I couldn’t decide what to wear. At first I thought casual, like jeans and a button-down; then I thought no, in case his parents are there I should wear a dress, something somber like my gray scoop neck with the skinny belt. Then that looked too much like a funeral outfit, so I tried a marigold silk shirtdress, but that looked too spring, too cheerful.
The elevator doors ding open and I step out into the hallway. It’s early Monday morning, an hour before school starts. I’m carrying a wicker basket of freshly baked chocolate chunk cookies and a get-well card covered in pink- and red-lipsticked lips. I’m wearing a navy turtleneck sweater and a camel-colored miniskirt, cream tights, brown suede ankle booties with a high heel. I curled my hair and did it halfway up, halfway down.
Fingers crossed I don’t look as guilty as I feel.
At least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been—that’s what I keep telling myself. It certainly looked bad that night. It looked horrible. Watching Reeve fall off the stage and onto the gym floor in a twisted heap . . . it’s something I’ll never forget. But there was no spinal damage, just some bruising and soreness. His only injury was a broken fibula. Which, I guess, isn’t great.
He would have been released sooner if not for the hospital running a bunch of tests to make sure Reeve hadn’t suffered a seizure. As far as I know, they didn’t test him for drugs. I was sure they would, but Kat was pretty confident they wouldn’t bother with someone like Reeve, an athlete. So no one knows about the ecstasy that I slipped in his drink. Reeve won’t be suspended and I won’t be going to jail. He’s supposed to be discharged today.
I guess we both got off easy.
Now we go back to our normal lives. Whatever that means. After everything that’s happened this year, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel “normal” again, or if I even want to. It’s like there was the Before Lillia and now there’s the After Lillia. The Before Lillia didn’t have a care in the world; she didn’t have a clue. Before Lillia couldn’t have handled any of this—she wouldn’t have known what to do with herself. I’m a lot tougher now, not so soft and lily-white. I’ve been through things; I’ve seen things. I’m not the girl on the beach anymore. That all changed the moment we met those guys.
I used to be scared of leaving Jar Island, of being so far away from my family and my friends. But now I think about how when I go to college next year, no one there will know Before Lillia or After Lillia. I’ll just be Lillia.
The woman at the reception desk smiles at me and asks, “Are you here to see our celebrity football player?”
I smile back and nod.
“He’s at the end of the hall.”
“Thank you,” I say. Then I ask, “Is anybody here with him?”
“That cute little brunette,” the woman says with a wink.
Rennie. I don’t think she’s left his side since Saturday night. I’ve called her twice, but she hasn’t called me back. She’s probably still annoyed with me for getting homecoming queen over her.
I make my way down the hall, clutching my basket and the card. I hate hospitals; I always have. The fluorescent lights, the smells . . . When I was little, I would try and hold my breath for as long as I possibly could. I’m good at holding my breath now, but I don’t play the game anymore.
The closer I get to his room, the faster my heart beats. All I can hear is the sound of it beating and the clacking of my heels on the linoleum.
I’m standing outside his hospital room now. His name is written on the door. It’s closed all but a crack. I set my basket down so I can knock, and then I hear Reeve’s voice, defiant and husky. “I don’t care what the doctors say. There’s no way my recovery time is gonna be that long. I’m in peak physical condition. I’ll be back on the field in no time.”
“That’s right, Reevie. You’re in the best shape of your life. A broken bone isn’t going to stop you from getting what you’ve worked so hard for.”
Someone brushes past me. A nurse. “Excuse me, hon,” she chirps, and open the door wide. The nurse pushes through the curtain that divides the room in half and disappears into the other side.
And then there’s Reeve, in a faded hospital gown. He hasn’t shaved, there’s a bit of scruff on his chin, and there are black circles underneath both of his eyes. He’s got an IV drip in one of his arms, and his leg is in a huge cast, from his foot up to his thigh. It’s suspended in a big sling mounted to the ceiling. His toes, what I can see of them poking out of the cast, are purple and swollen. His arms, too, are all cut up and scabby, probably from the broken glass that fell down on top of everyone that night. A few of the bigger wounds are sewn closed with thin black suture strings. He seems strangely small in the hospital bed. Not like himself.
Rennie’s eyes are red-rimmed, and they narrow when she sees me. “Hey.”
I swallow and hold up my card. “It’s from the girls on the squad. They—they all send their best.” Then I remember the cookies. I move to bring the basket to Reeve, but I change my mind and set it on a chair by the door. “I brought you cookies. They’re chocolate chunk, I think I remember you liking them when I baked them for Key Club bake sale last year. . . .” Why am I still talking?
Reeve quickly wipes his eyes with the bedsheet. Gruffly he says, “Thanks, but I don’t eat junk during football season.”
I can’t help it. I stare at his cast. “Right. Sorry.”
“The doctor’s coming back any minute to discharge him,” Rennie says. “You should probably go.”
I can feel my face reddening. “Oh. Sure. Feel better, Reeve.”
I don’t know if I’m imagining it, but when he looks at me over Rennie’s shoulder, I think I see hate in his eyes. Then he closes them. “Bye,” he says.
I’m halfway down the hallway when I stop and finally let out a breath. I still have the card clutched in my hands. My knees are shaking.
“It’s dead,” I say, and let my head fall onto the steering wheel. “Dead as a doornail.”
My older brother, Pat, wipes his hands on a dirty rag. “Kat, quit being such a drama queen and turn the freaking key again.”
I do as I’m told. I turn the key in the ignition of our convertible. Nothing happens. No sound, no rumble. Nothing. “This is stupid.” I say it, because even though Pat knows what he’s doing when it comes to any kind of engine, there’s no saving this jalopy. Our family needs a new car, or at least one built in this freaking decade. I climb out and slam the door so hard the entire convertible shakes. I don’t need to be walking to school, freezing my ass off this winter. Or worse, taking the bus. Hello! I’m a senior.