Getting ready for school on Thursday morning Emmy found she dreaming about taking a bath. She hadn’t been allowed one since the central line went in. Everyday it was just a shower using the special soap that smelled clinical and reminded her of being in the hospital.
Slipping on her sports bra she looked at the central line and hoped that the scar would be small. Looking down her body there were already enough scars. The large one on her right side where they’d removed the kidney was just a dark line now. All the puffiness had faded in the year since the surgery. The new ones from the chest tubes were much smaller but still puffy with healing. Emmy threw on Bruins polo, a pair of khakis and her new boots and headed out to get breakfast.
It was weird but once she’d been allowed to eat normally again, one of the first things she wanted was cereal. When she was small it was the one thing that was almost always in the house. Generic cereal in the little bags at the bottom of the grocery shelves was pretty cheap and something that her mom could almost always afford.
Emmy’s favorite had always been the fake honey nut Cheerios. They were just as good as the real ones, she guessed. Even now with living with Brett and Stephanie she still chose the generic ones from the bottom shelf when she went with them to the store. She ate her cereal, dry with milk to drink.
Stephanie still shook her head when she saw her choice and how she ate them. Really she didn’t care what she ate or how she ate it. Steph was just so glad to see her eating again.
School was crazy that morning. Overnight, there had been a water main break somewhere up the street and no one was allowed to use the water. The principal and others had gone to get bottled water for everyone to drink. The toilets were usable but couldn’t be flushed without dumping water from a jug in them. So most kids used them but didn’t flush. Poor Mr. Bush the school custodian spent his day going from restroom to restroom taking care of things.
Then on top of that during the second and third class change the fire alarm had gone off. Everyone scrambled outside in their usual controlled and yet chaotic fashion. Emmy’s seventh grade hall emptied out to the left of the building while Mrs. Miles and the eighth graders went to the right.
After twenty minutes of standing in the cold the bell rang and they were allowed back in. Mr. Woodson and Mr. Bush had determined that there was no fire and that someone had pulled an alarm near the gym.
With only twenty minutes left of class before lunch it was hard for Mr. Johnson to reign them back in. He finally gave up and let them work on the assignment in groups. The chatter didn’t stop but at least they were working on something.
When the bell rang for their lunch Emmy ran by her locker with Maisy to get their lunches. Then headed downstairs to the cafeteria. Theirs was the first lunch so they had their pick of any table. They always chose the same one, in the corner away from the food and the doors. The lines often backed into the room and no one wanted to eat with someone looking over their shoulder.
Emmy took a seat facing the windows and began to unpack her lunch. She took out Brett’s note first. “You impressed me last night. That was some good ball work. Tonight, the last night for a while, I want to see twenty free throws in a row. You saw last week how important those are. So do your shooting after you run. Gotta be able to shoot when your tired if we are going to win state next year. Love Brett.”
Maisy peeked over to read it. “He’s hard core.”
“He is. He misses getting to work with Jake and Tyler.”
“How much longer before they can play again?”
“Tyler just started his full physical therapy so he can probably start shooting soon. Taylor gets the cast off in two weeks.”
“How do you keep up with all that?”
“They made a big calendar on the fridge and have a countdown going.”
“Are you on there too?”
“You bet. I drew a big basketball on April 21st.” Maisy held out her hand for a high five. “More importantly are you still practicing?”
“Absolutely. My Dad’s been taking me to the church gym twice a week while its cold to shoot.” Maisy’s Dad was the pastor of the local Baptist church. “Hey, you should come with us some.”
From behind her Emmy heard a lot of noise. Maisy’s eyes got big. “Hey did you know Rita was coming back to school?”
“Cause she just walked in.”
Emmy turned. She knew from Mr. Case’s call that Rita wasn’t coming back to school here and this wasn’t good for her. “There you are superstar! Still sitting at the same table with all your pals.” Rita voice boomed in the nearly silent lunchroom. Mr. Stites, the school counselor, saw her and picked up his walkie-talkie. She saw him and shook her head no. “Oh Mr. Stites, no need for that I’m just here to visit with my friend.” Mr. Stites continued to talk to someone on the walkie-talkie.
She walked over and sat down next to Emmy. “So superstar, I saw on the news where the team did really good. Didn’t see much about you though. So sad you got the flu and didn’t get to play. Must have broken your little heart. Bet that stupid coach was disappointed too.”
Emmy soon knew who Mr. Stites had contacted. Rita saw too. She watched as Mr. Woodson and Coach Miles entered the lunchroom. She reached behind her and pulled a gun from the waistband of the jeans. “Now the party’s all here. You two can stop right there.” Mr. Woodson and Mrs. Miles stopped. Everyone else in the lunchroom screamed. A lot ran out while others just froze in place.
Mr. Stites worked to get those close to the door to leave. Outside the windows they could see students running away from the building.
“Quite a ruckus I’ve started, don’t you think?” She pointed the gun at Emmy and Stephanie stepped closer. “Now coach I said that was close enough. There isn’t anything you can do for your superstar now.”
“You want me, why don’t you let the others go.” Emmy was concerned about her teammates that had been sitting at the table with her.
