We Go Together
Abigail de Niverville © 2020
All Rights Reserved
There was blood on my sheets.
“Not again,” I sighed, pulling the covers off me. Right at the top of the covers was a smattering of reddish-brown smears, prominent and angry.
I held my arm over my head and assessed the damage. The eczema that covered my inner arm burned bright against my pale, freckled skin. A few sores had broken, but no trace of blood. I lifted the other arm to check. The back of my hand was also flaring up, the knuckles bursting open.
“Goddamn,” I moaned, pressing my broken knuckle to my lips. Kissing wouldn’t make it better, but at least it was something. Months ago, my skin had been smooth and cold to the touch. Now, it was red, dry, and hot. All because one thing in my life had changed. Skin was so weird.
One big thing. But still. One thing.
I dragged myself out of bed and pulled the sheet off the mattress. This needed some serious stain removal. No dabs of water with a washcloth could save this mess.
I passed a brush through my hair, working out the knots, from the top of my head to the tips. I never brushed it back. I never put it up. Not anymore. The box of hair accessories stayed closed on the top of my dresser, the bows I’d collected over the years forgotten.
They had to go. But parting with them proved difficult. Every time I tried, I’d remember where they came from. Some were gifts, some were bought on significant days, some I’d worn on nights that held meaning. They all mattered to me in some capacity. Not enough for me to wear them without question, but enough that I’d hesitated whenever I tried to throw them in a donation bag.
The hair bows weren’t me. They used to be. I used to love vintage dresses and paper bag curls tied in a bow. Used to get all dressed up in blouses with lace and frills. It was my thing, the ultra-girly retro aesthetic. But since Christmas, wearing those clothes hadn’t given me the same joy it used to. The bows became young and kiddish, the clothes a caricature.
I was trapped between two versions of myself, and I didn’t know how to cross over from one to the next. I didn’t know how.
The bedroom door creaked open as I stepped into the hall, the smooth, painted wooden floorboards cool on my feet. Kay always left the stair window open, though nights were cold in Grand-Barachois. She said the air was good for us, and there was something refreshing about waking up in a chilled room.
The bathroom window had also been left open, and I went to it to lower the pane. Below, the water from the bay lapped on the beach. The cool air sifted into the small bathroom and hit my face. I pushed the pane down so it was only open a crack and moved to turn on the water at the tub.
I opened the cupboard below the sink, grabbed the box of baking soda, and shook some in, not bothering to measure the amount. When a small mound formed under the water, I considered that a success. Swishing my hand back and forth, I watched it dissolve and cloud the water.
This was my morning routine.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, I usually cried. It was hard to not, to let it all go. The love I’d had for him still lingered, but a hurt did too. An abandonment. And something else I couldn’t name yet, something that drove me to tears every day.
You need to move on.
My friend Gianna had told me that a few weeks ago, done with my pity party, with my lack of interest. Done trying to make me feel better. So, she snapped.
And who was I? What right did I have to be this upset, this…whatever? Gianna had had her heart broken three times. She had mastered the art of steeling herself, of being strong in the face of heartbreak. I was crying over a first love because I was naive enough to think we’d be together forever.
For the record, I never thought that.
I was crying because it hurt so much to be left the way Aaron had left me. Like I was nothing, and I didn’t matter. I was crying because he’d been nearly my first everything, and it had all happened the way he wanted it to. I was crying because…
Now, I was actually crying.
I slipped into the tub, holding my breath, as though that’d stop the tears. I splashed my face with water, rubbed it into my eyes. A melody hung in the air above me as I cried, the words repeating in my head over and over.
How did I end up here?
If you cried in the tub, were you really crying? Or was it water in your eyes? Or leftover soap on your hands making the tears well up?
If you cried in the tub, the water swallowed your tears. Like they were never there at all.
I went downstairs wearing a hoodie and pair of baggy cotton pants, my hair towel-dry and my eyes bone-dry. Super fashionable. But it would be too warm later for leggings, and wearing shorts was out of the question. My legs were covered in eczema too. The angry red bumps made it impossible to shave without breaking them open or irritating them more. So, not only were my legs ugly and red, they were hairy too. Two strikes against them ever seeing the sun this summer.
So much for having that “beautiful, smooth skin.”
I was going through a bit of a wardrobe crisis, on top of everything else. I hated my entire closet, except for my youth orchestra and drama hoodies. And my jeans and leggings were okay too. I mainly hated the shirts. And the dresses.
I didn’t want to do anything rash and give away something important. Wearing those clothes now wasn’t right either, though. I didn’t want to be that person anymore. No one had protected me in the end.
