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Rated: E · Fiction · Young Adult · #2047159
How far would you go?
Victoria Matherson's summer to-do list looked something like this:

1. Get organized for college

2. Complete summer job at Dad's office

3. Spend a romantic summer with Adam

During the first week of her summer vacation, Victoria's super controlled life suddenly swerves out of control. Her boyfriend breaks up with her unexpectedly, she gets in a near-fatal car wreck, and her parents announce the end of their twenty-year marriage.

Victoria decides to live life messily, to take chances, and finally to rebel. Taking on the new name of "Tori," she creates a checklist of rebellion--#3 Get an extreme haircut, #6 Pierce something--which she'll use to show everyone around her that all the changes to her perfectly organized life haven't affected her in the least. Even though they have.

With the help of her quirky and cute co-worker Zack, Tori will check off the crazy items on her list and learn what it means to give up control and be free. But just how far will she go?


Copyright © 2015 by Susan Soares
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the author.

CHAPTER ONE


“Green,” I said as I felt something jab my arm. Thoughts swirled in my brain like my morning smoothie in the blender. Where was I? Wherever I was, it was noisy and cold. Very cold. “It was green,” I shouted. The noise around me intensified, like industrial strength air conditioners being blasted right by my ears. Where the hell was I?
“Can you hear me?” a female voice asked.
A wave of nausea crashed against my insides. With effort, I was able to focus my vision and look towards the voice. I saw a female EMT peering down at me.
“You’re going to be all right. Do you know where you are?” She asked as she adjusted something that was around my neck.
“I don’t…I don’t…” I stammered.
She placed her gloved hand on my forehead. “You’re on a Medflight to the hospital. You were in an accident. We’ll be there soon. You just hang on.” She rushed out of my line of vision, and I briefly saw a male EMT rush to my side where he applied something wet to my arm.
“But how did I…” was all I got out before a gray haze clouded my vision.
When I opened my eyes again I was met with the woman’s voice swirling around me.
“Sweetie, can you tell me your name again please?” The female EMT worker asked as she twisted my waist length hair out of the way, tucking it up near the crown of my head. She grabbed something from her jacket pocket, a small flashlight, which she shone in my eyes. I squinted in discomfort as the pictures around me began to get hazy. Suddenly, the helicopter took a hard dive and she and the other EMT were jostled around like loose change inside a tin cup.
“Take it easy, man!” the male EMT—who barely looked older than me—shouted to the pilot of the helicopter. As he walked towards my side I noticed his white gloves were tinged with blood. My stomach flipped over and I concentrated on controlling my gag reflex.
“Sweetie, your name? Can you tell it to me again?” the female EMT asked. When did I tell her my name the first time, I thought. Her face was close to mine. A mask shielded her mouth and nose, but her bright aqua green eyes looked down on me. They were like lovely little tide pools.
“Victoria,” I said. My throat felt like I had swallowed some five-alarm chili peppers. “Victoria Matherson.” I said. And from the way the corners of her eyes crinkled up, I knew she was smiling. I tried to return her smile when I was suddenly struck with a dastardly pain in my left wrist. My eyes shot to my wrist where I saw the male EMT plucking out shards of glass from the jagged cut. My stomach rippled and bile formed at the base of my throat, as I looked at my wrist and hand that was covered in an ample amount of vivid, red blood.
I squealed like a pig being hog tied as he applied pressure to the wound while wrapping a tight bandage around my wrist. My eyes cut left and right, up and down. I had to get out of there. I had to get back to my car. Back home. I had to get to safety. My arms were constricted and I made every effort I could to free them, but it was no use.
“Victoria, Victoria sweetie it’s going to be all right. We’re almost at the hospital. Try to calm down,” the female EMT stroked the top of my head as she spoke in a calm, firm tone one I’m sure she learned in her emergency response training.
But as another blast of pressure was applied to my wrist I caved into the pain, like a bridge whose bearings had finally broke free after years of decay. It seemed to happen slowly and then instantly—a worried look in those tide pool eyes was the last thing I saw as the darkness moved in.

