Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lies, All Lies Part Five

Lies, All Lies 
Part Five

“You’ll be put through in a minute, sweetie,” says the hospital receptionist at the other end of the line. 
“Thank you.” Lisa clutches the cold railing tightly. The sea before her sparkles, basking in the newborn daylight. It’s Thursday, and the water is calm. The waves shhh against the side of the Sierra, in and out, in and out. In the distance, Lisa can see the foggy outline of Saguenay; it looks subdued, and barely awake. 
Lisa’s heart is beating fast. She’s been on the phone for a few minutes already, because apparently Carolyn has switched rooms at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Her ear is sweaty, so she switches her phone to the other side.
Finally, she hears a raspy voice. “Hello?”
“Carolyn?” Lisa whispers. She’s alone on the deck, because she doesn’t want her roommate Allison’s snoring in the background while she talked, and because she wanted to go for a walk first. But instead of calming her, the eerily quiet Sierra at 6 AM has just heightened her anxiety. 
“Lisa.” Carolyn’s voice melts. “How are you, baby? Are you happy?” 
As always, Carolyn skips the conventional niceties of society and goes straight to the heart of the matter. Her illness has aggravated this, and these days, she has no time at all for foolishness. Are you happy is the real meaning of how are you, anyway. The way most people ‘are’ is dependent on their circumstances, which often affects their happiness. 
“I’m good,” Lisa says. 
“Just good?” 
Carolyn sounds tired. The cancer in her is aggressive, and it’s sapping the life out of her slowly, cruelly, so that her ‘good days’ are more bad than good. A good day means she’s lucid, not moaning in pain, and alive. Compared to that, Lisa’s woes are inconsequential. 
“Are you happy?” Lisa says. The wind wraps itself around her, tickling her scalp. She tucks her arm around her chest, wishing that she’d brought a sweater. 
Carolyn’s breathing is rough against the receiver. “You know what I always wanted to be, Lisa?”
“A teacher?”
“A good teacher. No, I wanted to be a great damn teacher.”
“You were,” Lisa says, her voice breaking. “You are.”
“Then I’m happy. I did what I always wanted to do. Remember that, baby, when you’re scared of what you want.”
Lisa doesn’t answer because she know she’ll cry if she does. But Carolyn is waiting so she asks the dreaded question. 
“I’m feeling fine,” Carolyn responds. “I know you don’t pray, baby, but if you do, pray that it’ll be over quick.”
“Don’t say that,” Lisa whispers. 
“That’s what I want, baby. And I know what you’re thinking, but let me tell you, Lisa, I could never forget you, not even if I tried.”
Lisa swallows, squeezing the phone against her ear as if that’ll bring Carolyn closer, and blinks away salty tears. 
×××
“For my next educational pamphlet, I think I’m going to write about the origins of names.” Dustin downs the shot of tequila in one quick gulp. He lounges back, content, seemingly unaware of the bodies that almost press against him in the crowded bar. The lights are dim and there’s a snazzy disco ball hanging from the ceiling, a pathetic attempt at getting an atmosphere going. Jesse thinks it’s stupid. People don’t come here for disco balls, they come here for alcohol. And no one is looking up, anyway. The latest pop-rock song is making everybody’s eardrums shake, and half the people in here are shirtless, grinding against each other, sharing sweat and touches. Jesse learnt long ago that although many young people in rural Quebec don’t speak much English, they can sing all the songs on the Top 50 Chart. 
As Dustin goes off on a tangent about his pamphlets, Brian fixes Jesse a frosty look, obviously unhappy that Dustin is with them. But honestly, now that Brian is keeping his distance, somebody has to be there to empty Jesse’s urine bag. Plus, Jesse is good at tuning people out. And, Dustin is the one sneaking him shots, so Jesse indulges him. 
“How are you already finished the period one?” Jesse says. 
“I’m not. Just shooting for ideas,” Dustin says. “The best ones come when I’m drunk.”
“That explains a lot,” Jesse says. 
“Don’t do the origin of names,” Brian says. He’s distracted, and Jesse knows that he’s debating whether or not to ditch them. There are plenty of bars in Saguenay. “Talk about why people give their kids dumb names, like Thomas Jesse Alan.”
“I wouldn’t talk, Pickles in Brian,” Jesse retorts. 
Brian shrugs and sloshes the clear liquid in his cup around. This must be the first time in- no, the first time ever- that he hasn’t taken the bait for an argument. Jesse isn’t sure, but this may mean there is something colossally and permanently wrong between them. He’s never been in a fight with Brian for more than five minutes, so it’s all uncharted territory. 
