The Redemption (The Club #3)(9)


by Lauren Rowe

“Really?” she asks. “That’s exciting.”

“Yeah, Mount Everest,” I say, standing on a stool so I can reach the farthest corner of the whiteboard. “Because that’s the highest one. I’m going to climb to the tippy-top of it and reach my hands up in the air and touch my mommy in the clouds. And she’s going to reach down and pull me up and up and up, and then we’ll lie down together on one of the puffy clouds like it’s a hammock and I’ll rub her temples and take all her pain away like I always used to do.”

Miss Westbrook has been sitting at her desk while I’ve been erasing the whiteboard and talking nonstop, and when I look over at her, she’s crying. Without even thinking about it, I climb down from the stool, put the eraser down, walk over to her, and brush her tears off her cheeks with my fingertips. Miss Westbrook wipes her eyes and smiles at me. And then she does something that makes me want to curl up in her lap—she touches my cheek with the palm of her hand. That’s what Mommy and Mariela used to do all the time to me and it’s my favorite thing.

Since Mommy went away, lots of adults have hugged me, or patted me on the head, or squeezed my shoulder, but not a single one of them has ever touched my cheek. Since Mommy went away, I’ve dreamed about her touching my cheek lots and lots of times—and about Mariela doing it, too—but then I always wake up and I’m all alone and I have to touch my own cheek, which doesn’t feel nearly as good as someone else doing it for you, especially someone pretty like Miss Westbrook.

I close my eyes and put my hand over Miss Westbrook’s to make sure she doesn’t move her hand. Her skin is soft.

“You’re a special little boy,” Miss Westbrook says. “I hope one day I’ll have a little boy just like you.”

When Mrs. Jefferson and Josh come to pick me up, for some reason it seems like maybe I could say hello to Josh just this once without breaking the rules. I mean, Josh is really just me in another body, I figure, and talking to myself can’t be against the rules, right?

“Hi, Josh,” I say.

Josh seems really happy when I say those two little words to him, even happier than he was about getting ice cream with Mrs. Jefferson; so a few minutes later, when we’re sitting in the backseat of the car and Josh is singing along to the radio at the top of his lungs, I talk again.

“Shut up, Josh,” I say. “You’re singing so goddamned loud, I can’t hear the fucking music.”

Mrs. Jefferson gasps in the front seat.

“Fuck you, Jonas. You shut up,” Josh replies, but then he covers his mouth with both hands. “I mean, no, don’t shut up, Jonas. Keep talking.”

Josh telling me to shut up after I haven’t talked for so long makes us both laugh really, really hard—or maybe we’re just laughing because we’re being really bad and cussing like Daddy.

“You big dummy,” I say.

“You’re the big dummy. What kind of idiot doesn’t talk for a whole year? Jesus.”

Not too long after Miss Westbrook becomes Mrs. Santorini, she tells the class she’s moving to San Diego on account of Mr. Santorini being in the Navy. All the kids seem sad to see her go, but the way I feel about it is much worse than sad. I feel like I’m dying inside.

Miss Westbrook tells the class to work on page fifty-four from our math workbook and she calls me up to her desk.

“Jonas, honey, it’s sunny in San Diego all the time. I hope you’ll come visit me.”

How can I come visit her? I’m just a kid. I don’t have a car or an airplane. I have to look away from her pretty brown eyes or else I might cry.

“And I’ll come visit you here in Seattle any chance I get.” She starts crying. “I promise.”

I don’t think Miss Westbrook should promise to come back to me. Everybody leaves me—everybody—and they never, ever come back. I wish she would just tell me the truth: She’s leaving me just like everybody does and I’ll never see her again. Even as I stand here looking at her pretty face, I feel like a big black scarf is floating down from the sky and covering my entire body.

“I like you, Miss Westbrook,” I say, trying to keep the tears from coming. It’s the first time I’ve spoken to her when the other kids are in the classroom, too, when we’re outside our magical cocoon. But I can’t help it—I have to tell her how I feel about her before she leaves me. Actually, I wish I could say the three words that match my true feelings about Miss Westbrook—but saying those three words to anyone besides Mommy would break the rules.

Miss Westbrook’s eyes crinkle. “I like you, too, honey. I’ll come back to visit you one day soon, Jonas. I promise.”

Chapter 8

Jonas

I open my eyes. Sunshine streams through the window of Sarah’s hospital room. A nurse stands next to Sarah’s bed, checking Sarah’s blood pressure.

“Looking good,” the nurse says. “And no signs of infection. The doctor will be in soon to decide if you can go home today.”

My phone vibrates with a text from Josh. He just landed in Seattle. Are we at UW Medical Center, he wants to know? I tell him not to come to the hospital, to meet me at home—and to please stop and pick up sick-person stuff like Saltines and Gatorade and Jello and chicken noodle soup on his way. Oh, and Oreo cookies. Sarah loves Oreo cookies.

He texts back, I’ve got it covered.

Thanks, I reply.

Hang in there, bro.

Thanks, I reply. Will do.

My phone buzzes again. I look down.

I love you, man.

Josh has never said that to me before, ever. Not in person, not in a text. Never. I stare at my phone for a long time, disbelieving my eyes.

Thanks, I text back. I don’t know how else to respond.

I put the phone back in my pocket. If Josh were here, he’d surely slap his face right now, as he should.

The doctor arrives and confirms Sarah can go home and my heart leaps. Oh my God, I’m going to take such good care of my baby. No matter what it takes, we’ll figure this out. Together.

Mrs. Cruz shrieks with joy at the doctor’s news and starts asking him about his discharge orders. Apparently, she thinks Sarah’s coming home with her. I look at Sarah, expecting her to say she’s coming home with me, but she doesn’t. To the contrary, she nods at her mother. What the fuck? Sarah’s not correcting her mother’s misunderstanding. Sarah’s not saying, “No, Mom. I live with Jonas now.” Shit. I guess Mrs. Cruz isn’t the one who misunderstands. I swallow my emotions. All that matters is what Sarah wants. What Sarah needs. And, clearly, it’s not me.