Fly Away Page 19


She reached for the small Shrek jewelry box she’d packed so carefully and brought down here. She’d gotten it from Tully on her twelfth birthday.

It seemed smaller than she remembered, and greener. She turned the key to wind it and lifted the hinged lid. A plastic Fiona snapped erect, spinning in time to the music: Hey, now, you’re an all-star.

Inside was a tangled collection of her favorite things—an agate from Kalaloch Beach, an arrowhead she’d found in her own backyard, an old plastic dinosaur, a Frodo action figure, the garnet earrings Tully had bought her for her thirteenth birthday, and at the bottom, the pink Space Needle pocketknife she’d gotten at the Seattle Center.

She opened the knife, stared down at the small blade.

Johnny, I don’t think she’s old enough.

She’s old enough, Kate. My girl is smart enough not to cut herself. Right, Marah?

Be careful, baby girl, don’t stab yourself.

She pressed the squat silver blade against the flesh of her left palm.

A tingle moved through her. A feeling. She moved the blade just a little and accidentally cut her hand.

Blood bubbled up. The color of it mesmerized her. It was unexpectedly bright and beautiful. She couldn’t remember ever seeing such a perfect color, like Snow White’s red lips.

She couldn’t look away. There was pain, of course; it was sharp and sweet and bitter all at the same time. Better somehow than the vague sense of losing what mattered, of being left behind.

This hurt, and she welcomed the honesty of that, the clarity. She watched blood slide down the side of her hand and plop onto her black shoe, where it almost disappeared, but not quite.

For the first time in months, she felt better.

* * *

In the weeks that followed, Marah lost weight and marked her grief in small red slices on the inside of her upper arm and at the tops of her thighs. Every time she felt overwhelmed or lost or mad at God, she cut herself. She knew she was doing something bad and sick, but she couldn’t stop. When she opened her pink pocketknife with its now reddish black crusted blade, she felt a rush of empowerment.

As impossible as it sounded, when she was most depressed, the only thing that helped was hurting herself. She didn’t know why that was; she didn’t care. Bleeding was better than crying or screaming. Cutting allowed her to carry on.

On Christmas morning, Marah woke early. Her first dreamy thought was, It’s Christmas, Mom, and then she remembered. Mom was gone. She closed her eyes again, wishing for sleep, wishing for a lot of things.

Downstairs, she heard the sounds of her family coming together. Footsteps thudded on the stairs; doors banged shut. Her brothers screamed for her. They were probably already running around like crazy, grabbing for Grandma’s hand, pulling presents out from under the tree, shaking them so hard they rattled. And Mom wasn’t here to calm them down. How would they all make it through today?

It helps. You know it does, and it only hurts for a second. No one will know.

She got out of bed and went to her dresser, to the pretty Shrek box. Her hands were shaking as she opened it.

There it was, her knife. She eased it open.

The tip was so sharp, so pretty.

She stuck the tip into the pad of her fingertip and felt her skin slice. Blood oozed up, a perfect red droplet, and the sight of it sent that thrill moving through her again. The pressure that had been building in her chest disappeared, like steam released with the turn of a wheel. A few drops slid down the back of her hand and plopped onto the hardwood floor.

She watched the red stream form and fall in awe.

Her cell phone rang. She backed away, looked around, found her phone by her bed. Picking it up, she answered. “Hello?”

“Hey, Marah. It’s me. Tully. I wanted to call you before your big present-opening day started. I know how much time that takes your household, with all that opening one at a time.”

Marah grabbed a sock from her top drawer and wrapped it around her finger.

“What’s the matter?” Tully said.

Marah squeezed her bleeding finger. The cut throbbed. It should have comforted her, that pain, but with Tully listening to her every breath, all Marah felt was shame. “Nothing. You know … Christmas without her.”

“Yeah.”

Marah sat down on the edge of her bed. She wondered idly what would happen if she told someone about her cutting. She wanted to stop doing it; she really did.

“Have you made any friends yet?” Tully asked.

Marah hated this question. “Lots.”

“They’re mean girls, aren’t they?” Tully said. “The Beverly Hills crowd.”

Marah didn’t know how to answer. She hadn’t made any friends at BHHS, but she hadn’t really tried to, either.

“You don’t need tons of friends, Marah. You just need one.”

“TullyandKate,” she said dully. The mythic friendship story.

“I’m here for you, you know that, right?”

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“So help me. Tell me how to be happy.”

Tully sighed. “Your mom would be better at a time like this. She believed in happy endings and life getting better. Me, I pretty much go in for the life-blows-and-then-you-die school of thought.”

“Believe me, life does blow. And then you die.”

“Talk to me, Marah.”

“I don’t like it here,” she said quietly. “I miss her every day.”

“Me, too.”

After that, there was nothing to say. Gone was gone. They had both learned that lesson.

“I love you, Marah.”

“What are you doing for Christmas?”

There was a pause. In it, Marah thought she heard her godmother draw in a breath. “Oh, you know.”

