Three months, twelve days, and fifteen hours had passed since I ruined my sister’s life. I’d spent all one hundred thousand minutes since trying to make it up to her. Well, okay, I wasted some of those minutes sleeping. And I never really thought about her while showering or using the toilet because that’s just weird.
Presents didn’t work. The one thing Lara wanted couldn’t be bought. Apologies lost their meaning when I chanted them over and over while she tuned me out. I knew I should give up and embrace the title of disowned sister like Lara so readily wanted me to wear. After all, it was my fault she couldn’t dance anymore.
I’d tried everything to help her…except help her. The presents, the apologies, the secrets, that wasn’t what she needed. She needed her old life back. Which meant I had to face all the other people I hurt in the aftermath of Lara’s injury to get it for her.
With a deep breath, I pushed open the door to the dance studio—aka the auxiliary gym—and all eyes snapped to mine. My jeans suddenly felt too tight against my thighs and my backpack gained a thousand pounds, weighing me down like an anchor. The first dance team practice of the school year was usually a time for catching up, not catching wind of people whispering about whether or not I’d show. All conversation ceased. I searched for my ex-best friend Denise Yee but the sea of narrowed eyes blurred, making each girl look like a paper doll, indistinguishable from the next. The familiar scent of overused gym mats and too much Axe body spray hit me with a pang of nostalgia and nausea. Part of me wanted to turn around and run back out, but cowardice was what got me into this mess.
I dropped the bag with a loud thud. Then I focused on placing one foot in front of the other and not the way my palms were turning sweaty. The crinkling of the blue gym mat under my feet was the only sound as I made my way toward a cluster of girls on the opposite side, hoping Denise was one of them.
They backed away from me as if their synchronized movements were part of a choreographed dance step. These girls were my friends, the ones I had spent the last three years giggling with backstage at recitals in order to calm my nerves, the ones who squeezed my hands when we were waiting to hear if we’d made Nationals, the ones who included me even when Lara wasn’t around.
A lump formed in my throat, but I managed to squeak out a “Hey” in a desperate attempt to appear casual.
Two of the girls burst out laughing and I felt a small bit of relief amongst my nerves that neither of them were Denise. Giggling almost seemed normal, even if this time it was directed at me. The third girl, Ali Montauk, clutched her hip and held up a five-finger stop sign. “Stay over there.” Her chestnut hair was so straight and shiny it looked shellacked into place. “I’d like to keep my legs in working condition, thanks.”
A lead anvil tore through my stomach at the reminder of what I did to my sister. The laughter increased. I spun around to face another cluster of my teammates. They straightened like dogs on high alert. “What’s next, you going to sabotage Nationals, too?” Crista Finnochio said, checking to see if Ali laughed at her comment.
My mouth was frozen midway to forming the word no when I caught sight of the girl standing stoically behind her. Denise’s face was wiped of all expression as if even straightened lips would betray too much emotion about my presence.
I swiveled my head to both groups in a wishy-washy way. I knew I should focus on Denise but I couldn’t bear to look at her. She had on a sports bra and skimpy Manhattan Prep shorts. Only she would be confident enough to walk around school in her underwear. I used to love that about her. Now, her confidence was enough to shatter me.
“I’m—” I swallowed. The word “sorry” seemed too insignificant to sum up what I’d done to her. Instead, “I’m not going to hurt you,” came out of my mouth. All the air seeped out of my body like a deflated balloon. That was the first time I’d admitted out loud that I was capable of hurting someone. That I had once before.
Ali scoffed. “Sure you’re not, Kasey. Not yet anyway. Not until you realize you aren’t as good as us and you need us out of the way.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” No one knew and that was entirely the problem. My hands shook by my sides so I curled my fingers into my palms to stop them. When Ali’s eyes zeroed in on my closed fists, I realized my mistake. I flattened my hands against my thighs, but I might as well have raised them in the air in surrender.
Ali broke away from the pack and stomped toward me. “Why don’t you clear it up for us then? Because there are a lot of rumors going around.” Ali gestured at Denise, who kept practicing to be a portrait model, clearly not wanting to give me the satisfaction of even blinking.
“I heard she fell,” Nikki said after a few uncomfortable moments of silence.
“Heard it was a botched suicide attempt.” Crista tucked a strand of her shoulder-length bob behind her ear and added, “After you pushed her over the edge of insanity.”
Ali placed her hands on her hips. “I think you pushed her.”
“Those are just rumors.” My voice came out high-pitched, sounding guilty. A few of the girls rolled their eyes. It didn’t matter what I said. They would only hear what they wanted to hear, stroke their pet theory while the truth escaped behind their backs. Still, I took a deep breath and spoke slowly, so they would believe me. “None of those are right.”
