The idea of Johnny in a bookstore made Carla laugh out loud.
“Who’s paying for the gas?” Johnny said in a jokey way. He was especially nice to Tessa, flattered by how thrilled she was over the prospect of getting on his motorcycle. He had never once taken Carla for a ride. “Hop on,” he said grandly.
Tessa hugged her friend good-bye, then got on. She put her arms around Johnny when he told her to, to make sure she wouldn’t fall off once they began to soar down the bumpy road. Carla stood watching them. When her brother gunned the engine, dust rose up. Carla had grit in her eyes. He came so close when he took off he almost hit her and she’d had to jump back, heart pounding.
Carla’s mother stepped onto the porch. There were still fireworks going off and sprays of red, white, and blue filled up the sky. Carla thought about the disappearing sisters who had once lived in the history museum. The motorcycle tore off down the street.
“Pretty girl,” Mrs. Kelly said.
Carla looked over at her mother, who was gazing at the fireworks display.
“She’s the kind who will always go far.”
CARLA WOKE UP in the middle of the night. At first she thought she heard thunder, then she realized there were still fireworks being set off, homegrown ones, cherry bombs and sparklers, the kind that always sent someone racing to the emergency room of the Blackwell Community Hospital. Carla got out of bed and got dressed. She felt restless and spooked, trapped in her little bedroom. She climbed out her window and went through the woods. Because the moon had risen, the path wasn’t as scary as usual. When she reached the edge of the woods, however, she stopped. She thought she saw the ghost weaving past the museum. She went forward, straining to see. A girl with blond hair was in the yard. Johnny’s motorcycle was up against an old oak tree.
Carla could feel her pulse pounding. The girl disappeared into the woods, so Carla went on, following, toward the river. She felt reckless, the new her, a girl who refused to be frightened by imaginary creatures. There were still splashes of fireworks up above, and the sky was ashy and bright at the same time. She heard voices, so she slowed down a bit. When she looked over at the river, she felt her heart jolt. There was something blue on the riverbank. She thought it was the Apparition, the ghostly little sister in the blue dress, perhaps going to meet her older sister Mary. But when Carla crept closer, she saw it was only a pair of jeans. They’d been tossed onto a tangled pile of clothing. White T-shirt, boots, a black belt, a red shirt.
Carla leaned against a tree and listened to them as they dove into the water. There was the rise and fall of their muffled, watery voices. She heard their laughter and their desire. She felt dizzy in the dark, consumed with hatred. She saw them in a still deep pool, arms around each other, kissing. The girl’s cascade of blond hair looked green in the dark. Carla’s brother looked like a stranger. They were naked in the water, wrapped around each other. He was running his hands over her breasts and she was letting him. Carla crouched down and watched the stranger who was her brother. She realized that he was fucking the blond girl. The girl arched her back, her neck. He put one hand on her throat and brought her close to him. He kissed her until it seemed they might drown. And she kissed him back. She kissed him like crazy.
Carla turned and ran back through the woods. It was a long way, and she was out of breath when she got home. She was shivering even though the night was hot. In the morning, she reported the incident to the other girls in town, Jennifer Starr and Madeline Hall and all the rest. She told the Mott brothers, who looked dumbfounded. Jesse said, “She wouldn’t even let me kiss her.” Once she started telling she couldn’t stop. Right before supper she told her mother, who slapped her face, then called her father home from work.
From her bedroom Carla could hear her parents arguing with Johnny when he came home, and Johnny shouting back, then her father’s angry voice telling him to get the hell out. Johnny slammed the door and left, and they could hear his motorcycle roar away. Carla stayed in her room all the next day. That week she didn’t go to the Coopers’. She didn’t go the whole rest of the summer. She started to spend afternoons with Madeline Hall when Jennifer went to Maine with her family. Her brother gave her murderous looks, and once he said, “How does it feel to be such a bitch?” but after that he stayed clear of her, which frankly was a relief. He drank too much, and at the end of the summer he moved into a room in a house full of college students from the community college even though he didn’t know a single one. He continued to show up for work. Carla, on the other hand, had been allowed to give up her job. It would have been too uncomfortable for her to be there, considering the animosity between brother and sister.