Bobby found Eddie just outside Sarah's door, playing a video game in the lounge. He was feeling strangely detached, shocky, washed out; he'd heard that suicides rescued unexpectedly at the last minute felt this way.
"So, dude, how was your peek into Sarah's bedroom?"
"Huh? Beautiful. Unexpected. Sad."
"Yeah. Peeked into Kat's: weird. Half pink lace and teddy bears, and the other half's the bridge of the Enterprise. When I first walked in, she was so into what she was doing on the computer, I coulda ransacked her undies drawer and walked out."
"Neh." He sighed. "But the idea of snatching a little souvenir was awful tempting." He returned his attention to the screen.
"What happened to the girls?"
"Anna bolted for the bathroom. Rox came by just a minute ago, headed the same way." When he turned down the hall, Eddie called him back. "Forget it, dude. Secret girl rites going on in there; 'tis death for men to enter." The ape zapped a few more zombies and said, "Seriously, if you stick your nose in there and try to help, they won't thank you for it; girls take care of their own. Kat looked like she was about ready to come up for air. I got a dollar says the moment she pops her head out of her room, her pack instinct leads her straight to the bathroom."
He looked down the hallway at the closed door. Anna, one of their own? Maybe something good can be salvaged from this disaster, after all.
Anna surveyed her wrecked makeup in the bathroom mirror. "Stop it, why don't you." Her eyes were still streaming; wiping seemed to make it worse, so she'd quit and was just letting them run down her face and into the sink.
She recognized Roxanne by her tread as she approached the door, and by her breathing as she stopped just outside and knocked.
"Sweetie, I'm kind of busy."
"I know you're not peeing in there, Anna. Open up."
She scrubbed at her cheeks and opened the door. The girl looked at her and blinked.
"It won't stop," she said helplessly.
"Well, that face is totaled. Might as well wash off and start over." Roxanne stepped past and pushed the door shut. She pointed to the toilet. "Sit." She wet a facecloth.
Anna sat. "Everything I do seems to make it worse. Guess my emotional threshold needs readjusted."
"Don't you dare." The girl wiped gently at her cheeks and under her eyes. "You want to be human; this is part of it. People you love are going to disappoint you, sure as anything. That says as much about you as them. Love paints people better than they are; it's a rare kind of love that really takes in a whole person, faults and all. Sooner or later, you get your nose rubbed in reality, and you take your love to the next level, or it starts to dissolve." The mascara was long gone; Roxanne continued to wipe her down with the damp cloth, over her cheeks, jaw, forehead, ears. "You don't know how lucky you are, that your nose doesn't plug up when you go on a jag. Jeez, is this really the second time I've done this in … what, fifteen hours? She's bullying you, you know. Those half-hearted attempts to push back only encourage her. Just once, you should tell her off with a full head of steam, and mean it; it'd do both of you some good." She looked down at Anna's dress. "I never had to pull plutonium dust out of cotton, or whatever this stuff is, but if you vacuum it really good before you get it wet, and then soak it overnight in Woolite, you might have a chance of saving it." She stopped. "What?"
"Roxanne Spaulding, what do you know about laundry chores?"
The girl grinned. "You think I'd let my mom do my clothes? Even if she didn't ruin 'em, she'd have fainted dead away at my underwear." Her face grew serious. "I did all the housekeeping at home. Not only cuz Mom worked till way after I got home from school; I'd be embarrassed to bring my friends home to her idea of a clean house. Small as our apartment was, it didn't take much to mess it up. You had to stay on top of it all the time."
"Well, what happened? Eddie I can understand; his foster parents spoiled him rotten. But you must account for thirty percent of my housework. I can tell where you've been by following the trail of dirty dishes and clothes on the floor."
The grin faded to a Mona Lisa smile. "It was your deal, remember? At first I did it cuz I was pissed at you, but after a while, it just felt too good to stop. I'm sorry, really. I'll keep things neat from now on, promise."
"I don't mind, I'm just amazed. I'll never figure out people."
"'Other people,' Anna."
She smiled. "Other people, sweetheart. God, I love you."
Roxanne went back to the sink, rinsed the cloth, and returned. She started to wipe at Anna's short hair, smoothing it back. "My mother wasn't ready to be a parent at seventeen … hell, she wouldn't be ready now. She was a spoiled Army brat who snapped her fingers at her parents' rules and partied every night instead of doing her school work. But my grandfather let her have her way about everything … right up to her getting pregnant. She wouldn't tell who the father was, and wouldn't talk about it. I bet all she would have had to do to stay in good with him was have an abortion, or put me up for adoption. Instead she had her baby, got disowned, moved out, and went to work. She didn't have any job skills, no high school diploma; she worked long hours for chump change and left me with a neighbor until I was old enough for school. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment; I slept on a sofa bed in the living room. It was all she could afford.
