The Desert Museum


I.

Hey Luke,

It’s been 3 weeks since you shot a hole through your head. But I didn’t see your body, so as far as I know, you’re still checking this email and surfing in Hawaii and traveling the world like you wanted. You don’t have to brave the snow in Boston anymore or that evil o-chem prof—the only teacher on earth who ever gave you less than an A. What a douche! I hope you’re reading all this because I’m not done telling you things. Oh, and I also ran away from home. —Mira


~


Of course, school put on a memorial for you and lots of people cried, so I figured they’d understand if I took some time off afterwards. I sent them a note and forged mom’s signature, but even if they called home, mom’s never there anymore. I don’t know where she goes.


Then I answered some ads on Craigslist, made up all sorts of things, and OMG, this guy actually hired me as a nanny for his 9-year-old boy. They just moved from LA, and they want me to live in their fancy house way out in Ahwatukee where no one would ever find me. Score!


Was that how you felt when you left Phoenix?


~


Hey Luke,

Taking care of someone else was kinda scary at first since I was always your little sister, but I love Trevor. This house is so huge he has to scream my name to find me, and when he sees me, he runs up and gives me a big hug. He doesn’t let go, just hangs around my neck like a monkey till I get down on my knees and then give him piggyback rides from room to room.


His dad looks nothing like Trevor. He’s also on the small side, but he’s stocky, with tan skin that looks like it’s several layers thick, while Trevor’s face looks so smooth as though he’d just been hatched from an egg. It’s weird.


~


I can’t sleep. I almost want Trevor to have a bad dream so he’ll run into my room and we’ll read Harry Potter together. I get it now, why girls want to be mothers. I never did before.


Luke, do you remember when I was in the first grade and mom came home from a parent-teacher conference and chopped up a watermelon? Of course, your teacher said you were the best student ever and mine said I cheated on a spelling test, so mom cut you the reddest cubes from the center. You tried to give me some of yours, but I grabbed a rind from the trashcan and bit into it as hard as I could until she pulled it from my mouth and yanked out a loose tooth. I remember screaming, my mouth bloody. I don’t know why, I just thought of that.


~


I turn 18 today. You would have called, right? Mom hasn’t called once since I left. No one from school has called either, just some texts from people in class. Whatever. Besides, mom hardly talked to me after you left for college and now she has no legal responsibility to ever talk to me again. She probably thinks I’m at dad’s house. Yeah, right.


~


I get nervous around Trevor’s dad sometimes. One moment, he’s asking me if he should paint the living room celery green or pesto green and the next moment he can’t decide whether Trevor should learn jujitsu or shoot a wild turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t get it. Do all guys want to punch and shoot things? Yesterday, he said he wants to take Trevor dove hunting, and I immediately pictured this tiny little dove’s head poking out from the pale green wall. LOL


~


So we are going dove hunting this weekend :/


You should see us in our black boots and camouflage pants—we’re like a family preparing for the apocalypse. I don’t want Trevor holding a gun, but I can’t let him go by himself. I know he doesn’t want to do this. He was quiet when we were shopping for all the gear, and I wanted to ask where his mother was. And would she be OK with any of this? But I didn’t want to upset Trevor or his dad. The one time I asked about his mother, his dad also got real quiet and I thought he’d fire me on the spot. I know I bitch a lot sometimes, but I really don’t know where I’d be right now without them.


~


Did you know doves are gray, not white? They look dingy, like slender pigeons, and there are these guns that spray a bunch of pellets at once. Trevor aimed his shotgun at the sky. I was so relieved he didn’t hit anything until his dad urged him to shoot this one dove that was kind of limping on the ground, so Trevor fired and blew off its head. I screamed and Trevor threw up in the grass. I took his shotgun and flung it into the stream as far as I could. I tried my hardest to block you out of my mind, Luke, but when Trevor ran to me and collapsed inside my arms, I imagined that it was you. I don’t think I’ve ever held anyone so tightly before or put my chin on top of someone’s head. That was your job and you were so good at it. But I could have been good at it too.


