The indication that Rachel was home was when a screaming argument broke out downstairs. It was enough to make me forget about sleeping that morning. Careful not to draw attention to myself, I showered and dressed by five o’clock am. It was nice to have a little bit of time for reading and doing crossword puzzles, which I guess was the only thing I really could do for four weeks. That and babysitting Graham, which wasn’t that bad. It was a good thing I had gone to the bookstore a few days ago.

Not only had Rachel not come back until this morning, but she was also kind of drunk, judging by her stilted speech. I couldn’t really focus on my book, what with the shouting downstairs and thinking about Will’s secret place. My imagination just couldn’t conjure up any good guesses that early in the morning. Also, the fact that Abigail liked Will made me smile. What a strange couple they would make. But with Abigail’s fiery temper and Will’s happy-go-lucky friendliness, I figured they would complement each other nicely. If only there was some way I could get them together. That, at least, was a project during purgatory. I decided I wasn’t going to hold the party thing against Abigail. People do strange things for love. Like my mother. I really couldn’t imagine her loving someone like Frank, because even though she wouldn’t admit it, he was mean to her too. Truth is stranger than fiction. His angry, pig-squeal voice joined the angry fray.

Sneaking out my window just to get away was looking better and better. Graham started to cry, and I went to him, grateful for something to do other than listen to my sister get chewed out. Graham seemed to get up earlier and earlier these days. It must have been lonely in that room of his. It was friendly enough, with classic blue walls and life-size Spider Man stickers all over the walls. He was barely big enough to see over his crib.

“Is it breakfast time already?” I asked him, doing the lollipop thing on his nose. “Sorry, but we have to wait until World War III is over, and then we’ll see if Mommy won’t get us both something to eat.” After my lecture, of course. For now, I sat on the floor and rolled a ball to Graham after changing his diaper. Who would this little child become when he was all grown up? I could imagine him now, with his grin like Will’s and every girl going after him like little fruit flies. He would be the most popular boy at his school and finish with a killer college degree. I would make sure we were very close, not like Rachel and me. Since I was older than him I would make sure I set a good example, and when he was rich and successful he would wave to me and say, “That’s my sister, Haley!”

Finally, the shouting died down, and Rachel slammed into her room. Graham was asleep in my arms, probably dreaming of fire trucks and bonfires or whatever. Suddenly, my mom was in the room. Flustered, I kept my eyes down as I mumbled a greeting and scampered back to my room and my book.

Nothing is worse than being grounded in the summer. The hours passed by slowly, and I tried not to let on that I was suffering too greatly. Which I wasn’t, but that didn’t seem to matter whenever I saw Frank’s smug face. He went on with stories about what would have happened if he had done something like that “When he was a kid” another one of his favourite topics. I think he might have been trying to make a point or something. I knew lots of people who had had crappy childhoods and still not turned out as miserable as him.

It was two days before my day of freedom when I got the email from one of my friends. Or rather, my friends mother, since my friend was no longer around to write anything. I stared, not believing what I was reading. Annabelle Stoffer, one of the only people I had been close to in my class at my old school, had committed suicide a couple weeks ago. It was one of those things that you just don’t expect, not at eight in the morning, not after leaving when everything was fine. Okay, maybe not fine, because she was having problems with her parents too. She was only twelve years old. Surely there had been some sort of mistake.

I read it again. Just to make sure. Realizing that I didn’t want to be sure, I slammed my laptop shut and dove under the covers again, staring into the darkness.

Annabelle’s mother and father had never been married, but when she was born they separated, her father moving many miles away. Her mother never did get over the fact that her husband had left her. She took her anger out on Annabelle many times. When she was six, Mrs. Stoffer met another man, and they almost immediately “fell in love”, moving in together after only a month. Annabelle suspected that her mother was just lonely and needed someone to take care of her so badly that she just caved after the creep first said “I love you.” They lived in a small downtown apartment, never having enough money to pay the rent and always going without supper at least once a week, if not more. It took a while for the man—I’m pretty sure his name was Morris. Annabelle rarely said his name—to be identified as an alcoholic, because he hid the drinking so well. He was violent all the time, which Mrs. Stoffer passed off as being frustrated with the bills. She was shocked to realize what he really was, but he threatened to shoot himself if he left her, so she stayed. They moved around a lot, before finally settling in my neighbourhood in Colorado, staying there for four years, the longest Annabelle has ever stayed in one place.

Annabelle told me this over ice cream during our first sleepover. I know that if my mom had known about Morris I would never be going there ever again. I felt so sad for her, and when she told me about the suicide, I was a little panicked, only a little because I had been there too, and told her to look forward to turning eighteen and moving out of the house. I said that if she ever wanted to run away to my house she could, even if it would be obvious where she had went because everyone knew how great of friends we were. She, an only child, told me I was like her sister.

