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The World At Large

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Donna watches Cameron's truck disappear around the corner in a cloud of exhaust and feels instantly, acutely ill. All the exhilaration she'd felt inside the diner has washed away, leaving her with only a faint ringing in her ears and a stomach that clenches uneasily - a cold, greasy feeling, like a belly full of eels. 

It would be simple enough to wave it off, explain it away - it's been a long night, after all, and she could easily put it down to being over-caffeinated and under-slept. But Donna knows better. This may be an awful feeling but it is not an unfamiliar one - it's the same feeling she had as Haley guided her out of the airport with a gentle hand to her shoulder while Joanie boarded her flight to Thailand behind them. That sharp pang of upheaval. Of loss. That sense of something significant wrenching itself away from her, carrying a part of her off with it. 

Get a grip, Donna scolds herself, It's just a road trip, she's not being shipped off to war.

Still, the feeling persists. 

Donna stares stupidly out at the now-empty street for an embarrassingly long time, as if she's going to blink Cameron back into existence through sheer force of will, before she lurches across the lot to her car on unsteady legs. Her hands feel oddly numb, clumsy, like they don't quite belong to her, and it takes her a couple of tries to get the key in the lock.

The leather seat is warm against her back where the car has been sat in the sun. Leaning forward to rest her forearms on the wheel, she clenches her fists so tight her nails leave pale half-moons in her palms. Then Donna shuts her eyes, takes a series of deep steadying breaths and tries very hard not to take it personally how the people she cares about the most seem hell-bent on getting as far away from her as humanly possible.

The tires make a piercing burnt-rubber sound as she wings her way out of the parking lot faster than she means to. She relaxes her white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel and forces herself to slow down. It would not do to get pulled over by the police again - once is a stupid mistake, twice is a pattern. 

She drives straight home just under the speed limit, weaving through the streets with deft, careful movements. More than anything else right now she wants to see Haley. Her throat feels tight with the urge to pull her daughter close and ruffle her soft hair, even if Donna knows Haley will probably bat her away and grumble mooooom stop because she's fast approaching that age where everything your mother does is uniquely mortifying.

The streets begin to narrow and bend as she gets closer to her own neighbourhood. Even on the weekends there aren't many cars around here, all neatly tucked away in their wide gravel driveways and three-car garages. The neighbourhood kids are out in full force as usual, taking advantage of the near-empty streets. 

It may be edging into Winter but the sky is still a waxy crayon-blue, the sun bright and blurry with enough warmth that some younger children tear around after each other bare-chested, all skinny ribs and brightly-coloured surf shorts. The older kids ride their bikes in big lazy circles, looking drowsy and bored. 

Down her street a dozen adolescent boys with scabby knees have set up a street-hockey net and are jostling each other good-naturedly, sticks clattering as they fight for possession of the orange ball at their feet. When they see her car they stop, the ball rolling away into the gutter. The boys stand back to let her pass with their battered hockey sticks hanging loosely at their sides, like a strange, scrappy honour guard. Donna raises a hand in acknowledgement before she swings into her driveway. 

For a moment Donna watches them resume their scuffling in her rear-view mirror, then meets her own gaze in the reflection. It's not as bad as she'd thought - her face is pale, which makes the dark shadows under her eyes seem more prominent than she'd like, but other than that she looks pretty put-together for a woman who hasn't slept in thirty-two hours. 

The queasy feeling in her stomach hasn't abated though. She can feel herself tensing against it, the muscles in her neck and shoulders stiff and solid as extension cords. She rolls her neck and climbs out of the car, closing the door with a satisfying thunk.

The whole way back Donna had been silently dreading the thought of coming home to an empty house - Haley out with a friend or at the library, Donna left alone to bounce her swirling thoughts off the walls. So she can't help the sigh of relief that comes when she opens the front door to a wall of sound blaring from the TV - a familiar pulsating synth-beat punctuated by the occasional animal screech or loud crash that over the past couple of weeks she's come to recognise as the sound of Donkey Kong happily smashing barrels over the heads of his pixelated enemies. 

"Haley, I'm back!" Donna calls out from the hallway, slipping off her shoes and placing them beside Haley's haphazardly kicked-off sneakers.

"Hey, mom!" Haley yells back, voice slightly muffled over the noise from the television, as if coming from deep within the couch.

 Sure enough Haley is draped across the couch cushions like a wet towel, clutching the controller of her Super Nintendo to her chest. Her gangly teenage legs poke out from the blanket she's buried under, exposing fuzzy-socked feet. 

From the way the tempo of the music has suddenly picked up and Haley's gaze is laser-focused on the TV screen Donna surmises that Donkey Kong is about to find himself in a whole heap of trouble, but when she steps into the living room Haley pauses her game and slings the controller to one side. 

Haley's dark hair, once so short (what had Gordon called it? Mid-Hamill?) is starting to grow out again. Right now it's unbrushed, sticking out from her head at odd angles to give her the look of a ruffled baby bird. The sight makes Donna's chest ache, like her heart is too large for her rib cage. Donna is so glad to see her that she pointedly does not notice the mess that surrounds her daughter - the long-abandoned Chinese takeout cartons open on the coffee table, the crumpled napkins covered in greasy stains littered alongside, the cloying scent of lemon chicken hanging in the air. 

Donna is so busy not noticing these things that she almost misses the careful look Haley is giving her. "Did you have... fun?" Haley asks uncertainly, as if she can't quite picture her mother doing such a thing. "You were with Cam, right? What were you guys even doing?"

