Falling into Us Read online

Page 10

She tilted her head at me, her frown deepening. “Why? What did you think? That I was ignoring you?” I just shrugged again, knowing it was stupid at that point. “Hey, what’s up? You seem like you’re in a bad mood. Is it me?”

  I slammed the locker closed and wrapped my hand around hers. “I’m fine. ”

  “Bullshit. ”

  I gaped at her. “Becca, it’s fine, really—”

  She stopped and pushed me against a locker, heedless of the crowds still exiting the building. “Jason. Talk. ”

  I felt her body against mine, her br**sts crushed between us and her hips against mine, and I knew I couldn’t lie to her. “I just had a hard weekend. Dad was really drunk, and he was watching war movies. He’s…it’s never good when he’s in that kind of mood. ” I was barely whispering. I’d rather do a billion down-ups than talk about that shit. “I’m fine. ”

  Becca’s eyes filled with anger and hurt. “Jason…god. I’m sorry. I—”

  I cut her off. “Listen, don’t make this your problem. It’s not. It’s just the shit I got handed. I can deal. I’m fine. Just don’t take it personally if I’m sometimes in a shitty mood, okay? Just…smile for me, and maybe kiss me, and I’ll be fine. ”

  Becca didn’t hesitate, not even a single heartbeat. She pressed her lips to mine and smiled, and the feel of her mouth curving against mine in a smiling kiss lifted the cloud from my head, the weight from my shoulders, lessened the pain in my ribs and the hurt in my heart. I kissed her back, lost myself in her. She let me slide my hands on her hips, pull her closer, kiss her harder, and the silence extended around us as the building emptied. I kissed her, and I thought of that incredible poem she wrote about ghosts kissing her, and I tried my damnedest to kiss her so she knew I was real, I wasn’t a ghost anymore. It may have been arrogant or self-centered, but I was convinced that poem was about me; she just didn’t know it when she wrote it.

  “All right, you two, knock it off. Don’t you have practice, Mr. Dorsey?” Mr. Hansen, the biology teacher, barked out as he passed, a handful of goggles hanging from his fingers. He didn’t slow down or wait to make sure we split apart, which we didn’t.

  Becca giggled and rested her forehead on my chest. “We just got busted for PDA. We’re that couple now, huh?”

  “Which couple?” I asked, thrilled that she thought of us as a couple.

  “The kind that makes out in the hallways and gets yelled at for it. ” She had her arms around my neck, and she brushed a finger along my lip where a faint cut was still visible.

  I bit her finger gently, and she laughed outright, then burrowed closer and kissed me again. “You’d better go,” she said when we pulled away once more. “I wouldn’t want to be a bad influence on you. ”

  I laughed, and marveled that she was able to lift my mood within minutes, with just a few words and couple kisses. “Yeah, I should go. Coach’ll be pissed if I’m late again. ”

  She pushed away from me, hiked the straps of her backpack higher up her shoulders. “I’ll call you. I’ll try to get out to see you tonight, if I can. ”

  Practice was a blur. I went hard, that much I knew. My body was on fire, it felt, lit by Becca’s kiss. I barely felt the tackles, barely felt the burn in my legs as I strained for the yards. I got home, made dinner, and ate mine as fast as I could, leaving some covered for Dad. Mom sat opposite me, eating with me, quiet as always. She was stick-thin, with lank, long blonde hair usually pulled back in a messy ponytail. I got my eyes from her, I realized, bright green, startling in their vividness. Hers were tired and vacant and somehow sad, though. I sat scarfing the chicken cacciatore I’d made, idly running through things I could do with Becca if she was able to see me, and then I remembered Becca’s questions about my mom, and it made me realize I knew nothing about her.

  I stopped eating and stared at my mom, wondering.

  “What?” Her voice was quiet, scratchy with disuse. “I got something on my face?” She wiped at her mouth.

  I shook my head. “I just…how’d you end up with Dad?”

  Mom’s fork stopped halfway to her mouth. “How’d I what?” She peered at me as if I’d sprouted horns. “Why?”

  I shrugged. “Just curious. Realized I never really knew. ”

  “What brought this on?” I shrugged again. Mom finished her bite, washed it down with iced tea. She leaned back in her chair and stared out the window. “He was a patient. He’d just come back from his first tour in Iraq. Even in civvies, he was every inch a soldier. Wore a ball cap, you know the one, the old white Tigers hat? He had that one on, and when he saw me, he took it off and held it in front of himself, standing at attention like I was a general or something. ”

  Her face changed in the grip of that memory, softening, livening. I realized then, for the first time, that she must have been pretty at some point. Odd.

  “He was handsome then. Tall, big muscles. Seemed nice. I didn’t know anything about war or what it’d be like when he came back. We dated for the two months he had between tours, and it got serious, I guess. I told him I’d write, told him I’d wait. I did. ” She shifted her glance down to her left hand, to the small diamond on a thin gold band. The softness and liveliness faded, and suddenly she was more the Mom I knew, tired, reserved. “Didn’t realize he’d turn into…what he is now. It was gradual, not all at once. Started with a burnt dinner here, a stupid question or a bad day or a bad dream. PTSD, only he never did anything about it, never got help. Just got mean. ”

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  I wasn’t sure what to say. “Did you love him?”

  “Did I love him?” She twisted the diamond around her finger, not looking at me. “Maybe. I don’t know. Hard to say, I guess. I mean, it wasn’t like in those romance movies. ” She glanced up at me then, a sly look on her face, the most direct emotion I’d seen in years. “You in love with a girl, Jason?”

  I pushed the bits of chicken around on my plate. “There’s a girl. Not sure if it’s love, but I like her a lot. ” I wasn’t sure why I was telling her this, where this was coming from.

  She was quiet for a while. “Well, just be careful, I guess. It can be tricky. ” She met my eyes. “Wish I could meet her, but I’d understand why you wouldn’t want to bring her around here. ”

  I looked away. “Yeah. That’s not a great idea. Dad wouldn’t understand. ”

  “She know? About your dad?”

  I shifted uncomfortably, wishing I was in my truck, away from all this, wishing I’d never opened this up. “Yeah. ”

  “She gonna tell?” Mom’s voice was soft, but sharp.

  I shook my head. “Probably not. ”

  Mom didn’t respond to that. She got up and cleared her plate, finished her tea and set the glass in the sink, then spoke while staring out the window over the sink. “I’m sorry you were born into this, Jason. You’re a good kid. ”

  I had no idea what to say.

  “Did you ever think about leaving?” The question popped out unbidden.

  Mom shook her head. “Wouldn’t do any good. You know how he is. Nowhere to go, anyway. I’ve never lived anywhere but here, wouldn’t know where to go, especially with a little boy to take care of. ” She flipped her ponytail back over her shoulder with a hand, glanced at me. “Now you’re almost grown. You’ll be gone soon, and all this will be a bad memory. ”

  “You’ll stay when I’m gone?”

  “Of course,” she said, as if it were obvious. “Don’t worry about me. Just…focus on your grades and your ball game. ”

  A secret dared its way up and out. “What if I didn’t want to play ball anymore?”

  She spun in place and stared at me in fear. “Don’t say that. Go to college. Play ball on a scholarship. Decide later. Don’t cross him now, Jason. Less than two years left now. ” The fear faded, replaced by curiosity. “What would you do instead?”

  I shrugged. “I like photography. ”