Rica hated lack of hygiene.
Rica absolutely despised unhygienic people. Just thinking about the slightest chance of her physically touching a “dirty” person chilled her spine.
She refused to drink from another person’s cup. She avoided sharing food with others. She would be utterly disgusted by people who talked loudly, with sprinkles of food spewing out from their mouths. People with coughs, colds, bad breath, stinky underarms, and smelly feet were amongst her list of worst habits an unhygienic person could have.
But out of all the disgusting things in her list, she hated saliva the most. Why? First, there were millions of germs and diseases one could get from ingesting a drop from another person. Second, just thinking about that warm, sticky texture made her feel sick in the stomach.
One time, she was in an elevator with a stranger, and as his face morphed into a semi-yawn, nose red, nostrils enlarged, eyes watery, she knew what was going to happen. She half-ran to the farthest corner as the man exploded into a sneeze. Snot and spit were strewn in all directions.
When she looked back at him, he was staring at her, disbelief apparent on his face due to her overreaction. Finally, as the elevator door opened she hurriedly walked to the nearest restroom. Her palms covered her red-hot face.
Because of this attitude, people had a snobbish perception of her. Sure, she worked hard to be the smart, pretty girl in class to make up for this little anomaly of hers. But she did not really have someone to call a true friend. Not one soul dared to be close.
All her life she had hated this body fluid (as if she did not have it and did not need it for digesting food). Still, she was very aware of what people thought of her, but she just couldn't help it. So, instead of trying hard to be normal, she avoided making friends. Until she met a boy.
Rica instantly liked Caleb. A wide-eyed city boy with a nice smell, who didn’t talk when he had food in his mouth. Though, she didn’t like him only because of those qualities. He listened intently to everything she said, and she felt that he was truly seeing her for who she is.
They got to know each other better when she toured him around campus on his first day. The second day, they ate lunch together. A few days later, they hung out after school, sharing each other’s taste in literature, movies and music.
Before she realised it, she was falling for him. Hard. But until then he did not thoroughly understand her distaste for germs.
It was a Friday afternoon and their last class had just ended. Caleb tapped Rica’s shoulder and whispered into her ear.
"Can you come with me somewhere? I want to show you something."
Her heart flushed. She had been waiting for this moment all along. Is he going to confess? Will he finally ask me to be his girlfriend?
Excited, girlish thoughts ran through her mind but she exuded modest behaviour. As much as she liked him, she didn’t want him to think that she was an easy girl.
She agreed to come with him. They rode in Caleb’s truck, and drove off to a somewhat secluded lake. Like a gallant knight, he escorted her out of the vehicle and lead her to a beautiful spot. He put his jacket on the ground for her to sit on. They picnicked by the waters.
Caleb thanked Rica for everything she had done for him. He told her adjusting to a new town and school was pretty scary for him. But with her being there, he said he could cope better. Rica blushed. It was far from a confession but it was enough to strike a chord in her heart.
Caleb, although not obviously, was dazzled to be with this charming girl. A mischievous idea formed in his head. He stood up, took off his shirt and pants, then dived into the water. Rica was dumbfounded at first. She watched him swim, his lean torso coming in and out of the water. He called out to her, saying how fun it was and that she should go for a swim as well.
Rica wanted to, but she didn’t like getting wet. Plus she did not think the lake was as clean as she would want it to be. She watched as he swam further away, her heart mildly stopping whenever his head did not pop out of the water.
“Caleb, let’s go back!” Rica yelled. But he seemed not to hear her. To get a closer look, she went knee-deep into the water, her skirt raised up. Gosh it’s cold. She called out to him. Nothing. Then she realised it had been minutes since he last came up for air. Is he… drowning?
Rica desperately called out his name, sprinting closer until the water was at her chest level. Caleb would not emerge from the water. Tears were forming in her eyes when a figure from her peripheral vision lunged at her.
Rica screamed as Caleb tackled her down, giggling. She cried out in shock. Seeing that she was genuinely annoyed and terrified, he was overcome with guilt and apologised to her. In his hand he showed a drinking straw he used to breathe underwater.
Knowing that he was safe and relishing the feel of his hands on her arms, Rica calmed down. Soon, the two teenagers were swimming and splashing at each other. For the first time Rica was genuinely having a good time, without a care in the world.
When it was time to go home, Rica was the first one to come out of the water. Caleb, on the other hand, was still swimming. She remembered how his eyes sparkled when he told her he loved to swim; that he always hung out with his dad on a beach nearby where they used to live. She smiled at the thought of him sharing this piece of his life with her.
Her eyes went to search for him. She spotted him pretending to drown. “Rica! Rica! Help, I can’t swim!” She chuckled at his silliness. He kept shouting like he was really drowning.
“I’m not gonna fall for that one, Caleb!”
Rica picked up her phone to see what time it was. 5:45 pm. Great. My mom’s gonna kill me. She thought. “Caleb Let’s go!” He, on the other hand, was still “drowning.”
Rica decided to wait until he was gonna stop his prank. She sat down idly watching Caleb “drown.” Sure enough, he was gonna sink and use the drinking straw to breathe underwater.
Rica sighed contentedly. She fantasised what the next day would be for the both of them. She couldn't wait to get home and text him good night, hopeful that whatever it was between them would be taken to the next level. Tomorrow would be different. Much different.
The colours of twilight bordered into the distance. Rica stretched her back, and as her palms supported her against the ground, she touched something. Something long and plastic. She picked it up. It was a straw… Caleb’s drinking straw.
