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The Way We Fall excerpt


Sept 2


It’s about six hours since you left the island. The way things have been, I know you wouldn’t have expected me to come to see you off, but I keep thinking about how you waved and waved from the dock five years ago, when I was leaving for Toronto.

While the ferry was carrying you to the mainland, I was on West Beach with Mackenzie and Rachel. Mackenzie had decided we should have one last summer swim before school starts tomorrow, but the breeze was so chilly, none of us ended up wanting to go in the water. So we just walked on the sand, talking and speculating about how junior year will go.

The summer vacationers have all left, so no one was on the beach except for us and a few families having a barbecue by the rocks. I could see the white shape of the ferry getting smaller as it crossed the strait, and the knot in my stomach got tighter and tighter.

Mackenzie started gushing about her “awesome” summer in L.A. and the hot nightspots she’d gotten into, and Rachel and I mostly just nodded in the right places, like usual. Not that I mind. At one point Mackenzie turned to me and said, “Because the big city clubs are the best, aren’t they, Kaelyn?” and all I could say was “Um, I guess,” because I never actually went clubbing in Toronto.

If she knew I spent most of my time there at the zoo or the vet clinic near our house, not shopping and partying, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have glommed on to me the second I moved back last spring. But I haven’t gone out of my way to correct her. It’s nice having people to hang out with like this, even if it’s sort of under false pretenses. I was so focused on getting by on my own in the city, I didn’t realize how much I missed being with friends.

And it was only today I realized how much I’ve missed you.

By the time the ferry was out of view, the spray from the waves was making us shiver. We went up to the grassy stretch by the road, and Mackenzie almost stepped on a dead bird. She yelped and hopped around, shaking her foot like germs might have leapt up onto it. Rachel couldn’t stop laughing.

The bird was a black-backed gull, and it looked healthy—other than being dead, of course. Its feathers were shiny and I couldn’t see any injuries. Really weird, the way it was lying there, like it’d just dropped out of the sky. I wanted to get a stick and move the body around to take a closer look, except Mackenzie would have completely freaked out.

You wouldn’t have minded, Leo. If I’d been walking on the beach with you, the way we used to, you’d have watched while I checked out the gull, and asked, “Can you tell why it died?” And you would really have wanted to know.

Standing there, looking at gull while Mackenzie wiggled her foot and Rachel laughed, it hit me harder than ever before. How stupid I’ve been to let one little argument screw things up so much. You were my best friend for as long as I can remember, and it’s been almost two years since I last talked to you.

After a bit, Rachel stopped laughing and said she had to get going. Her mom’s been bugging her to be home more since her dad broke his leg working the trawlers last week. We agreed to meet in the caf tomorrow to compare schedules, and then we headed back into town.

I didn’t go straight home. After Mackenzie and Rachel took off, I wandered past the fisheries and up the path that leads through the pine trees to the cliff where the cormorants nest. It's so peaceful up there. Standing by the rocky edge, looking at the ocean with the cool wind gusting over me and the gulls coasting overhead, I can imagine what it’s like to fly.

At least, I usually can. Right then I felt as if I had a weight strapped around my waist, holding me down, made up of all the things I should have said to you before you left. When I still had the chance.

The most important thing is the hardest to admit. You were right. When we moved, I was overwhelmed the moment the taxi drove us away from the airport into the city. The second I walked up to that huge middle school, swarming with kids who’d spent their whole lives around skyscrapers and subways, I was sure I didn’t fit in. So I went off and watched the chimps play in the zoo and fed the kittens in the vet clinic instead of trying to make friends. I probably could have if I’d put in the effort—Drew was at the same school, just a grade higher, and by the end of the first month he was so busy exploring the streets with his classmates we hardly saw him at home. But sticking to myself was easier. And by the time I got to the even bigger high school, the thought of doing anything else was scary.

You listened to me moan about the city and the kids at school so many times before you finally pointed out that half of the problem was me. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry. But at the time, I felt like you were turning on me. I couldn’t see how right you were until we moved back here.

I figured I’d just fall in with the same people I’d known growing up, but everyone looked at me like I was a stranger. And I was still scared. I didn’t know what to do or what to say, even to you. I’m so out of practice. It’s ridiculous.

