The Reckless Sick (Born Broken)

The heavy door slammed shut behind her and Levi shot his head back in her direction.

“Hey, you came.” He gave her a cheesy grin and held out a bottle of beer as she walked towards him.

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want a beer belly.”

“You won’t get a beer belly from one beer.”

“I bloat easily.”

“Okay..” He rummaged through the snacks she brought trying to decide which to eat first. He finally started with a bag of chips. It seemed fitting since she wasted his salty snack the first time they met. She even got the right flavor, maybe she was paying more attention to him that day than he thought.

“You come up here a lot?”

“Yeah, sometimes you just need to get away from everyone and all the beeping machines and shoes squeaking down the halls.”

“I get it.”

“Do you? I thought you just got here.”

“Yeah, and I already hate it.”

“Why are you here?”

“Why are you?”

He untied his hospital gown and Harla had an instant flashback of the sight of his bare ass walking down the white halls. But he didn’t show her his backside this time. Instead, he pulled the gown down far enough to expose the ugly scars on his chest.

“Whoa! What happened?”

“Heart surgery.”

“My god, that looks terrible. Are you ok now?”

“I don’t know, I guess we’ll find out soon. Probably not though.”

“What’s wrong with your heart?”

“Everything. Congestive heart failure from a ventricular septal defect.”

“English?”

“I have a hole in my heart and it has trouble pumping blood adequately.”

“Seriously? Damn. How many times have they, um-”

“Cut me open?” He pointed to a fresh scar on his chest and continued, “This is number four and only I’m seventeen.”

“How did you get a hole in your heart?”

“I was born with it but it wasn’t detected until I was three. My birth-mom was high on cocaine a lot and gave birth to me at home. It wasn’t until my grandmother, her mom, took me to the hospital because I was breathing erratically and they found a pretty big hole in my heart. They filled it but the damage was done, it already caused heart failure. I’m lucky to still be alive.”

“That’s insane. So Dianne is your adoptive mother?”

“Yeah, my grandma couldn’t afford to raise me with all the medical procedures I needed so they had to put me up for adoption. She still comes by to see me, not my mom though.”

“I’m sorry, Levi. It’s not fair that you have to suffer because of her mistakes. But at least you have a great mom who loves you and you made it this far. You’re still alive, that’s a good thing.”

He grabbed another bag of snacks, cookies this time, and sipped his beer. “I don’t know how alive I really am, I can’t do normal things like everyone else. I’m stuck with this stupid, weak heart and a pacemaker.” He glanced at the ground and noticed he was the only one eating. “Are you gonna eat something so I don’t feel like a fatass eating everything by myself?”

“Nah, I’m not hungry. Just ate dinner and I don’t really snack.” She wished she was in a bathroom right about now to throw her dinner up. She couldn’t believe how good he was at distracting her from her awful habits.

“You don’t eat snacks? That’s weird. Who doesn’t like snacks?”

“Some people.” Crap! She’s going to give her secret away if she’s not careful. There’s no reason anyone else needs to know why she’s here. It’s bad enough that her parents know, if it were up to her, they wouldn’t know a damn thing. But she had to be careless and overdo it. Now she’s stuck in a hospital against her will. If it weren’t for Levi, she would be planning her great escape right this second. “How did you get beer anyway?”

“I got friends in low places.” He smirked and she caught a glimpse of a small dimple in his left cheek that she hadn’t noticed before. “So you’re going to make me drink and pig out alone? You’re great company, I’m so glad I asked you up here today.”

His eyes squinted at her from the last of the bright sun rays reaching the top of the building. She watched them sparkle in the light. Even through the tiny slits of his eyelids, the lustrous blue gleamed and she was momentarily entranced by their luminous glow. If that didn’t deserve a drink, what did? She argued with herself and finally grabbed the beer from his hand and took a sip. She looked back at him expecting to receive a smart-ass remark about drinking from his bottle after he offered her a fresh one but all he did was wink at her. Just that simple gesture alone sent flutters throughout her stomach and chest and she knew this boy would spell trouble for her. Still, she scooted closer to him and leaned against his wall. Then she reached for the cookies and took the smallest of nibbles. She didn’t even notice that he slid his arm around her until she leaned back again and her head gently rested on him and not on a hard, concrete wall.

