Chapter Five: Elliot
We were awoken by a door slamming, jumping up as if we had done something wrong. It was Elliot’s mom, home from her day job and mad about something. She must have seen the mess we had left in the kitchen because she started screaming obscenities at Elliot. She stormed into the living room, angry as all hell, but stopped when she saw me.
Mrs. James was a large, angry woman who always dressed in plain, ill-fitting clothes. She doted on Elliot’s every move yet had a short, fragile temper, and wouldn’t stand for any disobedience. She had always treated me in a weird way. Elliot told me she felt sorry for me because I was poor. It was nasty pity, and she didn’t like me hanging around her son much, either.
“Oh, hello, Isabelle. Um…what brings you here today?” She was visibly uncomfortable.
I had to make something up or she’d kick me out for “corrupting” her son. “Mrs. James, I uh, needed Elliot’s help with some homework. He’s really good at…math.”
Elliot nodded manically. “Yeah. Mom, remember that test I told you about? Well, it’s tomorrow so we need to study.”
“I didn’t know you were back in school, Isabelle…” She didn’t seem convinced.
“Just started again,” I lied.
“Yeah, mom, we gotta go, now! Lots to study!” Elliot was not very good at lying, his words jittery. He grabbed my hand and pulled me up the stairs to his room before she could ask any more questions.
“Nice to see you, Mrs. James!” I yelled as I was pulled up the stairs.
I spent the night at Elliot’s, although secretly, as Mrs. James would never allow it. It was just like the sleepovers when we were younger, except this time I had to hide under the bed and cover my mouth to silence my breathing when Mrs. James came to say goodnight. I had made a big scene about leaving to go home after dinner, so making myself known again now would cause a great deal of confusion.
Mr. James was away on business, as he usually was. I had only met him once, and he was on his way out the door. I was sure that Mr. and Mrs. James had divorced, but were trying to keep it from Elliot. Or Elliot just refused to notice. I confirmed my suspicions by peeking into Mrs. James’ closet where only her dresses hung. No sign of a man.
Elliot was very sensitive so I could understand Mrs. James’ decision to keep it from him, if that’s what she was doing. I would rather die than see that poor boy’s heart broken, in the same way that I would never kick a puppy.
After I was sure that Mrs. James had gone back downstairs I crawled out from under the bed and under the covers with Elliot. I was wearing one of his t-shirts as a night gown. He pulled on it and asked if it was okay.
I yelped as his cold hands grazed my leg and ordered him to put them under his armpits until they were warm. He did as I said.
“Isa…can I have a kiss goodnight?” He looked shyly up at me through long eyelashes.
I thought about why I had come to Elliot in the first place, what Sam had said to me, how Julianne had disregarded me, and I felt like there was nothing to lose. “Okay.”
He pressed his lips together tightly and I planted mine on his, softly, using my tongue to pry his open. His body went rigid in shock. He kissed me back, very timid and gentle. Nothing like the lustful aggression with Sam. Elliot’s kiss put me at ease, a feeling of comfort swelling in my chest.
I pulled away and smiled in the darkness. I could almost feel him blushing.
“Good night, Elliot.”
He sighed sleepily. “Good night, Isa. Thank you.”
We awoke in the morning to a shrill voice at the door. It took me a minute to orient myself, but I flew out of the bed when I realized it was Mrs. James, and she was coming in. Elliot had forgotten to wake me up! There was no way I could sneak out now.
Elliot looked dazedly at me from the bed as I hurriedly pulled on my pants. His expression quickly changed to horror.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I whispered, trying to locate my shoes.
Mrs. James was pounding on the door now. “Elliot! Get your butt downstairs, sweetheart!” The handle turned and I froze. Game over.
Mrs. James entered the room and immediately became rigid. It was quite a sight, I suppose. Me with my pants undone, hopping around with one shoe in my hand, and Elliot, in just his boxers kneeling in front of me with the other shoe, trying to stuff my foot in. I could understand her bewilderment.
Her expression grew furious and she pointed a finger at me, sputtering insults with fervor. “You! How could…you! Get...get out, get out! Elliot!”
I grabbed the remainder of my things, apologising profusely, and ran past her, still wearing Elliot’s t-shirt.
