Dawn dropped her eyes and let them wander until they came to rest on a carpet smudge. Some old paint or mud or dog shit. She was trying not to blink because she did not want the tears to leave her eyes. She picked deftly at her left cuticle. It was wet, and she knew she had made it bleed. She shoved her hand in her pocket, but the movement was too sudden. It broke the monologue that had been going strong for 45 minutes. She looked up at her mother's face, twisted with a sick, red sheen.
"Take your hand out of your pocket, Dawn."
The girl reluctantly presented her hand, waiting for the slap. It didn't come. Dawn took this as a very bad sign.
"Why do you do this shit, Dawn? How am I supposed to explain it?"
"Lots of kids bite their nails."
"That's true. But you don't bite your nails. You tear your cuticles off until they bleed. You're doing it right now! What am I supposed to tell the other mothers? And not just about your fingers. You pull your hair out. You can't walk through a room without touching all the green things. YOU CAN'T GO TO SLEEP IF IT'S AN ODD NUMBERED DAY! That's odd. That's fucking odd!"
"I don't mean to do it."
"Nonsense. That is all utter nonsense. You do this for attention. You do it to embarrass me. You do it so the other mothers can talk about us. Do you see the other girls? The pretty girls? The girls who will get asked to prom because they aren't crazy drama queens that cut themselves..."
"Don't fucking lie to me. I know you do it and I know why. You want to hurt me that badly? You want to embarrass us more? After all I've done for you. You drove my husband away because he didn't want to be around you."
"Mom, Dad didn't leave because..."
The slap was sharp and reverberated in the small apartment, but neither of them acknowledged it.
"Am I going to have to send you away? Is that what you want? It is, isn't it? Your precious fucking father left and now you pretend to be crazy so I'll make you leave..."
"I'M NOT FUCKING CRAZY! STOP CALLING ME CRAZY!"
This time the slap had a bit more menace to it, but Dawn didn't care.
"How dare you raise your voice to me! Go to your room. Immediately."
Dawn ran up the stairs with her heart pounding. She wasn't sure that she would be able to wait. She picked at her cuticle and scratched her arm until it bled. Finally, she heard her mother in the bathroom and then the apartment was silent. Dawn texted Jimmy. One word: "NOW". Dawn grabbed the backpack she had stowed in the back of her closet. She met Jimmy at the end of the block where the engine of his truck was quietly idling.
"You sure you want to do this?"
"Drive. She called me crazy. I'm not crazy."
"No, you're not crazy."
"We're going to be happy in Reno, right Jimmy?"
"Well, she won't be there."
Dawn slid to the middle of the bench seat and rested her head on Jimmy's strong shoulder. She fell asleep while letting Jimmy's words wash over her. She won't be there. She won't be there. She won't be there. She won't...