The car has been sitting idle for twenty minutes, the heat of the radiator having long since given up its battle against the insistent chill outside. Jenna’s fingers are just starting to go numb where they rest on her lap. She stares at the apartment door through the slowly fogging windshield, feeling the silence settle around her.
She glances at the note on the dashboard.
Take care of my mom.
It’s not a request – it’s a demand, terse and expectant, just like Henry.
She can’t make her body get out of the car. She doesn’t know what she’ll find behind that door, but she can guess: grief, and guilt, and questions she can’t begin to answer. Hasn’t she had enough of that? Hasn’t she paid her dues by now? Doesn’t she deserve someone to take care of her?
Nothing could be more expected, more like Henry, than to fuck it all up and then insist Jenna clean up the mess.
But then Jenna remembers Cleo’s fingers, sure and confident, fixing her mother’s dress with a strip of tape. She remembers Cleo tucking Jenna’s hair behind her ear, and telling her that she was important. She remembers the way Cleo looks at Henry, like there is no other world but her. She remembers what it felt like, to lose someone.
When Cleo opens the door, her face is hard to look at – slack and confused and jagged. She sinks into Jenna’s arms, clutching her like a lifeline, and the weight of her is too much. For a moment, Jenna panics, feels her world narrow and the walls press against her, feels Cleo’s body like an anchor dragging her down.
“She’s gone,” Cleo says, a choked sob. The words jolt Jenna, and she instinctively hugs Cleo tighter, taking a deep breath. She feels herself grow calmer, in the face of Cleo’s grief and the familiarity of her need.
“It’s going to be okay,” Jenna lies, closing her eyes and releasing a breath through her nose. Maybe she shouldn’t have come. Maybe she would be better off if she didn’t care. But she did, and she does. She is who she is, and she is working towards finding the strength in that. For now, this is where she needs to be.
That’s all Townes says when Jenna tells him Henry’s gone, wearing that stoic and determined face she’s come to know so well. But because Jenna does know him well, she also sees the little tremble at the corner of his mouth that tells her he’s just as fucked up about all of this as she is.
Jenna just lets it go, for now, because everything is so raw and she doesn’t even know what she would say. “Any word on Anna?” she asks instead, and Townes’s face lights up, clearly eager to be distracted.
“Not yet,” he says excitedly, heading to his book shelf and pulling down a stack of folders. “But Zoe and I have been working on a system. She’s a genius at tracking things down on the web, and we’re getting feelers out everywhere. I bet we’ll find her in no time.”
Jenna nods and tries out a largely unsuccessful smile. She wants them to find Anna so hard it hurts. She wants it because Deputy Hulce was kind, and good, and only ever wanted to help, and the thought of something happening to her makes Jenna physically ill. And she wants it because if Hulce is alive, then that means Henry didn’t… It means Henry isn’t…
“What can I do to help,” Jenna asks firmly.
Townes frowns, and then shakes his head. “Nothing right now, I think. But I’ll let you know if Zoe and I need anything from you. Maybe just see if people around town say anything about her? Oh, and I guess you should meet Zoe some time, right, if she’s going to be part of our team?”
Jenna opens her mouth to say something cautious, about how maybe it wasn’t safe to bring someone new in – it would make it harder for them to keep their secrets. But then she stops herself, seeing the hopeful expression on Townes’s face. Keeping secrets is part of what tore them apart, and she knows the toll it takes to keep them bottled up. Besides, it’s just her and Townes, now. Selfishly, she could use someone else to share this burden.
So instead, she just nods and smiles at Townes. “I’d love to meet her.”
She starts going back to Group. It’s different, now, of course. New kids, new traumas. But there are a couple of familiar faces: Keith LeMarc, whose brother committed suicide a couple years ago; Allison Sespo, whose mom died of cancer when Allison was ten.
They both smile at her when she comes to the first session, and Keith nudges his chair over so Jenna can sit next to him. Keith isn’t exactly part of Jenna’s friend groups – he’s got a penchant for piercings and a pretentious obsession with vintage t-shirts of ‘90s grunge bands. And Allison is the biggest jock in school, with a constant posse of track girls always in her orbit. But in this room they are friends, because this is the one club where the high price of membership means everyone belongs.