That's a good question. What had they been doing?

 They'd been standing awkwardly on the sidewalk outside the old Mutiny building, Donna wracking her brain for a subtle way to drag the evening out a little, when Cameron had opened the passenger door of Donna's BMW and climbed in without a word. Donna had looked on, bemused, then followed quickly before Cameron could change her mind. Then they had just... driven around. Donna steering them aimlessly through the quiet streets, dimly lit by struggling streetlights. They'd talked a little, brief exchanges about changes to the neighbourhood Cameron had missed.

("What happened to Johnny's Charcoal Grill? I loved that place."

"It was a dump! The Public Health Department ended up shutting it down in '91. They found chicken defrosting in a bucket on the kitchen floor."


Mostly though, they hadn't said much. Cameron had been in a thoughtful mood and seemed content to sit in the quiet. 

That was perfectly fine with Donna. How many years had it been since they'd shared a comfortable silence? Far too many, and Donna wouldn't be the one to shatter it. Besides, it had felt surprisingly wonderful to just exist in the same space, to have Cameron close by - her long limbs curled up pretzel-like on the seat next to Donna's. 

As she drove, Donna couldn't help stealing glances at Cameron's profile - the slant of her jaw, the still slightly pool-damp hair tucked behind the perfect seashell curve of her ear. Outside the dark window, glowing neon signs of passing bars and movie theatres and pizza parlours spilled their light into the car, softening the angles of her face with colour. 

They'd driven around like that until the sky had begun to lighten into a soft pink. Cameron had been so still and quiet for so long that Donna had thought she was asleep until she'd heard her stomach rumble over the gentle hum of the radio. Then Cameron had turned to face her, sheepish, and suggested they go get breakfast at some diner she liked. Donna hadn't been hungry but she'd agreed, eager to draw this - whatever it was they were doing - out for a little while longer.

And then-

Haley is looking at her expectantly, and Donna feels suddenly, inexplicably embarrassed. A heat creeps on the back of her neck as she jingles her keys in her hand. Turning, she moves across the room to drop them in a crystal bowl on the bookshelf. 

Haley's question hovers between them, seeming to swell to fill the unnaturally long pause, until eventually Donna finds herself stammering, "We, uh -- we just talked. Mostly."

Haley raises an eyebrow. "All night?" 

"Well, we had a lot to talk about," Donna points out, setting her bag down on the side table. 

Part of her is desperate to tell Haley about the idea she'd had in the diner, the plans she and Cameron had made. Mostly because she and creativity have barely been on nodding terms these past few years and now she has this idea that is positively brimming with potential. Donna's so thrilled with herself that she kind of wants to scream it from the rooftops for all of Silicon Valley to hear. 

Also, because once someone else knows about her idea it becomes real. A tangible thing, out in the world. Our new project. Hers and Cameron's. But-


Making something real makes it dangerous. Right now, it's just an idea. A concept she and Cam threw around over breakfast. If Donna tells Haley about the site that will give it a shape, give it a form. It will stop being an idea and become an undertaking.

With just a few careless words she will speak this project into existence. And then it will be real. And real things can fall apart or disappear. They can be taken away. 

Donna's not sure she could handle that. So she will keep it to herself, for now. Safely tucked away in her head. Untouched and untouchable.

When she turns back around, Haley has her head tilted slightly to the side, clearly not buying what Donna is selling. For what must be the millionth time Donna readies herself for the onslaught of questions sure to pour out of her perpetually-curious younger daughter, but Haley just shrugs a shoulder and smiles. "Okay," she says, apparently willing to let it rest for now. 

Donna smiles back at her, relieved. She makes her way over to the couch, carefully stepping over the small grey games console, a snarl of cables and a scattering of video game cartridges spread out on the floor, Mega Man X and Super Metroid just about edging away underneath the cabinet. 

Haley stretches her arms above her head, yawning loudly, and Donna raises an eyebrow in her direction. Now she's close enough to notice that Haley's eyes are bleary and bloodshot in a way that would have had Donna sniffing suspiciously at her older daughter to catch a whiff of pot smoke, but in this kid is more likely to suggest a night spent playing video games deep into the early hours. 

Between that, the mountain of takeout and the carefully constructed blanket nest, Donna gets the feeling that Haley very much enjoyed having the house all to herself overnight. But she asks her just in case, "Were you alright here by yourself?"

Donna had called last night from a grungy pay-phone under a flickering streetlight when it had become clear that she wasn't going to be making it home any time soon. Some combination of the success of her soirée, the late hour and the uninterrupted one-on-one time with Cameron had left Donna in rare high spirits and she'd found herself telling Haley to take money out of her purse for dinner, even with the fridge packed tight with uneaten hors d'eouvres. 

It was something of an experiment, leaving Haley to her own devices overnight. One that Donna never would have dreamed of attempting with Joanie at this age. No doubt Donna would have come back to find the house in ruins - food cupboards stripped bare, every piece of fruit in the house crudely whittled into a bong, a hoard of shaggy-haired teenagers passed out drooling on her sun-loungers. 

It's always been different with Haley. Donna remembers a painfully shy five-year-old Haley winning a goldfish at a carnival. She had proudly claimed her prize - a pale, sickly thing that listed alarmingly to the left in its leaky plastic sack. Gordon had taken one look at the wretched creature and quietly estimated its life expectancy at a week, tops in Donna's ear.

