Leaving Jude and that small room behind gave me a new sense of confidence. But seeing what was happening in the unit took it all away.
My mother was on the unit. It was apparent. Her shoes were scattered across the hall, as if they were thrown in anger.
"It's alright! It's alright! Don't go on like that!"
Her voice was coming from Ronnie's room.
Of course! Where else would my mother go?
I ran over to the end of the hall. She had her hands on Ronnie's shoulders.
Tears were streaming down Ronnie's face; both her and my mother were shuddering.
"What kind of lies have you told me? I'm not good at writing, I'm not good at anything! There are so many writers... So many people just like me with the same skill! Losing one wouldn't make anyone miss much! I'm not pretty! Have you seen my face? Have you heard what Katelyn Smith says about me?"
"Katelyn Smith doesn't know what she's talking about. She's jealous..."
"Jealous of what? My illness? My attachment issues? Yeah, sure! I can't wait to hear about that junior year!"
"No. She's jealous because you have a way with words! Have you seen her essays? Dear, she said Tom Robinson was guilty! Guilty! And she used Sparknotes for Julius Caesar. I know that because her paper got that wrong too. You actually read the books and wrote good essays!"
"Being a math whiz gets you more places than being a writer!"
She paused and sighed at Ronnie.
"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself. You've been having a hard time with your mother. So, she's already being hard on you.. And this whole place, it is too. Who wants to be stuck here for summer break? None of us!"
"No.. None of us do..." Ronnie broke down in tears in my mother's arms. "I'm sorry I threw that tube of toothpaste at you. I thought you were my own mother, trying to scare me or something..."
My mother stopped Ronnie from going on.
"You're forgiven. I'm sorry that this happened.. The way it sounds, we're all a part of it."
"You're not. You didn't do anything."
"Then who did? Why did you. Break down like that?"
"My mother called.... She was saying she was going to give me up. She gets angry sometimes and throws these fits. Because I say something wrong or throw a fit myself. I've made her cry a few times. This time it was about me relapsing. She was busy, too much to visit me."
At this point I was standing in the doorway; they were oblivious to my presence.
"She said that I needed to get a grip and that I'm going to be seventeen in October and that I need to get a job and my life together and see the real world with grace."
"She tries and she wants to help you."
"I know, but you're nicer to me."
My mother laughed. "That's because I'm not her. I'm not your real mother."
"Maybe that's why she's so rude sometimes."
"Exactly. Now, I have to see if Johnson's around here. I need to speak with him too."
Ronnie nodded. "It's a secret, right?"
"Of course. I'll see you hopefully at school, in August. Finish that play, dear. It's a good one! And you, you're really a good one too. A good person."
"Thank you." Ronnie was becoming teary-eyed. "You are too. I'll see you in August!"
My mother ran out of the room and rushed to grab her heels.
"Kids... You've got to love them, don't you?"
She went to my room, thinking I was in there.
Thinking that nobody could hear her, Ronnie was sobbing. Loud, deep, true cries.
"I'm such a screwup!"
I eavesdropped again; I felt like I was intruding. Despite that, my eyes were still glued to the scene.
"I'm so stupid… Boys were supposed to be uncharted territory. People were too, but it was inevitable. And this... I don't know… There's no way in hell! I hate that I... My scars drive people away! Why do I want to be with someone when he's just going to be scared away! And those things a both being a tiger aren't ever helpful because I didn't earn these stripes I just gave them to myself. They're punishment! Because I did things wrong! And... I…"
A choking, loud, sob came from behind the wall.
"And does Mrs. Bontrager really like me? She spoke to me... But I'm just... Crazy. Johnson's been avoiding me so I must be some kind of nut like they all say I am. I listen to records.. I read old, dusty books... Why can't I just be normal? I don't do anything right? Do I belong here?"
My time was then. Then, I had to shut her up. I wasn't sure how, but she couldn't go on like that. She was lying to herself and I couldn't bear hearing it anymore.
