Isobel’s eyebrows shot toward the ceiling, and she regarded her brother with an expression somewhere between bewilderment and hilarity.

She fought against the urge to grin but found herself powerless to resist, knowing that her brother had asked the question in all seriousness. “The first one? I think?”

“Oh,” he said, picking up some small item from her dresser and turning it over and over between his fingers. “In that case, I guess your room’s not up for grabs.” He shrugged. “Just, y’know, beware the Dark Side. And don’t forget this.” He held out the trinket he’d been tinkering with, the small butterfly key-chain watch he’d given her for Christmas.

“Right.” Isobel plucked it up from the center of his palm. “I won’t.”

He started for the door and then, catching himself before walking out, turned back. “By the way,” he said. “I heard Mom and Dad talking the other night. Dad said something that made Mom freak, something about you and the fireplace poker. I heard her say that if you didn’t start acting like yourself again when you and Dad got back, like, for-real you and not plastic you, then she was going to take you to see a shrink.”

“What?” Isobel said. “You mean like . . . a doctor?”

Again he shrugged. “Psychologist or psychopediatrist. One of those ‘psycho’ people,” he said. “Just thought you should know. I mean, you’d tell me if Mom and Dad were thinking of giving me up for medical experimentation, right?”

Isobel’s brow furrowed.

“See,” Danny said. “Normally, this is the part where you’re supposed to say something like ‘Oh, you don’t have to worry about that, they’ve already got plenty of chimps’ or ‘They’re only interested in acquiring intelligent life-forms.’ C’mon, Iz. I’m dying here. I mean, if there was such a thing as a little brother union, I’d have filed a grievance back in November.”

She didn’t respond. She only looked down at the butterfly watch in her hand.

“Okay,” he said. “Or I could just leave you alone to conduct your sad emo transformation in peace.”


He sighed, then turned and shuffled down the hall to his own room.

Isobel’s cell phone, sitting on her bedside table, gave a soft ting, indicating she’d received a text. But she didn’t have to check the screen to know who had sent it or what it said.

Shutting her door, Isobel pulled her backpack out from underneath her bed, taking a moment to fasten the butterfly key chain to one of the front zippers. Then she took her backpack to the window and opened the sash, sliding it all the way up the frame.

Her curtains billowed on either side of her as she leaned out into the night air.

Over the roof’s ledge, she saw Gwen standing in her backyard.

Gwen raised a hand to her throat, which was wrapped in the scarf Isobel had given her.

Isobel, understanding the gesture, touched her own collar, lifting up the tiny hamsa charm as proof that she had not taken it off, that she still had it.

Gwen gave her a thumbs-up, her glasses glinting like signal lights through the gloom. She held her arms out in front of her, and without hesitating, Isobel pitched the backpack over the roof’s ledge.

It soared straight into Gwen’s waiting grasp.

After that, they gave each other only one last parting glance before Isobel ducked back into her room and Gwen hurried to wherever she’d parked her Cadillac.

Isobel shut her window, turning the locks.

As she got ready for bed that night, somewhere in the very back of her mind, she wondered if she was doing so for the last time.

THEY ARRIVED AT THE AIRPORT well before dawn the next morning.

Isobel’s mom dropped them off near the front sliding doors of the terminal, while Danny stayed in the backseat, comatose, a bit of drool glistening in one corner of his open mouth.

After hugging her mom good-bye, Isobel leaned down to peer at her little brother through the darkened window. She found it hard not to envy the peaceful look on his face, even with the drool.

During the flight, Isobel put in a pair of earbuds that would keep the threat of conversation with her father at bay. She didn’t think she could afford any more heart-to-hearts.

As it turned out, she didn’t have to worry about chitchat. Shortly after the plane leveled out at maximum altitude, her dad reclined his chair and closed his eyes. It wasn’t long until his breathing became deep and steady. It made her wonder if he had slept at all the night before either.

They landed just after daybreak and left the airport in the rental car, a gold coupe. As they reached the highway, the sun began to open its lazy eye. Weak light filtered through the crisscrossing branches of the barren trees lining the highway. Beyond, the horizon flushed a reddish pink.

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