In Hot Water Pt. 01
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This is the first part of a slow burn about a brother and sister who reunite and grow closer than most. They discover secrets invading their work, school, and family life, as they navigate coffee, sex, abandonment, social contracts, fish, Easter candy, encryption, protests, binge drinking, and King Tut.
My editor Liz deserves enormous credit. She generously poured her insight and wisdom into this story, and it is much better because of her efforts. Thank you, Liz.
All characters over eighteen.
Part 1 of 6.
“Get whatever you want,” says the Red Haired Lady. Her dark glare burns at me across the table. “I don’t suppose you have any money, do you?”
“No,” I say.
“That was his little addition.” She lifts a plastic saucer off a stack next to the window, and tells me I need to do something for her.
“I need to?”
“Yes.” The Red Haired Lady splits her wooden chopsticks, and scrapes one down the side of the other, carving away tiny splinters.
I try to ask a question, but she holds up her hand, and I stop.
She says they can take care of all my problems. Money, work, school, everything.
I say, “I can do all that on my own,” but I have no idea.
Outside the window, a bullhorn screeches, then a voice barks garbled orders over a loudspeaker. Sirens wail in the distance.
“I didn’t want to do this,” she says. “But think of your sister.”
“What about her?” I’m always thinking about Jessica. But that’s not what she means.
“This affects her too.”
“She knows,” I say. “We’ve talked about it.”
“Yes,” says the Red Haired Lady, with a hint of a smile. “I imagine you have.” Crimson nail polish slides something in front of me.
A chill runs up my spine, and I’m thinking about the Easter basket I took from my sister when we were little. Hiding under Mom’s blue birdbath in the garden and feasting on stolen treats.
The Red Haired Lady speaks more, but I’m miles away. Fiery curls dissolve into black rain pouring over clear bright emeralds. Five sharp talons pierce my back, and pin my face against a wall of gold paint. Above me, a black and blue window screams, shattering the emeralds into daggers, but the talons hold me tight in a bath of warm fruit.
“I’m almost impressed,” she says. “In public, like that.”
For the first time since we sat down, I hope my phone is dead.
The Red Haired Lady takes a bite of fish, and her curls bounce up and down, as she chews. She wistfully turns her head to the side, as though she’s admiring an invisible landscape. “Do you know how I found out?” She reaches into her purse, and the smooth bronze tan of her knuckles fades to white, as she waves the trophy back and forth. “Your father. Is. Not. Careful. And neither are his children, it would seem.”
She keeps talking, but I’m back under the birdbath. Then I’m wrapped in a purple comforter, safe and warm, in a bed that’s not my own.
“Didn’t he cheat on my mother with you?” I ask.
The Red Haired Lady studies me. “I seem to recall you had a girlfriend. What was her name?”
“Rachel. We broke up.”
One thin eyebrow floats higher. “Was she not exciting enough? Clearly Jessica shares your taste for things.” She takes a tall drink of water. “You’re not going to deny it?”
“I don’t see the point.”
“Hah.” The Red Haired Lady roars back, and her lips carve a smile of pristine ivory. “You own it, I’ll give you that. Now I see why she likes you.”
Sirens pierce my ears from outside the restaurant, as I look at the trophy, held tight in her fist. “What are you going to do with that?”
“It depends. You can help me, and go back to whatever sort of life you’re living. Hang out with Rachel, or–” She stops herself. “Whoever.”
“Or?” I say.
“Or a court reporter transcribes all the sordid details of your life.” The Red Haired Lady rests her chopsticks across the tray in front of her. “What do you want to do?”
I’m not sure how to answer.
This all started the day I broke up with Rachel, right after my sister moved in.
See, the house has this problem with the hot water heater.
The day before school starts, I’m scrubbing shampoo into my hair when the water loses its heat. But it doesn’t turn cold right away. A brief window of a few seconds allows me to rinse, before the stream becomes a glacial torrent. I crank the stainless steel knob all the way hot, and that rejuvenates the warmth, but it won’t last. Hot water pours over my head, as I run my fingers through my hair as fast as I can. Then the water starts to cool again. Satisfied that I’m clear of all suds, I shut off the water. Pipes clunk behind square white tiles, and the cold flow over me dwindles to a few drops. I shiver and freeze as I reach through the vinyl curtain, grasping for a towel.
