Slammed, p.35
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       Slammed, p.35

         Part #1 of Slammed series by Colleen Hoover
 

  Kel is the right lung, Caulder is the left. The stuffed material is shaped so that their arms and head fit through small openings and the bottom is open to their waste and legs. We dyed the material so that it would reflect dead spots here and there. There are larger lumps protruding from the lungs in various places-the tumors. There is a long pause before Will and my mother react.

  "It's disgusting," Will says.

  "Repulsive," my mother adds.

  "Hideous," I say.

  The boys high five. Or, rather, the lungs high five. After we take pictures, I load them up in the jeep and I drop the pair of lungs off at school.

  ***

  I'm not even halfway through second period when my phone starts vibrating. I pull it out of my pocket and look at the number. It's Will. Will never calls me. I assume he's trying to apologize so I put the phone back in my jacket. It vibrates again. He's calling again. I turn and look at Eddie.

  "Will keeps calling me, should I answer?" I say. I don't know why I'm asking her. Maybe she's got some great advice.

  "I dunno," she says.

  Maybe not.

  On his third attempt, I press the send button and put the phone to my ear. "Hello?" I whisper.

  "Layken, it's me. Look, you've got to get to the elementary. There's been an incident and I can't get through to your mom. I'm in Detroit, I can't go."

  "What? With who?" I whisper.

  "Both of them, I guess. They aren't hurt; they just need someone to pick them up. Go! Call me back."

  I quietly excuse myself from the classroom. Eddie follows me.

  "What is it?" she says as we walk into the hallway.

  "I don't know. Something with Kel and Caulder," I say.

  "I'm going with you," she says.

  ***

  When we arrive at the school, I sprint inside. I'm out of breath and on the verge of hysteria when we find the office. Kel and Caulder are both sitting in the lobby.

  My feet won’t move fast enough as I run to them and hug them.

  "Are y'all okay? What happened?"

  They both shrug.

  "We don’t know," Kel says. "They just told us we had to sit here until our parents came."

  "Ms. Cohen?" someone says from behind me. I turn around and there is a slender woman with red hair looking at me. She's wearing a black pencil skirt and a white dress shirt. She looks more like a librarian than a principal. She gestures her hand toward her office and Eddie and I follow her.

  The woman walks into her office and takes a seat at her desk, nodding to the chairs in front of her. Eddie and I both sit.

  "I'm Ms. Brill. I'm the principal here at Chapman Elementary. Principal Brill."

  The curt way she's speaking to me and her hoity toity posture have immediately turned me off. I already don't like her.

  "Are Caulder's parents joining us?" she asks.

  "Caulder's parents are dead," I reply.

  She gasps, then attempts to control her reaction by sitting up even straighter. "Oh, that's right. I'm sorry," she says. "Is it his brother? He lives with his brother, right?"

  I nod. "He's in Detroit, he can't make it. I'm Kel's sister. What's the problem?"

  She laughs. "Well, isn't it obvious?" She gestures out her office window to them.

  I look at the boys. They're playing rock-paper-scissors and laughing. I know she's referring to their costumes, but she's already lost my respect with her attitude, so I continue to act oblivious.

  "Is rock-paper-scissors against school policy?" I ask.

  Eddie laughs.

  "Ms. Cohen," Principal Brill says. "They're dressed as cancerous lungs!" She shakes her head in disbelief.

  "I thought they were rotten kidney beans," Eddie says.

  We both laugh.

  "I don't think this is funny," Principal Brill says. "They're causing a distraction amongst the students! Those are very offensive and crude costumes! I don't know who thought it was a good idea, but you need to take them home and change their clothes."

  My focus returns to Principal Brill as I slowly turn around and lean forward, placing my arms on her desk.

  "Principal Brill," I say calmly. "Those costumes were made by my mother. My mother, who has stage four small-cell lung cancer. My mother, who will never watch her little boy celebrate another Halloween again. My mother, who will more than likely experience a year of 'lasts.' Last Christmas. Last birthday. Last Easter. And if God is willing, her last Mother's Day. My mother, who when asked by her nine-year-old son if he could be her cancer for Halloween, had no choice but to make him the best cancerous tumor-ridden lung costume she could. So if you think it's so offensive, I suggest you drive them home yourself and tell my mother to her face. Do you need my address?"

