Saving Kate





Vianne, Kate and Colin have been friends forever. But nothing can last forever, as Kate falls apart and Colin does his best to fix her. But when he fails, Colin's world collapses and takes him with it. Vianne is left with one friend dead and another as good as. Looking back eight years later from Cordoba, Spain, Vianne recalls all this. At the arrival of someone she never thought would look at her again, Vianne finds out that to truly understand the present, you must first know the secrets of the past.

And secrets there are.






















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6. The Familiar Face

5782.9 miles separate my homes. As chew my way through 2600 of them, I wonder if Mapleneese can feel me approaching, if I'm stirring ghosts of salt spritzed hair, dusty baseball pitches, anklets and hysterical laughter. I wonder, as recycled plane air whistles in and out of me what will hit me first: The salty-sweet nostalgia of being young? Of being one of three, of learning to swim with old tyres in the creek. Or will it be the cold that descended on Maplenesse after November? I have no idea whether Maplenesse could feel me, whether the ghosts are laughing at me. Laughing at how they made me run, and how I was now running back. But whether they are or not, I can feel Maple sliding into me like cloud shadows slipping over a valley.

 

By the time the plane lands in Boulder City Municipal Airport and I stumble rumpled and stale from the boarding tunnel, my home has risen to the fore front of my being. Sitting in a deserted airport lounge, waiting for my connecting flight, a clawing urge to return home and see what has changed - or more importantly salvage what hadn't- has kicked and swelled inside me. Despite the ghosts. Despite Kate being in the backs of minds the whole time. Despite my longing to drown in colour, spices, paint, lace and the other tastes of my strange exotic niche. Which is why I have to grit my teeth when I am presented with news at the boarding gate for my connecting flight to Battle Mountain, an hour's drive south of Maplnesse.

 

 Airports, I realize are never quiet. There is never a down moment. Even this local one is bustling in its own way in the small hours. As I walk from the airport lounge, a comfortable ten minutes early for boarding, I see everyone. I see all the usual airport lot. The families with weeping small children, off to visit family for a holiday no one will remember unless one of the kids ends up in A&E. I see the young couple, escaping from dead-end jobs for a few weeks, traveling alone a new and exciting flavour. I see the lonely, suited, brief cased business man, chewing through one last meeting before returning to the family who feels secondary. And they must all see me. And who might I be? The young, bedraggled women? Where am I going?

 

 

Nowhere is the answer. My connecting flight has been cancelled. November is not the greatest month to fly in and there is always the time when the weather packs in. Tonight, sleet, hail and fog pound and whistle against the windows as an official tells about ten of us that no ones flying anywhere for the next two days. Oh, and also that there is a great campervan rental just round the - That's when I stop listening and let the jetlag/caffeine drop/anticlimax wash over me until I actually sway a little.

"This is bullshit." A disgruntled passenger spins away in disgust and strides off. But as he does, the wheel of his suitcase clips my foot, throwing us both off balance.

"Jesus!" I gasp, twisting slightly before his hand on my arm keeps me from crashing to the floor.

"I'm sorry, blame the bag."

"That's okay," I mutter. The fatigue has clouded my head and my vision but when an eye flitters past his face - everything freezes as stark and as clear as ice.

 

Colin was also useless at drawing, almost as useless as Kate. One afternoon we were drawing with felts and pencils in the mudroom. 

"Col, I'm gonna draw you now," Kate said, squirming back to get a clear view of him. 

"No way. You'll make me look like a dalek. Vee's good. Vee, you should draw me." 

"Okay," I grinned, sticking my tongue at Kate, who shrugged. 

"Allgood," she said, absently, "I don't think even I can draw something that gross."

Colin ignored that as I started sketching. My pencil outlined his jaw, nose, put fine points on his lashes. During the whole sketch, I glanced at him once. Colin noticed this and when Kate left in search of a sharpener, he crawled over to take a look. 

"It does look like me." 

"That was the general idea," I said dryly. 

"You do realize you looked at me like….once." It was half statement, half query. And I answered with a promise.

"I know what you look like. I always be able to draw you. Even if you're in China or something. Always." 

 

 I could've drawn him now. He is exactly as I remembered, if not a little weathered. Weathered in a way only fighting to understand how the adult world works can make one look. Colin. I see him steady me, and with a perfect view of his eyes, I see other things. Colin takes in the green-grey eyes, recognition clicking like lock and key. Through both of our eyes I see the lines I crossed in his kitchen and with it, his guard going up. Then the questions, a longing to know me again. And lastly, through both our eyes: Kate. In his, as she was when she died: finished and gone. In mine, with fireflies in her hair, running through fields, one of three.

