Liam let him know how involved he was going to be in that little father/son project by going out and buying himself a Mit-subishi Eclipse Spyder. Brand new. Sterling Silver Metallic. Convertible.
He must’ve been saving up for years to buy that car, same way I’ve been for my own car. Except the current dollar amount in my savings account would finance, oh, a pair of Dad’s retreads?
Dad had never forgiven Liam.
Get over it, I thought. Who wants to drive around in a junk heap?
As Liam relinquished his keys to Dad, he didn’t even put up a fight. In his current state, Liam probably would’ve handed over his entire Dana International collection.
We shouldn’t have gone to the mall. It was a stupid idea. Dangerous. Liam must’ve realized it. I know he regretted it. The rest of the weekend he moped around the basement, incommunicado. I didn’t know what to do for him. Step up the suicide watch? I did, actually. I cleared the room of all sharp objects, which was dumb. If Liam was determined to do it, he’d find a way. Not without me, though. Never without me.
Monday morning Liam was back to his old self — hollow boy. I could deal with that. So could he. Hopefully he was over this whole transition phase.
Chris wasn’t in chemistry again, which should’ve been a relief. There was way too much chemistry between us and it took a lot of energy to keep my distance. The one bright spot in an otherwise dismal day was that Bruchac was off attending some teacher inservice, so we were treated to a sub. Which meant everyone screwed around. Which meant I sat in a corner by myself, pretending I loved to be alone.
Aly was hanging out in the basement after school, curled in the corner of the sofa watching Judge Judy. She motioned me over to her and I flopped down. “What’s with Liam?” she said.
Where was he? Nowhere to be seen. His bedroom door was closed.
“I know he’s in there,” Aly said. “I can hear movement.”
“Did you knock?” I asked.
“Yeah. Twice. He wouldn’t answer. That was a while ago.”
At that moment his door opened and he emerged. Without a word, he walked over, retrieved his PDA from atop the TV, and returned to his crypt.
“Hel-loo,” Aly sang, widening her eyes at his retreating back and closing door. “God. He hasn’t been this weird for a long time. What happened?”
He was born, I thought. “I have no idea,” I lied.
“Guys.” She shook her head. “They’re so moody.”
Were they? I wouldn’t know.
Aly returned to feigning interest in Judge Judy, concentrating more on the show and less on me. The TV screen suddenly became a mirror. I imagined the three of us reflected in it — our eyes, wide open, gazing into the unknown. Searching, seeking, longing.
What did each of us long for? Liam, of course, longed to be free. To be Luna; to be loved and accepted for the person she was inside. Good luck.
Aly? She longed to be with Liam. She wanted him to be something he never could be. A boy. The man of her dreams. Good luck.
Me? I had no dreams. No longings. Dreams only set you up for disappointment. Plus, you had to have a life to have dreams of a better life. I saw Liam and Aly and me, peering deeper into our futures. This terrible sense of foreboding seeped up through my core. One of us, or all of us, was going to take a fall.
Mirelle and Cody both rushed me at the door, throwing their arms around my legs and cheering, “Regan, Regan.” A wave of love washed over me. My body took form, shape. A life materialized in front of me — mine. At times I felt guilty for taking money from the Materas. They were my lifeline, my only connection to a world outside my brother. A world I could only imagine.
Thank God Dad hadn’t grounded me from working.
Mirelle laced her tiny fingers in mine and said, “Come see my mural, Regan.”
“Come see mine first.” Cody grabbed my other hand and they yanked in opposite directions.
I laughed. So did David and Elise. “Okay, okay. Let me get Ty first. Is it okay?” I queried Elise, motioning to Tyler in his baby swing.
“Of course,” she said, continuing to rub in hand cream. It smelled good. Sweet. Same as her.
