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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7. The Trouble Ahead

Mack’s Stop 'n' Go Motel smelt like soup and dogs.  A buck's head was mounted on the wall above the check-in, overseeing business. I'm sure that, as we walk gingerly in, we are as far as business goes around here. We found Mack's about a three hours drive away from the airport. We drove an hour more than planned and Colin is visibly stuffed. The whole place is very 70's. Orange plastic covers most surfaces, those that aren’t are all wood panelled. Large arcing chandeliers are the only illumination. Fortunately the wait isn't long. The jet lag is kicking in again and a wave of fatigue hits me while I fill in my details.

"Sorry," I mutter as my pin number flies from my mind and I have to stop and search so hard for the numbers it feels manual.

"Are you okay?" Colin is standing closer to me than I thought. There's a hand on my wrist, that, even when I insist I'm fine and stab in my pin, doesn't move.

 

Or when we are escorted to our room by a balding man who throws the impression that we're so rare he wouldn't mind mounting us with the moose.

 

Or when we're inside, standing, the door clicking softly shut behind us.

 

Because it’s one of those rare, sparking, moments when the person in front of you is thinking the exact same thing. Because despite only just meeting, despite our new homes, lives, this was going to happen anyway.

 

I know, like that night in his kitchen, like when Javier first smiled at me, like all those times I nearly lost myself after Kate, there’s only one thing you can do.

 

Act.

 

And so, my hand slides, trembling, to cup his cheek.

 “It’s really you, right, Vee?” Colin whispers.

“Of course, who else would I be?” I ask, allowing only the ghost of a laugh.

“No one, I guess,” Colin breathes. I catch the last of his sentence in his eyes. Eyes so close that I can see my own full, coloured face, waiting written all over it. Eyes so close that I can read:

No one, because no one else can make me do this.

 Colin’s lips are cautious. He might’ve got something wrong, might’ve misread me. But he hasn’t and I’m opening my mouth, tasting him, desperate to let all of him inside. Desperate for him to know me

again. Desperate to get it right this time. We’re moving and this time it’s just enough for the both of us. This time nobody’s thinking of Kate. It’s my skin, my heat that’s churning through his mind as Colin’s hands comb over me. He is blinded by separation, by finding a new world. And my curves, grooves and creases are his braille. I wonder what he reads. Can he feel how I’ve changed? I am certain he does when something surges in the bottom of my stomach and I pull him closer and deeper. His taste fills my throat; his scent fills my nose, as strong as life itself. I smell coffee, leather, books. But underneath all that is something else: creek water and charcoal. Sunlight and dust.

Home.

 

 “Did I just destroy someone’s world?”

We’re lying in an exhausted, awestruck glow. Skin to skin, we’re warmer than we could be with any blanket. Colin’s words are the first coherent ones in a while.

“No,” I pause, “but only just.”

“Who was he?”

“His name was Javier,” I pause again. Bringing Javier up after what just happened feels silly, petty. No one of it matters anymore so I say “it was nothing.”

Lying in the dark with Javier was just that. But lying with Colin, the dark is so thick, that when I stretch my fingers out, it ripples like silk at my touch. "What about you?"

"I wasn't good enough I guess. Didn't do what I should’ve done. She left me."

It takes me a while of picturing Colin and some, unfamiliar woman to realize he means Kate. I roll, so I'm over him, finding his eyes by small globes of bright, reflecting chink of light seeping under the curtains. "She left us." I anchor his gaze in mine. All along, right from the off, Colin hurt more than me. I think he always felt personally responsible. He was the boyfriend, the lover, the protector and he felt that everyone looked at him as a failure. I was just the friend who didn't understand. "You weren't responsible, you know that, Colin. There was nothing you did that made her give up."

It's the moment I’ve waited for. To mend Colin, for us to talk and cry and return to normal. But the spheres of light in Colin's eyes dull and he says, flatly,

"We should get some sleep."

 

It's the moment in the car. It's every time he avoided me. It's a totally out of place, slap of reality. A camera has moved the focus rim, snapping everything into clarity. The smoky haze of dark, the heated aroma of warm skin is gone. I'm lying in the dark, missing out on sleep, next to a man who I've not seen for eight years. The wall that is now the space in the blankets between us shoves me closer to the edge of the realization that this was a mistake. That the person that just wracked my body doesn't know me. And I don't know him.

 

I tip over that edge and I'm asleep, curling into myself, into unconsciousness to avoid the disappointment. The disappointment that's balanced above me as precariously as bricks on a beam.

 

 The sheer starkness of the cold wakes me. I hadn't dreamt, just stumbled blindly into unconsciousness, finding a warm dark spot to hide in before I would have to venture outside again. Colin is already awake. I can hear water spattering on tiles in the bathroom. I lie here, in too thin sheets and cold that hurts my nose. I lie and wish he'd never step out that door. I lie and wonder how fast I can dress, pack and leave without him knowing. I'm still laying when the door opens and Colin walks out, water running down his face, a towel around his waist. He's slim, but not toned. The type of body that a safe, careful lifestyle with little leisure time provides. I roll, facing away from him as he changes and pretend to wake when he gently shakes me and tells me we should be going. We're due at Maplenesse at two.

 

An hour later, as I wait outside Mack's for Colin to check out, I phone my mother. I take a few deep breaths before actually calling the number, vapour rushing in and out of me.

"Mama," I start, assertive. This conversation will be as over as soon as I can help it. "It's me."

"Vianne! I heard about your flight! We were worried sick down here when we didn't hear anything last night."

"We really tired, we're just checking out of the motel, about to get on the road again."

"We?"

