Persephone In Winter

I. Boys and Girls

“I think he’s creepy.  He totally has hardcore Nice Guy Syndrome for you.”  She said it with ultimate authority, the way she always did when she had just learned a new word.  In this case, a phrase.  She said it to her reflection in the mirror, not to me, which in someone else I may have mistaken for vanity.  I knew she just didn’t have the guts look me in the eye when she insulted Truman.

“He isn’t a ‘Nice Guy’,” I said.  “He’s my best friend.”  Best and only friend, were the words in my mind.  I’d say them out loud if I had the courage to lose her.  I may have stopped thinking of Savannah as a friend but I still didn’t want to be without my only steady female acquaintance.  She saved me from totally losing touch.  But when it came to Truman I had no trouble sorting out where my loyalties lie; everything she said went in one ear and out the other, leaving only traces of annoyance behind.

“See Nice Guy, definition of.”

“That doesn’t count if you’ve been friends since you were kids,” I said, though I really didn’t want to continue the argument.  She could be like a dog with a bone when she got it into her head, and often her favorite bone to gnaw on was my not-relationship with Truman.  We’d had this conversation before.  I’d know Truman since kindergarten and Savannah since the fourth grade, when she moved here from a busy, sunny place, a teaming southern metropolis where people spoke with lazy drawls and stayed indoors at noon.  Over time she’d worked hard to lose all trace of her drawl, to fit in with the nasally Midwestern twang of our forbidding, frosty north.  She never did really fit in, though, not entirely.  That’s probably why she still hung out with me and Truman even though she could slip into the midst of the popular kids when she put her mind to it.

“We’re not kids anymore,” she said, turning from the sink, shaking the water from her hands.  She never used paper towel or hand dryers, never even wiped her hands on her clothes, just shook them compulsively for a few minutes after washing.  I trailed after her as she left the bathroom, though I should have been the one heading out with purpose.  We had been on our way to the football field to watch the tryouts when Savannah felt the need for a bathroom and tough-girl-talk detour.  I didn’t care about the football team, I had no school spirit or jocks for friends, but Truman was trying out for the team this year, and we had to support him, whether he liked it or not.

The argument began when Savannah stated that Truman was doing it to impress me, to make me think of him in a more manly way, to see him as athletic and brave instead of treating him like a little brother “the way I did.”  All utter stupidity.  Anyone who knew Truman and me would know that A) his father was the one who wanted him to try out for the team, who wanted to be able to think of his son as athletic and brave, and B) I didn’t give a single flying fuck about it.  His father had been the high school football coach once upon a time, before leaving for a better job, a suit-and-tie office job that made him itchy and restless but kept food on the table (as Truman often said, imitating his father’s way of speaking, making me laugh).  Mr. Williams never got to coach his son, at any level, because Mrs. Williams wouldn’t allow it.  Truman had always been small for his age, still was, and she didn’t want him getting hurt.  She taught English at the high school, it was how Mr. and Mrs. met, like some improbable couple in a romantic comedy.  She named her son after her favorite author, Truman Capote, which was probably not the best thing to do.  Most kids don’t know who Truman Capote is but if they bother to find out, they are almost certain to beat you up for it.

Truman had no interest in sports.  He was, like his mother, a reader.  But some deep, evolutionarily ingrained desire to please one’s father had overcome him this year and so there he was, looking awkward and Rudy-like in his gear.  Savannah was still talking as we sat down on the bleachers, still flapping her hands as little as she flapped her gums about no guy ever hanging out with a girl as much as Truman hung out with me unless he wanted something out of it.  And I could ignore it all I wanted, but I couldn’t ignore it forever.  I sighed and rested my chin in my hands, staring out at the field with the dullest expression of immense boredom that I could.  Maybe if I stopped retorting and began ignoring, she would lose interest.

I could not understand why she was so interested in the first place.  Maybe because she considered me her best friend, and best friends were always supposed to be up in each other’s business.  Only, it wasn’t like that between me and Truman.  He never bugged me about anything.  He let me be, and god knows, I needed to be let be often enough.  See, I wasn’t “not-dating” him because I didn’t like him.  Of course I liked him.  He was smart, and funny, and tough, no matter what his mother thought.  No matter what Savannah thought, there wasn’t any “Nice Guy” mooning going on.  (And I didn’t treat him like a “little brother” – why did she think it had to be brother or boyfriend?  Why was there no room for friend, no qualifications?)

