My arm. My mother. Would she still let me go?
“Be right there,” I said, putting down the phone. Seems I’d need Daniel’s help after all.
I walked down the hallway and slipped into his room. He was on his bed, reading a book.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi.” He didn’t look up.
“So, I need your help.”
“With what, pray tell?”
He was going to make this as difficult as possible. Awesome. “I’m supposed to go out with Noah on Sunday.”
“Glad I amuse you.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just—I’m impressed.”
“God, Daniel, am I really that hideous?”
“Oh, come on. That’s not what I meant. I’m impressed that you actually agreed to go out. That’s all.”
I sulked, and raised my arm. “I don’t think Mom is ever going to let me out of her sight again.”
At this, Daniel finally looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “She was supremely pissed Wednesday night, but now that you’re, you know, talking to someone, I could work some magic, I think.” His grin spread. “If you spilled the proverbial beans, that is.”
If anyone could work our mother, it was Daniel. “Fine. What?”
“Did you know it was coming?”
“My sketchbook went missing on Wednesday.”
“Nice try. How about the part where Shaw declared to practically the entire school that you’d been using him to practice your nudes?”
I sighed. “Complete surprise.”
“That’s what I thought when I heard it. I mean, really. You’ve barely left the house….” He trailed off, but I heard the things he didn’t say—you’ve barely left the house except to run away from a party, to visit the emergency room, to visit a psychiatrist.
I interrupted the awkward silence. “So are you going to help me or not?”
Daniel tilted his head sideways and smiled. “You like him?”
This was unbearable. “You know what, forget it.” I turned to leave.
Daniel sat up. “All right, all right. I’ll help you. But only out of guilt.” He made his way over to me. “I should have told you about Dad’s case.”
“Well, consider us even, then,” I said, then smiled. “If you help me set the table.”
“So what’s the special occasion?” I asked my father at dinner that night. He gave me a questioning look. “It’s, like, the third time you’ve been home this early since we moved.”
“Ah,” he said, and smiled. “Well, it was a good day at the office.” He took a bite of curried chicken, then swallowed. “Turns out my client’s the real deal. The so-called eyewitness is a hundred years old. She is not going to hold up on cross.”
My mother stood to retrieve more food from the kitchen. “That’s lovely, Marcus,” she said, watching me. I kept my face carefully composed.
“Well, what do you want me to say? Lassiter has an alibi. He has roots in the community. He’s one of the most well-respected land developers in south Florida, he’s given hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservancy groups—”
“Isn’t that, like, oxymoronic?” Joseph chimed in.
Daniel grinned at our little brother, and then piped up. “I think Joseph’s right. Maybe that’s all just a pretense. I mean, he’s a developer and he’s donating to the groups who hate him? It’s obviously just for show—probably bought him good will at his bail hearing.”
I decided to join in, to keep up appearances. “I agree. Sounds like he has something to hide.” I sounded suitably jovial. My mother even gave me a thumbs-up from the kitchen. Mission accomplished.
“All right,” my father said, “I know when I’m being ganged up on. But it’s not very funny, guys. The man’s on trial for murder, and the evidence doesn’t add up.”
“But Dad, isn’t it your job to say that?”
“Knock it off, Joseph. You tell him, Dad,” Daniel said to our father. When my dad’s back was turned, Daniel winked at our little brother.
“What I’d like to know,” my mother said as my father opened his mouth to retort, “is where my eldest son will be attending college next year.”
And then Daniel was in the spotlight. He reported on the college acceptances he expected, and I tuned him out while shoveling some basmati rice onto my plate. I’d already taken a bite when I noticed something fall through the prongs of my fork. Something small. Something pale.
I froze mid-chew as my gaze slid over my plate. White maggots writhed on the porcelain, half-drowned in curry. I covered my mouth.
“You okay?” Daniel asked, then ate a forkful of rice.
I looked at him wide-eyed with my mouth still full, and then back down at my food. No maggots. Just rice. But I couldn’t bring myself to swallow.
I got up from the table and walked slowly to the hallway. Once I turned the corner, I raced to the guest bathroom, and spit out the food. My knees trembled and my body felt clammy. I splashed cold water over my pale, sweaty face and looked in the mirror out of habit.
Jude stood behind me, wearing the same clothes he had on the night I last saw him and a smile that was completely devoid of warmth. I couldn’t breathe.
“You need to take your mind off this place,” he said, before I turned to the toilet and threw up.
MY ALARM SHOCKED ME AWAKE SUNDAY morning. I hadn’t remembered falling asleep at all. I was still in the clothes I was wearing the day before.
I was just tired. And maybe a little nervous about meeting Noah today. Maybe. A little. I focused on my closet and surveyed my options.
Skirt, no. Dress, definitely not. Jeans it would be, then. I pulled on a destroyed pair and snatched a favorite T-shirt from my dresser drawer, yanking it over my head.
My heart beat wildly in sharp contrast to the sluggish movement of every other body part as I made my way to the kitchen that morning, as if everything was normal. Because it was.
My mother was putting slices of bread in the toaster when I walked in.
“Morning, Mom.” My voice was so even. I gave myself an internal round of applause.
“Good morning, honey.” She smiled, and pulled out a filter for the coffeepot. “You’re up early.” She tucked a strand of her short hair behind her ear.
“Yes.” I was. And she didn’t know why. Since Wednesday, I’d been trying to think of some way to mention today’s nonplans to her, but my mind kept blanking. And now he was almost here.