I caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror. Total devastation. But I couldn’t help it. David and Elise had asked if I could sit while they went skiing. It was an all-day gig. I didn’t need the money so much as ...I wanted to go. I needed my “real” family fix.
“What about Saturday night?” Luna asked. “How late are the malls open?”
Like I knew. “Probably nine, at least.”
Saturday night would work for me. It’d give me a couple of days to prepare. For what, I wasn’t sure. “I won’t get home until six, probably, depending on where David and Elise decide to go skiing.”
Luna jumped to her feet and sailed across the room. She lifted me bodily from the chair and hugged me. She held me so close her joy rippled through my bones.
Okay, this wouldn’t be so bad. Bunch of strangers. Saturday night. Who went to the mall on Saturday night? Besides every girl in the world looking to pick up guys. This according to Aly.
I quelled my rising terror. We’d just be two girls out shopping. Who would notice? Who would care? Who would even look at us twice?
“Ms. O’Neill, will you please come to the front of the room?” Bruchac crooked a finger at me. Chris was just looping a leg over his stool, having rushed in at the late bell on the heels of Atchinson. I hadn’t even had time to say, “Hi. Do you know where we can rent a canoe?”
Did Bruchac want me to come up there, or what?
“Today would be good.” He tapped his watch.
I backed off my stool, almost toppling it. Chris caught the seat. He frowned a little, like, What’s going on?
Like I knew. Everyone stopped what they were doing to gawk at me. Stare at me. Follow me with their eyes.
I felt na**d as I weaved through the lab stations, my pulse racing. What was Bruchac plotting?
He motioned me up beside him. “If you would please show the class your arm, Ms. O’Neill. Enlighten them about the consequences of unfortunate mishaps such as spilling sulfuric acid on yourself.”
Unfortunate mishaps? I was considering giving my other arm an acid bath today. My wrist was still a little red, the skin splotchy white and bubbly in spots, but it didn’t hurt.
“Ms. O’Neill, if you please. Your audience awaits.” Bruchac swept a dramatic arm out to the side.
Jerk. Ten on the A.B.S. Screw you, I thought. I crossed my arms over my chest self-consciously. Take the hint.
“I spilled the acid,” Chris’s voice echoed from the back.
“No, you didn’t,” I said.
“Yes, I did.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Continue the lover’s spat outside of class,” Bruchac sniped. “This is the kind of accident I’ve warned you about. This is what can happen when you’re not paying attention. These are toxic chemicals, girls. Play with fire and you will get burned.”
I almost made a crack about getting him burned for sexual discrimination. Add jail time for violating my personal right to suffer in silence. Speaking would only prolong my agony up here, though. I started back to my seat.
Bruchac stepped in front of me. “Show everyone what happens when acid makes contact with human skin, Ms. O’Neill.”
I huffed a little. Was he serious?
Apparently. He wouldn’t let me pass.
Unfolding my arms, I held up the left wrist. People in the front row leaned forward over their stations. Those behind goosenecked a view. I wanted to tell them there was nothing to see besides me incinerating up here.
“Tell us how it feels,” Bruchac said.
“Pretty good,” I quipped. “Great, if you’re into self-mutilation.”
People chuckled. Did they?
Bruchac snarled, “I cannot stress enough that safety is our number one concern. Be careful. Be focused. Be vigilant.”
“Be all that you can be,” I added.
That raised a chorus of sniggers. Beside me, I felt Bruchac bristle. His quills could’ve drawn blood. I skittered down the aisle, like the scared rabbit I was. People were smiling at me. Not in a mocking way. More ... amused, entertained.
Bruchac said, “Everyone take out a clean sheet of paper. You’ve just earned yourselves a quiz.”
Communal groaning. As I slid onto my stool, Chris muttered, “Off the A.B.S.”
No kidding. Thank God the quiz wasn’t hard or I’d be off everyone’s A.B.S. There were two questions about the freezing and boiling points from our earlier lab. The chemical formula for sulfuric acid, H2SO4. Now etched permanently in my brain.
