Happy Sunday! This Tuesday, readers will discover what happens when prep school student, Sylvia, finds herself wielding an incredible magic and caught between two Faerie Courts. For now, you can catch the first TWO CHAPTERS of Wren Handman's YA Fantasy, In Restless Dreams, here on our blog!
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"You what?” I hate the way my voice cracks. I wish I could make him think I didn’t care. Of
course, if wishing could make it so, I would probably wish for him not to be breaking up with me,
instead of just wishing I was handling it better.
“I think we need some space. Y’know, to like... Rethink
things.” Tommy runs a hand through his hair, an excuse to
stare down at his feet instead of into my dangerously teary
eyes. Please, God, don’t let me cry. As if being broken up
with in the corner of an immensely crowded room while
music blares around you isn’t bad enough, I am not going
to cry in front of every person that I know.
“Space. Like... like breaking-up space, or like going-to-
the-cottage-for-the-weekend space?” As if I don’t know the
answer. We’ve only been going out for a few weeks, so it’s
not like my heart is breaking in my chest—but the public
humiliation might kill me even if the break-up doesn’t.
Tommy doesn’t answer, which I know means the answer is
obvious, but I stand there like an idiot waiting for him to
say something. Finally, the silence becomes so awkward he
clears his throat just to make a noise. I think if I talk I might start crying,
so I just keep my mouth shut.
“The first one,” he finally mutters. “Sorry.”
“And you really thought the middle of Trisha’s birthday
was the right time for this conversation?”
It feels good to get mad instead of weepy, so I go with it. People on the
dance floor are starting to pay attention to us, and I can feel
my hands balling into fists at my sides. Alice is giving me
‘concerned face,’ and she looks threateningly ready to come
“Yeah, well, Leanne sorta asked if I wanted to dance,
and I didn’t want to, like, cheat or anything, so I figured we
should talk. I’d kinda been thinking about it for a while,
“You’re breaking up with me for Leanne? Leanne
Planter?” Okay, that was definitely a shriek, and now
people are definitely looking at us. Including Leanne.
“Syl, c’mon. Calm down,” Tommy hisses, turning his
body away from the room and shielding me partially from
“Whatever. Just. . .just whatever,” I tell him, and shove
ungracefully past. I can feel his eyes on my back as I storm
out of the room, my cheeks hot as half of the crowd
watches me go. What a disaster.
Tonight was supposed to be the best night of my year.
Trisha McBride is the richest girl in our school, and when
Daddy’s little princess turns sixteen, he throws her one
heck of a party. Her whole house is done up like some
fairytale dream, with those little twinkling lights wrapped
around the banister and along the borders of the rooms.
There’s an actual band playing in the living room (okay,
they go to our high school, but they’re pretty good), and
Tommy and Bruce got their brother to buy beer. There’s
even a swimming pool in the backyard, and a big bonfire
where people are roasting marshmallows and goofing off
under the stars. For the first time in my entire high school
life, I actually have a date to a party, and Alice helped me
tame my curls into this unbelievably beautiful French
braid, and I saved up my allowance for five months to buy
this dress, and now I’m alone in the backyard trying not to
cry because I chose to date a guy for his looks instead of his
brains. What a total disaster.
“Oh my God, what the hell just happened?” Alice demands, bursting
through the door behind me. She looks ready to pummel someone and is
clearly just waiting for my word to make it so. God, I love her.
“Tommy broke up with me,” I mutter, wiping tears out
of my eyes.
“He what? Why?”
“So he can dance with Leanne.” Is that a tinge of bitter-
ness in my voice? Why, yes, I think it is. I’m thinking some
very unkind things about Tommy, one of which pops out of
Alice’s mouth. I widen my eyes, laughing despite myself.
“Well, he is. Anyway, you don’t need him. You are so
above him.” She whips hair out of her face in an impatient
gesture, and I hear someone around the bonfire call out her
name. She ignores them, her attention concentrated wholly
on me, and I’m grateful and uncomfortable all at once. I
really don’t want to cry, and all this sympathy is sure to do
me in. I just need to get out of here, go home and wallow
where no one can see me.
“Thanks, but you kind of have to think that. Best friend
“Oh come on, don’t tell me you’re going to let him ruin
your night! You are a sixteen-year-old bombshell, and I
know every eligible guy here.” Alice tilts her floppy black
hat down low over her eyes and makes like she’s scanning
the crowd. She’s wearing an outfit that she claims is
mimicking Annie Hall; she was downright horrified when I
told her I had no idea who that was.
