A chubby, barely fourteen-year old boy named Russ sits in a lawn chair in front of a motel. He lives there with his dad, works there too. Cars whip past on the highway in front of him. He’s waiting to start work.
Even though he is caring, he’s just a bit too sincere and wide-eyed to understand how to interact with other kids. He lives with his dull father, Arthur. His mother left them when he was seven, and he really isn’t sure why. He hasn’t seen her since. Sometimes, he wonders where she is and if she thinks about him, but he tries to keep those kinds of thoughts at bay. They’re sad, and he doesn’t want to be sad. The only person he really talks to is his kind Aunt Judy. She puts up with him and his bad jokes, ones he takes from a joke book a guest left behind.
His father? He’s too busy with his own life to make time for him. His father has to clean a room, deal with a bad check, sit on the couch decompressing and watching the Pirates. But Russ is not mad. Russ is not angry. Unknowingly, he’s crafted a routine and called it a life: working with his father, talking with his Aunt, watching The Simpsons, smashing uorescent light bulbs against walls for fun, itching the skin right above ankles until it’s raw and bleeding.
Russ glances around, checking to see if anyone’s around. Sure he’s alone, he starts to give himself a hickey on his arm.
A couple of towns over, a stringent woman quizzes her daughter in a doctor’s office, asking the girl what she’s going to say when the doctor comes in. Will she say she’s been coughing? Yes, the girl says. Will she say she’s been dizzy? Yes, the girl says. The girl is teenaged, sickly, and bald. Her name is Bev. Her mother’s name is Mona. She answers her mom quietly, only looking up to say “Yes” and then looking back down. She sits atop a small examination table. Parchment paper covers its blue vinyl top. As her mom speaks, she absentmindedly pulls at the paper, tearing it.
School is distant dream for Bev. She and her mom have spent the last three years traveling from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, trying to find out what’s wrong with her. Bev has become an expert at swallowing pills dry. No longer does she inch at late- night injections from her mother. Her life has been consumed by the fluorescent glow of hospital hallway lights, the artificial stench of latex gloves that lingers on her skin long after examinations, the bruises on her arms from the insertions of needles.
Her only friend, her only life-line to a world that isn’t inside her own head, is her mother. Her kind mother. Her cruel mother. Her controlling mother. It all depends on what the doctors have been saying. If they’ve said Bev’s doing well, then her mother is angry and callous. If the doctors believe Bev is ill, her mother is kind and caring and everything she could want. Once a lively and curious girl, Bev has become her mother’s nervous dog.
Russ and Bev’s lives are two sides of the same coin. Where Russ experiences a lack of attention from his father, Bev’s mother gives too much. Both are isolated by the actions of their parents. Russ lacks connection to anyone in his world. Bev only has a relationship with her mother.
Soon Bev and Mona will come to stay at the motel Arthur runs, and Bev and Russ will meet. A secret, fragile friendship will form between these two nervous and lonely kids, and from it will bloom the rst romantic relationship of their young lives. Hands will be held. First kisses will be had.
But underneath this Eden will be the dark truth of Mona and Bev’s life, one that Russ will unwittingly discover, that the only thing making Bev sick is her mother. The injections? The pills? All un- needed. All ways her mother has made Bev ill for attention (a psychological disorder known as Munchausen by Proxy).
The real world will infringe on their paradise when Russ figures out this secret. He will make up his mind to save his lone friend and first love, but will just end up wreaking havoc on both his and Bev’s lives.