Carbon

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Chapter 20

I stared at the reflection in the mirror as I contemplated the gravity of what I had done. My father was gone and sentenced to twenty-six months of prison, and I was sentenced to twenty-six months of solitude and reprieve. I combed my short, stubby fingers through my blonde hair and heaved a sigh of relief, but I was also concerned that I didn’t know how to be a normal teenager. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

Sixteen years old, and I was finally free. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to be afraid. I didn’t have to succumb to the directions of an old man, and I didn’t have to fall to the pressure of his words.

I wiped away the mist off the mirror to reveal my hollowed eyes and fragile bones. My breath fogged up the mirror again, and I puffed my cheeks in exasperation. I turned to a clock in the hallway—1:24. I couldn’t seem to find sleep; I tried for the past four hours. I turned back to the mirror. “What would a normal sixteen-year-old do?”

Not frame her father.

I furrowed my brow and hid behind the reflection, paled by my assumption. A flurry of thoughts flooded across my mind in hopes of feeling normal. In hopes of pretending that I could fit in somewhere. My body shivered as I felt an eerie sensation crawl up my arms. Two weeks, and I still couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe this wasn’t over.

I sat behind my father’s defendant bench beside my sister and mother attentively, seamlessly watching the court decide my father’s fate. I tore away at my cuticles nervously as I anticipated his defense against the prosecution, and I hoped desperately that my nascent hope would be awarded.

With the final words resonating from the judge’s lips, I let out a relieved sigh. A weight lifted from my body—the weight of responsibility and of servitude. A smile twitched at my lips, but I knew I couldn’t regale my relief. I stifled a smile as my father turned around in his suit Mom ironed before bringing it to him in jail.

His brown hair sleeked back with his lanky frame towering over his family, he appeared to be a good preacher, a good person. Jude swiveled on his heels to turn to his family. Simultaneously, my family rose to their feet, but I remained glued to the bench. I clenched my hands together and nailed my eyes to my lap to prevent myself from seeing his disappointed face. I grinded my teeth together, and I clenched my hands together. My mother gave me a light tap on my shoulder, and I rose to my feet.

Jude leaned over the barricade and embraced my mother tautly, and then they shared a small peck before he turned to his daughters. He pulled Esther off her feet with his embrace, and then he turned to me. His ember eyes nailed into mine, and he slowly leaned over the barricade. He wrapped his arms tightly around me, and I nearly shivered away from him but remained cool. His warm breath bathed the side of my neck, and then his lips brushed against my ear. “I know what you did.”

I inhaled sharply, and my eyes widened frantically. I whimpered involuntarily, and I felt him smile.

“Don’t worry. You’ll miss me when I’m gone.”

I violently leaned over the sink and vomited in the toilet. I knelt down after the first bout of nausea and readied for another wave. My hand clung to my stomach as I curled forward and spit out the remaining chunks. I clenched my eyes shut and leaned back, colliding into the wall as I wringed my wrists. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I needed to figure out a way to distract myself. Television, books, music, nothing was a full reprieve from the daunting threat.

“Just you wait.”

An epiphany ran across my mind, and I remembered Heath’s confession one day—he liked driving to forget. I wasn’t willing to go to alcohol—not just yet, because if I did rush to alcohol, I knew Jude would remain trapped inside my head no matter if he was absent or present in my life.

I silently flew through the house in a rush to grab my keys from the counter—I hadn’t had an episode in such a long time I was finally able to get my license. Greedy and ravenous for a change of scenery, I snatched up the car keys and stumbled through the front door to the car I could barely afford. I slithered into the black vehicle hurriedly, anticipating my mother waking by the sound of the engine, but I also knew she wouldn’t care if I ran away. I huddled into the car and sprung it to life.

I wound through the streets of the suburbs toward the country. Houses flashed past as I finally made it to the curvaceous roads of the countryside. I revved the engine, a soft, gurgling purr erupting. The Corolla managed sharp twists and turns despite allowing a resounding squeal escape occasionally. I drove the car as if I was driving in my sleep—hesitating to halt and twist the wheel when need be due to the dancing, glittering thoughts occupying my attention.

And then I don’t remember what happened.

I just remember waking up and staring incredulously while standing on the side of a ditch. My car’s front was folded in on itself, and its tail end stuck straight in the air. The nose dove into a tree and lost terribly in the battle of a trunk versus metal. My air bags failed to go off, and I didn’t know how I wasn’t hurt. I combed my fingers through my hair rhythmically and glanced back to the street. Tire marks streaked across the road back and forth seamlessly until they ended on the shoulder of the road. My bumper had fell off a couple yards behind the car, and the roof was caved in as if my car had flipped once. I read once that remaining limp was one of the best things to do in the emergency of trauma, and I guess I had remained pretty loose. I couldn’t and didn’t remember why any of this happened. It was so beyond what I could understand or begin to recreate.