It’s a little like riding a bike, Jenna finds, and it isn’t long before she’s able to talk about her mom again. It feels really good, being able to talk about her, and having someone to listen. The shape of her pain has changed over time, and sometimes she hates that parts have gotten easier. But that, too, is something she can talk about.
Grief isn’t linear, and it compounds. Jenna is a little surprised the first time she says Henry’s name in Group, and she cuts herself off immediately, unsure if this is safe territory. But the counselor gives her an open, expectant look, and when Jenna glances around at the others, she doesn’t see judgment. So slowly, haltingly, she starts talking about Henry.
She can’t give details, of course. But she can talk about this person who came into her life, a sullen whirlwind, and left with sudden violence. She can talk about how they became something more, something almost like sisters. She can talk about Cleo, and how she sometimes felt like she was betraying her mom because it felt so good to have Cleo to talk to.
And she can talk about keeping Henry’s secrets (vague), and supporting her through her own trauma (vaguer), and the feeling of giving and giving and giving and giving, until sometimes it felt like there was nothing of Jenna left. But she can’t talk about how it feels to have your maybe-almost-sister murder a man and possibly leave a good woman to die, because there’s no degree of vagueness that can convey that trauma.
Still, it helps. She didn’t know how much she needed it until it started.
Her dad takes the news of her rejoining Group in his typical, befuddled manner. He’s been tiptoeing around the house like a wounded puppy, so afraid he’ll say something wrong that he doesn’t say anything at all. Frankly, it’s a little exhausting, and Jenna finally confronts him about it after he makes another vague comments about her grades.
“Dad, I’m working on it,” she tells him firmly, trying not to raise her voice. “My guidance counselor and I are working on a plan to make up some tests and take a couple of online university courses over the summer.” The look of overwhelming relief on her dad’s face makes Jenna want to scream. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to graduate on time. I…I failed a lot of classes, dad. And there’s only so much I can do between now and the end of the school year. It might work out, or I might…have to take a little longer to graduate. I just don’t know yet.”
“Jenna,” her dad starts to say, all of the relief having quickly evaporated from his face.
“Don’t,” Jenna says, holding up a hand. “I’m doing the best I can, okay? I have a lot going on, and I’m not ready to talk about all of it. But….I need you to be okay with who I am right now. I need you to be okay with things not being perfect.”
She can tell her dad wants to say more, that he’s struggling with what his next words will be. She feels her lips tremble, not ready for another fight, not ready for more accusations or expectations. Her dad takes in the look on her face, and nods, once.
“Okay,” he says, quietly. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I know,” Jenna says, hearing her voice break. “I’m just…I’m having a hard time right now, you know?”
Instantly, her dad has closed the space between them and is pulling her into a hug. “I’m sorry,” he says, and Jenna’s not sure he knows what he’s apologizing for, but it’s nice to hear. “I want to do whatever you need. I know things with Henry and Cleo have been…really bad. And I’m sorry I’m not better about talking about things, and fixing things.”
“You can’t fix everything, dad,” Jenna says, her voice muffled against his shoulder.
“I know,” he says with a soft chuckle. “I mean, I really know.” Jenna laughs.
He pulls back from her, running a thumb over her cheek to catch a couple of tears. His smile becomes hesitant. “Do you want to talk about…the other thing? The thing Henry said?”
It hurts a little, that her dad can’t even bring himself to say it. But at least he’s trying. And the truth is, she very much does not want to talk to her dad about being gay right now.
Jenna shakes her head. “Not right now. But later, maybe?”
Her dad nods, and kisses her on the forehead. “Okay. You know where to find me.”
She’s been texting Kate, ever since Megan gave her her number. She honestly didn’t know it could feel this good. For so long she thought there was something wrong with her, something missing. Now she knows she was just looking in the wrong place.
She waits eagerly for every message and finds herself grinning in class when she remembers something snarky Kate said.
Patty notices, of course. They’ve been spending a lot more time together, now that Henry’s gone. It turns out that Jenna’s schedule is remarkably open, now that half of her life isn’t spent managing Henry’s secrets and her own fears.
