“Oh, it's so wonderful you called!” my mother chirped, her voice so full and happy. I pulled my pillow over my head trying to block out the sound. “How's the weather up there?” my father asked, and it was quiet as Cass responded. “Well, that's New York in January for you.”
“It's been lovely here,” my mother added. “What? Oh, she's fine, so busy. Her cheerleading is just going wonderfully, and she's so caught up with school and this new boyfriend of hers, Rogerson, she's busy every night. She's just wonderful.” I reached up and examined my wrist, feeling the tenderness right by my watchband. Wonderful, I thought. .“I'm sure she'd want to talk to you,” my mother went on, and I could hear her starting down the hallway toward my room, the cordless in her hand. “I think she's still sleeping, but I can” I pulled the pillow tighter, letting my body fall slack just as she opened the door a crack, peeking in. “Caitlin?” she whispered. “Honey?” I stayed perfectly still, concentrating on breathing evenly: in, out. In, out. “Oh, my,” my mother said softly, “she's still asleep. She'll be so sorry she missed you.” I waited until I heard the soft click of the door shutting again before I opened my eyes. Her voice faded as she walked back to the kitchen, still cooing as she took in Cass's every word. The truth was, I didn't want to talk to Cass. So far everyone who had noticed something was different in me had been distracted enough by their own problemsRina with Jeff, my mother with Cass, even Corinna with Dave and her workthat they accepted my easy explanations about falling or clumsiness and didn't look too closely. The only one who acted as if she might have sensed something was Boo, but she'd never try to pry it out of me. It wasn't her style. So it was easy, in photography class or over dinner, to ignore her thoughtful glances, to sidestep her questions with the standard dinner table answers: Fine. Busy. Nothing special. I'm just tired. But my sister was different. We were too alike, and I was scared that she'd be able to tell something was wrong with one word, one sentence, instantly guessing everything. And I couldn't be found out, not by Cass. She was the strong one, the smart one. She would never have let this happen to her.
I reached under my mattress and pulled out my dream journal, flipping through a few full pages to find the first blank spot. And as my mother laughed and trilled from the kitchen, soaking up every bit of Cass she could, I talked to my sister the only way I had left. Jan 7 Dear Cass, Remember when we were kids and Mom always made us come up with one resolution for New Year's we had to keep, no matter what? Like flossing your teeth every day, or not fighting so much, or reading one book every month. It seemed like anything was possible when you had a clean slate to start with.
Well, it's New Year's now but I don't feel that way anymore. I wonder if you do either. Something's happening to me. It's like I'm shrinking smaller and smaller and I can't stop it. There's just so much wrong that I can't imagine the shame in admitting even the tiniest part of it. When you left it was like there was this huge gap to fill, but instead of spreading wide enough to do it I just fell right in, and I'm still falling.
Like I'm half-?asleep, and I can't wake up, can't wake up.... I went to Corinna's one afternoon in late February to smoke a quick bowl before practice and found the entire house dark, a bunch of candies lined up and lit on the coffee table. She was on the phone, pleading with the power company and chain-?smoking. “I understand that,” she said, handing my bowl back to me. Without the TV on, it was strangely quiet: I could hear their cat purring from across the room. She was sitting on the couch with her checkbook and a calculator, crying and trying to figure out what happened to the money that was supposed to cover the bills. “But I've always paid them before. I mean, I specifically remember giving the money to my boyfriend to deposit, so I don't see how“ I lit the bowl and breathed in deep. Corinna was listening, shaking her head. She grabbed another Kleenex out of the box on the table and wiped at her eyes impatiently. ”Yes, okay. Fine. Thank you.“ She dropped the phone on the coffee table and raised her hands to her face, covering her eyes. Her bracelets slid down her arm, clanking against the ask me about simply soup-?perb combos! button on the front of her uniform. ”I hate this,“ she said, her voice muffled. ”I'm so sorry,“ I said. She looked up at me, half-?smiled, and reached out to pick up her cigarettes. ”Did you know that today in L.A. it was seventy-?two degrees? In the middle of winter?“ She sighed. ”It's like a paradise out there.“ ”Sounds nice,“ I said. ”But I'll miss you when you go.“ She put the cigarette in her mouth. ”You'll come visit. We'll go to the beach, and find movie stars, and get a tan in the middle of February.“ ”All right,“ I told her. ”I'm there.“ ”I wish I was, right now,“ she said. ”It's like all I think about anymore. All I want, you know? Just to be there.“ I nodded, but to me California was so far away as to not be real, just like so much else these days. I was late for practice as usual, and when I walked in everyone was waiting for me. ”Caitlin,“ Chelsea Robbins said. ”Glad you could join us. Have a seat; we need to talk to you.” I blinked, hard, and started to walk over to the bleachers. Everyone except Rinawho was pretending to be preoccupied with tying her shoewas watching me. They were all in their practice clothes, shorts and T-?shirts, bright white Nikes with white socks. I was in sweats. Even when I was in uniform, I always wore tights and a sweaterI couldn't remember the last time I'd let anyone see my arms or legs bare. This would have been bad even if I hadn't been stoned. With that added element, however, it was all I could do to sit down and remain calm as all eyes stayed on me.
The cheerleading intervention, I thought, looking around me at all those perky faces, staring at me flatly as if I was a specimen about to be slapped on a slide. Here we go. “Caitlin,” Chelsea began as she sat down, folding her hands in her lap, “we thought it was time we discussed what you see as your role in the future of this squad.“ All those eyes, on me. I swallowed, and it sounded louder than God. ”My future,“ I said. ”Yes.“ Chelsea's lips were pink and glossy, and she pursed them a lot when she talked. I had not noticed this before. ”It's no secret that your participation and commitment of late has been, well, lacking. Am I right?“ There was a low murmur from the pack as everyone agreed. ”You show up late, you have no energy, you barely make ir to games,“ Chelsea continued, ticking each reason off on a slender finger. ”You don't attend squad functions. And there's been some speculation that you may ... have some kind of problem.“ More murmuring. Eliza Drake nodded her head, her ponytail bouncing. The lights in the gym were so bright and I could hear them buzzing, like a swarm of angry bees about to sting. I looked up at them, wincing in the glare. Problem, I thought. You don't know the half of it. ”Caitlin.“ Chelsea was losing patience. Beside her, Lindsay White, whose teen modeling career had been lost when I fell on her, rolled her eyes. Bitter. ”We wanted to give you a chance to respond. To make your case.“ I looked around at them, all so pretty and healthy, the best and the brightest. I saw Rina, looking sadly at me, and Eliza Drake, who had lost those nagging fifteen pounds and was ready to make top of the pyramid again. And then I thought of Corinna, crying in the dark at her house as the sun went down and it grew colder and colder. ”Caitlin,“ Chelsea said as she shook her head, her ponytail bobbing from side to side, ”don't you even care anymore?”