Fear was an unpleasant smell. This was what Bonnie decided in the town hall shelter, the day of the New Bern war. This was where she had been assigned, and the tasks they had to do before assuming a guard position in the front of the building seemed endless. A stream of those deemed not able to fight had been trickling in, first slowly and then more and more frantically, preparing themselves to camp out in the shelter until the inevitable victory or defeat. Bonnie hadn't been in the shelter the last time it had been used. She had been at home, having just survived being held at gunpoint by escaped convicts and waiting to find out if her brother was dying of radiation poisoning. Somehow, she imagined it had been more peaceful than being here. People crowded in all around her, bumping into each other and getting in each other's way. She was glad she couldn't focus on any of the arguments she could see happening, but it seemed like the specific brand of fear each person was churning around inside them was spreading with each collision of limbs and torsos, and each clash of words, turning the whole darkening room into a cesspool of panic. And the smell. It was everything unpleasant. Sickness and sweat and adrenaline and salt, all pressing in as much as the bodies were. She was sure her own cellar had smelled nothing like this. She wished she could have been there, but Stanley, Jake, and practically everyone had insisted she should be here instead.
Mimi was here. That was probably supposed to be some consolation. She and Mary had been here, during the radiation rain. That was probably why they were working to organize the supplies with so much concentration. They'd either gotten so shell-shocked last time that this fear stench didn't phase them, or they'd learned it was best to take your mind off it as soon as possible. One of them had a clipboard and was scribbling away, like it would matter how many supplies they had in a day or two, and the other was stacking things and ordering someone nearby around. Bonnie finished her inventory of the first aid table and went over to them. Mimi smiled faintly at her and she smiled back, feeling a sharp sting and realizing she felt a little bit guilty about thinking of her as consolation moments earlier. She had, after all, gotten pretty attached to her lately, and it was probably only the crush of panicking townspeople around them that was keeping them both from crying again as they had when they'd first left home behind and come into town.
“Thanks,” said Mary, taking the inventory list, and she and Bonnie exchanged unspoken consolations of their own. “Do you want to start with these?” She motioned to a case of water bottles.
Bonnie nodded, reaching for them. She'd known Mary Bailey her whole life, and neither of them needed to say anything about their people fighting out there to know what their look was about. Bonnie wasn't sure what either of them was trying to convey. She didn't know if she was hoping for their safety or already mourning a loss or just dreading it, but perhaps the exchange between them was just a “yeah, me too.”
Mimi, who had moved on to a bin of dried foods, touched her arm lightly. Bonnie nodded at her as they kept working. The unbearable unspoken fear coming from them, on either side of her, was bad but not as bad as the fear stench in the room. It was sort of like a cushion around it, even though it was part of it too.
Bonnie wasn't sure when she became aware of someone watching. All around, people were talking and gesturing and cowering but nearby, a familiar face was staring at them. Ralph Tierney, who had sometimes bought pies from the farm, was folding his arms and surveying them. “You're doing that wrong,” he said.
Mimi stared at him like he'd just suggested she might like to order a margarita before taking a dip in the infinity pool. Bonnie thought that if it had been another day, she might have laughed at her sort-of-sister's expression. “What?” asked Mimi.
“You're doing this all wrong. If you'd asked me -”
Mary paused, mid heaving a box onto the table, and blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. “What are we asking you about, Ralph?”
“The organization here,” he said, stepping his feet further apart so he took up more of their crowded space. “First off, you should store the water somewhere away from the crowd, and I'd ration it ahead so people don't get to acting like we've got a Costco down here.”
“Everyone's probably wishing we did,” said Hanson Grimsby, who had been tasked with piling up folded cots but was actually leaning casually against them. Bonnie narrowed her eyes. Hanson was a grade or two below her at school and he'd always tried her patience. “If we had the Costco, do you think we'd be the ones hiding out now while they're attacking us?”
“Really, the watch schedule is more important. We should already have the first shift upstairs,” Ralph said. “You should be giving these tasks to someone who can't even hold a gun.”
“Someone like you?” asked Mimi, looking him up and down. She, being in town less than a year, had never heard Ralph's story about getting his foot crushed by a runaway souvenir cart at Disney World, and how he'd sued the company for the pain and suffering, and how he was able to live comfortably and always kept his family well stocked with all the best goods and services but without wasting money on anything that wasn't high quality and durable, if not stylish or visually pleasing, and how most of his money was invested in mutual funds or goldfish crackers or something, and how his kids were going to go to whatever schools they wanted (which Bonnie very much doubted in Kendall's case) and how they always took educational trips now, like to the Grand Canyon or Gettysburg, because that was how your valuable free time should really be spent anyway, and...Bonnie sighed sadly, realizing she might have wasted some of her valuable time left reliving the story.
Mary seemed to be thinking along the same lines, because she cut Ralph off before he could even mention Disney. “This is where they wanted us. This is what we're doing.”
