When she’d glance up the staircase, she’d see me and frown. She always frowned at me, as if I were the crack in the family portrait. “Bed, Maggie May. Then up early for school.”

Sometimes she’d stand there looking at me, waiting for some kind of reply. Then, when one wasn’t given, she’d sigh and walk off, more tired than she had been a moment before.

It was hard knowing how much I exhausted her.

It was harder knowing how much I exhausted myself.

“You okay, sport?” Daddy asked, peeking his head into my bedroom.

I smiled.

“Good, good.” He rubbed his hand against his beard, which was now peppered with gray. “Joke time?” he asked. My father was a nerd in the best way. He was an English professor at Harper Lane University and knew more about literature than most, but his real talent was knowing the worst jokes in the whole wide world. Each night he delivered me something awful.

“What would you find in Charles Dickens’ kitchen?” He patted his legs as a drum roll and then shouted, “The best of thymes, the worst of thymes!”

I rolled my eyes, even though it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard.

Walking over to me, he kissed my forehead. “Goodnight, Maggie. The world keeps spinning because your heartbeats exist.”

As I lay in my bed each night, I listened to Calvin playing music down the hallway. He always stayed up late, listening to music while doing homework or hanging out with his girlfriend, Stacey. I could always tell when she was over because she giggled like a girl who was madly in love with a boy. They’d been together for so long that they each wore promise rings that pledged them to one another forever.

Around eleven at night, I’d wake up to hear Cheryl tiptoeing out of the house to go visit her boyfriend, Jordan. Jordan was the classic bad boy type I’d read about in so many books, and Cheryl was much better off without him, but I couldn’t tell her that. Even if I could, she wouldn’t listen.

Each of my family members had found a certain way of dealing with me and my silence over the past ten years. Calvin became one of my best friends. He spent a lot of time with me, along with Brooks, playing video games, watching movies we weren’t supposed to watch, and discovering the best music before the rest of the world.

Mama kind of shut me out after she realized I wasn’t going to speak again. She left her job to homeschool me, but she hardly spoke to me about anything that wasn’t school-based. Truth was, I could tell she kind of blamed herself for what had happened to me. Seeing me each day seemed a bit hard for her, so she built up a wall. She didn’t know exactly what to say to me, so after some time, the blank stares were a bit too much for her. Sometimes, when I walked into a room, she’d go the other way. I didn’t blame her, though. Seeing me was a reminder of how she hadn’t noticed that I’d left the house to meet Brooks all those years ago. Seeing me hurt her.

Daddy was always the same, though, if not even goofier and more loving than before. I was thankful for that. He was my one constant. He never looked at me as if I were broken, either. In his eyes, I was completely whole.

Cheryl, on the other hand, she hated me. Hate might’ve seemed like a strong word, but it was the only one that came to mind. She had plenty of good reasons to dislike me, though. Growing up, she was sort of put on the backburner because of my issues. There were family trips that couldn’t be taken, talent shows that had to be missed due to my in-home therapy appointments, money that wasn’t available because of the cash my parents spent on me. Plus, since Mama couldn’t look at me, she was always looking at Cheryl, yelling at her for little things, blaming her for everything. It wasn’t a surprise that when Cheryl became a teenager, she began to rebel against the world. Jordan was her biggest rebellion, her perfect mistake.

I’d fall back to sleep to Calvin’s music, then wake back up around three in the morning when Cheryl snuck back in.

Sometimes I’d hear her crying, but I couldn’t check on her, because she liked me more when I acted invisible.

“Will you hurry up already?!” Calvin said, standing in the hallway and banging on the bathroom door the next morning. His hair stood up on top of his head, and his pajama pants were wrinkled, one leg scrunched up while the other dragged across the floor. He had a towel tossed over his shoulder as he banged on the door again. “Cheryl! Come on! Brooks is gonna be here any minute, and I’m gonna be late. Get out already. No amount of mascara is going to fix your face.”

She swung the door open and rolled her eyes. “And no amount of water is going to fix your odor.”

“Oh, good one. I wonder what Mom would think about it, along with the fact that you snuck out last night.”

Cheryl narrowed her eyes and shoved past him. “You’re the most annoying person in the fucking world.”

“Love you too, sis.”

She flipped him off. “I used all the hot water.” As she stomped to her room, she looked at me since my door was wide open. “What are you looking at, freak?”

Then into her room she went, where she slammed the door.

Calvin looked at me and snickered. “What a ray of sunshine she is. Morning, Maggie.”

I waved.

My routine for getting ready for school was pretty simple. I woke up, read some of my favorite book, brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and then walked down to the dining room to get to my classes.

My favorite part of each day was when Brooks stopped by to visit. He drove Calvin to school every day, and seeing as how Cheryl always hogged the bathroom, Calvin was always late getting ready in the morning.

Brooks was one of those people everyone instantly loved. Even with his hipster edge, he was still one of the most popular kids at his school. It wasn’t shocking; he was such a people person. People were addicted to his charm, which was why he always had a girlfriend. Lacey Palmer was the lucky girl of the moment, but there was a list of girls eagerly awaiting their turn. No surprise there, since he was not only charming, but gorgeous, too. He had the perfect tan color to his skin, muscular arms, and wavy hair that had the perfect amount of shag.

His smile was perfect, too. He always smiled out of the left side of his mouth and laughed out of the right. His outfits consisted of indie rock band t-shirts he collected from shows he traveled to with Calvin and their two friends, Oliver and Owen. His jeans were always torn and held up with a leather belt that displayed small pins with lyrics from his favorite musicians. In his front pocket, there were always a few guitar picks he’d randomly flicker through his fingers throughout the day, and his white Chuck Taylors were always unlaced and colored in with highlighters.