I met her on the ferry heading to Victoria Island. She was alone, standing by the railing snapping pictures of the scenery. A girl in a ruffled skirt, early twenties, dark hair spilling in exquisite curls down the back of her denim jacket, pale legs smooth as ivory in the afternoon sun. She was an obvious tourist.
Of course I approached her. Was never one to let an opportunity pass me by, especially when it fell into my lap.
“Jodie,” she said her name was, her smile lighting up my world like a star burst on the blackest night. I felt something soar inside of me. I knew right then I had to have her.
“I’m Mitch,” I said, my voice actually catching in my throat. A woman’s beauty could do that to a man sometimes.
She was by herself, here on vacation for a week. She’d been visiting her brother and now decided to “trip around B.C.” for a while before heading back to Toronto, she said. Bold, I thought. Reckless even, especially for a girl who looked like her. So innocent, sweet. She should be more careful. The world was full of crazies out to harm her. But youth can make you that way. Fearless. Whether that was good for you or not.
“Know any good hotels on the island?” she asked, the sun sparking in those big Bambie eyes of hers. Deepest blue, the colour of the ocean we travelled. I could feel her falling into my hands. So easily. Foolish girl. Where was that brother of hers who was supposed to protect her?
“Sure,” I said, “Grew up on the island. My Uncle still lives here. I can take you to the tourist area. Plenty of hotels there. Just follow me when we get off the ferry.”
So trusting the way she smiled and thanked me like I was her personal tour guide. The expected entitlement of youths these days was astounding.
As instructed, Jodie followed behind my work van in her rental car when the boat docked. The sun set behind the trees, falling broken through the canopy of leaves along the two-lane highway that cut through the woods, the cool evening wind blowing through my open window. I could be taking her anywhere and she would have followed. Led her out to some deserted spot, raped and murdered her, and she would have gone willingly like a lamb bouncing happily along to the slaughterhouse. Dead before she could even exhale that breath she’d sucked in for a scream.
Minutes later we descended on the busy tourist area of Victoria. I brought her to the Fairmount Empress hotel and walked in with her, offering to carry her bag like some douche, while she checked in.
“Can I take you to dinner? I know a great sushi restaurant down the street,” I said; feeling uncertain if she would want to go out with me, spend some time. She seemed above me with all her girl-next-door beauty. The kind of girl a guy like me only dreams of having but never really gets. I wasn’t the type that got many dates, although I wasn’t a bad-looking guy. I knew that I was kind of a dull, ordinary perhaps with a baby face—shitty for a guy in his late thirties. The receding hair, double chin, and spare tire only reinforced my baby looks. But I wasn’t ugly. Granted I had a few years on her, like fifteen. If nothing else I was hopeful.
Jodie said that sounded great. Asked me if she could go to her room and change, then meet me in the lobby a few minutes later. No problem, I told her. I felt like the luckiest guy on the face of the planet walking into the restaurant with this beauty beside me. For sure people must have looked at us and thought I was either rich and had a massive cock, or that I was her brother.
We had such an amazing time talking, laughing, and getting to know each other that I completely forgot about my reason for coming to the island in the first place. No matter, that other business could wait. I was having too good a time that I didn’t care about anything else. Jodie was so full of life, so exuberant, fun loving and carefree. I’d never met a girl who made me feel the way I did in her presence. Jodie was special. I walked her back to her hotel after and she gave me a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. It was enough for me in that moment.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I lay awake with thoughts of Jodie playing over and over in my head. The next day I showed up early and rang her room, asked if she wanted to have breakfast with me. I waited in the lobby while she got ready. We ate spinach and cheese omelets on a patio enjoying the morning sun.
“I have a surprise for you,” I told her. “It’s in my van.”
She walked with me through the parking lot while we played a guessing game of what I had to show her. I unlocked one of the doors in the back of my van and lifted out, one by one, the bicycles borrowed from my uncle. To my delight, Jodie was excited when I showed her the bicycles. She did this little jump in her sandals and clapped her hands, those loose curls in her long hair bouncing in the sunshine, sending my heart reeling.