“Doing ineffectively,” grumbled Ralph.
“Do you want to take over setting up those cots then?” asked Mimi. Bonnie recognized a familiar flash in her eyes, even though they were still tinted red. “Show us how effectively they can be arranged over there.”
Whatever he snarked in return, Bonnie didn't see. She'd looked over at Hanson, who was shaking his head. “What's the use?” he was saying. “Think the people who get it are going to be lying down? We'll be lucky if there's enough left to bury in a shoebox.”
Mimi turned to Bonnie. “Friend of yours from school?” she asked, leaning closer to Bonnie.
Bonnie signed something quickly.
“He's just delightful,” said Mimi.
Bonnie giggled. It felt unnatural in this room, but strangely, momentarily, good.
She smiled when Mimi smiled back, but then she noticed, over Mimi's shoulder, that Mary had thrown herself back into her task. Her face had tensed and she seemed to be actively avoiding someone over her shoulder. Bonnie stepped around Mimi to give herself a better view and scanned the area. Her eyes rested on Orson Lundy, who looked odd perched up on a stack of chairs, his stooped figure stooping even farther forward, his aged eyes crinkling like he was telling some marvellous joke to the back of Mary's head as she kept sorting cans. Bonnie squinted. What was he saying? She only caught one or two words. Something about the battle.
She quickly looked to Mary, but she didn't see her saying anything either. Bonnie was used to people's bodies saying more than they ever realized, and now the bartender's shoulders and carefully arranged face seemed to be screaming a “shut up” in Mr. Lundy's direction. Bonnie was torn between wanting to stand up for her ally and wanting to know what was bothering her. Her eyes snapped back to Mr. Lundy.
“Just saying how awful it is for people to be separated from their loved ones out there,” said Mr. Lundy. “If this be the end.”
“Seriously, is that supposed to help calm the masses?” asked Mimi. She seemed caught in as much confusion as Bonnie, who could only shrug her shoulders back at her.
“Especially awful,” said Mr. Lundy. “For people who don't even know where they really came from, and what they might be losing out there.”
“Yeah, it's bad, but I thought we'd agreed not to talk about it down here,” said Mimi, finally seeming to decide intervention was the best policy.
“We did. Want to help me with this?” asked Mary. Her words were coming out in more of a mumble than usual, and Bonnie was having trouble reading her lips. She looked at Mr. Lundy again.
“Way I see it, we've got nothing but time,” he said. His words were fully enunciated, and he almost looked like a storyteller relishing his speech. “Why bother not talking? We might never get to talk again.”
“No might about it,” piped up Hanson beside him. Bonnie sighed and tried to remember why he annoyed her. There had been the time at 4H when he'd just had to raise chickens the same year she had. It hadn't bothered her that more of his had hatched so much as the way he'd given her tips for the rest of the year and explained each of her failures in front of everyone.
“Out of the mouths of children,” said Mr. Lundy. Bonnie was by now half irritated and half mesmerized. There was something opposite to the stench of fear about him. The air around him was crackling with it. Something daring. He leaned forward. “But if they're going to fight like adults, don't you think they should know the truth?”
“The truth about what?” asked Bonnie. She had an odd feeling. It was like Mr. Lundy was noticing her for the first time, and she was as mesmerizing to him as he had been to her. He stopped glaring at the back of Mary's head and kept his eye on her.
“I've got a story,” he said. “A story I could tell, that would make everything happening today seem a whole lot different for one kid.”
“What?” asked Bonnie, though she'd caught all his words. Mary turned towards her now, and though she tried to hide it, Bonnie saw a panicked look cross her face for a moment. “Bonnie, will you go check if they're ready for us upstairs?”
It was serious, if she was sending her to check upstairs. Mimi's eyes were already threatening to tear up again, but Mary was insistent. Bonnie knew upstairs was more important than whatever one of their resident oddballs was saying so she agreed to go. As she reached the edge of the room, she could see Mimi and Mary moving closer together, whispering quickly about something serious. Any other time, she would pay attention to the alarm signs going off around her in this crowded conversation, but now it was more important to check whether it was their turn to stand upstairs with guns and wait for people from New Bern to shoot at them.
It turned out it wasn't time yet. People were still streaming in, it seemed, and those left upstairs were being deployed to other checkpoints. She tried to gather what news she could, but that was hard to come by in the confusion.
Back downstairs, she found Mimi and Mary had moved to the temporary first aid area, setting up Jericho's sickest residents on their bomb shelter cots. It was a depressing space. Only two of the clinic staff were there, with others waiting upstairs and at the other outpost near the bridge, preparing for an overwhelming onslaught of wounded townspeople. She couldn't think of that, though, even as she shook her head at Mimi's and Mary's raised eyebrows, half hopeful and half dreading. The stagnating crowd was the worst. It was the weeks Stanley had been gone in New Bern, and the weeks the game had vanished from all their usual hunting grounds, the weeks they'd visited her uncle in the ICU at Redding and the hours she'd waited up that New Year's Stanley had gone out and been stranded in the snow, all crammed into one cramped, noxious room. New Bern arriving would be relief, but who could wish for that? Their people coming in, telling them that they had won, wounded but not down, would be a relief, but an even worse wish to make right now. There was no way relief would come without the worst news for at least some. Bonnie shivered and folded her arms as Mimi finished giving instructions in the system of storage.
