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With Malice(8)
Eileen Cook

“I’m just going to get some air,” I said. Neither of the aides looked up from what they were doing. I pushed the wheels forward. My heart was pounding like I was sneaking out for a wild weekend instead of going down the corridor. I stopped just outside the room. Everyone moved around at what seemed like a thousand miles an hour.

Pull your shit together, I admonished myself. If I stayed there much longer gawping at everything, Lisa or another nurse was going to notice and roll me right back into my room. I pushed myself down the hall. My leg on the raised footrest stuck straight out from the chair, like the prow of a ship. I said a quick prayer that no one would run into it, because I was certain I would end up writhing on the floor in pain while Lisa and my mom stood over me telling me they’d told me so.

There was a metal cart parked halfway down the hall. I paused. I could see a distorted reflection of myself in it. At least I hoped it was distorted. I touched my swollen forehead, my finger tracing the stitches that made a black line down to my eyebrow. Let’s hope InStyle calls for the Frankenstein look for summer. My lower lip was also puffy, and my hair hung lifeless and greasy. Maybe my mom was right about not having a lot of visitors for a while. I pressed a bit on my swollen bruised lip, wanting to feel something. I knew I’d been in an accident, but it almost felt like it had happened to someone else. It was like pain was the only thing grounding me in the here and now.

Time to get moving. I pushed the chair along. My arms were already tired and my shoulders sore. There were deep scratches down both of my forearms as if I’d taken a swan dive through a window. Simone had better be grateful for this call. I was going to need a nap by the time I was done. Clearly, I hadn’t been doing enough cardio before the accident. I was in crap shape.

The TV in the lounge was showing Judge Judy. She was eviscerating some white-trash guy who’d stiffed his girlfriend on a giant cell-phone bill. Then she turned on the girlfriend for being stupid enough to buy him the phone in the first place. Beauty fades; stupid is forever. Sing it, sister.

I stopped in front of the vending machine, my mouth watering. SunChips, Doritos, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, packages of artificial-ingredient-stuffed oatmeal cookies, Mounds bars. Oh, coconut-filled Mounds. Only you understand me. My hand pressed against the glass. Then it hit me. I didn’t have any money. Not a cent. My bag wasn’t in my hospital room either. My mom must have it. Shit. I glanced around to see if there was anyone who might lend a girl a dollar for a snack treat. The waiting room was empty. I couldn’t get a break.

It didn’t matter. Simone would bring food when she came to visit. It was a mystery how she stayed so thin. My mom called her the locust. She could clean out a pantry in no time straight. I only had to look at a cupcake, and my butt would start getting larger. Simone said I was curvy, but everyone knows that’s best-friend-speak for pushing chunky.

I picked up the phone and dialed. Thank God, Simone’s number was still in my head and hadn’t fallen into one of the black holes. I clutched the receiver and waited for her to pick up, but the number just rang and rang. Her voicemail didn’t pick up. Shit. I couldn’t text her without my phone. I hung up and decided to leave a message for her on her home landline.

I was shocked when her mom picked up. She was never home in the middle of the day. “Hey, Ms. M,” I said.

“Jill? Why are you calling here?” Her voice was ragged.

There was a loud rustle and then Simone’s dad got on the phone. “Jill, you shouldn’t have called. We have nothing to say. I made that very clear to your mother.” He slammed the phone down.

I pulled the receiver back and stared at it. I waited for something in my head to click into place and explain what had just happened, but there was the same empty black space. It was possible Simone had blamed me for something to get out of trouble. Her parents could be freakishly strict. Last year they’d found a bottle of vodka hidden in her closet, and she’d convinced them it was mine and she was only hiding it for me. And she wondered why they didn’t like me much. She was the wild one, but as far as her parents knew, every bad decision we’d ever made had been my idea. The truth was Simone was the one who double-dared me to do everything from stealing lip gloss from Walmart in seventh grade to drawing mustaches on Heidi Villers’s student-council election posters.

“It looks like you’re up and about,” a voice said behind me.

I spun the chair around, and a guy in a suit stood there. He had almost a military look, short hair and one of those superhero jawlines. Figures a good-looking guy would approach me the one time I look like something the cat hacked up on the rug.

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