“Interesting,” Dustin says. He raises a glass to Jesse’s lips, and Brian intercepts and grabs it away, shaking his head. Jesse glowers. But he’s needed his bag changed once tonight already, so maybe it’s time to slow down. 
“Like for example,” Brian says to Dustin. “Ever wondered why your parents didn’t you Moppin or Sweepin?”
“Or why Ruby’s parents didn’t name her Emerald, or Diamond or Asshole,” Jesse says. 
“Watch it,” Brian says. 
“Why? You two sleeping together again?” Jesse says. 
Brian bangs his fist on the table, hard, and their drinks wobble and spill over onto the polished wood. “Fuck you,” he says, too drunk to think of a good comeback, and disappears into the mass of humans on the dance floor. 
“I don’t like the two of you when you’re drunk,” Dustin says reflectively, as if he’s Galileo, pondering the secrets of the stars. “You get… cranky.”
“Shut up,” Jesse says. “And give me a shot. Please,” he adds. 
“Come to think of it, you’ve been cranky all day. Is this about Lisa?” Dustin asks. 
“No,” Jesse says. “Okay, yes and no.”
Dustin orders them a few more drinks, and holds up a glass for Jesse. Halfway through it, Jesse almost chokes, spluttering out liquid and splashing his shirt, almost faceplanting onto the table. Dustin eases him back up, wipes his chin with a napkin and thumps his back until the gagging stops. People at the nearest tables stare. Jesse ignores them. But Dustin doesn’t offer Jesse anything else to drink. 
“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Dustin says. “You like her, she likes you. End of story. Finis.”
Jesse slumps back, his eyes half lidded. He hasn’t gotten drunk in a long, long time, and he isn’t sure he wants to see what it looks like. 
“It isn’t that simple,” he says. 
Dustin sighs, and they watch the bar-goers dance and make out and yell drunkenly in French. They all look so happy, so free, but isn’t that the point of a place like this? Freedom in anonymity. But Jesse can’t do that. His problems are tacked right onto him. 
“I don’t know what Ruby did to you,” Dustin begins, “but-”
“Who said this had anything to do with Ruby?” Jesse cuts him off harshly. 
Dustin hides a knowing smile behind his glass. “Look, man. I know you think that being a wheelchair takes you off the List of Eligible Bachelors, but it doesn’t. Take it from me. Lisa is fucking crazy over you, but I think she translates your insecurity as a lack of interest. She’s not the most confident person herself.” Dustin takes a sip of something dark and murky looking. “That’s why I think you guys would be perfect together.”
“You think Lisa’s insecure?”
“Uh, newsflash. This is the twenty-first century. Everybody’s insecure, thanks to our photoshopped, hypersexual media. Some just hide it better than others.” He downs his glass. “I’m gonna do a pamphlet on that one day.”
When Jesse doesn’t say anything, Dustin says, “think of it this way. The cruise is over in two days. Do you even know if Lisa is staying for the summer? I’m sure the dude who discovered fire got burnt the first time, know what I’m saying?”
Jesse smiles, shaking his head. “The girl you’re marrying is in for something special, does she know that?”
“What girl?” Dustin says. 
×××
“Any additional information is on our website,” Jesse says. “Yes. Yes, and thank you for calling, and feel free to contact us again if you have any further questions. Sure. Goodbye.” 
The call on his Bluetooth ends. Trying to keep his arm steady, he resumes typing the email he had been in middle of before the call. He’s hungover from last night, and it is not a pleasant feeling. Because of the medication he’s on, he's not supposed to be drinking to begin with. 
Shhh!
He glances up. This part of the Sierra,  where his office is located, is usually quiet. A second later there is more giggling. Intrigued, Jesse manoeuvres his chair into the carpeted hallway, where a dozen little kids are walking in a line behind a middle-aged woman. 
When they see him, most of them stop to gape. 
“I’m sorry if we’re disturbing, Mr. Alvaro,” the woman says apologetically. Jesse recognizes her as the head of the children’s activities aboard the Sierra. What’s her name again? Shit. He should remember that. 
“Oh, no problem at all,” Jesse says. Damn it. What’s her name, what’s her name? “Don’t you guys think this is the most exciting part of the Sierra so far?”
Some of the kids laugh nervously. 
“No,” says an impish-looking redheaded boy. “The swimming pools are the best.”
“Nah,” Jesse says with a grin. “You just haven’t seen my office yet.”
A familiar little girl hides at the back of the line.  “Hey,” Jesse says, tilting his head to the side as if he’s trying to see her. “You tell ‘em, Katie.”
