The morning the Keefes left for Lake Michigan, Amanda had trouble deciding whether she should take her pencil box or not. She sat on her bed, opening, closing, and reopening it over and over again until her mother shouted at her from the living room. “Five minutes!” Janice Keefe called, and Amanda ultimately decided to slide the box back on her nightstand. Bobo looked at her, glassy eyes worried and unsure. She gave him a reassuring smile and patted his head.
“I’ve gone three days before,” she said. “I can do this.”
Bobo didn’t believe her.
“C’mon, Panda — get movin’!” her father shouted, his voice less patient than her mother’s. “We’re going to hit traffic in Kalamazoo as it is!”
Amanda stood and zipped up her coat. “Coming!” she replied.
Ten minutes later, the four of them were in her father’s Taurus, driving away from Battle Creek toward St. Joseph, Michigan.
As her father predicted, traffic swelled on I-94. Her mother took that opportunity to turn on the radio and find a station playing nothing but Christmas songs — from the silly and secular Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to the maudlin and religious O, Holy Night. Though her mother wasn’t a terrible singer, she insisted upon warbling and saying the wrong lines a beat too early. It annoyed Colin, who irritatedly rubbed his brow at her antics.
“Ma, it’s not ‘fall to your knees,’” he reasoned, “it’s ‘fall on your knees.’”
“I’ll sing it my way!” Janice Keefe insisted, and went on with her misconstrued lyrics.
Amanda felt her brother turn to look at her while she watched telephone poles creep by. Only when she felt his hand on her mitten did she realize they were tracing odd circles on her knee.
She pulled it away and, turning to him, shook her head.
“The wee’uns are here! Och, get in! Get in!”
Even in her eighties, Margaret Keefe was a spry little woman. She needed a cane to get around, but she moved quickly through her house. With her tiny body and thin limbs, she reminded Amanda of a little churchmouse skittering across the rafters.
Her eyes danced with tears when she saw her grandchildren. She threw those spindly arms around Colin first, who embraced her with such a bear hug it lifted her off her feet. When he kissed her cheek, she gasped and patted his chest. “Such a gentleman!” she exclaimed. “Handsome as ever, aye! I bet ye have a hard time keeping the girls at bay, don’t ye?”
Colin guffawed. “You’d be surprised, Grandma.”
“And och! Wee ‘Manda — come ere here, child. Let me look at ye!” Margaret Keefe pushed past Colin and went to cup Amanda’s face. “Aw, look at ye! A pretty one, ye are. C’mon, child — smile a bit! That’ll put some color in ye cheeks!”
Amanda beamed. “How are you, Grandma?”
“Gettin’ by, gettin’ by. Ye can put your cases in the upstairs bedroom,” she said. “I’ve got ye two up there tonight, ‘til Jason and Paula get ‘ere with their wee’un. Then Amanda and Sarah can take the one upstairs, Colin can take the couch, and Jason and Paula can have the downstairs one.”
Amanda and Colin looked at each other. “We’re sharing a room?” Amanda said, at the same time Colin said, “Why can’t I sleep downstairs?”
“Nonsense!” Margaret Keefe said, tossing up her arms. “Ye shared me bathtub when you was babes! Ye can spend one night in the same room!” The old woman turned away and went toward her son. “Boy, ye gonna fix me back door while ye here or not?”
“Yes, Mother.” Norman Keefe was traditional in his politeness. “Where’s the screwdriver?”
Janice Keefe frowned as she tossed her coat on the couch. “Hello, Margaret. How are you?” To her own children, she warned, “Don’t upset your grandmother. It’s Thanksgiving.” She then followed mother and son into the kitchen, leaving Colin and Amanda standing in the living room, suitcases at their sides, jaws on the floor.
After a moment, Colin turned to Amanda. “I’m sorry, ‘Mander,” he said.
She bent over to pick up her backpack. “You heard Ma,” she told him. “It’s Thanksgiving.”
The spare bedroom (thankfully) had two twin-sized beds: one with a blue comforter, the other with a pink quilt. Amanda, hands shaking, pulled the quilt and linens down and sniffed the sheets. Stale, but liveable. Still fully clothed in her jeans and bulky cable knit sweater, Amanda crawled into bed and covered herself up to her neck.
Colin, also clothed, wordlessly sat on his bed. In a quick movement, he removed his sweatshirt and kicked off his socks. “Are you sure you’re ok?” he pressed. “Because I can go sleep in the car if you want.”
