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Daughters and Other Breakable Things

Daughters and Other Breakable Things

Daughters and Other Breakable Things

A Short Story by Madison Fiedler

It wasn’t that Nina had been expecting the first Google result to “what to do when you haven’t eaten in two days” to be, per se, way more helpful than what her school counselor had already given her (pamphlets with skinny and chubby girls on the covers, hugging for some reason), or her dad for that matter (off-brand protein shakes left wordlessly outside her door every other week), but she’d at least expected something new from it. She’d freaking printed the site’s ≈ Steps to Healing ≈ out in the school library.

Learn to listen to your body.

Same vague B.S. that Aunt Maria had given her. Same whole lot of nothing. Even the font was sketchy, like a fifth-grader’s science fair presentation or an early 2000s website. She tore the sheets of paper clean in half and tossed them in the recycling bin. “It’s gay to not recycle, and not in the good way,” Amelie had said the week before, and Nina had nodded, licking a Luna bar without biting down.

Listen to your body. Nina dragged a spoon through the ceramic pot (tureen, Lee called it, like a real cunt) of soup, left for who-knew-how-long on the stove. A sticky note that read Missed you at Family Lunch!   had been taped to the pot, which seemed like maybe the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of sticky notes. The soup was day-old-bathwater cold. Shiny lopsided bunches of fat bobbing on the top. She imagined herself swimming in it, drowning under oil bubbles.

“Hi, Nina, hi!”

The approaching voice, a soft titter: Stepmom Lee, or Ms. Thornton, or “Oh honey, call me Lee, I’m not your teacher anymore!,” or “that stupid whore” (overheard by Aunt Maria in, yeah, not her finest moment ten months ago when the whole mess started and Real Mom moved into her place), or Dad’s Very New Wife (sad fuck-up Dad, who had started watching a lot of nature documentaries and walking around in his boxers lately), or “your dad’s friend” (Mom, either misunderstanding or delusional, her eyes vacant as she’d said it) or the kind of woman whose face you forget even after you’ve seen it a few times, a bewildered-looking blonde with dull skin she was always sort of pulling at and massive tits. She was half jogging into the kitchen, breathless and fingering the loose threads of her sweater. She often entered rooms this way, which Nina attributed to a restless disposition and bad lungs, mostly in an effort to ignore Amelie’s theory (“She’s probably just fucked your dad every time she comes in like that,” she’d pointed out a few months back, vaping before Calculus). Disgusting. She let go of the spoon and watched Lee jump as it clanged against the pot.

“Hi, Ms. Thornton.”

“Ohh,” Lee said. “You know you can just call me Lee, when we’re here!”

  “I guess it just gets confusing, a little.” Nina watched Lee peel at dry skin on her chin, scraping her thumbnail across flaky peels, sawdust-like. “Cause you were my teacher for so long, and now you, y’know. So I’m I guess adjusting, to, boundaries.” Lee nodded vigorously, her head bobbing. A piece of dead skin fluttered into the folds of her sweater.

  “Of course! Of– I completely, of course, whatever, whatever works...”

If there was any plus side of having your Social Sciences teacher and father sit down with you in a sweaty Panera Bread to inform you that their parent-teacher conferences had grown into something bigger, something so big it had pushed your mother (who had just started antidepressants and was in even more of a haze than she’d been the past few months, which was somehow worse than her being manic) clean out of the picture, and that this affair was not only sexual (“Not at all only sexual,” Dad had repeated with emphasis, as if this made something better) but was, in fact, deeply romantic and would soon lead to a marriage (“A June wedding,” Lee had clarified, beaming), and, accordingly, the dissolution of your parents’ marriage and your mother’s spiral into full-on psychotic break, it was knowing that you would hold that shit over your cheating son-of-a-bitch father and teacher-turned-mistress-turned-stepmom for the rest of their sorry ass lives.

Nina felt her nails digging into the soft of her palm, and released her fists. Her knuckles were purple-white. Breathe, Neen.

“So uh, food-wise...” Lee rummaged through the pantry, thumbing a scab on her neck. “Reg said you might need lunch sometime soon, so I made... Did you not like the um, the soup?” She flecked the cracked skin with her thumb and forefinger.

