After I’d decided not to press charges against Ames, his lawyer had stopped contacting my father about his injuries, and we heard nothing else from either of them. My brother, however, was now calling me regularly on my phone, so we could talk away from my house and parents. We had a lot to cover, with what had happened with Ames and everything else, and sometimes the pauses and silences felt heavy enough to break me. When all else failed, we had Big New York to fall back on. I’d even talked him around to Team Ayre, or close to it. Progress.
Peyton had been increasingly in touch with my parents, too, calling more regularly. He’d started running on the track every day during the time he was allowed outside, and he was working on his speed, reading everything he could get his hands on about training. My mom, who had run cross-country in college, was somewhat of an expert, and with this new topic came a new, hesitant phase of their relationship. Eventually, Peyton asked her to come to visit. At first, hearing this, I’d been apprehensive, wondering if we’d go back down the same path where her involvement became more like an obsession. But my mother surprised me. She did visit, and enjoyed the calls, especially the running discussions. But she gave Peyton the space he needed and let him come to her once in a while, instead of chasing him down.
It helped that she’d found a new cause to busy herself with. After that night at U General, she’d returned to visit with Mrs. Chatham. They ended up talking about insurance issues, as well as the lack of outreach at U General for patients and their families. What began as her offering to meet with some administrators on the Chathams’ behalf to do a little fact-finding had, over the ensuing weeks, led not only to her volunteering in patient relations, but to the prospect of a paid position. She claimed to still be mulling it over, that she was too busy with everything else, but my dad and I knew she’d eventually agree. My mom loved a worthy cause, and at U General, she’d never again have a shortage of them.
Peyton had ten more months at Lincoln, his sentence having been cut down a bit due to good behavior. Once released, he’d move to a halfway house for six weeks, where he’d be expected to find a job and housing while also training for his first 10K. For all her progress, I could tell it was making my mom nuts not to help with this, and more than once I’d walked up on her computer to find rental info or classifieds pulled up on the screen. Old habits are hard to break. But I knew she was trying.
I was, too. Another Family Day was coming up at Lincoln in February, and I’d decided to attend. My mom was thrilled—naturally—but less so when I told her that he and I had decided I’d go on my own. We’d come this small distance alone, with so much more to go, and I didn’t want to change anything for fear of losing ground. What I was sure of was that whatever relationship my brother and I would have once he was out would be different from our lives as kids. We’d both grown up, in vastly different ways. But I was looking forward, now, to getting to know him. I hoped he felt the same way.
Meanwhile, at home, we were learning, too, finding a new way to be together without Peyton always present in spirit, if not person. My mom and I were talking about colleges and making plans to visit campuses. Thinking about a different future now. Mine. And after not a little pressure from me, Mac had finally talked to his dad about his hopes for going to the U for engineering, or even elsewhere. Mr. Chatham had been dubious, which we’d all expected. But he didn’t say no. Now, in the afternoons at Seaside, Mac and I spent time researching schools in between homework assignments, finding out everything we could about the application process. Meanwhile, Layla—who had shown a new interest in the business after finding some books on corporate management at the library—was busy overhauling the Seaside register system and trying to convince her dad to make other changes. He was hesitant about this as well, but listening. After all, she was a connoisseur. And who knew? Maybe even with Mac away at college and beyond, Seaside would stay in the family after all.
That was just it. You never knew what lay ahead; the future was one thing that could never be broken, because it had not yet had the chance to be anything. One minute you’re walking through a dark woods, alone, and then the landscape shifts, and you see it. Something wondrous and unexpected, almost magical, that you never would have found had you not kept going. Like a new friend who feels like an old one, or a memory you’ll never forget. Maybe even a carousel.
As for me, I had some old business to tie up. It was Mrs. Chatham, actually, who put the idea in my head, during one of my shifts keeping her company in the cardiac rehab wing. They’d had her walking the hallways, getting her strength back, and she’d returned to her room exhausted, getting into bed and immediately closing her eyes. I’d thought she was sleeping and was starting on some calculus homework when she spoke.
“You should talk to him, you know.”
We’d been discussing Peyton during our walk together, how he and I were slowly working through things, even though it was sometimes hard. This happened often in her recovery, a sort of elasticity of time and conversation that led her to circle back to something I’d already forgotten. The doctors said it was partly meds, partly exhaustion.
“I’m trying,” I said. “But a lot of the time, even now, I don’t know what to say.”
“Yes, you do.” She yawned, turning her face into the pillow. “Start with ‘I’m sorry.’”
“Sorry?” I repeated.
She sighed, clearly drifting off. “Then just go from there.”