The Boy in the Gray Hoodie

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SEVEN | Delete

It wasn’t easy being seventeen. Too young to be considered a ‘grown-up’ by anyone but yourself, and too old to swim at the public pool for free. Still, adults had such a sweet deal according to Lisa’s observations. They could go where they wanted, make their own decisions, and be cruel whenever they felt like it. Seventeen was so close to eighteen, which was basically adulthood at it’s finest. Isn’t that what everyone said?

Except there was just one problem. Every adult she’d ever met was utterly miserable. Adolescence seemed to end with the realization that it was easier to hate your life than try for anything better. Her parents had hated their life together. And isn’t hatred at the core of every divorce? Or is it indifference that drives the deepest wedge between humans?

Lisa sat on the living room floor pondering these questions, waiting for her crimes to be discovered. The evidence was everywhere—on the walls, the furniture, her hands, in her hair, across one eyebrow...

She knew exactly what would happen when her father got home. The lecture that would ensue, the fake calm, the silence. How closely are silence and indifference related? Could they be siblings? Or distant cousins, like the kind that can legally marry?

It was getting late. The sun had gone down. Amber was probably already sleeping easily with her clean conscience while the rest of the world did whatever ‘other’ people do. Everyone she didn’t know, couldn’t know, who lived lives she never would. People who exist as ideals, like the wholesome, perfect family in that one car commercial. Fake people.

The real version of herself—the physical thing curled up on the carpet—wasn’t an ideal. Lisa was not the kind of daughter every parent dreamed of, that was for sure. She didn’t fall prey to stereotypes or mimic angsty teen movie characters. She wasn’t fake. More like a copy or a reproduction. Lisa was the product of two unique sets of DNA and guaranteed to turn out a little bit like both of her parents. That was the ultimate sham—the promise of a fingerprint like no other mixed with an expectation of inheritance. Both her parents were doctors. They healed things. To be an individual, she had no choice but to do the opposite. Destruction was the only way to be her own person. Toss her coffee onto someone’s sweater. Scuff her shoes. Step outside the imaginary and into the real. It was the only way to feel alive.

Lisa sat straight up at the sound of the front door opening. She stared at the entryway, waiting. When he stepped into the hall, he saw her. His eyes moved over her body, taking in the paint smeared all over her clothes, and then he saw the rest. The lines around his mouth tightened, and he took off his coat.

“Hi dad,” she waved, a smile forming on her lips.

He tossed his coat onto the entryway table and turned his back on her without a word, heading into the kitchen. She heard the fridge open and the sound of a glass clinking against the countertop. A moment later, he carried a tumbler of wine up the stairs without looking at her.

Look at me. I’m here. I exist. Look at me!

Lisa kept her gaze locked on the staircase until he was out of sight. Then she began to breathe again. She wasn’t surprised at all. She knew him too well—as well as she knew herself. They were, as father and daughter, partly the same person. Outside, she chuckled a little and laid back down on the carpet. Inside, there was nothing to laugh at.

***

E7 didn’t want it to be real. The blood, the suits charging in with a gurney to strap him down, the needles. He wanted it all to be some kind of terrible fever dream, like the kind he had after the injections that made him see all the doctors melting in their suits. That way he would wake up, and none of this would’ve happened.

The first thing the doctors did after strapping him to the gurney was a quick injection without an IV. There was no time to hook him up to a drip. His actions had caused an emergency reaction that called for urgency.

The doctor with the black gloves stood back and watched. Someone handed her a towel and she wiped the splatter of blood from her mask and the front of her suit where it had sprayed vertically up her chest. E7 closed his eyes, not wanting to see the towel smear red over the white surface. He could still feel the warm, sticky liquid on his hands. No one had given him a cloth to clean himself up.

His eyes rolled back, vision pulled away by the sedative. But he wasn’t fully unconscious and could hear some of the doctors speaking urgently to one another about running tests. James had ordered a plethora of samples and it took the team nearly an hour to gather everything, including what was left of the rabbit. Someone complained that there were only bits of fur mixed with bone. They wouldn’t be able to examine its body to discover how it had died. Was it crushed on the outside, splattered to oblivion? Or had it imploded somehow, parts scattering from the pressure?

