite the man inside. At this time Seth approached the front porch with a bright crimson umbrella that shielded his dark brown hair and the red plastic devil horns crowning his head.

“She goes by Lucy now,” said Seth, looking directly into my mother’s eyes. “Hello, Carol,” he said with a grin. My mother glared at Seth, the humor of the devil horns not lost on her, but before she could speak Seth’s father had already grasped her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you, Carol. My name is Luther. Don’t worry about Lucy; she’ll be in good hands tonight. We’re just going to stop by Seth’s Aunt Betsy’s and then head back to my place for a little Halloween get-together. We’ll get her home in one piece,” he reassured.

Seth grabbed my hand, and whisked me away under his umbrella towards an old burgundy Cadillac with a rusty roof. Crossing through the yard, I saw the muddy imprint of Seth’s bike tracks in the damp dirt, still lingering from the night before. I hoped my mother hadn’t noticed them.

Just as the car was about to pull out of the driveway, my mother sprinted towards it. Opening the back door a crack, she handed me her cellular phone. “Call me if you need me, please.”

The desperation in her voice caused me to blush. “I won’t,” I replied, stuffing the phone in my purse and slamming the car door.

Luther chuckled as we pulled out of the driveway. “Your mom sure is worried about you,” he mused.

“She still thinks I’m a child,” I replied, watching her drenched figure retreat back to our house.

Despite Seth’s sweatshirt draped over my legs, and his hand rubbing my thighs, I was still shivering in the backseat of the Cadillac as we pulled into the parking lot. In the front passenger seat was an older man of about fifty with a long scraggly dark gray beard and very few teeth. Luther had introduced him as his roommate, Bubba, who he simply called Bub. I looked out the window and saw the white sign with bright red lettering that read, “ABC.” Turning to Seth, I shot him a quizzical look. “I thought we were going to your Aunt Betsy’s place?”

The car broke out in laughter at my expense, staining my cheeks a faint cherry red. Luther turned around in the front seat. “We just had to make a quick pit stop here at Aunt Betsy’s Kitchen, but don’t you worry, sweetheart, we will get you to your Halloween party real soon.”

I glanced at the sign once more, and then replied in a matter of fact voice, “Kitchen doesn’t start with a C.”

Luther raised his eyebrow at Seth before cracking up into another fit of laughter. “Oh man, not only is she pretty, son, but you got a real smart one too.” He exited the car and entered the store.

Attempting to be social, I asked Bub, “How did you and Luther become friends?”

“We met in a meeting,” was his short reply.

The car filled with an unsettling silence, so I tried again. “So, if you and Luther live together, does the house belong to you?”

“Oh, halfway, I suppose,” he answered. He and Seth snickered.

I was feeling left out, but when I turned to whisper this to Seth I found his soft lips on mine, quickly banishing my complaint.

“I love you,” he murmured as our lips finally parted.

A few minutes later Luther came back with a large brown paper bag. He handed it to Seth, who put it in his backpack on the floorboard. Seth pulled the sweatshirt from my legs, leaving me shivering once more, and shoved it into the backpack over the brown bag. “All set,” he said, grinning at his father.

The rain was mercilessly beating down upon the Cadillac’s windshield as we finally came to a stop. The dark night sky combined with the blurry windshield made it almost impossible to see in front of us, but I could tell we were in line behind another car by the way the red brake lights cast a hellish red glow upon our faces. The car in front of us drove on ahead, and we rolled to a stop in front of a large black metal gate. To our left was a small booth, occupied by a tall man in a black hooded rain slicker. Luther rolled down the window, exchanged brisk pleasantries with the figure, and scribbled on the clipboard presented to him. The hooded figure then shone his flashlight into the back seat, momentarily blinding me. I tried to shift in the seat to pull the skirt down my thighs, but my wings made it awkward, and in the end I just lowered my eyes away from the bright white light.

“That there is my son and his girlfriend. They’re just paying me a visit tonight. Figured we’d make some dinner and I could help him with his homework a little,” Luther explained.

“Will they be home before curfew?” the hooded man asked.

“Of course, his grandparents will be picking them up in a couple of hours.”

Nodding, the man triggered the metal gate and it began to recede to the right with a horrible screeching sound. What I first mistook for a nice gated community turned out to be a cluster of shabby one-story apartment buildings.

“I don’t really have a curfew though,” I said.

