Across an Ocean: Part 2
After work, I took the bus home and finished my homework. Just as I was finishing the last problem of math, my sister Elisabeth came into my hole-in-the-wall of a room.
“Natalie, what are we gonna do?” she asked, straining to hold back the tears building up in her eyes.
“Well” I begin, and then pause to think before I say something to upset her. “I’m going to get another job. And then we’ll have enough money to pay the bills and everything will be fine. It will be better. Lizzy, think about how much easier it will be…” I stopped as her expression changed, and a few tears streamed down her face.
“Mom said you don’t have time to get another job. She said if you do you won’t have time to do homework and you won’t get to go to college. You have to go to college.”
I decided not to mention that all of the money in my college fund would be spent on the tuition for her private school.
“It’ll be alright. I’ll find time for homework. We’ll figure something out I promise.” I struggled to say, forcing a smile at the end.
“What if he never comes back” she whispered this part. Not wanting to face the likely possibility. I pulled her into a hug.
“Whatever happens, it will work out.”
She left my room and I made a mental note to check on her later. And make sure she got dinner. She had a bad habit of not eating when she was upset, and it worried me. Tonight would definitely be a struggle for everyone. And all of the other nights until someone came up with a solution.
The next week was sort of a blur. I got hired at subway, which was also at the mall. So I could have back to back shifts and walk from one to the other. I was working as many hours as I had time for now, but I still found time for homework. Sometimes early in the morning or late at night, or sometimes during another class or while I was eating lunch. But it worked. I was busy, but it was necessary. Elisabeth had gotten an after-school job at McDonalds, and I could drive her there on my way to and from one of my jobs. She would babysit almost every night, and do homework once all of the kids were in bed.
It was working out for the better that my father was gone. The old bruises had almost completely faded, and only a few scars marked where objects had been violently thrown. And there were no new ones to take their place.
I hurried to get to my next class after struggling to get my locker open while holding an armful of books. My mind was somewhere else, when I crashed into something. Books scattered across the floor, I looked up to see a sympathetic, very cute guy. He was about six foot, perfect for dancing, and kissing. I let my thought wander as I looked into his perfect brown eyes, until my concentration was broken.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Ummm… a little embarrassed, but other than that I’m great. Are you okay?”
“I’m not the one who’s laying on the floor with my books everywhere.”
He had a point.
“Right…” I answered, unsure what to say.
He offered me his hand, and I gratefully took it, and pulled myself up.
“I’m really sorry. I just… wasn’t paying attention I guess.” He had picked up my books, and was now offering them to me.
“I’m Cameron.” He said. And I would’ve sworn he winked.
“Well, I’m glad you ran into me, Natalie.”
“And why’s that?” I asked biting my lip. Half from nerves, half flirting.
“Because I probably never would’ve met you if you hadn’t. And I wouldn’t have had a chance to ask for your number.”
“And I wouldn’t have had a chance to give it to you.” I pulled a pen out of my pencil case resting on top of the rest of my books. Grabbing his hand and flipping it palm-side-up, I wrote down my cell phone number.
“You should text me.” I said, and walked away. And when I turned back, he was still watching me.
When work was over for the night I drove home and parked the car in the driveway. When I walked in I found my mom, standing at the kitchen counter, waiting for me. Her face covered in bruises, she was wearing a jacket, probably to hide the rest of it. I waited for an explanation, and the three words she said were enough to explain everything.
“He came back.”
“When?” I demanded, my eyes searching the room for broken items, or blood not yet cleaned up.
“A couple hours ago. Lizzy had just left to babysit, thank god. At least she wasn’t here too.”
“What did he say?”
“He just came by because he needed something he left here. He went in the bedroom to get it. I caught him taking money out of the shoebox where I keep the money for emergencies. I told him he couldn’t take our money… he wasn’t very happy about that.” She finished, taking a deep breath to calm down, hold in the tears. She had always tried to be strong for me and Elisabeth, even though she had never needed to be.
“And where’s the money now?”
