Ryan Gunn | Monique Laffite
Tori pulled the top sheet off the bed and wrapped it around herself on her way to the bathroom, leaving Isaac exposed. When she closed the door, he grabbed for a cigarette from the pack of Parliaments on the bedside table. After fumbling around for a moment, he found the orange 7-Eleven lighter lodged between the mattress and headboard. He tried to light it a few times, but was met only with dull clicks in response.
“Here, use this one.” Tori had reappeared in the doorway. She tossed him another lighter—a silver butane one that he knew she kept by the sink so she could smoke while she showered.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
“You’re not crying…”
“Should I be?” With a single click the butane lighter’s steady blue flame ignited the end of Isaac’s cigarette. He leaned back against the headboard and inhaled deeply.
“Two funerals in one year? I would be. Plus if you were crying, you might’ve gotten away with stealing one of my smokes.” Tori walked over and yanked down a long black dress that had been hanging from one of the bed posts. She tossed it across the room where it joined a forgotten suit jacket and slacks. “After your mom died, Christian always used to cry after sex. But you’ve never been much of a crier, have you?” She paused for a moment, waiting for a response. When none came, she demanded one.
“You’re always so closed off,” she huffed. “Just tell me something, anything to let me know there is a heart beating in there.”
Isaac reluctantly handed the cigarette to her and threw his arms up behind his head. “What do you want to know?”
“Were you and Christian close?”
“We were as close as brothers can be until I was about twelve.”
She slid back into bed with him. “Tell me about it.”
“We used to sit on the curb on this street near Grandma’s house on really hot days in the summer, back when I was nine or ten.” He talked slowly, letting the words ooze from his mouth like sap from a pine. “Christian had all of these multi-colored rubber-bands from when Grandma had got him this rubber-band ball kit for his birthday. We would sling them off our thumbs and try and hit drivers through their open windows.”
Tori leaned on Isaac and put the hand without the cigarette around his waist. “That sounds like something Christian would do.”
“Usually we just hit the doors or missed completely. But this one time, I see this construction worker driving his Ford pickup—the damn thing has chrome flames on the grill—and when I let the band loose, it hits him straight in the temple. He slams on his brakes and hops out of the cab. Christian bolts, but I don’t move. The big guy walks up, shoves me to the ground, and puts his steel-toed-boot-clad foot right on the side of my face. He growls at me—he says, ‘Son you better be slinging bullets next time, because if you hit me in the head with anything ever again and it don’t kill me, I’ll be cleaning your brain-snot off this boot.’ And then he drives off.”
“Christian didn’t help you?”
“After the guy left, he comes out of behind some bushes and walks me back to Grandma’s. When we open the front door he breaks down and starts crying. Grandma sees us — Christian, beet-faced and bawling, me with flecks of asphalt still clinging to my cheek — and says, ‘Christian Daniels, what did you do this time.’”
“I bet she said that a lot,” Tori said with a laugh.
He smirked and a rare sparkle of nostalgia lit his eyes. “Yeah, she did. He never learned though.”
Climbing on top of Isaac, she unwrapped the sheet from around her body. “Christian never really found his true north, did he?”
She offered him the cigarette. He accepted its final harsh drag before saying, “No, but I suppose neither have we.”
He squashed the smoldering butt of the cigarette into an ash tray stuffed with dozens of others just like it standing up like clustered gravestones on a tiny ash hill.