Chase spent hours in the kitchen. He made stew with fish purchased fresh from the Fishery and used produce I grew myself. While he cooked, Roscoe paced under his feet, and I wiped dust from the furniture and swept the floor. Gill tried to help Chase, but his depth perception was off and his hands weren't steady. Instead, he helped me put away books and papers.
I went to the Inn in the late afternoon to tell Elli about our plans for tonight. She wasn't upset about last night. She said she understood, but she did seem nervous. Stu clung to my leg and asked if Chase was going to be there.
"Yes," I said. "And when you see him, be sure to call him Uncle Chase. He'll love that."
Stu grinned and nodded. Elli laughed.
"I'm happy," she said. "I know it's not perfect, or even good, but it will be. I know it will."
I was happy, too. Today we would be together. All of us. Tomorrow we'd figure out a way to get Gill whatever surgery he needed, no matter what it cost. We could save him.
When I pushed open the door of Gill's house, I saw him leaning back on the couch. Chase was still in the kitchen.
"Tired out already?" I asked.
He raised his head and looked at me. I could hear him breathing like he'd just climbed a flight of stairs, each exhale a quiet sigh. "What did she say?"
"She's looking forward to it," I said. "She told me she's happy."
"Am I what?"
"Are you happy?"
Words pushed into my mouth: words about him, Chase, Roscoe, the past year, everything I loved about the people I spent it with. Too big for this moment. "Yes," I said. "Are you?"
The corner of his mouth lifted. "I think I am."
I helped Chase in the kitchen, and when we were finished, I started to set the table. I was holding a butter knife when my lower back tingled where his fingers touched me.
"I'm happy, too," he whispered. He took the knife from my hand and placed it on the counter. In this light his eyes were a dark, gray-violet. The sky opposite the sunset, where the moon hangs and reflects.
He leaned in, and whether I kissed him or he kissed me I didn't know. We stayed holding each other until Roscoe yipped at us. We separated, startled and a little embarrassed that my dog caught us kissing. Roscoe trotted straight to the couch, oblivious.
"Yeah, pal. It's almost time," Chase said, following him as I finished arranging the silverware. "Hey. Break's over."
I switched the spoon and the knife. Mom told me how to do this once, but I didn't remember. Did the glass go on the left or the right? Roscoe barked, a loud, urgent yelp.
I turned, but Chase stood in my view. He didn't say anything else.
Suddenly I was beside him, leaning over Gill. His lungs no longer heaved, and his eyes were closed. I didn't watch his chest for the rise and fall. I was afraid. If it wasn't there…
I touched his shoulder. "Gill, wake up."
When I shook him, his head drooped forward. I knelt down and lightly tapped his cheek. Nothing. I slid my hand down to his neck. His skin was warm. I pressed my fingers against a vein, waiting, waiting. My own pulse drummed in my ears, in my hands, in every inch of my body.
"Chase," I said, jerking my hand back. Like his skin burned me. "Please."
He stood, his arms heavy at his sides, metal welded to metal. Finally something urged his hand forward. He placed two fingers in the hollow of Gill's neck, and waited. And waited.
Tomorrows weren't infinite. I should've known one day his tomorrows would run out.
The first day was the hardest. Chase and I sat across from each other, waiting, waiting, waiting. For another tomorrow.
The next day was easier. Elli sat with us. She kept her hands in her lap and her head bowed. I thought maybe she was praying, but I didn't ask. Stu colored pictures and signed them all to "Uncle Chase" while Phillip lay in my arms and tugged on my hair.
When we left our hotel rooms on the sixth morning, snow was piled in the streets. Gill could talk, and he remembered his name, so the doctor said it was okay to see him. It was actually the third day after his surgery, but the doctors had spent a few days testing and scanning and medicating—making sure his heart could handle it.
Elli went in first. She spent half an hour with him. When she came out, she didn't say anything, giving us only a thin smile. Chase went next. Not a minute had passed before he came to retrieve me.
