Lailee has still been distant.
I was confused, and I decided I should talk to her about it. I called her to invite her to dinner.
"I'd love to."
"You're not very convincing Lee…"
"I'm just not feeling well. I want to come, really I do." She didn't seem to mean it, though.
Nonetheless, she arrived with grocery bags full of sweet smelling ingredients.
She hurried around the kitchen, pulling out pots and pans, throwing the foods onto the table. I picked up a can, my brow furrowing when I read. "Lee? For some reason I don't think raisins go well with fish tacos."
She snatched it away from me, then calmed herself. "Jay, I need to tell you something."
My phone rang. Skylar. I could call him back later. I hit ignore. "Yes?"
"Oh," the moment seemed to have passed. The hesitated, then said, "I love you."
"I love you too, Lee." But this wasn't what she wanted to tell me.
My phone rang again. Frustrated, I turned the ringer on silent. She finished grilling, baking, sautéing and cooking dinner while I set the table for two. We sat down.
Immediately she shoveled as much food as possible into her mouth. I didn't want to be rude, but I didn't know how she could stomach this stuff—it looked, tasted, and smelled gross.
I mean, I liked chicken fingers, and I liked spaghetti, but together—not so great.
I was about to say something when I caught sight of my phone and the twenty six missed calls.
"Sorry Lee, this looks important." I stood, walking away from the table and hitting redial.
"Goddammit Jayden, why don't you ever answer your phone?! There's a REASON that people call!"
"What's wrong, Ange?" I wondered why she was using Skylar's phone instead of her own.
"Just get down here now, would do?"
"Where is 'here'?"
"The hospital, idiot!" She hung up.
I rushed back to Lee. "There's been a problem. Sky's hurt. I need to go to the hospital."
She stood up. "I'll come with."
"If you were stranded at the bottom of a lake, and could only bring one thing with you, what would it be?"
"Scuba tank. If you had to eat one brand of glue, what would it be?"
"Elmer's. If you had to choose between eating your best friend and eating your own tongue, which would you choose?"
"Why are we talking about consuming potentially dangerous items?"
"Because, Keo, we have nothing better to do."
Truthfully, Keo and I having the most awkward phone conversation I've ever had. This whole 'dating' thing was hard.
"Hey, Keo?" I asked after a moment of quiet. "Do you really think this will work?"
He was silent for so long that I thought he'd hung up. "Summer," he pronounced each syllable of my name with care. "I know we don't really know each other too well. But I really, really like you, and I guess I just want time to learn whether it'll work or not before anything changes." He said all of this slowly, carefully, because he hadn't planned anything out beforehand.
The truth was, I liked him as well. I don't know him very well, and that's a problem. I was willing to get to know him. And then there was another reason I wanted to be with him…
Hanging around with Lailee was great—she was my best friend—but at school, whenever Jayden was around, I felt lonely. I thought that it was fine normally… But what if I only accepted Keo out of loneliness? That wouldn't be fair to him. I couldn't do that to him, not if I really cared.
I closed my eyes, glad he couldn't see me. Did it make me a bad person if I still liked him, whether it was for him or for the need for company?
My hand closed around the phone.
When I hung up with Summer, I decided to treat myself to some healing, mindless videogames.
After a few kills on Halo 2—which is much better than Halo 3—I let myself think over what had just happened.
Summer didn't think she should date me. She didn't think it would work. And from the look of it, it probably wouldn't.
Nothing two sided works if one half doesn't want it to. And if Summer didn't want it to happen…
I reached over for the phone, dialing Thor's number. "Yeah?" he answered, distracted.
"Thor! Summer wants to break up with me."
"Thor," I got frustrated. I breathed deeply, then made my voice higher and more feminine. "Thor?"
"No you idiot, it's Keo!" Dude, I think Summer wants to break up with me."
"You shouldn't do that," he grumbled about my imitation skills. Then he got serious. "Why do you think so?"
"We were just talking. She thinks it's not going to work. Er, well, she asked me whether I thought it would work. And I had to convince her otherwise."
"But you did convince her otherwise?"
"Well, sort of." I turned off the game, sprawling out across my bed. "The thing is, we don't really know each other too well. And I don't think it'll work unless we do. But it was really awkward today on the phone."
"It's always awkward over the phone. Look, if you like Summer, you should want to be with her. But if you really like her, you'll care what she thinks, and try to make her opinion of you as good as possible."
I breathed a sigh. "If you think it'll change anything."
There's a cycle of emotions you go through when something tragic happens before your eyes to someone you love.
First comes the initial shock, where you freeze up and can't do anything at all. Then, there's inventory, when you try to figure out what happened. After that there's guilt, that this is your fault, that you should have done something to prevent this from happening. And finally there's a productive numbness so you can do what needs to be done—and break down later.
When I found Skylar on the kitchen floor, unconscious, bleeding from a wound in his hand, I went through each phase in less than two seconds, but it felt much longer.
I lunged for the phone, which I'd dropped. I told Ash to get over here, then dialed 91, letting them know we'd be there soon.
