Slammed, p.28
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       Slammed, p.28

         Part #1 of Slammed series by Colleen Hoover
 

  My mother pulls out the available chair on the other side of her. "Sit down, Will. We're just carving pumpkins tonight. That's all we're doing. Just carving pumpkins."

  Caulder already has a pumpkin and is placing it at the table in front of Will's chair.

  "Okay, then. I guess we're carving pumpkins," Will says.

  Caulder hands him a knife and we all sit at the bar-and just carve pumpkins.

  Kel instigates the first awkward moment when he asks why I'm so late getting home from school. Mom eyes me, waiting for my response while Will just cuts away at his pumpkin and doesn't look up.

  "Eddie and I had detention," I say.

  "Detention? What were you in detention for?" my mom asks.

  "We skipped class last week, took a nap in the courtyard."

  She brings her scooper down to the table and looks at me, obviously disappointed.

  "Lake, why would you do something like that? What class did you skip?"

  I don't reply. I purse my lips together and nudge my head toward Will. My mother looks at Will just as he looks up from his pumpkin.

  He shrugs his shoulders. "She skipped my class! What was I supposed to do?" he laughs.

  My mother stands up and pats him on the back as she picks up the phone book.

  "I'm buying you supper for that."

  ***

  The whole evening is surreal. Everyone's eating pizza, talking, laughing, including my mother. It's good to hear her laugh. I can see a difference in her tonight. I think simply being able to tell me she was sick has helped relieve some of her stress. I can see it in her eyes, she's more at ease.

  We listen as Kel and Caulder tell us what they want to be for Halloween. Caulder keeps switching back and forth between a Transformer and an angry bird. Kel still hasn't come up with anything.

  I wipe pumpkin remnants up off the floor and take the rag to the sink and rinse it out. I put my elbows on the counter and rest my chin in my hands as I watch them. This is more than likely my mother's last time to carve pumpkins. Next month will be the last time she sees Thanksgiving. After that, she'll have her last Christmas. But she's just sitting here, talking to Will about Halloween plans, laughing. I wish I could freeze this moment. I wish we could just carve pumpkins forever.

  ***

  Will and Caulder leave as my mom goes to her room to get ready for her shift. I finish cleaning the kitchen and gather the sacks of pumpkin discard and combine them all into a large trash bag. I take the bag to the curb at the end of the driveway when Will comes outside with his own bag of trash.

  He walks to the end of his driveway before he realizes I'm even there. He smiles at me and lifts the lid, throwing the bag inside.

  "Hey," he says as he puts his hands in his jacket pockets and walks toward me.

  "Hey," I reply.

  "Hey," he says again. He walks past me and sits against the bumper of my jeep.

  "Hey," I reply as I lean against the jeep next to him.

  "Hey."

  "Stop it," I laugh.

  We both wait for the other to talk again, but instead there's just an awkward silence. I hate awkward silences, so I break it.

  "I'm sorry I told Eddie. She's just so smart. She figured it out and thought there was more going on than there is, so I had to tell her the truth. I didn't want her to think bad of you."

  He leans his head back and stares up at the sky.

  "I trust your judgment, Lake. I even trust Eddie. I just wanted her to know why this job is so important to me. Or maybe I said all that so you would know why it's so important to me."

  My brain is too tired to even analyze his comment. "Either way, I know it was hard for you…telling us everything like that. Thank you."

  We watch as a car passes by and pulls into the driveway next to us. A woman gets out, followed by two girls. They’re all carrying pumpkins.

  "You know, I don't know a single person on this whole street other than you and Caulder," I say.

  He directs his eyes to the house that the three people just entered. "That's Erica. She's been married to her husband, Gus, for about twenty years I think. They have two daughters, both teenagers. The oldest one is who babysits Caulder sometimes.

  "The couple to the right of Caulder and I have been here the longest, Bob and Melinda. Their son just joined the military. They were great after my parents died. Melinda cooked for us every day for months. She still brings something over about once a week.

  "The house over there?" He points down the street. "He's the one renting your house to you. His name is Scott. He owns six of the houses on this street alone. He's a good guy, but his renters come and go a lot. Those are about the only people I know anymore."

