Velvet Roses Ch. 02byvirgofemme©
*Thank you all for continuing to read, vote, and provide feedback. I hope you'll enjoy this chapter.*
After four hours of browsing booths, attending panels, checking out film screenings, and watching cosplay contests, the threesome went to a burger stand to gorge themselves on greasy food. Once their bellies were full, they said their goodbyes, then headed home.
Ethan left in his own car, heading out to the Castro district where he lived, while Jeneda and Luna shared a car ride to Cole Valley, the neighborhood where they both resided.
A small, quaint neighborhood located within walking distance of Haight Ashbury, Cole Valley was largely populated by families and young professionals. Most of the businesses in the neighborhood were mom-and-pop stores, and there was an eclectic mix of restaurants, nick knack stores, and cozy cafes.
Cole Valley had a distinct character that was all its own, and it's laid back atmosphere was the reason why Jeneda considered it the perfect place to live.
After Luna dropped her off in front of her residence, Jeneda thanked her for the ride, then made her way to the front entrance. The apartment where she lived was four stories and had bay windows and a fire escape that was attached to the outside of the building.
After entering the lobby and taking the elevator to the fourth floor, she reached her apartment door. Once inside, she threw her keys on the entryway table, then slipped out of her belted waist coat. She took a quick shower, and after slipping into her pajamas, she went into the kitchen and put the kettle on.
Once she had a cup of Chai tea in hand, she headed for the living room, retrieving the copy of Dane's graphic novel before settling onto the window seat. She sipped the spicy and sweet beverage while reading, and within a short amount of time, she was fully immersed in the dystopian world of Gonzo City.
The graphic novel featured a well-written plot that was centered around a group of twenty-something's who were trying to overthrow the government's totalitarian surveillance technology.
When they weren't hard at work trying to buck the status quo, the characters spent their time engaging in all sorts of debauchery-which included having sex with numerous partners, driving fast, sleek cars, engaging in high speed chases from the police, and exploring virtual reality fantasy worlds.
Each page that she read left her hungering for more, and as she reached the end of the graphic novel, she found herself wishing that it had been longer. Now that she'd read the first book in the series, she was definitely interested in reading the follow ups, and could hardly wait to see what happened in the next installment.
Glancing once again at the first page in the book, she allowed her eyes to rove across his signature. It was small, yet stylish, and so fancy that it was illegible. She remembered reading somewhere that signatures told a lot about an individual's personality, and wondered what his small script revealed about his character.
While she was admiring his signature, she caught sight of something written beneath it. She didn't know how she'd failed to notice it before, but it seemed that he'd printed some numbers beneath his name. As she realized it was his phone number, she felt her heart quicken.
She hadn't expected this, and was definitely surprised. Staring at the numbers, she tried to decide if she should call him right away, or wait a few days. Having never been one to play games, she decided there wasn't any reason to wait, and after retrieving her cell phone, she dialed his number.
The line rang six times, then his voice mail picked up. She left a short message, providing him with a number to call her back, then hung up the phone.
Still reclining on the window seat, she turned her attention to the view beyond the window. From where her apartment was located, Jeneda was able to see Tank Hill, a 650-foot high park which offered a panoramic view of downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
As was customary everytime she focused her attention on Tank Hill, she felt a wave of sadness, along with a deep longing to relive a time which was long gone. The nostalgic memories that drifted through her mind were achingly bittersweet, and as she continued staring out the window at the hilltop park in the distance, she felt a strong pull towards it.
As if on auto pilot, she headed for her bedroom to change, and after slipping into a pair of jeans and a sweater, she donned a pair of sneakers. After securing the belt around her waist coat and wrapping a scarf around her neck, she grabbed her car keys and left the apartment.
The drive didn't took less than five minutes, and after parking her Jeep, she made her way along a dark path that led up an overgrown hill.
Although she'd made the climb countless times before, it still took quite a bit of effort to propel herself upward, due to the strong, blustery wind which was seemingly intent on halting her progress.
