The next Monday was the day after my birthday celebration that my friends had attended. Later on that day, after Shannon & I both got out of school, my mother and father took us both to see our new orchard for the very first time. It was a nervous & jittery excitement that I felt in the inner parts of my belly as I sat in the back of our car next to Shannon during that entire car ride. I thought to myself; what if... What if I don't like it?? What if it's no where near as good as our old orchard was or had none of the magical feelings that it emanated throughout the air.
After a little over an hour’s drive, we finally arrived. Instead of being greeted by a large house down in Georgia with a beautiful gate that bared our family’s brand name for our Orchard, a stoned path for apple pickers and visitors of all sorts to walk along to reach the back where our Woodland apple tree orchard resided, and instead of the beautifully vast open fields, valleys, and hills that I was so used to seeing surrounding our old home, this new home had a large, 10 ft. tall, fencing all around the front. It wasn’t something that was attractive looking to my parents, whatsoever. So, they made that the first order of business to have trimmed of all plants that were growing all around and within the lining of the fence. It definitely made the place look well off the beaten track and abandoned, according to them. This place was isolated enough as it is. So, it was now maintained and brought back to order to their liking. It was large, tall, and very long. The height of the fencing was the same height that would keep prisoners well within the confinement of a prison. That’s actually what it subtly reminded me of. However, this fence was made of wood, old wood. The old color of the wood added a slightly warm and rustic charm after the fence was cleaned and taken care of, that my mother said she could work with as an aesthetic attribute to our new business location.
After walking inside of the large gate in the middle of the fence, I finally realized something; I was beginning to understand why this place looked so abandoned. The trees, themselves, were quite well taken care of, which was a surprise, given that the rest of the place did not look like it was. As I was looking at a small little group of shacks made entirely of wood in the middle of the entire Orchard, I realized that they were the only buildings around here, aside from a large hanger looking building that my daddy would eventually use to keep, utilize, and put all of his equipment into full effect for our family’s made goods that he had shipped from our old location. It was extremely odd to me that there wasn't a house in the middle of the orchard where it would make the most sense for the person or family living here to be able to more easily take care of the orchard right nearby it’s whereabouts. However, the house that used to be there apparently burnt down and the entire Orchard was owned by an elderly woman who had just passed away of old age and natural causes in her sleep. She had no children to pass down the inheritance to as they passed away in a car accident which was a tragedy of her family 7 years ago. She had only enough money to be able to pay the workers that worked here to help her maintain the orchard itself, but, had no other real extra income to be able to provide for any other type of maintenance or cover the expenses of such maintenance. I thought it was even more unusual that the house that used to be here, burned down… That was just like how ours was destroyed, back in my old state. Many would write that off as a coincidence; I didn’t.
We could have technically lived in a house about 20 minutes away from where our New Jersey orchard resided as that was where the closest large town was. However, according to my father, the houses in the town that we were living in were way cheaper, the taxes were lower, and the school, upon his research, was a lot better with a decent scholastic reputation. So, putting it in his words- Even though, we were all apple pickers for a living, we weren’t to be ‘picky', no pun intended.
The following day, Liam & I were sitting with our usual lunch group.
Donny spoke. "Why don't you?! You should go. I'm going." He said with a little grin to me.
"Ahh' don't knowwww." I said with hesitation as I slouched in my chair a bit and poked at my chicken salad. "Ah' ain't never been to one o'those b'fore".
Liam had been trying to convince me to attend the Halloween school dance ever since my birthday party. I really didn't want to go at ALL. I was not exactly what you would consider to be the most social person, whatsoever. And, putting me in a dark and fancy colored lit room with loud music in the background and people dancing all around me, didn't sound appealing to me at all. It sounded like an anxiety attack. Plus, that meant that I'D be pressured into dance, too! I wouldn't be caught dead doing something as silly as that in front of all of the other people in my grade, especially the other grades of students who were older than us. No way!
"Yeah, c'mon. It's no big deal. They have snacks. And, you don't even have to dress up in a costume since it's the day before Halloween, anyway. You could just come and hang with us." Liam finished while Jaime, his best friend, sat to his right at the school cafeteria table and casually was texting on his phone and eating his lunch, but, like most kids in our age group, was more focused on looking at his phone, than even looking at the food that he was putting into his own mouth without giving a second thought.
