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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8. The Things I Didn't Notice

After my fifth fruit and mince mini tart, I throw politeness to the wind and flatly refuse another. Mother's homemade cooking for her "homecoming queen" or not, I'm so sick of the damn things I might just pick the tray up and throw it at her. Being Mapleneese's social butterfly, my mother has organized a pre-holiday party at our place and we've arrived smack bang in the middle of it. Colin phoned his mother and was informed that they were all at my place, we decided to drop in and then Colin would take the car and drop his bags off and return (if he was dumb). I climbed the newly laid pathway and stairs and open the door to my old home. It's the smell first. I smelled the house and I'm seventeen again. It was like I never left. My mother, slightly tipsy already, poked her head out from the kitchen door and screamed. And as she hugged me, it was like I never left her. But, judging by the tears and the refusal to let me go, it had been the longest time for her. Now, she has me seated in the lounge, which heaves with decorations and guests, showing me off to her friends. Her daughter, the artist, locked away in a strange country. Aromas of glistening, golden chicken and tangs of sharp, sweet sherry linger around me, washing past in the slipstreams of guests, the breeze as a door closes. Hours pass. I talk to my mother, my old teachers, people from around town whose names I have to re learn.

 

It's nearly eight when I realize that I haven't seen Colin. I politely excuse myself from a conversation about tornado warnings and steal away to the kitchen. Plates and used napkins are piled high in the sink, platters of glad wrapped nibbles stand to attention on the bench, ready to be whisked away for duty. The whole place smells of seasoning and it's making my head spin a little as my mother walks in.

"Mama, have you seen Colin?"

"No, but Anna was just saying how lovely you-"

"Mother, Colin. Have you seen him?"

My mother seems a little put out and waving her hand vaguely.

"Oh, I think he went back to Anna's place."

"Right. Okay."

"You're not leaving so soon are you?" She sounds whiny, frightened, like I used to when she was putting me to bed. Just a little longer, please. I'll be good, I'll do anything. Just like that. I soften at this and pull her into a hug, reassuring her that I'm only driving a few blocks, not to the airport.

"I'll just go round and see how he is. Invite him back." It's like telling myself that I'll sit down and finish that canvas. Or that today I won't buy a bagel on the way to the gallery. As I leave, I bargain with myself. If I end up staying with Colin, I'll take Mama out to lunch. I'll take her shopping. I'll stay an extra week. No one sees me slip my bag on my shoulder and steal out of the door, the clack it’s always made as it closes disturbing nothing.

 

The sun is sinking beneath the clouds, throwing pale yellow light on the house, a weak, wide spotlight glinting off the snow. I breathe properly when I'm standing on the steps. Cold, middle-of-nowhere air rushes in and out of me. Then sharply out as I curse - Colin has taken the car. My parents are terrible hoarders. Everything had sentimental value that couldn't afford to be lost. Consequently, the moulded, mildewed, sodden wooden shed stood, derelict beside our house. Mama had, in fits of order, commanded a clean out. But Dad had won the right to keep it as disorderly, dirty and mildewed as he pleased. Me and my brother's bikes had lived in there all their lives. In the days when driving around town seemed absurdly unnecessary and walking took too long. I unlock the shed, ditching my heels and overcoat. And suddenly, I'm riding along the streets of my home, barefoot and freezing, but with one thing running through my head: God, I've missed this. I ride slowly, lazily, reacquainted with the town, the taste and feel of it. The way the air settles here. How, unlike Spain, it feels as if the land and sky were here before we were.

 

The streets to Colin's place are grey-blue, snow banked and precarious. I'm a block from his house when I take a corner a little two cockily and the sleet-strewn roads have me. The wheels slide out to the right and I fly into a soggy, snowy pile of timber. My arm comes up with me, pink, raw and grazed. Blood leaks down in thin dribbles, curling around my fingers. It hurts like hell, splinters and gravel embedded in the pink. It's been a while since I've really hurt myself. Apart from the odd cuts in the kitchen or handling paperwork, I've been fairly accident free. Strangely, the pain is invigorating. And drives me back on the bike and the last quarter mile to Colin's.

 

I'm seventeen again as I lean the bike against the house and sneak around the back. The burbling and pattering of the creek hushes my footsteps. I'm seventeen again as I rap softly on the screen door. I'm again, here on unsure grounds. I'm seventeen again as I enter upon hearing nothing. I'm seventeen again as, in the kitchen; I can feel the ghost of Colin's lips, still smell the musk of what happened here. But I'm twenty six, as Colin wanders through from the study.

"Hey, Col." Colin glances up at my voice, stumbling back a little.

"Oh God, Vianne. Scare me to death, why don't you?"

I grin. "Came so close last time, thought I'd give it another shot". We both see that knife slip from his hands and nearly slice his foot in half, right before-

"What happened to your arm?" Colin doesn't let the scene progress past there, but instead, inspects my arm.

"I biked here, it was all sleety and stuff."

Colin glances at me with a half smile that turns to a frown.

"I'm going to clean this up. It's got tar and shit in it."

