It was a drunk truck driver that ran him off the bridge straight into the Missouri. They say it was instantaneous, and maybe it was, but mostly they say that kind of thing because it makes people feel better. Even that bastard driving the semi might feel better knowing the man he killed didn't suffer much. Four seconds of headlights and squealing tires and terror and then nothing. Just four seconds and life slips away like a mist, dissolves like it was never ours to hold on to anyway.
It's been two weeks. Last night we finished up the last of the lasagna dishes, one with little green beans hidden between layers of sauce and cheese. I hate green beans.
Johnny turned up the day after the funeral, hung over and sullen as hell. I thought Mom would chew him out for sure, but she didn't breathe a word. He was, after all, her favorite child, a fact she did not openly admit but had never really denied either. True, he was athletic and intelligent and handsome, but he was also lazy and selfish and...well, kind of a jerk.
My problem, I had decided, was that I tried too hard to please my mother. She insisted I learned piano, took French, and joined the cheerleading squad. None of these things I really enjoyed, but because they were all the things she had done in high school, her daughter certainly wasn't going to miss out. I was a total pushover.
The boys moved back to town. I think it was Matt's idea. They said it was just for a while, to help things settle down. Before the week was out, Matt got offered his old job at Honest Auto when he ran into Randy Smith at the Thrift-N-Save, and Johnny was being begged to help coach varsity baseball. This town is like quicksand, it will suck you in and not let go the second you stop moving. If they stuck around
Today I had to go back to school.
I was sitting cross-legged at the foot of my bed staring at my hairbrush, dark gold strands woven through the teeth. My hair was still a tangled mess, but my arms felt too heavy to lift. A loud "tap-tap" of a single knuckle came from the door. My mother opened it, pushing it all the way open with her hip as her hands finished fastening on a glittery tear-shaped earring.
"Matt's here," she said through a few bobby pins clasped between her lips. It took a second for my mind to process.
She glanced over my appearance and stopped fussing with her earring. Sighing, she took the pins out of her mouth. "Presley, you are going to school today. I know it's...hard, but you've had enough time," she said as if explaining something to a belligerent child. The bobby pins were wedged back in her mouth as she bent to examine her up-do in the vanity mirror.
"Life goes on, dear."
Something in my gut churned and twisted, I felt like I was going to be sick.
Satisfied with the securement of her hair, she stood up. "Five minutes, Matt's waiting out front."
In that moment I hated my mother.
Matt and I hadn't really talked since that night in the tree fort. I'd woken up in the morning with an aching neck and pounding head. He had still been propped against the wall, snoring softly when I clambered down the latter to my room. I'd hoped my absence wouldn't be noticed, but mom was at the kitchen table with coffee and the morning paper as if she'd been waiting for me. As if nothing had happened.
I'd gotten an earful for it, something about failing to fulfill my obligation to the family. There wasn't really anything to say in rebuttal, so when she finished what a "what do you have to say, young lady?" I murmured out a two word apology and hurried off to my bedroom.
When Matt had come in an hour later, she had a go at him as well. A louder and angrier go, at that. I heard her say something about robbing her daughter's innocence and turned bright red. Not wanting to hear anymore, I buried my head under my pillow. I heard more shouting, this time Matt's deeper voice joining the fray. A door slammed. A car peeled out. Silence.
The high school was close enough to walk, but Johnny had offered to drive me. Well, Mom had offered that Johnny drive me. She'd said it would be a good chance for sibling bonding in an emotionally fragile time. I didn't feel emotionally fragile, and Johnny was never emotional or fragile unless it directly involved some sort of insult of his ego.
This morning, however, it was Matt who showed up. Apparently my brother had developed some sort of stomach bug. He frequently developed such bouts of illness when he lived at home, I called it drunkoffmyassitis.
Matt's car was dark blue with tan leather seats. I think it was some sort of fancy something, but I knew absolutely nothing about cars. Oh, I could appreciate a pretty looking vehicle, but I was all about aesthetic. I'd learned long ago to accept my lack of knowledge rather than try to bluff my way through auto-centric conversations.
"Hey," I greeted him, shoving my backpack on the floor as a climbed into the passenger seat. "You didn't have to give me a ride, I usually walk."
"It's fine, I have to work early today."
