Always. Занятие 22

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“Not if you don’t want it to be,” I say. “If you believe in them, sign them.”


The band takes to the stage and the lights dim all around. The crowd applauds. “It used to work that way,” Cade continues. “I think I’m losing my edge. And I think James knows it.”


“No way,” I say.


The band begins to play, and I’m struck by their sound, especially the singer’s voice. “Wow, they’re good,” I continue. “Really good.”


We stay until their last song, then follow the crowd out the door. I feel light and airy from my cocktail, so when Cade suggests that we stop at a bar on the next block for one more, I don’t say no.


Two drinks later, each of us is laughing. Whatever troubles Cade carried with him hours prior have disappeared into the night. “You’re magic,” he says from the barstool next to me. “You make everything happy.”


I giggle, running my hand along the right side of his head. “Magic, huh?”


He nods, eyes relaxing closed at my touch. “Put a spell on me.”


I wave my straw, pretending it’s a magic wand. “Hocus-pocus,” I say.


We get up from the bar, laughing, and stumble out to the sidewalk. I feel numb, in the very best way. And I can’t remember drinking this much…ever. Cade takes my hand. “Where to next, my lady?” he asks, passing a tattoo shop on our left. He stops. “Wait, neither of us has any tattoos. Let’s get one.”


“Tonight?” I say with a hiccup. “Really?”


“Why not?” he says.


“Well, I can think of a few reasons…like maybe the overwhelming feeling of regret we might have in the morning.”


Cade runs his hand through his hair, and like a dark cloud overshadowing the sun, I watch as the carefree grin on his face melds into something more serious.


“The problem with you, Kailey, is that you don’t take any risks. You’re afraid of stepping too far out of your comfort zone.”


I gasp. “That’s not fair.”


He shrugs. “It might not be fair, but it’s true.”


I let out a nervous laugh. “Well then, if you think I’m too cautious, I think you’re too impulsive.” My cheeks burn. How can he be so insensitive? So…


“Listen, babe,” he says, taking my hand. “I shouldn’t have said that. I just…”


“You just want me to jump when you say jump?”


“No,” he says solemnly.


“Cade, I’m not one of your band friends. I’m not”


“I know,” he says, taking my hands in his. “I was out of line. I don’t know why I said that.”


“Well, you did.”


“Listen,” he continues. “Forget what I said. You aren’t too cautious. You’re smart, beautiful, and wise.”


“And,” I add, “apparently deeply flawed because I’m not running into the tattoo parlor right now ready to get a dolphin inked onto my ass.”


I can’t help but laugh. He does, too.


“Now, that’s a tattoo I’d like to see,” he says with another chuckle.


“You know what?” I say, glancing back at the tattoo joint. “Why the heck not?”


Cade’s eyes widen. “The dolphin?”


“No,” I say. “But something.” I nod. “Why not? You’re right. I am too cautious.”


“And you’re right,” he replies. “I’m too impulsive.”


I exhale deeply. “Let’s do it.”




“Yes,” I say with a certainty I didn’t know I had in me. “What should we get?” I ask, eyeing the images of dragons, roman numerals, and tribal art in the window. “No sea mammals.”


Cade scratches his chin. “Matching butterflies?”


We both laugh.


“How about a word?” he suggests.


“Like what?”


He steps closer to me and lets his eyes fall on my face tenderly. “How about always?”


“Always,” I say, then smile. “Or ‘all-was.’ ”


I follow him inside, where a large bald man, like Mr. Clean but with tattoos, sits on a chair in the back.


“Evening,” he says. “How can I help you?”


“We’d like to get two tattoos.” As Cade says the words, my heart leaps. Are we really doing this?


“All right,” he says.


Cade scratches his head. “Do you know how to say always in French?”


“Toujours,” he says. “I spent a quarter abroad in France.”


“Toujours,” Cade says, turning to me. “For you. For us. For Normandy.”


We flip through a book of fonts and finally settle on a script, which the tattoo artist tells us is something very special from the 1940s. Evidently it appeared on a Frank Sinatra album cover back in the day.


“I’ll go first,” Cade says, sitting in a chair. The tattoo artist makes a quick mock-up of the design for us, and we settle on the size. Cade decides he’d like it on his shoulder, and I watch him wince as the needle hits his skin. I look away when I see blood, and when it’s finally my turn to sit in the chair, I waver. “Maybe I shouldn’t,” I say.


“Do it for me,” Cade says. “Do it for us.” His eyes are intense, and I know, right in this moment, that there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for this man.


