So this weekend was a carnival of suckitude that I won't write about because I want to forget it. However, I did just now manage to change out of the clothes I've been wearing since Friday and take a shower, so things are looking up.
First chapter of the book is below. Prologue here.
First chapter of the book is below. Prologue here.
Something’s been wrong. But now it’s getting louder.
There’s this physics principle called quantum entanglement. Freaky name, like only nerds with zero social skills can wrap their brains around it. But it’s not that hard to understand. It’s when two particles, like electrons or photons, interact and then get separated. Then, even if they’re millions and millions of miles apart, anything that happens to one immediately affects the other. They never stop being one thing. Separate but together. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.”
Jerome and I are not as simple as particles. We’re not photons or electrons or molecules or whatever. We’re infinitely complex human beings, spliced so deeply together that we had our own language when we were younger, half of it totally wordless. Cryptophasia. It isn’t that unusual, a lot of twins do it, but this cryptophasia was ours, a deeper form of communication than I’ve had with anyone else in my life. So deep I feel like a part of him is lodged inside me. Like when the electrons that make up the nerve cells in his brain move one way, mine mirror the movement and I feel it.
That’s not how quantum entanglements works, really. Humans don’t operate on the same principles as electrons. There isn’t any scientifically provable reason I should feel like I have a barometer of my brother’s mental state jammed like a splinter in the back of my mind, even when I don’t see him for days.
But I do. It’s always there. And lately, that barometer has been churning out some seriously weird readings.
I realized the other day when I was picking up laundry around the house that I haven’t seen him in about two weeks. He stays away from home for long stretches in the summer sometimes. Usually when Dad’s so hammered that he starts shoving Jerome around, calling him lazy and worthless and telling him drawing’s a waste of time and he needs to get his shit together and get a job and blah blah blah. Jerome always bails for at least a few days after that.
Dad doesn’t go after him. Mom barely notices anything’s happening. I think she assumes Jerome comes home during the day while she’s at work and then spends the night with his friends. Which she gave up telling him he couldn’t do after a million times of him doing it anyway. It doesn’t take a lot of resistance to get Mom to drop something. These days I wonder why she doesn’t just take a sleeping bag to the office. She spends all her time there anyway. Especially since Dad’s evolved into such a raging drunk and Jerome’s a surly basket case and I’ve made it clear I can take care of myself.
I guess I wouldn’t want to come home to a family like that either.
I texted Jerome a few times, just a “hey how’s stuff” and a “I need a drawing fix.” He leaves drawings under my door a lot. Mostly our cat Merlin who died when we were ten. There hasn’t been a drawing for days.
But he didn’t answer the texts, or an email I sent, which bounced. I think he deleted his Facebook. I sent another text asking him to come home because I missed hearing him puke. He thinks he’s so quiet about that. I know about it.
No answer to that either, and he didn’t pick up when I called.
Nobody else is going to bother to track him down. Whatever sixth sense is telling me something’s wrong, maybe a gut feeling, maybe a thought that isn’t fully formed, says: It’s time to do something about this. It says it in cryptophasia. It says it the way an electron responds to an electron across a billion miles of empty space.
It’s four in the afternoon. Hotter than Satan’s armpit outside. Mom’s still at work and won’t be home for at least five hours. Dad will come home around six, nuke some crappy frozen dinner, and start drinking.
I shelve the copy of Wuthering Heights I’ve been rereading and pull on some bike shorts under a skirt. I zip my phone in the skirt pocket, chug a bunch of water, and wheel my bike out of the dark, stuffy garage into the bright heat.
It feels good to be on the bike, even with the sun pounding on my back and sweat dripping down into my bra. At least I’m moving around. All I’ve done this summer is read and work. After I found out back in the spring that my best friend Lexi had started dating my ex about a week after we broke up, that pretty well severed any depth in our friendship. It was just fake after that. Even if that guy did have the personality of a plastic bag on the side of a highway and wasn’t really worth it.