But that’s going to change. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be someone who talks to people in class even if they haven’t talked to me first, and who hangs out in town instead of on cliff tops watching birds. I’m going to keep on being that person until I’m not scared anymore. And I’m going to use this notebook as a journal, to keep me on track and to practice saying everything I need to say to you, so the first time you come back to see your parents, for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I’ll be able to apologize to your face and see if we can still be friends.

I promise.


Sept 4

You must be settled in at your new school by now, Leo. Taking dance classes with the best teachers and hanging out with other supertalented people. I bet you’re loving every minute.

I’ve been working on the brand-new Kaelyn. I said hi to at least ten different people at school yesterday while we were waiting to get our schedules. Everyone still seems kind of standoffish, like they suspect the me they knew five years ago might have gotten replaced by a pod person while I was in Toronto. I haven’t managed anything other than “Hi” so far. But hey, it’s a start.

Then today, after school, I put my ferrets (Mowat and Fossey) on their leashes and took them to Thompson Park instead of the backyard. I’m not sure anyone on the island has ever seen a ferret before, and the thought of people staring at me always made me nervous. But after a few minutes a couple kids came over and started asking all these questions about the ferrets, like “What do they eat?” and “Do they know how to swim?” and it was fun. Mowat and Fossey loved the attention, of course.

Mom came up to my room after I got back. “We’re going to have dinner a bit late,” she said. “There’s an unusual case at the hospital they wanted your father to have a look at.”

“Unusual how?” I said.

“He didn’t know,” she said. “He called me before he left the research center. But he said he should be home by seven at the latest.”

She hovered in the doorway while I pulled my textbooks out of my backpack. I was starting to wonder what was up when she finally asked, “How are you doing, Kaelyn?”

“I’m good,” I said.

“I know you’ve had a hard time, moving to Toronto and then being uprooted all over again,” she said. “If you ever need to talk, you know I’d be happy to listen, don’t you? That’s what I’m here for.”

Her eyes misted up, probably because she was thinking about Nana—about Nana having the stroke and passing on when Mom wasn’t here.

But what could she do if I told her about the fight with you, and how lonely I got in Toronto, and how out of place I feel here now? Not much. So I said, “I know, Mom. Really, everything’s okay.”

“All right.” She looked like she wanted to say something more, but finally she just left.

I hope Dad gets home soon. It’s almost seven, and I’m starving.


Sept 5

What a weird day.

Mrs. Harnett is already assigning group presentations in history, but at least she let us pick our partners. I’m working with Rachel since Mackenzie’s not in our class. Which I didn’t mind because Mackenzie would probably spend the whole time talking about movie stars she’s seen and painting her nails while I did the work. Rachel actually cares about her grades.

We decided we might as well start working at Rachel’s house since it’s closer. I found Drew in the computer lab after school, showing some other seniors how he can hack into the teachers-only folders on the network, and asked him to tell Mom where I’d gone. Rachel said hi and started smiling all shy. Drew, of course, acted completely oblivious. If his personal life was mine to share, I’d tell Rachel there’s no point in flirting with him, but it’s not.

I started wondering, though, if maybe I hadn’t given Rachel a chance. I mean, I’ve been hanging out with her because she’s always with Mackenzie, but when Mackenzie was in L.A. all August, I never called Rachel up. Not that she called me either. But from what I’ve seen, I’ve got more in common with her than I do with Mackenzie. I should try to be more friendly. The new me definitely would.

“How’s your dad doing?” I asked as we were walking over to her place.

“Okay, I guess,” she said. “We’d better pick our topic for the project.”

“Let’s do something interesting,” I said. We’ve covered Canadian Maritime history in pretty much every grade, and the last thing I want to do is regurgitate the same old facts and watch the class fall asleep.

“We should do the Acadians,” Rachel said, and I made a face.

“Everyone’s going to pick them,” I said. “I heard people talking about it.”

“Yeah,” Rachel said. “Because there’s more information on them than anything else. I want to get a good grade.”

“Maybe Mrs. Harnett would like a more original topic,” I pointed out. “We could research the Mi’kmaq, or the Scottish immigration, or the fishing industry—I’m sure we could find out lots about any of those.”

I wasn’t trying to be argumentative—I want a good grade too. But Rachel gave me a frigid look and said, “Nobody cares about fish. If you don’t want to do the project with me, you can ask for another partner.”

Where the hell did that come from? I’ve gone over the conversation in my head a dozen times and I still don’t think I said anything that should have made her upset.

