Read These Gentle Wounds Online

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 (18 page)

BOOK: These Gentle Wounds
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I slide the fork in my hand so that my palm folds around the tines. I move my thumb across each one, sticky with pie filling, in order. Pushing it deeper each time.

I don't know where to start.

Or what to tell him about Jordan.

“He's just … ” I look into my tea, hoping the right words will float up to the top. “The same.”

When I look up again, Kevin's face is twitchy and hard. His eyes are staring ahead at nothing.

“Have you slept?” he asks into the distance.

I shrug. Sometimes I'm not sure where spins stop and sleep begins.

“Next time,” he starts, and takes a big breath. “Next time, maybe I'll come and stay for a few hours and you can sleep and I'll keep watch.”

I move the fork, and it snaps out of my hand and spills some of the water from my glass. I reach over to grab some napkins, and my T-shirt must pull up because I hear Kevin gasp.

“What the hell is that?” he asks, pointing to my side. I twist my head to see what he's talking about. Thankfully, the way we're sitting, the really bad side is facing the window. I tug my shirt back down to cover the bruises.

“Hockey.” It isn't a complete lie. Just more of one than I'd usually tell him.

Kevin scrunches his face up. He knows I'm not telling him the whole truth.

“The season's over,” he mumbles.

A loud clap of thunder rattles the window next to me and makes me jump. When it starts to rain it feels like the sky is crying for us.

My brother's hands clench on the tabletop. And he goes quiet.

Janice brings the bill over and sets it down on the table. “You sure there's nothing else you need?”

I close my eyes. There are so many things we need that I can't even start a list.

“We're done,” Kevin spits out, and I guess from his tone that he's talking to me and not to the waitress. That's confirmed when he slaps the table as soon as she walks away. “This is done. I'm calling DeSilva.”

The temperature in the room drops a million degrees. “What? Why?”

“I'm going to tell her,” he whispers through his clamped teeth. “Everything.”

“Everything?”

My father hits Kevin so hard I can hear the slap through the wall that separates our rooms. He was late getting home from school again and didn't call to let us know. Maybe he had detention again. Or maybe he just didn't want to come home to this.

Through the wall, I hear Kevin whimpering, trying to hold the pain all inside. He doesn't want to give my father the satisfaction of hearing him cry. But the sound makes my eyes sting for him.

I blink the memories away and Kevin is still talking. Mumbling under his breath like I'm not even here.

“I know it won't matter. I know it's too long ago. I know she's going to think we're lying.” He's breathing heavy and his eyes are glazed and scary. I have to do something.

“No.” I shake his arm. “Just. No. There has to be another way.”

I'm not sure Kevin stops talking because my brain is turning into a roller coaster of ideas. We need proof. Current proof. Proof he's still the same asshole he always was and I'm not sure that checking me into the boards is going to cut it.

And we need proof before Jordan gets really hurt. I have to save him.

“I think we have another brother,” I blurt out, and Kevin stops rambling.

“What?” His mouth hangs open in shock.

I spit out the facts. “Well I do. My father has another kid. I saw him. His name is Jordan. He's seven.”

“How do you know it's his kid?” Kevin asks.

“He told me.”

“And you believe him?” Kevin's jaw is clenched and I wonder if I should just lie and take it all back.

“He looks just like me and he needs our help. He's just a little kid and his arms … Jordan's … there's something wrong with him.”

Just saying that makes me feel a little sick. I don't know if he's as messed up as I am or not. Either way, it isn't fair. He's just a little kid.

“Don't you think you have enough to worry about already?” Kevin asks.

“But … ”

He reaches out and grabs my wrist so tight it hurts. “Tell me you're not spinning over there. That you aren't hearing things. Tell me you're okay before we worry about some kid we don't even fucking know.”

I look down at the table because I can't tell him any of those things. But I'm not sure that my being a freak is a good excuse for not helping Jordan.

I grab my arm back and rub my wrist under the table. “It doesn't matter. I'm fine.”

Kevin shakes his head, but his face is like a blank page. “Yeah. I thought so.” After a beat he pulls his wallet out and leaves enough money to pay the bill and to give Janice a nice tip.

But he doesn't move.

Under the table, I twist the cuff of my shirt until it won't go any tighter against my sore wrist.

The music on the speakers is still light and happy. It's a strange juxtaposition to Kevin's voice. “I'm going to kill him one of these days.”

I feel the words rather than hear them.

