I willed him away. Far away. Hadn’t the Materas called? Why wasn’t Liam behind bars, or in a straitjacket?
Liam said, “Look, Re. I’m sorry.” He placed a hand on my shoulder.
I elbowed him off. “Sorry isn’t good enough, Liam. You’re destroying my life. Do you know that? Do you have any idea? I don’t claim you as a brother. Or a sister, whatever. Get out of here.”
He didn’t move. Instead, he quipped, “What time do you want to go shopping today?”
God! He was so dense. I threw back the covers and straggled out of bed.
“Please, Re. I have to get something to wear tomorrow night. To meet Teri Lynn.”
“Get your makeup and crap and clear out of my room,” I said. “I don’t want to see one single trace of you when I get back.” I snatched my robe off the floor and headed to the bathroom.
When I emerged from my shower a few minutes later, Liam was hovering outside the door.
“What?” I practically screamed in his face.
He tilted his head. “Shopping?”
“I’m not going shopping with you.” I spoke deliberately, as if to a child, right in his face. “Get it? Do. You. Get. It.”
Liam swallowed hard. “Then I’ll go alone.”
“What a concept.” I smashed him against the wall.
The next time I woke it was dark. Pitch black. I squinted at my clock. One fifty-three. A.M.? If Luna had been in my room, there was no indication, no sense of her. She’d packed up her caddy and lighted mirror, at least. That’s when I heard it. Muted at first, then louder, clearer. That sound, so familiar. So frequent.
Gut-wrenching sobs. Hiccuping. Keening into his pillow. He used to cry almost every night. If Mom or Dad had ever heard, they’d never let on. I tried to comfort him once, years ago, by holding him and soothing him, but he either wanted, or needed, to suffer alone.
Fine. Let him.
What brought on this latest crying jag? I wondered. Was Liam upset at me because I wouldn’t go shopping with him? Like he really expected me to. It was probably what I’d told him earlier. Namely, the truth. Had Mom or Dad confronted Liam about the Materas? If David or Elise had called I’m sure I would’ve gotten busted, too. Everything was my fault. No, it wasn’t. Everything was Liam’s fault. His whole life was one long fault line. So what? He’d screwed up my life. He didn’t care.
His sobs intensified. I felt myself weakening. It hurt my heart to hear him cry. But his tears were eternal; they’d never go away.
He’d said it himself: he was wrong. He didn’t fit. And there was nothing I could do — nothing anyone could do — to make him right.
Monday morning. Breakfast. Another meal with the surreal O’Neills. Mom chittered at Handy Andy about the cut-rate wholesale florist she’d found who’d do the entire Sorensen wedding for less than half what her regular florist charged. Dad chuckled to himself at the funnies. Liam and I erected shields to shut out the world. And each other.
The kitchen phone rang, and Liam and I jumped. Dad grumbled, “Who’s that so early?” He scooted back his chair.
I practically tipped mine over to beat him to it.
Mom beat us both, rushing into the kitchen, ending her call with Andy. She caught the phone on the third ring. “Hello?”
I held my breath.
“Oh, hello, Elise.” Mom signaled to me. Then her hand froze midair. “No, she didn’t,” Mom said.
Forget it, I thought. Forget how I wanted to end the charade. The vision of its conclusion — the bloodbath, the aftermath, Mom and Dad finding out this way — it was too horrible to imagine.
“I see,” Mom said flatly, turning away from us.
Oh God. I should’ve told her. But, where to begin?
“Yes, thank you. No.”
I couldn’t meet Liam’s eyes. I could sense him across from me, shriveling in his skin.
“Well, Elise, I don’t think that’s any of your business. If no one was hurt . . .” Mom listened, her spine stiffening. Without warning, she slammed down the phone.
Here it comes. Liam and I both braced for the explosion. Mom zipped her portfolio shut and lifted the handle, dropping her cell into her purse and shouldering it.
“Who was that?” Dad asked, shaking out the sports section.
Mom didn’t answer, or pretended not to hear. She hurried past us toward the door.
