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Love Me Never

Page 4

   


I quickly jump in, start the car, and pull out. Avery watches with a detached yet irritated twitch in her brow. I roll down the window as I pull up close to her.
“You’re sort of popular so I guess I should thank you for inviting me? Also for threatening me? Like wow, that was a really bad party but a really good threatening? I give you two stars for effort? I’m babbling?” I pause. “Stay in school?”
“You go to my school, idiot.”
She did it. She called me the i word. The most popular girl in school just called me the i word. I either have to kill myself, go back to Florida, or drive away really fast and not give a damn. I jam on the gas and swerve around a lion statue as I tear down her driveway, except I don’t swerve fast enough and one of the lion’s testicles goes flying in a fine haze of concrete. I leave behind a bunch of new enemies and a one-balled lion and I’m taking home a maybe-friend who thinks I ruined her crush and even if that sucks it’s still better than what I came in with, which was just three years, nine weeks, and fifty-one days of bad memories.
-2-
3 Years
9 Weeks
6 Days
I drop a considerably more sober Kayla off at her modest house on a quiet cul-de-sac. She stares blearily at me, her makeup tear-smeared, and mutters softly.
“Thanks.”
“Man, I’m sorry,” I sigh. “I really am, Kayla.”
She shrugs. “It’s whatever. I’ll see you on Monday.”
It’s not whatever. People just say that when the situation is too hard to put into words. If she still considers me a corporeal item worthy of being visually registered on Monday, I’ll be happy as hell.
As I drive home, the dark road winding around cow pastures and corn fields, the imprint of Jack’s icy blue eyes and his infuriating words echo in my head. ‘Because it happened to you, didn’t it?’
I grip the steering wheel hard. He has no idea what happened to me.
‘I don’t go out with ugly girls.’
A new voice echoes. Nameless – the guy I used to like. Love? Like. I don’t know anymore. All I know is he hurt me. I call him Nameless in my head. His real name still causes me physical pain. I breathe evenly, in and out, trying to dull the ache in my chest. I’m over it. I really am over it. After three years, nine weeks, and fifty-one days I am oodles over it.
I pull into the driveway of home and turn off my car. I sit in the darkness, pushing out all the bad memories and pulling in some new ones. I made a sort-of friend. Mom’s happier here. I haven’t seen Nameless in over two months. That’s good. Those are good new things to fill up the holes in the walls of my mind left behind by the decaying bad things. The good new things are flimsy, but they’ll keep the cold wind out for now.
I flash myself a smile in my rearview mirror. Being anything but happy is dangerous around Mom, lately. So I have to fake it hard, or at least fake it long enough to make it up to my room.
Our house is a one-story, with white doors and walls and blue trim. A rusted wind chime clinks faintly over the patio, and the garden is nothing more than a few patches of scraggly yellow grass. A broken barbeque slumps dejectedly in the corner by the leaking hose, and a dozen or so wilting maybe-red-maybe-poop-colored roses struggle to push up from the dying bush that separates our front yard from the street. It’s ugly in the day, but at night, with light shining through the curtains, pretending it isn’t a dump a lot easier. It’s the only decent place Mom could afford, but it’s a far cry from the little seaside cottage I grew up in in Florida.
“I’m home!” I push the screen door open. Our cat, Hellspawn aka Coco aka Get-out-of-the-fridge-you-idiot, minces delicately over to me and rubs on my ankles as I put my keys in the dish and take off my coat. Mom follows, her bathrobe pulled tightly around her and her face eager. She’s beautiful, in an aged-painting way, with gray streaks in her hair and soft smile lines. Her dark eyes are clear.
“Did you have fun? How many boys did you make out with?” She asks.
“Seventy. At least.”
“How many shots did you take?”
“Fourteen. I let go of the wheel halfway home and Jesus drove me the rest of the way.”
She laughs and strokes my head. “I’m glad you had fun.”
We both know I don’t drink or kiss boys, so it’s more of a morbid inside joke than anything. She shuffles into the kitchen, where her newspaper and some tea wait. Hellspawn jumps on the chair opposite of where Mom sits and politely starts licking his balls.
“Did you take your meds?” I ask. Mom sighs.
“Yes. Of course. You don’t have to worry after me - I’m a grown woman. I can take care of myself.
I look at the kitchen counter. It’s stacked high with crusted pots and pans. The floor is filthy, and she hasn’t opened the curtains all day - I can tell. But that isn’t her fault. Some days are better than others. It’s the ass**le who beat her black and blue who’s really to blame. If Dad were here, he’d be able to do something more for her – make her smile, at least. But he’s not. He’s moved on with his new family. I’m here, though. But all I can do is wash dishes and try not to make her worry. So I do that with everything I’ve got.
I roll up my hoodie sleeves and turn on the hot water, squeezing soap into a pan.
“I’ll wash the windows tomorrow after school, okay? They’re super dirty – whoever lived here last must’ve liked fog machines.”
Mom smiles faintly, but it’s not a real smile. “Thank you. I have work tomorrow, but I’ll be back before dark.”
Mom’s an art restorer – the kind who takes old paintings and historic vases and fixes them up for museums. But after the hospital, she’s been having a tough time finding – and keeping – work. She works at the local tourist-trap train museum for now.
“I’ll make dinner tomorrow, if you want,” I offer.
“Nonsense. I’ll get pizza.”
“Alright.” I grin and agree. She’ll forget. It’s not her fault – she’ll just get absorbed in her work or the darkness of the past and forget to feed herself, let alone me. I take chicken out of the freezer to defrost it when her back’s turned.
“I’m a little tired,” She says, sweeping over to kiss the top of my head. She smells like lavender and sadness – and that smells like ripped tissue paper and sun-dried salt.
“Okay. Sleep well.” I squeeze her hand and she squeezes mine before slowly ascending the stairs. She moves so timidly, still, like around every corner there’s someone waiting to hurt her. Tonight should be an okay night, if she was honest about taking her meds.
She shouldn’t have to take meds at all.
I wince and scrub the pots harder. I channel my rage and put enough elbow grease into cleaning the kitchen to lubricate a small car – the counters shine, the floors are smooth, and the sink is more spotless than a Disney Channel star’s criminal record. I strip my clothes off and hop in the shower, rinsing away the last remnants of booze, cigarette smoke, and glitter from the party. My knuckles are red and raw, the top layer of skin shaved off. Ah, well – a few injuries are to be expected when you punch an iceberg like Jack Hunter.
I come out smelling less like adolescent angst and more like almond shampoo not tested on animals. I bandage my knuckles and inspect the damage on my soul from tonight in the mirror. Mom’s curly brown hair and Dad’s warm cinnamon eyes stare back at me. They look a little goldish red in the middle. Dad used to say they were like little shards of ruby and topaz, but people with brown eyes search for the tiniest bit of color to make their hue unique. I call them cinnamon proudly, but the fancy-dressed DMV lady refused to put ‘cinnamon’ on my license and so here I am, fighting for brown-eyed equality still today. They have not heard the last of me - I will rise from the ashes and tango with pink-nailed, hoop-earring DMV oppression yet again.