I found out two things today: One, I think I’m dying. And two, my brother is a perv.
My friend Maggie says that things happen for a reason. This is how Mags thinks: that there’s an explanation for everything and you just have to find out what it is. Like the time in second grade when I got the flu and couldn’t go on the class trip to Huntsville to see the giant statue of Sam Houston. According to Maggie, the universe spit this out on purpose. Maybe if I’d been there, something bad would have happened, like a pigeon crapping in my hair while I stared up at Sam’s enormous head. Someone might have broken into our house, but didn’t because they peeked through the window and saw me lying on the couch all feverish, watching The Price is Right. Maggie believes the world works like that.
Me? I don’t. This drives Mags nuts, but like my dad used to say, “You believe what you believe. Who am I to say you’re batshit crazy?”
My father bailed on us when I was eight and we haven’t seen him since, but at least he left me words to live by and a colorful vocabulary. Unfortunately, the administration of Ima Hogg Junior High is not a fan of colorful vocabulary. Even though I’m probably dying of some strange disease—I’ll get to that in a second—they had no problem assigning me three days of after school detention for calling my algebra teacher Mr. Collins an asshat. Which he is.
You would think a school named after a woman whose parents had an obvious screw loose in the naming department would be more reasonable. You would think.
So this is what I was going to tell Casey—a.k.a. my perv brother—when I walked into his room. That he was going to have to pick me up at five for the next three afternoons because the state of Texas had cut the budget, and that there was no more late bus for juvenile offenders like me, and that it was way too far to walk in my currently dying condition.
Okay, at that moment I didn’t really know I was dying. The doctors (all five of them) have been shifty about actually telling us that there’s no cure for what I have. I’m just a thirteen-year-old girl who had to quit track because I can’t run even as far as the mailbox anymore without gasping for breath. I’ve got weird rashes on my feet and funny dark patches on my tongue. My white blood cell count is totally out of whack. I’m always cold and I’m thirsty even though I drink like I’m a camel preparing for a desert trip. And just for grins, my pee has started to look a little green.
Here’s what I don’t have: Cancer. Diabetes. Scabies. Ebola. Menengitis. Beri beri. Flu. Congestive Heart Failure. Pica. Exploding Head Syndrome. (Yes, it’s real. Look it up!)
Anyway, Casey’s silver Prius was in the driveway this afternoon when I got home. It’s really my mom’s car, but Mom isn’t exactly driving much these days. She’s not paying the bills much either, but that’s another story. And here’s the thing I’ve learned about a Prius. If your stoner brother (yes, Casey the perv) leaves it running all night because, in his words, “It’s like a fucking stealth-mobile. Really, Jenna, I had no idea it was on,” it will likely not be able to take either of you to school the next morning. And if your brother lets his stoner pal Dave borrow it to go get tacos at Jack in the Box at two AM, it’s likely to come back with the hood scratched and a huge dent in the front bumper. Not to mention likely to stink like a combination of grease and weed.
“Likely” is a word I toss around a lot when it comes to Casey, because even when he tells the truth—and this is the kicker; he usually does—he sounds like the worst, stupidest liar on the planet.
Dave blamed the accident on the Prius dash display. According to Dave, it’s extremely distracting because you can set it to show you when the car is running on battery, so the blinking lights freaked him out and caused him to close his eyes after placing his taco order. This is why he bashed into the drive-through menu. In no way did Dave believe that this incident related to what he had inhaled prior to the taco run.
Dave to Jack-in-the-Box worker: “Dude. I’m stuck in the menu.”
Jack-in-the-Box worker: “Dos tacos. That’s Spanish for dos tacos.”
I walked in, tossed my backpack on the couch and headed upstairs. Mom’s door was closed. No surprise there. I thought about knocking. The thought didn’t last long. I
could hear whatever was on her TV, a cooking show by the sound of it. Mom hasn’t cooked a meal in at least a year, but she’s got this thing for the Food Network. “That Paula Deen,” she commented the other day, “do you know she used to be afraid to leave the house? Now look at her.”
I didn’t want to look at Paula Deen. I wanted my mother to snap out of whatever kept her inside the house all day. My tongue was covered with dots and my pee had begun to look like dye for green lifesavers. But when your mother is still in the same sweats and T-shirt in which she’s spent the last three days and nights, telling her that maybe you’ve got some freaky jungle fever probably isn’t going to make a difference.