The first time Patty catches Jenna giggling at a text from Kate (a totally not-lame inside joke about RNA), Patty lifts a suspicious eyebrow.
“Jenna Faith Hope, are you text-flirting with someone?”
Jenna looks up, a panicked look on her face. “Umm,” is all she can manage.
“You are!” Patty says, delighted. “I’m so mad at you for holding out on me! Who is he?”
Jenna swallows, feeling a residual stab of disappointment and fear at Patty’s word choice. But then she looks at Patty’s face, the same face she’s seen every week for the past 12 years of her life, the same face that was there when her mom died and she needed someone to lean on. “Are you free tonight? I’ll tell you then.”
“Cryptic much?” Patty scoffs, but she agrees.
And it turns out, Patty is still there for her, afterwards. That night, her face registers shock when Jenna tells her, haltingly. But she recovers quickly, and hugs Jenna fiercely, and tells her things about being proud of her and other nonsense. It’s perfect, and it lifts a weight off of Jenna she didn’t even know she was carrying.
And at the same time, even as she’s smiling at Patty and laughing at her as she rattles on, she feels an ache deep in her chest. Because she still remembers the first time she told anyone. She remembers Henry’s little smile, she remembers the relief and joy she felt at Henry’s, “You just got so much cooler.” She remembers the affection in Henry’s eyes, the way she threw her arms around Jenna in celebration. She remembers feeling safe with Henry – Henry, who dressed up and went with Jenna to a high school dance because Henry hated a lot of things, but she didn’t hate Jenna.
“Hey, don’t cry!” Patty says, pulling Jenna out of her memories. “This is a good thing! And I totally won’t tell anyone until you’re ready, obvi. But also, you haven’t even told me about this girl!”
Jenna laughs, blinking away a tear. “Well, first of all, she’s a huuuuge nerd.”
Jenna still sees Cleo, at least once a week. She’s trying to have better boundaries with herself, so she actually sits down beforehand and thinks about why she feels so compelled to check in on Cleo. Is it because of her constant, unshakeable need to take care of other people? Is it because she feels some misplaced guilt about Henry leaving? Is it because Jenna misses having Cleo in her life, misses having someone who treats her like something close to a daughter?
Jenna decides it’s all of those things, and decides she’s okay with that.
She thinks she’ll need to set boundaries, but it turns out Cleo sets them for her.
The first time she visits Cleo, only a couple of days after that first night, she steels herself beforehand. Cleo’s apartment is achingly empty – boxes unopened, used dishes stacked in the sink, and the door to what would have been Henry’s room closed. The grief hanging over Cleo is visceral – raw and palpable. It’s almost too hard for Jenna to take.
“I’m…I’m sorry it’s such a mess,” Cleo says from where they’re sitting at the table, looking around and suddenly seeming to realize how the apartment would appear to others. “It’s just…with Henry gone, I’ve been spending all my time trying to get the police to look for her, but I also haven’t wanted to leave in case she…in case she comes back.”
“Hey, it’s fine,” Jenna says, reaching out to grab Cleo’s hand. She gives it a squeeze. “You don’t have to apologize for anything.”
Cleo nods, looking down at her lap. Then she looks up at Jenna. “How are you doing, Jenna? With everything?”
Frankly, the question floors Jenna. “How am I doing?” she stutters. “I mean… I should be asking you how you’re doing.”
“I’m awful, Jenna,” Cleo says flatly, the corner of her lips turning up in a sad smile. “I think we both know that. But…I heard what you said, that last night at your house. I think your dad and I, in different ways…we put a lot of weight on you kids. I don’t think I did right by Henry.” She stops, clearing her throat after it catches, and Jenna squeezes her hand again, feeling her own lips tremble. “I don’t think I did right by Henry,” Cleo repeats, more evenly. “But I want to do right by you. You aren’t the parent in this relationship – I am. You don’t have to be the rock for me to lean on.”
“But I want to help,” Jenna protests instinctively.
“I know,” Cleo says, smiling at her warmly. “And you are. Just having you as…a friend, I guess? Is that what we are?”
Jenna laughs. “I guess? It’s complicated.”
