Hands, hearts, hugs.
I am bombarded at every turn. But I don’t know these hands, these hearts, these hugs. They are peripheral, the entire senior class only seen through the corner of my vision. None of them are the hands, hearts, and hugs I want.
“So, sorry, Jess.”
“Really sucks, Jess.”
“How does shit like this happen?”
Best question of the day. How. Does. Shit. Like. This. Happen. And it begins. A collapsing. All of me, falling slowly in on myself.
The day everything changed started out like every other day. I was in trouble again. I shut my eyes, but it was no use. When I opened them Dad was still there in the Grand Hall with his nose curled up like he’d just stood in something nasty. I call this his troll-poop face. He pulls it a lot. Today, as well as pulling the troll-poop face, he was doing the finger wag. The finger wag means I’m in real trouble.
Life’s a bad writer, my father used to say. I think he meant that most of us would write our lives differently, given the chance. If I could choose one year to rewrite, it’d be my senior year of high school, and I’d probably start with that first shack party.
Or I might go even further and make Sid stay in the valley. I always wondered how it would have worked out if the five of us had stayed together. Who knows, maybe Sid could have been the one to stop me from making such a mess of things.
I have never been good at beginnings, which is one of my many shortcomings. Starting with childhood seems very romantic, like a true bildungsroman, but I don’t really remember half my childhood due to being a baby, and I’m not about to rely on Ginny’s accounts of what I was like, because she did not care for having a baby sister and once covered me in Vaseline when Mom left us alone in the playroom. So I suppose I will start on that sunny Saturday in September when I first realised how acutely I wanted to murder my sister.
I hear the word under Autumn Carey’s breath behind me. I guess I earned it by daring to walk ahead of her to reach the dining hall door. I cut her off while she was examining her reflection in her phone’s camera, trying to decide if her new bangs were a bad choice. Which they were. Part of me wants to whilr around and tell Autumn I don’t have the entirety of lunch to walk behind her, but I don’t.
This paper plane was near perfect.
Crisp edges, a pointy nose, and just the right weight. I held it up, closing my left eye to aim it toward the stage. Rose Carver and her short-brimmed black hat were in fine form today, a perfect target, her face lit up beatifically by the stage lights. As she went on about junior prom announcements, I grew more confident.
My mother hid the knife block.
In hindsight, that was the first sign. And then, two nights ago, she locked her bedroom door. It had to be subconscious, but still, I didn’t want to think too hard about what she was secretly thinking. I guess that was the second sign. And now there was a suitcase on my bed. Which wasn’t really a sign at all. It was the actual event.
Henry calls me at 12:01 the night before homecoming. Or technically – and assuming the alarm clock I knock off my nightstand once a day is even in the right time zone – the morning of homecoming.
“Cleveland. I need you. Put some pants on.”
I pause the third episode in my Air Crash Investigation marathon. I’m supposed to be writing the world’s most uninteresting article for The Lion Ledger, our school paper, but literal fiery death is better than forcing myself to care about city council elections. “Who says I’m not wearing pants?”
“Come on. I know you’re not.”
I dangle one hand off the bed, snag a pair of black-and-white cow-print pajama bottoms, and wrestle into them. “I totally am.”
“You are now.”
She is a ghost ship sailing the mud of the mountain.
She is a spectre parting the shrouding mists.
She is a shadow upon a midnight river, she is the eye of the storm.
In her hand, a heavy portmanteau. She drops it every few steps to catch her breath and pull her cloak closer about her face. Even her bonnet is black. She is searching for a dwelling that she is beginning to think might not be there after all.