Seven years later...
Camile's struggle to belong continued into her twenty-third year. Up to that point, she threw herself into her studies and worked hard to achieve a Bachelors Degree in Interior Design. During her college years, she managed to make a few friends. However, each friendship failed, fading almost as quickly as they began. The same was true for Camile's romantic relationships. In nearly all her interpersonal encounters—whether social or professional—she was often ignored. On many occasions, people wouldn't even notice whether or not she was present until she was practically in their face. The fact that she had a diminutive voice didn't help matters much since people were prone to speak over her.
She also faced adversity in many of the jobs she held, none of which made her happy or quenched her desire to make a significant contribution to society. Camile was also bitter that she had spent four years in college to obtain a degree for a career that seemed unattainable. She worked insane hours as a sales clerk in a department store, a job she worked full time since her early college years. At times, it was an extremely demanding job carrying with it, unwarranted stress levels. She contemplated quitting, but she needed the job in order to pay her rent and to keep up with her student loans.
Deep in her heart, she felt that there was more to life than stressing over things that in her opinion—other than financially—would make little or no difference in the end. As she witnessed people younger than her advancing in their lives and careers, she couldn't help but feel envious. Especially since she felt that her own life was being squandered. She often worried about the path on which her life was headed. What did it all mean? What was the point to her existence if no one knew she was even there? Was she more than the sum of her rare, fleeting friendships and failed relationships? Was there anything more for her than unresolved questions about her family and the endless string of unfulfilling, unsuccessful jobs? Her life's purpose was something she always looked for and yet it constantly eluded her. Camile hungered for stability and thirsted to belong. She desired that someday the overwhelming emptiness she felt inside would finally be filled.
Camile lived in a small Brooklyn apartment, approximately seven miles away from her mother. It was located in a relatively boisterous neighborhood. Everything from small bodegas to public transportation was easily accessible. For the most part, the area was fairly tame, but in recent months there had been a rise in crime. The most recent offenses included a couple of robberies and vandalism inspired by racial intolerance.
Her apartment was modest in size, but she used her interior design skills to make it a home. The style of her furniture was functional and elegant. Since her salary was meager, she purchased most of the furnishings at bargain prices from warehouse-type stores. The entire apartment—excluding the kitchen—was painted in a flat shade of pale green. She found the color soothing and relaxing. In the short corridor just inside the entrance there was an oval pewter mirror hanging on the wall. It was about a foot and a half in size and was framed with intricate floral scrollwork. There was a matching shelf just below it on which she usually tossed her keys and mail.
To the right of the corridor was one of her favorite rooms, the kitchen. She loved to cook, whenever she had the time and energy. Her culinary skills contributed to the few extra pounds recently added to her frame. The kitchen housed refurbished stainless steel appliances, which contrasted with the white Formica tiled floor. The cabinets were off-white with stainless steel handles.
The living room was to the left of the corridor and had slightly more personality than the kitchen. Medium plush grey carpet complimented the jade-colored walls. In one of the corners was a black, four panel screen that separated Camile's computer workstation from the rest of the room. She enjoyed the freedom of having a lot of space in her living quarters. It eliminated the feeling of disorderliness and chaos—at least at home.
The seating arrangement consisted of a comfortable black sofa and matching loveseat, both of which had simple contours. A rectangular coffee table added a modern accent to the room. It had a clear glass surface with a beveled edge that glistened when it caught the light. The table's glass base had a smoky grey color which almost matched the carpet perfectly. It gave the table's surface the illusion of floating at knee level. There were also two small matching side tables that were located on each side of the loveseat. Each side table supported an eccentric lamp. A medium flat screen TV was mounted to the wall at a point where it was visible from nearly every angle of the room.
Camile didn't find it necessary to decorate her place with many elaborate accessories since she spent most of her time alone or working. However, prior to moving into her own place, she made herself a copy of the photo Kylie kept of her and her father, Zephyr. It was framed and prominently displayed on the coffee table. She often looked at the photo during times of despair or when she contemplated her life. It seemed a form of meditation for her. She felt strangely at peace whenever she looked at the unusual tree in the photo's backdrop. She had seen many trees with pretty flowers and leaves, but not to that extreme. The petals were deep red in color and glistened with a lively iridescence.
