I dreamt that I was running.
From what, I had no idea. I didn’t want to find out. I was breathless, like I’d been going for a long time. Like I couldn’t run much longer. My lungs felt on the verge of bursting open as it started to catch up to me. I could hear snapping sounds growing closer, closer, closer, until I felt something dig into my back, something smash into the back of my head –
I realized I was screaming. The sound died away as I buried my face into Cassie’s chest, her telling me that it was okay, that I was okay. I inhaled deeply, hoping to slow the frantic racing of my heart.
“Sorry,” I said once I’d caught my breath. “I was having a nightmare.”
Cassie understood my nightmares. She’d dealt with them all throughout high school sleepovers and college weekends. Back then, the way Cassie babied me had been embarrassing. Now, I felt nothing but relief that she’d been there to wake me up.
Cassie stood to pull open the blinds and the sun pierced the room in golden slices, driving me to shield my eyes with my forearm. The scent of coffee floated in as if carried on the back of Cassie’s dalmatian, who scurried around the doorway and jumped up onto my bed. I reached out to pat its head and it leapt immediately back onto the ground like I’d burned it with my touch. Cassie laughed, saying that Oreo was skittish around new people. I thought to myself that I’d be skittish around new people too if I were named Oreo.
“I made coffee, and there’ll be food ready soon. Do you still drink coffee?” Cassie asked, and I nodded. She touched her hand against my forehead. “You don’t feel like you’ve got a fever anymore. How’re you feeling?”
“I’m feeling alright,” I said. It was true. Though my sleep had been short and restless, I was happy to be out of my dream. Cassie said she was glad to hear it, and she was halfway out of the room when I spoke: “How’s Daphne?”
She stopped, heaving a sigh so deep that it raised her shoulders cartoonishly high. “Ivy…” She started, but I interjected.
“Cass, please. I just want to know if she’s alright.”
I put my head down on the pillows and thought about Daphne. When that became tiring, I sat on the edge of the bed and thought about her. Seeing that picture had thrown me off, though I wasn’t sure why. Cassie had been the one to introduce me to Daphne our freshman year of college; I’d known they were friends. Still, there was something disconcerting about seeing her on Cassie’s wall, like she didn’t belong there. I wondered how often they saw each other, how much Daphne had changed in a year. If they ever talked about me. The deepest, most selfish part of me hoped very badly that I came up every single time they saw each other, that Daphne broke down and cried over me like I’d done over her. Still, the logical part of me hoped Daphne had moved on completely and never thought of me once since I’d left her in the Nicholson hospital, drunk driving back to my apartment complex in tears.
When I finally got out of bed, Cassie made me wish I hadn’t. She was bent over a large pan of scrambled eggs on the stove, moving them around with a pink rubber serving spoon, talking down into them.
“What happened last night?” She paused before finally turning to face me, concern thick in her voice. “Do you remember?”
“I wasn’t drunk last night,” I said, a bit sharply. “I haven’t been drunk since – well, you know.” I swallowed. “Since last year.”
Cassie nodded, avoiding my eyes. “Well, yes, sure. I know. But what happened, then? Are you alright?”
I took a seat in front of one of her laminated placemats and began to speak, recounting all of what I knew to her while she poured me a tall, steaming cup of coffee, thick and dark like motor oil. She didn’t speak, save for a peep of recognition when I mentioned Bob Cooper, who worked stocking shelves at the same supermarket Cassie managed during the week. I could’ve guessed that Cassie and Bob would know each other. Everyone in Blue Water knew each other. Even Officer Chastain had stopped into the grocery store a few times since our encounter outside the liquor store, Cassie had once told me.
When I was finished talking, Cassie took the seat across from me and reached for my hands across the table. Her skin was warm and calloused, and she rubbed her thumbs over my knuckles, the way she always did when we held hands. Her voice was gentle when she spoke:
“That sounds scary. You’re sure you have no idea how you got there? None at all?”
“Last thing I can remember, I was in Ms. Dori’s office,” I said before recognizing the confusion on Cassie’s face. “You know, Ms. Dori. My godmother. She’s the counselor I’ve been seeing.”
“Counselor? That’s great to hear. Has it been helping?”
“It was helping. But, listen, Cassie. There’s no way I could’ve just blacked out and ended up in the woods in Blue Water like that.”
She raised her eyebrows, staring at our hands and dropping her voice down another decibel. Her voice was gentle, like she was afraid she might startle me away. “Well, haven’t you done that a few times before? I mean, there was that night you were almost arrested, and that other night you got drunk and ended up all the way out in Worcester. Is there any way it was like that?”
“No. This isn’t like anything that’s ever happened to me. I remember those nights, at least a little bit, but this… My hair was woven into the grass. I couldn’t even lift my head. Do you really think I did that to myself?” Deciding immediately that I didn’t want to hear Cassie’s response to this question, I allowed her no time to ponder it. “I don’t even know how much time I lost. What day is it?”
“Sunday,” Cassie paused for a moment to think. “July seventh, I think.”
“July seventh?” My blood ran cold. “Cassie, it’s not July seventh. It can’t be July seventh. My appointment with Ms. Dori was the first. There’s no way that was almost a week ago.”
Cassie’s forehead erupted into wrinkles. She went to the kitchen wall and took her calendar off its hook, showing me the clean rows of big red exes over each day, ending on Sunday, July 7th. I got to my feet so abruptly that my chair toppled backwards onto the floor, causing a clatter so loud that every dog in the room ran away in a frantic skitter of nails against tile.
“I’m supposed to be watching Rod’s house this week. Oh, God, his cat is probably dead by now. Is there any way you can drive me home?”