“Everyone knows every eligible guy here. We’ve been
going to school with them since first grade.” I lace my arm
through hers and kiss her on the cheek. “Goodnight,
“How are you gonna get home?”
“I’ll walk.” I start walking back inside, and she follows
me. As soon as we pass through the door, we have to raise
our voices to be heard over the band. On second thought,
they aren’t that good—the bass player can’t keep rhythm,
and the lead singer sounds like he has a cold.
“It’s Topaz Lake. I think I can handle a twenty-minute
“Down the highway. Alone?”
“Alice, I—” I completely forget what I was going to say
as I see Tommy and Leanne grinding in the middle of the
dance floor. I don’t think I could make my body move like
that if I had all my bones removed. I’m gonna be sick. I
hurry through the press of the crowd and out the front
door, Alice hot on my heels.
“You don’t even know if your mom will be home! Isn’t
Eric out at a friend’s house? Maybe she went out for the
“To where? The only choices are pretty much the casino
or Junction Bar, and she has no money and doesn’t drink.
“Do you want me to come with you? Talk?” she offers. I
stop my headlong rush to freedom and turn back with a
“No. Seriously, I’m fine. I just need to not be watching
that right now. Go. Enjoy the party. I’ll call you tomorrow,
“Promise.” We hug tightly, and I set out across the
lawn. As I go, one of my shoes sinks into the dirt, and I
almost fall flat on my face. I hear sniggers from the front
porch, and awkwardly pull my heel out of the grass. As if
this night could get any worse. I am never wearing heels
⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞ ❂ ⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝
Topaz Lake is a tiny town just to the north
of the Nevada/California border. It’s mainly made up of
fishers and the folk who work in the casino, so my family is
a bit of an oddity because my mother is a painter. And on
top of being all artsy but living in Hicksville, she’s a single
mom too. Dad lives in New York, and we pretty much only
see him when he comes to visit at Christmas. We get
birthday presents a day or two after our birthdays every
year, and phone calls a week or so after the relevant holi-
day. Sometimes he’ll get all nostalgic and fly in to visit us
on the spur of the moment—it’s not like he doesn’t care,
he just has this crazy busy life where he owns all these
companies or something, and we don’t really fit in. So we
live in Topaz Lake and dream about the big wide world. It’s
actually a pretty cool place to grow up. I know how to gut
and skin a fish in less than two minutes, and I can identify
ten different types of mushrooms, and tell you which ones
you can eat and which ones will kill you (and which ones
the stoners at school eat).
When I get home the house is mainly dark, just the
front porch and a kitchen light are on. I hear a crash as I
get to the front walk, and figure Mom is trying to cook. It
never ends well—we’re mostly a Shake ‘n Bake sort of a
family. It’s enough to put a bit of a smile on my face, and
all the stuff with Tommy doesn’t seem as bad with him
safely miles away at the party. I open the door and drop my
ridiculous heels on the ground.
“I am never wearing heels again!” I yell out in the direc-
tion of the kitchen, dropping my purse beside the shoes.
“Also, men suck!”
There’s no answer, which is weird. Normally Mom
would be sticking her head around the corner, anxious for
the gossip. She’s been acting really off lately, though.
Sleeping in late, being kinda grumpy, and she won’t let me
see any of her paintings. She says she’s just going through
a phase, and not to let it worry me, but it does. Even
though it happened when I was four, I don’t think she ever
really got over the fact that Dad wouldn’t leave New York
for her, and ever since her girlfriend Sally moved to
Wyoming last year she’s been distant, hard to reach.
“Mom?” I call out, and I cut through the corner of the
dark living room. I navigate around the end table by
memory and come out into the blinding brightness of the
kitchen. For a moment I have to squint against the flores-
cent lights, and I don’t quite know what I’m seeing. Mom
is lying on the floor. Why is Mom lying on the floor? And
then it hits me, and I don’t know whether to scream or
stop breathing. Mom is lying on the floor.
“Mom!” I scream, and I hit the tiles beside her so hard
my knees bounce and hit again. I don’t see any blood.
There isn’t any blood. I shake her once, hard, but she
doesn’t move. Is she breathing? Check her breathing. Call
9-1-1. No, no, check her breathing first, then call 9-1-1. Do
CPR? Oh my God, I don’t remember how to do CPR! I
press my head against her back. She’s slumped over like
she was sitting against the counter and she just fell, her
shoulder half-turned towards the ground, her curls
obscuring her face. I’m afraid to move them, afraid to see.
