“I’ll be back in, like, two minutes.”
“That’s not even remotely true. The station is five minutes away.”
Noel groans, tossing her hair back. “Okay, I’ll be back long before you or anyone else wakes up.”
Ava’s eyes narrow. “I’m already awake.”
“Then go back to sleep. I’ll be back by the time you wake up.” Noel bends over, sliding a sneaker onto her foot.
“You always do this,” Ava hisses. “You sneak out to God knows where at God knows what time—”
“It’s three a.m.”
“And come back with glitter in your hair, lipstick on your neck, and a hangover that lasts all day.” Ava crosses her arms. “You think Mom and Dad don’t know what you’re doing?”
Noel snorts. “I know they don’t.”
“How?” Ava snaps. “You’re never here. You don’t see them.”
“Do they get all weepy?” Noel pouts, tying her shoe. “Or wait, let me guess, they get pissed? Mom calls me ‘your daughter’ like Dad’s the only reason I’m here. Dad’s jaw gets tight and he calls me a brat.” Noel creeps down the stairs. “They whisper in the kitchen like you can’t hear them. They say how they wish I was different, how I’m a pain in the ass, how I’m such a burden?”
Ava frowns, following her sister. “Noel, they love you.”
“I’m sure they do.” Noel laughs bitterly. “When they’re not disappointed in me or wishing I was…” Noel cuts herself off, shutting her mouth with a click.
“What?” Ava demands.
“Never mind.” Noel mutters, grabbing a sweatshirt off the floor.
“No.” Ava grabs the other end. “When they’re not wishing what, Noel?”
“I said never mind.” Noel yanks at her end of the jacket.
“When they’re not wishing you were me?” Ava bites.
Noel freezes. “I didn’t say that,” she says quietly.
“But that’s what you meant, right?” Ava kicks Noel in the shin. “Right?”
Noel finally succeeds in pulling the sweatshirt away. “I didn’t say that.”
“You think they don’t get mad at me? You think I don’t hear them hissing about me?” Ava slides in front of Noel, blocking the door. “What exactly do you think I am? You’re the one that gets away with murder.”
Noel’s eyes flash. “Hardly.”
Ava’s hands slam into her sister’s shoulders. “You come home drunk, or, or, or high or God, Noel, sometimes you don’t even come home. We get calls at eight in the morning from some pissed-off parent who’s just found you in their bathtub. Mom and Dad never say a thing. They just get the keys and go get you. You know what would happen if I pulled that?”
“You’d get a slap on the wrist and your car taken away?” Noel shoots back. “You know what I got for my sixteenth birthday, Ava? I got a book.” Noel slams her shoulder into Ava’s, trying to push through the door.
Ava pushes back. “You asked for that book,” she hisses. “And I paid for my car, Mom and Dad picked up half.”
Noel snorts. “Still more than I got.”
“You got bailed out of jail for your sixteenth birthday! You think that was cheap?” Ava shouts.
“Keep it down!” Noel hisses. “You’ll wake them up.”
Ava raises her chin. “Good.”
Noel’s eyes darken. “Why do you care so much? It’s not like they’ll blame you for your delinquent sister. You’re the angel child.”
“You want to be the angel child?” Ava asks hotly. “Be my guest. It’s not all puppies and rainbows like you seem to think it is.” Her wrist shoots out, quick as a snake, wrapping around Noel’s. “If you want to be the good child, start by not sneaking out at night. Why do you even go to these things? I know you don’t like them.”
Noel yanks away. “Who says I don’t like them?”
Ava’s hand darts back out, snatching away the house keys before Noel can reach them. Noel sticks her hand out, jaw clenched.
“Noel, come on.” Ava says, almost pleading.
Noel grinds her teeth but relents, even as she reaches around Ava, trying to pry the keys away. “Why wouldn’t I go?” she asks. “It’s not like anyone here gives a damn about me. Anyplace is better than here. Especially anyplace where I can forget about them.”
“I remember when you used to sneak out to the library. When books let you escape from them.” Ava clenches her sweaty fingers tighter around the keys.
Noel shrugs. “Alcohol does it better.”
“Noel, please.” Ava twists away from Noel’s fingers. “You’re going to kill yourself.”
Noel crosses her fingers, grinning. “Here’s hoping.”
Ava pales. “Don’t say that. That’s not funny.”
“Not to you, but you’re no fun. You’re the little angel baby.”
“Stop saying that!” Ava nearly screeches. “Stop acting like I’m perfect and like it’s easy! Stop pretending that it’s any easier for me to have Mom and Dad looking at me like that all the time. You think I don’t see it? You think it’s any easier for them to act like I’m perfect? What about when I mess up? I get hour-long lectures and you get pursed lips! Don’t you act like them, don’t you pretend like I’m only acceptable when I’m perfect.”
Noel’s frozen. “Ava…”
“And stop going out all the time and not coming back. You wanna act like Mom and Dad don’t care? Fine. I’ll be the first to agree that they’re shit parents but don’t you dare, Noel, don’t you fucking dare act like I don’t care.” Ava swipes at her eyes, shoving the keys at Noel. “Just go,” she says quietly.
Noel’s silent, but she takes the keys.
“You better come home,” Ava says tightly. “If you die, I’m not going to identify the body.”
“Ava.” Noel reaches out, but her sister flinches away. Noel chews on her lip. “Ava…you said a bad word.”
“You said two of them,” Noel continues, grinning slowly. “I thought you didn’t curse.”
“Well, you were being a dick.” Ava says, but she’s starting to smile too.
“That’s three,” Noel says gleefully, punching Ava on the shoulder. “I’ll come back,” she adds softly. “I’ll always come back. Come on, I wouldn’t leave you here alone. When I leave for good, I’m taking you with me.”
Ava sniffs. “You better.”
“Are you crying?”
“You punched me really hard,” Ava says defensively. She waves a hand randomly at Noel. “Get out of here, before Mom and Dad come down. They’re probably already awake.”
“I’ll cover for you. I’ll say I was yelling at the cat or something.”
“They’ll believe that?”
Ava shrugs. “There are perks to being perfect.”
Noel smiles and slides away.
“I love you.”
Noel’s smirk glows in the darkness. “I know.”
“You’re an ass.”