Chapter One

 

 

IT’S NOT like we’re a small family, so I don’t know why they’d decided they wanted to adopt. One day, at dinner, Mom said it was happening, so it was happening. After that, every night, Mom and Dad sat at our kitchen table and pored over photographs and case files. It was like they were adopting a puppy instead of a kid.

Mom would say, “Oh! What a beautiful little girl.”

Or Dad would say, “This one has such sad eyes.”

“She looks tough.”

“I wonder what his story is.”

“God, he breaks my heart.”

The whole thing was freaking annoying.

They’d been trying to make the adoption thing happen for almost a year. We’d had all these strangers come to our apartment and judge our home. They interviewed us all, as a family, and separately. Lots of questions, lots of tests, lots and lots of paperwork. And even though they tried to hide it, I knew there was money involved. So the night Mom and Dad put away the photos of the kids, I was pretty surprised. I mean, sure, part of me always figured they’d change their minds right at the last second, but it was bizarre when they actually did.

“Where’s the charity-case kids?” I asked and she shot me a look. It was a Thursday. Who makes big decisions on a Thursday? I had Algebra II homework I was half doing and half ignoring. I’d walked into the kitchen to get a Barq’s, and Mom said, “Isa, sit down. I need to talk to you.”

Oh God. What? What horrible thing was happening?

I didn’t want to talk about horrible things; I wanted a root beer.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“First off, I want to say this is going to be a lot of fun.” Which meant it wasn’t going to be fun, like, at all. “Do you remember Keith Cormack?”

I didn’t.

“You probably wouldn’t. The last time you saw Keith, I think you were seven.”

I nodded at her, trying to decide if this was more exciting than doing my math homework.

“He’s got a son, a little older than you.”

“Mom, what’s going on?” I asked. She was taking way too long to explain everything, and my mind was drifting. My mother frowned, her dark eyes narrowing.

“We’re going to be having a house guest for a while.”

Cool. Whatever. I wanted my root beer.

“I’m glad you’re so amenable to all of this,” she told me. I shrugged. If she and Dad wanted to have friends over for the weekend, whatever.

“Okay.”

“Thank you, Isa.” She smiled. “I appreciate your flexibility.”

If that’s all it took to be flexible, I thought I could probably manage it all the time. I got my root beer and went back to my room.

 

 

ONE WEEK later they moved an extra bed into my room while I was at school. Didn’t even ask me where I wanted it, they just shoved my dresser and my fish, Chester, into the corner and set up a whole other bed.

“What’s this?” I called out into the hall. Someone needed to answer for the invasion of my Fortress of Solitude.

Talia popped her head out of her room with an evil cat-grin on her face. “You’re getting a roommate!” she sneered. And then Layla’s head appeared around the corner as well (was I suddenly in an episode of Scooby Doo?), and she smiled, bright as the sun.

“We’re getting a new housemate, Itha!” she said with her missing-tooth lisp.

Uh, what the crap?

Housemate?

I stormed into the kitchen, my sisters following close behind.

“What the—” Just barely caught myself before I dropped the swear word. “—heck, Mom?”

She looked up from the grocery list she was making.

“What are you guys yelling about?” she asked firmly.

“I told Itha he’th getting a new roommate,” Layla said, smiling proudly.

“There’s a bed in my room.” My voice was dark. “Someone moved a whole other bed into my room.”

Talia, bored already, rolled her eyes and disappeared, but Layla nodded enthusiastically.

“You guyth can be friendth and play all the time!”

A friend to play with?

I had Matt and Seth, but crap, we didn’t call it playing. We weren’t eight. We hung out. There was this switch when we were kids. One day we were playing and the next, “playing” became uncool. We didn’t even talk about it. We just started asking each other, “Hey, you want to hang out at my house today?” And even though we technically played video games while we hung out, we were still hella careful with our verbs.

“Isa, we discussed this,” Mom said reasonably. “I told you that Keith Cormack’s son was coming to stay with us.”

Wait.

No.

What?

Keith Cormack’s son. I remembered Mom said that Dad’s friend from when I was a kid was going to come visit. For a weekend or something like that. No one said anything at all about his son.

“How long?” I asked sullenly.

