(Two bits of news hit today regarding DGC, one good, one not so good. I posted details in a public post at Patreon https://www.patreon.com/posts/bam-biz-strikes-23101115 ! -ctan)
I had left Claire’s door with the lock thrown so I could let myself back in.
She had heated up a pot of water using the in-room coffee maker and was sitting on the edge of the bed with the remote in her hand watching some kind of infomercial with the volume almost all the way down. She was wearing a bathrobe and had a scarf wrapped around her head.
I spread the somewhat sweaty tea bags out on the dresser and saw there were both chamomile and another non-caffeinated variety: mint. I associated mint with being peppy rather than sleepy and decided to stick with chamomile even though I didn’t really like it. I put two chamomile bags into the glass pot of water and swished them around until the water looked less colorless and then poured out two mugs.
I picked one up and said, “You had better come get yours because my hands are shaking and I’m afraid I’ll spill it on you.”
She looked up at me. “Are you all right?”
“Just freaked out is all.” I sat down in the desk chair with my hot, supposedly calming beverage. Here goes. “It happens sometimes. When I’m alone.” I’d meant to say when Ziggy’s gone, but veered away from it at the last second.
She picked up her mug and made a sort of self-satisfied sound. “Mm-hmm. It’s not so easy to get through alone.”
“Is that why you married your second husband?” Yeah, I was being kind of blunt.
She snorted. “Oh, it took more than that. After the years with your father, I thought returning to some kind of moral authority would be healthy. Like quitting smoking.”
“Oh, you know. He was more like my own father than yours. Doesn’t it strike you as strange sometimes that we refer to Catholic priests as ‘father?’”
“But he wasn’t one of those.”
“No, of course not. Totally newfangled evangelical. But you know what I mean. They all want to be the shepherd to their flock, but they’re really wolves in sheep’s clothing.” She shook her head. “Do you think I made bad choices?”
I was about to say the automatic thing–oh no, of course not–but I paused to think about it so it would seem at least a little believable. And then I did think about it and decided not to say it. “Do you want me to say the comforting thing or what I really think?”
“Lies aren’t as comforting as they used to be,” she said, and sipped daintily from the edge of her mug.
“Okay. What I think is that your choices aren’t what led you to having cancer. So they’re kind of water under the bridge now.”
“Hm. Well, that is one way to put things in perspective,” she said. “I suppose staying up at night worrying about might-have-beens could be a monumental waste of my energy.” She gestured at me with her mug. “What about you? What’s keeping you up tonight, dear?”
“Oh, a bunch of things. Like wondering if my friend who died wouldn’t have if I’d been there. That kind of stuff.”
“Oh goodness. You really are focused on this life-and-death stuff, aren’t you.”
My mouth hung open a little. Was there something more important than “life and death stuff?” Like what? Honor or principles or something? I couldn’t figure out what to say to that.
She sipped again, waited a beat, then went on. “I know why you’re worried sick when he’s gone.” He. Ziggy. Of course. “Because you don’t trust him. You want to, but you know you can’t.”
My stomach twisted like there was a knife in it.
“I’ve thought a lot about the word faithful. Think about it. Faithful. Full of faith. Here you are, full of faith that he’s going to go off to the big city without you and come back with his virtue intact.”
“Um, yeah, I guess.”
“And if he’s faithful to you, he does. But I can see it in your face. This leap of faith is killing you. You’ve leapt off the cliff already but you don’t know if he’s going to catch you or let you fall.”
I felt a lump in my throat making it hard to swallow the tea.
“Your father used to do this all the time. He would set up situations where I had to trust him, where if I trusted him, and he delivered, everything would be fine. Everything would be fixed. Everything would be…” She held her breath for a moment before sighing out the word: “Golden.”
“But he always let you down.”
“No!” She exclaimed, eyes going wide, then tittering. “If he was always a let-down, it would have been far more obvious that he was a lost cause. No. He would deliver, just enough, just often enough, to make me think he was reformed, to make me think he had finally grown into being the man he should have been, had learned his lesson, turned over a leaf, a new beginning…”
I began to realize those were all words Digger must have used in his arguments to her.
“Any success, I learned, was always either a setup for a bigger fall or a coverup for something that had already happened and I just hadn’t found out about yet. Your father had no moral compass other than the one between his legs and he went wherever it pointed.”
“And you thought your preacher guy was different?”
“Yes, but I was wrong. He just dressed it up differently.” She sniffed. “This is not to say that I was blameless. But I didn’t make them the way they were.”
“And what are you saying, then. That I didn’t make Ziggy the way he is?”
She blinked. “I wasn’t saying anything about you at all, or him, but what you say is true. You don’t make him worse.”
I snagged a little thread in what she was saying and pulled on it to unravel it. “But do I make him better?”
“And does he make me better? That’s really the question to ask.” I set my mug down and looked at my palms, one scarred, one not. One topped by a gold ring. “I really believe we’re better together than apart.”
“But here you are losing sleep over wondering what he’s up to.” She shook her head slowly. Sadly. Then she yawned. “I think this stuff is working.”
I went and took the half-empty mug from her and helped her get back into bed.
I went back to my room to find my message light blinking. My heart nearly stopped when I saw it. Shit. Had he tried to call me back?
It was a message from the front desk saying that there was “a package there waiting for me.”
I paged Ziggy with a 911. Then locked and latched my door and disconnected the phone. I know that made no sense. I was not thinking rationally. I ransacked the toiletry stuff he’d left behind until I found a travel bottle of Benadryl, took two, and then stuck my head under a pile of pillows in the bed until I passed out.