Fly Away Page 18


She knew she should go down there, mingle, offer drinks and take plates, but she couldn’t stand all those pictures of her mom. Besides, when she did accidentally glance at someone—a soccer mom, a dance mom, Mrs. Baakie from the grocery store—all she got was that poor-Marah look that ripped out a piece of her heart and reminded her that this loss was Forever. It had been two days—two days—and already the vibrant, laughing woman in the photos was fading from memory. All Marah could picture in her mind was the colorless, dying version of her mother.

The doorbell rang again.

Her friends came through the front door like warriors ready to save the princess, shoulder to shoulder, their makeup smeared by tears, their eyes wide with sorrow.

Marah had never needed them more. She stood up, feeling unsteady on her feet. Ashley and Coral and Lindsey rushed up the stairs and hugged her, all of them at once. They held her so tightly her feet practically came up off the floor, and the tears she’d been holding back burst out.

“We don’t know what to say,” Coral said when Marah finally stepped back.

“Your mom was way cool,” Ashley said earnestly, and Lindsey nodded.

Marah wiped her eyes. “I wish I’d told her that.”

“She totally, like, knows,” Ash said. “My mom says to tell you that.”

“Remember when she brought cupcakes to Ms. Robbins’s classroom? She’d decorated them just like that book we were reading. What was it?” Lindsey frowned, trying to remember.

“Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. She put whiskers on the cupcakes,” Coral said. “It was, like, so amazing.”

They nodded together; tears filled their eyes.

Marah remembered, too: You came into my class! OH, MY GOD. And what are you wearing?

“The Pavilion is showing a midnighter of Nightmare Before Christmas. I think we should go,” Lindsey said. “We could chill at Jason’s until it starts.”

Marah almost said, My mom would never let me. At the thought, her eyes glazed with tears. She could feel her emotions spinning out of control. She felt as unsteady as a collapsing building. Thank God her friends were here. “Let’s go,” she said, leading them down the stairs and through the living room. As she reached for the front door, she would have sworn she heard her mother’s voice. Come back here, young lady. You four are not going to a midnight show. Nothing good happens on this island after eleven.

Marah stopped. Her friends gathered around her.

“Don’t you have to, like, tell your dad we’re going?” Lindsey asked.

Marah turned, looked back at the crowd of black-clad mourners in the living room. It looked a little like one of her parents’ Halloween parties.

“No,” she said softly. Her dad hadn’t come looking for her once tonight, and Tully cried every time she looked at her. “No one will even notice I’m gone.”

That was a mom’s job, keeping track of her children. And Mom was gone.

* * *

The next morning, her dad decided they needed a vacation. Why her father thought sand and surf would help, Marah had no idea. She tried to talk him out of it, but she had no vote in the things that mattered. So she went on stupid vacation #1 AM (After Mom—the way life was calculated now, before and after) and didn’t even try to make the best of it.

She wanted her dad to know how pissed off she was. All she had was her friends, and they were three thousand miles away when she needed them most.

She hated paradise. The sunshine pissed her off, and so did the smell of burgers on the grill, and seeing her dad’s sad face made her want to cry. They didn’t talk about anything that mattered that week. He tried—now and then—to make contact, but the pain in his eyes just sucked her in and made it worse, so she stopped looking at him.

She called her friends at least ten times a day until the vacation from hell was finally over.

When they landed back in Seattle, Marah felt herself relaxing for the first time, breathing easily. She’d thought the worst was over.

How wrong she’d been.

They’d come home to find music blaring through the house, empty food containers on the kitchen counter, and Tully in the closet, with Mom’s clothes all boxed up. Dad had blown a gasket and said terrible things to Tully and made her cry, but nothing he said was as bad as: “We’re moving.”

Nine

In November of 2006, less than a month after Mom’s funeral, they moved to California. The two weeks before their departure were terrible. Horrible. Marah spent every waking hour either pissed at her dad or inconsolable. She stopped eating, stopped sleeping. All she cared about was talking to her friends, and when the four best friends got together it was just one endless goodbye, broken down into parts. Every sentence began with, Remember when.

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Marah’s anger could hardly be contained. It was a thing inside of her, pushing against her ribs, making her blood boil. Even her grief had been consumed by it. She stomped around the house and slammed doors and burst into tears at every memento that had to be packed. She couldn’t stomach the idea of just locking up the house—their home—and driving away. The only slightly good news was that they weren’t selling it. Someday, Dad promised, they’d return. The big things—furniture, art, rugs—they left behind. They were renting a furnished house. As if different furniture would make them all forget losing Mom.

When the day finally came to move, she’d clung to her friends and sobbed in their arms and told her dad she hated him.

None of it mattered. She didn’t matter. That was the dark truth. Mom had been a reed; she would have bent to Marah’s will. Dad was a wall of steel, cold and implacable. She knew because she’d hurled herself against him and fallen in a heap at his feet.