“Well I guess getting rid of them would give us more room at our table.” She waved the gun at them “Go” they all took off except Maisy.
“Maisy get out of here.” Emmy spoke low.
“I’m not leaving you Emmy.”
“Oh how sweet Superstar has a friend. You know I used to have friends too.” She stood and moved around so the windows were at her back. “Superstar I had friends back at Jane’s House and you took care of that.”
“Hey listen I don’t know what happened there, but I had nothing to do with that.”
“Superstar, Chloe told me it was you that snitched, so you can lay off the innocent act.”
“Chloe wasn’t right. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t even know about the drugs.”
“Superstar I just don’t believe you. But hey, our paths crossed again didn’t they. Now St. Thomas that was home wasn’t it. Talking through all your problems with Dr. Brown, sure makes you feel better doesn’t it.”
“Now what problems landed you there Superstar?” Emmy didn’t say anything. “Well I already know that someone hurt you didn’t they. That’s the only reason kids like us end up at Jane’s house. So what happened to you?”
Emmy still didn’t speak. “Come on Superstar. What happened? Did someone touch you? Did a Daddy touch you inappropriately?” Emmy was fuming she didn’t really want everyone hearing what happened to her. Heck half these kids didn’t even know she was foster kid and now all this.
“No Rita I think that was you. I just had the crap beat out of me.” Rita turned quickly to face her. She put the gun up to the side of Emmy’s head and Stephanie panicked.
“Rita, listen…” She turned the gun on Coach Miles.
Rita interrupted, “Superstar, this Coach sure does have a thing for you.” She took one step toward Stephanie and Emmy stood and stepped between them.
“Hey, this is between you and me. Why don’t we get everyone else out here and we’ll just go at it. I promise not to break your nose this time.” That was meant to direct her attention back to herself but Stephanie moved again as she said “Emmy no.” and Rita pulled the trigger. Emmy was close enough that she pushed her arm downward as she fired. The bullet hit Stephanie in the leg below her knee. “Mom no!” Emmy screamed and ran toward her as she went down.
Mr. Woodson was right there too grabbing coats left by those who’d run to wrap around her leg. “Emmy I’m fine it just hit my leg.”
Rita stood there stunned for a moment, but it wasn’t the fact that she’d shot someone that made her pause. It was Emmy’s words. “Wait a goddamn minute. Did you just call her MOM?”
Stephanie watched as Emmy’s eyes narrowed and she bit her bottom lip. “Superstar your life is pretty much perfect isn’t it? And now you went and got adopted.”
“Perfect?” Emmy stood and turned to Rita. “Perfect?” Emmy ripped her shirt off revealing the central line and all the scars. “Perfect?” Rita stepped back a step. “Remember those drugs you wanted me to give you? The ones you fought me over? They were for chemotherapy. See this scar?” She pointed to the one on her side. “That’s from where they took out my kidney. These are from the tubes they put in my chest to drain fluid off my lungs. You’re right my life’s been pretty perfect. Anything else you want to know about me?” Rita didn’t speak so she continued. “You might have had a junkie of a mom, but my mom was wonderful. She was killed by a drunk driver and I spent the next year living on the street. You might have a drug problem but I don’t. I fought cancer and beat it. You might be living in another group home because you can’t get over the past enough to get on with your future. But I’m not. I found a family that loves me for who I am, orphan, scars, cancer, and all.”
Rita laughed. “You little shit! Shooting you wouldn’t punish you would it?” She took a step to the right “But shooting her would.” She pointed the gun at Stephanie again and Emmy didn’t hesitate.
She dove onto Rita and the gun went off. There was a moment where it seemed like no one moved. Except Mr. Woodson. He used the moment to get to his feet and move toward Rita. Emmy rolled to the side and Mr. Woodson grabbed the gun from a stunned Rita. She was shaking and covered in blood, Emmy’s blood.
Stephanie crawled to Emmy. Emmy’s hands were on her right side and her blue eyes were open. “Mom, I’m so sorry. This is going to change Dr. Hatcher’s timetable.”
“Oh Emmy.” Stephanie put her hand on the side of her face. “Sweetie. I love you. You just hold on.” Stephanie used her other hand, already covered in her own blood to hold one of the coats to Emmy’s side.
Police had been watching the scene unfold and rushed in once Mr. Woodson had the gun. The EMT’s were also there quickly and began to assess both Emmy and Stephanie. They got ready to take Emmy and Coach refused to stay behind. They’d bandaged her leg and she hopped along beside the gurney as they rolled her out. Mr. Woodson quickly stepped in and helped her follow Emmy to the waiting ambulance.
Outside the whole school stood just beyond the row of police cars that had lined up. The kids started clapping and Emmy gave them a thumbs up. Stephanie could only laugh and shake her head.
As they loaded Emmy, Stephanie asked Mr. Woodson. “I don’t have my phone can you call Brett and tell him what happened?”
“Yes you go. I’ll take care of everything here.” Mr. Woodson squeezed her hand. The ambulance drove off lights and sirens blazing and Mr. Woodson turned to face the mess.