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Authors: Tracy Kelleher

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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BOOK: The Company You Keep
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Mimi remembered trying to fight her attackers on the streets of Grozny. She remembered attempting to keep them from dragging her into the waiting car—her reaching for a lamppost, her fingers finding cold metal, her hand being ripped away at the wrist…and finally the snap of bones breaking, followed by white-hot pain shooting up her arm.
A surge of nausea and the impulse to blackout struck her anew. She could practically feel how the gloved hand had clamped over her mouth before bundling her headfirst into the backseat of the car. Once more she smelled the moldy upholstery and diesel fumes—followed immediately by the sensation of having her neck yanked backward, and a rag thrust down her throat. And then, most chilling of all—the realization that quite possibly, there was something worse than death.
But not now,
Mimi told herself despite her ragged breathing. She forced herself to exhale slowly. No matter what, this time…this time, she would not surrender… .
The bill of a baseball cap was the first thing she saw. She took a step forward, ready to strike.
He turned. And did a stutter-step. “Geez, Mimi, you scared me to death,” Press proclaimed. “What’re you doing in the dark?” He reached over to another bank of switches and turned on the overhead recessed lights. “What the hell? You planning on assaulting me with a turkey baster?”
Mimi looked at her raised arm and realized what she’d grabbed. Sheepishly she lowered it to her side and willed herself to calm down—or at least to quell the panic. “I was looking to make some tea,” she bluffed.
“Might be tough with that.”
“I know. I was looking for a tea ball because Noreen only has loose tea leaves.”
Press marched over and opened an upper cabinet that contained mugs and pulled down a teapot from a middle shelf. Then he reached in a drawer for a metal strainer. “You brew the tea in the pot and then strain it with this. See, it even has a bottom thing to catch the water.” He pointed to the metal saucer that fit beneath the strainer.
“How civilized.”
Press glanced sideways at her. “I presume you can figure out how to boil water. The tea kettle is on the stove.”
“I’m sure I can manage that, especially now that I’ve mastered the faucet.” She reached for the kettle and filled it with water. “Can I get you a cup?”
“No, thanks.” Press launched an attack on the fridge instead. He grabbed the freshly squeezed orange juice and drank right out of the bottle. After a long swig, he turned and looked at her. “What?” He seemed to be looking for a fight.
Mimi shook her head. “Nothing.” She put the kettle on and literally watched the water boil. “Hey, where’ve you been anyway?” Her back was to him. “I’ve been leaving messages on your cell, but it goes right to your mailbox.”
Press reached for his phone. “Looks like the battery’s dead. I need to charge it. Besides, it’s not like any of my so-called friends are so hot to get in touch with me anyway.” He slipped the phone back in his pocket.
The kettle started whistling and Mimi turned off the burner. She dumped some leaves in the pot and added the hot water. Then she looked at him over her shoulder. “Well, I’m not one of your so-called friends, and I was trying to get you. It may interest you to know there was some excitement here today.”
Press shrugged and took another swig of juice. “What? Did Brigid throw a tantrum when she wasn’t allowed to get a pony even though she promised to feed it nothing but organic oats?”
Mimi chuckled and reached for a mug, selecting one that was hand painted with tulips. “No, though that is pretty funny.” She placed the strainer over the top of a mug and gingerly poured the tea through it. “Cool. This actually works, though it’s pretty strong.”
Press came closer. “That’s because you put too much tea in the pot. You only need a small amount. Just add some hot water to dilute it.”
Mimi frowned. “Who died and made you the tea guru?”
“Unlike some people I could name, I have actually suffered through tea parties with our stepmother and half-sister. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve had Earl Grey and scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream—with fancy pink cloth napkins.”
“I don’t think you suffered too much.” Mimi blew on her tea to cool it down. “The reason I was trying to reach you was that our father was whisked away in an ambulance this evening.”
Press stopped with the orange juice halfway to his mouth. “And?”
“He’s fine. Turns out that even though he was showing symptoms of a heart attack, he was just having a panic attack.”
Press shook the orange juice bottle, then brought the jar up to his mouth and finished it off. “I suppose I should feel relieved.”
Mimi nodded. “I know. It’s confusing. I thought I’d feel nothing, but I was actually worried at the time.”
He seemed to think about her statement. “So what set it off? The panic attack?”
Mimi shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, what kind of stress could he possibly have that’s different than usual? He always seemed to thrive in the cutthroat world of finance. Noreen hedged, and then mentioned something vague about problems during the day. It has to be personal. Maybe he was shunted to a back table at the Jockey Club?”
Then Mimi had a thought. “Wait a minute. You don’t think Noreen told him she was leaving him, do you? I mean, she always seemed content to play the perfect trophy wife of the successful husband, but now with her work in Congo she seems less interested in hanging on his arm at charity galas. And I haven’t heard her once mention her book group.” Mimi mulled over the possibility.
“You think she plans to take off for Africa full-time?” Press asked. He was clearly taking her suggestion seriously. “Not that I blame her. After all, I took off for Australia just to get away from this family.”
“Not that I felt slighted or anything,” Mimi replied sarcastically. Actually, she did feel a little slighted. She focused on the topic at hand. “She’d never walk away and leave Brigid here.”
“Why not? She’d just be like everybody else in this family—not there for you when you need them,” Press said bitterly.
“Gee, someone took his negativity pills today,” Mimi cracked. She freely accepted her own bitterness. Yet it bothered her to hear how jaded Press had become. “Anyway, all of this is guesswork. We don’t really know if they’re breaking up, for a fact.”
“Speaking of facts…where were you earlier this evening? I came back around seven and waited around for you to get dinner together. I’d already gotten the text from Noreen, saying she and Father had to back out, but I thought we were still on.”
“Oh, my God, I never even thought about you,” Mimi said truthfully. “I’m sorry. But when Noreen cancelled, I just assumed… I mean, I can’t even remember the last time we had dinner together, just the two of us, beyond getting hoagies, that is.”
“Well, I do. You gave me a birthday party. I was like Brigid’s age, and Father and my mom had gone to New York for the evening—totally oblivious to the fact that it was my birthday, and it was Noreen’s night off, too. So, I was all alone—except for Cook over the garage.”
“Watching
The Simpsons
on TV,” Mimi supplied.
“Yeah, she always liked that show.” Press chuckled quietly.
Mimi sipped her tea. “I remember getting your call. It was in the summer, and I was a counselor at the water polo camp at the university. I’d been staying in some dorm—one of the disgusting modern ones that have since been torn down. It was like an oven—no air-conditioning, maybe one hundred degrees with one hundred percent humidity—typical New Jersey summer.”
“Excuse me, but this is my sob story not yours,” he reminded her.
“You’re right. And you were crying up a storm.”
“I wasn’t
that
bad,” he protested.
“Oh, yes, you were. And you had every right to be.”
“And then you came home and you brought me this Hostess cake with a candle stuck in it. Only, you’d dropped the bag when you biked over, and it was kind of squished.”
Mimi struck her forehead with the palm of her hand. “I didn’t just bike over—I biked over it. I was so mad at what they’d done that I borrowed somebody’s bike and raced to the convenience store by the Link Station. It was the only thing open that time of night, and the selection was either that or a bag of Chips Ahoy. So I went with the cupcake. And then I put the paper bag in my mouth so I could keep both hands on the bike—it was already dark and it didn’t have a light, and I wanted to be as careful as possible. I don’t know what happened, but somehow the bag fell out my mouth and the front tire went right over it.” She gripped the mug of tea with both hands. “What a disaster.”
“No, I thought it was great. I thought you were a god.”
“I guess the bubble had to burst some time,” Mimi mused.
Press turned away. “I don’t know why I even bother to come back.”
“I thought you were all excited to get together with your friends?”
Press narrowed his eyes. “Excited? I’m not even sure I have any friends.” He grumbled the last statement. “When you were a no-show, I ended up hanging out at Lion Inn, helping out Tony, the manager. The kids who are supposed to be working Reunions this year are total losers, and Tony was going out of his mind. So I brought in kegs for him and set things up. You go away for one year, and you come back, and things are totally screwed up. He said as much.” Press sighed with disgust.
He was becoming a bitter, old man fast, she realized. But Mimi held her tongue. Normally, she would have chided him about this. But it was hardly a “normal” occasion. Instead, she put her mug of tea on the counter and attempted to do the mature, empathetic thing. It wasn’t easy. “I’m sure that Tony appreciates your efforts. But speaking of Brigid, since Noreen stayed at the hospital tonight, she asked me to take care of Brigid in the morning, getting her off to school and stuff. And, trust me,
I
could really use some help in that department.”
Press snorted.
“I’m glad you agree.” She raised her eyebrows and set her mouth. “If it were left up to me, I’d feed her high-fructose sweetened cereal for breakfast and give her a dollar to buy a slice of pizza at lunch. So, will you help me?”
Press shrugged one shoulder. “Sure, it’s probably the closest thing I’ll get to female company this trip. Anyway, clearly you’re clueless around the kitchen.”
“You’re right. I only figured out how to turn on the faucet by accident.”
“And she’d need at least three dollars for pizza,” Press continued seriously. He didn’t seem to catch on to his sister’s self-deprecating humor. Instead, he picked up the empty juice container and like a well-trained boy, walked over to the sink, rinsed it out and placed it in the dishwasher.
Mimi smiled sadly. He was too nice a kid to feel slighted by the world and everyone in it. “Press?”
He looked up.
“I may be getting soft in my old age, as you put it. But, no matter what—I’m still your sister. And while we may be apart most of the time and I may forget dinner engagements, I’m always here for you.”
“No, you’re not. If you were always here for me, you would have done what you promised.”
Mimi furrowed her brow.
“You would have taken care of yourself in Chechnya.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” Mimi protested. “There was nothing I could do to stop it.”
“Yeah?” He didn’t look like he believed her. “Well, you left me—you left me alone, that’s what you did.” He pushed past her and hustled out of the kitchen.
Leaving Mimi confused and alone with her half-empty mug.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

