Title Banner: Deb and Lucy, by Ruby: Be Kind to My Mistakes

 

i see it. i’m not sure what i see it is a shape behind the lady in the nice suit she is telling me not to say anything. she is saying come with her and i am having to choose too fast and i think i see fangs in the dark i am so scared i just start shouting for the man i hate and then there are more shouts and the man i hate screams and disappears into the dark hole with the shape and i am alone. i go away in a van. i wonder about the girl with the long blonde hair i saw hair like hers on a fairy i saw in a book once. i hope the shape didn‘t get her too…

Deb woke from the dream again. She had grown used to its reappearance before major upheavals in her life. And this was a doozy. The state of New York was officially releasing her as a ward of the state. Nice, real nice. They think I can’t make decisions or take care of myself because I’m not eighteen and then blam, I’m eighteen and out the door …

She’d been eighteen for three months in fact, but the vagaries of the system gave her a few more weeks at the group home before she had to go. She hadn’t many things to pack; she’d made a point to accumulate little more than clothes. Anything else was something to be stolen or left behind in another foster home. Her caseworker made one last attempt to penetrate the cloud of frost Deb projected around her like the curtain of her dark curly hair. Deb was folding her few things into her suitcase when she came in.

“So today’s the big day.”

“Yep.”

“Scared?”

“Not any more than usual.”

The caseworker – Deb had never bothered to learn her name – her fourth in three years, sighed and looked over at the small nightstand by the bed.

“Aren’t you going to take that?”

“Take what?”

“The book.”

“Never read it.”

“Well, maybe it can be the first book in your new place.”

“It can be something for the person who gets this room after me. Probably going to be today. There’s never enough room for all the kids in Services.”

The caseworker walked over to the nightstand and picked up the book.

“The Name of the Rose. I always meant to read this one. I’ve heard it’s good.”

“Wouldn’t know.”

“Deb, you can’t always keep people at arm’s length.”

“I know.”

“Do you? This is probably the last time we’ll ever see each other.”

Deb tried and failed to contain a snort. “You’ll meet someone else.”

“That’s not funny. You can’t shut yourself off from the world.”

Deb felt a fight itching on the back of her hands, but she remembered the complacent, head-down coolness that had steered her through every awful inch of the System since her mother had up and vanished when she was eight. It had protected her from the worst of Naj’s smacks and had let her ride out the last years of her adolescence in this dump. More to the point, she knew how much it bothered people when she wouldn’t engage.

She said nothing and closed the lid of the suitcase. “I’m ready.”

The caseworker shook her head and walked away. When she was sure the woman was gone, Deb walked over to the book. She picked it up and rubbed her thumb over the cover. It was her favorite. It had made her feel as warm and full as what it must be like to have a bowl of oatmeal instead of cornflakes and chalky powdered milk from the home’s kitchen. It had carried her away on its pages and introduced her to some of her dearest friends. She put the book back on the stand. Anything you love is something someone can use to hurt you with. She did not look back as she walked to the caseworker’s car.

She said nothing on the ride over, and because she could tell the caseworker was going to lay a ridiculous goodbye trip on her, she scrambled out of the car the moment it pulled up to the curb of the office. Deb looked back to see the woman staring at her with her mouth open, though she just shook her head again and drove away.

The office for the Charles Chandler Memorial Fund was on the first floor of one of the city’s older buildings. It was a simple but not uninviting space, a small waiting room with a coffee table and bookshelf that looked hand-hewn. Brightly colored fish darted around a tank that had once been a gas pump. Deb set her suitcase down by a chair and stood waiting. A woman opened a door to a smaller office.

“Hi! You must be Deborah.”

“Deb is fine.”

“Ok, Deb, I’m Edie. How much did they tell you?”

“Only that I had been selected for this memorial fund thing and to come here.”

“Why don’t you come into my office and we’ll discuss what happens next. You can leave your suitcase in the waiting room.”

Deb wasn’t about to let her only possession out of her sight and carried it into the office with her. The woman said nothing and sat behind her desk. Her office was warm and cluttered. A clunky computer in the corner was softened by candles in glass jars that looked like they had been decorated by a child. A fern sat in a chipped china bowl on a filing cabinet. Her desk was a riot of notes, folders, and pens. Deb found herself relaxing without wanting to.