Now I fly solo. Keep throwing my brain into these complicated books about cognitive neuroscience, then taking breaks with good old Emily Bronte. Grinding every day into the dirt waiting to leave for college in August and really start learning, instead of poking through all these library books I only understand parts of.
I hope starting college doesn’t feel like starting high school. After skipping second grade, I’ve had to get used to always being the youngest kid in the class, the smallest. I don’t know what it’ll be like to be the only 17-year-old on campus.
I ride into the lousy neighborhood where Randy lives. It’s just on the other side of the state route from our neighborhood. It’s amazing the difference a hundred feet can make. You go from four and five bedroom houses and manicured lawns to houses so small they could fit in our two-car garage. Bowed roofs, cracked windows that don’t fit their frames, unseasonal yard ornaments, torn American flags. Tire tracks and feral cats running through the yards. The word “FUCK” spray-painted on the back of a stop sign. All the houses are so short it’s like they’ve sunk two feet into the ground. It’s interesting to look at and all, but I quit biking through here the day some mulletedhead assholes throwing a football in the street yelled some choice vulgarities comparing parts of my anatomy to certain round fruits.
Randy’s house scares the crap out of me. I’ve been past it a few times on my bike, but I’ve never been inside it and I don’t want go in now. It’s easy to see why Jerome refers to this dump as the Pit of Despair. I can’t imagine ever actually living in it.
The paint on the outside is a flat gray that looks like it used to be something else, maybe blue. The roof’s missing a bunch of shingles. There are two windows on the front. You can’t see into them because there are blankets over them on the inside. One of the windows is cracked and has duct tape over it.
I wheel my bike onto the overgrown front lawn, dodging a broken beer bottle and wishing I’d brought the bike lock. Oh well. I drop the bike on its side into the tall grass next to a rusty car with its hood propped open. Maybe my bike will blend in with the rest of the junk in the yard and not look like something worth stealing.
There are three steps up to the porch. Half of the top one is missing. There’s so much crap on the porch that I can barely make it to the front door. There’s a fridge and a lawn chair with no seat and a shelf with a bunch of appliances that look like they’re from the 60s. The floor is covered with broken pots, a tire full of stagnant water, and a blue plastic tarp covering God knows what. I hold my breath and knock on the front door. I can hear the rumble of stereo equipment. Sounds like a video game, or the dramatic part of a movie.
I cough at the skunky stink of pot and nicotine that hits me as soon as the door opens. When I catch my breath, some guy is standing there holding a cigarette and ogling my chest. I wave the smoke out of my face. “Is Jerome here?” I ask around my fear. The dude easily has 70 pounds on me and is maybe five years older.
“Uh,” the guy says. His patchy facial hair is the epitome of gross. He finally tears his eyes off my boobs and turns his head. “Hey Jerome!” he yells.
“What!” I hear my brother yell back from inside somewhere, then he coughs. I can’t see very far into the house. It’s too bright out here and too dark in there. There’s no cool air coming out with the smoke stink, so there must not be any air conditioning inside.
“Some chick’s here for you,” the guy shouts. He glances back at me and then yells into the house, “She’s pretty hot, dude.” He grins at me and wiggles his eyebrows. I cross my arms over my chest and turn away.
I hear the door creak open further and I turn back around. Jerome’s standing there slumped against the doorframe like it’s the only thing holding him up. I raise my hand to my mouth. He looks… awful. Awful. Like he’s lost ten pounds and been beaten. There’s a big red line on his left cheek and the greenish remains of a bruise around his eye. Both his eyes have dark circles under them like he hasn’t slept for the whole two weeks he’s been gone, and his face is flushed. His hair is weird and flat, as though some of it is missing.
“Fuck off, Mike,” he says to the guy, who’s still standing just inside the door. “She’s my sister.”
Mike snorts. “Whatever. She’s still hot.” He goes back into the house and Jerome steps out and shuts the door.