Katie takes a big step back, burrowing her head in her shoulder. She shakes her head. 
“They’re shy,” the group leader says reassuringly. “You know. Kids.”
Not her. Not Brian’s sister. “Hey, Kit Kat. Come on over here,” Jesse says lightly, rolling towards the end of the line. This seems to freak Katie out even more, and she ducks away from him, grabbing the group leader’s arm and hiding behind her. 
“She knows me,” Jesse tells the woman, but it sounds pathetic even to his own ears. 
“Maybe we should get going,” the group leader says. Gwong. That’s her name- Jane Gwong. The kids are staring at Jesse nervously, taking a cue from Katie. Katie buries her face in Ms. Gwong’s knit sweater. 
“Katie,” Jesse says softly. “It’s just me.”
Katie bursts into tears. Ms. Gwong looks down at Jesse sympathetically. “Come on, children,” she says, her eyes never leaving him. “Let’s keep going.”
×××
 Jesse returns to his office, and Louisa Mary bombards him immediately. There’s someone angry on the phone for him, and this document needs to be signed there, there, and right here. Jesse transfers the call to his Bluetooth, and has his secretary put on his splint so he can sign his name. 
The next hour passes at a busy pace, but he can’t get the incident out of his mind, even as he meets clients and resolves disputes and answers calls. At 11:30, he decides to take an early lunch break, and on his way out of the office, he asks Louisa Mary to push forward his appointments by an hour. 
“Do you want to order food to come here?” his secretary asks, her voice interrupted by the clacking of her monster stapler. 
“No, thanks,” Jesse says. “I’m meeting someone.”
His secretary nods, fuzzy white hair bobbing, and smashes down her stapler. 
Jesse finds Katie on one of the enclosed portions of the deck, on the northern side of the Sierra. There are potted plants all over and a striped veranda above them, which provides refuge from the merciless sun. All the kids in Katie’s group are crowded around a single picnic table, colouring and fighting over markers and a sparkly gold pencil crayon. Ms. Gwong watches from a few paces away. 
Katie sits at a table a few feet away, alone, the veranda casting a purple shadow over her face. Her fingers are stained, and she’s clutching a black marker tightly, her shoulders bent in concentration. 
Jesse pulls up to the spot beside her. “Can I see what you’re making?” he says. 
Face set in stone, Katie flips over her paper. Stubbornly, she keeps her gaze on the table, refusing to even look at him. Jesse puts out his hand and Katie recoils in horror. He’s still wearing his splint, and Katie looks at it like it might bite her. 
Jesse pulls his hand back into his lap. “About what happened by the pool,” he says softly. “I’m sorry you had to see that. I know it scared you.”
Katie doesn’t answer. She uncaps her marker and begins to scribble, tracing tight little ringlets across the entire paper. 
“It’s called a muscle spasm,” Jesse says. “My brain can’t send messages to my legs and most of my arms anymore, so it gets confused. The messages get mixed up. That’s why it looked like my body was going crazy.”
Katie pauses, her marker hovering over the paper. She sucks in her lips, staring straight ahead. 
“They aren’t bad for me,” Jesse says, “unless they happen too often. I should have told you about them before, to prepare you. I'm sorry.”
Katie looks at him suddenly. Her eyes are glassy and wet. “You scared me,” she says loudly, angrily. “I thought that…” 
She chokes back a sob. Jesse puts out his hands and this time she accepts, crawling into his lap and nestling her head in his shirt. 
Then, she leans away. 
“Sometimes I have scary dreams about you,” She says quietly. “That you’re all alone, and... you fall and-” 
There are tears in her voice. He hugs her tightly and feels the pressure of her crying against him. Katie all-out sobs, hiccuping with her nose running, but she sounds relieved, like she’s letting out a fear she’s had pent-up inside her. 
Jesse’s heart flipflops and he holds back his own tears. Ms. Gwong shoots them a look, but says nothing. 
“It’s okay,” Jesse says, his chin resting over her head. “It’s okay. Shh.” Katie’s sniffles abate, and she shudders, content to just lean against him. And Jesse realizes that nothing’s changed since his accident- to Katie, he’s still someone big and strong for her to rely on. The sun is warm over them and although maybe he shouldn’t be, he’s happy, in a sad, resignated kind of way. But he’s happy and it’s this, it’s the people he cares about that matter, and nothing else. 
“It’s not okay.” Katie leans back to look at him. “Adults always say that to make me feel better, but it’s not true.”
