Joyland

Canada |

Happy Adventure

by Sharon Bala

edited by Kathryn Mockler

Hilda had dozed on the plane from Montreal and wandered out of Arrivals at St. John's in a disoriented haze. Caitlyn stood waiting at the bottom of the escalator. She was small and dark and wore a halter-necked orange sundress. In her presence, everyone else looked pale and lumpy.

Hil glanced down, forgetting for a moment what she had put on that morning. But it was fine. She was wearing a dress too, sleeveless and loose with a big leather belt. 

This week away was a plan they had concocted together, but it was Cait who made all the arrangements. She had rented a house and they were driving straight over from the airport. It was on the ocean, Cait had said, in a place with the improbable name of Happy Adventure.

Hil stood on the descending stairs feeling a kind of vague gratitude. It was muddled up with other thoughts—fragments of a dream she'd been having, the back of Jean-Luc's knuckles along her jaw, the outgoing message recorded at work the afternoon before. 

It was noon on Saturday. The best time of the week. Anything was possible at noon on a Saturday. She felt happy. And in a moment, when she properly woke up, she'd be buoyant. 

She waved and Cait turned a wrist in reply, slow motion like the Queen. Hil stuck out her tongue and Cait did the same. Then she threw both arms up in the air, high and wide, waving them about like a maniac.

When Hil's step hit the ground, Cait ducked under the barrier and they hugged in the area reserved for ticket-holding passengers.

I missed you, Cait said, holding Hil tight and breathing into her hair, close to her ear like a lover. Why did you have to leave Vancouver? Stupid Montreal.

It had been almost a year since they'd seen each other, and now Hil tried to line up the Caitlyn walking her to baggage claim with the Caitlyn of her imagination.

Cait was the colour of milk toffee, with Cleopatra hair. It hung straight to her shoulders and sat across her brows like a ruler. When it got in her way, she'd flip the ends over her shoulder with her middle and index fingers.

Hil's hair at this precise moment was a reddish brown. She dyed it so often that she had forgotten its natural shade. Someone had long ago, and not unkindly, compared her face to a chicken. Her forehead was high and sloped. She had a long nose. The summer sun had brought out all her freckles. 

There was only one bag making the rounds on the conveyor belt. It was Hil's and she could feel all the people from her flight watching as Cait helped her heave it off the carousel.

Wait till you see the car I got us, Cait said.

                   

*

Hil and Cait had met two decades earlier, age ten, and bonded over a boy band—their shared love of the youngest performer (really, he could never be called a singer). This was in West Vancouver where Cait's parents had a big half-timbered house in one of those sprawly subdivisions full of one-of-a-kind custom-builds. Hil and her family had spent a week there while on vacation from Ontario.

Even then, Cait's life had seemed touched by a kind of glamour which had something to do with perfect cartwheels, the bathroom attached to her bedroom (the luxury!) and having a soap opera name. That's what came from being the eldest and only, instead of second from last in a litter with a hand-me-down name like a pilled sweater. Hilda, after some inconsequential relative. A great-great-granny. Someone's maiden aunt.

 

*

They took the Trans-Canada Highway out of the city. In the passenger seat of the convertible, Hil felt very close to the ground. For long expanses, they were alone on the road. The landscape stretched out vast and open. They were talking and talking, Cait's words tumbling into Hil's, sentences merging. It felt more like a Saturday afternoon and less like a reunion. Hil said about the middle seat, how she'd woken up to find her head nestled into a stranger's shoulder. Cait told about the woman at Tim Hortons who had called her "duckie," how people here contracted "my love" into a single word "m'love." Moose. Whales. Icebergs. This week, it was bound to be grand.

Hil felt the sun bake the crown of her head. Her sunglasses tanned everything red. Arm stuck out the window, fingers curled up, she caught the wind in her palm. One part of her was in the car with Cait, laughing in the right places at all their inside jokes. But another part was with Jean-Luc who had, for the first time, spent the night, and whose presence she still felt, close to the back of her ear, heavy against her thighs. Cait did not know about Jean-Luc. Hil told herself that this was because she had been saving him up, to tell about in person.

They switched drivers at the Ultramar in Goobies.

Dildo. Heart's Content. Goobies, Hil said. Is this place for real? 

Speaking of places, Cait said. I applied to a gallery in Montreal.

You’re moving? The car passed by a moose crossing sign. Hil thought it looked more like a bison with antlers. 

Cait said there wasn't anything tying her to Vancouver. And who knows? Maybe I'll have more luck meeting a guy in Montreal.