"...What about Jesse?" I asked. The table went into a deafening and awkward silence. Sarah and Jessica both gave each other a subtle, yet, noticable look and, immediately, looked down as though they would get in trouble if I caught that look, which unknown to them, I actually did.
"What about him? If he starts anything, we'll be right there, especially, me... Pshh You think he's that dumb to start something in public with that many other students and staff around, PLUS me being there? He'd be on some serious prescription drugs if he did..." Liam said, assertively.
"We're going, too." Sarah said with a smile. She, then took my hand & I looked up at her and she gave it an unusual squeeze for reassurance as if she was giving me support. "HEY..... Just, come." She said.
As we looked at each other, I got her mental message that they supported me and wanted me to have a good time. I slowly nodded my head in agreement. I suppose one could say that I was peer pressured into it. So, I ultimately agreed.
The bullying from Jesse and his group still hadn't disappeared. On the contrary, since, Jesse had to be extra careful with who was around when he would verbally abuse and harrass me, whenever he actually received the opportunity to do so, he would make sure that it would count. One of his favorite places to do this was in gym class, before and after the period when all of us boys were in the locker room. It made me begin to dread the period, despite, how fun I thought the excersize was.
Another few places that I would be bothered and even pushed was outside where I'd turn a corner to head to my house, after school, which was secluded enough where I could be taunted without much notice from school staff. Other students wouldn't really do much, as many of the kids that I went to school with had a subtle fear of Jesse and his friends and what they would do to them if they actually defended me. I didn't want to bother my own friends that I ate lunch with or, especially, Liam because, well, I really liked them and they were actually my friends. So, I didn't want to look like a loser in front of them even more than I already felt that I was and have them leave me. So, I was alone. I was alone in my own head, at least, anyway. Even though I had people who helped me or could help me, I still felt like I had no one who was able to assist me because I didn't want to be annoying or a nuisance. So, regardless of the fact that I wasn't alone... I actually was.
After each time that I was bullied by Michael, Jesse, and their friend who secretly became a hidden and forbidden relation to me, Sascha would give me a quick look or a glance which was his way of mentally communicating to me that he didn't mean the things that he had said or done in front of his friends to not give away anything about our hidden 'connection'. I would look at him, too, and that was our way of telling the other that we both understood. We were both stuck in that situation and we didn't exactly know how to get ourselves out of it. It was like we were both sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand of our lives and the hidden secrets that we both kept from the world and we were running out of time as to how to save ourselves and each other.
What was even more interesting is that, although, I felt completely alone from my friends with the entire situation, I was beginning to understand that Sascha felt even more alone than I did. He was completely by himself in regards to how he felt about his relationship with his friends, with others, and particularly with me. He had secret and hidden morals that his friends simply did not share in regards to bullying and how he treated others. But, he was stuck hiding behind a mask. He was extremely good at hiding who he was; I'll give him that. In fact, he should and could have been an actor. He actually texted me that he was already in process of becoming one in conjunction with his already bloomed child model career. That's what his father had been trying to get him to do. That's also why Jesse was his best friend. Jesse liked the status that Sascha added to his profile.
Sascha lived a very strict and isolated life from the norms of human society, but, his strict lifestyle was hidden in plain sight. He didn't want to tell me exactly how he was restricted. All I knew was that he was a puppet and was being controlled by someone, somehow. I already knew that Jesse controlled him and I was beginning to tell that someone in his own family, particularly his father, was doing so on a similar level, if not, in other ways and in even worse conditions. The mask that Sascha wore, all the time, so easily portrayed itself as being who he really was; I could tell that he practiced it and did so for years in order to perfect it. The only other person who really knew that it was a false identity and actually saw his genuine persona, was me.