“You’ll just irk Ma,” she told the ceiling. “And Grandma will wonder why. And also, it’s ten degrees outside with snow and ice on the ground.”
“I’ll be fine. But are you sure you…” He trailed off, having no way to breach the topic delicately. “Can you…hold off until…?”
“Jeez, Col!” Amanda turned toward him and glared. Her voice uncharacteristically shrill, she went on, “I can’t believe you’d think that I would ever do something like that –”
“I don’t care, Amanda, I just –”
“–with you in the room?” Quickly she added, “I’m not a pervert. Good lord.” She turned away.
“That doesn’t make you a pervert, Amanda.”
“I do not want to talk about this with you. With anyone.” She tossed the covers over her face. “Good night, Colin. See you in the morning.”
He didn’t say anything for quite a while. She heard him turn off the light and slip under the covers. When enough time had passed, he said, “I know you’re worried about tomorrow. I promise you I won’t let him near you.”
She took a long time to respond. “You can’t protect me forever, Col. I can’t constantly be waiting for my little brother to save me.”
Amanda got hardly any sleep that night, for many reasons.
Her eyes were half-open when the voices from the kitchen stirred her. Immediately, her chest began to tighten, her stomach began churning, and her mind began spinning. A throbbing in her lower abdomen nagged at her.
She sat up. Colin was gone, his unmade bed a mess of covers and clothes. Gingerly, Amanda got up, listening to the sounds of Sarah’s high-pitched voice, excitedly telling her great-grandmother about her new boardgame. A deeper, less discreet voice spoke over her, telling her to run along and play in the livingroom. Amanda paused in the doorway, trying to still her heart.
She used the bathroom and brushed her teeth, taking her time to also brush her hair into a ponytail before she went downstairs. The clock on the wall in the bathroom said 8:15 — any minutes now Sarah would come thundering up the stairs, asking for her Aunta Manda. There wasn’t enough time to destress here.
At the top of the stairs, Amanda heard Paula’s bubbly, cherubic voice excitedly discussing her pregnancy with her mother. Jason’s voice chimed in a moment later, making some joke about how hungry a pregnant woman always was, and the whole kitchen laughed. Except for Colin; he wasn’t there. Amanda hoped he wasn’t too far away, either.
“I can do this,” she told herself.
Her parents were sitting with her grandmother at the kitchen table; her father was looking into his cup of coffee and glowering. Jason and Paula were standing by the counter, Jason’s hand on his wife’s swollen belly. His thin lips were pulled into a gentle, knowing smile right underneath that long, pointed nose. His dark eyes were little more than narrow slits beneath his thick eyebrows. Amanda felt proud of herself; she laid eyes upon without throwing up.
“Amanda!” Paula squealed, suddenly crossing the room to throw her arms around her. Amanda braced for impact, but Paula pulled her stomach aside. She smelled like baby powder and floral perfume. “Ohh! I’m so happy to see you!”
“Hi Paula,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I was just telling your mother how great this pregnancy has been! I haven’t been sick or stuck in bed yet!” Paula hugged her belly. “I can’t wait to get this out, though!”
More laughter from the table.
“Is there coffee?” Amanda asked.
“Hey, cuz,” Jason said, waving his hand at her. “Nice to see you.”
Amanda forced herself to look at him. He was smiling. Still.
“Hi, Jase,” she replied. “How are you.”
It wasn’t a question, but he answered it anyway. “Just fine! Tellin’ Uncle Norm about the new apartment.”
“Oh, that’s right.” She turned to Paula. “Where was it? Hyde Park?”
“Edison Park.” Paula nodded. “It’s lovely. Within walking distance from a grocery store and a toy store.”
“Watch out for strollers,” Janice Keefe warned.
“We like the family-centric atmosphere there,” Jason said. “Plenty of things for the kids to do.”
“Coffee?” Amanda asked again.
“On the counter, sweetheart,” her mother replied. “Well, that’s nice. What about the riffraff? Is there a lot of crime?”
Norman Keefe grumbled something and Amanda crossed the room. The coffee pot sat right next to where Jason was standing; the creamer and sugar sat even closer. Her arm was sure to brush against him if she drank it any other way but black.
“We’ll be safe,” Paula said, her voice full of simpering affection. “I’ve got the world’s best police officer living with me.”
Amanda’s shaking hand poured half a cup of thick coffee before giving up. The carafe rattled on the burner when she put it back. Coffee splashed on the counter.
