Before she left for school, Reina came into my room and said goodbye. Then Mom called me in sick.
“Do you want me to make you something for breakfast?” she asked, lingering on the doorframe.
I shook my head without looking at her.
“Alright, then,” she said faintly, then closed my door and let me alone.
I kept my head buried under my pillow. I just kept seeing Stephen’s face whether my eyes were open or closed. I saw him smile, saw his hazel green eyes glisten when they caught the sunlight, saw him running through the field with his shirt off. I saw him kiss me that first night in his car, then fast forward to two nights ago when his lips and hands were everywhere.
I dwelled on that memory the most, my last memory of him. I could still feel everything from that moment, his strong hips swaying like an ocean wave in an angry storm. I kept torturing myself with the fantasy that I had not runaway, that the girl never opened the door. I imagined that he had succeeded, and that I hadn’t fought back. This fantasy caused me unbearable pain, yet I continued to replay it over and over.
I was in total spiritual conflict. Part of me still did hate him for betraying my trust. He claimed he hadn’t been aware that I didn’t want it, that he had been too drunk, and maybe he was. But I had finally allowed myself to trust a man, to open my heart to him, and he had proven to do just what I assumed all men do—take what they want without consideration. I felt guilty for hating him, that somehow my hatred had caused his death. And I felt so miserable that he was now gone. Both for his sake and for my own selfishness. He wasn’t here to receive the venting the pain he had caused me, he left me here to suffer it alone.
In the evening, I could smell something savory coming from the kitchen. It smelled really good and reminded me that I hadn’t eaten in two days. I almost thought about going to eat. But I didn’t. It was my way of punishing myself, my penance, though I knew it couldn’t possibly be enough.
It wasn’t hard to fall asleep that night. My eyes were so drained and weary, they forced my mind to shut down so they could repair themselves.
In the morning, I heard Mom and Ross getting ready to leave. Mom checked in on me, but I kept my eyes closed and pretended to be sleeping. When she left, I figured she just called the school again and excused me.
I felt less today. Less of everything, just sort of numb, only my eyes were still sore and my head hurt a little.
I sat in my bed and leaned back against the headboard. I turned on the TV and stared at it like a zombie for several hours until I fell asleep again.
Mom woke me up when she got home.
“I’m going to make steak tonight,” she said. “Will you eat it if I make you one?”
My stomach ached again, a mixture of hunger and the guilt for that hunger. Shamefully, I nodded. She waited a moment longer, looking at me with concern, then closed the door.
She announced loudly when it was done. I dragged myself out of my room and sat with her at the table. I picked up my fork and knife and stared down at the bloody steak—medium rare, the way I like it. I didn’t want to eat it anymore, but I was already sitting here, so I took a bite.
There was an awkward silence hanging in the air. Most nights at dinner, she would tell me all about her day at work. But tonight she was quiet. I could tell that she wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what to say. I prayed at least that she wouldn’t say anything about what happened; I could stand the rest.
But she didn’t say anything at all.
After I ate a few pieces, I got up without a word and went back to my room.
I turned on my computer and started to play a game to occupy my time and my thoughts, not wanting to have either idle. I thought about emailing Haley. I wanted to talk to someone about this. About everything that was happening to me. My life didn’t seem like it was mine anymore. It seemed strange and chaotic, alien. But for some reason, I just never opened my email. I never sent her a single message, and I didn’t bother to check the ones I had missed.
When I had played my thousandth round of solitaire, I turned off my computer and went back into the kitchen for a drink. But to my surprise, Mom was sitting on the couch. She hadn’t gone to bed yet?
“What are you still doing awake?” I asked.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said.
We were silent for a moment.
“Are you feeling any better?” she asked.
As always with my mother, the moment she asked me if I’m okay, the tears sprang forth again. And thus my poor eyes that had finally recovered from their damage of yesterday were once again bombarded with more crying.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry,” she said. “Come here.” She held her arms out for me.
Helpless against it and wanting comfort, I went to the couch and fell against her chest. She put her arm around me and let me cry.
“I’m so sorry you have to go through this,” she cooed. “I know how much you cared about him.”
Yes, but she doesn’t know the whole story. She doesn’t know that I’m to blame. No one does, and no one ever will. This secret is my vice, and it shall be mine alone to suffer.
Mom made me go to school in the morning. She was afraid that I might start to fall behind in my classes and she wasn’t going to let her college bound daughter risk her education.
I didn’t want to go. I didn’t give a crap about my stupid education. And how was I supposed to cope at school? It would never be the same again, and I didn’t think I could handle that pitiful look from any of my friends or teachers.
But it was no use. She made me go. She forced me in the car, took me to school and dropped me off.
I went to marching practice like a good girl, however lethargically. I needed to go to the practices from now on, needed to at least attend band class even if I didn’t do anything productive. New York was only a week and a day away. That was the one and only thing that held a damn bit of importance to me, and I had to hold onto it.
Amazingly, Doyle didn’t grill me so hard. In fact, I don’t think she yelled at me once the whole hour. Was this her way of showing pity? I didn’t know the devil could feel pity.
After practice, I braced myself for my friends’ reactions and went to the cafeteria.
“Hi, Crimson!” they all greeted as I came to the table. Amber, Reina and the girls lined up to hug me, and I rolled my eyes behind each of their backs. They were all being way too nice; frankly, it was a little annoying.
The rest of my classes, at least, had not changed. Those teachers didn’t know. I was glad that they didn’t treat me any different. I didn’t want anyone to have pity for me. If anything, I just wanted everyone to ignore me.
In Art class, the biggest change of all was completely unexpected. I reluctantly sat next to Reina, knowing that she would act all fake and chipper for my benefit.
Then I heard the clicking of high heels, but there was no high-pitched giggling or gossiping.
Brianna walked into the class with Patty on her tail. My eyes were on the door when she came in. Her eyes met mine by accident, but there was no menace in that look. It was just a simple look. After a second or two, without changing her tepid expression, she looked away, and that was it.
Something had definitely changed in our relationship. It happened on Monday, when she and I had been made victims of the same tragedy. I remembered hearing her weep in the back of the room before I knew the truth. She and Stephen had history together, and even if they claimed to hate each other afterwards, they still must have had some kind of kinship. But the fact remained that she didn’t regard me as a rival anymore. The hostility we had held so creedal toward each other for all these years had been presently snuffed out.
I should get used to change, though. Now that Stephen was gone, I would be spending a lot of time by myself, brooding; my grade in math would gradually go down; physics would be less interesting; afternoon band practice would have no silver lining; the football games would once again be nothing more than a boring obligation.
How else would things change?