Cassie’s car was old and rickety, and it smelled musty despite the technicolor collection of flower-shaped air fresheners swaying from the rearview mirror in conjunction with her rosary. Cassie wasn’t a Christian, but that didn’t stop her from reasoning that it couldn’t hurt to hang a rosary in your car just in case there turned out to be some merit to the whole operation. I could still remember her seated beside me in mass our freshman year of high school, her school uniform neatly ironed, her head bent over her folded hands as our principal recited the sermon. I’d called her an ass kisser behind her back, but I wished now that I would’ve spent a little bit more time praying. Just in case.
With the midday traffic alongside Cassie’s defensive driving, it took us nearly an hour to get from Blue Water to Nicholson. I spent most of the hour trying to think of what I’d tell my brother. Roderick had preserved his faith in me much longer than our parents had, but I’d spent twenty-three years slowly chipping away at it, and I was beginning to fear this would be the final straw.
“I can’t lose Rod,” I said to Cassie, telling myself I was making conversation and not trying to instill pity. “I won’t have anybody if I lose Rod.”
There was pity in Cassie’s face when she reached to grab my hand, but it didn’t make me feel any better.
I started to try and give Cassie directions once we merged off the highway, but she said she still knew the way to Roderick and Nickie’s house on Ohio Avenue like the back of her hand. It made sense. She’d dropped me off there drunk and messy enough times, passing me off to Rod when she had to work or take an exam in the morning. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered how many times Cassie had breathed a sigh of relief after taking me to Rod’s. I couldn’t blame her.
Roderick’s car was in front of the house. That wasn’t a good sign.
“Oh, God,” I said. “They stayed because of me.”
Cassie parked neatly in front of Roderick’s car and gave my hand a final squeeze before I got out, though her palms were beginning to pool with nervous sweat – likely at the growing probability of having to bring me back home with her. I knocked on Rod’s door, but it creaked open at my touch. That was strange. Rod had inherited our dad’s religious devotion to always keeping doors and windows locked. Multiple times, he’d lectured me about the faulty lock on my apartment door that could be jimmied open by anyone who knew the right way to twist it. He never left anything unlocked.
The house was still and silent. Violet’s toys were littered around the room – plastic food and fuzzy animals bleeding stuffing and Barbies with their hair hacked off – but I could neither see nor hear her, which sent a trickle of chills down my spine. Usually, Violet would be trying to tackle me the second I came through the door, shouting and clawing for me to pick her up. I was the only person to whom Violet had ever granted permission to pick her up. She even screamed and flailed when Nickie tried, which had been an endless source of amusement for me at family gatherings. Nickie didn’t fail at very many things.
I picked past a plastic bin of spilt Legos into the dining room, and my heart swelled with relief to see Rod seated at the head of the table. It didn’t last. It only took another second before I noticed the bottle of bourbon in his fist.
Though we were twins, Roderick and I were dissimilar in nearly every way. Roderick had gotten married right out of high school, had nearly killed himself balancing trade school and two jobs, had never failed a class or gotten a detention. He’d never taken money out of our dad’s wallet or thrown parties when our parents were out of town. He never smoked, never snuck out, never even smuggled girls over the way I had in high school.
And he never drank.
“Rod, what’s wrong?” The graveness in my own voice unnerved me.
He didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at me. His eyes were fixed down on the table, his body perfectly still. I was shaken by the eerie sensation of having just stepped into a photograph. I said his name again, and he winced away from me like my voice had hurt his head.
“Is this about your trip?” I fumbled, half-hoping it was just that, knowing distantly that it wasn’t. “I’m sorry. Something really weird happened – it’s not my fault.”
Rod didn’t react. He didn’t call me selfish or accuse me of never thinking that anything was my fault, the way he’d done after Violet had been born with only eight fingers, me in the hospital bed crying, already saying that I hadn’t done anything wrong. Bubbling with frustration, I reached for his bottle of bourbon.
He finally seemed to notice I was there, smacking my hand away from the bottle and looking at me with tears brimming his eyes. I’d only seen Roderick cry one other time in our adult lives, and that’d been when he’d first caught sight of Nickie walking down the isle in her wedding gown.
The air left my lungs. I must’ve asked him what?, asked him if I’d misunderstood, but my ears were ringing so loudly that I couldn’t hear myself talk. If I was saying something, Rod interrupted me.
“Where the fuck have you been?” He slammed his hand down on the table so hard the glass of bourbon rattled. “She’s been gone six days now. I’ve been trying to get in contact with you for six days.” He paused to pinch the bridge of his nose. I stared down at my hands, numbness rushing to suppress my shock. He continued after a moment of pained silence, his voice sharp and growing louder, his fists balled on the table in front of him. “Nickie said she saw you out by the bars in Chapel River that night. She said she pulled over to talk to you, but you were too wasted –” his voice broke, and he paused to swallow. “She said you were too wasted to even talk. She tried to drive you home, but you wouldn’t get in the car. She said it didn’t even seem like you recognized her.”
“Rod, I swear to God, I have no idea what happened. I can’t remember –”
“I believe you,” he said, coldly. “I believe that you don’t remember it. I can’t take care of you anymore, though. I have to take care of my family.”
He rose suddenly and began to walk toward the door, kicking a headless baby doll across the room and into the wall with a dull thud. I followed him, shaking, brimming with things to say but unable to choke out a single word until we reached the doorway. I stood on his front porch and held my hands out in front of me, pleading. He didn’t even let me get past his name.
“Do you have somewhere to stay?”
“Then go there, Ivy.” I caught his last words as he turned his head away, barely distinguishable under his breath: “Alcoholic piece of worthless fucking shit.”
He slammed the door in my face.