Last week, I proved this theory by showing her my tongue. She cried and told Casey to take me to the dentist. Then cried some more when we reported that: a) The Visa card was rejected and we now owed the dentist $250 and b) Dr. Kensington had informed me that the tongue was “mysterious.”
I climbed the stairs, tired and pissed at Mr. Collins and the Ima Hogg detention policy. My boots felt too heavy for my legs, which was a definite bummer because I loved those boots. They were brown square-toed Ariats that I’d gotten at Bubba’s Boot Town. I still had the receipt—not because I planned on returning them, but because it listed the name of the guy who’d sold them to me. I was wearing boots that had been fitted by a salesman sporting a huge Texas-shaped silver belt buckle, whose name tag identified him as Jesus. You don’t return boots like that, even if some weird disease is making it hard for you to walk in them.
Casey’s door was closed. I knocked. It was probably hard for him to hear me over the sound of Katy Perry singing about wanting to see someone’s peacock. So I turned the knob and walked in.
My brother was sitting against the headboard of his bed, his laptop on the comforter next to him, and his right hand down his jeans. He was wearing a MOUNTAIN DEW T-shirt with a stain on the front. He was breathing sort of heavily. The state of Texas did not believe in sex education, but we still had cable and high speed Internet. I was not unaware of what he was doing.
“Gross!” I hollered.
It took Casey a few seconds to register my presence. He scowled and yanked his hands out of his pants. If there is anything worse than being saddled with an unidentifiable disease and three days of detention, it is walking into your brother’s room to find him, unzipped, on a porn site. Correction: I had no idea if he was looking at porn since I couldn’t see the laptop screen. For all I knew, he was jacking off to pictures of the Grand Canyon. Which might explain his lack of a girlfriend . . .
A pain sliced through my head so hard that I gasped. Tiny white dots hazed my vision. Terrific. My brother is pleasuring himself to pictures of the Colorado River and I’m the one who’s going blind. I clutched at my temples. Vaguely, above the sound of
Katy Perry, now reminiscing about the taste of cherry Chapstick, I heard Casey’s voice saying something. The smell of stale marijuana and possibly the remains of a tuna sandwich wafted through my nostrils. I crumpled slowly to the floor. Maybe I’d have fallen faster, but the Ariats made my legs less flexible. Thank you, Jesus.
I hit the carpet with a thud, my cheek pressed against something grossly squishy that I was too distracted to identify. Above me on the bed, Casey screamed. It sounded like, “Jenna, don’t break my bong.” Or maybe, “Jenna, I’m going to sing a song.”
“I think I’m going to puke,” I managed. Could heads actually split in two like in a cartoon? Because that’s what mine felt like it was about to do.
“Hang on,” he said. I felt-more-than-saw him fling himself off the bed. “Lemme get the garbage can.”
I lay on Casey’s less than clean cream-colored carpet, taking shallow breaths and trying not to vomit. The room had fallen silent. Maybe Casey had turned down the volume. Or else I was going deaf along with everything else. I willed myself not to pass out and—since I had nothing better to do—I scanned the crap under Casey’s bed, which seemed to include a lot of wadded up pieces of Kleenex. A plate with half of what was definitely that tuna sandwich I’d smelled was sitting in the middle of the used tissues.
Note to self: Spray laptop with Lysol before using.
“Here.” Casey shoved the garbage can at my head. “Can you sit up?”
“Only if your pants are zipped.”
“Ha ha. Did you ever hear of knocking?”
“I have three days of after-school detention,” I said, because honestly this was why I came in here wasn’t it?
I managed to ease myself up off the floor. Casey kneeled next to me holding the garbage can like he was offering me a prize. His hair was sticking up at funny angles and his breath smelled like corn nuts. His eyes looked a little red. He reached up and picked what turned out to be a halfchewed corn nut off my cheek. Then he smoothed my hair back and held it while I vomited into the can.
We peered at the puke when I was done. If I had to color it in a picture, I’d use the forest green crayon.
“What have you been eating?” Casey asked. He stared at the puke some more and then at me. I wiped a stray dot of vomit off my Ariats. I had recently cleaned them with some leather cleaner that Jesus had talked me into along with the boots.
“Nothing. Nauseous all day. Oh wait . . . I had an apple slice during nutrition.” Nutrition was what Ima Hogg called our fifteen minute break. I guess because we were too old for them to call it recess.
“Yeah,” I said. “Take your hand off my head. I know where it’s been.”
Then I passed out.
When I came to, we both agreed that maybe I was dying.