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4. A Little Background

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I woke up the next day, to a bright sun and welcoming weather. It would be getting colder soon, but for right now, things weren’t that bad. It was October, the chill hanging in the air felt almost overbearing. I stretched, yawning long, looking around awkwardly. The usual morning activities are taken care of – showering, changing, breakfast. What to do with today…decisions, decisions. I opt to go down to the bar, see what’s new, see what kind of hours I can log today. My artistic block’s not going anywhere fast. And I doubt that it’s going to. Out in the hallway, I see Brie on her way up. She’s in a highly chipper mood, humming to herself absentmindedly. I decided to stop and say hello, make idle chitchat, make sure all’s well.

Brie is a patient of my parents’. She’s been in their care for most of her life. She came from a very dysfunctional family setting. Every problem you could imagine was there. Drugs, alcohol, sex addicts, all manner of addictions. She was prone to everything – the things burned into Brie’s mind are beyond the imagination of some. Her parents were killed in front of her, leaving her to travel from foster family to foster family, my parents always involved in her therapeutic recovery. When she got older, they encouraged me to get closer to her, first as friends and then, something more. As we got older we moved past the bonds of friendship, turning into a couple. We were each other’s first lovers. That too went into the therapy sessions. My parents couldn’t decide whether I was more help or harm to Brie. In the end, our relations broke off, but we were casual friends. My parents keep me posted on any extreme developments. Currently, she dated Lucius – a chronic alcoholic. He was abusive in more ways than one, but I knew better than to intervene. She was a drug addict now, living proof of the uselessness of therapy.

I stood outside my door, leaning back casually against the wood. She came closer, her hand wrapped around Deacon’s doorknob. I shot her a sideways look, shrugging my shoulders as I tried to look comfortable.

“Hey Brie,” I replied.

She looked over and smiled wide, taking a step away from the door, her hand slipping away from it. “Hey babe, what’s doing?”

I shrugged, stepping away from my own door, so I could look at her straight. She was in a particularly good mood. She was high. “Same old – how’s things with you?”

She wasn’t staggering, but shifting her weight constantly. “Wonderful, absolutely great.”

“Really?” I whispered. I was trying to sound honest without being sarcastic. She merely smiled wider, stepping closer to me.

“Would you believe me either way?” She whispered her response in a quiet, almost secretive way. She knew how my parents worked, how I worked. Always suspicious. I knew that she was high right now. I knew she was an addict and a cutter and many other things. And she knew I knew. It was a constant game of chess, keeping the other in check. I nodded my defeat.

“You know me better.”

She kept smiling, stepping closer to me. “Of course I do.” And she leaned close and kissed me, pulling back slowly. I stood there, frozen, dazed. She winked at me and made her way back to Deacon’s doorway.

“I’ll see you around then?” I asked, trying to make a move to walk away.

“Perhaps.” And she went inside without another word.

I stood in the hallway, still slightly dazed. She wouldn’t remember the conversation. It wouldn’t matter either way. I’d remember it because I’d write it down. Because I had nothing better to do with my life. I kept going down the stairs, my mind still reeling. By the time I hit the last step, everything was as it should be. And I was set for work.

Irish rolled her eyes as I came through the door. She threw me a rag before I was halfway into the place.

“I’m seeing an awful lot of you lately. What gives?”

I shrugged, moving off to work on wiping down tables, taking the chairs down off them first. “Nothing better to do,” I muttered.

“There’s always better to do, you just have to go find it.”

I smiled, shooting her one of those over the shoulder looks that everyone seemed to like so much around here. “Oh really? So what are you doing here?”

“This is my better thing to do.”

And I was out of quick, witty things to say. I took all the chairs down and wiped down all the tables. Then I went into the back and worked on inventory, carting heavy boxes around for a while. Time passed slowly, it would get busier later in the day. I tried to keep myself occupied anyway. When Irish told me to take breaks, I’d sit in a corner and write. Or go grab a bite to eat. I spend the majority of the day at the bar.

