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Return to Paradise

Return to Paradise (Leaving Paradise) – Episode 7

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Return to Paradise (Leaving Paradise) – Episode 7


 

Thank goodness Damon ordered Caleb to sit in the passenger seat. I don’t think he’s too happy with Caleb right now. I’m not, either.

We park at Dixon Hall, one of the Freeman University dorms. It’s across from a big brick library with floorto-ceiling windows.

Damon leads us to a suite on the second floor of the dorm. It’s got a kitchen with a table, and two couches in the common living room area. “Girls in that bedroom,” Damon says as he points to a door. “Guys in the other.” He smiles as he tosses his suitcase into the third room, closest to the couches. “I get this room for myself.”

“How long are we staying here?” Matt asks.

“This will be our home base for a while,” Damon tells him. “We’ll be taking day trips from here.”

“My face hurts,” Lenny complains. “And it itches.” He resembles a mime, with all the white cream the nurse put on him from his sunburn and bites. He walks up to Trish and sticks his face close to hers. “Scratch me.”

Trish sneers at him, looking like she’d rather die than touch his cream-covered face. “Get out of my face, you freak.”

“Enough, you two,” Damon says sternly. “Trish, I’m not fond of name-calling. Lenny, if you’ve got an itch, scratch it yourself please.”

Erin looks like she’s going to throw up just looking at Lenny’s cream-colored face.

Lenny walks to the window overlooking the grassy courtyard below “Check this out, Caleb! Hot college chicks laying out in bikinis.”

Ignoring him, Caleb heads for the guys’ bedroom with his duffle.

“Get settled, guys,” Damon says as he walks into his own room. “I want to have a group meeting in a half hour.”

“Great,” Caleb mutters sarcastically from the doorway to the guys’ room. “Just what I need.”

Damon swings around. “You do need it. And before you ask to get out of it, you’ll participate just like everyone else.” His tone makes clear this is nonnegotiable.

Trish, Erin, and I pick our beds in the girls’ room.

 

“Erin, how come you don’t talk?” Trish demands.

Erin shrugs as she unpacks her suitcase and hangs her clothes in the small closet.

“You know this trip is supposed to be about sharing your experiences, right? What did you do, besides get too many tattoos on your arms?”

Erin doesn’t answer. She fidgets with a shirt she’s trying to fold and put in one of the drawers.

“Leave her alone, Trish,” I say. “She’ll talk when she wants to.”

“Okay, if that’s the way it’s gonna be, that’s fine,” Trish says, giving up. “But just so you know, I’m not gonna pretend to be all buddy-buddy if you hold back on me.”

I think Erin will stay silent like usual, until her hands still and she turns to us. Her eyes are glassy, as if she’s holding back tears.

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“My boyfriend is in jail for three years for killing someone in a drive-by. My parents kicked me out of the house. And…” She wipes at her eyes and says in a soft voice, “I’m pregnant.”

“Holy crap,” Trish says. “No wonder you don’t talk.”

I elbow Trish in the ribs, hoping she’ll get the hint and not say anything that will upset Erin. She’s pregnant? With a boy who’ll be in jail for three years? Hearing her story makes my problem with Caleb seem about as important as a hangnail.

“If you need anything, we’re here for you,” I tell her. “Right, Trish?”

“Yeah,” Trish is quick to say. I think Erin just earned Trish’s loyalty by sharing her story. Maybe Trish practically forcing Erin to talk was a good thing.

“And what about you?” Trish says, turning to me.

I lift my head from my suitcase. I must look like a deer in headlights. “What about me? I told my story at the campfire last night.”

“Not about the accident. Caleb said something today about you and him in a gazebo. Care to go into details?”

I quickly shake my head. “Maybe later. We don’t want to be late for Damon’s meeting.” I shove a stack of my clothes into a drawer.

“I think you’re stalling.”

“You’re right, Trish,” I say. “I don’t want to talk about it.

“Suit yourself.” Trish opens the closet door and looks confused. “Wait, where’s the bathroom?” she asks as she holds out a plastic bag with her toiletries.

“In the common area, I guess,” Erin offers. “We’re probably sharing one.”

Trish shakes her head as if she heard wrong. “No way. All seven of us can’t share one bathroom.”

She hurries out to the common area to investigate. Erin and I follow her. Sure enough, there’s a bathroom between the guys’ room and Damon’s room.

Damon comes out of his room. “What’s going on?”

“Damon, did you know there’s only one bathroom for all seven of us?” Trish asks.

Damon shakes his head. “That’s not true.”

You can feel the sigh of relief from Trish, Erin, and I … until Damon says, “I have my own bathroom. Only the six of you have to share one.”

Trish puts her hands on her hips. “That’s not fair.”

Damon chuckles. “Didn’t anyone tell you that nothing in life is fair, Trish?”

She peeks her head inside the common bathroom. “Eww!” She points to the toilet. “The seat is up. And there are little droplets of pee and stray pubes on the ring. That’s not okay.”

As if on cue, all three guys join us. “What’s the problem?” Matt asks Trish.

“The problem is that six of us have to share a bathroom.” She glares in the direction of our leader. “And Prince Damon gets his own throne to sit on.”