Smooth move.

They shared the beer and cookies watching the sun as it set beyond the city of skyscrapers, its brilliant colors reflecting off glossy windows before fading into the night. She was ready for some trouble. Bring it on, Levi.

The Reckless Sick (Anywhere But Here)

“Are you crazy? I’m not staying here that long!” Harla protested at the unfavorable news.

“Sweetie, calm down. People can hear us.” Margaret was always worried about reputation and the impression her family left on others.

“Oh, my God. I don’t care if people can hear me, I’m in a freakin hospital. If we go home now, we’ll never have to see anyone here again.”

“Harla, we’re not going home. You have a problem, ok? You’re sick.”

It shocked Harla to hear her father raise his voice to her even if it was slight, he was usually so quiet and often avoided arguments. But this was different, she deceived them. She hurt not only herself but those closest to her and to his chagrin, she didn’t seem to care. Who was she? He felt as though he didn’t know her anymore. Maybe he never did.

“Dad, I’m fine. I promise to keep it under control from now on.”

“Under control? Do you even recognize yourself? Because I don’t.” He glared at her in complete disbelief before walking away.

“Dad?”

“It’s just hard for him to see you like this, sweetie. You could be more compassionate to his feelings after all you put him through.” Margaret stood silent, studying her daughter’s frail state. She blamed herself. How could she not notice such drastic changes in her daughter’s attitude and form. Anyone on the outside looking in might gather that she hardly cared enough to know what was going on in her own home. She decided she had to fix her family. “I’ll talk to him, you just relax, dear. And please eat something.”

It was difficult for Harla to feel empathy for very long when everyone kept telling her to eat. Is it really a sickness if you have control over it? Does she have control? She was starting to believe her parents might be right which was a dangerous thing to admit in her mind. No. No! She’s not sick. She wouldn’t admit to anyone, especially not herself.

Suddenly, she noticed something. She looked around the room and realized she was alone again. Well, if she was going to be stuck in this godforsaken hospital, she might as well explore further outside her room than she was able to yesterday. She stealthily snuck on the other side of her door and past the nurses, as if they cared enough to pay attention to patients walking around aimlessly. They weren’t her babysitters. Her sly maneuvers were unnecessary but still, she felt as though her parents would pop out of any corner and ruin her moment of short-lived freedom. She walked along the halls swiftly unsure of what it was she searched for. If she found a door that led to the outside world, that wouldn’t be so bad. And now that she wore actual decent clothing, she would fit right in with the everyone else. Just as she spotted the elevators and started towards them, a nurse darted around the corner and sped past her pushing a child in a wheelchair causing Harla to back up abruptly and bump into yet another person.

Will not a day go by that I don’t bump into somebody in these wretched, white halls? She thought to herself.

“Sorry, I’m a known clutz in these halls,” she explained before turning to face the person she backed into and immediately recognized him as the original boy she bumped into just the day before. “Oh, my God, again? I’m really sorry.”

“Hey, it’s cool. Look, no chips. We’re good,” he said with a cute chuckle, holding his hands up on display.

“Why are you still in your hospital gown?”

“It’s comfy. No, I’m still recovering from surgery and it’s really hard for me to dress and undress myself. Then the family wants to help and it’s just a nightmare.”

“Gotcha. Wow, surgery. That’s serious.”

“Nah, not really. I get out of here in a week. What about you?”

“My parents are making me stay here for another three days.”

“That’s not so bad. Where are you headed?”

“Trying to escape,” she admitted with her eyes on the elevators.

“Already? Damn, you’re impatient. How about I show you around and you won’t cause a panic from being M.I.A.?”