After a few hours, Deacon dropped by. I was across the room cleaning things again. She was annoyed about something – it was visible in her activities. She was quiet, keeping herself busy, talking to people in a low murmur. Irish considered approaching her a few times, but thought better of it. I thought about letting a word or two pass, but Deacon was known to be violent at times when she didn’t want to be bothered. She’d hit people for less. The silence hung in the air like the chill, an overbearing factor that we all suffered from. When she had enough of cleaning, she put up her rag and went back to wherever she’d come from. I stayed for the remainder of the night. I was there as the last few stragglers were led out.

Irish sat up on the bar at the end of the night, as we closed up. The doors were locked, which meant we were closed, but should a friendly face turn up, we’d reopen. But for right now, it was just us. There was one other bartender, and the guitar player from tonight – Caine. He traveled a good few hours to be here, but he was one of the best that came, we paid him for the trek. He brought in the customers, paid nothing for his drinks. And all around, he was a great guy. Very respectable. The other bartender was a girl named Shirley, Irish’s up and coming apprentice in the business. She seemed so sweet and innocent, but she was just as tough as Irish, and a damn good person all the same. She was dependable and responsible. A drinker like the rest of us, she knew her limits. She was the most trusted of the pack. She was finishing counting out the drawer as Caine packed his guitar away, considering if he should start his trip home tonight or tomorrow. More than likely, Irish would put him up somewhere and he’d go tomorrow. She always knew a place with an extra room. At least one.

“So what’s the verdict?” Irish asked, her head turning to face Shirley.

“Success, but you already knew that. Every night Caine plays is a Roman triumph in terms of business,” Shirley replied, a hint of sarcasm in her tone as she turned his gaze to rest on Caine. He didn’t have a girl, but he was the kind of guy that every girl wants. Caine turned around, giving a deep bow to us.

“Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here next week,” he joked, a wide smile on his face. He had a hand in his father’s inn upstate apiece. His heart was torn between there and here, never able to decide where his true home was. So he traveled back and forth until the decision was clear as day. This I learned from observation.

We all laughed, poured a few drinks for ourselves, and parted ways. We all ended up going upstairs together, being we all had a place in the same building. Funny how that works out huh? Or maybe it was all meant to be somehow. Either which way, I didn’t care. I trudged up the stairs exhausted, possibly drunk. I collapsed on the bed fully dressed, not caring about anything else. This is my life. This is my wasting it.

I woke up to a loud knocking on my door. My sight was blurry, and my head pounding. Groggily, I stumbled out of bed, almost crawling to the door. I tried my best to appear human, but one glance at my appearance in the hall mirror showed that I had failed. I shrugged, knowing there was nothing to do, and I desperately needed to stop the incessant noise at this hour. I opened the door to a foreign face clothed in the familiar blue of the police.

“Hello, is this…” he started, his face down reading a sheet of paper attached to a clipboard. I put my finger up to my lips, trying to signal him to be quiet.

“Yes, what is it, and please, keep it down a bit?”

He nodded, stepping past me into the apartment. He looked around quietly, his gaze resting on my work at points. “Nice stuff,” he muttered. He turned to face me. “Take a seat, get comfortable, we have something to discuss. Feeling okay?”

I sat down, my body grateful to be off my feet. The stress of movement was a lot to handle. I squinted my eyes, locking my gaze on the name on the uniform.

“Mister, um, officer…”

“Burton.”

“Yeah, Officer Burton…what’s the trouble?” As the name sunk in, I realized that this was Deacon’s brother. My head hurt more and the room started to spin. He flipped through his paperwork, glancing up at me to make sure I was paying attention.

“I don’t know how to tell you this…are your parents’ names Luke and Carol?”

I nodded absentmindedly, unsure of the names. I was so used to hearing them addressed as Doctor that their first names were a slight shock of reality. I locked eyes on his badge, trying to keep things from spinning.

“What is it?” I muttered. He reached out to hold onto my shoulder, steadying my eyes.

“Your parents are dead.”

And everything went back to spinning. He kept talking, his hand firm on my shoulder. I don’t remember if I screamed or cried or reacted in any physical way. But he kept talking. The words didn’t sink in; I couldn’t make sense of any of it. After a fashion he left some paperwork for me, got up and let himself out. He wrote most of his speech down so I could reflect on it later. I sat there, on the edge of my bed, completely frozen. I stayed there until I heard some sort of screaming next door. I knew that the siblings were fighting. Instead of getting up, showering, sobering up, I curled up and slept, leaving the papers where they were thrown.