I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket, and pulled it out.  “Call from Red” blinked on the screen.  I frowned.  My step-father – Robert Edward Daniels, never called any of those things by anyone who knew him – never called me at this time of the day.  He worked till late in the evening, 12 hour shifts at a printing company.  He should be neck deep in tedious work right about now.

I hit OK.  It was too unusual to ignore.  I forgot to speak, just lifted the phone to my ear, half expectant, half thinking it was a pocket-call and all I’d hear was muffled noises.

“Seph?” came his voice after an awkward pause.

“Yeah?”

Only then did Savannah notice I was on the phone. She stopped talking and gave me an affronted look, an how-dare-you-answer-the-phone-and-not-listen-to-me look, then turned her attention to the field.

“I thought I should let you know . . . ” he sounded oddly distracted, his voice cutting out and coming back in, as if he were moving around and not keeping the phone close enough to his face, “ . . . don’t go to the daycare to pick up Anthony . . . ”

“What?  Why?”  I stood.  My stomach was all clenched up like a brittle stone, but my legs were restless, jello-y.  The feeling had come over me, full of bad memory.  I didn’t know where I was going, but I tripped over legs to get to the edge of the bleachers, ignoring disgruntled exclamations as I passed.

“Seph!” Savannah’s voice cried out behind me, full of surprise.

“I’m at the hospital.  I . . . they . . . his cold got worse, they said he was having trouble breathing . . . ”

“I don’t understand.”  I was free of the seats, walking down the steps now.  Anthony had been suffering from a nagging cough for a few days, along with the ubiquitous runny nose of a toddler.  But the hospital?  Fear scrabbled up my throat, making it hard to speak, but I sounded oddly calm when I suggested, “They were just overreacting, right.  He’s fine.”

“I— I don’t know.  He’s not doing good.  The doctors think he might have been having an asthma attack.”  There was a pause as he said something muffled.  She could almost see him swearing under his breath and running a distracted hand through his hair.  “An asthma attack.  He’s only three.”

“I’m coming over, I just have to—” and then I stopped, realizing that Savannah was the one who was going to give me a ride to the daycare and then home, after school.  Savannah had her own car, I did not.  Another reason I held my tongue and maintained our friendship.  It was not selfish, I often told myself.  It was for Anthony.  Truman often drove me, and then we would hang out at my house, babysitting Anthony like a strange little not-family, but Truman wasn’t always available.  Today, Savannah was my ride.

I turned around, looking up at the bleachers.  She was still sitting there, staring at me, but she hadn’t moved to follow.  So typical.

“You don’t have to come here,” Red told me.  “There’s nothing to do, I’m just pacing out here, waiting for them to tell me something.”

Really?  What was I supposed to do, go back to watching boys tossing a ball around, as if it mattered?  “What are they doing?  Why are you in there with them?”

“I—”

He kept on talking but I didn’t hear anything he said.  A resounding crunch and the collective gasp of everyone around me made me jump, my nervous hand dropping the phone.  I looked to the field, and saw two big guys giving each other a high five as the football bounced away, lonely.  An undersized player lay awkwardly on the ground, unmoving.

“You okay, bro?” said one guy, Tyler Mitchens, a beefy junior.  He took off his helmet and looked curiously at the inert form on the ground.  I knew who it was.  I knew right away, because the feeling was already there, telling me that it was not going to be okay.  It was never, ever, going to be okay.


II. Car wrecks

A string of beads hung from Savannah’s rear view mirror.  A string of beads, a faded cardboard freshener in the shape of two cherries, and a necklace she had taken off one day and just left there.  They clacked together, plastic beads and silver pendant.  There was no smell of cherries.  There was no sound but the gentle clacking.

The coach thought that Truman might have a concussion.  He definitely had broken bones . . . his arm, and also his collarbone, maybe.  They wouldn’t know for sure what all was wrong until he got the hospital.  Less than five minutes spent on the field, one hit, and he was broken.  His mother . . . his mother would not be happy.

