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I wake up, the bright room slowly coming into view. My vision swims, sparkling bits of stuff floating in the air in front of me.
I try to sit up, but I can’t move. The room darkens, and I can see that I’m laying down, in a tiny- person sized room. The room is silver. A horrible, ugly thought races through my mind.
The morgue. I’m in the morgue. I’m locked inside a tiny little drawer, lying on a table with wheels, so they can cut me open and learn my secrets. They’ve seen my scars, and my tattoo. They’ve uncovered my well- kept secrets. They know me.
Someone is screaming, the noise piercing my ears. The sound is blood- curdling, stabbing my heart with its sharpness. The place sounds like a madhouse with the scream reverberating through its tiny walls, with its cold metal and colder bodies. I want to comfort the screamer, but I remember I can’t move. The scream grows louder, sharper. It’s going to tear me apart. And then, I realize that the one screaming is me.
The door opens, and the cart that I’m lying on is pulled out. No one seems to have heard the scream, and I think I might have imagined the sharp noise. I look around, searching for any sign of living people. All I see is a round fluorescent light above me. I can feel a cloth covering me from a little below my hips to my armpits. My arms are outside of the cloth, as if I was arranged. The room is cold, and I realize that the metal on my back is too.
“Is this your daughter, ma’am?” A man’s deep, gravelly voice comes to my ear. A woman leans into my line of sight. My mom – sober, with her hair pulled back. Her eyes are red and puffy, like she’s been crying.
“Yes. This is Ella.” She moves back, and I feel a tear, warm and wet, roll down my cheek. Am I dead?
“Wait a minute.” Not the mortician’s voice, but another man’s voice. One I recognize. I gasp, and my father leans over so I can see his face. His emerald green eyes held a dark sadness in them, and I see that his cheeks are shimmering. They’re wet.
“Daddy?” my voice is weak, but even the mortician hears it. My dad has a shadow of a beard, and his tan skin has aged. But it’s my dad.
“Sir. This girl is alive. We have made a mistake.” The mortician says into a phone. He leans into my line of sight. A white shock of hair is on his head, and he had a beard to match. Blue eyes look back at me, dark ones that have seen a lot of death. “Can you sit up, Miss Smith?”
“I don’t know. Are my clothes around here somewhere?” I ask, my voice growing a bit stronger.
“Yes. Here you are.” The man starts to hand me a Wal- Mart bag of clothes, but thinks better of it and puts it at my feet. I’m still lying down. “We’ll be outside. Please tell us when you’re finished.”
They leave, and I sit up. Pain shoots through my body, and I pull on my clothes. Once I’m dressed, Anthony appears.
“You survived.” He says, looking happy and sad at the same time.
“I guess I did.” I say, stretching. I feel like a zombie, undead.
“You need to forget me, Ella.” He says, fading.
“Never.” I say, before he disappears. The door opens, because they’ve heard me talking. The mortician is followed by my mom, who is followed by my dad.
“The doctor is coming to take you back to the hospital, Miss Smith. Do you remember anything from 2 nights ago?” The mortician asks.
“I remember Mom got drunk – and that’s about it.” I reply, sitting on the edge of the table. It’s been 2 nights?
“Do you know why your arm is wrapped at the wrist?”
“No.” I noticed the gauze when I was getting dressed. It feels heavy, now that everyone has spoken about it. It’s a stark white, but I could see some lines of red coming through, forming a pattern.
“Ella.” Now Dad’s talking, and I can’t help but notice the distance between him and Mom. “You tried to kill yourself, Ella. Why?”
“Anthony.” Mom answers for me, and I’m surprised that she knows about him. He wasn’t a secret, but Mom had been so out of it, I didn’t think she noticed.
“Who?” Dad asks, looking at me, his undead daughter who he didn’t know at all.
“Anthony was my ex- boyfriend, Dad. He killed himself. 14 months and 9 days ago, to be exact.” I respond, looking Dad dead in the eye. Dad’s surprised at how much I’ve endured, and a spark of understanding shines in his emerald eyes that mirror mine.
