Night Road (Page 27)

Night Road(27)
Author: Kristin Hannah

“What do I look like?”

“The burns aren’t bad,” the doctor said. “There’s a small patch along your jaw that we’re going to watch carefully, but there should be little or no real scarring. We don’t anticipate needing any skin grafts. May I remove the bandages now?”

Zach nodded.

Dr. Lyman went over to the sink and washed his hands and then carefully unwound Zach’s bandages. Zach’s hair had been shaved on one side and left long on the other, and it gave him a lopsided, off-balance look.

As the bandages came off, Jude saw the whole blistered, oozing burn, the way it swept down along his hairline, across his cheek and jaw.

Slowly, Dr. Lyman removed the bandages on Zach’s eyes, and the metal, honeycombed cups over each eye. He tilted Zach’s head and put some drops in his eyes. “Okay,” he finally said, “open your eyes.”

Zach’s lashes were crusty and spiked looking. He wet his lips and bit down on his lower lip.

“You can do it, Zach,” Miles said, leaning toward him.

Zach’s eyelashes fluttered like a baby bird’s first lifting of wings, and then slowly, slowly, he opened his eyes.

“What can you see?” Dr. Lyman asked.

Zach took his time, turned his head. “It’s blurry, but I can see. Mom. Dad. New guy with white hair.”

Miles sagged forward. “Thank God.”

Dr. Lyman said, “The blurriness is temporary. Your vision should clear up in no time. You’re a lucky young man.”

“Yeah. Lucky.”

* * *

Jude could hear Zach crying, and it brought her fresh pain, both because it was happening and because she couldn’t think of how to make him feel better. There was nothing she could do to help him or herself or Mia.

“It’s okay, Zach,” Miles said when the doctor left them.

“It’s my fault, Dad,” Zach said. “How am I supposed to live with that?”

“Mia wouldn’t blame you,” Miles said, and though his words were reasonable, his voice betrayed the depth of his pain. Jude could tell how hard her husband was trying to grieve for one child while comforting the other. She could tell because her struggle was the same.

“I wish I were blind,” Zach said, and for the first time, he sounded like a man. Certain. “I don’t want to go home and see Mia’s room. Or her picture.”

Just then, Officer Avery walked into the room. He was holding a crumpled-up paper bag in his hands, worrying the rolled crease with his blunt-tipped fingers. “Dr. Farraday? Jude?” he said, clearing his throat. “I’m so sorry to bother you at this difficult time.” He cleared his throat again. “But I need to ask Zach some questions.”

“Of course,” Miles asked, stepping closer to the bed. “Zach? Can you answer a few questions?”

“Whatever,” Zach said.

The officer cleared his throat and then stepped awkwardly toward Jude, offering her the paper bag. “Here,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

She felt as if she were underwater, reaching for something that looked close but was really far away. She was faintly surprised when she felt the rough brown paper. Opening it, she saw a blur of quilted pink—Mia’s purse—and she closed the bag quickly, clutching it in shaking hands.

The policeman stepped back a respectful distance, opened a small notebook. “You are Zachary Farraday?”

“You know I am. You were Officer Friendly in fourth grade.”

Officer Avery smiled briefly at that. “And it was your white Mustang that was totaled on Night Road last night?”

“It was my car.”

“And you attended a party at the Kastner house on Saturday night, with your sister and Alexa Baill?”

“And about a hundred other people.”

“And you were drinking alcohol,” the officer said, consulting a piece of paper. “I have test reports here that show your blood alcohol level at point twenty-eight,” the officer said. “That’s almost four times the legal limit.”

“Yeah,” Zach said quietly.

I won’t drink and drive, Madre … you know you can trust me? How many times had Jude heard him make that promise?

She closed her eyes, as if darkness offered any refuge from this.

The officer flipped a page. “Do you remember leaving the party?”

“Yeah. It was about two o’clock. Mia was having a cow about us being late.”

“So you all decided to get in the car and drive,” the officer said. The words were like a battering ram. Jude felt each one hit her spine and reverberate up.

“Lexi wanted to call home,” Zach said quietly. “I told her not to be stupid. We did that once and Mom flipped out. I didn’t want to miss another party.”

“Oh, Zach,” Miles said, shaking his head.

Jude thought she might be sick again.

She’d forgotten all about that other time, when they’d believed her words and called her for help. And what had she done—made them pay for it by forcing them to skip several events that weekend.

Oh, God.

“You were fine until you came to Night Road,” Officer Avery went on.

“There was no one on the road. Mia was … Mia was in the backseat, singing along to the radio. That Kelly Clarkson song. I told her to shut up, and she hit me in the back of the head and then…” Zach drew in a deep breath. “We weren’t even going that fast, but it was dark and the turn just came up, you know? That hairpin just past the Smithsons’ mailbox. Like out of nowhere. I heard Mia scream, and I yelled at Lexi to hit the brakes and tried to grab the wheel … and then…”

Jude’s head snapped up. “You told Lexi to hit the brakes?”