I know they aren't just words to Kevin. I know they're his idea of a solution. A plan. A way to keep me safe. To keep Jordan safe. A way to fight back.

It's what I want, but I know it can't happen like that. I don't want Jordan to end up like me, filled with so many memories that it doesn't feel like there's room for anything else.

“No,” I insist. “Not that. But we have to do something.”

I'm so tired.

“It's going to be okay, Ice. It's going to be okay,” Kevin says, but something about the way he's looking at me makes me think he's saying it to make himself feel better.

We get up and head to the car in the rain.

Instead of getting in, he leans on the driver's door with his arms folded. The rain is bouncing off of his shoulders. I always seem to be standing in the rain these days.

“Do you want to come back home with me and sleep there for a few hours?” he asks.

I look at the rain-drenched sky and then at my watch. It's already two-thirty. I want to go with him, but I don't want him to get into trouble for me again. And I need to think. I need to sort this out.

“After all that food I can probably fall asleep anywhere,” I say, only I can't look at him when I say it because he'll know I'm lying. He probably knows anyhow.

My brother looks defeated as he drives. We don't talk until he gets back to his parking space near the old house.

“I'll see you in school Monday, okay?” he says. “Come early. I'll meet you at your locker before homeroom.”

I don't want to let him go, but I have to.

I throw my arms around his neck just like Jordan did to me. “I love you, Kev.”

“Love you too, Ice. Try to get some sleep and … stay out of his way.”

I nod and climb up the tree, back to my prison. But it's not until I go through the window that I hear Kevin's car door slam. And he only drives away when I'm on the other side.

Twenty-Four

I pretend I have homework to do on Sunday. I stare out the window and watch the rain beat against the glass. My father leaves. Comes back. Leaves again. I stay in Kevin's room, afraid of what might be waiting for me in the rest of the house.

When I leave for school on Monday, my father is snoring off the ten bottles of beer he drank the previous night. I'd counted each empty bottle as it bounced into the yard, hoping that if I knew he was drinking himself into a stupor, I could fall asleep myself.

It didn't work.

Now I'm so tired, I'm seeing things move out of the corners of my eyes.

Kevin is waiting at my locker, but I can tell he's angry and restless. He's bouncing on the balls of his feet and his hands are fidgeting. I wonder how many cups of coffee he's already had.

“Look, I've been thinking,” he says. “Maybe Canada isn't such a bad idea … I saw a movie once … ”

I haven't seen my brother like this in a long, long time, and I'm not sure I can handle it now. “It's okay. I'm okay,” I tell him.

He scowls like he doesn't believe me.

“Really. I'm okay.” Maybe he doesn't believe me because I don't believe myself, but it doesn't matter. I need Kevin to pull himself together, or I'm going to fall apart, and if I do that there will be no one to do the important stuff. “We need to find Jordan.”

There are so many things I'm unsure of, but this is the one thing I know. I may have screwed it up before, but this time I'm going to get it right.

It isn't what my brother wants to hear, though. He doesn't even react; he just spins the dial of the locker next to mine, over and over until I have to look away. I can tell he wants to keep moving. I know what that looks like. I know what that feels like.

“I need to get you out of there,” he says, like I haven't even spoken.

“You will.” I shake his arm. “Just … I need to do this. I can't leave Jordan there. And if I get busted for leaving, he'll be stuck there.”

“You need to do what?” Kevin looks at me with wide eyes. I know he's surprised I'd do anything that would mean staying in that house even a minute longer than necessary.

“Look, first I need to talk to Sarah.” Just saying her name brings up all sorts of thoughts that have nothing to do with either Jordan or Kevin.

“Sarah?” he asks, his jaw clenching tight.

“Yeah … why?” I dare him to answer.

“Nothing,” he says. But he won't look at me, so I know there's really something.

After a minute, he picks up a red-striped plastic shopping bag I hadn't noticed sitting at his feet.

“I brought you some food,” he says. “It isn't much, but I figure you aren't able to run to the fridge every ten minutes.” I peek inside hoping it isn't filled with solid soup, or egg-shaped peanut butter and jelly, or crystallized anything.

I get lucky. All I see are fruit, chips, and bottles of energy drinks. Nothing that looks like it's going to explode or like it was cooked in a chemistry lab.

I take it and stick it in the bottom of my locker while he says, “I thought that the empty bottles might come in handy.”

It takes a minute for me to figure out what he's talking about. Then I get it. “I've been peeing out the window,” I admit.

