At ten AM sharp Sophie arrived at her mother’s house, between Cason and her horror client, Philip Nigel, she was going to have an ulcer before noon.
She sat in the car talking with Philip - more like going trying to smooth out the Rocky Mountains - when the Barney’s arrived She waved at them as they filed past her toward the front steps.
Bart looked immaculate in his relaxed white linen chinos silk shirt and matching cravat. His gator skin boots and matching belt Sophie knew were the same cost as her luxury SUV. She waved at them booth, her A/C blasting. The weather had turned drippingly humid and on the horizon a promising thunder head began to build.
Mrs. Barney waved her pink manicured hand at Sophie, and pausing beside her window pulling out a round fluffy white object with black beady eyes. She made it wave with one of it’s front paws before depositing it back into her purse. Sophie smiled and waved back as Philip Nigel droned on in her ear about Knight Interior’s lack of attention to his details and their inferior personnel that he’d like to take out behind the woodshed. Sophie ignored it all and realized that brunch had gotten eye-twitchingly worse with the arrival of Mrs. Barney’s purse pooch.
Back to her conversation, Philip paused and Sophie jumped in, “Yes, Mr. Nigel. I completely understand, we’ll review the contract on Monday and see what can be done. Have a good weekend.” She said and hung up.
Sophie tossed her cell into her purse then slipped out of her SUV and adjusted her flowing shirt and hip hugging jeans. Her mother would tisk about the jeans but it was her small rebellion at being coerced into sitting down with the Barney’s. She ran her fingers through her chin straight hair before slamming the door shut and shouldering her purse, headed in.
Helen exclaimed a bright hello at her daughter from the living room as she walked in. Sophie shoved the door shut with the heel of her pump, “Hi mom, Mrs. Barney, Bart.” She said with a sweet smile, “How are y’all?”
“Oh, we’re doing very well Sophie dear,” Lucille Barney said, her auburn dyed hair pulled back into a jeweled clip, “I was just explaining to your mother that Miles is such a new addition to our house that we couldn’t - just couldn’t - leave him at home. Your mother is so sweet to let him stay, he’s really a good boy,” Mrs. Barney said turning back to Helen to thank her again.
Bart raised a slender hand up in greeting, his smile nearly as iridescent as his palmaded hair, “Sophie, sooo good to see you.” He said taking her hand as she approached, giving it an odd gentlemanly kiss on her knuckles, “You look amazing, have you done something new? Your skin positively glowing.” He said excitedly.
Sophie wanted to say that it wasn’t her skin but the smell of a fat paycheck and the glow of an investment nestegg to be had. “I have, a new skin care product, thanks for noticing.” She lied then said, “You’re looking well as well, are you still heading up your own firm, Barney and Associates?”
“Yes, and doing great, I could barely make it today with all the work I have to get done. But duty calls!” he said with a girly exasperated glance at his mother behind him.
“You are too kind to escort your mother here this morning, I know we’re all looking forward to catching up,” she said not mentioning that she’d never seen him without his mother and that word on the investment circuit was that he was still managing just one account, his mother’s. Though, it was real work. Since their fortune, as they were want to remind folks at every opportunity, was vast.
Sophie gestured down the hall and said, “I’m just going to put my purse down, I’ll be right back.” And locate the bastard Cason and drag his ass out. She thought as she smiled and ducked down the hall.
She tossed her purse onto her mother’s purple paisley covered queen bed and closed the door quietly. Cason’s door was shut but she heard the distinct sounds of someone behind it. Particularly the sounds of someone breathing behind it.
Sophie walked back down the short hall and without knocking slipped into Cason’s room dodging being seen by anyone in the living room. The room was well lit from the bank of windows facing the front. Her brother Ryan’s bed was still made as the day it had been left last, next to it was what Sophie assumed the cot Cason slept on. The dresser had just four items on it, stick of deodorant, prescription pills, wallet and keys. The walls were bare save for a concrete company calendar that had Cason’s neat scribble on it. A small tidy pile of laundry was behind the door next to the closet. Under the cot was a wood trunk in military green with a lock and black block letters that said C. McPherson.
It’s owner stood in front of his closet, his shirt halfway on, his slacks resting on his hips and a very surprised expression on his face.
“What the hell - are you trying to catch me without my clothes on?”
Sophie gave him a scathing look as he pulled his white undershirt down over his abdomen. He tucked it into his pants as she said, “No asshole, I’m trying to figure out why you’re dodging the party.” She said and pushed him aside looking into his closet, “You need a better shirt.”
“Yes, welcome. Make yourself at home.”
“This was my home.”
“Hence the was.”
She sifted through his shirts, “I have a shirt out.” He said nodding to the bed.
“I saw, Bart showed up in alligator skin couture. I’m helping you so shut up.”
