Cover Art by WaterSoter
Donalie twisted the ring in her hands over and over again. It was a simple little thing. A single diamond and 14 karats. The kind that Don loved the moment she had laid eyes on it and wore it only when no one from the office would be able to see it. She slipped it into her index finger, it fit perfectly. The same way it had that night, dinner, romantic, a fancy restaurant and Don so tired she could barely keep her eyes open after a week from hell.
Don let the ring rest there for a bit. Watched it as the afternoon’s light played with the gold of the ring, with the small gem. The attic quiet and mostly dark, with slivers of light shooting from the windows. It was dusty. A thick layer of dust covered just about every surface. She would have to take care of it, like she had been taking care of everything else.
Downstairs something broke. The sound muffled by thick walls and two floors. Loud though, with the quiet and carefully lowered voices it might as well been a gunshot in a monastery. She considered going downstairs, checking it out, but just for this moment she was going to be selfish. Just for a couple of more minutes.
The ring was an unusual weight on her hand. That first time, those first times. She would’ve gotten used it eventually. With time it would had felt like a part of her hand. Comfortable. Not that it mattered. Not now.
She grabbed at the letter, carefully folded inside its original envelope. Her name a single scrawl on the cover. She considered opening it again, going through each line like she had when she had gotten it three weeks ago. Not that she needed to. It was pretty much engraved in her head, each word, each sentence. Even the way he ended it. How he signed his name.
Don admired the ring for the last time before taking it off. She really should mail it back. Let him have it. She certainly didn’t need. Wouldn’t wear it. As she dumped it in the envelope, she thought about the waste it was. Someone else could use it. Wear it. Maybe it would bring someone the kind of luck it hadn’t her. Them.
“Donnie?” Don closed her eyes and tried not to groan as her dad’s head pocked through the door. She quickly placed the envelop in the box with some of her more personal things. No one should go snooping there.
“Over here, dad.” She said, dusting off her black dress. Hopefully she wouldn’t look like she had rolled around in ashes even though it felt like it.
Her dad walked over, eyes dark and weary. Dark circles around his eyes and his tie loosened around his neck. “There you are.” He took her in, in the same he had been doing since she returned from Arizona. Like every time she came from for a visit after joining the FBI. “What are you doing up here? Other than hiding from your aunt Irene, that is.”
It was a poor attempt at humor but Don appreciated it just the same. She gave what was probably a terrible attempt at a smile, but right now it was all about trying and maybe one day it would be normal again. Not like something unnatural and foreign.
“She keeps asking me when I’ll be settling down and start popping out kids like a good jewish girl should.” Her dad winced, then chuckled. It was really a horrible sound. “I decided that description was the better part of valor. Or at least not dumping the soda she’d asked me for over her head.”
That had been a nice moment. Followed by asking why Charlie was locked in the garage instead of playing the good little host and taking care of their guests. Don had left before she’d said something she’d regret, or really not regret. Aunt Irene was too opinionated and she’d never liked Don, or Charlie, or their Dad for that matter.
“Yes well, as grateful as I am for your show of herculean restraint, I believe your retreat may have been the equivalent of waving a red cape in front of a rather intractable bull.”
Don waited a moment and heard a second crash. She raised eyebrows at her dad, who shrugged helplessly. Yeah, Don was feeling about the same. His eyes were clear despite the day they’d had. Despite the week, the months and months of that sense of inevitably. Waiting more than hoping, when they all knew it was just a matter of time.
Another crash and Don went to investigate. She had a pretty good idea of what was going on, but better to make sure than assume. She squeeze her dad’s shoulder on the way out, not even bothered by the fact that this was another thing she was expected to deal with. To take care. It was a role that fit like an old, slightly awkward fitting sweater.
Out in the hallway she heard voices. Some raised, others placating. Great. On the railing she stopped and watched as a couple of people loitered by the foot of the staircase. She couldn’t make out what they were saying but by the direction they were looking, she could guess.
A breath and she made her way down. No one spotted her at first so she hung back a little once she could make out what they were saying.
“Heard that he’s been locked in the garage with some kind of impossible math problem.” One of them said. Don didn’t recognize him but the woman he was talking to was familiar in that Don had seen her visit her mom in the hospital a few times. Gena, Gina, something with a G. Another crash and this time Don hid wince.
“Well, he’s a genius.” Gina or Gena said carelessly. She was older than the guy. Her face marked with deep lines around the mouth and eyes. Blue eyes fixed on the door leading to the kitchen. She had a plate packed with three of the dozens of casseroles they’d gotten the past two days. The fridge was practically overflowing with them.
