I helped her pull on some scrubs the hospital graciously donated to her. After further investigation into her mother’s neglect and abandonment suit, they found it had extended beyond the past several years. Arianna was expected to receive little to no time according to the detective that spoke to me because the mother could claim she was afraid Jude would do the same thing to her and Esther. What a load of crap. It was all self-preservation.
Her brunette hair was messily tied up into a bun, and her eyes remained fixed on the floor as I helped her get dressed. I was careful to dodge all of the stitches protruding from her marbled flesh, suddenly seeing the full brunt of all of the bruising and scars from her experience. Her fingers were so swollen and bruised, she couldn’t manage to tie her drawstring, so I had to tautly tie it to prevent it from falling from her frail hips. After a moment, our eyes met, and my hands trailed away from her waist.
The hospital set a load of brochures on her bed about homes for battered women and half-way houses Devin could attend as she figured out what she could do about her living situation. She rifled through them mindlessly and finally asked why she couldn’t stay in her own home. Her mother apparently managed to sell it just from the outside and from the floor plans through a realtor, and after the investigation was complete, Devin’s parents were the sole owners of that home. Devin had no say in the matter. Irritated, she settled on a half-way home at the edge of town close to the hospital’s psychiatrist’s practice, even though she knew she didn’t have the insurance to pay for either the hospital stay or the appointments.
“Where are you going to go?” I finally inquired.
Devin shrugged and handed me a brochure from her bed. She confided the other day that it still hurt for her jaw to move, so she remained mostly silent, just spelling out different commands and demands on a notepad Lex brought in one day. I turned to it and slowly shook my head. “You won’t belong.”
“I don’t really belong anywhere.”
Evidence bags splayed out across her bed, one holding her wallet without the currency she kept usually hidden under the floor boards with her vodka—I wondered if Jude stole that, too. Another bag held the clothes she wore during the whole situation, but she immediately threw the bag into the trash can, hyperventilating just by the sight of the black clothing. She slid open the wallet bag and shoved the worn cloth pouch into one of her pockets. Another bag held a stack of papers and maps the police officers thought belonged to her, but she admitted they were Jude’s plans.
“There’s the address 721 Hill Street… with lot 34 marked,” noted an officer upon further investigation of the maps and addresses.
“That’s the graveyard,” she scribbled on a sheet of paper, quickly handing it to me to pass along to the detective. I couldn’t muster the phrase as I turned to her upon reading those three words. You better leave for this finally made sense. Something caught in my throat—be it my stomach or heart—as I incredulously stared at those swollen, blue eyes. I didn’t know what to say to her, and I just stood up and left because I couldn’t bear to even imagine losing her permanently.
Devin shifted in the baggy scrubs.
That morning, my parents argued with the officers regarding Devin’s status as an independent. My mom haughtily mentioned, “She can’t be an independent—she’s just a kid.”
“Ma’am, the state does not have to put her in foster care or any other state program like that because she is legally an adult now. She’ll be forced to go into a program for battered women or can live in a homeless shelter until she can figure something out.”
The officers then left us alone in the waiting area of the unit, and my parents just silently stared at each other with pondering gazes. My mom finally motioned, “Maybe she can live with us.”
“Jen…” my dad began.
“Edgar, think about it. If Ned was in this situation, what would we want for him? I mean, she can go on our insurance, and we don’t have to adopt her. It’s not a permanent fixture, either. She’ll live by our rules and abide by our standards, but she’ll at least have shelter and food.”
I quickly served, “Mom, she’s got epilepsy. I don’t know what we can do for her.”
My dad quickly intervened, “That’s not the issue. Jen, we don’t know her. Hell, Ned was with her and didn’t know some of her baggage. Do we want our daughter raised in an environment with Devin? Ned, I know she’s a good girl, and I know she wouldn’t want to harm Lex in any way. However, what if something happened? This whole incident could really change a person. We don’t know how she’ll handle it.”
