Authors: Jesi Lea Ryan
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction
"Has this ever happened before?" she asked.
I shook my head. "No. Never. It was weird."
She sighed. "Well, I need to go help Gina prep for surgery. We have to wait until tomorrow for Lucy, since she’s eaten today. I don’t know how you did it, but thank you."
Dr. Kristy gathered her things and left the office. I sat there chewing my thumb nail down to the quick.
After leaving the shelter, I called my dad to see if Aaron and I could stop by, but there was some sort of crisis on one of his job sites that would keep him working until well into the night. I could tell he felt bad putting me off. We hadn’t spent much time together since the funeral. I suspected he was using work as a distraction from dwelling on his loss. I guess we all cope in our own way. I sent Aaron a text to cancel our plans.
At home, my brother and his friend, Trent, were hanging out in the kitchen waiting for a frozen pizza to heat up in the toaster oven. Aaron sat on top of the counter tossing an oven mitt from hand to hand. They were laughing, a noise which sounded out of place in the House of Gloom.
"Hey," Trent grunted at me when I entered through the back door.
"Hey." I was still keyed up from the Lucy situation and wasn't in the mood to socialize.
So, Aaron was going on with his life. He had the right idea. We would all miss Lony, but tears couldn’t bring her back. Sleeping fifteen hours a day only put off the inevitable. We all had to move on. Faint gray shadows were still visible beneath my brother's blue eyes and his smile still held a fake, plastic-like quality, but it was a smile nonetheless. He was trying.
Up in my bedroom, I decided I would try, too. I put the morning's events out of my mind and went to work catching up on my studies. If I was going to go back to school Monday, I needed to work hard to catch up to the rest of my class. Good thing it was still so early in the school year. I hadn’t missed too many important tests or project deadlines.
I was in the middle of typing a writing assignment when my cell phone rang. I rubbed my eyes, strained from staring at a computer screen in the fading evening light. I flipped on my desk lamp and checked the caller ID. Bronwyn.
“So my parents wanted me to ask you...” she said, her tone dripping with reluctance, “The topic for Youth Group this week is
Placing Your Sorrow on Jesus,
like about dealing with grief when you lose a loved one, and they want me to invite you to come. There will be a guest speaker from Grace Christian who’ll be talking about the loss of his daughter from cancer and then a group discussion.”
“I don’t know, Bron,” I sighed and tried my best to be polite. “You know how I am about the religious stuff. And I’m not sure I want to work on my grief issues in a room with a bunch of kids I don’t know.”
“Oh, you are already going to a support group meeting up at the hospital? Too bad they meet on the same night.”
Ah, I get it.
One or both of her parents were standing over her making her call me. This kind of thing happened a couple of times a year, usually to invite me to a Youth Group social function or to a church service they thought might be of particular interest to me. Her parents felt it was the duty of all true Christians to “shepherd non-believers into the loving arms of the Lord” or some crap like that. As if for every person you converted you got bonus points on God’s Great Scoreboard. I don’t know, maybe they would win some prize when they got to heaven like a golden harp or a cloud with a view of the Grand Canyon. Being such a good friend, I decided to mess with her.
“Sure, Bron, I’d love to attend! I’ll wear my leather teddy and carry a riding crop. Think a studded dog collar would be too much?”
There was a slight pause before she replied, “It’s okay if you break down and cry. That’s what support groups are for. I’m sure no one will fault you for getting snot all over your sleeve.” I heard a murmured hiss in the background telling her to be more sensitive. I laughed.
“They say emotional trauma can cause teens to act out in inappropriate ways, but I would have given the football team blow jobs anyway. After all, they did beat Davenport last week.”
Bronwyn made a choking sound like she swallowed a laugh and quickly covered it with a fake cough. “Well, okay, Cady, I’ll talk to you tomorrow then. Bye.”
I hung up the phone, my grin fading. I missed my best friend. The few times I saw her since the accident, her discomfort had been obvious. Bronwyn was great listener, but not so great at knowing what to say in awkward situations. I guess talking to me qualified as awkward now.
I opened a new window on my screen, and signed into Facebook. I’d been avoiding social media since the accident because I didn’t really want to read the outpouring of sympathy from my classmates on my Facebook wall. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the thoughts, I just couldn’t deal with it all yet. A couple of days after the accident I posted a short thank you, and hadn’t looked at it since. I wondered what the protocol was for deleting Lony’s page. I could probably do it myself. She had never been very creative with passwords, and I’m sure I’d be able to hack it inside of five minutes, but was that right? Maybe Facebook has some sort of death cancellation policy where my parents could call them to delete the account.
Once Facebook loaded, I clicked over to Bronwyn’s wall and left a message for her to meet me after she got off school tomorrow. It was time for me to start getting out of the house more.
That night as I was changing into my pj's for bed, Bryan phoned. Three nights in a row? He asked me about my day, and without planning to, I began telling him the story of Lucy and the mass in her lung.
"Are you sure you didn't feel a lump or something? Maybe something small enough that the doctor didn't notice?"
"I'm sure," I insisted. "It wasn't a lump at all. It was a vibration. And cold. You know, way cooler that the other skin around it. I thought I could hear it, too, but now I'm not so sure that part wasn't my imagination."
"Hmmm..." he pondered. "Maybe the mass inside the dog isn't a tumor at all, but an object. It might be radiating something, or you might have felt a magnetic pull. Were you wearing any metallic jewelry on your hands?"
"No. I didn't have jewelry on at all. Not even earrings."
"And the vet is going to let you know what she finds?"
"Yeah. Dr. Kristy promised to call right after the surgery. I thought about going out there, but I have my appointment in the afternoon."
"Ah, the therapist... You sure you don't need a ride?"
