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The car is spinning, and I can’t do anything to stop her screaming. Her scarf swipes my eyes, a burst of red and blue. “Oh my god!” she screams, her voice one million daggers. Her herbal tea splashes my denim legs, the smell of passion fruit wafting up to meet my nose. The windshield shatters, spraying little slivers of transparent glass, slicing my skin. The car flips, like some roller coaster, and my life flashes before my eyes. I am thrown from the car, the snow settling on me, a shield of white. But it doesn’t protect me. She is no longer screaming. I can’t see anything, but I can smell the blood that chokes the air. I am frozen in time, her scream still echoing in my ears. Or maybe it’s mine. That stupid radio station that she loves is playing Mozart in the background, and all I can hear are the violins until the flashing lights come...
“Indy! Come on!”
I don’t answer; just zip my suitcase.
My dad appears in my doorway. He’s far too happy for the gray clouds that threaten his perfect vacation. “Indy, sweetheart, let’s go. Your mother’s in the car already. Your favorite song is on the radio,” he chirps, his smile never faltering.
I remember how I used to be able to that.
I sigh, and drop the suitcase off my bed, letting the wheels catch on the rug. He doesn’t know I don’t listen to the radio anymore...
If my father senses my negativity that is becoming my personality, he doesn’t show it. I flick off the light switches as I push past him and out of the house, leaving my dad in darkness...
Walking out into the fog that has settled in our driveway, I can see the row of houses down our street. The never-ending sidewalk makes me feel like I’m just a speck in the universe. In the distance, a dog barks.
I walk toward the car, the suitcase dragging behind me on the gravel driveway.
The freak accident.
Danger, danger, danger...
“Indy!” my dad calls from the car, his smile slicing me in two.
Shaking, I open the door and get in.
My parents look at me like I’m a ticking bomb.
Roads are slippery.
My mom hands me my sleeping pill.
I fasten my seat belt and lock my door.
I can’t stop shaking.
My father rubs his hands together. “Well,” he exclaims, “Here we go! Off to the beach!”
My stomach flips, and a metal bar digs into the backs of my eyes.
I take the pill and my eyelids close...
She wants us to go to that Indian store, to show me the headdresses. The weather is bad, and my mom doesn’t want us to go out. She gives in when I beg. But it starts to blizzard, and we can’t see anything...
I wake up from the smell of salt and car exhaust, and grip the door handle as I remember where I am.
“Look how beautiful the ocean is, Indy!” my father exclaims.
I nod automatically. For the most part, all you have to do is nod and people will be satisfied.
The ocean looks intimidating, a wide open space of danger. The gray clouds overhead make it look especially threatening. Seagulls circle, cries of agony piercing the air.
She loved the ocean.
My dad babbles on about nothing, and I stare at the waves as we drive to our rental house.
This is going to be one long summer.
This house would not qualify as a house. A shack, yes.
We’re right up the road from the ocean, so close I can hear the children screaming with joy as the music from the ice cream truck pollutes the air.
“Isn’t this house wonderful, Martha? I got such a deal on it, too,” my dad chirps as we pull into the gravel driveway.
“Yes, Charlie. It’s very--” here my mother struggles to find the least insulting word “--quaint.”
My mother glares.
The Shack is equipped with a sinking porch and flower curtains in the window.
Nearly before the car stops, I jump out and immediately feel better. But when I take a deep breath of the salty air, it scrapes my throat, sending me into a coughing fit.
I don’t even notice who is standing there until he pats me on the back.
I turn and see chocolate eyes and sandy hair. The son of my dad’s best friend. He’s my age, and my dad said he would be here. I’ve only met him a couple of times, but when I see him, my stomach flips down to my feet. His name is Kinley.
“Hey,” he says, his face furrowed with concern. I realize that he knows. Of course he knows.
Inwardly, I sigh. Another person to worry about me.
“Hi,” I reply, sure that my eyeliner is smudged by now.
“You wanna go down to the beach?” he asks.
