Corabelle reached for my hand and clutched it. I bowed then with her, knowing she needed me to assimilate, to do what was expected.
The minister raised his hands. “And now for a final blessing for Finn Mays as he makes his way to Our Father.”
One of the black suits walked toward the casket. I thought at first he was just stepping up to escort us out as soon as the minister finished his rousing finale, but instead he moved toward the coffin. Before I realized his intention, he had lowered the rod holding up the lid of the coffin and dropped it down.
Corabelle gasped, turning to me, her face so white I could not imagine she still had blood in her veins. I jumped up, but the man was latching the sides down. The minister paused as he saw me.
Corabelle jerked her hand from me. I had failed her. She had only asked this one thing, and I hadn’t followed up, hadn’t spoken to the staff.
“Sit down, boy,” my father bellowed.
But the roar in my ears drowned out everything but the fact that I didn’t belong here, didn’t deserve that boy, or Corabelle. I had nothing to offer anyone but incompetence or rage. The minister tried to go on with his blessing, but I couldn’t listen to another word. I took off down the aisle, stripping off the foul jacket and leaving it on the floor. The tie was so tight on my neck that I jerked it off, discarding it by the door as I pushed through.
I needed to get away. I couldn’t bear Corabelle’s distress over the coffin, my father’s condescension.
The Camaro sat waiting for me, firing up with an easy twist of the ignition. I squealed out of the spot, no idea where I was going, but the clanging in my head didn’t start to ease until I was outside the city, the desert stretching in every direction. The blankness of the scenery and the long stretch of empty road suited me. Nobody to piss me off. Nobody to let down. Nobody anywhere near me at all.
I’d lost control that day. Control of my temper. My actions. My responsibilities.
The ICU was quiet except for the humming of machines, soft beeps, and the whir of Corabelle’s ventilator by my head. It didn’t sound like Finn’s, I remembered that now. His had been more metallic, like the choppy blades of a helicopter. Hers was a soft wheeze in and out.
The sheet beneath her arm was wet. I had been crying. Stupid.
No, not stupid. Normal. It was normal and fine, and I shouldn’t hear my father’s words, “Don’t be a damn sissy,” as he smacked me across the top of the head. I should forget his lessons, his ridicule, no longer let it penetrate.
He had rarely actually hurt me. I don’t think the town would have stood for beatings, black eyes, or real injuries. His form of discipline had been a hard shove or a hearty backhand, enough to knock me around but just light enough for witnesses to shrug it off as “family business” rather than “call the cops.”
Maybe it was the attitude that hurt more, the indication that I was a failure in everything, that even if something was going right, I’d eventually screw it up.
I had given him too much power. As a little kid, maybe it made sense. He was my father, big and important and in a position to tell me what to do and when to do it.
But now, he was nothing. I didn’t see him, talk to him. I had no reason to be like him at all. I didn’t even have to know him.
How much could we escape our past? Corabelle and I had been trying, ever since that first day on the beach when I drew that line in the sand and she stepped away from our history and into our future. Now here we were, and everything about this place we’d landed in was so much like where we’d been that I could scarcely bear it.
At least the business with Rosa was behind me. Her cousin was surely right. Rosa needed a champion, and I’d simply been the easiest target. I’d figure out a way to block her number. Tijuana was in my past, like my father. I’d spend the rest of my life trying to fix all the screwups I’d made in the first eighteen years. The disappearing act. The vasectomy. The father rage.
I had to believe I could do it.
The sheet had already begun to dry. I laid my head back down, shifting so that I leaned against the bed frame, still mostly hidden if someone just glanced over. Weariness began to take over everything else.
The second time to awaken in the hospital was far worse than the first. My mouth hurt, lips bruised, like I’d been struck in the face.
My lungs were cement blocks, heavy and stiff. Every breath was a struggle but the air was strange, sweet almost, and cold. Something tickled my nose and I lifted my hand, feeling the tube running inside my nostrils. I was on oxygen.
“She’s coming around,” a voice said, female but low, and I pictured Large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. My eyes seemed glued together. I blinked, trying to clear them.
“Here, honey, let me get a cloth,” another female voice said, this one lighter and higher, and I envisioned a perky young nurse in a white cap and starched uniform.
The sounds weren’t right for my room. Too many machines, too many beeps. “Where am I?” I asked, my voice horrid and croaky.
“You’re in ICU,” the deeper voice said. My gown shifted at the neck, exposing skin to the air. “I’m going to take another listen, then we’re going to roll you to X-ray to check on your progress.”
“How long have I been here?”
“About 24 hours.”
Something cool touched the skin of my chest. I wanted to rub my eyes, get the gunk away so I could open them, but only one hand was free. On the other I could feel the weight of an IV and the length of a tube across my shoulder. “What happened?”