That, at least, brings a smile to his face. “I'm sure those fucking lilac bushes are appreciating it.”

His smile fades, and I look over my shoulder to see Sarah heading toward us with a huge grin on her face. The picture I had of her in my head while I was locked up wasn't even close to how she looks as she comes our way.

I turn my back on Kevin and stand there like I'm made of stone.

It takes her hours to reach us, from the other end of the hallway.

And then suddenly she's next to me, right in front of Kevin, when she puts her arms around me and squeezes.

Part of me registers that it hurts like hell when she pushes against the bruises on my side, but the rest of me doesn't care. The rest of me feels like I'm flying.

“Why didn't you call me? I'm so glad to see you. Are you okay? Is it horrible? I called, and your … Jim told me where you were. Are you free for lunch?”

I don't want to pull away, but her questions circle like seagulls pecking at me on a beach. I don't know which one to address first.

“Sarah … ” I try to free my arms, even though I don't really want to.

“You must be the famous Sarah Miller,” Kevin says from behind me. His voice is forced, but he's polite enough to shove his hand in her direction.

“In the flesh,” she says, and curtsies like Cinderella.

“Great. That's just … ” Kevin locks his arms tight around himself as he leans against the locker.

Sarah looks at me, confused. I don't know how to begin to explain how squirrely Kevin's acting because I don't even get it.

“I'll see you later,” I say to him and start to move back toward Sarah, but he grabs me in a headlock with a muscled arm, my throat lodged in the crook of his elbow.

A searing mix of hurt and anger floods through me. I can taste it, bitter on my tongue. My hand clenches, not because it's in a spasm but because I want to make him stop.

I know he's already all wound up and if I'm not careful, he'll stay that way for a long time. But I'm too pissed to care.

“So … Sarah … ” His words blow past my ear. I try to pull away, but he tightens his arm around my neck and I can't move.

Sarah narrows her eyes and looks from me to him, unsure of what to do.

I feel Kevin take a deep breath as his chest expands against my back.

“Are you for real?” he asks, digging his chin into my shoulder. “I mean, you're cute and all. Why are you bothering with my brother?” His voice is full of acid. “This better not be some sort of game or something.”

I elbow him in the ribs and push away.

“Fuck off, Kevin,” I say, or think. I'm not sure that I've made a sound, because Sarah doesn't really miss a beat.

She steps right up to him and, in a steely voice I've never heard her use, she says, “You know, Gordie says you're his best friend. Do I really need to tell you how smart he is or that he's one of the sweetest guys I've ever met?”

She's standing so close to Kevin they're almost touching, which isn't something I'd recommend when he's like this. Meanwhile Kevin is clenching the bottom of his T-shirt in his fists, which means he's trying not to punch something.

Then she goes in for the kill and says, “If you don't see that, maybe you're the one playing games.”

My heart stops in shock. Shock that she stood up to him and shock at her words. I'm just stuck in place, waiting for Kevin to explode all over the hall.

There's only silence and I hold my breath, waiting for it to be broken. I'm not even sure which of them I'm meant to be rooting for.

I guess my brother can still surprise me, though, because after all that, he laughs. I can actually see the tension seep out of his shoulders. “I might actually learn to like you, Sarah in the flesh.”

He winks at me before he turns and walks off down the hall.

I close my eyes and press my back hard against the door until the combination lock hits a bruise on my rib and I jerk forward.

“Gordie, are you okay?” Sarah asks.

She's standing so close to me that I can smell her shampoo. I wonder if Kevin could smell it when she stood next to him. I wonder if it turned him on like it's doing to me.

I shake my head to clear it. “Yeah, yeah, I'm fine,” I say, but it doesn't ring any truer when I say it to her than it did when I said it to Kevin.

“Is he always that jumpy?”

“No. He's just … I don't know.” I don't want to think about why Kevin is being so weird in front of Sarah, because then I'd have to think about the other night, and there are other things I'd rather think about now.

“Did you … ” I ask, forcing myself to turn toward her. “Did you mean what you said about me?”

She smiles and it makes my stomach unclench, but she doesn't answer. Instead, she puts a hand on my arm, and I can feel its heat burning through the long-sleeved shirt I'm wearing to cover up my bruises from the rink.

She leans over and kisses me, and the hall explodes with whistles that make me flinch. When I spin around, it's some of the guys from the team.

Someone pats me on the back.