While Donna had prepared for floods of tears and the impending matchbox funeral, Haley had cared for that fish meticulously and "Flipper" had flourished under her attention, doubling in length almost overnight. He'd lived three long, carefree years before Gordon had stumbled in drunk one night and knocked his bowl off the end table. 

Point being, Donna hadn't been worried for a second about Haley acting irresponsibly left unsupervised. No, the only thing that had given Donna pause was leaving her alone so soon after she had ended things with Kevin. Not that Haley had seemed particularly cut up by their breakup at the time. Donna has her own theories regarding that but still... Her first breakup. Maybe she'd be upset after it had sunk in a little more? Unlikely as it seemed, Donna couldn't quite shake the image of Haley sat all alone at the kitchen island, crying fat tears into a pint of Cherry Garcia. 

It's a scene plucked straight from the melodramatic teen dramas Joanie watches obsessively (and mocks mercilessly) and it couldn't be further from reality. As far as Donna can tell, Haley doesn't appear to have wasted a single second thinking about Kevin, let alone wallowing over him.

In fact, she is in powerfully good mood. This is due at least in part to the double order of pot stickers she'd ordered from Golden Bowl, chased down with a night of undisputed control over the TV - it sounds like she watched a lot of Discovery Channel. 

While Donna clears away the cartons of leftovers, Haley enthusiastically recaps what sounds to Donna like an impossibly depressing documentary about declining bee populations. She chats away over Donna's shoulder while Donna pulls an icy-cold bottle of water from the fridge door, draining most of it in one long swallow.

Last night, the caterers had boxed up all the leftover food and stacked it neatly in her fridge. Every shelf is crammed with creamy white boxes she knows are filled with enough crab rangoons to feed a small army, but aside from that you'd never know that last night this house was overflowing with practically every tech-minded woman in the Bay Area. The caterers have left the place pristine, the kitchen immaculate.

Donna makes a mental note to hire them for her next event as she watches the sunlight glint off her irreproachably clean counter tops. She exhales a slow breath and notices that she feels better now. Here in her beautiful home with her impossibly bright, sweet, funny kid. 

When she turns back around Haley has moved on from the bees (mercifully) and is giving Donna an exhaustive rundown of the aborted mission of Apollo 13.

"Sounds like you had a lot of fun." Donna puts in when Haley finally pauses to suck in a breath. "Is having your mom back here going to cramp your style?" Her tone is light but even as she says it she hears the faint whiff of desperation behind it. She cringes inwardly.

God, what is wrong with her today? Please don't let her become one of those weird, needy mothers who can't handle their kids becoming self-reliant. Fortunately Haley doesn't seem to notice, her only reply being to roll her eyes and swing her legs around to make room for Donna on the couch. 

Donna collapses gratefully beside her and relaxes back into the soft cushions, suddenly exhausted. They are both quiet for a moment, the clock ticking on the wall. Then Haley leans forward, hands on her knees, and turns to look at Donna. Her eyes are wide and dark.

"So- Cameron," Haley starts, haltingly, "is she- is she gone?" 

Donna feels her throat constrict. If she speaks she knows her voice will shake, so she just nods her head. Haley's expression goes slack and her shoulders sag downwards, clearly unhappy with this development. Donna knows exactly how she feels but attempts to muster up a reassuring smile from somewhere.

When it comes it feels like more of a grimace, but it doesn't matter because Haley isn't looking at her any more. Instead she frowns at the floor, her dark eyebrows pulling together in that perplexed way that Donna thinks makes her look just like Gordon when a hardware problem had him flummoxed. It makes her throat constrict tighter. 

Abruptly, Haley heaves a sigh and flops back against the cushions, knocking her head softly against Donna's shoulder like she did when she was a little girl. 

These opportunities don't present themselves so often these days, so Donna quickly slings an arm around Haley's narrow shoulders, drops a kiss to the top of her head and pulls her in tight. All the softness has fallen off of her this past year - her bony elbow digs into Donna's ribs and when, exactly, had Haley gotten so tall? There's barely room enough for the both of them on this couch anymore. But Donna doesn't let her go.

 Just you and me now, bug. Donna thinks, but doesn't say. 

Haley tolerates her mother's affections for a full minute before gently squirming away. She rolls off the couch with a thud, the Super Nintendo controller hitting the floor with a plastic clatter, skittering away across the hardwood to rest somewhere Donna is sure to trip over it later. Haley delves a hand deep between the couch cushions, groping blindly for the remote.

When she eventually retrieves it it's dotted with lint and crumbs but she holds it aloft with a triumphant grin, like it's a prize fish she's just pulled from the river. "Do you wanna watch The X-Files?" she asks earnestly, tilting her head. "Fox is having a marathon."

"That sounds perfect." Donna can barely get the words out before Haley hurls herself back down onto the couch and rearranges the blanket so it covers both of them.

A few minutes later, Donna is watching Dana Scully rock a neutral pantsuit only to the extent that her eyes are, technically, on the screen. She's more focused on her daughter's steady presence next to her, the warmth of the room and the reassuring weight of the heavy Navajo blanket that absolutely does not fit her decor but had once belonged to Gordon. Her head feels thick with tiredness and her body feels comfortably heavy, like slowly melting wax.

Without moving her head Donna slowly flicks her eyes to Haley's face. Her daughter is oblivious to her attention, totally absorbed in whatever Gillian Anderson is saying onscreen. Haley's gaze is transfixed, reverent in a way that betrays something a little more than casual interest. Donna tucks this information away for later examination.

