Chapter Four: Secrets are lies.
The sound of the bus travelling down the highway penetrated his ears and almost put Anthony into a hypnotic state. The roar of the engine, the hum of the tires moving over the pavement and the conversations around him dulled his senses. He soon became lost in his own little world. His mind was far away and he could no longer hear what the people around him were saying. His eyes were fixated at the back of the seat in front of him even though there was nothing of interest there. His mind, however, did not slow down in spite of his relaxed state of being.
He certainly had plenty to think about and the length of this bus trip provided him ample time to contemplate his life. He never really enjoyed having too much time to think because he has always tended to think too much. On the other hand though, thinking about other things in depth does help him to keep his mind of Amanda. He knows the more the thinks about her that he would only miss her more. He is afraid if he lets that happen too often that he might become obsessive. So he distracts himself with thoughts of other things.
His experience out on the lake was enough for him to want a better life than what he has right now. The broken home that he lives in is just one thing he would want to be different. He wants a better life than what has been handed to him. As the bus drummed down the highway as he thought to himself that he has become a dreamer of dreams. He chuckled to himself as he realized the irony of that thought. He was never bothered by the fact that he had no idea how to make a better life for himself but he kept thinking about it anyway.
Soon enough he felt his eyes getting heavy and his head started to bob up and down as he struggled to stay awake. He looked over to his right and he saw an older couple conversing quietly. He smiled a little smile as he thought they looked very happy in each others company. The last thought that entered into his head was that he hoped that he and Amanda would be able to enjoy little things in life at the age. Sleep over took him and his body slumped forward.
He opened his eyes to see a hooded figure in front of him moving towards him. A chill traveled up his spine as this person moved toward him extending his hand. This person placed his hand on Anthony’s shoulder causing Anthony to stiffen as if the person was made of ice. Anthony watched as this person turned to step towards a throne and sit upon it. Anthony’s eyes moved to the floor where he saw a disembodied head. Anthony stared at the face for quite some time when he realized he knew who the face belonged to.
His concentration was broke when he heard trumpets blowing around him and he could hear there was a celebration for what appeared to be his great victory. He could only wonder what he did; who he did it too and why it was worthy of celebration. Was this murder? Was it justified? As that thought went through his head a voice in his own head started to scream as if it wanted out. He pushed the voice away as he did not want to deal with it. He felt himself waving to the crowd as if he was a conquering hero. He smiled as he looked over to see a familiar looking red head join him by his side.
He woke as he felt the bus slowing down as it was coming down the off ramp from the interstate. His eyes strained as they adjusted to the sunlight coming through the window next to him. He couldn't shake the feeling that his dream was even weirder than the ones that came before it. He was celebrated as a hero but he did not feel like he was one. He never once thought that the death of any human being was worth celebrating. Yet, there he was celebrating the death of someone he knew, or at least he felt he knew this person. He pushed away all thoughts about this dream and especially the disembodied head.
He took a deep breath. He refocused himself to that task at hand of meeting up with Amanda. The bus pulled into the truck stop and he wasted no time getting off. He grabbed his bag and immediately walked towards home where he would dump his stuff. He focused on seeing Amanda as he missed her very much. It didn’t take him long to make it here and shortly after arriving he encountered an angry looking Theresa. “Hey. It’s about time you get here.”
“What do you want? I got stuff to do.” He quickly replied as he walked past her.
“Just thought you would want to know your mother is sick. Can you possibly stop thinking about yourself and worry about someone else for a change?”
He stopped dead in his tracks. He turned to look at her. “I am not in the mood for your crap today.” He paused, took a deep breath, and then continued. “What’s wrong with mom?”
She did one of those half snorts that she is so good at doing when she wanted to show her annoyance. “She has the flu you idiot.”
“What? The flu in the middle of summer? That sucks. Is she ok?”
“She’s sick so NO”
Anthony rolled his eyes. “Is she sleeping?”
“When I get back I will talk to her if she is awake but otherwise I have something I gotta do.”
He continued walking through to the house where the back stairway is that leads to the basement. He walked into his room and it felt very empty to him. The only time he spends in his room is at night usually with Amanda. He threw his bags down and walked to the phone he had on his bedside table. He called her number. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. The call was picked up the answering machine. He put the receiver down thinking to himself, “Where could she be?”
