“No. Yes.” I stared off into the middle distance. “I don’t know. They don’t seem all that happy together. Sometimes I wonder how they even got together. I wonder if they should’ve gotten divorced. Maybe they would have if . . .” I stopped and swallowed hard.
“If what? You think they stayed together for you guys?”
“No.” I tried to focus on the cows, anything solid. “I think they felt stuck with each other. Then they got stuck with us. They wasted their lives, both of them.” I looked at Chris briefly, then looked away. The majority of Mom’s life apparently didn’t count, and Dad’s was on a downhill skid. “I don’t think the American dream quite lived up to their expectations.” There was that word again — expectations. “I don’t know,” I went on. “They seem ... disillusioned. Like they’re just going through the motions, you know?” I glanced up at him again.
“Do I ever,” Chris said. “My mom always wanted to be a model, or an actress. She could’ve been, too. I never want that to happen to me. To look back on my life, say, ten, twenty years later and think, ‘Man, I could’ve been something. If only I hadn’t given up my dream.’”
“Exactly.” He nailed it. I had a dream once. I couldn’t even remember what it was. “What is your dream?” I asked him.
He hesitated. “You really want to know?”
“Yeah. Unless it’s private. Or personal.”
“No. No, it’s just that nobody’s ever asked before. Nobody’s ever cared.” He held my eyes. His gaze was so intense, it almost hurt. He swung one leg over the railing to ride it like a horse and gripped the railing with both hands. “Okay, here it is. I want to be a sportscaster. Like on ESPN, not the flunky local station. On national TV.” He raised a fist to his mouth to mime a microphone. “This is Chris Garazzo, coming to you live from Coors Field, where the Rockies have rocked the world with their upset win in the World Series, blowing out the Red Sox in an unprecedented four-oh sweep. We’ll be following all the action down in the locker room with Regan O’Neill. But first, back to you in the studio, Al.”
I smiled. “You’re good. You should go to college and major in communications or something.”
“Sure.” He rolled his eyes. “Like I’ll ever make it out of high school.”
“Not if I don’t pass Chemistry.” Chris made a face. Then he leaned forward, his face coming closer to mine. Closer, closer . . . He licked his lips. My heart stopped beating. What do I do?
Suddenly, sirens split the air. Flashing red lights illuminated the night as a fleet of cop cars surrounded the barn. Where’d they come from?
“Shit.” Chris launched off the fence. “If I get busted, I’m off the team.”
“Shit!” I cried, grabbing Chris’s wrist. “Look what time it is.” His watch read 10:50. By the time we got back to the Materas’ it’d be way past eleven.
He vise-gripped my hand and we tore off across the property toward the car. My feet slid and stuck in the mud, and so did his. We hit a gulley and sank to our ankles in sludge. We had to scrabble up a muddy incline on our hands and knees. It wasn’t until I was leaping into the passenger seat that I realized I’d lost my shoe.
“It must’ve come off in the mud,” Chris said. “I’ll go back.”
“Forget it.” Two cops were about to raid the rave, while two others were erecting a barricade on the street. “Let’s go.”
A chorus of girls screamed as the cops burst through the doors. “I’m sure. Just go.”
We roared out of there. The clock on Chris’s stereo flashed
11:02. Panic rose in my chest. “Go fast,” I urged him. Warp speed. Break the sound barrier.
Oh, please, God, please, I prayed. Don’t let them be home early. I reached for my purse to retrieve Aly’s cell and call Liam to check —
“My purse!” I cried. “I left it on the fence.”
Chris muttered a curse. “I’ll get off at the next exit and turn around.”
“No. I have to get back to the Materas’. I was supposed to be back by eleven.”
“Yikes,” Chris said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Hadn’t I? I thought I’d mentioned it. Before we fell off the porch. Or after. On the way to the rave. Inside. On the fence where he almost, almost kissed me. “Just hurry!”
We hit Mach I. The world flew by in a blur. The night was a blur, too, until flashing red lights lit up Chris’s rearview mirror.
“Shit,” we cursed in unison. Chris swerved to the shoulder and stopped.
