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she holds a smile like someone would hold a crying child

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Camille is starting to think that parenting is just a series of mistakes. It all starts with the biggest one, conception, and goes downhill from there. But Camille's made enough mistakes so far, so she's committed to avoiding that cardinal one. Condoms aren't that expensive, after all, and it's not like Adora set much of an example. There are too many dead little girls in Camille's past, she'd be asking for trouble giving birth to anyone new. But the truth of it is that parenthood chooses you, not the other way around. A shrink told her something like that about your problems, your traumas: that they choose you. That you don't get much of a say in the matter.

But for all of her planning and pulling out, for all the Plan B in the world, it's Adora's fuck up that saddles Camille with emergency motherhood. This new mistake. Except Camille can't afford to think about Amma that way, like a mistake. Like one of her many problems. She can't think like that, because Amma can't live under the same roof as her mother. Camille knows herself that's no life at all. And nobody can guarantee grand martyr Adora won't end her tragic tale in one fell swoop, one final concoction, potent enough to take Amma along with her.

So Amma will come to Chicago, where Camille will carve a space for her like she carves words into her skin. She'll dig and claw at flesh and muscle until Amma's burrowed deep within her, next to her heart.

That night they share in the hospital, Camille sits up watching Amma sleep, looking small and serene. Honeyed skin almost gold against the white sheets. Watching her there, realizing that Amma would come back with her to Chicago-- back home, more home than Wind Gap ever was. In that moment everything seems so fresh, every wound opened anew. But Camille knows she needs to shelve all her problems for this to work. Even fraying at the edges, she has to do it now. She has to live for someone else. And taking care of Amma where Adora failed, that won't be a mistake, or a problem, or another trauma. It will be a family, a real one. The kind she had with Marian. The kind of family normal people have.

Amma murmurs in her sleep and turns onto her side. The skin on the nape of her neck peeks out from under her curls, over the edge of a crisp white hospital gown. Camille's stomach makes several flips.

She has to try.

As father and daughter exchange goodbyes, Camille stares at the back of Amma's head. If she squints she can spot the skin of Amma's neck through the hair that cascades over her shoulders and her arms that are wrapped around her father. Camille doesn't trust herself to look at Alan, this foreign thing that wandered through her family's house. It was supposed to be his family too, but it never felt like it, not to her. And obviously it must not have really felt that way to Alan either, now that she knew he just lurked in the corners while Adora's kindness laced through his daughters' veins, like Drano winding down a clogged pipe.

Camille tastes copper; she’d been biting the inside of her mouth without meaning to. There are so many little ways people hurt themselves, normal ways, that can creep into your routine without even noticing. But part of her recovery means she needs to notice them, the mundane injuries normal people cause themselves. Recovery and this slow slouch towards normalcy.

It doesn't feel much like recovery now, or anything close to normal, standing in the midday shadow of her childhood home, newly menacing in so many different ways.

Camille forces herself to focus on the Tetris-like work she's made of the backseat of her car, the stacks of boxes and suitcases that don't quite latch. The wind sweeps through the open patches of grass that sprawl out behind the house, ruffling the hair off her shoulders. It doesn't move the same way Amma's does, in soft amber waves. Camille's feels like straw, bristling at the back of her neck, scratching against the words sloppily etched into her skin.

Somewhere else in the distance, she hears Amma sigh, the quiet murmur of her father whispering in her ear.

"We ought to get going." Camille's voice seems oddly hollow, unrecognizable in this unfamiliar place. "If we wanna make the city by sundown."

"Sleep here with me," Amma says their first night, reaching out for her in the dark.

I should've bought her a night light, Camille thinks, dumbly, caught halfway to the hall.

"It's all right," she says after a pause. "I don't mind the couch."

"But it's your bed." Amma's little hand is an insistent presence, hanging in the air, fingers splayed out.

Camille forces her mouth into a smile. "What's mine is yours. Good night, Amma."

It's strange, having someone else in her space. She's never been like Adora; Camille doesn't entertain people at her place. She never really had people, and it never really was a place. It was just somewhere to rest her head, a set of rooms where she could hammer out some work, cook scrambled eggs, and sleep off a hangover. An address where she could get Chinese food delivered.

And now all at once, it's a shared space, a home, and a small foreign body in a white nightgown is curled up in her sheets. Camille can't remember the last time she washed them.

"No," Amma whines. Her hand is still out, reaching. "I can't sleep all alone."

