Aftermath – Kelley Armstrong

Make the ef ort, Skye. And it does take actual effort, like answering an exam question on a subject I’ve never taken. Me: Thai. Her: Excellent! See you at 7. Maybe 7:30. Snacks in fridge! I head for the kitchen and open the fridge. It’s this massive stainless steel locker so big I have to brace the door or I’m afraid I’ll be knocked inside and freeze to death. I might also starve. There are four glistening glass shelves, containing a sum total of seven objects. Three are condiments. I take out what looks like yogurt. It’s fat-free, sugar-free and, I’m sure, flavor-free. It’s also labeled gluten-free for those who don’t know where gluten actually comes from. I turn the yogurt container over in my hands, looking for the symbol that indicates that the milk comes from yaks, handraised and bottle-fed by the distant descendants of Attila the Hun. Sadly, it makes no such claim.

I can buy my own snacks. As I left, Gran pushed ten hundred-dollar bills into my hand, having mutely convinced some poor candy striper to access her ATM account. She handed them to me and made a spooning motion, and I laughed at the joke – that she was giving me money so I could eat. After seeing Mae’s fridge, I’m not sure it was a joke. I passed a little grocery on the walk from the bus stop. While the exterior suggested it may be where Mae buys her hell-yogurt, it must carry something edible. Even overpriced organic, fair-trade chocolate bars still contain chocolate. I should go. I could use the exercise. My grumbling stomach says I could use the food, too.

But when I look down from the window, the street seems an impossible distance away. I take my laptop and settle onto the ice-cold leather sofa. I spend the next two hours surfing between YouTube and homework, with an emphasis on the former. I don’t know what I watch. It really is surfing, skimming over the waves of prank videos and teen vlogs. I’m not sure which I find more incomprehensible. As I watch some YouTube celeb giving eyeliner tips, I think maybe I could start my own vlog. Hey, I’m Skye, and I’m here to teach you… I’d need to be accomplished at something to actually talk about it. Hey, I’m a very accomplished sister-of-school-shooter. Wanna hear tips on dealing with that? Er, on second thought, got any tips on dealing with that? I turn on my laptop camera and see myself reflected back, a pale-faced blonde who could definitely use eyeliner tips.

Or any tips beyond “How to make it look like you brushed your hair before putting it into a ponytail.” Stare. Stare some more. Hit Record. Hey, I’m Skye Gilchrist. You may know me from such national tragedies as the school shooting in — Uh, no. Hey, I’m Skye Gilchrist, and I’m here to tell you… I’m here to tell you… I recall my sixth-grade teacher, coaching us on a personal video project, one we did “for posterity” – in other words, so we could store it and look at it again every five years, laughing more each time we saw it. Say what you want from life. Where you see yourself in five years. Five years… Can I fast-forward through them? That’s what I really want.

To hyper-sleep to adulthood, because right now, I can’t even find the motivation to get off this sofa. I’m staring at this girl in the screen, and I hate her. She’s weak and she’s useless, and I really kinda hate her. By the time Mae brings dinner, it’s nearly nine, and I wolf it down, making her say, “Didn’t you have a snack?” I consider pointing out that Dijon mustard is not a food group, but I just say, “I was doing my homework and lost track of time.” “So how did your day go?” That’s the requisite question for anyone dining with a school-age kid. Gran never asked it, though. It’s too easily answered with a grunted “Fine.” I consider saying exactly that. But I’m not sure I could do it with a straight face. I’m also reasonably sure it’s the answer Mae actually expects.

So, how was the first day back in Riverside? With kids who know your brother was a school shooter? With friends who never once contacted you to see how you were doing? Tell me, Skye, how did that go? “You said Jesse was at Southfield.” She stops, the fork at her lips. Lowers it. Says, “What?”

.

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