I wish people were as easy to understand as animals. You give a dog a treat, it’s happy. You yank its tail, it’s angry. Obvious cause and effect.

Maybe I’m the only one who has trouble. Maybe you would have seen right away where I went wrong, Leo. I still cringe remembering our big argument, how I said you couldn’t know what it’s like being an outsider—I mean, you were adopted and the only Asian kid on the island, and the stares and comments must have hurt even if you didn’t let on—but you have to admit you’re good with people, the way I’m good with animals. I doubt you’ve ever been at a total loss to figure out why someone did what they did.

But you weren’t there, and I was, so I just said, “Okay, if you really want to, we’ll do the Acadians.” I spent the rest of the walk to Rachel’s house wondering what to say next.

Then, after we’d been in her room scanning the history websites for about half an hour, her dad came clomping up on his crutches. He was coughing, too, and he sneezed a couple times as he got to the door. He must have caught a cold after his accident.

He stood in the doorway just smiling and scratching his elbow. Then he hobbled inside and wrapped one arm around Rachel. “My little girl,” he said. “I missed you. And you brought a friend home!”

Rachel’s cheeks went pink. She nudged him away. “Yeah, Dad, it’s great to see you too,” she said.

He coughed again, and turned his big smile on me. “It’s Kayla, right?” he said. “Grace’s kid?”

“Kaelyn,” I said.

“Right,” he said, leaning closer. His face was flushed, and I couldn’t help wondering if he’d been drinking, but he didn’t smell like alcohol. “I sure was glad when your family moved back,” he went on. “That father of yours never should have dragged the bunch of you away. But what does he know? Always sad to see a mainlander snatch up one of ours, especially a woman as pretty as your mom. You know, even though she’s a darkie, I might have chased her if I’d had half a chance. Why—”

“Dad, come on,” Rachel said, sounding flustered. I sat there, my mouth half open, feeling like I was choking. What was wrong with him? Was he even listening to himself?

He scratched the back of his neck and then patted my shoulder. I flinched away, but he didn’t seem to notice any more than he’d noticed Rachel’s protest.

“There’s been a lot of talk about what happened in the big city to bring you home again,” he said, still grinning. “Your father strayed a little, maybe? Would be just like a mainlander. Or maybe you ran into some trouble?”

“My mom missed the island,” I said, which was a really simplified explanation, but at that point I didn’t feel like giving him a longer one. I stood up, adding, “I should get going. We’ll work on the project some more tomorrow, okay, Rachel?”

I hardly waited for her nod. “Hold on now,” her father said, following me into the hall. “Got to be more to the story! All the temptations in the city—I hope you and your brother kept clear of the drugs and the gangs... Why don’t you invite her over for dinner, Rachel?” he called back over his shoulder. “Your mother’s dying to hear the details!”

“Stop it, Dad!” Rachel said. She scooted past him and caught up with me at the bottom of the stairs. Her dad started coughing again, which was maybe the only reason he didn’t keep talking.

“He’s just sick,” she said, looking down at her hands. “I don’t know what he was going on about.”

“Yeah,” I said. “No big deal. But I really should go.”

What he said was a big deal, though. The whole way home I couldn’t get it out of my head. I know a lot of gossip travels around the island, about everything. I know lots of people resent mainlanders who’ve moved here, like Dad. And I know there are people who look differently at Mom and Drew and me, and everyone else whose skin isn’t as pale as theirs. But no one’s ever talked like that to my face so blatantly, and friendly.

My skin is crawling just thinking about it.

He must have been drunk. And he’s sick too. And maybe going stir-crazy cooped up in the house when he’s used to being on the docks or the water all day.

All I know for sure is, next time we work on the project, Rachel’s coming over to my house.


Sept 8

I think you could call today one step forward for the new Kaelyn, and one step back for parental relations.

Dad already seemed stressed this morning, pacing in the kitchen while he waited for the kettle to whistle, but I didn’t wonder about it much then. Meredith came over a little after breakfast, like she usually does on Sundays. She spent the morning making friendship bracelets with Mom, and the afternoon with me.

I don’t mind having her around—she’s a lot less bratty than most seven-year-olds I’ve seen. And she’s been even quieter since Aunt Lillian left last year.

Can you imagine taking off on your husband and daughter without any explanation? Doesn’t make sense to me. But then, I never got to know Aunt Lillian very well. Uncle Emmett did most of the talking.