“Then what is?” Denise crossed her arms over her chest and shifted her weight to one hip. In the past she would have punctuated her question with a cutesy nickname for me like Kase-adilla and a smile she couldn’t shelve even in anger. I robbed her of that smile, too. “You can’t explain it because you don’t want to admit it,” she added.
I sucked on my lower lip. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to admit it. It was that I couldn’t possibly explain in only a few words. It was the same reason that only two words—I’m sorry—couldn’t fix what I did. Not to Lara. Not to Denise. Not to the dance team. And not to…Finn. Thinking his name made my heart deflate all over again.
“That’s what I thought.” Denise’s back straightened, and she scanned the other girls before padding across the gym mat. She brushed past me—sending my hair flying up from the velocity of her movements—and joined Ali on the opposite side of the mat as if the battle lines had been drawn. It was only a matter of seconds before the rest of the girls joined their troop and I became the lone soldier defending herself without a weapon.
Ali took that as her green light signal. “We’ve wasted way too much time on you already. As captain, I’ve—”
“Co-captain,” Denise corrected. The lump that formed in my throat wasn’t even worth swallowing, it completely obstructed my airways.
Ali nodded at her. “We’ve decided that even though you technically already made this year’s team—”
“Don’t worry.” I didn’t wait for her to finish. I knew what she was going to say: I was off the dance team. “I came here to quit.” Tears rammed at the back of my eyes as the words left my lips. I’d vowed to myself before school began not to lie anymore and here I’d just spewed another one. But I had so little dignity left, I had to cling to my last reserve.
The dance team: added to the tally of things I’d lost, right behind my sister, my best-friend, and the guy I loved.
I spun on my heels and raced toward the exit. Each pound of my feet on the mat made my face cringe. My hands slammed into the door, and I burst into the hallway, nearly careening into someone about to enter.
When I looked up to meet his eyes, my stomach dropped even further. Lonnie Weitzman. Three months ago that name wouldn’t have meant anything to me. Today it was another reminder of everything I’d screwed up.
“K—Kasey?” I obviously took him by surprise because his brown eyes opened as wide as possible, and he dropped the papers he was holding. His shaggy hair bounced as he bent to retrieve them.
I couldn’t deal with him now, too. I didn’t want to hurt another person, even if it was just emotionally. “Sorry,” I mumbled, and took off again down the hallway. The sound of the gym door slamming behind me felt like another slap in the face.
When I rounded the corner, I crumpled against the wall and buried my face in my hands. My shoulders rattled from my deep breaths. Going to my dance teammates…former dance teammates…to help Lara was too big a leap from the betrayal that occurred after her injury. I had to start at the beginning: revealing the truth of what happened. Once I did that, I had to fix everything I broke, not just my sister.
Tentative footsteps and the soft whisper of my name made me drop my hands from my face. I looked up to see Lonnie standing there, holding my book bag out as a peace offering. I’d totally abandoned it in the gym. Maybe this was a sign that things lost could be found once again.
I wiped my dark blonde hair out of my face and grabbed the bag from him. “Thanks,” I told him, allowing the corners of my lips to rise. Lonnie’s gesture was the only nice thing anyone had done for me in the last three months and I didn’t deserve it. Not in the least.
He reached out a palm as if to touch my shoulder, but pulled it back before it made contact. “I was coming to the gym to talk to you. I’ve been trying to find you all day.”
“You didn’t look very hard.” A strained laugh escaped my lips. “Everyone else seemed to have me on their radar today.”
“Yeah, I heard some ridiculous rumors. I’m guessing you didn’t go all Misery Stephen King-style on your sister?”
“No. And I didn’t perform a homemade hip replacement in an attempt to impress pre-med college admissions boards.” I shifted my bag to my other shoulder.
“Any progress on the forgiveness front?” Lonnie asked, and I loved how he always knew when to change the subject. He shuffled the papers he had dropped into a different order, eyeing me sideways.
“Same as last month. Only now Lara’s avoiding me by going to class instead of going to her room.”
Lonnie’s head tilted. “What do you mean ‘going to class?’”
I leaned my shoulder against the locker to face him. “It’s this new trend called going to college. I hear all the kids are doing it. I plan to try it next year. Peer pressure and all.”
His eyes narrowed into confused slits. “Yeah, but a bunch of Tysh classes have been delayed. Some of them haven’t even started yet.”
“What?” Now it was my turn to squint. Lara had been attending classes all week. She went to Tysh College on a full scholarship. Though it was supposed to be contingent on her participation on the dance team, the school had graciously waived her tuition anyway. Lara even had a letter to prove it. Lonnie’s older brother went there as well.
