Crossing the LineKatie McGarry
I saw this card today and thought of you. I know that I wasn’t who you came to meet, but I’m glad we had a chance to talk. Even though I was just his little sister’s best friend, Aires still felt like a brother to me.
Between you and me, I keep smiling when I think of the look on your face when we decided to sneak out of the wake without being caught. That was a strange, messed-up night, and I’m grateful you were there to help me through it.
I know how I miss Aires so I can only imagine how you miss Josh. Just remember that I’m thinking of you.
Can I write you again? Will you write back? I hope you do. I sort of feel like we were meant to meet.
Thank you for the card. I’m going to admit, I’m not much of a kitten guy, but I appreciate the thought. Mostly, I appreciate your note.
Yeah, I agree, the night of Aires’s funeral was messed up, but messed up in a good way. Mom and Dad thought if we met Aires’s family that it would help us with losing Josh. I thought Mom and Dad had it all jacked up, and in a way, they did. It wasn’t meeting Aires’s family that helped, it was talking to you—so thanks.
And no, I don’t mind if you want to write me again. Even if you do it in one of those kitten-hanging-from-a-tree cards.
Is it weird that I feel close to you even though you’re hundreds of miles away and we’ve only met once? I hope not. I’m glad that you’re in my life.
On the computer screen, the question “Why?” glares at me like the correct accusation it is. This dialogue between Lila and me, it breaks every unsaid rule about our relationship. We never plug in like this. Never. Not that part of me hasn’t wanted a faster connection to her. A link beyond the letters, but there was something about the written word that made our relationship safe.
And now we’re crossing lines. The one relationship I need, the one relationship I depend on. . . I’ve jacked it up. Fitting since I have a natural inclination toward destroying anything good. It’s genetic, my sister tells me. Anyone sharing our bloodline is inherently doomed.
“You should have talked to me before buying it,” my father shouts at my mother in the kitchen. “I made a budget. ”
My home is a volcano, a constant gurgle of hot lava on the verge of explosion. I try to ignore my parents, but it’s difficult. We have one computer in the house, and it sits wide open in the family room. From the corner of my eye, I have a clear shot of how Dad’s hands shake with anger and how Mom’s frustration paints her cheeks a frightening scarlet.
“Why should I have to ask your permission for anything?” A chair slams into the wooden kitchen table and Mom’s high heels stomp against the tile floor. “It’s my money too. And as for the budget—you never asked me what I wanted. ”
I asked you why. Lila’s words appear on our direct message conversation.
I rub at the lines on my forehead, and a tense uneasiness paralyzes my fingers over the keyboard. I don’t know why I did it. That’s a lie, I do know, but I don’t know how to tell her. I don’t know how to salvage this.
I’m sorry, I reply.
I didn’t ask for an apology, she rapid-fires back, I asked WHY!
Because I love you. It’s as if someone places two hands around my heart and chokes it. I love her. I’ve fallen for a girl I met only once, a girl I’ve exchanged letters with for two years. There’s no way she can feel the same about me. Those words would push her over the edge.
I want to keep her, but what do I say? What can I do?
Like the warning tremors before an eruption, my parents’ argument becomes more heated. Mom turns on the blender to drown out Dad. In response, Dad yells louder and bangs his hand against the table, making the china clink against the water glasses. The baby who was sleeping moments before, my nephew, begins to cry. It’s not a cry, it’s a shriek—one that causes my skin to peel back from my bones.
The noises press against my skull, scattering my already screwed-up thought process into more of a mess. I can explain, I type. Though I’m not sure I can.
Then EXPLAIN! She’s a fast typer. Too fast. My heart thumps in my ears. I mentally will the chaos around me to stop and pray that Lila will. . . what? What is it that I expect her to do?
“Where the hell is Meg?” my father roars. “That baby is her responsibility! I never agreed to be her babysitter. ” He never agreed to be a grandfather at forty-five either.
My eyes dart to my father, dressed in his polo shirt and slacks in preparation for my graduation, to the baby dressed in a blue onesie pulling himself up in the playpen placed in the middle of the spacious living room. His entire face flushes red. Drool pours from his small gaping mouth. He wails again, the sound like a tornado siren.
“Meg’s out,” Mom screams over the blender still grinding away. Meg just turned seventeen and is gone—at eight in the morning, meaning she never came home last night. She left Junior with us. With me. I also never agreed to be a babysitter.
As if on cue, the front door clicks open. Impressive—my sister has returned before noon. Maybe today, she’ll hold her son.
I don’t acknowledge Meg. I don’t even glance at her. Instead, I focus on the cursor blinking on the screen. I have seconds before I completely lose Lila. I made a mistake, I type. I—
The screen flashes to black. “What the hell!”
