I changed the subject. “What were you looking so happy about before I curdled your good mood?”
“Did I look happy? I don’t remember looking happy,” he said. He was stalling. And speeding. I glanced at the odometer; he was doing over fifty miles per hour before we got to the highway. Living dangerously for Daniel. Very suspicious.
“You looked happy,” I said to him. “Spill.”
“I’m going to the party tonight.”
I did a double take. It definitely wasn’t Daniel’s scene. “Who are you going with?”
He blushed and shrugged. No way. Did my brother have a … crush?
“Who?!” I demanded.
“The violinist. Sophie.”
I stared at him, mouth agape.
“It’s not a date,” he added immediately. “I’m just meeting her there.”
The beginnings of an idea sprouted as we turned off the highway. “Mind if I tag along?” I asked. Now it was Daniel’s turn to double take. “I promise not to interfere with your amorous advances.”
“You know, I was going to say yes, but now…”
“Oh, come on. I just need a ride.”
“All right. But who are you going to see, pray tell?”
Huh. I hadn’t planned to see anyone. I just wanted to dance and sweat and forget and—
“What the hell?” Daniel whispered, as we rounded the corner of our street.
A massive gathering of news vans and people lined the pavement in front of our driveway. Daniel and I looked at each other, and I knew we shared the same thought.
Something was wrong.
THE SEA OF REPORTERS PARTED FOR DANIEL’s car as he pulled into the driveway. They peered at us as we rolled by; the cameramen seemed to be packing up their equipment, and the satellites on the vans had been retracted into the vehicles. Whatever had happened, they were getting ready to leave.
As soon as Daniel came to a stop, I rocketed out of the car toward the front door, passing both my mother and father’s car. My father’s car. Which didn’t belong here this early.
I was ready to be sick when I finally burst into the house with Daniel behind me. Electronic machine gunfire and video game music met my ears, and the familiar shape of our little brother’s head stared up at the screen from his cross-legged position on the floor. I closed my eyes and breathed through flared nostrils, trying to slow my heart before it exploded in my chest.
Daniel was the first to speak. “What the hell is going on?”
Joseph half-turned to look at Daniel, annoyed at the interruption. “Dad took on some kind of big case.”
“Can you turn that off?”
“One sec, I don’t want to die.” Joseph’s avatar bludgeoned a mustachioed villain into a thick, oozing puddle of goo.
My parents appeared soundlessly in the door frame of the kitchen.
“Turn it off, Joseph.” My mom sounded exhausted.
My brother sighed and paused the game.
“What’s happening?” Daniel asked.
“A case of mine is going to trial soon,” my father said, “and I was announced as the defendant’s new counsel today.”
A shadow of comprehension passed over my older brother’s face, but I didn’t get it.
“We just moved here,” I said. “Isn’t that, like, unusually fast?”
My mother and father exchanged a look. There was definitely something I was missing.
“What? What’s going on?”
“I took over the case for a friend of mine,” my father said.
“Before we moved here.”
I paused to absorb what I was hearing. “So you had the case before we moved to Florida.”
That shouldn’t matter, unless …
I swallowed, and asked the question I already knew the answer to. “What is it? What case?”
“The Palmer murder.”
I massaged my forehead. No big deal. My father had defended murder cases before, and I tried to calm the nausea that unsettled my stomach. My mother started assembling ingredients from the pantry for dinner, and for no reason, no good reason at all, I pictured human body parts on a plate.
I shook my head to clear it. “Why didn’t you tell us?” I asked my father. Then glanced at Daniel, wondering why he was so quiet.
He avoided my gaze. Ah. They didn’t tell me.
“We didn’t want you to have to worry about it. Not after—,” he started, then stopped. “But now that things are heating up, I guess it’s better this way. You remember my friend Nathan Gold?” my father asked me.
“When he found out we were moving, he asked me to take the case for him. I’m going to be doing some press conferences over the next couple of weeks. I don’t know how they got the address here—I should have had Gloria send out a release about the substitution before it leaked,” he said, mostly to himself.
And that was all fine, but I hated that they were treating me like some delicate, fragile thing. And let’s be honest; it probably wasn’t “they.” I had no doubt my mother, as my unofficial treating psychologist, was responsible for the information that did and did not flow my way.
I turned to her. “You could have told me, you know.” She silently hid behind the open refrigerator. I talked to her anyway. “I miss my friends and yeah, it’s messed-up that this girl died, but it has nothing to do with what happened to Rachel. You don’t have to keep me in the dark about stuff like this. I don’t understand why you’re treating me like I’m two.”
“Joseph, go do your homework,” my mother said.
My brother had been inching his way back into the living room, having almost reached the controller by the time she said his name.
“But there’s no school tomorrow.”
“Then go to your room.”
“What did I do?” he whined.
“Nothing, I just want to talk to your sister for a minute.”
“Mom,” Daniel interrupted.
“Not now, Daniel.”
“You know what, Mom? Talk to Daniel,” I said. “I have nothing else to say.”
My mother didn’t speak. She looked tired; beautiful, as usual, but tired. The recessed lighting haloed her dark hair.
After a pause, Daniel spoke again. “So there’s a party tonight and—”
“You can go,” my mother said.