What Lies Beneath…

By Nicole Murphy (Sun Valley High School)

The deep-blue lake glistened as the bright moon brought out its true color. His sparkling ocean-blue eyes burned through mine as he grinned down at me . . .

“Nicole!” my dad bellowed, causing me to wake up with a sudden jolt and fall off my bed. I quickly scrambled to my feet and I looked at the digital clock on my nightstand. It was six-thirty a.m.

“Nicole!” Dad screamed again. I heard his heavy footsteps through the hall towards my bedroom. Then, a second later, he threw the door open.

“What?” I asked groggily, sitting up in my bed. I rubbed my half-closed eyes tiredly, trying to remember the dream I just had.

“What time did you get in the house last night?” he asked me, as if I was five-years-old. “Or, should I say, this morning?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about, Dad.”  I rubbed my eyes some more.

“Oh, come on, Nicole. You know exactly what I’m talking about. What time did you get in last night and who were you with?”

I felt all of the blood in my body turn to solid ice. Oh, no, he knew and he knew well.  I only could look down at my hands as if I was a misbehaving first grader that had to sit in the corner.

“Nicole,” Dad barked again. “What did you do last night?”

I felt my ears turn a decent shade of  red as I continued to look at my hands and not answer. It was so dead silent in my room that I thought he might hit me, but I knew that he’d never do that. I felt my muscles relax the slightest bit as I somehow opened my mouth to say something.

“I was with Michael last night,” I said almost in a whisper, as if I had spoke any louder, it would shatter the wall of safety between me and my dad.  “We went to the mall, and then the movies, and then we spent the rest of the time at the park. I didn’t get home until two this morning. I’m sorry, Dad.”

My heart pounded in my chest and sweat began to accumulate at my temples. Dad definitely did not like Michael, this boy I had been seeing for a couple of months.  He got angry whenever I was even around him. He thought Michael was not good enough for me.

“You can’t see him anymore,” Dad said with such finality, it sent chills down my spine. “Go back to bed.”

“What?!” I shouted, storming out of my room behind him. “What do you mean I can’t see him anymore?  That’s so not fair!”

He didn’t turn around to glare at me.  He didn’t tell me to go back to bed.  He didn’t say anything.  He just continued down the stairs and into the kitchen for breakfast.

“Dad, I deserve an explanation. Why can’t I see Mike?  I am twenty-one years old and I deserve the right to see who I want to see!” I felt like crying. I mean who wouldn’t?

I’ve lived half of my life without a mother and it felt like I was trapped inside a small room with bullet-proof doors and windows. Dad wasn’t always this strict. Before my mom died, I recall Dad was really happy and he almost never yelled at me, except when he really needed to. Mom did all of the yelling; Dad just stood there and took my side whenever he felt I didn’t do anything wrong.

“I don’t like Michael,” Dad finally said. “At all.”  Then, without another word, he grabbed his coat and left the house for work, even though it was six-forty-five on a Sunday morning.


 “He’s so unfair! I can’t do anything around him. Now, he won’t even let me see Mike. Isn’t that so arrogant of him?” I was ranting to Stacie, my best friend from high school, the next morning when we were heading to the coffee shop before work.

“You’re the arrogant one, Nick,” Stacie said, pulling into the parking lot of the coffee shop.

“What?” I snapped. “Did you just call me arrogant?” I was shocked and in total disbelief.

“Yes,” she admitted, not afraid to confront me.  “It’s only because you are. Maybe your dad’s just trying to protect you. What if there’s something about Michael that he knows that you don’t?  That’s possible. I mean, he’s probably worried about you because your mother isn’t around anymore…”

I shook my head, undoing my seatbelt. “Don’t talk about my mother, Stacie.”  Stacie knew very well how I felt about the whole deal. She knew when I was about ten-years-old, my mother died in a tragic car accident that shattered my entire family, including mine and my dad’s world, into a thousand pieces. Considering I was so young, I barely remembered Mom, but I remembered the incident vividly. I just can’t explain what happened because I know I would never be able to finish it.

Neither of us so much as let out a breath the whole car ride to the designer’s firm where Stacie and I worked. But as soon as I got to the office, I picked up my desk phone and dialed Dad’s work number, praying that he’d answer. Dad and I haven’t spoken a word to each other since that mishap the morning before and I felt like I needed to call him.  Sadly, I only got his answering machine.

“Hello, you’ve reached Matthew Richardson’s office. Unfortunately, I’m not in right now, so if you could, leave a message and I’ll get back to you,” his deep, rough but firm voice said on the machine.

I figured it was pointless to leave a message, so I just hung up. I took my coffee, walked up the front circulation desk, and joined Stacie. “Hey,” I said in a weak voice. “Sorry about earlier. You know, in the car.”

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” she said, but I could tell in her voice and in her eyes that she didn’t mean it.

Just then, Danielle, one of my co-workers, got up from the desk. “Hey, Nicole. Michael’s on line two for you,” she said. Stacie jabbed her elbow into my side.

“Uh, good, good,” I said, getting up from the desk. “I’ll take it in my office.” My blood started to pump as I speed-walked to my office. As soon as the door was safely shut behind me, I pressed ‘2’ on my desk phone.

