Still, Will had felt a flush creep up his neck, a hot fire in his stomach, a tightness in the muscles of his arms. He was quick-tempered lately, easily angered. When he wasn't preoccupied with thoughts of girls—Caitlin, mostly, but if he was honest he had a real wandering eye—he could be moody and distractible and sullen. If all the stuff his health teacher said in class was right, it was all part of growing up, but right then, he felt like there was a purpose to all his confusing, quick-fire emotions. Maybe he was only fifteen, but he was already taller than this Donny person, and he lifted weights for baseball. He didn't like anyone speaking to his mother so sharply. But that's when she'd given her Wait outside directive, and he'd been so surprised to be directed that way, to be...almost disciplined that way. At home his parents had always been loose, accommodating, a little absentminded, and if Will thought it was less about a parenting style than it was about wanting some time for the two of them and their constant, sometimes exhausting affection for each other, well...at least he got to stay out later than other kids; at least he didn't have to ask permission for everything, or to show anyone his homework at the end of the night, or to call when he'd be late coming home from practice.
So in his shock—from that moment, from all the moments that had led up to it—he'd gone. Out the back door instead of the front, the same smudgy black rectangle he watched now. He couldn't rely on his eyes or on the bright July sunlight enough to count on being able to see if anything went wrong in there, so he'd left the glass door open behind him when he'd gone, only shutting the screen. He'd turned to the left on the rickety wood beneath his feet and taken the few short, also-rickety steps down from the first-floor balcony. He'd crossed a stretch of sunbaked grass to a leafy, too-large-for-the-yard tree.
And he'd waited.
Tried to focus his eyes and his mind.
What did it mean that he had an uncle he'd never heard of? What did it mean that his mom had come here—and brought Will along—without telling his dad? Come to think of it, what did it mean that things had been quiet at home lately, that his mom and dad sometimes seemed to have sullen moods to match his own, that they seemed to retreat even more often than usual into each other, closing their bedroom door and shutting him out, brushing off his questions when they'd finally emerge?
Maybe someone else would say divorce. A lot of Will's teammates had divorced parents, one of them with a real messy situation that involved court appearances and social workers, the mom and dad constantly trying to out-parent each other, even from the bleachers on game days. But Will knew better than to think his own parents would split. The Sterlings were devoted to each other, devoted enough that in all their secret, usually smiling looks for each other, in the way they sat close all the time, in their touches and kisses and whispers, Will sometimes felt like a complication himself. Like an unwanted dog or cat or goldfish.
"Hey!" interrupted a voice from above.
A girl's voice.
A perfect voice, somehow, even from that short, everyday word. It sounded like a laugh at liftoff.
He turned his head up toward it—on instinct, in anticipation.
And then...a laugh that did lift off. It burst into the air above him, then trailed down from one of those balconies above like ivy, making his whole body go still, making his adolescent heart stutter-stop in his chest in a way it never had before. Later, much later, when he allowed himself to think about this day, this day on which almost every single thing in his life had changed, he'd remember that the girl's laugh had been the only thing that had felt familiar to him in that strange backyard, with his never-before-seen uncle inside, with his mother secretive and sad and angry and scared. It'd felt familiar enough, welcome enough, that he'd forgotten—for that short space of time—everything else that was confusing about that day. He'd certainly forgotten, however shameful it was, about Caitlin.
"Hey," she repeated, louder this time, another laugh following, and he pushed off the trunk of the tree, took a step forward to the edge of the canopy so that he could see her, or see what he could of her.
Be cool, he told himself, pushing his hair back from his forehead. He hadn't known anyone on those upper floors would be able to see him where he'd been standing, but clearly—
"Get away from there!" she called, right as he stepped from the shade, and he stilled again. Disciplined twice in one day? That was certainly unusual, and this time he was even more confused about what he could've done wrong.
Then, he saw her.