***

My eyes were closed. I wanted to open them but the connection between my brain to my eyelids wasn’t working. Their weight was too great. Or my brain was too weak to send the signal. Through jarring movements, I could feel my body being shifted around. Light and shadows danced across my eyelids, like when I’d try to fall asleep with the television on.
I could hear people talking around me.
“Victoria, I’m just taking the brace off your neck now,” a high-pitched female voice said.
Okay, I responded, realizing it was only in my head.
“We’re going to leave the room for just a second to x-ray you. Victoria, we’ll be right back.”
X-ray? Why? Darkness and shadows flickered on my eyelids again.
I felt my body moving, and I could hear the squeaking of wheels and air rushing over my face. Where am I going?
“Okay, Victoria, we’re doing a CAT scan now. Again I’m going to leave the room, but I’ll be right back, don’t worry. Victoria just stay very still,” her voice trailed off.
There were noises all around me—hissing and beeping. The sound of sneakers squeaking on linoleum floors was coupled with the scent of bleach and floor wax. I heard a sound whirling around my head, like the sound of my mother’s coffee grinder.
“Okay, we’re all done. You can relax now. We’re taking you to your room.”
I can relax? I can’t even talk, so how can I relax? As the neurons in my brain seemed to fizzle out I heard only fragments of sentences.
“Head injury…”
“Parents called…”
“Eighteen…”
“Artery…”
“Non responsive…”
As the final word crossed through my hearing, I watched the shadows stop and it all turned to black.

***

I wanted to run, but my feet felt like they were stuck in tar. For some reason, I could feel someone’s hand squeezing mine, but I couldn’t squeeze back. Something pinched my wrist and I wanted to yank my hand away, but I couldn’t. The scent of my dad’s cologne filled the air, and I felt my pulse relax. The voices around me sounded muffled, as if I was underwater. Like a terrier tracking vermin my nose latched onto another scent, my mother’s perfume. The mix of her perfume and my father’s cologne connected to someplace deep inside my brain. Slowly, I felt myself coming up, like I was swimming up from deep under the water. The surface was getting closer and closer. The sounds were slightly less muffled, and then there was light.
“Mom? Dad?’ I knew by the strain on my vocal chords that I was talking out loud.
“Michael, get the doctor! Get the doctor!” my mother shouted. “Victoria? Victoria, honey? Can you hear me?”
“Mom?” I said as my eyelids fluttered, and I stretched them open. They felt heavy and wet.
“Victoria, thank God.” My mother kissed my cheek repeatedly.
“Well, well, you’ve decided to come back to us,” said a voice I didn’t recognize. I looked to my left and saw a tall, thin doctor standing next to my dad. From the pocket of his lab coat, he grabbed a small flashlight, which he shone in my eyes. “How are you feeling?”
“O…Okay, I guess,” I said as I squinted my eyes against the light.
“Can you tell me your name?” He asked while returning the flashlight to his coat pocket.
“Victoria Matherson.”
“That’s good,” he said. I watched him give a nod to my parents. “Is anything hurting you?”
I surveyed my body for signs of pain. “Head, arms, wrist.” Those were the major sources of pain along with an overall sense of achiness. “Can I go home now?”
The doctor let out a little laugh. “Victoria, you’ve just come back to life! I’m not ready for you to leave just yet.” A clipboard appeared in his hands out of nowhere.
“What? Back to life? Mom?” I looked to my mother who was locking eyes with my father.
“Honey, we’re just so grateful you’re awake.” She grazed my cheek with her hand.
“I’m going to order another CT scan. At that point, I’ll have a better idea of when she might be able to be released.” The doctor said before leaving the room.
“Am I dead?” I was so confused. Was I dreaming? What exactly was happening? A throbbing began over my left eye.
My dad stood on one side of my bed and my mom on the other.
“Victoria you’re not dead,” my father said. “Everything’s going to be fine now.”
Again, I watched my parents exchange a look that worried me.
“Was I dead?” my vocal chords strained.
There was the look again.
“Was I?” my voice echoed in the room.
My mother’s hand went to my shoulder. “Honey, do you know what day it is?”
I scanned my memory. Saturday. It must be Saturday. “It’s Saturday.” Somehow by the look in their eyes I knew I was wrong. “Right?”
“It’s Tuesday, Victoria,” my dad said.
Tuesday? How is it Tuesday?
“Do you remember the accident?” my mother asked.
Accident. The accident! “It was green! The light was green!” Fragmented images of the intersection and broken glass and airbag dust crossed my thoughts. Panic took over, and I could hear the heart rate monitor accelerate.
“Shh, shhh, shhh.” My mother kissed my cheek and put her mouth up close to my ear. “You’re okay now, everything’s going to be okay now. Just try to relax. It’s over. The nightmare is over.”
I took deep breaths in and out as I tried to return my heart rate to a normal level. Even though my mom and dad both repeatedly told me that everything was going to be all right, something deep inside me didn’t believe them.