"He wants you to come, too," he said.
I followed him through the door.
"Hey," I whispered.
Gill didn't open his eyes. His mouth twitched into a tiny smile. Tubes were connected to his arm, his nose, under his bandages, trailing down the side of the bed. I didn't think I would move at all if I had so many needles nestled under my skin.
"I'm not dead. No cancer," he said. His voice was raspy, slurred. A large patch of hair above his ear was shaved clean and bandaged.
"No cancer," I repeated. I couldn't stop smiling. "How do you feel?"
"Well… I don't know." Gill forced his eyes open and made a noise in his throat, like opening them was painful. "What happened?"
"You sat on the couch to rest, and then you wouldn't wake up," I said.
Gill's eyes fell closed. It seemed like he didn't do it on purpose. "Is my father here?"
My stomach flipped. He didn't remember. We had to tell him all over again. Now? We couldn't. But what do we say? I shook my head. I didn't trust myself to talk.
Chase glanced at me. He put his hand on Gill's arm and softened his voice. "He'd be here if he could."
There was a long silence. Chase gently tugged the gathered fabric of Gill's sleeve so it hung loose over his arm. It was such a tender gesture that I knew he did it without thinking, and I knew he would've never done it if Gill was lucid. It was a glimpse of the boy who smiled at me, who loved his little sister more than anything.
"Are you still here?" Gill asked.
"Yeah, we're still here."
"I can't see you."
Chase leaned in, looked up at me again and smiled. "It's because your eyes are closed," he whispered. "Are you tired? We'll come back again later."
Gill said something I couldn't understand.
"No, no one's mad at you."
He took a breath and spoke again, but his voice had dropped so low I couldn't hear him. And I wasn't sure I would've been able to understand him anyway.
"What's that?" Chase asked.
"I don't feel right."
"I know. You'll feel better. It takes time." Chase looked at me, giving me a chance to speak, but I didn't know what to say. He was so full of compassion, more than he ever realized.
I knew Gill was confused and hurting and afraid, and I also knew he couldn't see the tears in my eyes or the way Chase had carefully straightened his hospital gown. So I had to tell him.
"I love you," I said. I stepped closer and touched his hand. "Chase loves you, too. You're not alone. We won't let anything happen to you."
The next day we visited, Gill could keep his eyes open.
"I brought you something," I said.
His eyebrows rose slightly, but not much.
I handed him a black knit cap. One of the nurses told me he should wear something to protect the skin and nerves as they healed, so I bought him a hat from the downstairs gift shop.
"I don't think you'll have to shave the rest of your hair if you wear that," I said. "It'll look cool."
He smiled. "Thank you." After a second, he said, "I can't remember very well. I keep asking the same things over and over."
Chase stood next to the bed. He put his hands on his knees and bent over to look at Gill, who stared at him with wide, glossy eyes. Then he walked around to the other side of the bed. Gill didn't—or couldn't—turn his head, so he watched him from the corner of his eye.
"You can't see me over here," Chase said. "Can you?"
Gill stayed silent.
The day I visited him after I learned about the ship, he'd lost vision in his left eye. Now, looking closer, his pupils were slightly different sizes. He'd gone completely blind.
"Hey, between me and Chase and Elli, I don't think you need it," I said. "That's six extra eyes looking out for you."
Gill stared down at his hands. He blinked hard and dark spots blossomed on the sheet. I held his hand between my palms, wondering if he remembered what I told him yesterday.
"Too soon for math," Chase whispered. He moved to the other side of the bed where Gill could see him. "You know, I read somewhere that you can still see almost everything with one eye. It's just the depth perception that gets a little off."
"My father isn't coming. I remember now. A little bit." He looked at me, eyes watery. "How is your puppy?"
Chase nudged my arm, his eyebrows furrowed in disapproval. "You heard him. Your puppy."
"Roscoe? He's good, but he misses you. He was really worried about you."
