Places No One Knows, p.23Brenna Yovanoff
This conversation is the last thing I want. I hold my breath and clench my jaw.
Her voice is softer now, but her face doesn’t change. “We talked about your dad.”
“Yeah, well, things have been like that for a while. I’m over it. It’s not a big deal.”
“You could still talk about it if you want.”
But I don’t even know where to start. Talk about what? About how we don’t understand anything about each other? About the way he’s never been close to a good father ever, not even when I was little? About the fact that for one magical week six months ago, they almost got divorced and their kids were ready to throw them a party?
I can feel every fiber in the carpet under my shoes, the pressure of my clothes on my skin, the dust particles in the air. “What am I supposed to say?”
“Whatever you feel like.”
It sounds so simple, but the words won’t come. There’s all this chaos and noise I carry around with me every day. I could talk to Ollie, but I don’t. I did talk to Waverly, but that’s kind of like talking to a ghost. The weight inside me just keeps getting worse. Something has to change.
I take a breath, staring at the floor with my chin down and my hands fidgeting, tearing an add/drop form into little strips. I start, because if I don’t, then everything just stays the same.
When I make it to the end, Trunch sits there with her hands folded and doesn’t say anything.
“Something’s wrong with me, right?”
She scoots forward in her chair, her elbows planted on the desk. “How do you mean?”
“Just, all of it. How messed up and sad I get. Not being able to breathe. Like, doesn’t this mean I’m supposed to be in counseling or something?”
She tilts her head and gives me the kind of shrug that says yes, Holt, probably. “It might help.”
“But you’re not telling me I have to.”
“Marshall, I know you. I know if I push, you won’t argue. You’ll just disappear.” She says it quietly, and for a second, she looks so unbelievably sorry. “I’d rather have you here in my office every day until graduation than tell you to go figure it out and then watch you slide out of sight.”
Her gaze is so heavy I can hardly stand it. For once in my life, Waverly’s restlessness makes sense, pacing around my room like she needs to climb out of her own skin. I want to get away from my body, to peel off everything that’s touching me. Even the weight of the air is too much.
Trunch is still looking at me, kind and steady. “I’m here every day until at least four.”
I’m not going to waste her time. I’m not. But it makes me feel better knowing I could.
When I take a flyer off the peer counselor pile and fold it carefully in half, she raises her eyebrows, but doesn’t comment or tell me to put it back.
I tuck it in my pocket and look away. “It’s not for me.”
She pushes back her chair and walks me to the door. “If it was, though? That wouldn’t be the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”
Morning is bright and wickedly cold.
I’d go hide out in the athletics wing, except the locker room isn’t really my home anymore. The cafeteria feels almost entirely imaginary.
I need a donut. Now. I need the refined carbohydrates and the sugar and the illusion that I’m doing something rational and normal. At the café cart, I buy myself a custard-filled bismarck and a coffee laced with two shots of espresso.
Then I wind my way over to the tables by the window, where Maribeth is perched demurely on the edge of her chair with her activities binder out, going over her list of action items for the food drive. Her hair catches the weak November sunlight in perfect soft focus. She looks like a Hallmark angel.
Kendry is cozied up next to her, much closer than I ever sit to anyone if I can help it. She’s wearing a plain gray blouse that must be new.
When they see me coming, Kendry and Palmer both sit very straight, like they’ve just been caught whispering, but Maribeth only smiles, waving me over. When she makes room, though, it’s Palmer’s backpack she pushes out of the way and not her own.
“Waverly, thank God. I need you to look at these donation numbers for the food drive and see if they make sense. Also, the events calendar is a disaster and we need to organize groups for door-to-door. And are we still on for Autumn’s party Friday or what?”
I nod, standing over the table. She says it like Autumn has never offended her, usurped her boy. Been the lurid epicenter of Kroger-janitor rumors that may or may not have originated solely with Maribeth. I know I should sit down, but I can’t figure out how, when Kendry is already in my spot.
“Are you going to just keep standing there?” Kendry says. “You look deranged.”
There’s a sharp, insistent bell ringing someplace faraway. It echoes in my ears, clanging, clanging. I set down my coffee, trying to figure out what’s wrong with Kendry’s hair and why she sounds like someone slipped her five or six valium. Ordinarily, she does not use the word deranged.
“And you look like someone’s insecure mom,” I say, plunking down my books and sinking into the empty chair. It comes out sounding harsher than I mean it to.
She scowls but doesn’t answer. She’s got on some strange, nude lip gloss, which doesn’t make sense. Her coloring is way too warm.
“Oh, God,” says Palmer, staring at my donut. “Are you really going to eat that? Do you have any idea how much saturated fat is in that?”
I pick up the donut between my thumb and forefinger and study it. “Yes, I’m going to eat this.” Then I take a big, savage bite. I chew slowly, without looking at her.
She sighs, dropping her chin into her hand. “That’s so unfair. I guess if I had your skeleton genes, though, I wouldn’t worry either.”
I don’t say anything. I continue to eat my donut.
