Authors: Carly Anne West
“Hey, Sophie D.”
I don’t stop walking. I’m already headed for the Sweep room. I just wish I could get there without having to talk to anyone. It’s nothing against Evan. He’s a junior too, and he recently transferred here from a private school on the other side of Phoenix. He knows all about Nell, so I can forget about that whole mysterious-new-friend-giving-me-a-fresh-start fantasy. The football players date the popular girls—the girls who used to call themselves Nell’s friends—so of course they brought Evan up to speed pretty quickly. She died six months ago, but the rumors live on. They may not talk to me, but they don’t whisper very quietly, either.
Evan’s never said anything to me about Nell, even if his ear has been soaked with a mouthful of gossip. Instead, he says my name in a cool-cat kind of way, like he believes I might be just as cool as he is. He’s in for a world of hurt. I’m nothing like Nell used to be. Not in the ways he’d like.
“Hey, look, I’m not trying to give you a hard time,” he says apologetically. I turn around as he trots to catch up. He is easily a foot taller than me (which really isn’t saying much since I’m only five foot two). His curly black hair is always messy, and today is no exception. But I never realized until now how pretty his eyes are, some sort of super-light brown, like amber.
“Seriously, I’m . . . ” he stammers. Usually, Evan just escorts me to Sweep and makes inane chitchat about how lame school
is or how Coach Tarza’s riding his ass like a jockey. I hardly know him, but for some reason I think he tries to sound like someone he’s not. Or maybe I’m just that desperate for someone to relate to. On this particular trip to Sweep, though, he doesn’t sound like he’s trying to be cool. His voice is deep, and even though I’m not cold, I have to brush the hairs down on my arms.
“Just doing your job?” I say jokingly, but it comes out angry. It seems like everything irritates me lately. I’m swearing more than I used to, which is quite an accomplishment considering I was already hitting the four-letter words pretty hard before all of this happened. My mom doesn’t notice like she used to, but it makes me sound like a shrew around everyone else. So when I see Evan’s face fall, I feel like a jerk.
“Nah, you get paid for a job. This is punishment for not making varsity,” he says in an easy, self-deprecating way, but something about his wrinkled brow tells me he’s actually embarrassed.
I’ve never seen someone popular look embarrassed. Nell never used to look embarrassed. She was into poetry, which should have exiled her to the Loners’ table at lunch with me, but she always just looked entitled. It went beyond confidence, yet somehow she dodged arrogance.
“Only seniors make varsity here,” I say, and he smiles a
little. His face is long, and his jawbones stick out like he’s clamping his teeth together even when he’s not. I can’t help but smile back at him. It feels like the first time in six months I’ve moved my mouth that way, and it hurts.
“So what you’re saying is I can’t be the guy who scores the winning touchdown, gets the girl, and drives into the sunset in some kick-ass new car like in the movies?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I laugh. “I mostly stick to the scary stuff. I’m a sucker for horror films, old ones mostly.”
It’s not really worth mentioning that I’ve been staying away from that kind of stuff since Nell died. It’s only fun when it doesn’t feel so . . . real.
Evan’s walking next to me now, and it feels like we should be holding hands or something. All at once, I’m desperate to cross my arms over my chest. I’m the only one in the family with big boobs and hips. Nell used to joke that my straight hair was the only flat thing on me. Lately, though, everything is loose and saggy on me.
We reach the Sweep room, and I’m barely used to the feeling of Evan beside me before he’s trotting backward down the hallway.
“Try to stay out of trouble, Sophie D.”
Then he stumbles a little, catches himself, and practically sprints around the corner. I’m still smiling when I open the door.
“Truancy is nothing to smile about,” Coach Tarza says, barely looking up from his month-old
I make a quick scan of the room before sitting at the desk closest to the door. It’s just me and the stoners today. The earthy smell of marijuana hangs in the air, and I can only hope for a contact high to dull my senses. There are thirty-five more minutes of skull-crushing silence before sixth period. We’re not allowed to do homework in Sweep, lest we try to turn our punishment into a study hall. So I’ll use this time to pick the split ends of my dyed hair.
