They ran to Marty’s old Nova, which sat alone in front of Our Mother of Sorrows church, but no cadre of police, security guards, and irate staff followed them out of the hospital. Drew’s thoughts were reeling, though he had Kyle’s voice to calm him down. Marty had only the impression that something horrible had happened and that they would be pursued. Doors slammed and locked, they both sat in the car, just listening to the patter of rain that fell and breathing hard.
“I…can’t do this. Look at me. I’m a nervous wreck!” Marty said. “What just happened in there? How did that doctor just appear in the middle of the hallway? And what kind of janitor can speak with a voice of thunder in my head?”
“You better do something about The Flood,” Kyle said. “He’s getting pretty twitchy.” Drew wanted to ask Kyle what he should do, but every time he spoke to Kyle aloud, Marty stared at him with startled eyes, like he expected something to sprout from Drew’s forehead. He’d tried talking to Kyle in his own head, but Kyle hadn’t been able to hear him.
“That was no janitor. Jorge is an angel. Kyle spotted what he really was, and I saw his glow, remember?”
“Kyle tells you that the janitor is and angel, and you saw his halo?” Marty asked, squinting in disbelief. “This is all too much.” He started the car and moved out onto Eastern Parkway.
“Look, you don’t have to help me anymore. I’ll be fine. Just let me out here on Preston. If the rain doesn’t stop, I don’t mind. I’ll just walk on home, you can go, and you don’t have to worry about me. Thanks for all you did back there, too, by the way,” Drew said as Marty drove away from the hospital.
“It looks to me like something’s eating at him”Kyle said. Drew figured that any question he could ask Kyle at the moment would constitute a big part of the problem he and Marty were dealing with at the moment, Kyle’s alarming lack of physical presence.
“What’s keeping you here, trying to help me?” Drew asked. To him, it was obvious that he was speaking with Kyle, somehow, and Drew had gone a long way towards accepting that he could actually hear his friend. But when he did answer Kyle, the tension on Marty’s face showed that he could not. Drew could hear Kyle plainly, but each time he’d tried to answer Kyle, Marty looked uncomfortable, to say the least. And Drew was desperate to talk to Kyle.
“I don’t know why, but I can’t just walk away from this,” Marty yelled.
“Yeah, why does he need all this trouble?”
What’s at stake for you in this, Marty? You’ve had the cops called on you twice and watched me do some, well, ill advised things at the hospital,” Drew said. “And every time I try to talk to Kyle, you look like you are going to freak out.”
“Well,…” Marty said, and then fell to chewing his lip.
“Look at him. He looks like a guy who feels guilty, doesn’t he?”
Drew nodded his head. Kyle knew more about reading people. Drew had seen it before. Most things that people did were puzzling to Drew, especially where girls were concerned. Kyle had told him that Debbie Flowers had likely agreed to go on that double date because she wanted something from Mary Beth. Drew trusted Kyle’s assessment of social situations, so he gambled that Drew was right.
“You didn’t do anything to cause this, you know. None of it is your fault,” Drew said.
“Oh yeah? What about that elbow shot I gave you the other night on your all’s first touchdown drive, huh? Don’t you think that it might have given you a concussion or something? And what about the way I hit Kyle in the backfield on that third and one play that stopped your second drive?”
“What about ‘em? It was a tough game. You did your job,” Drew said.
“Yeah, that was a righteous hit. Felt like getting hit by a car,” Kyle added.
“Kyle thinks so, too,” Drew said. “Besides, that shot you thought was too my head was mostly off my shoulder pads. I saw it coming.”
“But you went out of the game, man.” Marty protested. “You were out three plays.”
“Huh? Oh yeah. I really had to take a dump,” Drew said.
“Ha! I don’t wonder, with all the chili dogs you ate after the pep rally.”
“My point is that I tried to hurt you both,” Marty insisted. “So I’m worried I might have caused you to go nuts.”
“I. Am. Not. Crazy, Marty. Don’t call me that. Better yet, if you think I am insane, you should just leave, walk away.”
“I mean, Kyle’s was a legal hit, but I purposely hit him high, and the elbow shot, well, it was a cheap shot, probably should have been a penalty,” Marty insisted.
“He’s not listening to you, Drew. Something else is eating at him.”
“I can see that,” Drew said.
“See what?” Marty demanded.
“Kyle says there’s something else wrong, that there’s a reason you are not walking away from this when you want to, and probably should. Is it about something that one of your family members went through one time?” Drew asked. “You said something about that last night.”
“I…I’d rather not say,” Marty said, “but I appreciate you not holding a grudge about those hits and all.”
“I didn’t hear about the family member thing. That would make sense. Find out what it is.”
“Okay, I will, now shut up,” Drew said turning towards the voice. He turned back to Marty. “If you’re going to stick around, I need to know about this thing that happened with your family.”
