The Fiction


From the Summer, 2016, issue 

(No. 37)

Illustration by Matthew Daley
Matthew Daley

Lander hurried down the stairs to the church basement, trailing slush and bitter night cold. Fifteen or so women sat on chairs arranged in a circle. Lander was shrugging off her parka and bubbling with self-satisfaction when she was struck by a sudden dread. All the women had name tags stuck over their hearts: Lena, Carly, Rebecca. She’d assumed the counselling would be anonymous. Isn’t that how it worked?

She instantly thought of Lindsay Werner, in whose former house, Lander was convinced, she’d recently rented an apartment. Twenty-five years ago little Lindsay was admired by all the Meis, Lourdes, and Ginas in Lander’s Grade 3 class for being the only girl with blond hair. Since moving into her new apartment she’d been wondering where Lindsay was now.

Lander glanced around the room. Lindsay certainly wasn’t in the basement of St. Helen’s with her now, inches from trying, hopefully, to figure out why she was drinking so much.

The last of the group were taking their seats. A young woman with a clipboard—Beatriz, according to her tag—was happy to see her.

“You must be Lander Martins,” she offered.

“I’m Lindsay Martins,” Lander said. “Seven-fifteen Gladstone, Apartment 3?”

The woman checked her list.

“There you are. I didn’t think ‘Lander’ looked right.”

“It’s not,” she said, accepting the sheet of name tags and the felt-tip pen offered to her.

Dr. Beatriz Alvaro was a resident in psychiatry at the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. Her program had a mandate to engage women with substance abuse issues at the community level. Lander decided they were the same age—early thirties—and that with her solidly Portuguese name, Beatriz was likely also from the neighbourhood.

Beatriz started by asking what everyone hoped to achieve in the program. As the circle was rounded, Lander was unnerved by how readily the other women revealed their demons. With the new year—and the new millennium—just days old, the room hummed with the enthusiasm of fresh starts and second chances. Talking about her drinking had seemed easier when she saw the flyer for the program at a yoga studio.

A woman in a suit, named Susan, was a cocaine addict. Carly, a beautiful young black girl, spent every weekend zonked on ketamine and ecstasy. Maura, a big woman in overalls, said her court order stated only that she had to attend the group, not that she had to speak.

When it was her turn, Lander decided that “Lindsay’s” life was nearly identical to her own. She’d recently finished working as a wardrobe assistant on a television series and was settling into a new apartment, her first on her own. She’d also had a boyfriend briefly, a focus puller named Nolan she’d met on the series. But he’d left a month ago to spend the winter in India and so far hadn’t bothered to call or write.

The only difference between Lindsay and Lander was Lindsay probably didn’t have a ten-year-old daughter named Jennifer who lived north of the city with her adoptive parents. Lander hadn’t seen Jenny in those ten years, and couldn’t think of a reason to mention her to a roomful of troubled strangers.

“Would you like to tell us what brought you here today?” Beatriz asked.

For a moment, blinded by the expectant faces looking her way, Lander couldn’t say.

After the meeting Lander drifted past the streets of her childhood: St. Clarens, Margueretta, and Brock. Snow crunched underfoot. To hell with Nolan, she thought. She had friends, a new career, and less of a drinking problem than most of the women she’d listened to that night. The looming bulk of Brock Public School made her wonder if Lindsay Werner, wherever she was now, could claim as much.

So far as she remembered, the year of her friendship with Lindsay had been her last at the school. The summer after third grade Lander’s mother moved her to a small town for a few years and she never saw Lindsay again.

Her new second-floor apartment had felt eerily familiar when she first viewed it. But it was only after Nolan helped her move in that she realized the house had once belonged to the Werners. Nolan hadn’t cared about a friend from long ago she could barely remember. At the time they’d been so busy enjoying each other she didn’t give Lindsay much thought.

