Authors: Helene Dunbar
Tags: #teen, #teenlit, #teen lit, #teen novel, #teen fiction, #fiction, #ya, #ya novel, #ya fiction, #young adult, #young adult fiction, #young adult novel, #ptsd, #post traumatic stress disorder
These Gentle Wounds
Â© 2014 by Helene Dunbar.
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First e-book edition Â© 2014
E-book ISBN: 9780738741451
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In memory of my mother, Carol Baker,
who shared her love of books.
To my father, Harold Baker,
who told me I could do anything.
And to Suzanne Kamata, who said to do this.
The last thing I saw before the car hit the water was an eagle pasted against the sky.
And what I remember is this: his tapered wings filled the width of the dirty window; the air held him up with the promise of magic; he looked free.
I used to dream about that bird.
But I don't have dreams anymore.
All I have are memories.
My arms are pinned. Water rushes past my ears, and the kids cry in the backseat as they start to wake up. My mom's hands are wrapped around the steering wheel as she prays, saying words that make no sense but sound something like poetry.
I've left the car window cracked open and the river takes that as an invitation to pour in. At first it feels good against my hot skin. Cool. Cleansing. The sound it makes is music to Mom's words.
But suddenly there's only water. I throw my shoulder against the window, trying to break the glass. I hold my head up to catch the little bit of air left in the car and gasp for as much as my lungs can hold.
“Gordie,” I hear. “Ice. Hey, Ice.”
The sound belongs to my brother, Kevin. My brain wraps around it like a kid around a security blanket. His voice climbs into my head and replaces the crying, the praying, the water.
“I didn't die.” My mouth forms the words easily enough. It's harder to get my mind to accept them.
One part of me knows I didn't drown, but another part of my fucked-up brain thinks I did. Just like the kids in the back. Just like Mom meant me to.
My brother holds my arms down on the bed, thinking he's keeping me safe now like he couldn't before. My jaw is sore from clenching my teeth to stop myself from repeating the words. But part of me is still in the river, and Kevin knows that.
“You're okay,” he says. It isn't a question.
He doesn't trust me enough to release my arms immediately. But once he does, they automatically fold up around me, stiff and sore like the broken wings of a gull. It hurts worse than after a hockey game where I've fended off a ton of shots on goal. Worse than it did on That Day, when it actually happened.
My eyes take a minute to focus, but when they do, it's on the bashed-up wall next to my bed. The blue paint is chipped. The edges of the holes in the plaster are tinged with blood stains that we've given up trying to wash away or paint over.
That's what happens when Kevin isn't around. I try to claw my way out of the car and to the surface. The wall, the lamp, my own skin: all of them have been bruised at some point from the dream that is really a memory.
Without either of us saying anything, Kevin pulls the sweat-damp blankets off me and replaces them with fresh, dry ones from the closet, just like he's done hundreds of times. And just like I've done hundreds of times, I wrap up in them and try, unsuccessfully, to stop shivering.
“Sleep,” he says. “You have practice tomorrow.”
Tomorrow. School. Hockey. It seems a million years away, but I nod. We both know it'll be hours before I'll begin to trust my brain not to do this all over again.
Kevin sits down at my desk and pretends to read. He'll sit there until I fall asleep, however long that takes. I watch him and remind myself that because he's here, I'm safe.
You'd never know we're only half brothers from how close we are or from looking at us. If it weren't for the fact he's sixteen months older, with the inches to prove it, and that my eyes are green and his are brown, you might think we're twins.
But it wasn't our eye color or height that was the really important difference between us. See, though Kevin and I had the same mother, the fact that we have different fathers is what mattered. Having different fathers meant that Mom planned for Kevin to live. And planned for me to die when she drove the car into the river.
It's a shoot-off. Six-ounce disks of black rubber fly toward my face as, one by one, the best scorers on our team barrel to
ward the crease from the blue line and fire pucks at me.
This is why I love hockey. Pucks don't care that my mom tried to drown me 1,822 days ago. They don't care that I'm running on two hours of sleep. They don't care that, inside my glove, my right hand is twitching like an animal caught in a trap. Pucks don't care that I haven't felt this shitty in months or that I'd just let myself start to hope that maybe,
I would end up normal and not like â¦ well, like me.
