Blinking twice, I continued towards their table.
"I'm so glad you're here!" she yelled, loud enough for the entire room to hear. I stood, tall and awkward, at the edge of the table, my fingers pressed up against its trim. "Gosh, it has been... nine months? A year, maybe?"
"Yeah! I guess!" Trying to sound happy usually came off as overly thrilled. This time was no exception, but 'thrilled' couldn't be further from the truth. I cleared my throat. "How are you?" I asked. She jerked out her left hand, which hauled an over-sized diamond engagement ring. "Oh, wow," I smiled, "engaged!"
Her hand retracted.
"Married, actually." My eyes widened. The man sitting to my left was not her fiance, but her husband. He wore a Lakers T-shirt, and, looked highly disinterested in our conversation. "Three months, today!"
"Congratulations!" Overly excited, again. A character flaw I had been meaning to get under control.
"Thanks. Anyway. Rohen, dear. Listen," I cringed at her condescension, wondering if she knew how much older than her I was, "you've got to help me. My brother..." My heart fell into my stomach, and I could feel myself losing traction, "he needs a good girl. Can you help me find him one?" I stared, hoping the feeling in my legs would come back before I had to walk away. "I just," she said, pushing strands of dark hair behind her ear, "I know you're close."
"I'll see what I can do," I choked, faking the smile I'd prepared specifically for moments such as these.
"When was the last time you saw him?" she asked. I stood for half of a minute with my hand over my eyelids, not thinking about the last time I'd seen him, but rather, the last time we'd conversed. The last time he, you know, told me all about how he didn't want me. I thought of it all in thirty seconds, sort of against my will. Sort of not against it. "My brother, I mean." she interrupted, busting at the seams and impatient for an answer, "Roe, when was the last time you saw my brother?"
It was an answer that I had, absolutely. One I didn't have to search for, even. It had been engraved into my mind for months.
"April 15th," I blurted, "Tax Day." I looked down at the white linen table cloth.
"Oh," Brenda piped after a few seconds. I looked to her husband, perhaps for sympathy. Perhaps for a way out of the questions that were sure to follow this interrogation, unsure of how he might've been able to make that happen. "Have you... spoken? Since then?"
"Bren, stop hounding her," he finally joined, "let her go, now."
"I am not hounding her, Michael," her eyebrows crossed each other, forming a deep 'V' shape. "I'm just--I'm curious," she looked up at me, "I'm sorry, does it feel like I'm hounding you?" Before I could get a word out to answer, she said, "It's just that it's November. And you haven't seen him since April? Did something happen? Between the two of you?"
Behind that question was an entire brigade of more questions, ones that I didn't want to answer. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to not be there.
Instead, I opened my mouth, and spoke. Truthfully.
"Too many to count, I guess." I felt my heart breaking the way it hadn't done in months. "Listen, Brenda. It was so nice running into you and..." I turned towards her husband, realizing that we'd never actually been introduced.
"Michael." She pointed, jaw still agape with embarrassment.
"Michael. Nice to meet you. Enjoy you evening."
I began walking away, but didn't get two feet before seeing the glass of scotch before Brenda and her slim, black dress. My heels pivoted, returning to the table. I quickly picked up the glass, threw my head back, the drink along with it, and hurt so much that I almost forgot to breathe. Brenda's eyes wide on her slender face.
I slammed the drink to the table and swallowed hard.
"And, I'm fine," my small voice shook. "Really, I am."
My legs grew new feeling, and I turned from the table, waiting for the strength I assumed would come.
I thought about how long it might take word to get back to Finn, deciding that his sister had a big mouth, that, on good days, might stretch to Chicago, at the very least. I wondered what kind of a day she'd had today. It was no secret the way mind had turned out.