All three of them are looking at me now. Belatedly, I realize that I’ve missed a crucial cue. Here’s where I commiserate, cite my frantic metabolism, say something suitably self-deprecating, complain about my nonexistent chest or my bony knees.
They’re all sitting there, waiting for me to deride myself, to show some solidarity, Waverly.
“You don’t have to do that,” I say.
Kendry makes a bored, dismissive noise, rolling her eyes. “Do what?”
“Be so mean about herself. She doesn’t have to keep saying those things just because someone fucking made up this arbitrary idea of what’s attractive or—or good before we even got here.”
And I know that’s not true. She does have to, because the penalty for not doing it is judgment, rejection. Maybe even banishment.
But I wish it weren’t.
I turn to Palmer, resisting the urge to grab her arm and squeeze until she hears me. “Saying that shit doesn’t help anything, okay? It’s destructive and pointless, and it’s just going to make you feel worse.”
This is the longest, most truthful thing I’ve said to anyone in days. I sink back in my chair, trying to convince my fingers to stop mashing the donut.
“God,” Kendry says. “Calm yourself. It’s not like she’s hurting anything.”
“Did you even listen to any of the words I just said? It’s exactly like that.”
Kendry gives me that bland, unfocused look again. Her face is slack, mouth slightly ajar, and suddenly it clicks. Straight hair, boring blouse, colorless makeup. She’s not trying to sound incapacitated or like she has a concussion. She’s trying to sound like someone who’s simply too far above it to be bothered with vocal inflection.
She’s trying to sound like me.
For the last three years—maybe longer—I’ve been defined by the path of my orbit within our tiny solar system. Not the gorgeous, molten sun, but an icy planet, stark and miraculous. My lack of habitability has never mattered. Despite my noxious atmosphere and frozen seas, I’ve always been Maribeth’s clear favorite.
I know I should assert my supremacy, put Kendry in her plac
The donut tastes like empty calories and heaven. I stare out the window at the sky and the gently aging housing development across the street. The parking lot looks like a traffic report, gridlock that goes on for miles.
What is the point? Autumn asked me once.
And here’s the thing. I have absolutely no idea.
Maribeth picks me up for the party at nine in her tidy, perky Civic. Even the upholstery smells wholesome, like vanilla air freshener.
“We need to talk,” she says without looking at me.
Her voice is businesslike and I brace myself.
The evening is chilly and wet. She’s going to ask why I’ve been so remote. So secretive. So increasingly incomprehensible. Why I spent the afternoon at Autumn’s last Tuesday, instead of in the library with her.
She takes a deep breath, keeping both hands responsibly on the wheel. “You have to figure out what’s going on with you and CJ. You’re completely leading him on and I don’t think it’s fair.”
And every excuse and explanation dies on my lips. I have no idea how to tell her that on any given day, CJ Borsen is the absolute last thing I think about.
At Autumn’s house, the party is in full swing. Her living room is packed with two-thirds of the junior class.
People will usually show up anywhere if there’s alcohol involved, but even by the standards of free liquor, the turnout is impressive. I dig around in a plastic cooler for a beer and try not to make eye contact with CJ, who is already hovering intently. Maribeth must have promised him she’d take care of me. Just one of her many services—the efficient and professional handling of Waverly Camdenmar.
He finally corners me in the living room beside a giant rubber plant that is either real or fake. I have an overwhelming impulse to touch it.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” I say, running my fingers over the leaves.
“So, I hear you may not actually like me.” His voice is confusingly cheerful, like he’s going out of his way to be bluff and hearty. Or maybe he always sounds that way and I just never noticed.
“Of course I do. You’re not Jeffrey Dahmer.” The plant feels cool and slick. I still have no idea whether or not it’s real.
He shakes his head. “You don’t like me the way I want you to.”
The sentiment is accurate, but mysterious. No one ever likes us the way we want them to.
“I’m sorry.” It feels slightly dishonest, but I say it anyway. I owe him that much.
He nods, watching like he still expects something else—like I could conceivably give him more.
I look away and drink my beer. “I guess I wasn’t really in the market for a boyfriend. I should have been clearer about that. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he says. He even looks like he means it. “It’s my fault too. I think I had this imaginary version of you in my head. And you’re just…you’re not like I thought you’d be.”
I gaze up at him, trying not to squint. Every version of me is imaginary.
“I guess I thought you’d have a wild streak or some kind of secret bad-girl thing or something.” He smiles like he wants to shrug. “But you’re pretty much exactly how you look.”
In a way, it’s a compliment. An affirmation. It supports everything I’ve worked so hard to cultivate. And still, something in my chest just sinks and sinks.
It’s not as though I imagined this going differently. His assessment conjures up the things I write in the margins every day. All these scraps of stifled, pent-up wisdom. Girl with dark hair behaves herself.
Now he’s talking about what a good rapport we have and always staying friends, like our friendship is profound or valuable. Like it ever actually existed.
I keep nodding, slowly, thoughtfully. I sip my beer, remembering the outrageous lie that I wrote next to the flagpole problem in my trig notes, just this afternoon.
