“Um, both.” Harper glanced over at her, as if surprised that her sister had said that much.
They’d barely spoken on the entire twenty-minute ride to Briar Ridge, despite Harper’s many attempts at conversation. Now that they were almost to the group home, Gemma started to respond with whole sentences.
“Good, considering. On both counts.” Gemma tugged at her ears, trying to alleviate the watersong. It only seemed to get louder, no matter what she tried, and it was maddening.
“Well, I’m glad that you came with me to see Mom today,” Harper said. “I know it was hard for you to break away from Alex, but Mom loves to see you.”
“About that.” Gemma turned to her sister as they pulled in front of the group home. “I want to see Mom by myself today.”
“What do you mean?” Harper turned off the car and narrowed her eyes at Gemma.
“I need to talk to her by myself.”
“Why? About what?”
“If I wanted to tell you about it, I wouldn’t need to see Mom alone,” Gemma pointed out.
“Well…” Harper sighed and looked out the front window. “Why did you wait until now to tell me that? Why didn’t you just come here by yourself?”
“My car’s broken, and I knew you’d never let me go anywhere by myself,” Gemma said. “At least not in your car. I’m actually a little surprised you let me walk over to Alex’s house by myself.”
“Don’t do that.” Harper shook her head. “Don’t make me sound like the bad guy. You’re the one who has been running around doing God knows what with those awful girls! It’s your fault we don’t trust you.”
“Harper.” Gemma groaned and hit her head on the back of the car seat. “I never said it wasn’t my fault.”
“You’re acting totally bananas lately,” Harper went on, as if she hadn’t heard a thing that Gemma had said. “And there’s a serial killer on the loose on top of everything. What else am I supposed to do? Just let you run wild?”
“God! You’re not my mom, Harper!” Gemma snapped.
“And she is?” Harper pointed to the group home next to them.
Gemma looked at her like she was an idiot. “Um, yeah, she is.”
“Maybe she was, and through no fault of her own, she had to give that up. But who’s been raising you the past nine years? Who helps you with your homework? Who worries sick about you all night when you don’t come home, and then takes care of you when you’re hungover and beat up?” Harper demanded.
“I never asked you to do any of that!” Gemma yelled back. “I never asked for you to take care of me!”
“I know you didn’t!” Harper shouted angrily, as if that made some kind of point. She let out a shaky breath, and when she spoke again, her voice was much softer. “How come you can tell her what’s going on with you, and not me?”
Gemma stared down at her lap, pulling at the frayed ends of her shorts, and didn’t say anything. There was no way she could answer the question without giving something up. She couldn’t let Harper know what she’d become.
“Fine.” Harper sat back in her seat and turned the car battery on, so she could flip on the radio. “Go on. Tell Mom I say hi. I’ll be out here, waiting.”
“Thank you,” Gemma said quietly and got out of the car.
Often Nathalie would rush out to greet them when she saw their car, but she didn’t do that today. That was probably a bad sign, but Gemma needed to talk to someone, and her mother was the only person who would understand.
When Gemma got to the front door, she could already hear the yelling from the inside. Bracing herself, she knocked on the door and waited.
“You never let me do anything!” Nathalie was shouting in the background when one of the staff opened the door. “This is a damn prison!”
“Oh, hi, Gemma.” Becky smiled wanly at her. Becky wasn’t that much older than Harper, but she’d been working at the group home the past two years, so she’d gotten pretty familiar with the girls and their mother. “I didn’t think you were coming this weekend, since you missed yesterday.”
“How is she doing today?” Gemma asked, even though she could hear how her mother was doing. From the other room, Nathalie swore and banged something loudly.
“Not so great. But maybe you can cheer her up.” Becky stepped back so Gemma could come inside. “Nathalie, your daughter is here. Maybe you should calm down so you can talk to her.”
“I don’t want to talk to her!” Nathalie snarled.
Gemma flinched, then shook it off. She took off her sunglasses and walked farther into the house. She found Nathalie in the dining room, standing next to the table and glaring at the staff on the other side. Nathalie’s stance was wide and her eyes were wild, making her look like an animal about to pounce.
“Nathalie,” Becky said, keeping her tone soothing. “Your daughter drove all this way to see you. You should at least say hi to her.”
“Hi, Mom.” Gemma waved when Nathalie glanced over at her.
“Gemma, get me out of here,” Nathalie said, returning her angry glare to the staff opposite her. She grabbed the chair in front of her and shook it so it would bang loudly on the floor. “Get me out of here!”
“Nathalie!” Becky moved closer to her, holding her hands up, palms out. “If you want to visit with your daughter, then you need to calm down. This behavior is not tolerated, and you know it.”
Nathalie stepped back from the chair and crossed her arms in front of her chest. Her eyes darted around the room, and she seemed unable to focus on anything as she thought through her next move.
“Fine.” She nodded once. “Gemma, let’s go to my room.”
Nathalie practically ran to her room, and Gemma followed her. Becky was telling Nathalie that she still had to behave, or her daughter would have to leave. As soon as they were in her room, Nathalie slammed the bedroom door shut.
“Bitch,” Nathalie muttered at the closed door.
Ordinarily when Gemma visited, her mom’s room was pretty clean. Not because Nathalie was clean or organized, but because the staff would get on her if it was too messy. Today it was a total disaster area. Clothes, CDs, jewelry—everything was thrown about her room. Her stereo was smashed in a corner, and her beloved Justin Bieber poster was torn in half.