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Friday morning


Emily tugged her sleeve down into place, but she could still see the cut. It was thick, red, and angry. Not thin and healing like some of the others. Probably she should have used butterfly Band-Aids or derma glue or something when she realized how deep it was, but there hadn’t been any in the house, and she didn’t dare tell anyone about it. At least she’d gotten the bleeding to stop and flushed the bloody paper towels down the toilet before anyone could stumble on the evidence.

The fabric of her sleeve was scratchy against the cut, and she was afraid the irritation might open it up again. She was going to have to bandage it. And change. Long sleeves. Three-quarter-length at the very least. Nothing else was going to hide it.

The temperatures had been stupidly, unseasonably warm for New York in April. Someone would remark on the long sleeves.

Then again, maybe not. With Mom gone … it wasn’t like Dad or Jared paid any attention. Her brother was too busy being angry and Dad was gone more than home. As always. Probably, she could go slowly mad and no one would notice. She wasn’t so sure it wasn’t happening already.

But maybe tonight some kind of sanity would return. Mom was coming back for her and Jared for the first time since she’d left after that horrible final fight with Dad, when Jared had hustled her off to the neighbor’s house before she could step between them like she always did. Or tried to. Sometimes the door was slammed in her face. Sometimes she saw …


Fighting. People fought. Sometimes they got a little emotional. Things were thrown. Fists. Other things. It happened … right?

No, wrong. Absolutely wrong.

Her cut throbbed, the pain bringing her back to now. Like it always did. The pain centered her. She knew that was messed up. She knew she’d be in trouble if anyone found out. She knew she had to stop.

The bathroom door jumped in its frame as someone pounded on it, and Emily jumped with it.

“Em, enough already!” Jared called from the other side. “I need to get in there too.”

Had she locked the door? She was sure she had.

“Crap,” she said under her breath. Then, “Hold your horses. I’ll be right there.”

She grabbed her make-up and rushed to the door before he could open it and catch her, just in case …

It had been locked, but it didn’t make any difference now. She turned the lock and yanked open the door, glaring at him. Things had been so much easier when she was still in middle school and had an extra hour to herself in the morning.

“Here,” she said, “you happy?”

“Ecstatic,” he answered.

“Ooh, big word.”

“I learned it from you,” he said, standing aside so she could head out and leave the bathroom to him.

But he watched her go, like he knew something was up. Was it her imagination, or was he looking at her left arm? She tugged self-consciously at her sleeve and double-timed it to her room.

She had Band-Aids in her sock drawer, so she took care of her cut before picking out a long-sleeved t-shirt in basic black and the ivory scarf her mother had given her with Emily Dickinson poems printed on it. Mom said she was named for the Emilys—Dickinson and Brontë—which was both cool, because they were seriously awesome and edgy for their times, and a burden. Like she carried the weight of expectation.

She shook it off and headed for the kitchen, hoping to have it to herself, but surprised to find Dad still there. He stood in the breakfast nook staring out the sliding glass doors onto their concrete slab patio with the phone pressed to his ear. Mom used to call Dad her bear. Backlit as he was, Emily could almost see it. Only instead of a teddy bear right now, he looked more like a grizzly, big and bristling.

“We’ll talk about it tonight,” he said into the phone. It was his angry voice, like his breath was being forced out through clenched teeth.

Emily wondered whether she should head back to her room, give him some privacy, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to walk away. It had to be Mom on the other end of the phone. She was the only person Dad talked to like that. And sometimes Jared. Hardly ever Emily. Mom and Dad must have loved each other once to make each other so crazy now. If only they could remember that.

But whatever Mom said, Dad exploded. “Diane, I said we’ll talk tonight. I’m not getting into this over the phone when I have Jared and Emily to get out the door and off to school by myself because you left. And I have to get myself to work. You know, that thing that keeps the roof over our heads.”

He listened for half a second before spitting out, “Goodbye, Diane,” and mashing his finger down on the hang-up button.

Emily flinched as Dad whirled around before she could retreat, arm raised as though he was ready to throw the phone across the room. He stopped when he spotted her staring. Her eyes were probably as big as dinner plates. That was how they felt.

“Um, hey,” she said lamely.

Dad’s face transformed, the rage on it falling away like he’d dropped a curtain. So fast she couldn’t be sure she’d seen it at all. Or that it had been as high-intensity as she’d thought if he could shut it down so quickly.

“Oh, honey,” he said in an entirely different voice than the one he’d just used on Mom. Gentle, sad. “I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

He took a step toward her and Emily didn’t move. Part of her wanted the hug it looked like he was about to give. He’d hugged her less and less recently, like it was weird now that she had boobs. Like that somehow made her untouchable. Part of her missed being Daddy’s little girl. Another part yelled at her to grow up.

