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Chapter Four

"Where's dad?" I asked breathlessly as I tore through the front door at three thirty. Mom was in the living room, working at her sewing machine. She leaned back in her chair.

"Honey, he left today. Remember?"

I opened my mouth to ask where, but then I recalled dad talking about the tour.

Dad had toured occasionally when I was younger, but it seemed like this tour had been the longest and most sporadic. I rubbed my elbow nervously out of habit.

"What happened?" mom asked.

I sighed. Joe was lucky; dad couldn't kill him if he wasn't even in the same state. Mom wasn't a big supporter of murder.

"Joe got the tattoo this morning," I blurted.

Mom groaned. "I tried to stop him," I said.

"You can't stop a bulldozer," mom said. She stood up and stretched.

I fidgeted. I wanted to tell her about the joint. I wanted to tell her what Joe said about where he got the joint.

It seemed like I always walked a fine line between honesty and 'narc-ing,' as Joe put it. I sighed.

"Something else?" mom guessed.

"N-no," I lied. Ugh, I hated to lie.

"DA-DA-DUHHHH, DA-DA-DUHHHH!" Brayden sang loudly. It sounded like the Elvis intro that played before he ran out on stage. I wouldn't know this except that dad had been obsessed with the DVD a few years back.

I turned just in time to see Tristan run into the room. He held a rolled up piece of paper to his mouth.


"What are you talking about?" mom asked with a laugh. Tristan grinned and held out the paper.

Mom scanned it. She started to smile.

"Both of you?"

Brayden folded his arms and nodded. "We're just good like that," he said nonchalantly.

"What did you guys do?" I asked.

Tristan's face crumpled in mock hurt. "Why do we always have to do something? You're way too suspicious Al-ers."

Mom read the paper over again. "Your brothers," she said. "each nabbed a spot at performing arts camp this summer. For six weeks."

Tristan turned to Brayden. They high-fived. I arched an eyebrow.

"Really? That's great!"

"Unlike Jo-nah we don't live to be assholes," Brayden said. Mom's head shot up; Brayden's eyes widened.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"If you keep cussing like a sailor you're not going to last a day at camp. Now go start your homework. And congratulations," mom said.

Brayden and Tristan both yelled out a 'Thanks!' and headed up the stairs. Just as their bedroom door slammed shut, the front door opened.

I held my breath. A minute later, Joe went sulking by.

"Joe, wait up!" mom called. He stopped. He looked right at me and scowled.

"Narc," he hissed. I flushed.

"Let me see it," mom said. She made a motion with her hand. Joe roughly put his bookbag in her open palm. She set it aside. He rolled up his sleeve and removed what looked like seran wrap.

The skin was pink, but you could clearly see the barracuda wrapped around the upper part of his arm. His initials - J.A.M. - were written in black within the body.

"How did you manage to get this?" mom asked. "You're underage."

"None of your business," Joe spat. I winced. He had always been moody, but lately...

"It is my business," mom said angrily. "If you want to even see the outside world this summer, you'll tell me. Your father and I told you that you couldn't do this until you were eight--"

"You're not my mother," Joe spat. "I don't have to listen to you. And I'll listen to dad when he can take care of himself."

Joe grabbed his bag off the floor and marched out of the kitchen. Mom looked like she had just been slapped. Her chest rose and fell quickly. I took a cautious step forward.

"Al," mom whispered. "Do you know what he's talking about?"

"About?" I asked.

Mom turned to me; I saw tears in her eyes. "What does he mean about your dad?"

"I--I don't know," I said. My head was beginning to pound. "I just think you need to check Jonah's room really good, okay?" I said shakily. Mom gave me a long, hard look.






I was getting tired of these nightly tirades. I yanked my implants out and tossed them into the tray.

There was no way I could sleep, but I didn't want to hear the nuclear meltdown that was erupting down the hall. Molly had found a bag of pot. Jonah was seconds away from 'narcing' on dad and I just wanted to be anyplace else but here. I opened the top drawer of my nightstand and pulled out my book and booklight.

Yes, I, Ally McLean was a bookworm. Real life was okay, but I loved books. You could be anyone and go any place in a book. You could have a million romances and never get your heart broken. I tossed a light blanket over my head, propped my book against what I thought were way too nobbly knees, and flipped the light on.

My book selection this week marked my mood. Dracula. I had just finished reading what some other kids at school called 'classic' vampire stories - the Twilight series their own moms had read when they were our age. I didn't say it aloud, but I thought they were the stupidest books ever written. Sparkling vampires? 'Nuff said.

Brooke's mom, Liv, had suggested Dracula. So far I was halfway through the book and it was just getting good. It was a REAL classic. I loved the way that Dracula spent weeks slowly turning his victim into a vampire. It made everything more spine-tingly.

I was just at the part where Van Helsing himself was ready to donate blood to save a dying Lucy when the cover was ripped off my head. I looked up.

Joe stood in front of me looking furious. He began to sign rapidly. out of everyone in the family, Joe was the most fluent in sign language. When we were little, sometimes we'd sit across from each other and sign rather than talk. Back then, it had been playful chatter. Tonight his hands were laced with malice.

"I hate you," he signed.

I shook my head. "You need to listen--"

He pointed to a bag I hadn't noticed he was carrying. "I don't have to listen to you or anyone else. You're not my sister anymore."

Even though I couldn't hear the cry I let out, I felt it. I felt it deeply. I kicked at my blankets. Joe pushed me down. HARD. So hard in fact, that I momentarily got the wind knocked out of me. When I scrambled to my feet, he was already out of my room. I couldn't hear anything; instinct told me to go downstairs. I ran to the front door, flung the bolt, and threw it open. I looked out into the night. A car drove by. I studied the headlights. For the first time in a VERY long time, the silence was scary.

It wasn't the first time Joe had run away. He had taken off one afternoon about six months ago. But he had never disappeared in the middle of the night.

I slammed my fist against the door. I needed to feel the pain to get my mind working again. I turned and headed up the stairs.

I didn't know how I was going to be able to leave for the summer when so much was going on. My body, mind, and soul was torn.

Someone in this family besides mom had to be selfless instead of selfish.

I knew that someone was me.