“Couture? The UFC fighter?”
She turned her black gaze on him, “A what fighter?”
“Right.” She said and continued to dig, “Is this all you have?”
“What,” he asked leaning against the wall and crossing his arms, “Surprised there’s none of that couture?”
“No, but— Oh…” she said and stepped into the closet to dig out something at it’s very back, “Oh yes.”
“No. I’m not wearing that.” He said, his voice calm and definitive to Sophie’s turned back.
“It’ll be tight for sure. But form fitting we can work with, take off your undershirt.” She said pulling the fine tight weave of a long sleeve in pitch black off it’s hangar.
“Fuck you Sparling.”
“Tell me something you don’t want to do. Now take it off.” She said pointing to his white undershirt.
A warm flush of color spread through his cheeks, “Fine.” He said and pulled it off and tossing it onto his cot snatched the black button down out of her hand.
Sophie knew she’d be right, the fit was snug but what was obvious was that what Cason lacked in financial backing he more than made up in physique. Wide shoulders slimmed to tight hips that cut a beautiful angle in his gray slacks.
Cason buttoned up as Sophie asked, “Where’d you get this?”
“What do you care?”
“Just want to know if you actually have taste or it came by accident.” She said.
He glared at her, “By accident.”
“So who has the fine taste? A past girlfriend?”
His lips went to a thin line, “My mother.”
Sophie thought of the woman who had been so drunk during Cason’s youth that envisioning her purchasing anything that wasn’t hooch was hard. “That’s weird.”
“Why did she buy it?”
“What’s with the twenty questions?”
“I’m trying out a new technique. If I can’t be nice, ask questions.”
He looked up and glared at her, “I like the silence better.”
She smiled caustically, “Tough shit. So why’d she buy it?”
Cason took his time with his buttons and with answering her questions. Eventually he answered, “She probably got it for my dad then remembered when she sobered up that he’d left her.”
“Huh.” She said then, “Well, either way it fits great.” He secured the top two buttons as Sophie said, “No, leave two open and yeah that belt will work.”
“Leave it open? No.” He said and buttoned the shirt to the top, “I was instructed to wear a tie.”
“My mother has old fashioned sensibilities, leave it open.”
He snatched the belt from Sophie, “Has she caught a look at you yet?” he said giving her jeans a glance.
“No.” Sophie said, then as his hands were busy looping his belt she yanked his top two buttons open.
He just looked up at her, “Really?”
“No need to rip my goddamn shirt off.”
“I will rip those goddamn buttons off if you try to button it again.”
“Ever think to ask nicely?”
She raised her brows at him, “With you? Never.”
“Right.” He said, the chill in the room barely warming between them, “Your mother’s gonna pull what you just did when she sees you. You might as well be in your pajamas.” He said buckling his belt.
“There are things girls can get away with that boys can’t. Such as wearing four inch heels with jeans makes it instantly upscale.” She said pulling slightly at his tightly tucked shirt.
Cason cast her a dark gaze then stepped out of her reach to fasten his cuffs, “Sounds more like sexism.”
Sophie made a sound at the back of her throat, “It’s amazing that you a.) know that word and b.) used it properly.”
“I’m here to amaze.”
Sophie stepped back and looked at Cason.
“Why do I feel like a set of drapes at one of your clients?” Cason mumbled.
Ignoring him she said, “That must be a thousand thread count of grade A Egyptian cotton the way your shirt has a sheen like that. And the reason you don’t need a tie is that we don’t cover that bone structure,” she said gesturing toward the open neck of his shirt. Hard labor and southern sun made his skin golden like Apollo the God of Sun himself. The contrast to the dark of his hair and brows made his features sharp, and sharpened further by the black of his shirt. Sophie mused that even though he might not have it, he did look like a million dollars.
“You going to stand there and eye-fuck me all day or are we going to have brunch?”
Sophie’s gaze went to his, then she turned for the door, “I was just thinking that it’s too bad I hate you. You do have a great body.”
“Wow, Soph.” He said following behind her, adjusting his collar, “That was almost nice of you to say.”
“We have to work together today, but starting first thing tomorrow I’ll be back to trying to run you over with my car.”
Back out in the living room, Sophie helped her mother bring out trays of small breakfast sausages, pots of tea, tea cups, biscuits and fruit.
Cason had waited a few moments before joining the Barney’s in the living room. Sophie was in the kitchen when he finally emerged.
Sophie thought it was as if he stayed behind and put on a different personality because the tray of fruit in her hand slipped slightly when she heard his voice loud and cheerful say, “Bart, Mrs. Barney good to see you both.”