"Just try," Camille urges, hand on the doorknob.

"Please," Amma says, only she's not just saying anymore, she's not asking; she's commanding. "Just for tonight."

Unable to come up with an argument, Camille folds herself onto the mattress beside Amma. She shoves down the memories of sharing a bed with Marian. Memories where she's curled alongside her frail, sickly sister, tracing patterns on her bony shoulders. Now Camille resolutely lies on top of the blankets, stock-still and awake. Amma's so close she can feel the heat from her body through the blankets. It's still the summer, so there isn't much that separates them. The material of her nightgown is thin and gauzy. If she looks at it too closely she could see the soft, downy hair that covers her arms, the small mole on her elbow. The sheer absence of scars, of marks, of any self-inflicted damage. After all those years, Amma received it all from Adora, never put the hurt on herself, and thinking about it makes every word etched into Camille's body burn red hot.

She even pretends to be asleep when Amma sits up at three in the morning and whispers, "Are you awake?" Camille keeps her eyes closed, her thoughts focused on a sad story, on a sick sister long gone. While another sister, once sick, now cured, reaches out to draw her fingers along Camille's arm. Camille holds her breath, forces herself not to laugh at the tickling sensation.

Amma stops after a few minutes, rolls over and falls asleep. Sinking into a sleep of her own, Camille realizes, belatedly, Amma was tracing the words scratched into her skin.

The house isn't a home. Camille gave up her bedroom to Amma, but even with her clothes, sewing supplies, boxes of dolls - the dollhouse too of course, in a place of honor. Even then, it doesn't feel like a teenager's room. It's a strange amalgamation of what she'd had in Wind Gap -- a child's bedroom, with the pink canopy bed and lace curtains that adorned Adora's perpetual princess haven -- and what Camille's room had been -- empty and practical, cavernously loud from the sounds of the street below.

(Amma closed the windows as soon as she moved in.

"Jeez, it's really noisy here, huh?" she had asked, peering through the dirty glass. Camille had always loved that about the city- if it makes noise all day and all night, you never need to worry about hearing your own thoughts.

"Guess I hadn't noticed.")

Camille doesn't know the first thing about making a home, she never really needed to, but then Amma had suggested they go to Ikea.

"Never been to one." Amma says. "Seen them in movies." Camille feels the unfamiliar clench of affection chipping away at her heart, a useless organ she thought had shriveled up and died years ago.

Amma notices her sideways glance and blushes, high and pink on her face, in between freckles. "What?" she mutters, shy and defensive. Almost cute.

Camille puts the car into reverse and hides a smile in her shoulder. "Nothing. Yeah, we can go to Ikea."

Camille's not sure what part of an Ikea trip is supposed to be interesting. Ikea is a staple of city life, but one of the uglier parts of it; all bright and sterile. Stuffed to the brim with screaming kids and harried families. Awkward couples wander aimlessly between different types of mattresses, like a few extra layers of foam will be what saves their sexless relationship.

"Sorry," Camille shrugs, resting her elbows on the handles of the cart. "It's not really like the movies. It's all kinda dirty and boring."

"I love it," Amma says, eyes sweeping over a thousand different types of plywood desks, kitschy Euro-Minimalist chairs. Camille doesn't get it, but she could fill a book with the stuff she doesn't understand about Amma.

Then again, at its core, maybe it's that Adora would've despised a place like Ikea. There'd be something abhorrent in the uniformity and utilitarian of an Ikea living space. Countless twenty-somethings with the same chest of drawers. Nothing in an entire home with even a scrap of history. Nothing unique, nothing worth putting in a magazine, nothing that requires special camera lenses to get just the right angles for its delicate intricacies. Everything in a store like this, in a home furnished this way, would be fresh and straightforward. No hidden compartments, no secret stories to tell. Nothing to lord over anybody else.

Yeah, Camille figures, Adora would've despised a place like this. And honestly that puts her in such a good mood she buys a whole new comforter just because Amma asked for it, even though they'd already hauled a behemoth of a blanket all the way from Wind Gap.

"Find everything okay?" The girl behind the counter asks. Camille nods, eyes sweeping the floor for the nearest exit. "You heading off to college?" the girl asks, this time directing her question to Amma. Both sisters pause; Amma looks mature for her age, but could people really think she's old enough to need dorm furniture?