“Careful!” Jason turned to give her more room. “Let me help you with that –”
He placed a hand on her elbow and the world stopped for a whole second. In that time, her mind flashed, making her light-headed. The images lingered long after his removed his hand to grab a washcloth.
It wasn’t Colin who saved her; it was Sarah. The girl came running in from the living room, squealing, to throw her arms around her legs. This impact, though slight, sent Amanda’s already startled body back against the fridge.
“Oof,” she huffed. “Hey, Sarah.”
“Auntamandaauntamandaauntamanda!” she shouted, wiry curls bouncing. “Uncle Colin is playing Candyland with me! Come play! Come play!”
“Let Aunt Amanda drink her coffee first, babydoll,” Jason said. “She just got up.”
“It’s ok,” Amanda corrected. “I’d love to play.”
“Yaaaay!” she shouted, jumping. In a split second, Sarah had her by the hand and was leading her away from the kitchen.
Colin was sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table with Candyland spread out in all its sugary glory before him. He had a blanket draped over his shoulders and his reading glasses on his nose, reading the rules. He looked up at Amanda and raised an eyebrow. “Your chariot, m’lady?” he said, nodding toward Sarah.
Amanda sat down, cross-legged, across from him. “Right on time.”
After the second game of Candyland, Colin got bored and excused himself but Amanda stuck around for a third. It wasn’t easy to let a five-year-old win, especially since she was smart enough to realize it.
“Come on, Aunta Manda!” Sarah whined. “I wanna play something else!”
“Me too,” she agreed, stretching. “How about Go Fish?”
Sarah made a face. “I hate Go Fish.”
“Yeah. It’s dumb. Want to build a snowman?”
“Well, what about ponies?”
“I left them at home.” Sarah crossed her arms and stuck out her lip. “Gramma Margie’s house is boring!”
Amanda laughed. “Well, that’s not nice! In the summer, there’s a beach we can play on. We’ll build sand castles.”
“But what can we play now?”
“How about you go help your momma in the kitchen?” Jason’s voice, ever haunting her, materialized in the room, the body attached to it appearing when Amanda turned. “Give your Aunta Manda a break.”
Amanda held her breath. “She’s not bothering me, Jason.”
“See?” Sarah put her hands on her hips. “I’m not bothering her!”
“And I said, ‘go help your mom.’” Jason mimicked her stance. From her place on the floor, Amanda thought he looked ten feet tall.
With a tsk of her tongue, Sarah threw her arms to her sides and balled her fists. “Alright.” Then she stomped away, leaving Amanda in the room with her cousin. Alone. She exhaled and inhaled.
“So, how are you these days, Amanda?” he asked, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Still teaching at BCSU?”
She nodded slowly, looking at his steel toed boots. “Yeah.”
“That’s good. How many classes do you have?”
“Wow. Quite a workload.”
Another silence passed them. Amanda breathed.
“Look, Amanda–” he started.
And she cut him off. “It’s so nice to see Paula and Sarah again. She’s getting so big.”
“Um. Yeah. She’s six months along only.”
“I meant Sarah. She’s growing up.”
“Yeah. Takes after her mother in attitude.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
Colin cleared his throat. Both Jason and Amanda looked over at the doorway, where Colin stood in his heavy down-lined jacket. His shoulders were back, and, even with his thin frame he looked like a gorilla set to lope across the room.
His eyes were dilated and glassy.
“Amanda,” he said. “Are you ok?”
“She’s fine, cuz — we’re–”
She glanced up at her brother. “I’m fine, Col.”
“Are you sure? I can punch his fucking face in if you just say the word.”
Amanda gave him a hard look as Jason balked. “Hey!”
“You heard me, you fucktard.”
“Colin.” Amanda straightened quickly.
“Are we going to have a problem?” Jason demanded. “I’ll remind you that I’m a police officer.”
“I haven’t forgotten.” He stepped closer. “And I don’t give a shit. I’ll fuck your face up then spark up afterward. What the fuck are you going to do about it?”
“Col, man — don’t be an idiot. Back off.”
Amanda watched as her brother stepped nose-to-nose with their cousin. Jason was nearly three inches shorter than Colin, and it was never more obvious than now. Colin was nearly panting.
“Oh sorry, — forgot you don’t know what that word means.”
“Colin!” Amanda admonished, the heat rising in her cheeks. “Stop it.”
