Chapter 10: Isolation
Deena woke up, at a loss as to where she was.
Mom’s voice told her something.
“If she fainted at the school, then it’s the school’s responsibility to see that she gets the best medical treatment. I’ll not have her overlooked!”
Deena pushed herself up. “Mom!”
“Yes, Honey.” Mara Brooke dropped her battle with the uncooperative Nurse Perkinson in a flash. She was at her side instantly.
“Everything is okay.” In fact, she felt pretty good. She looked at the wrapped gauze bandage over her hand. Like a video clip, she remembered the long gash and the spurting blood. At least it didn’t hurt.
“Take it easy. You fainted. You don’t want to overtax yourself.”
Deena slid to her feet. “I’m okay. Understand. No weakness. No dizziness. I’m fine.”
Sharlene Perkinson said, “Well, that’s a relief. I was about to call for an ambulance.”
Mara snorted. That must have been the argument they were having when she woke up.
“Well, I’m fine now.”
“Just a moment. I can’t let you go without checking your vital signs.” The nurse elbowed her way past Mara’s blockade and checked her temperature. She used a digital cuff to get blood pressure and heartbeat rate.
“Everything looks perfectly normal. Just let me do a simple test for anemia, and I’ll be done.”
Deena shook her head. “No. I’m not about to lose any more blood.”
Her mother took her side. Nurse Perkinson was currently an enemy.
“I would like to know what caused you to faint.”
“Stress.” Deena had no doubt. “It was just stress. This has been a hectic day.”
She hesitated, not willing to blurt out that she had been accused of drug use. But surely, Mom would find out.
“Mom? Why are you here? How long have I been unconscious?”
Sharlene said, “Not long. Ten minutes maybe.”
Mara looked down the hall. “I got a call from Mrs. Miles. I came in, and they said you had fainted. I was never so upset in all my life.”
The urge for comfort overcame her reluctance.
“Mom, they accused me of using drugs! Me!” The hurt came swimming back. Her eyes watered. “I tried to tell them that I didn’t, but they wouldn’t listen. They even checked my locker!”
Mara patted her hand. “I’m sorry about that Deena. Everyone knows you’re a good girl.”
Deena felt suspicion creep up her spine. Mom was acting strangely. She pulled away from her mother and started walking out into the hall.
“I’m going home.”
Sharlene nodded. “That’s good. Get some rest.”
Deena focused on the front door and kept walking at a pace that made her mother have to hurry to keep up.
Outside, she blinked at the brighter daylight, and headed for the parking lot.
“Deena, slow down.”
She stopped and turned on her mother. Mom was never one to apologize for someone else’s misfortune, not unless she really was at fault. She had said, “I’m sorry....”
“Mom, it was you that accused me of drug use, wasn’t it?”
Mara looked over at the car. “Oh, not really. I just had a parent conference with Principal Miles and we talked about how you’ve been acting lately and....”
“And you said I might be taking drugs.” She thought about Luther, and how angry he had been.
“Mom, who else did you accuse? Luther had his locker searched too. It was perfectly clean. Who else did you slander?”
“I did no such thing! I was just being a concerned parent. You went off on that trip Saturday, and I was afraid....”
“You thought we were using drugs. Did you accuse Bryony and Terrian too?”
Mara looked trapped. “No. I know their parents. I know they wouldn’t be involved in anything like that.”
“So you trust them, but not your own daughter. And with no evidence at all, you hurt the only guy that has ever paid me any attention!”
“It’s not as bad as all that, Honey. Let’s go on home and we can talk some more.”
Deena looked back at the school. Perhaps a dozen faces were visible in the windows. How many more people were watching their fight that she couldn’t see?
“I’m going home. But I’m not riding with you.”
“But Deena, you have to ride with me.”
She turned down the sidewalk, away from the car.
“But...it’s three miles!”
“Then I’ll walk three miles.” She picked up the pace.
Behind her, fainter, she heard, “Deena!”
She didn’t answer.
Luther had felt like a third foot when Nurse Perkinson took over Deena and told him to go get the school secretary. By the time they returned, she had the bleeding stopped and the two of them moved Deena to the bed.
Luther answered their questions in short bits—a coke can, by her locker, fainted right away.
“We can take it from here. Why don’t you go back to class?”
He was reluctant to leave. Her collapse had scared him. He didn’t understand it.
But then Emily Mosse, the secretary said to Perkinson, “Her mother is already on the way here. I called her a few minutes ago about another issue.” He decided to leave.
The clock gave him ten minutes before the next class period, so he went back to the lockers and cleaned up the boxes. There were a few drops of blood he didn’t care to mess with, but he could get rid of the trash and make sure both of their lockers were secured.
Why was Mrs. Brooke coming here? He was out of sight of the offices, and intended to stay that way, but he was curious.
Had they called his aunt too, because of the locker search? It might be part of their policy. If so then all they had gotten was the answering machine. But if Aunt Katy ignored the call, that would raise a warning flag. He would have to take care of that.
Either that, or leave town tonight.
The bell rang and the corridors were quickly filled with students changing classes. He nodded to a few familiar faces. But was he imagining it, or were quite a few people looking at him with suspicion?
“Hi, Luther.” Claire Winters stopped, holding her books in front of her chest, eyes wide and bright.
She glanced down the corridor, and leaned closer. “Hey, do you know where a person could buy something?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Claire.” But he did. He had heard that same question by others, in other cities.