Cason strode to Bart, a camaraderie grin on his face, and shook his hand firmly, giving his shoulder a double pat with his other. It was as if they’d been best friends for decades. The affect was obvious though, Bart was beaming and his mother was tripping over herself to bathe next in his limelight.
Sophie allowed herself a private smile, she had offered him a challenge when she’d dressed him and he was going with it. Playing it to the T.
Helen ducked into the kitchen and took the fruit tray from Sophie, “I’m not sure I’ve seen a man as handsome as Cason looks. Have you? He sure has blossomed today hasn’t he?”
“A flower blossom isn’t really what I’d call what’s happening in our living room… But I do want to know where he’s been hiding that personality.” Sophie said dryly.
“You know, you could take a page out of Cason’s book on dress attire. What were you thinking wearing jeans? Look at him,” she said gesturing behind herself. Cason was smiling, a masculine grin that creased his cheeks and pleasantly narrowed his eyes so that they exuded danger and mischief. “He could be on the cover of one of your generation’s magazine for men. What’s that famous one called, Maxim? Yes he could be on the cover of Maxim.”
Sophie raised a brow at her mother, “I can see that you haven’t actually seen a copy of that magazine. You mean GQ.”
“Yes, well. He’s a cover model for sure,” she said looking at her daughter, “Unlike this getup you’re wearing.”
“I’m rebelling, and not everyone wears slacks and blouses with their best pearls to brunch anymore mom.” She said notating her mother’s outfit.
“Well, I don’t care for the new look.” Helen said giving her daughter a disapproving once over.
“I’ll get the mimosas going.” Sophie said and stuck her head into the refrigerator, as her mother took the fruit plate out to the guests. Sophie stood in the cool doorway of the fridge wishing she could just climb in and close the door.
She pulled the champagne and orange juice out onto the counter and looked out the kitchen window to the sky in the distance. Pausing she parted the lace cafe curtains for a better look. Off on the horizon the blue sky was now black. The shelf of dark clouds was moving in and it seemed was sucking out the air of the atmosphere ahead of it.
Sophie reached for the glasses as she said loud enough for the other’s to hear, “Looks like there’s a storm com—”
A deep rumble of thunder cut off her voice as it moved through the sky in the distance. In unison with the thunder, the pocket dog Miles, let out a series of answering shouts to the booming thunder. His bark pierced the air in machine gun repetition.
Sophie cringed and turned toward the noise in the living room in time to see Lucille and Bart rush to him in Lucille’s purse.
Mrs. Barney got to him first, “Oh hush now Miles. Hush.”
She picked him up out of her purse with one hand, but the little dog squirmed and she lost tea out the side of her cup onto the carpet.
“Here mother, give him to me.” Bart said.
Lucille turned away from her son toward Helen, “Oh Helen! I’m so sorry about the carpet!”
“Mother.” Bart tried to say over the yapping.
“No that’s okay.” Helen shouted putting down a linen napkin on the spill.
Cason, on the other side of the couch, watched the commotion. He seemed to be waiting for something. Miles squiggled out of his owner’s grip and jumped down onto the couch.
“Oh well that’s better then,” Mrs. Barney said to the dog.
The ball of fur paced the couch scratching the air with his high-pitched barks, Cason moved in just as he stilled and wet himself.
“Oh no! No, bad Miles! Bad Miles!” Mrs. Barney said picking him up under his front legs.
Cason just turned then and headed into the kitchen to where Sophie stood away from the chaos. Ripping a handful to paper towels from the roll he mumble under his breath, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Did you see that coming?”
“A mile away.”
“Good lord, how can this day get worse?” She mumbled back.
Sophie got the baking soda down as she heard her mother say, “Oh, no. Don’t worry about that Lucille. Bart, no it’s okay really, accidents happen.”
Her mother had been a medical assistant to the local pediatrician for her entire career. She’d seen many accidents and this was no big deal. Other than the fact that they’d never owned a pet because her mother was a firm believer that animals belonged outdoors in the wild. Not as entertainment pieces in the home.
Sophie went to the living room with the box of baking soda, Bart was making soothing sounds at the barking Miles and rubbing his mother’s back.
“Mrs. Barney,” Sophie said over the hollering, “He’ll be fine in the garage if you want to put him back there?”
Lucille and Bart turned from the shouting furball, Bart’s face was shocked, “In the garage?” Lucille gasped.
“Yes?” Sophie said not sure of what was atrocious about that option, “We can make him a little bed and a bowl of water if that would make him more comfortable?”
“What on God’s green Earth would prompt me to place him in the garage and treat him in such an indelicate like manner? Shall Bart or I spend the afternoon there as well?”
Sophie looked at her mother and Cason, both having carefully blank expressions, “I assumed that was the appropriate solution for a dog that’s not house broken...”