Kay was doing a crossword at the kitchen table. She didn’t take her eyes off it as I approached, the creaking floorboards enough indication where I was headed.
“Good morning, dear,” she greeted, writing in an answer.
“Morning,” I said, bending to kiss her soft, wrinkled cheek. Her salt-and-pepper hair hung in a long braid over her shoulder, her signature green cardigan loose around her.
Kay was my favourite relative, and my mom’s too. My grandmother’s sister. We shared a first name because of that: Katherine. But while she went by Kay, I was called Kitty. Though, that girl was behind me. I wanted people to call me Kat now.
“How are you today?” Kay asked as I filled the electric kettle.
“I’m okay.” I didn’t enjoy lying to Kay, so while I would’ve had a definitive positive answer for my mom, I chose to be a little more vague. “Okay” was a fair description anyway. I wasn’t bad, I wasn’t good. Just okay.
As the kettle warmed up, I popped two pieces of bread in the toaster. As I waited, I propped myself up on the counter and sat there, legs dangling. Kay worked on her crossword silently.
It was often like this between us. Kay had some sort of sixth sense for when I’d want to talk and when I wouldn’t. And right then, I didn’t. When I’d called her crying a week before, she’d simply said, “All right,” and hung up. An hour later, my mom got a call from her, saying how lonely she was, how she needed a youthful presence to lift her spirits.
Kay worked an audience like nobody else. My mom bought it wholeheartedly, and pretty much instantly, I was here—exactly where I’d hoped to be.
Since I’d come here, Kay hadn’t asked me why I’d needed to get away. When I was little, I used to tell her everything. All my fears, my hopes, and dreams. She never tried to get those out of me either. I wanted to let her in, tell her my troubles and whatever fell in between. But as I got older and all the storms inside me grew darker, opening up was near impossible. She never pushed or pried for more from me. She let me exist in my own world until I was ready to let her in.
This time had been no different. So far, since coming, the only question Kay asked me was how I was doing. Thankfully.
The kettle boiled, my toast popped, and I settled at the kitchen table across from her. Kay had left the butter and jam out for me, and I slathered it onto my toast. As I took my first bite, she placed her pen on the table and turned towards me.
“Did you see someone’s living at Charlotte’s place?”
Charlotte was one of our neighbours, older than Kay and a little less robust. Last summer, she’d moved in with her daughter’s family because she was unable to live on her own anymore. Her home, a little winterized cottage, had been left empty. Her family still owned it but kept it locked up.
Kay shrugged, a mischievous smirk on her face. “I don’t know. Someone young.”
“Have you been spying, Kay?”
She had a pair of binoculars she kept on the windowsill of the kitchen sink. For “birdwatching.” I’d seen her use them many times, but never for their intended use.
She shrugged again. “Anyway, it might be nice if you said hi. I have an extra pie for you to bring.”
“Seriously?” Was she trying to set me up with the mystery person? Without any idea who they were?
“What? You need a friend or two. It gets lonely here.”
I sighed. I’d barely been here a week. Being alone was fine, better than being with people who expected things from me.
In the past, I’d never been alone here. I had friends I’d see each summer. We had no rules, no expectations, no dreams for the future. All that mattered was the time we had. I hadn’t seen them in a few years, wasn’t sure if they still visited, or if they’d also followed their hearts to a nightmare.
I hoped not. I’d never wish that on anyone.
“So, after breakfast? You’ll go?”
I’d have called her eagerness adorable, if Kay could be adorable. She was too regal for that.
“Yeah. I’ll go.”
Kay stood to prepare the pie for delivery, and I finished my breakfast. I didn’t have a chance to drink all my tea, but that wasn’t important.
As I slipped on some flip-flops, Kay handed me the pie, wrapped in a dish towel.
“Have fun,” she called as I made my way down the path. I gave her a hasty wave and dove into the tall grasses.
A field separated Kay and Charlotte’s houses, with grass that brushed my waist. Usually, Mr. Fincher came by to mow it every few weeks, but he forgot sometimes. Or got busy with his boats. He had a lot going on.
I trudged through the sea of green and inhaled the sea air. Technically, Grand-Barachois wasn’t near the ocean. The water belonged to the Shediac Bay, but it was close enough to the sea. It led to the sea, at least.
Salt water was in my veins, in every cell. My mom used to live here too. She’d written it in my DNA. Once in a while, I reached a point where I had to surround myself with it, or else I’d fall apart. Now that I was here, I never wanted to leave.
