I ask Daryl, who normal y stands around scratching himself but today is standing around coiling rope, if I can leave my bike on the dock.

“Sorry, no,” he says, and then, “How’s Tess?” in the voice everyone uses on me now, the oh-it’s-such-a-shame voice. The oh-we-al -miss-Tess-so-much voice.

“Not dead yet,” I say, my voice cracking, and drop my bike by his feet before I stomp over to Claire’s car.

I hate how I am when people talk to me about Tess. I hate how everyone sounds. I hate how she’s already been reduced to the past when she isn’t.

She’s stil here.

“You okay?” Claire says when I get in.

“Not real y,” I say, pushing a box fil ed with what I hope are new diapers onto the floor. “I just … the way people talk about Tess. Like she’s gone.”

“I don’t think it’s total y like that,” Claire says. “I just think they miss her.”

“Do you miss her?”

Claire looks at her hands on the steering wheel. “Me and Tess stopped talking a long time ago.”

“You mean she stopped talking to you because you dropped out of high school to have Cole.”

Claire sighs. “It wasn’t—it wasn’t like that, Abby.”

But it was pretty much exactly like that, and we both know it.

“How is Cole?” I ask, finding an open pack of gum on the floor. I wave it at her. “Is this stuff stil good?”

Claire takes the package and sniffs it. “Smel s like fake fruit. Go for it. And Cole’s fine. I have the only two- year-old who’s afraid of toilets, but he’s fine.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t like your bathroom,” I tel her, popping a piece of gum in my mouth. The flavor bursts sweet and fruity across my tongue, but only lasts about two chews. “I know I’m afraid to go in there. It’s like being inside a cross-stitch classroom, with al the reminders to put the seat down and wash my hands.”

“So funny. Like your mother’s col ection of towels no one but ‘guests’ can use is better.”

I shrug and shove another stick of gum in my mouth. “I heard one of the nurses talking about her kid today. He’s four and sometimes takes off his pants and poops on the rug. So I figure you’re doing okay with Cole.”

“No! Who is it?”


We grin at each other. Kathleen is Claire’s supervisor, and is always making Claire run and fetch things for her, like Claire’s her slave and not a nurse’s aide.

“That almost makes up for how she acted today,” Claire says. “She spent five minutes yel ing at me for having a stain on my pants when she knew the reason I had the stain was because she made me wash Mrs. Green, who always pees the second you start to bathe her.”

We pul onto Claire’s street, which is also my street. Cole is out in the front yard, running around after Claire’s dad’s hunting dogs in that weird way little kids have, where for a second it seems like they’re going so fast they’re going to fal right over their own feet.

“Momma!” Cole yel s at Claire when we get out of the car. He can say about ten words now, although Claire swears he’s talking when I think he’s babbling.

“Hi, baby,” Claire says. “Wanna say hi to Abby?”

“No!” Cole says, which I don’t take personal y because of the ten words I know for sure that Cole knows, his favorite is “no.”

“Hey,” I say, and pat the top of his grubby little head. “Claire, thanks for the ride.”

“Sure,” she says. “Tel your parents I said hi, okay?”

I nod, but I won’t. Tel ing my parents anyone said anything would mean actual y talking to them, and that’s something that doesn’t happen much these days.

After al , what is there to say? We al know what’s going on. We’ve al waited and waited for Tess to wake up.

We are al stil waiting.

as I come in. I stop, shrug at her, and then walk upstairs to my bedroom.

My parents have to take the ferry home from the hospital too, so they know what it’s like. There’s no other way to get from Milford to Ferrisvil e, and the ferry is what it is, a slow boat on a river.

There was talk, once, of building a bridge, but nothing ever came of it. My guess is that if Milford wanted a bridge across the river, it’d be built in a heartbeat. But why would they want to connect to Ferrisvil e? We’re a smal , poor town near nothing but acres of government-owned land that’s supposedly a national park or reserve. Not that we get any visitors. Who wants to see something cal ed “The Great Dismal Forest”?

Even more importantly, who wants to live near it?

Wel , my parents, for one. They think it’s nice we live near a river, that on the weekend we can walk down to the water and trip along the sand-studded rocks (that’s “the beach”) and look at people gril ing or riding around in tiny boats, their motors roaring as they pass each other going back and forth, back and forth.

But of course my parents like it. They didn’t grow up here. They grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood, with shopping mal s and neighbors who aren’t al related to each other in some way. Or so they say. My mother’s

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