“What was Mr. Lundy talking about?” she asked Mary.
Mary furrowed her brow. “What? You mean when we were over by the food?”
She looked as though she'd been awake for days and it was almost believable that she had forgotten, but Bonnie knew she was being evasive. Her unspoken warnings had been too loud earlier.
“What kind of story?”
Mary shrugged. “Who knows? He's probably just trying to deal with all this in his own weird way. Doing what he does. Stirring things up.”
Bonnie sighed and glanced quickly at Mimi, hoping to catch a miniscule sign of complicity. Mimi seemed to be in the dark too, though she quickly nodded. “People are totally crazy right now. Someone yelled at me for breathing too hard, over there.”
“They'll calm down soon,” said Mary, and the comment landed between the three of them like a stone sinking quickly in a muddy pond. No one wanted to pretend it was true or point out its obvious fallacy. Mimi glanced upward. It would be their turn, soon enough. Bonnie looked between her brother's lover and their friend. It hit her hard, suddenly, that he wasn't there. She'd thought many times, over her reminders to herself not to think about it, that she wouldn't be there for him, out at the farm, when the New Bern soldiers advanced, but for the first time she realized he wouldn't be there for her, should she meet a similar fate. Blinking back her own tears, she smiled slightly at Mimi and Mary, and decided to nod. “Okay, what else can I do?” she asked.
She accepted her next task (going over the exit procedure with a few people who would stay as leaders downstairs), without much protest. Mimi looked exhausted too, and it wasn't a time to fight. Still, she couldn't help noticing Mr. Lundy, this time talking to the med centre staff, as she stacked blankets. He caught her eye a few times, and the look on his face, though probably as Mary had suggested it was just a mark of his usual mischief, kept hitting on a nerve she didn't realize she had before this moment. Something was nagging at her. She didn't know if it was just the waiting, the wondering, the realizing she wasn't sure if she wanted to be with Mimi, or anyone she knew, if things went really bad. There were so many dangerous thoughts, and there was no time for them, but there was nothing but time and mindless preparation.
Before heading out of the smothering room, she found her feet pulling her towards Mr. Lundy again.
“What did you mean?” she asked him.
He looked somewhat amused. She was furious with herself for engaging with him, but she hated more the way he was looking at her with a knowing look, all the while with her not knowing why.
“Before, you kept talking about the truth. Said things would change if I knew it.”
“What makes you think I was talking about you, kid?” he asked. That smirk. It wasn't as important as getting at whatever was behind it.
“I know you were talking to me,” she said, leaning closer. “What is it?” She tried to be menacing as she could, in that fear-drenched place. It was a little like pouring water in a rainstorm.
“I just might know a secret that might mean something to you today,” he said. “You've got some high stakes, in this war.”
“I already know that,” she said, rolling her eyes. “My brother's out there. Our friends.” She couldn't bring herself to look around
He nodded. He looked less excited now. Was it something like regret on his face now? Good. “You've got them,” he said. She nodded. “But you've also got a father.”
She stared for a moment, with no retort. After a moment, she finally faltered, “My father's dead.”
Mr. Lundy raised his eyebrows.
Just then, a hand at her elbow made her jump. She looked sideways and saw Mimi there. “Come on, they want us upstairs,” she said.
Bonnie shook her head. She needed to follow this through, before they went up to the rooms where they might die. “He has to tell me what he's talking about.”
Mimi shook her head. “No, you have to come.” Her grip on Bonnie's arm was strong. Any other time Bonnie would've resented the tears that seemed to be threatening in Mimi's eyes. “Please, come with me.” She leaned closer to Bonnie. “Mary said it, he's crazy. You don't need to ask anything else. It's time.”
Bonnie sighed, looking over at Mr. Lundy again. He gave her another knowing look as she let Mimi pull her towards the door. As they climbed the stairs though, his words flashed over and over in her mind's eye. “He said I had a father.”
Mimi was saying something. She wasn't sure what for a few moments, 'til she turned and looked closely. “What?” she was asking now.
“He said my father was out there. What the hell?”
“It's probably nothing,” said Mimi, waving a hand dismissively. “Tell her it's nothing.” She motioned towards Mary, who was waiting in a doorway near the front of the building.
“What is?” asked Mary. No doubt they'd forgotten, as they were consumed with more important things upstairs. Bonnie gritted her teeth. “Mr. Lundy said I've got a father out there.”
Mimi was dismissive again, but Bonnie caught it. The slight instant where Mary's eyes widened just a little, before she tried to chuckle. “Sorry, Bon. I think he's yanking your chain.”
