It's past two in the morning, and like every other night for the past five months, I was still awake, texting Shiloh from my bed beneath the basement stairs.

It's not as weird as it sounds. Well, actually it is, I guess, probably even weirder. But I didn't choose this location as a texting site because I had any better options, and I certainly wouldn't have chosen it as the ideal spot to sleep in. But the only alternative would be sleeping on a loveseat, since my younger sister occupies the couch, or else on my mattress in the middle of the basement floor, and I'd rather have at least some illusion of privacy. Under the stairwell, I might not have enough space to stand up, but at least no one can see what I'm doing unless they stand directly in front of me.

Believe me, when you live in an unfinished basement with four other people, privacy is rare and very cherished in whatever form it comes. But I wasn't thinking about my family or our insane living circumstances as I type/talked to Shiloh, my fingers easily gliding across the touch screen keypad in the dark without needing to look for reference. It was worth any amount of exhaustion in school the next day, for the very much needed distraction Shiloh could always provide me. I hadn't met her in person, but somehow, she always knew what to say and could put into words what I was feeling, sometimes even before I could identify the thoughts myself.

"I'm gonna have to sleep eventually, you know," she texted me, along with an emoji with crossed eyes and a sticking out tongue. "You're going to fill up my brain with so many images of you and so many of your words I won't have anything left tomorrow for stupid history tests."

That was one of the things I liked about Shiloh; like me, she didn't communicate in misspellings and short hand slang in texting. Most people my age thought it was anal of me to actually type actual sentences, but even before we really knew each other, that happened to be Shiloh's preference of communication too. It was just one of the many quirky things we had in common.

"I could send you some way more interesting images of me to fill up that brain of yours," I texted back, adding on a winking emoji and another with flirty side eyes.

I felt a rush of excitement flicker through my chest and settle lower into my stomach with the come on as I waited for Shiloh's answer. I couldn't remember the first time Shiloh had flirted with me, or when I had worked up the nerve to flirt back. I had thought she was just being playful or friendly with me at first, even as I hoped there could be a little more intent or meaning behind the words than I was assuming. Now it was normal for us to banter back and forth, and our conversations were now serious and directly from the heart, full of confessions we couldn't tell anyone else, nearly as much as they were playful.

I was beginning to feel that I loved Shiloh, as crazy as I knew that was. I wouldn't dare say that to her, but at least I knew and believed now that she was interested in me too.

"Please do, don't tease me like that," she said back, a string of sad puppy faces attached. "My imagination works diligently enough without backup inspiration!"

I started to snicker, quickly muffling the noise into my pillow and freezing, paranoid that my parents or one of my sisters would wake up and hear. Several more seconds passed without someone demanding to know why I was still up and what was so funny, and I relaxed, returning back to our conversation.

"How about this. You be a good girl and go to school, do the smart girl study thing, and then after, maybe you'll get a reward….if you know what I mean."

Wink face attached, of course. And of course, she knew the implication, even if I was pretty sure I was too chicken to actually deliver. At least, I thought I was. I wouldn't do naked pictures- the chances of those being hacked were far too risky- but I might take a chance and send one where I was sort of sexy looking, anyway.

"Ooooh, I like the sound of that," Shiloh answered. "Okay….fine. You got me. Sleep time, but I'm expecting that reward. Good night, Tay-love."

"Good night, Shi-love," I answered back, my heart squeezing at the affectionate term I was still unused to seeing in type, applied to me, or hearing her voice say out loud. Even if she meant it in only the most casual sense, to me, it still meant the world.

I put down my phone and lay back in my narrow "bed," but even as I closed my eyes, I knew it would be at least another thirty minutes before my adrenaline died down enough for me to get to sleep. Some people talk about having an addiction to caffeine or nicotine, about how they need it to get their endorphins going. Me? I'm addicted to Shiloh LaBianca, and I'm the only person in my life who can know.


It's a lucky thing that I've never needed much sleep. It makes it easier for me to be able to talk to Shiloh as late as I want or need, and still wake up before the sun to start getting ready for school. Even though dad and I are the only ones who actually need to go anywhere in the morning, it still takes some maneuvering to dress, eat, shower, and groom yourself for school when dodging around four other people and sharing a single bathroom. It also doesn't help that for some reason, Mom makes my sisters get up at the same time that I have to and get fully dressed, even though the furthest they have to travel for school is the kitchen table, located about three feet away from the couch doubling as Gwendolyn's bed.