She shot another glance at the elevator door as it closed and sighed softly. “Sure, exploring a hospital sounds fun,” she spoke in a sarcastic tone.

“Eh, it’s no rave but it beats lying in bed all day.”

After an hour of Levi showing her the entire pediatrics ward and introducing her to some of the other teens admitted there, he walked her back to her room where her parents paced frantically fearing the worst.

“Harla! Are you crazy? You can’t just up and leave every time we walk away. You were gone so long this time, I had the whole hospital searching for you,” Margaret scolded dramatically until she saw Levi walk up next to her daughter. “Who is this? A new friend?”

“Yes, and you’ve already done an awesome job at embarrassing me in front of him so thank you for that, Mom.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I was just showing her around and we lost track of time.”

“Well, you’re very polite. Maybe some of your good manners will rub off on Harla.”

“All right, we’re done here. Bye, Levi.” With that, Harla closed her room door on him before he could respond. Then she turned to her mom in disapproval. “That was thoroughly humiliating.”

“Harla, that was extremely rude. That poor boy was so nice to you and you just slammed the door in his face. Well, there goes your only chance at a good friend. I mean, my god.”

“Dial down the exaggeration, Mom, he’ll be back. Where else is he gonna go, honestly?”

The next day was slightly more tolerable for Harla since her parents had to go back to work. They were reluctant to leave her alone in the hospital but the nurse assured them she would be fine. Margaret tussled with the idea as if she had the choice to stay but finally she left and Harla was instantly relieved. She roamed the halls freely uncertain of where to go.

Anywhere but here please.

Surprisingly she didn’t see Levi and she wondered if her mother was actually right about driving him away with her unpleasant attitude. She rolled her eyes at the very notion of her mother’s dramatization of the situation being even remotely accurate. As luck would have it, she returned to her room to find a piece of paper taped to the wall by her bed with a note scribbled on it.

Meet me on the roof after dinner and bring snacks. You owe me. – Levi

She smiled as she read the note. It was early and she found herself counting down the hours until dinner for the first time ever. After she ate a few bites of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, she grabbed a few bags of chips and cookies from the snack machine and raced to the roof. Her mom was right about one thing, he was her only chance at friendship right now and she’s never had a real friend before. She tried not to pity herself as she opened the large door leading to the roof. She felt a cool breeze blow through her tiny figure as the door swung open and her first sight was Levi sitting up against the wall watching the sun set in the distance.

The Reckless Sick (A Tale of Two Moons)

A Tale of Two Moons

 

When Harla did open her eyes, it was the middle of the night and her mother happened to be awake still. She looked like she was contemplating life heavily and there’s no better time for that than the middle of the night.

“Mom?” She sat up in bed, her brows furrowed from confusion.

“Harla! Rich, she’s awake. Get up,” Margaret spoke in a sort of whisper scream.

“What happened? Why am I here?”

“Oh, baby. You fainted and hit your head pretty hard.” She paused and looked into her eyes, speaking softly again, “And you haven’t been eating, have you?”

Harla detected two sets of weary eyes staring back at her in the dark room and it hit her. Her face colored itself from pale to a flushed pink hue in a matter of seconds as tears filled her gaze and stained her cheeks. “Mom, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

They raced to her side and held her fragile body in a delicate embrace.

“It’s okay, Harla. You’re going to be just fine,” her mother stammered through a flood of sentiments. “Get some rest. Your body needs it.”

As the next day approached and Harla regained some of her strength, she just couldn’t find it in herself to be thankful for her health. She was ashamed that her secret had been found out but mostly, she felt discouraged that all her hard work would be counteracted now that her parents will make sure she eats and keeps it all down.

Her parents anxiously paced the room making necessary phone calls to request time off of work while the nurse checked her vitals. When the doctor came in to speak to her, she felt overwhelmed with all the unwanted attention and exaggerated expressions on the familiar faces surrounding her. He proceeded to ask her a series of questions which she found intrusive and was met with brutally honest answers laced with utter discontent.