It was hours before the injection began to wear off. E7 felt control slowly returning—enough to open his eyes and peer around the room. It was clean again, and the mirror had been repaired as well. He looked at the remaining doctors, thankful to see only blue gloves. The woman—whoever she was—had left. Relief washed over him and he felt his emotions rising. He began to tremble on the gurney, quivering the restraints and rattling the wheels. When he looked over, the mirror was shaking too. In it, he saw that the blood still covered his hands and his clothes. Evidence of what he had done. Frustrated, he let out a sharp, pained cry and squeezed his eyes shut.

“He’s waking up.”

E7 shook his head as if to deny that he was fully conscious. If he went back to sleep, maybe he would forget everything that had happened. Sometimes the injections took away some of his memories. James had told him before about things that had happened during the tests—things E7 had no recollection of doing. He’d hoped that would be the case this time, only it hadn’t worked out that way. He couldn’t undo what had been done, not even in his own mind. He was powerless.

“Take it easy, now,” a doctor warned carefully. “There’s no need to get upset...”

“Leave me alone,” E7 said through clenched teeth. Anger coursed through him. None of this would’ve happened if James hadn’t given him the rabbit in the first place. E7 had begged him not to leave the tiny creature in the room. He’d known something bad would happen to it, no matter how hard he tried to stay calm. James had known too. So...why? Why did he do nothing to stop E7 from hurting it? “I want to talk to James,” he said, opening his eyes to stare at the mask of the closest doctor.

“Dr. Crane isn’t here. You can tell me what you want to say, and I’ll pass on the message.”

That’s not good enough. E7 shook his head, pulling against the restraints. The doctor flinched, backing away. He stopped moving, hurting inside. Not because of any real pain, but from the fear displayed in the language of their bodies. Clenched hands, rigid backs, feet planted lightly and ready to run. It was no secret that they were afraid of him. But he couldn’t do anything about it. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to talk to James,” E7 insisted, a tremor in his voice.

“Just relax,” they responded, ignoring him. When they reached into their pocket for a syringe, E7′s eyes widened.

“No,” he started shouting. “No, no, no!” All three doctors moved back in surprise and they glanced around the room at each other, wondering what to do. E7 continued to yell and scream at them as loudly as he could.

“What’s wrong with him?” one of them asked.

“I have no idea.”

Another doctor entered the room with a second syringe, uncapping it and pressing it into E7′s skin amidst his loud but ineffective resistance. Arching his back, he let out one last cry before the medicine overtook him and a heavy, suffocating sleep returned. As his eyes closed, he took one last look at the syringe in the doctor’s hands and saw a pair of purple gloves. A small, weak gasp escaped him, fingers reaching toward her. “S-So-Sot...” he couldn’t quite say it.

Still holding the syringe, Soto looked away from him to stare at the other doctors. “Somebody better call Crane.”

***

James came thundering down the stairs just minutes after he went up them, still carrying the tumbler full of wine in one hand. He was wearing his work clothes and his shoes, needing only to slip on his coat and grab the car keys before heading out the door. Lisa watched his movements with a steady gaze, wondering if he was rushing to someplace, or away from someone.

“Where are you going?” she asked, pushing herself up from the floor. She scuffed her feet against the carpet as she approached the entryway.

“There was an unexpected event at work. I have to go back.” He answered calmly before waving a hand in her direction. “We’ll talk about that later,” he mumbled, glancing up to squint at the living room. All the bright colors probably made him feel uncomfortable—like one of those people who are allergic to the sun suddenly being dropped on the beach in August.

“What about taking me to Pam’s house?” she demanded, steaming. “I thought you wanted to punish me. Now you’re leaving?”

“It’ll have to wait.” He mumbled, shuffling through his pockets in search of something. “Just go to your room. I don’t have time for this now.”

"This?" she scoffed, crossing her arms. “You mean me, don’t you? Your daughter?”