When we left the school, they were waiting for the ambulance.  The coach and the school nurse had things under control, though.  Truman was conscious, though groggy, and in pain.  I told Savannah I needed to go to the hospital and she didn’t comprehend.  She told me to calm down, that the ambulance was coming, and all I could do was tell her again and again that it didn’t matter, that I needed to go.

I headed for the parking lot, to Savannah’s car, my only thought the little magnetic box under her muffler with the spare key inside.  I didn’t know how to drive, I wasn’t supposed to take Driver’s Ed until next semester, but all I could think was that it couldn’t be that hard.  Not unless there was snow on the road.  Snow and ice and howling wind.  I’d sworn never to drive in the winter, but it was not winter yet.  It could not be that hard now, in the fall.  Savannah was upset, but she followed me, calling to me that I was scaring her.  Scaring her.  Anthony couldn’t breathe and Truman was broken and she was scared.

Maybe I was freaking out a little bit.  I had to pace up and down in the lot before I could find her car.  No, I didn’t even find it.  She had to take me to it, telling me that maybe I should go home.  I finally told her that it was Anthony, Anthony was in the hospital and I had to go.  Anthony couldn’t breathe and I had to go.  She said she would take me to the hospital, but she was oddly quiet.  The beads were clacking and I was alone in my mind, and I remembered that they had clacked serenely together when Savannah drove me to the hospital in March, drove me to the hospital because my mother was not breathing and I had to go.  Red and white Valentine beads from the punch table at the Winter Formal.  So like Savannah to salvage the chintzy garland and keep it in her car.  But it was September now and why were they still there?

I could barely even remember that dance.  Truman had said that if I wanted to go, he wouldn’t mind taking me, and we had gone, but I didn’t think of it as a date.  I had spent too many years doing everything with Truman to be thinking of anything we did together as a date.  I didn’t think of it as a date until my mother took a picture of the two of us looking awkward in a dress and tux.  She clicked the camera a couple times and said, with a fond smile, “Your first high school dance.  You both look so grown up.  It makes me feel old!”

She was dead in a week.  And she still looked so, so young.


III. Fire and Ice

Anthony looked small in the hospital bed.  He had tubes in his nose.  To help him breathe, Red said.  There was danger yet.  The doctors said he’d suffered an asthma attack brought on by over-exertion and an increasingly severe cold.  They were worried it would turn into pneumonia and wanted to keep him overnight.  I stood by his bed and watched him sleep.  There was nothing I could do for him.  Me, who did everything for him.  He was such a needy little thing, thin and wispy for a three year old, as if his baby fat was leaving him too soon.  He shouldn’t have to go to daycare, I thought.  All those germs and large roly-poly children running around.  He shouldn’t have to be there during the day, he should be home with his mother, who always worked nights so that he never had to be away from family.  I was only twelve years old when he was born but it had been like that from the first; I was his mother while Mom was away.  And now she was always away, and I could not be there for him during the day, so he had to go to daycare and now he was sick because of it.

“You should go home.  You have school in the morning.”

I didn’t even look up.  Red was sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the bed.  He smelled like ink and grease.  If he would switch to working nights this wouldn’t have happened, I thought.  I couldn’t very well go to school at night, but the factory where he worked was open 24/7 and had an overnight shift, 7 pm to 7 am instead of 7 am to 7 pm.  He said he’d be too tired to look after Anthony if he worked the night shift anyway, just like he was always tired at night and went to bed early, telling me to keep it down.  He never took care of Anthony, barely even saw him, but he was sitting next to his bed with the haggard look of the concerned parent, telling me to go home?

“I don’t need to go to school, I need to be with Anthony.  Who’s going to look after him when they release him?”

“I already called in to work,” he said.  “I’m staying here all night, taking him home in the morning.”

Anthony’s chest rose and fell, rose and fell, the tubes connected to his face covering his small body.  He would have looked peaceful and quiet, nothing to worry about, if not for the tubes.  “You can’t look after him all by yourself, especially not when he’s sick,” I objected.

“I can take care of my own son.”

“When’s the last time you did?  Anthony needs me.”  I finally looked up.  Red was giving me a long, cold stare from bleary eyes.  He needed a cigarette, or a coffee, or both.  I could tell by the redness of his eyes and the way his ink stained hands were clasped together, the thumbs nervously rubbing against one another.

“You need to go to school,” he said.  “Anthony doesn’t need you, I’ll be there.”

