What we saw at night, p.13
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       What We Saw at Night, p.13

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  “A friend?” I said.

  “He’s not bad. He’s made some bad decisions.”

  I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “You sound like an abused wife. Next, you’ll say that I don’t understand him the way you do.”

  “You don’t! But this has gone way further than I thought it would. I wanted to scare him a little, let him know that I was on to him. I knew he was seeing other women.” Juliet spoke as if she were talking to herself.

  “But the guy’s, like … old,” Rob said.

  Juliet stomped from the cover of the trees out into the moonlight. It splashed down around her body like spilled silver. “So what? Don’t you ever just want to shake up our lives? Scream? Grab someone by the throat? Make people see us? Does it matter who sees us? When they see us, we’re real. When I skied, everyone knew who I was. I wasn’t this … thing, this creature. Oh, the children of the midnight sun! The moon children!” She clasped her hands under her chin and batted her eyes in a parody of innocent bliss. “Poetry! How tragically lovely. What we really are is the human equivalent of cockroaches, scuttling around in the dark. Aren’t you tired of that?”

  I backed away. “Not as tired as you are. There are things inside me that matter more than what idiots think.”

  Juliet smiled sadly. “Idiots like Rob?”

  “Screw you.” I resisted the urge to slap her.

  “Yes, screw me, and goody for you two sweet things. The only thing inside me is the night. The freedom to do whatever I please. I want to live with that freedom inside me every moment.”

  “No one lives like that, Juliet,” Rob said. “Movie stars have bad breath. Models have learning disabilities. Athletes have athlete’s foot. Nobody is free the way you dream.”

  She shook her head. “You’re wrong, Rob. I was that free when I skied. I was that free when we started Parkour. But it wears off. I’m a drunk, like Gideon. I have to keep chasing that high.” Juliet lurched forward and grabbed the arm I’d broken, squeezing hard. “I can’t find something that lasts.

  That’s why I have to do this.”

  “Juliet, don’t run,” I said.

  She let go and took a step back. Her eyes narrowed. “Have you told anyone?”

  “No one. I just told Rob, here. Right now.”

  “Told me what?” he demanded.

  “Juliet wants to leave … she says G.T. is her ticket out of here.” I threw my hands up, hopelessly, towards the starry night sky. “She used to say G.T. meant ‘Great and Terrible.’ It’s what they called her when she was on the ski team. But now I’m pretty sure it means something else.”

  She nodded. “You’re right, Allie. It does. There’s a network of the night. There are whole underground cities lived at night. In Europe. Even here. It’s not like I’d go to Florida and sizzle on a beach.”

  “Who’s been selling you this crap?”

  “People,” Juliet hissed. “Real people. People who’ve been outside this shitty little shitbox hole of a town.”

  “Prove to me that this guy didn’t kill Nicola,” I said. “Then at least I’ll know that someone isn’t taking advantage of you. Prove to me that the girls I saw in that apartment are alive.”

  “I don’t know what you saw, Allie. Okay? But I will try to find out! I’m only human. And as for Doctor Who, it’s not the same guy. It’s some kind of crazy coincidence. It doesn’t fit together. Give me a few days to find out. Just a few days.”

  I stepped over to Rob and looped my arm in his. “If you agree to one thing.”

  “What one thing?”

  “Whatever I say,” I told her. “Otherwise, I rat. I tell your father, your mother, my mother, Rob’s mother, Dr. Andrew and everyone else I know until somebody believes me or locks you up.”

  Juliet shifted on her feet. “What else can I do?” she asked.

  “You can come back to us,” I said. “We’ll be a Tribe. We’ll be three.” I looked at Rob and he pressed his lips together, and then he nodded. “For now. Not a couple and a third wheel. We’ll be the tres compadres, like we were before. Just don’t take off.”

  Juliet took a long breath and seemed to consider her options. “I promise. But, Allie. What are we going to do for the next three days?”

  “We’ll trace,” said Rob. “We’ll boulder.”

  “Exactly,” I agreed.

  A FEW HOURS later, we were slick with sweat and spent. They’d taken me up to Superior Sanctuary, and I understood now why they’d fallen in love with it.

