“I’m just here to help you. Are you worried about talking to me?”
I forced myself to look at her, to smile. “You seem very nice. I’m just ready to go home and get back to classes.”
“You want to talk about New Mexico? I know you left there suddenly.”
My throat got so tight that I didn’t think I could talk if I wanted to. What did she know? What records had she accessed? I would kill to see what had been transferred in the files.
“You were arrested?” she asked.
“You want to tell me about that?”
I wanted to say “Not really,” but that didn’t seem sane or well adjusted. “It’s in the past.”
She touched a finger to her lips, tapping them with a long blue nail. “Seems like maybe it’s still troubling you. Did you ever talk to your professor after your altercation?”
God, she knew everything. “I was asked to apologize.”
“How did that go?”
I wanted to snap, “About as well as it goes when you’ve smacked a pregnant woman,” but I just shrugged. “She handled it okay.”
A man arrived with the breakfast tray, and I was so relieved I could have hugged him. When he saw Sabrina, he stopped. “Should I leave this over here?” He pointed to a rolling cart by the wall.
Sabrina stood up. “Oh no, I think this is her first meal. She should eat.”
He set the tray on the cart and rolled it over to fit across my bed.
“Thank you,” I said, glad to have somewhere to look.
“I’ll drop by again later,” Sabrina said. “We can talk some more about your last school.”
Great. “Okay.” I lifted the blue plastic lid that covered a plate with eggs and a piece of toast, concentrating on it as though it consumed all my attention.
She headed back out alongside the man, and when they were outside the door, I covered the eggs again and let my head fall back against the pillow. I wanted a computer, the internet, to look up my situation and see how to handle it, what would happen if I refused to cooperate. I wanted Gavin, and Jenny, allies, someone to talk this through.
A hospital phone sat on the side table, but it was useless. Like most people with cell phones and contact lists, I didn’t have any numbers memorized. Although maybe my phone was dried out enough to turn on. I could at least get the numbers.
In a minute. I pressed my hand against my chest, willing myself to calm down. I didn’t want to start another coughing fit. Sabrina wanted to talk about New Mexico. It seemed she already knew what had happened. So the records were out there. The university hadn’t suppressed it all.
That afternoon was still so clear in my memory. I had been fine for months, not even relying on the blackouts much anymore to keep me grounded. I was three years into school, finally gaining enough seniority to get a private dorm room. I had a great job in the main office and important references, including deans and the assistant president of the university, which would almost ensure an easy slide into grad school. With one year to go on my bachelor’s degree, I was already looking at my options for where to go and how to pay for it.
Then a simple walk through campus on a chilly spring day changed everything. I rounded the corner of a parking garage and bumped straight into my lit professor from the previous semester. I knew she was pregnant, but now she was enormous, her belly a mile in front of her as she leaned against the wall on the back side of the building.
Everything happened so fast. Her eyes went wide as her fingers tightened on the joint between her lips. I knew immediately what it was, and I just reacted, knocking her hand away from her mouth. How dare she smoke that thing while she was pregnant? What was she thinking?
My blow struck much harder than I expected, and she fell back into the wall, the rough bricks scraping her face.
Then she was bleeding. I realized I had hurt her, and now I was in big trouble.
She looked up at me, one hand against her cheek and the other on her belly. I backed away, turned, and ran.
The trees blurred around me. I could see Finn. Gavin. My parents. Katie. Her kitchen, the joints. The pregnancy stick. The doctors, telling me Finn’s heart could not be saved. I dodged cars and passed startled passersby. I kept going until my lungs were bursting and I couldn’t go any farther. I sat on the ground behind a maintenance building, far off the path of students trekking to classes. I gulped in air, then held my breath, then decided it was unwise, then did it anyway. I welcomed the black like I had never done before, wishing I could make it last, wanting it to be permanent.
I came back around with my nose pressed into the dirt, tears tracking down my face. I stood up, lost, wondering what to do, where to go. Resigned, I just headed home.
Two men in different uniforms waited for me in the hallway outside my room. One was campus police, the other from the city.
I sat in a chair while they asked me questions. Had I hit Dr. Tate? What had happened?
The campus police officer wanted to let the school handle it, but the city officer said no, the assault had been reported at a hospital, and only the professor herself could drop the charges. He did not put me in handcuffs or anything, just asked me to follow him. He loaded me into the back of his squad car, and we drove through town. I didn’t speak anymore.
I never went into a jail cell. By the time I got through the hours-long admitting process, fingerprints, photos, and waiting in line to make a phone call, not that I knew who to try, one of the university lawyers had already arrived. He was tall in his tan suit, his hair silvering on the sides. He talked to the woman who was processing my paperwork, and she gestured to me.