When the bell finally jolts me back to consciousness, my heart skips heavily in my chest. I had traveled someplace with Evan Gold, and pretty much no one else for miles and miles. In my imagined existence, I discovered soft lips that traced mine and hands that cupped the small of my back and pulled my hips against his. I would have given anything to stay in that world just a little longer. If I knew what normal felt like, I bet that daydream would have been it.
My wrist doesn’t burn anymore. I remember feeling pain, then no pain at all, then pain again. The doctors stitched me up in a hurry, then gave me some time to get settled
(that’s how they put it) before bringing in some shrink.
The shrink seems to be the top guy around here. He had a concerned look, as if he practiced furrowing his brow. Too small of a crease in his forehead implies he’s cold. Too much tells me how crazy I really am. But the right crease says it all: It’s not my fault.
Apparently there’s not much hope for me, but he’s going to give me a chance at getting back to normal. Only he doesn’t use the word “I.” He says “we.”
going to try this or that.
going to take this slowly.
I don’t remember what day that was. Yesterday maybe. They’re letting me keep a journal. I guess they figure it’s hard for someone to hurt themselves writing, assuming the pencil is dull enough.
I still hear the murmurs, but like always, I can’t make out what the voice is saying. I can’t tell if I’m supposed to. The pills don’t do much to stop it. None of it really matters though. The voice didn’t make me break the glass. The thing in the mirror did. And what’s worse is that the doctors and nurses here seem to believe me. Not a single person has denied that what I saw—that what I’ve been hearing—is real.
OM’S PASSED OUT
in her bedroom. It’s too much to hope she’s actually gone back to work, especially since her car is parked in the driveway, same as when I left for school. I give myself a minute on the porch before unlocking the front door. Every time I’m about to go inside, I have a hard time catching my breath. It’s like my own house sucks the air straight from my body. But it’s still home, so I keep coming back. Where else would I go?
I check the voice mails hoping someone’s called Mom about a stylist job or a vacant booth for rent, and that this time, she’ll take it.
The stilted robotic voice informs me there are two new messages.
Yes, hi, Ms. David. This is Dr. Jeremy Keller at the Oakside Behavioral Institute. I’m calling to follow up on my previous messages. I understand this is a difficult time. We would like to do everything we can to ease you through this progression. When you can, please call us back at the main number, which I’m sure you still have. We would like very much to return Nell’s personal items, bearing in mind we have a policy about retaining such items for a limited time before disposing of them. There’s also something I’d like to speak with you about, something I believe is of importance concerning your daughter . . . your younger daughter. All right then. We’ll speak with you soon.
The robotic voice returns:
Miri, it’s Becca. I left you a message yesterday—about the booth opening at the salon down the street? You haven’t called me back. You haven’t called me in a while. Just . . . call me back. I need to know how you’re doing. Sophie, if you pick this up, have your mom call me. Love you. Love you both.
Aunt Becca is Mom’s older sister, but seems younger than Mom. She doesn’t have any kids, and she always treated me and Nell like her own in that loose, “fun aunt” way. Mom worked full-time doing hair and raised Nell and me on her own, giving us hell about our grades and nutrition and posture and stuff like that. Now she gives me hell about drinking her gin, but I don’t drink and she’d know that if she didn’t drink either.
Mom took a leave of absence from the salon after Nell was sent to Oakside Behavioral Institute. She was finally getting ready to go back to work when we got the call from the sheriff’s office in Yavapai County. Since then, Aunt Becca’s been leaving Mom messages on our voice mail and sticking little notes in the front door, making sure she’s okay. A lot of good that’s doing. I’m just the go-between.
I save both messages for Mom, knowing she won’t listen to them. I wonder if she even remembers the code to access our voice mail. She used to get so mad at Nell and me when we’d forget to check messages.
“What if I’d left you an urgent message?” she used to say in that nervous voice that meant she’d already gotten over her irritation and moved on to exasperation. Never mind that we each had a cell phone. Mom, only got one of her own after Nell was committed and Oakside convinced her that they needed to be able to reach her. The Yavapai County sheriff called Mom’s cell when they found Nell’s body next to the Museum of Copper Mining. She’d been hanging from a ponderosa pine dangling by her big toe, arms at her side like an upside-down soldier. Mom hasn’t touched her phone since then.