“He took it. All of it.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.” I sighed. That was the money I had been planning to use for groceries for the next month. I wouldn’t be using it now. Time for another job or more hours, I thought. I walked over to the cabinet and pulled out the heavily stocked first aid kit that had apparently already been used once tonight.
“Take off that jacket and go sit down. I’m going to get a towel and I’ll be right there.”
I spent an hour picking pieces of glass out of deep gashes, cringing as I saw my mother’s expression as each one was painfully removed. There was only one major cut on her right arm from a glass vase that had been thrown, and a few smaller ones. By the time Elisabeth got home at midnight, we were watching TV on the couch, Mom bandaged and back in her jacket. Lizzy immediately retreated to her room after a short explanation.
I checked my phone later that night, and I had a text from Cameron. I read it.
“Is your butt sore from the floor today?” it read. I laughed quietly and then replied.
“A little. But I’ll live.”
“I’m glad. And thanks for finally texting back.”
“Sorry it took so long. I had to work, and then I came home to a big mess.”
“What kind of mess?”
“Do I ever get to hear this story?”
“Probably not. What’s up?”
“I’m watching TV, and I just saw a commercial for this movie I really want to see…”
“I don’t know. What kind of movies do you like?”
“Even scary ones?”
“Do you get scared?”
“I don’t believe you. Maybe you should go see one with me and you can prove it.”
“Hmm… I don’t know…”
“Come on, please!”
“Now. Like, right now?”
“No, the other now. You know, the one tomorrow…?”
“Ohkay. Soo, I’ll meet you at the movies I guess”
“The one on the east side. It starts at 9:45.”
“I’ll be there at 9:30”
“So will I”
I didn’t text him back. I put on a purple tank top and a short, black skirt. I added a belt and a necklace and ran down the stairs, keys in my hand.
“I’m going out.” I said to my mom, while grabbing a jacket from the closet.”
“Where are you going?” she asked, suspicious.
“To a movie.”
“With who?” she sounded really surprised, probably expecting me to be going to some party like I usually was. But tonight was different. In more ways than one.
“A guy from school.”
“I don’t know. I’ll try to be here. But I’ll definitely be back tonight. You don’t have to worry, it’s just a movie. Which is a perfectly safe activity.”
“Okay. Just remember you have school in the morning.”
“I know.” I answered quickly and ran out the door. It was already 9:15, and if I didn’t leave right now, I wouldn’t be there on time. And I didn’t want to be late.
I jumped into the old black car, and drove to the theater. When I walked in, he was at the ticket counter. I walked up to him as he stuffed his change in his pocket. I put my hand on his shoulder to let him know I was there, and he turned around with a small, white piece of paper.
“You didn’t have to buy my ticket.” I said. I was grateful that he had, though. Because I definitely couldn’t afford it. He ignored my question, and gestured to the concessions area.
“Popcorn?” he asked. I nodded. I hadn’t had time to eat dinner. I would have sworn he read my mind.
“Did you eat dinner?”
“Then we’ll get a large.” I got out my wallet and began fumbling through it, kind of hoping he would notice, and pay for this too. I might’ve eaten dinner if we still had money for groceries…
He payed for the popcorn. We sat in the back corner of the theater. Normally it would’ve bothered me, but tonight, I just didn’t care. The movie would have terrified a normal person, but my life being a horror story, it didn’t scare me. Right around when the vampire was about to kill the main character, he put his arm around me, looking to make sure it was okay before he left it there.
When the movie was over he walked me to my car and kissed me goodnight. Normally I wouldn’t allow a kiss on a first date, but tonight was an exception. Cameron was an exception. I drove home without turning on the radio, remembering the kiss and imaging everything that we could become.
When I got home, my mom and sister were asleep, so I carefully crept through the hallway, trying not to wake anyone up.
The next month seemed perfect. Juggling seeing Cameron, work, and school was a struggle, but it was fun too. I was falling in love with him. I could feel it, but I didn’t know what to do. The next Tuesday night he texted me.
“Hey. You wanna go have an adventure?”
“What kind of adventure?”
“You’ll just have to find out.”
