Cammie hung up, her last image, flashed on the screen. Cammie, in her pajamas, her shoulders slumped, lips and brows titled up in a sad effort at cheeriness.
Did she… do a horrible thing to her daughter?
It is perfectly reasonable to forget. That is what Kate repeated to herself, over and over.
It couldn't be undone, the words were repeated so often they were tattooed into her mind and left a taste on her tongue.
The more she thought about it the worse she felt because… how could she forget Cammies’ 18th birthday? How could she…? She was her mother. She wasn’t supposed to forget her only daughter's birthday. She wasn't...
Before she could sink further in, Jake, her baby boy, tugged at her hand. His eyes were serene and mature, despite having just competed and still awaiting his results. “Mom,” he prompted, “what are you going to get Cammie for her birthday?”
Jake, only 11- was looking at her oddly. Like he was judging her but not quite like he was disappointed/exasperated in/with her. The unpleasant feeling bubbled in her hotly.
Kate smiled at Jake, “I got something at home.” She most certainly did not, and she felt wretched about it but she didn’t need her baby boy to know that. “Why do you ask?”
Jake looked away, scratching his ear, “She’s an adult now. It’s a big birthday.”
“Aren’t you tired?” She changed the topic swiftly, not liking the stern set of his face. Her baby boy shouldn’t be looking at her like that. “We should go to bed.”
The thought had occurred to her, she should buy Cammie tickets to surprise Jake. So Cammie can come and celebrate her birthday with them.
But...maybe it was the hour (it was ungodly late).
Maybe it was the stress, (she was lost inside the big hotel at least three times!)
Maybe it was because her priority was Jake being OK.
But the idea was dismissed, with a 'Cammie liked her alone time.'
And, looking back (as she called all of Cammie’s friends) (and tried to get a sniffling Jake to talk to her) (And fruitlessly dialed Cammie’s number over and over) (And looking at every station to see if Cammie went to any of them) she hated herself for it.
Kate knew that a box of donuts was in no way enough to make up for forgetting and nearly missing her only daughter's eighteenth birthday. But they weren’t supposed to make up for anything, it was more of an, ‘I know I screwed up’ gift.
Her real gift was the tickets to Paris, where her favorite aunt lived, so she could visit for a week.
She knew that in no way would it make up for what Kate had done. Especially since she made such a fuss over Noah’s eighteenth birthday. But...Kate put a lot of thought into the gift.
(Kate wasn’t expecting an empty house, bare of most of her daughter's possessions.)
Cammie would see that.
(Kate didn’t expect Jake to be the one to start yelling first.)
Kate walked into the unusually quiet house. Whenever Cammie was home alone she’d open all the windows, turn on all the lights, and have the TV on with her phone blasting music. Most likely lounging on the sofa.
But she wasn’t there.
“We got donuts!” Kate called, “Glazed!”
Kate rolled her eyes and shrugged her coat off, following Jake who was already scampering up the steps to his sister's (his, obviously, favored sibling) room.
Jake had thrown open the door (a habit both Kate and Cammie had scolded him for) and- the bed was made and missing a young adult. Kate took out her phone to see if Cammie had gone out because it was unlike Cammie to not be available on the day of their return when she didn’t see a single missed message.
She dialed once, frustration bubbling in her.
Call immediately canceled.
Something stilled in Kate’s chest.
She tried again to no avail, calling three times before she finally met Jake's wide eyes.
Kate opened her mouth to explain the terror out of Jake’s face when Jake rushed to Cammie’s closet, throwing it open and-
It was nearly empty.
Cammie, who didn’t have much care for fashion- didn’t have a single scrap of clothes in her closet. Kate moved to check Cammie’s desk, filled with books and trinkets Cammie would rather die than abandon... to find the desk bare too.
Something hot climbed up Kate’s throat.
The same hot thing was behind her eyes.
She sucked in a deep chilly breath and moved her gaze to Jake, who looked ashen. As if he figured it out too.
“Go to your room, Jake.” She told him, a little cooler than intended. “Mommy has to fix some things.”
Jake dashed past her and started screaming Cammie’s name, making promises like Cammie could hear him (her heart throbbed hearing them, 'I won't call you an 'ape' anymore!' 'You can tuck me in! I won't kick you!' "Come back!'), as if those trivial things would entice her to return. He wouldn’t listen to Kate, no matter how harshly she told him to calm down, that screaming wouldn't solve anything.
Kate used Jake’s panic to soothe hers.
It wasn’t that Cammie had left, she was an adult. She was going to eventually.
It was that she left without saying goodbye. Without telling them anything.
It’s that she left, and if her phone was any indicator, she was cutting ties.
Why?!, she wanted to yell, I tried, didn’t I?!
But, Kate knew with a sinking heart, trying just wasn’t enough.
I'm sorry for worrying you. I'll get in touch with you soon in secret.
I'm sorry to ask you this but... please don't tell anyone, okay? That I'm writing to you?
None of this is your fault (so stop thinking that)- wanna know why?
Because not everything is about you, you twerp!
I love you a million,
You know you can't call the police. I'm an adult, I'm allowed to leave.
I'm not saying you were a bad mom.
But I don't think we know each other like we should.
And I think it's better if we don't cross paths again.
I'll still be around for Jakey though,
I know you are worried about that.
To: The Ugly Brother
Noah, I love you a lot. But I need to do something and I think I can't see you till I'm done. You didn't do anything, you're insufferably perfect. But, you, dear brother, hold a few memories I'm working past.
I'll text you when I'm ready.
From: Ugly Brother
Do you need help? Are you homeless? Do you need money? I'm calling you.
[Ugly Brother has been blocked].