“Would you like something to drink?”

“No thank you, Ms ...”

“King.”

“No, thank you, Ms. King. I was kind of hoping to figure out just what is going on. I wasn’t expecting any help once the state stopped paying the bill.”

Ms. King smiled. “The Charles Chandler Memorial Fund was created to help people like you transition into city life. You’ve been chosen to receive a small stipend for your first three month’s rent, and we’ve located you a job. You’ve waited tables before correct?”

“Yeah, just for one summer, though. A pizza joint. The boss was a real piece of work.”

Ms. King bit back a smile. “Well, the woman you’ll be working for is lovely. Her name is Lucy Hudson, and she runs Blue Moon Cafe. Have you heard of it?”

“No.”

“Well, she opened it to serve the late shift, as she calls it. It was originally open from midnight until noon, but she’d like to extend her hours a bit more. You’d be working mid-morning to early afternoon, five days a week. Sound like something you’d be interested in?”

“A job’s a job.”

“Good. I’ll write down directions to your new apartment and the Blue Moon. Do you have anything besides the suitcase?”

“Nope.”

“Travel light, huh? Well, if you need money for furnishings or clothes, the fund can help you out.”

“I hope I’ll make enough in tips not to need that…” Deb couldn’t contain her main question any longer. “I gotta ask. How and why did I get picked for this? I don’t remember hearing anything about this Charles Chandler thing until I got your letter.”

Ms. King looked down and arranged a pile of pens in a row. She’s getting ready to lay a line on me.

“There are so many kids that fall through the cracks. We aren’t the substitute for some desperately needed changes, but we are a safety net. Someone recommended you as a person we could help.”

“Who?”

“They wish to remain anonymous, but know that you owe them and us nothing. Your involvement with us is entirely voluntary.”

Any deal this sweet has to have some mighty big strings attached, but I’ll play along for now.

“Ok. Can you spot me money for the subway? My MetroCard ran out last week.”

“Of course. I was planning on giving this to you before you left.” Ms. King handed her an envelope. “Good luck. And, oh! Before I forget…” She rifled in a drawer of the desk and picked up a small white object. “Here. Take this as a token of the Charles Chandler Memorial Fund so you will always have a little light with you.”

Deb saw it was a candle in the shape of a rose bloom. She hadn’t the slightest use for it, but took it out of combined sense of politeness and eagerness to get out of the room and back into the bleak chill of the winter streets. She knew who she was under that gray sky and how to survive. She wasn’t quite so certain of that in this strange office, and it frightened her. She pocketed the rose and picked up her suitcase.

“Thanks again.”

“Don’t mention it. Good luck, and remember ... all winters end.”

Deb felt a pluck at her spine at the last part of that and quickly left the office. Ms. King stood to watch her walk down the hall. Deb didn’t stop until she reached the ticket counter at the subway station, when she opened the envelope and counted two hundred dollars in twenties.

The landlord was waiting for her at the apartment, a Vietnamese woman in her forties. She handed Deb her key and walked her to her door.

“It’s mostly quiet here. The man across the hall from you has a baby girl and a piano. You’ll get used to both.”

Deb tried not to make a face. “She cries a lot, huh?”

“Not anymore than any other baby. I still call her baby, but she’s going to be a year and three months old, I think, soon. Her father adores her, invited me to her first birthday party held at that fancy new club! Strange crowd, but very nice. Oh, look at me babbling on. I’ll let you get settled. I’m on the first floor if you need me.”

Deb was grateful for the quiet when she locked the door to the apartment behind her. It was small, but it came with a bed and table and chairs. The kitchen had a stove and refrigerator, and there was even an old TV on a milk crate in the corner of the main room. Deb didn’t feel an urge to use the money she’d been given to decorate. She needed sheets and towels, but a need not to succumb to the charms of her own place held sway. She heard the sound of a baby crying through the front door. She rolled her eyes and went to unpack, but stopped when she heard the piano.

He must be playing to make her stop crying.

