i guess two souls will meet again,
when the universe thinks they should
— jenny lewis
The harbinger of Karyn’s bad luck is a half-finished Starbucks Frappuccino, left behind by one of co-workers. It escapes her notice until she is about to step out the front door of the bridal shop, minutes before midnight, but when she catches sight of it — precariously balanced on the front counter in a pool of condensation — she ignores every instinct telling her to leave it and go so that she can carry it out to the dumpster. If it had been any other night, she would not have bothered; if it had been any other night, she would have left it out of spite for her boss, but having spent six hours doing inventory and cleaning after an eight-hour shift, Karyn is unwilling to leave the shop unless it is pristine, a true reflection of the quality of her independent work.
She regrets this decision not long after she steps into the alleyway behind the shop, the sound of her heels echoing through the empty space as she walks briskly to the dumpster shared with the salon next door, lifting the lid.
His voice startles her so much that she jumps, losing her grip on the lid of the dumpster — which comes crashing down — and the Frappuccino she had intended to throw away. “How did you find me?” She asks, suddenly feeling as though she has been submerged in a tub of ice water; she can feel her instincts repeating themselves, tugging at her to run, but she is frozen, capable of doing nothing except staring down at the spilled coffee at her feet.
“Well, if you got my texts, you know I assumed you were in Huntington Beach because of your area code,” he answers, cavalier. “I confirmed it by hacking into your iCloud account and using Find My iPhone. You use the same password for everything. You shouldn’t do that.”
“I guess you’re right,” she says, though it is more akin to a reflex, a momentary possession by the girl she used to be, than it is to a conscious decision. “Stupid me.”
“I want you to come home with me.”
It is now that Karyn finds the courage to turn around, standing face-to-face with her ex-boyfriend, Noah, for the first time since leaving him in Stanford over a year ago. His voice and silhouette are all she needs to identify him, but still a part of her clings to the hope that the dark figure she sees is a figment of her imagination, that she has fallen asleep in one of the armchairs at the bridal shop without realizing and he is nothing more than a player in her nightmare. “What?”
“I know you, Karyn,” Noah says, stepping closer to her, becoming even more recognizable as his features are illuminated by the dim fluorescent glow of the lights overhead. His golden brown hair. His eyes — deep blue, dangerous. “You can’t tell me you’re satisfied with your life here. Living with Annabelle? Working for someone whose only accomplishment to date, from what I’ve read, is not accomplishing anything? Fucking the neighbor guy? Seriously? I can tell just by looking at him that your dick is bigger than his.”
“You don't know me anymore,” Karyn replies, swallowing, “and you don’t know my friends. Don’t bring them into this.”
“Does he know about me?”
“Yes.” She knows better than to clarify that she is not fucking her neighbor anymore, taking some comfort in the knowledge that Noah has not been watching her closely enough — at least, in recent weeks — to know about Conor.
“Does he know about you?” Noah persists, the corner of his mouth turning upward in a sinister smirk. “Does he know what you did last summer?”
Karyn steps back slowly, like a small animal trying to evade a predator without drawing attention to itself, extending her arm behind her and reaching for the door to the bridal shop — which she knows is several feet away. “You have some nerve thinking you can use that as ammunition against me,” she says, keeping her eyes locked on his. The eye contact chills her to her core, but she cannot decide which would be more unwise: maintaining it or breaking it.
“I don’t need to,” Noah responds, with a shrug of his shoulders. His movements are as disturbingly nonchalant as his speech, and when he follows her, he does so at her uneasy pace. “Whether you had the kid or not, you’re damaged goods, babe. When the truth comes out, he won’t want you. Nobody will want you. Nobody except me.”
“I didn’t have—” Karyn pauses, faltering, before clearing her throat and starting anew. “Even if that were true,” she says, ”even if it is true, I’ll never go with you. You’ll have to kill me first.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic. You don’t mean that,” Noah coaxes. “You don’t belong here and you know it. I love you, Karyn. Come home with me. We can start over.”
Before she can reply, Noah bridges the gap between them and pins her against the outer wall of the bridal shop, crushing her lips with his like they are lovers reuniting after a long time apart. She wants to push him away, but his strong hands are holding her arms flush to the brick, and the weight of his body pressed against hers is too much for her to lift either of her knees.
”No! No! Get off of me!” Karyn shouts, her words muffled, as she turns her head to avoid his mouth and fights to free herself from his grasp — both to no avail. “Let go!” Unsure what else to do, she struggles to align her stiletto heel with his foot and drives it down, putting as much weight on it as her small frame will allow. He retaliates by biting her lip, hard, but cries out and recoils from her soon after, enabling her to make a break for the door.
“You bitch,” Noah growls, grabbing her when the door is within inches of her reach and throwing her against the wall with such impressive force that she does not have enough time to put her hands out. The left side of her face, from brow bone to jaw, collides with the brick, scraping her soft skin to bleeding. The impact makes her lose her balance, and when she hits the pavement with a sickening thud, the skin covering her palms and knees ruptures. “You fucking bitch.”