It was Lander who’d suggested Nolan move in to save money for his trip. It was too soon for them to cohabitate, but with working so much on the series they barely got half a weekend together. He’d help make dinner on Saturdays, chopping or stirring beside her, though he was of more use driving her to Ikea and setting up her new computer. He’d also select a wine for dinner, and then forget about it after the meal, engrossed in surfing the Web for camera equipment. So Lander would have an extra glass or two and show some interest in lenses and filters. Later there’d be beer at a pub or more wine at a party. Even then she’d thought it was too much.

On the day of Nolan’s departure Lander returned alone from the airport to an apartment twice the size as the one she’d left and was instantly overwhelmed by memories of playing there as a girl with Lindsay: the closets they’d hidden in, the posters of Leif Garrett, the Barbies they’d both pretended to no longer like. It was as if it had been a week ago, not twenty-five years.

Then a few days later, at the wrap party for the television series, she got spectacularly drunk and fell down the stairs leading to the washroom. She blamed her heels, but no one was fooled.

At the start of the second meeting Lander was writing “Lindsay” on a name tag when she saw none of the other women were wearing them. She scrunched it up and hurried to the seat beside Beatriz.

“You’re Lindsay, right?” the doctor said. “Not Lander.”

“You got it.”

Susan the bank executive had been caught doing lines in the parking lot of her kids’ daycare and now her kids were no longer welcome there. The rave girl, Carly, had spent the weekend on ecstasy. Lander hadn’t seen people this messed up since her own messed up days in Kensington Market, when she’d given birth to Jenny. Their helplessness broke her heart.

Lander had spent the week painting her kitchen—first a pale lime Nolan had recommended, then, when that failed to satisfy, a Creamsicle orange—and obsessively checking her Hotmail account to see if he’d written. When it was her turn to speak she said she’d thought about having a drink a few times when in fact she’d never considered it once.

“Sometimes it’s easiest just to avoid temptation,” Beatriz said to her before turning to the circle. “Would anyone like to comment on what Lindsay’s shared with us?”

When no one did, Lander told herself it was because she hadn’t said anything of interest.

Beatriz called a ten-minute break, and Lander took her disappointment outside, to smoke on the church steps. A hooded Carly slid from the shadows and asked for a cigarette.

“Sorry to be bumming,” the girl said. “I don’t get paid until tomorrow.”

“No problem,” Lander said. “Here. Take a couple for later.”

“Thanks. So you work in the movies, huh? Who’s, like, the biggest star you’ve met?”

“None, really. I haven’t been doing it for long.”

Carly accepted a light as well, and mumbled her thanks to a passing streetcar rather than to Lander. Her movements were oddly exaggerated, and she wouldn’t meet Lander’s eye. That was fine, since Lander felt stupid for fibbing to the group, and had begun to suspect she was wasting everyone’s time. So they smoked in a companionable silence, hunched against an icy wind.

The next Wednesday Beatriz began the session by explaining that a person in recovery must reconsider all of their personal relationships. Friends and family, she warned, might be threatened by the changes a person makes and tempt them down dangerous old paths.

Lander disagreed. That week at a birthday party she’d easily ignored her friends’ encouragement to get drunk with them. Nor did her excuse that her stomach was upset prompt anyone to ask why she was gorging on the Indian food and cake. It felt great to get out, and she had fun until her friends got too loud and began repeating the jokes they’d told an hour earlier.

Carly reported she’d taken ecstasy but avoided ketamine. Natalie had thrown an ashtray at her father before passing out at a family dinner. Listening to them, Lander knew it was pointless to share another dull week with women who had real issues, so she invented a version of the wrap party in which she’d been pressured into drinking. She’d have to choose better friends, she admitted. When this story failed to get a response she added that she liked drinking less because she’d lost three pounds and hadn’t spent as much money. Only Carly laughed.

Next up was a ragged Susan, who said her husband had insisted she attend Narcotics Anonymous. She’d gone once, leaving the meeting to do coke in the washroom of a sports bar. Lander pictured her Hoovering lines in the same suit she presently wore.

