Chapter Ten

     I’m tired but the only thing that fills my mind is that look Jimmy gave me when he dumped me off at home and drove away. A million bullets couldn’t hurt like that. I wish I could erase that look from my brain.

I want to be alone but I hear the humming noise and can see the blue light emerge in the corner of my room. The Granddaughter shimmers in. I bury my head under the pillow.

“Do not hide, Jessica,” The Granddaughter says. “Remember, I can feel your pain. Do not be afraid to show me what you are experiencing.”

“Go away,” I tell her in my sheet-muffled voice.

“You called me,” she says. I sit up.

“That was hours ago!” I say, wiping my tears on my sleeve.

“That was moments ago, with your tears. Your tears over Jimmy Becker.”

I stare toward her but find I can see her features better if I look slightly away from her. She is like a fountain of blue light, a calming and serene miracle with a sweet smile and delicate high cheeks. She is beautiful, and I soften to her. She is a part of me.

“You must be happy,” I tell her.

“Why do you say those words?”

“Because Jimmy Becker dumped me. It’s over between us. He’s so mad at me!”

“Are you using irony, or sarcasm, when you say I must be happy?” The Granddaughter muses. “Do you think that your relationship with Jimmy Becker is now over?” The Granddaughter’s eyes glow a deep gray, and I sense an intensity from her, as if we are nearing a crucial point in her very existence.

“Yes, it’s over.” But then I think about it. He’s hurting and I messed him up, sure, but isn’t that just normal relationship angst? I mean, we’ve been dating for six months, and we can get through stuff. We got through the CheerleadersFrom Hell hating me, his parents having conniptions because he was dating me, my own traumas of being Suicide Girl of Hollywood High . . . why can’t we get through this? This is private, between only us. With this problem, we don’t even have the eyes of the high school world on us. We can work it out. For the first time since Jimmy drove off I feel better. I smile.

“No, it’s not over.” My head is swimming and I feel faint when she gets into my head this way.

“Perhaps not,” says The Granddaughter. “Tomorrow will give you more information, as it is in this world. Yet there is something I came here to discuss with you. You love Jimmy, is that not so? And tonight there was a special closeness between you. Yet you did not go to Jimmy with love, but with fear. Why is that?”

Was she spying on us? How creepy is that?

“I am merely feeling your emotions,” The Granddaughter reassures me.

“Why do you say fear?” I ask, exhaustion finally hitting a home run as we rehash my almost- sex life.

“Fear is the emotion that seized you tonight, Jessica.”

Hell yes, I think. Sex is scary.

“Why do you fear being intimate with the man that you love?” The Granddaughter asks.

I wonder. Is it having sex, or having to live with knowing that I did it, and that if I’m not careful I could become pregnant, or get some freakoid disease, or that Michael would find out and be disappointed, or my parents would freak out, or that Jimmy would finally get what he wants from me and not need me anymore? I want to cross out that last thought but The Granddaughter nods slightly.

“Wait . . . don’t think that I’m holding sex over Jimmy’s head so he’ll stay around! No way! I want to have sex with him! All the time! You don’t know how bad . . .  but in this world, there are things to think about. Like disease, and babies, and stuff that can make a wretched life even worse.”

“You believe your life is wretched? Why is that?”

I hear a pop, like my brain exploding. I feel like I’m with Michael on the verge of one of his “breakthroughs.” I can’t go on. Shit.

“My life isn’t wretched . . . it’s just . . .” and damn, here come the tears. Why am I so messed up?

“Why do you think you are ‘messed up,’ as you call it?” The Granddaughter asks.

I can’t tell you how bizarro it is to have someone say . . . in fact, not even say, I don’t know anymore if The Granddaughter speaks or telecommunicates or what, but to have someone answer your private thoughts as if you spoke them out loud. It’s way sketchy, and I can’t take it anymore.

“Please just leave! Go! You’re making my life too weird! For all I know, you don’t exist, and I’m just an effin’ nut case!”

“You do not believe that, do you, Jessie? You do not appreciate confrontation from me, I understand. But I ask you again, tell me why your life is ‘messed up.’”

She is stubborn, like me. Of course she’s my descendant. Of course she’s here to torment me and show me how stubborn I am. Damn her!

“Well,” I begin, and I feel sad because I realize, when I look at it, there isn’t much to say. Sure Dad is never around, but when he is, life is great, and as Michael pointed out, that keeps the sweetness in our family, the fact that we appreciate him so much. It may even be what keeps my parents married. I mean, how could Dad stand Mother’s carping if he had to hear it every damn day? And Keith, sure he sucks, but he doesn’t really hurt me. Kara’s older brother used to beat her up and broke her arm once. Compared to that shit, Keith’s an angel. And Mother . . . whatever. She can’t be more than she is. I have food, clothes on my back, and even though I’ve felt twenty-one since I was twelve, doing (or not) my own laundry, cleaning the house, watching Keith until I went on strike . . .

“Hey!” I say out loud, and for a second I forget that she has been listening to the noise in my head all along. “That’s the problem. Mother got pissed off when I quit ballet so she made me take care of Keith in eighth grade! I had to take him everywhere on the bus, to all of his lessons and games. Then when I decided I wasn’t her personal servant and she had to start hiring college students to drive him around after school, that’s when it went bad! She was always mad at me, and Keith got uptight about it too –” The whole thing fits together like a puzzle piece, and a flood of understanding comes to me. A missing link. My life sucks because I stood up to my mother. My sobs surprise me.

