“Jonathan. Please. I don’t want it to be like this, like I’m using you.”
“You’re not using me. You’re mine. You are my own personal goddess. It’s my job to make sure you’re happy. And if I can’t make you happy, I won’t feel right if you’re not taken care of as best as I can. So please, tell me how many people so I can feel right.”
“A hundred?” I whispered.
How was I going to fit a hundred people in my thousand-square-foot house? Jesus, what were Darren and I thinking? Jonathan squeezed my hands and brought my attention back to his face. He seemed unfazed by the size of the guest list.
“I have this,” he said. “I can take care of it between doing ten other things. Lil will take you downtown. I don’t want you driving. Do you have enough to get him out?”
My mouth opened, but not even a whisper came. Did I have enough to bail Darren out of jail? I had no idea. How much did something like that cost? And how was I going to actually take money from Jonathan? I’d get my mother to mortgage the house if necessary. I’d supplicate myself before her, promise to stay on the narrow path, and eat four tons of shit on a hot tar shingle to get Darren out in time for his sister’s funeral, but I wasn’t taking money from Jonathan.
I nodded. “I have it.”
He kissed me tenderly, stroking my cheek with his thumb. “I’ll be in touch. Pick up the phone, okay?”
I nodded because I didn’t want to whisper again.
Jonathan left gingerly, as if turning his back on me long enough to get to work making arrangements to prepare my house for a wake was going to give me enough time to fall apart again. He walked backward to the Jag, watching me, the red in his hair catching the morning sun. I waved and even managed to smile a little. I was determined to get through this, even if it meant pretending my shit was together long enough to restore his faith in me. When he drove down the hill, I felt as if he pulled part of me with him.
Lil showed up in Jonathan’s Bentley spaceship thirty minutes later.
“Ms. Faulkner,” she said. “How are you holding up?”
“Something wrong with your voice?”
I shrugged. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, whether it was my voice or my mind or something else entirely, some trick of the universe. I was getting frustrated. The condition I’d initially attributed to too many tears and hurt was starting to feel like something more intractable.
“I wanted to say,” Lil said, “and I hope I’m not being inappropriate, but my wife’s brother took his own life. So my sympathies. It can be hardest on the family.”
I screwed my face up, trying not to cry again, because she’d called Gabby family. She was exactly that. My sister. And having that recognized was like a bucket of cold water. “Thanks, Lil,” I whispered.
“Where are we going today?”
“Going to bail my brother out of jail.”
Five thousand dollars.
Apparently, Darren had gone after Theo with a broken bottle, which according to the State of California was a deadly weapon.
So, five large. Cash.
I swallowed hard.
The big lady with the skinny glasses behind the bulletproof glass seemed sympathetic. She’d tolerated my whispering and slid a notepad under the glass once she realized I could hear fine but couldn’t speak.
“There’s three bondsmen across the street. You pay five hundred, and they forward us the rest. But you don’t get it back. Kaylee. That’s the one I like. Best with first-timers and ain’t no glass in between you so she’ll hear that little voice you got. All right, young lady?”
I nodded, ripping the page from the notebook. I took the papers and forms she gave me that detailed Darren’s infractions and went outside.
Lil stood by the car, which was perched in a loading zone, pretty as you please. She handed me a paper cup of tea. I didn’t know how she knew I liked tea. I didn’t know if Jonathan had detailed all my foibles and preferences to her or if she just paid incredible attention, but I took it and thanked her.
“I have to go to the bondsman.” I pointed across the street at a yellow and black sign marked Kaylee’s Bailbonds.
Lil opened the car door.
“It’s just across the street.” I had to lean in close to Lil so she’d hear me over the din of rush hour traffic.
“I told Mister Drazen I’d take care of you. So just get in. I have to drive around to the parking lot anyway.”
I got in, feeling silly and childish. I could have run across the street in half the time, quarter-time if I jaywalked. But Lil was doing her job with sincerity and kindness, and I didn’t have the heart to disrupt her. I sipped my tea in the backseat, hoping the hot liquid would reconnect my voice to my lungs, but when I tried to make a sound, there was only breath.
I felt that there was a choice at the deepest parts of my being not to speak, some fear that my voice would break the world or call up beasts that would rend me and everything I loved to tatters. But I couldn’t locate that dark place and explain that it was doing more harm than good, that I needed the fear to go away, that everything in my life would be torn to shreds by simple inaction if I couldn’t function as an artist and member of society.
I breathed. Panic was going to get me nowhere. I had to get through the day and bail Darren out in time for the wake. Sleep. Eat. Go to work tomorrow. Breathe. I would figure it out if I could keep the anxiety at bay.
Lil pulled in behind the bondsman place and let me out as if I were a celebrity arriving at a red carpet event. “Mister Drazen said if you needed anything, I should let you know he’ll take care of it.”
“You should let him help you.” She gave me a meaningful look that said she knew I had reservations about taking help from Jonathan.
I nodded to her and walked through the back door.
The space had no aesthetic pretentions whatsoever. The grey industrial carpet was worn in the high-traffic areas. The fluorescent lights buzzed behind the dropped ceiling, yellowing the piles of papers lying on every surface, every metal shelving unit, veneer desk, and unoccupied black chairs. The occupied chairs, three of them, held people of varying ages and ethnicities, all talking on phones or tapping into aged beige computers. Out the front windows, downtown Los Angeles hummed by.
A middle-aged woman in big dark glasses shuffled past in slippers and a multicolored shift. Her coffee cup was one third full of sludge.