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Chapter 16

I was sitting at the island, scribbling down mechanisms of acetic acid, bored and with nothing better to do. I just needed to distract myself from the lonesomeness I sometimes felt. It was a Saturday night, and I was alone again. I considered dialing Ned’s number or lumbering to his house, but I thought against it, critical that I would be too clingy or too—I don’t know. My brain was just against it, and every fiber of my heart wanted to disobey the rest of my body. However, I remained fixed in my chair as I copied down an alcohol while I pined for ethanol.

The back door threw open, and I startled easily, jumping to my feet immediately. My palms attached to the island, rooting myself there as I absorbed the figure boisterously rampaging through the house. Holden’s head rose, and he barked a guttural howl. Leslie stormed past me, ignoring my presence all together, mumbling indescribable nothings to himself in silent breaths. He thundered through the house until he rushed through the front door.

My gaze shifted to the backyard again, wondering what occurred while he and my sister were star-gazing. I shimmied around the island and quietly stumbled through the back door, closing it as Holden swiftly ran around its edge down the stairs. I tumbled down the stairs and then stared down at my baby sister.

She lay so restfully and elegantly upon a quilt our great-grandmother made while our mother was pregnant with us. The moon’s beams gave her alabaster skin a beautiful glow. Her chocolate tresses spread out like rays from her crown, and she rested her cupped hands on her stomach as her navy eyes sadly stared at the stars.

I quietly collapsed next to her and placed my hands on my abdomen. I absorbed the great constellations and the great unknown, lost in everything I couldn’t imagine. I scanned the horizon for a tinge of the pink left from the dusk, but it was all gone.

“I guess you’re wondering what happened,” she finally whispered.

I turned to her and then turned back to the stars. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?”

“You’ve got more shit on me than I do on you. Why would I throw crap at an orangutan? He’s got more practice and more ammo than me.”

She giggled, and I laughed at her giggle. In moments like this, when she was herself, I loved her the most. Her contagious laughter was the most iridescent, gorgeous sound you could imagine, like the coo of a dove and the song of a robin. I loved hearing her laugh. Sometimes I wish I made her laugh more.

I murmured, “You wanna know my favorite pick-up line?”

She glanced at me in her periphery. “What?”

I grumbled in a deep roar, “Get in my van.”

She burst into laughter, covering her mouth with her petite hands. She slowly regained her composure and stared up at the stars again. She murmured, “Leslie told me he loved me.”

I faced her, turning on my side, propping my head up with my hand. I furrowed my brow with concern and asked, “What did you do?”

She shrugged. “I told him I loved him, too.”

I smiled and cooed, “That’s great, Esther, but you’ve guys already have done this.”

She became solemn.

“Do you love him?” I finally inquired.

She nodded her head. “He was just upset that even though I love him, I don’t want to have sex, yet. I mean, I know I’m supposed to have these raging hormones and this sex drive, but I just don’t want to have sex yet.”

I didn’t know what to say. She already knew my track record, but she didn’t know every race I participated in or all of the applicants.

“I mean, we’re just kids.”

My heart sank. My eyes fell to my shoes, and I wiggled my toes underneath the canvas. I wondered what I should do in this conversation. All I really did was imagine that Esther was so much wiser than anybody I ever met. She acknowledged she knew nothing, and she acknowledged her youth was a handicap. She accepted things she couldn’t control while I rebelled against them.

“I just want to make sure he’s the one, you know?”

I fell to my back and continued to stare at the stars. I confronted the idea I had held onto for the past few months that maybe I had no chance to have another love in my life. My chance was gone, but Ned gave me hope. He forced me to believe that I could still have that. I could still have some worth.

“Does it hurt?”

I cocked my brow and grunted questioningly.

“The first time you have sex?”

My memories flashed behind my eyelids as I closed my eyes. Memories of Heath, of Holden, of Esther, of Mom, of Dad, of Ned… of my mistakes... congregated in my brain, and I realized something about myself.

I shrugged, “I don’t know.”

She turned to her side, her eyes glued to the side of my face. “Did it hurt when you had sex for the first time?”

I admitted for the first time in my life, “I don’t remember.”

I expected for my sister to scoff and leave me, or maybe she would immediately call the school newspaper and broadcast my slut status.However, I underestimated her. She wrapped her arm across my abdomen and nestled her face into my neck. She murmured, “That’s okay.”

I patted her head and asked hesitantly, “Did you two break-up?”

She smiled and shook her head. “No, he said he just needed some time to blow off some steam. He said that he would love me no matter what.”

My chest tightened, and I remembered all of these times I distrusted Leslie. I recalled all of those times I wanted for him to stay away from my sister and all the times he wished I wasn’t her sister. I furrowed my brow and glanced at my sister. Her eyes were aglow with something I hadn’t felt since Heath died, and I wondered if this was permanent or just a phase. I closed my eyes, realizing this jerk was here to stay.

“Did you and Heath love each other?”

I opened my eyes. I murmured, “I hope so.”

“Do you miss him?”


She sleepily replied, “Someone will come along and make you feel that way again.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

Because I couldn’t imagine my brain perfecting someone as much as I perfected Heath. He was everything I wanted to be, and he was so structured but kind. All of these things wound together ironically, and that was Heath.

I buried my face in my sister’s hair. Frustrated, she asked again, “Why not?”

“Because no one will be Heath.”

“Heath was a good guy, but you can fall in love again. The heart is meant for breaking and then mending. Sure, you feel like crap now, but someone will sweep you off your feet.”

Ned flashed across my mind, and I smirked. Just thinking about him gave me anxiety, and I now remember I had the identical feeling when I first began to think about Heath. However, when I thought about Ned, there was a purity, an innocence surrounding this figure that Heath and I destroyed the first time we met.

“You don’t know anything,” reminded Esther.

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