I don’t want to be here.
It’s the only thing that ran through my head, causing my bloodline to fill with nervous energy.
It’s the same feeling I had over ten years ago. Only then, the person sitting next to me with her hands on the steering wheel—utterly clueless to my current state of mind—was assuring me that everything would be okay, that I’d be happy here. An assumption, I’m sure, because she barely knew the twelve-year-old girl beside her, and now? Now we’re virtually strangers. An odd thing to say considering she’s my mother.
She sits ramrod straight as she makes the final turn toward the Preston house, inconspicuously checking herself in the mirror as she does. I used to catch her doing the same the summers I spent with her, wishing for the day Mr. Preston would see her in a different light.
Yeah, that was never going to happen.
I try not to roll my eyes at her, and instead, take a moment to breathe. Just breathe. Wiping the anxiety-caused sweat off my palms onto the worn upholstery of the car seat, I settle my head against the headrest and try to calm my pulse by looking out the window. Trees line the road, the bright sunlight breaking through the thick leaves as we pass. A short wooden fence behind those trees lets you know it’s private property, even though you can’t see any houses from the road. Loose gravel kicks up from the spinning tires below us, and when I wind down the window, just slightly, I can feel the crisp, fresh air fill my nostrils.
The first time I was here, it reminded me of home.
It didn’t take long for that feeling to fade.
The car slows as Mom pulls into the Preston driveway, and my breath halts in my chest, my bottom lip stinging in pain with the force of my teeth clamping down around it.
I try to keep the memories distant.
Try to keep the tears at bay.
Nothing is different.
And yet… everything has changed.
I don’t want to be here.
I have these moments where I black out. Not physically, but mentally. Black out probably isn’t even the right term. It’s more like check out.
At the mention of Mia’s name, I can feel it start to come on.
The different types of therapists Mom dragged me to when I was a kid tried convincing her it was a symptom of ADHD. I was, by far, the least hyperactive of all her children, and sure, I had problems with boring, mundane things keeping my attention, but who didn’t? Besides, I could focus. Hell, I’d be hyper-focused… just on things that weren’t that important. I could stare at a fly on the wall for a whole hour or be consumed by a single, stupid flower growing out of the dirt, out of place. How did it get there? It didn’t belong, and yet, it made all the sense in the world.
The therapists’ appointments waned once Mom got too sick to take me, then stopped entirely once she was gone. Her death and the weeks—no, the months—following had been my longest check out of them all.
Until Laney almost died.
I’m aware there are probably things wrong with me that have gone undiagnosed.
I’m also aware that my siblings are still talking about Mia; I just don’t really know what they’re saying. We’re cramped into my parents’ bedroom, all eleventy-three of us, and I don’t remember how we got here.
“Mia’s Virginia’s daughter,” Logan explains to Red, his girlfriend. “And she fucking loved Leo.”
My jaw ticks.
“Loved?” says Lucy. “She was infatuated.”
I attempt a scoff, but they all take it as nervous, fearful laughter.
Mia never loved me. And if she did, she sure as hell shouldn’t have.
I turn to my only sister. “How long do I need to stay at this thing?”
She has no idea about the internal war I’m fighting.
None of them do.
I don’t know how much time passes or what all is said. Not until Lucy murmurs, “We’re the meanest, most judgmental bunch of whorefaces in existence.”
The room grows silent, usually my favorite of all sounds. But not this time. This time, the silence gives my mind time to remember.
I recall the look on Mia’s face the last time I saw her, the sadness mixed with anger and heartbreak in her eyes, the destruction in her words, all of them aimed at me. I mumble, “I mean, yeah, we are, but still… if y’all could be my buffer, I’d appreciate it.”
I’m drowning in the memories now, each shove to my chest, each blow to my emotions, each truth I’ve spent years trying to deny, to hide.
Soft fingers curl around my wrist, and I look down to see Lucy’s hand attempting to grasp mine. I let her take it and chance a peek up at her. She’s looking into my eyes, searching between them. She’s trying to find the same thing our mother spent my entire life searching for. There has to be something in me, something she can connect to. Something more.
To them, I’m a vessel.
I release Lucy’s hand, wanting to tell her just to let me go. Let me get away from this reality and back to the memories of Mia. Because I know, somewhere amidst all the pain and the heartache, there was good.
I was good.
“You okay?” Lucy mouths, her eyebrows drawn in concern.
I’m not okay.
And I don’t want to be here.
But more, I don’t want her here.
What the fuck is she doing here?