I wish I had worn my V-neck.
Frustrated, I glance up at the sky, wondering for the billionth time if she can see me. The sun would make my eyes tear, but they’re too dry to contain any liquid. Is it possible to use up all your tears?
“Oh Indy, come look! Your room is just too precious!” my mom exclaims. I don’t think I can handle another happy parent.
“5 minutes,” I tell Kinley, trying to remember how to smile.
His cheekbones go to his eyes, paired with dimples that make my throat dry.
I walk calmly inside, wondering if he’s watching.
The room is bland and ugly, and I sit on the bed, looking up at my smiling mother. Her face says, “Can’t you just be happy again?”
She doesn’t get it.
Sitting next to me, she reaches her arm out for a second, before remembering that I have shut that door. “Indy--” she begins, and I know what she is going to say by the tone of her voice.
“--I know this is hard for you--” a line my therapist gives before saying what she wants me to do “--but you need to enjoy yourself this summer. She would want you to honey, your father and I both agree. We all have to move on.”
That’s easy for her to say. She wasn’t in the car. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know the nightmares that choke me every night, only that I wake up screaming and have to take a sleeping pill before bed. She doesn’t know that every time she laughs, I think of...
A tug at my chest brings me to my feet. “I’m going to the beach,” I announce.
My mother shrinks and smiles weakly. “Have fun.”
The sand is hot on my bare feet, the wind bristling my hair in what I hope is an attractive way. We walk on the border where the water meets the sand, combining two worlds.
A conch shell drifts up to my feet.
The sky clears into blue.
Are you there? Are you looking at me?
A seagull lands next to me, and I see her in its eyes. I wonder what would happen if I dove into the waves and let them take me away. Would she be waiting for me?
After walking for a while, Kinley speaks. He clears his throat. “Um, I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about this, but are you okay?”
“I’m--holding up,” I say, sounding happier than I am. I hope he buys it. One therapist is enough.
“Wow. You are so brave. I wish I could handle my stupid parents that way.”
“What do you mean?”
He sighs, and I can tell that, like me, he has told this story too many times. When he answers, his voice is tight. “My mom and dad are splitting up--or something. My mom’s got a boyfriend and he’s like 20 years younger than her. She’s never home. It sucks.”
We reach some rocks and clamber up. Sitting side by side, our fingernails are just touching. I wonder if he knows. I wonder if he cares.
I wait a second too long before answering. “You should talk to her,” I say wisely.
“She won’t listen to me.” His hair falls in his eyes, and I resist the urge to move it.
“You never know,” I reply, and we watch the sun slowly drop behind the horizon, vibrant colors of yellow and orange that turn black.
The water that once held diamonds becomes a stone again.
Kinley moves his hand so it’s on top of mine. Maybe it was an accident. But all the same, I hold my breath.
The ocean air has obviously made my father even crazier. “There’s this great party tonight, Indy! You should go! They have beach volleyball, games, food, all this fun stuff!” He is beaming, sure that this one party could cure any problem that anyone had.
Why would I want to go to the party? Why would I want to go anywhere?
My mother chimes in. “Honey, this would be really good for you. We could even come and walk you there, if you want.”
I don’t want. I don’t want you to walk me there because I don’t want to go!
“What do you think?” my dad asks. It’s not really a question, though. It’s more of, “You’re going to clean your room, right?”
Well dad, the thing is, I don’t want to go to the party, but you wouldn’t listen to that. You’re only interested in what I’m thinking if it’s what you want to hear. I don’t say that, of course. “Great,” I muster.
My father’s cheekbones scrunch up his eyes. “I’m so glad,” he says, sure that he has cured me.
My mother smiles. “So we’ll walk you there, then.” Her eyes tell me that I have done her a huge favor.
What don’t you understand? I do not want you to walk me there because there will be beach balls there, and that’s what was in the backseat of her car.
Of course, they don’t listen to me. They haven’t in a long time.