“This isn’t a luxury hotel,” Lenny informs Trish. “Anyway, what’s wrong with the bathroom? It looked fine to me.

Trish gets in Lenny’s face. “So you’re the culprit. You were in the bathroom.”

Lenny shrugs. “So what if I was?”

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“Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, If you sprinkle when you tinkle please be neat and wipe the seat? That goes for stray pubes, as well.”

“Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, Shut the fuck up, bitch?” Lenny fires back.

“I think it’s time we have our meeting,” Damon says. “Right now.”

I avoid eye contact with Caleb as I pick a seat on one of the couches. Trish and Erin sit on either side of me. The guys sit on the opposite couch from the girls.

Damon pulls over a chair from the kitchen table. He takes a deep breath and claps his hands. “Okay, kids, here’s the deal. Some rules have to be set, ’cause you guys are drivin’ me nuts. First of all, let’s try to eliminate the profanity flying out of your mouths. Second, there’s to be no consumption of drugs or alcohol. We’re on a college cam pus and I’ve no doubt they’re easy to find. Third, I’m tired of the bickering. It’s giving me a headache.”

“But-” Trish starts to say, but Damon holds a hand up and stops her from talking.

“About the bathroom situation. You all have to share the one bathroom. Deal with it. There’s another bathroom at the end of the hall right next to the elevators if you need it. Guys, put the seat down after you do your thing. Girls, make sure there are no feminine products lying around. Are all we all cool about that?”

We all nod.

“Where are the air-conditioning controls?” Lenny asks. “I’m sweating my butt off in this sauna.”

“There is no air conditioning, Lenny. Like you pointed out, this isn’t a luxury hotel. Any more questions?”

When nobody answers, Damon says, “Great.” He sighs as if a weight has been lifted off him. “Now that that’s settled, I’ve got one more thing. We had some drama this morning thanks to Caleb, and I want to talk about it.”

“How ’bout we don’t talk about it,” Caleb mumbles. “Hell, I’d rather talk about Lenny’s pubes.”

I’d rather talk about Lenny’s pubic hair loss issues, too. It’s better than having Caleb and me actually talk about our past … or talk to one another. I’m not going to do it. Not now, when his insults are so raw.

A wave of numbness washes over me. I stand. “I’m sorry, Damon. I just can’t. I don’t mean to disrespect this group, or this process. I just … need time.”

I intentionally look away from Caleb and I’m all too aware of my limp and his nearness as I head to my room and close the door. I don’t lock it, though, since I’m sharing it with two other girls.

When I hear a knock as I sit on my bed, I flinch.

“It’s Matt. Can I come in?”

“Sure.”

Matt opens the door. “Wanna talk?”

“Not really. Is Damon mad?”

“No. He wanted to see if you were okay, but I volunteered to come instead.”

“Thanks,” I mumble. “I feel bad I just left in the middle of the meeting.”

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“Don’t feel bad,” he tells me. “I think everyone understands. Well, except Caleb.”

“Why? What did he say?”

Matt comes in the room and stands beside my bed. “He didn’t say anything. He just got up and walked out.”

NINE

Caleb

wish Damon hadn’t followed me out of the suite. I hear his thundering footsteps behind me before he grabs my shoulder and pulls me around to face him.

“Leave me alone,” I tell him, my fists tight and ready to lash out.

“You can’t just leave every time the going gets tough, Caleb.”

“Watch me,” I say roughly as a couple of college guys pass us.

“You want out of the program? You want to go to jail?”

“Is that a threat?”

“Don’t test me, Caleb. And give me a damn break. I’ve got to deal with Trish and Lenny. That alone could give a guy a coronary.

I let out a breath and look away from him. “Give me a damn break, man. I just want to be alone.”

“Being alone isn’t good.”

“It is for me.” It’s better than watching Matt and Maggie start a relationship right in front of my eyes. The way he ran after her when she fled from the lounge made me sick. I don’t blame the guy … but I sure as hell don’t need to see it. “I’m stuck here, I get it. I don’t have a choice. But can you give me a night off from being around everyone? One night, Damon. It won’t kill you … or me.” I let out a breath and say quietly, “Please.”

My transition counselor, the guy who’s always been a hardass and whose job was to force me on the straight and narrow, steps back. “Fine.”

I’m shocked. Maybe I didn’t hear right. “What does that mean?”

“It means I’ll give you a pass … for tonight; a pass to be alone and figure things out. I’m taking the rest of the group to dinner with a local youth group and then to a movie.”

A night without having to be stoic and pretend I’m a rock is a fucking miracle. A night without having to share my secrets makes me feel like a free man. “Thanks,” I say.

“No problem. But tomorrow I expect you to put a damn smile on that mug of yours and suck it up. Got it?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I got it.”

Feeling like the noose is loosened, I follow Damon back to the suite. Maybe I should apologize to Maggie for this morning. I knew I’d hurt her with the gazebo comment. We’d made out like crazy that night. Nobody knew about our secret time together except maybe old Mrs. Reynolds, who’d gone to bed after dinner. I think she knew Maggie and I were getting it on, and I’ve got a feeling she didn’t care. Hell, maybe in a way it helped us get over all the shit we’d been going through.

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