With a half-smile playing on her lips, she turns her eyes back to the TV screen, content to let it all wash over her.




The next morning Donna jolts awake with her legs tangled in the bed sheets and her heart hammering in her chest. She'd been so eager to fall into bed last night that she'd forgotten to draw the curtains and now sunlight tears angrily through the windows, landing on her face in a hot strip. 

Donna groans softly and rolls her head away from the light. Why is her heart beating so fast? She tries to think. Her brain is foggy and sleep-stupid so it takes her a minute to dredge up an explanation. She doesn't like what she comes up with - she'd been dreaming about Cameron. 

As dreams go it had been fairly pedestrian. She'd been here, at her house. Everything familiar in that way things always are in dreams, even when the details are slightly off-kilter. A little warped and to the left.

It had been dawn, the sun barely risen as she stood barefoot in her backyard, toes curled around the edge of her pool. Except it hadn't been her pool, it was far too large for that. More like a vast lake - the water stretching out for miles. Black and skateably-smooth in its stillness.

Just as she'd bent her knees ready to leap, she'd heard a steady rap at the front door. She walked quickly through the darkened house and stopped in the hall to see a familiar silhouette framed in the doorway.

Cameron stood on the other side of the glass, scuffing a sneaker against Donna's doorstep. The early morning sunlight was hitting her just so, lighting up her face and glancing off the buckles of those godawful overalls. Their eyes met through the glass. Cameron smiled tentatively and raised an awkward hand in greeting. Her broad, pale palm hovered inches from the door.

Donna felt her stomach flip. She reached for the door handle slowly, her fingertips just touching the cool metal and then... she had woken up. 

That's it. 

It's not exactly high-octane stuff. There's certainly nothing there to justify the way her heart is pounding like she just puffed her way through a particularly hardcore step-aerobics class. 

Once her heartbeat slows to something resembling normal Donna kicks off the sheets and makes her way downstairs, determined to forget about it.

Even wearing her softest slippers, her footsteps seem to resonate in the perfect stillness of her kitchen. The strong mid-morning sun bounces off the surface of the pool and streams in though the floor-to-ceiling windows, leaving the house swimming with golden light.

On the counter is a note from Haley that says she's gone to work on her coding project in the computer labs up at Foothill College.

As in any computer lab, the competition for the newer, faster workstations is a fierce thing. High-school kids like Haley have to play it smart.

Rather than fighting a losing battle against the bigger, older college kids during the day they seize the opportunity on Sunday mornings, swarming the campus at the crack of dawn to lay claim to the most sought-after machines while the college kids are immobilised with exhaustion and dehydration after heavy Saturday nights of beer pong and keg stands.

It's ingenious and Donna respects her dedication, but it does mean that Haley probably won't reappear until the evening, when hunger forces her hand. Then she will inevitably come crashing through the front door with a big grin and screen-glazed eyes, just in time for dinner.

Donna pours herself a generous mug of coffee and lingers for a moment in her empty kitchen, the day stretching out ahead of her.

The air that hits her face is warm and fragrant as she heads out the back door. The sun beats down steadily as she takes her coffee by the pool, stretched out on a sun-lounger like a contented cat.

 These days, Donna prefers it out here. More and more since Joanie left, Donna's found the house too quiet. Almost oppressively so.

From the day she'd entered the world, red-faced and howling with startling force for a newborn, Joanie had operated the same way - maximum decibels to be deployed at all times.

Though it had driven her crazy just a few months before, Donna now finds herself missing the hundred daily headaches Joanie could inspire. Tying up the phone line scream-laughing with a friend for hours at a time. Blasting her stereo loud enough to rattle the walls. Thundering around upstairs in her combat boots like a herd of spooked cattle. Always always slamming the front door.

All the petty little things they'd fought about (although what hadn't they fought about?), and now Donna can't help but think that maybe they'd needed at least a little of that to make this big house feel full. Make it feel alive.

It's a better kind of quiet out here. More natural. The lazy buzz of insects. A lawnmower droning a few houses down. Pigeons cooing lethargically from the branches of a tall Sycamore to her left.

The sun is warm on her shoulders when she stands, and it feels good to slip into the cool, clear water and float for a while, listening. Then Donna closes her eyes and sinks beneath the surface, all the sounds fading to nothing, and starts to swim.

She glides smoothly through the water, finding her rhythm. Back and forward. Forward and back. Don't forget to breathe. She swims until her arms are rubbery and her legs ache and her head is blissfully empty. 

By the time she's towelled herself dry and padded back into the kitchen, hunger is gnawing at her stomach. She sticks some crab rangoons in the oven to reheat and leans a hip idly against the counter while she waits for the buzzer.

Donna notices that Haley has stuck Joanie's most recent postcard to the fridge with the others. This one is held in place with a banana magnet - two colourful fishing boats bobbing on astonishingly blue water. Donna smiles and gently touches a fingertip to it. She doesn't need to take it down to know that on the back are the words - Greetings from Maya Luy! - J.

Five words written so large and balloon-animal round that they fill the space completely, leaving barely enough room for their address. It's squeezed in the top-right corner below the postage stamp, like an afterthought. 

It's not the detailed update Donna had been hoping for, but maybe it doesn't need to be.

Donna can still imagine Joanie - picking out the postcard at a tiny stall. Scrawling it out in a rush, tucked somewhere her friends won't see. In her bunk at the hostel, maybe. Or leaned against the wall of a dusty payphone.

The thought makes Donna smile.

