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Clearly adept at solving minibattles, Mr. Henry disappears and then emerges again with a box cutter, some packing tape, and a handful of markers. Ten minutes later, there are two equally wonderful cars, each ready to transport its twin to “the mall,” “Grandma’s,” or “school,” as she wishes.
Ella sits tall and holds tight to the sides, surveying the scenery in her imagination. Madelyn opts to lounge back in the car, making it more like a moving bed, which enables her to stare at the ceiling. As Luke scoots her by my feet, I giggle at her serene expression, and wonder what she could be thinking about while lying there staring up at the sky.
And then something happens. A piece snaps into place.
Luke stops his parade float and turns to face me.
“You okay?” he asks quietly.
“Yes,” I say quickly. “Why?”
“You just jumped, like something scared you.”
“Go, GO!” Madelyn commands from inside the box, when she realizes that her chariot has stopped.
“Shhh,” Luke says gently to his sister. “Just a minute.” She does as he says, and Luke eases off the floor. He sits down next to me on the couch and takes my hand.
“Are you feeling all right?” he asks softly. “You look really pale.” He brushes a stray piece of hair out of my face, and I think I catch Mr. Henry grinning at us.
“I feel sick,” I say, louder than I mean to, grabbing the attention of two parents and twin toddlers. Now the whole Henry family is eyeing me, with varying degrees of curiosity and concern.
“Do you want to lie down, London?” Mrs. Henry says, in a way that makes me want to check my reflection. I can’t look that bad.
“No, I’m okay,” I reply. “I think I just need to go home.”
Luke stands, and the twins protest in unison. Mrs. Henry quiets the girls, while Mr. Henry walks us to the door. Outside, I take a deep breath of freezing air, and, though it burns my lungs, it helps. Luke holds open the door of the van for me and kisses my cheek before he closes it.
We spend the ride in silence, Luke glancing at me every so often with concern on his face. When we pull into my driveway, he offers to come in.
“Thanks, but I’m fine,” I say, wanting nothing more than to run inside.
“Is your mom home at least?” he asks, squinting toward the lighted window in the dining room.
“I’m sure she is,” I say, turning and adding, “thanks,” before slamming the door without so much as a kiss. I jog up the porch steps before Luke has the chance to get out of the car. Once inside the house, I go straight up to my bedroom, close the door, and get in bed fully clothed. Pulling the covers up to my neck, I squeeze my eyes shut and try to control my erratic breathing. I let my mind go to the damp cemetery; I let myself feel that I am there, standing in the midst of a sea of black.
I know from my notes that I’ve had some version of this funeral memory for a while. It has been building and growing in the depths of my brain, quietly reminding me that sometime, someone will die.
But until tonight, “someone” is all I knew.
Then Luke’s baby sister lying sweet and serene in a shipping box lit the fuse, and here I am seeing it plain as day: the smaller than usual hole in the ground before me, open wide and already swallowing a tiny coffin fit for the miniperson surely lying inside.
“Someone” is a child.
As if it couldn’t get worse, another thought punches me in the gut and beats me down to the point where I consider I might never get up again.
It’s hazy—a long time from now—but I do remember being pregnant.
What if it’s my child?
Isolated and terrified by what I remember, I pull the covers up tighter under my chin, because it’s all I can think to do.
My mom isn’t here; my dad is long gone. The only person in my life right now is a boy I can’t remember. And someday in my future, I will bury a child.
It is all too much.
On the way to Spanish, I check out the Winter Formal posters peppering the hallways; the event is tomorrow night. I know from notes that Luke is taking me, and after spending the last class period with the boy I’ve apparently been dating for nearly four months, I’m fine with that.
Tense, but fine.
In Spanish, we have a substitute teacher, and Jamie partners with Amber Valentine for pronunciation drills, leaving me to fend for myself against an angry senior TA named Andi who clearly had other plans for the period. I’m not sure what the prerequisites are for obtaining a teacher’s assistant gig, but obviously they don’t include being good at the subject you’re assisting with; Andi’s accent is worse than mine.
She’s rolled her eyes at me seventeen times and counting, according to the scratch list on my notepad. My revenge is not telling her about the green food particle wedged between her two front teeth.
After class, I rush to catch up with Jamie.
“Hi,” I say, when she realizes that I’m walking next to her toward the lunch hall.
“Hey,” she says flatly.
“How are you?” I ask, hoping to start mending fences.
“Fine,” she says, in an even flatter tone, if that’s possible. This is not the day for reconciliation.
“Listen, Jamie, I just wanted to thank you,” I offer.
“For what?” she asks, disinterested and avoiding eye contact. I think she just stepped farther away from me.
“For the number. My dad’s,” I say.
“Don’t mention it,” Jamie says as she turns in the opposite direction and leaves me standing still in the middle of the busy hallway.
Squeaky-clean, and clothed in a red cocktail dress that shows a little more skin than feels natural today, I tap the tune of “Chopsticks” on the antique table.
“You’ll wreck your polish,” my mom cautions from across the kitchen, nodding in the direction of my freshly painted nails. She’s leaning against the counter, watching me as she sips tea from a steaming mug.
I stop tapping but don’t reply.
“Are you nervous about the dance?” Mom asks, making conversation.
I hear the grandfather clock in the living room chime once for the half hour. He’ll be here any minute.
“I guess,” I say, tossing a curl over my shoulder. In truth, it’s not the dance I’m nervous about. It’s my life.
Trying to push away the darker thoughts, I focus on the notes before me, spread across the table like the diary of an amnesiac. I used the afternoon to study up on Luke as best I could, cramming more for this date than I will for the SAT later this year. Even still, I could forget something. That thought makes me uneasy; I read on.
My mom and I both jump at the sound of the doorbell.
“Want me to get it?” Mom asks when I stay frozen in my seat.
“Huh? Oh, no, I’ll go. I mean, I’m dating him, right?”
“Yep, you are,” she says warmly. “And he’s a very nice boy. You look beautiful, London. Have fun tonight.”
I walk toward the kitchen doorway as if my feet are lead and continue down the small hallway leading to the entryway. I turn right, open the door, and there he is.
There… he… is.
Tall but not too tall, trim but not buff, perfect hair, glorious eyes, looking comfortable in his simple black suit, even though I know from the notes that he’s more partial to rocker chic.