Night Shift Page 7


“I never told her I felt that way,” Kiki said childishly. “Aunt Mildred, I mean.”

“You think she was dumb? You think she didn’t know?”

That was exactly what Kiki had thought. As if a few smiles and hugs and flattering comments would pull the wool over Aunt Mildred’s eyes.

“So you really like this place?” Kiki was truly amazed.

“I love it,” Fiji said fiercely. “I love the house, I love my business, I love the town.” Despite everything, she added to herself, without spelling out what “everything” was.

“I just figured you’d fix it up and sell it.” Kiki laughed.

“To whom? You noticed a booming housing market around Midnight?”

“Well, no.” Kiki said, still smiling. “You really do like living here?”

“I really do.” Fiji smiled back, just a little, showing her teeth. “So you left Marty, huh? What did he do to break the camel’s back?”

“He stole some of my jewelry and pawned it. Then he tried to tell me I’d lost it.”

“Why’d he need the money so bad?”

“He’s developed a gambling addiction,” Kiki said stiffly. “He isn’t getting any help, and he’s lost almost all his money, so to save myself and my own things, I had to get out. I put some stuff in Mom’s attic, and then I lit out.”

“So you came here.” Fiji smelled a large rat, much bigger than the little creature Mr. Snuggly had stowed in her shoe.

“Yeah, I came here.”

“Mom wouldn’t let you stay?”

“She made it clear that if Marty came by her house, I couldn’t expect any help from her.”

“What about Dad? He used to be pretty much ready to defend his darling.” Fiji had always been sure she wasn’t included in that defense.

“I don’t know how much you talk to Mom. . . .”

“Hardly at all. What?” Fiji was suddenly alert. There was a serious note in Kiki’s voice, a note that said, “Sit up and listen close.”

“Dad has the onset of Alzheimer’s,” Kiki said.

Fiji could only stare at her sister. “Mom didn’t think she needed to tell me? And you didn’t call to tell me?” she said, without any inflection.

Kiki pursed her lips. “I’m telling you now. This is pretty new. I stop by their house maybe twice a week, and I didn’t notice anything wrong for a long time. He was absentminded about things—but he didn’t do any one thing that scared me. It was just like, ‘Where’d I put my car keys? Where’d I leave my phone?’ Stuff like that.” She looked around the shop as if she were appreciating Fiji’s arrangements, but Fiji knew better. “Then one day he called me from the hardware store. He couldn’t remember how to get home.”

“But he could remember how to call you?” Fiji groped to understand.

“He liked my picture by my phone number, so he hit that one.” Kiki shook her head. “Could have been much worse.”

“That must have been really scary. For him. For you.”

Kiki nodded. “No shit.”

“So you decided to come here upon the breakup of your marriage, instead of Mom’s?”

“Yes,” Kiki said firmly. “You know she’s always hated Marty, and I couldn’t stand to listen to her gloat. Plus, helping her with Dad is really stressful. I need to unwind, not get more tense.”

Since Fiji had no intention of going home to help her mother take care of her dad, she hardly had the moral high ground, she realized. “I can understand that,” Fiji said. And she did. But Fiji also knew there was more that Waikiki Cavanaugh Ransom had to tell her, and she supposed sooner or later she would have to hear it. She could hardly tell Kiki to turn around and drive back to Houston, though for a moment that seemed like a delightful possibility. But the bond of family prevailed, somewhat to the new Fiji’s disappointment.

“Well, then, the guest bedroom is just back here,” Fiji said. “I’m sure you remember.” When the family had visited her mother’s aunt, of course Kiki had come, too. “There’s not that much house to remember.”

Fiji walked down the little hall. The bathroom was on her left, her own bedroom was on her right, and the guest room was after the bathroom on the left, across from the kitchen. It was a small room, but now it was a real guest bedroom since she’d bought a shed for the backyard.

Bobo had helped her put it up. Well, Bobo had put it up, with assistance from her and Diederik and a few hours of skilled labor provided by Teacher Reed. The happy memory turned sour in a second, now that she knew she would always be a buddy, never a lover. Fiji pushed back the wave of misery. She would not show weakness in front of her sister.

The bed was single and covered with a bright patchwork quilt. There was a red bedside table holding a lamp and a box of tissues. Otherwise, the room now contained only a narrow chest of drawers (purchased from the pawnshop) and a narrow wardrobe (likewise).

Kiki looked around her, her lips pressed tight together. It didn’t take a mind reader to tell that Kiki had a low opinion of these accommodations.

Fiji let that roll off her back.

“Okay, I’ll go get my suitcase,” Kiki said. She jerked her thumb down the hall. “That’s the only bathroom?”

“Yes. I know it’s not what you’re used to, but we’re lucky Aunt Mildred put one in. She used to have an outhouse.”

“Ew.” Kiki’s disgusted face was enough reply. She pivoted to go to her car out front.

“You can move your car back behind the house with mine,” Fiji called after her sister. When Kiki was out the door, she sat in the chair behind the counter and put her head in her hands. Ordinarily, she’d be calling Bobo to tell him the big news—a family member had actually come to see her. But of course she could not do that. She thought of telling Manfred, but somehow that didn’t suit her mood, either.

My sister is here and there’s more to that story for sure, my dad’s mind is disintegrating, and I just broke off emotionally from the guy I’ve loved for three years. So what else can happen today? Fiji asked herself.

The bell on the door tinkled as it opened, and Fiji stood up to see an actual customer coming in. “Hi,” she said, hoping she sounded passably sane. “What can I do for you?”

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