There’s no one home when she bundles Lannie into her house. They walk to the kitchen together, Lannie stumbling, Meghan’s right arm wrapped around her shoulders and her left arm hitched underneath Lannie’s ribs. She’s so cold that it feels like she’s evaporating all of Meghan’s natural warmth.
At the table, she sits Lannie down automatically in her own favorite chair — she and Dad picked up at a garage sale years ago, and it doesn’t match the rest of the kitchen. It’s too tall, too clunky; it has a garish orange cushion with an autumn leaf motif.
And it’s Meghan’s chair, it’s always been Meghan’s chair, but Lannie fits into it so naturally it looks like she’s been sitting there for years.
“I’ll make some cider,” Meghan says.
She turns to the cupboards, trying not to think about the glassy tint to Lannie’s eyes, the blue tinge on her skin. There’s a box of instant apple cider high up in the cupboard, left over from last year, only missing one packet — because when has Meghan ever stuck around for the instant cider from a powder at home when she could be at West’s house, drinking the cider his mom made herself?
She rips open a packet, pours it into a chipped, coffee-stained mug, and fills it with water from the sink. She microwaves it for two minutes; the whole time, she can feel Lannie’s presence at her back, and she taps her fingers on the counter, determined not to look over her shoulder till the cider is done.
The microwave chimes. She retrieves the mug and slams the door.
She turns to Lannie again.
“Here,” she says, sliding the cider across the kitchen table. It stops six inches from Lannie’s red, raw-looking fingers, but she doesn’t reach for it, and eventually Meghan leans over the table as far as she can and pushes it forward even more, until the hot ceramic surface of the mug bumps against Lannie’s thumb.
Irrationally, she wonders if Lannie’s ever had apple cider before. Then she realizes it’s really not so irrational. She remembers in fourth grade, they all went around town as a field trip from school, raking leaves for elderly people. Somehow, though Lannie had helped as much as everyone, she’d been skipped over every time when those pleasant grandmas and grandpas handed out cider, hot chocolate, cookies, and candy bars. Meghan remembers Lannie — not much bigger than she is now — dressed in only a too-large black windbreaker with a bar’s logo on the back, her pale eyes staring right through Meghan as she accepted a second cookie from an old lady.
Did Tuesday’s parents ever invite Lannie in for cider? There’s no way for Meghan to know for sure, but she’s positive it never happened in her presence. She wheels away from the table, snags a half-full shaker full of ground cinnamon from the cupboard, and taps it over Lannie’s mug.
“Come on,” Meghan says, “it’s not poisoned.”
Eyes flickering, Lannie finally takes a sip. Specks of cinnamon stick to her white lips. Her pupils dilate when the cider hits her tongue.
“It’s hot,” she says, and her voice is thin and weak, but at least she’s speaking, and Meghan could almost dissolve from relief. She sags into the chair next to Lannie, their knees bumping as she sits.
“It’s meant to be hot,” she says. “That’s the point — it warms you up.”
Meghan eyes Lannie — the ratty old coat, full of tears, far too thin for this weather, and the slip of a dress underneath, her legs uncovered even by pantyhose. Without hesitation, Meghan pulls her own thick sweater over her head and passes it to Lannie, who eyes it dully for a second before laying it across her lap.
The cinnamon has formed a film over Lannie’s cider. Meghan takes a spoon and stirs it; when Lannie takes a second sip, a bit of color rushes to her cheeks, transforming her from a corpse to a person again.
“You can sleep in my bed tonight,” says Meghan decisively. “I’ll tell my parents it’s a sleepover.”
When the cider is finished — and agonizing half-hour later — and both of their heads are nodding, Meghan takes Lannie’s small, cold hand and leads her up the stairs to her bedroom. She doesn’t bother to turn the lights on; she doesn’t bother to take her dayclothes off, either.
They lay down together, side by side, arms touching, and Meghan pulls the covers over both of them.
For the first time in her life, she sees Lannie shivering, and she tells herself it’s fine — you don’t start shivering until you’re ready to get warm.