“No he's not!” countered Bonnie, stepping closer and looking back and forth quickly so she couldn't mistake any subtle tells in either woman's reaction. “Or maybe he is, but there's something you're not saying.”
Mimi folded her arms. “Bonnie, I know it's a weird day and we're all pretty rattled. But isn't this guy always making stuff up?” She smiled hopefully, glancing between her friend and her lover's sister.
Mary nodded. “He made a report to the deputies last month because he said his neighbours were Russian spies.”
Mimi laughed half-heartedly. But Bonnie stared carefully at Mary, who wasn't smiling. “There's something more. Something you're not saying.”
Mary tried again to look evasive, but she was starting to appear rattled. “I don't know what you're talking about. What he's talking about.”
“You do!” said Bonnie. “I'm not an idiot, I can tell!”
Mary glanced at Mimi. Her silent plea for help was even less subtle than her attempts to hide her reactions to Mr. Lundy.
“Is this really important right now?” asked Mimi.
“Yes,” insisted Bonnie.
Bonnie stared at her for a moment. She sensed a changing tide. Mimi's eyes had softened. She wanted to understand.
“I can't go into this not knowing if there's something else I should have known,” said Bonnie. Feeling a surge of inspiration, she steeled herself. “I'll go back and ask Mr. Lundy.”
“Don't,” said Mary. This time she was pleading with Bonnie.
Bonnie returned her look. “I need to know.”
Mary wasn't hiding anything anymore. Her expression was helpless. “It's not mine to tell,” she said.
Bonnie wouldn't lose her own composure as easily. “It doesn't matter now. We're going to die here.”
They glanced at Mimi, who was looking rather pale herself, but she shrugged. “Fifty-fifty?” she offered.
“Eighty-twenty,” said Bonnie. “Please.” She let out a breath. “If you can't, I'll ask Mr. Lundy. But wouldn't you rather I hear it from a friend?”
Mary's face was a combination of emotions. Her grip on her gun was shaky. She leaned it against the wall. “Fine,” she said. “But if someone else doesn't, Stanley might kill me.”
Bonnie smiled slightly in spite of herself. “Why did Mr. Lundy say my father was out there?”
She could feel Mimi leaning forward too, as desperate now for the answer as she was. Mary took a deep breath, and carefully met her eyes. “Because your father is out there. He's fighting at your farm.”
“What?” asked Bonnie. “What do you mean?” She took a step forward, hoping her actions could express an urgency her words couldn't. “Seriously, what the hell are you guys trying to pull?”
“I'm not trying to pull anything, promise,” said Mary slowly. “I'm sorry you're finding out this way, but your father isn't dead. Well, dead yet. He's out at the ranch.”
“No,” said Bonnie, shaking her head. “My dad is dead. We were just at his grave. George Richmond, loving father.”
Mary smiled faintly, apologetically. “Your biological father.”
“What are you saying?” asked Bonnie, feeling her gestures getting more frantic. If it were Stanley she were talking to, she would only be using her hands and face by now, but knowing they wouldn't be able to keep up, she took a shaky breath and forced her mouth to form words. She thought of her brother and his familiar face. “I can't be. I can't be adopted. I look like Stanley. I look like all of them!”
Mary nodded. “Yes. And they are still your family, no matter what. But your father -”
Bonnie glanced sideways at Mimi, who looked momentarily horror struck. “Oh my God, it's not...”
A thousand jokes from well-meaning and not so well-meaning classmates from the time they were old enough to do the math came flooding back to Bonnie. She raised her eyebrows, also hoping Mimi wouldn't finish the sentence.
“No, not Stanley,” said Mary with a slight smirk. Her expression turned serious again. “It's Jake.”
Mimi said “Oh my God!” again and clapped a hand over her mouth. Bonnie glared at her and then turned to raise her eyebrows at Mary. She smirked. “No.”
Mary was watching her with a worried expression. Bonnie suddenly found herself laughing. “Come on, that's what you've got? You're worse than Mr. Lundy.” She laughed again.
Both of them now were watching her with expressions ranging between unease and sympathy and she wasn't sure whether she wanted to console them, smack them, or laugh some more. “You're messing with me, right? I don't even know why. It's not even that funny. But good one, I guess.”
“Bonnie,” said Mary.
“I guess you're trying to cheer me up with a nice story. Doesn't every girl in town want hero guy Jake Green to be someone special to her?” continued Bonnie. She was glad to form the words in her throat now. They wouldn't have made sense as signs. They were holding together a moment in the Twilight Zone, that was all. But the others weren't playing along. Both were watching her silently for a moment that seemed to stretch incredibly. Mimi finally broke the emptiness. “I'm not sure they exactly want him to be their...dad,” she said.
Mary shook her head. “That doesn't – anyway Bonnie, I know this sounds crazy, but you wanted the truth and I swear, this is it. Jake Green is your father.”