“Hey, babe,” his gentle manly voice greeted me on the other end and my heart rate slowed to  normal.  I twisted the phone cord nervously between my thumb and index finger.

“Hi, Michael,” I said. “I’m glad you called. I need to tell you something.”

“Cool,” he said energetically. “Shoot.”

Ah, it won’t be that easy, Michael, I thought.  “Okay. You see, I kind of got into a little argument with my dad yesterday morning and he said that we couldn’t see each other anymore.” I don’t know how, but I somehow got it out there.

It went dead silent. Just as I thought something had happened to his end of the line, I heard him take a deep breath.

“Come with me to the arboretum after you’re done work later,” he said, after about five minutes. “There’s something I want to show you.”  Then he hung up without giving me a chance to reply.


Somehow, without my dad knowing, I was able to sneak out to the arboretum after work late that afternoon with Mike.

“What did you want to show me?” I asked him the second the two of us were safe in the arboretum.

“Come over here,” he said gently and he lead me on a pavement path with a bunch of dead leaves that the wind scattered in all four directions, as if by magic. He lead me through that narrow path until we reached the strangest thing I had ever seen. What he’d lead me to was a door. It wasn’t any ordinary wooden door I’d normally see in a school or something. This door was different. For instance, it was short and sort of oval shaped and it didn’t have a doorknob. It had a depressing gray color to it and it looked like it’d been there for a hundred years. 

Michael pushed open the thick, heavy door and stepped inside. “I found this place about six months ago, but I never told anybody about it,” he said, as I followed him into the heavy, humid room. Inside, the door didn’t look much better than the outside. In fact, it looked worse. There were creepy cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and loose papers and books scattered all over the floor and on random chairs. It looked like a troll lived there. It wasn’t very big inside; it was only about as big as someone’s basement, and the ceiling was so low, I would’ve knocked my head on it if I wasn’t careful.

“Ugh, Mike, this place is a mess,” I complained helplessly, trying to step around the scattered books. “How’d you find a place like this?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said thoughtfully.  “I guess I was just wandering around and I happened to find it.  Just then, a strong scent of moss lifted in the air.

“Why did you even bring me here? I told you that my dad doesn’t want me to see you anymore.”

“I know that,” he told me.  “But, it’s just that we’ll never see each other again, I might as well show you this odd door I found. Besides, I thought of my sister the second I saw this strange door and I remembered how we used to play in the woods as kids.” He chuckled.

I was taken aback. “What do you mean we’ll never see each other again? We’ll still be able to see each other in town and we can still send each other texts and e-mails!”

He shook his head.  “No, we can’t,” he said solemnly. “I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’m moving to the Big Apple in a couple of weeks. I got a big promotion at work and I’d regret it if I turned it down.”

I swear I heard my heart shatter into a million pieces just then. My stomach dropped and I swallowed a lump that had grown in my throat. “That’s great . . .” I managed to say. “That’s really great. I’m really proud of you. Two weeks, huh?”

“Yep, two weeks. But, it’s all right , you know. I’m just worried about you. Will you be okay?”

I somehow managed to nod. “Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I choked. He saw the hurt in my eyes and he hugged me tight.

“Do you really have to go, Mike?”

“If I want to keep my job, yeah, I really have to go. I’m so sorry.” He continued to hold me tight as if I was one of his childhood stuffed animals.

I didn’t even reach my driveway until at least eleven o’clock that night because Mike and I had spent the entire afternoon and most of the night in the arboretum. I just hoped Dad wasn’t awake to see that Mike and I were just sitting there in our driveway in Mike’s car.

“You kind of bummed that I’m moving to New York City?” Mike asked. I nodded, shivering in my sweater, at least until he wrapped his strong arm around my shoulders to warm them up.

Then Mike did the most unexpected thing at the moment. He leaned over in the driver’s seat and started kissing me. Everything that had happened from the morning before until that moment had washed away in that one kiss. At least, it was perfect until I heard a tap on my window. I looked over to see my dad giving the two of us a devilish grin outside the window. Uh-oh.

“Great,” I muttered to Mike.  “Not again. Look, just stay in here. I’ll deal with him, Mike.” I rolled down the window and acted like I didn’t do anything wrong.

“Yes, Dad?” I asked in my best “princess” voice.

“Get out of the car, Nicole,” he demanded. “I’ll deal with Michael.”  I unlocked the passenger side door and my dad opened the door for me.

“Don’t hurt him, Daddy,” I mumbled. He only grunted in return.

When I got into the house, I changed into my pajamas and looked out my bedroom window so I could see what was going on in the driveway. Mike’s car was gone.

I screamed to the top of my lungs and stormed down  the stairs. “Dad!” I yelled. “What did you do to Mike, Dad?!”

“Shut up, Nicole,” he snapped.  I gasped.

“Dad, do you have any idea how much Mike means to me? Any idea at all?” I asked frantically. “He’s moving to New York in a couple of weeks and I just wanted to spend some time with him.”

“No! I specifically said you cannot see him anymore. That’s that.”

