According to Casey, all older siblings are duty-bound to regale their younger kin with choruses of “I-told-you-so” as often and enthusiastically as circumstance permits. It was the soundtrack of my early years, Casey gloating every time I burnt my scrambled eggs or didn’t have a raincoat to protect me from a freak downpour. When Peter came along, he was supposed to be my chance to turn the tables and finally sound like the “smart” one. But that would have required Peter being less Peter. That would require him being wrong on occasion. Case in point, the float looks frickin’ awesome.
We don’t have the budget for anything larger than a shipping pallet, but Hosei turns out to be handy with a drill gun and fixes on some wheels. After that, he retreats to the couch and cracks open a book about hauntings in the Victorian Era.
Tori focuses on costumes. She’s a wizard with fabric, never looking up from her pile of patterns as she sews up everything from gala gowns to high-waist linen pants. She wanted to go with tuxedos for the boys, but Hosei insisted they’d be too hot for the Victoria Day Parade.
As for the rest of the float, it’s all Peter. I mean, I’m there too, but mostly as support staff. First we build up the scaffolding for the float, using Hosei’s collection of plywood. Why does Hosei collect plywood? Well, wouldn’t it be nice if he answered questions like that. Over the skeleton, we drape layers of black fabric and poster board. Peter spray paints flecks of silver over the surface, so that it gradually resembles the crackled texture of mica in the pavement. Then come the stars, which we make by bending coat hangers with a pair of pliers. Peter stretches gold crepe paper over them and gives each a generous coat of Tori’s glitter before I’m allowed to hot glue the finished stars to the float. It makes my heart ache to see Peter creating something so wonderful. He got his artistic flair from Mom.
I snap a pic of the ongoing preparations and text it to Casey with a caption: Can you believe this guy?????
I know better than to expect a reply, but that doesn’t stop me from staring at the screen for five minutes afterwards, hoping. Since Mom’s disappearance, Peter and I have clung to each other for life, but Casey’s drifted further and further from the family. Dad still gets the occasional call, but on the whole, she’s ignoring us. Maybe that’s the easiest thing to do when you’re away at university, but I’m not going to pretend I understand it. Dad says we all mourn in different ways, but one of the biggest surprises for me has been how selfish grief can be. Honestly, I’m as bad as Casey. I want my Mom back and I want my big sister to text me funny gifs again and I want those things for me more than anyone else.
Suddenly, my phone buzzes and for a euphoric second, I think Casey has actually cracked. I mean, it’s a pic of Peter with a tube of glitter glue between his teeth. Who wouldn’t be a sucker for that? But instead it’s Jaclyn, my best friend besides Peter, and it’s not just a text, but a full-on phone call. Peter is in the zone with his float, so I take a minute to step inside the kitchen and answer her.
“Hey, Jacks,” I say.
“Where are you?” She sounds frantic and at that, I know I’ve forgotten something.
“Oh – um, at the Yoshida’s.”
“The Yoshida’s? You mean you’re at Hosei’s?”
“It’s a Film Club meeting.” I meant to say that in the first place, but I was staring at a photo of a harlequin duck when she asked me.
“Film Club? Wren, seriously?” Jacks is a pretty understanding person, but right now she sounds annoyed. I know I’m going to be apologizing for something in a few seconds, I just wish I could remember what. “You promised you had this evening free. I even played the cousin-card to get Jamie here and now April’s draped across his lap like a total hoe because you didn’t show up for your own party! I taped a frickin’ Jay’s game for you!”
“Don’t call other girls hoes.” I say because my face is going red, I’m so mortified. How on earth did I forget this? Jacks has been trying to set me up with her cousin for months (she’s kind of obsessed with the idea of us marrying into the same family and since Peter’s thirteen, she says it’s my duty) and here I am, gluing stars to a pile of plywood instead. She’s calling it my party, but it really was for her. An excuse to bond us together. I’ve gone full turtle on her since Mom disappeared, and that’s what makes the guilt kick me in the lungs. “Jacks, I’m so sorry-”
“I called her a hoe for you! It was a hoe of solidarity! Whatever. I’m just glad you’re alive. I thought your car got speared by a tree or something.”
