When the Sky Fell on Splendor(7)

“He’s not even there, Rob!” we’d heard her scream the night before. “We have to let him go, or I can’t take it here anymore.”

“The kids need you, Eileen,” Dad had hissed, which had surprised me, because those days, he hardly seemed to realize we were still there.

“How can I be here for them when I can’t even be here for myself? What about what I need?”

Sometimes I thought, She wishes it was him instead. Sometimes I thought, She wishes it had been any of us but Mark.

The joke was, it felt like it had been. Even in his coma, Mark was more real to our parents than Arthur and me. We were ghosts drifting around our house.

We’d faded from existence at home, and in return, home had faded for us. That was probably what had driven us outside that summer, onto bikes and over the fences that circled neighborhood pools, into dark movie theaters through the exits as paying patrons filed out, and across poison-ivy-thick woods.

We spent every waking moment with the living ghosts of Splendor. Remy Nakamura, Levi Lindquist, Sofía Perez, and Nick Colasanti Jr.

At thirteen, Levi was already pushing six feet, with a bleached bowl cut and an obsession with cinema.

He had this idea to make a parody documentary about rock climbers.

Sheriff Nakamura drove us to the park where he used to run, before the accident made it hard for him to walk without pain. The woods there were scrubby and ugly, and as we were winding through them, Nick said, “If this is splendid, I’d rather be ordinary.”

Levi launched into the earliest incarnation of his British-documentary-narrator voice. “In a town such as this, brimming with splendor, our six travelers found that to be ordinary was the greater challenge.”

Then Nick kicked Levi’s butt, and Levi screeched, “NICKY JR.!” in an equally poor imitation of Nick’s mom, screaming to him from the window when he ran out to meet us in his driveway.

In the months since we’d become friends, we hadn’t seen the inside of Nick’s house, and we never saw his mom any closer than that either—she didn’t come outside, like, ever—but she’d sometimes yell through the glass: Nicky Jr., your phone! Or Nicky Jr., don’t you go forgetting your house key!

“Like it’s even possible to get locked out,” Nick would sometimes grumble. “Where you gonna be when I get home, Ma? Paris?”

He was allowed to say that sort of thing about her, but we weren’t. Our families were off limits, and Nick’s especially so—the rest of the town talked about the Colasantis enough.

But the accent—the imitation—he didn’t seem to mind that. He happily screeched back at Levi, “You’re not my real ma, Ma!” as the two of them raced down the path.

When we finally found the sun-bleached boulders, they were bigger than I’d expected, and stacked on top of one another in a haphazard way.

I was the youngest and smallest of the group, and nursing a fear of heights I’d done my best to hide.

I made it to the top of the first rock, but the second was smoother and higher. The others topped it with a bit of knee-scraping, but my hands started to sweat, and my heart raced, and soon, I was too terrified to move.

“You absolutely don’t have to do it, Franny,” Sofía said. “If you don’t want to, don’t let them pressure you.”

“You’ve got this!” Levi assured me.

Nick tried a different approach. “Don’t be a baby, Franny!”

“We won’t let you get hurt,” Remy kept promising.

Levi put his camera down. “Just get halfway. Remy and I will pull you up.”

They lay on their stomachs and held their arms out, and I started to pace, and then cry.

I looked to Arthur. I wanted him to tell me it would be okay, or suggest I climb down and wait at the bottom. Instead his brow furrowed; his freckly nose scrunched. His voice came out sharp. “Climb, Franny.”

I shook my head.

“Climb, Franny,” Arthur said, more loudly.

I ran my hands through my humidity-frizzed hair.

Please, I thought at him. Tell me you won’t let me get hurt.

Arthur set his jaw. “No one is going to help you. Don’t you get that? No one. It has to be you.”

The tears started sliding down my cheeks, but I took hold of the rock. I stepped into a divot and pushed myself up, once, then again. I moved higher, limbs shaking, tears falling. I was almost there when Arthur’s hand caught my arm. With Nick’s and Remy’s help, he hauled me over the lip and pulled me onto my feet.

My brother gripped the back of my neck and stared into my eyes. His gaze was glassy, but then he blinked and it hardened. There was no softness left for me in him.

Something inside me broke. He was right.

No one was going to help us. We were on our own now.

Arthur pulled me into a rough hug, and I cried into his shoulder for the first and last time that summer. Our friends turned away, busying themselves with whatever they could find.

They knew this was the kind of thing you didn’t acknowledge in Splendor. They let me feel my pain alone.

They knew that was what I wanted, because we were the same.


HALFWAY TO THE CAR, I realized my mistake. I’d spent five years with the same weight resting below my collarbone, and in six hours, I’d nearly forgotten to expect it there.

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