“I can’t use my car right now”
“I don’t have gas.”
“Then I’ll come pick you up.” I gave him directions, and soon his car was sitting in front of my house.
“Hi.” I said after he kissed me.
“Hi” he repeated back. I got in the passenger side of his old red truck.
“So where are we going?” I ask. Dying to know
He drove random places, and now we were driving through a lot of trees. I had no clue where we were going. Finally he stopped the car, and I looked around.
“A lake?” I asked, confused.
“Yeah. Just trust me.” And I did. Completely. We walked up to the water and found a canoe, waiting by the edge. The moon was bright, and I could tell he had planned this.
“Have you ever been in a canoe before?” he asked. I thought back to summer camp years ago. I had accidentally tipped over the canoe full of my friends…
“A few times.” We got in the canoe and paddled to the middle of the water, and we just talked. About everything. Some of it was pointless, some it full of meaning. I didn’t know what time it was, but I could tell it was pretty late. All of a sudden I felt the boat rock. I looked up, and saw Cameron standing up on the bench.
“What are you doing!?”
“It’s so cool up here stand up.”
“Come on!” slowly I crouched on top of the bench, and carefully stood up.
“This is pretty cool. A little scary though. What if the canoe tips over?”
“I guess we’ll have to find out.” He said it playfully, but I didn’t see what he was planning until it was too late. He rocked back and forth a few times, and all of a sudden, we were in the water. I screamed.
“I cannot believe you just did that! I’m all wet!”
“Have some fun!” he started swimming to the shore, and I followed him. He stepped out of the water and began removing his shirt.
“We should let our clothes start drying.” He winked. Of course. I walked out of the water and hung my shirt and shorts on a tree limb. Leaving me wearing only undergarments. We jumped back into the water, and swam around for a long time. Finally, we got out of the freezing cold water and layed down on the ground near it.
“Natalie” he said. “Will you be my girlfriend?”
“Yes” we layed there a while longer, silent. And finally he spoke.
“It’s late. We should go now.”
When we pulled onto my street I could feel something wasn’t right. And when he pulled up to my house, I knew exactly what it was. My father’s green truck was parked in the driveway. I gasped, as the realization hit me.
“I have to go!” I said urgently and opened the door, quickly jumping out.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. But I couldn’t answer.
“See you… later!” I replied quickly while running up the front walk.
“You mean at school tomorrow?” he yelled after me. I didn’t respond. I hoped I would be at school tomorrow.
When I walked in I heard a crash, and ran to the kitchen, which seemed to be the source. My father had thrown one of the glass plates at my mom. And had another in his hand. My mom saw me and gasped, unintentionally informing my father of my presence. He spun around. I saw a plate flying toward me, and felt a warm tingling in my arm. Then a brick wall hit my face, and it all went dark.
When I woke up I had an urge to run, escape from the nightmare that is my life. But I couldn’t. I opened my eyes and saw bright lights and a white ceiling. Sitting up made my head spin, but the instinct to know my location in order to protect myself overcame the pain. A hospital room. This is bad. If I’m in the hospital, then I failed to defend my mother and sister, who knows if they’re alright. A nurse came in and I flooded her with questions.
“Is my mom okay? Is my sister okay? How did I get here?”
“I don’t know the answers to those questions. You’ll have to ask your doctor when he comes in.”
“When will that be?”
“I’m not sure.”
“DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL!?” I shout at her. And I can tell I startled her.
“I’ll get your doctor.” She says quietly.
My doctor walks in, well I assume he’s my doctor. He flashes a light in front of my face and I cringe.
“Headache, huh?” I stop to notice the throbbing in my head that I had been too worried to notice before. I realize I have yet to access the damage. I notice a white bandage repeatedly wrapped around my upper arm. A flashback comes of last night. A plate hitting my arm. Memories flood back.
“My mother!” I ask urgently. “Is she alright?”
“She’s in better shape than you are. A lot of bruises and a broken arm. She refuses to talk about any of it. We need you to tell us what happened. Who did this to you?”
“I’ll tell you. But first, is my sister alright?”
