Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 22

The first thing that registered was the beeping of hospital equipment and the low buzz that seemed ever-present in emergency rooms. I had woken up here enough times over the last two years that I at least knew where I was.

Everything was fuzzy. My head ached worse than anything I could remember, a steady throbbing in my temples. Every thought felt sluggish and I was having trouble focusing. I slowly opened my eyes, blinking against the harsh fluorescent lights.

As I looked up at the ceiling and its generic, off-white pattern, it all came rushing back. The phone call from Mom. The hit when I walked in the door. The chaos. Mom hitting the counter. The knife. Mostly, I remembered my father’s rage-filled face. His determination to really hurt Mom and me.

Why was I even alive? He was coming at me with a knife, and we fell when I finally blacked out. I had concussions before, so I knew in that moment that I was going to pass out. And then he could have finished me. But why didn’t he?

I coughed, and pain shot through my chest. My ribs felt like they were on fire. I groaned and tried to pull my hand to my face, but it stopped short. I felt metal biting into my wrist and I heard a scraping noise of metal on metal. I looked over at my right hand and saw I was cuffed to the hospital bed.

“Charlie, it’s okay. You’re okay,” Mrs. Phillips’ voice came from beside me.

I turned to find her sitting in the chair next to the bed. Nothing made sense.

“What...?” was all I could get out.

“You’re in the hospital. You’re going to be okay. You just have some bruised ribs and a concussion. They did X-rays and your head is okay. Nothing is broken.”

“My head?” I said, still confused.

“Do you remember what happened?”

“Mom called. Dad was there. He kicked in the door. Did he hit me with something?”

“Sheriff Gibbs told the paramedic it looked like you were hit with a cast-iron pan. You’re very lucky. They were worried you might have had some kind of skull fracture, but you don’t.”

“Why am I handcuffed?”

“Charlie ... you’re under arrest. Do you ... do you remember what happened to your parents?”

“Mom was hurt. Dad ... we were fighting over the knife when I passed out. Is Mom here? Is she okay?”

Mrs. Phillips didn’t answer right away, avoiding my gaze. The longer she hesitated, the worse the feeling in my stomach got.

“Mom’s okay, right?”

“Charlie, I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice breaking. “Your mom ... your parents ... they didn’t make it.”

It felt like I had just been hit by a bus. I couldn’t breathe. It must have been the concussion. That wasn’t possible. He’d hit her, and she’d fallen back. It wasn’t hard enough to kill her.

“That’s not...”

“I’m sorry, Charlie, she’s gone,” Mrs. Phillips said, wiping away a tear. “The paramedic said it was quick. She hit her head. She didn’t suffer.”

I still couldn’t believe it, but I could see the pain and anguish in Mrs. Phillips’ face. Everything felt heavy. I replayed the fight in my head. She cut him, and Dad slapped her, hard. She fell back and bounced off the counter. Could she have hit the edge of the counter? It all happened so fast, I couldn’t remember.

“What about Dad?” I asked, my voice turning colder.

He’d killed her. That much I was certain about. But she’d said both my parents were dead. Dad was still up. Still attacking me when I passed out.

“You stab ... he was stabbed. They didn’t give me the details beyond that.”

How? The knife was pressed against my chest. I was trying to keep him from using it. How could he have been stabbed with it? We’d fallen to the floor and he was on top of me. My arms had gone weak, limp, as we’d fallen.

None of this seemed real. I kept expecting to wake up and find this was all just a terrible nightmare. Only the pain in my ribs and in my head told me it was real.

Before I could ask any more questions the sheriff walked into our curtained-off area, his face grim.

“Charlie, the hospital will be releasing you soon. When the doctor signs off, you’re going to be in custody. It’s too late to get you to the county jail, so for now, you’re going to our lockup until they can arrange transport in the morning,” he said without preamble.

“On what charges?” I said, still in disbelief.

“For right now, manslaughter. The DA is still reviewing the details and could amend the charges.”

“Manslaughter?” I said, almost in a panic. “I was defending myself! And my mom. Sydney called you and told you what was happening. That he was breaking into Mom’s trailer, trying to attack her. You know she had the restraining order against him.”

Sheriff Gibbs sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I know, and I’m sorry. Even with all that, there are still laws around the death of other people, and you were the only one there. If it were up to me...”

“It is up to you, isn’t it? Or did Mr. Campbell decide to have me arrested?”

“Charlie, you need to be clear about this. Killing someone, even by accident, is manslaughter and is a crime.”

“Not if it’s in self-defense. Tell me, are you arresting me, or is Aaron’s father having you arrest me?”

He looked away, and I knew the answer.

“Come on, Sheriff. You know what’s been going on. You know he’s already tried to get me arrested falsely once. You know this isn’t right.”

