On nights when Gillian lies in bed and reads biology, Kylie stretches out on her own bed and leafs through magazines, but really she’s watching Gillian. She’s feeling lucky to be learning about love from someone like her aunt. She’s heard people talking; even the ones who feel the need to point out that Gillian is trash seem envious of her somehow. Gillian may be a waitress at the Hamburger Shack, she may have little lines around her eyes and mouth from all that Arizona sun, but she’s the one Ben Frye’s in love with. She’s the one who has that smile on her face, night and day.
“Guess what the largest organ in the human body is,” Gillian asks Kylie one evening when they’re both in bed reading.
“Skin,” Kylie says.
“Wise guy,” Gillian tells her. “Know-it-all.”
“Everybody’s jealous that you got Mr. Frye,” Kylie says.
Gillian goes on reading her Bio I book, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t listening. She has the ability to talk about one thing and concentrate on another. She learned it from all that time she spent with Jimmy.
“That makes him sound like he was something I picked up in a store. Like he was a grapefruit, or something on sale, and I got him half-price.” Gillian wrinkles her nose. “Anyway, it wasn’t luck.”
Kylie rolls onto her stomach so she can study her aunt’s dreamy face. “Then what was it?”
“Destiny.” Gillian closes her biology textbook. She has the best smile in the world, Kylie will certainly grant her that. “Fate.”
Kylie thinks about destiny all night long. She thinks about her father, whom she remembers only from a single photograph. She thinks about Gideon Barnes, because she could fall in love with him if she let herself, and she knows he could fall in love with her, too. But Kylie’s not so certain that’s what she wants. She’s not sure if she’s ready yet, or if she’ll ever be. Lately, she’s so sensitive and tuned in she can pick up Gillian’s dreams as she sleeps in the next bed, dreams so scandalous and hot that Kylie wakes up aroused, and then she’s more embarrassed and confused than ever.
Being thirteen is not what she hoped it would be. It’s lonely and not any fun whatsoever. Sometimes she feels she’s stumbled onto a whole secret world she doesn’t understand. When she stares at herself in the mirror she just can’t decide who she is. If she ever does figure it out, she’ll know whether she should dye her hair blond or brown, but for now, she’s in the middle. She’s in the middle about everything. She misses Gideon; she goes to the basement and takes out her chessboard, which always reminds her of him, but she can’t bring herself to call him. When she runs into any of the girls she goes to school with and they invite her to go swimming or to the mall, Kylie isn’t interested. It’s not that she dislikes them; it’s just that she doesn’t want them to see who she really is, when she herself doesn’t know.
What she does know is that awful things can happen if you don’t watch out. The man in the garden has taught her this, and it’s a lesson she won’t soon forget. Grief is all around; it’s just invisible to most people. Most people will figure out a way to stop themselves from being aware of agony—they’ll have a good stiff drink, or swim a hundred laps, or not eat anything all day, except for a small polished apple and a head of lettuce—but Kylie isn’t like that. She’s too sensitive, and her ability to feel others’ pain is getting stronger. If she passes a baby in his stroller, and he’s wailing until he’s bright red with frustration and neglect, Kylie herself is grumpy for the rest of the day. If a dog limps by with a stone embedded in its paw, or a woman buying fruit in the supermarket closes her eyes and stops to recall a boy who drowned fifteen years ago, the one she loved so much, Kylie starts to feel as if she’s going to pass out.
Sally watches her daughter and worries. She knows what happens when you bottle up your sorrow, she knows what she’s done to herself, the walls she’s built, the tower she’s made, stone by stone. But they’re walls of grief, and the tower is drenched in a thousand tears, and that’s no protection; it will all fall to the ground with one touch. When she sees Kylie climb the stairs to her bedroom Sally senses another tower being built, a single stone perhaps, yet it’s enough to chill her. She tries to talk to Kylie, but each time she approaches her, Kylie runs from the room, slamming the door behind her.
“Can’t I have any privacy?” is what Kylie answers to almost any question Sally asks. “Can’t you just leave me alone?”