The blinding fluorescent lights above me did nothing to improve the reflection standing in the mirror before me. My short, black hair was as tousled and unkempt as I’d ever seen it, thanks to the lake water. A fresh bandage covered the jagged cut on the left side of my face. The skin around my eyes and mouth had taken on a bluish hue. My right arm was in a cast and in a sling, both graciously signed by Mom just before she started her shift there in the hospital. I looked like shit. But then, hospitals aren’t built to make you look better. Despite the pain that I felt pretty much everywhere in my body, I was happy to be alive.
The day after waking up from the worst dream I’d ever had was spent in the drab, plain bed flipping through cable stations. The screen was annoyingly small.
The hospital door opened with a clang. The only kid who I had ever truly thought of as a friend stood in the doorway with a grin spread across his ugly mug. I couldn’t help but smile back as he began stepping toward me. He tended to be more energized when he sensed that I needed some cheering up, which according to him was more often than not.
Oliver always brought an uplifting presence to the room, especially hospital rooms such as mine where I’d been wallowing in self-pity.
The sight of my best friend made me even happier to have escaped the clutches of the ghosts of Demon Lake. He wasn’t swayed by my horrifying appearance. He didn’t hesitate when he saw my casted arm. All he did was take his slow, exaggerated steps toward me, smiling like a fool the whole way. Seconds later he reached me and turned to face the wide, floor length mirror so that we were both now looking at our reflections with him standing to my right.
“Dude, you look like roadkill.”
I laughed a hoarse, gravely sound. “I was just thinking that to myself.” My voice was worse than my laugh.
Oliver looked at me with mock surprise showing on his face. “What the hell was that!?”
Another laugh escaped my throat prompting Oliver to howl. Tears began forming in his eyes before he finally caught the look on my face.
“Oh don’t be so serious all the time Jamie. You almost died man! You should hear what people are saying about you!”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone knows about what happened last night. It’s all over Twitter.”
My eyes grew wide. “Oh, great, that’s just what I need.”
”Don’t worry buddy. This is good for your image!”
“What do you mean ‘this is good for your image?’ How could drowning look good?”
“Don’t you see? People are saying your name. Before long you’ll be on ‘her’ radar.”
Shaking my head, I turned away. “Oliver, there are more important things in this life than being on a girl’s radar.”
“Nonsense.” Oliver was one of a kind.
He was weird, to be sure. His hair was even messier than mine at the moment, but that’s just how he kept it. It fit with his bookish appearance. He never really cared too much about what others thought of him. That was one reason we had hit it off. When Oliver had moved to Angel Grove last year he didn’t waste any time scoping out the social landscape.
On his first day in my class he hadn’t even waited for the school bell to ring before professing his undying love for Terra Lawson. She was embarrassed beyond belief and of course stayed as far away from Oliver as she possibly could from that point on. That was the first of twelve incidents in eighth grade alone.
Oliver’s cough snapped me back to reality. “You’re doing that thing again man…”
Of course, I knew what he was talking about. Oliver was always laughing at me for “zoning out.”
Oliver never said the name; he knew how much I hated it, but he had no problem laughing in good fun at my habit. I had gone on many adventures in my mind over my lifetime, usually when I was supposed to be paying attention to someone or something else. The worst part was I had no way to keep my mouth closed. So, naturally, some people thought I was an idiot. After all, that is what a mouth breather is, right?
Oliver rolled his eyes and chuckled. “Where do you go, bro? What do you think about when you’re not here?”
“I imagine I’m thinking about the same sort of stuff as other people think about… Stories, theories, possibilities…”
“Dude, most guys our age aren’t thinking of anything but boobs and video games!”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right…” I knew Oliver meant no harm, but his words brought on a wave of anxiety. A torrent of thoughts began whirling through my mind.
