What we saw at night, p.12
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       What We Saw at Night, p.12

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
 
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  Part of me melted. The other part hardened. Was this just a cynical chess move on her part, to try to stay one step ahead of me? If she was willing to entrust me with Penguin, it meant our friendship could never be violated … right? It meant nothing fundamental had really changed and that she’d felt terrible about the minor things that had changed. Or she just wanted me to be her heart again, so I would leave the whole Blondie issue alone until she was ready to confide in me.

  I was too tired to think about it. Angie had fallen asleep on the couch. I thanked Mrs. Staples for the emergency babysitting gig and sent her on her way with cash from the drawer, then carried Angie up to bed. I sat in the kitchen, waiting for Mom and eating crackers until I was nauseated and my stomach literally popped out. Glancing in a night-blackened window, I noticed I looked like crap, my unremoved makeup all running in the wake of my shower, my wet hair pulled up on top of my head in a ponytail. I basically resembled the Lorax from Dr. Seuss.

  I must have fallen asleep at the kitchen table. When I lifted my head, the kitchen windows were still black. My mouth tasted awful, like dirty socks. I sat up and rubbed my eyes groggily. Mom was sitting beside me, knitting a quilt. As Jack-Jack is not a natural with any kind of needle except the kind you stick in a person, this was very slow going with much quiet swearing.

  “What time is it?” I croaked.

  “Around four,” Mom said. “You looked so peaceful. I didn’t want to wake you. And there’s no way I can sleep after the night I had.”

  I bit my lip. “How’s Nicola’s mom?”

  Jack-Jack sighed. “She’ll live. That’s what matters.”

  I nodded. I stood and stretched. I filled a glass of water at the sink and sat back down. Mom kept her eyes on her needlework.

  “I’ve been thinking about … my future,” I said. “I want to apply to colleges that specialize in criminal justice.”

  “Okay,” my mother said. She held up two squares, different colors of purple, to see if they matched in size. “I kind of thought you’d study online.”

  “Like a bird in a cage?” I said.

  “No, like a person with a chronic illness who has to avoid certain situations. Your dad has provided for your education. You have a fund. I don’t want to do anything to stand in the way of whatever it is you want to do.”

  “You sort of sound like Dr. Andrew right now—the way he talks to me in front of you. I have a theory, you know.”

  “Oh? Please share.”

  “He wants to get into your pants.”

  “Well, if that’s true, then I appreciate that about him,” Jackie said. “He’s handsome and smart and could have his pick of the litter.”

  I laughed. “Please don’t humiliate me by becoming a gold-digging mistress. Gina would do that, but not you.”

  “Gina would not do that. Don’t humiliate yourself by putting down someone who loves you so much.”

  “Ow! Guilt trip!”

  “You are spoiling for a fight, Alexis, and I am not going to give you one. Maybe it’s because of your friend’s death. Maybe it’s because you’ve had hard times with Rob and Juliet. Maybe it’s hormones. Don’t take it out on me.”

  “Let’s face it. Things would be easier if I hadn’t been born.”

  Mom slammed her needles down on the table. “You’re an idiot,” she snapped.

  I saw the dark rings under her eyes, purple bruises after a night of dealing with God-knows-what at the hospital. “You wish I didn’t have XP,” I said. I couldn’t stop.

  “Don’t you?” Mom asked.

  “Yes, but I’m not my mother.”

  “Allie, just give it up. Whatever it is, just let it go. Don’t pick away at me like this. Say what you have to say and be done with it. I’m too tired right now.”

  “That’s why you have Angela. She’s your backup kid. Right? She’s not the same as you, but at least she’ss healthy. You could get married again. You’re young enough to have another normal.…” I’m not sure why these words came cascading out, but I was too tired and confused to plug a hole in whatever dyke had held them back until now.

  My mom stood. “I’m going to sleep. See you when you come back from Mars.”

  She stomped to her room and turned up the volume of the radio so loud that the kitchen counter shook. It was possibly the most annoying song in the universe: “The Sound of Music.” The hills of Iron Harbor were definitely alive with its overblown theatrical crap. I almost had to laugh. Mom knew exactly how to punish me.