“He is perfectly housebroken, I assure you!” Mrs. Barney exclaimed. She scooped up Miles in one motion and clutched him to her chest. Miles quieted under the bodily pressure to a growl.
“My apologies. I assumed he had urinated on the couch.” Sophie was quickly loosing the last of her minuscule patience that she’d shown up with that day.
Sophie hadn’t seen him leave for the kitchen but felt relief when Cason returned from it with a tray full of mimosas. One was much paler in color, solid champaign, than the others. “I’m sure it will be fine, Sophie was just trying to ease the situation.” Cason said jovially, “Mimosas?”
Sophie looked at him like a stranger as he handed her the light colored glass then turned to the rest of the group giving her a chance to regroup behind him.
“Lucille,” Helen said taking the baking powder from her daughter’s hand and sprinkled it on the couch, “Miles is more than welcome here. And oh my will you look outside?”
Sophie used that distraction to head into the kitchen for further regrouping. Downing her champaign as she did.
The Barney’s happily detracted from the uncomfortable-ness of the previous discussion went to the window with Helen.
“Oh my it sure is coming down out there! My, that reminds me of the storm we survived in ninty-eight.” Lucille exclaimed, excited by the raging weather out the front window, “Barty, you were just a kid then but do you remember how it rattled against the house? We were so glad that we had purchased the top of the line windows the year before when we redecorated the southern rooms. You must purchase the best in everything, Helen, because you never know when it might save your life. We would have surly died that day if we hadn’t!” She exclaimed.
Bart added, “The insurance claims adjuster - we hadn’t but minimal damage on the house that we were having inspected - said that we could have faced up to a half million in damages from flooding if not.”
“Oh, Barty! The details you remember!” Mrs. Barney said and patted her son’s arm, “You’re so right. So, tell me Helen, are these new windows?”
Sophie pulled the open champaign bottle from the fridge and emptied the last of it into her glass as Lucille talked.
“Careful, there’s only three bottles.” Came softly from behind her.
Sophie took a healthy sip straight from the bottle and put it down as the sky erupted. Lightning lit the darkening sky and a few moments later thunder shuddered through the house. Miles announced the arrival of the thunder just as the wind increased its ferocity.
“You sure you don’t want some?” She said offering her glass.
He looked at it with longing as the dog’s barks became shrill. “I wish. Took a pain pill.”
Sophie smiled at her own thought, “You know, it would make this party so much more exciting if you did have a glass.”
“Why, so you can draw on my face when I pass out on the sofa?”
“Naw,” she said looking around him to make sure her mother was handling the yapping and soothing of the Barney’s. “Not draw on your face. Let the dog bark and pee on you? Absolutely.”
He gave her a dark look, “I’m glad that brings you joy.” He said dryly then nodded toward the living room, “Let’s eat our way through the spread in an ‘indelicate like manner.’” He said using air quotes.
Sophie’s stomach rumbled at the suggestion, “I’d say that’s a good idea and add that we could even eat in the garage, but I’m talking to you, so naturally that’s a dumb idea.”
“Naturally.” He said and followed her out to the spread.
“No-no, it’s fine really. He’s no bother.” Helen shouted over the yapping of the small dog.
The champaign warmed Sophie’s limbs and created a gentle haze of indifference as she piled little sausages, fruit and warm buttermilk drop biscuits on her plate. She turned to Cason as she scooped up clotted cream onto her plate whispering to him, “I’m just waiting for him to yap so hard he poots himself.”
Cason grinned holding back a laugh, “That’s not funny.”
“It’d be just a little bean of a thing don’t you think?” She continued dolloping the cream on her fruit, “It’d just shoot right out. Yap! Pop!” she said making a smacking sound with her lips.
Cason’s chest shook with his contained laughter. He moved closer reaching over to the cream as well, “Your mom would lose it.”
Sophie nodded, then whispered leaning in so he could hear over the piercing barks, “Yup, she’d flip her shit. And I’d pay to see that.”
Cason’s brows rose up, as he looked down at her close face, “Maybe you should eat something before you have another glass.”
Sophie picked up a napkin with her champaign glass hand then downed its contents, “You’re right.” She said, “I’ll have another glass.”
She made to move to the kitchen but her mother stopped her, “Sophie honey.” She called.
Sophie turned, and put her hand to her ear and spoke under the dog’s barking, “Hmmmm? What was that?”
“Can you make the Barney’s a plate?” Helen hollered back at her daughter as another rattle of thunder shook the house making the lights flicker.
Sophie looked past her mother out the front window, the sun’s light was slowly being diminished as the black cloud moved over the area. The ambient light in the house dimmed as if someone were turning down the lamps for mood lighting. Back out on the lawn and past the back kitchen window leaves and debris careened past.
