Sunday night I went to bed early after talking to Bear on the phone for an hour. He’d promised to meet me with breakfast in the morning, so I fell asleep smiling.
I woke up with a start and sat up in bed, squinting at the clock. It was 1:43 a.m. I had no idea why I’d woken up, and I lay back down, fully intent on falling back asleep.
Not two seconds after my head hit the pillow, a crack reverberated in my room. I sat up quick (again), my eyes wide. The house was quiet. My sisters and their husbands had gone home that morning (with much tears and promises to call from my mother).
This time, I could tell it came from the window opposite my bed, so I crawled over and looked out.
When I saw Bear standing on my lawn with a goofy smile on his face, I almost laughed.
I threw a pair of pants on and tiptoed downstairs and out the front door. Bear held his arms open and I ran into them.
Once we had kissed hello, I leaned back and looked up at him. “How cheesy are you?” I laughed.
He shrugged. “I couldn’t wait ‘til morning.”
“How’d you know you were hitting my window, not Lawrie’s? Or my parents’?”
“I figured Lawrie would go for the more manly blinds over the frilly lace curtains.”
When I snuck back into the house 15 minutes later, Lane was propped in the doorway to the kitchen, his lean body silhouetted in the faint light. “Tell your boyfriend to be a little louder next time,” he said over a mouthful of cereal. “He only woke up the whole house.”
It’s not even your house, I thought indignantly, but held my tongue. The blessed darkness covered my blush.
The rest of the week went like that night. Bear was constantly surprising me with his romanticism (flowers and cheesy gifts, flattery, et cetera, et cetera) and I tried hard not to think of all the practice he’d had.
There were three baseball games that week (We won all three.) and after each one, Bear took me out for a celebratory ice cream. I think Dad got a little fed up with my midnight arrival three nights in a row, but neither he nor my mom said anything.
Saturday I went with Bear to Cody Valentine’s house. Bear got a little drunk and I had never seen him like that before, but I reminded myself he was an eighteen-year-old boy on a Saturday night. A few times, he got a little too close to Kristen Blake for my comfort, but all in all I had fun.
Sunday after brunch with Renee (She’d seemed a little put out about all the time I’d been spending with Bear.) I came home exhausted, fully prepared to take a nap. I shuffled my way to my room, but I paused when I saw Lawrie standing in his doorway, holding a piece of mail out to me. I took it from him curiously.
The front was addressed to a Mr. Lawson R. Wilder. I quickly opened the envelope and pulled out a letter.
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted….
At that point I screamed, dropped the letter to the ground and jumped onto my brother.
“We’re going to college together!” I shrieked in his ear.
Lawrie was grinning wildly and there was a pride in his eyes I wasn’t used to seeing. “I got it yesterday but you got home too late to tell you.”
I continued to dance around the room with him until Lane walked in a few seconds later. “Laney, we’re all going to school together!” I yelled and happily included him in our celebration. Lane and I had known for months where we were going to college, but Lawrie, being the slacker that he was, had waited until the absolute last minute before applying.
I was still elated with the news the next day when my dad walked into Lawrie’s room to find the three of us absorbed in a game of Mario Kart. (Bear had his graduation project due in the morning and I was dutifully removing myself from his list of distractions.)
“Hey, Lane, can I talk to you for a second?” Dad asked, his tone manly and strong and professional.
“Yeah,” Lane replied, his eyes glued to the TV.
Dad waited for a few moment while nothing moved except for our thumbs. Dad cleared his throat. Lawrie, getting the hint, paused the game. It wasn’t that Lane was being disrespectful; it was just that he’d lived for years in a household that wasn’t run by Reid Wilder.
“What’s up?” Lane asked, relaxing.
Dad sighed, his eyes uncharacteristically shifting back and forth to me and Lawrie. I immediately felt uncomfortable.
“All right, we’ll play your way,” Dad mumbled, his hands fidgeting with the home phone antennae. He cleared his throat again. “Your father called.” He directed his voice to Lane.
This statement caught Lane’s attention and his eyes snapped up.
“Step-father. Sorry,” Dad corrected.
“Oh.” Lane seemed bored with this information and he fiddled with his controller.
“When’s the last time you went home, son?” Dad asked, authoritatively.
Lane shrugged. “I dunno,” he exhaled.
Dad’s hand went up to his forehead. “Your mother’s in the hospital again.”
Lane didn’t seem to respond to this news. (Granted, it wasn’t the first time he’d heard this same thing. Lane’s mom had been in and out of the hospital his whole high school career.)
“Dammit, Lane, did you hear me? Your mom’s sick again. She’s in the hospital.”
Lane looked up at this outburst. “Mom’s got cancer. What’s new?”
Dad looked as though Lane had just slapped him. After a brief silence, he backed out of the room and shut the door.
Lane looked at Lawrie. “Are we gonna finish the game or not?”
Lane reached over him and pressed start and the game resumed. After a sidelong glance at me, Lawrie joined him. Unsure what else to do, I followed suit.
A few minutes later, Mom opened the door.
“Lane, come out here and talk to me for a second,” she said, leaning on the doorway.
“Look, Mrs. Wilder…,” Lane started.
“Lane Keaton, when you ran away and came here, your mother made me promise her I’d treat you like you were my own child. You bet your ass if Lawrie and Emma Gray’s father was in the hospital, they’d be down there the second I found out.” Mom’s voice was shaky with emotion. I bit my lip, desperately uncomfortable, praying Laney would just listen to her.
With a heavy sigh, Lane finally stood up and followed my mother into the hallway.
When we heard the car start in the driveway, I looked over at Lawrie. He was picking at the carpet, his usually happy face oddly concentrated. He caught my eye and I let myself lean into his lap. We must’ve lay that way for hours, without talking. We finally got up when we heard Mom and Lane come back in the door.
Before I left the room, Lawrie pulled me into a quick hug. “Act normal. For Laney’s sake.”