Deb walked to the apartment door and pressed her ear against it. It was one of those old songs she never let anyone know she liked. Someone to Watch Over Me. She pressed her hands against the door and sighed. She didn’t move until the music stopped.

The next day she walked into in the Blue Moon in her black pants and white shirt new and stiff from not having yet been washed. A woman with dirty blonde hair walked up to her. She had a past. Deb couldn’t tell if she was in her thirties or forties, but there was a weary beauty to her yet. Whatever had caused the lines on her face couldn’t stamp it out. Her eyes were kind, and she extended her hand in welcome.

“Hi, I’m Miss Lucy.”

“I’m Deb, and thanks for hiring me.”

“No problem. I’ll get you an apron. Did you bring money to make change.”

“Yeah. Is there a place to stash my purse?”

“Just throw it in that closet I call my office.”

Deb preferred a locker where should could be certain no one would take her things, but she didn’t want to get in trouble on her first day. She dropped her purse off, noticing Miss Lucy had some of the same glass candle votives in her office that Ms. King had. She tied her apron on and went to work.

The first day was hectic, but Deb appreciated its rhythms that kept her from thinking. There was only the orders, the customers – the happy and displeased faces. No one particularly foul. She had been especially intrigued by a couple obviously having one of those calm conversations that belied a serious fight. The woman was composed, porcelain pale with red hair, but her blue eyes where the hottest part of the fire. The man was openly agitated and ran his fingers through his dark mop of hair.

“Dee, just be reasonable.”

“I am.”

“No, you’re being Diana, the huntress nobody can touch. I have a right to know why you’ve been disappearing lately.”

“And I have a right to my own affairs, Joe.”

“I’m not saying you don’t! But something…”

Deb had an order up and had to give up eavesdropping. She last saw them leaving a short time later, the woman looking away into the distance and the man looking at her with obvious concern. Deb couldn’t resist making up a story. She’s not having an affair – that’s too cliché – but she has a secret that will cost her this man if he finds out… She suddenly felt uneasy and forced her mind back on her work.

Walking home from the subway stop, she passed a newsstand. She picked up a Movieline from the old man and a roll of mints. She felt a melancholy prick of memory. See, Ellie? You can see sparks if you bite one just right in front of a mirror in the dark. It had been the first time Ellie had laughed. Deb tried to never think of that time save the nights her dreams betrayed her. She wished again she had just grabbed Ellie’s hand and ran when Naj vanished into that dark space with a horrible scream. She had tried to convince herself that the well-dressed woman had taken Ellie with her to a better life, or even back to child services, but Deb had never been clear on a few things. Did the woman know The Shape was behind her? Or worse, was she just a child-catcher for It. Deb nearly walked into a clothes rack next to the newsstand trying to shake the image off.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Deb said.

A young woman was sitting by the clothes rack, reading, and she jumped up to steady it. She looked to be around Deb’s age, maybe a year or two older. She had thick, dark hair cut short. She signed something to man at the newsstand, and he returned his attention to a customer.

Deb was embarrassed, but the clothes caught her eye. They looked handmade – short little dresses and long skirts, blouses and mini-skirts, all of them styled in a decaying luxury, like they had been found in an old trunk in the attic of a once-grand hotel. Deb picked a rose-patterned minidress off the rack. It seemed to be her size. Looking like it was made out of an old set of a curtains, it smelled softly of baby powder. The roses of the fabric were a firm protest of the winter air. It made her smile.

“How much?”

The woman wrote down a figure on a notepad.

“Thirty?” Deb looked at the dress again: its craftsmanship, the way the lines fell perfectly from the bust, the small tag sewn in the back – Fashions by Laura. Deb reached into her purse for the money. The young woman wrapped her dress in a scrap piece of fabric.

“Thanks.”

“Thank you,” the woman said in a slightly slurred voice.

Deb surprised herself by wanting to know her name. “Laura, right?”

The woman nodded.

“Well, thanks, Laura. This is gorgeous.”

Deb forced herself to walk double-time back to the apartment. Anyone you know can be turn on you or be used as a weapon against you. Your only friend is yourself.

