Chapter One – Numbness
I've always been a deep sleeper, a trait my mother claims I inherited from my lazy father. Once my head is resting on either a soft pillow or a desk at school I'm as inert as a rock. Therefore, it takes a great deal to wake me up at three in the morning by incessantly ringing the doorbell and calling my phone until it vibrates so much that I think its causing an earthquake.
My mind is heavy with sleep and my limbs feel like giant stones while the vibrating phone and dings of the doorbell are punches to my aching body. I groan and, in my groggy state, I chuck my pillow across the room in a pathetic attempt to stop the noises. With immense effort, I peak an eye open and glance at the alarm clock beside my bed. In overly bright red letters it reads 3:26. Who the hell is calling me and ringing my doorbell at 3:26 on a Tuesday night?
The noises don't stop and, with another furious groan, I push myself out of bed. Being the clumsy fool I am, my lanky legs tangle themselves together and I stumble across the floor until I slam into the wall. I groan again and scrabble in the darkness for my phone that has fallen to the ground. My fingers fumble with the vibrating object and then somehow flip it open. The phone's screen releases a blinding light that feels like lasers shooting straight into my pupils. Squeezing my eyes shut against the bright glow, I mumble into the phone, "Hello?"
"Joshua," a stern woman's voice replies, and through my sleepy haze I manage to associate that powerful yet calm voice to Dr. Kimishima, the adoptive mother of my best friend Alyssa.
Why the hell is she calling me at 3:26 – now 3:27 – on a Tuesday night?
"Uh…hi, Dr. Kimishima," I yawn and try rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. "Are you at my house?"
"Yes," she responds in her stone cold voice as if this is normal.
I wait for her to say more but she doesn't. With a yawn, I grumble, "I'll be down in a second."
Sleep still weighs on my mind like an immovable boulder as I grab a pair of jeans off the floor and a random t-shirt from my dresser. I'm too tired to think of reasons why Dr. Kimishima could possibly be at my house with something so urgent that she has to come at 3:26 on a Tuesday morning to tell me. I stumble down the stairs in the dark, almost tripping again, and fling the front door open to find a tall woman standing before me. Her tight, low cut suit clings to her skinny body and the moon illuminates her pale face and silver hair that gracefully falls around her shoulders. As usual, her mouth is set in a straight line and her striking cobalt eyes are calculating me as if I'm one of her mysteries.
I'm too tired to even say hello and I lean against the doorway with my eyes half closed. The numbing February wind from outside nips at my lanky body as a few snowflakes gently glide down from the black sky. I wonder how long Dr. Kimishima has been out here because it must have taken at least half an hour to have waken me from my deep slumber.
"Joshua," she begins again in a voice with such gravity and a gaze so intense that I find myself waking up a bit more. "Your mother has gotten into a car crash and she has been taken to Resurgam in critical condition."
I feel my heart skip a beat and my arms limply drop to my sides, but I'm not panicking yet. Dr. Kimishima's white face becomes a blur and I think I've stopped breathing but I'm not panicking yet. I'm not bursting into tears or screaming at the top of my lungs. No, sleep's tight hold on me prevents me from imagining my mother cut to pieces with glass or the blood that must be leaking out of her wounds. It isn't critical condition for nothing.
I move silently as I rapidly wander through the darkness of my house and slip on a pair of rubber sandals and a tattered brown jacket. I find myself mutely following Dr. Kimishima to the car and securing myself into the passenger seat. We don't say a word as she drives through Portland's brightly lit streets, all of which appear as a massive, painfully vivid blur. By the time we arrive at Resurgam First Care – the best hospital in the area – sleep's weight has been replaced with a much heavier one that enables me incapable of moving my now paralyzed limbs. Dr. Kimishima has to open my car door and hoist me to my feet in order to get us moving. The world swims but I take a few steps forward and, after a few seconds of uncertainty, my vision clears. Together, we march along the brick pathway through the garden of wilted flowers covered in a thin layer of snow to the front entrance.
Inside the lights are bright and the air is warm, but I still feel like I'm standing outside naked with the winter winds whipping at my frail body. Dr. Kimishima leads me to a chipping plastic chair and gently pushes me into it. I collapse into it but continue to hug myself, either to warm my frozen body or to keep myself from panicking. I'm not sure which is correct right now.
I don't watch Dr. Kimishima speak in urgent whispers to the receptionist; instead, I observe the ground with such focus that my brain begins to hurt. The white floor is sleek and reflects the ceiling lights, but I see scattered specs of dirt and a piece of green fuzz left forgotten on the ground. I trace the edges of the tiles with my ochre eyes and then I quickly observe every curve of my shadow. My huddled body appears as a blob connected to an untamed mass of hair that flies out in all directions. I go back and forth between studying these two things – the tiles' edges and my shadow – because I just don't want to look anywhere else.
