Page 18

The morning after I stormed out of the Averys’ house and ordered an entire new living room, I found a package on my doorstep. I carried it into the kitchen and carefully unwrapped the brown paper, lifting the tape as to not tear it. Inside was a book. I turned it over in my hand. I hadn’t ordered a book, and besides, there was no address or stamp on the paper. That’s when it clicked. Jolene had left it on my doorstep. It was her book. She must have felt guilty after I left last night and brought it over as a sort of peace offering. It was called The Snow Cabin, and the author was Paige DeGama. There was no author photo, just a quick bio.

Paige DeGama is a graduate of the University of Miami.

A voracious reader and coffee drinker. She is the author of The Eating House, The Other Woman, Always, and Lie Lover.

She resides in Seattle with her daughter and husband.

I had to sit down. How could someone keep this sort of thing to themselves? It was a whole other life, an existence on paper. Was it because she wanted privacy? Or was there some other reason Jolene Avery didn’t want to claim her own books? I eyed the cover, a simple log cabin in the snow. Nothing R-rated, nothing foul like those half-nude kissing couples. I opened my laptop and searched the name: Paige DeGama. Hundreds of articles popped up: interviews with newspapers and magazines, websites devoted to talking about her books, there was even a fan page where people got downright swoony when they spoke about her. They speculated what she looked like, what her husband did for a living, and what they would say if they ever came face-to-face with her. One girl posted a picture of her new tattoo—a line from The Snow Cabin. There were hundreds of comments underneath it as people posted photos of their own tattoos—all from Paige’s books. It was all so sick and obsessive.

What type of person created this sort of cultish mania? I tried to reconcile the woman from next door to this … person, this Paige DeGama. It was humorous really, that people cared that much about someone they didn’t know. I closed my MacBook and went to lie down on the couch, a headache starting to pound behind my eyes. The book was still lying on my chest when I woke. I told myself I’d just read one or two pages to get a feel for the book, but soon I was six chapters in and unable to put it down. I took an advanced lit class in college. My professor, an ex-nun, would often speak about the written word having rhythm and beat. I found myself enraptured by Jolene’s use of words, the staccato sentences blended with a rhythm that flowed so easily you just kept reading as to not disrupt it. Before I reached chapter seven I snapped the book closed, sore about the fact that she was so good. I felt depressed. I wandered over to the fridge, my go-to place when my mood took a downer. Therapy in brightly colored packages, filled with ingredients that went straight to my hips. But my fridge recently had a makeover, and instead of therapy, there were leafy greens and fruit. Nothing was going my way. I decided to take my book and read somewhere else. I couldn’t concentrate with Jolene in the house right next door. It felt like she was looming over my shoulder asking me what I thought.

I drove north to Mukilteo to a little park near the beach, and I sat with my back leaning against the driftwood as I opened the book. After a while a train rumbled down the tracks, one of those cargo trains, carrying big loads of steel and wide logs. I snapped a picture as it went by and posted it to Instagram. Two minutes later, Jolene texted me.

Where are you? Are you okay?

I paused, wondering why she would ask me that, and then it clicked—the train, my story the other day. She thought I was suicidal.

Yeah, I’m okay. Why?

The little bubble that appears to say she was typing popped up, then disappeared. What would she say? I saw your picture of the train and I’m just making sure you’re not running toward it?

The train- she sent back right away.

I’ll be okay. Just a little down. I set my phone down in the sand and read a couple pages before I looked at it again. When I did I saw that she’d texted twice.

Where are you?

And then:

I’m getting in my car…

I imagined her grabbing her keys, giving a hasty explanation to Darius, who was probably cooking dinner, and jumping in her car to what? Save me? Did she think she could get here in time if I decided to step in front of a train? Or maybe she thought she could talk me down using the generic your life has meaning speech? I hate to tell you this, Jolene, but my life does have meaning. My meaning was Mercy.

I texted her back ten minutes later when I knew she was probably on the freeway.

I’ve already left. I’m alive. Thanks for caring. Then I turned off my phone so I didn’t have to see anything else from her. I was reading her book and that was enough. It was stressful being in the mind of someone so … self-absorbed. Her character, Neena, was all wrapped up in self-loathing, which I had to assume came directly from Jolene’s own experience. I wondered what Darius thought of this book when he read it. And then it dawned on me that maybe he hadn’t read it. Because if he had, surely he would have Baker Acted her ass.

I was grumpy as I made my way to my car ten minutes later, having just finished a chapter where Neena burned her own skin with a lighter. Mary and Joseph—what was wrong with this woman? I tucked the book under the passenger seat so I didn’t have to look at it. Emo—that was the word for it. When I got home forty minutes later, Jolene was sitting on my front porch, a worried expression on her face.

“Are you okay?” she asked, jumping up. “I was so worried.”

“Why?” I asked. “I just needed some time to think. I like it at the water, clears my head.”

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