Reg. For a brief, blinding moment, Nina wanted to hurl the pot against the wall, hear it crack and splinter in pieces across the floor, watch the broth seep in between the floorboards and the slugs of congealed fat rest in between them, half-sunken. She wanted to watch Lee’s stupid vague frightened face collapse like a pricked balloon, a mass of shrinking dead skin rippling and whistling. She wanted to prick it herself with the fork that had been uselessly propped against the tureen, to hurl it Spartan-style into Lee’s flaccid, wobbling cheek.

“I’m not hungry,” she said instead, pulling out her phone and blindly scrolling through the first thing she could click on.

***

A flimsy plastic diary with a lock on the front, pink and lightly textured with glitter, embarrassingly young. It could’ve been from Claire’s.                                                                                

“I thought you might...” Real Mom chewed her lip, shaking her head a little. Her eyes were wet, which wasn’t uncommon these days: “She’ll get worse before she gets better,” Aunt Maria had said, reasonably, microwaving her dinner.

“I love it,” Nina said, flipping through the pages. The thing was cheap, but the lock and key were surprisingly solid, metal under metallic pink paint. A spasm of pity twinged somewhere in her ribs, and she hated herself for feeling it.

“It’s for your goals and thoughts...” Mom trailed off, eyes fixed absently on the book. Nina had never realized how much work her mom put into her appearance until she’d stopped putting it in at all; her hair was limp and damp-looking, her eyes surprisingly light, the circles beneath them bruise-like. She was still attractive, still thin, still had all the features Nina had desperately wanted growing up but had inherited worse versions of from her dad: the long, thin nose; the delicate hands; the freckles scattered from collarbone to forehead; the full lips that smiled easily. She just looked like she’d aged ten, fifteen years in the span of fourteen months.

“It’s beautiful. I’ll write in it every day.” She walked the five miles home from her aunt’s place (unnecessarily, but she couldn’t text her dad, not then), and wept brokenly, chest- shudderingly, the whole way. She considered binging, briefly, but shut down the thought. It had been three months since the last one, she didn’t need to go through all that shit again.

Nina hadn’t told anyone at school about her mom’s breakdown– the candle phase first, when she’d lit tiny prayer ones all around the house, terrified everyone she knew was about to die; then, the conspiracy theories, mostly focused around climate change and Gilmore Girls, sometimes featuring both; finally, the day she’d come home to a half-inch of water on the floor and Mom hiding in a long-overflowing bathtub, clutching her purse, quietly sobbing. But, to be fair, no one had asked. Which was actually ideal. She was two months away from her seventeenth birthday, about to be the age people wished they were as soon as they weren’t, about to be the prettiest she’d ever been and a real person who experienced things, and incidentally, a pretty socially successful one, and she hadn’t put in the work she’d put in (she’d joined the field hockey team, for fuck’s sake) to be Girl With The Tragic Mom. She’d watched long-built reputations plummet after deaths in families– or when that one girl’s boyfriend died in a car crash– not to public shame, but to pity, irrelevance. She figured she was two years too deep to start over, and fourteen months too deep to bring this up to anyone, and if she was going to lose her virginity anytime soon, let alone have her First Love, etc, etc, she couldn’t be seen as tragic. Also: Mom would get better soon.

She flipped through the diary. At the top of each page, there was a day of the week and a little underlined space for the date. She flipped to the second page. October 3. The space below was wide-ruled, faintly patterned with flowers.

Dear Diary. It felt ridiculous so she stopped. She thought about goals as she watched a video on Facebook about fat-free avocadoes.

***

“So do you wanna fuck him, yes or no?”                                                                           

“Give me a second here!” Nina set aside her plate of chicken salad, leaving her fork wobbling in the untouched, vague mass of breast meat and grapes. “You only just told me he even, wanted to, I need to think...”

“I mean.” Amelie, chewing, disinterested. “You know if you’re attracted to someone within the first eight seconds of meeting them, so you actually don’t. Plus there’s kind of a time crunch on this, so.”

“I have to give you an answer now?”

“Technically no, but you should. If Ike Karnovsky wants to fuck you now, you fuck him within the next like three days or you don’t ever. He’s very mercurial.”

