Heidi knows Larry before she knows Cynthia. Has known him since before she can remember.
She’s his best friend, and he’s hers, just the same. Their mothers used to giggle that one day they’d get married. Heidi never has the time to think about something as silly as that.
Living in a small town, there's not really all that much to do. If everyone's against you, there's no one to go swimming in the creek with you, no one to climb trees with, no one to run from angry landowners with.
Larry and Heidi, they never have that problem. They always have each other.
She has a sense of adventure, he has the money and the brains to carry off whatever crazy hijink she wanted to try. Together, they’re an unstoppable force.
When her mother dies, they are four. Her family almost loses everything. They have to sell the car.
Larry tells her that his parents whisper about it, what a shame that Cynthia Hansen died. What a shame that they have nothing but a house, now. Larry tells her that his parents offered her father money to get by. Larry tells her how helpless they'd felt when he refused.
Heidi explains to him that bicycles were in vogue now, anyway.
Larry gets her a first hand bicycle for her seventh birthday.
When they’re ten, he tells her that he always thought she was pretty. She tells him that there are prettier girls in town, and he shouldn’t waste his time on a girl with next to nothing, like her.
Back then, she’d rip handfuls of grass out of the hill, throw it to be carried away by the wind. They’d hang out, late, at the old orchard. Heidi would tell him that, one day, she hoped their kids were friends, and she hoped they'd hang out there, too.
They’re thirteen when Larry's father is killed in a car crash.
Heidi tracks him down to the orchard and climbs a tree, to reach him. And she holds him, tight, in her arms, while he cries. “Why did it have to happen to him?” Larry asks her. Heidi has one arm wrapped around the trunk of the tree, worried about how high up they are.
“Things happen for reasons that we can’t understand, Larry.” She whispers to him, and blinks when the sun shines through the branches and hits her in the eye. “That’s just something we have to accept.”
They sit there for a long time, long enough for the sun to set and for the air to get cold, around them. His voice is quiet when he says, “I’ll never cry again, Heidi.”
(She doesn’t understand the weight of this statement in that moment. She doesn’t understand that from that moment on he closes a part of himself off from the rest of the world. She doesn't understand that it will be decades before those walls come back down.)
They’re sixteen when Cynthia moves into town.
Heidi’s the first to know - she works as a waitress at the local ice cream parlour, right on the edge of town during the summer, and Cynthia's family stops there, the day they move into town.
Cynthia has stylish sunglasses and dyed platinum silver hair, and she orders the double choc sundae with extra cherries on top. She actually bats her eyelashes at Heidi as she orders. Heidi wonders how many hearts she's going to break.
“Excuse me,” she says to Heidi fifteen minutes later when her sister is whining at her parents, and Heidi’s playing tic-tac-toe on her notepad, behind the counter, “can you point me towards the toilet?”
Heidi leads her around the counter and out the back, where they have a toilet block. “You’re new in town.” Heidi says, as they cross the grass.
“I am, indeed.” Cynthia replies. “Dad got a new job, here. Says things may be looking up, for us.”
Heidi stops outside the door of the toilet block, holding out a hand to her. “I'm Heidi Hansen.”
She takes Heidi’s hand with a wide smile. “Cynthia Holtzer.”
Heidi drops by Larry’s, after work, and tells him all about the lovely girl who shares the same name as her mother. Larry laughs when she rambles on. “Sounds like you might be a bit in love with her, Heidi.”
Heidi snorts and launches her scrunchie at him. “I don't think there's going to be a person in town who'll meet her and not be in love with her.” She replies, honestly.
She watches Larry think this over with a charmed look on his face, and kicks him, with her tennis shoe. “Just wait until you see how awful pretty she is.”
(Heidi’s not sure if she regrets it or not when they meet, the next day, at her work, and Larry has an infatuated look on his face from the moment he laid eyes on her until they go home.)
(And, of course, she sees the way Cynthia stares back. She doesn't see the way Cynthia stares at her, however.)
(And it's not like Heidi’s jealous. No way, she's not that kind of girl. It's just that suddenly she has to share his attention. And that's never happened, before. After all, they always have each other, right? They're an unstoppable force.)
Heidi's sure that her life is ending. She really is.
Because, how else could she be crouched on the floor of Larry Murphy's bathroom, in Larry Murphy's arms, crying over a positive pregnancy test.
It's in the last week of summer, they're about to go back to school, only a few days before Heidi's birthday, and Heidi's fucking pregnant.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck." She sobs, squeezing the test so tight she's afraid she'll crack the plastic, or something.
"Heidi, I can't understand this..." Larry says, frowning. Heidi's never liked it when he frowned. It contorts his face, makes him look much older than he is. He started frowning like that when his dad died. "You've never been even remotely interested in anyone at school. You used to say that sex was for people with low self esteem. And, now, suddenly, you're pregnant? Who did you sleep with?"
Heidi flushes hot and sobs, loudly. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you." She's never said it like that. That used to be an inside joke. Something followed by their shoulders bumping together, followed by a laugh.
"Oh no." He responds, darkly, and Heidi at least knows him well enough to know that it isn't aimed at her.
She bites her lip. "Steven Patel."
"Oh no." Larry repeats, knowing what Heidi's thinking. Heidi can't think of it. "Why?"
Heidi blushes, angrily, and bangs her head against the bathroom cabinets. "What do you mean, why?" She spits.
"I mean why him?" He splutters, and runs a hand through his dark hair. He's already got a kind of receding hairline and he's barely eighteen. "Why now?"
"I - I was drunk, Larry! I wasn't thinking!" Heidi never thought she'd have to justify having sex to her best friend. It's not like she yelled at him when he told her, excitedly, about losing his virginity, with Cynthia, in the back of his car, at the drive-in. She didn't like it, but she also didn't yell. "Or, maybe I was! Maybe I was thinking, I'm a prude, no one will ever take me seriously, and there was this hot guy who actually looked at me, actually saw me-"
"I see you." He interrupts her, and she goes quiet. The frown's still there, but it's more sad than angry. He looks properly unhappy.
"Not like that, Larry." She says, and goes to lay a hand on his arm, stopping short a few centimetres away. For some reason, she doesn't feel like she can touch him. She retracts her hand and lets it fall back into her lap, on top of the positive pregnancy test. "I mean, I know you see me, but he saw me as more than Heidi, he saw me as someone worth having sex with."
He looks up at her, and she's surprised to find that he looks upset about this statement. "That's not a reason!"
"I didn't think I needed a fucking reason!" Heidi rolls her eyes, frustrated. "Why do you have sex with Cynthia?"
"Because - because she's my girlfriend!" Larry stutters out, and his cheeks go red with embarrassment.
"Is that it?" Heidi asks him, in a sarcastic voice.
"And because we love each other and respect each other!" He adds, belatedly.
"Oh, so every person in this world that I have sex with I should love and respect, right? And they should love and respect me too?" He doesn't answer, but Heidi doesn't feel triumphant. She just feels tired and sad and hopeless. "Come off it, Larry. I was drunk, I shouldn't need any more reason than that."
He mumbles something under his breath that she doesn't quite hear, but he repeats it when she kicks him, softly, with her tennis shoe. "Did he drug you?"
"No." Heidi says, sharply. "It wasn't like that."
There's a long silence, during which Heidi puts the pregnancy test on the floor in front of her. This just solidifies what she thought of the world. Things happen, bad or good, for reasons that nobody can understand. She just hopes good things happen for Larry. He deserves it.
"I'm sorry." Larry whispers and shuffles over to sit next to her.
"No, I'm sorry." Heidi tells him, and bumps his shoulder with hers when he looks at her, quizzically. "I shouldn't have brought Cynthia into this. I guess I just...wanted to be wanted. I never see you anymore, Larry. And then suddenly there was this guy, and he was looking at me, really looking at me, and I thought, what the hell?"
"Apparently god was listening." Larry jokes, and this time she elbows him in the ribs. For a second she forgets that there's a reason they're sitting on his bathroom floor instead of driving down to the Autumn Smiles Apple Orchard to join Cynthia and her family for a picnic.
"Fuck, my dad's gonna kill me." Heidi says, but in a calm sort of way.
"No, he won't." Larry shakes his head. "He'll understand."
"Larry." Heidi puts her hands on the floor and turns to properly look at him. The tiles are starkly cold in comparison to Heidi, still warm from walking, in the hot sun, to and from the local CVS, with Larry. "Look at me. I can't do this. I'm not even seventeen. I can't handle this. And dad - dad won't approve. Dad...wouldn't understand."
"Then I'll make him understand. Cyn and I, both of us, we'll fight for you." Larry looks tough as steel, broad shoulders tensed and pushed back, chin up. "And if he throws you out, you can stay with me. You can stay in the spare room; you know my mom loves you."
Heidi frowns, pushing his shoulder. "Larry, you don't have to-"
"I mean it." His voice is sharp, his words law. If Heidi didn't know any better, if Heidi hadn't slept with dumb Steven Patel at a Fourth of July party, if Heidi hadn't grown up with this boy, thrown snowballs at him, hugged him when he cried, she would think she was in love with Larry Murphy. "I'm not gonna let you go, Heidi."
Heidi scrambles away from him, the intimacy of the moment suddenly hitting her like a semi truck. She hits the opposite wall and uses it to aid her to her feet. Her face is a mess from all the crying, making it red and blotchy, making her ugly. She shakes her head. "That's your mom's money you're offering, your family money."
"What?" Larry asks, looking a little offended and a little confused.
"You can't offer me money, Larry." Heidi states. "I don't want it."
"I'd do anything for you." Larry insists, getting to his feet, passionate to the end. He always has been. "You know that."
"Of course I know that, but I'm not gonna take your money just because I was too drunk to work out a condom. I can make it on my own. I don't need fucking charity." Heidi tastes bile in the back of her throat and swallows it down. "And my dad's not gonna throw me out. He may not approve, but he's not fucking dumb."