I waited until I could hear Dad turning off the shower before rolling over in bed, careful not to hit my head on the underpart of the stars as I crawled out of my dark little hole of a "bedroom." He had already flipped on one of the lamps in the "living" room area of the basement, so I could see well enough to make my way to the standing clothes racks along one wall belonging to me and Gwen. I selected one of my t-shirts, opened a drawer to our shared dresser beside the racks to select jeans and underclothes, and as usual, stashed my eyeliner, lipstick, and eyeshadow in my jeans pocket, to be applied in the bathroom once I was at school and away from Mom's critical eyes. I waited until I heard the rustle of Dad pushing back one of the tarps tacked over the bathroom doorway to go into the room he, Mom, and my youngest sister Gillian slept in before entering the bathroom myself for my own shower.

By now, we have the morning routine down cold, after several mishaps and invasions that were mortifying for dad and I both. When you have only sheets of blue plastic serving as very unsubstantial doors to a bathroom, you learn to be very sure the room is empty before barging in to do your thing. I've seen far more of my dad's chest hair and other, even more disturbing body parts than I could ever desire to, and I also possess the unfortunate knowledge that he's one of those very weird people that completely strips when he has to poop. As for me, I've learned to announce that I'm going to the bathroom the second I hear footsteps approaching anywhere near the vicinity when I'm stuck on the john. It's saved me a lot of unwanted pop up visits.

As I brushed my teeth, I could hear the high pitch of Gillian's voice, talking to our mother as they both awakened. I tuned her out enough that I didn't have to hear what she was saying specifically, but would still be aware if she made any sudden gestures of barging in on me. Gilly talked far too much most of the time for me to consider it worth listening to, especially when it wasn't directed specifically at me. Usually, it wasn't. Honestly, very little of what my family said was usually directed towards me in particular, and that was how I preferred it.

By the time I had showered, dressed, and dried my hair, I could hear Gwendolyn shuffling around outside the "door," waiting for me to finish so she could take her turn. Now that she's eleven, she's starting to take longer to get herself ready, spending more time on her hair and picking out clothes that are a little closer to what might be considered stylish by some. Too bad that her efforts are mostly wasted, since the only kids her age who might notice and appreciate are the same handful of kids in her youth group that she's known all her life.

It bothers me, when I think about what Mom's doing to Gwen. Unlike Gillian, she actually knows what she's missing out on when she spends the entire day, every day with her family instead of going to school like a normal kid. But I don't say anything about it. Gwen doesn't complain, and I don't want to push my own luck. I might be seventeen now, but for all I know, there's some obscure law I don't know about where my mom could force me into homeschooling too, no matter how much I buck against it.

"Hi, Taylor," Gwendolyn said softly as I pushed the bathroom tarp back, then held it aside for her to slip past me. "Morning."

"Morning," I returned her greeting, giving her a small smile, although I wasn't feeling any type of friendly yet. Gwen is impeccably, almost annoyingly polite, and a far nicer person than I am. I try not to punish her for the fact that I'm sarcastic, cynical, and far less trusting of people's motives than she is.

I noticed her dark blue eyes look over my shirt wistfully. It's nothing special, just a t-shirt with fat cats lolling around under the words "Irish yoga."

"The cats on your shirt are cute," she said.

"You can borrow them it if you want," I told her. "It will be a little big on you, but you can roll the sleeves up, wear it with tight pants or leggings."

"I shouldn't," she said, biting her lip. "Isn't yoga something Buddhists do?"

And there it was. One of the major things that will always keep me from really being close to a single person in my family, or feeling truly connected or belonging with them. Religion, along with my sexual orientation, is one massive divide that I can't see us ever being able to breach. Add in overly crowded living arrangements and the fact that I'm forced to lie about just how I'm related to three quarters of my family members, and you come up with this- me, the family outsider who will never be able to mesh the jagged edges of me into the smooth alignment of the rest of my family.