I sank under the weight of the hamburger and fries in my gut. I wasn’t a soda drinker, but I could understand that a sugary and caffeinated beverage provided a necessary boost after such a meal. Normally, I would have washed it down with an unsweetened iced tea and lemon wedge. Walt didn’t know that, of course, and had ordered me a diet Coke.
I took one sip and nearly gagged on the poisonous taste of the beverage. I could not understand how anybody thought that stuff tasted all right. I set it aside and drank another cup of black coffee. It was time to get back to work, lethargic as I felt.
Anthony was taciturn all afternoon, my very own low-class Spanish Mr. Darcy, who spent the rest of the day sitting at his desk and writing himself notes, or hiding in his bedroom, where all his mysterious boxes sat in stacks.
Walt, on the other hand, had no Jane Austen character equivalent. He was more of a Sancho Panza. He wandered off never to be seen again, ostensibly on foot, rather than on an ass.
The silence of the house mixed with the drone of the swamp cooler was delicious. I filed the rest of the folders away until dizziness set in and my leg muscles cramped. At some point, I noticed, Anthony had placed a black telephone with answering machine on the desk, and I could see the various wires snaking across the floor. I could see where they were plugged in the wall, even though they appeared lifeless.
I looked at the phone time and again before I finally rose and lifted the receiver. It was dead, no dial tone, nothing.
I walked down the hallway and knocked on Anthony’s bedroom door and pushed it open without waiting for a response. The room was in complete disorder. It looked as if Anthony had frantically opened any and every box without regard to the labels he’d written on them as guides. Books and photographs fanned out across the floor.
“Are you going to get phone service any time soon?” I asked him.
“You can use my cell phone if you need to.”
“I need to.”
He dutifully handed it to me, and I carted it away so I could speak privately to my brother. I sat in the swivel chair set at Anthony’s desk, and I felt satisfied with myself. Surely, I, as the secretary, must have the only available desk.
I fully expected to leave a message on my brother’s voice mail. He surprised me by answering.
“Hey, Matthew. I need to stay at your place.”
“What? Why? What phone are you calling from?”
“This is my work number.”
“That’s great, I’ll add it to my contacts. You can’t stay here, Ella.”
His voice had a familiar distant ring to it. It was the ring I’d heard often when he was married to his ex. “I don’t understand. Just the other day you told me I could stay with you and help you watch Caitlyn.”
“Shania and I are trying to work things out, and it never works with you around. You hate Shania.”
What was he saying? Shania was his ex-wife. Wasn’t it a little too late to work things out? It was always like this with my brother, though. Shania did it to him. “I don’t hate her, exactly. I don’t like the way she cheated on you and lied to you, but other than that, we had so much in common. Like, for example, we both have older brothers who are idiots. How can you get back together with a woman you divorced?”
A long silence filled the space from phone to cell tower to phone.
“Mateo? Are you still there?”
“I’m here. We never signed the divorce papers. I thought it would be better for Caitlyn if we didn’t divorce. I knew Shania would eventually come back.”
I closed my eyes and tried to collect my thoughts. There was no use in telling him that her mother’s games weren’t good for Caitlyn either. There was no use, particularly because Caitlyn would always be subjected to her mother’s games, as long as Shania had partial custody.
I did the only thing I could; I changed the subject. “Do you have a key to mom and dad’s house?”
“I need to get something I left over there. And they’re impossible to get a hold of. Does anybody have a key?”
“I don’t know. Why would they tell me if they’d given somebody a key? They didn’t tell you, did they? And you’re their favorite.”
I let out a sigh of exasperation. “Whatever, bro. I’ll talk to you some other time. I hope things work out for you and Shania.”
I slammed the phone shut.
I looked up, startled, to see Anthony standing about two feet away from me: damned gumshoe on carpeting, or whatever had made it possible for him to creep silently into the living room and eavesdrop on my conversation.
I handed him his phone. “Do you know how to break into houses?”
“That depends on why you’re asking me.”
“I need to break into my parents’ house and look for something. You don’t have to worry about them pressing charges. They wouldn’t do that to me, and, really, it’s my house, too. My bedroom is still there, with a lot of my stuff from high school that my mom refused to get rid of. So, it wouldn’t really be breaking in at all.”
“I’ve got a set of lock pick tools I can teach you to use, if you promise to only use them for the purpose you just mentioned.”
“On my honor.”
The vision of Anthony as my Spanish Mr. Darcy faded as suddenly as it had sprung up. Mr. Darcy would never have known how to pick locks. My life seldom reflected the literature that I loved, the books I’d read for my degrees in Spanish and English literature.
My jobs rarely reflected my education, either, unless my pulp paperback noir mysteries counted as part of a different sort of education altogether. I looked at Anthony, who was checking the messages on his phone.
A nervous thrill ran down my spine. It should have sent warnings signals to the rest of my body, but the only messages I received were yes, yes, yes.