Around the age of 14 I was sent off to live with the Westons, the result of Mum deciding I was too much to handle.
Which isn’t a slight to Mum. I actually was.
Like, even for myself.
I’d taken to hanging around with a strange group of friends. Strange in that they were kids, and really unhappy. The two things don’t seem like they’re supposed to go together. But that was the year Nick hanged himself off the banister with a dog leash, so, you know.
I’ll never know how the Westons got involved. Whether they called Mum or Mum called them. But she started threatening me with the transfer in late spring.
“Maybe the Westons will know what to make of you!” she’d yell, when I did yet another upsetting thing.
“Maybe they will,” I countered, all casual-like.
But I never took it seriously. Mostly because why would a family I’d scarcely met be willing to take me in? They already had five kids, each one more gorgeous and brilliant than the next. Mathematicians, ballerinas, class presidents.
Of course I scoffed.
I think the final straw for Mum was either realizing I’d stolen her sleeping pills with the intent to kill myself, which I’d forgotten to do, or finding Danny butt-naked in my bedroom.
Probably it was the Danny thing. Because that really busted a bolt in her psyche.
“You’re 14 years old!” she screamed, her face a ravaged mess.
Like, duh. We knew how old we were.
Secretly, I found Mum scary as shit when she got like that. But Danny just lit a cigarette and scowled. Which looked so fucking cool that I immediately wanted a retake.
“Is he a chain smoker?” Mum asked later, once she’d calmed down and knew I’d be out of her hair soon.
“A what?” I laughed, because I didn’t know the term, and I thought she meant does he do things with chains, like hurt people. Which struck me as hilariously dumb, even though I, too, suddenly wondered if he did.
Never understood how my reality could be so different from Mum’s, when we lived in the same house and neighborhood and all, but there it was.
So she put me on a plane to go live with the Westons.
And I responded to that blitz so much differently than I’d anticipated.
I mean, I’d already known that I’d be out of my element, because they were apparently all wealthy cultured ivy-league whatever. But what I was not prepared for was this: when the Weston parents had made the decision to have kids, they were not fucking around.
Sue and Kent built their whole lives around their children, in the shape of a mind-blowing four-story house that is actually too boggling to describe, aside from the brief mention that they’d constructed a maze of carpeted tunnels behind the walls when the kids were young.
Like, for the kids to play in.
Like, for fun.
I’d never seen anything like it.
And, you know, technically I was too old for those tunnels. But I spent an embarrassing amount of time in them that first week.
And decided pretty quickly that I’d kind of like to fit in with these people.
The Weston kids either genuinely welcomed my presence or had been well-trained to make me believe they did. They were so polite, I couldn’t tell which.
“Do you like me?” I asked Matthew directly, the second week, interrupting his reading The Magician’s Nephew aloud to me.
Matthew looked at me quizzically and adjusted the spectacles on his adorable little ten-year-old face.
“Of course,” he answered. “Why wouldn’t I?”
I shrugged. “Dunno. Just wondering.”
I pulled at the fraying hem of my skirt.
“May I continue?” he asked.
“Suit yourself,” I answered, pulling that nonchalance crap again.
I declined the “Come shopping with us!” offered by the rosy-cheeked sisters, Meg and Kim. I liked looking at them, and sneaking into their rooms when they weren’t there, but otherwise, for reasons I couldn’t decipher, wanted nothing to do with them.
But they were older, anyway. Also girls.
Whereas Brad and Mark fell within a year of me on either side.
So in the late evenings, when they weren’t busy building a telescope or landscaping the moat in the back yard, I’d accept invitations from them to go up to the screened-in balcony on the roof and play games.
Not drinking games. Or sex games. Just actual games.
Like Monopoly, until they caught me cheating.
Then poker, which I had to be taught.
It struck me as so dopey, at first, the whole playing of games. And I felt I needed to feign reluctance about it. Like, sometimes I’d even go to bed early, when what I really wanted was to spend time with them.
But at some point in mid-summer, I gave up on cool, and started really getting off on the dopiness of it.
Like, I was the one who started the thing where we would all shoot each other down in this very harsh but camaraderie kind of way. And I was the one with the idea that we use real money.
I constantly pretended to have a strategy, because it made the boys laugh. And I pretended to give a shit about winning, because it made them feel good. But really I couldn’t have cared less that I always lost.
I just liked the way our voices sounded when we said “ante up” in unison.
I just liked staying up with them and their straight white teeth until the moon rose over the trees and the fireflies bounced around outside of our reach.
In time I came to recognize that it wasn’t just me. That we were all somehow in love with it. Each other.
But no one felt the need to say it.
Which was a really good place to be.