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   Chapter 7 No.7

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 11020

Updated: 2018-05-28 10:58

BUMBLING TO MY FEET, I stumbled into the house, groped the medicine cabinet for ibuprofen, swallowed three capsules, and downed a full glass of water. Weaving my way to the den, I flopped onto the couch and passed out again. My sleep interfused with images of Ashleigh. Ashleigh straddling me laughing and flirting, her beads pressing against my neck. Ashleigh in white thigh-high stockings with snakes crawling all over her naked body. Ashleigh's lips against mine. Ashleigh biting a hole in my cheek.

At 6:30 a.m., I awoke trembling. My clothes were still wet and every inch of my body ached. The last thing I could remember was passing out on Ashleigh's bed. God, what must she think of me?

I tripped up the stairs, toppled into the shower, and stripped away my clothes. There were scratches on the back of my right hand. I wondered how I'd gotten them, how I'd gotten home, and if I'd made a fool of myself doing it. I turned the water on and lay under it for twenty minutes waiting for it to wash away the cobwebs and strange images, then cranked it up as hot as I could stand it and cleaned up.

Dressing for work, I noticed the deep gash stretching along my left jaw from ear to chin. Upon closer examination I found a second, smaller cut above my right eye. I poured antiseptic into the cuts and shaved. Descending the stairs, I found the note reminding me to stop by Mom's on the way to work.

MY PARENTS' TWO-STORY ROW HOUSE had been gloomy and forsaken back when I grew up in it and it appeared no differently now. The back door was unlocked and Dad sat at the dinette table reading The Morning Star in a faded plaid housecoat. His thin gray hair was combed straight back and lay flat against his head. His eyebrows were thick and grew together in a single line that made him appear to be in a constant state of disapproval.

He and I had never seen eye to eye on anything. Nothing. Not ever. I gave up trying to win his affirmation a long time ago. I just tried to stay out of his way and not give him any excuse to come down on me. Mom set out a fresh cup of coffee for me as I came in.

"Thanks, Mom." I kissed her cheek.

She took my jaw in her hand and twisted it to the side squinting those Bette Davis eyes at me. "What happened to your face?"

"Scratched it in the bushes last night, " I sighed throwing a leg over a chair and sitting across from Dad.

"Where you been?" he grumbled without even looking around the newspaper. "I thought you were coming early this morning."

Mom flashed me her "Don't Say Anything" look and pursed her lips. I reached for the sugar. "I said I'd come by on my way to work. I'm on my way to work."

He popped the paper to straighten it. "I just don't understand how come a boy who ain't even got a job is always running late."

Mom sighed. "Now don't go starting in on Richie, Gus. He came by to help you with that bed. Now let him be."

"Why is that, boy?" he asked.

I lifted a spoon and stirred my coffee. "I'm self-employed, Dad."

He rattled his paper again. "That's why you ain't got no wife. A woman wants to see a paycheck every week. Somethin' she can count on."

"For Heaven's sake, Dad. Are you ever going to get over the fact that I work for myself?"

"You kids today don't know what work is. I was on that c

ack lately. I hope it means I'll be getting some use of my legs back."

"God, wouldn't that be wonderful?"

She couldn't hide the pain in her voice. "If I don't have the pain to go along with it."

I patted her arm. Seeing her in pain was hard to tolerate sometimes and I had to leave. "I'll see you later."

She opened her eyes and forced a smile. "Forget her age. Take that girl out again. You need a wife."

Truth was, if I could find a wife like my sister, I'd marry her today—wheelchair and all.

At work, the projects were routine and uneventful—typical for a Monday, but I couldn't get Ashleigh out of my head. Why doesn't she call? I passed a mirror in the hall, stopped, and backed up. What would a girl like that see in me? There were dark splotches under my eyes. My skin felt tight and drawn. My God, is that a patch of gray hair? Where does the time go?

I wanted to call and apologize to her for last night and see if we could get her shooting scheduled, but I couldn't find a listing for her and decided if she didn't call, I'd knock on her door after I got home. By noon I was feeling much better. By late afternoon, more like my usual self.

When I arrived home that evening, the street was crowded with police cars and trucks. There were so many I couldn't even tell which house was involved. I eased through all the vehicles, pulled into my garage, and let the door close the world out behind me.

I'd just poured myself a scotch when the doorbell rang. As I approached the door, I could see three men crowding the porch. Sam Jones was one of them—the gumshoe that let my sister down. I unlocked the door and pulled it open. Sam looked up. He had dark brown skin, the beak-like nose of an Indian, and a patch of white flesh that covered his right eyelid. I'd always wanted to ask about it, but it never seemed the right time.

"How's Martha doing these days?" he asked.

"She seems to get a little better each day."

"I'm glad to hear that. Do you know a young lady by the name of Ashleigh Matthews?"

My heart dropped into my belly and I could feel the blood draining from my face. "She lives next door. Why? Has something happened?"

"May we come in?"

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