I glance up from my book. Hannah Hart stands in the doorway of the attic, arms crossed, eyes downcast in contempt. My mother’s long, wavy brunette hair, nearly identical to mine save for the lightning bolts of silver and the steel-colored roots, is piled up on her head. If it weren’t for the gray hair and the wrinkles masked in makeup, I would have guessed that she wasn’t much older than me. I think that’s what she hopes for.
I get to my feet, keeping my wings low so that she doesn’t have to see them. She doesn’t look at me anyways.
“Elise is here,” she says, sniffing and swiping at a hair that falls across her face. “She’ll be up in a second.”
My chest constricts. Dr. Tyler only came to trim my wings last week. Hannah must know that it had been a ruse.
Dr. Tyler sweeps up the attic stairs, a hairsbreadth away from knocking shoulders with Hannah. The two women hardly look at each other before Hannah turns on her heels and marches back downstairs. The door at the bottom closes a little too quietly.
“That was pleasant,” Dr. Tyler says, dropping her bag of materials on my chair in the center of the room and rubbing at her eyes, lifting her glasses slightly.
“What happened?” I don’t necessarily have to ask. My mother isn’t easy to like. I stride forward and try to peer into her bag. She didn’t bring much. “Are you going to trim my wings?”
She reaches out and touches my face. “Of course not. I’m not taking her money anymore.”
My face blanches, and I move backwards. “What?”
She turns and takes a seat next to my coffee table. “She told me that she wasn’t going to pay for your friends. I told her I had been tearing her checks up for a while.” She tries to smile, but I can tell by the glassy look to her eyes that not all of her is smiling.
I blink and look away. Paying for my friends. She doesn’t pay for Bird.
“Why did you come, then?” I meet her brown eyes. She reaches up and pulls her long, onyx braid around her shoulder.
“Because I’m your friend. Not your doctor.” She shakes her head to herself. “And I have some news.” Automatically, her right hand reaches up towards her left, and something glints as she twists it around her finger.
“What is that?” I say, eyes widening.
“Loren,” she says, glancing up at me. “He proposed to me last night.”
I try to conceal the furrow between my brows. “Really?”
Her shoulders sag dramatically. “Try to sound a little more excited, Caroline.”
“I’m excited,” I say, sitting on the edge of the chair across from her. “I am. I promise.”
She half-smiles and gazes out the window. “You think he’s too old.”
I think he’s too drunk. “No, of course not. Age doesn’t matter.” I’m not entirely sure if I’m consoling her correctly. We rarely talk about her. “Besides, why does it matter what I say? You’re happy, right?”
She nods, but I can’t help but notice the half-second hesitation before her head bounces. And she doesn’t smile.
“Dr. Ty-” I catch the name in my throat, fidgeting nervously. “Elise. Why are you marrying him?”
She doesn’t respond for a little while. She just twists the ring around and around. When it moves, I can see that it has left her finger slightly green.
“My parents approve of him,” she mutters. Suddenly I feel as though our roles have swapped.
“Since when do you care what parents say?”
She closes her eyes and inhales, pushing at her glasses until they are settled correctly again. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” She half-smiles again, and this time it at least reaches her eyes, if only barely. “You went out flying, didn’t you?”
I look away. I’m not necessarily ashamed, but I can assume it’s why she lost her job. Except, that isn’t entirely my fault, if she’s been shredding checks for a while.
“Where did you go?” she says. “The cabin?”
My chest freezes over, and my stomach turns. I have to stand to keep my palms from sweating.
“Yeah. I can’t go back there anymore.”
“What? Why?” It’s my turn to fiddle with my hands. “I told you about the cabin. I basically gave it to you.”
“You didn’t own it,” I say under my breath. I can’t understand why, but I don’t want to tell her about the men. I made a terrible mistake, and it could have cost me everything.
“I used to take Garrett there.” I’m glad she doesn’t stumble over her ex’s name anymore. “It was ours.”
I take a breath. “Well, I can’t go back. And you shouldn’t, either.”
I level her with a gaze. “Two men showed up while I was there. Big men.”
She holds a hand up to her mouth, covering the small gap in her lower set of teeth. “Caroline.” She sounds disapproving. She’s never sympathized well. I’ve grown used to it.
“It’s not a big deal.” I feel as though I have to explain. “I ran.” Because he chased me. But I don’t explain this part.
“Shit,” she says under her breath. She rubs at her forehead. “Did they try anything? Did they hurt you?”
I shake my head.
“Did they see you?”
I hesitate, and then nod.
She lets out a long breath and runs a hand through her hair. “That’s not good.”
“I know that,” I say, and my throat gets tight. “You don’t have to tell me.”
She sits quietly for a long moment, and I can tell that she’s watching me. Every few seconds or so, she shakes her head, almost disapprovingly. But I’m not entirely sure, because I refuse to look at her.
“I’m sorry,” I blurt out before I can stop. My eyes start to heat up, and I laugh humorlessly to myself as I turn my head further away from her. “I didn’t expect them to just show up there.”
“Hey.” She gets to her feet and I feel her hands on my shoulders. “It’s just a broken house in the woods. The cabin isn’t a big deal. And the men aren’t either. You’re safe. That’s all that matters.”
That sounds cliche. I meet her eyes and we share a smile.
“You don’t need to worry about them. You got away. And they won’t ever see you again.” She smiles, and I can’t help but remember Bird’s insistence on my meeting others. I try not to furrow my brows. I feel my wings move restlessly at my back.
“Yeah,” I say, not really focusing on her face when I glance back up at her.
“Nobody ever does,” she says, “not if you don’t want them to.”
My wings shift again.