In Her Wake
Page 4

 K.A. Tucker

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“It’s good. I work with this team of people. They’re really nice. They . . .” She rambles on about her coworkers and her boss, and about the article she had to fact-check today. Though I’m not listening to her actual words, I let the soft hum of her voice drown the voice spewing dark thoughts within my subconscious, even if for just a while.
“Who’s winning?” she suddenly asks, balling her hands tightly. A sign that she’s irritated. I guess she noticed that I had tuned her out.
“Detroit.” The Red Wings—my and Sasha’s favorite team and one reason why we chose Michigan State—are about to win the Stanley Cup and I couldn’t care less. It’s just a way to pass the time for me now.
Suddenly Madison is standing in front of me, blocking my view of the screen. Her bottom lip quivering, her eyes watering. “Do you still want me?” The question is soft, almost a whisper.
I blow a mouthful of air out, sufficiently gutted by how vulnerable she looks right now. “Of course, I do, Mads. You know I still do. It’s . . .” I dip my head. “It’s only been five weeks. And it’s just . . .” What is it, exactly? I mean, the injuries are real. The grief is real. And the guilt gnaws away at my core.
I lift my gaze to find Madison pushing the sleeves of her blue dress down over the balls of her shoulders. The shape slackens as the material slides over her curves, falling to her ankles. Broken bones or not, blood rushes downward fast as she reaches back to unfasten her bra, letting it drop. Her panties follow.
And then she just stands there, waiting, her fingers twitching nervously at her sides.
I release the air in my lungs slowly as I reach down and unbutton my jeans. “I don’t know how much you’ll enjoy this.”
“I want to try.” She reaches down as I lift my body to help slide my pants over my hips. Lifting one knee and then the other, she carefully straddles my lap and then edges forward, her breaths coming fast and short.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want this. Or, that a part of me didn’t want this. The evidence is right there, between us.
And yet, it feels all wrong.
Reaching down, she guides me into her. I groan with the feel of her warmth, letting my head fall back into the pillow, and my thoughts scatter.
Maybe this is all I need to start feeling alive again.
Hi, my name is Tara. I’m a paramedic. Can you hear me? You were in an accident. We’re going to help you.
Her voice, her words, they linger in my mind like a broken record long after I’ve come to, my body drenched in sweat, my breathing ragged.
It was only a dream, I tell myself.
The worst night of my life is over, I remind myself.
I’m just living in its wake.
Chapter 5
July 2008
 “0.14. Almost double the legal limit!”
My bedroom is situated at the back of our house but I have no trouble hearing the words coming from the kitchen, laced with anger.
I guess my dad finally got his hands on the toxicology report.
“Do you know how fast they were going? Dammit! I never thought I’d wish that these trucks weren’t built with black boxes.” I can picture my dad pacing, his hands resting on his head. It’s what he does when he’s mad enough to swear, which isn’t frequent. “My insurance company is going to have a field day with this! I won’t be able to afford the premiums by the time they’re done with me. As it is, we’re lucky that we had the highest coverage we could possibly have.”
“Lucky.” Great choice of words, Dad.
“And a lawsuit?” my mom asks.
My dad groans. “What a goddamn mess. Out-of-state accident, our son’s friend driving. Drunk! If not for the no-fault insurance laws, we’d be selling our house right now. As it is, the family of that boy—Billy—are looking for more than what the state laws are forcing the Clearys’ insurance company to pay out. If they can’t get it, then yes, we should prepare ourselves for a lawsuit. Against us and maybe even Cyril and Susan, though that probably won’t get too far.”
“But it’ll still cost them in legal fees, won’t it?
“No, it won’t. The firm will take care of it. The partners have already agreed to the hit for billing hours if it comes to that.”
“And have you talked to the girl’s aunt about the medical bills?”
He sighs. “She isn’t getting out of the hospital anytime soon. Our insurance and the family’s medical insurance aren’t going to cover everything. Her aunt seems willing to refrain from a lawsuit if we help cover those.”
“Yes, of course. I suppose that will have to come from our fund?”
“I don’t see how we have any other choice.”
My stomach curls. “The fund” means only one thing to my parents: their retirement dream—a summer home in Cape Cod, right by the ocean. They started saving for that the day they got married. Loose change at first, neither of them able to set aside much more. Though I don’t know exactly how much they have socked away now, I have to expect it’s a good chunk. My dad’s always been good with managing their money.
Now, not only have I ruined their reality; I’ve ruined their dreams, too.
There’s a pause, and then, “What the hell was Cole thinking, handing the keys to him! The hospital report put him at 0.10. He would have been better off driving himself!”
I crack my door in time to hear my mom’s rushed hiss, “Lower your voice! And don’t you dare say that! Every time I think about it, I—” Her voice cuts out with a ragged sob. “We could have lost him in that accident, too.”
My dad’s voice lowers, but I can still hear him. “You don’t think we’ve lost him?”
Her sigh lingers in the air. “It’s only been two months. He’ll come around.”
“Does anyone ever come around from something like this, Bonnie? Six people died. That poor girl is still lying in a hospital bed because of his recklessness.”
“It wasn’t—”
“He was the damn DD!”
“Enough!” Hearing my mom scream at my dad spikes the hairs on my neck. It’s so unlike her. Unlike them, to fight like this.
An eerie silence hangs and then, “Has he even gotten out of bed yet today?”
I glance over my shoulder at the angry red numbers on my clock. Two p.m. To be fair, I didn’t fall asleep until after six this morning. Why is my dad even home at two in the afternoon? Unless . . . oh, right, it’s Saturday. I’ve lost track of the days, especially now that Madison has stopped coming over every night after work. She says it’s because she’s busy. I know she’s lying.