“What are you going to talk about later?” she asked, unable to help herself. He already knew she’d overheard him. There was no use pretending.

The question stopped Dad in his tracks, and Emily missed the hug she’d headed off. She wrapped her arms around herself instead. It would have felt disloyal to Mom to hug Dad now anyway.

He wouldn’t meet her gaze as he answered, “Adult stuff.”

“You always say that, but if it’s about me and Jared, we have the right to know.”

“It’s not about you,” he said. “You need to grab something to eat and start getting ready for school. Do you want me to toast you a waffle?”

Did she? Like the hug, it felt disloyal to Mom to accept anything from him, like saying everything was okay, like the way he talked to Mom.

On the other, he was the only parent she had right now.

Torn, Emily just shrugged. Let him make of that whatever he wanted.

“Syrup and strawberry jelly?” he asked.

She was surprised that he’d noticed. And touched enough to nod. It was just a waffle. It wasn’t anything like taking sides.

Friday morning


Jared stood under the water of the shower longer than he should have, knowing he was wasting water. But getting out meant getting on with the day, and that seemed especially rough this morning. He reminded himself that at least he’d see Aaliyah at school if not over the weekend, because … Mom.

He was excited to see her tonight, and angry at himself for being excited. She’d left them. For good reason, maybe, but he couldn’t help feeling that she should have fought harder to stay. Or taken them with her. He knew that wasn’t fair, that she’d left in the heat of the moment, without even a plan about where to go. But nothing he told himself made him feel any better.

He kept looking for Mom, expecting her in the mornings when he got up or when he arrived home. It hurt every time he remembered she was gone, and not just at the library where she worked a few days a week. Dad he never expected and didn’t necessarily want. When he was home, he was busy finding fault with everything Jared did. He’d yell about homework, but never actually offer to help. He’d rant about Jared’s messy room with no idea that between track, homework and his girlfriend, Jared hardly ever got to bed before midnight, even though he had to be up and out by seven for school. Mom knew, because she was the one driving him everywhere or, for the past few months since he got his permit, teaching him to drive. And now she was gone.

But she was coming tonight. And taking them away for the whole weekend, which meant no Aaliyah, and …

Screw it.

Jared struck the shower handle to shut off the flow of water and let his forehead fall against the wall. He gave himself a few seconds of pity. Three, two, one. Then he bucked himself off the wall, threw open the shower curtain and grabbed for the towel. He raked it through his short hair, leaving it sticking up at all angles, and then wiped down his body, wrapping the towel around his waist.

He hit the fan on his way out of the bathroom so that the condensation would clear by the time he was dressed and back to shave, though given how he was feeling, maybe it was best not to try to shave today. It wasn’t like anyone would notice. His friend Danny had a whole almost-beard already, but all Jared had were a few stragglers, hardly enough for a goatee, which was okay, really, because he was certainly no hipster, and hair was friction.

When he got to the kitchen, dressed and shaved despite himself with only a single nick, he was surprised to find Dad still home, and Emily with a stack of half-eaten waffles. There was another stack in front of his usual place at the table, even though Jared didn’t eat waffles, unless he was carb-loading before a race. They burned off too quickly, leaving him asleep at his desk. Not that Dad could be expected to know that.

He looked at his father. “What’s this?”

His father glanced at his plate and then up at him, a smile on his face. A smile. “Smart guy like you, I’d think you’d know waffles when you see them.”

The urge to smile back tugged at him, but he resisted. Something was up. “I mean, why are they here?”

“Breakfast,” Dad answered, the smile falling off his face. Good. It had looked odd there. “I made some for Emily, and thought I’d make you some as well.”

“Thanks?” Jared said. He didn’t know what else to say. He’d have to grab one of his protein bars on the way out to actually hold him over, but he supposed a few waffles wouldn’t hurt anyone, even though Dad was acting strange. Maybe he was honestly trying to be a good parent, give them a sense of normalcy. Or maybe he was just trying to score some points before they had Mom back to compare him to.

When Danny’s parents got divorced last year, they’d played that game. The Who’s Best game, complete with presents and pizza, ice cream and outings. Danny and his brothers had milked it.

Jared sat down at his place at the table, which also, miraculously, had orange juice waiting, and reached for the butter, hoping the waffles were still hot enough to melt it. He hated when butter sat congealed in the pockets. But there was always the microwave to give things a boost. His father watched him while he doctored his waffles until he couldn’t take it anymore.

