Further into the woods and closer to the source of the music, the light left no space for shadows. Washing over us in a wave, it poured from each door, and from a place beyond—the place Rusty was taking me to. I tried calling to him, but his ears were alert only to the song that carried through the night air. It reminded me of that tune from the ’80s, that one about waiting for a star to fall. Or perhaps he heard another? It was hard to say, for even though it sounded like that song to me, it was changed somehow—a different version from a different place perhaps? Pulling my eyes away from the wagging of his bushy tail, I spied a door to our left and couldn’t help but take a peek. Inside I saw X’s near demise on the bathroom floor of her apartment all those years ago.
“I had no idea” I exclaimed.
“Why would you?” Rusty asked as he came to a sudden stop a short distance ahead. Flakes of snow were landing on his nose, and he was trying his best to lick away each one.
“After you left her at the train station, did you call? Did you visit to talk things over? Or did you drink yourself stupid as a way of blocking out your mistakes? I bet I know which of the three you chose.”
Lowering my head, I pushed my paws into the dirt out of shame.
“While you were drinking yourself into a stupor, she was coming apart, and it’s only through the quick wits of another that she survived.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Look closer,” said Rusty.
Lifting my eyes, I gazed into the light. One second she was on the bathroom floor and then she was floating through space surrounded by a billion blinking stars. She was kicking her feet as if lifting herself from the bottom of a swimming pool, and far away but approaching at great speed was a cat. One I recognised as a matter of fact. It was a tabby from her apartment block. All it needed was a cape and some superhero music, and the look would’ve been complete.
“I don’t understand.”
“George is like me” Rusty responded. “An old soul in a new body. He helped to save her that day. I’m sure she would’ve wished it was you doing the saving, but alas you were busy acquainting yourself with the bottle. You were busy doing it for the next several years; were you not?”
Again, I lowered my head.
“Just as I thought. The truth hurts, doesn’t it? Not to worry. What’s done is done. I’m hardly one to talk, although my own downfall was less to do with liquid and more to do with chemicals. It’s funny now to think of what used to ail me. Anyhow, George walks among us, somewhere within these very woods. Just as I have been tasked in guiding you, he is on his way to help her. I’m sure she’ll be quite glad to see an old friend. These are strange times after all.”