Nina didn’t bother asking what mercurial went, and Amelie didn’t go on to clarify. She was dabbing on blue eyeshadow with her pinky, examining the reflection in a tiny vanity mirror that read PUSSY on the back. She often changed her look at lunch this way: added an ascot, wiped off lipstick, shrugged on a beaded denim vest. It was a sort of game she alone played, “to fuck with people’s heads a little.” This was quintessential Amelie. She had long improbably slender legs and collarbones that looked like they’d been carved with knives, so everything looked perfect on her. She was only a little more impressive than she was completely awful. She was Nina’s second-best friend; her first-best had moved to an Aramco compound in Saudi Arabia the year before so her dad could have a better retirement plan. They’d Facebook messaged regularly for a while but had lately run out of things to talk about.

“And if you want my advice, and I recognize that this is unsolicited, but if you were to ask for my advice, I’d tell you to rip your clothes off right now and run, don’t walk. Especially since you’re a virgin. Because, and I’m not saying this in a loaded way or a cunty way, but you’re getting a little old to be a virgin, unless you want to commit to being a lesbian. Also, apparently he’s a decent to considerably good fuck.”

Nina stared hard at Amelie’s fingernails, electric blue and viciously chewed, with FUCK YOU written neatly in Sharpie across them (upside down from where she sat), excluding the pinkies. She separated the grapes and cashews into adjacent twin mountains, greyish and wet- looking. This morning she’d written in her diary, under “To-Do”: EAT.

“Apparently according to who?”

“To whom, and you’re stalling. I was actually excited to tell you. I thought you might be appreciative, or at least accommodating.” Amelie was unblinking, a Juul dangling between her lips. She exhaled out her nostrils (it looked effortless, but Nina had watched her practice for hours with cloves back in eighth grade), and the scent of Fruit Medley curled Nina’s stomach.

“And it’s according to Dana Alterman, and she’s fucked a lot of people so she knows what she’s talking about.”

Nina closed her eyes and pictured Ike Karnovsky: lightly pimpled, tall and broad- shouldered but thin, with blonde hair, blonde eyebrows and glasses. He was what Amelie would describe as “Nouveau-Hot,” a self-proclaimed “Foucault fanatic” who chain-smoked and wrote somewhat violent poetry. She imagined him naked, eyes closed, moaning something in French, or Latin, grinding his teeth. His fingers would likely be cold and spindly, but skilled. He’d have sparse body hair, if any.

She spread the chicken along the bottom of the plastic container, creating a moat. The bell rang: five minutes till class.

“They genuinely starve us here,” Amelie said through a mouthful of fries. “Twenty minutes to eat is such an American phenomenon. In Europe, meals take hours.” She swung her backpack over her shoulder and tossed her tray in the trash in one expert gesture.

“Anyway, my mother’s on an Ayahuasca retreat so if you want to come over tonight, we can take some of her Xanax and watch Goodwill Hunting. I’ll be reading the New Yorker or journaling in the bath till eight, so don’t come over till nine or eight-thirty if you do.”

Nina nodded, throwing the chicken salad in the trash. Her stomach flipped, alarmed and ecstatic.

“Did, um.” She played with her fingernails (unpainted, cut short). “Did Ike say he was attracted to me, or?”

“Janio said Ike said he wanted to fuck, that’s all I know.”

“That was his wording, he just, he wanted to fuck me?”

“Well, he didn’t say make love or something. I don’t know what you’re asking.”

“Did he say I was– pretty?”

“That seems implied.” Amelie piled her hair on top of her head and used a Scrunchie to secure it, examining the result in her phone’s camera. “I fully look like trash but I’m kind of into it. Can we go?”

Nina chewed the inside of her cheek, stopping when she tasted blood. Her stomach made a plaintive sound.

“Tell Janio to tell Ike yes.”

“Yeah? He apparently has like elephant balls.” 

“Amelie!”

“What? That means he’s virile, Neen, don’t be ignorant.”

***

Aunt Maria opened the door and raised an eyebrow.

“You weren’t supposed to come today,” she said.

“Yeah,” Nina said.

Aunt Maria shifted her weight to her good leg. Her forehead was shiny, her hair piled on top of her head, her hips wide and slumping. She’d never been as pretty as Mom. Nina had wished, when she was little, that she would go ahead and have kids already so she could have cousins to play with, anyone to play with.

“She’s not so good today,” Maria said, hands on her hips.

“Can I see her for a second? It won’t be long.” Maria’s face softened, not a lot but enough. Nina decided to play the one card she had.

“It’s, about my eating thing.”

“Go.” Maria stepped aside, a bemused look on her face. “But that’s not always gonna work, baby,” she called after her.

