* * *
It was a good weekend. Five thousand words of Carry On. Fish tacos with radish and shredded cabbage. Only two more conversations about Wren. And Sunday afternoon brought Levi back, taking her front steps two at a time.
The Humdrum bounced a small red ball in its hand.
Simon had carried that ball everywhere, for at least a year. He’d lost it when he came to Watford—he hadn’t needed it anymore.
“You’re lying,” Simon said. “You’re not me. You’re no part of me.”
“I’m what’s left of you,” the Humdrum said. And Simon would swear his own voice was never so high and so sweet.
“Geez, Cather, if you need a break, just tell me.”
Levi was lying on her dorm-room bed, and he’d just told her that he was going home for a few days for his sister’s birthday party—and instead of saying I’ll miss you or even Have fun, Cath had said, “Oh, that’s perfect.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” she apologized. “It’s just, my dad’s going to Tulsa this weekend, so he doesn’t need me. And if you’re going home, you won’t need me, and that means I have all weekend to write; I’m so far behind on Carry On.…”
So far behind. And so out of rhythm.
If she didn’t work on her fic, at least a little bit, every day, Cath lost the thread of it, the momentum. She ended up writing long, go-nowhere conversations—or scenes where Baz and Simon memorized the planes in each other’s faces. (These scenes were weirdly popular with commenters, but they didn’t help the story along.)
“I’ll still need you,” Levi said, teasing.
There followed a long go-nowhere conversation during which she tried to memorize the planes of his face. (It was harder than you’d think; they were constantly shifting.) She’d almost kissed him then.…
She’d almost kissed him again this afternoon, when he’d stopped by her dormitory to say good-bye on his way out of town. Cath had stood on the sidewalk, and Levi had leaned out of the cab of his truck, and it would have been so easy to just meet him halfway. It would have been safe, too, because he was trapped in the truck and also leaving the city. So no cascade effect. No one-thing-leads-to-another. No another.
If Cath had kissed him—if she’d let Levi know that he could kiss her—she wouldn’t still be living off that half-asleep kiss from November.…
It had been six hours since Levi left for Arnold, and Cath had already written two thousand words of Simon. She’d made so much progress tonight, she was thinking about taking a break tomorrow to start her Fiction-Writing assignment—maybe she’d even finish it. It would be awesome to tell Levi she was done when he came home on Sunday.
Cath was leaning back in her chair, stretching her arms, when the door flew open and Reagan barged in. (Cath didn’t even jump.)
“Well, look who we have here,” Reagan said. “All by her lonesome. Shouldn’t you be off bonding somewhere with the pride of Arnold?”
“He went home for his sister’s birthday.”
“I know.” Reagan walked over to her closet and stood there, deliberating. “He tried to get me to ride with him. That boy’s allergic to solitude.”
“He tried to get me to go with him, too,” Cath said.
“Where would you have stayed?”
“He hadn’t worked that out.”
“Ha,” Reagan said, loosening her Olive Garden necktie. “I’d go back to Arnold for that. To see you meet Marlisse.”
“Is she really that bad?”
“Probably not anymore. I broke her in for you—” Reagan lifted her white button-down shirt over her head and reached for a black sweater. Her bra was bright purple.
This. This was exactly the sort of thing that crawled into Cath’s head and kept her from kissing Levi. Getting to see his ex-girlfriend’s Technicolor lingerie. Knowing exactly who it was who broke him in. If only Cath didn’t like Reagan so much …
Reagan crossed over to Cath’s side of the room, leaning over and sticking the top of her head in Cath’s face. “Does my hair smell like garlic bread?”
Cath took a cautious breath. “Not unpleasantly.”
“Damn,” Reagan said, standing back up. “I don’t have time to wash it.” She shook her hair out in front of the mirror on the door, then picked up her purse. “Okay,” she said, “unless something goes incredibly wrong, you should have the room to yourself tonight. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“I haven’t so far,” Cath said dryly.