I retrieved the baby and trailed the kids to their rooms. In her spare time — when she wasn’t working at her important job of being a mother — Elise freelanced as a graphic artist. She was really good. She’d been working for months on these bed-room murals for the kids. Cody’s mural was a baseball player winding up for a pitch. Number four, his jersey read. If that was someone famous, I wouldn’t know. Liam would hate this wall. Mirelle’s wall was a magic castle with a knight stationed beside his trusty steed, bowing to a fairy princess. The princess’s outfit resembled a costume I’d worn for Halloween one year. Or was that Liam? It was more him than me. I think he tried it on when we got back from trick-or-treating. After Mom and Dad had gone to bed, of course. I never did see that costume again. It was probably at the bottom of his treasure chest.
David and Elise left for their dinner date — they actually called it a dinner date — and the four of us watched the last half hour of Spy Kids II on Nick at Nite. I put Tyler to bed, then Mirelle and Cody coerced me into a game of Chutes and Ladders. It didn’t take much coaxing. Around the fifth time I fell down a chute, my mind began to wander. I couldn’t stop thinking about Liam and what had happened Saturday night.
He hadn’t said a word about it. As if it never happened. No doubt he was traumatized and blocking it out. He’d resumed his midnight forays into Luna land, playing dress-up in my room. Nice and safe.
I wished I could forget. Those punks. The clerk. The punks’ reaction could almost be expected. It didn’t prey on my mind so much as the clerk. The moment she saw what Luna was, when she physically repelled away from her, that feeling seared a scar on my soul. She was actually repulsed.
Luna saw it. She felt it.
I couldn’t bear for my brother to be viewed as a freak. It hurt him; I know it did. He didn’t deserve that. Nobody deserved that kind of pain. If he decided to live the rest of his life as Moon Girl, he could trust me to keep his secret. He could trust me to keep him safe.
“Seems your lab partner jumped ship,” Bruchac informed me the next day as he handed back last week’s problem sets.
I glanced up at him. “What?”
“He dropped the class.”
My heart plunged through the sink.
“Since Mr. Doucet’s partner doesn’t feel the need to make it here most days, why don’t you team up with him?”
I glanced over at Hoyt, who flared nostrils at me. No way. Never. Where was the leftover person, the twenty-third? Every-body had partners. Had another person dropped? Atchinson, where was he?
“I’ll just work alone,” I told Bruchac.
“You could,” he said. “But you really should spread some of that cerebral cortex around.”
If he only knew how little I had. I looked at Hoyt again and shuddered. “I’ll work alone.”
“Okay, but I can’t give you extra time to finish the labs. No special treatment; I don’t play favorites.”
Did I ask for extra time? Did I request special treatment? “I can handle it,” I said, seething.
“I know you can,” Bruchac said. “That’s not my concern.” In a conspiratorial voice, he added, “It’s everyone else in here I’m worried about.”
Heat fried my face. He couldn’t mean that. As Bruchac returned to his desk, I stared down at the lab assignment for today. Neutralization, normality, titration. Could I handle it? Did I have a choice? Did I ever have a choice? I sighed and X’d out the second name slot.
“I ran into Skip at the gym today,” Dad said at breakfast on Wednesday.
My eyes rose slowly from the problem set I was struggling with. I couldn’t extrapolate the equation; I wasn’t understanding the logic. Bruchac had me all rattled now with his show of confidence. I think I preferred him as a sexist pig.
If Liam heard Dad, he wasn’t acknowledging.
“I asked him about your conditioning program, what I could do to help.” Dad folded the newspaper closed. “He told me you’ve never shown up for practice.”
I fixed on Liam. He feigned absolute absorption in his Wheat Chex. At the end of the table, Mom continued to scribble notes in her Daytimer. Her cell rang and broke the tension. Or heightened it. Dad got all tight-lipped and shifted his attention to her.
“Oh, hi, Andy. What? What!” The crescendo in Mom’s voice prickled my ears. “We got it?” She exploded, “We got it!”
Covering the mouthpiece, she said to us, “We got the Sorensen wedding!”
Liam’s head raised. “Congratulations.” He smiled at Mom. He turned to Dad and said, “I lied to you.”
Mom stood and headed for the living room, jabbering away at Andy. Dad blinked at Liam. “I figured. What I want to know is, why.”
Liam shook his head at the floor. Exhaling a long breath, he answered, “No, Dad, you don’t. You really don’t want to know.” He scraped back his chair and rose. When Liam met my gaze across the table, all I could see was the terror.
