I’m getting a note from my doctor that will keep me out of the pool for gym. It’s not that I can’t swim. Last year I came in third place for breast stroke. This is different. I’m uncomfortable with taking my shirt off now, and I’d rather spend the period studying in the library while the other kids do laps and cannonball into the deep end.

“Terrence,” my doctor tells me in his examining room. “It’s a confusing time for boys your age. Your hormones make you crazy and you go through these changes. It’s nothing to—”

That’s when he sees what’s been bothering me. An anomalous little hole has opened in the center of my chest. It looks like a puckered divot, like my belly button, but smaller and over my sternum.

He hums and presses his fingers around my ribs. “Does that hurt? Did you injure yourself somehow?”

I say no.

“Have you put anything into it, like the tip of a pencil?”

Nope.

“Well, let’s keep an eye on it. Make sure the area stays dry and clean and I’m going to give your mom the number to a specialist at the VA who deals with these kinds of things. Listen, kiddo, you’re not the only senior with pectoral developments like this. We’ve been seeing this sort of thing pretty commonly with the active-duty families out here. Usually just a benign cosmetic mutation, like webbed toes. We’ll sort it out.”

Doc ends our visit on a casual note, but when I get home that evening I can’t help myself from searching for deformities online again. Cobbler’s chest. Extra nipples. There is nothing like my hole and the more I search, the more hideous and deformed I feel.

In front of the bathroom mirror, I swab the area around the hole with rubbing alcohol. Then, gingerly, I spin a Q-tip around inside the opening. It seems shallow, but I still have a premonition that I might somehow poke my internal organs and the thought makes me dizzy and sick. I put a band-aid over it.

I live just outside of Petaluma, where the farmland blends with the suburban sprawl and it smells faintly like cow poop everywhere. Mom’s a dental assistant in town. Dad’s a chief on a Coast Guard frigate, so he splits his time between the boat and home. When he’s not out at sea we toss the ball around and build things in the backyard after I do my homework. Mom and Dad and I spend weekends together and sometimes go on road trips. Mom says she likes it better this way because they argue less.

Walking to the bus stop for school, I hear a crystalline jingle over the wind and notice that someone has finally rented that old shingled house at the end of our road. The new neighbors have hung wind chimes over the front porch. A man is unloading moving boxes from a moving trailer. Hoisting one up the stairs towards the front door, he reaches up and swats the wind chimes with his hand, making the sound again.

A family wagon—looking like it has been on a long and muddy drive—backs out of the garage. I don’t want the new neighbors to think I’m being nosy, so I duck behind a tree on the sidewalk and pretend to cuff my jeans. I don’t know why it doesn’t occur to me to just say hello and introduce myself. I catch Minnesota plates as they pass.

There’s a girl in the back seat who’s maybe a year older than me. She’s wearing an olive-green parka. Too warm for California. It’s only momentary, but I notice her blonde hair and pretty, angular profile. I wonder if her parents are dropping her off at school and if I’ll see her there.

I put my bag in my locker and keep an eye out for the girl and her parka. She isn’t at first period English or at second period Geometry. There’s no sign of her in the lunch room or any of the common areas either. It dawns on me that wherever she is, she probably took her coat off, anyway. Maybe she enrolled at the Catholic school?

By the time gym class swings around, I’ve forgotten all about her. While my classmates swim, I sit in the library at the long study table in the main area, scratching band logos on my binder with a ballpoint and absently rubbing the band-aid under my shirt with my thumb. The clock is the loudest thing in the library.

It’s not until the end of the period that I look up and spot the new girl hunched over in her big green parka behind the backrest of one of the swiveling reading chairs. Her backpack is propped up between her sneakers and she is completely still.

The bell rings. I put my books back in my bag and make for the door, but she still hasn’t moved. Her hood covers her face.

“Hey,” I say, wanting to wake her so she won’t miss her next period. She doesn’t move. “Hello?”

