“Did she leave you anything when she died?”
“What about . . . stuff?” Didn’t want to be too obvious.
“Only the emerald earrings,” she said. “And some clothes.”
And the pendant I left with Noah, that my mother didn’t seem to know anything about. “No letters or anything? Notebooks?”
Another head shake as she stared at the road ahead of us. “No.”
“What about pictures?”
“She hated pictures,” my mother said softly. “She never let me take any. The one in the hall is the only one I have.”
“Of her on her wedding day,” I said, an idea dawning.
“When she married my grandfather.”
A pause. “Yes.”
“Did he really die in a car accident?”
My mom inhaled sharply. “Yes.”
“When I was little,” she said.
“Did you have any aunts or uncles?”
“It was just my mother and me.”
I tried to imagine what that would be like. Lonely was the word that came to mind.
It was strange, realizing how little I knew about my mom’s life before us. Before Dad, even. I felt guilty for having never really thought of her as anything but Mom. I wanted to know more—not just because of the weirdness with my grandmother, though that was the catalyst.
“We’re strangers who happen to live in the same house,” Noah had said about his family.
My mother felt a bit like a stranger too. And right now, I didn’t want her to be.
But when I opened my mouth to ask her another question, she cut me off before I could.
“It’s been a long day, Mara. Can we talk about this stuff another time?”
“Okay,” I said quietly, then tried changing the subject. “What did you think of Noah’s stepmother?”
“They’re . . . sad,” was all she said, and left it at that.
I was impossibly curious, but she was clearly not in a sharing mood. The obscenely heavy New Theories in Genetics crushed my lap; I tried to start reading it in the car, but grew nauseous. It would have to wait, but that was okay.
Everything felt okay, oddly enough. Yes, Katie was rude. Yes, the necklace thing was weird. But Noah and I kissed.
He wouldn’t spend the night, but I’d see him tomorrow after Horizons. And then it would be the weekend, and we could spend it looking for answers together.
And also maybe kissing.
When we pulled onto our street I almost missed John walking a terrier mix down the block. Seeing him made me feel even lighter.
Jude wanted to scare me, and he had, but that was over now. He’d have to find something else to occupy his second life.
OKAY, EVERYONE,” BROOKE SAID, CLAPPING HER hands twice. “We’re finally going to finish this round of sharing with Mara, Adam, Jamie, Stella, and Megan. Let’s all take out our fear journals.”
The unenthusiasm among my Horizons compatriots was palpable, but I was the queen of apathy today. Noah was theoretically roaming Little Havana in search of answers and digging through his mother’s things. I wanted to be with him but instead I was here, and it annoyed me.
Some students withdrew composition notebooks from small bags they had with them. Others walked over to the bookshelf to retrieve theirs. Phoebe was one of the walkers. She sat down next to me.
I felt the urge to move.
“Who wants to go first?” Brooke asked, glancing at each of us in turn.
Don’t make eye contact.
“Oh, come on!” She wagged her finger. “You’re all going to go eventually.”
“Mara,” Brooke said. “How about you?”
Of course. “I’m still . . . unclear . . . about the . . . parameters of this . . . exercise,” I said.
Brooke nodded. “It’s a lot to process, I know, but you’ve been doing great these past few days! Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through this. So what we’re going to do is make a list of situations that make us anxious or fearful. Then we rank them—one for things that make us very slightly anxious, and ten for situations that make us extremely anxious.” Brooke stood up and walked to a low bookshelf in the corner of the room. She took out a composition notebook. “And with exposure therapy, we confront our fears little by little. That’s why we keep journals with us, to write about our feelings and anxieties so that we can see how far we’ve come from where we started, and to find common ground with our peers during Group,” Brooke finished. She looked at my lap, then at the messenger bag beneath my chair—freshly combed for contraband and not found wanting. “Where’s your journal?”
I shook my head. “I never got a journal.”
“Of course you did. On your first day, don’t you remember?”
“Check your bag.”
I did. I rummaged through it and saw the small sketchbook I kept with me for art therapy along with a few spiral notebooks, but not a composition one.
“Are you sure?” she asked me.
I nodded, looking through it again. Nothing was out of place, except a stray piece of paper at the bottom.
Brooke sighed. “Okay, well, take a blank notebook for today,” she said, and handed me one along with a pen. “But do try to find it, please?” Then she turned back to the group.
“All right, guys,” she continued, “I want you to flip to the most recent page in your fear journal. Mara, since you aren’t sure where yours is, just start listing some anxieties and rank them the way I described, okay? In fact, let’s all take five minutes to look over our lists and see if we can find anything else we want to say.”
Adam coughed, and it sounded a lot like “bullshit.”
“Was there something you wanted to say, Adam?”
“I said this is bullshit. I did it at Lakewood. It’s stupid.”
Brooke rose and tipped her head, indicating that Adam should get up and follow her. He did, and they moved off to the side. Brooke spoke quietly and patiently, but I couldn’t make out her words.
I wished Jamie was sitting closer so I could ask him what Lakewood was. Sadly, he was on the opposite side of the room.
But Stella was right beside me.
“She could almost pass for normal,” Jamie had said about her.
Which made her more normal than me. Maybe I could make a new friend.
I leaned over to her and asked, “What’s Lakewood?”