Page 36

Well, the way Sally sees it, Ben Frye is a grown man, he can take care of himself, or, at the very least, he can try. Her girls are another matter entirely. Sally’s not about to let Gillian arrive out of nowhere, with three divorces and a dead body in her recent history, to start playing around with her daughters’ welfare. Girls like Kylie and Antonia are just too vulnerable; they get broken in two by cruel words alone, they’re easily made to believe they’re not good enough. Just seeing the back of Kylie’s neck as they walk through the parking lot makes Sally want to weep. But she doesn’t. And, what’s more, she won’t.

“My hair’s not that bad,” Kylie says once they’re in the Honda. “I don’t see what’s so horrible about what we did.” She’s sitting alone in the backseat and she feels so weird. There’s no space for her legs at all, and in order to fit she has to fold herself up. She almost feels as if she could leap out of the car and walk away. She could start a new life and never look back again.

“Maybe if you think about it, you will,” Sally tells her. “You have more sense than your aunt, so you have a better chance of understanding your mistake. Think it over.”

That’s what Kylie does, and what it all adds up to is spite. Nobody wants her to be happy, except for Gillian. Nobody gives a damn.

They drive home in silence, but after they’ve pulled into the driveway and are walking toward the front door, Antonia can no longer hold her tongue. “You look so tacky,” she whispers to Kylie. “And you know what the worst part is?” She draws this out, as though she were about to utter a curse. “You look like her.”

Kylie’s eyes sting, but she’s not afraid to talk back to her sister. Why should she be? Antonia looks oddly pale tonight, and her hair has turned dry, a bundle of blood-colored straw caught up in barrettes. She’s not so pretty. She’s not as superior as she’s always pretended.

“Well, good,” Kylie says. Her voice is honey, so easy and sweet. “If I’m like Aunt Gillian I’m glad.”

Sally hears something dangerous in her daughter’s voice, but of course thirteen is a dangerous age. It’s the time when a girl can snap, when good can turn to bad for no apparent reason, and you can lose your own child if you’re not careful.

“We’ll go to the drugstore in the morning,” Sally says. “Once we get hold of a package of brown dye you’ll look perfectly fine.”

“I think that’s my decision.” Kylie is surprised at herself, but that doesn’t mean she’s about to give in.

“Well, I disagree,” Sally says. There’s a lump in her throat. She would like to do something other than stand here—smack Kylie, perhaps, or hug her, but she knows neither of these things is possible.

“Well, that’s too bad,” Kylie says right back. “Because it’s my hair.”

Watching all this, Antonia has a big grin on her face.

“Is this any of your business?” Sally says to her. She waits for Antonia to go inside before turning to Kylie. “We’ll discuss this tomorrow. Get in the house.”

The sky is dark and deep. The stars have begun to come out. Kylie shakes her head no. “I won’t.”

“Fine,” Sally says. There’s a catch in her voice, but her posture is straight and unrelenting. For weeks she’s been afraid that she might lose her daughter, that Kylie would favor Gillian’s careless ways, that she’d grow up too soon. Sally had planned to be understanding, to consider such behavior a passing phase, but now that it’s really happened Sally is stunned to find how angry she is. After all I’ve done for you is lodged somewhere in her brain, and, far worse, it’s in her heart as well. “If this is the way you want to spend your birthday—fine.”

After Sally goes inside, the door closes with a little hissing sound, then slams as it shuts. Kylie has been alive beneath this sky for thirteen years, and only tonight does she really look at all those stars above her. She slips off her shoes, leaves them on the front stoop, then goes around to the backyard. The lilacs have never before been in flower on her birthday, and she takes it as a sign of luck. The bushes are so lush and overgrown, she has to stoop to get by them. For her whole life she has been measuring herself against her sister, and she’s not going to do that anymore. That is the gift Gillian has given her tonight, and for that she will always be grateful.

Anything can happen. Kylie sees that now. All across the lawn there are fireflies and heat waves. Kylie stretches out one hand and fireflies collect in her palm. As she shakes them off, and they rise into the air, she wonders if she has something other people don’t. Intuition or hope—she wouldn’t know what to call it. Perhaps what she has is the simple ability to know that something has changed and is changing still, under this dark and starry sky.