It's so easy for her to picture Joanie laughing with all the new friends she's inevitably making, because when she's not being a sardonic asshole to drive her mother insane Joanie is warm and funny and so intuitive she could find common ground with a freshly crash-landed martian.

At this very moment, Joanie might be hefting a backpack almost as big as she is along a white sandy beach. Or swimming in the ocean - but not too far out. Ever since she was a little girl she'd been terrified of not being able to touch the bottom.

Donna only has to close her eyes and she can see Joanie so clearly. She does this now, and it helps Donna miss her less.  

But when Donna attempts to repeat this exercise with Cameron she finds it nearly impossible. A blurred image that stubbornly refuses to come into focus. Donna furrows her brow, thinking hard.

Cameron would be in Carson City by now, but doing what exactly? Donna can't imagine she'd be holed up in a casino at the craps table. Come to think of it, Donna has no real idea what Cam would be doing on her trip, what she might find interesting or compelling.

 What might she go out of her way to see? An art museum? The Grand Canyon?

What does Cameron like to do that doesn't involve sitting at her computer? 

The oven timer buzzes faintly behind her and Donna plates up her food mechanically, without really registering it. Her thoughts are furry static as she wracks her brain, discomfited.

She knows Cameron, right? Or at least she had done, once upon a time. For god's sake, they'd worked side by side for years! They'd lived together. You can't do that without getting to know someone, it's impossible. 

So let's start simple, approach this logically. 

Donna knows that Cameron grew up in Texas. That she attended Austin Tech, before Joe got his hooks in and suckered her into dropping out. Then Cardiff. Mutiny. Japan. Comet.

Now harder stuff. Personal stuff. Okay.

From sharing a house with her Donna knows, for instance, that on the rare occasions she managed to drag herself away from her computer Cameron would read. Donna would find her sometimes, stretched out on Donna's couch like she belonged there with a bowl of cereal balanced on her stomach and a battered paperback in her hand.

Old, yellowing science fiction picked up at yard sales for a dollar - Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson. She would insist on marking her place by leaving the books face down on every available surface, cracking the spines like some kind of barbarian. (Then act surprised when all the pages started falling out!)

Donna knows that Cameron has a knowledge of video games so broad and detailed that it borders on the encyclopaedic, and that she can eat liquorice by the pound.

 That Cameron tends toward music that sounds like a bunch of trash cans falling down a spiral staircase, and that she's capable of programming games so beautiful, so poignant they have moved Donna to tears. 

That she has an incredible work ethic. An odd sleep schedule.

Utterly appalling taste in men. 

But these are just facts. 

Bite-sized bits of trivia you pick up when you live and work with someone. When you know their schedule and see them every day.

But knowing pieces of a person isn't the the same thing as really knowing them, is it? Not in any meaningful way.

It's so easy to mistake proximity for closeness and Donna can know how Cam takes her coffee and what her favourite Halloween candy is, but that doesn't mean Donna knows anything real.

Like how Cameron really feels about this trip to visit her mom. Or even what happened to cause the rift between them in the first place. 

Barefoot in the kitchen, holding a steaming crab rangoon, it strikes Donna how little she really knows about Cameron.

Back in the Mutiny days, all they had ever really talked about was work. Because, at the time, that had seemed the most important thing.

But how many essential parts of Cam's life, her past, has Donna been oblivious to? Donna thinks about how cagey Cameron had always been about her childhood, her family. How expertly she'd deflected when the conversation turned to holiday plans - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother's Day.

And Donna had never pressed her.

Why the hell hadn't she ever pressed her?

Donna supposes that she'd just assumed that certain subjects were conversationally out of bounds and left it at that.

At the time it had seemed sensible enough. Why risk driving Cameron away by pushing her too far? She'd certainly never seemed like she'd be receptive to Donna peppering her with invasive questions.

Even so, now it seems like yet another massive miscalculation on Donna's part. Cameron might have been reluctant to provide answers, but Donna still should have asked

Because now Cameron is gone, again, and Donna doesn't know what she might be doing or who she might be doing it with.

Donna doesn't know if she's dreading seeing her mom again, dawdling at every cheesy roadside attraction, or if she's so impatient to reconcile that she'll blow past every single one, non-stop, all the way to Florida.

 Donna doesn't know, and that realisation settles in a tight knot just below her sternum. She feels a familiar rush of regret for all the time wasted, all the opportunities missed. 

Her plate of food cools beside her on the counter, forgotten.  




After an hour spent stress-cleaning the already spotless oven Donna doesn't feel much better. The stainless steel gleams but her thoughts continue to circle each other like wild dogs.

She runs a hot bath, fills it with essential oils and sits obstinately in it until the water goes tepid, her fingers pruned and the bathroom thick with French lavender-scented steam. It kills another hour but doesn't do much to relax the knot in her chest or the strange, jittery sensation in her stomach. 

She's restless, all jagged edges, as she makes her way over to the walk-in closet. Even so, the moment she steps inside and her bare toes sink into the plush, creamy carpet she can't help but feel a spark of satisfaction. It's an instinctual response to a beautiful space.

The room is airy and spacious, with natural light that pours in through the linen curtains above the window seat, casting golden hues on orderly racks of formal gowns and tailored blazers, expertly folded stacks of cashmere sweaters and neat rows of glossy shoes. 

It's also as close to the one in Diane's Sonoma house as Donna could get it without simply saying fuck it and asking Diane for the name of her interior decorator and a set of schematics. 

