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Clarity a Young Adult Novel
Background on Susan Harris the Author
I have had a few published articles but I am still in search of the day when my first book will be published. I decided to include this on hub pages because I am desperate for feedback. Please read the first three chapters and let me know what your true feelings are... even if they're negative. I have been sending my manuscript to a variety of agents so this means a great deal to me. Hopefully you'll enjoy my character. Enjoy reading!
I thought I finally had everything I ever wanted. Now, as I lay on the shower
floor, hugging my knees to my emaciated body, like a newborn baby in the fetal position, I
wondered, how did I get here? When did my life veer so far off course? How did I lose a sense of
myself to the point that I literally was wasting away a bit more each day? I didn’t recognize the
person that I had become; I wasn’t proud of who I was. I was alone, and the people whom I
loved the most were deeply worried about me. I sat in silence, feeling the hot drops of water
bouncing off my bare body. My stomach ached for the food I had denied it for so long. It ached
for the meal that I had just vomited into the shower drain. I felt like I was slowly dying inside
and out. What have I done?
The sobs began once again. I shook as they trembled through my body. I couldn’t remember a time I had cried this hard before. I cried not only for Ben but also for the things that had happened over that last year and for my entire past. My whole life I played the part of someone I thought I needed to be in order to be accepted by my “friends” at school. I created a façade that wasn’t me at all. Now I had no idea who the real me was. I had lost someone who I thought truly loved me like a sister, I had lost childhood friends, I had lost my first love, but worst of all, I had lost me. Who was Alexandra Thompson? I didn’t know anymore. I knew she was a hell of a lot more than the sickly pile of flesh and bones lying in this shower. I turned the water off, deciding I had mourned my pitiful teenage life enough for one night. I felt like I had just finished running a grueling marathon.
Carefully standing up and stepping out of the shower, I reached for my towel and wrapped it around my boney body. As I dried off in silence, I heard someone walking around in the house, which I thought was strange because it was so late. Mom must have woken up and realized I left the room, I thought. She’s probably just waiting for me to come out to make sure I’m all right. Suddenly, there was loud pounding on the bathroom door. Startled, I jerked and screeched.
“Alex! Alex, I need to talk to you right now.” My mom’s voice sounded panicked. I rushed to the door and opened it. My mom wrapped her arms around me and guided me toward my bedroom. “Honey, I need to tell you something, but I want you to sit down first.” she turned on the light as we stepped into my bedroom.
“What’s going on, Mom? You’re scaring me.”
She gently sat me down on the bed. I kept my towel wrapped tightly around me. “Mom, tell me what’s wrong!” I practically shouted at her, not being able to stand the wait.
She knelt down in front of me to look me in the eyes. “Honey, Benjamin was in a car accident. His mother just called.”
“What do you mean Ben was in an accident? Is he all right?” I said frantically, standing up. “Honey, he’s unconscious. His mother said they placed him in a medically induced coma because there was some swelling in his brain.”
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my. . .” I felt my knees give out beneath me. Pain and fear unlike I had ever experienced coursed through my body. “It’s my fault. It’s entirely my fault! He was so upset and he sped off. I should have stopped him! I should have made him stay here for the night! I should have. . . I should have. . .” I couldn’t finish the sentence. Sobs racked my body. Tremor after tremor of loud unrecognizable sounds left my mouth. I couldn’t catch my breath. The room was spinning. What did I do? What did I do? I felt my mom’s arms around me. “Mom, I need to see him,” I said, standing up. Dazed, I stumbled to my closet and grabbed whatever articles of clothing were closest to me—a long sleeve shirt and a pair of jeans—and put them on. I threw my soaking-wet hair up in a ponytail and ran out of the room to find my mother’s car keys.
“Alex!” my mom shouted, running after me. “You are not driving like this!” She grabbed my arm. “I’ll drive you to the hospital.” It was only as she picked up her purse that I noticed she was fully dressed. She must have known I would want to go to the hospital and quickly dressed before coming to find me in the shower. I slipped on my flip-flops, and moments later, my mother and I were in the car, driving to “my person.”—the person whom I had just broken up with, the person whom I had just sent down a dark road when he was upset, the person who was now unconscious because of me.
