“He’s been asking about you.”
This is a thing Muriel has never said. Not about David; never to Henry.
So he cannot help himself. “Why?”
His sister rolls her eyes. “I imagine it’s because he cares.”
Henry nearly chokes on his drink.
David Strauss cares about a lot of things. He cares about his status as the youngest head surgeon at Sinai. He cares, presumably, about his patients. He cares about making time for Midrash, even if it means he has to do it in the middle of a Wednesday night. He cares about his parents, and how proud they are of what he’s done. David Strauss does not care about his younger brother, except for the myriad ways in which he’s ruining the family reputation.
Henry looks down at his watch, even though it doesn’t tell the time, or any time, for that matter.
“Sorry, sis,” he says, scraping back his chair. “I’ve got to open the store.”
She cuts herself off—something she never used to do—and rises from the chair to wrap her arms around his waist, squeezing him tight. It feels like an apology, like affection, like love. Muriel is a good five inches shorter than Henry, enough that he could rest his chin on her head, if they were that kind of close, which they’re not.
“Don’t be a stranger,” she says, and Henry promises he won’t.
New York City
March 13, 2014
Addie wakes to someone touching her cheek.
The gesture is so gentle, at first she thinks she must be dreaming, but then she opens her eyes, and sees the fairy lights on the roof, sees Sam crouched beside the lawn chair, a worried crease across her forehead. Her hair has been set free, a mane of wild blond curls around her face.
“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” she says, tucking a cigarette back into its box, unlit.
Addie shivers and sits up, pulling the jacket tight around her. It’s a cold, cloudy morning, the sky a stretch of sunless white. She didn’t mean to sleep this long, this late. Not that she has anywhere to be, but it certainly seemed like a better idea last night, when she could feel her fingers.
The Odyssey has fallen off her lap. It lies facedown on the ground, the cover slick with morning dew. She reaches to pick it up, does her best to dust the jacket off, smooth the pages where they got bent, or smudged.
“It’s freezing out here,” says Sam, pulling Addie to her feet. “Come on.”
Sam always talks like that, statements in place of questions, imperatives that sound like invitations. She pulls Addie toward the rooftop door, and Addie is too cold to protest, simply trails Sam down the stairs to her apartment, pretending she doesn’t know the way.
The door swings open onto madness.
The hall, the bedroom, the kitchen are all stuffed full of art and artifact. Only the living room—at the back of the apartment—is spacious and bare. No sofa or tables there, nothing but two large windows, an easel, and a stool.
“This is where I do my living,” she said, when she first brought Addie home.
And Addie answered, “I can tell.”
She’s crammed everything she owns into three-quarters of the space, just to preserve the peace and quiet of the fourth. Her friend offered her a studio space at an insane deal, but it felt cold, she said, and she needs warmth to paint.
“Sorry,” says Sam, stepping around a canvas, over a box. “It’s a bit cluttered right now.”
Addie has never seen it any other way. She would love to see what Sam is working on, what put the white paint under her nails and led to the smudge of pink just below her jaw. But instead Addie forces herself to follow the girl around and over and through the mess into the kitchen. Sam snaps on the coffeemaker, and Addie’s eyes slide over the space, marking the changes. A new purple vase. A stack of half-read books, a postcard from Italy. The collection of mugs, some sprouting clean brushes, and always growing.
“You paint,” she says, nodding at the stack of canvases leaning against the stove.
“I do,” says Sam, a smile breaking over her face. “Abstracts, mostly. Nonsense art, my friend Jake calls it. But it’s not really nonsense, it’s just—other people paint what they see. I paint what I feel. Maybe it’s confusing, swapping one sense for another, but there’s beauty in the transmutation.”
Sam pours two cups of coffee, one mug green, as shallow and wide as a bowl, the other tall and blue. “Cats or dogs?” she asks, instead of “green or blue,” even though there are no dogs or cats on either of them, and Addie says, “cats,” and Sam hands her the tall blue cup without any explanation.
Their fingers brush, and they are standing closer than she realized, close enough for Addie to see the streaks of silver in the blue of Sam’s eyes, close enough for Sam to count the freckles on her face.
“You have stars,” she says.
Déjà vu, thinks Addie, again. She wills herself to pull away, to leave, to spare herself the insanity of repetition and reflection. Instead, Addie wraps her hands around the cup and takes a long sip. The first note is strong and bitter, but the second is rich and sweet.
She sighs with pleasure, and Sam flashes her a brilliant grin. “Good, right?” she says. “The secret is—”
Cacao nibs, thinks Addie.
“Cacao nibs,” says Sam, taking a long sip from her cup, which Addie is convinced now is really a bowl. She drapes herself over the counter, head bowed over the coffee as if it were an offering.
“You look like a wilted flower,” teases Addie.
Sam winks and lifts her cup. “Water me, and watch me bloom.”
Addie has never seen Sam like this, in the morning. Of course, she’s woken up beside her, but those days were tinged with apologies, unease. The aftermath of the absence of memory. It is never fun to linger in those moments. Now, though. This is new. A memory made for the first time.
Sam shakes her head. “Sorry. I never asked your name.”
This is one of the things she loves about Sam, one of the first things she ever noticed. Sam lives and loves with such an open heart, shares the kind of warmth most reserve only for the closest people in their lives. Reasons come second to needs. She took her in, she warmed her up, before she thought to ask her name.
“Madeline,” says Addie, because it is the closest she can get.
“Mmm,” says Sam, “my favorite kind of cookie. I’m Sam.”
“Hello, Sam,” she says, as if tasting the name for the first time.
“So,” says the other girl, as if the question only just occurred to her. “What were you doing up there on the roof?”
“Oh,” says Addie with a small, self-deprecating laugh. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep up there. I don’t even remember sitting down on the lawn chair. I must have been more tired than I thought. I just moved in, 2F, and I don’t think I’m used to all the noise. I couldn’t sleep, finally gave up and went up there to get some fresh air and watch the sun rise over the city.”
The lie rolls out so easily, the way paved with practice.
“We’re neighbors!” says Sam. “You know,” she adds, setting her empty cup aside, “I’d love to paint you sometime.”