I expected crying, wailing and sobbing. I expected stammered apologies. I expected her to plead for my forgiveness. I even expected Kris to put up his dukes. Instead, he hands her his t-shirt, which she silently pulls over her head and then stretches over her knees as she pulls them up to her chest, making herself as small as possible, entirely avoiding eye contact with both of us while Kris tugs his jeans back on and then sits at the end of the bed staring at the floor between his feet. I can’t help but notice that he leaves the top button undone, as if he’s ready to get back to it, as if he’s not planning to leave.
“So how long has this been going on?” Kris is hiding behind his hair and Becky’s staring at her feet but I wouldn’t exactly say either of them is looking particularly guilt ridden. He looks back at her and she merely shrugs one shoulder, like it’s up to him to say. I feel my hands clenching and unclenching at my sides. I want to fucking drag him to his feet by his hair and punch his teeth down his throat. The only thing holding me back is the code; you don’t fight guys on your own team.
“While you were gone…in Haiti,” Kris says quietly, looking up at me through his hair like he knows he deserves a fucking beating but there’s a defiance there too, a look that says he’ll take the beating but he’s not going to apologize.
“Oh I get it, so while the cat’s away…,” I begin but Becky looks up at me and her expression is even more rebellious. There is only the slightest hint of contrition in her eyes.
“It wasn’t like that. We tried not to. Both of us...we really tried to avoid this.” I hate that I want to believe her. I hate that I want to say it’s okay, so instead I focus on the churning in my gut and think about all the times I lay in my shitty little motel room in Haiti thinking about her when I could have been out dancing like the rest of the guys.
“Yeah, I can see you were trying really hard not to fuck him in my bed,” I snarl, mostly at Kris because somehow it’s easier to be angry at him. Not only has he fucked my girl but he’s broke the code and somehow that’s worse.
“I love her,” he says simply and firmly, his gaze meeting and holding mine.
“Yeah, I heard.” I suddenly feel awkward, like I’ve stepped into someone else’s private moment. I don’t know where to look and I hate that I can feel this energy running between the two of them, like they’re touching even when they’re not.
“It’s not like we planned this and we didn’t do it to hurt you,” he adds, like it matters why. I don’t want them to see it though, that it does hurt, so I take in a deep breath, roll my shoulders back and lift my chin, giving them my best ‘I’m not bothered’ look.
“Who’s hurt?” I shrug, sneering at them both like I could care less that the room reeks of sex and I wasn’t even involved. “I fucked a ton of girls down in Haiti. I was getting my dark meat on,” I lie, wearing my biggest, fakest shit eating grin. Kris looks like he believes me, like he’s shocked that I’d do that to her. Becky, on the other hand, only glances at me quickly. She knows I’m bullshitting, but she has the decency not to call me on it in front of him.
“So you’re saying you’re okay with this?” Kris asks, looking up at me hopefully. As if I’m going to give him the ‘father, son and holy ghost’ wave and make this all above board and kosher. Yeah right, as if he’s getting off that easy.
“Fuck no,” I laugh, or make a sound that’s as close to laughing as I can while I’m choking on my pride. “Vous pouvez sortir, for a fucking start,” I growl, “et prendre ta putain avec vous.”
“Don’t…don’t call her names. If you want to blame someone, blame me, not her,” Kris growls back at me, finally showing some signs of having rediscovered his balls, his hands curling into fists on his lap while he glares at me.
“Je vais lui dire de me sucer la bite si je veux,” I reply calmly, smirking back at him until I see the red haze fill his eyes, his jaw clenching, his lips forming a thin, angry line. I’ve seen him like that before, right before he pummels the shit out of a guy out on the ice and truth be told, I’m kind of looking forward to it. Physical pain would be way better than standing here, feeling like the odd man out, like I’m so fucking secondary to requirements it’s not funny.
“Ta gueule fils de pute,” he growls back at me, getting to his feet and closing the distance between us until his nose is almost pressed against mine.
“Tu es la personne qui est le vissage d’un sale pute,” I hiss back at him, giving him a bump with my chest, and then shoving him back onto the bed. Not that he stays down long. He bounces right back up and nearly lands what would have been a savage left hook, only I step back just in time and go cross-eyed as I watch his knuckles go by within a cunt hair of the bridge of my nose.
“Don’t!” We both look back to where Becky is struggling into her jeans. “Don’t fucking fight over me. Shit! I’m not worth fighting over. I’m not…this isn’t…,” she tosses Kris’s t-shirt at him and reaches for her own sweater, dragging it down over her head and I don’t want to stare at her chest, but knowing it may be the last time I get to look at her tits, I can’t help it. “Fuck! This is exactly what I didn’t want. I didn’t want this…I don’t want anyone fighting, especially not over me.”
“Amie, s’il vous plaît ne dis pas que tu n’es pas la peine.” Kris gives me a dark look and then goes to her, tries to put his arms around her but she pushes him away and reaches for her shoes.
