Prompt: Two characters are in an accident and end up sharing a hospital room – tell their story. What a perfect prompt because it gave me an excuse to explore an idea I’ve wanted to tinker with for a while! Here’s hoping you like this one because I think this is something I’d like to expand on in the future. 🙂
“My grandma says there are two kinds of people in the world: the stupids and the idiots. You? You’re an idiot.”
I can’t place the voice. Literally. I can’t tell what direction it’s coming from or who it belongs to. My head feels like an elephant is sitting on it while I’m underwater and someone is kicking it over and over again. And it’s not just my head. My whole body feels completely wrecked, like I’ve been hit by a bus.
The thought strikes me along with a flash of memory, propelling my eyes open.
Big mistake. Huge.
Pure white light pierces my eyes setting of sirens in my head at a frequency only dogs ought to be able to hear. The sound assaults my ears and my churning gut. Slamming my eyes shut, instinct kicks in. I roll over and puke.
“Oh boy,” she says when I’m done, my stomach completely void of my dinner, snacks, and whatever the hell it was I’d been drinking last night. I didn’t even bother to ask. Why would I? The whole point of drinking it was to not know, to forget for a while.
“You want a cup of water or something? Or a nurse?”
“You want to stop shouting?” She’s not actually shouting, it’s just that her voice is bouncing around inside my head like an echo in an empty room. So yeah, I’m being an asshole but I don’t care. My eyes still shut, I put together a mental picture despite the protests of my mind that wants nothing more than to be left alone. The hair on my arms and back of my neck stands at attention thanks to the frigid breeze coming from somewhere and are itchy against the scratchy bed sheet. I can’t tell if the pressure across my abdomen is from the puking or from the waistband of my boxers. The room smells clean, but not in a laundry detergent kind of way or even a lemon fresh kind of way.
When I dare to open my eyes again, the sight is almost exactly what I’m expecting: white walls yellowed by florescent lights and God only knows what else, a monitor next to my bed declaring that yes indeed my heart is still doing its job, and a sad, faded plastic chair for doctors, nurses, and visitors for people who have people in their lives that actually give a shit that they’re in the hospital.
So the fact that there’s a girl in this chair sitting and talking to me is a bit surprising. Like I said, almost exactly what I was expecting.
Now that I have a face to go with her voice, though, there is something vaguely familiar about her. She’s pretty, but not in an obvious way. She’s not hot, but the longer I look at her, the less I mind looking at her. It’s pleasant. Everything’s in the right place. Not too small, not to big, just right. But then again, maybe it’s because she’s familiar. Maybe I met her at the party.
Maybe we got to know each other a little bit.
Her hair is long and straight and brown, except it’s got a bit of a red halo effect with the way the lights are behind her. Her eyes are brown with gold flecks and sort of almond shaped, and there are freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her arms are crossed and she’s not smiling, but there’s a crease between her eyebrows, scrunched together in either disgust or concern. I’m really hoping since she seems familiar and she’s here, it’s the latter.
The obvious question can wait. I’m selfish like that. “What happened?” I start propping myself up on my elbow into a sitting position, but holding my head up is an intensely bad idea. I collapse back against the pillow, wincing at the impact.
“Car crash,” mystery girl says simply. “Do you remember anything about tonight?” There’s no malice in her voice. Slight annoyance, sure, but maybe I deserve that. It’s hard to say considering, no, I don’t really remember a whole lot. I tip my head side to side as an answer. “Ah. Well. Basically it goes like this. You got completely, totally, utterly drunk. I mean, I didn’t see you drinking that much, but the nurses say your blood alcohol level was insane. Then you decided that a joy ride would be a good idea. Then you crashed and here we are.”
I roll my eyes and am rewarded with a jabbing pain right behind them. “And why are you here?”
