“I have another friend who gets what I’m really like, and I get her. She scares me. Did you ever see yourself times ten in another person and want to cover your eyes?”
“You spend a long time waiting for life to start—the past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new and terrifying and significant—and then it does start and you realize it isn’t what you’d expected, or asked for.”
“But it only makes visible a darkness that’s already there. Maybe eating it like that…" She looked at Deenie, her voice like a pulse in Deenie’s brain. "Maybe you bring the darkness inside you. Maybe Lise has it inside her now.”
“That she was both fearless and fragile and could be hurt badly in ways he could not fix.”
“Did you ever look out in that dark and fucked-up world out there and think, how do I let my daughter out into that? And how do i stop her? And the things you can’t stop because you’re … because-”
“Looking at her, he could almost see the painted serpent squirming on her skin, ready to turn, mouth open.”
“Sexual debut. Sometimes it seemed to Deenie that high school was like a long game of And Then There Were None. Every Monday, another girl’s debut.”
“Had the water done something? Did it do something to me? She wondered. Do I look different? Then she remembered asking herself that question before, two days ago. How could you even tell, the way things kept happening to you, maybe leaving their marks in ways you couldn’t even see.”
“A second date always felt like an announcement at his age. And he never felt ready for the announcement.”
“A few years ago, long after it had been closed, Eli said he saw a girl swimming in it, coming out of the water in a bikini, laughing at her frigthtened boyfriend, seaweed snaking around her. He said she looked like a mermaid.
Deenie always pictured it like in one of those books of mythology she used to love, a girl rising from the foam gritted with pearls, mussels, the glitter of the sea.
"It looks beautiful", her mother had said once when they were driving by at night, its waters opaline. “It is beautiful. But it makes people sick.”
To Deenie, it was one of many interesting things that adults said would kill you: Easter lilles, jellyfish, copperhead snakes with their diamond heads, tails bright as sulfur. Don't touch, don't taste, don't get too close.
And then, last week.”
“Since then, he could only ever think about his sister, one wall away. And how he hoped Deenie never did things like this. With guys like him.”
“Sometimes it felt like parenting amounted to a series of questionable decisions, one after another.”
“He’d tried to explain it to her, how accidents happen but we really are safe. But there was, already, the sense that nothing he said touched what was really bothering her, which was the realization that you can’t stop bad things from happening to other people, other things. And that would be hard forever. He’d never quite gotten used to it himself.”
“This was their favorite place to meet. It always felt hidden, forgotten. The gold-lettered World Book encyclopedias from the 1980s. The smell of old glue and crumbling paper, the industrial carpet burning her palms.
It reminded her of what you did when you were a little girl, making little burrows and hideaways. Like boys did with forts. Eli and his friend, stacking sofa cushions, pretending to be sharpshooters. With girls, you didn’t call them forts, though it was the same.”
“A month or so ago, he and his friends had gone to Pizza House for slices after a game and he’d seen her in the kitchen. Her cap pushed back, she was carrying cold trays of glistening dough rounds, and her face had a kind of pink to it, her hips turning to knock the freezer door shut.
I didn't spit on it, Deenie had promised, winking at him from behind the scarlet heat lamps. He’d stood there, arrested. The pizza box hot in his hands. She looked different than at school and especially at home, and she was acting differently. Moving differently.
He couldn’t stop watching her, his friends all around him, loud and triumphant, their faces streaked with sweat.”
“It was the best night ever.
And they hadn't talked about any of it since.”
“I haven’t had anything to drink in so long, I figured it’d be best to have something I’d probably never want two of.”
“I figured I'd duck out....before Goody Osbourne took the stand.”
“Somewhere in the gluey Nyquil haze, the memory came of standing in the lake with Lise the week before, stomping their feet in the emerald thick of the water. On the shoreline were Skye’s hard-jeaned boys with their disappearing tattoos. They whistled at Lise, fingers hooked in their mouths. Let’s do it, Lise whispered in her ear, her tongue showing between her teeth. Let’s go in. When she woke up, in the purple of four a.m., she could still hear Lise’s voice in her ear, high as a little girl’s. We went behind those tall bushes. He took my tights off first. It was so cold, but his hands—”
“Bad things happen and then they’re over, but where do they go?”
“Sometimes, during those same bleak middle-of-the-nights, he held secret fears he never said aloud. Demons had come in the dark, come with the famous Dryden fog that rolled through the town, and taken possession of his lovely, smart, kindhearted wife. And next they'd come for his daughter too.”