Then I called Jayden as I hefted my older brother's body into the car. I had to call him twenty six times before he called back.
When I reached the hospital, a team of men and women decked out in doctor's garments whisked Skylar away. I sank into a chair, utterly exhausted, and my phone started ringing.
"I'm at your house… No one's here."
"The hospital, Ash, we're at the hospital!" I hung up, pacing up and down the hallways.
Ash arrived the same moment as a uniformed doctor did. He looked troubled. "Ms. Quinn? Your brother's been losing a lot of blood… Has he been eating enough lately?"
I thought back. "No, he hasn't been eating well for a while. But what do you mean, been losing? I know he's lost some blood, but not enough to…"
"Let me show you something." He led us into a small room where my brother lay sleeping. The doctor reached over to his arm, peeling back the sleeve.
I gasped, and heard Ash's intake of breath behind me. Up and down the inside of Skylar's forearm were deep, angry slashed of red against pale, soft flesh. "W-w-what? What is this?"
The doctor touched my arm. "I suggest that he see someone once this is all over." His voice was sympathetic, but I could tell he didn't really care. "But for now; he's lost a lot of blood. Since he's not been getting the right nutrition, his heart can't get enough healthy blood circulating. He needs a transplant."
Jayden showed up with Lailee in time to hear the last part. I stepped forward, greeting them hastily then turning back to the doctor. I realized I didn't know his name. "Sky and I are the same type… You can give him some of mine, Dr….?"
"Just call me Dr. F, please." He ran his eyes over me. "How old are you? And how much do you weigh?"
"Sixteen, ninety eight. Why won't you tell me your name?"
"You're too young. Even if I let that slide, you gotta gain twelve pounds before you can donate. And parent's permission."
"It's my brother! Come on!" I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to Jayden. He put a brotherly arm around me.
"I'm an A positive," he said. "What's Skylar's?"
"O negative. You can't give to him." Figures. He is such trouble. To have the most rarely matched blood type.
Ash and Lailee offered. "I would, but I'm B negative," Lailee said sheepishly.
"I don't know my blood type," Ash confessed. She had the classic Ash look to her that immediately raised my spirits—she wouldn't take no for an answer. "But I'm seventeen and one fifteen."
It wasn't white.
I wavered in between consciousness and sleep, my body so exhausted that even when I was awake I couldn't lift my eyelids.
When someone tried to move my body, I writhed, screaming out, my energy returned for one purpose: the solid ground beneath me wouldn't be moved… Not again.
There was a cool hand on my arm, gentle, familiar. I stilled, opening my eyes for the first time in so long.
It wasn't white, like they say. The hospital was a soft, comforting blue color. It cast a halo around Angel, who had come to my side.
Her eyes were rimmed with a discreet red, as it got when she was angry or sad or both. I reached to touch her face, afraid she might disappear. She was so cold.
She grasped my hand firmly. "Sky. You're so hot." Her brows furrowed, and a nurse hurried away. She pulled up a chair to my bed, then traced my arms.
I winced. Were there still cuts there? I couldn't think straight. My sister was talking again. "When did this start?"
My eyes welled up. I lifted an arm to wipe away the moisture, only to find tubes attached at the inside of my elbow and on my finger. I couldn't speak.
"Why?" But she didn't really care. She bent her forehead to my knuckles and trembled almost imperceptibly.
I was suddenly struck by how much she has had to grow up, and how it was my fault. I thought about how she looked and acted too old to be only sixteen. I thought about how she needed a real parental figure.
I was struck by the fact that she would be much better off without me.
A nurse came back into the room, and I lifted my arms and settled my little sister a bit farther in them, where I vowed that I would keep her safe, even if it were from me; that I would stop my cutting and my suicide attempts because I needed to protect Angel, even if it was from myself, because she was more important than anyone.
When I began to feel sleepy from the narcotics, I tried to just hold her tighter, because the world is a terrifying place when you have no one to keep you grounded, no one to watch over you.
I would know.
Your lower belly—between your waist and hips—is supposed to be the core of your body. You're supposed to retreat there when the going gets tough, because that's the consistent part of your body. But what if what you needed to retreat from was the inconsistency of that part of you, because there is something alien, foreign, and touch that's changing you from the inside?
Jayden put his arm around me as Angel spoke softly to Skylar and Asher was led away. He looked worried. "Are you sure you're okay?"
I shook my head, looking up at him. "I'm… Umm…" I was about to tell him, I think, but a nurse walked over. Crap. I recognized her.
"Lela, honey, you're a little late, and a little lost. Lucky for you that I needed to pick up some extra blankets over here… Is this him? Come with me." She reached for my hand, and I pulled back.
"Lela?" Jayden looked perplexed. "I think you've got the wrong girl." He moved closer to me protectively.
"No," I took a deep breath. "I'll be up in a bit. There's been a family emergency." One lie. The first of many. I looked back to him. "Jay? Can we talk for a minute?" I tugged him to a secluded corner.
