Tonight the Streets Are Ours / Page 15

Page 15


That pillow was bullshit. Her mother did not know the first thing about being responsible for her rose.

Arden carried Roman up to his room and laid him down on his bed, something that he never ever would have let her do if he were awake, but as it was, he just drooled a little on her shoulder.

Arden felt a pang of guilt for going to Matt Washington’s house; she should have known Roman never would have gotten his act together to put himself to bed. There was no way he had brushed his teeth tonight before passing out. She wasn’t going to wake him up to make him do it now, and if her family continued on like this, Roman was probably going to contract gum disease before he made it out of middle school.

Arden left Roman’s door open because, even though he was eleven, he still freaked out if he woke up and the door was closed and the room was too dark. Then she went to her own room and curled up on her bed. She’d left a pile of rejected Matt Washington party outfits on top of her comforter, and now she kicked them to the floor. She’d eventually settled on her tightest, most revealing top and jeans, but all that had really accomplished was making her unnecessarily cold when she stood out on the patio with Ellzey.

She narrowed her eyes across the room at her Arden Doll, who lived in a glass case on the wall. Since her mother had seen the way Arden treated Tabitha, she’d built this case for the Arden Doll to protect her. “You’re going to want to show your doll to your children and your grandchildren,” Arden’s mother had said. “You’re not going to want her to be filthy and falling apart.”

Arden’s mother was correct, but on this particular night, Arden didn’t feel like being watched over by some pristine doll.

Arden is recklessly loyal.

It was a description she’d thought about a million times since it had been handed down by the Just Like Me Dolls Company. In school earlier this year, she had learned about a pivotal historical event called “the blank check.” This was in 1914, and the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had just been assassinated in Serbia. Obviously the Austro-Hungarian government was furious at the Serbs because, hello, they had murdered the emperor-to-be.

Then Germany showed up on the scene. The German emperor wrote a letter promising Austria-Hungary his nation’s faithful support in whatever Austria-Hungary decided to do to punish Serbia. That promise of blind support, no matter what—that’s what historians called “the blank check.”

When Arden read this in her history textbook, she felt breathless. She thought it was the most romantic thing she’d ever heard, this hundred-year-old political letter from the German chancellor to the Austro-Hungarian ambassador. Because in that moment, she realized that was exactly what she had done for Lindsey, for Chris, for Roman—she had written them each a blank check, a silent promise to stand by them through good times and bad, whether she agreed with their actions or not, to give them whatever help they needed, even though none of them could know yet what help that might be.

The first blank check, by the way? The original one, the letter that Germany wrote to Austria-Hungary? They honored that to a T. This decision ultimately led to World War I, which completely decimated the German economy and populace. Maybe not the smartest move the German government ever made. Maybe if they’d known what it would someday come to, they wouldn’t have signed the blank check in the first place. But that’s the thing: when you swear to take somebody’s side no matter what, sometimes you have to go to war for them.

Now, Arden pulled her quilt around her and got up and walked to her desk, where she wouldn’t be under such direct scrutiny from her Arden Doll. She pulled up an Internet window and, still thinking about her reckless loyalty, she typed in her question for the universe. It was a really straightforward question, and Arden thought she was a pretty smart girl, so it seemed absurd that she couldn’t just figure out the answer.

Why doesn’t anybody love me as much as I love them?

She didn’t expect the Internet to have a particularly wise answer to her question. At best there might be a humorous video clip on the subject. Like anyone else, Arden sometimes went to the Internet for answers—like how to get a chocolate stain out of white pants, or how many countries there are in Latin America—but usually she went to the Internet to reassure herself that there was a whole world of people out there, living their lives just as she was living hers. Sometimes they had experiences like her own, and sometimes they had experiences that seemed completely bizarre, but either way, their mere existence made Arden feel less alone. No matter what time of day or night you go online, there are always countless other people there, too, announcing the recipes they’re cooking and the sights they’re seeing and the songs they’re recording. She’d discussed this with Lindsey before, and it made Lindsey frantic that all these things were going on and she couldn’t keep up with them all. But Arden found it comforting.

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