Reagan snorted and walked out.
Cath frowned at the door. Don’t be jealous. There was already a rule about this, but Cath should make another one, just for herself: Don’t compare yourself to Reagan. It’s like comparing apples and … grapefruits.
When her phone rang a few minutes later, Cath shook off the last of her green feelings and smiled. Levi was supposed to call her before he went to bed. She picked up the phone and was about to answer when she saw Wren’s name on the screen. WREN.
She and Wren hadn’t talked—they hadn’t even texted—since Christmas break. Almost three months ago. Why would Wren be calling her now? Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it was just another wrong C.
Cath held the phone in her palm and stared at it, like she was waiting for an explanation.
The phone stopped ringing. Cath watched. It started again.
Cath pushed Accept and held the phone up to her ear. “Hello?”
“Hello?” It wasn’t Wren’s voice. “Cather?”
“Thank God. It’s … your mom.”
Your mom. Cath pulled her ear away.
“Yes,” Cath said faintly.
“I’m at the hospital with Wren.”
Your mom. Cather.
“Why? Is she okay?”
“She’s had too much to drink. Someone—honestly, I don’t really know anything—someone dropped her off. I thought maybe you’d know.”
“No,” Cath said, “I don’t. I’m coming. You’re at the hospital?”
“St. Elizabeth’s. I called your dad already—he’s flying back.”
“Right,” Cath said. “I’m coming.”
“Okay,” Laura said. Your mom. “Good.”
Cath nodded, still holding the phone away from her ear, then let it drop to her lap and pressed End.
* * *
Reagan came back for her. Cath had tried to call Levi first—not because she thought he could help, he was four hours away—but she wanted to touch base. (The “tag” kind of base. The kind that means safe.) Levi didn’t pick up, so she sent him a bare-bones text, “wren’s in the hospital,” then called her dad. He didn’t pick up either.
Reagan knew where St. Elizabeth’s was and dropped Cath off at the front door. “Do you need company?”
“No,” Cath said, hoping that Reagan would see right through her. Reagan didn’t. She drove away, and Cath stood for a moment in the revolving door, feeling like she couldn’t push through.
The hospital was mostly locked up for the night. The reception desk was empty, and the main elevators were turned off. Cath eventually made her way to the emergency room. A clerk there told her that Wren was already upstairs, and sent Cath down another empty hallway. Eventually she was stepping out of an elevator onto the sixth floor, not sure whom she was looking for.
When she tried to picture Laura, all Cath could remember was what her mother looked like in family photos. Long brown hair, big brown eyes. Silver rings. Faded jeans. In a simple yellow sundress on her wedding day, already starting to show.
That woman wasn’t here.
The waiting room was empty except for a blond woman sitting in the corner, her fists clenched in her lap. She looked up when Cath walked into the room.
It took a few seconds for the lines and colors to resolve into a face Cath thought she might recognize. In those seconds, a part of Cath ran to the blond stranger, wrapped her arms around her thighs, and pressed her face into her stomach. Part of Cath screamed. As loud as she could. And part of her set the whole world on fire just to watch it burn.
The woman stood up and stepped toward Cath.
Cath stood still.
Laura walked past her to the nurses’ station and said something quietly.
“You’re the sister?” the nurse asked, looking up.
“We just need you to answer a few questions.”
Cath did her best: She didn’t know what Wren had been drinking. She didn’t know where she’d been or whom she was with.
All the other questions felt like things Cath shouldn’t answer in front of a stranger—in front of Laura, who was just standing there, watching Cath’s face like she was taking notes. Cath looked at her, helplessly, defensively, and Laura walked back to the corner. Was Wren a regular drinker? Yes. Did she often drink to drunkenness? Yes. Did she black out? Yes. Did she use any other drugs? I don’t know. Was she on any medication? Birth control. Do you have an insurance card? Yes.
“Can I see her?” Cath asked.
“Not yet,” the nurse answered.
“Is she okay?”
