A COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF WHAT I CARE ABOUT
“We got another flight out to Greece on Monday,” I said, holding the phone to my ear with one hand and shutting the other closed with my other hand. The rumble of the baggage claim belt and the ambient sound of hundreds of Christmas travelers was everywhere. No matter how far I walked away, it followed.
“Just talk to her,” Mom said. “She needs a big sister.”
Fiona had three big sisters, but Carrie cried at the drop of a hat and Sheila got angry and offended as a matter of course. I was the sane one. I was the one who would cancel a trip to Mykonos to fly back to Los Angeles to talk to Fiona about her legal options because no one else would.
And Drew? Standing by the bag check with his sleeves rolled up? He came with me, to support my crazy sister who had stabbed her boyfriend, blacked out, attacked her assigned therapist and did everything possible to prove nothing good came from having that much money.
“Who’s representing her?” I asked, trying to keep the tiny phone to my ear while I helped Drew with a bag full of bathing suits and tanning oil. He shooed me away and got my bag onto a cart.
“Your father has Ulrich and Stevenson on it.”
Heartless corporate sharks representing my crazy, drugged, promiscuous and sensitive sister?
I said it before I thought about it. One syllable delivered so definitively Drew snapped around to look at me. I took his hand, apologizing for the vacation I was about to ruin.
Drew and I began surrounded by sound. The rhythmic, asymmetrical pounding of waves on the shore, the grind of guitar strings, the laughter of early adulthood.
Five years after, with enough history between us to fill a century of almanacs, what I treasured most about our time was our silence. Inside of it was acceptance. If he didn’t like what I needed to do, or how I was treating myself, he’d say so. I trusted him that much. He’d never let me do wrong to myself.
He held my hand across the back seat of the limo as the car moved ever so slowly onto the 10. Morning rush hour. Cars lined up on the freeway like pearls on a six-strand choker.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He leaned into me slowly, planting a tender kiss on my cheek. “It’s all right.”
“I know we weren’t supposed to spend Christmas with my family.”
“They’re really overwhelming.”
He shrugged. “You didn’t come from nowhere.”
Six sisters. A brother who was really my son. A father with a moral code I could never figure out. A family tree dotted with criminal acts and questionably acquired wealth.
I loved them. Down to my crazy sister Fiona and my mother, whose emotions were so all over the place she was twenty women in a one-woman suit.
“And I didn’t leave for nothing. The drama’s nonstop.”
We were staying at a hotel in Beverly Hills. It was central, but far enough from my family to give us some privacy, and the security was good. Which was important, because it wasn’t safe to be a Drazen in Los Angeles that Christmas.
The drama in question revolved around my sister Fiona. She was a camera magnet who loved being rich more than she loved money. She craved attention, living as if her only pleasure in life was pleasure. A pure bacchanalian.
“What did your mother say?” Drew asked.
“She has three days to prove she’s sane or they’re putting her away, which might be a good thing, because the tabloids are loving it. Rich girl goes crazy and stabs boyfriend. They’d love to put her head on a platter.”
He waited a second to ask the obvious question.
“Did she do it?”
I did corporate law, but I defended clients from accusations and argued in courtrooms. My life was the client and questions of guilt or innocence weren’t my job to decide. Drew did copyright law, which was handled in boardrooms, so the question of Fiona’s guilt or innocence was of more consequence to him.
We fell back into a warm silence where he was my companion. Never my judge.
“They’re going to try and draw you back in,” he said once we were off the 10. He twisted around to face me, putting his leg on the seat and his arm around me.
“I’m a big girl.”
“You’re a cupcake when it comes to them.”
“A delicious one?”
“I’m not kidding.” He snapped me short as I finished. “You stayed in New York for a reason. Every time we go back and you have to look at that kid your heart breaks.”
I opened my mouth to object, sitting straighter and stiffer as if I was going to spring, but he leaned on my shoulders and pressed his fingers to my lips. I wanted to bite them off, but his words stopped me.