All a puck cares about is getting through to the goal, so all I have to care about is not letting that happen.
Focus, focus, focus
, I repeat under my breath, narrowing my vision so all I can see is the blackness of rubber against the ice. I ignore Kenny Campbell when he tries to fake me out and I don't fall for Mitchell Strazynski's showboat moves when he tries to shoot backward between his legs.
The only thing I can't ignore is the hum in the rink that builds with every shot I block. So it's impossible not to notice that the rink goes quiet when Cody Bowman lines up in front of me. He's the largest defenseman on our team, since he was held back a grade, and he's leading the league in penalty minutes. Even Coach, who's at the back of the box having a heated discussion with Assistant Principal Warner, seems to have problems reining him in.
I take a deep breath and, for a minute, my hand stops shaking. Cody comes at me. I think he's planning to barrel right through me but I hold my ground. As he gets close,
instead of shooting the puck, he changes directions and
plows around the back of the net.
“Come on, freak,” he snarls, quietly enough that no one else can hear but vicious enough to turn my stomach to jelly. “Let's see what you've got.”
“Just shoot the puck,” I say, trying to act like he's an annoyance and not someone set on making my life hell.
“Or what?” he asks, skating in front of me. “You going to have your big brother break my nose again?”
I actually might, if I thought Kevin could get away with it this time. But I'm not stupid enough to say that out loud so I just roll my eyes, which he probably can't see through my mask, and wait.
“Bowman, are you shooting that puck or dancing with it? We don't have all day here.” Luke Miller is the captain of our team, our starting center, the god of Maple Grove, the one everyone else wants to be. Since Luke works with Coach to determine the lineups for the games (aka who will get the most ice time), he's also one of the few people that Cody will take orders from.
“Later, water boy,” Cody says, slapping the puck vaguely in my direction.
Normally it would be easier to blow Cody off. Normally my hand wouldn't be this shaky, and I wouldn't have spent hours lying awake after a spin thinking of how it's been almost five years since everything happened and how I still don't really know what I'm meant to be feeling.
I try to stretch out the tightness from my shoulders as Jamie Walker, our senior goalie who can't hit the side of a bus with a puck, whips one at me. My legs each decide to go in a different direction and before I know it, I'm crumpled in a twisted pile on the ice.
“Geez, Allen, what's with you?” Walker skates in slow, choppy circles in front of the crease and I try to untangle my legs.
I shrug. No way am I telling him about last night. It's bad enough that he knows my whole life story, just like everyone else in Maple Grove. At least the school's been cool enough to let me use Jim's last name, “given the circumstances.”
“I'm fine.” I get back into my crouch in front of the net. I take a deep breath, but inside my glove, my hand starts to tighten. Spasms are one thing, but when it gets really bad, my hand cramps up to the point I can't move it.
I don't need this to happen in the rink.
I stand up, pull my glove off, and lift my mask to take a drink of water. But I can't even feel the surface of the bottle.
“You're looking green, Gordie,” Walker says. “Go sit down.”
I want to tell him again I'm fine. That I'll be good to start tomorrow's game. That I stayed up too late doing homework, or jerking off, or drinking beer pilfered from the fridge when Kevin's dad Jim wasn't looking. Any of the normal reasons for being fifteen and exhausted. Anything other than the truth.
“No â¦ I â¦ ” is as far as I get.
A couple of the other guys gather around to see what's stopped Walker in front of the goal. The numbers on their jerseys blur in front of my eyes. I try to rub the fuzzy digits away with my sleeve, and my water bottle goes crashing to the ice.
Walker retrieves it, but when he holds it out to me, his expression changes from one of normal annoyance to that stupid, sad look people get around me all the time. The one that says he thinks he should go easy on me because, ultimately, we both know that Cody is right. I'm a freak.
I grab my bottle back and turn away so I don't have to see that look. My chest tightens and the tingling in my hand feels like it's on a direct course to my brain. I don't want to practice anymore. All I want to do is disappear.
I skate away from them, stepping off the ice and slamming the gate behind me. Coach is nowhere to be seen, so I make a quick break for it. My skates take a while to come off because of my hand, but then it doesn't take me long to throw them in my locker and stalk through the door to the parking lot. It's cold out and I forgot to grab my coat, but I don't care. I wish I didn't care about anything.