“Dan. Can I talk to you outside?” My mom says, and my dad follows her out the door. I hear screaming, and as I watch them fight, I can see the anger that they hid from me for so long, even until the day Daddy left.
“Joanna! This is not my fault!” my dad yells, and I share a knowing look with the old mortician. I’m sure he’s seen this before.
“You were the one who left, Dan! For all we know, you started this all!” Said the woman who mentally left almost just as long, I think. But in this moment I love my mom, so I banish the thought.
The next words they say are mumbled and muffled. But when they come back in, followed by a doctor and gurney, even more distance is between them.
“Miss Smith?” the doctor, a young, tired- looking man, asks, and I carefully stand up. “Please get on the gurney.” I do, lying down. The tenseness in my muscles dissolves the gurney a cloud compared to the morgue table. I close my eyes.
“Stay awake, Ella.” Mom says, but I can barely hear her. I drift off into dreams that aren’t quite my own, flighty and pastel. Sailboats become stars, and angels sing Sky Sailing songs that sweep me off into the imagination of Adam Young.
Bright, fluorescent lights bombard my eyes like atom bomb explosions on a battlefield of white. The noise is insane, wheels on tiles and people shouting. Did I die? Where am I? I squeeze my eyes shut, spots dancing on the red underneath of my eyelids.
I’m moved into a quieter room, and the sudden change in noise level starts a small but persistent hammer pounding in my head, shattering my every thought. The young doctor walks in again and notices I’m awake.
“Miss Smith. You’re awake.” Obviously. His voice is still tired, and I have a feeling he shouldn’t be on the job. “You have a visitor.”
“Where are my parents?” I ask, but the look on the doctor’s face tells me I shouldn’t have asked that question.
“They went home to rest. Would you like to see your visitor?” he asks, a note of annoyance coming into his voice.
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know! A boy.” The man is angry, and his youth is coming through. Doctors don’t usually act like this, and I have a feeling he’s just out of school. I think of Doogie Howser M.D., an old T.V. show my mom used to love.
“Send him in, please.” I say, and as Matt comes in, the doctor leaves in a huff. He must be tired and a bit of a Doogie, because most doctors are much more mellow.
“Hey.” Matt says, sitting on the edge of the hospital bed. I find the button that makes me sit up, and hold it until I’m sitting comfortably.
“Hey.” My voice sounds sad, and the room seems to darken.
“So you OK?” I don’t want to lie anymore, especially not to my best friend.
“No. I’m tired. I’m cold. My dad’s back. And I miss Anthony.”
“Well. I can’t fix three of those problems. But here.” Matt hands me his jacket, helping me drape it over my shoulders.
“Thank you.” The sleeves hang loosely at my side, and Matt can see the bandage around my wrist.
“Please don’t leave me, Ella.” Matt says, and for the first time since I met him, I see the sadness in Matt’s dark blue eyes.
“As long as you stay right now, I won’t.” I say, scooting over. Matt scoots up beside me, lying down. “I’m scared, Matt.”
“I know, Ella. So am I.” he turns over, helping me do the same. We’re inches from each other, our chests even closer.
“What are you afraid of?” I ask, looking into his eyes.
“I’m afraid that you’ll leave. What are you afraid of?” Matt asks me in return.
“I’m afraid that I’ll leave – and never come back.”
And then, Matt’s kissing me. It’s ethereal, unexpected. Amazing. All my thoughts slip away, and I feel like my brain just turns off. I’m on another planet, a dark one. My eyes fluttered shut as he leaned in, so I don’t know where I am. And honestly, as long as I’m with him, I don’t care where I am. His lips are chapped, and I wonder how long he’s been waiting to see me.
Gasping, I break the kiss. Matt’s surprised, especially when more tears run tracks down my face. I think of Anthony, and I feel like I just cheated on him. But Anthony’s not here. Anthony is dead. And Matt and I are still here. We’re still breathing. We’re still alive, even though it might be barely.
“Sorry.” Matt says, getting up.
“Don’t leave.” I don’t want to be alone. Not alone in the hospital with my demons and no one to keep them from me.