I can’t make up for Meredith‘s mom being gone, but I feel like a superhero if I can get her to laugh, showing her goofy videos I’ve found on the internet or letting her watch the ferrets chase each other.

We were sitting in my room with Fossey and Mowat bouncing around like they do, when Fossey knocked over my coyote notebook. Meredith picked it up and flipped through the pages.

“Cool!” she said, seeing my sketches. “Are you writing about dogs?”

“There’s a family of coyotes living in the forested area north of the harbor,” I said. “I’ve been watching them and writing down what they do.”

“Are they dangerous?” she asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I have to be extra careful if I want to see them, they’re so scared of me.”

She looked up with her eyes wide. “Could I see them too?” she said. “Can you take me?”

I’ve always gone by myself, but I thought, maybe I should share the things that are important to me with other people more. Meredith was so excited, like we’d be on a real expedition. How could I say no?

Everything went perfectly. We walked out to the forest, and I showed Meredith the spot on the hill between two fir trees where I like to watch, because the breeze usually blows my scent away from the den instead of toward it. The sun was beaming, the grass smelling warm and green as if fall’s still far away. We lay down on our stomachs, and after a few whispered questions Meredith stayed so quiet I could have forgotten she was there.

For a little while I was worried we wouldn’t see anything. Then the parents and the pups, which are almost fully grown now, trotted back to the den from their day of hunting or scavenging. The pups started play-fighting. I saw more than I do most days when I’m on my own. I kind of kicked myself for not bringing the notebook along, but we weren’t really there for me.

On the way home, I told Meredith about the first time I saw a coyote. You’d remember, Leo. The day Mom took you and me and Drew out to pick blueberries, when we were five and he was six. At one point I looked up and saw a coyote standing a few feet away, watching me. I still remember those dark yellow eyes.

It’s a good memory now, but back then I was terrified. I thought the coyote was going to eat me. I turned to yell for Mom, and the coyote flinched, spun around, and dashed away.

“But why would the coyote be scared?” Meredith asked.

“Because people hurt them a lot more than they hurt us,” I said. “We assume we know everything about animals, like that certain ones are mean; but if you pay attention, you realize they’re just looking out for themselves like we do.”

Meredith couldn’t stop talking about the coyotes after we got home, like seeing them had been the most amazing thing ever. I had no idea Dad was upset until after Uncle Emmett picked her up. He called me into the living room, with that stern expression Drew and I call his scientist face.

“I don’t think you should take Meredith to the coyote den again,” he said.

“What?” I said. After seeing how happy she was, I couldn’t believe I’d heard him right.

“She’s nine years younger than you,” he said. “She doesn’t understand how important it is to be careful around wild animals. You know there’ve been reports of coyotes attacking kids in other places.”

“Only with kids a lot younger than Meredith,” I said. “I was showing her how to be careful. She’s—”

He cut me off. “We’re not discussing this any further,” he said, as if it’d been much of a discussion in the first place. “There are lots of other things the two of you can do.”

And then he walked off into his study.

You know my dad—he’s always been supportive of me studying animals. And I started going out to observe the coyotes on my own when I was only a little older than Meredith. I don’t see why he’d be so worried now.

Maybe he’s not really upset about the coyotes, just stressed out by whatever was bothering him before. I’ll have to talk to him again later, when he’s in a better mood.


Sept 9

Rachel’s dad was raced to the hospital last night.

I found out when I got to school this morning. A bunch of people were already talking about him—in hushed voices, but loud enough that I heard Shauna, who sits behind me in homeroom, say the words “psycho” and “ambulance” after Rachel’s name.

Normally I’d have waited for Mackenzie to show up and gotten her to fill me in. Even when we were kids, Shauna would wrinkle her nose when I brought in tadpoles to show the class, and snickered if I turned up at school with bits of grass on my clothes, which wasn’t unusual. But I figured the new Kaelyn wouldn’t let a little nastiness years ago stop me from finding out what’d happened, so I swiveled in my chair and asked, “What’s going on?”

Shauna did a double take, as if she couldn’t believe I’d actually spoken to her. Her eyebrows rose into perfect arches. “You mean you don’t know?” she said. I guess she assumed since I hang out with Rachel, I should be in the loop already.

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out, and a couple of Shauna’s friends giggled. But it didn’t really matter, because right then Mackenzie slid into her seat beside me. I turned toward her, hoping my face hadn’t flushed dark enough to show.

