Indigo Online - Gina Linko

My self-imposed silence was kind of half-assed. The no-touching rule, I followed that religiously. But I still talked, a little. The old me knew how to commit to things. But because the new me didn’t, because I wasn’t that brave now, my life kept hobbling along. I did keep to myself. Mom made me see therapists and psychologists. They talked a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But I knew that was garbage. I knew I had to keep myself quarantined, distanced.

Once in a while, I could still feel it in me. Starting to heat up right there under my sternum, churning in my ribs, wanting to come out.

Mom and Dad never bought it. When we moved down to our summer home for good, Mom fell in with our old friends Sarah Rawlings and her daughter, Mia-Joy. I wanted to keep away from them, from everyone. But I learned pretty quickly that if I could put on the facade of normal—even the tiniest bit—with the Rawlingses, Mom would let up on the counselors and shrinks. And Mia-Joy didn’t need to ask me a zillion nosy questions. She didn’t mind that I didn’t talk much, or that I never touched other people. In fact, Mia-Joy barely seemed to notice. It just gave her more time to talk, which is exactly what she’d been doing since I could remember.

But after Sophie, after everything, Mom felt a calling to come work with New Orleans Congregational, and Dad decided that post-Katrina New Orleans would be a boon for his construction company. The second big oil spill kept New Orleans in the news, and people wanted to rebuild the city even more, Dad said. People needed a new start here. Mom and Dad agreed; Dad would build their strip malls, and Mom would rebuild their shaken faith. So we left our old life in Chicago.

That’s how they sold it to me. And Mom told me, in a hushed voice, her eyes crinkling in that worried way at the corners, that we would start over too. We needed to. Sophie was gone.

I just nodded.

I wasn’t even doing that today while Mia-Joy went on talking at breakneck speed as we sat behind the counter, peeling shrimp in the twinkling-clean white-tiled kitchen of the Rawlings Crawdaddy Shack. Mia-Joy’s mother stood at the large steel stovetop, her hair a mass of russet curls like Mia-Joy’s. She stirred the gumbo pots, the lunch rush less than an hour away. Mia-Joy’s ancient-looking Granny Lucy sat in her rocking chair next to the screen door, chewing on her black licorice, eyes closed as always. But just when you had forgotten she was even around, she would jump into the conversation and remind us that she was still here and, yes, she did know everything. The late-July air hung hot and damp against my skin, and the kitchen smelled of sweet onions, red peppers, and fresh bread pudding.

“My daddy doesn’t seem to want me to go, but Mama doesn’t mind,” Mia-Joy explained. The shrimp were slippery in my hands, and they made my mouth water. Seafood in the bayou was a different experience. The buttery crab legs. Red beans and rice with paprika shrimp. In Chicago, in my regular life, seafood had tasted more … Midwestern … stale … bland. It was out of its element.

Much like me.

But Mia-Joy was New Orleans in every sense of the word, even if she was itching to get out. French Creole, with a father who fished on a shrimp boat, a brother who headlined at a jazz club on Bourbon Street, and a granny who taught her the finer points of twenty-first-century voodoo. When Raymond Kanzler stood Mia-Joy up for the Turn-About last year, Granny Lucy had told her, “You give that boy a headache he ain’t never gonna forget. Just turn his picture upside down. Keep it that way for a week.” Mia-Joy did it too. But she was already on to another boy, another adventure. She was sparkling, alive, colorful, just like New Orleans itself.

“You mind your grades, Mia-Joy,” her mama said, keeping her back toward us, her attention on her stove. “Then we’ll talk about your summer in New York.”

“What did I tell you?” Mia-Joy squealed at me, popping one of the boiled shrimp into her mouth. She would go to New York after our senior year. She would model. I didn’t doubt that. I smiled back at her. Forte. Allegretto. These were my musical descriptors of Mia-Joy. Loud. Up-tempo.

I pictured a