“And, I don’t know, I thought Jamie shouldn’t really be making out publicly with an eighth grader—they were the same age, but still. So I went along with the game, which didn’t actually involve anything but pretending to fawn over Noah to Jamie over dinner and stuff. But I was with this other guy. Let’s call him Kyle,” she said, and her voice turned sharp. “We’d been dating for, like, six months in total secret. My parents would’ve hated him,” she said, almost under her breath. “And we were having sex. Which my parents also would’ve hated.” She glanced at the bathroom door. “Long story short, at some point I probably missed a pill, then I was late, then boom, two pink lines. I told Kyle, who said it wasn’t his problem—I was easy, and must have been ‘sleeping around.’” She rolled her eyes. “A winner, clearly.”
“Sounds like it,” I said quietly.
She half-smiled. “I knew I wasn’t ready for a baby and that adoption wasn’t for me; I knew what I wanted, I was sure, but I just felt—alone.” She leaned back against the wall and stared at me. “I didn’t trust my friends to keep the secret, my parents would have lost it if they found out, and the idea of going to Planned Parenthood by myself was excruciating. Holding it all in just made me feel—I felt screwed up.” Her eyes hardened and she looked at the floor. “Noah saw me crying by the vending machines at school—I was such a mess that I just blurted everything out to the poor kid.” She smiled at the memory. “But he was really great. He used his connections and had an appointment made with a private ob-gyn and he went with me. Anyway, I cried a lot after—I hated feeling like it was this ugly secret even though it was what I wanted and I was relieved.” Her lips thinned into a hard line. “Noah saw me on the way to lunch a few days later and asked how I was and I just burst into tears. Jamie walked by, Noah walked away, Jamie drew his own conclusions and thought Noah dumped me, and I was too upset to correct him.”
I couldn’t stay quiet anymore. “So you just let everyone think he screwed you over? After he helped you?”
Stephanie shook her head. “I called Noah as soon as I got home that night, telling him I’d tell Jamie something else, make up a different lie, but he said he didn’t care and the way he said it? I believed him. It’s funny,” she said, though she didn’t smile. “I think part of him actually wants to be hated. He only ever shows you what he wants you to see. He’s so closed off—it made me feel like he’d never tell.”
“He never did tell,” I said slowly. “But why are you telling me?” Not that I didn’t appreciate it, because I did.
Her Mona Lisa smile appeared again. “Sometimes the biggest secrets you can only tell a stranger.” She leaned against the painted gray wall and tilted her head. Considered me. “I don’t care what you think of me—I made the right choice for my life and I don’t regret it. If you think I’m a horrible person and a murderer and that I’m going to hell, we never have to see each other again. But it would hurt my parents if they knew, and Jamie—he’s awesome, and the most loyal person I’ve ever known. But he’s a little . . .” She scratched her nose, “He’s judgmental. Self-righteous. I love him to death, but he has this black-and-white worldview. Like, he likes you a lot, but he was ragging on you earlier for being with Noah even knowing you’re going to have your heart broken—he holds onto stuff forever. Noah definitely has his assaholic moments, and there’s a lot of darkness there; I’ve heard he’s done some seriously fucked-up shit. Maybe he will break your heart, I’m no oracle.” She shrugged. “But in the fallacious case of Noah Shaw vs. Stephanie Roth? He’s not guilty,” she said, heading for the door. She put her hand on the handle. “I just—watching you out there, with your brother—” she started. Dropped a shrug. “I just wanted you to know.”
“Wait,” I said, and her hand fell to her side. “Why don’t you just tell Jamie now? It’s been years.”
“He’s got other crap to deal with, and he’s taking this whole Horizons thing pretty hard. Or rather, he’s taking the fact that our parents don’t believe a word he says pretty hard.”
I knew what that was like.
“Plus, he’s adopted, and I think it might bother him.”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so. I think he’d want to know the truth.”
“There is no truth,” Stephanie said mysteriously. “Only perspectives. Philosophy 101,” she said with a wink.
But despite her light tone, I could see that she was biting the insides of her cheek.
“I don’t want him to know, okay?” she said after a pause. She looked me in the eye. “So don’t tell him.” And then Stephanie walked out the door.
I stared after her. Jamie thought he was being loyal by hating Noah, who had actually only helped. And Stephanie wasn’t upset about her choice; she was just afraid of what her brother would think of her for making it.
Was I so different?
I used to think there was nothing I could do to change the way my family saw me. There was nothing I couldn’t say.
But now I knew that wasn’t true. I’ll walk forever with stories inside me that the people I love the most can never hear.
I SURVIVED MY FIRST WEEK AT HORIZONS WITHOUT killing anyone or getting killed myself, and by the time Friday afternoon arrived, I was relatively thrilled. Noah called and asked if I wanted him to spend the weekend, which, obviously, I answered in the affirmative despite the fact that he still sounded a bit off. So he convinced Ruth to go out of town and had her call my mother to ask if she would host him. Mom said yes without hesitation—I was surprised, but gift horses and mouths. You know.
Half the family was in and half was out when Daniel and I got home from our sibling session at Horizons, and since nothing much was planned and I had nothing to do, I picked up New Theories in Genetics, which was conveniently sitting on my desk, and took it to the family room to read.
Daniel’s voice. Daniel’s hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes to find that my cheek was smushed against the sixth page.
I fell asleep. Fantastic.
I wiped my mouth in case I’d been drooling. “What time is it?”
“Not even five. Interesting choice of pillow. Title?”