 

EARLY FRIDAY MORNING, well before anyone else was in, Vic unlocked the front door to GSI’s offices in Edison. It was overcast and chilly. June, which usually was the nicest month—mild, low humidity, sunny—was shaping up to be really lousy. The forecast had called for rain today, and tomorrow was supposed to be wet, as well. They were even calling for thunderstorms on and off the whole day.
The organizers of Reunions must be ticked,
Vic thought. He held the door open for Roxie, and she trotted through, holding her leash in her mouth. Without prompting, she took the first left before the reception desk and headed down the row of offices along the wall. Then she stood and waited as Vic flipped on the lights.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he told the dog. It was their routine every weekday. Oh, who was he kidding? It was their routine practically every day of the week since Vic frequently came into work on the weekend, too.
He unlocked the office and pushed in the door. “There you go.” He stepped back and let Roxie lead the way.
She headed to her bed near his desk, sat and barked. She wagged her tail expectantly.
“What makes you think you deserve a treat?” he addressed her. This was also part of their routine. Somehow it never seemed to get old, which no doubt said a lot about what made a dog happy, but even more about his own simple pleasures. Vic set his canvas briefcase atop his desk and fired up the desktop. Then he reached for the bottom drawer on Roxie’s side, pulled out a bone-shaped biscuit and tossed it in the air.
BOOK: The Company You Keep
5.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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