Authors: Jesi Lea Ryan
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction
“Yeah. You’re right. Well, give me a sec to change and we’ll go.”
We were sitting in the bustling food court, surrounded by a circle of fast food places, when Lony started in again on my boring social life.
“Why don’t you come out with me tonight?” Lony asked, dipping her French fry in mayonnaise before eating it. “A bunch of us are going out to the Mines of Spain. You should come. We never hang out anymore.”
“That’s because we don’t have anything in common. It’s not personal; it’s just the way it is.”
“No, you just have a thing against my friends. I don’t know why, they like you well enough.”
“Well, you don’t like to do stuff with my friends, either.” I argued, shoving a forkful of salad in my mouth.
“Not true! I went to the movies with you and Shawn just two weeks ago.”
“Yeah, but Cane came with, and you made out with him the whole time. Do you even remember what movie we saw?”
“So that’s it?” she asked, dramatically tossing her fry back onto her tray. “Are you jealous that I have a boyfriend and you don’t?”
“Oh, please,” I muttered. I set my fork down. “How can you even ask that? Of course I’m not jealous of Cane. Maybe the reason I don’t like to hang out with you is because you’re constantly lecturing me. Back off!”
I stood up from the table, dumped my garbage in the trash can and waited for Lony on a bench by the mall exit. If I’d had the keys to the car, I would’ve been tempted to leave without her. Lony followed a few minutes later, with a look of apology on her face.
“I’m sorry, Cady,” she said. When I didn’t answer, she sat down on the bench next to me and continued. “I was being bossy again, wasn’t I? I don’t mean to be that way, but you’re my little sister.”
I kicked my shoe at a scuff mark on the tiled floor. “Eight minutes does not make me your
sister,” I said for the thousandth time in my life. The familiar joke cut the tension between us somewhat, and I broke into a reluctant smile.
Lony put her arm around me in a half-hug. “I just miss you, that’s all. We used to be best friends, and now I hardly see you. It shouldn’t matter that we have different friends and like different things. We’re twins, not clones.”
“I know. I miss you, too,” I replied honestly.
“So does that mean you’re gonna go out with me tonight? I promise if you’re miserable, we can go home.”
Being miserable was virtually guaranteed, but I’m not one to fight a losing battle. “Fine…”
With a triumphant grin, Lony pulled me off the bench and drove us home.
Amy Sutherland, a friend of my sister’s, was in the middle of telling me a rather boring and overly-detailed story about a guy she met during the summer while working at a resort in the Wisconsin Dells. I pretended to be interested and wondered how much time I’d have to sit there before it was socially appropriate to ask Lony to take me home. We were hanging out on the hood of Amy’s Chevy in a small parking area at the Mines of Spain. At one point in time, the river bluffs along the Mississippi were full of lead, attracting miners to the area. After the minerals in the hills were exhausted, the state sectioned off the area as a nature preserve filled with hiking trails winding through the forest. Kids weren’t supposed to loiter there after dark, but that just added to the appeal.
Amy didn’t need much encouragement to keep her chatter flowing. I nodded once in a while and made noises where appropriate. Something about her story made me doubt the existence of this summer dream boy. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine any guy finding her interesting enough to waste a whole summer on. My shoe rhythmically kicked her car tire to the beat of a song in my head.
Twenty or thirty other kids from school were with us. If the DNR were to spot us while on patrol, they’d assume we were up to no good and kick us out. In reality, we were just a bunch of kids standing around and talking with nothing better to do on a Saturday night. I could see Lony leaning against Cane’s truck, pretending to thumb through his iPod for some music, but the glare fixed on her face along with her repeated glances in Cane’s direction told a different story. He stood talking with a petite redhead who came with some kids from Hempstead High. While I didn’t notice any outright flirting going on, I knew Lony must be jealous. Cane was easily the handsomest guy in our school. He had sun-streaked blond hair and soft green eyes. As he laughed a big throaty chuckle at something the girl said, I noticed his smile looked like something straight out of a toothpaste commercial. I could understand what some girls saw in him, even if he wasn’t my type.