Donna pulls a freshly-laundered silk blouse from a partition where a dozen other freshly-laundered silk blouses hang alongside. She weighs the padded hanger in her hand along with the possibility of heading to the office, just for a few hours until Haley gets back. 

Yes, it's a Sunday, she's aware. But this week promises to be a chaotic one, with only a few days left to finalise all the last-minute details before she flies out to Las Vegas with her 3D-imaging team, Delphi.

They're young and inexperienced and it's their first time presenting at Comdex. Donna knows from experience how easy it is for things to go horribly wrong out there on that stage. It certainly wouldn't hurt to put in a little overtime. Well, a little more overtime. 

She goes to pull the pull the blouse from the hanger. Hesitates. 

Back when she'd first agreed to take on the Managing Partner role she'd done it with a caveat. Without wanting to sound like a sanctimonious article lifted straight out of Working Woman, she'd thought it important to maintain some balance in her life, and made a promise to herself that she wouldn't let this job become her whole identity.

Her lofty ambition had been to take a day to herself every week, without fail. She'd even made a dutiful list of potential hobbies, each one more depressingly age-appropriate than the last: Take a language class. Join a book club. Take up gardening. Golfing had even made it on there, until Donna realised with horror how perilously close she'd be coming to channelling her mother. 

After some quick mental calculations Donna finds that she's already worked sixty hours this week, not including time spent reviewing paperwork in her home office in the evenings. Donna sighs and hangs the blouse back up with the others, pulling some light-wash jeans and an old Berkeley sweater from a shelf instead. 

As much as she needs the distraction that only burying herself in work can reliably provide, Donna knows that going into the office now would make her feel oddly guilty. As if she were letting herself down somehow by not using her downtime to do something enriching, like take a pottery class.

But is that really what she wants? To spend an afternoon sculpting a misshapen vase and chit-chatting with all the other overworked divorcées over at the glazing station?

Just the thought makes her feel exhausted. 

Usually, Donna winds up compromising by setting herself up on the couch with her laptop open to tackle her endlessly overflowing inbox. She'll even put the TV on in the background, thereby maintaining the illusion that she is a woman with a perfectly healthy work/life balance, thank-you-very-much.

Uninspiring as it sounds, there's not much else to do. After grabbing her glasses off the bedside table, Donna is about to make her way downstairs to do just that when something in the hallway stops her in her tracks.

Upon leaving for Thailand Joanie had left her bedroom door firmly shut, and in the car en route to the airport she'd been dropping hints about trust and privacy that were about as subtle as sledgehammers.

Donna, to her credit, had listened. Despite her curiosity - and despite her deep suspicion that the plates missing from the cabinet are lodged somewhere under Joanie's bed, caked with fossilised pop-tart crumbs -  she'd resisted the urge to venture beyond the closed door. 

Haley, by contrast, had respected Joanie's privacy for about three hours before gingerly stepping inside, peering around as if she'd been expecting her sister to leap out from behind the curtains and give her a savage charley horse for spying.

Now, weeks later, Haley seems to consider her sister's room her own personal treasure trove - she is forever ducking in and out to facilitate the slow but steady migration of Joanie's collection of books and CDs into Haley's own.

No doubt this will result in Donna being expected to mediate the mother-of-all squabbles when Joanie eventually returns, but that's a problem for another time.

For now, Donna is far more interested in what is right in front of her face. 

Because this morning, in her rush to get to Foothill, Haley has left Joanie's door open. Not by much. Just three tantalising inches that means Donna can just see the thin layer of dust covering the portable TV, the desk overflowing with magazines and the dog-eared corner of a poster for a band Donna's never heard of.

It wouldn't take much to stretch out a hand and palm the door open until it swings wide.

For a moment Donna stands frozen in the hallway, hand to her chest, seriously considering a little light snooping. Not for a diary or condoms or anything like that. No good can possibly come of that. To say nothing of the fact that Joanie is technically an adult now (something Donna is still struggling to wrap her head around) she knows that if she finds condoms she'll worry that Joanie is using them, and if she doesn't find them she'll worry that Joanie isn't using them. It's a lose-lose that guarantees a sleepless night either way.

As for the diary, Donna would never even dream of reading it, but she wouldn't have to go snooping to find it. Joanie has kept her diary hidden in the same place since she was seven years old (wedged between the mattress and the box spring).

 No, all Donna wants is to do the briefest, most perfunctory sweep that will inevitably reveal the baggy of pot Joanie has stashed away in her sock drawer or the pocket of an old jacket.

It will almost certainly be ditch weed, all seed and stems. The kind of mediocre drugs teenagers buy with the money they make from babysitting or mowing lawns.

All the same, it would be enough to take the edge off.

For a moment Donna allows herself to imagine how good it would feel to stretch out on the rug downstairs with her old Fleetwood Mac records playing, to take a long, lazy draw of sour smoke into her lungs, to hold it there and feel the world flatten out magnificently around her. 

Or, even better, a glass of perfectly chilled Sancerre.

Just the one glass, but a generous enough pour to muffle her pounding thoughts, soothe her mind's staticky hum. 

This is a dangerous line of thought and Donna veers away from it reflexively, her mind giving a quick warning jolt. It makes her stomach drop, like she's just missed a step on the stairs, and Donna thrusts out a hand to pull Joanie's door sharply closed.

The brass handle is warm under her palm as she raises her eyes to the vaulted ceiling in silent appeal and sighs. Her emails will have to wait a while.  

She knows where she needs to go. 