“And you think a federal program will be willing to work independently with her?” my mom hastily argued, glaring at Dad with her hands on her hips. He turned to me, and we both knew that we weren’t changing her mind. “Now, she won’t be living with Ned or anything crazy like that. She’ll live in the guest room, and she’ll eventually need a job somewhere. We just need to get her on the road back to normalcy. We’ll just be her push in the right direction. She’ll report to counseling as often as she is prescribed, and she’ll have to show a receipt for the co-pay and a signature from the office every time she goes. I will manage her medications until she retains a routine schedule. And when she feels she can live on her own or if she does not abide by the stipulations, she is welcome to leave.”
I eyed my mother hesitantly, trying to figure out the right way to word this whole situation.
“And, Ned, you have to promise to remain platonic with her. She doesn’t need a relationship right now; she needs support.”
I stared at her and struggled to maintain a complacent argument or an even viable option to introduce in the whole issue. I just could only gawk at her incredulously, attempting to dissect a hole into her plan because I still needed support from the experience, too, but I didn’t need platonic support.
Devin put the toothbrush the hospital supplied her with and the toothpaste into her other pocket, gently scouring the room for anything she could shove in her pockets. She managed to grab a small bottle of shampoo and deodorant from her private bathroom and patted down her pockets one last time before she turned to me. “Did I forget anything?” she hoarsely inquired.
I rushed up behind her as she pivoted on her heels. I took her chin in between my thumb and index finger, turning it up to me, and kissed her. She immediately tore away from it and side-stepped from me, turning to the sheets, ignoring my display of affection. Shocked, I caught her upper arm with my right hand, and I attempted to pull her away from the bed as she straightened up the sheets. “Dev.”
“You know what.”
Devin faced me for a moment, her blue eyes shining in the fluorescent lights. Her bruised and swollen face still shocked me as I absorbed her frail image. I couldn’t control my fingertips as they finally just brushed her chin. She didn’t pull away, and I finally murmured, “I’m so sorry.”
She pulled her arm from me harshly and glanced over her shoulder at me with those alluring eyes, those orbs that beckoned aloofly but forced me to keep my distance, too. Her brow knitted as she incredulously shook her head. She murmured, “Don’t pretend like what happened didn’t change how you think about me.”
She turned to me and threw her arms out to her sides. “Ned, you don’t want me. You want a normal girl who didn’t get used up by the time she’s eighteen. You don’t need me. It’s kind of obvious.”
“I hate me, so what makes you think you can love me?”
I froze. She had inferred many times prior to the incident that she wasn’t proud of herself, she wasn’t happy with who she was, but hearing it suddenly solidified the idea that maybe Devin couldn’t accept the love she deserved because she didn’t give herself the time of day to know that she deserved it. Somehow, through it all, I never expected her to use such a corrosive word as “hate.”
Devin tore away from my gaze and took her wallet out of her pocket and threw it on the bed. She marched beside me, knocking into my shoulder either by accident or purposefully. “I’m out.” She slid through the doorway and glanced from side to side. She stuck her head back inside the room for a moment.
And then she became motionless.
I scurried to her side and wrenched my neck over her shoulder in time to see her eyes flutter as if she were a machine rebooting, and she dribbled down her chin. I cursed and hailed a nurse from the front desk. A small Latin woman rushed to the door and immediately pushed Devin back into the room, leading her to the bed hurriedly. She pushed Devin onto the bed forcefully and clapped her hands. Devin vacantly stared at the woman’s chest, her irises flitting from side to side in minute movements.
“Is she seizing?”
“It’s a partial… she’ll be out of it in a second.”
As if on cue, Devin blinked and wildly stared at us. She pinched the bridge of her nose and rubbed her eyes with her fingertips, worry melting her features. She groaned, “Dammit.” She already knew what happened even without the mentioning of her disorder, of her disease.
I ran my fingers through my hair and glanced at the doorway as my parents entered the room with a bouquet of flowers. Devin immediately buried her face in her hands anxiously and shook her head, frustrated she succumbed to her body once again. My mom and I locked eyes for a moment, and I nodded with forlorn eyes falling to Devin as I had to realize my family was her only hope because who was going to manage her symptoms?
Who was willing to accept her for who and what she was?