“Speared by a tree?”
“Have you seen the weather?”
I glance outside. The forecasted rain pelts the house with full force. It’s just hard to hear over Tori’s sewing machine and the constant chatter of the younger kids. Come to think of it, weren’t there supposed to be more of them? Didn’t Tori call the other Film Clubbers? The wind gusts a large branch against the window pane and it rattles ominously.
“Jacks, I’ve got to go. I’m so so sorry. I’ll make it up to you next week, okay?” I say.
“No! Just come over now. We haven’t even opened the chips.”
“I can’t. I’ve got Peter with me. And I need to make sure a whole bunch of ninth graders didn’t get speared by trees.”
Jacks growls dramatically. Luckily, she can’t hold a grudge. She’s all bluster, part of why I love her. “Fine! But if I end up with April as an in-law, I’m blaming you!”
“I can live with that.”
I hang up and immediately start searching my phone for numbers that belong to Peter’s friends, but I don’t have them. Even if an inordinate amount of my social life is dedicated to Peter’s Film Club, it’s still more his thing than mine. It never felt like my job to keep track of these kids until now, but visions of branch skewered cars dance in my head.
“They’re at home, you know.” Hosei’s voice over my shoulder makes me jump.
“Kimmy and Jonathan. Their parents called a little while ago to say they wanted to wait out the storm.” Hosei pulls a bag of Fritos out of the kitchen cupboard, his eyes only lingering on me for a second. He probably just came in for food, but it still rattles me to know he was listening in.
Thunder rolls in the distance, but the hills and mountains keep the lightning from sight. I bite down on my tongue, trying to calm my stomach, which still feels uneasy. Hosei shifts between his feet, and I think he’s about to head back to the living room, when instead he clears his throat. “You can go, if you want.”
“What?” I’m not used to Hosei talking to me, but he’s actually making eye contact right now. This is on the edge of a full blown conversation.
“Those were your friends, right? I can watch the kids. Peter can spend the night. You don’t have to stay.”
Oh. So that’s why he’s willing to talk to me. He wants me to go away.
“I will have you know I am a very proud and committed Film Clubber,” I say in what’s meant to be a haughty, imperial manner, but Hosei quirks a grin at me. He’s not buying it.
“Seriously, what’s keeping you here?” he asks, tilting the bag of Fritos towards me.
“I’m in it for the chips. Thanks,” I say, taking a large handful, but he keeps waiting for an honest answer, even as I pop one into my mouth. It’s so weird to be talking with him, I find myself wanting to tell him the truth. Besides, it’s not like he’s got anyone to blab my secrets to. “Honestly? I’m kind of glad I don’t have to go. It’s easiest being around Peter, since…”
I don’t have to finish, of course. Even if our siblings weren’t friends, Hosei would have heard the details by now. The whole school knows my Mom is missing. We’re short on teen-pregnancies this year, so I’m the most interesting thing at Belmont High.
Hosei looks over his shoulder at where Tori and Peter are still working. I think for a moment he’s bored of me, but based on his soft tone, he just doesn’t want to be overheard. “I get it. I felt the same way about Tori when we lost our Mom.”
“Lost?” As long as I’ve known the family, Mr. Yoshida has been a single dad. I kind of assumed a divorce, since the other option is so grisly, but I wish now I’d asked sooner what happened to Hosei’s mother. “Did – did she die, then?”
I’m about to ask the divorce question, but Hosei’s gaze hardens in a way that shuts me up. His eyes are so many things wrapped up in one. Black as ink. Steely and searching and just daring me to ask what happened to her. Threatening me if I do. It’s like I’ve never really looked at him until now. I don’t know if this view makes him seem more or less crazy.