He pulled a nametag from the endless depths of his coat pocket and slipped it over his head, sweeping back his salt and pepper hair. Then he reached for the doorknob, sending one backward glance in her direction. “We’ll talk about it later.”

“No,” she shook her head and sprinted forward, slamming the door shut with her shoulder. The impact was more painful than she expected, but she hid the hurt behind the grim line of her frown. “We’ll talk now.” She stated defiantly.

Hand still on the knob, he stared down at her without a hint of emotion. The only thing that told her he hated what she’d just done was the twitch of his cheekbone as he clenched his teeth. Well, she could do that too.

They stared at each other for a few seconds. His eyes searched her face as if he expected her to step away without a word from him. Part of her wanted to. It wasn’t easy to stand up to a man like her father. A doctor. An educated, intelligent, impatient man. But pieces of him floated around in her DNA and she clung to that knowledge. In a way, it was like she was standing up to herself, and that was only half as frightening as getting in his way.

“I’m sure you think you’re being original, but this is getting boring, Lisa. The angry teenager act has outlived the interest of its audience. If you think you’re going to get attention for misbehaving like this, you’re wrong. Now move.”

“No,” she shook her head. Not until you see me.

He sighed—a quick, pert sound—and glanced upward. “I don’t have time for this. People’s lives are in my hands and you want to tie me here with petty emotions. Your insecurities are not my responsibility. If you want a punishment that badly, try cleaning up that mess you made in my house.”

“No,” she said again, tilting her chin. Her body was still pressed against the door, keeping him from opening it. “I won’t have time to do that before I leave for Pam’s house. With you. Together. Or did you lie to me? I packed. I’m ready.”

He peered at her, squinting. “What is this? What are you doing?”

“Making sure you keep your promise,” she said. “I’m not going to sit around this tomb waiting for you to come back.”

He made a noise in the back of his throat, impatience leaking from every pore. “I told you,” he grabbed her arm and pulled her away, “to move.” Gripping her so tight it hurt, he yanked her away from the door and shoved it open, releasing her and stepping outside.

Lisa stumbled back, wincing and holding her arm. “If people’s lives matter so much to you, then what about mine?” she asked, slipping on her shoes and then trailing him to the car.

He gave her a wide-eyed glance of surprise. “Go inside. You’re not even dressed.”

“What if I do something even more reckless this time? What if I-I go out and buy drugs? Or get drunk? Maybe I’ll do both and end up in the emergency room and then you’ll have to see me!” she screamed.

Turning back, he raised a hand to his lips, covering his mouth. “Stop it.” He snapped, dropping his hand onto his hip, the other gripping his car keys. “Get control of yourself like a rational human being, and then try to have this conversation. You’re too emotional right now.”

Shaking, Lisa bit her lip to keep from screaming at him some more. There was no point in talking to him that way. He never listened to her when she was upset—no matter the volume. It was better to stay in control as he said. To carefully measure her words knowing which ones would get through to him.

“I’m the one who should be angry, not you.” He mentioned, unlocking the car. “It’s my house you vandalized.”

“You’re not angry?” she asked slowly.

“Lisa, I told you I don’t have time for this. Anger is a distraction. I don’t have time for that either. Just go back inside. I’ll be home later, and we can discuss your punishment then.” He sounded so calm, so collected as he walked around the vehicle to the driver side door and pulled it open. Staring at her over the top of the car, he pointed at the house. “Go,” he ordered.

Without a word, Lisa yanked open the passenger side door and plopped into the front seat.

“What are you doing?” he asked in a hollow voice.

She put on her seatbelt and shut the door before he had a chance to climb in. “I’m too emotional right now,” she answered, repeating his words. “I shouldn’t be alone.”

Mumbling something inaudible under his breath, he climbed in and slammed the door. As he sat with his hands gripping the steering wheel, she could feel his irritation growing into a deeper resentment. “Do I need to drag you out of this car?” he demanded.

Lisa took a deep breath and let it out in one big burst, shrugging her shoulders. “You don’t have time for that,” she said, putting her feet up on the dash. “People’s lives are at stake, remember?”