“Bye, Elliot!” I yelled. “See you later! Sorry, Mrs. James!”
As I ran out of the house I heard the definite sound of a smack and winced, feeling nauseous. That was my fault. But there was no way I could’ve stayed. I would surely have been killed, and that emotional scar would be too much for Elliot.
I tried to make myself look presentable as I headed home, tucking Elliot’s long shirt into my jeans and combing my hair with my fingers. I sighed in exasperation thinking back to the mess I had made for Elliot. I would most likely never see him again.
I threw open the door and frowned at Jimmy sitting at the kitchen table.
“Cookie!” he cried as I walked over to him.
“Hey, Jimmy. Where’s Kay?” I asked him.
His face grew sad. My throat constricted in fear. “Jimmy?” I shook his arm.
“Cookie…your mama’s sick. She has been for awhile. And last night she got worse…we tried to find you. She’s over in Saint Brooks now.” It took me a second to realize he was talking about the hospital.
What he said didn’t make sense. How could she have been sick for awhile? She seemed fine to me. Missy’s words from the previous day stabbed me in the side of the head. Tears brimmed in my eyes.
“Take me to her!” I shrieked, shaking Jimmy and looking wildly around the room.
He stood up from the table, trying to console me. He had his truck, he would take me.
When I didn’t respond, he walked towards the door. I followed him outside and stared rigidly out the truck window the whole way there.
Kay shared a room with three other people, which made me angry. She was hooked up to several machines, and clear fluid was being pumped into her through a tube. She looked pale, slightly yellow, and exhausted. She looked skinnier than usual, her bones jutting out sharply beneath her hospital gown. I was shocked. Kay had never been sick a day in her life, yet here she was, looking like a broken and discarded rag doll.
I whimpered as I approached her. “Mama?”
She opened her eyes slowly and tried to smile when she saw me. “Cookie.”
I grabbed her hand and squeezed it, although she was too weak to return the effort.
A nurse came in and checked Kay’s machines. She brought a cup with a straw to her mouth. Kay struggled for a few seconds to grasp the straw with her lips, and eventually managed to take a small sip.
After the nurse left I widened my eyes at Jimmy, a million questions circling my mind. “What’s going on? How long? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
He nodded at my confusion and told me to sit down. I grabbed a nearby plastic chair and moved it to Kay’s side, not letting go of her hand.
Jimmy explained to me that Kay had been sick for many years with a liver disorder, but it had never been like this. She got treated regularly. All those times that she took off for a few days she was getting treatment at a facility in the next town. Either Jimmy or another friend would always take her. Mostly everyone knew, except for me. Kay wanted to keep me out of it for as long as possible, her answer for everything. But now her liver was on the brink of failure, and she couldn’t hide it anymore.
I looked at her face and she blinked slowly in acknowledgement. “How could you keep me out of it, Mama?! I could have helped you!” Tears streamed down my face. Something occurred to me. “So, that time you…you took those pills? Were you trying to…?”
Kay closed her eyes. I looked at Jimmy and he sighed. “She was in pain, Isa.”
I put my head down on her bed and sobbed. She whispered that she loved me and drifted off to sleep.
I sat on the chair by her bed, watching her sleep, drifting in and out of it myself. It was late and Jimmy had decided it was best he go home. He smiled sadly at me. “Do you want me to take you back now, sweetie?” I shook my head. I wasn’t leaving. “Okay, well, I’ll be back for you tomorrow then, alright?”
I nodded and watched him leave. I looked back toward Kay and saw that she was awake and visibly in pain. I jumped up and looked around frantically for someone to help.
“Kay! What do I do? Someone help!”
A nurse walked in and gently pushed me back. She pressed a button on one of the machine’s and Kay’s face softened. I stared at the nurse.
“If she’s in pain, just press that button, okay, sweetheart?” I nodded. She smiled sadly at me. “Can I get you anything, hun?”
“No, thanks,” I whispered and she left.
I looked back at Kay and she was motioning with a finger for me to come to her. I walked over and lowered myself slowly onto the bed so as not to disturb the wires and tubes.
She tried to speak and I laid down beside her so she wouldn’t see my tears. “It’ll be okay,” she whispered.