Larry goes red, and seems to crack, staring at the floor. "What about Steven?" He snaps.
"Steven doesn't know." Heidi mumbles.
"And Alice?" She shudders at the thought. Not only had she had sex with a guy at a Fourth of July party, she'd had sex with Alice Kleinman's boyfriend. Her only friend - apart from Larry and Cynthia - Alice Kleinman.
"I hope Alice never finds out." She admits. Larry nods, stray dark hair falling in his eyes. He sweeps it back, and Heidi sinks back against the wall. She has no idea what she's doing.
"Heidi." And then there are Larry's cool hands on her wrists. Heidi looks up at him. His face is dead serious. "I'm here for you, okay?"
"Okay." Okay. Heidi nods. She can do this. It's not as big of a deal as she's making it out to be. "Thank you, Larry."
"It's okay." She wraps her arms around his neck and matches her breathing to his. She can do this, she doesn't need money or anything. She can do this.
They stand like that, for a while, and when they finally pull away, Heidi doesn't look splotchy anymore. "I think if we leave now we'll be late but still make it to the picnic." Larry says to her. "You up for that, right now?"
"Sure," Heidi says, as she exhales. "Maybe fresh air will do me good."
(Thankfully, Cynthia doesn't ask questions when they arrive. She just fixes Heidi's hair, kisses Larry on the cheek, and sits them down on either side of her on the picnic blanket. They don't tell her until the next day.)
Her dad takes it better than she'd expected. Steven, however doesn't.
("Why are you telling me this?" He asks, eyes wide. They're standing behind the gym. Steven is quite gorgeous, really, wide blue eyes, a rounded face, and blonde hair that curls at the nape of his neck. Apparently, though, he doesn't seem to understand why she's telling him that he knocked her up.
"Because this is kind of something you need to know." Heidi informs him, trying not to sound hurt. "People are going to talk, and I felt it best to give you a heads up."
"What makes you think that people will know I did this?" He asks, folding his arms over his chest. "I barely remember you, at all, Holly."
"Heidi." She grinds out, face flushed red.
"Right. Heidi." Steven says, nodding, and not looking a mite apologetic. "Look, I have a girlfriend, and I don't want to be involved in this."
"I know your girlfriend, very well," Heidi tells him, and presses a hand to his chest, "and I'm afraid you involved yourself in this when you had sex with me.")
Alice takes it worse. She actually slaps Heidi in the middle of the corridor, at school, where everyone watches them. Alice has no qualms about outing her to the whole school.
Someone scrawls slut on the front of her locker in permanent marker. Someone graffitis it on the front of her house.
Heidi's dad pulls her out of school.
Heidi calls Cynthia a few days later and she skips school to drive to Heidi's house. They sit outside the building for a long time. She doesn't say a word until five past noon. "Do you want me to come with you?"
Heidi gulps. "I don't know." She whispers, and glances up from her hands through the window. "I don't know if I even want to go in."
"If you don't want to then you shouldn't." She informs Heidi, matter-of-factly. "You shouldn't feel pressured into a decision this important."
"But, Cyn, what if..." Heidi wraps her arms around her stomach, almost as if she was cradling the tiny bundle of cells inside her. "What if it's the right thing to do?"
Cynthia turns in her seat to look at her properly. It's a nice car. Larry bought it for her not too long ago, but she looks at home, already. "There's no way to tell what's really best in any situation." She tells Heidi, looking very serious from behind her stylish sunglasses and dyed silver hair. "Do what's right for you."
"You think I should keep it?" Heidi asks, suddenly struck by Cynthia's coolness.
She shakes her head. "It doesn't matter what I think."
"But I'm asking you." Heidi insists. "If you were me, what would you do?"
"I don't know." Cynthia says, with only a seconds contemplation.
Heidi snorts and covers her face with her hands. "Fat lot of help you are." She mumbles.
Cynthia laughs, "Sorry, I've never been pregnant before."
"Well, neither have I." Heidi snaps, jokingly, because Cynthia has an air about her that makes her feel like nothing in the world could be wrong. She wishes she'd known Cynthia all her life so she could have that air around her all the time.
There's a long pause in their conversation, as they watch the wind pick up and blow a stack of newspapers down the street. "Do you see yourself as a mother, somewhere down the line?" Cynthia asks, suddenly, pushing her sunglasses up into her hair.
"What?" Heidi asks, shaking her self out of her stupor.
"Like," Cynthia pauses, and Heidi notices how pretty her eyes are, "when you used to think about what you wanted to be when you grew up, did that include being a mother?"
"Well, when my mom died I used to think one day I'd have a daughter and I'd name her after her." Heidi admits, slowly, and pulls at the material of her t-shirt. "But...I don't think that's a good enough reason."
"I didn't know your mom was dead." Cynthia says, in a low voice. Heidi is honestly surprised about that. She thought Larry would have told Cynthia everything there was to know. After all, they've been together for almost a year, now.
"There's a lot you don't know about me." She replies.
"Why did you call me?" The question comes out so quickly that Heidi gets the distinct impression that it's something Cynthia's wanted to ask for a long time. "Why not Larry?"
"I didn't want him to have to deal with this." Heidi replies, gesturing to her general person. She's known him long enough to know that situations like this call for someone with less apathy. "He's not good at emotional stuff like this. He gets frustrated. I trust you to be a little more empathetic."
"Oh," Cynthia answers, slowly, "okay."
"I'm sorry." Heidi tells her, honestly. "You shouldn't have to deal with this, either."
"Are you kidding?" Cynthia asks and bursts into laughter. "Heidi Hansen, I would sit in a hot car with you for centuries."
"No," Heidi says, feeling vaguely flattered, "I meant my mental breakdown."
"I dreamt from the moment I met you that I'd be the one helping you through one of those." Cynthia assures her, a hand on Heidi's wrist. What was it with all these beautiful people in town? Heidi couldn't look left without seeing a pretty person. And here she is, sitting in a car with one of the prettiest girls she's ever known.
"God, you're awful." Heidi informs her, falsely, and pushes her away.
"Am not." Cynthia argues.
"Look at us, Cyn." She says, but Cynthia keeps laughing. "We're still kids. I shouldn't be having a child."
She shrugs, and her glasses slip out of her hair, and back over her eyes. "Then don't have a child."
"No, it's not that simple." Heidi says, and watches Cynthia shrug, again.
"Then have a child." Cynthia says.
She puts her face in her hands. "I have no idea what I'm doing." She mumbles.
"Sitting in a hot car with your best friend's girlfriend, trying to decide if you're going to have an abortion, today." Cynthia comments, patting Heidi's back.
Silence falls, once again, and Heidi thinks it all over. Her father had promised to support her. Steven didn't care what happened. Alice hoped she'd die.
"No," Heidi eventually says, rubbing ear face. "I need to go home."
"Yeah?" More back patting.
"Yeah." She agrees. "I'm not in the right headspace to be making a decision like this."
"Alright," Cynthia turns her key in the ignition, making the car growl to life. "Casa de Hansen it is."
Heidi isn't there when her father dies. No one is. He goes to work one morning and then he just doesn't come back.
The next morning, someone finds his mangled body and his mangled bicycle in a ditch. The police call it a hit and run, Heidi calls herself an orphan. She has to pick up a second job to afford the funeral and all the bills that suddenly fall to her to pay.
Larry once again offers to help her, and she says no. And then Cynthia offers to help and Heidi snaps. ("That's not your money, Cynthia.")
They let her work herself into the ground, for a while, maybe out of spite, maybe because they just don't care. Heidi knows she's hard to care about when she's hurling insults at any human even remotely close to her. Eventually people get worried enough about her working overtime and never seeming to eat or sleep that they give her more days off and Heidi doesn't know what to do with herself.
She can't ignore the grief when she's left alone with her thoughts and the bump under her clothes that grows larger with each passing day.
And then there's that. Not only is she handling the house, supporting herself, soon there'll be hospital bills and expenses to spend on the baby. She feels boxed in and alone and afraid, and she finally gives up and calls Larry.
He's no good with emotions, everyone knows that, but he lets her blubber into his sweater about how scared she is. He holds her close while she cries about losing her father and losing sight of her future.
And Larry still there, in the morning. He's still holding her to his chest, on the couch, asleep. He stayed. He cared enough to stay.
He stays when she's screaming about a kitchen appliance not working and he's trying to study for exams. He stays overnight on Christmas. He stays when she's irritable and sore after working a long shift. Heidi becomes a permanent fixture in his house, and he in hers. She sees more and more of Cynthia as Cynthia strikes up the nerve to be around her.
Heidi thinks she walks in on them in undesirable positions and places only a few times, but she’s definitely scarred for life after each of them.
Eventually, both her bosses at Á La Mode and the library tell her to take some leave. Heidi doesn’t want to, because that means she’ll be alone in her house all day, doing nothing. And doing nothing is one of the most dangerous things she could be doing at the moment. But they insist, and Heidi trudges home.
Being all alone, during the day, doesn’t help with the lingering grief. It also doesn’t help her mental state. Heidi’s never given much thought to depression, but she thinks that maybe what she’s feeling right now, this sort of emptiness, exhaustion, sadness, she thinks it might be depression.
She doesn’t voice this to Larry, all too aware he’d get spooked and tell Cynthia, and Cynthia would tell her psychiatrist parents, and Heidi would get hauled off to a loony bin. She keeps it to herself, and maybe that’s what makes it worse.
Everything seems so starkly set out, now. Bad things happen for no reason that she can understand. Sometimes, good things happen, but not often, and it’s usually because other people do it. Bad things are natural. Good things are rare.
Heidi balances a bowl of cereal on her stomach, since it’s big enough for that, and looks straight ahead, at the TV, instead of at Larry and Cynthia, flirting between flash cards.
Heidi thinks she's supposed to have a big moment of introspection. She thinks she's supposed to be overwhelmed with joy and love, and feel complete. Or maybe just be relieved that the pain is over. She’s supposed to feel something monumental, she thinks.
