Kelly was the reason her dad still had a job. Every time Kelly switched agencies, he talked Cath’s dad into following him.
Kelly chalked up all her dad’s extreme behavior to “the creative mind.” “Your dad’s a genius,” he’d told the twins at one Christmas party. “His brain was specifically designed to make ads. He’s a precision instrument.”
Kelly had a soft, wheedling voice—like he was trying to talk you into something or sell you something, every time he opened his mouth. “Have you girls tried the cocktail shrimp here? The cocktail shrimp are amazing.”
Hearing Kelly’s soft-sell voice now sent an unpleasant chill scrabbling up Cath’s spine.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hey, Cather. I’m sorry to call you at school. It’s finals week, right? My Connor tells me it’s finals week.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Look, I got your number from your dad’s phone, and I just wanted to tell you that he’s perfectly okay, he’s going to be fine. But he’s spending tonight—maybe the next day or two—here at the hospital. Here at St. Richard’s Hospital—”
“Nothing happened, he’s okay. I mean it. He just needs to get his balance back.”
“Why? I mean, what happened? Why did you take him there—did you take him there?”
“Yeah, I did. I brought him here myself. It wasn’t that anything happened. It’s just that he was really caught up in work, which you know, we all are. It’s a fine line sometimes for all of us … but your dad didn’t want to leave his office. It had been a few days since he’d left his office.…”
How many days? she wondered. And was he eating? Was he going to the bathroom? Had he shoved his desk up against the door? Had he thrown a stack of ideas out the seventh-floor window? Had he stood in the hallway and shouted, You’re all limp-dicked sellouts! Every one of you! And especially you, Kelly, you f**king brainless hack! Did they have to carry him out? Was it during the day? Did everyone watch?
“He’s at St. Richard’s?” she asked.
“Yep, they’re just checking things out. Helping him get some sleep. I think that’s really going to help.”
“I’m coming,” she said. “Tell him I’m coming. Did he hurt himself?”
“No, Cather—he’s not hurt. He’s just sleeping. I think he’s going to be fine. It’s just been a rough couple of months.”
Months. “I’m coming, okay?”
“Sure,” Kelly said. “I’m probably going to head home soon. But this is my cell number. You call me if you need anything, okay?”
“I mean it. Anything at all. You know how I feel about your dad, he’s my lucky penny. I’d do anything for the guy.”
She hung up before Kelly did. She couldn’t stand any more.
Then she immediately called Wren. Wren sounded surprised when she answered the phone. Cath cut to the chase—“Dad’s at St. Richard’s.”
“He lost it at work.”
“Is he okay?”
“I don’t know. Kelly said he wouldn’t leave his office.”
Wren sighed. “Fucking Kelly?”
“Dad’s going to be mortified.”
“I know,” Cath said. “I’m going up there as soon as I can figure out a ride.”
“Did Kelly tell you to come?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s finals week, and you know that Dad is probably tranqed into oblivion right now. We should call tomorrow and see how he’s doing.”
“Wren, he’s in the hospital.”
“St. Richard’s isn’t exactly a hospital.”
“You don’t think we should go?”
“I think we should finish our finals,” Wren said. “By the time we’re done, he’ll be just coming out of the haze, and we can be there for him.”
“I’m going,” Cath said. “I’m gonna see if Grandma will come get me.”
“Grandma’s in Chicago.”
“If you really have to do this, I know that Mom would drive you. If it’s that important to you.”
“No. Are you kidding me?”
“Fine. Whatever. Will you call me when you get to the hospital?”
Cath wanted to say something mean, like, “I’d hate to interrupt your studies during finals week.” But instead she said, “Yes.”
She called Reagan next. Reagan had a car; Reagan would understand.…
Reagan didn’t answer.
Cath crawled onto her bed and cried for a few minutes.
For her dad. For his humiliation and his weakness. And for herself—because she hadn’t been there to keep this from happening, and because even something this shitty couldn’t bring her and Wren together. Why was Wren being so cool about this? Just because it had happened before didn’t mean it wasn’t serious. It didn’t mean he didn’t need them.
Then she cried over the fact that she hadn’t made more friends with cars.…
And then she called Levi.
He answered right away. “Cath?”
“Hey, Levi. Um, how are you?”
“Fine. I’m just … working.”
“Do you usually answer your phone at work?”
“Oh. Well, um, later when you get off, is there any chance you could drive me to Omaha? I know it’s a big hassle, and I’ll give you gas money. It’s just, sort of, a family emergency.”
“I’ll come get you now. Give me fifteen.”
“No. Levi, it can wait, if you’re at work.”
“Is it a family emergency?”
“Yeah,” she said quietly.
“See you in fifteen.”
There was no way Snow would see him here, up on the balcony. Snow was too busy trying to learn his steps for the ball. Too busy stamping all over Agatha’s silk boots. She looked lovely today—all golden white hair and creamy pink skin. That girl is opaque, Baz thought. Like milk. Like white glass.
Simon took a bad step forward, and she lost her balance. He caught her with a strong arm around her waist.
Don’t they just shine together? Weren’t they every shade of white and gold?
“He’ll never give her up, you know.”
Baz wanted to whip around at the voice, but he caught himself. Didn’t even turn his head. “Hello, Penelope.”
“You’re wasting your time,” she said, and damned if she didn’t sound tired. “He thinks she’s his destiny—he can’t help himself.”
“I know,” Baz said, turning into the shadows. “Neither can I.”
Levi didn’t ask any questions, and Cath didn’t feel like explaining.
She told him that her dad was in the hospital, but she didn’t tell him why. She thanked him a lot. She pushed a twenty-dollar bill into his ashtray and told him she’d give him more as soon as she got cash.