Hil thought about Jean-Luc but did not mention his name. 

Isn't it exciting? Cait said. We could be roomies again.

Hil kept her eyes on the road, veering the steering wheel a touch to the left. She eased her foot off the gas and they sailed around a bend. The coastline appeared, blue and terrifying.

A job in Montreal, she said. Wow.

  

*

They had become pen pals after that first meeting, though neither one was very good at correspondence, writing meandering missives that rarely made it to the post. Cait's stationery came from England where things like envelopes and make-up cases were always nicer. The paper had weight; Hil would hold it for a moment, before reading, feeling the texture of the embossing. Cait's letters even smelled nice—fruity, as if the charm of her life rubbed off on her possessions. Years later, Hil guessed that she spritzed them with perfume.

In the summers they took it in turns to make cross-country visits. In Ontario, they shared an air mattress in Hil's basement. Long bike rides through the suburbs, gossip about movie stars and crushes. The time Hil's parents took them all to Canada's Wonderland. Jokes about Cait being an adopted sister. Finally, even numbers for the rides. Her twin brothers throwing rings at pegs, holding Cait's bag, suddenly possessed of manners. Hil was mortified on her behalf. Seeing her off at Departures, she had thought only of Cait's relief to return home. Light filtering through filmy curtains, the silence and space of her parents' big house.

 

*

The Bird House lived up to its name: three storeys of white clapboard with a peaked slate roof, porthole windows on the top floor. Inside, there were puffins everywhere—hanging from curtain rods, cavorting on cushions, propping open doors. Puffin table lamps. Puffin light switches made of fimo. A magnetic message board with an orange beak.

This place should be called Puffin Palace, Hil said. She climbed the stairs with both hands on the handle of her suitcase. There were two bedrooms on the second floor.    

Take the master, Hil said. She leaned her suitcase against the wall in the smaller room then went to sit on Cait's queen bed.

Cait unzipped her bag. It had purple and green splotchy flowers and looked like it had been made to carry a bowling ball. Hil plucked up a bit of the blanket with her thumbs and forefingers. She made a wave and the puffins bobbed up and down.

Cait's clothes were lined up in neat stacks. Hil's bag would be in chaos—pants and bikini tops all in a jumble. She watched Cait transfer her things into drawers, smoothing her hand over the top of each pile before returning to her bag for the next one.

As kids they had played at make believe. Their favourite was Game Show, taking turns to be Pat Sajak. Cait had been Vanna more often but Hil had never minded. Alone, she would try and copy the flick of her wrist, the way Cait turned up her palm while leaning out her arm to reveal the vowels.

 

*

Cait asked what Montreal was like. 

Hil unpacked groceries. Cait stuffed mint into glasses for mojitos. She put a sprig under Hil's nose so she could close her eyes and inhale. 

There's a good feel, Hil said. The French and English, I like the way it's all there. Even in winter, the city, it feels alive.

There was more to it than that. Hil liked the person she had become in Montreal, where there was no impossible yardstick by which to measure her success. But this was not something she could say. 

And you have friends, Cait said. The ice cube tray was shaped like mini-puffins. She held it out for Hil to see.

Yes, she had friends and ultimate frisbee. Relationships that were not burdened by long histories of jealousy. An office with a door. 

Hil said, It's a good life in Montreal.

You were so brave. To make that move. All alone. I could never do that. 

You went to London.

Cait waved her arm, flicking her wrist. That was different. I have cousins.

Cait's parents had lived in London, very briefly before moving to British Columbia, in a place called Southall that Hil visited in her twenties, a kind of pilgrimage to Cait's roots that she made furtively and never spoke of.

The mojitos were perfect—just the right balance of tart and sweet, a squirt of tang from the lime. Cait had arranged the mint around the sides of the glass to make it look like a forest. She was still speculating about the job, the possible move to Montreal. Hil asked after Cait's parents.

Oh, they're great. Cait found a chopping board under the sink. She cradled the steak in both hands and lifted it out of the Styrofoam container. Completely mental as usual. Did I tell you about my dad's latest thing? 

The curry? Hil had a knife. It made sure, heavy strokes. Onion peel flaked away.

Cait jabbed a fork in and out of the raw piece of meat. He thinks he's found the secret ingredient. Ready for this?

Hil blinked rapidly. The onion stung her eyes. Hit me.

Marijuana. 

Hil looked at Cait. Are you joking?

Cait rubbed a piece of garlic into the steak. Nope. He called a couple of days ago to ask if I knew where to get some.