“I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.” Matt’s up, almost out the door. He turns and comes back, pulling his jacket off of my shoulders. My wrist hits my leg, and pain stings the cut. And as I hold in a scream, Matt walks out.
My music is on full blast, and I walk into school. My wrist is still wrapped from 2 weeks ago, but my new therapist convinced me to wear short sleeves. I feel exposed, naked, without my long sleeves.
All through the day, more homework is piled on to my work load. I sit alone in every class and at lunch. Matt avoids me, and my heart starts to ache for company.
When I get home, Dad’s cooking dinner and Mom is flipping channels. They’re almost in the same room, a half wall dividing the kitchen and the living room.
“How was your first day back, Ella?” Mom asks, settling on Wheel of Fortune.
“Good. I have a lot of homework.” I hand her the mail, my white scars showing under the yellow light.
“You better start working on it now. Dinner will be ready in half an hour.” Dad says, stirring whatever’s on the stove. I smell meat and pasta. Spaghetti?
“Will do.” I say, the tension in the room thick. Mom and Dad aren’t using to being in the same room together, much less parenting together.
“Good.” Dad says, and I go to my room. I press my music in, losing myself in a song that described my day at school.
“We’ve been / picking up the pieces / leaving all the dust behind. / Sick of all the pressure / you’re just wasting time. / And I don’t ever wanna know what it feels like / to be a shadow of myself. / And I don’t ever wanna come back down from this feeling. / What makes you think that you know / what’s better for me? / I don’t think you wanna see what’s underneath / your made up version me.” We Are The In Crowd sings, pulling off great harmony and hard vocals in a beautiful duet.
My chemistry homework is a mess of letters and numbers, but I quickly solve the practice equations for an upcoming quiz. The Review Math homework goes by in a flash, easy slope problems moving into harder ones. I view that as a piece of cake.
Weightless by All Time Low starts to play as I pull out my Creative Writing homework. I’m supposed to write a fan fiction of something I loved, a story or T.V. show. I decided on The Hunger Games and got to work.
About halfway done with my fan fiction, my phone buzzes. I finish my sentence, picking up my phone.
<I need to see you.> the text reads. It’s from Matt, and a bit of anger washes over me. If he needed to see me so bad, why did he avoid me in school?
<Both parents are being crazy. Can’t escape the house.> I reply, hitting send. My phone replies, a ‘Sent’ message appearing on the screen.
Buzz! <Your Dad’s still in town?>
<Yeah. Staying here. Clueless.> Sent.
Buzz! <Can you sneak out?>
<How do you think I saw Anthony so much?> Sent.
Buzz! <Good point. 10 in the park sound good to you?>
<Sure. I might not make it… I have a lot of homework.>
<Will do.> Sent. Dad comes in, and I pull out an ear bud.
“Dinner’s ready.” He says, seeing my papers spread out on the bed. “Did you get a lot done?”
“Most of it.” I respond, turning off my music. “I’m almost done.”
“Good job, Ella.”
“Thanks. I’ll be right out.”
“OK. Please hurry.”
<G2G. I’ll text you when I get back.> Sent.
Buzz! <OK. Bye.>
Smells of lasagna fill my nostrils as soon as I step out of my room. The house is warm, and I remember back to the last time my dad made us lasagna. About a week before he left.
The warm smells fill the house, and Mom’s singing in the kitchen, making garlic bread. I come in, picking up the song. It’s early August, and there are another 3 weeks before my freshman year starts. Most of our windows are open, letting in the summer air.
In comes Dad. “Stop singing that, Joanna. It’s annoying.” Mom notes his comment, but continues to sing the country song.
“And it’s hey now / here we go. / DJ don’t you play nothin’ slow / keep those girls out on the floor / gotta make ‘em wanna come back for more. / Been here since the sun went down / be here when it comes back around / worked all week / it’s time to play. / Gonna get a little bit / sideways.” Mom’s sings, adding twang to her beautiful voice. It fills the house.
“I said stop.” Dad slaps her, and I can tell it stings. Dad must be drunk. Or maybe he’s sober. I can’t quite tell these days.
