“I had no idea Al was going to make such a scene and dig up all that footage. But I guess in a small town like this, people jump on any little bit of celebrity they can claim, you know? Al obviously went way too far with his enthusiasm. It was horrible—Ethan, it was horrible for us, too, for Blake especially, and for Gracie, who didn’t understand any of it. It was terrible to see all of that again. I can’t believe he did it. I’m furious. And Al has heard from me. He apologized.”
She sounds sincere.
“I’m not going back there,” I say.
Mama is silent as she pulls into the garage. She turns the car off. “Cami and Jason feel terrible.”
I ponder this, but sorrys can’t erase anything. “I’m not going to talk to those guys, and I’m not going back there. I’m quitting school. And,” I say, feeling bold, “I want my own room in the basement.”
Mama just looks at me, her eyes sad, and doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t say no. Not to any of it.
When we get home, I go straight downstairs in the dark and sit in my spot against the wall, among the boxes of a stranger. You’d almost think that after a hit to the head like that, I’d get my memory back. But no such luck.
From my basement location, I can just barely hear Mama and Dad talking somewhere above my head. I open the heater vent all the way and I don’t have to strain very hard at all to listen. Dad’s voice gets louder and I can tell he’s mad about what I told Mama. My demands. They start arguing. I don’t like it.
Upstairs, everybody but Gracie is being weird about things, but we are forced by a blizzard to hang out all together at home the rest of the weekend.
Dad tells me he’s sorry about what happened. Blake acts like I did something wrong to him. Cami comes to the door covered in snow to see how I’m doing but I won’t go talk to her, so after a while of talking to Mama, she leaves.
And then J-Dog calls. I watch Mama on the phone, talking to him, telling him I’m not up to talking quite yet. Lying for me. I get a little twinge in my chest, like love or whatever.
If Mama tries to hug me now, I’ll let her, I guess. But she doesn’t.
Gracie sits by me on the couch. And I realize that I don’t despise her like I thought I would. I kept expecting her to be like all the six-year-old girls I saw at the zoo and out shopping with their parents, whining and begging and chomping on gum, and I never thought I’d like one of them. Gracie is definitely annoying sometimes, but she’s also kind of smart.
We’re watching some stupid sitcom marathon. I don’t like it, but that’s what’s on. It doesn’t matter anyway, because Gracie won’t shut up about the stuff she saw last night, about the news clips and the missing boy and how I was kidnapped. She’s completely fascinated by it, not scared at all. Weird kid.
“Why did you get in the car with those guys?” she asks. The question of the month.
I sigh. “I don’t know, Gracie. I don’t remember doing it.”
“Where did they take you?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t remember them. All I remember is Eleanor.”
“She’s the woman who acted like my mama while I was gone.”
“She wasn’t as nice as Mama.” She says it as a matter of fact.
I think about that. “No,” I say. “You’re right.”
“Then how come did you—?”
“Gracie, I don’t know. I don’t remember. Okay?” I’m getting frustrated now. “I look at pictures, and people tell me stories, and sometimes I think I can remember things. Little bits of things. But so far, that’s not very much.”
“How old were you?”
“A little older than you.”
“I would remember everybody,” she says, and I have nothing to defend myself with. Gracie tilts her head and looks at me. “Does your head still hurt?”
“That’s not cool.”
I laugh. “No. It’s not. I think if we stop talking, it will feel better.”
She shrugs, and as the snowy, late-afternoon light turns dusky, she leans up against me and links her arm with mine, and I smile at her. Later, she crawls into my lap and we just sit like that, like I’ve got this little warm, fuzzy-headed package in my arms, and we watch TV until the marathon ends.
In bed at night, Blake and I don’t talk, we just listen to Mama and Dad arguing in their room next door. Sometimes I catch words. They’re talking about money, and adding a bedroom. And about me and school. Mama’s in my court all the way.
“Good job,” Blake says. The sarcasm is obvious.
“You did it again, and you’ve only been here, what, ten days?”
“What are you talking about?” I don’t like this. Blake’s been too quiet lately. He hid out in the bedroom all day today. Playing depressing music.
“Got them fighting again. Like after you left.”
I roll over and stare at the wall in the dark. This room is so tiny, I’m feeling claustrophobic. I can’t stand being in here with him baiting me like that.
I try to like him, try to be nice, but he’s got such a huge chip on his shoulder about me. I start to wonder if he’ll ever get over it.
“You were four years old,” I say. “How can you even remember the fighting?”