“Gas leak. Mark told me about it, they’re trying to keep it hush hush but it’s all over Twitter.”
The world seemed to tilt, and I felt like I was sliding right off the surface. Lately, I’d been out of touch with my sister, but I guess I was out of touch with reality as well. I’d avoided twitter and Facebook all summer because social networking sites weren’t very fun when you had no one to network with. Still, I watched the news. Okay, I watched E! News.
I straightened. “I gotta go.” Lonnie had to be exaggerating. That was the only explanation. The leak probably only encompassed his brother’s building and Lara’s classes continued uninterrupted all week.
“Wait, Kasey!” he called after me. “Why do you keep avoiding me?”
Because Lonnie belonged on the tally of people I’d screwed over. He just didn’t know it yet.
I turned around and offered him a friendly wave, walking backward as I spoke. “I’m not. I have to get home before Lara.”
He nodded, and I hurried home, desperate to prove Lonnie wrong. For the first time all summer I felt grateful that Mom stayed in the kitchen away from me as I ascended the stairs two at a time. Even she couldn’t bring herself to look me in the eye yet. Lara’s door coaxed me at the top. I didn’t want to invade her privacy like this, but I figured she’d keep a record of her schedule and then I could double check if her buildings were affected by the gas leak.
She used to have posters of ballerinas and snap shots from Broadway productions lining her toe-shoe pink walls. Now, only torn corners remained. I flipped through an old notebook I found open on her desk, once scribbled with choreography ideas. Most of the pages were ripped out. Nothing about Tysh.
The door slammed downstairs, Lara’s signature entrance. Blood whooshed in my ears, drowning out any chance of hearing her approach. I knew I should get out of her room but this might be my only opportunity to snoop.
“Lara? How was class? Oh, by the way, someone named Beth called to confirm your appointment Wednesday at ten.” Mom’s voice grew closer with each word.
The thump of something falling on the stairs made me jump. I tiptoed to the open doorway. Framed in the crack, Lara leaned against the railing at the bottom of the stairs, her messenger bag resting at her feet.
“They called here?” Lara pulled out her cell and scrolled through it.
“Who is that?” Mom asked.
I slunk back into the shadows of the room and tried to control my breathing. Lara’s door hinges squeaked loud enough to alert her to my presence and finding me in her room wouldn’t exactly send the message that I was a trustworthy sister. I needed an excuse. Fast. I scanned the room for some inspiration.
“Um. She’s from Dr. Shannon’s office,” Lara answered fast. “More physical therapy.”
A large stack of color-coded folders rested on Lara’s desk. When I went to reach for it, the folder labeled English 101 slipped from the pile and landed on the floor, falling open to a sheet of paper with Tysh College letterhead.
“Don’t you have a class at that time?” Mom prodded.
The letter was dated July twenty ninth—a month after the hip injury.
Lara started up the stairs, taking each step with great care. “I did, but they, uh, switched me into a more advanced level. It meets at eleven.”
I scanned the letter as if I were auditioning for the World Speed-Reading record. Tysh College. Scholarship revoked. Reapply in the fall.
A breath seeped from my throat, immediately replaced with more guilt. More secrets.
Why would Lara hide this and pretend to go to college? And how did she kill all that time she spent away from home?
The doorknob rattled just as I closed the folder and inserted it underneath the pile. Lara wrenched open the squeaking door and we both stood staring at each other, our faces reflecting the same wide-eyed, open-mouthed, gaze.
She took a deep breath and released it, as if speaking to me required too much effort.
“Uh.” I shifted my book bag in my arms, trying to come up with an excuse.
The door hit the back wall and careened toward her, smacking her in her injured hip. She winced.
“Sorry,” I said, as I made my way into the hall. “I was just trying to—”
“Kasey…” She rubbed her hip and stared at me, the green flecks inside her iris dancing. The only kind of dancing she still did. “Don’t make me have to move out. Not when I can’t afford my own place.”
Lara locked the door behind me, shutting me back out of her life.
I had to help her and I finally knew the way to do it. The secrets were only adding up, causing deeper rifts between Lara and her former dream. If I couldn’t help her dance, at least I could give her back the part of dancing that made her a star: the spotlight. And in the process, I’d be able to explain my side of things to everyone I hurt.
I rushed back to my room and switched on my computer. My fingers twirled across the keys as I composed a blog post. I’d reveal the whole story, every last bit of it. I wouldn’t hold any details back, even if it embarrassed the hell out of me. Even if it made me look bad. Even if I was ashamed to admit it. People wrote memoirs all the time to chronicle the great things they did.
I’d write one to reveal the horrible things.