The two men stared at each other before Colin finally took a step back. “You bother her again, I will kick the shit out of you. In front of your wife and kid. Then you’ll have to tell them why.”
Jason said nothing. His eyes were angry and narrow. Two hot pieces of flint in his large head.
Amanda stood and brushed off her legs. “I think mom wants me to help with dinner,” she said. Then, shoulders hunched, she wormed away from both of them and made for the kitchen.
The clock on the microwave said 9:49.
For the rest of the morning, the Keefe women prepared Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen while two of the men talked politics in the dining room. In one ear, Amanda heard her father complaining to Jason about his employees’ work ethic while Jason bestowed the virtues of a free market (while Colin took Sarah in the living room to play another exciting game of Candyland). In the other ear, Paula tittered away about her pregnancy while the two older women countered her with frightening tales of episiotomies and C-sections.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of a C-section,” Paula declared, stirring a pot of boiled potatoes. “All that recovery time! I could be using that time bonding with my baby!”
“I had two,” Janice Keefe said, frowning. “One with both my pregnancies — and I think I bonded with my kids just fine.”
“Or refusing to breastfeed!” Paula went on, ignoring her. “Why would anyone not want to do that! Breastmilk is the best thing for your baby. Build up its immune system and –”
“In my day,” Margaret Keefe interrupted, “we didn’t do that. Wasn’t the style. None of mine got sick!”
“I know, but–” Paula said. “I think its important to remember that our world is so saturated with toxins and microbes that we need to make sure our babies stay healthy. Jason and I make sure that Sarah…”
Amanda listened in to the conversation in the dining room:
“Fucking useless bastards, believin’ the government should give them all handouts…”
She rubbed her eyebrows.
“‘Manda? Ye all right?” Her Grandmother reached across the table to squeeze her elbow. Amanda pulled away to avoid it.
“Yeah. Just…tired.” She smoothed her hair out of her face. “Didn’t get much sleep.”
“You’ve hardly said anything today!” Paula cajoled. “How’s work going? How’s life treating you?”
Amanda’s mother answered for her. “She still hasn’t heard that she’ll be working next semester or not.”
“Oh. Wow. Sorry to hear that. Budget reasons?”
Shrugging, Amanda replied, “Yeah. As usual.”
“Y’know, you should think about moving to Chicago, Amanda. You can always get a job as a temp, you know — if you can type, you can temp.”
“I can’t afford to live in Chicago on a temp’s salary.”
“Well, you don’t have to live there,” Paula provided. “You can commute.”
Her grandmother gasped and slapped the kitchen table. “My friend Ginny is a realtor — I bet she can help you find the perfect place!”
“Take it easy now,” Janice Keefe said, raising her hands. “Amanda hasn’t been told she’s not coming back yet.” She smiled at her daughter and asked, “You can always try for that lecturer’s position.”
“I told you, Ma. They’re only interviewing people with Master’s degrees.”
“Well, you know how to rectify that.”
Paula squealed as the pot of potatoes bubbled over and spilled boiling, foamy water over the flat-top stove. Both of the older Keefe women jumped up to help her, as Paula backed into the table, her hands cupped over her face as she nervously giggled at the mess.
“What’s goin’ on in there?” Norman Keefe called from the dining room.
“Nothing!” Margaret Keefe chirruped. “We’ve got it handled!”
Sarah’s shrill, little-girl’s voice sang some pop-radio tune as she danced around the dining room table, laying the silverware atop each plate Amanda had placed down. Grinning, Amanda sang along with her, her own off-key singing not phasing her young niece in the slightest. As they circled around, Colin walked in from the living room, leaned against the doorway, and frowned. “That song sucks,” he declared loudly, still glassy-eyed. “Sing a better one.”
Amanda gasped, Sarah copied her. “That song doesn’t suck!” she declared. “You suck, Uncle Colin!”
“Yeah, you suck, Uncle Colin!” Sarah put her hands on her hips and stuck out her tongue.
He mimicked her. “No, you do!”
“No I don’t!”
“Yes you do!”
“No! I! Don’t!” She stamped her foot.
“Oh yeah?” Colin darted over to her and hauled her over his shoulder. Sarah dissolved into giggles as he swirled her in the air.
As Amanda laughed, Paula came into the dining room, carrying a plate of cranberry sauce. “Sarah! Knock that off right now!” she admonished.
Colin returned the girl to the ground. “We were just playing, Mama,” she said. “Uncle Colin said I suck!”