"Guys were the only hobby she had. Or the only bad habit, however you look at it. She had a new boyfriend every month until she caught one cornering me in the kitchen; she nearly clawed his eyes out before she pushed him out the door. After that, she stopped bringing men home. What I'm trying to tell you is … my mom doesn't have half your motherhood skills, but nobody ever tried harder. I'm not about to forget that, so I'm never gonna call you Mom." She rested her hand, washcloth and all, at the back of Anna's neck. "But it's easy to see why Bobby does; nobody deserves it more."
Tears sprang up fresh. "Oh, bugs. Thank God my tank's almost dry."
Two knocks sounded at the door, and then Caitlin came in, taking a single step inside. "Did I miss something?"
"Nothing much, Sis. Pocahontas was feeling cruel."
The big redhead looked at Anna. "Oh. There's got to be something I can do, isn't there?"
"You might get her a change of clothes. Is everything still in the car?"
"Yes." She turned back to the door. "More bags." She paused. "I'll bring everything in and sort them out." She took a breath. "I'll just lay your stuff on the bed in Mr. Lynch's room, and bring you something. Kay?"
"Thanks, hon. A bunch." She watched the door close. "Sweetheart … is she going to be okay?"
"She likes you. Plenty. And she knows, deep down, you're a better match for him. But crushes … don't respect logic. She's wondering what's wrong with her, you know? And she's never been comfortable in her own skin; not before the change or after." The girl took a deep breath. "I'd say 'give it time,' but it's been two years already." She rinsed the rag and hung it up. "I don't get it. Knocking down brick walls with her fist and being bulletproof is no big shakes anymore, but having to wear a D cup still has her wondering who she is." She sat cross legged on the floor next to her.
"My mom, in her infinite wisdom, once decided we needed a dog to guard our one bedroom apartment." She shook her head. "As if we couldn't replace everything we owned with two hundred dollars and a trip to the Salvation Army store. And, being Mom, she brings home, I kid you not, a twelve-week-old Great Dane puppy that somebody gave her. The dog was too big for our digs from day one; by the time it was six months old, the poor thing couldn't even turn around in our living room if the sofa bed was down. And it just kept getting bigger; at eight months it weighed more than I did, and ate more. It slept on the floor by my bed, and at night when it was quiet, I swear you could hear its bones creak as it grew. It was up to a hundred and thirty, and still growing, when we finally had to give it away." The girl looked intently at her.
"The last six weeks at the Project, I thought about that dog a lot, watching Kat. You know we were almost the same size back then. Then, she starts eating like a horse and putting on height; like, an inch and a half, two inches a week; good thing our school uniforms were coveralls. She's getting a new size every week; shoes too. She's afraid it's a gland problem, pituitary or thyroid or something. But she goes to the school doctor, Doctor Ivery, every week just like the rest of us; he's got to notice, but he doesn't really say anything to her about it. When she brings it up, he says it's a 'second puberty,' kinda rare but nothing to worry about, but he sets her up for an exam twice a week. And now the servers at the canteen are pushing two trays at her every meal, with orders to feed her anytime she's hungry, day or night.
"Next, she's got trouble with blurry vision: bad news for somebody who already wears glasses thick as bottle bottoms. Except the new prescription is weaker, not stronger, and it changes faster than they can grind new lenses. A week of eyestrain and her vision's twenty-twenty." She grinned. "Then one morning she comes to class late and won't uncross her arms, even to write, cuz she couldn't get into her bra, and barely got zipped up. Again, thank God for coveralls. She said her bra'd been bothering her all afternoon the day before; that night, she noticed a difference, but she just thought her period might be early. Next morning, she wakes up all light-headed and starving; her ribs are sticking out and her belly's flat and growling like a dog, and she looks like Ivery snuck into her room and did implant surgery. Goes from Milla Jovovich to Pam Anderson in twenty-four hours." She shook her head. "It scared her, big time. A little later, when she got stronger than Ahh-nold, it was like, 'ho hum, what's next'."
"What can I do for her, sweetie?" Her own troubles were gone from her mind; she'd deal with Sarah, one way or another.
"You're doing it, Anna. She's another one who won't ever call you Mom, but she's desperate for a girlfriend, somebody who's closer to her age than her sister. If you want the job, it's yours." She added, "She could use a boyfriend, too, but that's not gonna happen till she gets out of her own way."
Two knocks sounded at the door; Caitlin stepped in with a bundle of clothing. "I brought some eyeliner, not that you really need it. One of my lip glosses, too." She dropped her eyes. "Um, there was quite a selection with the underwear. I went a little fancy."
God. She's dressing me up. For Jack, or to make me feel better? She's a trooper, either way. "Hon, I'm sure anything you picked out is perfect." She smiled at them both. "Ladies, thank you. I feel like a new girl. Do you two have any idea what you just did for me?" She stood up, kissed the top of Roxanne's head, and circled Caitlin's waist for a quick hug as she took the offered bundle. "I'm headed for the shower. Hon, it's been a long day without much sleep. Do you think you'd be up to coming out with me in a few hours?"
The big redhead looked down at her. "Just give me two or three hours' sleep and a shower. What's up?"
She grinned. "I'm taking you up on your offer. Believe it or not, I've got to go shopping."