Rica stood up. She couldn’t see him. Not a splash or a gurgle. She went into the water, “Caleb! Caleb! Caleb!…” Then something brushed against her thigh.
Rica stumbled back. Fear, shock, and confusion froze her. He wasn't moving, his eyes shut, mouth slightly open. A couple seconds passed before she moved even a finger. She gathered what little strength had flushed out of her to pull Caleb into land. He’s not breathing.
Placing an ear on his chest, she heard his heartbeat. He’s still alive, thank God. Recalling what she knew in first aid training class, she compressed his chest multiple times.
But her hands were too timid, and she really didn’t have much energy. Nothing. The water just wouldn’t come out. Wait, I didn’t check his mouth.
Yet before she could even touch his face, what she saw appalled her. There were weeds inside his mouth, sticky and covered with… saliva.
Rica held her breath. I-I need to save him. But h-- it, just looked so, so… disgusting. She took a deep breath, and one by one, started removing them. She also noticed how some of his teeth were crooked. Did they always look like that? She never noticed that before. Probably because she only saw his beautiful brown eyes.
This is no time to be noticing that now, Rica, she scolded herself.
As her fingers plucked out each weed, she felt that warm, slimy feeling she hated. Rica felt like gagging.
Suddenly Caleb opened his eyes and started wheezing and coughing. His eyes shot red and they bore into hers like a fish stranded on land. Rica was surprised, and backed away on instinct. Greenish water drizzled down Caleb’s mouth.
Rica looked away. She wanted to help him let all the water out all out but she couldn't move. She couldn't bear to look at him. Rica stayed still as a statue until Caleb could not purge out any more water.
She took a peek and her gaze automatically landed at his mouth, disgust visible on her face.
No, this can’t be happening. Please, no. She shut her eyes and covered her ears. Seconds passed. Rica shuddered, but not because the cold wind blew against her wet body. Because Caleb stopped moving and stayed absolutely still. Yet his eyes never left where she was.
That’s when she started crying.
News of a teenage boy drowning in a quiet suburban town caused an uproar amongst media channels. Investigators believed that the boy had cramps when he was swimming. The locals, disregarding the real cause of the drowning, blamed the parents for lack of supervision. Some questioned why the girl did not call for help when the boy was in the process of drowning.
For weeks Rica did not get out of the house, in fear of being caught up in the storm the tragedy had brought upon their town. Her parents were especially worried. She was a top student now falling behind her class. During all this, she spent most time in her room sleeping or listening to music.
Physically, the trauma emaciated her and caused disinterest in things she usually liked. Every night her parents tucked her in and reminded her how much they loved her. She would pretend to fall asleep fast as to not worry them.
Tonight, like other nights, her parents turned off the lights and left her room. Rica only then opened her eyes. If only she could fall fast asleep, then she wouldn’t have to see Caleb’s lifeless body laying on the ground.
If only she protested against going to a lake unsupervised.
If only she did not laugh at and encourage his pranks.
If only she could forget how despicable she was for not believing him.
I only she wasn’t so scared to touch him.
If only she wasn’t little-miss-germaphobe Caleb wouldn’t be--
The sound came from her study desk. A leg chair shifting due to the weight of a person sitting.
She held her breath for a moment as she listened. She had trouble sleeping, possibly her tired mind was just playing tricks on her. She sighed, displeased with herself for entertaining such horrid thoughts. How could she think of Caleb in that way?
She remembered his expressive eyes; the little creases on the corners that appeared when he laughed. His lips that formed a half-grin whenever he talked. Yet how earnestly they would shut when it was her turn to speak. She loved those lips. And often she dreamt how they would feel against her own.
Drop. Rica felt something wet drop on her cheek.
With her eyes still closed, she brushed it off with the sleeve of her shirt. But then it was followed by another, then another. Something liquid kept dropping on her face. As she touched it she felt that familiar, slimy, sticky feeling on her fingertips.
“I never got to tell you, Rica,” a voice on top of her said.
She opened her eyes. From what little light the moon shone through her window, she saw his bloated face - all features of a charming boy gone. Rica opened her mouth but a wet clammy hand covered her screams. Caleb hunkered down closer on top of Rica, almost covering her entire body.
She felt his whole body, soaking wet as greenish lake plants soiled her bed. She grasped for breath under his huge hand that covered her lower face.
Caleb lowered his face to hers and placed his mouth close to her ear. “I never got to tell you that I like you…” His icy breath raised all the hair on her sensitive neck. Rica struggled against his weight and tried to scream for her dad but every time she did so he held her mouth even tighter. It hurt.
“I know you liked me back too, then why couldn’t you-- why didn't you?” He looked at her with such confusion and pain.
“People told me things about you but I didn’t listen to them. They did not know you like I do. Still why couldn’t you, why didn't you...” Rica desperately shook her head. She tried to tell him it wasn’t like that. That she was sorry, truly sorry. If only you knew, Caleb.
A tear fell on her cheek. Caleb wiped it. What he said to her sent a wave of pure terror travelling across her entire being.
“I never got to kiss you, too.”
Caleb lowered himself down until his face almost touched her, firmly pinning the girl down on her bed. Rica squirmed and thrashed, but it was no use. She fought against him, but he was just stronger.
“A kiss from a fair maiden,” Caleb removed his fingers covering her full lips. Before she could protest, he covered her mouth with his.
She tried to push his face away with her hands. Her fingernails clawed at his face, peeling off decayed flesh. His slimy, sticky tongue forced its way deep into her. A kiss so passionate it almost killed her.