The sky was still pitch dark as we pulled into the hospital parking lot. We jogged across the dimly lit lot toward the brightly lit hospital entrance. Once inside, my mother asked the woman sitting behind the front desk where Ben was located. She pulled the information up on her computer and then directed us to take the set of elevators around the corner to the fourth floor, which was the ICU.
We rushed to the elevator, and once inside, I couldn’t keep myself from incessantly pushing the number four button. An eternity seemed to pass before the doors finally closed and we were on our way up. It was as if the closer I got to Ben, the more time seemed to slow down and everything seemed to take three times longer. “Oh my God! Could this thing move any slower?” I shouted, frustrated. My mom just rubbed my back, trying to keep me calm.
Finally, we reached the fourth floor. The doors opened to reveal shiny white tile and dim lighting. The air was thick; everything seemed so sterile and dead. We stepped off the elevator but didn’t get very far before we were stopped by a nurse and told that we could not go back to see Ben at this moment because he wasn’t receiving any visitors except for immediate family. “But I need to see him,” I begged. The nurse motioned us back to the waiting room just outside the ICU. I felt like I was a steer being herded into my pen. Still begging to be let through, I heard someone call my name. Spinning around quickly, I immediately recognized the source of the voice. Both of Ben’s sisters were sitting in the waiting room. They were holding each other’s hands, and I could tell they had been crying. I ran over to them. “What happened?” I asked hysterically. “Mom, is back with him right now,” Ben’s oldest sister began in between light sobs. “He was conscious at the scene of the accident. He told the officer and the passerby that called the police that he swerved to miss a deer in the middle of the road but that when he did, he lost control of his vehicle and sideswiped a tree. When he did, he hit his head off of the driver’s side window. He fractured his skull and his left cheek-bone. He also has a few broken ribs, his left arm is broken, and he has a lot of cuts and bruises.”
“Did you get to see him?” I asked, barely able to get the words out.
“Yes; we each went back there one at a time. By the time we made it to the hospital, though, the doctors had already placed him in a coma because he was experiencing some brain swelling. The doctors are hoping that the induced coma will help with the swelling.”
I was speechless. I just stared at Ben’s sisters as they clutched one another for support. I don’t know how long I stood there before I was able to speak again. “Is he going to die?” I finally asked “And. . .when can I see him?”
“The doctors don’t know anything for sure yet, and yes, you can go back and see him when Mom comes out.”
I crumpled to the floor and began to sob, covering my face. Ben’s sisters joined me on the hospital floor, and we all held each other and cried. No words were spoken; only the moans of grief and terror moving through our bodies escaped our lips.
Minutes later, Ben’s mother was by our side. “Alex, sweetheart, you’re here,” she said placing her hand on my shoulder. Slowly all three of us stood up.
“Ben and I had an argument and he drove off angry. It’s all my fault. I’m so sorry, Ms. Becker!” I wailed. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” I repeated over and over.
Ms. Becker wrapped her arms around me, “Sweetie, it’s not your fault. There was a deer in the road and Ben swerved to miss it. There is nothing you could have done to stop it from happening.” Ben’s mother caressed my wet hair.
“I need to see him,” I said between sobs. I wasn’t even sure if his mother understood what I was saying.
“Of course, dear.”
