Fifteen minutes until Angela climbed onto a bus and this was a memory. A flash of green drew her eye down the platform: young woman in a paisley headscarf and tightly-belted military coat flirting with a man leaning on a guitar case. From his body language, he was hoping the chance meeting would grow into something more satisfying during the long bus ride to the border. Angela found it funny how much more aware of body language she was than eight years earlier. She supposed that was to be expected; shapeshifters were so much more sensitive to telegraphing than regular people.
Ten minutes until the bus arrived. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance and the cooing of pigeons on the station eaves paused. At the far end of the platform, the girl with the headscarf gave her a curious look, but turned away when Angela looked her straight in the eyes. Their colour matched her scarf.
The baby kicks in Angela’s belly. The green-eyed girl was suddenly beside her.
Angela jumped so hard part of her skin landed in Russia and she was half out of her chair before the girl made a shushing motion. Angela stared at her wide-eyed and wary.
The girl smiled. “The bus is loading. Would you like help with your bags? I don’t have any of my own besides this.” A half-empty hiking pack swung from her shoulder. She couldn’t be much younger than Angela, but there was an ageless cast to her eyes.
Angela considered carefully. With her now-protruding pregnant belly there was no way she would be able to manoeuvre her bags in the tight spaces onboard without help.
Sensing no resistance, the girl favoured her with another cloud-piercing smile and took the handle of the big case.
“You don’t have any siblings, do you?” Angela was half-joking, but she caught a flicker of shadow over the girl’s face before she shook her head.
Her smile was rueful. “Only child. Sort of.”
“Oh? Lucky. I have two brothers,” said Angela.
“Older or younger?”
The girl made a face. “Better that way,” she said sagely. “Older brothers are always trying to tell you what to do.”
“But you said you’re an only child?”
“Sort of,” she repeated. “We’re… estranged. We have been for a very long time. Where are you sitting?”
Angela filed away for later considering how long ‘a very long time’ might be to a woman who looked barely twenty. The bus wasn’t crowded once everyone was loaded, but few had the privilege of two seats to themselves. Angela expected the girl to go sit with Guitar Man but she didn’t. He peered across the aisle at her with wounded expression and sulkily stuffed headphones into his ears.
It was two days after Christmas and everyone was untalkative. The bus settled into silence. Rain began to patter and then pour as the bus pulled out of the station into sparse early afternoon traffic.
The girl leaned in. “He was full of himself,” she whispered cheekily. She nodded at Guitar Man.
She and Angela had apparently forged a secret-sharing bond. Angela felt as though she should protest; she didn’t feel like bonding, she felt like curling up in a corner and dying, however much lighter she felt to be free of the drowning well of Washington.
But there was something about the girl. She was pretty in a way that gave Angela pause; lively like she had a thousand years of solar fusion buzzing under her skin. Angela had met the sort before, but contrarily this girl didn’t strike her as flighty. There was a solidity to her that makes Angela think that however big the dandelion-head was, the roots went deep.
The girl was grinning at her conspiratorially. Cute, she was saying of Guitar Man, maybe talented. But for a ‘serious musician’ he made a lot of references to his ‘clever fingers’.
Angela smiled politely and evaded the follow-up questions on her own romantic history, busying herself with setting up book, water, and snacks in easy reach. The storm was settling in for the long haul, and streetlights sputtered to life as they passed. Rain washed the windows in sheets; visibility outside was reduced to a dreamy blur of colours and shapes. Inside the bus became surreal.
Angela was finally out. It was over.
Part of her wanted to cry. Instead she studied a fading stamp on the girl’s wrist.
“I’m Chrissy,” the girl said, offering on her hand.
The stamp appeared and disappeared in flashes of streetlight as Chrissy talked, gesticulating with low-pitched energy. It looked like a club stamp: a lotus in a circle of illegible text.
Circles. Always circles. On Angela’s own hand, there was a ring of skin ever-so-faintly lighter than the rest of her hand. She couldn’t stop her glance down as her thumb skimmed it. The answering pang in her chest was sharp and sudden. She looked up the aisle instead. Beside her, Chrissy pulled off her headscarf and shook out a tumble of curls. She finger-combed knots and snarls out of their ends as she talked.
Once again, her appearance struck Angela. In the dim overhead lights she looked brunette, but flashes from outside showed her to be a redhead. A streetlight blinked by and rimed her profile with gold. The way her features fitted together reminded Angela of something out of silent movies, and there was something familiar about it that she couldn’t put down to Mary Pickford or Gloria Swanson. For a split second she was back in Forks. The light past and the vision is gone. The resemblance lingered.