He walked back up stairs and out the front door heading towards her place. As he approached he saw that her parents’ cars were gone as usual, probably at work. He noticed that the inside door was open as he knocked on the screen door. There was no answer so he let himself into the house saying, “Amanda, are you here?” He walked upstairs to her room hoping that she was just taking a nap. He stopped at her door to listen if he could hear anything. He could hear movement inside.
He was not prepared to see the sight that greeted him on the other side of the door. His spirit dropped as he eyes found Amanda sitting on her bed. Her face was buried in her knees but he could see blood on her forehead. She was rocking back and forth with her arms wrapped around her legs. He froze as all thoughts left his head. He slowly moved his right leg to step forward causing her to recoil in terror. He put his leg back down.
She looked up at him and he see that she had a black eye before she said, “Oh, it’s you.” He thought she must have been expecting someone else. She motioned for him to come to her which he did without hesitation. He moved slowly for her benefit but once he got close he wrapped his arms around her. She put her head on his shoulder and just cried. He was quiet thinking that the time for questions would come later. She eventually stopped crying but he did not let go of her. He lay back on the bed and she curled up next to him. They eventually drifted off to sleep, his arms around her the whole time.
When Anthony woke up the next morning it was like he was coming out of a stupor. He was so groggy that he couldn’t focus his eyes. His first thought was, “Is this what a hangover was like?” His head pounded so hard he thought his brain was going to squeeze out of his ear. His neck hurt too and as he attempted to stretch he tweaked it. Pain shot through his body. He then realized he wasn’t hung over. He just slept on his neck wrong. He sat up on the edge of the bed and rubbed his neck. He looked back and saw her sleeping. He saw hair over her face so he stretched out his index finger to move the hair. He tucked her hair behind her ear and saw the bruise on her cheek and the black eye.
He had a pretty good idea who did this to her. He rested his elbows on his thighs and put his face in his hands. He made the sign of the cross and began to pray. When he finished praying he made himself a promise. He would never allow this to happen to her again, even if it meant never leaving her side again. He was going to protect her. A thought then occurred to him that made him smirk despite the pounding in this head. “I am going to be her knight in shining armor.” He even afforded himself a little chuckle.
Slowly, the realization of where he was crept into his agonized head. He wasn’t supposed to be here and if her parents found out he would be in big trouble. However, since he still hasn’t met them maybe he could come up with a good excuse for being here. He couldn’t help but wonder what all she has told them about him. Did she even tell them they were seeing each other? He never asked and therefore could only speculate.
He got up to search for the bathroom with a major need to relieve himself. He slowly opened her door and looked around. The only bathroom in the house was downstairs. He was sure he would eventually bump into one or both of her parents but he couldn’t wait. He walked as quietly as he possibly could. He never spent a great deal of time in this house. He was here when her parents were at work and they spent most of their time in her room. He got to the bottom of the stairs and looked around. He couldn’t either hear or see anyone. “They must have left for work already.” He thought to himself.
He made it to the bathroom and took care of his business. He was washing his hands when he noticed a bottle of mouthwash on the counter. He took a swig and swished it around in his mouth. He spit it out then rinsed his mouth with some water to get rid of the taste it left behind. He left the bathroom and as he walked back towards the stairs he couldn’t help but look around. He noticed there was a surprising lack of photos on the walls. Even his house had family photos and individual school pictures. His mom even had a portrait up of her wedding day with Anthony’s father at her side. The house was also clean, very clean like it wasn’t used much. He could see dust in various places which made him think that it didn’t look lived in.
His headache was getting better by the minute. He was starting to think clearly once again. His thoughts drifted to what he actually knew about her. She moved to Jamestown 2 years ago when he was away at the Seminary. Her parents are work-a-holics but she never said where they work. She loves little pink bunnies and her favorite flower is a white rose. She likes holding his arm as opposed to holding hands. She was barely a B student in school according to all of her report cards that were lying around her room. She preferred to wear her hair down and never in a tail or braided. She met Charles about a month before Anthony arrived home and apparently their relationship was based more on physical pursuits. Her birthday was only six days before his in August.
