The first day Kalinda doesn’t show up for work, Alicia doesn’t notice.
Well. That’s not entirely accurate. She spends the whole day acutely aware of where Kalinda is not—not at the coffee machine, not in the lobby, not in the conference room—but it’s the kind of awareness that comes from trying to avoid someone. When Kalinda is nowhere, Alicia simply assumes her tactics are working.
(It’s only later that she realizes how stupid this theory is; it’s a glass office, for god’s sakes, and to see neither hide nor hair of Kalinda anywhere— It’s nothing short of a miracle. Even when they were actively avoiding each other, cooperating, Alicia was always catching unwanted glimpses of her. Three rooms away, maybe, and six whole panes of glass between them, but still. Unmistakably there.)
Right now, though, all Alicia knows is that she’s getting her wish, and her wish is for Kalinda to be nowhere. Alicia doesn't want to see her, doesn’t want to continue their conversation from yesterday. Doesn’t want to hear another single (stupid, cryptic) word.
“You were married?” was all she’d managed at the time. Kalinda had half-shrugged, half-nodded while Alicia’s thoughts tripped over themselves, each one meaner than the last:
Who would you marry?
Who would marry you?
But mostly what she'd thought was: how boring.
The idea of Kalinda with a ring—with a bouquet, with a mortgage, with anything resembling domesticity—was so ridiculous Alicia’s brain simply refused to picture it. Kalinda had stood in the doorway, waiting for more questions or maybe just waiting, but for once Alicia had nothing to say. Each new thing Kalinda revealed about herself made less sense, like putting together a puzzle only to find that the picture wasn’t what you thought. Wasn’t even a picture at all.
Alicia had been angry all of a sudden, practically sick with it. If Kalinda wanted to be so goddamn unknowable, she'd decided, then let her—Alicia no longer cared.
In the end she hadn’t said anything, and Kalinda had simply left (but slowly, like she expected to be called back).
Alicia had hated that. The expectation.
So all day, every moment she doesn’t see Kalinda—by the coffee machine, in the elevator, through the endless glass walls—is a moment of private victory. Having her way makes Alicia incurious.
After lunch on the second day, Cary pokes his head inside her new office. “Have you seen Kalinda?”
Alicia barely looks up from her highlighting. “No.”
“Okay.” Cary grips the doorframe and doesn’t leave, swinging his body in and out like a fidgety teenager. Alicia wants to send him to bed with no supper. “Because she didn’t come into work yesterday either.”
That makes Alicia look. “How do you know?” Kalinda is never not at work. Or—almost never. The day Alicia confronted her she disappeared for the entire afternoon. At the time it had made Alicia feel powerful, then sad. And then—finally and lastingly—furious.
These days, it feels like everything about Kalinda makes her furious.
Cary shrugs. “Will said she didn’t.” He pushes off the doorframe one last time, swinging back out of Alicia’s office. “And Will’d know,” he calls over his shoulder.
Alicia frowns at the stack of documents in front of her. After a minute she flips her phone open and scrolls through the contact list (she still hasn’t put Kalinda back on speed dial, convenient though it would be). The call rings and rings with no answer.
Alicia huffs at herself, annoyed. She goes back to work, biting the cap off her highlighter impatiently and then keeping it in her mouth to chew, an old habit she stopped in back law school. She pays for it later, retouching her lipstick in a rush before dashing out to meet a client.
She doesn’t worry, though. Not then.
The third day, Alicia looks.
Kalinda isn’t in her office, or any of the conference rooms where she sometimes sits. She isn’t in the break room, or the kitchen, and when Alicia checks the swank wood-panelled fridge there are no neatly wrapped packages of fruit inside. There isn't any milk either.
All together, Alicia rides the elevators up and down between Lockhart-Gardner’s floors six times, looking. Kalinda is nowhere.
She starts calling then, repeatedly. She’s worried, and angry for being worried, and together they cancel out her remaining calm. This time, Kalinda’s phone doesn’t even ring. Alicia hangs up on her answering machine ten times before finally leaving a message:
“Call me,” she says impatiently, and hangs up for a final time.
