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Chapter 1

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        CHAPTER 1

I FEEL LIKE SHIT. Worse than the normal shit.

        The taste of metal in my mouth makes me want to puke. I’m positive Mom’s parting gift of a broken nose has something to do with that. I’m sweating too. Bad. My clothes are sticking to me and I’m dizzy, like the ground is moving under me. Maybe I hit my head when I fell and blacked out. Again.

        The rumble of an engine. Someone’s driving somewhere. Could it be that Mom’s actually trying to help me? Yeah, right, like that’s even possible.

        The smell finally hits me, a menthol Tiparillo, Dad’s cheap wannabe cigar of choice. I force open my eyes. The early morning sun hurts and I cover my face with a hand.

        I attempt to sit up in my seat but my knee bangs against the glove box. A spasm of pain makes my body jerk. I push through it and turn to him, “Dad? Why didn’t you come?” I stop, because a rush of disappointment and anger dead-ends in my throat.

        “Okay, okay, easy. Take it easy. I was late, Pal. Don’t get all … you know … just relax.” He smiles but his eyes run away from mine to somewhere safe, the road.

        “You promised.” I bite back my words and take a deep breath. “Are we going to the hospital?” I sound stuffed up. I vaguely remember Dad parking somewhere and talking about cotton to stop the bleeding.

        “Nope. We’re leaving.” 

        “What? Really?” No way. I almost don’t believe him. I want to smile but my constant sadness puts a stop to that.

        He clears his throat. “It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? See, I listened.” He always clears his throat that way, like a picked-on kid at school trying to speak up to the bully, but never really being heard.

        I try again to sit up but the aches remind me of the one-sided battle royale I just survived. There’s pounding in my ears. I look at him, “Promise me we’re not going back. Just promise. Are we really leaving? Are we going to California? Can we go to California?” Is he lying to me? Is it just another lie? Always lies. His lie, her lie, and my fading memory. The memory is the hardest to take.

        “Look, Keeg, I was late getting to the house, I know. When I finally came, she was already gone and you were just … lying there. In a pile. On the kitchen floor. I wanted to call the police but—” He chokes up. “I’m … just so … sick of this shit, Keegan. Sick of it. It never used to be this way, I swear--” He stops, unable to continue. Is it real?

        I want to believe him as he rubs his eyes and tightens his grip on the steering wheel. But I know he thinks as long as he holds the wheel and watches the road, he’s safe. Safe from my ass getting beat. Safe from being a real dad.

        I stare at him with my broken face and try to decide if this counts as him finally doing something. I should probably be doing a victory dance and high fiving him. But I can’t. Because what if it’s all some cruel joke Dad’s playing? Why should I trust him now? Lies and more lies.

        “Hey, can you believe how much blood came out of ya? Hell, it was like a water faucet.” Small talk, another safe place for him. He finally says, “Sorry, I was late.”

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