Chapter 12 – Sunday, July 17th
I want your cell phone number.
I want to finish what we started.
I want what you took away from me when you started screaming.
Melanie tried to be present when her siblings visited, but it was almost impossible. Her mind kept sliding to him – not in the shed this time, but in her own apartment.
He was smaller than she remembered, very plain, with short brown hair and fidgety fingers. Hardly frightening at all. The creepiest thing about him was that one of his eyes wandered away from whatever the other one was paying attention to, as if it were bored with the subject.
Melanie had been small for her age, and Caleb was large, and solid enough that Craig already daydreamed about football.
Still, there were a lot of ways a man could hurt a child.
"… heard from Craig lately? How's Caleb?"
The sound of one of her sisters asking about Caleb made Melanie realize with a jolt of terror that she'd been unavailable for much too long.
Fourth of July week didn't actually count, because he'd told her she'd be off the hook, that he wouldn't contact her for that whole week. It seemed odd that he would give her such an assurance, but she could see the truth in his eyes. She'd almost teased him, asked if his mother was coming to visit, but the logic part of her brain stopped her, reminded her that he was not her friend, he was her tormentor, and making her feel grateful and sympathetic toward him was just another method of control.
Instead, she'd accepted his word, relaxed a little too much, and landed here in the hospital.
"She's sleeping," Josie said quietly, from her perch at the end of Melanie's bed.
Melanie jostled her foot against Josie's hip and struggled to open her eyes. She mumbled, "No, I'm awake. Sorry."
The combined force of Silas and Elizabeth had somehow scavenged three chairs, and the room was claustrophobic with Meyerhoffs. Melanie tried on a smile, but it was too much effort. "I'm not good company all of a sudden. Must've eaten too much fruit."
"Did they start your meds again?" Jessamine asked. "That would make you tired, wouldn't it?"
Melanie shook her head. "Two more ECTs. Maybe three. Then meds, waiting through another weekend, and a few more ECTs."
The panic came again and she forced herself wide awake. Too long. She'd been out of reach for far too long. He was going to flip. And he'd promised to hurt Caleb if Melanie didn't play his little game.
Elizabeth's mouth flattened into a tight line, and Melanie tried to explain before her sister could start a rant. "It's no big deal, Sissy, really. I've had a background headache and some lethargy from the anesthesia. Nothing out of the ordinary, according to the staff. And I think I might even feel better, mood-wise, though they warned me it will probably wear off by tomorrow."
"Fine," Liz said. "Have it your way. But I don't have to like it."
Melanie felt her teeth clench, but it was an admission of almost support, coming from Liz. "C'mon, you know you can't fix me. But maybe Dr. B can, if I give him a chance."
Silas had been staring at her the whole visit, and although he'd been silent, she was hyper-aware of his direct stare. She startled as his voice whipped across the room. "What's really going on, Mel?"
She met his eyes, and could feel her own guilt and anger – shame – and hoped like hell he couldn't read any of that. "Nothing. I'm having some anxiety. You all get it, right? That Craig's going to be hard-pressed to let me have Caleb at all after this."
It was a defense mechanism, a habit, even, to project her anger and helplessness onto Craig, the man who had his shit so well together that he controlled how much Melanie could see her own son.
But Silas was shaking his head. "That's bullshit, and you know it. He only keeps you from Caleb when you're sick." He gestured at the hospital walls. "And obviously, you are. Even then, you know he'd bring Caleb to visit. All you have to do is ask."
Melanie's shame grew bigger then, because Silas was right, and they all knew it. Craig flat-out refused to bring Caleb to the other unit – and Melanie couldn't hold that against him. Most everyone on the extra-secure unit was psychotic and unpredictable. But this unit was a lot less crazy. Melanie and her fellow patients quietly had their ECTs, then hoped and prayed and waited for the depression to lift.
She shrugged, giving up the pretense. "Okay, you're right. What do you want me to say?"
Silas sighed and his fingers fiddled with his sunglasses, clicking the bows as he folded and unfolded them. "I don't know. Nothing, I guess. I just feel like there's an elephant in this room that you're hoping desperately we won't see. And I'd rather face it head on than have it sneak up from behind and strangle us."
