Saturday night I was sprawled on my bed, listening to my tiny CD player. The front door slammed downstairs. I heard cheery voices and cupboards slamming. Drew had returned from work, and it sounded like he and Mom were enjoying a late-night snack together. A couple of weeks ago I might have joined them, but now I just turned the music up and rolled over. The book in my hand dropped to the floor. I kicked my backpack with its load of unfinished homework off the foot of the bed. Ben grunted as it bounced off him.
A few minutes later Drew’s big feet clomped up the stairs, and his bedroom door clicked shut. Soon the thumping bass of his stereo system overshadowed my music. I turned it up again.
After a few seconds his music got louder. Ben’s ears twitched, feeling the vibration through the walls. I turned my volume up as loud as it would go. The guitar riffs screamed through the room, but my little CD player didn’t have a chance next to Drew’s expensive equipment. My plants rattled on their shelves as Drew’s music permeated the entire second floor.
Ben whined and buried his head under my blanket. I ripped my CD player’s cord out of the wall and stormed out into the hallway, throwing Drew’s door open so it bounced back against the doorstop. Sitting on the ratty armchair next to his bed, he looked up from his car magazine.
“Do you mind!” I shouted. “I’m trying to enjoy some peace and quiet!”
“How can you call that heavy guitar stuff you listen to ‘peace and quiet’?” he yelled back.
“It’s better than the crappy country music you’re forcing me to listen to through the wall!”
Drew flung the magazine onto his bed and punched his stereo’s power button. The sudden silence felt like a heavy blow. Then he jumped up and crossed the room in two strides, glaring down at my face.
“At least now I know you’re still alive!” he yelled. “What’s wrong with you lately? You’re like a zombie, sitting around in your room all day and treating us like we don’t exist!”
“How do you think you’d act if you were grounded? All happy to still be around everyone?”
“I’m nineteen, I don’t get grounded anymore.”
“It’s not like you haven’t been grounded more times than me. And you’d hole up in your room too!”
“I don’t mean now, since you’ve been grounded. For weeks you’ve been acting weird, like you’re a different person…”
“YOU HAVE NO IDEA!” I screamed so loudly that he backed off, blinking in surprise. I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing the tears back behind my eyelids.
“What is it then? Is this some kind of–of woman thing?”
“What the crap is that supposed to mean? You’re so stupid, Drew. You don’t know anything!”
“It’s about Sophie then, isn’t it? You’ve repressed all that guilt over the years, and now–”
“No, it’s not about Sophie! I don’t even remember her!”
“You said once that it had been your idea to walk with her to the pond!”
My hands clenched, and the stinging tears finally rolled down my cheeks. “Is that it, then? YOU blame me for her drowning? I was only four!”
“Nobody blames you, you idiot! It’s just that–”
“That’s–enough!” Mom’s voice made both of us jump. I wheeled around, my hands clamped over my mouth. Nobody talked about Sophie’s death around Mom.
She glared at us through the pain in her eyes, and spoke in a calm, slow voice. “This isn’t about–Sophie–” She swallowed. “Or anything like that. Drew, stop deliberately annoying your sister.”
Drew spluttered. “I’m not–”
“Don’t give me that, young man. I heard who started the music war, along with the rest of the neighborhood. You’ll leave Nissa alone. As for you…” She put her hands on my face, wiping away the tears. “Whoever it is you’re seeing late at night when you’re supposed to be in bed, if you can’t bring them over to meet your family, then they’re not the type of person you should be seeing. Is that understood?”
I could just imagine bringing over Eiden, Harsk, or even Ephos to meet my parents. I bit my lip hard to contain the hysterical laughter that threatened to burst out, and nodded.
She continued. “I’m not going to ask anymore what’s going on, because it’s clear you’re not going to talk until you’re ready. But I want to make it known that you won’t be leaving this house, not even to see Eva after school, until you shake this influence that’s been causing you to behave so–unlike yourself these past few weeks.”
I wanted to tell her that I had been trying to shake that influence, trying harder than she knew. Instead, I looked at the floor and nodded again. It wouldn’t take that much longer to regain their trust; since I was in control of the Gate now and not the other way around, I only needed a week or two of normal behavior. That, plus bringing my grades back up, would get me off the hook.
Mom started to pull me in for a hug, but I twisted out of her grasp and darted back into my room, mumbling something about homework as I went. I heard her sad sigh as I shut the door, and started to feel terrible, until I remembered it was Drew who had brought up the subject of Sophie in the first place. I opened my desk drawer and pulled out the old picture, hidden under dozens of classroom notes from Eva, and birthday cards and such. Two little girls with suntanned skin and dark hair, kneeling in a wagon and grinning at the person holding the camera. I couldn’t even remember when the picture had been taken.
That made two times in the past month that Drew had brought up the subject of Sophie. I was starting to wonder if maybe he’d been feeling guilty himself that he hadn’t known we’d wandered off until it was too late–as if a seven-year-old could have been more responsible than the adults who were supposed to be watching us. I shook my head and returned the yellowing picture to the bottom of the pile in the drawer.