“I’m so sorry, Mama.” My voice was thick with tears.
She trailed a finger along my back. Her breathing staggered and heavy. “I love you, my crazy cookie.”
“I love you, Mama.”
I let myself drift off to sleep on her hospital bed.
Days passed, but Kay showed no signs of improvement. She slept, mostly, and when she was awake she was too tired to speak. I passed the time pacing the small room and reading every pamphlet I could find. The days felt like weeks and my zombie-like reflection proved it.
Around the third day, one of the nurses pulled me aside and asked if I’d slept or eaten at all. I honestly couldn’t tell her. “Honey, you should take a break,” she said softly, pointing in the direction of a small lounge.
“But what if…”
“Shhh, hun, it’s okay. Here, take a few dollars and get yourself something to eat.” She handed me a couple crumpled bills and pushed me towards the lounge. “She’ll be okay,” she called after me.
And for a second, while I contemplated between chips and a chocolate bar, I truly believed it. I sat down at one of the small tables with my snack and took a deep breath, trying not to think.
The crappy flip-phone that Kay had given to me “in case of emergencies” vibrated in my pocket and I realized I hadn’t checked it in days. The screen lit up, two missed calls from Julianne, a few innuendo-filled text messages from Sam and an email promising 25% off for a limited time at the Gap.
I groaned and turned it off, not caring about any of them. I stared at the unopened bag of potato chips in front of me until my eyes glazed over. Unable to bring myself to open them, I rubbed my face and headed back to Kay’s room, leaving them there on the table. I collapsed into the chair beside her bed and fell into a restless sleep.
The sound of machines beeping wildly made me jump. I reached for Kay’s arm, but she was still. I started screaming and a herd of doctors and nurses ran into the room, one checking the machines, one feeling Kay’s pulse, one picking me up and pulling me off the bed and another unhooking Kay’s wires and wheeling her bed away.
I thrashed against the man that held me until I wore myself out and collapsed to the ground. Kay was rushed out the door and down the hallway. The doctor who had held me looked at me sympathetically and raced after the others. Someone picked me up off the floor and made me walk out the same way Kay had gone, seating me in a plastic chair in a lobby filled with colorful paintings of landscapes. The woman tried to get my attention but my eyes were blurry and I couldn’t hear anything except the blood throbbing in my ears. She gave up and sat beside me until my senses realigned.
The nurse put her arms around me and said consoling words. She said it was going to be alright, but I knew that couldn’t be true. I had felt Kay’s motionless body. I knew I had. I began to sob, but she didn’t leave my side.
Some time passed and eventually my tears dried up. I sat, stunned, on the hard chair, the nurse still with her arms around me. Another nurse walked into my field of view and gave the other one a look that could only mean one thing. Kay was gone.
My breath caught in my throat and I blacked out.
When I came to sometime later, I was not in the hospital, but at home, in my bed. I bolted upright and looked around wildly, feeling like I was supposed to be somewhere.
Suddenly, it all came crashing down. I felt so cold, and I couldn’t breathe. I got up and ran to Kay’s room, passing a sleeping Jimmy on the couch. I walked in and froze. It was exactly how she had left it. It was like nothing had changed, but everything had. Because now I was alone. For real. Forever.
I felt hands on my shoulders and looked up to see Jimmy, looking the same broken way that I felt. A numbness spread throughout my body. “Cookie…Isabelle…I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
We stared at the empty room for some time, until he pulled me away and closed the door. He sat me down at the kitchen table and gave me a glass of water. He looked extremely uncomfortable, avoiding my stare.
“Look, uh, I’m not good at this stuff, but, uh, here.” He launched too forcefully into an awkward hug. What would these crackheads would miss most: Kay, or her services?
He asked if I wanted some hot chocolate and then started talking really fast, too fast for me to catch. But it sounded like what he was saying was not good.
“Jimmy!” I gasped. “Slow down, what?”
He took a deep breath and put two fingers to his neck, as if to check his pulse. “Look, honey,” he said slowly, putting a mug of lukewarm chocolate water in front of me. “I bought you some time but…someone is coming, today, and they…they want to take you away. ’Cause you’re still a minor, a kid, and Kay…” He trailed off.