She struggled to find the right words—words that wouldn’t incriminate her. She had to be new at it.
He held up his hand. “Claire, I don’t deal.” He kept his voice low, more to avoid embarrassing her than anything. “I’m not the contact you’re looking for.”
The brightness in her eyes faded. “Oh. I’m sorry. I just heard....”
She avoided making eye contact, looking down the hallway again. “Uh. You know. The locker police were here again, and your name was mentioned.”
He sighed. So, it had started already. Now his name was linked to drug activity. If Claire thought it, so did a hundred other students, and denial wouldn’t change a thing.
“No. I’m here to get a diploma with my name on it. I’m not stupid enough to get involved with the drug trade. You’ll have to find someone else who is that stupid.”
He walked off. Maybe she would be offended, but who knew what high school girls thought. They were a mystery when he was their age, and it hadn't gotten any clearer since.
Murphy Avenue? Deena looked at the sign. She had come this far under a black cloud. That’s five or six blocks!
Maybe the hikes last week had done her some good. She normally couldn’t keep up a pace like this without taking a break.
But she breathed in, and her lungs felt good. Maybe she was a little hot, but it didn’t slow her down any.
Habit suggested she stop at the intersection, but a flash of anger kept her going. Mom was likely watching her every move.
Deena could remember looking out the window in her first grade class and seeing their car out in the parking lot. Maybe Mom didn’t come and spy on her at high school, but that was a bet she was reluctant to take.
If Mom has no life other than trying to control mine, how am I ever going to break free?
On Glenn Street, two blocks away, Mara watched her daughter cross an intersection.
She’s mad at me, but she’s too young to see that I have to take precautions for her own good.
Once Deena was out of sight, she pulled out of her parking place and drove down to Cooper Avenue and located an inconspicuous place to park where she could watch for her baby.
I need to be there for her when she gets tired. She’s always overdoing things.
By the time school was out, Luther had snapped at four more people. One had been just as blatant as Claire, looking for a contact. The other three had done no more than grin at the wrong moment. People stopped talking to him after that.
But they hadn’t stopped talking about Deena. She and her mother had a fight in the parking lot. No one heard what it was about, but there was plenty of speculation.
Deena was pregnant. Deena had fainted from a drug overdose. Luther had stabbed Deena in the hallway over a drug buy, gone bad.
He had been just around the corner when he overheard that one. He stepped into sight and watched the guy’s face go pale. Luther laughed and shook his head. “Gullible,” he said.
But a lump of worry was growing in the pit of his stomach. He could always vanish and leave the rumors to burn themselves out. But what about her?
Did the girl know how to handle a situation like this? He couldn’t protect her, especially if he were gone.
It’s not my job either. I didn’t start this mess.
He made a point to greet Mr. Schiller in the hall on his way out where dozens of people could see them. Be a math geek. Math geeks aren’t dangerous drug dealers.
Deena breathed in the sea air, feeling really good about herself for the first time in recent memory.
Three miles. I walked three miles!
Her legs had started feeling fluttery in the calves, but although she had to slow down, she kept it up all the way to Battery Point.
Home was just a block away, but she didn’t want to go there. Here, she could sit and relax those muscles. She could stare at the surf and let her mind drift.
Let Mom stew because I didn’t come straight home!
She shook her head. She’d tie her stomach up in knots if she let herself think about Mom. Think about something else.
Like how much she stank? Exercise did have some drawbacks. But no, think about something else.
How about that element thing? Luther was really interested in that. Was she crazy, feeling the effects of a brain tumor? Crazy people could have elaborate fantasy lives, detailed in many ways.
Of course, if it were a brain tumor, she wouldn’t live long. They had no medical insurance. By the time Mom tried to wrangle a deal, it would certainly be too late for her.
On days like today, dying didn’t seem to bother her. Does that make me suicidal? Or do you have to start planning the old razor blade to the wrist thing before you’re officially suicidal?
Her hand, under the bandage, felt itchy. She had been steadfastly ignoring it the whole walk home. She could smell the blood and medical ointment underneath.
Suicide didn’t really appeal to her. Mom would get too much mileage out of it. Mara Brooke could live out the whole rest of her life enjoying being the tortured soul who had lost a daughter so young.
Deena could see it now—her face permanently drawn and wrinkled, sitting bravely upright in her pew at church, always keeping Deena’s spot vacant. Mom would always struggle to keep a brave face when friends greeted her, but a single tear would always be there, just visible.
The bandaged hand drew her out of the fantasy. She wriggled her fingers.
No, no suicide for me. Suppose I sliced my wrist, they saved me, and it itched this way for the rest of my life.
She shuddered at the thought.
But it itched! She tugged at the wrapped gauze. No help. She tugged some more.
Oh! It started coming unwrapped. The stained first layers were visible. Maybe the ointment was causing the itch.
She would have to re-wrap it anyway. Carefully, keeping the gauze from touching the ground, she pulled it loose.
Under a smear of anti-bacterial grease, she couldn’t see the cut.
She looked closer, flexing her hand. There was no sign of the cut.
Using the gauze, she started wiping the ointment free.
She got it all. Holding her hand to the sun, she couldn’t see the cut. Not even a scar.
It was perfectly healed.
Other than the itch. She put the index finger of the other hand over the remembered laceration. She scratched and massaged it.
That feels better.
But it couldn’t have healed that fast!
What is happening to me?