A few days after my birthday celebration, it was finally time for the school dance. This dance took place directly before Halloween. It began at 6:30 and ended at 11:00. It was held in the gymnasium which was completely transformed into a dance hall. The entire time period, from the moment I learned about it until that night, was nothing but a nervous dread for me. I really truthfully and honestly did not want to go. it was like asking a vegan to go to a specialized Burger celebration. It was like asking a police officer to go to a criminals VIP special party. I just felt that I didn't belong there. It was like.... against who I was as a person, you know?
However, me getting ready for such a first time event for me wasn't something that my mother took lightly, however. She absolutely loved and adored the idea. She made it a point at the bottom of our stairwell to continuously try to take pictures of me and get me to stand still with a decent look on my face to be able to snap a memoir of the day and event.
"Ah' can't wait. Okay. Wait wait.... Hold still......."
"OKAY maaa' Ah think that's enough, nowww." I said annoyed and embarrassed. What was the big deal? She wanted like FOUR pictures of me in my white button down shirt, black slim pants, and shiny black shoes. I mean, she already took three and, now, another one?
"Hehe, oh c'mon. Yah look cute. I gotta have some archive of mah' baby's first dance." She said. "So, who's tha lucky girl?"
"Girl? There's no girl, mah. I'm just goin' with Sarah, Jessica, Liam, & Jaime. Donny's comin', also. Remember 'em?" I responded.
"Oh, IIIIIII see. No girl. Just two." She said with a giggle.
"Grrrrrrrrrrr." I grumbled under my breath as I looked at her as she just put her hands up and surrendered as she turned to walk away.
"Alraght. Alraght. I'm goin'. I'm gone." She said and walked to the kitchen.
My father put on his coat and pulled my arm addressing me saying, "Here we go. Hope you ready." Hs said with a grin.
"Yeah." I said to myself. "Me, too."
I had already been inside of the gymnasium with a bunch of kids my age and a few years older than me, dancing, talking socializing, and doing a bunch of other things that I was not good at or wanted to do for about an hour and a half to two hours, already. I did what probably anyone who met me would expect me to have done that entire time; I stood and leaned against the darkest part of the longer wall of the gymnasium that was the most dimly lit area there, other than the actual corners of the room. I did so, on purpose, to limit people from being able to even look at me or see who I was. My friends kept trying to get me to go dance or at least talk to people. But, they did so to no avail. I remember at one point, I saw Donny dancing with Jessica while Liam danced with some other girl. And, I felt honestly secluded. Donny's hands were on Jessica's hips and I couldn't help myself. I stared at them. I was staring at his fingers. I was so... just... MAD. I didn't understand why, but, seeing his soft hands on her body made me jealous. What was even worse, is I didn't know if I was jealous of him.... Or jealous of her.
There was something about my personality type that naturally, by default, made me walk, stand, or talk to strangers with my head down. Even if I knew the person, sometimes, I would naturally do so, or look away after while, regardless. This was an act of some shyness and slight immaturity, but, was also a subconscious lack of confidence and the feeling of being inferior, especially, after meeting Jesse Bradford, Sasha Konovski, & Michael Smith, who were all standing in the middle of the fancy lit gymnasium that evening with a group of kids around them.
"Oh, my God." I said to myself, involuntarily under my breath as Liam, Jaime, and I saw them after Liam was dancing and they were following me as I just wanted some punch.
Liam heard me and bumped my elbow. "Relax." He said as I took the curved plastic ladle inside of the large plastic punch bowl and poured some of the drink into a fake plastic wine glass.
"Yeah, right. Ah' don't NEED them here, tonight." I said all frustrated and angry for some reason. I was jealous of the fact that everyone here felt and was NORMAL, while, I, the one & only, HillBilly, could barely even stand there at all.
"I don't get why you let them mess with you.... Besides... They ain't gonna do much with everyone around and with you in plain sight. They're not that stupid." Jaime said. He seemed a little sad to see me so down, or maybe he had something on his mind as he looked at me. I didn't really know him all that well so it was hard for me to read him. But, at one point he did stare into my eyes for a little longer than he needed to after he made that statement.
I met his eyes and stared at him, as well, while bringing the drink to my mouth.
A little while after, I saw Jessica and Donny stand next to one another right by me, both with smiles.
