I'm going to change the ending of this...but wanted to put up what I wrote...I think the way it ends here is too dark and changes the mood of the book...thoughts and input welcome!
I skip yoga, of course, and join Ron and Mom at Cedars for dinner. There’s no way I could ignore a stroke and visiting brother just to relax. Even I can acknowledge that life isn’t always about me. Escape isn’t always an option when someone needs us more.
We have sushi because that’s what mom wanted.
“I like raw fish. I could have died. Sushi and champagne please,” she’d declared on the phone while Ron did nurse duty in the hospital as I finished my production meeting. We got an okay on our delivery schedule but only barely and after begging. I felt exhausted as I left the office, heading into brutal Los Angeles rush hour traffic back to Cedars and my mom. I picked up some sushi en route, stopping at a small restaurant famous for its set course dinner. My mom loves their crab roll and sashimi with a ponzu sauce. Since our company policy is to always have a few bottles of pink champagne in our fridge (we are a makeup company after all) that addition was an easy one.
I’d pulled into the multi-level parking structure, for the second time, and marveled at how many people this hospital served. We don’t think about it until suddenly we find ourselves in the emergency room, scared but stuck. The balance between life and death is more precarious than we like to think.
I’d parked my car and charged up the elevator. Better to pretend to be brave and will myself into it. Ron had been texting me all afternoon and the news hadn’t been good. Mom was having issues moving her left side and her speech was slurring more and more, which I didn’t understand.
“There was a small secondary stroke after you left and before I arrived,” he’d explained. That factor increased my guilt, even though I know that my presence wouldn’t have stopped a stroke. But I still should have been there, right?
Brad never called to apologize for being an asshole. Not that he would as he never saw anything wrong with his approach. And I didn’t call him, my boyfriend, to let him know that my mom almost died. Another weakness in our relationship, glaringly obvious, when I just couldn’t stand his voice on the other end of a phone line as I dealt with my emergency. But shouldn’t I call him when I have a crisis? Isn’t he my rock and source of comfort? Apparently not.
Quite frankly I’m relieved that I didn’t need to deal with him in the midst of everything else. The good news is that with our production schedule now on track my company just might make it, Brad and his money or not.
I did bump into Dr. Esses as I wandered down the long grey hallway to my mom’s room. He smiled and I saw those beautiful white teeth. He looked more tired than he had earlier. The shadows under his eyes were darker.
“She’s okay but there were some complications,” he’d said, apparently unyielding in delivering bad news, as befit is job. I don’t envy him. While I’d been negotiating delivery of powders he’d been dealing with my mom and her second stroke.
“I heard,” was all I could respond then. The harsh fluorescent light cast otherworldly shadows on his dusky skin and I tried to look hopeful. It wasn’t his fault that my mom’s health was failing. Doctors try to solve the most important problems we have, then they go on to the next crisis. Seems grim but rewarding both.
“She’s starting to lose functions,” he’d responded. “Her speech and left side. It’s likely going to get worse. We got her in time on the first go around but there is nothing to prevent further strokes.”
I stared him and heard the busy commotion of people, as nurses rushed around us and an occasional patient passed by. Outside it was darkening, the summer sun slightly overcast and night cooling. His scrubs were impeccably clean and crisp and for a second I wondered if I should create an eyeliner that color. Then I focused on reality not my color-based escapes. I’ve always needed my other worlds but for today they’ll have to await my escape from this reality. Which wasn’t going anywhere and was just too important.
“I know,” I said, and just gazed back at those deep chocolate eyes. I sensed their compassion but was too confused to know for sure. Heading into my mom’s room, even though he was in front of me, none of this felt real. Attractive yes, and perhaps everything I could have wanted in a man but really I was here in this hospital out of fear and desperation, not need. I was just shallow enough to notice that Mom’s doctor was gorgeous. Cracking a smile I edged away and excused myself. “I’m going to her now. Hopefully, you’ll be headed home soon so you can better handle tomorrow’s emergencies.” To his credit Dr. Esses just gave me a half a smile and left me on my course.
As I’d pushed her door open I saw her sitting with Ron. My brother looked worried and my mom looked a lot worse, despite her perfectly applied blue-based red lipstick. “Mom,” I’d tried not to choke as I spoke. Then I’d hugged her and whispered, “I’m sorry,” into her lavender scented hair.
Hours later Ron and I got drunk. Champagne led to wine then tequila and I knew that I’d hate myself in the morning. But for tonight I was almost coping.
Ron is a pain of an older brother, wonderful but also challenging. Three years older than me, he never wavers. The confidence of this kid from the earliest age always drove me nuts. I faked it a lot, as scholarship kids learn to do pretty quickly. But inside I was always fearful that I couldn’t measure up to the kids in the big houses with parents who helped them get jobs and other opportunities. In contrast, Ron never cared about his environment or forces outside his control. Instead and still today, he pushes past any resistance and doesn’t notice his battle scars. He always tells me that we’re lucky we had to work so much harder.