He gave her a long look, eyes narrowed, before starting the car. Without a word, he maneuvered the vehicle from the front of their house onto the road, hands sweeping lightly over the wheel. She could tell he was thinking intensely about something—probably imagining how satisfying it would be to throw her out of the moving car. Lisa sighed again, realizing this was going to be a long, awkward trip. But it was worth it if it got her out of that house.

The commute to the hospital took more than thirty minutes. She had looked it up using a trip planner app one time and knew exactly how to get there. Lisa had been tempted to take a bus to the hospital during school one day, just for something to do. Now that she was expelled, she didn’t need to sneak out of class to go there. Of course, this wasn’t exactly the fun, exploratory trip she’d planned. It was spontaneous—no question about that—but there was a heaviness inside her as she rode toward the hospital in her father’s car, the silence between them as thick as water. There were moments when it felt like she couldn’t breathe, especially when she looked at the tight line of his mouth and the way his eyes stared soullessly ahead, his only mission to get to the hospital and away from her. This wasn’t about getting his attention. She was pushing limits, trying to discover the parameters of the box he’d sorted her into. Where did she sit in the pyramid of his priorities? The very bottom was her best guess, or maybe just above laughing and acting like a human being. Her father didn’t have to act human. He was a doctor. He needed to save lives, not have one.

Although the thirty minutes to the hospital felt like the longest in her life, Lisa managed to keep quiet the entire time, staring straight ahead just like he did. When he parked the car, she got out first, thankful for a moment to breathe without feeling the burn of his angry scowl. He walked a fast pace across the parking garage to the elevators. They rode to the second-floor sky bridge, hurrying over to the east wing of the hospital, where he navigated a maze of corridors that eventually led to a waiting room and a small, cream-colored office.

“You’ll wait here until I come back. Do not leave this room.” He said, approaching his desk and bending over the keyboard, too busy to sit down before looking something up on his computer.

“What if I get bored?” Lisa asked, glancing at the bare walls of his office. Too bad she didn’t bring her paint with her. She could’ve made the place a lot more interesting.

His eyes found hers and she froze. “I mean it. Do not leave this room.” He said in a low voice, quelling her defiance with pure authority. She opened her mouth to say something else, but he was already out the door before she could think of how to properly sass his orders.

Second-guessing her decision, Lisa plopped down on the couch, staring at the ceiling. If she slowed her breathing down and silenced her inner thoughts, she could almost hear people moving around. Traffic caused the floor to rumble almost imperceptibly at times, reminding her that there were lives being lived. Things were happening in the world.

Glancing around, Lisa looked for a television or a magazine. Something to busy herself while she waited. She’d already spent hours staring lifelessly at the ceiling, waiting for her father to come back. It was time to do something else.

No TV, no magazines. She walked over to the desk and faced the row of bookshelves lining the wall behind it. There was nothing but a series of medical journals to read and those made her brain feel scrambled after a while. Turning around, she bumped into a chair and nearly fell over, catching herself on the edge of the desk. Her hand bumped the computer mouse, waking up the monitor. What she saw on the screen made her suck in a breath and hold it, unable to exhale.

Her father’s computer background was a photo of a little girl—no older than two or three—sitting on the living room floor, surrounded by colored blocks carved into different shapes. She was smiling, her hands two little blurs as if she’d been caught clapping when the picture was taken. Those golden-brown eyes and messy blonde hair were so familiar—as if she looked at them every day. Because she did. In the mirror.

Lisa touched the screen with her fingertips, her face a mask of confusion. Why would he have this picture on his computer? Sure, a father is supposed to have pictures of his kid. But her father? It wasn’t normal. Not for him. Lowering herself into the chair, she sat back and stared at the picture, wondering how long he’d used it as his background. A quick search of his photo files revealed other pictures of her as a baby. Only her. None of her mother, or of any of them together. Just pictures of Lisa when she was young. There were no recent photos except one—the picture she’d taken with his cellphone that morning. She stared at her fake smile and her father’s vacant expression. There was something sick about it. She regretted snapping the picture, wishing it didn’t exist. Right-clicking the file, she hit DELETE.

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