Quiet Lost is a story of betrayal, murder, love and lost love. It will require several chapters to tell Neil’s story.
Friday night, September 11
“Gin!” Neil laid down his runs and sets.
Cassie threw her cards on the sofa table between them, “That’s not fair! You always win, Daddy.”
“Not true. You won a game last week. Besides, what does fair have to do with anything?” His eyes twinkled as he suppressed a mischievous grin. He wanted to reach out and muss her hair, but restrained himself – that would lead to an all-out war.
She stuck out her tongue, gave a small snort and plopped back on the couch.
“Go help your mom with dinner.”
“Daddy, let’s play one more game.”
He shook his head and half chuckled, “No ma’am, get in there. Doesn’t it smell good? Your mom’s cooking makes my mouth water.”
She set her lips in a pout and stomped her feet – but not too loud – as she sulked into the kitchen. Samantha smiled and hugged her, “You can set the table, Cass.”
He watched his slender daughter on the other side of the long bar that separated the living area from the large well-equipped kitchen. Her face was a young version of her mother’s. She even moved with Samantha’s catlike grace; no doubt she’d be a beauty in a few years. For that reason alone, he was thankful for her strong, look-out-for-herself personality.
Neil leaned back in his recliner, closed his eyes, took in a deep breath of fragrant air: Greek Chicken – onions, lemon slices and fresh oregano layered thick on a whole splayed chicken smeared with olive oil, edges curling and crisping as it baked. He dozed briefly drifting in the warm, humid air – a product of Samantha’s culinary efforts and logs crackling in the large fireplace. Through the haze of half-sleep, he listened to Samantha and Cassie’s mom-daughter banter; the repartee of a young woman-girl taking the first steps of separating herself from parents on her way to adulthood.
The doorbell rang. “Cassie, would you get that?” Neil could hear her running toward the door even as he called out.
“Hey, Cassie!” the deep voice of his younger brother blew in past the front door on a gust of cold evening air. “Dang, you’re getting pretty,” gravelly undertones of a heavy smoker made Brad sound older than his thirty-five years.
“Uncle Brad, yay! Dad, Uncle Brad’s here,” excitement making Cassie’s voice sound younger than her almost thirteen years.
Neil pushed the recliner upright and moaned quietly, “I wonder what he needs this time.” He wished Cassie would just slam the door in his face. Brad was trouble. Always. From the day he was born. Any time he showed up, he needed money or help of some sort.
Cassie was leading Brad into the living room by the hand, Brad allowing her to drag him as if he were a reluctant guest. Neil snickered; Brad was never a reluctant recipient of anything.
“Hey, Bro,” Brad grabbed Neil in a bear hug. Neil wrapped his arms around his brother and felt a thawing; it surprised him and he held on a little longer. When Brad let go, Neil searched his brother’s eyes, hoping he’d see a dawning of maturity and wisdom, but Brad was already moving away, heading for Samantha.
“Sammy, damn my brother’s a lucky man,” he grabbed her and swung her in a circle.
She giggled, “You’re just in time for dinner. Cassie, set another place and another wine glass. Neil, will you put the chicken on the table and carve? I’ll get the salad.”
Quiet descended as everyone dug into the delicious meal.
“Are you going to stay with us, Uncle Brad?”
He kept his head down, “I guess that’s up to your dad, Cass.”
Neil sighed, “Ok, the guest room is empty for a few days. When do you head back to San Diego? You on vacation?”
“Well, no, I lost my job, but I’m sure I can find some sort of job here in Boulder,” the words coming quick. “I appreciate the stay – it’s a lot better than a motel. Especially when Sam’s doing the cooking.”
Neil stared at Brad, dread seeping into his bones, “You’re moving to Boulder? What happened to ‘life in paradise’? I thought all was grand there?”
“I don’t know. I need a change of scenery. I got tired of no seasons. Wanted to see some snow, ski a little this winter.”
“Yeah!” Cassie’s face shone, “Will you take me skiing, Uncle Brad? Mom and Dad don’t go enough. I can’t wait till I can drive, then I can go all the time.”
“You bet I will. We’ll go every weekend.”
Neil gave Brad a hard look, “Well, just plan on moving somewhere else in a week, even if it is a cheap motel.”
Samantha looked at Neil and then Brad, a small sadness in her eyes, “Cassie, help me put the dishes in the dishwasher.”
Neil and Brad carried theirs over to the sink and then sat down at opposite ends of the table finishing their wine watching the girls cleaning up.
“Head to bed now, Sweetie. I’ll come give you a hug when I go up for my bath.”
“Oh, Mom, can’t I stay up a little longer? It’s Friday night.”
Samantha looked at Neil.
“Cassie, do what your mom says,” Neil stood up and hugged her. “You’ll have plenty of time to visit with Uncle Brad this weekend.”
She gave Brad a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and headed up the stairs two at a time.
Samantha wiped down the counters and set the dishwasher timer. “Brad, it’s nice to have you here. Make yourself at home. Let me know if I can get you anything. I’m pooped.” She hugged Brad, “I’ll see you in the morning.” She kissed Neil on the forehead, nibbled the top of his ear, whispered, “I’ll see you in a few…”
Neil watched her walk away, wishing he could follow her right now and make his brother vanish. But he needed to set some ground rules including making sure Brad understood his stay in the guest room would be temporary.
Brad walked over to the wet bar at the far end of the kitchen and poured a half glass of bourbon.
“Don’t get too comfortable, Brad,” Neil said to his brother’s back. “So, why did you really leave California?” Brad’s head popped up and he stopped what he was doing.
He downed half his drink and turned around, his mouth set, eyes narrowed, breath coming hard. He sat down in the chair closest to his bother and leaned in invading Neil’s space.
“You have no idea,” voice low and harsh. “You’ll never understand. Everything always works out for you, Mr. Perfect.”
“You bring it all on yourself. If you made an effort and lived clean, things would go your way. You’ve just never tried.”
Brad barely shook his head, “I hope you never get in trouble. Life doesn’t forgive. There’s no escaping once this wonderful world decides you’re a loser.”
“That’s just an excuse, Brad, an excuse you’ve used all your life. An excuse to do whatever you want, whenever you want, an excuse to be…” Neil stopped, leaned back a little.
“Yeah, ‘cause I want to be a loser,” Brad finished Neil’s thought.
Brad sat quiet for a moment, drink half way to his mouth. His eyes glazed as if he were somewhere else. When they cleared, he downed the rest of his drink. “You just keep thinking that, Brother.” Brad stood up, rinsed his glass and set it in the sink. “I’m going to bed.”
Click on Quiet Lost: Chapter 6 to the right.