It took twenty minutes for the state patrol to issue Chris a ticket. Of course, the officer had to question him about where we’d been, had we been drinking, were we on anything. He gave Chris a sobriety test. He lectured him about speeding. We were both filthy from crawling around in the mud, so I could imagine what he thought.
At last, he let us go.
As we squealed to a stop in front of the Materas’, I was trying to figure out if we’d had a good time.
“Well, this sucked,” Chris said, answering my question. “I’m sorry about your shoe. Your purse, too. Your pants. I’m sorry about everything.”
I swallowed a sob. “I’m sorry about the speeding ticket.” And your wet pants — both pairs, and your run-in with Denny, and the whole sucky evening. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
All the lights were on inside. I couldn’t see through the dark garage windows to tell whether the Jeep Cherokee was there. Please, let it not be there. “I have to go.” I opened my door.
Chris hopped out his side.
“I have to go!” I fairly screeched at him.
“Okay.” He stopped in his tracks.
I sprinted up the front walk. As I reached the door, I glanced back over my shoulder. Chris was slumped on the car hood, his hands covering his head. Was he mad? Crying?
I quelled my own hysteria. The front door was open a crack, which was weird. Maybe Liam had heard us drive up. Maybe the Materas had decided to stay out longer after the play. Maybe their car broke down. Please, please, please.
Liam’s voice filtered down the Materas’ hallway. “Please,” he pleaded. “Don’t hurt me.”
“Take it off.” David’s voice.
At the end of the hall Elise stumbled backward out of her bedroom, face paralyzed with fear.
“Please,” I heard Liam say again. “I was just fooling around.”
My brain engaged. Elise turned and saw me racing toward her, but her haunted eyes strayed back to the bedroom. To whatever fright scene had horrified her.
I veered around the doorway in front of Elise. Liam stood at her full-length mirror, stripping out of a white negligee. Luna, I should say. Her eyes met mine and held for a long instant before cutting over to David.
David, who was poised at his nightstand with a butcher knife raised in his hand.
“Don’t!” I charged into the room and threw myself against Luna. She stumbled backward. “It’s my brother. Please. She was just fooling around.”
David’s eyes seared my flesh. “Your . . . brother?”
“Please,” I said again. “Don’t hurt him.”
David repeated, “Your brother?” Unbelieving. Taking him in. Her. Slowly, David’s hand lowered.
I whirled on Luna, eyes slit, screaming silently at her, How could you?
She didn’t react, or wasn’t receptive to nonverbal threats. Probably because she was struggling to remove the negligee over her head. It’d gotten stuck on Elise’s black bra. Luna tugged one last time and ripped a length of lace on the front of the nightgown. “Sorry,” she said. “I’ll pay for it.” She folded the nightgown and set it on the bed, then unhooked the bra in back. I tried to shield her, but I could feel David’s eyes on her. On him. On us. Liam slipped his sweatshirt over his head and shimmied into his jeans.
Jamming his feet into his shoes, he staggered past me. Or tried to. David blocked his escape. “The earrings.” He extended a stiff hand. Liam yanked off Elise’s pearl earrings and, with trembling fingers, deposited them in David’s palm. David closed his fist, crucifying Liam with a look.
Liam charged for the door. Elise jumped out of his way like he was a mass of open sores.
“He was just goofing around,” I said, popping the cap back onto Elise’s tube of lipstick. “I had an emergency and had to leave for a little while.” The lie sounded rehearsed even to me. “I called Liam to come and stay. I wasn’t gone that long.”
Elise didn’t answer. David glared at me in the mirror. The set of his jaw scared me.
“I’m s-sorry,” I stammered, stepping away from the dresser, around the bed, keeping David in view, backing out the door. “It won’t happen again.”
“You’re right about that,” David said. He set the knife on his bedstand and yanked out his wallet. Removing a ten dollar bill, he threw it at me and added, “You’re not welcome in our home anymore, Regan. And your brother ... My God, he needs help.”
A knife twisted in my gut. It might as well have been the real thing. I watched the money flutter to the floor, then blindly turned and ran.
