*cackle--I mean, cough*
Every part of my body hurt.
I tried to move. Couldn’t. Wasn’t even sure I should if I could. Gave up. Blinked. Let the room come into focus. I’d gotten flowers—not a lot, but enough I felt kind of stupid. Flowers are for sweet girls, not for guys in the hospital hit by drunk drivers. Oh well. The blinds were pulled partially and a thick chunk of light fell across my bed, where my two legs—were they broken? Apparently they were—lay awkwardly. Oh. If I let my eyes loosely follow the chunk of light I could see where it finally pooled: on the girl. Her head was lowered to her chest, asleep and hanging by a string of light it looked like from over here, and the sun warmed her brass colored hair so that it shined like some kind of spun metal as it fell down over her shoulders. So familiar.
It took me a few tries, but I finally got it:
Her head whipped up and she peered at me, bleary and full of sun, eyes opening and closing frantically. Then she smiled, widened her eyes, and pressed the red button on the alert wand that her hand had been clamped around.
It wasn’t the head injury or the coma that had made me struggle to figure out who the girl was; we hadn’t even been friends or anything before the wreck. Guess she’d felt bad for me and started visiting me, coming in every day during my “very long sleep,” –that’s what she calls it, my coma, and it still chokes her up and everything—and now her and Mom and Pops are best buds, go figure. Her parent’s run the ice cream shop for the tourists; that’s probably where I’ve seen her since we don’t go to the same school. Her name is Joy. She’s real pretty and real sweet. Brings me homemade pie, which is way better than stupid old flowers; talks to the nurses for me when I just can’t hack it any more and pass out; puts me through my paces on my rehab, not that I can do much yet. Keeps me company.
Keeps me happy.
“What do you think it looks like when two people fall in love?”
This she asks me as she crawls up and over the guard rail to lay down next to me. It’s only a twin bed and everything, but we’re both young enough still to fit just fine. And she rests her head against my chest, stretching her long straight legs next to my wonky ones.
“I don’t know.” But I smile.
“Think it looks anything like this?” She pauses, traipses her fingers across my torso to grab my free hand, and I wrap it around hers. “Think it could look anything like this?”
When her head tips up to mine, I crane up a bit—which hurts like hell—and kiss her, fair and square and on the mouth. The pain is worth it.
“What do you mean, ‘you don’t think God would want you to love me just yet, Leo?”
Her hair flies out from her head in the sun and the wind as we stand in front of the ice cream shop. Pop’s inside; he loves that Joy and I have been together all this time because it means he can get all the free ice cream he can want. I haven’t bothered to explain to him that he’s being sinful and gluttonous. Surely he would know that. Surely he would realize that when God calls back a son from the almost dead, you’d better do your best to please Him, so He’s not tempted to do cry do-over. Surely Joy realizes that too; we go to the same church, after all. So I don’t say anything to her, either.
“It’s that damn sermon from the other day, isn’t it? I know it is.”
“Joy,” I say, trying a smile on her, “try not to curse. And it’s not because of the sermon. Not really. I just don’t know if it’s right, you know, young as we are. I don’t want to live in sin. If I’m going to live, I want to do it right.”
“If? If?!” Her voice is a shriek but she’s doing the thing where she’s letting a temper cover up that she really wants to sob. “If you live? What the hell does that mean? You think God’s sitting up there with some kind of tally sheet, ready to throw you back in front of a drunk driver if you don’t break up with your girlfriend in time? I’m sorry, but I think God has a bit more important things to worry about than if you hold hands with me, or go to the movies with me, or anything like that. Jesus Christ, who do you think you are, to be so important that God’s got some personal score to keep with you? Get over yourself!”
What am I supposed to say to that? Obviously she’s just upset. She’ll understand; I’ll have her parents take her to Rev. Rast.
“And what the hell does ‘do it right’ mean? Oh wait, I see: Having me in your life means ‘doing it wrong,’ is that it? Kiss my ass, motherfucker.”
She turns so fast her hair looks like a glinting blur as she yanks open the glass door to the ice cream shop.
