Fiction: “Loving the Broken, Being the Forbidden”, by Nour Rouhana

It’s packed as usual. Mischievous girls in miniskirts sitting on the desks while bad boys fly their origami planes across 24 chairs trying to grab their attention. Loud laughter, occasional vulgar yells, blurry rapid sprints across the room; chaos. Raven black slate stone lays across the entire width of the wall as fogs of suffocating chalk dust fills the air. Eight o’clock, bell rings; class time.

Roxanne is sitting in the front row seat, as she always does, wearing a black Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd shirt with holes she cut along the sides. Her back covered up by her long curly red hair and her arms with sleeves of art needled through her pores. She is a striking young woman, beautiful, passionate, mysterious. Something radiates from within that renders her irresistible to both genders. Boys desire her and girls appeal her friendship. Her charisma turns heads as she enters any place she goes to. Everyone wants to know her; everyone wants to be her; no one approaches her. She’s intimidating to most, and dangerous to some for her eyes speak louder than words. Sad eyes she has; eyes as red, red, red as blood. Blood, her heart fills with blood as it breaks with every memory of him. Him, she loved him, with every inch of her, she loved him. But, her obsession came in the way of her happiness, and there’s only one way that can end. End, it ended; everything between them ended.

Roxanne sits in the front row seat, as she always does, waiting for the class to begin. The door opens and all she finds herself doing is looking up and staring at the man who enters.

He lifts his head. His face has bold a structure, just as hers, high cheekbones and proportioned. He has the same deep brown eyes and tanned skin. He is built up with toned muscles defining every inch of his anatomy. His big boots make a rhythmical beat against the floor, solid and regular like a soldier. He smiles with his lips, but his eyes shine instead, and it is this sparkle that makes everyone who sees it feel the desirable impulse to smile. As he makes his way to the front of the class, he looks at Roxanne with eyes of fascination, but then looks away; her heart skips a beat. All she wants to know is his name. Who is he? What is he doing here? He makes his way to the black board, after placing his books on his table, grabs the chalk, and writes down: Mr. Javier Rodriguez, Teacher of Fine Arts. ‘Good morning class. My name is Javier Rodriguez and I’ll be teaching you arts this year.’ Right there and then, Roxanne feels the heat of the fire burning inside her as she looks at her teacher with eyes of desire.
The bell rang and the students get ready for recess. Mr. Rodriguez sits on his desk and greets them one by one trying hard to remember their names, but not hers. “Roxanne. Right?” Mr. Rodriguez smiles as he sees Roxanne getting off her chair and awkwardly packing her books. “I see you have good taste in music”, Javier says as he points at her Pink Floyd shirt. Timidly, Roxanne smiles back, and rushes out of class.

“I haven’t seen him for two days, ***. Do you think he’s okay? I can’t stop thinking about him.” Roxanne confides in her best friend as they both reach for their lockers. At that moment, she sees Mr. Rodriguez walking down the hall, his head bent with an unusual negative energy surrounding him.  “Good morning sir”, Roxanne shouted out wanting to see his gorgeous eyes. He nods gently as he hears her voice. She instantly notices his puffy eyes surrounded by dark circles. “Oh wow! I don’t think he slept at all the past two days!” *** whispers in her ear.

Roxanne answers in a low voice as if talking to herself, “Yeah, I think something is up. Wait here.”
Roxanne follows her teacher as she watches him walk into his office. She takes out a portrait she’s been working on, as if wanting to discuss it with him. She rhythmically knocks on his door and slowly turns the door knob as he answers, “Come in.”
“Hello sir, you got 10 minutes?” Roxanne asks nervously as she smells his perfume radiating his office mixed with an intense odor of cigarettes. “Yes, sure… sure… have a seat Roxanne,” he replies reluctantly.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you for some guidance,” Roxanne says as she hands him her work.
“I started this painting a few days ago, but I’m not sure about the lighting contrast.”
Perplexed at who this beautiful woman is, Mr. Rodriguez is amazed with Roxanne’s profound and mature talent. He is rendered speechless as he feels her perfumed brush strokes under his fingers. He lifts the painting under the light and savoringly smells her as he intently dissects every feature. Roxanne instantly notices numbers tattooed on his left ring finger. She subtly tries to squint her eyes to make out what was written as Mr. Rodriguez finally says, “I see the resemblance, she’s very b…”
“You’re married?” Roxanne interrupts trying to conceal her anger with excitement.
Mr. Rodriguez continues complimenting Roxanne’s portrait without even noticing her question.
“Your choice of color is stunning. It truly brings out the beauty of this woman. The ambiance is perfectly set through your shadow techniques, which I personally think, could be more intensified around her eyes.”
Annoyed for disregarding her question, Roxanne looks at his desk and glances a family picture of a woman and a little girl whom she assumes are his wife and daughter.
“This girl has your smile,” Roxanne bluntly interrupts him again. “How old is she?” Mr. Rodriguez, still too immersed in the painting, is only awaken by the sound of his ringtone going off. His face reads trouble as his phone reads Dr. Jay.
Anxiously, he grabs his keys, smokes, and coat and heads straight towards the door. With one foot out, Mr. Rodriguez looks at Roxanne and says, “Yes, and she’s six.”
So confused at what had happened, Roxanne notices a piece of paper next to the office door. She grabs it and intends to rush after her teacher to give it to him, but she decides to keep it in the inner pocket of her black jeans jacket.