Paula’s face went stern. “We don’t use that word in our house,” she told both Colin and Sarah. “And I would appreciate it if you did not use that language around my daughter.”
With a pat of Sarah’s head, Colin retorted, “It’s all right, Paula. I do suck.”
Sarah whirled around. “See?”
Amanda hid her smile behind her hand as Paula blanched.
“Come help us bring the food to the table,” she instructed. Sarah reluctantly took her mother’s outstretched hand so she could be yanked into the kitchen again. When they were gone, Colin spun around and gave Amanda a huge grin.
“You’re awful,” she told him, unable to hold back laughter.
“Yeah? Well, I can’t stand that bitch,” he countered.
Dinner surrounded the table ten minutes later. Amanda sat between Colin and her mother, directly opposite from Jason, Paula, and Sarah. Her father sat at one far end of the table while her grandmother sat at the other. With much poise and dignity, Margaret Keefe led the family with the grace, going so far as to include well-wishes to patriarch Thomas Keefe in heaven. At that point, Amanda heard Colin — whose pharmaceutical inspiration had started to wane — click his tongue and sigh at the ridiculousness of it all. When it was over, he muttered amen into his glass of sparkling grape juice.
“How’s the come down?” Amanda whispered, wiping her mouth with her napkin.
“Shut up,” he snapped.
Amanda picked at a bit of everything. She chose only a single slice of turkey — dark meat, not light — and a spoonful of the rest. Her mother had cooked the green bean casserole and for that reason she took a second helping. The turkey was too dry, and even a generous helping of salt couldn’t save it.
“Jason!” Norman Keefe said. “Did you tell your aunt Janice about that drug deal you brought down?”
Janice sat her fork down. “What?”
“Don’t tell that story,” Paula said, placing her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “Sarah–”
“I bet you didn’t know your Daddy was a hero, sweetie,” Amanda’s father went on. Sarah shook her head, eyes wide. “He is! Jace — you should tell your daughter just how much you go out of your way to protect people.”
Jason cleared his throat. “First,” he began, soaking his roll in a spill of gravy. “I wouldn’t call myself a hero. I’m just doing my job.”
“What happened?” Janice asked.
“I haven’t heard this yet,” Margaret Keefe frowned. “And if this isn’t appropriate for the wee’un, then you should probably keep it quiet.”
“I wanna hear!” Sarah announced. “What happened, Daddy?”
“Well, Daddy got to take down some bad guys at work last week,” he explained. “You know how I’m always telling you drugs are bad? That’s because drugs make people mean. And violent.” He glanced, for only a microsecond, at Colin before returning his gaze to his plate.
It was a microsecond too long, because Colin leaned forward on his elbows. “What sort of drugs did they deal?” he asked. “The bad stuff?”
“All drugs are bad,” Sarah countered.
“Oh, no, sweetheart. Some drugs are very, very good.”
“Colin,” Norman Keefe warned.
“No, it’s true!” Colin insisted. “There are bad drugs — like cocaine, and heroin, and meth. Then there are good drugs — like benzos, phenos, oxys, hydros, dexys, methadone, and good old fashioned tranqs. They are drugs that are perfectly legal.”
Jason stared at him. “It’s not legal to sell them to children.”
“Is that what the bad guys were doing? Or were they selling them to depressed mommy bloggers in Bridgeport?”
“That’s enough,” Janice Keefe said. “No more of that story at the table.”
Dinner went on for a long moment in silence.
Amanda felt she should break the tension. “Have you found out what the baby’s going to be, Paula?” she asked. “Or are you keeping it a secret?”
“Hmm?” Paula looked up, lost in thought, from her dinner. “Oh. Um, yes we have.” She brightened a bit and rubbed her belly. To her husband, she asked, “Should we tell everyone?”
Jason grinned. “We were going to wait until the baby was born, but…” He chuckled. “Go ahead, honey.”
“It’s another girl!” Paula exclaimed, clapping her hands.
The dinner table exploded in commotion, praising the young couple and remarking at their incredible luck. While Norman Keefe gave Jason a saucy wink, Janice and Margaret Keefe burst into tears of happiness for Paula. Sarah squealed in delight — “I’m gonna be a big sister!” she cried. “A big sister!”
“You’ll be a big sister whether we have a boy or a girl, sweetie,” Paula told her.
“But I’ll be a sister to a sister,” Sarah concluded.
“You would be a sister to a brother, too,” Jason said.