“And stop doing that,” she adds, tugging one shoe on while hopping on one foot. “Stop being all…frenchy lovey dovey. I can’t…I can’t think straight when you do that.” He gives her his arm for balance, like as if that’s something that’s second nature to him, very knight in shining armour kind of shit. She looks up into his face and the expression on both of their faces…well shit.
“You love him…you really fucking do, don’t you?” I ask, the words tasting like dog shit in my mouth. She keeps looking at him, but not like she’s looking for answers but like she’s telling him and not me.
“Yeah, I guess do,” she says simply and he gets this goofy ass grin on his face that makes me want to be sick.
“I should go.”
She sits there, perched on the edge of the couch like she is going to get up and leave any minute. I want to sit next to her but I don’t, because she wouldn’t even let me hold her hand when we walked across the driveway. She’s jumping at every sound and I can’t blame her. That was too easy, way too easy. Even I keep looking towards the door, expecting him to come in and start breaking shit.
“And where are you going to go? The trailer park?” I ask, a little more sharply than I mean to. She winces and goes back biting her nails.
“It isn’t sold yet. I could,” she mutters with just enough of a petulant and childish tone to make me smile.
“Well you’re not going there,” I tell her, reaching out to cup her cheek and this time she doesn’t draw away, “and not because it’s a trailer park, just because I want you here.”
“Do you think that’s fair, to him?” she asks, looking up at me and where I keep expecting tears and even sympathy for Max, instead I see a resolve I hadn’t expected to find.
“No, probably not, but this is my house and he’s not going to tell me who can stay here and who can’t. Besides,” I add more softly, pressing my lips to her forehead, “I’ll sell this place, right away and we’ll find a place, a better place.” I expect my offer to meet with grateful approval but all I get from her is a blank look. “What? This is about us now.” Bending down in front of her, I pull her hand gently away from her mouth, kissing her torn nails and shaking my head. “Do you think that my heart is something I give easily, mon ange? Did you think I wasn’t serious when I told you that I love you?”
“No,” she sighs as she slowly raises her gaze to meet mine. “I just think this is such a bad idea. You’ve seen where I come from…what I am….” Her voice trails off and her gaze follows and I follow her gaze in time to see Max walking across the driveway with purpose. Cursing under my breath, knowing that I should have locked the damn thing I let go of her hand and stand up in front of her in time for him to come storming through the door.
“Tu ne pouves pas venire ici,” I grumble, knowing before he even says it exactly what his comeback will be.
It’s almost too much to take in. I hadn’t even wanted Max following me to the room but he’d been too hyper according to Sidney’s wife, to hang out with the rest of the group in the maternity ward and I didn’t want to leave the hospital without at least looking in on my mom. I’d had to tell him something, another lie, of course to explain why I hadn’t at least said something to him about it before. I’d told him she’d been ill, which isn’t so far from the truth. I just hadn’t told him that she’d got uproariously drunk and then fell down.
I hadn’t stayed long either. As soon as my sister showed up with her loser husband in tow, I made my excuses and Max had put me in a cab.
At least I’d seen her, I think to myself as Kris reaches over for my hand. I let him take it but only because I don’t have the strength to take it back. I don’t look over at him. I know if I do he’ll have one of those puppy dog sympathetic looks on his face and I’ll start to bawl and once I start, I have a feeling they’ll have to tranquilize me to get me to stop.
“I didn’t want to hurt him,” I say out loud, and Kris snorts in response.
“You’re thinking about him right now? Vraiment?” I do glance at him then, because it’s not like Kris to be unsympathetic.
“Don’t you think we should talk about it?” I ask and he sighs as he returns his gaze to the road. “He is your friend and you do have to see him all the time. I think you’re making a huge mistake.” I know he’ll object and I don’t even listen to his argument as he does. Part of me, the little part of my heart that’s still beating wants him to argue, but the rest of me...well, it just doesn’t believe in fairytale happy endings and or that a man as handsome and as good as he is could possibly want to make any kind of sacrifice for a person like me. “I’m homeless,” I add quietly, and Kris stops, mid argument, even mid-word and stares at me, open mouthed. “I am,” I insist with a shrug. “When you think about it, I’ve really been squatting at Max’s and then if I move in with you I’m really doing the same thing...”
“Mother and son are resting,” Johnny grins as he comes out of the room, beaming, cigars bursting from his pockets. Everyone goes to congratulate him, everyone but me. Well me and, I guess, Tanger and Becks. I stand apart, the fun completely gone from the occasion for me.
“What’s up?” Tabby asks, one eye on her husband and the cigar that Johnny’s sticking in his mouth and one eye on me. “Where did you disappear to?”
“Did you know that Becky’s mom was here?” I ask, watching Jordan trying to take a cigar away from Trina, who threatens to ram his where the son doesn’t shine if he touches hers’ again. Tabby shakes her head and her brow furrows as she tilts her head to look at me again.
