|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Layne James co-authored the award-winning book Act Here. Love Now. She has been published in the Brant Advocate, and is a prolific blogger on Jono & Laynie, as well as a guest blogger for several publications. Layne received her B.A. in photojournalism at Western Kentucky University. Layne was born and raised in Kentucky and currently lives in Brantford, Ontario with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
"Hi, sugar," she whispered, and I blacked out, standing straight up as her pinked mouth moved and the wind raged and my heart crimped along its edges. I should have slammed the door in her face, yelled profanities at the closed structure afterwards, but instead I stood frozen, arm suspended above the handle.
I hate her.
"I took a taxi, well, a plane first. I came to help, you know." Her hair lay in drenched strands plastered around her face; black lines streaked down each of her cheeks. She was backlit by the porch, by the rain. My head tingled along the top, and I shuddered.
It was 10 p.m. exactly — I remembered seeing the green numbers on the microwave as I'd scooted, confused, through the kitchen to answer the insistent doorbell less than a minute before.
"Can I," her voice squeaked, "can I come in?" Still I stared, the seconds taut between us, all ability to form syllables lost along the thirteen years since we'd last been in this place together.
There was movement at her side and a furry, barking head poked itself from her fuchsia purse and into the porch-lit night. She tugged the Chihuahua out with ringed fingers and shoved the offensive creature toward my face.
"This is Rocky. He can help too."
As I opened my mouth, finally finding my words, there was a pressure at my elbow where Ben had presented himself.
"You need to get out of the rain." He reached for two of her three large suitcases as he glanced at me. We shot each other telepathic messages until he shrugged and widened the door, inviting her inside with a wave.
As they disappeared into the house behind me, I walked out into the rain and sat on the wet porch as if I could float away on the sea of the storm.
I'd spent the entire eight-hour plane ride back to Omaha drinking mimosas, one after the other like it was a cheap game, wondering how I could fix the chaos that was my life. I'd been back now for a few days, but hadn't yet found the answers I so desperately needed.
"Tell me again how you found out Dad was sick?" It was easiest to direct my anger at my twenty-five-year-old twin.
The oppressive green walls of our childhood kitchen had not faded with time, and I sat at the scratched oak table with Ben, pestering him for information once again. This had become a ritual since I barreled into town the previous week, but his explanations never seemed to satisfy.
"Reese, we've been over this. I found a dozen pill bottles in his medicine cabinet. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out something was up." My brother leaned back in his chair and exhaled. His espresso-colored hair stuck up at divergent angles, a sea of exclamation marks.
"But why were you going through his medicine cabinet in the first place?"
He tapped out a beat on the table in front of him and smiled. "Would you rather me tell you I needed a Band-Aid or are you okay with the fact I always go through people's cabinets when I visit?"
"You count moving back in with Dad for two whole months as a visit?"
"Don't nitpick my terminology, sister. Your twenty questions are almost up. And then it's my turn, I have some questions for you about Charlie." Behind black frames, his dark eyes were infuriatingly calm. We'd looked at each other like this so many times through the years, his eyes as familiar to me as my own, our prolonged stare full of unspoken questions and an overarching understanding, the mountain of unsaid things between us prodigious and daunting. I sighed and shook my head.
"Ben, don't be lame. This is serious."
"Okay, actually, I'll save us both time. Let's recap for the umpteenth time. My company is starting a branch here in Omaha. You do remember I work for a Big Deal marketing firm?"
"I will not deign to answer such ridiculous queries." I punched his arm.
"Right, well, said Big Deal marketing firm sent me over to little ole Omaha to be the project manager for our latest plant, since I'm a native and 'know the vibe.' Maya came with me for the first week, because we hadn't been up to see Dad since Christmas, and we like to come a couple of times a year anyway. You know, like kids do."
"Don't. Just don't."
"So here we were. Here, also, were the pills and a little thing called cancer that Dad had hidden from all of us. I called you right away. Anyway, he's only supposed to have a couple more rounds of treatments. I knew even though —"
A determined click of heels and the scent of wisteria presented themselves behind me.
It had been two days since Bernice, formerly known as Mom, showed up like an apparition — more like a nightmare — in the night. The last two days had witnessed a dance of avoidance between us. The day before, she'd waited outside the bathroom for me, and even at seven in the morning, her slightly chubby five-feet, two-inch frame was bejeweled from head to toe. Her blonde bob was coiffed into big curls, tightly sprayed. She gave me a hesitant glance, and I tripped down the hallway in my hurry to escape.
"I only want to help." Her hopeful yells chased me to my room in surround sound.
Her version of being useful was to give us each worried looks in turn and spend hours in the kitchen concocting a variety of casseroles, soups, and hams. She was from Mississippi and her love language was of the greasy variety.
