She could smell the axe body spray oozing from his letterman jacket all the way home. He’ll forgive her for stealing the truck. He pretty much has to. There’s no way she could do something like this without talking to her parents. That night, laying on top of the comforter in that hotel bed, that’s all she could think about. She almost threw up twice thinking about it. Mouth watery, accompanied by the tightness in her throat. The moment she heard his breath change from the other bed, she took off.
Her parents were worried sick when she showed up in the truck. She nearly fell asleep twice on the drive back. Half a Red Bull and a Slim Jim giving her the last bit of energy to get home. She hadn’t told them anything. Hadn’t thought about it till they reached the Tennessee line. And when she told them what was going on, they responded just like she knew they would.
Her parents love her, but they don’t understand her. Their answer to everything is pray about it. It’ll all work out. They mean well, and that prayer thing might have made her feel better when she was twelve and the girls at school were mean, but she grew up. She’s over that now. She know’s that real problems need real solutions, and talking to an invisible God isn’t always enough.
Still, they hugged her. Told her she did the right thing by coming home and telling them. That felt good. She felt comforted for the first time in a couple days. Then her dad called the pastor, and she wanted to throw up.
She barely had time to take a nap before they drove out to meet the Pastor at the church that afternoon. Her boyfriend had called twice while she was asleep. Hadn’t called since. They were led through the church by the woman in at the information desk. It’s a mega church. The kind with a coffee shop out front and great big chandelier in the lobby. She was surprised they could even get in to see the Pastor at such short notice. But her parents had always been pretty active in their faith.
The office was all shiny leather. Framed on all sides with wall to wall books. Some ancient-looking, others more recent. The desk was some kind of exotic wood. Knotty. The Pastor listened as her father told her story. She was too embarrassed and intimidated to say anything. Just kept looking at the engraved nameplate on the desk. Waiting for the meeting to be over.
He told the pastor how desperate they were for any kind of assistance. How they were all going to have to make sacrifices in order to provide a life for this child. The pastor just stared at them behind his steepled fingers, rocking back and forth in his desk chair, trying to mask the silent judgement in his eyes. She almost didn’t realize when her father had stopped talking.
“I’m truly sorry about your situation,” the pastor starts. “But there’s very little the church can do to help you right now. Some of the elders would be offended by the nature of your predicament, as I’m sure you might have guessed. I can provide council and prayer, but we are not in a position to do anything else at this time.”
She can see the anger boiling in her father. The tips of his fingers going white against the wood of the desk, his jaws tensing up, chewing on nothing with his nostrils flared. She’s never seen him this ticked. It’s scary. She leans away in her chair.
“I’m very sorry,” the pastor says with confidence, unmoved by her father’s clear agitation. “Shall I pray with you both right now?”
Her father stands up, slowly, like he wanted to do more than just stand. “You know, I think we’re good, actually.” He turns away from the desk abruptly. Like he can’t get out of the office quick enough. “Come on, Caroline.” He touches her chair and she follows. Just before they leave the room he whispers something.
“What’s that?” The pastor asks.
“Out there in the lobby,” her father says with his hand still on the door. “I said that’s a real nice chandelier.”
“After I had him, I had to get out of town,” she tells the doctor before taking a sip of burnt coffee from the styrofoam cafeteria cup. It’s barely even warm anymore. “Single moms aren’t a common thing where I’m from.”
“What made you pick New York?” he asks. “It can be a pretty intimidating place to relocate to, if you don’t have any family up here. Especially if you’re from a small town.”
His eyes are kind, but tired. He wears the stress of his job in the sprinkling of gray hair at his temples. Probably in his mid thirties, but could pass for a bit older. “A flat tire,” she says. He laughs and she smiles back. “My aunt lives in Maine. I was on my way to her place when I got a flat up state. A new tire, turned into a hotel room, that turned into a HUD apartment.”
“It sucks you in doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” she tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She feels as tired as he looks. Emotionally spent. “It’s a hard neighborhood, but we’re blessed. A church back home has been helping us out since we left. They bought me the old clunker I drove up here in twelve years ago. Somehow it’s still running, though I don’t use it much anymore.”
“So you’re religious then?” He eyes the rosary round her wrist.
“We’re believers but I don’t know if you’d call us religious. Faithful, is probably more like it. You?”
“Oh no,” he says waving a hand in objection. “I’m about as far from religious as you could get. But everybody needs something, I guess.” He looks back over at her son, sleeping beneath the white sheets and bandages. “The whole prayer thing, does it work?”
She opens her mouth to speak but just then the machine next to her son’s bed starts beeping. The doctor rounds the bed to study the small screen. “Blood pressure’s too low,” he says to himself. “Heart rate’s climbing fast.”
Bolts of panic shoot through her limbs, making her fingers tingle. She can feel the rush of nervous adrenalin as she studies the doctor’s changing expressions. “What’s wrong?” she asks, standing.
Beneath the blanket, her son’s chest shows the rise and fall of rapid shallow breaths. The doctor peels the blanket back to get a better look at the bandages. A nurse rushes in, all practiced concern. “Not enough external bleeding,” the doctor tells the nurse. “He’s going into hemorrhagic shock.”
She comes over to the bed, grabbing her son’s hand. “What’s happening?”
“Your son is bleeding internally, we need to get him back on the table and find out where the hemorrhage is before it causes anymore damage.”
The nurse and the doctor start talking to each other in a language of medical terms and abbreviations that she can’t make heads or tales of. It only adds to the terror she feels. “What’s happening? Is he gonna be ok?”
The doctor finally looks at her, aware of how stricken she is with panic and grief. “Caroline, I need you to step back and let us take care of your boy. I promise we’ll do everything we can, but I need you to back up and let us work.”