Pot? Your dad wants you to find him pot? Your parents are the best.

Cait cleared her throat. She could do a pretty good impression of her dad. Baba. I need some ... how do you call it? ... I need some ganja. Where can I find this thing?

Hil asked, Will your parents adopt me?

 

*

They were reunited at university. Away from the Richmond Hill cookie-cutter where everyone slept and ate on top of each other like urchins in a Dickens novel (her eldest brother and his very pregnant wife had moved into the basement—it really was too much!), once free of all this, Hil found to her surprise that she was sporty and impulsive and that these things made her attractive to boys. 

They shared a room in residence and then a shambly student house with two other girls. Long hair clogging the drain. Plastic blow-dried across the windows. Estrogen circling around, a vengeful deity. When Cait confessed about her feet, that she refused to be barefoot, even during sex, they wrestled her to the ground and peeled off her socks. Showed off calluses, uneven toes. Assured her she was gorgeous. But Cait never saw her perfections, only the flaws.

It was around this time—somewhere between captaining volleyball and failing Political Theory—that Hil put it together about the perfumed letters. The realization was both a disappointment and a liberation. When the others complained about Cait (Do we really need a chore wheel? Why can't we go somewhere new for brunch?), Hil would say, sympathetic, I know. She's so bossy. She's been this way forever. And in making the pronouncement, she would realize it was true. She's an only child, Hil told the others. She never had to share a bathroom.

 

*

The Bird House had an outdoor shower. Hil stood inside the rectangular wooden box, water running over her head, slippery down her body. Above her, the sky was still shrouded. The night before, when she had announced her intention to shower outside, Cait had looked uncertain. 

What if someone comes by?

Hil had said, Who's going to come? This is private land.

Tiny soap bubbles formed and popped across Hil's stomach, down her legs. Lathering in the shampoo, she swung the door open and looked out across at the grass and squat blueberry bushes. The property was closed off on three sides by woods, exposed only to the ocean. Birds twittered, unseen. 

On the edge of the property there was a little wooden platform, like the floor of a deck. Hil stood wrapped in a towel, untangling the knots in her wet hair, and looking at the narrow strip of beach below. The clouds moved and the sun broke through. Hil’s ears were full of the ocean. She dropped her towel and faced the waves naked.

Sometimes, when Hil met Cait somewhere—in front of the Art Gallery, say, or on the corner of Robson and Burrard—she'd see Cait standing there, hair loose but pulled over one shoulder, as if posing for a photograph. And Hil had to remind herself that it was all an effort, this careful curation of Cait's public persona.

Hil held her arms out and turned her wrists in slow circles like a rotisserie, feeling the prickle of the breeze and the heat of the sun all at once. What if she had come here, to the east coast, for school, instead of following Cait out west?

When the sun went back undercover, Hil stooped to retrieve her towel, and glanced up at the empty second-floor window as she returned to the house.

 

*

There was an iceberg. A woman at the gas station said they could see it if they went to Salvage. Salvage was pronounced sal-way-age and it was an outport fishing village. Hil had never heard the word "outport" before but she knew about fishing villages. The woman said, My dear, it's enormous. An ice island, that's what it is. When she said the words, they sounded like "hice hisland.”

They drove to Salvage and climbed to a lookout. To the left was the village, to the right, the ocean.

Hice hisland, Cait said. She didn't have to point.

It was huge and it was spectacular. A mountain range rising in two peaks with a dip in the middle. Cait had brought a pair of binoculars. The ocean, aquamarine, luminescent, was reflected on the berg. Its surface was like icing on a cake, slashed by the edge of a rubber spatula. Fondant.

Boats launched out from piers and wharves. This is what people in outports have, Hil thought. Boats.

Cait said she'd checked and there weren’t any companies offering iceberg tours. It's too bad, she said. They'd make great money. 

Hil thought they could probably just go down to the pier by the fish plant and hitch a ride. But she knew Cait wouldn't go for it, so she didn't say anything. They took turns posing: standing to the side of the berg, two fingers close together like they could hold it tiny in their hands, before going back to the car.

Hil kept thinking about the iceberg. Not the sharp contours they had seen, but its unknown depths. Schools of fish splitting off, reuniting. The ocean a mirror. Identical halves—one above and its twin below, shadowy and maleficent.        

 

*

Cait suggested a road trip. They followed a leisurely route that hugged the curve of the ocean, stopping in places called Greenspond and Hare Bay to take photos of 100-year-old churches and ancient fault lines. At Wareham they made a detour for smoked salmon. Everywhere they went, strangers, unsolicited, offered tidbits of advice. Cait said her guidebook was superfluous.

