By Yvonne Montoya
Sam and Isabel have been friends for a long time; ever since Isabel was ten and Sam twelve and he moved into the white and green shuttered house down the block vacated by the Andrews family. He had been riding the bus home from school for the first time on the same day Jason Miller, a blond curly haired thirteen year old, who normally spent the bus ride in the very back seat making suggestive gestures to unsuspecting cars following behind, happen to have his gaze firmly fixed on the papier mache Aztec Sun God Isabel made in art class. As soon as they stepped off the bus, Jason grabbed it out of her hands and mercilessly stomped it into the wet grass. Since Sam was new in the neighborhood, Jason was unfamiliar with him and not expecting him to run up from behind and push him head first into the Reinhart’s fence. When the initial shock wore off and he regained his balance, Jason noticed his nose and forehead were bleeding and decided that his best move would be to find the quickest way back to his house.
As Sam and Isabel pull into the gas station they reminisced about how the next afternoon Jason eagerly sat next to them on the bus with a cluster of tiny bandages above his left eye and hash-mark like scratches on his nose and cheek, and showed them his latest edition in his Spider-Man comic book collection. He was even more than happy to let them take any home they wanted.
"Who would have thought one push into a fence post and he would turn into a half way decent person," Isabel said. She unbuckled her seat belt and grabbed the door handle. She was careful not to use her right wrist which was still sore after she injured it diving for a volleyball the night before during the varsity semi-final game against Madison.
"Jason’s great." Sam insisted. "I still see him all the time at Harvey’s garage. He just got me a great deal on a used alternator."
"I thought for sure by the time he was 21 he’d have enough felony charges to keep him behind bars until he was forty."
"Well, he’s still got a year left. That’s plenty of time to rack up a few felonious assault or larceny charges."
"No, I don’t think he has it in him anymore."
They both got out of the car and Isabel walked over to the driver’s side where Sam was unscrewing the gas cap. His eyes were still puffy and red from unexpectedly having to get up so early on a Saturday morning. He had a new welding burn on his left hand and is wearing the jeans he ripped in the knees, the time he helped a friend tile his bathroom floor.
It was a quarter to eight in the morning, and the sun’s rays created a glare on the gas pump that made it hard for Sam to see how many gallons he was pumping. A few hazy clouds lingered overhead and the cold wind seemed to be blowing in two different directions, stinging their faces.
"Do you still want to stop and pick up some flowers for your mom?" Sam asked.
"Yes, but we can do that at the gift shop at the hospital" Isabel said, watching the number of gallons being pumped.
"What did your father say when he called?" Sam asked.
"Apparently a blood vessel broke and the tumor stared hemorrhaging. It was a good thing he rushed her to the hospital this morning. If they had waited any longer it might have been too late. There prepping her for surgery now and thought they’d be starting around eight."
Alright, we should be there in less than twenty minutes."
Sam stopped pumping and ran in to pay the clerk. Isabel made her way back to the passenger’s side, and Sam reemerged a few minutes later. They turned out onto the street and headed for the hospital. The snow continued to fall, and Isabel watched as the succession of passing trees seemed to stretch out their bare limbs like a row of synchronized swimmers and patches of frozen dead grass were still visible through the soft layer of snow.
"How’s your hand?" Sam asked, noticing she was keeping it in relatively the same position. "You fell pretty hard last night."
"I know. That ball came directly at me and I just couldn’t get under it and lost my balance. I still can’t bend it, but it doesn’t look swollen." Isabel said, examining her wrist.
"You should still keep some ice on it," Sam insisted.
"I know. I will when I get home."
They came to the stop sign at the Junior High School and drove slowly, watching for the students weaving in and out of the buses.
So your father didn’t say why she started hemorrhaging?"
"No. There’s no way to really know. It could have been anything from bending over to get laundry out of the dryer or something within the tumor itself. It sounds like she’s not going to make it home for Thanksgiving," Isabel said mechanically, continuing to look out the window.
"You can always come to our house. Sam offered.
"And have your mom’s famous "tofurky"." Isabel said smiling. Sam’s mother was a strict vegetarian and every year made her famous tofu turkey which was basically a colorless, flavorless lump that resembled a slab of moldy cheese rather than anything near a turkey.
"I think it’s going to be jalapeno flavored this year."
"And then your grandfather can tell his war stories right after everyone has stuffed their face."
"You mean that one about waking up and finding himself asleep on top of a dead guy."
"Yes, and the guy’s ear and half his head was shot off." Even bringing it up now was starting to make her nauseous. " I shouldn’t talk. My family always plays that stupid Thankful Game. You’ve heard it before. The one where someone starts and says their thankful for something that starts with an ‘A’ and the next person has to use ‘B’ and so on."
"Yeah." Sam remembered. "Didn’t your cousin once say he was thankful for Dan’s Adult Video Store."
Yes, his mother was so proud."
They came to the overpass and looked down at the railroad yard scattered with strings of train cars. It always looked abandoned; especially this morning as the snow coated the tops of all the trains and buildings. After the overpass, the two lane highway stretched out before them with nothing but deserted fields and twelve foot ditches on either side.
"Brandon called last night and thought we should go to Canada this year for New Years." Sam said.
"I don’t know if that’s a good idea. That trip to New Orleans last year really got out of hand."
"What do you mean got out of hand. We went to a couple of bars, had a few drinks, won some beads."
"And do you remember how you won those beads."
"Technically, James was the only one who actually won any beads."
"Yes, and he mooned practically the entire French Quarter to get them."
"It won’t be that way this year. It’s too cold in Canada."
Isabel wasn’t reassured. She spent too many New Years Eve’s with Sam’s friends to know that was no guarantee.
"Actually, my mom and I were suppose to go check out a couple of colleges during break, and I’ve got all those applications to fill out." Isabel said.
"We can do that too. It’s no big deal."
"Well, it’s over a month away. She should be feeling better by then."
"If it’s what the doctors think it is, she’s probably going to need more than just surgery."
"They don’t know anything for sure yet. They have to say that kind of stuff to keep from getting sued." Isabel interrupted. Her father had said something similar, and she was getting irritated by the same pessimistic attitude.
"I’m not saying she has only six months to live. I just mean you shouldn’t blow it off like it’s nothing."
I’m not blowing it off. I just don’t think we should assume the worst when there’s no reason."
"Fine. I agree." He wasn’t going to push the subject anymore. I f the situation were reversed, he would probably be reacting the same way, and maybe there really wasn’t any reason to prepare for the worst yet.
The horizon suddenly became dotted with the familiar shapes and silhouettes of the civilization again. They made it past both stop lights and turned the corner to find the entrance to the hospital. It was a huge building which loomed over all the trees and bushes.
"Whatever they find–I’m sure she’s going to be alright." Sam said.
"I know. We should get something to eat first before we find my dad and sister. It probably is going to take a while." Isabel said.