Lanie leaned her head against the window of the bus, waiting for the driver to pull away. As her the bus moved on down the road, her head started bouncing against the glass and she sat up straight again.
At the next stop, Doug got on the bus. “Hi,” he said, sitting down next to her.
“Hi,” she said, looking back out the window.
“Hey loser,” the boy behind them said, popping up over the seat to hit Doug in the side of the head.
“Leave him alone!” Lanie snapped.
“You gonna make me?” the boy taunted. “Letting your little girlfriend fight your battles for you?”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Doug insisted, wrapping his arms around his backpack as he stubbornly faced the front of the bus.
“I’m not his girlfriend,” Lanie agreed quietly.
“Whatcha got for lunch today, Dougie?” the boy asked, snatching Doug’s backpack right out of his lap. Undoing the zipper, the boy rummaged through the contents. “Nothing good,” he said, shoving it out the window.
Lanie watched out the window as the backpack hit the ground and bounced once before coming to a stop. All of Doug’s things spilled out into oncoming traffic. She turned to look at Doug, but he wouldn’t look back at her.
Wrapping his arms around his middle, he whispered, “I didn’t even bring a lunch,” before drawing his kneels up to his chest and burying his face.
Lanie sat up in bed, looking around the hospital room.
“Hi,” I whispered.
“Hi,” she answered quietly.
“How are you feeling?” I asked, scooting my chair closer to her bed.
She shook her head. “I keep seeing him,” she said as a solitary tear trickled down her cheek. I was kneeling right next to him, I reached out to touch him, and…I just…I feel sick,” she whispered as her face turned a ghostly shade of white.
I grabbed the garbage can from the bed and got it in front of Lanie just as she started to gag. Her fingers clutched the sides of the can as she fought throwing up, continuing to gag and trying to choke it back.
Tears streamed down my daughter’s face as I crawled into bed behind her, wrapping my legs around her and helping her to sit against me. “It’s okay,” I whispered, putting my hands over hers to help her hold the little can.
She gave in, her face nearly disappearing into the can as she retched violently, repeatedly upending her stomach. Lifting her head, she leaned back as she gasped for air, her face a mixture of sweat and tears. “Mom,” she moaned, before gripping the edge of the garbage and vomiting again.
I held her hair back, laying her head down on my shoulder as the horrible retching finally ceased. “Oh, sweetheart,” I murmured, cupping her head in my hand. Shimmying down along the bed, I laid my head on the pillow and let her settle in beside me.
Lanie fell asleep like that, in my arms, and I held on to her as tightly as I could. I prayed that if I held my daughter tightly enough, I could take away her pain.
Becca walked down to the garage, turning on the fluorescent light above what used to be Gabriel’s tool desk. Bending down, she dragged out the giant red toolbox and tipped it over, spilling the contents across the garage floor. The hammer that she was searching for was right on top, and she snatched it up, testing the feel of it’s weight. Wandering absently out of the garage, she left the light on and the door open.
As she walked up the stairs, Becca let the claw of the hammer drag against the railing. Drifting in Doug’s room, she felt herself heft the hammer as if she watching somebody else. Becca drove the hammer into Doug’s desk again and again, hitting it until the wood splintered. Her next target was the computer monitor, and she gave it a well-placed strike in the middle, causing it to fall amongst the wood debris. Whirling around, she sent the hammer flying into Doug’s mirror, watching as a spider web of cracks made it’s way across her reflection. Tightening her grip on the handle, Becca drove the hammer into the glass again, and the shards went scattering across the floor.
Spinning around, she threw the hammer at the wall, ripping open the closet door as it bounced to the ground. She yanked out hangers and threw the clothes all over the room, ripping and tearing at what she could, and tossing away what she couldn’t.
Becca felt like she was floating, watching as all of the fight left her body and she sank down among the glass on the floor. She saw herself picking up one of the bigger shards of glass and staring at it, but she couldn’t make her hand let it go. Letting it fall into her palm, she squeezed her hand shut as tightly as she could.
