Thanks to the magic of the Fae healers, Mom’s broken hip was little more than an inconvenience, one they could mend in a few hours. The alcohol poisoning was another matter, something the Fae healers couldn’t treat, which meant Mom got to spend some quality time in the hospital.
On the day Dad and I brought her in, she was in and out of consciousness, but even when she was conscious, she wasn’t what you’d call coherent. I spent several hours by her bedside, crying when she was unconscious, then trying to put on a brave face when she woke up. I needn’t have bothered with the brave face—she didn’t remember anything between one period of wakefulness and the next, though I wasn’t sure if that was because of the lingering effects of alcohol or because of whatever drugs the doctors were feeding through her IV. Dad eventually coaxed me out of the hospital, and I spent the night at his house for the first time since I’d moved into my safe house.
Needless to say, this wasn’t the kind of homecoming I’d had in mind.
When I went to visit Mom in the hospital again the next day, it was to find her awake and, if not alert, at least coherent. Dad stepped out of the room when he saw that Mom was awake, giving me some private time alone with her. I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or panicked.
She looked terrible, of course. Her skin was unusually pale, her hair greasy and lank, her eyes sunken. She still had an IV in her arm, but at least she didn’t have an oxygen tube in her nose. Everything about this was my worst nightmare come true. And the worst part was that she’d done this to herself.
I hugged myself as I stared at her pale and sickly face, but there was no sting in my eyes, no tightening of my throat. Just a hollow, hopeless feeling in the middle of my chest. I might have thought that she’d feel bad about what she’d done to herself while I was gone, that she might be embarrassed by it or even downright ashamed. I expected her to avoid eye contact and look guilty, but instead, her face lit up when she saw me and she gave a little cry of joy.
“Dana! You’re back!” She reached out her arms to me, expecting me to rush into them and hug her. Apparently, she had no memory of having seen me the day before. The happy flush in her cheeks made her look almost healthy, but I didn’t go to her. I should have been glad she was alive—and somewhere deep inside, I know I was—but I was in too much pain to acknowledge it.
“I don’t understand, Mom,” I said, shaking my head. “How can you do this to yourself? Don’t you care that you almost died?”
She blinked at me as if she couldn’t possibly imagine what I was talking about, her arms slowly sinking as she realized I wasn’t going to let her hug me. “I broke a bone, honey. That’s not the same as almost dying. And I’m fine now.” She tried another bright smile, but I still kept my distance.
“If Dad and I had been in Faerie any longer, you’d be dead,” I said. “All because you couldn’t stay off the booze for just a couple of weeks.”
She dismissed that argument with a wave. “Don’t be overdramatic. I fell in the shower. It happens to people all the time. I’ll just have to get one of those rubber bath mats.”
My jaw dropped as I realized what she was implying. “So you think that was just some kind of random accident? Something that could have happened to anybody?”
She frowned at me. “Of course, honey. It was clumsy and stupid of me, but—”
“Mom, you were drunk out of your mind. So drunk you couldn’t even walk. That’s why you fell. All the rubber mats in the world wouldn’t have helped you.”
“I was not drunk,” she said with a look of offended dignity.
Oh. My. God. In the face of all this, she was still going to deny she had a drinking problem? “If you weren’t drunk, then why was there an empty bottle of gin in the bathroom?”
“I’d had a drink or two,” she said dismissively, “but that doesn’t mean I was drunk. I just needed to unwind a little.”
“Because everyone knows casual drinkers often take bottles of booze into the bathroom with them.”
“Enough, Dana. I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
I seriously considered grabbing the first breakable object I could get my hands on and throwing it across the room. “You’re in the hospital for alcohol poisoning,” I said through gritted teeth. “You were unconscious or hallucinating most of the day yesterday. The doctor said you had a blood alcohol level of point-two-one percent when we brought you in. And you’re going to lie there and tell me it was all just an innocent little accident, something that could have happened to anyone. Is that it?”
No matter how deeply in denial she was, I can’t possibly believe she didn’t know she had a problem. But no amount of insurmountable evidence was going to budge her. I wanted to strangle her. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to beg and plead and cry. I wanted to force her into rehab, or get her declared incompetent again and back under my father’s care.
I didn’t do any of those things. When my mom merely lay in her hospital bed in mulish silence, my shoulders slumped, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, it was time for me to accept the inevitable: my mom wasn’t going to quit drinking until it killed her. And there was nothing I could do but sit there and watch it happen.
* * *
I was in a foul mood when I left my mom’s room, angry and scared and on the verge of tears. My dad wasn’t standing guard outside the door, as I’d expected. The waiting room was only a few yards down the hall, but I was still pleasantly surprised that he’d given me that much freedom. Maybe he’d stepped back from full red alert for once. I took a few deep breaths to get my emotions under control, then headed to the waiting room.