A week out of school. Stacks of worksheets and essays and quizzes in neat rows on the kitchen table.
Mae resolves to start on the Biology pile, and has just opened her textbook to the chapter about Mendelian inheritance when her mother summons her to the television.
Courtney stands slack-jawed in front of the local evening news, and Mae is at first afraid someone has died. But no; it's just an anchor talking into the camera, images of Mae and Ethan superimposed above her shoulders like opposing consciences. “...at the center of a controversy. We'll have an exclusive interview with that student, Ethan Harrington, on Friday. Now with weather for your week...”
“I knew it! I knew they'd pull something like this. That family!” Courtney is purple with rage.
Mae, who expected this on some level—He'll give an interview any minute, she said last Saturday—is still surprised. “Why would he give one now? It's too soon.” The public supports you, Lucy had insisted.
“They're Harringtons. They've created this image and they've got to maintain it.”
“So it's an offensive move.” Mae begins to understand. “It's brilliant.”
“Let me tell you, Mae, they've got a few brilliant people working for them. Don't give them that much credit.” Said with such certainty and bitterness.
With a flick of a finger, Mae turns off the squawking weather report. The room fills with silence. She inspects her mother: rage-twisted face, fighting stance. “How do you know so much about Ethan's family?”
“What do you mean?” But the speed of Courtney's smile betrays her.
“You talk about them like you know them. Don't challenge them, blah blah, you know who works for them, blah blah.” Words tumble from Mae's mouth. Her voice knows something her head does not. “Why are you keeping me locked away in here? Why are you letting them win? I want out! Give me my phone!” She darts about wildly. Where would it be? Her mother's purse? Mae lurches toward Courtney's bag, which sits quietly on a chair. She dumps the contents. Loose change, pill bottles, a hairbrush, all tumble onto the table. A cell—but older: a flip phone. “Where is it?”
“Not in there.” Courtney says smoothly. This is the game they play. One losing her mind calms the other, and one staying calm causes the other to lose her mind.
“I'll search all night!” And Mae means it. Air grates against vocal chords; shouting makes her feel alive. She opens a cupboard, pushes aside a tower of peanut butter jars. “I'll tear apart this house, I hate it, I hate it, I'll tear it apart!” Because the jars are plastic, she reaches one arm into the shadows, like a giant cat, and bats them onto the floor. They bounce and roll across linoleum.
Courtney ambles into the kitchen and watches Mae lash out at spices. “You won't find it.” She stops errant peanut butter with one foot. “It's hidden for your own protection.”
Mae rests her forehead against a shelf. She cannot search all night; she longs to be in bed. Turning in defeat, she thinks Courtney looks especially old in this moment—frizzy hair, slouched shoulders, hands full of Jiffy—and not worthy of giving advice, though she continues to give it. “I'm your mother, and that's what mothers do, protect their daughters.”
Mae's temples prickle with rage. She chooses to dig the knife in quietly. “You might be my mother, but you're nothing like me. Guess I'm more like my father.” Courtney flinches. Mae ignores her. When she reaches her bedroom, she can only slam the door.
The sound feels insufficient. Flinging herself onto the bed, Mae shoves her face into a pillow and takes big gulps of detergent-scented air. A synthetic valley of spring flowers. Itchy nose. Heavy eyelids.
I want to help you tell your own story, Lucy had said. But Lucy is a world away. Later, Mae thinks, she will cycle to Taylor's and ask her to contact Lucy again. Any apology should do. Oh em gee, Mae. I've been so worried about you.