"Dandelion Sky" (Dandelion Series Book 2)
A Contemporary Romance
By Judith Bronte

Table of Contents Buy the finished novel at Amazon! Also available on the Nook and at the iBookstore!

Plot Summary

Aviation-nut Jo Mack is more than a future A&P mechanic, she's also the lone survivor of a personal hell that has haunted her every step.

Ethan Taylor is the latest over-the-top success to come out of Silicon Valley, but now he must face an even bigger challenge-- the scarred past that has come along for the ride.

Can the mechanic and the nerd find hope in the clear, dandelion sky?

Cover credit: Meg Hamrick
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Chapter Six
Fade to Black

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise."
~ Proverbs 20:1 ~

Jo credited herself with the fact that the rest of her Saturday had been spent with her nose in a textbook, and not in some novel, or in front of the TV. The fact that she'd slept the night through on the couch made her wince, but at least she'd been responsible and had studied when she had said she would. With a yawn, Jo stretched her aching muscles, and started for the kitchen when her phone sounded from within the depths of the couch.

What a way to start a Sunday morning.

She fished out the mobile phone that had wedged between the cushions, and managed to answer before the call went to voicemail.

To her surprise, it was Mr. Campbell. In his typical manner he lost no time in getting down to business. "Last week, I gave my grandson the ten cent tour of our workshop. He was the good-looking kid with the cocky smile?"

"I remember him," Jo said, her voice sounding braver than she actually felt. Even though there was no reproach in Mr. Campbell's voice, she wondered if she was in trouble.

"Ethan left my home late yesterday afternoon, but before he did, he dropped a comment that led me to think that he had plans with someone-- maybe with you. Would you happen to know where he's at right now?"

“No, I don't. We had plans for the day but they fell through, and so I stayed home and studied."

A heavy sigh sounded on the other end of the phone, and Jo pictured Mr. Campbell with a worried face to match the worried voice. "If you hear from Ethan, will let me know?"

"Of course." Worry itched at the back of Jo's mind. Should she tell her boss everything-- that she'd made Ethan wait on her front step, that she'd not answered her doorbell, let alone talked to him? She wasn't one to run from shadows, but the tone of the call unsettled her, especially when she considered that she might be a part of the reason why Ethan had never gone home. "Is he in some sort of trouble?" Jo asked.

"No trouble that I'm sure of," Mr. Campbell said a little cryptically. He asked Jo once more to call if she heard anything from Ethan, and then hung up with a gruff "see you Monday."

Well, that was odd.

Jo headed for the bathroom, and tried to work out what was going on. Either something was wrong with Ethan, or something was wrong because of him, for the concern in Mr. Campbell's voice had been all too real.

Had Ethan been so hurt by her closed door, that he was doing something stupid? Surely not. Ethan liked her, and she was attracted to him, but they had only just met. She could drop dead of bubonic plague this very moment, and it wouldn't matter at all-- not to Ethan Campbell. Jo caught herself. That's right, Ethan was a Taylor, and not a Campbell. He was the brother of Mr. Campbell's son-in-law, and yet Mr. Campbell loved Ethan so much that he had called him his grandson.

One thing was certain, Ethan had lucked out in the family department. He had people who cared about him, who were alive and well this very moment to worry about him and to look out for him. She missed having someone like that in her life. Her grandpa would've kept her study habits sane, and he would have most definitely made sure that she'd gone to bed instead of sleeping the night through on the couch.

Some people had all the luck.

With a heavy sigh, Jo went to wash up and start her day. Whatever the reason for Ethan's disappearance, she hoped for dear life that it had nothing at all to do with her.

* * * *

Ethan gave a dull groan as his phone rang from somewhere nearby. He pushed his eyes open and saw the white textured ceiling above him. When he turned his head, the world shifted beneath his eyes, making him dizzy. Though he couldn't remember where he was, the nasty headache was a dead-giveaway to what he'd been doing.

If only that phone would shut up, he could think.

