18

TAKING THE BACKSTAIRS, Allison ran the nine floors down till she reached the exit out of the building. She trod heavily back to her car, and shut the door precisely the moment her bottom touched the seat. Inhaling and exhaling slowly, she sat brooding over her mother’s deceitful way when suddenly a male voice speaking fine Scottish Gaelic broke out from the backseat.

Fàilte air ais.

Instantly, she reacted in terror, screaming in the man’s face. It took her a bit to realize it was Adrian.

“HAHAHAHA!”

“What was that!”

“That’s ‘welcome back’ in Scottish. Some guy I talked to the other day taught it to me.”

“Don’t do that! You totally freaked me out! I seriously thought my heart was going to stop…”

He just laughed harder, barely able to draw breath anymore.

“Yeah, yeah. Very funny.”

“I’m sorry, heh… hehe… I’ll stop. I thought it would have been a pleasant surprise. Didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

Hands over her chest, she waited till her beating calmed to ask him, “How did you get in?”

“You left the car unlocked again.”

“I did?”

“Yes. You should really be more careful. Because who knows, next time it might not be me but some armed robber demanding money from you at gun point.”

“Stop that!”

“Am I scaring you again? OoooOOOooo!”

“Come on, Adrian. What are you doing here anyway?”

“I came to check up on you of course. Looks like you’ve decided to listen to Mother after all and turned to the Devil himself for help.”

“I didn’t see Dr. Carter. It’s this female doctor.”

“Same difference. In any case — how did it go?”

“You know how it always is.”

“Did she ask if you’ve abused narcotics lately, or how many people you’ve slept with last week?”

“No. It’s not like that.”

“I’ve always thought those were the standard questions. That manipulative son of a bitch used to ask me every time I went for my session... Well, did this female doctor at least do miracles for you?”

“Her last prescription worked for a while, but —”

“But then it failed.”

She nodded.

“Ha! Don’t they always? Was she at least nice to you?”

“It was a complete disappointment, okay? Let’s talk about something else.”

“Take it easy. I haven’t even asked whether you told her about me.”

Knowing her brother’s solemn disapproval of anything psychiatry related, she was going to lie to him, but he found her out before she even attempted.

“So you did. I assume Mother put you up to this too.”

“She didn’t. It was all me. But it wasn’t intentional.”

“There’s no use mentioning me, Allie, that doctor of yours won’t understand. Consider it hopeless.”

“Then consider it done. I won’t go back to her again so don’t worry.”

Her assurance prompted him to smile.

It was comforting to see Adrian back to his normal self. Allison wanted to ask him many things regarding the bizarre incident occurring last Thursday, but was partly hesitating. Though she might not be the one to bring that up, he thought she deserved an explanation and had actually come to tell her just that.

“Remember that I called last week? I forgot which day exactly but it was some time around noon I think.”

“Try eleven. Since you asked me to be there by noon.”

“To be where?”

“An apartment complex in downtown Blackpool.”

“Right… Well, what else did I say?”

“Not much else, but you insisted that I went, otherwise… otherwise you would…”

“Yes?”

“You really have no recollection of any of it?”

“Oh man, man, man! I screwed something up again didn’t I?”

“From what I know, no. Do you at least remember what you were doing or who you were with?”

“The entire last week had been hell, Allie. I remember feeling shitty, like my world was flipped upside down and crumbled over me. I don’t know how to explain everything, but I never meant to cause you harm.”

“You didn’t. I was more worried about you if anything. I thought you might have been with Miranda and something terrible happened.”

“What gave you that impression?”

“Well, you said… I don’t know if I should say.”

“Just tell me.”

“Well, the reason you wanted me there… you sort of threatened me, saying if I didn’t show up, something was going to happen to her. And you sounded all mad and irritated, I was worried that… that…”

“That I might kill her.”

“Not that! I was worried that you might have lost it and took your frustration out on her like the time you told me about a while ago.”

“Which time?”

“When you… smacked her head against the wall and accidentally knocked her out.”

“Oh that. I told you that?”

“You did, among other things.”

“At least now she will never have to worry about me wigging out again.”

“What do you mean?”

Just then, a corner of his lips flicked into a smirk, his eyes narrowed to look evil. In all seriousness, he declared, “I killed her, Allie, right that morning. I murdered that deceitful bitch for good.”

Allison looked wide-eyed at him, her jaw dropped all the way to the floor. Then, a moment later —

“Ba-HAHAHAHA!”

“What! Was that a joke?!” she asked, but there was no stopping his guffawing. “It was, wasn’t it? That wasn’t funny at all!”

“I beg to differ. Ba-hahahaha!”

“Stop laughing! Gosh, I can’t believe you sometimes.”

“Didn’t you think I forgot everything about that day?”

“Well, did you?”

