I heaved my luggage away from him, high in my arms, and headed up the creaking stairs.
The pines shuddered in the breeze outside. Every room, closet, and cabinet felt like they hadn't been opened in years. But the March air was cold, and Wesley pushed past me, struggling to close the window I'd opened in the bedroom.
"Stop," I said. "It's broken."
He fought it, the tendons in his neck popping out.
"Wesley, stop," I said, stepping closer. He was too quick to get mad, and I didn't want this to be one of those times.
The window wouldn't budge. The frame was bent. I'd fix it later.
He let go and sank down to the worn carpet. "Stupid-ass thing," he said. "Everything in this hole is broke or busted."
I smiled. "Same thing."
Wesley, clutching the back of his neck with both hands, met my eyes. "I guess." His body relaxed against the wall.
"And we're luckier than most—two live parents and two broke and busted houses."
Wesley hmphed, not really a laugh.
A pine needle blew in. I picked it up and sat down on the end of the bed. "How was Mom?"
I didn't know for sure he'd called her, but I knew he'd been worried she'd forgotten to walk the rent check to the mailbox.
"Fine. I guess." Wesley tossed his hands up, dropped them. "Or maybe her voice did a good job of fooling me. She paid the rent at least." He was quiet. "Thing needs some oil." He nodded toward the window. "Won't glide. I'll see if there's any around here."
"Hm," I said.
He looked over at me, eyebrows drawing close.
I thought about Mom, what she might be doing at home without us.
We'd been apart from her one week the summer before, when our uncle Dan took us to Fort Bragg. Her headaches were worse while we were away. The day we got back, she'd begged Wesley to get her to the hospital—he couldn't even drive yet.
Fifteen minutes of jolting brakes and too-fast turns, and he'd pulled up to the hospital.
This trip was just a week long; the next one would be all summer. Mom couldn't make it all summer without us.
"How do you really think she is?" I asked.
"Good." Wesley stood and tried to shimmy the window again. "Bills we could prepay are prepaid. Sticks are in the casings of all the windows—no one will be busting in."
"That's not what I mean."
He tugged at a loose strand on the fraying, rust-colored carpet. "The neighbors are going to look in on her."
I said, "Fixing things, Wesley—it isn't going to actually fix anything."
He sighed. "I know that, Nora."
The pine needle crumpled in my fingers and I let the pulverized pieces drop to the carpet. "It's . . . complicated."
"Complicated," Wesley said dryly. "You have no idea."
The gray full moon was high in the sky after I'd unpacked my stuff upstairs. We'd had a family dinner, sort of—some burgers Kevin threw on the grill and let burn. I was no stranger to hunger, but I couldn't eat mine. Wesley scarfed his down, said he was tired from the drive, and disappeared into the bedroom next to the one I'd chosen. It had been two hours, and I could hear the theme for Finding Bigfoot humming tinnily from his computer speakers through the wall.
The distance wasn't too different from home—me in my room and him in the living room that served as his bedroom.
Still, I wished he'd come out, do something, even just walk through the woods with me.