Violet Ugly(The Granite Harbor Series Book 2)(4)

By: J. Lynn Bailey


“She’s like a watchdog with your dad, making sure he eats right. They seem really happy.”

I mull this over for a moment, relishing in the satisfaction this gives me. That Eli and I don’t have to worry about Pop so much anymore. He’s finally happy. I just wish he hadn’t waited so long. But, then again, Meredith wasn’t available then.

“How’s Emily?”

“Sweeter than ever. Your brother is changing her diaper at the moment. She managed to get poop all the way up her back. It’s amazing what can come out of such a small child.”

I feel every inch of the three thousand miles that separates us. Something’s up. Off.

“You’re stalling, Alex.”

“Well, it’s just …” she sighs. “Ryan would kill me if he knew I was telling you this. He got into an accident last night.”

Tiny, microscopic needles make the surface of my skin tingle. “What?”

“Tore up his left shoulder. Broken ribs.” She stalls again. “But you know Ryan. He won’t allow anyone to take care of him. Says he’ll be fine. Mer, he can feed himself but it isn’t pretty.”

“His dad is worthless,” I say. An asshole, to be exact.

“So, I was thinking, maybe you could, um … well, it’s a funny thing …you know your brother, Eli. He thinks the only person Ryan will listen to is you.”

“Did my brother put you up to this, Alex?” My stomach grows into a messy ball of knots, tangled in past love, old hurts, and a lot of baggage. “Put him on the phone, Alex.”

I’m fuming.

There’s a whispered exchange and muffled voices, as if someone has covered the receiver.

“Well, hey, Bug.”

“Don’t you Bug me, and don’t bullshit me either, little brother. How bad is it?”

Bug is my brother’s nickname for me. He’s called me this since we were kids because of my fascination with bugs.

“Well, let’s just say that Ryan is finally out of the hospital, but it was a good three days before they released him.”

“For Christ’s sake, Eli.”

He lets out a long, exasperated sigh. “Mer, he needs help. I’m covering at work for him. Alex has Emily. And there’s no way in hell he’d ever let Pop or Meredith come over and help. So … well, that leaves you.”

“The problem with that is, I’m on the West Coast! Eli, I live here. I can’t just up and leave my job.”

Abbey is in the background, nodding. She whispers, “All you do is work. You have enough comp time on the books for a six-month sabbatical, Steve Jobs.” She takes a sip of coffee.

I roll my eyes and rub my forehead. “I can’t.”

Eli sighs. “Look, Mer, I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t need you.”

“You didn’t call me. You had your wife call me.” Sarcasm and truth bleed through my tone. “Eli, you’re asking me to leave my job to come help take care of Ryan.”

“Look, I don’t know what happened to you two at eighteen, but, Mer, it’s Ryan. He was there when Mom died. He was there when Dad took a fall at work, and he helped around the house. He’s always been there. So, as much as you want to hate him, you don’t.” He sighs heavily into the phone. “You and I both know you don’t hate him. So, please, it’ll just be for a few weeks. At least until he can get back to work and sit at his desk.”

“I can’t.” My tone wavers.

“For me, Mer?”

“I just can’t, Eli.” I won’t. For several reasons. “I can’t.” And I hang up the phone.





Two





Merit


Granite Harbor, Maine


Fall 1994


Age Ten


Ryan chokes his red flannel hash down, but in his last bite, I swear on my life, his eyeballs turn green. Eli has eaten his, too, but not without gagging.

“Merit Young, you’d better finish your supper, or there’s no dessert,” my mother calls from the sink, her back to us, like she has eyes in the back of her head.

Mothers have superpowers.

Mind readers.

X-ray vision.

Arms that can stretch into the back seat of a minivan and flick your cheek.