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
I assume we're heading back to the house, but at the last minute we turn. It's clear we're going somewhere else, somewhere I know almost as well.
A river of sweat collects on the back of my neck and runs down my spine.
I feel torn in two.
There's almost no place in the world I'd rather go.
Just not with him.
The Maple Grove hockey rink sits on the West side of town, near the high school.
“I've been looking forward to this,” he says. “I want to see how far you've come.”
You'd think he'd just come to a game this summer. I'm not sure how he thinks he'll see how I play goalie by watching me skate around in circles.
I wonder if Jordan is able to play any sports. I'd like to think that some of the bruises on his arms were from something that happened on a playground, but I know that isn't true.
I wonder what's wrong with him, though. Seven-year-olds aren't meant to have eyes like that.
The rink is usually one of the happiest places I can think of, but having my father here changes everything. It's like looking at something familiar through a glass. Everything is twisted and warped.
I don't have my skates so I have to rent the crappy ones they have at the rink. They're never sharp enough. The laces are all wrong. They smell like the hundreds of feet that have been stuffed into them before.
I think my father is just going to watch me skate, but I realize I'm wrong when he rents skates too.
Before he puts them on, he holds one in his hands and runs his thumb along the edge of the blade.
He's holding Kayla around her waist and the knife is so sharp in his hand. Against her throat. I can see the vein in her neck pulsing against it.
Mom is â¦
I'm shaking. That and the cold bring me back. I glance over at my father, who is chatting up one of girls who rents the shoes. Good thing he hasn't noticed me spacing out.
I finish lacing my skates up and dig my thumb along the sharp part of the toe pick. These are stupid figure skates. I already know he isn't going to like what I'll be able to show him in these.
I hit the drinking fountain and wash my mouth out. It still kind of tastes like puke. Then I slip onto the ice. Even though the skates are wrong and rub in strange places, it feels good to cut across the surface.
I'm forced to zigzag around the kids who are still learning and the couples who skate holding hands, but that's okay. The catch of the ice against my blades fills me like something I've been hungry for. It's where I belong.
I inhale frosty air and think about taking Sarah skating, holding her while we move fast across the cold, hard ice. I know she's been to my games. But everything would be different if I had my arms around her while I was flying across the rink. She'd know for sure, then, that I'm more than just some spazzy freak.
I do a couple of quick turns and crossovers and let thoughts of Sarah replace all the others that are ricocheting through me machine-gun style.
I don't notice my father step out onto the ice. So I don't notice him make a run for me. When he checks me into the boards, I crumple like a rag doll.
Someone blows a whistle while I lie there.
I know better than to move.
My first thought is that you don't check goalies. All that padding is great, but we have no way of protecting ourselves in our catcher gloves. The rest of the team has to do it for us.
I'm not in a game now. I'm not wearing padding. Or a helmet.
I wait for the dizziness to ease up before I try to turn my head.
Someone is yelling, but I don't know who. Or what they're saying.
Slowly I stretch one arm, then the other. One leg. Other leg. I take a deep breath and my side screams in pain. I look down and the ice is still a pristine white. No blood.
There's a crowd around me.
Sue is the cute girl who sells popcorn. Bill is the guy who sells tickets. They know me. I've come here for years. I ignore the looks on their faces when I let them help me up. I steady myself against the railing.
Joe, the guy who manages the rink, is yelling at my father. I hear the word “police.”
My ears are still ringing. I catch my father saying something about “accident” and “sorry,” but I know this was no accident.
I'm equally certain that he isn't fucking sorry.
As I try to get the room to stop spinning, he talks his way out of it. As always.
It isn't until we've been escorted out of the rink that he says, “You're more observant in a real game, right?”
I don't answer. My head is still foggy and I can feel a pulsing in my side.
He knocks me hard on the shoulder and squeezes. “Don't worry. Next week I'll call your coach and make sure you get back into shape. That kind of thing isn't going to work if you're ever going to play for real.”
My father leaves me alone when we get back to the house.
I head upstairs and lock the door, peel off my wet clothes, throw on some dry ones from the closet, and climb under the covers.
I know if I fall asleep I'm going to spin hard. Everything hurts. Breathing. Blinking my eyes. Thinking. Even my hair hurts.
My eyes slither closed and all I can see is Jordan. Deep, deep inside, something is pushing me to help him. But how? I couldn't help Kevin when he was getting hit, and I couldn't help the kids, and now â¦
I sit against the wall, pick up the pillow, and hold it against my stomach so tight I think it might go right through me.
I want to sleep. I want to spin. I want to escape.
I want â¦
I'm so scared of what's in my head that every time I start to fall asleep, I poke one of the new bruises to wake myself up.
I sit there like that for a long time. Long enough that the room gets dark.
Something brushes against the window and makes me jump.
I think it's a branch from the maple, but then the window swings open and lets the night in. I shove my face into the pillow to keep from screaming.
“Lord, Ice. It's just me. I'm glad you're staying in here and I don't have to go wandering all over the house.”
Kevin's long legs loop through the window. His bare feet, red with cold, land on the floor without a sound.
It's only been a day, but it feels like I haven't seen my brother in forever. He looks older. Or maybe it's just strange to see this grown-up Kevin here in his childhood room.
I rush over and throw my arms around him. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see anyone in my life. It's like what happened between us the other night was just made-up.
He hugs me back so hard I can't breathe, the pressure pushing against my bruised skin like a bandage, and then
he holds me at arm's length, examining me the way he examines the result of one of his strange recipes.
“You okay?” he asks, eyes narrowed.
I shrug and untangle myself from his hands, wincing when I bend to pick up the shirts and papers lying around the room so that I can stuff them into my backpack.
My brother tugs on the back of my shirt and whispers, “What are you doing?”