“No,” said Bonnie. Her laughter had died down, and she could only shake her head. She took a step back. “No,” she repeated.
Mary nodded just as forcefully, but didn't say anything. Bonnie glanced at Mimi, who looked as lost as she did, but reached to touch her arm. Bonnie felt her arm tense at this consolation. “No,” she said again.
“I know it's hard to believe, it's a huge thing, and so much is happening all at once...” said Mary, but she didn't need to say anything else. Her unsubtle, easy-to-read face was saying it all. She was telling the truth, at least as she knew it.
Bonnie took another step back, and let it sink in for a moment before twisting her features. “Ew,” she said. “Ew! Jake and my mom?!”
“No,” Mary said, smiling apologetically. “I mean, Jake and your mother, yes, but not your mom. She raised you, and she loved you,” she paused to take a breath, adding, “And you should know how much you've been loved, your whole life. From the minute you came around, there wasn't a moment that -”
Bonnie didn't catch the rest of her sentence as she had turned around and began walking. She felt trapped and suddenly, completely furious with everyone, but the problem, she realized with her first step, was that there was nowhere else to go in this barricaded building. The very thing she'd used to get the truth from Mary earlier was about to turn around and bite her.
They were following her, she could feel, even before she turned to glare at them. “Bonnie!” Mimi was saying. “Please, just -” Mary started to say.
“Screw you, screw this town!” said Bonnie, feeling her hands make the familiar gesture and being comforted just a little. She had reached the window, but couldn't look out as it was entirely boarded up. She aimed a punch at it anyway, that left her hand smarting in an only half satisfying sort of way. She knew they weren't moving now. The room was entirely still. They were probably watching, waiting to see what the out-of-control supposedly non-Richmond Jake-spawn would do next. Her hands were itching and restless at her sides and she felt an urge to pull her own hair out, punch someone in the face, or fight her way back downstairs to disappear into the crowd, even if it meant the possibility of running into Hanson Grimsby. She would crawl up into the pile of cots and wait for the insanity to pass. Or the end. Either and both.
She clenched and unclenched her fists, knowing she couldn't do any of those things. She gave in to her shaking knees and sunk, as if in slow motion, to the ground, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them tightly. They were probably whispering to each other now. Trying to figure out what to do next. There was a strange and savage pleasure she felt imagining their bewildered faces. Let them be this lost too. Of course, when she glanced over at them, it didn't feel as satisfying. They stopped speaking quickly, looking at her with expectant wide eyes. Mimi tried first, stepping towards her and awkwardly holding out her arms, but leaving them suspended in the air as if afraid to try touching her again at this uncertain moment. “I support you,” she said. Bonnie smirked and glared at the floor again.
They left her alone for a few more moments, but then Mary got her attention again, stepping towards her and cautiously sitting on the floor, facing her. “Look,” she said, carefully watching to make sure Bonnie was still listening. “I don't want to leave you with half the truth. Can I tell you the rest, and then you can deal with it however you want?”
Mimi sat on her other side, again not touching her but offering a hopeful smile. “We'll be here for you, if you want us to be. Or you can punch another window, up to you.”
Bonnie sighed. “Does it really matter?”
“I told you I would tell the story so you would know where you come from,” said Mary. “I still need to tell you about your mother. I think it is important.”
“Fine,” said Bonnie, loosening her grip on her knees just slightly. “Did you know her?”
Mary nodded. “She was my friend.” She smiled for the first time since she had begun the story.
“Well, come on then,” said Bonnie. “Who's my mother?” A thought dawned on her. “Wait, you're not going to say Miss Sullivan, are you? Because I don't think I could take another bombshell like that, not to mention, she only gave me a B on that diorama I worked so -”
Mary shook her head. “No, not Emily. Sarah.” She smiled again. “Your sister.”
“Well, in that case,” began Bonnie. “Wait, what?” She frowned and briefly considered getting up and having another round with the window. “What the hell? I have a sister?”
“Sarah. She was my friend,” said Mary. “She was your parents', George and Alice's, daughter. She was Stanley's sister. His twin.”
“No way,” said Bonnie.
“Six minutes younger. Learned to walk a month ahead of him and never let him forget it,” said Mary.
Bonnie put both hands to her temples for a moment, letting out a deep sigh. “This is not happening. Am I on something?” She glanced between them. “Are we all tripping out together and I forgot? Was Mrs. Leigh right about the corn all along?”
“Doubtful,” said Mimi, glancing curiously at Mary. “But I do agree, this is insane!”
Mary smirked. “You don't know the half of it.”
Mimi's eyes widened, and she reached out to knock her friend's outstretched knee. “Well, get on it with it, lady. Bonnie has a sister, who is Stanley's sister, but not really Bonnie's sister at all, and for the love of God please explain how Jake got involved in this Greek tragedy.”
