I'm the Girl excerpt, concluded
continued from part six
She stands in front of me as real as she’s ever been and even more beautiful for it, though I’d thought her shattering out there on the road when she was no more than the hazy, angel outline of someone who would save me. She’s taller than I realized. Her blond hair is slicked from her face, making the lines of her jaw and cheekbones even more distinct. Her lips, cherry red. She wears a wide V-neck shirt revealing her collarbone before its long plunge down, hinting at her impressive chest. There’s a gentle intensity in her blue eyes as they take me in, and that intensity makes it easy to forget she’s only twenty-five. She occupies a space between delicate and sharp, and every part of her body feels like an imposition on the place it inhabits, a demand to be recognized on its own terms. It sends a shiver through me.
She tells me she was worried. She’s called to check on me a few times, but Tyler wouldn’t tell her anything, and said no when she asked if she could stop by. So forgive her, please; she decided to take matters into her own hands. She was driving down my street when she saw Tyler leave in his truck, hoping what she did next would bring her to—me.
“I don’t make a habit of showing up where I’m not welcome,” she says. “But you were in such a state when I saw you last, I had to be sure you were okay . . .”
“I didn’t know.” The thought of her worrying over me is almost too impossible to grasp. I can’t believe Cleo Hayes has been calling and Tyler didn’t tell me. It’s shameful after what she did for me, us—picking me up, getting me to help. If it had been Matthew, I could maybe understand, but Cleo’s only crime is being his wife. And I’ve never thought either of them guilty for what happened with Mom. They were only looking out for what was theirs.
“Is it all right if I sit down?” she asks. “Or would you rather I leave?”
“Stay,” I say quickly.
She doesn’t belong in this room, in this house, on this side of town, but I watch as she moves around the kitchen with ease, like the mess of this life belongs to her. She turns a chair out at the table and sits, crossing her legs. I trace their slender path up until our eyes meet, and quickly look away, blood rushing to my cheeks.
But she stays looking—at me.
“I keep thinking how . . .”
“What?” There’s nothing more I want to hear than what she’s thinking.
“Matthew and I seem to have a habit of finding you when you need it the most,” she says. My heart leaps at this; that she knows that story from so long ago, that he told it to her. And then there’s nothing more I want than to hear how it was told. “How are you, Georgia?”
“I didn’t know you called,” I say again, the revelation sharpening from shame into something else. Hurt.
I can’t believe Tyler kept that from me.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I’ll be okay.”
“It’s shocking something like that could happen here. Ashley was . . .” Her eyes grow distant as she tries to find the words. “She was thirteen. And he stopped the car after he hit you, is that what I’ve been hearing? That you got a look at who did it?”
I grimace at these awful details finding their way into Ketchum’s collective consciousness without my permission. Imagine the blame of the whole affair somehow landing on me because I’m Katy Avis’s girl.
Because if you’re Katy Avis’s girl, where else would it fall.
I think of Nora’s accusing eyes.
“No . . . I passed out. When I woke up, my bike was gone, and my phone. There were footprints around me.” I clench the fingers of my good hand, disgusted. “All I had to do was look at him, and I couldn’t even manage it.”
“Maybe that’s what saved your life.”
“I thought that was you.”
She smiles faintly, and we stare at each other, the space between us holding so much unsaid . . . the longer I look at her, the less I understand why.
“I was at Aspera.” But it sounds like a question.
She inclines her head. “You were. We waited for the ambulance outside the lodge.”
“I don’t remember it.”
“I’m not surprised. You were barely holding on.”
“I’ve always—” My voices catches. “I always wanted to see it.”
“Your mother never brought you, did she? Not even for a visit?” she asks. I shake my head. “Maybe I shouldn’t say this . . . but I’ll never understand why she hated us so much.”
“I do,” I say. “I mean, I think I do.”
Cleo leans forward. “Would you tell me?”
I never get to tell anyone what I think about what happened with Mom and Aspera. It’s a line Tyler won’t let me cross, says there’s too much I don’t know. But there’s things I know that he doesn’t. I’ve gone over it again and again, and I think I’m closer to the truth of it than anyone.
Just because she’s dead doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
“I think . . . it’s that she was afraid of her own dreams, and some people, they don’t know how to have dreams . . . so they decide to live in a reality where they just can’t ever come true.”
That was my mother: a woman who didn’t know how to do the type of work she did in the type of place she did it in and come home to our kind of house and live our kind of life. “It makes them bitter and that bitterness makes them . . . well. You know what she did.”
Cleo nods, slowly scanning the room, the dirty window over the sink, the hole in its screen that lets bugs in through the summer, the stained walls and ceilings and tiled floors, the grout that will never be white again.
“This house feels familiar. I didn’t come from money either. Did you know that?”
It’s hard to imagine.
I shake my head.
“And I know what it’s like to dream—in a place like this.” She tilts her head to the side as she regards me. “And I know how dangerous that can be to do, if you’re not strong enough.”
“She always used to tell me it was better to know who you are than who you think you’re meant to be. And then she’d tell me—”
And then she’d tell me who and what, exactly, I wasn’t.
“No,” Cleo says sharply. “It’s always better to dream.”
Something uncoils inside me.
“That’s what I think too . . . so I was headed to Aspera that day.”
“Is that right? Why?”
Because when I was thirteen years old, I’d gone missing for just a little while. Because I was angry with my mother, and it was the kind of anger that puts one foot determinedly in front of the other as though it has some specific destination in mind. Because Nora James had turned fourteen without me there and the next day at school made me understand exactly what it was that I’d lost. Because she was surrounded by girls, girl-stars turned into one great girl-constellation, and there I was, staring up at them from the gutter. Because I should have been a star. Because when I was past the point of turning around and each step forward didn’t feel as certain as the last, I stopped and a car pulled up beside me. Because when its window rolled down, there was a man inside: Cleo’s husband, Matthew Hayes.
Are you the girl? he’d asked.
My skin prickles, like something big is about to be decided about my life, like that day at the mall. My gaze drifts to the window and I can’t see Aspera from here—
But I can See it.
“Georgia,” Cleo says. “Why?”
“Because I’m not afraid to dream.”
I’m sorry, Mom, but I can see it.
End of prologue. Georgia’s story continues in I’m the Girl.
I had the pleasure of taking over the Macmillan Reads Instagram account, where I talked about I’m the Girl, and how, despite being a brutal takedown of the patriarchy, is also a celebration of lesbianism. If you missed it, it lives on in their highlights and you can watch it here.
Sadie is $2.99 on ebook for the month of August. Get it, gift it. And don’t forget, if you preorder your copy of I’m the Girl and submit your receipt to https://read.macmillan.com/promo/imthegirlpreorder/ you’ll receive (among other things) a short story epilogue to Sadie that connects to I’m the Girl. Do you want to know what’s happened in the years since West’s podcast and how Sadie fits into his life now? This story is ONLY available as a preorder incentive and I can’t yet guarantee its future availability—so get this while you can. It will be sent to your inbox as a pdf file days ahead of I’m the Girl’s September 13th publication.