What if her face is white? I don’t feel anything, and I start
to panic, but then there’s a gentle swell against my face.
She’s breathing! 9-1-1. Call 9-1-1.
I grab the phone in a daze and punch in the numbers,
hurrying back to her side. There’s a bottle of pills on the
ground. I pick it up—it’s a prescription bottle. The cap is
lying beside it. I don’t see any pills, and I spend a moment
searching the floor for them before the voice on the line
brings me back.
“Police, fire, or ambulance?” It takes me a second to
figure out what she’s asking, and another second before I
can make my voice work.
“Ambulance,” I croak. There’s a pause, a click, and then
it rings once before a woman answers.
“Topaz Lake ambulance.”
“I need an ambulance! It’s my mother!”
“What’s your address?”
I give it to her in a daze. My mother’s skin is still warm.
That’s a good sign, right? I think that’s important. I think it
means something. Is she still breathing? She looks like
she’s not breathing as much. I miss what the operator says
and have to ask her to repeat it.
“I don’t know. I think... I think she took some pills?”
The bottle in my hand feels strange, like something from
someone else’s life. Not mine. Things like this don’t
happen here. Maybe she was sick. Maybe she was sick, and
she didn’t say because she didn’t want to worry me. She’s
the kind of mother who would do that, try to shield my
brother and me from the truth. So she was sick, and she
was trying to get her prescription but she forgot to refill
“What did she take?” the operator asks. I scan the
bottle. The label says paroxetine, and then underneath, in
small letters, it says Paxil.
“Paxil,” I say. “But . . . that’s an antidepressant,
“Just hang on. The ambulance will be there soon. Just
hang on, okay?”
So I hang on, listening to the operator’s voice, trying to
breathe shallowly enough that I can still hear my mother’s
breathing, the buzz of the refrigerator beside us and the
faint sound of crickets in the yard outside. I just hang on.
⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞⤞ ❂ ⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝⤝
I’m standing outside the door to Mrs.
Shaker’s house, staring at the knocker. I’m trying to get my
hand to reach up, but all I can see is the paramedics
loading my mother onto the stretcher. The way she looked
when they moved her—like a rag doll. They said she would
be okay, but how could she be? She was so limp. How can
someone leave their body like that and come back okay?
They said she would be okay. They asked if I wanted to
come with them in the ambulance, but I couldn’t go and
leave Eric here. It wouldn’t be fair to ask Mrs. Shaker to
drive us all the way to the hospital, and I somehow
couldn’t bear to make that call. I need to talk to Eric.
There’s been an accident. I thought this would be easier,
but now I can’t make my hand reach up. I keep thinking it,
but my hand doesn’t work like it should. Everything feels
strange and stretched out in front of me, and I feel like I’m
up at the top of a mountain and there’s all this air, but not
enough oxygen to breathe. Like I’m suffocating. I need to
go. I have the car keys in my hand. She can’t wake up
without us there. We need to go, now. We need to go!
I slam my hand against the door, harder than I meant
to, once and then twice and then I’m pounding on the door,
my eyes too wide and prickling from the feeling of the air
against them. Mrs. Shaker opens the door quickly, her
expression wide and alarmed, and it gets worse when she
sees me standing there. I must look insane, in my party
dress and bare feet, my hair half undone, the keys to a car
she knows I don’t have a license for dangling in one hand.
“Sylvia—what’s wrong?” she exclaims.
“I need to talk to Eric. There’s been an accident.” Is that
what I’m going to call it? An accident? I can’t tell her about
the pills, about the bottle on the floor. What do I say?
“Oh, my God. Eric!” she calls out, and she steps back
from the door to let me in. I don’t move from her stoop. I
just need to get Eric, get in the car, get to the hospital. I
just need to keep going, because if I stop, I won’t be able to
start again. “Is it your mother? Is she alright?”
“She’s had an accident,” I repeat dully. “I need to take
Eric to the hospital.”
“Honey, you can’t drive,” she says. Eric still hasn’t
come. What’s keeping him?
“Eric!” I scream over her shoulder. My body feels like
it’s vibrating, humming in my stomach. I think I might
throw up. “We just need to go.”
“I’ll drive you.” She grabs her purse from a table by the
door, slipping her feet into shoes. Finally Eric appears from
a room down the hall, his friend Taylor close behind. He
looks disheveled and bored until he sees the expression on
my face, and then everything goes still except for his feet,
which keep walking him towards us.
“What’s going on?” he asks. He’s blinking too much,
preparing himself for some horrible news while still trying
to pretend he doesn’t think anything is wrong.