My mother stepped over and gave me a hug as Ben’s mother took my arm in hers. She led me back past the nurse who had originally stopped my mother and me. The nurse looked at us but didn’t say a word. Ms. Becker led me down the hallway to room 407. The room was dark except for a dim overhead light and some light coming from the machines around the hospital bed. “Go ahead in, dear. I’ll be in the waiting room if you need me.” Ms. Becker rubbed my back and then headed back down the hallway. Slowly I walked into the dim room. The various machines beeped incessantly. At first, Ben, looked like he was sleeping, but then I noticed all of the other things. Multiple IVs and wires came from his body, and his face was swollen and purple. A tube protruded from his mouth, his lips were cut up, and there was dry blood on his face and neck. Bandages covered his wounds, and his left arm was in a cast. His ribs were wrapped. His other arm and hand lay limp at his side, and as I came closer, I could see that the hair on his head was still matted down with dry blood. “Oh my God,” I whimpered as the tears began again. I gently took Ben’s right hand in mine and laid my head on it. Please God don’t let Ben die! I prayed over and over. My tears wet Ben’s dry, blood crusted hand. I kissed it gently and carefully caressed his swollen face. The left side of his face had taken the brunt of the impact and was in much worse shape than the right. I softly brushed aside the hair on his forehead. “Ben, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m here, and I love you so much. You cannot leave me,” I whispered in his ear. I lay my head back down on his hand and caressed his arm for some time before I was startled by the sound of another person in the room with me. Lifting my head, I quickly realized it was the nurse who had stopped my mother and me in the hallway before.
“I’m just checking his vitals. I’m sorry to bother you. I’ll be done in a minute and will leave you two alone again,” she said, checking the various machines. She typed a few things into her computer and then left the room. I didn’t know how long I had been in Ben’s room, so I quietly stood up and whispered in his ear once more that I loved him and that I wasn’t going anywhere. I left his room and walked down the hallway feeling like a zombie. I had no emotion; I was empty. There was nothing. I couldn’t imagine living in a world that didn’t have Benjamin Becker in it. Yes, I may have broken up with him just a few hours ago, but it wasn’t because I didn’t love him. I loved him with all of my heart and soul. I just wanted him to be free to be with a normal girl who wasn’t as messed up as I was. I walked through the double doors in the waiting room and straight into my mother’s arm. “Mom, he’s hurt so bad. I can’t leave him. I need to stay until he wakes up,” I said, bawling. My mom held me close and caressed my hair. “Of course, sweetheart,” she whispered in my ear. “Or course.”
I stumbled through the next hours in a daze. Everything was foggy. It felt like I was living someone else’s life because there was no way this could be mine. Twelve hours after the accident, Ben’s condition remained the same—the swelling in his head hadn’t gotten worse, but it hadn’t gotten any better either, like the doctors had hoped. Ben’s family and I continued taking turns spending time with him. He was never alone; there was always someone with him. Someone was always holding his hand. Our classmates had begun to hear about the accident, and soon the ICU waiting room was full of students from Deerfield, all of them upset and wanting to know if Ben was going to be okay. A lot of them even pretended to care about how I was dealing with what had happened. Libby even came to the hospital and dropped off some flowers, and for the first time in months, she spoke to me. “Alex, I really do hope Ben is okay,” she said and then walked away. As I watched the girl who used to be like a sister to me leave the ICU waiting room, a burning need to inflict the same pain as she had done to me, burned inside me. How dare she show up here and pretend like she gives a damn about Ben or me. I stormed after her and followed her onto the elevator, quickly stepping on just before the doors closed. I then hit the stop button. “Libby, you have a lot of nerve showing your face at this hospital. You never cared about Ben. You just wanted to be with him to make you look good. All you ever did was talk shit about him, so why are you suddenly pretending that you give a damn about him. I can’t believe I was ever friends with someone as self-absorbed as you. You are just a lying bitch and I don’t ever want to see you near Ben again!” I lifted my hand and with my open palm slapped Libby as hard as I could across the face. She didn’t say a word; she simply placed her hand over her reddened cheek and stared at me. I hit the button once more, the elevator doors opened, I turned around and stormed back to the waiting room. I never looked back, I never gave her a chance to respond, and I never regretted hitting Libby. She deserved it, and she had it coming.
Once in the waiting room, I sat down next to my mother. “Alex,” she said, pushing a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “I think we should go home. You need to get some rest, and you haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
“Mom, I’m not leaving until Ben is awake. You go home. I’ll call you when I’m ready to come home. I can get something to eat here.”