She starts thinking then too. Lemond Bishop at first, because her frazzled mind won’t even let her touch Kalinda and marriage together to make the connection, like polarized magnets. She considers calling Lana Delaney but drops the idea on the off-chance that it might get Kalinda in more trouble. Tell Kalinda this isn’t over, indeed.
Then she starts thinking about other calls she’s made.
By the time lunch rolls around she’s ready to kill herself, or Kalinda. The pieces are notching together now, thick and furious, and Alicia doesn’t want to look at the picture they’re making. Dangerous, she thinks, Kalinda had even come out and admitted he was—
(Part of the problem is her own past experience, playing directly against her. When Alicia thinks failed marriage she thinks cheating and falling out of love, common-place, painful expressions that belong in self-help books and women’s columns. Her parents had a failed marriage and now she does too, as simple as that. It’s a phrase that she presses on sometimes like a bruise, checking to see if it still hurts, but nothing more. It is not something that makes her afraid.)
I didn’t like my life before, she hears Kalinda say, a million years ago. So I changed it.
Alicia sits up at her desk. Her mouth says “Oh my god”, but she doesn’t hear the words.
“Will, is Kalinda in today?” Alicia knows the answer already, knows it deep and hard and instinctual, but she’s still hoping for that one last chance, that one last straw to cling to. Maybe Kalinda is simply off working a case.
Will gets up from his chair. He looks concerned, and Alicia tries to fix her face into something that isn’t a rictus of horror. “No,” he says slowly, and the bottom drops out of Alicia’s stomach. Because that’s it. That’s the last piece, and she can’t—she can’t—
Will’s motioning to her, and it takes Alicia a moment to realize that what he wants is for her to close the door.
“Alicia…” He beckons her towards his desk. Her heels sink into the carpet like dirt, like grass at a graveside. “Listen. I think—I think she might have been planning on leaving,” Will’s mouth says.
The room spins once, a slow swirl.
Kalinda’s address is still programmed into Alicia’s GPS. She didn’t think to remove it, not like with the phone, probably because this is the first time she’s ever had cause to key it in. On the display a purple path unfurls in front of her car, the reverse of the yellow brick road. "Turn left," says the soothing automated voice. Alicia drives away from Oz.
She’s angry again, angrier than before, and that makes her calm. She waited until after work to make the trip, fully expecting to find an empty apartment at the other end of the GPS's smoke-trail. She doesn’t even know what she’s hoping for, honestly. A forwarding address, maybe, or a note. Something.
(Because how dare Kalinda. After everything, how dare she even consider—)
Alicia presses every single button on the front panel until someone buzzes her in. She wrote the apartment number on her hand and she sweeps out of the elevator confidently, intending to bang on the door good and hard before going off to find the super. She’ll make them let her in. Lie if she has to.
Then she sees the crime scene tape.
None of Kalinda’s neighbours come to the door. Alicia knocks for thirty minutes, feeling hysterical, feeling like she’s about to dissolve into tears. She slumps against the wall and pulls out her phone. She saved the number, if only so she would remember never to pick it up again.
“What the fuck did you do to her?” she gasps when someone answers. Her hands are shaking so hard the plastic receiver clicks against her earring.
Whoever is on the other end laughs.
Alicia leans over toward the ground to retch. The dial tone blares in her ear, loud and insistent.
She starts calling hospitals then.
The waiting room at Northwestern Memorial has a signal-jammer. It takes Alicia fifteen minutes to realize this, curled over her cellphone in an uncomfortable chair and tapping phosphorescent keys at random. A nurse finally intervenes:
“That won’t work here, love.”
The voice sounds the same as the one who gave into Alicia's increasingly incoherent demands for information half an hour ago on the phone (Please stay calm, ma'am and Yes, we do have a Kalinda Sharma in our logs…) but of course Alicia knows how unlikely that is. Everything feels vaguely unreal. She heard the word 'gunshot' like she’d suffered one herself, hasn’t stopped skittering since.
Alicia nods distractedly at the nurse, getting up to weave her way back outside through the sterile hallways. She dimly understands she has to phone Peter, phone the kids and explain why she hasn’t come home. The night presses in around her, cold and still. Visiting hours are nine AM to eight-thirty PM; already it’s half-past ten.
