So it’s sorta social. Demented and sad, but social. Right?
- The Breakfast Club
The following night was a quiet one at the clubs and taverns around Chicago. Most of the drinking world was at home, nursing hangovers. The only people sitting around the regular’s corner at The March were the few who’d avoided the amateur night annoyance of St. Patrick’s Day. Caleb leaned behind the bar, drinking coffee and chatting with the only three regulars who’d shown up that night: Wally Cadwallader, John Farebrother, and Mary. Mary and Farebrother were playing Scrabble, their bonhomie mitigating somewhat their competitiveness.
“Honestly, you two,” said Wally, sipping his martini. “You act as though the fate of the Americas was on the line over who wins that game.”
“You never know, Wally,” said Farebrother. “The next geopolitical crisis could well be resolved by a world leader who understands that you should never create an opportunity for an opponent to land on a triple word score.”
“Fuck off, Farebrother,” said Mary. “I don’t need a triple word score to beat you. Check this out!”
And then she laid an “s” at the start of Farebrother’s last played “quirt” and used it to kick off “sexy.” With the “x” on a triple letter score. “How you like me now, motherfucker!”
“That was a pretty sexy move,” said Farebrother, grimacing. “But I’ll come back. I am bloodied, but unbowed.”
“Mary,” said Wally. “I hate to harp on it, but you really need to start thinking about your skin care regimen. All these years in a smoky bar will start showing up on your face soon.”
Although neither he nor the bar would make any money that night, Caleb enjoyed these quiet nights. He enjoyed the vicious Scrabble matches, and Wally’s single-minded focus on his moonlighting career. He liked passing the time with people whom he knew were rescued from lonely nights by the comfortable corner at The March.
He scarcely noticed the rat-faced little guy sitting alone at a table, making his way through a pitcher.
Brooke, who’d brought the pitcher to Rafferty, was standing by the door chatting with GIO. They were discussing Celia’s upcoming graduation. Gio and Brooke had become pretty good friends of late and Gio was only a little embarrassed to recall that Brooke had initially been the preferred sister. These days, as much as he liked Brooke, he found himself often irrationally indignant at how Celia seemed like the second Dotry sister to everyone. There was something about Celia’s practicality and effortlessness in worldly matters that made her fade into obscurity behind Brooke’s intense passions and terrible romantic decisions. But Gio also knew that Brooke loved Celia almost as much as he did. Had he said this aloud, Brooke would probably have argued with that “almost as much” estimation, but the tenor of romantic love is so different than that of sibling love. It’s not worth the bother of comparing.
“Do you think your Dad will come for Celia’s graduation,” asked Gio.
“I’m sure he will,” said Brooke. “And stay for the whole day.”
“What about a fancy party,” said Gio. “Passed hors d’oeuvres and rented champagne glasses?”
“She’ll love that,” said Brooke. “And we’ll get enough people there that Dad won’t feel all awkward during a one-one with us.”
“Jesus, that’s sad,” said Gio. “Your family is such a downer I’m going to have to lighten up the mood for this party. Maybe I’ll jump out of a cake and strip.”
“Ha!” said Brooke. “We can get you a coconut bra. You’ll look hot!”
They were laughing when Caleb called from the bar, “Go home, Brooke. If they’re not here by now, they’re not coming.”
It was an early cut for Brooke. Barely 11:00 pm. She decided to walk.
“Brooke,” said Gio. “It’s not safe for you to walk. Let me call you a cab.”
“Oh, it’s barely three blocks,” said Brooke. “I’ll be home faster walking than I would be in a cab.”
Brooke loved that walk home. She loved the sound of her own footsteps, unobscured by city noise and idle conversation. It was always the most peaceful that she felt.
As she walked, she noticed that it was so clear, she could pick out a star or two in the busy Chicago sky. She felt awake and comfortable and in no particular hurry to get home. So, she walked slowly, thinking of this and that; a story she’d read in the paper that morning, the craziness of last night, a particularly good tip she’d gotten. She thought about what to get Celia for graduation. She’d buy her a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book they both loved to distraction. She’d inscribe it with something gushy and sweet. That’d be good. A hot shower would also be good. And a grilled cheese. When she got home, she’d take a hot shower and then make a grilled cheese sandwich and listen to the radio while she read a book. She’d re-read To Kill A Mockingbird. She was glad of her early cut and the quiet hours ahead of her.
She walked in the door and was about to head directly into the shower to wash the bar off when she noticed a light in the living room.
Teddy was sitting on the sofa, quiet, staring into the unlit fireplace.
“Teddy,” she said. “Have you been home long? For some reason I thought you’d be asleep even though it’s not even midnight.”
“I was asleep,” he said, wearily. “But I woke up and now I’m cold. I’m sick of winter and cold.”
“Yeah, it starts to get old, doesn’t it?” she said. “But it’ll be warm soon enough. Let me get you something hot to drink.”
She went into the kitchen and poured some milk into a pot for heating. She mixed it with some cocoa and sugar and brought it into the living room. She settled on the floor next to the sofa and rested her head on his knee. “How are you feeling, Teddy,” she said. “You looked so lonely sitting here in the dark.”
“I feel better now that you’re home,” he said. “I feel more settled when you’re here.”
“I’m here, Teddy,” she said. “But I need a shower. And I was thinking about rereading To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“I’ve never read it,” said Teddy.
“Really,” said Brooke. “That’s terrible! You should read it right now!”
“I never read fiction,” he said. “And I never like the same things everyone likes.”
“You’ll like this,” said Brooke. “It’s a perfect book. Do you want to borrow my copy?”
“Read it to me,” said Teddy. “Would you read it to me?”
Brooke was surprised, but she agreed. She got the book, settled onto the sofa next to him, snuggled up under an afghan and began.
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow…
Brooke read aloud for something just short of an hour, until Teddy drifted off to sleep. She adjusted the afghan around him, and then headed in to take her delayed shower, make her grilled cheese sandwich, and then sat on her bed and read until dawn.
Teddy woke up in the gray, dawn light with a crick in his neck from his uncomfortable place on the couch. He headed back to his own room to get some good sleep. On his way down the hall, he stopped by Brooke’s room and looked in. She was asleep on the top of her covers. She had on sweatpants and a tee shirt. The book was open on the bed next to her. Her long hair was loose. She looked so lovely and young.
Teddy shit the door quietly and then went to his own. He sat heavily on the bed. His neck hurt and he had heartburn. And he was out of cigarettes.