“Because I was in the truck with you.” My eyes snap open again and I tilt towards her. Now I notice that her arms aren’t crossed, exactly. There’s an ace bandage around her wrist and is cradled in a standard-issue sling, the navy blue fabric the same color as the hoodie she’s wearing. When she leans forward to press a button on the bed forcing me into a sitting-up position, I see the cut on her forehead held closed with tiny dressings mostly concealed by her long bangs.
A bitter taste coats my mouth, a combination of vodka and blood and guilt. I swallow hard but my stomach doesn’t appreciate anything new coming down. “With me?”
“You let me drive drunk?”
Now there’s absolutely no chance she’s displaying anything like concern for me right now. Her eyes blaze. “I didn’t let you do anything. Your supposed friends, those dingbats you were trying so badly to impress for God only knows what reason, they’re the ones who let you. I was trying to stop you, Jamie Best.”
The words are acid on her tongue except for those last two. My name. She wobbles, not much, but enough for me to notice even in my addled state.
It finally brings me around to asking the obvious question I skipped over before. “And who are you?”
The wind vanishes from her sails. She slumps backwards, her shoulders dropping. “Elle. Elle Blake. We’ve had classes together all year. I sit behind you in senior survey.”
“Huh.” So not the party. Not that she’s exactly striking me as the kind of person who will let any guy get to know her at a party.
Actually, she doesn’t really seem like the kind of person who goes to parties. Ever.
“How’re you feeling?”
She nods. “But like any particular kind? They were worried about your head but except for the part about you getting tanked at a boarding school blowout on a Friday night, the fact that we’re having a coherent conversation leads me to believe that everything there is in working order.”
“Oh you’re delightful. What a warm and wonderful personality to wake up to.”
“Shut up. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.”
“Could you though? If you really wanted me to feel better – ”
“I said shut up. God, you really are terrible at following directions. Mrs. Hale was right about you. In one ear and out the other.”
The room starts to fade to black around the edges. Sleep, a voice tells me, soft and gentle. It’s okay, Jamie. Just sleep.
When I wake up again, I momentarily panic at the unfamiliar setting until I see Elle. She’s still in her chair, curled up with her feat underneath her, her free arm gingerly cradling her injured one. I must have been more out of it than I thought and for a really long time because the cut on her forehead already looks significantly better than it did before.
And even though I was a dick, she kept her word. She really didn’t go anywhere.
I make another go at trying to sit up on my own, but a grizzly voice startles. “You really don’t want to do that,” he says.
My head snaps in the direction of the sound. A man stands leaning against the doorway looking like he’s ready to go to a lumberjack convention: red flannel shirt, olive green down vest, blue jeans, and work boots. Everything about this guy is Practical. Reasonable. No excess.
Not even when it comes to talking to a banged up kid in the hospital. He keeps his arms crossed as he comes into the room. We silently size each other up. I’d guess we’re about the same height, which is to say above six-feet, but where I know I look pathetic in my hangover haze, this guy is brawny. Aggressive eyebrows bunch together in a scowl, there are already early lines on his face, and there’s gray in his temples and stubble.
“So. Heard that you had yourself a bit of a night.” His voice is water trickling over gravel. Smooth and rough at the same time.
He nods towards Elle, still asleep next to him. “You owe her a hell of a lot from what I hear.”
“I don’t really remember much.”
“Don’t remember? Or don’t want to remember?”
“I was drinking.” I mean it as a defense, but something about his icy blue eyes and thin lips pursed together turn me sheepish, the words dissolve into something so obviously unimpressive: an excuse.
“Ah,” he nods. “So, the second one, then.” His face softens when he looks at Elle. “She fill you in on what got you here?”
“Some. Just said it was my fault, she tried to stop me from driving but I crashed.”
“No, Sir.” I’m not quite sure where the ‘sir’ comes from. I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone that in my whole life and actually meant it, but it feels like the right thing to say.
“Alright. Well, it’s her call.”
“It’s about time someone recognized that,” Elle yawns. Her eyes are still closed, but she smiles in the direction of the man. “Better late than never, I guess.” She opens her eyes. “Hi,” she says, first to me, then to our visitor.
