Have you ever had one of those experiences where the phone rings and you just know something bad has happened?
Not easy to explain why – maybe there is no explanation. But I think everyone knows.
“Should I get it?”
Jarrod looks quickly at my mum. She only looks at Don Johnson on the TV. So he turns to me, almost apologetically.
“I can do it,” I say and reward him with a quick smile.
Mum has only been seeing Jarrod for a week, but he is pretty sedate. So I don’t mind being nice …
Wriggling out of the couch, I do feel a small point of iciness in my stomach but I ignore it.
I take the three steps from the couch to the kitchen door, slowly and deliberately as if my body already knows something I don’t. Grab the phone and then close the door as much as I can without choking the chord: The eternal struggle.
Now I’m alone in our tiny kitchen. It’s snowing outside again. The lights from the street below give the flakes an eerie fluorescent glow against the night sky. It would be pretty if it wasn’t coming down in waves that only grow bigger by the hour.
“Carrie … ”
“It’s … almost 10. Are you alright?”
“Not … really. Can I come over?”
“Where are you? Are you at home?”
“Not really … ”
Tendrils of coldness spread in my stomach.
“Lin – where are you?”
“It’s kinda hard to tell. Street signs are all covered by snow.”
“I’m coming to get you. But can’t you see where you are? There’s got to be something … ”
“I know where I am. Sort of.”
A note of irritation creeps into her voice, but it quickly evaporates and there is only deep tiredness left like she is already half asleep.
“Are you far away?” I ask, twisting the phone chord harder between my fingers.
“No. I think I can be at your place in maybe 20 minutes.”
I want that to be 2 minutes. I want to interrogate her about what the hell is going on, but part of me already knows.
Lin’s father dies in a hotel in Haiti. Big famous IT-business man and then … dead.
And her mother’s a nervous wreck whose best idea of a ‘cure’ to the insanity is to leave Lin with the old man who takes care of the house and then fly off to the Keys with her own lover, and then come back because she has a guilty conscience … but not really be there.
Lin got counseling. Lin got back to school. Lin walked and talked normally. But of course … ‘normal’ is just a word.
I feel determination rising in me, mixed with my own guilt about all the things I didn’t do or say until now, because how the hell could I? I can barely figure out my own life.
“I’m coming out to meet you. Are you coming up from the main street?”
“Yeah.” Her voice is weak. “I’m at the phone booth near the park … I think.”
“Okay. I’ll go get my clothes. I’ll meet you.”
My heart beats faster, louder. I don’t remember if I manage to say goodbye properly. I just hang up and rush through the living room again, past Don Johnson and his melancholy beach walks on the TV …
Lin, please … stay safe.
There are the usual questions, from my mum – and a few perfunctory ones from Jarrod. And then a bit of shouting. But I’m off – down the stairs so fast I almost fall, and then into the gusts of snow that are like small razors against my skin.
There’s practically nobody on the street at this hour because the weather is straight from Antarctica. I work myself through the snow piles towards the main street and the little park. I didn’t get extra socks in my boots and soon I feel the cold numb my toes. So I walk faster.
I expect to see Lin all the time, but she is not coming. Did she go another way? Did she get lost?
After what feels like forever I see the small huddled shape on a bench, just opposite the first phone booth, I know on the main street.
I hurry closer and the small wiry form becomes Lin Christakis.
She is not wearing a cap, although this is definitely cap weather. Her dark stiff hair locks are sprinkled with snow. For a moment she looks like a frozen hedgehog.
I stop right in front of her and grab her shoulders, not really knowing if I should shake her or what the hell I should do.
“Why the hell didn’t you walk to meet me?” I yell.
She looks up at me, hollow-eyed. “I knew you’d find me.”
“You’re absolutely crazy, girl. You’ll get pneumonia.”
I pull her up from the bench. She follows willingly, but as we make our way home, her arm in mine, I wonder if she would have kept sitting there if she hadn’t called me.
I quench the thoughts and we get the hell back to my apartment.
Everything has been so bad this autumn: The jerks in class, the teachers, Richard dumping me … everything except Lin.
We finally get in. My mum meets us in the hallway. She is all business and Jarrod follows in her wake.
“You must be freezing!” Mum almost pulls Lin’s coat off her and gives it to Jarrod so he can put it over the extra heater we have in the kitchen.
