I swallow his “quit” because I too wanted to “quit,” on many occasions. Namely when I am paralyzed by the thought that there might not be any more to this life than the Bone. A deep hollowness overtakes me, and I have to tell myself that I’m too young to know for sure. Give it a few more years before you quit, Margo. Right now, the thought of Judah quitting makes me panic.
“So what?” I say.
He looks at me. Waiting. I’m waiting too. I don’t want to tangle my words—say something flippant. I’ll never be good enough for Judah Grant, so I want my words to be what he’s thirsty for. Meeting a need makes you feel more rooted. How do I know this? Because I buy my mother cigarettes? Bring her tampons and saltines from the drugstore?
“I have legs, Judah, and I don’t know how to use them. Your life walks, and you’re going to walk out of the Bone and be something. The rest of us, and our working legs, are going to live and die in the Bone.”
“Margo…” his voice cracks. His chin dips to his chest, and I’m not sure if he’s crying until I hear the sniff. He grabs me, before I can grab him, and he holds me tight.
“Margo,” he says into my hair. “I’ll save you, if you save me.”
I nod, the words caught in my throat, sticky with emotion. That’s the best deal life has ever offered me.
“DON’T YOU FEEL LIKE WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING?” I say to Judah a few days later. “Like really just jump up and do something.” He is sprinkling green leaves onto a sheet of thin, white paper. I watch, transfixed, at the nimbleness of his fingers as he licks, then rolls.
“Like what?” he asks. “Start our own investigation?”
“Maybe,” I snap. He finishes one joint and sets about rolling another.
“Let me try,” I say, pushing his hands aside. He leans away from the table, an amused expression on his face. My knees press against the wheels of his chair. My fat, bulging knees. I hope he doesn’t look down and notice. The wind picks up, and I can smell the tang of his skin—sweat and cologne.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” I say. I don’t like the way Judah’s smell makes my body react.
“No, it isn’t.”
He’s watching me closely. It makes me self-conscious. My hair is shaggy, and my skin is stained red from the sun exposure. My fingers fumble, and I spill flecks of green across the table.
“Easy there, Slim.” Judah picks up a few pieces and drops them back onto the paper. I glance at him briefly to see if he’s angry, but he’s not even looking at me anymore. He’s watching the trees across the street.
This morning, I got up early and met with one of the search groups scouring the woods on the east side of the Boubaton River. They gave us doughnuts and coffee and neon yellow vests to wear over our clothes as a safety precaution. Some of the police officers brought their dogs—great big German Shepherds wearing vests that said POLICE in bright yellow lettering down the side. We walked a straight line through the woods, looking for anything that might be out of place—a piece of ripped clothing, blood, hair. I grew more breathless with each step I took. Wondering if I would be the one to find Nevaeh.
Children went missing every day, with one percent of those cases making it into national news. People hurting kids. When it’s a kid you know, one who rides the bus with you, and walks down the same shitty streets you’ve been walking down your whole life, it feels black. Evil was allowed to pick us off one by one, starting with the weakest.
“My joint sucks,” I say, holding the fail between my fingertips. It’s baggy. Some of the grass falls out one end and blows off the table when the breeze kicks up. He plucks it from my fingers and begins again.
“You are helping,” he says. “You’re searching the goddamn woods. What more could you do right now?”
“Find her,” I say. “She’s somewhere, right?”
It’s the look on his face that sets me off. He tries to cover it with what I want to see: hope or something equally as pathetic. That’s what I am, I guess—a pathetically hopeful human who wants to believe that a little girl is still alive. And even if she were, what condition would she be in after all this time? I shake my head, and my voice quivers a little when I say, “You don’t have to look at me like that. Like I’m stupid or something.”
“That’s the last thing I think you are, Margo. The last. She’s been missing for two months…” Has it really been two months? I think back to the last time I saw her. It was June; the sun had started to consistently shine. School had just let out, and all the children in the Bone had a wild excitement on their faces. Nevaeh had told me that her granny had given her two dollars for every ‘A’ she’d earned on her report card.
Ten dollars! She’d boasted proudly. I’m going to save it and buy something really good.
She never got to spend her money, I’m fairly certain of that. It was probably still in that little Hello Kitty wallet in her book bag, stuffed behind packets of Gushers and the purple teddy bear she kept hidden at the bottom. She’d called it Bambi.
I can’t just leave her at home, she’d said, her little voice ringing sweet and vulnerable. She goes where I go.
I walk off, suddenly sore with grief, and leave Judah to smoke his blunt. Let him use his grass to curve the sharp edges. I would rather take them—feel the pain—because that was more real. What a hypocrite I am; I spend my whole life reading books that allude to happiness, when I refuse to experience it.
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