Henry grabbed a tall yellow can from the bottom shelf of the mini fridge while Kara scrounged up a pair of dusty pads for them to sit on, and they cheersed. It was a disorderly mess in that attic, but nonetheless cozy—and somehow comforting. The beer tasted almost identical to what they served on tap at the Hell on a Shell Bar.
“I almost forgot the best part.” She swiped a grey tarp off the wall, revealing a small cylindrical window. “The view’s nothing to complain about.”
It wasn’t. From where he sat, Henry could see straight out across the tops of the houses that led to the park, the lighthouse, and the dark glittering ocean beyond. More stars shone in the light above that water than he could remember seeing in his entire lifetime, and he silently resolved to spend more of his time looking skyward in the future. “Is this what you did,” he asked, still staring out of the window, “when you first got here? Odd jobs, like fixing up this house, until you found something bigger?”
“That’s exactly it. And let me tell you, I slept wherever I could. Took advantage of Jamal big time, not that he makes it difficult. There aren’t many apartments around here. Most everyone owns their own home, and most of those homes have belonged to a single family for generations.”
“I’ll take it,” he said, deciding right then and there.
They clicked their cans together again. “I thought you might. I can probably have it ready for you in a week. Depending on how toxic that insulation turns out to be.”
Henry smiled. That was, he thought, the first time he’d heard her make a joke. “I hope it really does come cheap, because I don’t know about finding a job. Everyone seems to think I already have one. Or two.”
“I don’t know if I can promise anything, but I’ll put a good word in for you at inHale. That’s our own local tech startup. Some of us are very proud of it.”
“Some of us,” he echoed.
“The ones who understand it. But as both a scientist and a journalist, I imagine you’re qualified.”
He took a deep drink, and continued gazing at the sea. It was nice, the feeling that he had someone in his corner already. When he first contemplated moving across the country to a small village that he’d never heard of before, it was the prospect of leaving his friends that rankled the most. He’d imagined tight cliques, alienating in-jokes, and months of slowly building trust. None of that turned out to be true. Jamal was willing to house him on credit, Clair cared immediately what he thought of her, and now Kara was sticking her neck out to help him find an apartment and a job.
So, he told her everything: Jamal’s comedic misunderstanding; Clair’s cache in the park; Mathas Bernard’s strangle journal; sheriff Leia Thao’s request; and his run-in with Beth Brihte at the cafe—he babbled and babbled until he thought there was nothing left inside, and found himself completely off guard for the question she then asked. “What about your shoulder?”
“What do you mean?”
She sighed. “I just spent all day watching you lug stuff around a warehouse. You think I wouldn’t notice you keeping anything that weighed more than about five pounds off your left arm? So what happened? Did Clair get a little too rowdy for you?” The question started with a smile, but it faded when he turned to look at her. “You don’t have to tell me,” she continued, a little more chaste, “but you should at least show someone.”
That seemed fair. Henry set his beer on the ground, pulled his shirt off, and then carefully peeled the bandages off his shoulder. No matter how much gauze he used, it always hurt.
Kara sucked in air. “You were shot.”
“Before I moved here,” he said. He hadn’t decided to tell her. He’d decided, in fact, not to tell anybody, but the words came out regardless. “It was my lunch break, and I really needed to stretch my legs. Work had been hell, but I can’t remember why. Normally I would pop out for ten minutes or so, but I went further that day.
“The weather was beautiful, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit back down at my desk. They wouldn’t notice my absence anyway. I made it all the way down to Frida Middle School, about twenty minutes from my work. The front doors were open, and I remember thinking that the kids must have been out for recess. When I walked past them, I heard the sounds. Firecrackers, I was sure, or balloons popping. My feet moved faster than my brain.
“I still have no idea why I did it. I didn’t accomplish anything. I didn’t help anyone. I remember the hallway, then the classroom, and the… the kids on the floor. I remember seeing that fucker’s face, only for a second. Then I was in an ambulance, trying to focus on an EMT.”
Kara was hugging him. Henry was crying. Hot, effortless tears that came more for the words in the present than the memories of the past. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “You were brave. You did it because there was nothing else you could do.”
“It’s a lot.” Henry wiped at his eyes. He was shaking, and his body felt empty. “It happened a while ago, but I’m still not good at talking about it.”
“A while ago?” She pulled away from him, slightly. “This looks recent.”
“It never healed,” he said. “Doctor thought it was normal at first, said my body needed time. That time passed, and I was still wrapping the same wound every morning. Still bleeding.”
“And you never went back to the doctor?”
Henry upended the tall yellow can, finishing the bottom half of his beer in one enormous gulp. The air in that drafty attic had become cold in the deepening night. “Seeing what I saw that day disturbed my mind,” he said. “There’s no better way to put it. It separated me from my family, and my friends. It made me realize that the life I’d been living wasn’t worthwhile. It sounds like maybe you can relate to that.
“But it was this wound that made me leave. It was agonizing pain, for every minute of every day, and it’s only now been manageable since I showed up at the Tortoise Shell Inn. I would love to know why that is.”