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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Nineteen

**New chapter posted here every Wednesday**
I tried again, just in case I had dialed wrong the first time.
We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed is no longer—I hung up. Porter’s phone had been disconnected.
Again.
It was the second number they had had since I met him two months ago; his father used prepaid phones, and when they ran out of minutes, he didn’t always have the money to charge it up again.
I put my phone on my bedside table and lay down. I really, really needed to talk to him. To tell him I was sorry. To tell him No way did my mother ever tell me any of the personal stuff you shared with her. Because why would she? She didn’t even know I was sneaking around with him.
Because I had lied to her too.
I picked up my phone and dialed Eli’s cell. It rang five times before his voicemail picked up. His phone never went to voicemail after school hours—he was ignoring me. I envisioned him, hanging out with Bella Blake, showing her his phone with my caller id and the goofy picture he had of me with my eyes crossed and my finger up my nose. Ugh, when will she take the hint already? they would say, then roll their eyes and dissolve into a fit of laughter.
I placed my phone facedown on my night table and rested both my hands on the empty-feeling space just above my stomach. The problem with having only one friend, I now realized, was that when you had jacked that friendship up, you didn’t have a whole lot of other places to run to. I stayed there, flat on my back and very still. As the light in my room changed from the harsh orange of late afternoon to the soft gray of early evening, I imagined myself always feeling this way.
Adrift.
Alone.
Tears streamed from the corners of my eyes and left hot wet streaks that eventually cooled and created cold wet pools in my ears and on the pillow next to my head.
What if Eli never forgave me?
What if Porter never spoke to me again?
By the time my room had gone completely dark, my head was pounding from all my crying. When the street light outside clicked on and backlit my blinds with an electric yellow, I rolled over and faced my closed door.
If this had been a normal day, my mother would have been at my door asking me a hundred questions about what I was doing, what did I want to eat, why was my door closed . . . her absence was making me feel the deepest alone I could imagine. I pushed myself up to sitting and endured the rush of blood that turned my mild headache into a bomb exploding in my brain. I pressed both my temples and sucked air while I waited for the worst wave of pain to pass before standing up and opening my door.
The hallway separating my room from hers was dark. When I stepped onto the landing, I could see that the whole house was dark. Maybe she had gone somewhere while I was shut up in my room?
The door to her bedroom was cracked and when I pushed it in, I saw her bed and the dark lump of her body spread out on top of her comforter. “Mom?” I whispered, but when she didn’t answer me I moved closer.
She was flat on her back, one hand resting on her stomach while the other lay limp at her side. Her chest rose and fell in a deep and steady rhythm. Even though her digital clock said it was only 8:11, she had been sleeping long enough for her jaw to relax and tension around her eyes to soften.
Her shoes were on the floor next to her bed but she was still wearing her navy-blue wool dress pants and the blue-and white striped blouse she’d worn to work today. I grabbed the small blanket she always kept folded neat and square on her footboard and pulled it up and over her until it covered her shoulders. This close, I could see the dark smear of mascara around both her eyes and the inky stains that had run down the sides of her face.
She’d been crying too.
I watched her for a minute, peaceful, asleep, her face relaxed into soft, unlined features. My mother was beautiful. In her sleep, she looked like she might actually feel some happiness in whatever dream world was happening in her head. “I’m sorry,” I whispered more for myself than for her unhearing ears. I turned and left her, closing her door quietly.
I didn’t want to ruin her peace with our current reality.
Downstairs, I fumbled along the wall for the kitchen light and then shielded my eyes against the fluorescents while I searched the cabinet where we usually kept the ibuprofen. My headache had swelled and now thumped in rhythm with my rushed and raggedy heartbeat. Squinting, I shifted past the cough syrups and allergy medicines—where was it?
My searched moved to the downstairs bathroom, where I opened one drawer after another and pushed around old nail polishes that neither my mother nor I ever used, stray tampons, nail clippers, samples of face lotion that had been collected out of magazines, loose bobby pins—ugh. I closed the last drawer, frustrated with my failed search and pounding brain.
Wait.
I turned around and crossed the narrow hall between the bathroom and my mother’s office, pushed her door open, and flipped on the light switch. The soft light from the lamp on her desk cast a dim glow over her stacks of files, stray papers, and her laptop.
But most importantly, the bottle of ibuprofen. “Thank God,” I whispered, grabbed the bottle, then pushed and twisted the cap until I was able to shake out two bright-orange pills. There was a half glass of water that didn’t look too old near the stack of files so I used that to wash the pills down.
When I put the glass back where I had found it, I froze. The file, the one on the very top of the stack—I recognized it. My eyes scanned the small tab at the top.
Creed, Porter
I put the glass down and stared at the closed file. When I picked up the folder, thick with years of notes and psychological reports about my boyfriend, I sat down in my mother’s desk chair and placed the file directly in front of me, adjusting its placement so its edges aligned perfectly with the edge of the desk.
I rested both of my hands on top of it.
Was I going to do this? Was I going to read my mother’s private file on Porter? My whole body became nervous and shaky just thinking about the betrayal of trust, the violation of both Porter and my mother.
I sat back in her chair and considered putting the file back where I had found it. I should put it back, stand up, walk up the stairs to my room, close the door, and lie down on my bed to wait for the ibuprofen to work its magic on my now screaming headache. I sighed, the pinpoint of pressure filled the small space between my eyes. I needed, desperately, to speak to Porter—but with their phone shut off again, there was no calling him, and because he never let me see where he lived, I couldn’t just show up at his door.
I didn’t have any way to reach him.
But this file. I leaned forward and pressed both my hands onto its surface. This file would have his address.
All around me, the house was a dark void. My mother, exhausted and asleep upstairs, would have no idea what I was doing. I would only read Porter’s address. She would never have to know.
And when Porter asked me how I had found out where he lived? What was I going to say to that? I didn’t know, but I would think of something.
Probably another lie.
I leaned forward and flipped open the file.

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