The old floor boards creaked as Donovan paced. He straightened a painting then realigned the coffee table with the sofa. He noticed a spot in the corner and got on his knees to investigate.
“I don’t think she’s gonna inspect the corners,” Jasper said, “she doesn’t seem like the kind of person to care.”
“You don’t know her like I do. Everything needs to be perfect.”
“It is, everything’s perfect. You have your fancy appies, and mildly expensive South African wine.”
“I should have got the white.” Donovan picked up the bottle he’d left on the table. “I think she likes white. I can’t even remember! How messed up is that? I can’t even remember if my best friend likes red wine or white.”
“It doesn’t matter now. You got the red. I like the red.”
Donovan felt his stomach churn. If Jasper liked the red there’s no way Vicky would. “I should’ve got the white.” He started pacing again, twisting his hands into a tangle of knuckles. He felt Jasper’s strong grip on his elbow and turned to the man.
“You’re getting worked up over nothing,” Jasper said, “you don’t wanna melt down right before she gets here, do you?”
The back of Donovan’s throat began to itch and swell. He scratched at his neck and inhaled deeply through his nose. “I just--it – I...” He shook his head and collapsed against Jasper’s chest. “I need this to be perfect.”
“I know.” Jasper stroked the back of Donovan’s head as they drew closer to each other. “And it will be, I promise.”
“I wish Heather wasn’t sick. Vicky always liked Heather. Heather would have--” Donovan’s face paled as he thought of his boyfriend and best friend trying to engage in a conversation. “Evened things out.”
As Jasper opened his mouth to respond, the door bell rang. “She’s here!” Donovan leapt into the air and turned to the stairs. “She’s here, she’s here, she’s here.” He felt lighter and heavier at the same time as he rushed to answer the door. Half way down the stairs of his second floor flat, Donovan felt a rotting plank of wood crack under his weight. “Damn,” he said as he crouched to inspect the damage. From his lower vantage point, he could see Vicky standing outside the front door. She had her back to him, her head was shaking and her finger was in the air. She was angry, even without hearing her he could tell that. Moving further down the stairs revealed the target of Vicky’s aggression--a tall, dark skinned man whose shocked expression quickly turned to a hollow smile when he saw Donovan through the door.
As Donovan turned the knob, Vicky spun around and composed herself. She screamed and Donovan felt himself freeze as she wrapped him up in a huge hug. “I can’t believe I’m here! I missed you so much!”
“Noah.” Donovan nodded over Vicky’s shoulder at the man. “Didn’t realize you were coming too.”
Vicky laughed and spoke up before Noah had a chance. “Yeah, well, we both needed a night away from the kids.”
“Kids!” Had it really been so long since he’d seen Noah? “You have a--”
“Ha!” Noah laughed as Donovan led the way upstairs. “No! I just help my sister out a lot. Her little guy’s a lotta work.”
“That’s nice.” Donovan smiled at his old friend, then turned back to Vicky. “And your little brat? How’s she?”
There was a moment of hesitation, Vicky couldn’t hide it no matter how hard she tried. Her mouth dropped just a little, her eyes darted to the floor and in a flash she was smiling again. “She’s my shining star.”
“Right.” Donovan pushed open the living room door and noticed Vicky’s eyes roll toward the ceiling.
“Hey.” Jasper waved from the couch.
“Oh, hi,” She said and her shoulders slumped.
Jasper was chewing his lip, but as Noah entered the room Donovan saw him perk up. “Noah! I didn’t know you were coming.”
“When Vicky invited me--”
“Invited you?” Vicky flopped into a chair. “I barely mentioned it and you were all ‘Ooo, let me come, I wanna come.’ How could I stop you?”
“What? That’s not--”
“Is that wine I see?” Vicky cut Noah off again and Donovan could see him grinding his teeth.
“You already had three drinks before we came.”
“Just shut up!” She didn’t look at Noah as she said it but still her expression was cold enough to freeze the room.
After a fraction of a silence, Donovan uncorked the bottle. “You had three drinks already?”
