“You are supposed to be with me.”
What words are these? They startle me, and at first I think I’ve heard him wrong. He’s leaning across the table while our significant others are twenty feet away, waiting in line for our food.
“You and me,” he says. “Not us and them.”
I blink at him before I realize he’s making a joke. I laugh and go back to looking at my magazine. Actually, it’s not really a magazine. It’s a math journal, because I’m super cool like that.
“Helena…” I don’t look up right away. I’m afraid to. If I look up and see that he’s not joking, everything will change.
“Helena.” He reaches out and touches my hand. I jump, pull back. My chair makes a horrid scraping sound, and Neil looks over. I pretend that I dropped something and reach under the table. Under the table are our shoes and legs. There is a blue crayon lying at my feet; I pick it up and resurface.
Neil is at the front of the line ordering our food, and my best friend’s boyfriend is waiting for my response, his eyes heavy with burden.
“Are you drunk?” I hiss. “What the fuck?”
“No,” he says. Though he doesn’t look so sure. For the first time, I notice the scruff on his face. The skin around his eyes is sallow. He’s going through something, maybe? Life is being bullshit.
“If this is a joke, you’re making me really uncomfortable,” I tell him. “Della is right there. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I only have ten minutes, Helena.” His eyes move to the blue crayon, which is resting between our hands.
“Ten minutes for what? You’re sweating,” I say. “Did you take something, are you on the crack?” What type of drugs make you sweat like that? Crack? Heroine?
I want Neil and Della to come back. I want everything to go back to normal. I spin around to see where they are.
“Stop saying my name like that.” My voice shakes. I make to stand up, but he grabs the crayon, then my hand.
“I don’t have much time. Let me show you.”
He’s sitting very still, but his eyes remind me of a cornered animal: frightened, panicked, bright. I’ve never seen that look on his face, but since Della’s only been dating him for a few months, it’s a moot point. I don’t really know this guy. He could be a druggie for all I know. He turns my hand over so it’s palm up, and I let him. I don’t know why, but I do.
He places the crayon in my palm and closes my fist around it.
“You have to say it out loud,” he says. “Show me, Kit.”
“Say it, Helena. Please. I’m afraid of what will happen if you don’t.”
Because he looks so afraid, I say it.
“Show me, Kit.” And then, “Should I know what this is?”
“No one should,” he says. And then everything goes black.
Kit is there when I wake up. My head is aching, and my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. I must have passed out. That’s never happened to me before. I sit up, but instead of being on the floor of the Bread Company, I am spread out on someone’s sofa. It’s a nice sofa, the kind you see in a Pottery Barn catalog. Five bajillion dollars of treated suede. I scratch at it, and then sniff my finger. Suede.
“Neil?” I sit up, looking around. Did they carry me to the manager’s office? How embarrassing. Pretty fancy couch for a manager. “Kit, what happened? Where’s Neil?”
“He’s not here.”
I stand up, but it’s too fast, and I get dizzy. I slump back onto the couch and put my head between my knees.
“Get Neil, please.” My voice sounds nasally. I look up to see Kit’s jeans still in front of me. He makes no move to get Neil. With a deep sigh, he sits down next to me.
“Neil is in Barbados on his honeymoon.”
“Did he get married on the way back to our table?” I say through my teeth. I’m done with this game. Della is off her rocker if she keeps seeing this guy. He’s on drugs, or nuts, or both.
Kit clears his throat. “This is actually his second marriage. He was married to you for a while.”
My head shoots up. When he sees the look on my face, he flinches.
A child comes running into the room and flings himself on my lap. I recoil. I don’t like kids; they’re messy and noisy, and—
It asks me for a sandwich.
“Hey, buddy. I’ll get you one. Let’s give Mom a minute.”
What. The. Fuck.
I’m off the sofa and backed into a corner in five seconds. Kit and the small human are already gone from the room. I can hear their voices, high and happy. The Pottery Barn room. There is a lot of navy blue everywhere I look. Navy blue picture frames, navy blue braided rugs, navy blue planters, spilling with healthy ferns. I walk to the window, convinced I’m going to see the parking lot in front of the Bread Company. Maybe they carried me over to the Pier One. Instead, I’m looking at a pretty garden. A knotty oak stands in its center, a circle of white stones around its base.
I’m backing away from the window when I walk into something. Kit. He grips the top of my arms to steady me. I tingle where he touches me. I’m allergic to nuts.
“Where the hell am I?” I ask, shoving him away. “What’s happening?”
“You’re in your house,” he says. “214 Sycamore Circle.” There is a long pause, and then he says, “Port Townsend, Washington.”
I laugh. Whoever did this got me good. I step around Kit and run through the house. A dining room opens into a large, airy kitchen. I can see water beyond the windows, its surface prickled by rain. I am staring at the rain when a small, lispy voice says, “What are you wooking at?”
The kid. He’s sitting at the kitchen table, stuffing his face with bread.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“Thomas.” When he says his name, wet bread flies out of his mouth and sprays the table.
“Thomas who? What’s your last name?”
“Same as Dad’s, but not the same as yours,” he says, matter-of-factly.
My skin prickles.
“Thomas Finn Browster. And you are Helena Marie Conway.” He fist pumps the air. Browster! Neil’s last name.
I hear Kit behind me, and when I turn to look at him he’s leaning against the fridge, frowning.