On the church steps, during the break, Carly produced a pack of Player’s from the folds of her oversized hoodie.

“Payback, girl. So how come you didn’t call your sponsor?

“My sponsor?” Lander said.

“Yeah. Don’t you go to A.A., too? You’re a drunk, right?”

“Not like that.”

She pictured a roomful of sad-eyed old men. Is that what they thought of her?

“Hey, chill out.” Carly rested a hand on Lander’s forearm. “I’m asking if you’ve got someone to call if things get shitty.”

“I’m all right.” And for a moment, suspended in Carly’s clear, steady gaze, she was.

“Sure.” Carly flipped open a cellphone. “Gimme your number. It’s Lindsay, right?”

“No. Yes. And I don’t have a cellphone yet. I have to get one.”

“No cell?” Carly was confused. “What the fuck is that?”

There wasn’t any film work at present but if she watched her spending Lander would survive until the season resumed, in March. It was how to fill the months until then that concerned her.

Snow bound, she paced the floor of her apartment, frowning at corners she lacked the furniture to fill. The long nights were the worst. She missed the banter—once so annoying—of her former roommates. But what was the point in calling them since everything they did together ultimately involved drinking?

She amused herself by half-recalling the games she’d played with Lindsay, a little girl who hovered, semi-formed, on the edge of her memory. Where was Lindsay now? Did she live in the suburbs with her husband and children? Or in L.A, where she designed costumes? Maybe Lindsay still lived nearby and Lander passed her every week on the street without recognizing her.

One night, feeling especially restless, she confronted her closet. Although overflowing with her clothing, its most notable feature seemed to be the absence of Nolan’s shirts and pants. How was that for unfair? Worse, all her clothing belonged to an outdated version of herself. She tossed a knitted shawl she didn’t like to the floor, then a raincoat she’d never worn, then a straw sun hat.

So it began.

At first she organized the cast-off items into piles based on their proposed destination: a consignment shop, the Salvation Army, friends, or perhaps back into her closet. She moved on to her dresser, and then an additional wardrobe. But the more she purged the less certain she was of her decisions. If she changed her mind, some items would be hard to find again.

By midnight her bedroom and hallway were blocked by various mounds of clothing. Defeated by this new muddle she’d made of things, she retreated to the living room and turned on the television.

At the next session Lander found her usual seat beside Beatriz occupied by another woman. Yellow sticky notes with names on them had been placed on each seat. Beatriz anticipated her alarm: “You’re not here to form habits, Lindsay. You’re here to break them.”

Her new seat was beside Susan, who reported that her husband had taken the kids to live with her parents. She’d been scared straight temporarily but knew she couldn’t hold out long. With her hair in a loose bun and her nails freshly painted, Lander thought she looked great for a woman circling the drain.

Happily, it wasn’t all bad news that week. Natalie had drank just once, dodging a bender. And Carly had stayed off ecstasy by smoking a ton of pot. Beatriz beamed her approval.

As usual, Lander didn’t have anything to share. She’d been in a funk, sleeping a lot, and tripping over all the clothing underfoot. The link to Lindsay made her feel stuck in the past. Memories haunted her: sidewalk chalk drawings, a tiny bike abandoned on a lawn. She kept trying to picture Lindsay, but never got it right.

Frustrated, she told the story of her fall down the stairs. In this version she landed on her behind, which she assured everyone didn’t need to get any larger. This got some laughs, though none from Beatriz. “You could have been seriously hurt,” the doctor said. “Do you know why you drank so much? What led you to it?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “But I’m going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

At the end of the session Carly trailed her up the stairs.

“Why didn’t you call me?” the girl said. “I could have talked you out of it.”

“There wasn’t a pay phone at the party.”

Rather than sink deeper into her lie, Lander set off toward Dundas Street.

“Why do you always run away?” Carly called after her. “Where you gotta be?”

The answer stopped her.

Nowhere. She had nowhere to go.

