Home > With Malice(10)

With Malice(10)
Eileen Cook

I wasn’t.

When I was around eight, I saw the movie Dumbo. A theater in town was showing it on the big screen, and my parents had taken me as a treat. It made me sob uncontrollably. I cried until I threw up, thinking about how unfair it all was. How Dumbo was alone and how everyone made fun of him. How his mother was locked up for just trying to help. For weeks after seeing the movie, I’d start crying if I saw anything that reminded me of the story. I couldn’t eat animal crackers without breaking down. My mom decided I was too sensitive for Disney. She was pretty sure seeing Bambi would kill me. It wasn’t until my dad left that I learned that there are more painful things than cartoon animals having a bad day, but crying about those doesn’t change reality either.

I lay in the hospital bed and stared up at the ceiling. In the far right corner, there was a tiny water stain shaped like an elephant. I’d been focusing on it, willing myself to let go, but everything inside me was locked in place.

Simone’s dead.

Dead.

Gone.

Passed away.

I could even say it in French, thanks to the two-year language requirement at our school. Simone est morte. It didn’t matter how I said it. The words just rolled around in my head like pool balls bouncing off the sides of the table, nothing sinking.

Simone couldn’t be dead. It wasn’t possible, like saying the sun was blue or that fish lived in the desert. Simone couldn’t be dead, because she was my best friend. We’d been friends since fourth grade. When we were ten, she fell off her bike and broke her arm, and I rode her all the way home on the back of my red Schwinn. She was the one who walked me through how to get a tampon in the first time and calmed me down when I was pretty sure I’d somehow managed to lose it up inside myself. She was who I told when I had my first kiss, and I was the only one who knew her dad had affairs and her mom put up with them. When my parents said they were getting divorced, Simone came over that night and held me while I cried. We were closer than sisters. We hung out with other people, but they were just extras. We were the core.

I couldn’t imagine my life without Simone in it. Of the two of us, Simone was the fun one. She made everything a party. Simone was Batman, I was Robin. Simone was Shrek, I was Donkey. Simone was Sherlock, I was Watson. The truth is no one wants Robin without Batman.

I could hardly remember a time before we were best friends. The idea that she was gone was incomprehensible and terrifying. I couldn’t fathom why she had even been in Italy. The trip had been expensive, and her parents didn’t have the money to send her. What had she been doing there?

The door squeaked open. “Jill?” My mom’s voice was tentative, as if she was afraid of me. Tish must have called. My dad was behind her. This was enough of a crisis that it merited even his attention.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I kept staring at the ceiling. They’d let me believe she was alive. They’d lied.

“We were going to,” Mom said.

“When?”

She touched my arm, and I yanked it away, sending a fresh spasm of pain into my shoulder. Mom sighed. “We didn’t want to overwhelm you with too much, too fast.”

“I was driving, wasn’t I?” I asked.

“Yes,” my dad said.

My stomach dropped. I’d known in my heart I must have been the driver, but I’d still wanted them to tell me something different. That explained why there was a lawyer involved. Now it wasn’t just that Simone was gone; it was that somehow this was my fault. Maybe her family was going to sue me.

“What happened?” I picked at the blanket. I’d worked free a loose thread and wound it tightly around my finger, feeling the tip go cold and bloodless.

“Have you remembered any more about the accident?” Mom asked.

“If I remembered, I wouldn’t have to—” The word disappeared. I grunted in frustration and hit the rail of the bed with my fist. I wanted to force the word out, but it wouldn’t come. I raised my arm again.

“Easy.” She put her hand on the rail, and before I could stop myself, my fist slammed down onto hers. She sucked in a gasp, yanking her hand back.

“I’m sorry,” I said. Guilt pressed down on my chest.

Mom had her hand cradled in her lap. “It’s fine.”

“This is why you didn’t want me to have a TV,” I said, putting the pieces together.

“There’s been a bit about the accident on the news.” She twisted her hands together in her lap.

“Why was I driving in Italy?”

“We don’t know,” Dad said. “The program doesn’t let kids drive over there. We’re not even sure how you got the car. Supposedly it was a rental car some idiot left the keys in. That was something we hoped you might remember, how it came to happen. You lost control. It went over a city wall.”

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