"I'm sure," I said with a smile. "Bryan, you don't have to be so nice to me just because my sister died. I mean, I appreciate your help and concern. You're about the only person I can really talk to right now, but I don't want you to go out of your way because you think you have to take care of me."
"Do you really think I'm just being nice to you because your sister died?"
The way he said it made me feel badly for even bringing it up. "I guess not. But...well...why are you being so nice to me? There are a lot of other kids in the school that you could be friends with who would be much better company than I am right now."
"I don't want other company. I want
My breath caught in my chest and my brain froze for a comeback.
"I'll have my cell with me all day tomorrow,” he continued. “If you want to get a hold of me during school, just text, alright? I'll talk to you soon. Sweet dreams."
I held the phone to my chest long after the line disconnected.
By the time Dr. Kristy phoned at noon the next day, I’d caught my school work up in three subjects and was feeling pretty good. Hearing the doctor's voice —a mixture of intelligence and bedside kindness, which she used even when having the most mundane of conversations —brought back my concern for the little dog.
"How is she? How’s Lucy?" I asked, my voice cracking a bit.
"Lucy's going to be just fine. She's still groggy from the anesthesia, and she'll have to wear an e-collar on her neck for the next couple of weeks, but she should be up and running around in no time."
"What was it?"
"Well, there was a mass on her right lung. I was able to remove it completely. I'll have to wait for the pathology to be completed before we’ll know if it was malignant or benign, but I have high hopes. Lucy is only three years old, so even if it’s cancer and we have to do chemo, she has a very good chance at a normal life."
A bit of the weight resting on my shoulders lifted.
"Cady," Dr. Kristy's tone turned hesitant, "I still would like to know how you were able to feel the tumor. Mark and I are going to do some research on it. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all. I'm curious too. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before."
"Good. I'll let you know what we come up with."
After hanging up the phone, I showered and got ready for my appointment. What did one wear to see a psychologist? Would the doctor form opinions about me based on my clothing choices? You know, some sort of fashion Rorschach test? I wished I knew what kind of clothes crazy people wore so I could avoid them. I decided to go as safe as possible —dark jeans, an olive-green sweater and my hair slicked back into a ponytail.
When I finished, I walked quietly down the hallway to my mother's bedroom. If she wanted to go with me to my appointment, she’d have to start getting ready. I wrapped at the door softly.
"Mom?" I called. There was no answer. "Mom, are you coming to my appointment with me?"
"Wha...?" she said groggily.
I opened the door and stepped inside. "Mom, if you want to come with me to the grief therapist —" I couldn't finish my thought. Sadness dropped on me like an iron anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote in the old Looney Tunes cartoons. My palms went clammy and my pulse jumped. My heart broke in my chest all over again. I rubbed my eyes to keep the tears from spouting.
With great effort, my mother propped herself up on the edge of the bed. Her hair was a nest of tangles, greasy from lack of washing. On her night stand were several prescription bottles and an empty bottle of Gray Goose vodka.
The room stunk of neglect and depression. What was it about this room that sent me into an emotional spiral? I’d felt fine two minutes ago. Now, I couldn’t get my hands to stop shaking.
"Cady, hun, can you run a bath for me?" my mom asked. She was bent at the waist with her elbows propped on her knees. She rubbed her eyes with her fists so hard I worried for her corneas.
Steeling my shoulders, I pushed through the gloom. I didn't have time today for a breakdown. Forcing one reluctant foot in front of the other, I made my way to the bathroom. I plugged the tub and turned on the hot water, dumping a heaping dose of bubble bath into the swirling water, sending the scent of cucumber and melon swirling around the room with the steam.
I sat down on the closed toilet lid. The gloom was less intense in here, but no less depressing. Dirty pajamas and underwear were balled up in a heap behind the door. The towels were soiled and spots of water dotted on the mirror. These things just didn't happen in my mother's house.
Crossing over to the linen closet, I found a set of fresh towels and replaced the ones on the rack. I then scooped up the dirty laundry and piled it in the hamper, squishing it all in to fit. When we were expecting company or planning for an occasion, my mother occasionally would hire a maid to come in to clean. She received a discount because she referred the maid service to her clients for their open houses. I made a mental note to look up the woman's name in Mom's planner and have her come in, at least until Mom was back to functioning like a normal adult.
I blew my nose on a wad of toilet paper and took a couple of deep breaths.
"Mom," I said, leaving the bathroom. "I'll make some sandwiches for lunch. You should eat something. You look like you've lost twenty pounds."
She stood in front of her dresser, fingering a pair of socks like she couldn't figure out what they were for.
"Do you need any help?" I offered.
She looked up at me as if seeing me for the first time. Lately, that was how she always looked at me. "Oh... no. I'll be down soon."
"Don't forget the bath water. It's still running, and you don't want it to overflow."
She nodded, selected a pair of socks and closed the drawer.
By the time I reached the kitchen, my sadness had begun to abate. Maybe it was just the horror of my mother's depression that was triggering it. She was supposed to be seeing a therapist as well. She'd gone to two appointments so far, one while I was still in the hospital. Obviously, it wasn't working.
I slapped together a couple of double-decker PB&J's and set them on the table with an open bag of potato chips. I was almost done eating by the time Mom stumbled down the steps dressed semi-normally in wrinkled slacks and a sweater which fit her fine a few weeks ago, but hung on her now. Her breasts had shrunk so much, they were practically invisible under the fabric.
Just being in her presence filled my mind with grief. The strange thing was I'd thought I was getting better...or at least making some progress. I no longer slept all day, I was dressing in regular clothes rather than lounging in pajamas, I even went for stretches of time without thinking about Lony, not that she was ever very far from my thoughts. But seeing Mom set something off in me, triggering the sorrow to bubble back up.