She just feels tired. Like one ordeal is over but another is rearing its ugly head.
Sure, there's something about holding her baby in her arms that's kind of perfect, but it's the kind of perfect that also comes with bursting into terrified, exhausted tears.
Heidi is seventeen years old, and she is alone in a hospital room with her newborn baby.
Her father is dead, so she can't exactly introduce him to his grandson, and her mother is too. She knows Larry and Cynthia are sitting in the waiting room, holding each other's hands, and biting their lips, and waiting, but she doesn't want to see them. She doesn't want to see anyone.
Heidi looks down at her son's scrunched little face and there's something flipping in her stomach that she thinks must be love. They've wrapped him in a blue blanket and put a little blue hat on his head. She tries to think of something happy, look on the bright side of things, but she's just so tired.
She doesn't know what she's doing.
Heidi holds the baby to her chest and she cries until a nurse comes to take the baby to a cot.
"There are two people in the waiting room who'd like to see you." Says the nurse.
Heidi already knows she doesn't have it in her. Larry's no good at comfort and she doesn't know Cynthia well enough to cry in her arms. She truly has no one. "Tell them I'm asleep." She replies, and wonders what this nurse sees. A mess, she presumes.
Most mothers cry from joy, don't they? Heidi's crying in exhaustion and terror.
Either way, the nurse nods, and Heidi turns over and cries into her pillow instead.
Heidi only goes to the graduation ceremony because Larry begs, and then bribes her with waffles. She sits through the uncomfortable stares and glances from parents around her, Evan asleep in his pram, and simply cheers when Cynthia’s called up (Holtzer comes before Murphy, alphabetically) and then when Larry is.
She’s glad that they at least got to graduate from high school. Heidi doesn’t think she ever will, and doesn’t actually want to.
After the ceremony they both run over to her, sweaty and red faced but excited. They hug her (mostly Larry) and jump up and down (mostly Cynthia) and kiss each other, and then they head to Larry’s car so they can head out for waffles.
Heidi busies herself with taking care of Evan, who’s only three months old, now.
And then Cynthia gets up to go to the bathroom, and Larry leans across the table. Heidi can tell just from looking at him that he’s excited about something. “What?” She asks, putting on a grin, for him.
“I’m about to do something really crazy.” He informs her.
“If it’s blow up the diner at least give me a chance to run.” Heidi comments, poking his arm.
Larry shakes his head, and then he pulls something small out of the pocket of his jacket. A small box. Oh. Heidi’s grin freezes on her face, and she tries to remember how to breathe.
“When Cynthia comes out of the bathroom, I’m going to ask her to marry me.” He says, but he sounds far away, like he’s underwater. Surely stuff like this - like Heidi having a baby, like Larry proposing to the girl he lost his virginity to in the back of his expensive car, like having an actual, literal mental breakdown in a diner - surely this stuff was supposed to happen later in life, when Heidi was legally allowed to drink alcohol.
“Oh my god.” She murmurs, mouth half-covered by her fingers.
He bites his lip. “Do I have your blessing?”
“Larry!” Her eyes are wide. She’s both amused and shocked that he’s asking her that.
“No, apart from Cynthia you are the most important person to me,” that shouldn’t sting, she knows it shouldn’t, “so I need your blessing.”
“Of course you should ask her.” Heidi says, honestly. “You love her, she loves you. You’re perfect for each other.”
Heidi gets up from her seat and hugs him. She wonders if maybe there was an alternate timeline where everything was the same, but there was no Cynthia. She wonders why she would think something like that.
“Larry? Heidi?” Says Cynthia’s voice through the general din of the diner. Heidi pulls away from him, hastily and looks at Larry. She kicks his shin with her tennis shoe, and he slips out of the booth and onto one knee. He always was smooth as hell.
Cynthia has a hand over her mouth, staring down at him, Larry holds up the ring box, and the chatter around them dies down. “Cynthia Mary Holtzer,” he says and Heidi barely hears Cynthia whispering, “Oh my god,” under her breath. “I’ve loved you from the moment I set eyes on you, and I want to keep loving you until the day I die. Will you marry me?”
Heidi feels separated from reality when Cynthia says yes and the other patrons give them a lukewarm round of applause. Evan starts crying, startled by the sudden loud noise, so she has to take him outside to soothe him. This seems to be her life, now. 75% of the important stuff she’ll be present for, sure, but the crying child will take up the other 25%.
Heidi can’t help but wonder if she’ll live to see Cynthia and Larry get married.
It only takes them a month to get everything ready, and then the next thing Heidi knows her best friend is marrying his high school sweetheart. She stands to his left, watching from the side as Cynthia grins at him.
It’s a small affair, just their immediate families and a few school friends who Heidi vaguely knows. She catches the gaze of Cynthia’s older sister and wonders why she’s giving her the stink eye.
Cynthia’s platinum hair shimmers in the warm sunlight, and it catches all the silver highlights on her loose dress. Heidi does wonder why she liked a dress that would hide everything about her midriff, but stopped wondering that when Cynthia told her this was the one.
She makes her way, vaguely, through the ceremony, passing Larry the rings when it’s time, signing on as the witness for their wedding, clapping when they’re pronounced husband and wife and Cynthia leaps into his arms.
Heidi tries to get out of the photos, claiming to feel unwell, but Cynthia drags her over. As far as Heidi knows, she’s in every single one of the wedding photos, and that’s what makes her feel the most ill. Everything feels underwater, but Heidi is set on a certain future and that future ends once Larry and Cynthia leave town, the next day.
The photographer shows them a specific photo of the three of them and Evan in Heidi’s arms. She feels dizzy when Cynthia says that it belongs on the mantelpiece. That’s right. They bought a house. Heidi helped them pick it out. It’s on the richer side of town, almost all the way across town from where Heidi and Larry grew up, but it doesn’t matter.
The reception is almost as vague as the ceremony, but Heidi receives a brief moment of clarity when she stands up to give her Best Man speech. She tells stories of their childhood, speaks of how generous and kind Larry is, despite his problem with emotions. She congratulates them on being one of the best couples she knows, on how good they are together and how she hopes they make each other as happy as they do now in twenty years. She says all the things she wants them to hear so that when they come home and she’s gone they’ll have something to hold onto.
And then she watches them dance.
Heidi watches them dance all night. And when they get in their car to go to the airport, she hugs Larry so tight she worries he’ll realise what she’s going to do. But he doesn’t. He sees the tears in her eyes and he smiles. “It’s okay, Heidi.” He says, with a faint smile that she hasn’t seen in ages. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
She watches them drive into the distance, and the tears go away. She can’t cry. She’s empty.
Alice Kleinman looks confused when she opens the door and Heidi’s standing there. “What do you want?” Alice asks, with a sneer.
Heidi wordlessly hands her Evan, wrapped up in a yellow blanket. “I’ll be back for him in the morning.” She says, and dumps the bag of baby supplies at her feet.
Alice adjusts the way she’s holding him and Heidi nods with approval. Alice got the highest marks in their health class when everyone had to take a plastic baby home and care for it. “What makes you think I can take care of a baby?” She questions, but there’s less sneering, now. Alice isn’t a bad person, Heidi knows that, she was just hurt by what Heidi did.
“I trust that you won’t let him get hurt between now and ten am tomorrow morning. Plus I’ll pay you.” Heidi replies, and turns away, walking back down Alice’s drive. If she’s not too much mistaken, Alice appear to have a bump underneath her flowy t-shirt.
“Where are you going?” Alice calls.
“Home, to get some rest.” Heidi calls back, and ignores the awful rolling feeling in her stomach.
"You have reached the voicemail of-"
"-please leave your message after the tone."
"Larry, fuck, hi. It’s Heidi. I know you're on your honeymoon, I know you're having the time of your fucking life, I know, I know all of it, but I thought you'd want to know that I'm going to kill myself. Nobody's here, and you're sensible, and you'd do something about this, but you're not answering the phone and, Larry, I'm going to kill myself. I planned it all out in my head. I went through with your wedding because I wanted you to have something nice of me to remember, but it’s suddenly hit me that I have no way of making this stop. No one’s here to stop me. Maybe that’s why I called you. Maybe I wanted you to stop me, but maybe I just wanted you to have a reason. It's not your fault. I just needed you to know. I can't deal with any of this. I'm not doing okay, I'm so fucked up, and I can't do this, I'm not supposed to be a mother, or any of that shit, I'll just fuck him up the way I'm fucked up. He deserves better than that. I just...well, I guess I wanted to say I’m sorry and also that I-"
She caught a glance of herself in the mirror, this morning. She wasn't allowed to go to the bathroom, alone, but she still managed a glimpse, and Heidi has concluded that she looks like a corpse. And not even a pretty one.
She reckons Cynthia would make a pretty corpse.
Heidi doesn't look at Larry. He's been sitting there since she woke up. She woke up and she started panicking. The last thing she knew was everything going black while she was sat in her bathtub. And then she remembers the sounds of sirens.
Larry, no good at emotions, had kicked down her bathroom door, wrapped her arms in towels and carried her out to the ambulance he’d called from the airport. He flew from Hawaii when he heard her message, panicking on the plane that he was too late.
He keeps trying to talk to her. Heidi won't answer. She doesn't want to answer. She can't even look at him. She can't bear it. Not after what she did.
She wants to die, and not even just for the regular reasons. She wants to die because she's embarrassed she did it wrong in the first place. She's embarrassed she called Larry, she's embarrassed that he ran out of his lovely, expensive honeymoon and jumped on a plane to prevent her from killing herself. She's embarrassed that he's been here, overnight, and that he had to find her the way he did.
She's embarrassed that she has to pay for a new bathroom door because he kicked hers in.
"Heidi, please." He says. He doesn't reach for her hand. He knows she'll pull away. "Say something."
