For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17
“Is something wrong?” Mom asked.
It had been a while since we had dinner together, so I was trying to put on a happy face, but my thoughts kept drifting back to Mrs. Reader and what I’d just done.
“No, nothing’s wrong,” I lied. “It was just a long day.”
“I heard about what you did,” she replied. “I’m very proud of you.”
The words stung a little.
“Thanks, but it was really nothing.”
“Saving a woman’s life is never ‘nothing’.”
Her choice of words made the sinking feeling in my stomach a little worse.
“I just don’t want anyone making a big deal out of it. I mean, I helped her out of the car, but that was it.”
Mom seemed to understand that i wanted to drop the subject, so she did, but didn’t necessarily move on to a better one.
“So are things better between you and Shawna?”
“Still the same, I think; I didn’t even see her today.”
“I’m sorry, but it will get better.”
The silence continued for several more minutes before mom found a topic we could both appreciate, dessert. She had a recipe for these amazing chocolate cherry cookies. I should have smelled them as soon as I got home but my mind was so preoccupied that I didn’t even notice that she’d made them until we cleared the kitchen table. It was then that she brought them out, still warm from the oven. No matter how bad a day I’d ever had, those cookies would always make it better.
The cookies, and the dinner with mom turned out to be just what I needed, but then she had to leave for her shift at the hospital. The same hospital where Mrs. Reader would be falling asleep and not waking up. I knew that I’d done what I had to do and that I’d made it as peaceful as I could, but that didn’t help me feel any better as mom walked out the door; but I knew what would.
The ride to Weed’s house took no time, but even though I hadn’t given him a heads up, he had a bowl packed and ready for me. It’s a true friend that knows what you need before you need it. He had a little Zeppelin playing and for a while that was all we needed as we passed the pipe back and forth. But when I was sufficiently relaxed I needed something else to focus on to keep my mind from wandering where it shouldn’t.
“I’ve got just the thing,” Weed said, sliding over to his movie collection.
I didn’t even see what he picked out until the title came on the screen.
“Seriously?” I asked. “This is what you chose for us to watch, tonight of all nights?”
Weed burst out laughing.
“You love Cocoon.”
“Yeah, old people are hilarious, but come on.”
He was laughing too hard to even respond. It was the kind of laugh that was contagious. I wanted to be mad at him but I couldn’t even look at him without laughing too, so I finally gave up and just joined in. By the time I was finally able to stop laughing he had already started the movie, so I watched. I didn’t make it halfway through before falling asleep on the yard-sale couch Weed and I had picked up the previous summer, against his mom’s wishes. It looked like something out of a frat house but that night it was the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on.
Neither of us wanted to wake up the next morning, and to her credit, Weed’s mom did try waking us a couple times before she brought out the big guns. We should have known what would happen, but apparently it didn’t dawn on either of us that she wouldn’t let us be, so as we slept in, clinging tightly to those extra few minutes of oblivion, she stealthily positioned two speakers right by the bedroom door, cranked the volume to 11 and hit play.
I didn’t even know heavy metal yodeling was a thing, but she’d somehow found a record from Germany. Under normal circumstances I might have been interested in giving it a shot but waking up to it blasting a few feet from my head was not how I wanted to be introduced to it.
Weed and I both instantly threw our pillows in the general direction of the horrible noise, but knocking the speakers over only muffled it slightly so we were forced to actually get up. I couldn’t tell if he cut the speaker wire or merely disconnected them, but either way the piercing vocals and screaming guitars were finally silenced.
“Jokes on her,” Weed said, “I’m actually starting to like that band.”
He might have been joking, but I kind of doubted it. His taste in music could get as weird as he was, but that was part of what made us just click.
“You want a little of my go-faster juice?” He asked, slipping on a Dead Kennedys t-shirt.
“Na, I’m good. Just a little Mt Dew or even a coke and I’ll be good to go.”
He tossed me a can which I chugged down in no time, then jumped on the bike and rushed home to shower and grab a change of clothes. Based on her normal schedule I figured I had plenty of time before my mom got home but I didn’t want to take any chances. If she got home before I left for school she would feel obligated to tell me about Mrs. Reader passing in her sleep and I really didn’t want to have that conversation with her so I wasted no time. I didn’t even finish drying completely before throwing on a fresh t-shirt and jeans and heading right back out. Even with waking up late and going back home first, I somehow made it to school with time to spare. Weed, on the other hand, probably fell back asleep in the shower as he was known to do, and barely made it through the door before the last bell rang.
I’m pretty sure we both dozed on and off throughout first and second periods but by third I was finally feeling awake. And I think Weed even managed to keep his eyes open for the whole class, so by lunch we were able to actually hold a conversation. We weren’t talking about anything important but it was nice to feel normal for a minute, until principal Rooney appeared and started heading my way with a serious look on his face.
“How are you feeling today?” He asked, sitting down on the bench beside me, but still facing away from the table.
“I’m alright,” I replied.
“Did you get a chance to stop by and see Mrs. Reader yesterday?”
“I did; she seemed happy about it.”
“I’m glad to hear that because I just got some bad news.”
He paused as if the news was going to be hard, either for him to say or me to hear.
“A representative from the hospital just called to let me know that she passed in her sleep last night.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to look surprised, or sad, or something, but I’m pretty sure I only managed to look confused.
“These things happen,” he continued, “but she didn’t suffer, if that’s any consolation.”
“That does make it a little easier to hear, I guess”.
“And I want you to know that we’re all here for you if you need to talk.”
“I think I’m okay.”
“That’s good, but if, in the near future you want someone to talk to about this, my door is always open.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”
“Grief or confusion, especially when it comes to death, is very natural. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone. If not me, consider any of your teachers or the guidance counselor.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
“That’s all I’m asking,” he said, standing back up.
“Awkward,” Weed said, as soon as principal Rooney was barely out of earshot.
“Tell me about it.”
“So you’re positive it was you?”
“So what was it like?”
“I’m not going to talk about it here.”
“Okay, later then.”
“Why not? I’m just curious.”
“I don’t even know how to describe it, okay? It’s just weird. But only two more assignments and I don’t even have to think about it ever again.”
“Do you know who those two are?”
“No clue, but they have to be easier than that one was.”
“You know you just jinxed yourself, right?”
“Probably, but what could be worse than having to off an old woman you just saved from a car wreck?”