Colin takes me to the bathroom, makes me sit on the counter while he pulls a chair up next to me and works on my arm with some tweezers. Colin asks about the party. Despite my better judgement,

I paint the party to be a social obligation of disastrous proportions. Once my arm is bandaged and cleaned, I sigh and say that I must be heading back.

 

"But, surely, I couldn’t let such a pretty thing like you endure such tortures." Colin jokes, packing away bandages and antiseptics. I laugh because it's funny and because I'm embarrassed to be called pretty. Embarrassed or not, party or no party, his lips are on mine and there's nothing I can do. Or want to do. I'm so full of life and spark and energy from the cold and the stinging in my arm that anything could happen. Everything could happen. Clothes fall, curled on the stairwell like puddles.

 

Colin's room is a late nineties time warp. Nirvana hangs on the walls. I bathe in the nostalgia of it all as Colin sleeps in the retreating light.

When I dream that night, details rise that I hadn't considered before. Mental thumbnails that couldn't have possibly stood out against the bigger picture.

 

Kate's neck wasn’t snapped instantly, but by the time Colin and I reached her, she was dead. As Colin pulled me off her, my hands slipped from her wrists, revealing smatterings of yellow-brown and blue-purple bruises. But this meant nothing. What was injury compared with death? 

 

But when I wake, this disturbs me into tears. Not wanting to dredge up the conversation with Colin, I sob and snuffle into the crook of my arm.

"Vee?" A sleepy mumble meanders to me through the sheets. "You okay?"

"Y-yes," I hiccup, "nightmare."

Softly sliding over and exhaling sleepiness, Colin comforts and coaxes it out of me. After I have shakily recounted the bruises, I find him fixed on a corner of the room, as if he was trying to stare down shadows. Staring down someone who might've been watching us the whole time.

"I didn't know she was hurt that bad," I whisper as he turns away from me, to sleep again.

"Neither did I." At first I accept this as I roll over, but then his tone catches me. It's wry, coy. Wrong. I fall back asleep without further dwelling on it, and when we wake, it’s just one of those weird things that happen in the middle of the night and could've never happened at all. He just pulls me close and breathes into my hair, leaving moist warm spots.

 

 "What's the time?" I breathe after a bit.

"The phone's on the floor beside you." I fling my arm to the floor and scout around blindly before grabbing the solid cube of a phone. A glowing display informs me that it is 8:30 AM. But it's what hangs, glowing and pixelated behind the numbers that draws my breath in, sharp. Kate is sitting down, a hand flung partly across her face, the edge of a smile peeping out. I snap the phone. "Shit." 

"What?"

"I need to get back."

"Okay," Colin rubs his face and rolls over to face me, "I think I'll go to the woods today. Or maybe to the creek, I don't know. You should come." I consider this, throwing clothes on.

"You have my number,” I say, tossing the phone at him, "text me."

"See you soon."

I leave, pretending that I didn't quite hear his goodbye.

 

  I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I spent the night at Colin's, even though my mother had plenty of her friends crashed on the couch when I slipped in. But even though locking the door made nearly nothing of a click, Mama still edges around the door to the living room and catches me.

"Where have you been all night?" I immediately take the defensive.

"Mother, I'm twenty eight. I can stay out where I like."

"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to be intrusive. I was just a little worried that you'd gotten lost or-"

"Lost?" I laugh, genuinely. "Mama, I lived here for eighteen years. I'm not going to get lost. I just biked over to Colin's and we ended up talking for ages and it got late and yeah..." I leave my mother to determine the unsaid implication of what happened after and head upstairs. In my old room, I spend and hour going through my things. Gasping at photos of Kate, Colin and I. How young we looked. Smiling at how bizarre it looked when Kate smiled, when she looked happy - how foreign. I change, laughing at myself for trying to squeeze into my old clothes and give over to my painting jeans and jumper. Then for another hour or so, I clean up. It’s a great way of getting back into the flow of the house. The way you have to move around the furniture, where all the plates and pans live.

 

Our house is old, almost Tudor style. And while downstairs can be dark and cosy, upstairs is light and airy. Dad always used to say it was like having two seasons in one house.

Colin's text comes in about twelve. It simply says CREEK.  I reply: Where? Because there are about five points where there are benches/clearings by the bank. Colin replies less than a minute later with: SCHOOL. As I grab my bag and start for the door, I wonder if he remembers how I saw him and Kate there. How after that I couldn't look at them the same. How I couldn't look at us and just see a threesome. It was Colin and Kate featuring me from that point forward. I promise Mama I'll be back before four and skip out.

 

I think that If I had known what was about to happen, I would've still gone. Even though in the minutes after, when I curled on the ground, crying and wishing the world would fall away, wishing Colin would run somewhere before I ripped him to pieces; it felt like there would only be darkness forever. Even though every single stitch I had sewn after Kate died, every stabbing needle of pain that I had blunted gouged into me, pulling out my heart, my lungs. Even though it was the first time I had really known what it was like to want to talk to someone so desperately, to tell them how truly sorry I was. How this would never leave me. How I would have to live with knowing that I walked around, got up in the morning, slept at night, while that was happening.

I'd still go. I'd still walk the three blocks through the weak, watery, winter sunshine to Colin, who would open his mouth and change me.

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