"No," Amma says with a toothy smile. "I just moved here from Wind Gap." When the clerk doesn't react (because after all who would, what is Wind Gap? A forgotten spot in a flyover state, a nothing mark on a forgotten map.) Amma adds pointedly, in a rush of breath, "Our mom murdered little girls and tried to poison us, so now I live here."

The cart rattles under Camille's hands as they walk their purchases back to the car. Amma shouldn't have said that. Although, she's not sure what part Amma wasn't supposed to say. All those worthless years of therapy taught Camille she should talk about her traumas, rather than let them eat her up from inside. But that was too much, wasn't it?

Back in the car, their purchases loaded in the trunk, Camille picks at the ripped edges of the steering wheel, straining for what she's supposed to say. Amma's little hand juts out the window, glides over the wind. She waves at trucks that drive past them. She casts low looks at other passengers.

Camille can't even manage to breathe oxygen to her problems, her tragedies, but Amma wears them like a badge of honor. She poisoned us and we survived, Amma's lifted chin seems to say, raised high in the air. Her mouth forms the name of their hometown like its an urban legend; Wind Gap, the small town with the serial killer mother. Tell your friends you saw me, you met me. Everything about Amma is a challenge; my mother murdered little girls, but not me. Do your worst. Come up with something to say to that. Try and charge us a dollar for a reusable bag after I drop that bomb on you.

Camille focuses on the road, avoids looking at Amma's haughty smile from the corner of her eye. That's a good thing, right? That kind of confidence. Would Marian have been like this if she'd been allowed to grow up? Would Alice? Would Camille?

She grips the wheel hard enough to make her knuckles ache. Except Amma is still growing up. She's a little girl, and anybody who thinks otherwise is as much of a pervert as the college boys that call out to her.

"Can we get pizza for dinner?" Amma asks, propping her feet up on the dash. Her skirt rides up her thigh, and suddenly Camille wants to reach out and touch her there, that perfect patch of skin. Like the small of Camille's back but all over, smooth and sunkissed and safe.

"Sure," Camille says through the tightness in her throat.

They're only in Chicago a week before Amma gets a fever.

"That's the city air for you," Curry says, "If I remember right you called out sick a lot your first year." If Camille remembers right, that first year was colored more by the binge drinking than any illness.

"Yeah, that must be it," she replies, angling her body so the receiver is pointed away from Amma's room, the sound of retching.

"Don't worry about coming into the office, Cubby," he goes on, voice tinny in the phone's receiver. "You two look after each other."

When Camille reenters the bedroom, Amma follows her with her eyes, like an animal in a cage.

Amma licks her chapped lips. "Adora said I'm not safe around you." Camille takes a seat beside her, wiping the sweat-slick hair from her brow.

"I think we both know Mama wasn't really an expert on 'safe,'" Camille murmurs, but Amma's not in the mood to talk badly about their murdering matriarch.

"Mama," she whispers, "I want my Mama." She reaches up and squeezes Camille's hand in a crushing grip, voice hoarse, "Mama, Mama…"

The situation is so surreal. Camille has never needed to comfort anyone before; Marian was so fiercely optimistic, so untroubled in her illness. She was always so gracious in her willingness to be poisoned, generously allowing her organs shut down like it was the polite thing to do.

And Amma, who grew up with a tolerance to rat poison, who craves it even now, as she digs her fingers into Camille's hand until she wrenches it away. Half moon lines of blood dot Camille's palms, intoxicating gashes opening up her few clean patches of skin. Her hands are unmarred except for the lifelines, palm-reading herself into oblivion.

"Mama!" Amma howls, kicking at the blankets, upending the glass of water at her bedside. She throws one pillow, then a second, narrowly missing her dollhouse. Camille moves without thinking, grabbing the girl in her arms and holding her tight to her chest, forcing her still.

"Stop, Amma. It's okay."

"No!" Amma sobs. "No, it's not okay." She snakes herself free and claws at Camille, nearly taking a fistful of hair with her. "You're not doing it right!"

"Doing what?" Camille hates the irritation in her voice, the panicked desperation to make this stop, to make someone else be happy. Waves of inadequacy wash over her; stupid Camille, with 'failure' humming along her left thigh. She's never even known how to make herself happy, how could she ever expect to do that for someone else? It's her mother's voice in her head, cruel barbs over a glass of amaretto. As if Camille really thought she could successfully do something Adora couldn't. Failure, stupid, nothing. Each word lights up along her skin.

"What do you want me to do?" Camille pleads.

