Little Fires Everywhere (38 page)

“What if those are the pictures that were going to make you famous?”

They would not be—that would be the idea just beginning to sparkle in Mia's mind as she flicked on the headlights, a wisp of an idea, not yet coalesced into an image, let alone words. As it happened, the Richardsons would never sell those photos. They would keep them and the photos would assume the status of uneasy family heirlooms, something later generations would wonder about when at last that dusty box in the attic was found and opened: where those photographs had come from, who had made them, what they meant.

For now, Mia eased the car into first gear. “Then I'll owe them much, much more than the price of the photos.” She guided the Rabbit past the duck pond, across Van Aken and the Rapid tracks, toward Warrensville Road, which would take them to the highway, out of Cleveland, and onward.

“I wish I'd had a chance to say good-bye.” Pearl thought about Moody, about Lexie and Trip, the threads that still bound her to each of them in different ways. Over the years, over the course of her life, she would try repeatedly to untangle these threads, and find each time that they were
hopelessly intertwined. “And Izzy. I wish I'd gotten to see her one last time.”

Mia was quiet, thinking of Izzy, too. “Poor Izzy,” she said at last. “She wants to get out of there so badly.”

An idea began to form in Pearl's mind in wild golden loops. “We could go back and get her. I could climb up the back porch and knock on her window and—”

“My darling,” Mia said, “Izzy is only fifteen. There are rules about that kind of thing.”

But as the car sped down Warrensville Road and toward I-480, Mia allowed herself a brief fantasy. They would be driving down a two-lane road, some back highway, the kind Mia favored: the kind that wove its way through small towns composed of a store and a café and a gas pump. Dust would billow in the air as they went by, like golden clouds. They would come around a curve and out of that golden mist they would see a shadowy figure by the roadside, arm out, one thumb up. Mia would slow the car and as the dust settled they would see her hair first, a billow of gold on gold, recognizing that wild hair, that golden wildness, even before they saw her face, even before they could stop and fling the door wide and let her in.

Saturday morning, as Mia and Pearl crossed into Iowa, Izzy—the smell of smoke still clinging, faintly, to her hair—climbed aboard a Greyhound bus headed for Pittsburgh. Across town her family was just now gathering on the bank of the duck pond, watching the firefighters douse the Richardson house, flame by flame. She had, folded in her back pocket, an address she had found in her mother's files, which she had rifled through
late the previous night, after packing her bag.
George and Regina Wright. Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.
There had been a phone number, too, but Izzy knew a phone call would not give her the answers she needed. The file on her mother's desk—neatly labeled M.W. in her mother's careful writing—had been quite full, and she had read everything, sitting in the lamplight in her mother's office chair, while everyone slept quietly upstairs. Below the Wrights' address she'd copied another:
Anita Rees, the Rees Gallery.
It was somewhere in New York City. Mia, she knew, had started there when she was not much older than Izzy. She wondered what it would be like.

Maybe one of these people would help her find Mia, wherever she might be headed. Maybe they would send her back to her parents. And if they did? She would leave again. She would leave again and again until she was old enough that no one could send her back. She would keep searching until she found what she was looking for. Pittsburgh beckoned, and beyond it, New York: Mia's past, but her future. They would lead her to Mia somehow.

Now, settling into a seat and leaning her head against the window, she imagined how it would go. She would spot Mia from behind first—but of course she would recognize her immediately. Izzy knew her outline like a shape she'd traced over and over until she knew it by heart. She would find Mia and when Mia turned she would open her arms, she would take Izzy in and take her with her, wherever she would go next.

That last night, as Mrs. Richardson settled down to sleep in the Winslow house for the first time, she began to think, as she would for a long time, of her youngest child. The noises of the house were foreign to her—the hum of the fridge, the faint rumble of the furnace downstairs, the squeak of a branch rubbing the slate roof overhead—and she rose and went
outside and sat on the steps of the little duplex, her bathrobe wrapped tightly around her. Under her feet the cement stoop was cool and slightly damp, as if a fog had just lifted.

All day long she had been fuming at Izzy, both internally and aloud. Ungrateful child, she had said. How could she do this. What she wasn't going to do when they found her. She would be grounded for life. She would be sent to boarding school. Military school. A convent. She had half a mind to let the police have her: let her learn about consequences in jail. Her husband and children, used to her flares of fury at Izzy, nodded quietly, let her rant. But this was different from other times. This time Izzy had crossed every line, and now—each member of the family was slowly realizing—she might never be back.

