Lex and Lu(3)

By: J. Santiago

“Hello, my friend,” she said with a weary smile.

“Somehow, ‘How are you?’ doesn’t seem appropriate.”

Jo crossed the kitchen and picked up the waiting glass of wine. “Cakebread?” she said, her eyebrows creeping up into the shadow of her bangs.

“Yes, always have a bottle for special occasions,” Amber said, while slowly turning the glass in her hand. “I figure we have about five minutes before the rest of them show,” she reminded gently.

“That long?” Jo responded. The weary smile still in place.

“Four and a half. Have you heard from the boys?”

Jo sat on the edge of the stool. With a chuckle, she said, “I think you can probably answer that question for yourself.”

“Peter will be here as soon as he can, and Lex’s agent didn’t know when he would arrive?” she offered, sure of her response.

“Nail on the head.” Jo paused to take a sip of her wine. “He played tonight.”

“We all cope in different ways.”

“I couldn’t help it. I watched. And you’d never know. He scored and there he was, ‘swag’ and all.” She put her hand quotes around the word swag.

“He wouldn’t be Lex without the swag,” Amber replied knowingly.

“Cocky son of a bitch.”

Amber couldn’t help it. She laughed. “Always has been.”

Returning to her wine, she braved the next subject: “How are you?”

Jo stared into her glass. “To be honest, I haven’t had much time to process that he’s gone. I mean this morning we bickered about when we would go see Lex again. Then he leaves here in a bit of a fit for his ride. As soon as I park at the hospital for surgery this morning, I’m ushered into the chief of surgery’s office. They tell me what happened, but all I hear is blah, blah, blah. I want to know who was on in the ER when he came in, but it didn’t matter. He was dead at the scene, so my walk—more like huff—down there was futile. And then it’s identify the body, notify the boys, his brothers, you guys. It’s all sort of happening to someone else.” At her pause there was a hesitant knock on the door.

The other four women walked in, each with a bottle, looking as if they were the ones who had lost their husband.

Jo glanced at Amber, picked up her wine, and led the way out to the patio. Everyone followed somberly, as if they were on their way to the gallows. Quickly, Jo’s protective wall reasserted itself and she looked around at the women who had been her pillars for fifteen years. No one said anything for some time as they got glasses and poured their drinks.

Amber raised her glass when everyone else’s was full and said, “To Mike!” Robotically, they all clinked glasses, each secretly thankful that this toast wasn’t to one of their husbands. “To Mike!” echoed off the walls of the empty house and surrounded them.

“Fuck,” Stacey said as she set down her glass. “What happened, Jo?”

Amber shot daggers at her and opened her mouth to tell her to stop being so insensitive, but Jo’s hand on her arm stopped her.

“Might as well say it once so we don’t have to rehash it later.” She paused—to catch her breath, really. Telling the boys earlier that day had been the most difficult thing she had ever done. Somehow she knew this wouldn’t be as bad. “He was on his morning ride. And, to tell you the truth, they’re not sure what happened specifically. But he died of TBI—sorry, traumatic brain injury. He was dead on impact.” She didn’t offer more details and no one asked.

An unnatural silence followed. There typically weren’t any quiet periods among the group. Jo watched with a sick fascination as all of her friends, with the exception of Amber, avoided her eyes. She imagined she would see reflections of pity, sympathy, and relief in all of them. She knew her gaze would probably mirror that if she were on the other side. They drank in silence.

The appearance of Willa broke the quiet, which was par for the course with her. Jo sat watching as Willa walked over to her, crouched down in front of her chair, and pulled her into an embrace. “I’m so sorry, Dr. J.,” she murmured. “I will always miss him.”

Jo grabbed ahold of Willa and hugged her fiercely. “Thank you,” she said.

Willa pulled away and stood. “Anyone need a refill?” she offered. Knowing that none of the ladies would turn down more wine, Willa moved toward the sliding glass doors, turned slightly and said, “Mom, what’s a good chaser?”

Amber looked curiously at her oldest daughter. Meeting Willa’s gaze, she stood and walked toward her. “I’m not sure what we’ve got. Let’s check it out.”

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