“Do you believe in the supernatural, Daddy?” Tanissa asked, as she and her father pulled his truck up to the drive-thru ATM at the bank that evening.
“What, like ghosts and stuff?”
“And stuff, yeah.”
“Nope. No ghosts. No aliens. No honest Republicans.”
“But what about, like, psychics and hypnotists and stuff?”
“Uh, psychics no. Hypnotists, yes,” he said, getting cash out of the machine. “How about you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You believe in ghosts, Tannie?”
“Me? Oh, I don’t know. But how about Bigful, and Nessie, and mermaids?”
“No, yes, and no.” Her father pushed Transaction Finished on the ATM.
“You believe in the Loch Ness Monster, Dad?”
“Oh, is that what that is? Then, no.” He patted her back. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason. But let’s say you were a hypnotic guy—“”
“Yeah, and you could hypnotize anybody, just by waving your hand.”
“Like Ben Kenobi?”
“I don’t know, yeah. And anybody would do what you say,” she said. “Would you use it?”
“My hypnotic hand wave? Sure. Wouldn’t you?”
“Use it, like, to steal, and get out of work, and get straight A’s without studying?”
“Um, no to the first one or the last one, but work, hell yeah. If I could hypnotize my boss into thinking I came in, you and me could spend all day together, drive to down to Oakland, see the sights, a fair or something. And I’d hypnotize those idiots in baggage to watch where they put luggage, scan every one, and bother to read labels. And actually work for a change.”
Tanissa nodded. It was only natural he’d say that, but she wasn’t sure even doing that was alright. She’d never seen Brekkyn Mannion sing somebody into working harder, or being nicer to their kids. It was always selfish stuff, stuff that filled her room and her belly with thngs she wanted but didn’t really need. She thought of the iPod still in the orange bag in her room, and felt guilty.
“Hey there, big sister!” she exclaimed, which made Tanissa wonder if she had any brothers or sisters out there, and whether they could do what she did.
“You ready for a night on the town?”
“Night?” It was eight-fifty in the morning.
“We can watch TV for a while.” Tanissa remembered the girl’s awful taste in television and declined. “Let’s finish that game then.”
When they’d last played Barbie Monopoly, Brekkyn had just gotten the Malibu Dream House, which was like Park Place. Tanissa said she didn’t feel like it, but Brekkyn started to cajole her, and Tanissa grabbed her shoes and key.
They took the elevator down to the lower apartment (it was only two floors, but Brekkyn liked the elevator), and Tanissa could immediately smell that smoky stink in the bathroom again. Apparently, Brekkyn smelled it too.
“Mom!?” the girl shouted, not sounding like a kid anymore, but like an irate parent.
The toilet flushed, and the bathroom fan went on. “In a minute!”
A moment later, Mrs. Conlee came out, putting on a smile, but her eyes were red, and it might not have been from crying.
Brekkyn looked at Tanissa, reddening herself. “Go in my room and put the board up. Don’t mess up the piles.”
Tanissa did what she was told, but heard her begin to chew out her mother (stepmother? Foster mother?) before she could get the door closed. “You were doing it again, weren’t you, Mom?”
And then, Tanissa could distinctly hear the singing begin. She felt her stomach tighten, and she wanted to get out of there, not just from the room, but the whole building, get to the airport and try to help her dad. The walls were lined with bookshelves, each filled with another kind of toy or doll or stuffed animal. There were more than a hundred My Little Ponys displayed around the window, pegged or hanging or glued.
No Little Mermaid items, though, could be found in the room, which would have been the most obvious. There were three crystal--glass?--dolphins on the wall above the reading lamp, and there was strange writing on them that might have been—
Brekkyn came back into the room, closing the door softly behind her. “Sorry about that,” she said, which was the first and only time she’d heard her apologize. “She can be so stupid.”
Tanissa nodded, but not very enthusiastically.
“You like your mom?” Brekkyn asked her. It was a pretty personal question, but not out of character.
“Sure. I mean, we fight sometimes, but . . .” But what? She still loved her mother, and now that she was away from her for weeks, that love was somehow multiplied. Maybe that’s why she preferred her dad’s company, because she saw him less.
“Your dad seems cool,” Brekkyn mentioned, though whether it was fishing for something or just something to say wasn’t clear.
Suddenly, there came a slamming sound elsewhere in the apartment. Brekkyn tensed. She glanced at the Monopoly board, then at her guest, and finally stood up. “We’d better go,” she decided.
“Go?” repeated the older girl, but wasn’t sure she wanted to stay.
“Sun’s already shining,” Brekkyn said, as if that explained everything. “We’ll finish the game after.”
They left the girl’s room, walked through the apartment, and out the door. Brekkyn’s mother was nowhere around.
As they made their way out of the building, Tanissa realized she’d not left a note for her dad to let him know what she was doing (something her mother would not have forgiven or forgotten). Brekkyn, of course, hadn’t even announced they were leaving, and she took the girl’s lead and kept on walking.