"Yeah, that's why I rung...." I trail off, summoning bright and spark in my voice, "I ran into Colin!" My voice nearly splits with the effort of not sounding dismayed.

"Colin? Your friend from when you were little? I didn't think he'd be coming down this early."

"Neither did I. Well anyway, we're about a half an hour outside Battle Mountain-"

"Actually, come to think of it, Alice did mention something to me a few weeks ago...Ah! I guess it slipped my mind!"

I sigh inwardly. My mother manages to remember how many years to the day it’s been since I last visited, but not to tell me that I might run into my long lost friend. "Anyway I guess you'll be arriving this afternoon then."

"That's the plan."

"Great. It's been too long."

"Okay, I'll see you soon, Mama."

 

I hang up on the false pretence of bad coverage as I see Colin wrapping things up at the desk. Neither of us talk about what happened last night. But in the silence, punctured only by a few remarks about the temperature, predictions for the festivities, surroundings and work, things broil and boil. The tangy, heavy scent of warm limbs. The tickle of hair lingering on faces. The surges of power and ecstasy, deep and internal. The sharp lemon of heighted sense. These are what fills the flitting glances and silences now. Colin drives again. The highways are mostly empty, the odd minivan and Ute. Nothing of any great taste. The sleet stricken road is lined with banks of snow, discoloured by oil and grit spray. As another silence descends, I realize that he has nowhere to hide.

And that I am awake. And that, if I was to start asking about Kate right now, he would answer. That

there would be no way of changing subject. Or the whole ordeal being lost in the haziness of night. I will know if I'm overthinking, reading too much into it. I will know-

 

"Have you thought about Kate much? Do you still miss her?"

It comes out raw, far too feeling pours out with it. And-

 

Colin reacts. Fluidly, like its instinct. His grip tightens on the wheel, white blossoming on his knuckles. His eye flicker shut briefly, fending off feeling that he can't reveal, I sit and watch my missile streak through him, dredging up pain. Ripping stiches. He bleeds through his eyes when he meets my gaze.

"Of course I miss her. But I've moved on a bit, I guess."

"You don't sound like someone who's moved on. I know I still feel a bit responsible."

Colin laughs a wisp of a chuckle.

"You don't know the half of it." There's pain in his words, yes, but something else. Something that will surface later and make me freeze.

"I still think about her. And home. A lot....Do you think it'll be different?" I'm overstepping, ploughing through, throwing unwritten social etiquette to the wind. Colin politely accommodates.

"No, I don't think it will. I think she's still there. I think she'll be waiting for us." Colin is rational, lateral. He deals with the what will be, not the what could be. He see what's there, not what might be hiding underneath it. And so, the idea that Colin believes that Kate is still here, still watching, sends shivers through me.  And for the remainder of the drive past Battle Mountain and onto home, I try not to think about how much I believe his words.

 

Coming home is exciting. Despite the confusion of last night, my heartbeat picks up as we pass the sign signalling the entrance to Maplenesse. Strange, how I never thought that Maple could excite me. Growing up here, we all thought it was the most boring place ever. Coming home from camp in 8th Grade, I was dragged, shackled back. But, I guess, when you're thirteen, you don't consider that you might be away from home for eight years. Or how it will affect you when you return. I am sure that whatever Colin feels is steady and rational. Which is why I'm surprised when he pulls the car over to the shoulder about half a mile outside the town.

 

"Is everything okay?" I'm a little thankful for the excuse to say something.

"Yes, I just need to...brace myself a little."

"Kate?" Again, the instinctive-looking shift in him catches my eye. This time, more noticeable.

"Mmmm....more like seeing the family. The noise. A lot of people all at once sometimes make me feel a little...." He trails off before giving me a strained little grin and joking, "well, you've seen me at school assemblies and pep rallies." Yes, that was something I had forgotten, Colin doesn't like crowds.

 

I had never been especially patriotic and the first pep rally of my junior year seemed overdone and stupid. Kate had taken the day off school and so just Colin and I attended. 

"Look," I whispered to Colin, nodding to the cheerleaders mincing around to our left, "I'm pretty sure I saw a few of them outside ShowGirls the other day." 

It' was a good joke and what tips me off is that Colin doesn't laugh. I asked him if he was okay before and he said he was tired. But now, he was hunched, his hoodie drawn around his face, hands and eyes flitting, nervous. "What's up with you?"

"Just don't like a lot of people, y'know?" 

"Dude, it's just a pep rally. It's stupid." Colin didn't answer. I lowered my voice, so the kids in the rows behind us wouldn't hear. "Is it Kate? She didn't say anything was really wrong, just that she had sprained her wrist." My friend freezed slightly at my words before shaking it off. 

"No, it’s not her. It's just that.....I don't like how close everyone is. How many people there, how many eyes. It's like they're all looking at me, through me, into me. I hate it. It's like they know what I've done- Never mind." Colin hurried into quiet. I processed this before gingerly asking: 

"What have you done, Col?" 

"Nothing, I'm just rambling."

And we continued to watch the ridiculous fanfare from the bleachers. 


I let that go at the time. It was a cold night, and late too. I couldn't be bothered processing Colin's hidden meanings, if there were any. Kate was the concern, not him. I am close to doing the same now, but something fizzing in the air between Colin and I makes me pause and file it away for later.

"Yeah, now I remember. It's only for a few days." When Colin doesn't start the car again, I dig him in the ribs. "The sooner we get there, the sooner we can leave."

Houses pass and familiarity floods through me. I decide to leave whatever I've been chewing over to rest for a bit -I'll need my full wits about me for the welcome home palaver.

 

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