Lying on his bed right next to me, the lens just inches from his face, smiling slightly, sleepily, as I clicked the shutter. These were pictures I rushed to develop, holding my breath as they emerged before me. I'd examined them so closely, as if they were proof, absolute documentation that he wasn't a monster, that he was still the guy I'd fallen in love with. I'd bring them home and stick them in my dream journal, as if him smiling here or looking at me nicely there would balance out the truths I'd written to Cass in those same pages. I kept collecting faces, as if by holding all these people in my hands I could convince myself that everything was still okay. So I had Dave, rubbing his eyes with hair askew, half a frozen burrito in one hand. Rina in her cat's-?eye sunglasses and cheerleading uniform, smoking a cigarette and sticking out her tongue. My father in his chair, watching a basketball game, his face so expectant as the seconds ticked down and his team took a last-?chance, do-?or-?die shot. And Rogerson, again and again, smiling, not smiling, scowling, laughing, glaring. The only expression I didn't have of his was the one I knew by heart: the dark eyes, angry face, flushed skinthe last thing I usually saw before squeezing my eyes shut and bearing down. My favorite picture, though, was one I hadn't even taken. Roger-?son and I had been at Corinna's, sitting at their kitchen table, when she'd picked up my camera and leaned in close to us, telling us to say cheese. The day before, Rogerson had gotten upset with me for some reasonit was easier, sometimes, to just forget the specificsand punched me in the arm, which meant in the picture I was in my safe zone, when he was trying to make up with me. In the picture I'm on his lap as he sits at the table, my head against his chest. He has one arm around my waist, and just as Corinna hit the shutter he'd tickled me, making me burst out laughing, and he had, too. It is one of those great moments, the kind you can't plan. Sometimes the light or the expression is just perfect, and you're lucky enough to catch it, usually accidentally. I spent a lot of time looking at that picture. Wondering what I'd think of that girl, if I was someone else, seeing how easily she sits in her boyfriend's lap, laughing, with his arms around her. I would have thought her life was perfect, the way I once thought Cass's was. It was too easy, I was learning, to just assume things. One day I took all my pictures and hung them around my room, tacking them to the walls, the mirror, even the ceiling. Then I stood and stared at each of the faces, studying them one at a time. I learned them carefully, aware of every nuance in their expressions. They stared back at me, frozen, but even though I could read their entire world in their faces, none of them were looking that closely at me.
Cass usually called after dinner, when I was already long gone out the door to another “cheerleading meeting,” or on the weekends, when I was locked in the darkroom or with Rogerson. But one late Sunday afternoon I was the only one home when the phone rang. “Caitlin?” It was so strange to hear her voice, and I felt myself catch my breath. But I didn't say anything. “Caitlin. It's me,” she said. She sounded so far away. “It's Cass. I can't believe you're finally there when I called. How are you?” I swallowed, hard, and looked out the window. I could see Boo in her backyard, misting a row of ferns. “Caitlin.” She sounded confused. “Hello?” I ran a finger up and over my neck, feeling down to the spot below my collar where I'd hit the top of my seat belt the night before when Rogerson had pushed me. I pressed down on the bruise: It didn't hurt that badly. I was learning even the smallest push could bring a swelling, blue-?black spot, the body infinitely more dramatic than it needed to be. “Hello?” she said again, and I closed my eyes. “Caitlin? Are you there?”
I could see her in my mind, that time on the Lamont Whipper Show, ducking her head and smiling as she wrote something on her clipboard, and the way she glanced up for that one second, like she was looking right at me. Like she could see me, sitting on Corinna's couch, stoned and lost. “I understand if you're upset with me,” she said, suddenly. “But I had to leave. My whole future had been planned but it wasn't what I wanted. It was like I had no choice anymore. That's a terrible feeling, Caitlin.” I could see her reaching out with a finger, smoothing over the scar, and sighing. She looks just like you, Corinna had said. She could be you. “Caitlin?” Cass said, and I turned away from the window, looking down the stairs and out the front door, trying to picture her making that walk away from this. It seemed like so far, and I was so tired. Tired of keeping time, of studying faces, of hiding bruises. Of disappearing, bit by bit, while my world kept going without me, even as I slipped farther beneath the water, drowning. “Come on,” she whispered. “Talk to me.” I wanted to. But the words just wouldn't come. And when I hung up, she didn't call back.
The next day, when I pulled up to Corinna's after school, the front door was open. As soon as I stepped into the living room, I could hear them. “I just don't understand why you took the money out,” Corinna was saying. “This was, like, our last chance with them.”
“It'll be all right,” I heard Dave say. “Calm down. We'll get the money.”
“How? Tell me.”
“I told you I know that guy at the auto shop. He said to come in anytime, he'd hire me. I'll go tomorrow. It's no big deal.” Corinna sighed, loudly, and I heard her bracelets jingle. I stepped back out on the porch, easing the door shut behind me. Mingus, lying next to the rocking chair, closed his eyes as I leaned over to scratch his ears. “They needed the rent today, David,” Corinna said. “The check bounced last week.”
“I thought we had it covered.”
“We would have if you hadn't taken the money out,” she said, exasperated. “I mean, we've talked about this. More than once.”
“I told you, Corinna,” Dave said, and now he sounded irritated, “I needed it. Okay?”
“Just like you needed the power bill money. And the money I set aside for Mingus to go to the vet.”
Corinna strode into the living room, snatched her cigarettes off the table, and then walked back through the swinging door to the kitchen. "David, I'm working my butt off in this crappy job for that money.
There's no way I can do more than I'm already doing. And we'll never get to California if we don't start“ ”Oh, man,“ Dave said. ”Don't bring that California shit up again."
“Well, if you could just find a way to bring in some money we could save up enough ”