Martin’s car smelled concerning similar to a doctor’s office. Harriet wondered how long it would be before her car smelled the same. It was around noon on the east coast, but she felt like it was the middle of the night. Considering it was only a three hour difference, Harriet chalked it up to jet lag.
Usually she was good on planes. It made her anxious in the beginning when the aircraft would taxi out to the airstrip, but just sit there for ten minutes, waiting for the all-clear signal. But she loved the feeling of taking off. Andrew had told her a while ago that when he’d taken off—on the one plane he’d ever been on—he’d imagined he was on the back of a dragon, running and jumping into the air. So when her flight had taken off, she’d closed her eyes and tried to picture a dragon. All her imagination could come up with was a giant, pink fluffy one. Oh well, she had thought, I could use a Luck Dragon.
It was fun at first as flights always were. They met the sun halfway, it going west as she went east. The cloud banks were always amazing. Just fluffy white as far as the eye could see, up, down, all around. Clouds making shadows on other clouds. Out of the whole flight (admittedly it was a small flight) she’d been the only person to vomit. It was about an hour after they took off. Thank god she was already in the bathroom. When the lady had come around offering them food, she’d taken coconut cookies and three bags of peanuts and a bagel and orange juice with sprit. The woman looked uncomfortable giving her so much food, but Harriet always flew first class, so she got what she wanted.
Now, sitting in her cousin’s doctor smelling car, she regretted all the food she ate. She felt like she was going to vomit again. Thankfully Martin’s voice interrupted her gag reflex.
“We put all your stuff in your old room on the second floor." He told her. “We moved the bed from the room across the hall into yours. It’s bigger and doesn’t squeak.”
Harriet nodded and looked out the window. It didn’t look all that different from the outskirts of LA. Only there were no mountains. Or hills. And everything was green. And the ocean was facing the wrong way. The streets were cleaner and the buses on the freeway were the wrong color. They’d passed a school a few miles back and it was three stories high. Those things didn’t exist in California. Harriet had been to the east coast before, but now that she knew she was spending the next six years here…
The house was exactly as she remembered. It was tiny by Hampton standards, but it was bigger than her house in LA. It felt strange that it technically belonged to her. It was made of gray stones with white boarders around the giant, spotless windows. It was three stories with a crows’ nest at the top, making it look like a castle. The lawn was perfectly mowed in crisscrossing patters and the hedges that formed a boarder around the lot was so perfectly trimmed it look fake. There were five expensive looking cars in the drive that lead off to the garage that was bigger than Andrew’s house.
The house was raised maybe eight feet off the ground in the center and a pool ran through it. The backyard (or at least as Harriet remembered it) had a huge salt water pool that looked like a mini ocean running down the center of the house and out back where you could watch the sun rise early in the morning. The sides of the house came around the pool like a V and there was a large deck on the second floor over the pool with a large twisty slide going into it. She had so much fun so much fun on it as a child.
The last time she was here, she didn’t even spare the slide a second glance and now she found herself regretting it.
“We filled up your car,” Martin told her. “The cheapest place for gas is about four miles west from here, sort of tucked in near an old cemetery.”
“Thank you.” She told him as she climbed out of the car. Indeed her red Mazda convertible was sitting beside an old-but-gold Shelby Mustang.
“I’m headed back to work.” Martin said. “You should get sleep. You look really pale.”
She felt really pale, if pale was a feeling. She had been feeling sick on and off for a couple weeks, though she’d hidden it so her family wouldn’t be concerned. Harriet just hoped it was gone by the time work rolled around in a week. Either way she nodded her thanks to Martin and headed into the house with her shiny new key.
The house was very clean and sparse and lonely feeling. The floors were all expensive hard wood with a long strip of Plexiglas going down the middle of the foray revealing the still pool below. There was a room in which the only furniture was a large grand piano and its bench. In another room there were sharp grey leather couches and expensive looking abstract paintings hanging on the walls.