“She’s fine. She has no injuries. She mentioned something about your mother telling her to hide.”
“Okay. Our father… he left us a few months ago. He’s been back a few times, for money and other things that he knows we need more than he does. He’s always been like this, for as long as I remember.”
“We assumed that from your pre-existing injuries… do you remember what happened last night?”
“I think so. I was out with my boyfriend… he brought me home and I saw my father’s truck in the driveway. I ran in. my father’s back was to me, my mother gasped when she saw me and he turned around. He threw something at me, glass I think. And that’s all I remember. What happened after that?”
“From what I can tell your mother drove you here. You were unconscious; you have a concussion and a nasty cut on your arm. And some really pretty bruises.”
“When can I see my mother?”
“I’ll tell her you’re awake. She can come in and see you if she wants to.”
“And your boyfriend… should I notify him that you’re here?”
“No! Please don’t! He doesn’t need to know about this.”
“I’ll send in your mom in a few minutes.”
The doctor leaves. I remember he didn’t tell me his name. Oh well. I think of Cameron. He’ll be wondering where I am when I’m not at school. I look around the room for my purse. I don’t see it anywhere. Which means my phone’s not here either. I’m sure whenever I have access to it I’ll have millions of texts and missed calls from him. I try to remember the last time I saw my purse. I had it when I walked in the house, but I must have dropped it when I walked in the door. That means it’s at home, and who knows how long I’ll be stuck here. I decide to get it over with and just call him now from the hospital phone. School would have ended half an hour ago, so he probably hasn’t started working yet. I reach over to the phone on the table next to my bed. I dial his number and listen to it ring until he frantically answers.
“Hey Cameron.” I say, unsure of how to start.
“What happened last night? I was worried and I tried to call you and I texted you but you never answered. And then you weren’t at school today and I thought something really bad might have happened.”
“Oh. I would have responded, I just… don’t have my phone right now.” I’m trying to sound as good as possible, and not like I have the worst headache of my life and am on the verge of tears trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do. But it doesn’t seem t be working.
“… Something’s wrong, isn’t it?”
“Well…” I hesitate to answer. I don’t want him to know, but clearly I have to tell him. “Yeah.”
“Natalie you know whatever it is… you can tell me anything.”
“I know. It’s kind of a long story. I have to explain most of it in person…. But do you remember the first night we talked, and it took me a long time to text back?”
“Yeah. You told me you had to work and then you came home to a big mess. And then when I asked, you said you would probably never tell me.”
“Well, it’s related to that. Except last time, I wasn’t in the middle of it, and this time… I was.”
“Are you okay?”
“I will be… what are you doing tonight?”
“I have to work until 8, and then hopefully seeing you. I can pick you up at your house at… 8:30?”
“That would be great… Except, I’m not at my house right now. And I don’t know when I will be. Can I call you back in like 5 minutes and tell you if I’ll be home or… not at home?”
“Sure. But if you don’t call back in 5 minutes I’m calling you back at this number.”
“I’ll call back.”
I hung up the phone, and the first tear rolled down my cheek. I need to see him, talk to him. But I don’t want him to see me falling apart. And I don’t want to have to tell him I’m here. I push a button on the table beside me that I’m told will call the doctor into my room. It works.
“Just testing out your button or did you actually need something?” the doctor asks.
“How much longer do I have to stay here?” I ask.
“At least one or two more days. That’s a pretty bad concussion, and we need to watch that arm, make sure its healing correctly.”
“Okay. That was my question. Oh, and is my mom coming?”
“Yes, she just woke up she should be here in about 20 minutes.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
He leaves the room and I pick the phone back up. I dial the number that I know by heart now. Cameron.
“So… tonight?” he asks immediately.
“I won’t be… home.”
“But I can still see you right?”
“I guess so…” I say.
“Natalie, where are you?”
I try hard not to cry, but I can’t help the silent tears falling from my eyes.
“I thought you said you were okay!”
“I said I would be okay. And I’m fine; they just won’t let me leave yet. Will you still come tonight?”
