His voice was smooth and exactly the tonic it had always been. “So remember Mrs. Grady?”
I smiled. “Yes.”
“She had a bottle of cough syrup in her drawer, and back then we thought that’s what it really was. One time, Michael Rollins decided to steal it and take it on the playground.”
His words rolled over me like the sea sounds on the white-noise machine we once had. I didn’t think I was tired, but his story kept skipping parts, and I realized that it wasn’t him, but me, and that sleep was going to snatch me away.
Gavin was still on the chair, looking at his phone, when I woke up.
“No word from my parents?” I tried to prop myself up, but it was too much effort.
“It’s only eight a.m.”
“Oh, so I didn’t sleep long.”
“I’m used to waking up and having days pass.”
He laughed. “I wish I could do that.”
“I guess they have my phone still.”
“They have all your things. But I would expect to see them anytime now.”
I fumbled for the button to the bed and buzzed the head up a little so it was easier to breathe. “I did get loose of the social worker, at least.”
“Really?” A dark expression crossed his face.
“You think I should talk to her?”
“No, no. I mean, not unless you want to.” He stuffed his phone back in his pocket.
“I just want to get out of here.”
A knock at the door made us both tense up. “Playtime’s over,” I said.
But the face that peeked in wasn’t my mother or father, but surrounded by tiny sprigged-out pigtails.
“Tina?” I pushed the button to sit up even more. “You’re here already?”
“They flew me in for a thirty-day contract. If it works out, they’ll keep me on.”
“Yup. I set up the art room yesterday, but you were in ICU, so I couldn’t see you.” She stood at the end of the bed, all respectable looking in a blue ribbed sweater and long black skirt. Only when I saw her legs did I see her personality in her outfit — black-and-blue-striped leggings.
She turned to Gavin. “You must be the boy.”
“Tina, this is Gavin.”
She extended a hand and they shook. “Nice to meet you.” She turned back to me. “So what’s all this?” She swirled her hand in the air.
I glanced over at Gavin as he shifted in his chair.
Tina missed nothing. “Something happened.”
“I had a mishap,” I said.
She glanced down at my wrists, a movement neither Gavin nor I missed.
“No, not like that. I mean, I ended up in the ocean, and I caught pneumonia.”
Tina looked back and forth between us. “Interesting timing.”
I didn’t know what else to say. I had only met Tina once. She was the one who had convinced me to come clean to Gavin.
“We’re good,” I said. “I told him everything.”
“And he’s still here. That’s a promising sign.”
We stared awkwardly at each other for another minute.
“Well,” Tina said, “I have to go set up for my first art therapy. I just wanted to come by and say, ‘Thank you.’ It’s a career move I didn’t see coming.”
“I think you’ll be great,” I said. “Who knows, I might end up in your class.”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “That might not be a bad thing, you know. Sometimes we have to admit that we can’t do everything on our own.”
Gavin stiffened, and I could see he was taking this all wrong. “I’m here now,” he said. “She’ll be fine.”
Tina turned to him. “I believe you. Just — just don’t take anything for granted. It’s a slippery slope.”
“You don’t have to tell me that.”
She held his gaze for a moment, challenging him. I could see she knew all the ways men could fail and expected him to do the same. “I’ll drop by again later.” She waved and slipped through the door.
“What’s the story with her?” Gavin asked.
“I met her a week ago, after she did a suicide talk.”
Gavin snapped his fingers. “I remember her. She’s come before. I’ve seen posters.”
His forehead creased. “So you went to a suicide talk?”
“No, I just drove her to the airport after.” I realized I was giving him the same runaround I’d done with the social worker. It shouldn’t be that way. “The doctor thought it would be a good idea. She lost a baby too. He lived three hours.”
Gavin looked at the door as if he could see the pain in her wake. “She had a tragic air about her.”
“She’s been some bad places.”
“Suicide, obviously, if she does talks.”
The muscle in his jaw started to twitch, and I braced myself for what he might say next. After a lengthy pause, he asked, “Do you — do you think about that?”
“No,” I said reflexively. “I mean, not really. I guess I do things that are probably…not…typical.” He didn’t know about the black, my escape. It was in my past, and I had planned to leave it there. But then I had just done it two days ago.