Not understanding, Sarah scratched her head. “But, I’ll be a sister…”
The only two who stayed quiet were Colin and Amanda. Colin, who was trying not to look bored raised his glass and nodded at her. “Congrats, Paula,” he said. “Another woman. The world needs more of them.”
“Thank you, Col. And yes, it does.”
“Congratulations, Paula,” Amanda said a smile frozen on her face. “What wonderful news!” Paula thanked her, but Amanda didn’t hear. The sound of blood rushing in her ears deafened her to it. Taking her empty plate with both hands, she rose from her chair. “Can I be excused? I’m going to go make coffee.”
Her mother gave her a quick glance and nodding, returning back to the excitement of the new baby.
Only Colin looked at her. “You ok?”
And she wiggled her way behind him and her father until she had a free sprint to the kitchen.
As soon as she was out of eyesight, she let her hands tremble. And they did — hard enough to make the silverware on her plate rattle until she made it over to the sink to drop them in. She opened her mouth to breath but could bring in no air; she waved her hands in front of her face but the tears came anyway. Her chest tightened, her head swam. Her knees shuddered like two gavels knocking together. The flesh on her upper thighs burned and tingled, aching for a tiny taste of relief.
She spotted the carving knife on the counter, covered in brine and strings of dried fowl. In a flash it was in her hand. In another it was against her leg. She stopped herself — held back, really, when she realized how far she was going.
A second later the water was running cold over the blade of the knife and turkey brine ran off into the sink. Her own reflection grimaced up at her.
The water began to warm up. It splashed on her fingers. Welcoming. Tempting.
She dropped the knife into the sink. It splashed into the mashed potato pot soaking beneath it.
Slowly, Amanda lowered her right arm into the running water, right over her scar.
The water took only a second to jump from lukewarm to hot. Amanda watched, her eyes wide and wet, as her arm turned red right in front of her. The skin on the underside of her arm around that puckered scar screamed at her, demanding she recoil. She held firm, even as a howl swelled in her dry throat.
And in a final flash, Colin slammed into her, knocking her away from the sink and against the table. She shrieked, even as he cupped a hand over her mouth.
“You’re still doing that!” he accused, his voice a loud whisper.
Holding her scalded arm, she stared at him.
Her mother, grandmother, and cousin-in-law were in the kitchen a second later. Janice Keefe immediately dropped down to one knee to examine the wound. “What happened here?” she demanded, looking at the red and bubbling wound on her daughter’s forearm. “Oh my goodness! Amanda! How did–”
“She accidentally burned herself while washing off her plate,” Colin said. He rose to his feet and backed away as the other women surrounded her.
Their mother gave her a sharp look. “Oh honey, you’ve got to be careful!”
“I’ve got a salve and some gauze in the cabinet,” her grandmother said, pushing past Colin. “Ay, be a dear and get out of the way.”
“That looks like it might be a second degree burn,” Paula remarked, turning Amanda’s arm over to examine it. “How hot is your water heater on, Margie?”
The women gathered around Amanda, and Colin backed out of the kitchen. Through the blur of her vision, she watched him glower at her. But he didn’t say anything more.
The first time she woke up, the clock on her phone said 1:24.
She had almost gotten to sleep. The visions had dulled in her mind enough where she could close her eyes, but not enough to lull her into a sleep. Somewhere in mid sleep, Amanda felt her keys slip out of her hand, and the sound of them landing on the wooden floor startled her awake. She leaned over the side of the bed, bewildered, and patted around to find them. One long, panicked minute later, her fingers closed around them and she snached her arm back under the covers.
The second time she woke up, the clock on her phone said 2:02.
Sarah stood at the side of her bed, shaking her shoulder. “Aunta Manda,” she whined, her voice hoarse and fatigued. “Can I sleep in your bed? I promise I won’t wet it.”
Amanda rolled over. “Sweetheart,” she said, feeling the girl’s forehead, “are you sick?”
“I had a bad dream.”
Amanda smiled in the dark. “Poor baby. Here –” She lifted the covers. “Get in.”
Sarah climbed into the bed and immediately curled, fetally, against her. Amanda brought the comforter up around her shoulders, making sure to keep her key-holding hand under the pillow. She then put her bandaged arm around the little girl.
Sarah touched the gauze. “Does it still hurt?” she asked.
“No. Grandma and Aunt Janice fixed it.” She stroked Sarah’s curls. Her hair smelled like baby shampoo. “What did you dream about?”
