Amber moved to the bed, perching on the edge to rub Jade’s shoulder. “Well, stop. He’s long gone.”
“Do you remember the fire?” asked Jade.
“Yes.” Amber couldn’t figure out where Jade was going with this.
Was Jade worried about her own choices in men? Maybe she was worried about how her future boyfriends might impact her baby.
“Mom used to tell Earl not to smoke on the sofa,” said Jade. “She yelled at him about it all the time. She said he was going to pass out, light the place on fire and kill us all.”
“He nearly did.” Amber shuddered at the memory of the acrid smell, the billowing smoke, the crackling flames rising from the sofa stuffing.
“That’s how I knew it would work.” Jade’s eyes seemed unfocused.
“How what would work?”
“He passed out that night,” said Jade, twisting her fingers through the blanket weave as she spoke. “Mom was in her bedroom. I remember Janis Joplin was playing on the radio.” Jade sang a few bars. “You were asleep.”
“So were you,” said Amber.
But Jade shook her head. “I was awake. I went into the living room. I was so scared he’d wake up. I pictured it over and over, like an instant replay, those pale blue eyes opening, his stinky breath, his scabby hands grabbing me.”
Amber went cold all over.
“But he didn’t wake up,” said Jade.
Amber let out a shuddering breath of relief.
“So I took his lit cigarette from the ashtray. I took the newspaper off the table. I crumpled a corner, just like I’d seen them do on that wilderness show. You remember? The one with the park ranger and the kids in Yellowstone?”
Amber couldn’t answer.
“I tucked it all between the cushions, and I went back to bed.”
“Oh, Jade,” Amber rasped, her hand tightening on her sister’s shoulder.
“I lit the fire, Amber.” Tears formed in Jade’s eyes. “I lit the fire and you put it out. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I could have killed us all.”
“You were five years old.” Amber couldn’t wrap her head around such a young child conceiving and executing that plan.
“Do you think I’m evil?”
“I think you were scared.”
“I knew it would work,” said Jade. “I knew if Earl set the sofa on fire that Mom would kick him out and we’d never have to see him again.”
Amber drew Jade into her arms, remembering her as such a small child. “It was a fairly brilliant plan,” she whispered against Jade’s hair. “Another time, you might want to have a plan for putting the fire out.”
“I was thinking last night,” said Jade.
“You need to stop thinking about this. It’s over.”
“I was thinking that’s how it’s been my whole life. I’ve been starting fires, and you’ve been putting them out. And now I’m pregnant. And I’m sick.”
“You’re going to get better.”
“But you have a new job. So my baby and I won’t starve on the streets.”
Amber’s chest tightened painfully. “You’re going to be just fine. We’re all going to be just fine.”
Jade’s voice broke. “Thank you, Amber.”
“You are so very welcome.”
“I’m going to do better.”
“You’re already doing better.”
“I’m going to get a job and I’m going to pay you back. And somehow, some way, I’m going to be the one helping you.”
“Sure,” said Amber. “But, for now, I have more good news.”
Jade pulled away and looked up. “What more could there be?”
“I got a signing bonus. And it’s enough to cover your hospital bill.”
Jade blinked, her eyes clearing. “Are you kidding me?”
“Why? How? What’s the job?”
Amber wasn’t going to lie. “It’s my old job.”
It took Jade a moment to respond. “You’re going back?”
“I’m going back.”
Jade looked worried. “To Tuck? To the guy who kissed you?”
“To his brother. Dixon. Dixon will be back soon and I’ll work for him again.”
“He’s the nice one, right?”
“He’s the nice one.” All Amber had to do was find him and get everything back to normal.