I just read what I wrote the other night. “A sea of apathy.” Gag. That has got to be the most hokey piece of junk lit that I’ve ever used my pencil to scratch out. The truth is I went out like a light and stayed that way for almost a week. No apathy. No feelings. Nada. It was like I just stopped existing. Not a bad feeling but probably a dangerous one if you get too attached to it. I can see it being hard to come back from.
“Geez. Are you writing again?”
There he goes. He just has to make a comment. One of these days I’m going to throw something at him.
“Yes Cliff. I’m writing. Again. What are you doing here? Again.”
“I had to get out of there. Everyone is coming unglued about Cevin. And Mom …” Cliff shuttered his face and looked out the window of my hospital room refusing to finish what he’d been saying. He didn’t need to. Mrs. Montgomery was in melt down mode and was blaming Cliff because his first thought hadn’t been to make sure that she and Cevin were safe and sound.
It is really hard to be irritated at someone when you feel sympathy and guilt at the same time. “It’s not your fault Cliff. I was kinda keeping you busy. How were you supposed to know the nuts would turn so crazy and try to burn the school down?”
He just shook his head and sat down and continued to stare out the window. I let him sit without objecting. And I let him stare without saying a word. Guys like to pretend they don’t hurt, Cliff more than most, and they sure don’t like you to see them cry. Cliff wasn’t crying; but if he blinked all the watering his eyes were doing might get called that.
In order to pretend I didn’t notice I flipped on the TV and immediately wished I hadn’t.
The investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Blanchard Highschool Riot – the riot that touched off a series of school riots that stretched across the nation – continues. Statements and videos released this morning have done nothing to calm the racial tensions in many communities and in fact have exasperated them.
Cliff sighed. “Turn that crap off. Or do you want to go into a decline or something?”
I would have snorted but my nose was still so sore and stuffed up that I decided against it. “I’m not going to go into a decline. God, what century do you live in? You sound just like Mr. Thorndike.”
“Yeah, well it can’t be good for your psyche. I heard Doctor Hairplugs tell your uncle that you shouldn’t watch the news anymore. That your blood pressure gets all whacked out and that’s why you look like a hag at the end of the day.”
I rolled the eye that wasn’t taped over with gauze and tried to hold back a grin – the comment on the doc’s hairstyle was a little funny – and reminded him, “He also said I wasn’t supposed to have visitors but here you are.”
He slumped deeper into the chair and muttered darkly, “I’m not a visitor.”
“Yeah, then what are you?”
He shrugged and scowled which made me feel guilty again. “Tell you what,” I said. “Let’s just drop it. You don’t goose me about watching the boob tube and we’ll call it even. Besides … it … uh … wasn’t bad that you were here yesterday … when … you know …”
He sat up in his chair a little straighter. “Carl said that won’t happen again. They’ve got a cop outside your door now and your uncle is like the spectre of death or something down at the entrance and makes everyone go through the triage entrance. That pretty much puts off all the paparazzi types.”
“Sure it does,” I griped. “Until the money gets good enough to make them try and find a way in again.”
“Ain’t happening,” he said knowledgeably. “Everyone wants to forget who you are now that the vid of Taj lighting up a crack pipe was found on youtube and now that the cops released that surveillance tape of him making a buy down at the park right before the gunfight started.”
“How about I want them to remember me?!” I asked him angrily. “How about I want a little justice for the fact that I never turned Taj in for squat and they nearly killed me for nothing?! God! Just because my locker was next to his doesn’t mean I knew what was going on in his life!”
Cliff got serious and said, “People will always believe what they want to no matter what you say about it. Just let it go before you get hurt worse.”
“And Tamika and the rest of them just get off scott free? Maybe to do it to someone else because they got away with it this time?”
Cliff looked uncomfortable then glanced at the door. Quietly he told me, “Keep your voice down. And don’t mention Tamika too much.”