"Leave her alone, Si," Josie said. "Jesus. She doesn't feel good."
"Mel said – " Jessamine started to say, then cut herself off, maybe remembering how angry Melanie had been, or maybe just wanting to hold on to more secrets. "Never mind."
Melanie grasped onto that drama with a huge sense of relief. Jessie had just provided an out.
"It's okay, Jess," Melanie said. "I know I was a total bitch to you. You can tell them about me and mom. But tell them later. Please?"
There was a knock on the door, and the gray-haired day charge nurse, who could be gruff and intimidating, poked her head into the room and said, "More visitors, Melanie. Someone named Craig. And I seriously can't let another body in for you unless someone is willing to leave."
Silas practically leapt to his feet, which brought Melanie the closest to a smile since Liz presented her with the bag of fruit. Of the group, it was hardest on Silas to sit still and hang out here, pretending they were somehow working on Melanie's issues.
He was the one most likely to puzzle out the "elephant," as he'd so aptly put it.
"Sunday is officially adjourned," Elizabeth said, leaning over the bed to give Melanie a hug and a peck on the cheek. "Enjoy the fruit. And call if you need anything."
One by one they said their goodbyes, and offered encouragement. Melanie was fighting tears as she walked them to the door and waited for the nurse to let them out and let Craig in.
She was thinking Craig probably had some awful custody amendment ready for her to sign, so it was a startled, happy surprise when Caleb came through the door.
Melanie wrapped her arms around her boy and the tears came for real.
"Mo-om," he groaned, pulling the word into the standard two syllables heard from tween boys everywhere. He eased away from her embrace. "This is so embarrassing."
She let him go with a ruffle of his soft dark hair, and chanced a look at Craig. "Thank you," she said. "So much."
Craig nodded, and squeezed her upper arm, an affectionate gesture that first happened when he was trying to offer comfort during Caleb's birth.
It was such a comfort now that Melanie almost flung herself into his arms – safe sturdy Craig, the man who was a rock of stability for Caleb. She stopped herself from making an inappropriate display of gratitude and instead led the way to her room, offering them an apology. "I'm sorry I got crazy again," she said, resting a hand on Caleb's shoulder. "It's okay to tell your dad if you think I'm getting sick. He's our safety net, you know."
Caleb nodded, looking uncomfortable. "That's what dad said. I just never want to believe you're getting sick, so I pretend."
"I know," Melanie said. "I do the same thing. It's just important that we all stay safe. You know."
Caleb nodded again, and Craig mouthed "thank you" to Mel over their son's head.
Silas was right to call Mel on her bullshit. Craig was not vindictive, never had been, and was not going to be now.
It occurred to Melanie to ask him something she'd always wanted to know. "How do you handle all of this so well? Me, I mean."
Craig shrugged, and weaved past the Meyerhoff chairs until he stood at the windows, seeming to gaze out at the passing traffic.
"Didn't I ever tell you about my older sister?"
Melanie was at a loss. "I don't think so. I know you have an older brother and a younger sister…"
She and Craig had never really hung out together, or even hardly been friends. But in fact, there was a time when Melanie flirted with him and tried to capture his interest.
For a while she thought he was just dense and missing her signals. But eventually figured out he was intentionally ignoring her flirtatious gestures.
When she asked him outright if maybe they should date, he'd been kind but firm. "We hardly know each other, and maybe it will be easier that way. I haven't had a lot of luck with relationships."
She hadn't had much luck, either, so it made a certain kind of sense. What she hadn't counted on was once Craig set the boundary, he would never let it be breached.
Melanie kept him updated during her pregnancy – fingers, toes, the news that they were having a boy. They'd discussed which hospital, what name, whether to circumcise.
Then post-partum depression hit Melanie hard and knocked her right on her ass.
And Craig filed for sole physical custody of Caleb, and won.
There had never been a question of any romance between them after that.
Their conversations were limited to Caleb. Schedules, visitation, and just generally learning how to work together to share a child.
Still, Melanie felt like somewhere in all of that they'd formed a real friendship. She had warm feelings for Craig, and if he was less than one hundred per cent patient or kind when she got crazy, well, who could blame him?