“I hate you! You’re just mad about what happened to Mom and you’re taking it out on me!”

“That isn’t true, Nicole, and you know that,” Dad barked.

“Yes, it is! It totally is! And you know what? I don’t care what you think, but I’m moving to New York with Mike, whether you like or not.”

I turned to run back up to my room, but something in his deep voice made me stop dead in my tracks. “Don’t you dare.”

Tears fell down my cheeks. “You can’t do this to me, Dad. I am a legal adult and I have the right to do whatever the heck I want. I no longer belong to you! This would not be happening if Mom was still alive.”

His wry smile fell from his face and a dark shadow passed over him. “Fine, do what you want. Just remember that this world isn’t all about you.” He flew past me up the stairs and he slammed his bedroom door so hard it knocked the picture that was hanging on the wall down onto the floor.


The next two weeks came and went. Dad and I only spoke a few words to each other and I didn’t talk to Michael at all.  Then, about two days before Mike had to leave for New York, I just simply could not stand the utter silence.

Around four o’clock in the afternoon one Tuesday when my dad was at work, I invited Mike over for dinner.

Mike was really only supposed to be over there for a few hours and he was supposed to leave before Dad got home from work, but things didn’t go as planned.  It’s all that stupid movie’s fault. If we didn’t watch that boring movie, then Mike and I wouldn’t have fallen asleep on the couch and Dad wouldn’t have caught us.

Not realizing that I had fallen asleep, I felt someone scratch my cheek.  “What is going on here!?” Dad yelled so loud that I fell off the couch.

“Oh, hey, Dad,” I said, sitting back up on the couch casually. “What’s up?” I frantically pulled my dark hair back into a ponytail.

“Well, it looks like someone here has been misbehaving,” he said calmly. Almost too calmly…

“Dad, it wasn’t like that,” I said hopelessly. “We were just watching a movie and we just—”

“And you just decided to fall asleep with him on the couch?” Dad finished for me.

“Mr. Richardson, I can definitely explain—” Mike tried to say, but of course, my dad had to go and interrupt him.

“I want you” Dad said firmly, but dangerously, “to never stand within twenty feet of my daughter again or I swear I’ll break your neck. You got it?”

I knew that my dad was serious when he said he’ll break his neck!

“Dad, no,” I breathed.  “You wouldn’t dare hurt him.”  Tears rushed to my eyes. I knew that Dad was only trying to protect me, but this was getting out of hand. He really didn’t like Mike.

“Go up to your room, Nicole,” Dad insisted. “I’ll be up there in a minute.” The only choice I had was to do what he said, or who knows what would happen. Dad was already fired up enough as a it was.

Dad never did come back upstairs. Or he did and I just didn’t know it. I guess I didn’t know because I was asleep the second my head hit the pillow.


On Thursday, after Mike was supposed to leave for New York, I went to the door he showed me in the arboretum. The two of us had said our goodbyes secretly over the phone the day before so we wouldn’t have to go through the grief when he did leave.  I just went back to the door because I needed to be reminded of him. But something made me go into the door and I’m so glad I did. There still wasn’t anything special inside the door; it was still all messy inside. The only thing that stood out to me was a tiny black velvet box sitting on a nearby table among a zillion papers.

I rushed over and opened the box to reveal a beautiful sparkling diamond ring.  “Oh, good, you found it,” a familiar voice said from behind me.

I spun around to see Michael standing behind me, neatly dressed in a university sweatshirt and black jogging pants. His blonde hair was pushed back and he was sweating a little bit, as if he ran to the arboretum.

“What’s this?” I asked, but I knew exactly what it was and I knew exactly what he was trying to do. “How’d you find me?”

“I knew this would be the first place you’d go to after you thought I left,” he said softly.  “That ring was my great-grandmother’s engagement ring. I thought maybe you’d like it.”

“Are you proposing?” I asked, my entire body shaking.

“Yes,” he said.

“What about my dad?  He said that he’ll break your neck if you came near me again.” My heart was beating so fast, I thought it was going to jump right out of my chest.

“I talked to him today over the phone and I made a deal with him. If I promised I’d take extra care of you like the way he had, then he’d let me marry you. I don’t know how I did it, but I finally got him to trust me and he agreed to let me marry you under one condition.”

“And that is?” I asked worriedly.

“Only if you said yes and let him pay for the entire wedding.”

For the hundredth time that week, I began to cry.  But, these weren’t like the tears I shed before. No . . . these tears were different.

I nodded, totally unable to speak, and I hugged him. I nodded joyfully because I was afraid if I said anything, I’d burst into non-stop tears.

Mike slipped the ring on my left ring finger and we went out to the lake that wasn’t too far from the arboretum. The deep-blue lake glistened as the bright moon brought out its true color. His sparkling ocean-blue eyes burned through my eyes as he grinned down at me.

His lips were soft on mine as the night’s breeze whizzed past us. Then, I realized that this seemed so familiar.  But it wasn’t a dream. It was really happening and I didn’t want it to end.  All of my problems automatically lifted and it felt like I was being lifted to heaven.  Dad finally understood him and I was finally happy. For the first time in a very long time.

I love you, Romeo.

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