The stairs seemed to grow right out of the floor like a flowering plant and rose in a clean spiral up to the second floor. Harriet carried up her one suitcase and light carry-on bag. The second floor was more or less the same as the first. There was no piano, but the lines were just as clean and even the sculptures that greeted her at the landing were perfectly shaped.
It reminded her of The Jetsons; clean and perfect and futuristic and utterly uninviting. Harriet turned around on the landing and looked at the expansive wall of glass behind her.
It opened up to the large balcony and Harriet frowned at the dust-covered slide and wondered when it was last used. It was too cold now and even if it weren’t, she didn’t have the energy.
She found her room past the library at the end of the hall. It was the one she used to stay in when she would visit as a child. She was fairly certain that the boys all had rooms on the west side of the house where hers was on the east. Looking out the window, she could almost convince herself she could see the ocean far off on the horizon. She closed the plane drapes and turned away.
There were four large boxes pushed up against the wall labelled: Clothes, books, supplies, and other. That was all she carried with her to this new life. She dropped her bag and suitcase on the floor and pulled out her new house key. The “other” box was thankfully in the clear and she had next to no trouble plunging the key through the packing tape and pulling. When it was open, she reached in and found her two pillows, sheets and a thick blanket. She would go shopping tomorrow for a new duvet and maybe some pictures to make room more inviting, but for now she made the bed that was already a permanent resident of the room.
She managed to wiggle and tug and pull her clothes box out from under her supply box and found her pink pajamas at the bottom. She tugged them on without a second thought. She was just about to turn off the light and climb into bed when she saw a little splotch of pink in her “other” box. Harriet pulled out her pink lady bug and looked at it.
One eye had been pulled out as a child by accident and lost and was now replaced with a black button that made for a haunting gaze. The wings were soft and light pink with black spots and were detached a little from the black body to give it the appearance of being able to fly away if it was so inclined. It had been a present from her dad from when he’d first married her mom. She had had a fascination with insects and at some point he had started to refer to her as Bug. Now that she was older he only ever called her Hattie—nickname that it was. She missed being called Bug sometimes, but it was a stupid thing to miss.
Harriet crawled into bed, holding her lady bug tight. The blanket was cold and the room was even colder. Suddenly an aching pain filled her. She hadn’t told Andrew goodbye.
She’d left him sleeping in her bed, not wanting to wake him up. She’d thought it would be easier for the both of them if she just left. It wasn’t as if they wouldn’t ever see one another again, but at the time she’d still felt as if it were the last time. She wanted to remember him sleeping and happy and wanted him to remember her the same instead of whatever crying mess she would have turned into. Now, lying in the cold bed, she realized she’d made a mistake. She should have woken him up, said goodbye properly. Something had changed between the two of them over the last few months and whatever it was, it scared her in a way she’d never experienced before.
The tears were streaming out onto her pillow case before she could stop them, soaking the soft violet petals and printed roses. She missed her mother. She was twenty-three—a woman grown—she knew that, but the ache was undeniable. Harriet disapproved of the gossip magazines her mom read and the way she fluffed and teased her hair until it was near dead. But none the less, she loved her mom. Loved the way she smelled like argon oil and loved the way her fingers looked when they flew across the piano keys, the same now as they had been when she’d taught Harriet to play. She loved the way that her mom had given up everything for her, even if it made her sad to think about it. She missed her dad too. The man that raised her up higher than she ever thought she could go even though he was under no obligation. He’d given her his last name and never showed her anything but stern love. She missed Susan who was a constant in her life with her bright scarves and her wicked cackle. She missed Aunt Phyl and Uncle George and the way they always made time for her.
And she missed Andrew.
She hugged her ladybug to her as she cried herself to sleep.
Harriet woke to the sound of her door shutting. It was soft, but her body was on high alert, even in sleep. She flipped on the little reading lamp on the side table and looked at the clock on the wall—the one ornament already in the room. It read 10:24. She looked at the window to find that the world outside the close curtains was dark. She groaned and rubbed her head. She hadn’t known she was able to sleep that long. Over the past couple years, every few weeks or so, her dad would make her stay up for over twenty-four hours in preparation for long nights at the hospital, but even when she was finally allowed to sleep, she rarely slept longer than nine hours.
