The Coincidence of Callie & KaydenBy: Jessica Sorensen
Life is full of luck, like getting dealt a good hand, or simply by being in the right place at the right time. Some people get luck handed to them, a second chance, a save. It can happen heroically, or by a simple coincidence, but there are those who don’t get luck on a shiny platter, who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, who don’t get saved.
“Callie, are you listening to me?” My mom asks as she parks the car in the driveway.
I don’t answer, watching the leaves twirl in the wind across the yard, the hood of the car, wherever the breeze forces them to go. They have no control over their path in life. I have a desire to jump out, grab them all, and clutch them in my hand, but that would mean getting out of the car.
“What is wrong with you tonight?” my mom snaps as she checks her phone messages. “Just go in and get your brother.”
I tear my gaze off the leaves and focus on her. “Please don’t make me do this, Mom.” My sweaty hand grips the metal door handle and a massive lump lodges in my throat. “Can’t you just go in and get him?”
“I have no desire to go into a party with a bunch of high school kids and I’m really not in the mood to chat it up with Maci right now, so she can brag about Kayden getting a scholarship,” my mother replies, motioning her manicured hand at me to get a move on. “Now go get your brother and tell him he needs to come home.”
My shoulders hunch as I push the door open and hike up the gravel driveway toward the two-story mansion with green shutters and a steep roof. “Two more days, two more days,” I chant under my breath with my hands clenched into fists as I squeeze between the vehicles. “Only two more days and I’ll be in college and none of this will matter.”
The lights through the windows illuminate against the grey sky and a “Congratulations” banner hangs above the entrance to the porch, decorated with balloons. The Owens always like to put on a show, for any reason they can think of; birthdays, holidays, graduations. They seem like the perfect family but I don’t believe in perfection.
This party is to celebrate their youngest son Kayden’s graduation and his football scholarship to the University of Wyoming. I have nothing against the Owens. My family has dinner over at their house occasionally and they attend barbeques at our place. I just don’t like parties, nor have I been welcomed at one, at least since sixth grade.
When I approach the wrap-around porch, Daisy Miller waltzes out with a glass in her hand. Her curly blond hair shines in the porch light as her eyes aim at me and a malicious grin curls at her lips.
I dodge to the right of the stairs and swerve around the side of the house before she can insult me. The sun is lowering below the lines of the mountains that encase the town and stars sparkle across the sky like dragonflies. It’s hard to see once the lights of the front porch fade away and my shoe catches something sharp. I fall down and my palms split open against the gravel. Injuries on the outside are easy to endure and I get up without hesitation.
I dust the pebbles from my hands, wincing from the burn of the scratches as I round the corner into the backyard.
“I don’t give a shit what the hell you were trying to do,” a male voice cuts through the darkness. “You’re such a fuck up. A fucking disappointment.”
I halt by the edge of the grass. Near the back fence is a brick pool house where two figures stand below a dim light. One is taller, with their head hanging low and their broad shoulders are stooped over. The shorter one has a beer gut, a bald spot on the back of his head, and is standing in the other’s face with their fists out in front of them. Squinting through the dark, I make out that the shorter one is Mr. Owens and the taller one is Kayden Owens. The situation is surprising since Kayden is very confident at school and has never been much of a target for violence.
“I’m sorry,” Kayden mutters with a tremor in his voice as he hugs his hand against his chest. “It was an accident, sir. I won’t do it again.”
I glance at the open back door where the lights are on, the music is loud, and people are dancing, shouting, laughing. Glasses clink together and I can feel the sexual tension bottled in the room from all the way out here. These are the kinds of places I avoid at all cost, because I can’t breathe very well in them. I move up to the bottom step tentatively, hoping to disappear into the crowd unnoticed, find my brother, and get the hell out of here.
“Don’t fucking tell me it was an accident!” The voice rises, blazing with incomprehensible rage. There’s a loud bang and then a crack, like bones splitting into pieces. Instinctively I whirl around just in time to see Mr. Owens smash his fist into Kayden’s face. The crack makes my gut churn. He hits him again and again, not stopping even when Kayden crumples to the ground. “Liars get punished Kayden.”
I wait for Kayden to get back up, but he stays unmoving not even bothering to cover his face with his arms. His father kicks him in the stomach, in the face, his movements harder, showing no sign of an approaching end.
I react without thinking, a desire to save him burning so fiercely it washes all doubts from my mind. I run across the grass and through the leaves blowing in the air without a plan other than to interrupt. When I reach them, I’m shaking and verging toward shock as it becomes clear the situation is larger than my mind originally grasped.
Mr. Owens’ knuckles are gashed and blood drips onto the cement in front of the pool house. Kayden is on the ground, his cheekbone cut open like a crack in the bark of a tree. His eye is swollen shut, his lip is ruptured, and there is blood all over his face.
Their eyes move to me and I quickly point over my shoulder with a very unsteady finger. “There was someone looking for you in the kitchen,” I say to Mr. Owens, thankful that for once my voice maintains steadiness. “They needed help with something… I can’t remember what though.”
His sharp gaze pierces into me and I cower back at the anger and powerlessness in his eyes, like his rage controls him. “Who the hell are you?”
“Callie Lawrence,” I say quietly, noting the smell of liquor on his breath.
His gaze travels from my worn shoes to the heavy black jacket with buckles, and finally lands on my hair that barely brushes my chin. I look like a homeless person, but that’s the point. I want to be unnoticed. “Oh, yeah, you're Coach Lawrence’s daughter. I didn’t recognize you in the dark.” He glances down at the blood on his knuckles and then looks back at me. “Listen Callie, I didn’t mean for this to happen. It was an accident.”
I don't do well under pressure so I stand motionless, listening to my heart knock inside my chest. “Okay.”
“I need to go clean up,” he mutters. His gaze bores into me for a brief moment before he stomps across the grass toward the back door with his injured hand clasped beside him.
I focus back on Kayden, releasing a breath trapped in my chest. “Are you okay?”
He cups his hand over his eye, stares at his shoes, and keeps his other hand against his chest, seeming vulnerable, weak, and perplexed. For a second, I picture myself on the ground with bruises and cuts that can only be seen from the inside.
“I’m fine.” His voice is harsh, so I turn toward the house, ready to bolt.
“Why did you do that?” he calls out through the darkness.
I stop on the line of the grass and turn to meet his eyes. “I did what anyone else would have done.”
The eyebrow above his good eye dips down. “No, you didn’t.”
Kayden and I have gone to school together since we were in kindergarten. Sadly this is the longest conversation we’ve had since about sixth grade when I was deemed the class weirdo. In the middle of the year, I showed up to school with my hair chopped off and wearing clothes that nearly swallowed me. After that, I lost all my friends. Even when our families have dinner together, Kayden pretends like he doesn’t know me.
"You did what almost no one would have done." Lowering his hand from his eye, he staggers to his feet and towers over me as he straightens his legs. He is the kind of guy girls have an infatuation for, including me back when I saw guys as something else other than a threat. His brown hair flips at his ears and neck, his usually perfect smile is a bloody mess, and only one of his emerald eyes is visible. “I don’t understand why you did it.”