She was twenty-two when her parents died – too young to be on her own, but too old to fall to pieces about it. The house had been left in her name, as the oldest child, and she couldn't help the sick thrill at suddenly owning her own home. The home she grew up in was now hers and hers alone. But in the weeks following her parents' deaths she found herself tiptoeing through the house, racing past the master bedroom, screaming when she couldn't find something and had no one to ask. Before a month had gone by, she packed a bag and left. She had no destination in mind, though her best friend insisted that she return to him. Come back home, Colin's emails said. Come back here and let me take care of you.
Where before his words would have burned warm and comforting in her breast, they instead infuriated her. Not to say that she didn't need him, or want him. She wanted nothing more than to seek out the comfort of his arms, to crawl into the warm hollow of his body and lie there for days on end. Stubbornly, she resented this need – she could be alone in this world. Take my family away? she raged silently at the heavens. I can do it on my own.
Though she had no sense of where aside from away from here, she put herself on a cross-country train. In three days she saw everything Middle America had to offer from her window seat. She drank wine through the Rockies, vodka through the Dakotas, beer in Chicago. It was only when she hit Toronto from Seattle that she paused to contemplate her next move. She could feel the emptiness of her house still, even three thousand miles away. Here now in Toronto she could feel the worried urgency of Colin. She felt choked and drowned and furious and like she could do anything. She bought a one-way ticket, any ticket, and left the country before anyone knew she had even been there.
For two months she bounded across Europe, faking enthusiasm and a sense of adventure when she felt hers slipping. She slept in train stations, on strangers' couches, in strangers' beds. She took Italy by storm on the back of a motorcycle, sunbathed topless on the beaches of Cannes, screamed with the engines of Formula 1 cars in Monaco. In cover of darkness she stole onto private yachts, drank wine on the streets of Nice, rolled countless cigarettes. She kissed tall, handsome Swiss men. She slept with gorgeous French men. She partied with rock stars, raised hell with movie stars. It was enough to keep her mind occupied, and for the most part she reveled in it all. She found the things that terrified her and she bested them. When it came down to it, what she was most scared of was returning home. Colin's emails sat unanswered in her inbox; full of please tell me if you're okay and Tell me where you are – I'm coming to get you and Come here, please, please come home. Some of the later ones she filed away without reading.
It was a Tuesday when she mustered the courage to fly home; she was back on Canadian soil by Wednesday, and at Colin's door before sundown. He stared at her from his doorway, surprise written across his face. His was the first familiar face she had seen since her parents' funeral, and it took the wind right out of her. After a moment spent staring, Colin grasped her by the shoulders and pulled her to him, enveloping her in a fierce hug. She blinked against his shoulder, trying to remember the last time she had an honest-to-goodness hug from someone. Briefly, she wondered if she would cry here in his foyer. He ushered her inside, taking her bag [just the one, now, she had left or given away something at each new place she visited] and jacket and fussed about her anxiously.
It occurred to her that she had been too long without a hot shower, and when she asked him quietly if he wouldn't mind he jumped to accommodate her. When she requested something comfy to wear, he found her an old t-shirt he knew she liked to sleep in and a pair of his sweats. She thanked him with a smile. Under the hot water, she let herself relax. She let go of the hundred and one things she had been holding in her mind, things that had been holding back the thoughts she did not want to confront. Together with the water they rushed over her, filling her, breaking her, crashing through every carefully constructed barrier she had. She was aware of the water so hot that it scaled her skin where it hit, but she was grateful for it. Eventually the temperature became bearable, and when it dropped to lukewarm she let herself cry for the first time since the day her parents died. She shook with rage, she wept with fury, she cried at the great injustice of it all. She cried because she was alone, and terrified. She cried because every part of her felt broken and wrong. She cried and the water grew colder still.
She wasn't aware of Colin's increasingly frantic knocking, did not register his worried calls through the door. It was only when he tore the shower curtain back that she started, looking up at his panic-stricken face from where she sat in the tub. He moved like lightning, shutting off the tap and reaching for the towel that was folded on the counter. Wordlessly she watched him, lips blue and eyes red, as he wrapped her tightly in the towel and rubbed a second one through her hair. He paused briefly, perching on the edge of the tub and looking at her with such sadness and concern in his eyes before her reached down to lift her carefully into his arms. She shook uncontrollably, and not entirely due to the cold. When he set her down in his room she stumbled, and he caught her against his chest with one arm. He pulled his shirt over her head.
"Are you—" he began.
"Colin—" she cut him off, fresh tears welling that she rubbed at furiously with the heel of her palm. "Please, can we go to sleep?"
He nodded and tossed the towels he had been holding to the floor. Wearily she crawled onto his bed, with Colin close behind. Though it had been nearly a year since she had seen him, they fell into the same position they always had with great ease. With one hand on her hip and the other under her shoulder he gently pulled her back into him, tucking his body around her icy, shivering limbs. One hand settled on her wrist, thumb sweeping slowly and gently across the delicate inside of it. The other slung across her middle, holding her tight to him. She shook in his arms, and it was a moment before he realized it was not because of the cold but because she was crying. Colin pressed a kiss to her neck, tucked her cold feet in between his, and didn't let go.
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