“You couldn’t stop me if you tried.”
“Okay. I’ll tell the nurse she can send you in when you get here.”
I hang up the phone, and the tears fall freely. I dry my eyes, and sit up further in my bed. Then my mother walks in. she doesn’t look as bad as I expected. She had a small bruise around her left eye, and a white cast on her right arm. Other than that, she looks completely normal. She’s still wearing the hospital gown, but she doesn’t have a million needles and tubes attached to her like I do.
“Mom… What happened?”
“He came… he didn’t say what he wanted. He started yelling at me and he hit me. He pushed me down, which is how I hurt my arm. I had just stood back up when you walked in. at that point I was more scared for you and Lizzy than I was for myself.”
“Lizzy! Where is she?”
She’s fine. Staying with friends. They’re letting me leave in about an hour. I’ll pick her up on the way home. I think she’ll be okay. Will you be alright here by yourself here tonight?”
“Cameron is coming later…”
“I trust your judgment. But don’t make the mistakes I did.”
“Cameron… isn’t like that. At all. When I get out of here you can meet him.”
“Well, you must trust him a lot if you’re going to trust him with this.”
“I do. He’s a great guy mom. He’s perfect.”
She walked out of the room, led by a nurse. I think about tonight. Cameron coming. I started to think about how I would tell him… but I’m sure he’ll ask a lot of questions once he sees the bruises everywhere. Realizing I haven’t seen how bad it is yet, I pull myself out of bed and into the small bathroom attached to my room. In the mirror, I see a girl that looks like the old me. Bruises covering half of my face, a bruise in the shape of a hand around my arm. I would cover some of it with make up if I thought it would help. But I know nothing will erase all the traces of my father.
The time until 8:30 passes more quickly than expected. Before I know it, a nurse is telling me Cameron is here, asking if I’m ready to see him. I tell her yes. When he walks in, the look on his face is one that I know I’ll never forget. He looks… shocked. Obviously he wasn’t prepared to see what’s staring him in the face.
I’m not sure he really knows what to do. But he walks over to my bed and kisses me quickly before sitting down on the edge.
“You forget to mention that somebody really hurt you.”
“You know you have a lot of explaining.”
“I know,” I decide to start from the beginning.
“When I was eight, I woke up one morning to find that my father was gone. He just… left. My mom tried convincing me it was a good thing, but I didn’t understand. When I was ten he came back. He was always drinking, he was on drugs… who knows what else. But he was mean. When he got mad, he would hit my mother. And as a got a little older, he would hit me too. When I was 14 he left again. But he was only gone a few months when he ran out of money to buy drugs I guess. Then it was even worse than before. He would hit and push and throw things at us. Me, my mom and my sister. A couple weeks before we met, he left again. It was a huge relief. The huge mess I came home to? He had come back needing money, and hurt my mom while he was there. And then last night when you brought me home, I saw his truck in the driveway. When I walked in he was yelling at my mom but he didn’t see me for a couple minutes. He finally turned around and saw me. The last thing I remember was the plate flying toward me.”
He waits, to make sure I’m done I guess. He stares at me for a long time. And again I think he’s not sure what to do. Finally he speaks.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I’ve never told anybody. Ever.” I say, choking back tears. This seems to break him. He pulls me into a hug and whispers into my ear.
“It’s gonna be okay. I’ll keep you safe.”
“That’s the problem. You can’t. I don’t want you near him. He doesn’t need to hurt anyone else I love.
“I love you too.”
Of course I hadn’t meant it that way. But it’s true anyway. I smile, and he kisses me again.
“Just tell me how I can help.”
“I’ll tell you when I think of something.” I say.
“Anything else going on?”
“I need to not be here. I need to be at work.”
“It’s okay. I’m sure they’ll understand.”
“If I’m not there… I don’t get paid. That’s gonna be a big problem.”
“You can use the money you have stored up. Everything will be okay.”
“That would be a great idea if my father hadn’t taken all of the money we had saved up.”
“Well that’s easy. I have money, you can have it. I’ll get another job, and you can have all of the money from that.”
