Page 23 of Dead to You

When I hear Dad come back, I go upstairs to clean up and change my shirt. And when we all sit around the table to eat, Blake has to go and act like an ass.

He’s got a piece of paper and he’s peering at Mama and Dad, then Gracie. And he’s making notes.

“What are you writing?” Gracie asks, eyes narrow. “Don’t look at me. Mama!”

Blake snarls at her. “It’s my science assignment. Sheesh.”

Mama tilts her head. “What is it?”

“I have to chart everybody’s eye color in my family. We just started genetics.”

“Ahh,” Dad says. “I remember that. Good old eighth-grade science. Dominant, recessive genes . . . good times.” He takes a bite of his burger.

But I’m staring at Blake’s chart.

He’s got Mama, Dad, himself, and Gracie on the chart. Not me. He’s not including me in his family. He’s not checking my eye color.

Jerk.

Blake puts his paper on top of his notebook, like he’s done with the assignment, and starts eating.

I look over at Mama to see if she noticed Blake didn’t include my eyes. But she’s oblivious, helping Gracie open a ketchup packet.

I glare at Blake and point to the paper, and he gives me this innocent “Oh, I forgot about you!” look. He thinks it’s a big joke, I can tell.

Well, it’s not. I start to breathe hard.

I’m not going to lose it here in front of him. But this kind of little shit—this is what kills me, you know? It’s so stupid, but I’ve got this thing, this . . . this already broken thing cracking into more pieces inside me. And it hurts so bad, right here in my chest, right inside my ribs. Because what the hell kind of thing is that to do to somebody? I shove my chair back and flee to the basement. In the dark. Ignoring the commotion I’ve just started.

In one simple move, Blake makes me feel like I’m not even a part of this family.

I hear some major yelling, more than I’ve ever heard here before, and I can tell Mama and Dad have figured it out. Blake’s getting mauled, and I’m glad.

Later, Dad sends him downstairs with his stupid chart and he flips on the light. I think about closing my eyes so he can’t even check, but that would be doing exactly what he’s doing.

He’s pissed off, I can tell by the way he’s digging his pen into the paper. He charts my green eye color next to everyone else’s: brown for Mama, Dad, and Gracie. Blue for him. I turn away when he’s had his look. He stomps back up the stairs.

Nobody else comes down. But I can hear Mama and Dad fighting in their room above me again. Dad’s going to make me go back to school. Ugh. I want to pound my head against the wall.

Maybe I’m just not meant to be here, not wired to fit in anymore, after all these years away. I decide to sleep on the floor down here, down where it’s safe and I don’t have to deal with them. Turn off the light, close the ceiling vent so I don’t have to listen anymore, and pull the quilt over me. I start thinking about Blake, and about Cami, and how I just did the same thing to her that Blake did to me. But then I fucked it up even worse. At least Blake didn’t try to kiss me after stabbing me in the gut.

I reach for my phone and send Cami a text message, telling her I’m sorry for what I said. That I was wrong and she was right. And that I didn’t mean to kiss her. I shouldn’t have done it.

She doesn’t reply.

Maybe, in the morning, I’ll run.

CHAPTER 24

A loud whisper wakes me up. “Efan!”

I grunt, lift my head, and peer through one eye. Gracie is in her pajamas, dancing like she has to pee. “What?”

“Snow day! No school.”

I let my head fall again. But I’m relieved. Another crisis averted, at least temporarily. And there’s no way I can run away, not in this weather.

Gracie keeps dancing and looking around wildly.

“Why are you hopping around like that? Because of the snow day? I thought you liked school.”

She looks over her shoulder swiftly, eyes big. “I hate the basement. There’s bugs and momsters down here.”

“Mmm, bugs and momsters. I eat the bugs during the night instead of potato chips. Crunchy.”

She grins, so sweet. “What about the momsters?”

I struggle to a sitting position and wrinkle my nose. “Nah. Too gooey.”

She laughs and hops over and right into my lap, folding her toes up so nothing is touching the floor. She squeaks once, like she’s a little bit scared of things, but she stops bouncing around.

I look at her, and she looks up at me. I can see the kid adores me. And I have no idea why. I wrap the blanket around her. “I won’t let the momsters get you,” I say. I pull Where’s Waldo? out of a nearby box and we look at it together.

Mama comes down after a while with a breakfast tray. She sets it down and hops onto the pool table, across from us. She has a little smile on her face. She likes that at least two of us are getting along, I think.

“Did you sleep all right down here?” she asks. “I was worried about you.”

“It was fine. Better than being in the room with that jerk.”

“Ethan,” Mama says, and Gracie echoes in the same reprimanding tone, “Efan.”

“Well, it’s true.”

“It’s hard for Blake,” Mama says. “He had a tough time while you were gone.”

“And that’s my fault? Are you going to blame me for going with those guys, too?”

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