"You're beautiful," her mother said the first time she held Elise in her arms. Elise didn't remember that instance, but one of her first memories was of her father holding her in his arms and telling her the same thing. She didn't realize that the fall she remembered happening just after he said it was a memory of his heart attack until many years later.
Her father had been a successful man and while he was alive Elise's mother was well-cared for. The estate wasn't insignificant, but a damaged worldview and a broken heart tore through its assets far too quickly. More a defense mechanism than a desire to marry someone new, her mother eagerly attached herself to any man willing to have a second date. Nothing ever came of the many men that entered and exited her mother's bedroom, and unable to maintain their lifestyle, Elise's mother was forced to move them away. Seeing her mother cry one night, Elise asked what was wrong. "Nobody wants me. I'm too ugly."
"No, you're not. Dad wants you."
It was by sheer fortune that their new neighborhood introduced Elise to the two best friends she would ever havw. Kyle, 11, and his brother Keith, 10. On appearance, they looked quite similar to each other - not quite twins, but one easily mistaken for the other in bad lighting. They were, however, as different as the cliché allowed. Kyle was an athlete - he excelled at baseball and soccer - who preferred studying history and grammar. Keith was an artist - a pianist, guitarist, illustrator, and writer - who preferred science and math. Dichotomies between each other and within themselves. Before she even learned their names they had both told her, in unison, "You're pretty." She doesn't remember which of them was her first kiss - innocent enough - because they happened so closely together.
By the time Elise was old enough to drive, she truly was what even grown men would call beautiful. It was a blessing in that it made her inadvertently popular. What was a curse was that she preferred to keep a small company of friends - mainly Kyle and Keith - and it caused many a rumor during her high school years. And, like all rumors, trouble followed. She was raped just after her 17th birthday by the junior varsity center-forward. "Relax, beautiful," he had said while tearing her skirt from her nubile legs.
Keith had found out what happened and he, along with Elise's mother, was present when the doctors ensured there would be no pregnancy. Keith's face was bloodied and bruised, a valiant unsuccessful attempt at exacting some sort of vengeance for Elise. His injuries would be revealed to be rather severe - a broken jaw the least of his worries - and he would spend much time undergoing reconstructive surgeries. During this period, Kyle wound up in juvenile hall after a valiant successful attempt at exacting some sort of vengeance for both Elise and his brother. Other than that, the center-forward was never punished. Elise's mother again moved them away, supposedly to protect her daughter. But taking Elise away from the brothers was the worst thing that could ever have happened.
Still, Elise and the brothers stayed in touch, usually on a daily basis. After high school, Keith surprised Elise on her doorstep, dressed in an Army uniform. On his way to becoming a warrior poet, he professed his love for her. Even to her surprise, she kissed him. "You know, you're beautiful," Keith told her. It would be the last time she'd ever see him. While away at college, Kyle called to inform her that Keith had been killed in action. She couldn't stop crying that night, but that didn't prevent her college boyfriend from subduing her - calling her his beautiful baby all the while - and forcing himself inside of her. The moment destroyed Elise.
She tried many times to visit Kyle, but he was usually away in Europe playing professional football - he had taught her, at least, not to call it soccer - and skyrocketing to fame and fortune. Truth was, he couldn't bear to see her, for he was in love with her, too. And the sense of betrayal was amplified in the shadow of a dead brother. He didn't even attend her mother's funeral.
Throughout it all, Elise lived a good life. She never succumbed to alcohol or drugs, despite the plethora of opportunities, and rarely gave herself away to men. Her beauty, though, combined with her sad and private demeanor, continued to foster her place as an object of rumors. "See that hot chick? She gives good head," was as commonly spoken of her as was, "Poor girl. Such a difficult life for one so young."
Unexpectedly, Elise killed herself on her 27th birthday. At her funeral were no family and few real friends. It was mostly a church full of false mourners - misinformed from years of lies Elise had no energy to dispute - secretly satisfied that Elise got what she deserved. The well-dressed and obviously wealthy stranger who approached the open casket would only prompt more posthumous tales of Elise's infidelities. The stranger limped - whispers abounded as to its cause, none knowing it was from an injury that ended a playing career.
Kyle, the only remnant from her childhood, places a hand on her cheek and leans in to kiss her, a tear from his eye falling gently on to hers. "Don't listen to them, Elise. You will always be beautiful."
*Learn more about Kyle... in Driven
* This is the first part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that's happening over at The ...
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