This Crappy Life: Episode One

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"Mom's sick." Suzie pulled a steaming bowl out of the microwave with oven mitts.

"What's in the bowl?" I hung my keys on their hook and let my gym bag drop to the floor.

"Chicken noodle soup." She gingerly set the dish on the counter.

"Is that for you or for her?" I slipped off my shoes before going into the kitchen.

Her smirk brought one dimple to life. "Me."

"You're kidding right?" I eyed my sister. "Mom's sick and you're making soup for yourself? Wow. You're so considerate."

"She's like passed out and I don't want to wake her up." Suzie plucked her phone out of her back pocket and grinned at the screen.

"That better not be Grant. You know what Dad said." I warned. Since Suzie's fourteenth birthday, she'd been acting different, like turning fourteen made her an instant adult. She'd developed an overnight obsession with makeup and would try to talk Mom into getting her skimpier, tighter clothes every time we went shopping.

Suzie's sapphire eyes flew up to mine. "Oh my God! You're such a prude, Case. Why do you care anyway?"

"I care because Grant is a little jerk. I heard what he did to Tina Rosenberg." I watched her, wanting to see if she heard the same thing. "I've seen her sitting in the counselor's office practically every day."

"Grant told me that Tina made the whole thing up." Suzie's cheeks turned pink, telling me she wasn't sure she believed him.

My eyebrows shot up. The idea of that freshman punk doing something that horrible to my baby sister pissed me off to no end. I would kick the crap out of him if he put a finger on her. "So he didn't take her virginity and dump her the next day?"

"No... I mean, I don't know, I mean... God Casey! Butt out!" Suzie whipped around and stalked into the living room.

Good. She needed to think this one through. Grant was a snake. I wanted her to listen for once, but for all I knew she was probably sitting on the couch texting him right now, buying all his BS.

Careful not to make a sound, my socked feet slid over the linoleum. I peeked around the corner. Yep. Just like I thought. Suzie was cozied up in a tight ball on the couch. Her face was lit up with stupid excitement and her thumbs were moving a million miles a second.

I had to do something about this. All he wanted was one thing and over my dead body was I going to let Suzie give it up to him. That was it. He was messing with the wrong family. Tomorrow I would find the slithering piss ant and have a nice little talk with Grant the de-virginizer.

I turned back to the soup, steam still pluming from the liquid. Well, Baby Sister, since I'm probably going to detention tomorrow, you just donated your food to the cause. As I thought about how I was going to threaten the little punk, I pulled out a plate.

I winced as my palm barely grazed the volcanic-level soup. Suzie's microwave skills needed serious improvement. How effing long did she cook this soup for anyway?

The oven mitts were my only solution since the broth was like one thousand degrees Fahrenheit. With careful movements, I maneuvered the bowl of magma to the center of the plate. After adding a spoon, napkin, and some crackers to the plate, I took the food to Mom's room.

Practice ran late tonight and the sun had set over an hour ago, leaving the back of the house immersed in darkness. With concentration, I balanced the soup and flicked the light switch. Much better.

Trying not to be too loud, I tapped my knuckle against Mom's door and waited for her reply.

Nothing.

I knocked harder this time.

Still nothing.

Slowly, I eased the door open, cringing at the squealing hinge that pierced the silence.


"Mom?" I whispered.
 She still didn't wake. Suzie was right. Mom was out of it and had obviously caught something pretty bad.

The hall light illuminated Mom's body sleeping under her bedspread. As I moved toward her, a harsh odor of sickness nearly knocked me to my knees. Damn, that was rank. She had to be super sick. The acrid stench of bile hung in the air alongside urine and diarrhea.

Not wanting to spill the scorching soup, I breathed through my mouth as I made my way to Mom's side table. When I nudged her phone to create space for the plate the screen automatically turned on, revealing she'd missed ten calls from Dad. What the...?

Mom was never so sick that she didn't answer Dad's calls. As usual, I turned my phone to silent during school and had forgotten to check it until now. Dad was probably freaking out. I set her phone down and reached over to feel her forehead.

I ripped my hand away, shaking the bed. Holy crap! Her skin was hot as hell.