“Hey,” Matt Kutch called out, “Anyone want to go for a walk?”
“Not on the cliffs!” Lony replied. “I’ll go if we stay in the low areas.”
Everyone in Dubuque knew how dangerous the Mines of Spain could be at night. Every few years, some teenager would accidentally fall off one of the cliffs or drown in the Mississippi River which rolled on the edge of the park. Usually, those incidents involved alcohol, which was thankfully absent tonight, but even a sober person could misjudge the footing on the narrow trails and tumble down the rocks.
“Wanna walk?” Amy asked me. I glanced around and it seemed only Matt, Lony and Cane were planning to go. I had no intention of letting my sister leave me here with a bunch of kids I hardly knew.
“Okay,” I shrugged, sliding off the hood of the car.
Amy and I followed Matt onto the dark trail surrounded by tall trees in full foliage. He had a large flashlight from his glove box that he used to illuminate the trail and keep us from stumbling too much. Cane also had a small flashlight, but it wasn’t long before he and Lony started to lag behind. I peeked back every few minutes to make sure I could still see their beam following in the distance.
“I’m surprised you came out tonight, Cady,” Matt commented. “I never see you outside of school.” I really didn’t know Matt all that well, and if it weren’t for being Lony’s sister, he probably wouldn’t even know my name. My impression of the tall, gangly boy was formed in the one class we’d had together our freshman year. Matt tried to hide is complete inability to do algebra by goofing off, driving our teacher insane. Truthfully, I thought he could be obnoxious when he had an audience around to encourage him, but he didn’t seem too bad when he let his guard down and acted like himself.
“Well, Lony kind of made me,” I answered, picking a leaf off of a low-hanging limb and twirling it between my palms.
Matt and I made awkward conversation while Amy tagged at our heels, complaining about the mosquitoes.
We had been hiking for a while when I started to hear raised voices behind us. Lony and Cane were arguing, but I couldn’t make out the words.
“Jeez, all they do is fight,” Amy muttered.
Amy was right. Lony and Cane preferred bickering as their main form of communication. My entire family was getting sick of listening to it. Lony had a quick temper, and clueless Cane couldn’t stop himself from setting her off. Most of their arguments revolved around something he said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do, that Lony took personally. I suspected her issue tonight revolved around the cute redhead he’d been talking to back in the parking lot. Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel the need to run out and get a boyfriend. It looked like too much aggravation.
The trail opened up into a clearing as it drew closer to the Mississippi. Railroad tracks snaked their way along the edges of the river on both sides. Dubuque actually sits at the corner of three states: Iowa on the west side of the river, Wisconsin and Illinois on the east. Across the mile-wide river, the Illinois bluffs were dark and peaceful under the bright moonlight.
Matt led us over to a couple of boulders to wait for Lony and Cane to catch up. Amy started in on a story about a recent concert she attended where she snuck backstage to meet the band, and the drummer taught her to do a drum roll. From the expression on his face, Matt wasn’t buying it any more than I was. I kept my ear out for my sister. I could see her and Cane about fifty yards away walking along the tracks toward us. I still couldn’t hear what the argument was about, but the whiney tone in Lon’s voice echoed off the valley walls and I thought she might be crying.
Beyond Amy’s talking, I detected what sounded like the rumble of a boat motor in the distance. My eyes scanned the water, but I didn’t see anything. I couldn’t imagine why a boat would be on the river in the dark. The Mississippi was notoriously dangerous. The rumble got louder, closer...surely I’d be able to spot a boat that big even in the darkness. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Sound travels oddly, almost deceptively, on the river valley. Sound waves bounce off the limestone cliffs and roll over the water strangely. When the rumble turned into a roar, Matt and I looked at each other with wide-eyes.
