“Little brother, I don’t mean to sound insensitive, here, but don’t you think it’s about time for you to, just… get over yourself?”
My mouth fell open. Silence lapsed.
Andrea sighed loudly into the receiver and I jerked my head away. The static-y noise was amplified tenfold by the new hearing aid. I’d have to speak to my doctor about adjusting it again.
“Look, Carver, I’m enjoying these lengthy phone calls—really I am. It’s nice to get to talk to you for once. And I’m sorry you’re having so much trouble adjusting to life with facial scars. But you can only wallow in all this misery for so long. I know you’re anxious to get the plastic surgery so you look more like yourself again, but in the meantime you’re just going to have to keep paying your hospital bills and freakin’ leave the house sometime, man.”
“People fucking stare at me, Andrea. It’s awful. Horrible. I—”
“Let them stare. I always knew you were vain, but come on, this is excessive. It has been almost a year since the accident. It’s amazing that you were able to make a full recovery… Well, aside from your eye, of course. But you’re walking without a cane, now, and almost all of your hair grew back. Carver, it is a miracle that you aren’t dead. You know that. Just because you don’t look like Ashton Kutcher’s body double anymore doesn’t mean you can’t live your life, which by all means, you should have lost already. So your face is a little scarred. Guess what? I have cellulite. There are other good things about you. Stop dwelling so much on your appearance and try to enjoy this second chance you’ve been given, yeah?”
I put my hand over my mouth. Tears pricked at my eyes. I knew she was right—she always was. But still, she couldn’t imagine what it felt like to be surreptitiously ogled by everyone. All the time. Children were the worst because they weren’t ashamed to be caught staring. They just looked right back, as if challenging my right to be there at all, stony-faced and abject. I felt like some kind of mutant. How the hell was I supposed to just get on with my life? What the fuck kind of life could I have looking like this, anyway? One in the sewers?
Andrea sighed again, but this time softer. I rubbed dejectedly at my temples, trying to ease away a pounding headache.
“I’ll drive down there this weekend, okay? I’ll just have to grade papers the entire time. I’m sorry you’re…”
Suddenly pain exploded beneath my fingertips. Andrea sounded far away. The room spun. My knees buckled and I stumbled forward, groping blindly until I found the back of a chair. I mashed the phone against my face, trying to make out what she was saying, but I couldn’t. She was at the other end of a long tunnel, and I was falling, but slowly, as if I was underwater and there was a lead weight on my foot, dragging me further and further down into the blackness.
“What?” I blurted, aware that my sister was still speaking, but unable to make out the words. She was hovering above the surface and her voice was a mere garbled humming.
Louder, more insistent gibberish.
“What?” I mumbled weakly as my vision swirled into swathes of color. I was so confused and my head was killing me. Where was I? I gripped the back of the chair tightly. My sweaty fingers slipped on the wood.
“Andrea?” My voice was small and afraid. What was happening to me? I lost my hold on the chair and tumbled forward. I saw the floorboards rush up at me, felt the cell phone slip from my hand, but there was no impact. Just darkness and the indistinct cadence of her voice all around me.
“Oh, shut up, you stupid bastard.”
I gasped and opened my eyes. Warm sunshine was all over me, heating up the black starchy fabric of my tuxedo. I blinked in confusion, trying to clear my swimming vision. Where the hell was I? Wasn’t I wearing pajamas before?
“Carver, hello? I didn’t mean for you to actually shut up, stupid bastard. I thought you might have a smartass comeback.”
My hand was back on my cell phone and I could hear Andrea loud and clear, but I knew I was no longer inside my house. Aside from the sunshine, I could smell something funny. Car exhaust?
My heart started to race. I remembered that smell.
I whipped my head around wildly, but my vision was still unclear. What the fuck was happening? Panic, panic, panic, hysterical. I flailed my free arm. No air. Panic. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be happening. I was going to die. I didn’t want to do this again. Andrea.
“Andrea, what the fuck is happening to me? I think I’m—”
Then the lights came on. It was so surreal. I dropped the phone. It clattered loudly on the pavement.
My Jaguar was shrouded in smoke that was pouring from the still-running engine. The back two wheels jutted out from the dense cloud, and they were spinning slowly. Ominously. I couldn’t see myself since the car was in the way, but there was fresh blood on the grass. My blood. The tree I hit was now naught but a splintered stump.
I gulped. How was this possible? Did God decide I didn’t deserve my second chance? Did he send me back in time to off me for good? If I rounded the car, would I see myself lying there, shards of windshield embedded in my face? Panic spiked. I reached up to touch my scars, and oh my God, my fingers touched smooth and unmarred flesh. I closed my eyes and flattened my palm, reveling in the sensation. My racing heart began to slow. I raked my nails against my cheek and it stung, but I could feel it. How could it be possible?
Flames belched from beneath the hood and I snapped open my eyes. Oh, Christ, the car was about to explode. Fuck, was I on the other side? My eyes widened. What if I could save myself? How much better would I look without the burn scars? I ran full-throttle toward the crumpled black tin can that used to be my Jag. The sight of my blood-streaked hand emerged from the smoke.
“NO!” I screamed. I tried to make my legs move faster, but fire was roiling through the cab. No no no no no. It was going to hit the gas tank.
I was face-down in a pool of blood and my body was a disjointed mess. Glass was everywhere. My left leg faced the wrong way. My arm was draped casually across my back, separated entirely from my shoulder. Tears spilled down my face. I stooped and tried to grab the unbroken arm, tried to drag myself away from the wreckage, but the strength was gone from my arms. I pulled and pulled, blood pounding in my ears, heard the tired engine die.
I screamed in frustration. I wouldn’t budge.
The car exploded. I heard the boom, but did not feel the heat. Blackness again.
When I came to I was lying on the floor, my cheek pressed to the cool wood. I could feel every insensate ridge of the network of scars. Andrea was chattering loudly, still, but I didn’t reach for the phone.
I rolled onto my back and reached again to brush my fingertips over the scars. When I felt the roughness, my heart sank, and I hated God, and I screamed at the ceiling and cried.