I didn’t let him say more. “Please, turn off the lights back there on your way out. I gotta go.”
I left without waiting for his answer, wondering if Norma really was right about me not being as strong as I thought I was. If I were stronger, after all, I wouldn’t have run out like that. If I were stronger, I would have stayed.
I woke up around two that afternoon.
It was early for me, but I’d gone to sleep early too, having passed out as soon as I’d gotten home. I hadn’t even managed to finish off more than a glass of Moscato—Norma’s favorite and the only thing in the apartment, though way too sweet for my tastes—before I’d sunk my head into my pillow and let the void swallow me whole. Perhaps that was best because I didn’t have a hangover now or even a headache.
In fact, I woke up feeling pretty damn good.
Not good as in I’d forgotten what was happening with Ben or what Norma had said to me about not being strong. But good as in I now felt like I had the energy to cope. It was amazing to see what a difference a good night’s—er, day’s—sleep could make.
Except, as I headed for the shower and felt the reminder of JC in my aching thighs, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t just a good sleep that had affected me. As the hot water poured over me and I washed between my legs, I was invaded with the memory of JC massaging my clit, rubbing me toward orgasm. The words he’d encouraged me with to get there.
And I’d been the one to jump him.
A wave of giddiness fell over me. And I started to laugh.
Like, hardcore laugh. Like, make-me-bend-over laugh. “I had to put my hand up against the tile to keep me from falling over” kind of laugh.
In the midst of my fit, it occurred to me that maybe I had finally gone mad, but I quickly dismissed it and let myself go in this emotion as fully as I’d let myself go when I’d climaxed that morning. The laughing made sense, actually. I’d done a completely out of character thing when I’d banged JC in the kitchen. And instead of feeling shitty as I expected, or hoped, rather, I felt renewed. And alive. And just plain good.
It was so unexpected, it became funny. Also, maybe I was going a little bit mad.
Whether I’d lost it or not, I had an unmistakable spring in my step as I dried off. I was still wrapped in a towel with my blonde hair bundled in another on top of my head, when the phone rang. Hoping it was news about Ben, I ran to it.
After glancing at the caller ID, I answered. “Norma? You made it there? How is he?”
“Yes, I made it here. I landed a couple of hours ago and came straight to the hospital.” In the background, I heard an overhead intercom paging a Dr. So and So. Then heels on a hard floor—probably Norma’s. I could picture her pacing as she talked to me on her cell. “Did I wake you up?”
“No, I was awake. And I wouldn’t have cared anyway. How. Is. He?” That she hadn’t answered that yet worried me.
“He’s good.” She sighed, which did nothing to ease the tension she was carrying. Her voice was still tight and strained. “I’m sorry. I should have led with that. He’s better than good, actually. Physically, anyway. They got to him in time and his liver doesn’t show any signs of long-term damage.”
“That’s great!” I was so relieved that I thought I might start laughing again. The road to emotional repair was going to be hard enough for him. At least he wouldn’t be dealing with health issues as well. “So what now? Is he checking out? Have you seen him?”
“He still doesn’t want to see me. But he knows I’m here. I wrote him a letter on the plane. I don’t know if it will make a difference or if he’ll even read it. We’ll see.”
I definitely had a different outlook than when she’d first called me that morning. This time, instead of being distraught that Ben didn’t want to see me, I was more concerned that he didn’t want to see Norma. “Ah, sissy, I’m so sorry.”
“Sissy. You haven’t called me that in years.” Finally, the stiffness of her tone loosened and took a hint of nostalgia.
“No, I haven’t.” When Norma had been my primary caretaker, it had felt right. An apt substitute for calling her mom, which in many ways, she really was to me. I could tell it pleased her now, and I was glad to be able to give her that comfort. “Maybe I should call you that more often.”
“That might be nice.” Her smile was evident through the receiver. “As long as you’re not meaning that I’m a coward.”
“Never.” I wanted to ask what her letter had said, but I knew it was probably private. So I asked the more important question. “What happens with Ben now?”
The softness she’d discovered disappeared and she returned to the harder no-nonsense version of herself. “They want to keep him until we can make arrangements to transfer him to an inpatient mental facility. His social worker has given me some leads, but I’m looking around to find the right place. It might be a couple of days.”
“I don’t say this often, Norma, but thank God Hudson Pierce pays you so fucking well.” There’d been times when I thought her paycheck was extravagant. Compared to how we’d grown up, it really was over-the-top. Not that I didn’t appreciate what she did for me. I also made sure I contributed as much as she’d let me. And I saved. A lot.
But right now I was nothing but grateful for her bank account. I knew it would get Ben the best care possible.
“Well, I’ll make sure Hudson is aware of your appreciation.”
“Yeah, I bet you will.” Maybe it wasn’t the right time to tease her about her boss fixation, but I couldn’t help myself. Besides, she hadn’t mentioned her romantic feelings for him in a long time, and as a sister it was my duty to remind her that I knew. “In case you can’t tell, I’m waggling my eyebrows.”
Instead of getting embarrassed and gushy, she surprised me with her response. “You’re in a good mood. What’s that about?”
She was deflecting. But I was in a better mood than I should have been and with only one reasonable explanation. “I fucked a random guy in the kitchen at the club. It did wonders for my attitude.”
“You should do that more often. It’s helped.” Her tone said she thought I was joking.
Which was fine. I didn’t really know how I’d explain my encounter with JC if she pressed. “Yeah, yeah. I love you too. Anyway.” I’d wandered from the kitchen as we talked and now, in the living room, I flopped on the couch and hugged my knees to my chest before returning to the serious talk. “Norma, will Ben even go into a facility?”