As I finished up, I caught a glimpse of Chris’s paper. It was mostly blank. I think he answered number one, then bailed mentally.
“Hey, Regan.” He caught up with me in the hall after class. “What about Saturday night?”
I stopped dead. Saturday night? How could he know about Saturday night?
Chris must’ve interpreted my slack jaw as cluelessness. Which it was. “The rave?” he said.
The rave. Oh my God. It wasn’t a hallucination. He had asked me, right before I tripped out on acid.
Someone barreled into us from behind and Chris steered me over to the wall. He brushed the hair back from his face, looking deeply into my eyes with both of his. “So?”
“So.” I licked my dry lips. Opened my mouth. Closed it. Saturday night. Why did it have to be on Saturday night? Luna was so psyched about shopping. She’d stayed in my room until dawn trying on outfits appropriate for a mall crawl. She couldn’t stop talking about shopping. If that didn’t prove she was a girl, what did?
No, this meant too much to Luna. To Liam. He’d been waiting his whole life to go shopping with me.
“I can’t Saturday night,” I told Chris. “I’m going shopping with my ... um, sister.”
His face changed. Fell? “Okay.” His eyes drifted back over his shoulder. Was he disappointed? Mad?
He said coolly, “Guess I’ll see you around, then.”
What did that mean? I’d see him tomorrow. He retreated and vanished into the crowd.
“Damn you, Liam.” I wheeled around and kicked the wall. Then cursed myself because I think I broke a toe.
Chris never showed in chemistry the next day. Bruchac said he had our quizzes graded and would hand them out during lab, adding, “They are way below my expectations.”
Expectations. Why was everything about expectations?
Bruchac paused in front of my station. “How’s your arm?” he asked.
“It’ll live,” I muttered. “I mean, I will.”
“Good.” He smiled and slid my quiz across the countertop. “I guess experience is the best teacher. Too bad some teaching moments have to be painful.”
I glanced down at my paper. One hundred percent.
“I see your partner in crime isn’t with us today,” Bruchac said. “Would you tell him to come see me after school?” He slipped Chris’s quiz to the bottom of the stack, but not before I saw his score. Zero. Zero percent.
In all my life I’d never gotten a zero percent. How did that feel?
As Bruchac trundled away, I debated whether or not to deliver his message to Chris. Not, I decided. Today was Friday. By Monday it’d be ancient history.
For some reason I felt responsible for Chris’s failure. I was responsible. He wouldn’t have had to take the freaking quiz if I hadn’t spilled acid all over myself. By the storm raging around me, everyone else had figured this out, too. I was going to need new batteries for that invisibility shield.
Saturday morning as I was leaving for the Materas’, Alyson clomped down the basement stairs. “It’s snowing. It’s gorgeous out,” she said to Liam, who was bent over a printout, studying code. “Let’s drive to the mountains and go tubing.” She yanked back his head by his hair and stared upside down into his eyes. “Please? We never go anywhere.”
“I can’t,” he told her in a strangled voice. “I have to finish this, then assemble two systems today.”
Yeah, right. The only thing he’d be assembling was an outfit for tonight.
“You want to go, Regan?” she asked.
“I have to work.”
“Shit.” Aly flopped onto the sofa. “Another boring Saturday down under in Geeksville. My life is one serious drag.”
Get a job, I thought. Go shopping. Take Liam out for a hair weave. That was pretty funny. I wish I could’ve said that to Aly. Instead, I mumbled, “Sorry.”
My day at the Materas’ was anything but dull. Between playing games with the kids and watching movies and entertaining Tyler and fixing lunch and letting Mirelle style my hair with scrunchies and barrettes, it was six before I’d even looked at the clock.
And almost seven by the time I got home.
Liam ambushed me at the front door. “You’re late,” he said. “You were supposed to be here by six.”
“Give me a break.” I peeled his claws off my arm. “I said six, maybe. David and Elise got stuck behind a jackknifed semi on their way back from the slopes. It’s blizzarding, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Liam lifted his canvas duffel off the foyer floor and jingled his keys.
