“Jesus.” I slide my hand behind her back and pull her body against mine, then I roll to my back, taking her with me. She curls into me, her hands between our bodies, the side of her face against my chest. I told myself I didn’t miss this. Told myself I didn’t need it or want it. But maybe that’s because I’d never imagined someone like Nic. “Did she take any responsibility for her role in your situation?”
“She didn’t see it that way. Not when my twin was so actively trying to ruin our chances for a new family. Mom didn’t understand that I just needed to be accepted somewhere.”
“What did your sister do?”
“Every time we got placed in a new home, she was a terror. I constantly covered for her. If she broke things on purpose, I’d tell our family I’d done it by accident. I worked hard to make them like me, and I knew they’d be able to forgive me easier than her, the sullen twin. I did my chores and hers. I did extra. We fell into this sick routine where my sister would sabotage and I would repair. Sabotage and repair. When we were in seventh grade, she hated her teacher and wanted to switch places at school. I agreed to do it because she’d been in trouble so many times that I was afraid they’d send her away if she kept it up.”
“You could really pull that off?”
“We’re identical. No one ever suspected.”
“Didn’t you get sick of covering for her?”
“It wasn’t all bad. She was my best friend. She was all I had, the only constant in my life. And as crazy and destructive as she could be, she applied that same ferocity to her love for me. If kids were mean to me at school, they’d have to face her. If a foster brother bullied me or tried to convince me to do something I didn’t want to do, she’d raise hell to protect me.”
“I bet that’s why you’re so amazing with children. You know what it’s like to need an adult to see you.” I tense as an awful thought comes to me. “Were you . . . safe?”
“Mostly.” She flattens her palm against my chest and traces my tattoos with her fingers. “I’ve heard horror stories about foster homes and the things that happen to little girls, so believe me when I say we were lucky. The people who cared for us didn’t abuse us. Not sexually or physically, at least. But fighting to be loved takes its own sort of toll on you. Trying to prove that you’re worth someone’s love wears on you.”
“Is that why you have your tattoo?”
Her fingers still where they’ve been tracing my phoenix, and she sits up and looks down at the ink beneath her breast. I graze it with my knuckles.
I noticed it the night we met. I saw the word love and didn’t give much thought to whether there was more. But tonight, when I was memorizing her body in the glow of the bedside lamp, I saw that I underestimated her ink that night nearly as much as I underestimated her the next day.
I skim my fingers over the words inked on her skin and read them again.
My love is enough.
My fingers freeze, and I realize the “i” of the “is” is a semicolon. It’s not until I’m tracing it with my fingers that I realize my hands are shaking. “It has a semicolon.” Elena had a semicolon too. Hers was on her wrist. A lot of fucking good it did her.
Elena told me the meaning of the semicolon the day she came home with it. “It means I could end it, but I’m continuing to go on anyway.” She was so proud of it—so hopeful that inking some punctuation on her wrist could save her. I pretended to be happy too, but inside, I was devastated that she needed it.
I flick my eyes to Nic’s, needing to ask but not wanting to. I’ve pushed my worry about her depression from my mind since the day I saw her prescription, but now it’s back and heavier than before. How do you ask someone if they have their depression under control? How do you admit you’re not strong enough to carry them if they don’t? “Why did you decide to get the semicolon?”
“I like the sentiment of it. It brought me comfort when I needed it.” She bites down on her lip, and when she forces a smile, I know it’s for my benefit, and my heart aches. I don’t want her faking any smiles for me. “Despite what my mother thinks, I loved her so much. I desperately wanted to save her from the darkness, but I couldn’t. I tried to be the perfect daughter, to never show my own disappointment, sadness, or fear. I truly believed that if we could just be good enough, the darkness wouldn’t swallow her up again, but it always came back. Eventually I had to accept that there was nothing I could do, and of course, since I’m really crappy at relationships, it has other meanings too.”