She knew her mother was trying to keep the dog away from the couch at the front window, but at the sounds of its yapping it wasn’t helping. But bless her mother, Sophie thought, they were just going to go on as normal.
“I’ll do it.” Cason said to her, then added, “Eat. I might be able to take what you dish out but they can’t.”
“What? I haven’t said anything.” she said taking a mouthful of biscuit dipped judiciously in the cream.
“You might not have said it,” he said picking up two plates and filling them, “But it’s written all over your face.”
“Whatever. You’re not my mother.”
“Amen to that.” Cason said leaving her and taking his laden plates to the Barney’s, as he did Helen joined her and made up a plate.
Sophie realized that going near the Barney’s was like entering a war zone. Mile’s was tolerable across the room, but up close he was deafening. Neither Bart nor his mother were concerned with Mile’s affect on the room as a collective. Sophie felt her blood itch as she turned back to the food. While adding more fruit to her plate she emptied her champaign glass and thought seriously about eating in the garage.
“So help me god.” She heard her mother whisper next to her.
Sophie wasn’t sure that was exactly what she heard between the dog’s barking. “What’s God have to do with it?” Sophie asked with a raised brow, “I think you misspelled dog.”
“Are you drunk?”
“I’m trying to, why?”
“Don’t, I need you sober.” Helen said filling her plate. Bart had taken the plate from Cason and they tried for small talk as Sophie overheard Mrs. Barney say, “Maybe he’s hungry? Are you hungry little Miles? How about a sausage?”
“No mom, that’ll give him gas.” Bart whined.
“Well what then?” she asked genuinely curious.
“Oh Bart, we can’t make decisions for his majesty-wagesty.” She said making fish lips at him as he shrieked in her face. “Just let him decide.” She said up at her son, “Give him the plate.”
“Ah…” Cason said.
Sophie and Helen turned to see Cason watching incredulously as Bart put the plate under the dog’s nose.
“No Bart, he can’t eat in my arms. Put it down on the ground.”
Another crack of thunder and the few lights they’d had on went completely out.
“Oh lord.” Sophie heard her mother say.
“At least it’s not pitch black.”
Sophie saw her mother in the dim room blow out a breath. The dog, she could see in the silhouette of the front window, was ignoring the plate to machine-gun bark louder.
Helen clutched her daughter’s arm, “It’s like nails on the chalk board. Worse yet, they can’t go home in this, and now we can’t see. All we can do is hear and all I can hear is that damn dog!” she hissed.
Cason came up then and touched Helen’s shoulder, “I’ll get the lanterns out of the garage.” Then left.
Sophie was sobered by her mother’s cursing, “Don’t worry mom, I’ll think of something.” Her mother was a calm force of nature who upheld good Southern sensibilities and cursing wasn’t one of them, unless things were bad. This, for her mother was very, very bad.
“The garage was a good idea Soph,” her mother continued and patted her arm, “But they won’t part with the thing!” In the low light Sophie saw her mother put a smile on her face before turning and going to her guests.
Cason came back in with two lanterns and a container of kerosene. She put her plate down in the kitchen as Cason asked, “Where are you going?”
“No where,” she said and slipped from the room and down the hall into Cason’s room.
Inside it was harder to see around than the rest of the house since the windows were smaller than the living room’s plate glass. However, it was farther from the barking and for a moment Sophie just breathed in a sigh of relief.
In the dimness the dresser was as it was when she was in there earlier. Wallet, keys and pills.
Sophie looked at the pill lot, three containers in all. Each one was nearly indistinguishable in the dark. All three dark blue plastic cylinders with labels on them.
Sophie squinted and picking up each one tried reading the labels. She held them toward the front window, but it was no use in the stormy light. There was, she remembered a flashlight in the bathroom, she’d have to take them there.
“Can I help you?” came from behind her.
She looked over at Cason as he shut the bedroom door the yapping getting even quieter.
Sophie sighed, “That’s even quieter.”
“You looking for ear plugs?”
“No, which one of these are your sleeping pills?”
Cason scoffed taking the container out of her hand and tilting toward the front windows, “Why, you thinking of taking a nap through this party?”
“I was thinking that there’s a little dog who could use some rest right about now.”
Cason turned back to her, “One of these would kill it.”
“I know that moron.” She said picking up another bottle off the dresser and doing as Cason did, “We’ll have to cut it really small.”
He put the bottle down and picked up the last one and looked at it.
When he didn’t say anything Sophie could feel his acquiescence. He wouldn’t agree to do this, but he wasn’t stopping her.
“All I can read is -done something.”
He snatched it from her hand and passed her the one he’d had in his hand.
“I’m not helping you with this.”