“Honestly? Honestly, that day is like a faraway blur to me. All I know is I called you and I was alone the whole time. How is that for comfort?”

“Come on, Adrian. I’m being serious.”

“Me too. I was intoxicated and my head was spinning. Everything felt hazy as it went on. I was too depressed to have any clue as to what I said to you over the phone.”

“Depressed about what?”

“That’s the irony. I don’t really know. It could have been something stupid Miranda said for all I care but the point is, everything is under control now.”

“How are you so certain?”

“I’m here now aren’t I? And I’m well.”

“But —”

“Trust me. I know myself just that much. Everything is fine.”

Allison knew that her brother had always struggled to cope with bad feelings; logic and rationale played a small role — if at all — in his recovery process. His insistence that “everything is fine” only meant he had done something to unload that melancholy beyond the help of drugs and alcohol. If he did not unload it on his girlfriend, he had to have unloaded it on himself.

A speculation occurred to her. “Show me your arms,” she demanded of him.

“What? What are you getting at?”

“You know what. Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Did you cut yourself?”

“Nope.”

“Then why can’t you show me?”

“I just… I just don’t feel the need to prove to you what I know I did not do.”

His response only troubled her.

“Fine… fine.” He knew she would not simply let this go, thus rolling up his sleeve, revealing his skeletal right arm and showing her throughout. “See? Just some age-old scars. Satisfied?”

“Show me the other one too.”

“You don’t want to do this —”

Disregarding his verbal portent, she grabbed his left hand, flipped it so the palm faced up, and then pulled up his sleeve herself. Right away, she gasped at this horrific gash down the center of his forearm and her eyes went damp in a flash.

“Why do you still do this…”

“It’s long overdue.”

“What is?”

“It’s inevitable, Allie.”

“What is?!”

He retrieved his arm. “Something’s gotta give. No pain, no gain, that’s just the way of life. I do feel much better now so it was a fair trade-off after all.”

“I don’t want to hear the same excuses every time.”

Seeing Adrian hurt after the fact was certainly less traumatizing than seeing it first-hand. Though somehow — every time — she ended up crying in front of him while he tried calming her by saying: “Don’t cry. There’s nothing worth crying for here.”

“You don’t understand… you just don’t.”

“You’d be surprised how much I do.”

She looked right at him, and he told her with a proud smile, “You are crying because of how much you care for me. You are that one in a million, Allie. I honestly cannot ask for a better sister.”

His assertion made her sob harder. Swiftly, he got out of the car, came around to the front passenger seat to give her a big, brotherly hug. He rubbed her back till she slowly relaxed, and then worked to steer her focus onto something supposedly pleasant; turned out, it only brought about more disappointment.

“So, what is your big plan for tomorrow?”

Pulling away, Allison dried her tears with the back of her hand. “Whatever for?”

“Isn’t tomorrow your wedding anniversary? It’s something exciting to celebrate.”

“We don’t have any plans.”

“No? How come?”

“Normally, Dan and I would go out for dinner at a fancy restaurant, but judging by his mood lately, I doubt he’s up for it this year.”

“You didn’t ask?”

“It’s obvious enough that I don’t have to ask.”

“Hasn’t it been a month already since she died?”

“More or less. He just needs time to heal and I’m not gonna rush him. Not anymore.”

“But you are his best medicine! Are you really willing to let her win even after death?”

“Of course not.”

“Then you need to do something about it, and quick, before a perfectly good chance slips by.”

“What are you suggesting that I do? I can’t keep pushing his buttons till he finally decides to get over her.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what?”

“I’m only telling you to not let Megan, or anything else, get in your way of getting what you want.”

“You sounded like Mom there for a second.”

“God, please. Don’t start.”

She let out a snicker. “Alright. I guess it doesn’t hurt to try. I’ll go ahead and make a reservation at Pierro for tomorrow night. Even if he was to refuse, I’ll give him the gift I bought a while back regardless. It’s a watch. He’s said he liked it one time when we stopped at a store window to look at it.”

“A watch is great, but you’ve got to do more than just presenting him goods.”

“What are you thinking?”

“When was the last time you surprised him?”

“I don’t remember. But I don’t think he knows that I got him the watch.”

“Again, I’m not talking about material things.”

“Then, do you mean… in a seductive way?”

“Well?”

“Well, to tell the truth, it’s been a while since I put on any of my sexy lingerie and did the whole flirty thing in front of him. We only just get along lately, let alone try to have any luck in the bedroom.”

“Maybe it’s time to spice things back up, sister. What could be better timing than a wedding anniversary?”

“You really think he would like that?”

“He’s a man after all. I have no doubt.”

She pondered over what he said, suddenly her face brightened with new aspiration. “Okay. I got an idea.”

“That’s more like it! Glad I can be of help.”

© 2017 by J Y Barris. All Right Reserved.
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