I didn’t laugh. It wasn’t funny.
Everything Luna said swirled around in my head, mixing with my own thoughts and memories. I was more confused than ever about Mom. Was she a monster, or a martyr? Or just a mother. Had I jumped to the wrong conclusion about her? I hoped so. God, I hoped so.
Luna babbled on about all the surgical procedures she planned to have — an Adam’s apple shave and a facial contour. I tuned in to hear her say, “I can’t wait to grow out my hair. I’m so sick of wearing wigs.”
“What about school?” I interrupted. “You’re just going to blow it off? And college? All your scholarships.”
“I can’t think about that right now.” She downed the rest of her coffee. Setting the cup on the table between us, she added, “I think I have enough credits to graduate. And if not, I’ll take my equivalency exam. But college . . .” She shook her head again. “It’s not time yet. I need time for me.”
“Yeah, you,” I snarled. “It’s all about you. It always is.”
Her eyes found mine, but I couldn’t hold them. My vision blurred, scattered, to the ceiling, the floor, the counter, menu, signs, phones, anywhere but her. I couldn’t deal with this. I didn’t want to.
Luna reached across the table and touched my arm. “This has been a burden on you, hasn’t it, Re?”
“No.” A lemon lodged in my throat.
“You know I’m doing this as much for you as for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think you know.”
I didn’t. I didn’t know. My pulse quickened. My heart exploded. “I take it all back. Everything. I didn’t mean any of those things I said to you. You can use my room whenever you want. You can dress at school. I don’t care. I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to leave.”
“I have to,” she said.
“No, you don’t!” I was practically screaming. My chest hurt. My throat burned. How could she? How could she do this, just pick up and go? She had a life here. She had me. She had . . .
“What about Aly?” I said.
“What about her?”
“You’re going to leave without telling her?”
“I e-mailed her.”
“Oh, you e-mailed her.” I mocked Luna. “That should make her feel good, feel important. She’s okay with it. Or will be. She just needs time.”
“It’s time I don’t have,” Luna said, squeezing my arm. “I can’t wait. For anyone.”
No. She couldn’t do this! I jerked away. “How can you leave?” I said again. “How can you go?”
She tilted her head and said softly, “How can I stay?”
Our eyes held for a long, hard minute. Then, folding her arms around herself, Luna added, “We’ll end up hating each other.”
“I could never hate you. You’re my brother.”
“Not you. Dad.”
Dad. It always came back to him. She was right. I couldn’t keep it in anymore; I burst into tears.
“Oh, Re.” Luna slid out her side of the booth and came around the table. She scooted in next to me.
“Please,” I sobbed, “don’t go. He’ll come around.”
“Maybe,” Luna said calmly. “I hope so. But I need to do this now.”
My tears intensified. She looped an arm around my shoulders and I fell into her. I let her hold me. “This isn’t their fault, okay?” she said.
She’d read my mind; I hated them so much.
“It’s nobody’s fault. I don’t want you blaming them. This is what the goddess meant for me to be. I just haven’t figured out why.”
My tears couldn’t be stanched.
Luna arced across the table and grabbed her briefcase off the seat. She dug out a packet of travel tissues and removed one. Shaking it out, she handed it to me. “Don’t leave me here,” I pleaded. “Take me with you.”
She ran her hand down the back of my head. “No.”
I added in a whimper, “What am I going to do without you?”
“Live,” she said. “Be happy.”
“I can’t!” I cried. I collapsed onto her lap, a heap of flesh and bone and blubbering mass. “I can’t.”
“Please, Re,” she whispered hoarsely. “Don’t do this. Don’t make me bawl. Once I start . . .”
I felt her chest rise and fall. She rubbed my back, held me until I could raise my head enough to blow my nose. People were staring at us, but I didn’t care. I didn’t give a damn what anybody thought.
An announcement echoed in the concourse: “America West Flight 337 bound for Phoenix and continuing on to Seattle/ Tacoma will begin boarding in just a few minutes. Ticketed passengers should proceed through security.”
Luna gently pushed me off her and removed the boarding pass from her briefcase. My stomach churned. “That’s not mine.” She stuck the ticket back into the front pocket. Smiling at me, she said, “Let’s talk about something cheery. Tell me more about your hottie new boyfriend.”
I swiped the corners of both eyes with my palms. “He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Yet.” She wiggled her eyebrows.
A lady with an oxygen tank rolled past our booth and frowned at us. I curled a lip at her. “Where’d you go last night?” Luna asked.
“What? Oh. Out to dinner. To the movies.”
“What did you see?”
“I have no idea.”
I elbowed her. “It wasn’t because of that. We didn’t stay long.”
“Mmm,” she went again.
I clucked my tongue.
There was another announcement about security regulations, not leaving your luggage unattended. Luna asked, “Are you going out with him again?”
