There were two reasons I loved sick days.
One, I got to lay on the couch all day with the cats, eat ice cream out of the carton and watch I love Lucy reruns. It was pouring rain outside and dark enough at noon that it had warranted turning on the end table lamp. Under my afghan, I felt snug and safe. I was glad I was in here, and not out there.
The other was that it meant I was excused from the horror of putting on my frumpy, boyish uniform and walking three kilometers to the high school of nightmares ... likewise excused from the savagery of my insecurity being pitted mercilessly, continuously against the current of mainstream popularity. I would gladly nurse a sore throat, and much worse, to be lying on the sunken sofa in our quiet, dim living room during a time that would usually find me sitting alone in the corner of the cafeteria.
It was better to be alone and truly alone, than alone in a room full of people.
I suppose I couldn't entirely claim complete solidarity at school. Helen Barnie had been my tag along since kindergarten. She was a gawky, gregarious sweet heart with a big mouth and a never ending stream of things to say, useful and otherwise, making even time away from her not so subtle manner a bit of a welcome break.
Here, it was just me and Lucille Ball and the calicos. Mom and Aunt Irena would not be home for many hours, having left me with dark admonitions to not mope around all day and to put the meatloaf in at quarter to five. Neither my Dad nor my brothers would be home for a long while. I was in no rush.
Laying face up on the couch, against their orders, I whittled away time staring up at the stucco patterns on the ceiling. As a little girl, I used to lay there and imagine I saw pictures in the ring shaped ridges. A clown. An old man with a receding chin. Queen Victoria. One in the corner reminded me of Cory with is rounded, slightly askance human-like profile. It was actually uncanny. Of course, when I had pointed it out to him, he had gotten mad and said petulantly that I looked like the end of a mop. Of my three brothers, I was the closest to him – if our relationship could be considered close in any respect. Devon, I couldn't stand. Adam, I hardly knew. Cory, I occasionally understood – sometimes found sympathy in, reluctantly trusted. I’ll never forget what he did for me three years ago after my junior high graduation dance.
That pitiful night of the dance, when I had slathered straightening cream in my hair and snuck a bit of Helen’s rouge, and carefully ironed a terribly ugly, hand me down black taffeta dress that was too big for me but I thought was beautiful. It came down to a deep vee in the front and laced up in the back and the flounced hemline hit the bottom part of my shins. I thought I looked like Doris Day on one of her record covers. Especially after I had painstakingly applied the blush and teased the last bit of my hair into order.
I had been a tremble with nervous energy – brimming with that strange, unsettling excitement that a girl experiences when she first goes somewhere with a boy. I still couldn't believe that Dawson Harvey had agreed to take me to the dance – couldn't believe it as I snuck stealthy by my father so he wouldn't notice that I was wearing makeup and a low cut dress, couldn't believe it as I stood on the porch and waited and waited for him to come. It was only when the clock hands had pushed past the point of denying that he might come at any second that I realized my disbelief had been warranted.
I cried. Mom told me it was just a dance. Dad asked me what was on my face. Devon laughed. Adam could
have cared less. But Cory? He was livid.
The next day, he had come into my room after supper, where I was laying curled up on my side and told me I didn’t have to worry about Dawson Harvey anymore.
Helen had called me later that night and filled me in.
“Everyone at school is talking about how Cory busted Dawson’s face because he stood up his little sister,” she gushed not sparing any dramatics for my brother's heroics.
There are no words to describe the warm swell of my heart at her words.
I thought of this and other things until the blend of deep thoughts and sound of pattering rain lulled me gently asleep. The stuccos slowly faded out of focus and I let myself be carried out in the sweet oblivion of afternoon sleep.
I don’t remember hearing the front door open.
“Eve?” Cory’s voice jerked me out of my half-comatose state.
“Yeah?” I answered groggily before I even registered that I wasn’t alone anymore. My last thoughts before sleep had been of him. At first I thought I was still dreaming.
I felt, more than heard, his heavy footsteps behind me.
He was soaked through, like he had been outside longer than it would have taken him to get from his car to the house. His hair was plastered to his head, rivulets of water running down his face.
But it was his eyes that arrested me.
They were glazed and bloodshot. Unfamiliar. I had never seen him look like that, ever.
The television program still droned in the background. I fumbled for the remote. I sat up and swung my legs out from underneath the blanket. The firm coldness of the floor sent immediate chills throughout my body.
“What’s wrong with you?” The words flew out forcefully, strengthened by fear.
He just laughed and leaned his head on the back of the chair.
"What's wrong with you?" He asked in a voice that sounded strangely shrill.
"Cory..." Was he sick? I stood up and moved towards him.
It was then that I noticed the smell. That smell. That pungent, distinct odor. It reminded me of my Uncle. Uncle Jerry was a junkie. Uncle Jerry smelled like pot. Cory smelt like Uncle Jerry.
A snake-like fear uncoiled in my stomach.
Mom had always told her sons in no uncertain terms that if she caught them doing drugs or being fresh with a girl she'd half kill them. What if she walked in the door and saw him strung out on the chair, baked and muttering incoherently? I physically shuddered at the thought of her wrath.
“Mom will kill you, Cor. She’ll kill you.” I whispered. Maybe I thought that voicing it would make it reality. I desperately wanted it to be part of my dream.
His eyes were fixed upward. I had no idea if he had heard me.
If it had been Devon or Adam, it would have been sheer anger. But it was Cory. My rank appall that he could be so stupid was tempered by a keen feeling of pity and deep horror.
If Mom caught him...if something happened to him...
This is what came of trusting him. I closed my eyes as tight as I could and wished to God that I were alone again.
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