Shaking myself back into the present, I sit down at the table, helping myself to a scoop of lasagna. No prayer is said. I start eating my meal in silence.
“So, how is your freshman year going, Ella?” Dad asks, scooping some more lasagna onto his empty, sauce- stained plate.
“It’s my junior year, actually.” I say. Dad should know when he left, the summer before my freshman year started. Maybe he’s been drunk this whole time. I finish my lasagna, standing up. It’s only been 15 minutes, but I don’t want to do anything I’ll regret.
“Where are you going, Ella?” Dad asks, his anger cutting my confidence into bits. The air in the room is sharp with the echo, and I don’t want to move. I might get cut on his biting words.
“I have homework.” I say, pushing my chair in. “Thanks for dinner.” I go back to my room, finishing the fan fiction as fast as I can.
<OK. I’m back.> Sent. I pull out my Civics homework, the simple worksheets boring me.
Buzz! <Cool. So…>
<What?> Sent. The Civics pages aren’t hard, but they have lots of steps. While I wait for a response from Matt, I turn my music back on. Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey starts to play, her timeless alto filling my ears.
“Kiss me hard before you go / summertime sadness. / I just wanted you to know / that baby you’re the best.”
Buzz! <Do you think you’ll ever move on from Anthony?>
<I don’t know. He was my first love. Why?> Sent.
Buzz! <Just wondering.>
<Do you miss him?> Sent.
Buzz! <He was best friend. Yes. But he moved on.>
<I refuse to think that Anthony ‘moved on’.> Sent.
Buzz! <He’s dead, Ella.>
“He’s dead.” Acceptance washes over me. Anthony was gone, for good. Cutting and going comatose for 2 days wasn’t going to change that.
<I know.> It hurts to type the words, but I know I need to move on. I hit the send, checking the time. Not even 7.
Buzz! <Good. Let’s move on together.> I don’t respond. I finish homework, lying back on my bed.
“On your side of the bed / there’s a picture of our wedding day. / A clock that don’t work / and the Bible that your Daddy gave. / It’s on the window side / where the moon creeps in at night.” Little Big Town sings, a song I got for my mom. I still love it, even if it’s not quite Mayday Parade or All Time Low.
“Tell me how / how’d you get so far away? / All we got left / are the memories of the love we made. / Are you sleeping with your own regrets? / On your side of the bed.”
<Still here.> Sent.
Buzz! <Don’t do that. Don’t ignore texts. Last time you did that, you almost died. I will call 911.>
<You worry about me?> Sent.
Buzz! <I worry about all my friends. But I worry about you just a little more.> I smile, looking at the clock. I was so lost in my music that I lost track of time. It was 9:45.
The house is shady and dark, dead silent as I slip out into a starry night. A few cars drive past, their purring engines adding noise to the chilly March night.
As I near the park, Brave by Sara Bareilles starts to play, and I realize that I need to brave. I need to let go of Anthony, and maybe Matt can help.
“Ella?” Matt shines a flashlight at me. I cover my eyes with my arm, nodding.
“Matt!” I run to him, pulling his tall frame down to my short one. He’s almost 5’8”, and I’m only 5’3”. Our lips meet, my eyes fluttering shut. At first it’s gentle, innocent. Then it becomes intense, needing each other like we needed to breathe. Force came behind his lips, so I met it. We kissed hard and fast, and when we broke it, our breathing was ragged.
I sit down on a bench, catching my breath. Anthony appears standing in front of me. I ignore him. Matt sits down next to me, and I face him.
“Don’t ever feel sorry for anything you do with me, Matt.” I say, breathing easier. The chilly air fills my lungs, but unlike in January, it doesn’t burn.
“Why?” he asks, caressing my face with his soft, chapped hand. It was working, and I could feel that he worked hard.
“I need to move on. You’re right.” Anthony is fading, and he waves goodbye. He looks truly happy, even though I’m moving on from him. I realize that this morning, I didn’t write a number on my hand. I don’t know how long he’s been dead. I resist the urge to wave back. “And this time, no one’s leaving.”
I lean into Matt, giving him another gentle, innocent kiss. When we break it, Anthony is gone.