I went to bed that night assuming Chester would be gone when I woke up.
Despite being up late listening to my normally taciturn brother Tim read me the riot act, I woke up much earlier than usual. I went to the kitchen for a drink, careful not to wake Tim as I went by. Evidently, not careful enough because he was sitting up and fumbling with his phone when I got back.
I started to walk on by but he flagged me down. I sat on the love seat and waited as he made his call. I wasn’t really paying attention but I didn’t need to – the only person he’d call this early and want me nearby for was Gina.
I can’t say I’m good at praying but I’d gotten in some practice the night before and did a little more as I waited. I finished my juice slowly, listening to my brother’s occasional ‘uh-huh’ and the sounds of the early morning traffic outside.
I had finished my juice and had leaned back, just listening with my eyes closed when Tim finally spoke to me.
"He made it, Jack. The second surgery went great and he’s doing a lot better this morning."
I silently thanked God before sitting up, "Serious?"
Tim nodded, "Gina says the doc said that nothing’s certain but it looks good right now. They found the bone and it wasn’t as deep as they’d feared. They’ll just see how he does for the next few days then decide from there."
I drew in a deep breath and let it go slowly, "Good."
Tim rubbed his head, "I was too hard on you last night. Mike was out of line and…"
I shook my head, "No, don’t do that. I shouldn’t have gone off that way. No excuses – we never accepted any before, I won’t have you making them for me now."
Tim brushed back his hair, "No excuses, and I was still too hard. I guess you spooked me a little."
I looked at him quizzically. "Me?"
He nodded, "You should have seen your face. I half expected you to come across the table at Mike. I have never seen you so mad before in my life."
I settled back, "Not excusing it, I was just so fed up. Mike wasn’t that out of line – he was just the last straw."
"We gotta get you some more straws. I never want to see you that mad at me!" Tim grinned, trying to lighten the mood.
I grinned back, welcoming the change, "I would be more worried about Momma if I was you. She’s gonna find out eventually…"
Tim sighed, "I know, I know…"
For once, I wasn’t the first at work. Marta and Mr Salvador both beat me there. Mr. Salvador had already talked to Chester’s wife that morning and was telling Marta the good news when I got there. Most of the morning was spent bringing everyone up to speed and talking the whole thing to death. The guys only asked my version once – fortunately they’d already had Marta’s.
The day passed quickly. Mr Salvador left before noon, going upstate to see Chester and taking along a card we’d all signed. Marta had brought it and already sent flowers from the crew. I had a short fight with her when she didn’t want to let me help pay for the flowers. I won and my pocket felt better for being ten dollars lighter.
I finished up some of the small tasks from the Task Sheet. I went to get another and found a new one written in: straighten arrows. I pretended not to see that one and went to get the next job. Gino hadn’t asked me about them and I was not gonna mention them if I didn’t have to. I slammed down my mask and went to work spot welding a bracket.
I left just before five and before Gino was done with his last task of the day. He’d ask eventually, of course, but I didn’t have to like it.
I found my youngest sister, Jane, sitting on the stoop with a couple of the girls she went to school with. I spoke to be polite as I trotted up the step. I got to the top when Tina called to me.
"Jack, did you know Crystal plays trombone?"
I stopped. Weirdness is normal in a large family like mine but that was a little too weird. I turned to look at her, "What?"
She nodded enthusiastically, "She came by earlier to talk to Momma. She had this huge case and when I asked her if it was a trombone, she said that was a good guess."
I paused to process that for a moment. Teen age girls think only slightly more rationally than teen age boys sometimes. This wasn’t one of them. "No, Honey, a ‘good guess’ means you got it wrong."
Tina looked a little miffed at that, "Really?"
I nodded, "Yep, but you must have been close for her to say that."
"Oh." my sister sighed. "Then what was it?"
I shrugged, "No idea. Why don’t you just ask her next time you see her?"
Jane nodded, losing interest in talking to me and turning back to her friends.
I grinned as I went in the house.
Momma was busy in the kitchen. Kevin was pawing through the address book by the phone as I walked in.
I play punched Kevin as I passed. He tagged me back, distracted by the address book. I turned for the kitchen as he hollered past me, "I can’t find it Momma, but Jack’s here, maybe he knows."
I looked at Momma expectantly as she turned from the spaghetti sauce she was stirring, "It was Serenity, wasn’t it?" she asked me.
I’d been expecting a question about someone’s phone number. I had no idea what she meant. "Huh?"
"The section of the cemetery they laid Daniel in. Serenity or Peaceful Grove?"
"Serenity, Momma. Mr J is right next to that split oak, on the other side from Aunt Viola."
She smiled warmly, "Oh good. that’s what I told her but then when she left I wasn’t so sure and we couldn’t find Mary’s number."
"I put it in the new book. Kevin was looking in the old." I informed her. "What girl?"
Ignoring the fact that I couldn’t yet call her my Crystal, the whole thing seemed suddenly surreal. Why on Earth would Crystal even want to know that?
"She’s a lovely girl." Momma chatted on, stirring the sauce again. "She has such nice teeth. And wanting to go pay her respects enough to come just to ask, now that’s a girl you should…"
I didn’t hear the rest. That was beyond weird and it set the hairs on the back of my neck on end. But more than the weirdness of it, there was this feeling in my gut. My stomach felt like it was trying to digest nails. Something wa very wrong about this. How I knew, i couldn’t say, but I knew. D____ I knew.
I turned and bolted out of my parents apartment.