"Iss deh' punch good? Can I have some?" Donny asked me sweetly as he, then, casually walked passed me and served himself some. Why was it so easy for him to just... blend in here? Why wasn't HE being harrassed? I was starting to sublty hate how easily it looked like he lived and just "survived" without even thinking about it while, everyday I was fighting as hard as I could just to be able to barely make it. Why? Why was I the only one? I hated that.
I threw my empty cup away harshly and just kept looking at the floor when I saw a pair of heels appear in front of me. I looked up and saw a smile on Jessica's face. Her hand was extended out and she spoke.
"Come on." She said.
My eyes widened and saw all the other students behind her minding their own business realizing that she wanted me to go inside where they were all hanging out.
"No, thank yuu!" I said just as fast as I did when Sascha offered me to sit next to him on my bed, knowing what he secretly wanted to do with me.
She wasn't having it and rolled her eyes. She grabbed my arm and pulled me harshly. "Let's go. I've been waiting for you all night... I'm sick of this."
"Eegh. Ow!" She was stronger than she looked as she pulled me half way so we were further in the crowd. She took my hands, put them on her side over her hips and tried to guide me on how to correctly slow dance as all the lights dimmed down into a soothing mixture of slow moving purples and blues.
"Jeez." I said so uncomfortable and in shock of what was actually going on. Was I even in my own body? I didn't know at that point. But, then I saw her smile as she looked at me. And, I finally smiled back.
"That's it... Like that." And she started to show me how to do it.
After while of me feeling like an idiot, we began talking as I tried my best to ignore the other students who were watching us.
"You know, two girls told me they wanted to dance with you already tonight." She said with a grin.
"They did???" I asked.
"Duh.... You don't- You don't get it do you?" She said with a softer look in her eyes and shaking her head.
"Get what?" I asked her.
She sighed. "Don't you see what girls like? They like boys who are cute, different, & real. The smart ones, anyway. The dumb ones learn the hard way what happens when they go with the wrong person."
"Oh." I said not understanding.
"What I meeeeean, is girls like you. I like you, too." She said.
I looked at her and shyly giggled. She did as well. After a while the next song was a faster one and she showed me how boys my age were supposed to dance. I give her credit for TRYING, but, to this day, I still think that I looked like a complete, bloody idiot. Did I feel like a mechanical tin man that required his hinges to be greased in order to be able to move correctly? Yes. Did I move like a robot and absolutely felt like one? Yes. Did I want to honestly leave more than anything in the world at that moment? Yes. Did I subtly have some fun while I was with Jessica and with my friends? Yes. It was a nervous excitement. It was a jittery thrill. It was almost a taboo enjoyment that I didn't want to admit that I felt during that entire rest of the dance.
In fact, if I owe gratitude to anyone in that school night for really making me loosen up, it was Jessica. She understood my personality and knew that I wasn't comfortable, and yet, she quite literally and figuratively had me in her arms and took 'care' of me. She understood that I came from a different background- homeschooled one- that put me in a much deeper and darker shell than everyone else in that school and I need a little bit more extra care and love to be able to slowly get me out of it so that I could begin to grow as a person. Instead of her judging me or thinking that I was weird, she tried to help me understand that there was nothing to feel weird about.
As we were both laughing and giggling and other kids were talking to us and we were .dancing, despite how weird I felt, and we all were having a wonderful time, I all of the sudden felt a cold grab of my forearm that forced it directly out of the grip I had on her body.
"UGHH!" I made a noise from how hard the tug pulled me and shocked me. I was being dragged away from her.
"Let GO of him, Sascha!!!!!" I heard her say to him.
My main bully's bestie sharply turned around and glared at her as he said with his pretty face, "This- this doesn't CONCERN you, JEEESSSSICAAAAAAA." He said in the coldest voice that I ever heard him speak before. It was like he HATED her. My god. It was so odd. And, he then continued to drag me out of the entire gymnasium. Not only was Sascha stronger than me, but he.was also an inch, taller, like I had learned when we were battling each other for the flour in my cooking class. This made his body be able to pull me out of the room, despite, his slim & perfect figure. I tried and tried to release his grip on me just like he tried to release my grip from him in my room the other week after he tried to kiss me, but, I couldn't.