My mom sighed and started digging through her purse. She pulled out a few bills and handed them to me. “Here—take this. But you have to promise you’ll try to get some rest and that you’ll get something to eat.” I took the bills from her and nodded. She gave me a kiss on the forehead and stood up and quietly spoke with Ben’s sisters and mother. Ms. Becker promised my mother that she would make me lie down and take a nap and that she would look after me. My mom then gave each one of them a hug and gave me one more embrace before leaving the ICU.
Soon after my mother left, Ben’s mom was able to talk his sisters into going home. She had promised that she would call them if anything changed. The waiting room was growing quieter as the seats slowly emptied. Little by little, the Deerfield students made their way back to their lives until soon only Ben’s mother and I were left, waiting for Ben to show some sort of change, waiting for Ben to open his eyes, waiting for the doctors to tell us some good news, waiting for our prayers to be answered. Just waiting. . .
Twenty-four hours after the accident, Ben’s condition remained the same. It was the middle of the night, and somehow Ben’s mother had convinced the nurses on staff to allow both of us back in his room at the same time. Ben’s mother held her son’s hand in hers, and I sat on the couch. “Alex, sleep. We can take turns sitting with him. You rest first, and then I’ll rest. We can sleep in shifts. We need to keep our energy up.”
I lay down on the couch and closed my eyes, listening to the beeping machines. Sleep found me quickly. When I awoke, it was to the sound of voices speaking in the hallway. I slowly sat up and became very dizzy. I gently shook my head and waited for my balance to come back. When I felt steadier, I glanced out the doorway to see Ms. Becker speaking with Ben’s doctor. I quietly walked over to Ben’s side and gently kissed his forehead. I sat down in the chair next to him, took his hand, and began repeating the same prayer I had been praying since I first stepped into his room. I closed my eyes and focused on my pleas with God.
Moments later, I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Alex.” I opened my eyes and looked up at Ben’s mother. “The doctor said some of the swelling in Ben’s brain is going down. He still wants to keep him in a coma, but he’s pleased with his progress now. It looks like the coma is finally helping with the swelling.” She began to cry, and so did I. This was the best news we had heard in a day. I stood up and hugged her. She held me tightly. “I’m going to call Ben’s sisters and get some breakfast. Do you want anything?” she asked, letting go of me.
I shook my head. “I’ll be in here with Ben. When you get back, I’ll get something to eat after you get some rest, because it’s your turn.”
She nodded, thanked me for being there, and then left. I was alone in the room with Ben. I kissed his cheek and sat back down next to him. “Ben, the doctor said the swelling is starting to go down in your brain.”
Ben’s sisters came back to the hospital around nine that morning with a change of clothes for their mother and muffins for both of us. I nibbled on little pieces of a blueberry muffin here and there, but I had no appetite, I hadn’t eaten anything since finding out about Ben. He had now been in a medically induced coma for almost thirty hours. I took a sip of my cold water and felt it drip slowly down my parched throat. I had called my mother after finding out about Ben’s improved condition, and she was going to stop by with a change of clothes for me, so I made my way down to the front entrance of the hospital. Moments later, my mother pulled her car up next to the sidewalk. She got out of her car and gave me a long hug. “Honey, you look exhausted. Have you been sleeping and eating?” She handed me the bag of clothes.
“Yes, Mother; I just ate a blueberry muffin and I slept for about four hours last night. I’m fine. Plus, they may bring Ben out of his coma soon because the swelling has continued to go down more since earlier this morning.”
“That’s fantastic, baby. I called you off from school, and the teachers know what is going on, so they were very understanding about your missed school-work,” my mom said, playing with my ponytail.
“Thank you so much, Mom. I love you!” I said, giving her a kiss. “I’m going to head back up there.” I waved and went back inside.
