God, I couldn’t get the sight of Collin’s deep green eyes out of my head. I’d said goodbye to him after dinner. He’d hugged me harder, and held me longer than he normally did, and when he’d pulled back, there’d been something truly broken in his expression—something more than sad, and fearful: a look altogether too serious, too adult and self-sacrificing to belong in his always-playful, always self-sure expression.
The closer you are to them, the more intense it will be as they go.
What did that even mean?
Now, back in our cell of a room, Samantha was perched on the edge of her cot. She had stopped trying to hold it together, quietly sobbing into her hands, held over her face with her elbows tucked into her lap. The other women in our room were closer to Samantha’s age than I was—if anybody was going to offer her comfort, you’d have thought it would be them. But they kept their distance, though I got the impression it was more out of respect than callousness. Once or twice, one of them quietly approached and asked if there was anything they could do, to which Samantha just shook her head. But still, whether their distance was out of respect or not, it was just so depressing to see Samantha crying on her cot alone.
Respect be damned. With a sigh, I stood from my cot and took a seat beside Samantha on hers. “If you want to be left alone,” I said, “just say the word. But I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind if I sat with you.” I put a hand on her arm. Samantha had never struck me as a terribly warm person. Not cold, but not anyone you’d describe as cuddly. Especially to hear Leah tell it—and especially to hear her tell it after we’d arrived back in Tubac this fall and Sam had been key in keeping Drake and Leah apart.
So imagine my surprise when Sam turned and took my hand in hers.
“Cecelia is my best friend,” she whispered. “I won’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t know she was sick until we got here. I don’t even know what’s wrong—I haven’t been able to bring myself to ask her. I was so worried about Drake, I didn’t stop to ask her what was wrong. And now I’ll never…”
Oh jesus. “Samantha.” I laid my hand over hers, both holding mind tight.
What if it was Leah? I asked myself. What if it was me sitting there, thinking I’d never get to talk to my best friend again—never get to tell her goodbye, that I cared about her. It wouldn’t matter that she knew—of course Cecelia knew that Samantha cared for her, was her best friend—the fact that she didn’t get to say it now, in these last minutes, the fact that that she probably hadn’t been able to say anything like that, or have a real conversation in all the weeks since they’d arrived here was so incredibly wrong.
I looked around the room for inspiration, for an idea of what to say. For anything that could help me help her. Across the way, in the far corner of the room, Nina was curled up onto her own cot. Her knees were drawn up in front of her as she leaned back against the wall. And she was crying. Just quietly, slowly, crying. I hadn’t seen Nina look vulnerable at any point in all the weeks since I’d met her.
That made a memory play through my head—a bittersweet memory, where Cecelia was the star.
“I remember when Leah and I got to Cecelia’s house this fall,” I said quietly to Samantha. “We’d been driving for, like, 20 hours or something. We were exhausted and terrified, but Cecelia made us feel safe. She was happy to see us regardless of all the reasons we’d had to drive there—she was just happy we were there.” I smiled despite the bittersweet taste of the memories of this fall. “When Leah went to dinner at your house,” I went on after a moment, “Cecelia made dinner for Collin and me. While we ate, she told the two of us what was going on—that her and you and Harris were asking Leah and Drake to take a break from one another because of everything that was happening.”
Samantha’s crying had slowed. She took a shuddering breath. “Cecelia thought it was cruel to ask them to do that.”
“It sort of was,” I replied, but before I could worry she would take that badly, she laughed a broken, sad laugh. “But I get it,” I went on. “I get why you had to do it. And, you know, you’re Drake’s Mom, so probably you were okay with him not being with Leah for a while…”
“It wasn’t Leah,” she replied quietly. “I just…” she drew a slow breath. “I didn’t want that for him. For either of them. For them to be linked. It’s not fair… I just.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “But I love Leah. Just like Teresa loves you.”
Before I knew it, my hand was on my still-flat stomach. I moved it, but not before a flash of something like knowing question flashed across Samantha’s face.
A knock rang through the metal door to our room, then cracked open. A nurse I’d seen before when sitting in Cecelia’s room during dinner ducked in and closed the door behind her. We all just stared at her from our cots.
“Any of you who are especially close to Cecelia Brayton,” she said quickly. “I can’t take you all, but two or three of you can come with me if you want to.”
Everybody, myself included, looked to Samantha. Another one of the women leaned toward us and nudged Sam in the shoulder. “Go,” she said. “She’s talking to you.”
Much to my surprise, Samantha took my hand firmly as she stood, pulling me up along with her before she crossed the room to the nurse.
The nurse, appearing to recognize us both, smiled. Then she turned back to the door to lead the way.
“Wait.” I glued my feet still before I could follow. Then I turned around, looking across the room. Nina was looking on with undisguised, anxious envy—she didn’t want to be left behind. “Come on,” I said to her.
She bound from her cot and nearly ran across the room to take my hand. “Thank you,” she whispered as the nurse opened the door and ushered us out into the hall.