“We were going to Greece to avoid them. Last Christmas you spent the entire trip asking Jonathan how he was. Like you were trying to stuff fifteen years of motherhood into Christmas break. Then you gut-cried for two weeks.”
He brushed his fingers along my cheek. He’d stayed by me when I called in sick because I was so overwrought, grieving for a child who was always and never mine. I couldn’t have another. I felt locked up, as if I’d poured concrete inside myself to prevent it. Another child would be a betrayal of the one I couldn’t claim. Jonathan didn’t know he was mine, and I’d never tell him, but when I imagined having another baby my insides recoiled at my treacherous desires. It felt like infidelity. Disloyalty. I was supposed to wait for something. I didn’t know what, but something. I knew it didn’t make sense, but the wall of grief I stood against wouldn’t budge.
I was nailing Drew’s feet to the floor. But what if Jonathan needed me and I’d moved on? Or I stopped loving him?
That worry didn’t make any more sense than the deep, dark concern that he’d find out and hate me. None of it made sense. I was walking this road without a map and dragging Drew along for the ride.
“I’m sorry,” I said, referring to all the crazy, nonsensical shit I couldn’t say.
“I love you, Cinnamon.”
“I love you, Indy.”
“I can’t stand seeing you hurt.”
“Yeah. I know. You’re just peachy.”
I kissed him, because kissing him made me believe I was, indeed just peachy fine.
I advised Fiona to the best of my ability. She needed to stop attacking people. Keep her shit together. We came home in silence. Dad wasn’t exactly sulking about me taking over Fiona’s legal problems. Dad didn’t sulk. He calculated.
Mom, greying hair pulled back, adjusted the pictures on the piano. No one in the family played, but appearances mattered. Any cultured house required a black grand piano, the more susceptible to the greasy ovals of little fingers, the more exquisite the cleanliness.
Outside, Drew stretched on a patio chair, preparing a brief, enjoying the December sun. I wished I was there with him, watching the pool man skim the water’s surface in a wooly 49ers beanie and the letting the white noise from the gardener’s gas blower drown out the tense niceties between the family.
Despite the bedecked Christmas tree, the mood in the house was not festive. Daddy read the fine print in the Wall Street Journal as if he had an investment to move. HINT: A person making 150K in interest per day only moved money to engage in fiscal masturbation.
Done adjusting, Mom went to the kitchen to wipe the sterile counter as if it was her job, which it wasn’t. Her lack of facility at it was illustrated by the way she wiped around the glass vase of flowers without lifting it. Theresa who was the “good girl,” the one you could always count on to do the right thing, watched her as if she wanted to bore a hole in her head.
“Where’s Jonathan?” I asked, getting juice out of the fridge. I thought the query only meant something to me, the mother-not-mother who was worried-not-worried about his reaction to the way his girlfriend had disappeared the night before.
Apparently, I was wrong.
“He’s fine,” Mom said thickly, not answering the question.
“That’s not what she asked, Mom.” Theresa snapped.
“Hey there,” I said to Theresa. “What’s your problem?”
“I don’t know. Mom, what’s my problem?”
Mom shook her head as she folded the paper towel into squares and threw it away.
“Nothing that’s your business.”
Theresa pounded the marble countertop of the kitchen island. “It is. She’s my friend!”
“Wait…hang on.” I held up my hands for peace. “She’s your sister.”
I thought she was talking about Fiona, who’d stabbed her boyfriend in a horse stable and was now facing time in jail or a mental institution. It occurred to me to late that her friend was Rachel, Jonathan’s girlfriend-not-girlfriend whose disappearance I was worried-not-worried about his reaction to.
“It’s not—” Mom started but I couldn’t hear the rest over Theresa, who turned all her unexplained rage toward me.
“You don’t get to live three thousand miles away and come here on Christmas…when we call you with something serious…so you can waltz in and take over stuff and not know what’s going on. You don’t get to tell me who I’m talking about, you get to ask.”