When I touch her shoulder, she wakes with a shudder. Her parka hunched up like that gives the impression she probably doesn’t like to be interrupted (who does, really?). But she doesn’t look pissed. If anything, she looks embarrassed, and wipes her mouth where she drooled a little.

“Sorry,” I mumble. “It’s next period.”

Glancing up at the clock, she grabs her backpack and then rushes out ahead of me. Out in the hallway, she has vanished among the flocks rushing to next period.

At night, I undress for bed. With my shirt off, I notice on my chest, near the band-aid covering the hole, a bit of lint from my shirt. I try to brush it off. But it sticks. Upon closer inspection in the mirror, it’s actually fuzz. Not lint. Not hair. Not fur. Fuzz.

Under the band-aid, the hole is still there. I don’t know why I thought it would have closed. Fretting, I pinch some of the fuzz around the hole and try to pull it out, but it hurts. I yank some out anyway, with a little yelp. Red dapples of blood rise up from the skin. It’s too painful, so I stop and yell downstairs to my mom that I want to see the doctor again.

The new girl is there in the library again. She emerges from the history stacks and sits at the table by the Indian Nations poster, leafing through a book with white doves on the cover. It’s just the two of us there. I figure I should say something so it’s not weird.

Hooow,” I bellow, saluting her as I imagine a Sioux brave would greet a tribe member. Awkward.

She looks around the room, unsure if I’m talking to her. “Did you just say something?”

“Uh, sorry. I’m Terry. You moved in down the street from me? The house with the shingles?”

“Oh, hey. Terry. Yeah, that’s us with the trailer.” She says my name right away as if committing it to memory, like I could have a part to play in the cast of people she sees every day at school. She holds out her hand. “Ontario.”

“Cool name.”

“Thanks. It’s where my folks met.”

She tells me that she has a doctor’s note and I laugh, explaining that I have one too. We compare different teachers at school, the other classes she’s taking. As I describe our neighbors, she closes her book to listen. Gradually, I steer towards asking about her friends, what it’s like where she’s from. Maybe gauge if there’s a boyfriend in the picture.

“We’re a Coastie family too,” she says. “Mom started doing web design after her commission. Dad’s a warrant officer. We transitioned from Michigan to the base out in Point Reyes ‘cause the schools are better.”

“So… a bunch of us are going to Red Bridge this weekend,” I offer. “It’s just this place where the kids from the neighborhood hang out. Wanna come with?”

Ontario nods eagerly. She seemed timid when I first met her, but she doesn’t hide wanting to have friends like kids our age learn to do. I’m a little concerned that my friends might prey on that kind of vulnerability, the way she chooses not to mask herself despite being a new face. Then again, I kind of hope they’ll be disarmed by her forthright friendliness like I am. It’s like she’s never had a person in the world be cruel to her, or has risen above it somehow. God, why am I thinking like this?

I’ve been sitting very upright in my seat and smiling for so long that my cheeks are sore now. My chest is tight, sort of an ache. When I press my thumb against my shirt I can feel the divot, the fabric sliding against the edges.

“Everything okay?” Ontario asks.

“Huh?”

“You made a weird face.”

“Oh, I’m good,” I say. “Just, uh, dying for study hall to be over, right?”

Later, after school, I find a couple of twenties under the key dish at home with a note: Conference until Mon. This is for pizza. Don’t forget your doctor’s appointment in case I don’t see you. Hugs, Mom.

I’m so glad to have broken the ice with Ontario that I’ve forgotten all about my problem. In the upstairs bathroom, I take my shirt off to clean the hole in my chest and I’m startled to discover that what was fuzz before has spread out more from the center. The patches closer to the hole have grown rigid, like the vanes of tiny feathers.

Horrified, I pull my shirt down. I don’t even want to look at what’s going on with my chest anymore. The doc can just burn it all off next week with acid or whatever he’s got in those cabinets in his office.