She was dead wrong. She was, and still is, to me, a goddess.
My footsteps didn't rouse her when I walked in. She just kept going.
"I belong here... I've been here before, but this time, I'm going to stay. If I leave again I'll hurt myself and my mother and my father… Ihave some money and my parents are together and we have a roof over our heads and everything and I should be grateful for what I have!"
We're all the same... Ronnie and I are both just as sick.. She just can't cope..
"I should be happy I have two friends and a pet cat and a therapist to talk to me. Who cares if he's paid? Who cares? Because I don't anymore! I'm a psychopath! I.. Should just..."
Three, two, one...
I did as my mother had and put my hands on her shoulders.
At the same time, she shouted and I whispered the same word.
Despite her loud scream, Ronnie heard me and moved one of her hands on my shoulder.
"Johnson... What are you doing here? Your mother's here to see you."
Her eyes were red from crying; her voice was weak from shouting. And even when worn, it made me swoon.
"I was worried about you.. So damn worried! I refuse to believe those things you said. I listened until I couldn't handle it anymore..."
"And what are you going to do about it?"
"Well, what do you want to do? Ignore me again?"
She gave me a angry look and huffed at me.
"Why have you been acting so strange?" She asked. As she had so many times before.
"I... Umm..." I grasped her shoulders tighter. "I..."
I was sweating profusely in my hands, my forehead, and well, everywhere. I was nervous. More nervous than I ever had been in my entire life. If I screwed that moment up, I was bound to the fact that I would regret it forever. And ever, and ever, and ever.
"What? What reason are you going to dump me for? My differences? My… Hair?" She glanced at the drawers of her and Lory's dresser. Not at me. Not like I wanted her to.
"No, no. Never. That's the opposite of what I want to do! Ronnie, listen to me! Give me a chance!"
Ronnie then gave me her focus again. "This is your one and only chance. Tell me." She was waiting for a rejection. She looked like she was already binding her bandages before receiving her big blow, her ghastly gash that was never meant to be.
"Okay... Ronnie.. I'm..."
My fear was consuming me, and she wouldn't speak to let me ponder. I had to let it all go. Every last word.
"I'm in love with you."
Ronnie was quiet as a mouse and her expression was a big, wide smile.
"And what about you? What do you think about... Us?"
"I think a lot about us." She explained. "We're like two peas in a pod. Almost. I never thought I'd get anyone else to listen to The Beatles with me... Besides your mother. I've never.. Loved any other kid so much in my life. And I'm so happy to be friends with someone who gets me." She laughed. "I'm in love with you too. Before you ask, I'm going to say yes to your next question."
"What question?" I was confused. Baffled. Bewildered. I had no clue she would say she loved me too. No way in hell. I was still trying to wrap my mind around it. I really was.
"I want to be your girlfriend."
"Then you can. I didn't think you were going to-"
"I was too going to accept you.. Look at me! I'm just as mad as you are."
She let herself become close to me, she had one of her hands on top of my head and mess of hair.
"I love you, and I knew that the second I saw you here."
Still awestruck, I only smiled back at her.
"Thank you for saving me from my... Tantrum."
Then, there was a awkward silence between us.
We looked at each other for a minute or so during that said silence, as if we were trying to read each other's minds.
I was looking into her umber eyes, wondering how in God's name I ended up having her as my girlfriend. And how I hated her before and how I was in love with her then and now.
First kisses are always the hardest, or so I was told.
But when we finally kissed, I found it quite easy. Kind of a blundering process at first, but still, simple.
It gave me those butterflies I saw so often in the movies and gave me an understanding of those couples in the halls. And why they were as crazy as they were about each other. I was crazy about Ronnie just like that. I was mad, mad crazy.
She said we were mad. And in a sense, she was right. We were mad for each other. Mad, mad, crazy. And that's what love is. And that's what helped me learn what life is.