Marty rolled his eyes and took a sudden turn into Audubon Park, slowing down to below twenty five, in order to not alarm the Audubon Cop, Old Zim, who loved to handout tickets to teenagers. Audubon’s great trees, in the midst of their first call colors, sagged with the heavy rain and cast a dark gloom over the streets and fine old houses. Marty took the first right turn and motored slowly along until they reached the golf course. Then, taking a deep breath, he said, “It was my Mom. She died a couple of years ago, and a year or two before that, her mom died.”
“That sucks,” Drew said.
“Yeah, but for the last year of her life, my Mom would talk to her Mom, though she was dead, like all the time, and no matter what I said to her, she wouldn’t stop it. It got to the point where I disrespected her, called her crazy and shit. And then, she died, and I, well…”
“Man, he’s really hurting,” Kyle whispered. “He never got to tell her he was sorry.”
Drew nodded his head, wanting Marty to go on.
“I just thought,” Marty said as they turned into tree tunnel on a side street, “that maybe I, um, well, if I helped you, maybe I could make up for the way I treated Mom. That’s all.”
There was silence in the car for several blocks as they drove around both Dove Lane parks . Drew had no idea what to say. He imagined, if it was his Mom talking to a dead relative, he wouldn’t notice. Drew’s mom sometimes would sign things to no one, but that was just her frustration talking. Anyone married to his Dad would have to be frustrated most of the time. Drew had his garage to go to, his books and weights, but his Mom had to live with the idiot.
“Say something, dummy!” Kyle insisted.
“Say what? He screwed up, and he feels bad about it. Maybe he should,” Drew claimed.
For the first time since they left the hospital, Marty turned a wry smile to Drew. “Told you to say something to make me feel better, did he?”
“Yeah. That’s him all over. Kyle’s good with people. I’m not. But, look, you disrespecting your mom? That’s all past. It’s done. You’re a decent guy. She loved you, I’d guess, and probably knew that what she had to do made you uncomfortable. She just had to accept it. Maybe your Mom talking to her Mom was her way of dealing with death. I don’t know how people do it. Old folks in my family have died, but it never seemed to touch me. We never saw them before, my Dad being such a jerk, so I didn’t have any idea who they were. But people gotta deal with death, don’t they?”
“That what you’re doing, talking to Kyle in your imagination?” Marty whispered, casting a nervous glance at Drew.
“No, I can’t talk to him in my head. I can only hear him if he’s around me, talking. I can’t see him or anything,” Drew observed.
“And that doesn’t seem, you know, different to you?”Marty asked, avoiding the word crazy.
“It did, really, the first times that it happened, but now, especially after seeing what we saw in the hospital, I’m better with it. It feels like I am just talking to Kyle.”
“That’s because you are, just talking to me. But to be fair, I have no idea why I can be here and talk to you. I can go look in on anyone, but they can’t hear me, which is really bad when I go see Mary Beth. She can’t hear me, and I can’t stand just watching her cry. When I’m not looking in on somebody, I’m back in that hospital bed, and I don’t wanna be there.” Drew couldn’t blame him for that. That would be awful, just sitting in a body you could not use.
Eventually, lost in their own thoughts, Marty had driven through Audubon’s dripping trees and come out on the other side, at the light onto Poplar Level Road, where Erhler’s Dairy stood on a little hill on the opposite side. The rain stopped and clouds were parting under the power of a north wind that blew the tree tops.
“No, I don’t think I’m talking to Kyle just to deal with what happened to him. I don’t know. Maybe I am. I just know that I hear him, even when I don’t want to. And I don’t feel crazy. He’s just here—the part of him that talks to me. I know that Kyle’s in the hospital, with a disease that’ll kill him, and that what’s in that hospital bed cannot talk to me or anyone. Something has happened to his brain but not his intellect, not his…soul, energy, spirit.”
“Let’s see how this plays out over a milkshake,” Marty said, turning left and pulling into the Erhler’s parking lot.
“Milkshakes? Aw man, I want one,” Kyle moaned. “I’ll just wait outside.”
They soon stood with the sterile, sweet ice smelling storefront of Erhler’s. Marty paid, since Drew had no money on him, and the pretty girl behind the counter, who had stared at Drew the whole time he and Marty contemplated the flavors, said,
“You’re Drew Skolnick, aren’t you, Kyle Jensen’s friend?”
“Yeah, I am. This is The Flood, Marty Floyd,” Drew replied, reaching the end of his conversational repertoire with the opposite sex. He didn’t know the girl’s name, and Marty picked up on that fact with sudden urgency. He pulled on Drew’s arm, tugging him outside the door, and said,
“Okay. Now we can get somewhere. Ask Kyle who she is,” Marty insisted.
“Because, dumbass, if you don’t know anybody and Kyle knows everybody, he’ll know her, right? Then, if Kyle tells you her right name, a name you don’t know, I’ll know that you are not crazy. See?”
“Makes sense, I guess,” Drew said with a shrug. “Kyle, who is that girl inside Ehrler’s, behind the counter?”
“I think that’s Cindy DiCarmino,” Kyle said. “She’s on Student Government with Mary Beth.”
“He says that it’s Cindy DiCarmino. She is on Student Government with Mary Beth.”
“She used to go out with Mike Adams, too.” Drew repeated this bit of detail.