I close my eyes tightly. “Okay,” I say, pointing to my right shoulder. “Right here. Let’s do this.”


The pain is real, and when I feel the first prick of the needle, I flinch.


“Try to be as still as you can,” the tattoo artist says. His voice is deep and soothing, and I listen as he tells a story of a couple who’d been in earlier to tattoo wedding bands onto their ring fingers. I can’t help but think of Cade and my forever.


When my tattoo is complete, I have a look in the mirror, but my skin is swollen and puffy. It’s hard to get a complete sense of what it will look like. And to be honest, in this moment I really don’t care.


Cade pays the tattoo guy, then takes my hand. As we walk home to his apartment, my shoulder throbs, but I hardly notice. I feel connected to him in ways I’ve never been before. More than the tattoo, more than the words we’ve uttered to each other in moments of love, Cade and I are entwined. And I know we always will be.


“This is where I live,” I say to Cade as we walk in the door of the house I share with Ryan. It feels surreal to see him standing in the entryway. He stands by the door, paralyzed, as I take off my sweater and set my purse down.


“It’s okay,” I say softly, reaching for his duffel bag. He holds on to it tightly at first but then relents, and I set it by the door. “You can come in.”


Eddie runs past me and directly to Cade, who reaches out his hand to him. Does he remember?


He takes a step forward and silently surveys my living room. I flip on the lights and see that his wounds, though less swollen, look just as bad as they did in the hospital.


“You’re probably hungry,” I say nervously. I walk to the kitchen and peer into the refrigerator. For the first time in years, I have no idea what to cook. None at all. “What do you feel like?” I ask, not expecting a response. “I could make a burrito, maybe spinach quesadillas?” I nod, pulling out a bag of spinach, some cheese, and tortillas. “There,” I say, assembling the ingredients, then reaching for my trusty cast-iron skillet, which I’ve been cooking with since the days of living with Tracy in our little downtown studio. It was my grandma’sshe doesn’t do much cooking anymore. I like to think about all the meals it has provided over the years.


Cade watches as I make the quesadillas. When they’re ready, I cut them into triangles and put them on a plate for him.


“It’s not Wild Ginger,” I say, setting the plate on the table, “but plain ol’ quesadillas hit the spot sometimes.” I point to adjoining chairs at the table. “Please, sit. Make yourself comfortable.”


He slowly sinks into the chair beside me; Eddie plants himself on the rug at his feet.


“Here,” I say, pushing the plate toward him. He doesn’t reach for a quesadilla, so I lift one to his lips, just as I did in the hospital. It works, and he takes a cautious bite.


When his plate is clean, I clear the table and nervously try to make a plan for the evening. “You can stay in the upstairs guest bedroom,” I say. “You’ll probably want to have a bath. I’ll get you a towel and some fresh clothes.” He picks up the conch shell on the coffee table and turns it over and over, surveying every crevice. “If you’ll come with me, I’ll get you settled.”


As I climb the stairs, he follows, and I’m aware of every step I take, every breath that seeps from my lungs. I take a towel from the linen closet, then flip on the bathroom light. “I’ll get your bath started,” I say. “Soap is right there, and shampoo.”


He just stands and stares.


“Okay,” I say with a big exhale. “I’ll leave you now. Let me know if you need anything.”


I walk to my bedroom and sit on the edge of the bed, listening to the sound of the water running in the other room. Minutes pass, and I start to worry. Should I go check on him? I stand up, then sit down again. Then stand, slipping out of my clothes and into a tank top and leggings, my typical sleeping attire.


“Excuse me,” I say, peering into the bathroom through the barely cracked door. I push the door open wider to see Cade standing, fully clothed, in the same spot I left him ten minutes ago. “Everything okay?”


He doesn’t respond, so I slowly venture in and turn the faucet off. The tub is nearly overflowing.


“You need some help,” I say, nodding. “Let me help you.”


I take a deep breath, then step closer to him. My fingers unfasten the button on his coat and I let it fall to the ground. I remove the hospital gown next, revealing his thin bare chest and the familiar tattoo on his shoulder. I wonder if he notices mine now.


I swallow hard when I touch the button on his pants and tug it free. His chest rises and falls with every breath, accentuating the concave of his stomach. I feel a familiar flutter inside as I pull the zipper down. I look away as his pants fall to the ground, then slowly let my eyes drift back to the body I once knew so well. I had memorized every bit of his topography, like a well-studied map. Every freckle. Every inch of muscle and flesh.


I take his hand and lead him to the bath, testing it first with my free hand. “It’s just the right temperature,” I say. “Go ahead.”


