The last thing Anna did before she left yesterday was tell me to talk to Susan and ask what she thought about my costumed crusade. Well, the last thing she did was make out with me some more, but that’s not the point. The point is, Anna kinda sorta owns me and I’ve accumulated a fairly large debt to Susan over the relatively short amount of time I’ve spent under her roof, so the talking to Susan thing is gonna happen today, like it or not.
And on top of that, the itch has been on me worse than usual today.
Which is wonderful. The two things taking up most of my admittedly limited mental capacity are two things that I really want no part of right now. A serious talk with Susan right on the heels of a serious talk with Anna plus an intense urge to dress up in a cape and mask and punch people in the face.
That and peeling off all the purple heart stickers Boone stuck to my clothes. All my clothes. The only things not stickered are my socks and boxers. I woke up with a sticker on my forehead somehow.
There will be hell to pay for that.
But before I can too thoroughly distract myself with thoughts of revenge and peeling stickers, I bookmark my Hellblazer graphic novel (ignoring the desperately nerdy part of me that tells me Staring at the Walls needs to be read in one sitting) and roll outta bed. My landing’s a bit heavier than normal, but it’s a vast improvement over the last few days.
“No bullshit.” Anna told me. “Just ask her.”
Susan’s in the living room, weaving a pair of metallic green knitting needles throught a complex, fragile-looking spider web of purple yarn. I think she called it lace or something.
I clear my throat before dropping into the big armchair between Susan and the far wall.
“Whenever you get to a stopping point,” I mutter, rubbing the back of a finger against my chin.
I need to shave.
After a few seconds, Susan gently sets her knitting down on the cushion next to her. She folds her hands in her lap. It doesn’t look particularly casual. More like she’s trapping them there so they won’t fidget.
Before I can ask the simple, straightforward question Anna told me to, I blurt out “If you guys don’t want me around anymore, I’ll go.”
She cringes, from her face all the way down to her hands, before taking a deep breath. And then a second. It reminds me a bit of the first time we met. A bit graver, but there’s a similar sense of her gathering herself to answer a hard question she’s been expecting me to ask.
It looks like the question hurts her almost as much as it does me.
“Out of the city?” She continues. “Out of the state?”
She sighs, pausing for a second to right the ship.
“This isn’t what I want to say. What I really mean is that you don’t seem to grasp your place within this family. We want you here.” She emphasizes each word in the sentence, not letting me break eye contact. “We want you to feel like you can stay here as long as you’d like. And then when you’re done staying here to come back and visit when you’ve got the time. When you first came here, this wasn’t a sure thing. We could’ve talked to you and then gone our separate ways. We wanted you to stay. When you came to live with us, this still wasn’t a sure thing. Not every family is the right place for every child. But we let you stay. We found out what you do at night. We found out you broke the law and put yourself in danger on a regular basis.” She smiles a thin smile. “Admittedly, that was a little more difficult to process, but still. We let you stay. None of those decisions were colored by pity or feeling like we were committed to keeping you around, whether we liked it or not. We let you stay because we want you here. And to drive that point home, I’m going to spoil a surprise Paul and I were planning.”
She holds up a finger and walks quickly into the hall. Her footsteps trot up the stairs, stop, and then march back down. She comes back into the room, holding a thin binder. Across the front in permanent marker is: Yard Sale.
She sets the binder in my lap and sits back down. I thumb through the pages of table layouts and item prices and anything else anyone could conceivable need to run a yard sale. My mouth’s too dry. Someone’s filled my insides with molasses. My lungs and heart labor and my eyes sting.
“We’ve been planning to clean out that other bedroom as soon as it warmed up enough for a yard sale to work. We wanted it to be a surprise.”
She folds and unfolds her hands a few times.
“We probably should’ve just told you. I didn’t even think of how you’d see it. An extra bedroom just sitting around filled with clutter while you had to share a room.”
We sit in silence for a bit. Susan fidgets and I bury myself in the little binder so I don’t have to confirm or deny anything. She starts up again.
“I’m sorry if this stupid surprise has made you feel unwanted or, or made you feel temporary, we…we just wanted to give you a proper welcome.”
Don’t say anything. You suck at words. Just give the poor woman what she deserves.
I shift the binder aside, slide out of the armchair, and give Susan a brief, tight hug. It only makes me slightly uncomfortable. And I ignore the little voice in the back of my head that tells me things are starting to stack up dangerously high in my favor, that things are gonna topple soon.
I’ve spent the last three hours lying in bed. Most of the first two were spent doing various anxiety management exercises. Deep breathing, stretching, and the like. Since then I’ve done the absolute worst thing in the world for managing stress: I’ve obsessed. And oddly enough, it’s the obsessing that’s helped the most. People seem hellbent on keeping me around. Anna, Susan, Paul, Boone…well, at least Boone doesn’t seem to actively want me to leave. Plus, he’ll be getting his room back soon. That’ll help.
For the millionth time, I scroll back to Polar Bear Club’s lovesick anthem, “Drifting Thing” and text Anna back during her study hall. Susan calls up to me to keep feeling better before heading to her shift. I close my eyes and drift off until someone shakes me awake. Literally, I wake up to Anna shaking my leg.
Once she sees I’m awake, she steps up onto Boone’s bunk, pulls my head toward hers, and kisses me. We spend a minute or three like that.
When we separate her eyes look really big. She’s smiling.
I lick my lips and smile back. “What did I do to deserve that?”
Maybe it’s the whole near-death experience I had or Anna finally being cool with what I do, but she’s spent an inordinate amount of time shoving her tongue down my throat these last couple days. Not that I’m complaining—this is pretty much what teenagers live for—just making a note.
She rolls her eyes like I’m slow. But the adorable kind of slow.
“That’s one of the hidden perks of being in a relationship, dumbass. I can make out with you whenever I want for little or no reason at all. And I dunno, things feel better now. Like there’s not as much stress and we can just enjoy being us, ya know?”
“And this is what I can expect from us just getting to be us?”
Another eye roll. “Yes…”
I tilt my head to the side and lean toward her. “Just checking.”