Falling into Us Read online
We pulled into the Hawthornes’ driveway, gravel crunching under our tires. There were several cars in the driveway already. Becca tangled her fingers in mine as soon as I was upright and out of the car; she basically had to drag me into the house. I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to see the grief of other people. That would make it real. If I kept pretending it wasn’t, maybe it wouldn’t be.
Mrs. Hawthorne opened the door, her eyes red but dry. “Jason, Becca. Thanks for coming. Nell is in her room. ”
“How is she?” Becca asked.
Mrs. Hawthorne squeezed my hand, touching Becca’s forehead with her own. “Not good. She…she watched him…go. She’s totally unresponsive. ”
Becca sniffed softly, and I watched her literally square her shoulders and push her own emotions down. She tugged me by the hand up the stairs, stopping at Nell’s bedroom door. Becca tried the knob, found it unlocked, and went in, with me trailing behind her.
Nell was lying on her side in her bed, eyes dry, a note clutched in her hand. A cast covered one entire arm. She stared into middle distance, not even registering our arrival. I didn’t know what to do, where to look. She was clothed in an old hoodie of Kyle’s and a pair of black underwear, lying on top of the blankets. I focused my gaze on the Avett Brothers poster on the wall as I drew a blanket up to her waist. I sat in Nell’s desk chair while Becca climbed onto Nell’s bed behind her, brushing a lock of hair out of her face.
“Nell?” Becca’s voice was hesitant. Obviously, she didn’t know what to say. “What—what ha-happened?”
Nell didn’t answer for a long time. When she did, her voice was a raw, barely audible whisper. “He…died. ” Her eyes flicked up to me. “He’s gone. ”
I choked, shaking my head. “I—fuck. How?”
She visibly withdrew into herself. “We were…arguing. A storm, crazy wind. It…blew a tree down. It was supposed to be me, but he…saved me. Pushed me out of the way. Saved me. It should have been me, but it’s him. ”
Neither Becca nor I knew what to say to that.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Becca finally ventured.
Nell physically flinched, but she didn’t respond. I watched her nails claw into her palm, digging in so hard I was sure I’d see blood trickle down her hand.
We sat in horrible, heavy silence until it became clear Nell wasn’t going to say or do anything else.
“We’re here for you, Nell. I’m here for you. I love you. ”
Nell’s teeth clamped down on her lower lip when Becca said those last three words, biting so hard her pink lip turned white.
Becca led me out of the room, leaving Nell in the same position she’d been in when we arrived, eyes open and staring into nothing, a white scrap of paper clutched in her hand.
Mrs. Hawthorne pulled us into the kitchen. “How is she?”
Becca shook her head. “She s-said, like, three sentences. I don’t know, Mrs. Hawthorne. I’m ww-worried about her. She’s nearly catatonic. ”
“Maybe she just needs time. ” Mrs. Hawthorne was staring out the kitchen window.
“Maybe,” Becca agreed, but an odd note in her voice told me she didn’t exactly agree, although Mrs. Hawthorne didn’t seem to catch it.
“The funeral is Wednesday. ” People were coming and going, bringing in dishes of food. I saw Mr. and Mrs. Calloway sitting on the couch, his arm around her thin, trembling shoulders. Mr. Hawthorne sat on the couch next to Mr. Calloway, offering a stony, stoic silence as comfort.
Becca took me home and slid into my bed next to me. I’d never been in my room with her before. We never came here because I knew my dad would be a dick and make a scene, and I didn’t want Becca to have see that. In this moment, though, I couldn’t summon the energy to care about my father. I just knew I needed her beside me.
I wasn’t sure how long we lay there in silence, Becca’s arm curled around my chest, her face pressed to my back. I felt wetness seeping into my thin cotton T-shirt, but she never made a sound.
My door banged open, slamming violently into the wall. “Who’s f**king foreign piece of shit car is parked in my goddamn spot?” He filled the doorway, huge, wild-eyed, not swaying but clearly intoxicated.
Becca shrank behind me. “It’s mine, Mr. Dorsey. I’m sorry. I’ll move it. ”
“Fuckin’ right you’ll move it,” he snarled. “Get your car out, and stay out. ”
“She’s not going anywhere,” I said, not looking at my dad. “Neither is her car. ”
“Why the hell is she in your bed, boy? Don’t you know any better?”
“Kyle Calloway died. ” I said it, and it broke me.
A tear fell from my eye, just one, and I couldn’t stop.
“Are you f**king crying?”
Becca rose to a sitting position behind me. “Kyle was his b-best friend, you know. His best friend is dead. ” Her voice was hard and quiet, but I heard the tremor of fear. She was terrified of my dad, for good reason. “Give him a break. ”
“Wasn’t talking to you, girl. ” I saw the derisive curl of his lip as he glared at her, and it pissed me off.
Normally, I’d have been up in his face about it, but I didn’t want Becca to see us fight. “Please just leave us alone, Dad. Don’t do this. Not today. ” I’d never, ever asked him for anything before.
“Shut the f**k up, boy. Don’t tell me what to do in my own home. ” He took a step toward me, and I was instantly on my feet, fists curled, ready. He stopped, though, and gave me a long, hard look. “You know how many friends I lost? How many buddies I watched die? You think I ever f**kin’ cried like a pu**y about it? I don’t think so. People die, and it f**kin’ sucks. Man up and deal with it. ”
“This wasn’t a war. I’m not a soldier. I’m not you. I’m allowed to be upset about my best friend getting killed. I’ve known him since f**king kindergarten. So how about you just shut the f**k up and leave me alone. ”
I heard Becca’s harsh, terrified breathing. If she didn’t have to go past my ass**le old man, I’d tell her to go.
“I ain’t leavin’ till she does. ”
I stepped closer to him, staring up at him, fearless and ready to snap. “I don’t want to do this in front of my girlfriend, but I will. Fucking leave. Just leave my room. That’s all I’m asking. ”
His nostrils flared. “Yeah, you don’t want your little friend seeing you get your ass beat, that’s what. ”
“Why are you s-s-such a bastard?” This was Becca, and my dad and I both stopped and stared at her. “What have I ever done to you, except love your son? Do you know how many times I’ve fixed up his bleeding face after you beat him up? What is your p-problem? Wh-why do you hate your oh-own son so-so m-much?”
My dad gave me an incredulous look. “You’re actually dating this stuttering Ay-rab bitch?”
Becca hiccuped in shock, and then sobbed when I hit him. I saw white, blinding rage. He didn’t have a chance. He got some hard knocks in, but I was unstoppable. I hit him, and I hit him, and I hit him until he stopped moving, and then I kept hitting him. I felt a hand on my arm pulling at me.
“Jason, stop! Stop!” She was hysterical, nearly unintelligible. “P-please! Please just stop!” She screamed the last word in my ear, and it finally broke through the wall of rage.
I came back to myself, shaking, feeling wetness covering me. Warm, sticky wetness. My hands were coated in blood. I was sitting on Dad’s chest, his face a wreck. I felt blood sluicing down my face, felt my jaw aching, my ribs protesting, bruised. Becca pulled me away, choking on sobs.
I lunged to my feet, grabbed her by the shoulders, and pushed her out of my room. “I’m sorry you saw that. I’m so sorry I let you come here. ” As I spoke, a glob of bloody saliva dripped out of my mouth, and I spat it onto the carpet, beyond caring. “I’m so, so sorry, Becca. You need to go. I have to deal with this. ”
“I’m not leaving