CHAPTER TWO

As my mother pulled and twisted my hair into a French braid, I picked at the container of lime Jell-O the nurse had left for me. The bleach-scented sheets were stiff and scratchy, and I longed for the softness of my Downy-scented sheets that waited for me at home.
“How much longer before the doctor gets here?” I asked my mom, who’d moved from my bed to pour herself a glass of water. It was Wednesday and I was more than ready to go home after being in the hospital for five days.
“Your father went to find out,” there was curtness to her voice that I couldn’t make sense of. Was she mad that I got in an accident? The way she referred to my dad was unusual. She never would say “your father;” she’d normally say “your dad.” It was odd and too formal.
My wrist ached. The bandaging they’d put on felt like it was cutting my circulation off. I tried to make a fist but the blinding pain stopped me halfway. My arms felt gooey and sticky from all the ointment they had put on my numerous cuts. It looked like I’d gotten into a fight with a gang of alley cats, and they’d won. My head pounded, and I leaned it back against flat pillows that did nothing to support its weight. Through my open door, I watched nurses and doctors shuffling quickly past, all looking like wherever they were off to was the most pressing place ever. My brain scanned all the things I needed to get home to do:

1. Go to the beach with Rebecca—that was already blown once due to the accident.
2. Change over my closet from spring/early summer clothing to official out-of-school-full-blown summer clothing.
3. Clean out my car—since it was towed from the accident that wasn’t going to happen.
4. Change my sheets from lavender (spring set) to watermelon (summer set).

So I had to do all that along with about fifty other things on my ever-growing to-do list. Instead, on the morning of my very first day of my summer vacation—my last summer vacation before I started college at Boston University—I get into an accident and am stuck in a hospital room eating lime Jell-O. And I don’t even like Jell-O.
My mother paced near my bedside. Her long, wavy brown hair was scattered around her face as the loose bun into which she’d twisted it was becoming even looser. “Where is your father?” she said as her feet kept moving.
As if on cue, my dad stepped into the room. A coffee in one hand and a small, brown teddy bear in the other. He crossed the room to me, brushing past my mother, and kissed me on the forehead. “I know you’re too old for this, but how could I resist?” he said as he placed the bear in my lap.
“Thanks, Dad.” I held the teddy tight to my chest. I was too old for it, but I didn’t care. It was something soft inside the room of sterility and stiffness.
My mother stepped in front of him. “You got coffee and presents, but did you get a doctor? That’s what I thought you were doing.” My mother’s words were harsh, and my dad opened his mouth to speak but she continued, “Victoria wants to go home. She’s been here for five days now. She wants to be in her own bed. She needs to rest. She doesn’t need teddy bears.”
“Mom, really, I’m all right. I’m sure the doctor will be here soon.” I hoped my words would calm her nerves. She was obviously shaken up by my accident and was inadvertently taking it out on my dad.
“She’s right,” my dad said. “I found a nurse who’s on her way to get the doctor for us.” My parents locked eyes for a moment, and I saw my mother’s shoulders soften.
She turned to me. “Victoria, I’m sorry. I just want to take you home.” She stroked my back slowly, and the tension in the room seemed to subside.
“Victoria?” the tall, thin doctor said as he entered my room. He had a chart in his hand and a pen stuck behind one ear. His dark black hair was slicked back, making him look like an extra from the movie Grease.
“Doctor, when can we take her home?” My mother wrung her hands together.
The doctor flipped through his chart for a moment. “Victoria, everything from your latest CT scan looks good. I’m going to sign your release papers now. You can check out anytime.” He removed the pen from behind his ear, and I wondered if it felt slippery in his hand. He pulled a piece of paper from his clipboard. “Here’s some information on head injuries for you to take with you.” He gave the slip of paper to my mother, who quickly placed it inside her purse, which she’d already picked up from the chair near my bed and placed on her shoulder. She wanted to get out of here even more than I did. “And I’m going to write you out a prescription for some pain medicine if you need it. You may be fine with something over the counter, but if the pain is too much for you, you’ll have this as an option. You’ll also have to make an appointment with your primary care doctor for two weeks from now to get the stitches removed.”
The thought made my stomach ache. “Will it hurt? Getting them removed?” I asked as I gently rubbed my wrist.
The doctor shook his head as he replaced the pen behind his ear. “You’ve been through the worst part, Victoria. You cheated death. No need to worry about a few stitches. You’re a very lucky young lady. That wrist injury could have made the situation that much worse.” He handed some papers to my father, but my mother snatched them out of the doctor’s hand before my dad could grab them.
I was still focused on what the doctor had said. “What do you mean it could have been much worse?” The pain in my wrist began to intensify into a throbbing. Almost as if extra blood had begun flowing to that area, knowing we were talking about it.
“That cut you got from the glass was quite severe. More severe than your head injury, actually. You nicked an artery. If there had been any sort of time delay getting you to the hospital, you would have died.” The way he said it was so nonchalant. It was as if he said, “I pick up my dry cleaning on Thursdays.” Like it was no big thing.
I looked to my mother, who must have seen the panic cross my face. She glared back at the doctor. “Doctor, I’m sure there’s no reason to say that. We’re all just glad Victoria is going to be fine.”
“You’re right, she’s fine,” the doctor said. “All I’m saying is someone was looking out for you young lady. You’ve been given a second chance.” He tucked my chart into a holder attached to the front of the door and waved goodbye as he exited.
My mother grabbed a pile of my clothes and handed them to me. “Why don’t you get changed now and we’ll head home. Do you need any help?”
“I cheated death? He said I could have died. More than once he said it.” The words fell from my lips like honey, heavy and slow. I reviewed my injuries: head trauma that left me comatose for two days and apparently sent me over to the other side at one point, and a nicked artery on my wrist that could have caused me to die had it not been for Medflight. “But I did everything right.” I started to wonder if I’d done something to cause the accident. “I looked in all directions. I came to a complete stop. The light was green.” Could it have been my fault?
“Honey, I know you did everything right. It was an accident. Now let’s just get you home.” My mother removed the sheets from my legs and started to guide me up and out of the bed.
My father moved to the other side of me and they both lifted me up and began walking with me towards the bathroom.
“I almost died? But I did everything—” A metallic taste crossed my palette, as if I was licking coins.
My dad kissed my forehead again. “Victoria, it was an accident. You’re going to be fine. It was just an accident,” he said.
We stopped at the bathroom. “Yes, but—”
“Victoria,” my dad said. His hands were gentle on my shoulders. “It was out of your control, okay? It wasn’t your fault. It was out of your control.” His words hit me sharply, like darts being thrown at me, and my heart was the bull’s eye.
They smiled at me, and I nodded to both of them as they shut the bathroom door. I held the pile of clothes close to my face and used the soft cotton from my t-shirt to wipe away the tear that had escaped my eye.