“Pretty freaky, isn’t it?” Mackenzie said.

“What?” I said. “I haven’t heard yet.”

“Rachel’s dad,” she said, and lowered her voice. “He went totally crazy last night. Woke up the whole street at two in the morning, banging on the backyard fence and shouting.”

“Shouting about what?” I asked. I remembered how he’d acted last week, and suddenly I felt shivery inside. So he hadn’t been drunk after all. There was something really wrong with him.

“No one knows!” Mackenzie said. “He kept going on about how he had to stop ‘them,’ but there was nobody there! At least that’s what I’ve heard. Someone called the police, and they brought a doctor to sedate him. Apparently he got sick with the flu after he broke his leg. My mom studied to be a nurse, you know—she said if your temperature goes high enough, you can get delusional, so maybe that’s what happened. I mean, why else would he act so freaky?”

I could have told her the things he’d said last Thursday. But chances are Mackenzie wouldn’t keep her mouth shut, and Rachel and her mom must be stressed out enough without me adding to the gossip.

“How’s Rachel handling it?” I said. “I haven’t seen her today.”

“Me neither,” Mackenzie said. “Looks like she stayed home, or maybe she’s at the hospital. I can’t blame her. I’d take any excuse I could to skip.”

I hope Rachel’s all right. I kept wondering about her and her dad all day, but I didn’t want to call in case I interrupted her at a bad time. When I got home, it occurred to me that Dad might have heard something. Even though he’s at the new ocean research center now, he still hangs out with some of the people he used to work with at the hospital.

After dinner he was sitting in the living room with one of his sudoku books. When I came over, he looked up and said, “Kae. How are you feeling?”

He’s been saying that instead of “How are you?” since our summer visit here last year, when I got a bad fever and had to spend two days in the hospital. I could understand for the first week or so, but now it’s kind of annoying. Like he figures I might still not be over one little bout of food poisoning.

“All good,” I said. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Sure,” he said.

But before I could go on, Drew dashed in and grabbed the TV remote. He had that determined look he always gets when he’s about to push the issue. Dad obviously noticed too, because his shoulders stiffened up.

“Great episode of Queer as Folk on rerun tonight,” Drew said as he turned on the TV. “Can’t wait!”

Dad glared down at his book. “Maybe your sister would like to watch something else,” he said, as if I wanted to be pulled into their passive-aggressive wrangling.

“Then she should have called dibs,” Drew said. “Hey, you know how I helped build that petition website for same-sex marriage rights in North America? We’ve got more than a thousand names already. Pretty cool, eh?”

“Ah,” Dad said, shifting his sudoku book and raising his pencil, “the seven goes here.”

The show’s opening came on, and Drew flopped onto the couch. “Amazing how they managed to fit so many hot guys into one show,” he said, turning up the volume.

Dad broke sooner than he usually does. He got up and stalked out of the room. Drew rolled his eyes.

You’d think, given how smart Dad is about science and medicine, he wouldn’t be quite so stupid about Drew being gay. But he acts like the idea of having a son who’s attracted to guys is so inconceivable he can’t even acknowledge it. I doubt he’d have agreed to look for a job on the island so quickly when Mom suggested moving back if he hadn’t walked in on Drew making out with his best guy “friend” a few months before. And Drew, of course, is determined to shove it in his face until... until he forces Dad into a total meltdown? I don’t know what he expects to happen.

I realize Drew’s completely in the right, but sometimes I want to scream at both of them.

Even if Dad had gotten over his bad mood from yesterday, I had a feeling his “conversation” with Drew made it come back. It didn’t seem like a good time to bug him with a bunch of questions.

At least Rachel’s dad is being looked after now. I’ll probably hear all about his recovery in school tomorrow.


Sept 10

Rachel wasn’t in school again. No word from her dad.

Mackenzie didn’t seem to think her being absent was a big deal, but I couldn’t imagine Rachel skipping school two days in a row unless her dad was pretty much dying—and someone would have been talking about it if he was that bad. This is the same girl who argued that she didn’t need to go home after puking up her guts during last year’s English exam, after all.

Rachel never said anything, but I suspect there isn’t enough money for her to go to college unless she gets a good scholarship. Her dad just has the fishing, which isn’t going well for anyone these days, and her mom doesn’t work at all. It’s got to be tough.

So after school I called her to see how she was doing.

“Kaelyn!” she said, when she picked up. “I’m so happy you called. I missed you!”

