By Nessie Strange
The sound of the revving truck engine rumbled through Kady’s body. She squeezed her eyes shut, but didn’t move from where she rested on the grass. She was numb. In shock. Maybe even a little tired. Spinning tires flung sand and tiny pebbles into the air as Jared floored it and sped away. I’m sorry it has to be this way, Kady. His words circled her thoughts. Why had he just left her here? What kind of boyfriend even did something like that?
The ex-kind, Kady thought.
Her eyelids felt heavy. As she drifted off, the scents of lavender and peppermint hovered beneath the lingering truck exhaust. Kady didn’t remember falling or passing out, or even how long she’d been there; only that when she opened her eyes, there was a man she’d never seen before. He offered his hand and pulled her up.
“You’re gonna be alright, sweetheart,” he said as he picked the leaves from her hair. The man had such a lovely accent. British, she thought. Kick-ass. It was dusk, and his eyes almost looked black, his face concealed by shadows. His leather jacket squeaked as he moved. He’s like that boy that smokes behind the woodshop at school, she thought. What was his name? Jon? Jim? Yeah, Jim. He was one of the druggies.
She sniffled and rubbed her eyes. “He left me.”
“Oh, a real bastard, that one. And I bet he’ll be very sorry.”
Sorry? But he hurt me! Kady’s brows knit together into an intricate frown, but the man touched her cheek, soft and light, like when her daddy was trying to comfort her.
“Don’t do that to your pretty face.” He placed a finger under her chin and tilted her head to look up at his. His voice had a rough, scratchy quality to it. “It’ll all be better soon enough. I bet he’s wishing right now that he could apologize to you.”
She pouted. “Doubt it.”
He smiled. “Just give him time, love, and he’ll be begging for your forgiveness.”
Kady sniffed again and nodded, but she didn’t really believe him. Jared had been mad. He’d called her a stupid bitch and shoved her. You’re ruining my life, he’d said.
I hate him! Kady seethed. He doesn’t deserve me! She grasped her belly. He doesn’t deserve you, either.   
“I want to go home,” she said. The man watched her, silent. He was strange, but she wasn’t scared of him. “Do you have a car? Can you give me a ride?”
“I’m afraid I don’t. I could walk you to the main road, though. If you like.”
She shrugged and nodded.
They trudged down the middle of the dirt road. It ran along the power lines and if you went in the opposite direction, it ended at a huge sandpit. Sometimes her friends hung out and lit bonfires, but they weren’t there tonight. With at least three other major parties that she knew of this weekend, nobody would be out at the pits. Probably why Jared wanted to come here, so we could be alone. And talk. Jared. She ground her teeth together as fresh tears filled her eyes. That asshole! She’d thought he was going to propose to her. She kicked at the leaves and they fluttered around her.
Kady felt like they’d been walking forever. It was dark, and she hated the dark, but she was too mad to be scared. Stupid Jared just drove away and left her there! And he has my cellphone! She knew the way home, but that wasn’t the point. He hurt her and then he left her.
The dirt road emptied onto asphalt. It would only take five minutes to reach the highway; another twenty to make it home. Damn, if only she had her cell phone. She could’ve called someone to pick her up.
The man patted her on the head. “I’m sorry, love, but this is where we part ways. For now.”
“Oh. Okay. ” She’d almost forgotten he was with her.
He smiled and his eyes crinkled at the corners. “Perhaps I’ll pop in and check on you?”
She nodded and smiled back. “Thank you.” As she walked along the sidewalk, she glanced over her shoulder and offered one last wave, but he was already gone.
She could’ve sworn she heard him whisper, Go to him, Kady. Right the wrong. But she wasn’t sure if she’d imagined it or not.
* * *
“Ewww!” Kady grimaced at her reflection in the mirror and the offending presence: a gigantic, flaming red zit the size of a cherry, right smack in the center of her forehead. And it must have popped, too, because it was oozing and crusted with blood. There is not enough cover-up in the world to fix that thing. She groaned. She scrubbed at it with a wet washcloth, but it only oozed more blood.
