“Nathalie, you don’t have anywhere to be.” Harper smiled and kept her tone light. “Your husband took your kids out for supper. You’re fine here. If you had fun visiting today, why don’t we visit for a while?”
“I don’t want to visit.” Nathalie stepped away from Harper and rubbed her arm. Her eyes darted around the room. “I want to go.”
“Let’s sit down.” Harper sat on the couch and patted the spot next to her.
Nathalie shook her head. “I’m not sitting down.”
“So what have you been doing today?” Harper asked, hoping that changing the subject might relax her mom.
“I already told you,” she snapped. “I was visiting with these girls, and I have to remember.”
Nathalie had begun pacing again, and she rubbed her temple. “I have to remember to tell them to wash it away.”
“Tell who to wash it away?” Harper asked. She stared up, her eyes following her mother as she frantically walked in circles.
“She’ll know what it means.” Nathalie waved her off. “You don’t need to worry about it.”
“Okay. I won’t worry,” Harper said.
Nathalie stopped suddenly and looked around the room like she had no idea where she was. “Where are my girls? Is Bernie watching them?”
“Bernie?” Harper asked, surprised to hear Nathalie mention him.
Before the accident, her mother had been friends with Bernie McAllister, but she’d hardly mentioned him in the near decade since. He’d even visited her many times, especially when Harper and Gemma had been younger, and it had been hard for their dad to take them.
But every time he’d come in with them, Nathalie had asked who he was without any hint of recognition. It was as if he’d been erased from her memories. Until now.
“Is he watching them?” Nathalie paused. “I have a date tonight with my husband, so Bernie must be watching them.” She nodded, as if to convince herself.
“You remember Bernie, Mom?” Harper asked.
“Of course I do.” She looked down at Harper like she was a crazy person. “Why do you keep calling me Mom?”
“Sorry. It was an accident.” Harper gave her a sheepish smile. “Do you remember your husband? Brian?”
Nathalie stared off and rubbed the back of her neck. “Bernie’s the one who told me, you know.”
“Told you what?”
“I already said!” She shot her a glare. “If you aren’t gonna pay attention, then I might as well go.”
“You can’t go anywhere, Nathalie. You live here,” Harper reminded her gently.
“I do not. Why are you lying to me?” Nathalie’s voice grew louder the more agitated she got, and she was nearly shouting now. “Why do you keep lying to me?”
“I’m not lying to you,” Harper said evenly. “Will you please just sit down?”
“No. I won’t sit down.” Nathalie shook her head and stomped her foot. “Not when all of you are lying and conspiring, and you’re out to get my daughters.”
“Nobody is out to get your daughters,” Harper tried to reassure her.
“You are! Don’t you lie to me!” Nathalie was screaming now, her pale cheeks were bright red, and her eyes were filled with tears. “He wouldn’t have told me to wash it away if you weren’t out to hurt my girls!”
“Mom!” Harper stood up and held her hands out in front of her. “Your girls are just fine. I am your daughter, and Gemma is safe.”
“You are not my daughter,” Nathalie insisted, as a tear slid down her face. “Harper is a little girl.”
“Yeah, I was,” Harper said. “Nine years ago. But you had an accident, and now we’ve grown up. Do you remember any of that, Mom?”
Nathalie had never been able to remember the accident itself, and even Harper only had sketchy memories of it. But Nathalie usually seemed to remember that there had been some kind of accident, that she hadn’t always been like this, but now it seemed like she didn’t even know any time had passed. She was stuck in some lost moment in the days before the accident.
“No, there was…” Nathalie wiped at her face, and she started shaking her head. “No.” She swallowed hard, then balled her hands into fists and began hitting herself on the thighs, hard enough that Harper could hear it. “No. No!”
“Mom, stop.” Harper reached for her mother’s hands, trying to stop her before she hurt herself, but Nathalie yanked them free.
She ran to the entertainment center, pushing off the knickknacks and movies stacked on top. Anything Nathalie could grab or break or throw, she did. She was sobbing and repeating the word “no” over and over as she pulled over a bookcase, ripped pictures off the wall, and tore cushions off the couch.
All the commotion had alerted Becky, and both she and Harper tried to talk Nathalie down, but it was no use. Within only a few minutes, Nathalie had destroyed the room, and now she collapsed amid the mess.
Her knees were underneath her, her head slumped against the floor. Harper knelt next to her. Cautiously, she put her hand on her mother’s back and slowly began to rub it.
“It’s going to be okay,” Harper told her softly.
Nathalie peered up at her and brushed her hair from her eyes. “Harper?”
Harper smiled down at her and tried to blink back the tears in her own eyes. “Yeah, Mom, it’s me.”
“I don’t feel very well. I think I should go lie down.”
“That sounds like a very good idea,” Harper agreed.
After Harper helped Nathalie to her room, she covered her up and made sure she was comfortable. Becky came in with pills and a glass of water, and Nathalie took them without argument. Her outburst seemed to have exhausted her.
Harper bent down, kissed her mom on the cheek, and started to leave. “I love you, Mom. I’ll see you later.”
“Harper.” Nathalie looked back at her, and Harper paused in the doorway. “Remember to wash it away. Promise me that you’ll remember.”
“I will, Mom.”
She closed the bedroom door behind her, then went straight to the bathroom. Leaning against the sink, Harper began to sob. As quietly as she could, she let herself once again mourn her mother. On days like this, it felt like she’d lost Nathalie all over again.
When she’d cried long enough, Harper splashed cold water on her face, washing away the salt and smeared eyeliner. Then she dug in her purse and reapplied her makeup until she once again looked like a normal college girl and not someone whose life was falling apart.