Or perhaps Angela was seeing what she wanted to: another fine-boned girl with curling hair and a wayward smile. Maybe she was imprinting the past onto the present. It had happened before.
Heck, for all she knew it might be hormones and fatigue contriving to make her see ghosts everywhere. Again she touched the nakedness of her index finger without thinking.
From the way Chrissy’s eyes followed the movement, she understood. Something in her face told Angela that Chrissy had guessed more than Angela has said. But Chrissy didn’t ask. And she didn’t patronise, or offer advice or consolation.
In fact she might have been the first person Angela had spoken to in six months who didn’t pity her her pregnancy, her husband, or both. The freshness of that nearly took Angela’s breath away.
Her rationality warns her to be wary and reserved, but she found herself drawn to the girl, saying more than she intended. Oddly she found that once it was out, she didn’t regret anything she admitted.
Chrissy gave Angela her name in full, but Angela didn’t catch it. She told Chrissy her maiden name and that she was going to stay with a family friend in Vancouver while she sorted out her next step. (Jake would look in San Diego; tía Martína was off limits, as were the twins.) Again there was a graveness to Chrissy’s face that took Angela aback as Chrissy nodded in silent approval. It made her look far older than at the start and Angela wondered who was mistaken here: was Chrissy older than she appeared and simply looked young, or the other way around?
Angela couldn’t think of a delicate, nonchalant way to approach the question so she asked about Chrissy’s family instead.
Chrissy and her brother had a turbulent relationship; she was visiting him in Washington, but outside events stirred old troubles and it had been best to cut short the trip. She, like Angela, was fleeing north for breathing space. It disconcerted Angela the way Chrissy chewed her lip in thought. It, like other things, was too familiar. Too raw.
But despite the echoes, Angela couldn’t make herself draw away. She sensed something hunted, and weary, in the girl that spoke so strongly to something in herself. She feel… kindred.
“It’s going to be late when they get there,” Chrissy said. “Do you have arrangements?”
“That family friend lives on the outskirts of North Van. It isn’t far.”
The smile Chrissy gave was warm and unassuming. “I’m going that way too. I’m house-sitting for a friend for a little while. Listen, why don’t we share a cab? I don’t have a lot of spare cash, and it’s not a good idea to get into a cab in a strange city alone late at night. And—” Her eyes grazed the swell of Angela’s belly. “—I couldn’t bear letting a woman in your condition wander aimlessly around Vancouver at night.”
There was something slightly hungry about the way she eyed Angela’s belly—but also a sadness, poorly masked. Something like loss, or maybe longing. It had taken a while, but Angela noticed that every so often, Chrissy’s fingers brushed her own stomach. Mostly she caught them in midair and redirected them to playing with her hair, but once in a while they flattened on her abdomen and the fine lines at the corners of her eyes tightened. It was a look Angela had grown familiar with in the last three months: she saw it in her own face in the mirror every day.
A bloom of pity budded within her. She didn’t doubt Chrissy’s story of a troubled brother but she wondered if there was more to it than that. She had seen too much to think that Chrissy was too young to have troubles.
The transfer to train in Bellingham went smoothly, but when they hit customs trouble arose. The official wanted to see Angela’s passport but she couldn’t find it. She searched everything. What if she couldn’t find it? They already looked extra suspiciously at her for being a pregnant woman crossing the border at night, by ground. Where was it? Where was it?
She was beginning to panic when Chrissy, next in line behind her, wordlessly bent down. Straightening, she handed Angela the dropped booklet. She was sleepy-eyed but calm as she murmured to the customs official what must have happened: juggling her bags alone, Angela had left the pocket unzipped.
He frowned but snatched the passport from Angela and held it to the light. The details matched her ticket.
She was so relieved she actually started to cry when the train finally pulled through the other side of the border into Canadian territory. It was late; she was hungry and tired; her feet and back ached; and in the space of the last hour she had risen to use the bathroom four times. Embarrassment flooded her face with blood and she tried her best to sob quietly, but she couldn’t stop the hysteria altogether. It might have been, she realised disconnectedly, that she was finally releasing the pent-up emotions of six months of agony.
Chrissy murmured the same thought. After that Angela didn’t try to fight it; she simply tried to keep quiet out of respect for the passengers attempting to sleep. When she ended up with her head on Chrissy’s shoulder, shaking with quiet grief, the girl stroked her hair and let her stay. Angela thought she should have felt coddled, or patronised. Violated, maybe. She had known the girl for all of a few hours. Instead it was soothing. It had been a long time since her mother was around to do this.