Some sort of violent sounding music was playing on the radio, all electric guitars and gruff voices. The kind my mom definitely didn't like.
"So...you feeling ready?" He asked me.
The perfunctory reply came to my lips. Of course. I'm fine. It's hard, but I'm fine. Life goes on.
I couldn't force the words out. Instead I sighed. "Not really."
He just nodded, and then turned left at the next stop sign.
"Hey, school's that way..." I sat up and pointed behind us. He gave me a look, like I know, I only went there for four years.
I slumped back into the seat. "I'm going to be late," I said.
"Do you care?"
I thought about it. "Not really."
We stopped at the little Italian bakery on 12th and he got me a chocolate scone type thing and a deliciously strong cup of coffee.
He told me stories about when he used to work at Randy Smith's shop. The old mechanic absolutely hated customers, and anytime one of the mechanics didn't intercept any innocently inquisitive car-owners, Smith would end up flying off the handle. He didn't believe in the pollution of vulgar language, so his profanities were creative descriptions varying from ethnic foods to bodily excretions.
I was actually laughing a little.
It wasn't until we were leaving, about an hour later, when I suddenly remembered. I grabbed his arm, stopping him in the parking lot. "Matt, you had to be at work early!"
"Don't worry about it." He smiled, then stopped in front of his car. "Listen, Pres, are you sure you want to go back today? You can play hooky and just hang out at the shop if you want."
It was tempting, really tempting, and yet I knew couldn't hide forever. "Thanks, but I think I need to do this."
Matt looked at me for a silent moment, like he was trying to see if I was bullshitting him. Then he nodded and we got in the car.
By the time he pulled up in front of the school, I was feeling almost ready to face to gawking stares.
"Thanks," I told him. "That was...just what I needed."
The halls were empty when walked in. I glanced at my phone. 10:45, should be almost the end of second period. English.
It seemed strange, being back in these halls. My footsteps echoed on the glossy floors. It felt like ages since I'd been here.
The bell rang and the hall filled with a throng of people, the loud chattering and laughing contrasting sharply with the silence I'd been surrounded by for the past two weeks. It was a shock to my system and in that moment I felt frozen. I started to notice people staring at me, awkward sympathy written on their faces.
My haze was broken when a body crashed into mine. For a split second I thought it was an accident until I noticed the arms clasped tightly around my shoulders. "Presley!"
It was Tina Gardner, I guess she would be considered my best friend. We didn't have a ton in common but being about the same age in a small town had brought us together, and time and boredom had created enough of a bond to be called true friendship.
She released me and gave me an admonishing look. "Why haven't you returned my calls?"
I shrugged. And looked away, not having any excuses. I just hadn't felt like talking, not even to Tina. Her stern face faded and she shrugged too. "It's fine. I have to fill you in, you've missed so much!"
And like that a faint semblance of normalcy wrapped around me like a warm blanket. She guided me to her locker, arms linked, as she told me about the breakup between Kenzie Blake and Jaden McLane, the school's unofficial power couple since freshman year, and the big party next weekend, and Miss Vanderpool's awful haircut and on and on.
I didn't care about any of it and so I focused my attention on the menial details of high school social dramas, asking questions about who it was that Kenzie was caught sleeping with and what should I wear to the party and who told Vanderpool that she could rock a bob with that short of a neck. Tina pretended that my sudden interest was normal, like the good friend that she was, but her enthusiasm for the party was genuine.
"I can't believe you're finally going to your first party!" She squealed. "And I heard that Jaden invited a bunch of his college friends from Rim, college boys, Pres, finally some quality material I can work with!"
By the time lunch came around, I'd had a lifetime worth of strange pats on the back and eye avoidance and people acting all together abnormal. It was exhausting.
I slipped into the cafeteria with my head down, hoping to find Tina and eat and not have any more awkward encounters. I grabbed a cafeteria tray piled with some sort of sloppy joe meat goop. At least cafeteria food was one thing that hadn't treated me like a wounded animal. This day was horrible, but not unbearable, and it was halfway over. Soon I would be back in my room without anyone to stare or whisper or think anything about me at all.
Lost in my thoughts, I didn't see the group of girls crossing my path. Before I could register what was happening, Kenzie Blake was standing in front of me, covered in red meat sauce, looking down at her stained white sundress with a horrified expression. My plastic lunch tray clattered on the ground. For a moment all I could hear was the thump thump thump of my heart in my ears.