“Did you use it all?” Jessica yells from down the hallway.
“I Girne Escort think so.” I step onto the bathmat and wipe my sides as hard as I can stand, hoping it produces some warmth. It does not.
“When does the bus come by?” Her voice carries through the cracked door, but I don’t see her. “I need to go buy stuff for school.”
“In a bit.” I wrap the towel around my waist. “You can come in.”
Jessica pushes the door open and stands in the doorway. She’s barefoot, bundled in a white bathrobe, with her straight black hair tied up in a bun, and a long silver nail file poking out of her clenched fist. Her green eyes flare at me briefly, then turn to the shower.
“I tried to go as fast as I could.”
Jessica groans. “How long did you wait after Mom’s shower before you went in?”
“She left 20 minutes ago.” I pull my robe off the back of the bathroom door. “But I don’t know when she showered.”
Jessica curls her lip up on one side, then turns and stomps out of the bathroom. The thuds of her heels grow fainter, as I fasten my robe, and hang up my towel.
A toilet, a stand-up shower with a detachable showerhead, and a small counter with a sink are all squeezed into the tiny bathroom. The door opens across from the shower, and the toilet sits off to the side. It’s not bad for a single person, but tight with two. A light fixture hangs from the ceiling, next to a fan. Natural light spreads in from a thin rectangular frosted window above the toilet, but the window does not open.
I wear my robe down to the kitchen in search of a Pop-Tart, but all that greets me on the counter is a bowl of peaches. I snatch up a piece of fruit and take a bite before checking the ripeness. Juice dribbles down my arm, and into the sleeve of my robe. I scurry over to the sink, and raise my elbow up high to let the juice drain off my wrist, while doing my best to slurp up the parts of the fruit still in front of my mouth.
“Fucking hell,” says Jessica. “It’s all steamed up in here.”
I wipe my hands, and head to my room to get dressed, but I get distracted by movement and stop by the bathroom. The door arcs wide open and Jessica stands over the sink, still wrapped in her robe, waving some dark colored wand over one eye. I lean against the doorframe and watch my sister work.
“We need to make a list for Mom,” says Jessica, her focus not leaving the mirror. “All the shit that’s wrong with this place.”
“She knows about the water heater already. We can tell her about the fogging up. Maybe somebody can fix the fan.”
“I’m making a list. In writing. Like Dad would do.”
“Yeah, that will probably get her attention. Did the list thing come from Donna? I don’t remember that being a thing.”
“I think so. The Red Haired Lady is very structured.”
“You still call her that?”
“She is that,” says Jessica, moving the makeup wand to her other eye. “It’s all fake, just like her work.”
“She at the same place?”
“Yes, she’s in management now. Hard to believe she was a lowly temp when they got married. Were you there for that? I don’t remember.”
“Dad insisted that I be there, and Mom wasn’t happy about taking me. We just stood in the back during the ceremony, and then left.”
“It’s kind of a blur to me now.” Jessica drops the wand into a makeup bag on the counter, and begins working some other colored implement across her lips. “Dad never mentions anything before his current happy life.” She rolls her eyes at the word ‘happy.’
I pull myself off the doorway, and round the corner to my room to get dressed. I need to get a few things before classes start too, but first I have to get to work. I grab my phone, then march down the hall toward the kitchen door.
I shout, “The bus’ll be here soon,” as I stand holding the door open. “There’s some peaches on the counter if you’re hungry.” White paint flakes off the porch steps, as I head toward the bus stop. When I hit the gravel driveway, a gust of warm September air blows across my face. It feels good on my skin, still frozen from the shower’s parting kiss.
Garrett asks, “How long has she been there?”
“A few days,” I say.
“This is that new house?” He leans against the side of my blue cubicle. Steam fogs up the lenses of his thick black glasses, as he sips from his mug.
“It’s old but new to us.”
Garrett lowers his arm, and his ID badge twists around at the end of a black ribbon strung around his neck. “Going okay there?”
“Jessica uses a lot of water.”
“Girls do that. You ready?”
I stand and gaze across the endless sea of tiny non-offices inside the first floor of the sprawling corporate complex. Corvis Consolidated International, Inc. The biggest of big business. Dad works in senior management, and got me a job as an intern, though I have no idea what I’ll be doing here. Corvis designs, manufactures, and markets everything Kıbrıs Escort from consumer products, to water filters, to farm machinery. Their new electric toothbrush is selling particularly well.