The view from the top was nothing short of stunning, and as she glanced down at the city which stretched out below her, she found herself overcome with emotion.
Aside from the sound of the wind whipping in her ears, it was quite and peaceful, and she was afforded an enthralling view of San Francisco's historic landmarks. Tank Hill was one of her favorite spots in the city, and its hidden location gave her the privacy to be alone with her thoughts.
Gazing out at the twinkling city lights, Jeneda recalled the times she had shared with her brother Riley on this very same hill. For six years straight, they'd made a monthly habit of coming to Tank Hill to hang out, reflecting on life and discussing their hopes and goals for the future. They'd always been close, but it seemed that spending time on the bluff together had further strengthened their sibling bond.
Now, as she reflected on the current state of their relationship, she was saddened by how much It'd changed. Two years ago, while en route to work, Riley had been thrown off his bicycle by an SUV.
He hadn't been wearing a helmet so the damage had been significant, and after spending months in the hospital in a barely conscious state, the choice had been made by Jeneda's parents to have Riley transferred to a nursing home.
Jeneda and Riley's father was a trucker who spent the majority of his time on the road, and their mother, Monica, had moved to Key West five years ago, following her marriage to a retired lawyer. Jeneda occasionally conversed with her from time to time, but ever since Riley's tragic accident, Monica hadn't put forth a whole lot of effort in reaching out to her children.
Although her mother had never admitted it, Jeneda knew that she just couldn't cope with Riley being brain damaged, and as a result, used distance as an excuse for not calling on a regular basis to inquire about him.
It pained Jeneda to know that her mother was so apathetic, but she guessed that was the only way she knew how to deal with such a heartbreaking situation. With both parents basically out of the picture, the bulk of the emotional load was resting on Jeneda's shoulders.
Unable to stand the idea of her brother spending the rest of his life in an assisted living facility, Jeneda had tried countless times to have Riley come live with her. Yet much to her disappointment, the staff at the facility had informed her that in order to receive proper treatment, it was imperative that Riley be tended to twenty-four seven in a skilled nursing home.
Now twenty-six years old, the once vibrant and outgoing Riley had been reduced to living life in a minimally conscious state. Although she knew that it wasn't her fault, not a day went by that Jeneda didn't feel guilty for having the ability to continue living a normal life, while Riley was reduced to a depressing existence.
A young man like him surrounded by people who were decades older was just unnatural, and it literally made her heart ache to know that he would never be the same again. Releasing a heavy sigh, she gazed in the direction of Mission Hill, thinking about how strange and unpredictable life could be.
Due to the strong emotions associated with Tank Hill, it pained her to continue visiting the spot, but she just couldn't bring herself to stop doing it. Jeneda supposed she had a masochistic side that reveled in torturing herself with memories of what used to be, because she could see no other explanation for continuing to come up here.
Looking at the shimmering city lights below, she thought of just how lonely life could sometimes be. Sure she had great friends who were like a second family, and she did lead a fairly social life, so she was anything but a loner. Yet nothing could replace the connection you had with someone who was related by blood.
The almost non-existent relationship she had with her parents, coupled with the fact that her brother was permanently brain damaged was a reality she desperately wished could be altered. But since it couldn't, all she could do was get through life the best way she knew how. With a dauntless attitude and positivity.
This wasn't to say that she didn't get into her moods, because she certainly wasn't a Sally Sunshine. But she'd like to think that she was successfully navigating her way through life without allowing her emotions to get the best of her.
Jeneda's fingers had grown numb from the chilly weather, and the cold, brisk wind was beginning to sting her cheeks, so she guessed it would be a good idea to be making her way back home. But before she did, she had to check on something. There was a hollow tree located near the edge of the hill, and after walking over to it, she stuck her hand into the semi-enclosed cavity, then felt around.
The hollow was fairly shallow, so it didn't take long before she found what she was looking for, and as her fingers bumped against a hard, smooth object, she cupped it in her palm and removed it from the tree hole. The object she held in her hands was a small stone, and as she ran her thumb over the surface of it, she felt indentations.