“It’s all changed,” Marah said.

“Yeah,” Tully said. “It’s all changed, and I hate it. Especially on days like today.”

That was what Marah loved about her godmother. Tully was the only one who never lied and told her it would get better.

* * *

The first few months at Beverly Hills High were a nightmare. Marah stumbled in all of her classes; her grades dropped. The curriculum was difficult and competitive, but that wasn’t the problem. She couldn’t concentrate in class and didn’t care. In early 2007, she and her dad had a meeting with the principal and a counselor. There were sad looks all around, and an excess of clucking noises, and the words grief and therapy were offered repeatedly. By the close of the meeting, Marah understood what was expected of her in this new, motherless, irrigated world of hers. She almost said she didn’t care.

Until she looked in her father’s eyes and saw how deeply she’d disappointed him. How can I help you? he’d asked quietly. Before, she’d thought that was what she was waiting for—that offer—but when he said it, she felt even worse. She’d known then what she hadn’t known before: She didn’t want help. She wanted to disappear. And she knew how to do it now.

Make no waves.

After that, Marah pretended to be fine. At least fine enough to pass muster for her dad, which was depressingly easy to do. As long as she brought her grades up and smiled at dinner, he looked right through her. He was too busy working. She had learned her lesson: she needed to act normal. The boys’ nanny, Irena (a sad-eyed woman who never missed an opportunity to say that her own kids had grown up and moved away, leaving her with too many empty hours on her hands), barely spent any time with Marah, either. All she had to do was pretend she was on some sports team, and she could be gone as much as she wanted, and no one ever asked to come to one of her games or asked her if she was okay.

By senior year, she had it down to a science: She woke on time every morning, bleary-eyed from bad dreams, and stumbled into her bathroom. Rarely did she bother showering or washing her hair, even on school days. It was too exhausting. And it wasn’t like it mattered if she was clean or dirty.

She’d given up all hope of making friends at BHHS—and good riddance to the shallow, hair-tossing set who thought the right car proved your worth.

Finally, it was June of 2008. Her graduation from Beverly Hills High. Everyone was downstairs, waiting for her. Grandma and Grandpa and Tully had flown in for the Big Event. They were buzzing with enthusiasm, playing Ping-Pong with words like exciting and accomplishment and pride.

Marah didn’t feel any of it. As she reached for her graduation robe, she felt a cold dread descend. The cheap polyester fabric rustled in her grasp. She put on the robe and zipped it up and then went to the mirror.

She was pale and thin and had puffy lavender-colored shadows beneath her eyes. How was it that none of the people who supposedly loved her had noticed how bad she looked?

As long as she did what was expected of her—did her homework, applied to colleges, and pretended to have friends—no one really looked at her. That was what she’d wanted, what she’d chosen, and yet it hurt. Mom would have seen how unhappy she was. That was one of the truths Marah had learned: no one knew you as well as your mom. She would give anything for one of the oh-no-you-don’t-young-lady looks she used to hate.

Her dad yelled up from downstairs, “Time to go, Marah.”

She walked to her dresser and stared longingly at the Shrek music box. Anticipation quickened her heartbeat.

She opened the lid. Inside, she found the knife and dozens of tiny pieces of gauze, stained brown with old blood; relics she couldn’t release. Slowly, she opened the knife and pulled up her sleeve and made a quick, pretty slice on the inside of her forearm, where it wouldn’t be seen.

She cut too deep. She knew it instantly.

Blood rushed down her arm, splatted on the floor. She needed help. And not just to stop the bleeding. She was out of control somehow.

She went downstairs. In the living room, blood splattered the stone floor at her feet.

“I need help,” Marah said quietly.

Tully was the first to respond.

“Jesus, Marah,” her godmother said, tossing her camera onto the sofa. She swooped forward and grabbed Marah’s other wrist and dragged her into the nearest bathroom, forcing her to sit on the closed toilet.

Dad rushed into the bathroom behind them as Tully burrowed through drawers, throwing out bars of hand soap and hairbrushes and tubes of hand cream.

“What the hell happened?” her dad yelled.

“Bandages,” Tully snapped, kneeling beside Marah. “Now!”

Dad left them. He was back in no time with gauze and adhesive tape. He stood back, looking confused and angry, while Tully applied pressure to stop the bleeding and then bandaged the wound. “There,” Tully said. “But I think she’ll need stitches.” Tully stepped back, allowed Dad to move in. “Jesus…” he said, shaking his head. He bent down to be eye level with Marah.

He tried to smile, and she thought: This isn’t my dad, not this man who can’t straighten his shoulders and rarely laughs anymore. He wasn’t himself any more than she was the daughter he remembered. He was even going gray—when had that started?

“Marah?” he said. “What happened?”

She was too ashamed to answer. She’d already disappointed him so much.

“Don’t be afraid,” Tully said. “You asked for help. You mean therapy, don’t you?”

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