Pushing the Limits, Page 2Katie McGarry
“She cries. ” Ashley’s high-pitched voice cut through the silence as if she were dispensing juicy country-club gossip. “All the time. She really misses Aires. ”
Both my father and I turned our heads to look at the blond bimbo. I willed her to continue while my father, I’m sure, willed her to shut up. God listened to me for once. Ashley went on, “We all miss him. It’s so sad that the baby will never know him. ”
And once again, welcome to the Ashley show, sponsored by Ashley and my father’s money. Mrs. Collins wrote briskly, no doubt etching each of Ashley’s unguarded words into my file while my father groaned.
“Echo, would you like to talk about Aires during today’s session?” Mrs. Collins asked.
“No. ” That was possibly the most honest answer I’d given all morning.
“That’s fine,” she said. “We’ll save him for a later date. What about your mother? Have you had any contact with her?”
Ashley and my father answered simultaneously, “No,” while I blurted, “Kind of. ”
I felt like the middle of a ham sandwich the way the two of them leaned toward me. I wasn’t sure what prompted me to tell the truth. “I tried calling her over break. ” When she didn’t answer, I’d sat next to the phone for days, hoping and praying my mother would care that two years before, my brother, her son, had died.
My father ran a hand over his face. “You know you’re not allowed to have contact with your mother. ” The anger in his voice hinted that he couldn’t believe I’d told the therapist this tantalizing tidbit. I imagined visions of social workers dancing in his head. “There is a restraining order. Tell me, Echo, landline or cell phone?”
“Landline,” I choked out. “But we never talked. I swear. ”
He swiped at his BlackBerry and his lawyer’s number appeared on the screen. I clutched the dog tags, Aires’ name and serial number embedding in my palm. “Please, Daddy, don’t,” I whispered.
He hesitated and my heart pressed against my rib cage. Then, by the grace of God, he dropped the phone to his lap. “We’re going to have to change the number now. ”
I nodded. It stunk that my mom would never be able to call my home, but I’d take the hit … for her. Of all the things my mother needed, prison wasn’t one of them.
“Have you had contact with your mother since then?” Mrs. Collins lost her friendliness.
“No. ” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Everything inside of me ached. I couldn’t keep up the “I’m fine” facade much longer. This line of questioning ripped at my soul’s freshly scabbed wounds.
“To confirm we’re on the same page, you understand that contact between you and your mother while there is a restraining order, even if you initiate it, is forbidden. ”
“Yes. ” I took another gulp of air. The lump in my throat denied the entry of the precious oxygen. I missed Aires and, God, my mom, and Ashley was having a baby, and my dad was on me all the time, and … I needed something, anything.
Against my better judgment, I let the words tumble out of my mouth. “I want to fix Aires’ car. ” Maybe, just maybe, restoring something of his would make the pain go away.
“Oh, not this again,” my father muttered.
“Wait. Not what again? Echo, what are you talking about?” asked Mrs. Collins.
I stared at the gloves on my hands. “Aires found a 1965 Corvette in a scrap yard. He spent all of his free time fixing it up and he was almost done before he went to Afghanistan. I want to restore it. For Aires. ” For me. He didn’t leave anything behind when he left, except the car.
“That sounds like a healthy way to grieve. What are your thoughts on this, Mr. Emerson?” Mrs. Collins gave great puppy dog eyes—a trait I had yet to master.
My father scrolled again through his BlackBerry, his body present but his mind already at work. “It costs money and I don’t see the point in fixing up a broken-down car when she has a car that works. ”
“Then let me get a job,” I snapped. “And we can sell my car once I get Aires’ working. ”
All eyes were on him and now his were on me. Without meaning to, I’d backed him into a corner. He wanted to say no, but that would bring down the wrath of the new therapist. After all, we had to be perfect in therapy. God forbid we take advantage of it and hash out some issues.
“Fine, but she has to pay for the car herself, and Echo knows my rules regarding employment. She has to find a flexible job that will not interfere with her schoolwork, the clubs we agreed upon or her grades. Now, are we done here?”
Mrs. Collins glanced at the clock. “Not quite. Echo, your social worker extended your therapy until graduation because of your teacher evaluations. Since the beginning of your junior year, each of your teachers has noted a distinct withdrawal from your participation in class and in your social interactions with your peers. ” Her kind eyes bored into mine. “Everyone wants you to be happy, Echo, and I’d like you to give me the opportunity to help. ”
I cocked an eyebrow. Like I had a choice about therapy, and as for my happiness—good freaking luck. “Sure. ”
Ashley’s perky voice startled me. “She has a date for the Valentine’s Dance. ”
Now my father and I took our turn speaking simultaneously. “I do?”—”She does?”