It’s five o’clock in the afternoon; Roxanne’s dad calls, as if in worry. Looking at who’s calling, she rolls her eyes, bursts out a sigh, and returns her phone back into her bag.

It’s five fifteen; Roxanne reaches her doorstep. Reluctant to turn her key to the left, she closes her eyes, draws the cross sign upon her chest, and whispers “Here we go.” Across the hall is her dad wrapping his hands around his new girlfriend, Patricia’s, neck nearly suffocating her trying to prevent her from screaming. “Get off of her!” Roxanne immediately reacts as she runs to the end of the hallway and pushes her dad away from poor Patricia. For a second, Roxanne saw her mother’s face in Patricia’s mortified eyes as she remembers her last moments before she passed. “What the hell?! Are you okay?” Patricia, looking horrified, gains back a bit of her strength, and runs out of the house and out of their lives. Roxanne looks into her dad’s red eyes in disgust as she smells the whiskey on his breath. She wraps his arm around her shoulder and leads him to his room, gives him a glass of water to sober up, and tucks him in bed. He’s yelling at Roxanne for pushing Patricia away. Swearing, ranting, blaming. Roxanne looks into his eyes once more and says nothing.

Her long night turns into day as another encounter with Mr. Rodriguez awaits her. During lunch, Roxanne goes back to his office as if wanting to give back the paper she kept. Just outside his door, she opens that paper and reads out: ‘I Lav yu dady.’ Folding back the paper, she knocks. He answers. She goes in.

“Ah Roxanne, I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Please come in.” Smiling, Roxanne approaches Mr. Rodriguez, wondering what he wants to talk about, moves the chair and grabs a seat. “Is everything okay Sir? You seemed a little over the place yesterday.” Roxanne asks trying to get out some answers from him. “That’s what I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. I want to apologize for the way I acted. While I was taken away by your painting, I received a phone call from my wife’s doctor. She’s very sick and we are all expecting her to pass any moment. Every time he calls, I think that moment has come.” Mr. Rodriguez looks at the picture he has of his family and then looks down and tears up. Tempted to go and hug him, Roxanne took her chance to tell him about the woman in her painting. The beautiful woman he so admired. Her mother.

“My mom passed away 6 years ago following a long battle from cancer.” Roxanne begins. “She was a beautiful soul. Fair skin, long red hair, blue piercing eyes, and a small mole that rested right beside her red drawn lips, just like you saw in the portrait. She was a strong woman, quite smart, but patient. She endured my dad’s excessive drinking for years and whatever came with it from physical and emotional violence, until it killed her.” Roxanne’s voice starts cracking as tears run down her cheeks uncontrollably. Mr. Rodriguez locks eyes at her as he stands up, walks around his desk towards her, and hugs her tight. Almost out of breath, she hugs him back, as if never wanting to let go. She slowly loosens her grip against his waist, looks straight into his watery eyes, and steels a kiss in a moment of weakness. Mr. Rodriguez quickly pulls back. With his right hand against his mouth, he looks at her lips for a few seconds ever so lustfully, grabs her by the hair and bends down, lips against her cheeks brushing them lightly. Shivers race down her spine making her entire body shiver.

Roxanne says nothing.

He brushes his mouth against her ear. He traces the line of her cheekbone.

His lips are against hers.