Bonnie let out another breath. She was glad Mimi had taken up the questioning because she wasn't sure she could string together another sentence not involving questions about hallucinogenic mushrooms or a purgatory-like alternate universe. She hugged her knees to her chest again, and looked back at the others.
Mary was looking at Mimi, who was saying something. Bonnie glanced quickly. “-dated Jake?” Mimi asked.
“Not for very long,” shrugged Mary. “Jake had his eye on Emily forever, and Sarah and him were friends since they were little. This one November, I guess, Jake and Emily were on a break, and Jake and Sarah started spending more time together. They were over already,” she said, watching Bonnie carefully as she spoke, “By the time Sarah realized. Jake stuck with her, though, to tell her parents.” She smiled slightly. “Stanley gave him a black eye but then I think he was okay with it. Sarah made him get a grip. And her parents, well, your parents, were okay with it too, after they came up with a plan.”
“They said I was theirs,” said Bonnie. It didn't make sense, but none of it did. She raised her eyebrows.
Mary nodded. “They wanted Sarah to go to school, pick what she wanted out of life.” She paused for a moment, fixing Bonnie with a careful intensity. “She was just a kid, you have to understand. She wanted you, more than you can imagine.”
“Well, yeah, since I can't even imagine her,” said Bonnie, a little surprised at the bitter taste of the words in her mouth. She took a steadying breath and acquiesced to their expectant looks. Mary was blinking quickly as she spoke. “She wanted everything for you. But she was so young. Younger than you now. Her parents, your parents, had always wanted more kids. They were happy to raise you as their own, as Stanley and Sarah's new sister.”
“How in hell did that work around here?” Mimi asked. “You can't hide anything in this town.” She gave Mary a pointed glance but Mary didn't return her smirk. She had a strange, faraway look on her face.
“Some people knew and they went along with it. Sarah left school for a while, before you were born. A lot of people – friends from school – stayed away, and they were happy enough to believe the story that she had some kind of illness.”
“But you knew?” asked Bonnie.
Mary nodded. “We were friends. We played field hockey together. Sarah'd stuck by me, the time Pierce Latham was saying crap about me after Homecoming.” She paused. “That's who she was. Funny, strong, and always a good friend. I don't know if I realized, at the time, how important that all was. How lucky I was. Having a friend who was brave, like her.” She again seemed far away, but then she blinked again and smiled. “I visited her, brought her stuff from school sometimes. I met you, when you were just a newborn. Everyone was so happy. I remember, they had this celebration at the house. Mayor Green brought a high chair he'd made himself -”
“Wait, did the Greens know?” asked Mimi.
Mary nodded again. “Gail and Johnston? Yeah. They wanted Jake to step up, but I think when your parents said they wanted to raise you, they were relieved. Not that they didn't want you – they loved you too, I saw them with you – just, like I said, Jake and Sarah were just kids.”
“So all this time, they never said anything?” asked Mimi. She seemed indignant. Bonnie knew she'd grown up with a mostly absent father, but she couldn't understand. Who could understand this?
She felt her annoyance growing, and that same savage part of her that was pleased at their worried faces earlier started to spark. She was suddenly extremely bothered at the thought of all of them. If this were all true, how could the Greens step back and let her family shoulder the secret between special occasions and funerals? How could her parents – well, they weren't her parents then were they – leave things so hopelessly tangled, and how could Stanley let her stay hopelessly caught in the middle of it? How could their whole town forget someone who was brave and a good friend ever existed? How could those two, bartender and tax collector, who had nothing to do with this and now everything to do with it, sit there so calmly? And how could this Sarah, if she was ever real, be her mother and leave her behind like this, without leaving a trail or a note or any kind of sign?
She ran her hands down her face again, trying to catch her breath. The frustrations were there, boiling up, but she knew now the more dangerous, looming black hole was the question she hadn't dared yet to ask. She looked up at them again. Mimi was still asking something about the Greens. “I don't care about that,” said Bonnie quickly. “What about her?” she asked, speaking fast enough that she didn't have time to hold back the question. “Explain how I didn't know about her. What happened? Did she leave me, or...”
Mary tried to smile reassuringly but it didn't meet her teary eyes. Bonnie had a strange feeling it was the least evasive look she'd worn all day, and she suddenly wanted to look away. She glanced down at the floor again, but looked up when Mary tentatively reached and lightly touched her arm. She let go quickly, but spoke slowly. “She would never have left you.”
“She's dead,” said Bonnie. She didn't raise her eyebrows in question. “Like everyone else.” She dropped her knees to the ground and slumped back against the wall, remembering for the first time, since the strange story had begun, how close they were to dying themselves. Maybe this weirdest of rides would end soon and she wouldn't have to cling to anything anymore.
Someone touched her other arm. She glanced up. Mimi, with the expression someone might wear while gingerly grasping the paw of a polar bear, was watching her reaction. “We're still alive,” she said with what she clearly meant as a casual shrug. “Why don't we find out how the story ends?”
