Brian and I left the locker room after my little melt down and headed over to the auditorium for rehearsals. I was exhausted. Who knew having a raving case of the Daffy Ducks could be so tiring? The time we had spent in the locker room made us very late. Ms. McDonald didn't seem too pleased, but the glare Brian leveled at her seemed to convince her that now was not the time to give us a lecture. Mary took one look at the two of us and knew something was wrong. She was winding up for a severe case of the 'mother hens' when I got to her. I knew she wanted to fire off a million questions at us, but Ms. McDonald wanted us rehearsing now, so Mary didn't say anything. Rehearsal went by at a slow crawl, and I begged off of dinner with everyone else at the end.
I was dreading school the next day, but was fairly certain that disappearing off the planet was not an option. I couldn't come up with a reason to join witness protection, so it was off to school for me. I had spent the whole night worrying that Brian would tell someone what had happened, suddenly view me as some kind of freak, or treat me like I was going to fall apart at the drop of a hat. I just wanted the previous day's events to disappear from his memory if possible.
I walked into the school still worrying about what Brian's reaction to me would be. I arrived at my locker to find him attempting to wrestle his tie into submission. The tie was winning, and I couldn't help but smile at him.
"Dude, gimme that thing before you hurt yourself," I said while laughing at him.
Brian turned around looking truly relieved to see me. "Man, I hate these damn things. I wanna kill the idiot that decided it looked nice to run around with a damn noose around your neck."
"I'm pretty sure you're too late to kill off the inventor of this particular fashion atrocity." I looped the tie around my neck, made a neat knot, loosened it and handed it back to him. "There you go. You know, you really should be able to tie the thing by now." All I could do was shake my head at him while he managed to mangle the knot I'd just made.
"I know how to tie a tie," he said a little defensively.
"Yep, I can tell," I said while bursting into laughter as he finally wrestled the tie into place. Brian turned around like he was really pissed at me, but he couldn't keep his face straight for long. Pretty soon he was laughing at himself too.
"Okay, okay, so I'm impaired when it comes to dress clothes," he said with a smirk.
"Walker, you're impaired when it comes to clothes in general. I'd suggest you just run around naked, except the sight would make everybody sick."
Brian reached over to smack my arm just as the bell rang. "Catch you later, Sam!"
I headed off to home room with a big grin on my face. I realized after I sat down that Brian hadn't said a word about the previous day's adventures. He continued to act as though nothing at all had happened. Aside from a few questions from Mary asking if I was okay, nothing more was ever said about it. I was not complaining.
* * * * * * * *
Life was pretty much back to normal after that. That year, I had been slowly adding even more activities to my schedule. My list now included student council, editor for the newspaper and literary magazine, yearbook staffer, and debate team in addition to soccer, cross-country, drama, jazz band and chamber orchestra. Added to all of that was a full load of the hardest classes I could get. My schedule was insane, but there was a method to my madness. I knew I had the grades to get into any college I wanted, but what I needed was scholarships to pay for it. My theory was that the more activities I could add without hurting my GPA, the better my chances were of getting a full ride to a school I actually wanted to attend. It had the added benefit of keeping me out of the house almost constantly. The down side was that I never really had any free time to spend with friends, or with Mary. She and Brian frequently asked if I was trying to run myself into the ground. After my little meltdown, Brian stopped bugging me as much about the number of activities I was doing, but I could tell he still worried about whether or not I'd be able to keep juggling it all. Frankly, so was I.
My parents had grudgingly agreed to my schedule as long as my grades stayed up and I told them where I was at all times. It was hard to argue that a 4.0 wasn't keeping my grades up, so all I had to do was give them my schedule every week. My mother called around periodically to check that I was really where I said I was going to be. She'd call one of the coaches, or the faculty sponsor, for the various other activities. Despite all evidence to the contrary, my parents seemed convinced that I was going to run off and do drugs the first chance I had.
Two weeks later, on a Wednesday, I headed to play rehearsal. Opening night was two weeks away, and our rehearsals were getting longer. I was going to be missing part of rehearsal the next day for an editorial meeting for the school newspaper. Ms. McDonald concluded that I needed to stay even longer because of that.
I finally escaped from rehearsals about half an hour after I thought I had told my parents I would be finished. It wasn't a huge problem because I was catching the bus anyway, but I thought I should probably call home just to let them know. I said goodbye to Brian and Mary and headed for the pay phone at the front of the school. I deposited my dime and dialed my phone number. My mother picked up on the first ring.
“Hi, mom. Just wanted to let you know that rehearsal ran late. I'm waiting for the bus now.” I was bracing myself for a tirade. My mother tended to go off the deep end when there was any change to the schedule. I was totally unprepared for her response though.
