Elizabeth leaned back against the headboard, her arms snaking around the throw pillow as if it was a life preserver.
“This floor is….disgusting.” Barbara nudged aside an abandoned pile of clothing with her toe, a slight slur woven into her words. She was different than normal. Off.
“Well, I know where everything is,” Elizabeth retorted, her words muffled by the fluffy black pillow. Carefully gripping the sheet, she edged it up further so that it hugged the side of her leg.
“I sh-shouldn’t have to clean up after you anymore. You’re seventeen years old, and–”
“It’s my room,” Elizabeth cut her off. “I can do whatever I want.”
“In my house.”
Barbara closed her eyes, and when she opened them again they were red and watery. “Elizabeth…” she started wearily. “I…”
“What?” snapped Elizabeth. Her eyes darted from her mother to the door, to the dresser, and finally to the wall next to the bed. “Did you have a little too much to drink or something? Did it make you all sentimental?”
“I…” Barbara’s glance shifted to the door and back, and she took a tiny step backwards.
Elizabeth’s eyes widened and her hands balled into fists. “What is your problem?” she cried.
Wavering slightly on her feet, Barbara leaned back against the wall next to the door. The car keys fell from her hand and disappeared almost silently into the monstrosity that was the laundry mountain.
“What do you want?” Elizabeth asked again. Her hand closed around the cold, wet object under the sheet. Warm liquid seeped between her fingers. She must have started bleeding pretty badly.
“I need to tell you something.”
“I promise I’ll clean. Really. Could you just go away?”
“It isn’t that,” Barbara replied vaguely. “I…”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Mom, it’s late. Just spit it out already.”
“I went…out tonight.”
“I know,” Elizabeth retorted. “One of those mark it on the calendar events.” She drew air quotes with her fingers to emphasize her sarcasm. After a moment she added, “Did you come to rub in how much fun you had?”
“It was great,” Barbara replied wistfully. “And then, I…I guess…” she stuttered.
“It happened so fast. One minute he wasn’t there, and then the next minute he was, and I…”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t understand.” She pushed slowly and precisely under the sheet until she was against the wall, hearing the faint ping as the metal object bounced off of the bed frame and slid to the floor.
Barbara didn’t register the sound. “I’m not sure what happened.” She blinked, a single tear trailing down her cheek.
As she sank down to a sitting position in amongst the clothes, it occurred to Elizabeth that she couldn’t recall the last time she had seen her mother cry. “What is it?” she asked, more gently than before.
“I just needed to have fun, you know? I needed to get away from everything. I needed to have fun, to have a few drinks, to just…get out. Is that so wrong? To just take time for me? Is that wrong?”
“No,” Elizabeth laughed lightly. “It’s probably good for you.”
“He came out of nowhere. I didn’t know what else to do. I panicked. I drove away, I came home.”
Elizabeth’s brow furrowed as she struggled to read between the lines.
“He came out of nowhere,” she said again, suddenly seeming empty and hollow. “There wasn’t any time.”
Elizabeth’s leg was quite wet. It had to be seeping through by now. Without looking down, she shifted the pillow so that it would cover up the spot. Shaking her head, she replied, “Look, Mom, I really don’t get it. I–”
“I did something really bad. They’re going to come for me. When they do, don’t be scared. You need to tell them, Elizabeth. You need to tell them that I’m really a good person, that I–”
“What are you trying to say?”
“You know I love you, right? Always? No matter what?”
Downstairs, the doorbell rang.