“Can I go to the bathroom first?” Brushing by him, I hurried down the hall. The bathroom door was closed, apparently in use. As I made a U-turn for the basement, the toilet flushed and Dad emerged.
He glanced from me to Liam in the foyer, Liam’s hand on the doorknob. “You’re not going out in this weather, are you?” Dad said.
“It’s not that bad,” I answered, slipping in behind Dad and shutting the door. I gagged at having to put the toilet seat down. It made me thankful for Liam’s restroom etiquette — not that I knew the personal and private details of what he did on the toilet, or ever wanted to.
When I exited the bathroom, Dad was in the kitchen hanging up the phone. Liam shot me eye daggers and mouthed, Come on.
“Your mother is working late again with Handy Andy,” Dad grumbled. Handy Andy. Good one, Dad. If he meant it as a joke, it wasn’t evident in his face. Dad whirled on us. “You kids are staying home.”
“Dad —” Liam and I protested in unison. Liam looked to me to finish.
“We’re just going to the Y,” I lied. “It’ll be less crowded tonight.”
Dad arched his eyebrows. “Yeah? I’ll come with you.”
Crap. That was not the intended response.
Liam jumped in. “I need to do this alone, Dad. You understand.”
Dad opened his mouth, then shut it. You understand? Liam had never spoken those two words to Dad before. Dad looked shell-shocked. “All right,” he said. “Just be careful out there.”
“Will do.” Liam hitched his chin at me toward the door.
Before Dad figured out what it was he apparently understood — because I sure had no clue — we bailed.
Liam chose the West Meadows Mall about half an hour from our house — on a good day. With the streets paved in black ice and gale force winds impeding every inch of progress, it took us close to an hour to get there. We were lucky to arrive alive.
“Not too many people out tonight,” Liam noted as he created a parking space in the deepening snow near the pillared mall entrance.
“Yeah, well, they lock the dangerously insane up at night,” I muttered. The lot was practically empty. I opened my door and got blasted with pellets of sleet. As I stood and twisted to slam the door behind me, I noticed Liam hadn’t budged. He was just sitting, staring out the frosted window.
I blew back inside. “What?”
“I can’t do this.”
Mechanically, his head shook from side to side. “I can’t.”
Damn him! I smacked the dash with the palm of my hand. Ow. Add a broken wrist to the toe and acid burn. What were we doing here in the middle of a blizzard on a Saturday night when I could be out with Chris, rowing down the river of love?
“Come on, Liam. It won’t be that bad.”
He just looked at me.
Okay, I couldn’t know.
A thin smile parted his lips. “Teri Lynn likes the name I chose — Luna. She thinks it sounds mystical and mysterious.”
“And Teri Lynn is...?”
“The T-girl I met online.”
T-girl. Trans girl. Right.
“She’s nice,” Liam said. “She told me all about her first time being out, trying to pass. She was seventeen, too, but she didn’t have a car. She had to ride the bus. So she takes this bus to the library because she knows there’s a unisex bathroom there where she can change. She lives in Seattle.” Liam paused and blinked at me. “Washington?”
“I’ve heard of it. This is really fascinating.” I stifled a yawn. “But what does it have to do —”
“She chose this sundress with a jacket,” Liam went on, “and opentoe sandals. All she owned at the time was a really bad Halloween wig, like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.”
“Oh God.” I winced. “You’re kidding.”
Liam chuckled a little. “So she walks across the park to a City Market and the first people she encounters are a mom and her two kids. Teri Lynn knows they’re looking at her. Staring. She almost chickens out. But she keeps on walking, holding her head high. She thinks she’s done it, that she’s past them, when one of the kids goes, ‘Mommy, why is that man wearing a dress?’”
My eyes closed involuntarily.
“I know,” Liam said. “Teri Lynn just about had a coronary. Before her electrolysis, her beard was really dark. All the foundation in the world wasn’t going to cover it.” Liam smiled to himself and dropped his head.