“Where in the fucking hell have you been, you little shit?!” my mother screamed into the phone. She sounded like she was also crying. I couldn't figure out what the problem was. I wasn't due home for at least another hour, and that was if I managed to time all of the busses perfectly. I was frantically searching my head for what I had forgotten, but I was coming up blank.
“Mom, rehearsal just ran a little late. I didn't want you to worry if I ended up on the later bus.” I was still as confused as all get out, but I was trying to remain calm. I knew from experience that yelling back at her would only result in trouble. I knew I had put down rehearsals for every day that week when I gave her the schedule, so I figured that if I just remained calm I'd learn what the mix up was and be able to correct it.
“There was no fucking editors meeting today. I called that damn teacher of yours and he said that he didn't know what I was talking about. He told me the meeting was tomorrow, so where the fuck were you and what were you doing?” My mother was bordering on hysterical. I still couldn't fathom what she thought I would have been doing. I mean honestly, I was straight-laced bordering on the obnoxiously-goody-two-shoes. At least now I knew what the problem was and I was mentally kicking myself around the block. With any other parents, getting the days flipped wouldn't have been a big deal. With my parents, this had the potential to be the end of all of my extracurricular activities for the rest of high school.
“I must have just switched the days on the calendar, mom. I'm really sorry. I was in rehearsal this entire time. Ms. McDonald can vouch for me. I don't think she's left yet. Do I need to go get her?” The one thing I was clinging to here was that I could prove I hadn't been doing anything horrible. My parents didn't much like Ms. McDonald, but I was pretty certain they wouldn't accuse her of lying for me.
“No! Stay where you are. Aunt Dawn is coming to get you. Your father is on his way. If he gets there first, don't let him see you until Aunt Dawn gets there. Sam, I've never seen him this mad.” Well, that explained the hysterics. When my father was angry, it was flatly terrifying, and if my mother was actually worried enough to send my aunt to get me, he had to really be on a tear.
“Why is he so angry? I mean, all I did was get the days mixed up.”
“I don't know, but he made me call everyone we could think of that would know where you were. I called all the other editors, Brian and Mary, and Tom. Either there was no answer or they didn't know where you were. He just kept getting madder and madder.” By now my mother was sobbing. I could guess what 'madder and madder' had meant for her.
“Okay, mom. It'll be alright. I think I see Aunt Dawn's car, so I'd better go.” The line went dead, and I hung up the phone. I couldn't see Aunt Dawn's car, but I needed time to think, and I needed to not be standing in front of the school if my father arrived first.
I walked back around the building towards the auditorium. I would be able to see any cars that pulled up from there, but it wouldn't be as easy to see me, and there were other people around, so I wouldn't have to worry as much about my father's immediate reaction if he found me first. As I rounded the corner I spotted Brian and Mary. I thought they had already left, but apparently I was wrong. They saw me at about the same time and started to head toward me. Judging by the concern on their faces, I wasn't doing a good job of hiding my stress. Mary got to me first and asked if I needed a ride home. I explained as briefly as I could that my aunt was picking me up.
I had carefully concealed just how bad my home life was from Mary up to this point. We had never done anything physical with the lights on, so she had never really seen all of my scars, and while I couldn't conceal that things were tense with my parents, I had never gotten into it with her. I don't think she could really conceive of it,. Her family was so utterly functional, that anything else was totally foreign to her. Brian, on the other hand, was entirely clear on just how bad things could get. The look on his face told me he was worried, but there wasn't much anyone could do at this point except wait.
Aunt Dawn arrived moments later and whisked me off to her car. We spent the entire ride in silence. My mother and her sister were not close, and she and my father absolutely despised each other. I never knew what had caused the original rift between them, but they had no use for one another. Aunt Dawn pulled up in from of my house and let me out never having said a single word. I had to wonder what my mother had told her to get her to do this.
I walked into my house to find my mother frantic. She didn't seem to be hurt, but I wasn't about to do a close inspection. My father's temper was scary, but my mother's was nothing to laugh about either. I knew she could hold her own with him most of the time.
She and I sat in silence across from each other at the dining room table for what felt like hours, waiting for my father to get home. The silence was worse than having her screaming at me. I felt like I was being slow roasted over a fire and wanted to have her just chuck me in the furnace and have it done with.
I wasn't sure that having my father spend hours searching the school for me was a grand idea either. At least if he'd gone to the school and found me, he wouldn't have been stewing over my whereabouts this whole time, and I could have had him talk to Ms. McDonald to prove that I was where I said I had been. There was no way he'd really blow his top in public. The whole thing had my stomach churning while we sat in silence and waited.