“Cason, seriously my mother cursed at me just a few minutes ago. I thought I wanted her to flip her shit but the reality is that she’d be mortified if she lost it, probably go into a guilt coma or something. Especially if the Barney’s spoke ill of their time here.”
Cason was quiet for a moment then said, “Gosh Soph, sounds like you do have a heart.”
“That and none of us can leave until the storm passes, and that could be all day.” She said and admitted, “I’ll set fire to the drapes if that dog doesn’t stop yapping soon.”
Cason’s laugh was a low rumble in his chest, “That’s more like it.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his military blade.
“Jesus, Cason. You carry that thing around with you everywhere?”
“Even sleep with it, so don’t try sneaking up on me.” He said handing it to her. The slim steel switch blade was warm from his body heat. She turned it over in her hands, “What am I to do with this thing?”
“The last pills I handed you are the sleeping pills. Unless you plan on biting them smaller, you’ll need that blade.”
“Thank you for letting me not guess what you’re thinking.” She said and wrestled with the folded blade. “How do I open this thing?”
“Hold on,” he said and went to his cot pulling out the trunk. He fiddled with the lock then opened it. It was too dark for Sophie to see into it as Cason riffled through it pulling out two items and cracking them in half.
A low green glow emitted from the two sticks.
Sophie looked past him as he stood, “What’s in there?”
“Nothing.” He said and kicked the lid shut.
“Nothing? You better not have guns in there Cason. You live with my mom, and there had better not be anything explosive in there either—”
“There isn’t. Now, are we going to do this or what?”
Sophie looked back at him, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the glow sticks casting a green hue. “Fine, since when was it a ‘we’ decision?”
“Since I didn’t want to leave Helen’s only child alone with a sharp knife.”
“Ha-ha. And I wouldn’t be her only child if—”
“Leave it.” He said, his voice dark - brooking no argument.
“Fine. I’m feeling punchy anyway since my champaign is wearing off.”
“How small do we want to cut these things?”
“Maybe we should powderize it?”
Cason gave her a look, “And what, ask the dog to snort it with a rolled hundred dollar bill?”
Sophie returned his glare, “Right, well no need to give me sass McPherson. I’m not hearing any good ideas from you.”
Just then the door opened abruptly, letting in the yaps and howls “There you are. What are you two doing? Your presence is being missed.” Helen said coming in brusquely looking from them to the pill container in Sophie’s hand.
Sophie felt paralyzed, not knowing what to say then Cason answered for them both in a low voice, “Trying to figure out what dose of my sleeping pill to give the dog.”
Helen didn’t miss a beat, “Quarter of the pill, an eighth if you can manage it. Wrap it in peanut butter and administer orally.” She said then left, pausing briefly at the door, “And don’t delay with those glow sticks.” She said loud enough to be heard from the living room.
As the door shut again, Cason said, “Yes ma’am.”
Sophie turned back to Cason, “Do you think she’d put much thought into that? Good lord she didn’t even bat an eyelash.” Sophie said and taking the blade from Cason and pushing him aside said, “I’m much better at detail work than you.”
“Fine by me. If you O.D. that dog it’s on you.”
“I know. But you have to give it to the dog.”
“Afraid he might bite you?”
“Not really, I just didn’t get a good look at it, I’m not sure which end it’s mouth is at.”
Cason laughed out loud.
“That’s not funny Cason. It’s just all fur. Shouldn’t it have a tail or something?”
“Just go for the end that’s making noise.”
Sophie cut the pill into half then half again, “This blade is sharp. I should be able to do an eighth…” she said concentrating. “There.” She said and picked up a piece of pill the size of a sesame seed. “I’m not sure this thing is going to work. It’s so small.”
“Worse comes to worse, we can dose him again.”
“Right. Now, I hope he likes peanut butter.”
“I’ll give it, if you clean up.”
“Deal.” She said as he left. She was hoping he’d say that. She hadn’t forgotten the trunk under his cot. Cason must think her a fool if he thought she’d just let the subject go. For all she knew he kept explosives in there, little keepsakes from his time at war.
She heard him enter the kitchen and the drawer with the spoons get opened. A few moments later there was a barking pause and conversation between the Barney’s and the deep voice of Cason. The pause only held for a moment before starting up again.
Sophie had only a few minutes before she’d be noticed missing. Opening the lid to the makeshift trunk, she let the eerie glow of the glow stick Cason left make everything green. Under the lid were miscellaneous military items, a water bottle, some freeze dried meals, a knife, rope and a folded uniform.