In the end, it was the spotlight blazing down the track, not the roar of the engine which alerted me to the train rounding the limestone curve of the cliff at the river’s edge, less than two hundred yards from my sister.
What happened next took only seconds. I jumped to my feet and screamed Lony’s name. In the glare of the single headlight, both faces stood frozen like deer. Matt and I ran over the rocky ground toward them as fast as our legs could move. Cane snapped to attention first and ran off the tracks. When he noticed Lony wasn’t following, he turned back yelling her name and reaching out for her arm. Lony snapped out of her shock and tried to run, but the heel of her sandal caught the edge of the wood rail, sending her sprawling to the ground. In the same instant, a power surge flashed through my body, twenty yards away, flinging me onto my back. The world faded to black.
My hearing came back first. An annoying rhythmic beep plucked on my nerves like harp strings. I thought it was my alarm clock, and I was late for school. I tried to shut it off, but my arm felt as if it were pinned at my side by a tangle of snakes.
I cracked my eyes open to see a strange room with dingy, white wallpaper and a TV mounted from the ceiling.
Where am I?
I struggled to call out, my vocal cords burned and something was jammed in my mouth. Although I could breathe fine, the fat tube down my throat sent me into a claustrophobic panic. My hands fumbled like they were wearing thick mittens, but I managed to rip the IV tube out of my arm. The annoying beeps escalated, sending a nurse dashing into the room to stop me just as I began wrestling with the tube in my mouth.
“Relax, Honey,” the nurse murmured as she pinned my arms to my sides. “Be still. You’re going to hurt yourself.”
My arm leaked crimson dots onto the crisp sheet from the IV hole. I tried slowing my breathing down to suppress the panic urges. The nurse brushed a sweaty lock of hair back from my face and checked me over carefully. She smelled like vanilla and hand sanitizer. A plastic nametag on her shirt told me her name was Jenny.
“It’s okay…you’re going to be okay. Just relax,” Jenny whispered as she pressed a call button for the nurse’s station and asked for a doctor to be paged. My eyes watered with fear, and I bit down on the tube tightly. She swiftly cleaned up my bloody arm and re-inserted the fat IV needle. A doctor in a navy blue scrubs hurried in and began asking the nurse all kinds of questions. Their voices seemed too loud, and I closed my eyes to fend off a headache.
“Open your eyes if you can hear me?” a deep voice asked.
I opened my eyes again to see the doctor leaning over me. He had shadowy stubble on his face, and his breath smelled like stale coffee.
“My name is Dr. Gibler. I’m going to ask you a few questions so I can examine you,” the doctor explained. “There’s a tube in your mouth which is helping you breathe. As long as the tube is in, you will not be able to speak. I’ll get it out in a moment. Until then, you can answer my questions with blinking your eyes, okay? One blink for ‘yes,’ two blinks for ‘no.’ Do you understand me?”
I tried to nod, but my throat burned with the motion. Now, I understood the blinking thing. I blinked once to let the doctor know I understood him.
He crossed to a sink along the wall and washed his hands.
“Do you know where you are?” he asked.
Duh, a hospital. One blink.
He dried his hands on a paper towel. “Do you remember what happened? Why you are here?”
I tried to remember, but I couldn’t focus my hazy thoughts. Two blinks.
“Okay. I’m going to remove you from the ventilator. This may be uncomfortable and your throat will ache for a while. On the count of three, I want you to take a deep breath and blow it out through your mouth. Are you ready?”
Dr. Gibler deflated the cuff and counted to three. When I blew out, he pulled the plastic tube from my throat in one swift motion. Even though the flesh inside felt enflamed, I sputtered and coughed. Nurse Jenny handed me a Dixie cup of ice chips and popped a couple into my mouth. The cold liquid felt blissfully refreshing on my dry, gluey tongue. While she took my vitals and noted them in my chart, the doctor began asking me questions.
“Do you know where you are?”
“H-H-Hospital?” My voice came out all hoarse and shaky.
“Good. Can you tell me your name?”