“Sorry?” I said. “For what, Mom?” She looked at me, eyes widening. “For not protecting you,” she said. All this time I'd been the one with everything to hide, everything to be ashamed of. It hadn't even occurred to me that someone else might think to take the blame. She squeezed my hand, tightly. “I should have known what was happening,” she said. “I should have known just by looking at you.” Maybe I should have agreed with her. Blamed her, even, for being so caught up in Cass's leaving that she'd allowed me to become invisible. But I'd had my chances to reach out to her as well, chances I'd passed up again and again. The night of the ceremony, when I'd come home with my face swollen and blamed it on an elbow. Or when I “slipped” on the icy walk. And even on that last day, when she'd tried to pull my jacket off of me. But of course now it was simple to trace back and find so many places each of us could have done better. But after my two-?day crying jag, I just wasn't interested in blaming anyone else.
I needed my family and friends now, and sometimes, calling a draw seemed like the way to finally let it rest. It got easier after that. We talked a little more each time, but it came slowly. Mostly, we walked, following the long footpaths that crisscrossed the Evergreen complex. We'd move slowly with her arm linked tightly in mine, winding around rrees and benches, through the parking lot, circling the fountain, and back again. Sometimes, we didn't talk at all. But every once in a while she'd say something completely random out loud, as if she'd been carrying on a conversation in her head the whole time, that I was just now able to hear. “I remember when I was pregnant with you,” she said one day as we crossed the little footbridge, “and your sister would come up to' me at the same time every day, while I was making dinner, and just put her ear against my stomach. She said you talked to her, that she was the only one who could hear you.” Or, as we sat by the fountain: “The night you fell off that pyramid, Caitlin ... I didn't think anything could ever scare me that much again.” She looked down at the water, gurgling beside us. “But I was wrong, of course.” I didn't know what to say to these things, and I was learning with Dr. Marshall that I didn't necessarily have to have an answer. So I'd just put my head on her shoulder, leaning against my mother, who would hold me like she did when I was a small child, rocking me back and forth. It had been so long since someone had touched me and I hadn't wanted to flinch. As time went on, we talked about less important things. We traded stupid family anecdotes, like the time when Cass almost burned down the house with her Easy-?Bake Oven, or when my father drank a huge glass of clam juice, thinking it was lemonade. We laughed ourselves silly, taking back our shared past gently, piece by piece. My mother always came on Sunday, but Wednesdays were my wild card.
It was kind of like a game: I never knew exactly who to expect at the end of that long, brightly lit hallway. I just pulled open the door and scanned the people waiting on the shiny vinyl couches and slippery easy chairs, flipping through out-?of-?date magazines, until I saw a face I recognized. If it was my father, he always brought the book with him. He'd brought it the first day he came, when he'd stopped at Wal-?Mart to pick up a new pack of socks my mother had forgotten to bring me the week before. The book was called 100 Fun Card Games and had been hanging by the register, with a pack of cards shrink-?wrapped to it. My father was not the impulsive type, but I figured he'd been nervous about coming to see me, about what we would say to each other. Games would make it easier. After he'd hugged me, and I'd sat down on the couch beside him and received my socks, he slid the book across the cushion to me. “If you're not interested, that's completely fine,” he said. “I just thought it might be fun.” crazy eights! hearts! cutthroat! six different kinds of solitaire! the book proclaimed excitedly on the back cover, and then, in small letters, fun for the whole family! I looked up at my father, knowing how helpless he must feel, not being in control of thismysituation. He'd done all the Dad stuff so far: making the arrangements, dealing with the insurance company, explaining to the D.A. that no, I wouldn't be available to testify against Rogerson when his court date came up. He was the ultimate facilitator, but this emotional thing, with the two of us one-?on-?one, was new to him. “Sounds great,” I said to him, ripping open the pack and handing him the book. “Let's start with the first one.” So we did. Each day he came to visit I'd find him waiting for me at one of the small tables by the window, the book beside him, cards shuffled. We had started with Crazy Eights, worked through Spit and War, and had just begun Gin Rummy. We were O'Korens, of course, so we kept score and played for points as well as pride. But sometimes, I'd look up from my cards and find him watching me with an expression of such sadness on his face that it almost broke my heart.
The first day Boo came, she brought a stack of my photographs and a bagful of vegan carob-?chip cookies, which I ate as she regaled me with stories from our photography class exhibition at the Arts Center. “Your mother won a special award,” she told me, “because everyone had a head in her pictures. We all applauded.”
“I can't believe I missed it,” I said. During my two-?day weeping binge, I'd even cried about that: I'd worked so hard for that exhibition. During the last few weeks with Rogerson, it was the one thing that had kept me going. Now, no one would ever get to see all the hard work I'd done. She brushed cookie crumbs off her hands. “I brought you something else, too,” she said, digging into her huge giraffe-?printed bag to pull out something wrapped in bright blue cloth, placing it gingerly in my lap. “No pressure,” she said. “Just if you get inspired.” I knew even before I was done unwrapping the cloth that it was my camera. She'd polished it, replaced my ratty lens cap, and included five rolls of film. Everything I needed. “I don't know,” I said. Seeing my camera made the past six months come rushing back: the solace I'd sought in the darkroom. Corinna smiling at me as I took shot after shot on the front porch. Rogerson glowering against that gray sky. And that picture that I'd shredded, its ripped pieces still sitting in my desk drawer. “No pressure,” she said again. “Just wait and see.” Stewart and Rina came to visit me also. Stewart told me stories about his wild days and always brought me something wonderful to eat: fresh mangoes, Fakin' Bacon and scrambled torn, still warm. The first time Rina came to visit me, I walked into the solarium to find her sitting on a folding chair, nervously swinging one crossed leg across the other. She was in cutoff jeans and a tank top, attracting the wistful stares of Robert, the depressive, and Alan, who had a little problem with fires, who were playing Parcheesi a few tables over.