For StoryADay May Challenge
“Can you stay?” Kayla looked vulnerable as she asked it. George paused with his hand on the door. He hadn’t even noticed Kayla at the table, stirring the contents of a tea cup. Not until she spoke up.
They hadn’t spoken much lately. Kayla lived at home with their parents, and George lived in his own apartment, but he came home often to help out with odd jobs and chores, for their parents were older than the parents of most folks their age.
“I’m sorry, Miranda’s waiting for me outside,” George said. He really was sorry, he thought. For the past few years, his relationship with his sister hadn’t been the greatest, not since Kayla’s diagnosis.
The bipolar disorder came on quite suddenly, or so it seemed to George. One moment, Kayla was her usual happy fun-loving self, and the other, she had turned in a Jekyll-Hyde, with periods of hyper-insanity followed by deep depressive moods in which she locked herself in her room for days on end.
At first, George hadn’t understood. He’d been impatient and mean to Kayla, he realized that now. When he tried to make it up to her, Kayla seemed cold and insensible. George realized, too late, that Kayla had locked him out, mentally. She rarely spoke to him nowadays, even when they passed each other in the hallway–she who had been such a chatty Cathy in her early years.
Miranda was George’s girlfriend, and if he was honest, he had to admit she was part of the reason he hadn’t had as much patience for Kayla. Having a girlfriend was like having a part-time job, especially one who liked to hang out together as much as Miranda did. What with his work and his relationship with Miranda, he didn’t have time for his sister’s drama.
“Kayla’s probably just feeling abandoned because you have a girlfriend now,” their mother had explained to George one time, when they were talking about the invisible wall that had gone up between him and Kayla. “She might be jealous of all the time you’re spending with Miranda.”
But there was nothing George could do about that, right? After all, Miranda was his girlfriend. They would probably get married one day and be together for the rest of their lives. Kayla was important, but she was only his sister, after all. She’d move on and get married herself and do her own thing. Surely she did not expect that they’d always be as close as they were when they were kids.
Still, George was curious. “What do you want me to stay for?” he asked Kayla.
She was taking her cup to the sink to wash. “Nothing,” she said. “Just to talk, I guess. But if you have somewhere to go, never mind. I’ll probably drive over to Samantha’s house.”
To talk? That was unusual. George was almost tempted to tell Miranda to go to Greg’s party without him so that he could see what was on his sister’s mind.
But he knew Miranda would be unhappy with him, and so would Greg. And besides, it was good that Kayla was going to her friend’s house–whatever she had to say, she could say to Sam.
“That sounds good,” George said, opening the door before he could change his mind. “See you later, Sis.”
Kayla nodded a goodbye as George closed the door behind him. For a moment, he had the odd, powerful feeling that he needed to go back inside. But he forced himself to shake it off and step away from the door.
The winter air was frigid, and George rubbed his hands together, blowing on his fingers to warm them.
Miranda was waiting in the driveway, sitting in her green Camry. She looked up, smiled and waved as he approached, then reached over and opened the passenger seat door.
“Brr,” she said as George slipped in and closed the door. “It’s freezing tonight!”
“Yep. I hope Greg has the heaters on. His big house is usually so drafty.”
“It won’t be drafty with fifty-plus bodies crammed into it,” Miranda laughed. “Greg always goes all out with his parties.”
As they drove, George thought about Kayla. The way her blue eyes had searched his when she’d asked him to stay, ten minutes earlier. The way she’d nodded, resigned, as she told him she would go visit her friend Samantha.
Kayla had been pretty quiet around Greg ever since she developed her bipolar disorder. But lately, she’d been quieter than usual. Greg wasn’t one to read too much into situations, but even he felt like there was something odd…as if Kayla was expecting something, but with quiet resignation rather than anticipation.
“Hello friends!” Greg said, a beer bottle in hand as he opened the door to Miranda and George. “Welcome to my party!”
Miranda laughed and gave him a hug, then it was George’s turn.
“Dude,” Greg said, as he led the two into the living room where everyone else was. “Did you hear they’re tearing down the park to make room for a mall?”
“You mean Oakfield Park?” Miranda said.
“Yeah.” Greg shook his head and gave a mock sigh. “What is this world coming to? When the interests of a few greedy businessmen outweigh the happiness of the neighborhood children? Oh well.”
George felt a twinge of regret. Oakfield Park held many good memories–of family picnics, and himself and Kayla playing all day and begging their parents “just a little longer–let’s stay just a little longer!”
It was located on the west side of town, and included a large field, playground equipment, and a pool. Some of his happiest childhood memories were made there. And now it was going to be torn down.
“George, c’mere, I want to introduce you to someone!” Miranda said, breaking into his thoughts as she tugged his arm.
Obediently, George followed his girlfriend as she wove her way through the room and stopped in front of Greg’s pool table, where a cluster of people were playing a game.
“This is Leslie…” Miranda said. And George smiled and nodded a greeting.
The party was winding down when George got the call.
George took out his phone and looked at the number. Why was Dad calling at 12:30? He was usually in bed by this time.
“Hi Dad,” George said, holding his phone to his ear. “What is it?”
“Where are you?” George’s father asked. There was a strange muffled keening sound in the background that chilled George’s marrow. It sounded maybe like a cat…except no cat sounded like that.
“I’m at Greg’s,” George said. “Is something wrong?”
“I think you need to come home now,” his dad replied.
George froze. Something was definitely wrong. “What is it?” Even as he spoke the words, he knew. Or at least, he thought he knew. “Is it Kayla? Did she do something?”
Sometimes, in her manic states, Kayla would do odd things–stay up for days, trying to remodel the roof, single-handed, things like that. Dangerous things.
“No,” George’s dad said. But his voice was strained. “She did not do anything. But…”
“But what?” George asked.
“She’s been in a car accident on Pike Place Road.”
“What? Kayla said she was going to Samantha’s!” Pike Place Road was on the west side of town, the opposite direction from Samantha’s house. It was the route they always took to get to Oakfield Park…and then George realized that Kayla hadn’t gone to Samantha’s, for some reason. She had decided instead to go to the park. The park that was about to be razed down.
“A truck…slipped on ice…ran a red light…T-boned her car…” Dad sounded like he was having trouble speaking.
“I’m on my way home,” George said, grabbing his coat and scanning the room for Miranda. “Don’t worry. I’ll help you guys figure things out. How is Kayla now? Did she get hurt? Is she in the hospital?”
“Dad? Dad, did you hear me? How is Kayla?”
George’s father made a strangled noise that sounded like he was trying but failing to clear his throat.
“George,” he said finally, in a voice so low it was barely a whisper, “Kayla’s dead.”
George froze. Then he sank slowly to his knees. Suddenly, he recognized the horrible muffled sound in the background–it was his mother, wailing.
His cell phone slipped to the floor as the room and the sounds from the party swirled and melted around him. Only one thing remained. Three quiet words that seemed to come from a distant place:
Can you stay?