My phone started ringing and I groaned, reaching for where it should’ve been on the nightstand. Instead, I lost my balance, rolled off the bed, and hit the floor, knocking the air from my lungs. When I could manage to make a sound, it came out something like a sad cow, and my eyes flew open.
Okay. I wasn’t in my bedroom. I was lying on my normally neat living room floor, but underneath me was the unmistakable crunch of chips that had fallen on the floor and been forgotten. And above me, I saw through the glass table well enough to spot three empty wine bottles and an almost empty overturned ice cream carton that had leaked onto the table.
A headache unlike anything I’d felt in years blazed to life, and I groaned at the memory of my night of binge-watching. Yeah, sure, I’d finally watched that show with the hottie everyone was always talking about. And yeah, maybe when I was halfway through my second bottle I’d started shouting, “I’ll throw a coin to you, you hot fox you!” But no, I wasn’t proud of myself.
I realized the phone was still ringing and groaned as I sat up and snatched it.
Seeing my little brother’s name, I swiped the screen and meant to say, “Hello,” but instead my voice trailed off as I said, “Hell–.”
Well, that about summed things up, didn’t it?
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “You okay, Emma?”
I crawled to the couch. “Yeah, never better.”
“You sure? Because last night you called me. A lot.”
I cringed and pressed a throw pillow to my face and screamed into it for a second, then dropped the pillow onto the chips. “Yeah? What did I say?”
He was quiet for a long minute, and I wondered what he was thinking. He couldn’t exactly say I was too old for this. In my forty-two long years I’d managed to live a responsible life. I’d always done the right thing. I’d always made the smartest choices.
While Henry? I had no doubt he’d be dead if I wasn’t constantly bailing him out.
“Are you and Rick getting a divorce?”
My stomach dropped. I hadn’t actually said the words out loud, not to anyone. But I guess all I needed to do was get drunk for the first time since college, and who knew what I’d done?
I released a slow breath and let my hand fall back. It crunched, and I looked on the end table to find an open bag of chips. Unable to help myself, I reached in and stuffed some in my face. I was a mess. And if I was going to be a mess, then I might as well be a mess while I slid down screaming into all the carbs I’d denied myself for years.
“Yeah,” I said, mouth full. “Rick was cheating on me with his secretary.”
“With Bella? I thought you said that girl was like a daughter to him. Didn’t he even help her pay for college?”
“He did. With money from my 401k. But I was a moron and really believed him when he said nothing was going on.”
My brother cursed under his breath. “You okay?”
“Sure.” I reached for another handful of chips. “I’m not going to help run his company anymore though. The company I’ve sunk years and years into. The company I made into a successful business when he was paying his employees with cash advances from his credit card.” A laugh that didn’t sound like my own exploded from my lips. “So there’s that! There’s that shining nugget of fun that I can toss in the air like confetti along with twenty years of marriage.” Another slightly crazy laugh came, and this time I coughed out some chips.
“No offense, but you don’t sound like you’re doing well. Need me to come there?” There was legitimate concern in my brother’s voice. And my brother wasn’t exactly good with empathy, or even picking up on other people’s emotions.
I swallowed the rest of my chips and slowly sat up. Around me, the living room was trashed, and the screen was paused on a view of my new celebrity crush sitting in what was supposed to be something like a hot tub. How many times had I replayed him in that hot tub last night? I cringed. Too many. Way too many. I think I was one more drink away from kissing the screen.
No more alcohol for me. Alcoholic drinks and I didn’t mix well.
I sighed. “No, I don’t need you to come here. I’ll figure it out. I promise. I’ll be okay.”
“If you’re sure.” He sounded like he didn’t believe me.
I stood and started gathering the party-size load of empty bags of chips. Frowning, I looked around myself, then decided to stack it all on the box of pizza. A box that was empty too.
“So, Henry, what do you need?”
“Actually, uh, some stuff came up and–”
“How much do you need?”
“Maybe like five hundred.”
I sighed. It wasn’t exactly the best time to be giving away money, now that I was newly unemployed and had no idea what my life was going to be like. But Henry always came first. He was my only sibling, my little brother by five years, and he needed me.
“I’ll send it over.”
“Thanks, sis,” he said, then hung up.
