Authors: AJ Salem
Copyright © 2013 AJ Salem
Cover art and illustration by: Menachem Krinsky
Copyright © 2013
Salem Books, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Salem Books, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I love it when authors share their playlists. So here is what I was listening to while I wrote.
1. Stripes - FM Belfast
2. Strict Machines - Goldfrapp
3. The Greeks - Is Tropical
4. Secret Alphabets - Kasabian
5. Madness - Muse
6. Corduroy - Pearl Jam
7. Echoes - The Rapture
8. First Wave Intact - Secret Machines
9. No Good Trying - Syd Barrett
10. Hearing Damage - Thom Yorke
11. Heads Will Roll - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
12. You Lot - Orbital
13. Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool - The Editors
14. You’re Lost Little Girl - The Doors
15. Television Rules The Nation - Daft Punk
16. Fainting Spells - Crystal Castles
17. Don’t Worry Baby - The Beach Boys
18. Jimmy James - Beastie Boys
My cheerleading uniform hung from the top of the closet door like a corpse. I took another brief look at it before slipping into a pair of gray sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt emblazoned with the word Alaska. I shoved each foot into a worn sneaker, not bothering to unlace them. My bedroom was still enveloped in darkness. Pulling back one of the red curtain sheers, I watched as the only hint of dawn was still fastened to the horizon line and I was glad to see that the morning dew had already settled onto the ground and no longer littered the air. I reset the alarm on my cellphone, left it on my night table and walked out the front door.
The cool breeze held the distinct smell of autumn and the flock of waterfowl overhead was loud, already busy practicing formations. I wound my way around the patio, waved to the ghost reclining on the chaise and headed east for the dirt trail that began at the forest line and curved its way deep into Mohonk State Park. I meditated on my breathing, controlling the tempo until I lost myself in the blissful mindlessness.
Each time the heel of my foot connected with the earth, I plunged deeper into a place devoid of pitiful looks and harsh accusations. Unfortunately, my legs couldn’t carry me forever and after an hour I was back home, stretching on the lawn and having a staring contest with the black wispy blob that had now joined me on the grass.
All it did was sit there. I’ve tried talking to it, ever since the faceless wraith showed up on my doorstep the day after I was discharged from the hospital. Haven’t gotten so much as a peep out of it. Once I felt the heeby-jeebies coming on, I decided it was time for a shower.
“Bye,” I said and got up.
I stepped through the sliding glass door, kicked off my shoes, and peeled away my socks that were supposedly sweat-proof -so claimed the perky assistant manager at the Sports Authority. The cool tile felt good on my swollen feet but I winced as my back decompressed and my right shin throbbed. I rubbed the scar that ran the length of my leg. I filled up the coffee pot with tap water and watched through the window as the ghost settled back into the chaise.
Knowing that good old Mr. Coffee was doing his job, I got ready for the first day of school. After settling on a floral peasant top and black jeans, I rounded the corner of the hallway back into the kitchen.
“Dad!” I said, unable to hide the hint of surprise in my voice. He rarely slept at home. I pulled two mugs from the cabinet hanging over the breakfast bar and took the pot of fresh brew from his hand.
“Good morning, Gem. You sleep well?” His blond streaked hair gave him more of an aged-surfer look.
“Like a baby.” I stared straight into his brown eyes and faked the most genuine smile I could muster. I started analyzing the split ends at the mop of mousy dark brown hair that was in desperate need of conditioner as I poured him and myself a cup of coffee.
He was already dressed in his daily uniform: navy suit, white collared shirt, no tie. His lab coat was slung over the back of his chair. A pair of chrome-tinted aviators was tucked in his front jacket pocket behind a white plastic photo ID for Moab Pharmaceuticals. Dark circles bruised his lower lids and I wondered if he had slept at all.
“Excited about your first day of senior year?” he asked. I set his coffee in front of him and went to grab the newspaper I had tossed in earlier. “Gem?”
“I’m not sure, Daddy.” I thought about the micro-pleated skirt hanging in the closet, still encased in flimsy plastic, and then looked down at my legs. Should I go blonde? Maybe then I’d feel like having more fun.
“If you’re not up to it…”
“No, it’s fine,” I blurted.
He smiled and then went on to read the day’s news. The rest of our time together was spent in familiar silence while I made eggs and toast for two.
“I’m going to be late tonight.”