She would stop by Laura’s rack once a week after that. She’d pick up a copy of Glamour or Interview and a Snickers bar from Willis, and then she’d choose something to wear that weekend when the music and the lights of the clubs would jolt her out of her body and into a beam of writhing energy the bodies packed into the various spaces made. Little by little, her apartment became hers; she stopped trying to fight it. Flyers for shows seemed to tack themselves to the refrigerator. All the various scraps Laura would wrap her clothes in became runners for the table or were pinned to the walls. She still had no couch – she was still insistent on some degree of aloneness – but there was a pile of cushions by the TV now for her to nest in and watch her favorite shows. And the old dresser that had been in the bedroom when she moved in had a small collection of objects on it: paperbacks, the rose candle – she couldn’t bring herself to burn it for some reason – a handful of bangles Lucy had given her after buying them from a young man who’d set up a table outside the Blue Moon. The latest Kate Bush on vinyl. A smart, dark blue wool hat, part of Rolley’s payment to her one time for watching little Melody.

That was another development she’d grudgingly made her peace with. She’d met him in person a few days after moving in. She was trying to shake off a day’s work, and he looked like he was about to start his, dressed in a sharp suit and long jacket. Melody was in his arms wearing a darling hand-knit hat and jacket. He looked worried.

“Well, little miss,” he murmured, “lets hope Elliot and Lisa won’t mind you making a mess out of one of the girls’ dressing rooms.” He saw Deb watching him curiously. “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Rolley, and she’s Miss Melody.” He squeezed the little girl’s hand and she giggled.

Deb felt a deep ache in her heart like a bruise on a apple. “Nice to meet you both. You play very well.”

“I hope I haven’t bothered you.”

“Not at all. Sounds like the babysitter fell through.”

“She did, so I’m hoping the people I work for will be in a flexible mood tonight.”

Before she could stop herself, Deb heard the words out of her mouth. “I could watch her if you’d like.” She immediately felt foolish. “I’m sorry, you don’t know me from anybody…”

“No, no, it’s alright. You work at the Blue Moon right?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“I’m a regular there, and I thought I saw you the other day when I was getting takeout. Lucy mentioned she was getting new people for the afternoon shift. Well, if Lucy trusts you, that’s good enough for me. Thanks for doing this.” And he handed Melody over.

The baby was heavy and warm in her arms, and she eyed Deb with concern.

“I think it’s best if I watch her in your place,” Deb said. “Mine is still is pretty empty.”

“Sure.” He gave her the key, bent down to kiss Melody on the forehead, and was gone.

Deb closed the door behind her and set Melody on the floor. The baby toddled over to a pile of books of toys. She insisted on keeping her hat on, and Deb could report with honesty when Rolley returned that she had read Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters no fewer than six times. She did not mention the look she’d taken around his place when Melody had finally consented to a nap in her crib.

Rolley’s apartment was a home. She could sense that from the books piled on top the piano, from Melody’s scribbles pinned with pride to a bulletin board on the wall. The bulletin board had the look of a lot of things in the place, made by hand with a lot of character. Old alphabet blocks spelled out M-E-L-O-D-Y and R-O-L-L-E-Y at the top of the frame. In the bathroom, the cabinet was an old, small suitcase hung on the wall with a mirror attached to the front. She took down a handmade card from the top of the fridge. Thank you so much for playing piano for our play, and we hope to see you at Winterfest. It was signed in various hands by Samantha, Kipper, Geoffrey, Eric, Cate, and Ivy. Deb felt a flutter in her stomach. Ellie had talked about her brother. Eric. How she had to get back to him.

Deb had never found out what became of him, either. She put the card back and sat down in an easy chair with a beautifully knit throw on it. She wrapped it around herself and dreamed of waiting tables, only the customers were figures with blurred faces. She wasn’t frightened exactly, just waiting for things to come into focus. The restaurant faded away to a space that looked like a tunnel, with big alphabet blocks embedded in the rock walls like gemstones. The words spelled out seemed to be random A-B-O-V-E and B-E-L-O-W ... and another ... a word she was just beginning to see ... when there was a roar and suddenly there was Naj, or what was left of him, shoved into a crevice in the rock. A roar again and then a figure, an old man with a cane dousing the body with something. Quicklime. No one must know, no one must ever know. The old man taking no pleasure in his work and shuffling away. Blocks spelling E-L-L-I-E studded around Naj’s head. A roar again and Deb wanted to scream, but was awakened by Rolley knocking at the door asking to be let in. She left Rolley’s place with twenty bucks and a promise that he would get her a wool hat in navy blue from the person who had knitted Mel’s.

