Brax told them what happened in Mexico, and they cremated an old stuffed unicorn of mine, then scattered it in the back garden, believing I was dead. In their old, foggy minds, my reincarnation was a messy ordeal, not a happy second chance. The conversation was stilted and hard.
I rolled out of bed and onto the floor, my stomach turning with me. I waited until the dark spots had stopped floating in my eyes, and tried to swallow to ease my dry throat. I knew this feeling—I knew what the clenching in my guts meant. Sick. I was sick on my birthday.I stumbled out of bed, changing into my Batman pj’s on the way to the door. Mom would be even angrier at me if she knew I had slept in my nice button-down shirt; it was wrinkled and drenched in sweat, despite the cold clinging to my bedroom window. Maybe she’d feel bad about the night before and let me stay home to show how sorry she was.
I wasn’t even halfway down the stairs when I saw the wreckage in the living room. From the landing, it looked like a pack of animals had gotten in and had a field day throwing around pillows, overturning an armchair, and smashing every single glass candleholder that had been on the now-cracked coffee table. Every picture on the fireplace mantel was facedown on the ground, as were the line of school portraits my mom had placed on the table behind the couch. And then there were the books. Dozens of them. Mom must have emptied out every book in the library in her anger. They littered the ground like rainbow candy.But as scary as that room was, I didn’t feel like throwing up until I reached the last step and smelled bacon, not pancakes.We didn’t have many traditions as a family, but chocolate pancakes on birthdays was one of them, and the one we were least likely to forget. For the past three years they’d forgotten to leave out milk and cookies for Santa, somehow forgotten their pact that we would go camping every Fourth of July weekend, and even, on occasion, forgot to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. But forgetting the birthday pancakes?
Or maybe she was just mad enough at me not to make them. Maybe she hated me after what I had said last night.Mom had her back to me when I walked into the kitchen and shielded my eyes from the sunlight streaming through the window above the sink. Her dark hair was pulled back into a low, messy bun, resting against the collar of her red robe. I had a matching one; dad had bought them for Christmas the month before. Ruby red for my Ruby, he had said.
She was humming under her breath, one hand flipping the bacon on the stove, the other holding a folded newspaper. Whatever song was stuck in her head was upbeat, chipper, and, for a moment, I really did think the stars had aligned for me. She was over last night. She was going to let me stay home. After months of being angry and upset over the tiniest things, she was finally happy again.
She turned around so quickly, she knocked the pan off the stove and nearly dropped the gray paper into the open flame there. I saw her reach back and slap her hand against the knobs, twisting a dial until the smell of gas disappeared.Maybe I had learned a lot, and maybe I had a better grip on my abilities, but staring at him, my fists clenched and shaking, I couldn’t justify it. What was the point of being holed up with someone who didn’t believe in me when I had people out there who did?
I turned sharply on my heel and stalked toward the door. As I opened it, Clancy called, That’s right, Ruby, run away again. See how far you get this time!I didn’t look back and I didn’t stop, though some part of me recognized that this might be it—that I was walking out on the one chance I had to learn how to manage my abilities. Sometime in the last ten minutes, my head had disconnected itself from the stubborn muscle beating in my chest and, honestly, I wasn’t sure which was guiding me outside and away from him. But what I did know, with dead, absolute certainty, was that I didn’t want him to see the way my face crumpled, or for him to glimpse whispers of guilt and sadness circling around inside of my head.
I couldn’t hide anything from him, but this was the first time I had ever wanted to.It took a few days for me to realize that Zu’s leaving wasn’t the only event that had shifted the rotation of the earth. Once Chubs had pointed out East River’s similarities to camp life, I couldn’t go back. Where I had seen kids in jeans and black T-shirts, I was now seeing uniforms. Where I had seen kids waiting in line for their food, I was now seeing the Mess Hall. When the lights turned out in the cabins at nine p.m. sharp, and I watched a few members of the security team stroll past our window, I was back in Cabin 27, staring up at the belly of Sam’s mattress.