How to Save a Life(6)

By: Emma Scott

I’d told the gang at school it was a car accident, and they bought it. And why not? I’d given no reason why they shouldn’t believe me. And ‘car accident’ was much more humane than telling them the truth: that I’d taken a three-inch long screw and carved that narrow trench myself. To stop my uncle’s thrice weekly nocturnal visits.

Jasper had told me not to tell—never to tell—so I showed them instead.

A horrible mistake. It stopped Jasper but it killed my mother. I cut my cheek with a screw, but I may as well have dragged it across my mother’s wrists for her. She took one look at that bloody rent in my cheek, heard why I’d put it there, and lost it. She wasn’t all that mentally strong to begin with. She held on for three days, wailing and crying behind her closed bedroom door, until my Uncle Jasper was hauled off to jail. Then my mom checked out.

I spread cold cream on the scar like I used to do with all kinds of “scar-diminishing” or “blemish-reducing” lotions they hawk on late-night infomercials. Nothing worked and unless I suddenly hit the lottery to afford some plastic surgery, nothing ever would. I had done a thorough job of wrecking my face. And destroying my mother. And ruining my life. All in one shot.

Ugly thoughts and memories. They always rose up when I showed anyone my scar. An aftereffect or PTSD, or something. My hands were shaking by the time I finished washing my face and brushing my teeth.

I lay on my bed and pretended I was floating on a lake somewhere remote, with beautiful, jagged mountains surrounding the water that was as placid as ice. It worked; my blackened and bloody thoughts began to scatter like oil over water, taking me to sleep.

Just before I slipped under, I thought of Evan Salinger.

We were back in Western Civ and he was doing that thing again, where it felt like a beam of warm light had fallen over me. I started to tell him to stop, but he faced me in his chair and looked at me with those sky blue eyes head-on. I felt my breath catch, suddenly wanting to be the object of their clear, warm gaze.

He smiled at me as if I weren’t ugly and carved up and ruined by my predatory uncle.

“Good night, Jo.”

I tried to say goodnight back, but I’d already slipped off to sleep.

The bell rang and my AP English class started clearing out. Ms. Politano called me back. She was a younger teacher, with her hair always in a messy bun and her clothes more bohemian than what I pictured for a teacher in Middle America. She looked like she belonged in a library in Seattle, always with a book under her arm and reading glasses sliding down her nose.

“So, Jo,” she said, smiling brightly. “Short for Josephine. Like Jo March from Little Women.”

I nodded. “That was my mother’s favorite book.”

“Mine too,” Ms. P said. “You couldn’t have a better namesake in my humble opinion.”

My lips twitched as I tried to muster a polite smile and failed. Ms. P didn’t let my lack of answer throw her.

“Since the school year is nearly over, I’m having a hard time determining how to grade your progress,” she said, smiling kindly. “I’ve received your work from one of the two schools you attended previously, but it’s not really enough to get a full picture of where you are. Academically-speaking.”

I shrugged, though my guts started to roil. “Okay. So?”

Ms. P perched at the edge of her desk. I could see her take me in: the hair over my face, the dark clothes, the defiant stare. Her smile turned patient. “Without a broader scope of work, I’m at a loss as how to grade you.”

“I need to graduate. I have to graduate.”

“Of course,” Ms. P said. “But time is running out. I can’t test you. We’re doing literature analysis, and we’re already halfway done with As I Lay Dying.”