Page 5 of Perfectly Damaged

I manage to open my eyes and focus on her troubled expression. Care? Interesting word choice. “Is that all you wanted to say?” I ask coldly. My mother’s stare lingers, turning hard as the muscles around her mouth tighten almost imperceptibly.

“Jenna, you know these cold little remarks are not helping. I’m trying to make an effort here,” she bites out.

“How? By having us design a guesthouse together? I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry.” Her hand drops to her side, releasing me and my arm from her uncomfortably intimate attempt to connect.

That’s the end of that.

My two boxes are neatly stacked at the far right of the shed. They’re both pretty heavy, so I have to carry them separately to the back patio by the pool. Once they’re both out, I open the one labeled Jenna’s Work first. I reach in and take out each abstract painting one by one.

A soft smile tugs at the corner of my lips; warmth settles over me and soothes my chest. I don’t remember the last time I felt like this. There’s something about art that brings joy to my heart, always has been. It’s peaceful and beautiful. No matter how downright raw or gritty the appearance may be, there’s always a story behind it. As much as others try to figure it out, the true meaning remains with the artist alone. The paintings in this dingy cardboard box hold my secrets, my life, and my journey. They’re me…painted in different textures and colors, splashed with different emotions.

Bliss. Fear. Love. Desire. Loneliness—most of all loneliness.

Every one of my emotions is trapped in one large box.

After examining each painting, I place them back and open the second box, which holds blank canvases, paintbrushes, and wooden pieces that, once placed together, create an easel. The fleshy pads of my fingers graze along the bristles of the brushes and tingle with the desire to pick one up and start again. But I can’t. Dr. Rosario thinks I’m ready to start painting again, but there’s something within me that lurches every time I think about it. Art brings out strong feelings for me, feelings that I’m not ready to face. I decide to hold off and put the boxes away for now.

As if on autopilot, I find myself turning around and locking my bedroom door behind me.

In my room I’m safe.

With my headphones plugged into my ears and my music blasting, I’m away from everyone and everything, in a place where I can forget the world.

Today is a good day.

I woke up feeling better. Days like this I feel brave. Brave enough to conquer the world—even from inside my room, which is where I spend most of my time. I’m not sure if it’s the nightmare-free sleep or the fact that I’m able to paint again that has me feeling slightly optimistic today. Paint. I’m tempted to glide a brush along canvas, but I can’t fully find the inspiration to go for it. Before, I used painting as way to cope with my feelings; now, I’m just afraid.

Fear is one of my most battled emotions. Fear of the unknown, of never knowing where each step I take will lead, terrifies me. For others it’s a rush, a thrill—the beauty of taking risks. For me, a risk can ruin me. It’s the reason why I grapple with every decision I make, constantly fearful that any and every choice will affect my life for the worse. To avoid triggers and potentially damning consequences, I keep hidden, locked behind my door.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll find some more courage. But for now, I’ll continue to sit by the window with my legs comfortably crossed, watching the pool boy snatch debris with an extended net. My eyes scan over his sweat-dripping body as he reaches his arms out and slowly sways the mesh from side-to-side, just along the top of the clear water. His biceps flex as he taps the edge of the net along the concrete, dumping the debris aside.

Swish. Tap.

Swish. Tap.

Swish. Tap.

I’m not sure why I find this to be so very entertaining, but it’s the highlight of my morning—which proves just how lame my life actually is.

The pool boy is making my life a bit more interesting by adding chemicals to the water when my phone rings.

“Hello?” I answer, not bothering to check who’s calling.

“Hey, slut. What are the plans for today?”

It’s Charlie. She’s the person most people would call my best friend. She was originally my sister’s BFF and more like a second big sister to me, but after Brooke’s death, Charlie and I bonded. She loved Brooke like a sister; no secrets were left unsaid between the two of them. At first, after Brooke was gone, I tried to keep my distance from Charlie. I didn’t want to be bothered by anyone, especially not someone who reminded me so much of Brooke. But Charlie was persistent. She constantly called me and showed up to my home uninvited. It was quite annoying at first, but eventually I gave up and allowed her in.

Charlie has some interesting traits: she’s blunt, has a great sense of humor, and uses profanity more than any other person I know. To top it off, Charlie has a very bad habit of taking any and all conversation and making it about sex. And I’m not just talking about sex in the general sense; she goes as far as making sure her hoo-ha is brought into the conversation somehow. Yep, that’s Charlie. But you learn to love her—or hate her as I do eighty percent of the time. We have a love-hate relationship.

“Hey, Charlie.” I lean my forehead against the window, and my skin cools at the contact. “I’m thinking of a lounge day. Read by the pool and relax.”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll be over in a few hours,” she invites herself, as always. Charlie huffs through the speaker, adding, “I have to take Nick to the mall. You know, big sister duties and all.”

Charlie is the eldest of four. She’s always towing around her little brothers and sister. “Okay. See you later,” I respond.

“’Kay, bye!”

In my black bikini, cover-up, and flip-flops, I tread down the grand spiral staircase. The front door swings open just as I reach the bottom step. My father walks in with his cell glued to his ear. It’s pretty common to see him like this: cell in hand—usually crammed between his head and his shoulder—making deals, constantly on the go. At the edge of the staircase, I lean against the railing and study him as long as I can before he realizes I’m watching.

Dad shuts the door with his foot as his rich, deep voice echoes through the foyer, “Stanley, I don’t care what it takes to seal the deal. We’ve been working on this account for over a year. If Mr. Whitman wants a penthouse, give him a fucking penthouse.” His face is etched with irritation as he places his suitcase on the marble floor by his office door.