"Why is she here?" I mouthed to Ben. It was the first time she'd come back since she'd walked out without a goodbye, all those years ago.
He shrugged. We didn't invite Bernice, didn't expect to see her, but I wasn't accounting for her strength of personality, her need to be at the center of any drama. Lord knows, she loves to be needed.
As she ran toward Ben with a weepy look and open arms, I left. I ignored Dad's prone figure on the couch and headed outdoors.
The air was warm, dense, and replete with the sounds of insects chattering. I plopped onto the porch swing and gave myself a push. Vines grew along the western side of the porch, sprawling, darkened in the golden hues of the late afternoon light. Dad, the ever-eager architect, had made many changes to our house over the years, but my favorite would always be the pillars and planks that comprised the front porch. It had been my favored escape for as long as I could remember. When things were tense between my parents or when everyone had been in the house looking through rather than at each other, I'd abscond being a Hamilton and search for serenity outside our walls. Late at night I'd breathe in the air of the stars and dream about a new family and life far away from Omaha.
My first kiss was with Carsen Finkle after a swim meet in the fifth grade, right outside the pool where I'd just won my heat. But in subsequent years, I'd had my share of kisses on this porch. The summer of my eighth grade year, after Bernice left, I made out with the entire track and field team on this porch. Ben finally put a stop to it, storming out and ordering Philip Dyer to go home and tell his friends none of them were welcome to come back.
After our parents split, Ben grew more present, more protective, even as I melted into a perpetual state of numbness. Dad worked later and later at the office each night, so it was Ben who cooked our dinners and biked the packages of hotdogs and macaroni and cheese home from the grocery store. When Dad finally returned home, long after Ben and I headed upstairs to our separate rooms, separate lives, he ate his leftover dinner cold. I knew this because I once went back downstairs after I heard the door close firmly upon his entrance, a bolded period at the end of a sentence.
I descended the steps covertly and paused in the kitchen doorway. The tiles were cold beneath my toes, the only part of me brave enough to enter the room. There was my father, head bowed, prodding the congealed dinner we'd left him hours earlier, his tater tots and pizza an offensive shade of yellow against the ruby-tinted circle before him. The plates were my mother's doing, of course. She'd bought us a set of bright red dishes around the time we were five, which she said gave our family a bit of class and energy all at once.
He held the edges of the cheery plate, and it wasn't until I moved closer that I saw the tears at the edges of his eyes, vivid and insistent. I turned on my heels and left without a word. He noticed neither my presence nor my absence. In adulthood, Ben and I dubbed our teenage years "Dad's Black Hole" because even before she left, he'd grown absent, cool, distant.
A week later, when I couldn't be at school another second, I instructed Ben and Charlie to tell the teachers I was sick if they asked and biked home in a fury without bothering to excuse myself at the principal's office. Dad's truck was parked in the driveway and I raced inside, cheerful at the thought of a whole afternoon with my father. He stood in the kitchen, his back to me, packing up the red plates. One after the other, he settled them into a large brown box. When he got to the last plate, he held it for so long I thought he'd fallen asleep, but without warning, he turned and threw it at the far wall, shoulders heaving, sobs leaving his body in stuttered cadence.
The crash of it hitting the corner resounded through the afternoon quiet of our kitchen. I jumped. He propped himself against the counter, as if the granite would give him the strength he needed for a lifetime alone. I moved forward, reached to pat his back and convey that I, too, felt weak, let loose.
After a pause, he turned and offered a forced smile. "Hey kiddo." With that he shuffled over to pick up the box and, for the first time, I noticed gray at his temples.
"Wait!" I raced to where he'd halted in the doorway.
"I want two of them." I placed one of the plates on the kitchen table and aimed the other one at the facing wall. "This sucks." I launched the red plate, watched it fracture into its new configuration.
"Reese, honey," he said, and I whipped around to face him. We watched each other over the expanse of the kitchen. Finally he nodded. "I'll sweep it up later. Be careful for now; don't walk on that side of the room in your socks." He didn't ask me about school or where Ben was.
As he escorted off our remaining dishware, I took the second red plate up to my room and placed it reverentially beneath my second pillow, the serene pink roses on my pillowcase reassuring any viewers all was ordinary.
I'd been back in Omaha for a week and had created a routine. Dad still went to work most days, Ben too, so I divided my time between checking on Dad the days he stayed home, avoiding Bernice, responding to work emails, and editing photos. By mid-afternoon on Thursday, I drifted through the silent house to the kitchen. The sun slanted sideways through the windows, creating a friendly pool of light on the counter where Ben had meticulously lined a row of full shot glasses across the length of the granite.
"Drinking again, brother?"
"Please darling, I never stopped." He patted my hand, and I rolled my eyes at his bow tie and the two empty shot glasses off to the side.