My father stormed through the front door an hour later. In an instant he was across the room and screaming in my face. I knew I'd be toast if I screamed back, or if I showed any weakness, so I told him where I had been and explained the confusion as calmly as I could. He questioned every part of my story, looking for some inconsistency, screaming the whole time. I told him the same thing again and again. He called me a liar again and again. Finally I said that I was going to get Ms. McDonald's number so that he could call her and verify what I had told him.
As I stood and turned to walk away from him, he grabbed my right wrist and yanked me back towards him, as he screamed at me that he wasn't through with me yet. The way he pulled my arm knocked me off balance and I fell. I heard a crack as my right forearm made contact with the dining room table. My father was still holding my wrist and the momentum of my fall had pulled him over a bit. I looked up and saw my arm at a funky angle. It would have been funny had my brain not chosen that precise moment to register how much it hurt.
The look on my father's face went from anger, to shock, to 'oh shit'. He dropped my wrist like it was burning him, turned and walked out the front door. I heard his car start a few moments later. I stood up, cradling my right arm with my left hand. Every heartbeat felt like someone was hitting my right arm with an ice-pick, and the sensation was making me nauseous. I started to walk towards the phone only to find my way blocked by my hysterical mother.
“What are you doing?”
“I am calling Brian and Mary, and I'm going to ask them to come and take me to the hospital.” I was surprised by how calm I sounded. Inside my head was a roiling mess. I was angry, scared, hurting like hell, and dealing with wave after wave of nausea and the cold, clammy feeling that could only be due to shock. Mostly though, I just wanted to get out of that house.
“No you're not! You can't! I'll just call Dr. Collins and he can come here and--"
“And do what? Use the couch to X-ray my arm and set it in the living room while explaining to me how this is all my fault too?” I could feel my anger rising to the surface and I swallowed it back down. “I can have Brian and Mary take me to the hospital and you can have your darling doctor friend meet me there, or I can call the police. Take your pick.” I could tell I'd just pissed her off, and at that point I just didn't care. If she thought I was joking, she was about to discover that she was wrong.
“You are not leaving this house, young man.”
“Watch me,” I said looking her right in the eyes. “I can either go to the hospital with Brian and Mary, and keep all of this family's little secrets, or I can go to the hospital with a nice police officer and tell all. If you think you can somehow make the fact that my arm is broken go away you are out of your mind. Now get out of my way.”
Something in my voice must have convinced her that I was serious. Maybe it was simply the fact that I was finally standing up for myself. Then again, maybe it was just the notion that the whole world might find out that we weren't the Cleavers.
I walked to the kitchen phone and rested my right arm on the counter so that I could dial. I heard the phone ringing at the Walker house. Brian picked up on the second ring. I don't think I have ever been so relieved to hear someone's voice.
“Hey, Brian. It's Sam. Any chance you and Mary could give me a ride to the hospital?” I was trying to sound casual, because I didn't want to alarm Brian, and I didn't want to explain right then. Apparently I didn't succeed very well.
“What's wrong?” Brian demanded.
“I fell and broke my arm. My father isn't here and you know my mom can't drive, so I need a ride to the hospital. I'm not dying or anything, I just need to get it looked at.”
“We'll be right there.” Brian hung up, and so did I. I knew I was going to have to explain this to him somehow, but I was choosing not to think about it at the moment.
I collapsed onto the sofa, still cradling my arm. I knew I should probably splint it, or at least put some ice on it, but I just didn't have the energy. I closed my eyes and waited for Brian and Mary to arrive. An hour later I heard the doorbell ring. My mother was glaring at me from across the room. It was clear that she wasn't going to try to stop me, but she wasn't going to answer the door either. I opened the door to find Brian and Tom on my front porch. I cocked an eyebrow in question at Brian.
“Didn't know what to expect,” he said with a shrug.
“Okay, let's go then.”
“I'll call Dr. Collins and have him meet you there,” my mother called from behind me. I was certain she would give him some story about how clumsy I was or something. I didn't care at that point. I just wanted to get it taken care of and go to sleep.
Brian walked me to the passenger side of the car while Tom closed the door to my house. Brian opened the car door for me and helped me get in. Mary was sitting in the driver's seat of the van looking at me with concern. Brian closed the door once I was in and hopped in the back seat with Tom. As Mary pulled out of the driveway I could practically feel the questions swirling in the silence of the car.
“I just fell and hit my arm on the table guys. Nothing major, but I'm pretty sure it's broken. I didn't know how else to get to the hospital and an ambulance seemed a little extreme for this. Really guys, no one died here.”