“That must be nice,” Luther grumbled. He navigated the car through the labyrinth of buildings until we reached a far dark corner of the complex. Opening my door, it was Luther that took my hand and pulled me next to him under the umbrella. I fidgeted with my wings, trying to protect them from the pelting drops of rain. Luther noticed my concern and snaked his arm around my waist, drawing me in closer to his body as he escorted me to the front door of his apartment. I glanced over my shoulder at Seth, but he was too busy chatting with Bub to notice my discomfort.

I was the first one to enter the noisy cramped apartment, and immediately all conversation halted as four pairs of eyes turned towards me. Sprawled out among a threadbare couch and a couple of dingy old lawn chairs were three men and one woman— all of them over the age of forty and not a single one in costume.

“Tanya!” the man closest to me yelled towards a doorway that I could only assume led to the kitchen. “Come here, you gotta see this! Luther must’ve finally found God, because he’s brought home an angel.” The whole room erupted in laughter, and I felt my cheeks burn as I blinked back the excess moisture rimming my eyes. It became obvious to me that Seth had perhaps exaggerated in his description of the party, and I had every intention of giving him a piece of my mind as soon as his father was out of earshot.

A skinny woman in a tube top and tight black jeans appeared in the kitchen doorway. She had long unkempt brown hair that hung limp down to her waist, and her cheeks looked sunken and gave her the appearance of a reanimated corpse. Her lips were crudely outlined in bright red lipstick, encircling the few yellow and dark nubs that served as her teeth.

“Isn´t it a bit early for Halloween, little girl?”

The raspy edge to her voice made the scorn all the more apparent. Her gaze was fixed on Luther’s arm that still lingered on my waist. As I started to step away I felt one of my ankles rock too far to the right and I knew I was going to fall. Seth caught me midway to the ground and helped steady me, and in that instant I forgave him for dragging me here.

“Shut up, Tanya. This here is Lucy, Seth’s girlfriend. Can you guys believe my son got a piece this pretty?” Luther said, beaming with pride. Annoyed, I glanced up to view Seth’s reaction, but his eyes were transfixed on his father as he basked in his praise.

The next couple hours dragged by as I tried my best to blend into the background, which was difficult considering that I was the only person dressed head to toe in pure white with large feathered wings. Seth had unpacked the brown paper bag from his book bag. His father had purchased a bottle called Jägermeister, which I was told, after much laughter, was pronounced with a Y. My eyes were immediately drawn to the other bottle that Luther swirled, creating a little tornado of gold flakes. When I initially turned down the alcohol, he said he had bought the Goldschläger especially for me. The cinnamon liquid burned going down my throat and it spread like fire through my body. Every now and then I would put my hand to my cheek to feel the heat radiating from within. The den of the small apartment became stifling hot and I felt as if the walls were closing in on me. The conversation rarely captured my interest, and at times I found it difficult to follow. My eyes wandered over the scuffed beige walls and I strained to focus on the only decoration adorning them. Inside a cheap wooden frame was a cross stitch verse with a flowery border. After several minutes I was able to decipher the words and I read them quietly to myself moving my lips slowly with each word.

“…and the wisdom to know the difference,” I whispered.

“What did you say, Lucy?” Seth asked, bringing me another shot. I had wanted to take him to the side and ask him if his grandparents were really going to pick us up after we’d been drinking. More importantly, I wanted to know why he lied to get me here in the first place, but all night Seth followed in his father’s shadow, never wandering far from his side.

“I said…I think I need something else to drink,” I mumbled.

“We have some Kool-Aid in the fridge, if you want it,” was his distant reply.

As I followed him to the kitchen, I steadied myself against the wall and crumpled one of my wings in the process. From what I could tell, Tanya was still in a sour mood. As I leaned against the kitchen table I overheard Luther speaking in a hushed tone to Seth.

“It’s like I told you before, son, when a woman is upset with you, all you have to do is tell them you love them and then kiss them to shut them up. Trust me, it works all the time. Watch and learn,” he said, slapping Seth on the shoulder. Luther strutted up to Tanya and whispered in her ear, and after a moment he leaned in and began kissing her. The kissing lasted entirely too long, and standing a few feet behind Tanya, I was thankful that I did not have a close up view. However, I inadvertently met Luther’s penetrating gaze as he stared at me over her shoulder. I felt his eyes roam up and down my body, and my hand instinctively pulled at the hem of my skirt. Breaking his gaze, I turned to leave the room, only to slam right into Seth.

“What the hell, Lucy! Look what you made me do,” he said, gesturing to the stain on the front of my skirt.