“It’s okay, mum …” I know it’s a pipe-dream with an entrance like that, but God, I wish mum would let us handle this ourselves!
“No, it’s not ‘okay’. Lin – do you want a hot shower?” My mum pulls open the door to our bathroom cubicle with one hand, while she is on her knees, working Lin’s boots with the other.
Lin kind of nods and I go with her and show her how to work the tabs.
After half an hour, Lin gets out of the shower, a cloud of steam following her into our box of a hallway.
I take her to my room and we find some dry clothes that don’t look too much like they don’t fit.
Inside the living room, my mum has found a use for her herbal tea obsession and made big mugs for the three of us. Jarrod has strategically retired to the kitchen to make more coffee.
Nobody is talking and the only sounds are fake gunshots from the obligatory shootout at the end of the Miami Vice re-run.
Lin sits on the couch. My mum sits beside her. I take the footstool with the “sacred Maya pattern” blanket. Jarrod stands by the kitchen door.
Lin puts the tea to her lips but doesn’t drink anything before she sets it down again.
Next up is the news on TV about death here and bad shit there, and then I become clear-headed enough to find the remote and mute it all.
Lin sips her tea, at last, her lips barely touching.
My mum breathes deeply. “What’s going on, Lin?”
“My mother and I had a fight.” Lin’s voice is little more than a whisper.
“Again, huh?” I deadpan because that’s all I really can do now.
“Again … ” Lin nods, while she looks down in the tea.
Then she eyes Jarrod for the first time. That’s his cue.
“Hi,” he says and smiles a well-rehearsed smile under the crisp mustache. “I’m Jarrod. Deborah’s … ” He nods towards my mum but hesitates.
“My hot date for the evening,” my mum explains, returning the smile but wryly.
“Since last Monday,” Jarrod adds, keeping up the cheery smile. “I’m the counselor at Collinwood High. Deborah subs in middle school there.”
“That’s nice,” Lin says, making an obvious effort to make it sound nice.
Then the phone rings.
I get up ready to get it, but my mum is quicker.
“Stay here,” she says.
I bite my lip and move over to the couch beside Lin. I don’t want my mum to take the damn phone because I know bloody well who is calling now. But what do I do? – Run past her and block the door?
Lin rocks a little back and forth, her eyes closed, holding the tea in one hand like she is meditating. The scent of hibiscus, the warmth – promises of other worlds than this.
My mum’s voice cuts through the half-closed kitchen door as Jarrod clears his throat and moves to annex the footstool I just left.
“Hello, Julia. Yes, she is here,” I hear my mum say from the kitchen.
“So … you two are attending Cuyahoga High?” Jarrod starts and looks expectantly at us.
And that’s when Lin jumps from the couch and barges into the kitchen. “I’m not going home – I’m not!”
My mum looks stunned for a moment and I can hear Lin’s mum at the other end talking frantically, a mixture of anger and desperation as if she wants to reach out and grab Lin just by shouting.
The next five minutes are a blur. I remember running to the kitchen also, reaching out for Lin, who stands there like a wild animal, trapped. Lin’s mum shouts at the other end of the line. My mum shouts. Lin cries. I say small incoherent, meaningless things, meant to calm her down, but I think Lin barely registers that I’m there.
Lin doesn’t want to talk to her mum, even though the distant, desperate voice pleads with her to do so, and sneaks in a few veiled threats, too, about changing schools again.
Then Jarrod tries, and that counselor-voice does something to douse the fire, enough for my mum to get Julia Christakis calm enough to listen to my mum’s pitch that I think she just made up on the spot:
‘Lin might get a serious cold if she’s to go out anymore tonight. Not good for her asthma … What if your car is stuck in the snow? … What if … What if … What if … ‘
My mum is annoying in a million ways which include being a certified health nut, stuffing half the kitchen with dietary supplements … but sometimes it’s pretty darn useful, especially when Lin’s mum is a sucker for those things, too. And sees my mum as an authority.
That and the fact that it snows an awful lot outside now …
So Lin’s mum relents and lets her stay. At least until morning.
After she hangs up, Jarrod asks the predictable questions about Lin’s family, and if she gets any help and all that, but my mum ushers him back to the couch and says she’ll take that from here.
“Carrie – find the air mattress for Lin,” she says to me through tight lips. “And maybe you two should just go to your room? We’ll be off to Jarrod’s after the news … ”
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