"Take care of me," she hisses, burying her face in her chest, just above "worthless.' "Do it like Mama did. Make me all warm inside."

"I don't know how," Camille manages to say because it's safer than saying she doesn't know which poison did that. "But I'm trying, Amma."

"Take care of me," she sniffles, wiping her nose on Camille's shoulder. "Be like Mama. Do it. Do it!" she shrieks and lashes out with her arms, fast and violent enough that Camille has to struggle to hold them at her sides. She hears herself shushing Amma before realizing it. Then, later and even more unwelcome, she remembers where she's seen this before; Amma's tantrums back in Wind Gap, with Adora's arms wrapped around her. How easy it must be to fall into old habits. Adora poisoning one daughter after killing another, and now Camille holding down Amma with the same force her mother had.

Her stomach lurches.

"I'm sorry," Camille mumbles, burying her face against the crown of Amma's head. Her hair is so soft, her wrists are so skinny as she struggles and flails, hiccuping back sobs and pleading for 'Mama, Mama' until exhaustion sets in.

How long did it take Adora to go from calming a little girl’s tantrums to silencing them once and for all? How far would Camille have to follow in her footsteps before she's yanking out teeth, leaving bodies propped in the city square?

Parenthood comes with mistakes, Adora told the court. Camille's coming to understand that sisterhood comes with their own too, especially when she comes home to Amma and a bottle of vodka sprawled over the couch.

But that's the difference between her and Adora, she'll learn from that mistake. Just because Amma grew up guzzling poison, just because Camille desperately tried to poison herself with booze all those years; it doesn't mean it always has to be that way. Teenagers need to be kept on a short leash, or at least shorter than the one Adora had on Amma. Amma is Camille's responsibility now, and if she wants her sister to have half a chance to not grow up as fucked up as Camille, she has to taper her own vices. Make this ugly, one bedroom apartment into a safe space. Child-friendly.

Maybe she ought to put padding on all the sharp edges of the tables, Camille thinks ruefully, pouring the bottle out in the sink. Put Mister Yuck stickers on all the cleaning supplies in the bathroom.

A few days later she finds the water bottle of gin has mysteriously disappeared from her car's glove compartment. She tracks it down under Amma's bed.

"You're too smart for your own good," Camille says, prying it from her after letting the teenager take a couple final, greedy gulps. She shouldn't be all that surprised; Amma guzzled poison for years, whats a little booze here and there? "Guess we're both gonna have to go cold turkey."

"But you don't wanna quit," Amma reasons, leaning in the doorway, her body a punctuation point in the shadows. Not yet a semicolon, a tiny comma, draped against the wood and the latches. "C'mon, Mille," she says, mouth curling around the name her unknown sister had used. It makes Camille's hair stand on end. "It'd be mean of me to make you quit drinkin' just cause I moved in." Her eyes are glassy with liquor, legs wobbly as she walks the length of the room.

"That's fine, but I still don't want you drinking anymore," Camille counters. A headache is already building behind her temples. This story for Curry is due tomorrow, and her usual writing practice of staying up until four in the morning, Led Zeppelin blaring into the night… Well, that isn't exactly child-friendly.

Amma tosses her hands in the air before throwing herself bodily onto the bed. She rolls onto her back, legs dangling over the edge of the mattress. Camille spots the white outlines of scar tissue on her knees. She recognizes the faded scapes you get after a skating fall, the way gravel digs into your knees, just under your skin. She itches just looking at those delicate, innocent scars.

Camille's gaze can't help but travel upward, towards the rest of Amma's fresh, unmarked skin. Higher, up past milky soft thighs, to the outline of soft white panties just beneath the skirt of her dress. Her throat clenches. She aches for a needle, or something worse.

"It's just cause you're never around." Amma's accusatory tone makes Camille snap to attention, turn her eyes away from that illicit sight. "You keep leavin' me alone," Amma argues, voice thick in her mouth. "when I don't have any friends."

"I have to go to work. Who's gonna pay for all the alcohol you're not allowed to drink?" Camille senses a shit-eating grin behind her. When she turns around in her chair she spots it, beaming up over the endless amount of throw pillows Amma just had to bring along to Chicago. Even after that Ikea trip, the apartment is a mess of Camille's utilitarian style and Adora's wispy, Victorian frills.