Nina had never liked her aunt’s house. It was better than the one Mom had rented somewhere around the time she’d had her first major breakdown and Lee and Dad had gotten engaged (across from a Subway and ABC Store, so everything smelled like stale bread and she got catcalled even in the morning), but it was too clean, all closed doors and smooth walls and made beds. Mom’s room was the one that would’ve been a nursery, before Maria found out she was infertile and her husband left her. The walls were baby blue and the bedsheets had lilacs all over them.

She cracked the door open, knocked lightly. “Mom?”

Mom was in her chair in the corner, reading, a blanket loosely draped around her shoulders. She looked almost normal, with her hair pulled back and her reading glasses on. She glanced up briefly, smiled. “Hi, sweetheart.”

This seemed promising. For the first time all afternoon, Nina didn’t feel stupid for leaving school early to talk to her post-psychotic-break, frequently delusional, highly depressed (she listed these words over and over so she would never think of her as crazy) mom about sex. She didn’t need a lesson in mechanics, Jesus Christ, no. Amelie had shown her enough porn (she found it funny, and occasionally artistic, “in a postmodern way”), and she’d had the obligatory Sex Ed day in sixth grade, yada yada. And she didn’t need permission, obviously. She wasn’t sure what she needed. It wasn’t as though anything her mom could say would make her not do it. She’d wanted to do it since she’d accidentally figured out masturbation in second grade, wriggling around on her mom’s stationary bike in the garage, since she’d googled “sex” in fifth grade on her home computer (a chunky desktop) and had watched pixelated bodies in saturated colors pop up in dozens of browsers, writhing and violent. She’d studied the looks on their faces, the shapes between their bodies. She wasn’t perverted or something, she was just curious. In an almost scientific way. She made a mental note to add “scientist” to the list in her diary titled CAREERS MAYBE?

“I wanted to talk to you about something,” Nina said.

Mom hummed, flipping the pages. “I’m busy, love.”

Nina did some calculations before sitting down on the bed. It could still be a lucid day. Or it could be a batshit day, a loony-tunes day. She felt her cheeks stretch, resistant elastic, into a kindergarten teacher smile. “What are you reading?”                                                                  

“It’s a secret,” Mom said, thumbing the next page.

“A secret?”

Mom smiled a little, her eyes glassy. She leaned forward, closed the book without dog-earing the page.

“It’s the story of my life,” she whispered. She didn’t sound like crazy people in movies. She sounded exactly the way she’d always sounded, which made it worse. She set the book aside, knelt next to Nina on the floor, her hands clasped. “I don’t know how they did it, Neen, but it’s me.”

Nina’s stomach felt as empty as it had all week. She chewed the inside of her lip, kept her face frozen, glanced at the spine of the book. Wuthering Heights.

“Mom, it’s not about you.” She kept her voice even, as bright as she could muster.

“Why does no one believe me?” Mom stood up, her shoulders taut, her face like a child’s. “Neen, why does no one believe me?”

The door reopened, and Maria held her sister’s hands, made soft cooing noises as she ushered her into bed.

“I believe you, baby,” Maria whispered. “You’re good! You’re loved.”

Nina didn’t say goodbye as she walked out with her mouth twisted and something burning behind her eyes. It occurred to her for the first time that Maria would have been a great mom.

***

Nina had imagined losing her virginity in the sweeping, decadent expanses of satin bedsheets, with rose petals scattered; then, in a meadow, in early spring, in a field full of flowers, but on a picnic blanket because she was adventurous but still, y’know, hygienic; then, in a car, furtively, under blankets, with whispered words of love and giggles, maybe after a football game on a cool autumn night.

She breathed in the gasoline and hot concrete of the parking lot and wondered if they would even kiss. She hadn’t worn the right underwear, or bra, and couldn’t remember if she’d showered the night before. She tucked her hair behind her ear, measured the swell of her belly in the reflection of the minivan beside her, exhaled so her ribs would shrink in. Her stomach had stopped groaning at this point. She felt invigorated and empty and beautifully fragile. This was actually kinda perfect: a near-stranger in a parking lot. It would be spontaneous this way.

“Nina!” A nervous, chipper voice and hurried, skipping steps. No no no. She checked her phone: 2:58. “Nina! Hon?”