“Go for it, Gordie,” Walker says as he walks by, then “Ouch” as Luke elbows him in the ribs and says, “Hey, that's my sister.”

A couple of the others laugh and walk backward so they can watch us. I'm relieved that Cody isn't one of them, but still I turn a million shades of red and come close to collapsing against the lockers.

Sarah gives them the finger and then turns back to me like nothing happened.
This girl is amazing.

“So seriously … are you okay? Is it horrible being there? With your father?”

I look into her concerned eyes and think about lying yet again, but I don't. “Yeah, it's pretty horrible. Plus … ” I don't know who else is going to walk by and I'm not sure if this is the place to talk to her about Jordan, or if I should tell her about him at all. I just can't think of any way to try to help him that doesn't involve her.

“Look. There's other stuff. And it's complicated. And I'm not sure what to do. I mean, I think I know what I should do, but I don't think I can do it alone and I'm not sure I can ask you to help me, but I don't know who else to ask.”

My words are coming out tangled, and I know there's no way in hell she's even got a clue about what's going on. I need her to understand. I just don't know if I can say it to her, and now my damned hand is starting up so I bend my arm back between me and the locker. But I know she won't like that, so I pull it out again and then the first bell goes.

“Gordie, do you want to just skip first period and go somewhere and talk?”

I didn't know that was what I wanted, but now I realize it's exactly what I need, to go somewhere with her and talk. And maybe even kiss her.

“Yeah,” I say again, relieved. “Want to go to Jim's house? I mean, mine … you know.”

She nods, and we slip through the crowds and out of school. We don't say anything the whole way to the house. I don't want to tell her anything while we're out on the street and she somehow knows that, so it's okay.

Jim's car isn't there, which is good. I really hadn't thought about what I'd do if he was home. I let us in and it's like I haven't been there in forever. Everything is just like it was on Friday morning, only now, for the first time in five years, it feels weird to be here.

“Hang on, okay?” I say to her. She nods as I go to the kitchen and rummage through the drawers. I find a beat-up butter knife and put it in the back pocket of my jeans. It will have to do.

When I come back into the living room, she's holding a photo of Kevin and me that has been living on Jim's bookshelves so long that it leaves a perfect square in the dust when she picks it up. Long enough that I've been able to forget it's there.

“You guys were really cute kids,” she says.

I look over her shoulder at the photo. It was pretty soon after we moved here. We're at the playground in matching striped shirts that Mom bought us. Kevin has a fake smile plastered onto his face, but I look empty, like I'm not there. Kevin's arm is around my shoulders. I can see he's holding me so tightly that it must have hurt, only I wasn't feeling much back then, so who knows.

Looking at the photo makes me feel a million things at once. It makes me miss Kevin and think how I've always been able to take for granted that he'd be there looking out for me. And it makes me realize how hard it must have been for Jim to suddenly be saddled with two screwed-up kids when all he wanted was to travel and see the world.

Before I push myself too close to a spin, I take a deep breath and force myself to look away, to look at Sarah, to try to forget.

“Come on. I'll show you my favorite place.” I reach over and take her hand so fast I can't scare myself out of it, and lead her upstairs.

My first thought when I open our bedroom door is that I'm glad Kevin didn't leave underwear or that pack of condoms lying around. I hadn't even thought of all the embarrassing crap that could be sitting out for anyone to see. Then I go to the window and, after a few attempts, open it with the knife.

And then the air. All the fresh air comes rushing in and wraps around me. I can't help but close my eyes and sigh even though I know we don't have a lot of time.

I climb out first and help her through. The first thing she does is walk around the whole perimeter of the widow's walk, a smile on her face.

“Cool. This is great. I wish my house had this.”

I'm at war with myself as I head to the safe side and sit, pressing my back hard against the wall of the house. I'm not sure when I was last up here without Kevin. I wonder if Sarah being here will be enough to hold me if I feel like I have to start moving closer to the edge.

She comes over and sits down in front of me. She leans back between my legs so that my chin rests on the top of her head.

I'm pretty sure she'll be enough.

I close my eyes against her hair as she takes one of my hands in each of hers and wraps them around her.

I'm drowning in lilacs.

“I'm getting my driver's license this summer,” she says. I can feel my arms around her, but it sounds like she's so far away. “When I have it, we could leave. Just the two of us.”

“You mean, like a vacation?” I ask.

Her hands tighten on mine but she looks straight ahead when she replies. “No. I meant we could really leave.”

BOOK: These Gentle Wounds
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