It's not something she is looking to advertise, but once her court-mandated sessions are over Donna keeps going to AA.

Very occasionally, you understand. Only if it's been a particularly hellish week and only if her schedule allows for it.

Obviously, she'd much rather spend her very limited free time with Haley or catching up on reading.

Honestly, even tackling the mounting pile of laundry in the basement holds more appeal for her than dragging herself out to some run-down community centre in Palo Alto, or draughty church basement in Cupertino. 

She's wary about becoming a recognisable face, so it's never the same meeting twice.

Except it kind of is.

No matter where she goes it's always the same watery coffee, the same day-old pastries. The rickety folding chairs arranged in a shaky semi-circle. Unflattering fluorescent lighting, unforgiving on desperately hopeful faces. 

Today, it's an Episcopal Church in downtown Los Gatos. A small, ivy-covered building with a terracotta roof and a tidy courtyard, it looks more like a Spanish casa than a church at first glance, made to look even more out of place by contrast to its neighbours - a trendy coffee shop on one side and a freshly-opened Banana Republic on the other. 

Donna's been to enough of these things by now that she no longer feels sick with nerves and embarrassment, but still an old reluctance has her dragging her feet as she slides out of her car and makes her way towards the entrance. In front of her is an older man in an long olive army coat, who she thinks would be well over six feet tall if his back weren't curved forward like a fishing pole. 

He holds the door open for her and smiles broadly, exposing crooked, nicotine-stained teeth. The doorway is narrow, and she has to squeeze her way past him close enough to smell the stale smoke and aftershave clinging to his clothes.

"Thank you," Donna says, taking a step sideways into a tiny reception area, her purse knocking against a notice board covered in flyers for local businesses and a signup sheet for the church choir: 


So far there are no takers.

 Donna has the sudden, desperate urge to laugh and entertains a brief fantasy of pushing past this man, hopping into her car and peeling off down the street to go get a manicure instead.

The man peers at Donna intently like he can read her thoughts. His face is weathered with years of hard-living but his eyes are bright and intelligent.

"You're just in time," he says, his voice a low rumble, "help yourself to coffee then come grab a pew." He jams a thumb over his shoulder and strides away through a set of heavy wooden doors before Donna can formulate a response. 

Turns out grab a pew was not a turn of phrase. Instead of the usual side-room or basement volunteered by larger churches, this meeting is being held in the church proper - a narrow hall lined with hard wooden benches, worn smooth from years of use.

It smells of dust and stale incense. The cheap stucco walls are embedded with colourful stained-glass windows, the late afternoon sun shining through illuminating sorrowful-looking saints that Donna, whose parents took her to church once a year for Christmas Mass, does not recognise.

The limited space of the tiny chapel is dominated by an enormous, ornate pipe organ, all dark polished wood and metal dulled by time and wear, so tall it almost touches the ceiling.

Donna finds herself longing to hear what it sounds like, her fingers itch to run over the rows and rows of gleaming keys.

In front of the organ, looking miniature by comparison, is a podium where the stoop-shouldered man from earlier stands, frowning at a piece of paper and slurping coffee from a paper cup. 

Donna balances her own cup carefully on her knee as she perches awkwardly on an empty pew at the back. The coffee is engine-oil dark with a greasy film on top. She won't be drinking it but it makes a useful prop, something to occupy her hands while she subtly scopes out the room. 

It's well-attended as meetings go, a steady hum of clearing throats and shuffling feet fills the hall as perhaps thirty men and women scattered around the room wait for the meeting to begin. Some stand, talking quietly in pairs or groups, heads bent low together.

In the next row an elderly woman sits alone, calmly fingering a set of prayer beads.

To her left, Donna spots a likely first-timer - a scruffy man who can't be much older than Joanie, with a tangle of blonde hair and a grim set to his jaw. He's restless - twisting his fingers in his lap while his eyes dart uncertainly around the room, flicking between the man at the podium, the crucifix on the wall and the exit with the desperate look of a man who would rather be somewhere, anywhere, else.

Donna is very familiar with that feeling. 

Even now, all these months later, she's not entirely sure why she'd come back. 

The drink-driving arrest on its own had been eye-wateringly mortifying, the weekly court-mandated AA meetings only adding insult to injury.

Those first meetings had been a chore at best. A weekly exercise in renewed humiliation at worst.

The way Donna saw it, it was a complete waste of her valuable time. An arbitrary punishment for an incident that had been blown way out of proportion.

But she'd pushed down her simmering resentment, sat there quietly and tried her best to keep the horror from her face while strange men in trucker hats told horribly graphic stories of bodily functions that would surely be better left discussed with a doctor.

She hadn't complained (much), she'd just put her head down and powered through it. And when Donna had walked out of that last mandatory meeting she'd had to fight down the urge to hold her signed certificate of attendance aloft in triumph. It was over - she was free! 

That should have been the end of it. 

And then Gordon had died. Just like that. Here and gone. 


Like a gut-wrenching conjurer's trick.

And it had wrecked her. Wholly and completely. 

She'd lost her oldest friend. Her first true partner. The father of her children. 

Nothing could have prepared her for the pain of that. No one would have blamed her if she'd climbed into bed with a bottle of Zinfandel and closed the curtains for few days. A week. A month. God knows, she'd wanted to. But there had been the funeral to arrange. Attorneys to contact. Gordon's house to go through.

The multitude of mind-numbing bureaucratic details that come alongside the agony of losing someone so unexpectedly.

