“Haven’t you heard?” I say softly. “Only the good die young.”
“You can change that,” she says.
I stand up then and begin to descend the stairs, my legs heavier than they were a few minutes ago, before she called to me.
She’s standing, and both of her arms are extended toward me, as if she wants to enfold me into them.
I take the short, two steps back up the stairs, where Mother Mary wraps me in a hug. I am surprised by her strength, the fierceness with which she holds me. She smells of cinnamon and hair relaxer—a smell I grew accustomed to at Destiny’s house, where her mother did hair in their small, third bedroom.
“You must not let hatred destroy you. You will lose your soul,” she says.
I don’t look at her as I walk back to the boy who she says gives me hope. I want to tell her that she need not worry about my soul. This boy will save it.
SANDY COMES OUT OF THE OFFICE and tells us that they found the little girl’s body—the one who went missing. It’s all over the news. They found her in a field near the old harbor, burned to blackness.
I think of Nevaeh, the bright, innocent beauty of her all burned to blackness, and I run to the bathroom to vomit. I ask Sandy for a break, and she says no; we’re too busy today. I have to go back to the register.
I ring people up in a trance and wonder if it was one of them who killed Nevaeh. My hands are shaking, and one of the customers leans in conspiratorially and asks if I need a fix. A fix? I want to laugh. How do you fix evil?
By the time my shift is done, I’m angry. I stand on the bus, bouncing on my heels until my stop. Then I jog to Judah’s house. When I knock on the door, Delaney answers holding Horace and reeking of weed. She looks surprised to see me. Judah is right behind her in the kitchen, and when he hears my voice, he calls out to her to let me in.
“Did you hear?” I ask. He nods. I’m breathless from my running. Delaney props Horace against the wall and has me sit down at the kitchen table. She brings me a glass of something sweet and red. I hold the glass between my hands, but I can’t drink it. I still feel like I’m going to be sick.
“I hate everything.”
Judah runs his finger along the outline of his lips. He looks like he’s thinking deeply about something.
“It’s all over the news,” Delaney says.
I look at Judah. “What are you thinking?”
“What if it was someone from here, in this neighborhood, that did that to her. One of us.”
“It could have been someone coming through the Bone. Doesn’t mean they’re from here.”
He nods, but he’s not committed to that nod. I stand up. “I have to go,” I say.
“Where?” Judah asks.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Delaney says.
“Dunno. I need to think.”
I walk the Bone in the drizzling rain. Up and down the streets, counting the scattered, balled up candy wrappers, until I am so cold my whole body is shaking. I walk past Nevaeh’s house. I want her to come running down the stairs like she always did when she saw me, her shoelaces flying around like a scraped knee waiting to happen. I want to steal her away before someone can steal her life away, and show her something other than the Bone. I want to show myself something other than the Bone. I don’t even know if that’s possible. Judah says that where we’re from is in us—in our marrow. You can put us anywhere else in the world, but we carry our origin with us everywhere we go. If he’s right, I’ll never fucking get away.
My new Converse are soaked through when I reach the end of the Bone. The highway that runs through our town is 83. It’s non-committal, winding this way then veering off like it can’t decide if it wants to be with us or not. If I keep walking, I’ll end up in the Cascades. I pass a hand over my face to wipe the rain out of my eyes. I should do it. Keep walking. Die trying. Anything to get out of here.
Ugh! I kick at a puddle. Kick, kick all you want. You’re too shit scared to leave.
I turn back, overcome. Shame drags my head down. I watch my cowardly feet plod through the puddles, water flowing down my neck, until I spot a blur of red in a pool of water. Bright red. I bend at the knees to retrieve it, my hand plunging into the little puddle without thought. I pull up a pair of sunglasses with red, plastic heart frames. Without hesitation I put them on.
Like the emotional defeatist I am, I stop at the Quickie Corner when I get back to town. I eye the rack of my usual choices: Honey Buns, Pecan Wheels, Oatmeal Crème Pies, Cosmic Brownies, Ding Dongs, Twinkies, and powdered doughnuts. They’re all on sale, but I can’t eat that shit today. Or maybe ever again. I don’t want to kill myself that way. I walk over to the refrigerators at the back of the store and choose an orange juice. I grab a super-sized box of raisins and a box of matches that has a teddy bear on them, which reminds me of Nevaeh. I feel around in my pockets for my money.
“What’s that for … you don’t smoke?”
Joe. We call him Knick Knack because he collects porcelain figurines of the Virgin Mary and hides them all over the store. Sometimes you’d pull a loaf of bread off a shelf, and the Holy Virgin would be right there, staring straight at you
“I’m going to commit arson,” I say, pushing it toward him. “I’ll need a gallon of gas, too.”
Knick Knack Joe reaches below the register and puts an empty gas can on the counter. It’s red with a spout, and someone’s written I’m Gassy on the side in sharpie. “You’ll need this, too,” he says, grinning. “Who you burning?”
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