  Angie woke up, of course, and stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes. She asked me what was wrong. I started to cry. Then she started to cry, almost out of obligatory duty. I banged on Jack-Jack’s door until my hand got sore.

  Finally Mom appeared. Her eyes were huge and blotched with her own tears.

  “Listen, Allie. Both of you. I wanted another child, for me. And yes, Allie, I wanted you to have a sibling because most kids who have what you have don’t have sisters. I wanted as big a family as I could have without a husband. And you know what? I might want to adopt another baby. And if I do, even if he or she is doomed to die of cancer at the age of four, I’ll love that child the same as I love you two.” Her voice sharpened. “The way I love you and Angie is not subject to debate. Do you understand?”

  I swallowed. Angie and I exchanged a quick glance. I opened my mouth, and then closed it.

  “What?” Mom barked.

  “Juliet says … you only want to believe there’ll be a cure. As in, you want to believe in leprechauns.”

  She sagged against the doorframe. “Why wouldn’t I? Juliet is smart, but she’s cynical enough for five Chicago politicians. If I could pray, I would pray. Some people see the hand of God in this and it actually comforts them.”

  I nodded. If I opened my mouth again, I’d probably start crying again. Besides, my mother isn’t religious.

  “Your grandmother is a practicing Catholic,” she mused, staring up at the ceiling and at the same time somehow staring straight through my skull again. “She said that it was wonderful how President Kennedy’s mother kept her faith. Because after Mrs. Kennedy’s second son, Senator Bobby Kennedy, got shot, old crazy Rose said something like: ‘God gave my children beauty and intelligence but not long life.’ ”

  “That’s probably the best thing she could say,” I said.

  “No,” Mom replied, her lips tight. “It sounded to me like Old Rose had ice instead of blood in her veins. I wanted to scream in my mother’s face: That woman loves God more than she loves her children!” She glanced down. Snapping out of her reverie, she kneeled in front of Angie and me. “Listen. I would rather let the world blow up and everyone in it than let anything hurt you. A God that gave up his own son for other people … I have to be honest. I don’t get it. I love you too much. I couldn’t do that.” She sniffled and arched an eyebrow. “Maybe that’s why I’m not God.”

  I reached for her hand. She took it.

  AFTER THAT THE three of us ate a half-gallon of ice cream. My mother didn’t even pretend she was going to put it in dessert bowls. She just yanked out the carton and cut the big rectangle into three blocks, which she doled out on dinner plates. Then she slopped on everything in the house she could find, from raspberry sauce to marshmallow fluff. Daytimers that they were, Mom and Angie started rubbing their eyes once they were finished. As soon as they’d gone to bed, I sat on the screened porch and tried to savor the last moments of darkness. I focused on how I was going to determine Blondie’s identity. The fact that Juliet refused even to say his name was the most telling piece of information I’d pulled from the horrible night. She couldn’t say who he was because she was afraid.

  I could tell Jack-Jack everything Juliet had told me. But I couldn’t break my promise to Juliet. Or: Did she want me to break the promise? Did she know I would break it, anyway? There was no way out. I had built the birdcage myself.…

  The rumble of an approaching car pierced my thoughts. I froze in panic for a secon
d, and then I recognized the sound. I smiled crazily. A moment later, the headlights of Rob’s Jeep lurched into view and then went dark.

  He flung open the door and hopped out.

  I leapt like a cat into his arms.

  I kissed him and he kissed me. We fell into the pine needles near the mouth of the driveway. Both of us were sweating, and I was afraid that I smelled and nervous that I didn’t have mascara on and hadn’t brushed my hair, or come to think of it, my teeth, since the previous night. He said, “You taste like marshmallows.”

  “I was eating ice cream sundaes.”

  “Do you want to go bouldering? I brought rope and gear. I thought maybe we could do what—”

  “No, that’s not what I want,” I interrupted.

  “What do you want?” Rob said, smoothing back my sweaty hair.

  “I want to live,” I said. And Juliet’s words echoed in my brain: Everybody dies. But not everybody really lives. I glanced back at my mom’s bedroom. The window was dark. “Right here, right now.”

  Rob hesitated. “Allie, are we …?”