She’s so stubborn and serious that Jesse can’t help but smile. “It is okay, know why? Because of you, and Brian, and my mom and dad and all the people who care about me. Yeah, I can’t do a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean I need to be unhappy all the time. I can still have fun.”
Katie folds her arms. “Nuh-uh. You can’t even ice skate.”
Jesse laughs and tickles her with his thumbs. Katie squeals. 
“I can go bowling,” Jesse says. “That’s fun, right?”
Katie nods. She looks over at her forgotten drawing, seemingly in deep contemplation. “I know what would make you happy,” she says after a minute, and clambers off of Jesse’s lap. “If Lisa wasn’t in a fight with you.”
“I’m not in a fight with her, Katie. It’s… it’s grownup stuff.”
“But you’re in a fight with Brian.”
“Katie…”
Katie shrugs. “Well, maybe you should send them a letter to say that you’re sorry. That’s what I always do.”
There are dismissive words on the tip of Jesse’s tongue, but then he stops. Maybe he should send Lisa a letter. She’s ignoring him and all his texts, so he doesn’t have many options. 
“Do you want to help me?” Jesse says. 
×××
Lisa’s first reaction to the invitation is to throw it out. It comes on a folded, lined piece of paper, and it informs her in sparkly pink markers that she has been invited to a Renaissance-themed dance in the Gem Deluxe Hall, Friday night. That’s tonight. 
Katie walked right up to her at lunch, while Lisa was wiping down a table. 
“I’m the mailwoman,” Katie said. She held out a letter had pink hearts and smiley faces on the front. 
“Thank you’d better go deliver your mail.” Lisa was distracted by the bit of red gunk that was stuck to the table. She rubbed at it hard, but it wouldn’t budge. How people did so much damage in one meal was beyond her. 
“But I only have one letter,” Katie said. “It’s for you. Jesse said to- oh. Never mind.”
That got Lisa’s attention. “Jesse said what?”
“He said not to say who it’s from. Oops.”
Lisa had thanked the little girl and pocketed the paper. As if it wasn’t obvious. Who else would send her an anonymous letter, cleverly delivered by an adorable child who Lisa just couldn’t refuse? 
Now, in the quiet of her room, she stares at it, unsure. Usually, Lisa scoffs at the dumb things that people aboard this cruise do to entertain themselves. But she’s never been invited to a dance, not even high school prom. During her senior year, her one-and-only girlfriend had dumped her the week before prom. And for a guy, to add insult to injury. Lisa hadn’t wanted to go any of the years before that, either. 
 She looks up at the dingy closet, where her clothes are squished into a quarter of the space. Peeking out between all the black is a cringe-worthy lemonade dress. 
“One more chance,” she tells the invitation. “One more.”
×××
Lisa hasn’t arrived yet. Jesse scrunches up his nose and blinks his eyes, a remnant from a time when he couldn’t scratch his own face. Now, the gesture remains as a nervous habit.  
The Gem Deluxe Hall is already mostly full with chattering couples linked at the elbow. The beginning of the evening is the first course of an elaborate dinner, set to one side of the yawning hall. On the other side, a large space has been cleared for dancing, showing off the garish orange-and-purple carpet. Come to think of it, the entire room is designed with the colour scheme of an 80’s sweater. There is sultry piano music playing, and a few busts are placed around the room to keep with the theme of the night. 
Jesse’s seeing some pretty authentic looking gowns and hats, but everyone here seems to be forgetting that barely anyone ate with forks during the Renaissance. They cut at their stuffed duck obliviously, and drink sparkling water, another inauthentic piece. 
Too restless to sit at his table, Jesse decides to wait at the gargantuan French doors, which have been painted a hideous orange to go with the rest of the décor. Really, who designed this place? 
Beside him, a dark man almost as tall as the doorway rocks on his heels and pulls out his phone every five seconds, the modern day equivalent of nervous pacing. He’s wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a giant feather hanging off of it, a doublet and polished boots over his pants. He’s definitely one-upped Jesse, who’s only wearing a tuxedo. 
“Waiting for someone?” Jesse says, craning his head back. Damn. He hates tall people. The man mutters and checks the doorway, apparently not noticing him.
On the other hand, Jesse does notice something important. Being at waist level, he see what others don’t. He clears his throat. “Uh, hey, man.” 
The man glances around, his gaze finally falling on Jesse. 
“Um.” Jesse lowers his voice to a whisper. “Your fly’s open. Might want to fix that before your date gets here.”
The man makes a face. “Quoi?”
“Your zipper.” Jesse motions over his crotch. “Your pants? Open?”