  Principal Brill's mouth is gaped open as she shakes her head. She can't respond. I stand up and Eddie follows me out the door. I stop short and spin around and walk back into her office.

  "And one more thing. The costume contest? I hope it's fairly judged."

  Eddie laughs as I shut the door behind us.

  "What's going on?" Kel asks.

  "Nothing," I say. "Y'all can go back to class. She just wanted to know where we got the materials for your costume so she can be a hemorrhoid next year."

  Eddie and I try to contain our laughter as the boys make their way back to class. We head outside and as soon as we open the doors, we explode. We laugh so hard, we cry.

  When we get back in the jeep, I have six missed calls from my mother and two from Will. I return their calls and assure them the situation has been resolved without sparing any details.

  Later that afternoon when I pick the boys up from school, they sprint to the car.

  "We won!" Caulder yells as he climbs in the backseat. "We both won! Fifty dollars each!"

  20.

  “Well I've been locking myself up in my house for some time now

  Reading and writing and reading and thinking

  and searching for reasons and missing the seasons

  The Autumn, the Spring, the Summer, the snow

  The record will stop and the record will go

  Latches latched the windows down,

  the dog coming in and the dog going out

  Up with caffeine and down with the shot

  Constantly worried about what I've got

  Distracted by work but I can't make it stop

  and my confidence on and my confidence off

  And I sink to the bottom I rise to the top

  and I think to myself that I do this a lot

  World outside just goes it goes it goes it goes it goes it goes...”

  -The Avett Brothers, Talk on Indolence

  Chapter Twenty

  The next few weeks come and go. Eddie helps out with watching the boys until Will gets home on the days I take my mother to her treatments. Will leaves every morning at six-thirty and doesn't return home until after five-thirty. We don't see each other. I make sure we don't see each other. We've resorted to texting and phone calls when it comes to Kel and Caulder. My mother has been pressing me for information, wanting to know why he doesn't come around anymore. I lie and tell her he's just busy with his new internship.

  He's only been to the house once in the past two months. It was the only time we've really spoken since the incident in the laundry room. He came to tell me he was offered a job at a Junior High that starts in January.

  I'm happy for him, but it's bittersweet. I know how much the job means for him and Caulder, but I know what it means for Will and I, too. Deep down there was a part of me silently counting down the days until his last day of internship. It's finally here, and he's already signed another contract. It solidified things for us, really. Solidified that they're over.

  We finally put the house up for sale in Texas. Mom has managed to save almost 180,000 dollars from life insurance dad actually had. The house isn't paid off yet, but after all is said and done we should get another check from the sale. Mom and I spend the majority of November
focusing on our finances. We set aside more for our college funds and she opened a savings account for Kel. She payed off all the outstanding credit cards and charge cards that are in her name, and instructed me to never open any in my own name. Said she would haunt me if I did.

  ***

  Today is Thursday. It’s the final day of school for all the districts; including Will’s. We have early release today, so I bring Caulder home with us. He usually spends the night on Thursdays while Will goes to the slam.

  I haven't been back to Club N9NE since the night Will read his poem. I understand what Javi meant in class now-about having to relive heartache. That's why I don't go. I've relived it enough for a lifetime.

  I feed the boys and send them to their bedroom and then head to my mother's room for what has become our nightly chat.

  "Shut the door, these are Kel's," she whispers.

  She's wrapping Christmas gifts. I shut the door behind me and sit on the bed with her and help her wrap.

  "What are your plans for Christmas break?" she asks.

  She's lost all of her hair now. She chose not to go with a wig-said it felt like a ferret was taking a nap on her head. She's still beautiful, nonetheless.

  I shrug. "Whatever yours are, I guess."

  She frowns. "Are you going to Will's graduation with us tomorrow?"

  He sent us an invite two weeks ago. I think each graduate gets a certain number of guests and his grandparents are the only other people he invited besides us.

  "I don't know, I haven't decided yet," I say.

 
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