Sean laughs when Cathy tells the story, leaving out the most important bits. "You're gonna be real popular this summer," he says, and Cathy almost smiles. "I have no idea who I'm gonna be this summer."
Sean complains of the cold and she brings him another shirt. "Did any of your friends ever think I was cute in high school? ...Like, did they ever say like, Dude, your sister's hot, or, I'd really like to tap your sister's ass?" Sean's eyes go wide. "Oh my God, such a dead-on impression of my friends! It really takes me back." She nods. Of course Sean's the only one who gets to say what he's thinking. The rules are back in play.
"...I did," Sean says softly. "I can't believe I'm finally telling you this," he says, squirming, hands wide. "I know this is gonna sound sick to you, but try not to judge for one second in your life? I used to imagine you were my girlfriend."
Cathy Jamison loves to be shocked. She starts getting scared. Is this him? Is this how his body betrays him? Is this in his mind, is this the key to what's wrong with him? Did she somehow do this to him? Is he living out of a shopping cart because of her body, somehow? Is she sick too? Why did she ask him that question? He's known her the longest, and his friends were the cutest. Was that all? He eyes go wide, she sucks on her cigarette.
"I think that's why we fought all the time, because there was just, you know, so much frustration on my part. And then I read The Hotel New Hampshire, and I felt such a sense of relief, because he writes about the sexual tension between the brother and the sister, and I thought maybe I wasn't totally nuts."
It is a very good book, but that is not why. She stares. She can't speak.
"...Are you judging me?" She swears she isn't. "Then, um, then I have to tell you something else. Physically, Cathy, you have been and will always be..." He leans in, so close she can smell him; she starts to jump away... "The grossest person on Earth to me!" Right in her face, garbage breath; he dances around. "You are so gullible that it is not even fun!" Oh, she loves to be shocked. He gets her in a headlock and sings into her ears, "My name is Cathy and my shit doesn't stink! Say it!"
She laughs. "It smells like roses!" Her body is safe. Our bodies are okay.
At home she scratches out all six weeks on the calendar: Adam is Gone becomes Adam is Home. She closes the upstairs linen closet quietly and heads into his room. He sleeps always hanging off the side of the bed, so she places her blanket carefully under him, just alongside. Not touching, not waking him. Just close enough to his little face, so she can feel him breathing.