We rode around like kids and then I took her to a scenic spot I knew on the edge of a cliff that overlooked the ocean and the mountains beyond. We sat down on the grass, taking in the view. It was such a romantic spot, nothing but the sound of the wind flowing through the trees around us. I couldn’t resist her. I moved my face toward hers, aiming to kiss those tender lips. She turned away.
Instantly I felt something drop inside of me, like falling over the side of the cliff. In the next second, anger rushed inside of me so suddenly it stole my breath like a sucker punch to the gut. I had the powerful urge to lash out, draw blood. My hand landed on a smooth fat rock. I curled my fingers around it, and looked at the back of her skull, my body tensing. Before I could smash it down on her head and then take what I wanted from her, she turned her smiling face to me. Clutched between her thumb and index finger was a single buttercup. She extended her arm, holding it out to me. I looked down at the tiny yellow petals delicately curling upwards. She brought it up to my face, moved it under my chin.
“This will tell me if you like butter,” she said and giggled.
“What?” I muttered confused, my chest heaving.
“If you turn a buttercup under your chin and you see the colour reflected on your skin, that means you like butter,” she said, making a little back and forth motion with the flower.
“Yeap, you like butter.” She released a laugh, the sound of little dainty bells like something from a childhood song I’d once heard a long time ago. A wave of something heartbreakingly familiar careened through me and then came crashing down on me, crushing my chest. I lay back gasping for air, feeling that strange and overwhelming sensation rock me to my very depths. And I remembered my mother’s face from when I was a little boy when she loved me, before the stranger came to rob her of her mind and soul, stealing her away to the confines of the psych hospital where she would later take her own life by tying a plastic shopping bag around her head and suffocating herself. Buttercup she’d called me. I’d forgotten that. All this time and I’d forgotten. How could I have forgotten that? The one bright spot in the blackest of childhood memories that haunt me still.
“Are you okay?” Jodie asked. “You look a little pale. Are you sick?”
Sick? Funny word for her to use. Yes, I was sick. Sick in so many ways she had no idea. Sick defined me, lived and breathed in me, fed me, comforted and tormented me. Raged inside of me like a monster in the night.
“Fine. I’m fine,” I said.
I turned to look at her, studied her profile and the way her face absorbed light, the sun glowing on her pale skin as if lit from within. I pictured her future, could see her in her wedding dress, imagine the babies she would have, all the love and joy and certainty of a life well lives spread out before her. I could feel my own brokenness in contrast with her purity. I could feel it so profound, how damaged I truly was.
“There must be a lot of people who love you,” I said, feeling my throat restrict as if there were hands around my neck.
She smiled, giggled and looked down at her little flower.
“Do you—do you know your way back to your hotel by yourself?” I asked, trying to take in air.
“Sure. You’re not coming?”
“No, You better go now Jodie. Leave the bike out front of the hotel and I’ll pick it up later.” I turned away, looked out at the ocean. I touched my fingers to my face, realizing my check were wet.
“Mitch, are you okay?”
“Go! Please! Just go away!”
She didn’t say anything else. I waited with my entire body tense like an explosive about to go off, listening to the sounds of her footsteps retreating, getting on the bike, the ticking of its tires as she rode away from me. Obviously she’d sensed something in me. The badness in me rising up like a rotten stench wafting off me. It was with extreme pain that I kept my body still while I sat there waiting for the sounds of her to vanish completely. I let out a breath, lay back on the soft grass staring straight up at the clouds.
A few minutes later when I’d pulled myself together, I rode back to the hotel and picked up the bike Jodie had left for me outside the front doors. I loaded both bikes into the back of the van and then drove back out to that secluded spot I’d taken her moments earlier.
I stopped the van once I’d driven up. I opened the back door and looked at the garbage bags. I’d planned to ditch them yesterday but Jodie had distracted me. They were starting to stink now. Jodie would progress through her life never realizing how lucky she was. How she could have been right here beside this one.
I reached for the shovel. Moved across the grass and began to dig a hole, cutting the earth with my shovel right through where the buttercups grew.
Visit Julia’s website for updates http://juliamadeleine.com/