That seemed to break the tension, at least with Tom and Mary. I wasn't sure what Brian had said to them, but they seemed to take my explanation at face value. Tom asked how I'd fallen and I told him I'd just lost my balance. He made some goofy comment about my lack of coordination and then he and Mary started chatting about when he had fallen off his bike in third grade and broken his arm and Mary had, much to his horror, decorated his cast with flowers. Brian was totally silent though, and his silence was speaking volumes. I couldn't see his face, but I was pretty sure that he hadn't bought my explanation. I wasn't a klutz and I certainly wasn't prone to slipping and falling on carpet.
We were met at the doors to the ER by Dr. Collins. I truly hated the man and didn't particularly want him anywhere near me, but I was pretty certain I didn't have much of a choice. He directed me back to an exam room, directed Mary and Tom to the waiting room and tried to do the same with Brian, but Brian just ignored him and followed me to the exam room.
There's nothing quite like small town hospitals. I was met on the way to the exam room by an older woman who I assumed to be a nurse. She led us the rest of the way to the exam room, got out a hospital gown and told me to put it on and get on the exam table to wait for the doctor. Brian took the gown from her and helped me out of my shirt. Buttons are hard to manage with one hand, and it was just this side of impossible with my arm broken. I blanched when he pulled the sleeve off my broken arm. My arm was turning nifty shades of purple where it had hit the table.
“Shit, man. That's gotta hurt,” Brian said. “You gonna try to tell me that was an accident again?”
“Can we please talk about this another time, Brian.”
“No, Sam, we can't.” Brian leveled his gaze at me, and I knew he wasn't going to let me off the hook.
I sighed. “We were fighting. He accused me of not being at rehearsal, of being off getting high or something.” Brian interrupted me with a snort.
“For hell's sake, Sam. Have they even looked at you recently? Shit, like you're gonna be off getting high.”
I just shrugged my shoulders at him. “I never said he made any sense.” Brian snorted at me again as I continued. “I got up to get the phone to call Ms. McDonald to prove where I was. He grabbed my arm as I turned and knocked me off balance. I fell and hit the table with my arm. That's all.”
“And just how stupid do you think I am?”
“Do you really think I'd lie to you?” I held his gaze for a minute or two. Finally he shook his head no.
“I don't think you would lie to me, but you can't let this shit keep happening. Sam, you've got to tell someone this time.”
I shook my head no. “This is the first time I actually have the control.” Brian was looking at me like I'd flipped my lid. “Look, if I make a stink I'll get put in foster care. I'll end up getting thrown in one of the crappy public schools around here. My dad was freaked when he realized what had happened. He didn't mean to break my arm, and he had to know that there would be a hospital record of this one. The next time he gets out of hand I can use this to pull him back in line.”
Brain was just shaking his head at me. “Sam, do you honestly think that he's going to stop, that this will actually work? What the hell kind of solution is that?”
“It's not a solution. It will get me through the next two and a half years though. I need to get through graduation and get a scholarship to college. I'm out of there as soon as I graduate.”
“Do you really think you can last that long?”
“I have to,” I said with a shrug.
We were interrupted by the return of the nurse and doctor. They took X-rays of my arm and set it. Both bones had been broken in my lower arm, but fortunately it was a clean break and nothing else had been damaged. I was in a cast that went to my shoulder. My cross-country and soccer seasons were over, and I wouldn't be touching the piano or viola for a while, but at least there wasn't any permanent damage. The next six weeks would be spent in a cast. I wasn't sure how it would work with the play, but I figured I could deal with that one in the morning.
Brian herded me out to the waiting area. Tom and Mary were busily doing crossword puzzles and had slipped out at some point to buy markers. They decorated my cast while we waited for my least favorite doctor to emerge with my paperwork. He walked out a few minutes later and informed us that he'd be calling my mother to let her know we were on our way back. The implication was that we would have surely gone off partying if he hadn't done that, but I was frankly too tired to take offense by that point. It was almost ten at night, I hadn't eaten dinner, I was still in a lot of pain, and all I wanted was a good night's sleep.
The ride back to my house was pretty quiet. I knew Brian was worried, and I knew he wanted me to go back to his house, but I also knew that I had to go home to keep the peace with my parents. I might have some leverage, but they could still make my life pretty hellish if they chose to.
My father was waiting for me as I walked in the door. I didn't give him a chance to say anything.
I walked right past him without looking at him and said, “I didn't tell anyone but Brian what really happened, but if you touch me again, I will. I'm going to bed.”