Gill nodded and looked at me like he understood everything.
The minute he'd walked in the house, Gill went straight to his room and collapsed on the bed, still wearing his suit and shoes. It seemed like the entire town had lined up to offer condolences after the service. He dutifully received them all with words of appreciation and hugs and handshakes, but by the end, his eyes were glazed and he had to hold my arm to keep steady. That was three hours ago—at noon—and he was still asleep. Roscoe had pushed his door open and now lay beside his bed, patiently waiting for his new best friend to wake up and give him attention.
I had to admit, sometimes I was jealous. It seemed that Roscoe liked Gill more than he liked me, and Gill surprisingly liked Roscoe just as much. He asked if I would bring Roscoe with me whenever I visited. It made me happy, and I had to remind myself not to be immature about it because I knew Roscoe could sense Gill wasn't feeling well. He was a good unofficial therapy dog.
"I'm going to leave this out," Chase said, indicating the soup on the stove. "The medication is over there, okay? I have to get ready to go."
Someone had to keep an eye on Gill until he got a little better, and Chase was the one who offered. He never said why, but I could think of a dozen reasons: I couldn't be here all the time because of the farm, Gill's house was much closer to the bar than his own house, and he could more easily prepare meals for him here. But I knew, more than any other reason, he genuinely wanted to.
Elli had plans to move here and join her husband in the spring. She wanted to come sooner, but she had to let her little brother finish his school year in the city first.
"You still have some time," I said to Chase, who was rummaging in the cupboard.
He looked at the clock, startled. "You're right. I thought it was later."
He set a bowl out for the soup and joined me on the couch. I reached for his hand, and he nudged my leg gently with his.
"Hey, Angela." His voice was quiet. "There's something I want to tell you."
I turned to look at his face and found he was already looking at me. My heart began thudding hard and fast.
"I always thought I only had one chance," he said. "I had a family—parents and a little sister—and it lasted less than one day, then it fell apart."
He paused and I waited silently for him to finish.
"That was never my one chance," Chase said finally. "I've been carrying this around for a while." He reached into his pocket and smiled, peering up at me beneath his lashes. "It's not a ring. I've been waiting to give this to you, but I guess now's a good time."
He opened his hand to reveal a silver chain, coiled in his palm, and in the middle a gem, shimmering purple and green and blue.
"It was my mom's. It's the birthstone for June, I think. Alexandrite. It's probably not real, but Ally wore it all the time." Chase lifted the ends of the chain and held it toward me. I turned around, gathering my hair together over my shoulder. His breath was warm against my neck as he fastened the clasp. "You were born in June, too, weren't you?"
I nodded. The gem shifted color in the light. Against the window it was a blend of teal and purple. When I held it toward the lamp, it glowed a warm red violet.
"It's the same as your eyes," I said. "Sometimes I can't tell what color they are."
He laughed. This was the most flustered I'd ever seen him, and it only made my stomach flutter more. "Angela, you're more than my best friend. I can't imagine myself living without you. I'd like it if… I mean, if you want to, we could become a family." He paused, waiting for me to say something.
I clutched the pendant. I wanted to clutch his hand, but I didn't want to make his hand sweaty. "You said exactly what I was thinking. I want to be with you, too."
"Then promise me something," he whispered. "We can't have a happy ending. Only idiots wish for that. For us, I want an awful, wretched ending. Because I love you, and I want the force that ends us to drag us away from each other screaming, not smiling."
"At this point, any ending would be awful and wretched," I said. "It's too late. I love you, too."
I'd known it was too late for a long time. It was too late months ago when he left and I thought he'd died in a storm. It was too late when he lay bleeding from a wound that was supposed to be mine.
When you love someone, their pain, their sickness, their death, is a hurricane on a path to destroy you. Chase was right—that's how it was supposed to be. No matter how fierce our love for each other was, we were locked in a battle with reality. Reality found and devastated everyone.
I touched his side gently where two pale lines were carved into his body, costs of protecting people he loved.