It was too late to walk away. She turned around to see Lee, shielding herself from the sun with a magazine, wearing a too-young dress and a yellow blazer. She waved at Nina, smiling big. It was hard to believe Nina had found her so cool once, had switched schedules with Eli Simmons (in exchange for a Jamba Juice gift card, weirdly) to be in her class freshman year. Her anthropology puns and homemade jewelry had seemed inventive and quirky then. People were generally disappointing when you got to know them better.

“You need a ride home?” Lee jingled her keys.

  “I’m good, actually. I’m meeting someone.” Lee’s face lit up, and Nina quickly regretted telling the truth, which she’d been trying to do more this year, and which didn’t seem to be paying off.

“Is it... a boy?” Lee raised her eyebrows, a stupid little smile playing on her lips. 

“Amelie.”

“Oh! Okay. Well, I’ll leave you to it.” She waved, did a stupid dancey turn in the direction of her Subaru. 2:59. Nina breathed, tousled her hair. She wished she’d flossed, wished she was the kind of person who considered flossing.

“Actually...” Lee stopped, turned and walked back toward Nina with a thoughtful frown. “There’s been something I’ve been wanting to say, and this might not be the best time, but I’ve been thinking, and this conversation should have happened a while back, and it’s on me, it’s certainly on me for not initiating it, but...” Nina’s eyes flickered between Lee and her phone.

“I know this is a rough time for you, Neen,” Lee said. “With the– with your eating, y’know. Your condition.”

3:00. Nina felt dizzy and hollowed, some new charge of adrenaline zipping its way up, up. There was a strange taste in her mouth as she swallowed, and the sensation in her stomach of dropping.

“But I’m hoping you can let me in a little?” Lee’s eyes were bright, pink-rimmed, the skin beneath them scaly with unblended concealer. “And I, I get it, y’know, I’m just another adult offering you advice you’re not uh, asking for, but– I think that I– get it, more than you’d maybe think...”

Her mouth kept moving, but the sound blurred into a high-pitched, droning buzz.

  “I gotta go,” Nina heard herself say. She let Lee fade into her periphery, surveying the parking lot. People were trickling in slow, blurry and rippling in the heat. She walked past her, the buzz getting louder, then quieter. She resolved that they wouldn’t kiss, that she wanted it standing up against his car, any car.

***

She could see herself from the ceiling, if she tried to, lying corpse-like, unmoving, two fingers pressed in the soft of her throat to make sure her pulse was still there. She felt disembodied in a way that wasn’t entirely bad, inches or feet or possibly miles away from her own body. It felt enormously unburdening, actually, to exist outside of her own weight, of the swells and protrusions and ripples of her own skin the fucking ripples the cellulite the bulges the the the hugeness of her (she knew she wasn’t okay she knew the difference between what she saw and what was real it wasn’t that simple, people thought knowing was enough but how could it be, people didn’t know anything, EAT had been her To-Do for three weeks, it wasn’t like she wasn’t trying, Jesus Fucking Christ) and the sharpness of bones straining against skin, and the imprint of pants against stomach, too big or too small, depending on the day.

Her phone shuddered on the bedside table, over and over, underneath the diary. It might’ve been Amelie, annoyed at being made a liar, or even Ike, if he’d been disappointed or freaked out or absently worried enough to get her number from someone and ask if she was okay, or maybe it was something scattered and loving from Real Mom, a question about school or a picture of Aunt Maria’s dog or the twice-a-week “I love you” that made Nina sadder than anything else. She turned over in bed, away from the sound, was momentarily surprised that she could even move. The clock on her desk glowed 3:18 A.M. She curled her toes, craned her neck a little, wrapped her arms around herself and dug her fingers into the space between ribs and hips. She felt swaddled, if that was still a thing people said. Safe, tiny, somewhere between crushed and cozy.

She squeezed her eyes tight enough for the dim red inside of eyelids to flicker with white spots, trained the red to fade into the standard pre-sleep slideshow. The lake in the morning. The cats, fat and sprawled on the couch. Disney World with Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa. Camping with Dad. Breakfast with Mom. Grandpa’s 80th birthday party at Red Lobster, most everyone’s hands greasy with butter, everyone laughing.

A June wedding. Jesus Christ no, not that one.

Mom being spoon-fed a TV dinner. Dinner, and the art of rearranging without taking a single bite.

That wasn’t right.

The aquarium, spilling bobbing blue light everywhere, pretty fish in slow-motion. Christmas, with a real tree.