Back on the fourth floor, I made my way to the bathroom and into the stall closest to the door. I began digging through the bag of clothes my mom had brought me. She packed clean undergarments, socks, sneakers, a pair of jeans, and a light-blue cotton shirt. I quickly changed and slipped my feet out of my flip-flops and into my socks and sneakers. I stuffed all of my dirty clothes back into my bag and tied my shoes. When I stood up, everything went black. I didn’t pass out—everything was just black again. I couldn’t see anything. I stood there for what seemed like minutes, but still my vision didn’t return. Fear began to twist in my stomach. My vision had blacked out before, but not like this. I felt along the stall door, found the latch, and fumbled with it for a moment until I was able to unlock the door. I was beginning to panic. Why wasn’t my vision coming back? The stall door squeaked as I pushed it to the side. I tentatively stuck out my foot to take a step, and as I did, I kicked my bag that I had forgotten was in front of me. I bent over and felt around until I touched its nylon surface. I picked it up, put it over my shoulders, and began feeling for the stall doorway as I carefully placed one foot in front of the other. My shoulder bumped into part of the stall’s metal frame, sending a sharp pain through my arm. Why was I still unable to see? I tried to remember the layout of the bathroom and where the exit was as I shuffled out of the stall. Blundering my way through the bathroom, I bumped into another fixture, sending a stabbing pain through my abdomen. My hands shot down reflexively, finding a hard, flat surface that was slightly damp. I had bumped into the row of sinks. I laid both of my palms flat on the counter and stood completely still, just waiting. Finally, I began seeing a bright white light, and then slowly, my vision returned. Everything was blurry at first, but eventually I was looking at a clear reflection of myself in the mirror. “What the hell just happened?” I whispered. Being able to see again, I quickly washed my hands and exited the bathroom as if nothing unusual had just happened. I was just relieved that my vision had returned. I had never experienced the loss of my sight for that long of a time; usually when my vision blacked out, it was only for a matter of seconds—not minutes. I looked at my watch. I had been in the bathroom a total of thirty-five minutes. I didn’t know how much of that time was spent blind.
Ben’s family and I continued to take our shifts in his room. I was feeling weaker than usual. I nibbled on the blueberry muffin that Ben’s sisters had brought me, but other than that, I hadn’t eaten much. During one of the times when I wasn’t in the room with Ben, I walked lethargically to the hospital cafeteria. I bought a banana and a bottle of water. Sitting down at a table in the back corner of the cafeteria, I slowly ate my banana; I was so exhausted that the simple act of eating was draining me. I laid my head down on the table and closed my eyes. I began thinking about when everything had changed. I was the reason Ben was in a coma. I caused all of this.
10 Months Earlier
It was the summer before my senior year and my seventeenth birthday. Of all days, this day should have made me feel special. But a terrible feeling gnawed at my stomach. It was what you feel moments before you finally vomit the bile from your insides. You know it’s there, but until that instant, it simply won’t come out. If you could just expel it, you would feel infinitely better, but your body just won’t relinquish it yet. I had always been like this, for as long as I could remember. Some people react to nerves by sweating. I, on the other hand, get sick, to the point where I can spend tens of minutes hovering over a toilet, retching, waiting to finally hurl the butterflies out of my body. This was how I reacted to the news that my mother, and my best friend, Libby, were throwing me a surprise sweet-seventeen birthday party. I wasn’t supposed to know, but I had figured it out. Most people had sweet sixteen birthday parties; but not me. There are two things that I can’t stand: parties in my honor and surprises. All I kept thinking was, why would they put me through such torture, when they knew I hated this kind of thing? I was a teenager, and one of my biggest fears was having a party that no one showed up for. I never understood why anyone came to my parties in the first place. I didn’t understand why they would even bother with me. There wasn’t anything special about me. I was a short five-foot-three; I had shoulder-length, wavy brown hair, dark brown eyes, and I definitely wasn’t athletic. One could also say I was far from beautiful. I was just your typical, slightly chunky teenager. Now, don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t a whale, and I didn’t break mirrors when I walked by, but I wasn’t walking around in string bikinis and flirting with all the guys, either. As I saw it, I had only two things going for