Cleo nods. “Just having you in my life helps, Jenna. I don’t know a lot of people in this town, other than you and your dad.”
Unspoken is that Cleo will never leave Reston, not when there’s a chance that Henry will come back. And suddenly it makes Jenna so angry.
“I’m sorry,” she blurts out, not sure exactly what she’s apologizing for. “I’m sorry Henry left. She shouldn’t have done that. She shouldn’t have run.”
“I think maybe she learned that from me?” Cleo says, her expression equal parts bitter and sorrowful. “All I ever wanted was for Henry to let me in, but sometimes all Henry knew to do was push people away. We left things…it was bad, at the end. But I know she loves me.” Cleo’s voice breaks, and she stands up and walks to the kitchen counter, leaning against it with her back to Jenna. She turns back to Jenna, eyes watery. “I swear I didn’t know half of what was going on in Henry’s head. I know she had her own internal logic for why she did things, but damned if I could ever figure it out. I just have to hope that she figures out what she needs, and she forgives me, and she comes back to me.”
Jenna nods slowly, not sure what to say. Cleo shakes her head, dashing a couple tears from her cheek. “And here I go, doing exactly what I said I wouldn’t do. Why don’t we watch a movie or something? I think I’m still technically stealing from your dad’s Netflix account.”
They watch a movie – something light and fluffy, together on the couch. It’s nice, and appropriately distracting. Jenna can’t really focus, though, because she keeps thinking about Cleo and Henry. She remembers Henry crawling into bed next to Cleo after she was shot, the two of them oblivious to anyone else outside their orbit. She thinks about Henry’s angry insistence that they had to stay in Reston, despite everything, because her mom liked it here. Henry could be selfish, self-absorbed, manipulative, dangerous. But there is nothing Jenna knows more than that Henry Coles loves Cleo Coles.
It’s late when the movie is over, so Cleo walks Jenna to the door. “Thanks for coming by.”
Jenna nods, then hesitates. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who made worse decisions that Henry.” Cleo snorts out a laugh of agreement. “I don’t know exactly what happened between the two of you. But I know how Henry feels about you, and I know she loves you. She’ll find a way back.”
“Thank you,” Cleo whispers, pulling Jenna into a hug. “I hope you’re right.”
After three months of searching, Townes still hasn’t given up. His optimism is a lifeline for Jenna, because she still can’t face the possibility that Anna Hulce is dead and not just lost. A part of her has allowed herself to believe that Henry found Anna, that she got her somewhere safe. And a part of her is always struggling to ignore the alternative.
She likes Zoe, and likes hanging out with the two of them. She thinks Zoe is good for Townes. They mostly don’t talk about Henry, and that’s a relief. Because the truth is, even with Henry gone, she’s everywhere. She’s in Cleo’s hooded expressions; in the spraypaint cans Jenna finds in the shed; in the hallways of the house where she used to throw Jenna those knowing, sardonic looks. Jenna still sometimes thinks she hears the whump of the upstairs bedroom. Twice she’s sprinted up the stairs and thrown the door open, only to see the room empty and untouched.
One day she and Townes are hanging out, just the two of him. He’s sitting on the floor carefully constructing some kind of Star Treck figurine, and she’s lying on his bed doing biology homework. She notices that the soft sound of his brush has stopped, and he’s staring off into the distance.
“You okay Townes?” she asks.
Townes looks at her, and then down at the figurine in his hand, before carefully placing it on the desk. Not meeting her eyes, he says, “Do you ever worry about her?”
Jenna swallows, opens her mouth, closes it, opens it again. “Yes,” she says, honestly.
Townes nods. “I do too. But I shouldn’t, should I?”
Jenna frowns, and then gets off the bed so she can sit next to Townes, her back leaning against his bedframe. She makes sure to give him a couple of inches between their shoulders. “I don’t know, Townes. I don’t think it’s wrong to be worried about her.”
“But she left!” Townes exclaims. “She was the bad guy. She killed Nikolai, and she lied about everything, and she took Anna…somewhere.”
“I know,” Jenna says gently, not wanting to stop him.
“But she also saved Clay,” Townes says, frustration in his voice. “And I think she was good, sometimes? I think she was my friend?”
