CHAPTER EIGHT  

CHAPTER EIGHT

It rained again that night.

I sat outside on what used to be my front porch and watched the rain fall. Let it soak into the skin of my forearms and drip off my earlobes. I took off Ronnie’s boots and wriggled my toes in it, the closest I could get to feeling somewhat washed.

Kolby’s mom tried and tried to get me to join them in Mrs. Donnelly’s cellar.

“Honey, your mama will find you there,” she promised. “You can leave her a note.” I stared at the raindrops, which landed in heavy splats on the toes of Ronnie’s boots, washing away the dirt and dust that had gathered there during our walk. “Sweetheart, you need to take care of yourself. The last thing you want is to get sick now. Come into the cellar and dry off. Get yourself something to eat. We’ve got canned pickles and peaches down there. Mr. Fay brought over some crackers as well.” I blinked slowly and shook my head. “Honey, nobody’s gonna be staying here much longer. You’re gonna have to go someplace, too. It’s unsafe. It’s unhealthy.” A drop of water slid down my nose. Finally, Kolby’s mom said a quick prayer that I was too numb to listen to and picked her way back to Mrs. Donnelly’s cellar, her big hips shaking with every step.

I watched the rain. I watched people disappear into the cellar and into their relatives’ cars and into the night. A few of the neighbors had already fled to nearby motels. Kolby would be leaving for Milton first thing in the morning. Soon I would be the only one still here. If Mom didn’t show up, I would eventually lose my options. Someone would find me, would force me to go to the cots in the church, would force me to go to Child Protective Services, to a foster home. I wasn’t about to voluntarily give up my freedom before then. In so many ways, control over where I slept and ate was all I had left, and maybe not for much longer. I was going to hang on to it as long as I could.

After a while, goose bumps rose up on my arms, and when thunder boomed off in the distance, I began to shiver, even though I didn’t feel cold. I didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t want to be afraid. I wanted to be like I always had been—the kind of girl who didn’t pay attention to the weather, the kind of girl who sometimes went outside and danced around in the rain, who stuck her bare feet under the downspout to wash grass clippings off. The kind of girl whose mom stood on the front porch, soda in hand, smiling and watching as her daughter let the crying sky drench her until her shirt and shorts were stuck to her like a second skin.

Instead, I was shaking, my heart pounding, my eyes drifting worriedly to the sky, trying to remember what it had looked like before the tornado touched down and if it had been similar to what it looked like now. Wishing I’d paid more attention.



By the second crash of thunder, I couldn’t take it anymore. I ducked back into the house, not even bothering to stop and sift through our belongings this time—heading for the basement and the safety of the pool table, carrying Ronnie’s boots in my hands.

Once downstairs, I dropped the boots and climbed under the pool table and wrapped myself in one of the towels I’d found in the bureau, pulling my knees to my chest, my teeth chattering. I sat next to the couch cushion, bent forward at the shoulders so my head would clear the bottom of the table, wondering what I would do next. My body was tired from all the walking, but my mind was racing. What little food I had would spoil soon, and the water bottles would only last so long. I was filthy. The living room floor could cave in on me at any time. Rain was beginning to pool on the basement floor, inching toward me. Soon I would have no choice but to leave.

I wished, more than anything, for a TV. Or a radio. Anything to break the silence. Anything to cover the noise of the relentless rain pattering and the weird sound it made on our house now that our house was no longer standing. I longed for voices, or music, or laughter, or chanting—anything to break up the monotony. Anything to remind me that I was still here, still alive.

What I wouldn’t have given to listen to Marin’s chatter, to have her stand in front of my face begging me to dance with her. Life with Marin was never quiet. Life without her seemed so still it was maddening.

I snaked my hand out from under the towel and unzipped her purse. I pulled out Mom’s lipstick and opened it. I closed my eyes and smelled it, letting the scent of Mom wash over me, cradle me. I missed her so much.

“Please, Mom,” I said aloud, “be out there somewhere. Be alive. Come find me.”

I closed the lipstick and dropped it back into the purse, then grabbed a stick of gum and popped it into my mouth. Thunder rolled and I jumped, thinking about Marin and how much she hated thunderstorms. When one came through Elizabeth, Marin would wander the house on her tiptoes holding her hands over her ears, her eyes big and wet and worried. She constantly asked, “Is it over? Huh? Huh, Jersey? Is it fine?”