Ashley’s eyes darted nervously between me and my father. “Yes, remember, Echo? Last night we discussed the new guy you’re into and I told you that you shouldn’t dump your friends at school while you obsessed over some guy. ”
I deliberated over which part disturbed me more: the imaginary boyfriend or that she claimed we’d had an actual conversation. While I was deciding, my father stood and put on his coat. “See, Mrs. Collins, Echo is fine. Just a little lovestruck. As much as I enjoy these sessions, Ashley’s appointment is in twenty minutes and I don’t want Echo to miss any more class. ”
“Echo, are you really interested in making money to fix your brother’s car?” Mrs. Collins asked as she stood to escort my father and stepmother out.
I pulled at the gloves I wore to cover my skin. “More than you could possibly imagine. ”
She smiled at me before walking out the door. “Then I’ve got a job for you. Wait here and we’ll discuss the details. ”
The three of them huddled together on the far side of the main office, whispering to one another. My father wrapped his arm around Ashley’s waist and she leaned into him as they nodded at Mrs. Collins’s hushed words. The familiar pang of jealousy and anger ate at the lining of my gut. How could he love her when she’d destroyed so much?
Fresh paint and the scent of drywall dust made me think of my father, not school. Yet that smell slapped me in the face when I walked into the newly remodeled front office. With books in hand, I sauntered toward the counter. “‘Sup, Mrs. Marcos. ”
“Noah, why you late again, muchacho?” she said while stapling papers together.
The clock on the wall flipped to nine in the morning. “Hell, this is early. ”
Mrs. Marcos stepped around her new cherry desk to meet me at the counter. She gave me crap when I came in late, but I still liked her. With her long brown hair, she reminded me of a Hispanic version of my mother.
“You missed your appointment with Mrs. Collins this morning. Not a good way to start the second term,” she whispered as she wrote my tardy slip. She tilted her head toward the three adults huddled together in the far corner of the room. I assumed the middle-aged blond woman whispering to the rich couple was the new guidance counselor.
I shrugged and let the right side of my mouth twitch up. “Oops. ”
Mrs. Marcos slid the tardy slip to me and gave me her patented stern glare. She was the one person at this school who didn’t believe that me and my future were completely fucked.
The middle-aged blonde called out, “Mr. Hutchins, I’m thrilled you remembered our appointment, even if you are late. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind taking a
seat while I finish a few things. ” She smiled at me like we were old friends and spoke so sweetly that for a moment, I almost smiled back. Instead, I nodded and took a seat on the line of chairs pushed against the office wall.
Mrs. Marcos laughed.
“She’s not going to put up with your attitude. Maybe she’ll convince you to take school seriously. ”
I rested my head against the painted cinder-block wall and shut my eyes, in need of a few more hours’ sleep. Short one person for closing, the restaurant hadn’t let me go until after midnight, and then Beth and Isaiah kept me up.
“Mrs. Marcos?” asked an angelic voice. “Can you please tell me the upcoming dates for the ACT and SAT?”
The phone rang. “Wait one sec,” said Mrs. Marcos. Then the ringing ceased.
A chair down the row from mine shifted and my mouth watered from the aroma of hot cinnamon rolls. I snuck a peek and noticed red, silky, curly hair. I knew her. Echo Emerson.
Not a cinnamon roll in sight, but damn if she didn’t smell like one. We had several of our main courses together and last semester one of our free periods. I didn’t know much about her other than she kept to herself, she was smart, a redhead and she had big tits. She wore large, long-sleeved shirts that hung off her shoulders and tank tops underneath that revealed just enough to get the fantasies flowing.
Like always, she stared straight ahead as if I didn’t exist. Hell, I probably didn’t exist in her mind. People like Echo Emerson irritated the crap out of me.
“You’ve got a fucked-up name,” I mumbled. I didn’t know why I wanted to rattle her, I just did.
“Shouldn’t you be getting high in the bathroom?”
So she did know me. “They installed security cameras. We do it in the parking lot now. ”
“My bad. ” Her foot rocked frantically back and forth.
Good, I’d succeeded in getting under that perfect facade. “Echo … echo … echo …”
Her foot stopped rocking and red curls bounced furiously as she turned to face me. “How original. I’ve never heard that before. ” She swept up her backpack and left the office. Her tight ass swayed side to side as she marched down the hallway. That wasn’t nearly as fun as I’d thought it would be. In fact, I kind of felt like a dick.
“Noah?” Mrs. Collins called me into her office.
The last guidance counselor had major OCD issues. Everything in the office perfectly placed. I used to move his plaques just to mess with him. There’d be no such entertainment with Mrs. Collins. Her desk was a mess. I could bury a body in here and no one would ever find it.
Taking the seat across from her, I waited for my ass-chewing.
“How was your Christmas break?” She had that kind look again, sort of like a puppy.
“Good. ” That is if you considered your foster mom and dad getting into a screaming match and throwing everyone’s gifts into the fireplace a good Christmas. I’d always dreamed of spending my Christmas in a hellhole basement watching my two best friends get stoned.