~


Hey Luke,

How bad is it that I would rather sleep in my car than go home? After we came back from the hunt and Trevor went to bed, his dad told me to pack up and leave.


So Trevor’s just supposed to wake up and I’m gone? Is that what his dad did in LA, just slip away with his son in the middle of the night and then poof, gone. What about Trevor’s mother? Was she sobbing? Or was she numb, so numb she doesn’t notice anything or anyone anymore.


I don’t want that for Trevor. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, not even mom. I may not be there when he wakes up tomorrow, but he has to know that I didn’t abandon him, that I’m still thinking of him.


~


I have a plan. I’ll give you a hint: Hummingbirds.



II.

So mom found me out—the running away, the skipping school, Trevor and his dad, and now this. When the police officer let me out of that holding cell, I tried to walk behind him just in case mom went psycho. But she barely noticed me and went back to her phone, except it was my phone and my emails she was reading, and I was OK with that if she was trying to understand why I left. Then on the drive home, she actually asked if I knew you were dead.


Now she’s locked inside your room with all your things, even the boxes shipped from Boston. I’ve pounded on the door, but I can’t make out what she’s saying, something about my own good. I bet she’s in there deleting your email account, telling herself that having some part of you alive drove me crazy, gave me too much hope, so of course, she’s going to kill it.


I’ll be hitting the Send button a lot before mom figures this email thing out. I want to tell you what happened with Trevor because you’re still the only person who gets me.


~


So did you guess what the hummingbirds meant?


It’s our favorite field trip—the Desert Museum in Tucson. Remember how we used to complain, “Why there? We already live in a freaking desert.”


But I thought Trevor might like to see hummingbirds and parrots up close, without someone telling him to shoot.


~


I knew this trip could get me into trouble. I knew there could be an Amber Alert or Trevor’s dad could go on TV and call me a kidnapper. But then Trevor gave me the biggest hug after I showed up to pick him up from school.


~


I said I had a surprise for him, and when we got close to the freeway, he asked, “Are we going to LA?” Only then did I see the sign to Los Angeles, right next to the one that said Tucson. His voice was so small, so hopeful, I couldn’t say no after everything he’d been through, and at the last possible second I turned toward Los Angeles. Trevor cheered.


~


For the first time, I asked about his mother.


“Where is she in LA?”


“I thought you knew,” he said.


After I said that I’d never met her or even been to LA, he slumped in his seat like a teenager.


~


I should have gotten off the next exit, but I couldn’t go back to Phoenix. So I kept driving down the highway, where every few miles the signs flashed Los Angeles, like an invitation or a warning, I didn’t know which, all I could do was keep moving further out until I didn’t see any more houses, not even gas stations, just tough, spiny cactus surrounding us, multiplying.


~


“I want to go home,” Trevor said, as I turned on the radio, but by then, there was only static.


“Let’s go to the Desert Museum,” I said, remembering that I actually had a plan. “You’ll see so many hummingbirds and parrots. It’s not like the hunt, you can feed them and touch their heads, and they’ll perch on your shoulder. Some even talk. Doesn’t that sound fun?”


“I don’t want to see birds,” he said, but I was sure Trevor would love them if I could only get him to the museum before it closed.


~


Tucson was in the other direction and there wouldn’t be another exit for 20, maybe 30 miles. I’d seen other cars cross the median between the highways before. This one had a pretty big dip, but I believed that we could make it to the other side.


~


I didn’t think the car would rocket down the median like that. I swear I wasn’t trying to drive us off the edge of a cliff. But the airbags blew up anyway like we had crashed. But we didn’t, I swear we did not crash. If those damn things hadn’t filled every inch of space with white, if they hadn’t knocked the wind out of our chests, I was sure we would have been OK. We would have been on our way.


~


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