  “I am,” I finished for him. “With you. All my life. Always.”

  At my four-times-a-year checkup that week, Dr. Andrew asked me if I was sexually active.

  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell him, because he’d been my doctor ever since I was a kid. But right then, it felt as though he’d been always watching all of us in Iron Harbor, as though we were little figures in a snow globe.

  “Yes,” I said. “Just recently.”

  “You know, there is no one hundred percent safe kind of birth control. Using two forms is—”

  “Mom’s a nurse,” I interrupted. “I could write a book.”

  Dr. Andrew sighed. “I hope it’s a committed relationship, because you’re a good person, Allie. I’ll leave this issue in your mother’s hands.” He opened the examination door room.

  “Thanks,” I said.

  “I’m going to pass you onto a family practice doctor for this part of your cares now.”

  I said, “Okay.” But then I jumped off the exam table. Blondie had just passed by the open door, wearing a white lab coat. His hair was shorter and the streak looked newly foiled, thicker than before.

  “What’s wrong, Allie?” Dr. Andrew laid his warm fingers on my wrists, his eyes intent with concern.

  “I thought I saw someone.…” My voice was barely a whisper. “A doctor who passed by. Who’s that?”

  Dr. Andrew poked his head out. “Tim!” he called, waving. Blondie entered the examination room. “Tim, this is Allie Kim. She rules the nights of Iron Harbor. Allie, this is my son, Dr. Tim Tabor.”

  Blondie extended his hand. Knowing that mine would feel like a claw of ice, I took it and gave it the sturdiest shake I could.

  “Allie, hullo,” he said cheerfully.

  I forced a sickly smile, my brain a kaleidoscope of awful memories, my pulse thudding loud enough so that I could hear the dull beat in my ears and wondered if he could, too. My eyes roved over every inch of his face. There was something different about it: the chin was square, and the wrinkles around his eyes more pronounced, but the eyes were the same. “You have an accent!” I finally said.

  “All those years as a phony Brit.” He grinned crookedly at Dr. Andrew. “It’ll go away, at least for me. For my wife and our sons, not so much.”

  Dr. Andrew placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Tim just got back from London. He was doing a research fellowship in surgical skin procedures. Now he’s here in the urbane town of Iron Harbor. Not much like London, huh Tim?”

  “It’s home, Dad,” he said. He gave me a big, genial smile—with no hint that he’d ever seen me before. “You’ll have to excuse me. Nice to meet you, Allie.”

  “Me, too—you, as well,” I stammered. I had never fainted, but I recognized the strange sensations I was having as the precursor to some kind of blackout. “Dr. Andrew, I need to lie back down for a moment.”

  He peered down at me, his eyes narrow. “Are you eating well, Allie? Dieting too much?” He frowned. “Could you be pregnant?”

  “It’s nothing,” I said. I squeezed my eyes shut until the vertigo evaporated. “Really, I’m fine. I’m not exactly sexually active enough to be pregnant.”

  “It only takes once.”

  “I’ve heard that. Let’s change the subject. You must be happy to have your son home.”

  “Two down, one to go,” said Dr. Andrew. “My son Marcus is still in college. Undergrad. He won’t be a doctor though, like Drew and Tim. He’s studying journalism. I know he’ll write about all this. He’s bitten with the bug to translate the world of science. I think he’s having a pretty good time over in New Haven, too.” Typical of Dr. Andrew that he wouldn’t say the obvious school in New Haven: Yale. “Tim was in London a long time, almost six years. We only saw the little guy once. Now Tim and Drew are running around looking for land so Tim can build a house.”

  I forced myself to focus on the conversation. “Didn’t he look around when he got here?”

  “He just got here two weeks ago, Allie.”

  “That’s all?” I almost shouted the words.

  “You sound surprised. All they’ve been doing is getting used to life in Iron Harbor. You know, seeing my dad, who’s just thrilled, and Drew taking Tim fishing, like when they were kids, and we had the old boathouse.… My wife won’t let the grandbabies out of her sight.”

  My spine stiffened. “Two weeks ago? Did he visit a lot before?”

  “Not really. It was hard on all of us. Started work yesterday. I told him to take some time but that’s not the Tabor style.” He offered a faint, proud smile.