  I also understood something else: Rob had only tagged along with Juliet and made those Dark Stars videos because he was as creeped out as I was by what had happened in Duluth. He wanted clues. And if doing Parkour with Juliet was the only way to get those clues, then that’s what he’d do.

  You walk up Mount Everest. It is only for the strong, but most of it is walking. You are miserable, cold, oxygen-deprived and in Hell, possibly delirious and frostbitten, and you end up at the height at which planes fly. But not much of the experience is actually “climbing.” Climbing a mountain is grabbing onto one part of the mountain and then trying to hoist yourself up to the next handhold or footrest. It means having technical skill, using your boots for traction and an ice pick for leverage—and yes, a rope tied to a trusted friend, so you don’t fall.

  Bouldering isn’t entirely like climbing. It’s based more on instinct, on grit and strength. You can boulder up a sheer slab: the side of a city building, a highway pylon, or a wall in your house, if you’re Rob.

  For weeks, Rob had been practicing, so he could do Parkour with Juliet, to get some kind of insight into what was going on with her. Not that he’d ever, ever admit that to me. The closest I got to a confession was an offhand comment he tossed out as we all headed home in our respective rides to beat the sunrise.

  “It’s worth giving you up for a little while to keep you forever,” he said, in front of Juliet, so she would hear.

  As I learned much later, the same never held true for Juliet. We’d given her up a long time ago. And I didn’t need a few days to find out what was going on. I found out almost everything I needed to know the following night.

  Before I went for my clinic visit with Dr. Bonnie Sommers Olson—yes, the woman who was going to give me the whole lowdown on being “sexually active” even though I’d met the criteria of that diagnosis precisely once—I submitted my first college application.

  John Jay in New York has one of the oldest forensic programs in the United States. It’s one of the few that actually grant a bachelor’s degree in forensic science. I’d received the results of my ACT tests: a cumulative 29. (Apparently the broken arm had paid off.) That score would hopefully get me into quite a few places, and I also intended to apply at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin—both also great science schools. But John Jay was my first choice. Besides, I was almost 100% certain I was the only applicant with my very particular minority status.

  DR. BONNIE LOOKED a little like Gina, only minus the gaudy makeup and painted nails and New York accent. She insisted I call her “Bonnie, just Bonnie” as I sat on the exam table. She asked if I was having trouble sleeping.

  “Are you asking because it’s nearly ten at night?” I joked, a little too defensively.

  “Allie, I’m more than familiar with XP,” she said. “I was thinking about the girl who died recently. Nicola Burns.”

  I nodded, though my nightmares were waking: recurring visions of Blondie’s distorted, smiling face pressed to the glass at Tabor Oaks. I was almost tempted to ask if she knew Dr. Tim Tabor.

  “Are you getting enough vitamin D?” she asked.

  All of us at the Tabor Clinic took a hardcore vitamin D supplement because sunlight is its best natural provider. Ironically, vitamin D also helps you with sleep and with a host of other orderly ways of life: another cruel joke of XP. Then she recommended a birth control pill—with a little lower this, and a little less that—and gave me a wad of pamphlets that I handed back, expl
aining that my little sister had more knowledge of sexual congress just from having dinner every night with our mother. I also told her that vitamin D wouldn’t work on me. I was too strung out.

  “Let’s try some more anyhow,” Bonnie said. “What else is going on?”

  Well, I think a very dangerous person might be working at this hospital, and he has some weird power over my best friend. Oh, and either directly or indirectly he’s sort of ruined my life.… I almost started to cry.

  “Allie, what’s really wrong?” Bonnie asked.

  I straightened, regaining my composure. “It isn’t about me,” I said. “My best friend is involved with a guy who’s older. A lot older. But it’s not just the age thing. I think he’s dangerous to her in other ways.”

  “Have you asked her to tell her parents?” Bonnie asked.

  “No, she never would.”

  “When you say dangerous, what do you mean?”

  “I think he’s trying to convince her to run away.” Until I’d articulated it, the exact thought hadn’t even crystallized in my brain. But it was precisely what I was scared of. G.T.—whatever that meant—was her ticket out of here. Her words.

  “That’s serious,” Bonnie said.

  “It’s even more serious if you have XP.”