I laughed.  “You think it’s that easy?  You can just become a great dad because something happened?  You don’t know how to take care of a toddler, you won’t be able to take care of Anthony.  Don’t tell me I need to go to school, you’re not my father and you’re barely even a father to Anthony.”

“Now’s not the time to be a bratty little teenaged shit.”  His voice was low and calm, and he didn’t move, but for the rubbing.  I hated everything about him, from the constant five o’clock shadow to the cold, bleary eyes, to the nervous inky hands.  And the smoke-smell that clung to him, always.

“You don’t get to talk to me like that,” I countered, hoping I sounded as deadly calm.  Whenever he got calm and I got shrill, I lost the argument automatically.  It didn’t matter what I said or how right I was; if my voice rose I became the whiny, bratty, stupid teenaged girl.  “I’m not going to school tomorrow.  This isn’t an argument.”

“I’m not writing you an absence note.”

“I don’t care.  Do you think I care about that?  Anthony is in a hospital bed, and you think I give a shit about that?”  There was nothing for it, my voice was rising.  He was so determined to dismiss me as a child who could be frightened by thoughts of demerits at school.  I had already missed out on everything that was good about school – I’d missed out on parties and dances and pageants and sports events for Anthony, to take care of Anthony, to be with my little brother.  Did this man, this stupid, clueless man, really think the penalty for skipping a day of classes meant so much to me?

He sighed and unclasped his fists to run one hand through his hair.  “I don’t care what you want, Persephone.  You have to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around you, this family is not going to fall apart without you.”

“What family?  You and Anthony?  That’s not much of a family.”  I knew my words would hurt him.  I wanted them to hurt.

“He’s the only family I have.”  Red met my angry gaze without flinching.  “I never wanted to be your father; I didn’t marry your mother for the privilege of raising a stuffed up little bitch like you.”

“That’s good, because you’re not raising me.  You’re not raising Anthony.  You’re never around and that’s how it should be.  I never needed a father before you showed up and I sure as hell don’t need one now.  I’ll never understand what my mother saw in a smelly, uneducated grunt-working asshat like you.  You should have gone to the store that night, not her, then maybe you’d be dead.  You should be dead and we’d all be happier.  Even Mom.”

His stoic expression never wavered, through my whole speech, he just stared at me with those red, nicotine-deprived eyes.  How I wished he had the asthma, not Anthony.  He deserved it, all that smoking he did.  All the second-hand smoke is probably what gave my little brother breathing problems in the first place.  It’s probably what put him in that hospital bed.

I waited for a response.  I felt neither good nor bad about what I’d said.  It hung in the air.  A statement, a fact.  My mother didn’t think she could do any better, her a single mother with an eleven-year-old daughter as baggage, that’s the only reason she could have had to marry Red when she did.  I was sure of it.

“You should leave,” he said finally.  “Anthony doesn’t need your anger.”

“Anthony loves me.  I’m the only mother he can remember.  I’ll be you hate that.  It’s why you’re doing this.”

“I’m telling you to go home because there’s nothing you can do, and you need to go to school.  I don’t care about your education, if it was up to me you’d be an orphan in the foster system with no hope of escape for the next three years.  But your mother wouldn’t be happy if I let you start skipping school.”  He stood up.  The chair groaned in response, as if being underneath that much seething rage had brought it almost to the breaking point.  “I go to work for sixty hours every week busting my ass to provide for you because of your mother.  And that is why I’m telling you to go home and get some sleep and go to school.  Stop pretending you’re Cinderella and I’m forcing you to raise Anthony for me.  I don’t need you to raise Anthony.  You think I’d collapse without you, that you can say and do anything and I just have to be grateful to you for taking care of my son.  You are an arrogant little bitch.”

“I don’t take care of your son, I take care of my brother.  I would do it all by myself if I had to.  I’d be happy to.  Anthony barely even knows you, he wouldn’t even miss you.”

“It’s never going to be that way.  If you ever try to poison my son against me I will forget that you are her daughter.”

We stood there, across the bed, Anthony between us, for the longest time.  I didn’t want him to see my fear, see my uncertainty.  I did not want him to have the last word, but if I opened my mouth and my voice was weak and shrill and scared and angry . . . well . . . then he’d know that I was afraid he could shut me out, separate me from Anthony, send me away.  Send me away from home, from my brother, and from Truman.

