The ceiling fan turned above her, barely moving the hot summer air. Sweat dampened her nightgown, but she didn't push the comforter off. Even the daylight touching her skin was too much. She wanted to be hidden, in the dark. That was how she'd been living for the past month.
Heavy footsteps came up the stairs, too heavy to be her grandmother. Diego.
She kept her gaze on the ceiling even when the door opened.
Silence. Then a sigh. The chair beside her bed creaked.
"Abuela says you aren't eating," Diego said.
Without looking she could envision her brother's skin, darker than hers from hours spent outside smoking pot and drinking with his friends. His long lashes were too pretty for a boy. He got them from their mother. His cold gray eyes made up the difference. Those came from their father.
Tucked into his waistband would be the red bandanna that marked his gang's color. Outside the house he wore it bigger, wrapped around his forehead or neck. Moving it down was supposed to make him more like her brother, but it didn't work.
"She's making your favorite. Posole."
She already knew that because the scent of spices filled the house. Maybe a month ago she would have been in the kitchen, writing in her journal at the dining room table while her mouth watered. Now her stomach felt like lead, still and solid. It didn't want any food. And she didn't want her brother.
Another sigh. She glanced over and saw that he'd put his fingers together, his face turned sideways. She could study his hard features and wonder when he'd gotten that scar at his eyebrow. His face was so familiar to her, but different too.
His eyes squinted, and for a moment she thought he might actually mention it. The thing they didn't talk about. The reason she was cooking herself beneath the covers. The moment he'd chosen his gang over his family. No, that wasn't right. He'd chosen the gang over his family the moment he'd worn that red bandanna.
Instead he said, "Do you remember that flood?"
Back when they'd been living closer to the border, a flood had dropped millions of gallons of rain on the small south Texas town. Water had crawled up the sloped lawns, past the weeds and concrete saints. Then it crept inside the houses, turning the thin carpets to sludge. Higher and higher, until Sofia and her family had taken refuge on their patched roof, homemade quilts wrapped around them and the contents of their pantry in plastic bags beside them.
Most days Daddy had come back from the factory too exhausted, too angry to do anything but eat the plate Mama made for him and go to sleep. That was better than the days he came home drunk. Then his anger came out in shouts and fists.
The flood had transformed him, if only for a week.
As he looked at them huddled together with whatever they could carry, fear ripe in his eyes, he'd seemed to grow taller. A few houses down the neighbor had a small boat he set traps with. The engine had broken, but they used slats of broken fence as oars to scout the neighborhood, making sure everyone had gotten out, that they had fresh water and enough food to last until authorities could evacuate them.
They all had sunburns when they finally got in the boat to meet the helicopter that had landed a mile away.
Daddy's hands had been ripped apart, bloodied, filled with splinters.
Sofia didn't want to remember that, didn't want to remember the time before the crash, when her parents were still alive. She didn't want to remember huddling with her big brother, believing he'd keep her safe.
She didn't want to remember anything.
But the fear she felt ripped through the numb veil that had protected her. There was something else there too. Pride. "The puppy."
Diego made a rough sound. "The damned puppy. How did it even swim that long?"
She didn't bother to shrug. The second day her father had spotted a puppy paddling through the window, fur slicked to his body, movements slow. They had guessed he managed to sit on some of the furniture for a while, so he hadn't been swimming nonstop. But he didn't know how to get out.
Afraid breaking the window would scare him away, or hurt him, their father had swam through the murky water to the back door, then through the house, past anchorless sofas and kitchen tables, soggy picture frames and broken glass, to pull the puppy out.
The puppy had come to stay on the roof with them for the next two days, living on cheese crackers and peanut butter. The newspapers had called her dad a hero.
"You should eat," Diego said, glancing at her. She had hardly looked in the mirror. What would he see? Her split lip. Bruises. Bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep.
He looked back at his hands.
They were large hands, like her father's. Not bloodied and splintered.
He hadn't been a hero.
Sofia hung up from another fruitless phone call, another dead end. She rubbed her eyes, so tired of hitting her head against the nearly impenetrable wall named Senator Stephen Moreland. His finances were tied up so tight she couldn't even see a crack. Assuming there was anything to find.
She knew there was.
She'd been researching political finance since she started at the Daily two years ago. She had interned under a reporter who went to the Washington Post. And the number of secrets on this campaign was unprecedented.
He was dirty. She just had to prove it.
"That bad, huh?" Remy plopped down in her chair with a sympathetic expression. As a fellow reporter, she knew how much it sucked coming up empty.