When I don’t say anything, he glances at Delaney’s bedroom door and lowers his voice. “He stopped paying child support when I turned eighteen. I suddenly became really expensive. I can’t be a burden to her. I have to be able to work, carry my own weight.”
I look down at my legs, and suddenly I hate them. I hate that they give me an advantage over Judah.
“Stay,” he says, as I turn back to the door.
“Why? You’re just going to leave. Why should I waste my time?”
“You think it’s a waste of time to be with me?”
I don’t know how to answer him without sounding pathetic.
“You can leave too. Anytime you want. I know someone in the city who will give you a job.”
“And where will I live? How will I know where to go and what to do?”
“You learn those things,” he says cautiously. “You don’t have to be trapped here.”
I don’t want to learn those things without him. He’s stolen my dream, and I feel stupid for ever having it. Of course someone like Judah would never run away with someone like me. Of course he wouldn’t want to share a life with an ugly, unaccomplished girl from the Bone. It was all talk to lift our spirits, and now he is going to move away and leave me with a brain high on ideas that will never be fulfilled.
“When are you leaving?” I ask.
Judah looks away. “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” I repeat. “That’s why you’ve been so weird lately.”
I break our connection. It happens in the blink of an eye. I snap it in two and forget it was there. He calls after me when I leave his house, but I keep walking. I survived eighteen years without Judah Grant. I didn’t need him. I want to be fireproof. Nothing should have the power to break my heart.
The eating house is quiet when I let myself in. I sit at the kitchen table with a glass of milk, staring at the gas stove and entertaining the idea of leaving the Bone. If he can, I can. My milk grows warm, the condensation on the glass long gone. My fingers stay wrapped around the glass, my brain rifling through my options. Every possibility seems bleak without Judah: staying, leaving, living. But, no. I won’t be the type of woman who lacks in courage. I didn’t survive just to fold to the familiarity the Bone offers. I push my untouched milk aside and stand up, my chair scraping loudly against the wood. The house stirs around me. The floorboards above my head creak with the weight of invisible feet, the refrigerator begins to hum, the light bulb on the porch starts flickering in the early dusk. It’s awake, I think. Just like that.
I imagine my mother’s ghost walking into the kitchen, standing over my shoulder, trying to push my back into my seat. Stay in the Bone, stay in the Bone, stay in the Bone.
I feel like my lungs are constricting, like everyone who has ever lived in this house is ganging up on me, filling me with their fear. I walk backward to the front door, looking accusingly at the air around me. My hand reaches behind me for the doorknob. I can feel its grooves, its rust, its connection to the house. I try to turn it, but it jams, moving neither left nor right. I yank at it. The ghosts are moving in. If they reach me, they won’t let me leave. I am crying without tears, but then I hear my name on Judah’s voice. The knob is unstuck; I fling it open and stumble out into the night air. Judah is at the bottom of the three steps, calling my name. I run down to him and find myself kneeling at his chair, crying into his lap. He touches my head, warm hands and compassion, which only makes me cry harder.
“What is it, blondie? People are going to think you’re giving me a blow job.” He makes no move to disturb me. I feel his fingers massaging my neck and scalp as he lets me cry. My hurt is compounded. I’m unsure from which direction to approach it. It feels like everyone is leaving me, like everyone always has, and yet I’m not sure I care. But, I do care, because I’m crying, and it hurts. I don’t blame them, that’s the difference. I’ve grown to expect it.
“I’ll come back for you, Margo. I promise.”
I shake my head. No, he won’t, but that’s okay too. This is our goodbye.
“Judah,” I say, pulling my head back to look at him. “I’m only nineteen years old.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I kind of already know that.”
“I’ve only really known you for a few months.”
“If you want to think of it that way…”
I stare at him. The way he’s looking at me is causing me shame. But I’ll say it. I’ll say it all, despite the wrongness of my feelings.
“What are you saying?” he asks.
“That I love you. That I love you deeply. I’m in love with you.”
The smile falls from his face. For a moment, he’s exposed. Horrified. I pull back, but his hands are on my arms, holding me prisoner in his lap.
“Let me go,” I say.
He does. I step back, out of his reach.
“Don’t come back here. No matter what happens. Promise me.”
“Just promise me.”
“Why? Why would you make me promise that?”
“Because,” I say. “If you come back, I’ll come back.”
He stares at me for a long time.
“I’m sorry,” he says finally. “I’m sorry for all of this.”
I’m backing up again. It feels ironic, familiar. Back into the eating house I go, the word goodbye eating the flesh of my lips. Wanting to be said, wanting to never be said. Get it over with, I tell myself.
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