Feeling the sheets, Ethan searched for the source of the ringing. And then it stopped.

He sucked in a low, slow breath, closed his eyes, and went back to sleep.


When the ring sounded again, Ethan raised his head long enough to register the throbbing pain. He sank back onto the pillow and wondered how long he'd been asleep. It felt like only moments since he'd last opened his eyes, and yet, from the much-improved state of his hangover, he had a feeling a lot of time had passed.

His body felt as though he'd spent long hours beating his head against a wall-- or maybe he had. Ethan figured he'd either passed out, or blacked out somewhere along the way, for he could not remember a single moment of that missing time. If he'd blacked out, had he done anything stupid, like run outside in his boxers and scream at the traffic? He'd done that once. His buddy had later told him what happened, but Ethan could never remember wandering down the street. Just recalling that made Ethan shiver.

He hated getting skid row drunk, and as he searched for his still-ringing phone, he made a mental note to never do it again.

His head threatened to topple from his shoulders. He winced at the pain, only to realize that the ringing had stopped. Good. He was in no mood to listen right now, let alone talk.

He saw the tablet on the floor, and some of his thoughts began to fall into place. He had been working. He had come here to brainstorm. Easing himself down, he picked up the tablet and tossed it onto the bed. He needed to get back to work, but first, he had to chase off the cruel stabs of that pain. When he found the liquor bottle empty, he pulled another from a grocery bag.

What cheap trash.

If you are what you drink, he didn't want to know what that said about himself.

Ethan downed a glass, poured another, then went to study what he'd written the night before. His eyes struggled to focus on the words, but when they did, he was able to read well enough. Surely there would be something usable here that he could work with, some rare find that had come from his willingness to get a little crazy.

He scrolled down the list.

Junk, it was all junk. None of it was any good.

He kept reading as his mouth went dry.

This was it?

He could give it more time, but he'd already dug deep and the well was dry. He couldn't find a drop of inspiration anywhere. It was all dry dirt and stones.

He drained his glass and stared at what he had written. The booze dulled the leftovers of his hangover, but so what? It didn't matter.

The thought struck him that it had all been luck-- sheer dumb luck that he'd been able to sell his startup when he had. He'd developed the communications backend that another company had just so happened to have needed in a very bad way. He hadn't designed anything with them in mind, he'd simply been in the right place at the right time.

Ethan stared at his iPad. A moron had written that. Not him. He pushed it away, and poured another glass.

He remembered all those close calls when he'd thought the sell wouldn't go through, the times when it appeared the lawyers from Intrepid had changed their minds. He had spent that time scared-crazy, but it had all been posturing, for they had needed what he had developed, pure and simple.

Man.

How was he supposed to replicate dumb luck? Was it even possible?

Though Ethan wasn't ready to call himself a witless wonder just yet, what did he have to show for all his work? He had been desperate to make his mark on the world, and though he'd stumbled over his pot of gold, he had succeeded in spite of himself. Maybe he should stop while he was ahead. Before anyone figured out he was a knuckleheaded idiot.

As Ethan drank the cheap liquor, he stared at the painting on the wall. It no longer moved, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Though not completely clearheaded, he was still able to think and consider the problem of startup number nine. Disrupting the casual sex market seemed his best idea so far, but now that Ethan felt steadier, he cast it aside in the hopes of finding something more noble.

Hearing himself think, Ethan laughed, and took another drink from his glass. Noble was such a high sounding word. He'd settle for politically correct. If he had no past success to point to, then he'd seriously consider the idea, but as things stood, he wasn't that desperate.

He topped off his glass.

He should find some abstract but highly praised goal, and announce to the world that he wouldn't stop until he had a solution to world hunger, global peace, or a cure for the common cold-- it didn't matter what, so long as the cause was something that everyone would applaud, but that he was sure he could never finish. To finish would be to have a definable result that he would be judged by for the rest of his life. Better to look like an idealist biting off way more than he could chew, then to look desperate and still fail. Of course, he would have to put down the seed capital himself, make sure he kept the cause well funded, or else everyone would know he was bluffing.

