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10. fool's hope

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The staircase at Missus-S’ house creaks, no matter where Helena puts her feet. She’s nervous here. The staircase at Alison’s house hadn’t creaked at all and it had been clean and even dressed in pink like this, ELECT-ALISON-HENDRIX, she never felt like she fit. She doesn’t feel like she fits here either. People are yelling at each other through the house – don’t forget your socks, I’m not gonna forget my bloody socks, don’t come crying to me when you freeze your toes off in Iceland – and Helena feels not loud enough. Which is funny, considering that she was too loud in Alison’s house.

That’s what it is. Funny.

She knocks on the door to Sarah’s room and when there’s a bellow of what do you WANT she comes in. Sarah’s throwing clothes into a duffel bag, humming along to some music raging from her speakers. Helena thinks: I shouldn’t have come. Helena thinks – no, that’s it. She shouldn’t have come.

“Sarah?” she says, and Sarah looks up with an expression of total surprise before turning off the music. The air is suddenly too quiet. Sarah’s holding a shirt in her hands, and Helena recognizes it from the backpack she had rummaged through so long ago. LONDON-CALLING but she’s different now. ELECT-ALISON-HENDRIX!

“Hey, meathead,” Sarah says, and Helena tells herself that Sarah’s voice is soft, and she takes another step in. Her hands find the sleeves of her shirt and pull them over her knuckles.

“Thought you were at Alison’s?” Sarah says.

Sestra Alison said you were leaving,” Helena blurts. “For Iceland. She says it is very far away, and you are going, and you do not know when you will be back.”

Sarah puts down the shirt, slow. “Yeah,” she says, drawing the syllable out. “I need to see Kira.”

“Yes,” Helena says, instead of something stupid, like: I need to see her too, or: she is one of three friends I have and one of those friends is gone forever and one of those friends is you. Sarah wouldn’t understand that, anyways. But I thought Donnie was your friend and he is, but he’s Alison’s, and – Sarah wouldn’t get it, so it’s good that Helena isn’t going to explain.

She steps further into the room. Without speaking Sarah shoves a pile of clothing to the side, so Helena can sit on the bed. She does. She folds her hands in her lap. She tries to make the words in her brain line up into a reason for Sarah to take Helena with her.

“You havin’ fun at Alison’s?” Sarah asks, going back to folding. “She says you’re really good with the soaps, that sounds – cool.”

“Yes,” Helena says, “the soaps smell good. Like flowers. I like them.” She looks at her hands, the fold of her fingers, her knuckles. She says, carefully: “So this is a trip for your family. You, and Missus S, and Felix.”

“Not Felix,” Sarah says. “S says it’s best he doesn’t come, if we want to keep Kendall safe we’ve gotta stick to just us.” She isn’t looking up from her folding; Helena can’t tell how she feels about that, if she wants Felix there, if she doesn’t. Helena’s heart is a nervous drum-thrum in her chest. She doesn’t know if there isn’t enough room for Felix, or if he can’t take care of himself. These are two very different things.

“Just women,” she says slowly. “You, and your mother, and her mother. Yes?”

“You got it,” Sarah says.

Silence chokes Helena’s throat, and she stops talking. She just looks at Sarah. The empty quiet rings for a few seconds while Sarah catches up, and then her folding stops abruptly. She puts the shirt down. Her head snaps up; her gaze finds Helena.

“Oh, meathead,” she says. “You’re not – I mean, you don’t think—”

“Why not,” Helena says, trying to sound stubborn and iron and strong. Her voice wavers with tears. “I’m part of your family too. Why not.”

“Helena,” Sarah says, circling the bed and sitting next to her, “we said, you’re staying with Alison now, yeah? S already bought the tickets, got us ID, I’m sorry, we—”

We never said!” Helena says, and then it’s out there and she can’t take it back. “You said. And I went. Because you said. But I did not – want. I wanted to be with you, because you are my family. You and me and Kira. Family.”

She folds her arms around her stomach, hugs herself, rocks back and forth. She’s so stupid. Stupid Helena. She knew this wasn’t going to work, knew that it would just make her sound like a baby. It would make it easier for Sarah to leave her behind.

Sarah isn’t saying anything, she’s silent, and Helena knew it, knew that Sarah’s brain would rewrite everything. Probably is right now. Stupid baby stupid baby stupid baby. She leans over; her head hits her knees, arms fold around her head. She wishes she hadn’t come. She wishes she could climb into Sarah’s suitcase and sleep and wake up where it’s cold. She wishes Sarah would suddenly remember that Helena is her sister, and she loves her. That’s really what she wishes for. More than anything.

“Hey,” Sarah says awkwardly, and her hand finds Helena’s back – too late to mean anything, too late to help. Helena lets her rub her back anyways. Loves it anyways. Stupid stupid Helena: she loves it anyways.

“You’re gonna have so much fun here,” Sarah says, sounding like she’s trying to convince yourself. “You’re gonna – make soap, and learn what potlucks are, and hang with Gemma and Oscar. You’re gonna have such great stories, when I get back. I can’t wait to hear ‘em.”

Helena doesn’t say anything. We were even, she thinks, and now we aren’t, because you’re leaving again. Helena could never even the scales. Leaving Sarah even once hurt her so bad she couldn’t breathe; she can’t imagine doing it with Sarah’s ease, over and over and over again.

The silence trickles on. Helena keeps trying to force lies out of her throat: they’ll be good stories, I want to hear yours, have fun without me. It’s okay. None of them come. It’s so quiet. Helena loves Sarah constantly, helplessly, and she needs to make it alright before Sarah goes. She can’t leave them like this. She wishes that she could.

“I’ll miss you,” she whispers to her knees.

“Yeah,” Sarah says, so quickly it sounds desperate – thank god the silence is over, thank god I don’t have to fix this – “me too. I’ll be thinking about you.”

“Me too,” Helena says. She sits up. She does not lean into Sarah’s hand, even though she wants to. She doesn’t look at Sarah either, just her knees.

“Goodbye, Sarah,” she says, and she stands up. She walks to the door. She leaves.