He couldn't remember exactly when Sabrina had told him – his busy, preoccupied mother, juggling his plastic lunch boxes with her investment plans, or if she had just let it slip in somewhere, clumped into one of his morning bowls of oatmeal. "Adam's got a daughter your age," she might have said, matter-of-fact, but it didn't matter, because one day a young girl moved into his house, and his morning bowls of oatmeal were no longer eaten in solitude.
Shannon, her name was, a name that Boone had associated with old people and the British, never with a tiny blonde eight year old ("almost nine," she corrected) who tapped her feet against the feet of the mahogany dining table, shaking it and sending drops of hot chocolate off of the table and into his lap. There was something about this smiling, talkative girl that didn't fit into the stately, quiet house – the stressed out mother and the diffident boy with gray eyes that bored into the floor.
And the father was there, but he was just a shadowy figure that scolded Shannon's wayward feet, came home at night, and cut her pieces of fish for her at the dinner table. He sat up straight at the edge of the table, present but absent all the same.
Every morning, as the current babysitter served them breakfast, Shannon's foot-tapping began to morph from annoying to neutral to endearing, and there finally came a day when the pink hairbrush on their bathroom counter wasn't any less foreign than the counter itself, and it would have been strange for her to be gone, uncomfortable even. When they left for school, she filled up the space in the car each morning with her incessant chatter, which was as natural to
Boone as it was precious. He would chime in a few words, to agree, or disagree, and she would either rebuff his comment or smile at it. His preference of the latter seemed perfectly normal until he started thinking about her smile more often than just at the moment of its appearance on her face.
Sometimes in class, as he learned about fractions in his fourth grade class or shot hoops in PE, her face flickered in his mind, and he tried to prevent these fantasies with everything in him. But it was useless, and when she touched him, on his hand or accidentally kicked him under the table, it was like the imprint of her touch stuck to his skin for days, the twinge he had felt tattooed on him. But her brand, the tattoo she would further stitch into him, was going to get deeper and deeper, until it would refuse to fade, obstinate just like she was.
One day when they arrived at their cold, impersonal home after school about a month after Shannon turned nine, a smiling Sabrina announced that they were going to get family portraits. Adam, the stepfather, was there as well, grumbling under his breath as they drove to the photographer's studio – but if Sabrina was going to play up this happy family image, she may as well take it the whole way. Because Sabrina liked to paint pictures, and somewhere in her mind she had figured that if she had high-quality, expensive portraits done of her family and hung them up, maybe they could become that. But being a family wasn't about being high-quality and expensive, he realized later. When the photos arrived, Sabrina said that they were beautiful, and it was flattering of everyone, and "oh, look at what a great job the photographer did with the lighting!" To Boone, however, it looked like it was all an act. Each of their expressions were "flattering", sure, but they were vacant, and Sabrina's hand resting on Shannon's shoulder was forced, Adam's weak smile conveying thoughts of other places and maybe some business deal he was currently working on. In the picture, Shannon and Boone sat next to each other, and they were the only people in the picture whose interactions seemed natural, their chairs at an angle facing towards each other.
Eachnight as Boone walked up the stairs to his bedroom, he passed a ghostly silhouette of the portrait, as it hung over the stairwell, and one night when he was thirteen, in the middle of the night, he suddenly remembered the photograph. He tiptoed downstairs, and stared at the picture.
"You too?" Boone was startled to hear Adam's voice, and he almost tripped on the stairs in surprise.
"I didn't notice you!" He explained, turning to see Adam sitting on the couch drinking brandy. "I couldn't sleep."
"You too?" He repeated, gazing at the portrait. "She's a character, isn't she?" Adam beckoned Boone to join him on the couch, and he sat down, feeling very slight in comparison to his tall stepfather.
"Shannon." Adam said simply. "She looks just like her mother in that picture… the eyes, the hair, the smile… Camilla was beautiful." Adam smiled wistfully.
"So is Shannon," Boone responded.
"She is," Adam said, taking another sip of his brandy and patting Boone on the knee. It was one of the only moments in Boone's life when he felt he had some sort of father.
Shannon was in sixth grade when Boone was in eighth. Shannon was on the older side of her grade ("almost twelve"), which explained why she was considerably taller than the rest of her classmates. Boone, on the other hand, was one of the youngest in his eighth grade class, his November birthday falling almost a year later than the oldest eighth graders, and because of that, he was quite slight – praying every time he stepped on a scale at the doctor's office that he might hit 5 foot 3 inches soon. And a young-looking, wide-eyed boy who preferred the library to the football field wasn't exactly intimidating. In fact, he was practically a magnet to be made fun of.
After a while, Boone got used to the boys in his class muttering "queer boy" under their breath at him and the popular girls giggling at him as they walked by. Some people were nicer, and sometimes a girl named Claire would sit down next to him, peer around the cover of his book, and ask him what book he was reading. She wasn't considered a dork like Boone, but she also wasn't considered one of the resident celebrities at their middle school, which held about four hundred students. Claire had wavy brown hair that she usually wore in a ponytail, and a chirpy voice that reminded him of Shannon's. And when she talked to him, he would answer her, in few word sentences, but what he said was rather boring, so he was confused about why she continued to make an effort to be friendly to her. Maybe she felt sorry for him, he thought. But most people didn't feel sorry for him, and mistook his shyness for an attitude, thanks to his mother's fame and fortune.