“I need this,” Meg says as she straightens from resetting the computer. She tucks her freshly dyed chin-length blue hair behind her ear. “Get out of here. ”
The new guy, the one who isn’t the baby daddy, the one who hates kids, stands in the front doorway with his hands shoved in his sagging jeans.
“Meg!” Mom rushes in from the kitchen. Does she know she left the blender running? Does anyone notice the baby still howling? “Where have you been? Lincoln’s graduation ceremony is in an hour—”
“What did you do?” I mutter as I press my fingertips against my head. Lila. I lost Lila. The only sane person in my life.
“Why should I have to go?” Meg throws her hands out to her sides, barely missing her own child’s head. “It’s not my graduation. ”
“What did you do?” I say louder. Anger gains traction in my bloodstream.
Dad knocks over a chair in his charge into the living room. “Pick up your baby! Pick him up! He’s your responsibility. ”
Mom’s voice is smothered by Meg shouting over and over again that she’s not attending my graduation.
“What did you do?!” I yell above them all, and slam my hands onto the computer desk.
They fall silent: Mom, Dad, Meg. Everyone except the baby. “Someone pick him up!”
No one does. They all continue to watch me with wide eyes because they know I’ve cracked. I never yell. Not once in eighteen years have they witnessed me lose my temper. I’m the odd one, yeah, but I’m the steady one. The unemotional one. The one who didn’t cry at my brother’s funeral. The one who never demands more of anyone or anything—even from myself.
The cries reach a higher pitch. In a quick motion, I slide the kid out of his prison and he immediately places his head on my shoulder, his thumb stuck safely in his mouth. The sweet scent of formula and baby powder drifts from his tiny body. We must look ironic: fifteen pounds of premature warmth curled into six feet and a hundred and seventy-five pounds of rock-climbing muscle. Part of me hates that he’ll calm down for me, because it makes him my burden. The other part. . . at least I can help someone feel better.
I glance over at the shut-down computer. Lila. My hand covers the baby’s back as if I’m seeking his comfort. I
lost Lila. There’s no way she’ll connect with me online now. No way I can wait long enough to see if she’d respond to my letter. To see if she will grant me another chance.
“Take your baby,” I say to my sister. Her eyes widen as her head convulses in tiny shakes meaning no.
“Take—your—baby. ” I’m wrong. My house isn’t a volcano—I am, and the past two years have created a dormant giant who no longer will tolerate being ignored. I’m tired of this. Tired of how everyone’s become so obsessed with themselves, obsessed with the moment, that we’ve ceased caring what’s going to happen next.
I’m just as guilty, and that downfall has led to hurting Lila. Soon, the same damn poor decisions will devastate this family. God, I’m a moron.
I work hard at keeping my voice gentle, because it’s not this baby’s fault that I dropped out of reality or that his mother is so jacked up she’s never held him or that his grandparents are so concerned about winning a fight that they can’t comprehend what’s happening to their future.
“Mom. ” I motion with my eyes for her to take the now-sleeping infant.
She bustles over like the busy bird she is and slips him out of my grasp. How the hell do I fix all of the mistakes I’ve made in the past two years?
My family still stares at me like deer waiting for the gunshot. I should start with telling them the truth, but the words escape me. No, not escape. . . I just can’t stop thinking about Lila.
If she can find a way to forgive me, then I can find a way to fix this.
No, it’s not weird that you feel close to me. Honestly? Sometimes knowing that I’ll be getting a letter from you is the only thing pushing me through my days.
The moment I open the door, I immediately regret not heeding the advice on the yellow Post-it note clinging near the small round hole: Lila, Always check the peephole before answering the door. You never know who’s on the other side.
Translation: serial killers knock before attacking. I watch CSI. It happens.
Standing before me isn’t a serial killer but a different type of nightmare. Stephen, the guy I’ve dated on and off since sophomore year, tilts his head with a way too smug I’m concerned look on his face.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I sniff and use a crumpled tissue to wipe my runny nose. Let’s see: swollen, puffy red eyes with dark circles? No, I’m not okay—and now I’m worse because he thinks I’m crying over him. “I’m fine. What are you doing here?”
“Checking on you. ” His green eyes survey the empty living room behind me. “I know your parents and brothers left yesterday for vacation. I wanted to make sure you made it through your first night alone. ”
First night alone—ever. And it epically blew. I’ve got six more days of alone and then, come fall, the rest of my life. “I survived. ”
Stephen scrutinizes me with a cocked eyebrow that says he can tell I didn’t sleep. Which I didn’t because I was too busy being terrified. My imagination boarded a train south to crazyville and convinced me that someone was scratching on the windows.
A hot June evening breeze drifts into the house, bringing with it the scent of the sickly sweet gel he uses to force his brown hair into a styled mess.
“Can I come in?” he asks when I’m obviously not offering.
No. I sigh. “Sure. ”