CHAPTER 9 : THE GOLDEN BOY
The hot core of my family’s personal universe consisted a massive four-story brick house on the near north side. Under normal circumstances I avoided it like Chernobyl, but Sam’s evasiveness had piqued my curiosity, and I found myself on the tree-lined street outside the front gate before hesitation got the better of me. Up until now I’d been able to avoid family scrutiny by flying under the radar. But marching up to the monolithic door and banging on it until it opened was going to put an end to that.
Then again, Michael already knew I was in town, and so did Mom, so there wasn’t much point in keeping a low-profile anymore.
The Big House was old. It had been built sometime during the 1890s after the Adomnan family made its fortune rebuilding the city out of the ashes of the Chicago fire. Now, it served as both the family home and the cornerstone of the family business: Metron Corporation, which dealt in real estate development and neighborhood gentrification.
I climbed the front steps and knocked.
The door opened to reveal my brother, Edward, looking like he’d just rolled out of bed; unshaven and with his hair standing on end. But that was how he always looked: always unshaven, hair always on end—the kind of tousled that gave women cozy fantasies about Sunday mornings in bed. He was good-looking in every way I wasn’t, broad-shouldered, fair-haired, and symmetrical. He reeked of good health and clean living. His only apparent flaw was a jagged scar cutting across his forehead from hairline to eyebrow as a reminder to the rest of us mortals that Only God Is Perfect. I might’ve been the oldest, but Edward was the favorite. The sweet, stupid, golden boy.
“Did you miss me?” I demanded. I slung an arm around his neck and dug my rings into his scalp in a good, old-fashioned noogie.
“Damen? Oww—what the hell?” He twisted in my grasp and bent his knees to pull me to the ground. He caught my leg in some kind of wrestler hold and flipped me on my back with a thump that nearly knocked the air out of me. Fuck. I’d forgotten that he knew how to wrestle. We grappled for a moment until he caught my arm in a twist and pinned me to the floor by straddling my chest.
“Jesus, fuck you,” I kicked my legs uselessly under his weight.
“C’mon—we’re not kids anymore,” he said with a smile that was somehow genuinely happy. Happy to see me. Happy he’d gotten the upper hand. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see Dearie.” I squirmed, still trying to break free. Edward pressed a finger to his lips and then pressed the kiss to my forehead, finally and effectively pinning me to the floor.
“Edward? You coming back?” A woman’s voice floated to us from the direction of the kitchen and Edward froze.
“What? Yeah, sorry. I got…distracted.”
“We’re in the middle of a conversation—”
“I know, I know. Sorry. Sorry…” Edward scrambled to his feet, blushing like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t as a dark-haired woman appeared in the kitchen doorway, peering at us with an expression of annoyance.
“Is that—” my memory coughed up the name of one of our sister’s friends. “Gracie?!”
Edward looked cornered.
The Gracie I remembered had been a prim, Jewish twelve-year-old with an affinity for books above her reading level. She sure as hell wasn’t a twelve-year-old now; grown up and filled out in ways that couldn’t be disguised even beneath shapeless blue medical scrubs and sensible shoes.
“Hellooo nurse,” I got to my feet.
“It’s doctor, actually,” Gracie crossed her arms and gave me a once-over. I wondered how I looked to her; blue-haired and dressed in all black with a dozen metal objects perforating my face.
“Of course it is,” I said. “You were always the smart one.”
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Gracie, you remember Damen,” Edward sighed.
A stab in the back.
“Sorry to interrupt, I just came by to see my grandmother—didn’t realize I’d be busting in.” I offered her my hand. Gracie took it hesitantly, like she was worried about something rubbing off.
“Okay, well…it’s fine. I should get going anyway.”
Gracie slipped her hand out of my fingers to retrieve her purse off the back of a chair and turned to find Edward standing in her path.
“You’re going? Already?”
“I’ve got a shift in half an hour, and I think we’ve…probably said everything that needs to be said.” She stepped around him in a businesslike way. I wasn’t sure what I’d interrupted, but it sounded juicy.
“But…we’re not…c’mon—” Edward stumbled over the words, dogging her steps like a sad, hopeful pound puppy pleading for a forever home. “At least can I give you a ride? Please?” He managed to get between Gracie and the front door, effectively blocking her attempted escape. Gracie puffed out a resigned sigh and stopped in her tracks.
Edward turned to me. “Give me the keys.”
“The keys to the GTO. I saw it out front. I’m taking Gracie to work.”
“Fuck no—you’re not driving my fucking car.”
“It’s my car,” Edward’s voice was low but steady. There was a steely look in his eye that I’d seen before but not often. The look that said I’d gone too far. “Give me the keys.”
I retrieved the keyring from my pocket and dangled it in front of Edward’s face by the rabbit’s foot. He swiped for it and I jerked it away.
“Ah ah ah—what do we say?”
“You’re a sonovabitch.”
“Don’t talk about Mom that way.”
“You know what? I’m going to wait outside,” Gracie said, cutting between us to get to the door. “Come on out once you’re done knocking your heads together.” She cast a backward look at Edward to tell him he was being childish, and then slammed the door behind her.
I punched Edward in the shoulder. “Gracie Weiss? You’re fucking Gracie Weiss?”
“I’m not ff—” Edward stumbled over the curse and blushed. “It’s not like that.”
“Is she your girlfriend?”
“No…It’s complicated. She’s doing her residency. She doesn’t have time for a relationship.”
“Is that what she tells you?”
“Yes?” Edward curled in on himself defensively and looked confused. “It’s true…?” He said it as a statement, but every fiber of his body was turning it into a question. In his distress, his left hand reached up to twist in his hair in an unconscious, self-comforting gesture, and his right hand reached up to pull it down.
I knew it was cruel to tease him: he’d been in a car accident as a kid and a traumatic brain injury had scrambled his egg pretty good. The two halves of his brain were no longer on speaking terms. He could take apart an engine and put it back together, but he was so dyslexic he couldn’t read. Kind people described him as ‘high functioning’, but his left hand literally did not know what his right hand was doing.
“Sure, whatever,” I shrugged it off like it was no big deal. “Whatever, you’re happy right now, right? Who cares if it doesn’t last?”
Edward took another swipe for the keys, this time catching the rabbit’s foot in his fist, but I held on, pulling him in close.
“Manners. What do we say?”
Edward focused on the key ring in his hand and seemed to center himself.
“I almost have enough to make the…numbers…” he said in an apparent non-sequitur. He seemed to be staring at a point in the middle distance like an oracle receiving a prophecy.
“Cool story, bruh.”
“To buy it, I mean. The GTO.”
His left hand made a grabbing gesture in the air, moving an invisible object from one place to another. He seemed to survey his work. “Dearie could help…”
“Where is Dearie, anyway?” I asked, annoyed that I no longer commanded his full attention.
“In the garden. Telling the bees.”
“Clear as blue mud, Edebevic.”
Edward just shrugged like it wasn’t his job to make me understand. He had more important things on his mind. “Can I, you know, mostly buy it? Pay you the rest when I get it?”
“Talk to me when you get the full amount,” I told him, knowing I was being cruel, and he didn’t know why or what he’d done to deserve it. He nodded, shoulders sagging the tiniest bit. No matter what I did he still wouldn’t hate me. I dangled the keys in front of him again.
“Say the magic word.”
“Bring it back full,” I said and dropped them into his hand.
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