Rage fueled my feet as I propelled down the basement stairs. Liam’s door was closed. I burst in. Stupid Dana International was singing on the CD player and I punched off the power. Opening the lid, I removed the CD and flung it against the pockmarked wall. “Thanks a lot!” I screamed at him. “You just lost me my job.”
He blinked from his fetal position on the bed, hands folded flat under his cheek. There were traces of Elise’s red lipstick on his cracked lips still. “Do you think he’ll call here?” Liam asked quietly.
“How should I know? Is that what you want them to do? You’re lucky they didn’t call the cops and have you arrested.” Or committed, I thought. “David could’ve killed you. I wish he had.” I stormed to the door.
“So do I,” Liam said.
Anger roiled in my stomach. He was so wasted. So pathetic. I whirled. “You are pathetic,” I spat at him. “God! I hate you.”
I hadn’t made it to my room before Liam was on me. He touched my shoulder and said, “Do you really think they’ll call the police?”
“Liam!” I wheeled again. “I don’t give a shit. I needed that job. I loved the Materas. They were, like, family. I loved that job. It’s the only thing I had that was mine.” I slapped my chest. “Mine.” My voice broke. “It was the only place I had to go to get away from you.” Tears welled in my eyes. He didn’t get it. He never did.
I lashed out to shove him away, but Liam clamped hold of my wrist. “You’re muddy. And you’re missing a shoe,” he said.
“Get out of my face,” I ordered him. A fuse ignited in my core. “Get out of my life. I hate you. I hate what you are. I wish you’d never been born.”
Liam dropped my arm like it was on fire and reeled back a step. The look on his face . . .
I slammed my bedroom door on it. On him. Shut him out of my life.
Sunday morning I felt so sick I didn’t even get out of bed. I lay there, staring into space, waiting for the phone call to come. The basement door would fly open and Mom and/or Dad would put an end to this charade. This game. How could this be happening to me? It wasn’t real life. It was a TV show: Disaster Island. There is no immunity idol. I lose every challenge. I humiliate Chris by making him fall off the porch. I bust his car window. I get him busted at home by his soon-to-be stepdad. I dump and destroy his CD collection. I get him a speeding ticket. I hurt his feelings. Every time we’re together, that’s all I do — hurt him.
God. I squeezed my eyes shut. He had to hate me.
Same way I hated my brother. He was always there, invading, interfering, ruining my chances for any kind of ordinary existence. It was always him, his needs, his wants. What about what I wanted? A regular family. A circle of friends. A best friend. A boyfriend. Was that so much to ask?
I wanted a childhood I could look back on and remember with ... If not fondness, then happiness at least. Joy. I wanted my own memories. Everything I remembered about me interleaved with Liam. His life. Her struggle. Where were my memories? Where was my life?
Just once I wanted to be able to hold a conversation with a person without having to watch every word I said. Or worry about saying too much, divulging the truth, giving her away. I wanted to be free of this secret, this lie, this brother who wasn’t a boy.
I couldn’t believe Liam lost me my job. Okay, I shouldn’t have gone out with Chris; I should’ve been more responsible; it was all my fault —
No, it wasn’t! I refused to shoulder the blame. Liam was out of control. He’d taken advantage of me. He’d humiliated me. He’d risked my life. For what? For his pleasure, his stupid desire to dress up.
“I’ll never forgive you,” I vowed out loud, hoping he could hear me through the wall between our bedrooms. “Never.”
A soft knock sounded on my door. “Re?”
I rolled over in bed.
He knocked louder. “I know you’re in there. Smoke’s coming out from under the door.”
I retrieved my remote and turned on my CD player. I cranked up La Traviata.
Guess he got the message.
Sometime later my eyelids fluttered and I jerked awake. Liam stood over me, staring down, smiling tentatively. “Mom and Dad asked where you were at breakfast and I told them you had a hot date last night. I said you hadn’t come home until dawn. I wish you could’ve seen their faces.” He lowered himself to the edge of my mattress. “Dad, especially. So, how was it?”