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JOSH’S PARENTS FIGHT A LOT. I don’t know if it’s a normal amount of fighting because I only have one parent, but I don’t remember my parents fighting that much when I had two. Our houses are close enough that I can hear them sometimes, if my window is open. The fights usually start out with something small, like Mrs. Sanderson accidentally leaving the car door open and the battery going dead, and end with something big, like how Mr. Sanderson works too much and is inherently selfish and not cut out for a family.
When they fight bad, Josh comes over. When we were younger, he’d sneak out sometimes in his pajamas with his pillow, and he’d stay until his mom came looking for him. It’s not something we talk about. Maybe him and Margot, but not me and him. The most he ever said about it was that sometimes he wished they’d just get divorced so it could finally be over. They never did, though.
I can hear them tonight. I’ve heard them other nights since Margot left, but tonight sounds particularly bad. So bad I close my window. I gather up my homework and go downstairs and turn on the living room light so Josh knows he can come over if he wants.
Half an hour later there’s a knock at the door. I wrap myself in my pale blue baby blanket and open it.
It’s Josh. He smiles at me sheepishly. “Hey. Can I hang out here for a bit?”
“Course you can.” I leave the door open and trudge back to the living room. I call back, “Lock it behind you.”
Josh watches TV and I do my homework. I’m highlighting my way through US history when Josh asks me, “Are you going to try out for Arcadia?” That’s the spring play. They just announced it yesterday.
“No,” I say, switching highlighter colors. “Why would I?” I hate public speaking and getting up in front of people, and Josh knows it.
“Duh, because it’s your favorite play.” Josh changes the channel. “I think you’d be a really good Thomasina.”
I smile. “Thanks but no thanks.”
“Why not? It could be something good to put on your college apps.”
“It’s not like I’m going to be a theater major or anything.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit,” he says, stretching his arms out behind his head. “Take a risk. Look at Margot. She’s all the way over in Scotland.”
“I’m not Margot.”
“I’m not saying you should move to the other side of the world. I know you’d never do that. Hey, what about Honor Council? You love judging people!”
I make a face at him.
“Or Model UN. I bet you’d like that. I’m just saying . . . your world could be bigger than just playing checkers with Kitty and riding around in Kavinsky’s car.”
I stop highlighting midsentence. Is he right? Is my world really that small? It’s not like his world is so big! “Josh,” I begin. Then I pause, because I don’t know how I’m going to finish the sentence. So instead I throw my highlighter at him.
It ricochets off his forehead. “Hey! You could have hit me in the eye!”
“And you would have deserved it.”
“Okay, okay. You know I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean that you should give people a chance to know you.” Josh points the remote control at me and says, “If people knew you, they would love you.” He sounds so matter-of-fact.
Josh, you break my heart. And you’re a liar. Because you know me, you know me better than almost anybody, and you don’t love me.
* * *
After Josh goes back home, I tidy up the living room, lock all the doors, and turn off the lights. Then I pour myself a glass of water and head upstairs.
The light is on in my bedroom, and Chris is asleep in my bed. I roll her to the side so I can fit in too. Stirring, she mumbles, “Wanna go get hot wings?”
“It’s too late to eat hot wings,” I say, pulling my quilt up so it covers both of us. “You just missed Josh.”
Her eyes fly open. “Joshy was here? Why?”
“No reason.” I won’t tell Josh’s secrets, not even to Chris.
“Well, don’t mention it to Kavinsky.”
“He wouldn’t care,” I say.
Chris shakes her head. “All boys care.”
“Peter’s not like that. He’s really confident.”
“They’re the ones that care the most,” she says. I’m about to ask her what she means, but before I can, she says, “Let’s go do something wild.”
“Like what?” It’s a school night; I can’t go anywhere and she knows it. But I still like to hear her schemes. They’re like bedtime stories.
“Like . . . I don’t know. We could sneak into the nursing home and break out that grandma you’re always talking about. What’s her name again? Thunder?”
I giggle. “Stormy.”
“Yeah, Stormy.” She yawns. “She seems like she knows how to have a good time. I bet she’d buy us cocktails.”
“Stormy goes to sleep at nine every night to get her beauty rest. Let’s do it tomorrow.” By tomorrow, Chris will have forgotten all about it, but it’s still a nice thought. Her eyes are closed again. I poke her in the side. “Chris, wake up. Go brush your teeth.” I keep a toothbrush in my bathroom drawer just for her. I painted a cursive C on it with red nail polish so it doesn’t get mixed up with anybody else’s toothbrush.
“Can’t. I’m too tired to move.”
“A second ago you wanted to break Stormy out of Belleview, and now you’re too tired to wash your face and brush your teeth?”
Chris smiles but doesn’t open her eyes.
I turn off my bedside lamp. “Night, Chris.”
She wriggles closer to me. “G’night.”