“I have,” he said, his voice taking on that strained sternness she had grown more and more accustomed to during the past two months.

From Halloween on, as the weather had grown colder, so, it seemed, had her father’s temperament, his fuse snipped shorter than the days themselves.

Isobel had become so used to tiptoeing around him, filtering her words and monitoring her requests, that it was getting harder to remember a time when things hadn’t been so tense between them, so guarded.

It made her wonder if he would ever forgive her for lying to him. For sneaking off.

For falling in love with the wrong boy.

“And?” she prompted.

He sighed. Loosening his grip on the wheel, he made the turn onto their street. “And I think it’s great that you’re thinking about college, Izzy, I do. But we don’t have to go look at a school right away, you know. You’re still only a junior. There’s plenty of time. We can even go this summer if you’re still thinking about Maryland. Dallas and Nationals set us back a bit in the way of travel funds, kiddo. I just don’t think it’s feasible right now. Besides, you don’t really want to travel in January, do you?”

“But,” Isobel started. She clutched the door handle tight, trying to keep herself in check. She couldn’t seem too eager. She couldn’t seem too desperate, or he would see straight through her.

Taking a breath, she began again. “Dad, Martin Luther King weekend is the only time we don’t have practice or a game. And this summer will be my last chance for cheer camp.”

Her dad turned the steering wheel again, pulling the sedan into the driveway. In the same motion, he reached up to his visor and pressed the remote for the garage door. Snow filtered down in large clumps now, creating a rushing screen between the grille of the car and the yawning mouth of the garage as it opened with a low, grinding noise. A gray shadow slid over them as the sedan rolled into the dimly lit space.

“There’s always spring break, Izzy. Maybe we can go for your birthday. That way we could spend a little time there. Maybe see the Inner Harbor. I hear they’ve got a great aquarium.” He put the car into park and sat back, both hands resting on the top of the steering wheel, arms rigid. “But you know, I’ve talked to your mother about it, and I can’t say she’s exactly thrilled with the idea of your going so far away for school.”


“Because of what happened on Halloween.”

Immediately, Isobel regretted blurting these words. She pulled her hands into her lap, curling them into fists. Looking down again, she glared at the Nationals ring she had thought would solve the problem of her parents’ doubts and bit her bottom lip, waiting for the rebuff.

Her dad turned off the car, killing the Christmas music. He pulled the keys from the ignition and the cab light sprang on. Isobel stole a glance in his direction. In the stark light, his features looked harder than they had in the months before. The lines around his mouth seemed deeper than she remembered, and maybe that was because these days she did her best to avoid looking either of her parents directly in the eye. Not just because of the guilt that had come from the lying and the sneaking off, or from the boundless worry she had caused them both that night, but because she had grown to fear her own transparency, to fear how much of the truth they would see. Especially her dad.

He waited until the car grew cold to answer.

“Halloween is part of it,” he said, a hint of fogged breath escaping his lips. “And you can’t blame her for that, Izzy. You can’t blame either of us.”

Isobel felt her insides sink.

She turned away from him and, releasing the catch on her seat belt, grabbed the door handle and slid out. Winter air closed in around her, causing her own breath to appear in small white puffs. She felt a surge of gratitude for the cold. It helped her regain her composure. It kept her from cracking.

“Grab the bags out of the back, would you, Iz?”

Isobel obeyed, acting on autopilot as she did her best to resume an air of nonchalance. She opened the rear passenger-side door and withdrew their shopping bags full of boxes and packages, Christmas presents wrapped hurriedly in bright paper by harried clerks behind bustling customer service counters.

Isobel shut the car door, not daring to say anything else about Maryland. What else could she say? She knew better than to try and push the subject any further. She couldn’t risk it. If either of her parents so much as suspected that she had other reasons for wanting to go, reasons beyond looking at a university cheer squad, then the entire plan, if it could even be called a plan at this point, would unravel. Her somewhat wishy-washy status of house arrest, she had no doubt, would elevate to an all-out code-red lockdown.

Most Popular