As she watched the blood leak out around her closed fingers, Becca felt the start of tears trickling down her cheeks. “No,” she whispered furiously, swiping them away with her free hand. Squeezing down harder, she watched from above as her hand started shaking uncontrollably.
When Becca opened her hand, she caught the glass in her free hand as it fell, and let her injured hand bleed openly. Poking at the sharpest corner with the tip of another finger, she twirled it around and around in her hand, making a tiny circle of cracks to match the gash in her right hand. “I think I know what makes people want to die,” she murmured. She watched from above as the dug the glass into her hand, uncertain of her ability to stop herself.
I pulled the car out the hospital parking lot carefully, aware of my husband holding my semi-panicky daughter in the backseat. “What was that?” Lanie asked, looking around frantically with widened eyes.
“It was just a car backfiring, Lanie,” Alex said.
“Oh,” she said, settling back against the seat.
“It’s only a couple of minutes until we get home, we’re less than a mile away,” I contributed from the front, making the right hand turn that would take us towards home.
“Oh,” Lanie repeated.
The three of us were silent until I pulled into the driveway. “I’ll go get the door,” I said. I unbuckled my seatbelt and ran up to the front door, propping it open. Alex helped Lanie out of the car, draping one of her arms across his shoulders so that he was supporting all her weight as they walked into the house.
I closed the front door, dropping my purse on the couch and watching as Alex carefully helped Lanie up the stairs. I crossed into the kitchen and rummaged around in the cupboard, coming up with some teabags. Getting the container I used to heat water, I filled it from the filter in the sink and put it in the microwave. I unwrapped the tea bags, draping them over three mugs, and I grabbed the sugar and honey off of the table.
The microwave beeped, and I took the hot water and poured some into each of the mugs. I was setting it all up on a nice tray when the phone rang.
“Hello?” Alex answered, grabbing the extension at the top of the stairs. After a pause he said, “Yeah, she is, but do you really think now is…” Another pause, and he reluctantly said, “Okay, okay, hang on.” He walked down the stairs, putting the receiver in my hand. “It’s Doctor Thade. She wants to talk to you.”
“Hello?” I answered, pinning the receiver to my shoulder as I put the hot container down in the sink.
“Listen, Michelle,” Dr. Thade said hesitantly. “I didn’t have anyone else to call.”
I pulled out one of the chairs at the kitchen table, sitting down. “I just brought my daughter home, Dr. Thade, I think this is a…”
“Becca tried to commit suicide. We have her here now, we’re fixing her up. She has…She doesn’t have any next of kin anymore, and…”
“What do you want from me right now?” I sighed. “Seriously?”
“There isn’t anybody else I can really call, I just…She needs a friend, Michelle.”
“Michelle? Look at me,” Becca said.
I dug my finger into the cotton sheet underneath me as another contraction ripped through my abdomen. Whimpering softly, I struggled against the pain as all of the breath sucked out of me and tucked my chin down against my chest.
“Look at me!” Becca commanded, lifting my chin and forcing me to look into her eyes.
“I can’t,” I whispered. “I can’t.”
“I’m sorry Alex isn’t here. I’m sorry that I’m not your first pick to be holding your hand, I know that you wish he could make it. But Alex is in New York, and I’m here. I’m your best friend, Becca. We can do this. This baby is coming now. Let me help.”
She scooped up my hand, and I clenched her fingers as tightly as I could. “I’m scared,” I answered.
“I know, sweetie.” Becca took a damp washcloth and wiped the sweat off of my brow. “I know.”
The doctor got back down into position below the stirrups. “When the next contraction comes, Michelle, you need to push, okay?”
I shook my head rapidly. “No, I can’t.”
Becca knelt on the bed beside me holding my head against her chest and whispering into my ear, “Honey, you have to. If you don’t push, the baby’s going to go into distress, and that’s not going to be good for either one of you. I know you wanted Alex to be here, I know you’re scared…I know, I know…but you can do this.”