It was after five by the time they reached Windmill Bight. The ocean roared in, a line of galloping horses rushing to the shore. The beach was pristine, no stones or shells or seaweed, nothing except a flat, unmarked surface of taupe. Hil held her flip-flops in her hand. The sand was wet and smooth. It rose up like a sponge when she lifted her foot, erasing the prints. Mist came off the water, making everything gauzy and indistinct. The sun was on a descent and they were the only ones there. It felt like they were on the very edge of the world, walking off into eternity.

Caitlin wore closed-toe shoes, no socks.

Take them off, Hil said. It's just me.

I'm fine, Cait said. Isn't this beautiful?

You won't believe how good the sand feels, Hil insisted.

Cait turned her face and the mist glistened, magical against her skin. I'm happy like this.

 

*

Beer was involved. Beyond that, Hil did not like to probe too deeply. Her motivations. Why she had slept with her best friend's boyfriend. It was years and years earlier. Cait had been back from London maybe six months. They were sharing an apartment in Kits. They had a rice cooker and old-fashioned radiators that went off like shotguns. There were glow-in-the-dark stars tacked to the ceiling. The toilet was hot pink. 

Even while it was happening—while Charlie Mercer had his thumbs pressed against her instep—Hil had thought of Cait. Asleep in her old bedroom at her parents’ house—the virginal single bed. When they were fourteen, Cait's mom had re-done her room as a birthday surprise. Lilac and white with a kidney-shaped dressing table. Seeing the photos had made Hil's own room unbearable. She was sharing with her younger sister, bunk beds and My Little Ponies in every crevice.

The next morning, Hil had been terrified. That Charlie would confess. That Cait might guess. That she wouldn't be able to live with the guilt. But then Cait returned with a margarine container of vegetable biryani and Charlie brought over a DVD and the three of them had squeezed onto the corduroy futon, girl-boy-girl, and for the first time in a long time, Hil had not felt like the fifth wheel. 

 

*

The sign outside the church said Jigg was hosting a dinner.

Not a person, Cait said. It's a type of meal. Something to do with salted beef.

It was their last evening in town. All day long, they'd been careful and polite, both of them on their best behaviour.  Hil stopped to read out loud from the guidebook. Potatoes. Carrots. Beef soaked in brine. Heart attack on a plate, she said. Let’s do it. 

You want to go? 

Why not? It's a fundraiser. Hil looked back at the book. Listen: traditional Sunday fare, enjoyed by cod-jiggers. What's a cod-jigger? 

But today’s not Sunday, Cait said.

Oh, come on. Live dangerously.

The church hall was set up with long tables and benches. From behind a door, women in aprons appeared with Styrofoam containers and plastic cutlery.

The man sitting beside Hil leaned over and asked if they were from up-along. Ken Parsons, he said. Call me Ken.

Up-along? Cait asked.

Toronto? He made a guttural sound like he was getting ready to spit out a gob of phlegm. Hil was glad she lived in Montreal.

He asked if they were enjoying Newfoundland. Cait listed off all the places they had been, sights they had seen. Hil mentioned the iceberg. She was still thinking of it now, all these days later.

You got to see it up close, the man said. To truly appreciate. A boat ride at sunset. One of my favourite things in the world.

Hil thought it would be rude to turn down the offer. That would be great, she said. What a nice way to cap off our trip. She decided the Jiggs Dinner was delicious, salt beef and all. If only there was beer.

We're taking rides from strangers, now? Cait asked. I've seen that movie. It doesn't end well.

They stood by the door of the church waiting for Ken.

He's harmless, Hil said. We'll go out, we'll come back. Thirty minutes tops.

He's just met us, Cait said. Why go out of his way?

Haven't you heard? Newfies are nice.

Ken appeared and they followed him to his truck. Hil sat in the front and made small talk, hoping Cait was coming off as shy and not rude. She guessed Ken to be in his early sixties. He was tall and lean, with a face that had seen all kinds of weather, deep furrows over his brow and along his cheeks. He looked like the kind of man who would be unexpectedly strong. 

The boat wobbled when they stepped in. Ken called it a skiff. It looked like a rowboat to Hil except with an outboard motor instead of oars. It had a flat bottom and a bow like an up-turned nose. There was a strong smell of fish. 

