Remember how I said on Friday that I wish that I’d stayed at Tilly and Georgia’s and had a good night? I shouldn’t have worried about it.
Georgia texted me literally the next day to tell me to come over, and I spent pretty much the whole next day out at the Coven house. When I showed up it took approximately 2 seconds to realize that she had not actually checked with the rest of his house before she invited me out. Tilly came downstairs in a sweater and ratty old denim and gardening gloves with her hair pushed off her face with a red bandanna, and I had this moment of panic because literally the night before I talked to Rook for like an hour as I was falling asleep, telling him all about how weird it was to be home, and I like him so much but here comes Tilly in a red bandanna.
She froze when she saw me.
“Oh,” she said. “Hey.”
“Hey,” I croaked.
“Hey there you are!” Georgia said, bouldering in with a hoe on her shoulder and dirt already smudged on her cheek. “Hope you’re down for manual labor because that’s why you’re here.”
So I spent all Saturday helping them set up their chicken coop, and god it was like… so fun. People kept just showing up to pitch in a little and then took off again.
“I mean a lot of people left for college,” Georgia explained. “But there were a bunch of underclassmen that sorta miss the old days when we had to like… patrol for monsters or whatever. So people still show up a bunch and hang out.”
We used to PATROL FOR MONSTERS. A bunch of teenagers, roaming the street. I’m like breathless thinking about that. We all could have died. No WONDER the Hawthornes thought it was okay to get out of here back then — there was nothing here that serious. I don’t mean to say we weren’t in danger that year, we were. And honestly, I think our interference did help. But god, we were so naive. A bunch of kids with like shovels and flashlights, wandering the streets, having a grand time dodging cops, feeling like we were on the hunt for Big Foot or something.
I spent the whole day fumbling with a hammer, watching Keith and Joey Cicero goof off with Feather Dog, and by the end of it we were all cold and pink-nosed and in high spirits. I let my guard down enough that I didn’t even notice when Georgia sent everyone in the house out on various missions and left Tilly and I alone together in the house.
We realized it at the same time, our eyes meeting across the empty kitchen.
“We’ve been set up,” Tilly said.
“It would seem so,” I agreed.
We laughed at each other for a moment, and then Tilly’s expression changed and I knew we were gonna Talk. “Listen,” she said. “I need to tell you —”
“I’m really sorry,” I interrupted. “I’m so sorry Till, you deserved more.”
She bit her lips between her teeth, looked up at the ceiling, and leaned back against a kitchen cupboard.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “I did.”
I wanted to throw up and die, but then she added,
“I think I get it, and I don’t even blame you.” She slid down the cupboards so she was sitting on the kitchen floor. “I know the decisions you made weren’t about me. It’s just…” she tried to smile, but her eyes were shiny. “I really wanted them to be. Every choice I made that year was about you.”
I’m a monster I’m an absolute monster
I don’t remember exactly what I said, because the brutal truth is that when I got in that car with the Hawthornes, I wasn’t thinking about anyone, not even myself. I just wanted as much distance between me and this place as possible.
When I slid down to sit across from her and apologized again, all she said was, “I’m not mad at you.” And then after a long pause, with a slight smile: “Shiloh, we were doomed from the very first date. I thought you liked me, but you were just looking for Madelyn.”
And my heart SHATTERED because she was right, she was totally right. Not about me not liking her — I’ve always thought she was the coolest girl in Black Lake. But I never imagined for a moment that we were going to fall in love. I never would have dared ask her on a real date, not then.
But the thing is, she was also wrong: of course I was looking for Madelyn!! I thought I would be no one without her!!! And then Tilly, who could have had anyone, chose me and changed everything.
“You seem okay,” Tilly said. “Are you okay?”
I forced a smile. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“The Hawthornes are… treating you right,” she put on sort of a silly voice and I laughed a little.
“They’ve been through a lot,” I said. “They get it.”
Which was my way of telling her that I need them, and from the way she quickly looked down, I think she understood.
I think we could have gone around in circles a lot longer. I knew that all she wanted was to be the one who got it, and I knew that if I’d just waited a little bit, if I’d just paused and thought beyond my absolute panic and desperation, we could have faced this year together. But I didn’t wait, so we didn’t.
And maybe the worst part — I don’t even wish I’d stayed. I mean I definitely wish I hadn’t hurt her. I miss her and I love her — of course, always — but I’m glad I left. I’m glad the back of the stinky rabbit is my home instead of this cottage in the woods, no matter how beautiful they’ve made it, no matter how much they’ve made it their own. I have bad blood with this place, with this whole entire town, and I’m glad I left it.
Which leads me to my next point: we left Black Lake this morning.
I spent all Sunday with my mom — we bleached and cut my hair!!! — and then on Monday morning Julian got a call from Beverly.
“Hey,” she said. I was in the kitchen, but I heard her voice and it was like I was suddenly pulled back onto my course. “How’s Neal?”
“I’m fine Bev, strong like yak,” Neal called in a terrible Russian accent from the bathroom where he was shaving. “What you got for us?”
“I have called literally everyone I can think of,” Beverly said. “Trust me, I was hoping you wouldn’t pick up but there’s literally no one else —”
“What is it Bev?”
“Simple case. Bone worm. All the research is done, it’s literally just a pickup case.”
“No one from the emporium can go?” Julian asked.
“It’s not subdued at all, and April and Paul are both out dealing with Orkai Goats. They can come in a few days, but you know how bone worms are. We need this done fast.”
“We can handle it,” Neal said, patting his face off with one of my mom’s makeup-stained towels. So surreal.
I saw Julian’s jaw working, but finally he said, “yeah, we got it.”
“Oh thank god,” Beverly sighed. “My mom was insisting she go handle it herself.”
“Jesus Bev, open with that next time,” Julian said, and Neal reached for the phone.
“As if he’s captain of this little vessel,” Neal said. “I promise, we’ve got the bone snake. On my life.”
“Let’s not bet on your life for a little bit, alright?” Beverly said and Neal laughed as he hung up.
“Alrighty Shi, what do you think?” he said. “You wanna sit this one out? Spend a few more nights at home?”
“Fuck you,” I said. “What’s a bone snake?”
“Feathery dragon with a skull face and mind control,” Neal said, waggling his eyebrows like this was a huge treat. And the thing is, like… yeah that’s sick as shit. Obviously I was going with them.
Meanwhile, my mom was watching this whole thing play out, with a bemused expression, and I had this weird moment where I remembered that I’m a daughter, and I can’t really just do anything I want.
We were all looking at her. She laughed. “Oh, now you want my permission?”
I grinned my biggest grin.
“You know, I always lived in absolute terror that you’d decide to be a firefighter,” she said.
I wrinkled my nose. “No, I’m way too lazy to be a firefighter.”
“I know,” she sighed. “And this,” she gestured at the Hawthornes. “It’s so much worse.” And then after a moment. “You will call me, every night, do you understand me? Never again in my life will I go 24 hours without talking to you, do you understand?”
So we’re on the road again.
Something in me hurts so bad, knowing that life is just… going on without me there. But I also feel so much lighter.