He looked at the door again then moved his chair closer to the bed though there already wasn’t much room next to the bed rails with the IV stand and all the other monitors here. “Because she didn’t run away like everyone thought. She’s … uh …” He looked at the closed door again before finishing, “She’s one of the unidentified kids down in the burn unit. Her mother and aunts … they’re making all kinds of noise and threats but Carl says that they’re being told to shut up and let it go because if they don’t, burned or not, Tamika will be brought up on charges and so will any of the rest of her pack that get identified in the security recordings. Deputy Beasley saved the DVR when they were evacuating the office.”
Outraged I spat, “He just remembered? On the TV they said it was lost in the fire. Was it in his trunk or something?”
Cliff shook his head and looked even more concerned. “No. Deputy Beasley had given it to Principal Howe. Howe … uh … got caught with it and claims he forgot he had it only I heard Carl tell Dad that he knows that is a lie because Howe was asked point blank for the DVR and claimed he’d dropped it while trying to rescue some students during the riot.”
My face must have shown how shocked and confused I was because Cliff nodded and said, “Yeah. So like I said, keep your mouth shut. Things are a mess and … and people …”
Finally figuring it out I said, “Are taking sides.”
At my statement and tone Cliff looked at me closely before saying, “Yep. And that’s something you shouldn’t ever forget.”
After a moment I realized he was looking at me a little too intently. “Uh … You?”
“Yeah. Me.” He shrugged. “I know what you think of me. I know what everyone thinks of me. Most of it is true. But this …” He shrugged again. “All this crap is just too crazy not to pick a side.”
We were both quiet for a long time and eventually to fill the void I flipped on the tv again but Cliff reached over and flipped it off. I flipped it on and sure enough he flipped it off again. “Hey!”
“Hey nothing. You shouldn’t watch that crap.”
“Or I’ll go into a decline,” I said sarcastically.
“Something like that.”
I looked straight at him and then flipped the TV on again. He reached over and took the controller from me and tossed it over on the medical cart well out of my reach. We were winding up for a big fight when Uncle Carmichael and Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery walked in.
In a voice of ice Cliff’s mom wanted to know, “What is this all about?”
Uncle Carmichael however knew me and said, “More than likely Prissy Britches here is bored and not getting her way.” He turned to me and smiling more gently than his words would have been taken by most said, “Stop giving Cliff a hard time for being a good friend.”
I sighed and said, “I wouldn’t give him a hard time if he wasn’t a good friend. At least he tells me the truth.” Cliff suddenly looked like he’d swallowed a frog so I told him, “Just don’t let it go to your head.”
Mr. Montgomery chuckled but Mrs. Montgomery still had the prune face and then her face crumpled and she walked over to the window like she thought she was hiding what she was doing with her tissue. Cliff’s face got all stiff and closed off and he tried to leave the room but Mr. Montgomery put his arm around Cliff’s shoulders. It was the weirdest thing. I glanced at Uncle Carmichael and he gave me the look that said to be quiet and he’d tell me later.
All of a sudden Mrs. Montgomery turned around and the prune face was back like the rest of it had never happened and she just walked out of the room not even bothering to say goodbye or shut the door. Mr. Montgomery asked Cliff like his wife wasn’t acting possessed, “You ready to go Son?”
With half a nod Cliff stepped away from his father and followed his mother out without even a waive. Mr. Montgomery shook Uncle Carmichael’s hand and was the last one out and it was he that shut the door quietly.
“Geeeezzzzzz,” I muttered. “What’s up with Cliff and his mom? She can’t seriously still be on his case for like saving my life and stuff.”
Uncle Carmichael sighed and said, “You’re getting too old to get away with that kind of attitude Prissy Britches.”
I wasn’t anymore fond of that nickname than I was Gypsy but since I’d had it longer I was even less likely to see the backside of it in my lifetime. “Sorry Uncle Carmichael. I’m not really giving attitude. Mrs. Montgomery is just creeping me out. I’ve seen her get like this at school when people don’t turn their homework in … well not the crying part but I guess that’s because of Cevin … but this isn’t school and Cliff and I weren’t doing anything wrong. We were just … I don’t know … bored and just … I don’t know … stuff.”