The uniform’s folds were in precise three’s then in half so that the name badge of C. McPherson, was face up. Sophie picked it up to move it aside and as she did a bit of it unfolded. The lower portion of the camouflage shirt was torn away and at the ragged edge was a dark color. It was hard to distinguish what color it was in the green glow. Curiosity pulled at her and she undid it. It was obvious that it had been laundered, but the stains that marred the frayed edge made the shirt look as if it had been torn apart by a blast. Looking down into the trunk there were the matching camo pants to the shirt. That, no mater how it was folded was obvious that it had seen the same demolition as the shirt only on the upper right hip. She held it up and looked at the stains, there it was as if it were dyed in the dark ink.
The door opened and the person paused before closing it again. She felt him come into the room. He didn’t speak for a while, the weight of what she was holding in her hands muffled their voices.
When he did speak his his voice was quiet as if he were choking on the words, “What are you doing?”
The small lantern he’d come in with shed full spectrum light onto the uniform. Originally it was a sandstone camouflage field uniform, but not any longer. It held large swathes of inky rust colored dye. Her mind corrected her, blood. There were smears she could see now on the shirt front too. As if someone in front of him had pushed him away smearing his hand print across Cason’s chest.
Her hands began to shake, “I was—” she said and stopped, her mind was imagining the horror that the uniform had seen. “Cason…” she whispered.
She turned to him, “Why did you…” she managed then choked, the amount of blood didn’t add up to his story of the war, “This is yours.” She heard the accusational tone in her own voice.
“Put it back.” His voice went glacial.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she said then added, “Cason. This isn’t the uniform of a man who walked away from my brother, letting him die.” She said feeling as if the air from the room were getting siphoned out.
His chin turned slightly as if to take a blow, “Don’t…”
“You lied to me. What happened? What really happened?” she whispered.
“No. This isn’t the time to go over this.” He said and put down the lantern and stepped toward her, but the uniform, seeing it open again was like repellent to him.
The guests in the other room, the room itself fell away until it was only just they and the uniform and a lie between them, “All this blood Cason… how’d you not die?”
He shook his head slowly remembering the moment, remembering holding Ryan, “It’s not all mine.”
Sophie choked then, something hot and warm swam up into her vision. Something that she had not allowed in years. The world went murky as tears welled up and spilt over onto her cheeks. The first ones since Ryan’s death.
“Put them away, Sophie.”
She lowered her shaking arms, the stained fabric pooling in her lap. “How could you have let me believe all this time that you left him there to die? What did this?” She asked fingering the frayed edges of the pant hip. “This isn’t gunfire.”
Cason was like stone next to her, “RPG. It hit the ground next to us right after Ryan was shot. Now, put it away.”
She began folding them back up, but her hands shook too hard, “Cason,” she said turning to look at him as she did. His face was in deep shadow, but the haunted look he held was deeper than just the shadows, “It’s not fair that you didn’t tell me what happened to you. You just let me believe you had nothing but a hip injury. But it’s more than that isn’t it? It’s way worse than that isn’t it?”
“No, don’t Sophie…” he said shaking his head, “Don’t put your goddamn pity on me.”
Sophie felt the sting of his bite, and threw the rest of the uniform into the trunk and stood to face him, “You’d rather I spent the rest of my life hating you and ripping at you than to tell me the truth?”
“I’ll take your hate any day Sophie, but I don’t need your pity. Not from you.”
She felt her old sage friend Anger build then, her tears becoming hotter, “You asshole, how could you? Does my mother know?”
“She put two and two together Sophie, but just drop it.”
“Drop it? Just drop it? And go back to what, me hating you? And never knowing the truth?”
“Yes.” He said and picking up the lantern again said, “Now, get out.”
“This…” Sophie said looking back at the uniform again, “I need to know it all.”
He was silent looking at her. “What will that do for you Soph?” he said and took a step toward her, his calm exterior cracking, “What will knowing that our strike team was ambushed do for you? You already know that Ryan and our team of six went in to retrieve our pinned men. Why do you need to know that he made it out alive only to be shot to death at the door of his Humvee?” he said his voice rising in octave, “What will knowing that I was standing in front of him when he was shot and took shrapnel to my leg from an RPG — where does that get you - will you sleep better at night knowing that it was a fucking blood bath?”
Sophie felt herself begin to shake at his visual descriptions. His questions might have been looking for answers but they were there to paint an image for her. Paint a vivid image of what had really happened. Not the patty-cake version Cason and his commanding officer had doled out when they’d come to inform she and her mother of Ryan’s death.
She answered with, “But you lied to me Cason. When we spoke after that day you came to the house you made me believe that you’d left Ryan. That you’d basically stepped over his dying body and left to save yourself.” She picked up the shredded uniform, “There’s no way you could have saved him. You’d have only had one good side.”
“You don’t know that.” He said quietly, his eye’s reflecting darkly in the shadowy lantern light, like scorched earth.
Sophie’s mind stumbled over itself, Cason, his uniform, her brother’s blood. “You did try to carry him didn’t you?” She asked.
