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Leaving Paradise, Page 2

Simone Elkeles

Page 2


  "Eight. "

  "An eight?"

  It might even be a nine.

  "If you work hard now, the payoff will show later," he says.

  I dont answer, but keep the increased pressure on my foot. He leans back and lowers my foot. Phew, thats over.

  "Great. Now keep your legs straight and alternate bending them one at a time. "

  I start with my right leg. The accident didnt mess it up too much and the scars have healed. For the most part.

  But when I have to bend my left leg, it feels like a weight is attached to it. I bend it an inch at a time. Just lifting my leg makes me sweat like a long-distance runner. The word pathetic pretty much sums up my seventeen-year-old life.

  "A little more," Robert says just as Im about to lower it. "Whats your pain level from one to ten?"

  Before I can answer a nine, his cell phone rings. And rings. And rings. "Arent you going to answer it?" I ask.

  "Not while I have a client. Keep bending those legs, Maggie. "

  "Maybe its important," I say with hope in my voice.

  "If it is, theyll leave a message. Dr. Gerrard tells me youll be leaving us in January," he says as I alternate legs.

  "Yep," I say between clenched teeth. "I got a scholarship to go to Spain for a semester. I had to petition for an extension because of the infection. "

  Robert whistles appreciatively. "Spain, huh? Youre a lucky lady. "

  Lucky? I am not lucky. Lucky people dont get hit by cars and have to go through painful physical therapy. Lucky people dont have divorced parents and a dad they see once a year. Lucky people have friends. Now that I think about it, Im probably the unluckiest person in the entire universe.

  I endure leg torture for another twenty minutes. Im so ready to leave, but I know its not over. The last thing Robert does in physical therapy is massage my leg muscles. I pull down my workout pants and sit on the metal table in my shorts.

  "Is the redness fading?" Robert asks as he rubs medicated cream on my leg with gloved hands.

  "I dont know," I say. "I dont like to look at it. " In fact, Id look anywhere except my scarred left leg. Its ugly, as if a two-year-old drew red lines with a crayon up and down my calf and thigh. But the marks arent from a crayon. Theyre from my various surgeries after Caleb Becker hit me while driving drunk.

  I try to forget about Caleb, but I cant. Hes embedded into my brain like cancer. My nightmares of the accident have stopped, though, thank God. Those lasted for over six months. I hate Caleb. I hate what he did to me and Im glad hes far away. I try not to think about where hes gone. If I think about it too hard, Ill probably feel guilty. So I dont think about it and trudge through my life ignoring the parts thatll pull me under so far I wont be able to get up.

  As Robert studiously massages my leg muscles, I wince.

  "It shouldnt hurt when I do this," he says.

  "It doesnt. " Its just . . . I dont like people touching my scars. I cant even stomach touching them.

  Robert examines my leg. "The deep redness will fade eventually. Give it a few more months. "

  Robert finally announces hes finished. As I put my workout pants back on, he writes something down in my file. His pen moves faster than I can talk.

  "What are you writing?" I ask warily.

  "Just evaluating your progress. Im requesting Dr. Gerrard come visit during your therapy next week. "

  Dont panic, Maggie, I tell myself. "Why?"

  "Id like to switch up your program. "

  "I dont like the sound of that. "

  Robert pats me on the back. "Dont worry, Maggie. We just need to come up with a physical therapy plan you can do in Spain without me. "

  Physical therapy in Spain? Not exactly what I imagined myself doing while overseas. I dont tell this to Robert. Instead, I give him a weak smile.

  After my appointment, I head to Auntie Maes Diner where my mom works. I know its not glamorous, but she had to get a job when my dad left two years ago. Her boss, Mr. Reynolds, is pretty nice and gave her time off a lot when I was in the hospital. Were not rich, but we have a roof over our heads and Auntie Maes Diner food in our stomachs.

  I sit down at a table and my mom goes in the kitchen to get dinner for me. Im about to read a book when I look up and see Danielle, Brianne, and my cousin Sabrina enter the restaurant. God, they look so . . . perfect.

  I used to be friends with Danielle and Brianne. Leah Becker and I used to hang out with them all the time. The four of us were on the high school tennis team and inseparable since our first tennis lesson at the Paradise Community Center when we were nine years old. Sabrina was the outsider, the non-athlete. I remember Mom making me ask Sabrina to tag along with my friends when we went out.

  The accident turned Paradise upside down. When Caleb hit me, he not only destroyed my leg, he also destroyed my friendship with his twin sister, Leah, and Moms friendship with Mrs. Becker. Theres an invisible fence now between our house and the Beckers house where there once was an open-door policy.

  At first I didnt have time to miss Leah; in the hospital my phone rang constantly. My mom kept busy answering calls and urging me to cut my conversations short so I could concentrate on healing. But as the months passed, the calls dwindled, then finally stopped altogether. Everyone else got on with their life while I recovered at home.

  Sabrina used to come over and give me updates on school gossip. Now my cousin is close friends with Brianne and Danielle, which is totally strange because before the accident they didnt give her the time of day.

  Ive never asked Sabrina about Leah . . . and Sabrina never offers any information. Leahs brother went to jail because of me. I was sure she hated me because of it. "Wed literally gone from best friends to strangers overnight.