Garrett takes his lean off the upholstered wall, and starts down the corridor along the outside of cubicle city. His badge dances in front of him, flashing a bright yellow streak, as it catches the overhead fluorescent lights. I follow his tall, slender frame past two-story-high square windows with crisscrossing steel beams, and down to the other end of the cubicle farm, a football field away from my desk. By the time we get to the first hallway intersection, I’ve already lost my bearings. This is only my second day.
We leave the sea of pale blue cubicles, and march under a beige archway with three elevators on either side. Garrett points up at the passageway in front of us. A mirror shaped like the bottom of a globe hangs from the ceiling. “Always watch those.”
“How did you get stuck showing me around?”
“I sort of volunteered. Figured since I know your sister, it would be better than a random stranger.”
“You met her at school?” I ask.
“Kind of. My buddy dates a friend of hers.” Garrett leads us into a new ocean of cubicles, these ones tan colored.
“You know her well?”
“Well enough. Your sister’s pretty cool. I don’t envy your morning fight for the bathroom though. She might be the only woman I know who is crabbier than Robyn before she’s had coffee.”
“She used to yell at me when we were little.”
I don’t really know my sister. We’d been apart for most of the last ten years, since our parents split when I was eight. Dad moved to Seattle to work at the main corporate campus, and took Jessica with him. I stayed in Portland with Mom. We saw each other at Christmas, but that was about it.
I say, “You probably know my sister better than I do. Do you know my dad too?”
“I know him by reputation, but I’ve never met him.” Garrett stops at the intersection of two wide hallways, and I wait next to him. The floor morphs into some kind of hard synthetic grey material, and the ceiling vaults to at least twice as high as it is over the cubicles. As we wait, a man in orange overalls pulls a motorized cart across our path. A long handle protrudes out the front of the cart, and the man presses several buttons as he tows his cargo. He changes his hand position and a horn like a big rig truck blows, making me jump. A black ribbon hangs around the man’s neck, with his ID hung at the bottom. A red stripe streaks across the side of his badge, where Garrett’s is yellow. Atop the cart’s trailer, a tall, bulky piece of blue machinery wobbles, with bolts and knobs sticking out at varying heights, making it look like a big electric pin cushion. The man nods as he crosses our path. He’s clearly used to moving these devices around.
Garrett crosses the intersection, and I follow him into a manufacturing complex with an even taller ceiling. Walls of chain link steel two stories high line the corridor, though they don’t come close to reaching the ceiling, which makes the place feel like an airplane hangar. Secure access doors sporadically litter the steel chain walls, granting entry to cages, like doors opening out of a hallway. Something beeps off to the side, and I turn to see a man wearing orange coveralls and a white hardhat pulling open a door.
As we walk across the concrete floor, some machinery at the far end whines like an engine on high idle. It sounds like my dad’s car when he leaves it running to keep the AC cold. He dropped off Jessica the other day. She transferred to school here, and is staying with Mom and me. We’re in a 3-bedroom, 1-bath bungalow in need of repairs, so there’s plenty of room. My sister stepped out of Dad’s car onto the driveway and squinted into the sun. A white knit shirt snapped tight around the hourglass curves of her sides above worn blue jeans. Other than her hair, she’s the same as when I saw her the previous winter. Pale, slim, taller than Mom, but a couple inches shorter than me.
I leaned against the post atop the porch steps, and watched the sun glow green in her eyes. Then I catch myself starting at her V-neck, and feel like a creep. I don’t think you’re supposed to admire your sister’s cleavage, but I can’t help it. I find myself wondering how she chose that particular shirt, since she’s only getting dropped off to be with family. I’ve never seen her wear anything that showcases her boobs like this. Maybe she’s trying to attract a guy here already. Then I realize I don’t know why girls wear any of the stuff they do.
“That’s all you’ve got?” Dad asks, squishing his blue polo shirt against the open car door. His dark hair slicks back with some kind of gel holding it in place, over less than the six feet he claims. Mom used to make fun of him when he said he was fully six feet tall, and I wonder if I’ll look like Kıbrıs Escort him in a couple decades. People say we look the same, minus our hair.
“Yeah, I brought the rest over on Friday.” Jessica hoists an oversized handbag, and leans to offset its weight.