“What difference does it make Sophie? This changes nothing, he’s still dead, and I did nothing.”
She looked at him incredulously, “What do you mean this changes nothing? You lead me to believe all this time that you left Ryan to die. That in some twisted world you just stepped over him and left.”
“That hasn’t changed—”
“Bullshit. You were hit with an RPG, Cason. What the hell were you supposed to do, pick up my two hundred pound brother and carry him out? All this blood tells me you nearly died as well.” She was quiet for a moment, the air seemed to shiver upon itself, the horror and violence the uniform and the man standing before her witnessed. “At least one thing you said I can believe outright, it was a blood bath.”
Sophie felt disillusioned with her anger. She should have known that the type of man Cason was he’d not have left her brother behind. But pain of Ryan’s loss had been blinding and her pain had found an outlet. A willing participant of her grief.
But it wasn’t right.
She stepped forward and reached her hand out to him, “Cason…” she said, “The way I’ve treated you, I’m sorry.”
Cason had been immobile, but as she reached for him he stepped back, “Don’t touch me.” His voice had gone subarctic and slashing. He stood there for a moment, his features looking like he wanted to say something but couldn’t. The words never came. He simply turned from her and slipped out the door and down the darkened hallway. Disappearing like a ghost.
The open door let in fugue light from the lanterns in the living room, “Sophie honey?” her mother called, “Is Cason with you? We need that extra lantern, it’s hard to see some of these puzzle pieces.”
Sophie had thought being there that day was going to be impossible, but just then as she wiped her face dry she now wasn’t quite sure how she was going to keep from losing her mind.
“I’ve got it,” she called back, “Be just a sec, I’m looking for a few more glo-sticks.” She lied and instead hastily tossed the uniform and glow sticks back into the trunk and closed the lid. From Cason’s room she heard her cell phone ring out in the front room.
Sophie closed her eyes.
“Sophie!” her mother called, “Your phone is going off dear, can you come get that thing and make it be quiet?”
She realized then that even though there were still low rumbles outside, the dog was quiet.
She picked up the lantern and with great effort put a smile on her face and headed out to the front room. Mrs. Barney was commenting on how peaceful her little pooch was being, “He’s normally a total fanatic with cell phone ringtones too. Takes him a while to calm down he gets so thrilled. It must be your soothing home Helen that makes him so at peace.” She cooed.
Bart added, “I think he was just hungry mother, that peanut butter was just the trick. Cason, sure saved the day.” He said and smiled like a school boy at Helen.
Sophie handed the lantern to her mother and went to her purse hanging by the door thinking to herself that part of a 50 mg sleeping pill rolling around in his system was the most likely the culprit.
The caller ID said Philip Nigel. Sophie gritted her teeth and welcomed the distraction. “Philip Nigel.” Sophie said answering and walking back down the hall toward the garage door, “What can I do for you?”
“You sound like you really don’t know what I’m calling about. Incredible.” He said, his nasally voice annoyed that Sophie somehow couldn’t read his mind.
“I actually don’t, when we spoke this morning it sounded like we would sit down come Monday and go over the rest of the project details. Has something happened Mr. Nigel since that conversation?”
He scoffed, “As a matter of fact yes. No one showed up to work today.” He said sounding triumphant.
“That’s right. It’s Saturday, workers won’t be back into your home until Monday. Was there something you needed done today?”
“I was under the impression that Knight Interiors worked half days on Saturday.”
“Mr. Nigel, we’ve not once worked on a Saturday—”
“Not for me, but for others.”
“I don’t feel Knight Interiors is providing me with the level of service I deserve. I’ll be canceling my contract with you.”
Sophie’s blood went hot. The bastard must have known that was what she’d be meeting with him on Monday about. He’d beaten her to it, but instead of thrilled she was enraged.
“Fine.” She said, “Are you home now? I’ll make a courtesy call and have you make it final with your signature.”
“You sound like you’ve been waiting for me to come to this conclusion. You’ve forced this on me.” He whined.
“Are you home or not?”
“I’ll be there in ten.” Sophie said and headed back down the darkened hall to the living room where her mother and the Barney’s sat. No doubt enjoying their hollow, polite conversations about nothing, she thought caustically.
Sophie felt the fabric of her world begin to tear at its edges. Her facts that night had become fiction and she had the overwhelming urge to rid herself of everything that rang false. Everything.
“You’re not going are you?” Helen asked getting up.
“I am. Bad news from work that I need to attend to.” She said shouldering her bag.
“Well where’s Cason at? He can drive you.”
The thought of him, after everything, hit a raw nerve in her, “How should I know, I’m not his keeper.”
“Sophie Anne—” her mother admonished just as she stepped out into the storm swinging the door shut behind her.