1. Craven [Part 2]

    Part 1

    I tripped over a damn pole or stick or something in the hall on the way to the bathroom. Who the hell has sticks in their hall, anyway? I wasn’t trying to watch out for that kind of shit. I started the water running then went to collect Cora. If you’ve ever tried to carry 100 pounds of wet fish, you know “collect” is the right word. It was all I could do to get her into the damn tub.

    “Scold,” she said.

    “Oh shut the fuck up. How the hell am I supposed to trust you now? Huh? You were supposed to look out for her, Cora. Cora — goddamn — you were supposed —” I kinda lost it. There wasn’t any point with words, they went in about as well as they were coming out. She was all balled up in the corner of the tub now, teeth chattering. I turned the faucet counter-clockwise, though I probably shouldn’t have. Wasn’t like she was gonna freeze to death. “Don’t fucking try to get out, and don’t fucking drown. I’m going to check on Tiff.”

    “Stead,” she said.

    Fuck I hope not.

    I shoved Tiff’s leg over so I had room to sit next to her on the couch. I grabbed her wrist to move her arm so I wouldn’t sit on it and I felt a pulse alright, although it could’ve been my own. I admit I was pretty panicked. I was trying to be cool, trying to just take care of shit, but fuck was I scared. “Tiff. Tiffany. Tiffany.” I started like that, kinda patting her face. I felt weird about touching her all of a sudden. I didn’t want to hit her even though I probably should have. But I didn’t know what she was on and for all I knew she’d wake up in some mad surge of adrenaline and just rage all over the damn place.

    Her eyes started opening real slow-like and then she blinked a couple times and her pupils got big and then small and then big again, and then it was like she’d just woken up after falling asleep on a bus and didn’t know where she was. The look on her face was like she was looking out that bus window trying to piece it together from things flying past, but everything looks the same, which only adds to the confusion. “It’s alright,” I said, even though I knew it wasn’t.

    “Is it?”

    “I don’t know. I just got here. I don’t —”

    “Where’s Cora?” Tiff had jerked up, head spinning every which way in manic bursts. “Why is there water?”

    “Cora’s — fine. She’s — taking a shower.”

    “Oh.” She laid back down on the couch. It did occur to me that maybe she should’ve stayed sitting up, or maybe I should’ve grabbed her some of that coffee or something. She probably hadn’t eaten in awhile. Her phone was next to her on the couch and I picked it up. Last call she’d answered was identified as “Slug.” I don’t know how he had her number. I didn’t even know he knew her. She didn’t know him, that much was clear. Tiff was real anal about her contacts, always had to have a first and last name, all formal. That kid’s first name is Charles, don’t let him tell you otherwise. Tiff was sleeping again. She looked soft; peaceful. I brushed a strand of hair away from her face and I don’t know, I was kinda lost for a moment. Then I snapped out of it and heard water running. It took a minute for it to register.

    I had to get Cora. I took a detour through the kitchen to grab us both coffee, thinking at that moment I probably needed it more than she did.

    I turned the water off and held out a towel, and she wrapped it around her body, right there in the tub, and just sat there kind of in shock like how an adult would look if they’d just been born. I sat down on the toilet and handed her the cup of coffee, watched as she swallowed. It was time. Sure, I kinda wanted to check on Tiff again, but she was sleeping, that was fine. And what I really wanted to do was call Charles and find out how the hell he got Tiff’s number and what the fuck he could possibly have to say to her. Cora probably couldn’t tell me all that shit, but I’d find out soon enough. I took a sip of my coffee and set the mug on the sink.

    “You wanna tell me what happened here?”

    She nodded.

    “I trusted you, Cora. You’re supposed to look out for me and mine.” I noticed my fist balling up right then so I took a deep breath. It wasn’t fair of me to ask all this of her, but fuck it and fuck her. I probably should’ve pitied her quivering there, clutching that mug in both hands like it was the goddamn holy grail or some shit, but to tell you the truth, I was just disgusted. So that’s why I stood up and walked out. “Get dressed,” I said over my shoulder.

    I walked outside and it was like seeing God. Birds still singing away like there wasn’t a damn thing to worry about, and I thought maybe they were right. Maybe I should listen to them. Maybe I should listen to them more often.

    © 2013 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller