It’s 2:30am the day after Helen when Mags suddenly sits up in bed and, horror in her voice, shakes Sam awake with a frantic “Dr. Sharpe had a cat.”
Darwin, who had been laying on her legs, meows disgruntledly and jumps off the bed. Mags halfway regrets the outburst when Sam groans tiredly and rolls over to blink at her, trying to wipe the grogginess from her eyes. She hadn’t slept all that well the night before— nightmares kept her awake— and there’s a bit of guilt that creeps into Mags’ stomach when she remembers this. But this is important.
“Wha…?” Sam pushes her upper body up off the mattress a bit. “Mags, what—“
“Dr. Sharpe had a cat,” Mags repeats. “I just remembered, I can’t believe I forgot about him—“
“Oh…” Sam’s brow furrows as the information takes a moment to register, but then she sits up fully. “Oh— oh shit.”
“Do you— I mean, should we go over there now? I mean the poor cat’s already been alone for a while and we should probably feed him, right?”
“Dr. Sharpe has— or, well. She had an automatic feeder for him because of her long hours at the AM. It’s probably still going, but yeah, we should probably head over there. I have a spare key— I used to catsit for her a lot.”
Sam nods. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
Getting dressed doesn’t take long— it’s still early October and it’s one of the warmer evenings they’ve had so far this month, and anyway, they aren’t going to be outside for all that long, so it’s just a matter of pulling on some jeans and sweaters. Sam calls a Lyft— it’s too late for any of the buses to be running regularly, and between Mags’ burns and Sam’s, well, everything, neither of them can make the drive over. So, finally, at 3am, the two of them head out, climb into the back of a car with a driver who seems awfully chipper given the late hour, and make their way to Dr. Sharpe’s apartment.
“So, where are you two headed off to?” Their driver— Fayruz, the app said her name was— says back to them a couple minutes into the drive, glancing at them through the rear-view mirror. The road is quiet, the car engine had quickly faded into background noise, and her words cut through the silence like an axe.
Sam and Mags glance at each other, making silent conversation across the dark backseat with their eyes— what do we tell her?— before Mags answers, “oh, just to a friend’s house.”
Fayruz smiles. Her eyes crinkle up at the sides in a way that makes it look like she smiles a lot. “Ah, Saturday night party or something?”
“Yeah,” Sam lies, not wanting to dampen her mood with the truth. “Something like that.”
Fayruz nods. “Well, I hope you two have fun.”
“Thanks.” Mags smiles too, but it’s forced.
The rest of the trip is quiet— it’s a short drive anyway, and there isn’t really much to talk about. They climb out of the car when they get to the apartment building, and Mags unlocks the front entry, glad for the key she holds in her hand, because there would have been nobody upstairs to buzz them in if she hadn’t.
They take the elevator up to the ninth floor, and the second they get to room 912 they hear meowing from the other side of the door.
Mags quickly unlocks it, slipping inside, turning the front entryway light on, and gesturing for Sam to follow. The cat immediately starts meowing, rubbing himself up against Mags’ legs, and Mags picks him up, hugging him close.
“Oh, come here, it’s okay, I got you,” she says, wincing as she realizes she hadn’t thought this plan through and the action aggravates the burns. “Oof, Sam, I forgot about the burns, can you—“
“Yeah, yeah, absolutely!” Sam hurries to scoop the cat out of Mags’ arms, and she gets licked on the nose for her efforts. She laughs.
“Aw, he likes you!”
“Yeah, I guess he does.” The cat licks her again. “He’s so much… I don’t know, friendlier than I expected? I guess I kind of expected him to be… well, more like his owner.” Sam sighs. “What’s his name?”
“Beans. Apparently it wasn’t her idea, he came with the name when she adopted him and he was already responding to it as much as any cat will respond to their name, so,” Mags shrugs, “Beans.”
“Huh. Well, it suits him—“ Sam gets cut off by a face full of fur as Beans headbutts her in the mouth and the two of them laugh again.
Eventually, Beans starts to squirm and Sam lets him go— even the friendliest cats don’t like being held that much, she supposes. The lighthearted moment ends, and as the grief comes crashing back in, Mags can’t help but muse on how easy it is to forget about it sometimes— how easy it is to act like nothing is wrong. How easy it is to act like her friend is still alive, just waiting to walk into the living room with a bowl of popcorn or some Filipino snack Mags had never heard of that Dr. Sharpe wanted to share with her.
But that isn’t going to happen.
Mags stares around the empty apartment. Sits down on the couch in the living room. Takes in the scene around her.
Most of the apartment is still dark. It’s familiar in a chilling way— like an empty parking lot, or a grocery store just before closing. It’s quiet. A lifeless space that should be lively.
She looks around and sees memories— she had only known Dr. Sharpe for a few months, but she’d be willing to bet she’d become the closest to her out of anyone at the AM. It had started with just the catsitting, but they’d started to talk more. And then there were the weekends, the few days where Dr. Sharpe took time off to truly relax, where they would just sit around for hours, watching trash TV and bonding over making fun of how ridiculous the characters were. Dr. Sharpe had a snappy sense of humor, Mags had realized. She was outwardly prickly, but she cared deeply about what she was doing. She cared deeply about helping atypicals, about helping Alex. She’d update Mags on the serum progress, vent her frustrations and enthuse over her victories.
The two of them were friends.
Mags sighs and sinks further into the couch, closing her eyes against the tears that stung the corners of them. She feels Sam sit down next to her, depositing Beans on her lap as she does so. Wordlessly, she pulls Mags into a hug and lets her cry into her shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Sam says, sounding like she’s close to crying as well. “I know you two were close.”
“Yeah,” Mags barely chokes out.
They sit like that.
“We’re going to have to pack up her apartment at some point. I— I don’t think she had very much living family and they all live pretty far away, so…”
“Don’t worry about that right now,” Sam says. “You still need to heal.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Mags sighs again. “...I think I’m going to take Beans in. If that’s alright with you,” she adds, “I mean, I’m going to be staying with you for a bit and I don’t know how Darwin is around other cats, but—“
Sam smiles. Mags can’t see it, tucked into Sam’s shoulder as she is, but she feels Sam’s cheek pull against her hair as the smile stretches her face. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. That cat has to deal with me occasionally disappearing from time to time, he’s honestly pretty adaptable by now. And besides, I… well, you need this, don’t you? I just… I understand needing to keep pieces of the people you’ve lost. It’s important.”
Mags nods, and the two of them fall into a comfortable silence, holding each other as though they were life preservers in an ocean of grief.