Joey didn't speak to me that day after having seen me kiss Tom. I felt, quite honestly, like shit. Now he probably thought I was just whoring around with him and with somebody else's boyfriend. He probably thought I'd led him on. And now Chrissy thought I was stealing her man. Dammit. God dammit!
It was with these thoughts that I was consumed as I walking home from school.
The next morning was no better. Tom and Chrissy didn't speak to me. Nor did Joey. Isobel and Elijah were kind to me, but distant. I guess they'd heard what had happened. I had to talk to Chrissy and to Joey sooner or later.
After Psychology I caught Chrissy's arm, and tried to explain myself.
"Chrissy... I didn't mean to. I didn't plan to... Joey wasn't noticing when we were trying other things, I'm sorry - I don't know what I was thinking. If it makes you feel better it seems to have fucked up things with him too... I don't like Tom that way, I promise. I'm only interested in Joey." I was surprised by how desperate I was feeling to win her back to my side. My stomach was twisting, and I suddenly felt sick. I looked at her face, searching. She just looked back at me.
Chrissy opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it and turned and walked away.
I felt about ready to cry. I leaned my back against the lockers and took a deep breath. I noticed Joey right across from me. Perfect. I looked at my shoes. He smirked, then shook his head at me. As I drew breath to speak, he said "Later, Rhea. We gotta get to class."
God dammit. I leaned there against the wall for another couple of minutes. How could this have backfired so badly? Walking to class, I surreptitiously pulled out my phone and texted Jamie to ask if I could see him tonight. I just wanted to chill with someone with whom things weren't complicated.
"Miss, is that your phone?"
I looked up. Ms. Garrett had seen me texting my brother. No use for it now, huh?
"Yes ma'am." I handed the phone to her without a word. They were supposed to confiscate them on sight now.
"Come by my classroom after school to pick this up. Don't let me see you at it again." I smiled weakly at her.
"Yes ma'am. Thank you."
As I sat down in my next class - English - and looked at the board, I noticed something funny about the date. It was familiar, but I couldn't think why.
Then it hit me. Today was my birthday. I was seventeen at four-thirty tonight. I laughed hollowly then turned to my work.
The day dragged on and on. When it was finally over, I shuffled to Ms. Garrett's room to pick up my phone. She smiled warmly when I walked in, then took my phone out of her desk.
"How have you been, Rhea?" She'd always had a soft spot for me since I'd punched a kid in the face in her classroom many years ago. It was a miracle I hadn't had to go to counseling for that one. Then she'd transferred to this area a few years after I'd moved here, and as luck would have it, we were at the same school.
"I'm okay, Ms. Garrett, and yourself?" It was touching that she'd asked, that she'd remembered me all these years.
"I'm well. You seem down, is there anything you want to talk about?" Boy, was there ever, but Ms. Garrett wasn't the right person. I just wanted to see Jamie and go home.
I smiled weakly at her, then chose a different topic. "It's my birthday today, Ms. Garrett."
"Oh, happy birthday, have you any plans?"
I shook my head and said that I was trying to work on some, which was the truth. She smiled, and handed me a cookie. We left the room and went in separate directions.
I nibbled the cookie thoughtfully. Looking down at my phone, I saw that I had two messages, one from Jamie and the other from... Joey?
Opening Jamie's, my stomach dropped. "Don't come. I think Dad's watching the house, and so are the police. I'll tell you when it's safe again. I think Dad's looking for you." Oh, shit...
Quickly, I opened Joey's message. "I heard what you said to Chrissy. That was a stupid thing to do, I'm not the kind of guy to fall for that. But if it's true, let's do some work on that project tomorrow after school. I'd like to talk." Was that positive or negative? I reread it, but still couldn't gather a clue as to which. Knowing Joey, he'd probably crafted it specifically to be ambiguous.
