He smiled grimly. “Corabelle, I’m Sam. I work for the university. We’re going to talk in a quiet room for a minute. Is that okay?”
I nodded and stood up to follow him down a hall.
We entered a small room with a plain table and two folding chairs.
Sam sat in one and laid his briefcase flat between us. “Corabelle, you are very well liked in the main office. This is an unfortunate incident.”
I sat opposite him, not sure what to say to that.
“Dr. Tate doesn’t want this to end your academic career. We’ve decided it’s best to keep this at the university level. She will drop the charges if you are willing to accept our agreement.”
I still didn’t say anything. She was the one smoking a joint. She had more to hide than I did.
“Assault of a pregnant woman, a former professor of yours, doesn’t look good on any record. I’m not sure what happened, but if you’re willing to agree to our terms, we can put all this behind us.”
Apologize? She was the one endangering her baby! Rage blossomed inside me, but I had to stuff it down. I couldn’t do anything now. They had all the power.
He opened his briefcase. “I have an agreement drawn up. It says that in exchange for Dr. Tate dropping the charges, you will agree to not speak of the incident, to apologize to her, and to arrange for a transfer to another college. Naturally we’ll assist you with transferring your credits.”
I had to leave? “But my scholarships.”
He frowned. “I’m not familiar with those. Some may travel with you.”
I shook my head. “They were all from NMSU.”
“Would you rather take your chances with a judge then? I can release you back to the custody of the jail.”
I shook my head. I knew how that would go. Telling my parents. Hiring a lawyer. And no guarantees. This was a lose-lose.
He reviewed the segments of the agreement. I signed the bottom.
“Let’s get you discharged,” he said, standing.
I followed him numbly down the corridors, back through processing, and collected my backpack and the personal items they had confiscated when I arrived.
“Do you need a ride somewhere?” he asked.
“I’ll take the bus,” I said.
“Good luck, Corabelle. I’m sorry this happened.”
I turned away from him to trudge down the sidewalk. The day had moved to evening. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Once again, I had to start all over.
When I got to my dorm room, I sat on the bed, feeling numb. What would I say to my parents about my move? And my coworkers. Would they clear out my desk? I wasn’t sure how big a secret it would be. I had no instructions.
I could go home to my parents’ house, but it was so full of memories — the sun room, my bedroom window, the gate in the back fence that led to Gavin’s. No, I couldn’t go there.
Finn’s framed picture sat on a small table and I picked it up. “Where do I go now?” I asked him.
He couldn’t look at me, his eyes covered with a protective mask, the tube and the blue tape preventing him from talking, or crying, or making any sound.
I slid to the floor, the picture in my lap. Why hadn’t I walked some other way? Why had she been so close to that wall? I’d never struck anyone in my life, not with anything other than a playful punch. She had no idea why I had done it. That I knew what it was like to forever second-guess yourself, to wonder if what you had done had harmed your child.
No one ever told you what to do when your world caved in. I had no one close enough to call about this, just coworkers and a few study partners. I wasn’t sure if I could even tell them anything, based on that agreement.
I had never been so utterly alone. When Finn died and Gavin left, I still had my parents and the sympathy of an entire town. Now I had nothing, no one. Not even a home or a school or a future that I could see. I lay flat on the rough carpeted floor, Finn’s picture on my chest, letting the heaviness of my grief and fear settle over me like a blanket.
What would I do?
Beneath my bed, light glinted off a plastic bag that held a few of my summer clothes. I reached for it, dumping the shorts and tank tops into a pile and crunching the crinkled bag in my fist.
Did I dare?
I propped the picture on my belly, admiring Finn’s cheeks, pink and fat beneath the gray mask. I could remember their pillowy softness. I had held him only once, watching his chest rise and fall with urgency until the movements slowed down, with long spaces in between, then stopped.
I quit thinking of anything at all and tugged the bag over my head. An ugly image, I was sure, the girl with the dead baby on her belly and the grocery sack on her face. I twisted it under my chin to seal it off. I wouldn’t die. I would pass out and let go, and air could get in.
It didn’t matter.
The plastic settled over my skin, then gradually began to mold itself to my nose and cheeks, sucking in against my mouth. A tear trickled from my eye to my ear. I felt my lungs aching, the panic building in my chest. I began to writhe, my arms insisting on coming up to pull the bag away. I fought the urge, stuffed it down, raged against the survival instinct that tried to change my mind.
Then my body went quiet and still, and I could relax into the dark. The light began to fade and I sensed my hand hitting the floor.
But I didn’t go out. I heard crayons scraping across paper. In front of me was an image as wide as the wall, as tall as my imagination. I was coloring the blue sea, spreading color with broad swaths. Next to me, Gavin, boyish and short, his socks sagging, knelt and filled in the sand with a pale brown crayon, decorating the surface with starfish and clamshells.