Truman.  He’s in the hospital, too.  It was that thought which turned me away from Red and Anthony and our silent stand-off across the bed.  I went to find Truman.


IV. Driving Away

Everyone needs someone to keep them sane.  Without Truman I don’t know what I’d do.  Truman’s calm advice had so far been keeping me from saying ugly, mean things to Red, and see how quickly that had fallen apart without him.  I had to be there for Anthony, and ever since February, it felt like Truman was the only person in the entire world who was ever there for me.  Here he was, injured, and I wasn’t even around.  I missed everything.

When I found Savannah, she said that Truman was sleeping and his parents didn’t want him to be disturbed.  I was only able to look at him briefly, through the doorway.  His arm and collarbone were all wrapped up in a cast and he had a large white bandage on his head.  Selfishly, I wanted him to be awake so I could talk to him.  I felt so rattled after my encounter with Red and there was no one I could talk to about it except for Truman.  I couldn’t have bothered him with it even if he had been awake, but even just asking him how he felt and if he was alright would have washed some of the anger and the anxiety away.  Instead all I had was Savannah.  Savannah had been able to talk to him before he went to sleep.  She said he was okay, but really embarrassed that he’d gotten hurt so badly, as if it was his fault those meatheads couldn’t, or wouldn’t, control their own strength.

Savannah kept going on about how Tyler and Jake better be in trouble, better be kicked off the team and castigated for hitting him that hard, at the same time.  “But they won’t,” she said bitterly, jangling her car keys as we walked out to the parking lot.  I didn’t want to go home, didn’t want to leave either Anthony or Truman, but I was unwelcome in either room.  There was nothing I could do but follow Savannah to her car.  “There’s no way the coach will kick them off the team, he’s too concerned with winning.”

I let her ramble, not caring at all about the coach or the team or even the players who had put Truman in the hospital.  Tyler Mitchens and Jake Hollister were merely objects in my mind, as impersonal to me as ice and snow.  I thought I was saying “uh-huh” and “hm” and “yeah” in all the right places, but apparently I wasn’t, because as we idled at an intersection, the left-turn signal blinking with a tap tap, tap tap, she said, “I can’t believe you’re not more upset about this.”

“What?”

“I mean, I know you have something going on with your little brother, but it’s like, I dunno, you don’t even care that Truman got hurt.”

I looked at her wordlessly, wondering if her general lack of tact had escalated into full blown Tourette’s.  “How can you say that?”

“Because you’re just sitting there not even listening.  I just told you that Tyler and Jake didn’t even bother to come to the hospital to see if he was okay, and you were all ‘hmmm’ like I said it was gonna rain tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry I’m not hanging on your every word,” I snapped.  “It doesn’t mean I don’t care about Truman getting hurt.  And why do you care so much about it, anyway?  You don’t even like Truman.”

“I just don’t get it, that’s all.  I don’t get how you can keep stringing him along when you don’t even care.”

“What the actual fuck?” I burst out.  I cannot take this, I thought.  First Red, now Savannah.  I couldn’t stop myself, I told her, “I am sick of you sticking your nose in my business with Truman.  Don’t you ever get tired of telling me how I should feel about him?”

She gave me one surprised glance before turning her attention back to the road, the green light, the left turn.  “I’m sorry if I’m intruding,” she said.  Her apology sounded about as genuine as the cherry cardboard air freshener had once smelled.  “I’m just saying this as a friend.  Maybe it’s time you stopped playing games.”

“What do you want me to do, Savannah?  Which is it?  Is he a creepy ‘nice guy’ I need to get rid of or should I be ‘caring more’ about him?  Cause you don’t seem to be able to make up your mind, no matter how much you enjoy speaking it.”  I really didn’t want this to happen, a fight with Savannah.  But what did it matter if everyone in my life hated me, except for Anthony and Truman?  If Savannah and Red wanted to think I was a bitch, I would be a bitch.

“I’m just saying.  You need to get off the fence.  Do one thing or the other.”

“Why?  Why can’t you stand it that Truman is my friend?”

Another brief glance.  “Because you know he wants to be more than friends.”

“How do I know that?  He’s never said anything to me.”