She hadn’t had any dreams of Ellie or of Naj or of that time since then.

Late in February she saw the woman in the nice suit again.

Deb was on break, reading The Colorist, on Laura‘s recommendation, when the woman came in. She didn’t look much different than the last time Deb had seen her. Her hair was longer, and her nice suit was tailored to accommodate an advanced pregnancy. Deb felt her throat go dry. The book fell out of her hands to the table with a soft thunk as she watched Miss Lucy greet the woman warmly.

“Cathy! I keep expecting to hear about the new arrival any day now.”

“You and me both. I’m roasting. I can only imagine how bad it’d be in summer.”

“There you go. You’re carrying summer’s child to remind us…”

“…that all winters end,” the woman finished, laughing. “And so do pregnancies, thank God.”

Lucy turned to Deb. “If you’re done with your break, could you get Ms. Chandler a cup of decaf ?”

Ugh, decaf. That’s another thing I’ll be glad to be done with.”

Deb had another ten minutes on her break, but she mutely got up and went for the pot of decaf. She robotically filled a cup and walked it over to the table. Ms. Chandler smiled, the glow of her condition making her look like a Rembrandt model inexplicably taking a rest in the clutter and chrome of the dining room.

Lucy introduced them. “This is Deb. We can thank your father’s foundation for sending her to us.”

Ms. Chandler’s demeanor changed, quietly but importantly. “Oh. It’s very nice to meet you. I hope Lucy isn’t working you too hard.”

“She’s great,” Deb replied, which was the truth and then some. “Are you sure we haven’t met before?”

“I don’t think so, at least I haven’t been here when you are.” Ms. Chandler’s gaze was calm but poised.

“Oh. Well, thanks for using your Dad’s money to help me out.”

“Don’t mention it. I only wish I could do more…”

One of the other waitresses walked up to Lucy and whispered in her ear. Lucy got up. “I’ll be right back. I have to go handle a minor disaster in the kitchen.”

When Lucy walked through the double doors, Deb fixed Ms. Chandler with one of her slate-ice stares. “What happened to Ellie?”

Ms. Chandler swallowed hard. “Sit down.”

“No.”

“I have a lot to tell you, Deb.”

“I can hear it standing up.”

“I think you should sit down.”

“You gave her to that Thing didn’t you.”

“What?”

“That Thing. Whatever it was that got Naj.”

Ms. Chandler looked truly alarmed now. “Oh, no. Oh, no! It isn’t like that all. I just don’t know how to tell you…” She grimaced and doubled over, her hands cradling her stomach. “I have the worst timing. Deb, please. I promise I’ll explain everything…”

“I don’t want to hear it! You gave me Daddy’s money and a nice job so that I wouldn’t talk. Well, you got your money’s worth, I shouldn’t even call an ambulance for you, but I guess I owe you that.”

“No! Please, I…” Ms. Chandler swallowed back panic. “It’s going to be a home birth. No hospital. It’s important. Just call this number…”

The woman tried to hand over a card but Deb darted back with an anger as sharp as the Thing’s fangs. “You think you can run the world and always have things your way, and that people like me should be thankful for crumbs. Well, tough, lady. I’m calling an ambulance because that’s all I have to do. And I don’t want this stupid job or your blood money anymore!”

Tears were gathering in her eyes, and she rushed past a shocked Lucy to the office. She dialed 911, gave them the woman’s condition and the Blue Moon’s address, and slammed the receiver down. She grabbed her purse and ran out the back door without her coat. She stood shivering on the small stoop in back of the restaurant. She didn’t want to go back in to get it. She was never going back. She’d go to apartment and pack her things and go. Go where? Who cared. She had some money now, saved from tips. She rolled city names around her mouth, and they felt as foreign as ancient Greek words. Worse, she felt a creeping sense of guilt that perhaps she should have heard Ms. Chandler out.

