She wiped, while her husband patted, and she turned those eyes on Adam.
"It was pretty emotional, huh?"
Adam shrugged, nodded halfway. Tried to be interested.
"It was cool. For an old-fashioned kind of movie."
She stared at him for a moment, convinced he might be a sociopath.
"Do you... Do you get it? The one dog... Got injured and passed away, and then the other one died out of grief?"
Too close. Paul warned her to stop, even as Adam was laughing at them both, and she gave in. Adam asked again for money, and she told him once again he was out of luck. "Are you my Dad?" he snapped, just funny enough that it wasn't punishable, and Paul fell into step. "Buddy, I gave you twenty bucks at the beginning of the week. You gotta learn to make it last."
It was just a movie. It was just twenty bucks. Adam didn't understand the future, or making it last, or crying at movies. He didn't understand grief, or Marlene's choices, or his parents, weeping over long-dead dogs. He was a child. They knew it, but they needed more.
Cathy climbed into her husband's arms, and they sobbed. With sadness performed, and hardships overcome. In the last days of summer, when they sobbed it was with relief: It was just a movie.
Marlene's fish outlasted her; they reminded her of Eddie. When Cathy had wiped her tears and gone back to see the women, she found those fish, long dead, lying on the lawn her son had mowed. Shells, coral, a rainbow of fish. The women were happy to see her, until she opened her mouth. "What did you do to Marlene's fish?"
Lorna nodded: They felt bad. They just didn't know what to do, getting rid of the tank. Tried flushing them, but they were too big and too exotic, and kept coming back up. Cathy swore someone would have taken them, but the women were busy, with lives of their own: Too busy to find a home for every little thing.
Thomas was gone.
Buttercup had an allergy. Or if not an allergy, a discomfort: "I don't sneeze? But I feel like I want to. And my eyes get all runny."
Cathy was disgusted. "He's twelve years old! He has cataracts! No one's going to adopt him!"
But the women nod. He would have died soon, anyway.
Dog dead, friend taken apart in fits and starts, fish tortured. Cathy felt it coming up through her veins and her stomach and her trembling hands and suddenly she spoke, a plate of cookies for the women still cooling in her hand.
Not loud, not soft. Hard. Full of love. Burning with it.
"On behalf of Thomas and myself, get the fuck out of our house. Marlene might have been a little rough around the edges, but you're downright cruel. You kill Marlene's fish, you send Thomas off to die? And maybe your mom didn't leave you the house to teach you a lesson, or maybe she just didn't like you. But either way, she left it to me. So you take whatever you want, and you get the fuck out. Because it's mine now. And if you want to fight me on it, that's great. Because I just got in a fighting mood."
The women stared. They still didn't understand. She didn't care anymore. They'd pulled the trigger.
It's time to start.
Cathy drives to the shelter and claims Thomas; comes home to Paul's latest plan: He wants to hit the Venice canals for the six months before the trial begins. She likes that, she likes this better:
"I want to do interleukin."
But he's already given in, and won't hear it: "I was reading a blog about it. It sounded awful! They had horrible hallucinations. They couldn't even finish!"
She shakes her head. It was wrong of Marlene, to check out early. Or if it wasn't wrong, it wasn't beautiful. Not choosing is choosing but it's choosing cowardice. And she hurts, Marlene has hurt her, in a way that has nothing to do with those fish or that dog or the gratitude or the hope: She has hurt her all the way down. She is hurting. And standing around waiting for your willpower to come in is so much less difficult than taking the plunge.
Not when you've heard that first shot. Not when everybody knows the moment is here. Not when your choices are to die beautiful, before you should, or hold onto life with both hands, no matter how ugly it gets.
"Maybe she didn't feel that she had enough support around her, but I do. And Sean's going to have a baby, and I hope it's as cute as he was as a kid, he was so cute, and Adam, I... Oh God, who knows. But if he's not ready to grieve, then I'm not ready to go. And I am loving the new us. So maybe this treatment will make me look all scabby and weird-looking -- which is going to be harder on you than it will be on me because I can just avoid mirrors -- I'm gonna hang on as long as I can."
She stands taller, brighter: "And I'm going out ugly."
When Paul sees that fire, he can only ever tell the truth.
"It will never be hard for me to look at you."
She holds him tight. It was the perfect thing. This is the new us.
Sean wanders through the kitchen, proud and naked and beautiful; his sister is shocked. "You're so clean! You took a shower?"
Sean took a shower. He refuses to use a towel that his sister will dry with 1000 GHz of electricity; he threatens to run around her block. "If you're worried that I'll knock my nuts together and render myself sterile, don't. These boys have already done their job."
She tosses him towels, and he uses them. He looks beautiful, clean. She tells him so.
"Apparently my nature scent was making Rebecca throw up, so..."
So he's talking to her. She smiles: Mission accomplished. Phase II: The keys to Marlene's house. Which is now Sean's house. He screams, twists in it, terrified. Horrified. He swears on nature he will not change.
"I'm not going to change my whole life and personality like you did, just because I'm having a kid."
Cathy dares her brother to have a child and stay the same person he is right now; Sean officiously informs his sister that daring him makes him less likely to do it. She counters by taking the keys away again, and he balks: He'll think about it. He'll let himself hope to be a man, instead of writing it all off. Even if it means Cathy wins.
Which, she knows, she's already done. She pulled the trigger on that one a while back.
Paul and Cathy sit their son down and explain interleukin-2. Paul's convinced it will work completely; Cathy doesn't give herself the luxury. She has facts.
"So I'll be in the hospital for five days this round. And you know, I'm kind of looking forward to it. I mean, lying in bed reading magazines. When do I get to do that?"
Adam's part in this, according to Paul, is to "man up" and not burn the house down, and help Cathy when she gets home. He nods, still not taking it in. She's sick. Medicine will make her better. She's sick. People get sick. It's not like a movie. She sees this in his eyes, and nods.
"Because I'm... I'm gonna look a little weird? And I'm not gonna have all my strength back right away. So... Do you have any questions? Or any feelings?"
He answers honestly; he's always answering honestly. That's the thing they're only starting to get: "I just hope you're gonna be okay. I love you."
He hugs his mother; he asks to visit Mia. Cathy hands him a bouquet of flowers and he asks for twenty bucks; the worry drains right from their eyes and they almost laugh, one voice telling him no. When he's gone, she looks at Paul: The hell was that? Paul thinks maybe crying skips a generation.
I assure you it does not.
Cathy's sitting on the porch with Thomas, looking out over the hole, on the last day of summer. Paul speaks quietly, moves softly.
In the hospital he waits outside, to give her privacy. When Todd arrives he's happy to see him. One of the nurses, one of the ones administering the drug: "When she introduced herself to me she dropped her pen, and then when she bent down to pick it up she stepped on it."