  Every time I think of going back to school on Monday, my stomach starts to do flips. Ive been home-schooled by public tutors assigned by the school district almost my entire junior year because of the infection in my leg after my first surgery. Now Im a senior. I dont know which will be worse; getting out of the house or going to school and facing all the kids there. What if I run into Leah? What should I say?

  My cousin and old friends are standing at the hostess stand, waiting to be seated. Okay, so its times like these I wish Mom didnt work as a waitress. Knowing she wears a pink polyester uniform with buttons that read ASK ME ABOUT MY DOUBLE DECKERS doesnt usually bother me. But that, on top of having her serve my former friends, makes me want to hide under the table.

  Mom walks out from the back kitchen with my dinner. I watch in agony as she spots Danielle, Brianne, and Sabrina. Her eyes light up. "Hi, girls!" She waves at me to get my attention. "Look Maggie, its your friends and cousin!"

  Brianne and the others give my mom fake smiles. Mom is oblivious.

  I give a little half wave and look down at a tiny chip in the corner of the table, hoping my mom will get the hint.

  "Why dont you sit with Maggie? Shes all alone," I hear Mom say.

  Why doesnt she just tell them Im a loser now, too? Maybe I should get a big "L" for "loser" button and pin it to the front of my shirt.

  The girls, including my cousin, just look at each other and shrug. "Sure. "

  Why pretend to be friends and be all fakey? Its not worth it.

  "Hi," I say when Mom leads them to my table and places my favorite dinner in front of me: a French dip, split pea soup, and a side of fries with gravy.

  "Mrs. Armstrong, whats your double deckers?" Brianne asks.

  The rest of the girls snicker while I sink deeper into my chair.

  Mom doesnt flinch and goes right into her spiel. "We have a new selection of double decker sandwiches with turkey and bacon layered with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and our special sauce. We also have new roast beef and cheese double deckers. They all come with two layers of bread in between. "

  Danielle looks like shes going to be sick. "My arteries are clogging up just hearing about all that cholest
erol. "

  "Forget the cholesterol," Sabrina says. "Two layers of bread? Carb city. "

  Since when did my cousin become concerned about carbs? I look down at my plate. Carbs and more carbs, cholesterol and more cholesterol.

  "Ill have a Diet Coke and a side salad, Mrs. Armstrong," Brianne says.

  "Me, too," Sabrina says. "And me," Danielle chimes in.

  "We have thousand island, blue cheese, ranch, low-fat Italian . . . "

  "Thousand island for me," Sabrina says. "On the side. "

  Danielle furrows her waxed brows, thinking it over. "I guess Ill take the low-fat Italian. On the side. "

  Brianne cocks her head to the side and says, "No dressing. "

  No dressing? What happened to pigging out on chips and pizza? Ive only been away a year and Im totally lost.

  Mom leaves to enter the orders, and Im left with my salad-eating cousin, ex-friends . . . and my French dip, pea soup, fries and gravy. I was seriously hungry before, but now I cant eat.

  Brianne fumbles through her purse and pulls out a small mirror.

  "Give me that when youre done," Sabrina says. When my cousin has the mirror, she attempts to check out the back of her head. Which she really cant do with one mirror, but Im not going to break that news to her.

  "What are you doing, Sabrina?" Danielle asks.

  "I think I need to get my hair cut before tomorrow. "

  Danielle laughs. "Girls, stop freaking out. Its a party, not a presidential ball. "

  "What party?" I ask, then want to die for asking.

  Obviously I wasnt invited. I dont want to go, anyway. But now it looks like I want to go.

  The girls eye each other. They dont want to tell me about the patty. Ugh, why did I even ask?

  "A back-to-school party," Danielle finally says. "At Brian Newcombs house. "

  Wouldnt you know, Mom comes with their Diet Cokes and an extra large piece of pie for me at that exact same moment. "Oh, a party! When? Maggie would LOVE to go to a party, wouldnt you honey?"

  Instead of answering, I bite off a huge chunk of the French dip. It saves me from having to answer, but now I feel like Im going to gag on the gargantuan piece of beef in my mouth.

  Brianne looks like shes gonna puke just watching me.

  "Uh, you can come if you want, Maggie," my cousin says.

  It was definitely a pity invite, anyone but a waitress at Auntie Maes Diner would realize that. Im not going to the party. I just dont know how Im going to break it to Mom and let my ex-friends off the hook at the same time.

  I take my time chewing.

  Before the accident I was a sophomore on the varsity tennis team. But now as a senior I wouldnt even make the freshman squad. Not that I would want to, because then Id have to wear those short tennis skirts. Im never wearing a tennis skirt again because Im never showing anyone my ugly leg scars. Besides, you cant play tennis when you cant even walk straight.

  As I swallow the last of the wad of beef, I realize theyre all waiting for an answer.

  Umm . . .

  The hopeful look on my moms face makes me realize she feels sorry for me. As if I care that Im not friends with them anymore. Mom cares. Shes got to deal with paying for half of the medical bills that the insurance didnt cover. My parents are divorced and I hate feeling like Im adding to her stress. Guilt, like a big wad of roast beef, settles in my French dip-filled gut.