‘All words lost against her mouth. He groans softly low in his throat, gathering her against him. She realizes she’ll never have enough as he kisses her harder, deeper creating an urgent need she has never known before. ‘

As she leans in on him, he stops. He suddenly realizes what he was doing; he pulls back. He feels as if another entity has taken over his body. Not completely aware of what just happened, he places his right hand this time against his forehead in regret. “No, no, no, no. This can’t happen!” Mr. Rodriguez exclaimed in panic and anxiety. “Don’t tell anyone about this… Do you hear me? No one!” Roxanne, pushed against the wall, fretfully fixes her hair, buttons up her shirt, and wipes her lips as she picks up her backpack and opens the door. She expects him to stop her, to tell her it’s alright, to apologize, to do something! Roxanne slightly turns her head and takes a side look at her teacher; he’s standing in front of the window, left hand reaching his pocket, right hand aggressively pulling his hair, lighting a cigarette. She closes the door behind her and walks back home in complete silence. She can’t help but blame herself, just like her dad blamed her for Patricia’s escape.

It’s been a week since their last encounter; Roxanne hasn’t seen him. Mrs. Langdon substituted for Mr. Rodriguez. She was hardly a substitute. The annoyingly optimistic old lady napped at her desk the whole hour while she asked us to paint a bowl of fruit. With every passing day, her feelings grow, and so do her obsession, possession, and paranoia. The scenes keep playing so vividly over and over again; the taste of his lips, the pressure of his touch, the smell of cigarettes on his breath. She can’t sleep; she can’t eat; she can’t think or paint. She’s completely incapacitated to the point of being unable to function. All she wants to do is be with him, possess him, control him. She’s jealous of his wife; envious of his daughter. How could they take him away from her? Why isn’t he asking about her, wanting to see her? Why is he being like this?

Roxanne couldn’t take it any longer. She was worried sick about her unrequited lover. She took her father’s car keys and drove passed faculty housing until she saw the mailbox that has his name on it. She parked across the street and observed. The only lit room was the upstairs bedroom. Who’s there? Is he with anyone else? She closes her eyes and imagines herself under his sheets, in his shirt, as he brings her breakfast in bed. She imagines preparing his little girl’s lunchbox right before her bus arrives. The sudden sound of an ambulance siren yanks her back to reality. She drives off before anyone could spot her.

Meanwhile, Javier, contemplating what his life has become, stares accusingly at the cause of his despair while she lays helplessly in bed. His life had become an agonizing routine of the several parts he has to play; father, nurse, teacher; father, nurse, teacher. He knew he hit rock bottom when he let himself cross the line with Roxanne. There he sat staring at the cause of his misery. With vengeance in his eyes and without remorse, he pulls his wife in as if he is embracing her and takes the pillow she rested on for years to suffocate her. Little did he notice his daughter in the hallway witnessing the entire scenario, just as Roxanne did when she was eleven.

Roxanne heard the not-so terrible news that Mr. Rodriguez is now a widow. For once, she felt like the universe wanted her to be happy. For once, she felt like she could shed the dark façade that was reflecting her inner misery. She spent her days at school dreaming of how Javier will come back and run straight into her arms. She thought of all the possible grand romantic gestures he must be plotting at the moment. But they did not expect him back until a week after the funeral. That was too long of a wait for Roxanne.

After the funeral, Javier comes home with his daughter and puts on Peppa Pig to distract her. In attempt to sober up, he steps into the shower. He switches on the water and drenches himself hoping it would somehow wash away his guilt. As he steps out, he looks into the mirror expecting a monster to look back. He wraps himself in the towel and goes down the stairs to complete his fatherly duties for the night. He hears the sound of the sizzling pan and smells the aroma of spices filling the house. He rushes down and to find his daughter dressed and ready for bed. She looks at him with her big bold-eyes and tells him “Mommy is making your favorite tacos!”

The worry drains the color from Javier’s face. He grabs the lamp nearby and gets ready to smash it on the intruder. He turns around to find Roxanne in the kitchen, skillet in-hand. The floral dress his wife wore on their daughter’s fourth birthday party hung on her supple body. She softly laughs at Javier. “What are you doing, silly?” The sound of her voice sobers him quicker than the cold shower. “Honey, dinner will be ready in a few. Can you please get dressed then set the table?” She kissed him as if they have done it a thousand times before.

She’s delusional.

He’s in trouble.

Nour Rouhana is an architecture student at The American University in Dubai. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories during her free time.

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