Red Bridge is a small span of elevated road gliding over an inlet to the marshlands. There aren’t too many houses out there, so it’s secluded. At night, kids park their cars and lock their bikes at the end of the bridge and walk out to the middle and climb over the guardrail. The piers stick out from the side facing the sound, enough that there’s a ledge where we can sit and drink beers and dare each other to jump. It’s not that far of a drop, but the water is gross and there are a few rusty shopping carts that stick out from the surface at low tide.

In the dark, I can hear my friends’ hysterics echoing over the marshlands and the thrum of the crickets. The moon is a sliver-smile winking over the inlet.

“Terry?” Ontario startles me, her voice is so close. “I thought that was you.”

“Phew,” I say. “It’s freaking dark. You almost gave me a heart attack.”

There’s a heavy, clinking plastic bag by her feet. I wonder at first why she hasn’t crossed yet, but then I remember she doesn’t know anyone and was waiting for me with this armload of wine bottles.

We walk across the bridge together. She holds the bag as if the bottom might fall out and explains how she snagged the wine from her dad’s moving boxes. She says they won’t be missed, but I can tell her dad will be mad when he finds out and she just doesn’t care about that right now.

At the middle of the bridge, we step over the guard rail and climb down to the pylon where everyone is sitting. I introduce Ontario and people ask whose classes she’s in. They’re all super glad that she brought some wine with her because the others with ID haven’t shown up.

It’s windy, huddled against each other. We can’t figure out how to open the wine because Ontario didn’t bring a corkscrew, but someone succeeds in pushing the cork into one of the bottles after chiseling at it with an old nail. We play music on one of our phones, barely audible over the wind as we pass the bottle. It tastes really bitter.

The guys in the group are either drunk or acting like it. They tease her because of her name, saying things like “beg my pard, I’m out for a rip” and “got my gonch in a bunch, hey?” in this horrible fake Canadian accent.

She laughs, more at them because they all have purple wine-stained teeth. One of them throws an empty bottle up in the air and it smashes on the asphalt in the middle of the bridge, so much louder than anything else. Everyone ducks low. We keep quiet, looking for lights in windows, listening for the neighbors who might’ve heard the shatter.

With our hoods up, Ontario and I creep over to the pylons on the other side of the bridge, out of the wind, where things aren’t falling and no one can see us. Sneakers dangling, she shares a cigarette she has rolled and talks about how I remind her of someone at her old school that she used to go out with.

My pocket lights up with a text asking where we went. Some of the others are planning on watching a movie and smoking weed in someone’s garage. I turn to Ontario and ask her what she wants to do and she shrugs. There’s an awkward silence and I don’t know if she wants to go hang out with them, or if she wants to go home, or if she wants to stay back with me at the bridge. Neither of us say anything when we hear the others asking where we went. Neither of us say anything when we hear their car doors opening and the faint ping of the seatbelt alert through their muted laugh-talking in the distant dark.

“Are you going to kiss me?” she asks.

“Okay.”

I lean in halfway and she’s so tense looking, like she’s bracing herself. She turns and our mouths bump together gently, like we were both about to whisper something and instead had a little pillowy fender bender. Her lips are thin and I can feel how their edges curl against mine. The tip of her nose is cold.

Our hands and arms are an entangled scaffolding of sorts, crumpling at the elbows as we pull close. My hand, first at her hip, follows up the warm curve of her waist, up and under and—goose down? What kind of bra is she wearing?

“Whoah, wait, no.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Breaking liplock, I disentangle my hand from her sweatshirt, and I’m not sure if what I’m seeing is right. Soft white down covers the front of her chest. It extends from the top of her abdomen to just below her collarbone. A few longer wispy feathers radiate from the center like a star.

“It’s just my undershirt,” she blurts, pulling her knees to her chest, sweatshirt over knees. A half-breath of stunned silence. Then she uncurls and moves to climb back over the guard rail. “I have to go home.”

“Wait! I have to show you something,” I offer. “Give me a second, okay? I have to take this off.”

