The Art of Losing(11)

“Is she, you know, doing okay?” he asked. “Sorry. I mean, I know she’s not ‘okay,’ but . . .” He cringed. “Never mind.”

I let him stew in silence for a few seconds before letting him off the hook. “Don’t worry about it,” I said.

He tapped me in the ribs lightly with his elbow. “But really. How is she?”

I took a breath. “She’s . . . in a coma.”

It was the first time I’d said those words out loud.

Earlier that day, her doctors had grown concerned about the continued swelling in her brain. After more than twenty-four hours on steroids and diuretics, the decision was made to allow her brain to heal as the swelling went down. Dad said they would keep her in the coma—and it was no different than being under heavy sedation—for a few days. Then, if her EEG and CT scan showed improvement, they would wake her.

“The doctors say the rest of her is healing,” I added. “But it’s so weird, Raf. She’s just . . . not there.”

Raf didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. He knew what I was feeling. He slid his hand over on the rough stone wall until his fingertips were so close to mine that I could almost feel their warmth.

“Thanks for asking,” I said.

He nodded. “Of course,” he said. “With Allie, people were always avoiding it. Like, they wanted to know how she was, how we were, but never wanted to come out and ask. They didn’t want to remind us, but it’s not like we could forget, you know?”

I nodded. I could feel his eyes on me as I stared into the dark.

“So how are you?” he asked.

“I’ve been better. I’m so numb and I just keep thinking, ‘I wasn’t expecting to spend my summer sitting at the hospital all day, hoping my sister wakes up.’ How ridiculous is that?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “If it helps, I hear the hospital cafeteria food has really improved since the last time I spent my summer there. Mom says there’s even a Subway now. The fact that that’s an improvement is saying something about what it was like before.”

I managed a smile. Of course Raf would remember the hospital food. Such a boy.

“It helps a little,” I said. “But maybe not enough to make up for the fact that my boyfriend, the drunk asshole who almost killed her? He walked away with barely a scratch on him.”

Raf inhaled sharply. I guess that part hadn’t yet hit the neighborhood gossip circuit.

“But he’s still your boyfriend?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Only because I haven’t wanted to talk to him for long enough to break up with him.”

“That sounds about right,” he said. “The Harley I remember would have kicked him to the curb before he even got out of the car.”

I turned and stared at him. Was that really what he thought of me? I found myself wishing that I was the girl he remembered, bossy and demanding of his time. Insisting that we play the games I wanted to play. Making him watch the movies I wanted to watch. He saw more My Little Pony than he’d probably ever admit.

Instead, I grew up to be Mike’s girlfriend. I’d liked having a boyfriend so much that at first I’d pretended to be someone I wasn’t. But when I was finally comfortable enough to stand up for myself, Mike saw it as some kind of betrayal. He’d made me feel guilty about it.

Suddenly I realized I’d been gazing at Raf for too long. It was getting awkward. I said the first thing that came into my head.

“So, speaking of drinking, how was rehab?”

He laughed softly. “You heard about that, huh?”

I found myself smiling, too. “You heard about Audrey, didn’t you? Like, immediately after it happened? You know this neighborhood. I heard all about how your parents caught you with weed. How furious they were.”

Raf’s smile faltered. He took a deep drag from his cigarette and bowed his head, avoiding my eyes. He exhaled heavily. “It was outpatient, more like group therapy with a urine test at the beginning of every session. Sometimes a Breathalyzer, too.”

I swallowed. That sounded awful. Humiliating. “Did it work?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said with a sigh. “I guess so. I mean, I’m sober. I just don’t want to keep being a disappointment to my parents, you know? Being a burnout. But I don’t know if I’m actually an addict.”

“How do you figure that out?”

He laughed again, softly. “I don’t know that either. My therapist thinks I still need to ‘come to terms with it.’ But I think I’m just bored. Tired. Depressed. This city, this neighborhood, this house . . . it’s stifling.”

“But you’re graduating, right? I can’t wait to graduate, go to college, and get far away from here.”

Raf was quiet for a moment. He eyed the glowing embers of the end of his cigarette.

“Yeah, I’m graduating, but barely,” he said. Then softer, “And I didn’t get into any of the colleges I applied to.”

I blinked. “Oh,” I said, fighting to hide my surprise. The Raf I knew—or had known—was brilliant. In middle school, my mom told me that he had taken the SATs as part of some gifted program and he had done better than some of the juniors. He could have skipped a grade if his parents had been willing to let him. But he’d just been through a pretty big trauma. His parents figured that he needed his friends around, so he stayed with his class.

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