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book cover for Running Away Running Away

One

Returning from the kitchen for a second look just to be sure, Blake realized Denny wasn't just on the nod. He moved closer and felt panic clutch his insides as he saw how unnaturally pale she was, how shallowly she was breathing. As if she'd maybe stop any second.

"Hey!" he shouted to the ones out in the kitchen. "Something's really wrong! Somebody better call for an ambulance."

He dropped down beside the bed, and unable to think of anything else to do, started giving Denny mouth-to-mouth while Jude was calling in the kitchen. Scott and Freddie stood in the doorway for a minute watching what was happening, then turned, looked at each other, and tacitly agreed to split. Neither Jude nor Blake noticed them go.

Unsteadily, Jude replaced the receiver and hurried into the bedroom to kneel beside Blake, watching; not daring to speak for fear of distracting him; scared by the way he'd lost all his color and the way he was counting out loud as he bore down on Denny's chest, then went back to breathing into her mouth.

Scared. She'd never been so scared in her life. This was serious. Bad. She couldn't understand what had happened. She knew Blake couldn't figure it out either. He was keeping on and on with the mouth-to-mouth, and she stood up, her ears straining for the sound of sirens. She wanted to hear them, wanted them to get there now, fast.

God! she thought. What happened? Denny, what did you do this time? What?

Blake was sweating. He was scared too, Jude could tell. God! What if Denny died? The idea of it terrified her. She thought of trying to tell all this to Denny's mother, and suddenly wanted to cry, furious with Denny for doing whatever it was she'd done, making all this happen. Denny's mother. She'd … Wow! What would Mrs. Gary do?

One more thing Denny was doing that would put that awful, confused, sad sort of look in Mrs. Gary's eyes, the way the things Denny did always seemed to. Because Denny, without even trying too hard, was always fucking up, somehow winding up dumping on her mother, because it was all she seemed able to do. Jude had never been able to understand how Denny could treat her mother the way she did—so badly, so uncaringly—when Jude would've given just about anything in the world to have a mother like that.

The ambulance arrived, and Jude ran out through the kitchen door to show them the way.

"I don't think she's breathing," she told the two attendants, leading them to the house on the run.

"Grab an ambu bag!" one attendant shouted to the other. "What else?" he asked Jude.

"Man, I don't know!" Jude cried. "She must've taken something, or something. All she had with us was like one beer, and then she got all weird and started nodding out, so we brought her home with us. We only just got here like fifteen minutes ago. Blake said he didn't think she looked right. You know? Peculiar. So, he went back to have another look, make sure she was all right, and next thing we know, he shouts out we should call an ambulance. He's giving her mouth-to-mouth now."

The two attendants got Denny onto the stretcher, the one in back holding this ambu-bag thing over Denny's face while the other guy picked up the foot end and they carted Denny out to the ambulance.

"One of you two better come along," the first attendant called out. "We'll need some information, ID. This'll probably have to be reported."

Jude looked at Blake, who backed up a step, shaking his head.

"Man, I can't!" he said, ashen-faced, on the verge of throwing up. "They need to know anything, I'll come around later. But I can't now. I can't!"

"Okay," Jude said softly, disappointed, climbing up into the back of the ambulance with the attendant. She looked out through the rear window, to see Blake with his hand on the fender of her VW, bent double, his back heaving. She was more scared than ever, her head messed with too many thoughts.

"Is she breathing?" she asked the attendant in a small, fearful voice, stunned by the enormity, the gravity of what was happening.

The attendant glanced over, saying, "She's breathing," in a flat, uncaring way. Then his eyes returned to the number he was doing with the ambu bag and the syringe he was trying to fill simultaneously. "What she do, OD?" he asked.

"I don't know," Jude answered. "She could've. But I don't see how. I mean, when? I know she didn't feel too well. She said that."

"One drink? She had one?"

"I saw her drink a beer. But I don't know what she had before," she said, badly in need of a cigarette but knowing it would have to wait until later. Maybe a lot later. "I mean, nobody could figure it out, you know? She didn't even finish that one beer. We were all set to order another round, everybody saying, 'Same again,' and like that, and when we got around to Den, her eyes were all funny and she laid her head down on her arms and said, 'I feel sick.'"

"What's she on?" the attendant asked.

"On? Man, I don't know what she's on! I mean, she like pops uppers, downers. But only sometimes, not like a regular thing. She's not into hard stuff or anything like that. I don't think she is. I don't know. I haven't seen her for weeks, until tonight."

"She have a bag, a purse?"

"Oh, shit!" Jude exclaimed. "It's back at the bar. We forgot all about her stuff, her bag."

"Probably ripped off by now," the attendant said knowingly, turning his attention to the driver, engaging him in what seemed to Jude a frighteningly technical, important-sounding dialogue. Radioing ahead, asking for a bunch of equipment on standby. With this fatigued air, as if they'd been doing this trip fifty times a day, every day, for a zillion years.