The car spins around, glass shattering too close to my eyes. A beach ball hits the back of my head, and I hear a scream. Maybe it’s mine. The rainbow colors of the ball blur my vision, and then I can’t see anything...
The sand, cooled by night, crunches in my toes.
The beach balls make me nauseous, and when Kinley finds me, I am sitting on the rocks, facing the calm waves.
When he touches my shoulder, goosebumps populate my arms. “Hey. You okay?”
I don’t answer.
He sits down.
I look up at the black sky and make a wish on the first star. I wonder what he’s thinking.
I swallow a few times. “My parents made me come here,” I say, throat choked in frustration.
“Did you tell them you didn’t want to?”
I roll my eyes. “Wouldn’t it be kind of obvious? Why would I want to go to some lame beach powwow?”
He raises his eyebrows. “Indy. How are your parents going to know what you want if you don’t tell them?”
I shrug. I had just always assumed that what I wanted was obvious, and my parents were clueless.
Kinley scrunches his lips. “Indy. I know you’re depressed and stuff, but you can’t expect people to know what you want. You should talk to them. I mean, you’re just hurting yourself even more by--”
That’s when I crack. My voice is a knife. “You have no idea what I have been through. I watched my aunt die in a car accident that I survived. Do you have any idea how guilty I feel? Sometimes I wish that I would be dead too, so that I wouldn’t have to be so depressed,” I growl, and my volume increases, “How dare you tell me what I need to do! My parents are the ones that need to change! My parents are so stupid because they refuse to believe that there is a problem! There are living in this little fantasy world where--”
But Kinley doesn’t let me finish. He grabs the back of my neck and pulls me to meet his lips. Everything that has happened evaporates into his eyes that blur like melted chocolate.
I shift on the rock and wrap myself around him, his legs two anchors that hold me together. I can feel my heart melt.
He entwines his fingers through my hair, kissing away the tears that have filled my eyes. He is warm and innocent, and I wish I could stay with him forever.
I don’t go to sleep for a long time. I just lay in the small bed and think about him. I review every detail in my head, analyzing it until I can’t tell fantasy from reality.
Around 4:00 I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, but I know nightmares are waiting for me on the other side.
I try to fight it, but my eyes close and the monster takes me away...
The car is spinning, and the snow falls all around us. There is ice on the side of the road, and I was talking to her when we spun out. My guilt swallows me in a scream. And then I see a boy with chocolate eyes. His hand is pressed up against the glass, and I wonder how he is staying still when our car is moving so fast. “Come with me,” he says in a voice that makes me weak. “I can save you.” But I am trapped inside the car. I try to break the glass, but it’s too hard. I scream and scream...
“Indy!” my mother yells, shaking me out of unconsciousness.
I know that face she is making. I had a nightmare.
My mother sits down on the end of the bed and brushes my sweaty hair out of my eyes. She looks so guilty. As if this is her fault.
I look around my room as we sit in silence. It grows louder and louder until it cracks like broken glass. “What was it about,” my mother asks, in a pushy way that I know she thinks is gentle.
I shrug, and rub my eyes sleepily, hoping she will get the hint to leave.
No such luck. She sighs, and her eyes look to the ceiling. I don’t stop looking at her. “Well, what did you do tonight?”
“Who were you with?”
“No one,” I say, but it’s harder to lie about that. My eyes must have sparkled, because she raises her eyebrows.
Shaking her head, she strokes my cheek. I have trouble reminding myself how much I hate her. “I saw you on the beach tonight with Kinley,” she confesses, tucking hair behind my ear.
My stomach burns and I sit straight up, her hand falling away. “You what?” I cry.
My mother’s hands drop in her lap, twirling around her wedding ring. “You looked so happy.”
I get up out of bed, my anger boiling over. “And you wonder why I don’t tell you anything! How dare you spy on me! I knew I couldn’t trust you with anything!”
