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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
192 pages
Nov 2004

Pitch Black

by Melody Carlson

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“Did you hear about Jason?” Carlie’s eyes are huge as she grabs me by the arm. But I’m not in the mood for her theatrics right now. And I’m not interested in hearing the latest juicy bits of gossip. Not even about Jason.

Ignoring her, I slam my messy locker shut. A sleeve of my favorite red sweatshirt is dangling out, hanging there like a panting tongue, begging to be rescued. But I just give the metal door a loud kick and turn away.

“Morgan!” Carlie is glaring at me now. “Listen to me—”

“Just leave me alone!” I snap at her. “I’m going to be late for economics.” Then I shake free from her grip and just walk away. Okay, I know I’m being totally rude right now. And Carlie used to be my best friend. I should turn around and apologize to her, because friends don’t treat friends like this. And, considering that my friends are pretty limited these days (like I can easily count them on one hand with fingers left over), I should really know better than to act like this.

But the fact is, I just don’t care. Because this is reality: My life sucks. And I am totally fed up. So everyone will be much better off if they just leave Morgan Bergstrom alone. At least for a while.

It’s like I can’t see anyone as I storm down the hallway toward the east wing. I feel like I’m walking down this dark tunnel, fueled by anger. Oh, I sort of sense the voices around me. And I can tell that kids are here and there, and maybe they’re even looking at me. But like I said, I just don’t care anymore. I’ve got bigger problems to consider right now.

Tell me this: How can I be expected to get out of bed every morning and show up at this moronic school in order to get a stupid education (which is probably totally worthless) when everything in my life is totally out of control? I mean, seriously, how much does a seventeen-year-old girl have to take?

It’s not like this latest mess is my fault either. I mean, I’ve tried to do my best, make good choices, even be fairly responsible. And for what? Everything in my life just keeps falling apart. Everything’s unraveling and I just can’t take it anymore.

Okay, it’s no big deal that my parents got divorced when I was in grade school. That happens to lots of kids. And eventually you get over it. Or so you tell yourself. And never mind that my older brother, Jonathan, is using drugs and my mom is totally oblivious. He hardly ever comes home anyway, although every time he does, something valuable disappears. Last time he took my CD player. I now have a dead bolt on my bedroom door. But that’s not really the problem.

I admit it bugs me that my mom doesn’t really seem to notice these things lately (like Jonathan’s addiction problem). And even if I try to tell her, she’s so preoccupied with her own life that she doesn’t really listen. Oh, she pretends to listen, but you can tell by that glazed-over, dreamy look in her eyes that she’s off in la-la land thinking about Bradley. Stupid, moronic Bradley Finch! Man, I wish she’d never met this loser from her job at SPUD (Stanton Public Utility Department). In my opinion, Bradley is a SPUD dud.

But they’ve been dating for a couple of months now, and it’s like he’s launched my normally somewhat-conservative mom into this ridiculous middle-aged pursuit of youth and superficiality. Not only is it totally embarrassing (I mean, you should see what she’s wearing lately) but it’s completely ruining our lives. Talk about a train wreck!

It doesn’t help anything that Bradley is in his twenties (he won’t tell us his actual age) and my mom is forty-three (which she won’t admit to Bradley). She even told him that she’d had her kids when she was “just a kid” herself, which is totally bogus, not to mention lame. But it’s like she suddenly thinks she’s Demi Moore and he’s Ashton Kutcher and they are the hottest couple in town. Give me a break!

At first I told myself to just chill, that this whole thing would blow over before Valentine’s Day. Most of my mom’s romances don’t last more than twenty minutes anyway, and this one seemed more doomed than the others. So I figured if I could keep my mouth shut and just be patient, things would eventually return to normal. Or at least as normal as they can be in our house.

Okay, so maybe I was delusional. Because Valentine’s Day has come and gone and it’s just a week before spring break, and this guy is not leaving anytime soon. And now I’m even blaming myself, like maybe I could’ve done something to prevent it from going any further. But, stupid me, I thought their relationship was too ridiculous to be taken seriously. That is, until last night when those two idiots took their stupidity to a whole new level.

“We’re getting married!” my mom announced from where the two lovebirds were snuggled up together on our couch. Now, she said this like it was really good news, like I should jump up and down for joy. Yeah, you wish.

“What?” I demanded, actually hoping that I’d heard her wrong.

She smiled at me and laid a big wet one on Bradley’s cheek. Then, giggling like she was in middle school, she turned back to me. “We’re in love, honey. We’ve decided to get married.”

“Married?” I actually gasped now. I mean, it was one thing for them to date, and I know that Bradley has been spending the night here in our house. But marriage? Right.

“We love each other, Morgan. Can’t you see that?”

“But, Mom . . .”

“I know, I know . . .” Mom smiled at me in this out-to-lunch sort of way. “It probably seems sudden to you. But we really want to do this.”

“When?” I asked in a wimped-out voice.

“We’re both taking off work tomorrow. We’ll fly standby to Vegas, get married in one of those cute little chapels like Kelly Ripa did, and then we’ll have our honeymoon weekend there.” She paused to wink at Bradley, as if she thinks I don’t know that they’ve already had their honeymoon and then some.

I groaned and started to leave.

“Can’t you just be happy for me, Morgan?” my mom pleaded in a freaky-sounding little-girl voice.

