Hot Air Balloon, Chapter Eighteen and Chapter Nineteen

Fiction By Clare // 10/8/2010

 

Chapter Eighteen
After spending seven dollars on their dinner and then sleeping behind some shrubs surrounding a KFCs, they weren’t feeling too much better in the morning than they had the night before. Things were just plain bad at this point, and they needed to get out of the south side before things inevitably got worse. The closest and quickest transportation to a safer part of town was the bus.
Cody let Georgie have the seat by the window, and soon, she was curled up in a very small ball, talking to herself in her sleep. “Mmm…I’d like that…hmm mm…”
Cody sat, his hand resting on Georgie’s back. He was too busy thinking to fall asleep. This really wasn’t good. He didn’t want Georgie to know just how bad it was…or how worried he was. Cody hated to admit it, but they really should go home. Georgie looked even smaller and thinner than ever. She needed to be eating more, but Cody knew she wouldn’t let him know how hungry she was. He could see it. And all the close calls they’d been having…Cody’s fingers brushed the sore bruise underneath his eye. If those creeps had done anything to Georgie, he knew we would never have forgiven himself.
The bus hit a bump, and Georgie started. “Cody?” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes with her fist.
“Its fine, Georgie. You can go back to sleep,”
Georgie yawned widely, and turned so she was resting on Cody’s arm. “I had…a…a wonderful dream…we were…flying again,” And then she was asleep.
Cody sighed. He felt so confused and guilty. Georgie’s trust hung heavily on him, and Cody thought of his parents. His mom had trusted his dad…and look how they had ended up. Cody was terrified he would hurt Georgie the way his dad had hurt his mom.
Cody wished he could cry, but even when he was all alone, he was too ashamed to cry.
 
Cody and Georgie were beyond exhaustion when they got into the city and finally made it to the mall. The plan was to go inside and crash on an out of the way couch till closing, buy a little food, and then keep moving.
It was just like Cody said: running away stops being fun when you stop running. It had taken a while, but it was true. This was definitely not fun.
Stumbling into the mall, the two of them moved as quickly as possible to a secluded area with a few couches and chair arranged near a large cluster of lockers and a public restroom.
“Perfect,” Cody mumbled, though he would have been willing to sleep behind a pop machine if necessary. He collapsed with all the grace of a dying hippopotamus on a couch, and in a few seconds, he seemed to be out cold. Georgie followed suit, so tired she wanted to cry. She was asleep before her head even came to rest on the arm of the couch.
 
