THE SEA OF REPORTERS PARTED FOR DANIEL’s car as he pulled into the driveway. They peered at us as we rolled by; the cameramen seemed to be packing up their equipment, and the satellites on the vans had been retracted into the vehicles. Whatever had happened, they were getting ready to leave.
As soon as Daniel came to a stop, I rocketed out of the car toward the front door, passing both my mother and father’s car. My father’s car. Which didn’t belong here this early.
I was ready to be sick when I finally burst into the house with Daniel behind me. Electronic machine gunfire and video game music met my ears, and the familiar shape of our little brother’s head stared up at the screen from his cross-legged position on the floor. I closed my eyes and breathed through flared nostrils, trying to slow my heart before it exploded in my chest.
Daniel was the first to speak. “What the hell is going on?”
Joseph half-turned to look at Daniel, annoyed at the interruption. “Dad took on some kind of big case.”
“Can you turn that off?”
“One sec, I don’t want to die.” Joseph’s avatar bludgeoned a mustachioed villain into a thick, oozing puddle of goo.
My parents appeared soundlessly in the door frame of the kitchen.
“Turn it off, Joseph.” My mom sounded exhausted.
My brother sighed and paused the game.
“What’s happening?” Daniel asked.
“A case of mine is going to trial soon,” my father said, “and I was announced as the defendant’s new counsel today.”
A shadow of comprehension passed over my older brother’s face, but I didn’t get it.
“We just moved here,” I said. “Isn’t that, like, unusually fast?”
My mother and father exchanged a look. There was definitely something I was missing.
“What? What’s going on?”
“I took over the case for a friend of mine,” my father said.
“Before we moved here.”
I paused to absorb what I was hearing. “So you had the case before we moved to Florida.”
That shouldn’t matter, unless …
I swallowed, and asked the question I already knew the answer to. “What is it? What case?”
“The Palmer murder.”
I massaged my forehead. No big deal. My father had defended murder cases before, and I tried to calm the nausea that unsettled my stomach. My mother started assembling ingredients from the pantry for dinner, and for no reason, no good reason at all, I pictured human body parts on a plate.
I shook my head to clear it. “Why didn’t you tell us?” I asked my father. Then glanced at Daniel, wondering why he was so quiet.
He avoided my gaze. Ah. They didn’t tell me.
“We didn’t want you to have to worry about it. Not after—,” he started, then stopped. “But now that things are heating up, I guess it’s better this way. You remember my friend Nathan Gold?” my father asked me.
“When he found out we were moving, he asked me to take the case for him. I’m going to be doing some press conferences over the next couple of weeks. I don’t know how they got the address here—I should have had Gloria send out a release about the substitution before it leaked,” he said, mostly to himself.
And that was all fine, but I hated that they were treating me like some delicate, fragile thing. And let’s be honest; it probably wasn’t “they.” I had no doubt my mother, as my unofficial treating psychologist, was responsible for the information that did and did not flow my way.
I turned to her. “You could have told me, you know.” She silently hid behind the open refrigerator. I talked to her anyway. “I miss my friends and yeah, it’s messed-up that this girl died, but it has nothing to do with what happened to Rachel. You don’t have to keep me in the dark about stuff like this. I don’t understand why you’re treating me like I’m two.”
“Joseph, go do your homework,” my mother said.
My brother had been inching his way back into the living room, having almost reached the controller by the time she said his name.
“But there’s no school tomorrow.”
“Then go to your room.”
“What did I do?” he whined.
“Nothing, I just want to talk to your sister for a minute.”
“Mom,” Daniel interrupted.
“Not now, Daniel.”
“You know what, Mom? Talk to Daniel,” I said. “I have nothing else to say.”
My mother didn’t speak. She looked tired; beautiful, as usual, but tired. The recessed lighting haloed her dark hair.
After a pause, Daniel spoke again. “So there’s a party tonight and—”
“You can go,” my mother said.
“Thanks. I thought I’d take Mara with me.”
My mother turned her back to me and gave Daniel her full attention. Daniel made eye contact with me over her shoulder and shrugged, as if to say, It’s the least I can do.
My mother hesitated before saying, “It’s a school night.” Of course that only bothered her when I was the subject of the conversation.
“There’s no school tomorrow,” Daniel said.
“Where is it?”
“South Beach,” Daniel said.
“And you’re going to be there the whole time?”
“Yes. I won’t leave her alone.”
She turned to my father. “Marcus?”
“It’s fine with me,” my dad said.
My mother then looked at me carefully. She didn’t trust me for a hot minute, but she trusted her perfect eldest child. A conundrum.
“All right,” she said finally. “Be home by eleven, though. No excuses.”
It was an impressive display of Daniel’s influence, I’ll admit. Not quite enough to make me forget how irritated I was with our mother, but the prospect of getting out of the house and going somewhere that wasn’t school did lift my mood. Maybe tonight I could actually have fun.
I left the kitchen to shower. The hot water scalded my thin shoulder blades, and I slumped against the tile and let the water glide over my skin. I needed to think of a costume; I did not want to be the only person wearing the wrong thing again.
I stepped out of the shower and threw on a T-shirt and yoga pants before untangling my rat’s nest of wet hair. Rifling through my dresser would be hopeless. Same with my closet.
But my mother’s closet …
Most of the time, she wore suit pants or a skirt and a button-down shirt. Always professional, thoroughly American. But I knew she had a sari or two buried somewhere in that enormous, monochromatic wardrobe of hers. It could work.
I tiptoed to my parents’ room and cracked open the door. They were still in the kitchen. I began searching through my mother’s clothes, looking for something suitable.
Oops. I turned around. The stress was evident in my mother’s face, her skin taut over her high cheekbones.
“I was just looking for something to wear,” I said. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay, Mara. I just wish we could—”
I inhaled slowly. “Can we do this later? Daniel said there’s going to be traffic and I have to figure out a costume.”
My mother’s forehead creased. I knew she wanted to say something but I hoped she’d let it go, just this once. I was surprised when a conspiratorial smile slowly transformed her face.
“It’s a costume party?” she asked.
“I think I might have something,” she said. She brushed past me and disappeared into the depths of her walk-in closet. After a few minutes, my mother emerged holding a garment bag that she cradled like a small child, and a pair of perilously high, strappy heels that dangled from her fingers. “This should fit you.”
I eyed the bag warily. “It’s not a wedding gown, is it?”
“No.” She smiled and handed it to me. “It’s a dress. One of my mother’s. Take my red lipstick and pin up your hair, and you can go as a vintage model.”
A smile spread across my face, matching my mother’s. “Thanks,” I said, and meant it.
“Just do me this one favor?”
I raised my eyebrows, waiting for the caveat.
“Stay with Daniel.”
Her voice was strained, and I felt guilty. Again. I nodded and thanked her again for the dress before I made my way back to my room to try it on. The firm plastic of the garment bag rustled as I unzipped it, and dark, emerald green silk shimmered from inside. I withdrew the dress from the bag and my breath caught in my throat. It was stunning. I hoped it fit.
I went to my bathroom to attempt to put on mascara without impaling my eyeball, but when I looked in the mirror, Claire stood behind my reflection.
She winked. “You two kids have fun.”