Welcome to October
An Option Odious
Although Evie had chosen to shut her out, Nyx for some reason had been avoiding Leila, too. The Beetles and Downs were out remembering, and the Down Home was feeling more empty than usual with no one wandering about.
But Leila liked to wander when she was feeling lonely or anything else. So she opened the front door. And she saw Mr. Mind out minding the demolition due of the Graves Estate.
He couldn’t stop the destruction. Couldn’t save the home just because he wanted to. That must have been why he stood outside, wagging his finger around as if conducting. It was nice to feel like you were doing something, even when you weren’t and couldn’t change that.
Half of October came all the way up to watch him do nothing as the oldest house in town came all the way down.
Leila didn’t want to watch, though. She wanted to walk and go somewhere where she wouldn’t be alone. She’d been thinking about how to get through to Evie. About the absence of Nyx. About the intrusion of Icky and the sudden lightness of Mrs. D. She’d been thinking about Dr. D and his silence silly regarding everything.
She’d been thinking about whether or not anyone at all had been thinking about her.
These thoughts made her feel funny. She was looking for something in the Home that she couldn’t find. But walking helped Leila to see clearer, and she saw a cross in the distance. She found that something she needed.
Or rather, that someone.
Leila smiled as she sat next to her sister.
“Hello, Clara,” she started. She lied under the cross; on top of her sister’s grave. “How was your day?”
The silence would have bothered her if it were anyone else, but Leila knew that poor Clara was Not. The wind swept across her face, kissing her cheek, and watering her eyes.
“Mine was dreadful,” Leila said as she clenched her fists in the grass. She felt her breath become harsh as sadness simmered in her chest. “Can I hold you?” she asked. But there was no breeze or reply. So she gave a weak and a wobbly smile.
And she said, “Okeydoke.”
When you’re four and you find out you’re due to get your third little sister, there are two things you learn quickly: you’re not the only baby anymore and things will have to change once again. Leila had never been particularly fond of changes. But she did love her sisters. Even though she’d hoped Clara would be the end of the lot.
That didn’t mean being the eldest didn’t come with its own problems. Leila’d discovered new feelings thanks to those three. Camaraderie thanks to Evie, neutrality from Nyx, and from Clara, everything else. The first time Leila’d ever felt jealousy was when Clara had come home for the first time, and Leila watched how her mother beamed.
“Isn’t she gorgeous, Hon?” Leila’s mom had asked her dad.
He’d nodded, stroking Clara’s scalp squishy. Clara’s smile had always been beautiful. Just like she was.
“She’s perfect,” he’d said.
It was then that an anger more than anger flooded Little Leila’s veins. Yet Little Leila had smiled, too. She held out her arms.
“Clara!” she’d started. “Can I hold you?”
Then the worst thing ever happened. Leila’s mother laughed at her. And a new feeling came.
“Not alone, Honey,” her mom said. “We have to share her for today. But perhaps we could hold her together? Can I hold you?”
Even though Leila’s mom held them both, Leila knew that things were now different. She felt that then for the first time, really, too.
The moment baby Clara sat in her arms and smiled beautifully as Leila stroked her sister’s hair (almost slapping the poor thing with every loving rub), everything about Leila’s world had shifted. For better or for worse. As they grew, Leila learned to love the better more than she hated the worse. And she learned not to get too attached to the present. The world often shifted.
For better.
Or for worse.
As Leila gazed up at the sky serene, she started to feel better. To feel at peace with being alone. In the graveyard, Leila never felt lonely. She had enough company from the bodies buried down below.
They always listened so she spoke to them. With the most ginormous sigh.
She said, “I think Evie hates me. I was horrid. And now even Nyx is gone.
“Mrs. D is doing the most unforgivable things. And Dr. D has no thoughts.
“We have a guest who I think is here to punish us. For living while our parents are Not. And, well, you of course. I think you started this, if I’m being honest. ‘Cause I haven’t felt right, Clara. Not really. Not once since you’ve gone.”
It was quiet for a while, but Leila had a confession. “I wish Icky’d never come home.”
Then something sounded in the cemetery and Leila started, bolting up. It wasn’t a boy in the distance this time. It was a girl. A girl grimacing.
A girl most gaunt.
“Why do you hate him?” Evie wondered, hurt scrunching up her eyes and riddling her tone. She towered over Leila so the eldest bustled to get up. But Evie still had questions. “What on Earth has the boy done wrong?”
For Leila, this was a new feeling. The need to overtly defend. If she could just say, “His dad killed our parents!” everything would be right with the world. It would shift, finally, as Leila’d always hoped it would have done.
Things would change if she just said it. For better. Or for worse. But what would be the consequences of that? Could the Mortimers handle it? Would the clocks turn?
“Just trust me,” Leila said, trying to save her sister. “Icky’s not— just can’t be— He must never be one of us.”
“His name,” Evie motioned, “isn’t Icky. It’s Bod. And Bod doesn’t have to be family to be treated kindly or given a Home.”
Leila wanted to just say it. “He shouldn’t be in our Home,” Leila countered. “He has a family who has its own.”
“And he should go back from whence he came from?” Evie argued.
“Because you’re ridiculous?”
Say it. “Be-cause his father killed your mom!”
Leila slapped a hand over her mouth but it was too late. The words meant for her head skipped off of her tongue. Again, Evie fell silent, and so did Clara. And the wind.
Not a soul spilled a syllable as Evie shook her head and stalked past Leila. Away. And though no one offered to hold her, Leila would’ve said no, anyway. She didn’t deserve to be hugged or to be coddled. She knew she would’ve been dropped. So no one held her.
Not today.
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