Cody woke up before Georgie did. It was late afternoon, but shoppers were still busily going around throwing their hard earned savings away on things they may or may not have needed. It was still a good hour or so before closing, but Cody knew it would be best to get going before some guards came and threw them out. He looked over at Georgie, and suppressed a laugh.
She was curled into a small ball, her hair falling into her face, and her right forefinger knuckle in her mouth. He wondered if she always slept like that when she wasn’t just napping. Probably.
“Georgie,” he said, reaching over and shaking her shoulder. “Time to get going,”
“Mmm…noo…” Georgie mumbled, her hands clenching and unclenching nonexistent blankets. “Mmm…it’s too early,”
Cody almost laughed. “Since when do you hate waking up like I do, Georgina?” He grabbed his backpack and pulled it on. “We need to get going,”
Georgie blinked her eyes open and sighed. “Oh…okay…” She struggled to sit up, blinking harder and squinting. “Oh, Cody…I can’t see I’m so tired…can I sleep like…twenty minutes more?”
“Sorry, G-girl,” Cody replied. “We really need to get a move on,”
Georgie stumbled to her feet, yanked on her backpack, and followed Cody. They stopped and bought a large Subway sandwich with everything on it, some water, and a large bag of popcorn in the food court.
“Here,” Cody said after paying, shoving the rest of their money (about $25) into Georgie’s hands. “I’ll carry the food,”
“Thanks,” Georgie said, rubbing her eyes with the back of her wrist as she handed him the popcorn.
They quickly headed for the exit and pushed through the light crowd of people also leaving the mall onto the sidewalk. Georgie saw a red pick-up truck coming around the corner in front of the mall and halted, ready to wait, when a sudden gust of wind yanked the last of their precious money out of her hands.
“Oh no!” she cried. Maybe it was pure exhaustion, or hunger, or a combination of both. But Georgie dashed into the street, desperately trying to grab the money before it blew away.
All Cody heard was Georgie scream and the screech of tires. People starting screaming and shouting, and Cody’s heart leapt into his throat. The food dropped out of his hands onto the sidewalk, and Cody raced forward, shoving his way towards the street. He came to the front of the crowd of spectators and stopped short, horrified.
A large red pickup was stopped directly in front of the exit, with Georgie laying in a sad, still, somewhat bloody little heap in front of its tires.
“Georgie!!!” Cody screamed. No…no…no… his brain repeated over and over in time with his pounding heart.
“Call 911!” Someone yelled.
Yes, Cody thought. Get help. Before anyone could stop him he raced to Georgie’s side, afraid to touch her but feeling he had to do something. If she was dead, Cody had no idea what he would do. His entire life had revolved around Georgie for seven years, and he might have lost her to the wheels of some idiots pickup!
Georgie looked terrible. Her head and face were covered in blood from a large bleeding cut on her forehead and from her bleeding nose, but the tires hadn’t crushed her. Any part of her face that wasn’t bloody was whiter than snow. Her eyes were squeezed shut, and Cody couldn’t tell if she was even still breathing. Cody wanted to puke. Blood grossed him out pretty much as badly as tea did, only grosser, and he wanted to start bawling he was so terrified he was staring at a…dead Georgie.
Georgie suddenly made a small gasping sound, and her lips started shaking. She wasn’t dead…yet. Cody took her hand and held onto it, and immediately started sobbing hysterically. Cody had never cried that hard in his life, and he was doing it now in front of dozens of people. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except Georgie. If a million tears and mass humiliation would save her, Cody was willing, more than willing, going to do it.
And suddenly, a weight like lead settled over Cody’s heart.
This was all his fault.
She’d been so tired…dead tired. And he had just pressed her up and focused on getting going…always impatient. And he hadn’t stuck with her…he’d fallen back…he should have held her hand…he should have told her to be careful…something! Cody started crying even harder, and took Georgie’s other hand, clutching her hands tight, trying to grasp at some hope.
It seemed like only seconds later that security guards were suddenly telling Cody to move away and sirens were blaring in Cody’s ears. People were still screaming. Everything was chaotic. Cody stood up in a daze, unable to take his eyes off of Georgie. His tears were suddenly gone, and he felt numb. He watched as a group of EMTs swooped down on Georgie, and suddenly, he was on his knees with one of the EMTs next to him, saying a lot of things Cody didn’t even hear.
 
Georgie woke up very suddenly to a lot of pain in various parts of her body. She blinked hard, overwhelmed by the throbbing in her head for a second. After a minute, her eyes finally focused, and she saw the sky. Just the sky. She blinked some more, confused, and suddenly, totally terrified. Her hearing rushed back into her ears and she heard people yelling.
“Cody!” Georgie screamed, trying to move. She was trapped! “Cody! Cody, where are you!?” She tried to turn her head, but it hurt too much. “Cody!”
Suddenly, there was a woman next to her, who immediately began asking Georgie dozens of very stupid questions. What was her name? How old was she? When was her birthday? What day was it? What month? What year? How many fingers was she holding up? Every time Georgie answered a question and tried to say something, the woman interrupted her with another question.
“Do you remember what happened to you?” The woman asked.
“Um…yes,” Georgie said. “I got hit by a pickup truck. Who are---”
“What color was the pickup truck?”
Georgie stared at the woman. “What difference does it make!? Ow! Where is Cody!?”
“I’m right here!”
And there he was, standing over her, his face full of concern. “Are you ok?”
“I…I don’t know,” Georgie cried. She tried to reach out and grab his hand, but she was strapped down. She suddenly realized just how scared she was. “Cody…” she whimpered.
“Sh,” Cody took her hand, and Georgie sighed in relief. She’d never felt anything so comforting. “Cody…ow…my head…”
“Everything’s going to be ok. I promise,”
Georgie suddenly saw the question-asking woman again. “We’re taking you to the hospital, Honey. Just relax,”
“Not without Cody!” Georgie cried, squeezing his hand tight.
“Don’t worry,” Cody said. “I’m coming with you.”
 
 
Chapter Nineteen
After examining Cody, the doctor promptly diagnosed him with malnutrition and dehydration. After slapping a ridiculously irritating hospital patient bracelet on him, Cody was taken to a hospital room and placed in front of a tray heaped with hot food and a large glass of blue liquid that turned out to be Gaterade. Cody ate it all, and even though it was rather nasty in the flavor/texture department, he had never tasted anything so good.
After eating, he was ordered to lie down and rest. Cody climbed into bed and fell asleep in seconds, but his sleep was fitful. Every time he woke up, images of Georgie being hit by a red pickup haunted him.
 