My brain shifted into gear. I was concentrating so hard last night at dinner on not slopping spaghetti sauce all over myself that I’d completely forgotten what Chris had talked about. His invitation. His mother’s wedding. “Yeah,” I said. “Next Saturday. His mom’s getting married and he wants me to come with him to the wedding, then afterward to the reception.”
“Ooh, that sounds like fun.”
“Yeah, loads.” A thought barreled through my brain. “Wouldn’t it be a total freak-o-rama if Mom was her wedding planner?”
I crossed my eyes at her. Panic rose in my chest. “What am I going to wear? I’ve never even been to a wedding. How do you act? What do you do?”
“There’s a box for you in the car,” Luna said. “Open it when you get home. Throw out everything you own and start over. Put some color in your life, Re. You need it. As for how to act, that’s easy. Be yourself.”
“Be myself. Right. I don’t even know who I am.”
“United Airlines Flight 875 to Seattle will now begin boarding at Gate Four. Passengers who have not already done so should proceed through security —”
Luna slid out of the booth and stood. I staggered to my feet. She took my hand, both hands, and smiled into my eyes. “I know who you are,” she said. “You’re my baby sister, Regan. My beautiful baby sister. I’ve always been so jealous of you.”
“I have. You’re beautiful.”
“You are.” She seemed surprised at my reaction. “Haven’t you ever looked at yourself?” She dropped my hands and fisted her hips. “Regan O’Neill —”
“Like I could get any mirror time.”
“Look at me.” She lifted my chin with an index finger. “You are beautiful. Inside and out. You’re kind and generous, compassionate and caring. You’re the most caring person in the world. You saved me; you know you did. If you hadn’t been there for me, Re, all those years . . .” Her voice faltered. My eyes filled with tears. We both had to look away.
Luna lowered her head and spoke directly to me, only to me, when she added, “Don’t you know, you’re the girl I always wanted to be.”
I bit my quivering lip.
Luna scurried around to gather her things. “We have to go.” I collected trash from the table; tried to collect myself. We followed the signs to the security checkpoint and queued up together at the end of the line. The man and woman in front of us both did a double take at Luna. She smiled at them and said, “I hope my eyelash curler doesn’t set off the metal detector.”
They dropped their stares. I smacked Luna. She stepped out of line and pulled me to the side. “I almost forgot.” Jamming her hand into the front pocket of her slacks, she retrieved her keys, grabbed my wrist, and set the keys in my palm. “It’s yours.”
My jaw unhinged. “What?”
“I won’t be needing it. I’ll probably buy a new one. Maybe a VW. A rusty retro Bug I can fix up.” She grinned.
Was she joking?
“Do you remember the code for the door lock?”
I remembered. It was a song now.
“In case you forget, I coded it into the screensavers at home. The numbers are scrolling across all the monitors.”
She was giving me her Spyder? No way.
She folded my stiff fingers over the keys.
“Next, please.” The security guard waggled her fingers at us. Luna faced me square on. “Don’t say good-bye,” she ordered, her voice threatening. “This isn’t good-bye. It’s hello. I think of it as a new beginning because that’s what it is for me. A rebirth. I’m starting my life over. The next time we meet, you won’t even know me.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I murmured.
“Oh, Re.” She exhaled exasperation, as if I were a child. Which is exactly the way I felt. Small. Lost. In trouble. She set down her briefcase and removed the carry-on from her shoulder. Laying the coat across the cases, she clenched my arms and said, “You’re not losing me. I’ll always be here for you. You got that?” She shook me a little. “I’ll e-mail you every day, and you’d better e-mail me back. We could chat live, say at mid-night?”
“Forget it. I plan to be sleeping — for once. But I will e-mail you. I promise.”
Luna and I looked into each other’s eyes, then spontaneously embraced. We held each other as if our lives depended on it. “I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too.”
She broke away and picked up her gear. For a harrowing moment as the guard checked her ID and boarding pass, I feared she’d be detected. Rejected.
Would that fear always be with me? Be with her?
The guard let her through. Luna took two steps and wheeled around. Her eyes found mine and she smiled. An aura framed her, a glow. Her whole body seemed to be backlit as she blew me a kiss.
I felt it land, a brush of butterfly wings against my cheek. It lifted me up, away. All at once the weight of the world dissolved and I felt myself expand, grow. The same way Luna must feel to be free, I realized. She’d freed us both.
I watched her until she passed beyond the metal detector and headed for her gate. She walked tall, proud.
I was proud. To be her sister. Her friend.
Suddenly, it struck me — I’d never see my brother again. Liam. A hole opened in my heart. A hollow place, a cavern. “It’s okay,” my inner voice said softly. “He’ll be okay. He’s happy.”
I wanted that. More than anything in the world, I wanted my brother to be happy.
A part of him would never leave me. His strength. His courage. The essence of who he was as a person.
I took a step back, then another. I turned around. I walked, walked faster. Ran. Toward the door. The exit. The entrance. “Good-bye, Liam.” I spoke the words aloud so their music filled my head: “Hello, Regan.”