Bonnie stared back at her, trying not to react for a few moments, before folding her arms across her chest and giving a nod.
Mary gave her own nod, but looked reluctant as she began speaking. Through the stench of fear, the odds of their own deaths looming so close before them, there was still something faraway and long ago gripping her expression at the moment. “You all lived together a few months. I think you were pretty happy. Sarah was back in school, and her life was going back to normal. People complimented her on the adorable pictures of her baby sister she kept in her locker. Jake and Sarah were good, and they were dating other people. Jake was with Emily, and Sarah started going out with Clay. He was a good guy, and I think she was happy. Then, the night of the winter formal, there was an accident. Clay's car was completely totalled. They...they both didn't make it.” Mary sighed. “I'm sorry. Your parents were so...it was like they shut down. And then, they put all their energy into you and Stanley.”
Bonnie sat and didn't say anything for a moment. Things were still in a turmoil, but it was gentler, and at the same time, heavier than before. Finally, she asked, “How do I know you're not messing with me?”
Mary considered this for a moment, and then answered with a small, strange kind of smile. “I guess you don't. I guess you'll have to trust me. And trust yourself. Your instinct, I mean.”
Bonnie tilted her head and furrowed her brow. She let out a laugh that felt like before, when this bad Tim Burton movie had started. She made her face serious again, but then felt herself laugh again. “I mean, it's crazy. I'd have to be crazy, to believe it. We'd all have to be crazy.”
Mimi raised her eyebrows and shrugged. Bonnie rolled her eyes at her, but smiled again. She tried to fix them both with a business-like look. “First you tell me I'm Jake's daughter, with my sister, who's dead and forgotten.”
“Not forgotten,” said Mary.
Bonnie glanced at her. “So what else have you all forgotten to tell me? You and Stanley secretly elope after senior prom?”
Mary and Mimi's eyes both widened at the same time. “Ew!” they exclaimed, glancing at each other quickly, following with a somewhat embarrassed and still in unison “No offence.”
“No, that didn't happen,” added Mary, returning her gaze to Bonnie. “Senior year was crazy enough, without any weddings.” She attempted to laugh, but seemed to settle on a half-smile, half-grimace.
“Crazier than...?” asked Mimi, her eyebrows raised.
Mary smirked again. “You still don't know the half of it.”
Bonnie's mind was back on the impossible truth. “Are there...” she began to ask. They looked at her, serious again. “Pictures?” she finished. “I never saw any.” She wouldn't see them now, but knowing they had existed might make it seem a bit more real.
“They put them away,” said Mary. “If you can't find them, I'm sure we could get some old yearbooks. If...”
Bonnie nodded quickly. Mary looked at her in silence for a moment, before reaching to touch a piece of her hair. “You've got her eyes. And definitely you got her sense of humour.”
She felt surprising tears in her eyes. They didn't make sense, but she let them go. “Thank you.”
Mimi wasn't ready to end the story there. “Okay, so her parents wanted to focus on the kids they had left. Makes sense. But after they died, and Stanley was all alone with her...” She faltered, glancing at Bonnie with a careful expression. “I mean, I'm sure he wouldn't have had it any other way, but – you'd think Jake might've...” Mimi looked back and forth between them and seemed lost.
Mercifully, Mary interrupted her. “You were the world to Stanley. After losing your parents and Sarah, he said it was really important that he still had you. I think people offered to help...your grandparents and relatives...Jake was around a lot that summer...but Stanley wanted to keep things the way they were. You know, keep raising you as his sister, like your parents had agreed originally.”
Bonnie nodded. She didn't have a lot of memories of that time, and the ones she had were strange and soft-edged. She knew Stanley was there, in many of them. She saw brief flashes of him. Trying to figure out a washing machine. Carrying her somewhere outside. Helping her hold a duck. There were some moments she remembered Jake. But he looked the same in most of them. Sitting in that chair in their living room. The same look on his face. The same way he'd hold his shoulders. She sighed. Jake Green. He'd certainly teased her over the years, but they'd never had a really honest no-holds-barred conversation. She wished she had a mirror suddenly, so she could examine her face, her nose, eyelashes, skin and hairline. What was she supposed to have from him? Maybe if she saw something there, she could believe it.
Mimi and Mary were both staring at her, expectantly. Their full attention was on her, watching her as if she were a volcano about to erupt. She looked back at them, feeling at a loss herself. Finally Mary spoke again. “I'm sorry to tell you like this. I'm sorry this is how it's all worked out. I'm sure this is the last way Stanley, or anyone else, would want you to find out.”
Mimi leaned towards her and said conspiratorially, “You know, you could punch a wall now if you want.”
Bonnie sighed, but after another moment of feeling their steady gazes still focusing on her instead of Stanley, Eric, and yes, Jake out on the battlefield, she couldn't help but shake her head. “No, I'm glad.” She changed from shaking to nodding her head. “Yes, thank you.” She reached out to pat Mary's arm, using her other hand to brush across her own cheek. “I still feel like I'm being punked but part of me somehow knows you're right.” She paused to tuck her hair behind her ears, attempting to discreetly wipe her face again with the back of her hand. “I've known there were questions there, my whole life. Things missing. And if we're right about them, I'm glad to know now.”