I stared at him, confused. “You mean…”
He sighed and nodded. A social worker was on the way to get me. To take me away from what family I had left and to send me to some other family that would hate me for inconveniencing them, and never really accept me as one of their own.
“Jimmy. Jimmy! You have to stop them!” I got up from the table and ran wildly around the room.
“Kid!” He grabbed me by the shoulders and stopped me in my tracks. Tears streamed down my face. “Listen!” He shook me. “You still have time, man. I stalled them for a bit. You can hide. Stay with me. Or do you have friends?”
I shook my head. “They’ll find me,” I blubbered.
He scratched his head manically, trying to come up with a solution, mumbling incoherently.
My head spun. “I have to leave,” I whispered.
He stopped mumbling and looked at me with wide, tired eyes. “What?”
My eyes blurred with tears. I knew it was my only option. “I have to run!” I shouted.
Pushing him to the side, I hurriedly ran to my room, throwing a few things in an old school bag, like underwear and socks and my favorite snow globe. I put on my jean jacket with the gold collar that Julianne had first noticed me for, although it was getting a little small.
I ran back out into the kitchen and Jimmy nodded at me frantically. “You’re right, kid.” He hugged me, his voice thick with tears and handed me a few crumpled dollar bills, ushering me out the door.
He yelled a “good luck!” after me as I ran down the stairs. I stood on the steps of the building, confused about where to go, my heart racing.
I looked at my watch and noticed it was almost time for school to be done for the day. I tightened my backpack straps on my shoulders and took off running. When I finally got to the drab grey building, I was sweaty and panting. The kids coming out of school stared and pointed at me. I no doubt looked like a crazy person.
I spotted Elliot at the same time he spotted me and he ran over to me, wrapping his skinny arms around me. I loved that about Elliot. I was never too crazy to be loved by him.
He looked at me carefully. “Isa? What’s the matter?”
I guessed he hadn’t heard, because why would he have, and I watched his pretty brown eyes grow wider than his sockets should allow as I told him the events of the last few days. He looked pale and clutched his stomach as if he might throw up.
I led him away from the school and to the playground down the street, both of us trying to console the other. We sat down on a park bench facing the jungle gym.
“Oh my god, Isa…I’m so so so so sorry!” He hugged me awkwardly on the bench and I patted his head in return. We sat quietly, watching the young kids playing happily around us, oblivious to the world. They seemed so small to me.
“I need to hide for awhile.” He looked into my eyes, scared. “Can I stay with you?” Even as I asked, I knew it would not be possible. Mrs. James would report me for sure.
Elliot seemed to come to the same conclusion. “Maybe, if you hid in the garage? Or under my bed…?”
I considered it, but there was no way I wouldn’t get caught, considering the last time. “Will you run away with me?” I asked him.
Elliot’s expression changed, sad and scared. “Isa, I can’t.”
I exhaled angrily and kicked a small rock. “Elliot, please…”
He started crying and shaking his head. “What if something happens? Isa, I love you, but, I’m sorry.”
I tried one last plea, grabbing his hands. “Elliot, please! I don’t have anyone else!”
He pulled away from me and I felt the last piece of my heart break. He avoided my eyes. “I’m sorry, Isa.”
I had to find somewhere else to go. “I have to go, Elliot.”
He wiped his faced and nodded, not looking at me. I stared at him a second longer before getting up and walking away.
My thoughts drifted to Sam and Julianne as I walked away from Elliot. Could I count on them? Some part of me thought that maybe they wouldn’t want to deal with it.
I was surprised when I looked up from my feet to see Sam running towards me. I was just outside the playground now, on my way to him. It appeared that he was doing the same.
“Isa! Oh my god, fuck!” He grabbed me and hugged my entire body. “I am so sorry,” he whispered. “So, so sorry. I just found out. Are you okay?” He pulled away and looked at me. His face soft and worried. I’d never seen that on him before.
My stomach fluttered with hope at this new side of him. I tried to smile but began crying instead. He hugged me again until I settled down. When I could breathe again, he turned around and pulled me onto his back. I wrapped my arms and legs around him and put my head down on his shoulder until we stopped moving.