***

Rebecca had laid out three fashion magazines, two bottles of nail polish, a bag of Hershey’s kisses, two pints of ice cream, and two spoons on my bed. “So, I say we open both of the ice creams and just alternate between the two.” She passed me a spoon and the pint of Rocky Road.
“Deal,” I said while diving my spoon into the container. As I held the container with my left hand a fresh wave of pain shot from my wrist up my arm and I dropped the ice cream onto my bed. A smear of brown rocky road now covered my sheets.
“I’ll grab a towel,” Rebecca said as she dashed into my bathroom, returning a moment later. “How about I hold the container and you eat it.”
“God, that’s pathetic, don’t you think?” I stood up and began removing the haul of items she’d placed on my bed so I could remove the stained sheets. “Do you want to feed it to me, too?”
“Only if you beg,” she teased as she stepped in front of me and took over the job of pulling my sheets off the bed. “You sit here and eat this.” She sat me down into my papasan chair and handed me a pile of Hershey’s kisses. “And I’ll take care of the bed.”
“I love you,” I said. My head felt like a Mack truck had hit me—when it was actually a Dodge Ram. Ironic. The pain medicine the doctor had prescribed me had yet to kick in. I leaned my head back onto the soft, green cushion. The throbbing of my brain was in competition with the throbbing in my wrist.
“I know you do.” She tossed the sheets into my hamper. “Now, what sheets do you want my little princess?”
“Watermelon, please. Top shelf, linen closet.”
She did a little curtsey move and I laughed. There was a reason we’d been friends since the fifth grade. Rebecca could always make me laugh. She was the yin to my yang.
A feeling of déjà vu washed over me as I watched Rebecca grab my dirty sheets off my bed and replace them with fresh ones. Two years ago when Rebecca got her tonsils out, I was the one playing nursemaid to her. On the day she came home from the hospital, her mom had to run back out to the store to pick up Rebecca’s medicine. Mrs. Moore had called and asked me if I wouldn’t mind staying with Rebecca while she was out. Her mom didn’t realize I was already in my car headed over to her house as soon as Rebecca had texted me to say she was on her way home. I didn’t even know if her mom would’ve let me see her that soon after, but I knew I at least needed to be nearby. I at least wanted to wave to her through her window or something even if I couldn’t be with her. The very least I wanted was to see her face and know she was all right.
So I was more than happy to be nursemaid while her mom ran to the store. I had brought over a bunch of magazines—none of which Rebecca wanted to read—a bag full of card games—none of which she wanted to play—and two of my favorite stuffed animals I’d had since I was little that always made me feel better when I was sick—both of which she cuddled up with on her bed.
Soon after I’d arrived, Rebecca had fallen asleep. I sat up in her bed next to her while she dozed away peacefully with my stuffed Lambie and Teddy tucked tightly beneath one arm. It had been about an hour, and Mrs. Moore still wasn’t home yet. Rebecca had woken up and within a few seconds, she was crying. She couldn’t talk because of the surgery and she was wrapping her hands around her throat.
“What is it? Are you okay? Are you in trouble? Do I need to call an ambulance?” I was spouting off questions rapid fire while the poor girl couldn’t even talk.
I grabbed my phone, opened up the notepaper app, and asked Rebecca to type to me what was wrong. My heart dropped a little when I read her note.
It hurts so much.
The stuffed animals had fallen limply on the bed, and I scooped them up and placed them back in her arms. Then I scooted myself next to her and held her close while she cried quietly. Thankfully it was only five minutes later that Mrs. Moore came home and was able to give Rebecca some medicine to help ease her pain. Sometimes there’s nothing worse than seeing someone you love who’s hurting and you can’t make it better.