I hadn’t been expecting such an enthusiastic response. “How’s it going?” I asked.

“Oh, I’ve got this stupid cold and Mom said I have to stay home and rest,” she said, and sneezed. “God, it’s so boring. You want to come over? She probably wouldn’t like that, but she’s out grocery shopping, and what she doesn’t know can’t hurt, right?”

“Sure,” I said. Maybe she was acting weird, but I’d wanted to be better friends with her. Seemed like a good time to try.

When I rang the doorbell, she opened the door and flung her arms around me. She only let go to cough into her elbow and then scratch her collarbone. Her nose was red. Just like her dad when I’d been over before—sneezing and coughing and scratching.

I started feeling nervous then. But Rachel seemed so excited to see me, and a real friend wouldn’t just take off. All she had was a cold. Her dad had gotten it really badly, but it wasn’t like they’d put her in the hospital too. So when she tugged my wrist, I followed her into the family room.

On the TV, a VJ was interviewing some hip-hop singer. Rachel pulled me onto the couch and slung her arm over my shoulder.

“Talk,” she said. “I want to know everything I’ve missed. I’ve been stuck in this boring house too long.”

There wasn’t much to talk about. I didn’t think she’d want to hear that everyone at school was gossiping about her dad. I told her they’d announced swim team would be starting soon, since I’ve decided I’ll try out and maybe she’d want to come too, and then I remembered the story Mackenzie told at lunch—one of her usual “this famous person my parents know” deals, but really funny this time. As I started getting into it, Rachel grimaced.

“She’s such a snot, isn’t she?” she said.

I stopped and stared at her.

“I mean Mackenzie,” she said, and rolled her eyes. “As if she’s so special because she was born in L.A. She’s always got her nose up in the air. God, I want to rip it off her face sometimes, don’t you?”

Sometimes I do. But Rachel? She’s always looked like she was hanging off of Mackenzie’s every word.

When I didn’t answer right away, Rachel kept going: “And she’s so bossy too—it drives me up the wall! You know, I was kind of pissed for a while because she’s my best friend, and you were, like, trying to steal her for yourself. But you’re really so much nicer than she is. I’m so glad I’ve got you now! We can stick together, right?”

The weight of her arm across my shoulder had gotten uncomfortably heavy. “Yeah,” I said. “Sure.” Except the last thing I wanted to do right then was stick around. It wasn’t just the sneezing and the coughing—she was talking like her dad did last week too. Like she was spewing out every unpleasant and embarrassing thought in her head.

I shifted away instinctively, and she started scratching at her collarbone again, hard enough that the neck of her shirt slid to the side. She must have been working at that spot for hours. The skin was pink—not a flushed pink from pressure, but a dark, raw pink, like the blood was about to break through. Looking at it made my stomach turn.

Rachel only stopped scratching when she had to sneeze. She dropped her arm for a second, and I leapt up. But a music video came on at the same time. Rachel squealed.

“I love this song!” she said, jumping off the couch and grabbing my hands. “It’s so amazing!”

I bobbed along as she danced, wondering how I was going to get out of there. She raised her hands in the air and shimmied. “What d’you think?” she should shout even though the music wasn’t that loud. “I’ve been practicing in my room. Sometimes a striptease too! You know, for when I get a boyfriend. I’m going to rock his world.”

She spun around, laughing. The squeak of the front door opening right then was the most wonderful sound I’d ever heard.

“Rachel?” her mom called. “Sweetie, I told you to—”

She stopped short when she saw us. Rachel kept dancing, thrashing her hair from side to side. I’m not sure what upset her mom more: the fact that I was there, or the fact that her daughter was acting like a maniac. But she was definitely upset.

“Kaelyn,” she said, with a little tremor in her voice, “I don’t think this is the best time for Rachel to have guests.”

“I’m really sorry,” I said, and I meant it. “I didn’t know she was going to get so... worked up.”

Rachel skipped after me to the door. “Mom’s such a spoilsport,” she said in a loud whisper. “She thinks the other parents on the island let their kids run wild. But wild is freakin’ fun!”

She was scratching that spot again as she waved good-bye. I looked back when I was halfway down the block, and she was still standing there, waving and scratching.

I’m not just nervous now. I’m scared. I can’t make myself believe Rachel was drunk, or any of the other excuses I could have used for her dad. She was just not herself.

What the hell is happening?

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