I felt like I was going to be sick. “Mom,” I said in my best grown-up tone, “you can’t be serious. I mean, you guys barely know each other. And Bradley is, well, he’s a lot younger than—”

“Oh, Morgan.” My mom made a pouty face that does not belong on the face of the woman I had respected until recently. “You know that age is just a number.”

“But, Mom, what about—”

“Hey, Morgan,” Bradley interrupted me, “why don’t you just lighten up a little?” He paused to stroke my mom’s recently bleached hair. “Can’t you see we belong together? Lee Anne’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I wanted to suggest that perhaps Lee Anne could adopt him, since I felt pretty sure she was old enough to be his mother. Okay, maybe she would’ve had to have gotten pregnant in high school. But hey, she claims she did that anyway.

“Whatever,” I finally said. What difference did my opinion make to those two anyway?

“You’ll get used to it,” said Bradley. Yeah, right.

“I’ve got homework,” I told them as I headed toward my room.

“So you’ll be okay, honey?” my mom called after me as I opened my door.

“Yeah, I’ll be perfectly fine.” I doubted she noticed the dead sound in my voice.

“And you don’t mind being home by yourself for a few days?”

“Don’t worry about me,” I called as I closed the door to my room, securing the dead bolt even though Jonathan wasn’t around. Then I threw myself on my bed and cried. I think I actually hoped that my mom might hear me crying and come in, like she used to, and ask me what was wrong. I thought maybe she’d see how absurd this marriage business was and come to her senses and change her mind about running off with SPUD Dud.

But she didn’t. When I got up this morning, she was already gone. Her suitcases were gone. Her car was gone. She didn’t even leave a note telling me where she’d be staying or when she’d return. For all I know she might never come back. I’m not even sure I would care. All I know is that my life sucks. And I wonder why I even bothered getting out of bed and dragging myself to this stupid school so I could sit here in this stupid economics class and be bored nearly senseless by this stupid teacher.

I glance around the classroom now, wondering how I even managed to get here and sit down. I can tell by the clock that this class is nearly over, and I don’t even remember it starting. It’s like I’ve been stuck in time, or maybe I’m experiencing the twilight zone. But suddenly I remember that Carlie had been trying to tell me something about Jason. I look around the room to see where he’s sitting. Maybe my pity party is coming to an end because I now feel slightly curious as to what’s up with Jason and why it’s so interesting to Carlie.

Maybe he’s finally gotten that mongoose tattoo (he keeps saying that he’s going to do it someday). Now wouldn’t that make his respectable, conservative parents freak out? But I don’t see Jason in class. And suddenly I’m wondering if he’s gotten into some kind of trouble. I sure hope not, since I’d really like to talk to him today.

Jason and I have been friends since grade school. We even tried going out together when we were fifteen, but it felt too much like I was kissing my brother, and so we called it quits.

“Let’s just keep on being good friends,” I told him. And he agreed. And that’s what we’ve done. In fact, I’m thinking that Jason is just the guy to pour out my current problems to. He’s a way better listener than Carlie, even though he lives in this freakishly perfect world with parents who are still happily married to each other and go to church every Sunday and mow their lawn on Saturdays and have respectable jobs and impressive friends. Considering all that, it’s pretty amazing that Jason is so understanding of my whacked-out little life. I actually think he’s somewhat fascinated by the weirdness of it, and he’ll probably want to hear the whole story of how my mom is eloping with stupid Bradley. Maybe we can have lunch together today.

Sometimes I wonder why Jason’s been such a loyal friend to me. I think it might be because he considers himself the black sheep of his family. Which is totally ridiculous, since Jason is the coolest and most together guy I know. He gets good grades, goes out for sports, hardly ever gets into trouble, and if he does, he’s always sorry afterward. Sure, he’s not perfect, but compared to most kids, he’s got a lot going for him.

Of course, he doesn’t see it that way at all. But I think it’s just because he compares himself to his older brother and sister (who must be directly descended from God, they are so disgustingly perfect). It’s a lot to live up to, and sometimes Jason gets discouraged. And that’s when he tends to do things that aren’t so smart. Things he later regrets. Like the time he wrecked his dad’s classic Mustang drag racing down by the lake. Not a good scene. But he worked all summer to help pay off the insurance deductible, and eventually he even got to drive again. Although his dad sold the Mustang.

The bell jerks me back to the present and I realize that class is over and I don’t even know if we were assigned homework. I gather up my stuff, shove it into my bag, and head for the door.

“Morgan,” says Alyssa Reynolds in this sympathetic tone that makes me uneasy. I mean, this girl doesn’t really like me and everyone knows she can be a total witch sometimes. “How are you doing?”

“Huh?” I look at her and wonder if she’s suddenly turned psychic or nice or both. How could she possibly know about my mom and Bradley? I haven’t even told Carlie yet. “What do you mean?” I ask.

“I mean about Jason.” She puts her hand on my arm and I feel this icy chill rush through me. Like I know deep down inside that something is wrong. Really wrong.

“What do you mean about Jason?” My voice sounds abnormally high-pitched now.

“You haven’t heard?”

“What’s wrong, Alyssa?” I can see other kids gathering around us now, like maybe they all know something I don’t. “What’s wrong?” I say again. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, I just assumed you knew.” She looks uncomfortable now.

“Knew what?” My voice is getting louder.

She frowns. “Oh, Morgan, I hate to be the one to tell you.”

I grab her by the arm now. “Just tell me, Alyssa. What is going on? What happened to Jason?”

“He, uh, he . . .” Her eyes dart to the other kids. “He killed himself last night.”