“She was driving,” Zach said. “She didn’t want to. I was supposed to. I was the designated driver. It’s my fault.”

“Ms. Baill’s blood alcohol level was point zero nine. The legal limit is point zero eight. Of course, she’s under twenty-one, so she can’t legally drink at all,” the officer said.

Lexi was driving, not Zach.

Zach hadn’t killed his sister.

Lexi had.

* * *

“I need to see Zach.”

“Oh, Lexi,” her aunt said, her face slackening with sorrow. “Surely—”

“I need to see him, Aunt Eva.”

Her aunt started to say no, but Lexi wouldn’t listen. Before she knew it, she was crying and pushing past her aunt, limping down the hall.

She saw him through the open door at the end of the hallway.

He was alone in his room.

“Zach,” she said at the doorway, moving toward him.

“She’s gone,” he said, barely moving his lips.

Lexi felt those two words crash into her again. She stumbled. “I know…”

“I used to feel her, you know. She was always humming inside my head. Now … now…” He looked up. When he saw her, his eyes filled with tears. “It’s quiet.”

She limped over to the bed and took him in her arms as best she could with one arm and a broken rib. Every breath hurt, but she deserved it. “I’m so sorry, Zach.”

He turned away from her, as if he couldn’t bear to look at her face anymore. “Go away, Lexi.”

“I’m sorry, Zach,” she said again, hearing the smallness of those words. She’d held them in her hands like a fragile flower, thinking they would bloom somehow when she offered them to him; how naïve she’d been.

Jude came into the room, carrying Mia’s purse and a can of Coke.

“I’m sorry,” Lexi stammered, trying to stop her stupid, useless tears. Failing.

Then her aunt was beside her, taking hold of her hand. “Come away, Alexa. This is not the time.”

“Sorry?” Jude said dully, as if she’d just processed Lexi’s apology. “You killed my Mia.” Her voice broke on that. “What is sorry supposed to mean to me?”

Lexi felt her aunt stiffen, straighten. “This from the woman who knew her children were going to drink and gave them car keys. I’m sorry, but Lexi is not the only one responsible here.”

Jude drew back as if she’d been slapped.

“I’m sorry,” Lexi said again, letting her aunt pull her away. When she finally dared to turn back around, Jude was still there, standing beside Zach’s bed, clinging to her daughter’s purse.

“Oh, no,” Eva said, coming to a stop.

Lexi was crying so hard, she could hardly tell what was going on around her. She felt Eva’s grip on her wrist tighten. “What’s wrong?” she whispered, not really caring. She glanced down the hallway. His door was closed now.

“Look,” Eva said.

Lexi turned, wiped her eyes.

A police officer was standing outside her room.

Eva held Lexi’s hand as they walked down the hallway. At their approach, the officer straightened. He pulled a small notepad out of his shirt pocket. “Are you Alexa Baill?”

“I am,” Lexi said.

“I have a few questions for you. About the accident,” he said, uncapping his pen.

Eva looked up at him. “I may work at Walmart, sir, but I watch Law and Order every week. Alexa will be getting an attorney. He’ll tell her what questions she can answer.”

* * *

Jude shut the door. She was shaking so hard it took a real effort to hold on to the knob and pull.

“Mom?”

She heard her son’s voice, heard the pain in it, and she moved automatically to his bedside.

It was where she was supposed to be, where she belonged. So she stood there, holding Mia’s purse and pretending to be whole. But every time she looked down at the quilted pink leather in her hands, she thought of the stuffed puppy Mia had loved, Daisy Doggy, and the footed jammies she’d worn as a child and the color her daughter’s cheeks had been yesterday …

“It’s my fault, not Lexi’s,” Zach said miserably.

“No, it’s…” Jude’s voice broke like an old twig, snapped into quiet. She wondered dully if she’d ever be able to look at Zach again without wanting to cry. It was all so tangled up—her memories of Mia were inextricably bound with images of Zach. Her babies. Her twins. But now there was only the one, and when she looked at him, all she saw was the empty space beside him where Mia should have been.

She wanted to say the right thing to him, but she didn’t know what that was anymore, and she was so exhausted. She couldn’t put her words through a mill and crank out smaller, prettier versions. It took every scrap of courage she had just to stand here, to stand by him and pretend he’d done nothing terrible and pretend they would all be fine.

“How?” he said, looking at her through green eyes swimming in tears.

Mia’s eyes.

“How what?”

“I was the designated driver but I drank. It’s my fault. How do I get through this?”

Jude had no answer for him.

“Tell me,” he cried. “You always tell me what to do.”

“But you don’t always listen, do you?” The words were out before she could stop them. She should have taken them back, at least wished them back, but she was too broken right now to care.