By Jan Stinchcomb
Our parents went on vacation without us. That’s why it happened.
When they left my sister in charge, our house became teen central. Lisa and her friends sat outside, drinking beers and listening to Southern rock, while I played in the pool and took in everything they said. Grease had just come out and Lisa’s friends decided they hated Olivia Newton John. They also hated disco, which I danced to guiltily in the privacy of my little bedroom.
Bibi, my sister’s best friend, painted her fingernails pale pink and glued a tiny black butterfly on each tip, a painstaking process that took a whole afternoon. She was beautiful, with her blond ponytail and silver hoop earrings. The perfect girl. She and Lisa would sit and work on themselves for hours. Facials and cuticle cream. Frightening diet tricks. Eyebrows plucked into thin, surprised lines.
My eyebrows were thick, not stylish, and they rose in surprise when I opened the front door one night to see two men standing there, real men with facial hair, smelling of tobacco. I knew they didn’t go to Lisa’s school.
They called me sweetie and walked inside without being asked. I had to catch up fast.
About a dozen kids, mostly couples, streamed into our house that night. Nobody danced to the loud music. There was a homemade cake for someone’s birthday, and I thought it was very sophisticated when they bypassed the candles and song and cut into the chocolate layers. This is what happens when you’re grown up, I thought. There must be a point beyond wishing.
I fell asleep long after midnight without brushing my teeth or changing my clothes. By then everyone had left except for the two older men, and the house was quiet. I understood that Lisa and her date were going to sleep in our parents’ bedroom while Bibi would take the other man into Lisa’s bedroom. I knew our parents would not be happy about this, but I was on team teen now.
I woke to a shout, and then someone started crying. The glowing digits of my alarm clock said 3am, the devil’s hour. I tried to go back to sleep but the crying got louder and louder. I heard the sliding glass door in Lisa’s room slam shut, and then a car drove off. I tiptoed down the hall.
The light was on in Lisa’s room. My sister stood there, looking down at the bed and surrendering to full-bodied sobs. I had never seen her cry like this and assumed it had something to do with sex. The men were gone. They had taken what they wanted and left, like thieves. At least everything could go back to normal now.
But Bibi wasn’t moving.
I felt Bibi’s forehead and then gently lifted one eyelid. No reaction, just a giant black pupil staring at the ceiling. Lisa screamed. The hairs stood up on my scalp. I knew we needed an ambulance, and I tried to convince Lisa to make the call.
“I can’t. Mom and Dad will kill me.”
“You’ve got to call someone. Anyone. Mom and Dad. Bibi’s parents.”
“I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead!” Lisa’s eyes were huge. She grabbed my wrists and squeezed. “Do you want to be cool or are you going to act like a baby? Are you on my side or not?”
I wish I could say I called the operator to ask for help, but instead I left my big sister in charge and went back to bed.
I woke to Bibi, looking worse than ever, standing in my doorway. Her skin was like slate, with a few purple veins protruding from her forehead.
“Not good,” she said, instead of good morning.
She sat on my bed and grinned at me. Her teeth were almost black, but I could see flashes of the beautiful girl I had known before, especially when she flipped her hair.
“What’s happening to you, Bibi?”
She looked at me as if she couldn’t remember who I was. “Sorry. It’s all so far away, you know? Another world.”
I nodded even though I didn’t know. She started humming one of the songs she and Lisa were always blasting, but it trailed off into nothing. I touched her cold arm and she winced. Then she held up both hands. The little black butterflies detached from her fingertips and flew in a circle above her head. Every inch of my skin tingled, and I felt deliciously alert, but the intensity quickly became unbearable. The butterflies crashed to the ground.
Bibi jumped up and started pacing. “We’ve got to leave, Lisa and me. The sooner the better. Man, it hurts to walk.”
“Where are you going?”
“With Karl and his brother. Everything will be better. They have horses.”
My chest tightened. “They’re brothers? Do they really have horses?”
She ignored my questions. “Did you hear something?”
I went to my window. A truck was idling at the corner, its headlights off.
“That’s Karl,” Bibi said, before calling my sister’s name.
I did not recognize the dazed, gray-skinned girl who appeared in my room. My sister. She shivered and walked like she was in pain.
Lisa and Bibi opened my window and climbed out, and I tagged along as I always had. Karl was in the driver’s seat of the truck, with his brother beside him. My sister and her best friend got in the back, their bones creaking.
Karl leaned forward and pierced me with his eyes. “There’s room. You coming, little sister?”
I didn’t turn around for a last look at my house. I forgot my bedroom, the kitchen, the pool. I banished childhood from my heart. I climbed into the back of the truck and lay down between Lisa and Bibi. We rode through those dark blue moments before full morning, and every so often my sister would turn to me and smile, surprised I was still there beside her.