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Authors: Amy Reed

Unforgivable

BOOK: Unforgivable
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Dedication

For Oakland

you.

YOUR HAND, MY HAND. I MEMORIZE YOUR FINGERPRINTS. The universe is the space between our bodies.

No need for words. Our skin whispers its secret language. Our bodies nod yes. Over and over, the motion like breathing. Yes and yes and yes and yes.

Love is an understatement.

But that was before. When you were still golden. When you were still here.

We made the sun.

here.

I'M SORRY. MEET ME AT THE BEACH. I LOVE YOU.

That's what Evie's text says. It hasn't even been two hours since our fight, since I dropped her off at home and she was so drunk she could barely make it to the front door. She said she didn't need me. She said she didn't want my help. She said we were over.

I shouldn't go. I shouldn't keep letting her call the shots, shouldn't keep running after her, picking up the pieces as she falls apart. I can't just keep watching as she destroys herself. That's not what love is supposed to look like.

But something tells me to turn around. Maybe she's sobered up. Maybe something I said got through to her. Maybe she wants to let me help her.

My car bumps along the rocky road to our secret beach by the Bay Bridge. Traffic zooms by on the freeway to my left, hundreds of people rushing to San Francisco, completely unaware of this
stretch of sandy shore and the beautiful girl stranded there, and me, the boy who loves her.

I never told Evie I had a history with our beach, that it belonged to someone else long before I shared it with her. I never told her what I was doing there that day I found her in the tunnel a month and a half ago. There were so many things I never told her, things I planned to tell her later, when we had only just started.

Before the beach was ours, it was my mother's, and she shared it with my brother and me. It was a place of kites and shell-finding expeditions. Then Mom gave it up, David and I inherited it, and it became a place for doing things we needed to hide.

And then, fast-forward ahead to that day—the end of one world and the beginning of another: David's ashes in a metal urn in my backpack, stolen that morning from where they had been sitting for nearly ten months on the mantel in the living room, a room where no one lived. Dad's urn selection, Dad's placement—a prison for David, in death as in life. So I had decided to liberate him.

The day had been gloomy and wet. I guess it was fitting. It would have felt weird saying good-bye to David in the sun. Better that my jeans were sticking to my legs and my feet were sloshing around in my boots, that the honks of semitrucks on the bridge kept interrupting my impromptu eulogy, that the air smelled like rotting seaweed and car exhaust. I pulled the container out of my backpack and used a rock to pry off the lid. When I finally managed to dump the ashes, half of them got stuck on a floating plastic bag that I had to poke with a stick until it would go under.
There was nothing poetic about it, nothing cathartic. Just a pile of ashes turning into fish food.

And then David was gone. Not really him, I know that. Just what was left of his body—the packaging, the wrapper. The real him had been gone for almost a year, or maybe even longer. The version of my brother that existed before he died was no one I recognized. But it was done. That was it. All that was left of him were the houseplants he gave me when he moved out a year before his death and the pack of cigarettes I found in his room behind his dresser, the only thing that remained of his stuff.

After the liberation of David's ashes, I walked slowly across the beach, letting myself get drenched. It's always struck me as ridiculous the way people fight the rain even after they're wet, as if they can undo what's already been done. I trudged back to the abandoned bus stop, back to the stairway down into the tunnel that runs under the freeway lanes and tollbooths of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

I stood in the dry tunnel, in the place where the pale light still illuminated the gray walls, listening to the muted rain and traffic. The lights were all out for some reason and it was eerie, and I smiled for a moment, thinking David was responsible from beyond the dead. I lit one of his cigarettes and inhaled, imagined smoke from the same batch of cigarettes entering his lungs, one last thing for us to share. I don't even smoke cigarettes usually, but it seemed like it was something I had to do, like there was some meaning there—ashes, cigarettes, the fact that they both belonged to David. So I forced the smoke down into my lungs, the
stale tobacco burning and crackling. His ashes were on their way out to sea, but that smoke would go inside me. Particles would stick in my lungs and stay in there forever.

I whispered, “Good-bye.” I walked deeper into the tunnel. I turned on my flashlight. I wanted to feel something more than what I was feeling.