“She wanted to see her. I didn’t even know she was sick. She never said anything,” I shrug, wanting to laugh as Flower sticks two cigars up his nose and makes a barking sound. I guess he thinks walruses make seal noises. Maybe they do. “He did though. He knew. She told him but she didn’t tell me.”
“Tanger?” Tabby guesses without my having to tell her and when I nod, she closes her eyes and shakes her head. “I’m sorry Max. I should have known....”
“You knew?” I feel like I should be angry, but sort of like how Becky didn’t cry I can’t manage to stir up any indignation at the thought that somehow I’ve ended up being the last to know that my girlfriend...or at least the woman I thought was my girlfriend has been seeing my best friend.
“Well...let’s just say that I knew that Kris had feelings for her but...I wasn’t sure she felt the same.” I feel Tabby’s hand on my arm and I know it’s supposed to be comforting but it just makes me realize how alone I am and so I push her hand away, gently. “Max...?” she looks at me, her eyes narrowed, her mouth pursed and it’s that look she gives Sid sometimes when she thinks he’s keeping something from her, which is usually no more than he has some photo shoot that means he’s going to miss dinner or something, nothing like this.
“I went home to find her...her sister came looking for her...her mom died,” I explain. Maybe because I think I have to or maybe to delay the inevitable.
“Oh that’s so sad. Is Becky o....” Tabby’s voice drops away and then I feel her hands on my arms as she tries to get me to look at her. I don’t want to look at her. I don’t want to look at anyone. I’m the fucking super stud who just found his girlfriend in bed with another man. How can I look at anyone again? “Max! What’s going on? You just said you didn’t even know the woman was sick so...?” she gives me a little shake but I still can’t look at her. I guess I think she’ll laugh even though I know Tabby’s better than that, that she won’t see it as my failing. She’ll probably even be totally on my side but I still don’t want to say it.
“They were in bed together when I got home.” I have to look at her, to see if she knows who I mean and I can tell by how wide her eyes get that she does. “They were in my bed. They did it...in my bed.”
The room is empty, or almost empty. The bed has been stripped and there are two orderlies taking her mother away on a gurney, under a sheet. I stop them but though she tries, once, twice, Rebecca can’t make herself lift the sheet.
“You don’t have to,” I tell her, putting my hands on her shoulders and drawing her back against the safety of my body. She’s stiff, like a board and it’s a struggle to pull her against me, but I do it anyway.
“I need to know,” she whispers and I watch her hand go out for a third time, shaking the last leaf in fall during a wind storm. It seems to take five minutes but she finally raises the sheet and looks down at her mother’s drawn, pale face. Her eyes are closed and the only thing that hints that she’s not just sleeping, is her blue lips. “Ding, dong the witch is dead.”
The orderly looks up, scandalized. His eyes are wide and his mouth hangs open but Becky just grins at him and then drops the sheet.
“You can take her now. She’s in whatever corner of hell is reserved for sad creatures like her.” Maybe I’m a little shocked too but I keep my opinions to myself. She wasn’t my mother. I didn’t have to grow up with her. We watch them wheel the gurney away and then Becky breathes a long, heavy sigh of relief. “I can’t promise I won’t be like her,” she says quietly, almost under her breath as she leans into me, feeling relaxed for maybe the very first time.
“You’re already nothing like her, mon ange,” I tell her, brushing her temple with my lips. “You’re you, you’re Rebecca, la femme que j’aime.”
“Was that...that was your mother?” We both turn to see a young nurse standing nearby, a handful of photos in one hand and a stuffed bear in the other. Rebecca nods and turns her gaze back to the hallway, from which the orderlies and her mother’s body have disappeared. “You were here before, right? But...you were with...,” she looks at me and then looks quickly away. It’s a mannerism I recognize. It means she recognizes me but is trying for cool. “You were with someone else.”
“I was,” Rebecca says coolly, reaching up to lay her fingers against mine where they’re still on my shoulder.
“And that was...it was Max Talbot...right?” the girl says, looking up at me from beneath her lashes and a curly red bangs. She blushes bright red beneath a myriad of freckles that cover her nose and round cheeks.
“Mmm,” Becky replies dispassionately. “And this is Kristopher Letang and you are?”
“Oh I’m no one,” the nurse blushes even more deeply and looks away. “I just...well I’m a fan,” she admits, looking up at me and I nearly open my mouth to ask her if she’s seriously going to ask for an autograph when she knows damn well Rebecca’s mother has just been wheeled away. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” she adds quickly, regaining some of her composure and straightening her shoulders. “And these were your mother’s,” she adds, holding the bear and the photos out. Becky starts to refuse, but I hold the hand out that she isn’t holding and take the items. She might want them later. “I met Max once,” she says, mostly to me, and in the sort of tone that says she doesn’t want to be considered one of those girls who giggles and wiggles. “You guys were here for a charity visit or something but he took all this time with this little girl with leukemia and...I just thought he was amazing. I just...I thought if he was here, again, I could tell him. I didn’t get the chance earlier.”