“Can you take this thing out of me, please?” She asked in an aggravated tone referring to the IV in her arm.

“Sure. You think you can eat something?” The doctor asked with a smile ignoring her bitter resentment toward him.

“Fine.”

“Great. We’ll bring you something.” He motioned for the nurse to remove the needle while he jotted notes on his clipboard before heading out the door again.

“I need to get out of this bed.” She stretched her legs over the edge and carefully slid down.

“Is that a good idea? I don’t think you’re strong enough to walk, honey.”

“I’m fine, Mom.” She could depict concern painted on their faces and realized she had just put them through something fairly traumatic. She needed to humor them or at the very least, ease up on them. The only way they would feel better is if they saw progress. “I’m hungry. I don’t want to wait for the nurse to bring me jello or pudding or whatever they make you eat in here. Can you guys get me some fruit from the cafeteria?” She would say anything to clear the room if it meant a few minutes of freedom from being constantly monitored and fussed over.

“Of course! We’ll be right back.” They jumped up and made their way to the elevator leaving her alone for the first time in hours.

This was her chance to leave the room if only just for a moment. She stepped down impatiently and staggered across the room, almost falling several times from her lightheaded state of being. Soon she was able to manipulate her feet to walk slowly and carefully enough to make it out of her room, just in time to bump into another patient and knock his bag of chips out of his hand to scatter across the shiny, hospital floor.

“Whoa! Aw man, I just bought those,” he exclaimed.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you. Here, let me help you.” She bent over forgetting the condition she was in and also that she was wearing a hospital gown that opens in the back. Even though she had tied the strings together tightly before leaving her room, it didn’t do a very good job at concealing her backside.

He laughed at the sight and said, “Hey, don’t worry about it. They’ll clean it for us sickies. Besides, you’re mooning the whole place.”

“Oh, my gosh!” She stood up quickly and instinctively held her hand to her forehead and grabbed onto the boy with her other hand so she wouldn’t tumble over.

“I got you. Where you staying?”

“Staying?”

“Yeah, your room. Which one is it?”

She didn’t want to go back there, she only just escaped that fortress seconds earlier. “I’m fine, I just need some air.” She realized she was still holding his hand and jerked it away, looking slightly embarrassed.

“Okay.. Well, I’m-” Just then, he was cut off by a shrill voice.

“Levi! You’re supposed to be resting. Back to the room, now.” She was a tall woman with a strict manner about her. She glanced at Harla hastily then turned to walk back to whatever room she had just stormed out from.

“Levi.” His mouth pressed into a forced smile as if to say, ‘Awkward.’

“I take it that’s your mom?”

“How’d you guess? Dianne is a little short-tempered right now but that’s normal considering where we are.”

“You call your mom by her name?”

“Only when she’s not around to hear it.” His smile was distracting and she was presently at a loss for words creating an uncomfortable lull between them. He broke the awkward silence though, interrupting her temporary daze. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

“I shared my name. And you are?”

“Oh, I’m Harla.”

“Harla, that’s a pretty name. Well, I better get going before Dianne flips out again. It was nice bumping into you though. Maybe I’ll bump into you again.” He walked off in the opposite direction of his room and she wondered if he knew he was going the wrong way.

“I thought your room was the other way,” she called out to him.

“It is, but someone dropped my chips.” He turned and flashed her a charming smile and then he did something quite appalling. He deliberately untied his gown and turned to moon her just as she had done earlier, except her indecency was purely accidental.

As soon as his bare backside was exposed, Harla burst into laughter. “Oh my gah! What are you doing?”

“You show me yours, I’ll show you mine. It’s only fair.” With that, he turned the corner unashamed of his preposterous action, although his naked flesh turned a light shade of pink as if to blush for him.

She couldn’t believe the shameless nerve of that boy. Who was he to have such confidence in himself? But she had to give him his props for having the ability to make her laugh in the middle of a hospital full of sickly people. He was different and she liked different. Maybe this scary turn of events wasn’t all bad. She stood there smiling a little longer, too long actually.