“Well, I’m sorry for you. Both of you. Losing a parent sucks,” I say and this seems to be close enough to the right thing. Hosei’s shoulders deflate and he gives me a weak smile. That’s twice I’ve seen him smile in the last five minutes. Will miracles never cease?
He’s about to slouch off to the living room when a wild idea seizes me and even though I think I know the answer, I can’t help asking. “You know, Tori and Peter are probably fine without us. If you want, we could both go to Jaclyn’s party-”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“C’mon, Jacks throws great parties and-”
As I try to finish my pitch, the wind picks up outside the window and branches smack the panes again. It’s so loud, Tori yelps. I’m about to make a quip about the weather and Jacks’s tree paranoia, but before I can, the light above me pops dead. It takes a beat for us all to register what’s happened, but when we do, the house explodes in noise.
“The glue gun’s off!” cries Peter.
“My machine too!” Tori pumps the pedal, but nothing happens.
“It’s a power outage, guys. Nothing to freak out over.” I dust the tortilla crumbs from my hands and make my way back the living room.
“But we need to finish this!” Peter gestures to his float, which only has stars glued to one side.
“Give the city an hour and it’ll be back on.”
“Do you have a back-up generator?” Peter asks Tori.
“Normal people don’t own back-up generators, Pete,” I say.
“Hosei has some solar cells!” Tori rounds on her brother with a hopeful face and I want to kick myself for the “normal” comment. Fine, maybe there are some good reasons for Hosei to hate me.
“They aren’t hooked up to anything or charged.” A flush spreads over Hosei’s cheeks. “They’re… umm… for emergencies.”
“This is an emergency!” Along with Mom’s artistic talents, Peter also got her flare for the dramatic. “If we don’t finish this float, the PTA will ban us from next year’s parade!”
“Calm down.” I place my hands on Peter’s shoulders and force him to look at me. “It’s a power outage. Not the end of the world.”
The words are hardly out of my mouth when the storm decides to prove me wrong. A giant, meteorological I-told-you-so. Lightning snaps outside the windows, thunder following immediately at its heels. My eyes burn in the afterglow, the fringes of my vision swirling a hazy blue. We must be at the center of the storm.
“Ow! Wren, let go.” Peter pries my hands off him, and I realize I’ve got my brother in a vice grip. I’m about to apologize – maybe try to laugh off the fright the lightning gave me, but before I can, another bolt strikes beside the house. Only this time it isn’t thunder that follows, but a voice, thready and lilting.
My heart, it grows weak and my blood, it runs thin,
They tore out my hair and they’ve stolen my skin,
I’ll lie by you bare if you let me come in.
Let me come in, won’t you? Won’t you?
I have to grab Peter’s shoulder again to steady myself. It isn’t the lyrics themselves that scare me, but the fact that the song is so familiar. It’s like I’ve known the melody for years, and yet I can’t place it anywhere. It’s as though whoever’s singing it is trying to convince me I have a memory that can’t possibly be real.
For a second, I’m sure I imagined it. But in the gloom, I see Peter’s mouth hanging open. Shock colors all our faces, even Hosei’s, though he’s the first to move. He steps towards the window, where the blue glow has intensified. It wasn’t an afterglow. There’s really something outside. Hosei walks towards the light. “It’s happening…”
A shadow slides across the blue light and before Hosei can reach it, I lunge and drag him backward. “Get away from there!”
“What?” He tries to fight me off, but I’m stronger than him.
“There’s somebody out there.” It takes all my effort not to shout and draw even more attention to us. But I know what I saw. And if Hosei thinks a strange person appearing on a stormy night means anything other than trouble, then our Film Club clearly isn’t paying enough attention to the horror movie selections.
What a mysterious storm!!! And who IS the dark shadow outside the Yoshida house?
a) Wren is right! Bad guys are outside and they're coming for Wren!!!
b) Wren is NEVER right! Good guys are outside and they're looking for Hosei. Duh.
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