Ontario gets that petrified expression on her face again, like I’m putting another move on her, so I put some distance between us. I know if she sees my chest, she’ll know I have it too. Maybe she can tell me what it is.

I stretch my arms back and fill my lungs with air. It’s a weird sensation. Arching my shoulders makes this spasm roll up my chest cavity. I pull my windbreaker off, then unbutton my shirt halfway before I decide to just yank it over my head along with my undershirt.

My chest is tingling, like when your hair stands up, except it’s the feathers. They’ve grown out more, all vibrating and fanned out over my chest. I know if I look down that I’d see their glossy plumes reaching further from the center where my hole is. I puff my chest out, stick my elbows out at the sides, making myself as broad as possible. I didn’t think I’d actually show off. It’s weird. I thought it’d be a more modest reveal, but it just feels good to finally be seen. I’m driven to strut, just a little, from side to side like some kind of rooster, stretching my shoulders back. This is ridiculous.

Ontario holds her hand to her mouth. Then shuffles off her sweatshirt. Her feathers are frillier than mine and white, waving forwards and backwards, buffeting the air between us like a burlesque fan. She has a hole in the center of her chest too, like mine, just over her sternum.

“See? What is this?” I ask. “I don’t understand why—”

“Don’t talk right now,” she says, and rests one of her hands against my feathers. They crinkle a little under her palm. The dull white light from the moon and the lamps at the end of Red Bridge reflect off her white down. This vulnerability is passing between us—this vibe. I want to hold her against me. Just for a moment of normalcy.

We put our arms around each other’s shoulders, waists, slowly, like grade-schoolers wondering how closely they should dance. And, by some strange instinct, we press our feathers together in a susurrous embrace, plumage hidden between our bodies. As if we’ve trapped a glowing cinder between us, the dry warmth spreads up to where my neck is craning helically around hers.

The nape of her neck is flush and warm against my collarbone and I let out a hum. It begins at first as a sigh, but then she’s humming too. We both intone and I feel it in her neck through mine. The resplendent vibes, they tickle something inside our necks like there’s another vocal cord there. Maybe if I hum harder I might be able to vibrate it in my own neck. As I do, so does she. The warmth unfurls. Holding back a bit, I croon louder for the chord, find it by her collarbone. This unleashes some latent pocket of twinge, causing her neck to twist against mine. Our necks elongate, twisting upwards towards the moon. The crickets fall silent in the dark.

Mouths open, we sing a piercing arpeggio of avian chirps together that echo over the marsh inlet. Birdsong, emitting from the strange vocal cords by our collarbones, modulated by the warmth between us and the shape of our mouths and tongues. Her notes are higher pitched and crack in falsetto. I give tremolo by vibrating my jaw. We harmonize octaves and the ember sandwiched between us pulses out wave after heady wave.

When the rush has passed, my neck snaps stiffly back into shape and I stagger against the bridge, confused. I can’t believe what just happened. But wait, what did just happen? I want to be on the same page as her because I think that nothing else in the world could be like us. Even if what we did was wrong, in some ways it was right and those are the only ways that matter now.

“We shouldn’t have done that,” she says, straightening her clothes.

I try to explain how I feel, about how the rightness can only be measured by us. Because it’s rare and we are probably the only ones who are like this. My words don’t come out that way though. I sound like a babbling idiot and the expression on her face tells me I’m only making matters worse.

“Really, I need to go home.” Pushing past me, she grabs her parka and climbs back over.

“Can’t we just talk about this? Ontario…” Down the bridge, she doesn’t respond. In the dark, I hear the rattle of her bike chain as she pedals away.

Sunday morning comes. In the mirror, the feathers are now darker, straighter, overlapping in spots. Pressing my palm against them feels like what I imagine the tail of a duck would feel like. The plumage is light and soft and for some reason it doesn’t seem as hideous anymore. I look at them from the front, the side. Am I going crazy, or is my sternum just slightly pronounced?

