“So, you never did tell me. What brings you to Two Rivers?”
Everybody asked that question, and I’d perfected an answer weeks before I moved here, lie number two. “My mom’s a nurse in the Army Reserve. She deployed to Afghanistan, and I chose to stay with her best friend Maggie Flynn and her family and finish school here.”
I hated lying, but I couldn’t tell anyone the real story. Last year, my mom had returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan a wounded warrior, with shrapnel implanted in her hip, chronic pain, an opiate addiction, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She stole drugs from her employer, from her patients, and a coworker turned her in. Given her situation, the judge was lenient, but sentenced her to six months in a correctional facility where she would also receive treatment for her addiction. It was a long, sad story, and not one to share with the kids at Two Rivers High School. They’d never understand that Mom was more victim than criminal.
“What about your dad?” Mel asked.
“Not an option. My parents are divorced. He’s remarried and has a couple of bratty step kids. I stayed with them while my mom did her first tour of duty in Afghanistan, and I hated every minute. And my grandparents moved to some senior citizen condo in Florida last year so I couldn’t stay with them. When Maggie offered to let me stay here, I jumped at it.”
“Starting at a new school must be hard.”
I shrugged. “This is my third high school. It’s a piece of cake.”
Mel came to an abrupt halt. “Three high schools?”
“Keep walking, and yeah, three different schools in three different places.” I counted off on my left hand. “Freshman year I lived with my mom and went to school in Manhattan. Sophomore year I stayed with my dad because my mother was in Afghanistan. He lives in Westchester, so I had to go to school in his town. Last year, I was back in the city with my mom and went to my old school. Now I’m here.”
“That sounds tough.”
What an understatement, but I never revealed my weaknesses to anyone, especially someone I just met. “It was okay.”
“So three different swim teams,” she said.
I nodded. “I swim for myself. I’m not into the whole team bonding thing.”
She looked at me with reproach. “Coach is big on team bonding. He wants all of us to be friends and support each other. He says that’s the foundation of our success. Everyone cares.”
“Well, that might work for you guys, but I just do my thing and don’t get too involved with everything else.” Indifference was my suit of armor. It kept me from exposing the multitude of hurts that dwelled within my head and heart. I hid them well, not wanting to be the recipient of pity, or worse, too many questions.
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