Fly Away Page 22


“Yeah. We, like, couldn’t believe when Tully called. Were you going to surprise us?” Ashley asked.

“Of course she was,” Coral said from the driver’s seat. “Now, we have to tell you everything!”

“Start with Tyler Britt,” Lindsey said.

“Right. Totally.” Coral turned to Marah and launched into a long, laughing story about Tyler Britt dating some skanky girl from North Kitsap and getting caught by the cops in his underwear and getting a minor-in-possession ticket and being banned from the homecoming football game.

Marah kept a smile on her face the whole time, but what she was thinking was, I can hardly remember my crush on Tyler Britt. It felt like a lifetime ago. She forced herself to nod and smile; sometimes she remembered to laugh when they told her funny stories about the grad party.

Later, when they were at Lytle Beach, stretched out on brightly colored towels, drinking Cokes and noshing on Doritos, Marah didn’t know what to say.

She felt oddly separate, even though they lay close enough together that their shoulders touched. Coral was talking about college and how glad she was that she and Ashley were going to be roommates at Western Washington University, and Lindsey was whining that she didn’t want to go off to Santa Clara alone.

“Where are you going?” Coral asked Marah.

Honestly, she was so out of it, barely listening in fact, that Marah didn’t hear the question the first time it was asked.

“Mar?”

“Where are you going to college?”

“UW,” Marah said, trying to concentrate. It felt as if a warm gray fog had fallen around her—just her.

She didn’t belong with these girls who giggled all the time and dreamed of falling in love and starting college and thought their moms were too strict.

She wasn’t like them anymore, and by the time their day was over, and they drove her back to Seattle, the awkward silences in the car attested to their understanding of this truth. They walked her up to the condo and gathered around her at the door, but now they all knew there was nothing to say. Marah hadn’t known it before, but friendships could die, too, just wither away. She didn’t have the strength to pretend to be the girl they used to know.

“We missed you,” Coral said quietly, and this time it sounded like goodbye.

“I missed you, too,” Marah said, and it was true. She would give anything to make it still true.

When they left, Marah walked back into Tully’s condo. She found Tully in the kitchen, putting dishes away.

“How was it?”

Marah heard something in Tully’s voice, a slurring of words that didn’t quite make sense. If she didn’t know better, she’d think Tully had had a few drinks, but it was way early for that.

And really, Marah didn’t care. She just wanted to climb into bed and pull the covers up over her head and go to sleep. “It was great,” she said dully. “Better than great. I’m tired, though, so I’m going to take a nap.”

“Not too long,” Tully said. “I rented Young Frankenstein.”

One of Mom’s favorite movies. How many times had Mom said, “Valk ziss vay,” and pretended to hunch over like Marty Feldman? And how many times had Marah rolled her eyes in impatience at the old joke?

“Great. Yeah,” she said, and headed for her room.

Eleven

“Tell me that’s not what you’re wearing,” Tully said when Marah walked into the living room on Wednesday night, wearing torn, low-rise flared jeans and an oversized gray sweatshirt.

“Huh? It’s teen grief therapy,” Marah said. “Let’s face it, if you’re invited, fashion isn’t your biggest problem.”

“You have pretty much dressed like a bag lady since you got here. Don’t you want to make a good impression?”

“On depressed teens? Not really.”

Tully got to her feet and crossed the room to stand in front of Marah. She reached up slowly, placed her palm against Marah’s cheek. “I have a lot of really great personality traits. I have a few flaws, I’ll admit—gaping holes in the fabric—but mostly I am an amazing person. I don’t judge people on anything except their actions, even when they do bad things; I know how hard it is to be human. The point is, I love you, and I’m not your mom or dad. It’s not my job to see that you grow up to be a smart, successful, well-adjusted adult. My job is to tell you stories about your mom when you’re ready and to love you no matter what. I’m supposed to say what your mother would say—when I can figure out what that would be. Usually I’m in the mud on that, but this time it’s easy.” She smiled tenderly. “You’re hiding, baby girl. Behind dirty hair and baggy clothes. But I see you, and it’s time for you to come back to us.”

Tully didn’t give Marah time to answer. Instead, she took Marah by the hand and led her down the hallway and through the master bedroom and into Tully’s huge walk-in closet (it used to be a bedroom—that was how big it was). There, Tully chose a white crinkly fitted blouse with a deep V-neck and lace around the collar. “You’re wearing this.”

“Who cares?”

Tully ignored the comment and took the blouse off the hanger. “The sad thing is that I thought I was fat when I wore this blouse. Now I couldn’t button it. Here.”

Marah yanked the blouse from Tully and went into the bathroom. She didn’t want Tully to see her scars; it was one thing to hear that Marah was a cutter. It was something else to see the web of white scars on her skin. The patterned white fabric was deceptive; it seemed to show skin, but there was a flesh-colored liner beneath. When she walked over to the mirror, Marah barely recognized herself. Her thinness was accentuated by the fitted blouse; it made her look fragile and feminine. The jeans hugged her slim hips. She felt strangely nervous as she walked back into the bedroom. Tully was right: Marah had been hiding, although she hadn’t known it. Now she felt exposed.

