The wall-length mirror reflects us—me and West. My mother read a story to me once where a girl walked through a looking glass and discovered that the world on the other side was the opposite of our reality. I can’t help but wonder if the opposite Haley and West are happy or if they’re drowning in worse circumstances.
With a sigh, West pats my hand and stands, taking his wraps with him. He leans his back against the mirror and weaves the fabric over his wrists and knuckles. Following his lead, I do the same, but because I’ve been doing this years longer than West, I finish before him.
I stand and try to ask as casually as I can, “What happened with your parents?”
West pulls hard on the material over his knuckles, then wraps the leftover material around and around the length of his wrist. “They told me to come home.”
Home. The word ricochets within me like a bullet. “That’s…that’s…great.”
But it doesn’t feel great and it feels worse knowing I should be happy for him. West won’t have to sleep in his car anymore, he won’t have to face the shelter and he’ll be fed. More than fed. For a guy who drives an Escalade and wears brand-name clothes on his body, I’m sure he’ll be full of all sorts of fancy food. He’ll have a warm bed with high-thread-count sheets and he’ll probably have every creature comfort that I could only dream about.
Somehow, this loss of a home was the bond between us and it made me feel less alone. Now, with him returning, I feel more isolated than I did to begin with.
I pull on my ponytail. Brat. He’s going home and I’m throwing a pity party. What’s important is that West will be safe. Even though I don’t understand what’s going on between us, I want West to be safe.
“That’s a good thing,” I repeat.
“Yeah,” he says and the heaviness in his tone indicates that returning home isn’t his dream come true.
I replay the conversation. West only said that they asked him to go home; he never said he agreed. “Are you going home?”
West slams the Velcro into place and rests his hands on his hips. “Yeah.”
“Is there a problem? I mean, is there something else going on there? Is it not safe?”
“No, it’s safe.” His face contorts. “But the problems… They’re still there.”
He’s going home and I’m not. He’ll be safe and I’ll still live in the presence of evil.
I think about my home. The place that Maggie drew with the stick figures. Nothing was perfect there. My mom and dad would have the occasional fight. Kaden and I would get on each other’s nerves. The hot water heater suffered from manic depression and would either be really hot or really cold. But for all the problems that surrounded me at that brick-and-mortar address, they were nothing like what I face now.
“I’d give anything to go home,” I whisper.
West’s head jerks up and the apology on his face is apparent, but I wave him away as I grab two jump ropes off the hook. “Three minutes jumping rope. Twenty-five push-ups. Then twenty-five squats. We’ll repeat the cycle five times.”
“Haley,” he says and I only offer him the rope.
He reaches over, but instead of taking the rope from me, he glides his fingers onto my wrist and swipes his thumb over my pulse point. His caress sends fire straight to my toes, but there’s a part of me, no matter how pathetic, that resents him. I yank my hand away. He’s going home and I’m not.
“As I said this morning.” I shove the rope into his hands. “We need to keep this simple. No complications. Now let’s get moving. You’ve got a fight in less than two months.”
Without allowing a response from him, I turn up the volume on the stereo and let Eminem drown out West’s voice and my emotions.
I’ve never slapped a woman, but the pain that slashed across Haley’s face earlier this evening when I told her I was going home… I felt like I had. My entire body flinches. I hurt Haley tonight. Like I always do, I acted and didn’t think.
I’m on autopilot as I race down the rolling hills of our sprawling gated community. Mansions dot the land every quarter to half mile. Some properties, like my parents’, are practically their own zip code.
Turning, I spot our house and my foot falls off the gas. The house is larger. Somehow even bigger than I remember and I remembered it huge. The towering white columns and white marble stairs are illuminated against the night sky.
It’s massive and for the first time in my life a pit forms in my stomach as I ease into the driveway. It’s not just massive. It’s excessive.
I bypass the attached garage used only by my parents and whip around the back to the structure built for me and my siblings to park our cars. On instinct, I reach for the garage opener attached to my sun visor and a sickening nausea spreads through me as the door opens. Where three cars should be sitting, there’s only one. Ethan’s car looks lonely in the spot to the left. I park the Escalade near the right wall and close my eyes, unable to glance at the empty middle.
That’s where Rachel’s Mustang should be. In fact, that’s where she would be if she’d never been in that accident. The entire garage rings loudly with memories.
At midnight on a Saturday, Mom would be asleep and Rachel would have escaped out the kitchen door to slip in here to work on the cars. She’d be knee-deep in grease and would have sent me a smile the moment I rolled in next to her.
Rougher than I mean to, I push the door open and slam it behind me, doing my best to ignore what’s not there…what I want to be there.
The house is quiet. Dark. With the flick of a switch the lights of the kitchen spring to life. The air from the heater rolls out of the overhead vent and the sound only presses against the silence.
A loaf of bread sits on the counter. A bowlful of apples on the island. The pantry door’s cracked open and a dozen or more boxes of assorted foods pack the shelves. My stomach growls and my hand lowers to stop it. I’ve eaten two meals a day for two weeks. Sometimes one. The meal always small. And here…we throw food out.
“Welcome home.” Ethan leans against the doorframe leading to the foyer.
“Miss me?” I ask casually. I didn’t hear shit from him or any of my brothers.
“I texted and called,” he says. Sometimes it’s hard to look Ethan in the eye. He’s too much the spitting image of Dad. “You didn’t answer.”
It’s a convenient excuse that’s probably true. “My phone died.”