“Mmm.” Sarah was almost asleep again. “Monsters.”
“Well, don’t worry. I’ll protect you.” Amanda leaned in and kissed the back of Sarah’s head. “At least I’ll try.”
Sarah didn’t react.
Amanda held her close, her hand gripping her keys, and staring at the closed bedroom door. She stared at it for a long time more before she finally found sleep that night.
Jason, Paula, and Sarah left first that Friday morning.
“I have to work this weekend,” he told Amanda’s grandmother. “No rest for the wicked. Even on Thanksgiving.”
“Take care of ye self,” Margaret Keefe commanded as he kissed her knuckles. “Don’t do anything bad now. Ye got the other wee’un on the way.”
“I will, Grandma,” he promised. “I wouldn’t let anything happen to them for anything.”
He did not say goodbye to either Colin or Amanda, though they were both in the room when he left.
It wasn’t until after lunch that Amanda and her family left. The car ride was quiet, but not tense. Colin refused to look at her throughout much of the drive, even going so far as to turn his shoulders away. Feeling stung, Amanda crossed her legs and pulled as far away from him as she could.
“I take it back,” Norman Keefe declared as they pulled away. “I don’t mind Paula that much. And Sarah isn’t so bad either.”
“You think so?” Janice Keefe replied.
“She seemed awfully pompous and full of herself.”
“Oh, that’s rich. She’s a little girl.”
“Not Sarah. Paula. And she was. She wouldn’t take any of my advice about the new baby. She said it wouldn’t be fair to her readers.”
“Of her blog.”
“What’s a blog?”
“It’s like an internet magazine or something. She says she has a lot of followers and they wouldn’t like it if she suddenly went pro-health industry or something.”
Norman tisked. “I don’t know what any of that means,” he told her.
“It’s…hey, one of you kids explain it. I don’t know how.”
Neither Colin nor Amanda said anything.
“You two are awfully quiet back there.” Their father glared at them in the rearview mirror. “I guess that makes up for yesterday. Well, stay that way until we get home.”
The mere mention of the word home made Amanda’s fingers start twitching again.
The car wasn’t even in the driveway before Amanda had her seatbelt off, and wasn’t even in park before she had her door open. Janice called after her that she should have gone before they left, but she didn’t stop. Her key already in her hand, Amanda unlocked the front door and ran through the living room and into the hallway. Her boots left wet footprints on the carpet.
She was done in three minutes. It wasn’t much of a release, but it was enough. She’d be back on schedule that evening.
Colin was waiting at her bedroom door when she finished. She spun around and went back down the hallway to avoid him. Again, he was on her in a second — his hand gripping her good wrist and wrenching her toward him.
“You’re hurting me!” She tugged, but couldn’t free herself. “Let me go!”
“Is scalding new?” he demanded, his hand tightening. “Or did you start cutting again?” He began pulling up her sleeve, and she gave another pull away from him.
“Colin, please.” She heard her parents talking in the kitchen. “Just drop it.”
“Did you ever quit to begin with? Like you said you did?”
“This isn’t any of your business.”
“The fuck it isn’t.” His eyes softened for a moment. “Answer me, Amanda. How long?”
It seemed pointless to lie to him anymore. Not that she was ever a good liar to him. She bit her lower lip and sighed. “You see what I had to put up with. I have to go through that every day. Not just here but everywhere. I can’t do anything without…” She lowered her voice when she thought she heard their parents. “It’s home. It’s work. Everything reminds me.”
“I understand that, ‘Manda. But you’re self-harming again.”
And by naming it, it became real. Amanda sagged against the wall and he dropped her wrist.
“You have to stop hurting yourself,” he told her. “Draw bad pictures. Write nasty poems. Scream into pillows. But stop burning. Stop cutting.”
They froze when they heard a minor commotion from the kitchen. Their father slammed a cupboard too hard; their mother admonished him.
“Are you going to tell them?” Amanda asked.
Colin studied her, thinking it over. “No,” he said. “But I will if I catch you doing it again.” She hung her head. “Look, Amanda. I love you. But I am not going to knowingly watch you become self-destructive.”
“Oh?” She felt her back straighten with indignity. “I’m self-destructive? Want to be careful throwing those kind of words around?”
He took a step back and opened his mouth to say something, but closed it after rethinking. A second later he walked away and headed for his bedroom. Amanda waited until her breath returned to a normal pace before she turned and went into her own.