“There’s been an accident,” I say again. I see his expres-
sion start to break down and I quickly rush on. “She’s okay,
they say she’ll be fine, but Mom’s in the hospital. We have
to go.” I hold my hand out for his.
“I’m going to drive them to the hospital,” Mrs. Shaker
tells Taylor. “Let your dad know where we are, okay?”
Taylor says something, but I’m not listening, just
folding Eric up in a big tight hug. We haven’t been close for
a while. He’s thirteen, too old for me to keep treating like
the little brother that I usually treat him like, and we’re
always on each other’s cases. But right now, he’s just that
kid brother who used to follow me around the house
copying everything I did, and I just want him to feel like
things will be okay. So I hug him close to my heart and
listen to the sound of his breathing. She was still breathing
—she never stopped. That’s what matters. Not the rag doll
they loaded onto the stretcher. Not that.
Somehow we make it to the car, and Eric keeps asking
me what happened, what’s wrong, and I don’t want Mrs.
Shaker to hear so I just keep saying ‘accident’ until the
word doesn’t mean anything, and Eric looks ready to punch
me in the mouth but Mrs. Shaker says they’ll explain it all
when we get there, and I hold his hand and watch the trees
whipping past in the dark. It takes so long to get there—
what if something changes? What if we get there and ‘she’s
alright’ becomes something else?
Mrs. Shaker drops us at the door and goes to find a
place to park. I run inside, trusting Eric to keep up, and
reach the front desk.
“Our mother. They brought her in an ambulance,” I tell
the woman behind the desk. She looks tired, an older
woman with dry brown hair and dark circles under her
“What’s your mom’s name?” she asks, and there’s
something soothing about her voice.
“Gail. Gail Hartford,” I blurt. Beside me Eric is playing
with a pen on the top of the counter, his eyes dark. I know
the look—he’s determined to do something that he knows
I won’t like. I don’t ask what.
“She’s in room 312. The elevator’s right down that
“Thank you, ma’am,” I say, and hurry to catch up with
Eric, who’s already halfway there. We get into the elevator,
and I watch the numbers as they climb from 1 to 3.
“They’re going to tell us what happened,” Eric says
suddenly. His blond hair looks strange under the hospital
lights. Everything feels wrong, too bright or too dim. The
sound of the elevator reaching our floor is loud. I nod,
watching the doors as they pull open. “So why won’t you
“I just wanted a moment alone. That’s all.” We’re the
only ones in the elevator, so I take a deep breath and turn
towards him. “Like I said, it was an accident, okay? She
was on some pills, and I guess she took a few too many.
“Some pills? What kind of pills? Is she sick?” Eric asks.
All sorts of new worries pile up in his eyes. We step out of
the elevator as a younger woman wheels an older woman
onto it. Neither of them looks up. I don’t think I’ve taken a
deep breath since all this started. I don’t know the answer.
Is she sick? Depends on what you mean by sick, I guess.
“I don’t know. We’ll have to see, okay?” I try to take his
hand, but he pulls away, shoving them both deep into his
pockets. I walk towards the room, and he follows a few
steps behind. There’s a doctor coming out as we walk up,
and he stops.
“Are you Eric and Sylvia?” he asks gently. I nod.
“How do you know our names?” Eric asks.
“I wish I could say I was psychic, but alas, no.” The
doctor waves the file folder he’s holding with a smile. “Per-
sonal files. I like to get to know my patients. I called her
emergency contact, but the number was disconnected. Do
you know who Sally Kitchener is?”
“Her . . .” I pause, awkward. Topaz Lake isn’t exactly
New York, and Mom and Sally never advertised their rela-
tionship. “. . . friend. She moved to Wyoming,” I say. “Our
neighbor is here. She drove us.”
“She’s parking,” Eric says. “Her name is Mrs. Shaker.
She’s my friend’s mom.” I nudge him and he goes silent.
The doctor nods.
“Do you want to wait for her before we talk?” he asks. I
shake my head, not trusting myself to speak. I don’t want
her to hear about the pills. “Why don’t you kids have a
seat, okay? And I’ll explain what’s going on.”
We both sit down in cheap vinyl chairs. I realize I’m still
not wearing shoes. The linoleum feels cold and a little wet,
like maybe they wash it down at night. The soles of my feet
tingle. The doctor crouches in front of us, trying to get on
our level. Why couldn’t we have all just stood up?