He stares at the bathtub as if it’s Olympic-size and he’s just been asked to breaststroke across and back. “It’s okay,” I say, encouraging him to get in. “It’ll be relaxing.”


And then he steps in slowly, at first with trepidation. But once he lowers himself beneath the water, I can tell he finally feels at ease. I kneel beside him and use the spray attachment to soak his hair before I reach for the shampoo. I scrub and lather, then rinse his hair clean, offering him the bar of soap next. He doesn’t take it, so I rub it along his arms and chest. He watches me as I reach for a washcloth, then dip it into the water and onto his skin. The water is dark. While the hospital gave him a sponge bath, he has hardly been bathed properly, and when I help Cade up and wrap a towel around him, days, maybe even years, of grime from life on the streets washes down the drain.


I lead him to the bedroom and peer into the closet, where I select a pair of Ryan’s jeans and a blue college T-shirt, well worn at the edges. From the dresser, I grab a pair of white boxer briefs and add them to the stack. “Here,” I say. “You can wear this.”


I help him slip the T-shirt over his head, and his arms find their way through the sleeves. If he’s at all shy when the towel slips to the floor, he gives no indication. I carefully guide his legs through my fiancé’s boxer briefs, then help him into his jeans, buttoning them up the way I might for a small child.


“There,” I say when he’s dressed. He places his hands on the jeans, about two sizes too big, as if he’s never felt anything quite like the wonderful texture of freshly washed denim. Dressed and scrubbed, he looks more like the Cade I remember, aside from the long hair and beard. I look into his eyes, tilt my head to the right, and somehow expect him to snap out of it. To smile and say, “I’m back. And by the way, where can I get a haircut and shave?”


But that Cade is still locked away in the abyss, deep in the maze of his mind, perhaps where he keeps memories of me, of us. I sigh. “You must be exhausted, let me…”


As I speak, he sinks into my bed, laying his head on the pillow. I watch him shift uncomfortably to avoid putting pressure on his ribs. I hear Eddie’s footsteps on the stairs, barreling up and into my bedroom. He leaps onto the bed and nuzzles into the place between Cade’s stomach and right arm, tucking his chin over Cade’s left arm.


I smile to myself, then find my way to the guest bedroom. I glance at my phone; Ryan has sent me a few texts. Portland is beautiful. How am I? Instead of replying, I set my phone on the bedside table and lie awake for a long time, staring at the ceiling, thinking. When I finally close my eyes, I dream of Cade and the sea.


When I open my eyes, light streams through the bedroom window. Birds chirp in the tree outside, and I sit up and yawn, wondering if Cade has rested as well as I have. The old wood floors creak underneath my bare feet as I walk to my bedroom, where the blanket and sheets are turned back, the bed empty. I look around the room, then walk to the bathroom, peering inside the open door. Also empty.


“Cade?” I say from the stairway. “Are you here?”


Eddie trots down the stairs behind me as I have a look around the first floor, quiet except for a slow drip from the kitchen faucet, which Ryan had scheduled a repairman to fix tomorrow. Did he leave? I feel panic rise in my chest, and I run to the back door to have a look at the empty yard behind the house. “Cade?” I call out again into the quiet house.


Then I notice a scant sliver of light coming through the front door. I open it, stepping out onto the front porch, which is where I find Cade, sitting on the steps, staring ahead.


“Oh,” I say, exhaling deeply. “There you are.”


I sit down beside him. For a moment I wonder what the neighbors might think of me, sitting on the front porch with a strange bearded man. But then Cade turns to me, smiles, and says two words that render any concerns meaningless. “Good morning.”


I squeeze his arm, beaming. “Good morning!” And the birds chirp. And the sun shines. And I am happy.


I pour coffee from the French press and watch him take the first sip from his mug, closing his eyes as he takes another, as if he’s trying to remember coffee, me, life.


“I thought I’d make us an omelet,” I say, opening the fridge. I pull out a carton of eggs, butter, some spinach, shredded cheese, and a few green onions that look as if they’ve seen better days.


I pour myself a second cup of coffee, then chop the spinach and trim off the wilted ends of the onions. Butter sizzles in the pan as I whisk the eggs together in a white ceramic bowl. Ryan loves my omelets, and I make them for him often. As I pour the eggs into the pan, watching the edges firm and the middle bubble slightly, I feel overcome with guilt. When Ryan comes home, Cade will hopefully soon be settled in the brain injury program at Harborview, and I’ll tell Ryan everything. He’ll understand, I reassure myself. Ryan always understands.

About the Author

Диана Семёнычева

Диана Семёнычева