This is an original short story I wrote a while back, which I revised, added to, added to some more, and now am trying to form into a full length YA suspense novel. Since it’s changed so much, I see no harm in publishing the short little piece here.
“Seven Weeks of Wuthering Heights”
by Laurel Osterkamp
We were assigned new AP Lit study groups. You’d think that academically advanced students would have good manners proportional to their high GPAs, but no. Kay Morgan raised her hand immediately. “Ms. Nells, I have social anxiety. I can’t work with someone I’m not comfortable with. It will impede my academic progress.”
“Kay,” responded Ms. Nells, “While I’m impressed by your use of an SAT study word, you’ll work with Issy and Hector.”
Kay huffed, and tossed her dark, silky curls from her shoulders. I didn’t care. I had more pressing concerns.
My brother Ethan was home from college just weeks into the term. My parents said it was due to exhaustion, which was code for depression. I texted him now, knowing it was pointless. He was probably dead to the world, in his room with the curtains drawn, drooling against his pillow. That image morphed, and then I saw him, literally dead. Squeezing my eyes shut, I strangled the picture from my mind.
I got up and moved to my new spot.
Soon, Kay and Hector joined me at the four-square of desks. One desk stayed empty, Hector sat across from me, and Kay sat next to me. Why didn’t they sit close to each other?
It was a tangled web. I knew Kay. She was Ethan’s girlfriend all last year, but she broke his heart before he left for college. I blamed her for his depression. She’d jilted Ethan to date Hector, with his bottomless eyes and muscular frame. I imagined he had the strength and passion to hold someone tight.
Kay was aware of what I thought about her. That was why she wanted out of our study group.
Except, I was wrong.
“We should tell Ms. Nells that we can’t work together,” Kay said, her rosy, bow-shaped lips pursing at Hector. “If we both say it, she’ll listen.”
“No.” Hector replied, with just a hint of Latino accent. “I can work with you, no problem.” He picked up his copy of the new book we were reading, Wuthering Heights. “Let’s dive in.”
Kay ignored him and spoke to me. “Hi Issy. How’s your brother?”
“Fine,” I said, a little too loud, a little too defensive.
“He texted me last night, said that he’s home. I think I’ll stop by and see him this afternoon.”
“That’s not a good idea, Kay. Ethan needs space.”
But she wasn’t listening; she just stared at Hector. “I can’t wait to see Ethan. I really, really miss him.”
“Issy, do you mind being secretary?” Kay cocked her head, a saccharine expression on her face.
“I’ll do it,” said Hector. He opened his chrome book. When he spoke, he looked only at me. “Which quote did you choose, Issy?”
“I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free.”
Hector typed with an unexpected adeptness, given his rugged appearance. “And its significance?”
“Cathy longs for her childhood, when she had the freedom to –”
“Screw her brother?” Kay finished for me.
“He was adopted.”
“It’s still twisted,” She answered. “However, I like how Cathy and Heathcliff are completely insane for each other. I respect their dysfunction. That’s why I chose, ‘If you ever looked at me once with what I know is in you, I would be your slave.’”
Hector didn’t take his off me. “Sorry, Issy.” His voice was low and warm. “You weren’t done, were you? Tell me again why you chose Cathy’s quote about freedom.”
My heart fluttered and sounded an alarm. Danger! Vulnerability alert!
The November rain turned to sleet. I walked home in the storm, cursing my lack of wheels. Then, a beat-up silver Ford pulled up. The window lowered. “Do you want a ride?”
It was Hector. He sat, dry and warm, clutching his steering wheel and eating a Twizzler. “Come on,” he said. “Get in.”
“Thanks.” I opened the passenger side door and sat next to him. I was aware that my light brown hair hung in wavy, wet clumps, that my fair skinned cheeks must be bright red from cold and embarrassment. “This is kind of you.”
“Are you kidding? It’s the least I can do since you have to deal with Kay and me and all our drama.”
I laughed. “It’s fine.”
“How’s your brother?” he asked. “I heard he’s struggling.”
“Who told you that?”
Hector’s eyes darted from me to the road. “I don’t know. Aren’t he and Kay back together?”
“Yes.” I groaned. “She is so bad for him.”
“Yeah. Kay is like that.” He tapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. She’s fickle. She’ll move on. Then your brother can move on too.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Oh, I’m always right. About everything. If you don’t believe me, ask my mom. She’ll tell you how great I am.”
By the end of the ride, I thanked God or Mother Nature or whomever had put me in the position of needing rescue.
Hector pulled up to my house way too soon. “Hey, can I have your number?”
“Why? So we can talk about Wuthering Heights?”
He shrugged. “Or just talk about anything. I like you, Issy.”
For a second, it was like Hector looked through his car window and into my house, his expression composed of jagged edges. But then he softened and gazed at me. When he leaned in I could smell his Twizzler breath, so innocent yet insistent. My lips met his in a combination as classic as strawberries and cream.
I went inside. Ethan, all pale, unshaven, and droopy-eyed, waited for me.
“Tell me you didn’t just kiss Hector Cortes in his car, on our driveway.”
“Why do you care?”
“I just do. Stay away from him, Issy.”
I waited for a signal from Hector. I yearned to tell my friends we were a couple, but he treated me the same, slapping my back like I was simply a study buddy. He walked past me in the cafeteria, wobbling his tray and almost spilling his fruit cocktail, milk, and tater tots as he balanced it all on one hand. I wanted to stick my foot out and trip him.
After lunch, I emerged from the bathroom. Kay stood there, waiting for me. She pressed her hot pink manicured nails into the soft flesh of my upper arm.
“He’s using you to make me jealous.”
I yanked my arm from her grasp. “You don’t know anything. And if you hurt my brother again, you’ll regret it.”
Kay laughed. “I’m not afraid of you Issy. Don’t you know? I’m not afraid of anyone.”
One night, Hector threw a rock at my window, just like guys in the movies do. I went barefoot down to meet him, early December frost sticking to my heels. I hugged my oversized cardigan over my nightshirt and my worn, flannel pajama pants. There he stood, shivering in his thrift store tweeds, which set him apart from all the other guys, but didn’t protect him from the cold.
“Why am I your secret?” I asked.
“Because if Kay found out, she’d go crazy. You know how Heathcliff acts, when he finds out Catherine died? That, ‘I can’t live without my life; I can’t live without my soul’ shit? She’d be worse.”
Stupid me. I didn’t examine what he said. As an AP scholar, I should have known when to perform literary analysis. Instead, I pulled him close. I hated being his secret, but I loved the idea of him even more.
Hector asked Kay to the Snow Ball. When I asked him why, he said, “You know that Kay and I share the same soul, right?”
I said no, I hadn’t known that. How could I?
He replied that everyone knew, except for my brother and me. But we lived in denial.
I stayed home, re-read Wuthering Heights, and wrote my term paper. Meanwhile Hector was at the dance with Kay.
I’d imagined me as Cathy and him as Heathcliff, except now I realized that he’d never call my name while walking the moors. I’d only ever be a minor character in their toxic love story. Thank God we’d be assigned new study groups soon.
A rosier-cheeked Ethan paused in my doorway, on his way to the kitchen. Lately, he’d regained both his appetite and his strength. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I put down my book. “Mom says you’re returning to school in January?”
“Yes.” He said it simply, offering no explanation.
“Good for you. I’ve been thinking about college for next year.”
“And?” Ethan raised his eyebrows.
“I want to go away. ‘I wish to be half-savage, hardy, and free.’”