“You are your own person within your family, even if they resent you for it,” The Granddaughter says. “Are you your own person with Jimmy Becker as well?”

The question hangs there, not waiting for an answer. She shimmers away as Dad opens the door.

“You okay, Princess? I got up to get some water and I heard talking.”

I’m a wreck in my sleeping sweats and T-shirt, my hair is a disaster, my face a flood of tears. I sit in the yellow glow of the hall light. I wipe my face and Dad sits beside me on my bed. He holds me close to him, into his chest. I sob more, the words drained from me, but at least he doesn’t ask me what’s wrong.

We’re late for school, as usual, and since I already had an emofest with Jimmy, my dad, and The Granddaughter last night, I only let myself think about Kara. She called me as I was getting ready for school and I couldn’t talk long but she wants to meet for lunch. I’m thinking of ditching fifth period so we can have more time to talk, but I don’t know what to tell her that will make me still appear sane.

When we get out of the car at school, Keith and his twerp friends run off, trying to make it to class before the second bell. I saunter onto campus. My teachers all know my mother is a flake and they don’t like to confront me without backup anyway. I notice a gathering of cheerleaders and football players by the flagpole, and they are all staring right at me. Not in a kind way either.

“You hole!” Cristabelle Jenners yells at me, and I’m speechless. I have no idea what’s happening. My bleary eyes scan the crowd for Jimmy, but he’s not there.

“You Goddamned bitch!” says Zane Peck, the halfback. “Thanks to you we lost our best player.”

Their glares are murderous, and I rush by trying not to get too near, but it’s too late. Molly Johnston is on me. Her long cheerleader leg glides out from under her miniskirt and I trip over her foot. I land on my elbows and feel the burn of grit and blood. My chin hits the asphalt and flesh splits open. I gather myself up, determined not to cry in front of them as I hold my chin. My ankle gives out as I try to stand up and the fullback, Brent Ray, bends down, pretending to help me pick up my backpack.

“I talked to Jimmy, I know what you did. If we were alone right now I’d give it to you, you whore,” he whispers, shoving my backpack into my arms. I straighten up and limp bleeding to the nurse’s office.

In the health office I’m shaking as Nurse Hayden dabs hydrogen peroxide on my elbow with a clean white pad. My chin has a butterfly bandage on it and I’m too scared by Brent’s words to cry or say a word.

“So you tripped?” Nurse Hayden asks, gazing at me suspiciously. I nod. She writes in her accident report.

“We’d better ice and wrap that ankle, it’s swelling up.” I nod again, folding my arms over my chest. The principal sticks his head in the door. Nurse Hayden is wrapping a flat ice pack around my ankle and fluffing the polyester pillows. Mr. Hicks asks her to leave; she scurries out.

“Hello, Jessica,” Mr. Hicks says, sitting on the tissue-covered hospital bed across from me. There is a crinkling noise.

“Hello,” I reply in the quietest mouse voice.

“I heard what happened.” I expect that he might be here because he knows about this injustice that happened to me and he wants to get to the bottom of it, but I don’t want to talk about it. It doesn’t matter anyway, because I have it all wrong.

“It was an accident,” I say. He stares at me in a strange way.

“I don’t know how you can call sneaking out at three a.m. and having sex with our star athlete an accident, Jessica. That’s an interesting choice of words. That seems like it must have taken a lot of thought and planning, quite frankly.”

My teeth clench tight. I don’t know what to say, how to defend myself against a half-truth. I open my mouth but words elude me.

“Mr. Becker called me at five a.m., Jessica. At home. Alex Becker and I go way back, but it’s not fun taking a call about your students at that time of day. He caught Jimmy sneaking back into their house. Alex told me Jimmy said that you called him around three a.m. to go out and have sex with him, and that he didn’t want to . . . did you know he had a chemistry test today, Jessica?”

I nod dumbly.

“Well, he won’t get to take it because he’s suspended. Alex asked me to suspend him to teach him a lesson about responsibility. I considered not doing it because he’s already on academic probation from the football team, but Alex insisted so Jimmy’s off the team. I think it’s harsh.” Mr. Hicks leans in and gets in my face as my mind scrambles in disbelief.

“But he didn’t act alone, Jessie. You’re his accomplice, and you have been on probation since we let you come back to this school this year. You know our recommendation for you was the continuation high school. So I’m going to suspend you as well, and maybe next time you’ll think twice about your actions and how they affect other people. Jimmy Becker was never a great student but he is a great ball player. There are colleges courting him, Jessica, you know that! How could you so selfishly take that all away?”

“I didn’t,” I say in my mouse voice.

“Excuse me?”

“I didn’t. I didn’t have sex with Jimmy Becker. I’m a virgin.”

Mr. Hicks stares at me like I’m nuts. “Are you denying sneaking out with Jimmy Becker last night, calling him, asking him to see you?”

I consider denying it to save myself, but if I do Jimmy won’t ever talk to me again. I shake my head.

“Very well, Miss Allen. I’ll be calling your parents to come pick you up. You’re dismissed from school until next Monday. You’ll have to make up your schoolwork after that time so you don’t fail your courses, if your teachers are willing to make an arrangement with you.”

Mr. Hicks leaves the sick room. I sit in stunned silence, trying to decipher what just happened. Nurse Hayden comes back in and checks on my ankle, her eyes avoiding mine.