Her parents weren’t home, so they hadn’t seen what a mess she was when she walked through the front door that morning. It had taken an extra-long shower to clean all the filth and grime off her skin. And her shirt? Her favorite pink tee? There were blood spatters all over it. It was so bad she had to throw it away. Relax, Kady. It’s just a shirt. But Mom would freak if she saw it. And she’ll notice it’s gone, too. Kady sighed. She padded down the stairs and into the kitchen. There was a note on the counter.
Took Cody to the zoo and then Grammy’s—be back Sunday morning. Love you! Mom & Dad
Stupid spoiled little brother, she thought. That kid got everything. Well, at least she didn’t have to deal with her parents yet. Kady rummaged through the refrigerator and pulled out a Coke. She wasn’t thirsty or hungry, but then again, since she found out about the baby, she hadn’t wanted much of anything. She’d actually lost weight. And everyone complains that you get fat when you have a baby! Ha! She’d be the hottest mom around. Mom and Dad are going to kill me when they find out, though. How was a seventeen-year-old supposed to tell her parents that she’s pregnant? Kady pushed that thought from her mind. It was something she hoped to avoid for as long as possible.
Kady took one more gulp and dumped the rest of her soda down the sink. It didn’t taste like anything, but lately nothing she ate or drank seemed to taste right anyway. She looked at the clock. 10:30 AM. Jared’s parents had invited her for dinner that evening. Maybe she could go a little early and help his mom cook? He’d be at practice—it was Saturday, the soccer team always had practice it seemed—so she could surprise him. She’d dress up, schmooze with his parents and everything would be okay. He’d have to apologize. Kady smiled. Now all I have to do is hide that ginormous zit.
* * *
“Kady dear, you look so pale. Are you feeling okay?” Mrs. Anderson touched her cheek, a concerned frown clouding her face.
Kady blasted Jared’s mom with one of her famous thousand watt smiles. “I’m okay, Mrs. Anderson. I’m just a little tired.” She rolled her eyes. “Studying for finals, you know.” She sighed. “And Jared and I had a fight last night. I couldn’t sleep at all.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I guess that explains why he was in such a bad mood this morning.” She patted Kady’s knee. “Don’t worry sweetie, I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”
Kady frowned when she thought about how Jared had looked at her last night. How much he’d seemed to hate her. How he stood above her and pointed at her while he yelled, like she was some kind of freak.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yup!” Kady shook away the thought and smiled again. “Now, what can I help you with, Mrs. Anderson?”
“Well, how about you peel some potatoes? We’re making potato salad.”
“I love potato salad,” Kady said, still smiling.  She hummed to herself as she peeled and chopped and plunked the potatoes into the pot.
Kady sat on the patio with Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. It was just after four PM. She was nearing her third glass of lemonade when she noticed the top button of her denim skirt had snapped open. Shit, she thought, and excused herself to the bathroom. This just figures. She fumbled with the button, but couldn’t even pull both sides of the fly together. What the hell? When she closed the bathroom door and looked in the mirror, she almost fainted.
 The sheer cap-sleeved floral top she wore, along with the pink stretchy tank top beneath it, rode up above her protruding belly. That’s not possible! My stomach was flat before I left! As if that wasn’t enough, the monster zit on her forehead—which she’d expertly hidden beneath a thick layer of makeup and the fringe of her golden bangs—had begun to ooze again, and a glob of stuff hung between her eyes like a gigantic wad of yellow snot. Ewwww. She wrinkled her nose.
As she wiped away the icky fluid off her face, she began to panic. How will I hide this? I look pregnant! The books say it’s too early to look pregnant! His parents must have noticed! What will they say? What will they do? And then there was Jared. He’d been so angry when she told him about the baby. If he saw her stomach looking like this, he’d really hate her. Think, Kady, think. Then she brightened. I’ll just take one of Jared’s shirts.