  I fell back against the cushions and the crumpled white sanitary sheet. Should I ask Dr. Andrew for the name of a counselor? People with XP have a lot of psychological issues. Maybe this was a neurological issue. Maybe my brain was shrinking up.

  Juliet was right.

  I had seen her having an innocent conversation with our doctor’s son, also a doctor, who’d been in England when we saw Blondie in the apartment last spring. How Juliet knew Tim Tabor was a mystery to me. Why she was in a car with him in Duluth was even more of a mystery to me. Why she thought I was nuts was now, however, perfectly obvious. I had hallucinated the second “murder” scene.

  But no. Of course I hadn’t. Besides, what accounted for … everything else? And how could I have had a hallucination of someone I’d never seen before?

  “Listen,” Dr. Andrew said. “I’ll have you see Dr. Bonnie Sommers Olson for your gynecological care, instead of Gina. She’s just as nice. I’ll set it up for next week, okay?” He lowered his voice. “You are going to confide in your mother, though.”

  I nodded. “Absolutely.”

  As soon as he left, I texted Rob and Juliet.

  2Nite The Cabin, 10.

  “I KNOW WHO he is,” I told Juliet that night. “Not just that he exists. I met him.”

  She stood with her back to me in the clearing in front of the deserted cabin, watching two loons crisscross the flat lake. The very arrogance of her pose, her tiny shrug, seemed to dismiss me. So what? Big deal! Rob’s Jeep came bumping up the track and he parked next to my mother’s minivan. He swung out quickly and kissed me hard.

  “So it’s official,” Juliet said. “You two, I mean.”

  “Yes,” Rob said for the both of us. “What, are you pissed?”

  “No.”

  “Juliet, you told me that’s all you ever really wanted.” He squeezed my hand. “For Allie and me to be happy together. Let’s just get this all out in the open, okay?”

  “Yes!” she exclaimed, her voice harsh. “I did! Congratulations!”

  I swallowed, not wanting to think about the conversation that Juliet and Rob must have had about me. “Juliet, please just answer me. Answer all of us. We all owe each other that much, right?”

  “Answer what?” she asked.

  “Why are you involved with somebody who is first, marrie
d, and second, a doctor—”

  “A doctor?” she interrupted. I could see that Juliet was honestly baffled, which only frightened me more. “Who’s a doctor?”

  “I was at the clinic today for my checkup. I saw him. I saw the blond streak on the back of his head. He was wearing a white coat. His name is Tim. Tim Tabor, Dr. Andrew’s oldest son … not that I’m telling you anything you don’t know.”

  She shook her head. “I don’t know Tim Tabor.” She hesitated. “I know Dr. Andrew has a son, or two or three, and that one is a doctor.”

  Rob let me go. He sat down hard on the ground, thrashed with bewilderment. “What the hell is going on here?”

  “Juliet,” I said. “Pull the band of your jeans down.”

  Her eyes glittered in the night. “You’re the one sleeping with Rob, dude. Not me. I only bare skin for—”

  “She has a tat,” I interrupted. “Two initials right above her hip bone. And I know it has something to do with this guy.”

  “You say,” Juliet whispered and smirked.

  “What are you so scared of, Juliet?” Rob demanded.

  “Show me.”

  “Rob, come on.”

  “Show me!” he shouted, jumping to his feet. “I know you’re lying, and I know Allie is telling the truth! I’ve seen the tattoo, Juliet! You think I haven’t? Enough! I’ve seen the initials G.T. in weird calligraphy. I’m sick of protecting you. It’s the world that ought to be afraid of you, Juliet, not the other way around.”

  “If you only knew, Rob,” Juliet said. “I wish I could scare the world.” She turned her back to us again.

  “Forget it,” Rob muttered. “Let’s just get out of here.” He reached for me, but I stepped towards her.

  Juliet waved me off. She let out a deep, long sigh. “I promise I will find out what’s happened,” she said, her old, defeated persona taking over. “I can’t tell you more than I know. I have never met Tim Tabor, and I swear to God on that. The guy you saw at the Fire Festival, who was driving the car that night, is a friend.”

 
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