He's never been good at this. Heidi was always good at comforting him, and he was always rubbish at comforting her, but right now she doesn't want to comfort him. She's not sure if she's angry at him for saving her life or for being here, in the aftermath, to see her ugly, embarrassed corpse recovery.
Heidi's sure that she doesn't like who she's turned into - yet another factor in wanting to die - but she's not sure if she liked who she was before. The girl who'd had sex with Steven Patel at a Fourth of July party is not who is lying in this hospital bed. Heidi's not sure if she misses her, either. That girl was ignorant. That girl was naïve and stupid and reckless, and that girl is who landed her here.
Well, her and Larry.
"I'm sorry that I wasn't there." Larry tells her, hands wringing in his lap.
"But you were." Her voice is croaky. "You were there, and you saved me."
He looks surprised. Heidi almost laughs. "I'm sorry I wasn't there, sooner." He revises, scooting his chair closer. "I could have prevented you from being here, at all."
She doesn't want to talk about it. Her arms are itchy. Larry makes the effort to drag her hand away when she starts scratching at the bandages on her wrist.
"You'll open up your stitches." He scolds her. She's tempted to do it just to piss him off.
"Who knows about this?" Heidi asks, instead, not really wanting to know the answer, but asking anyway.
"Everyone on your street." She holds back a groan. Yeah, a speeding ambulance would do that, wouldn't it? "And Alice Kleinman found out when she tried to drop your son off, this morning, and found the house covered in police tape. So she's probably told a few people. She also called the police on you, last night. They showed up right before the paramedics."
"Why?" Heidi asks, with a frown.
"She was wondering why a mother would leave her four month old in the care of someone who they don't like and she got terrified you were going to do something harmful." Larry answers, and Heidi registers just how tired he looks. Her skin is waxy and she has bruises under her eyes, but he looks exhausted. Makes sense, since he flew in to save her life, the goddamn hero he is. "So she called the police."
"Fuck." Heidi says, and taps her chin with her index and middle finger, absently.
There's a pause. And then Larry says, "Evan misses you."
"Evan isn't aware of object permanence, yet." Heidi replies, tiredly.
"I think he noticed that his mother left.” Larry informs her. He looks so tired. Heidi feels so bad. “Babies tend to notice that kind of thing."
"I had heard." She says, and turns her face towards the window.
"Please tell me what's wrong." He hasn’t sounded this upset since the day his father died. Heidi hates this. She really, truly does.
"I did.” Heidi snaps, and then she laughs, without humour. “Or, actually, I told your voicemail. I'm fucking miserable, Larry."
"Is that really a reason to kill yourself?"
"No one would miss me."
"That's a lie." She rounds on him. The heart monitor off to the side beeps a bit faster.
"It's true.” She says, and tears pool in her eyes. It would have been so much easier if he’d waited a little longer to check his phone. “You're here, but Cynthia's off in Hawaii, having her back massaged. Alice still hates me, my parents are dead, and the father of my child hasn't spoken to me since I told him he was a father at all."
Larry looks aghast. She imagines they’re just as upset as each other. Heidi wishes she could get past her stupid pride and just dissolve into him. She wishes he was some good at emotions, that it wouldn’t matter if she cried in front of him. But she’s too proud to admit how scared she is, in person, and he won’t hold her and understand if she cries. "So you want your son to grow up without a mother, too?"
"Don't pull that card on me, Larry Murphy, I will not be manipulated." Heidi hisses at him.
"I'm not trying to.” Larry’s voice is getting steadily more and more desperate. “You just told me that I'm the only person who'd miss you if you died, but you forget that Alice Kleinman actually called the police because she was terrified for your safety."
"More like terrified for her safety.” She says, rubbing her face, frustratedly. She won’t cry in front of him, she won’t. “She probably thought I was gonna go on a shooting spree."
"Heidi, please." He reaches for her hand and she snatches it away. “Tell me the truth.”
She's not sure what about that demand makes her stop. Makes tears pool in her eyes, makes her want to scrunch up in a ball of shame and fade away, just disappear. “You'll hate me.” Heidi whispers, pulling her knees up to her chest.
“No,” Larry says, and stands up, more colour in his voice, raw grief in his voice, “no, I could never hate you.”
"Excuse me." They both look up, and there, standing in the doorway, is Steven Patel. Heidi flushes, deeply. "Heidi, right?"
He's holding a bouquet of flowers. "Right." Larry's face has gone stony. "I - what are you doing here?" She feels even more embarrassed, now. She wants to stuff her bandaged wrists under her blanket before he can see them.
Steven rubs the back of his neck, awkwardly. "I heard you had an accident, and I know I was pretty shitty to you, especially when you were in need, like that, so I brought flowers to say I'm sorry and also I hope you get better, soon."
He makes his way, slowly into her room and places the flowers on the table beside her bed. They’re a bunch of tulips, all tied together. There’s still a price tag on the plastic. For some reason, Heidi cannot find it in her to care. She just feels kind of warm that he cared enough to buy her flowers and stop by.
“Thank you.” Heidi says, softly, and she feels a bit like the person she was at the Fourth of July, last year. She feels a bit like the person who’d kissed Steven Patel at a party and not cared about the consequences. “That’s very nice of you.”
Steven looks over at Larry. “Oh, hi,” and the way he says it sounds almost like he hadn't realised Larry was in the room in the first place, “you’re the guy who married Cynthia Holtzer, right?”
“Yeah.” Larry replies, and Heidi, a trained ear, hears the strain in his tone. “That’s me.”
Steven cocks his head to the side. “I thought you were on your honeymoon.” He says, and Larry raises his eyebrows at him.
“I was.” Heidi winces. That’s her fault.
“Ah well, parties don't last forever.” Steven informs him, seemingly unaware of the tension between Heidi and Larry, her obvious guilt and his overwhelming frustration. God, she wishes Larry could just understand she was going to ruin his life, and he'd be so much better of without him.
“Sure.” Larry replies.
“I need to go, or I'll be late for work,” Steven says, after a moment of silence, “but do you mind if I drop in, tomorrow?”
Heidi tries not to look like she is terrified at the prospect of making good with the father of her child. “I guess.” She tells him, and gives him a small, half-smile.
“Great.” He says, smiling at her, and striding from the room. Larry doesn't say anything once Steven’s gone, but Heidi knows he wants to, so she turns over in her end and pretends to go to sleep.
Larry’s not an idiot, he knows when she's faking sleep, but he also knows when she wants to be alone, so he tells Heidi’s nurse to tell her that he went home to clean up and get food and that he'd be back soon. Heidi stares at the flowers Steven left her, and tries to actually go to sleep.
Two weeks after he appeared in her hospital room, and a new prescription for Prozac later, Heidi works up the nerve to invite him to her house, and have him meet Evan.
Larry is standing at her island bench with his arms folded over his chest. Cynthia got home two days after Larry did, looking harried and frustrated, but relieved when she saw Heidi.
“You can't be serious.” He says, and Heidi rolls her eyes, fluffing another of the decorative cushions Cynthia bought her.
“I am serious, Larry.” She replies. “Evan needs a father figure in his life, and considering Steven is actually his father, that's about as good as it gets. You'll understand when you start having your own kids.” She punctuates the end of the sentence by whacking him with a tea towel, as she passes.
Larry only frowns deeper. “Why do you say that as if that's a near-future kind of thing?” He asks, stepping away from the kitchen bench and leaning a bit over her shoulder as she rearranges some eight dollar flowers from the supermarket. These are some type of wildflower, but she briefly considered the tulips, beside them.
“Well,” Heidi begins and turns, startling them both with the sheer close proximity between them, “I totally expect you to follow in my footsteps and have two or three kids in the next four years.”
He steps a bit away. “You're the worst.” Larry informs her, but the quirk at the edge of his mouth says otherwise.
Heidi shoves his shoulder. “I am not.” And they're grinning at each other. Like they're kids again, like nothing changed. Everything's changed. But in this moment everything's fine and good and great. If Heidi didn't know any better, if Heidi didn't have a son, if Larry didn't have a wife, if she hadn't tried to kill herself and left her suicide note in his voicemail, she would think she was in love with Larry Murphy.
Larry’s smile fades from his face, as if sensing her mood slipping. “Are you sure you're up for this?” He asks, and moves as if he's going to reach out to her. He seems to think better of it, a moment later.
“Sure, I'm sure.” She replies, awkwardly, moving past him, again, and straightening some meaningless doily that belonged to her mother. “I mean, he makes me feel like I'm an actual teenager, again. Like I have no responsibilities and nothing to worry about. It's sort of refreshing.”
In classic Larry Murphy style, he crosses his arms over his chest and frowns. “Is that really the energy you need in this house, right now?”
Heidi sighs, and puts her weight on the side table in front of her. “Larry, is this going to directly affect you? Is this your house? Is Evan your son?”
“No.” He says, defeatedly. “None of those…”
“Then I don't see why you have any authority over this situation.” She informs him, as crisply as possible.
There's a long silence where Heidi pretends to be interested in the flower arrangements, again. And then Larry says, “I'm sorry.”
“It's fine.” Heidi says after a moment of surprised silence. Larry’s not usually the first one to bend and say he was wrong. He's always been too proud for that. “You know this isn't going to change anything, right?”
“But everything has changed, Heidi.” And now he just sounds scared. She turns to look at him and he's sitting on the couch, almost crumpled inwards on himself, wearing the same expression he wore when she woke up in hospital. “Everything's different. More complicated. It's freaky.”
“It is. I totally get that.” She acknowledges. She takes a deep breath and sits down beside him. Heidi can't help but wonder why it's so hard to find their easy friendship in the mess their lives are, right now. “Look, the only reason I'm really doing this is because I want Evan to have a father figure in his life. You and I both know what it's like growing up without a parent. How hard it is, even though our parents did the best they could for us.” They're both leaning forward with their elbows on their knees, almost like they're about to start a race. “I guess I just want to give Evan what I couldn't have. You'll know what I mean if you have kids.”