me: my near-perfect complexion and my humor. Now, when I say I fell into my social position at school, I mean just that. I don’t know how I got accepted into the “popular” group. Somehow, they had made a mistake, and let me in. People seemed to like me, but I never entirely understood why. I guess it was because I was the girl that always had a sarcastic remark to make and I had a dry sense of humor that everyone seemed to enjoy. I almost felt like they kept me around solely for my entertainment value. Like “Hey, where’s that girl who always has something funny to say? She keeps things lively. I wouldn’t want to date her or hang out with her, but she’s great for large parties and get-togethers.” That’s how I felt most of the time—like I was always auditioning for a part, and had to make sure I performed when needed. I was the girl that kept most things light and fun. I wasn’t embarrassed about making a fool out of myself. In fact, I felt most at ease when people were laughing at me or with me. I guess I got that from my dad. He had this very dry, self-depreciating type of humor. He wasn’t afraid to discuss or joke about topics that most people wouldn’t even mention. People loved him because he was the nice down-to earth funny guy who had a lot of weird dirty jokes to tell. Now, I may have joked about sex and other issues that some people were afraid to mention, but trust me—I was far from experienced in any of those areas. Yes, I could make a joke about the size of a guy’s penis, but believe me—other than seeing my little cousin’s penis when he was a baby, I had never seen or touched one in my entire life. However, Libby definitely had much more experience than I in all areas dealing with guys. Unlike me, she fit in perfectly with the “in” kids at school. She was beautiful, athletic, tall, and intelligent. She had long strawberry-blonde hair and blue eyes. She could get any guy she wanted. She did things with guys that I had only seen in movies, and she was known for being someone whom all the guys wanted to date just so they could say they did. Libby was a great friend to me. She was like a sister. I never saw the wild side that she seemed to share with every boy she dated. So, yes—I am saying that Libby was easy, but she wasn’t your typical slut. She was nice and smart. Most people really loved being around her. She attracted people to her like moths to a flame. She was the perfect girl. All the guys wanted to screw her and all of the girls wanted to be her. It’s hard to explain the conundrum that was Libby. Somehow, Libby and I had been best friends since kindergarten. I don’t remember how it started; it was just one of those things that seemed to have always been there. She lived close by—an eight-minute drive to be exact and now she and my mother were planning my final demise before senior year.
My mother didn’t know, but about a week and a half earlier, I had pried the secret out of Libby over the phone. She gave in after hours of my whining and finally told me that I had been right—she and my mother were undeniably planning a sweet seventeen birthday party. On the morning of my birthday, Libby picked me up in her brand-new bright red Pontiac Sunfire to take me mini-golfing for my birthday present. We both knew it was just a ruse to get me out of the house so the decorating could begin and the guests could arrive for the great moment when I would walk into the room and everyone would say, “Surprise!” Yay. . . I almost couldn’t contain myself. This was going to be one of the worst days of my life. I could feel it. I performed my duty and went mini-golfing. I tried my best to keep on par with the course and to smile when I hit my ball into the water accidentally. Libby knew I was dying inside. She tried her best to keep me calm and to assure me that it was going to be a blast. However, unlike me, she never had to worry about people not showing up to her parties. People genuinely liked her and the guys genuinely wanted to get into her pants. Me, on the other hand, not so much.
When we got back into Libby’s car for the return trip to my house, her cell phone rang. Libby looked at me and smiled under her bright crystal-blue eyes, and I could tell she was trying to keep me calm by appearing at ease. When she answered the phone and started talking to her “mother,” which was actually my mom, of course—Libby still kept up the act just so my mom wouldn’t know the surprise had been ruined. When Libby closed her cell phone, she had a very worried look on her face. I asked her what was wrong, but in pure Libby fashion she said without any hesitation, “Absolutely nothing. Everything is going as planned, and you are going to have the best birthday ever!” After that, she turned the volume up on the radio and rolled down her window, so there would be no opportunity for me to ask further questions. It looked like my worst fear had come true. I was going to be that girl that had no one show up to her surprise birthday party. I was living in a teenage hell.