On the two-day drive to Los Angeles, Marah said nothing. Not one word. She put her earbuds in and listened to music, texting one message after another to her friends.

They left green and blue Washington and drove south. By Central California, everything was brown. Stubby brown hills huddled beneath a bright autumnal sun. There wasn’t a decent tree for miles. Los Angeles was even worse: flat and endless. One freeway after another, every lane jam-packed with cars. By the time they pulled up to the house Dad had rented in Beverly Hills, Marah had a splitting headache.

“Wow,” Lucas said, drawing at least three syllables out of the word.

“What do you think, Marah?” Dad said, turning in his seat to look at her.

“Yeah,” she said. “You care about what I think.” She opened the car door and got out. Ignoring everything, she texted Ashley, Home Sweet Home, as she walked from the driveway to the house’s front door.

It was a house that had obviously been remodeled sometime recently—an old seventies rambler had been punched up to look modern and boxy. The yard out front was flawlessly clipped and carefully manicured. Flowers grew where they were supposed to; their blossoms were supersized because of the sun and the sprinklers.

This wasn’t a home. Not for the Ryans, anyway. Inside, everything was sleek and cold, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a stainless steel kitchen and gray stone floors. The furniture was defiantly modern, with sharp edges and chrome accents.

She looked at her dad. “Mom would have hated this.” She saw how her words hurt him, and she thought, Good, and went upstairs to claim her room.

* * *

On her first day at Beverly Hills High School, Marah knew that she would never fit in here. The kids were like beings from another planet. The student parking lot was filled with Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches and BMWs. The carpool lane actually had a few limousines in between the luxury cars and Range Rovers. Not every kid was dropped off by a driver, of course, but the point was that some were. Marah couldn’t believe it. The girls were gorgeous, with expertly colored hair and purses that cost more than some cars. They clung together in well-dressed pods. No one even said hi to Marah.

On her first day, she moved through her classes on autopilot. None of her teachers called on her or asked her questions. She sat alone at lunch, barely listening to the commotion going on around her, not caring about anything.

In fifth period, she took a seat in the back and put her head down while the other students took a test. The loneliness she felt was epic, overwhelming. She kept thinking how much she needed her friends—and her mom—to talk to. It hurt so much she felt herself start to shake.

“Marah?”

She looked up through the curtain of her hair.

The teacher—Ms. Appleby—had stopped at her desk. “Come see me if you need help getting up to speed. I’m always available.” She set a syllabus on the desk. “We all know how hard it is, with your mom…”

“Dead,” Marah said flatly. If adults were going to talk to her, they might as well say the word. She hated all those pauses and sighs.

Ms. Appleby couldn’t move away fast enough.

Marah smiled grimly. It wasn’t much of a defense, having to say the word, but it was effective.

The bell rang.

The other kids jumped up and immediately started talking. Marah didn’t make eye contact with any of them, and no one made eye contact with her. She was dressed all wrong; she’d known that when she stepped onto the bus. This wasn’t a school where Macy’s jeans and a fitted blouse were going to cut it.

She loaded up her backpack, making sure that her books were in order and facing the right way. It was a new obsession, one she couldn’t shake. She needed her things to be orderly.

Alone, she walked out into the hallway. A few kids were still out here, roughhousing and laughing. Overhead, a big yellow banner hung limply, pulled loose from one of its moorings. It read: GO NORMANS. Someone had scratched out NORMANS, written TROJANS, and drawn a penis beneath the words.

It was the sort of thing she would have told her mom about. They would have laughed together, and when they were done, Mom would have launched into one of her serious talks about sex and teenage girls and appropriateness.

“You do realize you’re standing in the middle of the hallway, staring at a penis, and crying, right?”

Marah turned and saw a girl beside her. She had on enough makeup for a photo shoot, and boobs that looked like footballs.

“Leave me the hell alone,” Marah said, pushing past the girl. She knew she should have made a smart-ass comment, loudly enough to be overheard. That was how to get some cool cred, but she didn’t care. She didn’t want new friends.

She skipped last period and left campus early. Maybe that would get her dad’s attention. She walked all the way home, but it didn’t help to be in this cold house that sounded echoey when she walked through it. The boys were with Irena—the older woman her dad had hired to be a part-time nanny—and Dad was still at work. She walked through the big, impersonal house, but it wasn’t until she got to her room that her resolve started to crack.

This wasn’t her room.

Her room had pale, striped wallpaper and wooden floors and lamps instead of an interrogation-bright overhead light fixture. She walked over to the sleek black dresser, imagining the one that should be there—her dresser, the one her mom had hand-painted all those years ago. (More colors, Mommy; more stars.) It would look absurdly out of place in this austere room, as peculiar as Marah at Beverly Hills High.

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