The Good Goodbye(8)

By: Carla Buckley

“It’s just temporary,” my dad says. “It’s just one year. We’ll set up a payment schedule; we’ll get on our feet—”

“So that’s it?” I refuse to cry. “I’m not going to Harvard?”

The look on my dad’s face tells me it’s true. I can’t stand it. All my friends will leap ahead of me. I can see them pulling away. I’ll never, ever catch up. What will I do for a whole year? My cell phone buzzes, a text coming in, and something occurs to me. “Wait. What about Arden?” Her mom and my dad co-own the restaurant.

“Yes, what about her?” my mother spits, which tells me Arden isn’t going to art school in California, either. She stops pacing and spins to face my father. “How can you live with yourself?”

“You’re happy enough when I make money, Gabrielle! I don’t hear any complaints then. You think I planned this? You think I wasn’t careful? I was careful. This is just one of those things. One of those goddamn things!”

I back out of the room and they don’t even notice me go. Upstairs, I close my bedroom door and their voices grow dull. I sit in the window seat, my knees drawn to my chest. On the other side of the Potomac, Arden’s probably crying in her room. She’s been texting, but I can’t answer. My cell thrums in my pocket, another incoming text. Or maybe somebody’s Facebook update: MIT or Stanford?

I hug my knees tight, so hard I can’t breathe. A door slams below me, Mom retreating or Dad going out. On the other side of the window the garden is dark and ghostly, filled with grass and trees and bushes, the flowers my mother plants every spring. I feel it starting to sink in. A million dollars. I’m not going to Harvard. I hold my breath until specks dance before my eyes. I picture my dad’s face, narrow with anger, shame, too. My breath explodes out of me.

I’m not going to Harvard.

A single feeling detaches itself from all the others churning inside me. It starts to grow, clear and sharp and strange.



WE HAVE TO get to the hospital. We have to get to Arden, but I can’t move. People push past on the sidewalk. Rain taps my head and shoulders. Keys. Where are my keys? I fumble in my bag, clutch at the metal ring. Theo’s talking, asking questions. His face is lit by orange neon. I watch his mouth move and try to answer. My words come out jumbled. I hear a loud whooshing, realize it’s my blood pounding in my ears.

Theo grabs my arm. “I’ll drive.”

We inch through traffic lights. I press my foot against the floorboard as though I can force Theo’s foot to punch the pedal harder. I’m trapped in this car and it’s not going fast enough. “Take 295.”

“New York’s quicker.”

“Not this time of night.”

Rain smears the windshield. The dark road leaps from side to side. Oncoming headlights, the sailing blare of a car horn.

Theo glances over. “Your seat belt.”

I fumble for it. He leans across and drags the belt over my lap. “Call your mom.”

Yes, my mom. The boys. I pull my phone from my bag and stare at the display. I have to think before I press my own home number. “Mom?”


I’ve woken her. “Arden’s been in an accident. We’re on our way to the hospital.” Each word nails this down.

“What?” Now she’s alert.

“She was in a fire. She jumped out her dorm window to escape it.”

My mother gasps and I squeeze my eyes shut. Four stories high.

“Oh, my God. Is she—”

“She’s in critical condition. She’s…she’s unconscious.” She’s suffered trauma to multiple parts of her body. We are doing everything we can to stabilize her. I’m having trouble breathing. I press my hand to my chest.

“What happened? Is she burned?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about smoke inhalation?”

“Mom, I don’t know!”

Silence. “I’ll call your father.”

“Yes. Fine.” I don’t care.

A highway sign looms up out of the darkness. We’re still so far away. Hold on, Arden. Hold on, sweetheart. I’m coming.

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