Georgie sat in the Mercy hospital ER, exhausted and sad, waiting for the nurse to come with a wheel chair (why, pray tell, did she need a wheel chair?) to take Georgie to her room.
She now had a long line of fifteen stitches on her forehead just above her left eye. She’s been told by at least five different people how lucky she was, and that the scar wouldn’t be all that noticeable in a few years. It wasn’t the scar that was getting her down, though…she actually thought that was kind of cool. It was the fact that it was over. No more running. Nothing but one big headache to look forward to.
Cody walked in, looking like absolute road kill. Georgie leapt off the examination table and threw her arms around him, bursting into tears.
“Geez, Georgie,” Cody said. “What are you trying to do, break my neck?” But he hugged her back, as tight as he could.
“I’m sorry!” Georgie sobbed.
“What for?” Cody asked, lifting her so her feet came off the floor as he hugged her. “I’m just glad you’re…you know…ok,”
“I had to tell them the truth…like, everything,” Georgie replied, burying her face in his shoulder. “They’re really mad…and we have to go home…they’re calling our parents…and…and…” She wrapped her arms around his neck and bent her knees so she was somewhat suspended and could look him in the face. “I ruined it,” she said sadly. “No more running.”
Cody set her down on the floor and gazed at the long, swollen line of stitches on her forehead. “It’s ok. I told them everything, too,”
Georgie stared up at him, confused. “But…you didn’t want…I mean…”
“I know,” Cody said, sighing. “Looking back…I honestly can’t believe I was boneheaded enough to drag you into this. I just wanted to run away because I didn’t want to face my life. Now, I owe you.”
“Owe me what?” Georgie asked.
“I owe you…taking you home,” Cody replied. “Like you wanted. Like…like I should’ve done a while ago. And…give my life a try,”
Georgie smiled up at him. “Thank you, Cody. I know…I know running away really meant a lot to you,”
Cody hugged her hard and rested his chin on top of her head. “You mean a whole lot more to me, Georgie. A whole lot more.”
 