And that is when I saw Evie, standing in the almost darkness, completely still, the hood of her raincoat pulled tight, revealing the perfect circle of her face. Her eyes were closed, her face serene, and the stillness was shocking in that dark place, the fact of seeing her so unexpected, before she knew I was there, the intimacy of watching her when she believed she was alone. Even before I knew her, I could tell this was rare, that I had stumbled upon something extraordinary. I felt like a thief. I was seeing something I had no right to.

If I had walked away then, I could have probably forgotten her.

It was Evie who said, “Wait.” It was Evie who asked me for my number. It was Evie who opened the door to everything.

Now, here I am chasing after her. It is me asking—begging—her to wait.

“Evie!” I call when I get out of the car. I don't see her. She's not walking on the sand, not sitting on a piece of driftwood. Maybe her text was a prank, one final way to hurt me. Maybe she brought me here to confirm she's gone. No. As low as she's gotten, I can't believe she would ever be that cruel.

But where is she? I look among logs of driftwood to see if maybe she's lying down between them, as we did when we camped
here two nights ago, when our love still seemed salvageable. We broke through something that night, and even though Evie was drunk, I knew it was real. Her tears were real. The stuff she told me was real—her fear of letting people down, her self-doubt, her loss. She let me in, just a little, but the next morning, when she sobered up, she pushed me back out again.

And now there's a hole in me that's raw around the edges where she tore herself out. “Evie!” I yell again, into the sound of traffic, the sound of waves lapping against the shore.

The water. Evie loves to swim.

I turn around and my eyes focus immediately on a pile of clothes I had assumed were the usual beach garbage. But now I see a shirt I recognize. A pair of pants. My blood goes cold. My veins are slivers of ice inside me that go straight to my heart.

She was so drunk. The water is so cold.

I tell myself this is a dream. I will wake up any second and Evie will be next to me, and we will be lying in the grass and we will be part of the earth and there will be no water anywhere. I want to close my eyes and make this all go away, but they fight my fear and stay open, searching for her. I try to keep my focus on shore, but I keep looking out to where the water gets deeper, colder, darker.

“Evie!”

I hear my voice. It is far away. My body runs, but I do not feel it.

I see skin. A body, submerged. Unmoving. Wet hair, the back of a head. No face.

Evie told me once that swimming was one of the few things that made her feel free.

I am in the water, and all feeling comes back to me. I am in my body, suddenly and completely, stinging with cold. My clothes drag as I swim, but it would be too much trouble to take them off, even though I know this is how people drown.

I am halfway there. I am either halfway to saving Evie, or halfway to knowing it's too late.

When I finally have her in my arms, the first thing that crosses my mind is that this is the first time I've ever held her and haven't felt a fight.

Her eyes are closed. Her body's limp. I can't tell if she's breathing. I kick with every ounce of strength in my body to get her back to solid ground. One of my shoes slips off. The shore is forever away. I try to remember to breathe. I cannot swim and cry at the same time. I keep my head above water. I have to fight for both of us.

I pull her onto shore. All she has on is her bra and underwear, and even though we're the only ones here, my instinct is to protect her from eyes that have not earned the right to see her bare. She would not want to be exposed like this. She was someone who cared about privacy. She was someone who embarrassed easily.

Past tense? No. Not acceptable.

All I can think to do is shake her. I grab her shoulders and try to shake life, breath, sense into her. Her head rolls around and I feel guilty for shaking so hard. Maybe it wasn't necessary. Maybe somewhere deep down, I wanted to hurt her. Maybe she will break in my arms, her fragile bones shattering and all I'll be left with
are sharp broken pieces, and they will cut into me like immovable splinters.

But then she coughs, deep wet and horrible, and relief spreads through me as the sea explodes from her body in waves. I hold her against me, my body an apology, and I give her all the warmth I have left. I can't tell who's shaking harder—me or her. She is alive, and that's all that matters.

“Evie,” I say. “Can you hear me?” Nothing but choking, gasping, retching. The most beautiful sounds I have ever heard.

“Evie, wake up,” I say, but she doesn't. And I know I can't wait for her.

I pick her up and cradle her too-light body in my arms as I run across the beach. She could weigh a thousand pounds and I would not feel it. Rocks and broken glass dig into my shoeless foot. But I run. It is the only thing I can do.

