ESCAPE: THAT WAS WHAT GEMMA dreamed of, especially on nights like this one, when the moon was so big and bright it looked like it was a set piece in a movie, hooked outside her window on a curtain of dark night sky.
In movies, teenagers were always sneaking out. They’d wait until their parents went to bed, ease out from under their blankets already dressed in miniskirts and tank tops, slide down the stairs and unlatch the lock and pop! They’d burst out into the night, like balloons squeezing through a narrow space only to explode.
Other teenagers, Gemma guessed, didn’t have Rufus: a seventy-five-pound retriever who seemed to consist entirely of fur, tongue, and vocal cords.
“Shhh,” Gemma hissed, as Rufus greeted her at the bottom of the stairs, wiggling so hard she was surprised he didn’t fall over.
“Are you all right?”
She’d been awake for only a minute. But already her mother was at the top of the stairs, squinting because she didn’t have her contacts in, dressed in an old Harvard T-shirt and sweatpants.
“I’m fine, Mom.” Gemma grabbed a glass from the cabinet. She would never sneak out. Not that she had any- where to sneak out to, or sneak out with, since April’s parents kept her just as leashed up as Gemma’s did.
Still, she imagined for a second that she was halfway to the door, dressed in tight jeans and a shirt that showed off her boobs, the only part of her body she actually liked, on her way to hop in her boyfriend’s car, instead of standing in a darkened kitchen in her pajamas at eleven p.m. on a Wednesday night while Rufus treated her ankles to one of his signature lick-jobs. “Just needed some water.”
“Are you dehydrated?” Her mom said dehydrated as if it meant dying.
“I’m fine.” Gemma rattled the ice in her glass as she returned up the stairs, deliberately avoiding her mom’s eyes. “Go back to bed, okay?”
Her mom, Kristina, hesitated. “Let me know if you need anything, okay?”
“Uh-huh.” Gemma shut her bedroom door in Rufus’s face, not caring that he immediately began to whine. She set the water on her bedside table and flopped back onto the bed. The moon made squares on her bare legs, cutting her skin into portions of light and dark. She briefly let herself imagine what Chloe DeWitt and Aubrey Connelly were doing at that very second. She’d always been told she had a vivid imagination, but she just couldn’t picture it. What was it like to be so totally, fundamentally, ruthlessly normal? What did they think about? What were their problems? Did they have any problems?
Rufus was still whining. Gemma got out of bed and let him in, sighing as he bounded immediately onto the bed and settled down exactly in the center of her pillow.
She wasn’t tired yet, anyway. She sat down instead at the vanity that had once belonged to her mother, an ornate Victorian antique she’d loved as a child and hadn’t been able to tell Kristina she’d outgrown. She’d never been able to tell her parents much of anything.
The moon made hollows of her eyes in the mirror, turned her skin practically translucent. She wondered if this was how her parents always saw her: a half ghost, hovering somewhere between this life and the next.
But she wasn’t sick anymore. She hadn’t been sick in years, not since she was a little kid. Still, they treated her as if she might suddenly blow away, like a human house of cards, disturbed by the lightest touch.
She herself could barely remember all those years of sickness—the hospital, the operations, the treatments. Coping, her therapist said. An adaptive defense.
She did remember a garden—and a statue, too. A kneeling god, she thought, but she couldn’t be sure, with one arm raised to the sky, and the other reaching toward the ground, as though to draw something magic from the earth.