“Okay,” Marty said, turning on his heel. He sat down his milkshake and marched back into the store. Drew watched as Marty approached the counter, saw the girl smile. He watched her eyes widen at the fact that this strange, well-dressed black man knew who she was. She reached out to shake Marty’s hand, at first, but pulled it back. Drew imagined that Marty asked about her dating Mike Adams, once upon a time. She said something to Marty, who, by then, had taken a couple of steps away from the counter. Drew thought, maybe, Marty said, “I’m sorry,” as he started to leave the store. But Marty’s face was a blank mask when he turned back to Drew. He quickly turned his glance away
Marty came out the door, went straight to the car, and sat behind the wheel, without so much as looking at Drew. He turned on the ignition, backed the car out, and drove away, leaving his milkshake.
“Thanks for this,” Drew said as he watched, Marty move out onto Poplar Level, heading south.
“That didn’t go the way he thought it would, did it?” Kyle asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe it did,” Drew answered, pouring the rest of Marty’s shake into his cup. “At least he knows I’m not crazy.” Drew wasn’t very far from home, so he wasn’t worried about being left in the lurch by Marty. Drew turned back to the girl in the store, who gave him a smile that really said, “Jerk!” He saw her face against the shadows at the back of the store. She had pretty eyes, and long, dark hair, pulled back and netted, while she worked the counter.
The light was different, Drew noticed, and a colder wind blew. An autumnal light bathed the yellowed brick and concrete of the store’s front making everything look brittle.
“Winter’s not long off, is it?” Kyle said.
“Yeah, I need to go home and change clothes. You were right about Cindy,” Drew whispered. “And now, she thinks I’m a jerk.”
“She probably already did. She went out on Mike when he was away at Wrestling Camp.”
“So, I never had a shot there?” Drew asked. “She’s kinda pretty.”
“Not worth your time, buddy. But, listen, we’ve got to have a talk. Is Marty coming back?”
“He didn’t say, but I expect not. I like that guy. He’s a good guy, but, I guess…”
“Maybe you’re too much for him, huh? You were in the game the other night,” Kyle said, his voice falling in alongside beside Drew as he headed across Poplar Level Road.
“I’m too much for him? Not you?” Drew asked, able to talk freely with Kyle now.
“You are too much for most people, buddy. They just aren’t prepared to deal with your abilities.”
“But that angel, Jorge, said that I wasn’t prepared to face what’s coming,” Drew said.
“Well, I’m not either. That man, that doctor who came along in the cloud? I’m definitely not prepared for who he is. You know, right?”
“No! How would I know? I’d never seen him before,” Drew insisted.
“No, but you know his daughter. She came to you for help earlier. That was Mary Beth’s father.”
They talked all the way back to Drew’s house on Lucas Court, which took them about half an hour, and Drew asked his friend to fill him in as well as he could about what he feared would happen to Mary Beth.
“It all started a year ago, I guess, after the first time we made love,”Kyle began.
“Wait a second. You and MaryBeth have had sex?”
“Yes, Drew, we have. You see when a man loves a woman, they have these different body parts that fit together nicely and bring much pleasure to both, and—“
“Do not give me birds and bees, Kyle. I know about the parts, okay? But you two were just sixteen. Isn’t that a little young to begin having sex?” Drew murmured out of the side of his mouth, so that people out in their yards would not look at him funny.
“We’ve known each other since the first grade, Drew, and we have been in love since middle school. We are not just going steady. We planned to be married. That’s out of the picture now, of course, but she always said she wanted to have my babies, as soon as she got away from home and off the pill.”
“Birth control pill. You’ve heard about birth control pills, right?”
“Yeah, but…go on. After that happened—wait. Where’d you, you know, do it?”
“Her car, mostly. Boy, if that old Falcon could talk, it’d—“
“Okay, okay. Enough,” Drew said, loud enough to turn a head or two in his direction. He kept on walking. “Now, about the danger she is in…”
“Right. Sometimes, after those, um, close moments, she’d be so scared that she’d cry, and all I could do was hold her and tell her that I loved her, that everything would be all right. But it wasn’t. She’d stop crying and refused to talk about it, telling me that as long as I was with her, as long as we shared the, um, intimacy, that it would be all right. She would never say why she got so scared. And then, just last summer, one night, she lay in my arms, her eyes closed, peaceful and I saw in the moonlight that she had this tiny, straight line scar that ran through her right eyebrow, hit the lower part of her eyelid, and carried on below her eye. I touched it, and she woke up with a start and asked why I’d touched her there. I told her, and, well, she got so mad that she kicked me out of the car. She sped off, and I had to walk home. I thought I’d lost her, really, though I didn’t know why. The next day, she came over to my house to talk, and I was relieved. But she made me promise that I’d never mention that scar again. Of course, I wouldn’t, but after that, she began to get more scared, cry more often when we were together like that. So, I figured that whoever gave her that scar was after her, and now, I think we both knew who did it.”
“We do? I don’t,” Drew muttered.
“Her father, the evil doctor who walks in a cloud of boiling anger, that’s who,”Kyle said.