“Yeah, but he has to me.”  She sighed.  “I don’t know why I’m saying this.  I promised I wouldn’t.  It’s just . . . he asked where you were and I felt so bad . . . .”

“What?  Just now?”

“Well yes, I mean, just now I felt so bad that I was the one coming to see him in the hospital and not you.  But it was before that.  He told me that he was waiting for you . . . that you were the only person he had any interest in dating.”

“Why the hell would he tell you that?”  I couldn’t picture Truman confiding in Savannah, telling her something so important and personal.  He would never really rag on her, even when I was complaining about something she’d said or done to annoy me, but I never got the impression he liked her much.

She just shrugged.

“You were pestering him about how he felt about me, weren’t you?  Why do you have to do that?  Why does everyone else’s business have to be yours?”  I felt myself flush, knew I was probably red like a tomato.  An angry, embarrassed tomato.

“I wasn’t!”  She gripped the steering wheel and shot a quick glance at me.  “I wasn’t just being a nosy hag, alright?  We’re friends, Seph, why can’t you ever just talk to me about how you feel?  That’s what friends do.  Maybe Truman and I were just having a friendly conversation, okay?”

“You and Truman?  When did you become bestest friends?”  I still couldn’t imagine him telling Savannah . . . Savannah, of all people . . . something that sensitive.  Something he had never told me.

“I didn’t say we were.  I’m just saying, he’s not so crazy obsessed with keeping things to himself like you are.”

“But why wouldn’t he tell me?  He’s never said anything to me.  He’s never asked me out.”

“He thought you’d freak out if he did.  I don’t know.  He didn’t want to ruin your friendship.”

“When did he tell you this?”

“Not too long ago.”

“You should have told me.”

“He didn’t want me to say anything.”

“So instead you’ve been doing nothing but talking about Truman, saying mean things about him, and hinting that he was interested in me.  That’s really great, Savannah.  And you wonder why I don’t confide in you . . . .”

“Oh, that’s why, really?  Cause I thought you were too busy nursing your special pain to stoop to being friends with me anymore.  I apologize for being wrong.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do.  You’ve been a complete and total bitch ever since your mom died.”

“That’s a cruel thing to say.  Even for you.”

“Is it?  I mean, come on, Seph.  You barely give me the time of day anymore, unless you need a ride.  It’s like the only reason we’re still friends at all is because I have a car.”

I wanted to say, “That’s not true,” but the lie caught in my throat.  All I could say was, “My mom dying has nothing to do with any of this.”

“Doesn’t it?  We were best friends until you started acting like no one in the world could possibly understand you.  And god damn it, Seph, you know I understand.  You know that.”

I looked out the window in silence.  Savannah’s father had died when she was nine.  It was the reason she and her mother moved back north, to be closer to Savannah’s grandparents in the wake of her father’s death after a battle with cancer.  It had brought us together, in a way.  We both had dead fathers, even though mine had died when I was too young to remember.  But Savannah had always been so cheerful and bright, when we were kids, I could so easily forget about her loss.  I could never forget mine, it was with me every day.

“That’s still not why we’ve grown apart,” I said finally.  “When we were kids it was . . . it was okay that we were so different.  But we’re just not really good friend material anymore.”

She didn’t respond, and I knew I’d hurt her feelings.  I knew there was no going back.  I felt sadder about this than I would have expected.  I was thinking on this, wondering what it meant, when I noticed she was slowing down.  She pulled over to the curb and sat there, with the car idling.

“What’s going on?”

“I think you should get out,” she said.  “I mean, since we’re not friends anymore, and all, I don’t see why I’m driving in the opposite direction of my house to take you home.  That’s the kind of thing a friend would do, and clearly I’m not good enough for you, so, clearly, I’m letting you out here.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just said, “Okay,” and reached for the door.

She wasn’t finished, though.  “I try so hard to be a friend to you,” she said.  “You know?  I try to cheer you up, and yeah, sometimes I bug the shit out of you, but it’s on purpose.  Cause you go through life oblivious to everyone else.  You’re always in your own world.  I’ve been trying so hard to draw you out cause I thought that’s what friends do.  And you’re still my best friend, you stupid bitch.  Whatever you think.  So walk away if you want but it’s all on you.  You’re the one who decided not to be friends anymore.”