“You only value what you need to work to attain,” he still lectures. “Nothing that comes too easily ever means much. Some of these kids don’t need to work and the problem is that they know it,” he’ll say. Growing up, I had to wonder at his strength. Was it inborn or the result of growing up as a fatherless little boy, who learned early that no one had his back? Ron funded my first lipstick with his odd job funds, before my best friend’s parents came in and took responsibility for two and three.
Even tonight he looks confident as I watch him drink tequila, neat and in a UCLA mug. “She’ll be okay,” he tells me. He’s reclining on my green velvet sofa. Emerald with a darkened paisley pattern and very worn, I keep my favorite items until they fall apart and this one looks worn. And as I can see both the beauty and age in my sofa, I knew how to see past Ron’s bravado. Occasionally his mask falls and tonight I see the act. So I shake my head at him.
I live in a small and very old two-bedroom house built in the 1920s, when everything was smaller. The couch is my living room as it’s so large it takes over. I don’t have room for chairs, just a small table. And that table is now littered with glasses and a few remnants of the chocolates we’d had as dessert.
Ron smiles more than I do. He kids me about being too serious but I’m just more honest about it. We’re both driven as hell and want to escape our past. Serious chips on our shoulder? Hell, yes. Tonight he’s in loose jeans and a logo t-shirt adverting his company. Their main colors are a ragged navy and a muted red. Personally, I’d like to see something more eye catching but it isn’t my company.
Ron has watched me shake my head at him, taking him on is a subtle kid sister sort of way. We’ve interacted in the same manner for so long now. But I guess we both sense that something profound is changing. He just stares at me now.
I sip my own tequila and wrap my fingers around the white logo mug. Ron is about to ask a tough question and I sense it coming. My lights are dim and the walls are a cool grey with white trim. I’d kept the room, indeed the house, simple. To me it’s soothing.
“Why were you with that asshole?” he asks. I’d told him about the fight with Brad and now, protective big brother he is, he’s following up.
“Well, I guess technically I’m still with him,” I say, hugging my knees close and glad I’d changing into baggy sweats. “I needed him then,” I continue, and sip now at my wine, ignoring the tequila. “I was young and just starting a company. He was older and wiser and I was just plain scared.” And I shift on the couch, uncomfortable, unsure. Ron is right but I’ve never seen that reality so clearly like I suddenly can now.
“It’s been five years and he seems to take more than he gives,” Ron says. My brother’s eyes are intent. I see his concern for me but don’t have a response. “Dump him. He doesn’t even know what happened to you today.”
“Getting out isn’t that easy,” I try. Sure, it’s a weak argument but we all use it and, let’s be honest, it is true. Getting out when you feel stuck in a relationship takes courage and I’m not feeling brave tonight. Eventually we suddenly realize that we need to be free. But until then it’s all just pain and suffering. Hopefully I broke today, crying on my brother’s shoulder and not even telling my boyfriend as my mom suffers.
“Get out. Dump the bastard,” he replies, and I watch him sip at his tequila and am glad he’s here tonight. He’ll sleep on the couch because we need each other and a hotel would just be too far apart. But will that solve much? How is mom doing?
“I guess so. I guess it’s time,” I say. Ron watches me and I can see him readying for the kill. No, I can’t defend Brad but I’m not really up for a fight so I try to beat him to the punch.
“We never had a dad. I guess by being with an older man who was so sure of himself I gained a surrogate father. I needed it five years ago,” I say.
“That was then,” Ron replies. He gazes away then meets my eyes again. The light is dim enough that I can’t read his expression.
“Now you’ll move on,” Ron says and hands me my cell phone. Drunk, obedient, I take it. So much for the strong driven CEO story Muse tried to sell the press earlier today. Now I’m just being a passive wimp and doing as I’m told. And as he watched I dialed the number. But Brad didn’t answer his cell and I got voicemail.
“My mom had two strokes today and is in Cedars,” I say, then hang up. Who knows what he’s up to and why he isn’t answering his phone at 10:00? Who cares? “I can’t just leave a voicemail,” I tell Ron. “Tomorrow.”
Ron is watching me and then his cell rang. I watch as his eyes register the number. “I think it’s the hospital,” he says. Now he looks frightened and I know that I am. So I watch him, feeling suddenly very cold, as he listens to his caller.
“She’s dead?” he asks as he leans back into the couch and stares at the ceiling, his fingers weaving together in an almost prayer. Tears beginning forming in my eyes but they seem somehow not real as if I’m feeling them happen to me and not a part of me.
And I picked up my phone again, in a haze but oddly drive, and redial. “She died,” I whisper. “And so has this relationship. We’re done.”
“That might cost you your funding, “ Ron says, ever the problem solver, even now. But I’m crying and so is he. The night for us is over, extinguished by God when he doused the wick that was my mother. She’ll never wear my lipstick again or hold me or share her smile. I can only wonder at the gaping hole opening up inside me. Ron pulls me close and we cry together. We both eventually fall asleep on the couch and suddenly dawn comes, leaving us both stiff and no less sad. But Brad never returns my call.