Why can I not be more important than a phone? She asks... when did I become that guy.
|Trigger warning ▼ |
"Junk all over." Darien pointed to the makeup palette and mirror. "I try to keep a certain image."
Jasmine nodded. “On call for the ladies.” She poured bright red cereal in a bowl, and splashed the milk. She whispered, "It's my home, too."
Arguing already; they hadn't even eaten yet. He waved his ringing iphone in her face. "I gotta get this."
Caller ID said, "Charmaine, 8.9."
He forced a smile. "Oh, honey!"
"That's all you care about." Jasmine stifled herself and looked out the window. “Why do I bother living?"
"Bad time, Dare Bear?" Charmaine taunted. "Donnie would love to hear from little old me."
Looking at Jasmine, Darien struggled to maintain his front. "No, Charmaine, it's… nothing."
Jasmine paled. Silence dragged on. The pained expression on Jasmine's face matched Darien's mood.
He shrugged. "Jasmine and I were having a discussion, that’s all."
"And she's more important."
"No. I didn’t… Charmaine?" He bit his lip and grabbed the back of his neck.
Charmaine pressed the stony silence.
Would she detect the fear in his voice? After a few seconds, he sighed. "Don't be like that.”
She scoffed. “Hey, you got your priorities.”
"But, she's my sister!" He bit his lip.
Jasmine perked up.
"Yeah, whatevs. Talk to the hand."
He locked eyes with Jasmine. “See what I put up with?"
"Maybe you're right." Jasmine wiped away the milk. "Maybe I am nothing. Just throw me out like old nachos."
As the strength left him, Darien let his shoulders sag. What did she mean? He couldn’t even meet her gaze. "Yeah? Maybe I should."
"Can I not be as important as a phone?"
When did I become one of those people? Like that child Charmaine, eyes on the phone when people talked to her. He softened his voice, explaining that she was more important, only: "Some things, a sister can't offer."
"Oh, so if I was some kind of whore...?"
"Don't, don't even start." He caught the reflection of his eyebrows: aggressive. But, why did she not see? "You know what I mean."
"No, I don't. What do I have to do to be important?"
He couldn't explain. "Nothing, Jasmine. You don't have to do anything."
He looked down. Under his breath, he said, "I do."
"Doesn't seem like it," she mumbled to her red sugar kibbles.
"Breakfast candy. You want diabetes?" His way of saying, You deserve better.
He grinned and winked. "For that, I should throw you."
She frowned at her breakfast. "Sorry I embarrass you." She dumped the bowl, pitched the cereal--keeper and all--and walked out.
His head throbbed; she hadn't heard the compliment. He tugged at his tie and considered eating the cereal himself. "Maybe she'll move out. Better for both of us." He stared at the cupboard.
The next morning, fruit adorned the counter. Granola, honey, and tea circled them for inspection.
Jasmine strode in.
Darien trudged toward the coffeemaker. "I bet you're proud of yourself."
Her smile fell.
"I know why you did this. Isn't gonna work."
Her shoulders slumped.
The words, I'm proud of you, Jasmine. One more great thing isn't going to make you any better in my eyes, stuck in his throat. Why hadn't he said them? "As impressive as this is, it's not going to change anything."
Nothing he said could calm her. He wolfed down a banana and dropped the peel on the counter. "Good choice of fruit bowl, though."
She snatched her purse, and stalked toward the door.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Run away, then."
She caught his eyes and continued out.
That gaze burned; once again, he hadn't said what he meant. How had it gone wrong this time? "Well, don't be too late," wasn't quite the thing.
Outside of work, he never said the right thing. Maybe not even then--when had he last had a repeat customer? He shook his head and scanned their apartment.
The entire room, with its muted hues, proper paisleys, and well-kept desert theme, spoke well of those who lived there: hyphenated but assiduously American. He owed all that to Jasmine.
Even in her absence, she towered over him, pushed, and rushed him. No matter how he said it, anything, he came out as an attacker. Why shouldn't his sister crowd him? All the other women ran for the river.
Late that night, on the doorstep, Charmaine pulled Darien in for a sweet, teasing brush of the lips. "Guess I had you wrong."
Darien smirked, and kicked his head back. "Damn right. I'm even worse than you thought."
"Big words. Must be good in bed."
"Wouldn't you like to know." He clicked the key fob and leaned through the door.
Charmaine giggled as she pushed him across the threshold.
The banana peel remained on the counter, a brown-spotted signal flare.
"That's not right."
Inches away from Darien's nose, Charmaine whispered, "I should hope not."
Darien pushed away. "I mean, Jasmine hasn't--" He scanned the apartment.
Charmaine pouted. "You're hiding behind Jasmine again."
He had no time to argue with this child. He handed her an envelope from his sport coat. This time, his silken voice purred. "Yes, absolutely."
She raised her eyebrows and wrinkled her lips as she took it.
How had he allowed Charnaine in his home? "It's a cab ride. The fare, anyhow."
"How to make this clearer?" Darien leaned in. "My sister needs me; I'm there."
"What, from a banana peel?" She put the envelope on a shelf and tapped her phone. Walking away, she waved him off. "Whatevs. I get my own rides."
"Great." He ran his hands through his hair.
Jasmine had made only one post: "It's been fun. Checking out of the Life Spa."
When Father died, Jasmine used those words: "He ended his stay at the Life Spa." Darien sat down with a thud.
No GPS, no geotag.
Finding this post meant she would give him time; he had to believe she wanted him to come. He thought of where to go, pinched the bridge of his nose.
The hospital where he had said goodbye to Father? Some special place for the two of them? No, he wasn't that good at guessing and had no time for mistakes. Find My Device reported that her phone had shut off an hour ago, near the lake.
Darien ran down the pier behind Betty's, a fishing bar.
Jasmine waved, a bottle in her hand. "Knew you couldn't resist. Brought you wine."
"Damn it, Jasmine. Don't joke like that. You're too young."
She shook her head and wagged a finger. "I'm standing in your way."
Darien stepped forward.
She threw her head back. "Just a waste of time."
He put his palms up. "Never said that."
"Always trying to get me out of the way."
His barrage of subtle--and not so subtle--hints all carried the wrong message. "But, that wasn't--"
"It's okay, big brother. I can leave now; you've said goodbye."
"No, Jasmine." He grabbed for her.
She pushed away, and fell over the rail.
He flung his jacket to the deck as he dove after her.
He struggled to keep his head up as she slipped and splashed in his grip, but at last he got her to the shore and laid her out on the sand.
As they coughed up the brine, she gave him an uncomfortable smile. "Why? I'm not important."
"Never said that."
A look of horror came over her face and she sat up. "Your phone!" She yanked it out of his pocket, and tried to blow on it.
"All your contacts. I didn't mean to..." Horrified, she stared at the black screen. "I've gone too far."
He grabbed the stupid toy and threw it in the lake. "Good riddance."
She dropped her chin and reached up to hug him. "You never said I was important before."
"Never thought it mattered." Kneeling over her, he ran his fingers through his hair and returned her embrace. "Besides, those girls...."
She rolled her eyes and smirked. "You'll get diabetes."
She had heard. Something, however faint, had gotten through. And now, he would have to take better care of his heart--for Jasmine’s sake.
"You know," Jasmine said, looking far into the distance. "Sarah's been asking for a roommate. For a while."
She was offering him his space--at long last. He sat down, beside her. "Who will cramp my style?"
"Oh, I'll be on call."
“You know, there's..." Now that he'd gotten through to Jasmine, he wasn't so ready for her to leave. “...no rush."
She reached out to pat him on the hand. He lay back, letting the lake wash it all away.