enna’s eyes are heavy with eyeliner, dark smears that don’t match her baby-pink tights. ‘What difference does it make?’
‘It might not please your ballet teacher.’
‘I don’t care if I please her. I told you, this is my last performance.’
Claire smiles. ‘Of course it’s not your last. You love to dance, Jenna.’
Jenna grabs Claire by both shoulders and looks down at her. ‘Look at me, Mother. I’m five-nine and still growing. I’m not prima ballerina material.’
‘But there are companies—’
Jenna throws her hands up. ‘Why don’t you be a ballerina! You’re five foot seven, the perfect height! Go for it, Claire.’ I see Mother’s face change. The hurt. I almost have to look away. Was that the first time I called her Claire?
‘Ladies,’ Father says. And the camera shuts off. That’s it. The last recording of pre-coma Jenna Fox. A small argument with voices barely raised. Why would Lily suggest that this was the most important disc to watch? What was her point? The last disc is a non-event. Anticlimactic. Why did I think it would be something big? Or maybe she was just trying to save me hours of boredom? Cut to the end? See what a dickhead I was and get on with it. Move on. Maybe that’s the something I feel. The something I should be doing. Moving on.
I’ve hurt Claire. I know that. I remember trying to tell her how sorry I was. When my whole world was frozen and sorry couldn’t get past my lips. Sorry for what? The accident? All the harsh ways I treated her? Sorry for calling her Claire when she only wanted to be called Mom? Maybe that’s why Lily won’t have much to do with me, because of everything I’ve put Claire through.
The something I should be doing.
Claire walks through the front door just as I reach the last stair. Her arms are loaded with rings of fabric swatches and catalogs.
‘Need some help … Mom?’
She is transformed. One simple word has wiped five years from her face. I always thought it was Claire who held all the power. I was wrong.
I am taken with how beautiful she is and feel shame that I have withheld a treasured word for so long. She sets her armful down on the hall table. ‘I can get it … Jenna.’ Her voice is soft, my name sounding like a question mark.
I step down from the last stair. We stare, our eyes on an even plane, like we are holding something carefully between us. Something. Suddenly I feel dizzy, like I’m stumbling. Is this what moving on feels like? I back away. I can’t do this. Something is not right. But I owe her. I know I owe her. My hands shake. My vision flashes. I try to steady myself. I shove my hands into my jeans. The key. It is still there. It is hot against my fingers.
‘Do you mind, then, if I go for a walk? I’ve been inside all day.’
She hesitates, then nods. ‘But don’t go far,’ she says as she walks to the kitchen.
When she is out of sight, I open the front door, then close it again, loudly, so she will think that I left. I concentrate on my feet, trying to step as lightly as I can, and I creep down the hallway to her room. I will put the key back before she misses it.
I begin to fold back the spread from the corner of the mattress, but a thought stops me. Hurry, Jenna.
There might be time.
If I hurry.
I turn toward the closet and listen for sounds coming down the hallway.
I pull the key from my pocket. It slides into the lock with a soft rasp, and I hear the tumbler turn. I ease the door open slowly, willing the old hinges not to squeak. The room is cold, dark, barely illuminated with a faint green glow. I feel for a switch but can’t find one. My eyes adjust quickly to the dim light, and I see the source of the hum. Computers. Three of them. They sit on a narrow table in the small dark room. They are oddly shaped, each a six-inch square block, much larger than a home computer, and each is connected to its own battery dock. Why not just run them off house power? I step closer and I see a small white label on the middle one.
JENNA ANGELINE FOX.
I rub my hand across the label, soaking the name in through my skin. Jenna Angeline Fox. I should have asked long ago. It makes me feel whole. A beginning, an end, and a middle. Why is it that the unknown is always so frightening? Angeline. I close my eyes in the darkness and whisper the name. I feel my feet on the floor, my place in the world. I belong here. I deserve to be here. How can a middle name do all that? Are the details of our lives who we are, or is it owning those details that makes the difference?
I open my eyes and examine my computer. I wonder what’s on it. Schoolwork? Letters to friends? I feel a surge, like a jolt of energy has shot through me. History. My history. It should be in my room. I try to lift it from the table, but it is secured with a metal bracket. I work to pull it loose. One rivet pops out, but the rest stay secure. I pound at the bracket with the heel of my hand, throwing the full force of my weight behind it, but my hand slips and slices into the sharp edge. Pain rips up my hand and I fall back, but just as quickly the pain is gone. I hug my hand to my stomach, afraid to look. I know the slash is deep. If Mother had a meltdown over the tiny cut on my knee, I can’t imagine what she will do when she sees this one.
A trickle of blood oozes through my fingers. I will have to retrieve my computer later. I step out of the closet, lock it, and hurry to my room, trying to slip silently upstairs. I go to my bathroom and lock the door behind me.