She crept upstairs to his bedroom and sighed when she saw the mess. Why did he leave dirty socks on the floor when there was a perfectly good laundry basket sitting in the corner? If she wasn’t so furious with Jared she probably would’ve picked them up, but not this time. Kady’s mom would’ve murdered her if she left a mess like that. She shook her head and opened the closet. Inside, she rummaged through his clothes until she found an oversized hooded sweatshirt and slipped it on. She studied her profile in the mirror. The sweatshirt was so big that it hit mid-thigh, right at the hem of her skirt, but at least it hid her stomach. Oh well, good enough. She walked back out to the patio. On her way, she poured another glass of lemonade.
The look on Jared’s face when he first walked in the door and saw Kady sitting at the kitchen table was priceless. Like someone stuck his balls in a vice and squeezed and jolted them full of electricity, Kady thought. She wanted him to be surprised, but more than that, to feel guilty. She smiled and folded her hands in front of her on the table. Jared’s eyes, which were shadowed by dark circles, darted from her, to his parents and back again.
“Have a seat, son,” said Mr. Anderson. “We’ve been waiting.”
“And you have company, too.” Mrs. Anderson winked.
Kady cocked her head to the side and widened her smile. “Hi Jared,” she said, in the sweetest voice she could muster. His eyes were gigantic O’s.
“I hope you don’t mind me stopping by for dinner.”
He nodded a quick jittery nod and mumbled something unintelligible.
“You’re always invited, Kady, of course he doesn’t mind,” Mrs. Anderson said. “Right Jared?”
 He ground his lips into a tight line and nodded again. Then he slumped into the chair across from Kady. Mrs. Anderson passed the potato salad to him.
“How was practice sweetheart?”
The bastard is squirming, Kady thought. Look at him. He can’t even hold a fork. And he’s twitching.
Jared said very little throughout dinner. He pushed his food around his plate and stole repeated glances at Kady.
Kady, on the other hand, heaped her plate full. She wasn’t really hungry, but she wanted to show him that she was fine. If I act like a normal, happy person, he’ll feel ten times worse. So she gobbled up a large steak, two ears of corn, a piece of bread, a pile of peas and a huge mound of potato salad. As she bit into her final piece of steak, Kady locked eyes with Jared and smiled. He drummed his fingers on the table. After chewing his bottom lip until it bled, he shot up from his chair, rattling the table as he hit it with his leg.
“Um, Kady? Can we…talk?”
She patted her mouth with her napkin. “Of course.”
They stood in the backyard. Jared paced and ran his fingers over his mouth, his jaw clenched.  Kady sat down at the picnic table and crossed her legs.
“How are you here?” he finally asked. “How the fuck did you get here? I—”
“Left me at the power lines all by myself?” She smiled and tilted her head.
His jaw hung open, but he didn’t say anything.
“I walked.”  Kady stood and made her way around the table. She brushed her fingertips under his chin, but instead of kissing her knuckles like he always did, he recoiled and staggered backwards. Kady narrowed her eyes. “But it’s okay now. I’m okay. If you apologize nicely, I think I can even forgive you.” She took another step towards him. “You wouldn’t want me to tell people what you did, right?”
Kady opened her mouth to cut him off, but instead of words, a loud belch erupted from deep within her.  
“Excuse me,” she said, but it sounded watery and garbled and not like her voice. She smacked her chest with her fist and coughed. As she did, liquid flew out of her mouth and splattered all over the front of Jared’s t-shirt. He winced and backed away from her. Kady doubled over, coughing more violently, and then everything she’d consumed that day emptied onto Mr. Anderson’s manicured lawn. She fell to her hands and knees. What’s happening to me? It was like she was throwing up, but instead of the heaving and the spasms, it had just fallen out. I didn’t even feel it coming.
“There, there. All better now.” It was the man. When did he get here? How did he find her? He was next to her, rubbing her back, comforting her—while Jared was backed up against a tree. Jared, who’d clamped his hand over his mouth and stood there, looking horrified while she was sick. Kady wiped her mouth and allowed the man to pull her up. “Nice dinner?” he asked.