She fell asleep sometime after that. Chrissy shook her awake in Vancouver. Angela had slept with her head on Chrissy’s shoulder, forehead against her neck. Hurriedly she sat up, rubbing her mouth, terrified that she had drooled on Chrissy.
The girl’s quirky smile indicated that she understood it, and that Angela hadn’t. With a hot face, Angela levered herself out of her seat. A strange lullaby strummed in her head all the way out of the cavernous, empty waiting hall.
Angela had no compunctions about sharing a taxi now. The prospect of paying the villainous charge and hauling her enormous bags around in the rain was beyond her. And it was raining: a light, misting rain of the sort that settled in for days. If the sky was empathetically ‘washing away her past’, it must have thought she had a lot more baggage than she’d realised.
The taxi took almost an hour to reach the address from her godmother’s last Christmas card. Angela tried not to think of the card from this year that must be sitting, newly arrived, unopened at the post-office. Stricken, she suddenly realised that she was glad she’d thought to have her mail held: if Jake found that card, he might put together where she’d gone. The twins should already have been in San Diego; if that red herring didn’t buy her time…
She wasn’t ready to face him. She might never be. For the third time today, relief crashed over her like a wave.
It lasted until the taxi pulled up in the driveway. The house looked locked up tight. When Angela got out to investigate, a neighbour braving a tenuous ceasefire in the rain to take his garbage bins out informed her that it was no good ringing the bell twenty times. (An exaggeration: she’d only rung three times.)
“There’s nobody home,” he called. “They went off on some two-week Christmas cruise or something to that tune. Caribbean, I think,” he added offhandedly, as if she would be interested in the particulars. “Bad timing, eh?”
“Oh,” Angela stuttered.
He frowned at her. “Hey, you want to come in? You look frozen. The missus will get you some coffee. You can make any calls you need to.”
“Thank you, no,” said Angela faintly. “I’ll be fine.” Feeling dizzy, she returned to the cab. Chrissy and the cabbie were leaning against the side chatting whilst the cabbie smoked.
“No one’s home,” Angela said. “The neighbour says they’ve gone away for a few weeks. A cruise or something.” She put a hand to her forehead, which felt hot and tight. Her mind raced without actually going anywhere. She didn’t have the money for a long-term hotel stay, and she didn’t know how she was going to get a job without a visa and in her condition.
She was twenty-six weeks pregnant. Options were limited. She turned her face to the sky and rain drops pattered her face. She closed her eyes. ‘God, don’t make me go back.’
“I can put you up at my place,” Chrissy offered.
Angela was trying to calculate how long it would take her to contact her godmother. “Sure, I’d really appreciate that,” she said absently. Then it sank in.
“Only until you find someplace that suits you better,” Chrissy added, as if sensing Angela’s sudden second thoughts. It was an open-ended offer, she seemed to want to say. Not a contract.
Only now did the thought occur to turn Chrissy down flat. It was too convenient, whispered the suspicious little voice Sam always tried to instil in her. Something caught Angela from rescinding it anyway. “Thank you,” she heard herself say, “That sounds great.”
Grey shadows had begun to appear beneath Chrissy’s eyes. Weariness creased their corners. Her whole bearing exuded an air of fatigued determination to her whole bearing. Tall as she was, with the collar of her surplus coat turned up and an Irish cap pulled low, she should have looked imposing. Instead she just seemed… contained. And expectant. She sensed that Angela wasn’t full decided, despite her words.
Finally Angela identified the feeling inside herself. It was part pity, part empathy and part exhaustion. It was a longing to at last be with somebody who understood and didn’t judge. Emily, Seth, Leah, the twins—they all tripped up in one way or another. Angela was so tired of being alone.
The cabbie cleared his throat and dropped his cigarette butt. “Well, ladies? What’s it gonna be?”
Angela straightened her back. “I would be gratefully,” she said to Chrissy, picking her words with care, “for a place to stay and if you’d be willing to offer it.”
The bone-deep sadness Angela carried lessened just a touch as a cautious smile curved Chrissy’s eyes crinkled. To Angela’s surprise, some of the tension in her stance loosened.
Chrissy had secrets. Angela knew this without having to second-guess herself.
But so did Angela. Everyone was looking for someone whose demons are compatible with their own. In the last hours, she had seen enough glimpses of Chrissy’s to guess the names of a few. Angela can handle those. They were, if not friendly, then familiar.
Chrissy pushed off the cab, doffed her cap, and opened the passenger door with a courtly bow. The crushing weariness of her demeanour a moment before hadn’t evaporated, but it didn’t weigh her to the pavement anymore. “Absolutely, ma’am. It would be my pleasure.”