***

After tucking in my fitted sheet and fluffing my pillows, Rebecca plopped herself down on my freshly made bed.
“Hey,” I said, raising an eyebrow at her.
“What? I made it. And you look so comfy in that chair I just thought you’d prefer it over there.” She took a chocolate from my hand and popped it into her mouth.
“Actually, I do. Sitting in that stupid hospital bed for five days killed my back.” I tried to stretch but no position felt comfortable.
Rebecca had placed a few scoops of both flavors of ice cream in a bowl, which she placed gently on my lap. “I still can’t believe that on the first day of our summer vacation you get in an accident.” She took a bite of her own ice cream, her teeth scraping against the back of the spoon.
“I know right? I could have died on our first day of summer vacation, then who would you have gone to the beach with?” I made a separation line with my spoon between the two flavors of ice cream.
She grinned at me. “With you out of the way I’d have the guys all to myself.”
I tossed a blanket at her legs. “Thanks a lot.”
She crossed over to me and gave me another handful of chocolate. “And you didn’t die.”
“But I could have.” Maybe I did, for a second.
“That doctor’s an asshole for saying that to you. Who says that?”
“An asshole.”
“Exactly,” She sat cross-legged on my bed. Her head cocked to the side as she looked at me. “So do you remember any of it?”
“Not really.” Only I did remember it. Bits and pieces, but I was too scared to talk about it.

***

I’d been on my way to pick up Rebecca for our day at the beach. Our senior year was finally over, and we were going to spend the first day of our summer vacation enjoying it with some sun and sand.
Even though the early morning hours had brought rain, the last of it had trickled off about an hour earlier, and the forecasters assured a bright and sunny afternoon. As I sat at the four-way intersection, I mentally made sure I’d packed everything I needed in my beach bag. Sunglasses—check, suntan lotion—check, water bottles—check, protein bars—check, towels—check, camera—check, and bug spray—check. Satisfied that I could recall leaving nothing behind, I accelerated forward as my light turned green.
While I had crossed through the light, I vaguely saw in my peripheral vision a car heading towards me on my left-hand side. Before I could react, my car was thrust to the right. In a millisecond, an explosion went off in my face, and the blast of breaking glass nearly shattered my eardrums. My head felt like it weighed one hundred pounds as it snapped back against my headrest before it flopped forward onto my steering wheel, which was now cloaked by the deflating airbag. Fine powder drifted in the air around me, and I felt like it coated my tongue. My left wrist felt wet and I’d wondered if rainwater had splashed on it when the window exploded. A blur of voices whirlpooled around me in rapid succession, and a blast of air hit my face as someone flung open my driver’s side door.
“Are you alright?” someone said, the voice muffled by the ringing in my ears and throbbing in my head.
“The light was green,” I said just as I heard the high-pitched sound of sirens fill the air and the light around me eclipsed to blackness.