“Desolé,” the man says. His voice is the deepest Jesse’s ever heard. “J’ai déja un petit ami.”
(Sorry. […] I’ve already got a boyfriend.)
Jesse shakes his head in frustration. “Google translate?” 
That, the man understands. There’s a second of awkwardness when the man realizes that Jesse can’t type on his phone’s tiny screen. The man adjusts something quickly and motions for Jesse to talk into the microphone. Jesse clears his throat and repeats his earlier sentence. 
“Votre braguette est ouverte,” Google Translate says loudly, in a pleasant female voice. 
A few people from the table nearby turn to look. 
“Ahh!” the man fumbles as he bends over and zips up his pants, dropping his phone in the process. When he straightens up, he catches Jesse’s eye and Jesse splutters into laughter. The man looks sullen, but then he chuckles. He puts out his hand. “Eh, hi. Jean-Robert Thérriault.”
He says his name like joh robehr terry-oh. Before Jesse can introduce himself, Ruby Mitchell-Kim comes clipping towards them. She fist bumps Jean-Robert, then proceeds to ignore him as she leans over Jesse’s armrest. One of the spaghetti straps of her dress has fallen off her shoulder, and she’s already a little tipsy. 
“Guess what,” she says. “You’re gonna love me for this.” She takes a deep breath. “I fired Ilana.”
×××
Lisa roots around the bottom of her carry-on, which she still hasn’t unpacked. She fishes out a pair of scissors, and spreads the lemonade dress out across her bed. She can imagine how this must look: a girl cast in sickly yellow light, wielding her weapon with a mighty hand, looking evilly at her victim below.
Lisa chuckles and snips her scissors twice in the air, just to test them out. She might actually be excited for this. 
A half hour later, her outfit is ready. She’s cut off the sleeves of the dress, and cut the bottom into strips all the way around, up to the waist. She leaves the dress open, and puts on a black tank and leggings underneath. When she walks, the strips fly along behind her. She puts on a top hat, the only costume piece Allison had to lend her. 
She surveys herself in the mirror. Her outfit isn’t Renaissance, but screw that, she loves it. She looks into her reflection and remembers the last thing she told Jesse. 
I’m sick of you. Don’t ever talk to me again. 
Lisa turns from the mirror, grabs her fancy-occasions purse, and heads across the ship, to the Gem Deluxe Hall. 
She arrives late, by a half-hour at least. The first course has already started. Who eats duck for the first course? And the decorations are horrendous. Lisa ignores all this and looks for her place. There are shiny cream cards on every plate, with a name embossed on each. Checking the other names, she recognizes some of them. No one else is at her table yet, so she drinks a glass of wine, and waits. The first course is taken away. Lisa stands up and looks around. Maybe she’s missed him. Maybe the places got switched, but no- Jesse Alvaro is printed in classy script on the plate beside hers. 
She calls him and texts him. The line is busy. She does a mini-search around the ship, and arrives at the Gem Deluxe Hall flushed and winded, hoping to see his shining eyes when she passes through the doors. 
Second course is served. Another glass of wine, and Lisa’s feeling nauseous. 
She rubs her eyes. And waits. 
×××
“I can’t believe this,” Jesse seethes, as he and Ruby listen to the message Ilana’s left him. Jesse’s office is only a short distance from the hall, which is good because Jesse needs someplace private where he can tear out Ruby’s throat. Figuratively, of course. 
In the end, Ilana is the one who does most of the yelling. Her message is long, angry, and full of curse combinations Jesse’s never even thought of. At the end of it, Ruby bites her lip, sucking air in through her teeth. “Guess she’s not coming back.”
“I can’t- oh, God, Ruby.” Jesse closes his eyes. “What did you do with her?”
Ruby inspects her nails. “She was stone drunk, Jesse. Completely wasted. And I said, do I want this woman taking care of Jesse? She gave you that bruise. I’ve seen her with you, and I’ve seen how she never shows up and when she does, shows up late. She isn’t careful.”
“That isn’t your business.”
“Hey, someone's got to take care of you. Anyway, I looked up where the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was, and I dropped Ilana off there. I also sent her an email pretending to be your mom, and I booked her a flight home. She was basically unconscious, so there wasn’t too much resistance.”
Jesse bangs his head back on the headrest. “Unbelievable. We’re in Saguenay, Ruby. The middle of freakin’ nowhere! Ilana doesn’t even speak the language.” With his stylus, Jesse taps out Ilana’s number again. It goes straight to voicemail. 