"Mom?" I whispered. "Have you taken any medicine?"

She didn't answer.

"Mom?" I repeated at normal volume.

No answer.

I shook her. "Mom?"

Her body only jiggled according to the way I was moving her and the stench became suddenly overwhelming. I gagged and swallowed back the need to vomit.

"Mom!" I turned her face toward me and gasped. Even in the low light, I could tell her face was puffy. I shook her as hard as I could. Nothing. Not even a groan. I pressed my fingers to her throat, but couldn't feel anything. My breath hitched.

I moved my fingers higher and pressed hard. A tiny bump... bump... bump... thumped under my fingers. I let out a relieved sigh. If that was her pulse, it was barely there at all.

I patted her cheek over and over, which bordered on slapping her. "Wake up, Mom. Come on. Open your eyes!"

She didn't even flinch.

Mom's phone rang. Dad's photo took over the screen.

"What's wrong?" Suzie hollered from down the hall.

I answered Mom's phone with trembling fingers as footsteps pounded down the hall. "Dad, something's really wrong with Mom."

"Thank God! I've been worried sick. There was a horrible accident on the interstate. It took forever to get around it, but I should be home in ten. Why haven't you or your sister been answering your phones and where is your mother? I've been trying to get a hold of her. Wait, this is her phone. Why are you answering her phone? Where's your phone? You better not have lost it again." Dad hadn't listened to a word I said. I tuned him out as he rambled on like Mom wasn't sick and unconscious.

A shadow crept over the bed, suffocating Mom's frail form. I glanced up. Suzie inched into the room with her hands covering her mouth and squeezing her nose. I had to do something. Mom's brain could be boiling right this very minute. She could die.

"Call 911," I instructed my sister.

"What?" Dad asked from far away.

I stared wide-eyed at Suzie as I waited for her to follow my orders, but she just held her hands securely over her nose and mouth, staring at Mom.

"What happened?" Dad asked.

"Suzie!"

As if I'd slapped her, my sister jolted back to life and finally looked at me.

"Mom is boiling hot and I can't wake her up," I spoke slow. "Call 911. Now."

Suzie nodded with tears in her eyes. She removed one hand from her face and pulled her phone out.

"Oh my God! I should've come home earlier. Damn it! I knew something was wrong with her this morning, but she said it was only the flu and..." Dad kept talking, but his voice faded out. My heart was beating a hundred miles a minute as I waited for Suzie to get through to 911.

"It's busy." Suzie shook her head. "Why's it busy, Case? I thought 911 always answered."

"Give it to me." I reached for her phone and handed Dad over to her. Both of us were shaking.

"Dad? I'm so so sorry. I should've answered when you called." Suzie's voice trembled as she backed out of the room.

I dialed 911. "If you would like to make a call, please hang up and try your call again."

Ending the call, I glanced at the phone to make sure I dialed the right three numbers. I did. WTF?

I re-dialed manually. Busy signal this time. What the hell was going on?

I called back two dozen times and still wasn't able to get through.

"What good is 911 if we can't get through?" I screamed at the busy signal.

Suzie walked back into the room and handed Mom's phone to me. "Dad will be here soon."

I let out an angry breath and flicked on the bedroom light. We both gasped.

Mom looked like someone had used her face as a punching bag. Her entire face was swollen and covered in nasty bruises. A greenish-yellow substance clung to the edges of her mouth and her eyelids, gluing them shut. What kind of sickness was this? She was completely unrecognizable.

Dad would help us get her to the hospital when he got here, but we could do something for her now.

"We have to wait for Dad," I said. "Go start Mom a cold bath. We need to cool her down."

Suzie nodded and ran into the bathroom.

With a sense of purpose, I knelt down to Mom's face and listened for any breathing, but couldn't hear anything. I held my fingers under her nose and relief ran through me when a hot stream of air escaped from her, but it was barely there just like her pulse. I stood up just as I heard the sound of running water.

"Su, I need help getting Mom to the tub." I yanked the bedding off Mom and my stomach flipped inside out at the gut-wrenching sight. I doubled over and threw up all over Mom and Dad's floor.

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