She'll be all right, Jude told herself, looking at Denny's arm hanging limply over the side of the stretcher, at Denny's exposed breasts and the little contacts the attendant was putting on Den's heart, his eyes watching the screen of this small machine. Then wrapping a blood-pressure gizmo around Denny's arm. These guys know what they're doing, she told herself. They'll make her better. I'll have to call her mother. What'm I going to tell her?

Every time, Denny. Every single time, you manage to pull off one really major downer, something positively guaranteed to make your mother crazy. I can't believe you haven't succeeded yet. But this time, this time it's heavy. You'd better not die. Man, don't die!

The flashing red roof light bounded off the walls of the tunnellike entrance to the energency room, and Jude followed the stretcher down from the ambulance and in through the doors, listening to them call for a stomach pump, calling for this, for that. Back to being scared again, her knees all wobbly. She was afraid she'd wet her pants watching them pile Denny on a trolley—loose-heavy, like a big rag doll, her arms and legs flopping—and push it off into an examining room. She didn't know what to do. Was she supposed to go in there with them? The door got closed in her face. No. She looked around, seeing nowhere to sit. She'd just have to wait. Wait.

A nurse came rushing past, and Jude put out her hand, wanting to ask what to do, but the nurse didn't see her, brushed past Jude's outheld hand, and kept going. All starchy-sounding stiff, smelling like disinfectant, like Lysol.

She had to go, would wet herself if she didn't. She moved on down the corridor, saw a door marked "Women," and pushed in. Her pants were already a little wet. She lined the toilet seat with paper—Christ! The things mothers taught you to do—and sat down, staring miserably at her dampened underpants. That did it. Really. Eighteen, almost nineteen, and she'd wet her pants, she was so scared. She wasn't some dumb little kid. She was grown, responsible for herself. But it was not understanding, not being able to make sense of any of this, that shook her up so badly. That and the idea of having to try to explain to Mrs. Gary, someone she really loved a lot, someone who'd take this right in the gut. She covered her face with her hands and cried so hard—so mad at Denny and so scared for her—that some woman just coming in asked through the door, "Are you all right in there?"

Jude wiped her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her denim workshirt and called back, "I'm okay." Then thought to add, "Thank you." Four little slippery squares of that useless institutional toilet tissue. She zipped up her jeans and flushed the toilet. The john was so bright. Like a spaceship. She stepped over to the row of sinks and washed her hands, then finally looked at herself in the mirror. I look scared, she thought. I actually look scared. She washed her face too. Then combed out her hair. Killing time. Thinking: Maybe by the time I've finished this, Denny'll be ready, waiting to go home. Maybe. I want it to be that way. Please make it be that way.

She went back out into the corridor to look up and down. Nothing. It was too quiet. She made her way to the emergency desk and had to stand for a couple of minutes while the nurse went on shuffling through a stack of papers. Making Jude wait. They always did that. You're a nothing kid, so you just wait while I do my ultraimportant gig here, show you what kind of heavy-duty superstar I am, what kind of power I've got over little-type people like you.

"May I help you?" the nurse asked finally, looking up at Jude with aggie eyes. You could still buy a bagful for twenty cents at the newspaper store near the high school.

"How is Denny? You know? She just came in on the ambulance."

The nurse stared at her blankly, the eyes as depthless and opaque as stones. Marbles were prettier than that.

"My friend," Jude repeated. "Denise Gary. The ambulance just brought her."

"You'll have to wait," the nurse stated.

"Where?"

The nurse chose to ignore this question, returning to her papers. Jude backed away and turned to look again down the corridor toward the room where they'd taken Denny. She inched her way down the corridor until she was opposite the examining room, and stood for a long time staring at the door, thinking every couple of seconds the door would open and Denny would come out looking angry and confused, the way she always did. But it didn't happen. Jude slid down the wall and sat on her heels, keeping her eyes on the door, waiting. A whole hour, and nothing. Thinking this, that, remembering all kinds of things—little-kid stuff they'd done, years and years getting big together. Saturday-afternoon movies with their knees up against the seats in front, boxes of popcorn—they both hated it buttered; bike rides all over town; checking each other out when they first started growing breasts, laughing like crazies but a little scared about the whole thing too. And now this. I can't just sit here doing nothing, she decided, searching her bag for a dime. I've got to call her mother.

She got to her feet—her legs felt sore, too weak from squatting for so long—and headed back to the entrance, looking for a pay phone, trying to think how she'd put it, what she'd say. Goddammit! Poor Mrs. Gary. She wanted to start crying again, thinking about how rotten this would have to be for Denny's mother. It wasn't fair. It really wasn't fair of Denny to do something like this.

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