My mom always told me to never forget to say goodbye to the ones you love; you never know if it may be for the last time. She used to mouth the words “I love you” and wink at me every morning before she left for work, quiet in her affection, as if even then, in the privacy of our own house, they were watching. The day she left for the last time, nothing seemed different. If she knew she was leaving home forever, she didn’t show it. Of course, Mom had always exceled at hiding her emotions when she wanted to, so maybe she knew all along.
Ever since Mom left, I held onto her advice more tightly than ever, as if it were the last string keeping her tied to my life—as if somewhere inside me I still hoped she would come home from work as if nothing had happened and embrace me in her arms. Which is why the memory of my last day with Kit still haunts me. I had every chance to say goodbye. I love you. Don’t panic. Everything will be alright.
But I didn’t.
Kit and I lounged on the couch in the basement, staring into the only mirror in the house. We kept it hidden when guests visited, tucked in the corner of the room, buried beneath old linens. No laws prohibited the use of mirrors, but in our world, they had no purpose—no value. Or maybe I should say in their world. My family’s survival hinged on that single mirror.
“Tell me the rules.” I kept my lips straight, my forehead composed, my eyes firmly forward.
Kit nervously touched the corner of her mouth and started, “Always—”
She jerked her hand from her lips and slid it under her thigh. “Sorry.” Her pale skin flushed red, and her eyes dropped to her lap, blonde hair tumbling into her face.
Frustration burned inside my chest, but I steadied my breathing—in through my nose, out through my mouth—and said without a hint of anger, “Try again.”
Every thought in Kit’s mind appeared on her face. The flutter of her lashes. The obvious attempt to slow her breathing. The inward curve of her cheek where she was chewing the inside of her mouth. The anxious shuffle of her feet on the concrete.
She isn’t ready.
Yet she needed to be. There was no way around it. It was her fifth birthday, and everyone took the test on their fifth birthday. To file for an extension meant only one thing: Your child is an Emotional. And if your child is an Emotional, then—I didn’t want to think about it. Kit would take the test. And pass it, too.
“Rule number one: Always make eye contact.” Her eyes widened, as if to emphasize the point—another gesture that would bring her test to a grinding halt. “Rule number two: Think before you speak.”
“And avoid small talk,” I added.
“Because small talk is bad.”
“And don’t talk too much.”
“Because nervous people talk a lot.”
“And always think of the most logical thing to say.”
“I know, Penny.” Kit rolled her eyes, her annoyance playing out on her face like a death sentence. Then, as she realized what she’d done, her shoulders stiffened and her lips thinned.
“Rule number three?” I asked before she could let even more emotion slip through.
“Don’t use body language. Don’t bring attention to yourself. And, um—” She cringed, her eyes squeezing shut at such a careless mistake.
“It’s okay. Just pause. Think. Gather your words. Then speak.”
Her eyes opened. I tapped her grey shirt.
“Oh yeah. Don’t wear anything that makes you stand out.”
“Good.” I nodded. “And rule five?”
“Never, ever, no matter what, smile.”
Then, as if she had been holding it in all morning, Kit smiled, a single dimple appearing on her left cheek. Without any warning, she twirled toward me, her fingers raised and dancing.
“Kit,” I said firmly. “This is serious.”
“So is…” she paused for dramatic effect, “the Tickle Monster!”
Her fingers plunged to my stomach and crawled along my skin. I couldn’t help it. My lips curved upward. My body folded in on itself. The hairs on my arms rose. And I started to laugh.
I still remember thinking: thank goodness Dr. Solomon is one of us. Kit would never pass the test without him.
Then I grabbed Kit’s wrists, flipped her onto her back, and showed her how the real Tickle Monster does it.
You see, Kit had a thousand weaknesses, but me? I only had one. Her name was Kit. And had someone told me this was the last time I’d laugh with her, I never would have let her leave the basement that day.