The police were searching for Izzy, of course; they'd put out an alert for her as a runaway and a possibly endangered child, and in the days to come Mrs. Richardson would give them photos for bulletins and posters, would track Izzy's friends and classmates one by one, searching for clues about where she might have gone. But the ones who might have known, she realized, had already gone. All up and down the street the houses looked like any others—but inside them were people who might be happy, or taking refuge, or steeling themselves to go out into the world, searching for something better. So many lives she would never know about, unfolding behind those doors.

It was nearly midnight, and a car drove down Winslow quickly, its high beams on, as if it had somewhere important to be, then disappeared into the darkness. She probably looked crazy to the neighbors, she thought, sitting out there on the steps in the dark, but for once she did not care. The anger she had stoked all day had burned away, like the heat of the afternoon burning off as evening fell, leaving her with one thought, cold and crystalline and piercing as a star: Izzy was gone. Everything that
had infuriated her about Izzy, even before she'd taken her first breath, had been rooted in that one fear, that she might lose her. And now she had. A thin wail rose from her throat, sharp as the blade of a knife.

For the first time, her heart began to shatter, thinking of her child out there among the world. Izzy: that child who had caused her so much trouble, who had worried her so much, who had never stopped worrying her and worrying at her, whose restless energy had driven her, at last, to take flight. That child who she thought had been her opposite but who had, deep inside, inherited and carried and nursed that spark her mother had long ago tamped down, that same burning certainty that she knew right from wrong. She thought, as she would often for many years, of the photograph from that day, with the one golden feather inside it: Was it a portrait of her, or her daughter? Was she the bird trying to batter its way free, or was she the cage?

The police would find Izzy, she told herself. They would find her and she would be able to make amends. She wasn't sure how, but she was certain she would. And if the police couldn't find her? Then she would look for Izzy herself. For as long as it took, for forever if need be. Years might pass and they might change, both of them, but she was sure she would still know her own child, just as she would know herself, no matter how long it had been. She was certain of this. She would spend months, years, the rest of her life looking for her daughter, searching the face of every young woman she met for as long as it took, searching for a spark of familiarity in the faces of strangers.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

When I was on book tour for
Everything I Never Told You,
an audience member once asked, “I counted, and you thanked sixty-five individual people in your acknowledgments—why did you thank so many people?” I explained that although my name is the only one on the cover, many, many people helped me along the way, and this book wouldn't exist without them. That's even more true the second time around.

Thank you as always to my superagent Julie Barer and everyone at The Book Group—so grateful to be part of Barer Nation. My unflappable editor, Virginia Smith Younce, made this a better, richer book through her expert guidance, and Jane Cavolina straightened out my time line and italics with supreme patience. Juliana Kiyan, Anne Badman, Sarah Hutson, Matthew Boyd, Scott Moyers, Ann Godoff, Kathryn Court, Patrick Nolan, Madeline McIntosh, and the entire team at Penguin Press and Penguin Books did a fantastic job of getting this book out into the world—thank you for having my back again.

My faithful writing group, the Chunky Monkeys (Chip Cheek, Calvin Hennick, Jennifer De Leon, Sonya Larson, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Whitney Scharer, Adam Stumacher, Grace Talusan, and Becky Tuch) were the first readers of this book; their cheerleading
helped me finish, and our email chains were more like lifelines. Ayelet Amittay, Anne Stameshkin, and my MFA cohort: as always, you lead the way. Jes Häberli and Danielle Lazarin, I'm sending you a van of donuts. And my non-writer friends have kept me sane and grounded through this crazy ride; in particular, I can't believe Katie Campbell, Samantha Chin, and Annie Xu still put up with me.

Huge thanks go to my readers—both of this novel and of the first. To those of you who emailed me, wrote me letters, handed me notes at readings, or chatted with me at the signing table: thank you. I can't tell you how grateful I am. Many thanks to my Twitter friends as well: you remind me every day how smart, funny, and kind people can be.

And finally, the last and biggest thanks to my family. Lily and Yvonne Ng encouraged my writing habit from my earliest days; I wouldn't be here without you—figuratively or literally. My husband, Matt, believed writing was my job long before I did, and kept telling me so. Thank you for everything you do. And my son, still my best creation: this be the verse, but I'm doing my best.

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