“Don’t you think you’re off the hook just yet, young lady.” Calling his voice water is wrong. I realize now it’s more like whiskey. It can be smooth, but can just as easily have a sharp bite.
A politician’s son needs to know these things.
Still, when her big brown eyes look into his beady blue ones, his mouth twists into a jagged sort of smile, one that clearly doesn’t come out very often. Years suddenly vanish from his face. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“But you screwed up with this one.” He nods in my direction.
“Okay. Well let me talk to the doctor, get him checked out and we can all get back to campus.”
“Okay.” He gives her a squeeze on the shoulder, the one free of the sling, and clomps out towards the nurse’s station. Elle watches him make his way through the door before turning to me. “How’re you feeling? Any better?”
“Yeah,” I say, surprised that I mean it. I’m a long way from 100%, but even in the last few hours, it’s not as bad as it was. “So who’s your friend?”
“That’s Gerry. He’s my hall director. I had to call somebody to get us.” Shit. I hadn’t even thought about school. I wonder how long until old Mom and Dad will be getting the phone call that the Bartlet Academy might not be the best fit for the eternal pain in their sides, their son James Best, Jr. “He won’t tell the school,” she says simply as if reading my thoughts.
“He won’t tell them more than they need to know. We were out, we got hurt, we’re both fine. No need for any long distance phone calls to parents.”
“I don’t recognize him.”
“Well you’ve only been at Bartlet for four weeks. I know it’s a small school but you can’t actually expect to know everyone. I don’t and this is my fourth year. Besides, he’s not the most social guy ever. Our dorm sort of has a reputation for keeping to ourselves.”
And now I remember where I know Elle from. Not from the class we’re apparently in together five days a week. Not from the dining hall where everyone eats or even last night’s party.
Four weeks ago, Elle was my welcome guide. Suddenly I can see it, see her. Before I knew the different color plaids people wore as part of our uniforms represented what dorm we lived in, what hall we called our home-away-from-home. I didn’t know there was anything special about the Asian chick or the fact that her skirt and tie were gray plaid. She was just there, annoying the crap out of me just by merely existing and being polite to my stiff parents.
“You live in Eden Hall.”
“You’re on scholarship.”
She nods. “Everyone there is.”
I open my mouth, pause, then decide what the hell. “And you were at a party?”
It’s the exact wrong thing to say. She rolls her eyes and groans. “Look, just because we’re scholarship kids doesn’t mean we’re pathetic. You think your parents sent you to Bartlet to punish you. Fine. That’s your deal. But just know that whatever those jerks you’ve started to think of as friends have told you is probably crap. Most people at our school actually care about school, about doing something with their lives, about making the world better. I’m one of them. But that doesn’t mean I’m allergic to fun. Yes, I went to a party. It’s allowed. And you’re lucky I did otherwise…”
It’s not just her cheeks that are bright red. The crimson spreads to her ears and down her neck, disappearing below her shirt.
“I’m sorry. It’s just…Your hall just has a sort of anti-social reputation.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten all riled up like that… It’s just.” She takes a deep breath to collect herself before looking at me. “The academy is an opportunity for me. I’m too sensitive about people who don’t see it the same way.”
“Maybe you’re right to be that way.” An opportunity. That’s one way to put it. An opportunity to see if it’s possible to piss my parents off from hundreds of miles away from them and the press. A chance to see what’s more important to Dad, his reelection campaign or his own son. A chance to pull the biggest prank on all of them, to show them that even though I’ve been exiled they can’t ignore me forever because this place may be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s still got the Internet.
It’s a small world after all.
Of course the earnest look in Elle’s eyes tell me her pursuits and intentions are probably much nobler than mine. That she actually believes the shit she’s saying.
Eden Hall is probably a palace in her eyes, but just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it can’t also be a prison.
I flash her a smile, the one I’ve perfected at plenty of campaign rallies and beneath dark bleachers at my old schools. The one that has no soul behind it, but it does the job because people only see what they want to see.
