There is an unofficial list of things they don’t talk about.
The time Mom broke both ankles when Katie was eight and spent the rest of the year on crutches. She said it happened in the house fire that year--the same fire that killed Dennis--but the fire is something else they never talk about.
The day he came and tried to take them away. How he showed up scared and pale and ranting, the first time they’d seen him in years--the last time they would see him at all; how he got them in the car and went back for their mom, and they huddled there in the backseat, not saying a word, because somehow they knew better; how, when he and their grandmother came out of the house, he was smiling. Smiling at them, and telling them everything would be okay, and didn’t they want to come on out and play?
That look their grandmother gets sometimes whenever their mom insists on paying for things with her own money. It’s a cruel look. It’s a look they don’t understand. Aren’t sure they want to.
How their mom hordes and hordes her money, hides it in places all over their grandmother’s house, places they’re not supposed to know about: the coffee jar in the back of the pantry; under the loose door handle to the poolhouse; behind the awful Goya painting of Saturn devouring his children. How they found her sitting at the kitchen table one evening when their grandmother had gone to a weekend conference in Palo Alto, piles of dollar bills unwadded and strewn all over, murmuring, “Mine, mine, this is mine, you can’t have it, you can’t touch, mine,” and spreading every bill with her fingertips, over and over again.
The time their mom flipped out and dragged Kristi off the swings at the park when Katie introduced her to the boy next to her. They never really knew why, and can’t remember much, later--only that the little boy, whose name was Toby, had laughed and laughed.
The time Kristi disappeared from the new house. It was shortly after they moved in, and they looked everywhere. Katie was thirteen and Kristi was ten. Katie had forgotten a lot of things, and she knew the moment it happened that now was not the time to start remembering. Their mother wasn’t even alarmed; she walked from room to room with a look on her face that Katie never forgot. Their step-father, Connor--still too new to be “Dad,” though that would come later, after they took the trip to Yosemite with the whole family--climbed up on the roof, calling Kristi’s name with a kind of indulgent amusement that spread immediately into horror the moment he spotted her--unconscious at the bottom of the empty pool, lying there among the fallen leaves and the grunge of late October.
She had been gone for two hours. They had looked everywhere, including the pool. When she appeared there, unconscious but apparently unharmed, she only said she had been “swimming.”
Katie listened to the echoes of that swim, night after night. She was sharing a room with her sister for the first time in years--their new house was smaller and older than their grandmother’s, and at thirteen, she felt it was the worst possible time for her to be sleeping next to her bratty little sister.
But then Kristi started to talk in her sleep.
Things that no ten-year-old should ever say. Words that no ten-year-old should ever know. Words that Katie didn’t even know. Things that made Katie go still in her bed and feel cold/hot all over. Things that made her feel terrified and eager and strange, that made her watch Kristi too long as she turned and tossed in her bed.
And then one night, in a voice far from her own, Kristi called Katie’s name.
They never talk about why they sometimes have to redo their homework because it turns up with angry dark graphite markings all over it, with words and strange symbols written all across the narrow-ruled pages, creases and tears where the pencil dug through the paper.
They never talk about why they always see the word “meus” written over and over again.
They never talk about why they will never be alone in a room with the lights off.
It’s not that Micah is the nicest boy she’s dated (something deep inside her tells her the nice boys will always see through her)--it’s that he’s the funniest. Micah is the first person who distracts her so thoroughly that she forgets that she can’t stand still for very long without suddenly getting cold chills; that she can’t be alone in a room by herself without her limbs suddenly going akimbo without her permission.
Her grandmother thinks he’s good for her.
Her mother just says the same thing she said for all of Katie’s previous boyfriends:
“Make him tell you his real name.”
Micah is a Hebrew name meaning Who is like god? Micah is a day trader--he used to be horrible at it but once they start dating he begins doing so well that he calls her his good luck charm, only half-joking. He likes rough sex and tickling her until she screams, and once he swears he gave her head so good that he blacked out.
(But all Katie remembers is coming around still straddling him, the blood rushing to her head, his heart beating wildly beneath her clenched fists, his cock lying flaccid between his legs; she remembers looking down at a canvas of skin inscribed with symbols and sigils, as if someone had bitten and clawed their way across his chest: the word right in front of her, meus; she remembers vomiting in the bathroom and pretending to be asleep when he woke up, and how she held her breath for days, afraid that he would notice.
There was no need. The marks were gone by the time he woke up.)
When he starts hearing about the presence--when she first gathers the nerve to tell him about some of the minor stuff (very very minor--just sounds, objects showing up in weird spots, things like that--not the fire, not her mother’s haunted look, not the way her pre-pubescent sister used to laugh and moan and slide her hand over her own thigh in unholy glee) over half a bottle of vodka after a particularly stressful holiday with her relatives--Micah laughs it off. More than laughs; he mocks her like he always mocks everything, and takes great delight in Netflixing horror films. Fun for the whole family.
She goes along with it, just like she goes along with his stupid 24-hour recording fetish--what’s she going to do, act like she’s scared, like it all means something?--and forces herself through everything he throws at her: Rosemary’s Baby. Manos: the Hands of Fate (“Really?” she says.) The Omen. Suspiria. Amityville Horror, both 1 and 2, which actually made her dig her fingernails into the sofa beneath her afghan. Still, she gets through them all, and the joke is starting to wear off, when he pulls out The Entity, an overblown, hokey 70’s trip about a demon who’s raping a woman night after night, often in front of multiple people who’ve apparently bought ringside seats.
It’s a silly movie. She tells herself that.
Half an hour in, she feels the breath on the back of her neck. She feels the cold wet heat sliding between her thighs. She feels her breath shortening and she feels all of this happening two feet away from where her boyfriend is munching on Tostitos and rolling his eyes.
He looks over.
“You okay, babe?”
Katie laughs. “This movie is stupid,” she says, and feels the breath on her cheek stir again, moving over her temple, across her brow.
He quirks an eyebrow. “Aww, are you scared?”
She pulls her shirt over her head, straddling him in a movement. “Do I look scared?” she says.
He practically mugs for the camera--she knows it’s running somewhere, he never leaves a room without it--and slips one hand up to cup her breast. You imbecile, she thinks. When you die I’m going to eat your intestines like spaghetti.
He’s so easy. They always are. It’s so easy for her to let her breath come out in a surprised gasp of arousal, so easy for him to be taken in, to pull her down against him and cradle her like he actually gives a damn about gentleness.
It’s so easy for her to lead him on until he’s begging for her to start and stop all at once. So easy for her to let her teasing turn into biting, raw scraping of teeth over flesh, so easy for her to open her mouth and say whatever she wants when he’s like this, prone and incoherent beneath her, and not really listening when she says:
call me by my real name.
Before it’s over, he does.