Chapter 11: November
November, tenth. It was Kevin’s twenty-first birthday today and Max had put off calling him the entire day. He rarely procrastinated, but Kevin was still mourning and Max did not want to say happy birthday to his brother when he knew this day would be anything but happy. It was his first birthday in fifteen years without Perry and Max didn’t know if the phone call would make him feel better or worse.
He had called his mother earlier and she told him that Kevin had taken off a few days ago. He’d said nothing about where he was going or when he was coming back, but his brother leaving home was an indication that he wanted to be alone and this made Max second-guess giving him a call. Instead, he decided to text Jordan.
Max: Have you called Kevin yet?
Jordan: Nope. Not sure what to say to him
Jordan: Ah, the pot and the kettle. Which one are you?
Max: The pot. I think you should call him first.
Jordan: NO WAY! I went into the room so now it’s your turn.
Max groaned his frustration, knowing that even a text version of rock, paper, scissors would not convince Jordan.
“He’s your brother, Max,” Danny said from behind him. “You’ve been toying with your phone all day so just bite the bullet and call him.”
Still feeling wary, Max scrolled down his contact list to Kevin’s number. It rang twice before he answered.
The light tone was not what he had been expecting to hear. “Hey, Kev. Happy birthday.”
“Mom says you’re not at home.”
There was a slight pause before he responded. “Yeah…I…uh…there’s something I need to do…for Perry.”
Max didn’t ask what the something was. It was obviously personal. Instead he kept the conversation general. “So where are you?”
Max heard shuffling and then the opening and closing of a door before Kevin’s voice came over the line again.
“I just had to get out of there. It’s the only way I can get some privacy.”
“Where are you?” Max asked again.
“In the middle of nowhere,” his brother shouted with exasperation, “stuck on this road trip with a girl who is literally fucking bat-shit crazy!”
“You have a low tolerance for people. I’m sure she’s not that bad.”
“Psycho is definitely bad. She’s like Shane. She doesn’t stop talking. Fucking Virgos!”
Max laughed. Even though they all hated it, their mother’s obsession with star signs had filtered down to all of them.
“Her mouth runs on a motor,” Kevin continued, “just on and on and on. I can’t stand her! She’s driving me fucking insane. I’m ready to strangle myself.”
Kevin did not talk much but when he did, he cursed…a lot. Although his words were harsh, his tone was still light and Max couldn’t help but wonder if this bat-shit crazy girl was the right kind of distraction for his little brother. Kevin’s hurt was clearly overshadowed by his annoyance. The boy who hated talking was now stuck with a girl who didn’t shut up and maybe that was exactly what he needed.
“So she took us on a like…a hundred thousand mile detour,” Kevin complained, “and instead of this trip taking a few days, it’s gonna take weeks. Weeks, Max! Fucking weeks alone with this girl, day in and day out. I won’t survive—”
Max heard the door open and close again.
“Hang on a second, Max.”
“Jazz, where are you going?” he heard his brother say.
“To the store,” a girl responded with a weird accent.
“You can’t walk alone at night. I’ll come with you.”
“Kevin, it’s just across the parking lot. You can watch me walk there from here. Besides, black belt in tae-kwon-do, remember? Anyone comes at me and I turn into a swirling storm of death. Kick, quick jab and—”
“Yeah. Yeah,” Kevin said, brushing her off. “I get it. Go on with your bad self.” There were a few seconds of silence before he spoke again. “See what I mean, Max? Fucking bat-shit crazy!”
Max chuckled. He hadn’t heard Kevin talk so much in a long while and it was refreshing. “You’re gonna stand outside until she gets back, aren’t you?” Max asked.
“For someone who can’t stand her, you sure are protective.”
“Shut up, Max! She’s not street-smart, alright? Black belt, my ass. Give her waffles and ice-cream and even aliens could abduct her without much of a fight.”
“Whatever you say, Kev. Enjoy the rest of your birthday.”
Kevin exhaled an exaggerated breath on the other end. “Yeah, I’ll try. Thanks again for the call.”
And with that, Max hung up the phone and texted Jordan.
Max: You can call him. He seems to be doing okay.
Jordan: Cool. Gonna call him now.