We walked up to his apartment after I made him check that the coast was clear and that no one in a suit or black car was waiting for me. Very few people would know to find me there.
Julianne had just gotten home when we arrived. Sam had frantically called her on our way back and she’d rushed back from whatever pit Ty called home. She cried and hugged me when she saw me, talking a mile a minute.
I rummaged through their cupboard until I found a bottle of label less brown liquor and a little baggie of white powder. I did what Missy had done and snorted a bit off my pinky finger. I offered it to Julianne but she shook her head. “Isa, talk to me.” She grabbed the bag from me and I clawed at her, trying to get it back.
I wondered if Sam and Missy had gotten it from the same place, and the thought of Missy brought on a fresh wave of anger and sadness. I grabbed the bag from her and took another hit. There was nothing left to lose.
All of the sadness in my life seemed to disappear as I dove deeper and deeper into a drug-induced abyss. I wanted to feel like this forever, to spread it to the rest of the world and make it a better place.
I ignored Sam and Julianne continuously that night as they tried to stop me, instead focusing on the most beautiful world I could imagine; colorful, simple and surreal. The drug was my only friend, the only thing really there for me. Although it was a blur the next morning, I knew it was magical, and I needed to go back again.
I woke up fully clothed on Sam’s bed, Sam sleeping soundly next to me. I was confused and my head felt horrible. I saw the little baggie on Sam’s nightstand, a small bit of powder remaining. Without thinking twice, I inhaled the rest and laid back down, closing my eyes and waiting for it to consume me.
I lost count of how many days passed like this, blending together in vibrant, blurry ecstasy. I knew others still existed around me, but I did my best to pay no mind to them. I wanted to wallow, and any intruders in my realm were met with aggression.
Ty had all but moved in with Julianne, I’d learned, and made an appearance sometime around the second day, although she still insisted he was just a rebound. I laughed at her and commentated loudly and crudely on their every interaction.
“Why don’t you take a minute from sucking his dick and realize you’re doomed to end up married to this sad little shit,” I spat aggressively from where I was sprawled on the floor.
“You don’t have to be so honest, Isa,” she said pointedly.
I laughed again and took a long swig from the bottle of alcohol I was holding. Julianne seemed to be growing tired of me. I heard her whispering to Sam about me, and he told her to be quiet, let me grieve. That confused me. I wasn’t grieving, I was living in color.
Missy stopped by one night, and I jumped up excitedly as she walked through the door, hoping she had brought me more powder. She hadn’t. I groaned. “Fuck off then, Missy.”
She looked at me sadly and then at Sam. I threw my shoe at her. “Stop eyeing my man.” I could tell I was slurring, but I felt too warm and free to care.
Missy sighed and came to sit by me on the floor. “Honey…” I couldn’t stand the pitiful look she gave me. “I am. So. Sorry. You have every right to do this to yourself.”
I pushed her away, rambling about her conspiracy to steal Sam from me.
She shook her head, looking like she might cry. Sam pulled her off the ground. “Thanks for coming, Missy. I didn’t know who else I could call…”
Elliot’s face flashed before my eyes, and then Dane’s. I glared at him, my eyes filling with frustration tears. Everyone in the room had a look of fear on their faces, mixed with the most awful pity. A rush of red blurred my vision and my throat grew hot.
I stood up. “Stop looking at me!” I screamed at them, running out of the apartment and throwing my bottle at the hallway wall, the glass smashing around me. I ran out into the street and screamed at the top of my lungs into the brisk night air. A homeless man on the corner started awake and gave me the finger.
“Leave me alone!” I yelled at him in response.
I took off running—running until my legs hurt and my lungs felt like they would burst in my chest. When I could no longer breathe, I stopped and collapsed to my knees, putting my face in my hands. I sat there, in the middle of a city street, until I heard the sound of feet hitting the pavement behind me. I guessed who it was, and I was right.
Sam knelt down beside me, gently putting his arms around my shoulders. “Is this okay?” he asked timidly.
I hated the sadness in his voice, I wanted his aggression. I slapped him in the face.
He cried out for me to stop and I struggled against him. He let go and I did it again. This time he pinned my arms down and put the weight of his body on me. That was more like it.