“I’m not her nurse. But the doctor just briefed your mom.”
Cath looked back at Laura, at her mom, at this upset blond woman with tired eyes and really expensive jeans. Cath went to sit across from her, steadying herself. This wasn’t a reunion; this wasn’t anything. Cath was here for Wren.
“Is she okay?”
Her mom looked up. “I think so. She hasn’t woken up yet. Someone dropped her off at the emergency room a few hours ago, then left. I guess she wasn’t breathing … enough. I don’t really know how it works. They’re giving her fluids. It’s just time now. Waiting.”
Laura’s hair was cut into a long bob that hung like two sharp wings under her chin. She was wearing a stiff, white shirt and too many rings on her fingers.
“Why did they call you?” Cath asked. Maybe it was a rude thing to ask; she didn’t care.
“Oh,” Laura said. She reached into a cream-colored Coach bag and pulled out Wren’s phone, holding it across the aisle.
Cath took it.
“They looked in her contacts,” Laura said. “They said they always call the mom first.”
The mom, Cath thought.
Cath dialed her dad’s number. It went straight to voice mail. She stood up and walked a few chairs away, for two feet of privacy. “Dad, it’s Cath. I’m at the hospital. I haven’t seen Wren yet. I’ll call you when I know more.”
“I talked to him earlier,” Laura said. “He’s in Tulsa.”
“I know,” Cath said, looking down at the phone. “Why didn’t he call me?”
“I … I said I would. He had to call the airline.”
Cath sat back down, not right across from Laura anymore. She didn’t have anything more to say to her, and there was nothing she wanted to hear.
“You—” Laura cleared her throat. She was starting every sentence like she didn’t have the breath to finish it. “—you still look so much alike.”
Cath jerked her head up to look at her.
It was like looking at nobody at all.
And then it was like looking at the person you expected to see comforting you when you woke up from a nightmare.
Whenever Levi had asked about her mother, Cath always said she didn’t remember much. And that had always been true.
But now it wasn’t. Now, just sitting this close to Laura unlocked some secret, half-sized door in Cath’s brain. And she could see her mom, in perfect focus, sitting on the other side of their dining room table. She was laughing at something that Wren had said—so Wren kept saying it, and their mom kept laughing. She laughed through her nose. Her hair was dark, and she tucked Sharpies into her ponytail, and she could draw anything. A flower. A seahorse. A unicorn. And when she was irritated, she snapped at them. Snapped her fingers. Snap, snap, snap, while she was talking on the phone. Stern eyebrows, bared teeth. “Shhh.” She was in the bedroom with their dad, shouting. She was at the zoo, helping Wren chase a peacock. She was rolling out dough for gingerbread cookies. She was on the phone, snapping. She was in the bedroom, yelling. She was standing on the porch, pushing Cath’s hair behind her ears again and again, stroking her cheek with a long, flat thumb, and making promises she wasn’t going to keep.
“We’re twins,” Cath said. Because it was the stupidest thing she could think to say. Because that’s what “you still look so much alike” deserved when your mom was the one saying it.
Cath took out her phone and texted Levi. “at the hospital now, still haven’t seen wren. alcohol poisoning. my mom’s here. i’ll call you tomorrow.” And then she texted, “i’m glad that you’re out there somewhere reading this, eventually reading this, it makes me feel better.” Her battery indicator turned red.
Laura got out her phone, too. (Why was Cath calling her that? When she was a kid, Cath hadn’t even known their mom’s name. Their dad called her “honey”—strained and tense and careful—“honey”—and their mom called him “Art.”) Laura was texting someone, probably her husband, and for some reason it pissed Cath off. That she was texting someone right now. That she was flaunting her new life.
Cath folded her arms and watched the nurses’ station. When she felt the tears coming on, she told herself that they were for Wren, and surely some of them were.
But not together.
Laura got up to use the bathroom once. She walked like Wren, h*ps swaying, flicking her hair away from her face. “Would you like some coffee?” she asked.