He dragged me into the boys room and locked the door.
"What are you DOING?!" I said mad at him. What WAS he doing? He ruined the time that I was having. He interrupted me and Jessica. I was actually starting to have FUN, you know.... For ONCE.
"Me?????" He asked me, shocked, like I was stupid. "What am IIIII doing? What are YOU DOING!!!!?" His scream echoed within the boys room. He said it like he was upset. What the hell was he talking about?
"What?" I asked. "What you talkin' about? I just dancin' like everybody else! I CAN HAVE FUN, TOO, you know? It's not just about all of YOU!"
He seemed like my response was a bit unusual and overdone, but, he didn't know what had been on my mind that whole night.
"You can't DANCE with her. You stay away from her. It's bad enough you sit with her at lunch. Actually, you can't SIT with her, either...." He said coldly.
"Just, just let me GO, Sascha." I said, annoyed at my previous bully, or 'current' bully, or WHATEVER he even was. I started to walk away, but, he pulled me again.
This time, I looked into his eyes and there was silence. I, instantly, pushed him HARD and tried to leave but he grabbed me from behind and shoved me hard on the wall.
"Just.... Just.... stop! Ughhh" he said as we both wrestled one, another. Jesse was stronger than Sascha, but, Sascha was stronger than me. Just great. I thought.
I finally stepped on his foot, making him scream in pain and pushed him and went for the door.
"Wait... Ugh... You don't get it, do you? Just..." He said as he started with all his might and finally he did it. He got my full attention.
"LISTEN!!!!!!!!!!!" He hit me, softly so it wouldn't hurt, but, it scared me as he screamed so loudly that it shocked me.
I stopped as I turned around, out of breath, and scared as he pressed me against the wall to make sure that I didn't leave.
"You don't... you don't get it do you? You don't know...." He asked me as we were both just 3 inches apart.
"Know what?" I said out of breath, feeling his own exhales on my skin.
"That's Jesse's ex girlfriend..."
Haunted. That's exactly how I felt for the rest of the night of the dance & for the entire first half of Halloween day. Halloween is known for haunted houses, ghosts, and other dark entities ruling the day. And, I fit the bill perfectly for the holiday because of how I felt. I felt like a ghost walking around and at the same time I was the one who was being haunted.
I couldn't believe that the entire time that I had been friends with Jessica and had allowed her and her best friend Sarah to sit with me at lunch, that she had been such a close tie to Jesse Bradford. Why would someone like her even remotely want to be with me, sit with me, or even dance with me? She was his girlfriend. His GIRLFRIEND! Or was.... which made it even worse. No wonder why Jesse hated me so much. Everything was beginning to finally make sense and fall into place. That was the reason why he beat me so badly when he saw me sitting with her; he was so jealous of me that he began to get out of control. I couldn't sit with her, anymore! Sascha was painfully right; he was just trying to protect me. He was trying to avoid Jesse from doing God only knows what to me as a result of me being with Jessica. Being around her was asking for major trouble. I basically was already in trouble for just being her friend. Ugh!!! This whole thing was just a mess and I walked right into it all without even knowing about any of it. I was with the worst possible person, the whole time, that I could have been with in order to avoid being harrassed by Jesse, his friends, and other members of the school.
"Why didn't you TELL ME???" I texted Liam, upset.
"What do you mean, why? I thought she woulda told you by, now. I'm sorry!" He retorted back. "Can we just talk about this later tonight? I got the.... COSTUME parts and it's almost done. You HAPPY?" he asked me.
I have been bothering Liam since my birthday for him to have a matching Black Crow costume with black feathers all over it to go with my scarecrow costume that my mother was helping me make.
He really didn't want to do it. In fact, him and Jamie would just go trick or treat with two of their other friends every year and wouldn't really dress up and hadn't since they were about 11 or 10 years old. The only reason he remotely made an exception for me was because he knew and saw that I was upset about everything that was going on and, especially, now that I found out this information, he couldn't really argue with me if he really wanted to be there for me. He was a good friend. He wanted to help cheer me up. And, so he reluctantly agreed to the ordeal.