“I don’t understand what’s happening.”
He offered a sympathetic look. His hair was a wild crop of black spikes and his skin was deathly pale. Almost waxy.  He looks sick, too, she thought.
“Perhaps I should have explained things last night.”
Kady frowned. “Explained things?”
“Well, yes. Your body doesn’t work quite like it did before. Especially with regards to eating.” He sighed when she showed no sign of understanding. “I’m afraid digesting food is impossible.”
“Kady…who are you talking to?” Jared’s voice cracked. Kady whipped her head around to face him and bared her teeth. He looked at her like she was crazy. It made her angry.
“I’m talking to my friend,” she hissed. “At least he is trying to help me.” Jared, that slimy bastard. I don’t know what I ever saw in him. Look at him—he’s a coward. He cringed against the tree like a little baby.
“Friend? What friend?” A short, nervous laugh escaped his mouth. “I’m dreaming this, right?” He raked his fingers through his hair. “It’s my conscience, trying to punish me, right? Cuz, fuckin’ A you shouldn’t be here. It’s not possible. And now you’re talking to imaginary friends.”
What was he babbling about?
“He can’t see me, love.” He uncorked a tiny bottle and waved it under her nose. I remember that smell. Lavender and a hint of peppermint. Something else she couldn’t identify. It calmed her.
“I don’t understand?” Kady studied the man’s face. He didn’t seem like he was lying. Was this man really part of her imagination? Was that why Jared couldn’t see him?  
Jared started laughing, but it was weird laughter. It was the laughter of a crazy man. Beads of sweat rolled down the side of his face. Was it hot? Kady hadn’t noticed. Come to think of it, she couldn’t feel much of anything. Jared clutched his sides and laughed so hard tears rolled out of his eyes. “How the fuck are you here?” He was on his knees. “I shot you! In the head!”
Shot me? Kady frowned. No, that wasn’t possible. She shot him with the iciest stare she could muster. Jared flinched.  
“He didn’t deserve to get away with it. Truly repugnant.” The man leaned closer to her and whispered in her ear. “Unforgivable.”
“Unforgivable,” she repeated.
“I’ve given you the chance to stand up for yourself, Kady. To right a wrong. An eye for an eye, as they say.” The man rubbed his chin. He half-sat on the top of the picnic table. “You can’t let him get away with what he’s done.”
Jared gasped for breath he was laughing so hard. Kady didn’t like this anymore. It was scary. “I’m sorry, alright? S-O-R-R-Y!” he said.
“I’m not sure how long the elixir will last, sweet.” The man reached out and brushed her bangs away from her forehead. “It brings you back but it doesn’t keep you here. Once it wears off you’ll have to come with me. Better make the most of the time you have left.”
“Did he really…shoot me?” she asked. Kady touched her forehead. That’s not a zit, she realized. But I think, deep down, I already knew that.
“I’m afraid so.”
Oh my god. Last night, Jared had stood above her. “I’m sorry it has to be like this,” he’d said. “I don’t have a choice. I just can’t be a father right now, Kady. I’m too young. We’re too young. I know you’re determined, but I can’t let you have it. I’m going to college. I have a life to live.” All those terrible things he’d said to her. Why had she forgotten? It was just last night?  There’d been a flash and a loud noise when it happened.  A life to live. Right. But he took mine. I don’t know how this is possible, but I think I really am dead.
“Your heart no longer beats; the blood no longer flows through your veins.” The man squeezed her shoulder. His voice was almost hypnotizing. She was drawn to it, and she wanted to go to him, but she had to do something first. “Your body is nothing but a vessel.”
My heart no longer beats. Kady took a step towards Jared. My body is a vessel. Then another. His laughter fizzled out.
“Sorry?” she said. She stood above him, just like he had over her the night before. “Sorry doesn’t cut it, Jared. I had a life to live too.” Kady smiled. Then she bent over, so their eyes were at the same level. Her smile widened. And it wasn’t long before Jared’s screams enveloped the night air.


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