Fly Away Page 23


“My mother died,” Marah said evenly.

“Would you like to talk about her?” Dr. Bloom asked gently.

Marah couldn’t look away from Paxton. His golden gaze mesmerized her. “No.”

“Who would?” he said quietly.

“How about you, Paxton?” Dr. Bloom said. “Do you have something you’d like to share with the group?”

“Never to suffer would never to have been blessed,” he said with a negligent shrug.

“Now, Paxton,” Dr. Bloom said, “we’ve talked about hiding behind other people’s words. You’re almost twenty-two years old. It’s time to find your own voice.”

Twenty-two.

“You don’t want to hear what I have to say,” Paxton said. Although he was slumped down and appeared uninterested in everyone around him, his eyes held an intensity that was unnerving, almost scary.

Court order.

Why would the court order someone to grief therapy?

“On the contrary, Paxton,” Dr. Bloom said evenly, “you’ve been coming here for months and you haven’t talked about your sister once.”

“And I won’t,” he said, looking now at his black fingernails.

“The court—”

“Can order me to come, but it can’t make me talk.”

Dr. Bloom pursed her lips in disapproval. She stared at Paxton for a long moment and then smiled again, turning slightly so that her attention was on Stick Girl. “Elisa, perhaps you’d like to tell us more about how eating went this week…”

An hour later, as if by some secret alarm, the kids lurched out of their seats and rushed from the room. Marah hadn’t been prepared. By the time she bent down to retrieve her purse from the floor and stood up, only Dr. Bloom was still there.

“I hope that wasn’t too painful,” the doctor said, walking over to her. “Beginnings can be difficult.”

Marah looked past her to the open door. “No. Fine. I mean yes. Thanks. It was great.”

Marah couldn’t wait to get out of this room that smelled of stale cookies and burnt coffee. She ran outside and came to a sudden stop. The streets were crowded. On this Wednesday night in June, Pioneer Square was full of tourists and locals. Music spilled out of the taverns and bars.

Paxton appeared out of the darkness beside her; she heard him breathing a split second before she saw him. “You’re waiting for me,” he said.

She laughed. “Yeah, because guys in makeup really rev my engines.” She turned to face him. “You were waiting for me.”

“What if I was?”

“Why?”

“You’ll have to come with me to find out.” He held out his hand.

In the yellowy light from the streetlamp, she saw his pale hand and long fingers … and the scars that ran like an equal sign across his wrist.

Cut marks.

“Now you’re scared,” he said quietly.

She shook her head.

“But you’re a good girl from the suburbs.”

“I used to be.” As she said the words, she felt the tightness in her chest ease up a little. Maybe she could change herself somehow, become a different version of herself, and maybe if she did, it wouldn’t hurt so much to look in the mirror and see her mother’s smile.

“Marah? Paxton?” Dr. Bloom walked up the sidewalk behind them. Marah felt a strange sadness, as if a beautiful opportunity had just been lost.

Marah smiled at the doctor. When she turned back, Paxton was gone.

“Be careful,” Dr. Bloom said, following Marah’s gaze across the street, to where Paxton stood in the shadows between two buildings, smoking a cigarette.

“Is he dangerous?”

It was a moment before Dr. Bloom said, “I can’t answer that, Marah. Just as I wouldn’t answer a similar question about you. But I would ask you this: Are you looking at him because you think he’s dangerous? That kind of behavior can be risky for a girl in a vulnerable situation.”

“I’m not looking at him at all,” Marah said.

“No,” Dr. Bloom said. “Of course you’re not.”

At that, Marah resettled her bag over her shoulder and headed up the dark street for home. All the way back to Tully’s she thought she heard footsteps behind her, but every time she turned around, the sidewalk was empty.

* * *

On the way up to the penthouse, Marah stared at her reflection in the elevator’s mirrored walls. All her life she’d been told that she was beautiful, and for most of her teen years, that had been what she wanted to hear. In the years BC—before cancer—she’d spent hours studying her face, making it up, fixing her hair so that boys like Tyler Britt would notice her. But AC, it had changed. Now all she saw was her mother’s smile and her father’s eyes and it turned every glance in a mirror into something painful.

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Now, though, she saw how thin she’d become, how pale, in the twenty months since her mother’s death. The bleak look in her eyes depressed her. Then again, everything depressed her these days.

On the top floor, she exited the elevator and went to Tully’s condo. Unlocking the door, she stepped into the bright apartment and went into the living room.

Tully was there, pacing in front of the wall of windows that overlooked the city at night. She had a glass of wine in her hand and she was talking on the phone, yelling, actually, saying, “Celebrity Apprentice? Are you kidding me? I can’t be that far gone.” She turned, saw Marah, and flashed a brittle smile. “Oh. Marah.” She laughed and said, “I have to go, George,” and hung up the phone. Tossing it onto the couch, she met Marah with open arms and hugged her tightly.