“Harla, what are you doing out here? You shouldn’t be wandering the halls.”

She rolled her eyes at her mother’s insufferable habit of exaggerating every little thing. She was barely two feet from her door and to Margaret that was “wandering the halls.” She couldn’t wait for this all to be over, but it was only just beginning.

The Reckless Sick (Running On Empty)

Running On Empty

The weekend holds so much promise of careless mischief and wild teen parties for the small town kids of Whisper Woods. They’re scattered throughout town catching late night movies, laughing over burgers and shakes, cleverly sipping vodka from water bottles in the neighborhood parks, beating high scores at the local arcade or making out in the alley behind it. Everyone has a safe place to commit the oldest sins. One girl in particular prefers her vices done alone in the privacy of her own home.

The savory smell of roast beef and steamed vegetables filled the air, casting a powerfully blended sense of utter starvation and dizzying nausea on Harla as she sat motionless, afraid to make the slightest movement for fear she would faint right out of her seat. She stared off unaware of her fingers picking at a loose string hanging over her lap from the tablecloth set before her.

“Sit up straight, Harla,” Margaret commanded in a soft yet firm tone.

“Sorry, Mom.” She sat up briskly without a second thought and felt a wave of vertigo overpower her every sense.

Don’t faint. Don’t fall down.

As if she could control it with her thoughts alone. Just then, her mother set a plate of food in front of her, smiling briefly before sitting down across the table. Her portions were significantly less than what was served on the other plates. Margaret noticed Harla hasn’t had much of an appetite lately and preferred not to waste a perfectly good meal on her knowing it would only end up in the trash. Harla looked at the meat smothered in a hearty gravy, trying to hold back an obvious look of disgust. She couldn’t fathom how it could look so delicious and so revolting at the same time.

“Eat, girl. You’re too skinny. Isn’t she too skinny, Margie?” Richard pointed out blatantly.

“Oh, leave her alone. She just has a small frame. She gets it from me.” Margaret shot a proud smirk around the room as if waiting to be praised for her slender figure.

That was Richard’s cue, “Of course, darling. You look wonderful.”

Somehow, conversations in the Fox household always revolved around Margaret. She was quite the attention seeker, no doubt leaving Harla feeling like an old, faded piece of furniture discarded in the back of the most unused room in the house. Her mother’s ego was far too sickening to withstand any longer and she quickly shoved every last piece of food in her mouth before placing her plate in the sink and making her way to her bedroom in a very rhythmic and rehearsed walk so as not to draw attention to her swift exit. As soon as she made it to the room she locked her door and waited, finding anything around the room to distract her for just a moment longer.

As soon as her parents turned on the television, she snuck quietly into the bathroom just down the hall. She closed the door gently making no sound at all, she had it down to a science. Where to step in the hallway without making a creak, how slowly to turn the door knob so it didn’t click, waiting for a loud commercial break when her parents would talk amongst themselves so her heaving couldn’t be heard by even the most sensitive ears.

She stared at herself in the mirror. It was more of a glare actually as she detested every flaw she could think up. She studied her figure, lifting her shirt up midway to see her flat belly starting to sink inward. She thought she would be satisfied with the image staring back at her but it wasn’t enough. Why did she still look so big? Why could she pull at her skin when there was barely a trace of fat? Nonetheless, she was proud of herself for sticking to her guns and refusing to give up so easily. Soon, very soon, she will be beautiful enough. She will be so thin that there will be nothing left but skin and bones and for some reason, that’s beautiful.

But tonight, she would overdo it and life would change instantaneously.

Margaret and Richard laughed at a silly ad playing on the television when they were startled by a loud bang from inside the hallway bathroom.

“What was that?” Richard asked as if Margaret would know more than he in this instant.

Suddenly, Margaret’s face transformed and she wore a worried expression as she blurted out, “Harla!”