I ping Ontario. Can we talk?

I’m snubbed when ten minutes pass and she doesn’t hit me back. Then twenty. No response. And, as if a switch has been thrown, once again I feel hideously deformed. I pray the doctor can make my chest normal. Maybe give me experimental hormones or graft skin from somewhere. I’d rather have a scar on my chest than some weird feathered hole. I’m anxious to deal with my problem as soon as possible.

Hoping beyond reason that getting baked with my friends can cram these thoughts back into the recesses of my mind, I text them to swing by in the battlewagon. But when I’m smashed between two of them in their hotboxed back seat, they’re loud and obnoxious and won’t stop plying me for details over the stoner metal galloping out of the speakers.

“So? What’s she like? Did you do it? Did you bump uglies?”

Their questions are cruel and edged, like they want to hack down something that could’ve been special before they even learn if it was or not, and I wonder if they are really my friends. Bombing around in their shitbox and listening to their nonsense, I’ve had it after only a few minutes. I’m having a hard time breathing anyway. It’s like cottonmouth in my lungs. I tell them to just swing by my house and let me out.

Having seen each other at our most vulnerable, maybe the feathers are a sign, like Ontario and I were supposed to have met. It’s like some force field has risen around the idea of her that no fear or paranoia can penetrate. These manic notions of romance roll through in waves and I have to remind myself to get a grip.

I text her again. Ontario, please. We need to talk.

And even though I don’t want to sound like a creepy stalker guy for whom the unwritten rules of texting decorum fly out the window, not having any answers about what passed between us is driving me cuckoo crazy.

In my room, I open my window. It’s beginning to feel like no matter how deeply I breathe, I can’t get enough air. Like I didn’t chew properly and a piece of food is stuck halfway down to my stomach. I can’t focus on homework. Or the internet or TV or anything because my breath is so short and I wonder is this what a panic attack is? I’m desperate to feel some cold air on my face and stride out to my back yard.

The tree house I built with dad is still there. It’s just a simple platform nailed against the trunk with a few support beams and a ladder. It seemed big and high up in the branches when I was a kid, but now I can reach up and touch it easily with the tips of my fingers. Mold and moss grows in patches along the underside.

At four in the morning on Monday, I wake with a sudden sense of urgency and run to the bathroom. I lift my shirt. The feathers are gathered there like a pile of leaves doused in ink, overlapping to the point where I can no longer see skin.

There’s a sore bulge between my pectoral muscles, as if a hard, cystic pocket has lodged itself there, pressing against my sternum below the skin. If I pat the feathers down, I can feel around it with the tips of my fingers. It’s symmetrically circular, like a great big angry zit. I test it, pressing my hands together, and something crests through the opening of the hole.

“Ugh!”

The hard, round thing slips back into me, the lip of the hole closing elastically back over it. I feel faint. The bathroom gets dim despite the overhead sconce and I run the faucet cold over my wrists, trying to cool my pulse. I need to get this thing out of me. Right now.

With the sink basin filled, I press again and the hole opens around it, yellow like the color of pale bile. If I tap it with my nail, I can feel it’s not really connected to me, just sort of lodged in there. Whatever it is, I don’t want to break it apart while it’s still in me because it might poke my insides.

Thinking this is going to require some strain, I grab a towel and lean over the sink. I feel around it again, flexing my chest for leverage, but as it crests, it slips out as the hole sphincters around the other end of it. Plop it goes, into the sink. An egg the size of a small fist. Shivers ripple through my chest cavity, ruffling my feathers.

Mom is going to be back from her conference today. If I don’t go to school, she’ll receive a call. I can’t just leave this egg thing swaddled in the towel on my desk. What if it starts to smell and she finds it? I decide I have to go to class with it in my bag. I don’t want to look at it. I want to get rid of it, but at the same time I feel duty-bound to make sure it’s safe and that nobody sees it.