But Elle Blake doesn’t look at my dazzling pearly whites. She’s looking right into my eyes and she’s frowning. “I’m going to go find Gerry.”
After a final check from the doctor, I’m released into Gerry’s custody. The ride back to Bartlet is full of heavy silence. Gerry doesn’t even turn on the radio, nor does he ask before rolling down his window the whole way. The cool autumn air stings my face and whips through my hair here in the back seat. The trees are still mostly green, but as we speed by there’s the occasional shock of red, orange, and yellow smearing into the mix.
Finally, Elle speaks, but not to me. “There,” she says from the passenger seat, pointing to something ahead on the driver’s side of the car. Gerry slows down to a crawl as we all look to the left.
Two guys in grease stained coverall uniforms yell back and forth to each other. One’s on the street, the other is driving a tow truck. The rusty beast groans but is soon successful in separating what used to be a pickup truck from a roadside tree.
The driver’s side is a little banged up from where it came into contact with other nearby trees.
The passenger side is non-existent. Instead it’s a mangled mess of metal and broken glass, completely crumpled into itself.
“Lord almighty.” Gerry doesn’t so much say the words as they simply appear out of his mouth. “Wow, kid.”
I’m not sure which one of us he’s talking to. At the moment I’m too distracted from the twisted feeling in my stomach like I’m going to be sick again. “Pull over,” I gasp. He does.
I stand on the side of the road and take long breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Three shrinks ago said this was a calming technique to help keep panic attacks at bay and keep the oxygen coming or some bullshit like that. Whatever. I try it, but it’s not helping.
“Hey.” Elle stands next to me. I can feel her watching me watch the mess.
“I did that.”
Her breath is as shaky as mine. “Yes.”
“I was drunk and I crashed, and I know I’m an asshole but…” I hang my head, ashamed. “I can’t believe… I can’t believe I turned the car like that.”
“What do you mean?”
I point to the damage. “What kind of horrible person turns so the impact will be on the passenger side if there’s a passenger? I’m a fucking monster.”
Fallen leaves crunch beneath her feet and her small hand rests on my shoulder. “You’re not a monster. And you didn’t turn the car.”
“I didn’t?” I turn to face her, surprised at how close her face is to mine.
“You didn’t. And you said so yourself, you don’t remember anything that happened last night. But I do. And I promise, you did not turn the car.”
I barely know her, but I believe her. Or maybe it’s just that I want to believe her, and for now that’s enough.
“So now what?”
“Now no more drinking.” And I mean it. Or at least I want to mean it. It’s one thing when I hurt myself, but it takes this sight for me to realize it’s not just me. Elle got hurt too. I don’t know how she’s not dead right now given the damage I’ve done.
“Sounds like a good place to start.” She pats me on the shoulder. “Like I said before. Idiot, but not stupid.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“I am. Come on. Time to go.” She goes back to the car and I hear her talking to Gerry, but I still need a minute.
Nothing about any of this makes sense. How did I end up in that hospital bed if Elle was the one who took the impact? And even if she was just being a Good Samaritan, there must be another reason she got in that car with me. And why did I do it?
And what the hell am I going to do now?
“Jamie,” she calls gently. “We’ve got to get home.”
Home. I guess that’s what this place is now. A boarding school on the border between Illinois and Wisconsin, on the edge of land and water, where the residents aren’t kids anymore but we sure as hell aren’t adults either.
Or maybe it’s just me that’s stuck in this bizarre in-between.
I was born in Chicago but the city never felt like home. It was a playground. A place where I ran wild and did what I wanted and no one cared.
No one. Not even my parents.
But here, even though I’m pretty sure she should want me dead right now, there’s a person who kept her word and stayed.
So maybe this is just as good a place as any to start calling home.
Sarah’s Prompt: Curses! No really, that’s your prompt. In the spirit of Halloween, someone in your story has a curse. Do they fight it? Accept it? What is it? Is it just a part of life? Would everyone consider it a curse, or just that person? Let your imagination run wild!