Donna couldn't afford to fall apart, there was simply too much to be done. And she'd had to be strong for her daughters. 

There had been a hundred good reasons to divorce Gordon, and even once they were long separated he could always be counted on to grate on her last nerve.

But still, their history ran deep and Gordon had known her better than anyone else. He'd been someone she could count on and, for all his faults, he had still been her go-to. Right up to the end. 

With him gone it had become excruciatingly clear to Donna that she didn't really have anyone left to talk to.

Diane was, first and foremost, a work friend. They'd never had the kind of relationship where Donna would feel comfortable talking to her about something this emotionally charged.

She'd considered Bos, but things had been strained after his heart attack. They'd worked it out eventually, but it had taken time and Wal-Mart didn't exactly carry a greetings card that captured the nuances of the situation. 

(Sorry Our Work Disagreement Became Your Full-Blown Cardiac Event!)

 And there'd been no chance of her dumping her feelings on her daughters, they already had enough to worry about.

No, the only person Donna had found herself aching to talk to was Cameron.

Cameron who had loved him too, in that odd aggravated-sibling-relationship way they had formed when she hadn't been paying attention. But Cameron had not been an option. Not back then.

So when the next AA meeting had rolled around she had gone back there and just... told them all of this.

She had let her grief pour out of her in front of a dozen total strangers, quietly assembled in a dilapidated room of what had once been the old post office building in Saratoga.

And they'd listened, these strangers, unflappable as she'd assaulted them with her anguish and her heartbreak and when the words finally dried up she'd been too wrung-out to feel embarrassed (although that would come later). 

They'd thanked her for sharing, with what seemed to her like genuine compassion. Then it had been someone's anniversary, thirty years sober, and they'd brought out coffee and the world's driest walnut cake. And that had been it. 

She'd driven home that night feeling better. Lighter. As if a crushing weight had been, not lifted, but at least eased a little. She felt less alone and had to concede that maybe it wasn't a complete waste of time. 


Of course, most of what she hears at the meetings that follow is gruelling - a steady rotation between the tedious, the trite and the downright devastating. But... There's a realness to it. To these strangers owning up to their failures and shortcomings and mistakes and resolving to do better. There's something inspiring about that. 

But that doesn't mean she wants to stand in a circle holding their gnarled hands while they recite some hackneyed slogan and offer themselves up to a higher power. That part makes her want to roll her eyes, which is not encouraged.

Usually, she takes the seat closest to the door so she can make a quick exit when they start wrapping up. She's not looking to chat, or get roped into helping put the chairs away. 

Donna is pulled away from this line of thought by Stoop Shouldered Guy clearing his throat at the front of the room. He's now wearing a pair of wire-framed glasses and looking out at them all with those piercing eyes, ready to begin. He introduces himself as Michael and an alcoholic. 

"Hi Michael," the room echoes back dutifully, as one. The effect is a little eerie if you're not used to it, and Donna watches the young guy to her left visibly flinch and twist his fingers together tighter.

Michael clears his throat and goes on to lead the room in reciting the Serenity Prayer, his gravelly voice echoing off the walls.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change 
Courage to change the things I can 
And wisdom to know the difference."

They love that one around here.

Donna hears it at every meeting she goes to. It's a little Jesus-take-the-wheel for her taste but still, she can see the value in it. God aside, it's a neat psychological trick to play on yourself on those days when the world feels like it's spinning too fast.

There have been a lot of days like that lately, since Gordon was unceremoniously ripped from their lives and it became an undeniable fact: life is chaos.

A furious, tumultuous wave that that refuses to be held back and tosses you this way and that like an errant beach ball. Gordon had known it and now Donna knows it too. 

There is so much in her life right now that lies beyond her control. 

She can't give her daughters their father back. 

Or guarantee Delphi's success at Comdex. 

Or make Joanie want to go college.

 Or get Cameron to quit playing Kerouac and come home. 

Donna can't control these things any more than she can stop the sun from shining or the relentless pile-up of traffic on I-80. 

Coming to meetings like this helps, if only to serve as a reminder to herself that when she feels like this - lost and powerless and so lonely she wants to scream - it doesn't solve anything to go crying into a glass of Pinot Grigio. 

The best she can do is focus on the aspects of her life that she can control. 

What she does.

What she doesn't do.  

"-so I wake up in the hospital with a collapsed lung and a prolapsed colon. This is around the time my second wife left me-"

Michael is gone from the podium, replaced by a new speaker - a bald-headed man built like a Sherman tank. His voice is soft and so matter-of-fact he could be giving out directions.

This is how you can spot the hardened AA devotees - by the offhanded ease with which they can present the lowest moments of their lives for inspection to total strangers. 

Next up is a leather-face woman with big, beehive hair.

Donna steels herself for more clichéd Words of Wisdom or perhaps a blow-by-blow account of that morning's bowel movement.

Instead the woman adjusts her giant hairdo and chirps, "Just some housekeeping to finish up, remember that next weekend is our bi-monthly AA and Friends Sober Barbecue and Picnic!" The woman beams at them all, showing straight white teeth. "It's in Blossom Hill Park at noon. We'd love to see you there!" 

Donna would rather do a cartwheel off the Golden Gate Bridge at low tide than socialise with these people voluntarily.

 Okay, okay, yes. That's the wrong attitude. But Jesus Christ can you imagine? 

Besides, she's here isn't she? Out of all the other places she could be right now, she's chosen to be here.

That's not nothing.

Donna takes a deep breath through her nose. Then another.

 It's a start.