She tried not to look at him—because every time she did, she imagined him kissing someone, either her or that other girl, and both memories were equally painful.
She waited for him to turn on the Levi, to needle her with questions and charming observations, but he left her alone. After about fifteen minutes, he asked whether she’d mind if he listened to a lecture—he had a big final the next day.
“Go ahead,” Cath said.
Levi set a digital recorder on the dashboard. They listened to a deep-voiced professor talk about sustainable ranching practices for the next forty minutes.
When they got into town, Cath gave Levi directions; he’d only been to Omaha a few times. When they turned into the hospital parking lot, Cath was sure he’d read the sign—ST. RICHARD’S CENTER FOR MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH.
“You can just drop me,” she said. “I really appreciate this.”
Levi turned off the Range Management lecture. “I’d feel a lot better if I saw you in.”
Cath didn’t argue. She walked in ahead of him and went straight to the registration desk. She was half-conscious of Levi folding himself into a lobby chair behind her.
The man at the desk wasn’t any good. “Avery,” he said. “Avery … Arthur.” He clicked his tongue. “Doesn’t look like he’s authorized for visitors.”
Could Cath talk to a doctor? Or a nurse? The guy wasn’t sure about that. Was her dad awake? He couldn’t tell her, federal privacy regulations and all.
“Well, I’m just going to sit over there,” Cath said. “So maybe you could tell somebody that I’m waiting, and that I’d like to see my dad.”
The guy—he was a big guy, more like a muscled-up orderly than a receptionist or a nurse—told her she was welcome to sit all she wanted. She wondered if this guy had been here when they’d brought her dad in. Did they have to restrain him? Was he screaming? Was he spitting? She wanted everyone here, starting with this guy, to know that her dad was a person, not just a crazy person. That he had people who cared about him and who would notice if he was roughed up or given the wrong medicine. Cath huffed down into a chair where the no-good orderly could see her.
Ten minutes of silence passed before Levi said, “No luck?”
“Same old luck.” She glanced over at him, but not at his face. “Look, I’m probably here for the long haul. You should head back.”
Levi leaned forward on his knees, scrubbing at the back of his hair, like he was thinking about it. “I’m not going to leave you alone in a hospital waiting room,” he said finally.
“But all I can do now is wait,” she said. “So this is the perfect place for me.”
He shrugged and sat back, still rubbing his neck. “I may as well see you through. You might need a ride later.”
“Okay,” Cath said, then forced herself to keep going. “Thank you … This isn’t going to be a regular thing, you know. I promise not to call you the next time one of my relatives gets drunk or goes crazy.”
Levi took off his green jacket and laid it on the seat next to him. He was wearing a black sweater and black jeans, and he was holding his digital recorder. He pushed it into his pocket. “I wonder if there’s coffee around here,” he said.
St. Richard’s wasn’t a regular hospital. Nothing but the waiting room was open to the public, and the waiting room was more like a hallway with chairs. There wasn’t even a TV hanging in the corner tuned to Fox News.
Levi stood up and moseyed over to the orderly’s window. He leaned forward on the counter and started to make conversation.
Cath felt a surge of irritation and got out her phone to text Wren. “at st richard’s, waiting to see dad.” She thought about calling their grandma, but decided to wait until she had more information.
When she looked up from the phone, Levi was being buzzed through the main doors. He glanced back at her just before they closed behind him, and smiled. It had been so long since Levi smiled at her—Cath’s heart leapt up into her sinuses. It made her eyes water.…
He was gone a long time.
Maybe he was getting a tour, she thought. He’d probably come back with a pitcher of beer, lipstick all over his face, and Fiesta Bowl tickets.
Cath didn’t have anything to distract herself with except her phone—but the battery was low, so she shoved it into her bag and tried not to think about it.
Eventually she heard a buzz, and Levi walked back through the doors, holding two disposable coffee cups and balancing two boxed sandwiches on his forearms.
“Turkey or ham?” he asked.
“Why are you always feeding me?”
“Well, I work in food service and my major is basically grazing.…”
“Turkey,” she said, feeling grateful, but still not feeling like she could look Levi in the eye. (She knew what that was like. His eyes were warm and baby blue. They made you feel like he liked you better than other people.) She took a coffee cup. “How did you get back there?”
“I just asked about coffee,” he said.
Cath unwrapped the sandwich and started tearing off bite-sized pieces. She pinched them flat before pushing them into her mouth. Her mom used to tell her not to mutilate her food. Her dad never said anything; his table manners were much worse.
“You can, you know,” Levi said, unwrapping his sandwich.
“Call me the next time somebody goes crazy or gets arrested … I was glad you called me tonight. I thought you were mad at me.”
Cath smashed another chunk of sandwich. Mustard oozed out the sides. “Are you the guy who everybody calls when they need help?”
“Am I Superman?” She could hear him smiling.
“You know what I mean. Are you the guy all your friends call when they need help? Because they know you’ll say yes?”
“I don’t know…,” he said. “I’m the guy everybody calls when they need help moving. I think it’s the truck.”
“When I called you tonight,” she said to her shoes, “I knew that you’d give me a ride. If you could.”
“Good,” he said. “You were right.”
“I think I might be exploiting you.”
He laughed. “You can’t exploit me against my will.…”
Cath took a sip of the coffee. It tasted nothing like a gingerbread latte.
“Are you worried about your dad?” Levi asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “And no. I mean”—she glanced over at him quickly—“this isn’t the first time. This just happens.… Usually it doesn’t get this bad. Usually we’re there for him.”