Ethan closed his eyes. It appeared as though managing his public perception was all he could hope for right now. Oh, how his jailbird dad would laugh himself into an early grave if he only knew what his son was thinking. There's an idea, maybe Ethan should let him know. Maybe knowing would give the old man a reason to off himself. He'd probably botch his own suicide though, the way he had everything else, and not die. He never could do anything right.

The thought made Ethan drain the glass dry. Was it his imagination, or did the liquor actually taste better?

As Ethan's mind began to numb once more, he didn't fight it, but reached for the booze, and drank straight from the bottle. Making major life decisions while getting drunk was probably a bad idea, but so? It wasn't as though the liquor was getting in the way of any better ideas.

The thought of topping out in his career depressed him, while the idea of spending his "retirement" years alone, made him want to crawl under his king-sized bed and hide. He didn't want to be by himself, he didn't want someone who would marry him for his money but who couldn't care less about him. If that's all he wanted, he could easily find someone with a pretty face to hang on his arm and spend his money. In fact, he had a big ole' target on his chest right now that said "easy mark."

See this sucker? He's yours for the taking.

They'd be easy to find.

Ethan toasted himself with a mock salute. He wasn't panicking too hard-- seven hundred million wasn't likely to disappear overnight. In fact, his money would last forever if he didn't start frequenting casinos, or acquire more real estate than God. Or use drugs. He wouldn't live long enough to taste his fortune if he started using meth, or the other street poison that he had grown up around. So long as he didn't drink himself to death, Ethan figured he could buy expensive booze and cheap women for decades.

Then why was he drinking this cheap stuff?

He blinked to keep the wet from gathering in his eyes. He was going to cry? Oh man, what a baby. A swig from the bottle steadied him, and he breathed deep as the room swam around him.

Just how much of the booze had he gone through, anyway? Mildly dreading what he might find in the grocery bags, Ethan struggled to his feet.

He stood, a wave of dizziness hit him...

And he passed out.

* * * *

Jo had actually looked forward to Monday, when she could go into work and casually ask about Ethan. She'd never gotten the chance though, for Jack had called with the news that Mr. Campbell was giving everyone the week off. When Jo asked why, Jack had hinted that their boss was having some family problems at home, and probably didn't want to be bothered by business right now. Jo could have pointed out that Jack practically ran the workshop, and that Mr. Campbell wasn't a necessary presence for them to do their job. But instead of questioning Jack's experience, she'd bit her tongue and kept quiet.

So Jo had stayed home, and tried to study and to not think about Ethan, or everyone's nice but unexplained vacation.

If they hadn't found Ethan yet, did Mr. Campbell expect her to go out and search? Jo wondered. She couldn't go far in all this heat, for she didn't have a car, and besides, she'd already given Mr. Campbell as much information as she could. Which had been nothing.

The more likely reason for this time off was that Mr. Campbell was simply worried, and had made the decision when his attention had been elsewhere. If Jo could've had her own way, the workshop would stay open, for a busy, noisy job was what she needed right now. Not all this time off to become a couch potato while she fought for every ounce of concentration.

She put down the textbook and gave way to what was weighing most on her mind.

What was going on? Was Ethan all right? Though one dinner, a long drive, and a missed kiss didn't make them a couple, Jo couldn't help but worry. Since it wasn't her place to call Mr. Campbell and ask about Ethan, it left her little room to do anything but think too much.

Why was she though?

Even if he hadn't turned up yet, his family was looking for him, and sooner or later they were sure to find him. Maybe he had left town and had gone back home to San Francisco. She hadn't thought he'd liked Cielo Grande, or at least, that's the general impression he'd given.

Jo sighed. For pity's sake, she'd only just met the guy.

She paced the small living room, glad her grandpa wasn't there to watch. Though his teasing would be gentle, he'd call her crazy for falling for another loser. As if she fell for them on purpose. Besides, she hadn't fallen for Ethan, only maybe slightly lost her balance a little. None of it mattered anyway, for she'd made it clear that she didn't want to see Ethan. He had broken their date, and that was that. Time to move on. She couldn't though, for something kept pulling at her.