Girl cut from marble needs no one, when it should have said, I have been so lonely for so long that I have almost stopped breathing.
For the longest time, I thought Waverly was somehow better than me. Smart and strong and perfect—this superhuman creature I’d never be. Now I think that maybe she’s just different.
It never seemed weird before, running so long the skin peels off your feet, but that’s pretty grim when you actually think about it. Concerning. Like maybe I’m not the only one who doesn’t know where to put my feelings.
School is okay. I don’t go to see Trunch every day, but I go. It’s just nice—having a place where everything shuts up for a while. Better than the dugout in November, at least.
She doesn’t talk much, mostly sits and listens while I ramble at my shoes. The best times are when she has a lot of paperwork, because then she just lets me hang out in the corner and I don’t have to talk either.
On Friday, I sit with my chair tipped back and my feet on the radiator. “My brother’s coming over for dinner.”
“Are you looking forward to that?”
I don’t know what to say.
All semester, all I wanted was for him to share this. Now that he’s finally going to, I want to start smashing things. No one talks about the way he’s spent the last four months pretending our parents don’t exist. They just keep going through the motions and fucking each other up and acting like it doesn’t matter. Justin has never once tried to be part of it, and now suddenly he gets to just show up and everyone acts so grateful, like he’s the good son?
When I tried to talk to Annie about it, she just shrugged. “It’s dinner. It’s not a big deal.”
“So that means we have to just act like everything’s so great and perfect? Oh, wait, I remember—whenever things get stupid around here, you get to leave!”
We were in the kitchen. I was getting myself breakfast while she put away the dishes, and she slammed the cupboard so hard the glasses rattled. “Leave? Do you think, if things were different, that I wouldn’t be halfway across the fucking continent right now? But this is the situation, Marshall. This is it. We might as well get used to it.”
Then she went back to sorting forks and I stared into the cupboard, trying to decide between shredded wheat and cornflakes like there was even an answer.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t figure out how to make myself be like her. She rolls her eyes or tells them all to knock it off, then goes on with her life like nothing happened. And I don’t want to be like Justin, hard and disgusted and over it. All I want is for things to actually get better.
Trunch always says the same thing. Your family is your family, but they’re not your responsibility.
That’s easier to agree with than it is to believe, though.
By the time I get outside, it’s starting to drizzle. Ollie’s waiting for me by the bus stop, smoking and staring at the sky. “I was starting to think maybe you ditched me,” he says, stubbing out the cigarette and dropping it in his shirt pocket.
He hasn’t mentioned it, but since I started quitting he tries not to do it in front of me, like he doesn’t want to make it any harder.
I shove my hands in my coat. Autumn’s party flyer is still there, crumpled up with the shocking-green peer counselor form from Trunch’s office.
The sky is so low and wet it’s almost on top of us. Ollie trudges along next to me with his coat collar up and his head down. We’re almost across the parking lot when I stop.
“What?” he says, squinting at me through the misty drizzle.
I don’t say anything, just offer him the form.
He looks at me like I’ve just handed him a loaded gun or a hedgehog. Like I have lost my mind. “What the fuck is this?”
The form is crumpled and kind of linty, and maybe I don’t know how to be like Justin, but I know how to actually look at people. I know my best friend, even if the person he is
No matter what, Ollie’s always just been there for me, as much as I would let him. He cares so much about what’s fair and right. He thinks the feelings of little freshman girls are maybe actually important, and if Maribeth fucking Whitman can do it, then the office ladies should be falling all over themselves for someone like him.
“Just read it,” I say, and leave out the part about him being basically the best person I have ever met.
He’s watching me. Not the usual bored stare, but very careful, like I might be making fun of him. “Are you serious right now? You are not serious.”
I shrug and throw my arm over his shoulders, lean into him, pull him close. “It’s who you are anyway. They just made a job for it.”
For Justin’s stupid special dinner, my mom makes fried chicken because it’s his favorite. The scene in the kitchen is bad. All the raw, oozing joints and the shaking, browning, spattering.
She talks to herself the whole time, reading recipes aloud, hoping that the roads are good, that they won’t ice over. Outside, it’s raining.
It’s familiar and awful eating with Justin. He takes over the table like he never left, all elbows and arms, and everyone else just acts so bright and happy, like he never spent the last four months avoiding us. Like we should be so grateful that he’s sitting here now.
“What’s new at the shop?” my dad says while my mom hands out plates. He sounds way too interested in oil changes, and that’s how I know it’s not a real question. “Seems like you’ve been pretty busy.”
My mom just smiles weakly and scoops more corn onto my plate while I think about what it means to be in someone’s arms.
In someone’s arms.
Before Waverly, I never thought about it much. There was only ever my tongue in someone’s mouth. Only my leg hooked over, my hand sliding under. In someone’s arms, there is you. You’re there in the shelter of them—safe, inside. Everything else…is not.
Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff / Young Adult / History & Fiction / Romance & Love / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes