They lay in bed listening to the rain, talking little. Lila was on her side, her face snuggled against JJ’s neck. He was on his back, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. He remembered the cracks on the ceiling above his childhood bed, how they formed a river canyon and tributaries, a whole regional map up there. As a child, he lay in his bed and imagined a world of heroic deeds, unjust tragedies, and vengeance playing out on that ceiling. An entire fictional watershed was drained by the topographic cracks up there. There were no cracks yet on this adult farmhouse ceiling. Just some undulations here and there, a rolling prairie rather than a canyon land.
His phone, still in the pocket of his jeans on the floor, double buzzed for an incoming text.
“Don’t,” Lila said into his neck.
“I think something’s wrong.”
“What else is new.”
“I mean, like someone’s sick. Or died.”
“Someone’s going to die if you get out of this bed.”
“I have to,” he said and rolled away from her. He reached down and out, stretching for the jeans. He snagged a belt loop with a finger, reeled them in, and retrieved the phone from the pocket. “See, I didn’t have to get out of bed.”
Lila groaned and rolled away.
JJ read the text: From Betty (Satan), “Where are you!!! Barry had affair and I left.”
He stared at the screen and a strange sibling mix of emotions washed over him. Sadness for his sister, for anyone, betrayed and alone. Disappointment in Barry, tempered by a “What took you so long?” wonderment. Smug satisfaction that his upwardly mobile sister had been derailed in a non-life-threatening way. And, dread over what she wanted from him. Mostly there was the dread. She was in the area, a place she never visited, and that meant she expected to stay in the area. Probably in this very house where he finally lay snug in bed with the elusive love of his life.
“Well,” Lila said to the wall.
“Not good,” he said. “I have to call her.”
“Barry had an affair.”
“What took him so long?”
“Yeah, I know. But…”
“Oh, fuck it,” she said and flung back the blanket. She got up and thumped naked out of the bedroom. “Fuckin’ drama,” she muttered in the hall and went into the bathroom.
JJ called Betty.
She launched right into it. “Where are you? I was at your house. The car was there but no one answered. I tried to go in but the door was locked.”
Thank God he had locked it. She would have found them cowering in the downstairs bathroom.
“I went for a walk,” he said.
“Well, I’m coming back.”
Lila walked back into the room and JJ followed her with his eyes. She didn’t look at him but went over to the chair to sort through her discarded clothes. She started to dress.
“Listen Betty, it’s not a good time. I have a guest and we’re very busy today.”
Quiet. Then, “Are you saying that your own sister, abandoned by her husband, can’t come over?”
“Go home, Betty. Work it out with Barry.”
Lila had turned to watch him and he met her eye.
“It’s going to be ok,” he said and hung up. He turned the phone off and Lila came back to bed, where it was warm.