Jo saw herself worrying about someone she didn't know, and knew it was silly. She didn't even know if he'd gone home yet.

Turning on the TV, Jo tried to shed herself of the worry. Something about Ethan had an almost familiar feel about him, but she couldn't say why. She pictured him sitting across the small round table at the restaurant, talking to her with those large eyes-- eyes that had been rimmed with red.

He'd looked so very tired, like he hadn't gotten any sleep, or he'd been suffering from some nasty allergy.

Or, Jo thought to herself slowly, like he'd been suffering something altogether different.

There had been no tremors, no wincing at noises, or shrinking from bright lights. But he had been wearing sunglasses. She hadn't noticed his eyes at all, until he'd pulled off those shades inside the restaurant. Even the fear in Mr. Campbell's voice had felt familiar. But why? Each fact by itself meant nothing, but when taken together, it pointed to something more.

Those bloodshot eyes at the restaurant, his not going home, as well as his worried family, were easily explained.

If he'd been drinking.

Jo shook her head. She was seeing things that weren't there, and problems that did not exist.

It felt all too real though, and very much familiar. Jo stepped outside to get some air, and to focus on the dandelions poking between the cracks on the sidewalk. She remembered her father, the lack of hope in his eyes, the belief that no matter what he did, or what he said, it would never be enough.

That look had always frustrated Jo. What had her father been waiting for before he pulled his act together? A new personality? Different medication that would snap him out of his depression? Prone to despair and self-defeat-- that had been her father to a T. He'd been a dispassionate drunk-- a pathetic one, really-- but whenever he apologized to Mom, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone sweeter or more determined.

Jo remembered the day her father had given her mom the friendly white daisies after their big blow-up about moving to California; Mom had wanted to go, and Dad had not. He'd given Mom those flowers to calm her down, and had showered her with promises to be more ambitious about advancing himself at his job. Those words, plus the flowers, had made Mom smile so hard that she'd cried. They had been happy that day. There had been other days too, when the happiness far out-shone the darkness, that grim shade where Dad hid every time life got too rough.

Jo needed to remember those good times, the tender sweetness between her parents whenever Dad focused on making Mom happy. If only her grandpa could stand beside her to remember the things that Jo could not, either because Jo had been too young at the time, or she'd been too scared.

She could remember the arguments though. How she'd hated to hear her parents fight, their voices going ever higher until the neighbors got worried and called the police. The cops had been to their home so many times, Dad knew many of the officers by their first name.

Jo tried to picture the white daisies, the shining eyes of her mom, and the restaurant they'd gone to later that day. They'd eaten dinner at a pizzeria, even though they couldn't afford to, and Dad had promised with tears in his eyes that he'd try harder to make them proud. Jo had already been proud of him, hadn't she?

Maybe she hadn't. The old worry nudged at the old pain. Maybe she should've said something; maybe it would have made all the difference.

For the millionth, billionth time, Jo tried to remember those daisies, her mother's tears, her father's smiling face. She tried to recall the other times when they'd been happy, the days when there had been no raised voices, or hurt looks.

Heat poured down in buckets, but Jo rubbed her arms and tried to shed the chills that crept over her. When it became too much, she went inside.

She had a habit of overthinking life, and was seeing things in Ethan that weren't even there. He wasn't like her dad, so why was she worried? And why was Ethan's family so concerned? What reason would Ethan have to drink? Ethan was the opposite of her father; Ethan had over-the-top success, and so much ambition that Jo figured not even an F-22 Raptor could hold him down. Right now, Ethan was probably too busy showing off his car to some bleached blonde who could barely spell her own name, for Ethan to remember anything as mundane as his worried family. Though not a flattering portrait, Jo figured it was most likely the truth.

Ethan had a family. He was their heartache.

