When Carol got in from school, Mike wasn't there. She hadn't figured that he would be but it was still a disappointment not to see him sitting at the table. With a frown, she tossed her coat on the hook before stomping upstairs to her bedroom. Her stomach began to growl but she silenced it. The mere thought of food had becoming sickening to her. How could Carol possibly be expected to eat when Mike was in such danger and no one was even paying any attention? She had become so immune to the pangs of hunger that she hardly felt a single thing except the incessant pang in her heart that had been there since Mike had first walked out.
Carol slumped onto her bed and opened up her Biology book. She hated osmosis and it made absolutely no sense to her. Normally school came easily to her but lately her grades had been slipping – not that her parents seemed to notice, or care. They might not appear to care what happened to Mike but they were worried – more so about him than her grades. Carol always made good grades. It was just something that was constant and unquestioning. No matter what, Carol would get good grades. She was the good child, the good student. They had never had problems with her so why now? After a few moments of reading over her notes, Carol slammed her book shut. It was no use. She would never understand any of it if she stared at the chapter for a million years. Suddenly, a door slammed shut and Carol jumped. Mike was home. He had actually come home tonight! Maybe things were looking up…
"Hello? Anyone home?" He called. Carol bit her lower lip as she stood behind her bedroom door. Should she say she was there or should she just go back to her pathetic attempts of learning osmosis? She chose the first.
"It's just me!" She called from her position behind the door. She listened intently as his footsteps fell upon each step, making his way up the stairs and to her bedroom. He actually knocked on the door which was impressive to Carol.
"Come in," She called, hurriedly moving away from the door and flinging herself back on the bed, amongst the papers and books.
"Hey!" Mike grinned as he sauntered through the door, "Homework?"
"Osmosis. It's terrible! I don't understand it at all!"
"What?" Mike smirked, "Perfect little Carol Seaver actually doesn't understand her homework?"
"Oh hush," Carol rolled her eyes, "It is possible for me not to be perfect."
"Doubt it," Mike grinned, "So, do you want to come downstairs. We can fix some peanut butter and Oreos."
It had always been a childhood treat of theirs. They would often sneak downstairs to munch on their "secret recipe" and just talk. They used to be able to tell each other everything. Now, things were different. Things had changed. Carol blinked at Mike, wondering what had come over him. Perhaps he was trying to make his comeuppance for earlier at school, earlier today.
"What do you say?" He pressed.
"Alright," Carol sighed, "I can go for some peanut butter Oreos right now."
"You look starved," Mike said as they began to make their way down the stairs and to the kitchen. So someone had noticed and the only someone Carol would have least expected. She blushed, not wanting her secret starvation to be known – especially to Mike. If he still had the devious Mike she used to know, he would probably blackmail her with it to get his way.
"Oh, I've just been busy," Carol shrugged off the comment.
"Hey," Mike grabbed her shoulder once they were downstairs, "What's up with you?"
"Nothing. I don't have to eat all the time to be normal Mike. If I recall correctly, you once called me a pig."
"Pig?" Mike looked confused, "Geek-face maybe and definitely nerdy-McNerd-face but I don't remember pig."
"Well I do," Carol's eyes fell to the ground as an awkward silence followed. Mike wanted to say something but didn't know where to begin. Had he really called her a pig?
"I-I had had a really bad day. David had just broken up with me and I didn't know what to do so I plopped myself down on the couch with a tub of Chocolate Bluebell and a 21 Jump Street rerun and just gorged. You came in and told me I was a fat pig and if I wanted, you'd put the ice cream in a trough for me."
"Ouch," Mike winced, following Carol into the kitchen, "Sorry about that."
"It doesn't matter now," Carol grabbed the bag of Oreo's off the top of the refrigerator and Mike got the peanut butter out. They sat across from each other at the kitchen table, their treat in between them.
"So, how was school?" Mike asked.
"Alright. We had to write a paper about our lives and our families in English. I think it was just busy work."
"What all did you write about?" Mike asked as he dipped an Oreo into peanut butter.
"Mom, dad, me, Ben, and you," Carol answered, following Mike's suit.
"I am sorry I haven't been around much," Mike mumbled around the Oreo in his mouth.
"Me too," Carol answered honestly, "You can stop you know. You can just come home and leave this behind you. No one will ever mention it again and it will be like it never even happened…"
"That's your solution to everything, isn't it?" Mike challenged, "Just forget these things ever happened! How can I when I wear the marks on my arm!" Mike extended his arm and scrunched up his long sleeve t-shirt, reveling scars from old and new needles.
"Mike," Carol gasped, "You must stop this!" Carol shouted.
"But you have to! Mike, I hear stories about addicts and…and I don't want to be stuck with only Ben for a brother!" Carol's heart was racing.
"I am not going to die, Carol. Some days I want to though. Some days I want to never wake up. But I can't do that to you guys. I can't put you through that pain."
"But you can put us through this pain?" Carol wasn't quite comprehending.
"This isn't about you, Carol," Mike whispered softly, "This is about me and only me."
"What did you do that could ever make you hate yourself so much?" Carol asked, unsure she wanted to know the answer.
"I lived," Mike smirked.
"Mike…" Carol bit her lower lip, "That was years ago."
"I don't care. I was the one who hit the tree. I was the one who was speeding. Not Michelle. Michelle didn't have to die. I should have."
"Mike," Carol put her hand on his, "Michelle's parents forgave you. You heard what they said during the trial: that you were a nice boy who just got into trouble one time. They didn't even bring up charges. The police wanted to but they said it wasn't necessary. They questioned you and you weren't drinking or anything. You were only five miles over the speed limit! You weren't trying to hurt anyone."
"But I did, Carol. I did and I can never take that back."
"Mike, what happened to Michelle was a tragedy and you have to move on. She wouldn't want you doing tis to yourself. She wouldn't want you…"
"Shut up!" Mike shouted, causing Carol's eyes to widen, "Look," he softened, "I am sorry Carol, I really am. But let's just please talk about something else – anything else – other than me right now. I will be fine. Trust me. You do trust me, right?" Mike raised an eyebrow. Carol didn't know how to answer that. There once was a time she trusted him but did she now? Did she trust him with the bloodshot eyes and needle wounds in his arm? Did she trust him at all?
"It's a simple question, Carol. Do you trust me?"
"I try to," Carol answered honestly, "I do try to trust you."
"I guess I don't make the whole trust thing easy, do I?" Mike smirked.
"No," Carol smiled, "No you don't. It's almost four. Ben will be getting home from Jerry's house and Mom and Dad will be back by five. Ben misses you, Mike. You should take him out to the park and help him with his batting. This year's been tough on him. The new baseball coach doesn't seem as…gentle on him as Coach Phillips."
"Kid ought to bat better."
"Kid ought to have an older brother who's willing to show him how," Carol replied coolly.
"Touch?" Carol raised an eyebrow.
"You know – that French word people say when they don't have a good comeback."
"You mean 'touché?'"
"Yeah, that one."
"Go out and practice with him," Carol said, screwing the lid back on the peanut butter, "It'd mean the world to him."
"Alright," Mike nodded, "I'll give it a try."
"Thank you," Carol smiled, standing from her chair.
"Hey!" Mike called, "We should do this more often."
"That'd require you to come home more."
"In that case, maybe I will."