(Alicia knows she could insist—demand to see Kalinda—but she’s afraid. Terrified, even. She doesn’t want to see. She doesn’t feel like she has the right.)
She thinks about selling Peter some bullshit line about a work emergency, but in the end she’s too tired to manage it. He's shocked but calm, like she knew he would be. The first question he asks is “Are you okay?”, and his tone is warm and familiar enough that she just keeps talking.
“Did you know she changed her name?” Alicia asks finally. She had been telling him about the fear, the gut-wrenching panic of the crime scene tape. Her hand feels frozen in place around the receiver.
Peter waits a long time before answering. “I helped her change it.”
Oh. Alicia feels the blow knock hollowly against her breastbone, reverberating down to somewhere deep and irrevocable. From the way that other investigator had phrased it (slept with a cooworker named Leela) she’d always halfway-figured Peter knew. But she had been imagining it as a sort of passing knowledge, one night, one mistake, not— collusion.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Peter says hurriedly, practically tripping over the words.
You have no idea what I’m thinking, Alicia almost replies. (She is thinking, Who else? Who else did you trust with your secrets who was not— She is not thinking about Peter.)
“Her background check didn’t pan out.” Peter is using his grand jury voice, calm. “We always do them, every new employee, and hers was no good. She was calling herself Kalinda but everything about it—the social security number, the bank, the credit rating—was way too new. But she was the best, ironclad reputation, so I gave her a chance to explain. I said I’d hire her as long as she gave me her old identity. She wouldn’t do it.”
Alicia finds that she has been walking, pacing the sidewalk outside intensive care. She sits down on a bench beside an evergreen tree. Very far away, a siren wails.
“So I said I’d help her," Peter continues. "Make the fake better, so the Kalinda Sharma identity would stand up to background checks like ours. ‘I just have to make sure you aren’t a felon,’ I told her. She told me she wasn’t, and then after a little while she gave me the name Leela. That’s how I know.”
Alicia curls her fingers around the wrought-iron rail. “And was she? A felon?”
Peter exhales. “No. There were some arrest warrants, but—no.”
“Did you know she was married?” The iron is freezing, seeping through Alicia’s coat. She wishes she’d thought to wear gloves.
“Yes. But her husband, he didn’t—” Peter pauses, huffs. “Alicia, there were police reports. Some hospital bills. Nothing major, but—”
Alicia feels sick and cold and hot everywhere. The iron burns. “Peter,” she gasps, and finds herself crying for the first time in the entire night. The first time in months. “Peter, I think this might have been my fault.”
And she tells him.
Another nurse finds her in the morning, curled up on a scratchy blue couch in the waiting room. “And whose people are you?” she asks, after waking Alicia up and giving her a sip of coffee. There is obviously a Starbucks somewhere in the building.
Alicia finds the nuances of that question tricky. “I’m not really—a friend’s. She’s, um. I don’t know how she is.” Her mouth feels cottony and ill-behaved.
The nurse gives her an indulgent smile and another sip. Alicia realizes how this must look, her wrinkled suit and smudged makeup in intensive care. Two rows over a family of four are waiting, upright and terrified. Even the baby is silent.
“Kalinda Sharma,” Alicia manages finally, slipping on her pumps. “She was brought in, I think—” She pauses to count. “Four days ago, now.” Her voice is almost officious.
The nurse nods slowly. “She’s on my rounds. 603. You’ll be her first visitor.”
Alicia blanches. “Oh, I don’t think— She doesn’t even know I’m here,” she explains, fumbling. “And visiting hours don’t start for—” She glances down at her watch. “—another three hours.”
The nurse just watches her. “Suit yourself.” She unfolds herself from the chair beside Alicia’s, taking her coffee with her. “I’ll be here until seven if you change your mind.”
Alicia doesn’t change her mind. She finds a tiny kiosk on the second floor that sells coffee, fixes her hair and makeup in the bathroom. At half-past six she calls Will’s answering machine at work and explains, briefly, that she won’t be in to the office today. Her kids are her excuse. The kiosk also sells chocolate buns and she eats two while sitting in the downstairs lobby, making herself sticky and overfull.