***

“Well, at least it wasn’t your fault; it was the other driver’s,” Rebecca said. “He’s the idiot that ran the red light. At least no one died or anything. You’ll have your car back within a week, and your insurance rates won’t go up.”
Her voice jolted me from my memory, and I shuddered. “Yeah, I guess so,” I said as I stroked my bandage again, knowing the jagged cut—that could have killed me—was sewn up below it and would leave a permanent scar.
“So, don’t worry about it. I mean, you couldn’t control it.” She scooped up another bite of ice cream.
The words she echoed were those of my dad’s earlier. She was right. They both were right. I couldn’t control it. Because if there had been any way I could have, I would have.
Somehow the start of my picture perfect summer wasn’t turning out the way I’d imagined it. Last week, my boyfriend of over a year breaks up with me out of the blue, my parents were acting distant, and I got into a near-fatal car accident. I thought to myself, so now what?


CHAPTER THREE

The following Saturday, Rebecca and I had planned on going to the beach, but my mom wasn’t comfortable with us driving over an hour away. I tried to convince her that the sun’s vitamin D would be good for my injuries, but she wasn’t buying it. She was still freaked out about the accident. She’d seemed on edge the past few days even before the accident. She just always appeared to be preoccupied. Often when I’d see her she’d look deep in thought. Her face showed signs of lack of sleep, and it appeared as if the weight of the world was being carried on her shoulders. In an effort to be a good daughter, and not stress her out more than she obviously was, we agreed to ditch the beach in favor of a movie double feature—my mother’s treat.
It was six o’clock when Rebecca dropped me back off at home. I had promised my mom I’d be home for dinner. We rarely ate dinner together as a family anymore. It used to be a rule that all three of us, my mom, dad and me, all ate dinner together every night but Friday night. Fridays—when we were still together—were when I had date nights with Adam, but over the past year or so, there began to be more and more dinners that my father wasn’t home for—running late at the office—or my mother couldn’t make it to—impromptu work-out class—and it seemed like I was the only one who was there every night at six o’clock, ready to sit down with my family for a good old-fashioned-American-family-values dinner. So when my mom pulled me aside before Rebecca and I left for our movie fest and made me promise that I’d be home for dinner, that it was imperative I be home for dinner, I was a little suspicious. Not in an anxious type of way though. I was just preparing myself for one of my mom’s speeches on how this family, albeit small, needed to remain strong, and family dinners were one of the ways to do that.
No sooner had I shut the front door before I heard my mother’s voice call out from the dining room, “Victoria, honey, is that you?”
I placed my coat on the rack in the foyer. “Yes, Mom, it’s me.”
I started walking up the stairs to my bedroom. I needed to change the bandage on my wrist to a clean, fresh one. My mom came rushing from the hallway that attached to the dining room, stopping at the bottom of the stairs.
“Are you coming?” she asked. Her voice was tense and a bit shaky. Her hair was tied up into a loose bun on top of her head. Long wavy tendrils framed her face. She was wringing a dishcloth in her hands.
My stomach suddenly flip-flopped. “I was just going to change my bandage.” I took another step upstairs, ignoring the throbbing in my wrist.
“Honey, wait.” She went up a few steps, bridging the gap between us. “Come in now, please.” My normally assured mother now appeared as if she might become unglued at any given moment.
“Okay,” I said slowly, dragging the word out as I sauntered down the stairs. She turned and scurried before me into the dining room. When I rounded the hallway I saw my mother already sitting down at one end of the table. My father sat pensively at the opposite end.
“Victoria,” he said, as I entered.
“Hi, Dad.” I sat down, feeling like the cream colored walls were starting to close in on us. There were a few moments of silence, and it was as if I was in some weird episode of Doctor Who. My normal, cheerful, stable, family had been replaced with these two off-kilter parents that were definitely not my own. “What’s going on?” I asked. To say you could cut the tension with a knife would be an understatement. You could cut the tension with a blade of grass—a dull blade of grass.
“There’s no sense dragging this out,” my mother finally spoke. “Victoria, honey.” She turned to me. “Your father and I are separating.” She said it so quickly that the words seemed to mash together. Like when someone blurts out a secret they’ve been holding in for a long time.
“Separating,” my father echoed.
“I just said that Michael,” my mother replied, a note of annoyance in her voice. Her fingernails drummed on the burgundy table runner as she stared my father down.
“Damn it, Janet, we agreed to tell her together, not have you just blurt it out like that!” My father stood up and paced near his end of the table.
Their squabble had happened so quickly I was barely able to register what they were saying to me. “Wait, what?” was all I could get out. “What’s happening?” Did they say they were separating? As in, leading to divorcing? My parents? My parents? My parents who were known as the “Mike and Carol Brady” of Fairview. They were the ones who put on the big barbecue bash every Labor Day weekend. They were the ones who walked hand in hand at the 5K walk for the March of Dimes. They were the ones that instilled in me that even though our family was small, we were mighty, we were strong, that there was nothing more powerful than family, and families stuck together—no matter what.
“But we’re a family,” I choked out, warm tears now stinging the back of my eyes.
My mother was at my side. “Oh sweetie, we are a family. We’ll always be your family. Your dad and I aren’t going to stop being your parents. This has nothing to do with you.” She was rubbing my arm so much that the friction was starting to burn.
“Of course we’re still your parents. This is just a trial separation, right Janet?” My father stopped pacing and looked directly at my mother now.
My mom stood up. “We’re not discussing this right now,” she said through clenched teeth.
“Well when are we planning on discussing things? Because every time I try to talk to you, it ends in a fight.” My dad crossed his arms over his chest and that one large vein in his forehead protruded the way it did when he was really mad or really frustrated. I didn’t see that vein often. Usually it was when he was untangling the large mass of Christmas lights that he put on the house every year.
“This meeting is about telling Victoria, not about discussing details.”
“Is this because of the accident? It is because of the car? Because it wasn’t my fault.” I was standing now. “It wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t control it.”
My mother touched my cheek. “Victoria it has nothing to do with you. You’re not the cause of this.” Her eyes cut to my dad.
“I think we need to discuss the details, Janet,” he said. His body was bent over and he kept a white knuckled grip on the edge of the table.
“Do you really think this is the appropriate time for that?” My mother’s voice trailed off as I snuck out of the room.
As I walked up the stairs, I pressed my hands to my ears. My feet dragged as I walked to my bedroom. I lay down on my bed, clutching the small, brown teddy bear that my dad had given to me at the hospital. As I cried, I let his soft fur absorb my tears.