“No! I’m not taking donations!”
“Please. It’s the only way I can help.”
“You want me to show you how you can help”
Before he can answer, I sit up further on the bed, and kiss him. Instead of a quick kiss, like usual, I let it go longer, and linger afterwards. When I pull back, I look into his eyes.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.” He says.
“And that’s all I need you to do. Just love me like my father never has.”
“That, I can do.”
We sat on the bed for a long time, holding hands. We talked a little bit, but mostly we just sat in silence. He doesn’t leave until around one in the morning. I fall asleep shortly after he leaves, but wake up soon after when I’m haunted by dreams of my father.
I stare at the sterile white room until it drives me insane. I can’t fall back asleep, but I can’t just lay here for the rest of the night either. I pick up the phone and start to dial before I even consider whether he’ll be awake. Because I don’t care. He won’t either. I know he would do anything to help me, and if he thinks me waking him up in the middle of the night is going to help me, he’ll stay on the phone as long as I want. I start to second guess my decision when the phone continues to ring, but finally, my original suspicions are confirmed.
“Nothing. Sorry… I just couldn’t sleep.”
“Bad dreams. I should’ve warned you about that. Sorry.”
“No, I knew it was going to happen, I just didn’t think about the fact that while I’m here I have nowhere to go. Staring at a white room for an hour is enough to drive you insane.”
Something’s wrong. Not with me, but him. He doesn’t sound like his normal, joking self. I run through the events of the day in my head, but can’t recall anything that would’ve upset him… but something definitely did.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that?”
“Not when you’re the one not acting like yourself. And I don’t know why… I can’t help if you don’t tell me what it is.”
“It’s not your fault. Nothing you can fix.”
“Tell me anyway?”
“Natalie I can’t.”
He hesitates for a moment, but I can tell he’s going to tell me.
“This whole thing is my fault.”
“How could any of it at all be your fault? My father is insane. That has nothing to do with you.”
“You ran into the house. I knew something was wrong. I debated running in after you, but I didn’t. Maybe if I had you wouldn’t be calling me from a hospital bed right now.”
“You’re right. I wouldn’t be calling you from my hospital bed. I would be talking to you through the wall that would separate your room and mine. And we’d both have worse injuries. And how would that be any better? It wouldn’t.”
“I hate hospitals.”
“I think everyone does… don’t they?”
“Everybody but doctors.” He says sarcastically. Well maybe talking about it helped him a little.
“So what were those dreams about?” he asks.
“Nothing exciting… just the usual.”
“And what’s that?”
“Things being thrown at me… my mom and sister dying, and the look on my father’s face when he’s about to do the same to me.”
“That’s awful. I’m sorry...”
“I’m used to it.”
“I’m sorry. I know how that feels.”
He knows how it feels? I think. How could he know how it feels? Unless…
“You were already awake when I called you, weren’t you?”
“From the sound of that… I think you already know the answer.”
He’s right. I do know the answer. I quickly run through in my head the reasons why he would have already been awake. Nothing comes to mind that makes sense. That leaves things that don’t make sense. He has dreams like I do? Maybe. Or he’s worried about me or mad or upset about something. Or the worst alternative. I force my brain to a place that I don’t go voluntarily. I lied about the normal dreams. Caitlynn. My sister. The flashbacks come back…
She was only 6 years old. The youngest of my mom’s children. My father had waited to hurt me until I was older… but with her, he hadn’t. I had watched from behind a couch as he beat her. Finally, he gave up and stomped out of the house. And when I had tried to wake her up my mom had run in and made me go into my room. He killed her. There’s no way anything like this could have happened to Cameron. I try to forget about it, but I can’t. I’m suddenly aware of Cameron shouting in my ear. But I can’t respond. The tears are already running down my face and the last thing I want is to have to tell him this story too. I slam the phone down, hanging up.
I cry for a long time. I pull my knees to my chest and my head sinks so that I form a human ball. I’m still in this position when I become aware of a shadow in the doorway of my hospital room. I don’t even have to look before I know who it is. Cameron.