“Your mom is going to be just fine, okay? She took a
few too many pills, but we cleared the drugs out of her
system. She’s very lucky that you caught her in time. An
hour later...” he trails off, like he’s rethinking whether he
should have said that, and my white face must convince
him to leave it at that. If Tommy hadn’t broken up with me,
my mother would be dead. Is that what he’s really saying?
It couldn’t have been that close.
“A few too many pills?” Eric echoes, and he sounds
angry. “How many?”
“You don’t worry about that, okay? The important thing
is that your mom is going to be alright. The nurse is just
finishing up in there, and then you guys can go in and see
her.” He pats Eric’s hand, and stands up. “If you two need
anything at all, you can come and find me, okay? My name
is Dr. Friest.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” I say without thinking, and I
realize he’s already walking away. More important people
that need saving. People that didn’t put themselves in here.
“How many pills did she take?” Eric demands, rising to
“I don’t know, Eric. The important thing is that she’s
alright. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Wait and see? What kind of crap is that? You found
her! You saw what happened! You know what happened!
How many pills did she take?” He’s yelling, and I can see
people down the hallway starting to pay attention, but I’m
so sick it doesn’t bother me.
“I don’t know!” I yell. “A bunch, okay? She took a
“What kind of accident is that?” Eric asks, and he
slumps back into his seat. We both stare at our feet for a
while. He’s wearing white sneakers with the laces undone.
I should tell him to tie them so he doesn’t trip. Mom
would tell him to tie them.
“Did Mom try to kill herself?” he whispers.
“I don’t know.” My eyes are filling with tears, and I can
feel my throat burning from the effort of holding them
back. “I’m really sorry, okay, and I’m not pulling that whole
‘you don’t get to know cause you’re just a kid’ thing. I
just...” I pass my hand in front of my face, try to steady
myself. I close my eyes for a moment before they flutter
open again. “I just came in, y’know, I left the party early
and I just came in and she was lying there. She was just. .
.So I don’t know. What happened.”
“Why’d you leave the party?”
“Tommy dumped me.”
“Sorry,” he mutters, staring down at his feet.
“Thanks.” It’s unspoken, but I hear it. If he hadn’t,
Mom would be dead. What kind of world is it where your
mother could be dead because some horny sixteen-year-old
decided to wait a night to break it off? How does that make
sense? “Stay here, okay? I’ll be right back.” I get up and
wander down the hallway, and he doesn’t even ask where
I’m going or what I’m doing. I’ve never seen him this
upset. Then again, I’ve never been this upset, so I guess I
know where he’s at.
I stop in the hall and take out my cell phone. I don’t
even know if he’ll pick up. . .It rings five times before a
bleary voice answers. “Hello?”
“Daddy,” I say, and suddenly I’m crying and I can hardly
talk. I stutter out something about Mom being in the
hospital, but I’m sure he can’t understand me through the
“Sweetie, calm down, slow down. Tell me what
happened.” His voice is soothing, rough with sleep but
determined and strong, and I think maybe he can make it
okay. I take a few deep breaths, rubbing at tears which keep
falling, but I manage to form coherent words.
“Mom’s in the hospital. She took a whole bunch of pills
and I found her on the floor, and they say she’ll be okay,
but I don’t know what to do, and Eric keeps asking me
questions and I don’t know the answers, and I need you to
“Of course,” he soothes, and I start crying again. “I’m
getting dressed right now, okay? I’ll be at the airport in
twenty minutes. It’s about a seven-hour flight, so I’ll be
there in about eight or nine hours. Will you be okay until
then? Did you call somebody there?”
“Mrs. Shaker’s here,” I sniff through my tears. Nine
hours. I can get through nine hours. I can do this. I can be
the grown-up, as long as it’s only for nine hours.
“What about that woman? Susan? Your mom’s friend?
Is she there with you?”
“Dad, Sally moved to Wyoming like a year ago.”
“Oh. Sorry,” he mutters, and it’s actually the perfect
moment because it’s just such a Dad thing to do. He’s
trying to be helpful and care, but he’s so out of touch he
just ends up making himself look like an idiot. I manage to
stop crying and take a couple deep breaths, and I can even
feel myself relaxing.
“Nine hours, right?”
“Right. I’ll see you soon. I love you, sweetie.”
“I love you too, Dad. Thanks.”
I hang up the phone, and make sure all my tears are
wiped away as I walk back down the hallway towards Eric.
He’s standing up now, pacing a little bit back and forth, and
the door to Mom’s room is open.
“Where were you? The nurse said we could go in. She
said she’s sleeping and not to wake her up, but that we can
go in and sit with her.”
