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The China Cabinet Bookstore
Just when life was supposed to finally calm down, Isabel and her brother, RJ, find that their hurdles of overcoming abuse are just beginning. They learn to fight for peace as they strive to move forward after their father suddenly dies, burying any chance of closure along with him. Clinging to pieces of each other, a few faithful friends and what’s left of their own failed strength, they struggle to pull all the pieces together so they can finally stand on their own.
RJ searched for the right words to say to his sister. The look on her face told him that he was scaring her, which he knew would not help. Her young eyes stared up at him, concerned only for her brother’s anger. He despised himself for being the one who would throw the distressing news onto her. Rubbing his stomach, RJ tried very hard not to look at her.
“Isabel, last night, um… dad had a heart attack.” RJ finally got out the words. Each one he spoke aggravated his stomach more and more.
She looked up at him with her dark eyes. Then she glanced at Geoff on the Lazy Boy, who was anxiously leaned forward. Such drama. She thought, not really understanding the reason for their highly-strung angst.
“Last night, dad passed away.” RJ finished, studying her reaction.
Her face was emotionless, suddenly glazed with stone. “Oh. Is that what all of this is about?” Isabel tossed her hair carelessly. “Are you okay, RJ?” Her face showed very little concern for her brother.
Floored by her non-reaction, RJ babbled. “Not really, but I’m more concerned about you. I guess I thought you’d be upset.” He shrugged his tensed shoulders, his tone softening.
As if the tension could not get any thicker, Isabel looked right into his concerned eyes. “Why?” Icicles could have formed around her lips; her voice was emotionless and cold. Looking around the room at the boys, she almost chortled at their fear. “Why would I be upset? Why should he affect this family at all? Why?” Careful not to let even a hint of passion sneak into her voice, Isabel cleared her throat. “I know how close you two used to be. I am sorry your dad died, RJ.” She tried to show sympathy, but refused to claim their father as her own. When all three boys stared at her incredulously, she added, “That’s all I got.”
Her sympathy was short-lived. “So who wants to go to Barney’s?” She stood, lightly patting Jordan’s shoulder.
RJ rubbed his forehead. “Eesa, stop it. You don’t drink. We still have to talk about the funeral.”
“Dad’s funeral!” RJ almost shouted, not quite knowing how to handle his own sister. “For crying out loud! Your dad just died! We are not going to Barney’s!” RJ began pacing.
“Fine. I’m going out. You can feel whatever you want about your dad, RJ. As much as he screwed up your life, I’m surprised that you’re so upset about it. But he didn’t just screw me up, RJ.” Isabel stopped before she could raise her voice. Looking at her thumb for a moment, she calmed herself down. “Let’s not get into this right now. Please.” She shook her head and left for her room, quietly shutting the door behind her. Not really knowing what to do, her thought process stopped.
Walking over to him, she handed him his morning addiction. “Thanks, Eesa.” Geoff mumbled. Glancing down at the mug, he noticed that there were lip prints on the rim that he knew were not his. "Sick, Bel! Did you drink some of my coffee?" He whined at the glaring bottom lip mark as though it were the representative of all infectious germs and evil bacteria known to mankind. "You know that if you put a little milk and three teaspoons of sugar in it, it will taste the same every time you make it. Why do you have to taste my coffee? Do you know how fast bacteria can spread? Especially bacteria found in saliva!" Geoff moaned as he tried his best to wipe off the lip print left by Isabel's mouth. He shook his head and kept on muttering to himself all of the different ways that bacteria can lead to infection, and how damaging that can be.
Isabel walked behind the couch and wrapped her arms around his neck from behind. His crusades about cleanliness were lost on her when he would flip out about small things like this. She rested her warm cheek against his, which, she noticed, was beginning to grow a prickly shadow. "I'm sorry, Geoffrey." She purred. "It's just that..." she interrupted her sentence by sticking her tongue to the side of his face, and running it from his chin to his temple in one swift, wet lick. Upon retracting her tongue into her mouth, she ran full speed into the bathroom, which incidentally, was the only room with a lock on the door. Clicking it quickly, she burst into laughter while taking in her friend's fits of repulsion and mortification. She frantically turned on the shower to drown him out.
"This is not over!" She heard him cry over the noisy stream of water. Isabel took a long shower, making sure to let each one of Geoff's medical points on the evils of sharing germs wash off of her and float blissfully down the drain. Bopping her head to an imaginary beat, Isabel joyfully used up the last of the hot water. When he had finally stopped ranting, and the only sound she could hear was the pleasant droning coming from the television in the living room, she exited to her tidy bedroom and got dressed. She packed up a backpack with bottled water, her work uniform, and a book to read in case the day proved uneventful. Resting the pack on the carpeted floor in her room, she decided to rejoin Geoff in the living room. Looking on him from her bedroom doorway, he seemed peaceful, as though he had not moved since she left him.
Noticing him watching her, Geoff patted the empty space on the couch next to him. “Come on, Bel. Watch the Jeffersons with me. I love that JJ.” Geoff smiled at the television.
"Put your light saber away, Luke.” She remarked, sizing him up. "I come in peace." Isabel smirked as she sat down next to her friend. Instead of sitting on his lap or cuddling up beside him, she opted for about a foot of distance between their bodies, just to make sure that he would not try to retaliate. Geoff was wearing his scrubs with the big bleach stain on the side. Isabel hated those pants. Even though they were obviously clean, she knew that Geoff owned about ten more pairs of perfectly acceptable pants in his apartment. “Geoff, when are you going to throw those out? Seriously, do they still let you wear those pants in front of patients? Because if I saw a nurse coming at me who couldn’t even do his laundry properly, I might panic.” She tried to tear her eyes away from the bleach and focus them on the good old Jeffersons, but the stain just seemed to get bigger the more she tried to avoid it.
“Oh, quit being a baby. The people at the hospital are too busy to care about spots on the uniforms.” He sat a little taller as he brushed a stubborn wrinkle off of his leg. “Besides, if they want me to buy new uniforms every time they get stained, then they’ll have to start paying me a lot more.” He paused and smiled. “Wait a minute, they are!” Still reveling in his own glory, Geoff happily stretched out his arms over his head. Lowering his right arm and coiling it around her neck, he yanked her down into a forceful headlock. "Never lick my face again." He messed up her wet hair.
Jordan stood still and kept watching her until he was sure she was asleep. Much too tired to process all of this emotion, he held his face in his tired hands. Trying to clear his mind, Jordan took the blanket off the foot of the bed to make a spot to sleep on the floor. He took the extra pillow off the bed, being careful not to wake the dead. Jordan could sleep anywhere, so the hardwood floor was just fine for him. Still, he tossed. He had known all about their dad. He had heard the horror stories and seen RJ’s scars. He had even talked to their grandmother about it. Still, nothing had prepared him for her night terrors. Seeing her like that made him viciously protective of her. He made his temporary bed between her and the door, making sure that nothing could get to her that night.
Both Geoff and Jordan could not stop thinking about what had happened that night. Neither of them had ever known home lives like that. Jordan had grown up with his mother, and the only traumatic thing that had ever happened to him was that he never knew his father. Geoff’s family was fully functional, and the worst family problem he had ever encountered was trying to keep his masculinity in a house full of women. Neither of the boys knew what to do in this situation, and that worried them even more.