“Isa, you need to tell me what you want from me.” Keeping my arms pinned, he looked at my eyes.
The realization that he didn’t know made my throat tighten with tears. Did he feel anything for me at all? I knew I felt something for him, but now I didn’t know whether that feeling was love or lust or hate. What did I want from him? I stared back at his eyes, trying to make him see the answer, but nothing registered on his face.
“I want…” You to love me, I thought.
His face was eager, awaiting the answer that would solve everything.
“…to leave,” I said instead.
He didn’t seem to know what to do with that except nod and hug me, patting my head like I was nothing more than a stupid child with big ideas that didn’t belong in the regular world.
He brought me back inside once I’d calmed down and made me some coffee. My anger evaporated and I melted into a puddle of tears. I apologized profusely, to Sam, to Julianne, and even to the good-for-nothings Missy and Ty. They all claimed to understand, but I knew otherwise. It didn’t matter anyways—I’d made up my mind. I had to leave.
If Sam or Elliot wouldn’t leave with me, I had no choice but to go myself. Here, my life was riddled with a sickness, and I was sure that leaving would be the cure.
When we went to bed that night I kissed Julianne and told her I loved her. I gave my whole self to Sam, for the last time. I kissed him with the most fervent passion I could muster, and loved him with every inch of my body. He was surprised, but not resistant, thinking he was giving me what I wanted.
But what I wanted wasn’t here. I was a hollow shell, a forgotten stuffed animal lying limp in the gutter. The anger sitting in my stomach was not something I wanted to share, not with Sam, not with anyone. So, I had to find another place for it. And the restlessness it transformed into would not allow me to stay.
Once Sam had fallen asleep, and the rest of the apartment was quiet, I grabbed my things and dressed, tip-toeing out the front door. I didn’t look back. But it was easy not to.
The few dollars Jimmy had given me would be enough for a bus ticket to the next city. From there I would find ways to get farther and farther away, until I was on the other side of the world, or at least in the next state.
The bus stop was empty except for another girl, a few years older than me. She was beautiful, in a rough kind of way—her eyeliner too thick to be attractive and her purple hair thinning in a few places, almost leaving bald spots. Her short skirt was not doing a good job at compensating for the gangly look of her legs and her complete lack of an ass. Her boobs were enormous, though, so I gathered that most people didn’t notice the other things. She jiggled one of those legs wildly. She nodded at me and I nodded back. This was the bus for lost people, I gathered.
The bus came quickly, giving me no time to second guess myself or consider alternatives. Those people already seated looked just as distressed as I felt, and nodded at me as if I was finally in the right place. I wondered how I looked to them.
I found a seat near the back and looked cautiously around at the other passengers. No one was smiling and those that caught my eye looked desperate and scared. The bus started moving, my heart speeding up with it. I tried to take deep breaths but my mind spun to quickly to focus.
The girl with purple hair sat in the row across from me. Suddenly she moved towards me and offered the paper bag from her sandwich. “Here,” she said, waving it at me when I didn’t take it. “It’ll help.”
I nodded and took it from her, holding it over my mouth and breathing in and out until my breath and heart slowed. It worked, and I wanted to ask her why but didn’t want her to think of me as stupid.
“Your first time?” she mumbled, her mouth full of sandwich.
I didn’t know what she meant. Was there something special about this bus? It was early. Maybe I’d been right—these were lost people. I nodded in response, unsure of what to say.
She ignored me for the rest of the trip, which I couldn’t blame her for. I stared at my reflection in the dark window.
I stayed on the bus until its last stop, a new city and an even seedier neighborhood than the one I had just left, boarded up windows and graffiti everywhere I looked. Purple Hair girl got off with me, as well as an older man that was snorting and sneezing loudly into the air.
I stood under the flickering light of the bus stop as the bus pulled away, rigid with fear and indecision of where to go next.
After a few minutes, a voice yelled at me. “Hey!” It was Purple Hair, walking back towards me from the way she had headed.
I stared at her. “Are you lost?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that.
She came up to me and peered into my eyes. “Are you high?”
I didn’t know what the answer to that one was either.
She sighed. “Come with me, girl,” she said, and grabbed my arm, pulling me with her.