Georgie didn’t want her parents to come and look at her. She wanted them to never find the hospital and then just give up and go home to the kids they had they actually liked, who didn’t disappoint them. She spent a good hour staring in the mirror of the bathroom at the hospital, noticing that certain facial expressions made the scar stand out more. Her smile seemed to make it pop and look huge…huger than it already was.
“Gosh,” she muttered. “When they said scar they meant scar.”
She frowned, which hurt and deepened the scar even more, because frowning pulled her forehead. She actually liked the scar. It gave a dangerous and mysterious air to her overly cute face. A good scar to scare people with. She would wrap colorful scarves around her head; maybe even pull out a little authentic gypsy garb. She would wear tons of makeup like her older sisters. And then if anybody tried to mess with her, she’d just pull off a scarf, flash her scar, and be good to go.
No…too many layers. Better, she would wear a big and random hat. Some people, awesome people, would say, ‘Yo, nice hat.’ Mean people, un-awesome people, would say, ‘What a terrible hat!’, and for those people, she would whip it off and say in a deep, dangerous voice, “I wear this hat for a reason.”
Nah. Big hats were expensive, and Georgie just happened to be very, very broke. Maybe she could just get a shaggy and angular haircut that would cover the darn thing up, and just flip her hair up if she felt like showing off her scar.
Or maybe she would just live with it. Yes. Probably. And her parents would cringe every time they saw her. They would keep a picture of Cody on the wall to shake their fists at and use as a dart target, bellowing, “You’ve disfigured our least favorite child!”
In truth, the scar, though impressive, really wasn’t as disfiguring or even as noticeable as Georgie would have liked to think. It was there, oh yes, to be sure, there was now a very real and very interesting scar on Georgie’s forehead, and people would be talking about it and commenting on it for years. But it made Georgie appear more grownup; it hardened the perfect circle of her face, and more often than not her unruly hair covered it. But not to take away from the dramatic moments Georgie spent holed up in the bathroom, wondering if her parents simply wouldn’t notice if she wasn’t there to greet them.
Cody resigned himself to the fate of seeing his mother with much misery and quite a bit of muttering under his breath. Georgie’s scar stood out twenty times as much to him as it did to even Georgie herself, and he felt guiltier and guiltier the more he thought about it. How could he have been so careless and irresponsible? And he could just hear the long, loud sniff Aunt Jodie would give him, and just what she would say.
“Disgraceful. Appalling. Unbelievable. I hope you know how much you disgust and disappoint your mother, Cody! And just what would your father say!?”
His father would probably say bravo and clap him on the back. He’d done the same thing. Bailed when the going got tough. Only he hadn’t been caught. Not yet, anyway. Thus depressed, Cody wasn’t in a good mood at all when he heard a familiar voice screech, “My baby!!”
He was suddenly and thoroughly strangled in his mother’s hold. “Ouch…Mom…can’t…breathe!”
“Oh, you idiot! Stupid, stupid, stupid kid!” she sobbed, smothering him with kisses in between words. “Never do anything like this again! Never! Oh, my baby!”
Cody wanted to die, especially when he realized Mr. and Mrs. O’Kay were standing there staring at Mrs. Ryan’s hysteria. Things got better when Aunt Jodie appeared, and glared at Cody like he was a big stain on her beautiful white carpet.
Georgie had been greeted in a similar fashion by her own mother, who had immediately grabbed her, hugged her, and began fussing over her, convinced she was still in danger of death. “You look terrible, Georgina! Oh, poor thing! You’re so skinny…look at her, Paul! Just look at her!”
Mr. O’Kay skipped the heartfelt greetings and went straight into fuming over the situation. “That Cody is unbelievable! I can’t even fathom what he was thinking! What kind of an idiot wastes his life, and puts other people’s lives in danger, running away from Wisconsin to Iowa. What does Iowa have that Wisconsin doesn’t!? And don’t you tell me its cows and corn, Georgina, because believe me, we’ve got enough of that!”
“I’m fine,” Georgie said, brushing her hair out of her face. Mrs. O’Kay gasped. “Georgie!” She threw her arms around her daughter and starting sobbing. “Poor little baby! Poor angel!”
Georgie joined Cody in the I-wish-I-was-dead club.
“Good grief!” Mr. O’Kay cried, bending down and examining Georgie’s forehead. “They said stitches, but boy! They meant stitches! How many is that? How many did that nurse say? That’s gotta be more than fifteen!”
“Heavens!” Aunt Jodie said, suddenly hovering over Georgie like a hungry vulture. “What has that boy done to you, Georgina!? Gracious, it looks like somebody went at you with a pitchfork! This just goes to show how irresponsible and ill-disciplined the both of them are! You wouldn’t see my Clark doing anything so foolhardy. No sir! My Clark is a junior at Yale. Doing splendid. Wonderful boy. He never did anything bad. The worst thing he ever did was knock over a few of my lovely gnomes, but he never broke any,” She gave Georgie a very meaningful glare. “Poor Rudolph!”
Georgie wondered if she was old enough for jail time. That sounded mighty appealing right now.
“And as for Cody!” Aunt Jodie directed her fangs towards him. “I have no doubt he was behind all this! I told you, Maggie! I told you he was trouble! He should have been sent to a military reform school, like I said! And after this, I suppose I’m expected to keep him in the house still, am I!? I have half a mind to throw him out, Maggie!”
“Please do,” Cody muttered. “Please do!”
“Georgina,” Mr. O’Kay finally said after drilling the nurses for ten minutes on how they’d taken care of Georgie, the bill, and how many stitches exactly were now in her head. “We’re leaving now. And you are never hanging out with that Ryan boy again. You aren’t even to speak with him. Ever,”
 
Georgie had walked out of the hospital like a zombie. She was too stunned to react yet. She hadn’t even gotten to say a true goodbye to Cody…just a quick hug and then she was dragged off by her parents. She sat in the back of her dad’s car, listening to the vibration and hum of her mother and father arguing and occasional throwing a few reprimanding words back at Georgie, but she hardly heard any of what they were saying. Her mind was swirling with disbelief, trying to process everything that had happened, and finding she was completely unable to. She kept her eyes down at her lap and was silent. She couldn’t face life without Cody. She wouldn’t face life without Cody. She refused to. They couldn’t make her. She would be a brat and be stubborn, and they would punish her, but they would never make her move on. She would never get past this. Till she was 89 and had false teeth and was being carted off to a nursing home, she would never be any older than twelve. Time stopped if she couldn’t even speak to Cody. She was being selfish. Unbelievably selfish. And though she was truly miserable and exhausted, she found a little fake happiness in being selfish. Just a little.
 
Cody mourned the loss of his best friend on the way home. It was clear as Lake Superior on a perfect day on the beach that he was never going to see her again, or even correspond with her. And his aunt and mother seemed to think this was just fine. And there went any privileges he had hoped to have. No cell phone. No computer. No hot air ballooning ever again no never.
Cody wished they would go farther, and refuse to ever feed him again. Maybe lock him in a dark hole. Maybe make him do menial chores with no pay for the rest of his life. That’s what he felt like he deserved. And he felt sure that as much as his mother detested the very thought, she would try to get in touch with Cody’s father. Lousy dad or not, the guy probably had a right to know just what a nutcase his son was.

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