Rosewood Short – Part 2
“…all hopped up on pain meds – ”
“Good. This’ll be less painful.”
“Ben.” Jess’s voice had taken on that crisp, no-nonsense quality that meant she was uncomfortable. “I’m serious. If you’re just here to give him a bunch of bullshit…”
Chris didn’t know if “hopped up” was appropriate, but his head was full of cotton. He could feel his knee – all the mangled, taped-together pieces of it – throbbing, its pulse stronger than that of his heart, as insistent and steady as a drumbeat. But the meds had taken the sharp edges off, blurred the line between bearable and excruciating. And they made it almost impossible to dwell on the embarrassment of injury, the inconvenience of this latest surgery, and the agony of his big brother’s company.
He was in the main floor master bedroom that was part of the staff living quarters, where he and Jess and the kids lived. It was a comfy room. Lots of windows, wax pine furniture, lots of cream and mint green and tidy-but-not-frilly feminine touches. Some Monet prints. Overstuffed bookcases. Jess had asked for his input and he’d waved her away: he didn’t care what anything looked like. His own bachelor pad had been a cave. He’d never complain about her decorating.
Out in the hall, his wife and brother were arguing – again. Ben was an ass; Jess wasn’t about to let him forget it.
“Fine,” he heard Jess say. “But don’t – ”
“Yeah,” Ben said, and his obnoxious biker boots thumped over the hardwood as he rounded the corner and stepped into the bedroom. He was dressed for work, and it obviously wasn’t a press conference kind of day: black polo under gray jacket, jeans, and the ever-present boots. His hair looked extra manicured and prick-ish this morning. And the grip of his sidearm poked out of his waistband; his badge glimmered at his belt.
Chris was pill-drunk, but not as bad off as Jess thought. “You wear that to bed at night, don’t you?” he asked, gesturing to the gold Cobb PD shield. “And make Jade call you ‘detective.’”
That earned a sharp frown. Ben dragged Jess’s spindle-legged desk chair over by the bed and dropped into it. “Not your business,” he said with a scowl, and Chris bit back a grin. The indifferent act fell away every time at the first mention of his wife. Touchy bastard, Chris thought, not unkindly. They had that in common, if nothing else.
He stripped all traces of teasing out of his voice and asked, “How’s she feeling?”
Ben looked, for a fleeting moment, like there was a smile lurking somewhere behind his expression. But he said, “Good,” without any emotion. “She’s only got a couple weeks to go so she’s…” He made a face. “Waddling, at this point.”
“I’m gonna tell her you said that.”
The face got worse. “I told her myself the other day.”
“Because you’re brain damaged?”
“Because she was saying that she didn’t feel ‘attractive’ anymore – ”
“Oh, you didn’t.”
“ – and was all self-conscious and shit because I didn’t see her like this when she had Clara and she was worried or something – ”
“I still don’t understand why she married you,” Chris said. “And let you get her pregnant again.”
“I told her it was cute,” Ben defended sourly.
“I was trying to be nice.”
“You tried wrong.” Chris chuckled. “That woman’s a saint.”
“Yeah? Maybe yours could learn a thing or two about that.”
“Hey.” Chris soured. “ACL or not, I’ll – ”
“Kick my ass, yeah.” Some of his tight, composed cop veneer was melting away. Ben leaned back in the chair, the dainty legs murmuring a protest, and he looked younger, more like the know-it-all brother Chris had grown up with – which was an improvement, somehow.
“Did y’all pick out a name yet?” Chris asked.
“Catherine,” Ben said. “With a C. She’ll probably end up calling her Cat and then I won’t know if she’s talking about our kid or the actual cats down at the barn.” He folded his arms and pegged his little brother with a squirm-inducing look. “What about you guys?”
“What about us?”
Ben snorted. “Jess isn’t usually this uptight.”
Chris sighed. He hated when the jackass proved that he wasn’t just full of hot air, but that he was pretty perceptive too. “She’s not that far along. We don’t know if it’s a boy or girl yet.”
It was silent a beat. Chris felt an uncomfortable note of emotion go shivering through the air; that odd disturbance of the atmosphere that happened whenever Ben acted like a human.
“Your leg’s fine,” Ben said. Not a question, not a hope, but a statement. There’d been a lot of those statements over the years: I didn’t hit you that hard. Your arm’s fine. You’ll make Ranger. You won’t get killed. I’m coming home. Your leg’s fine (the first time). She loves you. Marry her. Don’t make my mistakes. Dad’s gonna make it; it’s just a heart attack. And again – Your leg’s fine. It was as close to supportive as Ben could get, and somehow, it was enough.