“Charlie, I know that I have a job to do, and he is allowed to request we hold you in custody.”

“This is ridiculous,” Mrs. Phillips said. “You can’t...”

“Jennifer,” he said, holding up a hand toward her. “I understand you want to help, but Charlie is legally an adult. You have no standing here. I let you stay as a courtesy, so that he had someone he trusted with him when he learned the news, but this is a police matter.”

She swallowed whatever else she was going to say and backed down, her face etched with worry. I felt numb, almost detached, like this was all happening to someone else.

“I don’t even remember him being stabbed. I fell unconscious. He was...”

“Charlie, you should wait and talk about the details when your lawyer is here,” the sheriff said.

I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think he was supposed to say that. Stop a suspect from talking about the ‘crime’ when they were giving details. I knew the whole ‘your words may be used against you’ part. Was he trying to help me? It was clear he hadn’t put the charges on me, but had done it at the request of the district attorney. Maybe he knew this was BS.

I just nodded, not trusting my voice.

Mrs. Phillips stood up and walked over to me, putting a hand on my shoulder.

“Charlie, I’ve already called Mr. Eaves. He was in Richmond for a legal conference, but he’s heading back now. He said not to worry, just stay calm. We’re going to get this sorted out,” she said, her tone firm and reassuring.

I nodded, hoping she was right. Mrs. Phillips glanced over at Sheriff Gibbs, her eyes narrowing.

“And don’t talk to anyone until he gets here,” she said pointedly.

The sheriff held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I already advised him of his rights, Jennifer. I’m just doing my job here. I’m not going to ask him any other questions.”

“Your job should be serving and protecting the citizens of this county, not railroading a teenager at the behest of a vindictive man like Campbell,” she shot back.

Sheriff Gibbs’ jaw tightened, but he didn’t respond. She had a point, but it wasn’t like he had a lot of choices either. Besides the fact that everything Mr. Campbell had done was within his power as district attorney, he also had a lot of friends. If Sheriff Gibbs went too hard against him the DA could make his next election very difficult.

I closed my eyes, leaning into the pillows as a wave of exhaustion washed over me. The adrenaline from earlier was long gone, and now I just felt tired and heartsick. A nurse came in then, checking the various monitors and my IV. She made a few notes on my chart before turning to the sheriff.

“I’m sorry, but he hasn’t been discharged yet. Until he is, I have to ask you both to leave and let him rest.”

“Sure,” he said, giving me one last look that I read as almost apologetic before leaving.

The nurse patted my shoulder and walked out as well. I didn’t recognize her specifically, but I’d been in there before. Maybe she had decided I was okay and not a threat. I couldn’t imagine she would normally intervene on behalf of someone handcuffed to the bed.

Mrs. Phillips squeezed my hand. I opened my eyes to find her gazing at me worriedly. I tried for a reassuring smile, though I’m sure it came out more as a grimace.

“It’s going to be okay, Charlie. Mr. Eaves will have you out of this mess in no time. Just ... try not to worry too much, alright?”

Her smile was strained, and I could tell she didn’t quite believe her own words. But I appreciated the sentiment.

“Thanks,” I said.

She gave my hand another quick squeeze and left. I was alone, staring at the too-bright ceiling, all of the bad thoughts and feelings rushing in. I was crushed that my mother was gone. I tried to imagine a world without her. I thought about what might happen in jail. What might happen if Mr. Eaves couldn’t stop this? Would I spend the next twenty-five years in jail just for defending my mother?

Worse, how would I deal with that without her? I was truly alone now.

I’d been sitting on the hard bench in the holding cell, staring at the cracks in the concrete wall, all night. Daylight had been coming through the windows for a few hours, and looking up at the clock, it had been more than twelve hours since ... since everything had happened. My head was pounding, a relentless throb at my temples that hadn’t eased up despite the pain meds they’d given me at the hospital. The nurse had warned me not to sleep for a while because of the concussion, but I was so tired I could barely see straight.

The events of the last day kept replaying on a loop in my mind. The phone call, rushing over to Mom’s place after Dad had kicked in the door. The fight. Mom hitting the counter. Everything after that was a blur. I shook my head, trying to clear the memories, but that only made the ache intensify.

I was just starting the cycle of memories over again, for the hundredth time, when I heard voices approaching. The sheriff and one of his deputies stopped outside the holding cell, the sheriff’s expression unreadable.

“Your lawyer’s here. I’m taking you to one of the interview rooms so you two can talk before the transport gets here,” he said.

Relief flooded through me at the mention of Mr. Eaves. I was being railroaded, and I needed help. I stood up, wincing at the pull of bruised muscles, and walked over to the cell door. The deputy unlocked it, and I followed them down the short hall to the conference room.

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