  Bonnie nodded. “Try setting a deadline with her. Tell her that you care too much about her to let her do something that might wreck her life without thinking it over first.”

  I mustered a smile. “I’ve done that.”

  She turned and tapped the desk with her pencil. “Good. Tell her she has to see a psychologist. Maybe not even here. But somewhere. Tell her you’ll go with her.” She began to fill a prescription pad. “It’s a small town.”

  “It is,” I agreed.

  “The Nicola Burns tragedy has been hard for all of us,” Bonnie stated, snapping on her gloves. She told me to complain if anything pinched, then she started the exam.

  “Yeah.” My eyes began to sting. “Nicola … She still wanted to hang out when I ignored her for, like, a year. I avoid Daytimers.”

  “That’s what you call them?”

  “It’s supposed to be contempt. But it’s envy.”

  “That makes sense.” Bonnie laid her palm flat on my belly and tapped her finger against her joints. “Everything feels fine here.” The tapping made a hollow woodblock sound. “You’re using two forms of protection?”

  “You betcha.”

  “Let’s have a little blood.”

  “They test me for everything but Ebola.”

  She laughed. “You know better than to deny a doctor a little blood.”

  For some reason, that set me off. I pictured Blondie, wandering these very halls. I started to cry. I hadn’t done so much crying since I was six.

  Without a word, Bonnie folded me into her arms in a way no one except my mom ever has. She held me for two or three minutes, maybe even longer. I leaned against her, breathing in the smell of antiseptic mingled with shampoo and that over-dried hospital laundry scent I’d grown up with. Finally the tears stopped coming. I drew in a deep shaky breath and sat up straight again.

  “I’m going to give you my cell phone number,” she said calmly. “Call or text whenever you want. I’m serious. It’s good to have another adult who isn’t related to you in your life. Or just another human being.”

  “Thanks,” I said.

  “I’m speaking from experience,” Bonnie said. “I’m having my own issues. I barely know Nicola’s mother. But every mother I know can empathize with how she reacted, even if she wouldn’t do it herself.”

  I almost started crying again. Bonnie thought all this was about Nicola. I felt horribly guilty that it wasn’t.

  “I do have a mother who says she loves me more than God,” I offered.

  “And I believe her,” Bonnie replied, her voice soft. “I’ll let you skip the blood test for now. But not for long.”

  I nodded, slipping off the exam table, embarrassed about the crying, embarrassed about telling this stranger that my mother loved me more than God. The office blinds were parted just a crack, and in the harsh glare of the parking lights, a flash of red caught my eye. My heart seized. The Alfa Romeo convertible was pulling up to the clinic entrance. I forced myself not to squint or stare. Instead, I took a slow breath and let it out slowly. If I had a meltdown, I wouldn’t find anything out.

  “Hey, look! That is some car,” I said. “Does it belong to Tim Tabor?”

  “No. His cousin. You know, the coach?”

  My head began to buzz. “The coach?”

  “Yes, the ski coach. At school.”

  “At school?” I repeated.

  “Well, not exactly. The team has kids from all over … you know, the team I can’t afford my younger son, Elliott, to be on.” Bonnie flashed a crooked, apologetic grin. “The one that wins championships all over.”

  “The jumpers,” I said. “He coaches freestyle jumpers.”

  My new nurse friend’s face brightened. “Exactly. You do know him.”

  “Not … exactly.” My brain shut down, mostly out of guilt. Juliet never once mentioned the name of her ski coach. Why would she? I never wanted to talk about skiing. I only wanted her to stop, so she could hang out with Rob and me. And then my wish came true.

  “Garrett,” Bonnie said. “That’s his name. When I hear about what those kids do, I think they’re an orthopedic ward waiting to happen. So it’s a mixed blessing Elliott is missing out.”

  “You should see the things I do at night,” I forced myself to say. “I think I saw Dr. Andrew’s son driving that car, the one who has the white highlight in his hair?”

  Bonnie laughed. “No, it was Garrett. Tim, the doctor, has a streak too. But he drives a little Toyota.”

  I stared at her. “He has a blond streak? The doctor?”