I'm not sure how long I stay there. At some point Dr. Kimishima sits beside me but I am so focused on the ground and my numb body that I can barely feel her intense gaze. There are times when my mind threatens to conjure images of my mother crippled or dead with a pool of blood surrounding her, but then I pinch myself and continue to study the ground, as if focusing on every inch of it will save her life.
Gradually, the din of chatter around me begins to grow as time passes but I don't move from my hunched position. The room becomes lighter as the sun begins to rise but my shadow is still there. I eventually feel a delicate hand on my shoulder, and I know who it is by just the grace that resides in that soft touch and her flowery smell.
Her small hand continues to rest on my shoulder as she sits quietly beside me. For maybe the first time ever, cheerful Alyssa is silent.
Strangely, the only thing that breaks me out of my intense focus is the sound of approaching footsteps. Many people have passed by me in the time I've sat here, but somehow I know that these footsteps bring news. I lift my head up for the first time since I've sat down to find a tan woman with cropped brown hair standing before me. Her hands are stuffed in her green and yellow EMT jacket and, though her cut off denim shorts and boots give her an intimidating appearance, her emerald eyes are soft and full of pain. She only has to look at me with those disconsolate eyes and I know.
I'm sixteen years old and I can't remember the last time I cried. Maybe I wept when I was young and suffering from a terrible disease, but I haven't since then. I can't even recall how old I was. Now, however, I feel the sobs pushing through the lump in my throat as my body crumples in on itself. I slip off the edge of the chair and fall to the ground. Squeezing my eyes shut in a pathetic attempt to fight off tears, I pull my long legs up to my chest and bury my face in my knees. The images of my mother bleeding on the operating table bombard my mind like a siege, and all I want right now is to see her sweet smile and brilliant dark brown eyes. I want to hear her complain about her bushy chocolate colored hair as she makes a mess of the kitchen with the latest recipe so read in her cooking magazine. I want her to call me her Little Genius even though I find it horribly embarrassing. I want to go back to when she told me that she would be coming home very later from her ridiculously-far-out-of-town meeting and tell her that I desperately need her to stay. Most of all, I want to tell her I love her.
But I can't. All of these moments don't exist anymore, and the only one that is still here is her corpse.
I sob for myself, for her, and for the injustice of it all.
Two Weeks Later
The car ride from the funeral to the Kimishima house is as silent as the dead. I sit in the backseat with Alyssa beside me, and Dr. Kimishima and her assistant, Agent Naval (or Little Guy as everybody calls him) are up front. The uncomfortable suit clings to me and I fiddle with the black tie that I know for a fact is trying to strangle me. I keep my eyes locked on the passing landscape of the distant city as we enter the suburbs of Portland. There is a pain in my heart as we fly past the beautiful houses with joyous families, something I will never have again. Sure, my family consisted of only my mom and me because my father bailed on us a while back, but we were all each other had and now I'm left alone.
Dr. Kimishima has been kind enough to let me live with her and Alyssa in their home as she and her assistant try to figure out the plans for the rest of my life. I haven't gone to school since the accident and Alyssa has attended only a few times, but for the most part she keeps me company. We try every possible way to distract myself: board games, teaching me how to play the piano, mathematics, and even baking. When the day is done, however, I find that the hole in my chest is still as empty as ever and my mouth hasn't yet stretched into the slightest smile.
Yet I'm still grateful for their support, and every night before I slink off to the privacy of the guest room, I say a sincere "thank you" to both Alyssa and Dr. Kimishima.
The funeral went the same way as my longs hours of waiting in the hospital went: me focusing on everything but the people around me. I gave polite nods to people when they addressed me but I never looked them in the eye; rather, I studied their sleek ties or the sparkling necklace that graced their necks.
Eventually my head began to ache more than the rest of my body and I was able to rest in a separate room away from all the people. Alyssa sat beside me as I laid on the couch and focused on the feel of her supple fingers gently toying with my unmanageable green hair and her soft breathing.
I don't remember much of when her casket was lowered into the dark Earth. I vaguely recall kissing the tips of my fingers and pressing them against the cool metal of her coffin, and the touch sent chills through me. The rest of the time I could only think about how cold I became, how numb my limbs felt once again. Numbness is good though. It protects me from everything else.
Now the car pulls into a short driveway and the engine shuts off. Before anybody can move, Dr. Kimishima looks at me through the mirror with her intimidating cobalt eyes and announces calmly, "I must speak with Joshua alone. I'll see you two inside."