Don felt her stomach churn. They were probably going to be eating them for the next month. Seriously, if she never saw another casserole . . .
“Probably one of those geniuses that are, you know,” The guy motioned with his hand to his head, and Don pursed her lips to keep from saying something she wouldn’t regret. She needed to keep her cool, she reminded herself. Using years of dealing with all sorts of stubborn, annoying and downright hostile personalities.
She felt more than saw her dad come down the stairs to level with her. A quick glance showed him frowning but not in a way that meant he had heard what had been said. Good. The last thing she needed was to keep her dad from tearing those two a new one. Not when she had another situation to deal with.
“Greta, good of you to come.” Her dad said, and Don watched with some satisfaction as they both jumped. They eyed her, then her dad as he came down and shook both their hands. Don wasn’t as friendly. She had her neutral face on. The one she used when dealing with people she would rather shoot but knew she didn’t have that option.
Fortunately, before anything else could be said, there was another crash in the kitchen. Dad gave her the eye but Don was already halfway there. Pushed through a throng of people through the dining room and into the kitchen which unfortunately it was the kind of mess she was already expecting.
A few casseroles were on the floor. The dished their came in shattered all over the place. She made a mental note to thank Chuck about that when she was less pissed. Then turned to aunt Doris, who had a hand over her mouth, and her aunt Helen, who was glaring at Charlie, hands on her hips and ready to let loose the way only she could.
Charlie was by the stove, staring at the casseroles on the floor with a confused look on his face. Like he couldn’t understand how they managed to go from the counter and the island in the middle of the kitchen to the floor. It was a look she was intimately familiar with, having seen it since day one of their mom came to them with their diagnosis.
The three of them turned to Don when she walked into the room but Don ignored them. All she wanted was to pull Charlie somewhere no one would see. Shove him into her arms until he stopped having that lost look on his face. He was the smartest guy in any room he was in, most of the time. The kid shouldn’t be checked out, vacant instead of running his mouth at mile at minute. Vomiting out things that no one gave a damn about.
She reached for him but Charlie turned away, like had had for the past three months. Gone away somewhere where Don couldn’t follow. Away and gone in his head and no one to rip him out of there. She missed her mom, she missed her so bad right then. Her mom would know what to do. She always knew how to deal with Charlie and their dad and everything and anything in ways Don never could.
She really sucked as a daughter and sister.
“Charlie?” She tried again but Charlie was already walking away. Muttering things that Don could never hope to understand. Not even with a dictionary, thesaurus and every basic math book in California at her disposal.
He went through the side door that led to the garage and back to this damnable blackboard and unsolvable equation. Don let herself stand there. Gave herself a second, two, just to breathe and let the incoming migraine settle in her skin and down to her bones. It was going to be hell tomorrow, but for now nothing she couldn’t handle.
Turning, she saw her aunt Doris going over to grab something to help pick up the mess, but aunt Helen just stood there, glare turned full out on Don. “Are you going to let him leave like that, young lady! This mess isn’t going to clean itself.”
Don looked towards aunt Doris, who had her head lowered. Busy with grabbing the big pieces of glass off the floor. “Here, let me do that.” She took away the cloth and the stack of broken plates.
“Did you hear me, Donalie?” Don ignored her. She had gotten really good at that over the last few years. What with the whole being a disgrace and the black sheep of the family. Bad enough a fed but single when most of her cousins had a good litter of kids running around. “That boy has been spoiled enough. With those horrible manners . . .”
She trailed off as Don rose and finally faced her. Something that Don tried really hard not to do. This was her family, no matter how much Don wanted to thrown them out of the nearest three story window. But her mom was dead, and Don was tired of being the responsible one. Taking care of everything and everyone like the good daughter while everyone else got to play assholes for the month.
Don glared at aunt Helen, barely keeping her tempter. She wanted to say a lot of things. And use the kind of language that her dad would still make her eat soap for. She wanted to throw a few things herself. Some at certain heads both inside the kitchen and out in the living room. God, but she wanted to go out and bust someone’s head open. Go out and bring some scumbag down just so she could stop feeling like no matter what she did it was never going to be enough.
Instead Don pushed past aunt Helen, grabbed a broom and mop and trashcan and brought them back to the island. “We should probably get them cleaned up before the smell seeps into the wood and the kitchen ends up smelling of tuna casserole for a year.”
Don carefully grabbed the worst of it and dumped it into the trashcan. Ignored the wobbly smile aunt Doris threw her way. Or how aunt Helen went to lean against the counter, arms crossed, with a sour look on her face. Mostly Don ignored the pricked at the back of her head or how she could almost swear she could feel the scorching heat of Helen’s anger or the saturating gloom of Doris’s grief.