The seat was warm when Emma climbed into Sidd’s car and sat, wrapping the gray folds of her skirt around her ankles. He had rolled to a stop alongside her as she walked the road from the hospital back into town and, without a word, leaned across the passenger seat to pull the lock. Now, he pushed a travel mug of coffee in front of her. She shook her head and let her shoes drop heavily, one at a time, then wiggled her toes, her wet stockings stained black.
“You must be freezing dressed like that. Why’re you walking?” Sidd said.
“Someone dropped me off yesterday. I didn’t expect to stay. It’s fine.”
“Same,” she said. “More so.”
The cold valley dropped steeply away; road markers ticked past. “Why’re you up?”
“Delivering my sister from evil. I told you, she’s a Christian now. There’s a pancake breakfast.” He pointed his finger in the air and made the face he always made when he imitated his father’s Indian accent. “In America,” he said, “God is a morning person.”
Emma smiled. They’d been making fun of Jadi since they were kids, and the imitation of his dad was spot on.
She reached both hands under her skirt and slid her pantyhose down, balling them up and stuffing them into her bag. “Everything smells like hospital,” she said. “I’m wrapped in it.”
Sidd leaned in, head nearly on her shoulder, and took a long deep sniff. “I don’t smell it,” he said. “You smell normal to me.”
She let her head fall back against the headrest. The roads were empty. Everything was closed.
She could feel him watching her, feel his worry, and without looking at him, she could also see the outline of a familiar black curl winging out from the side of his baseball cap.
Hand rounded over gearshift; black hairs on knuckles; two house keys: one to his house, one to hers and Jonah’s, ticking against the dashboard.
She pulled the glove compartment latch with her big toe and its heavy door flopped open—map, folded; lighter; pencil; tape measure; so tidy—then pushed it closed again with the ball of her foot.
“I’ll go right back. I just need a shower.”
In this town, the road traced the river on one side, crossed over, then backtracked on the other. She nestled her rear end into the vinyl and imagined riding around all day, the cold town passing by, everything she knew, scrolling, while she breathed Sidd’s familiar air deep into her.
They pulled up in front of her house. Three newspapers lay on the stoop.
“So what’s your day?” she said.
“Now? Nothing. Looking after you.” He got out but Emma didn’t move. He leaned in over the seat and wiggled her wrist. “Shower. Change. I’ll wait,” he said. “I’ll bring you back, okay? I’ll wait.”
Gutters ran the length of the house, sagging with the weight of leaves and slush. Plastic dump truck half buried; stiffened mums from fall; the ticking of the wipers.
Hand on handle, she traced the metal latch with her thumb. “I think I might need a drink,” she said. “What do you think the people at the hospital would say if I came back in the same clothes, but drunk?”
She pushed hair off her forehead, heavy and flat, and her face started to flush. “Think they’d make him die slower just to spite me?”
She turned to face him for the first time. He looked like he’d slept face down. His thick eyebrows were mussed, and a thin line of toothpaste edged his bottom lip. Still, his face was soft, his eyelashes long and pretty.
In sixth grade, she’d fallen from Sidd’s roof and shattered her pelvis, and he’d climbed into the back seat with her while his father drove them to the hospital. He’d held her hips gently against the maroon plush as the car bumped and turned, and to distract her, he’d told her about the notebooks Jadi hid under the socks in her dresser, and the time he’d walked in on his grandmother in the bathtub, and about the locket he’d bought for a girl in their class but thrown in the trash instead. His eyes had blurred into one as she cried, but he’d looked right at her without stopping.
He touched just the tips of her fingers on the seat. “You do need a drink, sweetheart,” he said. “Do you have anything inside, or should we go somewhere?”
She pushed her shoulder blades into the seat and wiggled down, exhaling.
“I’m liking the car.”
“Got it,” he said. “Stay.”
“And maybe a sweatshirt?”
“The day is yours.”
It got cold again while he was gone, with the heater off, and the neighborhood was quiet. She watched the house light up as Sidd moved through it, living room first, then the kitchen behind it. Nothing, then a soft light from the bedroom.
For a moment, the house she shared with Jonah glowed dimly from top and bottom. Then the bedroom flicked back to black, a pause, then the kitchen, then the living.