Ruin (Page 45)

Ruin (Songs of Corruption #2)(45)
Author: C.D. Reiss

“There’s Sheila.”

“She can’t make up for the lot of you. Margie’s a spinster. Carrie is off somewhere. Fiona, thank God…” He rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, as if truly troubled. “It’s the men you girls choose. I don’t know where you find them.”

I could have made a crack about the example he set, but to what end? He was too old to change, and I was too old to take what he said personally.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said, taking his fingers from his eyes. “Make a good choice, one good choice, and I’ll release the funds.”

“Define a good choice.”

“Whatever this phase is, finish it. Go back to who you are. Start making sense again. Then go back to Daniel. I’m sure he’s apologized. Am I right?”

“Dad, really? What will this solve?”

I shook my head. This was a waste of time. Dad had done his share of philandering, enough to put him and Mom on opposite sides of the house. I should have expected that kind of old-world nonsense.

“Is this business?” I asked. “Are you looking to have the mayor in the family?”

“I know what makes sense when I see it. That’s all.”

He did, and Daniel and I had always made sense, always been perfect on paper, and that was how Dad saw everything. He never understood actual human emotion, which was how we ended up having a conversation with him thinking the ridiculous was possible.

“Just think about it,” he said. “My insistence might be a favor in the end.”

“I will.”

When I stood, I saw a picture on a shelf, a big one of the ten of us at the Santa Barbara campground, each in our own world. Margie looked more a sister to Mom than a daughter. Jonathan, at twelve, was already bursting with puberty. Fiona’s hair was tangled. And there I was in a button down shirt and lace collar, chin up, skin without pimple or blemish from sheer force of will.

“This was the year after,” I said, stopping in my tracks.

“After what?”

“The boy.”

“Which one?”

“The one at the bottom of a ditch,” I said.

“Yes?”

“I went through middle and high school convinced you did it.”

He held up his palms, one finger still wrapped in a ring that didn’t mean what it had decades before. “These hands are clean,” he said and denied it no further.

thirty-nine.

theresa

“I need your phone,” Antonio said standing over me in jacket and trousers. I’d grabbed his pillow and pressed it to my face, breathing in his burned pine smell.

“Why?” I grumbled into the pillow. Why was I so relaxed now, in this happy limbo between living and dying?

“Because I need to put a detonator in it.”

Normal, weekday morning conversation. It wasn’t even exciting or titillating, but right and real in a way nothing in my life had been before. I shuffled around my bag and handed him the phone. He took it and pulled me to him, pressing my nakedness against his clothes.

“You have a call from your sister,” he said, holding the glass to face me.

“Of course I do. She must be scolding me about something.”

The text came up first.

—Jon is at Sequoia. Heart attack. Looking at a bypass where the fuck are you?—

My hand covered my mouth. I’d ignored my phone because nothing seemed as important as what we were doing, but this? I didn’t expect this.

Antonio held his hand out for the phone. “What is it?”

“He’s thirty-two.”

“Who?” He looked at the text.

“I have to go see my brother.”

I stepped away and headed for my pile of clothes. I had no intention of bathing or delaying another second. Antonio just stood in the middle of the room, my phone in his palm.

“We should call this off,” he said.

“Let me see what it is first.”

“You love your family.”

“Antonio!” I shouted. I didn’t mean to shout. “Just let me go see him, okay? Then we can decide.”

***

Sequoia took up a few city blocks on the west side, the hub of a medical community with research centers for spokes and uniform and equipment suppliers at the outer rings.

I found Jonathan sitting on the edge of his bed with tubes all over him. He looked drained of everything but frustration. Sheila sat in the chair by the window, tapping on her phone like she wanted to poke through it. Under stress, the rage came out.

“Hi,” I said, kissing his cheek. “You look good.”

“He wants to get out of here,” Sheila said.

“They’re holding me until I’m stable,” he growled. “And I’m feeling more unstable every hour.”

“What happened?” I asked. “You’re hardly old enough for this.”

“Can I not review this again?” he said.

“Honestly,” Sheila said, all the singsong gone, “just his youthful indiscretions catching up with him. But if you make him tell the story again, he’s going to chew your face off and it’s not worth it. He needs a bypass. He’s going to get it. End.”

“They do them during their lunch hour. It’s just which lunch hour that’s the question.” He laid back. I sat in the chair next to the bed. A tray sat next to him with a plastic container that was empty but for a piece of cut pineapple.

“They’re letting you eat pineapple?” I asked.

He looked at me like I was nuts, then followed my gaze to the container. “That’s Monica’s.”

“Where is she?” I asked. “This is the new girl?”

“She comes at night,” Jonathan said.

“Mom thinks she’s a gold digger taking advantage of Jonathan’s infirmity,” Sheila piped in. “So we avoid the whole drama and she comes at night.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said, pointing at Jonathan. “How can you do that to her? Do you love her or not?”

“She doesn’t need the aggravation. Believe me.”

I shouldn’t care about some girl I never met. I shouldn’t care about one of his dalliances. Maybe the fact that he was so young, and so sick, and that I was disappearing in a short time that I felt as if the smallest problems were very dire, and that if I had one tiny bit of wisdom to offer him, I owed it to him, because it would be the last.

“Commit, Jonathan. Just commit.”