It’s when Rory winces again that we find the bruises. All over his stomach. Some on his chest. They take him to the hospital two towns over. Mom and Dad take me home.
“How can you be so irresponsible, Jackson?” shouts my mom from the front seat. “What on earth would compel you to, just, run off the trail like that?” She keeps talking and Dad gets in a word every now and then when Mom stops to breathe.
I’m staring out the window. We’re moving back to the Cottage at a snail’s pace, the rain coming down harder and harder. It gets to the point where it makes a curtain around the car and I can’t see the outside world anymore. So I look away and answer my parents’ questions with one-word answers. Even then, Dad takes over for Mom’s screaming. Not at me, but at the traffic ahead.
It doesn’t matter what I say. They’re too riled up.
I shift in my seat.
Maybe I should come clean to our parents, that I’ve been manipulating them to turn against Rory.
Maybe I need to confess that I’ve been reading Rory’s journal.
I sink into my seat.
The Harwoods’re gone for the rest of the afternoon, and I don’t think to ask what happened. By the time they get back, it’s pitch black outside and they’ve brought a lot of Chinese food for dinner.
Rory’s glaring. Not to anyone in particular, but just in general. His left arm’s in a sling, his face is pale, and he doesn’t look that comfortable.
His glare intensifies when he sees me. “Holy shit, what happened?”
“Language, Jackson,” Mom spits, pushing passed me. “What happened?”
Mr. Harwood sighs. “Some bruising, a fracture. Nothing serious.”
I swallow. I didn’t think my head’d be so heavy.
“He didn’t say how he got them, though.” Mr. Harwood’s eyes scan my way. “Jackson,” he says, in a low, menacing tone, “do you know?”
“Yes, sir. He tripped over my head.” I open my mouth and my insides feel all twisted up. “We…were tripping a lot in the rain…sir,” is what I manage to say. I’m tempted to follow up with something else, but the conversation’s moved on.
“Go get some rest,” he says to Rory. “I’ll be up in a little with some painkillers and frozen food.”
Rory nods and bumps my shoulder. He climbs the stairs and closes the door.
I don’t hear it click.
“You, are going to go apologize. Right now,” Dad warns.
I nod and go upstairs.
Anything to get me away from them right now.
“Hey, uh…I’m sorry,” I say as I step in.
Rory’s in the chair by the window. He’s not looking at me. “So kind.”
I roll my eyes and kick the door shut. “You gonna do that all summer?”
“I dunno,” he says, glancing back at me. He sniffs. His nose sounds stuffed up. “You gonna be a little bitch all summer?”
“Wow, how original.”
“You lied to them,” he says, glaring.
“I don’t want everyone to hate me.”
“You don’t wanna experience the hell you’ve put me in?” he asks, cocking his head.
“You had it coming, ass.”
He stands. “I’ll tell them.”
It’s my turn to glare. “Oh, yeah. That’ll look really good. You picking on me for a good month and then you say I was doing it on purpose?” I take a step closer to him. “Who’s gonna believe you?”
“Wow, we have some blackmail on each other.”
I cross my arms. “So it seems.” We don’t say anything for a moment before I sigh, holding out my hand. “I won’t say anything if you won’t.”
“Aw, and here I was, hoping our truce was actually real.”
His eyes narrow. “Oh, the truce is a thing. Doesn’t mean it excuses your shit.”
“Neither does my reenactment of Carrie.”
Rory shudders. “I said I was sorry.”
“Great.” I point towards the door over my shoulder. “So you want me to go down and tell them I have night terrors over what you did.”
“No, you don’t,” he says, rolling his eyes.
My eyes widen. “Are you fucking serious?” I step closer. “Besides everything you’ve done that was with bugs, that was the worst thing you’ve ever done.” I swallow back the lump in my throat and my skin tingles. I rub my arms like the way you scrape ice off your car. My stomach twists and I can feel it on me again. “O-okay, I can’t. I-I need a shower.”
“Rory, I got – ” Mr. Harwood comes in with a small white bottle and a bag of frozen peas, and I push right past him.
I’m panicky as I peel off my shit, throwing open the curtain to the shower tub and turning the water hot.
I don’t feel clean.
I don’t feel clean.
I don’t feel
“Fuck,” I scream, seeing a hand turn the dial all the way in the other direction. I’m being showered in ice from the Arctic. “Mom, why - ”
“Wrong, Princess,” Rory sighs from the other side of the shower curtain.
I turn red. “Dude, get out!”
He sighs again. “And risk you burning yourself again? I don’t wanna get my ear ripped off this summer.”
I slide all the way to the edge of the tub, out of the water. I still get sprinkled with it. “Can I at least get it a little warm?”
I don’t feel any better. I just feel awkward now. “…no.”
Rory goes to turn off the shower fan. Now it’s just us with the sound of running water.
Which makes things more awkward.
“Why did you do that?”
I look up. “Wha?”
“Why did you…need to, like, burn yourself?”
I clench my jaw. “…I don’t know.” I inhale, and the water gets a little warmer. Rory’s reached behind my head so it’s lukewarm. And I scoot back into it. “Trust me, I wish I could tell you what I was thinking, but…I can’t.” I can’t remember it, either. “I just…remember being sticky.” I swallow the lump down again and sigh. “Can…can you turn up the water a little?” Rory reaches in and twists it a sliver. It doesn't really make any difference. “Thanks.”
He’s in here to make sure I don’t boil.
He takes in a breath. “For going too far.”
I stretch out my legs. “Then can we call the truce official? All bad blood behind us?”
He doesn’t say anything. He reaches in, turns off the water, and leaves.
A folded towel’s left on the toilet.