In the Hope of Memories
“Wait!” I slam my hand against the door to stop it from clicking shut, wincing as the splintered wood digs into me. “I’m looking for Hope. Hope Jackson. She said she’d be here.”
The dude shakes his head. “She’s dead.”
My heart stutters a fast and hard beat, like it does right when I get tackled on the field. “No. No, she’s not. She’s the exact opposite of dead. Today is her eighteenth birthday. Her birthday party is about to start right now.”
Official Reason Number Infinity it Sucks to Be Going Blind: When you can’t see right, you can’t stop a fist from colliding with your face. The dude’s knuckles crash into my jaw, and I yelp, more out of shock than pain. I’m about to pound my own fist into the freak when he starts talking again, this time in a tone that’s actually kind of pissed.
“She’s dead, you jerk! You really think it’s funny to joke about that?”
“I’m not joking!” I rub at my jaw with the back of my clenched hand. Part of me is itching to mess up this guy’s face, but a larger part is starting to panic. “You’re the one with the wrong info,” I say, silently praying I’m right. “Hope isn’t dead.”
The dude stares down at his hand and slowly curls and uncurls his fingers, like he can’t quite believe he just threw a punch. Then he whispers, “You’re not messing with me?”
“No! What kind of sick joke would that be? Like I said, I’m just trying to find her birthday party. I got an invite from her, I swear. It said to come here.”
Apparently, this conversation isn’t weird enough for him, so he has to add in some awkward silence. Fan-freaking-tastic. Just when I’m starting to think he’s slipped into a coma, he says, “Sorry I punched your face.”
I take a deep breath. “Just tell me where her birthday party is, okay?”
“I told you, there is no party. Hope is dead.”
“Christ, are you seriously going to make me explain this again? She’s not dead. It’s her birthday today. As in the day when you celebrate a person being alive.”
“It would have been her birthday,” the dude says, slipping back into his strange monotone. “But now she’s dead.”
The seriousness in his voice makes my gut twist, and for a moment, I wonder if maybe he hurt Hope. My hand edges toward my pocket, but just as I’m considering grabbing my cell phone and dialing 9-1-1, I see a tear trickle down his cheek. It looks strange on his expressionless face, but another tear quickly follows, and then a third. He sniffs and turns away, wiping his right eye on the battered sleeve of his hoodie.
“What happened?” I ask, my voice a cracked whisper. All sorts of scenarios rush through my head—Hope’s plane crashing on vacation, a car accident, getting caught in a wrong-place-wrong-time shooting…
“You don’t know?” the dude asks.
“No. Was it in the news?”
The smallest beginning of a frown tugs at his lips. “Of course not. Why would the news report about a stroke victim?”
“Stroke?” I repeat. “She had a stroke? What…why? What triggered it? She’s a health freak.”
He blinks slowly and then says again, “You don’t know?”