I am different. That’s why I only have one friend. No one wants to be around the weird ones. I’m a weird one, I guess. I’m the outcast. But that’s okay, I suppose. At least I have that one friend. Oliver is a better friend than I could have ever hoped for. Besides, it’s not as if I’m hated or picked on. Bradan is the only one who pushes me past my breaking point. He’s always been the only one who wanted to hurt me. Ever since I knocked him out in sixth grade he’s had it out for me. Maybe I should have just let him drown last night. I wouldn’t have to deal with him ever again if I had done that. But I couldn’t… I’d never be able to live with myself.
“Jamie!” I looked up to see Oliver with that silly grin on his face. “Listen, we have to get you out of your own head. How about we go out and do something tonight?”
“What do you mean? How am I supposed to go out tonight when I’m literally stuck in?”
“You have to stay here tonight!?” Oliver was incredulous. “This is ridiculous!”
“The doctor said what doctors always say – something about keeping me for observation.”
“Man, I’ve been saying it for months now: These aren’t real doctors! I mean, they know your injuries aren’t life threatening, so in reality they’re just using this whole “observation” thing as a way to get you to stay here so that their vampire overlords can come in the night and suck your blood!!”
“Okay, be the skeptic, but I’m telling you that something about this hospital, hell, this whole town, doesn’t add up. Something smells fishy. I’m not trying to flog a dead horse by bringing this up again, I’m just addressing the elephant in the room!”
Another husky laugh escaped my throat. “Have you ever heard of “overdoing it”? That’s too many metaphors in one sentence.”
“But look, you’re already a little happier. I’m going to head down to the cafeteria here and snag a coffee, do you want one? You look as tired as a fat kid after 45 pushups and 2 rounds in the ring with a chicken.”
This time my laughter quickly became a fit of coughing. “What the hell does that mean?” It seemed that talking and laughing with Oliver was clearing my throat a little – I didn’t sound as bad as I had when he had first arrived.
“Oh you know what it means, he said with an overemphasized wink. “I’ll go grab those coffees.”
When Oliver left the room I looked back into the mirror.
Was it worth it? I know I did the right thing, but was it worth all of the trouble? I almost killed myself trying to save the only person that I know that hates my guts…
A knock at the open door caused me to jump.
Doctor Khatri stood just outside the room with a smile on her face. “Hey Jamie, how are you feeling?” The faint lilt of the words as she spoke them was undeniably Indian. Her voice was soothing in a way that reminded me of someone else…
“I’m good, Doc. Well, as good as I can be after nearly drowning in a haunted lake…”
“Haunted? Is that what they say about…what was it called again…Demon Lake?”
“That’s the story. They say that some people are drawn to it as if they hear the call of the spirit world. They say that no one comes out of that lake alive.”
The doctor gathered her long, glossy black hair and pulled it over her right shoulder. It stood in stark contrast to the extreme white of her lab coat. “Well I suppose that “they,” whoever “they” are, haven’t met someone of your caliber, Jamie.”
The reddening of my cheeks was noticeable as I laughed quietly at the irony. “Sure, I was trying to do something noble, but I didn’t survive because of my “caliber,” I survived because of Bradan’s lackey jumping into the water and pulling us both out. I’m just thankful that there was one from that group that wasn’t a coward.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Jamie, not many people would have risked death to save someone that they hate.”
“It’s not that I hate Bradan, it’s just that he does idiotic things. He doesn’t like to be made to look stupid, which is something I’ve done more than once in the last three years.”
“You know what I mean. You shouldn’t deflect praise by changing the focus to someone else. This is about you.” The furrow in her brow told me that Doctor Khatri was the littlest bit bothered by my way with words. “Accept the kind words with gratitude and know that this time, against all odds, you gave your maximum effort to doing what was right. But also remain humble and know that next time it could be different.”
“What do you mean, Doc?”
“I’m trying to say that being a good person, someone that you can be proud of, isn’t a one-time choice. You will have to make that difficult decision many, many more times in your life. It is often simple to do the right thing when the stakes are small. It is much more troublesome to do what is honorable when you have something to lose. This time, you did that. Next time, you may not. It is a choice that you will have to make again and again. A person’s “goodness” or lack thereof is always in flux. Just remember that the choice will come and it will likely be even more difficult to make the right decision when it does.”
