I was relieved when the Levitt’s house came into view. All I wanted to do was curl up into bed and forget today ever happened: erase Carson’s mournful eyes from my memory, if only for the night. Perhaps all of this would seem more manageable in the morning because right now… right now there was only a hollowness that crackled with a slow burning fire.
The vehicle began to crawl as we approached the old southern home, Jay’s eyes focused intently on the porch, “Do you want me to walk you to the door?”
A figure paced the wooden planks, shrouded in shadows. Given the tone of tonight, I couldn’t blame Jay’s heightened suspicion, but I knew those broad shoulders. They belonged to Christopher. Digging into my cardigan I pulled out my phone.15 missed calls. A dozen text messages from Christina, and three from Christopher. His were calm and composed; his sister’s hysterical and accusing.
Christopher didn’t look composed now.
Jay’s focus switched from me to Christopher and back again. My panic stricken expression must have given him the wrong impression; I could see the worry wearing lines on his forehead, “What do you want me to do?”
But I had already taken off my seat belt and pushed the car door open, bathing us in the dim glow of the dome light. “Nothing, Jay. It’s my boyfriend. I’ll be fine. Thank you for everything.”
Christopher was making his way down the steps by the time I slammed the door shut, “Have fun with Jay?”
There’s an undercurrent to the question like I had committed a sin, and any understanding I possessed fluttered away, “Yup. So much fun.”
“What were you guys doing?”
“Oh, you know, he took me on a date before I let him have his way with me.” I watched his stare become blank, his jaw slack, but my mind is hazy, limbs heavy, and I can’t bring myself to care. “I’m tired, we can talk tomorrow.” Is the best I am capable of as I head onto the porch.
Christopher’s calloused hand latches onto my arm, impeding my departure. The pressure isn’t painful. Jay steps out of his car, arms crossed.
“Are you serious?”
“Do you really think I would do that?” I ask.
There’s a moment of hesitation before, “What am I suppos’d to think?”
“I don’t know what you’re supposed to think, ‘Topher. What I do know is you’re supposed to trust me.” I reclaim my arm, retreating into the slumbering household.
I collapse into a bed that smells faintly of dirt and rain; of freshly cut grass. It smells like Christopher.
I wake up with a pit in my stomach, the vile product of guilt and regret. The scent of sugar and chocolate greets me with a heavy hand. I make my way downstairs, still in last night’s clothes, prepared for the blonde in the kitchen to bite my head off. She doesn’t disappoint.
“Where the heck did you go last night!” Christina wields a wooden spoon. There’s a dark viscous substance coating her utensil – cake batter if I had to guess. Judging from the sheer amount of macarons already adorning the table I can only conclude that Christina has been awake for several hours.
I don’t want to fight, but I don’t want to talk about him either, “I’m sorry I bailed on your engagement dinner, ‘Tina, but I promise that something important came up.”
Christina returned to her baking, aggressively mixing the contents of the bowl together, “‘Topher saw you leave with Jay. What is going on between you two? Why lie about talking to Jay only to sneak off with him?”
I want to scream at her, tell her that we weren’t sneaking anywhere. That I didn’t speak to Jay regularly, and I hadn’t been lying. Instead, I snort, “You’re the reason Christopher thinks I hooked up with Jay last night.”
“What else would you be doing with your ex-boyfriend until 3 in morning? I’m sure it’s common in San Myshuno to -”
“What are you talking about! I told you I was still a virgin and even if I wasn’t, that doesn’t make me a cheater!”
Christina spun on her heels, petite hands balled up into fists at her side, “Then answer the question, Willow!”
I reach into my cardigan and pull out a pink slip of paper. The bowl rattles as I slam my hand, open palm, onto the kitchen counter beside Christina. “This is where I was last night.” The edges are crumpled, but the sigil of the Newcrest police department is clear as day, front and center. It’s a voucher for my mother’s necklace, the only thing Jay let me leave with despite my protests.
The edge to Christina’s words dulls, “I didn’t know.”
“It doesn’t matter. How could you think that?”
“You put me in an awkward position, Will! When things like this happen I have to choose between defending you and protecting my brother.”
“So, what? You don’t approve of me dating Christopher?”
“You wouldn’t know because you didn’t even bother to ask me!” Christina’s voice is shrill, her hands thrown up before they crashed down onto her hips.
“Ask you? We’re adults, Christina. I don’t need to ask your permission to date anyone and neither does he!”
“He’s my brother! You’re my best friend! You didn’t even tell me that you were going on a date with him!”
“I can’t do this.”
It’s not a lie. The hollowness is back and I can feel myself dangling over its edge. Christina’s voice follows me through the foyer but is cut off once there is wood and glass between us. I walk without purpose, past familiar houses and familiar faces, until I find myself inside my family home. I lie down on the cool kitchen floor, wondering if this was where they found my mother. I close my eyes. Hold my breath.
I pray to a god I don’t even know if I believe in anymore.