I pull out the blanket I always keep in the back of my car, the “emergency nap blanket” we always joked about. Until now, its purpose has been to hold us as we lay in each other's arms, to soften the world as we made love. And now I'm wrapping it around her freezing-cold body, begging her not to die.

I lay Evie down in the back of the wagon and drive like hell to Oakland Children's Hospital. If they saved her life once, they have to be able to do it again.

In the fifteen minutes it takes me to drive there, I am thrown between the terror of now and the sharp stabs of memory. My mind runs through a series of scenes in quick succession, like what I imagine happens when dying people see their lives flashing in
front of their eyes. Except the life I see is that of Evie and my short but intense relationship, how it started with her shrouded in mystery and ended much the same. She revealed some things to me in small, precious packages—her surviving cancer, her friend who died, her alienation from a world of family and friends that could not see her as anything other than sick and fragile. I was able to pull these small pearls of truth out of her, but they add up to only a handful. The rest of her is still unknown, still locked inside somewhere deep and hidden.

Suddenly I am cold. I am shaking. Wet clothes hang off my body. I am sitting in a puddle. My bare foot throbs, and I don't know if the wet it feels is from the sea or if it's my own blood.

I feel Evie's body behind me, radiating pain and need and excruciating silence. I feel her drifting away. I squeeze my eyes tight as I speed through a red light, waiting for impact, waiting for some kind of proof of us, an explosion as big as Evie smashing into my life, as violent as the way love took me against my will and pushed us together, two people already charred, still smoldering embers, ready to ignite, waiting for each other so we could light up the sky.

And now this—drenched and heavy and crushed by gravity, back at this hospital where Evie received a death sentence before I even knew her. Barely two hours ago, this girl I now carry limp and blanket-wrapped in my arms broke up with me in a blind drunken rage. Now she's unconscious and nearly naked, and I'm dripping wet, limping, and missing a shoe. When we enter the hospital, the sight causes a commotion. Blood from my foot smears the floor.
Families take a break from their worrying to watch the people in brightly colored scrubs rush to pull Evie out of my arms.

The waiting room is too loud, too bright. A baby cries. A woman talks on her cell phone in a hostile, sharp language that cuts the air that is thick with the smell of burned coffee and disinfectant.

Someone's asking questions. Words come out of my mouth in explanation—vodka, floating, cold, unconscious. We move as we talk. They guide me through doors. Their hands are on her, poking, prodding, searching for signs of life.

I say her name: “Evie Whinsett.”

“Evie Whinsett?” says a man behind me who is not a part of anything that's happening.

A doctor, frozen in space, eyes wide, stares at Evie where they've laid her on the gurney. Her bare foot hangs out of the blanket, so cold, so lonely. That breaks my heart—her tiny pink foot, exposed to everything.

A low, guttural sob bores through the core of me, so loud and deep it shakes the hospital. My body is an earthquake. My eyes pour rivers.

“Doctor?” says one of the nurses.

“I'll take over from here,” he says, grabbing Evie's wrist. “Her pulse is weak. We need to get her on a monitor quick.” I can barely hear him through my sobs.

“You're not taking her upstairs,” says the nurse. “This girl is heading to trauma.”

“I'm coming with you,” he says.

“But you were just down here for a consult,” she says, apparently confused. Then, with hostility, “This isn't your department, Dr. Jacobs. You can't just show up and steal our patients.”

“She
is
my patient,” he says. “I've been treating her for over a year.”

“Jesus!” I shout, the hot rush of anger replacing my tears. “What is wrong with you people? Can you stop your fucking pissing contest and save my girlfriend?”

The Dr. Jacobs guy grabs my arm. “What is she on?”

“What? Nothing.” I pull away, using all my self-control to not hurt him. But then I look at her, at her pale lips turning blue, and I realize I don't know. There's so much I don't know.

“At least I don't think so,” I say. “But she was drunk. She was really drunk.”

“Draw some blood for a tox screen,” he commands the nurse. Then his demeanor changes; for a moment he is not a doctor. “Oh, sweetheart,” he says to Evie quietly, privately, as if the rest of us are not here. “What happened to you?”

BOOK: Unforgivable
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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