“A while.”

Long enough to need a bed, at least.

“It’ll be fun!” Layla insisted playfully.

“Is this why you guys aren’t looking at adopting anymore?” I demanded. “This… this roommate? Are you adopting him now instead?”

“Of course not,” Mom said. “Their family’s situation is… difficult to explain. But the important part is that Keith has been deployed, and Macklin is staying with us until he gets back.”

“Staying with me, you mean.”

 

 

MOM CAME to check on me later when I was feeding Chester. Or maybe she just wanted to look at the empty bed, and I happened to be there.

I was still annoyed with her. I watched the little pellets float at the top of the water for a moment before my fish gobbled them down.

If I had to have a “friend” taking up space in my room, I’d have put his bed along the back wall. Now I was going to have to walk past him every time I got up to use the bathroom.

“Isa,” she said plainly. “Don’t act like this is all some huge surprise. I did tell you last week.”

“You didn’t tell me he was going to share my room!”

“Honey, where did you think he was going to sleep?”

“I don’t know,” I grumbled. The living room? The bathroom? I hadn’t really thought about it. I thought some guy was coming to see Dad. I didn’t even consider a kid. “What’s he like, anyway?”

I kept my face stony, but I thought about it. What if he was kind of cool? Then being roommates would sort of be like a sleepover that never ended. Assuming he was chill and didn’t drink all the freakin’ Barq’s—on purpose—or always want to set the difficulty on Expert to show off, like Seth. Nothing like dying a thousand times to kill a good afternoon.

“He’s… well, he’s a good boy. A little quiet.”

I rolled my eyes and changed tactics. “How old is he?”

“Fifteen.”

“Fifteen?” I cried. “C’mon, Mom, if he’s fifteen, then he can stay home by himself and—”

“Isa Zaman, stop fighting me on this.”

“I thought you guys wanted to adopt,” I prodded. “And now he’s ruining your dreams and everything.”

“Honey, he’s not ‘ruining our dreams.’ There’s always going to be kids that need adopting. Macklin… needs us. He was in foster care until recently.”

“Wait, what?” That didn’t make sense at all.

“His parents are divorced. His mother had custody, and Keith was deployed overseas.”

“Okay, and?”

“And his mother couldn’t take care of him.”

“So they stuck him in foster care?”

“Yes,” Mom agreed.

“But now his dad has him? Then why are we taking care of him?”

“As a favor, Isa.” I knew I was testing her patience, but part of me wanted to push her. “Keith… isn’t sure how to be a dad, and with his next assignment taking him out of the country again—”

Drama.

That’s all this was. A bunch of dumb Cormack drama that had nothing to do with me or my family or my room.

“If you just try, I know you’ll get along. He likes reading and the outdoors.” She paced around my violated sanctum as she spoke.

“He’s excited to meet you and Talia and Layla.”

“You’ve talked to him?” I asked suspiciously.

“Of course we have. We’ve spent quite a bit of time with Macklin. We think he will fit very well in our family.”

“I hate this.”

“I’m sorry.”

She didn’t sound sorry. She sounded like her mind was made up. I sat down hard on my bed. I thought we’d settled all of this! I’d told her how I felt, told her I didn’t want him in my room, but even though we were supposed to be a family unit, what I wanted never seemed to matter. And now there was going to be some friggin’ foster kid castoff in my room, without my permission.

“I don’t see why you have to do this,” I grumbled into my fist. “Why do you need another kid?”

“We don’t.”

She sat next to me and put her arm around my shoulders, which made me cringe. I tried to pull away from her.

“We don’t need him, Isa. We have room in our hearts for one more. He needs someone—just for a while. I wish you could see how much fun this could be.”

“Fun?” I asked, giving up escaping as a lost cause. Her skinny arm was like an iron vise, and she pulled me against her shoulder.

“Isa, you’ve been stuck in the middle of a pack of sisters your whole life,” she reminded me. “If you give him a chance, you two could turn out to be best friends. Think about that. A new friend? This could be the best thing that ever happened to you.”

I didn’t think so. And she didn’t want to hear it. But I stopped arguing because I knew when I was beat. She kissed my hair and told me:

“He’ll be here tonight.”

Of course he would.