On the little table beside the lamp was a glass of water and a plate of spaghetti covered by plastic wrap with a fork laid on top. Beside it was a little note that read; WE EAT DINNER PRETTY LATE AROUND HERE. MARTIN CALLED YOUR FATHER AND TOLD HIM YOU ARRIVED SAFELY, BUT THERE’S A PHONE IN THE LIBRARY IF YOU WANT TO MAKE ANY OTHER CALLS –JACOB.
Harriet looked at the clock again. Damn. She had promised to call Andrew as soon as she landed. She wondered if he had gone home, and if he had, which home? He had moved into the little apartment above the shop, but he also stayed over at his parents sometimes if Quinn was having a bad time. She hoped he was okay, he hadn’t felt good the other night or really any night. It had been a bad year for Quinn. Actually, it had been a bad year for all of them.
In the spring when the riots started, Quinn had disappeared for three days, sending them all into a total panic. Even Harriet’s father was making urgent calls to anyone he could think of in the area. They had finally found him one night with a group of black teenagers who were running around throwing bricks through the windows of police cars. They had made him stay back, but had let him tag along. Harriet was there with Andrew when they found him. The leader of the group had let Quinn go willingly and told Andrew that he was nuts, but they’d had fun. Apparently Quinn had convinced himself that he was black and had decided to “take up arms with him brothers against the injustice of America”. They’d had to lock him in his room and bar the window to keep him in.
Then in the summer on the early morning of Harriet’s birthday, she and Andrew had been packing for their camping trip when the earthquake had started. Apart from the large crack in the driveway, the house itself was undamaged, but things inside the house hadn’t been so lucky. Harriet’s clock, some of Susan’s snow globes, a light fixture, their marble counter from the heavy pan that had fallen off the hanging rack above it and came smashing down. Harriet and Andrew stood together in her door frame and held each other tight. The sound of her mother’s voice as she screamed out Harriet’s name still haunted her.
When it had ended nearly a whole minute later, Harriet had run off to the garage where the first-aid kits were. Harriet and her father and even her mother who had once studied to be a nurse all grabbed one and took off.
Andrew had tried to go with her, but Harriet had made him stay behind, telling him that he’d just get in her way. She hadn’t meant to be so blunt, but it was true. While Andrew was good at calming Quinn, he had no training and would only worry Harriet. She was thankful that she’d made him stay home when the aftershock hit and the fires had started. She’d found him at his apartment after he check on his family.
Neither Harriet’s house nor Andrew’s had sustained any real damage, but the same couldn’t be said of the shop. A pipe had burst, soaking spools and spools of expensive fabrics and ruining his sewing machines. Half the shingles on the roof had shaken loose and broken the windshield of the car he’d left there over night when she’d picked him up.
After paying to get everything fixed and replenished, nearly all the money Andrew had been saving up to move east with Harriet was gone. Harriet had begged him just to move into the house with her and her cousins, but Andrew insisted on buying an apartment on his own, one she could come to when she wanted to get away from her cousins and all their doctoring. Again, Harriet offered to buy them one. When Harriet was eleven, her dad had given her a couple thousand dollars and she had told him which stocks she wanted him to invest in. She had no system in place or a good working knowledge of stocks, but she had been very fortunate so far. Very fortunate indeed. But again, Andrew refused, wanting to do it on his own. He was stubborn like that.
Tired as she was, she forced herself out of bed and across the hall into the library. It was, as one would expect, full of books. Books in English and Latin and Greek and French. Aside from English, Harriet knew French, ASL (Martin’s father was deaf), and the fair amount of Spanish that all children from California learned growing up. She wondered if her cousins knew Latin and Greek and all the other languages in the room.
There were old books whose bindings were falling apart, handwritten accounts by Thatchers generations ago, and even books for light reading Harriet knew were all recent. It was a complete home library and the warmest room in the house. The walls were dark oak paneling with gold painted accents and an old sofa that looked as if it belonged in a gothic mansion sat in the corner.