Little Guy and Alyssa exit the car without a word and we watch them as they walk up the stone pathway to the front entrance. Once inside, Dr. Kimishima twists in her seat in order to look at me face to face. Living with her has made her less formidable and I find myself comfortable when she begins to speak in her unshaken, relaxed tone.
"After reviewing your mother's will, Little Guy and I have finally finalized the arrangements for you," she begins and I feel my heartbeat quicken at the mention of my unpredictable future. "First, I should tell you that your mother left everything she owned to you. You will not, however, obtain the money or the property until you turn eighteen. In the mean time, I'll be responsible for it. The house will not be used but I'll pay to keep it from deteriorating."
She pauses and I feel my palms from inside my pockets grow sweaty from anticipation. I maintain a straight face though as she continues with a much more serious and cautious air in her tone.
"I have made contact with your father," she states and falls to silence again for just a moment. My heart skips a beat again, but I'm not as surprised as I thought I would be. The thought of my father had crossed my mind a few times before. Would he make contact with me now? But why would he? He wasn't around before so why would he with my mother dead?
"Your mother arranged it so that he would become your guardian if something ever happened to her. I'm not sure what happened between you three, but your mother wanted you to go to him so I think we should at least respect her wishes and try it out."
I look off to the side and stare at the door handle. I never knew why my father left us and, according to my mother, she never really knew either. Apparently one day she came home to find him gone. He was too much of a coward to say goodbye to her face, so why does she want me to be with him? I guess, in the end, he is all I have left and that is just pathetic.
"But, Joshua," Naomi adds quickly before I can become fully lost in my thoughts. "I've decided that we are going to meet your father at lunch and talk things over, so you won't simply show up on his doorstep. Then, if that goes well, I want you to try and live with him for at least a month, but if you truly cannot stand being with him then we will gladly accept you back in this house. I can become your guardian or I can even adopt you if you wish, whatever you want to do, but I believe that we should try having you live with your father…. For you mother's sake."
I nod instantly. For my mother's sake. I'll be polite to my father for my mother's shake. My excessive sleeping, unruly green hair, lanky body, and sarcasm she always blamed on my father, but she had never associated my good manners to him. It was a characteristic that she said most youth didn't have, and she was very proud that I was one of the few who did.
But I don't need thoughts of my mother to make an overwhelming feeling of gratitude swarm inside of me. I stare at Dr. Kimishima's intense cobalt eyes in an attempt to see if she is joking or not. She isn't, of course, because she doesn't joke. Her offer of adoption is completely serious, and it makes me feel relieved to know that I have something to fall back on. I'll be connecting with a father I've never met before but Dr. Kimishima, Alyssa, and Little Guy will be there for me if all else fails.
Taking a deep breath, I whisper, "Thank you."
She only nods before exiting the car. I follow suit and then wonder if I should hug this woman who has sacrificed so much for me, but Dr. Kimishima is not the hugging type and that is fine by me.
My heartbeat quickens every time I think of the upcoming lunch where I will meet my father for the first time. For the next three days I try not to fret over it, and then Friday passes, then Saturday, and before I know it it's Sunday morning and I'm getting dressed for this lunch. The restaurant isn't anything fancy – just a seaside grill – but I still try to look the best I can in a navy blue t-shirt, the tattered brown jacket I wore in the hospital, and jeans. My face is pale yet clear for once and I even try to comb my crazy mass of green hair but it is no use. I'm still probably one of the skinniest kids in my grade but I can't really change that in a few hours, so with a shrug I exit the guest room and wait for Dr. Kimishima and Alyssa in the kitchen.
Alyssa comes out in a cute red skirt with black leggings and a white blouse. Her russet hair is glossy and her emerald eyes look at me with kindness. A sweet smile spreads across her face as she takes a seat next to me on the couch. She slips her hand into mine and asks softly, "Ready?"
I shake my head. "No."
"Well, you'll always have me. Remember that, okay?"
I give her my best smile and she hugs my arm while placing her head on my shoulder. I appreciate her warmth and her flowery scent that fills my nose. For a moment I forget about what is soon to happen, but then Dr. Kimishima walks in and Alyssa disentangles herself from me and stands up. I follow suit and soon all three of us are in the car. Little Guy can't come, unfortunately, due to a huge load of work that both him and Dr. Kimishima had put off for a while.
For the most part the car ride is silent aside from a few brief sentences between Dr. Kimishima and Alyssa about her return to school tomorrow. I can tell that Alyssa doesn't want to but she isn't one to argue with her adoptive mother. In all honesty, I don't think anybody can argue, let alone win, against Dr. Kimishima.