“I told her you were here,” Alicia’s nurse says when they meet in the elevator. Alicia smiles, ignoring her.
At eight-thirty-seven, she gets in her car and drives home.
She finds herself back at the hospital after lunch.
She’d gone home to an empty apartment, made herself a can of soup that went cold and uneaten on the stovetop, and fallen into bed with all her clothes on. She’d woken up three hours later feeling gritty and raw. She spooned the congealed soup into the garbage and took a shower, and then there was nothing to do but get back in the car.
The kiosk attendant smiles at her as she pays for a third pastry and coffee.
“Okay,” she tells herself in the waiting room. The family of four is still there, but the baby has spit-up all over his tiny sweater. His mother peels him out of it and he emerges, flushed and wriggling, pleased by his new nakedness. His chubby arms wave at Alicia triumphantly.
“Okay,” she says again.
Room 603 is a single, so Alicia doesn’t have to search bed after bed for someone who looks like Kalinda. Instead Kalinda is simply there, sitting up and scowling at a tray of jello.
Alicia, who until this moment hadn’t realized she was expecting tubes and unconsciousness, bursts into tears.
Kalinda’s elbow knocks into the tray as she starts. “Oh, I—” She looks ashen, no makeup and her mouth paler than Alicia’s ever seen it, dirty hair scraped back with an elastic that can’t possibly be her own. A bruise stands out on her temple. There is a long silence while they stare at each other in mutual disbelief.
“The nurses said you left,” Kalinda says finally, righting the jello. All of her rings are gone, Alicia notices. Her fingers look skinny and bare.
Alicia can’t speak. “I don’t—” She holds up the coffee and pastry. “Can you eat these?” she asks helplessly.
Kalinda quirks an eyebrow; without cosmetics her jaw is somehow harder and softer all at once. “Probably not, no.” But she holds out a hand for them anyway. There is a hospital ID band around her wrist.
Alicia collapses into the chair by her bed. “I thought you were dead,” she gasps. “For about forty-five minutes, I really, really thought you were dead.”
Kalinda curls both hands around the coffee like she’s warming them, looking uncomfortable. Alicia wants to touch her hair or her neck, rub her narrow back under the hospital gown. She would, if Kalinda were Grace or Zach. If Kalinda were absolutely anyone else.
“I’m sorry,” Kalinda says after a minute. She picks at the styrofoam lid. “I couldn’t— I thought about calling work—” She breaks off, looking lost.
Alicia scrubs at her face, pressing the heels of both hands into her wet eyes. She feels hiccupy and pathetic, silent sobs choking off every other breath. She has always been a graceless crier.
When she looks up, one of Kalinda’s hands is hovering in the air near her elbow. “Alicia— I can’t—” Her voice is soft, but her face is screwed up into something approximating frustration. “Please don’t.”
Pain, Alicia realizes. That look is pain. She takes Kalinda’s hand, even though she isn't sure it's being offered. Kalinda's palm is hot and small and foreign. “Where were you—?” Alicia stops, unable to say it.
Kalinda’s whole arm is tensed, but she doesn't pull away. “Stomach.” She wrinkles her nose in distaste, indicating the jello. “It hurt,” she adds after a moment.
Alicia laughs raggedly. “Yeah, I hear guns do that.” Then: “Will said you were leaving.”
Kalinda shakes her head, morphine-slow. “He had your name, Alicia. My— Nick, he had your name.”
How could you not have warned me properly? Alicia thinks about asking. Would have asked, a month ago, a week. Other questions stack up on top of it: Am I safe? Are my kids safe? Should I call someone? Should I call the police?
Now, though, something is swallowing her words. A different question, something about Kalinda leaving and not leaving, how Alicia herself ties the two actions together. Something immense and complicated and abstract. Something that is shaped like a why.
And that question— there’s a realization lurking somewhere behind it. Alicia’s life starts to tip open onto it, starts to pivot.
“Okay,” she tells Kalinda quietly. “I understand.”
She doesn’t, though. Not yet. The puzzle swims in and out focus, too bright to look at directly.
Alicia tilts her head. Squints.
And you have bent
Your pride, through being lonely
-D. H. Lawrence, Reminder