Lucy appeared at the doorway holding her coat. “Put this on.”

Deb meekly obeyed.

Lucy got out one of her cigarettes and lit it. She smoked for a moment, clearly gathering her thoughts.

“I’m going to tell you a story Deb, and all you have to do is stand still for a few minutes and listen. Afterwards, you can go, and we never have to see each other again, okay? Okay.” Lucy exhaled a plume of smoke and seemed to see her story emerge in the wisps of the cloud dissolving into the cold afternoon air.

“Sometimes you feel that the only friend you have is yourself. Sometimes life is such that that is unfortunately true. But it’s not always true, or at least not all true. But unfortunately, we don’t get to pick when we’re ready to become better people. Life has a way of dumping it literally on our doorsteps sometimes. And then…then there’s the choice. We can look away and pretend we’re all alone. I’ve got mine, you know? Or we can choose to see each other and see how much we’re all a part of each other.”

Deb was crying now.

“And it’s horrible and wonderful and terrifying and beautiful,” Lucy went on. “None of it clean or safe. It has claws and fangs, but the choice is learning to see the beauty in that. And sometimes you feel like life is a pass-or-fail, one-time test, and you failed it long ago. That you think you had a choice to redeem yourself and help someone, only to betray them at the last minute. That’s the worst feeling in the world. I know it well. It’s sitting in the swings in some playground in the middle the night, a night so cold it has teeth. And you’re the in the swings, alone, and crying your eyes out.”

Deb was pressing her hands to her mouth, trying to contain her sobs.

Lucy wiped some of her tears away with her thumb, a mysterious smile played on her lips. “But that’s not the end of the story.”

“It’s not?”

“Nope. Life isn’t going to let you get away that easy. No, the next part of the story is a hand on your shoulder and a friendly face telling you, It’s alright. He made it. And you feel like a champagne cork went off inside you. And that friendly face walks you home and calls to check in on you the next day. And the day after that you find a pot of stew on your doorstep. And I mean good stew, just the right amount of salt on the meat and pepper on the potatoes. And of course you have to return the pot to its owner…”

Deb was calm now. She wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

“What happens when you return the pot?”

“That, my dear, as they say, is a story for another time. Are you ready to go back to work?”

Deb flushed. “I…”

“Life isn’t pass-fail, remember?”

“Right. Uh, Miss Chandler’s going to be alright? I should have called a different number…”

“Oh, that. It’s handled. She’s on her way home with Maxine, and Tasha told the EMTs it was a false alarm, and the woman insisted on going on her way.”

Deb was still embarrassed, but she knew working would do her good. She put her coat and purse away and made a mental note to ask about this Maxine…

***

And the end of her shift, Lucy tapped her arm as she was walking out the door. “I’m going to see Miss Chandler and the baby. You want to come with me?”

Deb could hardly contain her curiosity. “Sure. I’m not family or anything, though. Will they mind?”

Lucy laughed. “I think they can handle a crowd.” She walked to a waiting cab. The driver was a young woman, biracial with freckles and a mischievous crooked smile. “Maxine, this is Deb.”

“Nice to meet you.” Maxine shook Deb’s hand, and Deb felt frank envy at Maxine’s newsboy cap cocked at just the right angle. Lucy carefully set a bouquet of daffodils on the seat between them and they were off, Deb feeling like she was flying, the cab a streak of color against the streaming grays of the late winter.

When they arrived at the brownstone, Deb had the sensation of light, and it wasn’t just from the lamps and votives that illuminated the building’s windows. From the street, already she could hear voices and laughter. Lucy pressed a twenty in the young woman’s hand.

“You coming in Max?”

“I got one more load of the faithful to pick up. Already seen her, though. Looks like her dad. Cutest thing you ever saw.”

“I bet. See you later.”

“Take care, Luce. Nice meeting you, Deb.” And the cab was off, a cheery bit of yellow in the dim twilight.