Scolding herself for having given Ethan even this much of her time, Jo went to the freezer to pull out a Popsicle and enjoy what was left of her Monday.

* * * *

Ethan felt the pain long before he had the courage to open his eyes, for it pounded in his head with the energy of a two-year-old who had just found his mommy's pots and pans. As if that wasn't bad enough, he had a vague idea that he'd passed out and was now on the floor. If Ethan believed that anyone Up There listened to anyone Down Here, Ethan would ask to die quickly. Just to stop the pain. Of course, if anyone was actually Up There, then He Up There was probably thinking how much He Down Here deserved this, that He Down Here even had it coming.

Ethan gently, and very carefully got up from the carpet, and stood with only the wall to prop him up.

Oh yeah, Ethan could hear the fire and brimstone now.

As he rubbed a hand over his face, he saw his phone on the carpet, its screen lit up and over-bright as though something had just happened. He waited a moment, and the screen went dark. A text message maybe, or someone had left voicemail. The pain kept him from moving too fast, but when he at last got the phone into his hand, he woke it and squinted at its screen. It took effort to make sense of the words in front of him, for his mind was still a jumble, but he was able to make out the missed calls and the worried texts-- most of them from Matty. Ethan squeezed his painful eyes shut. At least he had been successful in something: he had completely forgotten about his older brother.

Ethan sighed without making a noise. That he felt awful was an understatement.

The worst part of sobering up, especially after a particularly heavy period of drinking, was the dreaded guilt. Without question, the guilt punished him like no hangover ever could, and it was always followed by a long string of oaths against God.

It had always baffled Ethan. He had never signed on to the existence of God in the first place, so why was God always the first one he cursed? Even though it didn't matter, Ethan cursed the empty room, and when that didn't do the job, he let God have it with both barrels. What had Ethan ever done to God to be treated this way? God was an absentee parent, at best, and had a lot to answer for, for the mess that was going on down here. Where was He anyway? Ethan wanted to know. Where has He ever been? Up in that great big invisible heaven with all the great big invisible angels? Ethan steadied himself, and worked his shaky knees until he could at last sit down on the bed.

Ethan didn't care if his head fought him, if the room swayed, and he felt like vomiting on the sheets. Why did he insist on going through the same old guilt trip, time after time? Did that song and dance make him feel better? Did it ever? No one was listening. He might as well blame Santa Claus, for all the good it did. In fact, why didn't he? As long as he needed some fairytale to blame for this mess, why didn't he ever pin it all on Santa Claus? What about it? You game, Santa? Yeah, why didn't he blame him?

Ethan leaned over while his head galloped out the finale to the William Tell Overture. The contents of his stomach heaved onto the floor while his head sang with pain. He had finally lost it-- his brains too, and not just his stomach. All this crazy talk was the hangover speaking, and not him.

He needed a drink.


Some time later, Ethan blinked at the room around him and vaguely wondered where he was. Then he remembered coming to Phoenix, buying the booze, and checking into the suite. He also remembered something about Santa Claus, though that part didn't make sense. Neither did the room around him. He must have blacked out this time, for he could not understand why the room looked the way it did. The vomit, he remembered, but had he actually used the bathroom, without actually using the bathroom? Had he really done that? The room was on the warm side, but Ethan still shivered on the carpet. What else had he done? The door looked unlocked, and he distinctly remembered locking it before he'd started work on his tablet.

He hated blackouts with a vengeance.

What had he done? Where had he gone? Hopefully, if he had opened the door at all, he'd only made faces at whoever happened to be around, and not cursed them out the way he had Santa. Hopefully, he hadn't actually left this suite.

Too shaky to open the unlocked door to see if there were any consequences on the other side, Ethan wobbled into the bathroom and did his best to finish sobering up. Man, what a mess.