Secretly, I’m relieved. Those daily doses of guilt every time she sat down next to me on the couch were getting to be too much.
“Do Cyril and Susan know yet?” my mom asks.
“No. I’m going to go over and tell them now.” His shoes drag along the floor as he heads for the front door.
I shut my door and fall back into bed, glad that I didn’t bother to pull the curtains open.
Hi, my name is Tara. I’m a paramedic. Can you hear me? You were in an accident. We’re going to help you.
“I don’t need help. I’m fine,” I hear myself say. I must be, because there are no straps to hold me back from rolling onto my side, ready to get up. Until I see Sasha lying next to me, his lifeless gaze trained on me.
And I suddenly I can’t move.
I can’t shut my eyes.
I can’t even blink.
I can’t do anything to get away from Sasha and his dead stare.
The grainy newspaper print didn’t do her justice.
With its black-and-white limitations, it certainly didn’t highlight the sparkle in those pale blue irises, or her hair—the same color as the sweet red peppers my mom has growing in the backyard garden.
Kacey Cleary is pretty. Really pretty.
Or, at least she was. I have no idea what shape she was in coming out of that wreck, other than “critical.” After what we did to her, is the face I’m staring at now still the same? Or has it been horribly mangled? I wonder what she’s doing at this very moment, and that constant ball of sickness in the pit of my stomach flares with the thought.
“I thought you said Facebook was stupid?”
I jump at the sudden sound of Madison’s voice behind me, the low music playing over the stereo system masking her approach.
“I said it sounded lame.” I push the screen down, out of sight. It seems like everyone and their mothers are on Facebook nowadays. Everyone except for me. When I want to talk to my friends, I just pick up the phone. I’ve never seen the value of this social media phenomenon.
Until now.
Because Kacey has a profile on there. A profile that’s not locked down and is bursting with posts and pictures of her—with her friends, her teammates, her family.
The parents, the boyfriend, the best friend who I helped kill.
The little black-haired sister whose face is a carbon copy of hers. Who’s now an orphan.
There must be over two hundred pictures posted on here. And I’ve sat on this couch for days, laptop in hand, memorizing every last one. Kacey and her best friend, Jenny, in bikinis, holding hands and jumping off a rocky ledge into the lake below, their mouths open with exhilarated screams. Kacey, wrestling with her father in the grass and smearing what appears to be melted chocolate all over his nose. Kacey and her boyfriend, Billy, holding hands, laughing, stealing kisses.
Kacey, smiling devilishly at the camera. Always smiling.
Did that smile survive?
Along with the pictures are plenty of posts. Cute banter between her and her best friend, who apparently had a thing for Hannah Montana, while Kacey clearly did not. Hilarious one-liners between her dad and her, where her dad quotes old movies and she gives the most ridiculous answers back. Billy and her trying to outdo each other with the cheesiest “What do you call . . .?” jokes I’ve ever read.
Thanks to Facebook, I’ve learned that Kacey has a small army of friends who beg her to hang out with them on weekends. Sometimes she says yes, that Jenny and she will come. It’s never just her. And sometimes she says that she’s hanging out with her family that day. It’s so obvious that the Clearys were tight.
Her last post reads, “Better luck, next time, Saints! You can’t beat this redheaded Irish girl.” It’s dated April 25th.
The Friday of the accident.
After that, nothing but an endless stream of well wishes and prayers from friends and family fill her wall.
There isn’t a single response from Kacey.
But there are a slew of condemning messages about “the ass**les who did this to you.”
“Aren’t you sick of the dark?” Madison turns on a table lamp. She shivers against the cool basement air. “It’s beautiful out. Eighty-two degrees and blue skies.” Her eyes linger over my unshaven face, my rumpled jeans and T-shirt, and that deep furrow between her brows deepens. “When did you go outside last?”
Murphy hears the word “out” and his head pops up, his tail wagging. I push my laptop closed, half with reluctance and half with relief. “Not today.”
Not yesterday either.
I should probably take the poor dog for a walk. I can handle it now. The doctor cleared me for light exercise last week. My body—in decent shape before the accident, despite my shoulder injury—could use it now.
“Are your parents still at the office?” Madison asks as she perches herself on the edge of the couch as if trying to avoid the dirt. Or me.
Hell, I may not have shaved or chosen clean clothes, but I have showered. I don’t think I smell. I’m half-tempted to take a whiff of myself. But after spending the entire day flogging myself with pictures of dead strangers, I decide that I don’t really give a damn.
“Yeah. More and more lately. Dad’s got a big case, so . . .” So, he’s using it as an excuse to not come home. And when he does make an appearance, he’s got a tumbler full of scotch in hand. He doesn’t get shit-faced, but it’s still concerning. My dad’s never been one for hard liquor.
He and my mom also never fought. Sure, they’d have small spats over taking the trash out and lowering toilet seats, but there were never any major blowouts, no name-calling, no arguments that threw the household into a nuclear winter.
Lately, though, fighting is all they seem to do.
Growing up, my parents were the ones all my friends wanted to hang around. They liked to laugh and joke with everyone and never took anything too seriously. My mom was the agreeable chauffeur, and my dad loved swearing at the hockey commentators as much as we did. You’d never even guess that he’s a high-priced lawyer and my mom runs her own small but successful design firm. On weekends, my mom could be found in the kitchen with flour on her nose and my dad would spend hours trimming our front hedge to perfection.