“You’ve got a lot of wisdom tucked away for moments just like this one, don’t you Doc?”
“Oh no, I am just speaking through experience. I am old enough to be your mother, after all. In fact you may know my daughter –“
“Sam?” I blurted the name out before the doctor could finish. Clearing my throat, I spoke again. “Sorry, Doc, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
Doctor Khatri’s eyes had widened and a smile graced her lips. “So you do know her!”
Thinking of Sam always made my heart beat faster, which was apparently perceptible to the good doctor. A mischievous expression slid across her face, but was gone as quickly as it appeared she became expressionless, staring directly into my eyes. “So, how do you know my daughter?”
“Oh…well…I, uh…I…” I couldn’t help but stumble over my words.
The doctor began laughing hysterically. “Oh Jamie I’m just messing with you! Isn’t that what you kids do to each other?” She could hardly speak between bits of laughter, her words rising and falling in pitch.
There was nothing to do but laugh with her.
When the laughter had subsided, I spoke once more. “I go to school with Sam, but I’m pretty sure she has no idea who I am.” I paused, not really liking the idea of being a romantic trope. “Actually, that is impossible. She knows who I am. Our school isn’t nearly large enough for us to not have any idea of one another, but I’ve never had the guts to talk to her…”
Too late I realized my mistake.
“Never had the guts? Oh Jamie, do you have a crush on my Samaira?” The doctor gave me a toothy grin. In that moment my face couldn’t have gotten any redder. I was standing before the mother of the girl I’d thought of nearly every day for months, and looking like puke. I was never very good at first impressions.
“It’s okay Jamie. If my Samaira were to find a boy who she truly cared for I hope with all of my heart that it would be someone as noble and brave as you are.” Doctor Khatri's eyes were beginning to tear up at this.
Up until that point no one had ever said anything like that to me other than my own mom. Mom was always telling me how great she thought I was, but aren’t moms supposed to do that? It was definitely not normal for the mother of the romantic interest to say things like that.
My own emotions were nearly out of control and I wasn’t sure what to do next. Doctor Khatri just stared at me. Her eyes were brimming with tears and she had a wide, toothy grin.
Is Samaira like this? Is she as happy and outgoing as her mother?
The only time I’d spent with Sam was in the couple of classes that I had with her. Remembering those moments I could see that Sam was indeed a lot like Doctor Khatri. Her deep brown skin and length of black hair; her golden eyes; the way her eyes lit up when she laughed.
“Listen, Jamie. I don’t mean to be so motherly; it’s just part of my personality I suppose. I actually came in here to tell you that if there are no complications tonight you will be able to leave first thing in the morning. I hope that’s okay.”
“It’s fine, Doctor Khatri. My buddy Oliver isn’t too pleased, but I’m sure he’ll get over it,” I said with a grin. With a clap of her hands, a couple of well wishes, and one last bright-eyed smile, Doctor Khatri turned and left the room.
This night is just too much, I thought, going to sit back on the bed.
It’s definitely better than last night, that’s for sure. A chill ran down my spine at the memory.
It wasn’t long before Oliver poked his head back into the room, pretending to not recognize the place. After a couple of seconds he looked at me and with a dramatic shake of his head he walked in. “Jamie! So, this is the right room! Dude, everything looks the same in this God-forsaken building of death.”
“You really are a character, aren’t you?” I took a coffee from Oliver as he sat down in the chair next to my bed.
“Hey bro, don’t come crying to me when the last drop of your blood is being sucked from your body!”
“I doubt any vampires would come near me anyway. I smell like the bottom of a lake.”
Just then, and with another dramatic head-shake, Oliver began speaking rapidly. “Dude! You were in Demon Lake! Like, IN Demon Lake!”
“Yeah, Oliver, I know that. It’s pretty evident given my blue face, dontcha' think?”