"Vianne?"

"Yeah, Col! I can't believe it's you!" God, I sound stilted, fake.

"Yeah, it's me. Of course, I'd see you here. How many people can there be flying to Maple?"

"Just us and the crickets, I guess." Colin laughs at this.

"God, it’s been a while," he gives me another once over, drinking me in. Whatever he thinks of me, he keeps a secret because he takes my bags and we walk together out of the terminal.

 

To my disappointment, I am slow on the processing of this and the renting of the car and loading the bags seems a little too calm and normal. Through this, an unwritten rule has established that we will be driving down to Maplenesse together. Which suits me fine. Pulling out of the main parking lot is when I fully drink Colin in. Thick, sandy hair is still in his eyes, his eyes haven't lost the white flecks bursting out from the pupil, shards of ice on an Arctic ocean. Does he notice how my hair has darkened? How my face has thinned out, how I've grown into myself? The fatigue, stale air and starkness of the airport releases its grip on me as we drive. The rawness of a  freezing, grey-blue winter dawn turns lights on in me.

 

 My brain clears enough for me to link up his features with my memories, checking off things that are the same and logging the ones that are different. Those little things are the ones that bring the questions, the frantic urge to once again know him better than anyone. A small, crescent scar above his eyebrow brings my first.

"I didn't think drunken brawls were your style," I say, dryly, gesturing to the scar. Colin's gaze flicks from the highway to me with a smile.

"They aren't. But I was punched."

"Making enemies? Doesn't seem usual for a…." I trail off, realizing, embarrassed, that I don't even know what Colin does. Colin smiles gently, a sight that reminds me of when he used to explain a spelling word to me.

"I teach Classics and English Lit at a private boys’ school. Even Alaska's most well bought up, prissy brats can get the urge to rip each other apart. As duty teacher, I intervened and one of the little shits clipped me up here," Colin shakes his head. I can see the blood pouring from the gash as Colin tries to restore order and calm. I also see how he never picked sides, even during me and Kate's most vicious scraps. There was always peace with him, safety.

 

I learn that teaching is his niche, a balance between sharing and taking that he can slip into. I learn about his life in Alaska: The coffee shop round the corner, the people, and the parks. Systematically, I work through the things that are different about him, cataloguing reasons, and dates. Colin is still very much the same boy I left eight years ago. Which is why the talk feels too cordial. Going back before Kate, before I crossed those lines, he’d have remarked about how I look like shit and how he hopes the motels around here won't give him crabs. Despite this, we seamlessly flow from his life, to mine. Once I'm started on the festivals, los plazas de torros, I don't stop until I've painted Cordoba for him.

 

Colin listens and I wonder if he's trying to picture me in Spain, as I am him in Alaska. We drive through small townships, stopping every so often for food and bathrooms.  I can feel his eyes flitting to me as often as the road will let them. Occasionally, in a lull of silence, our eyes will meet and then flit away. After a while, as the icy grey day relinquishes its monotony to a welkin blue evening, I feel that maybe I haven't been away for so long after all.

"So, what's reigned you in?" I ask as we keep our eyes out for any road-side motels.

"Missing the family, I guess. What about you?"

"Just wanted to remind them I'm still me. You know....that just because I live on the other side of the planet doesn't mean I've forgotten them or they don't know anything about me. Haven't been back in a while, either. Not since....," I trail for a bit before thrusting out a "Well, you know...".

Colin never moves his eyes from the road. Bringing up Kate feels right, to me at least. I assume Colin is longing to talk, to say all the things that shock and grief smothered before. I feel something opening in my throat, a longing to speak to my past, to someone who was there, who didn't need to be told any context.

 

Colin looks at me sideways for a moment, with a slightly bemused smile. "No...I don't really know..". He is light-hearted and a little amused, as if I'm referring to an old, long forgotten joke. This stoppers the rush inside me.  I probe.

"Kate?"

"Oh, yeah, of course." Silence. "How long did it take you to pick up Spanish?"

I am completely confused. This is Colin, the one who couldn't sleep or eat because of Kate. Whose world revolved around her. Despite being utterly bemused by his reaction, I sputter, again, into normal conversation until we find a small motel. Colin acts like nothing is amiss and I'm, if a little guiltily, drawn back into letting him in, shivering at the small sparks that glint when our eyes meet. For the first time, you could look at us and see a pair. You might even think it'd been that way the whole time.

 

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