‘She needed this,’ Lily says.
Lily pulls her sweatshirt over her head and ties it around her waist. ‘Then what do you need, Jenna?’ Her voice is sharp.
I look at her and knot inside. I can’t answer. I shake my head and walk away. She grabs my arm and spins me around. ‘I asked you something. What do you need?’
I pull away. How dare she treat me like a—
‘I need—I need—’ I want to spit my words into her stupid face is what I need to do, but they just keep catching, like they are snared on something inside. I stand there, my lips still searching for words.
‘Tell me!’ she says.
She lets go of my arm and sighs. ‘And that has always been your problem, Jenna,’ she says softly. ‘You’ve always been two people. The Jenna who wants to please and the Jenna who secretly resents it. They won’t break, you know. Your parents never thought you were perfect. You did.’
What is she talking about? I never thought—‘They placed me on a pedestal from the day I was born! What choice did I have but to be perfect! And if I lagged in math or soccer or navel gazing, they got me a personal tutor! And then I was tutored and coached until I was perfect! I’ve been under a microscope my entire life! From the moment I was conceived, I had to be everything because I was their miracle! That’s what I had to live up to every day of my life! How dare you say that it was me when it was them! I was conceived to please!’
‘What’s going on?’ Claire asks, running over to see why our voices are raised.
Lily’s eyes hold on to me, like she is talking me down from a ledge. Her voice is low. ‘Start small,’ she says. ‘I’ll ask again, what do you need?’
‘I need …’ The words are dammed up. Start small. ‘A skirt. A red skirt!’
‘What?’ Claire’s confusion is obvious, but her eyes are intense and clear, focusing on me like I am the whole Pacific Ocean.
‘And room. I need room.’
Claire looks at Lily. ‘What is going on?’
‘Listen,’ Lily says. She grabs Claire by the shoulders and turns her to face me. ‘Just listen.’
‘I don’t want to be your miracle anymore. I can’t be your miracle anymore. I need to be here on this planet with the same odds as everyone else. I need to be like everyone else.’
I slow. I take a breath. ‘I can’t ever be really alive if I can’t die, too. I need the backups. Kara’s, Locke’s … and mine.’ Mother’s face is frozen like I am speaking babble. ‘I want to let them go,’ I whisper. She doesn’t move. ‘Destroyed,’ I clarify, raising my voice, so that for once my intentions can’t be twisted.
Her face loosens, goes blank. She says nothing for much too long. Now it is me, frozen, and Lily, waiting, wondering if anything I said made it through to her. And then the part in her lips closes and her shoulders pull back. ‘We’ll stop on the way home and get you a red skirt,’ she finally says. She turns and walks away, only pausing for a moment to shoot Lily a stiff, cold stare.
The ride home is quiet. I watch Lily. Mother. I see their eyes, unfocused, staring at the road ahead but not seeing it. Each of us are bound by our own thoughts, seeing the edges of our limits, maybe seeing the edges of others’. How far can we push? How far can we bend? How much can we preserve? How can we get what we want? The calculations are endless, not knowing the future, not knowing how far is too far for any of us. My thoughts drift, search, calculate, remembering, jumping to the past and back again.
My baby, my precious baby, I’m so sorry.
The hospital room is dim. Her chair is pulled close. She rocks, hums, whispers, and she smiles. The smiles are the hardest to watch. They are beyond her strength, but somehow she makes them come forth.
Let me die.
I screamed the words. Over and over. But only in my head. The words couldn’t get past my lips. But even as I pleaded within, hoping some message would get across, I knew. As I lay there in the hospital bed, unable to move or speak, as soon as I looked into Claire’s eyes, I knew.
She would never let me go.
So much strength within her, but not the strength to let go.
I was forever her baby. Forever her miracle.