I reached Charlotte’s cottage several minutes later, climbed up the front steps, and tentatively knocked on the screen door. It was still early, but the main door was open, which people generally didn’t do if they were still sleeping, not even here where rules didn’t apply.
Footsteps. Then, a face I kind of recognized. And as he got closer, I really recognized him.
He was different than I remembered him—his jaw was more defined, his shoulders squarer. He’d grown his hair out a bit too. What was once buzz-cut length, with a bit longer on the top, had grown to a little above his shoulders, half pulled up in a messy bun on the top of his head. He wore a hoodie and sweatpants, similar to me.
But most of all, something about the way he stood, the way he carried himself…he seemed taller. Though he only had a few inches on me, he carried himself like he was six feet.
As he took me in, his brow winkled in confusion, then smoothed as he remembered me. “Kat?”
“Second violin, provincial youth orchestra.”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
We hadn’t been friends in youth orchestra, but we’d had our various random interactions while at practice. He went to Miramichi High along with his best friend, Rhianna, who had been my stand partner. Sometimes, our paths met when I was with her. I’d been a bit shy, and he’d been so kind. I’d never forget the way he tried to make me feel comfortable and included in conversations.
After he’d gone off to college, we stayed friends on Facebook. I read his updates, watched his late-night practice room videos, laughed at the classical music memes he shared. When he’d come out, I was happy for him too. We hadn’t been good friends, but I wanted good things for him.
“I go by Tristan now.”
“I know,” I said, smiling. “I saw on Facebook.”
“Okay.” He leaned against the doorframe, the bigness of his presence gone. Now his posture was more as I remembered him. “I…you never know.”
He crossed his arms over his chest, chewing on his top lip. “So what are you doing here?”
“I live here,” I said, pointing towards Kay’s cottage. “Over there. It’s my great-aunt’s place. How do you know Charlotte?”
“She’s my grandma,” Tristan said. “I’m Robert’s son.”
“Oh, yeah. I don’t know Robert.” I was more familiar with her daughter, Linda, and her children.
“We didn’t come here that much,” he said, shrugging. “Dad and Grandma don’t get along.”
That explained why I’d never seen him around here.
“So what are you doing here now?”
“I just…wanted some time alone. I guess.” He lowered his gaze from my face to my hands. “Did you bring me a pie?”
“Kay insisted. I think she’s been spying on you.”
He laughed. “She can spy all she wants. I’m not exciting. Come in, by the way.”
Charlotte’s cottage was exactly as I remembered it. The patchwork linoleum floor, the mismatched wooden cupboards her late husband had snagged from the side of the road when they’d first moved out here. She’d kept it nice all these years, despite its humble origins. The appliances were ancient but fully functioning. The walls had been repainted, but the same mint green. The curtains had been updated.
I’d always loved coming here.
“I saw your prom photos,” Tristan said, taking the pie from me. “I loved your dress. Did you see Rhianna’s?”
“Yeah, her dress was beautiful.”
“Did you have fun?”
I shrugged. “It could’ve been better.”
“I get it. Prom wasn’t ‘the best night of my life.’” He rolled his eyes at the air quotation, which made me giggle. Whoever said high school was the best time of your life had been lying.
And prom hadn’t been the worst. I’d gone with my friend Mel since neither of us had dates. Her mom had done my makeup while my mom worked on my hair. With everything going on, I was able to forget all the other stuff for a while. Dance at prom and pretend I was okay.
At least I hadn’t gone with Aaron.
Tristan put the pie on the counter and led me into the living room area. He sat on the couch, and I took the armchair that faced the big window, overlooking the sea.
“So, how’s school?” I asked.
“It’s good. It’s hard. Sometimes I hate it, but other times it’s okay.” He shrugged. “Where are you going again?”
“Humber,” I said. “For composition.”
“Nice! I read you weren’t performing, but I couldn’t remember what you were doing.”
“It’s hard to keep track of everyone.”
“Especially people from orchestra? You’re all…so damn accomplished.”
I drew my legs up to my chest, wrapping my arms around them. “You’re pretty accomplished too. Going to the Royal Conservatory?”
He blushed, shaking his head. “I guess.”
“So, how long are you here?”
“Probably the whole summer. My parents might come at some point. I don’t know.” He shrugged.
More than anything, I wanted to ask why he’d come alone to begin with. Why his parents had let him. Maybe they had more confidence in his independence, considering he’d been living in Toronto for a year. What could go wrong in little Grand-Barachois by comparison?
Somehow, I had a feeling there was more to it than that.