Mom was pacing in the kitchen.
That's what she always did when she was on the phone. She had gotten back this morning, but with all of her time on the phone, it felt like she was still gone.
To make things more depressing, Hex wasn't returning my texts. It was as if he had fallen off of the planet since two days ago.
"Of course I didn't put her up to it- I told you this would happen!"
Judging by the tone of her voice, Mom wasn't on a business call. If I knew anything at all, that was the voice she used when she was talking to Dad, catching up on all the excitment she had missed since I had last seen her.
"-even so- I'm sure it was an accident-"
I admit, it hadn't been my proudest two days. But now I was fairly certain I wouldn't have to go through any more of them.
"-in the dryer? Well, what did you expect? I'm sure she just forgot! -No. I'll talk to her."
Crap. It was too late to try to make a get away. After the incident over baby names, I had decided that a small outburst wasn't enough for my dad to fully appreciate how upset I was. From there on my acts of tyranny had ranged from tiny things, like consistently mispronouncing Veronica's name, to watering her plants with the contents of a bleach container (I had insisted it looked like a watering can).
Despite her determination to be understanding and gracious, even Veronica seemed pleased to see me go.
Mom said a short 'Goodbye' into the phone and marched into the living room. She stared me down and said, "Really, Maggie? Are you seventeen or seven?"
"What did I do?" I asked, immediately defensive.
"You're going to replace Veronica's plants," she said. "And you're going to promise to leave that poor dog alone."
"That isn't a dog," I insisted. "That's a rat with a collar-"
"Apparently he's a purple rat now and they found him in the dryer!"
" It's not like I was going to turn the dryer on! I just needed to get him out of the way. It's just marker, it'll wash out."
Mom didn't look even faintly amused. But she usually didn't. She sat on the couch next to me.
"How's therapy?" she asked, predictably. She always asked that when I did something she thought was unstable or weird.
With a glance at her phone, Mom changed the subject. It was this thing old people did when they wanted to seem in the present and interested- but weren't. I could have told her that the therapist was a baboon in a wig who liked to throw crackers at me and sing show tunes, and she would have just nodded and moved on to a new subject anyways. That's why I didn't bother much with answers. They didn't matter. "Were you in my bathroom? I'm missing some things.."
A whole jar of pills? I wanted to ask. But I didn't. Ellie hadn't mentioned anything to her about my attempt to die like Sylvia Plath and I sure wasn't going to bring it up now that it had gone so poorly.
"No," I said, automatically.
She looked me over for a moment, probably weighing the pros and cons of pursuing the matter. She must have decided it wasn't worth the argument because she stood up again and started prodding at her phone's screen.
"Go tell your sister to turn her music down," she mumbled. "And make sure all of your homework is caught up. You're back to school tomorrow, remember?"
She was already talking into her phone by the time I finished rolling my eyes.
I went upstairs and knocked on the door to Ellie's lair. As I suspected, there was no answer. So I took a bold step and opened her door. The music was still loud and, just like the other night, Ellie was nowhere to be found. I spotted the volume dial and cranked the noise down a few decibels. I was just beginning to understand a certain genius in my sister. Not that I wanted it getting around, or anything- but her double life was the first shadow of interest my sister had ever shown towards being anything other than boring.
Two years ago Ellie had decided that she was done with Disney bred pop stars and boy bands. She started listening to soul sucking heavy metal and rock that could apparently only be enjoyed if it was played on deafening volume settings. It had practically happened overnight, but -after Mom consulted several parenting books to establish that this was normal teenager behavior- everybody got used to it. The screeching guitar rifts and rapid drumming were just sounds that meant Ellie was home.
Except now I knew the truth.. and had to wonder whether it was all planned from the start. Probably not. But, despite the fact that I'd rather die than admit it to her face, I was still impressed.
A sudden thought occurred to me and I darted back to the hallway and into my room. The jewelry box on the dresser hadn't moved since I had last seen it. When I opened it, I found the pearl earrings, gleaming in their usual place, as if they had never been touched. I had half expected to find some sort of note to acknowledge that I was on to her, but that probably wasn't Ellie's style. It occurred to me, briefly, that for being her sister, I didn't know much about Ellie at all.
I was pulled from that thought abruptly when I heard the voice. I whirled around and caught myself just before our heads collided.
"Hex!" I shouted as he took a wise step back."Where did you come from? What- does the mothership just beam you in now?"
