I want to breathe.
I want to feel alive again.
I don’t want to feel the pain.
I want it all back, but it’s gone.
I hear every sound, every laugh, every cry. People move around the room frantically, but I can’t take my eyes off the sliding glass doors. There’s a violent storm outside and rain is hammering against the concrete, dirt, and dry leaves. Lights flash as ambulances drive up under the port and the glow reflects off the rain on the ground, red, like blood. Like Kayden’s blood. Like Kayden’s blood all over the floor. So much blood.
My stomach is empty. My heart is hurting. I can’t move.
“Callie,” Seth says. “Callie, look at me.”
I take my gaze off the door and stare into his brown eyes filled with worry. “Huh?”
He takes my hand in his and his skin is warm and comforting.
“He’s going to be okay.”
I stare at him, forcing back tears, because I have to be strong.
He lets out a sigh and pats my hand. “You know what? I’m going to go see if he can have visitors yet. It’s been almost a damn week. You’d think they’d let him have visitors by now.” He gets up from the chair and walks across the packed waiting room to the receptionist’s desk.
He’ll be all right.
He has to be.
But in my heart, I know he won’t be all right. Sure, his wounds and broken bones may heal on the outside. On the inside, though, the healing will take longer, and I wonder what Kayden will be like when I see him again. Who will he be?
Seth starts talking to the receptionist behind the counter, but she barely gives him the time of day as she multitasks between phone calls and the computer. It doesn’t matter, though. I know what she’ll say—the same thing she’s been saying. That he can’t have visitors, except for family. His family, the people who hurt him. He doesn’t need his family.
“Callie.” Maci Owens’s voice rips me out of my daze. I blink up at Kayden’s mother with a frown on my face. She’s dressed in a pinstripe pencil skirt, her nails are done, and her hair is curled up into a huge bun on the top of her head. “Why are you here?” she asks.
I almost ask her the same thing. “I came here to see Kayden.”
I sit up in the seat.
“Callie, honey.” She speaks like I’m a little kid, frowning as she stares down at me. “Kayden can’t have visitors. I told you this a few days ago.”
“But I have to go back to school soon,” I say, gripping onto the arms of the chair. “I need to see him before I go.”
She shakes her head and sits down in the chair next to me, crossing her legs. “That’s not going to be possible.”
“Why not?” My voice comes out sharper than it ever has.
She glances around, worried I’m causing a scene. “Please keep your voice down, honey.”
“I’m sorry, but I need to know that he’s okay,” I say. There’s so much anger inside me. I’ve never been this angry before and I don’t like it. “And I need to know what happened.”
“What happened is that Kayden’s sick,” she responds quietly and then starts to get up.
“Wait.” I get up with her. “What do you mean he’s sick?”
She slants her head to the side and gives me her best sad face, but all I can think about is how this is the woman who let Kayden get beaten by his father for all those years. “Honey, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Kayden injured himself.”
I shake my head as I back away from her. “No, he didn’t.”
Her face grows sadder and she looks like a plastic doll with glassy eyes and a painted-on smile. “Honey, Kayden’s had a problem with cutting for a very long time and this… well, we thought he was getting better, but I guess we were wrong.”
“No, he doesn’t!” I scream. Actually scream. I’m shocked.
She’s shocked. Everyone in the crowded waiting room is shocked.
“And my name is Callie, not honey.”
Seth hurries up to me, his eyes wide and full of concern.
“Callie, are you okay?”
I glance at him, then at the people around the room. It’s gone quiet and they’re staring at me. “I… I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” I reel on my heels and run for the sliding glass doors, bumping my elbows onto the trim when they don’t open quickly enough. I keep running until I find a cluster of bushes around the back of the hospital, and then I fall on my knees and throw up all over the mud. My shoulders shake, my stomach heaves, and tears sting at my eyes. When my stomach is empty, I fall back on my heels and sit down in the wet dirt.
There’s no way Kayden could have done that to himself. But deep down in the center of my heart, I keep thinking about all the scars on his body and I can’t help but wonder: What if he did?
Kayden I open my eyes and the first thing I see is light. It burns my eyes and makes my surroundings distorted. I don’t know where I am. What happened? Then I hear the deep voices, clanking, chaos.
There’s a machine beeping and it seems to match the beat of my heart as it hits my chest, but it sounds too slow and uneven. My body is cold—numb, like the inside of me.
“Kayden, can you hear me?” I hear my mom’s voice but I can’t see her through the bright light.
“Kayden Owens, open your eyes,” she repeats until her voice becomes a gnawing hum inside my head.
I open and close my eyelids repeatedly and then roll my eyes back into my head. I blink again and the light turns into spots and eventually into faces of people I don’t know, each of their expressions filled with fear. I search through them, looking for only one person, but I don’t see her anywhere.