I keep feeling negative thoughts about my father popping up in my mind but I try to push them away. This is the man my mother loved and cried over. She tried so hard to keep me from him but now I'm going to meet him at some seaside grill. I keep trying to think of how anybody could possibly leave the sweetest woman ever and I can only conjure absurd excuses, like government agents from some foreign country threatened to kill my mom and me if he didn't leave on a top secret mission, or aliens abducted him. Of course none of it is true and Little Guy did provide me with all the basic information about my father. Name: Gabriel Cunningham. Occupation: head diagnostician at Resurgam First Care. Age: 41. Hometown: Montpelier, Vermont. Current city: Portland, Maine.
I always thought that he had fled Portland, and now it is strange to know that he has been here this entire time. Where exactly, I'm not sure, but what if I saw him on the street? Maybe I bumped into him on the bus? Saw him in a Subway?
Even stranger, I know his name. Gabriel. I whisper it and it leaves my tongue tingling. Did I ever say his name when I was learning how to talk? Or was he gone before then?
We eventually find a parking spot among the busy streets and walk through the snow-banked sidewalks toward the restaurant. As usual in winter, the air is frigid and my breath appears as a white puff. With my hands stuffed in my pockets, we quickly march down a block and then rush into the warm restaurant.
It is a wide place with fishnets lining the wall and fake sharks hanging from the ceiling. The place is bustling but we have reservations and quickly get a seat in the back beside a huge window that looks out over the deep blue ocean. I see a few vessels slowly crawling across the choppy waves but there are no sailboats or kayakers out on this windy winter day.
Dr. Kimishima and Alyssa make small conversation as I fiddle with my glass of water and constantly scan my eyes across the people around me. They are all amongst their own friends or family, talking loudly as they tear apart lobsters or clams. Whenever the bell rings by the door I instantly snap my gaze there to study to newcomers, but the men are always with somebody else and, therefore, not Gabriel.
Ten minutes pass and he still isn't here. We tell the waitress to wait a little longer to take our orders. Another ten minutes tick slowly by but there is no sign of him. Once a full thirty minutes is gone Dr. Kimishima exits the restaurant to make a phone call. She returns soon with a frown on her face and, in a heavy voice, she says,
"He can't make it."
I feel my heart drop just a bit and disappointment begins to fill my mind. She flags down our waitress and we order some food but I'm not hungry.
"I'm sorry that he couldn't make it, Joshua," Dr. Kimishima sincerely apologizes while taking a sip of her water.
"Don't worry," I quickly reassure her. "It isn't your fault, and I shouldn't have expected him to show up. I was a fool to think he would want something to do with me after all these years, and a dead mother won't make a difference."
I try to say it casually but I can hear my own bitterness and sorrow showing by the end. I want to continue to say how he doesn't even deserve the term "father". I wasn't planning on calling him that but now he won't even get the acknowledgement that we're related. He's just Gabe. I might as well be an orphan because I'm starting to realize that this guy is dead to me, but I restrain all of this in fear of my voice betraying me. I'm starting to feel like I can only trust the Kimishimas now.
"Don't worry, Joshua," Alyssa whispers while placing a gentle hand on my shoulder. She tries to sound determined but I hear the uncertainty in her voice when she says, "I'm sure he had a good reason. Right, Naomi?"
Dr. Kimishima nods and answers, "Something came up at the hospital. We can arrange another lunch or dinner with him again…"
She drifts off when I shake my head and, with a stronger voice this time, I decide, "No, I'll just meet him for the first time when I move in with him."
Both of them send me incredulous looks but I'm confident with my decision. He can't hide from me in his own home, and all of this hype has made me just want to meet the man and get it over with.
"Are you sure?" Alyssa asks nervously and I nod.
"Then it is settled," Naomi declares and crosses her legs while placing her hands on her knees. "I'll arrange a time with Gabriel for you to move in. How soon would you like it?"
"As soon as possible," I decide.
"As soon as possible," she echoes and whips out her cell phone to call him up.
This is my newest story where it is kind of like a ficlet, because I'm not making it as super intense as my other chaptered stories. And by this I mean there is no uber complex plot (well there is one, just not uber complex) or major themes. This story is really just for fun and something for me to post because I hate writing a ton of stuff but not posting it, so I'm hoping this will fulfill me. Of course, it doesn't mean that I'm not going to try to make it a good story, just that it is more for fun and something that I couldn't resist doing.
Also, I don't actually know where Gabe was from. I just made up Montpelier, Vermont because it seems like a place where he could be from. Whatever, it isn't that important.
Reviews are always wonderful because feedback is awesome, and I very much appreciate critiques! :)
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!