“I called Dad,” I say. Eric looks relieved, which relieves
me because I was afraid he might be mad. I notice Mrs.
Shaker sitting in a chair beside him. “Hi, Mrs. Shaker.
Thank you again.”
“Oh, honey, you don’t worry about it one bit. I’m here if
you need anything, okay?”
“That’s very nice, but you really don’t have to stay. My
dad’s flying down—he’ll be here in a few hours. And she’s
asleep right now, so. . .”
“That’s alright. I’ll stay until your Dad gets here. You
two go on in.”
“Thanks,” I say again. I feel like it’s all I have left to say,
but it does the trick. She smiles and I can see she’s
thinking something about my good breeding. Eric and I
walk inside hand in hand. The room is very quiet, with four
beds along the wall and a curtained window. Mom’s is the
only occupied bed, and she’s lying very still in it. A
machine above her head is beeping quietly, while an IV
drips fluid into her arm. It gives me the creeps, and I can
see Eric feels the same, but we both grab chairs and pull
them up to the side of her bed.
“What do we do?” Eric asks quietly. I shrug.
“I don’t know. I guess we just wait.”
So we do.
Eric falls asleep around one o’clock, and I can’t
decide whether I’m trying to stay awake or trying
to fall asleep. I’ve never done nothing for so much time—
just sitting here, watching Mom sleep. She looks more like
a person than she did when they took her away, but less
like my mom than I’m used to. I find my mind wandering
in weird directions. What will I tell people at school? Will
Alice freak? Are Tommy and Leanne making out right now?
Will I get time off school? If I do get time off school, how
will it affect my grades? Did Mom take all those pills on
purpose? I can’t even think the word that goes along with
that, so I cross my arms tighter over my chest and concen-
trate on breathing. It always makes me dizzy when I think
about breathing, like I’m doing it wrong because I’m trying
too hard. In, out, in, out. Am I breathing too deeply or not
deeply enough? Could time pass any more slowly than it is
right now? Why is it that time is so arbitrary? It always
speeds past when you want to savor it and slows down to a
crawl when you wish there was something to do.
Around five o’clock in the morning, I wake up and
realize I fell asleep. A nurse has just come inside, turning
on all the lights, and Eric is blinking awake next to me,
making a very disgruntled sound. And thank God, Mom
flutters her lashes too.
“Morning everyone. Sorry for the early wake up,” the
nurse says. She bustles around, doing whatever it is that
nurses do in the morning—checking Mom’s pulse, putting
something in her IV, making sure her chart is in order, that
kind of thing. I’m not paying much attention to her, just
watching Mom. She looks sort of surprised and dazed to be
here, and a little sad, too. She has puffy circles dark enough to
be black eyes, and her mouth is covered in that white stuff
you get sometimes when you wake up and you’re really
thirsty. Mom doesn’t say anything except answers to the
nurse’s questions—is your mouth dry, does your stomach
hurt, have you coughed up any blood—so Eric and I stay silent
too. Finally, the nurse tells us that the doctor will be here in
another hour and then she goes away, and leaves the three of
us to stare at each other. Mom talks first; I guess she has to.
“Hey kiddos,” she breathes. Her voice doesn’t sound
like Mom—too scratchy and wheezy, like air being let out
of a bagpipe.
“Why did you take those pills?” Eric demands. I punch
him in the arm, swift and sharp, and he recoils.
“Shut up!” I snap at him, before turning back to Mom.
“Are you okay? Do you feel alright?”
“Don’t hit your brother, Syl,” Mom chides, but her voice
still has that wheezy sound, and it’s starting to freak me
out. She sounds like she’s more than half asleep; her eyes
are only half open. She turns her head on the pillow so
she’s looking more directly at Eric, and even that is a bit
creepy. She can’t quite hold it up on her own. “It’s compli-
“Did you try to kill yourself?” he says. His hands are
gripping the arms of the chairs, getting ready to propel
himself up. She stares at him, clearly searching for words,
but they don’t come fast enough. That silence answers
every question I was too afraid to ask. Eric’s grip does what
it promised and shoots him out of the chair.
“No, of course not,” Mom says, but it’s too late to stop
Eric. He looks pissed, in that way that means he’s really
hurt but doesn’t want to admit it.
“How could you? What about us? Don’t we mean
anything at all?”
“Eric!” I practically yell, jumping up as well.
“Of course you do,” Mom tries, but he’s not having any
“If you want to leave so much then why don’t you!” he
screams, then goes tearing out of the room. I want to
smack him in the face, but I can’t quite catch him before he
makes it past me, and I don’t want to run out after him
without saying something to Mom first.