"Hey," he heard a rough voice say one day at lunch, and he looked up. "Yeah, I'm talking to you, fag." In front of him was a vast boy, Wallace Peterson, who grabbed the book that Boone was reading. "The Fellowship of the Rings?" He said disdainfully, looking at the cover, and throwing the book back onto the wooden bench that Boone was sitting on, the pages now creased and his spot in the book lost. "Hey Carlyle? Been helping your mom sew wedding dresses?"
"What do you want?" Boone looked Wallace right in the eye, ignoring his question, summoning all the courage in him to stand up to this boy.
"Boone?" Shannon rolled off of her bed, jumping up as she saw her brother lumbering through the hall angrily towards his room. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," He said, covering his bloody nose with his left hand, continuing walking quickly down the hall.
"Really?" She asked dubiously, and he prayed that she wouldn't follow him. He didn't want Shannon to see him this weak. But she did, right as he started to slam his door, she turned the handle, barging into his room and blocking the doorway with her body. "What happened?" She looked at his hand, which was covered in blood and hiding his nose.
"Nothing," Boone answered, opening the door part way and trying to push her out of his room by the shoulder. But Shannon was much stronger than Boone, both emotionally and physically, and she pushed her way through the doorway again and closed the door with a click.
"You got beat up, didn't you?" A smile began to form on her face. Boone looked away. "You got beat up," she smirked.
Boone was insulted that she would laugh at him. "You wouldn't be laughing if it were you, would you?" He glowered at her.
"No – Boone, that's not what I – "Shannon bit her lip, causing the smile to disappear from her face. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, wrapping her arms around him in a warm hug. Boone let himself sink into her arms; it was these moments – the ones where she touched him, that left him thinking about it for days afterwards, so he might as well enjoy it. "Do you want me to help clean you up?" She pulled back. "I didn't want to get blood on my clothes," she shifted her feet. "I can get you some tissues and some hydrogen oxygen – "She started, raising her voice to cover the awkwardness from the hug, or maybe she hadn't noticed.
"It's hydrogen peroxide, Shannon." He corrected, his turn to smile.
"Oh," Shannon breathed, "peroxide. Because you have this really nasty cut on your forehead, and maybe I'll get you a band-aid too. Hold on!" His sister, graceful from years of ballet, scampered out of the room, and was back a minute later holding a brown bottle and a piece of gauze, along with an entire box of band-aids and Neosporin.
"Shannon," he said a few minutes later as he sat on the floor while she cleaned his forehead with a piece of gauze, biting her lips in concentration. She leaned back a little, switching her angle to put a drop of Neosporin on the cotton part of the band-aid. He could do this himself, and he should have told her, but he was enjoying this too much. "I really appreciate you doing this." She didn't respond.
"One time," Shannon began, a misty expression appearing on her face. He knew this expression; it was the one where Shannon would say something about her mother. Shannon barely spoke of her mother, and she was obviously uncomfortable towards talking about it, so he didn't push it. All he knew was that her mother, Camilla, had blonde hair like Shannon's and was dead. "I came home, and my mom was washing dishes, and she turned around, and I saw that she had a bunch of tiny scars on her wrist. I asked her what happened, and I wanted to go get the band-aids – I was like, four at the time, but she didn't let me, and instead she just walked out of the kitchen and went into her room. She even left the water running." Shannon said this distractedly as she pressed her fingers into the sticky part of the band aid against his forehead, completely oblivious. But Boone suspected he knew what Shannon was talking about – he had heard about people who cut themselves, and read about it in a Time magazine that has been lying around the house. He had skimmed the article, not understanding, but he was pretty sure that that was what Shannon was talking about.
"Oh," he responded. He thought about telling her, but it was clear by the way that Shannon talked about her, and always went on and on about how beautiful she had been, that she had an image of Camilla as someone perfect, and he didn't want to ruin that for her.
"You don't have to protect me. I know what they are, now." Shannon said stiffly, almost as if she were reading his mind.
"Wh- what happened to her?" Boone took inhaled deeply, not sure if it was in her place to ask.
"She died." Shannon smiled tightly, pulling away from Boone and standing up. "Your nose okay?" She asked, referring to the tissue that was currently stuffed up his nostril.
"Yeah," Boone said uncomfortably, knowing that he had overstepped his boundaries. "I'm sorr – "
"It's fine," Shannon mumbled, grabbing his hand to help pull him up. "What happened to your father?" She retorted after a few seconds.
"I don't know." Now that they were standing across from each other, he could see that she was about an inch taller than he was, and her amber eyes were stoic and determined. Just then, their housekeeper, Rosita, opened the door, asking them what they wanted for dinner. Sabrina would be at a client's rehearsal dinner, and David would be working late, as usual. Just another day with invisible parents, Boone thought bitterly as they exited the room.
A/N – Just so you know, I know that "fag" is an extremely mean word, and I would never call someone that in real life. Anyway, please review and tell me what you thought! I'm actually super excited about this story, so I hope it is good!