If I’d ever seen a person wither down to nothing before, it was a trifle compared to what I was watching Linley experience.
Her shoulders hunched and she laid her head on the table, not sobbing or crying, but just staring at the wall and not saying anything. Her expression was blank.
I laid my hand on her shoulder. “Linley?”
She said nothing. Her hands curled in on themselves and she dug her nails into her palms.
“Linley, don’t hurt yourself,” I tried to scold lightly, attempting to pull her fist apart and splay her fingers on the table. The fist only grew tighter. “Linley, stop.” She shut her eyes as her nails dug deeper into her palm. Her breathing grew ragged. “Linley, you’re going to hurt yourself! Stop!” Her eyes opened, and I could’ve sworn when they did my heart stopped for a whole three beats.
She looked dead inside. Hollow. Like she wasn’t even there.
As we stared at each other, a small tear escaped from her eye, but she showed no expression besides emptiness.
“Linley, everything will be okay. I promise.”
And just like that, she snapped out of it like nothing happened. Her hand moved towards the remote, but I stopped her halfway. “Maybe the news isn’t the best thing to watch right now.”
“I’m not going to watch the news.” She turned on the TV and punched in a couple of numbers. The screen flicked.
I watched us watching the TV channel in the dining room. She sighed, relieved. “You’re still the same channel number as always.”
“What?” I nudged her in the side with my elbow. “You think I’d be number two? I’m more boring than watching paint dry. What would people want to watch me for anyways?” I clicked the TV off. “Besides, they don’t change channels until the thirty-first.”
“Than what are they doing about Ezra’s?” I bit my lip, staring at the remote. Wondering. What really happened to people’s channels when they died?
Didn’t they disappear?
Or did they show...?
I shuddered and told myself to not be stupid. Of course they just disappeared. I stood up, brushing off my skirt. “I’m going to go change. And then maybe we’ll go out to eat.”
“I’ve lost my appetite.”
“Come on, you have to eat something.” She shrugged.
“I guess I’ll go.” I smiled and headed to my bedroom.
Changing always proved to be uncomfortable. Especially when people could watch you. I always tried to hide myself while changing, but it was challenging when you had cameras facing you at every angle.
I shrugged out of my skirt, covering all of my nude parts with my arms and hands and awkwardly pulled on a t-shirt and jeans.
Suddenly, a man’s voice echoed through the kitchen.
But it wasn’t a person in our house. It was a person talking on the TV. I rushed out.
“Linley, what are you--”
My heart stuttered, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop dead right there.
Ezra’s channel was still up.
And Ezra was still on it.
“Those sick sons of--” A voice drowned out mine.
“Belinda, I’m afraid there’s nothing left I can do for you.”
My mother sobs. “But he can’t be dead! Not Ezra! Not my Ezra!” I clenched my teeth.
Ezra was laying in a hospital bed, his eyes wide open, staring off into the stratosphere of nothing. His face was pale and his hair was a mess. He’d ‘respectfully’ been covered with a blanket all the way up to his neck.
“I’m sorry Belinda.” She sobbed and grasped the doctor’s hands.
“Please.” He leaned closer. I gasped.
She was still using my brother for fans.
And there he was. Dead. I turned around and swiped appliances off the counter, angrily kicking them over and over until my anger was subdued. Linley watched in horror.
I turned to her, seething. “That doesn’t bother you? That our mom is sucking face with that doctor right in front of our dead brother? Are the channels still cool to you Linley? Is the gossip still exciting?” She held up her hands.
“We both know it’s not me you’re mad at.” I sighed, gripping the edge of the counter.
“I know.” I closed my eyes and waited until the red faded from my vision. I couldn’t afford to get mad at Linley. Not when she was all I had left.
I turned the TV off.
“Lets go.” She stood up.
“I’m thinking the diner down the street.” As I turned for the door, the phone rang. I twirled around and picked it up, surveying the mess I had left on the floor. “Hello?”