Once, a few weeks before, when Mom was gone on an errand, I couldn’t take it anymore. Marin’s eyes had gone from wet to spilling over and her voice had gotten smaller and smaller. “Is it fine, Jersey? Is the noise fine?” She was nearing Full Meltdown Mode, and I knew I had to do something to distract her.

I had learned during fifth-grade summer camp that I was apparently some sort of card genius. I’d taken a gaming elective and had paired up with a counselor named Jon—“with no ‘h,’ ” he was constantly telling people, to the point where everyone called him Noaychjon, all one word, like that was his name—who spent the entire four weeks teaching me new card games and then trying in vain to beat me at them. He couldn’t do it. Nobody could. I guess everybody is naturally gifted at something. If my gift couldn’t be music or sports or theater or chemistry or something worthwhile, I supposed being gifted at cards wasn’t all that bad a sentence. It had been a long time since I’d played, but I still remembered all the games, and that afternoon I’d decided Marin was finally old enough to play with.

“Is the noise fine, Jersey? Is it over?”

“C’mere, Mar,” I’d said, pulling a worn deck of cards that Noaychjon had given me as a good-bye present when summer camp was over out of my top dresser drawer. “I’ll teach you how to play Sixty-Six.”

She’d followed me into my room, warily taking her hands down from her ears, and had climbed up onto my bed. I sat cross-legged across from her and shuffled the cards.

“Okay, so you know how the princes and princesses always get married in those movies you like?”

Marin nodded, already sucked in.

“That’s pretty much what this game is about. You want the kings and queens to get married.”

The storm had moved through, Marin and I playing Sixty-Six and then Go Fish. When we started playing solitaire, I told her that technically, solitaire was a game for one person, not two. She’d argued that we were playing our own kind of solitaire, the kind that two people play, so I’d dubbed the game Couples Solitaire and had gone with it. The wind beating the rain against our house went unnoticed by my sister. The hail that dropped for a few seconds was totally ignored. Even the thunder didn’t register with anything more than a concerned upward glance as she held a fan of cards in her pudgy hand.

That was all it ever took with Marin. Just some time together. Just some attention. I could make her day by saying hello to her. I could have made her so happy if I’d just once gotten off the couch and danced with her.

I flicked on the flashlight and smoothed out the foil gum wrapper. I drew a picture of a stick figure with its hands over its ears, a window behind the figure streaked with dashes of rain.

Marin hates thunderstorms, I wrote.

I drew a vertical line down the center of the foil and drew a hand holding some playing cards. I colored in the tiny fingernails. Marin always had polished fingernails.

Marin likes thunderstorms sometimes, I wrote underneath.

I studied my artwork appreciatively and then folded the foil into a tiny square and stuck it in the zippered pocket, along with the other I’d drawn.

The thunder crashed again, a flash of lightning blooming brightness into the basement, and I jumped.

I grabbed the deck of cards I’d found alongside the towels in the dresser drawer. I opened the box and pulled out the cards, idly wondering if my deck from Noaychjon was buried under rubble upstairs or if it was blown away. If the dresser was gone entirely. Or if it sat there, pristine and untouched amid the debris the way Marin’s purse had been.

I counted the cards, pulling out the jokers, and when I was satisfied that I had a full deck, I shuffled them and laid them out in a line.

For you, Marin, I thought, beginning my first game of solitaire. And for Couples Solitaire.

I played hand after hand, winning some, losing others, cheating a couple times so I wouldn’t have to redeal. I played until my eyes were tired and my fingers were lazy and the flashlight beam began to dull, making me squint to see the numbers.

I slapped the cards on the floor, all the while wondering what the next day would hold for me. Kolby would be gone. My cell phone would probably still be useless, if it even had battery left. I would be hungry and thirsty and dirty. I would spend some time digging through broken stuff that used to be our belongings, our treasures. I would worry and wonder and wait for Mom.

Eventually, the storm picked up, the rain hammering against the ground and the wind raking it farther and farther into the basement. I tired of my game and gathered the cards together, stuffing them into the box, then putting the box back in Marin’s purse. As the lightning flashes came closer and closer together, I wound myself up in my blanket and stretched out over the couch cushions, falling asleep almost immediately, trying to push my worries about the next day out of my head.

Hoping for a miracle.


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