The Galaxy Donuts by Lansdowne station hadn’t changed from when she used to live nearby with her mother. She felt safe in its fluorescent glare, loafing with transients and Indian cabbies.

Carly forgot they’d come to discuss Lander’s drinking and complained about how her roommates had their boyfriends over all the time. One of them only left the living room couch to sell weed in Parkdale and still never contributed to the rent. Last week he’d passed out drunk on the couch with his knuckles dripping blood from a fight.

Lander had endured her share of moronic roommates. She’d also been twenty and broke once so she knew that suggesting Carly move out wasn’t a real option. Instead she spoke of self-respect and making careful decisions, sounding like Beatriz but lacking the doctor’s compassion.

Carly’s pain hovered in the over-sweet aroma of crullers and samosas. She had a brother still in foster care and a mother she was supposed to have seen that week for the first time in two years.

“How did that go?” Lander felt compelled to ask.

“She cancelled. Which is worse than seeing her, the bitch.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

There was more she could do for this girl, but Lander was wary of needful strangers. Especially those who reminded her so much of herself.

At the airport Nolan had warned Lander it would be a while until she heard from him. This was his second trip to India. He’d provided an itinerary of his tour of temples in Tamil Nadu, and the many reasons why it probably would change. He also explained there was almost no Internet in India, that the phones were unreliable, and that it could take a month for mail to reach Toronto.

Was there a way Lander could have made him stay? She’d never told him about Jenny, assuming the truth would scare him away, which was stupid since he was leaving anyway. She stared dumbly at her new Aptiva computer while the modem screeched and gargled its way to a connection. Waiting to check her Hotmail account induced a state she called “anticipointment.”

Lander spent all day alone under the slanted ceilings while car wheels spun on the snow-clogged street below. Last winter the mayor had called in the army to haul away the snow, and there were rumours he was going to do it again. She was stuck, too, and by evening all the thoughts she’d had that day had seemingly been scrawled on the walls for her to read again and again.

She braved a snow squall to visit the pub where she and Nolan had been regulars. The candlelit tinkle of glassware and a Guinness brought a contentment she hadn’t known in weeks. A second beer couldn’t hurt, so she flagged a waitress. But the barman himself brought it. Derrick or Darryl. She watched him approach, her heart sinking. He and Nolan were friends.

No, she hadn’t heard from Nolan. Smiling like she’d never given this a second thought. Well, she lied, except for a postcard mailed just after he arrived in India. No, she hadn’t wanted to go. But it had seemed at the time—this just occurring to her—that she’d rather stay home feeling abandoned and pining for his return. And that’s exactly where she was.

She left her beer where the barman had placed it and wandered the icy streets until her face was half frozen and the shame of her own stupidity burned slightly less hot.

It was only much later, lying sleepless in bed, that she realized she’d never once considered whether she should be drinking or not.

En route to St. Helen’s, Lander cooked up a great story about her boyfriend returning from India and dumping her. In it, she threw him out of the apartment and then got so drunk she made herself sick and missed a day of work. Yes—and before that she’d also thrown all his clothing out the bedroom window into the snow.

Carly sat beside her. The girl had called twice in the past week to see how she was doing. “Cool pants,” Carly said of Lander’s green cords. “You wear the coolest stuff.”

Lander had glimpsed a lovely figure beneath the girl’s perpetual hoodie-and-cargo-pant combination. Carly might feel more like the woman she wanted to become if she looked the part.

“I’ve got plenty more . . .” was all she managed to say before a hush silenced the room.

At the bottom of the stairs, Susan turned from the coat rack to reveal a battered, blackened left eye. Her hand reached up to it, in shame or protection.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Susan said. “And it wasn’t my husband. He’s on my side. It was a guy at the bar.”

Beatriz got them settled and thanked everyone for coming. Then she asked them all to join hands, close their eyes, and share their strength with Susan.

Carly’s hand was exceptionally warm, and the girl was near tears. There was no point, those few moments suggested to Lander, in making up stories of hardship and failure when there were so many real stories to be shared.

