“If you have me, you want to share me. But if you share me, you no longer have me. What am I?”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” I tell Edward.
. . .
It’s my last Halloween as a trick-or-treater, and I’m going out in style. I am Catching Fire’s Johanna Masen, District 7: Lumber. Trees. I already have her hair, the red-tipped long style she wore for the opening ceremonies. I’m wearing brown pants and a dark green body suit with a wide green belt. Mom flatly refuses to let me wear a bustier, but she makes up for it with my make-up. When she’s done, I already know I’m going to hate the fake eyelashes that make me feel like I’m wearing shutters on my eyelids. But my eyes look amazing! I don’t even recognize myself under my dark, heavy eyebrows. Even the boys are impressed.
“Wow,” Jasper drawls. He’s dressed as a Civil War soldier and looks pretty cute.
Behind his Flash eye mask, Emmett’s all eyes.
Edward, a.k.a. Captain America, is less flattering. “Where’s your pick axe?”
“Are you going to take your clothes off for us?” Emmett grins.
“No, she’s not taking off her clothes,” Mom says. “You boys get going to the party and let me finish up here.” Mike Newton is having a Halloween party, which Rose and I will attend after we make sure the whole neighborhood sees our costumes. Specifically, Seth Clearwater, who we both have a crush on.
“We’re waiting for Alice,” Jasper tells her.
Speak of the devil. The doorbell ding-dongs, and then Alice bursts in, skirts flying. She’s wearing a gold, glittery turban and a beautiful cascade of black, gold and purple. I’m immediately jealous.
“What are you?” Emmett asks.
She bows her head. “Swami McCarty at your service.”
“I tell fortunes,” she says in a tone of voice that communicates he’s being an idiot.
They leave in a crush of noise, telling me to hurry up or I’m going to miss the best games at Mike’s party.
“Lot of weirdoes out tonight,” Mom tells me as she bands one of my wrists with a thick, silver studded bracelet. “Don’t eat anything you get, not until you’ve given me and your dad a chance to look at it.”
“I know, Mom. I’ll save my sweet tooth for Mike’s party.”
She hooks the second bracelet on. “Atta girl.”
Rose meets me at her front door wearing a peach gauze baby doll dress. She’s beautiful, just perfect as Glimmer from The Hunger Games. Somehow, she found a pair of peach arm warmers to go with the dress. On her feet are low heeled silver booties that glitter.
“It’s perfect,” I breathe, jealous again. My eyes should be green instead of brown. Oh, wait. They are tonight.
She touches the red part of my hair, which is crunchy from the spray-on color. “So is yours. Now you just need the swagger.”
It’s in the mid-40’s, so we both leave our coats at the end of the driveway where Seth lives.
“Ready to dazzle?”
“Let’s dazzle,” I say. We hook arms and stride up to the porch with a single pumpkin on it. The porch light isn’t on, but Seth’s old maroon Nova is parked out on the street. He’s not fooling us. We know he’s here.
Rose and I pound on his door and yell his name until he finally opens it. His wavy dark hair is wet and he’s wearing a black shiny robe that shows his chest’s muscle definition. My mouth drops open.
“Shouldn’t you kids be at a party or something?” he growls.
“We had to come see you first,” Rose says and twirls. “What do you think?”
“I think you’re going to catch a cold in that thing, princess. And you,” he turns to me. “Not bad, but what are you supposed to be?”
Seth is in his mid-20’s and hand washes his car almost every Saturday, which is how we met him. He goes out a lot, “looking for the perfect girl”. The boys think he’s cool. Us girls think he’s yummy.
“I’m Johanna Masen? From The Hunger Games?”
He looks puzzled. “Oh, yeah. Yeah. Cute costume, Bella. Your lips are blue.”
Not exactly what I was looking for in a compliment, but it’s better than what Rose got.
“Gotta date, gotta go. You girls be safe.”
“Well, dammit,” Rose says to his door.
. . .
Alice thinks she’s psychic. “You are going to make Honor Roll at school this semester,” she tells my hand. “There are some challenges to be faced this year, but I can tell by the grooves on your palm that you will overcome these hurdles.” She raises her head and gives me an intense look. “But it’s going to be difficult.”
“I don’t know why. Don’t question the swami. Have a cup of tea. Maybe I’ll see more if I can study your tea bag.”
“Don’t you mean tea leaves?”
“I told you not to question the swami.”
I have to go to the bathroom, so I get up and let someone else take a turn.
Mike’s basement, which is decorated by black lights and a strobe light, is packed with people who glow in the dark. And, we all look like we move like robots, which was Mike’s intent because he is a robot. It was cool at first, but now it—and the loud music—is giving me a headache.
As I pass one of the snack tables, I grab a chip and plunge it into creamy dip. Onion. I’m hungry, I haven’t eaten since lunch. Maybe if I eat my headache will go away.
There’s no one waiting to use the bathroom, but the door is closed. After a couple of minutes, I tap on the door, but there’s no answer.
“Hello? Anybody in there?”
“Just a sec!” a girl’s muffled voice says. And then I hear laughter.
I’m about to knock again when the door opens. Captain America and a nurse emerge. I’m struck dumb. It’s Edward and Tanya.
He pauses and then gives me a big smile.
“C’mon, Edward,” Tanya says and sticks her tongue out at me.
. . .
That night when we get home from Mike’s party, which was lame by the way, Mom is face down on the couch. On the coffee table, her phone is ringing, but she’s not even moving to get it.
