"What do you mean they're not coming?"
"I mean," Shelby stammers. "They.....just....can't come."
"Shelby! It's graduation. How can your parents not be able to come to graduation?"
Shelby puts her sister into the backseat of the car. She helps her buckle in. She tries to ignore her friend's question. She tires to ignore her own too.
"It's complicated okay? Can you just let it be?"
The girls get into the car, Shelby driving and her friend in the passenger's seat staring at her, knowing and not knowing all at once.
They drive in silence and Shelby looks at the road, but she hardly sees it.
She sees pain instead. She sees loss and rejection and fear.
She sees her whole life.
"Shelby," her friend presses. "What's going on? Please talk to me."
Pain. Loss. Rejection. Fear. Her whole life.
Suddenly, she doesn't want the secret anymore.
She pulls over to the side of the road and puts the car in park. She looks straight ahead when she speaks.
"My parents can't coming to graduation because they're in jail."
She states this quietly, calmly, as if it is nothing at all. She has learned to keep all of the pain and loss and rejection and fear inside of her, not let it spill out in crying like her sister or in punching like her brother. For Shelby it stays locked away.
"Jail? When did that happen?"
The simmer bubbles a little.
"When did that happen?" Shelby repeats. "It happened ten years ago, when I was eight."
Her friend tries to speak, but she can't form the words because she can't even begin to understand and it hurts Shelby to watch her try. It hurts deep down in that place within her that's been hallowed out, left empty by how different she is.
"I'm in foster care OK? You know the people you met once for just a couple of minutes? They're my foster parents. They're the fifth ones we've had in the last ten years. The fifth ones. We've only been with them for a year. That's why I started senior year with you. It wasn't because we moved here from California like I told you."
Shelby's friend just stares at her and she sees the pity moving into her eyes and she sees the end of the friendship moving in too. She sees the end. So she might as well drive it home.
"It was because our previous foster father beat the shit out of my brother. And we were with them because the one before that tried to get into my bed at night and we were with them because the one before that didn't feed us."
"Shelby," her former friend says softly.
"So no," Shelby continues. "My parents aren't coming to graduation because they're not my parents. And my real parents aren't coming because they're in jail and even if they were out they wouldn't be coming."
It is quiet in the car except for the soft trickle of tears from Shelby's sister in the backseat, her sister who still seeks love.
"They're not coming," Shelby whispers once more. "Nobody is."