Damaged and the Cobra

By: Bijou Hunter

Chapter One - Lark

Even when my heart was breaking, I smiled. No matter if I was sad, angry, or scared, I had a smile plastered on my face. My older sister Raven called it a coping mechanism. She heard the term on Oprah and it sounded right, but all I knew was I smiled even when inappropriate.

My grandfather once slapped me for smiling. At my little brother’s funeral, he hit me in front of everyone and said it wasn’t the time for my silly smiles. Raven screamed at him and punched his neck because she wasn’t tall enough to reach his face. She even tried climbing on a chair to hit him. By then, people were freaking out. My mother was crying and my grandmother ran off because she was afraid of my grandfather’s temper. The preacher struggled to settle everyone down, but it was no use. The funeral was ruined. Through the chaos and my tears, I kept smiling like I couldn’t stop myself.

There were very few things capable of making me genuinely smile since Raven ditched town six months earlier. Since then, I’d made new friends like Bailey Johansson who was loud and rough like Raven. I had also bonded with the Smith sisters. During Farah’s wedding, I found something really worth smiling over.

His name was Aaron.

While I never went as far as writing his name on my folder in class, I did think about doing it. Ever since I met him at the wedding rehearsal, I was forever wondering about Aaron. The first time he walked into the room and I noticed the cobra tattoo up his neck, I was fascinated. My interest only grew when I saw him smile and his blue eyes lit up in the most beautiful way.

Over and over, I tried to talk to Aaron at the rehearsal dinner. I planned to make another move at the wedding reception, but he brought a date.

Hopes dashed, I returned to my dull life in Ellsberg. My newest friends were living these wild lives with sexy men. Well, not Bailey who couldn’t keep a man past a few hookups. Even with her crappy romantic options, she was miles ahead of me in the exciting life department.

All I did most days was work the morning shift at Denny’s before hurrying to my two afternoon classes at Hampton College. I could only afford two because I was paying my way through college. Despite my irritation at how long it would take me to get a degree, I knew it could be worse.

No one in my family ever finished college or even worked in an office. They were all waitresses or janitors. My mom did marry a rich man with a business, but she had to give up a lot to keep him. I didn’t plan to end up like her.

I wanted an office job and a man who wouldn’t tell me what to eat and how to dress. I wanted to be strong and free. Even if I ended up alone forever, this would be better than being someone’s slave.

My sister refused to be a slave too, yet she had horrible taste in men. So Raven bounced from one loser to the next. Now, she was in California with her latest turd. While I missed Raven more than I could express to her or anyone else, I resented how she left Ellsberg. Most days, I blamed my stepdad Larry. When I was honest, I blamed Raven for leaving me behind.

No longer alone, I had a chance at a new direction in my life. Hopefully this new direction might one day include the gorgeous and artistic Aaron Barnes.

The one downside to my friendships was agreeing to activities I didn’t enjoy. Like bowling.

Bowling had always bored me. Raven and I had been in a league for a while with the girls from our roller derby team. On more than one occasion, I faked an illness to get out of it. I sucked at bowling and didn’t find it the least bit entertaining. Yet, I readily agreed when Farah invited me to join the crew at one of the local alleys.

Tucker Johansson called us the crew now. Everyone was pairing up and he seemed relieved about this fact. Claimed it felt good not to be the only whipped guy around. He made this announcement again while rubbing his girl Maddy’s pregnant belly.

Nearby, Cooper refused to admit he was whipped. However, he looked pretty domesticated with Farah on his lap feeding him nachos. She even wiped his mouth like she was practicing for when they had kids.

Judd and Tawny stumbled in late. With his dark hair tussled and her cheeks flushed, I sensed they stopped on the way for a quickie. Yep, everyone was in a state of bliss except for me. Oh, and Vaughn who was the only one who really liked bowling.