“No one!” Mom shouted.
“Don’t say that!”
“Theresa.” Dad appeared in the doorway, paper folded in one hand. His voice cut coldly through emotion and objection with a single command for one girl to be quiet.
Theresa obeyed because that was what she did. But when Drew opened the sliding glass door to the patio, letting in the air and the blower noise, he opened the tension a crack.
“Hey,” he said, making eye contact with me, where I spoke volumes.
Shit’s hitting the fan.
You don’t have to be here.
As a matter of fact, go back outside.
Theresa wedged her anger through the crack in tension. It was enough for action, not words. She picked up the vase of flowers and smashed it against the counter. It broke with a pop.
“Theresa!” Mom immediately burst into tears.
“I hate all of you!” She ran out.
I started after her, but Daddy said, “leave her,” so I did.
It’s worth mentioning that Drew was the first one to start picking the glass up from the floor.
“How did this happen?” Mom was in full blubber, eyes dripping like a broken vase of flowers. I put my arms around her.
“It’s okay, Mom.”
Drew put the largest pieces on the counter and crouched for more. Daddy shook his head, looking at his daughter’s boyfriend on his knee like a servant.
You might wonder how I knew what he was thinking.
Trust me. I know the guy.
“She was always a quiet baby.” Mom reached for a paper towel, separating from me.
“Maria can do that,” Daddy said.
“I don’t know what’s happening.” With nothing to do with her hands, Mom sobbed again. “She and Jonathan were my sweetest babies.”
Drew made eye contact with me as he dropped a handful of glass shards on the wet counter.
I know it hurts you to hear that, he said.
It hurts so bad, I agreed. But keep quiet.
I won’t watch you hurt quietly much longer.
Drew needed to be attended to at least as much as my mother. If I let him simmer, he’d start saying things he shouldn’t. I crossed over toward him, passing Daddy on the way. He stopped me.
“Come talk to me.”
Go, Drew said. I love you. I’m fine.
I nodded and followed Daddy into his office. He closed the wooden pocket doors. The back wall was solid glass overlooking the garden, and the bookcases were filled with expensive first edition novels we’d learned nothing from.
“Margaret,” he said, just as the gardener shut the gas blower, and I wakened to how loud it had been inside the contrast of a quiet I was about to get used to.
“I appreciate your help with your sister.”
I waited for the but.
“You never had to work.”
“I like working.”
“You should work for us.”
“This family. We pay a team of lawyers, but none of them will be as loyal as you.”
Move back to LA and work with my family. Might as well leave Drew right away. Save the trouble of a protracted break up.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Something else you should think about.” He leaned on his desk. I wondered if he did it to make himself shorter. At six-four, he was intimidating when he stood straight.
I sat down to show him I wasn’t intimidated, even if I was.
“That man. With the tattoos on his arms?”
“He concerns me.”
He gave a little huff and crossed his arms.
“Dad. I want the truth.”
“Why he worries you.”
He shook his head as if I was an errant child.
“Last Christmas, he took me aside. He was drunk, or at least halfway there.”
I made an effort to keep my limbs and face relaxed, but there was nothing I could do to keep the nerves at the surface of my skin from tingling.
“I assumed he was asking for your hand, but alas, he’ll never do that.”
“What did he say, Dad?” I asked tersely.
“He said, ‘You need to be aware that your daughter and I know.’”
The tingling went up my neck.
“I asked him the same question, and he just repeated, ‘we know.’”
My cheeks got hot.
“Do you have any idea what he’s talking about, Margaret?”
I lied without even thinking.
He pushed himself away from the desk.
“Make sure it’s nothing,” he said, sliding open the double doors to leave. “I don’t want to have to fix him.”
This type of chapter by chapter release is the absolute worst idea I ever had. It doesn't fit my process at all, but I owe it to you to find time to write this book.
So here's the deal. This is a group project.