“Well, how was it?” she said at last, stepping back.

Marah knew what was expected of her. She was supposed to say, It was great, wonderful, perfect. I feel better now, but she couldn’t do it. She opened her mouth and nothing came out.

Tully’s gaze narrowed, became that journalist-on-a-story look Marah had seen before. “Hot cocoa,” she said, and led Marah into the kitchen. Tully made two cups of hot cocoa with whipped cream and carried them into the guest bedroom. Just like when she was little, Marah climbed up onto the bed. Tully did the same. They leaned side by side against the tufted gray silk headboard. A large window framed the Seattle skyline, which glittered in vibrant neon against a starlit sky.

“So, tell me everything,” Tully said.

Marah shrugged. “The kids in the group are pretty messed up.”

“You think it’s going to help you?”

“No. And I don’t want to see Dr. Bloom again, either. Can we cancel tomorrow’s appointment? I mean, what’s the point?”

Tully took a sip of her hot cocoa and then leaned over and set her cup on the nightstand. “I’m not going to lie to you, Marah,” she said at last. “Real-world relationship advice has never been my strong suit, but maybe if I had learned how to deal with things at your age I wouldn’t be as screwed up as I am now.”

“You really think talking to a stranger and sitting around with a bunch of crazies in a moldy basement will help me?” The minute she said crazies, she thought about the guy, Paxton, and the way he looked at her.

“Maybe.”

Marah looked at Tully. “But it’s therapy, Tully. Therapy. And I … can’t talk about her.”

“Yeah,” Tully said quietly. “But here’s the thing, kiddo. Your mom asked me to watch out for you and that’s what I’m going to do. I was her best friend from the David Cassidy years to the second George Bush years. She’s the voice in my head. And I know what she would say now.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t give up, baby girl.”

Marah heard her mother’s voice in those few words. She knew Tully was right—that was what her mom would say now—but she wasn’t strong enough to try. What if she tried and failed? What then?

* * *

The next day, her dad was set to arrive. Marah couldn’t stop pacing. She chewed her fingernails until they bled. And then, finally, he was there, walking into Tully’s beautiful condominium, giving Marah an uncertain smile.

“Hey, Dad.” She should have been happy, but seeing him made her think of her mom and all that had been lost. No wonder she’d been unhappy for so long.

“How are you?” he said, approaching her warily, pulling her into an awkward hug.

What should she say? He wanted a lie. I’m fine. She glanced at Tully, who was uncharacteristically quiet. “Better,” she said at last.

“I’ve found someone in Los Angeles, a doctor who specializes in teens who are in trouble,” Dad said. “He can see you on Monday.”

“But I have my second appointment with Dr. Bloom today,” Marah said.

“I know, and I’m glad she could step in, but you need to see someone regularly,” he said. “At home.”

Marah smiled shakily. If he guessed how vulnerable she felt right now it would only hurt him more. But one thing she knew now for sure: she couldn’t go back to Los Angeles with him.

“I like Dr. Bloom,” she said. “And the group is kind of lame, but I don’t mind.”

Dad frowned. “But she’s in Seattle. This doctor in L.A.—”

“I want to stay here for the summer, Dad. Live with Tully. I like Dr. Bloom.” She turned to Tully, who looked thunderstruck. “Can I live here for the summer? I’ll keep seeing Dr. Bloom twice a week. Maybe it will help.”

“Are you kidding me?” Dad said. “Tully is no chaperone.”

Marah dug in her heels. Suddenly she was certain: this was what she wanted. “I’m not eleven anymore, Dad. I’m eighteen and I’ll be starting the UW in September anyway. This way I’ll be able to make new friends and see my old ones.” She went to him. “Please?”

Tully said, “I think—”

“I know what you think,” Dad snapped. “You were the one who thought it was perfectly okay for her to go to a Nine Inch Nails concert when she was fourteen. You also encouraged modeling in New York when she was in eighth grade.”

Marah looked up at him. “I need some distance, Dad.”

She saw the war going on within him—he wasn’t ready to let her go, but he saw that she wanted this. Maybe even that she needed it.

“This is a bad idea,” he said to Tully. “You can’t even keep plants alive. And you know jack shit about kids.”

“She’s an adult,” Tully said.

“Please, Dad? Please?”

He sighed. “Shit.”

She knew then. It was done. He looked down at her. “I’ve given my notice in L.A. We’ll be moving back into the house on Bainbridge Island in September. It was going to be a surprise. We want to be living here when you’re at the UW.”

“That’s great,” she said, not really caring.

He looked past Marah to Tully. “You better take good care of my girl, Tully.”

“Like she was my own daughter, Johnny,” Tully said solemnly.

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