It’d been a week since I’d been hit by that car, and people still stared at me like a museum exhibit. What was worse was having to cross the parking lot before and after school. Once I set foot on the asphalt, all vehicles paused and drivers stared--and remain motionless until Id shut myself safely in my car. It was like they all thought I’d get hit by anything. A small perk was that they always let me out of the lot first.
Everyday I wondered what everyone else was thinking. The news reports said it was a hit-and-run. The police said the same. Everyone believed it. The most unbelievable--so everyone says--was that I didn’t have a scrape, bump or bruise on me afterwards. I’d survived it perfectly; the worst was being knocked unconscious for five or so minutes. Well, and the gravel in my hair was difficult to get out in the shower.
Mother was waiting on the porch steps as I pulled into the driveway. I scowled at her on my way inside. “I’m just looking out for your well-being,” she said as she followed me in.
“I made it home alive, Mom, just like yesterday.” Nothing looked good in the fridge when I poked my head in.
“I thought we could eat out tonight.” Mom stood at the edge of the small kitchen, keeping distance between us.
“Not really in the mood.” I grabbed a can of Coke, and headed up to my room when--
“Katherine called today.” She said her sister-in-law’s name like it was evil.
I froze on the stairs. “When?”
“A couple of hours ago. You were in school.”
“What’d she call for?”
Mom’s sigh was loud. “The same as before.”
“But I can’t go, right?” I spat. I was talking more to the stairs than to my mom herself.
“We’ve been through this before, Mad…. You can’t just--”
“Don’t call me that. It’s Madeline.” She wasn’t allowed to call me Mad. No one was. Except him.
“Well….” Her voice shook. “The situation’s still the same, Madeline, and that’s how it’s going to stay.”
“Until I’m eighteen.”
She sighed again. “Until you’re eighteen.”
The next day began the same. Avoid stares. Avoid stares. Glare in return. Avoid more stares. Sit. My first period class was Newspaper; I was a staff writer. The teacher, Mr. Grace was the advisor that usually gave me the urge to hurl.
When the bell rang, he asked me to stay a moment. “Maddy--” To be called Maddy was fine. “--I have a concern about--”
“Oh, I know,” I cut in. “I was going to fix it up a bit and add a quote.” I was doing a story on teen drinking and the deaths behind it. My usual problem was using pronouns in my articles.
“I wasn’t speaking about that,” he said. “I wanted to say something about your incident last week.” Said urge was beginning to rise. “I noticed you haven’t spoken to anyone about it. I don’t know about your communication with family, but the school does have a campus psychologist--”
“Mr. Grace,” I said, as politely as possible, “really, I’m fine.”
“You survived without a scratch. That’s worthy of a serious talk.”
“Chalk it up to the Big Guy Upstairs. I’m totally fine.” I turned to leave.
“Maddy, this is serious. If you need someone to….” The closing door silenced him.
After the urge to hurl, I had the urge to punch someone, something, anything. Just up ahead, I noticed a girl who used to pick on me in third grade. As she was passing, I swung out my right arm and caught her in the neck. She made a quick coughing sound and fell to the ground. I hadn’t stopped walking, and I hadn’t assumed she’d get up and pull my hair. A fight ensued.
The principal looked at me like I was a Rubix cube. He’d said earlier that my behavior was expected, but they’d never thought I’d actually exhibit such behavior. I didn’t care. He knows I survived… and he’ll come back. Of course, no one knew about him. He was a social phantom; everyone has seen him, but they knew nothing about him.
Except me, of course, which was why he hit me. He loved me, but I needed to disappear. It was dangerous for us, for him. It was also dangerous to anyone who got in our way.
My mother’s reaction was unbelievably predictable.
“You were already going through a tough time already, Madeline.”
“I just don’t want to talk about it! Is that too much to ask?!”
“This is just throwing you over the top.” She tried her hardest to remain calm, but I knew she was capable of exploding in a matter of seconds.
“What does that even mean? I just want some peace, Mom, is that so hard?!” I stomped my way up the stairs, ignoring more of her wannabe psychological babble.
Once I was safely locked away in my room did I blast Lady GaGa and collapse onto my bed. My mother despised Lady G, mostly because of her videos and weird costumes. I didn’t care much for those things either, but I adored her creativity… and the truth in her songs… especially ‘Bad Romance’.
I was tired, depressed, and lonely. He hasn’t come see me for too long already. I was worried about him. The police didn’t stop in and check with us anymore, but they said they’d call if they’d caught the driver. I’d overheard them say something about convicting the person of vehicular manslaughter.
A sob almost escaped my throat. I should’ve been six feet under already. Or maybe he and I would already be together. There was no way to tell. Especially how the whole plan had gone awry, and we had never anticipated this happening. I was supposed to have died.
I rolled over to my side. I was on the verge of committing suicide, but was too chicken to do it. With the hit-and-run, I just had to walk. To kill myself on my own terms was scary. There was too much pressure. What if I screwed up? Then my mom would have me committed, and then everything would be ruined.
Only he could kill me.
Well, anyone could kill me, really.
But it had to be him.
The next morning was somehow pleasant.
My mom wasn’t in the kitchen, nor did she embarrassingly wave goodbye to me as pulled out of the driveway. The parking lot scene played again, but nobody stared at me anymore, unless they noticed me, but then they’d turn away like whatever.
Mr. Grace… well, he had the good grace not to mention yesterday, or bring up the whole matter entirely. None of my teachers bothered me with questions or anything. Almost everything was perfect that day. I did have detention, but all I had to do was sit in a room for an hour after school Friday and all of the following week. The other girl didn’t come to school; all spectators saw the ugly reasons why.
