Authors: Juliana Stone
Sunday morning was the same as always, except that it wasn't.
Sure I got up, went for a run, had my shower, and picked out an appropriate but cute outfit for church, but it wasn't the same at all.
On my run the birds were louder, their calls more intense. The flowers in Mrs. Mayberry's front garden had never looked so beautiful, the forest that skirted the old graveyard so lush, and the sun coming up over the horizon was more vibrant than any I'd ever seen.
I'd barely slept since Friday night, and yet I was good to go. I mean, I felt as if I could scale Mt. Kilimanjaro or run the Boston Marathon orâ¦
Or run all the way to Trevor's house and just let him kiss me silly.
My cheeks stung with heat when I thought of the way he'd kissed me at the party and of the way I'd kissed him back. I'd thought about pretty much nothing else for most of Saturday and I'd been walking around all morning with pink cheeks, a big smile, and eyes that didn't look familiar. Yes, they were blue, but there was something else inside them. Something exciting and fresh and sparkly andâ¦
I wasn't exactly sure what it was that I was feeling, but I sure liked it. I liked it a lot.
My cell pinged, and I scooped it off the kitchen table, humming a song as I did so. I was waiting for Mom to come down so we could leave for church, and Isaac was already outside, sitting in the swing on the front porch.
It was Hailey.
“Hey,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper, sneaking a look over my shoulder.
“Why are you whispering?”
“I don't know,” I giggled.
“Girl, you need to spill.”
“Hales,” I said, but then nothing else came out. I didn't know where to start.
“We need to hang out after church today, because I definitely need details about what happened with you and Trevor Friday night andâ¦”
She squealed so loud that I jumped. “I have something to tell you.”
“What?” I asked a little louder. I hadn't spoken to Hales since the party, but by the tone of her voice she had something epic to share. I had a feeling Link was the reason. A creak sounded from the front hall, and I took a few steps out and glanced around, but Mom was still upstairs.
“This is definitely not an over the phone conversation.”
“You sound like you're still in bed. Aren't you going to service?” Hailey's family didn't attend our nondenominational church. They went to Twin Oaks First Baptist on the other side of town.
“No.” Now she was whispering. “I told Mom that I got my period and my cramps were brutal, so she brought me up some meds and told me to go back to sleep.”
“Lying is a sin.”
“Well, falling asleep in church is probably a sin too. I only got home two hours ago.”
“If that's right, half of the seniors who go to my church are going to hell.”
“Ha! True.” She paused. “So come over after church?”
I chewed on my bottom lip and glanced at the clock. We were going to be late if my mother didn't get her butt downstairs. Dad had already left, the sofa in his office made up nice and neat with a blanket and a pillow.
That wasn't a good sign.
“Sure. I'll call you when I get back.”
I tossed the cell into my purse and walked out into the hall. “Mom!” But she didn't come down. In fact, there was nothing. No creaks like old houses do when you move around, no water running, and no music either. She liked to play her old bluegrass tunes when getting ready for church, so the heavy silence was weird. And come to think of it, I hadn't seen her when I got up or heard a peep out of her since I got back from my run.
I glanced out the front window and saw Isaac playing with one of his G.I. Joe guys. The doll was flying through the air like Superman and then crashing into his chair. We had maybe five minutes to spare or we'd definitely be late. And my mom was never late. Never.
I climbed the stairs, walked past my room toward my parents' bedroom, my stomach tumbling and diving as the utter silence in the house weighed on me.
“Mom?” I paused outside their door and then gave a small knock, this time speaking louder. “Mom. We need to leave for church.”
There was nothing but more silence and the sound of rattling eaves as the wind blew outside.
You know that moment in a movie? The one where the heroine should leave but doesn't? The one where she heads into the house instead of runs for the hills? You know how freaky those moments are? How stupid she is?
Yeah. Well, I was having one of my own moments, because I had a really bad feeling about what was on the other side of her door. Like, really bad. But this wasn't a horror movie, and it was my mom, so I didn't have a choice.
Palms cold and clammy, I wiped them down the front of my skirt and carefully turned the knob. My parents' bedroom door swung open, the hinges a little dry and creaky, so the sound echoed into the nothing that surrounded me.
Clothes were strewn around the room in a way I'd never seen, and my first thought was that someone had broken in and tossed her stuff all over the place. The window was open, large curtains billowing in clouds of gray from the early morning breeze. They twisted and arced, almost like fingers that pointed toward her bed.
Outside, the birds were still singing, the sun was still shining, and from what I could see, the sky was still as blue as a robin's egg. And yet as I took another step inside my parents' room, I knew that nothing about this morning was the same as it was less than five seconds ago.
My mother was in bed, turned toward the window, her long hair a tangle of chocolate spilling down her back.
I don't remember moving to the bed. Or seeing her there, seemingly asleep and exhaling loudly as if it hurt to do so. The only thing I would remember later is the spill of pills on the floor, the half-empty bottle, and the realization that something was very, very wrong.
I might have screamedâin fact, I'm sure I didâbut she only moaned, a soft sort of sound that bounced around my head, louder than rolling thunder.
The summer when I was fourteen, my dad and I volunteered to work with street kids in the city. At the time I thought it was a way for me to earn some community hours and to hang with my dad. It was kind of depressing and a whole lot of eye-opening.
I learned that pills can kill, but more important, because of a twenty-one-year-old woman who'd taken too many, I'd learned what to do if something bad happened. And this was bad. This was really bad.
I slapped my mom.
Cell phone. Where is my cell phone?
Her eyes flew open, thank God, and I dragged her out of bed, yelling at her.