Carly’s ex-boyfriend was coming to Toronto to headline a party at the Guvernment. She wouldn’t admit she was nervous about seeing him, but she’d instantly accepted Lander’s offer to borrow some clothes for the party.

Lander lifted some jeans from a pile. “You’re like, a four? I used to be.”

Carly accepted the jeans without much enthusiasm. “Have you got any sweaters?”

“No. You need to stop hiding in those hoodies. So what if you get upset when you see him and want to use again? Have you thought of that?”

“Yeah, that’s cool now. I’m over that shit. No more partying.”

“If you say so.”

It occurred to Lander that Carly was the only other person to enter her apartment since Nolan left two months ago.

Carly found an ivory cardigan decorated in a western style, with scarlet roses and lariats. The silver buttons were tiny pistols.

“Cool. Can I have this?”

Lander bristled. The sweater was a cherished relic of her Kensington Market days.

“Only if you wear it over a cute dress.”

“I haven’t worn dresses since I was a kid.” Carly dug out Lander’s white go-go boots, and laughed. “What the fuck are these? Michael Jackson moon boots?”

The boots were also favourites but her days of wearing them, she’d decided, sadly, were over.

“You should take those, too. You’ve got the legs for them.”

Carly laughed.

“They’re like, the old disco days,” she said, providing Lander a lightening flash of how she must appear to this girl. “I’d get laughed out of the party.”

Later that week two friends turned up at Lander’s apartment unannounced on their way to the outlet malls in Buffalo. Here was a chance to revolutionize her wardrobe in a single day. But it would mean missing a session at St. Helen’s.

“So long as we get back by six-thirty,” she said, knowing they never would.

When she got home at midnight there were four messages on her answering machine. Expectation lit her up. There hadn’t been many people calling her lately, and she’d just spent the day with two of them. She tossed an armful of shopping bags and shoeboxes onto the couch.

One message was from Beatriz, asking after her absence, and three were from Carly, increasingly desperate, describing an ordeal with her ex-boyfriend. Lander called Carly back three times in the next hour without getting an answer, then lay awake wondering how much trouble Carly actually was in since the girl tended to exaggerate.

The next morning she was down the street at the Radio Shack in the Dufferin Mall buying a silver Motorola flip phone and a plan that included international minutes. Her first call was to Carly, who still didn’t answer.

At the next session Carly wore the jeans and cowgirl sweater Lander had given her. Lander approached to offer a compliment but Carly ignored her to chat with Natalie. Which was ridiculous, since Lander had left Carly five messages in the past week.

A sombre Susan reported she’d been clean nine days and hoped to see her kids on the weekend. Then Lena described how she’d arrived at work, typically late and hungover, to find her boss waiting with a security guard to escort her from the building. Beatriz asked them how much they would give up to continue boozing and drugging?

At the break, the doctor snagged Lander’s sleeve.

“What happened last week?”

“I couldn’t make it. Sorry. I should have let someone know.”

Beatriz was shaking her head.

“You’re Lander Martins, right? Not Lindsay.”

“Um,” she said. “Well . . .”

“Says so on your answering machine. You were in my sister’s class at Brock. Denise Alvaro? She remembers you. Didn’t you have a kid with Patrick Zagorski?”

“Don’t talk about Jenny.”

Whoever that was. All she recalled was an infant she’d never heard laugh, see walk, or helped in any way.

“Don’t talk about her here.”

“O.K. But we need to understand why you’d lie like that.”

“I don’t want anyone to know I have a problem.”

“But do you even have a problem? Or is this some kind of joke to you?”

A few other women picked up on the doctor’s tone, and looked toward them. Lander burned.

“I thought this would be easier if I was someone else. What’s wrong with that?”

“You need to think about whether you should be here or not. Let’s talk after the session.”

She fled to catch up with Carly, meeting the girl at the top of the stairs. Carly, haloed in cigarette odour, shared an accusatory pain before heading down the stairs.