I wasn't sure if any of the guys were going to try to stop me, but this voice is definitely female, so I keep walking. It must be meant for someone else.
My head is a mess of needy thoughts. I need to get back to the house. I need to see my brother, although he's only going to give me a hard time. I need to forget about last night, and the anniversary that's coming up, and that I'm such a loser I can't even hold it together through freaking hockey practice.
As I cross the parking lot, a clomping sound, kind of like a two-legged horse galloping, breaks into my thoughts. I glance over my shoulder and the girl stops in her tracksâa large camera draped around her neck, a black bag over her shoulder, and high black boots that explain the sound. Her hair and clothes are black too, but not ripped and stagey like the goth kids. She looks â¦ like someone I should know.
“Hey,” she says again. This time I'm sure she's talking to me.
“What do you want?” I shove my hand deep into the pocket of my jeans even though I know it won't completely hide the shaking. With any luck she'll just think I'm cold.
“I just â¦ ” She lets out a deep breath, reaches out a hand, and then takes it back. “Are you okay?”
There's no way for me to answer her question. No one who asks this really wants an honest answer anyhow. Jim, the school shrinks, the kids at schoolâall they really want to hear is that everything is fine and that there's nothing they need to do. If I stay under the radar, keep my grades up, and stop the pucks, they'll all go away. So I just try to be quiet, paste a smile on my face, and act normal, hoping they won't notice that I'm not.
“Yeah, I'm fine,” I say to the girl. I turn back around and start to walk off.
“Gordie, wait,” she says, and I stop again, like her voice is changing the ground to quicksand.
“Who are you?” I ask over my shoulder, even though I should know better. All I want is to get far away as soon as possible, and starting a conversation with this mystery girl isn't the way to do that.
She leans on one leg and smiles. “You don't remember me?”
If I was Kevin, I'd say something mouthy along the lines of “If I did, I wouldn't be asking.” But as I'm me, I don't say anything at allâuntil she holds her camera up to her face.
Now I get it. Last summer, I played in the city hockey league and I saw her taking pictures at all of our games. It turned into one of those stupid athlete superstitions. I had to see her, parked behind that camera, before I stepped into the crease or it nagged at me all game.
All I know is that her name is Sarah and I've probably just doubled the amount of words I've ever said to her. Talking to her was never part of my plan. But knowing who she is confuses me even more than not knowing.
She lets her camera fall against her jacket and looks a little embarrassed. “Molly and Stephanie â¦ ” She pauses, waiting for me to say something, but I have nothing to add about the captains of the cheerleading team.
yourpicture,” she spits out in one word.
She takes a deep breath. “Look, I know this is weird, but they're paying me and I'm saving up for a car, so â¦ ” She looks me directly in the eyes and I'm kind of frozen to the ground. “They're putting together a calendar of pictures of the cutest boys on Maple Grove's sports teams, so I wanted to know if I could just use one of the photos I took of you last summer. You know, one without all of your padding on. If you say it's okay, I'll let you pick out the one you like best.”
“They're paying you â¦ ” I repeat back.
Now I get it.
“No. Wait.” Her shoulders fall and she bites her lip. “I mean, I want to talk to you anyhow. I've wanted to since last summer, but â¦ ”
I shiver. This has got to be a joke. “Look, today really isn't a good day.” I cut her off, but really, I wish I could shut up because I know I'm not saying anything interesting or useful or â¦ why do I even care?
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” She sounds like an old bumper sticker, and I kind of laugh in spite of myself.
Far off in the distance, a yellow balloon rises in the sky. Some kid must have let go of it. I wish so badly I could catch the string in my hand and let it pull me away.
“I have to go,” I mumble to both of us.
She puts the camera into the bag and my hand clenches. Despite what I said, I actually
curious to see her photos, but now I've missed my chance because she says, “Okay. Maybe some other time then.” She sounds disappointed in a way that makes me feel disappointed too.
“See you in class,” she says, and then does the worst thing of all. She turns away, leaving me to figure out what in the world she means by “in class” because, as far as I know, she doesn't even go to Maple Grove.
I watch her get smaller and smaller as she walks away without looking back. All at once, the exhaustion and frustration I'm feeling is eaten up by a huge emptiness. Like I've lost something I didn't even know I had.