After taking a harsh shower to get the smell of whisky from his skin, Ethan changed into the newly bought clothes, then set about cleaning the suite. In his deep dark misery, the idea of letting anyone see what he had done filled him with shame. He had a drinking problem. Yes, he could admit it now. He wasn't deluding himself into thinking he was some great guy, but then, he had never claimed to be that great guy in the first place. So really, all this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. He had failings, but so did everybody. And really, it wasn't as though he had a big problem-- it wasn't as though he was an alcoholic. Alcoholics couldn't stop, and he could, any time he wanted. They couldn't hold down steady work, they had zero friends who weren't also drinking buddies, and were so deep in denial they didn't know what fools they were making of themselves. Ethan knew, and he could admit it. So really, compared to actual drunks, his problem wasn't so bad.

Ethan stepped into the bathroom, and started the water in the shower so he could rinse the towels he had used to clean his mess.

He had to remember that others had it worse than him. Besides, he had never really tried to stop-- that was the main problem. He only had to make up his mind hard enough, and all this would go away.

Before he went on the wagon though, he needed a drink to settle his nerves. Only idiots went cold turkey, and besides, wasn't there a study somewhere that proved alcohol was good for you? In moderation? He could handle moderation well enough, but it was when he overdid it, that things got unhealthy. And that wasn't good. He definitely had to change his ways, and do it before something inside him became permanently damaged, and needed to be replaced. Scenes from TV shows where miraculous medical cases were re-enacted by actors, flashed through Ethan's mind as he downed the last of his vodka bottle. He didn't want to get to the point where a marvelous medical breakthrough was his only salvation.

Tossing the bottle into the trash, Ethan made a mental note that the vodka didn't count. He had finished it off for medicinal purposes only, and the whole moderation thing was for recreation. Otherwise, it wouldn't be fair, and the last thing Ethan wanted to be was unfair.

As Ethan gathered the empty bottles, he felt the hot flush deepening on the back of his neck. Each bottle clinked glass against glass as he dropped them one by one into the trash. He worked hard not to count. He let the pain numb his senses as he tied the trashcan liner at the top, so the cleaning staff couldn't see the bottles, or the towels he hadn't been able to save.

He felt sick.

What he needed was food. Even though the thought of eating made him gag, he moved to the bathroom to wash his face and check his breath before leaving the suite. He'd feel better without an empty stomach.

Ethan turned on the faucet, and bent over to splash water onto his face when he caught a good look at himself in the mirror. Every guilty bottle, every sick mess was written in his reflection. It was there in his bloodshot eyes, his sallow skin, that downturned, disappointed mouth.

He looked old.

He wasn't old though. He was thirty-two, in the prime of his life, and here he stood with the face of an old man. Hey, he'd like to see anyone drink as much as he had, and come out looking bright and fresh. Right now though, he would've settled for alive and breathing, for the man in front of him was dead and still standing. Really, was it any surprise? Though still not old, he wasn't as young as he used to be, and his body couldn't shake off the alcohol as easily as in the past. He'd been burning the candle at both ends, and now the flame was joining at the center.

He needed to stop drinking. And he would. He was, and he'd even let the vodka count against him. Cold turkey. He'd do it.

He could do anything if he wanted it badly enough, for he had enough proof of that sitting in the bank.

Sucking in a deep breath, Ethan looked himself in the eye and willed himself strong. He could do this-- all he had to do was stop drinking. It wasn't as though he needed alcohol to survive. If he was giving up water, then yeah, he should look scared. But this was just booze.

Ethan saw the sweat gathering on his face and realized he felt sick, like something terrible was wrong with him. It was just the hangover, nothing more, but as he stood there and tried to sort out what he was feeling, his stomach began to clench and the room began to spin. Stay calm, he told himself, and yet he felt so sick, he went to the toilet, and flipped up the lid. He leaned against the wall to steady himself, and waited, but nothing came.

Something could be wrong with him. He didn't remember feeling this way before, and his pulse quickened at the thought of having to go to the emergency room. If he went, it'd be like declaring to the world that he had a problem. People might even get the wrong idea about him. Panic began to crowd in around Ethan, and he knew without doubt that something was wrong.

He couldn't go in though. He couldn't.