“Grow up,” Lander called after her, not caring who heard. “I should have been there, I know. But if you won’t answer your phone you can’t be having little tantrums like this.”

Lander slumped in her chair for the second half of the session, astounded less by this particular mess than by her penchant for making them. Is that why she was here? To share her brand of catastrophe?

At the end of the session she waited while Lena spoke with Beatriz. Carly hovered by the stairs, an unlit cigarette dangling from her lips. Lander sensed she might be forgiven, and motioned for the girl to wait outside so she wouldn’t learn the truth.

Beatriz also waited, hands on hips.

“So. Lindsay. Have you made a decision?”

She had.

By now her borders were well-defined. Galaxy Donuts to the west, east to Dovercourt Road, and south to the basement of St. Helen’s. She hadn’t left her neighbourhood in months, and didn’t care what lay beyond it. All she needed was in Dufferin Grove: the library at Bloor and Gladstone, Blockbuster Video, the obnoxious mall, and the rink in the park.

The white leather of her figure skates, saved from the purge, had yellowed with age. She liked to skate at twilight, liked the scratchy chatter of the ice, the couples holding hands, and the shrieks of kids lost to the darkening sky. She especially liked how the little ones in their snowsuits, after slipping from their parents’ hands onto the ice, always got back up.

From the adjoining rink came the sharp thunk of the puck against the boards. As in her day, the boys played and the girls watched. Jenny’s father, Patrick, had played hockey here. The girls shared cigarettes. When they got too cold, or bored with the boys and their dumb game, they crossed Dufferin Street to warm up in the mall. She knew those girls very well.

February waned, dusk falling later every day, as she turned slow circles on the ice.

One morning Lander bundled up most of the clothing lying around her apartment into garbage bags and hauled it down to the Salvation Army on Bloor Street. She was ambling home when she saw Susan on the other side of the street with a little boy and a little girl. She guessed they might be going to the library, and hurried to arrive there before they did.

She waited in the library, savouring the dusty smell of old paper, and opened the door to exit just as Susan led the children up the steps. The kids peered up at “Lindsay” skeptically, no doubt wary of their mother’s weird friends.

“We missed you last week.”

Susan looked lost, and her makeup couldn’t entirely hide the yellowy remains of her bruised eye.

“How are things? You holding on?”

“I’m good. I haven’t been drinking.” Which wasn’t a lie. She hadn’t been drinking. She hadn’t even thought about it. “How about you?”

“Three weeks clean, and I’ve got my babies back. Everyone was so supportive. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.”

The kids were anxious to enter the library, and interfering with people leaving. Lander helped usher them out of the way. When the little girl met her eye, Lander waited for the guilty pang that often accompanied her encounters with endearing children. Susan pre-empted it by saying: “Next week’s the last meeting. You should come. We’d all like to see you.”

The idea that she may have helped others floated her home. And all along she’d worried her presence in the group had been a distraction.

At Galaxy Donuts later that day, Carly said she was attending a party at the Phoenix to see a friend who owed her money. Lander thought that was asking for trouble, and suggested Carly meet her friend beforehand and avoid any triggers. Carly disagreed: she might smoke weed, but her drug days were over. Lander walked her to the subway at Lansdowne, concerned but helpless.

That night her sleep was broken by a dream of an unknown person skating away from her into a murky distance. As the skater receded, a voice began calling “Lindsay” from far away. It wasn’t Jenny, because she’d never dreamed of her. It might be Nolan, but they’d never gone skating together. She lay half asleep, feeling very small and alone, until she realized someone was calling the name of her childhood friend from outside. She guessed who, climbed out of bed, and raised the window.

Carly lay half sprawled in a snowbank.

“You aren’t answering your phone.”

“I don’t answer at night. Jesus. Go around to the front.”

She tiptoed down the stairs to the front door, the confusion of the dream still clinging to her. Maybe it meant she should come clean to Carly about who she really was.