“Can I get a ride?” I shot to my feet.
Dad barked, “Sit down, Regan. Both of you. Sit!” I collapsed in my chair. Liam kept walking. “Liam, come back here. I’m not done talking to you.”
“Yes, you are,” he said under his breath. That one even took Dad by surprise. Before he could react, Mom laughed hysterically and wheezed, “She can’t be serious. Feed five hundred people for two thousand dollars? Is she out of her mind? I tell you, rich people can be so cheap.”
The front door whooshed open and closed behind Liam.
“I really have to go, Dad,” I said. To chase down Liam, yeah, but that wasn’t the only reason I wanted to fly today. There was an assembly before school that I’d been psyched about for months. An opera performance. In the Horizon High Notes before Christmas break an article had run on the last page about the Santa Fe Opera touring schools, trying to promote more interest in the arts. They didn’t have to sell me. With all the distractions lately the assembly had slipped my mind. Yesterday, as Aly was channel-surfing, I caught a snippet of Maria Callas singing Madama Butterfly on PBS and it triggered my memory.
I needed opera, especially this morning. The music would help me relax and figure out this stupid problem set.
“Do you know what this is all about?” Dad’s eyes bore down on me.
Dad hitched his chin toward the door.
Oh, that. I opened my mouth, then shut it.
“If you know, tell me, because he’s not going to. I don’t know what’s going on with him anymore. He never says boo to me. We used to talk. We used to be able to communicate. Didn’t we?”
Clueless, Dad. You are so not with the program.
Dad’s focus shifted to the living room, where Mom was laughing on the phone still, and scribbling in her Daytimer. “He’s never lied to me before.”
My jaw might’ve unhinged. His whole life has been a lie, Dad, I wanted to say. Open your eyes.
Dad added, “What did I do? What did I ever do to turn him against me?”
“He isn’t against you. It’s just —” I stalled. I blew out a breath. “You expect things.”
“What things?” Dad snapped. “All I ever wanted was for him to be like every other kid. To be like me. I was a normal, happy kid. My dad wasn’t perfect either. Far from it, but I idolized the old man.” He stopped suddenly and swiveled his head to gaze out the patio doors. “Okay, maybe that’s too much to ask. The kid’s a friggin’ genius, I know that. I wouldn’t want him to lower himself to my level, or believe for one second that his doddering old dad might have a pearl or two of wisdom to share. I just think a little exercise would do him good. Sports builds character, teamwork. He’ll need that in life.”
“Jack —” Mom appeared suddenly, her cell dangling at the end of a limp arm. She exhaled wearily. “Why don’t you give it up?”
Yeah, I agreed. Thank you, Mom, for once.
“What?” Dad asked. “Is it so much to ask? You tell me.” Dad met my eyes. Mine!
Why are you asking me? I wanted to scream.
“Do I expect too much of you, too?” Dad said to me. He waited.
“No, Dad,” I answered honestly. It’s the rest of the world that expects too much of me.
I got to school late, even though Dad dropped me off on his way to the Home Depot. The assembly was already in progress. My breath caught. They were doing La Traviata. Strains from Violetta’s aria, “E strano to sempre libera” wafted down the hall. “Ever free my heart must be,” I translated in a whisper. It was my favorite aria. I could sing that aria in my sleep, and did whenever I got a full night’s sleep.
The double doors nearest me were closed, but one on the opposite end was propped open with a doorstop. I tiptoed in. Adjusting my eyes to the dark, I slipped into the back row. As I curled into a seat hugging my knees to my chest, my eyes closed automatically to soak up the gloriousness of the music.
The soprano’s voice sent shivers down my spine. Such clarity and range. I opened my eyes and squinted to see her. Wow. She was young. Younger than I expected. I’d never seen an opera performed live on stage. When had she started singing? She’d obviously had years of voice training to reach this level, and acting experience, and language classes.
The only language I’d ever taken was Spanish, in eighth grade. There aren’t too many Spanish operas. I’d always planned to audition for choir, but never took the initiative. Never had the courage. I thought I had an okay voice. It resonated in the shower, anyway.