***

“So did you, like, freak?” Rebecca was sitting next to me on the hood of her car. We were outside the condo complex where she and her mother lived. I had just told her the news about my parents’ trial separation, final separation, whatever it was.
“I went up to my room and cried. Then I called you, and here we are.” I popped a Hershey’s Kiss into my mouth. I let it melt slowly as I leaned back onto the windshield of Rebecca’s car. When I’d left my house earlier I’d taken the bus to Donmore’s, the small, local grocery store. I knew what I had to get. Everyone has a vice. For me, it was the large bag of Hershey Kisses. When disasters struck, I would commence my chocolate-o-thons. There weren’t too many of them over the years, but there were enough to make it my go-to when it came to breakups or heartbreak, or pretty much any matter of the heart. And that night, when my parents had announced their separation, I had to restrain myself from buying two bags. After gathering my heartache supplies, I’d taken the bus to Rebecca’s.
“I still can’t believe it though,” Rebecca said while eating another one of my chocolates. “Your mom and dad were, like, the couple. You know? Like, the ones that everyone always knew would be together forever.” She stopped and shook her head. “I just can’t believe it.” She popped the chocolate into her mouth and started chewing.
The shock of the news hit me again when Rebecca spoke about it. It was as if hearing it from her made it more real. When the words came out of me they were just words, but when I heard them spoken back to me it was as if the reality of it was solidified. My parents were splitting up.

