Remo took Mel and Ford back to the motel, and I took Court and Ziggy. When we got there Remo asked if I wanted to pour one out for Jordan and I said yes. Ford could sleep through just about anything so we all gathered in Remo’s room where the motel staff had put a crib.
We each brought our water glasses from our own rooms and Remo poured us each a small amount of whiskey while saying, “I’m trying to cut down.”
“Me too,” I said, and raised the glass. “To Jordan Travers. He’ll be missed.”
“He’ll be missed,” Remo replied, and we both drank.
“I’ll miss his parties, too,” Court said. “Daron, did you talk to Matthew today?”
“No, I didn’t, but I should call him.” I wondered how he was taking it. My brain did a little twist: who was going to throw the dance-funeral for Jordan if Jordan wasn’t around to organize it? My stomach clenched as the gaping hole he was leaving in the world became suddenly more real to me.
Ziggy drank in silence, his gaze roaming the stucco ceiling.
Mel didn’t say much either for a while. People drifted into smaller conversations and she came over to me. “It’s rough, huh?”
“Yeah.” I licked the inside of the glass. “I haven’t had to deal with a lot of people dying before.”
“A girl I knew back when I was stripping OD’d.” Mel looked like she’d been putting on weight and her hair was all escaping from the pony tail she’d tried to gather it in. She looked as exhausted as I felt. “It was one of the things that made me want to quit. Stripping, I mean. I never did hard drugs.”
“I knew what you meant.” I sucked in a breath. “It’s just so sudden, you know?”
“Yeah.” She set her glass down on the side table by the bed and changed the subject. “So that was your family, huh?”
“Yep. Turned out to be more of a reunion than expected. Did you need a scorecard to keep everyone straight?”
“Oh, there’s no mixing them up,” she said with a shake of her head. “Your mother and the two older ones, what’s the expression? Piece of work. They’re all pieces of work.”
“Must be kind of a shock to your system having to jump into the deep end of the crazy pool with them, after not talking to them for how long…?”
“Five years. Yeah, I guess. I don’t have much of a basis of comparison, though. Is my family crazier than most?”
“Well, mine aren’t exactly all gems, but.” She shrugged like she felt sorry for me. “It just convinces me even more that I should stay in Atlanta.”
Whoa. That was a shock to my system. All of a sudden I knew we were talking about something more important and difficult than just my family being nutty, and I wasn’t ready for it. Why was she telling me this? “You mean, instead of what, Los Angeles? What convinced you?” I made eye contact with Remo then and he must’ve seen the panic in my face because he hurried over.
“Merry Christmas, love,” he said, and bent to kiss her on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas my ass,” Mel said. “Remo Cutler, you need to stop trying to gloss everything over and get real.”
“You don’t love Claire. That much is obvious.”
Remo looked at her in confusion. “I told you I don’t. I told you you’ve got nothing to worry about on that acc–”
“You think about her constantly, you worry about her, you never forgot her, but you don’t love her,” she said, which only added to the confusion. “She’s a charity case to you.”
“Yes…?” Remo said tentatively, still unsure why they were disagreeing instead of agreeing.
“The whole family, in fact. It’s charity, Remo. It’s not love. It’s charity.”
“If this is about the amount of money I’m spending–”
“No!” She hammered him on the chest with one fist. “This is not about the money, although if I were smart maybe I’d be asking you why you weren’t putting that money away for your own kid’s college.”
“Ford’s college fund is alread–”
“Will you shut up and listen to what I’m trying to say?”
In fact, we were all hanging on her every word at that point, and I was about to shush Remo myself.
Melissa’s hair came loose from the ponytail holder completely as she shook her head in frustration. “You don’t know how to love people, Remo. You only know how to give them money. Claire, Daron, Louis,” she named off a couple of other names I don’t remember. “And that goes for me, too. You don’t love me, honey.” Tears began to run down her face. “I know you mean well. I know you don’t mean to hurt me. But you don’t love Claire, and you don’t love me either.”
“I’ll leave in the morning. No reason to stick around where I’m not–”
“Mel!” Remo raised his voice, which shocked me and I was already feeling shocked to begin with. Ford didn’t wake up. “Goddammit. I don’t know what’s got into you but you are one hundred percent wrong! And this isn’t the first time you’ve tried to tell me what my feelings are. Honey, I don’t know what I did to make you think I don’t love you, but hearing you say that is breaking my heart.”
You could almost write those words down and have a country song, you know? The fight went on from there in variations of that same theme. Eventually Court, Zig, and I excused ourselves.
In me and Ziggy’s room Court and he analyzed the fight like play by play announcers after a sporting event. “It’s clear to me there’s a major disconnect between them.” “That disconnect may very well be that one of them is sane and the other one is nuts, but I suppose you could argue which is which.” “I wonder what her relationship with her father is like.” “Is he the type who gives money instead of affection?”
I brushed my teeth and got in bed. Court got the hint and said good night. “Hey, big brother, we survived family Christmas,” she said as she went out the door.
Yeah, but not everyone did, I thought to myself.
Ziggy joined me under the covers after a while. I was tired as hell but not sleepy. “They’re doomed if she doesn’t get into therapy,” he said.
“Yeah. I used to do that, you know. Think oh, I’m better at emotions than Daron is. So I must know better how both of us are feeling.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle a little. “You are better at emotions.”
“I’m better at emoting, maybe. But everyone feels what they feel in their own way. Mel seems to be saying she can’t believe Remo loves her because he doesn’t love her in a way that makes HER feel it. But she’ll never admit that then maybe she is the one with the problem? I don’t know. It’s that or she’s just looking for an excuse to split up and so she’s going to come up with a way that makes it all look impossible.”
“Or she’s so depressed that everything looks impossible no matter what.”
“Yeah, that’s possible, too.” He snuggled up to me. “That could be us, you know. If some things went differently, if a couple of misunderstandings took root.”
I didn’t want to hear him say that, but at the same time I knew it was true, and if I was going to say the tough things to Claire, I had to be able to hear them, too. “Do you really think Mel and Remo are doomed?”
“Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to put money on how long they’ll be together,” Ziggy said with a yawn. “The second she finds someone she thinks gives her what she needs emotionally, I think she’s gone.”
There was silence for a while and I thought he dozed off. The whole idea of giving each other what you need emotionally didn’t seem that complicated until I started thinking about well, but what about the situations where one person is what the other one needs but it doesn’t go back the other way? Was that kind of how it was with me and Ziggy in the beginning but now it wasn’t? I supposed you could say we’d grown together instead of apart.
He wasn’t completely asleep yet after all. “Do you want to talk about Jordan?”
“No,” I said. “Unless you want to.”
“No. I told you. I can wait a while to process that. I can wait.”
I think he was asleep before I could say anything more.
(Sometimes you just need a cheesy overproduced hair-metal ballad. I confess I had forgotten of the existence of this band entirely until I checked the chart for hits of the year. -d)