“He doesn’t mean it,” I say. I come over to the bed and
wrap my arms around her, and to my relief she returns the
hug. “You just scared us, is all.”
“I’m sorry, kiddo. I really am,” Mom says into my hair,
and it feels like a normal moment until I remember how
wrong it all is. How could a day that started off so well end
up like this? I’m in a hospital, wearing a blue party dress
and no shoes, hugging my mother who tried to. . .Mean-
while my brother is probably crying outside and my Dad,
who I haven’t seen in almost a year, is flying to the rescue.
I don’t think it gets any more unreal than this.
“I’m gonna go talk to Eric, okay? He’s just upset. He
“Neither do I,” she says, and I don’t know what to say
to that. She’s supposed to be the one who has it all under
control. I change my mind—I can’t be the grown-up for a
whole nine hours. It’s just way too long. I look at my watch
as I walk back into the hallway. Dad should be here any
second. He’d better not be late.
Mrs. Shaker is standing outside the room, looking very
unsure, and she relaxes noticeably when she sees me.
“Oh, Sylvia, good. Your brother ran off down the hall-
way, and I wasn’t sure if I should go after him.”
“Which way did he go?”
“That way,” she points, and I nod.
“Could you go sit with Mom?” I ask. “I’ll go talk to
“Of course, dear,” she says, and I nod thankfully and
take off at a quick walk down the hall. I find Eric not too
far past the pop machines. There’s a banister in front of a
window as big as the wall, and he’s standing there with his
face pressed against the glass and his hands wrapped
around the banister. Who knows, maybe that’s what it’s
there for. He glances over when he hears my footsteps and
gets this really whiny look on his face.
“Leave me alone,” he complains, pressing his face back
against the glass.
“No,” I snap, marching up to him and grabbing his arm.
He makes a half-hearted attempt to pull away, but I yank
him around to face me. “You listen to me right now. Mom
“Mom took a bunch of pills!”
“That’s a kind of sick, you stupid idiot! The kind where
even though lots of things in your life make you happy, you
can’t stop feeling sad.”
“But she tried to kill herself, Syl. What if you hadn’t
found her?” His voice cracks, and I know he’s trying not to
cry. Part of me still wants to slap him as hard as I can
across the face, but I figure that’s probably not the mature,
adult thing I should be going for. I try to channel Mom as
best I can, and instead I yank him closer and hug him tight.
He’s stiff as a board, and from this close I can hear the soft
sniffing of him trying not to lose it. I let him go and stare
him in the face.
“I know everything’s scary and weird and like some-
thing out of someone else’s life. But right now, Mom is
going through something that we don’t really understand.
We don’t know what’s making her sad or why, but what we
do know is that she’s going to have to work at getting
better, and that means she can’t be worrying about us all
the time. So we have to be really strong for her, okay? She
can’t be worried about whether or not we love her.”
“It’s not fair,” he says.
“I know,” I say, and link my arm through his. “But—”
“’Life’s not fair,’” he finishes for me. “That doesn’t cut
it this time.”
“It has to. It’s sorta all I’ve got,” I admit. We stand
there in the hallway like that, our arms awkwardly linked,
watching the dark night through the window. There’s a big
parking lot full of people coming and going, even this late
—no, it’s early, now. I wonder why everyone else is here.
All the things that make people sick, all the things that
take people away. Like I said, it’s all just a little too real,
and that sort of makes it all unreal.
“Can we go back now?” I ask Eric.
“Why aren’t we enough to make her happy?” he asks. He
looks at my reflection instead of me, like it’s easier to be a
kid again when our eyes don’t meet. Thirteen is way too
young to have to be an adult. Hell, sixteen is too young to
have to be an adult. I do not want to be answering this ques-
tion. What if I get it wrong? What if there is no answer?
Nothing is coming out of my mouth. Think, Sylvia, dammit!
Why aren’t we enough to make her happy? Does she not love
us? Fine, don’t think, just lie. Lie really well so he doesn’t
know that you’re scared of exactly the same question.
“Because the chemicals in her brain are telling her not
to be happy,” I say. Is that a good answer? Is that even
true? It’s a safe answer, anyway.
“I think I just want to stay here a little while,” Eric says.
He takes his arm away from mine and leans against the
banister, pushing his forehead against the glass like he’s
trying to sink into it. I punch him in the arm. Not the
mature reaction I was going for, but I haven’t slept in hours
and my feet are cold. I can feel the little lines between the
tiles on the floor with the tip of my big toe.