***

Ever since I was young, my parents always instilled in me that family was everything. There was no greater bond than that of family. My father’s parents had died young so I had never met them. My mother’s parents had divorced when she was young. Her father lived across the country and didn’t bother to try to have a relationship with her or with me. Her mother was a free spirit who traveled the globe looking for different ways to get her chakras aligned. So it was just the three of us. And my parents made sure that we were very close-knit.
I always wanted siblings, growing up. I was sure because of how much my parents loved each other and how much they stressed the importance of family that I would end up with three or four siblings. I was six when I first found out what a miscarriage was. My mom had been in the kitchen, talking with her best friend Crystal, about losing the baby. At six years old, I didn’t understand what “losing a baby” meant, so in my juvenile innocence, I had asked her about it later, only to be met with her bursting into tears and fleeing the room. My dad tried as best he could to explain it to me.
That had been the first time. When I was seven, she had another miscarriage. Then again when I was eight, and again when I was nine. Each loss seemed to devastate my mom more and more. But my dad was always the rock of the family. He would tell me that Mommy just needed time to cry and get all her tears out and up to heaven so the baby could keep them for her. The baby would take her tears away and then mommy would feel better.
At home, I tried harder and harder to be a good little girl. I studied extra hard late at night to make sure I knew all my spelling words and multiplication facts. I made sure my room was clean. I washed the dishes. I folded and put away the clean towels. I organized the spice rack, the canned goods, the hall closet, my own closet, my dresser drawers, the bathroom cabinets. I organized everything. I did anything I could that I thought might make life a little easier on my parents.
Everything came to a head the year I was ten. That was the high and low year. My mother was pregnant. Again. But this time it seemed to stick. When she hit four months we had a celebration dinner with balloons and a small ice cream cake. When she hit six months, we had a party at our house with a few of their couples friends. When she hit eight months, I helped plan a surprise baby shower with the help of her best friend Crystal. It was amazing. My mom was pregnant and glowing, and she basked in the glory of the baby shower. I watched with pride as she would get teary-eyed over a Diaper Genie or a bassinet. It was the happiest I’d seen her in years.
Finally she hit the magic mark. Her due date was set for a Thursday. For weeks she’d been telling us she knew that she was going to deliver early. It was the Tuesday before her due date. Everything had been running smoothly. That afternoon she told my dad that she hadn’t felt the baby move very much that day. She called the doctor to ask about it and he had chalked it up to the fact that very close to delivery sometimes there would be a drop in movement. Two hours after talking to the doctor she still felt like something wasn’t quite right. She frantically paced the living room floor while my father tried to calm her down, but it was no use, minute by minute her anxiety grew. My dad took her to the hospital. Leaving me at home alone until our neighbor, Mrs. Della, could come over once she got home from work. He told me he knew he could count on me, and he was right.
The next morning they returned. My dad tried to explain to me that the baby had passed away. I learned what a stillborn baby was. I learned that I almost had a baby brother, and they named him Jonathan. I promised myself from that moment on that I would be the best kid ever. I wouldn’t talk back, swear, get bad grades, stay out too late, or disobey them. I would be the best daughter ever. Their only daughter. Their only child. I would be perfect. And by doing so, I’d keep this family strong, together, and happy. Just the three of us.

***

Rebecca smacked at her leg. “Damn mosquitoes. I’m getting eaten alive out here. You wanna come inside for a bit? My mom’s doing schoolwork so we just have to be super quiet.”
Rebecca’s mom had gone back to school to get her nursing degree. She was a licensed nursing assistant, but she was studying to be a registered nurse. The schoolwork was brutal and set her mom on edge, which she already seemed to be anyway since Rebecca’s dad walked out six months ago, but the pressure of schoolwork intensified it. About a month after Rebecca’s dad had left—to move in with some chick half his age who lived halfway across the country—Rebecca’s mom had what she called a mini-meltdown. It was intense enough that Rebecca came to live at my house for a few weeks while things with her mom settled down and she felt strong enough to have Rebecca around again and be able to go back to work. That’s when she decided to get her advanced degree. After Rebecca went back home, her mom talked to both of us about tragedy being the catalyst for greater things. I wondered how my parents splitting up could be for the greater good? There was no way. It couldn’t.
“No thanks. I think I’ll just go home and take care of a few things.” I slid myself off the hood of the car. When I turned back to grab my bag of chocolate, I caught Rebecca grabbing a few more pieces.
“Oh come on. Come inside for a bit. What’s there to do at home? Reorganize your sock drawer?” She giggled as she stuffed more of my chocolate into her mouth.
I grabbed my candy and neatly folded the edge of the bag down. “Very funny. I don’t wear socks in the summer.”
“Ah, so reorganizing your flip-flops then?” She slid herself off the car and stood beside me now. “I’m just kidding. Trying to lighten the mood a bit. But screw the bus, I’m driving you.” She stretched her arms around me, giving me a gentle hug.
When she pulled away from me her blue eyes cut to my wrist. “Hey, you need a new bandage, this one looks like it’s seeping.”
I looked at my wrist and saw the ointment that I’d applied earlier beginning to hit the surface of the bandage. “Yeah, I meant to change it when I got home.” Home. Where everything that used to be right with my world was now going wrong.
Rebecca linked her arm in mine. “Come inside, my mom will clean it up for you.”
“Oh, I don’t want to disturb her.”
“Please, she wants to be an RN, this is what she loves to do. She’ll fix you right up.” We began walking up the steps to her front door. And I wondered if her mom could also patch up my broken heart.


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