Mark screamed and kicked his blankets off with his one good leg. His heart pounded and sweat drenched his skin, chilled by the cool basement bedroom air.
A dream. The same dream he’d had every night since the accident, but he couldn’t remember it.
His eyes focused on his surroundings. A strange room, a strange chest of drawers, a strange desk, even a strange bed. Then he remembered he was in his grandmother’s house. After more than three weeks, he still hadn’t got used to it.
Mark trembled and wiped tears with his sheet. The dream had been so real this time, as if he had been there—again, but upon waking, the dream was gone.
He couldn’t remember anything…except. Except, this time he remembered seeing red taillights streaking past his family’s car. Did the driver of that car cause the accident? Was he beginning to remember?
Lying back on his pillow, he pulled his blanket back up and rolled onto his side, pulling his good knee to his chest. He closed his eyes and let the tears flow. “Mom, Dad, Sabrina,” he whispered.
His grandmother called from the top of the stairs. “Mark! Are you all right? I heard you scream.”
“Yeah, I’m okay. Just a bad dream.”
“Another one? Well, it’s time for you to get up anyway.”
He pushed himself up and wiped his eyes, then glanced at the clock on his bedside stand. 5:55 a.m. Five minutes. He groaned.
He heard the stairs creaking as his grandmother descended to the basement floor. Then she tapped on his bedroom door.
“Come in,” he said, wishing she’d leave him be for a little longer.
His grandmother walked in still wearing her flannel nightgown and flowery bathrobe; the smells of frying bacon and pancakes drifted in with her. “Can’t let grass grow under your feet,” she said. “You going to let life pass you by? Come on. It’s six o’clock. Time to get up.”
Her clichés were getting old. “Oh, Grandma, do I have to? I’m really not up to going back to school, yet.” Even as he said it, he knew what her answer would be.
His grandmother clicked the light switch on.
“Ahh!” The bright light stung his eyes and he lay back, pulling his pillow over his face.
“Mark, we’ve talked about this. It’s time. Three weeks is long enough to pine and you’ve missed two weeks of school, now. I probably let you stay home longer than I should have. I know it’s going to be tough, but you need to get back in circulation. Get involved with your music again. And, once your leg heals, get back to your dancing lessons as well. Your mom and dad would want that for you, and their life insurance and savings is more than enough for you and Amy.”
“Music? Dancing? You gotta be kidding,” he said under his breath. Mark wasn’t sure he was up to any of that yet. How could he face it? He had no friends. No Amanda, the girl he had a huge crush on in his previous school in Sacramento.Amanda. He wondered what happened on his date with her. He now remembered that he’d wanted to spend Christmas Eve with her and several of his friends in his best friend’s recreation room in Sacramento beside a warm fire in the fireplace. So,what happened? He still couldn’t remember. But somehow, he’d ended up with his family that night.
A couple of girls he’d met at the wake told him that the high school was called John Swett High School. But it wasn’t his school. And would these small town kids here accept him, a rich city boy? His dad had been a doctor and had made good money. The only people he knew here were his grandmother, Amy, his Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Jack Taylor, and his cousin, Gary, if he ever showed up. The more Mark thought about it, the emptier and more hopeless his life appeared. And after three weeks, Gary still hadn’t shown up.
His grandmother smiled. “Come on. Get up. You need to get moving.”
Mark knew she was right. “Okay, okay. I’m getting up.” Throwing off the pillow, he pushed his legs over the edge of the bed, hating how the cast hampered him. On Saturday, the doctor had told him he didn’t need the arm sling any more. His dislocated shoulder, though still sore, had healed enough to use. He found walking with two crutches much easier than with just one. Reaching for one of his crutches, he added, “Just give me a minute to get these things working.”
“You’ll feel better once you get to school. There’ll be new people to meet, new adventures, new challenges, a new life. And it’s not as if you’ll be alone. Your cousin, Gary, will be there to help you too.”
Yeah, sure. Where has he been? Mark thought. He hadn’t seen Gary since moving here. He didn’t even show up at the wake or funeral. Something about being sick and really busy all the time, Aunt Beatrice told him.
His grandmother continued, “And didn’t you meet a couple of sweet young ladies at the wake?” she continued. “And didn’t I see you talking to one of them yesterday after church?”
Mark almost laughed when she mentioned church. When the pastor began his sermon about forgiveness, he almost got up and walked out. He knew the minister was preaching to him, and he was sure his grandmother had put him up to it—she’d probably put an extra ten-spot in the collection plate for it. How could he ever forgive the person who killed his family? He sat through the sermon, if for no other reason than he didn’t want to make a scene.
After church, a girl rushed across the aisle to talk to him. He’d vaguely remembered her from the wake.
She reminded him her name was Susan Mills, but to call her Suzie. With her beet red hair done up in braids and a bad case of the freckles mingled with zits, she simply did not interest him, not even a little. But the other girl, Charisse Davis, he remembered her name; they’d invented the word cute for girls like her. She’d been in church too and he wished he’d been able to talk to her instead of Suzie.
His grandmother started to leave his bedroom, but stopped in the doorway then turned back to him, her smile soft, and her eyes misty. She sat down by his side and wrapped her arm around his shoulders in a warm hug. “Mark, life doesn’t always seem fair. But we have to make do the best we can with what we have. Like I said before, overcoming adversity is what makes us strong. Sometimes God gives us problems on purpose, for our betterment, to help us grow.” She stood. “So, come on. Get dressed. Breakfast is getting cold.”
“I’m not very hungry.”
“You will be by the time you get to the kitchen.
Six pancakes buttered and with maple syrup, plus three fried eggs and several strips of crisp bacon, especially for your first day in your new school.”
Mark chuckled. In spite of his emotional state, his mouth watered. “Grandma, you’re going to spoil me.”
“I’m trying to. Isn’t that what grandmas are for?”
She placed her warm hand on his shoulder again and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Mark, I know it’s going to be hard, it’s hard for me too. Remember, I lost a son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and a precious granddaughter, and Amy is still in the hospital in critical condition. But each day will get better, I promise.”
Mark knew his Grandma and Amy were hurting too, now that Amy had come out of her coma. He knew she could still have some permanent injuries, but they’d learned she probably didn’t have any brain damage, for which both he and his grandma were grateful. But her full recovery was some time off yet.
His grandmother’s voice cracked and became husky. “So, let’s try to heal together. Let’s help each other—you, Amy, and me. We need to start a new chapter in our lives together. So, whenever you feel a need, let’s talk. Okay? Never forget, I’m here for you. We’ll never forget them, but the memories will get better. I can promise that much.”
Mark pulled himself up and stood with his crutches. “And I can promise if I ever find the person who did this, I’ll…I’ll make him pay!”
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