“You're getting me out of here, right?” I ask, my socks slipping a little on the worn wooden floor.
“Ice â¦ shit.” Kevin sits down heavily on the bed, making it creak. I freeze, listening to make sure there isn't any sound coming from the hall.
He pats the bed next to him. “Come here. Sit down.”
I sit next to him, trying not to wince again. I don't want him to know about the bruises.
Kevin puts a hand on my outstretched leg. “You can't leave,” he says. “You know that.”
“But â¦ ” I stop. I know that if Kevin had his way, I could. He isn't the one I need to convince.
“I just wanted to see you,” he explains. “I wanted to apologize for the other night. I wanted to make sure you're okay. Are you okay?”
I let his apology sail away; it's enough that he said it, I guess. But I don't know how to answer his question. What does “okay” really mean, when I'm here?
“I'm hungry,” I admit, even though I'm pretty sure food isn't going to fill up the place in me that feels so empty. Besides, everything else is just too big to talk about.
Kevin's shoulders fall. He'd make someone a great mom. Somewhere in his mind, eating equals being okay.
“I'll go get you something,” he says, starting to move off the bed, back toward the window.
“No.” I grab his arm and hold tight. “You can't. He'll smell it. Besides, you just got here.”
My voice is too loud, but now that Kevin's here, bigger than life in his old room, I can't stand the thought of letting him go.
He puts his finger up to his lips and pries my hand off his arm. “Shhhhh â¦ ” he says as he walks over to the door and puts his ear against it.
A hundred thoughts fly across his face like a flock of birds.
He comes back and sticks his head out the window, looking in all directions. Then he offers me his hand.
“I have to bring you back. You get that, right?” he whispers.
I nod. The last thing I want is to get Kevin into trouble. But coming back isn't something I want to think about right now.
“Go,” he says, pushing me through the window.
I shimmy down the tree. The air feels cool and fresh on my face after the staleness of the house.
When I hit the ground, I look up and watch Kevin make his way down the tree.
The moon is full and shimmery. I hold my arms out and spin around in all the open space.
“Come on,” Kevin calls. “I parked down the street.”
I tag him and we race without a sound to the car. Every muscle in my body is aching, but I don't care. I'm so, so, so glad he's here.
I think about Canada. Moose, and hockey, and maple sugar. It's starting to sound like a good idea.
Kevin starts the car. “Eggs okay? You shouldn't eat a ton on an empty stomach.”
“Sure.” I'm so happy I'd almost eat oatmeal.
I roll the window down and stick my head out like a dog. My hair blows back off my face. The car's clock on the dash reads one in the morning. We're the only ones on the road. It feels like the whole city belongs to me and my brother.
We pass the monastery and pull into the Starlight Diner parking lot. I've never been here before, but I've passed by it plenty of times. There's an old star-shaped sign out front that has little lights that glow in order, so that it looks like the star is shining. I think about making a wish on it, but right now the only thing I'd want is what I have, and that's to be here with Kevin.
The bells on the door startle me when we walk in and that makes Kevin laugh and shake his head. I bump into his shoulder and run ahead, sliding into a booth near the window with cracked blue vinyl seats.
Kevin slips in next to me and we both prop our legs up on the other side of the booth. Some happy 1950s music is playing from an old-fashioned juke box, and I can't help but bop up and down against the crinkly vinyl.
I'm exhausted and hungry and scared, and filled with all the happiness I can hold now that Kevin is here.
“Holy shit. There's actually some music you like?” he says with a half-shocked look on his face.
I know he gets that it isn't the music that's making me so happy. It's just the first time since I got to the house that I've been able to breathe.
A couple with a baby pass by. I crane my neck and watch as they leave, the baby sleeping in one of those fabric things tied tight against the woman's body.
I'm not sure why, but it makes me think of Jordan. I know I need to tell Kevin about him, but I'm a little nervous to hear what he'll say. I think he'll be angry and I don't want to ruin our time together.
Kevin bumps his shoulder into mine to get my attention when the waitressâthe tag on her shirt says her name is Janiceâmakes it to our table. I shrug and let him order for us. She asks him all the usual questions about what type of eggs we want, toast, meat. I don't even pay attention to what he tells her.
Janice looks at us with a big smile on her face. I don't know why she isn't wondering why two kids are sitting in a diner in the middle of the night.
When she leaves, Kevin picks up a packet of sugar and shakes it back and forth.
“How bad is it?” he asks, looking at the sugar like it's the most interesting thing he's ever seen.
I don't want to answer. But I do anyhow. I can't lie to Kevin.
“He's nuts,” I say.
Kevin stares at me and waits for me to say more.
“I miss you.” I know that doesn't answer his question, but really it does.
He puts the sugar down and his eyes get a little shiny. “I miss you too. It's really quiet in the house.”
“I didn't know I made that much noise.”
Kevin laughs. It makes me realize how long it's been since I've really heard him do it.
The waitress brings plates loaded with eggs, toast, and bacon. She asks if we want orange juice and I almost spit out my first bite saying “no,” but other than that, it's some of the best food I've ever had.
We stay quiet for a while, shoveling food into our mouths as fast as we can and swaying along with the music.
Janice takes the plates all at once like a juggler and says, “You boys sure were hungry. Don't they feed you at home?”
I'm glad she doesn't ask why we laugh at her question.
Kevin holds his half-empty coffee cup in his hands and Janice leaves and comes back with a piece of cherry pie we didn't order. “You look like you could use it,” she says as she puts it in front of me.
My mouth waters as I pick through the pie with my fork, looking for pits. It never seems like they get all of them out of cherry pies. When I find one, I deposit it into the ashtray.
“Tell me what's going on over there,” Kevin says.