As soon as she spoke the words, the wind stole them away, carrying them off to nowhere in particular. Still holding the stone in her hand, she gave it a long, firm squeeze. She liked to think that whenever she did that, Riley was somehow able to sense that she was visiting their special spot.
The logical side of Jeneda told her how ridiculous that was, and that it was silly to even entertain such an idea. Yet there was also a voice inside her that told her it was possible.
Still cupping the stone in her palm, she returned it to the sunken chamber in the tree, yet instead of promptly releasing it, she held onto it for awhile longer. An image of her brother suddenly flashed through her mind, and she sadly remembered the last time she'd gone to visit him at the nursing home.
As was customary whenever visiting hours were over, she gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then told him that she loved him. This usually brought a faint smile to his lips, but during her last visit, he'd had a heartbreaking reaction. One single tear had slid slowly down his cheek, and a look of great sorrow had filled his eyes.
The sight of it had made her feel as if a knife had ripped through her heart, and the guilt had been gut wrenching. She'd nearly cried right there in front of Riley's eyes, yet not wanting to upset him any further, she'd held back the tears.
Later, after arriving home, she'd let loose, releasing the emotions which were pent up inside her. She'd wept off and on for nearly ten minutes before getting a nasty headache, then after taking a couple of pills, she'd fallen into a restless sleep.
That single tear he'd shed, she would never forget it. Not as long as she lived. She shook the thought from her mind, and after giving the stone in her palm one last firm squeeze, she released it. Then she began her descent down the hill.
* * * *
Standing on a ladder in her art studio, Jeneda cast a critical eye on the eight-foot sculpture she was working on. A small sigh passed her lips as she studied it, and after a few solid moments of contemplative silence, she realized that something wasn't right. She didn't know what it was, but something was definitely off with the art piece.
Suffering from a stiff neck and needing a caffeine fix, she climbed down off the ladder, then made a beeline for the coffee pot which was placed on top of a mini fridge.
It was just past six a.m. and for the past hour, she'd been laboring on the three dimensional art piece, which had been commissioned by a symphony hall located in the Civic Center area of San Francisco.
Formed from a monumental pile of clay, the sculpture was of a giant, androgynous face. She'd purposely sculpted it so that it was tilted to one side, adding to the unusual look of it.
Having already finished sculpting all of the facial features, the eyebrows were the last thing she had to complete. Yet something about the way they entire sculpture looked just didn't sit right with her.
With a mug of black coffee in hand, she turned to face the sculpture and analyzed it from afar. She cocked her head to the right, then left, trying to figure out just what was irking her. She stared long and hard before finally realizing just what was bothering her-one of the eyebrows was slightly higher than the other.
She gulped the remainder of her coffee down, then headed for the ladder. Once she reached it, she climbed upward until she was eye level with the top of her sculpture, then she got busy.
As was customary whenever she was sculpting, she went into a creative trance, working methodically and with painstaking attention to detail. So engrossed in her work, the sound of her cell phone ringing startled her, and as she cast a glance towards it, she found herself filled to the brim with annoyance.
She usually made a point of putting it in silent mode before starting work on her projects, but for some reason, this time she'd failed to do so. The last thing she felt like doing was allowing this intrusion to break her flow, but since her concentration had already been broken, she figured she may as well just answer the phone.
After climbing down the ladder, she wiped her clay covered hands off with a damp washcloth. Then she retrieved her mobile phone from a wooden stool and answered it.
"Hello?" She spoke in an irritated voice.
Her pulse rate quickened at the sound of the deep, masculine voice.
"Hi, It's Dane."
"Oh hey, how are you?"
"Good. And you?"
"I'm doing alright."
"I didn't catch you at a bad time, did I?"
"No, not at all."
"Good. I got your voicemail last night and I gave you a call you back, but you didn't answer, so I figured you'd gone to sleep."