Ken only had one life jacket and Hil gave it to Cait, who couldn't swim. There were twigs and bits of seaweed strewn about the bottom of the boat, lots of ropes and, on Hil's side, a long stick with a hook attached to one end. She wondered what it was used for. The motor took three attempts to start. It reminded Hil of an old lawn mower her parents had owned.

Is your engine all right? Cait asked.

Don't mind Old Nellie, Ken said. She never let me down yet. 

Hil grinned at Cait. Old Nellie. The boat picked up speed as it left the harbour, and soon they were zooming out to sea. Cold wind pricked up her skin. Chair de poule, Jean-Luc had taught her this expression. The stern bumped along, weighed down by the motor. Hil turned to look back. Salvage looked different at night, or maybe just from this angle. Like a woman with her back turned, collar drawn up. Outport, Hil thought. This is an outport.

Ken stood, hand on the rudder, a cigarette clamped out the side of his mouth. His grey hair whipped backward. Behind them, the water split off in two lines like a V. The sky had mellowed. The clouds were streaked purple and pink. There was a promise of stars.

Even Cait was smiling. Okay, she said. This is pretty good.

Hil glanced back at Ken. He was looking at Cait. Some beautiful, he said.

You must get used to icebergs, Hil said. Living out here. 

I never gets tired of this. In a boat on the water. One of my favourite things in the world, that's what we're doing. 

They had slowed to nearly coasting. The iceberg loomed massive, in front and overhead. Hil and Cait tipped their chins up to look. A chill wafted off the ice and surrounded the boat. Hil wondered how cold it would be if she touched it. Would her hand get stuck like a tongue to a light pole? She wished she had a jacket. Cait moved closer and put one arm around her. They huddled together, heads almost touching. 

Ken steered them around to its back side and cut the engine. The sounds took Hil by surprise. Tiny splashes, pops and crackles. The giant rock of ice fizzing like seltzer in a glass. 

Hil tried to imagine its journey, breaking off a glacier and floating down from where—the Arctic, Greenland? Melting little by little with every passing minute. Close up, it seemed more elusive.

They were side-along with the berg, far, far out from the shore. The houses, the fish plant, the hilly rises of land around the harbour were all invisible. The sky darkened to indigo, merging with the ocean. Soon the horizon would disappear. Hil felt like a pinprick. Insignificant.

A wave came unexpectedly and jostled the boat, lifting their stomachs up, dropping them down. The stick with the hook rattled on the floor. Cait clutched Hil's arm. Hil laughed, half out of fun, half out of nerves.

That's the ocean, Ken said. Can change in a minute. Best be getting on. 

Hil was secretly glad. Her teeth were chattering; it was time to go back. They’d return to the Bird House, crack open a couple of beers and laugh at their little adventure, banish the lingering bad feelings from last night. Beside her, Cait's body relaxed.

Ken flicked the butt of his cigarette into the water. He yanked on the rope. The motor stayed silent. Hil and Cait turned to watch him try again. The engine revved up. It sounded almost convincing. Immediately, there was another noise. It came from deep within the iceberg but seemed to echo in surround sound. A low rumble. The prelude to an avalanche.

 

*

The day before had been non-stop rain and they’d been housebound. Cait was edgy without the internet; the gallery in Montreal might have sent an email. She checked her phone every few minutes even though they had lost reception outside St. John’s and the wifi signal remained stubbornly blank.

It’s summer, Hil said. They’ll understand about vacation.

She didn’t know why Cait was so worked-up. She always got everything she wanted. Sometimes, when Hil was stuck on a five pm conference call, listening to middle managers blather on in earnest acronyms about "cradle-to-grave approaches" and "incentivizing the supply chain," she thought of Cait as she had seen her once, in a cocktail dress, flirting with an artist, dropping her chin with that practiced move, saying yes, she'd love a martini but hold the olive, please. 

The conversation devolved into the familiar refrain with Cait fretting that she'd chosen the wrong career. Funding cuts to the arts, never any jobs. Hil knew what she should say, the assurances a good friend would make, the ones she would have given anyone else. But because it was Cait, she could not bring herself to pronounce the words.

When she started in on Montreal again, Hil reached for the guidebook. They were sprawled across the living room—Cait at the window seat and Hil on the adjacent couch. 

What have we got planned for Sunday when we get back to St. John’s? Hil asked. Let's go to the spa.

Cait said Sunday was fully booked. She mentioned a tower on a hill and a museum. 

Hil flexed back the pages with her thumbs. This place used to be a monastery. I'd love a pedicure.