Henry was never good at saying goodbye, but then when he was younger a lot of people never thought he’d go on to get a job, have a relationship, or anything. It was a testament to how much my parents loved him that they got him into the right therapists and with the right teachers. Now it wasn’t as obvious as when he was little that he was autisitic, but although he had his job and lived on his own in our parent’s old house, he still had me handle things like the bills, setting up doctor’s appointments, and all of those kinds of things. When I’d left our home town, it’d been the hardest thing either of us had to do since our parents died.
I swallowed the lump at the back of my throat as I remembered the night of the car crash. After all this time, the memories didn’t hurt as much, but they still made my heart ache from the loss. Like the pain in my neck that was better now, but still twinged, still reminded me that Henry and I hadn’t walked away from that crash without a scratch.
Grabbing an armful of trash, I managed to get out the front door. The garbage can was still at the curb, something I was used to Rick taking care of, so I awkwardly made my way down to the street. The entire time I found myself glaring at the black bin. Rick had one chore around the house, one, but it still irritated me that now I had to do that. Now I had to do everything, because I no longer had a partner.
Stupid trashcan. And stupid trash human being.
I was about to awkwardly try to open the bin when a sound made me lift my head. My teeth grit together. The neighbor’s kid loved to fly around the corner like it was his own personal mission in life to come up the hill of our street and go airborne. I’d talked to his parents more times than I could count, but they didn’t care. Said something about being an internet “personality” and that his car videos always got a lot of likes.
I’d added them to my list of people who needed karma’s big boot to kick their asses.
I was about to toss the trash in the can when I saw a woman starting to walk across the road just at the top of the hill. My heart dropped into my stomach. I knew that from the time I heard the idiot kid’s car and him getting to the top of the hill was no time at all. Any minute he’d come flying at her.
The older woman continued limping across the road.
“Hey,” I shouted again, dropping the trash on the ground.
I didn’t know what I was doing when I started running. I was sure the neighbors were going to look out of their windows at any second and see me racing along, barefoot, in stained pajamas, braless boobs flopping, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I couldn’t get there in time something bad was going to happen.
I’d nearly reached her when I heard the car’s engine at the bottom of the hill. Everything inside of me said not to step into that street. Not to run right to the place I knew a car was about to be, but the woman was there. A woman who would die if I wasn’t fast enough.
My hands stretched out as I saw a flash of the kid’s car and I shoved the older woman, trying not to slow down as I did. Something hit my shoulder, hard, and then I was on the pavement panting, pain radiating through my arm as I stared at the early morning sky.
A groan exploded from my lips, but the squeal of tires drowned it out. I rolled onto my good side and saw the idiot kid’s car, the mirror lying broken on the ground. His door opened. He stepped out, eyes wide, swore, and got back into his car and drove off.
“Little idiot is going to get a beating from karma when I–” I was still gasping for air as I tried to struggle to my feet.
“Karma will get him, don’t you worry,”
I stiffened and looked in the direction of the voice.
The older woman stared down at me, and I was stunned into silence for a minute. She had a strange elegance about her, like royalty. Her hair was pure white and mostly concealed beneath a pale pink hat with a flower, and she wore a matching pink suit with a skirt. Her hands were folded over a cane, and she looked at me with amusement.
I climbed to my feet, gripping my shoulder, my teeth clenching together so I didn’t cry out in pain. “Are you okay?”
She nodded. “But you’re not okay.”
“I think it’s just dislocated,” I said, but the truth was I had no idea. I just knew it hurt so much I was about to vomit. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
That smile of hers didn’t change. “Your husband is an asshole. You never have any fun. And you wish your life was completely different.”
After a second, I realized my mouth was hanging open.
“Oh, and you’re giving and kind, and threw yourself in front of a car for a stranger.”
I forced my mouth to work. “How do– how is–?”
“Not to worry. But believe me, karma’s coming for that boy, and karma’s coming for you.”
I frowned and looked back in the direction the car had gone, then back to the lady. But she was gone.
Which was impossible.
Staggering off the road, I gave in to the heaving in my stomach and hurled into Mrs. Wilders’s prized roses, wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, then headed for my house. I ignored the wine bottles scattered by the curb, the empty pizza box, bags of chips, and ice cream carton, and stumbled into my house, locking the door behind me. Breathing hard, I went to the couch and fell onto it.
Darkness swallowed me, but my last thought was that I was probably losing my mind. That there was never any old woman. That maybe there wasn’t even a car.I could handle losing my husband. I couldn’t handle losing my mind.
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