It suits them, Camille thinks. Neither she or Amma are just one thing. They both have layers, hard and soft. She never used to think of herself as soft before, but sometimes now, when she sees the dusk light cast Amma's small shadow tall on the road behind them, or when Amma wraps her arms around her shoulders when she's making breakfast, the harsh lines of her life seem gentler somehow. More manageable.

Soft, even with a beautiful, jailbait-aged and gin-soaked sister rolling around on her bed.

"I can get a job," Amma supplies helpfully. Camille laughs on a weak exhale and stands up. She's not going to get any work done like this.

"School will start soon." She moves over to a seat beside her. "You'll make lots of friends there."

"I don't want them," Amma mutters. She kicks her legs one, then the other. The bottoms of her feet scrape against the floor, and the mattress bounces gently with the force of her movements. "I only want to be friends with you." She tilts her face up to point a narrowed, predatory smile at Camille. It pins her in place. Camille hopes the lines of her mouth crease into something like a smile. Sometimes Amma's hard to look at dead on; like the sun. Or a car crash.

Amma wets her lips. "I just want you."

It's the humid, lurid end of summer, but the room feels ice cold.

"Get some sleep," Camille says, rearranging the blankets to cover Amma, those knees, the bra strap slipping from her shoulder. "You keep staying up and boozin' like this, you'll never be able to wake up in time for school." Amma laughs and squirms free of the blanket cocoon, but Camille slips away before she can grab her.

She takes her laptop onto the sofa, to her new bed, and stares listlessly at the half-finished word document. There's the soft rustling of bedsheets from the other room as Amma sheds layers, dropping them onto the floor. A migraine pounds between Camille's temples as she imagines that small, nude body under the scratchy, hand-me down-blankets she inherited who-knows-where. Camille's hands hover over the keys, temples throbbing as she envisions long legs twisting between white sheets. Endless layers of soft, plump skin without a scratch on it. No cruel comments, no miserable reminders of a wasted youth letting people abuse you. Amma's body holds all that awfulness inside, newly detoxed. She's got all that open, inviting skin, supple slopes of her developing chest and newly curved hips and she's keeping them clean. Fresh. Waiting for someone to join her.

Camille grabs her arm and pinches, hard enough to bruise. What kind of thought is that anyway? She's not going to get any work done like this either.

Hurried, she shrugs on her coat, closes the front door as softly as possible, and drinks three miniature bottles of vodka outside the corner store down the street. It doesn't make writing the assignment any easier, or erase whatever the hell she'd been thinking before, but at least her headache goes away.

School starts and Amma makes friends. Or at least she says she does. As far as Camille's concerned, Amma should have no problem being liked; she's beautiful and smart. Magnetic. Camille already spent a couple weeks in Wind Gap orbiting around her, growing more obsessed with every glimpse of a long-lost sister. Who could resist it?

Then again, Camille doesn't see Amma talking to anyone after school. Instead she makes a beeline to the car, gold curls bouncing over her shoulders. Amma turns heads, but she either doesn't notice or pretends not to.

"You can say bye to your friends around me, you know," Camille tells her. "I promise I won't be too embarrassing."

Amma shoots her a brief, hollow smile from the passenger seat. "I know," is all she says, all secrets.

"That girl was a big fish in a small pond," Eileen says when Camille mentions it. "She's gonna have a tough time adjusting to not being queen bee."

A week after school starts, Amma gets the flu again. Bad, all gagging and sobbing, curled up and shaking in Camille's arms late into the night.

"Don't leave me," Amma cries, face buried into her chest. "Don't leave me."

"Never," Camille says and she's surprised how much she means it.

Later, when Camille goes to disinfect the bathroom, she tries not to notice that some bottles of cleaning supplies seem a little too empty.

The Missouri humidity breaks into rain, a cavernous burst of thunder that waterlogs the whole city. Camille never liked the rain as a child; rain meant no outdoor exploring. And Adora couldn't bear to have any mud in her home. Even after the storms, the mud hung around for days, forcing Camille inside. It felt like it took days for the rural city to recover from the rain.

Chicago, though, the rain here is like a cleanse. With its tall buildings and cramped spaces and polluted streets that build up into a frenetic, sweaty mess that the rain washes twice a month. If just for the few hours of a storm, Camille can squint out the window and imagine the city being scrubbed clean. Starting anew.

Amma clatters inside, door smacking against the wall as she kicks off her skates, drenched head to toe.

"You look like a drowned cat," Camille says, turning from the dramatic arrival back to her computer. "Careful slamming the door."