I sat with my hand on the door, unsure of what to do.  What could I say?  This wasn’t the kind of thing you could just brush off as a joke and continue on as normal.  I opened my mouth and shut it again.

“I asked Truman out.”

“What?” I faltered, caught off guard by this admission.

“I asked him out.”  She spoke to the road outside, not to me.  “That’s when he told me that he was waiting for you, that you were the only girl he was interested in.  I told him you were too wrapped up in your family drama with Anthony and Red to ever notice him, that you were taking him for granted, and he just said that he had the patience to wait for all that to blow over.  So there you go; I tried to steal Truman from you.  I thought you should know, so you can have one more reason to get out of my car.”

“Why would you ask Truman out?” I asked, genuinely flummoxed.  “You think he’s creepy.”

She smiled a tight, humorless smirk.  “I was lying, why isn’t that obvious to you?”

I suddenly felt exhausted.  I didn’t want to play Savannah’s mental games, didn’t want to deal with figuring out what was the truth and what was bullshit.

I opened the door and got out.

She drove away without another word, and I stood there alone on the sidewalk just watching the car get smaller.  There was no relief, no feeling of good riddance, just an overwhelming finality.  I lost her.  She was lost to me.  Friends since the fourth grade, and this is how it was to end?

Doesn’t everything end? the cold voice inside me reasoned.  What does it matter how?

I lost my father, my mother, my so-called-best-friend.  I would lose Truman and Anthony too, one way or another.  Not today, but someday.  They would leave me in anger, or they would die, and what would I be able to do about it?  Nothing.

I know I’m not the only person who has lost someone.  Everyone loses someone, eventually, because everything ends, everyone dies . . . eventually.  And what has anyone ever been able to do about it?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  I have wondered, so many times, how people find the strength to begin.


V. Everything Ends

I walked back to the hospital.  It took much longer to get there on foot than it had to ride with Savannah those few tense blocks.  But I couldn’t bring myself to go home, there was nothing at home except for framed pictures of a mother I would never speak to again.  I could not go to Anthony, not with Red and his dead calm anger standing guard, and I could not, should not disturb Truman with his broken bones and bruised head.  But I could sleep in the waiting room.

That’s where Truman’s mother found me, when she came to get a cup of coffee in the morning.  “Seph,” she said, her eyes tired, her hair mussed from sleeping crookedly in a chair.  “Have you been here all night?”

I nodded.  My mouth was dry and my neck sore from sleeping curled up on a row of three chairs all night.  I’d left an oblong drool stain on the one chair that served as my pillow.  “Savannah said you didn’t want anyone to disturb Truman so I was waiting till morning.”

“Oh, honey,” she said, coming over to me.  She gave me a one armed hug, holding out her coffee with the other.  “That’s what I told Savannah, but if I’d known you were here . . . !  Come on, Truman’s awake, you can come say good morning.  I know he’ll want to see you.”

I rubbed sleep from my eyes, or at least, that’s what I hoped she thought.  Her gentle hug around my shoulders as she lead me to Truman’s room made me want to cry, to break down and weep like a tired baby in its mother’s arms.  But I didn’t.  She wasn’t my mother, my mother was gone.  I rubbed my eyes and took a deep breath.  I didn’t want Truman to see me crying – I knew it would make him feel bad about getting hurt, as if it was his fault that I was worried.

Mrs. Williams gave my arm a squeeze and let me go outside the door.  She still smelled of her white lily perfume despite a night spent at the hospital – I knew I probably smelled terrible after walking back last night and sleeping on the chairs.  I hoped Truman didn’t notice how badly I looked and smelled and was just happy to see me.  I don’t know why I was the only girl he’d ever wanted to be with, I was angry and sad and filled his ears with problems about Red.  I asked for his help raising a toddler instead of going out and doing fun things.  I couldn’t even remember what going out and doing “fun things” meant anymore.  There weren’t many guys who’d turn down a pretty, vivacious girl like Savannah to be with me.  So what were disheveled clothes and unwashed hair compared to all of that?

“Hey,” I said, walking into the room.  He was sitting upright with a tray of hospital breakfast food in front of him.  He smiled when he saw me, and I smiled back.  Everything ends, I thought.  Everything ends, but first, it has to begin . . . .