Stone’s house was huge. I wasn’t surprised.
He hit a button and the gate opened, then he drove into an underground garage for his own house. He parked next to a Hummer and between a G Wagon on the other side. The rest of his garage was spacious and clean. He noticed my looks concerning both vehicles and grinned. “I indulged. My signing advance.” Then he was walking, opening the door to a back room. This was where he helped me take off a sweater a nurse gave me because I got chilled. He tossed it on a clothes washer and turned the lights on in the next room, proceeding into the house.
We went into the largest kitchen I’ve ever seen. A full island was in the middle.
There was another counter off of the side of the kitchen with eight barstools lined up along it. A huge, curved wooden table that I instantly loved, but our journey wasn’t finished. The grand tour continued. He gestured toward a darkened room on the left as we passed by. “That’s the more formal sitting area if guests come over.” But we were going up a set of half stairs.
He turned, going down a hallway.
He was leading me farther into the house, almost to a whole other section until he paused, and hit the lights in a room. “Guest quarters.” He pushed the door open farther and went in. He narrated as he pointed to each section, going in a circle. “Kitchen.” That was obvious by the setup with a fridge and everything. It was the size of the kitchen we had growing up. He kept going in a circle. “You got your own gym there.”
Really? A gym?
He didn’t wait, still going in the circle. “Your own living room area.” And still going. “Bedroom one.” A hallway was next. “Bedrooms two and three are farther down.”
He went to a door, opening it, and repeating the motion of hitting the lights. “And if you’re feeling motivated, you can do your own laundry.”
He flashed me a grin, then paused.
I was back to crumbling. He saw it and grunted, “A little bit longer, Phillips. Keep it together.”
On it. I could do that.
I shoved all the shit down, way down, and pulled up the numbness once again. The silly/fighting mood had gone. It wasn’t helping me hold back what I knew was going to hit me like a tsunami. It’d be relentless.
He turned the light off, closed the door, and gently touched my shoulders, turning me back to the stairs.
“I got a bit more to show you. Hold on.”
It was like he went on warp speed after that, rushing through the rest of the house.
He showed me a television room. A theater room. As he explained, they were different.
He had another gym in the basement, and it was attached to the garage. He showed me the door connecting them, then we were back and heading up into the house.
He ended by a different set of stairs and just pointed up. “I’m up there.”
“The tour is done?”
Got it. I dipped my head in a nod. “Can you show me how to get to my section again?”
Chuckling, he said, “You’re still not hungry?” He tapped my arm lightly. “I know how to make a mean Caesar salad, or you know, I might have some lasagna to heat up.”
He was teasing. He was being kind. And it was the worst thing he could’ve done.
I couldn’t hold them off anymore. They were slipping, so I turned so he couldn’t see my face and I made my voice like steel, “Forget it. I’ll find it.”
“Hey. Hey.” His hands touched my shoulder.
I pulled away from him, hurrying off. I’d find the fucking stairs myself.
Fuck this house.
Fuck everything he had gained and I had lost.
Fuck it all.
He still had his shitty parents, and mine—a sob ripped from me. I felt it rising, burning on the way, and I tried to quiet it, but I couldn’t. Stopping right at the stairs going to my section, I couldn’t hold them back anymore, and I couldn’t go any farther myself.
I bent over, right there, at the bottom stairs. My forehead went to my knees. I wrapped my arms around my legs, and I sobbed.
Deep. Guttural. Straight from the soul sobs.
He must’ve let me cry for a few minutes until I felt his hands on my back. “Fucking Christ, Phillips.” But he didn’t sound frustrated, and his hands were gentle. He knelt, his arms moving under me, and he picked me up.
He carried me to my room, going to turn the light on.
I couldn’t bear it. It was bad enough he was here, he was hearing me. If he saw evidence of my destruction, too?
I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
“Okay.” A soft whisper from him.
“I need you to hate me.”
“I will.” He sank down on a chair in the corner, toeing the curtains out of the way so he could see outside his window, and there he held me. “Tomorrow we can go back to hating each other.”
I hiccupped on a sob. “Deal.”
So the rest of the night, he cradled me.
The rest of the night, I cried.
The rest of the night, we didn’t hate each other.
“Thought you didn’t know Stone Reeves?” That was Joe’s greeting when I called him the next day.
I frowned, sitting in Stone’s living room. Alone. He’d gone in earlier for his game. “I don’t.”
He snorted. “Yeah, right. The dude himself stopped in this morning, told me about what’s going on with you and asking if I’d hold a job for you.”
I did nothing. I didn’t know if I should get mad or breathe easier. Guess it’d depend on his answer.
“So are you?”
“Fuck yeah, I am. He said you’re a damn hard worker and I’d be stupid not to make room for you, but I gotta tell it straight. I have to fill that position I hired you for. Way he was talking, you might be out awhile.”
“I won’t. I’ll be in tomorrow.”
“He said you were in a coma.”
What’s with all this coma talk? “I’m fine. It’s just a headache.”
“You were out all week for a headache?”
I was praying Stone hadn’t said anything. “Yes. I’m good. For real. I can start tomorrow.” Make that, I need to start tomorrow.
Even a day being here, with only my homework that somehow Stone got for me, wasn’t enough. I fell asleep from sobbing so hard, and when I woke, Stone was gone. He left a note in my kitchen quarters saying he’d be back a bit after midnight. There were instructions how to use the remote to the television if I wanted to watch his godliness-level score. His exact words.
I snorted, then crumpled up the instructions, only to pause, think about it, and I smoothed them back out. One never knew when one needed to turn one’s brain off and sink into one’s oblivion, and I really needed to stop talking about myself as ‘one’.
I did not want to handle today.
My mind was swimming, and I knew I wasn’t acting rational.
I needed to call my stepbrother…was he still a stepbrother?
I—no. I wasn’t going to crumble. I couldn’t.
What was I doing again?
I just called for my job.
I should make a list. What to get done. I would forget otherwise, like basic things such as showering. I sniffed in my armpit. Yeah. I should shower first.
Then call Jared.
Then I didn’t know. I’d make a list for that, too.
This was how I got through my mom, how I got through what happened before. I—no, no, no. I couldn’t think like that. Stop thinking. That helped me, too.
Brain, turn off.
After showering, I made coffee.
After coffee, I sat on the couch.
I didn’t know the time.
My stomach was growling, but I wasn’t hungry.
Water. I should drink water. I needed to stay hydrated.
So I wrote that on my list.
Shower. Coffee. Water.
What else did I need to do?
3. Water Stay hydrated.
4. Call Jared.
7. Call Gail’s sister?
I needed to find out anything. I’d been in that coma. What had Stone said? Oh, yes. They were already buried. Next to my mom. I sagged in relief. That was good. She would’ve liked Gail. And the funeral was already done.
Stone said my bills were covered, but what about my parents’? My mind was fuzzy. He said the lawyer was traveling here. Maybe there was some money left, enough to cover all those expenses? But no. If any was left, it should go to Jared. I’d cover the funerals and burial costs. That was my job.
I sat, that list in front of me, and I stared at the wall.
What time was it? I looked. It was six in the evening. When had the time gone by? I woke around ten.
But this was what I did before, after the event. I hadn’t known how to process anything, so I sat, I stared, I lost time. I’d been a zombie then. I hadn’t totally been a zombie after mom. My dad needed me. The bills needed me. School needed me.
I could do that again.
Reaching for my phone, I pulled up Siobhan’s number. I didn’t have my housemates’ numbers. I needed to have my housemates’ numbers.
I hit call, and a second later, I heard, “Dusty?”