She sees him nod, sees a stray lock of hair fall from its place into his eyes. He brushes it away, absently and bites his lip. Larry looks so similar and yet so different from the boy she grew up with. “Just be careful, yeah?” He says. “Don't let him break your heart.”
“You forget that that's always an option, Larry.” Heidi says, quietly, sadly. They take a breath, staring at each other like suddenly they're strangers, but strangers who look familiar. Heidi snaps from the daze, first, getting to her feet, abruptly, and tugging him upright, after her. “Now, get home to your lovely wife so she doesn't think I'm stealing you.”
“Cynthia would never think that.” Larry grumbles, but let's er tug him towards the door.
“She will if you stay here much longer.” Heidi informs him with a laugh that she doesn't quite mean. She wanted his car drive away with a sinking feeling in her stomach, like something's about to end. Heidi shoos the feeling away and goes to check on Evan.
She calls him because he's her only option. She calls him because she can make up for the hospital bills, but she can't afford an ambulance. She calls him because she's hoping this will be the exception and he'll pick up the phone, for once in his life. He does.
Larry speeds her to the hospital, Evan wrapped up tight in her arms. Heidi can't help her sobbing. She isn't paying attention to Larry, or his driving, or his stony expression that says he will break every traffic law to get her to the hospital in time.
God knows he can probably afford the fines.
A nurse takes Evan from her arms when they appear in the ER and Heidi screams for someone to help. Another nurse asks her what's wrong. And she explains as quickly as she can that he wasn't breathing when she came in to check on him, that he was too cold.
Larry sits with her, holding her hand, in the waiting room, and they don't speak. His phone goes off a few time, but after he checks the caller, he just lets it ring out. Heidi wonders if he makes a habit of that or if she's just lucky.
This is weighing her down. The raised scars on her wrists, the lingering darkness in her head, the way he looks at her with concern behind his eyes, the way that concern never seems to go away. Heidi can't stand it.
“Sometimes,” she says, and Larry looks up at her, mouth set in a firm, unimpressed line. “Sometimes I wish you were too late.”
His mouth parts, his eyes widen, his shoulders slump back. “Heidi,” and the way he says it sends a crack through her soul. As if he can't believe she'd say that, as if he wants to take the pain that forced the statement from her lips and carry it on his shoulders for the rest of his life, just so she doesn't have to.
“Don't, Larry. I mean it.” Heidi murmurs. “I'm sorry, but you should have just let me die.”
He looks like he wants to say more, beg her to say she's lying, but Heidi gets up and walks away, pretending to be interested in what the vending machines have to offer her.
Half an hour later, there's finally news, and the news is that they were just in time. The doctor tells them they'll be keeping Evan overnight for observation, but he should be alright to go home soon after that, so long as there's no complications.
Larry lets Heidi hold him through this, even though she knows he's upset. Larry drives her home, in stony silence, even though she tells him she can just walk. He's gone when Steven finally returns her call, and she's glad, because Heidi didn't want him to see her cry.
Heidi and Steven get married a year later, only ten days after her nineteenth birthday. Heidi’s just glad to have some stability, to have something to lean on when her medication doesn't help enough.
She and Larry haven't spoken since he drove her to the hospital. It's been more than a year.
Heidi wants to see him, to let him be right, to apologise, but every time she imagines having Steven drive her over there, she feels too proud. She feels like she's not good enough, anymore. Like they live in separate worlds, now.
She tries to stop thinking about it.
Heidi decides to live.
Evan's crying when she leaves. He started crying in the middle of their fight, and Heidi had been so angry she hadn't gone into his room to soothe him. She was so angry at Steven, at what he said, that she grabbed her coat off the coat rack and walked right out into the rain.
Somehow the sobs of a four year-old are even more distressing than the sobs of a newborn. Maybe it's because the four year-old actually knows why mommy and daddy are fighting, and just wants it to stop. Heidi doesn't know.
She calls Cynthia from under the shade of a tree, two streets over from Heidi's house, but it goes to voicemail.
So she walks. She remembers vaguely the house that she helped Larry pick out. She walks across town, in the rain, hoping it will cool her anger off.
The house Heidi comes upon is much bigger than she anticipated. It has a big driveway, with two cars, and a nice lawn on it. Heidi assumes the small trees surrounding the yard are fruits of some sort but they must be dormant, as it's November. She rings the doorbell and shakes water off, underneath their pergola.
The front door opens and Cynthia is standing there, real as the day Heidi met her, with red hair, bangs, and a champagne glass in her hand. She blinks at Heidi for a few seconds and then frowns. "Heidi? What are you- did you walk here? You're drenched!"
Heidi allows herself to be ushered into the house and hears laughter and music. One of the two doors to the sitting room is propped open and she can see other people, dressed in cocktail party outfits, holding champagne and trading amusing stories. Cynthia closes the door behind her.
"You're having a party?" Heidi asks, in a low voice, trying to keep her anger in check.
"You're shivering!" Cynthia tuts, hands rubbing Heidi's shoulders as if she can transfer some warmth toner via touch. "Did you walk all the way across town? Where's Steven?"
"He's at home, with Evan." Heidi informs her, stiffly, and shrugs her hands off. "Why didn't you answer my call?"
Cynthia's eyes go wide, and she pulls a flip phone out of a hidden pocket in her dress. "Shit," she mutters, scanning the screen. She snaps it shut and looks up at her. "Sorry, things got so busy here."
"Great. Okay. So you just were too busy to answer my call." Heidi feels too young to be in the position she's in. She should be out there, living her life, but instead she's having fights with her husband while her son cries in the next room over. Instead, she's standing, dripping wet, in her best friend's foyer, talking to his wife like she actually knows her, at all. "That's fine. Whatever."
"What happened?" Cynthia asks, putting a hand on Heidi's arm. Heidi flinches away, this time, surprised at the sudden touch, and winces at the stricken look on Cynthia's face.
"No, I think you've revoked your right to ask that, tonight." She snaps, and then sags. "I should just go, I never should have come here."
"Out in the rain?" Cynthia bites her lip. "Don't be silly! I'll have Larry drive you home."
Heidi suddenly feels overcome with revulsion. "Oh, will you?" She asks. "What is he, a fucking chauffeur, now?"
"Heidi,” Cynthia says, in a scolding tone, almost Heidi Hansen, get your hands out of that cookie jar, at once! She crosses the room and closes the door to the sitting room. Heidi hadn't realised just how embarrassed of her, Cynthia was. “Keep your voice down."
"Or what? I'll ruin your reputation?” She knows that making snide remarks doesn't put her in the right, in this situation, but Heidi has always been spiteful, has always wanted the last laugh. “Living it up with all the rich people, are you?"
Cynthia looks affronted. "So, first you don't want our money and then you mock us for it?" She demands, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Cynthia, I'm not sure when you started being so close minded, but, let me tell you, it's a great look on you.”
“What are you? Twelve?” Cynthia asks her, actually looking mildly upset. “What are you getting out of this?”
“Seems like all you care about is having money and a reputation.” She continues, choosing not to engage with Cynthia’s line of questioning. “God, I don't even care about that too much, I was used to that. What I hate is that neither of you answer your fucking phones anymore! You're both so shit at answering your phones when I need you!"
"Just tell me what happened, Heidi!” She explodes, shouting her down in her lovely, hard-floor foyer. “I want to help!"
"No!” Heidi shouts back, and then stops. What is she doing? She's going off the rails, again. She pushes her wet hair out of her face and takes a deep breath. “No, I never should have come. I'm leaving."
"Heidi!” Cynthia cries, blocking Heidi from the door with her body. “You'll catch something nasty out there! At least let me call you a taxi!"
"I don't want your fucking charity.” Heidi moans, trying to push her out of the way.
"Mommy?" Heidi whips around and stares at the little boy behind her, in Buzz Lightyear pyjamas. He has blue eyes and dark brown hair that's long enough to curl around his ears. He looks almost exactly like Larry did at his age.
Heidi can't breathe. She feels like the breath has been knocked out of her. "You have a son?" She whispers.
Cynthia hurries up to the little boy and ushers him back up the stairs, assuring him she'll be right there. And once he's disappeared up the stairs Cynthia whips around, again, frowning, "Of course I have a son, what do you mean?"
"I mean," Heidi can taste bile in the back of her throat, "why didn't you tell me you had a son?"
"Because for most of my pregnancy you were working two jobs and then drugged up in a hospital bed." Cynthia snaps.
Larry had a son and he had never told her. Cynthia had a son and she never told her. Steven probably knew and never told her. There were so many things he never told her. She was so tired of finding out all the things he never told her.
Heidi hadn't realised how much they'd drifted apart until tonight.
"I need to go." She mumbles and turns towards Cynthia's lovely, ornate front door.
"No, wait, Heidi," she hears Cynthia's heels clacking on the hard wood behind her, "I didn't mean it like that-"
"Yes, you did." Heidi assures her, needing to get out of the house. The door handle is cold in her hand, but Cynthia's hand covers hers and prevents her from opening it. "I know that everyone was terrified for a year afterwards that if they turned their back for a second I'd be slitting my wrists, again. I know why you didn't tell me. I get it."
"Please, let me drive you back." Cynthia pleads with her and Heidi stares at her. She hardly knew Cynthia when they were teenagers, when she was just Larry's girlfriend with the platinum silver hair and the beautiful smile and the same name as Heidi's mother. She doesn't know the woman in front of her.
"Don't." She says. "And don't tell Larry I was here, or that I called. He's not good at this emotional stuff."
Heidi walks about halfway home, in the rain, before she collapses on the curb of a gas station. Steven's probably worried about her. Evan's probably screaming again. Heidi doesn't want to go home, but she doesn't know where else to go. She just wants to fade into the background
Steven moves out, right after Christmas, a few months later, after the snow has come and gone. Heidi dials Larry's number into her phone and stares at the call button for a long time, wondering if she should call him, if he'd even pick up.
