Regina DiRuocco (Reggie) and Deanna McCann (Dee), her best friend, were sitting at the picnic benches outside the cafeteria. It was an unseasonably warm day for late in October, and summer clothes had yet to be packed away for the winter – as was evidenced by all the teens milling around, eating or getting their lunch. Everyone, that is, except for Reggie.
A long sleeved black shirt covered the arms that she had snuck into the bathroom second period to cut with her razorblades – again. Her father could lock up all the pills and kitchen knives he wanted, along with the shot gun and rounds he feared his daughter might use, but he had no idea about the razor blades. Yet.
People close to the situation urged Reggie’s parents to do something for their daughter before it was too late. Reggie was a good kid that needed help fast.
Everyone knew what she was going through, so her cutting herself would not have surprised anyone. The girl was crying out for help, and being ignored by the two people who could get her help beyond the psychiatric evaluations they were forced to get whenever Reggie wound up in the hospital.
“I don’t know, Dee.” Reggie shook her head, pushing the hamburger she had dutifully picked up under Dee’s careful watch in the lunch line. The smell of it was more than enough to make her feel nauseous. Food of any shape or size these days did that to her. “What’s always going on?”
“Your mother called last night,” Dee answered disgustedly.
“Of course.” Reggie leaned forward and rested her forehead on the top of the table. “I didn’t think it was going to be her normal routine. She called because she’s going to a conference out of town for a week starting the day after tomorrow, and she needs someone to watch Mookie while she’s gone.”
Mookie was the cat Reggie’s mother had bought shortly after the divorce was finalized. She showered all of the love and attention that should have belonged to her daughter on the cat, and the mention of Mookie was enough to make Dee sick to her stomach.
“Why would she call and ask you to watch her?” Last Dee had heard, Mookie was a jealous cat, and refused to share Reggie’s mother with Reggie. “She knows the cat doesn’t like you.”
“I guess because there wasn’t anyone else.” Reggie shrugged. “But it doesn’t really matter, because once I agreed to watch Mookie, she started in on me again.”
As Dee had suspected from the beginning. She sighed, shaking her head. How could Reggie’s mother not get what she was doing to her daughter?
“You can’t listen to her when she says that kind of stuff, Reggie. She doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Reggie lifted her head enough to look up at Dee. “Not even if she’s right?”
“Is she right?” Dee pushed. She was so tired of seeing Reggie like this, but she was not going to abandon her, either. She knew what Reggie was really like – she was not like this – and she wanted to help Reggie get back to being that person.
“She must be.” Reggie’s shoulders shrugged. “She says it so much.”
“Then why doesn’t she do something about it?”
As soon as the question came out, Dee knew the answer. Reggie’s mom did nothing to stop it because she enjoyed having a reason to point at Reggie’s father and tell him what a miserable job he was doing as a parent to their only child. She constantly threatened to have Reggie taken into her custody, because he “obviously has no idea of what he’s doing.”
For all her bluster, however, there was never a phone call to an attorney, never a petition filed to get legal custody. The former Mrs. DiRuocco liked being able to point fingers without having to worry about the responsibility of backing up her words far too much to deal with the effect it was having on her child. Reggie’s mother was a miserable excuse for a mother, as far as Dee was concerned.
Reggie glared at Dee as she straightened up. “Don’t you dare criticize my mother,” she said.
“I wasn’t.” Dee took a deep breath. She knew how Reggie felt about her mother. She also knew that Reggie hated hearing anyone else say anything critical about the woman. Appearance had become everything to Reggie since her parents’ divorce, and the last thing she wanted was for anything to look like there might be something wrong, regardless of whatever was really going on.
“She’s busy with work.” Reggie reached down to pick up her backpack. “Her work is important. She can’t take care of me the way the court feels I need to be taken care of, so I’m with Dad. You know that, Dee.”
The word choked in Dee’s throat. Reggie’s mom was – ironically – a counselor at a youth mental health hospice. She was kind, generous, and caring to the girls she counseled, but had little sympathy for her own daughter. In her mind, Reggie was just faking the entire thing to get attention, and she was not going to give Reggie the attention she was trying so hard to get because it would be giving her what she wanted. The woman just could not take the blinders off and see what was really going on with Reggie – though even a blind person should have been able to see that what Reggie was going through was not just an act.
“You can have the burger, or give it to Jay, or whatever.” Reggie stood up, slinging her backpack on over her right shoulder. “I’ll be in the library – I have to catch up on some of the reading for English before Mrs. Randall throws a fit.”
Dee shoved her lunch away from her and got up to her feet, too. Talking about Reggie’s mother for any length of time was enough to rob her of her appetite any time the subject came up. “I’m done, too, Reggie. I could stand to do the same thing, so I’ll come with you.”
But Reggie shook her head. “I need to study alone. You know how much easily I get distracted when I’m studying for that class.”
Dee did know – Reggie hated English with a passion, and only studied for the class when she absolutely had to so she could keep her grades in it up. She also knew that Reggie would let herself get distracted if she was studying with anyone else. It was a good excuse to use, and Dee knew that Reggie knew that.
Reggie pushed the sleeve of her shirt up to look at her watch, and Dee saw the thin crust of dried blood around a series of razor fine cuts for the first time. The sight chilled her to the bone, made her throat go dry and stifled the gasp that was coming to her lips.
“Reggie…” she managed to get out.
Obviously finished with looking at her watch, Reggie pulled the sleeve down again and shook her head. “Don’t, Dee. I’m fine, and I’ll be fine. I thought I saw Jay sneak into the lunch line a little bit ago, so wait for him and have a rare lunch to yourselves. Okay?”
“Okay.” Dee nodded, and watched as Reggie turned and disappeared into the milling crowd with a sicker feeling in her stomach than the subject of Reggie’s mother’s cat and Reggie’s mother herself normally left. No matter what Reggie said, she was not just fine, and she was not going to be fine as long as she pretended everything was okay for everyone else. To believe anything else was to live in a fool’s paradise.
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