There were several things he wished he knew better about her. He wanted to know so many things but could never think of anything specifically when it came time to ask. He would sometimes get mad himself for not ever being able to ask her anything. His need to know more always conflicted with him not wanting to upset her. He always suspected that there was more to her story than she was willing to tell him openly.
He pushed all of these thoughts from his mind as he climbed the stairs to rejoin her in the bedroom. He put his hand on the knob to turn the handle then heard whispering come from inside. He immediately thought she must be talking to herself but couldn’t make out any words. She was either speaking so low that he couldn’t understand or she was mumbling intentionally. He opened the door to see her standing in the middle of the room completely naked. His face went red and babbled out a quick apology then slammed the door shut. He took a deep breath.
She spoke to him through the door saying, “It’s ok, Anthony, just relax.”
Her tone was surprisingly chipper considering what had happened to her last night. He got a feeling deep down inside that she might be going crazy. He couldn’t help but ask himself if that is normal. She was standing in her room naked, talking to herself and acting like she wasn’t beat down last night. His eyes were moving quickly side to side as he was processing these thoughts. He was about to speak when the door opened and she stepped into his view. She was wearing clothes this time. She was dressed in a blue t-shirt and jeans. That was his favorite way to see her dressed.
She was looking him in the eyes as she stood there. All thoughts of questions slowly drifted out of his mind like a fog clearing when the sun came out. He could see the bruises on her face and that familiar helpless look in her eyes. He stretched out his hands and quickly pulled her close. They stood there in each other’s arms for some time before he broke the embrace.
“I should get home and take the punishment I have coming to me. You should come over and meet me in my room.” He managed a small smile for her.
“I would love to. You go ahead and I will meet you there.” She pulled his head down to her and kissed him. She was almost 6 inches shorter than him. He was peaking at around 6 foot 2 inches these days and might even have another growth spurt to come. She wasn’t short as far as most women go but next to her man she felt like a midget. She honestly thought that he was the tall mysterious man of her dreams. She couldn’t tell him yet but she was madly head over heels for him. She knew that if she admitted even to herself that if those feelings existed it would be bad for both of them.
He smiled again as he turned to walk down the stairs. He exited the house and walked as fast as his feet would carry him home. He knew that spending the night at someone else’s house was not allowed. He really hated the fact that he was only 17. Like most kids his age he longed to be on his own, to make his own decisions and not be answerable to anyone but himself. He slowed down as he approached the front door to his house. He wasn’t thinking very responsibly when he let himself fall asleep in her bed. His mom was sick and adding worry on top of that could only make matters worse.
He opened the door and walked inside. He was surprised to find out that the house was empty. His sister and mom were both gone. “I guess my punishment will come later.” He thought to himself. He quickly made a sandwich in the kitchen and descended the stairs. He walked towards his room and saw a note on his door. He recognized the handwriting as Theresa’s.
When you finally decide to come home get your ass to the hospital. Mom is sicker than I thought. I found some papers in her room before calling 911. You need to get to the hospital as soon as possible. You REALLY need to start thinking about her well being instead of spending all of your time with your girlfriend.
His stomach started to churn as he finished reading the letter. He loved his mother as much as any kid could. She did her best to raise him right and she was very caring. She did play favorites with her kids but she never intentionally hurt any of them. Jim, the oldest son, was the spitting image of his father. She always expected more of him than anyone else after their father died. Bart was always expected to fall in line behind Jim. This caused him to be quite the rebellious teenager. Rebecca was the one who always cleaned the house and cooked for everyone when mom was at work. She would only complain to their mom about the unfair workload. She was also Anthony’s sibling that was closest to him in age.
Anthony and Theresa were the least affected by their father’s death, which happened before they were old enough to really remember him. He died in a car crash that left many more questions than answer. Their mom wouldn’t tell anyone why he was out driving that day or even how the accident happened. Anthony did remember before that day she treated him a lot differently. This caused him in many ways to blame himself for his father’s death. He had no justification for that but he was the only one treated differently. It was very easy for him as a kid to make an incorrect connection such as that.