She slams the phone back into its cradle and goes to bed, instead.
Evan is seven years old when she next hears of the Murphy’s. “Mrs. G had to go to hospital,” he says, over their dinner of microwave mac and cheese.
“Is that so?” Heidi asks, looking up from her textbook. She's trying to get her GED so she can attend night classes at the local community college and get a better gig than what she has at the hospital. It's hard work. It would be much easier if there was someone at home to take care of Evan, but Steven’s long gone and Heidi can't afford a babysitter - well, at least one she trusts.
“Yeah.” Evan agrees, running his fork through the cheese, disinterestedly. “Connor Murphy got upset that she skipped him as line leader, today, and he threw a printer at her.”
Heidi tries not to freeze up when she recognises the name, because Evan is a very perceptive child, and he'd want to know what she was thinking. “Well,” she says, swallowing the lump in her throat, “that's not good.”
“It was a bit scary.” He admits.
She sighs and eats another bite of mac and cheese. “Did Mrs. G get very hurt?” Heidi asks, and Evan shrugs.
“The office ladies said she maybe had some broken toes.” He says, disinterestedly. “Jared said she died, but I don't believe him.”
“That wasn't very nice of Jared to say.” She says.
“I know.” He replies.
Heidi can't get the image if the little boy in Buzz Lightyear pyjamas out of her head, that night. She wonders what Larry thinks of all this, and then shakes the thought away, turning over in bed. No more of that.
He's nine and he looks very small in the chair outside the principal's office. Heidi missed the first call because she was still on call, but caught the second one on her way to lunch. She stalled twice on the way from the hospital to the school, because she's still pretty shit at driving manual.
An office lady grimaces at her and passes her a form on a clipboard. Heidi looks away from Evan to sign off on his suspension and passes it back, nodding to the office lady. Then she walks over to her son.
He glances up at her when she crouches down in front of him, and then bursts into tears. There's bandaids around the tips of his thumb, index, and middle fingers. Heidi wants to lean forward and gather him into her arms, but she doesn't.
“C’mon,” she says, instead, holding out her hand to him. They walk out into the parking lot and Evan sniffs as he puts on his seatbelt. He's a smart kid. Heidi was never afraid of this. “Where did you get the matches?”
She pulls out of the parking lot and Evan stares down at his hands.
“Evan, I need you to answer me.”
“They were in the basement.” He says, quietly.
“Why did you take them?” The indicator clicks loudly in the silence of the car.
“I just wanted - I just wanted to look at them.” He's been developing a stutter in the last year or so, but Heidi’s used to it, by now.
“Lighting them in the boy's bathroom is not looking.” Heidi tells him, tensely. She's still shaking a bit. “Evan, you could've started a fire.”
“But I didn't.” He insists with a bit of strength in his voice.
“You also didn't ask.” She shoots back, eyes on the road. She can see him fidgeting in his seat, in her peripheral vision. “You weren't being safe. That's why you were suspended.”
“I didn't - I didn't hurt anyone.” He says, and sniffs, again. She wonders what kind of a talking to the principal gave him. She wonders if he was harsh.
“But you could have.” Heidi counters. “Why didn't you ask me? I might have said that we could light them in the sink, or something.”
“You would have said no.” This statement is quiet. “You would have gotten angry.”
“Well, I'm angry now, kiddo, so you didn't exactly dodge that bullet.” Heidi says, sharply. They stop at the traffic lights and she rests her head in the steering wheel, breathing deeply. Evan sniffs, beside her. “I'm sorry. I just got scared. You scared me. You could've gotten hurt - really hurt, not just little burns on your fingers.”
“I couldn't bear it if I lost you, Evan. If something were to happen to you…you're all I've got left. I just want you to promise me you won't do anything like this, again. You've gotta ask before taking things, evaluate the risk in actions that you take. I want you to be safe, but when you're at school, it's your responsibility to keep yourself safe.” Too much to unload on a kid, too much responsibility, too much time at home alone, but too much time off work to take care of him. It's so complicated, and she just wants him to be safe and happy and okay, not like her, never like her. “Do you understand that?”
“Yes.” She doesn't think he does, but he'll try because he's a good boy who somehow sees how sad she is, even when he makes her smile.
“I love you, Evan.” She says, and takes a hand off the wheel to hand his hand.
“I love you too, mom.” Evan replies, and grants her that. Heidi wants to cry.
Alice called when she got Evan home, safe, to ask if he was okay on his own. “He says he is, but I'm not sure…” she says.
“No, I'll be home in half an hour, you're okay.” Heidi responds, rubbing her temple. “Thank you, Alice. I don't know what I'd do without you.”
“No problem.” Alice says, and hangs up. She's never been good at saying goodbye. Heidi stuffs her phone in her pocket and turns to put her head against the wall. Shit, shit, shit. She should have known something like this would happen. She's such an idiot to hope it wouldn't.
The lady in the office said he was shaking when they found him. That he'd been there for a while. They said he wasn't injured, just crying and shaking. The only thing they were really worried about was that he seemed to be hyperventilating and that the asthma puffer wasn't helping all that much.
Heidi breathes deeply until she stops trembling and walks out of the bathroom. “Erica, I need to take off.” She says, walking through the nurses station to grab her stuff. “Evan’s had a bad day, at school, and I need to be with him.”
“Alright, but you have to cover me on Friday.” Erica replies, absently,Minot looking up from her sudoku.
“Sure thing.” Heidi says, pulling on her jacket and speed walking to the elevator. Her son had an anxiety attack at school. He was supposed to be presenting on Bridge to Terabithia, and he'd seemed nervous, this morning, but Heidi never expected this. She should have. She shouldn't have been so naïve as to think she wouldn't pass something like this on to her son.
She drives better, now, but still not well, and makes it home in fifteen minutes. Evan’s sitting on his bed, in his room, a blanket around his shoulders, reading an old Wolverine comic she got for him five years ago, from a garage sale. “Hey, baby,” Heidi says, softly, stopping in the doorway.
Evan looks up and takes a shaky breath. “There's something - there's something wrong with me, mom.” He says, quietly, and Heidi’s heart breaks, for him. She walks quickly to him, sitting down on his bed and pulling him into her arms.
“No, no, there's nothing wrong with you.” She says. He's eleven. He shouldn't have to worry about this shit. He shouldn't be hitting all the same goalposts she was, at his age. “You just need some help.”
“Kids are gonna laugh at me.” Evan tells her, stumbling over his words in his haste to get them out before he cries. She knows the feeling. He's shaking, ever so slightly. “They already think - they already think I'm a freak.”
“You're not a freak, honey.” Heidi insists, hoping she can stop him from thinking that of himself, looking up at the stars on his ceiling that Steven had put up, a long time ago. Back when Evan had a cot and not a bed. “You're just a bit different.”
“Different isn't good.” He says, and it breaks her heart.
She tries for something light, hoping, selfishly, she can put this off, just a bit longer. “Of everyone was the same it'd pretty boring, don't you think?”
“Yeah, but this different isn't good. This different makes me afraid.”
“I know. I'm sorry.” The shaking gets worse. “But you don't have to do this alone, okay? I'm gonna help you. We’re gonna get you help, make you feel okay.”
“What if it doesn't work, mom?” He asks, and there's so much terror, so much of something she can't name in his voice. “What if I'm scared, forever?”
Heidi tastes the sourness that comes with terrified tears. “I'm sorry.” She whispers, and hugs him, tighter, because she can't answer that question. She feels so guilty. She feels so horrible.
Heidi doesn't recognise the number that appears on the screen of her phone. It begins to buzz on the kitchen table.
Heidi debates letting it ring out, but then she thinks it could be Evan's dad. And while he hasn't called her in the last few years, the thought still nags at her until she presses receive and lifts the phone to her ear.
"Hello?" Silence answers her. "This is Heidi Hansen, who is this?"
A muffled sob echoes through the receiver. Heidi flinches.
"I'd appreciate an answer." Heidi says, curtly, wrapping an arm around her torso, and shaking off the foreboding feeling settling in her stomach. She hasn't felt this way taking a phone call in eighteen years.
"Heidi." The voice cracks in the middle of the word. Another sob.
Heidi's mind races, trying to match the voice to a face, a name, anything, racing to recognise who is crying on the end of the line. It's a small town, and an even smaller amount of people who really know her name.
"Heidi, oh god, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry about everything but I need- I need-"
Ice crashes through Heidi's entire body, she freezes, her fingers tightening around the phone. "Cyn," she breathes. "Cyn, what is it?"
Cynthia lets out a strangled sound. "I'm, uh, I'm at home, and Larry is out, and...and, I'm alone, and something's happened, and I need your help."
Heidi hates this. But, Cynthia is crying. It feels like they've swapped positions. "What happened?"
"Something terrible." Cynthia sobs, loudly, into the receiver, and Heidi flinches, again. She doesn't think she's ever heard Cynthia so broken. "I need your help, Heidi, and I know I don't deserve it-"
"I'm on my way, over." Heidi says, firmly. "Stay where you are."
Heidi's already rushing out the door.
She nearly crashes three separate times. She nearly runs over Cynthia's mailbox in her haste.
There are three cars in the driveway, already.
Cynthia had said Larry was out? Heidi thought Cynthia only had one child (well, she reflects, later, she was right). Little Connor Murphy.
She knocks frantically on the door. A girl opens the door.
She's wearing a sweatshirt that looks old, and pants that clearly aren't her own, as they pool around her feet. Her hair is unkempt and streaked with faded dye, pulled up into a bun that's failing. She glares at Heidi, like Heidi's here to kill her puppy.
"What do you want?" She snaps. Heidi gives her a strained smile, trying to be polite.
"I'm here to see Cynthia. Cynthia Murphy?" Heidi glances at the numbers on the wall beside the door. "Did I get the wrong address?"