"No," he said, as if he thought it might have been a serious question. "I rode my bike. Your mom let me in. She looked kind of mad."
"That's just her face," I muttered, knowing full and well that I had put it that way. I snapped the jewelry box shut and thunked it back onto the dresser. "Where have you been? I've been trying to call you for days."
"Yeah." His voice was hard to read. Sort of flat and lacking in expression. I waited for something to follow that. Maybe some explanation where he had lost his phone, or incurred a severe head trauma that left him in a coma for two days- heck, I'd take alien abduction. But 'Yeah' seemed to be the extent of it.
I tried to stare him down, but he was too busy looking around at my stuff to notice.
"Yeah," I echoed. He seemed a little edgy, and considering the crap that I had managed to go through in the last two days I decided to let it go. "So what's up?"
"My phone says you tried to call ten times," he said, lifting his phone out of his pocket like it was show-and-tell.
"It wasn't ten!" I insisted. At least, I didn't think it was. But seeing as how I had spent the last two days waging war on Dad and Veronica's hospitality, I couldn't be sure.
"It was ten," he stated, with absolute conviction.
"Fine." What did I care if he thought I was completely manic? He had already seen me at my worst, I figured everything else was just a bonus. "Out of ten phone calls you'd think you could have picked up once."
He shrugged. I only kind of hated him for that. Another part of me was just glad he was here.
"Is this your room?" he asked. Even though my bed was covered in a mass of unfinished homework, he made himself at home and sat down on my algebra- which I had been in the process of flunking anyways. "It's more purple than I thought it would be."
"You were thinking about my room?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
He dropped his gaze, as if his feet were particularly interesting today, and changed the subject. "What is all of this?"
He was referring to the mass of paper and books that now covered my bed like an extra blanket.
"I'm back in school tomorrow," I sighed. "It's lame. I don't even know what half that stuff is."
Hex picked up the algebra he had been sitting on and looked it over. Then he picked up a pencil and started writing on it.
"Hey! What are you doing?" I asked, alarmed.
I grabbed for the paper and looked it over, with deep suspicion. But I just found numbers.
"...did you just solve this problem?" I asked.
"Yeah." He took the page back from me, and even looked a little embarrassed by it. "You know, you're really bad at this. You got the one below it wrong too."
"Thanks," I muttered.
"Why'd you write it in pen?"
Just like that he started scratching things out and making corrections, almost oblivious to the fact that I was there. I leaned over his shoulder and tried to follow but out of a list of things that weren't my strongest subjects, Math was easily the worst. I gave up and watched him instead.
"You really like this, don't you?" It was impossible to keep the incredulity from my voice.
He kept at it in silence for a couple moments more, then he looked up and said, "I don't know. It's just never been hard for me."
"So why did you drop out of school?" I asked. I had expected a high school drop out to be a little less fascinated with mathematical equations.
"It just didn't seem that important." He glanced around my room again, and his eyes landed on my bookshelf. "Is that what I think it is?"
He got up before I could answer and pulled a three ringed binder down from the top shelf, the spine had been cracked from years of use, and mended with layers of duct tape. Written in my boldest handwriting were the words 'Book of the Dead'. That's where I stored them, the various dead faces of every suicide I had attempted to recreate, and the ones I had yet to do.
Hex looked through it with unguarded fascination. That book was more sacred to me than a diary. If anybody else had so much as touched it, I would have found the nearest heavy objects and started throwing. But where other people would have looked at this with shock and revulsion, Hex paged through with an appreciative look of awe- as if he was looking at art.
"How many are there?" he asked.
"Hundreds," I guessed. "But I've only tried about a dozen... I put the easiest ones in the front and the hardest in back-"
"It must have taken forever to make this," he said, admiringly. "Which ones have you already tried? Wait- I'll guess-"
There was a knock at the door and we both jumped.
"Maggie," Mom opened the door. The irritation from our previous words was still visible on her face. "It's time for your friend to go home. I want you to focus on your homework tonight-"
"He just got here." I pointed out, indignantly.
Mom looked at Hex and offered a small, restrained smile.
"It's good to see you, Hector but I really have to insist."
Hex nodded and glanced back at me.
"Can I borrow this?" he asked, holding up the binder. "I'll make sure it comes back in one piece."
"Sure," I sighed, heavily. "I'll see you later."