They rushed to her bathroom, opening the door so abruptly that it bumped forcefully against Harla’s leg. They pushed the door open a little wider to find their daughter passed out on the floor with the stench of vomit emanating from the toilet bowl and polluting the air.

“Oh, my God! Harla, wake up! Wake up, sweetie, wake up now.” Margaret was immediately hysterical, holding her daughter’s listless body in her arms and lightly tapping her face.

“Honey, calm down. We need to get her to the hospital. She could have a concussion. Get her a bag ready, I’ll carry her to the car.” Richard lifted his daughter with ease, giving no thought to her lightness as he strapped her in the car and sat in the driver’s seat trying with all his might not to look back at her lying in the backseat unresponsive. He was weak though and he turned his head briskly. It was a huge mistake, the biggest because as soon as he laid eyes on her face, the tears streamed heavily down his face and his head bobbed as he cried for the first time since his mother died when he was only thirteen. He couldn’t bare to see his little girl like this. Even if she was no longer his little girl, she was still his and still she was. Margaret practically threw herself in the car, glancing briefly at her husband. She did a double take when she saw him silently sobbing with his head resting against the steering wheel. He turned and gave her a look of defeat.

“Oh, Richie. She’s going to be okay but we have to get her there quickly.” She tried to sound brave but the tears falling from her glistening eyes spoke otherwise. She had never witnessed him cry in the whole nineteen years they’ve been married and it scared her to see him vulnerable.

He wiped his tears away with his jacket sleeve and shifted into gear. The car bolted out of the driveway, screeching down the street of their quiet, little neighborhood. He drove like a madman, marking the streets with his brand new tires.

“Careful, Rich! She’s falling off the seat.”

“Well, pick her up.”

Margaret climbed in the backseat to sit with her daughter, holding her close and checking for a pulse every few seconds. The trip felt long and she thought they would never reach their destination. Finally, they arrived at the nearest hospital and pulled up to the front so fast, he almost didn’t see the wheelchair rolling out of the doors with an elderly lady in it. He flew out of the car and opened the back door to help his wife and daughter out. They rushed her inside leaving the car running just out front with the doors wide open.

“Rich, I’ve got this. The car.” She pointed just outside and his attention shifted.

Soon they were impatiently settling in the waiting room to hear news of their daughter’s condition. After an hour, a Dr. Peck called them to the back to see her.

“Your daughter is going to be fine, the blow to her head wasn’t too bad but she is very weak. It’s not surprising since her blood work shows a loss of vital minerals. We have her on an IV in the pediatric ward where she’ll stay for a few days if you decide to keep her here. I recommend that you do. She’s suffering from slight malnutrition and drastic changes to her diet can be dangerous.”

“What? That can’t be. She eats every meal. She doesn’t eat a lot but she does eat,” Margaret assured the doctor. It was apparent they didn’t know what was going on right under their noses.

“Did you know your daughter has an eating disorder?”

“Oh, God.” Richard dropped his head in his hands.

“No. No, Rich, it’s not rue. It can’t be.” She gazed at her daughter in the hospital bed, disbelief was written across her face as she put the pieces together.

“She admitted it to one of the nurses when she came to. I don’t think she was aware of her surroundings though and she fell back asleep soon after.”

“I told you she was too skinny. I knew something wasn’t right.”

“No,” Margaret whispered to herself. She couldn’t believe any of this was happening. She never saw it coming, never noticed the signs. What kind of a mother doesn’t see the signs?

“She’s in a bad state but it’s good we caught it before she could experience serious risks such as heart failure…” The doctor’s voice trailed off. Margaret couldn’t hear anything, just the sound of her own heart beating fast. She placed her hand on Harla’s chest timing her faint heartbeat to her own. Looking closely at her, she could see just how thin her daughter really was and closed her eyes in anger for not seeing it sooner. She planted herself in the big chair next to her daughter’s bedside in hopes that she would be the first person she sees when she wakes up again. All she could do now was wait.

 

To be continued..