“I know Sweetheart.” He pulled up the same chair that Cliff had vacated not that long ago. “Has Christine ever talked to you about the Montgomery family?”
“Not deep dark secrets or anything,” I told him since I knew he didn’t mean the mushy stuff between her and Chris or how Chris was going to take over his dad’s business. “Do they have deep dark secrets?”
With a sardonic life of his eyebrow Uncle Carmichael let me know I was treading thin ice. “You know, I don’t think my brother would particularly relish that mouth you’ve been developing the last couple of months. Maybe we need to find a different path for your feet.”
Beginning to get serious I told him, “No Sir. And I … geez … like I said I’m sorry. Just … stuff has been going on. I feel all squirrely being stuck in here and no one – well, no one but Cliff – telling me the truth and letting me in on things.”
“Good enough. You just keep that ‘stuff’ and your squirrels under control. You take after my brother and I more than most people know. They think you’re just some bit of fluff and as sweet as Christine but we both know you got a bit of pistol and pot ash in you.”
The way Uncle Carmichael talked reminded me of Dad so much that I had to smile before sighing and asking, “Then why do I feel like such a whuss? I’m so sick and tired of it. If I’d been less of a whimp maybe none of this would have happened. Maybe … maybe Tamika wouldn’t …” I stopped and bit my lip hoping I hadn’t just gotten my only source of real info in trouble.
“Figured he’d tell you. Boy doesn’t seem to know how to lie.”
“’Less you know something I don’t?”
I opened my mouth to laugh and tell a story about Cliff telling a clanker and then closed it slowly realizing that Cliff wasn’t a liar. He was a pain, arrogant, irritating, and testosterone-poisoned but he wasn’t a liar. “No. No Cliff isn’t somebody that tells stories.” Turning away from the new-found truth I re-focused on what I’d learned earlier. “Seriously. If I’d been able to stand up to those girls …”
“From what you said and the little bit Cliff saw you were never given a chance. Your arm is going to be in that cast for at least two more weeks to prove they started with a cheap shot. All over an assumption based on hearsay that started as someone’s half-assed guess. And all over a boy … a young man … that was never the angel they painted him to be in the first place.”
“But if I had been able to fight back …”
“Winnie, you were outnumbered and outgunned. I don’t care how they make it look in the movies. You weren’t going to fight your way out of that pack of cats. Not to mention …” He stopped and shuddered. “If Cliff hadn’t gotten wind of the rumors that had started to fly …” He added a pensive sigh. “That’s part of the problem.”
“What problem? Are people saying I’m not grateful? Because I am. I’ve even tried to tell Cliff but the last time I did it he got all snotty and started snarling and snapping worse than Mrs. Rogers’ Pomeranian, to the point I couldn’t even understand half of what he was saying so I gave up on it. I figure I’ll bake him some cookies or something. Or maybe a cake. Or biscuits … he likes biscuits.”
“He likes your biscuits. Last time we had that dinner at church …”
Remembering yet another grievance against Cliff I said, “Oh my gosh, he was such a pig! I baked two pans of them and I heard he carted away most of one pan all by himself! I can’t believe …”
Uncle Carmichael chuckled then shook his head. “Girl, when a boy likes a girl’s cooking that much her cooking is not all he likes.”
My mouth hung open in mid-thought. I closed it with a snap and said, “Oh we are so not going there. You can direct Christine’s love life all you want but you can lay off the Fairy Godmother stuff with me. Uh uh. No way. Besides Cliff …” I stopped and shook my head. “Just … No way.”
Uncle Carmichael chuckled but dropped it and got serious once again. “I was going to tell you about the Montgomery family.”What I learned has given me a lot to think about. And a lot of insight I’m not so sure that I want.