Mimi smiled and sniffled herself, but Mary's expression was still cautious. “You sure?” she asked.
Bonnie nodded, this time smiling a more definite smile. “If I die today, or you know, ninety-ten we die,” she glanced at Mimi who was stifling another sniffle, “It'll be knowing who I am. And about all the people who matter to me. Who they really are to me. That's worth a lot.”
She was only a little surprised that Mary's eyes were teary again. After all, they'd been holding back discussing their ninety-five to five chances for the past few hours. But this moment of honesty, like the moment that seemed so long ago now at her parents' grave, was something she could hold on to. It was something strong, at her core, burning bright. “Thank you,” she said again.
She reached out to hug Mary, and then reached to hug Mimi, and the three of them hugged without saying anything, though Bonnie could feel at least one of them was crying. Or was it just her? Or was it all of them? They stepped back, no longer keeping their composure. If not now, when?
Mimi's eyes were red again, but as she wiped away tears, she smiled. “I just realized something,” she said.
Bonnie raised her eyebrows. What on earth could make her grin like this now?
“If Jake is your father,” she said. “And Stanley's sister was your mother...”
Mary nodded. So did Bonnie.
“Then Stanley's your uncle. And so is Eric,” continued Mimi. She was beaming now, like she was about to deliver the punchline of a fantastic joke.
“So what?” asked Bonnie.
“So, that means,” said Mimi, glancing towards Mary and back to Bonnie. “We are both your aunts!”
Bonnie stared at her for a moment. Mary did too, looking shocked, but then she chuckled. “I guess we are.”
“No, you're not,” said Bonnie quickly. “Neither of you is.”
“We are,” said Mimi, laughing herself though also crying again. “Don't worry, we'll be the best aunts you could ever have. We'll spoil you to pieces.” She nudged Bonnie.
“It will be pretty cool,” said Mary.
“No it won't,” said Bonnie, desperate to stop them both from giggling. “I might punch a wall again.” It had taken so long to get them all to respect her, to show she was as capable as them (and in some cases a lot more capable). “You're not even married to...my...uncles.”
They laughed more. “We're close as we might ever get. But we're as good as,” said Mimi.
Bonnie sighed. It had been a very long time since she'd had a mother, or any family member besides her sweaty, messily dressed, lovable big brother. Mimi had taken some adjusting to. But now there would be no time. “Okay, then, aunts,” she said, raising her eyebrows to emphasize it. If they were going to laugh she'd show them how silly it could be. “Take care of yourselves.”
“Why?” asked Mimi. The smile was quickly dying on her face though. She turned around to look at where Bonnie had been staring, over her shoulder. The leader of their makeshift unit was striding towards them. Instantly none of them were smiling. They knew what this meant.
“Listen up, everyone!” shouted Earl MacKenzie.
Five minutes later everyone was heading to their individual posts in the front room. Bonnie turned to hug Mimi and Mary one more time. “Take care of yourself,” she said to Mimi, meaning it even more this time. “No matter what happens, thank you for telling me who I am,” she said to Mary.
Mimi hugged Bonnie one last time before Bonnie made her way to the stairs. She was unable to keep the tears from flowing down her face, but it didn't matter here. It was not like they'd been stationed here for their military stoicism. She gripped her friend's hand again, but she couldn't bring herself to exchange one more goodbye. She merely nodded to Mary, not trusting her voice to speak.
Mary nodded back, her face tremulous but not quite as teary as Mimi's. Letting go of Mimi's hand, she clutched her rifle and stepped forward into the room. It was only when she ducked behind the overturned boardroom table, taking her position in a spot where no one could see, that she felt the sobs welling up in her start to overwhelm her. She leaned her face into her elbow, stifling the sobs the best she could, though her lungs continued to shudder through them.
A few tables and other barricade segments away, Mimi had slowed her own breathing enough that she could hear her friend's muted sobs. She let out a quiet breath herself and focused on the wood grain of the cabinet in front of her. She was glad that though they were nearby, if the odds came to pass and her sister-niece and first friend in town were soon killed, she wouldn't see it.
Bonnie glanced out the tiny unobstructed part of the window. There was nothing she could see out there. It felt intensely vulnerable, waiting to fight in a war without the benefit of hearing danger approaching the same way the others would, but she felt protected in another way, unable to hear all the tiny crises going on around her while they waited. The person nearest her was going to come over and signal her if something happened, but she imagined there would be nothing for a while. Nothing. It could be everything ahead. But, if they managed to make it out, a tiny voice in her was ready to imagine as a faint possibility, she would have a lot of people to talk to. If this wasn't all a really intense trip or sojourn in purgatory, of course.