My mother’s face gets a shade darker, and words that have not been said cross the galaxy between us. “Indy, you have no idea how much I love you and care about you! Every day, you are slipping Indy—you are slipping further away from us and I—I don’t know what to do about it! We send you to therapy and give you medication and nothing is working! I don’t understand why, after six months, it has still been this bad!”
“That’s because you don’t know anything about me! You are a sneak and I—I hate you!” I scream, feeling the weight lift off my chest.
My mother’s face goes into shock, and seconds after, I know that I will never be able to erase it from my mind.
The only thing to do is run. I barge out, half-aware of my father trying to catch my hands.
I push out the door, down the street, remembering that it is six in the morning. A fog has settled on the pavement, and I can hear the waves crashing.
I reach the town, and keep running.
I reach the highway that is filled with cars, and stop.
My heart breaks.
I collapse onto the pavement.
The accident was my fault. I was talking to her about her dead husband and I know it made her upset. I shouldn’t have brought it up. But I was curious and my mom never told me anything. If I had just kept my mouth shut...
I scream in agony as my guilt finally comes out in complete thoughts.
I drag myself to my feet and stumble back to the beach, collapsing onto the cold sand.
I curl into a ball, tighter and tighter, trying hopelessly to disappear.
My tears settle on my knees; reminders of her death and how I caused it.
The flashbacks come clearer than ever, and no matter how tight I close my eyes, they still cut me.
The car spinning.
Waking up in the hospital after three days, the world spinning.
Not going back to school for two months.
The looks in the hallway: “Look, that’s the girl who was in a car accident. Her aunt died.”
Therapy, and how, for the first six sessions, we sat in silence for the hour.
I stay still on the beach for what seems like eternity.
My eyes are dry and my lips are swollen.
My head aches.
“Indy,” a soft voice whispers.
I don’t lift my head, hoping that it will be her and that I have died and gone to heaven.
And knowing that I haven’t.
Hands slowly uncurl me, releasing my guilty soul into the world where the cold stabs me.
My eyes focus, and he sits down next to me, pulling me into his arms.
His hand rubs circles on my back as more tears spill.
After a long time he says, “Start at the beginning.”
When his words hang heavy in the air and I can feel him wishing them back, I tell him. I tell him things I have not spoken out loud since that night.
Things that have tortured and speared me, leaving me to suffer but not die.
He listens, better than anyone ever has.
The sand is warmer now, and I take it in my fingers, rolling it underneath my nails and letting it fall back to the ground.
The gulls cry.
“I think you should go to family therapy,” he says, walking on eggshells.
“Why?” I challenge.
He pushes his hair out of his eyes, trying to word it properly. “Because I think your whole family has lot of things that need to be resolved. And although I wish I could, there are so many things I can’t help you with.”
I pull away from his arms, hating how fast the warmth leaves me. I also hate how he has diagnosed what I need. But at the same time, I know he’s right.
He takes my face in his hands and whispers, “Go home.”
I kiss him one last time, and walk back to the house.
After my parents reprimand me on “just running off like that” and how much it scared them, I tell them I need to talk.
We sit at the kitchen table, expectant looks on both their faces.
I tell them what I had told Kinley. Of the nightmares I have, and how much I am in pain.
“We need to go to family therapy,” I say, feeling more confident of the idea as I say it.
My mother, as I knew she would, shakes her head. “Indy, you are already going to therapy to help you! Why don’t you feel like you can do this on your own?”
I look to my father for support.
He is torn, but in the end, he doesn’t let me down. “No, Indy is right. I think it would help us all if we went.”
I nod at him, more grateful than he knows. “Mom, this is all I’m asking you. You keep denying that anything is wrong, and it just buries the problem even deeper into me. I can’t get any better if you don’t help me.”
My mother puts her head in her hands. My father lays his hand on her arm. “It’s going to be okay, honey.”
The sun peeks through the window, and my mother finally lifts her head. “Okay,” she says, looking at me. “I’ll go.”
Her smile is broken, like mine.
My life is a puzzle with missing pieces.
But they can be found.