“I know,” Jenna says again, toying with the edge of the bedspread. She thinks about the last time she saw Henry, writhing on the floor in pain, desperately insisting she could fix it all. “I don’t think heroes and villains work quite the way they do in your comic books, Townes.”
“What do you mean?” Townes asks, turning to look at her, his brow furrowed.
What did she mean? What did she mean.
Henry was selfish, manipulative, self-absorbed, narcissistic.
Henry loved her mom, without limits or bounds, beyond any reason.
Henry was a killer.
Henry walked through fire to save the boy who assaulted her.
Henry made impulsive decisions that hurt other people. Henry lied. Henry didn’t want help, until she demanded it.
Henry listened to Jenna, and didn’t let her take herself too seriously, and told her there was nothing wrong with her.
Henry was scared all the time. Of Clay, of the Boons, of Nikolai, of her powers, of getting hurt again.
Henry let herself feel joy in small bursts, cautious and momentary.
Henry outed Jenna.
Henry smiled at Jenna, and made her feel like she could be whoever she wanted to be.
Henry was an unhealed wound, turning fear and helplessness into a protective rage that didn’t care who was hurt by its detonation.
Henry ate peanut butter sandwiches and smoked too much weed and loved to make art and struggled to express emotions and didn’t give a fuck and cared too much. Henry was 16.
Henry took Anna Hulce somewhere and they didn’t know if she was alive.
Henry was afraid of being a monster.
“I don’t know, Townes,” Jenna says, feeling very old all of the sudden. “I guess I think that not everyone is a hero or a villain. People do bad things and good things. And Henry did some bad things – some really bad things, things I’m not sure you ever recover from. But I think she also wanted to be good?” Jenna shakes her head. “I hope people can change, I really do. And maybe it’s not fair to be a comic book character when you haven’t even graduated high school.”
Townes sighs, leaning his head back against the bed. “This is all very complicated.”
“I know,” Jenna says. “But I’m glad we have each other to talk to.”
“Me too,” says Townes.
Jenna thinks maybe she loved Henry, and maybe Henry loved her back.
Jenna gets home from Towne’s house after dark. Her dad is gone, having recently started doing full-time work managing a local restaurant. He’s also started seeing Cleo again. Not seriously, and very slowly, but they had started having dinners together. Jenna has complicated feelings about this, but she decides to make things simpler for herself and just feel happy for them.
Jenna is feeling pensive, after her conversation with Townes. She thinks about texting Kate. Jenna’s only been able to make it to Colgate once in the past three months, but once the semester is over, Kate promised to come visit Reston and take in all the terrible food. The weekend Jenna spent at Colgate is still etched into her mind. Kate had showed her around all her favorite campus sites, and introduced her to her very cool (but also very nerdy) friends, and they had made out. A lot. The pulse of joy Jenna feels every time she remembers that weekend is sometimes hard to contain.
She decides not to text Kate, though – she doesn’t even know what she would say. How do you explain melancholy caused by the disappearance of your murderous, deeply complicated teleporting quasi-sister?
She finds herself wandering into Henry’s old room. Last month her dad had finally applied a solid coat of light blue paint to the walls. It looks nothing like it did when Henry lived in it – no graffiti, no self-important scrawlings. Jenna pauses at the spot where Henry’s first jump had gouged a mark in the wall. She runs her fingers over the scar.
The hair at the back of her neck stands up, and she hears the thump of two feet landing behind her.
She turns to see Henry.
Her first thought is that it’s weird, seeing Henry without her armor of leather jacket, flannel, and toque. Henry is wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, neither looking like they’ve been washed in days. Her hair is longer – shaggy at just below her shoulders. She’s got a duffel bag slung across her chest, one that looks like it’s been through battle.
Jenna takes these details in in an instant, before noticing the way Henry is leaning against the wall as if it’s all that’s holding her up. There are bruises on her arms, and a poorly-healed scar halfway up her right arm. There’s a trail of caked blood running from her ear, and Jenna’s brain stupidly flashes back to those early days with Henry, when the only thing in her hair was spray paint.
Henry looks at Jenna for a moment, drinking her in, her lips sliding up into that sardonic half-smirk of hers.