I want to rip these eyelashes off yesterday. I don’t understand how girls can wear these. They’re awful. And why isn’t Mom answering her phone?
Edward stays at the foot of the stairs as I rush to the coffee table to see if it’s Dad calling from the night shift.
“Mom? We’re home,” I say and pick the phone up. It’s an unidentified number, though, so it’s not Dad.
She still hasn’t moved, so I shake her arm. That’s when I become aware of the sour smell … like vomit. Grabbing her shoulders, I manage to turn her enough to see that the couch cushion under her face is covered in a yellowish, white-ish vomit. “Mom!”
I back up so fast that I fall onto the coffee table. And then Edward is there, bending over her to see what’s wrong. I hear her moan.
“Call 9-1-1,” he tells me in an urgent tone. I feel the blood drain from my head and sway, but I do as he says. Never in a million years would I have dreamed that I’d be making such a call.
I’m glad it’s a woman who answers. “9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
“It’s my mom, she’s passed out on our couch. And she’s vomited.”
“Is she conscious?”
“No,” I wail. “Please help.”
“What is your name and address?”
I give her the information and ask if they’re coming. She repeats what I’ve just told her and asks me if the information is correct. They’re coming, remain calm, I need to make sure the front door is unlocked, that our porch light is on, leave Mom on her stomach, and keep her warm. Oh god.
I want to clean up the couch, but Edward won’t let me. He says it might be helpful to the paramedics, so I just wipe off Mom’s face, which is an ashen color that is terrifying to see. Her head is heavy. She’s like dead weight. Her hair, which was so shiny tonight, is now slimy and crusted. As tears clog my throat, I think that she’s never seemed less like my mom than at this moment. Distantly, I hear the sound of sirens and suddenly need to hear my dad’s voice.
My hand is shaking so badly, I can barely push the button.
“Dad, you have to come home,” I sob. “Something’s happened to Mom. We had to call 9-1-1.”
Dad arrives just as the paramedics do … in a police car with sirens wailing. Being a cop has its advantages, although I realize fully for the first time that it can’t keep horrible stuff from happening.
Mom still hasn’t regained full consciousness when they take her away in the ambulance.
. . .
“She, uh, overdosed, kids,” Dad tells us while rubbing the back of his neck. “You know she’s been on this pain medication for her back, and, well … she just took one too many tonight.”
“How can you take one too many?”
“She did it on purpose,” Edward says angrily. When I look at him, he’s furious. His face is almost as white as Mom’s was, and there are deep grooves between his eyebrows. By contrast, Dad is cucumber calm. And me, I feel like I’m sinking under water.
“Yes, Edward, I think she did it on purpose,” Dad says heavily. “But we’re going to get her some help, okay?”
I can’t seem to unclench my hands. “What’s happening to her?”
“She’ll get some medicine at the hospital—”
“Yeah, because more medicine is just what she needs,” Edward bites.
“And then they’ll have someone come and talk to her. She’ll probably go away for a few weeks…” Dad swallows loudly and turns his face away from us. Is he … is he crying?
I stumble up and over to him, then throw my arms around him tight, tight. “It’s okay, Daddy,” I whisper. “It’s not your fault.”
He hugs me back and sniffs. “Thanks, Bella. C’mere, Edward.”
And then Edward is next to me and we’re group hugging each other and trying not to cry. But the harder I try not to, the more I seem to, until I’m full out sobbing.
. . .
They won’t let us see Mom. Dad says it’s because she’s ashamed and feels like she let us down, that she wants to heal first before she tells us how sorry she is.
Edward is still mad. “Whatever.”
“It wouldn’t do any of us any good if we saw each other right now,” Dad says. It’s the day after all hell broke loose, and he looks like it. “She’s not strong enough to see our pain or our anger, even if we have every right to feel that way.”
“So she gets to ignore us.”
“No. She gets to face the music first. She’s in pain, too, Edward.”
“When is she coming home?” I ask.
Dad sighs. “I’m not sure. But meanwhile, I need you two to step up around here. Help with cooking, cleaning, do the laundry. I need your help, okay?”
We agree. Anything to help him out. He looks so sad.
“Is this what you guys fight about?” Edward asks suddenly. “Her pain pills?”
“One thing at a time, Edward. Let’s just take it one day at a time, now, and focus on today.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Well, life isn’t fair. Better get used to it. Have you done your homework?”
. . .
“He doesn’t want to tell us what’s wrong,” Edward says to me later. “Because I know it’s more than just Mom scarfing down too many damn pills.”
I look up from my math book. “What do you think it is?”
“I think she wants to divorce him.”
I gasp and tears instantly fill my eyes. “No, she can’t. She can’t do that to him, Edward.”
He ignores me. “I won’t go with her,” he says through clenched teeth. “I’m staying with Dad.”
“They’re not getting divorced, Edward!”
“You should go with Mom.”
He’s all blurry. I can’t see him anymore. Suddenly, I hate him. I hate him for making me feel this way. I’m not sure how I got there, but I’m standing above him and pounding at him with my fists. He pushes me away and stands, but I come right back at him.
“You’re wrong!” I scream. “It’s not going to happen, so shut up!” Smack! “Shut up!” Double smack! “Shut up!”
He lets me scream and hit him until he’s had enough, then he catches me up in his arms and we’re crying together. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “Maybe I’m wrong.”
The thing is, I’m all too afraid that he isn’t.
. . .
The answer to Edward’s riddle for Bella: a secret.
What a downer of a chapter this was. I’ve got to get the next one up quick!
Who’s with me?
. . .