“No-no-no! Listen! Maybe it isn’t vampires that want you here overnight! What if it’s witches! They are going to use your body, a body touched by the dead of the haunted Demon Lake, to conjure evil spirits from beyond the grave!!”
I shook my head in disbelief. “Bro, you have got to calm the hell down.” Oliver had a wild imagination. Sometimes it was awesome and other times it was, well, this.
“Alright, alright. I know it’s probably not true, but you can never be too careful.”
The rest of the evening passed uneventfully. Oliver stuck around for an hour or so before being called home by his parents. Mom stopped by later in the evening to bring me something that was much better than hospital food: pizza! That pizza was the best thing I’d ever tasted. She couldn’t stay for long, though; her work in the Emergency Department beckoned her away. She left with promises of a long talk and some more pizza.
I was amazed at the courage and resiliency Mom always seemed to have. I could tell she was sad, but her energy was high. She had nearly lost her only child and her only other living relation, even if it was by marriage, had just been declared missing in action on the other side of the world. Mom was very special.
Sunday morning seemed to have been blessed by the Angels. I woke feeling energized and in not quite as much pain. Mom was able to get the entire day off so she was waiting for me downstairs in her mini-van at eight-thirty. Of course, as is the way with hospitals, I wasn’t discharged until after nine, but that didn’t upset Mom.
As soon as she saw me come through the front doors of the hospital she jumped out of the midnight blue eight-seater and rushed to my aid.
“Mom – Mom!” I said with a chuckle. “It’s okay, I got it.”
She looked up, lips pursed in motherly fashion. “Jamie, don’t tell your only mother not to help. I gave birth to you, you know.”
“Yes Mom, I know.”
I climbed in the car, albeit gingerly. The trek from my room on the third floor of the hospital had used up more energy than I would have thought. The demons were renewing their grasp on me.
I’m really in terrible shape…
It wasn’t long into the trip before Mom started in.
“Jamie, I know it may be too early to get into it, but I have to know: why?”
“Why what, Mom?” There was a bite to my words that I hadn’t expected to be there. She began tearing up at the sound. “Mom…I’m sorry. I don’t know why. I just wanted to be alone I guess. I was being selfish and I should have called you to let you know where I was. I’m sorry…”
She hit the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road; once stopped she threw her arms around me and sobbed into my shoulder.
I wrapped my right arm around her shoulders. “Mom, it’s okay. I’m okay. I know Uncle Rob will be okay too.” I hope that it had sounded believable.
She pulled away, tears pouring from her green eyes. Smile lines speared away from the outside corners of each eye. Her black hair, which had been passed down to me, was tied up with a ponytail holder.
“Jamie, you almost died. The skin around your eyes and mouth is just starting to go back to normal but it was blue, Jaime. Blue. Because you drowned.”
I pushed the fingers of my good hand through my short black hair. “Ah…almost. I almost drowned.”
“Don’t play semantics with me right now, you know what I mean.” Her tears had dried up but the sadness in her eyes and voice was heavy.
“Yeah…I get it. I practically drowned. I’m sorry, okay? I had no other choice. Those guys would have killed me.”
“Those guys are going to jail.”
“What? What did you do, Mom?”
“You know what I did. I called the police and told them everything that happened. They are going to be stopping by tomorrow after school to get your statement.”
“Mom, I can’t give them a statement.”
“You damn sure will give them a statement, Jamie Tyler Anderson.”
“Seriously? The “whole name” thing? Aren’t I a bit too old for that?”
She stared at me in silence for a moment, her eyes now slits. “You’re not ever going to be too old for it.” She paused for a moment to check her mirrors before putting the van in drive and entering the roadway. “And you will give an accurate statement to the police.”
“You know that I can’t do that. That will bring more trouble down on my head from those guys. Besides, the police aren’t going to do anything to any of them.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, none of them actually hurt me. I kind of beat the shit out of myself…”
“Mom, I’m 15!”
“Don’t cuss in front of your mother!”
I let slip a laugh. “You do it all the time!”
A look of innocence overtook her features. “I’m the mom!”
You need to be logged in to comment