"Sorry," Amma says, voice a plucky chirp, like an apology is just a punctuation mark. Camille's coming to learn that about her sister, that 'sorry' is as empty as a hiccup for Amma. A reaction with no thought behind it. But all teenagers are like that, and it's not like Camille's ever expected a real apology; not from Amma, and not for all the shit ways life's done her over.

"Whatcha doing?" Amma asks, plopping down onto the couch beside her, dripping water over Camille's keyboard.

"Careful." She sets the laptop on the table. Amma blinks long lashes that are still flecked with raindrops. Her already too thin t-shirt sticks wet to her chest, around the structureless nature of her bra, announcing the curve of her breasts.

"Pay attention to me," Amma says, rolling onto her back, curling her cold body around Camille's.

"C'mon, this is my bed," Camille says, half-heartedly pushing her away. "Don't — you'll get it all wet."

"No," Amma cooes, nuzzling her face into the crook of Camille's neck. Her mouth glances over Camille's collar, just above the word 'filth.' The humidity's broken, but her body feels uncomfortably warm through the soaked clothes.

"Hey," Camille says quietly, jostling her.

"Mm," Amma murmurs, arms slung around her, heaving her weight forward until they're practically lying down together. Camille laughs and squeezes the wet shoulder in her grip. She stares at a crack on the wall they've almost hidden with an array of family portraits. Amma's school photo from last year. Curry and Eileen from the last Fourth of July, a photo that was only added to even out the line of pictures. (Amma was very specific that the photo set had to be symmetrical. Camille was halfway certain she saw a similar photo display at the house in Wind Gap.)

Finally, a photo of Camille and Marian, one she can only look at sideways most days. Everything about this home is a work in progress.

"Can I sleep here with you?" Amma asks, half-muffled in Camille's sweater. This close Camille can see her tan lines, sunkissed even after all this rain. You can take the girl out of the country but you can't take away that farmer tan.

"No," Camille responds belatedly. "No, go get in the shower. You gotta warm up."

"You can warm me up!" Amma turns her head, her teeth scraping against skin. Camille narrows her focus on the photo of another sister along the wall, of Marian's hair falling just over one eye, her young, crooked smile.

"No," Camille says, sternly this time, and detangles herself. Living with Amma feels like an exercise in being tied into knots, in slow, methodical work to break free.

"Fine," Amma huffs, slouching further into the couch. Camille can see her soaked clothes leaving a wet spot on the cushions. "I'm just fooling around. Why do you have to be such a bitch?" A skinny leg jerks out, kicking the end of the coffee table. Camille's laptop tumbles to the floor, the screen flickering off.

"Jesus," Camille scoops the computer up, frantically tapping keys to wake it up. "Don't—" Amma sneers and angles another kick at the back of Camille's knees. It scares her more than really hurts, the sudden violence, the lack of guilt. "Amma!"

"What?" Amma says, elbows on her knees. Water drips from her hair to the floor and in the low light she looks almost demonic, hunched forward, eyes gleaming. "You gonna punish me?"

Camille used to pride herself for thinking fast on her feet, but Amma's thrown all that out the window, with these mean barbs and random tantrums; the whims of a teenager. Camille had really hoped she left that shit behind her, back in high school when she screwed guys just to make them like her.

Not that that would work on Amma she thought resignedly. The word 'Disgusting' sears over her pelvis.

"Maybe," Camille counters, tongue a heavy weight in her mouth.

Amma's smile grows. "Good, do it. You're always so nice to me." How come you were just calling me a bitch then? Camille wants to counter but she's old, she's tired, and she's more sober than she's been in years. Fighting with a teenager was exhausting even when she was one and now it feels like every word out of her mouth is just stepping into one of Amma's traps.

Camille's throat clenches. That used to be how it used to be, arguing with Adora.

Amma lunges forward, batting at the computer.

"Stop it!"

"Go on, punish me," Amma goads, white teeth biting into her lips. "You can spank me, I bet you wanna—"

Camille drops her computer back the table with a clatter. She grabs Amma's shoulders and Amma's reaction is instantaneous, euphoric, giggling and keening into the contact. Under her fingers, Amma's skin feels so smooth and warm. Even with all the clinging fabric, the too-short skirts and barely-there crop tops, Camille miserably finds herself wanting more, hands itching to touch more of that new skin, that blank canvas. She's not sure if she wants to write on it or take it between her teeth.