And then, " Are you BLIND?!" Kenzie shrieked. She jabbed at my shoulder. "What kind of idiot are you? You RUINED my dress! Do you know how much this cost!?"
With every other word she pushed me, the tips of her fingers digging into my shoulder hard enough to make me step back. Her behavior was typical, Kenzie Blake was known as a catty, spoiled brat and had no qualms resorting to violence. I saw Jaden appear by her side, whispering something I couldn't hear.
She turned her furious eyes on him. "I don't care who she is, this is a vintage Bernnati!" She gestured wildly at her dress.
Out of nowhere, my lips turned up into a smile. Out of everyone who could have made me feel normal today, Kenzie was the last person I'd expected to treat me like regular person.
"Don't you dare laugh at me."
I looked over her red-spattered dress, and for a second caught the eye of her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend/whatever. He looked apologetic, and a little embarrassed. I didn't want everyone treated me like I was about to break. I looked back at Kenzie. In a twisted way I was grateful, and it really had been an accident.
The slap came as a surprise. "You insolent fatherless bitch." She hissed. The words were harsh, but her tone...something about the way she said it was so cruel. Any gratitude vanished and was replaced by a fierce anger. In that moment I felt more emotion that I had since this whole thing had started, and it felt good.
Not two seconds after the words left her mouth I leaned back a fraction, formed a fist just like Matt had taught me, and punched her right in the face. The cafeteria exploded in a flurry of motion.
Kenzie was screaming something unintelligible, clutching her face as blood leaked onto her dress from between her fingers. Her friends crowded around her and a cluster of teachers rushed onto the scene. One of them began escorting me out of the cafeteria, I caught Tina's eye on my way out and she gave me a proud thumbs up.
About an hour later I was in the principal's office waiting for my mother. On his desk there was a little snow globe with a purple Mickey Mouse head inside. It had no eyes and a vapid, mocking smile. On the bottom it said "I've been to the happiest place on Earth!"
My mom was furious. She had to cancel some important meeting about this and that and when she saw the dried blood still on my knuckles I thought she might punch me in the nose. Although she's always seemed more like one of the hair-pulling, eye-clawing types, to be honest.
She asked me why and I shrugged. What could I say? People had been tip toeing around me on eggshells on day waiting for me to break. The first person who had no regard for any of my shells, egg or otherwise, stomped through them like a charging rhino and had ended up throwing my broken pieces right where it hurt the most. I had felt raw and reactive.
Mr. Hendricks, the principal said they wouldn't suspend me considering the circumstances, but suggested I take a few more days to "clear my head."
"No," I said. If I disappeared now the rumors would fly completely off the handle and it would be that much more difficult to face them when I came back. "I want to be here."
The both looked at me, uncertain and, in my mother's case, suspicious.
"If you're certain..." Mr. Hendricks said. "Nobody would blame you if you-"
"I'm sure," I interrupted. When his expression didn't change, I continued, "I think everything just...built up. It won't happen again"
I didn't mention how she had antagonized me, mostly because I couldn't bring myself to repeat her words out loud.
He sighed. "Very well, but it things start to...build up at all, you will let us know." He paused. "You will begin seeing our counselor once a week as well."
"That's not entirely necessary," my mother insisted.
"I'm afraid it is, Mrs. Banister." The older man gave her a stern look, almost chastising, then turned his gaze to me. It softened, as did his voice, "Presley, you're a good girl. This doesn't have to be a long term arrangement, just something to help you adjust."
I nodded my assent, and that was that.
The short ride home, mom was already making calls to reschedule cancelled appointments and offering various fake excuses about business emergencies. I slumped down in the passenger seat, ignoring her glares, since she couldn't berate me about my posture while on the phone with a client.
I momentarily considered how different the day might have been if I'd taken Matt up on his offer to play hooky and watch Randy's unique profanities work their magic for myself. My hand wouldn't be hurting like hell.
Even so, today's events seemed somehow necessary, like putting weight on a leg that had fallen asleep. Time to wake up.
AN: Thoughts? Where do you see this story going? Are the characters believable? Have you ever punched a snotty girl in the face? (it hurts like a mother, huh?)
Lay it on me, baby.