A hand on her thigh, sliding up, around her hip, stopping at the protrusion of bone, at hard edges where there should be soft. Whoa. You’re like– damn, are you good?

The trampoline down the street, memories of waiting in line. The neighborhood kids screaming, flying, limbs splayed at unnatural angles.

The instinct like an animal thing that had spiked in the three to five seconds he’d touched her, the shaking that couldn’t stop once it started, hands and then teeth and then all of it, and screaming like a gutted pig, like what she imagined a pig sounded like, she’d never seen a pig gutted but a person could imagine the noise of a dying animal, could recognize in themselves the belly-deep instinct to survive. I I I barely touched you, I literally touched your leg, please just– I’ll go, okay, I’ll go, just stop–

The hum of the coffeemaker at Edna’s Café, the jingle of the door, the smell of Dad’s coffee and melted Altoids that permeated the car seats.

The grit of cement meeting knees, hard, the crying, the heaving shoulders and Ike, backing up, hands in surrender position. I’m calling your friend, man, I’m sorry, but this is–

Amelie’s fries, the smell of artificial berries, the goddamn soup. Disgusting. A spasm shot through her belly, desperate.

The shape between bodies, concave where she needed convex. The shape between a body retreating and her own, in fetal position in the parking lot. Do you have some kind of issue with being– I didn’t do anything, I barely even– you’re not gonna say I like raped you or something right? All of your clothes are still on, okay? Do I need to like take a picture? I barely–

She gasped all the way awake and sat up, heaving, sweat itching down her back, under her lips. The room was perfectly still, blue-dark with the yellow sliver of the hallway through a door that had fully never closed since they moved there and the faint glow of a dying nightlight, but everything around her was almost imperceptibly pulsing as she pulled the blankets in and around and over her and shook. 

The feeling of being touched, the feeling of being electrocuted after fumbling with a faulty outlet on her middle school space camp trip. The fucked-up similarity of stomachs: empty, sick, aroused. 

She fixed her eyes on her bedside table, willed them to count the little pink flowers on the diary that Real Mom, that Batshit-Crazy-Never-Getting-Better Mom had given her, that she’d left untouched since the first Dear Diary like the ungrateful asshole of a daughter she was, had always been.

She heard footsteps down the hall, heard her own heartbeat, uneven and jangling in her throat. Maybe it was Real Mom, she had never hoped for anything so much in her life, maybe it was Real Mom, back exactly when Nina needed her most, that was how this worked in movies about adolescent self-discovery. 

“Nina, are you okay?” A voice, the wrong voice, and light pooling on the carpet. Lee stood half-lit in the doorway, wearing a matching pajama set and rubbing her eyes. The buttons, Nina dimly noted, were one off. She almost looked like a real mother this way, with dark circles under her eyes, her forehead creased with the imprint of sheets.

“I could hear you, from– your dad’s room, and I wanted to check in–”

“I’m fine.” Nina blinked the sleep out of her eyes, pulled the covers closer to her. She was freezing.

“Are you sure?” Lee took a step, cautious, her forehead wrinkling a little. Her voice softened. “You didn’t sound fine.”

Neen. Reg. Nina sat up straighter.

“You actually wouldn’t know what I sound like when I sleep, whether I’m fine or not fine, because you’re actually not my–”

Lee stepped back, hands raised in surrender. “I know. I know.” Nina felt emboldened.

“And it’s actually it’s actually really fucking weird to have my teacher come in here in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping, it’s really kind of fucked for you to think it’s okay to...” She hadn’t planned the full sentence, couldn’t keep talking when acid was rising up her throat.

Lee nodded. “I’m sorry this happened to you.”

Nina knew she hated her, knew it like she’d never known anything. She wanted to throw something, to scratch, to pierce that gummy skin, a size too big for Lee’s body. Fucking repulsive, the excess of it. She tried to curl her toes and couldn’t.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” Lee said again, slower. Nina wondered how much teachers heard. Lee’s hands were clasped, her eyes wet. She started to step forward, slowly.

Nina’s throat closed up entirely. A wave of something surged, deep belly-borne and swarming her esophagus. Her stomach knew what to do. Listen to your body. She watched her fingers inch toward the bedside table.

Lee moved toward her with arms wide open as Nina grasped the diary key in her fist and dove, feeling weightless for the first time in years.

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