Deb wasn’t sure what to expect when she and Lucy walked in, but it wasn’t Rolley sitting at the piano playing while Melody and an older girl with tow-colored hair clasped hands and danced in circles. Nor was she expecting to see Laura sitting on a windowsill signing with great animation to another young woman who looked dressed for some Ren Faire. Actually, quite a few of the people in the room matched her attire. Deb tried not to stare and walked over to the piano while Lucy went upstairs. Someone offered her a glass of punch, and she looked at Rolley who winked at her. The girl with tow-colored hair stopped to catch her breath.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“I’m Cate. What’s your name?”

“I’m Deb.”

“Nice to meet you. Are you going to be at the naming ceremony?”

Deb had no time to ask her what she meant because Melody picked up one of the stuffed animals on the floor and ran off shrieking in delight, Cate chasing after her. Lucy came back downstairs and gestured for Deb to follow her. Deb could feel her heart beating in her ears as she climbed up.

“I’m so sorry about what happened today.”

Lucy patted her shoulder. “I know. Catherine knows that too. That’s why she wants to see you and introduce you to the baby.”

Deb walked into the room as Catherine was talking to a slight blonde woman.

“You were a terrific midwife, Lena. I think you’ve found your calling.”

The blonde woman beamed and fussed some more over the bundle in Catherine arms. Catherine smiled at Deb. She looked spent, but there was an iron strength behind it, the kind of strength Deb was realizing, that could offer the chance of trust or redemption and not be afraid it would be rejected. Because to not have that hope and trust was to be less than alive.

“I’m so glad you came, do you want to see her?”

Deb nodded and Catherine turned the bundle towards her.

Deb felt the whole world go still. She could feel every molecule in her body. The baby’s face was feline; the nose was flat and the top lip was a cleft, and there was a thin dusting of fur on the body. The baby yawned, and Deb caught a glimpse of fangs. Things were happening too fast. She wanted to faint, but she did not, and she let herself be afraid, at the same time fiercely reminding herself that life was not a dress rehearsal.

“She’s beautiful,” Deb whispered. “What’s her name?”

“Caroline.”

A movement in the corner of the room caught Deb’s eye. She turned to look and nearly fainted again. The Shape. The Thing was there, and it was terrible and wonderful. And that crazy, spinning grace came again. He shouldn’t be in here. He shouldn’t be in here in case she’d reacted badly to the baby. But he is here. He’s here because he has a right to be here. Because he will not leave his woman and his child with strangers.

Deb didn’t trust her hands not to shake, so she didn’t offer one, but her smile was genuine.

“You have a beautiful daughter, sir.”

***

From the diary of Deborah Pulaski. May, 1991:

It’s been three months since I started this stupid journal and already I want to give up on it. Not because I don’t have anything to say, only how many times can you say ‘today was amazing.’ ‘Today was a once in a lifetime adventure.’ But I don’t want to stop. I want to put it down on paper so I’ll know it was all real. I may be the only one who ever reads this, but it’ll be enough. Today was amazing (see?). It was First Friday, so all the Helpers who could went below for a potluck. Afterwards, there was the usual readings, musical performances, and things that anybody who wanted to share could share. Mary is really amused I call this ‘Below’s Open Mic Night,’ but it is. Again, I was struck by how everything and everyone has a story. And that happy-scary feeling of realizing we’re all a part of each others. I think Gracie is making her peace with her father, (but Father is another story…) and being able to crash on my couch helps. Talk about everything having a story. I look at that couch, and I see the boards salvaged from a fire that Cullen made fit perfectly against each other. I see the cushions made from all the scraps Laura wrapped my clothes in. And I see the throw Brooke made out of t-shirts for my favorite punk bands for my birthday. And I see the books piled on the floor or stacked in some sort of order on the orange crate bookshelves. They tie me down and set me free. I don’t have to tell you, dear journal, which one is my most favorite.

Deb put down the pen and walked over to her dresser. She picked up the leather bound first edition of The Name of the Rose and opened the cover. On the fly leaf the inscription she’d read many times – To Deb, our newest Helper and our newest friend. May you always be a keeper of the mysteries of the human heart. Catherine and Vincent. She held the book to her nose and inhaled that wonderful scent of the pages. Somewhere she could hear Ellie laughing at how silly she looked. She smiled, the rose candle burning merrily in the votive Eric had decorated.

Drawing of Deb by Linn: She gazes off to the side with a pensive look.


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