Daniel gave Noah a broad smile. “Thanks, bro, you’re a sport.” They exchanged a fist bump.
I couldn’t believe my brother did that to me. Now Noah would feel obligated to do something. I wanted to punch them both in the face, and puke.
“All right,” Daniel said, putting an arm around me. “I think I’d better take Mara home. Unless you feel like throwing up in Noah’s car instead?” Daniel asked me. I shook my head.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at eleven,” Noah said to me, holding my gaze as Daniel led me away. “There are some things I need to say.”
WHEN DANIEL AND I ARRIVED BACK AT the house, my father’s open accordion files were uncharacteristically strewn all over the dining room table. We heard the sounds of our parents arguing before we even shut the door. I motioned to Daniel to close it quietly.
“I think you need to ask for a hearing.”
“Opening arguments are Monday, Indi. Monday. And there’s an emergency evidentiary hearing right before that. The judge is not going to let me withdraw. There’s just no way.”
“Call Leon Lassiter, then. Ask him to fire you. Tell him you’ll get him a referral. The judge might allow a continuance if he does. He’d want that, right?”
“I doubt it. He’s keen to get this over with.” I heard my father sigh. “You really think Mara’s that bad?”
Daniel and I locked eyes.
My mother didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
“Nothing’s happened since the burn,” Dad said.
“That we know about.”
“You think there’s something going on?”
“Have you seen her lately, Marcus? She’s not sleeping. I think things are worse for her than she lets on. You being in the middle of a murder trial is not helping.”
“Is it worth me being disbarred?”
My mother paused. “We can move back to Rhode Island if that happens,” she said quietly.
I expected my father to laugh. Or to give an exasperated sigh. Or to say anything except what he actually said.
“All right,” my father said, without pause. “I’ll call Leon and let him know I’m out.”
My stomach twisted with guilt. I made a move toward the kitchen, but Daniel grabbed my arm and shook his head silently. I narrowed my eyes to slits.
Trust me, he mouthed. We both stood stone-still as my father spoke.
“Hello, Leon? It’s Marcus, yes, how are you? I’m not so great, actually.” He then proceeded to give him the rundown. I caught the words “unstable,” “traumatic,” and “psychiatric care.” My eyes bored into Daniel’s head.
After a few minutes, my father hung up the phone.
“Well?” My mother’s voice.
“He’s thinking about it. He’s a good guy,” my father said in a low voice, as my mother banged some cabinets open.
Daniel beckoned me close. “Listen to me,” he whispered. “We’re going to go in there, and you are going to act like this has been the best day of your life. Say nothing about Morales, okay? I’ll handle it.”
I didn’t even have a chance to respond before Daniel closed the door behind us in one exaggerated movement. People probably heard the slam in Broward.
My mother’s head popped out of the kitchen. “Hey, guys!” she said all too cheerfully.
“Hi, Mom,” I said, plastering a false smile on my face myself. I was queasy and upset and guilt-ridden and having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that this was my life. We walked into the kitchen to find my father sitting at the table. His eyes were ringed with dark circles, and he looked thinner than usual. “Well, if it isn’t my long-lost children,” he said, smiling.
I wiped my clammy forehead and moved to give him a kiss on the cheek.
“How was your day, kid?”
Daniel gave me a loaded look from over his shoulder.
“Great!” I said, with too much enthusiasm.
“Mara’s been helping me plan Sophie’s surprise party,” Daniel said, opening the refrigerator.
“Oh?” my mother said. “When is that?”
He withdrew an apple. “Tonight,” he said, taking a bite. “We’re heading out in a couple of hours. You guys have any plans?”
My mother shook her head.
“Where’s Joseph?” I asked.
“At a friend’s house,” Mom said.
I opened my mouth to suggest they go out, but Daniel beat me to it.
My mother eyed my father. “Your Dad’s pretty busy, I think.”
He looked back at her. There were a thousand unsaid words in their glance. “I think I could take the night off.”
“Awesome,” Daniel said. “You deserve it. Mara and I are going to go plan a bit, and then I’m going to take a quick nap before the party.”
God, I could kiss Daniel right now. “Me too,” I said, following his lead. I pecked my mother on the cheek, and whirled around quickly, before she could notice the thin sheen of sweat on my skin. I made my way to my bedroom.
“So you guys are set for the night?” my mother called after us.
“Yup!” Daniel yelled back. I nodded and waved behind me before turning the corner into the hallway. We met up there.
He raised his hands. “You’re welcome. Just … relax, okay? You look like you’re going to throw up.”
“Do you think they bought it?”
“Yeah. You did good.”
“But what about Dad’s case? He can’t drop it, not because of me—” I swallowed hard, and tried to steady my balance.
“I’ll make a huge deal about how great you’re doing tomorrow before Noah gets here. How much help you were with the party.”
“You’re amazing. Seriously.”
“Love you too, sister. Go lie down.”
Daniel and I departed for our respective rooms. It had grown dark out, and the hair prickled on the back of my neck as I passed the family pictures. I turned the other way, toward the French doors that looked out on our backyard. With the hall light on, the darkness outside seemed opaque and oddly, each time I approached the glass, I was seized with the sense that there was someone, something right outside—something slinking, something creeping, something—no. Nothing. Nothing there. I made it to my bedroom and darted over to my desk, to the bottle of Zyprexa sitting on it. After a week, my mother trusted me enough to keep the whole bottle in my room. I didn’t remember if I’d taken one this morning. I probably hadn’t. That’s why the whole Morales thing—it was a coincidence that she died. Choked. A coincidence. I shook out a pill into my trembling hand, then tossed it to the back of my throat and swallowed without water. It went down slowly, painfully, leaving a bitter aftertaste on my tongue.