Alexis

Each time Mom arrives, everything's a whirl. Shopping, giggling, watching movies, talking about movies. Talking about boys.

Dad doesn't come up.

Alexis never asks about him. Dad's the best dad in the whole world (if a little too easily distracted) and she doesn't want to know why Mom didn't love him.

Alexis never asks about herself, of course, because that hurts even more. She throws herself into school and activities.

When she's ten, she realizes Mom won't ever come back to live with them, despite the report cards she mails to L.A.

She still tries hard to be her best.

Kevin

The dog's missing.

At seventeen, Kevin's friends would consider him too old to be seen with his little sister, but he could never say no to her. They canvass the neighborhood for hours, knocking on doors and putting up fliers. He writes down the names of everyone they've spoken to, any tips they've gotten, and which streets now feature pictures of Barney's droopy face.

He buys his sister an ice cream cone and parks her on a bench. Soon she's licking at it in between sniffles.

"It'll be okay, Bee. We'll keep looking. You know I don't ever give up."

Javier

When Javi comes in to grab a burger and check his schedule, he discovers Dave's cut his hours again. Dave thinks he's worthless, another "Mexican" whose biggest dream is to make it as a dealer. Javi barely manages to walk out without decking his manager.

He keeps walking for endless blocks, fueled by anger and a growing resolution. Javier Esposito isn't going to end up dealing or dead somewhere in El Barrio. Javier Esposito is smarter than that.

The guy in the recruitment center looks like a Nuyorican, too. "Looking to join up?"

"Yeah," he says. "Where do I sign?"

Lanie

She's in her second semester at STLCC and is unsure about this nursing degree business. The class she's most enjoyed was Anatomy and Physiology I in the first semester. She likes seeing how bodies work, not dealing with people.

Today in Anatomy and Physiology II, they get to dissect actual human corpses. Lanie waits by a table, feeling an odd sense of anticipation. A classmate whispers, "I think I'm gonna puke."

Lanie doesn't. As each layer is peeled back, she's increasingly fascinated. It's the coolest thing she's ever seen.

The next semester, she transfers to SLU-Med and changes her major.

Martha

Alexandra is the perfect American housewife and society lady. Martha worships from her hiding place at the top of the stairs during the cocktail and dinner parties her mother often throws. Sometimes Martha wishes for a sister to watch with her. Mostly she crouches in silence, imagining what it would be like to wear one of those wonderful dresses; to tell stories; to stand about arm-in-arm with her mother, drinking martinis, and to be the center of attention.

But her cool, elegant mother is beyond arm's reach, ever the hostess. Go play, Martha, she always says. Mama's busy right now.