I don’t climb up the downspout to my window, don’t have to hope it holds. I’ve missed curfew, but I was with Lily; no one is holding their breath. I use the key under the crocodile planter—tangles of rosemary, sage, thyme, a whole world creeping out from inside its jaws—and I take off my shoes, skip the second stair that creaks.
Upstairs, my brother, Max, midway through another Adderall-fueled admissions essay, doesn’t look away from his laptop. “You’re hooking up with her,” he says.
We’re stuck sharing my room because last month Dad moved into Max’s; our parents are doing a trial separation, which means they only talk through Shelly, a mediator who brings us into it with questions like, “How does their fighting make you feel?” Max and I look at her like she’s an idiot, because how do you think?
I want to shove it in Max’s face. Lily’s hot and there’s never been anything we both wanted that he didn’t get first, but our parents are clueless, a convenience I can’t risk, so I just call him a perv.
“I know what you searched.” He actually pulls up blonde going down on brunette in dorm and even though I’ve gotten off watching the video three times, I slam his laptop shut and smirk.
“Blaming me for your search history?”
Once, in the kitchen, Dad held down Mom’s wrists so she couldn’t move, and she said, I hate you I hate you I hate you. I didn’t see, but Max did, and ever since, he tolerates everything from me because if he’s harsh, I’ll accuse him of being like Dad, and that’s what my brother fears the most. I know because Shelly wanted each of us to say.
“I don’t get it,” he says. “You get asked out.”
He means by boys, like they’re the gold standard. I want to roll my eyes and say, Wow, lucky me.
“I went with Kyle,” I say instead.
We made out in his Nissan during French for a few weeks. Then Kyle shoved my head down, like if he could just get my mouth in the right spot, I’d want to blow him all on my own.
“For, like, a second,” Max says.
I refused to tell Shelly my fear, but I have this dream where I’m swimming laps, an automated cover closing over the surface of the pool so fast I can’t outpace it. I’m most afraid my life is going to be that: Like I’m not going to get out fast enough. Shelly says sharing is a sign of maturity, but I sit silent because I don’t remember hearing what scares Shelly. Has a guy ever done the hand on the back of the head thing to her?
I sashay to my dresser, slide off stacking rings. “I don’t like your friends shoving my face toward their dicks, big deal.”
“Kyle did that?” Max has that look like when Shelly tells him it’s okay to cry, only he never does, and I think, Shut up, Shelly, just shut up.
Under the covers, I shimmy out of my jeans, violet tank-top taut around my chest because it’s really Lily’s. She liked it better on me.
“That’s why I’d rather do girls,” I say.
Max laughs, and I do too, but I’m thinking of being hip to hip in her room, hands reaching, how, the first time, it seemed almost accidental.
“You’re sophomoric,” Max says, “And full of shit.”
The burn of not being believed, and I can’t hold back. “Ask Kyle.”
Max lifts an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“He said he was playing, but yeah.”
“What’d you do?”
“Stopped skipping French.”
“I’ll break his fucking jaw,” Max says.
That time in the kitchen, Max swung at Dad. I know because Mom told me; she said Max misunderstood, that marriage is like a house other people only see from the street, but it’s different on the inside.
“It doesn’t matter now,” I say. It pisses me off, how he only wants to use me as an excuse to lash out.
“Fine,” Max says. “You’ve got it figured out.” That’s his M.O.: he agrees with you but makes you feel wrong. He goes back to typing; his screen set to dark mode but his eyes always red.
“Hope your essay gets you out of here.” West coast is what he wants, half a country between him and us.
Mom told me to keep it to myself, what she said about the house, but I told Lily. We were tanning topless at Barton Springs.
I played with a dollhouse until I was eleven and Max threatened to tell people, so I stopped. I told Lily how, when my mom said it, I imagined the little rooms with their miniature furniture: bunk bed in the kids’ room, playpen in the living room, washing machine that really opened and closed. In my mind, I saw Mom in the black and white tiled kitchen, her weighted eyes blinking open, some hand reaching in, propping her up.
Lily kissed me, though I thought we’d decided we weren’t doing that in the park. Nothing happened, and it seemed so stupid to stop, but inside me there is a seed I swallowed forever ago, and I turned into my towel, tried to breathe, felt how my whole body, I’d become its home.