The Project - Courtney Summers Page 0,1
Bea tucked against her mother’s side, her head rested against her mother’s swollen breasts. It’ll be hard, you having a sister. Bea doesn’t want to hear this. She wants to hear that it will be easy and nothing will change.
I hope, Mom continues, you’ll still have room to love your father and me.
A question forms in Bea’s eyes and her mother explains how different it is, the connection between siblings. It’s not like what Bea has with Mom and Dad. Having a sister, Mom says, is a place only the two of them will share, made of secrets they never have to say aloud—but if they did, it would be in a language only the two of them could speak.
Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make—and no one but the two of you can break.
When they go back to the cold and scary room, Bea studies the baby. She’s so tiny and new. The baby seems to sense family near, her impossibly small limbs twitching a little in their direction. Mom and Dad each have a hand on either of Bea’s shoulders. Her father asks if Bea would like to name the baby. Bea wonders for a long time if she wants to when suddenly, a name finds her like lightning, in a voice that isn’t her own—as if it came from that place her mother just told her about, spun of secrets yet to be shared. The beginning of a language only the two of them can speak. A promise.
Bea stands over the body of her little sister. Tubes run everywhere in and out of her, kept in place by flimsy hospital tape and tethered to machines whose rhythmic, persistent noises offer the only proof of life. A ventilator helps her to breathe.
Breathes for her, Bea corrects herself.
Because Lo is not breathing on her own.
The parts of Lo that are visible beneath all the hospital’s trappings look like bruised fruit—but the kind you throw away, the kind you can’t even cut open to find pieces to save. Bea reaches out, letting her palm hover over the top of Lo’s hand. She’s afraid to touch her, afraid any contact she makes will disturb Lo’s tenuous connection to life.
And you are not allowed to die.
She was at the movies with Grayson Keller when it happened. The Thing. A doomed team at an Antarctic outpost who didn’t know better than to leave well enough alone splashed across the screen while Grayson’s hand was up her shirt and then, despite her best efforts, down her pants. She’s not sure what part of the movie was on when the semi crashed into her parents’ SUV, killing them both on impact, and she doesn’t know if the credits were rolling by the time they got the Jaws of Life to pull Lo from the wreckage. She’d turned her phone off, as the theater so kindly asked everyone to do, and forgot to turn it back on again. Then Grayson took her to a party where she made sure he saw her up against a wall with another boy, one who let her guide his hands where they felt best and trespassed nowhere further.
On the walk home, close to midnight, she thought it was strange her parents hadn’t texted her. Sure, she was older than having a curfew so it was nothing they had to do, but Bea likes to be where the action is and now, more than it ever used to, that makes Mom and Dad worry.
When she reached the house, the driveway was empty.
The front door was locked and the lights were off.
* * *
She buried her parents alone because it couldn’t wait. She hopes she did it well enough. Mrs. Ruthie was a big help and now she’s spending her days trying to track down their great-aunt Patty, the only living relative Bea and Lo have on their (dead) mother’s side. They’ve never met but Patty should probably know this happened.
* * *
There’s so much wrong with Lo now that what the accident did isn’t going to be what kills her. It’s the infection she’s gotten since. The doctors have met it with every antibiotic they have and Lo is full of so much fluids, her fingers and arms and feet and face swell. Today, when Bea steps into the hospital, a nurse tells her to stay the night if she can stand it. Bea can’t stand it.
Stay anyway, the nurse tells her.