He had to handle this on his own.

Ethan raced back to the bedroom and dug out his last bottle of whisky. This was life and death, he had to try and fix this on his own before he did anything too public. His family could not find out.

They could not find out.

Taking several gulps from the bottle, Ethan wiped his mouth and noticed the desired effect didn't take long. He felt better-- much better, and so much so, that the panic was leaving his body. He would wait a while, take one last swallow for good measure, then put the bottle away for good.

He noticed that he was putting the bottle away, not throwing it into the deepest trashcan he could find. But why should he? He had needed this, honestly and truly needed it.

Shame burned in Ethan's chest. To show his sincerity, he'd throw the bottle away. He'd find a public trashcan to make sure he didn't later fish it out. He'd never do such a thing anyway, but it paid to be careful. His health and mental sanity was at stake, so no measure would be too small to break this bad habit. Whatever it took, he'd beat this once and for all. Then get on with his life, and forget this had ever happened.

He had learned his lesson; he was finished with the bottle for good.


Sometime later-- Ethan had long since lost track of the day, let alone the hour-- he sat slumped against the bedroom wall, a mostly empty liquor bottle in his lap. Two more lay on the floor, both drained dry. He struggled to focus. When had he finished those, and where had they come from? The phone somewhere on the bed began to ring, and the pain nearly exploded his head.

Where had those bottles come from? The room spun around him like a carousel gone mad as he strained to remember.

The store. He vaguely remembered going to the store for something to eat, and coming out with whisky and vodka.

The phone continued to ring as the tears came to Ethan's eyes.

"Shut up!" he screamed. He stuffed his hands over his ears, and tried to drown out the ringing, and the pain, and the dread that washed over him in huge tsunami waves. He shouted one curse after another, until his beating head forced him into silence. The phone rang again, and he began to wonder if there was something wrong with his service. The caller should have been dropped to voicemail by now, but the phone kept ringing and Ethan's tears would not stop. He whimpered. "Don't you ever give up?"

Careful not to move too quickly, Ethan got to his knees, and pushed up from the floor with a loud groan that made his head throb. With work, he managed to get to the bed without falling over, and picked up the still ringing phone. He saw the name, and almost burst out laughing as he answered the call.

It figured.

"Hey, Matty."

"Hey yourself. Where have you been?"

Matty's voice came in so loud and so strong, Ethan nearly threw up on the spot. "Could you not shout?" Ethan asked.

"I am not shouting."

Ethan didn't answer, but swiped at the wet running down his cheeks. His body felt drained, like he needed to crawl into a hole somewhere and sleep for a few years.

"Where are you? Tell me where you are, and I'll come."

"No. Don't." Ethan rubbed his cheek and tried to will the tears back into his eyes. "I'm fine-- I'll be home in awhile." How Ethan managed to talk at all was beyond him. He only knew he had to stop his brother. "I'm just tired, that's all--" Ethan's voice broke, and he swallowed the rest of his words.

"Tell me. Please, tell me." Matty spoke each word clearly, as though Ethan could not hear, or would not hear what he was saying. "If you've never listened to me before, then please listen to me now. Where are you?"

Wasted and feeling sicker by the moment, Ethan reached for the brochures and pamphlets that sat on the nightstand. Though his eyes blurred everything into doubles and triples, he managed to find the resort's address, and related it to Matty.

"Stay where you are," Matty told him, "and I'll be there as fast as I can."

Ethan squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Hang on, buddy. Just hang on."

In that moment, Ethan would've sworn his brother was crying.

Whatever.

Ethan hung up the phone, then sprawled on the bed for either Matty, or death, whichever found him first.


"Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright [fermentation]. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder [hangover]. Thine... heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast [staggering drunk]. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again."
~ Proverbs 23:29-35 ~

end of chapter
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One of my longtime readers, Myra Valcourt, has created a Facebook group just for you! "The Works of Judith Bronte" offers a forum to discuss the stories and characters, and a way to get to know other readers. I hope to see you there!