I unhitch my jaw and force my lips to move. “Callie.”
My mom appears above me. Her eyes are colder than I expected and her lips are pursed. “Do you have any idea what you put this family through? What is wrong with you? Don’t you value your life?”
I glance at the doctors and nurses around my bed and realize it’s not fear I’m seeing, but pity and annoyance. “What…”
My throat is dry like sand and I force my neck muscles to move as I swallow several times. “What happened?” I start to remember: blood, violence pain… wanting it to all end.
My mom puts her hands next to my head and leans over me.
“I thought we were over this problem. I thought you stopped.”
I tip my head to the side and glance down at my arm. My wrist is bandaged up and my skin is white and mapped with blue veins. There’s an IV attached to the back of my hand and a clip on the end of my finger. I remember. Everything. I meet her eyes.
Her eyes narrow and her voice lowers as she leans in even closer. “Gone on a business trip.”
I gape at her unfathomably. She’d never done anything about the violence when I was growing up, but I guess I was kind of hoping that maybe this would have pushed her to the end of her secrecy and her need to always defend him. “He’s on a business trip?” I say slowly.
A man in a white coat with a pen in his pocket, glasses, and salt-and-pepper hair says something to my mom and then he exits the room carrying a clipboard. A nurse walks over to a beeping machine beside my bed and starts writing down stuff in my chart.
My mother leans in closer, casting a shadow over me, and whispers in a low tone that conveys a lot of warning, “Your father’s not going to have any part of this. The doctors know you cut your own wrists and the town knows you beat up Caleb. You’re not in a good place right now and you’re going to be in a worse place if you try to bring your father into this.” She leans back a little and for the first time I realize how large her pupils are. There’s barely any color left except for a small ring around the edge. She looks possessed, by the devil maybe, or my father—but they’re kind of one and the same.
“You’re going to be all right,” she says. “All the injuries missed anything major. You lost a lot of blood, but they gave you a blood transfusion.”
I press my hands to the bed, trying to sit up, but my body is heavy and my limbs weak. “How long have I been out?”
“You’ve been in and out for a couple of days now. But the doctors say that’s normal.” She starts tucking the blanket in around me, like I’m suddenly her child. “What they’re more worried about is why you cut yourself.”
I could have yelled it—screamed to the world that it wasn’t all me. That it was my dad, that he and I had both done the damage. But as I glance around the room, I realize there’s no one here who really cares. I’m alone. I did cut myself. And for a second I kind of hoped it would be my end. That all the pain and hate and feelings of being worthless would finally, after nineteen years, be gone.
She pats my leg. “All right, I’ll be back tomorrow.”
I don’t say anything. I just roll over and seal my eyes and mouth and let myself go back into the comfort of the darkness I’d just woken up from. Because right now, it’s better than being in the light.
#62 Don’t break apart
I spend a lot of time writing in my notebook. It’s like therapy for me almost. It’s extremely late in the night and I’m wide awake, dreading going back to campus tomorrow morning and leaving Kayden behind. How am I supposed to just leave him, bail out, move on? Everyone keeps telling me that I have to, like it’s as simple as picking out an outfit. I was never good at picking out outfits, though.
I’m in the room above the garage, alone, tucked away in the solitude with only my pen and notebook for company. I sigh as I stare at the moon and then let my hand move across the paper almost on its own accord.
I can’t get the image out of my mind, no matter how hard I try. Every time I close my eyes, I see Kayden, lying on the floor.
Blood covers his body, the floor, the cracks in the tile, and the knives that surround him. He’s broken, bleeding, cracked to pieces.
To some people he probably seems like he can’t be repaired. But I can’t think that.
I was once shattered to pieces, destroyed by the hand of another, but now I feel like I’m beginning to reconnect. Or at least I did feel that way. But when I found Kayden on the floor it felt like part of me splintered again. And more of me broke when his mother told me he did it to himself. He cut himself and has probably been doing it for years.
I don’t believe it.
I can’t believe it. Not when I know about his dad.
I just can’t.
My hand stops and I wait for more to come. But that’s all I seem to need to write. I lie down in the bed and stare at the moon, wondering how I’m supposed to move forward in life when everything important to me is motionless.
* * * “Wipe that sad frown off your face, Missy.” Seth is holding my arm as we walk across the campus yard. It’s cold. Rain is drizzling from the gloomy clouds and the sidewalks are covered in murky puddles. There’s practically a river running off the rooftops of the historic buildings that enclose the campus. The grass is sloshy beneath my sneakers and the icky weather matches my mood. People are running to and from class and I just want to yell, Slow down and wait for the world to catch up!