Seven years had elapsed since the strange situation occurred with Barry. Throughout those years, her mother continually dodged Camile's many questions regarding Zephyr and her childhood. It was an evasion that angered and frightened Camile. She wondered why her mother was so determined to keep things so secret. As she prepared herself for her next visit with Kylie, she realized that she'd been too passive about the situation over the years. That day Camile decided not to relent until she finally got some answers.
The late afternoon train was overcrowded as usual. A slightly nauseating and pungent smell wafted through the air. A group of rowdy teenagers pushed their way up and down the packed cars. A few of them were using some of the foulest language Camile had ever heard. It was clear that most of the passengers were annoyed with being subjected to such verbal pollution. However, they kept their opinions to themselves since they'd likely run the risk of getting knifed if they did otherwise. Camile's heart sank when she realized that she had eight remaining stops before she would reach her mother's neighborhood. When the train pulled into the next station, a group of holiday shoppers bustled onto the train, overstuffed bags in tow.
There was a sudden rush of commotion after a woman screamed. An elderly woman sitting across from Camile was being mugged by two large teen thugs. They each held a gun and demanded that the woman give them her money and jewelry. All the other passengers fled except for Camile and a businessman in his late forties. He took a shaky step toward the assailants, but ran off after one of the gangsters growled while waving the gun at him. Fearfully, Camile watched as the terrified woman tried to remove her necklace. However, the woman's hands trembled, hindering her attempt to undo the clasp.
"Come on! You're takin' too long, you ol' fart!" One of the muggers shouted as he ripped the necklace from the woman's neck.
At that moment, Camile had a sudden, inexplicable impulse to rise from her seat. Both thugs nearly jumped out of their skin, evidently surprised at the abrupt movement.
"Where the hell did she come from?!" One thug yelled to the other. His face contorted with intense fear and confusion.
"I dunno!" The other replied. "All the other punks ran away except for this ol' prune!"
He quickly pointed the gun at Camile and before she could react, he repeatedly pulled the trigger. Her heart skipped a beat before she realized that the gun hadn't gone off. The other thug also tried to shoot, but with the same result. Terrified, Camile could barely breathe as she stared at the thugs with wide eyes. Suddenly, their guns shifted to take aim at their own faces. Stricken with immense horror, they dropped their weapons to the ground.
"Yo, son! How da hell did she do that? This is some freaky shit! Let's roll up outta here!" one of them yelled.
The thugs ran out the car and directly into the path of two police officers who were called to the scene. Camile retrieved the necklace one of the hoodlums had dropped while fleeing. She proceeded to hand it to the old woman, but paused when she felt something brush against her right shoulder. Still agitated from all the excitement, she flinched before whipping her head around to see who was there. However, she saw no one else in the subway car other than the elderly woman. Camile stared at the empty space beside her and thought she was hallucinating, but couldn't shake the feeling of how real the sensation was.
"Miss, here's your necklace." Camile said tremulously while returning the item to its owner.
The old woman's eyes widened with immense fear as she sank deeper into her seat.
"Who are you? Where did you come from?" The woman asked faintly as she trained her teary gaze on Camile.
"I'm Camile. I was here the whole time. Didn't you see me sitting across from you?"
The old woman shook her head vigorously while regarding Camile with a fearful expression.
"No. You… you just came out of nowhere, right after they snatched my necklace! Are you an angel or something? Is it… my time to go?" The woman asked nervously.
All sound seemed to fade as Camile tried her best to make sense of what had just occurred. She figured she was very lucky the guns had malfunctioned, but couldn't understand why the assailants suddenly turned the guns on themselves. Even more bizarre was the fact that they thought she had something to do with it. By the time she arrived at her mother's house, she convinced herself that the woman was senile and that the brutes were on some serious drugs. It was the only rational explanation she could devise for all of them thinking that she had materialized out of thin air.
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