  “It’s not a fashion thing. It’s a birthmark, a place where there’s no pigment. It’s called poliosis. It’s as common as eye color. From the Greek word for ‘gray.’ That woman who hosts that show about bad clothes, I can’t think of her name, has one that goes right down the front of her hairline. That’s where they are most common. But they can develop anywhere, and anytime in your life. It runs in the Tabor family. But it’s not like I have to explain genetics to you.”

  My mind whirled again. I blinked several times. “It’s not a sickness? Like XP?”

  Bonnie shook her head. “No. According to the doctor he’s dating, Garrett’s very healthy indeed.” She slapped her hand over her mouth and laughed. “Now I’m gossiping. Time to leave, young lady!”

  MY MOTHER PICKED me up in the circle drive. We drove slowly past the red sports car. I asked her if she knew Garrett Tabor.

  Garrett Tabor. G.T. G.T. G.T.

  She looked surprised. I think she was all set for a heart-to-heart talk about the import of my doctor visit in the wake of what had happened with Rob. Not that I’d told her, but of course she knew. She was Jack-Jack. I wasn’t ungrateful for an excuse to postpone that little chat. You can have the most open-minded mother on earth, but there are still going to be things that are uncomfortable.

  “Well,” my mother said. “I know who he is. He’s an asshole.”

  I almost smiled. The wonderful thing about my mother: she is so socially reticent on delicate subjects. “How so?”

  “He’s screwing one of the residents, and I mean that in every sense of the word,” she said. “Anyway, he’s Dr. Stephen’s son. Why do you ask?”

  “He’s a ski coach,” I said.

  “Right. Oh … he coached Juliet! That’s why you’re wondering. For a while, he coached in upstate New York someplace. Now he’s back here full time.”

  “So he’s really an asshole, huh? But Dr. Stephen is so nice.”

  “Good people have rotten kids. Look at my own fate.”

  “Ho, ho. Ha, ha. Tee hee.”

  Mom chuckled, but her grip tightened on the steering wheel as we rounded the corner onto the road that led home.
“Can you keep a secret?” she asked with a conspiratorial grin.

  “Jack-Jack, please. I’m insulted.”

  “He’s definitely sleeping with Dr. Olson’s friend, Dr. Wilenbrand.” Her voice dropped to a stage whisper. “But he’s also sleeping with Gina.”

  “Gina? She’s older than he is! Lots! And you told me she wasn’t a gold-digging mistress!”

  “That’s not illegal,” Mom muttered.

  Still, I thought … Gina was a single mom with two daughters older than Angela, but younger than me. In past summers, Gina and Mom spent vacation time together between the dark and the light, bringing out sandwiches and sunscreen for all us little girls so we could splash in kiddie pools. On the other hand, maybe it did make sense. More than once, Gina had announced (after a few beers) that she wished she’d never met her husband, and that she wished he could have just mailed her his sperm to produce Regina and Ronnie.

  “Maybe Gina thinks she could end up with a piece of the Tabor pie,” Mom said in the silence.

  I stared ahead at the road. “I can’t believe Gina would be with that guy. She’s so strong and tough.…” But so was Juliet. Had Juliet really gone all the way with him? You don’t tat a guy’s initials on your belly because he helped you master a triple twist.

  “It’s worse because Lauren Wilenbrand works with Gina and me, and Lauren’s about twenty-eight years old.” Mom sighed. “I guess people see what they see.”

  Instead of going to Nicola’s funeral, we decided to make a Dark Stars video in her honor. We couldn’t have gone to her funeral without attracting an offensive and inappropriate amount of attention, anyway; like all funerals, the service was held when people were generally awake. That’s one thing you learn hard and fast about XP: nobody is ever really equipped to deal with a ski mask, sunglasses, umbrella, and layers of (hopefully) reflective clothing at a midday gathering. But any guilt dissipated as we approached Watching Rock in Rob’s Jeep.

  I will say this: for the first time in a very long while, we were the tres compadres again, united by a single purpose. We weren’t just going to boulder tonight. We were going to boulder in a way that made Parkour and David Belle look soft. We would live hard and fast for a girl who no longer could. And for the first time in a very long while, I truly didn’t care what Juliet was thinking. She was here. With us. For Nicola. At least I hoped. That was all that mattered for now.

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