With only the ticking clock making noise in the room, I was free to do whatever my heart desired--mentally, anyway. There were four other students in the room, and supervising teacher sitting behind us. Two of the four were reading, the third was doing homework or something, and the fourth was asleep.
I spent the hour daydreaming of his caramel skin… his tousled dirty brown hair… his tantalizing laugh. In my mind’s eye, he was smiling down at me, his chocolate brown eyes withholding secrets of the darkest kind. His hands around me, holding me tightly as if he was the only one holding down on this Earth, and if I let go I’d fly away into the dark abyss. I repeated his name over and over again in my head… a steady beat that pounded in my head.
His absence was starting to hurt me. Everyday it grew worse and worse. I barely even slept at night. On my way to school I kept a lookout for his truck, but then I realized that he’d have gotten rid of it. I expected to see him waiting by my car, but there was no one.
Friday, after detention, I didn’t head home. I drove to the park a few miles from where I lived… where I first saw him. I’d been kicking it with my friend, Mariah, but she became a two-face and thought I was a freak for surviving. Most of the kids at school thought that, but like I cared. All I needed was him… but now he was gone.
There was no one at the park. Little kids just barely getting out of schools. Grown ups with nothing to do were long gone. It was just me, my car, and a few squirrels. The ache never quit, not while he was gone… probably off the face of the Earth. I leaned against the seat and closed my eyes… his image filling my head.
But then three hard raps on my window jolted me up. I turned to find total darkness, then a painfully bright light. I lowered the window for the cop.
“You’re not allowed to sleep here,” he said. He was overweight and had a dominating mustache.
I sat up. “Sorry. Lost track of time.” All the lost hours of sleep at night I found with less than four hours of sleep at the park.
“Well, you should head on home, young lady.” He tipped his hat to me, then headed to his car. I started mine and headed home to some weird parallel universe.
There were two police cars and an ambulance parked in front of my house. Once I got out, a police officer rushed at me.
“Are you Madeline Pruitt?”
“Yeah. What’s going on?”
“Why don’t you come inside and sit down, miss, so we can talk.” Normally I would’ve demanded he tell me everything out in the street. But neighbors were staring, and I didn’t have the energy to make scene. I followed him inside and he had me sit on the couch. His badge said Reyes and he looked like he was in his early twenties. Fresh from the academy.
“Where did you come from just now?” he asked. Officer Reyes remained standing, making me feel like a small child having to look up at him.
“The park. Where’s my mom?”
“She…. Your mother passed away this morning, sweetheart. Around six or seven.” I ignored the ‘sweetheart’ remark, which would have bothered me if not for this heinous situation.
“What do you mean she passed away? She’s only forty-one. She’s healthy. She’s fit. How could she have died?”
Reyes looked at me slightly confused. “Your mother had cancer. Didn’t you know?”
I couldn’t help but scoff. “She doesn’t have cancer. She never said anything.”
He took out a small notebook and flipped through it. “A Mr. Bandsworth called in an emergency an hour or so ago. You know him?”
“He’s our next door neighbor.”
“Well, he came asking for some yeast but couldn’t find your mother. She doesn’t work Fridays, does she?”
I shook my head. “She sometimes sleeps in.” It wasn’t hitting me.
“He went upstairs and found her in bed. He then noticed she wasn’t breathing, so he tried to resuscitate her. After receiving no response, he called the paramedics. The… uh, your mother is in the ambulance, if you wish to--”
“No.” I still thought she was in this living room, watching the evening news. The clock said it was six. Weird.
“Well… is there a place you can stay tonight? A friend or a relative?”
“Yes.” I cleared my throat. “Could you please leave?”
“Everyone. I want to be alone right now.” Just then, another officer came into the house, a much older one. He looked similar to the one who’d found me in the park, except no mustache. He would’ve looked better with one.
“Miss Pruitt. Did your mother have an appointment with a doctor today?”
I shook my head. “Not that I know of.”
“She never told you at all that she was sick?”
“You had no idea?” He sounded incredulous.
“No! I just said… that.” I wasn’t sure what they would do if I got in their face like I wished I could. “Look. I’m tired, and I just want to rest right now, if it’s not too much to ask.”
Both officers exchanged looks, then the younger one left. “I understand, Miss Pruitt. We will be in contact tomorrow morning. Is eight fine?”
“Yes, it’s fine.”
I followed him to the front door. He was outside when he turned to say, “I’m sorry for your loss. If there is anything you might need,” he reached into his pocket, “here’s my number at the station. I could find some accommodations if you wish to stay somewhere else until everything’s sorted out.” I took it from him. “Are you sure you don’t want…?” He nodded to the ambulance.
“I’m sure, Officer. Thank you.” I shut the door in his face and raced up the stairs, dropping the card somewhere along the way.
The smell hit me once I reached her bedroom door. She was dead for hours. Her room looked totally normal, as if she hadn’t gone into her room when she got home. Nothing was disturbed, not even the drawers. Maybe EMTs needed some kind of warrant to look through her stuff or something. I looked closely at her nightstand, in it’s drawers, and under her bed. No sign of medication.
After thirty minutes of quick searching, I’d found no evidence of any cancer-like medicine, not even syringes. I was kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room, facing the window. It was a cloudy, kinda windy night. The moon slowly flashed it’s dim light, then disappeared.
Joanna Pruitt was like a stick in the mud. She was strict, boring, and narrow-minded. I had to secretly pierce my ears, and by the time she figured it out it was too late. She didn’t let me sleep over at friend’s houses because she didn’t trust them or their parents.
But she was my mom.
Who never told me she had cancer… and she didn’t even treat it.
And I cried for her.