What bothered me the most before I went to sleep was that the good policeman came to me on his way to somewhere else, that I was just a side trip. I was just a little bump along his way in terms of his series of events for the day. And if he hadn’t needed to speak to his sister, he might not have told me right away. Either way, I knew now. And the room was still spinning, so I opted to go back to bed and see how things were when I woke up.

I woke up with a worse headache than I started with. Blinking carefully, I find Irish sitting on a chair at the table, sipping from a cup every so often. I stagger over to her, rubbing my eyes, trying to shelter myself from the new day that’s still peeking through the blinds. She gets up to meet me halfway, handing me a cup of my own. I hold onto it tight with both hands, trying to keep from shaking. A few more steps, putting a chair in reach, and I collapse into it gratefully. Irish takes a few more sips, looking over at me casually.

“So how’s things kid?” Her tone was nonchalant, almost soothing in its calm. I shrug, taking a few slow sips from my own cup. Coffee – black.

“The same nonsense…”

“Kid, I know what happened. And besides, you’ve been at the bar every day now for weeks. After the hard drinking the other night, I figured I should have someone make sure you were all right. But then Robert, Officer Burton, stopped by on his way and told me what was going on. I’m so sorry.”

I let her finish. As much as my mind and heart ached, I respected Irish too much to cut her off. She honestly did care about my well being, I wasn’t just an employee, and it meant a lot to me for her to leave the bar to come by. She had looked me in the eye the whole time she gave her little speech. When she was done, she reached into her pocket and put a small bottle on the counter. I tilted my head curiously.

“What’s that?”

“Aspirin. For the headache. I’d recommend some more rest. Unless you’d like to talk about this?”

I shook my head. I had nothing to say. It’s not that there were no words to mourn my parents, but rather there were just too many questions. How had this happened? That was what was plaguing me the most. I looked over at the pile of papers at the edge of the bed. Irish’s glance followed my own, and she took the cue to get up and go for them. She came back, leafing through slowly, trying to make sense of the facts and figures strewn through the file.

“It says that they were murdered. No suspects in custody. Currently, no leads. They want you to come down and identify the bodies to be sure. They were assaulted, robbed, and then shot. There was no sign of forced entry. They’re thinking it was one of the patients. They were found in the office. Their apartment is in mint condition. All the legal paperwork is with a lawyer, listed here, but most everything goes to you. They want you for questioning as well to discuss your whereabouts at the time.”

I nodded as she read, trying to absorb the information. She put the papers down on the table, resting her hand on them. Irish had dealt with a lot of hard losses in her life, and she was cold at times because of it. But I could feel her compassion now, her regret at my loss. I couldn’t figure out what to do first. I decided that I should do the responsible thing, talk to the police. I tried to figure out how to explain to Irish what I planned to do.

“I think I should clean up,” I muttered, finishing the coffee. She nodded, watching as I got up haphazardly. “And then go to the station.”

“I’m going with you.”

“You don’t have to…”

She cut in. “Yes. I do.”

“Why?” I asked, in a tone that screamed desperation. She just looked away, trying to avoid my inquiring mind.

“I’ve had to bear many a loss in my time. And I did it alone. I won’t let you do the same. I lost my parents together too. I can relate. And I want to help. But if you don’t want it, then I’ll be gone and you can do this on your own.”

I shook my head as I moved off to shower. Looking back, it took all I could muster to show my appreciation. Summed up in two simple words. “Thank you.”

I went off to shower, clean up, and change. I tried to clear my mind, to keep the madness that had just taken hold out for a little while. After showering and changing, I held onto the sink tight, looking into the mirror. My face looked like I’d aged about a decade in the past day or two. I opened the cabinet behind the mirrored glass, looking through the jars and bottles. Finding the ones I wanted, I tipped out a few of each, swallowed them back, and returned the bottles. The nervousness would eventually calm, taking the edge off of the blurry version of things. I guess I forgot to tell you. I’m an addict too. Just temporarily.

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