He joined the Seminary out of guilt but never told anyone that. He knew his mom was falling on hard times financially. He found out that he could get a scholarship through the local Knights of Columbus because his father was a member before he died. He chose to leave because with one less mouth to feed all the time his mom could save some money. Jim and Bart both convinced him it was the right thing to do for their mom’s sake. Things are obviously different now with just him and Theresa at home. When he left 3 years before Bart and Rebecca were both still there.
He opened the door to his room and saw Amanda had not arrived yet. He ran upstairs to his mom’s bedroom to try and find the papers Theresa referred to in her letter. He found some papers scattered on the floor. He picked them up and tried to put the papers in order. He found what he thought was the first page and began reading.
Dear Mrs. Sanders,
The following are the results of the biopsy we performed on the mass that was located on your liver. I regret to inform you that it’s malignant and you have an advanced state of cancer. There are several treatment options available to us now that we know the prognosis. We can start with Chemotherapy and even try radiation. There is a good chance at success…..
He stopped reading there and checked the date this letter was sent to her. January 16. His mind reeled. She knew she was sick for over 6 months and she didn’t tell anyone. Why. Why. Why. WHY! His world began to spin, his stomach lurched and he threw up the sandwich he just ate. He started moving but didn’t know where he was going. He felt himself going down the stairs to his room. Amanda was there waiting for him this time. She could tell something was wrong because he didn’t even acknowledge her presence. She moved to him and asked the obvious question. “What’s wrong?” He couldn’t speak.
He did eventually speak but it was only after he was able to regain control of his body. He looked at her with sorrowful eyes and explained the note from his sister and what he found upstairs. They talked for a few minutes and decided they would go to the hospital together. She had not yet met his mom even though his mom asked him many times to be introduced to her. Anthony would have preferred it happening under better circumstances but did not want to be without Amanda for the time being.
The walk to hospital was quick and uneventful. They arrived and found out she was in a room on the third floor. Anthony did not care for hospitals without out any idea why. The smell bothered him but that wasn’t enough for him to have that deep of an emotion. Maybe it was because this is where he last saw his father. He never thought about his father so he doubted that reason too. Inevitably, they found themselves outside his mother’s room. Theresa was standing there looking very annoyed. “It’s about damn time you showed up.”
“Can you cut that crap out for one day? This isn’t the time for stuff like that.”
She looked indignant for a second then replied, “Sorry. I am just really worried about my mom. I can’t believe this is happening.” Tears welled up in her eyes. Anthony was never a person she went to for comfort and he felt indignant as he felt powerless to comfort her. He decided to try anyway. He hugged his sister close. Too his amazement she let him. She buried her face into his chest and just cried. Anthony looked at Amanda and Anthony could tell she was deep in thought about something. She seemed to have a lot on her mind. He thought that maybe she wasn’t used to family bonding.
Theresa would eventually calm herself down enough to explain what the doctor told her. The chemo and radiation were not working and their mom’s condition was getting worse. He coldly told Theresa that her mom had maybe 6 months to live. Anthony’s mind went dark and he crawled into a familiar place that he had not used in years. The deepest recess of mind was where he would go when he was young and in need of an escape. He stayed in that place for a very long time. He didn’t notice his other siblings arriving or even other extended family. The only person who could break him out of this prison before was Rebecca. He would respond when needed but couldn’t process anything.
The whole family thought Amanda was amazing. She took care of anything anyone needed and came across as being very polite. They all saw her bruises and black eye but no one mentioned anything to her or to Anthony. They didn’t want to know if he was the one who made them. They all had their doubts that it was him. It was easy to make suppositions when a lot of the facts were left out. Anthony never left the hospital room for as long as his mom was in there. Amanda stayed by his side the whole time without a single complaint or as much as a sigh of discontent. The doctors kept his mom there for four days until she was strong enough to return home. They assigned hospice care to help out around the home despite Theresa claiming she could handle everything on her own.
The rest of the summer went by without incident. Anthony watched as his mother wasted away into nothing. With great difficulty he found balance between spending time with her and Amanda. Amanda was patient and demanded nothing from Anthony. Anthony did not let his mothers deteriorating condition force him to forget important things like Amanda’s birthday. He bought her a dozen white roses and a necklace with a heart shaped pendant. He did not look forward to his own birthday as much as he normally would have. He found his thoughts and prayers were fixating on his mom. The days leading up to his birthday would prove to truly unforgettable.