“You didn’t have to come all this way,” says my mother, across the top of the stairs from me.
“I had to come down anyway,” says Dad. “I’m taking some boxes of work over to a new project manager. Then we’re going to look at investment properties. Jessica knows Kirsten.”
Jessica says, “Mm-Hmm,” and pushes the car door shut without taking her eyes off her phone. She climbs the steps to where mom and I stand, and fresh citrus aroma splashes over me when she gets to the top. “Bye Dad. Thanks for the ride.”
“I’ll be by this way again soon. We’ll get dinner.”
I say, “Okay,” and hold up my palm in a half wave.
Gravel crunches, as Dad backs up his black BMW, and he’s gone down the street as quickly as he arrived.
“Let me give you the full tour,” says Mom. She pulls the kitchen door open. “This house has some quirks, but we’re working on it.”
I hold out my hand for Jessica to go in first, and she looks up from her phone at me. “It’s good to see you, Alex.” I haven’t seen her in eight months. She looks better than I remember.
A horn honks in front of me.
Garrett says, “Watch out,” and slaps his hand across my chest.
A forklift rushes across the passage in front of us, beeping every few seconds to announce its presence.
“Not really,” I say. “I was up late.”
“Already partying with Jessica?”
“No, girlfriend keeps me up.”
“Oh. I see how it is.”
“It’s not like that. She just moved away and we text way too late.”
“Watch out for the distance stuff. That can get hard. In here.”
We walk into a photography studio, and a man with glasses even thicker than Garrett’s has me sit in the middle of a dizzying array of cameras. The man then takes his chair behind a computer with two rows of three monitors, hiding him from my view.
“Todd?” says the man behind the screens.
“No, I’m Alex.”
“Oh, hang on.” Frantic typing from behind the wall of monitors, as I sit waiting. “Okay, just sit and don’t move. It’s going to take a second.”
“Who’s Todd?” Garrett stands next to the badge technician. “Another new hire?”
“Yeah, same hire date and manager as Alex here, according to the note. His actual direct report listing has a different boss though.”
The cameras around me flash several times.
“Okay, you’re good.” The man yanks a card out of a machine to his left, and presses it inside a clear laminated case hanging from a thick black ribbon. He holds the lanyard out, and I string it around my neck. The badge inside has my name, and the photo he just took of me. A yellow stripe runs down the left side, like somebody had brushed a thumb-wide strip of paint next to my fake grin.
“Now you don’t have to follow me around like a lost puppy,” says Garrett. “Wear that thing around your neck whenever you’re here. Was today your first day of school?”
The first day of class they toss a syllabus at me, and tell me to pay attention for ten weeks. A few lectures go like that and then I’m done for the day.
Jessica and I ride the same bus to the university, but then our schedules split, so I don’t see her after that. I catch the MAX train west to my new job in the afternoon, only there’s nothing to do yet at work, so I’m texting my girlfriend most of the day. I get home after six that first night.
The evening hours tick away, and I’m stuck to my phone. It doesn’t hold much of a charge, so I have to plug it in twice to keep up with the girlfriend, and I burn the whole night staring at the screen’s glow. After a lengthy lull in our conversation, I check the time, and it’s two minutes to my alarm. I lay back for the final seconds inside the womb of my bed.
The front door slams shut. That’s expected. Mom leaving for work.
Then a clunk through pipes, and the hiss of running water. That’s not expected.
I bolt upright, and sweep my robe off the floor.
“Jess,” I say through the door and the rush of water. “I’ll be faster today.”
“I can’t do that again,” says my sister, yelling back through the noise.
“You’re going to use it all,” I say.
“You used it all yesterday. It’s my turn.”
Morning grime doesn’t come off without a shower. No amount of clean clothes or hand washing fixes that. I plod down the hall to the kitchen and consider my breakfast options. The bowl of peaches still sits on the counter, but I’m dirty enough already.
My sister’s shriek wails down the hallway. “Oh my god, that’s cold.”
The hiss of water fades.
“Isn’t it?” I shout back from the cereal cupboard. A couple more indecipherable curses come from the bathroom. “Did you get stuck with shampoo still in your hair?”
“I didn’t wash it,” says Jessica. The door creaks open. “Girls’ hair takes a long time. Didn’t Rachel teach you that?”
“How do you know about Rachel?”
“I think Mom said something to Dad a while back.”
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