Saved, I thought.
From the living room, Mom barked, “Regan.”
I flinched and swiveled my head around.
“Do a load of laundry after school.” She wrenched open the door. “And empty the dishwasher.”
That was it? No nuclear fallout?
Dad set down the paper. “Where does Mother Goose take her trash?” he said.
Dad repeated, “Where does Mother Goose —”
Liam and I droned, “To the Humpty Dump.”
Dad huffed. “You heard that one. Okay, who do mice see when they’re sick?”
“Hickory Dickory Doc,” Liam intoned alone.
Under my breath, I added, “Maybe someone should make an appointment. Ask if he does head work.”
Dad waggled a finger at me. “Good one, Re.”
Like, I meant him.
“Your sister takes after her old man in the humor department, eh, Liam?”
Liam responded by burying his nose deeper into his physics text. Surreal. This was unreal. What just happened here, besides nothing?
Dad scraped back his chair and stood. He moved behind Liam, wrestled him into a headlock, and knuckled a noogie on Liam’s thick skull. “Ah, loosen up. Your old dad sacrificed a career in comedy writing to raise the all-American family.”
Liam looked like he was going to burst into tears. His eyes were still swollen from last night’s pity party.
Dad gave his head one final squeeze and released him. With his hands spread over Liam’s bony shoulders, he said to me, “So, let’s hear about this date you had, tootsie.”
I grabbed my backpack and rose to leave.
Dad said, “Oh, come on.” He trailed me to the door. “I’m not going to hang you from your thumbs for sneaking out. An allnighter, though? At your age?”
If Dad only knew what people did at my age. Regular people. Ordinary people. People with lives. People who actually had friends to go out with. In addition to the fizzled fireworks this morning, I was a little surprised the cops hadn’t been by the house yet. They should’ve found my purse by now, with my billfold and driver’s license. And Aly’s cell phone.
Shit. Aly’s cell. I’d forgotten about it. She’d be pissed as hell at me for losing her cell.
“Actually,” Dad pressed a palm against the front door to prevent my escape, “it’s sort of encouraging to see a little predictable behavior out of one of you.”
Predictable behavior out of us?
Dad searched my eyes. “I just want you to talk to me, honey. I’m your dear old Dad, remember? We go way back. Girly whirligig?”
My throat constricted. “I gotta go.” I slipped under his arm and charged out. The day was foggy and drizzly, which fit my mood perfectly.
Halfway down the block a car slowed beside me and the window scrolled down.
“I’m not speaking to you.” I pulled my parka closer and trekked on.
Half a block farther, Liam pulled up again. “I don’t blame you for hating me.”
Shut up, I thought.
“I just want to give you a ride. We don’t have to talk.”
I drew a deep breath and considered the options. He was still my brother; he always would be. There was no changing that. It was miserable out. I was cold. He owed me. Oh, how he owed me now.
I circled the Spyder and got in. “Turn off that techno crap,” I ordered. “I hate your music.”
He ejected the CD.
“Give me your house key. You lost mine.”
He looked confused, but pulled to the curb and switched off the ignition. From his key ring, he removed the key.
“And tell Aly you lost her phone.” I snatched it from him. “You have a job. You buy her a new one.”
“Did I lose your shoe, too?” Liam asked.
I turned away. Expelled a short breath.
“Look, Re,” he said. “About what happened —”
“I told you, I don’t want to talk about it.” I’d said everything I wanted to say.
Liam started the car again and we traveled the rest of the way to school in silence. The distance between us seemed to grow. Or shrink. I’m not sure which. We were planets at opposite ends of the universe, orbiting a dying sun. As we swerved into the parking lot, I suddenly remembered —
“What?” Liam startled, like he’d been lost in himself. Lost in space.
“I spaced a chem test today. I haven’t even reviewed the chapters or the worksheets.” I smacked my forehead with my palm. “Dammit. If I flunk this test, there’s no way I’m even pulling a C in that class. Bruchac’s such a bastard. He’s using me as an example. Because of you,” I snarled at Liam. “Ever since I poured sulfuric acid on my arm —”
“What?” Liam interrupted. “When did that happen?”