"Of course," the girl scoffs, as if she expected this, and moves away from the door to let Heidi in. "Mom! Strange lady for you!"
The girl closes the door and stomps past Heidi, stepping over a wooden statue that's lying across the floor to get to the stairs, and slams her bedroom door closed behind her when she reaches the top.
Heidi ventures into the cavernous house. It's changed from the last time she was here. More family portraits, featuring the girl, and Connor, growing progressively less and less impressed with the camera, if the way his frown deepens with each picture means anything. More paintings, abstract, and monotone, and full of landscapes Heidi's never thought of seeing before.
"Cyn?" She follows the faint sniffles and ends up in the dining room. Cynthia is sat, slumped against the island bench. She looks up with red, bloodshot eyes, and bursts into new tears, when she sees Heidi.
"Oh, god." She wails and Heidi feels beyond confused, kneeling down and getting close to Cynthia. Her face is in her hands.
"Cyn, god, what the hell happened?" Heidi whispers, taking in the decor, the mess, the woman in front of her, so obviously broken. Heidi's still shaken by what Cynthia had said on the phone.
"I was so stupid, Heidi." Cynthia gasps. "I always have been."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Heidi rubs her face. "Cyn, my god, you're not making any sense."
"You tried to kill yourself, and I just let that happen." For the second time that day, a rush of cold invades Heidi's body. "I don't know what I was thinking, maybe I thought you were joking, or maybe I convinced myself that you were joking, that you didn't mean it, or maybe I convinced myself that I didn't care, but I did, and I didn't take you seriously, and I acted like nothing ever happened. And you had every right to be angry at me, you have every right, you don't have to be here, and I don't know why I thought he was joking, or why I thought it would all be okay, but-"
Heidi grabs her by the biceps and pulls her upright, meeting her eyes. "Cynthia."
"It's Connor." Heidi looks up. The girl is sitting on the bottom step, fiddling with a loose thread on the cuff of her sweatshirt. Cynthia wails again, almost a scream and cries harder. The girl has no remorse in her features, almost looks on at Cynthia as if embarrassed.
"Connor?" Somewhere in the back of her mind, in the bottom of her heart, Heidi already knows, but she has to ask. She remembers him, from that night in the rain, Buzz Lightyear pyjamas and big blue eyes.
"Last night, Connor killed himself." The girl says, and there's an edge to her voice. Heidi watches her breathe in deeply, steeling herself, berating herself, pulling herself together.
"He's...he's dead?" Oh god. No wonder Cynthia called her.
"Yes. There was nothing we could do. By the time the paramedics were here, it was too late. It was too late when we found him, too.” The girl’s fists are balled at her sides. “They declared him dead at the scene."
"Stop it, Zoe, stop it." Cynthia cries, pulling at the collar of her shirt in such a tight grip that Heidi thinks she might rip it.
Zoe looks down at her mom, looking upset. "Mom-"
"STOP IT." She screams, and silence falls in the room. It’s soon broken by Cynthia sobbing, but it’s jarring.
The girl - Zoe - scowls, but in a painful way, like she wishes there was something she could do, and stands. "Fine." She stomps back up the stairs.
Heidi understands. Cynthia sobs erratically, tears running down her face like a race.
"Fuck, Cyn. Where's Larry?” Heidi already knows the answer. I’ll never cry again, Heidi. She already knows he’s building walls around the hurt so that it’s less painful for him. It’s what he did, sitting in her hospital room, watching her smile at Steven. “Why isn't he here, with you?"
"He doesn't want to be here, right now. He can't stand to be in the house. He won't look at me. He won't look at either of us.” He’s no good at emotional stuff, stays unspoken between them. Heidi watches the woman who used to be cool and aloof Cynthia Holtzer, with platinum silver hair and stylish sunglasses, fall apart, here, in her kitchen. “God, Heidi I'm so alone, and I don't deserve your forgiveness, but-"
"Okay, okay,” Heidi whispers, gathering this broken woman in her arms, “come here."
Heidi doesn’t know if she should feel like vomiting or like crying when Evan tells her he knew Connor. He never would have told her if she hadn’t pressed, but after watching that video of him, after reading his posts, she knows, she just wants to hear him say it.
He knew Connor. Connor was his only friend. And now, Connor is gone.
(Just the way Heidi might have been if Larry had been too late.)
She expects him to crumple in on himself, the way Cynthia had. But he doesn’t. He just keeps talking (“...I couldn’t even...you didn’t answer your phone…”) and she gets this horrible rush of guilt.
She tries to say something, anything, but he keeps talking over her, trying to get rid of her, trying to get her out of his way so he can leave and Heidi finds herself shouting. This kind of silence is the worst kind of silence. He used to cry when she and Steven were shouting at each other. He stopped crying when Steven left.
“I’m sorry.” Heidi says, sitting down, heavily, on the edge of his bed. “I was…I don’t know why I…I’m happy. I’m happy you had a friend, sweetheart. I’m just so sorry he’s gone.” Evan is usually an open book but she can’t read his expression, right now. He’s looking down at the floor, looking at it as if he’s wishing it would open up and swallow him. Heidi can’t even begin to imagine what he’s been going through, alone, what he felt like he couldn’t tell her. “I wish I had known.”
He leaves (he’s not taking his medication, oh god, he’s stopped taking his medication) and she feels utterly lost at sea.
It’s surprising to find out that Larry aged in the last fourteen years. His hair has actually already gone grey, the way she always thought it would, even though he’s only thirty-five. Cynthia’s managed to pull herself together, somehow, in the last few months since Heidi saw her last. Her hair is darker red than it was last time, so Heidi assumes she dyed it again.
The air is thick with tension.
She wasn’t expecting Cynthia to call. She was just assuming that they’d forget the whole thing ever happened and they’d drift back into their separate worlds. But, here they are. Three old friends who don’t know each other, at all, anymore.
Heidi’s glad, at least, that they knew about Evan and Connor about as much as her. That way, they’re all bewildered together.
But then everything begins to crumble when Evan walks in. He looks both so at home and so out of place, here. He looks stunned to see her. She imagines she looks the same.
It all begins to unravel from there - he said he was at Jared’s, why does he keep lying? - until Heidi finds herself in a very familiar position. Here they are, Larry and Cynthia, offering her money. Money meant for their son, now being offered for her son. The baby in the wedding photo on their mantelpiece. Heidi wonders, idly, as she stands, refusing them, once again, if they ever told their children who the blonde woman in all of their wedding photos was.
The scars on her wrists itch. Larry frowns.
The car ride home is silent. Heidi wants to say something - anything - but while the car is private, she can't risk taking her eyes off the road.
She's never been good at driving.
They park in the driveway, and Evan walks ahead of her as they enter their house, as if he can get away if he walks fast enough.
Heidi can't let him. She won't.
She's so fucking angry.
"Do you have any idea how mortifying it is to find out that your son has been spending every night in someone else's house, and you didn't even know it?" Heidi asks, flicking on the living room light and dumping her bag on the couch. Evan freezes in the doorway. Heidi's can't stop thinking about the look on Cynthia's face when she offered Heidi the money. It was almost like they were teenagers, again.
He turns, slowly, eyes on the carpet.
"I mean, you told me you were at Jared's." The thought seems silly, now. That Evan would ever hang out with Jared, because she's seen his face when Jared makes a joke at Evan's expense. He's always looked hurt. She doesn't know why she fooled herself into thinking it had suddenly changed. That things were suddenly, magically, inexplicably better.
"If you're not here, then why does it matter where I am?" Evan mumbles, fingers in the hem of his shirt, toes wriggling in his sneakers. He's never fought back before. They've never really truly fought before. She's always been too scared to break him, he's always been too scared to hurt her. There's no hesitation, now.
She's just so mad.
"Um, they think you're their son." She cries, throwing her hands up and letting them smack against her jeans. Evan flinches. He can't know that she's known them for years. There's no way that he knows that. "These - these people-"
"They're not 'these people'." Evan says, louder, glancing up. His face is a blotchy mess. He's wiping his hands on his jeans. "They're my-"
Heidi's blood boils. How dare Cynthia? How dare Larry? How dare Evan?
"What?" She yells, taking a step towards him. "What are they?"
"I don't know!" Evan cries, looking up, and he is truly distraught. She doesn't know if it's because he got caught playing house in a broken home, or because he liked it.
"Because they act like you're their - like they've adopted you -like I'm just - like I don't even exist."
"They take care of me." He says, and it's like he's trying to reason with her, at the same time as convincing himself, and it's driving her insane.
"They are not your parents!" Heidi strides across the room and gets as close as she can before he goes stumbling back. "Hey! That's not your family, Evan!"
"They're nice to me!" Evan yells, and Heidi takes a half-step back.
She nods, a little, attempting to swallow the sourness in her throat. "...oh, they're lovely, lovely people."
"...yep." Evan agrees, still refusing to look at her.
"They don't know you!" Heidi yells.
"What, and you do?" He takes a step and this time she's the one stepping back. She won't play this game.
Heidi laughs without humour, turning away from him. "I thought I did!"
"What do you know about me? You don't know anything about me!" He's fighting back, now. And it scares Heidi that he's trying to justify his actions to her like this. By blaming her absence. "You never even see me!"
"Hey, I am trying my best-!" She can't even stop the tears, now, she's not even close to stopping the tears. Heidi knows she should have been there more often, but she didn't want them to go under, and if she wasn't at the hospital, they would've laid her off, and school was important to her, she never finished it, herself, everything had always been about him, goddamnit.
"They like me! I know how hard that is to believe!" Why would he say that? Does he think she doesn't love him? That she spends so much time away from him because she can't stand the sight of him? “They don't think that I'm, that there's something wrong with me, that I need to be fixed, like you do-"
"-when have I ever said that?" Heidi yells. When had she ever given him the slightest reason to think that she thought he was broken? Why would she when the only one who was broken out of the two of them was her?