“Chillax. Ilana’s from New Orleans,” Ruby says. “They speak French there, right?”
He tries again. No answer. In frustration, Jesse lets his stylus fall onto the desk. “I can’t believe this.”
“You said that already.” Ruby rubs her nail against her dress, and blows on it. “Calm down, Jesse. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Don’t you dare,” Jesse says, his voice quivering with the effort not to yell. “I don’t know what to do now. Who’s going to put me to bed, huh? What am I supposed to do?”
“I will,” Ruby says, all perky and sunshine. 
Jesse shakes his head slowly. “No. Oh, no. We are never, ever going back to that. Never.”
Ruby licks her lips, swallows, brushes the hair from her forehead. 
“For what it’s worth,” she says, “I’m sorry.”
Jesse gives her his hardest look. “Agencies. We need agencies. Who do you know in Saguenay?”
×××
Someone is giving a speech. The speaker is someone important, and Lisa remembers him vaguely from her first day. He’s saying important things, and gesturing in a grandiose manner. Lisa is dozing off. 
Her phone rings. She jumps, grabbing at it and turning off the ringer. 
Slowly, slowly, she stands up, and begins to head for the bathroom as inconspicuously as she can. With half the hall already watching her curiously, there seems to be no point in tiptoeing, but she does it anyway, her heart about to burst. 
Once she’s enclosed by the mirrored walls of the bathroom, Lisa breathes a sigh of relief. She puts her phone to her ear. Unfortunately, the voice that greets her is not Jesse with some fabulous excuse for being a no-show. 
It’s her mother. 
“Oh, Lisa,” she says, expelling the words in a rush of air. “You might want to sit down, love.”
As she talks, the colours go fuzzy and Lisa goes numb. In some detached, airy way she feels herself sinking to the floor. Her mom talks, continues talking. Lisa listens. Her ear presses against the floor. Her line of view is straight underneath the second stall. She listens and listens and then hangs up. 
The toilets are pink, the floors are white with gray diamonds. Lisa closes her eyes. 
×××
After a surprisingly short amount of calls, Ruby folds her arms. “Done,” she says. She kicks at the floor and her chair swivels around in a creaky circle. “His name is Paul Garneau. He’ll be on the Sierra in an hour, and he’ll come meet you at one in the morning. He’s available for the next two weeks. I charged his room and taxi to your credit card.”
“Does he speak English?” Jesse asks. He won’t admit it, but Ruby’s connections are impressive. 
She laughs, that one part of her that always irked him, even while they were dating. “He’s giving you a shower, Jesse, not a discourse on quantum physics. It will be fine.”
“Yeah. Well, thank you.” Jesse turns to go, and is stopped by her voice, saying his name softly. 
“What?” he says, annoyed. 
Ruby stands up slowly, and without a care in the world, she  ambles across the office him, and places a hand on his cheek.
“Lets ditch this party,” she purrs. He lips are thick and soft-looking, and her hair falls over her shoulders in silky waves. “Let’s do it. You and me, lovah.”
No. He is not falling into that trap. “Nope,” he says cheerfully. “Don’t you think we’ve spent enough time together today?” As in, six hours of her doing ‘therapy’ with him. With all the distractions the Sierra has to offer, they didn’t end up doing much. It was mostly Lisa ordering food and checking her Facebook five times and calling every acquaintance she’s ever known. 
“Come on,” Ruby chides playfully, scratching his chin. “Make a girl happy.”
Jesse ducks his head and rolls into the darkened hallway, not even gracing her with a response. 
But she doesn’t stop. “If you were smart, you’d jump at this opportunity,” she says from behind him. There is a chill in her voice. She isn’t used to rejection. “How long do you think you’ll last with Lisa? Once she sees your body, she’ll be gone so fast you won’t even know what happened.”
“She’s already seen some of it.” Jesse rolls down the hall, and doesn’t stop to see if she’s following. “And you know what I’ve realized? She isn’t you, Ruby. She sees me as a person. So I’m going to do whatever the hell I can to make sure she doesn’t go.”
Ruby’s phone rings. Her voice fades out as he rides around the corner, but she calls him back. 
“It’s Dustin,” she says sulkily, almost against her will. “It's for you.”
×××
The lights are off when Lisa stumbles out of the bathroom. It takes her puffy eyes a moment to adjust, and then she realizes they aren’t off, they’re simply turned down. The floor is filled with people dancing, dresses swaying, feathered hats tipping. The quiet music from earlier has been replaced with something a bit more upbeat, and Lisa vaguely recognizes a Journey song playing. 

