BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.
I had things I didn’t want, and then I lost them. One minute I was breaking up with my boyfriend, Patrick, the next I was the only one left standing. Empty-handed. A ghost of who I’d been. Broken in a way you can’t see when you meet me.
My name is Mamie, but my dad calls me Wren. My parents never agreed on anything when they were married, so I answer to both names. I like having a spare. Especially now. Besides, it drives my mother nuts. She thinks my dad calls me Wren to bug her. She says she named me Mamie because it means “wished-for child” and she had to try so hard to have me. Like she conjured me out of sheer will. Which she probably did. That’s the kind of person she is. But I looked it up, and it also means “bitter.” Either way, Mamie died on the side of a road somewhere back in my old life, and I moved away. Now I’m Wren full time, in a house on the Edge of the Known World, upper East Coast, with my dad, who spends his days in his studio. Perfect for us both.
I came here because it’s pine-dark and the ocean is wild. The kind of quiet-noise you need when there’s too much going on in your head. Like the water and the woods are doing all the feeling, and I can hang out, quiet as a headstone, in a between place. A blank I can bear. I wake up in the morning, get into clothes and out on my bike before I can think about anything. It’s a place that could swallow me if I need it to.
So that’s what I’m doing, music on full blast, trying to think about nothing, crunching over brittle twigs and sticks in the woods along a road I never see anyone use, when a Jeep comes flying around a bend, right at me. Before I can think, I swerve off the road and into a huge tree. My front tire crumples when I hit. Dust and pine needles lift into a cloud as the car skids to a stop.
The driver door whips open and a guy gets out. A couple years older than me.
“Are you all right?”
He looks totally rattled, and maybe even a little annoyed, like I’m the one who messed up somehow.
I sit up, untangle myself from the bike, and wipe sticky needles from my palms. The fall knocked the wind out of me. Takes me a second before I can make air come in and out again normally. The front wheel of my bike is bent like an angry giant grabbed it and gave it a twist. For a second I think it looks kind of beautiful. Like something my dad might like. Something that used to make me wish I had my camera. I stare at the ruined rim.
“Are you all right? Can you talk?”
He’s looking at me wildly, like he thinks I might be really hurt or something.
I can breathe again, but I’ve kept quiet for so long, I’m out of practice—I can’t think of a single thing to say.
He turns away and I hear the engine clunk off. Grabs his phone.
“Wait,” I say, finding my voice. “I’m fine. See?” I stand. “I was just shocked.”
He tosses his cell back onto the passenger seat and runs a shaking hand through his hair. After a deep breath, he says, “I didn’t see you. There’s never anyone along this road.”
I’m trying to think if I’ve seen him around. The town’s pretty small, but I haven’t exactly been hanging out anywhere. And he doesn’t look small-town. Charcoal-gray shirt; thick, dark hair falling into his eyes; long, straight nose. Something faraway inside me rings like a little wakeup bell in a long-abandoned cavern.
He’s still kind of scanning me, a slightly frantic up-and-down, like he might spot something broken, like I’m a miracle for not being flattened into the ground.
“God. I could have killed you.” His eyes go to the bent tire. “I wrecked your bike.”
I can’t find anything to say. When you’ve been quiet as long as I have, words leave you.
“I’m fine,” I manage, again. “I had my music on loud. I didn’t hear your car.” I reach up to my hair and pull some leaves and sticky needles out of it.
“Did you hit your head?”
“No, it’s just tree stuff, in my hair.” I blush.
He stares at me for a second. I look at the sky. Like maybe I could somehow slip out of this situation. Fly up and away.
“Are you John Wells’ daughter?” He’s starting to sound relieved. Runs another shaking hand through his hair. “I thought I heard you’d come up here.”
I nod. God knows what he’s heard. I’m sure I made the news last May. The Telegraph doesn’t miss a chance to print stories on my dad. Their adopted famous son. Never mind that his work leaves them scratching their heads and laughing at what people will pay good money for and call “art.”
I look at my hands. Both palms are torn up and pitch-sticky. I pick a small piece of rock out of one. The knee of my jeans is torn. Like I’m an eight-year-old and just wiped out on my bike in the park.
His eyes follow mine. “You’re hurt.” He winces. “Let me take you into town. Dr. Williams can check you out, clean you up.”
“No, no. That’s okay. I’m okay.” I don’t want to go anywhere, see anyone. Certainly not to the clinic. Or anywhere remotely like a hospital.
“I’m fine,” I say more assertively. “Really, I’ll just go home and wash up. It’s no big deal.”
“Let me give you a ride home, at least,” he says, getting in the car, reaching across the front seat, and pushing open the passenger door.
I start to pick up my bike but my palms are a wreck. I stop a second, wipe them a little on my thighs.
“Leave it,” he says, watching me. “Please. You’re bleeding. I’ll come back for it later.”
I lift the frame a little more, lean it against the tree. A bird is loud overhead. A hawk maybe, hunting. That strange raspy screeching sound.
I wasn’t even close to the end of my ride. I need to be out, alone. But he’s not going to let me walk home, that’s obvious. I kick around in the needles to find my iPhone, buy myself another few seconds to get it together, calm down a little. I look at my bike one last time and walk around to the waiting car door.
A pair of metal crutches lean against the passenger seat. He moves them over a bit and I slide in. He watches me look at them.
“Break an ankle?” I ask. I always say the right thing.
His turn to blush. Shakes his head. “I’m sick.” Looks away. “Buckle up.”
I’m thrumming from adrenaline. Takes me a minute to get the buckle in the right place.
He backs the car into the woods a bit, whips a U-turn, heads for my dad’s.