He let out a quiet gasp of surprise, and I thought I'd hurt him somehow, but then I turned and saw Gill standing just outside his door. His suit jacket and shoes were missing but otherwise he still wore what he fell asleep in. His hair had been cut short to match the shaved, scarred spot above his ear, but he always kept it covered with the black knit cap I'd gotten him.
He looked like he knew he had interrupted something and didn't know what to say now, so he kneeled down and gave Roscoe the attention he'd been anticipating for hours.
"Hey, how are you?" Chase asked. "Do you need anything?"
Gill shook his head almost imperceptibly. "No, it's all right." He looked down at his wrinkled clothes and stifled a yawn with the back of his hand. "Um, there's a note on my window."
"What? A note?" I stood and started toward his bedroom.
"It's taped from the outside. I can't read it."
I went outside to investigate, but as soon as I opened the door, I stumbled over a box on the ground. It was a small, plain cardboard box, sealed shut with duct tape. Stepping over it for the moment, I weaved between the frost-tipped shrubs and saw the paper taped to Gill's window. I peeled it off gently, careful not to rip. I wanted to read it, but I tried not to look at it as I picked up the box on the way back inside.
I handed the note to Gill, who was now sitting by Chase on the couch. He held it without looking at it.
"I can't read it," he said again.
Before I could ask what was wrong, he passed it back to me with a half-smile. "My good eye is still farsighted."
Chase took the box onto his lap so I could get a better look at the note.
Stopped by with a present but I think you were sleeping (with your shoes on?) so I put it by the door. Miss you buddy. I hope you feel better –Luke
Gill didn't say anything. He looked at the box and then at Chase, silently asking him to open it. Chase peeled the tape off and lifted the cardboard flaps. He reached inside and pulled out a polished wooden disk with jagged edges.
"Is that a coaster?" I asked.
Chase handed it to Gill. "Why would he give you a single coaster? I think it's too big for that."
Gill stared at it, flipped it over, and then laughed. "You're both blinder than I am."
The comment was so unexpected, so unlike anything he's said in the past few months. He just joked. About being blind. I was too shocked to laugh. I was so happy my eyes filled with tears, and then I really was blind.
"You actually know what that is?" Chase asked, and for some reason, he looked worried.
Gill held it up. "It's Castanet."
Then I understood why Chase was worried. The outline of the wood didn't look like anything. At best, it might've been a chicken. I began to panic because I knew Gill must've been hallucinating. Then he realized he was holding it sideways and righted it. I saw it. It was a perfect cutout of the island. I laughed out loud. I had to stop freaking out over everything.
I leaned in to see it better and then turned it to look at the back. "Are those… letters?"
Chase traced the carvings with his finger. "I think they're initials. All of ours."
"And that metal wire is to hang it on the wall, right? It's a little wooden plaque of Castanet," I said. The tears that had been filling my eyes now spilled over. "Back in the city, Luke saw a tree with a bunch of initials carved into it. I told him that's what people do when they're together to show they love each other. He asked me if friends did it, too. I said yes, friends who hope to stay friends forever."
Gill smiled to himself.
"It's almost four. I have to go, sorry." Chase stood and pointed out the soup and medication again. Then he grabbed his coat and left.
Gill gathered up the box, note, plaque, and discarded duct tape and placed it all on the desk in his room. He didn't know where to put the plaque yet, and he seemed not to notice that half of the stuff was trash.
I was spooning potato soup into bowls for us when he stumbled into the dining chair on his way to the kitchen.
"I can do that," he said, rubbing his knee nonchalantly. He had bruises on his arms, legs, and even one on his face from bumping into things. He was still getting used to no depth perception and a reduced field of vision, in addition to post-surgery dizziness. Mostly he just ignored the minor injuries and expected me and Chase to do the same.
"It's okay," I said. But he came into the kitchen anyway and carried his own bowl to the table.