"I have to go to therapy! I have to take drugs!" Evan shouts, like that's a reason for her to hate him, to think him imperfect, but it's not, she just wanted him not to look so sad, so lonely-
"I'M YOUR MOTHER!" She yells, and it's horrible because they're both aiming for weak spots, and it hurts so much. Neither of them can knock the other down for long, always returning blows. "I'm your mother, it's my job to take care of you-"
"I know! I'm such a burden, I'm the worst thing that's ever happened to you - I ruined your life-!" Heidi feels herself go cold.
"YOU. ARE THE ONLY..." Heidi screams. Evan freezes in his tracks, in his train of thought, words left unspoken on his tongue. She can't find the words through the lump in her throats and the tears in her eyes. She's choking. She's drowning. "The one good thing that's ever happened to me, Evan!"
He stares at her as tears start to roll down her cheeks.
"Sorry I can't give you anything more than that." Heidi turns away, tugging on her hair. "Shit!"
She hears his soft inhale from the doorway, and she hears the words that come out much stronger than she ever thought he could speak. "...well, it's not my fault that other people can."
Heidi can't breathe. "Are you fucking kidding me?" Heidi gasps, grabbing the edge of the couch and rounding on him.
She can see by how pale he is that he's realised he's said the wrong thing. He's realised that though he's already crossed a line, he's gone too far.
Heidi's chest heaves even though she can't breathe. "Holy shit, Evan. Is that it, then? Am I really that bad? Am I really not enough? Is it really so much better in that bubble of a fucking world where nothing ever goes wrong?" She can't feel. She's sure she's ripping her hair out, at this point, but she's just gone so numb. "Cynthia fucking Murphy and her perfect fucking family? Go ahead, then, I don't even fucking care, I'm done, I don't have a fucking place in that world, anyway. I never have. I'm so sorry that life here was so painful that your only escape route was led to Cynthia fucking Murphy!”
She doesn't want to look at him. She can't stand the sight of him, right now.
"What are you still standing here, for? Go back to your perfect fucking world, by all means! I don't even know you anymore!”
He's not answering his phone.
Heidi has never hated herself more.
He won't answer his phone, and she's stuck staring at this...this fucking note.
Connor Murphy's suicide note, people are saying. Addressed to his best friend. His last words.
She can't tear her eyes away, can't stop staring at the words.
I wish everything was different. I wish I was a part of something. I wish that anything I said mattered to anyone.
She's not an idiot. The world may think that Connor Murphy wrote a suicide note to his best friend and left it for Evan to read, but Heidi knows better.
And Heidi doesn't think she's ever felt worse, knowing he won't call back.
After all, Cynthia never did, and it took her years to finally apologise for it.
Heidi hardly registers the sound of the front door opening and closing.
She looks up and sees Evan standing, drenched, in the doorway. She doesn't move.
"Have you seen this?" Heidi asks him, softly. "The note that Connor Murphy...?" Evan nods. Of course he knows. How could he not know?
"It's all over everyone's Facebook." Evan looks like he's about to burst into tears. Evan looks like he already has. Thunder rumbles overhead and Heidi barely stops herself from flinching. She takes a deep breath. "'Dear Evan Hansen'."
Tears well up in his eyes, begin to drip down his face, onto the collar of his soaked hoodie. He's shivering. Heidi has to say it. She can't just sit there, in silence, she can't let him go. She has to say it.
"Did you...?" Heidi's voice cracks, and she she has to clear her throat. "You wrote this? This note?" Her fingers tighten around her laptop. Lightning strikes somewhere off in the distance. Rain patters on the roof.
"I didn't know." Heidi says, closing her laptop and placing it on the floor. She doesn't want to have to think about what that means, but the thoughts come to her, anyways.
"No one did." Evan's voice is hoarse, the bags under his eyes all too visible from all the way across the room. He sounds like he's been shouting. He sounds like he's been screaming.
"No, that's not what I..." Heidi trails off as she stands from the couch. She tries to find words. She can't believe she didn't see it. "I didn't know that you...that you were hurting? Like that? That you felt so-" she cuts herself off this time, pressing the back of her wrist to her mouth, muffling the gasp that accompanies the tears.
Evan just looks tired. Tired and scared and sad. Heidi feels like she's looking in a mirror. A mirror from a long time ago.
"I didn't know." She repeats, tears in her voice. Heidi licks her lips in an attempt to push the feeling from her. The thing that's choking her. "How did I not know?"
Evan furrows his eyebrows, wiping at his cheeks. "I never told you."
"You shouldn't have had to." Heidi responds, and sits down, heavily, on the couch.
"What do you mean?" He's never looked so confused.
"I...I felt like that too, once. After I had you. I felt like everyone had gotten bored with me, was moving on from me, and that I didn't matter, and if I left no one would even be bothered if I just..." she pauses, unable to look into Evan's eyes anymore. "But, there was you, and you were worth living for, even if there was no one else. You were all that I ever needed. You gave me hope."
"Mom, don't say that. I don't deserve..." Evan sobs and wraps his arms around himself. "I lied about so many things. Not just Connor..." his voice cracks on the other boys name. Heidi remembers hearing the news from Cynthia. Heidi can't even imagine...
"Last summer, I just - I felt so alone-"
Heidi wipes at her face with the wrists of her sweater and scoots a little closer to him. "You can tell me." She whispers.
Evan shakes his head, breathing fast and shallow. "You'll hate me." He says, and Heidi remembers saying the same thing to Larry, in her hospital, trying to avoid looking at his exhausted face. Trying to avoid telling him how she felt trampled, left alone, in the dust he kicked up making his grand escape, with Cynthia.
Heidi already knows what this means. "Oh, Evan." Is all she can say.
"You should." He insists and she knows she should have done something, something to never let it get this far. He hates himself. How is that even possible? Her sweet little boy, all these secrets, all these lies. "If you knew what I tried to do, what I almost...If you knew who I am, how broken I am."
Heidi squeezes her eyes shut, trying not to dwell on the implications of the sentence. "I already know you." She says. "And I love you."
"I am so sorry." Evan whispers.
"I can promise you, someday, this will all feel like a very long time ago." Heidi says, and feels the lie break in her throat. It doesn't feel like a long time ago. It feels like yesterday, and it feels like it will constantly consume her. But she fights and she claws away from it, every day of her life, and she'll be damned if she won't help Evan do the same before it's too late for him.
"I don't know." He says.
"Your dad..." Heidi swallows the lump in her throats and charges on, "do you remember the day he drove by to get his things? It was a few weeks after he moved out. 'Temporarily' we said, but...The day he came by, I was still so mad at him. I told you to stay inside and I went out to tell him that it was all in the garage, he wouldn't even have to go in the house. Except, you, uh, you saw the truck, and you saw your dad, and you got so excited, you ran out of the house and hugged him and said 'Dad this is the best birthday present ever'.
"I had totally forgotten, what with me and your father's impending divorce, I had totally blanked. He hadn't, though. He um, he let you sit behind the wheel, and I just stood there, feeling so guilty, because how could I forget my own son’s birthday? Anyway, he packed all his shit in the truck and you waved goodbye to him from the driveway and he drove away and he never came back.
"That night, you asked me if there'd be a truck there tomorrow, or next year, and you asked me if I'd be the one to get into this time, and if I'd leave, too. And I didn't know what to tell you. So I said that I'd never leave you and I'd always be here, and you never had to worry that I'd leave. I saw so much of my own fear in you, then, and now I see so much more, and I have to wonder why I didn't see it before now.
"I always knew that I'd never be the best mother, and I knew that there would be times that you needed me when I wouldn't be there. And I wasn't, yesterday. I haven't been for a while. And I'm so sorry that I let you down, that I made you feel so isolated and so lost and scared and like there was no way out. I'm sorry that the only way you saw to get out was..."
"Mom..." Evan says, and more tears are streaming down his face.
"I have never regretted you. From the first moment I heard your heartbeat, to when I first saw you smile, to now." She reaches it and cups his face, damp beneath her palms. "And we all make mistakes, and they may be astronomically big mistakes, but I can promise that it won't always be that way."
"I'm so sorry." He sobs, and she pulls him into her arms.
"I'm not going to leave you." She hasn't felt this sure in years. Only Evan could spark that in her. Only Evan could make her sure that she can be better, for both of them. "I know this won't fix anything. But I'm not going to go anywhere, I'm gonna stay right where you can reach me, so that I can be there when you need me. I love you too much to ever leave."
"I love you, mom." He murmurs, into her neck, and hugs her tighter. Heidi relaxes into the hold.
Heidi doesn't know how long she waits before shooting him a text. She doesn't know how long between Evan returning home and now.
He's sitting on the hill, now. Heidi almost has to shake herself, a scene much too similar rushing over her like a wave. Years before, they were younger, it was before Cynthia, before Evan, before Heidi ever felt so hopeless.
The wind blows and the grass bends. It's actually perfect weather. The breeze is cool, but the weather is warm.
Larry looks up as she approaches.
"I kinda didn't think you'd come." She says. He looks more tired than she's seen him in years. More tired even than the night with the wine and Evan and the college fund.
"And miss this view?” He laughs, but it's kind of empty. “Not for the world."
"You always know what to say." Heidi comments, sitting down, heavily, beside him. There's still a rulers length between the, like a wall, like a reminder.
He pauses, looking out over the yellow field in front of them. "Not always."
She feels like an idiot, not knowing how to say what she wants to say, not knowing how to thank him, how to apologise. "I think you saved my boy." Heidi manages to choke out, tugging at the sleeves of her jacket.
"That's a nice sentiment.” Larry replies, and his fist closes around a handful of grass, ripping it out of the ground. “I wish I could've saved mine."
Heidi closes her eyes and breathes in deeply. Her hand somehow finds his and she holds it tightly, feeling him begin to fall apart beside her. “I'm sorry.” She whispers.
Larry starts crying. Heidi holds him through it. It feels like the beginning of something better, through all the pain. She hopes she's right.