THEM’S THE BREAKS
I toss another empty can in the garbage bag. There has to be an entire case’s worth under my freaking bed. My ex-boyfriend used to drink diet soda in the middle of the night because he didn’t like the taste of water but couldn’t afford any more fillings in his teeth—as if diet soda is any better than the regular stuff.
It was a weird habit I no longer have to worry about since he doesn’t live here anymore. And in two days, neither will I. We didn’t part on bad terms—it was an amicable breakup. In fact, I’m less upset about the breakup than I am about the fact that the company I was working for over the last few years closed, and I’m now out of a job. Which is probably a pretty strong indicator that the relationship wasn’t meant to last. Still, it sucks to be down a job, a boyfriend, and, in two days, an apartment.
What I’m trying to get to, and failing at, is the suitcase that’s been stored under the bed for more than two years. At this point, with the sheer number of random cans I’ve come across, I’m certain of two things—the woman who used to clean our apartment every other week never cleaned under the bed, and I most likely will not want my suitcase once I’m able to get to it.
I put mission get-the-suitcase-while-cleaning-under-the-bed on hold when my phone rings. I debate ignoring the call. I’m not entirely sure I want to speak with anyone, especially since I’ve been procrastinating and left cleaning and packing until the eleventh hour.
I sigh when it reaches the third ring and finally pick up. It’s just my dad. I wait for some kind of latent disappointment or sadness that it isn’t my ex, Jason, to follow, but there isn’t any. Jason made a choice when he took the job back in his hometown in Connecticut, and I made mine when I decided not to follow.
“Hey, Dad, what’s up?”
“Hey, kiddo. You doing okay?”
He knows about the recent bumps in the road of my life. I left out the part about needing to find a new apartment because I felt like the breakup and losing my job were enough for him to worry about. He still thinks I’m coming for a visit in a couple of days, which honestly was the plan until the apartment I’d hoped to move into turned out to be infested with bedbugs. “Doing great. Is everything okay? You don’t usually call me at”—I check the clock on the nightstand—“ten on a Thursday morning.”
“Uh, well, Billy had an accident.”
My heart is suddenly in my throat. My younger brother has never been particularly good at staying out of trouble’s way. “Is he okay?”
My dad is quick to reassure me. “He’s a bit banged up, but he’ll be all right.”
Just because Dad says Billy’s all right doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely true. My dad has always been good at downplaying situations. Making it seem as though things aren’t as bad as they truly are. Like two years ago, when he and my uncle were struggling to make ends meet with the family construction business and hiding how close they were to being bankrupt. I didn’t find out about that until well after the fact, when they were back on track and no longer in the red.
When I asked him why he hadn’t said anything, he told me he’d been afraid I’d think it meant I needed to come home and help out. At the time, Jason and I had just moved in together in a cute one bedroom in Wicker Park. I genuinely don’t know what I would’ve done if he had told me, and I’m grateful that I didn’t have to find out.
“What kind of accident was it? Please tell me it wasn’t on-site. And what exactly does ‘a little banged up’ mean?” I put my phone on speaker, toss it on my unmade bed, and pick up a stack of folded clothes before riffling through them to make sure they’re not from my “frequent wear” pile. Those will go in my suitcase, if it’s deemed useable once I get it out from under the bed. I determine nothing in the pile is going to be worn in the next couple of days, so I toss them in a box labeled CLOTHES.
I need to do something with my hands to keep me from entering stressed-out-pacing mode.
“It wasn’t on-site; he was in a car accident. He was on his own, and no one else was involved, but he broke his ankle and totaled the truck.” My dad’s words are clipped, almost rehearsed.
Billy works with my dad and my uncle. They own the only construction company in town and handle everything from snow removal in the winter, to lawn maintenance in the summer, to renovation projects and framing all year long. In the past few years they began subcontracting out some of the trades because the rich city dwellers on the north side of the lake have started hiring them to make their mansions even bigger than they already are.
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