“No!” I snap, and Eric jumps back.
“Stop acting like a kid!”
“Stop acting like my mother!”
“Just follow the sounds of fighting, eh?” I hear from
behind me, and Eric and I both spin at the same time. Dad
is walking down the hallway towards us. Eric and I practi-
cally run each other over in an effort to get to him, and we
collide into this ridiculous hug where my face is pressed
into his shoulder and one arm is flung across Eric’s back.
“You made it!” I say through the fabric of his sports
jacket. Dad somehow manages to look put-together even
though I know my call got him out of bed. He’s wearing a
shirt and tie like he’s going to the office. He always looks
like he’s about to buy or sell something expensive over the
telephone. Okay, so I don’t completely understand exactly
what it is he does for a living. I just know it means he can
afford a semi-private jet that he shares with his company,
and that it let him get here just in time.
“Of course I made it.” He kisses the tops of each of our
heads and walks us back towards Mom’s room, one under
each arm. As we walk, he talks, and we listen because it’s
so nice to have someone else telling us what to do. “I
talked to Doctor Friest when I got here, and he filled me in
on everything. Now I know it’s all a lot to take in, and
you’re probably worried and trying to figure out what’s
going to happen, but it’ll be okay. I’m gonna go inside and
talk to your mom and get everything sorted out, and we’ll
all be just fine as long as we can get along and rely on each
other. You think you two can do that?”
“Yeah,” we both mumble and he kisses our heads again.
“Good. Mrs. Shaker is going to head home, so I’m
counting on you two to look after each other while I talk to
“Okay,” I say. He leaves us at the door, and carefully
closes it behind him so we can’t listen in. Which of course
was exactly what we wanted to do. Instead we collapse into
sticky plastic seats and stare at the ceiling in silence. I’m
starting to get really cold in my sleeveless dress. It’s late
September, really too cold for this outfit, but I let fashion
get the better of me for the party. Really, I let Alice get the
better of me.
My thoughts drift for a while, from the everyday to the
extraordinary. Eric shifts occasionally beside me, but
neither of us really has anything to say. I keep checking my
watch, which just makes time pass more slowly. Five
minutes, ten, fifteen drift by. The halls lose that sleepy
night feeling as people stream in to work. The nurse at her
nearby station is replaced by the morning shift; a janitor
comes by and mops the floor. He gives a look to my bare
feet but doesn’t say anything. He’s probably used to worse.
Finally, Dad comes out, leaving the door open
“Who’s hungry?” he asks. Neither of us say anything.
“Let’s go get some breakfast.”
“I’m not really hungry,” I say.
“Hence the not saying anything when you asked if we
were hungry,” Eric adds.
“You’re hungry. You’re just too tired to realize it. Come
on.” He starts to walk for the elevator, and with matching
groans, Eric and I struggle to our feet and follow him. We
head down to the cafeteria in almost total silence, and Dad
pressures us into getting food. I grab a coffee and a Danish,
while Eric decides he’s hungry enough for a real meal. We
take our plates to a table and sit, and I realize he’s brought
us here to tell us something. I get this terrible sour feeling
in my stomach, like stage fright or that fear-high you get
when you ask someone out. Something is about to change.
“So listen,” Dad says, very seriously. Eric gets this look
on his face, and I think he’s coming to the same realization
I just had; he puts down his fork with a piece of hash
brown still on it. “Your mom and I had a serious talk. This
wasn’t an easy decision to make.” I stop breathing. This
cannot be good. Oh my God, what’s happening? Eric looks
like he’s going to cry. “Your mom has been dealing with
depression for a long time. She needs some real help—she
needs to go to place where she can get away from all of the
pressures of her life. Where she can concentrate on getting
“She’s leaving?” I ask. My voice breaks on the first
word, but I manage to get it under control by the end. I
think I’m going to start crying again. Why is this happen-
ing? Did we do something wrong?
“Not exactly. . .” Dad hesitates. He’s never been good at
giving bad news. He used to let Mom tell us if he was going
to miss a birthday or a holiday, so he didn’t have to hear
the disappointed chorus. “She obviously can’t leave you
“Oh my God. Are you moving here?” Eric asks.
“I wish we could do it that way, but I can’t leave my
business.” He takes a deep breath, though whether he’s
preparing himself or us, I’m not sure. “You guys are going
to come and live with me. In New York.”
“What?!” I shriek. Eric tenses, moving his chair a frac-
tion away from mine. Dad looks like he wants to do the