“Are you hurt?!”

I twisted my neck in time to see a woman with two sleeping kids in the back of her car pull off the road and park on the shoulder. She rushed out of her car and to my side in merely seconds as she mentioned again, “Are you hurt?”

I incredulously stared at her, barely believing another human being could be up at this ungodly hour. Who would manage to find me on the countryside? I was in the middle of B.F.N—butt fucking nowhere.

“Are you hurt?!”

I shook my head slowly.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket and frantically called the cops and an ambulance, but I literally felt fine. I just needed someone to push my car out of the ditch and help me make my way back home. An unsettling torrent of exhaustion began to undulate upon me, and I needed to just pass out to get this all out of my system. Maybe some real sleep for the first time in a while would definitely help.

“I’m just going to walk home.”

The woman snatched the sleeve of my jacket before she pulled the phone from her ear. “Are you stupid? You’re an hours’ drive from the closest town—how’re you going to walk there in a night?”

I nonchalantly shrugged.

The ambulance and cops showed up, and I was unsettled by how many questions they began to interrogate me with. I couldn’t possibly figure out the answer to any of these inquiries, and I didn’t know how to tell them what I was thinking while I was driving.

A familiar Jeep pulled up and parked on the shoulder behind an ambulance. Esther peeled from the passenger side of the car and charged me with open arms. Once she reached me, she wrapped me in a strong embrace and pulled and pushed me side to side as I fell loose into her. She roared in sobs as she buried her face into my hair, gently caressing it with her left hand. She never mentioned anything as she silently sobbed into my hair with outright compassion and anxiety.

And then my gaze shifted back to the Jeep. A lanky teen unfolded from the Jeep like a clown from his tiny car. He stood up straight and angrily glared at me. He furiously marched down the side of the hill and bared his teeth in a fierce growl. I gently peeled my sister off of me, and I took a step back away from the monstrous teen.

I murmured, “Heath, look—I didn’t mean—”

His hand whipped into my cheek.

I stumbled backwards as Esther screeched, “Heath!”

I turned my icy eyes to his green ones. We just stared at each other as he released heavy breaths frantically, his eyes wild and aghast. I whispered under my breath, “Heath?”

He roared, “How could you be so selfish? Huh? Huh?” He threw another slap into my cheek, and my hand shot up to protect myself again. He took a large step towards me, and he groaned angrily, shaking his head side to side. “What were you thinking?!” He threw another hand at me, but I fell on my butt before he could impact. I swore I must have cracked my calyx with that movement.

Esther screeched again, “Heath, stop!”

He leaned over and snatched my forearm, and then he yanked me onto my feet. I threw my arms in front of my face in protection. He slapped my forearms down feebly, and I let them fall as I heard him whimper. I turned to him as he tucked his chin into his chest, and he gritted his teeth tautly. He weakly murmured something, and I almost asked him to repeat himself. However, a slight glint trickled down his cheek, and I was taken aback.

The few times I had ever seen Heath cry always involved something evolving around me. My urge to self-medicate, my compulsion to self-discipline, my need to be accepted. I ripped my gaze away from him as the tears began to gently rain down his face, and I couldn’t bear to see him this way. I nervously ripped at my cuticles as I half-expected him to throw his fist into my face again.

His arms wrapped around my shoulders, and he buried his face into the curve of my neck. He sobbed, “I thought I lost you, dumbass. I thought I lost you.”

“Why would you think that?”

“I got a call from the cops, and they wouldn’t tell me how you were or anything.”

“But I’m fine.”

“Look at your freaking car.”

“I know. It’s okay.”

“What happened?”

My mind blanked, and the vacancy in my mind distracted me from the reality that I was part of this whole accident. A single-car accident caused by my own—I don’t know—mistakes? But I didn’t know if I actually was the one who caused it. I couldn’t remember anything after I took a certain turn and twisted the wheel left, but then my mouth got dry and my wrists itched.

And then I noticed the bitter taste in my mouth.

“I don’t know.”

His hands cupped my face, and then the space depleted between us.

I ripped away from his lips and looked at him incredulously, tracing his features and memorizing them in case he decided to abandon me because I had no place in his life anymore. “You don’t have to do that anymore. You know that, right?”

Heath nodded his head, and then he pulled me back to him, kissing me. I closed my eyes and rested my hand on the curve of his neck, allowing him to persuade me that I was normal. I folded underneath his touch, and I curled into his embrace. I then broke into tears myself, devastated that my freedom was a joke. I would never truly be free. I was always going to be enslaved by my memories.


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