“Like I said, it’s my night away from the kid.” Vicky held her glass out without getting up from her seat. Donovan felt something pull him back as he lifted the bottle. He looked at Vicky, then her glass and finally tipped a bit of wine into it. “Oh more than that,” Vicky said with a smile and Donovan poured in a drop more before turning to fill Noah’s glass. Vicky sniffed her drink and took a sip. “You only got red, huh?”
Donovan blushed as he sat next to Jasper. “Yeah, sorry.”
“No, it’s fine.” She smiled at him but it looked forced. “Where’s your roommate anyway? What’s her name? Heather?”
“She’s sleeping.” Donovan downed his wine and looked at Jasper for help. “Been sick all day.”
“Well she’s been a little off all week, really.” Jasper seemed to pick up on Donovan’s distress. He positioned himself between the two friends, giving Donovan a chance to catch his breath. “Since the accident.”
Vicky put down her glass and pressed her hand to her chest. “Accident? What accident?”
“You know.” As Jasper wiggled his eye brows Donovan couldn’t help but be impressed by the man’s ability to distract from the tension at hand. “That fat guy who exploded in the street?”
Vicky’s eyes grew wide. “Was she there? Did she see it?” Jasper nodded. “You know, my boss’ sister knew the guy.” Vicky reached forward for an appetizer, she looked alive in the middle of such gossip. “She says he started going crazy a couple months back, talking about meteors and fire. Then all of the sudden he just blew up like a whale. They said on the news he was full of powder or something? Like anthrax! What if Heather’s sick from it? What if we all get sick just being here?”
“It wasn’t anthrax.” Noah shook his head, ever the realist. “It wasn’t anything. They tested all the witnesses and none of them showed any signs of breathing in a glittering powder, and they couldn’t find a single trace of it on any surface or even lingering in the air. It was some sorta mass hysteria. It was such a traumatizing event that--”
“Oh, right.” Vicky picked up her glass again and tossed the wine back in an almost violent way. “Cause Mr. Can’t-finish-nursing-school knows all about anthrax and shared psychosis.”
Noah sucked his teeth. He finished his drink just as quickly as his friends and everything went quiet. During the silence, a sound drifted in through the open window behind Noah’s head. “Is someone screaming out there?”
“Oh, that’s the neighbours.” Donovan moved to close the window. “The dad’s hardly ever home but when he is he’s always yelling. I feel bad for the kids but they never look hurt or anything, just kinda sad. The boy was at the accident too, ya know.” He wanted to change the subject back to something that would put a smile on Vicky’s face. “Heather said she found him all by himself, poor guy.”
Vicky seemed more than pleased to change the subject back to the accident. “You know, I’m pretty sure they’re talking about it on the news tonight.”
“Why?” Jasper asked and Donovan knew he was going to cross one of Vicky’s invisible lines. “Is there really anything left to say? Just let it go.”
“It’s a memorial!” Vicky reached the remote before Jasper and she flipped the television on. “To all the people who died! Have some respect.”
Donovan’s phone started ringing and he glanced at the screen. He recognized his sister’s name and ignored the call.
Vicky flipped through the channels as she continued speaking. “There were like, twenty casualties.”
“Nine.” Noah corrected but he went ignored.
“It was totally the worst crash the city’s ever seen!”
Noah rolled his eyes. ”Third worst,” he said but his words were entirely lost.
Donovan’s phone started to ring again and this time he turned the ringer off.
“It’s tragic and I wanna see what they’re gonna say.” Vicky found the local station and put the remote down. She got up to refill her glass and glanced down at the flashing phone in Donovan’s hand. “Someone really wants to talk to ya.”
“It’s just my sister.”
“Maybe you should answer it?” Vicky drained the bottle into her glass and stood over him with her arms crossed.
“I don’t think so. What’s so important that she needs to talk to me right now, after all this time?”
“What was so important that you needed to see me today?” She sipped her drink and turned away. Donovan didn’t want to tell her it was all Jasper’s idea.
“What ever,” he said, “it doesn’t matter.”
“It kinda does.” Vicky took another sip and grinned, her lips were turning purple. “Family matters, Donnie. I’d be lost without my mom.”
“And your shining star,” Donovan silently dared her to show just a moment of that emotional uncertainty she had displayed earlier. “You’d be lost without her too. Right?”
Vicky’s grin cracked for a split second before she nodded and agreed. “And my shining star.”