“Sometimes he wished he didn’t have a sister, though he loved Deenie and still remembered the feeling he had when he caught that kid Ethan pushing her off the swing set in the school yard in fifth grade. And how time seemed to speed up until he was shoving the kid into the fence and tearing his jacket. The admiring look his sister gave him after, the way his parents pretended to be mad at him but he could tell they weren’t.
These days, it was pretty different. There’d be those moments he was forced to think about her not just as Deenie but as the girl whose slender tank tops hung over the shower curtain. Like bright streamers, like the flair the cheerleaders threw at games.
Sometimes he wished he didn’t have a sister.”
“She’d inherited Eli’s old phone and often got texts meant for him. One night, that senior girl who always talked about ballet and wore leotards and jeans to school texted twenty-four times. One of the texts had said—Deenie never forgot it—MY PUSSY ACHES FOR U. It had to have been the worst thing she’d ever read. She’d read it over and over before deleting it.”
“Once, a few weeks ago, she’d heard a girl’s voice in there and wondered if it was porn on the computer until she could tell it wasn’t. She heard the voice say Eli’s name. E-liii. She’d turned her music as loud as she could, held her hands to her ears, even sang to herself, eyes clamped shut. She hoped he heard her fling off her Ked so hard it hit the wall. She hoped he remembered she was here.”
“I think you should shut the fuck up," Eli said, throwing his bag down with a thud that made everyone on the lab look up. "I think it’s time you do that."
Stim looked at him carefully. Eyes darting between the two of them, A.J. seemed to be waiting for something, grinning a little.
Stim shrugged. "Lise isn’t your sister, Nash," he said. "They’re not all your sisters.”
“Back when Deenie was in middle school, she was always having sleepovers. All those girly thumping and trills on the other side of his bedroom wall confused and annoyed and stirred him, so he’d sneak down to the basement and page through a mildewed 1985 Playboy he’d found under the laundry chute. The pictures were startling and beautiful, but he always felt ashamed after, standing at the laundry sink where his mom scrubbed his uniform.”
“No way," he said, shaking his head, shaking the image of Lise, bare-legged, her skirt hitched high, from his thoughts. "Lise, she’s a sister to me."
"Oh," she said, fingertips making circles just above the waist of her skirt. Wider and wider circles.
"A sister," he repeated. He looked at her. There was something scratching again, in the corner above his eye, like those metal probes at the dentist clawing at your teeth.”
“I saw it all,” Skye continued. “You should’ve seen the things your brother was doing to her." Deenie felt something crack and twist at her temple. "What? What did you say?"
"Your brother going down on your Lise. Lise’s leg twitching like a dog’s.” Deenie felt her neck stiffen to wood, her hand leaping to it. She couldn’t stop it, or Skye. Why Skye would say—
“She seemed to love it," Skye said, jaw out, her lips white. "She didn’t care who saw. Your brother didn’t either."
"You shut the fuck up. You don’t know what you’re talking about. It wasn’t my brother," Deenie said. "Stop saying that. It wasn’t him.”
“You spend a long time waiting for life to start – her past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new and terrifying and significant – and then it does start and you realise it isn’t what you’d expected, or asked for.”
“Eve cupped her ear at Claire. "I'm sorry, was that an apology? Because it didn't sound like one."
"Don't push it."
"I'm not, but you're acting like a drama princess."
"Hello, no. You need a lot more practice at door slamming, flouncing, and pouting before you can even pretend to deserve my throne, bitch. But you're coming along." Eve paused and fixed her with a long, serious look. "That wasn't a compliment, by the way. In case you were wondering.”
“However they may have felt when they left they were now committed, they had passed the point of no return.”
“It had been weeks since anyone had even tried to kill him. As long as someone was trying to kill you, you knew you were important.”
“It’s not just Pandora who had that inescapable flaw. It seems like everyone has been built in a way that sometimes makes them do wrong and stupid things.”
“Our army is retreating. The Sachakans are following. They will be here soon. We must be ready. The servants are bringing horses.” He paused and frowned at one of the apprentices. “Stop wating time asking stupid questions and see if your horse is here!” he snapped. He turned and pointed. “You! Arelenin. I can see someone bringing your horse. Yes, I’d hardly miss that ugly beast if it were on the other side of the country. Go and get it.”
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