I stared in horror as the cherry Kool-Aid seeped through my skirt and trickled down my thighs before settling into the lacy top of my thigh-high stockings.

“You ruined it,” I cried. “You ruined my costume!”

Seth apologized profusely and escorted me to the bathroom. I tried my hardest to rinse the stain out, but I knew that it would never come out. As I staggered down the hallway back to the den, I heard a commotion. Upon entering the room, I noticed a new person had arrived. A tall, lean man with shaggy graying brown hair was arguing with Luther.

“You got some nerve bringing that stuff in here, Luther,” said the man, gesturing to the liquor bottles on the coffee table. “Some of us are here to actually get clean.”

“Lighten up, Raphael. It’s not like it’s anything hardcore. Luther just wanted us to have a little fun,” said Bub.

I stumbled a little farther into the room, drawing Raphael’s attention.

“Who is she? Not only do you bring liquor here, but now you’re getting minors drunk too? It’s like you want to go back to prison, Luther. You see that son of yours as a free pass to go out and do whatever the hell you please. You don’t even think of the consequences your actions have on the poor boy,” said Raphael.

“Oh shut up, Raphael. They’re old enough to make their own decisions. I certainly did when I was their age. A few drinks aren’t going to hurt anyone,” said Luther.

Raphael turned his attention back on me. He had large soulful brown eyes, and his gaze was both firm yet gentle.

“What’s your name, young lady?” His voice softened when he addressed me.

“Lucinda,” I whispered.

“And how old are you, Lucinda?”

I lowered my eyes to the toes of my white pumps. “Fifteen.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Raphael shake his head. “You know you shouldn’t be here, Lucinda. You should go home,” he said solemnly.

I nibbled the corner of my lip, and my thoughts flickered briefly to my mother. I nodded my head in consent, trying my hardest to swallow the painful lump rising in my throat.

Luther stepped between us. “You’re upsetting her. The night was going perfectly fine until you came home. The kids are alright, they’re going to spend the night in my room and sleep it off. I’ll take them home in the morning. No one’s going to get in trouble.”

“That’s the problem with you, Luther. You don’t see the wrong in what you do because you’re too proud to admit that you have a problem in the first place. Ever since you were placed here, this place has turned into a living hell,” Raphael said.

Luther shrugged. “Spare me your preaching, old man. You’re just mad because I’m stronger than you. I don’t need to follow your twelve steps. I’m in control of my life and can take care of myself. Besides, it’s better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven, and tonight was one hell of a good time,” he sneered. This speech brought on a hiss of approval from his supporters in the den.

Seth sidled up to me and guided me back down the hallway to a dim lit bedroom. Closing the door firmly behind him, he said, “I just wanted to get out of there. Raphael can be a real downer. I’m sorry if he upset you.”

I nodded and said, “Seth, I just really want to go home now. I don’t feel comfortable here. I just—”

“Hey, don’t worry, Lucy. It’s okay. You’re safe here with us. My dad is a great guy and he’d never let anything happen to you,” Seth assured.

“I just want to go home…” I whispered.

“I love you,” he mumbled as he lowered his head to mine. His lips felt cool and seemed to suffocate me, and his breath had a rancid taste of black licorice and cinnamon. He pulled me down to the rumpled bed, and I thought for certain that I was going to be sick. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, promising to return shortly.

From the sounds of the yelling I could tell that the argument had moved to the kitchen. I grabbed my purse and made my way to the front door, silently slipping out into the chilly rainfall. The cold had a sudden sobering effect, and I had a coherent thought for the first time in a few hours.

I had to get away.

Forcing my shaky legs to move as quickly as possible, my heels clicked loudly across the dark wet asphalt. As I felt the stinging lashes of each drop of rain I wished more than anything that I had accepted the umbrella and raincoat from my mother. Approaching the lone working streetlight in the complex, I felt my heel catch on an uneven part of the asphalt. I came crashing down to the ground with such force that I stayed there, completely stunned. Bathed in the golden glimmer of the streetlight, the rain dripped from my soggy wings as I looked at my bloody hands and knees. My stockings were shredded by the impact, as was the delicate flesh beneath them. I knelt there on the pavement and finally surrendered myself to choking sobs. I swatted at my flooded eyes with my bloody hands before taking off my heels.

Raising myself up, I stood steady for the first time in a while. My fingers quivered as I dialed the cell phone.

“Mom? It’s me… Lucinda.”

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