Passing the other kids who are late for first period, I hold my arm over my bag to keep it from being crushed. Through the nylon of my backpack, I feel how round it is, a reminder that this egg is alive and needs to be kept warm.

I can’t hear anything in US History. Sweat builds underneath my hoodie and I can’t keep my eyes off of the round shape it’s making against the top of my backpack. Thankfully, the teacher doesn’t call me, because I might blurt out the word “egg” as the answer to any question. Then I think what might happen if it hatches inside my bag.

Jesus. What if it did? In the short time since Ontario and I did… did that thing we did, I laid this thing. What if the time it takes to hatch is fast too? I start to get dizzy. I raise my hand and ask to be excused, barely hearing my own words, but my teacher takes one look at me and suggests that I go see the nurse.

In the last stall in the bathroom, I’m afraid to unzip the bag and look at it, but I do. I regret the decision immediately. It’s no longer just a gross sort of yellow. Now the egg is riddled with different-sized polka dots. The colors all clash, as if a tiny clown had snuck into my bag and painted it like a fucked-up Easter egg. Did it get bigger? I think about flushing it but it’s too wide in circumference and I’d have to crush it with something in the toilet bowl.

Gym period rolls around and I’ve skipped most of my classes. I’m hiding behind the library shelves, waiting in ambush for Ontario to show up. It’s not until the last few minutes of the period when she turns up and returns a book she checked out. She looks around the library. When she doesn’t see me, I know she has the same idea as I do, because she ducks into one of the reading rooms and closes the door behind her.

I follow her in.

“Oh great,” she says, pulling her parka’s hood back.

“Look, I’m not going all psycho,” I tell her. “You just have to look at this.”

I put my book bag on the table, unzip it and peel the panel back to show her the egg. The white overhead lights make the colors look even weirder than they are. Ontario scowls.

“You have to help me with this,” I plead.

“Yeah, right,” she says incredulously. “You probably stole an ostrich egg from the science lab or something. Why would you joke? When we have the same condition, the same medical—”

She trails off, and I can see her mind working as she searches my face for hints. First hoping that I’m not making fun of her. Then hoping that I am. She slides down the desk away from my bag to sit in another chair.

“What are we going to do about this? Do we go to the nurse?”

“That’s not mine,” she blurts.

“Ontario. We made this thing together.”

“You can’t—that’s not my thing. You do whatever you want with it. It’s not my problem.” She’s talking fast, throwing up her words in front of her like obstacles.

I’m about to protest, but there’s a rustle. Both of us look down at my bag. After a few seconds, the egg moves again, very gently, as if its center of balance has just tumbled. It wobbles onto its side and rolls down slowly down the desk towards her.

“Ugh!” she yelp-screams, and grabs a book out of her bag and hurls it, glancing it off the side of the egg. The egg spins and rolls off the table, and I wince, awaiting the deep resonant crunch from it splattering on the floor, but no. It fell into one of the chairs! Balanced in the center of the cushion divot. Ontario grabs another textbook out of her bag.

“Stop, no!”

But she hurls this book too, hitting the backrest. The chair teeters and falls onto its back with a springy thwap against the carpet. The egg rolls, wobbling along the floor past the other chairs and Ontario shoves me aside, clambering after it, over the study table to the other side.

“You’ll break it—”

“Out of the way!”

Yanking her boot off, she has this urgent, unreasoning look in her eye like she’s trying to splatter a large bug and nothing else matters. I wonder if this mania is part of the whole absurd thing we did, like some reverse maternal instinct. It’s clear she doesn’t even care about whatever mess would result from such a berserk clobbering.

I snake myself under the table, just managing to intercept the egg with my fingertips to pull it to my chest as her boot heel clubs the carpet with a hollow thud. I roll back under and away. We circle the table, me trying to get to the door with the egg cradled in my arms, Ontario with her hair in her face, eyes like saucers, boot dangling from her clenched fist. I don’t understand why she’d destroy the egg, when it’s clear to me it needs to be kept safe.