Now maybe it’s wrong to upset the girl I love, the girl who loves me, the girl who spent three months helping me get out of the hospital, two years doing rehab—the girl who dazzles, who is kind, who can bake a mean pie, who dances with me in the parking lot of the basketball court after a game of one-on-one, the girl who is the best thing that could have every possibly happened to me. Maybe that is wrong. But shouldn’t God be the best thing that ever happened to me? He’s the one who called me back; not her. I just wish she could understand that.
“Forget church and God and all that,” I tell the sweet-faced girl leaning towards me on the couch, “this is way more enlightening, you know what I mean?”
Of course she knows what I mean. How could she not know what I mean? If I tilt my head and lower my eyes just right she looks a lot like a younger version of Joy. I tell her that too. She understands it. Of course she understands it; how could she not; the level of conversation we’re on right now is so high there’s no way she could misunderstand me; we’re finishing each other’s sentences, only we’re not.
“I love the way this makes me feel,” she says, and I recall her name is Faith. Of course her name is Faith, this little sweet-faced girl who reminds me of Joy. Joy and Faith, Faith and Joy, Joy is gone and Faith is beside me and faith is gone too but now I’ve got more joy. I tell her all this, and she knows exactly what I mean, wonderful, sweet-faced girl watching as I run my hands along the peculiar smooth-rough of the couch until my hand goes into the crack between the cushions, and wriggle my fingers there too.
“Why don’t we pay more attention to the sensation of touch I wonder?”
“I don’t know,” she says, and she turns forward and does the same thing to the coffee table that I’m doing to the couch. It’s walnut. Bet it feels cool too. “We should though; doesn’t this feel amazing? Look how smooth this is. Somewhere someone’s hands made this this smooth. The sensations...they let me feel the world in my head,” she continues, and her hands make arcs across the Pledged surface as she turns her small face towards mine once more.
Next thing I know we’re in bed together and the X has worn off and we need a smoke, a bottle of whiskey. The girl can drink. We pass out.
Blue. Blue sky bright through the window. Morning. It’s morning. I sit up. Slowly. I’m drained, but not as bad as I thought I’d be after those hits. More just feeling the hangover. Oone thing to fix a hangover is another drink. I stretch on the couch and wake the little girl. Faith. That’s right. She’s a cool girl but she isn’t Joy. Still, she’s pretty, and she smiles like the sun that shines on her face through that God awful bright window across from us. She sits up.
“How you feelin’,” she asks, rubbing carefully at her leftover mascara.
“Alrgiht. Little hungover.”
“Me too. Hair of the dog?”
“Just what I was thinking. I’ll go make us a couple of drinks,” I say, and head for the kitchen. No vodka; no bloody mary’s. Looks like whiskey it is.
“Mmm,” the girl says a few minutes later, “why is it so smooth in the morning?”
“’Cause we’re borderline alcoholics,” I tell her, and we laugh. One drink turns into three. Three turns into the rest of the bottle and some music making and some love making, though it isn’t love I’ve got, not for her. And the bright blue sky outside is evening out and the heat is settling into the house and my head is pounding but I feel great; I feel awesome; I feel on top of the world but I know I need to get home if for no other reason than to brush my goddamn teeth since it tastes like a whole Irish pub has crawled up in there and died, way back there where my tongue meets my throat and when I’m drunk I can’t handle things like that, simple things like bad breath or damp socks so I tell her I got to go home.
It’s on the drive down Y Road, winding through the country and the summer like some kind of intense video game that I remember it’s her wedding day today. Sonofabitch. That’s a mother of a thing to remember after a long night of partying and a solid morning buzz. Married.
Married. Joy’s getting married today. It’s been six years since the hospital. And now she’s getting married. Today. Married today. Married today. Married today. Married today. The light of the late summer sun flashes between the trees and the words pound through my body like blood. Married today. Married today.
I throw the brakes and pull a u-ie. I’ll go. I told her I wouldn’t but I’ve got to go. I’ve got to. And there, in the middle of the road, blinded by the sudden shift in the angle of the sunlight, I slam my foot to the pedal.
And the car into the boy on his bicycle.