No way I’m going to the ER…tell Azalea “Let’s just go home so I can rest.”

Walk inside my house, dizzy, fucked up. “Dad???” I yell out to be sure he’s not around. No answer.

Azalea runs to the kitchen for ice and I quickly pop four Tylenols. “Dad?” I call again. “Are you here?”

Still no answer.

Azalea reappears with a plastic bag of ice…shoves a handwritten note in my face.

“What the fuck?”

“From your father,” she explains.

My head’s pounding. “Read it, okay?”

“It’s nothing surprising,” she says vaguely.

I stumble to my bedroom. Everything’s spinning. Collapse on my quilt.

“You sure you want to hear it?”

“Yeah,” I groan.

“Okay…here goes…”

Cornell,

Looking forward to talking further. Glad everything’s out in the open.

Unfortunately, I have an appointment in Albany Sunday night, so left early. Back tomorrow for sure. Will call if I’m delayed.

I’m proud of you and your maturity, the way you take care of yourself. Azalea’s sweet.

Love, Dad

The note doesn’t impress me one way or the other, except for the Azalea compliment. Glad no hang-up there. Okay…maybe I’m a little disappointed, but I’m feeling sooo shitty, it’s minor. Guess I was thinking things were really gonna change between us, but obviously, it’s business as usual. He’s up in Albany and I’m home alone. It’s not like I’ve never been on my own when I was sick or hurt before. I have lots of times, with the flu, cuts, burns…whatever.

I stretch out on my bed and Azalea places the towel-wrapped ice on my cheek which is throbbing like a bitch…lies next to me. Thank god we’re together! She’s beyond anything I ever expected…by a zillion miles!

I try to doze. Can hardly think straight.

“How you doin’ Baby?” She asks.

I shrug. “It hurts, but there’s nothing I can do, but suck it up…like always. At least, with pills and ice it’s sorta numb…maybe not quite as bad.and you’re here with me. That’s the important thing.”

She’s staring at me, really upset. A tear slides down her cheek. “Gus, I’m so sorry Daddy hit you. I can’t believe I let him do that. He’s so mean sometimes! I should have stopped him!”

I can’t believe she’s blaming herself. “Azalea, are you crazy! There’s nothing you could do! He’s a mean motherfucker!”

She wiggles her fingers into mine and we lie together staring at the ceiling.

“What’d you think of your dad’s note?”

“Oh, normally it’d be a downer…just more time fending for myself. One time, he rushed upstate and left me with no money or food, so I looked all over the floor, between cushions, and found enough to survive on a box of cereal for two days. Things are a million times better with you here! And at least he likes you. Before that, my life was a fucking blur…same shit day after day. It never occurred to me it wasn’t normal.

She gives my hand a reassuring squeeze. “It’s great to be with you, Gussy. I never had so much fun. No wonder you’re skinny. You’re practically starving, but your dick hasn’t shrunk!”

“Maybe it has. I feel so fucking shitty!”

“Not permanently. I love you no matter what size your dick is! Whatever happens, we’re in this together!”

“Thankfully!”

“You think your Dad’ll be back this week?”

“Who knows? Now that I know what’s going on in Albany, maybe he won’t even try to get home as much. It’s not like he’s fooling anybody.”

“But he has a business here, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s just a tiny insurance office. He can come and go as he pleases…handle everything upstate if he wants to, and he probably will.”

Suddenly, I feel a stab of panic. What’ll happen to my home, my room…all my stuff, everything??? If Dad’s out of the picture I could be totally fucked! But almost as quickly, I get a grip. As long as I have Azalea, we’ll get by. I’ll work after school…whatever, and we’ll live at her house. Just wish her fucking dad wasn’t around!

She cuddles close. “Does it make you feel bad?”

“No…not really. I guess taking care of me was a hassle anyway. He pretty much said so in the note: ‘I’m proud of the way you take care of yourself.’ I’m like a pet cat or something. As long as he leaves dry food and a litterbox, he thinks everything’s okay.”

The pain’s worse and I close my eyes. Feel like sleeping a week. Figure I’ll have to call Dad, and have him notify the school. Gotta stay home and get better. Sort of doze off…

Azalea shakes me. “Gussy, you okay?”

“Yeah, sort of…”

She’s obviously freaked. “I thought you’d passed out or something.”

“No, I’m just sleepy.”

“Oh my god! Gus, maybe you have a concussion. You’ve gotta stay awake! It’s really bad if you fall asleep!” She sits up with a jolt. “We gotta go to the doctor!”

I can’t bear the thought of standing up. “Fuck no!” I tell her. “I never go to the doctor, and I’ve managed to survive this long!”

To be continued…