The Weight of the Stars - K. Ancrum
She woke up to the sound of screaming.
She always woke up to the sound of screaming. Ryann scrunched her eyes against it for a minute and then rubbed her face in exhaustion. Eventually, she heaved herself from bed and lumbered into the living room.
“Hey, heyheyhey,” she whispered. “It’s okay.”
She picked up Charlie and put him in his rocker on the floor, tipping it gently back and forth with her foot as she opened the fridge.
Her younger brother, James, was still snoring loudly a couple of rooms over, but she waited until Charlie was clean and fed to pop her head in and wake him up.
“Get up, it’s six forty-five.”
James just sighed and flopped over.
“Seriously, James.” Ryann pushed herself into James’s room, kicking dirty clothes and magazines out of the way. She yanked his dresser open and pulled out a pair of torn jeans and a black T-shirt and tossed them on James’s bed.
“I’m leaving in ten minutes.” She slammed the door shut behind her.
Ryann wiped Charlie’s face clean and buttoned him up into his cold-weather onesie. She packed the baby some food and then dropped him off with their neighbor Ms. Worthing.
By the time she got back, James was awake, dressed, and smoking on the front stairs.
“Did you eat yet?” she asked.
He stared at Ryann blankly, eyes bleary with exhaustion. His purple hair was a tangled nest. Ryann sighed in exasperation and went back inside so that she could grab some granola bars and her leather jacket.
She tossed one bar into his lap on her way out and hopped onto her motorcycle. Ryann waited patiently until she felt James sluggishly climb on behind her and put his arms loosely around her waist. Then she took off up the highway to the next town over.
The Bird siblings had had many good things snatched from them.
Their father had been a handyman with a small business and loyal clients. He’d had a big red beard and large hands and a laugh that echoed over fields and hills. Their mother had been a mathematician working for NASA. They loved their wild tall girl and small round boy as best they could. But, one bright morning, they died. Sometimes, people just die.
A little while afterward, James stopped talking altogether. Then, a year later he brought a baby home. A baby with red hair, owlish eyes, and a laugh that echoed. Ryann had questions, but James never answered them. And like on that terrible bright morning a year before, she swallowed hard, tightened her shoelaces, and stood up to meet it.
So there they were:
Sitting in the ruins of the best that they could build.
And it would always have to be enough.
There was a larger town near the one Ryann Bird lived in. Ryann drove them miles to get there every morning.
It didn’t have a trailer park where girls could live, snug with their little brother and his baby. Or a Laundromat where most of the machines were broken. Or a big parking lot that was supposed to become a grocery store, but didn’t.
This town had a school and a mall and the sort of families who made sure both kids ate their breakfast before they left the house. Who drove them to school in luxury cars and made sure they had school supplies.
It was the best in the district. They were lucky it was that close.
Ryann tucked her bike behind the school in the lot where teachers liked to park. James hopped off, smacked her on the shoulder in thanks, and ran to class. Ryann swung her bookbag over her shoulder and walked slowly into the building.
Ryann was always late, so she didn’t bother to hurry. She used to run to get to her seat, but none of the teachers ever gave her a break so she just figured, why even bother?
She knew what she looked like, and she looked like trouble. So she was nearly always in it regardless of the circumstances.
Ryann had been trimming her wild black hair herself since junior year and it showed. After the bright morning accident, she had a deep scar on one cheekbone, and no matter how much concealer she used, nothing ever quite hid it. Then, to make things worse, she’d become so exhausted and red-eyed since Charlie arrived that she kept getting accused of being high even though she didn’t even smoke. She looked meaner and harder than she had any business looking at this nice rich school in this nice rich neighborhood. So