On her days off she looks.
She takes as many trains as she can afford on what’s left of her wages after rent and cigarettes, until the woman who sells the tickets doesn’t ask her where she’s going, just moves down the list until she finds a place Betty hasn’t been and asks for the fare. Betty’s grateful the woman is keeping track because she isn’t; she just knows Kate isn’t in any of the places she’s been and tries not to listen to the voice in her head telling her that she won’t be in any of the places she’s going.
She goes further, switches trains, takes streetcars to places she’s never seen before and begs Mrs. Corbett to let her have two days off together when she runs out of places she can go to and from in a day.
She has a photo of Kate in her pocket, the least revealing one from the photo shoot, and if she manages to get a train car to herself she takes it out and stares at it hard, running her fingers over the fraying edges and trying to remember the way Kate looks when she smiles instead of the way she looks when she’s scared.
Gladys takes over the rent on Kate’s room.
“So it’ll be here when she comes home,” she says, silhouetted in the doorway against the light in the hall. Betty doesn’t know how to say thank you so she just nods and tightens her jaw, staring at the duvet until Gladys sighs and says, “Oh Betts,” in this voice that sounds like heartbreak the way Kate singing Billie Holiday sounds like heartbreak, and Betty has to reach for her cigarettes with shaking hands.
She doesn’t sleep anymore, just sits up cross legged on her bed with a map spread out in front of her, smoking cigarettes down until they burn her fingers, stained yellow from the tobacco. She puts crosses through the places Kate isn’t until it’s like a treasure map in reverse, the crosses over places where what she wants isn’t and there are no clues to guide her home.
She’s so tired she almost drops a bomb instead of hanging it on its hook, and Gladys has to cover her hands with her own and steady her arms so Mrs. Corbett doesn’t notice.
She feels like she’s sleep walking and every time she blinks she sees Kate, smiling and singing and laughing and—
She tries not to blink.
Her hand is shaking so badly she can’t put the cordite in the casing, and Mrs. Corbett watches her in silence for ten minutes before she tells her to go down to the warehouse instead.
It’s sort of safe in the dark, and she lets herself think about Kate for just a minute before the singing starts; Leon’s voice in the darkness singing some church song she used to hear Kate singing through the door of her room sometimes, and then it all comes back; the way Kate had looked at her like she wanted her and didn’t all at the same time, and she has to run back up to the light, until she’s leaning against the wall in the hallway, breathing hard and wishing she had a cigarette.
Gladys brings her food when she runs out of money before her next pay check, and she hates herself even as she takes it and starts to eat in silence, Gladys leaning against the dresser watching her nervously, like she’s not entirely sure what Betty’s going to do next.
“Thanks... for the food,” Betty says, even though she can’t quite meet Gladys’ eyes.
Gladys nods, wipes her fingers across the top of the drawers like she’s trying to decide what to say. “You’ll find her soon.”
Betty doesn’t look at her, just stares down at the plate in her lap, concentrating on breathing and fighting the urge to run because Gladys knows.
The silence stretches until Gladys breathes out, strangely loud in the silence of the room. “I should go.”
Betty waits for the door to close behind her before she exhales noisily and whispers, “But what if I don’t.”
“There’s nowhere left to go, honey,” the woman who sells the tickets at the station tells her, in a way that sounds like failure and makes her chest ache, until she’s swallowing past the lump in her throat and trying to fix a smile on her face.
“Sorry?” Betty asks, but her voice sounds strangely flat, like she’s forgotten how to add inflection.
“You’ve bought all the tickets we sell,” the woman peers at her more closely over the counter, and Betty blinks and looks away.
“Then start again,” Betty says, sliding her money over to her with trembling fingers, “Just start again.”
Kate is everywhere and nowhere. Every red head, every girl with a sweet smile she sees makes her remember what she’s lost, so she walks and smokes and walks and looks until her money runs out, until her feet ache, until she’s emptied the packet of smokes, until.