Struggling to recover from the shock and catch her breath after having it knocked out of her, Karyn coughs, gasping for air, and pushes herself up into a sitting position. Leaning back against the wall for support, she prays to a God she does not believe in that the world around her will stop spinning before Noah comes at her again, knowing that she will not be able to stand — or run — until the dizzying pain in her head subsides. Her temple throbs. Her eye swells. Her face, palms, and knees sting. She can feel hot blood dribbling down her chin from where his teeth pierced her lip. “Is this who you are now?” She asks. “The guy who makes girls bleed for the sake of his ego?”
“Shut up,” Noah mumbles, averting his eyes, refusing to look at her, at what he has done to her.
Though she is terrified, Karyn laughs. In that moment, rendered temporarily defenseless with the exception of her voice, she feels she has nothing to lose. “Or what?”
“I defended you to people,” she says. “I defended you to everyone who doubted you or the depth of your feelings for me. When I brought you home to meet my family, my mamá and Mateo thought you were a pretentious rich kid with a superiority complex, which you are, but I told them it was because they didn’t know you like I did. You treated Rubén, my little brother, the center of my universe, like he was a nuisance and even that I justified. My grandparents hated you. My friends — God, Annabelle, especially — knew what kind of guy you were. She knew you didn’t love me like you said you did. She knew I was setting myself up for heartbreak by being with you and I lashed out at her when she tried to get me to see it, too. I ignored every piece of advice she ever gave me because I loved you. I did it all because I loved you. But then you cheated on me, and you told me to get an abortion because I was a Mexican whore just like my mamá who could never raise a child, and — you know, it may have taken me a long time, but I woke up. I get it now. I made the mistake of choosing you once. I'll never make that mistake again.”
“Shut the fuck up, Karyn.”
“What did you expect, showing up here? Did you think you were going to win me over by insulting my best friend and my boss and having a dick measuring contest with the guy I’ve been fucking? Was beating the shit out of me and dragging me away against my will your backup plan? God, you’re pathetic, Noah. I feel sorry for you.”
When Noah lunges at her, Karyn kicks him so hard in the knee that the sound of it is almost as loud as the screams that erupt from him afterward. He stumbles backward, cursing her, clutching his leg. Using the wall to steady herself, she stands, storming at him and punching him in the face until his nose bleeds, making her knuckles split open. When he drops to the ground, she kicks him in the stomach once, twice—
“Stop! Stop, please! Stop!”
Karyn relents when he begs her for mercy, remembering herself, and after some hesitation, kneels down beside him. “This is what’s going to happen now,” she says, speaking as purposefully as she can to compensate for the unwelcome quiver in her voice. “I’m going to walk away. You’re going to haul your pathetic ass back to your car and drive home. You’re never going to come back here and you’re never going to contact me again. If you do, I’ll make sure everyone you know reads every last text message and listens to every last voicemail you’ve sent me in the past two months. I kept them all.”
Noah laughs, spitting a mouthful of blood at her. “You can’t prove I sent any of those texts. Why don’t you just call the cops, mi amor?”
It is a simple question with a complicated answer.
“Because I don’t need saving,” Karyn replies, “and you don’t deserve your parents driving down here to save you. Motherfucker.” With that, she gets up and turns away from him, the sound of her heels echoing through the alley as she walks the rest of the distance to the bridal shop.
“I’d rather be a motherfucker than a baby killer!”
He calls out after her, making her chest hurt, but she does not answer. She just brings her hand up to her mouth, touching the pad of her thumb to her lip. The bleeding has slowed, but not stopped.
November 1st, 2015
When she makes it back to the parking garage where her car is parked, bloodied and bruised, Karyn notices that one of her tires is flat. Upon further inspection, she sees that it has been viciously slashed from top to bottom. The thought that it was Noah trying to eliminate her means of escape occurs to her immediately, and she hunches over, dry heaving and spitting, desperate to get the taste of him — and the taste of blood — out of her mouth. She allows herself the five minute span between midnight and 12:05 to break down, angry tears blurring her vision and convulsive sobs racking her sore body. Then, turning her physical and emotional distress into energy, she opens her trunk to collect her jack kit and goes about replacing her slashed tire with her spare one.
It takes Karyn much longer to change the tire than it would take a seasoned mechanic, and by the end, two of her acrylic nails have broken off at the fingertips. Indifferent, leaving the slashed tire in the parking garage, she gets into her car and drives. She thinks about driving somewhere far away, about putting more distance between herself and the person who has hurt her most, but these thoughts cease when she remembers she has people to stay for. People to drive home to. People to tell.
🔹 🔹 🔹
“I didn’t want to ruin your fun last night,” Karyn explains, from behind a locked bathroom door. After a restless night, the swelling around her eye has transformed into a dark purple bruise. Her scraped face, hands, and knees are red with cuts. Her broken lip and swollen knuckles have started to bleed again. The wounds are hers to wear and she knows she will not be able to cover them with makeup or stories. She has never been a gifted liar and the injuries themselves speak volumes. “It looks a lot worse than it is. It looks like he fucked me up good, but I promise you I fucked him up better — so, you have to promise me you won’t turn it into something it isn’t, okay?” She pauses, staring at her reflection in the mirror. “Anna, please. Promise me.”
“I promise, Karyn. Just let me in.”
She still feels dizzy when she unlocks the door.