I stopped. “What?”
Daniel turned around. “It’s called a murder of crows. Not a flock. And yes, we’re going to dodge avian fecal matter, unless you want to go with Mom and Dad?”
I smiled, relieved without knowing why. “Pass.”
Daniel waited for me and I was grateful for the escape. I glanced back to make sure my mother wasn’t watching. But she was busy talking to Rachel’s family, whom we’d known for years. It was too easy to forget that my parents were leaving everything behind too; my father’s law practice, my mother’s patients. And Joseph, though only twelve, accepted without much explanation that we were moving and agreed to leave his friends without complaint. When I thought about it, I knew I had won the family lottery. I made a mental note to behave more charitably toward my mother. After all, it wasn’t her fault we were leaving.
It was mine.
EIGHT WEEKS LATER
YOU’RE KILLING ME, MARA.”
“Give me a minute.” I squinted at the spider that stood between me and my breakfast banana. She and I were working out an arrangement. “Let me do it, then. We’re going to be late.” Daniel was getting his panties in a bunch at the thought. Mr. Perfect was always punctual.
“No. You’ll kill it.”
“And then it will be dead.”
“Just imagine it,” I spoke, my eyes never leaving my arachnid opponent. “The spider family bereft of their matriarch. Her spider children waiting in their web, watching for Mother for days on end before they realize she’s been murdered.”
“Yes.” I tilted my head at the spider. “Her name is Roxanne.” “Of course it is. Take Roxanne outside before she meets the Op-Ed section of Joseph’s Wall Street Journal.”
I paused. “Why is our brother getting the Wall Street Journal?”
“He thinks it’s funny.”
I smiled. It was. I turned to stare at Roxanne, who had sidestepped an inch or two in response to Daniel’s threat. I held out the paper towel and reached for her, but recoiled involuntarily. For the past ten minutes, I’d been repeating this motion: reaching and withdrawing. I wanted to shepherd Roxanne to freedom, to deliver her from our kitchen and lead her to a land flowing with the blood of myriad flying insects. A land otherwise known as our backyard.
But it seemed I was not up to the task. I was still hungry, though, and wanted my banana. I reached for her again, my hand stuck in midair.
Daniel heaved a melodramatic sigh and stuck a cup in the microwave. He pressed a few buttons and the tray began revolving.
“You shouldn’t stand in front of the microwave.”
Daniel ignored me.
“You could get a brain tumor.”
“Is that a fact?” he asked.
“Do you want to find out?”
Daniel examined my hand, still suspended between my body and Roxanne’s, paralyzed. “Your level of neuroses will only find love in a made-for-TV movie.”
“Perhaps, but I’ll be tumorless. Don’t you want to be tumorless, Daniel?”
He reached into the pantry and withdrew a cereal bar. “Here,” he said, and tossed it at me, but lately I was useless before noon. It fell with a thud on the countertop beside me. Roxanne scurried away, and I lost track of her.
Daniel grabbed his keys and sauntered toward the front door. I followed him into the blinding sunlight, breakfastless.
“C’mon,” he said with false cheer. “Don’t tell me you aren’t psyched beyond belief for our first day of school.” He dodged the tiny lizards that scurried across the slate walkway of our new house. “Again.”
“I wonder if it’s snowing in Laurelton right now?”
“Probably. That, I won’t miss.”
Just when I thought it wasn’t possible to get any hotter, the interior of Daniel’s Civic proved me wrong. I choked on the heat and motioned for Daniel to open the window while I sputtered.
He looked at me strangely.
“It’s not that hot.”
“I’m dying. You’re not dying?”
“No … it’s like seventy-two degrees.”
“Guess I’m not used to it yet,” I said. We’d moved to Florida only a few weeks ago, but I wouldn’t recognize my old life in a lineup. I hated this place.
Daniel’s eyebrows were still lifted, but he changed the subject. “You know, Mom was planning to drive you to school separately today.”
I groaned. I didn’t want to play the patient this morning. Or any morning, actually. I contemplated buying her knitting needles, or a watercolor set. She needed a hobby that didn’t involve hovering over me.
“Thanks for taking me instead.” I met Daniel’s eyes. “I mean it.”
“No problemo,” he said, and flashed a goofy smile before turning onto I-95 and into traffic.
My brother spent a large portion of the agonizingly slow drive to school banging his forehead on the steering wheel. We were late, and as we pulled into the full parking lot, there wasn’t a single student among the glossy luxury cars.
I reached behind me for Daniel’s neat and tidy backpack, which was positioned in the backseat like a passenger. I grabbed it for him and launched myself out of the car. We approached the elaborately scrolled iron gate of the Croyden Academy of the Arts and Sciences, our new institution of higher learning. A giant crest was wrought into the gate—a shield in the center with a thick band extending from the top right to the bottom left, separating it into halves. There was a knight’s helmet crowning the shield, and two lions on either side. The school looked oddly out of place, considering the run-down neighborhood.
“So, what I didn’t tell you is that Mom’s picking you up this afternoon,” Daniel said.
“Traitor,” I mumbled.
“I know. But I need to meet with one of the guidance counselors about my college applications and she’s only free after school today.”
“What’s the point? You know you’re going to get in everywhere.” “That is far from certain,” he said.
I squinted one of my eyes at Daniel.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“This is me, giving you the side eye.” I continued to squint.
“Well, you look like you’re having a stroke. Anyway, Mom’s going to pick you up over there,” my brother said, pointing to a cul-de-sac on the other side of the campus. “Try to behave.”