to be seen and unseen.
Leala always celebrates her birthday on the second Friday of September, even though she was born in March on a Tuesday afternoon. Leala likes Fridays. She likes the feel and taste of them, the way they roll in slow and easy and slide into Saturday without much of a pause at all. She likes how smoothly Fridays go: everyone shows up a softer shade of yellow than they left the night before.
Leala likes Fridays because she doesn't have to work. They all get one day off--Wabi takes Monday but still shows up behind the register half the time anyway; Tozz gives herself Wednesday to break up the week. But Leala takes Fridays, and doesn't come home after school. Sometimes she goes to the river that runs through under the train tracks and sits with her feet in the water. She likes the way it feels, even in winter, when ever splash ruts tiny spikes against her skin.
Sometimes she goes to the movie theater and sneaks in through the back. She could afford a ticket, but she doesn't go for the movie. She goes for the darkness of the theater, the sweet promise of not supposed to be here. And sometimes she goes home, sneaks up to her room by climbing the drainpipe and sits on her bed in silence, listening to her sisters and her parents move. She likes being absent. She likes when no one else knows where she is, when Leala is her own and only keeper.
She can't quite say why.
"Lea?" Leala is seven. She is hiding under the bed. Her parents have been looking for her downstairs for half an hour.
She pokes her head out from under the bed. "Hey Tozz," she says, frowning. She's pretty sure she's going to get in trouble.
Tozz blows out a long breath. "Why are you hiding?" she asks. "Did you do something bad?"
Leala shakes her head, allowing Tozz to help pull her out from under the bed. Wabi is asleep in their parents' bed. She'd gone to bed crying because everyone was stressed and she had always been sensitive.
"I just didn't want people to be able to find me," Leala mutters. She can't explain it. She can't explain that little push on her chest that says hide. The push that says it's better if they don't know where you are. If you can leave at any time. If you can slip in and slip out.
"Why not?" Tozz asks, and Leala shrugs. She feels helpless. Not like she had before, her parents nervous feet running longways across the house, shouting her name.
Tozz gives her a hard look that Leala is too young to read. Then she reels Leala in by her arms and kisses her forehead, hard.
"Mom, Dad, I found her," she shouts over her shoulder. "She fell asleep under the bed."
* In high school Leala falls in love with a boy named Martin who wears glasses and rides a tandem bicycle. His parents bought it for him and his brother to share, to save money, but his brother hates riding it. Martin would rather bike than drive a car, for environmental reasons, so he takes to stopping by Leala's house in the morning and letting her hop on the back.
No one ever makes fun of the tandem bicycle, because when Martin smiles the whole hallway around him lights up. Leala is pretty sure she isn't imagining this.
He's good in school, smart, funny, well-liked. He plays sports. He steals things.
Little things, mostly--erasers, toilet paper, brooms. But it escalates. By their senior year he's taken to removing whole file cabinets from the secretary's office during her lunch hour. He comes by the shop and Leala can see his fingers wandering, sticky. He never takes anything. When she asks why, he laughs and says, "You'd just give it to me, anyway."
That's true, but Leala doesn't like the tone of his voice when he says it, so she scowls and says, "No, I wouldn't."
"I didn't mean it in a bad way," he soothes, gentling, reaching out to touch her arm, but Leala shifts away. She wants to hide, suddenly, to tuck away the piece of her that shone through so clearly that he could see it. That he could touch it. It's better if they don't know where you are. It's better if you can slip out at any time.
She breaks up with him on Friday after school and gets incredibly drunk at one of the neighborhood parties. She didn't want to break up with Martin. She didn't want to lose the tandem bicycle. But she drinks until she feels nice and hidden again and then she goes into the house's basement, where someone has boxed up old belongings to give away. Leala takes the biggest one and rips it open, shoving unloved dolls into her backpack and then slipping out one of the side doors.
She walks home, tripping over herself, laughing for no reason and thinking of the way that Tozz looks at her, sometimes. Just this side of angry. As if Leala has something that Tozz wants, but she doesn't. She isn't any less trapped than Tozz is, it's just that she's not unselfish enough to stay that way.
One more semester, she reminds herself, and thinks of all the magazines that she has stacked under her bed, their pages marked. She's not going to go to college. She's just going to go.
Her sisters could stay here forever but Leala can't. Won't. It seems obvious with the alcohol in her blood and the dolls on her back. She feels transparent in this town.
Leala has always liked things that were dark, perhaps especially herself. * When Wabi is first learning to walk, Leala follows her around with her arms outstretched. She never lets her fall. Whenever Wabi starts to teeter, Leala snatches her up. They sit down together, heavily, because Leala is too small to really support Wabi's weight.
Their parents say that Wabi won't ever learn if she never falls, but Leala doesn't care. She'll follow Wabi around forever if she has to.
Then one day they're walking around the living room and Leala gets distracted by a bug that lands on her face. She shrieks, and Wabi jumps, and they both lose their balance, falling in different directions. Wabi hits the ground with a hard thud, her chin making a small indent on the carpet.
She stares at Leala with wide, betrayed eyes, but doesn't cry. Wabi is too strong to cry. She just looks and looks and must see that Leala can't protect her, not always, maybe not even ever. Wabi gets back up on her own.
Leala doesn't. She stays seated, her fist clutched around the still-fluttering bug.
* Years from now, years and years and years, when Leala is retiring, she'll meet a man named Friday. He'll have a dark mustache. When Leala is mean to him he'll be mean right back. He'll be blind.
Leala will marry him.
In the plane en route to their honeymoon, Leala will disarm a bomb in the luggage compartment. She'll be listening to AC/DC while she does. In their first-class seats, her husband will munch on pretzels.
"Sorry, got lost," she'll tell him breezily when she returns to her seat.
He'll raise his eyebrows. "It's a straight line," he'll remind her.
"Well, I went the wrong direction first."
He'll chuckle, reaching across to take her hand. "Okay," he'll agree, in that voice that says he knows that she is lying.
A flush of panic will well up in her, the fresh need to slip away and hide. Instead she'll think of Tozz and Wabi, of the enormous Venus Flytraps she used to feed mice to.
"I'm a spy," she says, instead of letting him go.
He doesn't turn his head, just keeps his forehead pressed against the cool window. "Okay," he'll say again, and Leala will squeeze his hand.