Home > The Next Best Day(5)

The Next Best Day(5)
Author: Sharon Sala

   “Oh my God,” Katie said, and burst into tears.

   Lila held her hand and cried with her. Being a survivor brought its own level of hell: the guilt of being alive.

 

 

Chapter Two


   After ten days in the hospital, Katie was released.

   Lila picked her up and took her home, made sure Katie was comfortable, and left to get her some fresh groceries.

   Katie was propped up in her bed with a cold drink on the side table and an enormous pile of mail beside her. According to Lila, they were well-wishes from students and their families, as well as get-well wishes from strangers who’d heard about the shooting and her bravery and sent the cards to Katie in care of her school.

   She lay there for a bit, staring at the pile of mail, and then closed her eyes, trying to make sense of what she was feeling. After being jilted, she’d slipped back into the old foster-kid mindset, wondering why she was never enough, why there was no one who wanted her, and as she grieved the loss, buried what was left of her dreams in her broken heart. But after she’d gone back to work, the passing days had moved into a maze of repetition that began to feel safe again.

   Then the shooting happened, and when she took the first bullet, she was so afraid that she would die before she got the boys to safety. They were all that mattered. Now, knowing all twenty of her students had come through that horror without being shot was all she could have asked for. She would have gladly died to keep them safe, only the sacrifice had not been necessary after all.

   There had to be a message in this for her.

   Maybe she mattered more than she thought.

   She mattered enough to still be breathing.

   Her cell phone rang. She glanced at it, let it go to voicemail, and then got up and slowly walked through the rooms of her apartment. They were familiar. Nothing had crossed a boundary here that felt threatening. She’d been alone all her life. She could do this. She could get well here, but going back to bed was the first step. Her legs were shaky as she crawled into bed and began sorting through the pile of mail until she found names she recognized and began with those.

   Some were from students she’d had in previous years, some from parents, from staff and teachers at Saguaro Elementary, and many from people across the country. Some of them even had money in them, and all of them were filled with love and prayers.

   There was a big manila envelope filled with messages and hand-drawn pictures her students had sent to her. She knew them well enough to read between the lines. They were traumatized by what had happened to them and afraid she was going to die.

   Katie was in tears as she put everything back in the manila envelope. Her students wanted to know when she was coming back, and she didn’t know if she could. Just the thought of being back in those halls made her nauseous. She was scared to go back, and scared what would happen to her if she didn’t. What if she was too messed up to ever work in public again?

   She rubbed the heels of her palms against her eyes and leaned back against the pillows, trying to regain her equilibrium as she gave herself a pep talk.

   This was her first day home from the hospital.

   She was a long way from being healed.

   Nobody was pressuring her to do anything, and she had a lot of sick leave built up, so she was still getting paid.

   She would figure it out as she went, just like she’d done everything else, only not today. She fell asleep with a pile of letters in her lap and woke up when Lila came back with groceries.

   “Hey, honey!” Lila said. “I got that prescription for pain pills filled. Do you need one?”

   “Yes,” Katie said, and started to get up.

   “No, I’ll bring it to you,” Lila said.

   Katie eased back against her pillows as Lila ran to the kitchen, grabbed the sack from the pharmacy, then raced up the hall again.

   “Here you go. I’m going to put up your groceries.”

   “Thanks, Lila,” Katie said, and was opening the container when Lila left the room.

   Katie could hear Lila banging around in the kitchen and relaxed. Whatever needed doing in there, Lila had it covered.

   Katie took a couple of pain pills, and then slid back down in the bed, closed her eyes, and drifted off to sleep.

   ***

   Lila began by cleaning out the refrigerator, dumping what was bad or out of date, and carrying out the garbage, then putting up the new groceries. When she had finished, she went back to tell Katie she was leaving, only to find her asleep.

   She wrote a quick note, turned out the lights, and let herself out of the apartment.

   Katie woke sometime later, found the note and food ready to eat in the refrigerator, and once again was so grateful for such a good friend.

   She spent the rest of that evening going through the pile of mail. The notes were unexpected and heartwarming, except for one. Even before she opened it, she recognized the writing.

   Mark.

   She stared at it for a few moments, debating with herself whether she would even open it, then frowned and tore into it, pulled out a standard get-well card with religious notes, and a brief comment about how proud he was of her. She stared at the signature for a moment, wondering what the hell made him think she ever wanted to hear from him again, and then threw the card in the trash.

   That night, she dreamed of the shooting and woke up shaking, stumbled to the bathroom and threw up. Afterward, she made her way to the kitchen and got something to drink to settle her stomach. She was standing in the shadows with the glass of Sprite in her hand when she heard sirens in the distance and started shaking. It made her angry that the woman who’d given birth to her had chosen to abandon her in an alley, and that two men—one she’d loved and one she never saw coming—had come close to destroying her.

   What the hell am I supposed to be learning from all this crap?

   She took a sip of the drink in her hand and then walked to the window and looked out at the city below. The lights of the police car she’d heard were out of sight, but even at this time of night, the streets were still teeming with cars and people. Too many people. Too many loose cannons. She did not feel safe here. Not anymore.

   She carried her drink back to the bedroom, took a couple more sips, and then got back in bed and turned on the TV. She finally fell back asleep with a Disney movie playing in the background, and woke up after 9:00 a.m. to find a text from Lila, reminding Katie to message her if she needed anything, and that she was bringing fried chicken and sides in time for her evening meal.

   ***

   And so Katie’s self-imposed isolation and healing began.

   They told her to take it easy and rest, and she was trying her best, even though it seemed as if the phone never stopped ringing. She kept wondering how people even got her number and decided someone in the school system had to have given it out. But if she didn’t know the name that popped up, she let the call go to voicemail. It was her only defense.

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