I pleaded with her as I hauled her into the bathroom, and God help me but I cursed her when I shoved her into the tub and ran the shower on the coldest setting possible. I held her when she clawed at her nightgown and spit out the water that ran down on her face. I made sure she didn't fall over when she managed to get to her feet, and I held her long hair away from her when she started to whimper.
“Don't tell your father. Don't tell your father. Don't tell your father.” She repeated it over and over and over, until her voice gave out.
She sputtered. She cried. Great big gulping cries that made my heart pound even harder than it already was. Never had I seen my mother like this. Never. I was scared and upset and so mad that I wanted to scream in her face. I wanted to hurt her for doing this to me.
The water was still spilling over her, but she didn't seem to notice as she regarded me, eyes huge and glassy. We were both wet and shivering from fear and adrenaline and a whole bunch of stuff I couldn't name.
“Why?” I whispered. “I don't understandâ¦”
But I did, didn't I?
She opened her mouth to say something, but before she could get any words out, she doubled over and moaned.
And then she vomited all over my shoes.
â¢ â¢ â¢
The words were raspy, slow. I glanced up from my chair beside Mom's bed and tried to push back the anger inside me, but it was hard. The anger was heavy and hot and so damn eager to come out. I thought that maybe I should let it. Just this once. Maybe then it wouldn't feel as if a hundred-pound weight was pressed into my chest.
“Why?” was all I could get out.
Why. One lonely word, but a word that was bigger than it sounded, because it was packed full of things that would lead to dark places.
“Isaac?” she asked again, this time struggling to sit. She was still pale, still bedraggled from the shower, still pathetic and small andâ¦
“Mrs. Ballantine took him to church.” I tried not to sniffle, but that didn't work out all that well, so I took a moment to get myself together. See? This was me dealing with stress.
When I thought I could speak without sounding like a bumbling idiot, I continued. “I told her that you weren't feeling well and she said that she would let Dad know. She also said something about taking Isaac to a picnic in the park afterward, and since they're not back yetâ¦”
“Oh,” Mom said weakly. “That's good.” A tear slid down her cheek, and I watched it navigate a zigzag path until she wiped her palm across her face.
I wasn't sure where to go from here. What to do or say.
“I didn't mean to,” she said softly.
My eyes darted back to hers, and I struggled to keep my pain from showing. It wasn't too hard, considering I'd become the queen of masks these last few months. “How many did you take?”
Her bottom lip trembled. “A fewâ¦”
“Everly.” There was warning in her voice, like she was trying to tell me not to go there. Her. The woman who'd just had a shower in her nightgown.
“A few,” I repeated. My voice rose as the enormity of what had just happened washed over me. The last hour and a half shot across my brain. Pills. Mom. Pills. Mom's hair all over the place. Pills. Vomit.
My body trembled. I was so cold. So far from where I'd been when I first woke up. I shot to my feet, teeth chattering even though it was warm and stuffy in her bedroom.
” I raged. “A few is like two or three. A few is less than four but maybe more than two. A few isâ¦a few doesn't knock you out. A fewâ¦” I shrugged and tried not to cry, but it was no use, and tears stung the corner of my eyes. “Anything more is not an accident.”
“Everly, I'm so sorry, sweetie, but you have to believe me. It was an accident. I would neverâ¦I neverâ¦”
I glanced at the bottle on her bedside table. It was half full.
“You're lying,” I spat. “You're
to me. I'm not Isaac. I'm not some little kid who will just believe whatever you tell me. Not anymore.” I grabbed the bottle off her table and held it up high. “Since when do you take sleeping pills? Since when do youâ¦since when do you take a
?” But I could barely finish my sentence, because my throat was closed up tight, so full of emotion and hurt and fear that I was nearly choking on it.
“Don't tell anyone,” she said, her voice breaking. “Please, no one can know.”
Something was so wrong about the way this conversation was going. I was the kid here. Me. Seventeen years old. Since when did my mom beg me not to tell on her? When did that happen?
“Why?” That knot in my throat loosened up, and suddenly the tidal wave inside rolled over and over until there was no stopping it. “Why are we hiding? Why are we pretending that everything is freaking A-OK in this house?” I took a step back. “Jesus, it's exhausting!”
My mom looked shocked, and I guess she should be. I'd never spoken to her like this before, but then again, I'd never scraped her up off the floor either.
“Everly.” Her voice was stronger now. “I've already told you that it was an accident. Iâ¦I had trouble sleeping last nightâ”
“Trouble sleeping? Since when? Since Dad started sleeping in his office?”
Again, my mom looked shocked, which was ridiculous. What kind of bubble was she living in? Didn't she think I'd notice the blankets and pillow in his office?
“Your father and I are having a rough patch, but we're working things out.”
Her face was blank. She'd found the mask she'd discarded last night, and she was firmly back in her camp of denial.
I thought of that conversation I'd heard a year ago. The conversation I'd been trying to unhear ever since. And I thought about all of his trips to the city, all the times he was away.
I looked at the sad and lonely woman before me and I just lost it.
“Taking too many pills isn't working things out. Dad going to the city all the time and doing whatever it is that he's doing there isn't working things out. Lying to me, lying to Isaac, to your friends, and to God? That's not working things out. But the most pathetic thing of all is that lying to yourself sucks way worse than everything else. How can you think he's working things out? He's screwing around on you, Mom! He's in love with someone else!”
Her eyes were as wide as saucers, with papery thin smudges of blue beneath them. “Why would youâ¦ How can youâ¦”
“Does it really matter?” I spat, tossing the capsule bottle onto the bed where it landed with a thud and then rolled onto the floor, spilling the remnants of the pills. I watched them roll away, under the bed, like little insects scurrying for cover.