A singer in a smokey room
The smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on, and on and on

She pushes through the throng of dancers, looking for a familiar black wheelchair. The air is thick and sweaty and she can’t find him. Her eyes fill and she bites back the tears. She’s lost in a sea of people, alone, and her head is swimming and she just wants him badly right now. 

Strangers waiting
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching
In the night

The world is a fog. It’s an odd feeling, it’s a jolt through her tired, heavy limbs, it’s the confusion of grief and sadness. A primitive need within her, a desperate desire. 
“Jesse,” she says, to herself, her eyes wild. Somebody bumps against her top hat, and it falls. She doesn’t bend to pick it up. Through the crowd she spots a familiar face. 

Streetlight people
Livin' just to find emotion
Hidin' somewhere in the night

“Lisa. What happened?” Dustin's face is concerned. She can’t speak, but he opens his arms and lets her fall in. The music thumps in her brain and she lets herself go, collapsing into a mess of sobs. Breathing heavily, she wipes her eyes and mashes her lips onto his,  needing this, needing something to hold onto. 
She gasps, and Dustin pries her off of him and looks at her sadly, his eyes filled with pity. Beside him is a large man, who watches the exchange in confusion.
“I’m sorry, I’m…” she says, but the rest of the words can’t make it out, between her gasps for breath and hysterical sobs. 
“Come.” Dustin puts an arm around her shoulder. She lets him lead her out of the hall, and in her daze she doesn’t notice they’re going until they’ve arrived. 
Dustin brings her into a suite with an open kitchenette and bedroom. They walk past a couch and a TV and Dustin sits her on the bed. There are medicine capsules on the bedside and a remote control to lower or raise the front of the bed. Tacked onto the wall are pictures of Brian and Ruby, and others that Lisa doesn’t recognize. 
The looming man is still here with them, his hand resting protectively on Dustin’s shoulder. 
“This is Jesse’s room,” Lisa says. Her voice sounds dead. She’s never seen it before, but it’s obvious. Her fingers run over the bedspread absentmindedly. 
“What happened?” Dustin asks tentatively, sinking down beside her. She refuses to meet his gaze, tracing patterns on the sheets. 
“I called Jesse,” Dustin says, resting a hand on her back. 
“He won’t answer,” Lisa says. She wipes her eye and looks up at him. “I couldn’t get through to him.”
“Well, I called Ruby and she said he’s on his way here.”
The man says something in French, and Lisa finally thinks to ask him who he is. 
Dustin grins. “This is my fiancé, Jean-Robert. I must have told you about him. We’re getting married tomorrow, when the Sierra docks in Quebec City.”
Jean-Robert, who is standing a short distance away from them with his hands stuffed in his pockets, pulls one out to give her a little wave. 
“Hi,” Lisa says. 
Dustin takes her hand. “We can stay here until he comes.”
“No… no, please, go.” Lisa stands up, ignoring their protests. She insists that she’ll be fine, and shoos the two lovers away. 
Then she heads for the bathroom. 
×××
The light in his suite is on, but there’s no one there. Jesse wrinkles his brow, and rolls up to his bed. He begins to calculate how far Lisa could have gone in such a short time. And where would she go? 
He hears a buzzing whine, and he panics. The sound is coming from the bathroom. The door is ajar, and Lisa is sitting on the closed toilet, an electric razor in her hand, tears staining her cheeks. Jesse’s grandmother bought him that razor last Christmas. He’s never used it, never even taken it out of the box. 
Lisa does nothing, just stares at it and listens to it buzz and vibrate in her hand. She raises it and Jesse yells, “Stop!”
Lisa looks up, startled. The razor clatters to the floor. 
“What are you doing?” he says. 
Lisa takes in a long, shaky breath. “I- I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You're always welcome here.” Jesse rolls up right beside her, the tips of his shoes brushing her arm. 
“Can we go to your bed?” Lisa blurts out. 