I didn't look to see what his expression was, nor did I even glance up to see if my mother was there. It felt good to have a little bit of control for a change, but I knew I'd lose my nerve if I looked either of them in the eye. I headed downstairs to my bedroom and fell into bed. I didn't even bother to get out of my clothes, just kicked off my shoes and went to sleep.
* * * * * * * *
The next day after rehearsal we started to plan the cast party, which was always a big deal at my school. Anyone who had anything at all to do with the production was invited. We'd invade a cast member's house right after the final performance and celebrate all night. These were always sleep over affairs, as we didn't want anyone falling asleep at the wheel while driving home. The previous year they'd been held at the house of one of the seniors in the cast. That wasn't an option this year, so we started brainstorming new locations. Mary piped up saying that my house would be ideal. She actually had a point, though what possessed her to suggest it was beyond me. The house had a full basement, with one giant room that was half the size of the house. It had its own bathroom and kitchen area as well, so we would be able to fit everyone in and not have my parents underfoot, assuming they were even remotely willing to entertain this notion. I figured that I didn't exactly have a lot to lose by asking though, and this way they would be able to personally keep an eye on things. I wasn't likely to do anything wild and crazy with my parents around. Hell, I wasn't likely to do anything wild and crazy anyway, so I agreed to ask them. The look on Brian's face told me that he thought the entire notion was ludicrous.
Mary and Brian drove me home that afternoon and insisted on coming in with me to ask my parents about the party. I don't know whether it was the fact that Brian and Mary were both there with me, my parents' lingering fear over what I might do from the day before, or the hope that they would catch me doing something horrid that influenced their decision, but they agreed with very little fuss. I was shocked, but I wasn't going to question my good fortune. My parents tended to turn on the charm and try to paint the perfect family picture when they had an audience, so I wasn't worried about what they would do when people were there, and if the party was at my house they couldn't very well forbid me to go to it.
The next two weeks were remarkably quiet. Eliminating four activities from my schedule lowered the general level of chaos in my life substantially. Opening night of the play was a smashing success, and every performance afterwards went amazingly well. By closing night we were flying high. After we cleaned up the stage area everyone caravanned to my house. We had all gotten pretty close over the months of rehearsals, and most of us knew each other from other productions. It's hard to spend that much time with people and not end up as friends.
We all relaxed and ate snacks in the basement of my house. My father came down to check on us a few times but when the worst thing he could find was a group of people telling off color jokes, he seemed to accept the notion that we weren't going to be getting too wild. People slowly began to wind down as the high of the performance gave way to fatigue. Around two in the morning people started heading for their sleeping bags. Brian, Mary and I had set up “camp” in my bedroom, and we headed in there around three, when the last people started to drift off. Mary and I were planning on taking the bed, and Brian the floor next to us. Mary was asleep almost instantly. So much for my grand plans. I had my girlfriend in my bed, and she was snoring at me.
I had been laying there with my arm around Mary, listening to her snore for a half hour or so when I heard Brian whispering.
“Sam. You still awake?”
“Yeah, what's up?”
“Follow me,” he whispered.
I heard him climb out of his sleeping bag and pad quietly over to the door. I gently disentangled myself from my sleeping girlfriend and followed him out of the room. He was carrying his sleeping bag as we picked our way through the sleeping people strewn across the floor of the main room towards the back of the house. There was a large window there that looked out into the back yard. Brian opened it and tossed the sleeping bag through, then helped boost me through the window.
We made our way barefoot across the back lawn. My parents house sat on an acre of land, most of which was covered in grass, and surrounded by apple trees and rose bushes. When we had walked far enough from the house to not be easily heard Brian tossed the sleeping bag on the ground and we laid down on top of it, staring at the stars.
It was one of those rare warm nights in late fall, and Brian and I spent hours laying out there talking about everything and nothing. We made up goofy constellations, discussed which girl would be his next conquest, which teachers we liked and which we hated. We talked about the play, told stupid jokes and discussed the football team. Brian and I hadn't had the chance to do that in a long time, and after all the insanity of the last several months I think we both needed it.
He and I stayed out long enough to watch the sun rise, then headed inside to rouse the troops. At some point in our talk we had concluded that pancakes would be the perfect way to end this little party, so while Brian nudged our sleepy cast-mates up, I started making massive amounts of pancake batter. A few minutes later Mary and Brian joined me in the kitchen. Brian and I made pancakes while Mary passed them around. Soon everyone was gathered in the kitchen area, talking and laughing.
An hour later people started to drift towards home. Brian and Mary stayed after everyone had left to help me clean up. By ten in the morning, they headed for home and I headed for my bed to catch up on some much needed sleep.