A lifetime ago, I thought. In someone else’s one-day-long meaningful existence. “It was no big deal. He’s just out to prove his point that girls are brain-dead. Did he pull that crap on you?”
“Oh yeah.” Liam rolled his eyes. “He’s a moron.”
“You probably still got an A, though, right?”
He didn’t answer.
Which was the answer. “I guess there’s one advantage to not being a GG,” I muttered.
Liam said, “I’m sorry about your job, Re. I just couldn’t help myself. I didn’t plan to —”
“Shut up. I don’t want to know. It’s not just the job. It’s . . . everything.” It’s you, I didn’t say.
“I know.” He turned away. “Don’t you think I know?”
Did he? Did he realize how much I’d sacrificed for him? How long? What it’d cost me?
Once when I was little Dad let me try on his hunting jacket. It was huge; it hung to the floor, and it stank. But what I remember most was the weight. As if that coat would break my knees and drag me down and trap me inside and smother me. That’s how it felt with Liam. Like I was trapped. Suffocating.
Was that fair? No. Life wasn’t fair. Liam proved that.
A carload of cheerleaders and jocks emptied out by the door and headed inside, jostling and jockeying for position on the walkway. “I do not want to be here today,” I thought aloud. “I hate it here.”
Liam said, “We could go to the mall.”
I shot him a death look.
“Joking,” he said, shirking his left shoulder like I was going to hit him. I might. He added, “I took your advice and went alone yesterday.”
That shocked me. “How’d it go?” Don’t ask me why I cared.
He didn’t reply. Yes, he did. His face told the story.
“Oh God. What happened?”
He exhaled a long breath. “You don’t want to know.”
“You’re right. I don’t.” Go ahead, freeze me out. I grabbed the door handle.
“I only wanted to try on a dress.” His voice went flat. “They didn’t need to call security.”
My eyes squinched shut.
“Hey.” He brightened. “Do you want to come tonight? Meet Teri Lynn? She’s buying me dinner at the Palmer House.”
I twisted back and shook my head. “Expensive.”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you came along. You could eat whatever I didn’t want off my plate.”
I sneered at him. “I’m sure you two need to talk. Compare the size of your Adam’s apples, or whatever it is trannies do when they get together.”
Liam laughed. He actually laughed. I’d made him laugh.
It felt better than making him cry. But not much.
As I trudged down the hall, feeling wasted and depressed, I spotted Chris. He was the last person I wanted to run into today. I slowed to a stop. He was leaning against the bank of lockers opposite mine talking to Shannon and a couple of her ditzy friends. They laughed at some joke he made. Chris raised his head and fixed on me.
He pushed off the wall and headed my way. I panicked. I couldn’t deal with him. Saturday night was too raw, too sucky. I veered off down the opposite corridor toward the nearest girls’ restroom.
I started running. Made it. I locked myself in a stall and waited. Waited until the earth stopped spinning. Until the roar in my head subsided. Until I could stop breathing, stop shaking, stop wanting him so bad.
When the final bell rang in my Skills for Living class, it jolted me awake. Or aware. I didn’t even remember the day passing. I did recall my angel food cake flopping. The sticky mess I shoveled into the trash, then rinsed out the tube pan and hung up my apron. Mrs. Torres smiled sympathetically as she marked my grade for the day. I think we both knew culinary arts was not in my future. I wished I had a future.
There was a surprise waiting for me at home. A box on my bed. It was wrapped in flowery paper and topped off with a shimmering pink bow. My room smelled of roses. Littered all over my desk were eye shadow creams and mascara tubes and lipstick.
Damn her. Damn Luna. I meant it when I told her to stop using me.
She must’ve dressed in my room and left early for her dinner with Teri Lynn. She probably wanted to slip out before Dad got home. Still, she could dress in her own room. Buy a mirror.