I left the school by way of the parking lot, feeling tense. A car honked at me, and I was almost shocked to see Tom waving me to get into his car. He had the windows rolled down, and I put my hands on the edge of the door.
"Is this okay with Chrissy?"
"Perfectly fine. I asked and everything." He grinned. "Hop in."
I did, and we took off. The car ride was kind of silent. And awkward, to say the least.
"How was your day?" It was a last-ditch attempt to break the silence on my part.
"Pretty good, got things sorted out with Chrissy yesterday. And yours?"
"It's my birthday." I hadn't meant to say that; I didn't usually celebrate my birthday. "I'm seventeen."
"Oh. Happy birthday."
"Thanks." A few more moments of silence.
"I saw Joey watching you talk to Chrissy. How'd that go?"
I answered a different question than he'd asked. "She didn't say anything. She just walked away." Saying it felt miserable. One of the only friends I'd ever had was now pissed as hell at me.
"You know that's not what I was asking."
"No, it wasn't." I sighed. "Joey wants to work on the project with me tomorrow. I guess we'll see what happens. See ya tomorrow, thanks for the ride." We'd pulled up at my house. I got out of the car.
I turned suddenly. "And Tom... thanks for trying." I slammed the door inadvertently and unlocked the front door.
I sat down at the kitchen table, having put my things down. I was so tired that I just stared at the wall for a minute or two. Then I went in to check on my mum.
Things were much the same as they had been. The room as dark and messy, my mother, for all I knew, hadn't even rolled over since I'd seen her last.
She sighed. Sounded like she was feeling more up for today.
"I'll get you some dinner." I turned to walk out of the room, but her voice stopped me.
"Can I take it in the kitchen?"
My heart jumped. Was she getting better? "Of course. I'll call you when it's ready." I went about the kitchen with a hopeful smile on my face.
Minutes later, I called down the hall. "Mum? It's ready! Pancakes tonight!" I didn't mentioned that I'd used the last of the flour, but I'd wanted tonight to be special. She hadn't got out of bed all summer.
My mother shuffled slowly down the hall, blinking. "Could you cut the lights, Rhea?"
"Of course." I flipped the switch off and opened the blinds.
We ate pancakes with orange syrup in silence. She was feeling awkward, I could tell. I smiled at her. She looked older than I remembered, but also strangely beautiful. Traces of the beauty my father had fallen for - and which drove him crazy - still remained under a layer of dark clouds.
A bad taste crept into my mouth. My father.
Having finished her pancakes, my mother leaned back in her chair. I cast about for a topic. "It's my birthday, Mum. I'm glad to see you out." I smiled at her again, but suddenly she seemed upset.
"I forgot... I forgot!"
"It's okay, Mum, it doesn't matter, really." But the damage had been done. I could tell the way the wheels were turning in her head, and it wasn't good. She was blaming herself, blaming herself for being a bad mother and for not caring about her daughter. No! I couldn't think of it that way. She only thought she was a bad mum. She wasn't really, she'd really tried, but her depression had hamstrung her.
Abruptly, she stood up and turned back to the hallway. Tears were swimming in her eyes.
She was trying to escape from the world again. I panicked, I didn't know how to stop her.
"Mum, mum, it's okay, come back, sit down!"
She hurried down the hall and slammed the door. I could hear her crying. God dammit.
I sat in the kitchen, stunned. I crept down the hall. "Mum?"
No answer came back to me except for muffled crying. I stood at the door for a moment, unsure of what to do. I rested my head on the door. Once again, I'd ruined it. Upset her again. Suddenly aware of something in my pocket, I pulled out the now-crumbled cookie. What a fucking metaphor.
I was drawn back to reality by a tapping on the front door. With the metallic taste of fear in my mouth, I approached it slowly. Had Dad found us? Did the police somehow know how we were living? Were they going to take me away?
I peeped through the window shapes.
Isobel? I opened the door, confused.
"Hey, Rhea. Tom said it's your birthday?"