He pushed his phone into his pocket and smiled to himself. Kevin had not sounded happy, but he had not sounded sad either and Max concluded that this road trip might be the best thing to help his little brother move on after Perry’s death.
* * * * *
“That was a day well-spent,” Amber said as they walked out of Madame Fouche’s Day Spa.
“I agree,” Lauren said from behind them. “And, Danielle, I know that you are busy now, but please do not let another two months go by before you contact us again.”
Danny knew Lauren was merely teasing, but she still felt a jab of guilt. They had always made time for her when she did not have a job and yet she had been so overwhelmed with projects and events for the last few weeks that she had not even bothered to pick up the phone.
“I’m sorry, Lauren. I’m still finding my feet and learning how to balance—”
“Do not apologize, dear. I understand completely.”
Amber stopped on the sidewalk and turned to Danny. “You don’t have to rush off, do you? I was thinking we could grab a cup of coffee.”
“Sure,” Danny replied.
“How about you, Lauren? Care to join us?”
“I actually have to get going, girls. My grandchildren are with me for the weekend and I promised my husband I would not be long.”
Lauren bid them farewell and they walked two blocks down to Amber’s favorite café. The air was refreshingly cool today as the beginning of winter approached. It was a welcomed break from the unrelenting heat they had experienced this summer.
Amber ordered a Chai Latte and Danny ordered a cappuccino at the counter before they seated themselves at a table near the window.
“God, I’ve missed you,” Amber said, tugging off her jacket. “And I’m loving the hair.”
Danny twirled her fingers in her short dark hair. She had added blonde highlights last week and she was quite happy with the new look.
“It’s very Halle Berry,” Amber said. “It suits you. Now tell me. How the hell have you been?”
“Great! Life couldn’t be more perfect.” She pulled a business card out of her purse and showed it to Amber. “I started my own company.”
Amber looked impressed as she studied the card. “Making memories,” she read aloud. “Good name.”
“Yeah. I’m doing weddings now and birthday parties so it seemed appropriate. How have you been doing?”
“Good. I’ve been working really hard and my boss decided to give me an extended vacation. This will be my first real vacation in three years so I’m spending Christmas at a ski-lodge with my parents. Maybe Santa will feel generous this year and give me a handsome skiing instructor.” She giggled as she sipped her latte. “You’re going to Montana with Max, right?”
Danny scraped the foam off the top of her cappuccino and licked it off the spoon. “Yeah. They don’t really do anything for Thanksgiving, but they make a big deal about Christmas. I’m super excited to meet his family. A little nervous too. I guess every girlfriend goes through it.”
Amber smiled with a hint of wariness. “How are things…going? Between you and Max, I mean. Has he told you…anything more about your past or…your relationship?”
Danny could not help but feel that there was more to Amber’s questions than what was actually asked. “There are certain things that are not up for discussion,” she replied simply. “He’s generally very open, but as soon as Richard comes up, he just shuts off. It’s okay, though. I’ve come to accept that my relationship with Richard isn’t something he wants to talk about…and I don’t really need to know exactly what happened. Max has never lied to me and I trust him completely so I’m also trusting his judgment when it comes to my ex.”
Amber was gnawing on her thumb nail now, looking stressed and nervous.
“Is something the matter, Amber?”
“No,” she replied immediately.
Yet Danny still could not shake the feeling that she was holding something back. There was something about Richard that put all of them on edge. He truly was Voldemort.
“Danny,” Amber began slowly, “how…how do you feel about…Max?”
Danny found the question odd for one reason and one reason only. Max had done the same thing. After talking about Richard, he too had wanted confirmation about how she felt about him. She wanted to probe further then decided against it. She did not want yet another day to be ruined because of a man she didn’t know or care for. Instead she focused on the question that was asked. “I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “It’s been a little over seven months and I know that’s not a long time, but I…I’m in love with him.”
The tension left Amber’s shoulders and was replaced by a smile.
“My brain doesn’t remember,” Danny continued, “but it’s like…it’s like my heart knows him. I don’t know if you can understand what that feels like. I don’t even understand it. What I feel for him is beyond understanding…beyond conscious thought. I feel like I don’t need a past to build a future with him. I love him, Amber, and nothing will ever change that.”