Before the accident, I would’ve been scared witless of fluid in my lungs or a blood clot. I’d think every pain in my leg or half breath was a harbinger of death. I’d be Googling the symptoms nonstop.
I...I just didn’t care.
As I shuffled down the hall, I thought about how a blood clot would be quick. Wouldn’t it? Like the very second it broke loose, it would be over.
Just like the moment the car hit the tree. It was over for Megan and Chris and Phillip. There one second, and gone in the next heartbeat.
Lori would be heading back to Radford that weekend, since Dr. Arnold was pretty positive I’d be released on Sunday, Monday by the latest.
Life would go back to normal for the most part.
But it wouldn’t.
Life would never be normal.
Mom told me she’d gone to Megan’s funeral.
“It was lovely, the way they handled it with her and Chris.” She’d paused. “When you’re ready, we can visit their resting place.”
That was all she’d said about it.
Now she was sitting in the chair by the window. The glass was spotted, like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while, and for some reason I was fascinated by that. It was a hospital. How could there be dead flies on the windowsills?
Mom hadn’t asked me what I was thinking when I got into the car. After the outburst in the ICU, she was a pillar of strength. Blond hair smoothed into a coiffed ponytail. Black yoga pants defuzzed. The swelling in her eyes hadn’t gone down, though, and I had this sinking suspicion when she drove home or when I slept, she let the control crack.
She was crying a lot.
Like she had in the months after Dad had left us.
“I checked in with the school on the way here,” she told me, closing the magazine she’d been skimming. “They’re aware that you won’t be starting until the third week.” She shoved the magazine into her tote. “I’m sure you’re ready to get back to it.”
I didn’t care about going to school. How was I supposed to care about that when Megan wasn’t going back? When Cody and Phillip and Chris were also gone? Nothing about that seemed fair.
Nothing about the accident was.
Like how...how did I survive? Because out of everyone, it shouldn’t have been me.
“The teachers have been amazing,” she continued. “They’ve been collecting work. I believe Sebastian will be bringing it over to the house tomorrow.”
How could I see him again?
How could I see Abbi or Dary again, because I knew... I remembered enough to know that I...I shouldn’t have gotten in the car. I shouldn’t have let Megan. I should’ve—
Shifting in my bed, I looked up at the ceiling and blinked rapidly. Wetness gathered in my eyes. How was I supposed to walk into that school when everyone else was dead? When Megan wouldn’t be waiting at my locker for me to head to volleyball practice? When she wouldn’t be giving me my weekly Friday lecture in the most obnoxious way possible?
When I didn’t answer, Mom looked over at the books Lori had brought for me. They sat on the little stand. “Have you already read them?” she asked. “If you give me a list, I can grab the ones you haven’t read.”
I hadn’t touched the pile of books. I wasn’t sure if I’d read them or not. Drawing in a shallow breath, I focused on the TV. Mom had turned it on a national news channel. “The books are fine.”
Mom didn’t respond for a long minute. “You’re able to have visitors now. I know—”
“I don’t want visitors.”
Mom frowned. “Lena.”
“I don’t want...anyone here,” I repeated.
“Lena, I know Abbi and Dary are planning to come see you. So is Sebastian.” She scooted forward, keeping her voice low. “They’ve been waiting until—”
“I don’t want to...see them.” I turned my head toward her. “I just don’t.”
Her eyes widened. “I think it would be very good for you to see them, especially after—”
“After Megan died? After Cody and the guys died?” I snapped as my pulse picked up. The stupid heart monitor matched its tempo. “You think it would be good for me to see my friends, knowing...that I let everyone get in the car and they died?”
“Lena.” Mom rose, coming closer to the bed. She put her hand on the headboard and leaned over me. “You weren’t the sole person responsible that night. Yes, you made a severely bad choice, but you are not the sole—”
“I wasn’t drinking,” I said, and watched the blood drain from my mom’s face. “I remember that. I had...a few sips earlier in the night. If they tested me...when I came in, they would’ve seen I...I wasn’t drunk. So I...I was sober. I could’ve driven.” My voice cracked. “I should’ve driven.”
Mom slowly pushed away from the bed and sat down heavily in the chair. “Then why didn’t you?” Her voice was thick.
“I don’t know.” I clutched the edge of the blanket, causing my left arm to ache. “I guess I...I didn’t want to...”
“Want to what, Lena?”
The next breath I took hurt. “I didn’t want to...to be the person who makes a big deal out of things.”
“Oh. Oh, baby.” Mom placed her hand over her mouth and then closed her eyes. “I don’t know what to say.”
Probably because there was nothing to say.
I remembered standing outside the car now. I remembered watching Cody reach for the door handle and miss. And I remembered asking if he was okay and then caving to the pressure around me.
A knock interrupted us. Mom tensed, dropping her hand. I looked over, and I...I felt nothing and everything in one instance.
Dad stood in the doorway.
I hadn’t seen Dad in four years.
The last time had been in the kitchen, sitting at the table. He and Mom had been waiting for me and Lori to get home from school, and I think I’d known what was happening the moment I’d walked into the kitchen. Mom had been red eyed.
Lori hadn’t seen it coming.
Dad now looked... He looked older, but good. There were more lines around his eyes and the corners of his mouth, and his hair was more salt-and-pepper than brown, but he looked like life was going smoothly for him in Seattle.
Dad used to be a developer. His company—Wise Home Industries—was responsible for more than half of the homes built in the last two decades. Then the housing market slammed face-first into rock bottom and Dad had to make cuts and the jobs slowed before stopping, and then he had to close the business. Money stopped flowing in. Things got tight.
And he couldn’t handle it.
He’d bailed on Mom and us, moved to Seattle of all places, to find himself or some crap. The last I heard, he’d started working for some advertising firm.
I thought I’d feel something stronger than mild annoyance or surprise. I’d spent years ignoring his phone calls. Years being ticked off at him. And now I was just empty. Probably had something to do with the painkillers pumping through my system.
His hazel eyes shifted to Mom before settling on me. A lopsided smile formed as he shuffled over to the bed. He cleared his throat as he stared down at me. “You look... You look...”
Like I’d been in a car accident? Like I’d had two collapsed lungs, a swollen jaw and face, and a fractured arm? Like I went to a party and made a series of really bad decisions I couldn’t even begin to unravel in my head? Like I’d basically let my friends die?
Exactly how did I look?
He stopped beside my bed, his posture stiff and unnatural. “I’m glad to see you.”
What was I supposed to say to that?
Rising from her seat, Mom leaned over and kissed my forehead. “I’m going to grab something to eat.” She straightened, sending a pointed look in my father’s direction. “I’ll be back in a little while.”
Part of me wanted to demand that she stay because she wanted Dad here, not me, but I let her go. Dealing with my dad was nowhere near punishment enough for everything that had happened.