“Thought you didn’t know Stone Reeves?” That was Joe’s greeting when I called him the next day.
I frowned, sitting in Stone’s living room. Alone. He’d gone in earlier for his game. “I don’t.”
He snorted. “Yeah, right. The dude himself stopped in this morning, told me about what’s going on with you and asking if I’d hold a job for you.”
I did nothing. I didn’t know if I should get mad or breathe easier. Guess it’d depend on his answer.
“So are you?”
“Fuck yeah, I am. He said you’re a damn hard worker and I’d be stupid not to make room for you, but I gotta tell it straight. I have to fill that position I hired you for. Way he was talking, you might be out awhile.”
“I won’t. I’ll be in tomorrow.”
“He said you were in a coma.”
What’s with all this coma talk? “I’m fine. It’s just a headache.”
“You were out all week for a headache?”
I was praying Stone hadn’t said anything. “Yes. I’m good. For real. I can start tomorrow.” Make that, I need to start tomorrow.
Even a day being here, with only my homework that somehow Stone got for me, wasn’t enough. I fell asleep from sobbing so hard, and when I woke, Stone was gone. He left a note in my kitchen quarters saying he’d be back a bit after midnight. There were instructions how to use the remote to the television if I wanted to watch his godliness-level score. His exact words.
I snorted, then crumpled up the instructions, only to pause, think about it, and I smoothed them back out. One never knew when one needed to turn one’s brain off and sink into one’s oblivion, and I really needed to stop talking about myself as ‘one’.
I did not want to handle today.
My mind was swimming, and I knew I wasn’t acting rational.
I needed to call my stepbrother…was he still a stepbrother?
I—no. I wasn’t going to crumble. I couldn’t.
What was I doing again?
I just called for my job.
I should make a list. What to get done. I would forget otherwise, like basic things such as showering. I sniffed in my armpit. Yeah. I should shower first.
Then call Jared.
Then I didn’t know. I’d make a list for that, too.
This was how I got through my mom, how I got through what happened before. I—no, no, no. I couldn’t think like that. Stop thinking. That helped me, too.
Brain, turn off.
After showering, I made coffee.
After coffee, I sat on the couch.
I didn’t know the time.
My stomach was growling, but I wasn’t hungry.
Water. I should drink water. I needed to stay hydrated.
So I wrote that on my list.
Shower. Coffee. Water.
What else did I need to do?
3. Water Stay hydrated.
4. Call Jared.
7. Call Gail’s sister?
I needed to find out anything. I’d been in that coma. What had Stone said? Oh, yes. They were already buried. Next to my mom. I sagged in relief. That was good. She would’ve liked Gail. And the funeral was already done.
Stone said my bills were covered, but what about my parents’? My mind was fuzzy. He said the lawyer was traveling here. Maybe there was some money left, enough to cover all those expenses? But no. If any was left, it should go to Jared. I’d cover the funerals and burial costs. That was my job.
I sat, that list in front of me, and I stared at the wall.
What time was it? I looked. It was six in the evening. When had the time gone by? I woke around ten.
But this was what I did before, after the event. I hadn’t known how to process anything, so I sat, I stared, I lost time. I’d been a zombie then. I hadn’t totally been a zombie after mom. My dad needed me. The bills needed me. School needed me.
I could do that again.
Reaching for my phone, I pulled up Siobhan’s number. I didn’t have my housemates’ numbers. I needed to have my housemates’ numbers.
I hit call, and a second later, I heard, “Dusty?”
I felt lame saying that, but…hi.
“Oh, wow. You missed the entire second week of classes. Susan was fielding calls about you. She was all griping about ‘missing transfer community college students’, then suddenly she got a call and her attitude completely changed. I was instructed to take notes for you, make copies, and hand them to her at the end of each day. What happened? Are you okay?”
Maybe I should’ve called the school first? But what office would I call? Probably the general administrative office?
My head was swimming again. I was on overload.
Why had I called Siobhan again?
“I was in a coma.”
“YOU WERE IN A COMA?! WHAT?”
I grimaced, holding the phone away from me. That didn’t help with the whole mind-swimming thing. For real. Why had I called Siobhan?
“What happened? Are you okay? Are you in the hospital? Do you need me to bring you anything? I’m totally here, anything you need. Are you okay now?”
There were too many questions.
“Uh, I’m at someone’s house.”
“Whose house? I didn’t know you knew someone else down here.”
“Can—” It was hitting me just then. I didn’t have a car.
Because I totaled the car.
Stone said he handled the car.
But I had no car.
I had no way to get back to Jared.
I needed to call Jared.
It was just him and me. We were almost strangers.
The pressure was building.
BUILDING—I was hyperventilating.
They were gone.
And I had no car.
And Jared was no longer my brother.
I told Stone that Apollo’s parents could adopt him.
What was I doing?
Where was I?
I had no parents.
I had no one.
I was alone.
They were gone.
I couldn’t breathe.
I heard someone saying my name, but it was from a distance, down a tunnel it sounded.
What was I doing?
I mumbled something to that someone, but I wasn’t sure who it was.
Then I dropped something.
I was falling.
Yeah. That was a good idea.
I could sit.
Sit here. Not think.
Everything would be okay.
I just needed to sit a bit.
There was a pounding somewhere.
I was waking up slowly.
My head was hurting.
Everything was dark. Flashes of red and yellow were lighting up the walls. What the hell was going on?
A doorbell was ringing.
Whoever was there—it came back to me.
I’d had a panic attack, and then I fell asleep.
Someone was yelling for me. Siobhan.
She’d been on the phone with me. She must’ve called an ambulance, but how had they known where to come?
Standing, wincing because everything was hurting, I tried to find the front door. Stone hadn’t shown me this way, so I followed the sound of the doorbell ringing. Then, standing on the other side of it, I swept open the curtain and two paramedics were there, along with a cop.
“OPEN THE DOOR!” The cop motioned for the door.
I unlocked the door and opened it and—
ALARM! SIREN! ALARM! SIREN!
A strange, almost robotic voice filled the house, “YOU HAVE VIOLATED A PROTECTED AREA. LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. THE POLICE HAVE BEEN CALLED. YOU HAVE VIOLATED A PROTECTED AREA…”
The cop came in, looking around. “You have a way to turn that off?”
I shook my head. “It’s not my house.”
“According to records, Stone Reeves lives here?” I didn’t know why he put that as a question. Ohhh, understanding flooded me.
I straightened upright. “I know Stone. I’m just staying here.” I guess.
A phone started ringing. It was the house one, and I answered it. A woman’s voice came over, “Are you in need of assistance?”
“No,” I sighed. A panic attack, then I fell asleep. I didn’t think I could explain all this away, though.
“Do you have the code?”
Fuck. Double fuck.
The woman didn’t even hesitate. “Thank you, ma’am.” A dial tone hit me next.
Pretty sure that wasn’t good, but I turned back toward the door. The cop and paramedics had come in. All three were regarding me with suspicion.
I heard more ringing, but this one, I recognized. I had left my phone up in the guest area and I started to go for it, but the cop took my arm. “Let me grab it.”
I gestured, feeling a sense of impending doom and the general wish that an entire mountain would drop on me. “It’s probably Stone wondering what the hell is going on.”
He nodded. “I’ll get your phone.”
He went in search of the electronic perpetrator and the female paramedic approached. “Ma’am? My name is Jill. We had a call that someone might need assistance?”