Jesse takes pause. She’s sitting cross-legged and her dress -the one he bought her- is fanned out around her. He isn't sure what she did to it, but it looks great. There are black patches under her eyes, where her mascara ran, and her fingers twitch nervously, fingerings the strips of her dress. 
She looks crazy. And Jesse realizes that he’s falling in love with her. 
“Please,” she whispers, like he would be fulfilling some emotional need she has. Maybe he would be. 
“Tell me what’s going on,” he says firmly. 
Lisa looks she wants to say something, but she can’t. 
“Alright,” Jesse says. "We can go to my bed."
She doesn't ask where he was all night, and he doesn't say. At his bedside, Lisa removes her dress, and, asking with her eyes, takes off his jacket and shirt. She lifts him and lowers him gently onto the bed. She climbs in next to him, pulling off her black tank top in one fluid motion. 
She leans over him and kisses him hungrily, like this is what she’s been waiting for all her life. Her lips travel down his neck and onto his collarbones, where she pauses, inches from his skin. 
“Can you feel this?” She asks hoarsely. 
“Yes.” Jesse’s got an incomplete injury, so he’s able to feel some parts of his body. Lisa kisses his nipples, and as her tongue travels down his chest Jesse grunts. Lisa settles down beside him, pulling the covers over them. There is something wrong about her, the spark missing from her eyes. 
“Hey,” Jesse says, turning his head to look at her. It’s more of a question. 
She tugs the blanket up to her chin. She's motionless and quiet for a long time. 
 “Do you want to hear about what happened to my hair?”
“Lisa.” He says her name tenderly. “Now?”
“The real story.” A tear leaks from her eye, and rolls down onto his pillow, between them. "No more lies between us, okay? Only the truth."
He caresses her face with his crippled, paralysed hand and she grips it tightly, holding it there like it’s her lifeline. 
“I had a teacher in high school who I was really close to,” Lisa says. “When she got cancer, and she started on chemo, I… I shaved my head with her. Her hair was falling out in patches, so we went to the barber to just take it all off. I didn’t tell her I was shaving my head, too. When she realized what I was doing, she yelled at me.” Lisa sniffles. “But I didn’t stop. I kept shaving it all these months.” 
She breaks down into sobs and Jesse knows what’s coming. 
“Some stupid part of me thought it would help, ” She whispers. “But Carolyn still died.” She takes a tissue from the nightstand. “That’s it. Now you know why I’ve been such a mess.”
He breathes in sharply. He's felt the pain of loss in his life, and he knows that each person's experience is a desert island, unreachable, inexplicable. There is nothing he can say, nothing he can do to make it better. 
He leans  over and gives her a peck on the cheek. “I love you,” he says. “I love you, Lisa Carter.”

» To be Continued«








7 comments:

  1. So good that you are enjoying writing this Story because I am so much enjoying reading IT.Thank you so much for your regural Updates and especially this one. Noch we can understand why Duncan is so understanding....

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  2. Good plot twists and revelations in this chapter! Katie is still my favorite character. Young but sensitive and nuanced. Excellent work.

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  3. I think I said it before and I'll say it again: I love Dustin and I love this story so so much!!

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  4. Very nice chapter. Thanks so much for posting it regularly. Our are a great writer and I love stories about quads

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  5. How sad... but great chapter. I love the fast turns in your plot.

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  6. Terrific chapter. Sad but hoping Jesse and Lisa can get back together other than this 1 night. Wonderful characters. I love Katie and Dustin too. My favs.

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  7. So much, and interesting unexpected turns, too. Incredibly well done.

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