Later on that Halloween day which was a Saturday, my parents Shannon and I were all at our Orchard. My mother and father permitted me to go trick or treating with Liam and any friends who wanted to come with us later on. However, during the day, I was with them helping them with a very well marketed and organized event of our grand opening that they were hosting at our Orchard. It was a very big day with a pretty big turnout. This was our first official day to physically advertise our business to all of the new people that would become our new potential customers. The entire Orchard, especially our fence, was decorated and we used that fence to market the brand name, perfectly.
We were giving free samples of apples for a Halloween treat and some free cider. This event had been marketed by my father for the last two weeks. People were able to walk inside of our Gates and greet us in the front. We had tables assembled, samples of our butters and other goods which could be purchased, the free apples in baskets, the free cider which my mother personally served to whomever wished to try some for purchasing, gave out brochures on all of our products that we sold, marketed a new bake sale my mother was throwing in a week, and informed them where our products could be purchased. I was helping my mother hand them out along with my brother. My brother being as cute as he was, got along well with everyone which my parents knew would happen. Say whatever you want, but, cuteness sells, and a smile sells just as much. Combine those two and you get my little brother and major good business, if used correctly. And, that's what my parents did. They totally used his charm and looks to advertise our brand name. I couldn't blame them in the slightest. He was good at it, so were they, and it all worked quite well.
Someone else walked up to our front assembly line of tables. An older man, who was roughly about the same age as my father with a perfectly styled medium length blondish haircut, walked up to the stand. He was wearing a long black New York style coat with matching shiny black oxford dress shoes. He smiled at my father and spoke. “Good evening. I’m Patrick and this is my wife, Cynthia.”
“Hello, there.” The woman spoke and looked, purposely, at my mother first and, then, at my father.
“Haa’. Mighty nice meetin’ ya’ll.” My mother smiled and nodded her head at them both.
My Papa answered the man’s greeting. “Hello, I am Adam Irving and this is my wife.”
The man cunningly spoke with a slightly exaggerated smile. “Adam?” he emphasized at my father’s name. And, said, “You own an orchard and are named Adam. And, who is this… Eve?” He responded as he looked at my mother.
“I’m Patricia, Patricia Irving.” My mom said, trying not to sound annoyed as she squeezed a clear plastic cup from her irritation as she offered it to the man. “Won’t you have some cider on us?”
With a familiar fake innocence in his eyebrows, he put his hands up and waved them in a bit of a dramatic manor and said, “Oh!! No, thank you. We simply came with our children to see the new orchard of the state. It’s all the buzz around town, now a days…. And we just HAD to come by and see the magnificence ourselves.”
“Oh? You have kids of your own?” My mother asked as she looked around, wondering where they were. The moment she said that, a young blonde teenager with perfectly styled long bangs in the front appeared from behind the man. My body froze absolutely still as I dropped an apple that I was placing in one of our display baskets by accident.
“This is Jesse.” The Man said. And, then, Jesse Bradford reached out and actually TOUCHED my mother and father’s hands. The same hand that punched me, slapped me, and mercilessly beat me behind their backs was slowly & playfully sliding across their skin.
“Hello. I’m Jesse Bradford. My sister is still in the car getting herself ready. You know women.” He said with a beautiful smile and giggle as he playfully spoke to my father. “Gotta make themselves look good for ANYthing.” And my father actually laughed along with him as he did the same…. playing his little game with me and with my parents.
“Our son has been raging about Billy’s new acquaintance in the school, his orchard, and wanted us to come see his new friend’s place.” His father said.
"This yur friayan', Billy? Why you never told us about such folks?” my mother asked me as my throat struggled to capture the oxygen required for all humans to obtain and maintain life.
I really couldn’t quite process what was actually happening. “Uhh,..” I said as my heart was beating faster by the second as everyone looked at me, waiting for my response.
I saw Jesse stare into nothing at the grass behind me. His lip slowly curved into a small smile at the edge of his mouth as he heard everything that was going on. I didn’t know what was going on through his mind or what he had planned, but, I knew that I wasn't going to like it. I wouldn't like it one bit.