The girl stood grinning on the front porch, her tear-stained eyes fully dilated.

“I’m sorry. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. My friend put an E in my beer.”

“Some friend,” she said, opening the door wider. “Get in here.”

Back in December, riding home alone on the bus from the airport, she’d felt awful about her last moments with Nolan. There’d been a kiss and a squeeze after he’d checked in, then not even a backward glance as he hurriedly disappeared through customs. She knew he was excited about his trip, but had hoped for more of a goodbye. For more kisses, definitely. And promises.

The bus back to the city plunged through an alien suburbia, the wet streets gleaming with Christmas lights. She’d somehow known then that if she saw Nolan again it would be by chance in a bar or on another television series. It would be temporarily awkward at worst. But what did she expect if the most she ever asked of people was for some of their sadness at the end?

Lander was early for the last Wednesday session, nosing down the stairs like a thief. Beatriz was placing bottles of sparkling fruit juice and pastries from a Portuguese bakery on a table. Lander was partial to the almond tarts.

“Lander.” The doctor laughed. “Sorry. Lindsay. I’m glad you’re back.”

She was too. So far.

“I wanted to see everyone again. Plus Carly wanted me to come.”

“I have something to show you. You’ll like it.”

Beatriz opened a worn cardboard folder to a school photo of three rows of kids in gingham and velour anchored by Miss Wong, whom she’d completely forgotten.

“That’s my sister Denise there.” Beatriz pointed to one of the many dark-haired girls in the class. “She’s in Vancouver now. She just had a new baby before Christmas. Her second girl.”

Lander spotted herself in the middle row, second from the end, in a navy pinafore with a lemony top. Her feet, if they could be seen, would be in Mary Janes.

“And my cousin Nelson,” Beatriz continued. “He’s a mechanic up in Markham.”

Lander scanned the rows again. There was a blond boy, but no blond girls. She read the names listed below the photograph, then read them again because there was no Lindsay Werner listed.

“Where is she?” she said.

“Where’s who? That’s you there. That’s my sister. And that’s Connie Boccia. We still hang out. She remembers you, too.”

Could Lindsay have been in a different class? But Lander had such specific memories of their desks beside each another. Or did she?

“No one,” she said. “Never mind.”

“Since we’ve got a moment,” Beatriz said, “I need to tell you to be careful with Carly. You know she looks up to you. You can’t be lying to her.”

“Of course not,” she said, as Susan and Maura started down the stairs. Beatriz placed the photo back in her handbag.

“Thank you,” Lander said. “I don’t remember that picture. I’ll ask my mom if she’s got it stored away somewhere.”

Lena arrived, then Carly. The basement rang with their greetings. It was graduation day.

“Ask her,” Beatriz said. “If she doesn’t, I can copy it for you.”

One afternoon at the mall Lander met a guy she’d known through Nolan or from some commercial she’d worked on. Or not, because he didn’t mention Nolan or the television business. His name was Rupert, which she thought was cute. Earlier that week she’d gotten a call to start working on a series of beer ads for Molson. It was time to leave her comfort zone.

Rupert chose a hot spot on College Street, a few doors from the restaurant where she’d tumbled down the stairs. He talked about his screenplay. Everyone had a screenplay. Wherever she’d met him, she’d forgotten he was dull.

Lander excused herself to the washroom. Like so many places along College Street, it was in the basement. When she finished, she paused to listen to a message on her cell. Someone was turning thirty, and there was big night planned at the Dance Cave. She needed a reason to ditch her date.

Upstairs her glass of Merlot sat half finished. Two months ago she’d been so frightened of her drinking she’d enrolled in a substance abuse program. And a month before that, so she understood, she’d entirely believed she once had a childhood friend named Lindsay. These things might be better ignored after some vodka cranberries and a fun night with her friends.

She climbed halfway up the stairs and then hit the preset for Carly’s number. As usual it went straight to voice mail, so she tossed the phone back in her purse before carrying on up the stairs to the bar.