He gazed at me, curious and expectant. "I wanted to tell you since I found out." That, at least, was true.
He took my hand, his thumb rubbing comforting circles in it. "Lee, what is it?" He looked calm, but I was about to ruin it.
"I'm pregnant?" It sounded like a question. I wondered if he heard me. He looked so relaxed.
"Okay," he told me. He didn't freak or shun me. I braced myself. "So, are you okay with this? How do you feel?"
I was shocked. "Yes, I'm okay, I guess, but… You're not going to break up with me?"
"No!" He exclaimed. "Why would I? It's not anything you've done wrong." He closed my hand in his, the warmth comforting me. "Lee, I will support you in your choice… What is it you want to do?"
I stared at him, hoping. "I can't get an abortion. It's too expensive. But if I go through with the pregnancy, I'll want to keep the baby." I hadn't realized till now that this was what I'd wanted.
He pulled me close. "If you're going to keep the baby," he stated, "Then I need to be the father for it." He hesitated. "I am the father, right?"
That was when I started sobbing. I nodded into his shoulder and he stroked my back. I hoped with everything I had that he was, in fact, the father.
The truth is like running water—once it starts moving, it can't be stopped. But it's the same way with lies.
Memories are like the ocean.
They ebb and flow—sometimes they come at you gently, other times with such force they can knock you off your feet.
As Keo and I sat at our favorite spot—a secluded dip in the huge rock formation at New Hampshire's beach—we were, very uncharacteristically, remembering old times.
"Remember when we first met?" I did. Keo had been sitting alone, and I'd been about to approach him before a huge group of jocks pounced.
"Agh!" he'd cried out. Brent, one of the biggest, kicked his chair, sending him sprawling. Grant, another one, lifted him to his feet, only to knock him back down again.
I didn't know what I was doing, but I suddenly found myself over there, positioning myself between the jocks and Keo. Whether this was because I was just nice, or if Keo just reminded me of myself, I still don't know.
"Watch it," Brent hissed at me, and I sensed a warning that said a thousand things—'we get it, you're big too'—'we haven't bothered you before, leave us alone'—'last warning, leave or you're on the hit list aw well'—none of which I listened to.
"Back off," I growled back, defending my new friend.
"Of course," Keo responded. "I could never forget the look on Bryce's face when you challenged them."
"Well, they're assholes. They deserved what they got." This referring to when somehow their little drinking problems were revealed. Accidentally, of course.
They'd been expelled from our posh private high school—drinking and getting caught was a big no no—and we haven't heard of them since.
"Remember when you first started obsessing over Angel?"
"Remember when you started obsessing over Summer?"
"You're my best friend, and I love you, but you are senseless when you're in love."
"And you're not?"
I punched his arm. "No one asked you."
This doctor can't laugh.
Luckily, they had my blood type on record, and I could donate. "Aww, but I forgot my wallet at home." I joked, trying to lighten the mood, but instead earned a glare from the nurse drawing my blood and the humorless Dr. F.
The needle was damn huge, if you asked me. And hurt. She drew a lot of blood, too—I felt kind of lightheaded, but I wouldn't complain.
This hospital was awful, anyway. I mean, who doesn't let a girl donate blood to her brother? What sketchy doctor refuses to give patients his name?
I brought this up with the nurse. "He likes to be called Dr. F," She replied sternly, and she went back to her silent vigil of the fluid emptying from my arm. Shocker—she didn't laugh.
Charming woman, really. Once they had enough blood, she took the needle out and disposed of it in the red can facing away from me. I assumed it was the toxic stuff trash. She handed me some juice and a cookie and sent me away. I returned to my friends.
Angel disentangled herself from a sleeping Skylar as I approached, and Lee and Jay came over after conversing.
"I have something to say," Lee announced. Jayden put his arm around her waist, squeezing. "Jay and I are going to have a baby."
Ange and I were dumbfounded. I knew they were close, but… They were teenagers! Angel hugged Lee and Jay. "Congrats," she said, awkwardly. Wasn't this a weird thing to say, now? With Sky injured? Then I realized their point—to distract her with good news. To cheer us up.
But something was bothering me. "Wait a sec…" I demanded, placing my hands on my hips and raising an eyebrow. They turned to me, expecting me to oppose them. Lailee cringed a little. What I was going to say, though, was different than they expected.
"I wanna be the god mother!" I exclaimed, throwing my arms around Lee's waist. "Congrats, guys. I'm happy for you."
They looked relieved. I was glad. As Angel and Lee talked over the baby and pregnancy, I turned to Jayden.
"How's it feel to be a dad?"
"Almost," he corrected. "I'm glad Lee's happy."
"And you? How do you feel?"
He sighed. "I love her, Ash, really. But… I wonder." He pulled me aside so the other girls couldn't overhear. "I'm really scared. I think she's still hiding something. I don't know what I'd do if she were hurt because of me."
A/N Sorry about this. I've had this on my computer for months, but I've neglected to upload it, it seems.