We ate together in silence. Saying the word okay gave me a weird feeling.
I had Roscoe back, I had Chase back, and now I had Gill back. But I was still scared. I thought when Gill had the surgery everything would be okay, but it didn't seem like much changed. I still worried about everything constantly. Chase was trying too hard, and I knew he was afraid, too. Gill was technically okay—he wasn't on the verge of dying anymore—but he felt just as bad as before the surgery, he was now half-blind, and his father was still dead. We weren't okay yet.
I'd fallen asleep on the couch after cleaning up the kitchen, and when I opened my eyes a few hours later, Gill was at the front door.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
He gestured to Roscoe. "Taking him outside for a minute."
"Oh, he probably has to pee. Sorry. I can do it."
Gill smiled. He'd changed into a sweater and sweat pants, but he already had his coat and shoes on to go outside. "It isn't a problem."
I didn't get up for a while. The spot beside me was warm, so I let my hand rest there. Eventually, though, it seemed like Gill wasn't coming back inside. I got up to peer out the window.
Chase was sitting on the step, his back illuminated by the porch light. His head was tilted toward the sky. Gill stood beside him, pointing. Curious, I leaned toward the window and tried to look past the porch roof.
Then, just barely through the glass, I heard Chase say, "Right between them? I don't really see how that's a dragon."
"You have to use your imagination," Gill said.
Chase said something I couldn't hear, but I didn't need to hear him to know what they were doing.
Gill was showing him the constellations.
Without thinking, I threw the door open. They both turned and looked at me, but I couldn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. I almost couldn't breathe.
Chase stood up and came near me, touching my arm.
"Do you want to see the stars, too?" he asked. "I can now identify the Big Dipper for you."
Gill smiled. "Come over here and look. There aren't any clouds tonight."
I sat between them on the step and listened to Chase point out the constellations and Gill correct him every few minutes. Then Chase started making them up entirely, but I didn't care. I was looking at them: Gill patting Roscoe on the back, smiling and whispering to him about how dumb Chase's constellations were, and Chase laughing, his breath misting in the cold air, his hand clutching mine within his warm coat pocket.
After a while, he took his hand out and reached across my back to nudge Gill's shoulder.
"Are you freezing over there yet?" Chase asked.
Gill didn't respond right away. He stopped petting Roscoe and tucked his hands in his pockets for warmth.
"What? You okay?"
"You must have been a good brother," Gill said. "I would've liked to meet her. Your sister, I mean. She was fortunate to have you."
Chase's arm hung limp around my shoulders. "She… what?"
"It's taken me this long, but I'm sure she always knew." He looked over at Chase and nodded. "She knew how much you loved her."
"I never thought that," Chase said, his voice shaky. He took his arm away and rubbed his forehead. "No one's ever said that before."
"No one else has ever known what it's like to have you as a brother."
Chase was hunched over, frozen, with his head in his hands. I remembered the photograph he'd shown me of him, staring blankly past the camera, bearing the weight of love and promises, and Ally, clutching his sleeve, gazing up at her hero.
I thought it was obvious that she knew. I never thought it was something Chase needed to hear, but now I realized how stupid I was. He didn't know. He doubted that what he did was enough for her to feel protected and loved. For me, there was no doubt that he loved me, and I knew there was no doubt for her. Even Gill understood that Chase would willingly tear himself apart for someone he cared about, but unlike me, he realized something else: Chase was afraid his sister didn't know he loved her.
"You never told her," I whispered.
His hands slid into his hair as he leaned forward. "It kills me. I thought I was doing the best I could, but I wish my best had been a little better. I could've at least said I loved her."
"Gill's right. You didn't have to say it. She already knew."
Chase dragged his arm across his face and laughed weakly. "Is this an intervention or something? Jeez."
"I'm sorry to bring it up," Gill said, "but I wanted to tell you."
He didn't say anything else for a while. He'd gone still, as if he was holding his breath. I put my hand on his knee, and he finally let out his breath in a half-laugh, half-sob.
