With his sister as a roommate, is Darien doomed to live a lonely, useless life?
|Trigger warning ▼
"You've got junk all over." Darien pointed to the makeup palette and mirror. "I try to keep a certain image here."
“On call for your ladies.” Jasmine poured bright red cereal kibbles in a bowl, and splashed the milk. She whispered, "It's my home, too."
They hadn't even eaten yet. He waved his new iphone in her face. "I gotta get this."
Caller ID proclaimed, "Charmaine, 8.9."
His stomach lurched but he faked a smile. "Oh, honey! Good to hear from you."
"All you care about is your phone." Jasmine cut the whine and looked out the window. “Why do I bother living?"
"Is this a bad time, Dare Bear?" Charmaine cooed. "I'm sure Donald will clear his schedule for me."
He cringed. "No, Charmaine, it's nothing." Darien struggled to hold his brave front as he watched Jasmine out the corner of his eye.
The silence from both ladies hung in the air as Jasmine mirrored his pained expression.
He shrugged. "Jasmine and I were just having a discussion."
"If she's more important...."
"Charmaine?" His tone gave him away. He grabbed the back of his neck.
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 at that slip.
Jasmine puffed up.
"Yeah, whatevs. Talk to the hand."
He laid a glare on Jasmine. "Do you see what I put up with?"
"Maybe you're right." Jasmine frowned as she wiped away the milk. "Maybe I am nothing. Just throw me out like old nachos."
His shoulders fell and he tucked his phone back in his pocket. He didn't even look up. "Yeah, maybe I should."
"Why can I not be as important as a phone."
Charmaine always checked her email as Darien begged for her attention. When did he become one of them? He softened his voice. "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 it, either. "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 said at last, taking a bite of her red-sugar-glob cereal.
"Breakfast candy. Do you want diabetes?" If she would only take better care, she would feel better. "For that, I should throw you out."
She stared at her breakfast, and frowned. "Sorry I embarrass you." She dumped the bowl, pitched the cereal keeper, and walked out.
The wobbling throb in his head lurched; she hadn't heard the compliment. He tugged at his tie and considered eating the cereal himself. "Maybe she'll move out." He rifled through the cupboards.
The next morning, fruit adorned the counter. Granola, honey, and tea circled them for inspection.
Jasmine strode in, beaming.
Darien trudged toward the coffeemaker and glared. "I bet you're proud of yourself."
Her smile fell.
"I know why you did this. Isn't gonna work."
Her shoulders fell.
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 devoured a banana, then tried again. "Good choice of fruit bowl, though."
She walked toward the living room, snatched up her purse, and stalked toward the door.
He grabbed the bridge of his nose. How could he help this situation? "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 out too late," wasn't quite the thing.
Outside of work, he never said the right thing. Maybe not even then--he wondered when he had 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 plants 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, crowded and rushed him. No matter how he said it, he came out as an attacker. Why shouldn't she crowd him? He sent all the other women running for the river.
Late that night, on the doorstep, Charmaine pulled Darien close and offered a sweet, teasing brush of the lips. "Guess I was wrong about you."
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 pushed the door.
Charmaine giggled as she pushed him across the threshold.
The banana peel on the counter remained where he'd left it. "That is not right."
Inches away from Darien's nose, Charmaine whispered, "I should hope not."
Darien pushed her. "I mean, Jasmine hasn't--" He scanned the apartment.
"Are you hiding behind Jasmine again?" She pouted.
Darien chose to keep his voice down. Too serious to discuss with some fool he had picked up. He might have no elan, but he ended conversations like a diva. He pulled an envelope from his sport coat. "Yes, absolutely."
She raised her eyebrows and wrinkled her lips as she took it.
How had he allowed this person 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 money on a shelf and started plugging at her own phone. Walking away, she waved him off. "Whatevs. I can get my own ride."
"Great." He ran his hands through his hair, and stroked his phone to life.
Jasmine had made only one post: "It's been fun. Checking out of the Life Spa."
When Father had died, that's the words they used: "He ended his stay at the Life Spa." Darien sat down with a thud.
No GPS, no geotag.
He forced himself to breathe. Leaving this post meant there would still be time; he had to believe she wanted him to come. He thought of where to go, grabbed the bridge of his nose.
The hospital where he had said goodbye to father? Some special place for the two? No, he wasn't that good at guessing people. He didn't have time for mistakes. Find my device reported that her phone had shut off an hour ago, near the lake.
She stood at the end of a pier behind Betty's, a fishing bar. She waved, a bottle in her hand. "Knew you couldn't resist the invitation. Brought enough wine for you."
"Damn it, Jasmine. Don't joke like that. You're too young."
"I'm standing in your way." She threw her head back. "Just a waste of your time."
He stepped toward her, palms up. "Never said that."
"Didn't have to. 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. I can leave now; you've said goodbye."
"No, Jasmine." He grabbed for her.
She pushed away, and fell over the rail.
His jacket fluttered into the lake as he swam to her.
She slipped and splashed in his grip as he struggled to keep his head up until he lay 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 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."
He nodded.Something had gotten through, however faint. Now that she asked him, though, he could finally take better care of himself.
"You know," she said, looking far into the distance. "Sarah's been asking for a roommate. For a while"
She was offering to give 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 found Jasmine, he wasn't 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.