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In medias res (always in the middle of something)

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“Was that Steven on the phone?” Theo’s voice, somewhere behind her.

Shirley has her hands full, and she might have jumped if she hadn’t been seething at her brother. Anger keeps her focused, keeps her from falling apart. So far, so good. Shirley hasn’t fallen apart in a long time.

“That obvious, huh?”

“I have a sixth sense about these things, what can I say.” Theo shrugs. She doesn’t move away from the doorway. She is also doing a great job of keeping her eyes off Nell’s open chest cavity. “I can always tell when he pisses you off.”

“...Because he pisses me off all the fucking time?” Shirley turns away from the table to drop the bag of autopsy leftovers in the trash next to the table.

“Okay, that too.”

Shirley turns on her heels finally to find her sister standing a careful arm’s length away from her. Theo must have taken care to not make a sound, because Shirley doesn’t recall hearing a thing. Theo is still wearing gloves, like she always does, unless she’s having sex. Why that detail sticks for Shirley in particular at this exact moment, she can’t say.

Theo looks between Shirley and the table (Nell), draws in a deep breath. “What is it this time?”

Shirley scoffs, “What, me and Steven? Take your pick, Miss Sixth Sense.”

Theo makes a face of her own. “Don’t call me that.”

Shirley turns back to work. She doesn’t mean to be unfriendly, especially now, but it’s not as if she can help it. There’s a lot that still needs to be done to get Nell ready for her viewing, and if she works, Shirley can make sure she blocks Theo’s view. It’s the least she can do, given the circumstances. She always feels better when she’s in the middle of something.

“I agree with Steven, for once,” Theo says. “Since I’m guessing.”

“Oh, this should be good.”

Digging into someone’s chest cavity (especially Nell’s) doesn’t rank high on the list of “Shirley’s favorite things,” but “things that need to be done right now” trumps that every time. Besides, she’s almost done with that and moving on to the part that she likes better. It’s hard for Shirley to look at Nell’s wedding photos nowadays, but she’s picked a good one. Nell looks like herself.

“I really don’t think you should be the one handling this,” Theo says, pressing on though she should know better. “It’s not healthy. Like, it’s not even my professional opinion, it’s my common sense opinion. You know people. People who are good at their job, yeah?”

“Not healthy?” Shirley peels off her gloves and tosses them into the trash, too. She whirls on her sister, and before she can stop herself, she has grabbed Theo by her wrists. Thinks for a moment, of ripping off Theo’s gloves to tell her how she really feels. But of course, she’s not going to do that.

Shirley is good in a crisis. She has had a lot of practice, being the one everyone comes to when a mess needs tidying up. She’s the de facto oldest for a reason.

“You’re hurting me, Shirl.”

“I want to do this.”

“Why, because you’re afraid you’re going to feel horrible, fucking pissed off like the rest of us? Let go of me.”

“I.” Shirley shuts her mouth. She wants and should say she's doing this for Nell. But Theo will probably know that she's lying. It's why Shirley always tells Theo the truth, more or less. She's got to tell somebody.

Theo doesn’t say anything this time. Just watches her.

“...Don’t go anywhere, okay, Theo?” Shirley is conscious of how hard she’s gripping Theo’s wrists, probably enough to hurt, but it’s not as if Theo minds that sort of thing. “Stay here, okay? I’m almost done.”

“You’re hurting me, Shirl,” Theo says again, but doesn’t break away. She stands ghostly still. But then, when Shirley leans in and checks that her sister is still breathing. Theo smells like she has been drinking, unsurprisingly. Part of Shirley wants to know if Theo’s been drinking and driving, but that question seems too common to ask now.

If there’s anything the Crains really suck at across the board, they suck at common. Nobody does normal.

Shirley holds on for a few minutes longer, until she leans forward and closes the distance between herself and Shirley feels Theo tense before Theo relaxes, giving herself into the kiss, lets Shirley in enough to discern vodka on the tip of her tongue. That’s something Theo is good at. She’s good at forgetting. Maybe that's why Shirley thinks about her sister having sex with her bare hands. She's jealous.

But then Theo jerks away, wrists and all, as she remembers again. She says, “What the fuck.” But also at a low volume, as if she’s afraid that someone or something might be listening.

Shirley opens her mouth, closes it again and Theo wipes a gloved hand across her mouth. There’s a million things flying across her face - the starts and stops of expressions - as she’s trying to make up her mind, but Shirley only pays attention to what she says.

“I’ll stay, Shirl. But I’m going to get another fucking drink.”