And now she was gone. Tears ran down my face, and my heart hurt like it was being pulverized. There was no way this could be true. When I told my mom she hugged me, and for the first time in a long time I felt like she really did love me. Annabelle’s death haunted me for the rest of my life. She was only twelve.

On Sunday, my first day of freedom, Abigail showed up. Just her. It wasn’t a long walk from her house, but I couldn’t imagine her making the hike in the girly clothes she always wore. I heard my mother tell her that I wasn’t really in the mood for visitors. Abigail managed to convince her that she was only here for a short visit.

“Knock knock!” she said, waltzing into my room. I stared at her blankly.

“What do you want, Abigail?” my voice was dry from lack of use. Frank had gotten angry at me yesterday for leaving the stove on, and I guess things were back to normal according to him, but I couldn’t believe he was being so crass. He had known Annabelle.

“I’m really sorry about your friend,” she said, sitting on the edge of my bed and tapping my feet through the sheets. That seemed to be the only thing to say, really. What else do you say? She hadn’t known her. Still, I started to cry, telling Abigail how sad Annabelle could be sometimes, how none of the kids at school like her because she had been prone to emotional outbursts. Sometimes Annabelle had been a hard person to like, with her irrational stubbornness and dirty mouth, but deep down she was caring and liked everyone and it discouraged her to no end that they shunned her so much. Dysfunctional families were just so hard to deal with, especially when you had to be part of one. I was distantly surprised that she didn’t throw in one sour comment. It started to rain outside, which was just dandy because the sun was hurting my red puffy eyes. It was hard to cry quietly when everything was just so grey.

“Shhh, Frank’s going to hear you,” said Abigail, taking my hand and squeezing it. I definitely didn’t want Frank to hear me cry. Shakily, I wiped my eyes and blew my nose. I regretted every single time I had ever been cross with Annabelle or decided not to sit with her at lunch. Each and every time.

“Why are you here?” I said with a quavering voice. The rain was still pouring as though from a bucket in the sky.

Abigail set my hand back on the bed and folded hers in her lap. “I wanted to see if you wanted to go school clothes shopping now that you aren’t grounded anymore, but I guess…”

I hiccupped one last time. “No, I’ll go,” I said, swallowing my tears. Going shopping was definitely not something I wanted to do. Clothes were becoming dire, though. My bed had been my permanent home for three days.

“I’ll go,” I said again. “Annabelle wouldn’t want me to be sad, and definitely not want me to miss out on shopping. That was one of her favourite things.” Her name made my throat close up again.

“I don’t think anybody wants people to be sad when they die,” said Abigail. If I decided to commit suicide, which I had considered many times, I definitely would want Frank to be sad, and know that he did it to me, and maybe it would make him become a better person. Crazy talk, I reminded myself. Nothing but crazy talk. No matter how desperately sad I was, I would not do that to myself. It seemed like a simple thing when I was thinking normally, but when I was in that terrible state of darkness, nothing could get through to me. I shivered as I realized just how many times I could have ended up dead. Nobody really wants to die, I don’t think, it’s just that some people don’t want to live. I found this a very mature and philosophical thought. I just had to have it at Ardene’s, though, while Abigail was looking for hats, and I ran out of the store like I was being chased. And I was, by the memory of Annabelle. 

Abigail was right on my heels. “Haley, maybe you should just go home.”

I shook my head, trying not to choke on my tears. “No, no I’m good,” I sobbed, dabbing my eyes with toilet paper. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I just—I just don’t believe all this.”

She patted my shoulder. “It’s okay. How about we go get some ice cream?”

Ice cream was good. Wasn’t it supposed to make you feel better? I was sure I read it in a book or something. They were wrong. The only thing it made me feel was disgust that this was how I was remembering my friend, by stuffing my face. I had to do something more.

When I tentatively asked my mother if I could go to the funeral, Frank just had to jump in, saying that we didn’t have any money for that, and wasn’t I grounded anyway?

Nothing that was important to me was ever important enough to him. Not even the death of a human being. I try to refrain from using words like hate, but at that moment that was the only word I felt was appropriate. I whirled and ran to my room, hearing Frank say something to my mother about always being the bad guy. Frank repeated himself a lot. He was never going to change. I, on the other hand, never cried one more tear for Annabelle.

Now that I was finally allowed outside, I sat on the swing in the backyard without rocking, listening to the thunder. The weather was protesting the quick end to summer. I found myself thinking that there was something I should be doing for Annabelle, something big in her memory. I quickly pushed the thought down. That’s only what they did in movies. I pushed off, soaring high above the ground. Again, the notion tickled me. What am I supposed to do? I asked it. Plant a tree? I did say a prayer, at least. I’m sure she was in heaven now. There was no way God would send her to hell after all she had been through on earth. I silently wished that no one in the world had to go through the pain of disunity. It was becoming too common now and too easy to get a divorce, too easy to weasel out of child support, too easy to make up a million excuses when you knew someone, including yourself, needed help.

Too easy to say that there was nothing you could do.

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