  I look at all the houses along the street. They're all so similar and I can't help but try to imagine the differences of all the families inside the homes. I wonder if any of them are hiding secrets? If any of them are falling in love? Or out of love? Are they happy? Sad? Scared? Broke? Lonely? Do they appreciate what they have? Do Gus and Erica appreciate their health? Does Scott appreciate his supplemental rental income? Because every bit of it, every last bit of it is fleeting. Nothing is permanent. The only thing any of us have in common is the inevitable. We'll all eventually die.

  "There was this one girl," Will says. "She moved into a house on the street a while back. I still remember the moment I saw her pull up in the U-Haul. She was so confident in that thing. It was a hundred times bigger than her, yet she backed it right up without even asking for help. I watched as she put it in park and propped her leg up on the dash, like driving a U-Haul was something she did every day. Piece of cake.

  "I had to leave for work but Caulder had already run across the street. He was imaginary sword fighting with the little boy that had been in the U-Haul. I was just going to yell at him to come get in the car, but there was something about that girl. I just had to meet her. I walked across the street but she never even noticed me. She was watching her brother play with Caulder with this distant look on her face.

  "I stood beside the U-Haul and I just watched her. I stared at her while she looked on with the saddest look in her eyes. I wanted to know what she was thinking about, what was going on in her head. What had made her so sad? I wanted to hug her so bad. When she finally got out of the U-Haul and I introduced myself to her, it took all I had to let go of her hand. I wanted to hold onto it forever. I wanted to let her know that she wasn't alone. Whatever burden it was that she was carrying around, I wanted to carry it for her."

  I lean my head on his shoulder and he puts his arm around me.

  "I wish I could, Lake. I wish I could take it all away. Unfortunately, that's not how it works. It doesn't just go away. That's what your mom is trying to tell you. She needs you to accept it, and she needs for Kel to know, too. You need to give that to her."

  "I know, Will. I just can't. Not yet. I'm not ready to deal with it yet."

  He pulls me to him and hugs me.

  "You'll never be ready for it, Lake. No one ever is."

  He lets go of me and walks away. And he's right again, but I don't care this time.

  ***

  "Lake? Can I come in?" Mom says from outside the bedroom door.

  "It's open," I say.

  She walks in. She's got her scrubs on now. She sits on the bed next to me as I'm writing in my notebook.

  "What are you writing?" she asks.

  "A poem."

  "For school?"

  "No, for me."

  "I didn't know you wrote poetry," she says as she tries to peek over my shoulder at it.

  "I don't, really. If we read our poetry at Club N9NE we're exempt from the final. I'm thinking about doing one, but I don't know. The thought of getting up there in front of all those people makes me nervous."

  "Push your boundaries, Lake. That's what they're there for."

  I flip the poem upside down and sit up. "So what's up?"

  She smiles at me and reaches to my face and tucks my hair behind my ear
.

  "Not much," she says. "I just had a few minutes before I had to leave for work. I wanted to let you know that it's my last night. I'm not working anymore after tonight."

  I break our stare and lean forward and grab my pen. I put the cap back on it and close my notebook, tucking both the items inside my backpack.

  "I'm still carving pumpkins, Mom."

  She slowly inhales and stands up, hesitates, then walks back out the door.

  15.

  “Forever I will move like the world that turns

  beneath me

  And when I lose my direction, I’ll look up to the

  sky

  And when the black cloak drags upon the ground

  I’ll be ready to surrender, and remember

  Well we’re all in this together

  If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to

  die.”

  -The Avett Brothers, Once and Future Carpenter

  Chapter Fifteen

  Will walks into the classroom carrying a small projector. He sets it on the desk and begins hooking it up to his laptop.

  "What we doing today, Mr. Cooper?" Gavin asks.

  Will continues to prepare the projector as he responds to Gavin. "I want to show you why you should write poetry." He swings the plug around his desk and inserts it into the outlet on the wall.

  "I know why people write poetry," Javi says. "Because they're a bunch of emotional saps with nothin' better to do than whine about ex-girlfriends and dead dogs."

  "You're wrong, Javi," I say. "That's called country music."

  Everyone laughs, including Will. He sits at his desk and turns the laptop on and glances at Javi.

 
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