“I changed my mind,” I sobbed quietly. “I changed my mind, I don’t want to have a baby anymore. I want to take it back.”
A stab of pressure struck my back, working around towards the front in waves as another contraction took over. The pain was so intense, I barely noticed anything in the room until it let me go.
“They’re a minute apart. You need to push, Michelle. You have to push.”
I leaned back against the pillow, covered in sweat, and too tired to fight when Becca crawled up behind me. Drawing my head back so it was resting on her shoulder, she reached around to grab both of my hands in each of hers. “When the next one hits, you squeeze. Don’t worry about hurting me; I’m tough. Just squeeze as hard as you can, and push.”
Nodding weakly, I steeled my back against Becca and let the next contraction wash over me.
“Here it comes,” the doctor said. “One more big push.”
I responded as she asked, pushing down and squeezing Becca’s fingers until I was sure they would snap.
“And it’s…a girl!” the doctor cried triumphantly. “It’s a girl!”
“Thank you,” I whispered to Becca as the doctor cut the cord. “Thank you.”
“Michelle?” Dr. Thade asked, breaking into my thoughts.
“Sorry,” I said, shaking it off. “Look, I’ll be there. I just need to tell Alex I’m going.”
“Okay. Thank you, Michelle,” she answered, hanging up.
“You’re welcome,” I whispered to the dead air.
“She’s in there,” Dr. Thade said. “They stitched her up down in the ER, but she hasn’t said a single word since she came in. We moved her up here.”
Becca’s eyes were focused on something unseen in the ceiling when I entered the room. White bandages encased both of her wrists, and the palms of her hands were also wrapped. I perched on the edge of the bed, unsure of what to say. I had to figure out how to separate my best friend from the acts her son had committed.
“Hi,” I whispered, wanting to reach for her hand but holding myself back.
She gave no indication that she heard me; just continued staring straight up.
“Becca…” I hesitated. “I’m sorry.”
Becca still didn’t move. I reached over, gently tracing a line across her cheek. “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk. I can talk.” As I reached deep inside myself, thinking back to earlier, I suddenly knew what to say.
“When I was having Lanie…Alex was stuck in New York with a transplant team, and you were there for me. Do you remember?”
Her eyes didn’t move. There was no answer.
“I was so scared. I didn’t want to push; I didn’t want to do anything. Heck, I didn’t even want to have her anymore…I was just that terrified.”
Becca still didn’t move a muscle. She hardly even seemed to blink.
“You took my hand and you let me squeeze the crap out of it, remember? You told me that we would get through it, because we were best friends. Do you remember that, Becca?
A single tear trickled down her cheek, but she still wouldn’t look at me, and she didn’t move at all.
I reached up again and gently wiped away the tear. “You’re aren’t him, sweetheart. I know that it hurts, but you didn’t make his decisions. None of it is your fault. And I know you feel alone right now, but you aren’t. I’m here, I will be here.”
Several more tears streamed down her cheeks as she bit her lip, struggling to control herself as she slowly looked at me.
“There you go,” I said quietly. “See? I’m here. And I’d hold your hand, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea right now.”
Becca reached out slowly with her left hand, the tips of her fingers sticking out of the bandage. She curled around my hand slowly, wincing at the pain the action cost her.
“When it hits,” I whispered, “just squeeze. Don’t worry about hurting me; I’m tough. Just squeeze as hard as you can, okay?”
She nodded slowly, her fingertips clutching at me the best that could around the bandage. “You don’t have to do this,” she said, seeming surprised by the sound of her own voice.
“Yes, I do,” I answered.
“I am so sorry, Michelle,” she said, so quietly that I could barely understand her. “I’m so sorry.”
“You don’t need to be,” I replied, reminding myself of my deep friendship with this woman, and fighting inside myself against all of my anger. This is your best friend. She can’t help what her son did. She’s not to blame for it. She needs you.
“But I am.”