"You just wanted to see me cry, right?" Chase coughed to mask the break in his voice. "You know, I…" He paused. "So many times in my life I've wanted to die. But then you almost did, and I didn't realize how scared I was, until you woke up and I could suddenly breathe again. I couldn't believe I'd wanted you and Angela to feel that way. And I think I get it now—why you left Elli."
He put his hand over mine and squeezed. I knew how Chase felt about me. I knew how Gill felt about me. They both loved me, in different ways, and I loved them. But neither of them had ever talked about how they cared for each other. The words never mattered anyway. Friendship, like gravity and air, doesn't tell you it's there, it just is. It doesn't need to be announced because it quietly announces itself.
When we stood up, we looked at each other for a moment, and then Gill stepped closer as Chase hung his arms around our shoulders. Chase pulled us close until our heads were touching and my cheek brushed against his damp face. I had a feeling this was Chase's way of hiding his tears. But rather than pushing us away, he held on tighter. I felt Gill's hand on my shoulder, and when I looked up, I saw him ruffle Chase's hair lightly, like a brother would. It was the first time I noticed him wearing his wedding band.
Roscoe jumped at my leg, and I bent down to pick him up, inviting him into the hug. Chase wiped his face with a sleeve and held his hands out. I passed my wiggling dog into his arms, where Roscoe began licking the salty trails off his face.
That night, without words, we promised we would keep saving each other, and being scared and hurt and clueless together, always reminding each other how to breathe, and why.
A/N: This is it—the last chapter. Caught Clueless is over.
I honestly can't believe it. After 6 years and 140,000 words, my fanfiction is finished. I don't know if I'll write a sequel or start any new or spin-off projects, but I won't completely reject the possibility. I'm going to miss this story terribly, but it seems fitting to end it now, since my little dog, who was a big inspiration for CC, has died, and I'm graduating university soon.
I really appreciate beyond words everyone who ever clicked on, read, or reviewed this story. As of now there are 361 reviews on CC, which is incredible and way more than I ever imagined I would get when I posted the first chapter back in 2011. You've all inspired me to keep writing and posting despite my anxiety about sharing my work with people. I'm so grateful for all the kind and constructive comments I've received and all the friends I've made through writing this.
Before I go into my thanks to individual people, I just wanted to mention that I've actually turned Caught Clueless into an original story that I hope will be published one day. When that happens, I'll let you all know. ;)
Here we go… the thanks will be brief, but I hope you all understand how much I appreciate you.
I wouldn't have joined this site in the first place if it weren't for my dear friend swingdancer23 (thank you so much, buddy), and I wouldn't have ever finished this story if it weren't for IslandGirl892 (my super awesome friend who has encouraged me endlessly).
One person in particular has been here since before Caught Clueless and is still here omg. Thank you so much HersheyChocolates101. Other lovely friends who I super appreciate, among other awesome people who I may have missed here, are XxBlue and CrimsonxX (amazing dedicated reviewer), HelenTheReader (your reviews were always particularly fun to read), Skyelara (I love your reviews too), FlashB, tarandayo, Swag Giraffe, ChezzMachii, Crossroadsdeals, Professor of Gallifrey, the-sage-of-wind, Limerence18, Iridescent Swan, 13, MidnightxMusic, theatrelove123, HorseGirl784, and pwnapple.
Also thanks to Lumenite88 (drew awesome fanart), Xx-Angel-Sherubii-xX, WolfyBliss (also drew awesome fanart), Sasukefan1029, Shay-chan33, blackLynx03, Pansy147 (a lovely friend), LittleMads, and HappyyAccidents (so glad I met you).
Special thanks to cNhiansae who drew the cover art for this story. It still looks amazing.
That's it. I really have nothing else to say, so I suppose I must end it. Feel free to message me here or on deviantart with questions, comments, or if you just miss me as much as I will miss all of you :)
Thank you, my friends.