I should’ve known better.
Mom then rushed into the room and nestled down beside Devin, placing her left hand on Devin’s thigh. She cooed, “How are you today, Devin?” My dad placed the bouquet of flowers on the bedside table next to me, and he greeted me with a shallow nod.
We had all agreed silently that we were the ones who had to accept the responsibility of Devin because it’s not that another person would do the deed but perhaps could do the deed. The Mortis family would embrace a new member, and I would have to fully abandon my relationship with Devin to my dismay.
Devin didn’t answer. Her glazed eyes focused on the floor in between her frail fingers. I abandoned my urge to embrace her and just hold her, and I stood aimlessly by my father, staring down my straight nose standoffishly as I continued to watch this girl I loved so desperately continue to suffer. She was everything I ever thought I wanted, and I thought everything I would ever need. I clenched my hands into taut fists and gnawed at the inside of my cheek.
My mom ignored her lack of a response and chirped, “Devin, we don’t think you need to attend these programs. We talked about it, and we think the best choice for you right now would be to live with us.”
Devin’s eyes continued to lose their sheen, their beauty as she became lost in her own thoughts. Her hands peeled away from her face as she turned to my mother. She silently shook her head.
“You’ll have to follow certain rules and stipulations, but we are offering you a room at our home. We’ll talk to the insurance company about you becoming another dependent on our list. We’ll figure this all out and try to make everything as normal as we possibly can. How about that?”
Those portals to her soul glanced at me questioningly, analyzing my reaction or any hint of hesitation from me. I felt blood begin to pool at the inside of my cheek and sluggishly nodded my head, trying to give her as much confidence as I could without failing to succumb to the grand responsibility it would be for the two of us.
The nurse stated, “That sounds like a great proposal, Mrs. Mortis. Doesn’t that sound much better than any half-way house, Devin? Huh? Doesn’t that sound very generous and kind of them?”
Devin’s lips quivered as I swore she prepared to say something, to reject the whole notion and abandon my family, leave us behind not unlike her own family did to her.
My mom concluded, “We don’t need anything from you, Devin.”
The nurse chimed in, “It’s merely the Christian thing to do, and what a lovely family for being so superfluous with your kindness.”
Devin swallowed and glanced at me again, uncertain. She slid her leg away from underneath my mother’s touch and then stared at my mother’s hand as if it were a leech, slurping away at her life. She whispered, “I don’t know.”
My defeated mother immediately crossed her arms and turned to my dad for some support. The rugged man shied away from his wife’s venomous gaze and knelt down in front of Devin, his joints creaking and groaning as he collapsed before her. He gently placed his hand on her left knee and gave her a small smile. “What do you want to do instead?”
“I don’t know.”
“This is your decision and no one else’s, okay?”
I finally interrupted, “Give it a try, Dev. If worse comes to worse, you can move out and go to one of the programs, okay?”
Devin nodded her head slowly, and my mother relaxed into her optimistic stream of thought, clasping her hands together as if this was what she always imagined our family becoming. As if this was what she had always wanted from the beginning.
We shuffled into my SUV, my parents in the back and Devin in the passenger seat to hopefully alleviate the turbulence of the speed bumps upon her incisions and stitches. My hands loosely moved the wheel from right to left in minute movements, careful not to jostle Devin. I would occasionally glance at her to see if I could read her, but she remained illegible as we ventured home.
My mom leaned forward in between our seats and sang, “Are you excited to be in a nice warm bed and eat some real food?” I think my mom must have forgotten Devin was still recovering from a fractured jaw, fantasizing about all the majesty that she could bestow upon our crippled bird.
She shook her head and moaned, “Numb.”
My dad patted Devin’s shoulder and noted, “It’s okay to feel any way you feel right now. If you need to cry, that’s okay, too. Crying doesn’t make you weak.”
My mom continued to persuade, “No one is judging you if you need to have an outburst. If you need to say anything or confide in someone, you know we’re all here for you. You deserve to feel how you feel right now and know that you are loved.”
Devin’s brow folded as she murmured, “I’m just numb.”