"Yeah?" Amma breathes, eyes wide. "You wanna hurt me? You like hurting, just like me, I know it, I know it —" She yelps as Camille pushes her back. Her legs fall open, the milky skin as bright and white as a headlight. Camille is dizzy with the thought of it; her lips against Amma's thighs.

"You are driving me crazy," Camille mutters, hand over her eyes, protecting herself from the sight of her sister, spread out and wicked, leering at the adult towering over her. "I'm going out," she announces, speed-walking towards the door, her escape.

"Oh please," Amma huffs. "You're just going to get booze." Against her better judgment, Camille looks back. Amma's arms are crossed tight over her chest, pushing her tits up in an exaggerated fashion. "Like I don't know that's where you go when you get sick of me."

Shame thunders through her. "I'm not — sick of you, Amma, that's not what this is." Amma resolutely turns her face and 'unloved' scalds Camille through the sleeve of her jacket. "I just — Sometimes I don't know what you're trying to do."

A pause. A backward glance. "You don't?"

"Of course I don't," Camille drags a hand through her hair. Rain pounds against the windows. "You went through a lot and I'm trying my best to help—"

"I don't need help," Amma spits out the word like it's rotten. "I need a sister."

"I'm not good at that!" she shouts. Her words hang in the space between them. "I don't… I haven't been one for a long time, and when I try, it feels like I just do it wrong, and," Camille trails off, hands falling to her side. She can't bear to look anywhere near Amma, like that portrait of Marian. This feels more emotionally vulnerable than she's been in years. It burns in the center of her chest.

She lifts her eyes at the sound of footsteps and Amma's standing just in front of her. She's already so tall. Marian never grew very tall, wasn't allowed to. But Amma stands in front of her, tall with a straight spine, a lifted chin and an expression softer than any Camille's seen from her family in a long time.

"Okay," Amma whispers and takes her hands. "Okay, Mille, I know you're trying."

Camille feels a small, treacherous smile crack at the corner of her lips.

"I'll fix it, I'll be good from now on," Amma says and drags Camille into a hug, firm chest pressed tight against hers. "I promise."

Amma's promises, Camille comes to find out, are worse than her apologies. When Amma says 'Sorry' she doesn't mean it, it's a thoughtless reaction. But a promise is a threat hidden under honey-sweet tones and doeish eyes.

'Idiot' scalds under her sweater as she dutifully walks into her room, comes when Amma calls. Prepared to drop everything and lie in bed with her, like an obedient dog, like some loser kid desperate to be liked by the popular girl. 'Pathetic' buzzes against her hip, and suddenly, in the darkness, Amma has something buzzing between her own legs.

The sight is so strange it takes a second for Camille to process its; her kid sister, completely naked, and a familiar blue vibrator pressed to her privates.

"Hey, sis." Amma's face splits with a shark's smile. Camille grips the doorframe, unsure if her legs can hold her up. "What's yours is mine, right?" she says, casual as anything. Amma starts to say more but her voice hitches, her body shudders and the world around Camille's vision is narrowing to a pinprick.

"Amma..." Camille feels bolted to the floor. Her eyes locked on the image of the small silicon toy pressing into the thin pinks folds of Amma's clit.

"Mm," she fumbles with the buttons on the toy, and the hum between her legs ratchets in intensity, "Ahh…"

The is really happening. Her sister is — Amma is doing this, and Camille is just standing there watching. It's sick. Disgusting. Vile. She could choke on the words bubbling up inside her, burning through her clothes. All that clothing what seems so heavy all of a sudden, the room unbearably hot.

Amma's skin is all there, spread out like a feast, luscious and perfect. Camille wants to press her body to it, absorb its seal-like smoothness for her own. That's what she really wants, that's all she's wanted from Amma since the first moment she slapped eyes on her, newly grown, silky soft. She told everyone raising Amma was a chance to try again as a sister, but Camille knew deep down in her marrow she could never really be good at that. She was always too selfish, too stupid to take care of anyone but herself. All those times before, she wasn't smart enough to notice when other girls were in trouble; Marian, Alice. And now she's led Amma right into the jaws of trouble again. Beautiful, awful Amma, naked and gorgeous and all Camille can think about is lapping up that perfect body for her own.

