My eyes settled on a picture of me from when I was about two or three with Matt holding me in his arms. I lay on my stomach with my arms and legs outstretched, while he grinned like a fool. He used to run me around the house like that, pretending that I was flying, and call me “Wendy Bird,” and I would laugh.
As I got older, it became more and more apparent that I looked nothing like my family. My dark eyes and frizzy hair contrasted completely with theirs.
In every picture with me, my mother looked utterly exasperated, as if she had spent the half hour before the picture was taken fighting with me. But then again, she probably had. I had always been contrary to everything she was.
“You were a strong-willed child,” Maggie admitted, looking at a picture of me covered in chocolate cake at my fifth birthday. “You wanted things the way you wanted them. And when you were a baby, you were colicky. But you were always an adorable child, and you were bright and funny.” Maggie gently pushed a stray curl back from my face. “You were always worthy of love. You did nothing wrong, Wendy. She was the one with the problem, not you.”
I nodded. “I know.”
But for the first time, I truly believed that this all might be entirely my fault. If Finn was telling the truth, as these pictures seemed to confirm, I wasn’t their child. I wasn’t even human. I was exactly what my mother had accused me of being. She was just more intuitive than everybody else.
“What’s wrong?” Maggie asked, looking concerned. “What’s going on with you?”
“Nothing,” I lied and closed the photo album.
“Did something happen last night?” Her eyes were filled with love and worry, and it was hard to think of her as not being my family. “Did you even sleep?”
“Yeah. I just . . . woke up, I guess,” I answered vaguely.
“What happened at the dance?” Maggie leaned back against the couch, resting her hand on her chin as she studied me. “Did something happen with a boy?”
“Things just didn’t turn out the way I thought they would,” I said honestly. “In fact, they couldn’t have turned out more different.”
“Was that Finn boy mean to you?” Maggie asked with a protective edge to her voice.
“No, no, nothing like that,” I assured her. “He was great. But he’s just a friend.”
“Oh.” Understanding flashed in her eyes, and I realized she’d probably gotten the wrong idea, but at least it kept her from asking more questions. “Being a teenager is hard, no matter what family you come from.”
“You’re telling me,” I muttered.
I heard Matt getting up and moving around upstairs. Maggie shot me a nervous look, so I hurried to pack up the photo albums. He wouldn’t exactly be mad at me for looking at them, but he definitely wouldn’t be happy either. And first thing in the morning, I did not want to deal with a fight with my brother, on top of worrying about whether or not he was really even my brother.
“You know, you can talk to me about this stuff whenever you want,” Maggie whispered as I slipped the albums back in the cardboard box. “Well, at least whenever Matt isn’t around.”
“I know.” I smiled at her.
“I suppose I should make you breakfast.” Maggie stood up and stretched, then looked down at me. “How about plain oatmeal with fresh strawberries? Those are things you eat, right?”
“Yeah, that sounds great.” I nodded, but something about her question pained me.
There were so many things I wouldn’t eat, and I was constantly hungry. It had always been a struggle just to feed me. When I was a baby, I wouldn’t even drink breast milk. Which only added more fuel to the idea that I wasn’t my mother’s child.
Maggie had turned to walk into the kitchen, but I called after her. “Hey, Mags. Thanks for everything. Like . . . making me food and stuff.”
“Yeah?” Maggie looked surprised and smiled. “No problem.”
Matt came downstairs a minute later, deeply confused by the fact that both Maggie and I were up before him. We ate breakfast together for the first time in years, and Maggie was overly happy, thanks to my small compliment. I was subdued, but I managed to play it off as something resembling happiness.
I didn’t know if they were my real family or not. There were so many signs pointing to the contrary. But they had raised me and stood by me the way no one else had. Even my supposed mother had failed me, but not Matt or Maggie. They were unfailing in their love for me, and most of the time they had gotten next to nothing in return.
Maybe that last part was the proof that my mother was right. They only gave, and I only took.
The weekend was turbulent. I kept expecting Finn to appear at my window again, but he didn’t, and I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. I wanted to talk to him, but I was terrified. Terrified he might be lying, and terrified he might be telling the truth.
I kept looking for clues in everything. Like, Matt is pretty short and so am I, so he must be my brother. Then a minute later, he would say he prefers winter to summer, and I hate winter, so he must not be my brother.
These weren’t clues one way or another, and deep down I knew that. My whole life was now one giant question, and I was desperate for answers.
There was also that burning unanswered question about what exactly Finn wanted with me. Sometimes he treated me like I was nothing more than an irritant. Then there were other times when he looked at me and took my breath away.
I hoped that school would bring some kind of resolution to all of this. When I got up Monday morning, I took extra care to look nice, but I tried to pretend it wasn’t for any particular reason. That it wasn’t because this was the first time I’d see Finn since he had come into my room, and that I still wanted to talk to him. I still wanted to impress him.
When the first-period bell rang and Finn still hadn’t taken his place a few rows behind me, a knot started growing in my stomach. I looked around for him all day, half expecting him to be lurking around some corner. He never was, though.
I barely paid attention to anything all day in school, and I felt incredibly defeated when I walked to Matt’s car. I had expected to gain some knowledge today, but in the end I was left with even more questions.
Matt noticed my surly demeanor and tried to ask about it, but I just shrugged him off. He had been growing increasingly concerned since I had come home from the dance, but I had been unable to put his mind at ease.