“Hello Cressida.” I sighed and headed off for my bedroom, gesturing at Linley to wait.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now?”
“You know Belinda, if you wanted me to make such a big scene, you should’ve just shown up yourself.”
“Perhaps I should have.”
“You make me sick.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I didn’t call to ask your opinion of me. Can you do me a favor?” I rocked back on my heels.
“On what my dearest?” Her airy voice made me want to vomit.
“What it is.”
“Crescent isn’t my name. It’s Cressida. It was okay to call me Crescent when I was five, but I’m an adult now. Call me by my real name.” She sighed dramatically.
“Okay Cressida. Did you know I always hated that name? Your father adored it. Crescent is so much more suiting, I think.”
“Well it’s a nickname and I want you to stop calling me by it.”
“Fine. I didn’t call you so we could discuss nicknames.”
“Then what did you call me for?”
“A favor, like I stated before.” I tapped my fingers on the desk and waited for her to continue. “It’s about your brother.”
“What about him?”
“It seems he’s left a couple of things in his will for you to have. I was wondering if you could stop by tomorrow and pick them up.”
“I have school tomorrow. Why can’t you just mail them to me?”
“Oh it’s such a bother. Are you sure you can’t pick them up for me?”
“What are we doing about the funeral?” The door creaked open, and from the corner of my eye I saw Linley peeking. I pretended not to notice her.
“Yeah, Ezra’s funeral. Don’t tell me you’d forgotten to plan a funeral?”
“Of course I remembered the funeral,” she said, her voice sounding nervous.
“Oh really? Where will it be held?”
“You know Belinda, if I have to plan this funeral I won’t invite you.”
“I figured as much.”
“There’s no escaping you Belinda. This is just like being home. I had to do all the serious things like pay bills and make dinner and you played movie star. It’s no different now. I’ll plan the funeral.”
“But I’d like to attend my son’s--”
“You know Belinda, if you had just stayed away from the channels, Ezra would still be alive. But he’s not. You sucked him into your delusional little chasm of attention and glamour and he killed himself trying to live up to your expectations. You don’t deserve to attend his funeral.”
“But I gave him life, I--”
“And you just as quickly took it away. I’ll make the arrangements Belinda, but if I see you at the funeral, so help me God you will never see Linley for as long as you live.”
“What hospital is he at?”
“I’ll see to it that he gets to a morgue of my choosing by tomorrow.”
“But what about the things he’s left for you?”
“I’ll send for them. Thank you Belinda.” The red button on the phone seemed like a haven. I clicked it and collapsed against my bed. “It’s not nice to spy you know,” I said to Linley tiredly.
“That wasn’t your decision to make.”
“About me never seeing Mom again. That wasn’t your decision to make.”
“I’m your guardian, so technically, it was.”
“You don’t get to decide for me.” I lifted my head from my mattress.
“You want to see Mom after that show? Really Linley?”
“Not now but as some point I’m going to grow up and want to talk to her about everything.”
“Linley there’s nothing to talk about. She only cares about herself.”
“Whatever.” I groaned and dropped my head back on the mattress. I was too young to be a mother, and I definitely wasn’t fit to play the role. Linley stomped away.
“We’re going out to dinner still!” I called. “Whether you want to or not!”
“Then how about you get up so we can leave?” I stood and dusted my jeans off, checking myself in the mirror.
I looked tired. I had bags under my eyes and my face looked paler than normal. It was almost a china doll white that contrasted against the black hair that ran down my back and stopped just shy of my waist.
I headed off to kitchen, where Linley sat with hard eyes. “Come on,” I said. She stood up.
“I’m not going to eat.”
“Yes you are.”
“What, are you going to make me?” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“If I have to.”
“Why are you so controlling?”
“I’m not controlling, I just care. I know that’s something new for you.” She rolled her eyes.
“Let’s just go.”