"C'mere," Amma says, lifting one hand from between her legs to beckon towards her. They splay out in either direction over the bed, over the new fucking comforter Camille bought for her even when Amma already had one. But that's Amma for you, the favorite, she'll always get what she wants. And Camille, stupid, ugly, vile Camille, bought into it completely. She thought she was trying her hardest to pick up the pieces, to pack up weeks of unresolved feelings and plaintive urges. But now, at the most dangerous moment, all she needs to do is leave the room like a respectable adult. Like someone good. Like a real sister.

"Yes," Amma sighs happily as Camille moves the wrong way, closer to the bed. "Touch me, Mille." 'Mille' again, like she only says when she wants something. Like Marian did. How could Amma have known that, Camille's mind races. How could she have known what to say to make Camille do what she wanted? Or maybe the truth is that Camille is truly that simple, that easy to manipulate. A plaything like the toy rubbing against Amma's cunt.

"We can't—" Camille swallows hard. Her throat feels as dry as dirt. "We shouldn't do this, Amma."

"But you wanna," Amma says with an awful grin. She twists her wrist and the tip of the toy disappears for a moment. "I see you lookin' at me — ah!" Her little squeal of pleasure reminds Camille of the sows at the farms. "Ah — oh, it's okay, 'cause I like looking at you too." A warmth rises in Camille's chest at the thought of Amma looking at her, of thinking about her. So desperate to be loved she'd take desire from a preteen.

Against her better judgment, Camille's close enough to touch. Amma reaches out, tracing her fingers over her sleeve, up towards her shoulder. "I like thinkin' about all the words written under there."

She stood over Amma's bedside like this when she had a fever the first time. And the second. Both times, she must have done that to herself. Amma craves poison and Camille was stupid enough to let her do it then, and now... Stupid enough to do this.

But now Camille feels like the one with the fever. The room is a haze, the sound of the vibrator practically white noise at this point. Amma's voice barely audible when she says, "I wanna see the writing on you."

The statement hits like a sobering punch to the gut, tastes like swallowing spoiled milk. "Amma, stop it."

"Fine," she huffs, releasing Camille's sleeve. Camille furiously feels herself leaning back towards her touch. "Fine, don't show me." Another malicious smile and Amma arches her hips as the vibrator sinks further inside. "Just watch."

It feels like it takes forever. Camille floats in a dream Amma ruts and grinds on the toy. Camille's hands ache at her sides, heat thrumming between her own legs. It's bad to watch but it'd definitely be worse to touch herself. Camille can't trust her own body, can't bear to imagine what will happen after this awful, terrible threshold they've crossed.

Adora had the right idea after all, didn't she? That Camille was dangerous, that Camille would ruin something as precious and innocent as Amma. But Amma was never innocent, not really. She turned out just like Camille, grew up fast, doing adult things when she's still a baby. But she flung her sexuality like a weapon, while Camille's was a shield. Camille had braced herself behind bare breasts and fumbling handjobs.

But then there was Amma; confident, beautiful. With a flick of her wrist and a sweet promise, a flimsy apology, she had everyone in the palm of her hand. And Camille so sure she was the one who'd have to save Amma, who'd have to be the adult here. But now she's being tugged along like an eager kid, desperate to please and knowing how to do it, her hand creeping between her sister's legs.

"Yes," Amma moans, rocking her hips forward, her body greedily sucking Camille in alongside the vibrator. "Yes, Camille, oh — mm!" She comes the instant Camille's inside her, muscles spasming around her fingers. Like a child with a hand on a hot stove, Camille tries to rip her hand away, give her a break, but Amma grabs her wrist, holds Camille and the toy buried deep, riding through the orgasm until her peals of pleasure turn to weak, frantic cries of pain.

"Amma, let go, I don't —" Camille's lost all sense of what she does and doesn't do anymore, knuckle deep in the only person she's even bothered to let this close, to really truly care about. Trapped with the monster in her bed, this golden child with a mean streak and love, maybe even real love, for the sister touching her. She fumbles for something real to hold onto, something to detangle herself from how dangerous it all has become. "I'm hurting you."

"No," Amma whispers. "I like it."

She generously releases Camille's hand and she pulls it close to her chest, fingers sticky and sweet smelling. Amma leers after her, hair fanned out over the pillow, expression venomous. Camille stares into those eyes, the icy pools she's fallen into, a trap laid by Adora's daughter. There's no coming back from this, no being a normal family now.

"It's okay, Mille," Amma says, like she knows where Camille's mind is racing to, like she can feel the words humming under her skin. When she licks her lips, she looks like her mother, "I promised I'd be good."