“I know the drill.” I took another sip from my mug before getting up to dump the rest of my food in the trash. The thought of walking through the halls of my school had my stomach in knots and although the idea of hiding out in the bathroom all day appealed to me, I just wanted to get the whole ordeal over with.
“You would tell me if there was something bothering you, right, pumpkin?”
“Sure, I would tell you. Not some therapist.” I added the latter for good measure.
“It might do you some good. Talking to someone.”
“I have you, Daddy.” I put my arms around him and gave him a peck on the cheek, inhaling the comforting smell of his pine- scented soap.
“Don’t worry about the dishes,” he said as I grabbed my keys and tote.
“Wasn’t going to.” I laughed.
“It’s nice to hear you in a good mood. Need a ride?” my dad asked from behind the local sports section.
I pawed through my book bag and edged my way closer to the front door.
“Bye, Dad.” I couldn’t hide the disappointment in my voice.
I walked out into the sun knowing that he wouldn’t come out to follow me.
As soon as the front door slammed behind me, I felt awful, leaving on such a sour note. My guilt quickly turned bitter and I was angry that he even suggested I get in a car. He knew how I felt. Even angrier that he hadn’t come running out of the house, groveling. I took a deep breath and brushed away the negative thoughts. Maybe tomorrow I would run for a bit longer. For now, the walk to school would have to do.
Hudson Valley is an eclectic part of New York State, filled with hippies who rooted themselves to the area surrounding Woodstock and Manhattanites yearning for more square footage to meet the needs of their growing families. Chic renovated farmhouses and mansions on secluded twenty-acre plots were popping up with more frequency but the landscape was mostly wooded, littered with neat ranch homes and vinyl siding.
Harrisport is right in the midst of the Shawagunk and Catskill mountains, lending the area to a good amount of tourism for the B&B types who want to do a bit of hiking and antiquing. Once off the thruway, a good twenty minutes away from the nearest strip mall, much of the town is a cluster of paved roads all leading to Main Street.
I made the long way downhill on Old Farm Road and hung a left when I reached the end of the large football field. Harrisport High came into view.
“Ohmygod, Gemma. I didn’t think you would make it.”
“Good to see you too, Charlotte.”
“Did that come out wrong?” she asked, her voice getting higher the more nervous she became. Charlotte was supposed to be my best friend. We’ve known each other since the third grade. She was my exact opposite: blonde to my brunette, petite and curvy to my lankiness.
“Long time no see.” I sorted through my textbooks, trying to conceal the tears welling up in my eyes.
“I’m really, really sorry, Gem. I meant to come see you in the hospital but first I had that internship abroad thing and I had no idea what had happened and by the time I got back, I felt weird about being away and I didn’t even know if you wanted visitors and then it got to the point where it was too awkward to even call.”
I pulled her into a hug. Part of me wanted to hold a grudge but I didn’t really feel like shutting everyone out of my life. Everyone in town blamed me for the accident. I really didn’t need another person cursing me under their breath.
“It’s alright, Charlotte. It’s not like I was taking any visitors anyway.”
“Really? You mean it?” Her crystal blue eyes grew wider as she squealed in delight.
A football came hurtling towards me and made contact with my locker, slamming it shut. I jumped back, the crash of metal startling me. I felt the heat of blood rushing to my face.
“Seriously, Matt?” Charlotte screamed, picking up the ball and tossing it back while trying to keep her balance in her four-inch wedge sneakers. I was starting to remember why we were always friends. I made her happy and she dealt with everything else while dressed to kill. “Go bother someone else, you jocktard.”
I caught Matt’s gaze from across the way. The crowd parted for him as he headed towards me and I mentally prepared myself for an extremely awkward and difficult conversation.
“He is a total asshole,” Charlotte said.
“Leave it. I deserved it.”
“I’m going to stay out of this. But I need details.”
“You got it,” I replied. “Later.”
“Hey Gem,” Matt said, folding his arms across his broad muscled chest. He leaned against the lockers, blocking my access to Charlotte.
“Matt.” I continued to arrange my books according to height.
“Listen.” I turned finally, looking at him straight on. “I’m really sorry for not taking any of your calls but I thought you would understand.”
“Why?” His voice was pained. “Why would you think that I would understand that my girlfriend didn’t want to see me after she had been in a freaking car accident?”
I forced down the bile in my throat. There was no explanation and I didn’t want to make up some bullshit story just so he would feel better.