The moment is interrupted when the librarian saunters in and announces “Okay, you two. That’s a warning. I’m going to need to ask the two of you to—”

I break for the door, pushing past the librarian and scampering from the study room. Down the metal stairs, I shoulder-check the crash bars leading out past the hallway lockers. The librarian calls after the two of us, telling us not to run.

Having lost Ontario after speed walking through the guy’s locker room next to the gym, I don’t know what to do with this egg. The logical, pragmatic part of me thinks that maybe somewhere out in the marsh out by Red Bridge would be the right place to deposit it, but another part of me feels like it’s my job to make sure that it stays safe.

When I get home, my mom is mad that she had to reschedule the doctor’s appointment that I missed. I tell her I can’t talk right that second and run up to my room with my bag. I can’t remember how the egg’s dots were patterned when I last saw them but I swear they’ve shifted when I open my bag again. Little wobbly stripes have emerged along the surface, diving in and out between the dots.

It’s impossible to think even beyond the next ten minutes with my mom still yelling from the bottom of the stairs up after me. The only sensible thing I can think of to do is to stash it somewhere. Maybe in the basement, beside the hot water tank? Or in my closet? No, if I leave it in the house, she’ll find it.

When mom moves off, I gather some old blankets from the linen closet where my old baseball equipment is stored. With the egg in my backpack, I sneak out through the kitchen door, back out to the tree house in the woods past the edge of our back yard. The wooden ladder leading up the trunk is all rotten and unstable, so I stand where the lower slats are nailed into the bark. Reaching up, I arrange the blankets into a swaddle, close to the tree trunk, with the egg in the center cupped under my old catcher’s mitt.

I check my phone. Nothing from Ontario. I think about arguing with her that she’s responsible because she’s the mom, but then I remember that it was me that laid it. I think about how fucked this whole thing is. All my thoughts are bent towards how I can entangle her in sharing her half of the responsibility. I don’t want to be the only one to decide. I feel like a freak and I don’t want to be alone.

That night, Ontario sends an email from an address that I think she created just to send me a message.

Terry,

Look, I’m really sorry for hooking up with you, but we have to get rid of whatever that thing is. Don’t tell anyone where it came from because you’ll sound crazy, and I’ll deny everything anyway.

Dad took my phone away because of the wine. Don’t text me because he’ll read it, and he’ll probably do something we both don’t want. Mom got in touch with a specialist through the VA for my thing. We’re going down to the South Bay for the surgery.

Ontario

Trying to read between the lines of her email, something crushes inside me under a flash of anger. Maybe I’m mad at myself for having believed that a silly little paradise could subsist between two kids our age. Or maybe I’m just mad at her for not having any answers, just like me.

In a flight of fury, I run over to her house in the dark. The lights are off and the rooms are quiet and empty. I tap her window with a pebble once, then twice, but there is no response and I notice that the wind chimes aren’t hanging from her porch anymore. When I peer into the garage door windows, their car isn’t there.

Morning. I wake in my bed to discover that my feathers have all molted and fallen out, leaving my chest bare. I find them inside my pajama shirt and scattered under my sheets. You’d think this would be a welcome relief, but it’s not. When I touch my chest, I feel the smooth, ordinary skin, and know that something fantastic has ended.

The hole is still there, but it seems smaller.

Before my doctor’s appointment, I sprint out to my tree house to check on my egg. I know I want to do the right thing, I just don’t know what that is. I’m running on instinct now. I know I’m just a kid. I can try, even if it’s just me. Crossing my back yard, I think what it would be like to be born unloved, unwanted, and my heart breaks a little. Everything deserves a little bit of grace, even if a place can’t be made for it. It will be okay, I think. I can do this. I’ll care for it. I can…

When I climb the ladder, there is my baseball mitt, turned over. The shell, cracked open, is leaning on its side. Something small and weak has freed itself and escaped into the night to search for warmth. The little colorful fragments of shell, skittering across the wood platform, look like confetti in the breeze.

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