Ethan nods like that explains everything away. “I was worried about you.”
I pause, knowing that means I left Ethan here alone…by himself…worrying not only over our sister, over our mother’s sanity, but also over me. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re a goddamned ass**le for leaving. You know that, right?”
“Just an ass**le.” I drop my bag, readjust the hat turned backward on my head and open the fridge. “Let’s leave God out of this one.”
Ethan chuckles and the thick tension between us eases.
Ham. Cheese. Milk. Eggs. Leftover spaghetti. My stomach cramps at the thought of eating it all. I grab a chicken leg out of a bowl and start devouring it while swiping a Tupperware container of potato salad. With the chicken in my mouth, I flip off the top of the potato salad, fish a fork out of the drawer, then spike it into the container.
“Hungry?” Ethan asks.
Famished, and my response is scooping a forkful of the salad into my mouth. I sit at the island and Ethan joins me. “Where the hell have you been?”
I shrug and mumble between bites, “Living in my car.”
“Fucking Four Seasons.”
I continue to eat and Ethan fills me in on the status of our household, which is the equivalent of saying nothing changed while I was away. Rachel’s still in the hospital. Mom’s still a basket case. Dad’s back at work.
Speaking of work. “Can I ask you something?”
“Shoot,” says Ethan.
“Did Dad’s company buy Sillgo?”
“Sleep in your car for two weeks and now you’re coming home a corporate tycoon?”
“Not even close. I remember the paperwork around but don’t remember if the sale went through. Was it Dad’s company that bought it?”
Ethan shrugs. “Dad mentioned something over dinner last year that there were problems with the deal and that someone else might buy it, but I never cared enough to ask what happened. Why?”
“Curious.” Maybe I don’t have anything to be worried about. Maybe Dad isn’t responsible for the destruction of Haley’s family. Even though it’s a shred of hope, it falls short within me.
“Why?” asks Ethan.
“I told you, curious.”
“No, why did you decide to live in your car?”
My gut tightens—too much food too fast. I slow up. “Dad threw me out.”
“Not that why,” he says. “Why didn’t you crash with Jack? Hell, Gavin’s already living there. One more of us there wasn’t going to hurt.”
I move a potato chunk in the container, searching for an answer. Why the f**k didn’t I go to Jack’s with my tail between my legs, begging for a place to stay? I slam the top back on the container, toss it in the fridge and throw the chicken bone into the garbage. “I didn’t need someone else in my face reminding me how I failed.”
“You didn’t fail,” says Ethan.
“If that’s true, then tell me why I’m here and Rachel’s not.”
“Because this is your home!”
Home. According to Haley, home meant a safe, warm place to fall. I scan the room as if I’ve never been here before. It’s cold. It’s unwelcoming. Dad was right the night he threw me out. I’ve never felt like I belonged. “It doesn’t seem right. I shouldn’t be here without Rachel.”
I never should have come home. All this luxury, all the excess— I don’t deserve it, especially since Rachel isn’t enjoying a damn thing lying in that hospital.
Ethan lowers his head, and, when he doesn’t say anything, I head into the foyer, then up the winding staircase. My footsteps echo as I climb the steps two at a time.
Rachel’s in the hospital with no comfort on the horizon. Haley offered her soul to me when she thought I had nothing and I hurt her by callously dropping that I get to go home when Haley has no escape from her nightmare. I’ve hurt the two most important girls in my life.
At the top of the stairs, my foot angles to the right, toward my bedroom, but my head turns in the direction of the gravitational pull of Rachel’s room. How many nights have I ended up in there?
All the nights that I felt the guilt creeping up for the sins I had committed. All the nights of being in the middle of a crowded party and suddenly struck by the sensation that I was out of place. All those nights I knocked on Rachel’s door, walked in and found relief in my sister’s easy acceptance.
And there’s the punch in the throat…Rachel always accepted me for who I was…the bad and the downright ugly…and, in my mind, I repaid the debt by protecting her. I stood up for her. I took on fights for her. I made sure she knew she was never alone.
Standing in her doorway, I can’t find the courage to turn on her light. I strain to listen…to hear her soft voice tell me to come in…to tell me that she loves me…to tell me that it’s all going to be okay.
I hear a voice…a whisper in my mind. The voice doesn’t belong to Rachel, but to Haley, and it only reflects the loneliness inside me: “I’d give anything to go home.”
My fingers grip the edges of the doorframe. “Me, too, Haley. Me, too.”
Talk about a nightmare come true. I fidget in the seat of our school’s social worker’s office, feeling a little like I’ve been chained to the stake. Government officials give me the creeps. They have the power to destroy the pathetic remnants of my family by forcing separation.
With her blond hair slicked back into a bun, Mrs. Collins sweeps in and closes the door behind her. “Sorry for the delay. I had…well…a thing.” She smiles widely on the word thing. Do they get excited when they ruin families? Is it their occupational benefit?
“That’s okay.” I nibble on a fingernail as my mind searches for the reason for this meeting. It can’t be illegal for us to reside with my uncle, or is there a limit to the number of people that can live under one roof?
Her cluttered office reminds me of my grandfather’s except hers has a woman’s touch with pink polka-dotted curtains and cutesy frames with cutesy sayings on the wall. No wonder the two of them got along.
“Did your grandfather find a volunteer for the gym?” she asks.
“Sort of.” John was searching for a volunteer so he didn’t have to pay anyone to wash the mats and bags, but because West can’t pay gym fees, the two of us have been cleaning after we train on Friday and Saturday nights.