"Yeah, I turned in a bit earlier than usual, so that's why I missed your call."
"No problem. So what are you getting up to today?"
"Right now I'm at my art studio working on a sculpture. As for my plans later on, I'm not quite sure just yet."
"A sculpture, huh? You do that professionally, or just as a hobby?"
"How cool. So I'm guessing that's what you got your degree in at the Artist's Academy."
"Yep." Suddenly realizing just how many years had elapsed since leaving college, she said, "Wow, that was a long time ago."
"Yeah, It's been seven years since I graduated."
"It's been eight for me."
"So you were a year ahead of me."
"So I'm just wondering...since you were there for three of the four years that I attended, do you remember seeing me around at all?"
"Really? Because I don't remember you at all."
He lightly chuckled. "That doesn't surprise me a bit."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well first off, my hair was short back then, so I looked a bit different. And second, I pretty much kept to myself. I kinda made a habit of trying to go unnoticed, which seemed to work out pretty well, because whenever I talk to other alumni, they have no memory of me whatsoever."
"You must have done a really good job of blending in."
"Well that's just the thing. I didn't blend at all. I was what some would say, a bit antisocial."
"You, antisocial? But you seem so outgoing, and when you gave the talk at the college, people were swarming around you."
"Yeah, well I guess I have the meds to thank for that."
"You take medication?"
"Yeah, for social anxiety."
"Why wow? Is that a problem?"
"No, I'm just surprised to hear that you of all people suffer from social anxiety. I never would have guessed."
"I've had problems being around other people since I was a kid, but I didn't get diagnosed with social phobia until right before graduating college."
"So for all those years you had to just put up with it?"
"That couldn't have been too enjoyable."
"It was a pretty hellish existence."
"I can imagine." Then realizing that she had absolutely no idea what it was like having to deal with such a disorder, she quickly added, "Actually, no I can't."
He gave a sound of amusement. "I appreciate you saying that, because It's so true. Only those who have experienced it firsthand can begin to comprehend just how much it cripples your life."
"Sorry you have to deal with that. I once knew someone who was afflicted by it, and from what they told me, you get this weird sinking feeling in your stomach, and sweaty palms."
"Those are pretty common symptoms, but it varies with each person. For example, I do get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I've never gotten sweaty palms. My heart starts beating really fast, though, and my throat feels like it's going to close up."
"Yeah, It's not too fun at all. But luckily I don't have to go through that anymore. Ever since I started taking medication, those feelings have pretty much gone away."
"Well that's good to hear. I'm glad you don't have to suffer anymore."
"So am I." He allowed a moment of silence to pass before posing a question. "So what about you?"
"I don't know...what about me?"
"I've let you in on a less than stellar trait of mine, so now it's your turn."
"Hmm. Well, let me think."
A chuckle passed his lips. "You can't take time to think about it. That's cheating."
"It's like you're trying to choose the least worst of those things you don't like about yourself. Open up and just share one of them with me."
"Alright. I can be restless."
"Restless...could you elaborate a bit?"
"I'm an energetic person. I like change, and I can't stand monotonous routines."
"I see. Well that's not entirely terrible, is it?"
"No, I suppose not. But some people can be put off by it."
"Give me an example."
"Well, I've been in a few relationships where the other person felt as if I was being flighty. I've also been called detached."
"Your ex-boyfriends said that to you?"
"Hmm." There was silence for a few moments, as if he were contemplating what she'd said. "I guess we've got something in common then, because before I started taking my meds, people used to always tell me how disconnected I was."
"Some of my ex's have told me that as well."
"I guess we're both a little off-kilter, then."
Her lips curled into a smile. "That's a nice way of putting it."
"The way I see it, everyone's a little screwed up in one way or another. There is no such thing as normal."
"I'll agree with that."
They fell into a comfortable silence, during which Jeneda heard the squawk of what she guessed to be some sort of a wild bird come from Dane's end of the line.
"What was that?" She curiously asked.
"One of my neighbors has a rooster."