I find Mom asleep in her room next to an open bottle of Ambien, her hair still rolled up in a bath towel. She must’ve
showered at some point in the day, but she didn’t get much further than that, and she’s wearing her terry-cloth bathrobe. Mom used to take really good care of herself. She would wear plum-colored liner around the edges of her green eyes to make them even greener. Her brown hair is wavy, unlike mine, which is thick but straight as a board. She has the deepest laugh lines of anyone I know. They form giant parentheses around her lips. While she sleeps, her mouth turns up at the corners like a cat’s. She actually looks happy.
Open your eyes
, I think.
Open your eyes and stay smiling.
I touch her shoulder, and she breathes in with a gasp.
“Mom.” I squeeze her shoulder a little.
She makes a kind of growling sound. Her mouth pulls down, puckering her chin.
“Mom, I’m going to get the box at Oakside, okay?”
She reaches a hand out and brushes my wrist clumsily.
“No, no, honey. I’ll get that.”
It’s the first time she’s called me anything other than Sophie in a while. I like how “honey” sounds like someone who could fall apart in front of her mom and not worry that she would crumble to pieces too. “Honey” could tell her mother that she’s terrified of losing her mind like Nell, that she might already be starting to. But since Nell died, I have to play parent, which means I have to go pick up the box of
Nell’s things before the next voice mail message convinces me that my life won’t ever be good again. Or convinces her that she has another crazy daughter who could just as easily be tucked away in a loony bin. And because I know Mom won’t be the one to pick up the box, and she won’t stop me when I do.
“I’m taking the car, okay?” She’s drifting off again, so I don’t wait for her answer.
I’m just grabbing Mom’s keys off the hook by the door when the phone rings. I’d almost forgotten about the other voice mail.
“Hey, Aunt Becca. She’s sleeping,” I say without the customary hello. I’m not in the mood to answer questions about Mom today.
“Uh, is this Sophie?”
Definitely not Aunt Becca. The voice is deep and familiar, but I can’t quite place it. It’s not like there’ve been many calls for me lately.
“I . . . who is this?”
“It’s Evan. I didn’t have your cell number, but you’re . . . I Googled you.”
My heart starts thumping the way it did in my Sweep room daydream. But this is a different Evan than in my fantasy. He sounds nervous, way more than he does in school.
“I looked you up in the school directory. You weren’t listed, so I went online. I hope that’s not weird, Googling you I mean, because, you know, it’s not like you gave me your number, and—” he says all in a single breath. “Sorry. I caught you at a bad time.”
Neither of us says anything. It sounds like he’s getting ready to hang up.
“Wait,” I say, then continue, trying not to sound so desperate, “you caught me off guard, but it’s okay. What’s up?”
“I . . . uh . . .” Now Evan seems really nervous, like he has absolutely no idea what’s up, like he’s never known what’s up.
“I was thinking of . . . what was I saying?”
“I don’t . . .,” I start, but I have no idea how to finish. He’s never acted this way with me before.
“Can I come over?”
“Actually, I was just on my way out.”
“Oh.” He sounds genuinely disappointed. Then there’s a long pause, like he’s waiting for me to say more.
I can’t stand the thought of ending this bizarre conversation offending him. “I guess maybe you could—”
“I’ll come with you. I’ll be right over.” He hangs up before I can finish saying that maybe he could come over
I get back. The busy signal starts. He’s coming over. Right now. To go with me.
“Oh my God.”
He can’t go to Oakside with me.
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit!” I pace the kitchen floor. Why didn’t I stop him? Why didn’t I say something? Anything? Now I’m going to have to tell him to leave when he gets here. And I really don’t want to tell him to leave. Because even though that was probably the most uncomfortable conversation in history, I already miss the way his voice sounded.
Evan drives up fifteen minutes later in an old white Ford Probe. They don’t even make them anymore, but somehow, it still looks sporty. I pull on my denim jacket, which smells like old tomato sauce. I consider leaving it, but it’s starting to get chilly in the evenings.