Harriet found the phone on one of the desks near the back door that lead into the next hallway. She dialed Andrew’s number by memory and played anxiously with the cord as she waited. When the answering machine kicked on and Mrs. Bapson’s recorded voice began to speak, Harriet sighed and rubbed her head, but waited for the beep before leaving her message. “Hi… uh everyone. It’s Harriet. I don’t know if Andrew is here or at the apartment, but if you’re there, I’m here safe. I meant to call earlier, but I fell asleep. Give me a call back at—” Harriet read the number off the little paper taped to the phone dock. “—and if you’re not there…hello to everyone. Quinn, call if you want to talk. I hope you’re feeling better. Bye.”
“Quinn, open the door right now.” Andrew jiggled the door knob again in vain. “I swear, I’ll break it down if you don’t.”
“You can’t.” Quinn’s voice replied from somewhere on the other side of the door. He didn’t even sound like Quinn anymore. In fact, he hadn’t for a while. Andrew chalked it up to puberty and a changing voice, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that wasn’t the case. His voice would cut off—not crack—in the middle of a sentence and sometimes his words would slur all together and other times he would talk so fast that no one could understand him—so fast his words no longer made sense.
“What do you mean I can’t?” Andrew asked shortly. “I’ve done it before.”
And he had. Andrew had broken Quinn’s door twice before. Once when he was around six and he began to scream bloody murder out of nowhere in the middle of the night. It remained one of Andrew’s worst memories. His dad had been out of town that weekend and the screams had started around one in the morning out of nothing. His body had thrown itself from his bed before his mind and ears even processed what was happening around him. His mom had already beaten him to Quinn’s door and was screaming for him, throwing her body against it in an attempt to get it open. But his mother was small and not particularly strong. Andrew wasn’t a thick person, but he was so panicked, one shove of the shoulder had made it give way, breaking the door frame around the lock.
Quinn had been hiding under his bed, his hands over his ears and screaming. Andrew’s first thought had been to check the window, but found that it was closed and locked. There was no one in his closet or hiding anywhere in the room. When Andrew told Quinn that, he’d simply wiped his eyes, put on his glasses and climbed into bed. That was the first night he’d slept with the lights on, the first night he slept with his glasses.
The second time was a legitimate accident. He’d locked the door because he was dancing and hadn’t wanted anyone to see, but he fell and cracked his head against the corner of the bed frame. He’d managed to scream for help before passing out.
This time though, it wasn’t an accident, nor was it some deranged nightmare. Andrew waited for Quinn to respond, but no reply came or even a sound. Andrew groaned and got down flat on his belly on the floor. There were shadows in the light of Quinn’s baseball lamp and Andrew saw the grain of a piece of wood that looked sort of like his dresser…
“Quinn!” Andrew shouted and stood up quickly. “Did you barricade the door?”
“And if you try to break it, I’ll hurt myself!” He screamed in a voice that was nothing like his little brother. He’d been threatening it a lot lately and, though he had yet to do it, Andrew knew he would if he was pushed too hard.
“Quinn.” Andrew said, gently this time, and leaned his head against the chipping white paint of the door. Somewhere downstairs, the phone began to ring and Andrew ignored it.“We just want you to come out and eat dinner.”
“They drug the food,” Quinn told him and there was a scrape of something against the floor. “They drug it and it makes me crazy.”
Andrew waited in anticipation before he realized that Quinn wasn’t taking the furniture away, but adding more. “What are you talking about? No one’s putting anything in your food.”
“They do! I hear them whispering about it through the walls.” Quinn’s voice was slurring together again. “The whisper-food-Twinkies-and then they-tells him to-Gabriel or something…You don’t know Andy! You’re never here!”
“Whatever Quinn.” Andrew said and walked away.
He walked into his own room and shut the door, wanting to barricade himself in. Instead he crawled in beneath his plaid blankets and cried.