“What?” he asked, putting down his knife and staring back at his Dad.

“I just can’t get over what a young man you’ve become.”

Jared bit back the first remark that wanted to rise up, that if his father paid more attention it wouldn’t be such a shock. He didn’t trust the new, dadlier Dad, but he was afraid to say anything and shut down whatever this was. Dad might use it as an excuse never to try again. “Uh, thanks?” he said again, for lack of anything better.

Then he cut a big bite and shoved waffles into his mouth so he couldn’t be expected to make more conversation. Emily kicked him under the table, as if telling him to be nice. Like kicking was nice.

“What time is Mom coming tonight?” she asked Dad.

The look on Dad’s face made it hard to believe Jared had ever seen a smile on it at all. “Around two thirty when you both get home from school, but she won’t be taking you off right away, so you’ll have time to pack. She and I have a few things to discuss, so we’re going to do that over dinner. Gran is going to watch you while we’re out.”

Gran? Jared stared at his father in disbelief. “Dad, I’m almost sixteen; Emily’s fourteen. We don’t need a babysitter.”

“Oh no? What if something happens? I want a driver in the house.”

“Dad, nothing’s going to happen, and if it does, we’ll call 911. We’ve known that since we were kids.”

Dad gave him that look that dared him to say another word. Just dared him. “It’s already done. I want you back here after school.”

Jared looked away, because he knew that if he looked at Dad, he’d glare, and that was as good—or as bad—as challenging him outright. At least in Dad’s eyes.

“There’s no practice on Fridays anyway,” he mumbled.

Then he shoveled the last of the waffles into his mouth, downed the last of the juice, and threw his dishes in the sink.

His father half rose from the table, about to get on him, he knew, for not rinsing and putting things right into the dishwasher.

“I’ll take care of it when I get home,” he said over his shoulder, as he jammed his feet into the untied sneakers he had ready by the door and grabbed his backpack. He was out of the house before his father could make an issue of it. Leaving Emily behind. Not that she’d be long behind. They both had a bus to catch. Anyway, she didn’t have the same trouble with Dad that he did. Maybe it was because she was a girl, though that didn’t seem to matter in Mom’s case. Maybe it was because she was the good kid. The one who got the grades and pretty much did what she was asked without arguing. He couldn’t quite manage the same thing.

Whatever. In a couple more years he’d be eighteen and out of there.

He stopped a block away and set down his backpack to tie his shoes. It wasn’t good for his feet or ankles for him to go around with his shoes untied. He didn’t want to risk tripping or otherwise screwing himself up. Track and Aaliyah were his only excuses to get out of the house, and Dad didn’t always find his girlfriend an acceptable excuse. Dad used her more like the carrot and the stick. You want to see your girlfriend, you’ll make sure this room is clean.

Or If I see one more missing homework, there are no more date nights for you. I have to feed and clothe you, but I’m not obligated to drive you anywhere or give you money you’re old enough to start making for yourself. Speaking of which, I don’t want to see another B. Not a single one. No excuses. I don’t have money to pay for college, especially with this damned divorce, so if you’re going—and you don’t have any other options, because you’re not staying here forever and you can’t live on minimum wage—you’re going to need a scholarship. That means all As, all the time.

Because, yeah, he really needed to be more terrified about the future. Already he didn’t know how bad things would get with the divorce. Would they have to sell the house to divide assets? Would he and Emily be shuttled back and forth between apartments? Would they have to deal with … urg, he couldn’t even think about his parents actually dating again. The custody crap was going to play hell with his job prospects and his time with Aaliyah, even if and when he got his license and his own wheels.

Mom had just moved out of Aunt Aggie’s one-bedroom apartment, where she’d been crashing on the couch, into her own place nearby, which was still forty-five minutes away from them. According to Emily, anyway. Jared hadn’t been able to bring himself to talk to Mom since she’d left.

Abandoned them.

He got it. She’d had to go. He knew that in his head. His heart wasn’t so easily convinced, especially when in a deep-down part of himself he didn’t even want to admit to, he was more than hurt, he was jealous. Mom had gotten out. He was stuck at home where nothing he did or said was right. Nothing.

But maybe … Well, they’d find out this weekend. Maybe Mom would come back to town and sue for full-time custody and he and Emily wouldn’t have to worry about living in limbo, leaving half of their lives behind everywhere they went. But he didn’t really believe it. Mom hadn’t worked more than a part-time job since Emily was born. He had no idea how she’d support herself, let alone them. The fear and uncertainty of the situation ate at him worse than pre-race jitters, gnawing at his belly, poking holes for the acid to rush in. It pooled like hot lava in the pit of his stomach.

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