He motioned for me to sit down and before I could refuse, he pulled a package out from under the counter.
"It's for you, and here's how this will work. I'm going to ask you a question and you will tell me an answer. For the sake of your conscience and liver, I recommend the truth because I am Sherlock Holmes. We will drink if I think you're lying."
"Um, I'm Sherlock. You're Watson, and I'm not playing." I scrunched up my nose.
"As I was saying, when all the shots are gone and the whole truth is out, you may have your precious package."
"Bennjjjjiiii, your game doesn't even make sense, you weirdo. And why aren't you at work?"
He took a slow sip of the water and ignored my eye rolls. "I took off early. This is Scotch, rum, bourbon, some of Dad's fancy Irish whiskey, vodka, gin, and tequila. As you can see, I've arranged them from lightest to darkest, but we may proceed in any order you'd like. This one here is water; you're welcome." He drummed his fingers along the counter and paused for effect. "For example, how is Charlie? I only hear from him on occasion, and you were with him up until you returned. What's happening with my brother? Don't be pithy."
"He's not your brother, you nob."
"Oh, but he is. As our lifetime neighbor and subsequent best friend, he is better than any brother Carl and Bernice could have given me."
"Charlie is, you know, Charlie. He's getting jobs left and right. He's full of charm and natural talent. Everyone loves him. Everyone wants him. He has enough ideas for the next five years and is always on the lookout for something new. He only launched the media company three years ago, but he's ready to add a video component to our team and a product line and, and, and. He's great. May I have my package now?" I forced a polite smile.
"I need a recap. You two graduated photo school four years ago and got an internship or two together. Then you each set out to freelance on your own, but you signed up to work with him six months later. Am I missing anything?"
"Ben, you make it sound like I didn't try. Six months is a long time and you don't know everything that happened. You're not always as smart as you think you are. Working with Charlie was the wise choice." I rested my arms on the counter.
"You mean the safe choice."
"I mean the choice that made sense."
"And now? You're content, working with him still? Are you considered partners or is he your boss? Actually, hold those answers. Which shot are we doing first?"
"Hey, that's not fair — I answered your dumb question."
"Aha, you did."
"Ben! It's three in the afternoon."
"Reese, Reese, calm down. Alcohol should be consumed with joy, not angst. I'm thinking you're thinking gin, so here you go."
He successfully blocked my lunge toward the package and shook his head, nodding toward the drink. "Bottoms up, babycakes."
I knew the only way he'd be placated was to play his game, so I drank the shot. "Charlie is great, ecstatic actually. He loves that we work together, tells everyone we make the best team. And we do. He loves the fashion side of photography, so he's in his element. By the time he's thirty, you can officially say your best friend will be a big deal. He's well on his way. Just remember you heard it here first."
"You're still pulling the best friend card, are you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I mean it's an easy cop-out. After all these years you're still trying to fly under the radar of the whole best friend notion. I thought you were better than such small-mindedness."
"Now you're making me angry. You don't know anything about it."
"Okay, fine. Are you happy?" He sounded somber.
"I'm happy. Of course. I mean, I'm a photographer traveling the world with my best friend. People would kill for my job. I am the poster child for a happy life." I batted my eyelashes and grabbed a full shot glass, which I threw back without his nudging. "I guess I always thought I would go a bit more in the documentary direction, be more gritty with my work, but that can come later. These photo shoots and experiences are invaluable and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I mean, I met and photographed Taylor Swift. I'm living anyone's wildest dreams."
I took Ben's brief interruption as an opportunity to snag another shot, and as I slammed the glass on the table, my cheeks flushed. "Well, you know Charlie's parents know everybody. So we got in as assistants on the shoot. It was small. But still. I held a reflector from ten feet away."
"Did you actually talk to Taylor? How have you never told me this before now?"
"I mean, no, but she said 'Hi' to Charlie right before the shoot. Of course, who could resist his handsome face? She probably wanted to date him."
"And then write a song about him."
"She probably kissed him!"
"And then wrote a song about said kiss." Ben slid a shot glass of rum in my direction and plowed forward. "Sister dear, you're looking a bit green, and we are getting off track. Speaking of dating, are you and Charlie snogging?"
"What, are you Harry Potter now? And is this rum?" My nose touched the glass. "You know I hate rum."
"Then drink it fast. One, two, three, go."
"No, I'm not dating or snogging Charlie! No. Not then. Not now. Wow, I'm feeling the gin."
"Are you sure it's not the rum?"
"He's adorable. Brilliant. Hilarious. Too much to handle. My best friend. Gorgeous. Have you ever noticed his lips? Of course you haven't. Well I have, and Charlie Beck has great lips. Not that I've ever touched them. But they sure do look nice on his face. Only it's not like that."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Remember Us"
Copyright © 2019 Lindsay Blake Layne James.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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