A smile was not the reaction I had when I saw Lilibeth standing there, but it was Ziggy’s. I’m not sure he smiled because he was putting on a front for her or if he was truly delighted that now he wouldn’t be bored.
Or both. I know. Or both.
“Lilibeth Marks, I do declare,” he said, like they were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in forever.
She crushed out her cigarette under one leather pump and accepted air kisses on both cheeks from him, even as she was saying, “Oh, are we friendly now?”
“Oh, better, we’re family now,” Ziggy said, showing his teeth again. “So how’s my father in law?”
For a second I thought he’d slipped and said father instead of mother, but no, he meant father.
“He’s… fine,” she said guardedly. “I thought you hated him.”
“No, that’s your other siblings.” He hooked an arm through mine “I merely fired him. How he feels about me is a different story.”
“Ha.” She pursed her lips and said no more about that.
“Hi, Lilibeth,” I said in the silence. “I was wondering if anyone had your number.”
“Jan paged me.” She sniffed. “Who else is here?”
“Courtney and Remo.” We walked toward the doors and they opened automatically as we approached. “Janine’s been in and out with Landon.”
“Well, I had to come pay my last disrespects.” She snorted and then seemed unhappy no one rose to her bait. My sister never did like being ignored.
I knew intellectually that she had a right to be there, but emotionallyI just didn’t like it. After her antics at Christmas had reminded me why I had checked out of the entire family in the first place, I just couldn’t imagine how her being here now was going to help anyone, Claire and herself included.
“Where is he?” Claire was asking as I came into her room, Ziggy and Lilibeth preceding me. “Where’s my son?”
It sent goosebumps right across my back to hear her call me her son. When I was growing up you know there were times she pretended I wasn’t. “I’m here.”
“Come here,” she said, and took my hand as Courtney vacated the chair next to the bed and went to stand by Remo. Her grip was weak. “I wasn’t sure if you were still around.”
Like I might have left town? “For pete’s sake, I went to Memphis for all of two hours last week, Mom. Other than that I haven’t been outside a five-mile radius–”
She cut me off with a cough-laugh and patting my hand. “Listen to you, now. ‘Mom.’ Like you’re still a child at heart.”
My throat was a lump of emotion. I squeezed her fingers since I couldn’t say anything.
Her eyes drifted over to Lilibeth, looking her up and down, then back to me. “I want you to know something.” She got a little glint of delight in her eye, like she couldn’t wait to tell me.
“You can tell me anything,” I said.
“Well, then, two things,” she said, nodding slowly. “First is, you know better than to take that indignant tone with me. Why, can’t you imagine that a mother might be concerned that her son might abandon her when he literally walked out on her and disappeared from her life for five whole years?”
I think my mouth hung open. She smiled sweetly at me while I just gaped at her. There were so many things wrong with what she just said that I couldn’t even scrape together a coherent argument, and she knew that would make it look like she was right. I finally just shrugged and came back with, “You know I had to get out of there.”
“I know. You had to follow the footsteps of the other one who ran away to join the circus.” She cast a low-lidded glare in Remo’s direction. “And I know I’m the pot calling the kettle black.” Because she would be up and out of there herself not too long after that.
I tried to call her once, remember? From a hotel in New York City. It must have been the summer of 1986, when I was on tour with Nomad that first time. Just… to see. Just for the hell of it. “What was the second thing? You said you were going to tell me two things.”
She shot another glance at Lilibeth, then said, “Oh. Yes. I wanted to say it before it’s too late. That I wanted you to know I’m not disappointed in you. That’s all.”
“Oh for crying out loud,” LIlibeth exclaimed, and then stomped out of the room.
Claire sighed loudly and closed her eyes, like maybe that was her dying breath. But it wasn’t. It was just that she didn’t have any other way to make a dramatic exit. She either fell asleep or pretended to, quite obviously still breathing and very much not-expired.
Ziggy and I exchanged a look. It was the most, well, Claire-like she’d been in weeks. I guess maybe Lilibeth brought it out in her.
We proceeded to pretend she was asleep. I whispered. “When did Lilibeth get here?”
“A couple of hours ago,” Courtney stage-whispered back.
“How long’s she staying?” Ziggy added.
“Not sure, but my guess is either until the end or until she can’t stand it anymore,” Court replied.
Remo stepped forward. “She’s here to scout for Digger. I can feel it.”
“‘I can feel it’? Like a disturbance in the Force or something,” Court said, stiffling her own snickering. “Not that you’re wrong about that. He wouldn’t dare show up here, himself, would he?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t put it past him if he thought he could get something out of it,” Ziggy said, and Remo nodded in agreement. “If he thought there was any money to be had.”
“Last thing Lilibeth said to me, last time I saw her, was that she was going to help him sue us for all we were worth.” I slipped my hand out of Claire’s and stretched.
“Like he wasn’t already trying to?” Ziggy yawned. “Sounds to me like he convinced her if she’ll just foot the bill for his lawyers and whatever, that a big payday will be coming down the road. You know how well he plays the aggrieved party. I’m sure he’s left out a lot of important facts.”
There were general nods of agreement all around the room: we’d all been taken in by Digger at one point in our lives. None of us really felt all that sorry for my eldest sister, though.
I took the chance then to slip away to the restroom and try to set down all the hot button emotions I’d been juggling since my mother had said what she said. Had she felt abandoned when I left home even though she’d always acted like she didn’t want me there? Even if she hadn’t, had she revised history now to make herself think that’s how she had felt because of how she felt now? How did she feel now? And could I actually trust myself to feel anything when she told me she wasn’t disappointed in me when I was pretty sure she only said that to imply that she was disappointed in Lilibeth?
Ziggy wasn’t in there with me, but I could almost hear his voice saying, well, did it have to be “only” to imply that? Why couldn’t she have also meant it sincerely, but have conveniently timed telling you to also make it a dig at your sister?
I cracked open the door. They were all still out there, watching Claire sleep. I gestured for Ziggy. He slipped into the bathroom with me.
“Yes, dear one?”
“I want to check something. So, when Claire said she wasn’t disappointed in me, how should I feel if she was only saying it to get a shot in at my sister?”
Ziggy put his forehead against mine and blinked his lashes. “Love. Just because she was ripping your sister a new one doesn’t mean she didn’t also mean it.”
I grinned and kissed him. “That’s what I thought you’d say.”
“Well, it’s true.”
“I’m still really not sure how to feel about it, though.”
“Are you waiting for me to tell you? Because I thought you didn’t like it when I told you how to feel.”
“I’m not asking you to tell me. But maybe me telling you will help me figure it out?”
“Seems reasonable.” He kissed me back. “I will tell you one thing, though. If there are a bunch of different possible ways to feel about it, I’d suggest picking the one that makes you feel the best about yourself.”
Which was probably the one that made me feel best about Claire, too. She was not a charitable person in her life, but maybe it made sense to give her the benefit of the doubt in the end.
(Rock out to this one, guys. It’s been kind of forgotten. -d)