Hil knew she was being difficult. But all day long, she'd been forced to speculate on two-bedroom rentals.

But we already have plans, Cait said. There was a tiny squeak in her voice, barely perceptible, like a hinge that would soon need grease.

Hil pointed her bare feet out in front of her, toes reaching for heels. Her nail polish was chipping away at the edges. Just one afternoon, she said. We'll get massages and sit in the hot tub for a while. From the corner of her eye, she could see Cait staring out the window. The rain fell in sheets, as if thrown sideways out of a bucket.

We shouldn't miss Signal Hill, Cait said.

Can't we just be spontaneous? Hil asked. You're always planning everything.

Cait stood up. Well someone has to make the plans—find the house, rent the car, buy the map. She walked to the kitchen. You're welcome, by the way. 

Hil heard the water running and a glass clinking off the shelf. Cait came back into the room. Her eyebrows huddled together. Her middle finger tapped back and forth against the glass. Okay, look. I just have to ask this: Is there a guy? Is that why you won't talk about Montreal?

This was the last thing Hil had expected Cait to say.

A guy? Hil asked.

Cait sat in the armchair, facing her head-on. You have that look … that loved-up look. 

What makes you think that?

She reached out and pinched Hil's big toe. Her tone was playful. You think I don't know when you're in love?

In love! This Hil could say with sincerity: I'm not in love.

Cait stared at her for so long that Hil grew uncomfortable. She knew this look. It was Cait steeling her resolve, like a car engine gearing up for an incline.

Hil swung her feet to the floor and sat up, decisive. Okay, let's talk about Montreal, she said. Aren't there more jobs in Toronto? Have you even tried applying anywhere else? 

Jobs in Toronto?

Hil saw Cait struggling to get her bearings and charged forward: You have to stop relying on me. I can't be your crutch forever. 

Crutch? I don’t … Hil, you're my best friend. 

Hil felt fidgety and afraid. The important thing was to keep control of the conversation. She spoke quickly: Everything just falls into your lap. 

Cait pressed her palms up and down in front of her as if pumping the brakes on black ice. Wait. How did we? I thought we were—     

You're the luckiest person I know, Hil said. And the crazy thing is, you have no idea. 

Hil come on, you know how hard I work. Cait stretched out a hand. 

Hil flinched away. That's my point! She made a big circular gesture, the guidebook still in one hand. Everything about you, the constant manufacturing. Do you have any idea how exhausting it is just being your friend?

They were careening over a cliff but Hil didn't dare stop. I don't understand you, Cait. You have everything, everything. And still you're the most—

Enough. Cait's voice came down like a gavel. 

Hil closed her mouth. She took a shaky breath. She could see Cait thinking, rewinding and replaying the conversation, trying to retrace their steps. Hil wanted to run into the loud, pelting rain. Run and run and never come back. A hundred puffins watched.

I know about Charlie, Cait said. That's what I wanted to say before you cut me off.

Hil's insides seized up. The voice that emerged sounded guilty, even to her. Charlie?

Right from the start, Cait said. You always had a crush on him. She held up her hand. You can deny it all you want, but the point is, I know you, Hil. I know when there's a guy in your life. The thing I don't know, what I really don't get, is why the cloak and dagger routine.

Cait stood, pulled her cardigan tight around herself. Her wounded bird expression made Hil feel simultaneously annoyed and guilty. 

Anyway, Cait said, holding herself in a hug. I don't really know how we got into all this other stuff. What does it have to do with ... I'm sorry I applied to that job. I never wanted to be a burden.

Wounded bird. That was Charlie's line, muttered in a just-between-us undertone. 

Cait held the banister. I'm going to bed. 

Wait! Hil ran up the stairs. It was their first fight and Hil didn't know what to say, only that it shouldn't end like this. And still she wondered: how much did Cait know?

At the top, Cait turned. She sniffed and rubbed at the corner of her eye with a thumb. From this perspective, one step below, everything was slightly skewed. Hil saw the scar under Cait's chin, the faint line of down on her upper lip. She felt bad now for the wounded bird dig.

I'm sorry, she said. Charlie was a jerk.

Charlie? Cait frowned at a spot above Hil's head. Yeah, I guess. Then she looked at Hil, square in the eyes, and her expression was different. Hil leaned back, felt the wall cool against her palm. She had a feeling of vertigo, Cait staring down at her, hard and forthright, the hooked rug looming on the wall behind her head. 

Charlie Mercer, Cait said. Man about town. Was there a girl in Vancouver he didn't screw?