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Tully pulled the elastic band from Marah’s long black hair, let it fall free. “You are gorgeous. Every boy in the meeting will be driven crazy by you. Trust me.”

“Thanks.”

“Not that we care what therapy boys think. I’m just saying.”

“I’m a therapy girl,” she said quietly. “Crazy.”

“You’re sad, not crazy. Sad makes sense. Come on, it’s time to go.”

Marah followed Tully out of the condo and down to the lobby. Together they walked down First Street to the oldest part of the city. Pioneer Square. Tully came to a stop in front of a squat, blank-faced brick building that dated from before the Great Seattle Fire. “Do you want me to walk you inside?”

“Oh, my God. No. That guy with the eyeliner already thinks I’m Miss Suburbia. All I need is a chaperone.”

“The guy from the waiting room? Edward Scissorhands? And I care what he thinks why?”

“I’m just saying it would be embarrassing. I’m eighteen years old.”

“I get it. Okay. Maybe he’s Johnny Depp under all that makeup.” Tully turned to her. “So, you know how to get back to my place? It’s eight blocks up First. The doorman’s name is Stanley.”

Marah nodded. Her mother would never have let her be alone in this part of town after dark.

Slinging her fringed leather purse strap over her shoulder, Marah walked away. The building in front of her was like many of the early brick structures in Pioneer Square; the interior was dark and the hallway was narrow and windowless. A single lightbulb hung overhead, casting a meager light below. In the foyer, a huge board was cluttered with scraps of paper and notices for AA meetings, lost dogs, cars for sale, and the like.

Marah followed the stairs down into a vaguely musty-smelling basement.

At the closed door, upon which had been tacked a notice for TEEN GRIEF GROUP, she paused and almost turned around. Who the hell wanted to be a part of this group?

She opened the door and went inside.

It was a big room, fluorescently well lit, with a long table at one end that held a coffeemaker, cups, and what looked like a high school bake sale array of treats. Several metal chairs formed a large circle in the center of the room. A box of Kleenex was positioned on the floor by each chair.

Great.

There were already four kids here, seated in the chairs. Marah looked at the other … patients? participants? nutcases?… through the black hair falling in front of her eyes. There was a very large girl with pimply skin and greasy hair who was chewing so hard on her thumbnail she looked like an otter trying to open an oyster. Beside her was a girl so thin that if she turned sideways, she’d vanish. She had a bald spot on the side of her head. Next to her sat a girl dressed all in black, with magenta-colored hair and enough facial piercings to play tic-tac-toe. She slouched away from a plump boy in horn-rimmed glasses beside her who was playing with his phone.

Dr. Bloom sat in the circle, too, wearing fitted navy pants and a gray turtleneck. As neutral as Switzerland. Marah wasn’t fooled: there was nothing casual about the eagle-eyed way Dr. Bloom looked at her.

“We’re glad you could join us, Marah. Aren’t we, group?” Dr. Bloom said.

A few of the kids shrugged. Most didn’t bother to even look up.

Marah took a seat by the heavy girl. She had barely taken her place when the door creaked open and Paxton walked in. As before, he was dressed like a goth, in black jeans and unlaced boots and a poorly fitted black T-shirt. A tattoo of words snaked over the ridge of his collarbone and curled up his throat. Marah looked away quickly.

He sat down across from Marah, next to the girl with the magenta hair.

Marah waited to the count of fifty to look at him again.

He was staring at her, smiling like he thought she was hot for him. She rolled her eyes and looked away.

“Well, it’s seven o’clock, so we can get started,” Dr. Bloom said. “As you can see, we have a new member: Marah. Who would like to make the introductions?”

There was a lot of looking away and chewing on nails and shrugging. Finally, Magenta Hair said, “Oh, hell. I’m Ricki. Dead mom. The fat chick’s Denise. Her grandma has Parkinson’s. Todd hasn’t spoken in four months, so we don’t know what his problem is. Elisa stopped eating when her dad killed himself. And Pax is here by court order. Dead sister.” She looked at Marah. “What’s your story?”

Marah felt everyone looking at her.

“I … I…”

“Mr. Football didn’t ask her to the prom,” the heavy girl said, giggling nervously at her own joke.

A few of the other kids snickered.

“We’re not here to judge each other,” Dr. Bloom said. “You all know how much that hurts, don’t you?”

That shut them up.

“Cutter,” Pax said quietly. He sat slouched in his chair, one arm draped across Magenta Hair’s chair and one leg crossed over the other. “But why?”

Marah looked up sharply.

“Paxton,” Dr. Bloom said. “This is a support group. Life is hard. You’ve all learned that at an early age. Each of you has experienced a profound loss and you know how hard it can be to keep going when a loved one has died or someone charged with caring for you has betrayed that sacred trust.”

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