“Sorry,” he says. “That guy’s a douche.”
“Jerome, Jesus. What happened to you?”
“What? Nothing.” He coughs into the crook of his arm.
“Oh really?” I say. “You just magically have a black eye and a gash on your face and you’ve lost a lot of weight? Huh. Interesting definition of ‘nothing.’”
“I tripped and hit a doorframe.” He won’t meet my eyes, but I can see his irises are dark. His eyes seem to change all the time. Now they’re such a dark blue they’re almost black.
“And lost ten pounds? Physics doesn’t work that way, last I checked.” I take my keys out of my pocket and hold them up in front of his face, then drop them onto the porch. “Oh, look at that, gravity still works. The rules of physics must be intact.”
He shoots me a sideways irritated look and coughs again.
“You tripped, huh? Were you high?”
“Are you high right now?”
“Not right now, no.” He coughs more. It’s a gnarly cough.
“You’re sick?” I say.
“It’s just a cold. Randy has one too. So does Frankie.”
“Is Randy even here?” Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if he weren’t. This is just someplace to crash that isn’t home.
“Yeah. We’re playing GT5 and I’m up next. So if you don’t mind…” He glances at me and sees me staring right at his face. His eyes dart away and he looks out over the jumble of broken junk on the lawn.
“You look like you’ve been hit by a truck,” I say. “Why aren’t you answering my texts?” It’s so dark under his eyes. He looks how he used to look back when we were ten. Right before he flipped out.
“Sorry. Phone battery died.”
“Bull. I’ve known you for seventeen years plus nine months in the womb, you think I can’t tell when you’re lying?”
He smiles, just a little, and looks down. I put my hand on his arm. His skin is hot and he shrugs my hand off. “Come on,” I say. “Just tell me what’s up. I emailed you a link to this art thing and it bounced, it said ‘no such recipient.’ So I tried to put it on your Facebook. Did you unfriend me? Or did you just obliviate your online existence?”
He keeps swallowing, like he does when he’s trying to not say something. His skin has gone from flushed to drained. “I trashed it all,” he finally says. He turns to open the door behind us, but has to stop moving for a minute to accommodate the cough. That’s definitely more than a cold. There is some serious crap going on in his lungs.
“Wait,” I say.
He finishes coughing and clears his throat. “Look, if Mom or Dad bother to ask where I am, which they won’t, just tell them I’m hanging here and I’ll come home in a few days.”
“Could you stop being a jerk for like two seconds? Has it occurred to you that I’m concerned? You look like shit and you’re really sick. This is freaking me out.”
Jerome’s eyes widen, but before he answers, Randy opens the front door holding a game controller. There’s a small kid peeking out from behind him, maybe six years old. He looks a little like Randy. “It’s your turn,” Randy says to Jerome. “Hey, Angie.”
“Hi,” I say, staring hard at Jerome before I glance at Randy. “How’s it going?”
“Same old,” he says, looking down at me. A hank of dark hair falls over his eyes. Randy would be cute if he’d cut his hair and take a shower every now and then and stop wearing all those stupid death metal shirts. He puts his hand on the little kid’s head.
“You don’t have a cold, do you?” I ask Randy.
“Huh? No.” He lets go of the kid’s head and brushes his hair out of his face with a split-knuckled hand. He turns to Jerome. “You coming back in or what? Joe’s waiting.”
Jerome takes the controller out of Randy’s hand and ducks back into the house. “See you,” he says to me as he goes. The kid follows him.
Randy glances after Jerome, watching him for half a beat before turning back to me. “Uh, so, you need anything?” he asks me.
I sigh in frustration. “No,” I say. “Just… oh, forget it.”
Randy watches me for maybe three seconds, almost like he wants to say something else. But then he turns back to the door. I don’t know him well enough to press it. I start picking my way back across the crowded porch.
“Watch that busted step,” he says, and goes back into the house and shuts the door.